Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Label Pressings

Piano Works of Debussy & Ravel – This Is How to Make a Good Audiophile Record

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Mastered by Robert Ludwig

A lovely solo piano recording from Athena, which is certainly not a label we have ever associated with good sound. Just the opposite in fact.

But they did a great job on this album (or at least I thought so many years ago when I last played it. For purposes of this commentary, let’s assume the sound still holds up).

This is how to make a good audiophile record.

Yes, there is such a thing. They may be rare but they do exist. We have quite a few of them for sale as a matter of fact.

Take a good tape, hire someone who knows his way around a normal-speed cutting lathe (with 5800+ credits on Discogs, I would hope he knows what he’s doing) as well as classical music (he cut a huge number of records for Nonesuch back in the day), press it on good vinyl and let the audiophiles of the world enjoy it.

The Connoisseur Society original may in fact be better, but where are you going to find one?

Robert, Bernie and Doug – An Honest Comparison

In another listing for an audiophile record that Robert Ludwig cut, we noted:

I suspect that if Ludwig hadn’t stopped cutting records years ago, we would not be complaining nearly as much about the questionable sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings currently inundating the market.

Bernie and Doug really started letting the record lovers of the world down, beginning as far back as the ’90s. See here and here.

The muddy messes Doug Sax cut for Analogue Productions and the awful Living Stereo records Bernie cut for Classic Records were sad chapters in both men’s body of work. Here are two of the All Time Greats. Their fall was precipitous and painful for those of us who never gave up on analog.

In those dark days, they were mastering one bad record after another, all of them so unlike the amazing sounding records they had been making by the score in the ’70s and well into the ’80s.

We have nothing personal against either one of them, of course. We just haven’t liked the sound of very many of the records they’ve mastered for the last thirty years, and we have never been shy about saying so.

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Aaron Copland on Reference Records

Exceptional Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Reference Record reviewed and found wanting.

In all the years I was selling audiophile records, one of the labels whose appeal escaped me almost entirely was Reference Records.

Back then, when I would hear one of their orchestral or classical recordings, I was always left thinking, “Why do audiophiles like these records?”

I was confused, because at that time, back in the ’80s, I had simply not developed the listening skills that today make it so easy to recognize the faults of their recordings.

I thought other audiophiles must be hearing something I wasn’t.

I could not put my finger on what I didn’t like about them, but now, having worked full time (and then some!) for more than twenty years to develop better critical listening skills, the shortcomings of their records, or, to be more accurate, the shortcomings of this particular copy of this particular title, took no time at all to work out.

My transcribed notes for RR-22:

  • Lean tonality
  • No real weight
  • No Tubey Magic
  • Blurry imaging when loud
  • No real depth
  • Bright tonal balance

Does this sound like what you are looking for in an audiophile record?

Shouldn’t you be looking for audiophile quality sound?

Well, you sure won’t find it here.

This link will take you to some other exceptionally bad records that, like this one, were marketed to audiophiles for their putatively superior sound. On today’s modern systems [1], it should be obvious that they have nothing of the kind and that, in fact, the opposite is true.

[1] Regarding modern stereo systems:

When I first got started in audio in the early- to mid-’70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

On our current playback system, this Reference Record is nothing but a joke, a joke played on a much-too-credulous audiophile public by the ridiculously inept and misguided engineers and producers who worked for Reference Records.

This is a reference for something? For what? As I wrote about another one of their awful releases, If This Is Your Idea of a Reference Record, You Are in Real Trouble.

It would be hard to imagine that anyone who has ever heard a good vintage classical recording — here are some of our favorites — could ever confuse this piece of audiophile trash with actual hi-fidelity orchestral sound.

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The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, here you will find practically none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be, because we’ve played them by the hundreds on big speakers at loud levels.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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Kōtèkan – Percussion And…

More Kōtèkan

More Percussion Recordings of Interest

  • You’ll find STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them on both sides of this original Reference LP
  • So transparent, dynamic and REAL, this copy raises the bar for the sound of percussive music on vinyl
  • Includes an extraordinary interpretation of Ravel’s La Flute Enchantee that must be heard to be believed
  • “… heady, explosive, weird, bizarre and brilliant playing…” – S.F. Chronicle

This Reference LP, mastered by Stan Ricker might just be the best sounding record this sorry excuse for an audiophile label ever made.

Any label that would release Audiophile BS records such as this one and this one has a lot of explaining to do.

I hadn’t played this Kōtèkan title in probably twenty years, but I remembered it sure sounded good to me back in the day, so we decided to get some in and do a shootout for them. This copy was an impressive reminder of just how good the recording can be.

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Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture on Telarc

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings of the 1812 Overture

Sonic Grade: D

If you want an amazingly dynamic 1812 with huge amounts of deep bass for the firing of the cannon, you can’t do much better than this (or its UHQR brother). 

But if you want rich, sweet and tonally correct brass and strings, you had best look elsewhere. I’ve never liked the sound of this record and I’m guessing if I heard a copy today I would like it even less.

Who in his right mind thinks live classical music actually sounds like this?

Telarc makes clean, modern sounding records. To these ears they sound pretty much like a CD. If that’s your sound you can save yourself a lot of money avoiding vintage Golden Age recordings, especially the ones we sell. They’re much more expensive and rarely as quiet, but — again, to these ears — the colors and textures of real instruments seems to come to life in their grooves, and in practically no others.

We include in this modern group analog labels such as Reference, Sheffield, Chesky, Athena and the like. Having heard hundreds of amazing vintage pressings, at this stage of the game I find it hard to take any of them seriously.

Twenty years ago, maybe. But twenty years is a long time, especially in the world of audio.

We started a list of records that suffer from a lack of Tubey Magic like this one, and it can be found here.

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We Heap Scorn Upon Chesky Records, With Good Reason

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

Sonic Grade: F

Chesky is one of the WORST AUDIOPHILE LABELS in the history of the world. Their recordings are so artificial and “wrong” that they defy understanding. That some audiophiles actually buy into this junk sound is equal parts astonishing and depressing.

Their own records are a joke, and their remasterings of the RCA Living Stereo catalog are an abomination.

The best RCA Living Stereo pressings are full of Tubey Magic. The Chesky pressings I have played have none.

What else would you need to know about their awful records than that?

If there is a more CLUELESS audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know what it could be, and I don’t want to find out. 

(Turns out there is someone producing the worst kind of remastered junk vinyl who may be even more clueless than Chesky, imagine that!)

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

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original, which I never liked very much — 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; we run the experiments,

That’s the only way to avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles make when it comes to finding the best sounding records.

Being skeptical of every claim you have not tested for yourself is key to getting good results from this kind of work.

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. 

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 and see what you have been missing.)

On every shootout we do now, if the notes are more than six months old, we toss them out. They mean nothing. Things have changed, radically, and that’s the way it should be.

With each passing year you should be hearing more of everything on your favorite LPs.

That’s the thrill of this hobby — those silly old records just keep getting better. I wish someone could figure out how to make digital get better. They’ve had forty years and it still leaves me wanting more. You too I’m guessing.

Massenet on Klavier – Now With Added Smile Curve

Klavier Is a Label Audiophiles Should Avoid at Any Price

Presenting Yet Another Pressing Perfectly Suited to the Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: F

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable. These Klavier pressings of EMI recordings are nothing but Audiophile Bullshit.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day, audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end. 

Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records? It would not surprise me. Same wine, different bottle.

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Here’s a better idea. Fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good.

FURTHER READING

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

Either of the two records shown will be dramatically better sounding than the Klavier pressing.

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Organ Music From Westminster

More of the Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

More Classical Recordings

  • This very rare Ark LP features excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Features a selection of classical masterpieces from some of the world’s greatest composers, beautifully performed by famed organist Edward Berryman, S.M.D.
  • This title was always a hit at Fulton Audio demonstrations, as it contains a true 16 cycle note, which most stereos cannot reproduce
  • If you can reproduce it, and you can hear it, so much the better

This is a Very Rare Ark LP. The piece by Mozart on side one has a 16 cycle note. Since it has virtually no overtones, the note is more often than not completely undetectable; few stereos in my experience have ever been able to reproduce it. If you have a full-range system, this record will allow you to hear deep bass you may have never heard before.

Let me warn you that these records require extremely transparent, full-bandwidth, neutral stereo systems to sound their best. Most records are “goosed up” in various ways to play on any stereo, regardless of quality. These Fulton records have the opposite of that sound.

From my admittedly prejudiced point of view, tubes are an absolute must for the magic of these live recordings to come through. (Or so I thought in 2006. Now, not so much.)

If your system leans more toward the budget side, these Ark records will leave you wondering what in the world that Tom Port character was talking about.

And of course organ records require good deep bass, the hardest part of the frequency range to reproduce in the typical living room. With this organ record at least you’ll know what the goal should be.

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Ravel / Haydn / Acoustic Recording Series, Volume 2 – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

A good sounding audiophile record? Yes, it is possible, we would never deny it.

In fact, we actually sell some of the best ones ourselves.

The sound on the record is excellent. It was engineered by Mark Levinson, on special equipment designed to create virtually noiseless ultra-low-distortion master tapes, without noise-reduction systems. It’s mastered by Robert Ludwig

The first side contains Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales played on the piano by Lois Shapiro.  Side two contains her performance of Haydn’s Sonata No. 49.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

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