Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

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 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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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

Borodin / Symphonies 2 & 3 / Ansermet – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

Sonic Grade: C?

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Speakers Corner heavy vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like all reissues it lacks the weight found on the originals. I remember it being a little flat and bright. 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 it’s 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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The Doors – Waiting For The Sun on DCC Heavy Vinyl

More of the Music of The Doors

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Psych Rock Albums

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to really 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 our Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, it’s 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 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 better known 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 those of you who love this album and have a bunch of money burning a hole in your pocket.

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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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Simon and Garfunkel / Bridge Over Troubled Water – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sonic Grade: C

What do the best Hot Stamper copies give you?

They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements.

The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely.

The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of somewhat steely strings. When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without the strings sounding shrill and edgy.

This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered are good for testing string tone and texture.

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

More of the Music of 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. 

In our review we went on to say:

But at a cost. It still sounds like a modern record, with not much in the way of space, transparency, richness, resolution and the like. You know, all that ANALOG stuff that old dinosaurs like us think our records should have.

For those of you who have thirty three dollars to spend, you could do a lot worse on side two. Side one is pretty bad and you would have a hard time doing worse.

Allow me to now quote Mr. Gader from The Absolute Sound, October 2011, Issue 216, Pg. 129

The Impex 180-gram remastering by Kevin Gray is superb. It replaces the spongy timing and dull top of the original Columbia LP with expansive space and sharp details. Its vivid and brightened treble is welcome compared to the warm but smothered original. Listen for Joel’s doubled harmonies, the pennywhistle in “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” and the burning horn section in “Half a Mile Away,” and you’ll hear what a difference a great remastering makes.

Mr. Gader has a bad original pressing, and like most reviewers he makes the mistake of assuming that other originals, and probably all the originals, perforce sound like his. Speaking from experience, they most assuredly do not. We will not be addressing his specific complaints in this commentary for one simple reason.

Practically nothing in his review has anything to do with the sound of the best copies

So now we know, or at the very least suspect, that Mr. Gader’s copy of the album is not very good. Oh joy. What exactly does that have to do with the price of tea in China, or anything else for that matter? Should I now go through a pile of random original pressings and review one for you? What exactly would be the point of that?

Random Record Reviews

Reviewing randomly chosen copies of a record is an exercise in futility, with no bearing whatsoever on the sound of any other randomly chosen copy — mine, yours or anybody else’s.

So much for the value of Mr Gader’s review. But I do have to say that I find it more than coincidental that the songs he recommends are both on the “good” side of the album. Could he really have failed to notice how bad side one is?

After reading hundreds of reviews in the audio mags over the last thirty-plus years, one thing I’ve learned. With audiophile reviewers anything is possible. I’ll leave you to make of that what you will.

Hey, but wait a minute. Wasn’t my Impex pressing a random copy?

Why yes, it was. You are free to make of that what you will too.

Shootouts Are a Bitch

Shootouts are a great deal of work if you do them right. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them carefully, or follow rigorous testing protocols, that kind of shootout anyone can do. We would not consider that a real shootout. (Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.)

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Ben Webster / Meets Oscar Peterson on Speakers Corner

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Ben Webster

This is a Speakers Corner 180g LP. Years ago we wrote:

“Superb music and sound! This one gets a Top recommendation. This recording captures an intimate Webster session. Ben is at his best in this sort of setting. (He’s at his worst when called upon to “battle” with a gang of loud, frantic exhibitionists.)”

I doubt we would like it as much now as we did then, but if you can get one for cheap, and can stand the typical faults of most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, we say go for it.

Liner Notes

The sensitive, alert and propulsive Peterson Trio frames his stories and statements handsomely, and contributes many notable statements of its own. Pianist Peterson, inspired perhaps by Ben, is in a fine, funky frame of mind (his Kansas City heritage.)

The artists take a bunch of strong, standard songs and personalize them — to say the least. With wonderful humor, Ben can take a sophisticated show tune like This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers and Hart) or Ray Noble’s romantic The Touch of Your Lips and turn it into an earthy finger-poppin’ affair. Or he can paint a picture of profound sadness in his tender, moody When Your Lover Has Gone, or that one-time Sinatra soliloquy, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Speakers Corner – Jazz

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.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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Rodrigo – Boieldieu / Harp Concertos – Speakers Corner Does a Disservice to DG

More of the music of Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Sonic Grade: C-

A mediocre Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissue.

About ten years ago [twenty by now] a Heavy Vinyl version of this album was remastered and pressed by Speakers Corner, part of their disastrous foray into the DG catalog.

This title was decent, the Beethoven Violin Concerto was okay, as was one of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies with Mravinsky (#5), but the rest were just plain awful, offering disgracefully bad sound.

Funny, I don’t recall reading any bad reviews of these albums at the time.

Oh, that’s right, these Heavy Vinyl records never get bad reviews, no matter how lifeless, opaque and unpleasant they might sound.

Except from us of course. We were writing about them back in the day and trying to sell just the better ones.

We long ago gave up on that effort as so few are really very good when you get right down to it.

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Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site.

If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 

Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: Aja, Aqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as the Rhino pressing of Blue?

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD?

If I ever found myself in the position of having to sell mediocrities like the ones you see pictured in order to make a living, I’d be looking for another line of work. The vast majority of these newly-remastered pressings are just not very good.

We Aren’t Walmart and We Definitely Don’t Want to Be Walmart

We leave that distinction to our colleagues at Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc and Music Direct (Walmart, Target and Sears perhaps? [Yes, Sears existed when I wrote this screed! Time flies.]).

They sell anything and everything that some hapless audiophile might wander onto their site and find momentarily attractive, like shiny bits of glass dangling from a tree, glittering as brightly as fool’s gold. They know their market and they know where the real money is. (Hint: it ain’t records, dear reader, it’s equipment. If you haven’t seen one of their thick full-color catalogs lately, count how many pages of equipment you have to wade through at the front before you get to the “recommended recordings.”) [I would amend that to say that it probably is records now. Since 2007 they have become much more popular and profitable. Apparently you can cut the same title 16 different times and audiophiles will just keep buying them.]

The Hall of Shame

We had no business selling Neil Young’s Greatest Hits — the typical dead-as-a-doornail remastering job we’ve come to expect from Classic over the years — and now it can be found only in our Hall of Shame where it should have been located from the start.

Which, by the way, has a new member: In Through the Out Door. We were doing a shootout in time for the mailer this week and decided to crack the Classic open to give it another listen, since my review was about five years old at this point, a lifetime in the world of audio. (My world of audio, anyway, and hopefully yours.)

Well, it turned out to be nothing but an absolute piece of crap. Tonally wrong from top to bottom, compressed, lacking presence, life, energy — an unmitigated disaster, joining the Classic pressings of II, III and Houses, three of the other worst sounding Zeppelin records I have ever had the misfortune to play. It’s a perfect We Was Wrong entry — watch for it soon — and we owe an apology to anyone who bought one from us. So sorry!

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