Labels We Love – Sheffield

The Sheffield Track Record – Who in His Right Mind Thinks This Is a Super Disc?

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The Sheffield Track Record

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing.

This is a Minty looking Sheffield Lab LP of Rock Instrumental Tracks For Audio Component Testing and Evaluation. Harry Pearson calls this absolutely the best sounding rock record ever made.

We cannot agree with HP as to the recording quality of this album. The sound is surprisingly compressed, and the music is every bit as lifeless as the sound.

The Sheffield Drum Record

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Minty looking Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP has AMAZING SOUND. We played it against other pressings we had and this was clearly the winner. It’s lively, with a wonderfully extended top and bottom. We rate it about A++ – A+++ on both sides. 

The record features improvisations from Jim Keltner (one of the all-time great session drummers) and Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley’s studio drummer). The album is a member of the famous TAS list.

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on both sides of this AMAZING Hot Stamper! This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title. The sound doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper. 

We just finished a big shootout of this album [in 2009!] and this Flower label pressing was the undisputed champion. Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright. On this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The horns sound especially wonderful.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording – Side One Vs. Side Two

I’ve Got The Music In Me

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In our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs! (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga – The Missing Linc – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

Super Hot, and definitely not your typical Sheffield pressing. Some of them are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings. 

Which should not be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album, while listening carefully and critically.

If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another. (more…)

Brahms, Handel, Chopin – Lincoln Mayorga, Pianist – Reverse Your Polarity!

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This IMMACULATE Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP with Very Little Sign Of Play (VLSOP) is one of the best Sheffields. Lincoln Mayorga is an accomplished classical pianist: this is arguably his best work. (I had a chance to see him perform at a recital of Chopin’s works early in 2010 and he played superbly — for close to two hours without the aid of sheet music I might add.) 

You might want to try reversing the phase when playing this LP; it definitely helps the sound, a subject we discuss below.

This is another one of the Pressings We’ve Discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Reversing the absolute phase on this record recently was quite interesting. The sound of the piano itself was already very good. With the phase reversed what really changed with the sense of space surrounding it, which immediately became much more palpable. The piano, though tonally similar to the way it sounded with the phase left alone, came to life more — more solid and punchy and percussive.

How do you change the absolute phase you ask? You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads, or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp or phono stage. (The EAR 324p we use has just such a switch and let me tell you, it comes in very handy in situations like these.) If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this record will still sound good. It just won’t sound as good.

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

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S9 is hands down the best example of a recording that truly comes to life when you Turn Up Your Volume.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the soundfield, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, if you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again. I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues (S9) and Obvious Pressing Variations

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

WOW! Here’s a stunningly good sounding and shockingly quiet copy of The Big One — Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues’ first Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP aka S9. We’ve been comparing and contrasting pressings of this album for a long time and this is one of the very best — and QUIETEST — copies we’ve ever had the good luck to stumble on. The sound is BIG, RICH and FULL OF ENERGY. We gave side one an A++ and side two our top grade of A+++. It is ridiculously tough to find this record anymore, let alone a pressing this amazing. Who knows when we’ll find another copy, let alone one that sounds like this!

Can you imagine doing a shootout for a Super Rare and Collectible Audiophile Title, the kind of record you might run across once every ten years or so? Well, your friends at Better Records managed to find a handful of copies of the legendary Sheffield first album, S9, (for the most part in practically unplayed condition) and decided that it would be fun to actually find out which copy sounded the best. That’s what do around here all day, so why would we treat S9 any differently than any other record?

Pressing Variations

I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this record. These direct to discs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise. (more…)

Harry James & His Big Band – The King James Version – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper has the best side two we have ever heard! Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, the typical pressing of The King James Version leaves much to be desired. As a rule two areas are especially lacking: there is a noticeable lack of presence on most copies, causing the brass to get stuck in the speakers and lose its bite; and, every bit as bad, the sound is often just plain compressed, lacking energy and life. The musicians on most copies are just not giving it their all. 

But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc recording process?

Maybe so, but there is some very strong evidence to the contrary, and this record is that evidence. Side two kills side one in the areas we described. Side one earned an A Plus grade, quite good, far better than average, but not in the same league as side two. But other side ones we’ve played have had plenty of energy and drive and jump out of the speakers sound, just not this one. It’s the pressing, not the recording.

Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetates and many, many stampers made from those mothers. (more…)