For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that are just too noisy to sell. [As of 2022 this is no longer true. Our customers seem to be able to put up with the louder surface noise of some records if the price is right.]
We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers. This is how we described the winner:
So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.
Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.
Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.
What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner.
We used to. When you read the old Hall of Fame entries most of the time they mention the shortcomings that caused one side or another to be downgraded some amount, usually by something like a half to a full plus. Not all the top end, not all the bass, not as present, slightly smeary, slightly congested — the list of potential faults for any given pressing is long indeed. These are all the problems we listen for and it’s the rare copy that doesn’t suffer from one or more of them.
We decided years ago that it was better just to let you hear the two sides of the record for yourself and make your own judgments about the sound, rather than make clear to you what areas we felt needed improvement.
Consider this example. If on our system the bass was lacking compared to the very best, perhaps on your system the bass was fine, not an issue, good enough. Without the top copy to compare yours to, how would you know how much better the bass could possibly be?
What We Heard on The Firebird
With that in mind, only the Triple Plus (A+++) copy, as described above, did everything right.
There were two Double Plus (A++) copies, and each of them fell short in different ways.
One had all the bass, richness and weight of our best Firebird, but lacked top end extension and upper midrange clarity.
The other was just the opposite. It had all the top, space and clarity, but lacked some weight and richness.
That’s the pattern we noticed, and if I’m not mistaken we had noticed it before during the last shootout we did.
What was the stamper for the shootout winner? The person who bought it knows, and no one else outside of our crack staff. We rarely give out stamper information and we’re certainly not planning on making an exception for The Firebird.