Pressings with Middling Sound Quality

Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – 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 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 and 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 / Born To Run – 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.


FURTHER READING

Classic Records – Rock and Pop 

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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

The Doors – Don’t the DCC Pressings All Sound Different Too?

More of the Music of The Doors

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of The Doors

I recently had a chance to listen again to this DCC pressing for the first time in many years. I was putting it up on ebay to sell and dropped the needle to check the sound. I can’t say I liked what I heard. Knowing the record as well as I do, I could her that the DCC was clearly to be brighter in the midrange.

When I went back to read what I had said about the DCC years ago, I saw that I had described that copy the same way. You can read it for yourself.

Our old review follows.

We rate the DCC LP a B Minus

We used to like the DCC pressing of this Doors album. Now… not so much. It’s a classic case of Live and Learn.

Keep in mind that the only way you can never be wrong about your records is simply to avoid playing them. If you have better equipment than you did, say, five or ten years ago, try playing some of your MoFi’s, 180 gram LPs, Japanese pressings, 45 RPM remasters and the like. You might be in for quite a shock.

Of course the question on everyone’s mind is, “How does this Hot Stamper copy stack up to the famous DCC pressing?” After all, the DCC was the one we were touting all through the ’90s as The One To Beat.

Well, to be honest, the DCC is a nice record, but a really special original copy throws a pretty strong light on its faults, which are numerous and frankly fairly bothersome.

The top end on the copy I played was a touch boosted, causing a number of problems.

For one, the cymbals sounded slightly tizzy compared to the real thing, which had a fairly natural, though not especially extended, top end.

But the real problem was in the midrange. Morrison sounded thinner and brighter, more like a tenor and less like a baritone, with a somewhat hi-fi-ish quality added to the top of his voice. Folks, I hate to say it, but if someone had told me that the record playing was half-speed mastered, I probably would have believed it. I detest that sound, and the DCC pressing bugged the hell out of me in that respect.

Morrison has one of the richest and most distinctive voices in the history of rock. When it doesn’t sound like the guy I’ve been listening to for close to forty years, something ain’t right.

The mid-bass was also a tad boosted — not in the deep bass, but more in that area around 100-200 cycles, causing the sound to be overly rich. None of the originals we played had anything like it, so I’m pretty sure that’s a bit of added EQ Hoffman introduced for reasons best known to him. (Did he like it that way, or was he pandering to some of the audiophile community’s preference for overly rich sound, the kind they confuse with “analog”? Nobody knows.)

Not So Fast There, O Hot Stamper Guru

But wait a minute — don’t all records sound different? Is it really fair to paint his version with such a broad brush on the basis of having played only one copy?

Of course not. Perhaps other copies sound better. It wouldn’t be the first time. (Maybe they sound worse. Think about that.)

So here’s our offer to you, dear customer: We absolutely guarantee our Hot Stamper copies will handily beat the DCC pressing or your money back. We’ll even pay the return domestic shipping if for some reason you are not 100% satisfied with the sound of our Hot Stamper. Now there’s an offer you can’t refuse, for any one of you who love the album and have a wad of money burning a hole in your pocket.

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Little Feat – A MoFi Pseudo-Hot Stamper

Little Feat Albums with Hot Stampers

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

Sonic Grade: C

Ten or fifteen years ago we did a listing for this Mobile Fidelity pressing as a Pseudo-Hot Stamper. Here is what we wrote at the time:

This is actually a pretty good sounding record, all things considered. We put this one through our cleaning process and gave it a listen. Although our Hot Stamper copies do sound better, they’re also quite a bit more expensive. This copy had the best sound we heard out of the three or four we played, which makes it a Hot Stamper I suppose, but we are instead just calling it a Very Good Sounding Copy.

Waiting for Columbus is one of the greatest live rock and roll albums ever made, containing performances by one of the greatest rock and roll bands to ever play. If you only buy one Little Feat album in your lifetime, make it this one.

We spent years trying to get shootouts together for this album, but kept running into the fact that in a head to head shootout the right MoFi pressing — sloppy bass and all — was hard to beat.

This is no longer the case, courtesy of that same old laundry list you have no doubt seen on the site countless times: better equipment, tweaks, record cleaning, room treatments, etcetera, etcetera. Now the shortcomings of the MoFi are clear for all to see, and the strengths of the best non-half-speed mastered pressings are too, which simply means that playing the MoFi now would be an excruciating experience. All I can hear is what it does wrong. I was so much happier with it when I didn’t know better.

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Rimsky-Korsakov on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Decca/London Recordings

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out some time ago. 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.

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 that kind of pinpoint imaging was simply nowhere t be found.

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.
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Julie London / Your Number Please – Skip the Mono

More of the Music of Julie London

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

The mono we played (not pictured) in our shootout did not fare well head to head against the stereo pressings we had on hand.

Yes, 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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The Royal Ballet – Gala Performances – on Classic Records

More Reviews of Classic Records Classical Titles

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Sonic Grade: C or Better 

Probably a fairly good Classic Records album. When I played this record years ago I thought it was one of the better Classic RCA titles. You can be sure it won’t sound like the original — [almost] no Classic record does — but it might be pretty good all things considered. One thing to consider is that the original in clean condition sells for many thousands of dollars!

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


FURTHER READING

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities 

Heavy Vinyl Winners

The Beatles on MoFi – Another Disgracefully Spitty Half-Speed

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

Sonic Grade: C

If you own the Mobile Fidelity LP, do yourself a favor and buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings. (Actually any good British import pressing will do.)

What’s the first thing you will notice other than correct tonality, better bass and a lot more “life” overall?

No spit! As we’ve commented elsewhere, because of the wacky cutting system they used, Mobile Fidelity pressings are full of sibilance. 

As I was playing a British pressing of this record many years ago, maybe by about the fifth or sixth song it occurred to me that I hadn’t been hearing the spit that I was used to from my MoFi LP. You don’t notice it when it’s not there.

But your MoFi sure has a bad case of spitty vocals. If you never noticed them before, you will now. (more…)

Steely Dan on Japanese Vinyl – If You Are Serious About Audio, You Cop to Your Mistakes

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

And to think I used to swear by this pressing — specifically the 2000 Yen reissue, not the 1500 Yen original, which I never liked very much — another example of just how wrong one can be.

We happily admit to our mistakes because we know that all this audio stuff and especially the search for Hot Stampers is a matter of trial and error.

We do the trials; we run the experiments,

That’s the only way to avoid the kinds of errors most audiophiles make when it comes to finding the best sounding records.

Being skeptical of every claim you have not tested for yourself is key to getting good results from this kind of work.

Of course, being human we can’t help but make our share of mistakes. The difference is that we learn from them. We report the facts to the best of our ability every time out. 

Every record gets a chance to show us what it’s made of, regardless of where it was made, who made it or why they made it. 

If we used to like it and now we don’t, that’s what you will read in our commentary. Our obligation is to only one person: you, the listener. (Even better: you, the customer. Buy something already and see what you have been missing.)

On every shootout we do now, if the notes are more than six months old, we toss them out. They mean nothing. Things have changed, radically, and that’s the way it should be.

With each passing year you should be hearing more of everything in your favorite LPs.

That’s the thrill of this hobby — those silly old records just keep getting better. I wish someone could figure out how to make digital get better. They’ve had forty years and it still leaves me wanting more. You too I’m guessing.