Record Collecting Myths

Should We Follow George Martin’s Expert Advice?

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

One of our good customers had this to say about the new Revolver pressing and The Beatles in mono:

Hey Tom,

I think the Revolver new thing doesn’t sound terrible. It’s just what you’re comparing it with. Most people are going off original pressings maybe and the acclaimed mono and stereo box stuff that came out in the last 10 years. IF you don’t try one of those Harry Moss records or a 1970s pressing, you probably think the new Revolver is fine or even good. That’s my theory. Who knows.

And as far as mono vs. stereo… you know the answer to this but I’m not sure. Were those earliest records meant to be mono or recorded as if they would be put out as mono and later records – maybe Rubber Soul on – meant to be stereo? I don’t know the answer to that. But maybe that’s why people are so loyal to mono. They feel like “this is how it was meant to be heard by the artist.”

George Martin was very clear about that, the first two albums for sure and really, the first four are, for him, better heard in mono than stereo.

I disagree. I think George heard the playback on studio monitors stuck on a wall five feet from his head. Who cares what that sounds like?  Nobody who isn’t mixing a record would ever listen to music that way, certainly not in this day and age.

More importantly, who are you going to believe, your lying ears or George Martin?

This is so fundamental to understanding everything to do with audio and records.

Richard Feynman summed it up beautifully: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

Watch the Let It Be documentary put out by Peter Jackson, the last part where they play the album back for everyone.

With four monitor speakers lined up left to right and shoved up against a wall.

This is how they listened to the album in order to approve Glyn Johns’ mix and the takes he chose to use?

How can anyone take any of it seriously?

TP


Beatles, Beatles, Beatles

The Beatles in Mono – Why No Hot Stampers?

Please Please Me – Which Is More 3-Dimensional, Mono or Twin Track?

Customers Really Seem to Love Our Beatles Hot Stampers

Art Pepper – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

More of the Music of Art Pepper

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it has been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn‘s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies.

When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound, on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second.

Of all the people who should know better…

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

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

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.

Less than half the time, probably closer to a quarter or a third.

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. Our review is reproduced below.

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 was a disaster: shrill, smeary and unmusical.

(In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer for those of you who might be less familiar with his more recent work. He was great in the ’70s, but the work he did in the ’90s leaves a lot to be desired.)

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa). They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records and how revealing your system is.

My guess is that the CDs are probably better sounding. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s track record and the fact that CDs are cheap now because nobody wants them anymore. 

If you must have Heifetz’s 1958 performance, our advice is to buy the CD.

We know for a fact that the Living Stereo CD of Reiner’s Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it, TAS Super Disc Listing or no TAS Super Disc Listing.

As you may know, Classic is a label which we found very hard to like right from the beginning. We like them even less now. They may have gone out of business but their bad records are still plentiful on ebay and you can actually still buy some their leftover crap right from the world’s biggest retailer of bad sounding audiophile records, Acoustic Sounds.

If you don’t care how bad your records sound, Chad Kassem is your man.


Linda Ronstadt / The Stone Poneys – Skip the Originals

More Linda Ronstadt

More Folk Rock

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this was one of the better copies we played in our shootout for these later pressings – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Much more folk than pop, for the most part the sound here is tubey, rich and sweet
  • Re-released when HLAW hit big, this album features three great tracks with Linda singing solo
  • “It doesn’t have “Different Drum,” but the first Stone Poneys album is their folkiest and best, dominated by close harmonies and strong original material by the group’s guitarists, Bob Kimmel and Ken Edwards.”
  • The originals from 1967 have never impressed us much. Click on the links below for more records that sound best to us on the right reissue pressing 
  • Here are some currently available Hot Stamper pressings that we think sound their best on the right reissue (the ones we sell, obviously; there are plenty of reissues that don’t have good sound, but the ones we offer handily beat the originals we’ve — and no doubt you’ve — heard)
  • Here are all the titles we’ve reviewed to date that have the potential to sound their best on the right reissue

On this album the sound varies a fair amount from track to track.

The best tracks are rich, tubey and clear; the worst thin, bright and hard. Some What to Listen For advice follows.

If you are interested in digging deeper, our Listening in Depth commentaries have extensive track by track breakdowns for some of the better-known albums we’ve done multiple shootouts for.

The first track on side one rarely stayed clean when loud, but here for the most part it does. It’s a good test for whether or not you have a copy with high quality, low distortion mastering. Listen for the least amount of smear and congestion and the most resolution.

The second track is richer and tubier – it proves that side one is mastered correctly.

On side two the first track is rough, the second track better, the third richer, sweeter and smoother still. (more…)

Free / Fire and Water on a Mythical Pink Island

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

Free’s Third Album on the Original British Island Pink Label — Wow!

Found one at a local record store a while back. It was the first one I’d ever seen in nice enough condition to buy. Checking the dead wax was a bit of a shock though. Care to guess where it was mastered? Right here in the good old U S of A. In fact, at one of the worst mastering houses of all time: Bell Sound in New York. [This is not fair. We have found many good pressings mastered at Bell Sound.]

Now what does that tell you about British First Pressings? Are those the ones you’re looking for? Don’t get me wrong; I look for them too. But you had better look before you leap, or you’ll end up with a bad sounding, probably quite expensive pressing.

It’s one more reason why we try to play as many records as we can here at Better Records. You can’t rely on anything but the grooves.

Which brings up another interesting issue. Some audiophiles use the following rule of thumb for rock record collecting.

If it’s an English band, get the import pressing. If it’s an American band, the tapes should be here in this country, so the original domestic pressing should be the best.

As a rule of thumb it’s not bad. It’s just wrong so often (Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, The Eagles, etc.) that you must be very careful how you apply it.

Same with reissue versus original. Nice rule of thumb but only if you have enough copies of the title to know that you’re not just assuming the original is better. You actually have the data — gathered from the other LPs you have played — to back it up.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans

More Bill Evans

  • Two incredible Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, making this one of the best copies to ever hit the site
  • These three guys are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track
  • “With the unmatched pair of former Miles Davis drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Sam Jones (no relation), Evans was emerging not only as an ultra-sensitive player, but as an interpreter of standards second to none.”

Everybody Digs Bill Evans. These three guys — Sam Jones is on the bass and Philly Joe Jones on the drums — are playing live in the studio and you can really feel their presence on every track — assuming you have a copy that sounds like this one.

Based on what I’m hearing my feeling is that most of the natural, full-bodied, smooth, sweet sound of the album is on the master tape, and that all that was needed to get that vintage sound correctly on to disc was simply to thread up that tape on a reasonably good machine and hit play.

The fact that nobody seems to be able to make an especially good sounding record these days tells me that in fact I’m wrong to think that such an approach would work. Somebody should have been able to figure out how to do it by now. In our experience that is simply not the case today, and has not been for many years.

(more…)

Where Can I Find Your Hot Stamper Beatles Pressings in Mono?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

I notice you don’t mention whether the Beatles recordings are stereo or mono. The rubber soul that just arrived is stereo. I’m guessing that the one I reordered is also stereo.

Do you guys stock the mono versions? Do you say on the site when something is mono. Let me know, as I like mono versions too.

I was close with Geoff Emerick and he always stressed to me that they spent tons of time on the mono mixes and not much on the stereos (up through Revolver). So let me know if/when you have mono for Rubber Soul and Revolver and perhaps I can snatch them up.

Brian

Brian,

All our records are stereo unless we specifically mention otherwise, as are our Beatles records.

We never sell Beatles records in mono, ever. Here is a little something I wrote about it:

Revolver in Disgraceful Mono

They spent time on the mono mixes because getting the levels right for all the elements in a recording is ten times harder than deciding whether an instrument or voice should be placed in the left, middle or right of the soundstage.

And they didn’t even do the stereo mixes right some of the time, IMHO.

But wall to wall beats all stacked up in the middle any day of the week in my book.

If you like mono Beatles records you will have to do your own shootouts, sorry!

Best, TP

  Hey Tom, 

Very interesting info on the Mono Beatles. I’ve never had the opportunity to play any early stereo pressings against the monos. Thanks for the opinion. I looked over the versions of the Beatles albums I bought that you are replacing for me and I noticed that they are 4th or 5th pressings.

Do you find that era better than first or second pressings (in general) or is it just a price and condition thing. Just curious. I’m new to higher end collecting and looking for an expert opinion (which clearly you are!). I’m excited to hear the better versions you’re sending me.

Brian

Brian,

Some of the best pressings, but not all the best pressings, were cut by Harry Moss in the ’70s, on much better transistor mastering equipment than they had in the ’60s, and that is part of the reason why some of them sound so much better than most of the earlier pressings. (The same thing happened at Columbia for Kind of Blue and a small number of other albums.)

But plenty of what Moss cut does not sound good, so searching out his versions may be helpful but not as helpful as most people think.

It’s what scientists and historians refer to as “the illusion of knowledge.” It prevents you from understanding what is really going on with records.

This accounts for virtually every internet thread and every comments section that audiophiles can be found on. These are people who think they know a lot more than they do, and therefore have no need to find out more, because they already know it.

A Mr Dunning and a Mr Kruger wrote about it here, and it should be well worth your time to read.

Best, TP

(more…)

Donald Fagen – Revisiting the Analog Vs. Digital Debate

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Do All the Pressings Have to Sound Like CDs?

The average copy of this digitally recorded, mixed and mastered LP sounds just the way you would expect it to: like a CD. It’s anemic, two-dimensional, opaque, thin, bright, harsh, with little extreme top and the kind of bass that’s all “note” with no real weight, solidity or harmonic structure. Sounds like a CD, right? (That’s the way most of my CDs sound, which is why I no longer listen to them except in the car)

But what if I told you that the best copies of The Nightfly can actually sound like a real honest-to-goodness ANALOG recording, with practically none of the nasty shortcomings listed above? You may not believe it, but it’s true.

I heard it myself. I heard a copy sound so natural and correct that I would never have guessed it was digital. On my honor, that’s the truth. The best copies of The Nightfly can actually be shockingly ANALOG sounding.

Allow us to make the case for The Nightfly. (more…)

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – Making Mistakes, Part One

mistakes_stevensx20Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Want to Get Better at Audio and Record Collecting?

Try Making More Mistakes

I was reading an article on the web recently when I came across an old joke Red Skelton used to tell:

All men make mistakes, but married men find out about them sooner.

Now if you’re like me and you play, think and write (hopefully in that order) about records all day, everything sooner or later relates back to records, even a modestly amusing old joke such as the one above.

Making mistakes is fundamental to learning about records, especially if you, like us, believe that most of the received wisdom handed down to record lovers of all kinds is more likely to be wrong than right.

If you don’t believe that to be true, then it’s high time you really started making mistakes.
 
And the faster you make them, the more you will learn the truths (uncountable in number) about records.

And those truths will set you free.

Think about it: perhaps as many as a third of the Hot Stamper pressings on our website are what would commonly be understood to be the “wrong” pressings — or, worse, records that are not supposed to sound good at all. 

Reissues of Dark Side from the wrong country? ’60s and ’70s Living Stereo reissue pressings? Original Jazz Classics from the ’80s? Beatles records reissued in the ’70s, in stereo no less! Can we be serious?

Yes, we are indeed quite serious. We believe by now we know most of the best pressings, the ones with potentially the best sound, for most of the records we regularly shootout. Over the course of decades we’ve tried bad sounding copy after bad sounding copy of practically every title we do. We know which ones to avoid, which betters the odds of finding good sounding pressings. It’s pretty much as simple as that.

We’ve played all the copies that are supposed to be the best, and we’ve also played the ones that aren’t supposed to be any good — late reissues, or records pressed in the “wrong” country; or cut by the “wrong” mastering engineer; or found on the second, third, or fourth labels, all wrong, don’t you even know that much?! — and against all odds we’ve kept our minds and our ears open.

Whatever pressing sounds the best, sounds the best. Whether it’s the “right” pressing according to orthodox record collecting wisdom carries no weight whatsoever with us, and never will — because that way of thinking doesn’t produce good results.

All the Answers?

Please don’t think we’re trying to say we have all the answers. We most certainly do not. We find pressings that beat our old favorites on a regular basis — not every day, but often enough to make trying long shots an important part of our business.

(more…)

Kind of Blue on Six-Eye, 360 Black Print, 360 White Print, ’70s Red Label – Which Is the Best?

Reviews and Commentaries for Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

Is the ’50s original always better, is the ’70s reissue always better, is the ’60s 360 pressing always better?

The answer is “no” to all three.

Why? Because no pressing is always better. All pressings are unique and should only be judged on their merits, and you do that by playing them, not by looking at their labels. For us this truth is practically axiomatic. It is in fact the premise of our entire business. Over the course of the 28 years we have been selling records we have never found any compelling evidence to invalidate it.

The day that someone can accurately predict the sound quality of a specific record by looking at the label or cover is a day I do not expect to come, ever.

A Larger Point

But there is a larger point to be made. Let’s assume that the best original Six Eye Columbia pressings can be the best — the most Tubey Magical, the most involving, the most real. You just happen to have a clean pressing, and you absolutely love it.

But is it the best? How could you possibly know that?

Unless you have done a comparison with many copies under controlled conditions, you simply cannot know where on the sonic curve your copy should be placed.

Perhaps you have a mediocre original. Or a mediocre 360 Label copy. Since you haven’t done a massive shootout you simply have no way of knowing just how good sounding the album can be.

If that’s the case, even stipulating that the best early pressings are potentially the best sounding, that lowly ’70s Red Label copy that got tossed back into the record pond could very well have turned out to be the best sounding pressing you ever heard.

But Bad Audiophile Record Collector Thinking prevents the very possibility of such an outcome. A record never auditioned cannot win a shootout, even a simple head to head competition against the copy you already have in your collection. The result? Your Kind of Blue never gets any better. You’re stuck, at what level nobody knows, especially you.

Our advice is to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, letting your ears, not your eyes, become your one and only trusted guide to the best sounding pressings.

And please consider us a trustworthy second in line, a source for the best sounding titles that you do not have time to shoot out for yourself.