Record Labels with Shortcomings

The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, with none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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Steely Dan / Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

Sonic Grade: F

Katy Lied is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame. If it isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s, this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture.

Yes, the sound is so bad that even the brain trust at MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless (almost as lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time), it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound.

Why? That’s hard to say, but here’s a stab at it.

The vinyl was exceptionally quiet for one thing, and for another, as an audiophile I knew this MoFi pressing had been made with tender loving care, using a superior process, Half-Speed Mastering, from The Original Master Tapes, and had been pressed in Japan on the quietest, flattest vinyl in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

My old story about One Man Dog gets to the heart of it. I didn’t understand records very well and I sure didn’t understand the value of doing shootouts or even how to do them with different pressings of the same album.

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Borodin on Speakers Corner – You Say the Budget Stereo Treasury Has Better Sound?

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Heavy Vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like a number of reissues, it lacks the weight found on the early London pressings. (Classic Records pressings rarely had that problem. Just the opposite in fact. The bass was boosted most of the time, especially the deep bass.)

I remember this Speakers Corner pressing being a little flat and bright. (I admit that 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 that vintage pressing is 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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Led Zeppelin / Presence – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: D

This was one of only three Classic Records 180 gram (later 200 gram) titles that I used to recommend back in the day.

Now when I play the heavy vinyl pressing, I find the subtleties of both the music and the sound that I expect to hear have simply gone missing.

It may be tonally correct, which for a Led Zeppelin pressing on the Classic Records label is unusual in our experience (II and Houses being ridiculously bright), but it, like Physical Graffiti and some others, badly lacks resolution compared to the real thing, the real thing being a run-of-the-mill early pressing.

You can adjust the VTA of your rig until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get the Classic to sound better than passable.

The average original pressing is better, and that means Classic’s version deserves a sub-standard grade of D. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

Our catalog from the ’90s recommended this Heavy Vinyl Decca pressing from Speakers Corner.

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. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Excellent, one of the best of the Deccas. Better sound by far than the Classic with Reiner, although of course the original of that record is quite good [actually it is not].

You may get better results if you reverse your polarity when playing this record. It’s been a while since I did it so better to check it yourself and see how you like it each way. (more…)

Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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Frank Sinatra – Another Kevin Gray Mediocrity

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocals Albums

Sonic Grade: C-

Reprise reissued this album on 180 gram vinyl in 2004.

Our advice: skip this Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity. The originals are far better and not that hard to find.

In fact, the good originals are so good that they can be found in our Vocal Demo Disc section. I’m pretty sure that this run-of-the-mill reissue is nobody’s idea of a Demo Disc.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the Tubey Magic the originals are full of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Also, skip the orange label reissues. We’ve never heard a good one and we stopped buying them a long time ago.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite on Speakers Corner

More on The Firebird

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

This is probably one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

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.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Excellent sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Currently our favorite Firebird is the original pressing on Mercury with Dorati conducting. Our opinion is very unlikely to change concerning the best combination of sound and performance. The record is simply a monster on the right pressing.

We have never heard an especially good sounding London or Decca of Ansermet’s performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We tend to avoid judging records we have not played and we encourage the audiophile community to do the same.


As a general rule, this Heavy Vinyl pressing will fall short in most of the following areas:

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency


FURTHER READING

The sonic signature of the modern Heavy Vinyl Classical Reissue in Four Words: Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Vague.

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A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Record Reviewing

New to the Blog? Start Here

Allow me to respond to a comment left by Ian Malone.

It was left in the comments section for the interview Steve Westman did with me, which can be seen here:

A Conversation with TOM PORT from BETTER RECORDS

He writes:

Quite happy for you to promote your business Tom, but surely you are a better person than doing it in this way. I know that other people in the industry have said unkind things about you but you can rise above these insults.

I never say that the people making these modern records, as well as those reviewing them, are malicious or evil. I say they make or review bad sounding records and are simply misguided and incompetent.

Am I being unkind? If Michael Bay makes one bad movie after another, are we unkind to point it out, even though many people enjoy his movies. He is not a bad person, he is a bad filmmaker, and gets called out regularly for putting out a bad product.

Everyone understands that this is a matter of taste. If you always wished The Beatles albums had more bass, more compression and a smoother tonal balance overall, you can buy the new Heavy Vinyl pressings and get that sound on every title they ever released.

That sound does not exist on the tapes. I have no way of actually knowing that for a fact, but since no mastering engineer before 2014 had ever put that sound on an actual record, I think we can safely say that the evidence supports the idea that a completely “new sound” was specifically created for The Beatles when their catalog was remastered for our century.

Call it The New Beatles Sound. I am on record as not liking engineers who create a new sound for records that that had perfectly good sound already. Those of us who do not like our Beatles album to have those qualities should not be buying these newly remastered versions.

We offer the consumer an alternative sound, and, since our Beatles Hot Stampers are far and away our best sellers, it seems our customers agree with us that they actually do sound better. Some come back, sure, but not many, and I don’t think anyone has ever said they liked the new pressings better, although that possibility exists.

In some ways we operate like Consumer Reports. Blender X is terrible at making margaritas and blender Y is good at making them. The company that makes bad blenders should be called to account. If there is a name attached to that company, then I guess we can say that that person who runs that company should learn how to make better blenders or find something else to do with his time.

I am not impressed with the quality of the records being made today, and it follows that those who make them are responsible for the poor quality of the modern remastered LPs they make.

Is there a kind way to say that Pete Hutchison makes some of the worst sounding records I have ever played in my life? Should I pretend he doesn’t? If you play me one of his awful records, and don’t tell me who made it, I can judge the record on its merits, the way we judge all records. We test records blindly for precisely this reason. We let the record tell us how well it was made, what it does right and wrong relative to other pressings of the same album, apples to apples.

His records tell me he loves the sound of the murkiest, muddiest vintage tube equipment ever made, and wants every record he makes to have that sound.

In my book that is an egregious case of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. We wrote about it here.

Is there a kinder way to point that out? It’s astonishing to me that anyone takes this guy seriously. This is the sound audiophiles want?

Here’s a question for those who defend this man’s approach to mastering.

Did Bernie Grundman make all his records sound the same? Layer his sonic signature over the top of everything he did?

Does Aja sound like Blue sound like Heart Like a Wheel sound like Thriller sound like Tapestry?

On my stereo they sure don’t. I built a stereo to get out of the way of the records I play, and it lets all these records sound markedly different from one another.

But Hutchison takes exactly the opposite approach. He wants the same heavy tube sound on every record he makes. Is it mean to point that out?

Bernie Grundman has mastered many of my favorite recordings of all time. Doug Sax actually mastered both of my two favorite recordings of all time, Ambrosia’s first album on vinyl and Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk on CD.

But when these superbly talented engineers master bad sounding audiophile pressings for the likes of Chad Kassem and others, who deserves the blame?

Maybe Kassem told them what sound he wanted and they gave it to him. That’s their job, to deliver a product that the customer will pay for. The customer here is Chad, not the audiophile consumer.

Chad apparently likes the sound of the records he produces. I do not and I make an effort to describe precisely the sound I object to on his pressings. My reviews of both of his Tea for the Tillerman releases (the 33 and the 45) go on for days. I recommend you check it out if you want to know more about the failings of his albums in detail.

Opinion? Mere subjectivity? We back up everything we say about our offerings with an actual physical record that you can buy, risk free, to demonstrate the superiority of a properly mastered, properly pressed LP, one we cleaned, auditioned and stand behind 100%.

Some of the very same engineers I criticize made the record I might sell you. Lots of TMLs and BGs can be found in the dead wax of our Hot Stamper pressings.

Why wouldn’t they be found there? They are often found — after the fact, mind you — on the best sounding pressings of the albums we play in our shootouts.

These vintage pressings seem to have very little in common with the work these men are doing now.

Is there a kinder, gentler way to point that out? Should I just shut the hell up about it?

I guess we could say the companies producing records today mean well. They produce a product at a price for the market they are trying to reach. Chad thinks he can get $150 for his records and therefore he prices them at $150. They used to sell for less, now they sell for more. That’s how markets work. We do the same.

The records Chad and his competitors make are suitable, in my opinion, for those who set lower standards, or don’t know any better, or have modest systems, or just aren’t very serious about records and audio. Fine by me. It’s no skin off our noses.

We mostly appeal to a different group. A group that typically has heard those Heavy Vinyl pressings and wants something better. Something with Zero Collector Value, but 100% Top Quality Music and Sound Value.

Is it unkind to say we set higher standards and price our products accordingly?

Are we implying that these Heavy Vinyl labels set lower standards and price their records accordingly. Yes, we are.

All we are doing is pointing this out, using, I freely admit, stronger language than some might like. I have always favored plain speaking over the kind of bush beating, special pleading and excuse making so many audiophiles and those who write for them seem to prefer.

If your feelings are easily hurt, I am definitely not the guy you should be reading. I find bad sounding records infuriating and I am not averse to saying so. Best to avoid my blog if you don’t like reading somebody who is gets pissed off and feels ripped off every time he drops a needle on one of these lousy remasters.

We write passionately about good records, the ones we sell, but there is really no need to read what we say about them either. Our records speak for themselves, and we believe they deliver on their promises.

Try some, compare them with what you own and see if you still feel kindly toward the modern pressings you’ve no doubt been buying. There is a good chance you might not feel so kindly, once you can clearly hear what is missing from them.

And if not, no harm done, return shipping is on us, and a full refund will be posted to your card.

To paraphrase the great one, if you never hear one of our Hot Stamper pressings, most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine.

But if you do hear one, and you do like it, the milk of human kindness you show these modern record makers may turn as sour in your mouth as it has in mine.

TP


The Mud Pie Maker Himself

Presenting the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect, a man who fancies himself an audiophile/mastering engineer.

He’s a mastering engineer in the same sense that a person who makes mud pies is a piemaker.

I have not played any of his classical albums. I have in fact only played one title, a jazz record I happen to know well, and his remastered version is no better than the other records that get an F grade for sound and currently are to be found in our Bad Sounding Audiophile Records Section.

I will publish a review one of these days, but until then, I recommend you steer well clear of this man’s records.

An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of this psychological effect gives some background:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”


FURTHER READING

More on the Subject of Bad Tube Mastering

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

Grateful Dead / American Beauty – An Honest-to-Goodness Killer MoFi LP

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

Hot Stamper Pressings of Stephen Barncard’s Recordings

Sonic Grade: B+

This is a Mobile Fidelity LP with SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND. The transparency and presence in the midrange is outstanding for a MoFi. This copy does not have the usual midrange suckout that ruins so many of their records.

The bass actually sounds mostly in control on this copy — there’s much less of the typically bloated MoFi bass to be found here.

This is the best sounding Mobile Fidelity American Beauty we have ever heard. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s hugely better than we expected.

Any original Green Label domestic pressing is sure to be better, but sure to be noisier too, so if you must have quiet vinyl, you can do a lot worse than this MoFi.

Which means it belongs on our list of The Best Sounding Mobile Fidelity Records We’ve Ever Played.

FURTHER READING on the subject of Half-Speed Mastering

People sometimes ask us:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

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