Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

Borodin on Speakers Corner – You Say the Budget Stereo Treasury Has Better Sound?

More of the music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Heavy Vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like a number of reissues, it lacks the weight found on the early London pressings. (Classic Records pressings rarely had that problem. Just the opposite in fact. The bass was boosted most of the time, especially the deep bass.)

I remember this Speakers Corner pressing being a little flat and bright. (I admit that I haven’t played it in years so I could easily be wrong.)

The glorious sound I hear on the best London pressings is not the kind of thing I hear on 180 gram records by Speakers Corner, or anybody else for that matter.

They do a good job some of the time, but none of their records can compete with a vintage pressing when that vintage pressing is mastered and pressed properly. 

The best pressings of this UK London Stereo Treasury from the Seventies will beat the pants off of it. That ought to tell you something, right?

A budget reissue that is clearly superior to the best that modern mastering has to offer?

It happens all the time. It’s the rule, not the exception.


The second symphony is a work that audiophiles should love. It shares many qualities with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which you will surely recognize.

It also has some lovely passages that remind me of the Tale of The Tsar Saltan, another work by the same composer.

If you like exotic and colorfully orchestrated symphonic sound, you will be hard-pressed to find better.

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Frank Sinatra – Another Kevin Gray Mediocrity

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocals Albums

Sonic Grade: C-

Reprise reissued this album on 180 gram vinyl in 2004.

Our advice: skip this Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity. The originals are far better and not that hard to find.

In fact, the good originals are so good that they can be found in our Vocal Demo Disc section. I’m pretty sure that this run-of-the-mill reissue is nobody’s idea of a Demo Disc.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the Tubey Magic the originals are full of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Also, skip the orange label reissues. We’ve never heard a good one and we stopped buying them a long time ago.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

Eagles / Hotel California – DCC Reviewed

More of the Music of The Eagles

Reviews and Commentaries for Hotel California

Sonic Grade: B+/B-

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound.

To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.  

Differing Grading Scales

Note that the grading scale for Hot Stampers is slightly different than the grading scale we all grew up with in school.

The best Hot Stampers receive a grade of A Triple Plus.

This DCC record for side one is three steps down from that.

Three steps down from an A+ grade in school, the highest grade one could earn, would be a B+, hence the B+ grade you see above.

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Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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Bruce Springsteen – Bernie Grundman’s Standard Operating Procedure Strikes Again

More of the Music of Bruce Springsteen

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bruce Springsteen

If you own the Classic Records reissue from the early 2000s, hearing a Hot Stamper pressing is sure to be a revelation.

The Classic pressing was dead as a doornail. It was more thick, it was more opaque, and it was more compressed than most of the originals we played, originals which we noted had problems in all three areas to start with.

Bernie did the album no favors, that I can tell you.

Head to head in a shootout, our Hot Stampers will be dramatically more solid, punchy, transparent, open, clear and just plain REAL sounding, because these are all the areas in which heavy vinyl pressings tend to fall short.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.


FURTHER READING

Classic Records – Rock and Pop 

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The Doors – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

More of the Music of The Doors

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doors

I recently had a chance to listen again to this DCC pressing for the first time in many years. I was putting it up on ebay to sell and dropped the needle to check the sound. I can’t say I liked what I heard. Knowing the record as well as I do, I could her that the DCC was clearly to be brighter in the midrange.

When I went back to read what I had said about the DCC years ago, I saw that I had described that copy the same way. You can read it for yourself.

Our old review follows.

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does this Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, the DCC was the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly fairly bothersome.

The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The mid-bass was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons best known to him. (Did he like it that way, or was he pandering to some of the audiophile community’s preference for overly rich sound, the kind they confuse with “analog”? Nobody knows.)

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. It wouldn’t be the first time. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.)

So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for any one of you who love the album and have a wad of money burning a hole in your pocket.

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A Question for Classic Records – What Did You Do to My Beloved Hot Rats?

More of the Music of Frank Zappa

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Frank Zappa

This Is Analog?

You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice. If you know the album well, and I know it very well, having played it literally hundreds of times, the Classic is positively unlistenable. (The reworked CD of Ruben and the Jets is even worse.)

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one.

What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? Not to these ears.

The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested.

But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Ya coulda fooled me.

The overall sound of the best originals is musical, natural and balanced. The Classic has that third quality — it’s tonally correct, no argument there — but musical and natural? Not really.

Fresh Hot Rats

I’ve been listening to Hot Rats since I was in high school. It’s still remarkably fresh and original, even now. This is not music for the faint of heart. Audiophiles who prefer a steady diet of Patricia Barber and the like will find little of interest here. But for those of you who want to explore something completely original and a bit “out there,” this should be right up your alley — and if that’s the case, be sure to check out Waka Jawaka.

Reading in the liner notes today, I see that one of the engineers on this album is Jack Hunt, the famous half-speed mastering engineer who cut records for Mobile Fidelity and Direct Disc Labs. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Rimsky-Korsakov on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Decca/London Recordings

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 some time 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 that kind of pinpoint imaging was simply nowhere t be found.

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.
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The Royal Ballet – Gala Performances – on Classic Records

More Reviews of Classic Records Classical Titles

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Sonic Grade: C or Better 

Probably a fairly good Classic Records album. When I played this record years ago I thought it was one of the better Classic RCA titles. You can be sure it won’t sound like the original — [almost] no Classic record does — but it might be pretty good all things considered. One thing to consider is that the original in clean condition sells for many thousands of dollars!

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.


FURTHER READING

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities 

Heavy Vinyl Winners

Mozart / Symphony No. 35 – A Cisco Recommended LP, or Is It?

More of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mozart

Sonic Grade: B? C?

I wrote this review in 2001, practically the stone age in my world, and would now disagree with a great deal of what I said about the sound of the record. The music and performances are fine, but the sound has all the hallmarks of bad cutting equipment and dead-as-a-doornail RTI vinyl.

This is the review I wrote in 2001:

Hearing this performance from Thomas Nee and his orchestra is like hearing the work for the first time. It may be difficult to reproduce the magic in these grooves but wonderfully rewarding when you do. You won’t be bored! The sound is intimate and immediate; this is the record for those of you who appreciate more of a front row center seat. Count me in; that’s where I like to sit myself.  

I worked hard on my system for about 4 hours one night, using nothing but this record as my test, because of its wealth of subtle ambience cues, excellent string tone, and massed string dynamics. There is a lot to listen for, and a lot to get right, for this album to sound right.

The performance of the Mozart’s 35th Symphony is definitive. Without a doubt this is the best Mozart record currently available, one that belongs in any serious record collection. I give it a top recommendation for its sublime musical qualities that set it apart from other current releases. In short, a Must Own! 

Twenty years and a great deal of Audio Progress later I have changed my tune. Now I would say:

Cisco’s titles had to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-resolution cutting system, a subject we discussed on the blog in some depth here.

An excerpt:

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing.

Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation.

Where is the life of the music?

You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.

A textbook case of Live and Learn.


Cisco Music had this to day about their record:

One of Mozart’s most popular symphonies is given a visceral and driving performance. Instead of slowing down the tempo in service to lyricism, conductor Thomas Nee chose to adhere to Mozart’s written instructions: ‘The first movement must be played with fire; the last, as fast as possible.’ Even if you own several recordings of this bright and joyous work, you’ve never heard it played like this, and certainly never with this kind of audiophile sound! 

This is exactly the “kind of audiophile sound” I fell for 20 years ago, long before I had a clue just how good a great orchestral recording could sound.

Like most of the folks who pursue records in search of higher quality sound, I sure thought I did, which is why it’s easy for me to write about it. I’ve been there.

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