Labels With Shortcomings – Analogue Productions

A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Record Reviewing

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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

Sonny Rollins – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

And this is some very bad analog indeed!

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – Reviewed in 2010

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and believe me, I’ve heard plenty

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?”

It reminds me of the turgid muck that Doug Sax was cutting for Analogue Productions back in the ’90s. The CD has to sound better than this. There’s no way could it sound worse.

CD Update: I managed to track down a copy of the CD and it DOES sound better than this awful record, and by a long shot. It’s not a great sounding CD, but it sure isn’t the disaster this record is. Buy the CD and whatever you do, don’t waste money on this kind of crap vinyl.

This is a very bad sounding record, so bad that one minute’s play will have you up and out of your chair trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with your system. But don’t bother. It’s not your stereo, it’s this record.

It has the power to make your perfectly enjoyable speakers sound like someone has wrapped them in four inches of cotton bunting.

Presence? Gone!

Transients? Who needs ’em!

Ambience, Openness, Three-Dimensionality?

Uh, will you consider settling for Murk, Bloat and Smear? There’s a Special on them today at Acoustic Sounds.

And yet no one seems to have noticed, except us of course.

Inspected By… Nobody?

Ask yourself this question. How did this record get approved? Did no one ever play it? Hoffman and Gray let their names be put on this piece of crap? Kassem I can understand; he’s been making bad records for more than twenty years and wouldn’t know a good record if it bit him in the butt. But this is really beyond the pale. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. I honestly don’t think I have a CD that sounds this bad, and I have hundreds of them. (I play them in the car.)

We don’t feel it’s incumbent upon us to defend the sound of these pressings. We think for the most part they are awful and we want nothing to do with them.

But don’t those who DO think these remastered pressings sound good — the audiophile reviewers and the forum posters specifically — have at least some obligation to point out to the rest of the audiophile community that at least one of them is spectacularly bad, as is surely the case here.

Is it herd mentality? Is it that they don’t want to rock the boat? They can’t say something bad about even one of these Heavy Vinyl pressings because that might reflect badly on all of them?

I’m starting to feel like Mr. Jones: Something’s going on, but I don’t know what it is. Dear reader, this is the audiophile world we live in today. If you expect anyone to tell you the truth about the current crop of remastered vinyl, you are in for some real disappointment.

We don’t have the time to critique what’s out there, and it seems that the reviewers and forum posters lack the — what? desire, courage, or maybe just the basic critical listening skills — to do it properly.

Which means that in the world of Heavy Vinyl, it’s every man for himself.

And a very different world from the world of Old Vinyl, the kind we offer. In our world we are behind you all the way. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or you get your money back.

Now which world would you rather live in?

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Bola Sete – Analogue Productions Reviewed

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bola Sete

Hot Stamper Pressings of Bossa Nova Recordings Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Acoustic Sounds had Stan Ricker remaster this record a number of years ago, and of course they (he) ruined it. A twinkly top end and flabby bass were just two of the major shortcomings of their version. Nothing surprising there, as Stan Ricker is famous for his “smile” curve, boosting both ends of the audio spectrum, whether they need boosting or not. (They rarely do).

When you add too much top end to a guitar album and ruin the sound of the guitar, what exactly are you left with?

Please note that not a single title from the Analog Revival series is any good, to the best of my knowledge, and every last one of them should be avoided if high quality sound is important to you.

The same is true for all the 180 gram jazz titles on Analogue Productions that were mastered by Doug Sax, as you may have read elsewhere on the site. Those records received rave reviews in the audiophile press when they came out, but you won’t find too many audiophile reviewers sticking up for them now, as they are, without exception, murky, compressed disasters of the worst kind.

I guess these reviewers eventually acquired equipment accurate enough to notice how bad those pressings are, which I guess goes to show there is hope for practically anyone.

Chet Baker – Acoustic Sounds Hires Doug Sax to Ruin a Classic Jazz Album

More of the Music of Chet Baker

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Trumpet

The less said about this awful Doug Sax remastering for Analogue Productions in the mid-’90s the better. What a murky piece of crap that was.

Audiophile reviewers may have been impressed, but even way back then we knew a bad sounding record when we played one, and that pressing was very bad indeed.

One further note: the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today, twenty-five years later, have a similar suite of shortcomings, sounding every bit as bad if not worse, and fooling the same audiophile reviewers and their followers to this very day.

Nothing has changed, other than we have come along to offer the discriminating audiophile an alternative to the muddy messes these labels have been churning out for decades.

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What Willie and Nat Can Teach Us about Heavy Vinyl

More of the Music of Willie Nelson

Reviews and Commentaries for Stardust

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

Hello team,

I’ve been a little distracted here, I got married over the weekend! So, haven’t done as much listening over the past couple of weeks. However, I did have a chance to listen to Stardust and Love Is The Thing. They were both different than their Classic Records and Analogue Productions counterparts. Willie sounded a little smoother, more organic, and more integrated.

The strings on Love Is The Thing were very different, more pronounced and emotional, but Nat’s voice, and the sound overall, sounded a little strident, maybe “too” hot.

I’d like to send them both back to you, and if you have a chance to send back the discs I sent to you I’d very much appreciate it. All told, the two big sets of Better Records are really incredible, and only serve to make my want list grow. Here’s to you and the next set!

Doug,

We now have the update for those two titles.

I, along with the two other guys in our listening panels, sat down to play the Heavy Vinyl you sent us, and the long and short of it is that we were astonished that records that sound as bad as those two actually were approved for release.

Nat is wrong six ways from Sunday, and Willie is not so much wrong as just not very good.

Nat: “F”, one of the worst heavy vinyl disasters of all time, and Willie: “D” sound, more like a bad CD than a record. There are many pressings of this album that are not good, but this version is probably worse than most of them, hence the D grade.

The old Classic pressing is probably better, and it would earn about a C grade. {I honestly do not remember exactly what pressing Douglas sent us. All I remember is that it was on Heavy Vinyl.]

I suspect the CDs of both these pressings are much better sounding than this vinyl. The DCC gold is definitely better by a long shot, and the plain old Willie CD is probably a step up as well. 

A FURTHER UPDATE

The DCC Nat King Cole CDs which I recommended earlier now drive me up a wall. Can’t stand the Hoffman remix. Sorry for the error!

I will be writing a review with more depth down the road, taken from my notes. How these records can be enjoyed by anyone is beyond me. Some of the worst sound I have ever heard, and I have heard plenty! (You can find more than 250 reviews for bad audiophile records here. These are records that no audiophile in his right mind should even consider buying.)

Take any or all of the above for what it’s worth.

Best, TP

Whoa!

I am surprised! Very different take from what I’m hearing at home – would it be okay for me to take another week or two to do some more A/B listening of Stardust and Love Is The Thing on my system?

I’d like to reread “what to listen for” and really do a deep comparison of a couple tracks on each.

* Really * appreciate your time and feedback!

Douglas

A few weeks went by and we asked Douglas how his shootout went. He replied:

Howdy Tom,

Life has been a little crazy but my buddy Miguel Nelson (who turned me on to Better Records) came up and we listened to Willie and Nat, and our experience lined up pretty well with yours. The new pressings offered clarity, separation, and a quiet background, at the expense of the warmth, emotion, organic integration, subtlety, range and impact, which the Better Records copies offered in spades!

Douglas

Douglas,

That’s what we heard. Glad you heard it too.

Clarity, separation and a quiet background are what people like about the sound of CDs.

Warmth, emotion, organic integration, subtlety, range, impact and a whole lot more are what people like about Analog.

The vintage pressings we offer have more of these analog qualities than modern pressings.

Those vintage pressings with more of the analog qualities we prize are labelled Hot Stampers.

They are right in a way that the typical Half-Speed Mastered or Heavy Vinyl pressing rarely is.

The more critically one listens, the more obvious the differences become.

The real thing just can’t be beat, and you can be pretty sure that the real thing is an old record.

Here are some letters from customers who took another listen to the records we’d sent them and belatedly recognized the superior sound of our Hot Stamper pressings the second time around.


FURTHER READING

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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.

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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 remastered classical records are to the sound of the actual instruments in 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 speak from experience.


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.