Older Reviews – Rock and Pop

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.

For those who remember the 45 RPM/ 33 RPM Classic Records comparison packages, this is somewhat in the same vein. Of course, we don’t know that they kept the EQ the same for the 45 versions compared to the 33s of the albums included in the package, so the comparison is suspect at best. You’re not really comparing apples to apples unless you keep the EQ exactly the same. I rather doubt they did, because on Simon and Garfunkel the sound was noticeably worse at 45 than it was at 33. This is the main reason we don’t carry the 45 versions of Classic’s records: they are a lot more money, and who knows if they’re even any better?

[This one sure wasn’t better. This guy liked it, but he is rarely right about any of this record and equipment stuff, as I hope everyone knows by now.]

Money

How did this come about, you ask? Well, it’s kind of an interesting story. My record grading associate, Robert Pincus, handed back to me a MOFI Dark Side Of The Moon that he said had an amazing version of the song Money on side two. Since we both don’t like MOFI, his comment was, “they sure got that song right, even if they can’t figure out how to do the rest of the album”.

A couple of weeks later I got in another Dark Side Of The Moon on MOFI, and I needed to know what the playing condition was because it had a few light marks, so I dropped the needle on the first track on side one: Breathe. Now Breathe is my favorite test track for side one for any version of Dark Side Of The Moon, Half-Speed or otherwise.

When the voices come in about halfway through the song, you can tell that most copies are too bright simply by listening to the vocals on this track. The cymbals might sound wonderful; lots of other instruments might sound wonderful; and there might be plenty of ambience, detail and transparency. But all of that counts for nothing if the voices don’t sound right. And on most copies the voices sound bright, aggressive, grainy and transitory. (This is the case with the new 180 gram 30th Anniversary copy, I’m sorry to say.)

So on this MOFI copy I was playing I was shocked — shocked — to hear smooth, sweet vocals. I happen to know the Hot Stampers for side one and I immediately checked the stampers to see what they were. Sure enough it was the Hot Stamper for side one.

I flipped the record over, and started up side two. The sound was DREADFUL. As I was listening to Money, the thought kept going through my head, “This is the track that MOFI was supposed to have gotten right on side two?” It sucks! It’s hard; there’s no real transparency; the bass is all flabby and wrong. The whole affair is sour and off-putting.

Then I realized: this must be a bad stamper for side two. I pulled out the copy that Robert had raved about, and sure enough, side two was MAGICAL. There was simply no comparison between the two. They were night and day different. One was completely involving and one made me question whether my stereo was working right.

Of course, most audiophiles are still under the misapprehension that Mobile Fidelity, with their strict ‘quality control’, which they spend hundreds of words explaining on their inner sleeves, eliminates pressing variations of these kinds.

Isn’t that the reason for the Limited Edition Audiophile Record in the first place? The whole idea is to take the guesswork out of buying the Best Sounding Copy money can buy.

But it just doesn’t work that way. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but my entire website is based on the proposition that nothing of the sort is true. If paying more money for an audiophile pressing guaranteed the buyer better sound, 80% of what we do around here would be a waste of time. [Now 100%.] Everybody knows what the audiophile pressings are, and there would be nothing for me to do but find them and throw them up on the website for you to buy. Why even bother to play them if they all sound so good?

Obviously this is not the case. Most of them suck. You’ll notice that we carry virtually no new releases from Speakers Corner anymore, when we used to bring in the new titles on a regular basis. The current quality of their mastering (Elvis, the new Mercury’s, etc) is so abysmal that it would take much too long and cost much too much money to unearth the few gems they got right from the huge pile of crappy new records they released.

If you’ve spent any time on the site at all you know I am not a fan of Mobile Fidelity’s mastering. There are a dozen or so really great MOFIs. Dark Side Of The Moon has never made it to the list, and for good reason. The average copy of DSOTM on MOFI is Not Good.

The person who buys this two LP Package will have the opportunity to hear for himself just how bad most MOFI pressings of Dark Side are. With these two LPs, you are getting an Amazing Side One and an Amazing Side Two – just not on the same piece of vinyl. (The joke here at Better Records is that I should label which side sounds good and which side doesn’t in case the buyer has trouble telling them apart. Since so many audiophiles like so many bad sounding records – don’t get me started – this is not as ridiculous as it sounds. But the difference between the two sides is so OBVIOUS that virtually anyone will hear it. (Even those people who still think that MOFI was a great label.)

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David Bowie / Low

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

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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…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

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More Singer Songwriter Albums

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this White Label Asylum pressing was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, warm and natural, with exceptional immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”

This copy has real energy and dynamics that just could not be heard on most of the pressings we played. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, this copy will be hard to beat.

Listen to how huge the piano is. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Both sides have clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot. (more…)

The Doobie Brothers – Stampede

More of The Doobie Brothers

More Recordings Engineered by Donn Landee

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy has a lot going for it – exceptionally quiet vinyl for the most part too
  • These sides are rich and full, with punchy bass and plenty of rockin’-down-the-highway Doobies energy – thanks Donn Landee, you da man
  • Contains contributions from such guest musicians as Maria Muldaur, Ry Cooder, and Curtis Mayfield
  • Allmusic 4 1/2 stars: “The Doobie Brothers’ rootsiest album to date, Stampede was virtuoso soulful countrified rock of a gritty nature, crossing over into blues as well as reaching back to a raw, traditional rock & roll sound…”

The average copy of this album is compressed and congested, recessed and veiled, grainy and thin; in other words, it sounds like an old Doobie Brothers album. It takes a copy like this one to show you just how good the Master Tape must be.

And if we hadn’t had plenty of copies to play with, we would never have found this one. (more…)

Spirit / The Family That Plays Together – The Hit Can Be Rough

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More Psychedelic Rock

This is a review from our first shootout, 2013. I had been playing the album since 1968, but by 2013, a mere 45 years later, we had the cleaning technologies and the stereo system to finally get the album to sound right, to us anyway.

This is, again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

We get asked about this classic album a lot, but until recently we were not convinced that we’d ever be able to find a great sounding copy. We built up a huge stack of copies and finally took the plunge; I am pleased to report that even though you’ll never hear a copy of this album that screams “Demo Disc”, you can certainly find ones that communicate the music well if you clean and play enough of ’em.

This is a record I grew up with and like to think I know well. I’m a big fan of the band. I have almost never heard this record sound good at all, which is why you’ve never seen a Hot copy on the site. We’ve finally managed to find a few good copies — it wasn’t easy.

The sound isn’t too dissimilar from what you get on a good Jefferson Airplane record. It’s crazy psychedelic ’60s music with a LOT going on, and I’m guessing it was pretty hard to get the raw power of this band onto tape.

Side one rates A++ to A+++ and side two is close behind at A++. A copy with grades like these gives you bigger, fuller, more open sound as well as more energy and presence. Importantly, there’s more separation between the various instruments here, a feature that really allows you to make sense of the music and appreciate everything that’s going on. This copy is more open and transparent than the typical pressing by a mile.

The first track on side two is a step down from the rest sonically, I’m afraid. And there are times on the album where you can hear some grit and distortion, but trust us — that’s on the tape, and any steps taken after the fact to remove it would rob the instruments of their natural texture. We all enjoy rich, smooth sound, but it’s not worth losing musical information. This record may not sound perfect, but it sounded right to our ears, and most copies just plain don’t. (more…)

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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Let the Devolution begin! This is quite possibly the BEST COPY WE’VE EVER HEARD, and one of a very select group of copies (I can count ’em on one hand) to ever attain White Hot Stamper status here at Better Records. The sound here can be summed up in one word: HUGE! The bass is deep and punchy; the energy level is off the charts; the soundfield has tremendous depth and the music is just flyin’ out of the speakers. If you’re a fan of this music — and you should be — you’ll be hard pressed to find a copy that comes close to this one!  

As soon as we dropped the needle we were shocked at incredible size and spaciousness here. We’re always waiting for those moments when the speakers disappear and the sound of an album goes to a level we’ve never heard before, and that’s exactly what this copy delivered. As Good As It Gets, White Hot Stamper material all the way.

While Devo’s music may never sound as rich, warm, and tubey as the typical classic rock album, that certainly doesn’t mean we need to accept completely anemic, sterile sound for this album. It took a big stack of copies, but here’s one that made us sit up straight, pay attention and enjoy. (more…)

Procol Harum / A Salty Dog (Best Of…) – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Reviews and Commentaries for Robin Trower and Procol Harum

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This is a very nice looking MFP British Import LP. The vinyl this title was pressed on tends to be somewhat noisy so all the click ‘n’ pop counters out there should probably steer clear of this one as we cleaned and played ten copies (!) and not one was better than Mint Minus Minus!

But the sound tends to be quite good, which means that if you can stand a little surface noise you will be getting quite a bargain here. We love this music and think you will too. 

It turns out that this album is simply The Best Of Procol Harum under a different name.

Why they would rename the album ‘A Salty Dog’ when there already is ‘A Salty Dog’ album, with different songs, is beyond me. But in a way I’m glad this is the Best Of Procol Harum, because many of their albums are full of filler, and this one is full of nothing but good songs. (more…)

The Hollies – For Certain Because… (Released here as Stop! Stop! Stop!)

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This is a rare, original Hollies Parlophone Black & Yellow label LP in stereo.

The album has very good sound on surprisingly quiet vinyl.

“An admirable effort that may stand as the group’s most accomplished album of the ’60s.” — AMG

“The Hollies were very much a pop group and didn’t let their somewhat more sober and introspective compositions stand in the way of their glittering harmonies and jangling guitars. Occasional brass, banjo, bells, and vibrating piano embellish their basic rock instrumentation on this pleasant, if hardly earthshaking, work. The circus-like “Stop! Stop! Stop!,” with its manic banjo, was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic; the good-natured “Pay You Back with Interest” was a Top 30 hit in America; and the jazzy “Tell Me to My Face” was one of their best ’60s album tracks.” — AMG