Labels With Shortcomings – Speakers Corner – Rock & Pop

Two Reviews of Child Is Father to the Man – Fremer Vs. Better Records

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

Audiophile Reviewers – Who Needs ‘Em!

In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album.

I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.)

Shortcomings? What Shortcomings?

Fremer continues:

There are two reissues of this. One is from Sundazed and there’s a far more expensive one from Speakers Corner…

The Speakers Corner reissue, which uses the wrong label art is pressed at Pallas and consequently it’s quieter and better finished overall. However, the Sundazed copy I got was very well finished and reasonably quiet, but not as quiet.

On the other hand the Speakers Corner version was somewhat more hyped up at the frequency extremes and cut somewhat hotter, but not objectionably so. The Sundazed sounds somewhat closer to the original overall, so for half the price, you do the math!

“Somewhat hyped up”? We liked it a whole lot less than Mr. Fremer apparently did. Early last year I gave it a big fat F for FAILURE, writing at the time:

This is the worst sounding Heavy Vinyl Reissue LP I have heard in longer than I can remember. To make a record sound this bad you have to work at it.

What the hell were they thinking? Any audiophile record dealer that would sell you this record should be run out of town on a rail. Of course that won’t happen, because every last one of them (present company excluded) will be carrying it, of that you can be sure.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, out comes a record like this to prove that it can. I look forward to Fremer’s rave review.

(more…)

Stevie Wonder on Heavy Vinyl – Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

More of the Music of Stevie Wonder

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

This commentary was written more than ten years ago. I’ve just gone to this reviewer’s website to make sure the quote below is accurate, and everything you need to see is still up and as misguided as ever.

Some audiophiles never learn, and a great deal of this blog is devoted to helping audiophiles avoid the errors this reviewer and others like him have been making for decades. 27 years ago I wrote my first commentary about the awful audiophile records this reviewer raved about. In those 27 years it seems that nothing has changed. Bad sounding audiophile pressings get favorably reviewed by this fellow to this day.

How it is possible to spend so much time doing something, yet fail to learn anything in the process? It is frankly beyond me.

I will ask the question again: Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

How on Earth could anyone possibly know such a thing?

Some background. Years ago our first ever Hot Stamper shootout for Songs in the Key of Life had us enthusiastically singing its praises:

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED for one of the funkiest and most consistent double albums of all time! It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding Stevie Wonder vinyl, but here’s a copy that proves it’s possible if you try hard enough. So many copies are terrible in so many different ways — we should know, we played them. And just to be clear, this copy is far from perfect as well, but it did more things right in more places than we ever expected it would or could. And that means it showed us a great sounding Stevie Wonder record we never knew existed.

But a noted reviewer says it’s a bad recording. Does he know something we don’t?

Not exactly. The fact is he doesn’t know something we do, something he, like anybody else, could have found out had he simply done his homework. (We call them shootouts, but homework is certainly a serviceable and in some ways even more accurate description: it’s work and you do it at home.)

All it takes is one good copy to falsify the assertion this fellow makes. We in fact found more than one. But I’m quite sure we do things very differently at Better Records than they do at any reviewer’s digs, including this reviewer’s basement lair. (more…)

Joe Cocker – With a Little Help From My Friends on Speakers Corner

More of the Music of Joe Cocker

Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Rock and Pop releases. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Speakers corner knocks one out of the park with this wonderful reissue! Those conga drums and the back-up singers sound so much better than I remember them! If you’re going to own one Joe Cocker album make it this one. It’s a man-size serving of English Soul.”

Elvis Presley / From Elvis in Memphis – Good Sounding on Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl?

More of the Music of Elvis Presley

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Elvis Presley

Speakers Corner did this album in 2003. I liked it and recommended it at the time.

I rather doubt I would care for it these days. I have much less tolerance now for the vague imaging, lack of ambience and overall lifeless quality their records invariably suffer from than I did back then.

Of the handful of Elvis albums to ever make it to the site this is clearly the critics’ favorite, and one listen will tell you why. This is the album that single-handedly revived Elvis’ fortunes, setting the stage for his record-breaking series of shows in Las Vegas doing pretty much the type of music he had recorded for it. The next year he would go on tour for the first time since 1957(!).

Other Pressings

As you can imagine, this album changed everything for Elvis. I first heard it the way I heard so many albums back in the late ’70s and early ’80s: on the Mobile Fidelity pressing. I was an audiophile record collector in 1981 and if MoFi was impressed enough with the sound and the music to remaster the album and offer it to their dedicated fans, of which I was clearly one, then who was I to say no to music I had never heard? (Soon enough I would learn my lesson about MoFi’s A&R department. The MoFi release of Supersax Plays Bird, a record that had virtually nothing going for it, was the last time I took their advice seriously.)

Turns out, they did a pretty good job on the Elvis album, not that I would have any way to know — back then it would not even have occurred to me to buy a standard RCA pressing and compare it to my half-speed-mastered, pressed-in-Japan, double-the-price-of-a-regular disc LP.

A decade or thereabouts later it would be obvious to me that MoFi had fooled around with the sound and that the right (heavy accent on the word “right”) real RCA pressing would be more correct and more natural (but probably not as quiet of course, but advances in cleaning technology fixed most of that and left MoFi in the dust).

More Elvis

Speakers Corner did the album in 2003 and if memory serves I liked it and recommended it at the time. I rather doubt I could stand it now. I have much less tolerance for the vague imaging, lack of ambience and overall lifeless quality their records suffer from now than I did then.

We have a number of Elvis titles coming to the site soon [not as of 2022, they’re too hard to find], mostly because we’ve lucked into some good sounding pressings that aren’t from the ’50s and early ’60s. His earliest albums are rarely in audiophile playing condition, so finding these later albums with such good sound — so Tubey Magical, rich and smooth, despite their reissue labels — has been a bit of a godsend.

AMG 5 Star Review

After a 14-year absence from Memphis, Elvis Presley returned to cut what was certainly his greatest album (or, at least, a tie effort with his RCA debut LP from early 1956).

The fact that From Elvis in Memphis came out as well as it did is something of a surprise, in retrospect — Presley had a backlog of songs he genuinely liked that he wanted to record and had heard some newer soul material that also attracted him, and none of it resembled the material that he’d been cutting since his last non-soundtrack album, six years earlier.

And he’d just come off of the NBC television special which, although a lot of work, had led him to the realization that he could be as exciting and vital a performer in 1969 as he’d been a dozen years before.

And for what was practically the last time, the singer cut his manager, Tom Parker, out of the equation, turning himself over to producer Chips Moman.

The result was one of the greatest white soul albums (and one of the greatest soul albums) ever cut, with brief but considerable forays into country, pop, and blues as well. Presley sounds rejuvenated artistically throughout the dozen cuts off the original album, and he’s supported by the best playing and backup singing of his entire recording history.

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If You Can’t Make a Good Record, Why Make Any Record At All?

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill

This has to be one of the worst sounding versions ever pressed.

You think the average ABC or MCA pressing is opaque, flat and lifeless, not to mention compromised at both ends of the frequency spectrum?

You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!

As bad as the typical copy of this album is, the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl is even worse, with not a single redeeming quality to its credit.

If this is what passes for an Audiophile Record these days, and it is, it’s just one more nail in the coffin for Heavy Vinyl.

But that’s not the half of it.

Go to Acoustic Sounds’ website and read all the positive customer reviews — they love it! Is there any heavy vinyl pressing on the planet that a sizable contingent of audiophiles won’t say something nice about, no matter how bad it sounds? I can’t think of one.

To sum up, this record is nothing less than an affront to analog itself. I guarantee you the CD is better, if you get a good one. I own four or five and the best of them has far more musical energy than this thick, dull, opaque and boring piece of audiophile analog trash.

It was probably made from a digital copy of the master, or more likely a digital copy of an analog dub of the master — three generations, that’s sure what it sounds like — but that’s no excuse.

If you can’t make a good record, don’t make any record at all. Shelve the project. The audiophile vinyl world is drowning in bad sounding pressings; we don’t need any more thank you very much.

Sergio Mendes / Look Around – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

A textbook case of Live and Learn.

Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly impressed with the Speakers Corner pressing of this album when it came out on Heavy Vinyl in 2001.

Since then we have learned a thing or two. Their version is decent, not bad, but by no stretch of the imagination can it compete with any Hot Stamper pressing found on our site.

As you may have noticed, we here at Better Records are HUGE Sergio Mendes fans. Nowhere else in the world of music can you find the wonderfully diverse thrills that this group offers. We go CRAZY for the breathy multi-tracked female vocals and their layers of harmonies, the brilliant percussion, and, let us never forget, the critically important piano work and arrangements of Sergio himself. (more…)

Child Is Father to the Man on Speakers Corner – What The Hell Were They Thinking?

More Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

Sonic Grade: F

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

Back in 2007 when this record came out, we auditioned one and were dumbfounded at the poor quality of the sound. We noted:

This is the worst sounding Heavy Vinyl Reissue LP I have heard in longer than I can remember.

To make a record sound this bad you have to work at it.

What the hell were they thinking? Any audiophile record dealer that would sell you this record should be run out of town on a rail. Of course that never happens, because every last one of them (present company excluded) will carry it, of that you can be sure.

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, out comes a record like this to prove that it can.

(more…)

John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman – Nothing Special on Speakers Corner

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of John Coltrane

Sonic Grade: C (at best)

We were only slightly impressed with both the Speakers Corner pressing of this album and the earlier Impulse Heavy Vinyl edition from the ’90s. In our opinion neither one is worth pursuing.

This could very well be the greatest collaboration between a horn player and a singer in the history of music. I honestly cannot think of another to rank with it. Ella and Louis has the same feel — too giants who work together so sympathetically it’s close to magic, producing definitive performances of enduring standards that have not been equaled in the fifty plus years since they were recorded. And, on the better copies, or should we say the better sides of the better copies, RVG’s sound is stunning.

*************************************

They Say It’s Wonderful: Hartman and Coltrane, an Appreciation (more…)

Sarah Vaughan / Self-Titled – A Winner from Speakers Corner

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sarah Vaughan

Hot Stamper Pressings of Outstanding Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

Sonic Grade: B

A TOP TITLE from Speakers Corner on 180 gram. This is an outstanding Sarah Vaughan album with very good sound and top players like Clifford Brown on trumpet, Paul Quinichette on tenor sax and Herbie Mann on flute. 

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. (more…)