Record Collecting for Audiophiles

Advice on how to find the best sounding pressings of your favorite music.

The L.A. 4 / Going Home

  • A vintage East Wind 33 RPM Japanese import pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them from start to finish
  • A top album in both rarity and demand – you’d be hard pressed to find another copy with this kind of transparency, clarity, presence, and sound (assuming you could find one)
  • This is one of the best sounding copies with all 7 tracks we have ever played
  • Lee Herschberg recorded these sessions direct to disc – he’s the guy behind the most amazing piano trio recording I have ever heard, a little album called The Three
  • The star of this record is Shelly Manne, who really plays up a storm
  • This 33 RPM version features all seven of the original tracks – “Greensleeves” and “Django” were omitted from the shorter 45 RPM pressing

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Charlie Byrd / Direct to Disc – Dark and Unnatural, Not My Idea of Good Sound

More of the Music of Charlie Byrd

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

This Crystal Clear 45 RPM Direct-to-Disc LP is pressed on white vinyl. Of the couple of copies we played, this one had the best sound.

It had more clarity than the other copy, which sounded even more veiled and smeary than this one.

I sure never liked the sound of this record though. It’s dark and unnatural to my ears.  It would be best to avoid it if you are looking for audiophile sound.

There are so many other, better Charlie Byrd recordings, why waste your time and money on this one? It’s yet another example of an “audiophile” record with practically nothing in the way of audiophile merit.

Which should not be too surprising. The bulk of the Crystal Clear records we’ve played had third-rate sound and pointless music.

Most of their Direct to Disc recordings were nothing but Audiophile Bullshit.

This Charlie Byrd title is the kind of crap we newbie audiophiles used to buy back in the ’70s — typically at stereo stores, or “audio salons” as they are often called now, the ones that are still in business anyway — before we had anything resembling a clue.

Yes, I was foolish enough to buy records like these and expect them to have good music, or at least good sound. Of course they had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. Sheffield and a few others made some good ones, but most Crystal Clears were crap.

As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that I had just thrown my money away on this lipsticked-pig in a poke.

But I was an audiophile, and I wanted desperately to believe. These special super-hi-fidelity records were being made for me, for special people like me, because I had expensive equipment and regular records are just not good enough to play on my special equipment, right?

We didn’t want the mass-produced regular version of Silk Degrees, we had to have this limited edition remastered one. The premium price is obviously proof that we were going to get premium quality sound, right?

To say I was wrong to think about audio that way is obviously an understatement. Over the course of the last forty years, I (and to be fair, my friends and my staff) have been wrong about a great deal when it comes to records and audio, but the last thing we would want to do is try to hide that fact.

Making mistakes, like buying direct to disc recordings thinking they would have higher fidelity than the “regular” records sitting in the bins, is how we made progress. Experience is a great teacher, perhaps the only one.

Which is why there are about one hundred entries in our section detailing the many things we’ve gotten wrong, and believe me, those hundred entries barely scratch the surface of the stupid things I’ve done as I pursued this hobby.

Thank goodness Audio Progress is real and anyone who figures out how to do audio the right way is bound to achieve it.

Most audiophiles today seem to be making the same mistakes I made in my formative years in the hobby.

There is a better way, and this blog is dedicated to helping audiophiles find it.

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The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, here you will find practically none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be, because we’ve played them by the hundreds on big speakers at loud levels.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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Should We Follow George Martin’s Expert Advice?

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

One of our good customers had this to say about the new Revolver pressing and The Beatles in mono:

Hey Tom,

I think the Revolver new thing doesn’t sound terrible. It’s just what you’re comparing it with. Most people are going off original pressings maybe and the acclaimed mono and stereo box stuff that came out in the last 10 years. IF you don’t try one of those Harry Moss records or a 1970s pressing, you probably think the new Revolver is fine or even good. That’s my theory. Who knows.

And as far as mono vs. stereo… you know the answer to this but I’m not sure. Were those earliest records meant to be mono or recorded as if they would be put out as mono and later records – maybe Rubber Soul on – meant to be stereo? I don’t know the answer to that. But maybe that’s why people are so loyal to mono. They feel like “this is how it was meant to be heard by the artist.”

George Martin was very clear about that, the first two albums for sure and really, the first four are, for him, better heard in mono than stereo.

I disagree. I think George heard the playback on studio monitors stuck on a wall five feet from his head. Who cares what that sounds like?  Nobody who isn’t mixing a record would ever listen to music that way, certainly not in this day and age.

More importantly, who are you going to believe, your lying ears or George Martin?

This is so fundamental to understanding everything to do with audio and records.

Richard Feynman summed it up beautifully: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

Watch the Let It Be documentary put out by Peter Jackson, the last part where they play the album back for everyone.

With four monitor speakers lined up left to right and shoved up against a wall.

This is how they listened to the album in order to approve Glyn Johns’ mix and the takes he chose to use?

How can anyone take any of it seriously?

TP


Beatles, Beatles, Beatles

The Beatles in Mono – Why No Hot Stampers?

Please Please Me – Which Is More 3-Dimensional, Mono or Twin Track?

Customers Really Seem to Love Our Beatles Hot Stampers

Chopin / Scherzo No. 2 / Auer – Direct to Disc

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings with Hot Stampers

This is an IMMACULATE RCA Direct-to-Disc LP with SUPERB SOUND! This recording is every bit as good as the famous RCA Beethoven Direct Disc and ten times as rare. You will have a very hard time finding a better sounding solo piano recording.  [Or so we thought in 2008.]


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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Virgil Fox – The Fox Touch Volume 2

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

Played against the best Golden Age organ recordings, these Crystal Clear titles are noticeably lacking in ambience.

The best pressings, assuming one would do a shootout for them, might be expected to earn a sonic grade of B- or so.

Volume 1 is a TAS List record. But seeing as they were all recorded at the same time, this one might sound every bit as good. Then again, it might not. 

By the way, did you know Stan Ricker cut this record live direct to disc? He did a great job too.

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Compromised Recordings Versus Purist Recordings – If It’s About the Music, the Choice Is Clear

More of the Music of The Doobie Brothers

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doobie Brothers

[This commentary is from circa 2010]

A while back one of our good customers wrote to tell us how much he liked his Century Direct to Disc recording of the Glenn Miller big band, one of the few really amazing sounding direct discs that contains music actually worth listening to. Which brought me to the subject of Hot Stampers. 

Hot Stamper pressings are almost always going to be studio multi-track recordings, not live Direct to Discs. They will invariably suffer many compromises compared to the purist approach of an audiophile label trying to eliminate sources of distortion in the pursuit of the highest fidelity.

But when they do that, they almost always FAIL. How many Direct Discs sound like that Glenn Miller? A dozen at most. The vast majority are just plain AWFUL. I know, I’ve played practically every one ever made. For more than a decade that was my job.

Thankfully that is no longer the case, although we do have a handful of direct discs that we still shootout, such as The Three, Glenn Miller, Straight from the Heart and the odd Sheffield.

Compromised Recordings

What we do play is those very special, albeit COMPROMISED, mass-produced pressings. The right Londons and Shaded Dogs. Columbia and Contemporary jazz. Brewer and Shipley. Sergio Mendes. The Beatles. The Doobie Brothers for Pete’s sake!

Why? Because those pressings actually communicate the MUSIC. They allow you to forget about the recording and just LISTEN. You can’t do that very often with the CD of the album. You can’t even do it with most of the vinyl pressings you run into. You certainly can’t do it with the vast majority of 180 gram LPs being made today, not in our experience anyway.

You have to have the right pressing. That’s what a Hot Stamper is: It’s the Right Pressing.

It’s the one that really lets the music come through, regardless of whatever compromises were made along the way.

Doobies – We Make an Exception

Good example: What Once Were Vices…, a Hot Stamper that had never made it to the site [at the time but since has]. A very good customer saw I had an unpriced copy up and wanted to know what it sounded like, how quiet it was and how much it would cost. Normally I just can’t take the time to do the work necessary to answer those questions, to really understand the sound of an unfamiliar title (especially in this case, not being a fan of early era Doobies). It typically requires cleaning and playing lots of copies and listening to them critically, trying to find the tracks that tell the story of the sound. This is very time consuming, as I’m sure you can imagine. But we have to do it; it’s our bread and butter here at Better Records. We just can’t do it NOW, because there are dozens of other albums we’re in the middle of investigating and adding a 25th causes me to be even testier than I usually am.

But for some reason in this case I made an exception to that policy. I guess I was curious about the album, one I hadn’t played in twenty years. The grooves looked good. It was very clean. Already Disc Doctored. Why not throw it on the table?

So I did, and it must have been a good stereo day, the electricity must have been cooking, because it sounded FABULOUS. Much better than I expected. Just right in fact.

So now I had to know how other copies would sound. Maybe they’re all good. Playback technology has come a long way in the last twenty years; maybe the Doobies were making great records all along and we just couldn’t play them until now.

Alas, none of the other copies sounded like this one. (The Japanese pressing I had put away for a rainy day shootout got about ten seconds of play time before I recognized it had a bad case of spitty, grainy, Japanese pressing sound. It went right in the trade pile.)

The good one had LIFE. The others sounded fairly dead in comparison. Probably made from a sub-generation EQ’d dub, which is what would be used to master most copies. Sad but true.

Enjoyment

What did I hear on this hot copy? The usual things we talk about around here. I won’t bore you by repeating them. More importantly, much more importantly, is the fact that I found myself really ENJOYING the music. Really liking the SONGS. Singing along, (off key of course). Thinking, “Hey, these old Doobie Brothers are pretty talented! This is a good album. I’m really getting into this.” (It even motivated me to do a survey of their other releases to see if there were more undiscovered gems sitting on my shelf. Watch for future listings.)

And this is precisely my point. The right LP will communicate the music so well that you’ll forget about the stereo, you’ll forget about the recording, you’ll just find yourself enjoying the music. The majority of LPs won’t let you do that, audiophile labels included. It all comes down to two words: Musical Satisfaction.

Living and Breathing

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that came after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them, you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium, such limitations seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the purely musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable. And that includes a good Doobie Brothers record.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction.

It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same. Based on our testimonials I’m glad to see that many of you do.

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Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

S9 is hands down one of the best examples of a recording that only really comes to life when you Have Your Volume Up Good and Loud.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the mix, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, assuming you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again.

I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Direct to Discs on Crystal Clear – What Was I Thinking?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

These are just some of the recordings on Crystal Clear that we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting.

Without going into specifics — who would bother to take the time? — we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor musical performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection.  

The Big Picture from a Lifelong Audiophile

You may have seen this text in another listing, but it bears repeating. There is nothing new under the sun, and that is especially true when it comes to bad sounding audiophile records. The world is full of them.

Hey, the records being marketed to audiophiles these days may have second- and third-rate sound, but at least now they have good music

That’s progress, right?

These two titles are the kind of crap we newbie audiophiles used to put up with back in the ’70s before we had anything resembling a clue.

They clearly belong on our list of Bad Audiophile Records

You might be asking: What Kind of Audio Fool Was I? to buy a couple of dumbass records like these.

Yes, I was foolish enough to buy records like these and expect them to have good music, or at least good sound. Of course they had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. Sheffield and a few others made some good ones, but most Crystal Clears were crap.

As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that I had just thrown my money away on these two lipsticked-pigs in a poke.

But I was an audiophile, and I wanted to believe. These special super-hi-fidelity records were being made for me, for special people like me, because I had expensive equipment and regular records would just never be good enough to play on my special equipment, right?

To say I was wrong to think about audio that way is obviously an understatement. Over the course of the last forty years, I (and to be fair, my friends and my staff) have been wrong about a great deal when it comes to records and audio.

You can read more about many of the things we got wrong under the heading: Live and Learn.

Thank goodness Audio Progress is real and anyone who goes about it the right way can achieve it.

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Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…