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Casino Royale Is Really a Mess on Classic Records Vinyl

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Burt Bacharach

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

Sonic Grade: F

Casino Royale under the sway of Bernie’s penchant for bright, gritty, sour, ambience-challenged sound? Not a good match. There is no reissue, and there will never be a reissue, that will sound as good as a properly-mastered, properly-pressed, properly-cleaned 2s or 3s original.

Skip 1s, 4s and 5s. We’ve played them and we’ve never heard one we liked with those stampers.

And I hope it would go without saying that most copies cannot begin to do what a real Hot Stamper original can.

As is often the case, the Classic Heavy Vinyl Reissue is simply a disgrace. Is it the worst version of the album ever made?

That’s hard to say. But it is the worst sounding version of the album we’ve ever played, and that should be good enough for any audiophile contemplating spending money on this Heavy Vinyl trash. Our advice: don’t do it.


Labels With Shortcomings – Classic Records – Classical (more…)

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra – Our First Classic Records Review

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Hundreds of Living Stereo Records

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound.”

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  Some Classic Records pressings may be on Harry’s TAS list — disgraceful but true — but that certainly has no bearing on whether or not they are very good records. 

I had a chance to play LSC 1806 (pictured above) not long ago and I was dumbfounded at how bright, shrill and aggressive it was.

I still remember playing my first Classic Records title, their first release, which would probably have been in 1994. The deep bass of the organ at the start of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the horns and the tympani blasting out from a dead silent background, put a lump in my throat. Had they actually managed to remaster these old recordings so well that the vintage pressings I was selling for such high prices would soon be worthless? I really do remember having that thought race through my mind.

But then the strings came in, shrieking and as bright as the worst Angel or DG pressing I’d ever heard. It was as if somebody had turned the treble control up on my preamp two or three clicks, into ear-bleeding territory. All my equipment at the time was vintage and tube, and even though my system erred on the dark side tonally, the first Classic release was clearly off the charts too bright and transistory, with none of the lovely texture and sheen that RCA was famous for in the early days of Living Stereo.

I knew right then that my vintage record business was safe.

Here is our review from the ’90s, written shortly after the release of Classic’s first three titles. (With minor additions and changes for clarity and context.)

Hall of Shame Pressings, Every One

I’m reminded of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the reputed superiority of the Classic Records Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222 (if memory serves), I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I played. The sound was, in a word, awful.

To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in History.

[To be fair, Analogue Productions probably now holds that crown.]

When Harry Pearson (of all people! — this is the guy who started the Living Stereo craze by putting these forgotten old records on the TAS list in the first place) gave a rave review to LSC 1806, I had to stand up (in print anyway) and say that the emperor clearly had removed all his clothes, if he ever had any to begin with.

This got me kicked out of TAS by the way, as Harry does not take criticism well. I make a lot of enemies in this business with my commentary and reviews, but I see no way to avoid the fallout for calling a spade a spade.

Is anybody insane enough to stand up for LSC 1806 today? Considering that there is a die-hard contingent of people who still think Mobile Fidelity is the greatest label of all time, there may well be “audiophiles” with crude audio equipment or poorly developed critical listening skills, or both (probably both, as the two go hand in hand), that still find the sound of the shrill, screechy strings of the Classic pressing somehow pleasing to the ear. Hey, anything is possible.

As I’ve said again and again, the better a stereo gets, the more obvious the differences between good vintage pressings and most current reissues become. Modest front ends and mediocre playback systems can disguise these differences and mislead the amateur audiophile.

And the “professional” too. We’ve all had the experience of going back to play a record from years ago that we remember as being amazing, only to find it amazingly bad.

The Japanese Led Zeppelin series from the ’90s comes immediately to mind. How could my system have been so dull that those bright pressings actually fooled me into thinking they sounded good all those years ago? I’ve done a few Mea Culpas over the years, and that’s one of the bigger ones.

Remember when Chesky Records were all the rage? Does anybody in his right mind play that shit anymore?

A short anecdote: A good customer called me up one night many years ago. He had just finished playing the Chesky pressing of Spain, and had pulled out his Shaded Dog original to compare. The sound of his Shaded Dog pressing was so much better that he took his Chesky and, with great satisfaction, ceremoniously dropped it in the trash can, noting, “Of course I could have sold it or traded it away, but nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

Another anecdote: when Chesky first got started in the remastering business, a friend picked up their pressing of LSC 2150, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije with Reiner. He played it for me when I came over to hear his system, and he and I were both shocked that his ’70s Red Seal pressing was better in every way.

We wanted to know: What kind of audiophile label can’t even go head to head with a cheap reissue put out twenty years after the initial release just to keep the bins stocked and satisfy the needs of the low-budget classical record buyer?

The answer: Plenty of them, and definitely Chesky. Playing most Classic Records classical titles is a painful experience these days. I do not recommend it to anyone with good equipment. If you love the Living Stereo sound and cannot afford vintage pressings, consider playing the CDs RCA remastered. The one I know well is clearly better than Classic’s and AP’s LP.

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John Coltrane – Thick and Dull, Sorry, Not Really Our Sound

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John Coltrane – Giant Steps / Rhino 45 RPM 2 Disc Set 

Sonic Grade: F

The sound of the 45 RPM 2 disc version cut by Bernie Grundman does not exactly tickle our fancy. It sounds thick, dull, and entirely too smooth.

It reminds us of the awful Deja Vu Bernie remastered years ago for Classic Records.

As is the case with so many of the Heavy Vinyl reissues released these days, the studio ambience you hear on these pressings is a pitiful fraction of the ambience the real pressings are capable of revealing. Real pressings like, you know, the ones mass-produced by Atlantic, original and reissue alike. What’s Bernie’s excuse?

Rhino bills 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.


If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(Like the gentleman who sent me the Steppenwolf album, you may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Most audiophiles aren’t.)

The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer.

Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over.

Even if our pricey curated pressings are too dear, as a Brit might put it, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.

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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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A Question for Classic Records – What Did You Do to My Beloved Hot Rats?

More of the Music of Frank Zappa

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Frank Zappa

This Is Analog?

You could’ve fooled me. And somebody’s been messing around with the sound of the drums on the new version — a certain Mr. Frank Zappa no doubt. He really did the album a disservice. If you know the album well, and I know it very well, having played it literally hundreds of times, the Classic is positively unlistenable. (The reworked CD of Ruben and the Jets is even worse.)

Bernie’s version for Classic beats a lot of copies out there — the later Reprise pressings are never any good — but it can’t hold a candle to a good one.

What’s wrong with the Classic? Well, to my ears it just doesn’t sound natural or all that musical. Sure, it’s a nice trick to beef up those drums and give them some real punch, but does it sound right? Not to these ears.

The other quality that the best copies have going for them and the Classic has none of is Tubey Magic. The Classic is clean, and at first that’s a neat trick since the originals tend to be a bit murky and congested.

But it’s clean like a CD is clean, in all the wrong ways. This is analog? Ya coulda fooled me.

The overall sound of the best originals is musical, natural and balanced. The Classic has that third quality — it’s tonally correct, no argument there — but musical and natural? Not really.

Fresh Hot Rats

I’ve been listening to Hot Rats since I was in high school. It’s still remarkably fresh and original, even now. This is not music for the faint of heart. Audiophiles who prefer a steady diet of Patricia Barber and the like will find little of interest here. But for those of you who want to explore something completely original and a bit “out there,” this should be right up your alley — and if that’s the case, be sure to check out Waka Jawaka.

Reading in the liner notes today, I see that one of the engineers on this album is Jack Hunt, the famous half-speed mastering engineer who cut records for Mobile Fidelity and Direct Disc Labs. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Peter Gabriel – A Bad Record Tells You… What?

More of the Music of Peter Gabriel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Peter Gabriel

This commentary was written many years ago after a review I spotted online prompted me to crack open one of the Classic Records 200 gram Peter Gabriel titles and play it. Let’s just say the results were less than pleasing to the ear.

Bernie Grundman had worked his “magic” again and as usual I was at a loss to understand how anyone could find his mastering in any way an improvement over the plain old pressings, even the domestic ones.

I then had a discussion with a reviewer for an audiophile web magazine concerning his rave review for the Peter Gabriel records that Classic pressed.

I just now played one, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. But of course it’s not very good either.

Not surprisingly, reviewers have a tendency not to notice these things. I’m not exactly sure how these people are qualified to review records when the most obvious tonal balance problems seem to go unnoticed.

The Classic is brighter and less rich. Like a lot of the records that Bernie Grundman cut in the modern era, the tonality is off. It is simply too lean.

This is not the right sound for this album and does the music no favors.

That’s Bernie for you. After all these years. no amount of mischief he did for Classic — or any other label — surprises me.

A Bad Record Tells You… What?

Which brings up something else that never fails to astonish me. How can an equipment review be trusted when the reviewer uses bad sounding records to evaluate the equipment he is testing? Aren’t we justified in assuming that if a reviewer can’t tell he is listening to a bad record, he probably can’t tell whether the equipment under review is any good either?

Here is a good example of a reviewer raving about a mediocre-at-best pressing in an equipment review.

A bad record tells you nothing about the equipment it is playing on.

Worse, it might complement the faults of the gear and end up sounding tonally correct. If you use So Long So Wrong as a test disc, what are you testing for, the hyped-up vocals or the harmonically-challenged guitars?

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Jennifer Warnes / The Hunter – Awful on Import Vinyl (and Any Other Way)

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing on import vinyl from 1992. Many years ago we wrote:

This is a SUPER RARE Private Music German Import LP. The last two copies of this record listed on eBay went for over $600! 

All of which was true. We left out, however, what an awful record The Hunter is in every way.

If you like your Heavily Processed Big Production Pop to sound as unnatural as possible, this is the album for you.

Not one instrument sounds remotely like it should, and that is surely an insult to audiophiles of every stripe.

The problem was that so many self-identified audiophiles did not seem bothered by the execrable sound, certainly not the way we were.

Oh, but it’s on vinyl! That should solve all the problems with the recording.

Yes, the CD was bad, but the vinyl was no better. I had them both and couldn’t stand either of them.


The only album we like of Ms Warnes is Famous Blue Raincoat

It is her Masterpiece, a Core Collection record, and a clear case of One and Done.

When you have a good copy of Famous Blue Raincoat, you have all the Jennifer Warnes you will ever need.

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Time Out – Michael Fremer Says You Should Own the Classic 45

More of the Music of Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

Michael Fremer spends two hours and ten minutes on his site going through a list of 100 All Analog In Print Reissued Records You Should Own

On this list is the 45 RPM Bernie Grundman cutting of Time Out. Fremer apparently likes it a whole lot more than we do. We think it is just plain awful. The MoFi Kind of Blue is on this same list, another pressing that is astonishingly bad, or at least very, very wrong. If you’re the kind of person who might want to give Michael Fremer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to All Analog records he thinks sound good, ones he thinks you should own, try either one of them. If you think they sound just fine, you sure don’t need me to tell you that they’re completely and utterly unlistenable.

There might be some decent records on the list, but if it has two massive failures that I just happened to come across over the span of the five minutes I spent watching the video, I would suspect the winners are few and the losers many. As a practical rule, if you want good sounding vinyl, you should avoid anything on his list. And if you do try some and do like them, let me know which ones you think sound good and maybe I will get hold of some copies and listen to them for myself.

Here is what we had to say about the Brubeck that Mikey recommends. We called it:

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Jazz LP poorly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

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Dave Brubeck – The Classic Records Repress on 45 Is Another in a Long String of Failures

More of the Music of Dave Brubeck

Reviews and Commentaries for Time Out

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Jazz LP.

Not long ago we found a single disc from the 45 RPM four disc set that Classic Records released in 2002 and decided to give it a listen as part of our shootout for the album.

My notes can be seen below, but for those who have trouble reading my handwriting, here they are:

  • Big but hard
  • Zero (0) warmth
  • A bit thin and definitely boring
  • Unnatural
  • No fun
  • No F***ing Good (NFG)

Does that sound like a record you would enjoy playing? I sure didn’t.

But this is the kind of sound that Bernie Grundman managed to find on Classic Record after Classic Record starting in the mid-90s when he began cutting for them.

We’ve been complaining about the sound of these records for more than twenty years but a great many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them told us we wrong.  If you have a copy of this album on Classic, at 33 or 45, play it and see if you don’t hear the problems we ascribe to it.

To see what we had to say about the 33 RPM version on Classic many years ago, click here.

Maybe we got a bad 45 and the others are better. That has not been our experience.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing.

Not all of their records are as bad sounding as Time Out. We favorably review some of the better ones here.

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Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fi system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up a wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that?

The Classic reissue has plenty of deep bass, but the overall sound is shrill and hard and altogether unpleasant, so the better bass comes at a steep price.

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

For a better sounding recording of Iberia, click here.

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