Labels With Shortcomings – Classic Records – Rock, Pop, Vocals, etc.

Peter Gabriel – Some People Have No Business Reviewing His Records

More of the Music of Peter Gabriel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Peter Gabriel

This commentary was written many years ago after a review I spotted online prompted me to crack open one of the Classic Records 200 gram Peter Gabriel titles and play it. Let’s just say the results were less than pleasing to the ear.

Bernie Grundman had worked his “magic” again and as usual I was at a loss to understand how anyone could find his mastering in any way an improvement over the plain old pressings, even the domestic ones.

I then had a discussion with a reviewer for an audiophile web magazine concerning his rave review for the Peter Gabriel records that Classic pressed.

I just now played one, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. But of course it’s not right either.

Not surprisingly, reviewers have a tendency not to notice these things. I’m not exactly sure how these people are qualified to review records when the most obvious tonal balance problems seem to go unnoticed. The Classic is brighter and less rich. This is not the right sound for this music and does the album no favors.

That’s Bernie for you. After all these years. no amount of mischief he does for Classic should surprise me.

A Bad Record Tells You… What?

Which brings up something else that never fails to astonish me. How can an equipment review be trusted when the reviewer uses bad sounding records to evaluate the equipment he is testing? Aren’t we justified in assuming that if said reviewer can’t tell he is listening to a bad record, he probably can’t tell whether the equipment under review is any good either?

Here is a good example of a reviewer raving about a mediocre-at-best pressing in an equipment review.

A bad record tells you nothing about the equipment it is playing on. Worse, it might complement the faults of the gear and end up sounding tonally correct. If you use So Long So Wrong as a test disc, what are you testing for, the hyped-up vocals or the harmonically-challenged guitars?

Genesis – Another Misfire from Classic Records

Hot Stamper Pressings of Genesis Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Genesis on Vinyl

Sonic Grade: F

The Classic Heavy Vinyl pressing is a smeary, lifeless mess next to the best British pressings on the tan label. No Classic Pressing of any of the Genesis albums sounded right to us.

The Peter Gabriel albums they remastered were just as bad. All of them earned a grade of F. We made no effort to do listings for most of them because they were all bad, and bad in the same way.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this Classic pressing in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.


New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

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 the more of all of these analog qualities than other pressings. That’s what makes them 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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Billie Holiday / Songs for Distingue Lovers – Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: B?

Probably a fairly good jazz vocal album from Classic Records.

Back in the day we noted that: “This is one of the best Billie Holiday records around” and we stand by that statement, at least until another copy of the Classic comes our way and we have a chance to play it.

By the way, we have never had a Hot Stamper pressing of the album on the site. We simply cannot find enough clean copies with which to do a shootout! Not sure we’ve even found one that played quietly and sounded good.

For thirty bucks the price of this Heavy Vinyl pressing has to be seen as a bargain.

But…

Who the hell thought that the label below was better looking than the ones Verve used?

Classic Records was run by some of the most clueless audiophiles there ever were, and this label is a good example of a pitifully poor choice they made in the design of the labelling. (The Shaded Dog “shading” was all wrong but hey, it didn’t seem to bother too many people.)

A self-inflicted wound, and for no reason. Nobody could figure out how to make an authentic looking vintage Verve stereo label? I’m pretty sure it’s been done.

What was the point of this one? It’s ugly and modern. Who wants to collect classic albums with ugly modern labels?

The shiny jackets are bad enough. Now they have to ruin the labels too?


Down Beat’s West Coast editor John Tynan gave this a four star review, remarking that it is “loose, utterly relaxed, a top flight solo work.”

The great Lady Day is backed by Harry Edison’s trumpet, Ben Webster on tenor sax, Jimmy Rowles on Piano, Barney Kessel on guitar, Red Mitchell on bass and Alvin Stoller on drums.

Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports. Wrong on all counts. After playing more than two dozen pressings, it’s pretty clear that the right domestic pressings KILL any and all contenders.
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Simon and Garfunkel / Bridge Over Troubled Water – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sonic Grade: C

What do the best Hot Stamper copies give you?

They’re the ones with textured strings in the orchestral arrangements.

The string tone on the average copy is hard and steely.

The Classic 200 gram pressing suffers from a case of somewhat steely strings. When the strings are blasting away at the end of the title song, you want to be able to hear the texture without the strings sounding shrill and edgy.

This is no mean feat, for the record or the stereo.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered are good for testing string tone and texture.

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Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site.

If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 

Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: Aja, Aqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as the Rhino pressing of Blue?

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD?

If I ever found myself in the position of having to sell mediocrities like the ones you see pictured in order to make a living, I’d be looking for another line of work. The vast majority of these newly-remastered pressings are just not very good.

We Aren’t Walmart and We Definitely Don’t Want to Be Walmart

We leave that distinction to our colleagues at Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc and Music Direct (Walmart, Target and Sears perhaps? [Yes, Sears existed when I wrote this screed! Time flies.]).

They sell anything and everything that some hapless audiophile might wander onto their site and find momentarily attractive, like shiny bits of glass dangling from a tree, glittering as brightly as fool’s gold. They know their market and they know where the real money is. (Hint: it ain’t records, dear reader, it’s equipment. If you haven’t seen one of their thick full-color catalogs lately, count how many pages of equipment you have to wade through at the front before you get to the “recommended recordings.”) [I would amend that to say that it probably is records now. Since 2007 they have become much more popular and profitable. Apparently you can cut the same title 16 different times and audiophiles will just keep buying them.]

The Hall of Shame

We had no business selling Neil Young’s Greatest Hits — the typical dead-as-a-doornail remastering job we’ve come to expect from Classic over the years — and now it can be found only in our Hall of Shame where it should have been located from the start.

Which, by the way, has a new member: In Through the Out Door. We were doing a shootout in time for the mailer this week and decided to crack the Classic open to give it another listen, since my review was about five years old at this point, a lifetime in the world of audio. (My world of audio, anyway, and hopefully yours.)

Well, it turned out to be nothing but an absolute piece of crap. Tonally wrong from top to bottom, compressed, lacking presence, life, energy — an unmitigated disaster, joining the Classic pressings of II, III and Houses, three of the other worst sounding Zeppelin records I have ever had the misfortune to play. It’s a perfect We Was Wrong entry — watch for it soon — and we owe an apology to anyone who bought one from us. So sorry!

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Peter Gabriel – Classic Records Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

More of the Music of Peter Gabriel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Peter Gabriel

Sonic Grade: D (Or Worse!)

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes. If only there were some!

We have a special section for bad sounding records that are marketed to audiophiles, and you can find that section here.

It currently has 266 entries, but if someone wanted to audition more of them — that person is definitely not me, although I cannot imagine anyone more qualified — the number could easily hit 500. If one were to do just the Music Matters and Analogue Productions albums released to date, a thousand would be no problem.

And if one were simply to include vintage Japanese pressings, the kind many audiophiles regularly bought in the ’80s and ’90s for their quieter vinyl and supposedly higher quality mastering, our bad audiophile record section would contain multitudes. Multitudes I tell you!

Bernie Grundman’s mastering approach for the first PG album is a disaster — brighter and cleaner, which turns out to be precisely the wrong sound for this music.

In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer.

To be fair, he has cut some wonderful records. We survey more of his work here.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so.

It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

  • The heavy vinyl pressing is lifeless and boring.
  • All the subtleties of both the music and the sound are missing.
  • More than anything else the Classic sounds crude.

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring the dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100+ on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.


Balalaika Favorites on Classic Records – Unpleasantly Hard and Sour

What else is new?

Sonic Grade: F

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.

I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record. Everything else was worse 99% of the time.

The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.

Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether they really believed they did or not, they sure fooled a lot of audiophiles and the reviewers that write for them.

The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they fall further and further behind with each passing year.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.

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