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Set-up Discs, Part Two: Dialing in the Anti-Skate

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a "T". Over the years I've found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone's house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin'. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order.

Brightness Brightness

Many copies are bright in the upper-midrange, sounding as nasally and artificial as a bad Mercury or London. Many lack weight down low; the lower strings and heavier percussion play a crucial role in balancing out the upper strings and lighter percussion. Otherwise the sound will be skewed upwards in an artifical way.

If your copy has either of these problems don't use it to set up or tweak anything in your system. Use one of our Hot Stampers, the hotter the better.

This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce. Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the back of the stage, exactly where they should be) that getting each one's sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge -- and when you've met it, a thrill.

If you've done your homework with VTA, Azimuth, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight, this is the record that will make clear just how much you've accomplished.

Neutrality Is Key

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce! You better have everything working right when you play this one -- it's guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. And if you have any peaky audiophile wire in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system's neutrality.

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn't up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I'm here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem.

The recording has tremendous transients and dynamics as well; be prepared to have trouble tracking it. In that respect it's a prime candidate for table, cartridge and system tweaking.

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This recording ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale. Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It's not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.

As we've said before about these kinds of recordings -- Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II -- they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound.

Alto Heavy Vinyl

Alto records did this title on 180 gram more than a decade ago, and it was a COMPLETE DISASTER. Those of you who were getting catalogs from us in the '90s when that record came around were warned not to buy it. I was lucky enough to own a very good original pressing of it at the time, which of course made it all too easy to recognize just how poorly the new pressing had been mastered. No criticisms of the quality of the mastering were offered in the audiophile press however, not that I saw anyway. And every major audiophile record dealer carried it. Funny how some things never change.

Classical Music On Vinyl

We sometimes mention the benefits to be gained from regularly listening to classical music. Once a week is a good rule of thumb for playing a recording from the classical world I should think. We all love our rock, jazz, folk and the rest, but there is something about classical music that has the power to restore a certain balance in your musical life that, for whatever reason, cannot be accomplished by other music. Perhaps it grounds your listening experience in something less immediately gratifying, yet deeper and more enriching over time. Once habituated to the effect, the changes in one's mood are easy to recognize.

Moving Beyond the Average

Of course it should be pointed out that the average classical record is at best a mediocrity and oftentimes a sonic disaster. There are many excellent pressings of rock and jazz, but when it comes to classical music -- by its nature so much more difficult to record (and reproduce!) -- the choices narrow substantially.

Most of what passed for good classical sound when I was coming up in audio -- the DGs, EMIs, Sheffields and other audiophile pressings -- are hard to take seriously when played on the modern high quality equipment of today.

We probably audition at least five records for every one we think might pass muster in a future shootout, and we're pulling only from the labels we know to be good. We wouldn't even waste our time playing the average Angel, Columbia or DG, or EMI for that matter. The losers vastly outweigh the winners, and there are only so many hours in a day. Who has the time to hunt for so few needles in so many haystacks?

Commitment of Resources

With the above in mind, it should be clear that assembling a top quality classical collection requires much more in the way of resources -- money and time -- than it would for any other genre of music. We are happy to do some of that work for you -- our best classical pressings are amazing in almost every way -- potentially saving you a lifetime of work. But we do so at a price; the service we provide is time-consuming to carry out and, as you may have noticed, vintage classical records are not getting any cheaper or easier to find.

On the positive side, every Hot Stamper we sell is 100% guaranteed to satisfy in every way: music, sound, and playing condition. Ideally this means less work for you and more time for listening enjoyment, weekly or more if you can manage to carve it out of your schedule