Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile


The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.

Our Previous Hot Stamper Commentary

Both sides here have most of the qualities we look for in a Hot Stamper Fragile. The sound is open, spacious, and transparent with virtually no smearing up top or distortion on the piano. There’s lots of meaty, punchy bass that really propels the music far beyond the typical pressing. The vocals are INCREDIBLE — full-bodied with lots of ambience and wonderful presence. There’s lots of tubey magic and the bottom end really delivers the WHOMP factor. Not only that, but the bass definition is excellent. It’s a high-resolution copy with loads of energy. Both sides here rate A++ – A+++ and play mostly Mint Minus — the edges are a bit noisier, as usual.

This Is Master Tape Sound, Baby

I don’t think it gets any better than this! I would guess that not many audiophiles have a rock record that sounds this good in their collections (excluding those of you who have managed to acquire some of our best Hot Stampers; those audiophiles own the real thing and the real thing just can’t be beat.)

There is NO WAY this record is not cut from the master tape. Dubs just don’t sound like this. This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.

A well-known audiophile record reviewer slash personal savior recently opined on his website that Fragile “was never a very good recording to begin with… cardboardy, compressed and somewhat cloudy and distant.” Perhaps his old copy sounded like that — our Hot Stampers sure don’t. The typical pressing of Fragile can be painful — smeary and dull with plenty of distortion. If you know the magic stamper numbers and you spend the time to clean and play enough copies, you’re bound to hear some serious magic. Of course that’s a lot of work, and some people are probably too busy typing out lists of their pricey equipment to be bothered with such things.

How About The British Originals, Guys?

Some of you may remember that back in the ’90s (and even into the 2000s, gulp) we preferred the British originals for some of the most famous Yes albums.

There’s no way around it, folks: We Was Wrong. While the Brit copies can have some very nice qualities, they just can’t compete with the best domestic pressings for Fragile and The Yes Album.

No British (Plum and Orange label) original of Fragile we played rated above a solid A for either side. Based on what we heard in our shootout, we feel VERY confident that the master tapes for this album are in America. There is NO WAY this record is not cut from the master tape. Dubs just don’t sound like that.

If you are still under the impression that British bands sound best on British vinyl, our Hot Stamper domestic pressings will disabuse you of that notion in short order.

What It’s Not About

Once again folks, it’s not about the label, it’s not about the country of origin, it’s not about original vs. reissue — it’s about the sound of the record on the turntable, and the only way to know which are the best sounding pressings is to clean ’em and play ’em. It’s a time-consuming process that most audiophiles clearly don’t have time for. You may be able to save time by buying only, to take just one example, British Led Zeppelin records, but that’s a surefire way to miss out on some incredibly good sounding Zep LPs. Some of the killer copies are British, but most are not, and many of the British pressings are hopelessly bad. British band, British pressing is going to get you into a lot of trouble when it comes to Zep, of that you can be sure. Check out some of our Hot Stamper commentaries and see how many of the Best Sounding Led Zeppelin LPs are British. In our experience, not that many.

We Have the Technology

Fortunately we have the staff it takes to do the job right. We play every pressing we can get our hands on, regardless of country of manufacture, how original it is, the label its on — any and all such nonsense that so often leads the serious record lover and audiophile down the garden path.