Heavy Vinyl Reviews and Commentaries

The Biggest “If” in All of Audio

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

But that is not our story for today. Our story today concerns the relationship between more accurate timbre and higher fidelity.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured above?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems heard on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that kind of low fidelity sound is no longer in vogue.

A new, equally low fidelity sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played in recent years, is a very different sound from that described above, with a different but no less irritating suite of shortcomings.

These new records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and badly lacking in ambience.

Such are the current hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had a problem we heard in practically every infuriatingly unbalanced record we played: sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(The exception: Bernie Grundman. Bernie cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose a different path, but his path turned out to be every bid as problematical. And Mobile Fidelity no longer makes bright records with ill-defined, bloated bass. Now they make overly smooth records with ill-defined, bloated bass.)

Are the audiophiles buying these new, unnaturally smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are. Everybody else is getting taken to the cleaners. Ripped off. Sold a bill of goods. Etc. Etc. (There are scores of terms for this activity because there have always been companies and individuals who were happy to take your money in exchange for something of low quality dressed up in fancy packaging.)

The First Thing

As we have been saying for years, to get anywhere in this hobby, the first thing you need is reasonably good stereo sound.

Then you can buy records that actually have the potential to be good records. Records with higher fidelity. Records that are tonally correct.

If you’re buying these modern heavy vinyl pressings, what are you going to do with them when you finally get around to making your stereo reproduce music properly and can hear how second- and third-rate they are?

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality shortcomings of these modern remastered records?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary for the answer. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


Borodin on Speakers Corner – You Say the Budget Stereo Treasury Has Better Sound?

More of the music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Heavy Vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like a number of reissues, it lacks the weight found on the early London pressings. (Classic Records pressings rarely had that problem. Just the opposite in fact. The bass was boosted most of the time, especially the deep bass.)

I remember this Speakers Corner pressing being a little flat and bright. (I admit that I haven’t played it in years so I could easily be wrong.)

The glorious sound I hear on the best London pressings is not the kind of thing I hear on 180 gram records by Speakers Corner, or anybody else for that matter.

They do a good job some of the time, but none of their records can compete with a vintage pressing when that vintage pressing is mastered and pressed properly. 

The best pressings of this UK London Stereo Treasury from the Seventies will beat the pants off of it. That ought to tell you something, right?

A budget reissue that is clearly superior to the best that modern mastering has to offer?

It happens all the time. It’s the rule, not the exception.


The second symphony is a work that audiophiles should love. It shares many qualities with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which you will surely recognize.

It also has some lovely passages that remind me of the Tale of The Tsar Saltan, another work by the same composer.

If you like exotic and colorfully orchestrated symphonic sound, you will be hard-pressed to find better.

(more…)

Led Zeppelin / Presence – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: D

This was one of only three Classic Records 180 gram (later 200 gram) titles that I used to recommend back in the day.

Now when I play the heavy vinyl pressing, I find the subtleties of both the music and the sound that I expect to hear have simply gone missing.

It may be tonally correct, which for a Led Zeppelin pressing on the Classic Records label is unusual in our experience (II and Houses being ridiculously bright), but it, like Physical Graffiti and some others, badly lacks resolution compared to the real thing, the real thing being a run-of-the-mill early pressing.

You can adjust the VTA of your rig until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get the Classic to sound better than passable.

The average original pressing is better, and that means Classic’s version deserves a sub-standard grade of D. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

Our catalog from the ’90s recommended this Heavy Vinyl Decca pressing from Speakers Corner.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Excellent, one of the best of the Deccas. Better sound by far than the Classic with Reiner, although of course the original of that record is quite good [actually it is not].

You may get better results if you reverse your polarity when playing this record. It’s been a while since I did it so better to check it yourself and see how you like it each way. (more…)

Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

Frank Sinatra – Another Kevin Gray Mediocrity

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocals Albums

Sonic Grade: C-

Reprise reissued this album on 180 gram vinyl in 2004.

Our advice: skip this Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity. The originals are far better and not that hard to find.

In fact, the good originals are so good that they can be found in our Vocal Demo Disc section. I’m pretty sure that this run-of-the-mill reissue is nobody’s idea of a Demo Disc.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the Tubey Magic the originals are full of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Also, skip the orange label reissues. We’ve never heard a good one and we stopped buying them a long time ago.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

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. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite on Speakers Corner

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

This is probably one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Excellent sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Currently our favorite Firebird is the original pressing on Mercury with Dorati conducting. Our opinion is very unlikely to change concerning the best combination of sound and performance. The record is simply a monster on the right pressing.

We have never heard an especially good sounding London or Decca of Ansermet’s performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We tend to avoid judging records we have not played and we encourage the audiophile community to do the same.


As a general rule, this Heavy Vinyl pressing will fall short in most of the following areas:

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency


FURTHER READING

The sonic signature of the modern Heavy Vinyl Classical Reissue in Four Words: Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Vague.

(more…)

Shostakovich / The Age of Gold – If You Own This Pressing, My Guess Is It’s Pristine

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Recordings Available Now

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would not have put this record on it. Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

When Classic Records was blowing out its unsold inventory through the Tower Records Classical Annex in Hollywood many years ago — apparently they had run into some financial trouble — this was a title you could pick up for under ten bucks. I remember it being $7, but my memory may not be correct on that point. Whatever the price, it was cheap.

And even at that price it seemed nobody really wanted it.  Which is as it should be. Heavy Vinyl or no Heavy Vinyl, a bad record is a bad record and not worth the bother of sitting down and listening to it.

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 this question: Why don’t I want to play them?

You may not like the implications of the answer: 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.

The One Out of Ten Rule

If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a more manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start. It certainly doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it.

If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten, you’re probably setting the bar too low, if our experience is any guide.

If you want nothing but amazing sounding classical records, we typically have a very good selection.


Love on Heavy Vinyl – Indefensible Dreck from Sundazed

More of the Music of Love

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Love

Sonic Grade: F

Two Audiophile Hall of Shame titles, and another two Sundazed records reviewed and found seriously wanting.

We got hold of a minty original pressing of the first Love album back around 2007, so in preparation for the commentary I pulled one of the Sundazed pressings off the shelf, (Forever Changes, the only one we ever bothered to sell), cracked it open and threw it on the turntable. 

Gag, what a piece of crap. When I had auditioned them all those years ago (2002), it was — I’m not kidding — the best of the bunch.

The sound to me back then was nothing special, but not bad. Knowing how rare the originals were, we gave it a lukewarm review and put it in the catalog, the single Sundazed Love album that (just barely) made the cut.

Now I wish I hadn’t, because no one should have to suffer through sound that bad. Here’s what I wrote for the shootout:

You’d never know it from those dull Sundazed reissues, but the right pressings of Love albums are full of Tubey Magic! With Bruce Botnick at the controls you can expect a meaty bottom end and BIG rock sound, and this recording really delivers on both counts.

With Sundazed mastering engineers running the show, you can expect none of the above.

No Tubey Magic, no meaty bottom end, no big rock sound.

After the shootout, I took the two copies we had in stock right down to my local record store and traded them in. I didn’t want them in my house, let alone on my site.

I’m glad that title didn’t sell very well because now I feel I owe a personal apology to anyone who might have bought one from me, thinking they were getting a half-way decent record.

They were getting no such thing. They were getting a piece of garbage. 

A textbook case of Live and Learn.