Month: February 2016

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – Latest Developments

Deja Vu

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There are two areas in which we would like to amend some of the previous comments we’ve made about Deja Vu. The first has to do with early pressings. Many years ago we wrote the following:

As we noted in previous commentary, the originals are uniformly awful. Want some inside info on stampers to avoid, free of charge? C and D are pretty bad news most of the time.

Although that’s still true — Deja Vu is a very difficult album to find with good sound no matter what stampers you have — we now know that there are very good sounding copies, Shootout Winning copies in fact, with early stampers.
That’s area number one. Area number two is part of this old piece of advice.

If you bought the Classic Record and you can’t tell what’s wrong with it, this may not be the right hobby for you. I highly recommend you buy the Joe Gastwirt mastered CD and either play it on your system or take it to a hi-fi store in your area. It’s tonally correct and undistorted. The Classic version is neither. Now when a stupid $15 CD is correct in a way that a $40 LP is not, something is very very wrong.

The part where we said this may not be the right hobby for you if you like Classic’s godawful remastering of Deja Vu is still true, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish in the audio hobby. If you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you. We of course want nothing to do with it because we want good sounding vinyl, and the Classic is definitely not good sounding by any stretch of the imagination.

No, the problem we see above is that we were recommending the currently available CD. Yes, it’s mostly tonally correct and not distorted, but it has as bad a case of dead-as-a-doornail sound as any badly remastered CD I have ever heard. There is no top, there is no space, there is no life, there is no immediacy, there is no Tubey Magic — in short there is almost nothing left of what makes the best copies of Deja Vu so good. We’ve known this for about five years, just never got around to correcting the record.

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Off the Wall Vs. Thriller

More Off the Wall

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ABSOLUTELY STUNNING SOUND for this White Hot Stamper pressing!

Both sides cannot be beat — both have the BIG M.J. SOUND that jumps from the speakers and fills the room. We’ve never a copy that was so full of ANALOG MAGIC!

The vocals are PERFECTION — breathy, full-bodied, and present. The overall sound is open, transparent, and PUNCHY with rock solid bass. The top end is extended and sweet, with tons of ambience the likes of which I’ve never heard before.

Normally when you have a copy with plenty of presence it’s somewhat sibilant in places. Not so here. For some reason this copy has all the highs, but it’s cut so clean it practically doesn’t spit at all. Even on the song I Can’t Help It, which normally has a problem in that respect. Since that’s my favorite song on this album, and probably my favorite MJ song of all time, hearing it sound so good was a revelation.

Better Sound than Thriller?

Yes. As consistently brilliant as Thriller may be musically — it is the biggest selling album of all time after all — speaking strictly in terms of sonics the sound of the best copies of Off the Wall is substantially sweeter, tubier, more natural, richer, and more ANALOG than Thriller.

Thriller is clearly more aggressive and processed-sounding than Off the Wall. The Girl Is Mine or Human Nature from Thriller would fit just fine anywhere on Off the Wall, but could the same be said for Beat It or Thriller? Just thinking about them you can hear the artificiality of the sound of both those songs in your head. Think about the snare that opens Beat It. I’ve never heard a snare sound like that in my life. Practically no instrument on Off the Wall has that kind of overly processed EQ’d sound.

Choruses Are Key (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Symphony #6 (Pathetique) / Monteux

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This remastered Victrola version of the original Living Stereo pressing (LSC 1901) is guaranteed to KILL any and all originals — Shaded Dogs, White Dogs, Red Seals — you name it, this pressing will beat the pants off of it, guaranteed. I’ve played many copies of the earlier RCAs and I have surely never heard one sound like this, with so much LIFE and CLARITY. Where is all the old cutter head distortion, congestion and frequency limiting? It’s sure not here!

See more entries in our Originals vs. Reissues series

Side one is Super Hot (A++) and side two is EVEN BETTER, earning our coveted Top Grade of A Triple Plus! You may have noticed that not many vintage RCA recordings make it to the site with stellar grades such as these, so that makes this a very special pressing indeed.

Side Two

Let’s take the better of the two sides first. The size and scope of this recording is enormous, with the instruments positively jumping out of the speakers. Where is all the old tube smear and compression? This copy is cut clean and dynamic, which just goes to show you how good the master tape must be.

Listen especially to the lower strings. Cellos and basses as rich and textured as these are nothing less than audio magic!

We grade side two A+++. The sound here is the fullest, richest, and most natural of any of the recordings we played. Great energy too, really jumping! The brass is perfection. Our shorthand for sound like this is Hard To Fault (HTF), and it sure is!

Side One

A++, almost but not quite as good as the White Hot side two. We took a plus off for some missing tubey magic, especially noticeable in the lower strings, which are not as full and rich as they should be (and are on side two). The brass is clean and has good transient energy, but a little more fullness and some sweetness — the kind one might get with tubes — would have been welcome. The bass is a different story — it’s quite good.

Still, I would have to say it’s worlds better than any of the earlier pressings I’ve played.

A Top Performance

“Buoyant vigor tempered with tender lyricism mark this performance as first-rate…” — The American Record Guide

Classic Heavy Vinyl

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as none-too-impressive, playing into my natural prejudice against early Living Stereo recordings and Classic Records themselves.

But RCA managed to cut this record amazingly well more than a decade after it was first recorded. They did not cut it for audiophiles — it’s a budget pressing after all. They cut it for music lovers. Maybe that’s the secret.

(Or maybe it has nothing to do with it. Either way the sound of the record speaks for itself.)

Records For Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely that we are shocked when such a record is even halfway decent. After playing so many bad records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records. A record like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the pressing at hand.

It has opened up to us a world of sound that the typical audiophile — he who believes the audiophile pressing hype — will never have a chance to experience.

 

In the Market for New Speakers?

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See How Well They Handle the Energy of Far More Drums

The drum solo Joe Morello lets loose on Far More Drums is one of the best on record. I was playing that very song recently and it occurred to me that it is practically impossible for a screen or panel speaker of any nature to reproduce the sound of those drums properly, regardless of how many subs you have.

Most of the music is not in the deeper bass anyway. It’s the whack of instruments whose energy is in the lower midrange and midrange that a screen speaker will struggle with, while a good large-driver dynamic speaker seems to handle the energy in that range with ease.

This is precisely the right album to take with you next time you head to your local stereo store to audition speakers. It will help clarify the issues. Screen speakers do many things well, but drums are not one of them in my experience.

If drums are important to you, do yourself a favor and buy a dynamic speaker, the bigger the better.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

We have a section for Audio Advice of all kinds.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

See all Dave Brubeck albums in stock

 

Classic Records Has an Epiphany – UHQRs Actually DO Sound Good!

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[This commentary is from 2007 and admittedly a bit long in the tooth for the brave new world of Heavy Vinyl we find ourselves currently in. Classic Records has been gone for quite a while and when that happened we said good riddance to their bad records.]

Mike Hobson finally figured out why his pressings often don’t sound good and/or are noisy. We’ll let him explain it. If you want the whole story (which goes on for days) you can find it on the Classic Records web site. While you’re there, remember the sound.

One day, while out for a run, I had an epiphany and rushed home to dig out a JVC pressing from the 1980’s pressed for Herb Belkin’s Mobile Fidelity. The Mobile Fidelity UHQR pressings were always revered as sounding better than the standard weight pressings from JVC – but why I thought? To find out, I cut a UHQR pressing in half and guess what I found? First, it weighed 195 grams and IT WAS A FLAT PROFILE! I cut a 120g JVC pressing in half and found that it had the conventional profile that, with small variations, seems to be a record industry standard and is convex in it’s [sic] profile – NOT FLAT.

So, that is why the UHQR JVC pressings sounded better than their standard profile pressings and further confirmation of why our Flat Profile pressings sound better than 180g conversional pressings! [italics added]

There was no need to saw up a record; Mofi actually explained in the booklet for every UHQR how its shape differed from a conventional disc. Here is one of the images they used in the technical specs booklet that came with most UHQRs. Yes, it’s flat. (The later ones didn’t have the booklet because the whole project was such a disaster that they didn’t want to spend the money to print them for records they were selling below their cost. When I first got in the audiophile record biz in the late ’80s I was buying boxfuls of sealed UHQRs for $9 each.)

Let’s Get Real

UHQRs were junk then and they are junk now. They are plain and simply bad sounding records. The UHQR pressings may have been revered in their day, may even be revered now, but they are truly awful sounding records, Tea for the Tillerman probably being the worst among them. Do UHQRs sound better than the standard weight pressings MoFi was pressing at the time? Some do and some don’t, but what difference does that make? Bad sound is bad sound; whether one bad record is slightly better than another bad record is not particularly helpful to know.

With One Exception

Crime of the Century. Yes, the right UHQR pressing of this album can truly sound amazing. The “right” pressing is also very hard to find.

Back to Our Story

But the second false conclusion drawn from this experiment is the statement I added italics to : “So, that is why the UHQR JVC pressings sounded better than their standard profile pressings and further confirmation of why our Flat Profile pressings sound better than 180g conversional pressings!”

Is that really the reason? The only reason? Couldn’t it have something to do with the mastering? Does Mr. Hobson not know that most of the UHQR pressings are different masterings than the non-UHQR MoFi pressings? That he’s comparing apples to oranges?

This is the rest of this part of his story. (As I say, it goes on for days.)

But, there is a difference in the original Blue Note Mono flat profile and the JVC UHQR profile. While both are flat across the groove area, the JVC pressing had a groove guard! I sent half of the JVC UHQR pressing to our Super Vinyl Profile die maker and had a new set of dies made with a variant of the JVC UHQR groove guard. In mid 2007, RTI installed the new dies and immediately had success with the groove guard Flat Profile producing records which did not sound any different than non-groove guard Flat Profile pressings! We immediately changed over to pressing on what we are now calling Classic Records Super Vinyl Profile II (SV-P II) at RTI. Problems with stitching and non-fill were dramatically reduced and the reject rate at RTI also declined to below normal levels. Finally, we had found our way to greater consistency in terms of pressing quality!

Anyway, it seems he’s found a new way to press his records that makes them sound better. I sure don’t hear much improvement. Classic Records always sound like Classic Records to me. We’ve discussed the sound of quite a few of them on the site. If you’re interested you are more than welcome to check out some of our commentaries which can be found using the links on the left.