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Got Nice Equipment? It’s a Good First Step, but Only a First Step

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Nice Equipment Is Only the First Step on the Long Long Road to Good Sound

The audio magazines that their reviewers write for are purveyors of what we consider to be one of the most pernicious falsehoods in all of audio — that buying more expensive equipment is the key to better sound. (Note that is is a falsehood, not a lie; they probably actually believe it.)

From the audiophile rags’ point of view, this makes perfect sense. They extoll the virtues of one piece of sexy hardware after another on page after page of their glossy magazines. The ten bucks a year you pony up to subscribe doesn’t even cover the cost of all that pretty paper. They make their real money by selling advertising to equipment manufacturers, who in turn advertise equipment they want you to buy. What are all the glossy pages of these magazines devoted to? The fawning and credulous discussion of the sexy equipment being advertised.

See how that works? It ain’t rocket science. These magazines have a vested interest in convincing you that the Newer and More Expensive the equipment you own, the better will be the sound in your home.

Wrongheaded Thinking

It’s easily demonstrated how wrongheaded this way of thinking is. If you’ve been in audio for any length of time at all, you know that one bad interconnect can ruin the sound of a stereo. We’ve all been there. All it takes is one little wire — the wrong wire in the wrong place — to make all that expensive equipment sound like shit.

Or a bad room. Or the speakers on the wrong wall. Or VTA too high. Or too low. Or a mismatch between the arm and cartridge. Or a mismatch between the speaker and amp. Or about 68 million other things, any one of which can turn the sound of all that sexy equipment into musically unpleasant dreck.

Suffering Through the Sound

Maybe you haven’t been there but I sure have. I’ve been hearing mega-buck crappy-sounding stereos my whole life, in every showroom in Los Angeles, at every Stereophile show I attended (thankfully I no longer have a need to go to them) and homes throughout the Southland. It’s not news to me that these high-dollar systems rarely sound good. It may come as a surprise to those who prize megabuck equipment, but I’ve suffered through more than my share of bad sound at the hands of gearheads with more money that audio sense.

Why do you think we talk so much on the site about Doing It Yourself? Testing yourself, challenging yourself, trying new things, adjusting this and changing that and seeing what works in your room with your records (which hopefully you bought from us so that we can all be sure they actually sound good).

Because there’s no other way to do it. We want you to have good sound at home so that you can appreciate the good sounding records we sell and continue spending your hard-earned money with us. If your stereo ain’t workin’ right, Hot Stampers won’t fix it. They can help, but they aren’t the solution. You are.

Necessary But Not Sufficient

Good equipment is an important part of proper music reproduction in the home, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

My rule of thumb is that 20% of the sound you hear is the equipment you bought and 80% of the sound comes from what you did with it: how you set it up, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest. It’s all over the site: here is the best place to see the broad contours of our argument.

These are the kinds of issues we deal with every day. How the stereo is sounding is CRUCIAL to our being able to do our job evaluating various pressings of recordings. We take every aspect of record reproduction very seriously. It’s what pays the bills around here, and we have plenty of bills to pay, so we make sure we are doing everything in our power to insure that the sound is absolutely the best it can be. At these prices it had better be.

On more than one occasion we’ve stopped in the middle of a shootout because the electricity had gone bad and caused the sound to go bad along with it. If you can’t hear the records at their best you’re just wasting your time trying to find Hot Stampers. By definition Hot Stampers have to sound great, and that means the stereo has to be capable of sounding great for us to find them.

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Jethro Tull – Stand Up

More Jethro Tull

More British Blues Rock

  • An outstanding UK import LP with solid Hot Stamper sound or BETTER from start to finish — exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is a True Tull Classic – my favorite by the band – and a VERY tough record to come by with this kind of sound and surfaces this quiet, as quiet as any copy we have ever played
  • Both of these sides give you richness, Tubey Magic, clarity and resolution few copies can touch – these are the Hot Stampers, folks
  • “Stand Up! has great textural interest, due, in part, to a more sophisticated recording technique, in part to the organ, mandolin, balalaika, etc., which Anderson plays to enrich each song. The band is able to work with different musical styles, but without a trace of the facile, glib manipulation which strains for attention.”

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These UK pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here. We must give thanks to the brilliant engineer Andy Johns.

This record is the very definition of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of this album, quite a few of them I would guess, but those of us with a good turntable could care less.

If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage All Tube Analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

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Violin Recordings and the Problem of Smear

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Violin Recordings

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This Shaded Dog pressing of LSC 2129 had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra.

Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear.

We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear.

But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it.

The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.)

Of course, if your system itself has smear it becomes that much harder to hear the smear on your records.  Practically every tube system I have ever heard had more smear than I could tolerate – it comes with the territory. And high-powered transistor amps are notoriously smeary, opaque and ambience-challenged. Our low-powered, all-transistor rig has no trouble showing us the amount of smear on records, including those that have virtually none.

Keep in mind that one thing live music never has is smear of any kind. Live music is smear-free. It can be harmonically distorted, hard, edgy, thin, fat, dark, and all the rest, but one thing it can never be is smeary.

That is a shortcoming unique to the reproduction of music, and one which causes many of the pressings we sell to have their sonic grades lowered.

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Bob Seger / Night Moves – His 1976 Masterpiece

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Hot Stamper Rock Masterpieces Available Now

  • A KILLER vintage pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout for Bob Seger’s breakthrough album (the 8th time’s the charm)
  • A big step up over every other copy we heard – richer, fuller, more dynamic, more lively and just plain more fun
  • Knock the album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic – every song’s a hit, and deservedly so
  • 5 stars: “One of the universally acknowledged high points of late-’70s rock & roll. And, because of his passion and craft, it remains a thoroughly terrific record years later.”
  • If you’re a Seger fan, or perhaps a fan of mid-’70s Classic Rock, this title from 1976 is surely a Must Own.
  • The complete list of titles from 1976 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in clean shape. Most of them will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG, and it will probably be VG+. If you are picky about your covers please let us know in advance so that we can be sure we have a nice cover for you.

It’s not easy to find killer pressings of this album — it took us plenty of fruitless shootouts before we figured anything out. Most copies out there are thin and dry, which is no way to hear these classic ’70s tracks. We brought in copy after copy that made us think, “I swear this sounds better on the radio!”

Finally, after pulling together a ton of copies from different eras, we started to realize that there were indeed vinyl pressings of Night Moves that sounded right… but they are few and far between, the exception and not the rule so to speak. This copy is one of the better ones we played in our most recent shootout, no question about it.

Knock this album if you like, but there’s no denying it’s one of Seger’s best and certainly a ’70s classic. It may not have the audiophile appeal of Tea For The Tillerman, but it’s a blast when it sounds this good.

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Genesis / A Trick Of The Tail – A MoFi Disaster to Beat Them All

Not long ago I played the MoFi pressing of Trick of the Tail and could not believe how ridiculously COMPRESSED it was.

On top of that, the midrange is badly sucked out (as is the case with most Mobile Fidelity pressings) making the sound as dead, dull and distant as can be.

You think Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings are lifeless? Play this piece of crap and see just how bad an audiophile record can sound.

And to think I used to like this version! I hope I had a better copy back in the ’80s than the one I played a few years ago. I’ll never know of course. If you have one in your collection give it a spin. See if it sounds as bad as we say. If you haven’t played it in a while (can’t imagine why, maybe because it’s just plain awful), you may be in for quite a shock.

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Romantic Russia – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take the Sound of this Awful Remaster Seriously?

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

There actually is such a person who does exactly that, can you imagine?

Only an Audiophile True Believer could be fooled by sound so ridiculously unnatural.

But the world is full of such people. They bought into the Audiophile BS of Mobile Fidelity in the ’80s and apparently haven’t learned much since.

Now they think Heavy Vinyl is the answer to the world’s problems. The more things change…

If your stereo is any good at all, you should have no trouble hearing the sonic qualities of this album described below. If you are on this blog, and you have tried some of our Hot Stamper pressings, there is a good chance you’re hearing pretty much what we’re hearing. Why else why would you pay our prices?

One thing I can tell you: we would never charge money for a record that sounds as weird and wrong as this MoFi.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magical sheen and richness.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London which has fairly decent bass.

If a self-styled Audiophile Reviewer cannot hear the obvious faults of this pressing, I would say there’s a good chance one or both of the following is true:

  1. His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,
  2. His listening skills are not sufficiently developed to notice the shortcomings in the sound.

The result is the worst kind of Reviewer Malpractice.

But is it really the worst kind? It seems to be the only kind!

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The Turn Up Your Volume Test – Bonnie Raitt’s Home Plate

This is a classic case of a record that really starts to work when the levels are up. It’s so free from distortion and phony processing it wants to be played loud, and that’s the level this music works at. It’s the level it was no doubt mixed at, and that mix sounds pretty flat at moderate levels. If you want to hear the real rockin’ Bonnie Raitt you gots to turn it up!

Like a lot of the best recordings from the mid-’70s, the production and recording quality are clean and clear, and we mean that in a good way. There is very little processing to the sound of anything here; drums sound like drums, guitars like guitars, and Bonnie sings without the aid of autotuning –– because she can sing on-key, and beautifully. Her vocals kill on every song. (Her dad had a pretty good set of pipes too.)

Reviews and Commentaries for Records that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

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Deja Vu – This Classic Records Knockoff Is Not the Answer, But We Have One

Letters and Commentaries for Deja Vu

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Rock LP badly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

If you bought the Classic Record Heavy Vinyl pressing of Deja Vu, you should know by now how badly Classic Records ripped you off. If you feel disrespected, you should. They took your money and gave you practically nothing of value for it. The right CD (not the current one, that’s for damn sure) is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl reissue.

On the other hand, if you’re not too picky about sound quality and just want to play new records, perhaps because old records are hard to find and often noisy, then fine, the Classic should get that job done for you.

We of course want nothing to do with records like those remastered by Classic Records. We only want to play good sounding records, and most Classic Records, including this title, are definitely not good sounding, not by our standards anyway.

Records Are in a Sorry State – Here’s What You Can Do About It

It’s a sad state that we currently find ourselves in, but is it really any different than it used to be? Audiophiles used to like half-speeds, they used to like Japanese pressings, they used to like direct to disc recordings with questionable sound and even more questionable music.

Now they like SACDs, Heavy Vinyl and 45s. If you ask me it’s the same old wine in a different bottle.

The path out of that morass is exactly the path we have taken and charted for everyone, free of charge.

With our approach to finding the best sounding records, cleaning them the way we do, playing them against each other the way we do, using the sound improving devices and equipment we recommend, we know you can succeed. If we can do it you can do it.

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Surfer Girl Takes MoFi Spit to a New Level

More of the Music of The Beach Boys

More Recordings that Are Good for Testing Sibilance

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found wanting.

I played the MoFi pressing of this record many years ago, some time back in the early ’90s if memory serves, and at the time I could hardly believe that the good people of MoFi would release a record that was so ridiculously SPITTY. The sibilance is positively out of control, the result of their wacky cutting system and phony EQ and who knows what else.

But then I remembered that there has never been a title produced by these people with sound so bad that they would have cancelled its release. {This is a classic case of begging the question. I really have no idea why some of their titles that exist only on test pressing — Pearl for one — never saw the light of day. It is possible that it was cancelled because it sounded worse than even the hard-of-hearing Powers That Be at MoFi could tolerate. Doubtful, but possible.)

The audiophile public was clamoring for remastered pressings of their favorite albums and MoFi saw it as an opportunity to serve them.

In other words, to paraphrase a famous wag, their fans had spoken and now they must be punished.

It started with their execrable remastering of Katy Lied and continued all the way to the turgid muck of the Anadisc series and beyond. Those who have visited our Hall of Shame have seen many of their worst productions on display. If we had more time to write listings for them I’m sure I could come up with double or triple the number that are in there now. 


FURTHER READING

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