CD Advice

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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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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The Beatles – The Original A Hard Day’s Night on CD

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for A Hard Day’s Night

The Old CD – You Know, the Original Mono One that the General Public Used to Say Was So Great…

(That is of course the stereo record you see pictured to the left.)

I have the early generation mono CD of this album. Although my car has a very good stereo system, you would never know there was any magic to the sound of these recordings by playing that CD. The whole thing is hopelessly flat and gray.

It starts to perk up by the song Things We Said Today, the 10th(!) track. Before that it just sounds compressed, with all the voices and instruments mashed together. There’s no transparency to the sound. It reminds me of listening to this music on the radio. If that’s the effect George Martin was going for with the old mono mix, he succeeded brilliantly. I prefer the twin-track unapproved stereo mixes found on the LPs.

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Elvis Costello / Girls Girls Girls – Skip It on Vinyl (But Get the Brilliant 2 CD Set)

More Elvis Costello

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Costello

Years ago we had a British Import Demon Records 2 LP set that sounded decent — better sound than you’d find on any domestic copy — and the songs, spanning the period from 1976 to 1986, are GREAT! 

But the CD has much better sound than any vinyl I have yet to hear.

Buy the CD, it’s one of the best compilations — of any artist’s music — I know of.

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Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus – Try the DCC CD

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

Our last White Hot Stamper Gold Label Mono pressing went for big bucks, 900 of them in fact.

Of course, a clean original goes for many times that, which is one reason you have never seen such a record on our site.

How much would we have to charge for a Hot Stamper pressing of an album we paid many thousands of dollars for? Far more than our customers would be willing to pay us, that’s for sure.

You Say You Don’t Have Nine Hundred Bucks for This Album?

Try the DCC pressing from 1995.

The DCC Heavy Vinyl pressing is probably a nice record. I haven’t played it in many years, but I remember liking it back in the day.

It’s dramatically better than the ’80s OJC, which, like many OJC pressings, is thin, hard, tizzy up top and devoid of Tubey Magic. (We have many reviews of OJC pressings on this very blog for those who are interested.)

I would be surprised if the DCC Gold CD isn’t even better than their vinyl pressing.

They usually are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I like DCC’s CDs much better than their records.

Their records did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-rez, modern transistor cutting system, a subject we discussed in some depth here.

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Deja Vu – This Classic Records Knockoff Is Not the Answer, But We Have One

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing of Deja Vu, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off. If you feel disrespected, you should. They took your money and gave you practically nothing of value for it. The right CD (not the current one, that’s for damn sure) is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl reissue.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you.

We of course want nothing to do with records like those remastered by Classic Records. We only want to play good sounding records, and most Classic Records, including this title, are definitely not good sounding, not by our standards anyway.

Records Are in a Sorry State – Here’s What You Can Do About It

It’s a sad state that we currently find ourselves in, but is it really any different than it used to be? Audiophiles used to like half-speeds, they used to like Japanese pressings, they used to like direct to disc recordings with questionable sound and even more questionable music.

Now they like SACDs, Heavy Vinyl and 45s. If you ask me it’s the same old wine in a different bottle.

The path out of that morass is exactly the path we have taken and charted for everyone, free of charge.

With our approach to finding the best sounding records, cleaning them the way we do, playing them against each other the way we do, using the sound improving devices and equipment we recommend, we know you can succeed. If we can do it you can do it.

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Earth, Wind & Fire / Can’t Hide Love – The Best Track These Guys Ever Wrote

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, the high point for me on this record is the song “Can’t Hide Love”, the best track this band ever recorded and a work of True Pop Genius. (Check out side four for the best lineup of any side.) Grammy nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices, it’s hard to imagine that another song beat it. The album was of course nominated as well.

The second best thing about this album is that it allows Earth, Wind & Fire to stretch out and incorporate some funky jazz into their music, like on “Sun Goddess”, a song that they recorded with Ramsey Lewis and which doesn’t appear on any other EW&F album. They do a couple of extended saxophone solos on the live stuff that really take the songs to another level. The band is on fire for practically every track here. This and The Greatest Hits Volumes One get you most of what’s great about the band. Both are Must Owns for anyone who likes Big Production Pop, soulful and otherwise.

Old News

A while back I happened to have heard the Joe Gastwirt mastered CD and noted: What a joke! LIFELESS and DULL. This record kills it! If you want to hear this music right you better own this record or one like it, otherwise you are wasting your time.

Of course, since this is a Hot Stamper copy, “one like it” is hard to find. But if you don’t want to buy one from us, get a hold of any LP you can, because this music belongs in your collection.

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City Boy – Young Men Gone West

More Glam Rock

More Albums from 1977

  • Super Hot Stamper or better sound on both sides of this Arty Glam Rock album
  • Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange before he hit it big with Foreigner and Def Leppard
  • As far as I know Mr Lange never produced an album that sounds this good
  • Plenty of Tubey Magical richness, which only the UK Vertigo pressings seem to have

Like many of my personal favorites, this is a band that never caught on in the states. I saw them live back in the late ’70s and thought they were killer — they reminded me of a more accessible version of 10cc. They write amusingly witty, clever lyrics and mate them to catchy melodies with lots of pop hooks, all produced with meticulous care and engineered with top audiophile sound.

They might fit in the general category of Glam Rock, owing, as they do, so much to Supertramp, Badfinger, Queen, 10cc, Ziggy-period Bowie and the like, but even as I write that it seems unfair to the band, which had a unique style all its own, worthy of the respect and admiration due any of these artists (well, maybe not all the respect, but some of it anyway). Fortunately for us record lovers, this is their best album. (more…)

Harry Nilsson – Try the DCC, It’s Excellent

More Helpful CD Advice 

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Harry Nilsson

We have not done a shootout for this album in many years, but the music is so good we think everyone deserves a chance to hear it, so pick up the Hoffman-mastered CD and enjoy the hell out of it until we can find you a killer Hot Stamper pressing of the album.

Hoffmann did a great job, as he did on so many of the DCC discs. (The Heavy Vinyl LPs are another matter entirely of course.) The CD sound is excellent and it will probably cost you about a tenth of what we would charge for the vinyl.

This forgotten gem sank like a stone in 1969, but time has treated this album well, and it still holds up.

The production is superb throughout. Judging by this early Nilsson’s album, it appears he was already a pro in the studio, as well as an accomplished songwriter, and, more importantly, the owner of one of the sweetest tenors in popular music, then or now.

OUR HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM WAY BACK WHEN

We just finished a big shootout for this fun album and this copy defeated everything we threw up against it — on both sides. The sound is clean, clear and present with lots of tubey magic and high-resolution. It’s also unusually transparent with lots of space between the various instruments. You’ll have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that sounds as good as this one.

This copy is dramatically better than most of them out there, and we’ve graded it accordingly — A+++ for both sides. The sound is full-bodied and energetic with a punchy bottom end. The sound is incredibly clean and clear — just listen to the acoustic guitar transients. Harry’s vocals sound wonderful with big time presence and loads of texture. The cover of Mother Nature’s Son should blow you away!

The average copy suffers, most notably, from a honky sound to the vocals. It seems to be an EQ problem, since it affects a very large percentage of copies with earlier stampers and not as many of the later pressings. The later copies have problems of their own, though, so you can’t just assume that the copies with high numbers will sound better — they don’t always, and the earlier ones can sound amazing when you’re lucky. It just goes to show that (all together now…) you can’t know anything about the sound of a record without playing it, and to take it a step further, you can’t really know much about the sound of an album without cleaning and critically listening to multiple copies. But that’s a lot of hard work, and who has the time?

(Oh yeah. We do!)

What Were You Doing In 1969?

If the answer is “Recording an album of innocent, touching, and completely unironic pop music,” well, you could only be Harry Nilsson.

This album is simply wonderful, and it’s wonderful on a number of different levels. It’s wonderful in a way that strongly appeals to my contrarian nature (you can’t love LPs without having at least a small streak of contrarianism).

The idea of doing a nostalgic, wistful, unapologetically sweet album, as innocent as a Norman Rockwell painting — an album with songs about puppies; rainmaking; old railroads; holding hands; a broken-down old dancer; Mother Nature’s son; patriotically marching down Broadway in a World War II parade; hanging out with a dancing bear; sending flowers to the one you love—how could an album full of songs like these be recorded by a Pop Star in 1969!

You remember 1969. Protests against the Vietnam war. Hippies and the countercultural revolution. Chemical mind expansion in full swing. Tuning in, turning on and dropping out. Trying to keep up with the easy riders, not the Joneses. With all this happening, one mostly unsuccessful songwriter with an oddly Swedish name — just one in fact) — comes along and produces a record that flatly refuses to acknowledge any of it is going on. Nostalgia hadn’t even been invented yet and here was an album full of it, whose first song declares that “Dreams are nothing more than wishes, and a wish is just a dream you wish to come true”, followed by “If only I could have a puppy, I’d call myself so very lucky.” Either this Nilsson guy was incredibly naive or he had some kind of balls. A few albums down the road we realized it was the latter.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Bad Digital Remastering Jobs

Bad Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl

Digital Versus Analog 

Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?