*Our Record Overview – The Middling

Prokofiev / Symphonic Suite of Waltzes / Schweiger – Cisco Reviewed

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Symphonic Suite of Waltzes / Gypsy Fantasy / Schweiger

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Sonic Grade: B-

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, 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. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back when this record came out, but here it is anyway.  

“Another superb choice from Cisco. These shorter pieces really come to life here. The sound has more hall than the Mozart title they did and every bit the lifelike tonality and transparency.”

[UPDATE: None of Cisco’s records turned out to be transparent in the least, so that’s a big red flag right there. The music is quite good, so if you don’t pay much you won’t get hurt too badly by the mediocre sound.] (more…)

Ella Fitzgerald – The Best of Ella Fitzgerald – Reviewed in 2005

 

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

Two Minty looking Deccalite Pink Label Promo LPs.

This is the best of Ella’s Decca material recorded between 1938 – 1955, the songs that made her a star.

For those of you who don’t know what Deccalite is, Deccalite is a material that Decca invented as an alternative to vinyl. It’s quieter than vinyl as a rule — and these pressings are extremely quiet — but it is not unbreakable. If you wack this record against a chair, it will shatter into pieces like an old 78. But most audiophiles takes good care of their records, so the risk of breaking an album like this is extremely small.

Paul McCartney – Tug of War

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Tug of War

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  • You’ll find oustanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on this vintage UK pressing of McCartney’s Tug Of War – exceptionally quiet vinyl too 
  • Relatively rich and full-bodied, yet still clean, clear and spacious, with note-like bass and smoother vocals than most 
  • A copy with transparency and clarity like this lets you appreciate George Martin’s masterful production work
  • 4 1/2 stars: “… crowd-pleasing genre-hopping.. in general — it is, by design, a record that gives the people old Beatle Paul — but McCartney in general.”

Drop the needle on the opener Tug Of War and listen to how wide and deep the sound field is. Take It Away follows with a bit of an ’80s reggae feel, and on the better copies you get meaty, tight bass that sets the foundation for the fun to follow. (more…)

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat – Is the MoFi Good or Bad?

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Sonic Grade: D to B-

If you own the typical MoFi version of this album you happen to own one of the All Time Mastering Disasters of the modern era. Ridiculously boosted at both ends, their version is all but unlistenable on a high end stereo. 

Some copies are worse than others, so we are conservatively giving MoFi’s pressing a sonic grade of D. We’ve played some in the past that clearly deserved an F (F as in Failing), but we also once played one that sounded pretty good, which we describe below. If you’ve played half a dozen MoFi copies and plucked out the best one, yours might be good too. If you haven’t heard a bunch, chances are slim that yours is any better than awful.

There’s only one way to tell of course, and that’s to pull it off the shelf and give it a spin. You may be shocked at just how hyped-up it has gotten since the last time you heard it.

If you play your records back on an old console, with maybe a blown woofer or two, okay, I can see how the sound of the MoFi might work. But I’m guessing most of you have something better than that, and since you do, one of our Hot Stamper pressings will absolutely positively blow your mind, showing you the real Year of the Cat. We guarantee it. (more…)

Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges – Back to Back – A Classic Records Winner

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Back to Back

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

As I recall this was one of the better sounding Classic titles from their Verve series, and the music is excellent. Finding a clean original is no mean feat as I’m sure you can imagine.

Paul McCartney and Wings – Red Rose Speedway

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Red Rose Speedway

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  • This early British EMI pressing has stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – respectable vinyl too
  • This copy has the sound we look for in a ’70’s McCartney record – the size, the weight, the energy, the vocal presence, they’re all here
  • “Red Rose Speedway winds up being a really strange record… [it’s] every bit as insular as the lo-fi records of the early ’90s, but considerably more artful, since it was, after all, designed by one of the great pop composers of the century. …McCartney’s little flourishes are intoxicating — not just the melodies, but the facile production and offhand invention.” 

We have not had particularly good luck with the domestic pressings we’ve tried. The Brits are the only ones that, to our ears, seem to be made from the real tape. (more…)

JS Bach / Sonatas & Partitas / Milstein

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Nathan Milstein performing 

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

This DG Italian Import 3 LP Box Set used to impress us for sonics but now, in 2014, it sounds like a good — but not good enough to recommend — DG pressing. Pick it up for cheap if you like these works, otherwise it’s probably advisable to pass.

Nat King Cole – This Is Nat “King” Cole – Our Shootout Winner from 2017

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

The presence and immediacy here of Nat King Cole’s vocals are ’50s Capitol Recording Magic at its best. Set the volume right and Nat is right between your speakers, putting on the performance of a lifetime. The selection of material and the contributions of all involved (Nelson Riddle among them) are hard to fault.

Here it is – only the second Hot Stamper copy of Nat’s classic 1957 release to ever hit the site, and what a pressing it is! It’s taken us a long time to pull together enough clean copies to make the shootout happen. Boy, was it worth all the trouble.

The sound is big, open, rich and full, with loads of Tubey Magic. The highs are extended and silky sweet.

Midrange Magic to Die For

This early Capitol mono LP also has the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s no doubt missing from the modern reissues. Nat’s voice is sounds so right — not necessarily natural, but correct for the vocal style of the era — you immediately find yourself lost in the music, because there’s really nothing to distract you.

If you’re like me, this copy sounds the way you want it to sound. (more…)

Cannonball Adderley – Somethin’ Else – Classic Records Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP reviewed.

There are certainly some incredible sounding original pressings of this album out there, but who has the resources it takes to find one? Most of the original Blue Notes we come across these days turn out to have mediocre sound, and many of them have severely damaged inner grooves. Even the mintiest looking copies often turn out to be too noisy for most audiophiles, Blue Note vinyl being what it is.

This is of course why the hacks at Classic Records did so well for themselves [until they went under] hawking remastered versions of classic albums pressed on new, quieter vinyl.

The problem there is that most of their stuff just doesn’t sound all that hot, this album included.

We’ve played it; it’s decent, but any Hot Stamper will show you just how much music you are missing. (more…)

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…)