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Letter of the Week – “Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.”

More of the Music of Dire Straits

Reviews and Commentaries for Dire Straits’ Debut

One of our erstwhile customers asked me a question not long ago:

Hey Tom, 

Some audiophile guy professes to me that he prefers his Japan and German pressings of Dire Straits’ 1st LP over the UK press. How can I tell him in a kind way that he is wrong?

Dear Sir,

You can’t, in a kind way or any other way.

You have to play the two pressings for him, on his stereo or yours, and that’s simply not possible unless he lives near you, which is rarely the case, audiophiles being fairly thin on the ground as far as I know.

Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.

Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”

If you don’t know the answer, why on earth would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in the basement and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).

He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.

I Look Forward to Being Proven Wrong

Along those lines, I had a new customer tell me that this record was one of the better Heavy Vinyl reissues he had heard recently. Rather than just paint every Heavy Vinyl pressing with the broad brush of disgust I normally reach for when doing reviews for them, I thought maybe I should actually give this one a listen.

It might change my mind. It might help me see the light. Maybe I could even learn a thing or two instead of being so relentlessly negative about modern reissues. They can’t all be as bad as I say, can they?

So I took his advice and ordered one right then and there.

For thirty bucks, I learned a lesson worth a great deal more than the money I sunk into such a worthless piece of vinyl on the say-so of someone whose stereo I had never heard, which is this: never believe a word you read about audio or records, no matter who says it, or where you read it, except under certain circumstances.

What circumstances, exactly?

To my mind there is only one circumstance when it makes sense to believe what somebody — anybody — tells you about the sound of a record: If that advice comes with a 100% money back guarantee of the purchase price if you are not happy with the sound.

It can’t get any more simple than that, now can it?

Do any of these guys ever put their money where their mouths are? Not a one of them ever has to the best of my knowledge, and why would they? Plenty of downside, but not a trace of upside. To quote Don Felder, Don Henley, Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther from Victim of Love, “I could be wrong, but I’m not.”

Of course we do things very differently here at Better Records. Yes, we have strong opinions. Lots of them.

But we back those opinions up with a full money back guarantee. The upside for us is huge — a satisfied customer, our favorite kind — and the downside is practically nil — whatever record someone returns just goes back up on the site, sells to someone else and we never see it again.

Voila, another satisfied customer!

I don’t know how Chad Kassem would react to you trying to return his awful Stand Up or his mediocre-at-best Tea for the Tillerman, but I doubt he would take too kindly to the idea.

And speaking of not being wrong, we actually go out of way to point out when we are.

Better to be a scout rather than a warrior.

There are way too many warriors on audiophile forums as it is. (more…)

Dark Side of the Moon Overview

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Customer Testimonials for Dark Side of the Moon

I admit to some bias when it comes to DSOTM. I must have played more than a hundred copies over the last forty-odd years. I was sure I understood exactly which copies had the best sound, and again and again I was proved wrong.

We only found out what the best sounding versions were about five or six years ago. We did that by doing shootout after shootout with every version we could lay our hands on, starting around 2005. We even did a shootout for two different Mobile Fidelity pressings many years ago, which we think makes for some good reading to this day.

It’s especially good reading for those who don’t appreciate how dramatic pressing variations can be for even quality-controlled limited editions. The comparison of the two MoFi’s centers around the idea that midrange tonality is by far the most important quality to listen for on Dark Side, and that, surprisingly to some audiophiles, but obviously not to us, there are MoFi pressings with a correct midrange and there are those without.

Is this fellow listening for midrange tonality? If you watch the video and he says he is, then you can let me know!

And if not, you can ask him in the comments why he wasn’t.

Maybe he just likes the chiming clocks and the bass of the heartbeat.

Some audiophiles have been known to ignore the fundamentals when comparing records.

And picking six random copies of six different pressings is not exactly a scientific approach to the problem either.

It is in fact a clear violation of the First Cornerstone of Hot Stamper Shootouts, to wit:

  1. You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.

Most of the versions of DSOTM that this individual is reviewing have never impressed us sonically. They are the pressings that most audiophiles have probably read about in the magazines and on forums. If you know practically nothing about the album going in, these might be the six pressings you would consider playing against each other in a shootout. To be charitable, I suppose you could call it a good start.

Our reviewer seems to be the type who puts a great deal of faith in so-called audiophile pressings — the Japanese Pro-Use Series, the UHQR — the kinds of records that sound more and more artificial and/or mediocre to us with each passing year.

If your stereo is not showing you what’s wrong with these kinds of records, you have your work cut out for you. This is especially true of some of the Ultra High Quality Records put out my Mobile Fidelity in the early ’80s, like this one.

Our Take on DSOTM Pressings

The domestic pressings we have auditioned over the years have never made it into a real shootout. They have always sounded far too flat and veiled to be taken seriously. There are some very good sounding Pink Floyd pressings on domestic vinyl — Wish You Were Here and The Wall can both sound amazing on domestic vinyl — but Dark Side is not one of them in our experience.

The Doug Sax-mastered Heavy Vinyl version from 2003 we played when it came out was way too bright and phony to these ears. We hated it and said so at the time.

We came across a very early British pressing about fifteen years ago, the one with the solid blue triangle label, but it was not as good as other pressings we were playing back then and we never bought another one.

We’ve liked a lot of later UK pressings over the years, but we don’t go out of our way to buy those anymore now that we have heard the really amazing pressings we like now.

As I said, we discovered the killer stampers about five years ago, and that showed us an Out of This World Dark Side we had no idea could even exist. We have a name for records like those. We call them Breakthrough Pressings, and we even sometimes used to award them a sonic grade of more than Three Pluses.

Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for copies that simply blew our minds, with sound so far superior to any copy we’d ever heard that they broke our grading scale.

Two Minutes Was Enough

I frankly admit I did not spend two minutes watching this video. I simply do not have the patience to watch audiophiles like this guy opine about records he thinks he knows a lot better than he really does.

That said, if there is a pressing that he thinks is the best, and you own one, we would be happy to send you a Hot Stamper to go head to head with it and let the chips fall where they may.

We are not in the opinion business. Opinions are cheap. Everybody has them, and as the old saying goes, they are worth what you pay for them.

We wrote a bit about the subject in a post entitled Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

A relevant excerpt:

All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.

Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”

If you don’t know the answer, why would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in the basement and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).

He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.

Rather than being in the opinion business, we prefer being in the better sounding records business, offering, as we like to say, Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records.

Our records are expensive, but they deliver the sound we describe, and we have the letters from customers to prove it.

And if we are wrong — which does happen from time to time, we see no reason to hide the fact — you get your money back.


A Kinder, Gentler Approach to Record Reviewing

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Allow me to respond to a comment left by Ian Malone.

It was left in the comments section for the interview Steve Westman did with me, which can be seen here:

A Conversation with TOM PORT from BETTER RECORDS

He writes:

Quite happy for you to promote your business Tom, but surely you are a better person than doing it in this way. I know that other people in the industry have said unkind things about you but you can rise above these insults.

I never say that the people making these modern records, as well as those reviewing them, are malicious or evil. I say they make or review bad sounding records and are simply misguided and incompetent.

Am I being unkind? If Michael Bay makes one bad movie after another, are we unkind to point that out? I don’t know that he is not a bad person, but I do know that he is a bad filmmaker, and gets called out regularly for putting out a bad product.

Everyone understands that this is a matter of taste. If you always wished The Beatles albums had more bass, more compression and a smoother tonal balance overall, you can buy the new Heavy Vinyl pressings and get that sound on every title they ever released.

That sound does not exist on the tapes. I have no way of actually knowing that for a fact, but since no mastering engineer before 2014 had ever put that sound on an actual record, I think we can safely say that the evidence supports the idea that a completely “new sound” was specifically created for The Beatles when their catalog was remastered for our century. [1]

Call it The New Beatles Sound. I am on record as not liking engineers who create a new sound for records that that had perfectly good sound already. Those of us who do not like our Beatles album to have those qualities should not be buying these newly remastered versions.

We offer the consumer an alternative sound, and, since our Beatles Hot Stampers are far and away our best sellers, it seems our customers agree with us that they actually do sound better. Some come back, sure, but not many, and I don’t think anyone has ever said they liked the new pressings better, although that possibility exists.

In some ways we operate like Consumer Reports. Blender X is terrible at making margaritas and blender Y is good at making them. The company that makes bad blenders should be called to account. If there is a name attached to that company, then I guess we can say that that person who runs that company should learn how to make better blenders or find something else to do with his time.

I am not impressed with the quality of the records being made today, and it follows that those who make them are responsible for the poor quality of the modern remastered LPs they make.

Is there a kind way to say that Pete Hutchison of The Electric Recording Company makes some of the worst sounding records I have ever played in my life? Should I pretend he doesn’t? If you play me one of his awful records, and don’t tell me who made it, I can judge the record on its merits, the way we judge all records. We test records blindly for precisely this reason. We let the record tell us how well it was made, what it does right and wrong relative to other pressings of the same album, apples to apples.

His records tell me he loves the sound of the murkiest, muddiest vintage tube equipment ever made, and wants every record he makes to have that sound.

In my book that is an egregious case of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. We wrote about it here.

Is there a kinder way to point that out? It’s astonishing to me that anyone takes this guy seriously. This is the sound audiophiles want?

Here’s a question for those who defend this man’s approach to mastering.

Did Bernie Grundman make all his records sound the same?

Did he layer some kind of sonic signature over the top of everything he did?

Does Aja sound like Blue sound like Heart Like a Wheel sound like Thriller sound like Tapestry?

On my stereo they sure don’t. I built a stereo to get out of the way of the records I play, and it lets all these records sound markedly different from one another.

But Hutchison takes exactly the opposite approach. He wants the same heavy tube sound on every record he makes. Is it mean to point that out?

Bernie Grundman has mastered many of my favorite recordings of all time. Doug Sax actually mastered both of my two favorite recordings of all time, Ambrosia’s first album on vinyl and Jellyfish’s Spilt Milk on CD.

But when these superbly talented engineers master bad sounding audiophile pressings for the likes of Chad Kassem and others, who deserves the blame?

Maybe Kassem told them what sound he wanted and they gave it to him. That’s their job, to deliver a product that the customer will pay for. The customer here is Chad, not the audiophile consumer.

Chad apparently likes the sound of the records he produces. I do not and I make an effort to describe precisely the sound I object to on his pressings. My reviews of both of his Tea for the Tillerman releases (the 33 and the 45) go on for days. I recommend you check them out if you want to know more about the failings of his albums in detail.

Opinion? Mere subjectivity? We back up everything we say about our offerings with an actual physical record that you can buy, risk free, to demonstrate the superiority of a properly mastered, properly pressed LP, one we cleaned, auditioned and stand behind 100%.

Some of the very same engineers I criticize made the record I might sell you. Lots of TMLs and BGs can be found in the dead wax of our Hot Stamper pressings.

Why wouldn’t they be found there? They are often found — after the fact, mind you — on the best sounding pressings of the albums we play in our shootouts.

These vintage pressings seem to have very little in common with the work these men are doing now.

Is there a kinder, gentler way to point that out? Should I just shut the hell up about it?

I guess we could say the companies producing records today mean well. They produce a product at a price for the market they are trying to reach. Chad thinks he can get $150 for his records and therefore he prices them at $150. They used to sell for less, now they sell for more. That’s how markets work. We do the same.

The records Chad and his competitors make are suitable, in my opinion, for those who set lower standards, or don’t know any better, or have modest systems, or just aren’t very serious about records and audio. Fine by me. It’s no skin off our noses.

We mostly appeal to a different group. A group that typically has heard those Heavy Vinyl pressings and wants something better. Something with Zero Collector Value, but 100% Top Quality Music and Sound Value.

Is it unkind to say we set higher standards and price our products accordingly?

Are we implying that these Heavy Vinyl labels set lower standards and price their records accordingly. Yes, we are.

All we are doing is pointing this out, using, I freely admit, stronger language than some might like. I have always favored plain speaking over the kind of bush beating, special pleading and excuse making so many audiophiles and those who write for them seem to prefer.

If your feelings are easily hurt, I am definitely not the guy you should be reading. I find bad sounding records infuriating and I am not averse to saying so. Best to avoid my blog if you don’t like reading somebody who is gets pissed off and feels ripped off every time he drops a needle on one of these lousy remasters.

We write passionately about good records, the ones we sell, but there is really no need to read what we say about them either. Our records speak for themselves, and we believe they deliver on their promises.

Try some, compare them with what you own and see if you still feel kindly toward the modern pressings you’ve no doubt been buying. There is a good chance you might not feel so kindly, once you can clearly hear what is missing from them.

And if not, no harm done, return shipping is on us, and a full refund will be posted to your card.

To paraphrase the great one, if you never hear one of our Hot Stamper pressings, most likely you go your way and I’ll go mine.

But if you do hear one, and you do like it, the milk of human kindness you had shown these modern record makers may turn as sour in your mouth as it has in mine.


The Mud Pie Maker Himself

Presenting the poster boy for the Dunning-Kruger effect, a man who fancies himself an audiophile/mastering engineer.

He’s a mastering engineer in the same sense that a person who makes mud pies is a piemaker.

I have not played any of his classical albums. I have in fact only played one title, a jazz record I happen to know well, and his remastered version is no better than the other records that get an F grade for sound and currently are to be found in our Bad Sounding Audiophile Records Section.

I will publish a review one of these days, but until then, I recommend you steer well clear of this man’s records.

An extract from Steven Novella’s explanation of this psychological effect gives some background:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Further Reading

More on the Subject of Bad Tube Mastering

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

A Chat with Yours Truly

Steve Westman graciously invited one of the most controversial members of the Audiophile Community — that would be me — to appear on his youtube channel for a half hour chat. When he couldn’t shut me up it ended up going an hour.

I want to thank him for putting up with me while I spent the time mostly criticizing all the modern reissues he seems to favor.

Please read the comments and feel free to post your own if you have something you would like to say. I read them all.

Say whatever you like, I can take it!


Are Hot Stampers a Better Mousetrap? A Case of Added Value? A Scam?

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Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts for as many different pressings of the same title as you can get your hands on.

There are four basic steps you must take, and you have to do right by each of the four if you are going to be successful at discovering and evaluating your own Hot Stampers. 

We discuss every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this blog. Although none of it will come as news to anyone who has spent much time reading our stuff, we cobbled together this commentary to help formalize the process and hopefully make it easier to understand and follow.

If you want to make judgments about recordings — not the pressing you have in your collection, but the actual recording it was made from — you have to do some work, and you have to do it much more thoroughly and carefully and above all scientifically than most audiophiles and record collectors we’ve met apparently think is necessary. Don’t be one of those guys. Do it right and get the results that are simply not possible with any other approach.

The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stamper Shootouts

The work of finding these very special pressings is made up of these four parts.

  1. You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.
  2. You must be able to clean your copies properly in order to get them to sound their best.
  3. You must be able to reproduce your copies faithfully.
  4. You must be able to evaluate them critically.

This Approach Will Help You Find Better Sounding Records

There is a clear benefit to doing it this way, and it’s something you should consider when tweaking your system too.


The Shootout Video Is Here!

Geoff Edgers’ Washington Post article “The Search for the Perfect Sound,” in which he talks to lots of audiophiles and music lovers about his personal journey into the world of audiophile equipment and records, is now active on their website.

NEWSFLASH! This is currently the most popular story/video on the WAPO website! Number One with a bullet, baby. [Alas, no longer.]

Don’t miss the video below of yours truly doing a shootout for Tapestry.

It’s actually not a real shootout. For Tapestry we would typically play 8-10 early pressings and grade them for sound. This was more of a test, to see if I could spot the Hot Stamper among the pretenders, more What’s My Line than a shootout.


To Find Better Sounding Records, Neglect Your Beautiful Ideas

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

On the Big Think website, Michael Strevens has outlined some ideas from his recent book about how science advances.

I stumbled upon Strevens through Michael Shermer’s Skeptic Podcast. Shermer and his professor guest discuss at length (about an hour and a half) his singular insight that trying to understand and promulgate a Big Picture of Reality is what kept the scientists of the past (they used to call themselves natural philosophers) for hundreds of years from actually making the breakthroughs necessary to come up with one.

What was needed was data, and lots of it, with no concern for theories of any kind, elegant, inelegant or otherwise.

Here is the link to the podcast, which we feel is well worth your time if a deeper understanding of how we gain knowledge is a subject that interests you.

Some of the key takeaways from the book:

  • Modern science requires scrutinizing the tiniest of details and an almost irrational dedication to empirical observation.
  • Many scientists believe that theories should be “beautiful,” but such argumentation is forbidden in modern science.
  • Neglecting beauty would be a step too far for Aristotle.

My heart raced a bit when I read the line “an almost irrational dedication to empirical observation.”

This describes our obsession with finding the best sounding pressings of our favorite music better than any seven words I’ve ever come up with, that’s for sure. If only I were a better writer!

However, I did have some skills to bring to bear to the problems I was trying to solve, the most important of which was the fact that I was a naturally a skeptic.

I have never been much interested in what anybody thought about either audio or records unless they had good evidence to back up their claims. Rarely was such evidence forthcoming, and in the few cases when it was made available to me, I had no trouble finding fault with it.

By taking a different approach to the pursuit records and audio, by avoiding theorizing and just accumulating more and more and better and better data, I was able to learn things that seem to have completely escaped the vast majority of reviewers and audiophiles.

This site is full of the information I’ve managed to learn over the last forty or so years. The first twenty were mostly a waste; I made all the mistakes that audiophiles tend to make and are still making today. The last twenty taught me and my staff 99% of what we know, based on the data we were accumulating through increasingly rigorous record shootouts with access to much improved playback.

This changed everything, and you can read about it on this blog in hundreds of commentaries. Or you can buy the superior pressings our scientific approach to finding, cleaning and evaluating them has made possible.


A Collection of Beatles Oldies on Video – Good Advice?

The LOST Beatles Album | Cancelled By Apple – Should It Be Re-released?

Click on the link above to see an interesting and informative video that we think is well worth watching.

Allow me to make a few points:

As to the question posed above, my vote would of course be no. The new Beatles albums are awful sounding. Here are a couple of reviews outlining their many shortcomings:

Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

Let It Be – The Gong Rings Once More

After playing those two, we gave up playing the rest of the set. The Mono Box (in analog!) was even worse.

Mushy Sound Quality

Andrew Milton, the Parlogram Auctions guy, offers opinions about the sound quality of the various pressings he reviews, opinions of which we are naturally skeptical. We have no idea how he cleans his records or how carefully he plays his records, or even what he listens for. (Frankly, even if we knew all those things it wouldn’t mean much to us. So many reviewers like so many bad sounding modern records that we’ve learned not to take anything they say seriously.)

The comment about the 1G stampers being “mushy” that Andrew makes about 19 minutes in is one we take exception to. The problem here is that we can’t really be sure what he means by “mushy.” If it means smeary or thick, that has not been our experience with the best cleaned originals.

Since the later pressings tend to be thinner and less Tubey Magical, they are probably even less ‘mushy,” assuming I have the definition of the term right.

But to say that the 1G stampers were used for both the originals and the reissues on the later label and that therefore the sound is the same is definitely a sign that Andrew’s understanding of stampers and pressings is incomplete.

What We Think We Know

We have done a number of shootouts for the album over the last ten years or so, and our experimental approach using many dozens of copies provides us with strong evidence to support the following conclusions regarding the originals versus the reissues:

1.) The best of the early pressings always win the shootouts. No reissues have ever earned a grade of A+++ and it is unlikely a reissue ever will.

2.) The reissues can be quite good, however. The best of them have earned grades of Double Plus (A++).

3.) The worst of the early pressings also earned grades of Double Plus (A++).

4.) Conclusion: if you have a bad original and a good reissue, you might be fooled into thinking the sound quality was comparable. The stamper being the same was also not helpful. It’s possible Andrew saw that 1G on both pressings and heard what he thought he should hear, the kind of confirmation bias that our shootouts are designed to reduce if not downright eliminate.

5.) This mistake is the result of having a small sample size, aided no doubt by improper cleaning and less than hi-fidelity playback. (The law of large numbers may be instructive here.)

Here are a couple of our takes on the album:

The Beatles / A Collection of Beatles Oldies – Listening in Depth

The Beatles / A Collection of Beatles Oldies – Sounds Great on the Original

And we are proud to offer the discriminating and well-healed audiophile the best sounding Beatles albums ever made. We’ve written a great deal about them over the course of the last twenty years, but none of that really matters. Once you’ve heard one, we suspect you will become a believer like so many of our other customers.


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Warning: Hot Stampers May Cause Cognitive Dissonance

Check out the article that Wired wrote about Better Records and our pursuit of Hot Stampers.

If you have time, go to the comments section and read any of the 300 or more postings claiming that the very idea of Hot Stampers is absurd, not to mention the atavistic, borderline fetishistic attachment to vinyl that these self-described “lovers of sound” engage in, and don’t forget how ridiculously expensive the equipment they own must be, making a real trifecta of audiophile insanity.

As if you didn’t know already!

But all of this is true only under one condition: that you have never played one of our Hot Stamper pressings on top quality equipment.

Once you have played one, even the most skeptical audiophile often finds himself becoming as fetishistic about old records as we are (and have been for fifty years).

We sure get a lot of letters from folks who seem to like our old records. Can there really be that much Kool-Aid to go around? Can one sip really change your life?

Good news: there exists a way to find out.

If you live in America and you try one of our Hot Stamper pressings and you decide you don’t like it, we will cover the shipping cost both ways and refund 100% of the money you paid.

With a guarantee like that, wouldn’t it be more absurd to conclude, as so many have done, that what we say about records cannot possibly be true? All without even a hint of empirical evidence to support the idea?

The Real Risk

Of course, the real risk in taking a chance on a Hot Stamper is not financial, since we are covering all the costs.

The real risk is that you might end up proving to yourself that the ideas you have about records are mistaken.

Carefully cleaned and evaluated old records can indeed sound dramatically better than the ones they are making these days. We can actually prove it. You just need to let us send you the proof.

Now wait just a gosh darn minute, Mister Hot Stampers, I hear you saying to yourself.

I own so many of these new records! I’m a smart guy. I’m no dummy. How could I have been so easily taken in? Why did I believe them when they told me these new records were the best? You know, the labels that make them and the reviewers who review them and the forum posters who rave about them. Everybody. I thought we all agreed about this!

It’s not right that your Hot Stamper pressings turn all of what I know to be true on its head. Yes, your records are clearly better, but now I feel I was duped when I bought all these other pressings. I feel like a fool and I don’t like that feeling.

You can see how easy it would be for this turn of events to result in some serious cognitive dissonance, the kind that everyone — even me — does everything in their power to avoid. (Most of it is subconscious and automatic anyway, so you don’t really have to do anything, truth be told.)

The Right Choice Is Clear

Therefore the easiest choice, the smartest choice, the choice practically every audiophile makes (never mind the general public, they couldn’t care less), is to come up with some reasons why our records cannot possibly be as good sounding as we say.

That’s the ticket. This whole Hot Stamper thing makes no sense. It’s not possible. Your customers are wrong. They are deluding themselves. You guys are the ones who are suffering from cognitive bias, not me. You hear what you want to hear on these old records and you ignore what’s good about the new ones.

I’m pretty sure that must be what’s going on. How can everybody else be wrong and somehow you get to be right? That’s really absurd. You should be ashamed of yourself for ripping off gullible audiophiles who are too stupid to realize that what you are selling is the worst kind of snake oil. Either that or false hope. You’re cynically preying on those who have more money than sense and laughing all the way to the bank. That’s on you. There’s a sucker born every minute, and that’s why you will never run out of customers. Hah!

Fair enough. Well said. You figured out this whole thing must be a scam. Awesome. Good job.

As a bonus, you’ve just saved yourself a huge amount of work and avoided a lot of mental anguish. You proved yourself right without lifting a finger. (Well, you did some typing, so I guess that counts as lifting a finger. But it sure was easier than playing a record and critically listening to it. That stuff is hard.)

Now that all that Hot Stamper stuff is out of the way, please allow me to point you toward the one book that explains all the bad thinking we humans constantly engage in, this one.

In my experience, no other book explains more about audio and the audiophiles who pursue it, myself included. I guarantee that if you read this book you will never be the same. It is that eye-opening.

Kind of like playing your first Hot Stamper. Nothing is ever the same again. Even if it is a scam.


Facing Some Hard Truths in Phoenix

Or kicking them while they’re down. Pick whichever one you like best, they both work for me.

For those of you who have not been following this story, here is the best place to start:

How a Phoenix record store owner set the audiophile world on fire

Although it’s behind a paywall, you can get a free test drive easily enough. (In September there will be a long-form video of me going about a Hot Stamper shootout and discussing the world of audiophile records, which you do not want to miss!)

Now that you are up to date on the overall contours of this mess, here is another one of the many thoughts I have had concerning the revelation that Mobile Fidelity has been secretly sourcing at least some of their masters digitally since 2015.

First, a thought for the day.

“Everyone complains about his memory, and no one complains about his judgment.“ 

François de La Rochefoucauld

Before we start talking about where the blame lies in this mess — with Esposito, Fremer, Jim Davis, or the so-called “engineers” who work for Mobile Fidelity — I would like bring up a couple of ideas that you have no doubt seen before, mostly because they are discussed endlessly on this blog.

We Make Mistakes

The first is that anyone who has been on an audio journey for very long has made a lot of mistakes along the way.

Uniquely among reviewers and record dealers, we go out of way to admit when we were wrong. You might say we are even proud of the fact that we used to get so many things wrong about records and audio.

Our experimental, evidence-based approach, requiring that we not only make mistakes but that we embrace them, is surely key to the progress we have made in understanding recordings and home audio. One of our favorite quotes on the subject is attributed to Alexander Pope.

“A man should never be ashamed to own he has been in the wrong, which is but saying… that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”

To say that few audiophiles have followed our approach is not to admit defeat. Rather it is simply to say that the approach we use to find better sounding pressings involves a great deal of tedious, expensive, time-consuming work, work that few audiophiles seem interested in doing.

Instead, the approach that most audiophiles these days take is to buy ready-made audiophile pressings. They convince themselves — how, I cannot begin to imagine — that these pressings are superior to all others because of the exceptional skills and superior methods of those tasked with mastering and pressing them. Also I think I remember reading that their hearts were in the right place or something to that effect.

These Heavy Vinyl aficionados see themselves as the Self-Anointed Faithful, the Vinyl True Believers, the Disciples of Analog, and now their faith in one of their Holiest of Holies has torn them asunder and brought them low. Seems the castles they were living in were built on sand. So the bible says, and it still is news.

Mistakes Were Made

What follows is one way to look at what happened and who it happened to.

This gentleman you see pictured above, a certain Mike Esposito, made a foolish mistake.

He believed what he was told. Rather than being skeptical, he wanted to believe what they told him.

He did not use his own ears to make judgments, he let some others — reviewers, fellow audiophiles, the label itself — tell him what was pure and good.

Now he has learned that he was misinformed by those whom he placed his trust; even worse, he was lied to by the label he… is worshipped to strong a word?

He was also misinformed by the audiophile reviewers who should have known something was wrong. Not being able to recognize the shortcomings in the sound of these pressings was entirely predictable, since these reviewers never developed listening skills much better than those of Mr Esposito. (For more on just how out of his depth the man was, click here.)

His world has been turned upside down. But it was always upside down.

We know of practically no evidence to support the proposition that this label knows how to make good sounding records. It has made some in the past we liked, this group, for example, but the New MoFi, the one Jim Davis owns, is responsible for so many bad records that we finally had to give up bothering to review them. Our Audiophile Hall of Shame is overflowing as it is.

Finding good records and being able to reproduce them well is hard. Perhaps now Mr Esposito is coming to appreciate just how little he knew about either.

A Whole New World

His ears and his stereo we’re not enough to show him the error of his ways.

But now just imagine the new world he finds himself in. He will now hear the faults of this useless label’s records with ease, not because he can actually hear them, but because he knows something about how the records were made that will color his thinking.

He’ll know what’s good and bad about the sound the same way that Michael Fremer knew that the Beatles Reissues on Heavy Vinyl had sonic issues because they were digitally sourced. MF knew they wouldn’t sound right because they weren’t made right.

He didn’t know they wouldn’t sound right because they didn’t sound right. He has never been capable of that kind of judgment, the kind of judgment that requires carefully nurtured critical listening skills. We noted as much in 1995 and have seen no evidence to the contrary since then. (If you know of some, please send it to me, I would love to read it.)

When the big guns at Apple told him they were doing the mono albums from the analog tapes, he knew those would sound good because they are being made the right way. We knew they didn’t sound good because they weren’t good sounding. We could care less how they were made. A bad record is a bad record. Trying to figure out what caused it to be bad is not a good use of anyone’s time.

When you’re an audiophile true believer, you don’t need to listen, you just need to know something, or think you know something, and then it’s easy to make judgments about the records you’re playing. You don’t even need to play them to know how they sound. They sound the way they’re supposed to, depending on how they were made, right?

This is foolishness of the worst kind. But this foolishness seems to be the most common kind in the audio world. Audiophiles are skilled at reading and thinking, not so skilled at listening and understanding what they are hearing.

Our blog is dedicated to helping audiophiles learn to hear better, following the processes that worked  for us. Once you have achieved even a modest level of critical listening skills, it’s the rare Mobile Fidelity that will sound any better than mediocre to you, and most of them will just be awful. They sure sound awful to us.

Our previous post on the subject can be found here: The Mobile Fidelity Apocalypse, Part Three

There are no doubt more posts to come. This link will take you to all of them, probably in the reverse order they should be read.


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