Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

The Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers – Worst Version Ever!

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Sticky Fingers

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

This RTI 180g copy (with the zipper cover) is one of a series of five titles Bob Ludwig cut in the ’90s. According to the man, after cutting the record he chanced upon a consumer copy and was shocked to hear how bad it sounded.   

It sounded, according to him, nothing like the record he had cut. Somehow they had botched the pressings and ruined the sound. How this could happen I can’t imagine.

Bob says that’s what they did and we’ll take him at his word, out of respect for one of the all-time great mastering engineers, RL himself. He promptly sold off all his analog mastering equipment and got out of the game.

Can you blame him? According to him they put his name all over a record the sound of which they had ruined. Guess I would stop making records too if that were the case.

By the way, the sound was dismal on every title from that series we played except for Heart’s, which was okay, certainly better than the average pressing out there, but no Hot Stamper by any stretch of the imagination. (For actual Hot Stampers please come to us.)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on both sides of this AMAZING Hot Stamper! This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title. The sound doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper. 

We just finished a big shootout of this album [in 2009!] and this Flower label pressing was the undisputed champion. Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright. On this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The horns sound especially wonderful.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture, Op. 49 / Kunzel – Telarc Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing.

If you want an amazingly dynamic 1812 with huge amounts of deep bass for the firing of the cannon you can’t do much better than this (or its UHQR brother). 

But if you want rich, sweet and tonally correct brass and strings you had best look elsewhere. I’ve never liked the sound of this record and I’m guessing if I heard a copy today I would like it even less. Who thinks live classical music actually sounds like this? (more…)

The Great Jazz Trio – Direct From L.A. – Reviewed in 2014

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Albums with Ron Carter on bass / Tony Williams on drums

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

The album features some excellent jazz with outstanding drum work by Tony Williams (one of our favorite drummers here at Better Records).

If you have a good copy of The Three on Eastwind you will note the strong similarity in sound. The music here, however, is clearly more adventurous.  (more…)

Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording – Side One Vs. Side Two

I’ve Got The Music In Me

houstivego

In our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs! (more…)

Mark Levinson – Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig. 

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro. Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.

Letter of the Week – Van Halen

Van Halen

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,  

I just got a super hot stamper Van Halen and immediately got out my DCC version – which is a record I’ve had no complaints about – compared to most of the heavy vinyl remaster crap – but, oh man, what a difference. Huge sound – really alive – the way you remember this sound should be like – I saw these boys when they first hit – one of my first rock concerts. Thanks again – this was money well spent – and on this one, I can even ebay away the DCC and more than break even (I almost feel guilty about that!).

Richard

Hi Richard,

Isn’t it funny how a record that doesn’t sound “bad” in any way — the DCC – falls so far short of what it really should have sounded like? How will the audiophile record collectors of the world, and I used to be one, ever get better sound when they already think they have it? (more…)

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat – Is the MoFi Good or Bad?

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Sonic Grade: D to B-

If you own the typical MoFi version of this album you happen to own one of the All Time Mastering Disasters of the modern era. Ridiculously boosted at both ends, their version is all but unlistenable on a high end stereo. 

Some copies are worse than others, so we are conservatively giving MoFi’s pressing a sonic grade of D. We’ve played some in the past that clearly deserved an F (F as in Failing), but we also once played one that sounded pretty good, which we describe below. If you’ve played half a dozen MoFi copies and plucked out the best one, yours might be good too. If you haven’t heard a bunch, chances are slim that yours is any better than awful.

There’s only one way to tell of course, and that’s to pull it off the shelf and give it a spin. You may be shocked at just how hyped-up it has gotten since the last time you heard it.

If you play your records back on an old console, with maybe a blown woofer or two, okay, I can see how the sound of the MoFi might work. But I’m guessing most of you have something better than that, and since you do, one of our Hot Stamper pressings will absolutely positively blow your mind, showing you the real Year of the Cat. We guarantee it. (more…)

The L.A. 4 – Pavane Pour Une Infante Defunte – Reviewed in 2008

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

This is a Near Mint East Wind Japanese Import Direct-To-Disc LP with SUPERB SOUND. Most copies we come across are quite ticky. Thankfully that ain’t the case here. This is an EXCEPTIONALLY QUIET copy! 

The sound may be good but the music is mostly a snore.

 

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio – Blues to East – Reviewed in 2015

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

On this album there’s almost none of that “introspective noodling jazz” that the Japanese are infamous for. I love Midnight Sugar as much as the next guy, but too much of that kind of music is wearying. 

Yamamoto’s Trio wants to show that it can play good old fashioned straight ahead American piano jazz with the best of them. I hear echoes of Bill Evans in Yamamoto’s playing. Supposedly he was a big Errol Garner fan as well. (more…)