Commentaries on Heavy Vinyl

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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Classic Records First Three Classical Releases, Reviewed Circa 1994

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Hundreds of Living Stereo Records

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound.”

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  Some Classic Records pressings may be on Harry’s TAS list — disgraceful but true — but that certainly has no bearing on whether or not they are very good records. 

I had a chance to play LSC 1806 (pictured above) not long ago and I was dumbfounded at how bright, shrill and aggressive it was.

I still remember playing my first Classic Records title, their first release, which would probably have been in 1994. The deep bass of the organ at the start of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the horns and the tympani blasting out from a dead silent background, put a lump in my throat. Had they actually managed to remaster these old recordings so well that the vintage pressings I was selling for such high prices would soon be worthless? I really do remember having that thought race through my mind.

But then the strings came in, shrieking and as bright as the worst Angel or DG pressing I’d ever heard. It was as if somebody had turned the treble control up on my preamp two or three clicks, into ear-bleeding territory. All my equipment at the time was vintage and tube, and even though my system erred on the dark side tonally, the first Classic release was clearly off the charts too bright and transistory, with none of the lovely texture and sheen that RCA was famous for in the early days of Living Stereo.

I knew right then that my vintage record business was safe.

Here is our review from the ’90s, written shortly after the release of Classic’s first three titles. (With minor additions and changes for clarity and context.)

Hall of Shame Pressings, Every One

I’m reminded of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the reputed superiority of the Classic Records Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222 (if memory serves), I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I played. The sound was, in a word, awful.

To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in History.

[To be fair, Analogue Productions probably now holds that crown.]

When Harry Pearson (of all people! — this is the guy who started the Living Stereo craze by putting these forgotten old records on the TAS list in the first place) gave a rave review to LSC 1806, I had to stand up (in print anyway) and say that the emperor clearly had removed all his clothes, if he ever had any to begin with.

This got me kicked out of TAS by the way, as Harry does not take criticism well. I make a lot of enemies in this business with my commentary and reviews, but I see no way to avoid the fallout for calling a spade a spade.

Is anybody insane enough to stand up for LSC 1806 today? Considering that there is a die-hard contingent of people who still think Mobile Fidelity is the greatest label of all time, there may well be “audiophiles” with crude audio equipment or poorly developed critical listening skills, or both (probably both, as the two go hand in hand), that still find the sound of the shrill, screechy strings of the Classic pressing somehow pleasing to the ear. Hey, anything is possible.

As I’ve said again and again, the better a stereo gets, the more obvious the differences between good vintage pressings and most current reissues become. Modest front ends and mediocre playback systems can disguise these differences and mislead the amateur audiophile.

And the “professional” too. We’ve all had the experience of going back to play a record from years ago that we remember as being amazing, only to find it amazingly bad.

The Japanese Led Zeppelin series from the ’90s comes immediately to mind. How could my system have been so dull that those bright pressings actually fooled me into thinking they sounded good all those years ago? I’ve done a few Mea Culpas over the years, and that’s one of the bigger ones.

Remember when Chesky Records were all the rage? Does anybody in his right mind play that shit anymore?

A short anecdote: A good customer called me up one night many years ago. He had just finished playing the Chesky pressing of Spain, and had pulled out his Shaded Dog original to compare. The sound of his Shaded Dog pressing was so much better that he took his Chesky and, with great satisfaction, ceremoniously dropped it in the trash can, noting, “Of course I could have sold it or traded it away, but nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

Another anecdote: when Chesky first got started in the remastering business, a friend picked up their pressing of LSC 2150, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije with Reiner. He played it for me when I came over to hear his system, and he and I were both shocked that his ’70s Red Seal pressing was better in every way.

We wanted to know: What kind of audiophile label can’t even go head to head with a cheap reissue put out twenty years after the initial release just to keep the bins stocked and satisfy the needs of the low-budget classical record buyer?

The answer: Plenty of them, and definitely Chesky. Playing most Classic Records classical titles is a painful experience these days. I do not recommend it to anyone with good equipment. If you love the Living Stereo sound and cannot afford vintage pressings, consider playing the CDs RCA remastered. The one I know well is clearly better than Classic’s and AP’s LP.

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Witches’ Brew on Classic Records and How Crazy Wrong We Were

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Witches’ Brew

Below you will find our old review for the Classic Records’ pressing. I obviously did not like it.

However, in moving to Georgia this year (2022), I was digging through some old catalogs from the early Nineties, and something I read in one of them chilled me to the bone. There it was in black and white: my rave review for the Classic Witches’ Brew. Here it is on the front page of the catalog, along with at least one other record that I would be embarrassed to sell today: the OJC pressing of Saxophone Colossus.

As soon as I find my review in the old catalog, I will post it. I can hardly believe I wrote it, but I did. I wrote all my catalogs back then, so the extent of my incompetence is undeniable.

Below you will find our old commentary detailing the shortcomings of the Classic, a record I liked just fine in 1994, but whose sound I would find intolerable less than ten years later.

I thought my stereo was awesome in 1994, but it should be obvious to anyone that I could not have been more wrong. The Dunning-Kruger effect is real, and I clearly suffered from it. IN 1994 I had been a fairly dedicated audiophile for more than twenty years, and a strongly opiniated audiophile record dealer who took pride in his curated offerings for seven of those years. I thought I knew what I was talking about. Looking back, I clearly had a lot to learn. We did our first shootout ten years later, and that’s when our real education began.


Our Old Review

Please to enjoy.

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

I’ve long held that the remastering of this album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be some combination of low-rez, dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound.

There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a full-range system that’s reasonably revealing and tonally accurate.

I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the brilliant sound of their system, a demonstration which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they stood there with a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound.

I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do.  People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. 

Classic Records pressings may have been mastered by one of the greats, Bernie Grundman, but he was well past his prime, as we explain here.

More Classic Bashing

Classic Records ruined this album, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has played their classical reissues.

Their version is dramatically more aggressive than the Shaded Dogs we’ve played.

The strings are exceptionally shrill and screechy even by Classic’s standards. True, the original is not the smoothest, sweetest recording Decca ever made, but what Classic did was take Decca’s sound and amplify its shortcomings.

(The other poster boy for shrill strings is Classic’s remastering of LSC 1806. A review will be coming eventually.)

Apparently, most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a top quality classical recording. If they had, Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994. I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases.

We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you, dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

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Joni Mitchell – Play The Game, Not the Album

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises, one we created all the way back in 2007. If you want to learn more about doing your own shootouts, this listing has lots of good advice on how to go about it.

In 2007, a Milestone Year for us here at Better Records, we mentioned to our customers that we would not be carrying the new 180 gram Rhino pressing of Blue. We noted:

Since Kevin and Steve are friends of mine I won’t belabor its shortcomings. Let’s just say I think you can do better.

Down the road when we’ve had a chance to do a shootout amongst all our best copies, we will be offering something more to our liking. I recommend instead — and this is coming from a die-hard LP guy, someone who disconnected his home CD player over two years ago and only plays the damn things in the car — that you pick yourself up a nice used copy of the gold CD Hoffman mastered for DCC. It’s wonderful.

Some people are already upset with us over this decision, actually going so far as to question our motives, if not our sanity. Without a doubt we feel this will end up being the single most controversial stance we’ve ever taken. I predict that a great number of audiophiles are going to get really upset over our criticism of this new pressing. We are going to get emails like crazy asking us to explain what on earth could possibly be wrong with such a wonderful sounding LP. The writers of these emails will no doubt extoll its virtues relative to the other pressings they may have heard, and, finding no other reasonable explanation, these writers will feel impelled to question both the quality of our playback equipment and — yes, it’s true — even our ability to recognize a good record when it’s spinning right on our very own turntable.

Some of these individuals may actually be our customers. Obviously we don’t want our customers to be upset with us. We would much prefer to be honest and forthright; after all, it’s the hallmark of our operation. We’re the guys in this dodgy business that pride ourselves on giving it to you straight. Letting the chips fall where they may. Criticizing the hell out of the naked emperors who write for the audiophile rags. Imploring you to listen critically for yourself and not to buy into the hype.

Not the Same Old Same Old

We’re those guys, the ones dedicated to finding you truly Better Records, not just the same old crap that other people want you to think are better records: the 180 gram remasters and Japanese pressings and References and Cheskys and TAS List titles and Stan Ricker half-speeds and Fragiles and For Dukes and Dafos’s and Morph the Cats, etc., etc., etc.

Screw all that crap. We sell it but we sure don’t think you should be buying it. [Not anymore, obviously.]

We’re those guys, never ones to shy away from controversy, especially if it actually fulfills some purpose, like getting you away from audiophile garbage and into some real music with honest-to-goodness high-fidelity sound.

Just Asking for Trouble

But does criticizing and refusing to carry Blue really do anybody any good? Aren’t we just asking for trouble? Wouldn’t it be easier for us to just take your twenty five bucks and say that the new Blue is better than the average domestic copy and leave it at that, the less said the better? Who needs the headaches?

Think of all the emails that will come flooding in because of our anti-Blue stance. People will want answers. They will consider it our duty to explain the contrarian position we have adopted. It won’t be good enough to just say we think you can do better. Do better how? Exactly what will get better when we do better? Exactly what’s not good enough about the one I already bought? And if you can’t tell us what’s wrong with this one, how will we know how to go about finding a copy that you think communicates the musical values of Blue better?

Oh dear. Yes, I see your point. It is a bit of a problem, no question about it.

Not to worry. In the best can-do American spirit, we’re going to turn these vexing lemon-flavored questions into satisfying and edifying audiophile lemonade. We’re going to build strong bodies twelve ways, just you watch.

You Call That Fun?

How you say? Easy. We’re going to do it with the new and exciting Joni Mitchell Blue Game. It’s fun for the whole family! (Actually it’s not. Your family will want nothing to do with it, and even most audiophiles are not going to want to play. But it’s such a goofy-sounding turn of phrase we had to leave it in.)

Instead of us telling you what’s right and wrong with the new Blue, you’re going to tell us. Doesn’t that sound like fun? No? No matter, we can come back to it later.

You may have noticed that there is a great deal of commentary on the site about what we listen for, what we like, how to become a better listener, how to tweak your system, how we do these laborious shootouts to find you Hot Stampers, and on and on, ad infinitum and for some people ad nauseum. “We do the work so you don’t have to,” right? Well in this game, you do the work so we don’t have to. Now that’s what we call a fun game!

The game basically involves you doing for Blue what we do for three or four different titles each and every week [now that number is three or four per day!]: Hot Stamper shootouts. It’s our bread and butter. It’s our claim to fame. We spend more time doing these crazy comparisons than everything else we do around here combined. They’re time-consuming and exhausting, but they’re also fun. Discovering amazing pressings of your favorite music is fun. Since our shootouts almost always involve our favorite albums (we get to pick them, so why pick anything else?), we get to hear pretty much nothing but our favorite music played over and over. On top of that we usually get to hear it sound better than we ever thought it could.

And then you get to buy the record and you get to hear it sound better than you ever thought it could. See why we spend so much time on these shootouts? Because everybody wins. We love ’em and you love ’em. (As an added benefit they also build strong bodies twelve ways.)

So how do you play?

It’s easy. And fun! (Actually, that may not be true for many of you. A fairly sizable contingent of the audiophile public likes to flip the old system on, crack open a beer and throw on a favorite record or two for a relaxing evening of musical decompression. All that tweaky stuff and intensive listening is for the birds. If you’re one of those guys, you might as well stop reading right now.

This game is not about relaxing. This game is about learning to hear better, the end result of which (we hope) will be a better understanding of records and audio, and the added enjoyment that follows from that understanding. If audio ignorance is bliss in your world, okay by me. If, on the other hand, you find that the more you know about this hobby the more you actually enjoy doing it, and the more you get out of it, then this is the perfect game for you. This game is designed to sharpen your listening skills, and we can all use our listening skills sharpened.

Playing the Joni Mitchell Blue Game is pretty much like doing one of our shootouts, but on a smaller scale. Although we might play twenty or thirty copies of a record to find the handful that will make it to the site, we don’t expect you to. Cleaning and playing that many copies of a single album would be a job, and I’m guessing you already have a job and don’t need another one.

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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…)

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.


Bob Dylan / This Kind of Sound Earns You a 10?

More of the Music of Bob Dylan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bob Dylan

Sonic Grade: F

We played this Mono reissue and found it to be flat as a pancake and dead as a doornail, like most of the Sundazed records we played starting way back in the early 2000s. No, they never got any better.

In our experience, Sundazed is one of the worst record labels of all time. This pressing is just more evidence to back up our low opinion of them.

Obviously we may have had a low opinion of them, but a famous audiophile reviewer seemed to find the sound much more to his liking. He wrote:

Sundazed’s reissue gives the original a run for the money and remains true to the original, though it suffers in the bass, which while deep and reasonably well defined, is not as tightly drawn or focused. The upper mids on the original also bloom in a way that the reissue’s don’t, giving the reissue a slightly darker, recessed sound, but there’s still sufficient energy up there since Dylan’s close-miked vocals pack an upper midrange punch. If the vocals or harmonica sound spitty and unpleasantly harsh, it’s your system, not the record – though there’s plenty of grit up there. On the plus side, the overall clarity and transparency of the reissue beats the original. A really fine remastering job.

Of course we find every word of this review arrant nonsense, except the discussion of the qualities he praises in the original relative to the reissue. It’s been twenty years since this remastered pressing came out, does anybody still like the sound of it? Anybody? I hope not.

The intro to his review boldly declares a respect for Sundazed (and Classic Records and Analogue Productions) that we find puzzling after playing so many of their rarely-better-than-awful sounding records. This commentary gets at it pretty well.

Sundazed’s decision to issue Blonde on Blonde using the much sought after mono mix is indicative both of the company’s dedication to doing what’s musically correct, and of the vinyl marketplace’s newfound maturity. There was a time a few years ago when no “audiophile” vinyl label would dare issue a mono recording; audiophiles wouldn’t stand for it was the conventional wisdom. Perhaps back then it was even true. Today, with Sundazed, Classic, Analogue Productions and others issuing monophonic LPs on a regular basis (and one has to assume selling them as well) listeners are appreciating the music for music’s sake, and equally importantly, for the wonderful qualities of monophonic sound reproduction.

My grade might be 2 out of 11. No audiophile should be fooled by the crap sound of this pressing, and no audiophile should believe a word of this review.

Reviewer Incompetence? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years. From the start we knew we could never begin to do much more than scratch the surface of preposterous record reviews in need of rebuttal. The audiophile world is drowning in this sh*t.

But rather than spending all day typing at a keyboard, we felt the best use of our time we be to offer the audiophile community actual records that backed up everything we typed, something obviously no reviewer has ever been able to do.

More on Blonde on Blonde

Over the many years we have been doing shootouts, we have cleaned and played quite a number of vintage pressings of Blonde on Blonde. For those of you who love the album, some of these may be of interest:

The right 360 label pressings are very special. Nothing can beat them. They might even be original. We’re not saying one way or the other.

This customer really liked his very expensive but very awesome copy. (Apparently he did not get the message that analog is a bygone technology. For more on that subject, please read the comments section for this article.)

Side four of some copies is horrendously bad sounding. Any idea why?

A better question: Any idea why nobody ever noticed?

Finally, of course Blonde On Blonde is a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category and that are currently available can be found here.

Reviews for other records in the Rock and Pop Core Collection can be found here.


New to the Blog? Start Here

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Sonny Rollins – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

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 believe me, I’ve heard plenty

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.

CD 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. Buy the CD and whatever you do, don’t waste money on this kind of crap vinyl.

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 at Acoustic Sounds.

And yet no one seems to have noticed, except us of course.

Inspected By… Nobody?

Ask yourself this question. How did this record get approved? Did no one ever play it? Hoffman and Gray let their names be put on this piece of crap? Kassem I can understand; he’s been making bad records for more than twenty years and wouldn’t know a good record if it bit him in the butt. But this is really beyond the pale. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. I honestly don’t think I have a CD that sounds this bad, and I have hundreds of them. (I play them in the car.)

We don’t feel it’s incumbent upon us to defend the sound of these pressings. We think for the most part they are awful and we want nothing to do with them.

But don’t those who DO think these remastered pressings sound good — the audiophile reviewers and the forum posters specifically — have at least some obligation to point out to the rest of the audiophile community that at least one of them is spectacularly bad, as is surely the case here.

Is it herd mentality? Is it that they don’t want to rock the boat? They can’t say something bad about even one of these Heavy Vinyl pressings because that might reflect badly on all of them?

I’m starting to feel like Mr. Jones: Something’s going on, but I don’t know what it is. Dear reader, this is the audiophile world we live in today. If you expect anyone to tell you the truth about the current crop of remastered vinyl, you are in for some real disappointment.

We don’t have the time to critique what’s out there, and it seems that the reviewers and forum posters lack the — what? desire, courage, or maybe just the basic critical listening skills — to do it properly.

Which means that in the world of Heavy Vinyl, it’s every man for himself.

And a very different world from the world of Old Vinyl, the kind we offer. In our world we are behind you all the way. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or you get your money back.

Now which world would you rather live in?

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Stravinsky / Le Sacre du Printemps – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

We used to think this was one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

Having recently played the London pressing of the same performance, cut by Decca of course, we think we are almost certainly wrong about the quality of the sound, but who knows? Maybe Speakers Corner remastered the record properly and fixed its shortcomings.

Hah, just joking. In our experience that has never happened and we think it is very unlikely that it ever will.

Years ago we wrote the following:

Wow! What a performance! What dynamic full bodied sound! To be fair, I pulled out my original London, one of those awful mid-’70s English pressings that are never quiet, and yes, some of the ambience on the original is missing here on the new version, but everything else seems right: dynamics, tonality, the frequency extremes (including some pretty awesome deep bass).

Some of the above could be right, the parts about the tonality and such. Speakers Corner could have added some bass and lower midrange to make the sound less thin, and taken out some of the upper midrange to make the loud passages less blary, but it certainly doesn’t solve the most serious issues we had with the recording, which is the fact that it is opaque and flat, two qualities that are the death of orchestral music on vinyl.

Here are the notes we made for the London.

The two paragraphs you see reproduced below are also full of bad advice we had given out in the past:

1. Can’t be sure we would still feel that way but I’m guessing this is a good record if you can pick one up at a cheap price. 

2. If you have a quiet original, great, consider yourself lucky. As few of you have any copy at all, I recommend this one. The alternative is to miss Solti’s energetic performance and the precision of the Chicago Symphony, one of the few orchestras capable of making sense out of this complex and infuriating work. (At least it used to infuriate audiences. Now our modern ears can take a difficult work like this and appreciate the complex rhythms and atonality as the expression of a truly original mind.

This paragraph we would still agree with wholeheartedly:

This is not music to play while you are having dinner. This is music to engage the mind fully. It belongs in any collection. Yours in fact. Unless you have small speakers, in which case you would be wasting your money, as small speakers cannot begin to reproduce the power of this work in the hands of Solti and the CSO [or anybody else for that matter].


FURTHER READING

More music conducted by Georg Solti

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Kenneth Wilkinson

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Roxy Music / Avalon – A Simply Vinyl Mastering Success? Or Is It?

More of the Music of Roxy Music

Reviews and Commentaries for Avalon

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Roxy Music

[These notes were written many years ago, which means that we ourselves may not agree with some or all of the commentary you see below.]

Sonic Grade: B (I’m guessing)

This version just plain KILLS most domestic copies and probably quite a few Brit ones too. Simply Vinyl did a superb job here.

Correction: an unnamed mastering engineer at the label did a superb job. Simply Vinyl isn’t in the business of mastering ANYTHING. They leave that up to the pros at the record labels. Sometimes those guys screw it up and sometimes they get it right.

This pressing sounds just like the last import version I had, which sounded great but unfortunately went out of print in the mid-nineties as I remember. Might be mastered by the same guy using the same tape on the same cutter for all I know.

Take it from me, this pressing gets this music right in a way that will not leave the listener wanting more. It really delivers. The sound is superb — sweet, open, with punchy bass and extended highs.

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