Record Labels with Shortcomings

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker – Ansermet (Reviewed in the ’90s)

Sonic Grade: B?

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.

Superb! New records just don’t sound any better! This is the complete Nutcracker Ballet as conducted by Ansermet for Decca, a record that sets a standard of performance and sound that is unlikely ever to be equaled, and almost certainly not to be surpassed.


A Must Own Classical Record (on Vintage Vinyl)

Ansermet breathes life into this ballet as only he can, and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

It’s an Orchestral Spectacular that should have a place of honor in any audiophile’s collection.

Others that belong in that category can be found here.

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Balalaika Favorites on Classic Records – Unpleasantly Hard and Sour

What else is new?

Sonic Grade: F

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.

I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record. Everything else was worse 99% of the time.

The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.

Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether they really believed they did or not, they sure fooled a lot of audiophiles and the reviewers that write for them.

The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they fall further and further behind with each passing year.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.

More Balalaika Favorites


FURTHER READING

Classic Records – Classical

Classic Records – Jazz 

Classic Records – Rock and Pop 

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities 

Heavy Vinyl Winners

The Story of Blue on Heavy Vinyl – A Milestone at Better Records

Thoughts on the so-called Definitive Vinyl Version

In 2007 a customer took issue with our choice here at Better Records to reject the sale of the newly Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing of Blue put out by Rhino and mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.

We actually used to give the record away for free with every purchase of a Hot Stamper Blue, making it easy for our customers to hear for themselves just how superior our Hot Stamper pressings, at every level, were.

We did this partly out of necessity. I had foolishly taken the advice of a Mr. Robert Pincus that the new version was indeed all it was cracked up to be and proceeded to put in an advance order for twenty copies to sell to our customers.

We were still selling Heavy Vinyl in 2007, but it would not be long before we decided to end the practice. Soon thereafter we were only selling records that we had cleaned and played and could guarantee both their superior sound quality and audiophile-quality playing surfaces.

So we had about twenty copies of Blue we did not think qualified as “better records” and decided to just give them away.

After spending quite a number of hours evaluating the new version, I got fairly worked up over the disappointing sound, worked up enough to write a very long commentary about the album, which I entitled Blue, The Game.

Rather than detailing the shortcomings of the new pressing, in this particular commentary, the first of its kind, I decided to take a different tack.

I implored the reader to do his own shootout for the album and tell me what he heard on the various pressings he might have at hand to work with. (Nothing much came of it of course, and not too surprisingly. Shootouts are hard and the vast majority of audiophiles are averse to them in our experience, hence the sorry state of audiophile records and the systems that fail to reveal their shortcomings — but that’s a horse that gets flogged regularly enough on this site. Enough is enough.)

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Classic Records and the TAS List

This is a classic case of Live and Learn. We used to like the Classic Records pressing of LSC 2241 a lot more than we do now. Our system was noticeably darker and also far less revealing when we last auditioned the Classic back in the ’90s, and those two qualities did most of the heavy lifting to disguise its shortcomings.

We mistakenly noted: HP put the Shaded Dog pressing (the only way it comes; there is no RCA reissue to my knowledge) on his TAS List of Super Discs, and with good reason: it’s wonderful!

The rest of our commentary still holds up though:

But for some reason he also put the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl reissue on the list, and that record’s not even passable, let alone wonderful. It’s far too lean and modern sounding, and no original Living Stereo record would ever sound that way, thank goodness. 

If they did few audiophiles would still be paying the top dollar collector prices that the Shaded Dog commands to this day.

Updated Thoughts on the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl Reissue

The Classic on Heavy Vinyl (LSC 2241) is lean and modern sounding. No early Living Stereo pressing sounds like it in our experience, and we can only thank goodness for that. If originals and early reissues did sound more like the Classic pressings, my guess is that few would collect them and practically no one would put much sonic stock in them.

Apparently most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original pressing (or good ’60s or ’70s reissue). If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and recognized and identified as such by us way back in 1994.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled — to this very day! There are dozens on the TAS List for Pete’s sake — but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We do admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock records, and we have the We Was Wrong entries on the site to prove it.)

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Romantic Russia – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take the Sound of this Awful Remaster Seriously?

There actually is such a person who does, can you imagine?

Only an Audiophile True Believer could be fooled by sound so ridiculously unnatural.

But the world is full of such people. They bought into the Audiophile BS of Mobile Fidelity in the ’80s and apparently haven’t learned much since.

Now they think Heavy Vinyl is the answer to the world’s problems. The more things change…

If your stereo is any good at all, you should have no trouble hearing the sonic qualities of this album described below. If you are on this blog, and you have tried some of our Hot Stamper pressings, there is a good chance you’re hearing pretty much what we’re hearing. Why else why would you pay our prices?

One thing I can tell you: we would never charge money for a record that sounds as weird and wrong as this MoFi.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magical sheen and richness.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London which has fairly decent bass.

If a self-styled Audiophile Reviewer cannot hear the obvious faults of this pressing, I would say there’s a good chance one or both of the following is true:

  1. His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,
  2. His listening skills are not sufficiently developed to notice the shortcomings in the sound.

The result is the worst kind of Reviewer Malpractice.

But is it really the worst kind? It seems to be the only kind!

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

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Peter Gabriel / Peter Gabriel (1) – Direct Disk Labs Half Speed Reviewed

Sonic Grade: D

The Direct Disk Labs half-speed here is thick, compressed and lifeless, though fairly rich tonally, a key quality the best UK pressings always have. The good UK pressings — on the original tan label, avoid the blue label reissues, they suck — are full of luscious Tubey Magic.

This is in fact the only Peter Gabriel recording that has that vintage Tubey Magical Analog sound. The worst recording of his first five, So, has the least amount. It is digital, and it sounds like it’s digital, but that is not the kiss of death if you can find a good pressing of it and clean it right.

You could do worse I suppose, but too much of the life of the music will be lost when playing this poorly remastered pressing.  Did they have a good British tape to work with? It doesn’t sound like it.

Is it better than the average domestic pressing, the ones that are clearly made from dubbed sub-generation tapes? Maybe, in some ways, but both this half-speed and the domestic pressings should be avoided by audiophiles looking for top quality sound.

More Peter Gabriel

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speed Mastered Records

The best place to start is here:

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

To learn more about records that sound dramatically better than any Half-Speed ever made (with one rare exception, John Klemmer’s Touch), please consult our FAQ

Below you will find our breakdown of the best and worst Half-Speed mastered records we’ve auditioned over the years.

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters

Half-Speed Mastered Mediocrities

Half-Speed Mastered Winners

Half-Speed Masters – The Complete List (100+ and counting)

The Doors / Waiting For The Sun – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

I recently had a chance to listen again to this DCC pressing for the first time in many years. I was putting it up on ebay to sell and dropped the needle to check the sound. I can’t say I liked what I heard. Knowing the record as well as I do, I could her that the DCC was clearly to be brighter in the midrange.

When I went back to read what I had said about the DCC years ago, I saw that I had described that copy the same way. You can read it for yourself. Our old review follows.

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does this Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, the DCC was the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy like this one throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly quite bothersome. The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The bottom end was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons known best to him.

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.) So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for any one of you who love the album and have a wad of money burning a hole in your pocket.

More of The Doors

More Psych Rock

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys with reputations for doing good work, but the results of their latest collaboration [can you believe this record came out in 2006!?] 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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Curtis Counce LP Testimonial – Wow, It Beat the Fantasy 45!

Many years ago, our good customer Victor sent us this note to tell us how much better his real Contemporary jazz album sounded compared to the Fantasy 45 180g pressing he owns.

We should point out that we sold him a sealed ’70s reissue, something (selling sealed records) we stopped doing a decade or so ago, and that we really have no way of knowing what the record actually sounded like. Given our experience with anything released on the consistently dreadful Analogue Productions label, what were the chances that they could actually beat the real thing? As a practical matter, the answer should be obvious: none, of course.

None? Too harsh you say? Here are two of their worst crimes against jazz-loving audiophiles, crimes they committed using 2 Heavy Vinyl discs mastered at 45 RPM for all the world to hear:

  1. Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
  2. Sonny Rollins Plus 4

Yes, they had the temerity to charge money for their crappy, pointless reissues. The key takeway here is that any label that would release records that sound as bad as these cannot be trusted to do anything right.

Having played many of their remastered releases, we are still waiting for the record on AP that is not either a disaster or, at the very least, clearly worse sounding than many other pressings which are widely available.

And I will never tire of pointing out how bad the two albums linked below are, so bad that I wrote many hundreds of words about their astonishing awfulness.

  1. Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great Hits
  2. Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman

After playing the above four, what would possess us to ever play another?

Now to the letter.

Hi Tom,

Wanted to let you know I did a comparison between the yellow label Contemporary label Curtis Counce, Counceltation Vol. 2 (which I bought sealed from you) and a Fantasy 45 rpm from Analogue productions: Curtis Counce – You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce – which is in fact the same album but with a different title and cover. 

Well I was very anxious to try this comparison, but was not expecting the results. The yellow label was so transparent and tonal weight to the Fantasy 45 rpm there was no contest. The 45 rpm sounded like someone turned on a high bypass filter. The yellow label was balanced throughout. Clean.

I am a subscriber of the Fantasy 45s and own all of them. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice sounding ones in the series, but this is a prime example that not all records are as well mastered.

Regards,

Victor

Victor,

I had every confidence that the real Contemporary pressing would trounce that 180 gram reissue, 45 RPM 2 LP pressing or no 45 RPM 2 LP pressing. The more I play these Heavy Vinyl reissues the less I like them. As we say, the real thing just can’t be beat. Thanks for doing the shootout for us. You can be sure that our Hot Stamper Contemporary jazz pressings will make mincemeat of anything on that Fantasy 45 Series. We guarantee it.

More Contemporary Label Jazz

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus – Try the DCC CD

Our last White Hot Stamper Gold Label Mono pressing went for big bucks, 900 of them in fact.

Of course, a clean original goes for many times that, which is one reason you have never seen such a record on our site.

How much would we have to charge for a Hot Stamper pressing of an album we paid many thousands of dollars for? Far more than our customers would be willing to pay us, that’s for sure.

You Say You Don’t Have Nine Hundred Bucks for This Album?

Try the DCC pressing from 1995.

The DCC Heavy Vinyl pressing is probably a nice record. I haven’t played it in many years, but I remember liking it back in the day.

It’s dramatically better than the ’80s OJC, which, like many OJC pressings, is thin, hard, tizzy up top and devoid of Tubey Magic. (We have many reviews of OJC pressings on this very blog for those who are interested.)

I would be surprised if the DCC Gold CD isn’t even better than their vinyl pressing.

They usually are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I like DCC’s CDs much better than their records. Their records did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-rez, modern transistor cutting system, a subject we discussed in some depth here.