Advice – Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – Live and Learn

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More Katy Lied

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And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original — another example of just how Wrongyou can be.

We happily admit to our mistakes because we know that all this audio stuff and especially the search for Hot Stampers is a matter of trial and error. We do the trials; that’s how we avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles and audiophile record dealers make when it comes to finding the best sounding records. Of course, being human we can’t help but make our share of mistakes. The difference is that we learn from them. We report the facts to the best of our ability every time out. 

Every record gets a chance to show us what it’s made of, regardless of where it was made, who made it or why they made it. (Like anybody cares.)

If we used to like it and now we don’t, that’s what you will read in our commentary. Our obligation is to only one person: you, the listener. (Even better: you, the customer. Buy something already!)

On every shootout we do now, if the notes are more than six months old we toss them out. They mean nothing. Things have changed, radically, and that’s the way it should be. With each passing year you should be hearing more of everything in your favorite LPs. That’s the thrill of this hobby — those silly old records just keep getting better! (I wish someone could figure out how to make digital get better. They’ve had twenty five years and it still leaves me cold. You too I’m guessing.)

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 – How on Earth Did This Pressing Get Approved?

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More Plus 4

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Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Heavy Vinyl Pressing

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and I’ve heard a ton of them. 

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?” (more…)

Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Biz, Part 2

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Master Tape? Yeah, Right

Let me ask you one question. If so many of the current labels making 180 gram reissues are using the real master tapes — the real two-track stereo masters, not dubs, not cutting masters, not high-resolution digital copies, but the real thing — then why do so many of their records sound so bad?

If you’re honest you’ll say “I Don’t Know…” because, and here I want you to trust me on this, you don’t know. I don’t know either. Nobody does. (more…)

Mobile Fidelity’s Approach to Mastering – I Have a Theory

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More I Have a Theory

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I have a theory about why MoFi’s mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this. 

Back in their early days MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered, regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to want. Truth be told, I was a member of that group and I know I did.

Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.

The Bottom

But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you.

The Cowbell Test

And the top isn’t quite as good as I always thought — you can hear their standard 10k boost on the cowbell at the opening of Fat Man in a Bathtub. That cowbell just does not sound right. The typical original gets the cowbell even more wrong, but that’s a good reason not to settle for the typical copy and to find yourself a Hot Stamper. Or let us find one for you.

Top Sound

Many of Little Feat’s earlier albums are difficult to find with good sound. (I won’t say they were badly recorded; I was nowhere near the studio at the time and have no idea what the real master tapes sound like. All I know is their records usually don’t sound very good.)

But this is a BEAUTIFULLY recorded concert, and the versions they do of their old material are MUCH BETTER than the studio album versions for the most part. Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world. You will have a hard time listening to the studio versions of these songs once you have heard them performed with this kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity. This is some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

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

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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…)

This Is Your Idea of Analog?

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Cat Stevens – 200 Grams of Tea for the Tillerman

Dear Record Loving Audiophiles of Earth,

I’m afraid we have some bad news. [This was written back in 2011 when the record came out so it’s hard to imagine that what I am about to say is news to anyone at this stage of the game.] Regrettably we must inform you that the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions on Heavy Vinyl doesn’t sound very good. We know you were all hoping for the best. We also know that you must be very disappointed to hear this unwelcome news.

But the record is what it is, and what it is is not very good. Its specific shortcomings are many and will be considered in at length in our review below.
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Crisis? What Crisis? The Exception that Probes the Rule

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[This is an old commentary from about ten years ago so take it with a grain of salt. The best domestic pressings kill this audiophile record. That said, the better half-speed copies are actually surprisingly good.

This Hot Stamper A&M Half Speed of Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? today joins a VERY ELITE GROUP: Half-Speeds that hold their own in a head to head shootout against some of the BEST Hot Stamper Non-Audiophile pressings we can find. There are presently a total of three titles that fit the description: Dark Side of the Moon on MoFi, Crime of the Century on MoFi, and this title on A&M.

Most half-speed mastered records we throw on our table have us scratching our heads and asking, What the hell were they thinking? They SUCK! Tubby bass, recessed mids, phony highs, compression — the list of bad qualities they almost all have in common is a long one. Playing these kinds of records on a properly set-up modern system is positively painful.
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Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Really Knows?

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More on The Timekeepers

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Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version as well as any other Basie album they will ever do on vinyl. (more…)

Today’s Audio Disaster – Sounds Unheard Of

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Remember the old Acoustic Sounds Analog Revival series mastered by Stan Ricker? This was one of the titles they did, and completely ruined of course. Ricker boosted the hell out of the top end, as is his wont, so all the percussion had the phony MoFi exaggerated spit and tizzyiness that we dislike so much around here at Better Records but that many audiophiles never seem to notice.

The whole series was an audio disaster, but funnily enough, I cannot remember reading a single word of criticism anywhere discussing the shortcomings of that series of badly half-speed mastered LPs. Outside of my own reviews of course. Has anything in audio really changed?

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Analogue Productions LP debunked.

Our Audiophile Vinyl Scorecard – Now 162 Strong

Our Audiophile Vinyl Scorecard

Winners and Losers

 

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Click here to sort the section alphabetically by manufacturer.

We have a section specifically devoted to our favorite pastime here at Better Records, a little something we like to call Debunking The Pseudo-Audiophile LP. The Audiophile’s Choice — the record that will do the best job of communicating the music through its superior sound quality — is almost never going to be the one marketed to him as an Audiophile Pressing. If you find this in any way hard to believe, we encourage you to read on.