Reviewer Malpractice

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…)

Extreme Record Collecting Part II: There’s Only One Way to Find Better Records

A few months back Richard Metzger posted on the Dangerous Minds website a story recounting his lifelong search for better sounding pressings of his favorite albums.

The third paragraph evinced a deep understanding of this hobby of ours, as you can see:

Please allow me to state the obvious right here at the outset: Most people WILL NOT GIVE A SHIT about what follows. One out of a hundred maybe, no, make that one out of a thousand. Almost none of you who have read this far will care about this stuff. If you are that one in a thousand person, read on, this was written especially for you. Everyone else, I won’t blame you a bit if you want to bail.

The story of my life! Part One of Richard’s life story can be found here.

Gadzooks – Now there’s a Part Two!

After reading Richard’s post, I contacted him and offered to send him a Hot Stamper pressing of a record of his choosing, about which he was of course free to say anything he liked. (This is still America, right?)

That record turned out to be Aja and it seems he was pretty pleased with the copy we sent him.

Here is a link to his article.

I hope to have some comments to add when time permits.


Speaking of Aja, we’ve been playing that one since the day it came out in 1977. We’ve written extensively about the album since we started doing shootouts for it around 2006. Here is the link to some of our Reviews and Commentaries.

If you are interested in a Hot Stamper Steely Dan album, we have some of those too, but probably not Aja, because copies of Aja are getting very hard to find nowadays and the ones we do find with killer sound sell quickly.

The picture below was taken many years ago. That particular shootout involved 16 copies, but finding 16 copies of the album to do a shootout nowadays would take us at least two years, and maybe three. They are not sitting in the bins like they used to be.

However, since we have easily played more than a hundred pressings over the years, closer to two hundred by now I would guess, we know when Aja sounds right and when it doesn’t.  That’s why it was so easy to know how bad this version was when we first played it back in 2007.

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

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This review was originally written in 2015

We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energyless and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer, the foremost champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide, to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either. Damn!.
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Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Michael Fremer Says You Should Own the Classic 45

Michael Fremer spends two hours and ten minutes on his site going through a list of 100 All Analog In Print Reissued Records You Should Own

On this list is the 45 Bernie Grundman cutting of Time Out. Fremer apparently likes it a whole lot more than we do. We think it is just plain awful. The MoFi Kind of Blue is on this same list, another pressing that is astonishingly bad, or at least very, very wrong. If you’re the kind of person who might want to give Michael Fremer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to All Analog records he thinks sound good, ones he thinks you should own, try either one of them. If you think they sound just fine, you sure don’t need me to tell you that I find them completely and utterly unlistenable.

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What Recordings Are Audiophile Writers Writing About Now I Wonder?

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In the early seventies, when I was first becoming seriously interested in audiophile-quality equipment, this was a well-known Demo Disc at some high-end audio salons.

Five years later I would have speakers larger and more expensive in real dollars than the speakers I now own. At a tender age I acquired Stereophile’s cost no object, state-of-the-art speaker system from the mid-’70s, the Fulton J. I was the youngest person ever to own a pair of the behemoths, a record that has never and will never be broken I suspect.

The other monster speaker from that time was the Infinity Servo-Static 1A, which I auditioned before buying the Fultons. During the audition the electrostatic drivers kept blowing if the level got up too high, so that was the end of that. Who wants a speaker that can’t play at realistic sound levels?

Of course, many of you may never have heard of Carmen McRae’s The Great American Songbook album, because the heyday for this record was probably 30-40 years ago, back when the audiophile magazines were actually writing about exceptionally natural, realistic recordings such as this one.

I don’t know what they write about now; I stopped reading them years ago. But I doubt very much that they are still writing about recordings of this quality.

What’s striking about this album is how immediate and unprocessed everything sounds. It really gives you the feeling of being at a live show in a club. It helps that the performance was captured directly onto analog tape with minimal miking. Michael Cuscuna was the remix supervisor, by the way.

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Extreme Record Collecting: Confessions of an Analog Vinyl Snob

Writing for Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger recounts his journey though the world of audiophile equipment and his lifelong search for better sounding pressings of his favorite albums.

The first paragraph had me hooked:

Sorry, but this is not going to be one of those analog vs. digital rants that goofball audiophile types like to indulge in at the drop of a hat. In fact I probably should have just called it something like “Why you should never buy new vinyl versions of classic albums.”

Seems pretty clear he knows what he is talking about. Later on he adds this bit:

Nothing trumps empirically comparing a stack of different pressings of the same album in a shootout. This is why you should take what Tom Port of Better Records has to say very seriously. Whether or not you’re willing to pay his Hot Stamper prices, Port probably knows more about records than anyone on Earth and his On The Record blog is one of the very best repositories of hard won empirical evidence relating to audiophile vinyl that’s out there. It might take weeks to read everything, but it’s quite an education.

I couldn’t agree more. The whole story can be found here. I suspect that if you have spent any length of time on this blog, you will get a lot out of it.

I hope to add a few comments of my own down the road, especially in the form of rebuttals to uncharacteristically bad advice such as this:

Michael Fremer’s Analog Planet website is a great resource for finding out about new and upcoming quality vinyl releases. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world when it comes to vinyl and he’s also produced a handy YouTube guide to AAA mastered new vinyl releases that you should definitely watch.

I guess it makes sense to play nice with the heavy hitters in the audiophile world. Seriously though, Fremer is the last person that anyone should take advice from. He may be one step ahead of the audiophiles who follow him, but that doesn’t mean he can tell a good record from a bad one. I have been reading him off and on (mostly off) for twenty five years and I see no evidence that he has learned much about records in all those years, or improved his critical listening skills in the slightest.

That fact that this list of crap vinyl is still to be found on his site, with neither corrections nor apologies, should tell you that he hasn’t got a clue and is not likely to come into possession of one any time soon

I have a section devoted to Reviewer Malpractice which contains a goodly portion of quotes from this so-called expert. Any attempt to correct the positive things Fremer has written for the kind of third-rate records he tends to review would quickly turn into a full time job. I might even have to hire an assistant.

If Fremer recommends a Heavy Vinyl reissue that we have a corresponding Hot Stamper pressing of, there is not a chance in the world that our record won’t beat the pants off his for sound quality. He has opinions, most of which are way off the mark. We have better sounding records, so good they are guaranteed to beat any other copy you have ever heard or you get your money back.

We have to be right, or we wouldn’t still be in business, owing in large part to the fact that we sell records for ten times as much money as the ones he recommends. He has never had to pay a price for getting the sound of record after record wrong.

The only people that suffer for his mistakes are the credulous audiophiles who bought the mediocre-at-best Heavy Vinyl pressings he’s been promoting for years and are now stuck with. They have a collection of junk vinyl he recommended to them and few of them will ever know something better exists because they think they already have the best.

As Richard goes out of his way again and again to make clear in his piece, empirically comparing pressings is the only way to learn anything of real value when it comes to the sound of record pressings. If you own any Heavy Vinyl LP, it would be my honor to send you the vintage pressing that will help you to hear everything that’s wrong with the sound of it.

It’s what we do. That’s why the business is called Better Records. And we’re still here because we actually do sell the best sounding records in the world. You don’t need to believe a single word of what we say about records, ours or anybody else’s. You just need to put one of our Hot Stampers on your turntable and play it.

Hundreds of audiophiles have done just that and they seem to be pretty darn pleased with the records we’ve sent them.

Want to know more about Hot Stampers? Check out our new introductory page.

Stevie Wonder / Songs in the Key of Life on Heavy Vinyl – Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

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[This commentary was written more than ten years ago. I just went to this reviewer’s website to make sure the quote below was accurate, and everything you need to see is still up and as misguided as ever.]

I will ask the question again: Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

How on Earth could anyone possibly know such a thing?

Some background. Years ago our first ever Hot Stamper shootout for Songs in the Key of Life had us enthusiastically singing its praises:

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED for one of the funkiest and most consistent double albums of all time! It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding Stevie Wonder vinyl, but here’s a copy that proves it’s possible if you try hard enough. So many copies are terrible in so many different ways — we should know, we played them. And just to be clear, this copy is far from perfect as well, but it did more things right in more places than we ever expected it would or could. And that means it showed us a great sounding Stevie Wonder record we never knew existed.

But a noted reviewer says it’s a bad recording. Does he know something we don’t?

Not exactly. The fact is he doesn’t know something we do, something he, like anybody else, could have found out had he simply done his homework. (We call them shootouts, but homework is certainly a serviceable and in some ways even more accurate description: it’s work and you do it at home.)

All it takes is one good copy to falsify the assertion this fellow makes. We in fact found more than one. But I’m quite sure we do things very differently at Better Records than they do at any reviewer’s digs. (more…)

Gresham’s Law and The State of Reviewing As Seen by Us in 2015

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Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings.

What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones. Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of them.

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


This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*.

White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in -the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this. Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than we normally assume.  (more…)

Humble Pie – What Other Live Rock Record Sounds This Good?

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

And One We Also Just Added to Our Rock & Pop Top 100 List

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One of the best — if not THE best — rock concert albums we have ever heard. Can you imagine if Frampton Comes Alive sounded like this? If you want to hear some smokin’ Peter Frampton guitar work from the days when he was with the band, this album captures that sound better than any of their studio releases, and far better than FCA on even the best copies.

Grungy guitars that jump out of the speakers, prodigious amounts of punchy deep bass, dynamic vocals and drum work — the best pressings of Rockin’ The Fillmore have more firepower than any live recording we’ve ever heard.

Who knew? 

We didn’t, of course, until not that many years ago (2014 maybe?). But we are in the business of finding these things out. We get paid by our customers to find them the best sounding pressings in the world. It’s our job and we take it very seriously.

Did any audiophile reviewers ever play the album and report on its amazing sound? Not that we are aware of.  Do they have the kind of playback systems — the big rooms, the big speakers, the freedom from compression and artificiality — that are required to get the most from a recording such as this one?

Doubtful. Unlikely in the extreme even. They don’t know how good a record like this can sound because they aren’t able to play it the way it needs to be played.

And when was the last time you read a review of a record that hadn’t just been reissued on Heavy Vinyl? There was a time when audiophile reviewers wrote about exceptionally good sounding vintage pressings they had come across. Harry Pearson comes immediately to mind, but there were many others following his lead. Now they it seems none of them can be bothered. More’s the pity.

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Heavy Vinyl – Is This the Best Sounding Sgt. Pepper?

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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? Of course he is! We’re talkin’ The Beatles for Chrissakes.

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 now than I was in 1982.

Just to take one example: They all seem to be operating under the same unproven conceit: that the original is the benchmark against which all other pressings should be compared.

To those of us who have played Beatles pressings by the hundreds, this is patent nonsense. To cite just one instance, a recent Hot Stamper listing notes:

We defy any original to step into the ring with it. One thing we can tell you, it would not be a fair fight. The cutting equipment to make a record of this quality did not exist in 1967, not at EMI anyway.

We had the opportunity not long ago to audition a very clean original early pressing of the album and were frankly taken aback by how AWFUL it was in virtually every respect. No top end above 8k or so, flabby bass, murky mids — this was as far from Hot Stamper sound as one could imagine. If it were a Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile pressing we would surely have graded it F and put it in our Hall of Shame.

To be fair we have played exactly one early copy of the record on our current system. (Played a copy or two long ago but on much different equipment, so any judgments we might have made must be considered highly suspect.) Perhaps there are good ones. We have no way of knowing whether there are, and we are certainly not motivated to find out given the price that original Sgt. Pepper’s are fetching these days.

We can tell you this much: no original British pressing of any Beatles album up through Pepper has ever impressed us sonically. We’ve played plenty and have yet to hear one that’s not congested, crude, distorted, bandwidth-limited and full of tube smear. (The monos suffer from all of these problems and more of course, which is only natural; they too are made with the Old School cutting equipment of the day.)

If that’s your sound more power to you. It’s definitely not ours. The hotter the stamper, the less congested, crude, distorted, bandwidth-limited and smeary it will be. (Or your money back.)

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