Digital – CDs, Digital Recordings, etc.

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Telarc Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings of the 1812 Overture

Sonic Grade: D

If you want an amazingly dynamic 1812 with huge amounts of deep bass for the firing of the cannon, you can’t do much better than this (or its UHQR brother). 

But if you want rich, sweet and tonally correct brass and strings, you had best look elsewhere. I’ve never liked the sound of this record and I’m guessing if I heard a copy today I would like it even less. Who thinks live classical music actually sounds like this?

Telarc – The Sound of Digital

Telarc makes clean, modern sounding records. To these ears they sound much like a good CD. If that’s your sound you can save yourself a lot of money avoiding vintage Golden Age recordings, especially the ones we sell. They’re much more expensive and rarely as quiet, but — again, to these ears — the colors and textures of real instruments seems to come to life in their grooves, and in practically no others.

We include in this modern group analog labels such as Reference, Sheffield, Chesky, Athena and the like. Having heard hundreds of amazing vintage pressings, I find it hard to take them seriously at this stage of the game. Twenty years ago, maybe. But twenty years is a long time, especially in the world of audio.

We started a list of records that suffer from a lack of Tubey Magic like this one, and it can be found here.


A PUBLIC SERVICE

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some Hall of Shame records the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.

Donald Fagen / Morph The Cat – Mastered by the Cats from DCC

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Yet another Disastrous Heavy Vinyl release with godawful sound, and in this case, equally godawful music, a fitting entry for our Hall of Shame.

Sonic Grade: F

Hopelessly murky, muddy, opaque, ambience-free sound, and so artificial I honestly cannot make any sense of it. Pure sludge.  This is someone’s idea of analog? It sure ain’t mine.

Is this music for robots? That would explain a lot. Audiophile robots, perhaps?

Why do audiophiles waste their money on crap like this?

And Kamikiriad from 1993 was musically every bit as bad.

The last good record Donald Fagen was involved with was The NIghtfly.

After that, there is no reason to buy anything he recorded, whether as a solo artist or as part of the reformed Steely Dan.

And there would never be a good reason to buy a record that sounds as bad as this one on vinyl.

The CD has to be better.

Bruce Springsteen – Tunnel of Love

More Bruce Springsteen

  • On the better pressings you get something approaching the warmth and unforced clarity of analog we audiophiles crave
  • Some of Bruce’s best material is here: the title track and One Step Up are two of our favorites  
  • “Bruce Springsteen followed the most popular album of his career, Born in the U.S.A., with [a] low-key, anguished effort, Tunnel of Love.”

As is the case for the Bob Clearmountain mix of Born in the USA, the sound is not exactly vintage analog at its best, but at least on vinyl you get more analog qualities than would otherwise be possible. This is 1987, not 1967 and not even 1977. That said, the copies that earned the better grades were big and rich, with plenty of studio space and nicely present vocals.

Mostly what they do well is that they fill out the sound and take the edge off of it without losing musical information, dynamics or energy. Not many copies managed that feat but this one did. (more…)

A Fun and Easy Test for Abbey Road: MoFi Versus Apple

More of the Music of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for Abbey Road

There is a relatively simple test you can use to find out if you have a good Mobile Fidelity pressing of Abbey Road. Yes, as shocking as it may seem, they actually do exist, we’ve played them, but they are few and far between (and never as good as the best Brits).

The test involves doing a little shootout of the song Golden Slumbers between whatever MoFi pressing you have and whatever British Parlophone pressing you have. If you don’t have both LPs this shootout will be difficult to do. The idea is to compare aspects of the sound of both pressings head to head, which should shed light on which one of them is more natural and which is more hi-fi-ish sounding.

The Golden Slumbers Test

I’ve come to realize that this is a Key Track for side two, because what it shows you is whether the midrange of your pressing — or your system — is correct.

At the beginning Paul’s voice is naked, front and center, before the strings come in. Most Mobile Fidelity pressings, as good as they may be in other areas, are not tonally correct in the middle of the midrange.

The middle of the voice is a little sucked out and the top of the voice is a little boosted.

It’s really hard to notice this fact unless one plays a good British pressing side by side with the MoFi.

Then the typical MoFi EQ anomaly become obvious. It may add some texture to the strings, but the song is not about the strings.

Having heard a number of audiophile systems (especially recently) that have trouble getting this part of the spectrum right, it would not be surprising that many of you do not find the typical MoFi objectionable, and may even prefer it to the good British copies. The point I’m belaboring here is that when it’s right, it’s RIGHT and everything else becomes more obviously wrong, even if only slightly wrong.

The Heart of the Midrange

For a while in my record reviewing system many years ago I had a relatively cheap Grado moving magnet cartridge. The midrange of that cartridge is still some of the best midrange reproduction I have ever heard. It was completely free of any “audiophile” sound. It was real in a way that took me by surprise. I played Abbey Road with that cartridge in the system and heard The Beatles sound EXACTLY the way I wanted them to sound.

Exactly the way I think they SHOULD sound, in my mind’s ear. Playing the very same record on much more expensive front ends, with much more expensive moving coils, was disappointing at that time. It’s easy to lose sight of the heart of the music when the equipment dazzles us by doing so many other things well.

Good moving coils are amazingly spacious, refined, sweet, extended, three-dimensional and all that other good stuff.

But they don’t always get the heart of the music right. And it’s good to hear something that may be more crude but at the same time more correct in order to bring our listening journey back to a truer course.

Alternative Sound

I think that people who listen to CDs exclusively — One Format listeners as I like to call them — suffer greatly from a lack of an alternative or comparison sound. It’s easy to get used to the “CD sound” and forget that all that digital garbage doesn’t really belong in music. Records have their own problems, but their problems don’t give me a headache the way the problems of CDs do.


FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

If you are buying remastered LPs, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl Pressings and Half-Speed Masters.

People have been known to ask us:

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

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. And if for some reason you disagree that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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The Doors – How Do the Butterfly and Small Red E Pressings Sound?

More of the Music of The Doors

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Psych Rock Albums

The Butterfly and Small Red E labels are so contemptibly thin and harsh they are not worth the vinyl they were pressed on.

You would be much better off with the DCC Gold CD than any of the reissue vinyl we’ve played.

Good digital beats bad analog any day.


This a Must Own Record, a 1967 recording with unbelievable RAW POWER. Most audiophiles very likely have no idea how well recorded this album is, simply because most pressings don’t do a very good job of translating the energy and life of the master tape onto the vinyl of the day.

The second Doors album is without a doubt one of the punchiest, liveliest, most POWERFUL recordings in the entire Doors catalog, right up there with their debut.

I’m guessing this statement does not comport with your own experience, and there’s a good reason for that: not many copies of the album provide evidence of any of the above qualities. Most pressings are opaque, flat, thin, veiled, compressed and lifeless. They sound exactly the way so many old rock records sound: like any old rock record.

Botnick Knocks It Out of the Park

But this album is engineered by Bruce Botnick. The right pressings give you the kind of low-end punch and midrange presence you hear on Love’s first album (when you play the right gold label originals). Botnick engineered them both, and what’s even more amazing is that The Doors second is in many ways an even better recording than Love’s!

All tube from start to finish, the energy captured on these Hot Stampers has to be heard to be believed. Not to mention the fact that the live-in-the-studio musicians are swimming in natural ambience, with instruments leaking from one mic to another, and most of them bouncing back and forth off the studio walls to boot.

But the thing that caught us most by surprise is how much LIFE there is in the performances on the better Hot Stamper copies. Morrison pulled out all the stops on songs like Love Me Two Times and the last track on the album, When the Music’s Over. Unless you have a very special pressing there is almost no chance you will ever hear him with this kind of raw power.

Top 100? If we could find more than a sporadic few clean, good sounding copies each year it would surely make the list, joining the other three of the band’s first four albums on there now.

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Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing

More on the UHQR

Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?

This is a UHQR JVC Test Record in a white generic jacket.

The RAREST of the RARE! I’ve never even seen one offered for sale!

For those of you who do not know the complete story, the UHQR — the ultra high quality record — was invented by JVC as a test to see how good the ultimate vinyl pressing could sound. It was thicker, had a longer pressing cycle, and other technological improvements, all with the goal of making the ultimate lp.

Mobile Fidelity produced limited editions of eight titles on UHQR, and both Reference and Telarc produced one each.

Apparently tests were done by others as well, because here we have some M&K recordings on UHQR. I believe they are not known to exist — until now. I bought them from M&K myself many years ago, along with some Flamenco Fevers and a box full of unplayed For Dukes. That was a good day for Better Records! (more…)

Cowboy Junkies – Whites Off Earth Now!!

More Cowboy Junkies

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • An outstanding copy of the band’s debut album – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This pressing is well balanced, yet big and lively, with such wonderful clarity in the mids and highs as well as an open and spacious soundfield
  • “Whites Off Earth Now!! establishes the spare country blues sound that took the band to international fame with their next album.” – Wikipedia
  • “… it’s fascinating to hear their signature country-on-valium sound develop. Margo Timmins sings beautifully.”

This vintage Latent Recordings pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Michael Hedges – Some of the Most Unnatural Digital Sound We Have Ever Heard

A Record Better Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

It sounds as if someone went into the biggest room in the studio they could book, sat Michael Hedges down on a stool out in the middle of it, and then took all the mics and aimed them at the walls. Roll tape! (Assuming they used tape, who knows what kind of crap digital system they were using.)

And the best part is that it was nominated for an engineering Grammy!

If you think the average music lover today wouldn’t know good sound if it bit him in the ass, this album is proof that nothing has changed, not since 1984 anyway.

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Bennett & Evans – More Mistaken MoFi EQ

More of the Music of Bill Evans

More of the Music of Tony Bennett

Sonic Grade: F

That weird boost around 10k that Stan Ricker likes to add to practically every record he masters wreaks havoc on the sound of Tony Bennett’s voice. I would be very surprised if the current in-print Compact Disc doesn’t sound more tonally natural, and for us audiophile record lovers – not lovers of audiophile records, but guys who love records with audiophile sound – that’s simply another nail in the coffin for one of the most laughably inept remastering labels in the history of that sad enterprise.

If you love this album, and you should, the regular early Fantasy pressings are the only game in town.

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Ray Charles & Betty Carter – DCC Clear Vinyl Pressing

More of the Music of Ray Charles

More Soul, Blues and R&B Albums with Hot Stampers

Sonic Grade: F

This Dunhill Compact Classics LP pressed on CLEAR VINYL is one of DCCs earliest forays into analog production from way back in 1988.

Unfortunately it sounds like a bad CD.

Screechy, bright, shrill, thin and harsh, it’s hard to imagine worse sound for this music.

NO warmth.

NO sweetness.

NO richness.

NO Tubey Magic. In other words,

NO trace of the original’s analog sound. I have to wonder how records this awful get released.

You can be sure that Hoffman’s CD murders it in every way.

A PUBLIC SERVICE

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some Hall of Shame records the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.