Labels with Shortcomings – CBS Half-Speeds

Boston Hot Stamper Testimonial – Shooting Out the Big Three

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This week’s letter comes from our good customer Roger, who did a little shootout of his own among three very different sounding pressings: two Half-Speeds, one by MoFi and one by CBS, probably the two most popular pressings among audiophiles, and our very own Hot Stamper LP. Here are his findings. Keep in mind that Roger bought a copy priced at $125, half the price of the best copy in our shootout.

Hi Tom,

I got your Boston hot stamper today and enjoyed comparing it to MFSL and CBS half-speed versions in a shootout. I had long since given up on listening to this record since it became part of a communist ploy to brainwash us by playing Boston repeatedly on the radio until we would give up any information they desired. “Deep Purple Lite” was what my college buddies and I used to derisively call it. Now I only wish we had this type of music still around. So I had fun reliving my college days and listening to this LP.

For a pop recording, it is a pretty good recording soundwise, and all 3 pressings were indeed good, if not interesting. I tried the CBS half-speed first, and it was tonally lean with good speed and detail, and bass was extended and quick. However, its Achilles heel was that it had too much energy on top and excessive brightness, something that couldn’t hide from my speakers’ ion tweeters.

Roger, you seem to be using the phrase “tonally lean” unpejoratively (if I can make up such a word), whereas for us here at Better Records, that is the kiss of death for Half-Speeds, and in fact Audiophile Records of All Kinds. Lack of weight down below, lack of Whomp Factor, is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently and ridiculously bad. If not bad, certainly wrong. You can be very sure that Boston would not want, nor would they put up with, that kind of anemic sound for a minute. (more…)

Kansas – Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Way too bright and thin. What were they thinking?

It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson, expensive and painful as it may have been. 

If your speakers are dull, dull, deadly dull, the way Old School speakers tend to be, this record has the juice to bring them to life!

Unmusicality

The best real-time mastered copies get rid of a problem that quickly becomes irritating as you play track after track: a certain “squawky, pinched” sound to the guitars. Bad copies of the album have that sound through and through, along with excessive amounts of grain and grunge. The guitars are very prominent in the mix on practically every song here, so when the guitars sound sour, the track as a whole does too.

These mastering and pressing problems make the overall sound simply UNMUSICAL. The way we found that out was simple. We cleaned and played lots of copies, and every once in a while we heard one that allowed the music to breathe, open up, sound balanced, make sense even.

Those copies showed us a Leftoverture we didn’t know existed and gave us a goal to shoot for with all the other copies we played. After hearing such a truly killer copy we often go back and downgrade the ratings for the copies we thought were the best. Such is the way with these shootouts. (more…)

Boston – Boston – A CBS Half-Speed I Used to Like (Gulp)

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Sonic Grade: C

Lack of weight down below, or as we like to call it, Whomp Factor, is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently bad. (If not bad, certainly wrong.) You can be sure that Boston would not have wanted, nor would they have been willing to accept, the kind of anemic sound that the half speed delivers.

The CBS is cut clean from a good tape, so it easily beats the bad domestic pressings, of which there are many. But it can’t rock. What good is a Boston record that doesn’t rock? It’s a contradiction in terms; the band, as well as their debut album, have no other reason to exist.

Here’s what we used to say about the record:

“This is the best sounding version of this music that I know of. A Better Records recommended pressing!”

Which means it’s another We Was Wrong listing. We have a whole section of them.

Barbra Streisand – Guilty – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

We had two copies of the CBS Half-Speed in stock, and having just done a big shootout for the album, we decided to play them to see how they stood up against The Real Thing, the real thing in this case being a pretty common pressing: a plain old Columbia original.

One copy was dead as a doornail, so smooth, opaque and lifeless it would put you to sleep.

The other literally sounded like a CD, and not a very good one at that! Grungy, gritty, hard and cold, it was everything we analog lovers hate about digital.

We grade both copies F for Failing. If you want a good sounding one steer clear of the CBS Half Speed. (more…)

Heart – Little Queen – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

No slam, no real weight and no deep deep bass, just that 30-plus-cycles stuff and barely any of that, mostly 40 and up if you’re lucky, and BLUBBERY.

Our good customer Roger wrote to tell me how much better he liked our $100 Hot Stamper of Little Queen compared to his CBS Mastersound Half-Speed Mastered LP.

As you can see from our old commentary I used to actually think the Mastersound pressing was pretty good, with better extension on the top to help overcome this album’s typically dull, thick, opaque sound.

But that’s before I discovered the Hot Stampers, which fix EVERYTHING and turn this album into a real Demo Disc. (more…)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

Records with too much bass and especially too much top end can’t be played loud. The louder you play them the worse they sound. Try playing the average MoFi at a loud volume. All that extra 10k starts to make your brain hurt. The CBS half-speed of this album is like that. It’s frustrating — the music makes you want to turn it up but the sound says forget it. Not the good pressings. They sounds BETTER when you play them loud.  

Carole King – Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: D

The CBS Half Speed is ridiculously bright — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?   

The chances of there being Hot Stamper CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers? As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

Kansas – Point of Know Return – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Both this album and Leftoverture are way too bright and thin. What were the engineers thinking — brighter equals better? In the case of these two titles it most definitely is not. It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did too, a couple of decades ago. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson by now, expensive and embarrassing as such lessons often turn out to be.