Month: September 2021

Advice on Elvis Costello’s Recordings

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Hot Stamper Pressings of Elvis’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Elvis Costello

TRUST is one of my two favorite Elvis Costello albums, along with My Aim Is True. Both are Must Owns in my book.

I remember loving the sound of my old Brit copy from twenty years back, even to the point of agreeing with Michael Fremer when he put it on his top 40 rock album list. Now I know better: that most of them leave something to be desired, especially down low.

Did I have good one? Did he? Who can say? Everything is different, and revisiting old sonic favorites can sometimes be a bit of a shock.

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Gershwin / Concerto in F – String Tone Is Key

More of the Music of George Gershwin

More Orchestral Spectaculars with Hot Stampers

Sonic Grade: C-

I must admit Classic Records did a passable job with this one. The two things that separate the good originals from the reissue are in some ways related. Classic, as is their wont, boosted the upper midrange, and that, coupled with their transistory mastering equipment, makes the strings brighter, grittier, and yet somehow lacking in texture and sheen compared to the originals (a clear sign of a low-res cutting chain).

Once you recognize that quality in the sound of a record it’s hard to ignore, and I hear it on every Classic Record I play. (This commentary has more on the subject.)

RCA is more famous for its string tone than anything else. If the strings on the Classic Records LPs don’t bother you, you can save yourself a lot of money by not buying authentic RCA pressings — and get quieter vinyl to boot.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

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Ella Fitzgerald / Rhythm Is My Business – 1962 Was a Great Year for Ella

More Ella Fitzgerald

More Pop and Jazz Vocals

  • Ella’s first album to come out after Clap Hands finally makes its Hot Stamper debut, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • What took us by surprise was how rich and sweet this original Verve was – so many of Ella’s early albums don’t have the smooth, natural vocals of this pressing
  • We absolutely love the swinging R&B organ Bill Doggett brought to these big band sessions, all backing an exceptionally well recorded First Lady of Song
  • “Ella Fitzgerald is in the spotlight throughout, mostly singing swing-era songs along with a couple of newer pieces… [her] voice was in its prime, and the charts are excellent.”

This copy is about as quiet as any domestic original Verve stereo pressing can be found. The monos of this title — which naturally are five times more common — have that hard, honky sound that so many mono cuttings made from Ella’s stereo recordings are cursed with.

Clap Hands is a notable exception to that rule, and of course any of her albums recorded in mono sound best in mono, when cut right and pressed right.

1962 was a great year for Ella. She released this album early in the year and followed it up with the Grammy winning Ella Swings Brightly with Nelson. Later in the same year Verve released Ella Swings Gently with Nelson, and it’s interesting to note that all three of these classic albums were recorded late in 1961. The woman could do no wrong!

We would have to wait for her first release of 1963, Ella Sings Broadway, before she put out a clunker. But who’s fault is that? The music is fine, it’s the recording that’s bad (as far as we can tell; we have yet to hear one sound good). (more…)

Elton John – Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player

More Elton John

More Titles Only Offered on Import Vinyl

  • A KILLER copy of Elton John’s 1973 release with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Forget the dubby, closed-in and transistory domestic pressings – here is the relaxed, rich, spacious, musical, lifelike sound that only the best imports can show you
  • Thanks to Ken Scott’s brilliant engineering and Gus Dudgeon’s production savvy, every song here sounds better than you imagined, because finally you are hearing it right
  • 4 stars: “His most direct, pop-oriented album… a very enjoyable piece of well-crafted pop/rock.”

The amazing engineer Ken Scott (Ziggy Stardust, Magical Mystery Tour, Honky Chateau, Crime of the Century, Truth, Birds of Fire) is the man responsible for the stunning sound here.

The kind of Tubey Magical richness, smoothness and fullness he achieved at Trident in the early ’70s, as well as here at a certain French country estate, have never been equaled elsewhere in our opinion. (more…)

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

[This review was originally written in 2015.]

We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energy-less and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer, the foremost champion of thick vinyl from sources far and wide, to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either. Damn!
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Classic Records Had an Epiphany in 2007 – UHQRs Actually DO Sound Good!

Don’t believe your ears! Listen to Mike Hobson.

This commentary is from 2007 and admittedly a bit long in the tooth for the brave new world of Heavy Vinyl we currently find ourselves in. Classic Records has been gone for quite a while and when that happened we said good riddance to their bad records.


Mike Hobson finally figured out why his pressings often don’t sound good and/or are noisy. We’ll let him explain it. If you want the whole story (which goes on for days) you can find it on the Classic Records web site. While you’re there, remember the sound.

One day, while out for a run, I had an epiphany and rushed home to dig out a JVC pressing from the 1980’s pressed for Herb Belkin’s Mobile Fidelity. The Mobile Fidelity UHQR pressings were always revered as sounding better than the standard weight pressings from JVC [citation needed, big time] – but why I thought? To find out, I cut a UHQR pressing in half and guess what I found? First, it weighed 195 grams and IT WAS A FLAT PROFILE! I cut a 120g JVC pressing in half and found that it had the conventional profile that, with small variations, seems to be a record industry standard and is convex in it’s [sic] profile – NOT FLAT.

So, that is why the UHQR JVC pressings sounded better than their standard profile pressings and further confirmation of why our Flat Profile pressings sound better than 180g conversional pressings! [italics added]

uhqrpic

This is a classic (no pun intended) case of Begging the Question, asserting the very thing that Mr. Hobson is trying to prove.

There was no need to saw up a record. Mofi actually explained in the booklet for every UHQR how its shape differed from a conventional disc.

Here is one of the images they used in the technical specs booklet that came with most UHQRs. Yes, it’s flat. (The later ones didn’t have the booklet because the whole project was such a disaster that they didn’t want to spend the money to print them for records they were selling below their cost. When I first got in the audiophile record biz in the late ’80s I was buying boxfuls of sealed UHQRs for $9 each.)

Let’s Get Real

UHQRs were junk then and they are junk now. They are plainly and simply bad sounding records. The UHQR pressings may have been revered in their day, may even be revered now, but they are truly awful sounding records, Tea for the Tillerman probably being the worst of them.

Do UHQRs sound better than the standard weight pressings MoFi was pressing at the time? Some do and some don’t, but what difference does that make? Bad sound is bad sound. Whether one bad record is slightly better than another bad record is not particularly useful information. (more…)

The Dirty Little Secret of the Record Biz Part 3

More of the Music of Traffic

More of the Music of Steve Winwood

Hits That Are Made from Dub Tapes

The sound of some songs on some greatest hits albums can be BETTER than the sound of those very same songs on the best original pressings.

How can that be you ask, dumbfounded by the sheer ridiculousness of such a statement? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. It’s a dirty little secret in the record biz that sometimes the master for the presumptive Hit Single (or singles) is pulled from the album’s final two track master mix tape and used to make the 45 single, the idea being that the single is what people are going to hear on the radio and want to buy, or, having heard it sound so good on the radio, go out and buy the album.

One way or another, it’s the single that will do the selling of the band’s music. This is clearly the case with the albums of Traffic.
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A Simple Test for Polarity – Listen to the Solo Violin

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

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Both sides are reversed.

On side two, the Chopin side, notice how vague the solo violin is with the polarity wrong.

As soon as it is switched, a solid, real, natural, palpable violin pops into view.

That’s how you know when your polarity is correct, folks!

This Heavy Vinyl pressing is also quite vague, but you can reverse your polarity until the cows come home, it ain’t gettin’ any better.

Here are some other Records that Are Good for Testing Vague Imaging


The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it.

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

Electric Light Orchestra – Listen for Enthusiastic Female Background Vocals

This review for our Shootout Winner was written in 2008.

Let’s start with side two, which is As Good As It Gets, the best we have ever heard. So many great songs, with So Fine getting things off to a lively start, and Do Ya rockin’ out toward the end.

This copy has it all from top to bottom, with the punchy bass and fully weighted sound that this music demands. The energy level coming from these grooves is off the scale — we’ve never heard it sound like this.

Side one is almost as good, with A Double Plus (and maybe a little better); only one other copy in our shootout was better, and not by much. The sound is rich and full, yet transparent, the ideal combination in our experience.

Love those female background singers — their voices are clear and individually separated, but even more importantly, on the best copies like this one they are ENTHUSIASTIC. This is the very definition of a Hot Stamper: ELO on this copy is full of life and energy. The average copy is just another ELO record, like most of them Dead On Arrival.

Even though I am not the world’s biggest ELO fan, I am a HUGE fan of this album, which is why I’m so happy to have finally found one with AMAZING SOUND, on both sides! The British originals are the only ones that can convey the sweet TUBEY MAGIC of the British Master Tapes. The string tone on the average domestic copy is shrill and smeary; too little of the critically important texture remains after the master tapes have been dubbed and the copies sent to America for mastering. 

As a result of Jeff Lynne’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production approach, it will be the rare copy that provides enough transparency and resolution to bring out all the elements in these incredibly dense mixes, strings included. (more…)

Rodrigo / Guitar Concerto / Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre / Argenta / de Burgos

More of the music of Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

More Classical and Orchestral Music

  • An outstanding copy of this wonderful classical guitar masterpiece 
  • The sound here is glorious, brimming with the wonderful qualities that make listening to classical music in analog on top quality equipment so involving and pleasurable
  • The sound of the orchestra is as rich and sweet as would be expected from the Decca engineers, yet the guitar is clear, present and appropriately placed at the center of the ensemble surrounding it

If you were only to be allowed one Guitar Concerto recording, the Concierto De Aranjuez would probably be the one to own. You will recognize the main theme instantly; it’s the one Miles Davis appropriated for the astonishingly innovative Sketches of Spain album he did with Gil Evans.

The second picture in this listing is the original London, CS 6046, from which the piece is taken. It is a longtime member of the TAS List, and deservedly so. (more…)