Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send your list to tom@better-records.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a difference. Night and Day. Maybe more!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may want to start here. (more…)

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

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And this is some very bad analog indeed!

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – Reviewed in 2010

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and I’ve heard a ton of them. 

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?”

It reminds me of the turgid muck that Doug Sax was cutting for Analogue Productions back in the ’90s. The CD has to sound better than this. There’s no way could it sound worse.

Update: I managed to track down a copy of the CD and it DOES sound better than this awful record, and by a long shot. It’s not a great sounding CD, but it sure isn’t the disaster this record is.

This is a very bad sounding record, so bad that one minute’s play will have you up and out of your chair trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with your system. But don’t bother. It’s not your stereo, it’s this record.

It has the power to make your perfectly enjoyable speakers sound like someone has wrapped them in four inches of cotton bunting. Presence? Gone! Transients? Who needs ’em! Ambience, Openness, Three-Dimensionality? Uh, will you consider settling for Murk, Bloat and Smear? There’s a Special on them today here at Acoustic Sounds. (more…)

Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl and the Loss of Transparency

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We recently gave the Heavy Vinyl pressing from Speakers Corner, the same one that we had previously recommended back  in the ’90s, a sonic grade of C+ in our current Heavy Vinyl Scorecard section. To our ears now it has many more shortcomings than it did back then, which we discuss below.

So often when we revisit the remastered pressings we used to like on Heavy Vinyl we come away dumbfounded — what on earth were we thinking? These are not the droids sounds we are looking for. Perhaps our minds were clouded at the time.
(more…)

For Pete’s Sake, What’s Wrong With Blue? – Thoughts on “The Definitive Vinyl” Version

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In 2007 a customer took issue with our summary rejection of the new Blue.

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do.

Actually this brings up a good point. If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would be a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

This pressing beats the typical Capitol LP, which is an aggressive, grainy piece of crap. Take my word for it: I easily have 30-40 copies of this album, and I can tell you from years of experience that it is extremely difficult to find good sounding pressings of this music. Cisco has done a service to the audiophile community by producing a very enjoyable LP of this, Linda’s masterpiece. It’s music that belongs in your collection. (If you have the bread, check out our Hot Stamper copies, guaranteed to kill any modern pressing — including this one — or your money back.) 

Cisco’s verison is completely free from compression of any kind, and sometimes that works in favor of the overall sound and sometimes it doesn’t. I may have additional commentary discussing these issues down the road, but for now let’s just say you will have a hard time finding a better copy of Heart Like A Wheel on vinyl. And of course, virtually no Capitol pressing is ever going to be as quiet as one of these lovely 180g RTI LPs.

The Who – Live at Leeds – Universal Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame Pressing

Universal Records 180 gram LP. Flat as a pancake sound. The CD almost has to be better.

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. 

Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark – Rating the DCC LP

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Sonic Grade: B

The DCC — Not Bad! 

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse. Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty. The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings. I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. (more…)

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping. 

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly. (more…)

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto – Midnight Sugar – 2 45 RPM Discs

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Sonic Grade: B

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.

This 45 RPM Three Blind Mice 180g Double LP has DEMO DISC SOUND! The 33 RPM versions were pretty darn amazing but these 45s take the sound of this recording to an entirely new level. 

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

There are a couple of quite obvious benefits to mastering this music at 45 RPM. One is that Yamamoto tends to use his right hand in a percussive manner, which creates tracking problems on most any set up. At 45 RPM the mastering engineer is able to cut those transients, full of difficult to deal with harmonics, much more cleanly and accurately. The result is a sense of “ease” that you don’t hear on the 33. (more…)