Heavy Vinyl Winners

Led Zeppelin – A Classic Records LP that Can Beat Most Pressings (!)

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Sonic Grade: B

Another Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP reviewed.

Considering how bad (or at best mediocre) the average copy of the first Zep album sounds, let’s give credit where credit is due and say that Bernie’s remastered version on Heavy Vinyl is darn good (assuming you get a good one, something of course that neither I nor you should assume).

It’s without a doubt the best of all the Classic Zeppelin titles, most of which we found none too pleasing to the ear.

Our Thinking Circa 2010

We like the Classic, albeit with reservations. It’s without a doubt the best of all the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissues of the Zeppelin catalog, most of which are not very good and some of which are just awful.

Why is this one good? It’s tonally correct for one thing, and the importance of that cannot be stressed too strongly.

Two, it actually ROCKS, something a majority of pressings we’ve played over the years don’t.

Three, it’s shockingly dynamic. It may actually be more dynamic than any other pressing we have ever played.

If you aren’t willing to devote the time and resources necessary to acquire a dozen or more domestic and import copies, and you don’t want to spend the dough for one of our Hot Stamper copies, the Classic is probably your best bet.

We would agree now with almost none of what we had to say about this Classic title when it came out back in the day. We’ve reproduced it below so that you can read it here for yourself. It’s yet another example of a record We Was Wrong about. Live and learn, right?

Our Commentary from the ’90s

A Classic Winner! Zep 1 Rocks! Beats my best domestic copy (the former champ) and all the imports I”ve heard (at least 10 I would say), even the expensive Japanese Analog version I used to recommend.

This version is a little (deep) bass shy — 2 or 3 db at 40 helps a lot — but it’s cleaner and more dynamic than any other copy I have heard. Things get loud on this version that never got loud before. And that is, to quote one of my competitors, awesome!

Maybe Bernie trimmed the bass because it’s distorted, which would be a mistake, as the distortion is on the tape and rolling off the bottom end solves nothing. Zep II is the same way, maybe even more so.

Since 90% of all the audiophile systems I’ve ever heard were bass shy, this may not be as obvious as it should be. But Led Zeppelin without deep punchy bass emasculates the music in such a fundamental way that it’s hard to imagine this album could have much effect on its audience without it. It’s called head banging music for a reason. Like Wayne, Garth and their buddies driving down the road in Wayne’s World, when it’s really rocking you have an uncontrollable desire to bang your head up and down to the beat, and you need bass to make it rock. No bass, no headbanging.

Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark – Rating the DCC LP

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Sonic Grade: B

The DCC — Not Bad! 

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse. Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty. The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings. I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money.

But Nothing Beats a Hot Stamper, Right?

Right.

As we are so fond of pointing out, the real thing just can’t be beat. Now is this a case where a little bump around three thousand cycles is fooling us into believing we are hearing more breath in Joni’s voice, more space around her piano? Is it adding more definition to all the instruments in the wonderfully complex orchestral passage at the heart of Down to You? Is that what it is, a click or two on the old Equalizer?

We’ll let you be the judge. We obviously don’t think so. Our Hot Stamper copies do everything better. The bass is better: tighter, punchier, with more note-like definition. The top end is better: more extended and airier. There’s more weight to the lower mids and upper bass without sounding overly rich or bloated. It can’t all be caused by a 3k bump then, right?

Right.

Now that we’ve addressed that logical fallacy, let’s talk about some of the real issues at play with Court and Spark.

Vinyl Issues

It is the rare copy that plays Mint Minus on either side. Most are Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, and almost every copy has some noise at the beginning of side one, which as you recall opens with a solo piano.

This Copy Rocks

This copy has it all: the kind of transparency that allows you to see into the soundfield like never before; presence and immediacy in Joni’s breathy, emotional vocals; air and ambience around all the instruments; and tubey magical guitars. (Listen especially to the electric guitar on Down To You. That’s the sound we love here at Better Records! Even if your system is all transistor, that guitar will sound like you own the best tube equipment in the world.)

But not tubey mush — the trumper on Trouble Child has a nice clear tone to it, with its leading edge transients rendered correctly; not the smeary sound of an old Mac, but the clarity of transistors. On the same record!

We Know That Sound — It’s The Master Tape!

What you hear is the sound of the real tape; every instrument has its own character, because the mastering is correct and the vinyl — against all odds — managed to capture all (or almost all; who can know?) of the resolution that the recording had to offer.

Bottom Line?

It’s awesome. One of the handful of records by Joni that belong in any serious record collection, and an absolute must own for audiophiles.

The Band Music From Big Pink – EMI Centennial Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B?

[I believe this review is from the mid to late ’90s.]

This is the EMI Centennial version we sold years ago for close to thirty bucks. I thought at the time the MFSL gold CD was better. Now, after many stereo changes, I realize the gold CD is actually fat in the midbass and a little thick and sucked out in the midrange. (MFSL’s, and quite a few others’, standard audiophile EQ.)

I know this because the EMI LP is correct in those areas and shows you how truly wonderful the recording is. If only it had more bass. Who knows? Between the music and the sound you may not even miss it.

Above 100 hertz this album is magic. Below 100 it’s tragic. (Ha ha.)

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Andre Previn & His Pals – West Side Story on MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B-

Another MoFi LP reviewed.

I played this record a while back — it’s one of the Mobile Fidelity’s I remember liking from the old days — and sure enough it still sounds good. It does not have the phony boosted bottom and top that most MoFis do. Since it’s such a well recorded album, the sound is very impressive. Also the music is great. This is one of Previn’s best piano trio records. And Shelly Manne drums up a storm here. 

Neil Young Harvest – Nautilus Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

Another Half Speed reviewed. We haven’t played a copy of this record in more than a decade, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. 

This is a SURPRISINGLY good sounding Nautilus Half-Speed mastered LP with AMAZING transparency. The sound here is DRAMATICALLY more natural than your average audiophile pressing.Just listen to the phoney top end found on most MOFIs to see what we mean. On this record you’ll hear non of the hyped up highs that are MoFis claim to fame.

This Nautilus is sure to destroy a typical American pressing, which will tend to sound opaque, thick and dull. This wouldn’t really match up to our Hottest Stampers but you could sure do a lot worse. Although it’s a tad fat at the bottom, it still retains much of the warmth and richness found on the best copies.

The Body and Soul of Freddie Hubbard – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

An outstanding Freddie Hubbard straight ahead jazz album on Speakers Corner vinyl that belongs in any jazz lover’s collection. 

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. 

 

 

 

The Beatles – Let It Be – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B or B-

Although I haven’t played my copy in quite a while — it might have been as far back as 2007 or 2008 if memory serves — I recall that it struck me as one of their better titles.

All things considered, it’s actually pretty good, assuming your copy sounds like mine (an assumption we really can’t make of course — no two records sound the same — but for the purposes of this review we’re going to assume it anyway). I would give it a “B” or “B-“. It can’t hold a candle to the real thing, but at least MoFi didn’t ruin it like they did with so many of the other Beatles albums. 

nother Mobile Fidelity Pressing reviewed. Our Audiophile Scorecard has plenty more where this one came from.

Generic Audiophile Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it.



If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing, you may be in luck. Click
 here to see what we currently have on hand.

Our Approach to Audio 

Over the years we have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard. (I can’t compete with bigger rooms and higher ceilings; it’s a glorious sound but custom room additions are just way out of our budget.)

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we like it to sound, or want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get the record home and play it yourself, it should sound the way we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what will it sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system would make those tasks much more difficult, if not downright impossible.

Click here to read more about our playback equipment.

John Lennon Imagine on MoFi (Reviewed in the ’90s)

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better MoFi pressings from the 2000’s

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. At the time we said:

I played this when it came out, and I have to hand it to the new MOFI, they did a great job with this one. It sounds better than I’ve ever heard it, and KILLS the old MoFi vinyl, which is the version we did the shootout with.

It was a short comparison, as in, no comparison. The earlier half speed (a different master tape, but still…) has that classic midrange suckout, so that Lennon and his piano on the first track sound like they are coming from another room. And people to this day still defend the sound of records on that label?! Oy vey. (more…)

What’s the Right Grade for the CBS Half-Speed of Willie Nelson’s Stardust?

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Sonic Grade: B to F, depending on the copy

This Hot Stamper CBS Mastersound LP has the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for the half-speed of this title. It KILLED the other two CBS Audiophile Stardusts we played. If you think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that any two records — domestic, import, audiophile, 180 gram, or otherwise — sound the same, then you simply need to do a shootout or two with records like these to be disabused of that notion.

One copy was awful; I’d have to say it’s one of the worst sounding audiophile pressings I’ve ever played. Somebody is going to buy it thinking it somehow guarantees them a higher quality pressing, and to that person I say, think again. That’s not the way it works.

This copy, on the other hand, sounds so good you’d think it was one of our hand-picked multi-hundred dollar Hot Stamper pressings. (One of them sold for $750, FYI.) It may not be the ultimate copy, but it sure sounded amazing to us. On the half-speed scale we give it Two Pluses. That’s the highest grade we’ve ever given ANY half-speed; from guys who can’t stand half-speeds as a rule, that’s high praise indeed. 

Check out Audiophile Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Joan Baez Diamonds and Rust – The Half-Speed that Beats Most Originals

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Sonic Grade: B+

One of the best Half Speed Mastered Records we have ever played.

In our recent shootout we were shocked — shocked — to hear how good our old copy of Diamonds and Rust on Nautilus sounded head to head against the best first pressings. Hard to believe, but it actually beat practically every one. If I hadn’t heard it with my own two ears I wouldn’t have believed it.