Videos

The Graceland Remastering Disaster Part 2

 

Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Mastering Engineer Ryan K. Smith

The interviewer apparently does not know how bad the new version sounds, but we had no trouble recognizing its awfulness here at Better Records and, as a public service, set about  describing what we heard on our site.

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from? Having played at least 50 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded very much like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

More Graceland

Well, in favor of that proposition I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now. On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed”. It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by heavy-handedly equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like.

But it never was all analog, and trying to make it sound that way just ruins the one quality that it actually had going for it — clarity.

VTA

You can adjust your VTA and other table settings until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get this pressing to sound right, and you’ll certainly never get it to sound very much like any Sterling original pressing I’ve ever heard.

The digital spit and grit is still there, under the darker EQ. And now it’s even worse — Simon’s voice has a thick, dull blanket over it, but you can still hear the spit underneath it.

You could probably take the CD and equalize it to sound like this record. But what would be the point?

The Bright Side

Well, perhaps there is a point to this equalization madness.

The CD already exists. It has a sound.

The original record has a sound too, and it’s a fairly common LP in the used bins. You could buy two or three for not that much money and try to find one you like better than the vinyl version you probably already own.

Or, dissatisfied with the sound of the original records and CDs above, and not in the market to spend hundreds of dollars on a good copy from us, you could look at the new Heavy Vinyl pressing as another option, a different take, a new approach, something along those lines.

Just don’t think that by doing so you’re going to hear Graceland the way Paul Simon, Roy Halee, or the folks at Sterling wanted you to hear it.

They produced millions of copies that mostly sound one way, and now some fellows — at least one of whom was involved with the new project, to be fair, but it was 40 years ago(!), and it’s fair to point that out too, right? — some new fellows have produced a few thousand copies that sound another way.

It’s clear to us who got it right, but based on what I’ve been reading in preparation for writing this commentary, the audiophile reviewers and at least some of the audiophile public at large see it quite differently.

Our Offer

We are more than happy to let you decide the issue for yourself. Rather than throwing up our hands and saying “we give up”, we actually would like to help you make an informed decision.

To that end we will happily send you our copy of the Heavy Vinyl version along with your purchase of any Hot Stamper of Graceland on the site. Play them head to head and let the chips fall where they may.

The only thing we ask is that you return it to us so the next person who wants to compare the two can do so. (Assuming you like the Hot Stamper better of course. If you don’t, send them both back for a full refund, including the domestic shipping. No, really, we insist.)

 

Avoid this Rookie Mistake

daviskindo_wtlfRecord Shopping Day Video!

Not sure how much of this video you can stand — nothing could interest me less than a couple of audiophile / vinyl enthusiasts spouting off on what they think about some random records sitting in a local store’s bins — but one or two bits caught my eye. I thought it might possibly be of service to share them with you.

Is there any value to the comments of these two collectors? If you care about what music they like, perhaps.  Anything about what to look for on the label or jacket that might correspond to better sound?  If it’s there I sure didn’t see it, but I admit to speeding through most of it so I can’t say for sure.

The first bit I refer to above is at 18:42.  The album in question is the legendary Kind of Blue. At this point the unseen helmet-cammed audiophile picks up the record, recognizes the original cover, and proceeds to pull the record out to see what era the pressing is from.

Drat! The disappointment in this audiophile’s voice is palpable as he drops the record back in the bin with his dismissive comment that  “it’s a later pressing.”

But we here at Better Records would be falling all over ourselves to get our hands on that later pressing. Those late pressings can and often do win shootouts. We would never look down our noses at a Red Label Columbia jazz LP, and neither should you.

Our intrepid audiophile explorer does much the same thing about 23 minutes in. It seems pretty clear to us that he has no respect for such reissues, another example of one of the most common myths in record collecting land, the myth that the  original pressing is always, or to be fair, usually better.

This is simply not true, and those of our customers who have purchased White Hot Stamper pressings from us that turned out to be reissues know exactly what I am talking about. This is especially true for the records we sell by  The Beatles. No original pressing has every won a shootout.

Let’s get back to Kind of Blue. Is the ’50s original always better, is the ’70s reissue always better, is the ’60s 360 pressing always better? No to one, two and three.

Why? Because no pressing is always better. All pressings are unique and should only be judged on their merits, and you do that by playing them, not by looking at their labels. For us this truth is practically axiomatic. It is in fact the premise of our entire business. Over the course of the 28 years we have been selling records we have never found any compelling evidence to invalidate it.

The day that someone can accurately predict the sound quality of a specific record by looking at the label or cover is a day I do not expect to come, ever.

A Larger Point

But there is a larger point to be made. Let’s assume that the best original Six Eye Columbia pressings can be the best — the most Tubey Magical, the most involving, the most real. You just happen to have a clean pressing, and you absolutely love it.

But is it the best? How could you possibly know that?

Unless you have done a comparison with many copies under controlled conditions, you simply cannot know where on the curve your copy rightfully belongs.

Perhaps you have a mediocre original. Or a mediocre 360 Label copy. Since you haven’t done a massive shootout you simply have no way of knowing just how good sounding the album can be.

If that’s the case, even stipulating that the best early pressings are potentially the best sounding, that lowly ’70s Red Label copy that got tossed back into the record pond could very well have turned out to be the best sounding pressing you ever heard.

But Bad Audiophile Record Collector Thinking prevents the very possibility of such an outcome. A record never auditioned cannot win a shootout, even a simple head to head competition against the copy you alreadyhave in your collection. The result? Your Kind of Blue never gets any better. You’re stuck, at what level nobody knows, especially you.

Our advice is to turn off your mind, relax and float downstream, letting your ears, not your eyes, become your one and only trusted guide to the best sounding pressings.

And please consider us a trustworthy second in line, a source for the best sounding titles that you do not have time to shoot out for yourself.

Here’s more on Kind of Blue.