Records that Are Good for Testing

The Doors / The Soft Parade – What Happens When the Gold Label Doesn’t Have the Best Sound on Both Sides?

It gets marked the sonic grade it earned.

If a Big Red E label pressing sounded better to us on side two, if it somehow managed to sound better than any of our Gold Label originals, then it would earn the top grade on side two.

Here is how we described a killer copy we had not long ago:

With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side two and a Double Plus (A++) side one, this copy is practically as good as it gets. The sound on this Gold Label pressing is incredibly powerful — big, rich, full-bodied, present and lively. It’s HUGE, RICH, and FULL-BODIED, exactly the way it should be.

But note that side two was clearly not as good as side one. Even the best early pressings cannot be relied on to get both sides right. The pressing above is proof. We discuss the issue in the commentary below.

What are the sonic qualities by which a Pop or Rock record — any Pop or Rock record — should be judged?

Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings: energy, vocal presence, frequency extension (on both ends), transparency, spaciousness, harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key), rhythmic drive, tonal correctness, fullness, richness, three-dimensionality, and on and on down the list.

When we can hear a good many of the qualities mentioned above on the side we’re playing, we provisionally award it a Hot Stamper grade. This grade is often revised over the course of the shootout, as we come to more fully appreciate just how good some of the other copies are.

Once we’ve been through all our side ones, we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner. Other copies have their grades raised or lowered depending on how they sounded relative to the shootout winner.

Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides of each pressing match up.

That’s why the most common grade for a White Hot Stamper pressing is Triple Plus (A+++) on one side and Double Plus (A++) on the other.

Finding the two best sounding sides from a shootout on the same LP does happen, but it sure doesn’t happen as often as we would like (!) There are just too many variables in the mastering and pressing processes to ensure that level of consistency.

But some pressings pull it off, triumphing over all comers and winning the shootout for both sides. These very special Triple Triple pressings have their own section, separate from our White Hot Stamper pressings. If you want the ultimate in audiophile sound for any particular title, this is where you will find it.

At the time of this writing there were about four times as many records with one White Hot side as there were records with White Hot Stamper sound on each side.

Record shootouts may not be rocket science, but they’re a science of a kind, one with strict protocols we’ve developed over the course of many years to ensure that the sonic grades we assign to our Hot Stampers are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on our Hot Stamper pressing — or your money back.

Hot Stampers of The Soft Parade

Letters and Commentaries for The Soft Parade

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Gerry Rafferty / City To City – Listen for the Huge Chorus of The Ark

Listen to the chorus on the first track, The Ark. On the best copies, it really gets loud without becoming harsh or shrill. So many popular albums have choruses (and guitar solos) that are no louder, and sometimes not even as loud, as the verses, which rob the songs of any real drama or power. This recording has the potential to give you a dramatic, powerful, loud chorus and it’s a thrill when you find a pressing that delivers on that promise.

(One way we know to listen for these volume changes is that we actually play our records good and loud. When a dynamic recording such as this comes along, we have to watch our levels, otherwise, the chorus will overwhelm the system and room. When playing this copy, be sure to set the level for the chorus of the first track. Everything should play just fine once that setting is correct, as the artist intended.)

The double-tracked vocals on Whatever’s Written in Your Heart are a good test for resolution and Tubey Magic. There should clearly be two voices heard without having to sacrifice the wonderful richness of the better copies for the clarity that makes hearing both voices possible.

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses

Albums with Choruses that Are Good for Testing

More Gerry Rafferty

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Romantic Russia – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take the Sound of this Awful Remaster Seriously?

There actually is such a person who does, can you imagine?

Only an Audiophile True Believer could be fooled by sound so ridiculously unnatural.

But the world is full of such people. They bought into the Audiophile BS of Mobile Fidelity in the ’80s and apparently haven’t learned much since.

Now they think Heavy Vinyl is the answer to the world’s problems. The more things change…

If your stereo is any good at all, you should have no trouble hearing the sonic qualities of this album described below. If you are on this blog, and you have tried some of our Hot Stamper pressings, there is a good chance you’re hearing pretty much what we’re hearing. Why else why would you pay our prices?

One thing I can tell you: we would never charge money for a record that sounds as weird and wrong as this MoFi.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magical sheen and richness.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London which has fairly decent bass.

If a self-styled Audiophile Reviewer cannot hear the obvious faults of this pressing, I would say there’s a good chance one or both of the following is true:

  1. His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,
  2. His listening skills are not sufficiently developed to notice the shortcomings in the sound.

The result is the worst kind of Reviewer Malpractice.

But is it really the worst kind? It seems to be the only kind!

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

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Lincoln Mayorga and Obvious Pressing Variations

I have to confess we were actually quite shocked at the pressing variations on this famous record, the first Sheffield Direct to Disc recording.

These LPs are all over the map sonically. Some Sheffield pressings are aggressive, many of them are dull and lack the spark of live music, some of them have wonky bass or are lacking in the lowest octave — they are prey to every fault that befalls other pressings, direct to disc and otherwise.

Which should not be too surprising. Records are records. Pressing variations exist for every album ever made. If you haven’t noticed that yet, start playing multiple copies of the same album while listening carefully and critically. If your stereo is any good at all, it should not take you long to notice how different one record sounds from another in practically every case.

Sonic Shortcomings

Biggest problems on S9? I would have to say smearing is Number One. When the brass loses its bite and the bells don’t have the percussive quality of metal being struck, this is not a good thing. The band also seems to lose energy when the pressing suffers from smear. (more…)

Freddie Hubbard / Sky Dive – Blurry, Thick, Veiled, Dull or Slow?

That’s too often the sound we hear on the Heavy Vinyl records being pressed these days. From time to time we get hold of some to audition just to see what they’ve done with (to?) the titles we know well.

We sure don’t have any intention of selling them. That would be against our principles. And the very name of our operation: Better Records. It’s rare for anything pressed on Heavy Vinyl to qualify as a Better Record, which is why so many of them can be found in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way.

But that sound can be found on plenty of vintage pressings too. We should know, we’ve played them by the tens of thousands!

Smear is by far the most common problem with the copies we played. When the transient bite of the trumpet is correctly reproduced, maintaining its full-bodied tone and harmonic structures, you know you have a very special copy of Sky Dive (or First Light or Red Clay, etc., etc.).

When the sound is blurry, thick, veiled, dull or slow, you have what might be considered something more like the average copy.

Rudy gets one hell of a lively trumpet sound in this period of his career. If you have a good pressing of one of his early ’70s jazz recordings the sound can be positively EXPLOSIVE, with what feels like all the size and power of live music.

If you don’t have a hot copy of Red Clay, get one. It’s some of the best funky jazz ever recorded. No collection should be without it.

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Haydn / Symphonies 100 & 101 – Reviewed in 2010

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Joseph Haydn

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

The New York Times review for these performances called them “matchless” and we see no reason to disagree! With Super Hot Stamper sound for No. 100, “Military”, we’re confident you will have a very hard time finding better sound and music from Haydn than is found on this original Black Label Vanguard Stereophonic Demonstration Disc.

Side one, containing Symphony No. 100, “Military”, is smooth and rich and full of tubey magic, the kind of analog sound that has not been recorded for more than thirty years. Because the top end is not boosted and phony like most audiophile pressings, you can play a record like this at much more realistic levels without fatigue or harshness.

Try that with the average Reference or Telarc.

The sound is a bit distant, mid-hall we would call it, but wide and full of depth the way these vintage recordings often are.

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The Beatles – Revolver

More of The Beatles

More Revolver

  • Here is the space, energy, presence clarity and massive bottom end you had no idea were even possible on Revolver
  • 14 amazing tracks including Taxman; Eleanor Rigby; Here, There and Everywhere; Yellow Submarine; Good Day Sunshine; Got To Get You Into My Life and Tomorrow Never Knows (!)
  • 5 stars: “Even after Sgt. Pepper, Revolver stands as the ultimate modern pop album and it’s still as emulated as it was upon its original release.”
  • If you’re a fan of the Fab Four, and even if you’re not, this groundbreaking album from 1966 belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1966 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Want to be blown away by Beatles sound you never imagined you would ever have the chance to experience for yourself? Drop the needle on Taxman on this very side one — that’s your ticket to ride, baby! We were knocked out by it and we guarantee you will be too. (more…)

Sinatra – Swingin’ in ’61 with the Help of Billy May

Of the five records Sinatra released in 1961 (Sinatra’s Swingin’ Session!!!; Come Swing with Me!; Ring-a-Ding-Ding!; Swing Along with Me; and I Remember Tommy), this is clearly one of our favorites. (And by the way, what’s with all the exclamation marks?)

Billy May deserves much of the credit for the “swing” that’s all over the album. His band is jumpin’, and on the best pressings — such as this one — the sound conveys the energy with virtually none of the grit and hardness you hear on so many of Sinatra’s other albums (Sinatra at the Sands comes immediately to mind, but there are far too many others).

This is 1961, and tubes and ribbon mics are in charge of the live-in-the-studio proceedings. With a vintage original pressing such as this one, you hear the kind of sound they heard.

And if you play the record at ear-splitting levels you will hear even more of that sound. Can you imagine how loud this band was playing?

We were especially impressed with the large dynamic swings of the arrangements. And the fact that the best pressings never get aggressive even during their most dynamic passages.

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name…

More David Crosby

More Hippie Folk Rock

  • The ultimate Hippie Folk Rock Demo Disc – both sides are shockingly transparent, with huge amounts of bass, silky highs, in-the-room vocals and TONS of Tubey Magic
  • 4 1/2 stars: ” If I Could Only Remember My Name is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.”
  • If you’re an audiophile, this is a Demo Disc from 1971 that no record collection comprising Top Quality Recordings should be without
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Here it is, folks… a TRUE ROCK DEMO DISC! A White Hot Stamper copy such as this will show you why we’ve long considered it one of the All Time Top Ten Rock Albums for Sound and Music. You will not believe how Tubey Magical and three-dimensional this album can be when you have a pressing with this kind of sound. The harmonic complexity and extension on the acoustic guitars are absolutely stunning!

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, not exactly a tough call it seems to us. Who can’t hear that this is an amazing sounding recording? (We do applaud his decision not to add the Classic pressing of this title to the list, the way he did with so many other Classic pressings that have no business on anything called a Super Disc list.)

You Don’t Have to Be High to Hear It

When you drop the needle on this record, all barriers between you and the musicians are removed. You’ll feel as though you’re sitting at the studio console while Crosby and his no-doubt-stoned-out-of-their-minds Bay Area pals (mostly Jefferson Airplaners and Grateful Deads, see list below) are laying down this emotionally powerful, heartfelt music.

The overall sound is warm, sweet, rich, and full-bodied… that’s some real ANALOG Tubey Magic, baby! And the best part is, you don’t have to be high to hear it. You just need a good stereo and the right pressing. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys with reputations for doing good work, but the results of their latest collaboration [can you believe this record came out in 2006!?] leave much to be desired.

The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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