We Was Wrong

Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

(more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


After You’ve Played 100 Copies of the Album, What’s Left to Learn?

bloodchildMore of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Child Is Father to the Man

A common misconception of many of those visiting the site for the first time is that we think we know it all.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We definitely do not know it all. We learn something new about records with practically every shootout.

Case in point: the record you do NOT see pictured above. (The record we recently learned something new about — this, after having played scores and scores of copies over the years — will remain a secret for the time being. At least until we find another one.)

In 2013 we played a red label Columbia reissue of a famous ’60s rock record (again, not shown) that had the best side two we have ever heard. Up to that point no copy other than the 360 original had ever won a shootout, and we’ve done plenty. Lo and behold here was a reissue that put them all to shame.

I’m still in shock from the experience to tell you the truth, but what a blast it was to hear it!

The recording, which I first played more than 40 years ago at the tender age of 16, was now bigger, less murky and more energetic than ever before. Had you asked me, I would have confidently told you not to waste your time with the second pressing, to stick to the 360’s on that title, and I would have been wrong wrong wrong.

How Wrong?

But wait a minute. The 360 original will probably beat 49 out of 50 red label reissue copies on side two, and the best 360 original could not be beaten on side one by any other pressing. When you stop to think about it, we weren’t very wrong at all.

Let’s just say our understanding was incomplete. This is why we prefer to offer actual physical records rather than just advice, although it’s clear for all to see that we happily do both, and, moreover, we certainly feel qualified — as qualified as anyone can be — to offer opinions since our opinions are virtually always backed up by experimental data.

Sometimes we guess about the sound quality of some titles, usually when we just can’t be bothered to order a copy up and take the time to audition it. So many labels today produce such consistently second- and third-rate pressings, can you blame us for not wanting to hear where the latest one went wrong? 

Ultimately what makes our case is the quality of the records we sell. And I’m glad to report that we don’t get many complaints, even at these prices. (Some of our customers seem to think they got their money’s worth, and who are we to argue?)

Avoiding Mistakes

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply not to play them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

It’s all good — until the needle hits the groove. Then you might find yourself in need of actual Better Records, not the ones you thought were better.

How Do We Do It?

There are more than 2000 Hot Stamper reviews on this blog. Do you know how we learned so much about so many records?

Simple. We ran thousands and thousands of record experiments under carefully controlled conditions, and we continue to run scores of them week in and week out to this very day.

If you want to learn about records, we recommend you do the same. You won’t be able to do more than one or two a week, but one or two a week is better than none, which is how many the average audiophile manages to do.

When it comes to finding the best sounding records ever made, our advice is simple.

Play them the right way and pay attention to what they are trying to teach you. You will learn more this way than any other.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

How Can I Recognize What I Should Be Listening For on a Given Album?

Holst – Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc?

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

We can, we played it.

Or, to be more correct, we played them. Two pressings, each with one good side and one very bad side.

This 2-pack from many years ago (ten perhaps), described below, boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top.

It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)

Little Feat / Waiting For Columbus – We Broke Through in 2017

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

A classic case of Live and Learn

In 2009 we had this to say about a Hot Stamper pressing we listed:

This German import pressing of Waiting for Columbus is much better sounding than the typical Mastering Lab-mastered copy.

This German pressing is similar to one that came from my own personal collection, accidentally discovered way back in the early ’80s as I recall. It KILLED my domestic original, and got some things right that even my treasured Mobile Fidelity pressing couldn’t. We have been meaning to do a shootout for this album for at least the last five years, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now is an excruciating experience.

All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

That same laundry list continued to pay big dividends, and right around 2017 or so the best original domestic Mastering Lab copies started to sound much more right to us than the German ones.  The German pressings can be good, but the TML pressings are the only ones we expect to win shootouts from now on.

But who knows? We could find something even better down the road. That’s what shootouts are for. (more…)

Love on Heavy Vinyl – Indefensible Dreck from Sundazed

More of the Music of Love

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Love

Sonic Grade: F

Two Audiophile Hall of Shame titles, and another two Sundazed records reviewed and found seriously wanting.

We got hold of a minty original pressing of the first Love album back around 2007, so in preparation for the commentary I pulled one of the Sundazed pressings off the shelf, (Forever Changes, the only one we ever bothered to sell), cracked it open and threw it on the turntable. 

Gag, what a piece of crap. When I had auditioned them all those years ago (2002), it was — I’m not kidding — the best of the bunch.

The sound to me back then was nothing special, but not bad. Knowing how rare the originals were, we gave it a lukewarm review and put it in the catalog, the single Sundazed Love album that (just barely) made the cut.

Now I wish I hadn’t, because no one should have to suffer through sound that bad. Here’s what I wrote for the shootout:

You’d never know it from those dull Sundazed reissues, but the right pressings of Love albums are full of Tubey Magic! With Bruce Botnick at the controls you can expect a meaty bottom end and BIG rock sound, and this recording really delivers on both counts.

With Sundazed mastering engineers running the show, you can expect none of the above.

No Tubey Magic, no meaty bottom end, no big rock sound.

After the shootout, I took the two copies we had in stock right down to my local record store and traded them in. I didn’t want them in my house, let alone on my site.

I’m glad that title didn’t sell very well because now I feel I owe a personal apology to anyone who might have bought one from me, thinking they were getting a half-way decent record.

They were getting no such thing. They were getting a piece of garbage. 

A textbook case of Live and Learn.


The Doors – L.A. Woman Is a Disaster on German Heavy Vinyl, Part One

There is [was; it’s out of print now] a German 180 gram pressing of L.A. Woman which [was] so bad, I am calling this commentary The Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing is a sign that, to me at least, The End Is Near, or May Be. If this isn’t a good example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

[This commentary was written a long time ago and much of our thinking about the recordings of The Doors has evolved since then, having played scores of their records in shootouts and learned something from every one. Click here to read more.]

Dateline: January, 2005

[Note that some of this commentary from the dawn of time (2005 qualifies when it comes to Hot Stampers) falls under the heading of We Was Wrong, especially the part about there not being a good vinyl version of the album. We heard some killer pressings starting around 2011-2012, but boy are they few and far between.]

There is a new 180 gram German pressing of The Doors LA Woman album which is so bad, I am calling this commentary Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing to me is a sign that The End Is Near. There is no hope for audiophiles if they can’t tell a good record from a bad one, and this is clearly a bad one.

When I first played it I thought there must be something wrong with my stereo. There was no deep bass. (This recording has amazing deep bass.) The sound was upper midrangey and distorted. There was no extreme top at all. This surprised me, as I had heard that this was supposed to be a good record. What I heard coming off the copy that I was playing was pure garbage. I was confused. (more…)

Steely Dan – A Killer Can’t Buy a Thrill (and Some Lessons We Learned)

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

During our shootouts, when we drop the needle on a copy and don’t hear that “Hot Stamper” sound, we toss that one and move on to the next. The difference between a truly Hot Stamper and most copies is so obvious that we rarely waste time on the pressings that clearly don’t have any real magic in their grooves.

Like we’ve said after some of our other Steely Dan Hot Stamper shootouts, you would never imagine how good this album can sound after playing the average copy, which is grainy, compressed and dead as the proverbial doornail. It’s positively criminal the way this well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP.

And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when you can’t hear it right? The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music through bad sound. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

We Was Wrong About the Sound

Years ago – starting with our first shootout in 2007 for the album as a matter of fact – we had put this warning in our listings:

One thing to note: this isn’t Aja, Pretzel Logic or Gaucho (their three best sounding recordings). We doubt you’ll be using a copy of Can’t Buy A Thrill to demo your stereo.

We happily admit now that we got Can’t Buy a Thrill wrong. It’s actually a very good sounding record – rich, smooth, natural, with an especially unprocessed quality.

In that sense it is superior to most of their catalog; better than Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, Royal Scam and maybe even Gaucho. You could easily use the album to demo your stereo. (more…)

Grieg / Peer Gynt Suites – Were We Wrong? Probably

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

Reviews and Commentaries for Peer Gynt

Below are the notes for a later pressing we played many years ago. I doubt if we would like this pressing much now.

It sounds like it lacks Tubey Magic, as well as weight in the lower registers, and we are much less tolerant of those kinds of shortcomings now than we were then.

Our review from 2008

Fiedler is wonderful here, which is to be expected. What’s unusual about this Red Seal is how good the sound is. It’s extremely transparent and tonally correct.

It sounds to me like a flat transfer.

Some tubey colorations would be nice, especially in the louder passages.

The sound also lacks a bit of weight in the bottom end.

But these faults are mostly made up for by the tremendous clarity and freedom from distortion that this pressing has. I doubt if the Shaded Dog has those qualities.


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

(more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Classic Records and the TAS List

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

This is a classic case of Live and Learn.

We used to like the Classic Records pressing of LSC 2241 a lot more than we do now. Our system was noticeably darker and apparently far less revealing when we last auditioned the Classic back in the ’90s, and those two qualities did most of the heavy lifting needed to disguise its shortcomings. We mistakenly noted:

HP put the Shaded Dog pressing (the only way it comes; there is no RCA reissue to my knowledge) on his TAS List of Super Discs, and with good reason: it’s wonderful!

The rest of our commentary still holds up though:

But for some reason he also put the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl reissue on the list, and that record’s not even passable, let alone wonderful. It’s far too lean and modern sounding, and no original Living Stereo record would ever sound that way, thank goodness. 

If they did few audiophiles would still be paying the top dollar collector prices that the Shaded Dog commands to this day.

Updated Thoughts on the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl Reissue

The Classic on Heavy Vinyl (LSC 2241) is lean and modern sounding. No early Living Stereo pressing sounds like it in our experience, and we can only thank goodness for that. If originals and early reissues did sound more like the Classic pressings, my guess is that few would collect them and practically no one would put much sonic stock in them.

Apparently most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original pressing (or good ’60s or ’70s reissue). If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and recognized and identified as such by us way back in 1994.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

(more…)