Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

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

(more…)

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

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Pink Floyd Sounds Terrible on this Japanese “Audiophile” Pressing

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Letters and Commentaries for The Wall

This Japanese Import is one of the dullest, muddiest, worst sounding copies of The Wall we have ever played. It is clearly made from a second generation tape (or worse!).

And somehow this pressing, or one very much like it, ended up as on the TAS Super Disc List. I would hope that the copy Harry played sounded a whole lot better than this one.

And the CBS Half-Speed is every bit as bad!

How is it that the worst sounding pressings are so often marketed to audiophiles as superior to their mass-produced counterparts? In our experience, more often than not they are just plain awful, inferior in every way but one: surface quality.

Dear Audiophiles, stop collecting crappy audiophile pressings with quiet vinyl and just switch to CD already.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Pink Floyd – “…never heard the details in the guitars and cymbals and keyboards like this.”

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Letters and Commentaries for Wish You Were Here

One of our best customers, Roger, received his $150 Hot Stamper [those were the days!] ’Wish You Were Here’ and went straight to work comparing it with the various other pressings he owned: two different CBS Half Speeds. The not-so-shocking results are presented in detail below.

Hi Tom,

I received your Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’ Hot Stamper and compared it to my CBS Half-Speed (I found a bunch of these Half-Speeds in a bargain bin years ago and did a shootout to select the best one) and the pressing that I considered the best, the Japanese Mastersound Half-Speed, for which I paid dearly.

Drum roll, please while Vanna hands me the sealed envelope………… and the winner is: Surprise — the Hot Stamper!

And it wasn’t even close.

Once I heard the center-of-the-earth bass on the Hot Stamper ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, it was all over. I was amazed at how bright the CBS was, transparent yes, but bright and no bass and no body to the saxophones and voices. The Mastersound was better-balanced in that the highs were tamed, but no real dynamics and the bass was flabby.

I have heard this record hundreds of times, but never heard the details in the guitars and cymbals and keyboards like this.

And did I mention the huge, huge soundstage with a wall of sound like that of other Pink Floyd records? Nice job as usual.

Roger,

Thanks for verifying the accuracy of our Hot Stamper claims once again. The decent sounding Half Speed Mastered records, CBS and otherwise, can be counted pretty easily on one’s fingers. We could debunk them all day long if we wanted to (and had ten times the staff). It doesn’t take long to hear how anemic the sound is compared to The Real Thing, the real thing being, of course, a vintage pressing.

The copy you bought was rated A Plus on both sides, two full sonic grades below the best, so you can imagine how good those copies sound. But since neither you nor I are made out of money, for $150 you now own a copy that will trounce anything you throw at it, especially if what you throw at it is an audiophile pressing.

Those moribund LPs belong on Ebay where all the Technics turntable owners of the world can find them in order to complete their — let’s be honest — silly and ultimately pointless audiophile collections.

Modern equipment shows half-speed foolishness for what it is. You heard it, we heard it, and slowly but surely we are spreading the word to the rest of the audiophile community.

Thanks again; it’s a big job and we need all the help we can get.

(more…)

Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appassionata”) / Kamiya – (45 RPM)

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More TAS List Super Discs

  • This rare TAS-approved Japanese import LP boasts INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) DEMO DISC sound on both sides
  • You will have a hard time finding a better recording of the piano than this – it’s one of the all time great Direct-to-Discs
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of the other copies we played
  • A famous resident of the TAS list, this album offers excellent music, performed with feeling, and recorded properly, the best of all possible worlds for us audiophiles
  • A friend of ours tells me that Kamiya plays this piece exactly the way Horowitz did, and that’s probably a good thing – good luck finding a Horowitz recording that sounds like this!

(more…)

The Three / Self-Titled (45 RPM) – Our Four Plus Copy from 2013

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Three Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Three

We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.

More background on our Four Plus (A++++) pressings.

Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience. (more…)

Barbra Streisand / Guilty – Bab’s Best and Most Underrated Album (By Too Many Audiophiles Anyway)

More Barbra Streisand

This ain’t no zombie audiophile BS, the kind of sleep-inducing, reverb-drenched trash that passes for “female vocals” in bad audio showrooms around the globe. (Paging Diana Krall.) This is Barbra and The Bee Gees at the peak of their Pop Powers. It just doesn’t get any better.

This is THE BEST ALBUM Babs ever made, and you can take that to the bank. It’s also one of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding of her later Monster Pop Productions. Can’t say for sure as I haven’t played all that many. Her first album is a true Demo Disc as well, but that one’s all about the Tubey Magical ’60s Columbia era, the Golden Age of Natural Sound, a world away from Guilty and its layers and layers of tracks. Having said that, there are multi-tracks and then there are multi-tracks.

The engineers and producers here pull it off brilliantly.

If you don’t feel something deep inside when playing this record, open up a vein and let some of that ice water that passes for blood in your system run out.

It’s From WHERE?

This very copy was on the site for a long time. Nobody wanted to buy it even though it was quite cheap, and there’s a good reason nobody wanted to buy it: it’s a Japanese pressing.

That’s right, it’s one of those typically awful Japanese pressings that we criticize endlessly on the site, the purest form of audiophle BS vinyl in the history of the world. We played side one and heard the kind of sound that did not exactly float our boats. (Before it was cleaned it really sounded bad.)

But when we filpped it over we were positively KNOCKED OUT by the sound and decided it had to be part of our shootout. While evaluating the record the listening panel (mostly me) had no idea which pressing was playing. When the Side Two A Triple Plus Gold Star was awarded to this much-maligned Japanese pressing we were FLABBERGASTED.

(more…)

Steely Dan on Japanese Vinyl – If You Are Serious About Audio, You Cop to Your Mistakes

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original, which I never liked very much — another example of just how wrong one 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; we run the experiments,

That’s the only way to avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles make when it comes to finding the best sounding records.

Being skeptical of every claim you have not tested for yourself is key to getting good results from this kind of work.

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. 

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 and see what you have been missing.)

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 on 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 forty years and it still leaves me wanting more. You too I’m guessing.

The L.A. 4 – Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte (33 RPM)

More L.A. 4

More Audiophile Records

  • An East Wind 33 RPM Japanese import pressing with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • One of the better sounding versions with all 7 tracks we’ve played, particularly on the first side
  • 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
  • This side one gives you the richness, clarity, presence and resolution few copies can touch, and side two is not far behind in all those areas
  • This 33 RPM version features all seven of the original tracks – “C’est What” and “Corcovado” were omitted from the shorter 45 RPM pressing
  • And it was a solid step up sonically from a lot of the Direct to Disc pressings we had on hand, which is exactly what happened when they mastered The Three at 45 RPM from the backup tapes – pretty wild, don’t you think?

(more…)