Advice – Understanding Records

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

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More 1A, or Is 1B Better?

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs. (more…)

The Vices of Production

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The best of this kind of mainstream radio-friendly pop rock has stood the test of time very well. One listen and we think you’ll agree: this is fun music that belongs in your collection.

IF…

IF you get hold of a good pressing, and in our experience this mass-produced stuff leaves a lot to be desired most of the time.

Actually that’s not really fair; the specialty audiophile limited edition pressings of most records are even worse sounding, so the production numbers really don’t have much to do with the final product, now do they?
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Steely Dan – Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

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More Katy Lied

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture. Yes, the sound is so bad that even MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time, it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound. (more…)

A Random Walk Through Heavy Vinyl

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Heavy Vinyl Production And the Unpredictability of Random Processes

Those in the business of producing the highest quality remastered recordings on LP are crashing smack into a problem endemic to the manufacturing of the vinyl record — randomness.

Record producers can control many of the processes (variables) that go into the making of a high quality record. But they cannot control all of them. The word for such a situation, one with random, uncontrollable aspects, is “stochastic.”

Taking the liberty to paraphrase Wikipedia liberally, we would explain it this way.

A stochastic, or random, process, is the counterpart to a deterministic process. Instead of dealing with only one possible way the process might develop over time, in a stochastic or random process there is some indeterminacy described by probability distributions. This means that even if the initial condition or starting point is known, there are many possibilities the process might go to, but some paths may be more probable and others less so.

In other words, although some of the variables can be controlled, there will always be some element of randomness that makes the final result predictable within limits, but not predictable precisely.

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Which One’s Pink? – And What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

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An erstwhile customer sent us an email a while back asking this question: “What is the FULL stamper matrix for this record… all the way around the dead wax?”

I replied that we never give out stamper numbers for the records we sell. The only way to find out the stampers for our records is to buy them. And while we’re on the subject, you might enjoy reading this commentary I wrote a while back pointing out how misleading the matrix numbers can be: The Book of Hot Stampers.

He then countered with this bit of information:

Well, ok. I don’t understand the logic, but it’s your show.

Floyd stampers are probably the most uniquely well documented stampers on [a site that no longer exists] that they’re pretty much common knowledge. If I understand your logic, a first pressing may not be a “Hot Stamper” while a 3rd, 4th or 5th might be. Just a function of the stars aligning when that record is pressed. So what’s the diff?

I would think this would be pretty obvious. If we say pressing X is the best, this is information that you cannot get anywhere else, certainly not on the site you sent us a link to. The day that such a site tells you which stampers sound the best is the day that such a site will have any value to those who are not collecting for the sake of collecting, but actually want to find pressings with the best sound to play (more…)

Record Collecting Axioms

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In an old commentary for a shootout we did for Carole King’s Tapestry album we took shots at both the CBS Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile pressing and the Classic Heavy Vinyl Audiophile pressing, noting that both fell far short of the standard set by the Hot Stamper copies we’d discovered. This finding (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the following axiom of audiophile record collecting, which we are calling…

Better Records Record Collecting Axiom Number Two

The better your stereo gets, the fewer Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings you will want to play, or own for that matter.

(This assumes a fact not in evidence: that audiophiles get rid of their bad sounding records. It has been my experience that the reverse is actually more often the case. Most audiophiles seem to like to hang on to their bad sounding audiophile pressings, Why they do so I cannot for the life of me understand. To me a bad sounding audiophile record is a record that has no business being played and should either be tossed or sold, with any proceeds from the sale applied to the purchase of good records — you know, like the ones on our site.)
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Elton John Self-Titled – Live and Learn

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More Live and Learn

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A classic case of Live and Learn. Scroll down to read what we learned from our recent shootout. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to today.

Folks, if you’re looking for Classic Rock that appeals to adults with sophisticated tastes forty plus years after it was made, this is the album for you.

What’s especially remarkable about this album is the quality of the string arrangements. I don’t know of another pop record that uses strings better or has better string tone. The strings are all over this record, not only adding uniquely interesting qualities to the backgrounds of the arrangements, but actually taking the foreground on some of the songs, most notably Sixty Years On. When the strings give in to a lovely harp just before Elton starts singing, the effect is positively glorious. It’s the nexus where amazing Tubey Mgical sound meets the best in popular music suffused with brilliant orchestral instrumentation. Who did it better than The Beatles and Elton John? They stand alone. (more…)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Turning Skeptics into Believers, One Hot Stamper at a Time

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

Turning Skeptics into Believers

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Years ago we received a letter from a fellow on our email list who found our prices for vinyl curious, as he considered a vinyl a bygone technology. Can’t say I agree with that assessment. It sure would be nice to demonstrate for him how much better records sound than the supposedly superior technologies that have — for most people, perhaps even for this gentleman — replaced them.audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know who it could be, and I don’t want to find out.  

Wait, there is a way! A Hot Stamper, 100% Guaranteed to Satisfy or Your Money Back. One click is all it takes. Which is pretty much what I said in my reply to his letter which you can read below.

Tom,

I receive your HTML email regularly. Along with the curious prices of your offerings, I occasionally wonder about the opinions expressed in your e-missives. A Roman senator once said that all mortal things are ‘only perfect in death.’ Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust aside: vinyl (of which I own a considerable library) is merely a bygone technology at this point in time. The opinions expressed on your website rarely credit the writer. Whose words are these? And why should I accept the opinions of someone who only stands to profit from their fanaticism? (more…)

Miles Davis In Person – Friday Night and the Sound of Tubes

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Allow me to transcribe my notes:

Both Sides

The right sound — big, rich, tubey and real. Transparent. Rich, smooth, balanced. Horn gets huge and loud the right way. Piano is full. Solid bass.

No need to pick nits.

The Dog that Didn’t Bark in the Night

Normally our notes for the sound of the records we are shooting out against each other fall into two categories: what the record is doing right and what the record is doing wrong. You’ll note that in this case there was nothing wrong about the sound to write about. (more…)