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 in 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.
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?
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 mine 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. Or plays this quietly.
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.
What Kind of Audio Fool Was I? The kind that would buy a record like this and expect it to have good music or good sound. Of course it had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that much.
But over the course of the last forty years I 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.
Many years ago we got hold of a Japanese pressing of Marriner conducting The Toy Symphony and were blown away by the audiophile quality sound. When listing the record for sale, I raved:
“DEMO QUALITY SOUND! This is the best sounding Toy symphony you will ever hear!”
Now we know definitely that this is clearly not true! We did the shootout in 2022 and found out that the best of the original EMI pressings are even better, a classic case of Live and Learn.
I believe I had at least one or two UK EMI pressings to play against the Japanese ones, but all the details of how I came to this conclusion — a proto-shootout, carried out long before I knew how to do a real one — are lost to the mists of time.
My stereo was dramatically less revealing back then, I had not learned how to clean records properly, and those two facts, combined with the underdeveloped listening skills that go with them, helped me to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
No, the Japanese pressing, specifically targeted to audiophiles, or “soundphiles” if you prefer, is not superior to a properly mastered and pressed UK LP.
If you have more than a handful of Japanese pressings in your collection, you can be sure that there is still plenty of room for improvement in your audio system. An advanced system — the kind we are using today in our shootouts, and didn’t exist back then — will quickly reveal the shortcomings of these formerly desirable pressings.
The Japanese pressings of this album are still good sounding, just not as good sounding as the real thing. For that reason we would not consider them Stone Age Audio records. Perhaps Bronze Age Audio records is a better way to think about them.
OUR REVIEW FROM MANY (10? 15?) YEARS AGO
I discovered how good this Japanese EMI Soundphile Series recording is almost 20 years ago [that would have been in the early 90s]. In that time I can say that I think I may have run across at most two other copies. This is a tough one to find!
But it’s worth the effort, because all the little toys that play along with the music just JUMP out of the speakers. The recording is so transparent and the toys are so well miked it’s like hearing this work for the first time, or live.
This album can easily become a favorite Demo Disc — it has that kind of “you-are-there” sound. This recording was made at Abbey Road in 1976 under the direction of the two Christophers. Perhaps that accounts for the quality of the recording.
The Eine Kleine on side two is also very nice, although I wouldn’t say it’s world class the way The Toy Symphony is.
One of my good customers sent me this email shortly after this series came out, circa 2000:
I noticed that Universal Japan has come out with several new titles, stuff I’m interested in, like Stevie Wonder / Innervisions…Stan Getz, James Brown…and many others — that are on acousticsounds.com.
Generally, for these somewhat expensive heavy vinyl releases (relative to used prices), I’m trying to stick with stuff where your site has favorable comments regarding the sound quality but you don’t seem to carry these new items.
Do you think they are bad, or you just have not had a chance to check them out yet?”
I replied as follows:
We don’t like Japanese records. They almost NEVER sound good to these ears. The only report I’ve heard concerned Aja, which was that it was awful, bright as bright can be.
A Japanese pressing that’s too bright? Shocking. Say it isn’t so.
We are going to be carrying almost no new releases of heavy vinyl pressings from now on. They just don’t sound good to us and we don’t want to waste our time playing bad records when there are so many good ones sitting around that need a loving home.
If you pay $30 for heavy vinyl reissues and only one out of five sounds good — an optimistic estimate if you ask me — you’re really paying $150 for the one good one, right?
This makes no sense to me. And since the real odds are one out of ten, it’s really $300 for the good one.
Which made me think back to our recent blog entry in which we discussed the latest round of bad Heavy Vinyl LPs that are apparently selling like hotcakes at Acoustic Sounds. If you like the new versions of Aja, Aqualung and Blue, by all means, buy some Universal Japanese Heavy Vinyl pressings. If that’s your sound, go for it, dude. Who are we to say you are wrong?
But if you don’t like the sound of those three titles on Heavy Vinyl, where can you go to find records that sound better than those three do? I only know of one place, and it’s right here.
This is a highly recommended Three Blind Mice LP. We don’t like most Three Blind Mice albums, or jazz played by practically anyone who is not American. (Ever played Jazz at the Pawnshop? If so, did you enjoy your nap?)
But we like the music of Yamamoto well enough to recommend some of it. Midnight Sugar might actually be his most enjoyable album of them all.
The Heavy Vinyl versions are not as good, although the 45 RPM pressing probably comes the closest to the real Japanese pressing we review here. Anything pressed at RTI is rarely better than second rate and should be avoided if at all possible.
We almost never like records Made In Japan that were not recorded in Japan. There are of course a few exceptions.
This was the first Three Blind Mice recording I ever heard, over 20 [now close to 40] years ago. A fellow audiophile who went on to become sort of an audio guru for me (George Louis) played me this recording to demonstrate his stereo. It had to be the most dynamic piano recording I had ever heard in my life.
Yamamoto likes to tinkle the keys very softly, and then really pound them. And the Three Blind Mice engineers were able to capture both the quiet tinkling because of the Japanese vinyl, and the full-on pounding because of the audiophile recording equipment they used. It was an ear-opening experience.
Over the course of the next year or two, I sold off my Fulton Premiers and my Audio Research Electronics, because no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get Misty to sound like it did at George’s house. I realized that it takes better equipment than those companies were making back then to get the sound of that record right, and that put me on, to quote Cat Stevens, ”the road to find out.”(more…)
The transients are uncannily lifelike – listen for the huge amounts of kinetic energy produced when Shelly whacks the hell out of his cymbals
My favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later)
4 stars: “One of Joe Sample’s finest sessions as a leader” – with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown, we would say it’s clearly his finest session, as a leader or simply as the piano player in a killer trio
If you want to hear the full six tunes recorded by The Three at that famous Hollywood session (which ran all day and long into the night, 4 AM to be exact), our 33 RPM pressings are your best bet.
If you want absolutely amazing, mind-blowing, you-are-there sound, a Hot Stamper 45 is the only way to go.
The music is so good that I personally would not want to live without the complete album. The Three is, in fact, my favorite Piano Trio Jazz Album of All Time; every one of those six tracks is brilliantly arranged and performed (if you have the right takes of course; more about that later). (more…)
This rare Japanese import LP boasts incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) DEMO DISC sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
The music here is wonderful – if you’re a fan of clarinet-led swing jazz, you’ll have a hard time finding a better record than this
“This album was recorded by the Direct-to-Disc recording method, to capture the natural reverberation of 1,200 seat concert hall. Various kinds of recording equipment were brought in parts to the backstage of the hall for the recording then reassembled and adjusted. Two whole days were spent adjusting all the equipment.”
If you’re a Swing Jazz fan, this title from 1978 is surely a Must Own
The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here
It doesn’t to me, but I admit to some bias when it comes to DSOTM. I must have played more than a hundred different pressings over the last forty-odd years.
Year after year I was sure I understood exactly which copies had the best sound, and again and again I was proved wrong.
We only found out what the best sounding versions were about five or six years ago. We did that by doing shootout after shootout with every version we could lay our hands on, starting around 2005. We even did a shootout for two different Mobile Fidelity pressings many years ago, which we think makes for some good reading to this day.
It’s especially good reading for those who don’t appreciate how dramatic pressing variations can be for even quality controlled limited editions. The comparison of the two MoFi’s centers around the idea that midrange tonality is by far the most important quality to listen for on Dark Side, and that, surprisingly to some audiophiles, but obviously not to us, there are MoFi pressings with a correct midrange and there are some without.
Is this fellow listening for midrange tonality? If you watch the video and he says he is, then you can let me know! And if not, you can ask him in the comments why he wasn’t. Maybe he just likes the chiming clocks and the bass of the heartbeat. Some audiophiles have been known to ignore the fundamentals when comparing records.
And picking six random copies of six different pressings is not exactly approaching the problem scientifically either of course. It is a clear violation of the First Cornerstone of Hot Stamper Shootouts, to wit
You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.
Impressive Records? Not Really
Most of the versions of DSOTM that this individual is reviewing have never impressed us sonically. They are the pressings that most audiophiles have probably heard about and read about in the magazines and on forums. If you know practically nothing about the album going in, these might be the six pressings you would consider playing against each other in a shootout. To be charitable, I suppose you could call it a good start.
Our reviewer seems to be the type who puts a great deal of faith in so-called audiophile pressings — the Japanese Pro-Use Series, the UHQR — the kinds of records that sound more and more artificial and/or mediocre to us with each passing year.
If your stereo is not showing you what’s wrong with these kinds of records, you have your work cut out for you. This is especially true of some of the Ultra High Quality Records put out my Mobile Fidelity in the early ’80s, like this one.
Our Take on DSOTM Pressings
The domestic pressings we have auditioned over the years have never made it into a real shootout. They have always sounded far too flat and veiled to be taken seriously. There are some very good sounding Pink Floyd pressings on domestic vinyl — Wish You Were Here and The Wall can both sound amazing on domestic vinyl — but Dark Side is not one of them in our experience.
The Doug Sax-mastered Heavy Vinyl version from 2003 we played year ago was way too bright and phony to these ears. We hated it and said so at the time.
We came across a very early British pressing about fifteen years ago, the one with the solid blue triangle label, but it was not as good as other pressings we were playing at the time and we never bought another one.
We’ve liked a lot of later UK pressings over the years, but we don’t go out of our way to buy those anymore now that we have heard the really amazing pressings we like now.
As I said, we discovered the killer stampers about five years ago, and that showed us an Out of This World Dark Side we had no idea could even exist.
We have a name for pressings like those. We call them Breakthrough Pressings, and we even sometimes used to award them a sonic grade of more than Three Pluses.
Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for the kinds of pressings that simply blew our minds, with sound so superior to any copy we’d ever heard that they broke our grading scale.
Two Minutes Was Enough
I frankly admit I did not spend two minutes watching this video. I simply do not have the patience to watch audiophiles like this guy opine about records he thinks he knows a lot better than he actually does.
That said, if there is a pressing that he thinks is the best, and you own one, we would be happy to send you a Hot Stamper to go head to head with it and let the chips fall where they may.
All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.
Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”
If you don’t know the answer, why would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in his basement listening room and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).
He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.
Rather than being in the opinion business, we prefer being in the better sounding records business, offering, as we like to say, Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records.
Our records are expensive, but they deliver the sound we describe, and we have the letters from customers to prove it.