Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

If You Can’t Make a Good Record, Why Make Any Record At All?

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

steelcantb_debunk_1361980482

Speakers Corner Debunked

This has to be one of the worst sounding versions ever pressed. You think the average ABC or MCA pressing is opaque, flat and lifeless, not to mention compromised at both ends of the frequency spectrum? You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!

As bad as the typical copy of this album is, the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl is even worse, with not a single redeeming quality to its credit. If this is what passes for an Audiophile Record these days, and it is, it’s just one more nail in the coffin for Heavy Vinyl.

But that’s not the half of it. Go to Acoustic Sounds’ website and read all the positive customer reviews — they love it! Is there any heavy vinyl pressing on the planet that a sizable contingent of audiophiles won’t say something nice about, no matter how bad it sounds? I can’t think of one. (more…)

Here’s a Question for Fans of the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing

Hot Stamper Pressings of Led Zeppelin Albums in Stock

 

tablewithzep2s

Before you answer the question we have posed below, start by naming all the Heavy Vinyl records that sound as good or better than Robert Ludwig‘s original mastering of Led Zeppelin 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

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison. (more…)

Sgt. Pepper on Heavy Vinyl – The Reviewers from 1982 Blow It Again

Hot Stampers of Sgt. Peppers in Stock Now

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

beatlessgt

 

You might agree with some reviewers that EMI’s engineers did a pretty good job with the new Pepper. In the March 2013 issue of Stereophile, Art Dudley weighed in, finding little to fault on this title but being less impressed with most of the others in the new box set. His reference disc? The MoFi UHQR!

Oh, and he also has some old mono pressings and a domestic Let It Be. Now there’s a man who knows his Beatles. Fanatical? Who can blame him? We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Chrissake!

When I read the reviews by writers such as these I often get the sense that I must’ve fallen through some sort of Audio Time Warp and landed back in 1982. How is it that our so-called experts evince so little understanding of how records are made, how variable the pressings can be, and, more importantly, how absolutely crucial it is to understand and implement rigorous protocols when attempting to carry out comparisons among pressings.

Critically comparing LPs is difficult and time-consuming. It requires highly developed listening skills. I didn’t know how to do it in 1982. I see no evidence that the audiophile reviewers of today are much better at it these days than I was in 1982.

What does one well-known reviewer have to say, keeping in mind that he’s using his original British pressing for comparison? I quote at length — without prejudice so to speak — so there can be no misunderstanding. (more…)

The Awful Sound of the Heavy Vinyl Reissues Doug Sax Mastered in the ’90s

More Sonny Rollins

More Analogue Productions

More Doug Sax

xxxxx

Longstanding customers know that we have been relentlessly critical of most audiophile LPs for years, especially in the case of these Analogue Productions releases from back in the early ’90s. A well-known reviewer loved them, I hated them, and he and I haven’t seen eye to eye on much since.

Newflash!

Just dug up part of my old commentary discussing the faults with the orginal series that Doug Sax cut for Acoustic Sounds. Check it out!

In the listing for the OJC pressing of Way Out West we wrote:

Guaranteed better than any 33 rpm 180 gram version ever made, or your money back! (Of course I’m referring to a certain pressing from the early ’90s mastered by Doug Sax, which is a textbook example of murky, tubby, flabby sound. (Too many bad tubes in the chain? Who knows?)

This OJC version also has its problems, but at least the shortcomings of the OJC are tolerable. Who can sit through a pressing that’s so thick and lifeless it communicates none of the player’s love for the music? If you have midrangy bad transistor equipment, go with the 180 gram version (at twice the price). If you have good equipment, go with this one.

[We are no longer fans of the OJC of Way Out West, and would never sell a record that sounds the way even the best copies do as a Hot Stamper. It’s not hopeless the way the Heavy Vinyl pressing is, but it’s not very good either. It’s yet another example of a record we was wrong about. Live and Learn, right?

The following commentary comes from our catalog from the mid- to late-’90s, back when I could still find great jazz records like Alternate Takes. Note also that the AP records were in print at the time. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

rimsktaleo_speakerscorner

Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
(more…)

What the Hell Happened to Bernie Grundman and Doug Sax?

xxxxx

This Contemporary pressing has wonderful sound. This should not be too surprising as it was recorded by one of our favorite engineers, Allen Sides, working out of his Oceanway studios. (Supposedly he is a big fan of vintage mics and the like, with many superb and valuable examples.)

In addition the album was mastered by Bernie Grundman, who was at the time still cutting very good sounding records, this being 1980. Since then he has gone precipitously downhill, as we have noted on the site often.

This is the man who cut some of the best sounding records I have ever played, including many of the best Contemporary recordings, but his work in recent decades has left much to be desired.

He sure has fooled a lot of audiophile record reviewers, but not us I venture to say. We never jumped on the Classic Records bandwagon, and to this day we cannot understand how any critical listener could be fooled by the countless Heavy Vinyl mediocrities that awful label put out.

You can say the same thing for Doug Sax, a man whose work took a turn for the worse long ago. The sad reality is that the dull, thick, lifeless, veiled, ambience-free records he cut for Acoustic Sounds and Klavier in the ’90s were no worse than the dreck being made today.

The more things change… (more…)

Tubes Versus Transistors – Some Background from Skeptoid

Below you will find a link to a reasonably fair and balanced look at the battle between transistors and tubes from Brian Dunning’s skeptoid website, daily reading for those of us who favor a skeptical approach to life (and especially this hobby).

Thirty plus years ago, when I started my little record business, I knew that most records marketed to audiophiles offered junk sound (half-speed masters) or junk music (direct to discs). As our playback has improved, fewer and fewer of these “specialty” pressings have survived the test of time, a subject we write about endlessly on our site and here on this blog.

For the longest time our motto has been “Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records,” and we see no reason to change it.  If anything, the current spate of manufacturers of Heavy Vinyl pressings are making records that get worse sounding by the day. Many of the most egregious offenders can be found here.

More commentaries about Heavy Vinyl can be found here. We are not fans of the stuff, not because it’s our competition. It just doesn’t sound very good.

In order to do the work we do, our approach to audio has to be fundamentally different from that of the audiophile who listens for enjoyment. Critical listening and listening for enjoyment go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.

The first — developing and applying your critical listening skills — allows you to achieve good audio and find the best pressings of the music you love.

Once you have a good stereo and a good record to play on it, your enjoyment of recorded music should increase dramatically.

A great sounding record on a killer system is a thrill.

A Heavy Vinyl mediocrity, played back on what passes for so many audiophile systems these days — regardless of cost — is, to these ears, an intolerable bore.

If this sounds arrogant and elitist, so be it. We set a higher standard, and price our records commensurate with their superior sound.  For those who appreciate the difference, and have resources sufficient to afford them, the cost is reasonable. If it were not we would have gone out of business years ago. (more…)

Universal Japan and Other 180g Disasters – The Economics of Buying a Pig in a Poke

xxxxx

One of my good customers sent me this email shortly after this series came out, circa 2000:

I noticed that Universal Japan has come out with several new titles, stuff I’m interested in, like Stevie Wonder / Innervisions…Stan Getz, James Brown…and many others — that are on acousticsounds.com. Generally, for these somewhat expensive heavy vinyl releases (relative to used prices), I’m trying to stick with stuff where your site has favorable comments regarding the sound quality but you don’t seem to carry these new items. Do you think they are bad, or you just have not had a chance to check them out yet?”

I replied as follows:

We don’t like Japanese records. They almost NEVER sound good, to these ears anyway. The only report I’ve heard concerned Aja, which was that it was awful, bright as bright can be.

A Japanese pressing that’s too bright? Shocking. Say it isn’t so.

We are going to be carrying almost no new releases of heavy vinyl pressings from now on. They just don’t sound good to us and we don’t want to waste our time playing bad records when there are so many good ones sitting around that need a loving home. If you pay $30 for heavy vinyl reissues and only one out of five sounds good — an optimistic estimate if you ask me — you’re really paying $150 for the one good one, right? This makes no sense to me. And since the real odds are one out of ten, it’s really $300 for the good one.


Which made me think back to our recent blog entry in which we discussed the latest round of bad Heavy Vinyl LPs that are apparently selling like hotcakes at Acoustic Sounds. If you like the new versions of Aja, Aqualung and Blue, by all means, buy some Universal Japanese Heavy Vinyl pressings. If that’s your sound, go for it, dude. Who are we to say you are wrong?

But if you don’t like the sound of those three titles on Heavy Vinyl, where can you go to find records that sound better than those three do? I only know of one place, and you’re already there.

Happy Shopping,
TP

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…)

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

xxxxx

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…)