Advice – Audiophile Half-Speeds

Pink Floyd WYWH – … And the winner is: Surprise — The Hot Stamper!

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One of our best customers, Roger, received his $150 Hot Stamper ’Wish You Were Here’ and went straight to work comparing it with the various other pressings he owned: two different CBS Half Speeds. The not-so-shocking results follow … 

Hi Tom,

I received your Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’ Hot Stamper and compared it to my CBS Half-Speed (I found a bunch of these Half-Speeds in a bargain bin years ago and did a shootout to select the best one) and the pressing that I considered the best, the Japanese Mastersound Half-Speed, for which I paid dearly. Drum roll, please while Vanna hands me the sealed envelope………… and the winner is: Surprise — the Hot Stamper! And it wasn’t even close.

Once I heard the center-of-the-earth bass on the Hot Stamper ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, it was all over. I was amazed at how bright the CBS was, transparent yes, but bright and no bass and no body to the saxophones and voices. The Mastersound was better-balanced in that the highs were tamed, but no real dynamics and bass was flabby. I have heard this record hundreds of times, but never heard the details in the guitars and cymbals and keyboards like this. And did I mention the huge, huge soundstage with a wall of sound like that of other Pink Floyd records? Nice job as usual. (more…)

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

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This Original Reprise Aqualung has a STUNNING Beyond WHITE HOT side two that just may have the best sound we’ve ever heard for the album. It will absolutely MURDER the British Originals and make mincemeat out of any reissue! Folks, for hard rockin’, Tubey Magical, psychedelic early ’70s analog, it just does not get any better. Here’s a knockout copy that will bring the power of Aqualung to life right in your very own listening room.

Keep in mind that most copies of Aqualung do almost nothing right. In fact, in one of our recent shootouts we didn’t find a single copy worthy of a three-plus grade. This one was so impressive, we felt that A+++ was not enough. No, Three Pluses won’t do for an Aqualung that sounds this good.

We’re calling it A++++. It’s some of the best Jethro Tull sound to grace our listening room in a very, very long time. We’ve missed our old friend and we’re glad to see he’s back and better than ever. (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame Pressing

The CBS Half Speed is ridiculously bright — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?   

The chances of there being Hot Stamper CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers? As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – A MoFi Disaster (But Don’t Tell This Guy)

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Sonic Grade: D

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply.

We have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity.

Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different Mo-Fi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect. (more…)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Deja Vu – A Tale of Two MoFi Pressings

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Sonic Grade: F (or not!)

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Just for fun about 10 years ago I pulled out a MoFi pressing of Deja Vu I had laying around. I hadn’t played their version in a long time. I could have gone a lot longer without playing it, because what I heard was pretty disappointing. Playing their record confirmed all my prejudices. The highs sizzled and spit. The heart of the midrange was recessed and sour.

Know what it reminded me of? A bad Japanese pressing. (Since most of them are pretty bad I could have just said a typical Japanese pressing, but that’s another story for another day.)

And if that’s not bad enough, the bass definition disappeared. Bass notes and bass parts that were clearly audible and easily followed on our Hot Stamper copies were murky, ill-defined mud on the MoFi.

If you own the MoFi you owe it to yourself to hear a better sounding version. You really don’t know what you’re missing. (more…)

With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it.

The Pretenders – Nautilus Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Debunked

Completely lifeless. This pressing takes all the rock out of rock and roll. A ridiculous joke played on a far-too-credulous audiophile public.  

The Beatles White Album – A True MoFi Disaster

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Sonic Grade: D

Another MoFi LP debunked. 

The last time I played the MoFi I could not believe how ridiculously phony and compressed it was. And to think I used to like their version when it came out back in the ’80s!

Take Yer Blues. The MFSL pressing positively wreaks havoc with all the added bass and top end The Beatles put on this track. The MoFi version is already too bright, and has sloppy bass to start with, so the result on this track is way too much BAD bass and way too much BAD spitty 10k-boosted treble, unlike the good imports, which have way too much GOOD bass and treble.

Yer Blues ROCKS. Listen to the big jam at the end of the song, where John’s vocal mic is turned off but his performace is still caught by a room or overheard mic. They obviously did this on purpose, killing his vocal track so that the “leaked” vocal could be heard.

Those crazy Beatles. It’s more than just a cool “effect”. It actually seems to kick the energy and power of the song up a notch. It’s clearly an accident, but an accident that works. I rather doubt George Martin approved. That kind of “throw the rule book out” approach is what makes The Beatles’ recordings so fascinating, and The White Album the most fascinating of them all.

The EQ for this song is also a good example of something The Beatles were experimenting with, as detailed in their recording sessions and interviews with the engineers. They were pushing the boundaries of normal EQ, of how much bass and treble a track could have. This track has seriously boosted bass, way too much, but somehow it works!

Difficulty of Reproduction

This recording is quite difficult to reproduce, which means it ranks high on our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale (DORS). Do not attempt to play it using any but the best equipment.

In its way this is an ideal record to gauge how much progress you have made in audio. Here is what I had to say about a Brewer and Shipley album that ranks high on the DOR scale:

I can also tell you that if you have a modest system this record is just going to sound like crap. It sounded like crap for years in my system, even when I thought I had a good one. Vinyl playback has come a long way in the last five or ten years and if you’ve participated in some of the revolutionary changes that I talk about elsewhere on the site, you should hear some pretty respectable sound. Otherwise, I would pass. On the Difficulty of Reproduction scale, this record scores fairly high. You need lots of Tubey Magic and freedom from distortion, the kind of sound I rarely hear on any but the most heavily tweaked systems, the kind of systems that guys like me have been slaving over for thirty years. If you’re a Weekend Warrior when it comes to stereo, this is not the record for you.

Much like Synchronicity, this is a tough record to get the right sound out of — even if you do have an excellent pressing. It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively. It’s not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too. As we’ve said before about these kinds of recordings — Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II — they are designed to bring any audio system that tries to reproduce them to its knees.

If you have the kind of big system that a record like this requires — demands even — you are going to hear some amazing sound when you drop the needle on one of our Hot Stampers.

Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressing Hall of Shame.

Ran across this listing from all the way back in 2005. It takes shots at Badly Half-Speed Mastered records like this awful CBS audiophile pressing of Silk Degrees, as well as the audiophiles who complained about plain old domestic pressings at the time. I should know; I was one of them. Ouch. 

Old customers know that we have been relentlessly anti-audiophile-LP for years, since the early ’90s in fact, when those awful Acoustic Sounds jazz records first started coming out.

Hey, here’s a question for you. When was the last time that anybody mentioned a word about those Heavy Vinyl Disasters, badly mastered by Doug Sax with no presence and bloated bass? They’ve rather fallen from favor, have they not? I wonder why. Could it be because they were as ridiculously bad as I said they were, and it just took the rest of the world a little longer to recognize that fact? Perhaps most audiophiles are making progress. It’s just taking them a long long time. 


Here are the relevant remarks from our Hot Stamper listing:

So what do you hear on this copy? Well, the first thing you hear is a rich, solid piano, one that’s missing from the CBS Half-Speed and 90% of the reissues. The second thing you hear is a smooth, sweet top end, which is likewise missing from the above mentioned pressings. This album, like so many recordings from the ’70s, is surprisingly natural sounding for a pop record. I’ve had the same experience with a lot of Billy Joel records from this period — I was surprised to hear how well recorded they were after I stopped listening to the Half-Speed and the Import pressings and just went back and played good original domestic copies. When you get the right ones, they’re fabulous.

And these were all the records that we audiophiles were complaining about! We lamented the fact that these pressings weren’t audiophile quality, like the best MOFIs and Japanese pressings! Can you imagine?! This is how bad even good equipment was back then. Of course we got what we deserved. We got lots of phony, hyped-up pressings to fool us into thinking we were hearing better sound, when in fact the opposite was true. (I regret to say that nothing has changed — most pressings aimed at audiophiles are still junk.)


Hot Stamper Commentary from 2005!

Hot Stampers finally discovered! This is the SWEEETEST, RICHEST, MOST TONALLY CORRECT COPY I have ever heard.

This album has a long history here at Better Records. I used to complain about the CBS Half-Speeds being too bright.

The typical domestic copies were no better and usually much worse. Then Simply Vinyl did a version that was about as awful as one could imagine — so aggressive it was virtually unplayable.

But I kept buying copies of this record in the hopes that someday I would find one that sounded good. I remember playing this record when it came out in ’76 and thinking that it sounded very good. So how is it that all the copies I’m playing sound so bad, or at the very least, wrong?

Well, the answer to that question is not too complicated. When you get the right pressing, the sound is excellent.

I must have had a good one 20+ years ago, and that’s why I liked the sound. The exact same thing happened to me with both Deja Vu and Ambrosia’s first album. The copy I had picked up at random when I bought the album just happened to have Hot Stampers. (When you consider that Hot Stampers for both of those records are pretty unusual, I would say I was very lucky to get good sounding copies of those two masterpieces while everyone around me was buying crap.)

Whether Silk Degrees is music you want to listen to is the question before the house. As the old saying goes, “there is no disputing matters of taste.” Maybe Boz Scaggs is not your thing. But I can tell you this — you will have a hard time finding a better sounding copy than this one!

Pink Floyd – Meddle – Another Lifeless Mess from MoFi

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

Same problems as the MoFi Thick As a Brick: The MoFi is super-TRANSPARENT and OPEN, and the top end will be lush and extended. If you prize clarity, this is the one!

But if you prize clarity at the expense of everything else, you are seriously missing the boat on Meddle (and of course Thick As A Brick too). The MoFi is all mids and highs with almost nothing going on below. 

This is a rock record, but without bass and dynamics the MoFi pressing can’t rock, so what exactly is it good for?

Another Half-Speed Mastered Pressing Debunked.