Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music

These are records we’ve auditioned that didn’t sound very good to us, or the music was not to our liking, or both.

Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


Charlie Byrd / Direct to Disc – Dark and Unnatural, Not My Idea of Good Sound

More of the Music of Charlie Byrd

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

This Crystal Clear 45 RPM Direct-to-Disc LP is pressed on white vinyl. Of the couple of copies we played, this one had the best sound.

It had more clarity than the other copy, which sounded even more veiled and smeary than this one.

I sure never liked the sound of this record though. It’s dark and unnatural to my ears.  It would be best to avoid it if you are looking for audiophile sound.

There are so many other, better Charlie Byrd recordings, why waste your time and money on this one? It’s yet another example of an “audiophile” record with practically nothing in the way of audiophile merit.

Which should not be too surprising. The bulk of the Crystal Clear records we’ve played had third-rate sound and pointless music.

Most of their Direct to Disc recordings were nothing but Audiophile Bullshit.

This Charlie Byrd title is the kind of crap we newbie audiophiles used to buy back in the ’70s — typically at stereo stores, or “audio salons” as they are often called now, the ones that are still in business anyway — before we had anything resembling a clue.

Yes, I was foolish enough to buy records like these and expect them to have good music, or at least good sound. Of course they had neither. Practically none of these kinds of records ever did. Sheffield and a few others made some good ones, but most Crystal Clears were crap.

As clueless as I was, even back in the day I could tell that I had just thrown my money away on this lipsticked-pig in a poke.

But I was an audiophile, and I wanted desperately to believe. These special super-hi-fidelity records were being made for me, for special people like me, because I had expensive equipment and regular records are just not good enough to play on my special equipment, right?

We didn’t want the mass-produced regular version of Silk Degrees, we had to have this limited edition remastered one. The premium price is obviously proof that we were going to get premium quality sound, right?

To say I was wrong to think about audio that way is obviously an understatement. Over the course of the last forty years, I (and to be fair, my friends and my staff) have been wrong about a great deal when it comes to records and audio, but the last thing we would want to do is try to hide that fact.

Making mistakes, like buying direct to disc recordings thinking they would have higher fidelity than the “regular” records sitting in the bins, is how we made progress. Experience is a great teacher, perhaps the only one.

Which is why there are about one hundred entries in our section detailing the many things we’ve gotten wrong, and believe me, those hundred entries barely scratch the surface of the stupid things I’ve done as I pursued this hobby.

Thank goodness Audio Progress is real and anyone who figures out how to do audio the right way is bound to achieve it.

Most audiophiles today seem to be making the same mistakes I made in my formative years in the hobby.

There is a better way, and this blog is dedicated to helping audiophiles find it.

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Peter Frampton – Somethin’s Happening (and It’s Not Very Good)

This is Frampton’s third album, released in 1974. A year later he would put out the wonderful Frampton album, tour it, and record the tour, which became Frampton Comes Alive. Finally the world would hear what a talented songwriter, singer, guitarist and all around performer the man had always been, starting with Humble Pie and reaching his zenith with his first solo album, Wind of Change, his Magnum Opus and a Desert Island Disc for your truly.

All the songs from this album that he played live are dramatically better in live performance than they are in the studio on this album.

Frampton produced Somethin’s Happening and unfortunately for all concerned the production is piss-poor, as is the sound.

I’ve never heard this record sound better than passable, whether on domestic or British vinyl. I gave up finding something better decades ago. The album is just not worth it.

As far as Peter Frampton’s body of work through the ’70s is concerned, it is clearly his worst sounding album

The records he released in the ’80s are even worse — no surprise there — and the music is every bit as bad.

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The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, here you will find practically none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be, because we’ve played them by the hundreds on big speakers at loud levels.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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Massenet / Le Cid – This Blueback Was Awful

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jules Massenet (1842-1912)

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

Sonic Grade: F

Don’t buy into that record collector/audiophile canard that the originals are always the best sounding pressings.

This original Blueback pressing — true, we only had the one, so take it for what it’s worth — was a complete disaster: shrill, with no top or bottom to speak of, the very definition of boxy sound.

Our current favorite for sound and performance is the one Fremaux conducted for EMI in 1971.

It had been on the TAS List for some time, but we confess we didn’t bother finding out how good it was until about five years ago when it became clear to us what a wonderful conductor Louis Fremaux could be.

Here are some other Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that we like.

Back to London

The sound of the London original you see above was much too unpleasant to be played on high quality modern equipment. There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings.

A stereo that looks like the console below — or one that sounds like an old console even though it has new components, there are plenty of those out there in audiophile land — is perfect for all your Bad Sounding Golden Age Recordings.

Or you could get that old console sound by powering your system with the Mac 30s you see below. They are very good at hiding the faults of old records (and plenty of new ones too).

Our Pledge of Service to You, the Discriminating Audiophile 

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a free public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this album in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (Some records in the Hall of Shame have sound that was passable but the music was not up to our standards, or some combination of the two.  These are also records that audiophiles can safely avoid.)

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

Sonic Grade: F

Katy Lied is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame. If it isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s, this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture.

Yes, the sound is so bad that even the brain trust at MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless (almost as lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time), it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound.

Why? That’s hard to say, but here’s a stab at it.

The vinyl was exceptionally quiet for one thing, and for another, as an audiophile I knew this MoFi pressing had been made with tender loving care, using a superior process, Half-Speed Mastering, from The Original Master Tapes, and had been pressed in Japan on the quietest, flattest vinyl in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

My old story about One Man Dog gets to the heart of it. I didn’t understand records very well and I sure didn’t understand the value of doing shootouts or even how to do them with different pressings of the same album.

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Led Zeppelin / Presence – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: D

This was one of only three Classic Records 180 gram (later 200 gram) titles that I used to recommend back in the day.

Now when I play the heavy vinyl pressing, I find the subtleties of both the music and the sound that I expect to hear have simply gone missing.

It may be tonally correct, which for a Led Zeppelin pressing on the Classic Records label is unusual in our experience (II and Houses being ridiculously bright), but it, like Physical Graffiti and some others, badly lacks resolution compared to the real thing, the real thing being a run-of-the-mill early pressing.

You can adjust the VTA of your rig until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get the Classic to sound better than passable.

The average original pressing is better, and that means Classic’s version deserves a sub-standard grade of D. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture on London

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

More than ten years ago, 2010 or thereabouts I’m guessing, we felt we were ready to do a shootout for Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture, music that surely belongs in any serious audiophile record collection.

On a well-known work such as this, we started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after the other. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Compressor distortion or inner groove overcutting at the huge climax of the work? Forget it. On the trade-in pile you go.

A few days went by while we were cleaning and listening to the hopefuls. We then proceeded to track down more of the pressings we had liked in our preliminary round of listening. At the end we had a good-sized pile of LPs that we thought shootout-worthy, pressings that included various RCA, Decca and London LPs.

The London you see above did not impress us. We much preferred the Decca Budget Reissue cut from the same tapes.

There are a number of other Deccas and Londons that we’ve played over the years that were disappointing, and they can be found here.


Music Background

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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