Record Collecting Myths

Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

A Wealth of Recordings

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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Diminishing Returns in Audio? Sez Who?

The idea that we have reached the point of diminishing returns in audio is nothing but an old and pernicious Myth

Many, if not most, audiophiles are barely getting started. They just don’t know it. If they work really hard on their systems for the next five or ten years, they will eventually, slowly, with the passage of time come to realize how little they knew back in 2021.

If they don’t work hard — and let’s be honest, most won’t — they will never see but a tiny fraction of the progress that is possible. Those of us who have done the work know just how much is possible, and no one who has not done the work could possibly begin to understand what we are on about.

You rarely learn much from experiments you haven’t run. Of course, by not doing anything you get to keep all your evidence-free opinions and half-baked theories, so why rock your own boat and make any effort to prove yourself wrong? We talk about the subject of audiophile ignorance here. And we talk about how often we have been wrong here.

[This commentary was written in 2005 or thereabouts. It’s still true though!]

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true. 

There are HUGE improvements to be made on a regular basis, even without spending all that much money (keeping in mind that this is not exactly a poor man’s hobby).

If you are actively involved in seeking out better equipment, trying new things, and tweaking the hell out of your system as much as time and patience permit, I think an improvement of 10-25% per year in perceived sound quality is not an unreasonable expectation. (more…)

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

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. 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.

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Badfinger / Straight Up – Porky Not So Prime Cut

British Band, British Pressing… Right?

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth.

We had an original British pressing in our shootout, unbeknownst to me as it was playing of course. And guess where it finished: dead last. The most thick, congested, crude, distorted, compressed sound of ALL the copies we played. We love the work of Porky, Pecko, et al. in general, but once again this is a case where a British Band recorded in England sounds best on domestic vinyl. (McCartney’s first album on Apple is the same way.)

Just saw this today (11/29/2021)

On November 18, 2019, a fellow on Discogs who goes by the name of Dodgerman had this to say referencing the original UK pressing of Straight Up, SAPCOR 19:

So Happy, to have a first UK press, of this lost gem. Porky/Pecko

Like many record collectors, he is happy to have a mediocre-at-best, dubby-sounding original pressing, poorly mastered by a famous mastering engineer, George Peckham, a man we know from extensive experience is responsible for cutting some of the best sounding records we’ve ever played.

Is this fellow an audiophile? He could be! Many audiophiles employ this kind of magical thinking, believing that a British band’s albums must perforce sound their best on British vinyl.

Those of us who actually play lots of records and listen to them critically know that that is simply not true and never has been. How do we know that?

By Conducting Experiments to Find Out.

We don’t guess. We don’t assume. We just play lots and lots of records and find out which ones sound the best and which ones do not.

To be fair, we have played exactly one copy of the album with Porky/Pecko stampers. Did we get a bad one and the gentleman quoted above got a good one? Nobody knows, because nobody can know absent more evidence.

If you have a great sounding UK copy, we would love to hear it. Until then we remain skeptical.

Not close minded to the possibility of course, that would be foolish.

But not in any hurry to throw good money after bad in the hopes that Dodgerman actually knows much, or cares in the least, about sound quality.

Assuming that Dodgerman does care about sound quality, he is engaging in another kind of magical thinking by assuming that the original is going to be the best sounding pressing of the album.

Sometimes it is.

Sometimes it isn’t.

A public service from your friends at Better Records.

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The Beatles – Where Can I Find Your Hot Stamper Mono Pressings?

More Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

xxxxx

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.

We sell no Beatles records in mono, ever. Here is 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 lots 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. (more…)

The Original Pressings of Beatles Albums Are the Best, Right?

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Beatles Available Now

Records that Sound Better on the Right Reissue

(excluding The Beatles)

beatles help label

Nope. We think it’s just another Record Myth.

Back in 2005 we compared the MFSL pressing of Help to a British Parlophone LP and were — mistakenly, as you may have already surmised — impressed by the MoFi.

Mobile Fidelity did a GREAT JOB with Help!. Help! is a famously dull sounding record. I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly. Mobile Fidelity restored the highs that are missing from most copies.

The source of the error in our commentary above is in this sentence, see if you can spot it:

I don’t know of a single original pressing that has the top end mastered properly.

Did you figure it out? If you’ve spent much time on our site of course you did.

Original pressing?

Is that the standard?

Why?

Who said so? Where is it written?

Cut It Right

The domestic original Capitol pressings are awful and the original British import pressings of Help NEVER have any real top end. The Yellow and Black Parlophone pressings have many wonderful qualities, Tubey Magic for days being one of the most pleasurable, but frequency extension up top is not among them. Neither is tight, articulate bass. The old tube cutting systems just didn’t have what it takes to cut the highs and lows well.

The middle may be glorious, but the rest of the frequency spectrum is a mess.

Stop the Presses

In 2021 we found an exception to that rule.

And here is the one record we have always preferred on the Yellow and Black label.

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Diminishing Returns in Audio? Sez Who?


Diminishing returns? Sez who? In our opinion, it’s another Old and Pernicious Myth.

I often read this comment in audio magazines regarding the piece of equipment under review, as if to say that we are so close to audio perfection that a gain of a few percent is the most we can hope for from this or that new megabuck amp or speaker. In my experience the exact opposite is true. 

There are HUGE improvements to be made on a regular basis, even without spending all that much money (keeping in mind that this is not exactly a poor man’s hobby).

If you are actively involved in seeking out better equipment, trying new things, and tweaking the hell out of your system as much as time and patience permit, I think an improvement of 10-25% per year in perceived sound quality is not an unreasonable expectation. (more…)

Judy Collins – Sometimes the Hits Are Mastered from Sub-Generation Tapes, and There’s Not Much You Can Do About It

Both Sides Now, the Top Ten hit that finally put Judy on the map, is clearly made from a copy tape and doesn’t sound as good as the songs that follow it on side two. Hey, it happens, and I suspect it happens more often than most audiophiles think. I would wager that back in the day most people who bought this album never even noticed.

One thing I’ve noticed about audiophiles over the years: they’re like most people. The difference of course is that they call themselves audiophiles, and audiophiles are supposed to care about sound quality.

They may care about it, but are they capable of recognizing it? Are they capable of listening critically?  Critically enough to notice dubby sound when they hear it?

Or to notice that one side of a record often sounds very different from another?

Or that some reissues sound better than the originals of the album?

Or that there is no correlation between the country that a rock band comes from and the country that made the best sounding pressings of their albums?

The embrace of one third-rate Heavy Vinyl pressing after another by the audiophile community has rendered absurd the pretense that their members ever developed anything beyond the most rudimentary critical listening skills.

Sadly, the Dunning-Kruger effect, the best explanation for the sorry state of audio these days, means they simply don’t know how little they know and therefore see no reason to doubt their high opinions of themselves, their equipment and their acumen.

Progress in audio is possible, but only if you know that you are not already at the top of the mountain. You should recognize that you have a lot of serious climbing to do.

More Judy Collins

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Elvis Costello / My Aim Is True – Another Bad Porky/Pecko Cutting

My notes for the one and only UK pressing I’ve played in many years, the one with Porky is the dead wax, say:

Really loud and full

Too loud and hot vocal

Strains a lot

You know what the sound of this record reminds me of? An old 45.

It’s not unusual for 45 RPM singles from back in the day to be very loud, very compressed, often with hot vocals that jump right into your lap.

Mono mixes sometimes have some of that same lowest-common-denominator sound. This mix is stereo but it sounds like it’s coming right out of a jukebox.

No doubt Mr. Peckham was told to make the record sound that way, and he did his job very well.

But audiophiles looking for good sound should heed my warning and avoid the UK LPs of the album. It’s a joke next to the domestic pressings with the right stampers. (The right stampers are hard to find but you will never hear a good sounding early pressing unless you have a copy with the stampers that sound right, a tautology to be sure but one worth noting.)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Elvis’s Albums Available Now

Letters and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

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Another Audio Myth Exploded – Large Tulips, Small Tulips – What Do Tulips Have to Do with Anything?

Here are more records with the potential to sound better
on very specific reissue pressings in comparison to the best originals

dglabel

The Large Tulip early pressings are the best on this record, right?

Nope. It’s just another Record Myth, as explained in the commentary for our recent Hot Stamper 2-pack. That pair of pressings was all the proof we required to back up our contention that either label can be the best on this classic DG recording. Original is better? Again, not so much. Original can be better fits more with our experience.

To pull off this kind of Mind Boggling sound from start to finish we combined an amazing side one on the Large Tulips label with an amazing side two on the Small Tulips label. And what a finish — side two earned a grade of A+++, being a full step above even our hottest other side two, and we played a lot of copies, more than a dozen in fact. (more…)