Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

The Doors / Waiting For The Sun – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

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 like this one throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly quite 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 bottom end 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 known best to him.

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. (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.

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys with reputations for doing good work, but the results of their latest collaboration [can you believe this record came out in 2006!?] 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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Respighi / Pines Of Rome / Maazel – Another Mediocre Speakers Corner Decca Reissue

Sonic Grade: C

We were only slightly impressed with the Speakers Corner Decca 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.

Mostly true. Not sure about very good sound but difficult to record is spot on.

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome


More Heavy Vinyl Reviews

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.

Labels With Shortcomings – Speakers Corner – Classical 

Labels With Shortcomings – Speakers Corner – Jazz 

Labels With Shortcomings – Speakers Corner – Rock & Pop 

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

Heavy Vinyl Disasters

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

Heavy Vinyl Winners

Billy Joel / 52nd Street – A Random Copy Tells You What, Exactly?

More Billy Joel

Reviews and Commentaries for 52nd Street

Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted the following in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why.  (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones on Rhino Heavy Vinyl – Not Our Idea of Good Sound, and We Hope Not Yours

Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back. It has that phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Rhino reissue of Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it. Hey, play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why.)

We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”

We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equaled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.”

So, What’s Wrong With Rickie Lee?

Simple. They took a somewhat artificial, hi-fi-ish, close-miked, heavy-on-the-reverb recording and made it sound even more artificial, phony and hi-fi-ish (but less-heavy-on-the-reverb; there is always a noticeable loss of resolution in these modern mastering jobs). What were they thinking?

The best copies have warmth, richness and sweetness to balance out the more unnatural elements in the recording. Copies with these qualities are few and far between but we have run across them in our shootouts and proudly put them up, where of course they sold quickly for lots of money. Major league audiophile appeal, this one. In its day it was heavily demo’ed in every stereo store in town, and for good reason — the sound positively jumps out of the speakers. (more…)

ZZ Top / Fandango – Another Warners Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity

More ZZ Top

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Sonic Grade: C

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.

Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.

How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?

Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be.

But the sound is stuck behind the speakers, veiled, and sorely lacking in energy and excitement. The transparency is of course compromised on all these new reissues, and without transparency and resolution much of the audience participation on the first side is lost.

I won’t say the new pressing is boring. Let’s just say it’s a lot more boring than it should be. (more…)

Gershwin / Concerto in F – String Tone Is Key

More George Gershwin

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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Sonic Grade: C-

I must admit Classic Records did a passable job with this one. The two things that separate the good originals from the reissue are in some ways related. Classic, as is their wont, boosted the upper midrange, and that, coupled with their transistory mastering equipment, makes the strings brighter, grainier and yet somehow lacking in texture and sheen compared to the originals (a clear sign of a low-res cutting chain).

Once you recognize that quality in the sound of a record it’s hard to ignore, and I hear it on every Classic Record I play. (This commentary has more on the subject.)

RCA is more famous for its string tone than anything else. If the strings on the Classic Records LPs don’t bother you, you can save yourself a lot of money by not buying authentic RCA pressings — and get quieter vinyl to boot.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.


HOT STAMPERS

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection (more…)

Grieg / Peer Gynt – Speakers Corner Reviewed, with Handy VTA Advice

Sonic Grade: C+

The Fjeldstad has long been one of our favorite performances of Peer Gynt here at Better Records. 

This record is handy for VTA set-up as well, a subject discussed below in our listing from 2010.

The sound is excellent for a modern reissue*, but in the loudest sections the orchestra can get to be a bit much, taking on a somewhat harsh quality. (The quieter passages are superb: sweet and spacious.)

So I adjusted the VTA a bit to see what would happen, and was surprised to find that even the slightest change in VTA caused the strings to lose practically all their rosiny texture and become unbearably smeared.

This is precisely why it’s a good heavy vinyl recording for setting up your turntable. If you can get the strings to play with reasonably good texture on this record you probably have your VTA set correctly.

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

Reviews and Commentaries for Peer Gynt

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Gounod / Ballet Music from Faust / Gibson – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Reviews and Commentaries for Guonod / Faust Ballet Music

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Sonic Grade: C

Classic Records did a passable job with LSC 2449, one of their better efforts, but of course it has almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have, and they have them more often than not in abundance.

Their version is not awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and considering that the original goes for many, many hundreds of dollars, might be worth picking up at a reasonable price.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original. If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994 as soon as we had a chance to play them.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled (HP, how could you?), but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.)

And the fact that so many of them are currently on the TAS List is a sad comment on how far the mighty have fallen.

FURTHER READING

Classical Living Stereo Titles Available Now

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The Beach Boys / Pet Sounds – DCC Reviewed

More The Beach Boys

Sonic Grade: D to C+

Not long ago [2014 or so] we pulled out the three copies we had in our leftover stock of DCC vinyl and gave them a spin. They weren’t awful, but they weren’t very good either. They sounded like most Heavy Vinyl we’ve played over the years: airless, blurry, smeary, two-dimensional, dull and opaque.

Not surprisingly (to us anyway) one copy was quite a bit better than the other two. I would say that the sound of the three copies would plot on a curve from about a D to maybe a C+, so let’s figure the average would be around a C- or so.

I’d be surprised if the DCC Gold CD didn’t sound better. More often than not it does. (Kevin Gray’s lousy cutting system would not be involved and that is almost a guarantee that the sound would improve markedly.)

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough, but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

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.


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Making Audio Progress  (more…)