Reviewer Malpractice

Paris 1917-1938 / Dorati / LSO – Side One Versus Side Two

More music conducted by Antal Dorati

What to Listen For – Side to Side Differences

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Super Hot Stamper sound for Eric Satie’s wonderfully eccentric Parade (and the Auric piece as well) can be found on this rare original promo copy of Mercury 90435, a record that was previously on the TAS List if I’m not mistaken.

It certainly deserves to be. The sound is BIG and OPEN, and like so many Mercury recordings with the London Symphony, it’s rich and full-bodied, not thin and nasally as is so often the case with their domestically recorded releases. Above all the sound is transparent, lively and dynamic.

In many ways this album would certainly serve quite well as an audiophile Demo Disc: the timbre of the wide array of instruments used is (mostly) Right On The Money.

Check out the lengthy and humorous producer’s notes for the sessions below. And people think The Beatles discovered experimental sounds in the studio.

With one small exception: the brass doesn’t have all the weight of the real thing, and for that we have deducted one plus from our top grade of three.

Side one has Classic Bad Mercury Sound — so screechy, hard and thin. How many audiophiles own records like this and don’t know that the sound of one side is awful and the other brilliant?

Since so few have ever commented publicly about such matters — and even supposedly knowledgeable audiophile reviewers never bother to even bring up the subject of one side versus the other — one must conclude that this is a subject that has yet to pierce the consciousness of most of our audiophile brethren, especially the ones who haven’t yet discovered this site.

Now’s a good time to start. Dig in, you may be surprised by what you find.

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Stevie Ray Vaughan Box Set – One Customer’s Take on the Analogue Productions 45 RPM Remaster

A good customer bought some SRV Hot Stampers from me a while back. He then told me he was going to spend $400 on the AP SRV Box Set

Hey Tom,

For kicks on this issue of heavy vinyl vs. hot stampers, I’m tempted to order the ‘Texas Hurricane’ box set — 45rpm, 200g etc. — and shoot it out against the SRV records I’ve got from you.

Would you be interested to know how that goes?

In the admittedly unlikely event that the heavy vinyl smoked the hot stampers, would you take them back? Easy to sell the heavy vinyl on without losing money, but not so much the hot stampers.

Just an idea… I’m delighted with what I have from you, but so curious to learn more by comparing etc. Could be fuel for a cool blog post in due course…

CF

I replied:

Oh, I think you are in for quite a shock, and of course we would take our copies back, but I would give you very good odds that that will
never happen as long as you have two working ears.

A few weeks go by.

Tom,

So the results are in … after listening to Texas Hurricane (at 45rpm) and comparing to the White Hot Stamper versions of the same albums I can say… as a musical experience it’s incomprehensible. It just doesn’t rock, doesn’t uplift, and it’s veiled, so you lose the whole meaning of this music, the energy, soul, life.

I wasted $400 to find this out. Any chance you have another customer who’d like to relieve me of it to do their own shootout?

I’ll never doubt you again : )

CF

Good to know you will never doubt me again! Always think back to the sour taste in your mouth and the painful throbbing in your brain from playing this heavy vinyl garbage and perhaps you will never be tempted again. If you feel the urge to cross over to the dark side, please email me and I will do my best to talk you out of it. That way lies madness (and audio frustration).

TP

Here’s the $32,000 Question

Is this a bad sounding record? I don’t know, never played it. Is it worth it to you to spend $400 to find out? Does Analogue Productions have a pretty good track record to rely on in these matters? Or are they, as I have been saying since 1995, one of the worst labels of all time. In another commentary I wrote: (more…)

A Reviewer Liked London CS 6357 a Whole Lot More Than I Did – A Cautionary Tale

While digging around the web I ran into a site called From Miles to Mozart, which purports to be “An exploration of the incredible world of classical and jazz recordings”

Fair enough. Here is what the reviewer had to say about a London we did not think sounded very good, CS 6357. At the time, he was most of the way through a fairly complete survey of London Bluebacks, and when those were done he went on to review a Whiteback pressing of this London, which appears to be the only pressing he had on hand. (We of course had only the one as well.)

I’d run out of blue so next up was CS 6357 with its retro FFSS label, a white back FFSS. Clifford Curzon scores a knockout with the Dvorak Quintet with a very refined late Blueback sound; truly transcendental sound of the highest order. Another white back FFSS followed in CS 6379 Mozart Clarinet Quintet with a magical clarinet but some edginess at times with some of the instruments. Overall the Clarinet Quintet had very strong sound to rival most any Blueback. Unfortunately, the Mozart Divertimenti on side 2 was not as assured with quite a few signs of strain in the highs indicative some early transistor changing the precious Blueback sound. CS 6379 was recorded by Smith and Parry October, 1963 at Sofiensaal, Vienna with the LP coming out in May of 1964. CS 6357 was recorded in Sofiensaal, Vienna by Culshaw and Parry in October 1962 with the LP in October 1963. Overall two strong LP’s without a Blueback! (Well, CS 6357 does exist with a Blueback.)

He has some ideas about “precious Blueback sound” and the half-speed mastering setup used to achieve them. I will leave that for others to discuss, mostly because I could not seriously entertain this fellow’s writing once I found out what he had to say about one of Mobile Fidelity’s earliest half-speed mastered releases:

Zubin Mehta Conducts Music from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (MFSL 1-008)

Comments: If you want to hear what audiophile vinyl sounds like, this is a great way to start. Whether you like science fiction movies or not, this record is a must hear … and try to turn up the volume if you can. This Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Decca SXL 6885 (London ZM 1001) is one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings I have ever heard. It may not be the recording used for the movies (John Williams conducted those himself), but it sounds significantly better in terms of recording quality. Talk about lifelike presence, huge dynamic range, bass depth with real visceral impact — this record has DEMONSTRATION written all over it. Even the Cantina Band track gives you the impression of an alien jazz/pop band playing right before you. I was fortunate enough to get my copy for free from a friend, and only recently did I realize that this album sells for some money. Looking for a change from the same old EMI, Decca, RCA, Mercury, DG, or Philips? Try this one.

If this is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc, you are setting the bar awfully low, about even with the height of the carpeting. I consider it a piece of Audiophile trash, one that I never bothered to discuss on the blog. Were I to grade it today I would probably give it a D for sound and an F for music. I remember playing it back in the late-’70 or early-’80s and wondering what on earth was the appeal of such a cheesy, lowest-common-denominator schlockfest. (more…)

Zep II – With Trees This Ugly, What Grade Should You Give the Forest?

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[This commentary was written in around 2014 when this pressing came out.]

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

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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

More Rolling Stones

Reviews and Commentaries for Sticky Fingers

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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…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

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The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys I respect, but the results of their latest collaboration leave much to be desired. The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
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