Record Labels with Shortcomings

Gabor Szabo with Gary McFarland – Gypsy ’66

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, this copy is getting the sound of Gabor Szabo’s music right from first note to last
  • This copy plays on exceptionally quiet Impulse vinyl, Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus throughout
  • The credit must go to one of, if not THE Greatest Jazz Engineers of all time, Mr. Rudy Van Gelder
  • “Szabo’s original sound, the unusual instrumentation (two or three guitars, Sadao Watanabe on flute, Gary McFarland on marimba, bass, drums and percussion) and McFarland’s clever arrangements uplift the music.”

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Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing

More on the UHQR

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Near Mint UHQR JVC Test Record in a white generic jacket.

The RAREST of the RARE! I’ve never even seen one offered for sale!

For those of you who do not know the complete story, basically the UHQR — the ultra high quality record — was invented by JVC as a test to see how good the ultimate vinyl pressing could sound. It was thicker, had a longer pressing cycle, and other technological improvements, all with the goal of making the ultimate lp.

Mobile Fidelity produced limited editions of eight titles on UHQR, and both Reference and Telarc produced one each.

Apparently tests were done by others as well, because here we have some m&k recordings on UHQR. I believe they are not known to exist — until now. I bought them from m&k myself a few years back, along with some flamenco fevers and a box full of unplayed for dukes. That was a good day for better records!

Anyway, obviously the price you see reflects the collectibility of such a unique pressing, not necessarily the musical or sonic qualities it may possess. If you want to be not just the first but the only person to own such a pressing, this is your opportunity to do so. (more…)

Lenny Breau – Lenny Breau Trio, Recorded Direct to Disc

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This is a SUPERB SOUNDING Limited Edition Direct Disk Labs LP with a fold-open cover.  

Breau is an extraordinarily gifted guitarist, and the sound is excellent, so we are happy to recommend this audiophile record, something you won’t see us doing very often.

“Breau mixed together elements from country music and jazz to develop an original sound and style. This album gives listeners a strong example of his legendary artistry.” – AMG

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

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The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration 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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Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

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 a while 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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Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Munch / Boston – Hard to Recommend on Classic Records

More Antonin Dvorak

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

A Classic Records pressing (Remember the Sound!) that never sounded much good to me. But the original never impressed either, as you can see from our review of it.

I have never heard a copy of this record sound better than decent. This title is very unlikely to have the wonderful sound of the best Living Stereo pressings that you can find on our site, each of which has been carefully evaluated to the highest standards.

We love the Starker recordings on Mercury. Wish we could afford to buy some and do a shootout. At the prices they command these days, that is very unlikely to happen.

We used to recommend this Superanalogue pressing when it was in print. I doubt we would care much for it now.

Glenn Miller – The Direct Disc Sound of…

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  • An outstanding German pressing of a Century Direct to Disc recording, with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Great energy, but the sound is relaxed and Tubey sweet at the same time, never squawky, with plenty of extension on both ends — that’s analog for ya!
  • This is no sleepy over-the-hill Sheffield Direct to Disc (referring to the later Harry James titles, not the excellent first one) – these guys are the real deal and they play their hearts out on this live-in-the-studio recording

One of the all time GREAT Direct to Disc recordings. For sound and music this one is hard to beat. And the vinyl is as quiet as any you will find.

We went a bit overboard years ago when we wrote, “I don’t think you can find a better sounding big band record on the planet.” Well, we’ve heard plenty of amazing big band albums in the course of our Hot Stamper shootouts for the last five or ten years, albums by the likes of Basie, Zoot Sims, Ellington, Shorty Rogers, Ted Heath and others.

Not to mention the fact that the shockingly good Sauter-Finegan track “Song of the Volga Boatman” from the LP “Memories Of Goodman and Miller” is played regularly around these parts for cartridge setup and tuning, as well as general tweaking.

But that should take nothing away from this superb recording, made at the famously good sounding Capitol Records Studio A, with none other than Wally Heider doing the mix and Ken Perry manning the lathe.

We also noted that, “It absolutely murders all the Sheffield big band records, which sound like they were made by old tired men sorely in need of their naps. Way past their prime anyway,” which is mostly true.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra heard here was an actively touring band. They know this material inside and out, they clearly love it, and they’re used to playing the hell out of it practically every night.

If you like the tunes that Glenn Miller made famous — String of Pearls, In The Mood, Tuxedo Junction — you will have a very hard time finding them performed with more gusto, or recorded with anything approaching this kind of fidelity. (more…)

Child Is Father to the Man on Speakers Corner – What The Hell Were They Thinking?

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

Back in 2007 when this record came out, we auditioned one and were dumbfounded at the poor quality of the sound. We noted:

This is the worst sounding Heavy Vinyl Reissue LP I have heard in longer than I can remember.

To make a record sound this bad you have to work at it.

What the hell were they thinking? Any audiophile record dealer that would sell you this record should be run out of town on a rail. Of course that never happens, because every last one of them (present company excluded) will carry it, of that you can be sure.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, out comes a record like this to prove that it can.

More on Blood, Sweat and Tears brilliant debut, Child Is Father to the Man

John Klemmer – Touch

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  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this is an outstanding copy of the best MoFi title to ever hit the site – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Musically and sonically this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz – we know of none better
  • The best sounding Smooth – But Real – Jazz Album ever made, and the only vintage MoFi we know of that deserves a place in your collection
  • “Klemmer sets up the mellow grooves that we have come to associate with smooth jazz. But there are no cliche blues licks, none of the crap that players in this genre try to foist upon as “hip.””

This Hot Stamper copy of Touch is one of the best sounding records Mobile Fidelity ever made, and the only record of theirs I know of that can’t be beaten by a standard real-time mastered pressing.

We’re talking Demo Disc quality sound here. The spaciousness of the studio and the three-dimensional placement of the myriad percussion instruments and bells within its walls make this something of an audiophile spectacular of a different kind — dreamy and intensely emotional.

Shocking as it may be, Mobile Fidelity, maker of some of the worst sounding records in the history of audio, is truly the king on this title.

Klemmer says pure emotion is what inspired the album’s creation. Whatever he tapped into to find the source of that inspiration he really hit paydirt with Touch. It’s the heaviest smooth jazz ever recorded. Musically and sonically, this is the pinnacle of Klemmer’s smooth jazz body of work. I know of none better. (If you want to hear him play more straight-ahead jazz try Straight from the Heart on Nautilus.) (more…)

Grant Green’s Green Street on Heavy Vinyl – Music Matters, But Apparently Sound Does Not

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

After discovering Hot Stampers and the mind-blowing sound they deliver, a new customer generously sent me a few of his favorite Heavy Vinyl pressings to audition, records that he considered the best of the modern reissues that he owns.

He admitted that most of what he has on Heavy Vinyl is not very good, and now that he can clearly hear what he has been missing, having heard some of our best Hot Stamper jazz pressings, he is going to be putting them up on Ebay and selling them to anyone foolish enough to throw their money away on this kind of vinyl junk.

We say more power to him.  That money can be used to buy records that actually are good sounding, not just supposed to be good sounding because they were custom manufactured with the utmost care and marketed at high prices to soi-disant audiophiles.

Audiophile records are a scam. They always have been and always will be.

I haven’t listened to a copy of this album in a very long time, but I know a good sounding jazz record when I hear one, having critically auditioned more than a thousand over the course of the 33 years I have been in business selling good sounding records.

I knew pretty early on in the session that this was not a good sounding jazz record.  Five minutes was all it took, but I probably wasted another ten making sure the sound was as hopeless as it originally seemed.

For those of you who might have trouble reading my handwriting, my notes say: (more…)