Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

The Three – The Three

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  • A true Demo Disc of this wonderful recording, with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • The transients are uncannily lifelike – listen for the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals
  • My favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later)
  • 4 Stars: “One of Joe Sample’s finest sessions as a leader” – with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, we would say it’s clearly his finest session, as a leader or simply as the piano player in a killer trio

If you want to hear the full six tunes recorded by The Three at that famous Hollywood session (which ran all day and long into the night, 4 AM to be exact), these 33 RPM pressings are the best way to go. The music is so good that I personally would not want to live with less than the complete album. The Three is, in fact, my favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later). (more…)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied on Japanese Vinyl – If You Are Serious About Audio, You Cop to Your Mistakes

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 Wrong one 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!) (more…)

Letter of the Week – The Crusaders

The Crusaders

 

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

Hey Tom, 

Now, meaning in the past year…

I can’t listen to 99 percent of my audiophile or Japanese pressings… 

I hear how wrong they sound…

I, of course, have since replaced just about all and 999 out of 1000 sound better than the average copy.

Why did I think a Japanese pressing was better? My god, all my Crusader Japan pressings next to plain old original releases nooooo comparison.

Btw, can’t believe your customers don’t want Southern Comfort, Crusaders 1 and Crusaders 2… all are unreal powerful double LPs.. and many in their catalogue almost equal to those… Crusaders: the best of the best.

Regards
Andy

Andy, we tried to do shootouts for some of their records a few years back and were underwhelmed by the sound, the music, or both.  I’m afraid you will have to do your own shootouts for now.

And of course we’ve long been of the opinion that Japanese pressings mostly suck. Maybe one out of fifty is great, and those odds do not make them an attractive proposition for audiophiles.

You know what we know: vintage pressings — when you find good ones — will beat anything and everything you can throw at them.

Prokofiev / Lt. Kije / Abbado (45 RPM) – Our Shootout Winner from 2015

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This Japanese 45 RPM remastering of our favorite recording of Prokofiev’s wonderful Lt. Kije Suite has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND. For starters, there are very few records with dynamics comparable to these. Since this is my favorite performance of all time, I can’t recommend the record any more highly.   

Most of what’s “bad” about a DG recording from 1978 is ameliorated with this pressing. The bass drum (drums?) here must be heard to be believed. We know of no Golden Age recording with as believable a presentation of the instrument as this.

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. We rarely find records with this kind of sound, just a few times a year at most — this is the only one on the site at this time.

When a particular pressing we’re auditioning takes the recording to a level significantly higher than our expectations, it gets our attention, big time. This can only happen with a record we know well. We thought we knew how good Lt. Kije on Japanese 45 could sound but we were wrong — this pressing is clearly better than the copy we would be proud to call White Hot, which means this one deserves an impossible sonic rating of eleven on a scale of one to ten.

Forget the logic. It’s not about that, it’s about the sound and the music, and we make no apologies for calling this copy Beyond White Hot. It blew our minds.

This pressing fulfills the promise of the 45 RPM cutting speed so much in vogue these days. We had a pile of these 45s to play through. When we came upon this one halfway through our shootout, it was so big, so clear, so dynamic, so energetic, so extended on the top and bottom, we almost could not believe what we were hearing, especially compared to the others copies we played. There are very few records with dynamics that can compare with these.

With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation captured on some of the greatest analog recordings of all time. (more…)

Lee Ritenour – Friendship on JVC Direct Disc

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

This is one of my all time favorite audiophile discs because it’s actually real music.

The song Woody Creek is wonderful and reason enough to own this excellent album. The guitar of Lee Ritenour and the saxophone of Ernie Watts double up during a substantial portion of this song and the effect is just amazing. 

Special kudos should go to Ernie Watts on sax, who blows some mean lines. But everybody is good on this album, especially the leader, Lee Ritenour. I saw these guys live and they put on a great show.

By the way, looking in the dead wax I see this record was cut by none other than Stan Ricker of Mobile Fidelity fame himself!

Led Zeppelin on Prestigious Japanese Limited Edition Vinyl

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This is a classic Live and Learn listing from 2006.

I used to sell the German Import reissues of the Zep catalog in the ’90s. At the time I thought they we’re pretty good, but then the Japanese AMJY Series came out and I thought those were clearly better.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I now realize those Japanese pressings are bright as bright can be. Now, not-too-surprisingly, the German pressings sound more or less right (on most titles). They tend to be tonally correct, which is more than you can say for most Zep pressings, especially some of the Classics, which have the same brightness problem (as well as many other problems).

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio – Red Gardenia

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Yamamoto Philips Direct to Disc album – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The piano is dynamic and solid – imagine a Three Blind Mice piano date recorded Direct-to-Disc – that’s the sound of this album
  • This is one of the few audiophile records worthy of the name. It’s also five times as rare as Blues to East and the music is better
  • There are two Stevie Wonder songs given a wonderful piano trio arrangement here that are just out of this world 

This group plays with tremendous vigor. They really swing and are tight as a drum. 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 lively piano jazz with the best of them. And they can. You will also be hard pressed to find better sound for a small ensemble like this. Since Rudy Van Gelder was not particularly adept at recording the piano, many of the great pianists cannot be heard properly on Prestige, Blue Note and other original label recordings.

Philips is one of the better direct disc labels from back in the day (although that isn’t saying much because most of them were mediocre at best). It was garnering rave reviews from TAS a couple of decades ago. Does anybody remember? Probably not, but I do. I flipped out when I saw this record in my local shop. They charged top dollar but I paid it, knowing what a rare and special record it is. (more…)

This is Modern Jazz Vol. 2 – Japanese Pressed 2 LP Box Set

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This IMMACULATE Sony CBS Japanese Import 2 LP Box Set with Virtually No Sign of Play (VNSOP) has SHOCKINGLY GOOD sound! It’s the rare Japanese pressing that has any merit in our experience. Let’s be honest: most of them are just plain awful, having been poorly mastered from sub-generation tapes. (In this respect they seem to have a lot in common with the Heavy Vinyl reissues being produced today, wouldn’t you say?)

So you can imagine our surprise when every track we played sounded good — some very good indeed — with practically all of it classic jazz of the highest quality. With jazz greats such as Davis, Monk, Brubeck, Farmer, Blakey and Horace Silver, this set comes highly recommended to one and all.

Universal Japan and Other 180g Disasters – The Economics of Buying a Pig 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

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…)