Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Fundamentals

Ideas and methods for finding the best sounding pressings of your favorite music.

Brahms / Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1s is also that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1s pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here.

Less than half the time, probably closer to a quarter or a third.

Of course, to avoid being biased, the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1s loses so often.

If you are interested in finding the best sounding pressings, you have to approach the problem scientifically, and that means running Record Experiments.

Practically everything you read on this blog we learned through experimentation.

When we experimented with the Classic Records pressing of LSC 1903, we were none too pleased with what we heard. Our review is reproduced below.

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 was a disaster: shrill, smeary and unmusical.

(In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer for those of you who might be less familiar with his more recent work. He was great in the ’70s, but the work he did in the ’90s leaves a lot to be desired.)

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa). They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records and how revealing your system is.

My guess is that the CDs are probably better sounding. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s track record and the fact that CDs are cheap now because nobody wants them anymore. 

If you must have Heifetz’s 1958 performance, our advice is to buy the CD.

We know for a fact that the Living Stereo CD of Reiner’s Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it, TAS Super Disc Listing or no TAS Super Disc Listing.

As you may know, Classic is a label which we found very hard to like right from the beginning. We like them even less now. They may have gone out of business but their bad records are still plentiful on ebay and you can actually still buy some their leftover crap right from the world’s biggest retailer of bad sounding audiophile records, Acoustic Sounds.

If you don’t care how bad your records sound, Chad Kassem is your man.


Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number One

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Fundamentals

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

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 had been playing (and enjoying the hell out of) for years.

axiom-definition-screenshotThis finding (and scores of others just like it) prompted us to promulgate the following two axioms of audiophile record collecting.

Better Records Record Collecting Axiom Number One

The better your stereo gets, the fewer Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings you will choose 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 audiophile pressings, even the bad sounding ones. Why they do this 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 found on this site.

Click here to read Better Record’s Record Collecting Axiom Number Two.

(more…)

Got Old Records? Played ‘Em Lately? What Did You Think of the Sound?

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

It’s not that most copies of Lee Michaels’ 5th sound bad; it’s that most of them just sound like old records — thick, dull, opaque, smeary, closed-in, two-dimensional, lifeless and uninspired.

You know that sound. It’s on a lot of the records we play, and no doubt on a lot of the records you own, especially the records you haven’t cleaned and played in a while (it’s there; you just aren’t aware of it).

Pull out your old copy of 5th. Back in the day it sounded just fine, but if you’ve been listening to mostly better records lately (assuming you haven’t fallen into the Heavy Vinyl trap), doubtlessly on much improved equipment than you had 40 years ago, your old A&M copy probably doesn’t sound as good as you remember it.

The records may not have changed, but your stereo and your standards should have.

Couple that with improved listening skills and before long the average old record starts to sound a lot more average than you wish it did. Even today’s better pot can’t fix the problems of most vintage pressings (or the Heavy Vinyl and CD reissues, which have to be seen for what they are: two of the biggest jokes ever played on the audiophile public).

But we can fix the problems — well, not really: we’re just finding the copies that managed to be mastered and pressed without the problems, and then giving them a good cleaning — and our Hot Stampers are 100% legal to boot. (more…)

Free / Fire and Water on a Mythical Pink Island

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

Free’s Third Album on the Original British Island Pink Label — Wow!

Found one at a local record store a while back. It was the first one I’d ever seen in nice enough condition to buy. Checking the dead wax was a bit of a shock though. Care to guess where it was mastered? Right here in the good old U S of A. In fact, at one of the worst mastering houses of all time: Bell Sound in New York. [This is not fair. We have found many good pressings mastered at Bell Sound.]

Now what does that tell you about British First Pressings? Are those the ones you’re looking for? Don’t get me wrong; I look for them too. But you had better look before you leap, or you’ll end up with a bad sounding, probably quite expensive pressing.

It’s one more reason why we try to play as many records as we can here at Better Records. You can’t rely on anything but the grooves.

Which brings up another interesting issue. Some audiophiles use the following rule of thumb for rock record collecting.

If it’s an English band, get the import pressing. If it’s an American band, the tapes should be here in this country, so the original domestic pressing should be the best.

As a rule of thumb it’s not bad. It’s just wrong so often (Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, The Eagles, etc.) that you must be very careful how you apply it.

Same with reissue versus original. Nice rule of thumb but only if you have enough copies of the title to know that you’re not just assuming the original is better. You actually have the data — gathered from the other LPs you have played — to back it up.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Led Zeppelin / II – Gee, I Seem to Have No Trouble At All Playing This Record

tablewithzep2sMore of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Mastered by Robert Ludwig

I expect that pretty much everyone knows the famous story by now.

Robert Ludwig’s “Hot Mix” (a complete misnomer, mostly propagated by those with a poor understanding of what is involved in making records – the mix never changed, only the mastering) of Zep II was causing the needle to jump the groove when Ahmet Ertegun’s daughter tried to play it on her cheap turntable, so they recut the record with more compression and cut the bass. (The recut, if you have never heard one, may take the cake for the worst sounding pressing of the album ever made.)

Our Triplanar Mark 6 / Dynavector 17dx combination seems to play the original just fine. Amazingly well in fact.

Here’s a challenge for all the Heavy Vinyl fans in the world: name all the Heavy Vinyl records that sound as good or better than RL’s cutting of Zep II.

Modern engineers tell us they can cut records better now than ever before, with all the bass and dynamics that previous engineers were supposedly forced to limit for the cheap tables and carts of the past.

So where are these so-called New and Improved records, the ones with better bass and dynamics?

I have yet to hear one. Perhaps someone can point me in the right direction.

Send your list to tom@better-records.com

[This commentary has been up for many years and we have yet to hear of a single example. Which is exactly what we would have expected, because there is almost no chance that any such records exist., regardless of what you may have read elsewhere.]

(more…)

The Worst Mistake You Can Make in Record Collecting

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

Reviews and Commentaries for Heart Like a Wheel

To be clear, it’s only a mistake if you are looking for top quality sound.

If, however, you are a record collector who doesn’t care about the sound of your records and is just looking for music to play, you may want to consider the very real possibility that you are on the wrong site.

Do you know many audiophiles who own multiple copies of the same album?

Some? Okay. How many of them are still hunting around for more?

I’ve been buying duplicate copies of my favorite albums for more than three decades, but I’m not exactly your average audiophile record collector.

Fortunately for me, with the advent of Better Records in 1987, I’ve had an outlet for the second- and third-rate pressings I chose not to keep. (What’s left of my audiophile pressings are being sold on ebay these days. Good riddance!)

A few audiophile friends have multiple copies, but most audiophiles I know usually stop after one, or at most two or three.

At least they know not to make the worst mistake of them all: buying an audiophile pressing and figuring that that’s the one to keep. Tossing out their vintage pressings, or never bothering to buy vintage pressings in the first place guarantees you will never have an especially good sounding collection of records to play.

Those of you who take the time to read our Hot Stamper commentary, whether you buy any of our special pressings or not, no doubt know better. At least I hope you do.

The only way to understand this Hot Stamper thing is to hear it for yourself, and that means having multiple copies of your favorite albums, cleaning them all up and shooting them all out on a good stereo.

Nobody, and we mean nobody, who takes the time to perform this little exercise can fail to hear exactly what we are on about.

(more…)

The Beatles / Sgt. Peppers – Practical Advice on Which Pressings to Avoid

beatlessgtHot Stampers of Sgt. Peppers in Stock Now

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

Chris, an erstwhile customer from a very long time ago, sent us a letter describing his search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper.

The first thing that comes to mind when reading his letter is that many record collecting rules were broken in going about his search the way he did. But then I thought, What rules? Whose rules? Where exactly does one find these rules? If one wants to avoid breaking them they need to be written down someplace, don’t they?

Wikipedia maybe?

Sadly, no, not at Wikipedia, or any place else for that matter — until now. As crazy as it sounds, we are going to try to lay down a few record collecting rules for record loving audiophiles, specifically to aid these individuals in their search for better sounding vinyl pressings. And by “these individuals” we mean you.

See if you can spot the rules that were broken by Chris in his fruitless search for a good sounding Sgt. Pepper. Note that this letter came to us long before the new Beatles CDs and vinyl had been remastered.
(more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

More Stamper and Pressing Information

In 2015 we wrote:

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

We recently did the shootout again, and now with a much more clear, accurate upper midrange and an even more extended top end, the stampers that we used to find “brighter than ideal” are almost always just too damn bright, period.

We will never buy another copy with those stampers.

We was wrong and we don’t mind admitting it. We must have learned something, right?. We ran an experiment, we discovered something new about this album, and that has to be seen as a good thing.

If you have been making improvements to your system, room, electricity, etc., then you too own records which don’t sound as good as you remember them.

You just don’t know which ones they are, assuming you haven’t played them in a while.

One Stamper to Rule Them All

Which leaves one and only one stamper that can win a shootout. There is another stamper we like well enough to offer to our discriminating customers, but after that it is all downhill, and steeply.

Here are Some Other Albums with One Set of Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

Of course the right stampers are the hardest ones to find too. All of which explains why you rarely see a copy of the album for sale on our site.

(more…)

Perhaps This Explains Why This Decca Reissue Sounds So Good

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Music of Claude Debussy

This Decca reissue is spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. James Lock was the engineer for these sessions from 1955 to 1962 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall, and his work here is superb in all respects.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s, 1972 to be exact.

We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40+ years ago, not the mediocre-at-best modern mastering of today.

The combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on both of these superb sides.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

(more…)

To Better Understand Records, Consider These Three Ideas

We think sitting down to play a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a great sounding LP played back on a top quality audio system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog.

To expand on the basics discussed in our FAQ, consider checking out the three commentaries linked below:

Are There General Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

Sometimes Progress Means a Record Sounds Worse Than It Used To

The Uses and Abuses of Rules of Thumb

(more…)