Labels with Shortcomings – MCA Half-Speeds

Who’s Next… to Remaster the Album? Our Audiophile LP Overview

More of the Music of The Who

Reviews and Commentaries for Who’s Next

The following was written in the early 2000s. Some additional commentary has been added.

Who’s Next has been remastered for audiophiles many, many times, more often than not quite badly in our opinion.

To be fair, we should point out that our opinion has changed quite a few times over the course of the last twenty years.

This then is our story.

MCA MASTERPHILE

Back in the days when I was foolishly in the thrall of half-speed mastered audiophile pressings, I thought that the MCA Masterphile was king. That was probably the mid to late ’80s.

BRITISH TRACK LABEL ORIGINALS

By the early ’90s I had discovered how good the Black Label Original British Track pressings could be and started preferring those. A bit murky but Tubey Magical, full and rich, precisely the way a good British Rock recording (Faces, Jethro Tull) should be.

JAPANESE AND GERMAN

Of course by then I had played numerous Japanese and German pressings, none of which sounded right to my ears, then or now. The Japanese did what they like to do to most of the records they master, from whatever dub tapes are sent to them: they brighten up the sound.

When I had much darker, less-revealing system, the Japanese pressing did better than most of the other pressings I played.

But it was wrong, and the better my stereo got the more wrong it sounded. This process comes under the general heading of Audio Progress 

MCA HEAVY VINYL

In 1995 the MCA Heavy Vinyl version came out, mastered by Kevin Gray. I quite liked it at the time but no longer do; it’s brightened up, opaque, airless and much of the fine detail of the recording is missing, all due to the crude cutting system Kevin employed at the time. It’s also notoriously badly pressed, resulting in stitches in the vinyl that are audible on practically every copy. (more…)

Tom Petty / Damn The Torpedoes – Is This Audiophile LP Bright Enough For You?

On this pressing it sure is. If your stereo is dull, dull, deadly dull, this company’s remastering approach, like many of the CBS Half-Speeds, will fix your lack of high end.

A perfect example of Stone Age Audio Thinking – a bright record to fix a dark system.

The only problem is, what happens when you put together a better system, one that’s tonally correct?

Then you will have to get rid of your old record collection and start over, right?

So get your stereo right before you go wasting lots of money on phony sounding records.

And most of the Heavy Vinyl pressings being made today are every bit as bad, but the tonality mistakes are simply reversed. The bass is boosted and the top is too smooth.

Why can’t these ridiculous audiophile labels make up their minds? Should records be bright or dull? Pick a lane!

Tune your system to that crap and you will find yourself in the real predicament down the road, assuming you ever get your stereo working right. Having a collection full of modern remasterings will make any progress in audio that much more difficult to achieve.

Or you could just buy one of these to play your bright records. Problem solved.

(more…)

The Who ‎/ Who’s Next – Getting It Exactly Backwards

More of the Music of The Who

Reviews and Commentaries for Who’s Next

A classic case of Live and Learn

What follows is the commentary for the Canadian One Sided Half-Speed that we had auditioned around 2000. It came in a regular jacket, not the one you see pictured, and was part of a big overstock batch I had gotten my hands on a number of years before.

Getting It Exactly Backwards

Half of this record is Half-Speed Mastered! There’s an interesting story behind this album. Those of you who’ve been collecting audiophile records for a long time may remember that Who’s Next was as an MCA Masterphile Half-Speed Mastered pressing produced in Canada. I remember liking it back in the day, which had to be 15 years ago at least. But they are very rare and I haven’t played one in many years.

I ran into some sealed Canadian pressings of Who’s Next, and when I cracked one open to play it I noted it had Masterphile written in the deadwax on one side. Apparently they had made so few Masterphile pressings that the metal work was still useable and they decided to press some “regular” records with one of the stampers.

And I remember I used to tell people that the good side, side one, was the Masterphile side. Then three or four years ago [circa 2000], I had occasion to play the record. Lo and behold, side one was bright and phony, and side two was rich and sweet, like the good Track Label pressings! I had gotten it exactly backwards.

A recurring theme here at Better Records has to do with the phony sound of audiophile records that we used to like, and the more natural sound of regular records, which are the ones we like now. This is another example. The better your equipment gets, the fewer so-called “audiophile” pressings you will want to have in your collection. The upshot to this story? Side two sounds great on this copy! (more…)

Steely Dan ‎/ Gaucho – MCA Masterphile

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

A pale shadow of the real MASTERDISK pressings. We’ve played at least a hundred of the original pressings, and I would be surprised if every one of them did not sound better than this compressed, desiccated audiophile piece of trash.

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses. Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho.

Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to contemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a serious DEMO DISC on anyone’s system system.

Review

By STEPHEN HOLDEN / January, 1981

Nearly three years in the making, Steely Dan’s ”Gaucho” is as refined as pop music can get without becoming too esoteric for a mass audience. Though it consists of only two men, Steely Dan must be counted one of the most influential rock ”groups” of the past decade. Founded by the songwriting team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen eight years ago, they started out as a touring sextet. With Mr. Becker, the lead vocalist and bassist, and Mr. Fagen on keyboards, the group had a string of hits including ”Do It Again,” ”Reeling in the Years,” and ”Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.”

After 1974, they stopped performing and made the recording studio their artistic base, using a shifting array of session musicians instead of fixed personnel. Over the course of seven albums, they’ve evolved an unusually subtle and literate brand of pop-rock that blends modal jazz harmonies, fusion instrumentation and funk-tinged polyrhythms within extended pop structures.

Though other rock groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago have enjoyed commercial success blending jazz and pop, none has come close to matching Steely Dan in sophistication and taste. They helped inspire rock singers like Joni Mitchell to explore jazz and paved the way for the Doobie Brothers’ brand of pop-funk. Even stylistically unrelated groups like the Eagles were influenced by Steely Dan’s carefully blocked arranging style.

But more than their studio craftsmanship, what distinguishes Steely Dan is their songwriting. Mr. Becker’s and Mr. Fagen’s specialty is the cryptically sardonic vignette. ”Gaucho’s” seven extended studio set pieces are also interrelated short stories. The main characters are would-be hipsters who define themselves in terms of style rather than feelings or ideas. Steely Dan’s sour-sweet pop-jazz style with its modal harmonics and dips into polytonality illustrates both the comedy and the pathos of trying to keep your cool in even the most dire circumstances. Though the melodies are always heading toward sentimental resolutions, somewhere along the way they get short-circuited. And the painstaking construction of the arrangements mirrors the characters’ desperate maintenance of appearances.

Gaucho is a word for Latin-American cowboy, but Mr. Fagen and Mr. Becker also use it as a pun on the French word gauche. All seven songs on the new album puncture cultivated mystiques. The ”bodacious cowboy” of the title song wears a spangled leather poncho and is a social embarrassment to the friend who brings him to a party at the mysterious ”Custerdome.”

The narrator of ”Glamour Profession” is a cocaine dealer who wears Brut cologne and boasts about the telephone in his Chrysler. In ”Hey, Nineteen,” a thirtyish man dating a teen-ager realizes that they have nothing in common beyond the booze and dope that will make the evening ”wonderful.” ”Babylon Sisters,” ”Time Out of Mind,” ”My Rival,’ and ”Third World Man,” look askance at swingers, gurus and sexual and political paranoia.

”Gaucho’s” satire is so oblique that the songs avoid sounding snidely hip in the manner of Frank Zappa, one of Steely Dan’s obvious influences. Their humor is compassionate, for they see the struggle to stay cool as noble in addition to farcical. Instead of delivering broadsides, they sidle up to the scenes they describe and pick out oddly telling details. Their perspective is at once far-sighted and clinically fascinated. It’s also emotionally double-edged, for despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.