Month: July 2021

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears.

FURTHER READING

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

And finally,

A Confession

One final note of honesty. Even as recently as the early 2000s we were still somewhat impressed with many of the better Heavy Vinyl pressings. If we had never made the progress we’ve worked so hard to make over the course of the last twenty plus years perhaps we would find more merit in the Heavy Vinyl reissues so many audiophiles seem to prefer.

We’ll never know of course; that’s a bell that can be unrung. We did the work, we can’t undo it, and the system that resulted from it is merciless in revealing the truth — that these newer pressings are second-rate at best and much more often than not third-rate or worse.

Setting higher standards — no, being able to set higher standards — in our minds is a clear mark of progress. We know that many of our customers see things the same way.

Neil Young – Comes A Time

More Neil Young

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  • A STUNNING copy of Neil Young’s 1978 release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from first note to last
  • Drop the needle on Comes A Time or Look Out For My Love and hear how rich, warm and Tubey Magical the sound is
  • The best copies of Comes a Time are the sonic equal of the best recordings in Neil’s catalog – and that’s saying a lot
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Comes a Time finally was the Neil Young album for the millions of fans who had loved Harvest, an acoustic-based record with country overtones and romantic, autobiographical lyrics, and many of those fans returned to the fold, enough to make Comes a Time Young’s first Top Ten album since Harvest.”

Here’s a copy of Comes A Time that actually delivers the kind of Tubey Analog Magic you get from the good pressings of his earlier albums.

This superb Demo Disc has been overlooked by the audiophile press for forty years. The best-sounding Neil Young records — just look in our Hot Stamper listings to find them — have Demo Disc sound to beat the band. I defy anyone to play me a better-sounding record than Zuma or Gold Rush. Analog doesn’t get any more magical.

On the best copies, all the Demo Disc qualities are here: breathy vocals with solid body; huge amounts of ambience; super-transparency; dynamics; note-like punchy bass — the list goes on and on.

Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitar reproduction is superb on the better copies of this recording. Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum, along with richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern recordings (and especially from modern remasterings).

The All Music Guide is right on the money with their four and a half star assessment. We also wholeheartedly agree that this is the True Successor to Harvest, and would add that it’s the only Neil Young album to merit that distinction. To be blunt about it, Harvest Moon is no Comes a Time. (more…)

Dave Brubeck / Time Out – The Classic Records 45 Is Another in a Long String of Failures

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Jazz LP debunked.

Not long ago we found a single disc from the 45 RPM four disc set that Classic Records released in 2002 and decided to give it a listen as part of a shootout. My notes can be seen above, but for those who have trouble reading my handwriting, here they are:

Big but hard

Zero (0) warmth

A bit thin and definitely boring

Unnatural

No fun

No F***ing Good (NFG)

Does that sound like a record you would enjoy playing? I sure didn’t.

But this is the kind of sound that Bernie Grundman managed to find on Classic Record after Classic Record starting in the mid-90s when he began cutting for them.

We’ve been complaining about the sound of these records for more than twenty years but a great many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them told us we wrong.  If you have a copy of this album on Classic, at 33 or 45, play it and see if you don’t hear the problems we ascribe to it.

To see what we had to say about the 33 RPM version on Classic many years ago, click here.

Maybe we got a bad 45 and the others are better. That has not been our experience.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing.

Not all of their records are as bad sounding as Time Out. We favorably review some of the better ones here.


A Must Own Jazz Record

We consider Time Out a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Jazz Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here. (more…)

War – Deliver The Word

More War

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  • Insanely good Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this Shootout Winning copy – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Thanks to the brilliant engineering of Chris Huston, the sound is War at its best: big, rich, smooth and clear, with the kind of low end whomp that few rock records from the era can claim
  • 4 Stars: “A smooth blend of the band’s more progressive jazz-rock fusion, the LP shot to the top of the R&B charts, their second of four number one records in a row. It was a perfect tonic to the mediocre MOR music rampaging its way through the early part of the decade…A magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes, this set is a perfect example of the band at their genre-fusing best.”

Engineered by the brilliant Chris Huston, this recording displays all his trademark gifts. His mixes feature lots of bass; huge, room-filling choruses that get loud without straining or becoming congested; and rhythmic energy that few pop recordings could lay claim to in 1972.

As for the choruses, allow me to paraphrase our listing from Commoner’s Crown.

This is one of the rare pop/rock albums that actually has actual, measurable, serious dynamic contrasts in its levels as it moves from the verses to the choruses of many songs. The first track on side two, Four Cornered Room, is a perfect example. Not only are the choruses noticeably louder than the verses, but later on in the song the choruses get REALLY LOUD, louder than the choruses of 99 out of 100 rock/pop records we audition. It sometimes takes a record like this to open your ears to how compressed practically everything else you own is.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Richness and weight are key to the sound, but oddly enough an extended top end was almost as crucial to the success of the best copies. When the top end extends, the sound is open and relaxed. When the various songs build to their climaxes, the copies with lots of clean top end had a sense of “ease” that simply was not to be found on the smoother (read: duller) brethren.

What the best sides of this United Artists recording have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1973
  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the above.

What We’re Listening For on War’s Album

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt — Chris Huston in this case — would have put them.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

H2 Overture 
In Your Eyes 
Gypsy Man 

Side Two

Me and Baby Brother
Deliver the Word 
Southern Part of Texas
Blisters

AMG Review

Focusing in part on their softer side, War unleashed Deliver the Word in fall 1973. A smooth blend of the band’s more progressive jazz-rock fusion, the LP shot to the top of the R&B charts, their second of four number one records in a row. It was a perfect tonic to the mediocre MOR music rampaging its way through the early part of the decade…

An outstanding album split between War’s two definitive styles, Deliver the Word ultimately delivers a vibe, a groove, and an intent that are hard to resist. A magical ride with plenty of surprises to keep the listener on his or her toes, this set is a perfect example of the band at their genre-fusing best.

Eagles / Self-Titled – Listening in Depth

More Eagles

More Country and Country Rock

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  • A truly outstanding early pressing, earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on both sides
  • This is as quiet as they come, folks – no marks play, and the vinyl is often quieter than Mint Minus Minus, exceptional for this title
  • You will be floored by the huge, rich, Tubey Magical guitars exploding out from your speakers on Take It Easy
  • One of the Best Sounding Rock Records Ever Made, a member of our Top Ten and without a doubt Glyn Johns’ engineering (and producing) Masterpiece
  • A Top 100 Tubey Magical Demo Disc that is guaranteed to blow your mind on a pressing that sounds as good as this one does

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.


It will not take the lucky owner of this record long to recognize what we’ve known for years: the Eagles first album is clearly and inarguably one of the Best Sounding Rock Recordings Ever Made. Almost all the qualities we look for on this album can be found on this very copy.

The Eagles first album is without a doubGlyn Johns‘ masterpiece — rock records simply do not sound any better in our experience. It’s exactly the kind of record that makes virtually ANY Audiophile pressing pale in comparison. Everything you could ask for as an audiophile is here, and more.

We’ve been up on our soapbox for years telling people how amazing this record can be, and here’s a copy that backs up our position from start to finish. (more…)

John Lee Hooker – If You Miss ‘Im … I Got ‘Im

More John Lee Hooker

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  • Hooker’s wonderful 1970 release finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two married with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Rich, smooth and Tubey Magical, this pressing has a lovely musical quality that’s missing from some of the copies we played
  • A delightful collaboration between John Lee and his cousin, Earl Hooker – AMG says he “definitely benefits from keeping it in the family” here
  • “Heard here less than a year before his death, Earl still sounds frisky and versatile, often utilizing a funky wah-wah style without ever descending into the psychedelic excesses that plagued so many late-’60s electric blues albums.”

(more…)

Wes Montgomery – Road Song

More Wes Montgomery

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

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  • Wes Montgomery’s final album makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Full-bodied, musical, warm and smooth – this should sound far better than any copy you’ve heard
  • Features the limitless talents of Herbie Hancock, Ed Shaughnessy, Richard Davis, and more
  • “These songs are short, sweet, and supported by classical-tinged string and woodwind arrangements. This is not heavy jazz in any sense. Wes sounds to be just relaxing and having fun with it…”

(more…)

Various Composers – Balalaika Favorites

More Balalaika Favorites

More TAS Super Disc Recordings

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  • This delightful collection, a longstanding member of the TAS Super Disc List, finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides here are wonderful — clean, clear and present with tons of energy and lots of space around all of the players
  • “For what it is, it doesn’t get any better than this. What it is, of course, is a collection of Russian folk music played with astonishing artistry by the Ossipov State Russian Folk Orchestra…”

What do you hear on this pressing that you don’t hear on others? It’s very simple: the Balalaikas are delicate and sweet. There’s air all around them.

They have the kind of midrange magic that you hear on the best pop guitar records, the Tea For The Tillerman’s and the After The Gold Rush’s of this world. When you hear that sound there’s no mistaking it. It’s what we audiophiles live for. (more…)

Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington – Francis A. & Edward K.

More Frank Sinatra

More Duke Ellington

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  • A STUNNING original Reprise pressing with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side two – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Sinatra is both natural and present – he actually sounds like he is standing on the same stage as Ellington’s band
  • “Recorded on Sinatra’s birthday in 1967, this collaboration between America’s most popular singing icon and pre-eminent jazz composer still endures as one of Sinatra’s most enjoyable Reprise-era albums.” – Amazon

Recorded one year after the remarkable Sinatra-Jobim record that we treasure here at Better Records, Sinatra takes the opportunity to work with one of the greatest bandleaders in the history of jazz, the Duke himself. We had good luck with the stereo originals on the lovely Blue and Green Reprise labels — they can be as big, rich and warm as Sinatra’s legendary Capitol recordings when you find the right pressing, and that’s really saying something.

You Are There

The presence and immediacy here are really something. Turn it up and Frank is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime.

The sound is big, open, rich and full. The highs are extended and silky sweet. The bass is tight and punchy. And this copy gives you more life and energy than most by a long shot. Very few Sinatra records offer the kind of realistic, lifelike sound you get from this pressing.

He’s no longer a recording — he’s a living, breathing person. We call that “the breath of life,” and this record has it in spades. His voice is so rich, sweet, and free of any artificiality, you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s no “sound” to distract you. (more…)

Remind Me, What Is the Point of Listening to a Quiet Record with Mediocre Sound?

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A mediocre reissue from Philips, bad enough to qualify for our Hall of Shame.

This is some truly dead as a doornail sound, sound which is not remotely competitive with the real Mercury pressings we’ve played. The FR pressings of the recording can be phenomenally good.  Even the later M2 pressings from Philips can be excellent. 

Back in the ’80s and ’90s I actually used to like some of the Golden Import pressings.  That was a long time go, and thankfully our playback system is quite a bit more revealing than the one I had back in those days.

After playing literally tens of thousands of records since then, my critical listening skills are better too.

Now when I play these imports, they sound veiled, overly smooth, smeary and compressed, not too different from the average Philips pressing, which of course is what they are. They’re all remastered by Philips using the Mercury tapes.

Sadly, not much of the Mercury Living Presence sound has survived.

They’re good for audiophiles who care more about quiet surfaces than good sound.  We are firmly staked at the opposite side of that trade-off. Quiet vinyl means nothing if the sound is poor.

Our advice: Don’t waste your money.


This Record Is Good for Testing the Following Qualities

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency