Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 – Now That’s the Way a Piano Should Sound!

I don’t know of another recording of the work that gets the sound of the piano better. On the better copies the percussive quality of the instrument really comes through. It’s amazing how many piano recordings have poorly miked pianos. The badly recorded pianos are either too distant, lack proper reproduction of the lower registers, or somehow smear the pounding of the keys into a blurry mess.

Or is it a mastering issue?

A pressing issue?

To be honest, it’s probably all three.

On the best copies the rich texture of the strings is out of this world — you will have a very hard time finding a DG with better string tone. This record does not have the shortcomings of the average DG: it’s not hard, shrill, or sour.

DG made plenty of good records in the ’50s and ’60s, then proceeded to fall apart, like most labels did. This is one of their finest. It proves conclusively that at one time — 1962 to be exact — they clearly knew what they were doing.

Richter Owns the Work

Richter is brutal at the piano. He pounds the hell out of it, which is precisely what the work demands. Karajan, in contrast to his partner in all of this, has the orchestra play especially sweetly, the opposite of what you would expect from the man. Thankfully he is able to summon the brute power of the orchestra when called for. I’ve never been a fan of Karajan; I know of few of his recordings that are compelling. What his reputation as a great conductor is based on is frankly a mystery to me. Having said that, on this record he is wonderful. I cannot begin to fault his work here in any way.

The RCA

What’s shocking is how lifeless the famous Van Cliburn (LSC 2252) recording is. Granted we did not have ten copies to play, but the ones we did play were the smallest and most compressed classical recording we listened to all day. They went into the trade pile and we will never buy another.

This DG recording has little competition in terms of sonics. Furthermore, we feel strongly that it has no competition in terms of performance. It’s simply the best.

Most Copies Do Not Sound Good…

So What Else Is New?

My good friend Robert Pincus turned me on to this recording close to twenty years ago. Since then I’ve had the chance to audition dozens of clean copies of it and have found rather shocking amounts of pressing variablity. I was, naively of course, expecting to be able to find good copies to shoot out and offer on the site on a regular basis.

Much to our chagrin we discovered that many of the clean copies we were lucky enough to find tended to sound compressed, harsh, lacking in ambience, and missing the full weight of the piano, one of the qualities that makes this recording such an exceptionally powerful listening experience. This explains why our shootouts are so infrequent. Who knows when the next one will be. The record gods appear to be more and more capricious with each passing day.

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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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Boston’s First Album on MoFi Anadisq

Sonic Grade: F

The MoFi Anadisc of Boston’s first album has the same problems that plague the whole Anadisq 200 series: turgid, thick, opaque, blobby, murky, mucky sound.

A real slogfest. Audiophile trash of the worst kind.

Do people still pay good money for this kind of awful sound? Yes they do!

Go to ebay and see the high prices these kinds of records are fetching. This is in equal parts both shocking and disgusting. 

Here is what is available for the MoFi pressing on Discogs today (2/2/2022). If you have $400 you can order one there.

Marketplace 3 For Sale from $399.99

And people complain about our prices? At least we send you a great sounding record for all the money we charge.

Linda Ronstadt – Can You Hear the Bloated Bass of the DCC Pressing?

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

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. These are records for those who are not sufficiently advanced in the hobby to know just how compromised and wrong they are.

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

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

There actually is such a person who does exactly that, 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!

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The Pentangle – It Doesn’t Get Much More Real on Vinyl Than This

More of the Music of The Pentangle

More British Folk Rock

This is an honest-to-goodness Demo Disc. When for a (thankfully) brief time back in the ’70s I was selling audio equipment, the song “Pentangling” was a favorite demo cut to play in the store. The sound of the string bass and snare drum are amazingly natural; I don’t know of any other pop album from the era that presents the vibrant timbre of those two instruments better.

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James Taylor / One Man Dog – Watch Out for Bass Blockage

More of the Music of James Taylor

Reviews and Commentaries for One Man Dog

Play Chili Dog here, one of our favorite tracks, and note not only the clarity and spaciousness, but the PUNCH and LIFE of the music. This song is supposed to be fun. The average somewhat compressed and dull copy only hints at that fact.

Then skip on down to the hit at the end of the side, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, another favorite track for testing.

There’s a lot of bass in the mix on this track, but the best copies keep it under control.

When it gets loose and starts blurring the midrange, the vocals and guitars seem “blocked.” The best copies let you hear all that meaty bass, as well as letting you hear into the midrange too.

One Man Dog, like many early WB pressings, has a tendency to be dull and opaque. (Most side twos have a real problem in that respect.) When you get a good, with more of an extended top end, it tends to come with much more space, size, texture, transparency, ambience and openness.

Of course it does; that’s where much of that stuff is, up high. Most copies don’t have nearly enough of it, but thankfully the best copies do.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass Definition

Records that Are Good for Testing Energy

Records that Are Good for Testing the Lower Midrange and Mid-Bass

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Crosby, Stills & Nash on Nautilus – The Most Bloated, Ill-Defined, Overblown Bass in the Sad, Sordid History of Half-Speed Mastering

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Half-Speed Mastered Disaster if there ever was one.

An audiophile record dealer (of course; who else?) once raved to me about Crosby Stills and Nash on Nautilus. I said “What are you talking about? That version sucks!” He replied “No, it’s great. Helplessly Hoping sounds amazing.” 

Now one thing I know about the Nautilus is that although it is wonderfully transparent in the midrange, it may very well take the cake for the most bloated, out of control bass in the history of Half Speed mastering. What song on that album has almost no bass, just lovely voices in the midrange? You guessed it. Helplessly Hoping.

The Nautilus got one track right, and ruined the rest. Using that track for comparison will fool you, and when it comes time to play a side of the album, you will quickly hear what a disaster it is.

Or maybe you won’t. Who else harps on bad Half-Speed Mastered bass outside of those of us who write for this blog? I don’t recall ever reading a word about it. This does not reflect well on the bass response of the modern audiophile stereo.


Some Relevant Commentaries

A Technological Fix for a Non-Existent Problem (more…)

Ry Cooder – MoFi Sure Added Plenty of Sparkle to These Acoustic Guitars

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ry Cooder

More Records Perfectly Suited for the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s

This review is from many years ago. Hard to imagine I would not still agree with it though.

Sonic Grade: D

As you probably know, the MoFi of Jazz goes for big bucks nowadays — $500 and up. Is it worth it? 

Are you kidding? It’s a nice record as far as it goes, but it suffers from the same shortcomings as just about every Mobile Fidelity pressing we take the time to play these days (with some obvious exceptions of course). We have a test pressing, and knowing that the MoFi is the standard against which many audiophiles would prefer to judge our Hot Stampers, we listened to it first before going about our comparison test.

Our MoFi copy is actually tonally correct, which was a bit of a surprise. (Yours of course could very well be otherwise.)

Right away we could hear exactly what people like about it, the same thing that audiophiles have always liked about half-speeds: their amazing transparency.

Jazz on MoFi has zero-distortion, utterly clear, spacious, see-through sound.

But listen past that and what do you hear?

Don’t those guitars seem to have that MoFi Tea-for-the-Tillerman-like quality you hate: all pluck and no body, all detail and no substance?

Nothing has any weight.

Nothing has any solidity.

Nothing has any real life.

It’s pretty, maybe, but it sure ain’t right.

It’s the kind of sound that shouts out to the world “Hey, look at me, I’m an audiophile record! See how I sound? So clear! So clean!”

Which isn’t bad for about two minutes, and then it’s positively insufferable.