Pressings with Middling Sound Quality

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears. (more…)

Blood Sweat and Tears / Self-Titled – Direct Disc Labs Half-Speed Reviewed

More Blood, Sweat and Tears

Reviews and Commentaries for Blood, Sweat and Tears

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Sonic Grade: C [not sure it would rate that highly today, my guess it would not]

Back in the ’80s I thought this DD Labs version smoked domestic copies, because the only domestic copy I had ever bought was a bad sounding one. This was many years before I came to understand that no two domestic copies were the same and that there were dozens of pressing variations.

I believe it was not until about 1990 that I heard my first Hot Stamper of BS&T. Oddly enough, those stamper numbers managed to best all comers for about the next 15 years. Now we know that although they can be awesome, there is actually another stamper that is potentially even better. It’s so good in fact that it has been awarded our Four Plus grade. 

The reason this pressing doesn’t get a lower grade is that, regardless of how compressed and veiled the sound is, the average Columbia pressing is surely no better.

When it comes to finding your own great sounding pressing, sure, you can do it, but it’s a lot of hard work. I’m guessing most of you already have a job and don’t need another one. I do this for a living as well as for a hobby, so I’m willing to put in the time and effort to slog through all the trash in order to find the treasure.

Also, we have a big advantage over our customers. I’ve been doing this for a very long time. I have a big head start on all of you. I know many stampers that are good and many that are bad. I found out the hard way. On BS&T I know exactly which copies to buy and which copies to avoid. I have literally heard more than 100 copies of this record.

This is true for scores if not hundreds of other albums. Why did I bother to listen to so many different pressings? The overriding reason is because I wanted to find a better sounding version for myself.

It’s not worth the effort if it’s not music you love.

This is also the reason you will never find Hot Stamper pressings of some artists’ records on the site. I don’t like their music and I will just never make the effort to listen to enough pressings in order to find a hot one.

Most of this was written way back in 2005.


FURTHER READING

Half-Speed Mastered Disasters

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John Williams / Star Wars & Close Encounters / Mehta

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

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This Mobile Fidelity LP contains the music of Star Wars and Close Encounters, conducted by Zubin Mehta. This MoFi pressing is far more TRANSPARENT than the London pressings we have of the same music, even the ones half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker himself. Yes, he cut the original Londons!

It’s still one of the better MoFi remasters, all things considered. The music, to these ears, has always been hi-fi-ish schlock, and the recording itself is way too multi-miked, in the tradition of Phase IV, than I could ever begin to take seriously.

Bottom line, a loser, but the original Londons are even worse!
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Ben Webster – Ben Webster and Associates

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Ben Webster

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This Mono Black Label Verve LP from 1959 gets 4 1/2 Stars from AMG!

The sound quality is nothing special but the music is classic Webster.

“This summit meeting turned out to be a tribute to another tenor master of the same generation, Lester Young, who had died less than four weeks before this session. The chosen rhythm section of Jimmy Jones on piano, Les Spann on guitar, Ray Brown on bass, and Jo Jones on drums equally matches the performance of the featured horns… ” — AMG

FURTHER READING

We have four categories of sound for the thousands of records we’ve auditioned over the years.

The Ben Webster record above went into our Middling Sound Quality section. It’s not a bad sounding record, but not a very good one either. Although music lovers will be pleased, audiophiles looking for top quality sound are advised to look elsewhere.

These categories are not quite as definitive as they sound, as there could be a Hot Stamper pressing — perhaps a reissue of some kind — of the album that would better fit in the Excellent Sound Quality category.

Pressings with Mind-Blowing Sound Quality

Pressings with Excellent Sound Quality 

Pressings with Middling Sound Quality 

Pressings with Weak Sound Quality or Music 

Julie London / Your Number Please – Skip the Mono

More Julie London

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

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The mono we played (not pictured) in our shootout did not fare well head to head against the stereo pressings we had on hand. It is rich and tubey, and Julie’s voice is solid and full-bodied, but the overall presentation is dark, opaque and small.

How do the mono record lovers of the world find this kind of sound to their liking?  We honestly don’t know.

On today’s modern stereos the mono pressing leaves a lot to be desired, and for that reason, we say Skip the Mono.

For records that we think sound best in mono, click here.

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Classic Records – More of the Same Old Same Old

More Cannonball Adderley

More Miles Davis

Reviews and Commentaries for Somethin’ Else

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Sonic Grade: C

Another Classic Records LP that’s hard to get excited about.

There are certainly some incredible sounding pressings of this album out there, but who has the resources it takes to find them? Most of the original Blue Notes we come across these days turn out to have mediocre sound, and many of them have severely damaged inner grooves. Even the mintiest looking copies often turn out to be too noisy for most audiophiles, Blue Note vinyl being what it is.

This is of course why the hacks at Classic Records did so well for themselves [until they went under] hawking remastered versions of classic albums pressed on new, quieter vinyl.

The problem is that most of their stuff just doesn’t sound all that hot, this album included. We’ve played it; it’s decent, but any Hot Stamper will show you just how much music you are missing.

If you want to hear this album with amazing fidelity but don’t want to spend the time, money and energy collecting, cleaning, and playing mostly mediocre copies until you luck into a good quiet one, a Hot Stamper pressing is the only way to go.


FURTHER READING on Heavy Vinyl

Classic Records – Classical 

Classic Records – Jazz  (more…)

Bruce Springsteen / Born To Run – Bernie Grundman’s Standard Operating Procedure Strikes Again

More Bruce Springsteen

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

Their pressing was as dead as a doornail – more thick, opaque and compressed than most originals, which of course have 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.


FURTHER READING

Classic Records – Rock and Pop 

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The Animals – Animalization

More of The Animals

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this copy of the band’s fourth American album
  • This original Stereo pressing is rich and solid, and dramatically less harsh than most of the copies we played in our shootout
  • “The Animals were not prolific or accomplished writers. But as interpreters, they were fearless in attack and astute in the dynamics of swing. Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” becomes rent-party punk; “Don’t Bring Me Down,” a song of bittersweet dismay written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is turned into a seesaw ride between the creeping evil of the organ paired with Valentine’s throaty fuzz in the verses and Burdon’s crucifixion cry in the chorus.”

Although this is far from an audiophile Demo Disc — what Animals album is? — you will have a very hard time finding a copy of the album that sounds as good and plays as quietly as this one does. (more…)

VTA Adjustment on Crosby Stills and Nash – Using the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl LP

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More VTA Adjustment

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This commentary from way back when (2005!) describes how to go about adjusting your VTA for 200 gram vinyl, using the CSN track Helplessly Hoping from the first album.

Helplessly Hoping is a wonderful song with plenty of energy in the midrange and upper midrange area which is difficult to get right. Just today (4/25/05) I was playing around with VTA, having recently installed a new Dynavector DV-20x on my playgrading table (a real sweetheart, by the way), and this song showed me EXACTLY how to get the VTA right.

VTA is all about balance. The reason this song is so good for adjusting VTA is that the guitar at the opening is a little smooth and the harmony vocals that come in after the intro can be a little bright. Finding the balance between these two elements is key to getting the VTA adjusted properly. (more…)

A Reviewer Liked London CS 6357 a Whole Lot More Than I Did – A Cautionary Tale

While digging around the web I ran into a site called From Miles to Mozart, which purports to be “An exploration of the incredible world of classical and jazz recordings”

Fair enough. Here is what the reviewer had to say about a London we did not think sounded very good, CS 6357. At the time, he was most of the way through a fairly complete survey of London Bluebacks, and when those were done he went on to review a Whiteback pressing of this London, which appears to be the only pressing he had on hand. (We of course had only the one as well.)

I’d run out of blue so next up was CS 6357 with its retro FFSS label, a white back FFSS. Clifford Curzon scores a knockout with the Dvorak Quintet with a very refined late Blueback sound; truly transcendental sound of the highest order. Another white back FFSS followed in CS 6379 Mozart Clarinet Quintet with a magical clarinet but some edginess at times with some of the instruments. Overall the Clarinet Quintet had very strong sound to rival most any Blueback. Unfortunately, the Mozart Divertimenti on side 2 was not as assured with quite a few signs of strain in the highs indicative some early transistor changing the precious Blueback sound. CS 6379 was recorded by Smith and Parry October, 1963 at Sofiensaal, Vienna with the LP coming out in May of 1964. CS 6357 was recorded in Sofiensaal, Vienna by Culshaw and Parry in October 1962 with the LP in October 1963. Overall two strong LP’s without a Blueback! (Well, CS 6357 does exist with a Blueback.)

He has some ideas about “precious Blueback sound” and the half-speed mastering setup used to achieve them. I will leave that for others to discuss, mostly because I could not seriously entertain this fellow’s writing once I found out what he had to say about one of Mobile Fidelity’s earliest half-speed mastered releases:

Zubin Mehta Conducts Music from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (MFSL 1-008)

Comments: If you want to hear what audiophile vinyl sounds like, this is a great way to start. Whether you like science fiction movies or not, this record is a must hear … and try to turn up the volume if you can. This Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Decca SXL 6885 (London ZM 1001) is one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings I have ever heard. It may not be the recording used for the movies (John Williams conducted those himself), but it sounds significantly better in terms of recording quality. Talk about lifelike presence, huge dynamic range, bass depth with real visceral impact — this record has DEMONSTRATION written all over it. Even the Cantina Band track gives you the impression of an alien jazz/pop band playing right before you. I was fortunate enough to get my copy for free from a friend, and only recently did I realize that this album sells for some money. Looking for a change from the same old EMI, Decca, RCA, Mercury, DG, or Philips? Try this one.

If this is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc, you are setting the bar awfully low, about even with the height of the carpeting. I consider it a piece of Audiophile trash, one that I never bothered to discuss on the blog. Were I to grade it today I would probably give it a D for sound and an F for music. I remember playing it back in the late-’70 or early-’80s and wondering what on earth was the appeal of such a cheesy, lowest-common-denominator schlockfest. (more…)