Month: October 2022

Liszt / The Music of Franz Liszt / Fiedler

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

  • This vintage Shaded Dog pressing of these wonderful orchestral showpieces boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • Classic superb Living Stereo Sound throughout – big and open with an especially clean and extended top end (great fun on those huge cymbal crashes Liszt favored)
  • Powerful, rich, dynamic and life-like orchestral reproduction, set in a huge hall
  • “The Hungarian-born composer and pianist Franz Liszt was strongly influenced by the music heard in his youth, particularly Hungarian folk music, with its unique gypsy scale, rhythmic spontaneity and direct, seductive expression.”
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Living Stereo from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is, in our opinion, one of the most underrated Living Stereo treasures in the Golden Age canon — but not by this critic (here reviewing the CD):

In the early days of stereo, RCA released an all-Liszt LP by Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops that has remained in my memory as one of the finest things the popular maestro ever committed to disc…

Two works, the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 and the high energy Rákoczy March, have been out for some time, coupled with “Hi-Fi Fiedler”. Now RCA has added to this current disc the two main pieces, Mazeppa and Les Preludes, from the original collection. They are as wonderful as ever – among the best, if not the best, performances of this music. Fiedler doesn’t dawdle or toy around with the melodies; he lets Liszt’s Romantic vision speak for itself, helping it along with brisk tempos and incisive phrasing. Seldom have the fanfares in Les Préludes had such bite and majesty.

ClassicsToday

The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for. Find me a modern record with that sound and I will eat it. And by “modern record” we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. NO ONE alive today can make a record that sound like this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have fully grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: compared head to head, they are simply not competitive.

After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples, both the boutique and major labels of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful or as life-like as this RCA from the old days.

Fortunately for us record lovers and collectors, we at Better Records are not trying to make a record sound the way these sides do, we’re just trying to find ones that do, and folks, we found some very, very good sides here.

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Two Approaches to Finding Better Records, One of Which Actually Works

New to the Blog? Start Here

More on the Subject of Thinking Critically About Records

If you want to believe the press releases, the hype, the liner notes, the reviews (which are rarely more than the worst kind of malpractice in our opinion) and all the rest of it, that’s your business.

Good luck with that approach; you’re going to need it. When you reach the dead end that surely awaits you, come see us. After 35 years in the record business there is a good chance we will still be around.

Our approach, on the other hand, revolves around cleaning and playing as many records as we can get our hands on, and then judging them on their merits and nothing but their merits, calling them as we see them as best we can, without fear or favor.

Our judgments may turn out to be wrong. Tomorrow we may find a better sounding pressing than the one we sell you today. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.

We don’t know it all and we’ve never pretended that we did. All knowledge is provisional. We may not be the smartest guys in the room, but we’re sure as hell smart enough to know that much.

If somehow we did know it all, there would not be a hundred entries in our Live and Learn section.

We regularly learn from our mistakes and we hope you do too.

But we learn things from the records we play not by reading about them, but by playing them. Our experiments, conducted using the shootout process we’ve painstakingly developed and refined over the course of the last twenty years, produces all the data we need: the winners, the losers, and the ranking for all the records in-between.

We’ve learned to ignore everything but the sound of the records we’ve actually played on our reference system.

What, of value, could anyone possibly tell us about a record that we’ve heard for ourselves? The question answers itself.

This approach allows us to have a unique, and, to our way of thinking, uniquely valuable service to offer the discriminating audiophile. When you’re tired of wasting your time and money on the ubiquitous mediocrities that populate the major audiophile dealers’ sites and take up far too much space in your local record store, let us show you just how much more real handpicked-for-top-quality-recordings can do for your musical enjoyment.

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Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite on Speakers Corner

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

This is probably one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Excellent sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Currently our favorite Firebird is the original pressing on Mercury with Dorati conducting. Our opinion is very unlikely to change concerning the best combination of sound and performance. The record is simply a monster on the right pressing.

We have never heard an especially good sounding London or Decca of Ansermet’s performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We tend to avoid judging records we have not played and we encourage the audiophile community to do the same.


As a general rule, this Heavy Vinyl pressing will fall short in most of the following areas:

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency


FURTHER READING

The sonic signature of the modern Heavy Vinyl Classical Reissue in Four Words: Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Vague.

(more…)

Curiosity and the Pursuit of Perfect Sound

One of our good customers has started a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

He invited a friend and colleague to talk about his own personal journey through the twin worlds of audio and records, and we expect you will find his story excellent reading.

This bit caught my eye:

On my new stereo, my modern pressings and reissues sound better than they did on my old stereo. But what’s improved more, FAR more, is the sound of my vintage vinyl. Not just my Hot Stampers, but many of my other vintage records as well. Here is a sampling of the titles where I’ve been able to make a direct comparison between an early (like, pre-CD-era) pressing and a recent (vinyl resurgence) pressing: Led Zeppelin 2, Willie Nelson’s StardustElla Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, E. Fitzgerald’s Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, Carmen, played by Ruggerio Ricci, Santana Abraxas, Carole King’s Tapestry, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Mingus Ah Um.

Good company to say the least!

Please to enjoy.

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1960 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

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How Can I Find My Own Hot Stampers?

Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts for as many different pressings of the same title as you can get your hands on.

This link will walk you through the process we’ve perfected over the last twenty or more years. If you’re an audiophile who wants to collect better sounding pressings, and learn a lot about records and audio in the bargain, doing your own shootouts is by far the best way to achieve your goals. As far as we’re concerned, it is the only sure way, since it takes the guesswork out of the process.

Answers to Some of Your Hot Stamper Questions

The Beatles in Mono, Our Grading System, Our Cleaning System and More

We discuss a number of issues with our letter writer, the kinds of questions we often get, so here are some of the answers we often give out.

  • While Prices for Many Records Have Trended Down, Others Have Gone Up
  • The Beatles in Mono
  • Our White Hot Triple Plus Grade
  • Why Our Stereo Is Good at Its Job, and
  • Record Cleaning

  Hey Tom, 

First off, I got to say, congratulations on a great concept. Also, congrats on having the balls to charge what these albums are worth.

Thanks. Like any business, we charge what the market will bear, and it seems people are willing to pay a lot for these records, although less for some than they used to — some of our records now sell for half or even less than what we were getting two or three or five years ago.

That said, the top copies have held their prices pretty well over the years and often gone up substantially. It’s the second tier and third tier titles and the Super Hots that have really fallen in price. That’s where the real “bargains” are these days. (more…)

McDonald and Giles – A Sleeper Prog Album from 1970

Hot Stamper Pressings of Prog Rock Albums Available Now

More Recordings Engineered by Brian Humphries

Brian Humphries engineered the album, and although you may not be familiar with that name, if you’re an audiophile you should get to know his work better, as this guy recorded some amazing sounding albums.

Take a gander at this group:

  • Black Sabbath – Paranoid
  • Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
  • Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die
  • Traffic – The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys 

Two are of course on our Top 100 Rock and Pop List, and all four — five if you count McDonald And Giles — qualify as State of the Art Rock Recordings from the era.

Demo Disc Quality Sound

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good the best early Island Label recordings can sound, this killer copy should do the trick.

This UK pressing is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This IS the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There may well be a CD of this album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable and a good collection of vintage vinyl could care less.

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A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Record Reviewing

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Allow me to respond to a comment left by Ian Malone.

It was left in the comments section for the interview Steve Westman did with me, which can be seen here:

A Conversation with TOM PORT from BETTER RECORDS

He writes:

Quite happy for you to promote your business Tom, but surely you are a better person than doing it in this way. I know that other people in the industry have said unkind things about you but you can rise above these insults.

I never say that the people making these modern records, as well as those reviewing them, are malicious or evil. I say they make or review bad sounding records and are simply misguided and incompetent.

Am I being unkind? If Michael Bay makes one bad movie after another, are we unkind to point it out, even though many people enjoy his movies. He is not a bad person, he is a bad filmmaker, and gets called out regularly for putting out a bad product.

Everyone understands that this is a matter of taste. If you always wished The Beatles albums had more bass, more compression and a smoother tonal balance overall, you can buy the new Heavy Vinyl pressings and get that sound on every title they ever released.

That sound does not exist on the tapes. I have no way of actually knowing that for a fact, but since no mastering engineer before 2014 had ever put that sound on an actual record, I think we can safely say that the evidence supports the idea that a completely “new sound” was specifically created for The Beatles when their catalog was remastered for our century.

Call it The New Beatles Sound. I am on record as not liking engineers who create a new sound for records that that had perfectly good sound already. Those of us who do not like our Beatles album to have those qualities should not be buying these newly remastered versions.

We offer the consumer an alternative sound, and, since our Beatles Hot Stampers are far and away our best sellers, it seems our customers agree with us that they actually do sound better. Some come back, sure, but not many, and I don’t think anyone has ever said they liked the new pressings better, although that possibility exists.

In some ways we operate like Consumer Reports. Blender X is terrible at making margaritas and blender Y is good at making them. The company that makes bad blenders should be called to account. If there is a name attached to that company, then I guess we can say that that person who runs that company should learn how to make better blenders or find something else to do with his time.

I am not impressed with the quality of the records being made today, and it follows that those who make them are responsible for the poor quality of the modern remastered LPs they make.

Is there a kind way to say that Pete Hutchison makes some of the worst sounding records I have ever played in my life? Should I pretend he doesn’t? If you play me one of his awful records, and don’t tell me who made it, I can judge the record on its merits, the way we judge all records. We test records blindly for precisely this reason. We let the record tell us how well it was made, what it does right and wrong relative to other pressings of the same album, apples to apples.

His records tell me he loves the sound of the murkiest, muddiest vintage tube equipment ever made, and wants every record he makes to have that sound.

In my book that is an egregious case of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. We wrote about it here.

Is there a kinder way to point that out? It’s astonishing to me that anyone takes this guy seriously. This is the sound audiophiles want?

Here’s a question for those who defend this man’s approach to mastering.

Did Bernie Grundman make all his records sound the same? Layer his sonic signature over the top of everything he did?

Does Aja sound like Blue sound like Heart Like a Wheel sound like Thriller sound like Tapestry?

On my stereo they sure don’t. I built a stereo to get out of the way of the records I play, and it lets all these records sound markedly different from one another.

But Hutchison takes exactly the opposite approach. He wants the same heavy tube sound on every record he makes. Is it mean to point that out?

Bernie Grundman has mastered many of my favorite recordings of all time. Doug Sax actually mastered both of my two favorite recordings of all time, Ambrosia’s first album on vinyl and Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk on CD.

But when these superbly talented engineers master bad sounding audiophile pressings for the likes of Chad Kassem and others, who deserves the blame?

Maybe Kassem told them what sound he wanted and they gave it to him. That’s their job, to deliver a product that the customer will pay for. The customer here is Chad, not the audiophile consumer.

Chad apparently likes the sound of the records he produces. I do not and I make an effort to describe precisely the sound I object to on his pressings. My reviews of both of his Tea for the Tillerman releases (the 33 and the 45) go on for days. I recommend you check it out if you want to know more about the failings of his albums in detail.

Opinion? Mere subjectivity? We back up everything we say about our offerings with an actual physical record that you can buy, risk free, to demonstrate the superiority of a properly mastered, properly pressed LP, one we cleaned, auditioned and stand behind 100%.

Some of the very same engineers I criticize made the record I might sell you. Lots of TMLs and BGs can be found in the dead wax of our Hot Stamper pressings.

Why wouldn’t they be found there? They are often found — after the fact, mind you — on the best sounding pressings of the albums we play in our shootouts.

These vintage pressings seem to have very little in common with the work these men are doing now.

Is there a kinder, gentler way to point that out? Should I just shut the hell up about it?

I guess we could say the companies producing records today mean well. They produce a product at a price for the market they are trying to reach. Chad thinks he can get $150 for his records and therefore he prices them at $150. They used to sell for less, now they sell for more. That’s how markets work. We do the same.

The records Chad and his competitors make are suitable, in my opinion, for those who set lower standards, or don’t know any better, or have modest systems, or just aren’t very serious about records and audio. Fine by me. It’s no skin off our noses.

We mostly appeal to a different group. A group that typically has heard those Heavy Vinyl pressings and wants something better. Something with Zero Collector Value, but 100% Top Quality Music and Sound Value.

Is it unkind to say we set higher standards and price our products accordingly?

Are we implying that these Heavy Vinyl labels set lower standards and price their records accordingly. Yes, we are.

All we are doing is pointing this out, using, I freely admit, stronger language than some might like. I have always favored plain speaking over the kind of bush beating, special pleading and excuse making so many audiophiles and those who write for them seem to prefer.

If your feelings are easily hurt, I am definitely not the guy you should be reading. I find bad sounding records infuriating and I am not averse to saying so. Best to avoid my blog if you don’t like reading somebody who is gets pissed off and feels ripped off every time he drops a needle on one of these lousy remasters.

We write passionately about good records, the ones we sell, but there is really no need to read what we say about them either. Our records speak for themselves, and we believe they deliver on their promises.

Try some, compare them with what you own and see if you still feel kindly toward the modern pressings you’ve no doubt been buying. There is a good chance you might not feel so kindly, once you can clearly hear what is missing from them.

And if not, no harm done, return shipping is on us, and a full refund will be posted to your card.

To paraphrase the great one, if you never hear one of our Hot Stamper pressings, most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine.

But if you do hear one, and you do like it, the milk of human kindness you show these modern record makers may turn as sour in your mouth as it has in mine.

TP


The Mud Pie Maker Himself

Presenting the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect, a man who fancies himself an audiophile/mastering engineer.

He’s a mastering engineer in the same sense that a person who makes mud pies is a piemaker.

I have not played any of his classical albums. I have in fact only played one title, a jazz record I happen to know well, and his remastered version is no better than the other records that get an F grade for sound and currently are to be found in our Bad Sounding Audiophile Records Section.

I will publish a review one of these days, but until then, I recommend you steer well clear of this man’s records.

An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of this psychological effect gives some background:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”


FURTHER READING

More on the Subject of Bad Tube Mastering

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

The Limits of Expert Advice

More of the Music of Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Zuma

Richard Feynman gave a series of lectures concerning the workings of the scientific method. Here is an excerpt from one of them that I would like you to keep in mind as you read the discussion below.

“Now I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s the truth. Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.

“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is … If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Back in 2015 a mastering engineer by the name of Phil Brown contacted me in reference to a Hot Stamper pressing of Neil Young’s Zuma he had seen in our mailer. (Apologies in advance for not giving out the stamper numbers; we frown on that sort of thing around here.) He wrote:

  Hey Tom,   

I see it’s a featured disc in the newsletter. I’m curious what the matrix numbers are since I mastered it. (more…)