Reviewers

Peter Gabriel on Classic Records – Some People Have No Business Reviewing Records

More Peter Gabriel

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This commentary was written after a review I spotted online prompted me to crack open one of the Classic Records 200 gram Peter Gabriel titles and play it. Let’s just say the results were less than pleasing to the ear. Bernie Grundman had worked his “magic” again and as usual I was at a loss to understand how anyone could find his mastering in any way an improvement over the plain old pressings.

I had a discussion with a reviewer for an audiophile web magazine concerning his rave review for the Peter Gabriel records that Classic pressed. I just played one, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. But of course it’s not right either. Not surprisingly, reviewers have a tendency not to notice these things. I’m not exactly sure how these people are qualified to review records when the most obvious tonal balance problems seem to go unnoticed, but I can hardly be surprised.

A Bad Record Tells You… What?

Which brings up something else that never fails to astonish me. How can an equipment review be trusted when the reviewer uses bad sounding records to evaluate the equipment he is testing? Aren’t we justified in assuming that if said reviewer can’t tell he is listening to a bad recording, he probably can’t tell whether the equipment under review is any good either?

A bad recording tells you nothing about the equipment it is playing on. Worse, it might complement the faults of the gear and end up sounding tonally correct. If you use So Long So Wrong as a test disc, what are you testing for, the bad sounding vocals or the bad sounding guitars?

Two Reviews of Blood, Sweat & Tears – Fremer Vs. Better Records – You Be the Judge

More Blood, Sweat & Tears

More Fremer Vs. Better Records — You Be the Judge

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In 2010 MF reviewed both the Sundazed and Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl pressings of the album. I think his review is mistaken on a number of counts, and mostly unhelpful. The commentary below will discuss his errors in detail, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will not make the same mistakes yourself. 

He talks about his history with the album for a while, and then notes:

Anyway, the original “360 Sound” edition of this record sounds fantastic. It’s a high quality Columbia studio recording, with vivid harmonics, impressive transparency and dynamics, shimmering highs and tight extended bass. The soundstage is expansive and the images tightly presented. I’m not sure it can get much better than the original given how well-pressed Columbia records were in those days, especially if you have a clean original.

We, however, seem to hold precisely the opposite view. I quote from our review:

“Why did it take us so long [to do a Hot Stamper shootout]? Let me ask you this: have you ever played this album? The average copy of this record is a sonic MESS. Even the best copies have problems.”

We then go on to discuss in detail what most copies do wrong and what to listen for in order to find a copy that gets it right. (More on that later.) (more…)

This Is Your Idea of Analog?

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Cat Stevens – 200 Grams of Tea for the Tillerman

Dear Record Loving Audiophiles of Earth,

I’m afraid we have some bad news. [This was written back in 2011 when the record came out so it’s hard to imagine that what I am about to say is news to anyone at this stage of the game.] Regrettably we must inform you that the 2011 edition of Tea for the Tillerman pressed by Analogue Productions on Heavy Vinyl doesn’t sound very good. We know you were all hoping for the best. We also know that you must be very disappointed to hear this unwelcome news.

But the record is what it is, and what it is is not very good. Its specific shortcomings are many and will be considered in at length in our review below.
(more…)

Who Can’t Hear Differences in Sound from Side to Side?

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Audiophile Reissues of the Reiner/CSO Recording

Both the Chesky and Classic reissue pressings of LSC 2446 are just plain terrible. Embarrassingly the latter is found on the TAS List.

There is a newly remastered 33 RPM pressing of the album garnering rave reviews in the audiophile press. We will didn’t like it either.

Please note that in many of the reviews for the new pressing, the original vinyl used for comparison is a Shaded Dog pressing. In our experience almost no Shaded Dog pressings are competitive with the later White Dog pressings, and many of them are just plain awful, as we have noted previously on the site.

The “original is better” premise of most reviewers renders the work they do practically worthless, especially to those of us who take the time to play a wide variety of pressings, judging them on the merits of their sound, not the color of their labels.
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Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Really Knows?

More Count Basie

More on The Timekeepers

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Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version as well as any other Basie album they will ever do on vinyl. (more…)

Today’s Audio Disaster – Sounds Unheard Of

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Remember the old Acoustic Sounds Analog Revival series mastered by Stan Ricker? This was one of the titles they did, and completely ruined of course. Ricker boosted the hell out of the top end, as is his wont, so all the percussion had the phony MoFi exaggerated spit and tizzyiness that we dislike so much around here at Better Records but that many audiophiles never seem to notice.

The whole series was an audio disaster, but funnily enough, I cannot remember reading a single word of criticism anywhere discussing the shortcomings of that series of badly half-speed mastered LPs. Outside of my own reviews of course. Has anything in audio really changed?

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Analogue Productions LP debunked.

Vivid and Accurate Timbre for Reeds and Percussion

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This is one of the most phenomenal sounding records I have ever heard in my life. Take the best sound you ever heard from the best authentic Mercury classical record (not that Heavy Vinyl BS) and translate it into pop arrangements for clarinets, flutes, saxes, oboes, bassoons, and what do you have? Sound that leaps out of the speakers with absolutely dead on tonality.

But what is most shocking of all is how vivid and accurate the timbre of every instrument is.

Yes, it’s multi-miked, and sometimes the engineers play with the channels a bit much (especially at the start of the first track).

That said, if you have the system for it, it’s very possible you have never heard most of these instruments sound this real, as if you were standing right in the studio with them. It’s that crazy good.

Which brings up a question: Who but Better Records is finding incredible Demonstration Quality recordings like these nowadays?

Harry Pearson used to. Jim Mitchell did back in the ’80s.

Are the Audiophile Reviewers of today picking up the baton that the giants of the past have dropped at their feet.

I see little evidence of it. In fact I see none.

(more…)

Zep II – With Trees This Ugly, Would You Give the Forest a Good Grade?

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We herein offer some rather interesting observations by a well known writer about the new Heavy Vinyl Led Zeppelin II that’s just come out. They are in no particular order and clearly taken out of context — we’re not even providing the reference to the specific song under discussion. Some you can guess; as for the rest, what difference, at this point, does it make?

Allow us to present: The Trees

the spatial presentation seemed meek

individual cymbal hits in that psychedelic break lacked sparkle

instead of an interruption eruption the changeover was anything but abrupt

overall musical intent wasn’t being fully communicated

spatially mashed together and lacking in detail delineation

You can barely make out the flanging effects on Plant’s voice

should send shivers but just doesn’t

The bass line was homogenized and the attack softened

Textures sounded bland

Microdynamic gestures—very familiar ones—seemed to have been lost

The album’s grit and edge seemed worn down

Page’s guitars… are homogenized

small dynamic differences that communicate intent blend into one level, quelling musical excitement

(more…)

Avoid Making this Rookie Record Collecting Mistake

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Record Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better. (more…)

New Paradigms and Old – How Can Anybody Not Hear What’s Wrong with Old Pressings Like These?

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It is our strongly held belief that if your equipment (regardless of cost) or your critical listening skills do not allow you to hear the kinds of sonic differences among pressings we describe, then whether you are just getting started in audio or are a self-identified audio expert writing for the most prestigious magazines and websites, you still have a very long way to go in this hobby.

Purveyors of the old paradigms — original is better, money buys good sound — may eventually find their approach to records and equipment unsatisfactory (when it isn’t just plain wrong), but they will only do so if they start to rely more on empirical findings and less on convenient theories and received wisdom.

A reviewer we all know well is clearly stuck in the Old Paradigm, illustrated perfectly by this comment: (more…)