Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

The Who – Tommy

More of The Who

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  • Outstanding sound for all four sides with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on side one and solid Double Plus (A++) grades on the remaining three sides
  • Exceptionally quiet vinyl too – they don’t come our way with audiophile quality surfaces like these very often, almost never in fact
  • Our early Black Label British Track pressing here has the rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that has the power to immerse you in the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy named Tommy
  • Top 100, and clearly our pick for the best sounding album The Who ever made – when you play a copy that sounds as good as this one we think you’ll have no problem seeing our point
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…Townshend’s ability to construct a lengthy conceptual narrative brought new possibilities to rock music.”

*NOTE: On all four sides, a very small warp is not audible.

I know of no other Who album with such consistently good sound — song to song, not copy to copy, of course. Just about every song on here can sound wonderful on the right pressing. If you’re lucky enough to get a Hot Stamper copy, you’re going to be blown away by the Tubey Magical Guitars, the rock-solid bottom end, the jumpin’-out-of-the-speakers presence and dynamics, and the silky vocals and top end.

Usually the best we can give you for The Who is “Big and Rockin,” but on Tommy, we can give you ’60s analog magic that will all but disappear in the decades to follow.

Acoustic guitar reproduction is key to this recording, and on the best copies the harmonic coherency, the richness, the body and the phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard in every strum. (more…)

The Purveyors of Ultra High Quality Records Want to Know: How Much of an Audio Fool Are You?

Record Collecting for Audiophiles

A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

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Today’s record-loving audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making more than forty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just audiophile fads, each with a track record of mediocre sound progressively worse than the next?

An Unscientific Approach

In my formative years in audio, starting in the mid-’70s, it would never have occurred to me to buy more than one copy of a record and do a head to head comparison to see which one sounded better. I approached the subject Platonically, not scientifically: the record that should sound better would sound better.

Later on in the decade a label by the name of Mobile Fidelity would come along claiming to actually make better sounding pressings than the ones the major labels put out, and cluelessly I bought into that nonsense too. (To be fair, sometimes they did — Touch, Waiting for Columbus and American Beauty come to mind, but my god, Katy Lied, Year of the Cat and Sundown have to be three of the worst sounding records I’ve ever played in my life.) (more…)

John Klemmer – Straight from the Heart

More John Klemmer

Audiophile Recordings with Excellent Sound

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  • An outstanding copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, an Audiophile Jazz Demo Disc of the highest quality – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical, lively and clear, with three-dimensionality that will fill your listening room from wall to wall
  • A record that fulfills the promise of the Direct to Disc recording technology
  • Real jazz music make this a Must Own Audiophile disc

This is one of the best Direct-to-Disc recordings we know of, and it’s actually REAL JAZZ — a remarkably unusual combination in the World of Audiophile Records, if my experience over the last thirty-five years can serve as a guide.

Both sides here really get this music right. They’ve got big, full bottom ends and great top end extension, along with a surprising amount of transparency — you can really hear back to the piano behind the horns. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

Mobile Fidelity’s Approach to Mastering – I Have a Theory

More Little Feat

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I have a theory about why MoFi’s mastering approach here tended to work for the album when it failed so miserably for so many others. It goes a little something like this. 

Back in their early days MoFi tended to add bass and treble to practically every record they mastered, regardless of whether or not the master tape they were using needed any such boost. A little extra sparkle up top and a little extra slam down below was what the audiophile public seemed to want. Truth be told, I was a member of that group and I know I did.

Fortunately for them Waiting for Columbus is an album that can really use a little at both ends. Rarely did The Mastering Lab supply it, making the original domestic pressings somewhat bass-shy and dull up top. The MoFi clearly corrected the poor EQ choices The Mastering Lab had made for the most part.

The Bottom

But at what cost? At a very high one, revealed to us during our shootout by the killer pressings we uncovered. On the MoFi the bass, although there is more of it, just the right amount in fact, is BLUBBER. The lack of definition is positively painful, once you’ve heard how well-recorded it is, which is what the best copies can show you. (more…)

Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing

More on the UHQR

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Near Mint UHQR JVC Test Record in a white generic jacket.

The RAREST of the RARE! I’ve never even seen one offered for sale!

For those of you who do not know the complete story, basically the UHQR — the ultra high quality record — was invented by JVC as a test to see how good the ultimate vinyl pressing could sound. It was thicker, had a longer pressing cycle, and other technological improvements, all with the goal of making the ultimate lp.

Mobile Fidelity produced limited editions of eight titles on UHQR, and both Reference and Telarc produced one each.

Apparently tests were done by others as well, because here we have some m&k recordings on UHQR. I believe they are not known to exist — until now. I bought them from m&k myself a few years back, along with some flamenco fevers and a box full of unplayed for dukes. That was a good day for better records!

Anyway, obviously the price you see reflects the collectibility of such a unique pressing, not necessarily the musical or sonic qualities it may possess. If you want to be not just the first but the only person to own such a pressing, this is your opportunity to do so. (more…)

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 – How on Earth Did This Pressing Get Approved?

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Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl. This review is from 2014 or thereabouts.

Sonic Grade: F

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and I’ve heard a ton of them. 

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?” (more…)

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

And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original — 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; that’s how we avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles and audiophile record dealers make when it comes to finding the best sounding records. 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. (Like anybody cares.)

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!) (more…)