Pressings with Middling Sound Quality

Billy Joel / 52nd Street – A Random Copy Tells You What, Exactly?

More of the Music of Billy Joel

Reviews and Commentaries for 52nd Street

Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted the following in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why. 

In our review we went on to say:

But at a cost. It still sounds like a modern record, with not much in the way of space, transparency, richness, resolution and the like. You know, all that ANALOG stuff that old dinosaurs like us think our records should have.

For those of you who have thirty three dollars to spend, you could do a lot worse on side two. Side one is pretty bad and you would have a hard time doing worse.

Allow me to now quote Mr. Gader from The Absolute Sound, October 2011, Issue 216, Pg. 129

The Impex 180-gram remastering by Kevin Gray is superb. It replaces the spongy timing and dull top of the original Columbia LP with expansive space and sharp details. Its vivid and brightened treble is welcome compared to the warm but smothered original. Listen for Joel’s doubled harmonies, the pennywhistle in “Rosalinda’s Eyes,” and the burning horn section in “Half a Mile Away,” and you’ll hear what a difference a great remastering makes.

Mr. Gader has a bad original pressing, and like most reviewers he makes the mistake of assuming that other originals, and probably all the originals, perforce sound like his. Speaking from experience, they most assuredly do not. We will not be addressing his specific complaints in this commentary for one simple reason.

Practically nothing in his review has anything to do with the sound of the best copies

So now we know, or at the very least suspect, that Mr. Gader’s copy of the album is not very good. Oh joy. What exactly does that have to do with the price of tea in China, or anything else for that matter? Should I now go through a pile of random original pressings and review one for you? What exactly would be the point of that?

Random Record Reviews

Reviewing randomly chosen copies of a record is an exercise in futility, with no bearing whatsoever on the sound of any other randomly chosen copy — mine, yours or anybody else’s.

So much for the value of Mr Gader’s review. But I do have to say that I find it more than coincidental that the songs he recommends are both on the “good” side of the album. Could he really have failed to notice how bad side one is?

After reading hundreds of reviews in the audio mags over the last thirty-plus years, one thing I’ve learned. With audiophile reviewers anything is possible. I’ll leave you to make of that what you will.

Hey, but wait a minute. Wasn’t my Impex pressing a random copy?

Why yes, it was. You are free to make of that what you will too.

Shootouts Are a Bitch

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. We would not consider that a real shootout. (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.)

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Ben Webster / Meets Oscar Peterson on Speakers Corner

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Saxophone

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Ben Webster

This is a Speakers Corner 180g LP. Years ago we wrote:

“Superb music and sound! This one gets a Top recommendation. This recording captures an intimate Webster session. Ben is at his best in this sort of setting. (He’s at his worst when called upon to “battle” with a gang of loud, frantic exhibitionists.)”

I doubt we would like it as much now as we did then, but if you can get one for cheap, and can stand the typical faults of most Heavy Vinyl pressings being made these days, we say go for it.

Liner Notes

The sensitive, alert and propulsive Peterson Trio frames his stories and statements handsomely, and contributes many notable statements of its own. Pianist Peterson, inspired perhaps by Ben, is in a fine, funky frame of mind (his Kansas City heritage.)

The artists take a bunch of strong, standard songs and personalize them — to say the least. With wonderful humor, Ben can take a sophisticated show tune like This Can’t Be Love (Rodgers and Hart) or Ray Noble’s romantic The Touch of Your Lips and turn it into an earthy finger-poppin’ affair. Or he can paint a picture of profound sadness in his tender, moody When Your Lover Has Gone, or that one-time Sinatra soliloquy, In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Speakers Corner – Jazz

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

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Rodrigo – Boieldieu / Harp Concertos – Speakers Corner Does a Disservice to DG

More of the music of Joaquín Rodrigo (1901-1999)

Sonic Grade: C-

A mediocre Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl reissue.

About ten years ago [twenty by now] a Heavy Vinyl version of this album was remastered and pressed by Speakers Corner, part of their disastrous foray into the DG catalog.

This title was decent, the Beethoven Violin Concerto was okay, as was one of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies with Mravinsky (#5), but the rest were just plain awful, offering disgracefully bad sound.

Funny, I don’t recall reading any bad reviews of these albums at the time.

Oh, that’s right, these Heavy Vinyl records never get bad reviews, no matter how lifeless, opaque and unpleasant they might sound.

Except from us of course. We were writing about them back in the day and trying to sell just the better ones.

We long ago gave up on that effort as so few are really very good when you get right down to it.

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Why Own a Turntable if You’re Going to Play Mediocrities Like These?

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

This commentary was posted in 2007 and amended later with the statement that we would no longer be ordering new heavy vinyl titles starting in 2010. By 2011 we had eliminated them completely from our site.

If you bought any Heavy Vinyl pressing from us, ever, now is the time to get rid of it and hear what a Hot Stamper can do for your musical enjoyment. 

Three of the Top Five sellers this week (8/22/07) at Acoustic Sounds are records we found hard to like: Aja, Aqualung and Blue. Can you really defend the expense and hassle of analog LP playback with records that sound as mediocre as the Rhino pressing of Blue?

Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these? I have boxes of CDs that sound more musically involving and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD?

If I ever found myself in the position of having to sell mediocrities like the ones you see pictured in order to make a living, I’d be looking for another line of work. The vast majority of these newly-remastered pressings are just not very good.

We Aren’t Walmart and We Definitely Don’t Want to Be Walmart

We leave that distinction to our colleagues at Acoustic Sounds, Elusive Disc and Music Direct (Walmart, Target and Sears perhaps? [Yes, Sears existed when I wrote this screed! Time flies.]).

They sell anything and everything that some hapless audiophile might wander onto their site and find momentarily attractive, like shiny bits of glass dangling from a tree, glittering as brightly as fool’s gold. They know their market and they know where the real money is. (Hint: it ain’t records, dear reader, it’s equipment. If you haven’t seen one of their thick full-color catalogs lately, count how many pages of equipment you have to wade through at the front before you get to the “recommended recordings.”) [I would amend that to say that it probably is records now. Since 2007 they have become much more popular and profitable. Apparently you can cut the same title 16 different times and audiophiles will just keep buying them.]

The Hall of Shame

We had no business selling Neil Young’s Greatest Hits — the typical dead-as-a-doornail remastering job we’ve come to expect from Classic over the years — and now it can be found only in our Hall of Shame where it should have been located from the start.

Which, by the way, has a new member: In Through the Out Door. We were doing a shootout in time for the mailer this week and decided to crack the Classic open to give it another listen, since my review was about five years old at this point, a lifetime in the world of audio. (My world of audio, anyway, and hopefully yours.)

Well, it turned out to be nothing but an absolute piece of crap. Tonally wrong from top to bottom, compressed, lacking presence, life, energy — an unmitigated disaster, joining the Classic pressings of II, III and Houses, three of the other worst sounding Zeppelin records I have ever had the misfortune to play. It’s a perfect We Was Wrong entry — watch for it soon — and we owe an apology to anyone who bought one from us. So sorry!

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Paganini / Concerto No.1 – Testament Records

The Music of Paganini Available Now

More Reviews of the Music of Paganini

Sonic Grade: C

We used to sell the Testament pressing you see pictured to the left. Many years later, in our review for the budget Angel Seraphim pressing, we said:

This copy KILLS the out of print Testament 180 gram version from circa 2000 (which is not a bad record by any means). Can’t say how it compares to the original — we haven’t had one in years.

When I was selling the Testament Heavy Vinyl pressing all those years ago, I had never heard an original.

But doesn’t it strike you as sad that even the cheapest domestic reissue from the ’70s (I think that’s when it was released), put out on a budget label, absolutely mops the floor with the higher priced, much more prestigious, ostensibly superior, imported from the UK Testament LP?

I was an audiophile then and I’m an audiophile now, and I am glad to say I’ve learned a few things about records in the last twenty or so years.

One of the things I leaned was that most Heavy Vinyl pressings are a fraud perpetrated on a far-too-credulous segment of the record buying public, principally made up of record buyers who describe themselves as audiophiles.

I fell for the hype twenty years ago but, as I say, I’ve learned a few things since then and now I know just how easily fooled most audiophiles are when it comes to buying records, especially the ones marketed to them by the major audiophile record dealers (who, truth be told, make even worse sounding records than this Testament. I’m looking at you, Mobile Fidelity and Acoustic Sounds).

Our Most Recent Review of a Hot Stamper Seraphim Pressing

The AMAZING Michael Rabin is the principal violinist. His playing of these exceptionally difficult pieces is legendary. Recorded by Capitol in the late ’50s, his fiery performance is breathtaking, with the kind of energy, excitement and technical proficiency that is second to none in our experience.

There’s a very good chance that you have NEVER heard a better sounding violin concerto record than this one. It’s clearly superior to most of the pressings that audiophiles would hold dear; we’ve played them by the score. The fact that it’s on a budget label reissue label, to my mind, is the icing on the cake. (There’s a valuable lesson here to be learned if only more audiophiles will make the effort to learn it.)

There are two recordings of the Paganini Concerto No.1 we like currently; this one, and the Menuhin on EMI. We prefer Rabin’s sound and performance, but the EMI engineers managed to record their orchestra with slightly more natural fidelity. Both are of course superb. (We love the mono recording Ricci did for London in the mid-’50s but the sound and surface quality are not competitive with the two recordings above.)

More entries in our Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection available on our site

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Sibelius / Symphony No. 2 on Shaded Dog – Reviewed in 2013 and Again More Recently

More of the Music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jean Sibelius

More RCA Shaded Dogs with Questionable Sound Quality

Back in 2013 we liked the performance and the sound of this recording on Living Stereo, but recently when we played a copy or two it did not impress us much.

Our system was very different in 2013, and, of course, the copies of the record we have now are not the same as the ones we played all those years ago.

We currently prefer the performance by Barbarolli on Readers Digest.

The Mackerras reissued on London or RCA Victrola may be good too. We have not played them in  quite a while, so take this recommendation for what it is, an old memory that may be faulty.

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Delibes / Coppelia / Dorati – Reviewed in 2008

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Sonic Grade: C

SRI 77004 – Not a bad Mercury Golden Import, but not a very good one either — there aren’t too many of those by the way — and certainly not in the same league with the better recordings of the work. 

Best to give this one a pass if you are looking for audiophile sound.

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

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

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Respighi / Pines Of Rome – Another Title Not Fit for a Super Disc List

Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

Sonic Grade: C (at best)

I found a bit of commentary in a listing for Scheherazade, and right away it was clear to me that the shootout we did for that title had much in common with the one we did recently for The Pines of Rome.

Here it is with the necessary changes having been made.

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2021, one we had been planning for more than twenty years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London; the Maazel on Decca and London (the Decca being on the TAS List), the Kempe on Readers Digest, and quite a few others we felt had potential.

The only recordings that held up all the way through — the last movement being a real Ball Breaker, for both the engineers and musicians — were those by Reiner and Kempe. This was disappointing considering how much time and money we spent finding, cleaning and playing about twenty or so other pressings.

We learned from that first big go around something that we think will remain true for the foreseeable future: the 1960 Reiner recording with the Chicago Symphony on RCA just can’t be beat.

Could other pressings be better sounding? Of course they could.

Would we ever buy another copy? Not a chance.

Here are the notes for the Decca pressing I played, mastered by G, Ted Burkett.

Hey, here’s an idea. Why don’t you buy a bunch of them and see if any of them do not have the problems described on my notes.

If you find a good one, please let me know the stampers so I can go out and find one myself.

The above is of course all in good fun. We both know that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that anyone reading this commentary is going to go out and buy some Decca pressings of The Pines of Rome, clean them up and critique them.

The most likely thing is that, if you have any Decca pressing of Maazel’s Pines, it’s sitting on a shelf collecting dust. Odds are it has not been played in a very long time.

Which is as it should be. Good records get played and bad ones sit on shelves.

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Pines of Rome

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

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Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie / Ricci – A Decent Decca Reissue

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

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

This Ace of Diamonds UK pressing of the famous Ricci recording has fairly good sound, but it is a far cry from the real thing on either Decca or London disc.

The right originals are just too good. There is nothing like them. They are simply amazing recordings, the likes of which have not been equaled in fifty or more years. If you want that sound, you’d better plan on going back to 1960 or thereabouts to find it.

The Speakers Corner Reissue was my first exposure to this music and I fell in love with it. I recommended it highly back in the days when I was selling Heavy Vinyl. I haven’t heard one in years but my guess is that you are much better off with this Decca Ace of Diamonds pressing that anything Speakers Corner might have put out.


These are our comments for the last killer copy we had on the site.

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater performance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal.

The Average Copy

When you play a copy of this record and hear a smeared, veiled violin, don’t be too surprised. This is not the least bit unusual, in fact it’s pretty much par for the course. The soundstage may be huge: spacious and 3-D; it is on most copies. But what good is a record of violin showpieces if the violin doesn’t sound right?

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Linda Ronstadt / Greatest Hits – Can You Hear the Bloated Bass of the DCC Pressing?

More of the Music of Linda Ronstadt

More Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

[This review was written many years ago, around 2004 I think. This was one of the first DCC records I did a shootout with up against run-of-the-mill Mastering Lab domestic pressings, only to find, somewhat surprisingly, at least at that time, that the DCC came up short, as you will see in the review below.]

Sonic Grade: C

As much as I admire Steve Hoffman’s work for DCC, on this title the DCC is not as good as the best domestic copies. The best domestic pressings are cleaner, leaner and meaner than the DCC, and just plain more fun.

The DCC sounds thick in the midrange and fat in the bass, although some of that boost in the bass could have been used to the advantage of some of the domestic pressings we played. 1 DB or so at 50-60 cycles would help, but the DCC has a boost in the middle and upper bass that causes the bass to sound bloated next to a properly mastered, properly pressed LP. 

I like rich sounding records just like Steve does, but his version of this title is too rich for my blood. If your system is lean sounding you may prefer the DCC, but we found it less than agreeable over here.

Not sure why so few reviewers and audiophiles notice these rather obvious shortcomings, but we sure do, and we don’t like it when records sound that way. These are records for those who are not sufficiently advanced in the hobby to know just how compromised and wrong they are.

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