*Our Record Overview – The Not So Good

Joni Mitchell Blue – Play The Game, Not the Album

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises, one we created all the way back in 2007. If you want to learn more about doing your own shootouts this listing has lots of good advice.

In 2007 we mentioned to our customers that we would not be carrying the new 180 gram Rhino pressing of Blue. We noted:

Since Kevin and Steve are friends of mine I won’t belabor its shortcomings. Let’s just say I think you can do better.

Down the road when we’ve had a chance to do a shootout amongst all our best copies, we will be offering something more to our liking. I recommend instead — and this is coming from a die-hard LP guy, someone who disconnected his home CD player over two years ago and only plays the damn things in the car — that you pick yourself up a nice used copy of the gold CD Hoffman mastered for DCC. It’s wonderful.

Some people are already upset with us over this decision, actually going so far as to question our motives, if not our sanity. Without a doubt we feel this will end up being the single most controversial stance we’ve ever taken. I predict that a great number of audiophiles are going to get really upset over our criticism of this new pressing. We are going to get emails like crazy asking us to explain what on earth could possibly be wrong with such a wonderful sounding LP. The writers of these emails will no doubt extoll its virtues relative to the other pressings they may have heard, and, finding no other reasonable explanation, these writers will feel impelled to question both the quality of our playback equipment and — yes, it’s true — even our ability to recognize a good record when it’s spinning right on our very own turntable. (more…)

Rickie Lee Jones on Rhino Heavy Vinyl – Not My Idea of Good Sound

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Sonic Grade: C

We were fairly unimpressed with the Rickie Lee Jones on Warners that came out a few years back. It has that phony Modern Mastering sound we find so unappealing on the Rhino reissue of Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it. Hey, play The Blue Game and maybe you’ll see why.)

We liked the new Sweet Baby James Hoffman and Gray cut. We note in our review that “Hoffman and Gray can take pride in this Sweet Baby James. It’s some of the best work I’ve heard from them to date. If more DCC and Heavy Vinyl reissues sounded like this, we wouldn’t be so critical of them. Unfortunately they don’t, and there are scores of pages of commentary on the site to back up that statement for those of you interested in the subject.”

We went on to say “The amazing transparency and dynamic energy of the best originals will probably never be equalled by an audiophile pressing like this. (It hasn’t happened yet and we remain skeptical of the possibility.) Considering that this pressing is sure to beat most reissues, imports and such like, we have no problem heartily recommending it to our customers, especially at the price.” (more…)

The Beatles Please Please Me – We Review the Mobile Fidelity Half-Speed

 

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Half Speed reviewed.

If you own the MoFi LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.) What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, MoFis are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there. But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

Roy Orbison – Crying on Classic Records

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP reviewed. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in 2003 when this record came out, but here it is anyway. 

“This is actually a very good sounding record, unlike the first Orbison that Classic did. It’s also a better album.”

Track Listing:

1. Crying 
2. The Great Pretender 
3. Love Hurts 
4. She Wears My Ring 
5. Wedding Day 
6. Summer Song 
7. Dance 
8. Lana 
9. Lonliness 
10. Let’s Make a Memory 
11. Nite Life 
12. Running Scared

 

 

Steely Dan – Katy Lied – Live and Learn

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And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original — another example of just how Wrongyou can be.

We happily admit to our mistakes because we know that all this audio stuff and especially the search for Hot Stampers is a matter of trial and error. We do the trials; that’s how we avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles and audiophile record dealers make when it comes to finding the best sounding records. Of course, being human we can’t help but make our share of mistakes. The difference is that we learn from them. We report the facts to the best of our ability every time out. 

Every record gets a chance to show us what it’s made of, regardless of where it was made, who made it or why they made it. (Like anybody cares.)

If we used to like it and now we don’t, that’s what you will read in our commentary. Our obligation is to only one person: you, the listener. (Even better: you, the customer. Buy something already!)

On every shootout we do now, if the notes are more than six months old we toss them out. They mean nothing. Things have changed, radically, and that’s the way it should be. With each passing year you should be hearing more of everything in your favorite LPs. That’s the thrill of this hobby — those silly old records just keep getting better! (I wish someone could figure out how to make digital get better. They’ve had twenty five years and it still leaves me cold. You too I’m guessing.)

Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

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This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site. If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 


Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: AjaAqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as this Rhino pressing of Blue? 

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD? (more…)

Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn Vague

 

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Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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Mobile Fidelity’s Approach to Mastering – I Have a Theory

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I have a theory about why MoFi’s mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this. 

Back in their early days MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered, regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to want. Truth be told, I was a member of that group and I know I did.

Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.

The Bottom

But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you.

The Cowbell Test

And the top isn’t quite as good as I always thought — you can hear their standard 10k boost on the cowbell at the opening of Fat Man in a Bathtub. That cowbell just does not sound right. The typical original gets the cowbell even more wrong, but that’s a good reason not to settle for the typical copy and to find yourself a Hot Stamper. Or let us find one for you.

Top Sound

Many of Little Feat’s earlier albums are difficult to find with good sound. (I won’t say they were badly recorded; I was nowhere near the studio at the time and have no idea what the real master tapes sound like. All I know is their records usually don’t sound very good.)

But this is a BEAUTIFULLY recorded concert, and the versions they do of their old material are MUCH BETTER than the studio album versions for the most part. Fat Man In A Bathtub on this album is out of this world. You will have a hard time listening to the studio versions of these songs once you have heard them performed with this kind of energy, enthusiasm and technical virtuosity. This is some of the best sounding live rock and roll sound you will ever hear outside of a concert venue.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

Nat King Cole – Just One Of Those Things on S&P Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C+

S+P’s 180g reissue has some nice qualities, but it isn’t especially natural, nor is it Tubey Magical the way the real Capitol pressings are. Ambience and instrumental textures are sorely lacking, although to be honest, considering how bad most Capitol pressings are, it’s still a step up from the average copy sitting in your local store’s used record bins.

Our commentary for the DCC Nick of Time lays out in more detail some of the same sonic shortcomings we heard with Just One of Those Things. 

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

Our most recent Hot Stamper commentary follows.

ONE OF THE MOST TUBEY MAGICAL MALE VOCAL RECORDS WE’VE EVER HAD THE PLEASURE OF PLAYING! We shot this out against similar copies, earlier pressings, and a 180g reissue, and nothing was quite in a league with this one. Turn up the volume, turn down the lights, and let Nat serenade you from right between your speakers — he’ll be IN THE ROOM with you!

Side one rates A++ and side two may be even better! The immediacy of the vocals is startling. The bass has the typical “tubby” sound so common to this kind of album, but it’s tighter here than on any other copy we played.

Nat’s voice is PERFECTION — full-bodied and breathy with loads of texture. The overall sound is three-dimensional, with Nat up front and the orchestra behind. The brass sounds wonderful, with just the right amount of bite and more breath than we heard elsewhere.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this record is not one of those “cry in your beer” Sinatra rip offs. The songs are actually fairly lively: mid-tempo and even up-tempo. Maybe it’s the influence of Billy May, the arranger for these sessions. His arrangements keep lifting the spirits of the down in the dumps Nat King Cole (see cover), which is fine by me.


 

 

 

In Defense of Simply Vinyl – Are Their LPs Really Worse Than Anybody Else’s?

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Making Movies on Simply Vinyl had been out of print for quite a while, so when it was repressed recently [in the mid-2000s I would guess] we took the opportunity to give it a fresh spin and were SHOCKED — that’s right, SHOCKED — to hear how good it sounded, every bit as good as we remember it from years ago.

It sounded like a good British import, not some 180 gram remastered wannabe. Most 180 gram records don’t do anything for us these days [circa 2008] — they leave a lot to be desired as we point out left and right in our commentaries — but here’s a wonderful exception to the dismal heavy vinyl rule.

But it is a good British (or Dutch, same thing) import, because Simply Vinyl is not in the remastering business.

Addedum 2012 

We played another copy on SV a year or so later, 2009 or 2010 as I recall, and it did not sound nearly as good as the one we describe above, for what that’s worth.

Also SV has “newer” masterings of many of their records which in our experience are uniformly inferior to the earlier ones. I would not buy any SV if I were you unless I heard it first or could return it.