Record Collecting for Audiophiles

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

Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

A Wealth of Recordings

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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Louie Bellson / Ray Brown / Paul Smith – Intensive Care

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

More Jazz Piano Recordings

  • Stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides of this incredible Discwasher Direct-to-Disc Japanese import pressing
  • One of our all time favorite Direct-to-Discs; Piano Trio doesn’t get much better than this
  • Paul Smith is an underrated jazz player – most of his albums as a leader are forgettable (we should know, we’ve played a bunch of them), but on this album he swings and really makes music with his two bandmates
  • The playing is extremely energetic and involving, the sound is some of the best we’ve heard, and the engineering is by Phil Schier, who also recorded another favorite direct disc of ours, Friendship, and we recommend both albums highly
  • If you want a good jazz Direct-to-Disc, you would be hard pressed to find one better than this
  • If you’re a fan of Live Jazz Piano Trio recordings, recorded direct to disc or otherwise, this is a killer record from 1978 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This record probably doesn’t have the reputation it deserves because it came out on the Discwasher label, which to my knowledge, only made one good record, this one. The same metalwork would have been used to make the version Pausa released, and that fairly common pressing may be virtually identical to this Discwasher pressing. (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga and Obvious Pressing Variations

I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this famous record, the first Sheffield Direct to Disc recording.

These LPs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise.

Which should not be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album while listening carefully and critically. If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another in practically every case.

Sonic Shortcomings

Biggest problems on S9? I would have to say smearing is Number One. When the brass loses its bite and the bells don’t have the percussive quality of metal being struck, this is not a good thing. The band also seems to lose energy when the pressing suffers from smear. (more…)

Mark Levinson / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we can’t deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro.

Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Curtis Counce LP Testimonial – Wow, It Beat the Fantasy 45!

Many years ago, our good customer Victor sent us this note to tell us how much better his real Contemporary jazz album sounded compared to the Fantasy 45 180g pressing he owns.

We should point out that we sold him a sealed ’70s reissue, something (selling sealed records) we stopped doing a decade or so ago, and that we really have no way of knowing what the record actually sounded like. Given our experience with anything released on the consistently dreadful Analogue Productions label, what were the chances that they could actually beat the real thing? As a practical matter, the answer should be obvious: none, of course.

None? Too harsh you say? Here are two of their worst crimes against jazz-loving audiophiles, crimes they committed using 2 Heavy Vinyl discs mastered at 45 RPM for all the world to hear:

  1. Jazz Impressions Of Black Orpheus by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
  2. Sonny Rollins Plus 4

Yes, they had the temerity to charge money for their crappy, pointless reissues. The key takeway here is that any label that would release records that sound as bad as these cannot be trusted to do anything right.

Having played many of their remastered releases, we are still waiting for the record on AP that is not either a disaster or, at the very least, clearly worse sounding than many other pressings which are widely available.

And I will never tire of pointing out how bad the two albums linked below are, so bad that I wrote many hundreds of words about their astonishing awfulness.

  1. Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great Hits
  2. Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman

After playing the above four, what would possess us to ever play another?

Now to the letter.

Hi Tom,

Wanted to let you know I did a comparison between the yellow label Contemporary label Curtis Counce, Counceltation Vol. 2 (which I bought sealed from you) and a Fantasy 45 rpm from Analogue productions: Curtis Counce – You Get More Bounce With Curtis Counce – which is in fact the same album but with a different title and cover. 

Well I was very anxious to try this comparison, but was not expecting the results. The yellow label was so transparent and tonal weight to the Fantasy 45 rpm there was no contest. The 45 rpm sounded like someone turned on a high bypass filter. The yellow label was balanced throughout. Clean.

I am a subscriber of the Fantasy 45s and own all of them. Don’t get me wrong, there are some nice sounding ones in the series, but this is a prime example that not all records are as well mastered.

Regards,

Victor

Victor,

I had every confidence that the real Contemporary pressing would trounce that 180 gram reissue, 45 RPM 2 LP pressing or no 45 RPM 2 LP pressing. The more I play these Heavy Vinyl reissues the less I like them. As we say, the real thing just can’t be beat. Thanks for doing the shootout for us. You can be sure that our Hot Stamper Contemporary jazz pressings will make mincemeat of anything on that Fantasy 45 Series. We guarantee it.

More Contemporary Label Jazz

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Volume 1 – (S9)

More Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues

Reviews and Commentaries for Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues

  • A stunning pressing of this famous audiophile recording
  • This copy will be awfully hard to beat for sound – get your VTA right and the bottom end on this LP will turn into a Bass Demo Disc like nothing you’ve heard
  • It’s very difficult to find this album in clean condition, and even more difficult to find one that sounds as good as this one does
  • One of the rarest Hot Stamper records bar none — only a handful have ever made it to the site
  • If you’re a fan of Mr. Mayorga and His Distinguished Colleagues, this is a Must Own from 1971.
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a stunning copy of The Big One — Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues’ first Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP aka S9. We’ve been comparing and contrasting pressings of this album for more than twenty years and this is one of the better copies we’ve stumbled upon. The sound is BIG, RICH and FULL OF ENERGY.

Both sides have prodigious amounts of bottom end. It is a thrill to hear the power of the bass on this recording. The kick drum is HUGE.

Both sides have about as much Tubey Magic as can be found on the album, although Tubey Magic is clearly not what the engineers were going for with this recording. It’s a sound that many copies reproduce less than ideally, being somewhat dry. (more…)

Diminishing Returns in Audio? Sez Who?

The idea that we have reached the point of diminishing returns in audio is nothing but an old and pernicious Myth

Many, if not most, audiophiles are barely getting started. They just don’t know it. If they work really hard on their systems for the next five or ten years, they will eventually, slowly, with the passage of time come to realize how little they knew back in 2021.

If they don’t work hard — and let’s be honest, most won’t — they will never see but a tiny fraction of the progress that is possible. Those of us who have done the work know just how much is possible, and no one who has not done the work could possibly begin to understand what we are on about.

You rarely learn much from experiments you haven’t run. Of course, by not doing anything you get to keep all your evidence-free opinions and half-baked theories, so why rock your own boat and make any effort to prove yourself wrong? We talk about the subject of audiophile ignorance here. And we talk about how often we have been wrong here.

[This commentary was written in 2005 or thereabouts. It’s still true though!]

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true. 

There are HUGE improvements to be made on a regular basis, even without spending all that much money (keeping in mind that this is not exactly a poor man’s hobby).

If you are actively involved in seeking out better equipment, trying new things, and tweaking the hell out of your system as much as time and patience permit, I think an improvement of 10-25% per year in perceived sound quality is not an unreasonable expectation. (more…)

Brahms / Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1S is also that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1S pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here. Of course, to avoid being biased, the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1S loses so often.

If you are interested in finding the best sounding pressings, you have to approach the problem scientifically, and that means running Record Experiments.

Practically everything you read on this blog we learned through experimentation. When we experimented with the Classic Records pressing of LSC 1903, we were none too pleased with what we heard.

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Badfinger / Straight Up – Porky Not So Prime Cut

British Band, British Pressing… Right?

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

We had an original British pressing in our shootout, unbeknownst to me as it was playing of course. And guess where it finished: dead last. The most thick, congested, crude, distorted, compressed sound of ALL the copies we played. We love the work of Porky, Pecko, et al. in general, but once again this is a case where a British Band recorded in England sounds best on domestic vinyl. (McCartney’s first album on Apple is the same way.)

Just saw this today (11/29/2021)

On November 18, 2019, a fellow on Discogs who goes by the name of Dodgerman had this to say referencing the original UK pressing of Straight Up, SAPCOR 19:

So Happy, to have a first UK press, of this lost gem. Porky/Pecko

Like many record collectors, he is happy to have a mediocre-at-best, dubby-sounding original pressing, poorly mastered by a famous mastering engineer, George Peckham, a man we know from extensive experience is responsible for cutting some of the best sounding records we’ve ever played.

Is this fellow an audiophile? He could be! Many audiophiles employ this kind of magical thinking, believing that a British band’s albums must perforce sound their best on British vinyl.

Those of us who actually play lots of records and listen to them critically know that that is simply not true and never has been. How do we know that?

By Conducting Experiments to Find Out.

We don’t guess. We don’t assume. We just play lots and lots of records and find out which ones sound the best and which ones do not.

To be fair, we have played exactly one copy of the album with Porky/Pecko stampers. Did we get a bad one and the gentleman quoted above got a good one? Nobody knows, because nobody can know absent more evidence.

If you have a great sounding UK copy, we would love to hear it. Until then we remain skeptical.

Not close minded to the possibility of course, that would be foolish.

But not in any hurry to throw good money after bad in the hopes that Dodgerman actually knows much, or cares in the least, about sound quality.

Assuming that Dodgerman does care about sound quality, he is engaging in another kind of magical thinking by assuming that the original is going to be the best sounding pressing of the album.

Sometimes it is.

Sometimes it isn’t.

A public service from your friends at Better Records.

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Bach / The Fox Touch, Volume 1 – Not As Good As We Thought, Sorry!

[The review reproduced below was written in 2010. Recently I have played copies of these Crystal Clear organ recordings and been much less impressed.

The ambience is a fraction of what it should be, and the reason I know that is that the vintage organ recordings I play have dramatically more size and space than these audiophile pressings do.]

A classic case of Live and Learn. As we like to say, all these audiophile records sound great sitting on the shelf. When you finally pull one out to play it, you may find that it doesn’t sound the nearly as good as you remember it, and that’s a good thing. That’s a sign you are making progress in this hobby!

Ten years from now, if during that time you’ve worked hard on your stereo system, room, electricity and all the rest, your Heavy Vinyl pressings will have flaws you never knew were there.

Our customers know what I am talking about. Some have even written us letters about it.


Our old review, mea culpa.

    • White Hot on both sides, a DEMO DISC quality organ Direct to Disc recording
    • Full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with no smear
    • The size and power of a huge church organ captured in glorious direct to disc analog
    • We’ve never been fans of Crystal Clear, but even we must admit this recording is Hard To Fault

Are we changing our tune about Audiophile records? Not in the least; we love the ones that sound right. The fact that so few of them do is not our fault. 

The methods used to make a given record are of no interest whatsoever to us. We clean and play the pressings that we have on hand and judge the sound and music according to a single standard that we set for all such recordings. Organ records, in this case, get judged against other organ records. If you’ve been an audiophile for forty years as I have, you’ve heard plenty of organ records.

Practically every audiophile label on the planet produced at least one, and most made more than one. Some of the major labels made them by the dozen in the ’50s and ’60s, and many of those can sound quite wonderful.

Who made this one, how they made it or why they made it the way they did is none of our concern, nor in our mind should it be of any concern to you. The music, the sound and the surfaces are what are important in a record, nothing else.

Richter was making recordings of this caliber for London in the ’50s. Clearly the direct to disc process is not revelatory when it comes to organ records (or any other records for that matter), but finding vintage Londons with quiet vinyl that sound as good as this disc does is neither easy nor cheap these days, so we are happy to offer our Bach loving customers a chance to hear these classic works sounding as good as they can outside of a church or concert hall.

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