Month: July 2018

Billy Joel – 52nd Street on Impex (Cisco)

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Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The new Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why.  (more…)

Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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

This White Hot Stamper has the best side two we have ever heard! Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, the typical pressing of The King James Version leaves much to be desired. As a rule two areas are especially lacking: there is a noticeable lack of presence on most copies, causing the brass to get stuck in the speakers and lose its bite; and, every bit as bad, the sound is often just plain compressed, lacking energy and life. The musicians on most copies are just not giving it their all. 

But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc recording process?

Maybe so, but there is some very strong evidence to the contrary, and this record is that evidence. Side two kills side one in the areas we described. Side one earned an A Plus grade, quite good, far better than average, but not in the same league as side two. But other side ones we’ve played have had plenty of energy and drive and jump out of the speakers sound, just not this one. It’s the pressing, not the recording.

Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetates and many, many stampers made from those mothers. (more…)

The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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The All-Time Greatest Hits of Roy Orbison

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  • These killer pressings boast stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on the other three sides 
  • The phenomenally talented Bill Porter recorded many of Orbison’s classic songs from the early ’60s that are found on this compilation
  • All four sides here sound the way you want them to, with richness, space and Tubey Magic to die for
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… no one conveys pain and longing more sublimely or succinctly than Roy Orbison. But his songs are also masterpieces of production: so technically precise that his deceptively simple tunes and lush melodies flow even more smoothly behind his desperate baritone croon and quivering falsetto.”

For us audiophiles, both the sound and the music found here are positively enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the album for you. (more…)

Roxy Music – Avalon

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  • A stunning early UK pressing of this Roxy classic: Triple Plus (A+++) on the second side and Double Plus (A++) on the first 
  • Superb sound from start to finish — full-bodied and warm with wonderfully sweet vocals
  • Copies that are exceptionally open, clear and big present this music the way it was meant to be heard
  • Credit Rhett Davies with creating the sonic space that clearly displays so many singers, instruments and sounds
  • “Ferry was never this romantic or seductive, either with Roxy or as a solo artist, and Avalon shimmers with elegance in both its music and its lyrics.” – Allmusic, 5 stars

It is records like Avalon that get people (often known as audiophiles) to spend wads and wads of money in pursuit of expensive analog equipment good enough to bring this wonderful music to life. (more…)

Marty Robbins – Gunfighter Ballads & Trail Songs

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  • With Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this Six-Eye Columbia pressing was one of the better sounding from our most recent shootout
  • This copy is amazingly clear and open, superior to most in that regard, with fairly smooth and rich vocals to boot 
  • Is the original Six Eye stereo the only way to go on this record? We discuss the subject in detail below
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The single most influential album of Western songs in post-World War II American music. The longevity of the album’s appeal is a result of Marty Robbins’ love of the repertory at hand and the mix of his youthful dynamism and prodigious talent…”

Two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides, with the kind of ’50’s Tubey Magical Analog Sound that’s been lost to the world of recorded music for decades — decades I tell you! Nobody can manage to get a recording to sound like this anymore and it seems clear to us that no one can remaster a recording like this nowadays, if our direct experience with more than hundred such albums counts as evidence. (more…)

The Beatles – A Collection of Beatles Oldies

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A Collection of Beatles Oldies

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  • Triple Plus (A+++) Demo Disc quality sound or very close to it on both sides; only the second copy to hit the site in many years! 
  • The overall sound here is incredibly full, rich, spacious, big and present, with zero smear
  • Amazing sound for From Me to You, We Can Work It Out, Yesterday and I Feel Fine
  • Fairly quiet vinyl throughout with both sides playing Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus

Incredible Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides of this collection of singles left off the the Beatles’ British albums. As is usually the case with compilations like this, there is some variation between tracks — what works well for a track from 1963 may not quite suit a song from 1966 — but from start to finish on both sides this record strikes a MUCH better balance than others! (more…)

Steve Miller Band – Fly Like An Eagle – Capitol Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

This Capitol Records Limited Edition 180 gram LP from the series that Robert Ludwig mastered is the worst sounding version of the album I have ever heard, bar none. It was cut with the azimuth off, which makes all the high frequency transients sound smeared. How anybody could put up with that crappy sounding LP is beyond me, but I have never heard a single person complain about the bad sound.

The MoFi has a bit more going on up top but the blurry bass and compressed lifeless sound fail to bring the music to life the way a Hot Stamper does. 

The Who – Who By Numbers on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

It’s not just bass that separates the Real Thing from the Classic Reissue. It’s WEIGHT, fullness, the part of the frequency range from the lower midrange to the upper bass, that area that spans roughly 150 to 600 cycles. It’s what makes Daltry’s voice sound full and rich, not thin and modern. It’s what makes the drums solid and fat the way Johns intended. The good copies of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have plenty of muscle in this area, and so do the imports we played. (more…)

Dave Mason – Alone Together on MCA Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing. I confess I actually used to like and recommend the Heavy Vinyl MCA pressing. Rest assured that is no longer the case. Nowadays it sounds as opaque, ambience-challenged, lifeless and pointless as the rest of its 180 gram brethren.

We struggled for years with the bad vinyl and the murky sound of this album. Finally, with dozens of advances in playback quality and dramatically better cleaning techniques, we have now managed to overcome the problems which we assumed were baked into the recording. I haven’t heard the master tape, but I have heard scores of pressings made from it over the years.  (more…)

The Doors – The Soft Parade on Rhino Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

A Gold Label original pressing blew out minds not long ago, after whichwe wrote “Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the 180g version from the Rhino Box Set, digitally remastered by Bernie Grundman? That thing is just awful, possibly the worst sounding pressing I have ever heard.” 

The Gold CD Hoffman did for Audio Fidelity is very likely to be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm anyway. (more…)