Top Artists – Dire Straits

The Audiophile Roundtable Returns with Port’s Picks

Steve Westman invited me to appear again on his youtube channel chat with the Audiophile Roundtable.

At about the 39 minute mark, we discuss my picks for what I would rate as the Five Best Sounding Records I know of.

I wanted to go with more variety, so I picked two rock records, two jazz records and one classical album.

A rough transcription with corrections and additions follows:

Before I did my top five, I wanted to say something along the lines of, if you want to know where somebody’s coming from in audio, you don’t ask them what their stereo is, you don’t ask them what their room is like, and how their electricity is done, and what their history with audio is, because they’re not going to tell you, and they just don’t want to go down that road.

But you can ask them about music, and that will tell you a lot about where they’re coming from, so here are my questions for people if I wanted to know more about their understanding of records (and, by implication, audio):

    • One: what are the five best sounding records you’ve ever heard?
    • Two: what are your five favorite records of all time?
    • Three: what five famous recordings never sounded good to you?
    • Four: name five recordings that are much better than most of your friends or audiophiles in general think?

In my world, you would have to tell me what pressing you’re listening to. If you said “I love the new Rhino Cars album,” I think we would be done, but if you told me that you love the original, then I would say yes, I love that record too. I bought it in 1978 and I’ve played it about 5000 times. Never gotten tired of it.

At about the 48 minute mark I reveal the best stampers for Ry Cooder’s Jazz album.

At about the 50 minute mark someone asks about my system. This would be my answer:

All that information is on the blog., I actually do a thing about my stereo where I take it all the way from 1976 to the present, which I’m sure bores people to death, but you know, there was a lot to talk about there.

There were a lot of changes that I went through and I even talk about how my old stereo from the 90s, which I had put together after having been an audiophile for 25 years, was dark and unrevealing compared to the one I have now, so all my opinions from 25 years ago are suspect, and rightly so.

I feel the same thing is going on in the world of audiophiles when you have systems that aren’t very revealing and aren’t tonally accurate, yet are very musical and enjoyable the way Geoff would like, but they’re not good for really knowing what your records sound like because your system is doing all sorts of things to the record that you’re playing in order to keep the bad stuff from bothering you.

That’s the opposite of what we have.

All the bad stuff just jumps out of the speakers, and that’s why these heavy vinyl records don’t appeal to us anymore, because we hear all the bad stuff and we don’t like it.

At 1:03 I’m asked if I like any modern mastering engineers, and the only one I can think of is Chris Bellman, because he masterered one of the few Heavy Vinyl pressing I know of that sounds any good, Brothers in Arms, released in 2021. I played it when Edgers brought it by the studio when he first visited me in preparation for his article.

My best copy was clearly better in some important ways, but Bellman’s mostly sounds right, and that surprised me because most of these modern records sound funny and weird and rarely do they sound right.

(Geoff brought over three records that day: Brothers in Arms, the remastered Zep II, and a ridiculously bad sounding Craft pressing of Lush Life, which was mastered by Kevin Gray, and one which I have not had time to review yet. It was my introduction to the Craft series, and let’s just say we got off on the wrong foot. I told Geoff it sounded like a bad CD, and that’s pretty much all I remember of it. The average price for that pressing on Discogs is roughly $69 these days. The CD is cheaper and there is very little doubt in my mind that it would be better sounding to boot.)

At 1:04 I mention the biggest snake oil salesman in the history of vinyl, the man behind The Electric Recording Company.

Patrick mentions an ERC Love record which he likes, but we played one that sounded about as bad as a bad record could sound. That Love record will never get any love from us. He says he’ll never buy another ERC pressing, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing someone who really likes a record would say, does it? I suppose you can ask him in the comments section why that would be.

At some point I talk about the studio we play records in, not exactly spouse-friendly but good for hearing what’s really in the grooves of the records we play:

The reason the sound room is the way it is is because you’re not there to be reading magazines and looking at your phone. You’re just in there to sit in a single chair in front of two speakers, not talking. Nobody else is in there. They have no business being in there. It’s just you and the music and that’s the way I like it.

This next section has been fleshed out quite a bit. I took the question posed and ran with it:

In Geoff Edgers’ Washington Post article about audiophiles, somebody asks “why would you want to go into a room and just play a record by yourself?”

I would answer the question with a question of my own: why would you go to a museum and just look at a painting by yourself?

You don’t need anybody around you to help you understand a painting.

You just look at the painting and that’s the experience of looking at a painting.

When I listen to a record, I want the experience of listening to the record. I don’t need anybody else around. I don’t need anybody talking to me. I just want to hear that record, and as Nathan said, I want it to take me from the beginning to the end. And at the end I should feel like I still want more.

For me, that’s what a good record and a good stereo is all about. That’s the reason some of us describe ourselves as audiophiles.

The shortest definition of an audiophile is a “lover of sound.” I love good sound and I’ve spent more than forty years building a stereo system that has what I think is very good sound. (What others think of it has never been of much concern, nor should it be.)

It’s in a dark room with no windows because music sounds better in a dark room with no windows and the door closed.

There is one chair and it is located in the only sweet spot in the room. (Yes, there can only be one sweet spot.)

I go in there to put myself in the living presence of the musicians who performed on whatever record I choose to play.

Music is loud and so I play the stereo at levels as close to live music as I can manage.

The system creates a soundfield that stretches from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. With the speakers pulled so far out into the room, they have often been known to disappear, leaving only three-dimensional imaging of great depth and precision (especially in the case of orchestral music).

By listening this way, I am able to completely immerse myself in the music I play, with no distractions of any kind.

This way of listening is more intense and powerful and transportive than any other I have known (outside of the live event of course).

That’s what I am trying to achieve with my system and the best records I can find to play on it: an experience that is so intense and powerful that I find myself completely transported out of the real world I exist in, and into the imaginary world created by the producers, engineers and musicians responsible for making the record.

If you want this kind of experience, you need more than good music. You need a good recording of that music, and, if you’re an analog sort of person with high standards, you need an exceptionally good pressing of that recording.

At the highest levels of sound quality, for us audiophiles it can’t just be about the music. You really do need all three.

Depending on your tastes and standards, good music can easily be found most everywhere. Good music with good sound, at least on vinyl, is much more rare, and good sounding music reproduced well is, in my experience, very rare indeed.

Some people are upset and put off by what they consider to be our “extreme” approach to records and audio. It bothers them that we constantly say that doing records and audio well is harder than it looks. To them it seems so easy.

Naturally, we believe there is ample evidence to support our views on the subject.

And, to paraphrase Jesus, the upset will always be with us.

I finish up with a talk about the one and only Heavy Vinyl record that has won a shootout, an Original Jazz Classic of all things, and what it would take to find another OJC title that might win the next one. The odds are not good, and the cost to find such a record would be sizable, perhaps prohibitive, but who knows? We might just get lucky again.


Dires Straits / Brothers In Arms – Our Take on the MoFi 45

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

We have never bothered to play their remaster, along with some other Heavy Vinyl reissues we think have very little chance of actually sounding good to us.

I found out recently that the MoFi is now on the TAS Super Disc list. You can find it along with the domestic — yes, you read that right — domestic pressing of the first album.

Now just how hard of hearing do you have to be to think that the domestic pressing of Dire Straits’ first album is a Super Disc? A nice record, sure, but nice records aren’t really Super Discs, are they?

Not when there are UK pressings that trounce it. We should know, we’ve played them by the dozens. How the writers for The Absolute Sound can be this far off the mark is a question we cannot begin to answer.

The most obvious answer — and therefore the most likely one — is reviewer malpractice? What else could it be?

What We Think We Know

We have written quite a number of reviews and commentaries for the first album and we encourage you to read some of them.

Speaking of Super Discs, the good British pressings are so good we put them on our Top Ten Most Tubey Magical Rock and Pop Recordings List. No domestic pressing we have ever played would qualify as anything other than a minimally-acceptable Hot Stamper.

We would never bother to put such a pressing in a shootout, when even the average run-of-the-mill UK copy is better.

We Get Letters

A few years ago we received this email from a customer.

“How would you compare the Brothers in Arms SHS to the Mobile Fidelity 45 rpm copy?”

Dear Sir,

We have never bothered to play their remaster, and why would we? Every MoFi pressing made by the current regime has had major sound problems when compared head to head with the “real” records we sell, and it’s simply not worth our time to find out exactly what is wrong with the sound of any of these new reissues, theirs included.

[I will be reviewing their unbelievably awful Dire Straits first album on 45 one of these days. Rarely have I heard such a good recording, a brilliant recording, turned into such a piece of crap. Robert Brook didn’t like it either.]

However, we have been known to make an exception to that rule from time to time. Recently we did so in the case of the Tea for the Tillerman George Marino cut at 45 RPM for Analogue Productions.

As long as Analogue Productions is around, at least no one can say that Mobile Fidelity makes the worst sounding audiophile records in the history of the world. They are certainly some of the worst, but, to be fair, they are not so bad that they have never made a single good sounding record, which is the title that Chad Kassem holds. (To the best of our knowledge. Obviously we have only played a small fraction of the records released by him. In our defense let me say that that small fraction was all we could take.)

Why not give the new Brothers in Arms a listen to see how it stacks up to your Hot Stampers?

Because Half-Speed Mastering is a bad approach to mastering, one that almost never produces good sounding records.

Even when it’s done right, it results in sloppy bass. This is very obvious to us but it seems most audiophiles and reviewers don’t notice this shortcoming.

(I try not to reflect too much on systems that hide from their owners the problems in the low end that MoFi records are prone to, practically without exception. I once borrowed a $5000 Dynavector cartridge to audition. Although it had a wonderfully extended and sweet top end, clearly better than my 17D3, the bass was so sloppy I could not wait to unmount it and get it back to its owner. I never said a word about it and he never complained about the bass.)

You don’t have to make the mistake of mastering your records at half-speed to end up with sloppy bass. You just have to be bad at mastering records, like this label, Music Matters.

We find listening to the sound of these veiled, compressed, strangely-eq’d remastered records painful, so we avoid playing them unless one comes our way for free, which does happen from time to time.

We played their Sinatra at the Sands record a few years back after someone gave us a free copy.

And it was pretty good. It might earn a sonic grade of “B.” That’s about the most you can hope for. We’ve reviewed a lot of their albums over the years, and you can read about them here.

Keep in mind that we are not saying their version is bad.

We do not judge records we have never played.

However, we would be very surprised if it were better than mediocre.

So that’s why we cannot answer your question!

Best, TP


The version Chris Bellman cut for Rhino at 45 RPM in 2021 is actually quite good. I will be writing a review for it one of these days.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.


Dire Straits – Brothers in Arms

More Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Brothers in Arms

  • A vintage pressing that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Tonally correct from start to finish, with a solid bottom and fairly natural vocals (for this particular recording of course), HERE is the sound they were going for in the studio
  • After doing a comparison between our top copy and the Chris Bellman 45 RPM remaster, at very loud levels mind you, I now have much more respect for this recording than ever before – it’s truly a Demo Disc on the right Robert-Ludwig-mastered copy
  • Drop the needle on “So Far Away” – it’s airy, open, and spacious, yet still rich and full-bodied
  • 4 stars: “One of their most focused and accomplished albums … Dire Straits had never been so concise or pop-oriented, and it wore well on them.”
  • We admit that the sound may be too processed and lacking in Tubey Magic for some
  • When it comes to Tubey Magic, there simply is none — that’s not the sound Neil Dorfsman, the engineer who won the Grammy for this very album, was going for
  • We find that the best properly-mastered, properly-pressed copies, when playing at good loud levels on our system, gave us sound that was wall to wall, floor to ceiling, glorious, powerful and exciting, just not Tubey Magical

Fully extended from top to bottom with a wide-open soundstage, this is the sound you need for this music. There’s plenty of richness and fullness here as well — traits that are really crucial to getting the most out of a mid-’80s recording like this.

The bottom end on “So Far Away” really delivers the goods — it’s punchy and meaty with healthy amounts of tight, deep bass.


Dire Straits – Energy Is the Key to the Best Pressings

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

Hot Stamper Pressings of the First Album Available Now

What separates the best copies from the merely good ones? In a word, ENERGY. The best copies make this band sound like they are on fire, ready to go head to head with the world, fiercely proud of the new sound they’ve created.

The not-so-good copies make Dire Straits sound the way Dire Straits usually does — laid back and well under control, perhaps even a bit bored with the whole affair. The best copies show you a band that wants to rock with the best of them, and can.

Back in 2007 or thereabouts we wrote about this subject after playing a particularly lively copy of Revolver:

At the risk of being definitive about things that are better left ill-defined, I would say that the Number One quality we look for in a pressing is the element of Life or Energy. We can put up with many shortcomings, including even some tonality problems, but when a record fails to convey the spirit and enthusiasm of the musicians, it’s pretty much over.

Water Of Love and Sultans of Swing on a Hot Stamper copy have the kind of Demo Disc sound that will have your audiophile friends drooling and turning green with envy. We can’t all afford $100,000 turntables, but when you have a record that sounds this good, you don’t need one! This record makes it sound like you have 100k in your rig, whether you do or not.


Letter of the Week – “I quickly sold all those [audiophile] copies and began building a real world class collection of Hot Stamper level records.

More of the Music of Hall and Oates

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

Hey Tom, 

I want to thank you once again.

Quite a few years ago now I contacted you and talked about this concept called “Hot Stampers.” It ended up both saving me a lot of misdirection and foolishly trying to rebuild my vinyl collection with new vinyl re-releases often called “audiophile” and “half-speed” issues.

After a few confirmations of what you said, I quickly sold all those copies and began building a real world class collection of vinyl “original” Hot Stamper level records. A good number came from your business and I also made a hobby of trying to do what you do in finding “Hot Stampers.”

Fortunately Philadelphia has a reasonable number of used record stores but unfortunately, as you well know, this is a rigorous and costly endeavor, but it can be rewarding at times and at other times requires that I rely on you.

So today I’m snowed in here and I fired up the rig and decided to do some small scale shootouts and find the true great copies from my already culled collection. Put on several Hall and Oates and focused on “She’s Gone”. One was just clearly dynamic, clear and present. Then I put on several Dire Straits “Love Over Gold” and ended up with 3 killer copies (such a good LP).

I then put on about 5 copies of Phil Collins “Face Value” with “If Leaving Me is Hard”. What a great love song, and narrowed it to 2.

Yes my rig is really awesome for close up intimate listening at any level. It is something I have worked on for decades to become resolving, dynamic, harmonic, dimensional transparent, and involving. I can listen loud and close without distortion. When I suddenly find that “Hot Stamper” Phil Collins is in the room where I hear his voice articulate and rich with background singers just as good and the band perfectly balanced to his vocal.

And it is then I think of your contribution to all of this and want to tell you. So that is what I am doing. I know what three stars means. I can’t afford many of them as I would assume some wealthy customers can but I really appreciate them and their unfortunate rarity and I appreciate all the work you have done to make this possible.



We love it when our customers take the time and make the effort to do their own shootouts.

And swearing off the Modern Heavy Vinyl pressing is surely one of the clearest signs of progress any audiophile can see for himself.

Further Reading

Dire Straits / Alchemy: Dire Straits Live

More Dire Straits

 More Live Albums

  • An excellent import pressing of Dire Straits’ live double album from 1984 with Double Plus (A++) grades or close to them on all FOUR sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The overall sound here is big, rich and musical with great space and energy (particularly on sides one, three, and four) – just right for a live album
  • Stick with the imports on this title, even though the domestic pressings were originally mastered by Robert Ludwig – he didn’t have the real tapes, and that makes all the difference in the world
  • “The arena-size crowd cheers wildly, and claps and sings along when given half a chance, as though each song were an up-tempo rocker… That Dire Straits’ introspective music loses much of its detail in a live setting matters less than that it gains presence and a sense of anticipation.”


Dire Straits – Communique

More Dire Straits

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • This vintage UK pressing of the band’s sophomore album boasts outstanding sound from start to finish – remarkably quiet vinyl too
  • Forget the dubby domestic pressings and whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – the UK LPs are the only way to fly on Communique
  • If you’re a fan of the band’s debut release, you’ll find much to like on this underappreciated follow up
  • “…an album full of the delicate subtleties that make Mark Knopfler shimmer — that deep tobacco-soaked voice, the quick, fluid guitar, and the wit behind many of his lyrics… a rich, abundant source of beauty.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, a killer copy of their album from 1979 surely belongs in your collection


Dire Straits – Self-Titled

More Dire Straits

More Debut Albums of Interest

  • This stunning copy of the band’s debut album boasts a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • One of the best sounding rock records ever made, with rich, sweet, smooth mids; prodigious amounts of bass; superb transparency and clarity; and a freedom from hi-fi-ishness and a lack of distortion like very few rock records we have ever heard
  • Rhett Davies knocked this one out of the park – it’s a Top 100 title, a member of the Tubey Magical Top Ten (see below), and our favorite by the band for both sound and music
  • If you made the mistake of buying the unbelievably bad sounding MoFi 45 RPM Half-Speed, this vintage UK pressing will be a REVELATION
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Knopfler also shows an inclination toward Dylanesque imagery, which enhances the smoky, low-key atmosphere of the album… the album is remarkably accomplished for a debut, and Dire Straits had difficulty surpassing it throughout their career.”
  • It’s our pick for the band’s best sounding album. Roughly 150 other listings for the Best Recording by an Artist or Group can be found here.

Rhett Davies is one of our favorite recording engineers, the man behind Taking Tiger Mountain, 801 Live and Avalon to name just a few of his most famous recordings, all favorites of ours of course.

The man may be famous for some fairly artificial sounding recordings — Eno’s, Roxy Music’s and The Talking Heads’ albums come to mind — but it’s obvious to us now, if it wasn’t before, that those are entirely artistic choices, not engineering shortcomings.

Rhett Davies, by virtue of the existence of this album alone, has proven that he belongs in the company of the greatest engineers of all time, right up there with the likes of Bill Porter, Ken Scott, Stephen Barncard, Geoff Emerick, Glyn Johns and others we could mention.


Dire Straits / Making Movies – Forget the Dubby Domestic Pressings

More Dire Straits

Records We Only Sell on Import Vinyl

  • Boasting seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides, this early UK pressing will be very hard to beat
  • Guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard, this Brit is big, punchy, and full-bodied with excellent presence (particularly on side one) – Mark Knopfler’s leads really soar
  • “Romeo and Juliet” comes to life the way you want it to here, and the song “Solid Rock” lives up to its title
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Making Movies is helped by a new wave-tinged pop production, which actually helps Knopfler’s jazzy inclinations take hold … ranks among the band’s finest work.”

The music really comes together, especially if you’ve been playing a sub-generation domestic pressing, which is the only kind Warners made as far as we know. (The first album is the same way of course.) Here you will find richer mids, sweeter highs, more energy and some real punch down low. (more…)

Dire Straits – The Best Pressings Have Surprisingly Natural Sound

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Love Over Gold

This modern album (1982) can sound surprisingly good on the right pressing. On most copies the highs are grainy and harsh, not exactly the kind of sound that inspires you to turn your system up good and loud and get really involved in the music. I’m happy to report that both sides here have no such problem – they rock and they sound great loud.

We pick up every clean copy we see of this album, domestic or import, because we know from experience just how good the best pressings can sound.

What do the best copies have?

REAL dynamics for one.

And with those dynamics you need rock solid bass. Otherwise the loud portions simply become irritating.

A lack of grain is always nice — many of the pressings we played were gritty or grainy.

Other copies that were quite good in most ways lacked immediacy and we took serious points off for that.

The best copies of Love Over Gold are far more natural than the average pressing you might come across, and that’s a recognizable quality we can listen for and weight in our grading.

It’s essential to the sound of the better pressings, which means in our shootouts it’s worth a lot of points. Otherwise you might as well be playing the CD.

Domestics or Imports?

Both can be good. The good copies tend to be good in the same way, and the bad copies, domestic or import, are likewise bad in the same way. It just goes to show, once again, that the only way to know how a record will sound is to play it.

If I had only one or two copies to judge by, I might have preferred an import over a domestic or vice versa. In the old days (before the advent of Hot Stamper shootouts), I would probably have drawn some surely erroneous conclusion concerning the relative merits of one or the other. Small sample sizes are the primary cause of these mistaken judgments. Unless you have a big batch of copies to play, you really can’t be sure about the sound of a recording.

And If I’m not mistaken, aren’t all the original copies, imports and domestics, mastered here in the states at Masterdisk, some by RL, some by BK (Bill Kipper) and some by HW (Howie Weinberg)? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen all three sets of initials in the dead wax of the copies we played over the years.

Further Reading

If you would like to run some tests on the copy of Love Over Gold that you own, listen for the qualities we describe above.

Here are some other titles that are good for testing these same qualities, many with advice on specifically What to Listen For.