A List of Stone Age Audio Records

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Telarc Reviewed

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 thinks live classical music actually sounds like this?

Telarc – The Sound of Digital

Telarc makes clean, modern sounding records. To these ears they sound much like a good 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, I find it hard to take them seriously at this stage of the game. 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.


A PUBLIC SERVICE

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 Hall of Shame records 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 all-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 pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.

Today’s MoFi Disaster Is Pictures at an Exhibition

moussmofiMore of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The MoFi mastering here is a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

These are exactly the kind of unbearably bright strings that Stan Ricker seems to favor.

The proof? Find me a Mobile Fidelity classical record with that little SR/2 in the dead wax that does not have bright string tone. I have yet to hear one.

The last time I played a copy of MFSL 1-520 I found the sound so hi-fi-ish I couldn’t stand to be in the room with it for more than a minute. The bass is of course jello as well. The EMI with the right stampers is worlds better. (Warning: The domestic Angel regular version and the 45 are both awful.)

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?

Whatever the reasons, the more accurate and revealing your equipment becomes, the more obvious the shortcomings of Mobile Fidelity’s records will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

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Carole King / Tapestry – CBS Half-Speed Reviewed

More of the Music of Carole King

Reviews and Commentaries for Tapestry

Sonic Grade: D

The CBS Half Speed is bright and thin — can you imagine a worse way to present this intimate music?  

The chances of there being Hot Stamper CBS Half-Speed Mastered pressings of Tapestry may be vanishingly small, but we can’t say the number is zero. There could be some, but considering how bad an idea Half-Speed Mastering is, would they have much chance of beating our Hot Stampers?

As a practical matter I would have to say the chances are zero.

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Jethro Tull – A MoFi Disaster (But Some Folks Refuse to Believe It)

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Sonic Grade: D

[This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, perhaps more.]

We noted in our Hot Stamper review for Aqualung that the MoFi is a disaster, with the murky bloated DCC even worse. (We didn’t like the Classic either. We’re hard to please when it comes to Aqualung it seems.) 

But we used to like the MoFi and DCC just fine. What could possibly have changed?

It’s a long story, and a pretty long commentary, which we have excerpted from a customer’s letter, along with our reply. Note that we have edited our original commentary and his letter for the sake of brevity. Now the letter:

To: Tom Port,

As far as “Aqualung” is concerned, I have a Mobile Fidelity issue of this album which sounds great and being pressed on some of the best vinyl in the world by people who are known for their meticulous care with records, I don’t think that there would be much difference at all in the quality of different MoFi pressings of this or any of their records.

The key phrase here is “I don’t think that there would be much difference at all…”. You see, this is not something to think about, this is something to test. Thinking got this gentleman nowhere; testing might have had the opposite effect.

How About Abbey Road?

And speaking of MoFis all sounding the same, we had a MoFi that we called “the Killer MFSL Abbey Road of All Time” which sold for $500. Our average copy is about $75. Which one do you think sounded better? And how can there be that big of a difference in the sound of one MoFi relative to another?

Don’t ask me; we just play them and price them according to the sound. Those big questions I defer to Joe. He thinks he has the answers.

Old Hot Stampers

There were no Hot Stampers thirty years ago. This is a process that has been evolving over the course of many years, but for all practical purposes Hot Stampers as much more than a concept didn’t exist until sometime in the ’90s.

With continual improvements in our equipment, room acoustics, electrical quality, cleaning techniques and last but not least, listening skills, our audio world has turned completely upside down. 180 gram? Half-Speed Masters? Don’t make me laugh. We can beat that junk with one arm tied behind our back. It’s like taking candy from a baby.

Twenty Five Years Is a Lifetime in Audio

As for the MoFi being better than a record he used to have, ouch. Does Joe ever upgrade his equipment? Does anything ever change? I never liked the original domestic Aqualungs either, but as my stereo got better, my views changed one hundred and eighty degrees. The site is full of commentary to that effect for records too numerous to mention.

The MoFi is a forty year old record. If you’re using a forty year old system to play it, you might not notice all its faults. A stereo like that is so antiquated it can actually succeed in hiding them. But any decent modern system should make the shortcomings of that pressing woefully obvious and unbearable.

Joe, buddy, time for some new equipment. Toss that Technics and start hearing what’s really on your records. (On second thought, considering Joe’s approach to record collecting, that may not be such a good idea. Not to worry. Read below; Joe is totally on board with not doing anything.)

I’ve spent many years and good money obtaining the records in my collection. I don’t need to spend lots more replacing them with “hot stampers.”

Joe, you don’t need to replace your Aqualung or any other record you own with another copy. You don’t need to do anything, especially if you think it’s impossible for any pressing to sound better than the one you have. That seems to be the proposition you have put forth — you have the best, and that’s all there is to it. You “think” nothing can be better, therefore nothing can be better.

We, on the other hand, learn new things about records and equipment all the time; it’s what makes the hobby fun. The site is devoted to the idea that what we thought was true yesterday may not be true today.

Doing the Work

I may come across as a Know-It-All, but Know-It-Alls can’t learn anything, and I learn new things about records with every shootout. I can’t say I learn much from other audiophiles; a bit here and there.

Mainly I learn what I learn by doing the work that nobody else seems to want to do: playing scores of records against each other until the winners show their true colors.

Conducting rigorously controlled experiments with thousands of records has taught us everything we know. (Perhaps it would be better to say everything we think we know; we could be wrong. It happens a lot.) 

It’s a lot of work but how else can it be done? By thinking about which pressing should sound the best? Now do you see how silly that sounds?

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Michael Hedges – Some of the Most Unnatural Digital Sound We Have Ever Heard

A Record Better Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

It sounds as if someone went into the biggest room in the studio they could book, sat Michael Hedges down on a stool out in the middle of it, and then took all the mics and aimed them at the walls. Roll tape! (Assuming they used tape, who knows what kind of crap digital system they were using.)

And the best part is that it was nominated for an engineering Grammy!

If you think the average music lover today wouldn’t know good sound if it bit him in the ass, this album is proof that nothing has changed, not since 1984 anyway.

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Bennett & Evans – More Mistaken MoFi EQ

More of the Music of Bill Evans

More of the Music of Tony Bennett

Sonic Grade: F

That weird boost around 10k that Stan Ricker likes to add to practically every record he masters wreaks havoc on the sound of Tony Bennett’s voice. I would be very surprised if the current in-print Compact Disc doesn’t sound more tonally natural, and for us audiophile record lovers – not lovers of audiophile records, but guys who love records with audiophile sound – that’s simply another nail in the coffin for one of the most laughably inept remastering labels in the history of that sad enterprise.

If you love this album, and you should, the regular early Fantasy pressings are the only game in town.

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Holst / The Planets – MoFi and UHQR Reviewed

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Sonic Grade: Regular MoFi LP: F / UHQR: D

Years ago we auditioned an excellent sounding Decca Purple Label British import LP, the same performance, the same recording that Mobile Fidelity remastered (#510), but, thankfully, it sounded A WHOLE LOT BETTER!

I just listened to both and a catalog of the faults of the MFSL pressing would be quite lengthy. I won’t waste your time listing them.

Although the recording is far from perfect, the Decca pressing shows it in its proper light. It finds the right balance between the multi-miked sound of the Super Disc List Mehta and a vintage recording from the Golden Age such as the famous Boult. The sound is very dynamic and the brass has tremendous weight.

The MoFi is thin and bright.

Their UHQR is somewhat better, not quite as thin and phony up top, but not really very good either.

Avoid them both.


Our favorite performance of The Planets can be found here.

Many of Solti’s recordings from the Seventies are not to our liking, for reasons we lay out here.

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Led Zeppelin / II – Back to the Stone Age

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed.

Yes, it’s yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

This version of Zep’s sophomore release from 1969 has to be one of the worst audiophile remastering jobs in the history of the world. There is NOT ONE aspect of the sound that isn’t wrong. Not one!

The highs are boosted, the upper midrange is boosted, the mid-bass is boosted, the low bass is missing — what part of the frequency spectrum is even close to correct on this pressing? The answer: none.

If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing of Led Zeppelin II, we can help you, but prices these days are steep and show no sign of coming down. We typically pay $1000+ or more for the used copies we buy if that tells you anything about what to expect a Hot Stamper pressing will cost you.

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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Massenet on Klavier – Now With Added Smile Curve

Klavier Is a Label Audiophiles Should Avoid at Any Price

This Is 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.

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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Bob Seger / Night Moves – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Bob Seger

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The last time I played a copy of the MoFi pressing I could not believe how ridiculously bright it was.  

It’s interesting to note that some of the brightest records this atrocious label ever released came out about the same time as this one.

Aja is number 033

Night Moves here is number 034.

Tea for the Tillerman is number 035

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Three dogs in a row, all suffering from the same problem: they’re way too bright!

Did MoFi buy some dull studio monitors right before they mastered these awful pressings? Did a tweeter or two blow?

Did Stan Ricker have too much wax buildup in his ears?

What could account for records that are bright enough to peel the paint?

Some mysteries will never be solved, and I would bet this is one of them.

But really, what difference does it make? We should all know to avoid this company’s products by now, and that includes all three eras of records produced by this label:

That should pretty much cover it.

Never buy any record on this label (except the one we sell) if you are interested in top quality sound, and if you own any, get rid of them and replace them with records that actually sound good, like the ones we sell.

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