Reviewer Malpractice

Eric Rodgers’ Slaughter on Tenth Avenue – How is this title not on the TAS List?

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This copy was so good on side two it almost left me speechless. How is this title not on the TAS List?

Why is it not one of the most sought-after recordings in the RCA canon? Beats the hell out of me.

But wait just one minute. Until a month ago [now years ago] I surely had no idea how good this record could sound, so how can I criticize others for not appreciating a record I had never taken the time to appreciate myself?

Which more than anything else prompts the question — why is no one exploring, discovering and then bringing to light the exceptional qualities of these wonderful vintage recordings (besides your humble writer of course)?

HP has passed on. Who today is fit to carry his mantle into the coming world of audio? Looking around I find very few prospects. None in fact. But then again, I’m not looking very hard. I could care less what any of these people have to say about the sound quality of the records they play. They all seem to like records that don’t sound very good to us, so why put any faith in their reviews for other records?

Reviewer malpractice? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years.

But I digress. (more…)

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

More Simon and Garfunkel

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs.

So how does this Sundazed reissue hold up next to an original 1A Columbia pressing that I bought new when it originally was released (it still has the Sam Goody “C” Valley Stream sticker on it, with the $2.49 markdown written in pen)? Well, for one thing, when people say records wear out, I don’t know what they are talking about! Since it was first released more than forty years ago, I’ve played this record a hundred times at least, in Ithaca in my fraternity house, in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Hackensack and now and it still sounds fantastic. It’s quiet, it’s detailed, it’s three-dimensional and it still has extended, clean high frequencies.

No reissue could possibly touch an original 1A pressing of just about any Columbia title and that goes for this reissue, which is very good, but not as open, spacious, wideband, transparent and “tubey” as the original.

He later goes on to give this piece of advice:

If you can find a clean, reasonably priced used original 1A pressing, it’s definitely going to sound better, but if you can’t, this reissue sounds very good and you’ll not know what you’re missing.

The entire review can be found on his site for those who care to read it. If, as MF seems to believe, you won’t know what you’re missing on the Sundazed LP, you need to find yourself another hobby. If it’s anything like most of their cardboardy crap, it’s missing more than it’s finding. (more…)

Romantic Russia on Mobile Fidelity – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take Sound This Bad Seriously?

There actually is such a person who does, 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.

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A Hall of Shame Pressing

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 so-called “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:

His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,

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! (more…)

Sgt. Pepper on Heavy Vinyl – The Reviewers from 1982 Blow It Again

Hot Stampers of Sgt. Peppers in Stock Now

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

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You might agree with some reviewers that EMI’s engineers did a pretty good job with the new Pepper. In the March 2013 issue of Stereophile, Art Dudley weighed in, finding little to fault on this title but being less impressed with most of the others in the new box set. His reference disc? The MoFi UHQR!

Oh, and he also has some old mono pressings and a domestic Let It Be. Now there’s a man who knows his Beatles. Fanatical? Who can blame him? We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Chrissake!

When I read the reviews by writers such as these I often get the sense that I must’ve fallen through some sort of Audio Time Warp and landed back in 1982. How is it that our so-called experts evince so little understanding of how records are made, how variable the pressings can be, and, more importantly, how absolutely crucial it is to understand and implement rigorous protocols when attempting to carry out comparisons among pressings.

Critically comparing LPs is difficult and time-consuming. It requires highly developed listening skills. I didn’t know how to do it in 1982. I see no evidence that the audiophile reviewers of today are much better at it these days than I was in 1982.

What does one well-known reviewer have to say, keeping in mind that he’s using his original British pressing for comparison? I quote at length — without prejudice so to speak — so there can be no misunderstanding. (more…)

The Rolling Stones on Mobile Fidelity – Audiophile Ineptitude Incarnate

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Sonic Grade: F

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

The MoFi pressing of this album is a joke. It’s so compressed, lifeless, and lacking in bottom end punch that it would hardly interfere with even the most polite conversation at a wine tasting. I consider it one of the worst sounding versions of the album ever made.

It’s an Audiophile Record in the worst sense of the word. (more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite / Dorati on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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The standard Classic Records failings are as obvious and as irritating on this remaster as they are on practically all of the others.

  • A lack of ambience.
  • Smeary and hard strings.
  • A lack of Tubey Magic.
  • Overall veiled and recessed presentation.

The Bottom line: This is not a good sounding record.

It should go without saying that the real Mercury pressing is none of these things.

It has long been our judgment that Classic Records made very few good records. Why should this one be any different?

These Mercury releases apparently fooled a lot of audiophiles though.  Allow me to quote a writer with his own website devoted to explaining and judging classical recordings of all kinds. His initials are A.S. for those of you who have been to his site.

Classic Records Reissues (both 33 and 45 RPM) – These are, by far, the best sounding Mercury pressings. Unfortunately, only six records were ever released by Classic. Three of them (Ravel, Prokofiev and Stravinsky) are among the very finest sounding records ever made by anyone. Every audiophile (with a turntable) should have these “big three.”

Obviously we could not disagree more. I’ve played all six of the Classic Mercurys; the Ravel and Prokofiev titles are actually even worse than the Stravinsky we reviewed here on the blog.

(more…)

Vivid and Accurate Timbre for Reeds and Percussion – True Demo Disc Sound

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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…)

Letter of the Week – Kind of Blue

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Listening to Kind Of Blue. Who needs an equipment upgrade with records like these?

So true!

It’s actually one of the common faults of audiophile thinking, present company excluded, that if you can make a record like KOB sound great, you must have a good stereo system.

The opposite is true; the real test is to get difficult to reproduce recordings to sound good, not easy to reproduce recordings.

Either way, KOB is killer, and the MoFi of it is a joke, but don’t tell this guy, who appears to be rather new to this whole “reviewing” thing:

The “In” Groove

To quote the man himself, “I do a review of the best sounding copy’s [sic] of Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue. What are the copy’s [sic] you should own?

He actually does no such thing. He does not in fact review the best sounding copies, because he’s too clueless to even bother with the ’70s Red Label pressings, some versions of which happen to be our favorites.

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

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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 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 and judge them on the merits of their sound, not the color of their labels.
(more…)

How Can Anybody Not Hear What’s Wrong with Old Pressings Like These?

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New Paradigms and Old

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…)