Record Labels with Shortcomings

Gino Vannelli / Powerful People – What Was I Thinking?

More Gino Vannelli

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

At the time of our last shootout in 2014 I still had the MoFi pressing of Powerful People in my personal, very small (at this point) record collection. Almost all the best sounding records from my collection had long ago been sold off, going to good homes that I can only assume would play them more than I had in the last ten years. If it’s a record you see on our site, chances are good I have listened to it until I’d practically turned blue in the face.

But I had kept my Powerful People half-speed these 30+ years because the domestic pressings I’d played were just too damn midrangy to enjoy. At least the MoFi had bass, top end and didn’t sound squawky or hard on the vocals.

Well, let me tell you, played against the best domestic pressings, of which this is one, the MoFi is laughable. (In that respect it shares much with the current crop of audiophile reissues.) It’s unbelievably compressed, a problem that is easily heard on the biggest, most exciting parts of the tracks — they never get remotely as big or as loud on the MoFi as they do on the lowly A&M originals. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 – Speakers Corner Remasters a Classic Mercury, Part One

More Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

xxxxx

 

This commentary was written in 2004. We carried Heavy Vinyl back then, and for that I would like to apologize. Like the audiophiles of today, at the time I thought I knew a great deal more about records and their proper reproduction than I actually did.

Yes, I admit it: I suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect. There is one very powerful benefit that I gained from being so mistaken. Having experienced it myself, the signs that you think you know more than you do are very easy to spot in others.  If you want to see the effect firsthand, go to any audiophile forum and start reading any thread you find there. It would be hard to miss.

Some thoughts on the new 180 gram Mercury reissues by Speakers Corner and a bunch of other record related stuff.

The Absolute Sound weighed in with their view of the series:

Speakers Corner has given these recordings the respect they deserve. The packaging is gorgeous: a black album titled “The Living Presence of 20th Century Music” and displaying the Mercury logo holds the three records with their original covers and liner notes. In addition, there are informative annotations on the music and Dorati, and a history of Mercury Living Presence…They sound at least as good and in some ways better than the originals…There are no negatives and not enough superlatives to describe these magnificent reissues. It’s rare that performance, sound, and musical value combine at this level in a recording.

Arthur B. Lintgen, The Absolute Sound, February/March 2004

Let me start by saying that I have not listened to a single one of the new Mercury titles.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state for the record that the chances of the above statements as quoted in TAS being true are so close to zero that they cannot be calculated by anything but the latest Cray computer.

Has Speakers Corner produced a single classical record that’s better than a good original pressing? One or two. Maybe. So what are the chances they did so with these? Almost none I would say. (more…)

Led Zeppelin II – Stan Ricker Versus Robert Ludwig

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

More Led Zeppelin

ledzeII_1501_1351687045

Here is the story of my first encounter with a amazing sounding copy of Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.

The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.

Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I had heard in the past.

So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a good pressing is the best way to understand what’s wrong with a bad pressing. (more…)

The Who – Tommy

More of The Who

xxxxx

  • Outstanding sound for all four sides with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on side one and solid Double Plus (A++) grades on the remaining three sides
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl too – they don’t come our way with audiophile quality surfaces like these very often, almost never in fact
  • Our early Black Label British Track pressing here has the rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that has the power to immerse you in the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy named Tommy
  • Top 100, and clearly our pick for the best sounding album The Who ever made – when you play a copy that sounds as good as this one we think you’ll have no problem seeing our point
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…Townshend’s ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music.”

*NOTE: On all four sides, a very small warp is not audible.

I know of no other Who album with such consistently good sound — song to song, not copy to copy, of course. Just about every song on here can sound wonderful on the right pressing. If you’re lucky enough to get a Hot Stamper copy, you’re going to be blown away by the Tubey Magical Guitars, the rock-solid bottom end, the jumpin’-out-of-the-speakers presence and dynamics, and the silky vocals and top end.

Usually the best we can give you for The Who is “Big and Rockin,” but on Tommy, we can give you ’60s analog magic that will all but disappear in the decades to follow.

Acoustic guitar reproduction is key to this recording, and on the best copies the harmonic coherency, the richness, the body and the phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard in every strum. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Hoodoo Man Blues on Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – “How the hell did this get released???”

More Analogue Productions

One of our good customers had this to say about a record he played recently:

Hey Tom,   

Not a hot stamper update, but thought to write briefly…

I’ve been experimenting a bit with some of the Analogue Productions stuff, as unlike you I’ve had some mixed success here. However…

OMG. I just opened their pressing of Junior Welles’ Hoodoo Man Blues. It’s, pardon my crudity, not fit to wipe your ass with. The most disgusting perversion of this record imaginable. I’m choking even hearing it. Rank amateurs at the controls it seems… how the hell did this get released??? Are they deaf? Are they even listening to what they’re putting out, or just pressing money? It’s too nauseating to describe, but all your usual terms fit exactly; no ambiance, bloated, unreal EQ, compressed and flat and dead, completely f*cking off. I’m just amazed.

The only reason I ventured here is that I have had some good luck with them on various jazz recordings, where the tricks do seem to help (45rpm, master tapes all analogue, etc.). Not so here. Everything you rage about holds true and is possibly the worst case of it I’ve ever come across.

Just sharing with the thought that there is a RANGE of AP stuff; it’s not all this bad. This pressing is escort-it-off-the-property-and-dispose-of-in-someone-else’s-garbage-can-bad.

C

(Meanwhile, latest box of hot stampers arrived today, and are glorious as usual.)

Conrad,

I take issue with any of AP’s records being any good.  None of their “tricks” ever managed to help them produce a record I would want to own. The best one I heard was Fragile, and even that was mediocre at best.

Here is a typical review for one of their godawful remasterings:

Vince Guaraldi – A Bloated Mess at 45 RPM from Acoustech

We flushed good money down the drain in order to suffer through the 45 Analogue Productions cutting of the album. What a mess. Ridiculously bloated overblown bass is its major shortcoming, but compression and an overall lifeless quality are obvious problems that made us give up on it pretty quickly.

This is the kind of sound that audiophiles want? I find that hard to believe. It’s what they’re stuck with because the good early pressings are just too hard to find and too noisy and groove damaged when you do find them.

Most pressings of this album, the OJC and the later reissues especially, are just plain awful, so for the typical audiophile record collector the 45 might actually be a step up over those pressings. Like so much of the heavy vinyl we have played in the last few years, we did not find the sound enjoyable or compelling. I would venture a guess that the DCC gold CD is clearly better overall.

Some audiophiles have complained that we spend too much time bashing Heavy Vinyl, but if ever a record deserved it, it’s that one. It’s a failure as a remastering and an insult to the analog buying audiophile public at large. Searching the web I am glad to see that no one seems to have anything nice to say about it as of this writing. No one should, but that has not deterred the reviewers and forum posters in the past. (more…)

The Who – Who By Numbers

More of The Who

xxxxx

  • An outstanding pressing with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • Glyn Johns’ MAGIC is on display here, with open mics in a big studio space creating the 3-D Soundscapes we love
  • Features two of their most iconic songs, Slip Kid and Squeezebox, and both sound great on this copy
  • 4 Stars – Rolling Stone raves: “They may have made their greatest album in the face of [their personal problems]. But only time will tell.”

In our opinion this is the best — and best sounding — Who album released post-Quadrophenia. (more…)

Frank Sinatra / Sinatra At The Sands – The Ideal Audiophile Pressing

More Frank Sinatra

More Count Basie

xxxxx

If you’re the kind of audiophile who doesn’t want to do the work required to find a top quality vintage pressing on his own, or buy one from us, this is actually a very good sounding record and a good way for you to go.

It’s ideal for most audiophiles.

Ask yourself three questions:

Do you want the expense and hassle of finding a nice original stereo copy?

Do you want to invest in proper record cleaning equipment to restore the glorious sound of the original’s 50-plus year old vinyl?

Do you want to spend the time (decades) and money (tens of thousands of dollars) to build and tweak a top quality analog playback system?

If you don’t want to do these things, you are not alone.

In fact, you are clearly in the majority, part of that enormously tall, fat bulge right in the middle of the bell curve. As the quintessential audiophile record lover, a big part of the mass of the mass-market, Mobile Fidelity has made the perfect record for you.

It’s quiet, it’s tonally correct, and on the mediocre equipment you will use to play it back with, it does not seem to be especially veiled, opaque or compressed.

It is indeed all of these things, and many more, but you will have no reason to suspect that anything is wrong with it.

More precisely, you will have no way to know that anything is wrong with it.

We know exactly what’s wrong with it, but that’s because we are very serious about records and audio, as serious as they come. Who digs deeper than we do?

Now that you have failed to note its many shortcomings, the only thing remaining is for you to go to an audiophile forum and write your review, telling everyone how much better it is than whatever crappy pressing you owned and will be trading in soon. (This assumes you owned anything at all. I would be surprised if the average audiophile has a vintage copy of the album to compare with the new one, but no doubt some do.)

If you want to hold the pressings you play to a higher sonic standard, we are here to help.

If setting a low bar is more your style, Mobile Fidelity has been making records for you for more than fifty years. As long as you keep buying them, they’ll keep making them. They’ve been setting a very low bar for as long as I can remember, and the fact that they are still around is positive proof that their customers like it just fine that way.

FURTHER READING

This record has middling sound, and naturally we have a section for records of that quality.

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Ten Years After – A Killer Audio Fidelity Gold CD

A Space in Time

tenyeaspac_tubeymagic_1349103839

Our old commentary:

A Great CD Is Born

By the way, the BGO Import CD of this album is excellent. No match for a Hot Stamper of course, but dramatically better than the average classic rock CD, and quite a bit better than the domestic CDs we’ve auditioned.

Newsflash (3/2014)

The Audio Fidelity Gold CD mastered by Steve Hoffman is even better. If you don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper LP, that CD is your best bet (assuming it sounds as good as mine, something one cannot assume but that’s a story for another day).

Letter of the Week – A Ghost in the Machine Shootout, Including the New Abbey Road Reissue

Ghost in the Machine

More Sting and The Police

One of our good customers had this to say about a record he read about on the blog, the Nautilus pressing of Ghost in the Machine.

Hey Tom,   

Did you write something about the Nautilus record… I thought so, but I couldn’t find it. [The Ghost in the Machine link above will take you to it.]

This is one of my favorites from my teenage years and so I decided to do my own little test… Sterling vs. Nautilus vs. half speed abbey road reissue… it feels pretty clear the Sterling is tops with Nautilus close but I am surprised at how muddy the bass sounds on the new one. And just how tamped down the record sounds. Which is I guess your point.

Geoff

Geoff,

You now know more about this album than the typical audiophile expressing an opinion of it on the audiophile forums!

You should not be surprised about muddy bass on half-speed mastered records, they all have it.

And tamped down? Tell me about it. Compressed and lifeless are two qualities the audiophile record can be guaranteed to deliver. How these companies get away with producing one shitty remaster after another is beyond me.  They’ve been making this junk for more than forty years and they’re still making it.

Welcome to the upside down world of the modern audiophile record. The worse they sound, the more audiophiles seem to like them.

Your shootout provided you with a good lesson to learn right from the start to set you on the right path.

Try this experiment: Take four or five UK pressings, clean them up and then compare them to any of the ones you played — the sound would be night and day better. And, after doing that shootout, one of the four or five would be a truly Hot Stamper pressing.

Those are what we sell. We save you all that work and expense and give you a better record than you could probably find on your own, but if you want to do your own shootouts, we have lots of advice on this very blog to help you do that. (more…)

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

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 MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and 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. (more…)