We Get Letters

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

Steely Dan’s Pretzelly Logic – Holy Shit! This Is a GREAT LP!

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“I Took Tom’s Advice and Played It Real Loud.”

One of our newest Hot Stamper converts, John R., a customer only since February, has already managed to acquire about a dozen of our best Hot Stamper LPs to the tune of many thousands of dollars. As we like to say, the best copies may not be cheap, but here at Better Records you most certainly get what you pay for. Just ask John. If I read him right what he got for his 650 clams was something that exceeded any expectation he might have had for it. Like we say ourselves sometimes: Who knew? How would anyone know this album could so this good? The average copy barely hints at the sound the engineers recorded.

Anyway, that’s our story. Now here’s John’s.

Tom,

This is the best sounding LP I have ever heard including all the ones I have bought from you or ever heard in my life at a show etc. Holy Shit! This is a GREAT LP – sound and music. I must confess, I never heard this LP before – even once. I did recognize the lead song though having heard it on the radio several times. MY GOD! I listened to it twice over both sides. This is fantastic. The music slayed me.

I took Tom’s advice and played it real loud. Once I turned it up hard – well it got even better and better and better. Wow! You can’t have this one back. Every single song on both sides is a winner. I especially got a kick out of the last song on side one – which is an old fashioned instrumental that got me jumping all over the place.

Todd – one of the great things about doing business with you guys is that you know and love your music. This means I get good advice and direction about what LPs are great music and about the performers. This means I can get great stuff that not only I know I love but stuff I don’t know yet that I will love. Wow – there just is no way to be able to buy that. No way at all. Thanks so very much. Please tell Tom that I am really happy with this LP. Katy Lied now has to be on my short list to get soon.

I think I jumped on another good one tonight. I also am not familiar with this LP or this group Return to Forever. But the description had me salivating to listen to it.

Regards,
John

John,

Thanks so much for your enthusiastic letter. We were pretty crazy about that copy of Pretzel Logic (and the music of course) ourselves, as you can see from our commentary below.

We love turning people on to the records we’ve known and loved for years. Countdown to Ecstasy was the first Steely Dan album I ever bought, thought it was pretty good at first, not much more than that really, but I kept playing it and playing it and it wasn’t long before it became one of my favorite albums and Steely Dan one of my favorite bands. I had a Top Five back then and if I remember correctly it was Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Supertramp, Ambrosia and 10cc. (Yes, no Beatles, hadn’t come back around to them yet, I needed the MoFi Beatles Box and what I thought was its superior sound in order to fall in love with their music all over again. Little did I know…)

Then Pretzel Logic was released. I was living in San Diego at the time and I used to go into my local Tower Records across from the Sports Arena as often as I could, just to see what might have come out that week. There they were; they had boxes full of them, laid out on the floor in front of the cash registers. I grabbed a copy, sped home and threw it on the turntable, where as you can imagine it proceeded to blow my mind, as Katy Lied and The Royal Scam and Aja would when they came out each of the following years.

Records Like These

And it’s records like these that make us want to improve our stereo systems. I used to play the song Pretzel Logic to demo my system, but I can assure you that there is no way in the world I was reproducing the information on that record even a tenth as well I can now. 

This is precisely what is supposed to drive this hobby — the plain and simple desire to get the music you love to sound better than it used to so that you can enjoy it more. If you’re an audiophile then by definition you love good sound. Pretzel Logic is a very well recorded album and it can have WONDERFUL sound. Finding a copy of the album that was mastered and pressed properly is not easy. Learning how to really get the LP clean and putting together the kind of stereo that can play such a complicated recording right are also quite hard. All three things combined require the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars of money and the investment of many thousands of hours of time if the result is to be truly satisfying. Our track commentary for the song has more along the same lines:

The title track here is one of my all time favorites. I’ve often used it in the past to demonstrate my system. The sound is wall to wall and big as life on the best copies. I’m a big speaker guy and this song is custom made to show what a powerful full range big speaker system can do. (Keep in mind that the individual drivers must be large as well, 12″ and up, to allow the voices to sound like they are full-size human beings, not shrunken toy people. I positively hate that sound. See the listing, What We Listen For: Life-Size Images and Living Presence, for more on that subject.)

The multi-tracked vocals in the choruses present one of the biggest challenges for any copy of the LP. The choruses need to get very loud, as loud as anything on the side, with plenty of presence, yet not go over the edge into aggressiveness or harshness the way they do on so many copies. If the midrange is smooth and full-bodied, and the top end is extended and sweet, it makes all the difference; the sound will tend to be balanced and free from hi-fi-ishness.

Any grit or grain will show itself here, big time, especially if you like to play this album as loud as I do, which is LOUD. The power of all those voices singing at the top of their lungs should give you chills.

At moderate levels chills are hard to come by. Most audiophiles play their music much too quietly. Sometimes this is due to obvious system limitations, but often it seems to be merely a preference.

I want to have a powerful emotional experience when playing an album like this. I want to be THRILLED. That just isn’t possible at the kind of comfortable listening levels most audiophiles prefer. This music heard live would be very loud, because rock concerts are very loud. Why wouldn’t we want to reproduce the sound of the live event? (Within reason of course. One must make adjustments for the size of one’s listening room. But you get the point. Turn it up man!)

Shortcuts One and Two

We have been known to remark that there are no shortcuts in audio. You have to put in years, even decades, of often tedious work to get your stereo and room to reproduce music properly. But this is one very obvious shortcut in audio, and another sort-of shortcut, that will allow you to get much better sound than you could on your own without putting in the huge amounts of time that would normally be required.

The first one is a Hot Stamper pressing. We’ve already found the record of your dreams for you. This saves you an awful lot of time — time we think you’ll agree is better spent listening to records rather than digging through dusty record bins in dingy record stores trying to find them.

The other is record cleaning. After years of experimentation we’ve got the science of record cleaning down to a T. It’s partly why our records sound so good; they’ve been cleaned right. We have everything you need — machines, fluids, etc. Alll you have to do is come up with the money to buy the stuff and the discipline to use it.

So two shortcuts out of three, not bad when you stop to think about it. On that note we will close for the day. Thanks to Robert for his letter and all of you out there for taking the time to read this far.
Best,
TP

AMG  Review

Instead of relying on easy hooks, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen assembled their most complex and cynical set of songs to date. Dense with harmonics, countermelodies, and bop phrasing, Pretzel Logic is vibrant with unpredictable musical juxtapositions and snide, but very funny, wordplay. Listen to how the album’s hit single, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” opens with a syncopated piano line that evolves into a graceful pop melody, or how the title track winds from a blues to a jazzy chorus — Becker and Fagen’s craft has become seamless while remaining idiosyncratic and thrillingly accessible… Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one.

Letter of the Week – Your Rubber Soul and ELO sides are clearly better than anything I ever heard and comparisons to Gold CDs, Legacy, MFSL, Nautilus or DCC series are pointless

Rubber Soul

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

Hey Tom,   

I was a DJ for 20 years and by nature of meeting demand for the newest I was always buying vinyl the day it came out.

Your A++ to A+++ Rubber Soul and ELO sides are clearly better than anything I ever heard then or now and comparisons to gold CDs, Legacy, MFSL, Nautilus or DCC series are pointless.

I look forward to replacing my favorites with your A+++.

Btw the B-52’s 1st LP early pressing, which I bought back in June of 1979, always lept out of the speakers. The entire lp (any track) filled my dance floor well into 1987. I am not surprised it is in your Top 100. (more…)

Nirvana / Nevermind – Live and Learn

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

Hey Tom, 

I have purchased about 85 LPs from you in the past 10 years, many of the various types of hot stampers. I was looking at an 11/18/06 article of yours, which said you would verify if my Nirvana/Nevermind LP “is the good one” if I would send you the runout information of side 2. Well here it is: A339124425S2 320. Hoping you could help me wit this. Thanks!

Kind Regards,

Alex 

Alex,

That is not the pressing we like anymore I’m afraid. The imports can be good but they can’t win a shootout. We have no info about that stamper still around either, sorry!

TP

That’s a drag as this is the exact pressing that I purchased from you on 11/18/06 due to an article where you said the following: “The perfect recording, the best of it’s kind, ever. The bass is perfect, the guitars are perfect. The vocals are perfect. Now how in the world could that be you ask?! This import is the first and only version that sounds the way it should: Perfect”. What is the deal here, have things changed so dramatically since then.. Your comments please.

Regards,

Alex

Alex,

It would be great to always be right about which are the best sounding records, but that is simply not possible. We discover new and better pressings for famous albums all the time, once every month or two on average I would say, which means that since 2006 we have found newer, better pressings than our former reference pressings at least a hundred times.

We write about it here:

We Was Wrong

An excerpt: (more…)

The Story of The Electric Recording Co.

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The Electric Recording Co. in London cuts albums the way they were made in the 1950s and ’60s — literally.

By 

LONDON — Tucked in a trendy co-working complex in West London, just past the food court and the payment processing start-up, is perhaps the most technologically backward-looking record company in the world.

The Electric Recording Co., which has been releasing music since 2012, specializes in meticulous recreations of classical and jazz albums from the 1950s and ’60s. Its catalog includes reissues of landmark recordings by Wilhelm Furtwängler, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, as well as lesser-known artists favored by collectors, like the violinist Johanna Martzy.

But what really sets Electric Recording apart is its method — a philosophy of production more akin to the making of small-batch gourmet chocolate than most shrink-wrapped vinyl.

Its albums, assembled by hand and released in editions of 300 or fewer — at a cost of $400 to $600 for each LP — are made with restored vintage equipment down to glowing vacuum-tube amplifiers, and mono tape systems that have not been used in more than half a century. The goal is to ensure a faithful restoration of what the label’s founder, Pete Hutchison, sees as a lost golden age of record-making. Even its record jackets, printed one by one on letterpress machines, show a fanatical devotion to age-old craft. (more…)

Steely Dan Testimonial – … The best sounding rock album I’ve ever heard …

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This week’s entry is from our good friend Phil, who put a fresh twist on Pretzel Logic with his letter below, which includes the line:

“An extraordinary melange of glorious guiltars, voices, drums.” Yeah baby!

“It was like a magic carpet ride into a dark cave filled with jewel boxes of brilliant stones. Bejewelled sound. An extraordinary melange of glorious guiltars, voices, drums. The expanding contours of the music filled my room. The best sounding rock album I’ve ever heard.”

Phil, whatever you’re smokin’, give me a hit and I’ll join you in that “dark cave filled with jewel boxes of brilliant stones”! Reminds me a lot of my listening room, except for the part about the stones. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Real Aja Vs. Cisco Aja

Aja

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

Hey Tom,   

It’s amusing that even Golden Ears who have the attention of large readerships can miss and misunderstand so much. You don’t have to understand the technical why of the variability of LPs to appreciate just how profound the audible differences can be from stamper to stamper. Even in acknowledging that differences are present, they do not seem to appreciate the extreme degree of the variation in sound among LPs from different stampers.

As so many of us have learned from you, a “hot stamper” LP is simply in a whole different league in sound quality. A good sound system is necessary to realize just how big that difference is and the more optimized that system is the better.

Beyond the audible reality and the technical issues, it is the subject of value that is not understood or appreciated. The ability to simply find a nice playable copy of a vintage LP is a major task. So many LPs have suffered the gouging of what must have been a rusty nail used as a stylus as well as all the other sins that can be wreaked on the plastic disc. Then the incredible task of assembling enough different copies to be able to do the “shoot-out” would seem impossible.

I have, as many now may have tried, done a simple “shoot-out” of a few copies of a favorite LP. Among those I have always found the “better” of the bunch. Now and then and just by luck (since the statistics of not having enough samples was not working in my favor) I have found what must indeed be a “hot stamper). And WOW …..what a difference!

The number of times this has occurred fits on less than one hand yet when you hear an LP that has been mixed and mastered really well and then “transferred” with care and quality via an excellent stamper, there is an epiphany. Suddenly you hear what you often refer to as “master tape” sound. As I have said before, this is really a sad statement about the quality and consistency of record production throughout its history.

The “Audiophile” Half-Speed thing only piles it on top of this with the way mastering at half speed seems to extract the dynamic life and frequency response from an album in contrast to a standard copy. The logical intention that mastering at half speed would allow the cutting lathe tool to have “more time” to lay down more of the music signal just never really worked. You would think the “Golden Ears” that developed this idea would have compared the result with real-time cutting speed (not brain surgery). I never wanted all this to be the way it is and didn’t even know it until I stumbled upon Better Records one day. But it is the way it is!

There seems to be a focus on the “wear” of the stamper as the primary cause of differences in the quality of the vinyl LP. My sense is that there is much variation over time in the production of stampers regarding the audio mastering and transfer in tonal balance and especially in the degree of compression used for a specific stamper that can destroy the “life and transparency” of the sound. This has nothing to do with stamper wear or physical variation but can vary from stamper to stamper over the duration of being in print and production and in some cases, never get transferred correctly.

I purchased the new Cisco Steely Dan “Aja” album hoping it would deliver perhaps even greater sound than the original and the hype regarding the remix quality, heavy virgin vinyl, etc, etc. certainly suggested that. After playing a few very smooth and quiet bands I put on my excellent vintage copy of Aja that proceeded to destroy the Cisco. The life, dynamics and transparency were in a totally different and superb league above. I very carefully returned my now even more precious copy to its sleeve. A few dealers that sell reissues like Aja will sometimes admit this but they certainly don’t want the world to know it. (more…)

Letter of the Week – I have a handful of White Hots and oh my god can I hear what I am missing on all of the other nonsense

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

  Hey Tom,   

Well one thing I know for sure is the record matters A LOT. I have a handful of White Hots and oh my god can I hear what I am missing on all of the other nonsense. Even my Super Hots beat all of my other average stuff.

For example, my White Hot of Belladona is so far over the top of sounding like she is heard in the room that it’s scary. Same with my Bob Marley and Tom Petty. But in guessing they could be even better. I’m gonna update my cartridge and phono amp soon.

The problem with audio systems is that you are always flying blind, never knowing what you are missing until you hear it. Again, more evidence to support the success of mediocre Heavy Vinyl!

TP

I relate to that. It’s like our race cars. It’s maddening to get into someone else’s race car…

That analogy works better if the other race car in question has a flat tire or two and the owner of it cannot even tell that it does.

Which explains perfectly why there is such a thing as Heavy Vinyl!

TP

Now that makes more sense! I don’t think my systems have any flat tires, but I’m definitely trying to make it better.

Do you have any experience with Sound-Smith?

Only second hand, friends of friends had some rebuilds done that they say did not work out for them well, but I have no idea what I would have thought of the sound because I just can’t listen to other people’s stereos anymore. Too many faults and colorations, makes my head want to explode. (more…)