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

Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings (and Half-Speed Mastered records in general). I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money. Keep buying originals until you find a good one.

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The Doors – Waiting For The Sun on DCC Heavy Vinyl

More of the Music of The Doors

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Psych Rock Albums

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to really like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does our Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, it’s the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and quite bothersome.

The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The bottom end was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons better known to him.

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.) So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for those of you who love this album and have a bunch of money burning a hole in your pocket.

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Ray Charles & Betty Carter – DCC Clear Vinyl Pressing

More of the Music of Ray Charles

More Soul, Blues and R&B Albums with Hot Stampers

Sonic Grade: F

This Dunhill Compact Classics LP pressed on CLEAR VINYL is one of DCCs earliest forays into analog production from way back in 1988.

Unfortunately it sounds like a bad CD.

Screechy, bright, shrill, thin and harsh, it’s hard to imagine worse sound for this music.

NO warmth.

NO sweetness.

NO richness.

NO Tubey Magic. In other words,

NO trace of the original’s analog sound. I have to wonder how records this awful get released.

You can be sure that Hoffman’s CD murders it in every way.

A PUBLIC SERVICE

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 one 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 Hall of Shame records 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 all-too-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 pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.

The Law of Large Numbers Can Help You to Find Better Records

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Roy Orbison

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

Hey Tom,   

I’m going out of my frigging mind on this White Hot stamper of Roy Orbison Greatest hits. What a piece of shit is my DCC test pressing.

Naz,

I used to like the DCC vinyl too.

Then my stereo got a lot better, which I write about under the heading Progress in Audio.

Eventually it became obvious to me what was wrong with practically all of the Heavy Vinyl pressings that were put out by that label.

The good ones can be found here, along with other Heavy Vinyl pressings we liked or used to like.

The bad ones can be found here.

And those in the middle end up here.

Audio and record collecting (they go hand in hand) are hard. If you think either one is easy you are very likely not doing it right,, but what makes our twin hobbies compelling enough to keep us involved over the course our entire lifetime is one simple fact, which is this: Although we know so little at the start, and we have so much to learn, the journey itself into the world of music and sound turns out to be both addictive and a great deal of fun.

Every listing in this section is about knowing now what I didn’t know then, and there is enough of that material to fill its own blog if I would simply take the time to write it all down.

Every album shootout we do is a chance to learn something new about records. When you do them all day, every day, you learn things that no one else could possibly know who hasn’t done the work of comparing thousands of pressings with thousands of other pressings.

The Law of large numbers* tells us that in the world of records, more is better. We’ve taken that law and turned it into a business.

It’s the only way to find Better Records.

Not the records that you think are better.

No, truly better records are the records that proved themselves to be better empirically, by employing rigorous scientific methodologies that we have laid in detail for anyone to read and follow.

Being willing to make lots of mistakes is part of our secret, and we admit to making a lot of them

Knowing what I know now, and having the system currently that I’ve put together over the course of the last twenty years or so, I guarantee you the DCC Gold CD is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl release. They almost always are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I much prefer the DCC’s CDs to their records.

DCC’s CDs did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-resolution cutting system, a subject we have discussed on the blog in some depth here.


*Wikipedia on the Law of large numbers:

In probability theory, the law of large numbers (LLN) is a theorem that describes the result of performing the same experiment a large number of times. According to the law, the average of the results obtained from a large number of trials should be close to the expected value and tends to become closer to the expected value as more trials are performed.[1]

The LLN is important because it guarantees stable long-term results for the averages of some random events.[1][2] For example, while a casino may lose money in a single spin of the roulette wheel, its earnings will tend towards a predictable percentage over a large number of spins. Any winning streak by a player will eventually be overcome by the parameters of the game. Importantly, the law only applies (as the name indicates) when a large number of observations is considered. There is no principle that a small number of observations will coincide with the expected value or that a streak of one value will immediately be “balanced” by the others (see the gambler’s fallacy).


FURTHER READING

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Nat King Cole / Love Is the Thing – Remixed and Remastered

More of the Music of Nat “King” Cole

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

With a Sound I’ve Grown to Detest

I really liked the Nat King Cole albums on DCC when they came out back in the ’90s. Thought they were a revelation as a matter of fact.

Now I find them insufferable. Here are some of my reasons for not liking Hoffman’s remix.

Nat’s voice is much too forward and loud in the mix; consequently the orchestra is too soft. The balance is off. At least on my stereo, at the levels I play the record at, the balance seems off. You surely have a different system, in a different room, and may not feel the way I do.

But without a top pressing to compare, how do you know the mix is right or wrong? Like everything in audio, it’s relative.

The balance problem is bad enough, but what really sets my teeth on edge is the fact that the Nat King Cole record on DCC doesn’t sound remotely like any Nat King Cole record I have ever heard, outside of the ones Hoffman worked on of course.

Where is all the Capitol reverb? Nat’s records all have it, and although the reverb may be a bit excessive or unnatural in some ways, at least to some people, when you take it away you end up with a sound that never existed before, and, to my ears, it’s a sound that’s just wrong for the music.

The more I listened to the DCC the less I liked it.

The first full-length commentary I ever wrote in my record catalog in 1994 took Analogue Productions to task for remastering Way Out West and giving it a “new sound,” a sound I had never heard coming from any Contemporary pressing, from any era.

I didn’t like what Doug Sax did with Way Out West, Jazz Giant, Waltz for Debby and many, many others, and I don’t like what Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray did to Love Is the Thing, The Very Thought of You and Just One Of Those Things.

I have tried to listen to the Gold CD in my car, but even in the car I found the sound boring and insufferable.

Is this the kind of sound you hear on your DCC Nat King Cole records? If it is, we recommend you try a Hot Stamper. If it doesn’t kill your DCC you get your money back.

At the very least it will show you some of the things your DCC is doing differently, and, we think, wrong.

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Linda Ronstadt – Can You Hear the Bloated Bass of the DCC Pressing?

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

[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.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way. These are records for those who are not sufficiently advanced in the hobby to know just how compromised and wrong they are.

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Sonny Rollins / Saxophone Colossus – Try the DCC CD

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

Our last White Hot Stamper Gold Label Mono pressing went for big bucks, 900 of them in fact.

Of course, a clean original goes for many times that, which is one reason you have never seen such a record on our site.

How much would we have to charge for a Hot Stamper pressing of an album we paid many thousands of dollars for? Far more than our customers would be willing to pay us, that’s for sure.

You Say You Don’t Have Nine Hundred Bucks for This Album?

Try the DCC pressing from 1995.

The DCC Heavy Vinyl pressing is probably a nice record. I haven’t played it in many years, but I remember liking it back in the day.

It’s dramatically better than the ’80s OJC, which, like many OJC pressings, is thin, hard, tizzy up top and devoid of Tubey Magic. (We have many reviews of OJC pressings on this very blog for those who are interested.)

I would be surprised if the DCC Gold CD isn’t even better than their vinyl pressing.

They usually are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I like DCC’s CDs much better than their records.

Their records did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-rez, modern transistor cutting system, a subject we discussed in some depth here.

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The Beach Boys / Pet Sounds – A DCC Shootout

More of the Music of The Beach Boys

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.

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Bonnie Raitt on Heavy Vinyl – DCC + RTI = Audio Enervation

More of the Music of Bonnie Raitt

Reviews and Commentaries for Bonnie Raitt’s Albums

The no-longer-surprising thing about our Hot Stamper pressings of Nick Of Time is how completely they MURDER the DCC LP. Folks, it’s really no contest.

Yes, the DCC is tonally balanced and can sound very good, but it can’t compete with the best original pressings. It’s missing too much of the presence, intimacy, immediacy and transparency that we’ve discovered on the better original 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.

We play albums like this VERY LOUD. I’ve seen Bonnie Raitt live a number of times and although I can’t begin to get her to play as loud in my listening room as she did on stage, I can try. To do less is to do her a disservice.

The DCC Approach

The DCC is too damn smooth. It’s an understandable approach for DCC to take, since this recording is more hyped-up than any of Bonnie’s earlier work, but this album actually has loads of personality and nuance. Just because an album sounds polished and maybe a bit too “clean,” it’s foolish to think that it lacks intensity or passion.

You listen to a track like “Thing Called Love” on the DCC, and it sounds good — the tambourine sounds like a tambourine, the bass sounds like a bass. The problem is you don’t hear the jingles of the tambourine hitting each other; the bass doesn’t smack you in the chest. When these elements are veiled, the life and, for lack of a better term, the point of the music go with them. (more…)

Ten Years After – A Killer Audio Fidelity Gold CD

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).

Reviews and Commentaries for A Space in Time


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Bad Digital Remastering Jobs

Bad Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl

CD Advice 

Digital Versus Analog 

Good Sounding Digital Recordings on Vinyl – Really?