Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Chopin / Scherzo No. 2 / Auer – Direct to Disc

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings with Hot Stampers

This is an IMMACULATE RCA Direct-to-Disc LP with SUPERB SOUND! This recording is every bit as good as the famous RCA Beethoven Direct Disc and ten times as rare. You will have a very hard time finding a better sounding solo piano recording.  [Or so we thought in 2008.]


FURTHER READING

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Virgil Fox – The Fox Touch Volume 2

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

Played against the best Golden Age organ recordings, these Crystal Clear titles are noticeably lacking in ambience.

The best pressings, assuming one would do a shootout for them, might be expected to earn a sonic grade of B- or so.

Volume 1 is a TAS List record. But seeing as they were all recorded at the same time, this one might sound every bit as good. Then again, it might not. 

By the way, did you know Stan Ricker cut this record live direct to disc? He did a great job too.

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Compromised Recordings Versus Purist Recordings – If It’s About the Music, the Choice Is Clear

More of the Music of The Doobie Brothers

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doobie Brothers

[This commentary is from circa 2010]

A while back one of our good customers wrote to tell us how much he liked his Century Direct to Disc recording of the Glenn Miller big band, one of the few really amazing sounding direct discs that contains music actually worth listening to. Which brought me to the subject of Hot Stampers. 

Hot Stamper pressings are almost always going to be studio multi-track recordings, not live Direct to Discs. They will invariably suffer many compromises compared to the purist approach of an audiophile label trying to eliminate sources of distortion in the pursuit of the highest fidelity.

But when they do that, they almost always FAIL. How many Direct Discs sound like that Glenn Miller? A dozen at most. The vast majority are just plain AWFUL. I know, I’ve played practically every one ever made. For more than a decade that was my job.

Thankfully that is no longer the case, although we do have a handful of direct discs that we still shootout, such as The Three, Glenn Miller, Straight from the Heart and the odd Sheffield.

Compromised Recordings

What we do play is those very special, albeit COMPROMISED, mass-produced pressings. The right Londons and Shaded Dogs. Columbia and Contemporary jazz. Brewer and Shipley. Sergio Mendes. The Beatles. The Doobie Brothers for Pete’s sake!

Why? Because those pressings actually communicate the MUSIC. They allow you to forget about the recording and just LISTEN. You can’t do that very often with the CD of the album. You can’t even do it with most of the vinyl pressings you run into. You certainly can’t do it with the vast majority of 180 gram LPs being made today, not in our experience anyway.

You have to have the right pressing. That’s what a Hot Stamper is: It’s the Right Pressing.

It’s the one that really lets the music come through, regardless of whatever compromises were made along the way.

Doobies – We Make an Exception

Good example: What Once Were Vices…, a Hot Stamper that had never made it to the site [at the time but since has]. A very good customer saw I had an unpriced copy up and wanted to know what it sounded like, how quiet it was and how much it would cost. Normally I just can’t take the time to do the work necessary to answer those questions, to really understand the sound of an unfamiliar title (especially in this case, not being a fan of early era Doobies). It typically requires cleaning and playing lots of copies and listening to them critically, trying to find the tracks that tell the story of the sound. This is very time consuming, as I’m sure you can imagine. But we have to do it; it’s our bread and butter here at Better Records. We just can’t do it NOW, because there are dozens of other albums we’re in the middle of investigating and adding a 25th causes me to be even testier than I usually am.

But for some reason in this case I made an exception to that policy. I guess I was curious about the album, one I hadn’t played in twenty years. The grooves looked good. It was very clean. Already Disc Doctored. Why not throw it on the table?

So I did, and it must have been a good stereo day, the electricity must have been cooking, because it sounded FABULOUS. Much better than I expected. Just right in fact.

So now I had to know how other copies would sound. Maybe they’re all good. Playback technology has come a long way in the last twenty years; maybe the Doobies were making great records all along and we just couldn’t play them until now.

Alas, none of the other copies sounded like this one. (The Japanese pressing I had put away for a rainy day shootout got about ten seconds of play time before I recognized it had a bad case of spitty, grainy, Japanese pressing sound. It went right in the trade pile.)

The good one had LIFE. The others sounded fairly dead in comparison. Probably made from a sub-generation EQ’d dub, which is what would be used to master most copies. Sad but true.

Enjoyment

What did I hear on this hot copy? The usual things we talk about around here. I won’t bore you by repeating them. More importantly, much more importantly, is the fact that I found myself really ENJOYING the music. Really liking the SONGS. Singing along, (off key of course). Thinking, “Hey, these old Doobie Brothers are pretty talented! This is a good album. I’m really getting into this.” (It even motivated me to do a survey of their other releases to see if there were more undiscovered gems sitting on my shelf. Watch for future listings.)

And this is precisely my point. The right LP will communicate the music so well that you’ll forget about the stereo, you’ll forget about the recording, you’ll just find yourself enjoying the music. The majority of LPs won’t let you do that, audiophile labels included. It all comes down to two words: Musical Satisfaction.

Living and Breathing

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that came after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them, you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium, such limitations seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the purely musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable. And that includes a good Doobie Brothers record.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction.

It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same. Based on our testimonials I’m glad to see that many of you do.

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Lincoln Mayorga and Distinguished Colleagues – Implore You to Turn Up Your Volume

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

S9 is hands down one of the best examples of a recording that only really comes to life when you Have Your Volume Up Good and Loud.

There’s not much ambience to be found in their somewhat dead sounding studio, and very little high frequency boost to any instrument in the mix, which means at moderate levels this record sounds flat and lifeless. (You could say it has that in common with most Heavy Vinyl pressings these days, assuming you wanted to take a cheap shot at those records, which, to be honest, I don’t mind doing. They suck; why pretend otherwise?)

But turn it up and man, the sound really starts jumpin’ out of the speakers, without becoming phony or hyped-up. In fact, it actually sounds more NATURAL and REAL at louder levels.  

A Quick and Easy Test

Play the record at normal levels and pick out any instrument — snare, toms, sax, bass — anything you like. Now turn it up a notch and see if the timbre of that instrument isn’t more correct. Add another click of volume and listen again.

I think you will see that with each increase in volume, assuming your system can handle it, the tonality of each and every instrument you hear continues to get better.

This record would sound right at something very close to, if not actual, LIVE levels. Of that I have no doubt. (more…)

Direct to Discs on Crystal Clear – What Was I Thinking?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

These are just some of the recordings on Crystal Clear that we’ve auditioned over the years and found wanting.

Without going into specifics — who would bother to take the time? — we’ll just say these albums suffer from poor musical performances, poor sound, or both, and therefore do not deserve a place in your collection.  

The Big Picture from a Lifelong Audiophile

You may have seen this text in another listing, but it bears repeating. There is nothing new under the sun, and that is especially true when it comes to bad sounding audiophile records. The world is full of them.

Hey, the records being marketed to audiophiles these days may have second- and third-rate sound, but at least now they have good music

That’s progress, right?

These two titles are the kind of crap we newbie audiophiles used to put up with back in the ’70s before we had anything resembling a clue.

They clearly belong on our list of Bad Audiophile Records

You might be asking: What Kind of Audio Fool Was I? to buy a couple of dumbass records like these.

Yes, I was foolish enough to buy records like these and expect them to have good music, or at least good sound. Of course they had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. Sheffield and a few others made some good ones, but most Crystal Clears were crap.

As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that I had just thrown my money away on these two lipsticked-pigs in a poke.

But I was an audiophile, and I wanted to believe. These special super-hi-fidelity records were being made for me, for special people like me, because I had expensive equipment and regular records would just never be good enough to play on my special equipment, right?

To say I was wrong to think about audio that way is obviously an understatement. Over the course of the last forty years, I (and to be fair, my friends and my staff) 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.

Thank goodness Audio Progress is real and anyone who goes about it the right way can achieve it.

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Dave Brubeck – Well Recorded Pointless Music

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

“Well Recorded Pointless Music” – the very definition of the Bad Audiophile Pressing. In 2010 or thereabouts we wrote the following:

This Direct Disk Labs Double LP is an exceptionally WELL-RECORDED Direct-to-Disc. The bass is punchy, the piano sounds tonally Right On The Money (ROTM) and the recording overall is lively and immediate. It’s one of the better sounding Direct-to-Discs we’ve played lately.

The music goes nowhere however, hence the grade can only be F for Failing.  

Do you buy records to hear good sound or do you buy records to listen to good music? If you’re on this site, hopefully you want both.

There are many records with music that I personally do not care for. As an unabashed systematizer — hence the hundreds of categories and tags of every possible sort on this very blog — I am naturally inclined to have a section for those records, and it can be found here.

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Beethoven – Piano Sonata No. 23 (“Appassionata”) / Kamiya – (45 RPM)

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More TAS List Super Discs

  • This rare TAS-approved Japanese import LP boasts INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) DEMO DISC sound on both sides
  • 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
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than all of the other copies we played
  • 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 ours 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!

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76 Pieces of Explosive Percussion / Direct to Disc

A poor man’s Bang-Baaroom with a stage full of percussionists playing a variety of instruments.

This LP presents a realistic, three-dimensional soundstage and an amazing array of percussion.

There’s also some incredibly deep bass drum work.  


The complete list of titles from 1978 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

Amazing Percussion Recordings We’ve Reviewed

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Bill Berry and His Ellington All-Stars – For Duke

  • Tubier, more present, more alive, with more of that “jumpin’ right out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing (The Real Thing being An Old Record) ever has
  • “. . . this album features a true all-star lineup. Each artist solos in this heartfelt tribute session. . . one of those rare albums that you can enjoy over and over without losing your smile.”

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Glenn Miller Orchestra – The Direct Disc Sound of…

  • An outstanding original pressing of a Great American Gramophone Company Direct to Disc recording, with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Great energy, but the sound is relaxed and Tubey sweet at the same time, never squawky, with plenty of extension on both ends – that’s analog for ya!
  • This is no sleepy over-the-hill Sheffield Direct to Disc (referring to the later Harry James titles, not the excellent first one) – these guys are the real deal and they play their hearts out on this live-in-the-studio recording
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you

One of the all time GREAT Direct to Disc recordings. For sound and music, this one is hard to beat. And the vinyl is as quiet as any you will find.

We went a bit overboard years ago when we wrote, “I don’t think you can find a better sounding big band record on the planet.” Well, we’ve heard plenty of amazing big band albums in the course of our Hot Stamper shootouts for the last five or ten years, albums by the likes of Basie, Zoot Sims, Ellington, Shorty Rogers, Ted Heath and others.

Not to mention the fact that the shockingly good Sauter-Finegan track “Song of the Volga Boatman” from the LP Memories Of Goodman and Miller is played regularly around these parts for cartridge setup and tuning, as well as general tweaking.

But that should take nothing away from this superb recording, made at the famously good-sounding Capitol Records Studio A, with none other than Wally Heider doing the mix and Ken Perry manning the lathe.

We also noted that, “It absolutely murders all the Sheffield big band records, which sound like they were made by old tired men sorely in need of their naps. Way past their prime anyway”, which is mostly true.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra heard here was an actively touring band. They know this material inside and out, they clearly love it, and they’re used to playing the hell out of it practically every night.

If you like the tunes that Glenn Miller made famous — “String of Pearls,” “In The Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction” — you will have a very hard time finding them performed with more gusto, or recorded with anything approaching this kind of fidelity.

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