Sonic Grade: F
A Hall of Shame pressing.
There is [was; it’s out of print now] a German 180 gram pressing of L.A. Woman which is [was] so bad, I am calling this commentary The Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing is a sign that, to me at least, The End Is Near, or May Be.
Dateline: January, 2005
[Note that some of this commentary from the dawn of time (2005 qualifies when it comes to Hot Stampers) falls under the heading of We Was Wrong, especially the part about there not being a good vinyl version of the album. We heard some killer pressings starting around 2011-2012 but boy are they few and far between.]
There is a new 180 gram German pressing of The Doors LA Woman album which is so bad, I am calling this commentary Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing to me is a sign that The End Is Near. There is no hope for audiophiles if they can’t tell a good record from a bad one, and this is clearly a bad one.
When I first played it I thought there must be something wrong with my stereo. There was no deep bass. (This recording has amazing deep bass.) The sound was upper midrangey and distorted. There was no extreme top at all. This surprised me, as I had heard that this was supposed to be a good record. What I heard coming off the copy that I was playing was pure garbage. I was confused.
So I grabbed a couple of DCC Doors pressings. The first one I played was Waiting For The Sun, my favorite on DCC. Ahh, that’s more like it. Sweet, open, plenty of bass, extended highs, Steve Hoffman’s beautifully liquid midrange — everything I expected to hear on his version was there just exactly the way it should be.
So I knew it wasn’t my stereo. Then I pulled out the DCC LA Woman. What’s the difference you ask? Well, the DCC has a top end. Listen to the cymbals. They ring sweetly and correctly. You can hear that the tape hiss sounds correct, a sure sign that the top end is accurate. The midrange is a bit recessed compared to the German pressing. Steve says he took out a half DB in the upper mids. There’s distortion on the vocals and he was trying to soften the effect. It might have been better to leave it flat, but either way is preferable to the boosted, aggressive, edgy upper midrange to be found on the German pressing. The German LP sounds like something playing over the radio. AM, not FM. Part of the problem is that there’s no lower midrange on the German pressing to properly balance out the vocals. Perhaps it’s not on the tape they used. I’m guessing it probably isn’t. But any mastering engineer worthy of the name should know how to fix a problem like that. Steve did. Apparently this German fellow did not.
And worst of all, there is no deep bass on this record AT ALL. The whole lower octave is missing. Now to be fair, the DCC LP has the same problem. There’s no lower bass on it either. That’s why I don’t recommend that you listen to LA Woman on vinyl. I don’t know of any copy that sounds right. There is a version that gets EVERYTHING right, however, and it’s one of the few CDs in my collection I treasure: the DCC Gold CD. It has phenomenally good bass, some of the best I’ve ever heard. What good is a Blues Rock album without bass? Every other version is a joke compared to the DCC CD. The Gold Disc ROCKS. Any copy lacking bass cannot possibly convey the spirit of the music. And I’m sorry to say that that means analog loses to digital in this case.
Now there’s a bit more to this story. I have a Super Saver budget reissue domestic pressing of LA Woman. Want to guess what it sounds like? It sounds exactly like this German version. When I described the sound of the German version to Steve, he immediately recognized what I was talking about. There is a tape — they call it “the master tape” — of LA Woman that has exactly the bad qualities I have described above. I’m guessing that my Super Saver copy is a flat transfer of that bad tape. (When budget reissues are mastered, it’s often the case that the transfer is flat or something very close to it, because little time and expense is justified for a cheap reissue.)
Now if the Super Saver is a flat transfer and sounds just like this German pressing, I think we can safely infer that this new 180 gram remastered record is a flat transfer. It’s a flat transfer of a bad tape. Nothing more, nothing less.
And nothing new. There are tons of badly remastered records out there. I’m sure you’ve bought some. I could spend days listing them in the Records We Don’t Sell section. Most of the records found on my competitor’s Web sites could be cut and pasted into that section, if I wanted to take the time to do it.
But how is it that such a bad record seems to have met with such favor among audiophiles? I’m frankly at a loss to understand it. I’m sure some of you reading this commentary own the record. Some of you no doubt LIKE the record. So let me think of a few reasons why you might not have noticed how bad sounding a record it is.
Maybe you don’t know how well recorded The Doors are.
If you don’t own the DCC pressings, or the MOFI of the first album, how would you ever know? The domestic copies, as well as the German, British and Japanese pressings I’ve heard, are for the most part pathetic. So there’s one possibility: You’ve lowered your standards for what you take to be a mediocre ’60s rock recording.
Maybe you were influenced by the reviews you read.
You heard what you wanted to hear, or what you thought you should hear, not what was really on the record. This is a common problem. Many people own awful sounding pressings that they read about on the TAS list and have somehow convinced themselves that they sound good, when they obviously do not. A list of the bad sounding records on the TAS list would be a very long list indeed. When it comes to Golden Age recordings, the right stampers are EVERYTHING, and most people are simply not going to be in a position to buy a half dozen copies of Scheherazade at hundreds of dollars each and shoot them out to find the really hot sounding copy. So if your LSC 2446 doesn’t thrill you the way Harry’s thrills him, it’s probably a different stamper. Or a badly pressed copy with good stampers. (Those sound just as bad.)
The third possibility is that your stereo is compensating in some way for the shortcomings of this LA Woman pressing.
How that could be I have no idea. Most audiophile systems lack bass. This record lacks bass. So it should be a double whammy. Most systems lack extreme highs. This album lacks extreme highs. The one area I can see where a modest system may help this record is in the midrange. Many audiophile systems have notoriously dark, muffled midranges. Vandersteen speakers are famous for their “forgiving” midrange. This record will help to compensate for the dark quality of some speakers. I guess. I don’t know. I really can’t see how that makes much sense, but there has to be some reason, so if these reasons aren’t good enough, feel free to come up with some on your own.
And the fourth possibility is: maybe you just like bad sounding records.
The fact that people still collect lots of bad sounding Half-Speed mastered records and bad sounding Japanese pressings and bad sounding audiophile records like Telarcs and Cheskys and such tells me that a lot of people must just like bad sounding records.
There’s not much I can do about that. We try to point everybody in the direction of what I consider to be Better Sounding Records. But as the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water…
And maybe they’re right and I’m wrong.
Who’s to say what a record really sounds like? I’ve been wrong before. I once put a full page commentary in one of my old catalogs under the heading Mea Culpa, apologizing for recommending The Beatles Past Masters album. I was also very wrong about the Japanese analog remasters of the Led Zeppelin catalog from about a dozen or so years ago. Some of the cheap Columbia reissues that I used to recommend I now realize leave a lot to be desired.
But we live and learn. If there’s one thing you get out of this commentary, I hope it’s the impetus to listen critically to the records you are buying, especially if it’s a record like LA Woman. See if you hear the sound I described. If not, then so be it.
Something similar is going on with the awful Mercury heavy vinyl reissues. Some of my customers agree with me that they’re awful, but I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who like them just fine. The sonic shortcomings I ascribe to those records I believe are real, and if you own those records, perhaps you may want to take another listen to them to see if you might have overlooked something the first time around. Just a thought.