Labels With Shortcomings – Analogue Productions

Kenny Burrell – “After returning to the 45 RPM there was no enjoyment, so I dropped the needle on the stamper one more time, and then I heard it…”

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Kenny Burrell

Reviews and Commentaries for Midnight Blue

A good customer had this to say about a recent shootout:

By the way side 2 of Midnight Blue bested every other copy I played including the 45 RPM Blue Note AP reissue. The 45 RPM is very good. You know that technically it is right, but at the same time it’s missing something. When I listened to the [Hot] stamper copy you dug up for me I found it a little noisy at first and wasn’t sure if I could live with it. However after returning to the 45 RPM there was no enjoyment, so I dropped the needle on the stamper one more time, and then I heard it…

I know what you mean about these modern reissues “missing something”. No matter how well mastered they may be, they’re almost always missing whatever it is that makes the analog record such a special listening experience. I hear that “analog” sound practically nowhere else outside of the live event (and, of course, the vintage LP). 

Thanks for your letter. 
TP

Our Classic Records Review

Pretty flat and lifeless. You would never understand why audiophiles rave about this recording by listening to the Classic Records pressing.

We played it up against our best, and as expected it was nothing to write home about. Since Rudy has remastered and ruined practically all the Blue Note CDs by now, you will have your work cut out for you if you want to find a good sounding version of Midnight Blue. This sure ain’t one.

Of course we would be more than happy to get you an amazing sounding copy — it’s what we do — but the price will be five to ten times (or more) what the Classic costs. In our opinion it’s money well spent.

Since the Classic conveys very little of what the musicians were up to whilst recording the album, our advice is to cross it off your list of records of interest. It’s thirty bucks down the drain.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to Their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Can Be Bothered to Find Out?

More of the Music of Count Basie

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version, as well as any other Basie album they have done or will ever do on vinyl.

A good customer emailed us back in 2012 with the quote below, authenticating our rather negative disposition at the time concerning the AP releases from the ’90s:

Recently I unearthed a pile of “The Tracking Angle” magazines, MF’s short-lived venture in publishing, that I’d kept all these years (this may damn me in your eyes, but at the time he was one of the more animated [animated but consistently wrong, not a good tradeoff] writers on audio). I dutifully reread the very first issue (Jan. 1995) for the first time in many years, even a review of “Tea for the Tillerman,”… I was flabbergasted to come across this:

So what does Mr. “Better Records” think? In a newsletter where he says a digital remastered OJC vinyl title sounds better than Acoustic Sounds’ all analogue version and says the whole lot of them “suck” and “simply cannot sound good on a good stereo,” he calls this Cat Stevens reissue “Fabulous. Very dynamic with plenty of presence in the midrange, unlike the ‘audiophile’ records of today.”

We proudly stand behind every word. If the comparable OJC title sounds better than the remastered one Acoustic Sounds is peddling, then it sounds better, digital remastering or no digital remastering. We don’t pay any attention to who makes the records, how they make them or why they make them. We just play them and let the chips fall will they may. Mr. Fremer thinks that making records the “right” way should result in better sounding records, but we have found precious little evidence to back up that theory, and volumes of evidence refuting it.

Yes, those Analogue Productions records sucked, they continue to suck, and they will always suck. The “audiophile” records of that day did lack presence, and the passage of time is not going to change that fact. Play practically any Reference, Chesky or Classic title from 1995 to the present day and listen for the veiled midrange, the opacity, the smeary transients, and the generally constricted, compressed, lifeless quality of its sound, a sound that has been boring us to tears for close to two decades (and fundamentally undermining the very rationale for the expense and hassle of analog itself in the modern digital age, a much more serious charge).

Ask yourself, where are those records now?

Piled on the ash heap of analog history, that’s where (apologies to Leon Trotsky). Nobody writes about them anymore, and it’s not because they were so good, no matter what any audiophile-type reviewer thought or may think about them.

As long as Analogue Productions is around, at least no one can say that Mobile Fidelity makes the worst sounding audiophile records in the world. They are certainly some of the worst, but not so hopeless that they have never made a single good sounding record, which is the title that Chad Kassem holds.

To the best of our knowledge. Obviously we have only played a small fraction of the records released on his godawful label. In our defense let me say that a small fraction was all we could take.


FURTHER READING

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Letter of the Week – “I now have had a listening experience for myself that confirms all the comments you make on heavy vinyl.”

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

95% of my record collection are now hot stampers. The other 5% are albums of my youth I am hanging on to waiting for a future shootout. I have no heavy vinyl.

A friend of mine got a 180g Analogue Productions copy of Amos Lee for me as a gift. When I first played it on my system, it sounded clear (no surface noise) but the sound was off (more digital than analog).

I imaged it playing in a reference room of a high end audio store and people sitting commenting how good it sounds. As the record played something was just not right. It sounded overly engineered – if that’s possible.

I pulled out a Bob Dylan (2/2) and listened; then another cut of Amos Lee; then a (3/3) Neil Young. The heavy vinyl just did not sound natural to me.

I now have had a listening experience for myself that confirms all the comments you make on heavy vinyl.

Thanks Tom for Hot Stampers!

Mike

Mike,Thanks for your letter, glad to hear that you hear what we hear!

You carried out your own little record experiment, and discovered the dirty little secret of the Heavy Vinyl pressing: they don’t sound right, at least not up against a real record.

We’ve carried out a few of our own, and you can find a bunch of them here:

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

You also no doubt improved your critical listening skills, and the better they get, the worse modern records sound. We have written a fair bit about that as well.

Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

With better critical listening skills, you have two options: do your own shootouts, or let us do them for you. There is no other way to find high quality pressings of the music you love.

Thanks for your letter.TP

P.S.

What is lost in the newly remastered recordings so popular with the record collecting public these days ? Lots of things, but the most obvious and irritating is the loss of transparency.

Modern records tend to be small, veiled and recessed, and they rarely image well. But the most important quality they lack is transparency. Almost without exception they are opaque. They resist our efforts to hear into the music and get lost in it.

We don’t like that sound, and like it less with each passing day, although we certainly used to put up with it back when we were selling what we considered to be the better Heavy Vinyl pressings from the likes of DCC, Speakers Corner, Cisco and even some Classic Records.

Now when we play the vinyl those companies produced they either bore us to tears or frustrate us with their veiled, vague, lifeless, ambience-challenged presentation.

It was sometime in 2007 when we turned a corner. The remastered Blue on Rhino Heavy Vinyl came out and was such a mediocrity that we asked ourselves “Why are we bothering?” That was all she wrote.

We stopped selling those third-rate remasters and dedicated ourselves to finding, cleaning, playing and critically evaluating vintage pressings, regardless of era or genre of music.

The result is a website full of great sounding records that should find special appeal with audiophiles who set high standards, who own good equipment and who have well-developed critical listening skills.

A Simple Listening Test Makes It Easy to Judge Pressings of Scheherazade

Hot Stamper Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Advice on What to Listen For on Classical Records

The Classic reissue of LSC 2446 is a disaster for many reasons, but it does have one specific failing that is easy to recognize and worth further discussion and analysis.

As I noted for some of the Classic Heifetz titles a while back, for all I know the CDs for his Living Stereo recordings may have better sound. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s rather poor track record regarding the remastering of his music.

Case in point: The Living Stereo CD I own (both the CD and the SACD) of Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it.

Audiophiles who don’t notice what is wrong with the Classic pressing need to get hold of a nice RCA White Dog pressing to see just how poorly the Classic stacks up. (They could even find one that’s not so nice and listen through the surface noise. The difference would still be obvious.)

The solo violin in the left channel at the opening of the first movement should be all it takes.

Anyone has ever attended a classical music concert should have no trouble recognizing that the violin on any of the Heavy Vinyl pressings, including the Analogue Productions pressing, is completely wrong and sounds nothing like a violin in a concert hall would ever sound.

And I mean ever.

No matter where you might be sitting.

No matter how good or bad the hall’s acoustics.

The violin on these Heavy Vinyl pressings is dark, it’s veiled, and it’s overly rich, as well as lacking in overtones.

Solo violins in live performance never sound anything like that.

They are clear, clean and present. You have no trouble at all “seeing” them, no matter where you sit.

My best sounding White Dog pressing had that kind of clear and present sound for the violin.

Neither of the Heavy Vinyl reissues I auditioned did.

A pressing of Scheherazade that fails to reproduce the solo violin, the musical voice of the young lady herself, fails utterly and completely, no matter how big, rich and powerful the opening brass may be.

If you think your Heavy Vinyl pressings are doing justice to the sound of classical music, please attend a live concert as soon as possible in order to disabuse yourself of that notion.

Once you hear how unfaithful your classical records are to the sound of the live performance, you can begin to collect records of higher fidelity.

Would Adjusting the VTA for the Heavier Weight Vinyl Fix the Problem?

Probably not. VTA is all about balance. You can get the violin to be brighter and clearer by changing the VTA, but now listen for the weight of the opening brass. When the VTA is wrong, the brass won’t sound right. Neither will the percussion. Neither will the space of the hall be right. Neither will the orchestral perspective.

Adjusting for all these elements involve tradeoffs. When all the elements sound close to their best, and none of them are “wrong,” the VTA is pretty much right.

And that solo violin will not be much better. It is what it is, it sounds the way it sounds, because the mastering engineer got it wrong. You cannot fix bad mastering by changing the VTA.

Tea for the Tillerman?

Back in the ’80s, when I first got into the audiophile record business, I had a customer tell me how much he liked the UHQR of Tea for the Tillerman. This was a record I was selling sealed for $25. And you could buy as many as you liked at that price! I was paying $9 for them and could order them by the hundreds if I’d wanted to. (Yes, I admit I had no shame.)

I replied to this fellow that “the MoFi is awfully bright, don’t you think?”

“Oh no, you just adjust your VTA until the sound is tonally correct.”

At the time I could not adjust my VTA, so I filed that bit of information away for a later time.

When I finally did get a tonearm with adjustable VTA, I quickly learned that trying to correct the tonality of a record with VTA adjustments was a fool’s game.

The tonality might be better, but the bass would get wonky and weird, the deepest notes would disappear or become boosted, the highs would sound artificial, various elements of the recording would randomly become louder and softer, wreaking havoc with the balance of the mix, and on and on.

In other words, fixing one thing would cause lots of other things to go wrong.

This fellow couldn’t hear it, and like a lot of audiophiles writing about records these days, he simply did not have the critical listening skills to notice all the problems he was creating with his “fix.”

My skills were pretty poor back then too. I have worked very hard for the last 30 years or so to improve them. I did it by experimenting on records, and experimenting with VTA adjustments has taught me a lot.

It showed me that I could get dramatically better sound by playing with the VTA for ten or twenty minutes until I found the ideal setting.

It also taught me that trying to fix a mastering problem by adjusting the VTA will only work if you haven’t developed much in the way of critical listing skills.

Comparing the way the violin sounds on various pressings of Scheherazade will help you to develop these skills, as long as you know what this music should sound like in performance. You need both, and doing one without the other won’t get you very far. I spent my first twenty years in audio “in the wilderness,” so to speak, so I believe I am on solid ground with this advice.


A PUBLIC SERVICE

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The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds: Analogue Productions Takes on the Hot Stamper

One of our good customers has started writing a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to a comparison Robert Brook carried out between two pressings of Pet Sounds – the Analogue Productions pressing and one of our Hot Stampers.

We’ve written quite a bit about the album, and you can find plenty of our Reviews and Commentaries for Pet Sounds on this very blog.

Pet Sounds: Analogue Productions Takes on the Hot Stamper

I have never heard the AP pressing, and have no plans at this time to play one, mostly because not a single one that I have heard on my system was any better than awful.

You can read some of my reviews here:

Analogue Productions

I wrote a very long review of their disastrous Tea for the Tillerman, which you may find of interest:

Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman – This Is Your Idea of Analog?

And followed it up with a two part exegesis on the 45 RPM version. We are nothing if not thorough.

Why Would Anyone Want to Take All the Fun Out of CCR’s Music?

More of the Music of Creedence Clearwater Revival

Sonic Grade: F

The last time I played the MoFi pressing mentioned below I found the sound so weirdly colored as to defy understanding. Ten years ago when I wrote the commentary below I apparently found it more tolerable.

More recently I obviously did not. When an audiophile record sounds worse than it used to, there is a very good chance that you have made some Progress in Audio.

Of course this is not something to be assumed. (Speaking of assumptions, you can find more on the subject here).

Rather it is something to be tested. (You can read more about some of the rigorous and extensive record testing we have conducted over the last twenty years here.)

Even if 99 times out of a hundred it turns out to be the case that the modern remastered record can now be seen for the fake it always was, there is still a one out of a hundred chance that the record may in fact be better than you remember.

These audiophile records are easily called out for their illusory superiority for the simple reason that the better your stereo gets, the more obvious their colorations and shortcomings become. This was my experience, and I pass this information on in the hopes that you will make progress with your stereo system and find them every bit as wrong as I did.

We’ve created a section for the worst of them, and even with 266 entries we could easily double that number if we were inclined to audition more of them and catalog their shortcomings.

With the number of Heavy Vinyl records being pressed today, triple or quadruple that number I suspect would be doable. Thank god we are in the business of selling good records and not in the business of reviewing bad ones.

Analogue Productions 

As for the AP pressing discussed below, the last time I played one it had all the bad qualities of the Bonnie Raitt disc on DCC that I’ve grown to dislike so much. But what the new AP version really gets wrong is the guitar sound. Creedence’s music lives or dies by its guitar sound, and the AP pressing is as dead as they come.

The fat, smeary, overly-smooth guitars you hear on the record, lacking any semblance of the grungy energy that are the true hallmarks of this band’s recordings, mean that some audiophile mastering engineer got hold of the tapes and tried to “fix” what he didn’t like about the sound.

You know, the sound that is all over the radio to this very day. Something was apparently wrong with it. So now that it’s been fixed, everything that’s good about CCR’s recordings is missing, and everything that has replaced those sonic elements has made the sound worse.

Nice job! Keep up the good work. Chad is proud of ya, no doubt about it.

Our old commentary follows, some of which we obviously no longer agree with:

Years ago a customer sent me his copy of the Analogue Productions LP (mastered by Hoffman and Gray) in order to carry out a little shootout I had planned among the five copies I could pull together: two MoFi’s, the Fantasy ORC reissue, a blue label original, the AP, and another reissue. 

Let’s just say there were no real winners, but there sure were some losers.

My take on the Hoffman version is simply this: it has virtually no trace of TUBEY ANALOG MAGIC. None to speak of anyway.

It sounds like a clean, tonally correct but fairly bass-shy CD. No pressing I played managed to be so tonally correct and so boring at the same time. The MoFi has plenty of weird EQ colorations, the kind that bug the hell out of me on 98% of their crappy catalog, but at least it sounds like analog. It’s warm, rich and sweet. The AP copy has none of those qualities.

More pointless 180g sound, to my ear anyway. I couldn’t sit through it with a gun to my head.

You would need a LOT of vintage tubes in your system to get the AP record to sound right, and then everything else in your collection would sound worse.


FURTHER READING

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

More of the Music of Yes

Reviews and Commentaries for 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!

More Contemporary Label Jazz

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

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 takeaway 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.

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Classic Records Stops Making Bad Records But Acoustic Sounds Picks Up Where They Left Off

classicclaritybox

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

DATELINE 8/29/2010

Classic Records has officially gone under. They will not be missed, not by us anyway, except for this reason: to borrow a line from Richard Nixon, I guess we won’t have Classic Records to kick around anymore. We’ve been beating that dead horse since the day they started back in 1994. There are scores of commentaries on the site about their awful records for those who care to read about such things.

The last review we wrote for them, for their remastered Scheherazade, is one in which we awarded the Classic a sonic grade of F.

TAS Superdisc List to this day? Of course it is!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have somehow managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop carrying them in 2011.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding and starts revealing the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues. Every Hot Stamper commentary is fundamentally about the specific attributes that make one copy of a given album better than another, and how much of them you’re getting for your money with the unique pressing on offer.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile as you’ve no doubt read by now. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

With Old School equipment you will continue to be fooled by bad records, just as I and all my audio buds were fooled twenty and thirty years ago. Audio has improved immensely in that time. If you’re still playing Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile pressings there’s a world of sound you’re missing. We would love to help you find it. (more…)

Cat Stevens on 2 Heavy Vinyl 45 RPM Discs, Part 2 – Is This the Truest Tillerman of Them All?

More Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens / Tea for the Tillerman on Two 200 Gram Discs Cut at 45 RPM

If you haven’t read Part 1 of this story, please click here.

Back to our real story. I listened to my good original pressing. I call it White Hot at least!

Then I put the new pressing on the table, set the SDS for 45 RPM, and got the volume just right. I proceeded to carefully adjust the VTA by ear, going up and down with the arm until the sound was right, which is simply standard operating procedure for every record we audition.

These are my actual notes for But I Might Die Tonight.

This is what I heard as the song worked its way through the various sections, in real time.  The first thing I heard at the start was Zero Tubey Magic for the first verse. One of the last things I heard at the end was No Real Space. Space is what you hear at the end for the big piano and drums finish.

Let’s take it line by line. First up:

Zero Tubey Magic

I didn’t hear much Tubey Magic on the new pressing. The best early pressings — domestic A&M Browns, Pink or Sunray UK Islands — often have simply phenomenal amounts of the stuff. It’s a hallmark of the recording.

If a new pressing comes along without it, that’s a problem. I guess that George Marino‘s cutting system at Sterling could probably do some things well, but it sure doesn’t seem to be able get the sound of tubes right. His 33 RPM cutting had no Tubey Magic, and this one has no Tubey Magic. If I had hired him to cut a record for me and it came out sounding like this, I would find somebody else to cut records for me.

He’s dead now, rest in peace. I would doubt that anyone at Sterling has a better cutting system, and therefore no one should expect any records that have been mastered there to sound very good.

Vocal Is Clear, Clean and Dry

This is the sound you sometimes get with modern, super-clean transistor cutting equipment. It’s low distortion, like a CD is low distortion. We don’t think we should have to put up with dry vocals on records when the good pressings we have been playing all our lives have noticeably richer vocals.

Not rich like Dream With Dean, nothing is that rich, but rich and full-bodied the way the good pressings of this album always make them sound.

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