Reviews and Commentaries – Heavy Vinyl

Judy Collins – Colors of the Day – DCC Discussed

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A classic case of Live and Learn, maybe. Previously we had written:

Superb sonics. Judy has never sounded better. Not a big seller for DCC but it should have been. Those sweet acoustic guitars are hard to beat. No modern recording has sounded like this for over twenty years, so if you’ve forgotten what a real acoustic guitar sounds like, buy this record and get reacquainted with that sound. Tons of breath of life, superb production and mastering so you can clearly hear her hitting those flat notes (!), and some of the best sounding echo ever recorded.

Addendum to the above comments, posted 11/07

I wrote the above review many many years ago. As you may have read countless times on the site by now, it is my opinion that all such dated judgments are suspect. The major REVOLUTIONS in vinyl playback that have occurred over the last dozen years have turned many of these old comments on their heads.

Hot Stamper pressings again and again have revealed magic in the mass-produced copies that is simply nowhere to be found in their audiophile counterparts.

Whether this is true for this particular title I can honestly say I don’t know.  We are going to play some copies of the album and will report our findings down the road, so Judy Collins fans, stay tuned.

Jennifer Warnes – Famous Blue Raincoat – How Do the Heavy Vinyl Versions Sound?

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What’s interesting about the Cypress LPs is that they come two very different ways. Most of them are ridiculously thin, bright, grainy and digital sounding. This explains why some audiophiles in the past have preferred the Canadian pressings: they are smoother and fuller.

However, compared to the good stamper domestic versions they are dull and lifeless.

The Classic 180 gram reissue that came out a number of years ago was somewhere in between the good stamper originals and the bad stamper originals. The better sounding Cypress pressings absolutely MURDER it.

As far as the new Cisco 45 RPM pressings are concerned, we’ve never bothered to crack one open and play it. It’s been quite a while since Bernie cut any record that we thought sounded good, and some of his recent work has been unbelievably bad (the Doors box comes readily to mind), so we’ve never felt motivated enough to make the effort.

He cut many versions of this record as you probably know, some of which have turned out to be Hot Stampers, but that was a long time ago.

Does the Audio World really need another Heavy Vinyl Debunking entry from us? If Heavy Vinyl pressings are giving you the sound you want, you sure don’t need to be on our site. Those sacred cows get slaughtered pretty regularly around here. (more…)

Led Zeppelin II – Gee, I Seem to Have No Trouble At All Playing This Record

tablewithzep2s

We all know the famous story by now. Robert Ludwig’s “Hot Mix” (a complete misnomer, mostly propagated by those with an apparently poor understanding of what goes into the sound of a record – the mix never changed, only the mastering) of Zep II was causing the needle to jump the groove when Ahmet Ertegun’s daughter tried to play it on her cheap turntable, so they recut the record with more compression and cut the bass.

Our Triplanar Mark 6 / Dynavector 17d III combination seems to play the original just fine. Amazingly well in fact.

Here’s a question for all the Heavy Vinyl fans in the world: name all the Heavy Vinyl records that sound as good or better than RL’s cutting of Zep II.

Modern engineers tell us they can cut records better now than ever before, with all the bass and dynamics that previous engineers were forced to limit for the cheap tables and carts of the past.

So where are these so-called New and Improved records, the ones with more bass and dynamics?

I have yet to hear one. Perhaps someone can point me in the right direction.

Send your list to tom@better-records.com

Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great (But Awful Sounding) Hits on Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl

There is a story behind how I got my mitts of this particular Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Months ago a fellow contacted us to buy some of our Hot Stamper pressings.  We sent him one or two, and he soon wrote back to say he was not happy with the sound. We exchanged emails with him on a number of occasions, trying to rectify the situation and get him records he would be happy with.

In the middle of all this back and forth, a discussion we had crossed over into Heavy Vinyl territory, specifically were there any that he liked the sound of?  Why yes, there were.

You guessed it. The above-pictured album is one he recommended. (There was another he also said we should try, but after playing this one we decided against buying any more records he liked the sound of, as you will see.)

So, a number of months ago we finally got around to cracking the seal and playing our newly remastered Heavy Vinyl LP.

Right from the get-go, thick, murky, compressed, lifeless, ambience-free, dead-as-a-doornail sound started to come out of my speakers. Like sludge from a sewer you might say. What the hell was going on?

I quickly grabbed a Super Hot copy off the shelf and put it on the table.

Here was the energy, clarity, richness, space and more that had been missing mere moments before while playing the Heavy Vinyl pressing. Now, coming out my speakers was everything that makes a good vintage pressing such a joy to listen to. I felt like turning it up and rocking out. The first song is Born to Be Wild. Who doesn’t love to blast Born to Be Wild?

What a difference. Night and Day. Maybe more!

As I was thinking about the turgid, compressed, veiled, overly smooth but not tonally incorrect sound coming out of my speakers, I thought back about the kinds of stereo systems that can produce that sound on command. They often look like the one you see below.

If this is your idea of good sound, you are in luck. You can buy your Limited Edition Heavy Vinyl audiophile pressings from Acoustic Sounds to your heart’s content.  They’re sure cheaper than our records, and they apparently do a bang up job of giving you precisely the sound you’re looking for on vinyl.

To finish up with our little story, to no one’s surprise we never could satisfy our new customer. We ended up refunding him all his money. It seems our records were expensive, and simply not much better than records he owned or could find cheaply enough.  Ours might be even worse! Who the hell do we think we are?  The nerve.

I also know he wasn’t playing them on an old console. He took great pains to tell me all about his fancy handmade tonearm, custom tube preamp and screen speakers. State of the Art stuff in his mind, no doubt about it.

But if your system is so ridiculously bad that an Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl LP doesn’t call attention to its manifold shortcomings, doesn’t actually make your head hurt and your blood boil at the very idea that someone would charge money for such bad sound, you might want to think about scrapping your precious audiophile equipment and starting over.

Of course, this guy and the thousands of other audiophiles like him would never do such a thing. They are thoroughly invested in whatever approach to audio they have taken, and nobody can teach them anything.  They already know more than you.

They’re also the ones keeping hopelessly incompetent labels like Analogue Productions in business.  They supported Classic Records before it went under, they support Mobile Fidelity to this day. They are the guys that buy Heavy Vinyl records and extoll their virtues on audiophile forums far and wide.  Some even make youtube videos about this crap now and get tens of thousands of hits.

It’s sad, but there is nothing we can do but keep on doing what we are doing: finding good pressings for audiophiles who can appreciate the difference.

Another way we can help is this. Use the guide below when you do your shootouts for records, Heavy Vinyl and otherwise. Perhaps you will avoid the mistakes the above-mentioned gentleman made.  We include them in practically every listening of every record we sell.

And this blog is full of advice explaining practically everything there is to know about records.

You may want to start here. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / III – Bright and Harsh on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Ridiculously bright and harsh, nothing like the good pressings we sell (German don’t you know).

We are proud to say this was one of the Classic Zep releases that we never carried on the site (along with II and Houses, both of which stink).

You will find very few critics of the Classic Zep LPs outside of those who write for this very website, and even we used to recommend three of the Zep titles on Classic: Led Zeppelin I, IV and Presence.

Wrong on all counts. 

Since then we’ve made it a point to create debunking commentaries for some of the Classic Zeps, a public service of Better Records. We don’t actually like any of them now, although the first album is by far the best of the bunch.

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

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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 I’ve heard a ton of them. 

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.

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.

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 here at Acoustic Sounds. (more…)

The Who – Direct Hits – Not Bad on Track, Awful on Classic Heavy Vinyl

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This is a very nice looking original Track Black Label British Import LP. As anyone who knows the Who’s back catalog can attest, most of these songs were poorly recorded. Like all compilations, the sound here varies from track to track. Side two definitely has the better sound.

We guarantee that this pressing sounds better than the Classic reissue, which was so bad we never carried it.

TRACK LISTING

Bucket “t”
I’m a Boy
Pictures of Lily
Doctor! Doctor!
I Can See for Miles
Substitute
Happy Jack
The Last Time
In the City
Call Me Lightning
Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand
Dogs

AMG  Review (more…)

John Coltrane – Lush Life – We Review the DCC, OJC, and Original Pressings

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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…)

Letter of the Week – Real Aja Vs. Cisco Aja

Aja

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

It’s amusing that even Golden Ears who have the attention of large readerships can miss and misunderstand so much. You don’t have to understand the technical why of the variability of LPs to appreciate just how profound the audible differences can be from stamper to stamper. Even in acknowledging that differences are present, they do not seem to appreciate the extreme degree of the variation in sound among LPs from different stampers.

As so many of us have learned from you, a “hot stamper” LP is simply in a whole different league in sound quality. A good sound system is necessary to realize just how big that difference is and the more optimized that system is the better.

Beyond the audible reality and the technical issues, it is the subject of value that is not understood or appreciated. The ability to simply find a nice playable copy of a vintage LP is a major task. So many LPs have suffered the gouging of what must have been a rusty nail used as a stylus as well as all the other sins that can be wreaked on the plastic disc. Then the incredible task of assembling enough different copies to be able to do the “shoot-out” would seem impossible.

I have, as many now may have tried, done a simple “shoot-out” of a few copies of a favorite LP. Among those I have always found the “better” of the bunch. Now and then and just by luck (since the statistics of not having enough samples was not working in my favor) I have found what must indeed be a “hot stamper). And WOW …..what a difference!

The number of times this has occurred fits on less than one hand yet when you hear an LP that has been mixed and mastered really well and then “transferred” with care and quality via an excellent stamper, there is an epiphany. Suddenly you hear what you often refer to as “master tape” sound. As I have said before, this is really a sad statement about the quality and consistency of record production throughout its history.

The “Audiophile” Half-Speed thing only piles it on top of this with the way mastering at half speed seems to extract the dynamic life and frequency response from an album in contrast to a standard copy. The logical intention that mastering at half speed would allow the cutting lathe tool to have “more time” to lay down more of the music signal just never really worked. You would think the “Golden Ears” that developed this idea would have compared the result with real-time cutting speed (not brain surgery). I never wanted all this to be the way it is and didn’t even know it until I stumbled upon Better Records one day. But it is the way it is!

There seems to be a focus on the “wear” of the stamper as the primary cause of differences in the quality of the vinyl LP. My sense is that there is much variation over time in the production of stampers regarding the audio mastering and transfer in tonal balance and especially in the degree of compression used for a specific stamper that can destroy the “life and transparency” of the sound. This has nothing to do with stamper wear or physical variation but can vary from stamper to stamper over the duration of being in print and production and in some cases, never get transferred correctly.

I purchased the new Cisco Steely Dan “Aja” album hoping it would deliver perhaps even greater sound than the original and the hype regarding the remix quality, heavy virgin vinyl, etc, etc. certainly suggested that. After playing a few very smooth and quiet bands I put on my excellent vintage copy of Aja that proceeded to destroy the Cisco. The life, dynamics and transparency were in a totally different and superb league above. I very carefully returned my now even more precious copy to its sleeve. A few dealers that sell reissues like Aja will sometimes admit this but they certainly don’t want the world to know it. (more…)

The Abbey Road Remix on Vinyl

BREAKING NEWS

The half-speed mastered remixed Abbey Road has to be one of the worst sounding Beatles records we have ever had the displeasure to play. Hard to imagine you could make Abbey Road sound any worse. It’s absolutely disgraceful.

I will be writing more about its specific shortcomings down the road, but for now let this serve as a warning that you are throwing your money away if you buy this newly remixed LP.