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Set-up Discs, Part One

Start with a Large Scale Orchestral Recording

  (Item #: setup_orchestral_recording) 

Classical music is surely the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

More Set-Up Advice / More Audio Advice

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Set-up Discs, Part Two

Dialing in the Anti-Skate

  (Item #: setup_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.

More Set-Up Advice / More Audio Advice

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Talking Heads - Remain In Light

A Tough Title to Play

  (Item #: talkiremai_difficult) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

This is a record that's going to demand a lot from the listener, and we want to make sure that you feel you're up to the challenge. If you don't mind putting in a little hard work, here's a record that will reward your time and effort many times over, and probably teach you a thing or two about tweaking your gear in the process (especially your VTA adjustment, just to pick an obvious area most audiophiles neglect).

More Talking Heads

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Dean Martin - Dream With Dean

Watch Out for Hard and Honky Vocals

  (Item #: martidream_wtlf) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what you should be listening for when critically evaluating your copy (or ours) of the album.

Dream with Dean is great for finding any traces of "honk" in your midrange. Getting Deano's baritone to sound tubey and rich, to get the sound that Bing Crosby could get just by opening his mouth, is not all that easy on some systems, mine included. Correctly set VTA is critical in this regard, but pretty much everything must be working at its best for Dean to sound as intimate and natural as we know he can on the best pressings.

More Dean Martin

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Luiz Bonfa - Softly...

Our Shootout Winner from 2017

  (Item #: bonfasoftl_2017) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

There is a wonderful array of percussion on this record, so the top end of any pressing should ideally be extended, clear and sweet. Some pressings of Softly... have no real top end, which is the reason we have to do shootouts -- to find the copies that are actually mastered and pressed right, not just the ones that should have been because they have the right stampers or are on the right label.

On this record there's plenty of information above 12K I would guess -- all those delicate percussion instruments ring so sweetly, the highs have to be extending way up there.

See more recordings with especially Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars

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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - So Far

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: crosbsofar_depth) 

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of So Far.

For example, on Find the Cost of Freedom the best copies have DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND. You could say everything that needs to be said about the beauty of analog with this one track alone. It's not even two minutes long, but it's two really wonderful minutes of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at the height of their powers. The voices should sound as sweet and as silky as any CSN three part (four part?) harmony you have ever heard. This song rivals Helplessly Hoping for vocal blend.

More So Far

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Led Zeppelin - Presence

Classic Records Debunked

  (Item #: ledzeprese_classic_records) 

Sonic Grade: D

This was one of only three Classic Records 180 (later 200) gram titles that I used to recommend back in the day.

Now when I play the heavy vinyl pressing I find the subtleties of both the music and the sound that I expect to hear have simply gone missing. These days the Classic just sounds second-rate compared to the real thing. You can adjust the VTA of your rig until you're blue in the face, you'll never get the Classic to sound better than passable.

The average original pressing is better, and that means Classic's version deserves a sub-standard grade of D.

More Led Zeppelin

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10cc - Deceptive Bends

A Tough Test for Sibilance

  (Item #: tenccdecep_test) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Deceptive Bends.

On side two the tonal balance is especially critical. Any boost to the top end will cause the vocals on the second track to SPIT LIKE CRAZY. This is a good test for how well your cartridge and arm are doing their jobs.

More 10cc

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VTA Adjustment with Santana

Sometimes It Pays to Just Fake It

  (Item #: santasant1_vta) 

When this Heavy Vinyl pressing by Columbia came out back in 2003, I was dumbfounded at the incredible sound: huge depth and soundstage; an octave of bass below what would normally be considered bass (a 20 cycle note that sticks its head up from under the more common 40 cycle bass that drives the music); wonderful transparency and sweetness in the midrange; dynamics; and lastly, the kind of low-distortion, naturally un-hyped sound that this record shared with the Nirvana LP you’ve read about on the site. When you turn up the volume to very high levels, the sound gets better!
More Santana

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Aretha Franklin - Amazing Grace

A Bit of Experimentation with VTA Can Really Pay Off

  (Item #: frankamazi_wtlf) 

This is a handy record for VTA setup, a subject we discuss at length below.

On the better copies Aretha's vocals are as dynamic as any you will ever hear, and unlike all the records she did with Tom Dowd, her voice never breaks up on this record. If you have big speakers that can play at loud levels, with the right volume level you can really get Aretha to belt it out like nothing you have ever heard.

See more of our Aretha Franklin albums in stock

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Grieg / Peer Gynt / Fjeldstad / LSO

Speakers Corner Reviewed / VTA Advice

  (Item #: griegpeerg_speakers_corner) 

Sonic Grade: C+

The Fjeldstad has long been one of our favorite performances of Peer Gynt here at Better Records.

This record is handy for VTA set-up as well, a subject discussed below in our listing from 2010.

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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Bob and Ray - Throw a Stereo Spectacular

Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

  (Item #: bobanthrow_setup) 

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment -- we seem to do them almost weekly these days -- has to pass one test and one test only -- the Bob and Ray Test.

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

More Setup Advice / More Audio Advice

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Beethoven, Bach, Schubert / Heifetz, Primrose, Piatigorsky

Our Shootout Winner from 2013

  (Item #: beethtrios_2563_2013) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This Red Seal pressing of the famous 1961 recording (LSC 2563) has SUBLIME White Hot Stamper sound for one of the works contained herein, the Schubert. It's so rich and sweet you may have a hard time believing it's on a Red Seal LP. The originals we've played over the years sure never sounded like this! Perhaps it's the thin vinyl that contributed to the shockingly good sound. Maybe, just maybe, RCA was right to start pressing thinner records in the '70s. If they can sound this good, we should all be for it.

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

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Turntable Set Up Advice

Using Court and Spark

  (Item #: mitchcourt_setup) 

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

There are loud vocal choruses on many tracks, and more often than not at their loudest they sound like they are either breaking up or threatening to do so. I always assumed it was compressor or board overload, which is easily heard on Down to You. On the best copies there is no breakup -- the voices get loud and they sound clean throughout.

More Court and Spark / More Joni Mitchell

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Henry Mancini - Our Man In Hollywood

Making More Progress in Audio

  (Item #: manciourma_vta) 

The story of our recent shootout is what real Progress in Audio is all about.

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one -- they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad.

See all of our Henry Mancini albums in stock

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VTA Adjustment

Helplessly Hoping to Get It Right

  (Item #: crosbsofar_wtlf) 

This listing from 2005 (!) contains commentary about Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) adjustment using the track Helplessly Hoping from a Hot Stamper pressing of CSN’s So Far.
More So Far / More CSN&Y

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Paganini / Caprices / Ricci

Reviewed in 2011

  (Item #: pagancapri_6163_2011) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This London White Hot Stamper pressing has DEMO QUALITY SOUND on side two! Sound of this calibre is nothing less than SHOCKING. If you like the sound of solo violin -- and who doesn't -- you will have a VERY hard time finding a better sounding recording of it than this. That's assuming you can get your Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) dead on the money, not something every audiophile can manage. If you can, lookout -- you are in for a sonic treat.

More of the music of Niccolò Paganini

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Herbie Hancock - Maiden Voyage

Keeping the Players Together

  (Item #: hancomaide_wtlf) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

Freddie Hubbard on this album is nothing short of astonishing. I remember playing around with the stereo one day, listening for different effects as I made minor changes to the tracking weight, the VTA, adjustments to the Hallographs and the like, and at one point I noticed that the ensemble seemed to be really coherently connected, each of the players balanced with all the others.

It was a striking effect and it made me realize that musical values can often be overlooked while chasing after audiophile effects of one kind or another. Hearing the ensemble come together made me appreciate this album even more.

More Herbie Hancock

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Skip Martin - Perspectives In Percussion, Vol. 2

Our Shootout Winner from 2014

  (Item #: martipersp_2014) 

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Absolutely the best "Crazy Percussion Extravaganza" we have ever heard. The sound JUMPS out of the speakers like you will not believe. The best of its kind bar none? That's exactly what this record is.

It is my belief that no one with an up-to-date, highly tweaked big system, a properly setup front end (with the VTA adjusted specifically for this record), and a carefully treated listening room can fail to have his mind blown by the sonics of this pressing.

More Exotica

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Beethoven, Bach, Schubert / Trios / Heifetz, Primrose, Piatigorsky

On the Red Seal Label?

  (Item #: beethtrios_reissue) 

So often when we do these shootouts involving original pressings up against their reissue counterparts, it's the reissues that sound rich, warm and tubey, and the originals that sound dry and boxy. If you haven't noticed that in your own critical listening, play this record against any shaded dog that you own and see which one is more Tubey Magical.

If you have your VTA set right, you might be shocked to find it's this one. Don't get us wrong; lots of these later RCA pressings are awful: thin, often with no top end at all. Flat transfers perhaps? Who is to say?

More Living Stereo

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Ambrosia's First Album

Right at the Top of Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

  (Item #: ambroambro_setup) 

You can play hard-to-reproduce records all day long if your system is tuned up and working fine. Ours has to be, all day, every day. The shootouts we do require that everything is working properly or we simply couldn't do them.

But you can't play this record on such a system without retesting everything, because this is the Single Most Difficult to Reproduce Recording I know of, bar none.

More Ambrosia

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Carly Simon - No Secrets

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: simonnosec_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For.

The immensely talented engineer ROBIN GEOFFREY CABLE worked his audio magic on this album. You may recall that he recorded a number of the greatest sounding rock records of all time, Elton John's self-titled second album and Tumbleweed Connection, both in 1970, as well as this album and Nilsson Schmilsson in 1972, with Richard Perry producing.

More Carly Simon

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Blood, Sweat & Tears - Child is Father to the Man

What to Listen For

  (Item #: bloodchild_wtlf) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of the first Blood Sweat and Tears album.

Have you ever played the first BS&T album? The average copy is a headache-inducing MESS. It will never be a Demo Disc, but that certainly doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable.

More Blood, Sweat & Tears

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Mozart / Quintet - Piano + Winds & Trio

  (Item #: mozarquint_6109_vta) 

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

This is a handy record for VTA setup as well. Listen for fullness and solidity, especially in the piano, although a rich, full sounding clarinet is a joy here as well.

More Mozart

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Dick Schory - Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp

Listening In Depth

  (Item #: schorbangb_depth) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It's the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity -- perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear. You may just find yourself operating on a higher sonic plane than you ever thought possible.

See all of our Dick Schory albums in stock

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Table / Arm / Cartridge Set-up Advice

  (Item #: set-up) 

Click here for advice on how to go about adjusting tracking weight, Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA), azimuth, Anti-skate and the like.

This link will take you to more advice for improving the sound of your playback.

  more Info

Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA)

A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

  (Item #: paganvioli_vta) 

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically adjust your Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA).

Experimenting with the VTA for this record in preparation for a shootout we found a precise point where it all came together, far exceeding whatever expectations for the recording we had at the time. Correct VTA revealed what to our ears now sounded like a gloriously real violin floating in the room, a huge concert space surrounding it...

More recordings featuring the violin

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Holst - The Planets

Testing with Mars and Saturn

  (Item #: holstplane_emi_wtlf) 

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

Mars on the first side and Saturn on the second present serious challenges for any vinyl pressings you may own. Generally speaking, the White Hot copies tend to have a bit more top end extension, and/or more lower end weight. Let's get to the specifics of the two movements we feel are the best test for The Planets as a whole.

More of Gustav Holst's music

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Benny Carter on Contemporary

Tube Versus Transistor Tradeoffs

  (Item #: carteswing_original) 

In some ways yes, in some ways no, and we are happy to lay it all out for you based on the critical listening we undertook recently. Here's how we weighed the tradeoffs in the sound of the originals versus that of the reissues, with VTA advice to follow.

This superb sounding ORIGINAL Black Label Contemporary pressing of Benny Carter's swingin’ jazz quartet is the very definition of a top jazz stereo recording from the late '50s mastered through an all tube chain.
More Benny Carter

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Vivaldi / 4 Concerti For Two Violins and Orch. / Stern & Oistrakh

Reviewed in 2011

  (Item #: vivalfourc_columbia_0511) 

This Columbia Six-Eye original pressing (MS 6204) has an especially lovely side one. The extended tape hiss is a dead giveaway that this copy has the high frequencies that are going to let the violin harmonics come through beautifully, and they do!

Once we had our VTA adjusted precisely for this pressing, the texture on the strings came through gloriously. Of course getting the VTA right resulted in more transparency and ambience as well, with huge amounts of space around the players. The result: a Super Hot Side One, no doubt about it!

More of the music of Antonio Vivaldi

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VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash

Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP (2005)

  (Item #: crosbcrosb_vta_200) 

This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

More Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

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Crosby, Still and Nash - Replay

Listening in Depth

  (Item #: crosbrepla_vta) 

This is another very handy record for setting your Vertical Tracking Angle. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.)

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby's multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, "fluffy" quality. And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

More Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young

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Azimuth, VTA, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight

We Got to Live Together

  (Item #: Azimuth) 

With a shout out to my man Sly!

In this listing you can find commentary and advice about tonearm azimuth adjustment, Ansermet’s recordings, Speakers Corner 180g pressings, and more.

More of the Best Recordings Made in Victoria Hall

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