CD Advice

Chad Has Served Poor Jethro Tull Most Barbarously

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Stand Up

With a nod to our old friend, John Barleycorn.

We were finally able to get our hands on Analogue Productions’ newly remastered Stand Up, a record we know well, having played them by the score. Our notes for the sound can be seen below.

If ever a record deserved a “no” grade, as in “not acceptable,” this new 45 RPM pressing mastered by Kevin Gray deserves such a grade, because it’s just awful.

But let’s put that grade in context. The last time a good sounding version of Stand Up was released, to our knowledge anyway, was 1989, and that version was the Mobile Fidelity Gold CD. I bought mine soon after it came out. I wasn’t even planning on buying a CD player when the Compact Disc was first invented, but then Mobile Fidelity played a dirty trick on me. Instead of releasing Loggins and Messina’s first album on vinyl, they put it out exclusively on CD as part of their Silver MFCD series.

As a die-hard MoFi fan, that sealed the deal: now I had to buy a CD player. I picked up a cheap Magnavox player, I think it ran me less than $100, and played my new Sittin’ In CD, which, as I recall, sounded pretty good. (One of my other early CD purchases was Tumbleweed Connection, the regular label release, and it was not good at all.)

I still own Stand Up on Gold CD, and I still find it superb in every way. (Many of the MFSL Gold CDs from this era are.)

It sounds nothing like this new vinyl release, and that’s a good thing.

On vinyl, Stand Up has rarely been given the care it deserved. The last version of Stand Up to have sound we would want to listen to was pressed in the UK in the early ’70s. That was close to fifty years ago.

We sold some domestic pressings of the album back in the early 2000s, describing them at the time as made from dub tapes with all the shortcomings that entails, but mastered very well from dub tapes. The best domestic pressings are rich, smooth, tonally correct and natural sounding. They’re too dubby to sell as Hot Stampers, but they are not bad records. Some later Chrysalis pressings are big and open, but often they are too thin and bass-shy for the music to work. We’ve never taken them seriously.

It wasn’t long before we’d eliminated everything but the early UK pressings for our shootouts, and we quickly discovered that the earliest of the UK pressings on the older Island label were not good at all. We wrote about the problem with some originals more than ten years ago.

What was surprising about the shootouts we had done in past years was how disappointing most of the early British pressings we played were. They were flat, lacked energy and just didn’t rock the way they should have.

We learned the hard way that most British Pink label pressings aren’t especially rich, that some are small and recessed, and some are just so smeary, thick and opaque that they frustrate the hell out of you as you’re trying to hear what any of the musicians other than Ian Anderson is doing.

So when a reviewer comes along and says something positive about the new pressing compared to some unidentified original, we appreciate the problem that is at the root of his mistaken judgments:

Here’s the deal: if the goal was to duplicate the original pink label Island sound, this reissue misses that, which is good because this new double 45 reissue is far superior to the original in every possible way.

The tape was in great shape, that’s for sure. Clarity, transparency, high frequency extension and especially transient precision are all far superior to the original. Bass is honest, not hyped up and the mastering delivers full dynamics that are somewhat (but only slightly), compressed on the original. Ian Anderson’s vocals are naturally present as if you are on the other side of the microphone. Most importantly, the overall timbral balance sounds honest and correct. But especially great is the transient clarity on top and bottom.

If you’re fortunate to have an original pink label Island, at first you might think the sound is somewhat “laid back”, but that’s only because the mids and upper mids are not hyped up as they are on the original. That adds some excitement, but it clouds the picture and greatly obscures detail.

If you scroll down to our notes, you will see what we thought of the “laid back” sound this reviewer talks about. (Keep in mind that we first read the above review mere moments ago.)

We think “smaller, thick and stuck in the speakers” may be someone’s idea of “laid back,” but, just so there is no misunderstanding, it’s our idea of “awful.”

None of these are good things. Our Hot Stamper pressings are never small, thick or stuck in the speakers. They’re the records with the opposite of those qualities. Our records are big, transparent and open. That’s why we can charge so much money for them and have people lining up to buy them.

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Two CDs that Sound Nothing Like Their Vinyl Counterparts

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

Reviews and Commentaries for Back in Black

I made the mistake of buying both Back in Black and Sticky Fingers on CD to listen to in the car, and both are a disaster — no bass, no rock weight, with boosted upper mids, no doubt in a misguided attempt to provide more “clarity” and “detail.”

But trying to achieve more clarity at the expense of the rock and roll firepower that makes both of these albums Must Own Rock Records is beyond foolish.

These albums did not need a new sound or a more modern sound. The sound of the original pressings of both of them is superb, as close to faultless as you are likely to find in this world.

Mobile Fidelity managed to get more transparency in the midrange for their pressing, and look what it got them: our award for the worst version ever.

On both of these CDs, even in the car I couldn’t get past the third song.

If this is what the digital lovers of the world think those albums actually sound like, they are living in some kind of parallel universe.

The best pressings on vinyl sound nothing like them. In fact the best pressings sound so good they are on our Rock and Pop Top 100. Rest assured that you don’t get to be on our Top 100 with anemic, upper midrangy sound.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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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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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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Listening in Depth to Crosby Stills & Nash – Now with Bonus CD Advice

More of the Music of Crosby, Stills and Nash

Reviews and Commentaries for Crosby, Stills and Nash’s Debut

More Crosby / More Stills / More Nash

Although millions of copies of this album were sold, so few were mastered and pressed well, and so many mastered and pressed poorly, that few copies actually make it to the site as Hot Stampers.

We wish that were not the case — we love the album — but the copies we know to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound are just not sitting around in the record bins these days.

Whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the Joe Gastwirt-mastered CD. It couldn’t be any more awful. (His Deja Vu is just as bad.)

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

What’s magical about Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? Their voices of course. It’s not a trick question. They revolutionized rock music with their genius for harmony. Any good pressing must sound correct on their voices or it has no value whatsoever. A CSN record with bad midrange reproduction — like most of them — is a worthless record.

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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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Jethro Tull – Big Speakers, Loud Levels and Plenty of Bass Work Their Magic

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Hot Stamper Pressings of British Blues Rock

It’s common for pressings of Stand Up to lack bass or highs, and more often than not the copies that we play in our shootouts, shootouts which are strictly limited to import pressings on Island or Chrysalis, lack both.

The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass.

90-plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that very reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how bright the sound is. (Yet another good reason not to go to those shows. We stopped decades ago.)

Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD. (The average CD of Stand Up — I have a couple of them — is terrible, but the MoFi Gold CD is superb in all respects.)

The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring. Most Island pressings suffer from these shortcomings.

If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thinner and more leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them.

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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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