Labels With Shortcomings – DCC/S&P

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – One of the Worst Releases on DCC (and That’s Saying Something!)

More Jethro Tull

More Aqualung

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As bad as the MoFi is, the DCC is even worse. Murky and bloated, to my ear it does almost nothing right, not on vinyl anyway. I’ll bet you the DCC Gold CD is better, and it’s certainly nothing to write home about. 

Our Hot Stamper commentary below sorts out the DCC, the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing and the MoFi Half-Speed Mastered LP, as well as British and domestic originals.

We love this album and we’ve played every kind of pressing we could get our hands on. The winner? Read on!

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports.

Our first big shootout disabused us of any notion that the British originals were properly mastered. As we noted in our Hot Stamper commentary, “The original Brits we played were pretty hopeless too: tubey magical but midrangy, bass-shy and compressed.” Another myth bites the dust.

(The same is true for Thick As A Brick; the best domestic copies are much more energetic and tonally correct.)

Joni Mitchell – Court And Spark – Rating the DCC LP

More Joni Mitchell

More Court And Spark

xxxxx

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.

Queen – A Night at the Opera – A DCC Disaster

More Queen

More A Night at the Opera

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

Murky, opaque and compressed: yes, we can agree it has never been an especially good sounding record on anything but the most difficult to find UK pressings, but does it deserve this kind of mastering disrespect? Isn’t the idea to try and FIX what is wrong, rather than to make it worse? At collector prices no less. Don’t waste your money.

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked. 

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

 

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow – A DCC Disaster

More Jefferson Airplane

More Surrealistic Pillow

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

Sour and opaque, a major disappointment. You can do worse but it isn’t easy.

Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

LOW DISTORTION, TONS OF ENERGY, and AMAZING TUBEY MAGIC on BOTH SIDES! You aren’t going to believe the RICHNESS, SWEETNESS, and WARMTH of the sound.  (more…)

Eagles Hotel California – DCC Reviewed

More Eagles

More Hotel California

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: B+/B-

The DCC — Not Bad, But…

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound. To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.   (more…)

Peggy Lee – Latin ala Lee! – S&P (Reviewed in the ’00s)

More Peggy Lee

More Latin ala Lee!

xxxxx

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the 2003 when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

The Record of the Year for 2003. I know how crazy that sounds, but it’s true! If you don’t have a smile on your face fifteen seconds after playing track one, you better check your pulse, cuz, as the famous song has it: Jack, You Dead. Amazingly good sound, courtesy of a fabulous and painstakingly difficult remix by the mastering guru himself, Steve Hoffman. This is popular music for the previous generation — but why should we be denied these long forgotten treasures? (more…)

Fresh Cream – A DCC Disaster

More Cream

More Fresh Cream

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame and another DCC LP debunked. 

Compressed, thick, dull, opaque and completely lacking in ambience, almost any domestic or British original pressing will be better in almost every way. Read our Hot Stamper review below for the full story. 

Our Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

AN EXCEPTIONAL SIDE ONE BACKED WITH GREAT SIDE ONE, both on surprisingly quiet vinyl! We just finished a shootout for this hard-rockin’ debut album and were delighted to hear how good this music can sound on the right pressing. This copy has the kind of bottom end that this music absolutely demands but is sadly missing in action from most of the pressings we played. If your Cream record can’t rock, remind me, what exactly is the point again? (more…)

Nat King Cole – Just One Of Those Things on S&P Heavy Vinyl

More Nat “King” Cole

More Just One Of Those Things

 

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: C+

S+P’s 180g reissue has some nice qualities, but it isn’t especially natural, nor is it Tubey Magical the way the real Capitol pressings are. Ambience and instrumental textures are sorely lacking, although to be honest, considering how bad most Capitol pressings are, it’s still a step up from the average copy sitting in your local store’s used record bins.

Our commentary for the DCC Nick of Time lays out in more detail some of the same sonic shortcomings we heard with Just One of Those Things. 

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

Our most recent Hot Stamper commentary follows. (more…)

Ray Charles and Betty Carter – DCC Reviewed & Recommended

xxx

More Ray Charles

More Ray Charles and Betty Carter

Sonic Grade: B+

Folks, I have to hand it to Steve Hoffman — this is the BEST SOUNDING DCC LP we have played in years.

We’ve been harshin’ on DCC for quite a while now. Whenever we do a shootout for The Eagles or The Doors or Bonnie Raitt or Queen or you name it, the DCC pressing almost always gets a serious drubbing from our listening panel. Not so here. This one took TOP HONORS against the other copies we played and was head and shoulders better sounding in practically every way.

Do all the copies of the DCC sound this good? I would bet money right now they don’t. Folks, I’m guessing this is a Hot Stamper. It was pressed just right and all the Hoffman magic is in these grooves. But that’s just a guess, and I could easily be wrong. If you have a few copies at home, shoot them out! What, you don’t have a bunch of these? Me neither, so no shootout will probably ever be done. This album is just too rare and pricey these days.

Bottom line: We know a good record when we hear one, and this is a very good record indeed! Bravo to Steve for a job well done. 

Today’s Mediocre LP – Pet Sounds on DCC

More Pet Sounds

beachdcc

Sonic Grade: C-

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.