Top Studios and Concert Halls

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears. (more…)

Dave Brubeck / Time Out – Classic Records Repress on 45 Is Another in a Long String of Failures

More Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Jazz LP debunked.

Not long ago we found a single disc from the 45 RPM four disc set that Classic Records released in 2002 and decided to give it a listen as part of a shootout. My notes can be seen above, but for those who have trouble reading my handwriting, here they are:

Big but hard

Zero (0) warmth

A bit thin and definitely boring

Unnatural

No fun

No F***ing Good (NFG)

Does that sound like a record you would enjoy playing? I sure didn’t.

But this is the kind of sound that Bernie Grundman managed to find on Classic Record after Classic Record starting in the mid-90s when he began cutting for them.

We’ve been complaining about the sound of these records for more than twenty years but a great many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them told us we wrong.  If you have a copy of this album on Classic, at 33 or 45, play it and see if you don’t hear the problems we ascribe to it.

To see what we had to say about the 33 RPM version on Classic many years ago, click here.

Maybe we got a bad 45 and the others are better. That has not been our experience.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing.

Not all of their records are as bad sounding as Time Out. We favorably review some of the better ones here.


A Must Own Jazz Record

We consider Time Out a Masterpiece. It’s a recording that should be part of any serious Jazz Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here. (more…)

Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio

Our Stereo

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, nothing added, nothing taken away.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record.

We don’t want to do what some audiophiles prefer to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi,” not “Hi-Fi,” and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, slower and tubier, a vintage Living Stereo record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable.

But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary: (more…)

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

More Charles Mingus

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

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  • This outstanding Columbia Red Label copy of Ah Um boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • An amazing 30th Street Studio recording by the legendary Fred Plaut – if you like Kind of Blue, here’s another album with that sound (same year, same studio, same engineer)
  • The rich, sweet, spacious sound of the vintage tubes used to record the session is reproduced faithfully here – without that sound, it would just not be Ah Um
  • 5 stars: “Mingus Ah Um is a stunning summation of the bassist’s talents and probably the best reference point for beginners… Mingus’ compositions and arrangements were always extremely focused, assimilating individual spontaneity into a firm consistency of mood, and that approach reaches an ultra-tight zenith on Mingus Ah Um”

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Miles Davis / Kind of Blue – Quick Listening Test

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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Listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too.

Meaning simply that smear is important, but not all-important.

More recordings that are good for testing smear.

If you click on the above link, you will see that we regularly talk about smeary pianos, smeary brass, smeary violins and smeary Classic Records classical reissues. Nobody else seems bothered by smear, and one of our many theories about the stereo shortcomings of reviewers and audiophiles in general is that their systems are fairly smeary, so a little extra smear is mostly inaudible to them. I had a smeary system for my first twenty or more years in audio, so I know whereof I speak.

Our system has virtually no smear. Any smear we hear on a record means that the smear is on the record, not in our system.

Any system with vintage tubes — whatever their pros and cons — will have plenty of smear. We got rid of ours a long time ago.

Back to our listening tests:

On track one, side two, the drums in the right channel are key to evaluating the sound of the better copies. The snare should sound solid and fat — like a real snare — and if there is space in the recording on your copy you will have no trouble hearing the room around the kit.

We will be discussing the faults of the 45 RPM MoFi down the road, but the drums on that record are so wrong it all but beggars belief. (more…)

Miles Davis – Sketches of Spain

More Miles Davis

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  • This outstanding Columbia 360 Stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • The good copies capture the realistic sound of Davis’s horn, the body, the breath and the bite (and not a little of the squawk as well)
  • Balanced, clear and undistorted, this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • A couple of marks play, so this copy is being offered at a much lower price than it otherwise would have been for those of you who can tolerate the pops
  • 5 stars: “Sketches of Spain is the most luxuriant and stridently romantic recording Davis ever made. To listen to it in the 21st century is still a spine-tingling experience…”

*NOTE: On side two, two marks make 24 moderate pops one-quarter inch from the end of Track 2, Saeta, and 15 moderate pops one-quarter inch into Track 3, Solea.

On the best pressings of this masterpiece, the sound is truly magical. (AMG has that dead right in their review.) It is lively but never strained. Davis’s horn has breath and bite, just like the real thing. What more can you ask for? (more…)

Was It Even Possible for Harry Pearson to Create a Meaningful Super Disc List?

A customer brought up Harry Pearson in a discussion we were having about the best sounding records, to wit:

You’re as much a pioneer as Harry Pearson ever was, and your authenticity is unchallengeable…

Even I wouldn’t go that far! We make plenty of mistakes, and we learn new things about records all the time, so calling us “unchallengable” is way off the mark. However, we are always up for the challenge, and are happy to put our records up against any and all comers.

As far as Harry Pearson, I had this to say about the man:

Very kind of you to say. I think Harry could have been much better at his job if he had modern record cleaning technology, better playback, and a staff of people playing thousands of records every year to discover the best sounding pressings for him.

No one can succeed as a one man show in audio. Audio is too complicated. It takes a team of dedicated professionals with expertise in every area of audio and record collecting to do it right.

He never understood stampers and the like because he didn’t have the research staff to get the data he would have needed to find the stamper patterns.

He was stuck at the level of labels, and also not nearly skeptical enough of the idea that “the original is better,” a myth audiophiles cling to to this very day. That, and the superiority of the Heavy Vinyl remaster, which we both know is a crock of sh*t. (more…)

Elgar / Enigma Variations in Living Stereo – Sometimes Tubey Magic Comes at a Price

Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

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This famous Shaded Dog, containing two superb performances by Monteux and the LSO, has many of the Golden Age strengths and weaknesses we know well here at Better Records, having played literally hundreds upon hundreds of these vintage pressings over the last twenty years or so. 

The wonderful sounding tube compressors that were used back in the day result in quieter passages that are positively swimming in ambience and low-level orchestral detail. Tube compression is often a large part of what we mean when we use the term Tubey Magic.

If you want to know what Zero Tubey Magic sounds like, play some Telarcs or Reference Recordings from the ’70s and ’80s. Or a modern digital recording on CD.

But all that sweet and rich Tubey Magic comes at a price when it’s time for the orchestra to get loud. It either can’t, or the louder passages simply distort from compressor overload. Fortunately on this copy the orchestra does not distort, it simply never gets as loud as it would in a real concert hall, clearly the lesser and more preferable of the two evils. (more…)

Pink Floyd – The Wall

More Pink Floyd

More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

Letters and Commentaries for The Wall

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides, this copy of The Wall is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other pressing you’ve heard
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of Floyd’s magnum opus from 1979, this is the way to go
  • The Wall demands big, bold, explosively dynamic ANALOG sound, and here is a copy that delivers on that promise
  • Grungy electric guitars, breathy vocals, HUGE punchy drums, earth-shaking bass and room-filling ambience are all here like you’ve never heard before
  • One of the best sounding rock recordings of all time – here is a copy that will make our case

We spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning, playing, and comparing copies of this classic double album for our shootouts and let me tell you, there are a lot of weak copies out there.

What do these kinds of top grades give you for The Wall? Top-notch clarity and transparency, mind-blowing immediacy, weight to the bottom, extension up top, HUGE open soundfields, real texture to all the instruments, TONS of energy with serious dynamics, BIG punchy drums and loads of natural ambience.

Pink Floyd tends to be an amazingly well-recorded band, and this album is certainly no exception. If you’ve taken home one of our Hot Stampers for Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, or Wish You Were Here, then you certainly know what we’re talking about. (more…)

Dave Brubeck – Time Changes

More Dave Brubeck

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Piano

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  • This early 360 Stereo pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • With a breathy sax, lively and present piano, and a smooth, full sounding orchestra on some of these tracks, this is just the right sound for this music
  • The legendary CBS 30th Street Studios in New York deliver another amazing Demo Disc for Dave Brubeck and his famous fellow jazzmen
  • Produced by the legendary Teo Macero, this is the fourth entry in Brubeck’s time signature series of classic jazz

Production and Engineering

Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious-sounding 30th Street Studio. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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