Records that Are Good for Testing Compression

The Byrds in Mono – How Do The Original Pressings Sound?

More of the Music of The Byrds

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Byrds

Congested and compressed, with no real top, who in his right mind could possibly tolerate that kind of sound on a modern audiophile system?

Can the apologists for mono really be taking this ridiculously crappy sound seriously?

I hope not, but I suspect they do take it seriously.

They seem to like the congested, distorted, top-end-lacking Beatles records in mono, so why not The Byrds? To these ears, the monos for both bands have a lot in common.

And what they have in common is sound we want nothing to do with.

Now, to be fair, we’ve stopped buying these monos, so there may actually be a good copy or two out there in used record land that we haven’t heard and that does have good sound.

In our defense, who really has the time to play records with so little potential for good sound?

What about the Sundazed mono pressings?

The best Columbia stereo copies on the original label are rich, sweet and Tubey Magical — three areas in which the Sundazed reissues are seriously lacking.

Does anyone still care? We simply cannot be bothered with these bad Heavy Vinyl pressings. If you’re looking for mediocre sound just play the CD. I’m sure it’s every bit as bad.


FURTHER READING

More Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Mono, Stereo, Reprocessed Stereo, We’ve Played Them All!

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Mono

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Stereo

Mono Reprocessed into Stereo – Good and Bad

Stravinsky / The Firebird – Hard to Beat for Table Setup

Reviews and Commentaries for The Firebird on Mercury

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

White Hot Front Row Center sound – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can.

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury.

These sides really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. Some of our favorite (and not so favorite) Mercury classical and orchestral recordings can be found here.


Table Setup

This is an excellent record for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like. Classical music is really the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge setup (and evaluation). A huge and powerful recording such as this quickly separates the men from the boys when it comes to proper orchestral reproduction.

Recordings of this quality are the reason $10,000+ front ends exist in the first place. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you do, this is the record that will show you what you got for your hard-earned dough.

Ideally you would want to work your setup magic at home with this record, then take it to a friend’s house and see if you can achieve the same results on his system. I’ve done this sort of thing for years. (Sadly, not so much anymore; nobody I know can play records like these the way we can. Playing and critically evaluating records all day, every day, year after year, you get pretty good at it. And the more you do it, the easier it gets.)

Properly set VTA is especially critical on this record, as it is on most classical recordings. The smallest change will dramatically affect the timbre, texture and harmonic information of the strings, as well as the rest of instruments of the orchestra.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More VTA Advice

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Simply Red – The Best Import Pressings Have Explosive Dynamics

More of the Music of Simply Red

More Debut Albums of Interest

I actually used to demonstrate my stereo with “Sad Old Red.” At one point the sound really explodes, an effect which has always had a strong appeal for me. That’s what live music does and that’s what I want my stereo to do.

For thirty [now 45+] years I’ve avoided little boxes and screens and gone straight for the big dynamic speaker systems that can really show you the life that’s hiding in your recordings.

That’s what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio commentary is all about — unlocking all the energy and excitement that a good LP has to offer.

Holding Back the Years” also boasts superb sound. It may be the best track the band ever recorded, and it’s probably the one most everyone knows, but there are many here that are nearly as good. The cover of The Talking Heads’ “Heaven” (from Fear of Music) is out of this world.

I still remember standing in a record store — I think it was Tower; I lived in San Diego at the time and went there often — when I heard a song I could not quite place. Eventually I realized it was “Heaven” from Fear of Music, but it wasn’t The Talking Heads singing it.

I bought the album, one I knew next to nothing about, on the spot. Any band that wants to cover The Talking Heads is a band with taste, and once I got the album home I knew this band had plenty of talent too.

This is a BIG SPEAKER recording. It requires a pair of speakers that can move air with authority below 250 cycles and play at loud levels. If you don’t own speakers that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should.

It demands to be played LOUD. It simply cannot come to life the way the producers, engineers and artists involved intended for it to if you play it at moderate levels.

For the longest time our motto has been “Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records,” and we see no reason to change it.  If anything, the current spate of manufacturers of Heavy Vinyl pressings are making records that get worse sounding by the day. Many of the most egregious offenders can be found here.

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David Bowie / Let’s Dance – Energy Is Key

More of the Music of David Bowie

More Records that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

With Let’s Dance the name of the game is ENERGY, and boy does this copy have it! Both sides have the deep, punchy bass and sweet, extended highs that Bowie’s music needs to come ALIVE. With that big bass and smooth top end, this is one record you can turn up GOOD and LOUD without fear of fatigue. On a big pair of dynamic speakers you will really get your money’s worth from the best Hot Stamper pressings. 

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Let’s Dance.

Here are some albums on our site you can buy with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

Side One

Modern Love

This track has a tendency to be a bit brighter than those that follow. To find out if your Let’s Dance is killer, see how the title track sounds.

China Girl
Let’s Dance

The best sounding track on the album and one of the handful of best sounding Bowie tracks ever recorded. With a truly Hot Stamper copy, try as you might you will be very hard pressed to find better sound. Demo Disc Quality doesn’t begin to do it justice.

Without You

Side Two

Ricochet
Criminal World
Cat People (Putting Out Fire)

The best sound and music on side two. A top Bowie track.

Shake It (more…)

Metallica / Ride The Lightning (45 RPM) – MoFi Debunked

Sonic Grade: F

This review is for the 2008 Warner Brothers 45 RPM 180g Double LP Half-Speed Mastered by Mobile Fidelity from the original analog master tapes.

Compressed, sucked-out mids, no deep bass and muddy mid-bass, the mastering of this album is an absolute disaster on every level. If you want to know how clueless the average audiophile is, a quick Google search will bring up plenty of positive comments from listeners and reviewers alike. 

Here are some other records that are good for testing the faults of this awful sounding release.

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition 

Records that Are Good for Testing Compression 

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence 


FURTHER READING

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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The Reiner Sound – A Demo Disc for Energy, Dynamics and Top End

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Music Conducted by Fritz Reiner

This review was written in 2010. I don’t think we have found a Reiner Sound as nice as this one since then.

Wow, the first nice Reiner Sound on Shaded Dog to make it to our site. Why? Because the few copies we’ve run across that looked decent enough to clean and play were just too noisy to enjoy. Not many copies have survived the bad turntables of their day with all their top end and inner grooves intact, but we’re proud to say that this one has! 

This former TAS List record really surprised us on two counts. First, you will not believe how DYNAMIC the recording is. Of all the classical recordings we’ve played lately I would have to say this is THE MOST DYNAMIC of them all. 

I really don’t have the wattage to handle the explosively loud sections of these wonderful works, with their huge orchestral effects, dynamic contrasts that are clearly part of the composer’s intentions but ones that rarely make it from the concert hall to vinyl disc the way they do here. 

Second, there is simply an amazing amount of TOP END on this record. Rarely do I hear Golden Age recordings with this kind of ENERGY and extension up top. Again, it has to be some of the best I have heard recently.

This is of course one of the reasons the Classic reissue is such a disaster. With all that top end energy, Bernie’s gritty cutting system and penchant for boosted upper midrange frequencies positively guarantees that the Classic Reiner Sound will be all but unplayable on a proper system. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that The Reiner Sound needs.

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Genesis / A Trick Of The Tail – A MoFi Disaster to Beat Them All

Not long ago I played the MoFi pressing of Trick of the Tail and could not believe how ridiculously COMPRESSED it was.

On top of that, the midrange is badly sucked out (as is the case with most Mobile Fidelity pressings) making the sound as dead, dull and distant as can be.

You think Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings are lifeless? Play this piece of crap and see just how bad an audiophile record can sound.

And to think I used to like this version! I hope I had a better copy back in the ’80s than the one I played a few years ago. I’ll never know of course. If you have one in your collection give it a spin. See if it sounds as bad as we say. If you haven’t played it in a while (can’t imagine why, maybe because it’s just plain awful), you may be in for quite a shock.

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The Traveling Wilburys – Learning the Record, Any Record

More of the Music of the Traveling Wilburys

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Many of the pressings we played of Volume One suffered from too much compression and a phony hi-fi-ish quality on the vocals. We knew there had to be great copies out there somewhere, so we kept dropping the needle until we found a few good men. Here is what we had to say about a killer copy we ran into during that process.

We heard a lot of copies with a spitty, gritty top end, but this one is smooth like butter and sweet like candy. Side two is nearly as good but doesn’t have quiet the same energy factor. It’s still dramatically better than most copies out there.

Now that we’ve discovered these Hot Stampers, the sound is finally where we want it to be. Until this week, we were convinced that these songs sounded better on the radio. (That’s what tons of compression and FM bass boost will do for you.)

Learning the Record

For our recent shootout we had at our disposal a variety of pressings we thought would have the potential for Hot Stamper sound. We cleaned them carefully, then unplugged everything in the house we could, warmed up the system, Talisman’d it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next hour or so playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that other pressings do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given copy reproduces those passages.

The process is simple enough. First, you go deep into the sound. There you find a critically important passage in the music, one which most copies struggle — or fail — to reproduce as well as the best. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

It may be a lot of work but it sure ain’t rocket science, and we never pretended it was. Just the opposite: from day one we’ve explained how to go about finding the Hot Stampers in your own collection.

The problem is that unless your a crazy person who bought multiple copies of the same album there is no way to know if any given copy is truly Hot Stamper. Hot Stampers are not merely good sounding records. They are the copies that win shootouts. This is a fact that cannot be emphasized too strongly.

As your stereo and room improve, as you take advantage of new cleaning technologies, as you find new and interesting pressings to evaluate, you may even be inclined to start the shootout process all over again, to find the hidden gem, the killer copy that blows away what you thought was the best.

You can’t find it by looking at it. You have to clean it and play it, and always against other pressings of the same album. There is no other way.

For the more popular records on the site such as the Beatles titles we have easily done more than twenty, maybe even as many as thirty to forty shootouts.

And very likely learned something new from every one.

David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of David Bowie

Reviews and Commentaries for Ziggy Stardust

Sonic Grade: C-

The MoFi pressing is decent, probably better than the average domestic copy I suppose. The colorations and the limitations of their cutting system make it painful for me to listen to it though, especially the sloppy bass and dynamic compression.

You can do worse but you sure can do a whole lot better.

MoFi did two of the greatest Bowie albums of all time, Ziggy and Let’s Dance, and neither one can hold a candle to the real thing. If you want to settle for a mediocre imitation of either or both of those albums, stick with your MoFi.

If you want to hear the kind of Demo Disc sound that Bowie’s records are capable of, try a Hot Stamper. (more…)

Let It Be on Heavy Vinyl – The Gong Rings Once More

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

At the end of a recent shootout for Let It Be (June 2014), we decided to see how the 2012 Digitally Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing would hold up against the 12 (yes, twelve!) British copies we had just finished critically auditioning.

Having evaluated the two best copies on side two, we felt we knew exactly what separated the killer copies (White Hot) from the next tier down (Super Hot). Armed with a vivid memory of how good the music could sound fresh in our minds, we threw on the new pressing. We worked on the VTA adjustment for a couple of minutes to get the sound balanced and as hi-rez as possible for the thicker record and after a few waves of the Talisman we were soon hearing the grungy guitar intro of I’ve Got a Feeling.

My scribbled first notes: not bad! Sure, there’s only a fraction of the space and three-dimensionality of the real British pressings, but the bass seemed to be there, the energy seemed decent enough, the tonality was good if a bit smooth and dark — all in all not a bad Beatles record.

Then we played One After 909 and the sound just went off a cliff. It was so compressed! The parts of the song that get loud on the regular pressings never get loud on the new one. The live-in-the-studio Beatles’ rock energy just disappeared.

We couldn’t take more than a minute or two of the song, it was that frustrating and irritating. What the hell did they do to make this record sound this way? We had no idea.

Didn’t matter. It was game over. The gong from The Gong Show had rung. The record had to go.

We had played twelve British copies, all with stampers that we knew to be good on side two. Two or three of those copies did not merit a Hot Stamper sonic grade. Nothing new there, happens all the time. Yet even the worst copy we played of the twelve had more jump-factor, more life and more dynamic energy than the new Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Which means that there’s a very good chance that any copy you pick up on British vinyl will be better sounding — maybe not a 100% chance but easily a 90+% chance. Which makes buying the new Heavy Vinyl LP — not to mention playing it — entirely pointless.