Heavy Vinyl Disasters

Massenet / Le Cid Ballet Music – Now With New and Improved Smile Curve EQ

Klavier Is a Label Best Avoided by Audiophiles

They Make Records Perfectly Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: D

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end.  Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records?

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Better yet, fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good. (more…)

Yes / The Yes Album – Rhino 180g Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

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Sonic Grade: F

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

The worst version ever? Could be!

That notorious hack Ron McMaster strikes again.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino bills their releases as pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl”. However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

The CD versions of most of the LP titles they released early on are far better sounding than the lifeless, flat, pinched, so-called audiophile pressings they did starting around 2000.

The mastering engineer for this garbage actually has the nerve to feature his name in the ads for the records. He should be run out of town, not promoted as a keeper of the faith and defender of the virtues of “vinyl.” If this is what vinyl sounds like I’d would have switched to CD years ago.

And the amazing thing is, as bad as these records are, there are people who like them. I’ve read postings on the internet from people who say the sound on these records is just fine. It’s sad.

Their Grateful Dead titles sound as bad as the cheapest Super Saver reissue copies I have ever heard. And those are terrible!


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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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.

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Berlioz / A Berlioz Orchestra Spectacular – Another Dubby Klavier Mess of a Record

Klavier Is a Label Best Avoided by Audiophiles

Actual Audiophile Quality Pressings of Orchestral Music Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

The sound is smeary, thick and opaque because, among other things, the record was mastered by Doug Sax from a copy tape, and not all that well either.

It is yet another murky Audiophile Piece of Trash from the mastering lathe of the formerly brilliant Doug Sax. He used to cut the best sounding records in the world. Then he started working for Analogue Productions and never cut a good record again as far as I know.

On this record, in Doug’s defense it’s only fair to point out that he had only dub tapes to work with, which is neither here nor there as these pressings are not worth the dime’s worth of vinyl used to make them.

Maybe the hearing-challenged Chad Kassem wanted this sound — almost all his remastered titles have the same faults — and simply asked that Doug cut it to sound real good like analog spossed to sound in the mind of this kingpin, which meant smooth, fat, thick and smeary.

Yes, this is exactly what some folks think analog is supposed to sound like.

Just ask whoever mastered the Beatles records in 2014. Somebody boosted the bass and smoothed out the upper midrange, and I don’t think they did that by accident. They actually thought it was good idea.

Harry Moss obviously would not have agreed, but he’s not around anymore to do the job right.

Here is the cover for the real EMI. No idea if the sound is any good, but it has to be better than the awful Klavier, doesn’t it?

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Chet Baker / Chet – Acoustic Sounds Hires Doug Sax to Ruin a Classic Jazz Album

More Chet Baker

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • This wonderful album of ballads has Mile Davis’ rhythm section supporting Chet and other greats such as Kenny Burrell and Bill Evans
  • These guys are playing live in the studio and, on a copy that sounds this clear, you can really feel their presence on every track
  • This Chet Baker record belongs in any serious jazz collection, and for you audiophiles out there, prepare to be shocked when you play this copy against your Heavy Vinyl pressing
  • “…this Riverside issue captures the gifted but troubled trumpeter at his best. It might even qualify as Baker’s most satisfying and representative recording.”

Chet is one of the best sounding Chet Baker records we’ve ever played, although that’s not saying much because finding good Chet Baker records is like finding hen’s teeth these days.

The albums he did for Pacific Jazz in the ’50s can be wonderful but few have survived in audiophile playing condition.

The Mariachi Brass albums are as awful as everyone says — we know, we too have played them. The album he recorded for CTI in 1974, She Was Too Good To Me, is excellent and will be coming to the site again soon I hope.

We’d never heard the record sound better than in our most recent shootout, and that’s coming from someone who’s been playing the album since it was first reissued in the ’80s.

The less said about the awful Doug Sax remastering for Analogue Productions in the mid-’90s the better. What a murky piece of crap that was. Audiophile reviewers may have been impressed, but even way back then we knew a bad sounding record when we played one, and that pressing was very bad indeed.

One further note: the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today, twenty-five years later, have a similar suite of shortcomings, sounding every bit as bad if not worse, and fooling the same audiophile reviewers and their followers to this very day. Nothing has changed, other than we have come along to offer the discriminating audiophile an alternative to the muddy messes these labels have been churning out. (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…)

Sly & The Family Stone / There’s A Riot Going On – From the Analog Master!

More Sly and the Family Stone

Sonic Grade: F

Ouch this record sounds bad. Some of the worst sound I have ever heard on Heavy Vinyl. The average cassette sounds better than this piece of crap.

My notes:

Side one: track one is thin and hard. Track two is not very tubey and the sibilance is harsh.

Side two: track two is full and tubey but track three shows that the sound may be tubey but it is very compressed.

But some people think that records that were made from the analog master tapes should sound good.  Especially those pressed on virgin vinyl.

What could possibly have gone wrong?

We have no idea. We just play the records and listen to them. We let them tell us if they are wrong or right.

This one told us it may have been made from good tapes — may have been, the good folks at Columbia records might be lying to us about that, it wouldn’t be the first time and I certainly would not put it past them — but it sure wasn’t made very well. (more…)

Workingman’s Dead is Dead as a Doornail on Rhino Records

More Grateful Dead

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

The 2003 Rhino reissue on heavy vinyl of Workingman’s Dead is absolutely awful. It sounds like a bad cassette. The CD of the album that I own is superb, which means that the tapes are not the problem, bad mastering and pressing are. (more…)

Elvis Costello / My Aim Is True – More Heavy Vinyl Trash from Rhino

Hot Stampers of My Aim Is True

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

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Sonic Grade: D

I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.

Boy, Was We Ever Wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness properly mastered, properly pressed copy (also known as a Hot Stamper). Kevin Gray’s crude cutting system did this album no favors.

The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant.  The British pressings are mud.

You either have to work very hard to find a good domestic pressing (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident. (more…)