The excellent BBC Archive account on Twitter has unearthed an audio gem.
A 1959 film called ‘Hi-Fi-Fo-Fum’ purports to reveal the burgeoning audiophile scene, with more than a little tongue-in-cheek humour for good measure.
“There is a man in Wimbledon who will go on adding to his equipment until he can hear the sigh of the conductor as the piccolo misses its entry,” says the introduction. He sounds like our kind of man.
“Is it a religion or a disease? An American psychiatrist calls it ‘audiophilia'”, reveals the voiceover, as men – and it’s largely men – shuffle in and out of hi-fi shops before rushing home for earnest listening sessions. It was ever thus.
“Do they like music? Or are they in love with equipment?”, wonders our narrator, as one excited punter buys a new tweeter for “6 pound 4 pence”.
And while much has changed – you don’t see many shops with individual listening booths nowadays – much has stayed the same. “A dream of perfection… of machines more sensitive than the ears they play to”, reminds us that arguments about audio frequencies that the human ear can’t hear are nothing new.
The video also shows the early music critic. “With a dozen different recordings of every work, how do we find the best?” wonders the voiceover. “Rely on the critic, nothing escapes him,” comes the reply.
His verdict? “Comparisons are odious but inevitable…” Well, quite.
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.
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?
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. (more…)
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.
More on the amazing album that this song is found on, The Original Soundtrack.
For those of you who’ve never chanced upon it, here is the ‘live’ version of the album in five parts.