Audio Progress

It can be done. Here are some ideas.

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat

lisztpiano_1503s_1375270815Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
(more…)

New Paradigms and Old

beatlrubbeoriginalIt is our strongly held belief that if your equipment (regardless of cost) or your critical listening skills do not allow you to hear the kinds of sonic differences among pressings we describe, then whether you are just getting started in audio or are a self-identified audio expert writing for the most prestigious magazines and websites, you still have a very long way to go in this hobby.

Purveyors of the old paradigms — original is better, money buys good sound — may eventually find their approach to records and equipment unsatisfactory (when it isn’t just plain wrong), but they will only do so if they start to rely more on empirical findings and less on convenient theories and received wisdom.

A reviewer we all know well is clearly stuck in the Old Paradigm, illustrated perfectly by this comment:

It’s not my pleasure to be so negative but since I have a clean UK original (signed for me by George Martin!) I’ll not be playing this one again. Yes, there are some panning mistakes and whatever else Martin “cleaned up” but really, sometimes it’s best to leave well-enough (and this album was well-enough!) alone.

We can’t imagine how anyone can have a system in this day and age that can obscure the flaws of the original Parlophone pressings of Rubber Soul (or any other Yellow and Black label Parlophone pressing for that matter). MF apparently does (as do some of our customers, truth be told), but we have something very different indeed. One might even consider it the opposite of such a system. Our system is designed to relentlessly and ruthlessly expose the flaws of every record we play. Only the best of the best can survive that level of scrutiny. This commentary addresses this issue in more depth.
(more…)

What to Listen for on this EMI

prokosym1_emi_1504_2_1153511995That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label to the extent that they did back in the day. I chalk it up, as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included (we do have a We Was Wrong section right on the site, the only one of its kind to my knowledge), to limited equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning.

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems of today.

Working in impossibly complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set-up through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like.

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room; the cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.
(more…)

VTA – A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

pagancon1_rabinnew

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically adjust your VTA.

Experimenting with the VTA for this record we found a precise point where it all came together, far beyond whatever expectations we might have had at the time, which revealed a violin floating between the speakers, an effect that as audiophiles we appreciate for the magic trick that it is.

The sound of the wood of the instrument became so clear, the harmonic textures so natural, it was quite a shock to hear a good record somehow become an amazing one. All it took was a few moments of experimentation.

With the right VTA setting we immediately heard more harmonic detail, with no sacrifice in richness. That’s the clearest sign that your setup is right, or very close to it.
(more…)

Classic Records Stops Making Bad Records… Temporarily

classicclaritybox

DATELINE 8/29/2010

Classic Records has officially gone under. They will not be missed, not by us anyway, except for this reason: to borrow a line from Richard Nixon, I guess we won’t have Classic Records to kick around anymore. We’ve been beating that dead horse since the day they started back in 1994. There are scores of commentaries on the site about their awful records for those who care about such things.

The last review we wrote for the remastered Scheherazade, which fittingly ended up in our Hall of Shame, is one in which we awarded it an equally fitting sonic grade of F.

TAS Superdisc List to this day? Of course it is!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have somehow managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop carrying them in 2010.) That ought to tell you something. Better audio stops hiding and starts revealing the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

(Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues. Every Hot Stamper commentary is fundamentally about the specific attributes that make one copy of a given album better than another, and how much of them you’re getting for your money with the unique pressing on offer.)

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile as I’m sure you’ve read by now. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

With Old School equipment you will continue to be fooled by bad records, just as I and all my audio buds were fooled twenty and thirty years ago. Audio has improved immensely in that time. If you’re still playing Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile pressings there’s a world of sound you’re missing. We would love to help you find it.

One Hot Stamper just might be all it takes to get the ball rolling.

 

classic_records_acoustic

Oh no, someone is going to keep pressing Classic’s shitty records! And selling them!

And wouldn’t you know it’s the same guys who’ve been making bad records since before Classic got into the game.

I advised them to dump them in a landfill but they apparently had other ideas.

So now it’s one stop shopping for all the bad sounding Heavy Vinyl you might be foolish enough to buy. Or perhaps you were misguided by the ridiculous reviews pedaled all over the audiophile press extolling the virtues of these pressings.

Don’t believe a word of it. You can count the good sounding records put out by these guys on one hand.  I honestly cannot think of one I would have in my house to tell you the truth.

The Good News in Audio: Things Change

ledzeIV_1502

 

It’s amazing how many records that used to sound bad now sound pretty darn good. The site is full of commentaries about them. Every one of them is proof that comments about recordings are of limited value.

The recordings don’t change. Our ability to find, clean and play the pressings made from them does, and that’s what the Hot Stamper Revolution is all about.

You have a choice. You can choose to take the standard audiophile approach, which is to buy the record that is supposed to be the best pressing and consider the case closed. You did the right thing, you played by the rules, you bought the pressing you were told to buy, the one you read the reviews about, the one on the list, the one they said was made from the master tape, the one supposedly pressed on the best vinyl, all that kind of stuff. Cross that title off and move on to the next.
(more…)

Who Can’t Hear Differences in Sound from Side to Side?

rimskscheh_2446

 

rimskscheh_chesky

Audiophile Reissues of the Reiner/CSO Recording

Both the Chesky and Classic reissue pressings of LSC 2446 are just plain terrible. Embarrassingly the latter is found on the TAS List.

There is a newly remastered 33 RPM pressing of the album garnering rave reviews in the audiophile press. We will report our findings soon enough.

Please note that in many of the reviews for the new pressing, the original used for comparison is a Shaded Dog. In our experience almost no Shaded Dog pressings are competitive with the later White Dog pressings, and many of them are just plain awful, as we have mentioned previously on the site. The “original is better” premise of most reviewers renders the work they do practically worthless, especially to those of us who take the time to play a wide variety of pressings, judging them on the merits of their sound, not the color of their labels.
(more…)

The More Mistakes the Better, Part Two

youngafterx20

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

Wise men and women throughout the ages have commented on the value of making mistakes. Here is one of our favorite quotes on the subject.

If I had to live my life again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.

We can thank Tallulah Bankhead for that one. When I think of the 20 odd years (early ’70s to early ’90s) I wasted trying to figure out how audio works before I had learned to develop critical listening skills, it brings to mind that old Faces’ song, “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and most cogently in this commentary from way back in 2005.

We believe that the only way to really learn about records is to gather a big pile of them together, clean them up and listen to them one by one as critically as you can.
(more…)

Sometimes the Most Fundamental Questions in Audio Are Simply Overlooked

big_speakers

This commentary is about two things — knowing the kind of music you like, and getting the kind of sound you want.

If you believe a word you read on the various sites where audiophiles freely dispense advice about everything under the sun regarding music, recordings and equipment, you are asking for trouble and you are surely going to get it. You will encounter an endless supply of nonsense, more often than not defended tooth and nail by those with more aptitude for typing than for critical listening.
(more…)

The Vices of Production

doobiebrosvices

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?
(more…)