Commentaries on Heavy Vinyl

Letter of the Week – Finding a Way Out of the Heavy Vinyl Trap

More Letters

One of our good overseas customers had this to say about the records he was purchasing before he found out about the superiority of our Hot Stamper pressings:

  Hey Tom, 

I am of the opinion not that Heavy Vinyl is the problem, it is how the music is treated [processed] until it is pressed on the Heavy Vinyl. In any case, Heavy Vinyl is a crime against the environment. It is pure marketing.

But less than a year ago I was in the same trap. Unfortunately I need to admit that.

KR Hans

Hans,

Glad to see you have taken Step One: recognizing and admitting you made a mistake when you bought all those rarely-better-than-mediocre Heavy Vinyl reissues. You believed the reviewers and the forum posters and found out the hard way that none of them are to be believed.

The next steps are the easiest ones to take. Stop believing those people, buying the records they recommend, and take all the money you were wasting on that crap and buy yourself some amazing sounding Hot Stampers with it.

Like the old saying goes, if you find yourself headed down the wrong road, stop, turn around and start walking in the other direction. Record collecting is easy once you understand it.

It took me 30 years, from about 1975 to about 2005, to figure it out, but thankfully we all are here now, with this very blog to help everyone on the journey of a lifetime that lies before us.

Knowing how to find good vinyl pressings has taken this hobby to levels unimaginable to my younger self, and it can do the same for you. (more…)

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

More Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

beatlrubbe

More of The Beatles

This review was originally written in 2015

We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energyless and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer, the foremost champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide, to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either. Damn!.
(more…)

John Is Pretty Sure Hot Stampers Don’t Sound Good: “The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out the interview Wired conducted with me a few years back.

If you have some time on your hands, maybe too much time on your hands, go to the comments section and read the 300 plus postings that can be found there, the writers of which seem to be offended by the very idea of Hot Stampers. They also decry the obvious shortcomings of analog vinyl itself, as well as the ridiculously expensive equipment some credulous, misguided audiophiles use to play it, as if you didn’t know already!

Here is one that I found to be especially interesting from a psychological perspective: 

Bad, mismatched system setup. Customer base probably has the same. Also evaluation process is questionable. Uses a mediocre solid state amp and looks for “tubey magic” because of some misplaced concept of “accuracy” as I discussed before.

Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff out there, and it does give the stereo industry as a whole a bad name. I have heard some pretty crappy, expensive setups in my day.

I was listening to Phoebe Snow’s “Second Childhood” on my best system last night. Boy, I love my new turntable!

The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records. My comments are probably correct, but it would be interesting to audition a few of his “golden” albums just to confirm he hasn’t really found anything. The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original. Claiming otherwise hurts his credibility.

John

There is one sentence in the paragraphs above that should raise a giant red flag and help you to appreciate how reliable John’s analysis of our stereo and methods might turn out to be. If you didn’t catch it the first time through, give it another shot. Okay, here goes:

“The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original.”

That’s so strange! Virtually every repressing I’ve heard is worse than the original. What gives?

If I may paraphrase our writer: the reason I am confident that he probably does not know anything about records or audio is that he thinks repressings are always better than vintage pressings. We’ve critically auditioned tens of thousands of records, including many hundreds of repressings, admittedly on our “bad, mismatched system setup,” and I guess we must have gotten it all wrong over the 34 years we’ve been in the audiophile record business. The shame of it all!

Obviously, John knows he does not need to try one of our Hot Stampers. You can see him talking himself into the wisdom of doing nothing with each succeeding paragraph. It’s so easy for him to be right by pretending to know something he can’t possibly know.

And if he did ever order one, and had at least a halfway decent stereo to play it on, it would turn his world upside down so fast it would make his head hurt, and the possibility of that happening would be very, very upsetting. It makes no sense for John to risk such an outcome.

Even if our records were as cheap as the ones he is buying, it would not justify the psychological damage that would result. He would basically have to start his collection over again, as this good customer did.  A few hundred others just like him have done the same, and they’re the ones that will be keeping us in business for years to come. To paraphrase another famous saying, “They’ve heard the future, and it works!

Better for John to follow the path he is on. It’s working for him. Why would he want to rock his own boat? (more…)

Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Michael Fremer Says You Should Own the Classic 45

Michael Fremer spends two hours and ten minutes on his site going through a list of 100 All Analog In Print Reissued Records You Should Own

On this list is the 45 Bernie Grundman cutting of Time Out. Fremer apparently likes it a whole lot more than we do. We think it is just plain awful. The MoFi Kind of Blue is on this same list, another pressing that is astonishingly bad, or at least very, very wrong. If you’re the kind of person who might want to give Michael Fremer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to All Analog records he thinks sound good, ones he thinks you should own, try either one of them. If you think they sound just fine, you sure don’t need me to tell you that I find them completely and utterly unlistenable.

(more…)

Cat Stevens on 2 Heavy Vinyl 45 RPM Discs, Part 2 – Is This the Truest Tillerman of Them All?

Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman on Two 200 Gram Discs Cut at 45 RPM

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this story, please click here.

Back to our real story. I listened to my good original pressing. I call it White Hot at least! (more…)

Cat Stevens on 2 Heavy Vinyl 45 RPM Discs, Part 1 – Is This the Truest Tillerman of Them All?

Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman on Two 200 Gram Discs Cut at 45 RPM

About ten years ago we auditioned and reviewed the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions, the one that came on a single Heavy Vinyl 33 RPM LP.

I wrote a very long commentary about the sound of that record, taking it to task for its manifold shortcomings, at the end of which I came to the conclusion that the proper sonic grade for such a record is F as in Fail. My exhaustive review can be found under the not-very-subtle title This Is Your Idea of Analog?

Our intro gave this short overview:

Yes, we know, the folks over at Acoustic Sounds, in consultation with the late George Marino at Sterling Sound, supposedly with the real master tape in hand, and supposedly with access to the best mastering equipment money can buy, labored mightily, doing their level best to master and press the Definitive Audiophile Tea for the Tillerman of All Time.

It just didn’t come out very well, no matter what anybody tells you.

Recently I was able to borrow a copy of the new 45 cutting from a customer who had rather liked it. I would have never spent my own money to hear a record put out on the Analogue Productions label, a label that has an unmitigated string of failures to its name. But for free? Count me in!

The offer of the new 45 could not have been more fortuitous. I had just spent a number of weeks playing a White Hot Stamper Pink Label original UK pressing in an attempt to get our new Playback Studio sounding right.

We had a lot of problems. We needed to work on electrical issues. We needed to work on our room treatments. We needed to work on speaker placement.

We initially thought the room was doing everything right, because our Go To setup disc, Bob and Ray, sounded super spacious and clear, bigger and more lively than we’d ever heard it. That’s what a 12 foot high ceiling can do for a large group of musicians playing live in a huge studio, in 1959, on an All Tube Chain Living Stereo recording. The sound just soared.

But Cat Stevens wasn’t sounding right, and if Cat Stevens isn’t sounding right, we knew we had a Very Big Problem. Some stereos play some kinds of records well and others not so well. Our stereo has to play every kind of record well because we sell every kind of record there is. You name the kind of music, we probably sell it. And if we offer it for sale, we had to have played it and liked the sound, because no record makes it to our site without being auditioned and found to have excellent sound.

But I Might Die Tonight

The one song we played over and over again, easily a hundred times or more, was But I Might Die Tonight, the leadoff track for side two. It’s short, less than two minutes long, but a lot happens in those two minutes. More importantly, getting everything that happens in those two minutes to sound not just right, but as good as you have ever heard it, turned out to be a tall order indeed.

I could write for days about what to listen for in the song, but for now let me just point the reader to one of the most difficult parts to reproduce correctly.

At about 50 seconds into the track, Cat repeats the first verse:

I don’t want to work away
Doing just what they all say
Work hard boy and you’ll find
One day you’ll have a job like mine, job like mine, a job like mine

Only this time he now has a multi-tracked harmony vocal singing along with him, his own of course, and he himself is also singing the lead part louder and more passionately. Getting the regular vocal, call it the “lower part,” to be in balance with the multi-tracked backing vocal, call it the “higher part,” turned out to be the key to getting the bottom, middle and top of the midrange right.

When doing this kind of critical listening we play our records very loud. Live Performance level loud. As loud as Cat could sing, that’s how loud it should be when he is singing his loudest toward the end of the song for the final “But I might die tonight!” If he is going to sing loudly, I want my stereo to be able to reproduce him singing as loud as he is actually singing on the record. No compression. No distortion. All the energy. That’s what I want to hear.

The last fifteen seconds or so of the song has the pianist (Cat himself) banging out some heavy chords on the piano. If you have your levels right it should sound like there is a real piano at the back of the room and that someone is really banging on it. It’s a powerful coda to the song. (more…)

Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Classic Records Repress on 45 Is Another in a Long String of Failures

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Jazz LP debunked.

Not long ago we found a single disc from the 45 RPM four disc set that Classic Records released in 2002 and decided to give it a listen as part of a shootout. My notes can be seen above, but for those who have trouble reading my handwriting, here they are:

Big but hard

Zero (0) warmth

A bit thin and definitely boring

Unnatural

No fun

No F***ing Good (NFG)

Does that sound like a record you would enjoy playing? I sure didn’t.

But this is the kind of sound that Bernie Grundman managed to find on Classic Record after Classic Record starting in the mid-90s when he began cutting for them.

We’ve been complaining about the sound of these records for more than twenty years but a great many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them told us we wrong.  If you have a copy of this album on Classic, at 33 or 45, play it and see if you don’t hear the problems we ascribe to it.

To see what we had to say about the 33 RPM version on Classic many years ago, click here.

Maybe we got a bad 45 and the others are better. That has not been our experience.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing.

Not all of their records are as bad sounding as Time Out. We favorably review some of the better ones here.


A Must Own Jazz Record

We consider Time Out a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Jazz Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here. (more…)

Debussy / Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

xxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fidelity system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up the wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that? Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 26 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

MORE RECORDS GOOD FOR JUDGING THESE QUALITIES

Ambience, Size and Space

Smear

String Tone and Texture

Transparency Vs Opacity

(more…)

Let It Be on Heavy Vinyl – The Gong Rings Once More

More of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

letitbe

At the end of a recent shootout for Let It Be (June 2014) we decided to see how the 2012 Digitally Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing would hold up against the 12 (yes, twelve!) British copies we had just finished critically auditioning.

Having evaluated the two best copies on side two, we felt we knew exactly what separated the killer copies (White Hot) from the next tier down (Super Hot). Armed with a vivid memory of how good the music could sound fresh in our minds, we threw on the new pressing. We worked on the VTA adjustment for a couple of minutes to get the sound balanced and as hi-rez as possible for the thicker record and after a few waves of the Talisman we were soon hearing the grungy guitar intro of I’ve Got a Feeling.
(more…)

Bernie Grundman’s Work for Classic Records in Four Words: Hard, Sour, Colored and Crude

More Balalaika Favorites

xxxxx

Oh, and airless. Make that five words.

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.

I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record.

Everything else was worse 99% of the time.

The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.

Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether audiophiles really believed they did or not, Classic Records sure fooled a lot of them and the reviewers that write the facile and reductive superficialities that pass for audio journalism.

The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they continue to fall further and further behind with each passing year.

(more…)