dead-as-a-doornail

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


Steely Dan / Katy Lied – A MoFi that Beggars Belief

Sonic Grade: F

Katy Lied is bad enough to have earned a place in our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame. If it isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

By the time I was avidly collecting Mobile Fidelity records in the late ’70s, this title had already gone out of print, one of the first to do so. My guess is that even the cloth-eared audiophiles at MoFi knew when they had a turkey on their hands and mercilessly put this one out to pasture.

Yes, the sound is so bad that even the brain trust at MoFi could hear it. 

Compressed and lifeless (almost as lifeless as the screen speakers so popular at the time), it’s hard to imagine any version sounding worse than this one.

And yet I continued to play my copy, for enjoyment of course, oblivious — I must have been oblivious, right? — to the bad sound.

Why? That’s hard to say, but here’s a stab at it.

The vinyl was exceptionally quiet for one thing, and for another, as an audiophile I knew this MoFi pressing had been made with tender loving care, using a superior process, Half-Speed Mastering, from The Original Master Tapes, and had been pressed in Japan on the quietest, flattest vinyl in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

My old story about One Man Dog gets to the heart of it. I didn’t understand records very well and I sure didn’t understand the value of doing shootouts or even how to do them with different pressings of the same album.

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Love on Heavy Vinyl – Indefensible Dreck from Sundazed

More of the Music of Love

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Love

Sonic Grade: F

Two Audiophile Hall of Shame titles, and another two Sundazed records reviewed and found seriously wanting.

We got hold of a minty original pressing of the first Love album back around 2007, so in preparation for the commentary I pulled one of the Sundazed pressings off the shelf, (Forever Changes, the only one we ever bothered to sell), cracked it open and threw it on the turntable. 

Gag, what a piece of crap. When I had auditioned them all those years ago (2002), it was — I’m not kidding — the best of the bunch.

The sound to me back then was nothing special, but not bad. Knowing how rare the originals were, we gave it a lukewarm review and put it in the catalog, the single Sundazed Love album that (just barely) made the cut.

Now I wish I hadn’t, because no one should have to suffer through sound that bad. Here’s what I wrote for the shootout:

You’d never know it from those dull Sundazed reissues, but the right pressings of Love albums are full of Tubey Magic! With Bruce Botnick at the controls you can expect a meaty bottom end and BIG rock sound, and this recording really delivers on both counts.

With Sundazed mastering engineers running the show, you can expect none of the above.

No Tubey Magic, no meaty bottom end, no big rock sound.

After the shootout, I took the two copies we had in stock right down to my local record store and traded them in. I didn’t want them in my house, let alone on my site.

I’m glad that title didn’t sell very well because now I feel I owe a personal apology to anyone who might have bought one from me, thinking they were getting a half-way decent record.

They were getting no such thing. They were getting a piece of garbage. 

A textbook case of Live and Learn.


Bob Dylan / This Kind of Sound Earns You a 10?

More of the Music of Bob Dylan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bob Dylan

Sonic Grade: F

We played this Mono reissue and found it to be flat as a pancake and dead as a doornail, like most of the Sundazed records we played starting way back in the early 2000s. No, they never got any better.

In our experience, Sundazed is one of the worst record labels of all time. This pressing is just more evidence to back up our low opinion of them.

Obviously we may have had a low opinion of them, but a famous audiophile reviewer seemed to find the sound much more to his liking. He wrote:

Sundazed’s reissue gives the original a run for the money and remains true to the original, though it suffers in the bass, which while deep and reasonably well defined, is not as tightly drawn or focused. The upper mids on the original also bloom in a way that the reissue’s don’t, giving the reissue a slightly darker, recessed sound, but there’s still sufficient energy up there since Dylan’s close-miked vocals pack an upper midrange punch. If the vocals or harmonica sound spitty and unpleasantly harsh, it’s your system, not the record – though there’s plenty of grit up there. On the plus side, the overall clarity and transparency of the reissue beats the original. A really fine remastering job.

Of course we find every word of this review arrant nonsense, except the discussion of the qualities he praises in the original relative to the reissue. It’s been twenty years since this remastered pressing came out, does anybody still like the sound of it? Anybody? I hope not.

The intro to his review boldly declares a respect for Sundazed (and Classic Records and Analogue Productions) that we find puzzling after playing so many of their rarely-better-than-awful sounding records. This commentary gets at it pretty well.

Sundazed’s decision to issue Blonde on Blonde using the much sought after mono mix is indicative both of the company’s dedication to doing what’s musically correct, and of the vinyl marketplace’s newfound maturity. There was a time a few years ago when no “audiophile” vinyl label would dare issue a mono recording; audiophiles wouldn’t stand for it was the conventional wisdom. Perhaps back then it was even true. Today, with Sundazed, Classic, Analogue Productions and others issuing monophonic LPs on a regular basis (and one has to assume selling them as well) listeners are appreciating the music for music’s sake, and equally importantly, for the wonderful qualities of monophonic sound reproduction.

My grade might be 2 out of 11. No audiophile should be fooled by the crap sound of this pressing, and no audiophile should believe a word of this review.

Reviewer Incompetence? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years. From the start we knew we could never begin to do much more than scratch the surface of preposterous record reviews in need of rebuttal. The audiophile world is drowning in this sh*t.

But rather than spending all day typing at a keyboard, we felt the best use of our time we be to offer the audiophile community actual records that backed up everything we typed, something obviously no reviewer has ever been able to do.

More on Blonde on Blonde

Over the many years we have been doing shootouts, we have cleaned and played quite a number of vintage pressings of Blonde on Blonde. For those of you who love the album, some of these may be of interest:

The right 360 label pressings are very special. Nothing can beat them. They might even be original. We’re not saying one way or the other.

This customer really liked his very expensive but very awesome copy. (Apparently he did not get the message that analog is a bygone technology. For more on that subject, please read the comments section for this article.)

Side four of some copies is horrendously bad sounding. Any idea why?

A better question: Any idea why nobody ever noticed?

Finally, of course Blonde On Blonde is a recording that should be part of any serious popular Music Collection. Others that belong in that category and that are currently available can be found here.

Reviews for other records in the Rock and Pop Core Collection can be found here.


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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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Santana / Abraxas – MoFi Manages to Disgrace Itself Even Further

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for Abraxas

Sonic Grade: F

The remastered Abraxas never got past the first elimination round; it had to have been one of the worst half-speeds I have ever heard. Dead dead dead as a doornail.

Santana’s first album on MoFi is a record we admit to having liked a bit when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless. The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in. We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

I noted in my old blog: “But now I would have to say that the MoFi LP is far too lifeless to be acceptable to anyone, even those with the worst kinds of audiophile BS systems.”

We also mentioned a while back (4/29/08) on our blog how bad the latest crop of MoFi vinyl was, with the heading: “Mobile Fidelity, Ouch.

On another note, we played some godawful sounding MOFI pressings over the last few weeks: Linda Ronstadt (which appears to be out of phase, more on that down the road); Metallica (with blobby bass at 45 RPM no less; only half-speed mastering can guarantee muddy bass under any and all circumstances!); and Rush (nothing even resembling a top end. How do these things happen?).

These three albums have to be some of the worst sounding vinyl I have ever heard in my life. I won’t waste any more of your time or mine talking about them. Buy them if you feel the need, and if you like what you hear, drop us a line. Maybe the copy we cracked open was a “bad” one, unrepresentative of the general pressing run in the same way that the latest Crisis half-speed was.

Well, maybe so, but we are going to have to leave that conundrum unsolved for the time being. To crack open more copies to see if they are all as bad as the first one we played is not something we are particularly inclined to do. We call that throwing good money after bad around here at Better Records.

This is a label making some seriously bad records these days.

But why single them out? They all are.

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The Most Serious Fault of the Typical Half-Speed Mastered LP? – Dead-as-a-Doornail Sound

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.

It’s Dead-As-a-Doornail Sound, plain and simple.

And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s. The average Sundazed record I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing?

But Sundazed and other companies just like them keep turning out this crap. Somebody must be buying it.

So how does the famous MoFi pressing of Revolver sound? In a word, clean. Also not as crude as the average British import, and far better than any Japanese or domestic pressing we heard.

But it’s dead, man. It’s just so dead.

The current record holder for Most Compressed Mobile Fidelity Record of All Time? This shockingly bad sounding release, a record I admit to owning and liking back in the ’80s. I had an awful lot of expensive equipment back then, but it sure wasn’t helping me recognize how bad some of my records were.

How many audiophiles are where I used to be? Based on what I read on audiophile forums, and the kinds of audiophile pressings I see discussed on youtube videos, it seems that most of them are.


In practically every Hot Stamper listing on the site you will find some standard boilerplate that looks very much like what you see below. This is what we want our records to do well. I cannot begin to understand what audiophiles are listening for on these new reissues. Most of them do none of these things well.

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Workingman’s Dead is Dead as a Doornail on Rhino Records

More of the Music of The Grateful Dead

More Records that Sound Like CDs

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, there are plenty).

The 2003 Rhino reissue on heavy vinyl of Workingman’s Dead is absolutely awful. It sounds like a bad cassette. The CD of the album that I own is superb, which means that the tapes are not the problem, bad mastering and pressing are. (more…)

Let It Be on Heavy Vinyl – The Gong Rings Once More

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

At the end of a recent shootout for Let It Be (June 2014), we decided to see how the 2012 Digitally Remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing would hold up against the 12 (yes, twelve!) British copies we had just finished critically auditioning.

Having evaluated the two best copies on side two, we felt we knew exactly what separated the killer copies (White Hot) from the next tier down (Super Hot). Armed with a vivid memory of how good the music could sound fresh in our minds, we threw on the new pressing. We worked on the VTA adjustment for a couple of minutes to get the sound balanced and as hi-rez as possible for the thicker record and after a few waves of the Talisman we were soon hearing the grungy guitar intro of I’ve Got a Feeling.

My scribbled first notes: not bad! Sure, there’s only a fraction of the space and three-dimensionality of the real British pressings, but the bass seemed to be there, the energy seemed decent enough, the tonality was good if a bit smooth and dark — all in all not a bad Beatles record.

Then we played One After 909 and the sound just went off a cliff. It was so compressed! The parts of the song that get loud on the regular pressings never get loud on the new one. The live-in-the-studio Beatles’ rock energy just disappeared.

We couldn’t take more than a minute or two of the song, it was that frustrating and irritating. What the hell did they do to make this record sound this way? We had no idea.

Didn’t matter. It was game over. The gong from The Gong Show had rung. The record had to go.

We had played twelve British copies, all with stampers that we knew to be good on side two. Two or three of those copies did not merit a Hot Stamper sonic grade. Nothing new there, happens all the time. Yet even the worst copy we played of the twelve had more jump-factor, more life and more dynamic energy than the new Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Which means that there’s a very good chance that any copy you pick up on British vinyl will be better sounding — maybe not a 100% chance but easily a 90+% chance. Which makes buying the new Heavy Vinyl LP — not to mention playing it — entirely pointless.

Santana on MoFi – We Owe You an Apology

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Santana

Sonic Grade: F

Santana is a record we admit to having liked when it first came out. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, and let’s be clear, this pressing is very embarrassing, We Was Wrong and there is no sense trying to hide it.

It’s just too damn compressed and lifeless.

The Whomp Factor on this pressing is Zero. Since whomp is critical to the sound of Santana’s music, it’s Game Over for us. The review below is exactly what we wrote at the time the record came in.

We tried to like it, but it’s clear to us now that we tried to like it too hard. Please accept our apologies.

I noted in my [now discontinued] blog: “But now I would have to say that the MoFi LP is far too lifeless to be acceptable to anyone, even those with the worst kinds of Audiophile BS systems.”

And I noted that the Abraxas they remastered never got past the first elimination round. It had to have been one of the worst half-speeds I have ever heard. Dead dead dead as a doornail.

We also mentioned a while back (4/29/08, time flies) on our blog how bad the latest crop of MoFi vinyl was, with the heading: “Mobile Fidelity, Ouch.” Please to enjoy:

On another note, we played some godawful sounding MoFi pressings over the last few weeks:

  • Linda Ronstadt (which appears to be out of phase, more on that down the road);
  • Metallica (with blobby bass at 45 RPM no less; only half-speed mastering can guarantee muddy bass under any and all circumstances!); and
  • Rush (nothing even resembling a top end. How do these things happen?).

These three albums have to be some of the worst sounding vinyl I have ever heard in my life. I won’t waste any more of your time or mine talking about them. Buy them if you feel the need, and if you like what you hear, drop us a line.

Maybe the copy we cracked open was a “bad” one, unrepresentative of the general pressing run.

Well, maybe so, but we are going to have to leave that conundrum unsolved for the time being. To crack open more copies to see if they are all as bad as the first one we played is not something we are particularly inclined to do. We call that throwing good money after bad around here at Better Records.

This is a label making some seriously bad records these days.

But why single them out? They all are.

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