Pressings with Middling Sound Quality

David Crosby – Another in a Long Line of Classic Records’ Mediocrities

More of the Music of David Crosby

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of David Crosby

What do you get with our best Hot Stampers compared to the Classic Heavy Vinyl reissue?

  • Dramatically more warmth,
  • Dramatically more sweetness,
  • Dramatically more delicacy,
  • Dramatically more transparency,
  • Dramatically more ambience,
  • Dramatically more warmth,
  • Dramatically more energy,
  • Dramatically more size (width and height),
  • Dramatically more correct timbres (without the boost to the top and the bottom end that the Classic suffers from).

in other words, the kind of difference you almost ALWAYS get comparing the best vintage pressings with their modern remastered counterparts, if our first hand experience with thousands of them can be considered evidentiary.

The Classic is a decent enough record. I might give it a “C” or so. It’s sure better than the Super Saver reissue pressing, but that is obviously setting a very low bar. No original I have ever played did not sound noticeably better than Bernie’s recut.

A Hot Stamper of an amazing recording such as this is a MAGICAL record. Can the same be said of any Classic Records release? None come to mind.

By the way, the remastered CD that came out in 2011 (I think that’s the one I have) is excellent, with a surprising amount of the Tubey Magic that is on the original tape. On a good CD player it would be clearly superior to the Classic vinyl, and for that reason, we say buy the CD.

Here are some records we’ve reviewed that are lacking in the same qualities as this pressing of David Crosby’s first album. If you own any of the titles that we’ve linked to below, listen for their shortcomings and see if your copy doesn’t sound the way we’ve described the copies we’ve played.


Further Reading

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There is an abundance of audiophile collector hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and many of them are awful. (Some, of course, are good, and we don’t mind saying so.)

Music Matters made this garbage remaster. Did anyone notice how awful it sounded? I could list a hundred more that range from bad to worse — and I have! Take your pick: there are more than 150 entries in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section, each one worse sounding than the next.

Audiophiles seem to have approached these records naively instead of skeptically.

(But wait a minute. Who am I to talk? I did the same thing when I first got into audio and record collecting in the Seventies.)

How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how bad these records sound.

Maybe not this guy, or the “In Groove” guy, but there has to be at least some group of audiophiles out there, however small their number might be, with decent equipment and two working ears, right?

Excluding our customers of course, they have to know what is going on to spend the kind of money they spend on our records. And they write us lots of enthusiastic letters telling us so.

Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim on Bad Rhino Heavy Vinyl

Sonic Grade: C-

The Rhino 180 gram LP mastered by Kevin Gray is passable, but the real thing is the real thing and just can’t be beat by some wannabe reissue.

There is a richness, a sweetness and a relaxed naturalness on the best early pressings that are virtually never found on modern remasterings.

Rhino Records has really made a mockery of the analog medium. Rhino touts their releases as being pressed on “180 gram High Performance Vinyl.” However, if they are using performance to refer to sound quality, we have found the performance of their vinyl to be quite low, lower than the average copy one might stumble upon in the used record bins.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the analog qualities the better originals have plenty of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Paganini / Concerto No. 1 / Rabin – Reviewed in 2011

This is a rare and very nice looking Capitol LP. The violin sounds rich and sweet, although the sound of the orchestra is a bit “old school” with too much congestion and distortion during the louder sections to qualify as a Hot Stamper, assuming we were to put this record in a shootout.

Which makes it a “good, not great” vintage classical record, best played on an Old School Stereo system.

The much more revealing systems of today, like the one we employed to audition this very copy, simply make it too easy to spot its many faults.

Vintage Vinyl

We are not fans of vintage vinyl because we like the sound of old records. Lots of old records don’t sound good to us at all, and we review them by the score on this very blog.

We like old records because they have the potential to sound better than every other kind of record, including the ones that have been made and marketed to audiophiles over the course of the last thirty years or so.

We wrote about that subject in a commentary we call The Big If. An excerpt:

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if. In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

We go on to discuss the wonderfully accurate timbre of the better vintage pressings, in contrast to the consistently inaccurate tonality of the Modern Heavy Vinyl pressing. It’s a long story but we think it is well worth your time if you are an audiophile looking for better sounding vinyl.


AMG Biography

Michael Rabin managed to be one of the most talented and tragic violin virtuosi of his generation. Hailed as a child prodigy, his talent matured gracefully into an adult level, but he failed to follow in his emotional growth, resulting in a cutting short of his career. He never reached the age of 36, yet remains one of the most fondly remembered of virtuoso violinists for listeners and fellow musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman, with whom he shared a teacher.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

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Borodin on Speakers Corner – You Say the Budget Stereo Treasury Has Better Sound?

More of the music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Heavy Vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like a number of reissues, it lacks the weight found on the early London pressings. (Classic Records pressings rarely had that problem. Just the opposite in fact. The bass was boosted most of the time, especially the deep bass.)

I remember this Speakers Corner pressing being a little flat and bright. (I admit that I haven’t played it in years so I could easily be wrong.)

The glorious sound I hear on the best London pressings is not the kind of thing I hear on 180 gram records by Speakers Corner, or anybody else for that matter.

They do a good job some of the time, but none of their records can compete with a vintage pressing when that vintage pressing is mastered and pressed properly. 

The best pressings of this UK London Stereo Treasury from the Seventies will beat the pants off of it. That ought to tell you something, right?

A budget reissue that is clearly superior to the best that modern mastering has to offer?

It happens all the time. It’s the rule, not the exception.


The second symphony is a work that audiophiles should love. It shares many qualities with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which you will surely recognize.

It also has some lovely passages that remind me of the Tale of The Tsar Saltan, another work by the same composer.

If you like exotic and colorfully orchestrated symphonic sound, you will be hard-pressed to find better.

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Frank Sinatra – Another Kevin Gray Mediocrity

More of the Music of Frank Sinatra

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocals Albums

Sonic Grade: C-

Reprise reissued this album on 180 gram vinyl in 2004.

Our advice: skip this Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity. The originals are far better and not that hard to find.

In fact, the good originals are so good that they can be found in our Vocal Demo Disc section. I’m pretty sure that this run-of-the-mill reissue is nobody’s idea of a Demo Disc.

Mastered by Kevin Gray, this record has what we would call ”modern” sound, which is to say it’s clean and tonally correct, but it’s missing the Tubey Magic the originals are full of.

In other words, it sounds like a CD.

Who can be bothered to play a record that has so few of the qualities audiophiles are looking for on vinyl? Back in 2007 we put the question this way: Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Also, skip the orange label reissues. We’ve never heard a good one and we stopped buying them a long time ago.

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Virgil Fox – The Fox Touch Volume 2

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

Played against the best Golden Age organ recordings, these Crystal Clear titles are noticeably lacking in ambience.

The best pressings, assuming one would do a shootout for them, might be expected to earn a sonic grade of B- or so.

Volume 1 is a TAS List record. But seeing as they were all recorded at the same time, this one might sound every bit as good. Then again, it might not. 

By the way, did you know Stan Ricker cut this record live direct to disc? He did a great job too.

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Eagles / Hotel California – DCC Reviewed

More of the Music of The Eagles

Reviews and Commentaries for Hotel California

Sonic Grade: B+/B-

The DCC for this album is not a total disaster. In fact, the first side of the DCC is one of the better DCC sides we’ve played in recent memory. We dropped the needle on a few copies we had in the back (pressing variations exist for audiophile records too, don’t you know) and they averaged about a B+ for sound on side one. Side two was quite a bit too clean for our tastes — no real ambience or meaty texture to the guitars, about a B- for sound.

To flip something we say often: you can do worse, but you can do a LOT better.  

Differing Grading Scales

Note that the grading scale for Hot Stampers is slightly different than the grading scale we all grew up with in school.

The best Hot Stampers receive a grade of A Triple Plus.

This DCC record for side one is three steps down from that.

Three steps down from an A+ grade in school, the highest grade one could earn, would be a B+, hence the B+ grade you see above.

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Billie Holiday – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez (not breathy) vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing, right or wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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Bruce Springsteen – Bernie Grundman’s Standard Operating Procedure Strikes Again

More of the Music of Bruce Springsteen

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bruce Springsteen

If you own the Classic Records reissue from the early 2000s, hearing a Hot Stamper pressing is sure to be a revelation.

The Classic pressing was dead as a doornail. It was more thick, it was more opaque, and it was more compressed than most of the originals we played, originals which we noted had problems in all three areas to start with.

Bernie did the album no favors, that I can tell you.

Head to head in a shootout, our Hot Stampers will be dramatically more solid, punchy, transparent, open, clear and just plain REAL sounding, because these are all the areas in which heavy vinyl pressings tend to fall short.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.

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Respighi / Pines & Fountains Of Rome / Ansermet

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

This review was written at least ten years ago. Since then we have done extensive shootouts for both The Pines and The Fountains of Rome.

The London with Ernst Ansermet you see pictured, though good, did not make the cut and no Hot Stamper pressings — correction, no Hot Stamper pressings hot enough to offer our customers — were found of this recording from 1964.

Here is our old review. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since then.

EXCELLENT SOUND! Not a Demo Disc by any means, but a well-recorded, well-mastered Pines.

The problem with Pines is normally too much close miking. This London places the orchestra in a more natural perspective, which I much prefer.

Side two, the Pines, also has the best sound. 

Overview of the Works

Reviewing the Pines with Kempe on Readers Digest vinyl, we noted that our shootout from a few years back has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up the RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), the Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a fairly close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with a lack of low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Wilkinson working with his Decca colleagues nailed it — in 1964!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.


FURTHER READING

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now