*Our Record Overview – The Not So Good

The Who – Who’s Next – Classic Records Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B-

At one time we did not recommend this record but now we do! Without going into the sordid details, let”s just say this record sounds pretty good. The acoustic guitars are especially sweet and silky for a modern reissue. The sound is better than most of the pressings of Who’s Next I’ve ever played. Clearly this is is one of the better Classic Records rock records. (It’s the only Who record they’ve done that we carried. The others are awful.) 

The Best Bass Ever!

In our Hot Stamper commentary for Who’s Next we noted this about the sound of the Classic pressing:

It’s actually shockingly good, better than it has any right to be coming from Classic Records. The bass is PHENOMENAL; no British Track pressing had the bass punch and note-like clarity of the Classic. It shows you the kind of bass you had no idea could possibly be on the tape. It reminds me a bit of the Classic pressing of the first Zep album: in the case of the Zep, it has dynamics that simply are not to be found anywhere else. The Classic Who LP has that kind of bass — it can’t be found elsewhere so don’t bother looking. (Don’t get me wrong; we’ll keep looking, but after thirty plus years of Track Who LPs, we kinda know when we’re beaten.)

Hot Stampers Ain’t Cheap

We’ve found Hot Stampers of Who’s Next in the past, and they are still the ultimate versions. This goes without saying.

But Hot Stamper copies are not particularly quiet, and they are never cheap, which is in marked contrast to Classic Records’ heavy vinyl pressings, which are fairly quiet and also fairly cheap. Some of you may think $30 is a lot of money for a record, but we do not. It’s a fair price.

When you buy Crosby Stills and Nash’s first album or Tapestry or Bridge Over Troubled Water on Classic for $30, you are getting your money’s worth.

Don’t Kid Yourself

But don’t kid yourself. You are not getting anywhere near the best copy available, because the best copies are hard to find. We do find them, and we do charge a lot of money for them, because they sound absolutely AMAZING compared to the Classic version and anything else you’ve ever heard.

A Benchmark

We recommend you use the Classic version as a benchmark. When you find something that beats it, you have yourself a very good record. Until then, you still have a good, quiet record to enjoy. You win either way.

Billy Joel – 52nd Street on Impex (Cisco)

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Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The new Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why.  (more…)

The Who – Who By Numbers on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP debunked.

It’s not just bass that separates the Real Thing from the Classic Reissue. It’s WEIGHT, fullness, the part of the frequency range from the lower midrange to the upper bass, that area that spans roughly 150 to 600 cycles. It’s what makes Daltry’s voice sound full and rich, not thin and modern. It’s what makes the drums solid and fat the way Johns intended. The good copies of Who’s Next and Quadrophenia have plenty of muscle in this area, and so do the imports we played. (more…)

Wes Montgomery – California Dreaming – Cisco Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Heavy Vinyl pressing from Cisco / Impex reviewed. 

Beware any and all imitations, even this one, which I admit I used to like somewhat. They barely BEGIN to convey the qualities of the real master tape the way the best pressings do. Our Hot Stampers exhibit huge amounts of ambience and spaciousnesss, with far more energy and the kind of “see into the studio” quality that only the real thing ever seems to have.

Note especially how so much musical information is coming from the far sides of the soundfield on the best copies. The Cisco reissue makes a mockery of that wall to wall sound, sucking it into the middle and flattening it into a single plane. (more…)

Derek and the Dominos – Layla (2 LPs) – Remastering the Remaster (and Keeping It a Secret)

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NEWSFLASH! [circa 2010]

Noticing that this title had recently come back into print, and remembering that we used to like the SVLP of Layla, we decided to order a current copy of the album from SIMPLY VINYL. Soon enough it came in, we played it, and we were pretty shocked to hear that the damn thing sounded just plain AWFUL.

Was I wrong about it before? Only one way to know. I pulled out my old Review Copy from way back when it first came out and sure enough that early pressing sounded dramatically BETTER than the new one. The stampers were completely different of course; someone had remastered it recently and ruined it.

The earlier SVLP pressing, though no award winner by any means, was at least a good record. This new pressing was nothing but a piece of crap. 

Our Old Comments

Simply Vinyl did a great job with this one, one of the most problematical recordings in the history of rock. This music will never sound as good as we want — just get that notion out of your head — but at least this pressing gets the overall sound right. It’s a lot better than 90% of the copies out there.

We stand by those remarks.

If you want a better sounding Layla, one of our famous Hot Stamper copies, you can be sure that one of these days we will do the shootout and again and have something with much better sound to offer.

The price will be many hundreds of dollars though, so for those of you who do not want to spend that kind of money, this is the best sound and vinyl quality we know of at anywhere near the price.

ZZ Top – Fandango – Another Warners Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity

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Sonic Grade: C

Warner Brothers remastered Fandango in 2008, so we took some domestic pressings and put them up against their Heavy Vinyl LP. The results were mixed; most of our originals pressings were lackluster, many were noisy, and we just weren’t hearing anything with the sound we thought deserved to be called a Hot Stamper.

We shelved the project for another day. In the interim we kept buying domestic pressings — originals and reissues — in the hopes that something good would come our way.

Fast forward four years. It’s 2015. We drop the needle on a random pressing and finally — finally — hear a copy that rocks like we knew a ZZ Top album should. With that LP as a benchmark we got a shootout up and running and the result is the record you see here.

How did the WB remaster fare once we had some truly Hot Stamper pressings to play it against?

Not well. It’s tonally correct, with a real top and bottom, something that a substantial number of copies cannot claim to be.

But the sound is stuck behind the speakers, veiled, and sorely lacking in energy and excitement. The transparency is of course compromised on all these new reissues, and without transparency and resolution much of the audience participation on the first side is lost. I won’t say the new pressing is boring. Let’s just say it’s a lot more boring than it should be. (more…)

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