Record Collecting for Audiophiles

Universal Japan and Other 180g Disasters – The Economics of Buying Pigs in a Poke

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One of my good customers sent me this email recently:

I noticed that Universal Japan has come out with several new titles, stuff I’m interested in, like Stevie Wonder / Innervisions…Stan Getz, James Brown…and many others — that are on acousticsounds.com. Generally, for these somewhat expensive heavy vinyl releases (relative to used prices), I’m trying to stick with stuff where your site has favorable comments regarding the sound quality but you don’t seem to carry these new items. Do you think they are bad, or you just have not had a chance to check them out yet?”

I replied as follows:

We don’t like Japanese records. They almost NEVER sound good, to these ears anyway. The only report I’ve heard concerned Aja, which was that it was awful, bright as bright can be.

A Japanese pressing that’s too bright? Shocking. Say it isn’t so.

We are going to be carrying almost no new releases of heavy vinyl pressings from now on. They just don’t sound good to us and we don’t want to waste our time playing bad records when there are so many good ones sitting around that need a loving home. If you pay $30 for heavy vinyl reissues and only one out of five sounds good — an optimistic estimate if you ask me — you’re really paying $150 for the one good one, right? This makes no sense to me. And since the real odds are one out of ten, it’s really $300 for the good one.


Which made me think back to our recent blog entry in which we discussed the latest round of bad Heavy Vinyl LPs that are apparently selling like hotcakes at Acoustic Sounds. If you like the new versions of Aja, Aqualung and Blue, by all means, buy some Universal Japanese Heavy Vinyl pressings. If that’s your sound, go for it, dude. Who are we to say you are wrong?

But if you don’t like the sound of those three titles on Heavy Vinyl, where can you go to find records that sound better than they do? I only know of one place, and you’re already there.

Happy Shopping,
TP

Art Pepper / Today – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

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[This commentary was written many years ago.]

 

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it had been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn’s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies. When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second. Of all the people who should know better…

Compromised Versus Purist Recordings – If It’s About the Music, the Choice Is Clear

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[This commentary is from circa 2010]

A while back one of our good customers wrote to tell us how much he liked his Century Direct to Disc recording of the Glenn Miller big band, one of the few really amazing sounding direct discs that contains music actually worth listening to. Which brought me to the subject of Hot Stampers. 

Hot Stamper pressings are almost always going to be studio multi-track recordings, not live Direct to Discs. They will invariably suffer many compromises compared to the purist approach of an audiophile label trying to eliminate sources of distortion in the pursuit of the highest fidelity.

But when they do that, they almost always FAIL. How many Direct Discs sound like that Glenn Miller? A dozen at most. The vast majority are just plain AWFUL. I know, I’ve played practically every one ever made. For more than a decade that was my job.

Thankfully that is no longer the case, although we do have a handful of direct discs that we still shootout, such as The Three, Glenn Miller, Straight from the Heart and the odd Sheffield. (more…)

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

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And this is some very bad analog indeed!

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – Reviewed in 2010

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?”

It reminds me of the turgid muck that Doug Sax was cutting for Analogue Productions back in the ’90s. The CD has to sound better than this. There’s no way could it sound worse.

Update: I managed to track down a copy of the CD and it DOES sound better than this awful record, and by a long shot. It’s not a great sounding CD, but it sure isn’t the disaster this record is.

This is a very bad sounding record, so bad that one minute’s play will have you up and out of your chair trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with your system. But don’t bother. It’s not your stereo, it’s this record.

It has the power to make your perfectly enjoyable speakers sound like someone has wrapped them in four inches of cotton bunting. Presence? Gone! Transients? Who needs ’em! Ambience, Openness, Three-Dimensionality? Uh, will you consider settling for Murk, Bloat and Smear? There’s a Special on them today here at Acoustic Sounds. (more…)

Building a Good Sounding Record Collection – Hot Stampers Versus Collector Pressings

I defy anyone who has not made a lifelong study of pressing variations to tell me what even a fraction of the records pictured here might sound like from an audiophile point of view. 

No chance the owner knows either.
 

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Anyone can amass a collection of records — one this big, ten times its size or one-tenth its size, the process is the same. You just buy whatever you like and organize them whichever way you find most suitable.

There is no limit to the kinds of records one might collect: originals, imports, audiophile pressings, picture discs, the TAS List – you name it, you can collect it.

There are literally millions of records for sale around the world on any given day. They’re not hard to find, and being so common, collecting them is easy. A single collection for sale as of this writing contains more than 3 million records. That works out to a thousand records each for three thousand collectors. Do you really have time to play more than a thousand records? That’s a different record every day for close to three years!
(more…)

Eiji Kitamura – Swing Sessions – One of Our Favorite Direct Discs

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This is a SUPER RARE IMMACULATE RCA Japanese Import Direct-to-Disc LP with Virtually No Sign Of Play (VNSOP). If you’re a fan of clarinet-led swing jazz, you’ll have a hard time finding a better record than this. The music is absolutely wonderful. Not only that, but it has DEMO DISC sound as well.

Direct-to-Disc Recording recorded live at Iruma City Auditorium, Saitama, Japan on April 21, 1978. Eiji Kitamura and His Allstars include Eiji on clarinet, Ichiro Masuda on vibraphone, Yoshitaka Akimitsu on piano, Yukio Ikezawa on bass, Hiroshi Sunaga on drums and Judy Anton provides vocals on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”

This album was recorded by the Direct-to-Disc recording method, to capture the natural reverberation of 1,200 seat concert hall. Various kinds of recording equipment were brought in parts to the backstage of the hall for the recording then reassembled and adjusted. Two whole days were spent adjusting all the equipment. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – The Best Sounding Copy We’ve Ever Heard

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  • A KILLER copy with DEMO DISC Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the second side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title
  • It doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper
  • 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 and the horns sound especially wonderful

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!


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…)

Little Feat – Waiting For Columbus

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  • With Double Plus (A++) grades, or close to them, on all four sides, this copy of Waiting for Columbus is outstanding from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue
  • One of our all-time favorite live recordings and their single best release – a true Masterpiece
  • 4 1/2 stars: “There’s much to savor on Waiting for Columbus, one of the great live albums of its era, thanks to rich performances that prove Little Feat were one of the great live bands of their time.”

This is an amazingly well-recorded concert, and what’s more, the versions the band does of their earlier material are much better than the studio album versions of those same songs in every case.

Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world, but you could easily say that about a dozen or more of the tracks on this double album. Which simply means that you will have a very hard time listening to any of the studio versions of these songs once you’ve heard them performed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity Little Feat brought to this live show. (I saw them twice with Lowell and they were amazing both times.) (more…)

Haydn / Toy Symphony – Marriner on a Japanese Soundphile Pressing

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DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is the best sounding Toy symphony you will ever hear!

I discovered how good this Japanese EMI Soundphile Series recording is almost 20 years ago. In that time I can say that I think I may have run across at most two other copies. This is a tough one to find!

But it’s worth the effort, because all the little toys that play along with the music just JUMP out of the speakers. The recording is so transparent and the toys are so well miked it’s like hearing this work for the first time, or live.

This album can easily become a favorite Demo Disc — it has that kind of “you-are-there” sound. This recording was made at Abbey Road in 1976 under the direction of the two Christophers. Perhaps that accounts for the quality of the recording. The Eine Kleine on side two is also very nice, although I wouldn’t say it’s world class the way The Toy Symphony is.

Organ Music From Westminster

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This is a Very Rare Fulton LP. The piece by Mozart on side one has a true 16 cycle note. Since it has virtually no overtones, the note is more often than not completely undetectable; few stereos in my experience have ever been able to reproduce it. If you have a full-range system, this record will allow you to hear deep bass you may have never heard before.

Let me warn you that these records require extremely transparent, full bandwith, neutral stereo systems to sound their best. Most records are “goosed up” in various ways to play on any stereo, regardless of quality. These are the opposite. From my admittedly prejudiced point of view, tubes are an absolute must for the magic of these live recordings to come through. [Or so I thought in 2006. Now, not so much.]

If your system leans more toward the budget side, these Fulton records will leave you wondering what in the world that Tom Port character was talking about.

And of course organ records require good deep bass, the hardest part of the frequency range to reproduce in the typical living room. With this organ record at least you’ll know what the goal should be.