Labels with Shortcomings – CBS Half-Speeds

Pink Floyd – “…never heard the details in the guitars and cymbals and keyboards like this.”

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Letters and Commentaries for Wish You Were Here

One of our best customers, Roger, received his $150 Hot Stamper [those were the days!] ’Wish You Were Here’ and went straight to work comparing it with the various other pressings he owned: two different CBS Half Speeds. The not-so-shocking results are presented in detail below.

Hi Tom,

I received your Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’ Hot Stamper and compared it to my CBS Half-Speed (I found a bunch of these Half-Speeds in a bargain bin years ago and did a shootout to select the best one) and the pressing that I considered the best, the Japanese Mastersound Half-Speed, for which I paid dearly.

Drum roll, please while Vanna hands me the sealed envelope………… and the winner is: Surprise — the Hot Stamper!

And it wasn’t even close.

Once I heard the center-of-the-earth bass on the Hot Stamper ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, it was all over. I was amazed at how bright the CBS was, transparent yes, but bright and no bass and no body to the saxophones and voices. The Mastersound was better-balanced in that the highs were tamed, but no real dynamics and the bass was flabby.

I have heard this record hundreds of times, but never heard the details in the guitars and cymbals and keyboards like this.

And did I mention the huge, huge soundstage with a wall of sound like that of other Pink Floyd records? Nice job as usual.

Roger,

Thanks for verifying the accuracy of our Hot Stamper claims once again. The decent sounding Half Speed Mastered records, CBS and otherwise, can be counted pretty easily on one’s fingers. We could debunk them all day long if we wanted to (and had ten times the staff). It doesn’t take long to hear how anemic the sound is compared to The Real Thing, the real thing being, of course, a vintage pressing.

The copy you bought was rated A Plus on both sides, two full sonic grades below the best, so you can imagine how good those copies sound. But since neither you nor I are made out of money, for $150 you now own a copy that will trounce anything you throw at it, especially if what you throw at it is an audiophile pressing.

Those moribund LPs belong on Ebay where all the Technics turntable owners of the world can find them in order to complete their — let’s be honest — silly and ultimately pointless audiophile collections.

Modern equipment shows half-speed foolishness for what it is. You heard it, we heard it, and slowly but surely we are spreading the word to the rest of the audiophile community.

Thanks again; it’s a big job and we need all the help we can get.

Best 
TP


Carole King / Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

The CBS Half Speed is brighter and thinner than the good sounding pressings we sell — can you imagine a worse way to present this often intimate music?  

I had a much darker and less revealing system in 1980 than I do now. Pretty much everybody had a system that suffered from those afflictions. I thought my system was a near-perfect State of the Art dreadnaught that did everything right. Obviously I didn’t know how much there was to learn.

And the reality is that no matter how hard I worked or how much money I spent, I would never be able to get very far so one simple reason: most of the revolutions in audio had not yet come to pass. It would be at least another thirty years of constant improvements until I would have anything like the system I do now.

Those Stone Age Stereos of the Seventies were better suited to the audiophile pressings being made to play on them, the ones put out by the likes of CBS and Mobile Fidelity. However, as bad as our stereos were back then, even in 1980 when this album came out I could hear it was too bright.

If my Mobile Fidelity records sounded fine to me in 1980, and they did, I was a huge fan and true believer, and this CBS record sounded too bright, I’m figuring it would ridiculously bright played back on my much more revealing stereo today.

What Are the Chances?

The chances of there being Hot Stamper 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.

If you are still buying modern pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered Records.

(more…)

Michael Jackson / Off The Wall – The CBS Half-Speed Is a Joke

More of the Music of Michael Jackson

Reviews and Commentaries for Off the Wall

Sonic Grade: F

Pure MUD. No top end whatsoever!

I remember when we audiophiles looked down our noses at CBS Half-Speeds because they weren’t pressed in Japan and sold at a notable discount to the offerings of Mobile Fidelity and their competitors.

But we were so desperate back then for good sounding pressings that we bought them anyway!

Are audiophiles any less desperate today? They seem pretty desperate to me! They approach these new Heavy Vinyl records naively instead of skeptically, assuming they will be better sounding in exactly the same way I assumed the Half Speeds I was buying would be better sounding forty years ago.

The more things change…

If you are buying these modern pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Masters.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. And if for some reason you disagree that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

(more…)

Simon & Garfunkel / Bridge Over Troubled Water – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sonic Grade: B?

Another Half Speed reviewed and this one’s not bad!

The CBS Half-Speed is actually quite good. It’s been twenty years since I played one but I used to like it. Of course, once you hear the real thing you can never go back, but it blows the doors off the muddy MoFi.


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 FAQs:

More Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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

(more…)

Boston Hot Stamper Testimonial – Shooting Out the Big Three

More of the Music of Boston

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Boston

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.

“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.

“So the MFSL was somewhat of a relief in that regard, being more sweet and rolled-off on top. However, it sounded bland, blah, slow and murky by comparison. It was still OK sonically with a fuller midband, but didn’t have the midrange energy or dynamics of the CBS and it just seemed slow and plodding, no other way to put it. Bass on the MFSL copy was weightier but more midbass than the quick and extended bass on the CBS.”

Agreed. The MoFi Anadisc had the same problems that plagued that whole series: turgid, thick, blobby, murky, mucky sound. A real slogfest. In short, audiophile trash of the worst kind.

“Now for the hot stamper, it was closer in tonal balance to the CBS, tending to be leaner, but the bass was quicker and more impactful, and the treble, while still as extended, was more balanced with the rest of the sonic spectrum. There was more instrumental detail, like on the rimshots on More Than A Feeling, better dynamic range, and a more transparent soundstage than with either half-speed copy. I actually had a great time listening to Smokin and the other cuts on side 2 that I actually haven’t heard in a while.

“I would highly recommend anyone who can still stand this record to get a hot stamper and get their feet tapping.”

Here here. I would recommend the same. Thanks for taking the time to do your own shootout and writing up your results.

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Half-Speed Mastered Counterparts

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

Kansas – Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

More of the Music of Kansas

Hot Stamper Prog Rock Albums Available Now 

Hot Stamper Art Rock Albums Available Now

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 in a hurry.

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

More of the Music of Boston

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Boston

Sonic Grade: D

Lack of weight down low — or as we like to call it, whomp factor[1] — is the main reason half-speed mastered records are so consistently bad. (If not bad, certainly inadequate.)

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 classic case of Live and Learn.


[1] It’s the WEIGHT and POWER you sense happening down low that translates into whomp factor.

This is the frequency area that screens and small dynamic drivers have the most trouble with. You need to be able to move lots of air under, say, 200 cycles to give the music a sense of real power down below.

Few systems I’ve run into over the last thirty years can really pull it off.

Barbra Streisand – Guilty – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

xxxxx

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 Reviewed

More of the Music of Heart

Reviews and Commentaries for Little Queen

Sonic Grade: D

No slam, no real weight and no truly deep bass, just that 40-plus-cycles stuff and barely any of that, mostly 50 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 Hottest Stampers, which fix EVERYTHING and turn this album into a real Demo Disc. (more…)

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

More of the Music of Billy Joel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Billy Joel

Sonic Grade: F

Records with too much bass and especially too much top end can’t be turned up 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.