Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

Albert King – Born Under a Bad Sign on Mediocre Sundazed Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Commenting about the first Hot Stamper pressing of this album ever to come our way, we noted:

This original Stax LP has AMAZING sound. You could not make this record sound any better. We really liked the  Sundazed copy of this record until we heard this bad boy. It MURDERS their pressing! It has far more life, energy and presence than the Heavy Vinyl pressing. We always suspected that a good original would be better but we had no way of knowing since all the copies we saw were beat to death.

Sergio Mendes – Look Around – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out on Heavy Vinyl in 2001.

Since then we have learned a thing or two. Their version is decent, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination can it compete with any Hot Stamper pressing found on our site.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity – Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits on DCC

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[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for  DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

Spirit’s First Album on Sundazed Heavy Vinyl in Mono Reviewed

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

 

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Sonic Grade: D

Another Sundazed record reviewed and found wanting.

As usual, the Sundazed only hints at the real sound of the recording. We recommended it back at the day; it’s tonally correct, so for fifteen bucks you are getting your fifteen bucks worth and probably not a dime’s more. We just cannot take this kind of sound seriously these days. Once you’ve heard the real thing, this pressing just won’t do.

This is the band’s Masterpiece as well as a Desert Island Disc for yours truly.

What qualifies a record to be a Masterpiece needs no explanation. We will make every effort to limit the list to one entry per artist or group, although some exceptions have already occurred to me, so that rule will no doubt be broken from time to time. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so memorably wrote, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds…”

For a record to come to my Desert Island Disc, such a record: 1) must have at some time during my fifty years as a music lover and audio enthusiast been played enthusiastically, fanatically even, causing me to feel what Leonard Bernstein called “the joy of music”; 2) my sixty year old self must currently respect the album, and; 3) I must think I will want to listen to the music fairly often and well into the future (not knowing how long I may be stranded there).

How many records meet the Desert Island Disc criteria? Certainly many more than you can see when you click on the link, but new titles will be added as time permits. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

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The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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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

 

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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.
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Respighi / Pines Of Rome / Maazel – Passable on Speakers Corner

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Sonic Grade: C

We were only slightly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album, writing at the time:

The famous TAS List recording. Very good sound. You can do better but it’s not easy. This work is just too difficult to record.

All true.

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – Nothing Special on Heavy Vinyl

 

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Sonic Grade: C (at best)

We were only slightly impressed with both the Speakers Corner pressing of this album and the earlier Impulse Heavy Vinyl edition from the ’90s. In our opinion neither one is worth pursuing.

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — too giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning.

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They Say It’s Wonderful: Hartman and Coltrane, an Appreciation (more…)

Frank Zappa / Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question:

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.

Classic Meddling

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 pressing.

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?

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. 

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.

Brahms / Concerto for Violin & Cello on Cisco Heavy Vinyl

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[An old review. We would not stand behind what we say here about the superiority of the Cisco pressing over the Shaded Dog.]

180g Cisco LP. The performances here are of course extraordinary, but this has never been one of RCA’s best recordings. The originals have more Tubey Magic; these 180 gram versions more accuracy of presentation, clarity and definition. Much less distortion too. (more…)