Labels With Shortcomings – Rhino / Warners

The Story of Blue on Heavy Vinyl – A Milestone at Better Records

Thoughts on the so-called Definitive Vinyl Version

In 2007 a customer took issue with our choice here at Better Records to reject the sale of the newly Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing of Blue put out by Rhino and mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.

We actually used to give the record away for free with every purchase of a Hot Stamper Blue, making it easy for our customers to hear for themselves just how superior our Hot Stamper pressings, at every level, were.

We did this partly out of necessity. I had foolishly taken the advice of a Mr. Robert Pincus that the new version was indeed all it was cracked up to be and proceeded to put in an advance order for twenty copies to sell to our customers.

We were still selling Heavy Vinyl in 2007, but it would not be long before we decided to end the practice. Soon thereafter we were only selling records that we had cleaned and played and could guarantee both their superior sound quality and audiophile-quality playing surfaces.

So we had about twenty copies of Blue we did not think qualified as “better records” and decided to just give them away.

After spending quite a number of hours evaluating the new version, I got fairly worked up over the disappointing sound, worked up enough to write a very long commentary about the album, which I entitled Blue, The Game.

Rather than detailing the shortcomings of the new pressing, in this particular commentary, the first of its kind, I decided to take a different tack.

I implored the reader to do his own shootout for the album and tell me what he heard on the various pressings he might have at hand to work with. (Nothing much came of it of course, and not too surprisingly. Shootouts are hard and the vast majority of audiophiles are averse to them in our experience, hence the sorry state of audiophile records and the systems that fail to reveal their shortcomings — but that’s a horse that gets flogged regularly enough on this site. Enough is enough.)

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do. (more…)

Deep Purple / Machine Head on Rhino 180 Gram Vinyl

Sonic Grade: F

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 records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

I’m guessing that very few people have ever heard this record sound good. The average copy is nothing special, but this one is a boring, lifeless mess, so save your money.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

More Deep Purple

More British Blues Rock

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Rickie Lee Jones on Rhino Heavy Vinyl – Not Our Idea of Good Sound, and We Hope Not Yours

Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back. It has that phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Rhino reissue of Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it. Hey, play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why.)

We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”

We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equaled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.”

So, What’s Wrong With Rickie Lee?

Simple. They took a somewhat artificial, hi-fi-ish, close-miked, heavy-on-the-reverb recording and made it sound even more artificial, phony and hi-fi-ish (but less-heavy-on-the-reverb; there is always a noticeable loss of resolution in these modern mastering jobs). What were they thinking?

The best copies have warmth, richness and sweetness to balance out the more unnatural elements in the recording. Copies with these qualities are few and far between but we have run across them in our shootouts and proudly put them up, where of course they sold quickly for lots of money. Major league audiophile appeal, this one. In its day it was heavily demo’ed in every stereo store in town, and for good reason — the sound positively jumps out of the speakers. (more…)

ZZ Top / Fandango – Another Warners Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity

More ZZ Top

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Sonic Grade: C

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.

Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.

How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?

Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be.

But the sound is stuck behind the speakers, veiled, and sorely lacking in energy and excitement. The transparency is of course compromised on all these new reissues, and without transparency and resolution much of the audience participation on the first side is lost.

I won’t say the new pressing is boring. Let’s just say it’s a lot more boring than it should be. (more…)

Yes / The Yes Album – Rhino 180g Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Yes Album Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Yes Album

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Sonic Grade: F

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 records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

The worst version ever? Could be!

That notorious hack Ron McMaster strikes again.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino bills their releases as pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl”. However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

The CD versions of most of the LP titles they released early on are far better sounding than the lifeless, flat, pinched, so-called audiophile pressings they did starting around 2000.

The mastering engineer for this garbage actually has the nerve to feature his name in the ads for the records. He should be run out of town, not promoted as a keeper of the faith and defender of the virtues of “vinyl.” If this is what vinyl sounds like I’d would have switched to CD years ago.

And the amazing thing is, as bad as these records are, there are people who like them. I’ve read postings on the internet from people who say the sound on these records is just fine. It’s sad.

Their Grateful Dead titles sound as bad as the cheapest Super Saver reissue copies I have ever heard. And those are terrible!


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Workingman’s Dead is Dead as a Doornail on Rhino Records

More Grateful Dead

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

The 2003 Rhino reissue on heavy vinyl of Workingman’s Dead is absolutely awful. It sounds like a bad cassette. The CD of the album that I own is superb, which means that the tapes are not the problem, bad mastering and pressing are. (more…)

Elvis Costello / My Aim Is True – More Heavy Vinyl Trash from Rhino

Hot Stampers of My Aim Is True

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

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Sonic Grade: D

I’m embarrassed to say we used to like the Rhino Heavy Vinyl version, and in our defense let me tell you why: it was (for the most part) tonally correct, fairly low distortion, and had tight punchy bass.

Boy, Was We Ever Wrong. Now it sounds positively CRUDE and UNPLEASANT next to the real thing — if by “the real thing” you mean an honest to goodness properly mastered, properly pressed copy (also known as a Hot Stamper). Kevin Gray’s crude cutting system did this album no favors.

The average copy of this record is aggressive and unpleasant.  The British pressings are mud.

You either have to work very hard to find a good domestic pressing (which means buying, cleaning and playing lots and lots of them), or you have to luck into a good one by accident. (more…)

The Definitive Vinyl Version? – Perhaps There Is a Third Way

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

The letter you see reproduced down below got me to thinking.

If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the typical audiophile system you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would make a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

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John Coltrane / Coltrane’s Sound – A Very Good Reissue by Bernie Grundman

More John Coltrane


Sonic Grade: B+ (at least)

This is one of the better sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings we have played recently. What makes it different from so many others that fail to live up to the remastering hype that surrounds them (and irritates the hell out of those of use who know what a good record is actually supposed to sound like)?

  • It’s tonally correct from top to bottom. At most five or ten per cent of the audiophile repressings we’ve played in the last ten years can make that claim.
  • The bass is not boosted or poorly defined. This eliminates at a minimum 95+% of all the Mobile Fidelity pressings we have ever played. Nobody seems to notice how bad the bass is on their records. A real puzzler, that fact.
  • It’s not exceptionally veiled or recessed. I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of Heavy Vinyl pressings that are not much too veiled and recessed to compete with their vintage vinyl brethren.

It is slightly veiled, and lacks some of the life, the space and obviously some of the presence of the real thing, the real thing in this case being an early stereo pressing on the Blue and Green Atlantic label.

Still, for your money you are getting one helluva good record. One of the top two or three Rhino records to date.

(Bernie did a great job on this Coltrane album, but whatever you do, don’t waste your money on his recut of Lush Life. It is just plain awful, a Hall of Shame pressing that’s so bad it defies understanding. Something sure went wrong somewhere, I can tell you that. Stay tuned for my review.)

• Lacquers cut by Bernie Grundman
• LPs cut from the original analog masters
• Packages replicated to the finest detail manufactured with more care than ever

OUR PREVIOUS COMMENTARY

This is yet another superb Tom Dowd recording of Coltrane in his prime, with support from the brilliant McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones.

Advice on Which Pressings to Buy

Forget the later Red and Green Atlantic pressings. Every one we’ve ever played was flat, dry, and thin. They sound like the cheap reissues that Atlantic churned out in the ’70s. Don’t get me wrong; there are some good sounding records on the Red and Green label, but you really have to know what you are doing — or be really lucky — to find them.

We’ve played them by the score, and found relatively few winners among a slough of losers. If you want to take your chances on some, knock yourself out, more power to you, but expect to come up with nothing to show for your time and money almost every time. That’s been our experience anyway.

And be very thankful if you happen to run into one of these early Atlantic stereo pressings. Few Classic Coltrane albums survived the jazz lovers of the day and their awful turntables.

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James Taylor / Sweet Baby James on Warners-Rhino 180g Vinyl EQ Anomaly Test

More James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for Sweet Baby James

taylosweet_1601

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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