Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping. 

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail”. The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.

Eagles Hotel California – DCC Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B+/B-

The DCC — Not Bad, But…

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound. To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.   (more…)

Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question: This is analog? You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Classic Meddling

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one. What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested. But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Coulda fooled me.  (more…)

What’s the Right Grade for the CBS Half-Speed of Willie Nelson’s Stardust?

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Sonic Grade: B to F, depending on the copy

This Hot Stamper CBS Mastersound LP has the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for the half-speed of this title. It KILLED the other two CBS Audiophile Stardusts we played. If you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that any two records — domestic, import, audiophile, 180 gram, or otherwise — sound the same, then you simply need to do a shootout or two with records like these to be disabused of that notion.

One copy was awful; I’d have to say it’s one of the worst sounding audiophile pressings I’ve ever played. Somebody is going to buy it thinking it somehow guarantees them a higher quality pressing, and to that person I say, think again. That’s not the way it works.

This copy, on the other hand, sounds so good you’d think it was one of our hand-picked multi-hundred dollar Hot Stamper pressings. (One of them sold for $750, FYI.) It may not be the ultimate copy, but it sure sounded amazing to us. On the half-speed scale we give it Two Pluses. That’s the highest grade we’ve ever given ANY half-speed; from guys who can’t stand half-speeds as a rule, that’s high praise indeed. 

Check out Audiophile Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Muddy Waters – Folk Singer – Classic Records Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Kills that muddy MOFI, which I must confess I used to like. Things have changed, that’s for sure. The Mobile Fidelity is thick and fat sounding, like most of their awful Anadisq releases, with much less transparency than this Classic.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. 

 

 

Billy Joel – 52nd Street on Impex (Cisco)

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Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The new Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why.  (more…)

The Who – Who By Numbers on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

It’s not just bass that separates the Real Thing from the Classic Reissue. It’s WEIGHT, fullness, the part of the frequency range from the lower midrange to the upper bass, that area that spans roughly 150 to 600 cycles. It’s what makes Daltry’s voice sound full and rich, not thin and modern. It’s what makes the drums solid and fat the way Johns intended. The good copies of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have plenty of muscle in this area, and so do the imports we played. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Heavy Vinyl pressing from Cisco / Impex reviewed. 

Beware any and all imitations, even this one, which I admit I used to like somewhat. They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way the best pressings do. Our Hot Stampers exhibit huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have.

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield on the best copies. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. (more…)

John Coltrane – Lush Life – DCC and OJC Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B or so (DCC) 
Sonic Grade: C or so (OJC) 

The DCC heavy vinyl pressing is a nice record; I remember liking it back in the day. I’m guessing it’s a bit better than the ’80s OJC, which is, like most OJC pressings, typically thin and hard. Neither one of them can hold a candle to the pressings we offer on the site. If for some reason we could not find copies of the album that substantially beat the sound of either of these two remastered LPs, we simply would not have anything to offer, since neither of these versions could be considered Hot Stampers. Nice records, sure, but Hot Stampers? Not a chance.

It was only a few months ago, early in 2016 in fact, that we chanced upon the right kind of pressing — the right era, the right label, the right stampers, the right sound. Not just the right sound though. Better sound than we ever thought this album could have.

Previously we had written:

“There are great sounding originals, but they are few and far between…”

We no longer believe that to be true. In fact we believe the opposite of that statement to be true. The original we had on hand — noisy but with reasonably good sound, or so we thought — was an absolute joke next to our best Hot Stamper pressings. Half the size, half the clarity and presence, half the life and energy, half the immediacy, half the studio space. It was simply not remotely competitive with the copies we now know (or at least believe, all knowledge being provisional) to have the best sound.

Are there better originals than the ones we’ve played? No doubt. If you want to spend your day searching for them, more power to you. And if you do find one that impresses you, we are happy to send you one of our Hot Copies to play against it. We are confident that the outcome would be clearly favorable to our pressing. Ten seconds of side one should be enough to convince you that our record is in an entirely different league, a league we had no idea even existed until just this year.

By the way, the mono original we played was by far the worst sound I have ever heard for the album. By far. (more…)

ZZ Top – Fandango – Another Warners Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity

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Sonic Grade: C

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.

Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.

How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?

Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be.

But the sound is stuck behind the speakers, veiled, and sorely lacking in energy and excitement. The transparency is of course compromised on all these new reissues, and without transparency and resolution much of the audience participation on the first side is lost. I won’t say the new pressing is boring. Let’s just say it’s a lot more boring than it should be. (more…)