*Our Record Overview – The Not So Good

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.

JS Bach / The Fox Touch, Volume 1

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[This review was written in 2010. Since then I have played copies of these Crystal Clear organ recordings and been much less impressed. The ambience is a fraction of what it should be, and the reason I know that is that the vintage organ recordings I play have dramatically more size and space than these audiophile pressings do. Live and Learn.]

A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Are we changing our tune about Audiophile records? Not in the least; we love the ones that sound right. The fact that so few of them do is not our fault. 

The methods used to make a given record are of no interest whatsoever to us. We clean and play the pressings that we have on hand and judge the sound and music according to a single standard that we set for all such recordings. Organ records, in this case, get judged against other organ records. If you’ve been an audiophile for forty years as I have you’ve heard plenty of organ records.

Practically every audiophile label on the planet produced at least one, and most made more than one. Some of the major labels made them by the dozen in the ’50s and ’60s, and many of those can sound quite wonderful.

Who made this one, how they made it or why they made it the way they did is none of our concern, nor in our mind should it be of any concern to you. The music, the sound and the surfaces are what are important in a record, nothing else.

Richter was making recordings of this caliber for London and Philips in the late ’50 and all through the ’60s. Clearly the direct to disc process is not revelatory when it comes to organ records (or any other records for that matter), but finding vintage Londons with quiet vinyl that sound as good as this disc does is neither easy nor cheap these days, so we are happy to offer our Bach loving customers a chance to hear these classic works sounding as good as they can outside of a church or concert hall.

  • White Hot on both sides, a DEMO DISC quality organ Direct to Disc recording
  • Full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with no smear
  • The size and power of a huge church organ captured in glorious direct to disc analog
  • We’ve never been fans of Crystal Clear, but even we must admit this recording is Hard To Fault

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (J.S. Bach)

Side Two

Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (J.S. Bach)
Toccata Fom the Symphonie Concertante (J. Jongen)

Wikipedia on Bach

Bach was best known during his lifetime as an organist, organ consultant, and composer of organ works in both the traditional German free genres—such as preludes, fantasias, and toccatas—and stricter forms, such as chorale preludes and fugues.

At a young age, he established a reputation for his great creativity and ability to integrate foreign styles into his organ works. A decidedly North German influence was exerted by Georg Böhm, with whom Bach came into contact in Lüneburg, and Dieterich Buxtehude, whom the young organist visited in Lübeck in 1704 on an extended leave of absence from his job in Arnstadt. Around this time, Bach copied the works of numerous French and Italian composers to gain insights into their compositional languages, and later arranged violin concertos by Vivaldi and others for organ and harpsichord.

During his most productive period (1708–14) he composed several pairs of preludes and fugues and toccatas and fugues, and the Orgelbüchlein (“Little organ book”), an unfinished collection of 46 short chorale preludes that demonstrates compositional techniques in the setting of chorale tunes. After leaving Weimar, Bach wrote less for organ, although his best-known works (the six trio sonatas, the “German Organ Mass” in Clavier-Übung III from 1739, and the Great Eighteen chorales, revised late in his life) were all composed after his leaving Weimar. Bach was extensively engaged later in his life in consulting on organ projects, testing newly built organs, and dedicating organs in afternoon recitals.

Wikipedia on Fox

Virgil Keel Fox (May 3, 1912–October 25, 1980) was an American organist, known especially for his flamboyant “Heavy Organ” concerts of the music of Bach. These events appealed to audiences in the 1970s who were more familiar with rock ‘n’ roll music, and were staged complete with light shows. His many recordings made on the RCA Victor and Capitol labels, mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, have been re-mastered and re-released on compact disc in recent years. They continue to be widely available in mainstream music stores.

With the Beatles – The MoFi Half Speed Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C+

Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

The Mobile Fidelity pressing of this album has so many problems it would take an hour to describe them all. Suffice it to say, it’s thinner and brighter, with voices that are grittier and grainier. The overall effect is the sinking feeling that you are listening to a cheap reissue and not the real thing. Don’t the Beatles sound better than this? To be fair, some tracks are okay, others a disaster.

If you own the MoFi, play it. Listen to it carefully. Make notes of which songs sound better than others and why. That’s how we spend our days, evaluating the relative merits of various pressings, and it’s that and that alone that has given us the critical listening skills necessary to recognize and appreciate the differences among the records we play.

One of the biggest problems with the average Parlophone copy is just the reverse of the MOFI. They tend to have rolled off highs, which emphasizes the harshness in the upper midrange and causes a loss of transparency. (The best Hot Stamper copies are of course as smooth, sweet, and transparent as they come.) Even with those shortcomings though, I would still rather listen to a typical Parlophone pressing. I wouldn’t be frustrated by the sound of somebody fooling with the EQ and screwing it up. 

Generic Audiophile 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.

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

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This listing contains commentary about VTA adjustment for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping. 

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly.

When the arm is too far down in the back, the guitar at the opening will lose its transparency and become dull and thick. Too high in the back and the vocals sound thin and shrill, especially when the boys all really push their harmony. The slightest change in VTA will noticeably affect that balance and allow you to tune it in just right.

To be successful, however, there are also other conditions that need to be met. The system has to be sounding right, which in my world means good electricity, so make sure you do this in the evening or on a weekend when the electricity is better.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is that you need a good pressing of this song, and those don’t grow on trees. The vast majority of CSN’s first album and the vast majority of So Far’s are junk. Trying to get them to sound right is impossible, because they weren’t mastered right in the first place. But if you’re one of the lucky few who has a good pressing of Helplessly Hoping, try tweaking your VTA adjustment and see if you aren’t able to dial it in even better than before.

Since the Classic heavy vinyl version is also excellent, it too can be used to set VTA. But of course you are setting VTA for a thicker record, which means you will need to note where the setting is for thick and thin vinyl respectively and make sure that the VTA is correct for each.

As good as the Classic Record is, the guitar at the opening of Helplessly Hoping tells you everything you need to know about what’s missing. The guitar on the Hot Stamper domestic copies has a transparency that cannot be found on Classic’s version. The Classic gets the tonal balance right, but their guitar doesn’t have the subtlety and harmonic resolution of the real thing.

(I’m laboring here to avoid the word detail, since many audiophiles like bright, phony sound because of all the wonderful “detail”. The MOFI guys and the CD guys often fall into this trap. Get the sound tonally balanced first, then see how much detail you have left. Detail is not the end-all and be-all of audio. Those who think it is usually have systems that make my head hurt.)

But most people will never know what they’re missing on Helplessly Hoping, because they will never have an amazing sounding copy of this song. The hot copies are just too rare.

Crosby, Stills and Nash Replay – Listening in Depth

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This is another very handy record for setting your VTA. The end of Shadow Captain has loud vocals and punchy bass, which are a bit difficult to reproduce. (Forget trying to get this song to sound good if you don’t have an exceptionally good copy.) 

The next song is To The Last Whale, which starts with Nash and Crosby’s multitracked voices in a big hall. With the correct VTA, their voices should sound silky and sweet. If your arm is too far down in the back, they will get a bit dull. Too high, and they will lose that breathy, “fluffy” quality. And once you get their voices to sound just right, make sure the ending of Shadow Captain is still punchy and dynamic.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Carry On 

A crappy remix, with added guitar, ugh.

Marrakesh Express 

Nothing special.

Just a Song Before I Go 

This song sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. One of the best reasons to play this album. It’s probably better here than it is on almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

First Things First 

This track tends to be aggressive.

Shadow Captain 

This track on the typical pressing of this album will tear your head off. On properly mastered copies, it’s surprisingly smooth and sweet, a quality I never associated with this song before, until I played the Hot Stamper.

To the Last Whale 

This song also sounds WONDERFUL on the better pressings. Another one of the best reasons to play this album.

Side Two

Love the One You’re With 

Nice but a little spitty as a rule.

Pre-Road Downs 

This track tends to sound dull but sometimes it’s magical.

Change Partners 

Nothing special, from a nothing special sounding album, Stills’ second outing (which usually sounds like cardboard).

I Give You Give Blind 

This track can sound quite good on the better pressings, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from: CSN.

Cathedral 

Nice, and, as with some cuts mentioned above, better than almost any pressing of the album it comes from.

The Band Music From Big Pink – EMI Centennial Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B?

[I believe this review is from the mid to late ’90s.]

This is the EMI Centennial version we sold years ago for close to thirty bucks. I thought at the time the MFSL gold CD was better. Now, after many stereo changes, I realize the gold CD is actually fat in the midbass and a little thick and sucked out in the midrange. (MFSL’s, and quite a few others’, standard audiophile EQ.)

I know this because the EMI LP is correct in those areas and shows you how truly wonderful the recording is. If only it had more bass. Who knows? Between the music and the sound you may not even miss it.

Above 100 hertz this album is magic. Below 100 it’s tragic. (Ha ha.)

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

Neil Young Harvest – Nautilus Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

Another Half Speed reviewed. We haven’t played a copy of this record in more than a decade, 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. 

This is a SURPRISINGLY good sounding Nautilus Half-Speed mastered LP with AMAZING transparency. The sound here is DRAMATICALLY more natural than your average audiophile pressing.Just listen to the phoney top end found on most MOFIs to see what we mean. On this record you’ll hear non of the hyped up highs that are MoFis claim to fame.

This Nautilus is sure to destroy a typical American pressing, which will tend to sound opaque, thick and dull. This wouldn’t really match up to our Hottest Stampers but you could sure do a lot worse. Although it’s a tad fat at the bottom, it still retains much of the warmth and richness found on the best copies.

Judy Collins Wildflowers – 1967 Elektra Tape Vs Vinyl – Where’s the Tubey Magic?

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We were surprised that so few copies had the Tubey Magical qualities that we’ve come to expect from Elektra in 1967. The label was home to two very well-recorded (by none other than Bruce Botnick) bands at the time, The Doors and Love. What happened here? John Haeny, the engineer, worked on Waiting for the Sun, which is an amazing sounding Doors album on the right pressing. Why so few great sounding Wildflowers? 

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Michael from Mountains 
Since You Asked 
Sisters of Mercy
Priests 
A Ballata of Francesco Landini 

Side Two

Both Sides Now
La Chanson des Vieux Amants (The Love Song of Old Lovers) 
Sky Fell 
Albatross
Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye

Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats – Another Missed Opportunity from Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

As for the Classic here, we have only one question: This is analog? You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice.

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

Classic Meddling

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one. What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested. But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Coulda fooled me.  (more…)