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Commentary Overview

Audio Commentary  >  Start Here  >  Commentary Overview

Commentary Overview
Discussions of practically any subject that concerns recordings and their reproduction can be found here. If you want to collect better sounding records and hear them at their best, many of the commentaries in this section should be of interest.

And be sure to check out our new blog, On The Record!

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Steeleye Span - Commoners Crown

  (Item #: steelcommo_fame) 

A distinguished member of our Unconventional Hall of Fame.

This original Porky/Pecko mastered British Chrysalis pressing has Superb Demo Disc Sound -- Side Two is OFF THE CHARTS -- and, even more importantly, the best English Folk Rock Music ever recorded. I grew to love this album back in the ’70s; the stereo store I worked at used it as a Demo Disc, so I heard it on a regular basis. Rather than getting sick of it, I actually bought a copy for my own collection to play at home. (Not sure if I managed to get an import, not sure if I would even have been able to hear the difference.)

Things have changed as we never tire of saying here at Better Records, but in a way you could say they have stayed the same. This used to be a demo disc, and now it’s REALLY a Demo Disc.

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Mobile Fidelity's Approach to Mastering

I Have a Theory

  (Item #: mofi_theory) 

This particular MoFi pressing -- the best of three copies we played -- is actually a pretty good sounding record, considering who mastered it. I have a theory about why MoFi's mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this.

MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered back in their early days, pretty much regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to prefer. I was one of those guys and I know I did.

See all of our Little Feat albums in stock

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Respighi / The Birds / Dorati

  (Item #: respithebi_75023) 

A distinguished member of our Unconventional Hall of Fame.

SUPERB SOUND on side two, which contains Brazilian Impressions. This is the way to reissue an album! As you know, I am on record as finding the new [circa 2000] Mercury 180 gram reissues positively unlistenable. That whole series is the perfect example of how to RUIN the sound of the marvelous originals.

This Golden Import pressing is DRAMATICALLY better sounding than ANYTHING Speakers Corner has done with the Mercury catalog. And I am sure there are originals that are even better than this LP. (Probably most of them aren’t, judging by my experience.)

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Sergio Mendes - Stillness

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: mendestill_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Stillness.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further -- this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It's Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can't think of any material that sounds better. It's amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Sergio Mendes's albums

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Ten Years After - A Space In Time

Ranking the Most Tubey Magical Rock Recordings

  (Item #: tenyeaspac_tubeymagic) 

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the '70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. (Of course, as it turns out, recording technology only got worse as the decade wore on, and during the '80s the sound of most records went off a cliff.)

Big Production British Rock & Roll just doesn't get much better than A Space in Time.

See all of our Ten Years After albums in stock

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Linda Ronstadt - Heart Like A Wheel

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: ronstheart_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Heart Like a Wheel.

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The Beatles - Rubber Soul

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: beatlrubbe_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy (or our copy) of Rubber Soul. (If you have the MoFi pressing please click on the Track Listing tab below to read about its most glaring shortcoming.)
See all pressings of Rubber Soul in stock

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Graham Nash - Songs for Beginners

Classic Records Debunked

  (Item #: nash_songs_debunk) 

Sonic Grade: D

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

I've listened to Nash's first solo outing countless times over the last thirty years, even more than Crosby, Stills and Nash's first album. As I was listening to the Classic pressing I recall thinking "Wow, I don't remember that sound being there; this version is so much better I can hear things I never heard before!" Well, owners of this album (all five of you) will certainly hear things you never heard before, because some of the tracks on this album have been remixed and some of the instruments re-recorded! How about them apples!

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Graham Nash's albums

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The Association - Insight Out

  (Item #: associnsig_fame) 

A distinguished member of our Unconventional Hall of Fame.

The sound of the sixties will fill your room like never before -- wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with layers upon layers of depth. You would be very hard pressed to find a pop rock recording from 1967 that sounds as good as a Hot Stamper Insight Out. (Sgt. Pepper comes to mind, but what else?) Can you imagine the Mamas and the Papas or The Jefferson Airplane with this kind of rich, sweet, open, textured, natural, tonally correct recording quality?

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Traffic - John Barleycorn Must Die

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: traffjohnb_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For as you critically evaluate your copy of John Barleycorn Must Die.

The toughest test on side two is the first track, Stranger to Himself. Getting the voices right is practically impossible. If the voices are full, smooth, yet breathy and clear, you have that rare copy that actually gets the midrange right. Not many do.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Traffic's albums

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Paul Simon - Graceland

What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

  (Item #: simongrace_180) 

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can't say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

See all of our copies of Graceland in stock

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Brahms Violin Concerto

Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

  (Item #: brahmvioli_1903_myth) 

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good Super Hot stamper sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1S is that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that's just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you've played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not. The 1S pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here. Of course, to avoid being biased the person listening to the record doesn't know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1S loses so often!

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Our Favorite Engineers (A Continuing Series)

Rudy Van Gelder

  (Item #: allrudyvangelder) 

RUDY VAN GELDER is one of our favorite recording and mastering engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Rudy Van Gelder engineered albums, along with plenty of our famous commentary.

The really good RVG pressings (often on the later labels) sound shockingly close to live music -- uncompressed, present, full of energy, with the instruments clearly located on a wide and often deep soundstage, surrounded by the natural space and cool air of his New Jersey studio. As our stereo has improved, and we've found better pressings and learned how to clean them better, his "you-are-there" live jazz sound has come to impress us more and more.

See more entries in our Favorite Engineers series

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George Benson - Breezin’

MoFi Reviewed

  (Item #: bensobreez_mfsl) 

Sonic Grade: B-

Another MoFi reviewed, and surprisingly this one doesn't belong in our Hall of Shame the way most of them do.

It has an excellent side two backed with a pretty good side one. Side two has excellent bass -- for a MoFi -- and lots of energy -- for a MoFi. It’s slightly smooth but overall it’s very musical. The best domestic copies are going to eat its lunch, but try to find one! Most of them are awful.

This MoFi copy, though lacking in many ways, is MUCH BETTER sounding than the other MoFis we played it against, which were really muddy and compressed.

See all of our George Benson albums in stock

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Is the Average Record Really Worthless?

We Do the Math (So You Don’t Have To)

  (Item #: bloodblood_average) 

What follows is an excerpt from a much older letter in which the writer made the case, as best he could, that spending lots of money on records is foolish when for a dollar one can buy a perfectly good record at a thrift store and get exactly the same music and decent enough sound.

We think this is silly and, with a few rough calculations, a heavy dose of self-promotion and not a little bullying, we set out to prove that the average record is worthless. Prepare to confront our sophistic logic. (Yes, we are well aware that our reasoning is specious, but it's no more specious than anybody else's reasoning about records, so there.)

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Fleetwood Mac - Bare Trees

A Long Time Coming

  (Item #: fleetbaret_audio) 

Until not that many years ago we simply were not able to successfully do shootouts for Bare Trees, Fleetwood Mac's wonderful album from 1972. The pressings we were playing just didn't sound very much like Hot Stampers to us. British, German, Japanese, domestic originals, domestic reissues; all of them left much too much to be desired.

Thankfully we can tell you that the best copies sound a whole lot better now than they did then.

It's always true, and needs to be remembered, that most of the shortcomings you hear in the sound of a record are caused by your equipment (which includes record cleaning equipment), your room, and your electricity.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock copies of Fleetwood Mac's albums

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