Guest Commentaries from Robert Brook

A Loaded Seismic Sink and the Remarkable Benefits of Testing and Tuning

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he has written for one of our favorite ways to improve the sound of any stereo, the Townshend Seismic Sink.

LOADING the TOWNSHEND SEISMIC PLATTER Brings Your SYSTEM TO LIFE!

A few years back I discovered something wonderful about the Seismic Sink I was using under my turntable to control vibration. (In our experience, vibration control is one of the most important Revolutionary Changes in Audio of the last twenty years or so.)

We sell the Seismic Sink and this is what I wrote to a customer who recently bought one:

Play your most complex test discs, the ones that are hardest to get to sound right. Classical is the toughest test if you have some, but Pet Sounds is tough too. [I knew he was a fan and had a good copy of the album.]

Listen to one or two for a good while, at least 20-30 minutes, to know exactly what you are hearing on the tracks you know to play.

Put the sink under the table. (You can also put it under your receiver, that works great too.)

Then play those tracks again.

Go back and forth a few times.

It should be pretty obvious what is going on.

Then read Robert Brook’s post.

Here is a very special tip.

The sound changes depending on how the seismic sink is “loaded.”

This means two things:

Where the weight is on the sink.

For my receiver I have it all the way to the front of the sink. Sounds clearly better that way.

For the table, I have it weighted down with thin but heavy steel plates, about one quarter inch thick, about 4 inches by 8 inches. You can get them at Home Depot and the like.

This may be too advanced for your system and your skills [not an insult, he knows he is new to the game], but any amount of weight changes the sound, so you keep adding weights until you get to the top of the hill and start heading down.

Sounds easy enough, takes a lot of critical listening to pull it off, but this is how your ears get good at hearing small changes.

Good luck. We are here to help, now that I am retired and do almost nothing but write on my blog. (more…)

Robert Brook Compares Different Hot Stamper Pressings of Crosby’s Must Own Debut

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he has written for one of our favorite records, If Only I Could Remember My Name.

In this review he compares two Hot Stamper pressings, one a Super Hot, and one the next grade up from a Super, a Nearly White Hot stamper pressing.

When an amazing recording meets a system that can play it right, inevitably sparks fly, and these two copies were apparently giving off a lot of sparks.

IF ONLY I COULD REMEMBER MY NAME & The NW HOT STAMPER

If you are interested in reading about the Classic Records pressing, we have made a laundry list of its faults here.

Curiosity and the Pursuit of Perfect Sound

One of our good customers has started a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

He invited a friend and colleague to talk about his own personal journey through the twin worlds of audio and records, and we expect you will find his story excellent reading.

This bit caught my eye:

On my new stereo, my modern pressings and reissues sound better than they did on my old stereo. But what’s improved more, FAR more, is the sound of my vintage vinyl. Not just my Hot Stampers, but many of my other vintage records as well. Here is a sampling of the titles where I’ve been able to make a direct comparison between an early (like, pre-CD-era) pressing and a recent (vinyl resurgence) pressing: Led Zeppelin 2, Willie Nelson’s StardustElla Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, E. Fitzgerald’s Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, Carmen, played by Ruggerio Ricci, Santana Abraxas, Carole King’s Tapestry, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Mingus Ah Um.

Good company to say the least!

Please to enjoy.

Robert Brook Does Abraxas Again, This Time on MoFi One-Step

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Santana

One of our good customers has started a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to a review Robert Brook has just written for the MoFi One-Step pressing of Abraxas, the price of which now far exceeds what even the hottest stamper copies would sell for. Luckily he managed to borrow one from a friend. Had he paid good money for it, you can imagine that his review would have included a lot more exclamation marks. Bad sounding audiophile records upset me too, so I know how the man feels.

Review: Mobile Fidelity’s ABRAXAS ULTRADISC ONE STEP

We’ve written quite a bit about Abraxas, played copies of the album by the score as a matter of fact, and you can find plenty of our Reviews and Commentaries for the album on this very blog.

Moments ago I did a search for this title on the web, and I could not find a single review that was less than a rave, and some audiophile reviewers were calling the One-Step one of the best sounding records they had ever played. They all agreed: analog nirvana, or something like it, has finally arrived. Thanks Mobile Fidelity! You da bomb.

I myself have never heard the pressing, and have no intention of buying one or borrowing one in order to do so.

The sound that Robert Brook describes in his review is a sound I know all too well from playing other Mobile Fidelity pressings, some of which sound bad enough they defy all understanding. After playing one of their remastered records, I frequently find myself asking the same two questions: Who are these idiots and how are they still in business?

The Linda Ronstadt record this label released in 2008 is so awful we put it on our list of Audiophile Pressings that Are the Worst Version of the Album We’ve Ever Heard. You might even think we created that category of awfulness just to have a place for records of its ilk to get the attention they deserve. You would not be far off the mark.

The Genesis album MoFi released in the early ’80s is every bit as bad, and the best part of the story we tell about their pressing is how much I used to like it. [1]

You think Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings are lifeless? Play this piece of crap and see just how bad an audiophile record can sound.

And to think I used to like this version! I hope I had a better copy back in the ’80s than the one I played a few years ago. I’ll never know of course. If you have one in your collection give it a spin. See if it sounds as bad as we say. If you haven’t played it in a while (can’t imagine why, maybe because it’s just plain awful?), you might be in for quite a shock.

As I never tire of pointing out, for the first twenty years I spent in audio I was completely lost. I sure didn’t think I was lost. I thought I had a really good system and I thought I knew a lot about records and audio.

But clearly I did not. When I read the posts of those on audiophile forums or the comments of those discussing our approach to finding better sounding records on videos and articles, I see a reflection of the foolish audiophile I used to be all those years ago. Thank goodness I didn’t have a internet access in the ’80s. I still have copies of my embarrassing catalogs from back then. Thankfully they are in a file cabinet and not up on the web for all our critics to feast upon.

Back to Robert Brook

Based on everything I am reading these days from Robert Brook, he has a good stereo, two working ears, and knows plenty about records and what they are supposed to sound like.

His story is not that different from my own. At the start of his journey, he found himself going in a particular audio direction. He was making some progress, but felt that he needed to take a different approach to get the sound he imagined was still eluding him.

Fighting the inertia that holds us all back in our lives, he reversed course and now finds that he is making progress by leaps and bounds, progress that surely would have been impossible had he stayed on the road he was on.

I did the same thing. I simply stopped believing what I read or was told and started testing everything for myself.

By 2004, after only 30 or so years in the hobby, that approach paid off. I had made enough progress in audio to officially start doing regular shootouts for vintage pressings I knew from experience to have top quality sound, potentially anyway. Teaser and the Firecat was the first Hot Stamper pressing we put up for sale. Our customers were ecstatic to pay ten times the going rate to get a pressing of Teaser that sounded better than they’d ever even imagined the album could sound. They wrote us lots of nice letters, more than 300 to date.

From that point on, we never looked back. Why would we? Our customers were buying Hot Stampers like they were going out of style. Records would go up on the site and sell in minutes.

Now, with a staff of ten, and having discovered much better ways of doing practically everything involved in finding Hot Stampers, not the least of which is using the knowledge we have gained from the thousands and thousands of different pressings we’ve played over the years, we feel confidant our records can hold their own against any and all comers. Especially those being produced today.

Bring it on, we say, and some audiophiles do. Most do not, but we’ve long been resigned to the fact that there’s little we can do about that situation. Even with a money back guarantee, the idea of Hot Stampers is just too absurd for some folks to wrap their heads around.

And the MoFi One-Step? I do not doubt for a minute that it’s every bit as awful as Robert says it is.

Down the road, A.B., our letter poster and source for the pressing Robert played, will no doubt come to recognize the faults that Robert lays out so clearly.

It took me a long time too.

[1] As far as Trick of the Tail goes, Live and Learn, right?

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Robert Brook Hears the Magic of Spain on Vinyl

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chabrier

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he has written for one of our favorite records, Chabrier Orchestral Music with Ansermet (CS 6438). He also had the famous TAS List recording of Espana to play, CS 6006 with Argenta, in order to compare the two.

We know of no other performances of Espana to compete with these two in terms of sonics. I think you will find Robert’s review of interest, a good overview of what each of the two recordings has to offer the advanced audiophile.

Chabrier’s España: Brought to LIFE with SUPER HOT Sound!

FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Top Quality Classical “Sleeper” Recordings

Demo Disc Quality Orchestral Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

MoFi Misses The Mark by a M I L E with Kind Of Blue

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he wrote recently for one of our favorite records, Kind of Blue. (To be clear, we love the album, just not the MoFi pressing of it.)

MoFi Misses The Mark by a M I L E w/ Kind Of Blue

One of our other good customers had this to say about the Mobile Fidelity pressing:

Last night I listened to my 2015 Mobile Fidelity 45 RPM pressing.

I couldn’t get through the first cut.

Closed, muffled and flat as a pancake. No life or energy whatsoever.

I agreed and added my two cents:

My notes for their pressing read:

  • Thick, dark, flat.
  • Lacks air, space, presence.
  • Not a bad sound but it’s not right.

Later I added:

Having listened to the record more extensively, I see now I was being much too kind.

A longer review will be coming soon I hope. I think I may know why some audiophiles like the sound of this record, and will be exploring that notion in a future commentary.

The last line about the MoFi not having “a bad sound but it’s not right” reminded me of of the mistakes I made in my original review of Santana’s first album on MoFi:

Santana on MoFi – We Owe You an Apology

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Dire Straits Gets the Mobile Fidelity Treatment (Just Updated)

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Geoff Edgers watched me and my lovely assistant, Sunshine, do a lengthy shootout for Dire Straits first album, but licensing problems prevented the Washington Post from using the footage. You can still see Sunshine in the video, and the yellow Phonogram label you see at one point is attached to one of the Dire Straits pressings we played that day.

Toward the end of the shootout for the first side, we put on the Mobile Fidelity pressing, and, interrupted from time to time by the sound of me howling and gnashing my teeth, I pointed out for Geoff’s edification everything that was wrong with their pressing.

This took some time.

I will be writing more about their dismal effort one of these days, but for now let me leave you with this thought.

When you read the comments section for the article, it seems that quite a number of those discussing my lifelong interest in the world of audio and records go out of their way to state the obvious, that folks my age cannot hear high frequencies.

This is true, and I have never denied it. Case in point: After playing the MoFi pressing of Dire Straits, Sunshine, sitting at the turntable, asked what all that weirdly high-pitched, swirling, shusshing sound was. It wasn’t on the Phonogram pressings she had played. Only the MoFi.

I looked at her and asked “What shusshing sound?”

Sunshine had clearly heard it, Geoff may have, I don’t remember, but I had no idea there was anything untoward happening way up in that area of the frequency range. [1]

In my defense, not that I need one, I had no trouble telling how bad that Mobile Fidelity pressing was, or which of the five Dire Straits pressings sounded the best, or what each of them were doing, rightly and wrongly. What I was noting and explaining about the sound of these identical-looking UK pressings, their strengths and weaknesses, was clear enough for everyone in the room to hear over the course of the hour or so we spent doing it.

My goal was to walk Geoff through the steps of the shootout, and as far as I could tell he was with me all the way.

Those commenting about high frequency hearing loss are engaging in the fallacy of “begging the question,” assuming what they are trying to prove instead of proving it, which I suppose is the kind of thing you can expect to read in the comments left by those with a great deal of regard for their own opinions but little for the evidence required to support them. More here.


One of our good customers, Robert Brook, has started writing a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below you will find his review of a record I too know a fair bit about, the first Dire Straits album on Mobile Fidelity. I hope to write my review of the Mobile Fidelity pressing soon.

Ugh! Mobile Fidelity’s Remaster of DIRE STRAITS

As of 2015, this label may have entered a new and even more disgraceful era, but considering how bad their records have been from the very start — something that should be obvious to any audiophile with a high quality playback system, a system that should have no difficulty exposing the manifold shortcomings of their remastered pressings — how much lower can they possibly fall?

Only time will tell.

[1.] Did Mobile Fidelity’s engineers hear this high-frequency hash? Has any audiophile come forward to expose this problem? The answers to both questions are very likely to be no.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

Mingus / Pre Bird – Seeing into the Performance with a White Hot Stamper

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A Guide of the Budding Analog Audiophile

Below is a link to the review he wrote after hearing a truly killer White Hot Stamper pressing of one of our favorite Mingus records, Pre-Bird.

He loved the used original pressing of the album that he had picked up recently, and wondered what our copy would sound like, so we loaned him one. Here are his observations after playing our Hot Stamper.

The W.H.Stamper of PRE BIRD Lets You “SEE” into the Performance!

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Mingus’s Pre Bird Makes the Case For the Hot Stamper

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he wrote recently for one of our favorite Mingus records, Pre-Bird.

Mingus’s PRE BIRD Makes the Case For the HOT STAMPER

A few quick thoughts on the album which which we hope will be of interest to our readers:

We used to think the early Limelight pressing shown here was so amazing sounding that finding better sound for this recording would simply be impossible, but the original Mercury showed us just how wrong we were – the right Mercury pressing takes the recording to another level, one we never imagined it could reach. (In our experience records do that from time to time. We’ve written about some of the ones we’ve played here.)

Here is a small excerpt from our most recent commentary for the album:

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe (assuming your room can do a good job of recreating their room). (Here are some of the other recordings we’ve auditioned with exceptional amounts of size and space.

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it — so high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s large group jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album supporting the undeniability of that fact.

(more…)

Tom Port Discusses Robert Brook’s Recent Shootout for Abraxas

More of the Music of Santana

One of our good customers has started writing a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

If you are new to the audio game, and even if you aren’t, we think you will find much of value there. (If you already think you know it all, his blog will be of little use, but of course neither will mine. You already know it all!)

This link will take you to a comparison Robert Brook carried out between some pressings of Abraxas: his own and a Hot Stamper pressing he borrowed from a friend.

I wrote to him about a few issues I had with his commentary.

Dear Robert,

Of course we love it when one of our records gives you the experience you had.

But their are some fine points to keep in mind so that we present our approach as correctly as possible with no hype.

I would not say you can’t hack a hot stamper.

I would say it is very hard.

You could say something like: “Tom says his superior cleaning techniques make it hard to compete with him. If you have a copy with the same stampers as his, his will sound better most of the time simply because the right cleaning noticeably improves the sound’

Which means that you need a different stamper to beat mine, the stamper of the record that won our shootout, not the one that came in at 2+!

Anyone can do it is our motto.

It’s hard is also our motto. (We have a lot of mottos.)

We only beat your other copies on one side, so imagine if the copy you heard did not have that one great side? That is something to think about!

And all the work you’ve done on your stereo is a key part of hearing Santana, a story we tell often ourselves.

Working on the stereo and working on the collection go hand in hand, you lived it and you know it is the only way it can work.

And now records that you thought were just fine, your copies, are unlistenable. This also is key to my experience.

You recommend doing more shootouts. I would add to your comments that you plan on buying more copies of Abraxas even though you already have some. Buy them when you see them.

And if, after a while, you haven’t found the one that does it, you can buy one from me that will do it.

Your point about the WHS and NWHS is a good one. Hard to beat. Not impossible, but so difficult as to make the effort hardly worth it.

We have no magical powers. We just have a staff of ten and forty years of experience. We can be wrong, but it does not happen very often, and if it does you get your money back.


FURTHER READING

We’ve written quite a bit about Abraxas, and you can find plenty of our Reviews and Commentaries for the album on this very blog.

(more…)