Reviews from Earlier Days

Mark Levinson / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we can’t deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro.

Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Haydn / Symphonies 100 & 101 – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Joseph Haydn

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

The New York Times review for these performances called them “matchless” and we see no reason to disagree! With Super Hot Stamper sound for No. 100, “Military”, we’re confident you will have a very hard time finding better sound and music from Haydn than is found on this original Black Label Vanguard Stereophonic Demonstration Disc.

Side one, containing Symphony No. 100, “Military”, is smooth and rich and full of tubey magic, the kind of analog sound that has not been recorded for more than thirty years. Because the top end is not boosted and phony like most audiophile pressings, you can play a record like this at much more realistic levels without fatigue or harshness.

Try that with the average Reference or Telarc.

The sound is a bit distant, mid-hall we would call it, but wide and full of depth the way these vintage recordings often are.

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Debussy / Images Pour Orchestre / Munch – Reviewed in 2006

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Iberia on side two sounds exceptionally good. It’s also a better performance than the famous Reiner. Munch understands this music perfectly.

This recording has an extremely open, extended top end. If you can add a few dB around 50 cycles, you will have the best of both worlds. 

For a better sounding recording of Iberia, click here.

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Are All MoFis Created Equal? A Pair of Pink Floyd LPs Proved They Aren’t

[This commentary was written more than ten years ago. Still true though.]

Many audiophiles are still under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict “quality control”, managed to eliminate pressing variations of the kind we discuss endlessly on the site.

Such is simply not the case, and it’s child’s play to demonstrate how false this way of thinking is, assuming you have these four things: good cleaning fluids and a machine, multiple copies of the same record, a reasonably revealing stereo, and two working ears.

With all four the reality of pressing variations for ALL pressings is both obvious and incontrovertible.

The discussion below of a Hot Stamper Pair of Dark Sides may shed light on some of the issues involved.

Remember Classic Records Comparison Packages?

This is our first Hot Stamper Comparison Package.

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Tchaikovsky / Symphony #6 (Pathetique) / Monteux

This review and commentary was written in 2011. It still holds up though — wouldn’t change a thing.

Presenting a first for Better Records: a White Hot Stamper copy of this CORRECTLY remastered version of LSC 1901, which just happens to be a recording from the earliest days of stereo, 1955! It’s guaranteed to KILL any and all original Shaded Dogs, as well as the more common reissues; White Dogs, Red Seals, Victrolas, Classic Heavy Vinyl, you name it, this pressing will beat the pants off of it and in the process show you precisely what is wrong with each and every one of them.

Over the past twenty years we’ve played hundreds of early RCAs and we have sure never heard one sound like this, with so much richness, Tubey Magic, LIFE and CLARITY.

Where is the cutter head distortion, congestion and frequency limiting that ruins so many of the early pressings?

Mostly — I’m tempted to say completely — gone. We’ve played at least three Shaded Dogs of LSC 1901 since 2011 and all three were AWFUL.

The size and scope of this recording is enormous, with the orchestral sections clearly staged wide and deep. Where is the old tube smear and compression and opacity? It must not be on the tape, because I hear no trace of it.

This copy is cut clean, its dynamics intact, which just goes to show how much better the master tape must be than we’ve been led to believe by the original Shady Dogs and the hacks at Classic Records.

The lower strings are especially textured and rich. That’s the Living Stereo sound we love!

This was by far one of the most natural sounding classical recordings we’ve played in months. Not many classical White Hot stampers come our way, and fewer still make it to the site. We hope whoever buys this record has a large classical collection so that he can see why we think this pressing belongs in the rarefied stratosphere of the All Time Greats.

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as none-too-impressive, playing into my natural prejudice against early Living Stereo recordings and Classic Records themselves.

But RCA managed to cut this record amazingly well decades after the tape was first recorded, not for audiophiles, but for music lovers. Maybe that’s the secret.

Records For Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records

Of course it is. Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely that we are shocked when such a record is even halfway decent. After playing so many bad records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A record like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the pressing at hand.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that the typical audiophile — one who believes the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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David Bowie / Low

More David Bowie

More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • This British pressing (not original by the way – this one is better!) plays about as quietly as any we can find, which makes it a very special pressing indeed
  • Huge amounts of studio space can be heard on this copy, along with the Tubey Magical richness only the best UK copies offer
  • 5 stars: “Though a handful of the vocal pieces on Low are accessible — “Sound and Vision” has a shimmering guitar hook, and “Be My Wife” subverts soul structure in a surprisingly catchy fashion — the record is defiantly experimental and dense with detail, providing a new direction for the avant-garde in rock & roll.”
  • If you’re a fan of the man, this is a Top Title from 1977 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

I’ve mentioned it on the site numerous times: I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing Art Rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Siren, Crime Of The Century, Deceptive Bends and scores of others. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and with this shootout we had a blast hearing just how good a killer Hot Stamper UK pressing can sound on the much more highly-evolved stereo system (equipment, room, set-up, tweaks, electricity, etc.) we have today.

It’s difficult to find a pressing that gets both sides of this album right, perhaps in part because the two sides are so different. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but it will have to do) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk and Eno.

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Heart / Little Queen – How Wide and Tall Is Your Copy? Compared to What?

This is a Classic Rock Demo Disc to beat practically anything you could throw at it. Love Alive and Barracuda on this copy will deliver the full Rock and Roll Power of your system. If you’ve got The Big Sound, this is the record that will truly show it off. 

You get HUGE meaty guitars, BIG bass, a smooth top end, full-bodied vocals, incredible rock energy and dynamics, loads of richness and incredible transparency.

Wide and Tall

A key quality we look for in Hot Stamper copies of Little Queen is Wide and Tall Presentation. What exactly does that mean you ask? The best copies, the ones that really jump out of the speakers, tend to present some (usually high frequency) information higher and more forward than others. This is not hard to miss.

When you’re playing ten or fifteen copies of the same side of the same album and suddenly a cymbal crashes higher and more clearly than all the others did in the part of the track you are testing, you can’t help but notice it. Wow! How did that get there? Once you hear it you start to listen for it, and sure enough the next copy won’t do it, nor will the next. Maybe the one after that one gets about halfway there, the cymbal crashes higher than normal but not as far as the one that really showed you how high was up.

And of course it all ties in with our Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary. If you’ve been making steady improvements to your system, or have better cleaning technologies, or better room treatments, or cleaner electricity, maybe ALL the Little Queen pressings do it now. They might ALL do something they never did before, and in fact they SHOULD be doing things better now.

Our last shootout was a while back; many, many parts of the chain have undergone improvement. During this shootout we heard things in the recording we never heard before. This is the point of all this audio fooling around. It pays off, if you do it right. You have musical information waiting to be unlocked in your favorite recordings. It isn’t going to free itself. You have to do the work to set it free. Do it our way or do it some other way, but do it. You, more than anyone else, will be the one to get the benefit.

Biggest Problems Noted Recently

With continual improvements to the stereo in the year or so since we last did this shootout, the goal of which is to get the stereo out of the way of the sound of the record, we noted that many copies suffer from a degree of dryness and hardness. This lack of richness is most easily recognized by the lack of studio ambience in what seems to be a pretty dead studio. Play any good All Tube recording from the ’50s or ’60s and you will hear exactly what a record like this doesn’t do. But those other records don’t rock like this one either.

More Heart

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Mahler / Symphony No. 1 / Solti – A Decent Speakers Corner Reissue from 1996

More of the music of Gustav Mahler

More Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Sonic Grade: B

Probably one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day (1996 or thereabouts) 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.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

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David Bowie / Low – A Long Time Ago We Were Surprised to Hear a Domestic Pressing Beat Our Best British LPs

More David Bowie

More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

This shootout listing was written sometime around 2008. 

We hadn’t discovered the right imports for this album yet, that would not happen for many more years, hence the error we made in thinking that some especially good sounding domestic copies could win a shootout. Back then they could, but with the right pressings in the mix there is not a chance in the world that could happen now.

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Some domestic pressings do end up having Hot Stampers, but it’s rare. Our best Brits just kill ’em.

Our Old Hot Stamper Commentary

This is the first Hot Stamper copy of Low to ever hit our site, and it’s a darn good one — especially on side one, where all the “pop” songs are found. We just had a huge shootout for this album featuring all the copies we’ve picked up over the years, and this domestic (!) pressing shocked us by blowing away our Brit copies on side one.

If you aren’t interested in the instrumental Bowie/Eno synth-heavy soundscapes that fill side two, this is THE copy to own.

I’ve said it on the site numerous time, but I spent a good portion of the ’70s playing art-rock records like Taking Tiger Mountain, Crime Of The Century and Deceptive Bends. I remember being blown away when Low came out, and it was a blast to hear how good a Hot Stamper pressing can sound on a highly-evolved stereo system today. Side one of this album features the more traditional (not really the right word, but I digress) Bowie rockers like Sound and Vision and Be My Wife, while side two sounds more like the instrumental synth music of Kraftwerk or Eno. (more…)

Sly and The Family Stone / Greatest Hits – Three Labels, But Only One Wins Shootouts

There are three Epic labels for this record. The originals are yellow, the first reissue is orange, and the last reissue is bluish black. I can tell you that only one of those labels produced the best sounding copies in our shootout.

Beyond that you will have to buy a sample of each and do your own shootout. Finding clean copies was quite difficult; it took us a long time to get enough to play, and, as we said, most pressings are dreadful. Those of you who like to read our commentaries and play along at home are going to have a rough time with this title. We sure did.

But the results are worth it, because we LOVE this music! Music just doesn’t get any better. If this album doesn’t lift your spirits, I can’t imagine what would. And note that many of the best songs here are exclusive to this greatest hits and cannot be found on any other album. That makes it a Must Own in our book.

More Sly and the Family Stone

Reviews and Commentaries for Sly and the Family Stone

More Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Better on the Right Reissue


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Other Important Lessons We’ve Learned from Record Experiments

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