Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Heavy Vinyl

For Pete’s Sake, What’s Wrong With Blue? – Thoughts on “The Definitive Vinyl” Version

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In 2007 a customer took issue with our summary rejection of the new Blue.

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do.

Actually this brings up a good point. If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would be a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

Jack Sheldon – Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing – Reviewed in 2007

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a PRACTICALLY BRAND NEW UHQR JVC Test Record. The record is virtually unplayed! The RAREST of the RARE! I’m SHOCKED at how good this record sounds. It has AMAZING live jazz sound.  (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…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

This pressing beats the typical Capitol LP, which is an aggressive, grainy piece of crap. Take my word for it: I easily have 30-40 copies of this album, and I can tell you from years of experience that it is extremely difficult to find good sounding pressings of this music. Cisco has done a service to the audiophile community by producing a very enjoyable LP of this, Linda’s masterpiece. It’s music that belongs in your collection. (If you have the bread, check out our Hot Stamper copies, guaranteed to kill any modern pressing — including this one — or your money back.) 

Cisco’s verison is completely free from compression of any kind, and sometimes that works in favor of the overall sound and sometimes it doesn’t. I may have additional commentary discussing these issues down the road, but for now let’s just say you will have a hard time finding a better copy of Heart Like A Wheel on vinyl. And of course, virtually no Capitol pressing is ever going to be as quiet as one of these lovely 180g RTI LPs.

The Who – Live at Leeds – Universal Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame Pressing

Universal Records 180 gram LP. Flat as a pancake sound. The CD almost has to be better.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. 

Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark – Rating the DCC LP

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Sonic Grade: B

The DCC — Not Bad! 

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse. Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty. The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings. I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. (more…)

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping. 

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly. (more…)

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto – Midnight Sugar – 2 45 RPM Discs

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Sonic Grade: B

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.

This 45 RPM Three Blind Mice 180g Double LP has DEMO DISC SOUND! The 33 RPM versions were pretty darn amazing but these 45s take the sound of this recording to an entirely new level. 

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

There are a couple of quite obvious benefits to mastering this music at 45 RPM. One is that Yamamoto tends to use his right hand in a percussive manner, which creates tracking problems on most any set up. At 45 RPM the mastering engineer is able to cut those transients, full of difficult to deal with harmonics, much more cleanly and accurately. The result is a sense of “ease” that you don’t hear on the 33. (more…)

Kenny Burrell – Midnight Blue – One Customer’s Take on the 45

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A good customer had this to say about a recent shootout:

“By the way side 2 of Midnight Blue bested every other copy I played including the 45 RPM Blue Note [Analogue Productions] reissue. The 45 RPM is very good. You know that technically it is right, but at the same time it’s missing something. When I listened to the [Hot] stamper copy you dug up for me I found it a little noisy at first and wasn’t sure if I could live with it. However after returning to the 45 RPM there was no enjoyment, so I dropped the needle on the stamper one more time, and then I heard it…”

I know what you mean about these modern reissues “missing something”. No matter how well mastered they may be, they’re almost always missing whatever it is that makes the analog record such a special listening experience. I hear that “analog” sound practically nowhere else outside of the live event.  (more…)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory – More Evidence of Analogue Productions’ Penchant for Insufferably Weird EQ

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Sonic Grade: D-

[This is a somewhat out of date commentary from about ten years ago. The last time I played the MoFi pressing mentioned below I found the sound so weirdly colored as to defy understanding. Ten years ago I apparently found it tolerable. More recently I did not. Bottom line: A pox on all their houses.]

Years ago a customer sent me his copy of the Analogue Productions LP (mastered by Hoffman and Gray) in order to carry out a little shootout I had planned among the five copies I could pull together: two MoFi’s, the Fantasy ORC reissue, a blue label original, the AP, and another reissue. 

Let’s just say there were no real winners, but there sure were some losers.

My take on the Hoffman version is simply this: it has virtually no trace of TUBEY ANALOG MAGIC. None to speak of anyway. It sounds like a clean, tonally correct but fairly bass-shy CD. No pressing I played managed to be so tonally correct and so boring at the same time. The MoFi has plenty of weird EQ colorations, the kind that bug the hell out of me on 98% of their crappy catalog, but at least it sounds like analog. It’s warm, rich and sweet. The AP copy has none of those qualities.

More pointless 180g sound, to my ear anyway. I couldn’t sit through it with a gun to my head.

It’s shocking how bad most of the original blue label pressings are. No top, no bass and hard mids, not a recipe for audiophile happiness.

You would need a LOT of vintage tubes in your system to get the AP record to sound right, and then everything else in your collection would sound wrong.