*Our Record Overview – The Not So Good

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.

Modern records are just so damn opaque. We can’t stand that sound. It drives us crazy. Important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. That audiophiles as a group — including those that pass themselves off as champions of analog in the audio press — do not notice these failings does not speak well for either their equipment or their critical listening skills.

It is our contention that almost no one alive today is capable of making records that sound as good as the vintage ones we sell.

Once you hear a Hot Stamper pressing, those 180 gram records you own may never sound right to you again. They sure don’t sound right to us, but we are in the enviable position of being able to play the best properly-cleaned older pressings (reissues included) side by side with the newer ones. This allows the faults of the current reissues to become much more recognizable, to the point of actually being quite obvious. When you can hear the different pressings that way, head to head, there really is no comparison.

A Lost Cause

The wonderful vintage discs we offer will surely shame any Heavy Vinyl pressings you own, as practically no Heavy Vinyl pressing has ever sounded especially transparent or spacious to us when played against the best Golden Age recordings, whether pressed back in the day or twenty years later.

This is precisely the reason we stopped carrying Modern LP Pressings in 2011 – they just can’t compete with good vintage vinyl, assuming that the vinyl in question has been properly mastered, pressed and cleaned.

This is of course something we would never assume — we clean the records and play them and that’s how we find out whether they are any good or not. There is no other way to do it — for any record from any era — despite what you may read elsewhere.


Further Reading

…along these lines can be found below.

Transparency, the other side of the Tubey Magical Richness coin, is key to the better pressings of this album as well as many of our other favorite demo discs.

Here are more records that will help you avoid listening for phony detail when evaluating equipment or tweaking your system.

The most important advice on the site can be found under the heading The Four Pillars of Success.

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.

Here are more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.

 

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.)

Which brings up another interesting issue. Some audiophiles use the following rule of thumb for rock record collecting. If it’s an English band, get the import pressing. If it’s an American band, the tapes should be here in this country, so the original domestic pressing should be the best.

As a rule of thumb it’s not bad. It’s just wrong so often (Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, The Eagles, etc.) that you must be very careful how you apply it. Same with reissue versus original. Nice rule of thumb but only if you have enough copies of the title to know that you’re not just assuming the original is better. You actually have the data — garnered from the other LPs you have played — to back it up.

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 B-52s

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

TWO STUNNING A+++ SIDES for this amazingly well-recorded album! We think some of you will bo shocked at just how good the sound can be. And you may or may not be surprised at just how FUN the music is! It’s sure to be a future member of our Rock and Pop Top 100. (UPDATE: It has officially made the list.)

Who knew that good sounding records were still being recorded in 1979? Candy-O comes to mind, but the B-52s’ first album has virtually none of the grit and Roy Thomas Baker heavy-processing of that one, and a lot more tubey magic to boot — when you get a pressing like this of course.

As Good As It Gets!

Both of these sides are superb, with the kind of huge, spacious soundstage and amazingly rich, full-bodied tonality that earned this recording its place in our Top 100. Talk about jumpin’ out of the speakers! Every instrument is clear and present, laid out right there in the listening room. It doesn’t get any better than this!

The Best of ’79

This recording reminded me of a really good Don Landee / Ted Templeman production, the kind you hear on JT or Simple Dreams or the better Doobie Brothers albums. Everything is laid out clearly: there’s a space created for every part of the frequency spectrum from the lowest lows to the highest highs, with nothing crowding or interfering with anything else. The production is professional, clean, clear and REAL sounding everywhere you look.

Chris Blackwell of Island Records produced the album, recorded it in Nassau, with engineering by a fellow named Robert Ash, whose work I was not familiar with. Turns out he’s worked with none other than Rhett Davies and Eno, two individuals we have nothing but the utmost respect for. Ash did a great job on this album. Until we hear something better we would have to say this is the Best Sounding Album of 1979.

Tubey Magic in 1979? Somehow they managed to pull it off! (more…)

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.