Mediocrities

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Zep IV

More on Zep IV

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The Classic 200 Gram Pressing — Dead as a Doornail

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Classic 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote: “You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…” Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the better original pressings to sound their best.

(Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.)

Things have changed. The exact same 200 gram review copy now sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic? The heavy vinyl pressing is lifeless and boring. All the subtleties of both the music and the sound are missing. More than anything else the Classic sounds crude. You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring that dead-as-a-doornail LP back to life.

Relatively speaking of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) can you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100+ on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.) The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a dozen or two copies to find a good one.

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity

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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 against regular TML domestic pressings and found wanting.]

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 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 good pressing. 
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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. (more…)

This Is Your Idea of a Great Firebird?

See more of Stravinsky’s music

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Classic Records 45 RPM Debunked

Sonic Grade: C-

A customer alerted me to a review Wayne Garcia wrote about various VPI platters and the rim drive, and this is what I wrote back to him:

Steve, after starting to read Wayne’s take on the platters, I came across this:

That mind-blowing epiphany that I hadn’t quite reached with the Rim Drive/Super Platter happened within seconds after I lowered the stylus onto the “Infernal Dance” episode of Stravinsky’s Firebird (45 rpm single-sided Classic Records reissue of the incomparable Dorati/LSO Mercury Living Presence recording).

That is one of my half-dozen or so favorite orchestral recordings, and I have played it countless times.

This is why I have so little faith in reviewers. I played that very record not two weeks ago (04/2010) against a good original and the recut was at best passable in comparison. If a reviewer cannot hear such an obvious difference in quality, why believe anything he has to say? The reason we say that no reviewer can be trusted is that you cannot find a reviewer who does not say good things about demonstrably bad and even just plain awful records. It’s the only real evidence we have for their credibility, and the evidence is almost always damning.

I want a reviewer who knows better than to play such a seriously flawed pressing and then proceed to waste my time telling me about it. He should tell us what a good record sounds like with this equipment mod. Then I might give more credence to what he has to say.

P.S.

This is one of the Classic Records titles on Harry Pearson’s TAS List of Super Discs (!).

P.P.S.

Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three”.

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed.

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fandango

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More ZZ Top

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. (more…)

Classic Records – More of the Same

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP reviewed.

There are certainly some incredible sounding pressings of this album out there, but who has the resources it takes to find them? Most of the original Blue Notes we come across these days turn out to have mediocre sound, and many of them have severely damaged inner grooves. Even the mintiest looking copies often turn out to be too noisy for most audiophiles, Blue Note vinyl being what it is.

This is of course why the hacks at Classic Records did so well for themselves [until they went under] hawking remastered versions of classic albums pressed on new, quieter vinyl.

The problem is that most of their stuff just doesn’t sound all that hot, this album included. We’ve played it; it’s decent, but any Hot Stamper will show you just how much music you are missing.

If you want to hear this album with amazing fidelity but don’t want to spend the time, money and energy collecting, cleaning, and playing mostly mediocre copies until you luck into a good quiet one, a Hot Stamper pressing is the only way to go.

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Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled — It’s Just Vague

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

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The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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Today’s Bad Heavy Vinyl Pressing Is… Aqualung!

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Another Classic Records LP debunked.

By the time the guitars at the end of the title track fade out you will be ready to take your heavy vinyl Classic and ceremoniously drop it in a trashcan. (Actually, the best use for it is to demonstrate to your skeptical audiophile friends that no heavy vinyl pressing can begin to compete with a Hot Stamper from Better Records. Not in a million years.)

Over the course of the last 25 years we was wrong three ways from Sunday about our down-and-out friend Aqualung here. We originally liked the MoFi. When the DCC 180g came along we liked that one better, and a few years back I was somewhat enamored with some original British imports. Wrong on all counts. After playing more than two dozen pressings, it’s pretty clear that the right domestic pressings KILL any and all contenders.
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