Digital – CDs, Digital Recordings, etc.

Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG


Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

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Bobby Darin / Another Great Sounding Reissue? What the Heck Is Going On!

More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

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

  • Darin At The Copa arrives on the site with stunning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from top to bottom 
  • Recorded live at the Copacabana in New York City, this album captures Darin’s unique charisma, as well his phenomenal music
  • With clear, present vocals, huge amounts of space, and boatloads of Tubey magic – the kind they had plenty of in 1960 – this copy blew away the competition in our recent shootout
  • “…an appearance that confirmed for the adult pop crowd that the former singer of ephemera like “Splish Splash” had made the complete transition from rock & roll to more “serious” music. Serious this record certainly isn’t, though.” 
  • If you’re a fan of Bobby Darin’s, this live album from 1960 surely deserves a place in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This Shootout Winning pressing of Bobby Darin’s live album from 1960 has ENERGY and TUBEY MAGIC like you will not believe. The reissues on Bainbridge that we used in our shootout just KILL the original pressings, which are truly awful based on the ones I have heard. I started out with a copy such as this way back in the early ’90s, and when I finally tracked down a clean original on Atco, not a hard record to find really, I was shocked at just how bad it sounded.

This is, of course, one of the best reasons to own a good CD player. It’s simply a fact that some recordings, vintage and otherwise, were never mastered properly for the analog medium.

Defending Reissues

We bash reissue labels like Classic and Sundazed mercilessly on this site for making the worst kind of substandard pressings, all the while absurdly promoting them as “superior.”

Bainbridge reissued this album sometime in the early ’80s I would guess, and they did this one right. Discovery Records reissued some jazz in the ’70s (Shorty Roger’s Jazz Waltz comes readily to mind) and they did a great job.

Reissues can sound great, but they seem to be limited to the ones from back in the day when they still knew how to make good sounding records. Modern reissues, for whatever reason, almost never do, and that’s the reason we criticize them (and their apologists / promoters so relentlessly).

We are not anti-reissue. We are anti-bad-sounding-reissue.

Bobby Darin was a tremendously talented performer and this record catches him showing off his stuff to good advantage. I don’t know of a better Darin album on vinyl.

Variety Review

Darin’s finger snapping, jazzy and extremely hep delivery has its moments of humor, ease and at all times, a singular brand of charm that make it big at this particular scene.

Darin on CD

Speaking of CDs, This Is Darin from 1960 on the ’90s CD pressing is, or can be — CDs don’t all sound the same either — superb, and the record is, again, just awful. We don’t make many CD recommendations here at Better Records but we do recommend that one. We don’t know if the newer version is any good so that’s a caveat emptor situation you will have to figure out for yourself.

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City Boy – Dispatches from the Front of the Digital Apocalypse

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

More Albums from 1977

I like this band so much I made the mistake of buying the CD of their first two albums. Talk about No Noise! The CD had nothing on it over 8K. It sounded like someone had thrown a blanket over my speakers. It’s so irritatingly dull I can hardly stand to play it even as background music.

It seems that many of the CDs I come across fall into two categories: either mastered with little care and too bright, or No Noised with a heavy hand until they are way too dull.

Oh, and a third one: compressed to death.

That seems to cover about 80-90% of the stuff I come across. Thank god for a good turntable. For those of you without one, may I express my deepest sympathy for your unbearable — to me, anyway — loss.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?

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Every Label Made Bad Sounding Records – Ryko Released This Disgraceful Bowie Set in 1989

More of the Music of David Bowie

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Bowie

This is the sound of digital mastering at its worst. Best to give this one a pass if you are looking for audiophile quality sound.

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 records in the Hall of Shame 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 record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

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Fleetwood Mac – Mirage

  • An outstanding copy of Mirage, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from top to bottom
  • Most copies are washed-out, recessed, and lack weight, but this one will show you just how right this music can sound
  • The producing-engineering team of Ken Caillat and Richard Dashut return to provide top quality Rumours-like production
  • The album spent five weeks at Number One, probably on the strength of the amazingly fun single “Hold Me.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, a killer copy of their 1982 release might just need a home in your collection, and is the last Fleetwood Mac album that we would recommend to anyone but the most diehard fan
  • The albums to come later — Tango in the Night (1987). Behind the Mask (1990), Time (1995) and Say You Will (2003) — have never been offered as Hot Stamper pressings, a fact that is unlikely to change
  • Like Tusk, this is a Digital Recording that sounds great on vinyl

Mirage is a surprisingly good album if you can find the right copy.

The mids and highs can be really silky and sweet. The whole album has a glossy sound, clearly the influence of Lindsay Buckingham and his production team. The sound of Fleetwood Mac in this period is their doing, and with a phenomenal run of success that’s rarely been seen in pop history, it’s hard to argue with either their approach to the material or the sound. It strikes us that they used every track on the multi-track recorder and then some. (more…)

The Beatles / Past Masters Volumes 1 & 2 – Digital Remastering at its Worst

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beatles

Hall of Shame pressing and another album reviewed and found to be perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

The late-’80s import pressings of this album are bright (the tambourine on Hey Jude will tear your head off, just to cite one example) and aggressive and very digital sounding.

Unfortunately, if you want better sounding versions of these songs, you’re gonna have to buy lots of pressings of the band’s albums and singles and EPs in order to find good sounding versions of them, which is exactly what I did back in the ’80s. It took me years to do it.

In the ’90s, when I was actually selling this awful record (because my system was just too dark and unrevealing to show me how awful it was), I wrote:

These are all the songs that aren’t on the original 13 British albums, so for those of you with the MoFi Beatles box, these 2 LPs give you all the tracks you don’t have.  

This was written so long ago that we actually refer to the MoFi Beatles Box as something an audiophile would own.

To be clear, in this day and age, no serious audiophile who loves The Beatles should have the MoFi Box Set or Past Masters in his collection.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…

Badfinger / Straight Up Trash on 2 LPs

More of the Music of Badfinger

Reviews and Commentaries for Badfinger

This British 2 LP reissue from 1993 was (badly) digitally remastered by a Mr. Ron Furmanek. May his name live in infamy.

It contains alternate mixes of 6 songs at 45 RPM on the second record, with equally bad sound.

The whole Apple series of remastered releases — at least the ones we played — was awful sounding and should be avoided completely. These records are nothing but Audiophile Bullshit.

If you are a record collector and must have those alternate mixes, just buy the CD. The vinyl is terrible, the CD probably sounds every bit as bad, but at least the CD is cheap and plays all the songs straight through.

If you own this record, my guess is it is pristine.

If you played it at all, you played it once and put it away on a shelf where it probably sits to this very day. Good records get played and bad records don’t. If you have lots of pristine records on your shelves, ask yourself: Why haven’t you played them?

You may not like the implications of the answer: Because they aren’t any good.

And that means you should never have bought them in the first place.

But we all make mistakes. Owning up to them may be hard, but it is the only way to make any real progress in this hobby.

Record collecting for the sake of record collecting strikes us as a bad idea.

We like to play records, not just collect them, and we like to play records with the best sound we can find. We call those kinds of records Hot Stamper Pressings, and finding them, and making them available to other audiophiles, has been my life’s work.

All the collecting we leave to other people who apparently enjoy that sort of thing.

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Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

More Fleetwood Mac

More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • The best sounding tracks are killer here – clear, rich, warm, full-bodied, with all the hallmarks of high-production-value analog throughout
  • These vintage pressings have the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s surely missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 40 year old tapes (or, to be clear, a modern digital master copy of those tapes)
  • 5 stars: “McVie and Nicks don’t deviate from their established soft rock and folk-rock templates, and all their songs are first-rate… Because of its ambitions, Tusk failed to replicate the success of its two predecessors, yet it earned a dedicated cult audience of fans of twisted, melodic pop.”
  • If you’re a fan of Late-’70s pop, especially the kind with a harder edge, this is a Must Own from 1979 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1979 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here. (more…)

Sonny Rollins – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

And this is some very bad analog indeed!

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – Reviewed in 2010

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and believe me, I’ve heard plenty

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?”

It reminds me of the turgid muck that Doug Sax was cutting for Analogue Productions back in the ’90s. The CD has to sound better than this. There’s no way could it sound worse.

CD Update: I managed to track down a copy of the CD and it DOES sound better than this awful record, and by a long shot. It’s not a great sounding CD, but it sure isn’t the disaster this record is. Buy the CD and whatever you do, don’t waste money on this kind of crap vinyl.

This is a very bad sounding record, so bad that one minute’s play will have you up and out of your chair trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with your system. But don’t bother. It’s not your stereo, it’s this record.

It has the power to make your perfectly enjoyable speakers sound like someone has wrapped them in four inches of cotton bunting.

Presence? Gone!

Transients? Who needs ’em!

Ambience, Openness, Three-Dimensionality?

Uh, will you consider settling for Murk, Bloat and Smear? There’s a Special on them today at Acoustic Sounds.

And yet no one seems to have noticed, except us of course.

Inspected By… Nobody?

Ask yourself this question. How did this record get approved? Did no one ever play it? Hoffman and Gray let their names be put on this piece of crap? Kassem I can understand; he’s been making bad records for more than twenty years and wouldn’t know a good record if it bit him in the butt. But this is really beyond the pale. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. I honestly don’t think I have a CD that sounds this bad, and I have hundreds of them. (I play them in the car.)

We don’t feel it’s incumbent upon us to defend the sound of these pressings. We think for the most part they are awful and we want nothing to do with them.

But don’t those who DO think these remastered pressings sound good — the audiophile reviewers and the forum posters specifically — have at least some obligation to point out to the rest of the audiophile community that at least one of them is spectacularly bad, as is surely the case here.

Is it herd mentality? Is it that they don’t want to rock the boat? They can’t say something bad about even one of these Heavy Vinyl pressings because that might reflect badly on all of them?

I’m starting to feel like Mr. Jones: Something’s going on, but I don’t know what it is. Dear reader, this is the audiophile world we live in today. If you expect anyone to tell you the truth about the current crop of remastered vinyl, you are in for some real disappointment.

We don’t have the time to critique what’s out there, and it seems that the reviewers and forum posters lack the — what? desire, courage, or maybe just the basic critical listening skills — to do it properly.

Which means that in the world of Heavy Vinyl, it’s every man for himself.

And a very different world from the world of Old Vinyl, the kind we offer. In our world we are behind you all the way. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or you get your money back.

Now which world would you rather live in?

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