*Our Record Overview – The Not So Good

Tchaikovsky / Symphonies 4-5-6 / Mravinsky (4 LPs) – Reviewed in 2009

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Sonic Grade: C  

This is a Deutsche Grammophon 4 LP Box Set. I used to really like the sound of this set back in the day, as you will see from the rave review below from 2009.

It’s been a while since I found the sound to be worthy of a Hot Stamper shootout, and now, in 2017, having just played some of the discs against some very good German and British reissues, I now realize the records in the set are clearly made from dub tapes. They badly lack presence, space, transparency and clarity, all hallmarks of sub-generation master tapes.  (more…)

Elvis Presley – From Elvis in Memphis – MoFi Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B-? C+?

Another MoFi LP reviewed. 

I first heard From Elvis in Memphis 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 it and offer it to their dedicated fans, of which I was clearly one, then who was I to say no to an album 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.)

Turns out they did a pretty good job on the Elvis album though, 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 LP. A decade or thereabouts later it would be obvious to me that MoFi had fooled around with the sound and that the right real RCA pressing would be more correct and more natural (but probably not as quiet of course).

Generic Audiophile LP Bashing

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing? But there are scores of companies turning out this crap; somebody must be buying it. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti on Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Tonally correct, which is one thing you can’t say for most of the Zeps in this series, that’s for sure. Those of you with crappy domestic copies, crappy imported reissues and crappy CDs, which is pretty much all there is of this recording, will not know what you’re missing.

Compare this title to some of the better Classic Zep releases and I expect you will notice that hearing into the midrange is a more difficult proposition on these songs, with reduced ambience and space around the voices and instruments.

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings? Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is TRANSPARENCY. (more…)

Supertramp – Breakfast In America – MoFi Debunked

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Sonic Grade: C-

The MoFi Standard Operating Procedure of boosting the top end does this album no favors; it’s positively ruinous in fact. How dull does a system have to be to make this record sound right? Pretty damn dull. And the bad bass definition just adds to the phoniness. The average domestic copy is not that great either, so let’s give the MoFi a somewhat forgiving grade of C minus.  

Free – Fire and Water – on a Mythical Pink Island

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Free’s Third Album on the Original British Island Pink Label — Wow!

Found one at a local record store a while back. It was the first one I’d ever seen in nice enough condition to buy. Checking the dead wax was a bit of a shock though. Guess where it was mastered. Right here in the good old U S of A. In fact, at one of the worst mastering houses of all time: Bell Sound in New York. 

Now what does that tell you about British First Pressings? Are those the ones you’re looking for? Don’t get me wrong; I look for them too. But you had better look before you leap, or you’ll end up with a bad sounding, probably quite expensive pressing. It’s one more reason why we try to play as many records as we can here at Better Records. You can’t rely on anything but the grooves. (If you see Bell Sound in the dead wax, run for cover. You know what the original domestic Let It Be’s sound like? That’s Bell Sound in all its glory.) (more…)

Carole King – Tapestry on Classic Records Reviewed in the ’90s

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Sonic Grade: B

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic LP, but I remember it as being fairly good. At the time we wrote:

It’s a little rolled off on the top, but it’s a good rolled off, because brightening it up would make it sound modern and wrong. It’s rich and full of body, especially the piano, the way modern recordings almost never are.

Musically it’s hard to fault as well. What’s surprising, if you haven’t played this album in a while, is how good a non-hit track like “Home Again” can be. But there aren’t many of those on this album because almost every song was a hit or received a lot of radio play; the quality of the material is that good.

Heavy Vinyl and the Loss of Transparency (more…)

The Who – Tommy – Classic Records Debunked

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic Tommy is bass shy. It could have had amazing bass, like their Who’s Next, but it doesn’t. Why, I have no idea. The overall sound is thin, so thin that we immediately knew there was no point in carrying it (back in the bad old days when we carried Heavy Vinyl).

The only Classic Who record we ever carried was Who’s Next; the rest of them vary from mediocre to dreadful.

The Ornette Coleman Trio – At The Golden Circle Vol. 1

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a Blue Note LP with EXCELLENT sound! We didn’t have enough clean copies to do a shootout, but you can be sure that each side rates at least an A+ for sound.

Side one has tons of energy, gorgeous highs and a nice deep bottom end. Side two is rich and full-bodied with wonderfully textured brass. This is a superb copy with sound that does this complex music justice. 

Whether you’ll like the music or not is another question — this is free form jazz; not everybody’s into it, that’s for sure. Ornette Coleman, though, is undeniably one of the masters of this genre. If you have a taste for adventurous, avant garde jazz, this is an excellent record for you both musically and sonically. (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – Heart Like A Wheel – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

This pressing beats the typical Capitol LP, which is an aggressive, grainy piece of crap. Take my word for it: I easily have 30-40 copies of this album, and I can tell you from years of experience that it is extremely difficult to find good sounding pressings of this music. Cisco has done a service to the audiophile community by producing a very enjoyable LP of this, Linda’s masterpiece. It’s music that belongs in your collection. (If you have the bread, check out our Hot Stamper copies, guaranteed to kill any modern pressing — including this one — or your money back.) 

Cisco’s verison is completely free from compression of any kind, and sometimes that works in favor of the overall sound and sometimes it doesn’t. I may have additional commentary discussing these issues down the road, but for now let’s just say you will have a hard time finding a better copy of Heart Like A Wheel on vinyl. And of course, virtually no Capitol pressing is ever going to be as quiet as one of these lovely 180g RTI LPs.

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim on Bad Rhino Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C-

The originals are better and not that hard to find. (The sound on the best original pressings is superb.)

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.