Record Collecting Myths

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

More Judy Collins

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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.

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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

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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…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto #1 / Richter/ Karajan – Our First Shootout Winner, 2008

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This fairly quiet Large Tulips early DG pressing in the heavy cardboard outer sleeve has THE BEST SOUND we have ever heard for this recording! Believe me, they don’t all sound like this! This copy is airy and sweet; just listen to the flutes — you can really hear the air moving through them. There is still some congestion in the loudest passages, but that’s unfortunately not something we can do anything about. Since it’s on every copy we’ve ever played we just have to assume it’s part of the recording.

Of the twenty or so clean copies we’ve auditioned over the last year or two, this one is clearly in a league of its own, with a price to match.

THE Tchaicovsky First

Since this is the best performance of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto of all time, the minor shortcomings in the sound are easy to overlook. The piano sounds solid and full bodied. I don’t know of another performance of this work that gets the sound of the piano better. You can really hear the percussive quality of the instrument. It’s amazing how many piano recordings have poorly mic’ed pianos. They’re either too distant, lack proper reproduction of the lower registers, or somehow smear the pounding of the keys into a blurry mess. The piano sound is what first impressed me when a friend of mine brought the record over for me to hear. Of course I bought it on the spot.

And the texture of the strings is out of this world — you won’t find a DG that gets with better string tone, and 99% of them are worse. This record does not sound like your typical DG: hard, shrill, and sour. DG made good records in the ’50s and ’60s and then proceeded to fall apart, like most labels did. This is one of their finest recordings. It proves that at one time they knew what they were doing.

This recording really only has one shortcoming, which is that in some sections, when it gets loud, it tends to be a bit congested. Other places are very dynamic. I’m guessing somebody dialed in too much compression in those spots, but who’s to say? (more…)

Bill Evans Moon Beams – Superb on the Right OJC Pressing

More Bill Evans

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  • Excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, this is one of the better copies of Bill Evans’ 1962 classic to ever hit the site
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way vintage analog should sound, yet as clear and as open as any pressing you’ve heard (or your money back)
  • The first album Evans recorded after Scott LaFaro’s death and it is deeply immersive experience
  • Allmusic raves it’s “…so well paced and sequenced the record feels like a dream … Moonbeams was a startling return to the recording sphere and a major advancement in his development as a leader.”
  • Great sound for this rockin’ soul album with two live tracks. Just listen to the drums on Black-Eyed Blues — the way the percussion and bass mingle sonically with Alan White’s skins takes this listener right into the room where the magic happened.

Moon Beams is one of the best sounding Bill Evans records we’ve ever played. You can see why we chose it to be the first OJC Hot Stamper of his to hit the site back in 2015. Play It Might As Well Be Spring for the kind of sublime musical experience you only find on 20th century analog. (more…)

Is the Original Better? Not on this Supertramp Album It Ain’t

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This is an older listing that illustrates how We Was Wrong when we thought the best domestic copies were not competitive with the A&M Half-Speed or better British pressings.

We touch on other much-loved themes in this commentary, such as the myth that the original pressing is going to be better than a reissue or later stamper. On this album that is definitely not the case.

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.
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Fleetwood Mac – Kiln House

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  • Excellent sound from beginning to end with both sides earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Tubey Magical smooth sound is key to the best copies, and this copy delivers, with the analog richness the music needs
  • Three of the best songs Fleetwood Mac ever did are here: Tell Me All The Things You Do, Station Man and Jewel Eyed Judy
  • A grossly underappreciated album from Fleetwood Mac’s awesome post-Peter Green period
  • Danny Kirwan is brilliant here – Kiln House is the last of the Mac’s grungy guitar-based albums

This is a favorite Fleetwood Mac album of ours here at Better Records and one that’s very hard to find with anything resembling good sound. Grungy guitars and punchy drums in a huge acoustical space. The louder you play it the better it sounds.

This period Fleetwood Mac, from Kiln House through Mystery to Me (both are the kind of records I would take to my Desert Island), has always been my favorite of the band. I grew up on this stuff, and I can tell you from personal experience, having played a dozen copies of Kiln House practically all day at some pretty serious levels for our shootout not that long ago, it is a positive THRILL to hear the album sound as good as it does right here. (more…)

The Yardbirds – Roger The Engineer – Awful on this Early Pressing

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing. Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are always better sounding.

The original British pressing — true, we only had the one, so take it for what it’s worth — was a poor imitation of what was surely on the master tape, as revealed by the Edsel reissues. Maybe you have a good sounding one, can’t say you don’t. But we would be very unlikely to spend much money on an original import pressing after hearing this one. And the domestic records we’ve played were clearly made from dub tapes, so they’re a bust too.

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

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[This commentary was written many years ago.]

 

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 had 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…

Supertramp – Crisis? What Crisis? – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.  

TWO AMAZING SIDES, including an A+++ SIDE ONE! It’s not the A&M Half Speed, and it’s not a British pressing either. It’s domestic folks, your standard plain-as-day A&M pressing, and we’re as shocked as you are. Hearing this copy (as well as an amazing Brit; they can be every bit as good, in their own way of course) was a THRILL, a thrill that’s a step up in “thrillingness” over our previous favorite pressing, the Half Speed.

The best of the best domestics and Brits are bigger, livelier, punchier, more clear and just more REAL than the audiophile pressing…

…something we knew had to be the case if ever a properly mastered non-Half Speed could be found. And now it has. Let the rejoicing begin! (more…)

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers – The More Mistakes the Better, Part One

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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. German Dark Side? ’70s Red Seal Living Stereo pressings? Reissue Beatles records — 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?! — 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. (more…)