Month: November 2015

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Zep IV

ledzeIV_1502

The Classic 200 Gram Pressing — Dead as a Doornail

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Classic 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote: “You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…” Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the better original pressings to sound their best.

(Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.)

Things have changed. The exact same 200 gram review copy now sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic? The heavy vinyl pressing is lifeless and boring. All the subtleties of both the music and the sound are missing. More than anything else the Classic sounds crude. You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring that dead-as-a-doornail LP back to life.

Relatively speaking of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) can you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100+ on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.) The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a dozen or two copies to find a good one.

See more commentaries as well as our in-stock Led Zeppelin albums

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat

lisztpiano_1503s_1375270815Classical music is unquestionably 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.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Santana – Inner Secrets

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Just one of the  distinguished members of our Unconventional Hall of Fame that we’ve added recently (now 200+ strong!).

It’s also another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume.

It’s a true Demo Disc in the world of rock records. It’s also one of those recordings that demands to be played LOUD. If you’ve got the the big room, big speakers, and plenty of power to drive them, you can have a LIVE ROCK AND ROLL CONCERT in your very own house. When Santana lets loose with some of those legendary monster power chords — which incidentally do get good and loud in the mix, unlike most rock records which suffer from compression and “safe” mixes — I like to say that there is no stereo system on the planet that can play loud enough for me. (Horns maybe, but I don’t like the sound of horns, so there you go.)

What to Listen for

On side two the final guitar solo Santana takes on Well All Right gets LOUDER in the mix than any guitar solo on any rock record with which I am familiar. The sound gets louder after the first chorus, then louder still right before the second solo, and then the solo itself gets even louder until it seems to be as loud as live music. (Operative word: seems.)

Some copies get loud and some do not. Some stereos are dynamic and some are not. If you have the right stereo, set at the right volume, and THIS copy, you will hear something that not one out of one hundred audiophiles (or music lovers) have ever heard on a record — LIVE ROCK SOUND.

What makes it possible to play this record so loud and still enjoy it? Simple. Just like Nirvana, when the sound is smooth and sweet, completely free of aggressive mids and highs, records get BETTER as they get LOUDER. (This of course assumes low distortion and all the rest, but the main factor is correct tonality from top to bottom, and this record has it.)

Jump Factor

There were about a half dozen different stampers for each side that we did the shootout with. Like other Hot Stampers you may have read about, sometimes the instruments and voices just JUMP out of the speakers. When that happens I usually write “It’s Alive!” on the post-it, and I know exactly what to do with it — it goes right in the Contender pile, to be compared with the other top contender copies. It’s definitely a crazy Hot Stamper; just how hot we still need to find out.

Which is what happens in Phase Two of these affairs. We go back through all the best copies to see in what areas they really shine and in what areas they may fall a bit short of the best. Occasionally a record will come along that just murders what I thought was the best.

Of course there’s no way to know what accounts for any of the sound we hear. Not for sure anyway. It’s just interesting to ponder what makes one record sound one way and the next record, with stampers as little as one letter off in the alphabet — sometimes with exactly the same stampers! — sound so different from one another.
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One of the Great Audio Disasters, Circa 1980

mofipresslitSteely Dan – Aja

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

More Mofi Bashing, But Boy Does The MOFI Deserve It.

I remember back in the ’70s when I thought this album sounded pretty good on my plain old ABC original. Then I got a copy of the Mobile Fidelity pressing and I thought it sounded even better. Side two of the MoFi had bass that was only hinted at on my domestic copy.

Sometime in the ’80s I realized that the MoFi was hideously phony sounding, and that all the bass on side two was boosted far out of proportion to what was on the master tape. The song Home At Last must have at least an extra five DBs added at 40 cycles. It’s ridiculous.

And that’s just the bottom end; the highs are every bit as wrong.

Side one has its top end boosted beyond all understanding. The snare drum that opens the song Black Cow sounds like a high hat, all top and no body, and the high hat sounds so bright you can barely even tell it’s a high hat. Of course the vocals sharing the midrange are all ridiculously thinned out and compressed to death. Fagen’s voice sounds tonally unlike his voice on any other Steely Dan record. That should tell you something.
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Dexter Gordon – Serious Whomp Factor

gordoonefl_1177557820Dexter Gordon – One Flight Up

This Blue Note LP is without a doubt ONE OF THE BEST SOUNDING JAZZ RECORDS WE’VE EVER HEARD! We were auditioning a bunch of jazz records today (4/25/07), and when the needle hit the grooves on this one we were ABSOLUTELY BLOWN AWAY!

I can’t think of one jazz record we’ve ever played here at Better Records with this kind of WHOMP! Everything here is so rich and full — nothing like a typical Blue Note album.
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Do I already have some Hot Stamper copies in my collection?


Straight Answers to Your Questions about Hot Stampers

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope these comments will be of value.

Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

If you have a good sized collection of LPs, mastered and pressed from the ’50s to the ’80s, you surely do. In fact you must have at least some. The problem is, how can you possibly know which records are Hot Stampers and which aren’t?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing for certain is through the shootout process. If you’ve done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are — they’re the ones that won the shootout.

How hot they are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head. Needless to say, we welcome the challenge!

This letter from a good customer discusses some of the work that goes into doing a serious shootout. There are many more entries in our Conducting Your Own Shootouts series which can help you find the Hot Stampers hiding in your own collection.