Record Collecting for Audiophiles

Crisis? What Crisis? The Exception that Probes the Rule

More Supertramp

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[This commentary is from more than fifteen years ago, so please take it with an oversized grain of salt. The best domestic pressings kill this audiophile record. That said, the better half-speed copies are actually surprisingly good.]

This Hot Stamper A&M Half Speed of Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? today joins a VERY ELITE GROUP: Half-Speeds that hold their own in a head to head shootout against some of the BEST Hot Stamper Non-Audiophile pressings we can find. There are presently a total of three titles that fit the description: Dark Side of the Moon on MoFi, Crime of the Century on MoFi, and this title on A&M.

Most half-speed mastered records we throw on our table have us scratching our heads and asking, What the hell were they thinking? They SUCK! Tubby bass, recessed mids, phony highs, compression — the list of bad qualities they almost all have in common is a long one. Playing these kinds of records on a properly set-up modern system is positively painful.
(You have to wonder how bad a stereo system has to be to disguise the shortcomings of records that sound as wrong as these. Then again, is Heavy Vinyl any better?) (more…)

The Vintage Sound of The Genius After Hours

More Ray Charles

Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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Proof positive that there is nothing wrong with remastering vintage recordings if you know what you’re doing. These sessions from 1956 (left off of an album that Allmusic liked a whole lot less than this one) were remastered in 1985 and the sound — on the better copies mind you — is correct from top to bottom.

The highest compliment I can pay a copy such as this is that it doesn’t sound like a modern record. It sounds like a very high quality mono jazz record from the ’50s or ’60s. Unlike modern recuts it doesn’t sound EQ’d in any way. It doesn’t lack ambience the way modern records do. It sounds musical and natural the way modern records almost never do.

If not for the fairly quiet vinyl you would never know it’s not a vintage record. The only originals we had to play against it were too noisy and worn to evaluate critically. They sounded full, but dark and dull and somewhat opaque (hey, there’s that modern remastered sound we’ve all been hearing for years!).

And although it is obviously a budget reissue, it sure doesn’t sound cheap to these ears.

Tender Loving Care?

Was it remastered with great care, or did the engineer just thread up the tape on a high-quality, properly calibrated deck and say “Nice, sounds good, let her rip.”? Either explanation works for me, because I really don’t care who made the record or how much work they put into it. In the case of The Genius After Hours it seems they found the real master tape and just did their job right, the way mastering engineers — well, some of them anyway — had been doing for decades.

A scant ten years later Bernie Grundman, a true Hall of Famer, started cutting for Classic Records and ruined practically every tape handed to him.

Our explanation? We don’t have one! We played the records and reported our findings. We sold the ones we thought sounded good to us and didn’t bother with the rest.

Just like we’re doing now. The biggest difference here is that we are evaluating a single copy, with these specific qualities, and guaranteeing that you either love it or you get your money back. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Symphony No. 4 in Living Stereo – What Does It Sound Like Now?

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Years ago we wrote:

This is a 1s / 5s Shaded Dog. TAS List (or at least it used to be). Probably the reason HP likes this LP so much is that it has a very wide soundstage. It also has good solid weight. A little soft on top, but that comes with the territory.

This is a very old review, probably from about 15 years ago. I don’t think I could recommend this record today. It probably belongs on this list, but I cannot truthfully say one way or another. As I recall, the copies I’ve played more recently were not impressive.

If I played it today, would I find it to be as bad as this Living Stereo pressing? Who knows? That experiment has not been run.

Some Advice

We much prefer Mravinsky for the symphonies, but good sounding copies of his records are just too hard to find, so we have never actually done a shootout for them.

Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

I’ve observed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both myself and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance of mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

We actually do play five or ten copies of every record  because it’s our business, but I sure don’t have the patience to go through all that for my own personal listening the way I used to twenty years ago. Of course, that’s precisely what taught me what I know about records today, and how I learned to find the one with the magic, but it sure would be hard to start all over again at this age (I’m 66). (more…)

Are Hot Stampers a Good Investment?

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

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Hot Stampers sound better than other records — plenty of folks who’ve tried them sure think they do — but do they have actual “collector” value?

Not really. On the surface they look just like any other pressing, so their market value as authentic and sometimes pricey Hot Stampers cannot be established or verified in any meaningful way.

The value of a Hot Stamper pressing is almost purely subjective: they exist only to provide listening pleasure to their owner. Yes, a Pink Label Island pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King is worth big bucks, but is it worth the $850 we charged recently if you were to try and resell it? Probably not.  

I understand why a record collector would be confused by this notion of subjective and limited value. Collecting records is often more about buying, selling and owning various kinds of records more than anything else.

For many it’s not primarily about playing or even listening to music. (I’ve actually met record collectors who didn’t even own a turntable!)

Some people see records as an investment. We do not. We think audiophile-oriented music lovers should pursue good sounding records for the purpose of playing them and enjoying them, understanding that the better their records sound, the more enjoyable they will be.

Collecting records primarily to build a record collection that can be sold at a profit in the future should be the last thing on anyone’s mind. (more…)

Why M&K Direct to Disc Records Don’t Sound Right to Us

More Audiophile recordings

More Flamenco Fever “Live Direct to Disc”

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As an interesting side note, this album was recorded on location. The other M&K Direct to Disc record that I like was also recorded on location. Most of the M&K Direct to Discs were recorded in the showroom of the stereo store that Miller and Kreisel owned, which, like any showroom, was carpeted and draped. This is why almost all their records sound “dead”. This was their intention, of course. They wanted the sound to be “live” in your living room. I prefer to hear the kind of ambience that would be found in a real location, and so I have never been much of a fan of their label.

This record, however, gives you both that Direct Disc immediacy and freedom from distortion, as well as the live ambience of the location — the best of both worlds.

Thelma Houston – I’ve Got The Music In Me

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  • This Sheffield direct-to-disc pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Loads of presence, with richness and fullness that showed us just how good the Direct to Disc medium at its best can be. It had everything going for it from top to bottom, with big bass, dynamics, clarity, top end extension (so silky up there!) and ENERGY
  • Make no mistake, this here is a real Demo Disc. The sound is Wall to Wall!
  • Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings this album actually contains real music worth listening to

In our recent Shootout this wonderful pressing sounded far better than most other copies we played. It fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs!

Some copies lack energy, some lack presence, most suffer from some amount of smear on the transients. But wait a minute. This is a direct disc. How can it be compressed, or lack transients? Aren’t those tape recorder problems that are supposed to be eliminated by the direct to disc process?

“Supposed to be eliminated” is a long way from “were eliminated.” Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which affect the sound. The album is pressed in three different countries: the United States, Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the plated acetates (the “fathers”) and many, many stampers made from those mothers.

Bottom line? You got to play ’em, just like any other record. If no two records sound the same, it follows that no two audiophile records sound the same, a fact that became abundantly clear very early on in the listening. Of course not many audiophiles are in a position to shootout eight or ten copies of I’ve Got The Music In Me, and I’m not sure most audiophiles would even want to. Here at Better Records we have a whole system set up to do exactly that, so we waited until we had a pile of them gathered together, cleaned them all up, and off to the races we went. (more…)

Is The Pink Label The Hot Ticket for Jethro Tull’s Brilliant Stand Up Album?

More on Stand Up

Hot Stamper Jethro Tull Albums Available Now

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Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes it isn’t, and failing to appreciate that possibility is a classic case of misunderstanding a crucially important fact or two about records. Audiophile analog devotees would do well to keep these facts in mind, especially considering the prices original British pressings are fetching these days.

Simply put: Since no two records sound alike, it follow that the right label doesn’t guarantee the right sound. A recent shootout illustrated both of these truths.

We had a number of Pink Island British pressings to play — if you hit enough record stores often enough, in this town anyway, even the rarest pressings are bound to show up in clean condition from time to time — along with Sunrays (aka Pink Rims), Brits, early Two Tone domestics and plain Brown Label Reprise reissues. All of them can sound good. (We do not waste time with German and Japanese pressings, or any of the later Chrysalis label LPs. Never heard an especially good one.)

What surprised the hell out of us was how bad one of the Pink Label sides sounded. It was shockingly thin and hard and practically unlistenable. Keep in mind that during our shootouts the listener has no idea which pressing is being played, so imagine hearing such poor reproduction on vinyl and then finding out that such bad sound was coming from a copy that should have been competitive with the best, on the legendary Pink Island label no less. (Of course the other Pinks were all over the map, their sides ranging from good to great.)

Hearing one sound this bad was completely unexpected, but hearing the unexpected is what we do for a living, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been. Having dubious looking reissues and the “wrong” pressings beat the originals and the so-called “right” pressings from the “right” countries is all in a day’s work here at Better Records. (more…)

Half-Speed Mastering – A Technological Fix for a Non-Existent Problem

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We do a lot of MoFi bashing here at Better Records, and for good reason: most of their pressings are just plain awful. We are shocked and frankly dismayed to find that the modern day audiophile still flocks to this label with the expectation of a higher quality LP, seemingly unaware that although the vinyl may be quiet, the mastering — the sound of the music as opposed to the sound of the record’s surfaces — typically leaves much to be desired. 

Hence the commentary below, prompted by a letter from our good friend Roger, who owned the MoFi Night and Day and who had also purchased a Hot Stamper from us, which we are happy to say he found much more to his liking.

In my response, after a bit of piling on for the MoFi, I then turned my attention to three Nautilus records which I had previously held in high regard, but now find well-deserving of a critical beating. This one is entitled:

The Sound Is Pretty, All Right — Pretty Boring 

(Note that the underlining below has been added by us.)

Hi,Tom:

Just a quick note to let you know I listened to your Joe Jackson Night and Day hot stamper LP. I don’t think I have listened to this record for at least 15 years and forgot how much Joe Jackson was on top of his game then. Great record. And it is aptly named as there is a night-and-day difference in sound between it and the Mobile Fidelity half-speed version I have. I was surprised at how bland and undynamic the MoFi was compared to the hot stamper version. Did MFSL ever listen to this title? What did they compare it to, an 8-track tape version, maybe?

The hot stamper was far more dynamic, warm, punchy, and detailed than the MoFi. The piano had a lot more weight and stood apart in the mix. In fact, I could hear all the instruments stand out in the mix a lot more with the HS version. The MoFi sounded like many, but not all, typical MFSL pressings. The very low bass was raised in the mix as was the extreme treble, like it was equalized, but there was a lot less bass and the treble was recessed and sounded more like a can of spray mist being actuated.

I was surprised at how the music came alive with the HS pressing instead of the blah MFSL. Great job on picking this one. I will be keeping both pressings of this record: the MFSL for its collectability and my ability to sell it for big bucks to some bozo who won’t know the difference, and the HS version, the one I will actually listen to.

Roger

A Good Record Doesn’t Just Sit Around

Roger, I have to think that eventually there will come a day when audiophiles will catch on to the fact that most Half-Speeds are a crock, with exactly the kind of pretty but lifeless and oh-so-boring sound that you describe. But it hasn’t happened yet, so maybe that MOFI you are keeping will go up in value. But if I were you, I’d sell it while there’s still a market for bad audiophile records.

I can also tell you that it feels good to get bad records out of your collection. It’s so much more satisfying to have a wall full of good records you know to be good rather than just a wall full of records. And as you say, it’s been 15 years since you played that NIght and Day. A good record doesn’t sit around for 15 years; a good record gets played!

But you owned the MOFI, exactly the kind of record that is easily forgotten. (more…)

Is the Average Record Really Worthless? – We Do the Math (So You Don’t Have To)

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What follows is an excerpt from a much older letter in which the writer made the case, as best he could, that spending lots of money on records is foolish when for a dollar one can buy a perfectly good record at a thrift store and get exactly the same music and decent enough sound.

We think this is silly and, with a few rough calculations, a heavy dose of self-promotion and not a little bullying, we set out to prove that the average record is worthless. Prepare to confront our sophistic logic. (Yes, we are well aware that our reasoning is specious, but it’s no more specious than anybody else’s reasoning about records, so there.)

Jason, our letter writer, points out this fact:

Your records are a poor value in terms of investment. Until you convince the whole LP community that your HOT-STAMPER choices are the pinnacle of sound a buyer will never be able to re-sell B S & T for $300. Even if they swear it is the best sounding copy in the world.

We replied as follows:

If records are about money, then buying them at a thrift store for a buck apiece and getting something halfway decent makes perfect sense. As the Brits say, “that’s value for money.” If we sell you a Hot Stamper for, say, $500, can it really be five hundred times better? (more…)