Advice – Audiophile Heavy Vinyl

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.

It’s a bit like having a slightly underpowered system which makes loud passages or transients seem to be right at the edge of distortion, and then switching to a more powerful amplifier and hearing those passages reproduced with the relaxed quality that more headroom gives you.

Also the sound opens up quite a bit on these 45s so that more of the room ambience is heard. The Japanese are famous for their close-miking, and sometimes the sense of real musicians in a real space is lacking. Here much of that quality is restored.

Yamamoto is one of the few Japanese jazz players who has any feel for the medium. If you like bluesy jazz piano with amazingly dynamic sound, you can’t go wrong here. 

TRACK LISTING

Midnight Sugar
I”m A Fool To Want You
The Nearness Of You
It Could Happen To You
Sweet Georgia Blues

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. 

Thanks for your letter. 
TP

Our Classic Review

Pretty flat and lifeless. You would never understand why audiophiles rave about this recording by listening to the Classic Records pressing.

We played it up against our best, and as expected it was nothing to write home about. Since Rudy has remastered and ruined practically all the Blue Note CDs by now, you will have your work cut out for you if you want to find a good sounding version of Midnight Blue. This sure ain’t one.

Of course we would be more than happy to get you an amazing sounding copy — it’s what we do — but the price will be five to ten times (or more) what the Classic costs. In our opinion it’s money well spent, as you will see in our review below.

Since the Classic conveys very little of what the musicians were up to whilst recording the album, our advice is to cross it off your list of records of interest. It’s thirty bucks down the drain.

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.

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – An Album We Are Clearly Obsessed With

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AQUALUNG is an album we admit to being obsessed with — just look at the number of commentaries we’ve written about it.

We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries. (more…)

Heavy Vinyl – Is This the Best Sounding Sgt. Pepper?

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You might agree with some reviewers that EMI’s engineers did a pretty good job with the new Pepper. In the March 2013 issue of Stereophile Art Dudley weighed in, finding little to fault on this title but being less impressed with most of the others in the new box set. His reference disc? The MoFi UHQR! Oh, and he also has some old mono pressings and a domestic Let It Be. Now there’s a man who knows his Beatles. Fanatical? Who wouldn’t be? We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Christ’s sake.

When I read the reviews by writers such as these I often get the sense that I must’ve fallen through some sort of Audio Time Warp and landed back in 1982. How is it that our so-called experts evince so little understanding of how records are made, how variable the pressings can be, and, more importantly, how absolutely crucial it is to understand and implement rigorous protocols when attempting to carry out comparisons among pressings.
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Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu – A Classic Records Ripoff of a True Classic

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP badly mastered for the benefit of credulous audiophiles.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you. (more…)

Shostakovich – The Age of Gold – Another Mediocre Classic Records Pressing

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Sonic Grade: D

Another Classic Records LP debunked. 

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as fairly typical of their mediocre-at-best catalog, tonally fine but low-rez and lacking space, warmth and above all Tubey Magic. I don’t think I’ve ever played an original or a VICS reissue that didn’t sound better, and that means that the best grade to give Classic’s pressing is probably a D: below average.

We have a section for all the Classical Records we have reviewed on the site to date.

We also have a section for all the Heavy Vinyl Classical Records we have reviewed on the site.

We have a number of Commentaries specifically addressing issues we’ve encountered when playing classical recordings.

Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

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Another Classic Records LP debunked.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports. Wrong on all counts. After playing more than two dozen pressings, it’s pretty clear that the right domestic pressings KILL any and all contenders.
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Thick and Dull – Not Our Sound!

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John Coltrane – Giant Steps

Rhino 45 RPM 2 Disc Set Debunked

Sonic Grade: F

The sound of the 45 RPM 2 disc version cut by Bernie Grundman does not exactly tickle our fancy. It sounds thick and dull, much like the Deja Vu Bernie remastered years ago for Classic Records.

As is the case with so many of the Heavy Vinyl reissues released these days, the studio ambience you hear on these pressings is a pitiful fraction of the ambience the real pressings are capable of revealing, the ones mass-produced by Atlantic, original and reissue alike.

Rhino bills their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using “performance” to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

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

Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn Vague

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. 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. 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.
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