Month: June 2021

The Kinks on Get Back Heavy Vinyl

More of The Kinks

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Sonic Grade: F

HALL OF SHAME PRESSINGS, EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM

Some of the worst sound I have ever heard on Heavy Vinyl. The average cassette sounds better than these vinyl pieces of crap. 


More Heavy Vinyl Reviews

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

Heavy Vinyl Disasters

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

Heavy Vinyl Winners

There are many kinds of audiophile pressings — Half-Speeds, Direct-to-Discs, Heavy Vinyl Remasters, Japanese Pressings, the list of records offered to the audiophile with supposedly superior sound quality is endless. Having been in the audiophile record biz for more than thirty years, it has been our misfortune to have played them by the hundreds,

In order to help you avoid the worst of the worst, we put a great many of them in a section of their own, which we call:

Bad Sounding Audiophile Records – The Complete List

How did we find so many bad sounding records? The same way we find so many good sounding ones. We included them in our shootouts, comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stampers.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

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The Crusaders / Chain Reaction – MoFi Reviewed

More of The Crusaders

More Jazz Fusion

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This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with relatively good sound. We did a mini-shootout many years ago and this copy apparently killed the competition. 

However…

When you play the MoFi against an actual honest-to-goodness properly mastered and pressed vintage LP – we call them Hot Stampers – the audiophile version of the album reeks of phony top end EQ, compression and sloppy bass.

Of course, what half-speed mastered record doesn’t?


FURTHER READING

The best place to start is here:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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Classic Records – More of the Same Old Same Old

More Cannonball Adderley

More Miles Davis

Reviews and Commentaries for Somethin’ Else

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP that’s hard to get excited about.

There are certainly some incredible sounding pressings of this album out there, but who has the resources it takes to find them? Most of the original Blue Notes we come across these days turn out to have mediocre sound, and many of them have severely damaged inner grooves. Even the mintiest looking copies often turn out to be too noisy for most audiophiles, Blue Note vinyl being what it is.

This is of course why the hacks at Classic Records did so well for themselves [until they went under] hawking remastered versions of classic albums pressed on new, quieter vinyl.

The problem is that most of their stuff just doesn’t sound all that hot, this album included. We’ve played it; it’s decent, but any Hot Stamper will show you just how much music you are missing.

If you want to hear this album with amazing fidelity but don’t want to spend the time, money and energy collecting, cleaning, and playing mostly mediocre copies until you luck into a good quiet one, a Hot Stamper pressing is the only way to go.


FURTHER READING on Heavy Vinyl

Classic Records – Classical 

Classic Records – Jazz  (more…)

It’s A Beautiful Day – It’s A Beautiful Day

More Psych Rock

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  • Superb sound from start to finish for this Columbia 360 label pressing with both sides earning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • One of our favorite ’60s Psych Rock albums, a true Demo Disc for three-dimensional space, and a Desert Island Disc for musical originality
  • Full and rich, detailed and transparent, this copy is doing absolutely EVERYTHING we could ask it to do
  • 4 stars: “It’s a Beautiful Day remains as a timepiece and evidence of how sophisticated rock & roll had become in the fertile environs of the San Francisco music scene.”

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Maybe the Best Sounding Album Geoff Emerick Ever Recorded

More Robin Trower

Reviews and Commentaries for Robin Trower and Procol Harum

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We’ve been wandering around in the dark for more than a decade with Bridge of Sighs — that is, until we found a clean early UK Chrysalis pressing. Now we know just how good this album can sound, and that means ASTOUNDINGLY good. Off the top of my head I can’t think of any Geoff Emerick album that sounds as big and clear as this one. The three dimensional space is really something else on the better UK copies.

There is a substantial amount of Tubey Magic and liquidity on the tape, recalling the kind of hi-rez vintage analog sound that makes the luminous A Space in Time such a mind-expanding experience. Recorded a few years earlier, both albums have the kind of High Production Value sound that we go crazy for here at Better Records. You can find many of our favorites in our Rock and Pop Top 100, and if we can find more of this title, it will surely be on the list as well. (more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – What exactly are Hot Stampers?

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The easiest and shortest version of the answer would be something like “Hot Stampers are pressings that sound dramatically better than the average pressing of a given album.”

My good friend Robert Pincus coined the term more thirty years ago. We were both fans of the second Blood, Sweat and Tears album, a record that normally does not sound very good, and when he would find a great sounding copy of an album like B, S &T, he would sell it to me as a Hot Stamper. It was a favorite album and I wanted to hear it sound its best.

Even back then we knew there were a lot of different stampers for that record — it sold millions of copies and was Number One for 15 weeks in 1969 — but there was one set of stampers we had discovered that seemed to be head and shoulders better than all the others. Side one was 1AA and side two was IAJ. Nothing we played could beat a copy of the record with those stampers.

After we’d found more and more 1AA/ IAJ copies — I have a picture on the blog of more than 40 all laid out on the floor — it became obvious that some copies with the right stampers sounded better than other copies with those stampers. We realized that a Hot Stamper not only had to have the right numbers in the dead wax, but it had to have been pressed properly on good vinyl. All of which meant that you actually had to play each copy of the record in order to know how good it sounded. There were no shortcuts. There were no rules of thumb. Every copy was unique and there was no way around that painfully inconvenient fact.

For the next thirty years we were constantly innovating in order to improve our record testing. We went through hundreds of refinements, coming up with better equipment, better tweaks and room treatments, better cleaning technologies and fluids, better testing protocols, better anything and everything that would bring out the best sound in our records. Our one goal was to make the critical evaluation of multiple copies of the same album as accurate as possible. Whatever system our customer might use to play our record – tubes or transistors, big speakers or small, screens or dynamic drivers — our pressing would be so much better in every way that no matter the system, the Hot Stamper he bought from us would have sound that was dramatically superior to anything he had ever heard.

It was indeed a slow process, and a frustrating one. Lots of technological advancements were needed in order to make our Hot Stamper shootouts repeatable, practical and scalable, and those advancements took decades to come about. When I got started in audio in the ’70s, there were no stand-alone phono stages, or modern cabling and power cords, or vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment. No tonearms with extremely delicate adjustments. No modern record cleaning machines and fluids. Not much in the way of innovative room treatments. A lot of things had to change in order for us to reproduce records at the level we needed to, and we pursued every one of them as far as money and time allowed.

Our first official Hot Stamper offering came along in 2004. We had a killer British pressing of Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat which we had awarded our highest grade, the equivalent of A+ (White Hot). Having done the shootout, I wrote up the review myself. At the end I said, “Five hundred dollars is a lot for one record, but having played it head to head against a dozen others, I can tell you that this copy is superior to every copy I have ever heard. It’s absolutely worth every penny of the five hundred bucks we are charging for it. If no one wants to pay that, fine, no problem, I will put the record in my own collection and thrill to its amazing sound for the rest of my life.”

As you can imagine, it sold immediately. That told us that the demand was there. To provide the supply, we eventually ended up needing about eight of us working in concert. It takes a crew of people to find a big batch of vintage LPs of the same title, clean them, do the Hot Stamper shootout, then check the playing surfaces on each side from start to finish, and finally describe the sound of each individual record on the website to the best of our ability.

Yes, we like to tell our customers exactly how to go about finding their own Hot Stampers, how to clean them, how to do shootouts with scientific rigor, and all the rest. But to be brutally honest, if you actually try to do it right, it’s just a crazy amount of work. Virtually no sane person would have the time and energy required to devote to it in order to be successful.

However, since it’s the only proven way to find the best sounding records, to us we think it’s worth it. And that is what you are paying for when you buy a Hot Stamper — all the work that neither you not anyone else on the face of the earth is willing to put in. (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Penguin – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

More Fleetwood Mac

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As Good As It Gets sound on side two of this Minty Reprise original LP. The sound is positively JUMPING out of the speakers in a way that was completely unexpected. We simply did not hear this kind of sound on any other copy. We often talk about the size of the soundfield on a particular pressing, side to side, bottom to top, and even more often about the energy found on one copy relative to another. On this side two we were surprised by a Penguin that was BIGGER and more ENERGETIC than we have ever heard.

As would be expected, when one side is this good, the other side is unlikely to be comparable, and that is indeed the case here. Side one earned a sonic grade of A+ to A++, far better than most but far from the amazing sound of this side two. 

One of my favorite songs on the album is one of Christine McVie’s best from this period, Did You Ever Love Me. On this pressing it has Demo Disc sound — it’s alive!

Side Two

A+++. Right in every way. When you hear a copy that sounds like this, it’s hard to know what to say about it other than that this must be what the Master Tape sounds like!

Side One

A+ to A++, rich and smooth with a lovely analog midrange. Could use more top end extension and the bass is a bit “hollow”, but this side one is easy on the ears and that’s a good thing. (more…)

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans

More Bill Evans

More Jazz Piano Recordings

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of you may have discovered that the original Bill Evans records on Riverside are mostly awful sounding — I can’t recall ever hearing one sound better than mediocre — so we are not the least bit worried that this Hot Stamper pressing won’t beat the pants off of the original, any reissue you may have, and of course the (no doubt awful) Analogue Productions 45
  • “With the unmatched pair of former Miles Davis drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Sam Jones (no relation), Evans was emerging not only as an ultra-sensitive player, but as an interpreter of standards second to none.”

The cover has a cut corner, but is otherwise very nice.

These three guys — Sam Jones is on the bass and Philly Joe Jones on the drums — are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one. (more…)

Chopin / 24 Etudes / Vasary – A Demo Disc for Solo Piano on DG

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings with Demo Disc Sound

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  • This stunning album of some of Chopin’s greatest piano pieces has superb sound, boasting a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • This magnificent sounding (and surprisingly hard to find) pressing is yet another example of a classical “sleeper,” one that can hold its own with practically any solo piano recording you have ever heard
  • As expected, Vasary performs with consummate skill, bringing out nuances in the work that may have escaped others – the results are captivating
  • “… an extraordinarily impassioned work, belying its technical utility.”

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London Orchestral Records from the ’70s and the Problem of Opacity

More Records that Are a Good Test for Transparency

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The average copy of this 1976 recording has that dry, multi-miked modern sound that the ’70s ushered in for many of the major labels, notably London and RCA. How many Solti records are not ridiculously thick and opaque? One out of ten? If that. We’re extremely wary of records produced in the ’70s; we’ve been burned too many times.

And to tell you the truth we are not all that thrilled with most of what passes for good sound on Mehta‘s London output either. If you have a high-resolution system, these recordings, like those on Classic Heavy Vinyl we constantly criticize, leave a lot to be desired.

Opacity is a real dealbreaker for us. Most of the classical records we play from later eras simply do not have the transparency essential to transporting us from our listening room into the concerto hall.

One thing you can say about live classical music, it is never opaque. Just the opposite. No recording in our experience — our experience being thousands upon thousand of them — can ever be remotely as transparent as live music.

If you have any doubts, next time you come home from the concert hall take a moment to put on a favorite recording of the same music. You may be in for quite a shock.

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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