Records We Don’t Like for Their Music

Van Halen on DCC – Not My Idea of Good Sound

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Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another DCC LP debunked.

As I recall it isn’t very good — thick and dull and closed-in; in other words, boring — but I played it quite a while ago. If your copy sounds better, more power to you, but I bet it doesn’t. Any copy we sell is guaranteed to blow the doors off of it — as well as any other pressing you own — or your money back.

Go ahead and turn up your nose if you like, but this music is widely considered classic rock by now. I’m not going to pretend it’s on a level with After The Gold Rush or Zep II, but this album does exactly what it’s trying to do — it really ROCKS.

Donn Landee

Credit DONN LANDEE (and Ted Templeman too) with the rich, smooth, oh-so-analog sound of the best copies. He’s recorded many of our favorite albums here at Better Records.

Most of the better Doobies Brothers albums are his; more by Van Halen of course; Lowell George’s wonderful Thanks I’ll Eat It Here; Little Feat’s Time Loves a Hero (not their best music but some of their best sound); Carly Simon’s Another Passenger (my favorite of all her albums); and his Masterpiece (in my humble opinion), Captain Beefheart’s mindblowing Clear Spot.

Badly Mastered LPs

Visit our Hall of Shame to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

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 record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more intolerable.

Jennifer Warnes The Hunter – A Cisco Disaster

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing from Cisco / Impex.

Some of the worst sound I have ever heard in my life. An absolute disgrace, both sonically and musically. 

Check out ouHeavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers.

Eric Clapton – Backless

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  • One of the better sounding copies to hit the site in a while – this British original earned Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • Rich, smooth, clear sound throughout – listen to the grungy guitars on Walk Out In The Rain – that’s the way they should sound all right
  • Clapton comes to life on the traditional blues Early In The Morning – it also has the best sound on the album
  • “Backless is a seductive record, if you’re attracted to the interplay of Clapton’s dolorous voice and Marcy Levy’s raspy backup vocals, George Terry’s slide guitar and Glyn Johns’ pristine production.” Rolling Stone

The true test for side two was the second track, the old blues song Early In The Morning. It’s by far the best sounding track on the album, with huge space, rich bass, a fat snare and Tubey Magic to die for. This is the kind of sound that only the likes of Glyn Johns can get down on tape, live in the studio no doubt, and it made it easy to do the shootout for side two. The bigger, the richer, the tubier, the more transparent the better. It’s THE track to demo with.  (more…)

Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky – This Kind of Clarity Quickly Wears Out Its Welcome

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF)  as you critically evaluate your copy of Late for the Sky. 

It’s not easy to find copies that get the tonal balance right the way the best copies do. Most err in one of two ways — either they’re rich, full and a little veiled, or they’re clear and transparent, but leaned-out and boosted.

The clear ones of course are the ones that initially fool you — they present an illusion of transparency because everything is easy to hear right from the get-go, but they quickly wear out their welcome with their more “modern”, leaner sound.

The choruses are telling here. With so many background singers, the size and weight and energy of the singers only comes through on the copies that are full and rich.

What Else to Listen For (WETLF?)

The jug on Walking Slow — you gotta love it!

Ry Cooder – Jazz – Transparency Is Key

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Jazz. 

The best copies realistically convey the live-in-the-studio quality of the sound. This is a tight ensemble working at the top of their game, no surprise there; Ry surrounds himself with nothing but the best.

But the better copies have such amazingly transparent sound you can’t help feeling as though you really are in the presence of live human beings You really get the sense of actual fingers plucking those guitar strings. You hear mouths blowing air through horns and woodwinds. (more…)

Genesis – Foxtrot

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  • This early Peter-Gabriel-led Genesis album from 1972 boasts killer Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • One of the toughest in the catalog to find with good sound and quiet surfaces – you need the right UK pressing to even be in the ballpark – but this copy delivers the proggy goods like gangbusters
  • 5 stars: “Foxtrot is where Genesis began to pull all of its varied inspirations into a cohesive sound – which doesn’t necessarily mean that the album is streamlined, for this is a group that always was grandiose even when they were cohesive, or even when they rocked, which they truly do for the first time here. This is the rare art-rock album that excels at both the art and the rock, and it’s a pinnacle of the genre because of it.”

This vintage British pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. (more…)

Kansas – Point of Know Return & Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speeds Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Two Hall of Shame pressings and two more Half-Speed Mastered Audiophile Pressings Debunked.

Both this album and Leftoverture are way too bright and thin. What were the engineers thinking — brighter equals better? In the case of these two titles it most definitely is not.It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did too, a couple of decades ago. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson by now, expensive and embarrassing as such lessons often turn out to be.  (more…)

Flamenco Fever “Live Direct to Disc”

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides, this is a Direct to Disc Demo Disc like nothing you’ve heard. The sound is breathtakingly real – you are there in the club with the guitarist and these dancers. If you have the power to drive big speakers, the dynamics and bass transients of this copy are going to rock your world, literally.

This is an INCREDIBLY RARE very nice looking M&K Realtime Direct-to-Disc LP that plays about as quietly as they ever do and has truly DEMO DISC sound. 

The sound is breathtakingly real. Years ago I dropped the needle on this record without paying attention to the volume level and when the dancers started pounding the floor, one of my woofers blew out! This record is about as dynamic as they come and has the kind of solid bass that few recordings that I’m aware of can lay claim to.

As an interesting side note, this album was recorded on location. The other M&K Direct to Disc record that I like was also recorded on location. Most of the M&K Direct to Discs were recorded in the showroom of the stereo store that Miller and Kreisel owned, which, like any showroom, was carpeted and draped. This is why almost all their records sound “dead”. This was their intention, of course. They wanted the sound to be “live” in your living room. I prefer to hear the kind of ambience that would be found in a real location, and so I have never been much of a fan of their label.

This record, however, gives you both that Direct Disc immediacy and freedom from distortion, as well as the live ambience of the location — the best of both worlds.

Lee Ritenour – Rit – Reviewed in 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This very nice Nautilus Half-Speed Mastered LP has SURPRISINGLY GOOD SOUND and plays pretty quiet, mostly Mint Minus. We played this against the 180g Discovery reissue that Doug Sax remastered and it SMOKED it. What a piece of muddy trash that Discovery pressing is. 

Members of both Toto and Chicago play on this album, so fans of either should get a kick out of this music. 

AMG Review

Lee Ritenour has long been the perfect studio musician, one who can melt into the background without making any impact. While he possesses impressive technique, Ritenour has mostly played instrumental pop throughout his career, sometimes with a Brazilian flavor. His few jazz efforts have found him essentially imitating Wes Montgomery, but despite that he has been consistently popular since the mid-’70s. After touring with Sergio Mendes’ Brasil ’77 in 1973, Ritenour became a very busy studio guitarist in Los Angeles, taking time off for occasional tours with his groups and in the mid-’90s with Bob James in Fourplay. He also recorded many albums as a leader.

Kansas – Leftoverture – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Audiophile Record debunked.

Way too bright and thin. What were they thinking?

It’s the sound that most audiophiles are fooled by to this day! Brighter and more detailed is rarely better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. Not many half-speed mastered audiophile records are dull. They’re bright because the audiophiles who bought them preferred that sound. I did. Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson, expensive and painful as it may have been. 

The average copy of this record is so bright, thin, aggressive and transistory it will peel the paint in your living room and leave your ears bleeding.

Unmusicality

The best copies get rid of a problem that quickly becomes irritating as you play track after track: a certain “squaky, pinched” sound to the guitars. Bad copies of the album have that sound through and through, along with excessive amounts of grain and grunge. The guitars are very prominent in the mix on practically every song here, so when the guitars sound sour, the track as a whole does too.

These mastering and pressing problems make the overall sound simply UNMUSICAL. The way we found that out was simple. We cleaned and played lots of copies, and every once in a while we heard one that allowed the music to breathe, open up, sound balanced, make sense even.

Those copies showed us a Leftoverture we didn’t know existed and gave us a goal to shoot for with all the other copies we played. After hearing such a truly killer copy we often go back and downgrade the ratings for the copies we thought were the best. Such is the way with these shootouts. (more…)