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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.

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Our Filmed Tapestry Shootout Was a Real Shocker

The Washington Post article that Geoff Edgers wrote includes a video of a little shootout we did for Tapestry, using, without my knowledge, the MoFi One-Step, a Hot Stamper pressing, and a current, modern, standard reissue of the album. Could I spot the Hot Stamper without knowing what record was playing?

First up (and of course unbeknownst to me), the MoFi. My impressions from the video:

That’s probably tonally correct for this record. It’s just missing everything that’s good about this record, which is a meaty, rich piano. And the vocal sounds very dry. There’s no Tubey Magic. It’s tonally correct. If you were playing me a CD right now, I wouldn’t be able to tell you weren’t. 

Next up, the cheap ($20?), current reissue:

Piano’s better.

Voice is better!

Richer and smoother.

That’s what this is supposed to sound like.

Her voice sounds mostly correct.

This might not be a particularly good record. If I played a real one for you, you might just say, oh, my God, there’s so much more.

But this is not a wrong record. It’s not awful. It’s doing something… I don’t know if I would say most things right. I’ll just say something right.

At least the person understands what she’s supposed to sound like.

Then the Hot Stamper (a Super Hot copy I’ve been told):

She sounds pretty right on this copy.

I think there’s more space.

You hear more space, more three-dimensional space.

The piano: there’s more richness to the tone of the various notes that she’s playing.

I would probably pick this one.

Jeff sums it all up as follows:

So we have a winner, and I couldn’t fool the Hot Stamper king.

Without knowing what he was listening to, he chose the hot stamper of Tapestry.

If he still had it, that copy would be sold for about $400 on the Better Records website.

When we went back and played each of the pressings again, the differences were much more pronounced. The MoFi still sounded like a CD, the current Columbia reissue was still no better than passable, and the Hot Stamper became even better sounding than it had been earlier, with sound the other two could not begin to offer.

Our grades for the three pressings would have been F, C and A, in that order.

In the video, you can see that it took me a few minutes to get deep into the sound, but once I was there, it turned out to be no contest. The Hot Stamper was the only one capable of showing us just how good Tapestry can sound.

Colorations Are Bad Now?

The MoFi was by far the worst sounding of the three. As I said, it sounded to me like a CD.

How shocking is it that the most colored label in the history of audio produced a record with no colorations, one that sounds like a bad CD. I would not have predicted the possibility!

I would have thought just the opposite, that they would monkey with the sound and make it richer and smoother, maybe boost the shit out of the top end, but instead they apparently just took a CD and transferred it flat.

The worst of all possible worlds, and at a premium price no less.

Chad may make awful sounding records, but they are recognizable as records, just not very good ones.

Mobile Fidelity, at least in this case, made a record that doesn’t even sound like a record. That is quite a feat.

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Julie Is Her Name – Now on Youtube

More of the Music of Julie London

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Julie London

One of our good customers has a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE DEDICATED ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

In the video below, Robert discusses how Tubey Magical his system is when playing an All Tube Chain recording from 1955, this without the benefit of any tubes in his system whatsoever. Quite the trick!

Everything was fine until he decided to track down a clean, quiet, good-sounding copy of the album for a friend. As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished, and after buying scores of copies of Julie London’s records off the internet ourselves, we know firsthand how painful it is to have one noisy record after another arrive on our doorstep.

Years ago I was in my favorite record store in Los Angeles, Record Surplus, and Neil, the owner at the time, made what I thought was an especially perceptive remark about Julie London’s albums on vintage vinyl: “They’re either mint or beat, rarely in-between.” He’d seen a hundred times more Julie London than I had, and he knew whereof he spoke. (I would add that by now I have critically listened to an infinitely larger number of her records than he ever would, as critical listening is not what record store owners get up to all day.)

Once you’ve played one of Julie’s amazing early albums, you tend to want to keep it near the turntable. If you were given the record back in the day, perhaps because you were in the record business, you stored it on a shelf with all the rest of the albums you could not be bothered to listen to.

JULIE IS HER NAME: Worth the Effort!


More on Robert’s system here. You may notice that it has a lot in common with the one we use.


Further Reading

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The Search for the Perfect Sound Wins the 2023 Excellence in Audio Digital Storytelling Award

Apparently readers could not get enough of this old man and his speakers.

For the story behind the story, and the award it has now won, please click on the link below.

More on the Shootout Video

The Washington Post talks more about the project:

In “The search for the perfect sound,” arts reporter Geoff Edgers explores the boom in vinyl record sales and the often contentious world of extreme audiophiles through an immersive mix of video, interactive audio and narrative reporting. This multimedia feature revealed the characters behind this growing subculture, from audio elites hunting down rare pressings to populists sharing their hobby with their community.

Edgers had rocked the audiophile world earlier in the year with his reporting on a record company scandal. Through more than two dozen interviews and over a year of reporting; original photography and video; and interactive audio, this project took both newcomers and experts into the debates and technicalities of this growing market — and captured the artistry that make fans so passionate to begin with.

To open the story, Edgers and video journalist CJ Russo joined the controversial audio entrepreneur Tom Port during one of his “shootouts,” sessions in which Port listens to many pressings of the same record to find the best-sounding version.

How could we re-create this scene for readers? Nothing could match the experience of sitting in front of one of these deluxe sound systems.

With the help of contacts in the music world, the team designed the next best thing. Edgers and audio producer Bishop Sand traveled to Brooklyn with a binaural microphone and a stereo microphone to record the same tracks, the Miles Davis Quintet’s “Oleo” and Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend,” playing once as a digital file and once on vinyl through Jonathan Weiss’s $363,000 Oswalds Mill Audio speakers. Sand matched the loudness of the recordings postproduction.

The team embedded those tracks as audio quizzes in the story, challenging readers to listen and guess which version was the digital file and which was the vinyl track. After meeting the characters who organize their lives around the search for the perfect sound, readers could get a taste of the difference for themselves.


Further Reading

Geoff Edgers on Sinéad O’Connor

Sinéad O’Connor is still in one piece

“She tore up a picture of the pope. Then her life came
apart. These days, she just wants to make music.”

This was true as of 2020, when Geoff Edgers wrote his touching and insightful story about her.

To give you the flavor of the piece, a series of text messages she sent him can be seen below.

I do feel like I was a monster. I feel awful. I do beat the living s- - - out of myself. Am full of grief about it would be a better way of describing it

Was Not my purpose on the planet to have hurt anyone …

But no one ever minded if they hurt me

Is the thing

That’s part of the code also

All artists have one dream that will never come true

If you can figure that out you know them

They teach that in acting school. Key to finding a character is what dream does he or she have that will never come true

Mine is a mom

Rest in peace.

Robert Brook Makes History with the First Shootout Video Ever Posted on Youtube

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE. You can find it by clicking the link below.

Welcome to The Broken Record!

We recently loaned Robert some copies of Revolver so that he could do the first youtube-acceptable Record Shootout video in the history of mankind. He had three copies of his own to play along with the five we loaned him, plenty to work with.

We hope to be able to discuss the experience of doing the shootout and the video with him soon, but for now, let’s just enjoy the first of its kind.

Robert now knows firsthand something few audiophiles have made the effort to learn:

Shootouts are a great deal of work if you do them right.

If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them carefully, or follow rigorous testing protocols, that kind of shootout anyone can do. You can find those kinds of shootouts on youtube, but we have never seen fit to take them seriously.

The results of shootouts that are not carried out in the serious way that we do and the way that Robert did cannot be trusted, for reasons that anyone reading this blog should find obvious.

Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.

Here is an especially egregious example of how to go about it all wrong.

We ourselves struggled back in the old days. in 2005, our attempted shootout for Blue could not get off the ground. Two years and scores of shootouts later, we had been able to find and clean some amazing sounding copies, which is how we were able to tell how far off the mark this pressing was.

For a quick tutorial on shootouts, please click on one or both of the links below:

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Tone Poets and One Legged Tarzans

Making Audio Progress 

More Unsolicited Audio Advice

A tenet of conservatism is that we must all accommodate ourselves to living in the world that exists, not the world we might want to pretend exists, or the world we would like to exist.

The laws of physics are laws, not theories, not recommendations, and they operate independently of how convenient any of us may find them.

It follows from this — if you will allow me to make the case — that not everybody with a stereo can play Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings properly, and some people cannot play Tarzan at all. (See below.)

There is a fellow, rl1856, who made some comments on Robert Brook’s blog, addressing the Tone Poets pressings of RVG’s recordings vis-a-vis vintage pressings that RVG mastered. (Bolding has been added by me.)

rl1856 writes:

An original RVG 1st or 2nd pressing has a visceral, “edge of the seat” feeling that is missing in the TP [Tone Poets] and BN [Blue Note] Classic reissues. The RVG has a tighter stereo spread, and is voiced so that the listener feels they are very close to the musicians. The TP and Classic remasters have a more distant perspective. The soundstage is wider, but the added apparent distance between musician and listener significantly reduces the impact of the music. OTOH, the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes, and reproduce more micro detail than original pressings. We know that RVG used a surprising amount of EQ when mastering his LPs back in the day. So we need to ask ourselves, what do we want ? A better version of what we are familiar with, including EQ compromises, or a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape in RVG’s studio ? The answers may be mutually exclusive.

My system: Linn LP12 ITTOK LVII, SoundSmith Denon 103D, Audio Research SP10MKIII, Luxman MA 88 monoblocks, or Triode TRV 845PSE, or Mac 240, KEF LS50. Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.

When someone reveals that their equipment is simply not capable of reproducing the sound of live music, we can safely ignore whatever opinions they have offered about the records being discussed.

It should be obvious that they have played them with unacceptably low levels of fidelity.

Let’s Talk About the Real World

The science behind my argument is as follows.

Acoustic instruments make sounds by moving air, whether in the studio or the concert hall.

Speakers replicate the sound of those instruments in your listening room by the same process. They move air.

Big dynamic speakers are good at moving air in a listening room, and small ones are not.

Therefore, speakers that do not move enough air are failing fundamentally to reproduce the sound of recorded instruments with fidelity.

On a hot day you can fan yourself with an album jacket or you can fan yourself with a guitar pick. One moves enough air to cool you off, the other does not, no matter how hard you try. (See: physics, laws of, above.)

Box speakers with five inch drivers may move enough air in the home listening environment, especially in smaller rooms, to play music with enough fidelity to make it enjoyable.

What they cannot do is move enough air to play music that sounds anything like live music.

The right pressings (we admit that this phrase is doing a lot of heavy lifting here) of Rudy Van Gelder’s better recordings do a remarkable job, in this writer’s view, of reproducing the feeling one gets from listening to live music.

If the speakers you own fail to reproduce that sound — the kind of big, lively sound some of us have spent a lifetime pursuing — how can your judgment be of any value to those of us who own large speakers in dedicated rooms, all working together to reproduce music at live levels?

Colorblind people rarely make good art critics. They know better than to talk about the colors they can’t see.

Some actors who want to play Tarzan are simply not equipped to play Tarzan. They may be foolish enough to audition, but no one could possibly be foolish enough to give them the part. (See video below.)

A Poor Guide

Some speakers give an incomplete picture of what the record is getting right and what it is getting wrong. Due to the laws of physics mentioned above, speakers with “woofers” that are 5.25 inches in diameter can be safely placed in this category.

No recording of a jazz group with a bass player can be reproduced properly using a five inch woofer.

Rudy recorded many jazz groups, and few of them did not have someone playing bass.

If you have that kind of ‘incomplete” speaker, regardless of how much you may like what it does well in other respects, the first step in the long road to better sound is to recognize that it is preventing you from appreciating a great deal of what makes Rudy Van Gelder’s recordings the powerful listening experiences they most certainly are.

Little speakers are not powerful. To be powerful, a speaker has to move air well, and that is one thing, among many, that small speakers cannot do.

They also do not do a good job in my experience of capturing frequency extremes, especially at the low end, which makes this fellow’s comment that “the reissues have greater extension at frequency extremes” rather absurd. His speaker goes down to 80hz. I looked it up. There are two full octaves of bass below 80hz. I guess those aren’t important. (When audiophiles tell you some aspect of the reproduction of music is “not important,” this should be seen as nothing more than motivated reasoning. You don’t want to be that guy either.)

Something I’ve never taken the time to write about on this blog is the correct sizing of instruments.

Some speakers — typically those with smaller drivers — create images of instruments that are too small, smaller than you would picture them if you were sitting in the audience. Other speakers — typically screens of one kind or another — produce larger-than-life images of instruments and vocalists. In the ’70s, I heard a lot of screens and full-range electrostats — these come to mind, and there were plenty of others like them, Magneplanars and the like — and the images never seemed right-sized or real enough to be taken seriously. I opted for a big dynamic system and never heard anything that would give me a reason to switch.

Yes, he may think that his system is “Resolving enough to easily hear differences in LP quality.”

But what about all the differences his system does not allow him to hear? Failing to recognize the shortcomings of a stereo system doesn’t make them go away.

When you close your eyes while listening to a system that looks like this (I found this one randomly on the web), do you feel that you’re in the presence of live musicians?

Of course you don’t. How could you?

But when I listen to the system seen below (that’s me at the table) turned up good and loud, that is precisely the sound I get from the hottest of the Hot Stamper pressings I play. Here is one example from not that long ago. I could easily describe hundreds of others, many of which are unforgettable.

Some of our customers have written to us that they got the same feeling we did, the sense of being in the presence of live musicians.

The remarkable White Hot stamper pressings we discuss on this blog were made from the greatest recordings ever put on tape, and that group includes a fair number that were engineered by RVG.

Rudy Is the Man

Of the many hundreds of jazz albums we have listened to critically over the past thirty plus years, our pick for The Best Sounding Jazz Record of them all has Rudy’s name in the credits. Even better, it’s a reissue from the ’70s, because the originals, at least the ones we’ve played, don’t sound remotely as good as the right reissues.

We didn’t read that on a forum, or a website, or in a magazine. We heard it with our own two ears.

It’s the kind of thing that an obsessively-tuned full-range system, set up in a heavily-tweaked, dedicated room, can reveal about just how remarkably different various pressings of recordings can sound. These differences are often obscured by the manifold shortcomings of smaller, more limited systems, the ones most audiophiles own.

That’s why some audiophiles believe what they read from self-described experts about master tapes and mastering approaches and all the rest. Their systems can’t show them how mistaken all this talk really is.

To convince others that you know something about “a more accurate representation of what was actually captured on the master tape,” as if that could be known by someone with no access to the master tape and speakers you could fit in a backpack, is the height of self-deception. It’s the worst kind of pretend knowledge.

We’ve learned that the only way to understand records is by ignoring what everybody says and just play as many different pressings as possible in blinded, carefully controlled experiments. The data derived from these experiments should inform your opinions, not the other way around.

If you really want to make the case for your expertise in record reviewing, it’s never a good idea to claim that the laws of physics don’t apply to you. It’s the kind of thing that upsets irredeemably skeptical types such as me, who then spend all afternoon writing longwinded commentaries about the things that misinformed audiophiles believe.

Never Played One

To be clear, we have never played a Tone Poets record. We’ve played many titles mastered by Kevin Gray, and we know that he is credited with mastering some records for the label. Without exception we find that his remastered records leave a lot to be desired. You can find many of them in our Hall of Shame. Anyone defending his work to me has some heavy lifting to do.

A couple of titles we will be doing shootouts for soon will include the Tone Poets pressings, and you will be able to read all about them right here on the blog.

Until then, allow us to leave you with a few things to think about.



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John writes: “The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records.”

More Commentaries Prompted by Forums, Videos and Comments Sections

More Letters from fans and detractors alike.

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out the interview Wired conducted with me a few years back.

If you have some time on your hands, maybe too much time on your hands, go to the comments section and read the 300 plus postings that can be found there, the writers of which seem to be offended by the very idea of Hot Stampers. They also decry the obvious shortcomings of analog vinyl itself, as well as the ridiculously expensive equipment some “credulous, misguided audiophiles,” their terms, use to play vinyl records, as if you didn’t know already!

Here is one that I found to be especially interesting, from a psychological perspective if not from an audio one: 

Bad, mismatched system setup. Customer base probably has the same. Also evaluation process is questionable. Uses a mediocre solid state amp and looks for “tubey magic” because of some misplaced concept of “accuracy” as I discussed before. [Man, this guy has got our number all right, ouch!]

Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff out there, and it does give the stereo industry as a whole a bad name. I have heard some pretty crappy, expensive setups in my day.

I was listening to Phoebe Snow’s “Second Childhood” on my best system last night. Boy, I love my new turntable!

The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records. My comments are probably correct, but it would be interesting to audition a few of his “golden” albums just to confirm he hasn’t really found anything. The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original. Claiming otherwise hurts his credibility.

John

There is one sentence in the paragraphs above that should raise a giant red flag and help you to appreciate how reliable John’s analysis of our stereo and methods might turn out to be. If you didn’t catch it the first time through, give it another shot. Okay, here goes:

The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original.

That’s so strange! Virtually every repressing I’ve heard is worse than the original.

What gives?

If I may paraphrase our writer: the reason I am confident that he probably does not know anything about records or audio is that he thinks repressings are always better than vintage pressings. We’ve critically auditioned tens of thousands of records, including many hundreds of repressings, admittedly on our “bad, mismatched system setup,” and I guess we must have gotten it all wrong over the 34 years we’ve been in the audiophile record business. The shame of it all!

Obviously, John knows he does not need to try one of our Hot Stampers. You can see him talking himself into the wisdom of doing nothing with every succeeding paragraph.

It’s easy for him to be right by simply pretending to know something he cannot possibly know.

(Knowledge that is not backed up by empirical findings [1] comes in for a lot of criticism here at Better Records, and for good reason. Guessing, speculating and assuming are poor approaches to separating the good pressings from the bad ones.)

And if he did ever order one, and had at least a halfway decent stereo to play it on, it would turn his world upside down so fast it would make his head hurt, and the possibility of that happening would be very, very upsetting. It makes no sense for John to risk such an outcome.

Even if our records were as cheap as the ones he is buying, even the superior sound would not justify the psychological damage that would result. He would basically have to start his collection over again, as this good customer did.  A few hundred others just like him have done the same, and they’re the ones that will be keeping us in business for years to come. To paraphrase another famous saying, “They’ve heard the future, and it works!

Better for John to follow the path he is on. It’s working for him. Why would he want to rock his own boat?

We wrote about that issue on this very blog. Here is an excerpt:

Our Hot Stampers will of course still sound quite a bit better on even a run-of-the-mill audiophile system than any Heavy Vinyl pressing you care to name, but if you’re happy with a $30 reissue, what’s your incentive to spend five or ten or twenty times that amount, based on nothing more than my say-so? Even with a 100% Money Back Guarantee, why rock your own boat?

On the site we take great pains to make it clear that there are many ways that an audiophile—even a novice—can prove to himself that what we say about pressing variations is true, using records he already owns. You don’t have to spend a dime to discover the reality underlying the concept of Hot Stampers.

But perhaps you may have noticed, as I have, that most audio skeptics do not go out of their way to prove themselves wrong. And a little something psychologists and cognitive scientists call Confirmation Bias practically guarantees that you can’t hear something you don’t want to hear.

Which is all well and good. At Better Records we don’t let that slow us down. Instead we happily go about our business Turning Skeptics Into Believers, taking a few moments out to debunk the hell out of practically any Heavy Vinyl LP we run into, for sport if for no other reason.

They’re usually so bad it’s actually fun to hear how screwy they sound when played back correctly.

But don’t tell John that.


[1] Pretense of Knowledge

When someone pretends to know things they cannot possibly know, or think they know things that simply are not true and are easily demonstrated to be false, such a person can be said to suffer from a “pretense of knowledge.”

Some of the theories that audiophiles believe — original pressings have the best sound, the first pressings off the earliest stampers sound better than later pressings — are best understood as articles of faith, since there is rarely much data to support them.

“Made from the master tape,” “no compression or equalization was used in the making of the recording,” “AAA, all analog mastering,” etc., etc., are all forms of pretentious knowledge that should never be accepted at face value.

Anyway, these claims and others like them are beside the point.

Records must be judged only by the way they sound, not by what may or may not be true about the processes used to make them.

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The Graceland Remastering Disaster, Part 2

More of the Music of Paul Simon

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. As a public service, we soon set about describing what we heard when we put this remastered piece of junk to the test.

Up against a properly mastered, properly pressed early pressing, it earned a failing grade. Is it the worst version of the album ever pressed on vinyl? Hard to imagine it would have much competition. 

The title of our review gives away the game: What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

The reviewer who interviewed the remastering engineer responsible for this and no doubt many other awful sounding records has never been able to tell a good record from a bad one, and he carries on that tradition with Graceland.

Ryan Smith, the hack who cut this album, has done quite a lot of work for Analogue Productions. We can’t say we’ve played many of his recuts, but the ones we have played are hopelessly bad, with the overly smooth sound so much in vogue today.

We played his recut of Scheherazade, and rather than just give it the failing grade it deserved, we explained how any audiophile can use its mistaken EQ in order to recognize what is wrong with it and others like it.

(Contrary to popular opinion, it is no better than Bernie Grundman’s bad sounding version from the ’90s, the one he cut for Classic Records.)

One of my good customers read this rave review from this same reviewer for the Texas Hurricane Box Set and made the worst mistake any audiophile can make: he believed it.

“His overdriven Stratocaster sound is one that guitar aficionados never tire of hearing live or on record, especially when it’s well recorded. … Yet again, Chad Kassem sets high the box set reissue bar delivering a “must have” package for SRV fans, every bit the equal of the one Doors fans have come to cherish. …every one of these records betters the originals and by a considerable margin. It is not even close…You’ve never heard these albums sound like this. That is a 100 % guaranty. …this is an impeccably produced box set physically and especially sonically. It’s the best these albums have ever and probably will ever sound.” — Music = 9/11; Sound = 10/11 — Michael Fremer

Sure, he’s out $400, but on the bright side he’s now learned a lesson he is very unlikely to forget.

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The Beach Boys – Sail on, Sailor

More of the Music of The Beach Boys

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Beach Boys 

The original record is dull on the lead vocal, but the chorus is magic.

All the other versions get is wrong as far as I can tell, and in exactly the way I describe in this commentary for Jackson Browne’s first album:

Most of the clips posted here are so modern and phony and wrong they make my head hurt. Really boosted on the top. Who on earth wants that sound? Apparently some people do.

The real pressings never sounded that way. Although they may need some modest help in the EQ department, making wholesale changes to the sound — as was clearly done for most of these modern versions — is just wrong.

It ruins everything that is good about the recording.

Now do you see why we have so little respect for modern mastering engineers?

They ruin classic titles like Surfs Up with their “improvements.” They destroy what is good about vintage analog while promoting themselves as the protectors of vintage analog.

The only people who can be trusted to promote the sound of vintage analog are the people who sell it and write about it.

The rest of them are frauds and charlatans and, as far as I can tell, deaf as a post.

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