Labels With Shortcomings – DCC/S&P/Audio Fidelity

The Beach Boys / Pet Sounds – DCC Reviewed

More The Beach Boys

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Sonic Grade: D to C+

Not long ago [2014 or so] we pulled out the three copies we had in our leftover stock of DCC vinyl and gave them a spin. They weren’t awful, but they weren’t very good either. They sounded like most Heavy Vinyl we’ve played over the years: airless, blurry, smeary, two-dimensional, dull and opaque.

Not surprisingly (to us anyway) one copy was quite a bit better than the other two. I would say that the sound of the three copies would plot on a curve from about a D to maybe a C+, so let’s figure the average would be around a C- or so.

I’d be surprised if the DCC Gold CD didn’t sound better. More often than not it does. (Kevin Gray’s lousy cutting system would not be involved and that is almost a guarantee that the sound would improve markedly.)

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough, but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Key Tracks for Critical Listening 

Making Audio Progress  (more…)

Ten Years After – A Killer Audio Fidelity Gold CD

A Space in Time

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Our old commentary:

A Great CD Is Born

By the way, the BGO Import CD of this album is excellent. No match for a Hot Stamper of course, but dramatically better than the average classic rock CD, and quite a bit better than the domestic CDs we’ve auditioned.

Newsflash (3/2014)

The Audio Fidelity Gold CD mastered by Steve Hoffman is even better. If you don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper LP, that CD is your best bet (assuming it sounds as good as mine, something one cannot assume but that’s a story for another day).

Letter of the Week “Meanwhile I sold out near all my pseudo-audiophile LP’s (i.e. MFSL, Nautilus, DCC, Simply Vinyl etc.) – they are useless.”

More Letters

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he has been buying lately: 

Hey Tom, 

I want to express my gratitude to your long-lasting efforts with regard to music. It has fully changed my whole life as a listener of music. [emphasis added]

It’s a great pleasure and I reached a complete different level of enjoyment and listening habits. To hear a Hot Stamper it’s also often a physical and emotional experience (sensation of heat, tears in the eyes, palpitations etc.). Thanks to your great Hot Stampers I might experience with so much pleasure.

Meanwhile I sold out near all my pseudo-audiophile LP’s (i.e. MFSL, Nautilus, DCC, Simply Vinyl etc.) – they are useless.

And last but not least it’s very important to buy these hot LPs now and here, before deafness, tinnitus (my greatest fear) and dementia are going to kill us. All LPs are worth their price, because I can imagine how much effort it takes to do the shootouts. (I did some.) (more…)

How Paul Simon and Judy Collins Finally Turned Me Against DCC

More Judy Collins

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I remember being a bit taken aback by how much better my original Artisan pressing sounded when I finally got around to comparing it to the supposedly superior DCC, pressed at high quality Heavy Vinyl at RTI to the most exacting standards possible.

What finally turned me completely against DCC were the awful Paul Simon solo albums they remastered.  Two were released, two I had as unreleased test pressings, and all of them were at best second-rate compared to the good original pressings I had on hand.

So much for believing in DCC. Since that time we have learned that placing your faith in any record label or cutting operation is a mistake.

You have to play the records to know how they sound. Nothing else works, and nothing else can work. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity – Linda Ronstadt’s Greatest Hits on DCC

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[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for  DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow – Another DCC Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

Sour and opaque, a major disappointment. You can do worse but you would really have to work at it.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

It’s An Uphill Battle Every Time

This album is an exceedingly difficult nut to crack — no matter how many copies we have, no matter how much information we have to work with. Play the typical copy and you’ll likely run for cover — we heard played copies that were aggressive, shrill, lifeless, dull, thick, veiled, bass-shy — you name it, we heard it. Not only that, but as a rule these early pressings are BEAT TO DEATH. Finding a copy that sounds any good and plays Mint Minus Minus or better is a real challenge.

But we didn’t give up. We knew that the best pressings of this album have tubey magic in spades. Undaunted, we kept up the search and eventually found some OUT OF THIS WORLD Hot Stamper copies.

Almost every pressing you’ll ever find suffers from at least a bit of harmonic distortion — some MUCH worse than others. We were convinced at one point that it was on the tapes, but after playing these super clean copies, we now know better.

(more…)

Donovan – Storyteller on SACD – Reviewed in 2003

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This is a Factory Sealed Audio Fidelity Dual Layer Hybrid SACD (playable on any CD player) with superb sound.

One of the best sounding CDs I’ve ever heard! I can’t play the SACD layer anymore — my SACD player broke and I decided the medium was not for me. I’m a record guy and don’t want to invest the time and money to find a player that gets the SACD layer right. My CD player tells me that this is some of the best digital around and that’s good enough for me.

This disc is so rich and sweet you would swear it was an LP. Hoffman did an AMAZINGLY good job with this title. Same with The Searchers. Both are highly recommended. (more…)

Today’s Mediocre LP – Pet Sounds on DCC

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Sonic Grade: C-

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Pet Sounds is how completely they trounce the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest. Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound decent enough but it can’t compete with the best “mystery” pressings that we sell. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better Capitol pressings.

As is the case with practically every record pressed on Heavy Vinyl over the last twenty years, there is a suffocating loss of ambience throughout, a pronounced sterility to the sound. Modern remastered records just do not BREATHE like the real thing. Good EQ or Bad EQ, they all suffer to one degree or another from a bad case of audio enervation. Where is the life of the music? You can try turning up the volume on these remastered LPs all you want; they simply refuse to come to life.

Cream / Fresh Cream – A DCC Disaster

Sonic Grade: F

Compressed, thick, dull, opaque and completely lacking in ambience, almost any domestic or British original pressing will be better in almost every way. Read our Hot Stamper review below for the full story. 

[This is an old review. We no longer buy the domestic pressings of Fresh Cream. They are often noisy and don’t sound remotely as good as the right British imports, including some late reissues. But anything beats the DCC LP.]

Our Hot Stamper Commentary from 2008

AN EXCEPTIONAL SIDE ONE BACKED WITH GREAT SIDE ONE, both on surprisingly quiet vinyl! We just finished a shootout for this hard-rockin’ debut album and were delighted to hear how good this music can sound on the right pressing. This copy has the kind of bottom end that this music absolutely demands but is sadly missing in action from most of the pressings we played. If your Cream record can’t rock, remind me, what exactly is the point again? (more…)

Judy Collins – Colors of the Day – DCC Discussed

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A classic case of Live and Learn, maybe. Previously we had written:

Superb sonics. Judy has never sounded better. Not a big seller for DCC but it should have been. Those sweet acoustic guitars are hard to beat. No modern recording has sounded like this for over twenty years, so if you’ve forgotten what a real acoustic guitar sounds like, buy this record and get reacquainted with that sound. Tons of breath of life, superb production and mastering so you can clearly hear her hitting those flat notes (!), and some of the best sounding echo ever recorded.

Addendum to the above comments, posted 11/07

I wrote the above review many many years ago. As you may have read countless times on the site by now, it is my opinion that all such dated judgments are suspect. The major REVOLUTIONS in vinyl playback that have occurred over the last dozen years have turned many of these old comments on their heads.

Hot Stamper pressings again and again have revealed magic in the mass-produced copies that is simply nowhere to be found in their audiophile counterparts.

Whether this is true for this particular title I can honestly say I don’t know.  We are going to play some copies of the album and will report our findings down the road, so Judy Collins fans, stay tuned.