Sonic Grade: D
We found a Hot Stamper copy for one of our best customers a while back and he wrote an incisive commentary which may be of interest to you. To see the results of his comparison between the Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed, the MOFI Anadisq, his original domestic pressing, and the Hot Stamper he bought from us, check out his letter.
I want to thank Roger Lawry for his extensive commentary on the BS&T’s second album. His critical listening skills are obviously quite well developed, especially since he agrees with me about what is the best sounding BS&T — the one I sold him! I have added some caveats in places to clarify a few issues, but basically Roger’s assessment is right on the money.
I listened to 3 versions of the BS&T record and here is what I found (I wrote up a little review–you can use it on your website or laugh and delete it, whatever).
I remember when this record first came out. I was in my early teens hanging out at the local public swimming pool for the summer and remember the single “Spinning Wheel” was a big hit on the radio. I also remember wanting to strangle all the hormone-imbalanced, pimply-faced teens who kept playing the song on the pool jukebox for the 10 millionth time. Is it a requirement in our culture to oversaturate our brains with something we like until we cannot stand it anymore? It took about 15 years to de-saturate the songs on this record from my brain, when my jazz-loving brother put this record on his home sound system. I remember liking the arrangements and picking up a used US copy of the record at the local record store. The sound, however, was a major disappointment and I chalked it off as just another lousy US recording. It went onto the shelf like so many other US pop records I have. [So true. When music doesn’t sound good, the musical values themselves are damaged. In other words, it’s hard to appreciate bad sounding music.]
When I started collecting audiophile records about 20 years ago I picked up a Direct Disk Labs version of this record and was stunned at the improvement in sonics. I mean this version totally eclipsed the crappy US pressing. I wondered if it was taken from another recording session. Obviously CBS didn’t care how this record sounded and I am sure many still have no idea of how good the master tape must sound. So I played this one again on my rig yesterday and it sounded as I remembered it. Dynamic, punchy bass, great dynamic range, big soundstage. Horns had that flatulent, blatty quality found on the best analog recordings. However, this record has too much bass weight and the frequency extremes are rolled off, especially the highs. Yes, it is smooth and full with a lot of mid- and upper-bass warmth, but too much so. Still, compared to the US versions I had heard, it was in another league.
This is exactly what happened to me. I thought the DD Labs version smoked domestic copies, because the only domestic copy I had ever bought was a bad sounding one! It was years before I realized that no two domestic copies were the same and that there were dozens of different sounding ones. In fact, I believe it was about 1990 that I heard my first Hot Stamper of BS&T. Oddly enough, those stamper numbers have managed to best all comers for the next 15 years.
[Addendum 2022: We have since found stampers for both sides that are even better than the ones we used to like, sometime around 2010 or so. When you do regular shootouts for albums year after year, these things will happen, and thank goodness they do.]
The overly great warmth of the DDL version was thrown into relief when I played the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq version, which was released in the mid-1990’s. I would characterize the MoFi version as that typically found on many of their reissues. Thin, bright, and hyper-detailed sound is what comes to mind immediately when hearing this version after hearing the DDL. Yes, it was possible to hear more details in how instruments are played, especially in cymbals, acoustic guitars in the first track, and instrumental images on the soundstage. However, these details sound overly hyped, being thrust at the listener in a relentless fashion. Cymbals are too prominent, vocal sibilants are thrust forward in the mix, and instrumental images, while more localized on the soundstage, are small compared to those on the DDL record. There is much less bass, although what is there is tighter and more extended than that found on the DDL, but its lack exposes the relentless highs and sucked-out midrange even more. This record is everything that I dislike about a lot of MFSL and Japanese pressings–too thin and etched. Would I be happy with the MoFi if I had never heard the DDL version. Yes, probably, as it still is a huge improvement over the dull and lifeless US pressing. Which version works better for you probably depends on your stereo system and personal preferences. If your stereo is warm and thick-sounding, the MoFi version will probably add needed detail to the sound. However, if your stereo is bright-sounding like many I have heard, the relentless treble of the MoFi will probably drive you screaming from the room, and the full-sounding, bass-heavy DDL version will balance out the sound. [I remember liking the MOFI when it first came out. I haven’t played one in years so I can’t say whether I agree with Roger here or not.]
Fortunately for myself and others who have a high-resolution stereo, there is another pressing of this record that does it all. And it is a US pressing! Tom Port of Better Records has been promoting this copy for a long time and my only regret is that I didn’t try this one sooner. It has all the detail of the MFSL version without sounding bright and etched, and most of the warmth of the DDL without sounding thick and syrupy, and better dynamics to boot. The jump factor on the horns is simply amazing. Cymbals sound like brass ringing and not bursts of white noise, voices are full, the soundstage is big and enveloping, Wow! Electric bass purrs and is easily distinguishable from kick drum. Side 1 sounds a little better to me than side 2, but both are superior to any version I have heard before. How can this be a US pressing? Tom is asking a lot of cash for this record–is it worth it? Well, if you like this record and have a good stereo, I say it is time to get a second job at Domino’s and get one of these from Tom. Or you can do what he probably did and try hundreds of US pressings that are ubiquitous in used record stores. My guess is that you won’t find one that sounds like this and you will reach total brain saturation listening to crappy versions long before you find a good-sounding US pressing. Not to mention that most will probably have been trashed by the owners who didn’t care about what they thought was a lousy recording. Now we know better.
Again, Roger is right on the money about finding your own. You can do it, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’m guessing most of you already have a job and don’t need another one. I do this for a living as well as for a hobby, so I’m willing to put in the time and effort to slog through all the trash in order to find the treasure.
Also, I have a big advantage over my customers. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I have a big head start on all of you. I know many stampers that are good and many that are bad. I found out the hard way. On BS&T I know exactly which copies to buy and which copies to avoid. Roger is right: I have literally heard more than 100 copies of this record.
This is true for scores of other albums. Why did I bother to listen to so many different pressings? The overriding reason is because I wanted to find a better sounding version for myself. It’s not worth the effort if it’s not music you love. This is also the reason you will never find Hot Stamper pressings of some artists’ records on the site. I don’t like their music and I will just never make the effort to listen to enough pressings to find the hot one.
But just last night (1/16/05) I heard the best sounding version of Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around album, and let me tell you, it made my suffering through all the bad sounding pressings of that record I ever played well worth it. I’ve loved that album since it came out. I was 15 years old. It’s taken me literally 35 years to find a good sounding copy of that album! But I did it. It’s everything I always wanted it to be. The sound is truly magical. And as our equipment continues to evolve, the sound of that album will only get better.