Top Artists – Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell / Court And Spark – The DCC LP Is Not Bad!

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Sonic Grade: B

The DCC — Not Bad! 

Steve’s version is very musical; it’s rich and natural sounding, which of course makes it very enjoyable. You can do a lot better but you sure can do a lot worse.

Opaque, veiled, lifeless, dull sound is the norm for Court and Spark — most copies are dead as a doornail. If they’re not dead, they’re likely to be thin and gritty.

The DCC is a big improvement over the average domestic pressing. (The original Brit imports are fairly competitive with the DCC; the later Brits with the K catalog numbers suck as a rule.)

The Nautilus Half-Speed is pretty but lifeless, like so many of their pressings. I would grade it about a C. Don’t waste your money.

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Joni Mitchell – Song To A Seagull

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • Song To A Seagull FINALLY returns to the site on this early Reprise pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides
  • Our favorite early (pre-Blue) Joni album by far – as good as her others are, this one has a special charm we can find on no other record, by her or anyone else
  • Side one gives you breathy, clear vocals and sound that is rich, full, and Tubey Magical with especially lovely guitar tone
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • “What sets this release apart from those of other confession-style singer/songwriters of the time is the craft, subtlety, and evocative power of Mitchell’s lyrics and harmonic style… “

I loved this album from the minute I first heard it; all of side one is magical in a way that no other Joni album is. Is it the particular guitar tunings she was using? The minor key melodies? Whatever she did, however she did it, the result is an absolutely SUBLIME folk album, as unique in its own way as Leonard Cohen’s debut.

I put this one right up with her best, which are of course the ones we’ve done Hot Stamper shootouts for, of course, and on any given day I would rather play side one of this album than any of the others. (more…)

Joni Mitchell – For The Roses

More Joni Mitchell

More Singer Songwriter Albums

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this White Label Asylum pressing was one of the best we played in our recent shootout – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The sound is especially rich, warm and natural, with exceptional immediacy to Joni’s vocals and Tubey Magic for days
  • One of the best sounding Joni records, on a par with Court and Spark and Blue – fine company indeed
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The lyrics here are among Mitchell’s best, continuing in the vein of gripping honesty and heartfelt depth exhibited on Blue…. More than a bridge between great albums, this excellent disc is a top-notch listen in its own right.”

This copy has real energy and dynamics that just could not be heard on most of the pressings we played. With dynamics AND the warmth and richness found here, this copy will be hard to beat.

Listen to how huge the piano is. No two copies will show you the same piano, which makes it a great test for sound. Both sides have clear, present, breathy vocals, about as good as Joni can sound on vinyl, which is saying a lot. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “It really beats the pants off of my George Marino remaster…”

More of the Music of AC/DC

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper LPs to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

More Audiophile Records Mastered by George Marino

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

Hey Tom,  

I’ve been spending time this week listening to the seven records that arrived from you last week, and have been having a fabulous time doing it. So I thought I’d write to say THANKS – you guys really know how to pick ‘em!

Top honors in the batch definitely goes to the AC/DC Back in Black Hot Stamper. Wow, does it ever ROCK! And it’s not even the best one you had – which makes me wonder just how amazing the best copies sound. It really beats the pants off of my George Marino remaster, to say nothing of my old Canadian pressing.

The sheer energy that leaps off the vinyl is incredible. To me, this record supports again the hypothesis that I first tested when I bought my Joni Mitchell Hot Stamper from you last fall: That I don’t have to wait until I manage to put together a really topnotch stereo system before I can enjoy at least some of what Hot Stampers have to offer.

Obviously, as my system gets better I imagine I’ll enjoy them even more; but even with my current budget-ish system, recently much improved with Aurios and an EAR 834p (both recommended by you – thank you!), the Back in Black Hot Stamper shines. There’s truly nothing finer than listening to a record that sounds that good!

Anyway, all in all, it’s a pleasure purchasing from you, so thanks again. I’ll be back for more once my budget allows.

Martin H.

Martin,

Happy to help! We’re convinced that the better your system sounds, the bigger the difference will be between our Hot Stampers and everything else out there in record land.

Sometimes the difference is so great that even a modest system makes glaringly obvious just how much better a Hot Stamper pressing is than anything being pressed these days on modern Heavy Vinyl, famous mastering engineer or no famous mastering engineer.

Regarding the importance of energy in the pressings we audition, this commentary on Zuma may be of some interest.

Here Are More of Our Favorite Records for Testing Energy 


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

There is an abundance of audiophile collector hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and many of them are awful.

Music Matters made this garbage remaster. Did anyone notice how awful it sounded? I could list a hundred more that range from bad to worse — and I have! Take your pick: there are more than 150 entries in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section, each one worse sounding than the next.

Audiophiles seem to have approached these records naively instead of skeptically.

(But wait a minute. Who am I to talk? I did the same thing when I first got into audio and record collecting in the Seventies.)

How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how bad these records sound.

Maybe not this guy, or the “In Groove” guy, but there has to be at least some group of audiophiles out there, however small their number might be, with decent equipment and two working ears, right? (Excluding our customers of course, they have to know what is going on to spend the kind of money they spend on our records. And then write us all those enthusiastic letters.)

Joni Mitchell’s Debut and the Commitment Issues We All Must Face

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

This commentary about a very special 2-pack was written close to ten years ago. We think it’s every bit as true today as it was then.

The long and the short of it is simply this Axiom of Record Collecting:

There are no easy answers and there are no quick fixes.

Once you realize that, you will then be free to build a truly wonderful sounding record collection and stereo system.

Our commentary begins:

It took two records to make this White Hot Stamper 2-pack, with INCREDIBLE A+++ SOUND FROM START TO FINISH. The result? One of the best sounding, if not THE best sounding copy to ever hit the site. If you’re a Joni fan this is one of her strongest records, and one that definitely belongs in your collection. If you own any other pressing we’re confident that this copy will positively blow your mind.

These two sides have the kind of sound quality you probably never imagined would be possible — but it is! We played it, we heard it for ourselves, and now we offer it to you, the Joni Mitchell (nee Roberta Joan Anderson) fans of the world.

I’ve been trying to get this album to sound good for more years than I care to remember. If you own a copy you know what I’m talking about — the sound is typically drenched in echo, with Joni sounding like she’s standing at the back of a cave. Harmonically-challenged acoustic guitars. Vocals with no breathy texture (much like practically all the heavy vinyl reissues we’ve suffered through over the course of the last decade or two).

In its own way, it’s every bit the challenge that Blue is, just reversed. Blue tends to be bright, shrill, thin and harsh.

Song to a Seagull is usually dark, veiled, smeary and dull.

What’s an audiophile to do?

Simple. Commit the resources. Find more copies of the record, clean them and play them. Upgrade your system with some of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio that have come along in the last ten years. The recording may have its faults — you’ll get no argument from us about that, we just finished playing a big pile of copies so we are intimately aware of just how problematical the recording can be — but what holds it back from sounding musical, and in its own way, magical, is often the reproduction part of the equation.

We couldn’t get the album to sound right for ten years. Now we can. Something changed, and it wasn’t us simply lowering our standards. The magic in the grooves of the best copies has to have been there all along. It was up to us to figure out how to get the muck out of the vinyl with better cleaning technologies, then get the stereo to unlock and reveal the wonderful music in those nearly forty-year-old grooves.

And we did. The result is an album whose best copies are warm, sweet and rich, with breathy full-bodied vocals, clear guitar transients and a solid-sounding piano. These, as well as the other instruments captured in these grooves, are beautifully arrayed on a three-dimensional, wide and deep soundstage.

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Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site.

If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 

Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: Aja, Aqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as the Rhino pressing of Blue?

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD?

If I ever found myself in the position of having to sell mediocrities like the ones you see pictured in order to make a living, I’d be looking for another line of work. The vast majority of these newly-remastered pressings are just not very good.

We Aren’t Walmart and We Definitely Don’t Want to Be Walmart

We leave that distinction to our colleagues at Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc and Music Direct (Walmart, Target and Sears perhaps? [Yes, Sears existed when I wrote this screed! Time flies.]).

They sell anything and everything that some hapless audiophile might wander onto their site and find momentarily attractive, like shiny bits of glass dangling from a tree, glittering as brightly as fool’s gold. They know their market and they know where the real money is. (Hint: it ain’t records, dear reader, it’s equipment. If you haven’t seen one of their thick full-color catalogs lately, count how many pages of equipment you have to wade through at the front before you get to the “recommended recordings.”) [I would amend that to say that it probably is records now. Since 2007 they have become much more popular and profitable. Apparently you can cut the same title 16 different times and audiophiles will just keep buying them.]

The Hall of Shame

We had no business selling Neil Young’s Greatest Hits — the typical dead-as-a-doornail remastering job we’ve come to expect from Classic over the years — and now it can be found only in our Hall of Shame where it should have been located from the start.

Which, by the way, has a new member: In Through the Out Door. We were doing a shootout in time for the mailer this week and decided to crack the Classic open to give it another listen, since my review was about five years old at this point, a lifetime in the world of audio. (My world of audio, anyway, and hopefully yours.)

Well, it turned out to be nothing but an absolute piece of crap. Tonally wrong from top to bottom, compressed, lacking presence, life, energy — an unmitigated disaster, joining the Classic pressings of II, III and Houses, three of the other worst sounding Zeppelin records I have ever had the misfortune to play. It’s a perfect We Was Wrong entry — watch for it soon — and we owe an apology to anyone who bought one from us. So sorry!

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Dopey Record Theories – Putting Bad Ideas to the Test

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Court and Spark

Below we discuss some record theories that seem to be making the rounds these days.

It started with a stunning White Hot Stamper 2-pack that had just gone up on the site..

I implored the eventual purchaser to note that side two of record one has Joni sounding thin, hard and veiled. If you look at the stampers you can see it’s obviously cut by the same guy (no names please!), and we’re pretty sure both sides were stamped out at the same time of day since it’s impossible to do it any other way.

What accounts for the amazing sound of one side and the mediocre sound of its reverse?

If your theory cannot account for these huge differences in sound, your theory is fundamentally flawed. 

Can anything be more ridiculous than the ad hoc, evidence-free theories of some audiophile record collectors desperately searching for a reason to explain why records — even the two sides of the same record — sound so different from one another?

The old adage “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” couldn’t be more apt. If you want to know if a pudding tastes good, a list of its ingredients, the temperature it was cooked at, and the name of the person stirring it on the stove is surely of limited value. To know the taste one need only take a bite.

If you want to know the sound of a record, playing it is the best way to find out, preferably against other pressings, under carefully controlled conditions, on good equipment, while listening critically and taking notes.

The alternative is to… Scratch that. There is no alternative. Nothing else will ever work. In the world of records there are no explanatory theories of any value, just as there are no record gurus with all the answers. There are only methods that will help you find the best pressings and methods that will not.

The good news is that these methods are explained in detail on this very site, free of charge.

We’ve made it clear to anyone who’s interested in doing so how to go about finding better sounding LPs. Once you see the positive results our methods produce, we suspect you will no longer be wasting time theorizing about records.

You will have learned something about them, at least about some of them, and that hard-won knowledge is the only kind with any real value.

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Letter of the Week – ” Big, warm, mushy and limp, yes.”

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries and Reviews

One of our good customers had this to say about some records he played recently:

Hey Tom, 

I just had to drop you a brief note, to say THANK YOU, for your writings regarding DCC pressings many years back.

I was just going back through them on your site, after I unearthed my DCC pressings this afternoon and gave a couple of them (i.e., Elton’s Madman; Joni’s Court and Spark) a spin – as I recall y’all being the first to speak truth in the face of overwhelming adoration regarding these (when they first were released).

OMG. They are COMPLETELY lifeless, with ZERO energy! Big, warm, mushy and limp, yes. Probably sound comforting (at some level) on a low-budget lean solid state system. But on a system with any level of transparency and truth-to-pressing, YIKES. It just made me sad.

THEN, I went online, and checked the current PRICES for these pressings (of which I own several sealed), and I got SUPER HAPPY! People are paying some serious coin for these turkeys – so I can be well rid of them, and take that cash and buy some more of YOUR awesome pressings! Win-win! 👍😊

Warmest regards

Steve

Steve,

Thanks for your letter. A few thoughts:

The sound I think you are hearing that you refer to as lifeless and lacking in energy is really the result of Kevin Gray’s lousy cutting chain. The sound you hear on your DCC albums is the precisely the sound I had heard on this DCC album many years ago. Played back to back with the properly mastered, properly pressed originals, the DCC was shockingly lacking in many of the most important qualities a record can have.

Low resolution cutters like the ones used to cut the DCC discs sound dead and and boring, even when the mastering choices are good ones and no obvious compression is being used. (Kevin Gray famously does not have a way to put compressors into his chain, as my friend Robert Pincus at Cisco found out when he cut 52nd Street and could not get some aspects of it to sound right. It needed compression and there was none to be had.)

I have been beating this long-dead horse for about fifteen years now. Any time I actually do play one of the DCC records these days it usually sounds worse than I remember it.

As one’s stereo improves, and one actually has good records to play, the shortcomings of these audiophile pressings become less and less tolerable, and now, in 2022, with all the Revolutions in Audio that have come our way, they sound so third-rate one would be hard-pressed to sit through one.

We think this is a clear sign of progress.

Lucky for you there are still audiophiles who have not made the progress you’ve made. They are still willing to pay premium prices for these records, and that means you won’t have to take a haircut on them.

Think about this though.

I liked those DCC records just fine when they came out. Said lots of nice things about them. Back in the ’90s, when you first bought some, you liked them just fine too.

The audiophiles buying them today are not idiots and fools. They are exactly where we were in those days. We learned, and they can learn too. There is hope for everybody!

But you had help. You got hold of some Hot Stampers, and that raised the bar for your listening experience beyond any Heavy Vinyl pressing ever made. The obviously superior sound of the Hot Stamper pressings you acquired — or found on your own — made it easy to hear what was wrong with the reissues and their “audiophile sound.”

As long as the fans of Heavy Vinyl stick with Heavy Vinyl, how are they ever going to learn how mediocre their records are?

It is a problem that has no easy solution. We sure haven’t found one.

These people are stuck, and the more we attack their records, the more they defend them in order to avoid feeling bad about themselves, a classic example of the pernicious results of the natural human need to avoid cognitive dissonance.

You are the living proof that some can hear, some can tell the difference, and some can make progress in this crazy hobby of ours. Thanks again for your letter.

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

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Joni Mitchell – Miles of Aisles

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Joni Mitchell

  • This Joni Mitchell classic boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all four sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Henry Lewy brings the analog richness, smoothness and clarity he achieved on Court and Spark to the recording – it’s some of the best live sound we’ve ever heard
  • Joni reworks some of her best-loved songs for this concert, with five tracks from Blue alone (!), and the new arrangements show us just how vital her early ’70s work has turned out to be
  • “It’s a strong album of her best songs performed mostly informally… Much of the material here is beautiful, replete with the patented Mitchell tension. And a word for engineer Henry Lewy—the sound is terrific, the best reproduced concert album I’ve heard.” Rolling Stone
  • If like us you’re a big Joni Mitchell fan, then this killer live album from 1974 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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The Story of Blue on Heavy Vinyl – A Milestone at Better Records

More of the Music of Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

Thoughts on the so-called Definitive Vinyl Version

Yet another Milestone Event in the History of Better Records.

In 2007 a customer took issue with our choice here at Better Records to reject the sale of the newly Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing of Blue put out by Rhino and mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Gray.

We actually used to give the record away for free with every purchase of a Hot Stamper Blue, making it easy for our customers to hear for themselves just how superior our Hot Stamper pressings, at every level, were.

We did this partly out of necessity. I had foolishly taken the advice of a Mr. Robert Pincus that the new version was indeed all it was cracked up to be and proceeded to put in an advance order for twenty copies to sell to our customers.

We were still selling Heavy Vinyl in 2007, but it would not be long before we decided to end the practice. Soon thereafter we were only selling records that we had cleaned and played and could guarantee both their superior sound quality and audiophile-quality playing surfaces.

So we had about twenty copies of Blue we did not think qualified as “better records” and decided to just give them away.

After spending quite a number of hours evaluating the new version, I got fairly worked up over the disappointing sound, worked up enough to write a very long commentary about the album, which I entitled Blue, The Game.

Rather than detailing the shortcomings of the new pressing, in this particular commentary, the first of its kind, I decided to take a different tack.

I implored the reader to do his own shootout for the album and tell me what he heard on the various pressings he might have at hand to work with. (Nothing much came of it of course, and not too surprisingly. Shootouts are hard and the vast majority of audiophiles are averse to them in our experience, hence the sorry state of audiophile records and the systems that fail to reveal their shortcomings — but that’s a horse that gets flogged regularly enough on this site. Enough is enough.)

Tom, 

I find it curious you are not carrying the new Joni Mitchell Blue vinyl issue. Even to the point of saying you can do better… for 25 bucks? After clicking on the LP cover and reading the comments from over the years it makes me wonder what your agenda really is. I paid $250 for a wonderful WLP and this Rhino issue smokes it, even as good as it is. I even have a Cd cut from this mastering session off the analog FLAT, not Dolby tapes and this vinyl even beats it…. of course just my opinion.

I have listened on $100,000 systems, all the way down to portable units, solid state and tube and there is no denying this is the definitive vinyl version….. and again for 25.00. What a bargain.

Maybe all you did was look at that Rhino sticker and think back to the Grateful Dead records they did a few years ago (horrible) and just assumed this wasn’t up to Better Records standards.

Thanks for reading. I enjoy your e mails and store….

Tom

Tom,

We don’t review records based on their labels or stickers. And of course we never assume anything about the sound of a record. We talk about this stuff all the time. Here’s a relevant quote:

My approach to reviewing records is pure skepticism: a record sounds good if it sounds good, regardless of how it was made, who made it, or why. I’ve heard lots of expensive so-called audiophile equipment do a pretty poor job of making music over the years, the owners of which had an armful of reasons for why the sound should be truly awe-inspiring. But it just wasn’t. Most fancy gold faceplates are nothing but lipstick on a pig in my opinion.

I heard Blue poorly reproduced at a friend’s house, and this is probably the best explanation for this letter writer’s inability to understand our position on Blue.

And paying $250 for a White Label Demo that apparently doesn’t sound good is the height of audiophile collector foolishness. That money should have gone for better equipment or room treatments or tweaks, something, anything, to make this guy’s stereo and room work better than they do. (more…)