pass-fail

Some records are so wrong, or are so lacking in qualities that are crucial to hi-fidelity sound — qualities typically found in abundance on the right vintage pressings — that the supporters of these records are failing fundamentally to judge their sound correctly. We call these records Pass-Fail.

Tea for the Tillerman on the new 45 may be substandard in almost every way, but it is not a Pass Fail pressing. It lacks one thing above all others, Tubey Magic, so if your system has an abundance of that quality, the way many vintage tube systems do, the new pressing may be quite listenable and enjoyable. Those whose systems can play the record and not notice this important shortcoming are not exactly failing. They most likely have a system that is heavily colored and not very revealing, but it is a system that is not hopeless.

A system that can play the MoFi of Aja without revealing to the listener how wrong it is is another level of bad entirely, and that is what would qualify as a failing system. My system in the ’80s played the MoFi just fine. Looking back on it now, I realize my system was doing more wrong than right.

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.

(more…)

Cat Stevens and the Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame

More of the Music of Cat Stevens

More Reviews and Commentaries for Teaser and the Firecat

Our Mobile Fidelity Hall of Shame listings totaled more than 40 back in 2010, and we noted at the time that the real number would be at least double that and probably more than triple that figure if we took the time to make listings for all the bad records this label has released, It stands at 50 or so as of 2022.

In case you don’t already know, one of the worst sounding, if not THE WORST SOUNDING VERSION OF ALL TIME, of our beloved Teaser and the Firecat is the Mobile Fidelity Anadisq pressing that came out in the ’90s.

If you own that record, you really owe it to yourself to pull it out and play it. It’s just a mess and it should sound like a mess, whether you have anything to compare it to or not.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would strike this record from it in a heartbeat.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

We offer a number of Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

Here’s a good question:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

“There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule.”

Hot Stamper Pressings of Revolver Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

We review the newly remixed Revolver.

As I was reading the newspaper today, I chanced upon Mark Twain’s famous quote and immediately recognized a way to put it to good use. I had been searching my brain for a good way to start a commentary detailing the multitudinous problems with the remixed, half-speed mastered Revolver LP. Kicked in the head was exactly what I needed.

In 2020 I had reviewed the Abbey Road remix and was astonished that anyone would release a record of such utter sonic worthlessness. A few choice lines:

The half-speed mastered remixed Abbey Road has to be one of the worst sounding Beatles records we have ever had the displeasure to play.

Hard to imagine you could make Abbey Road sound any worse. It’s absolutely disgraceful.

I will be writing more about its specific shortcomings down the road, but for now let this serve as a warning that you are throwing your money away if you buy this newly remixed LP.

Of course I never did write more about it. The thought of listening critically to the album in order to detail its manifold shortcomings was more than I could bear and onto the back burner the idea went, where it remains to this day.

In 2020 I warned the audiophile community not to go down this foolish half-speed mastered road, and now that they have been kicked in the head a second time, perhaps when they wake up they will come to their senses, although I doubt very much that they will.

Giles Martin is the guilty party here, and I hope it is clear by now that he simply has no clue as to how a Beatles record should sound. If he did have such a clue, this new Revolver would never have seen the light of day.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Here are the notes our crack listening panel (our very own Wrecking Crew) made as they listened to the new Revolver.

Note that they listened to side two first, playing a Super Hot stamper ’70s UK pressing head to head with the new release, so we have listed our notes for side two above those for side one.

They listened to the first two tracks on side two in this order:

Good Day Sunshine, And Your Bird Can Sing.

On side one they played the first three tracks and listened to them in this order:

I’m Only Sleeping, Taxman, Eleanor Rigby.


Some of the highlights from side two:

(more…)

Paganini on Fenn 180g Vinyl – Where Is the Outrage?

Hot Stamper Pressings of the Music of Paganini

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Paganini

We managed to get hold of the Heavy Vinyl pressing put out by Fenn Music in Germany, about which a well known record dealer on the web (you may recognize the style) had this to say:

“Stunning Reissue Of EMI ASD 440 Recorded In Stereo In 1961. This Recording Featuring The Royal Philharmonic Conducted By Alberto Erede Provides Convincing Proof, If Any Were Needed, That Menuhin Was One Of The Great Violinists Of The 20th Century.”

The “convincing proof” provided by this record is that those responsible for it are Rank Incompetents of the Worst Kind (see what I did there?). Screechy, bright, shrill, thin and harsh, it’s hard to imagine worse sound to be subjected to from this piece of Heavy Vinyl trash.

Had I paid good money to buy this pressing from 2004 in the hopes of hearing the supremely talented Yehudi Menuhin of 1961 tear it up on Paganini’s legendary first two concertos, I can tell you one thing: I would be pissed.

Where is the outrage in the audiophile community over this kind of trash?

I have yet to see it. I suspect I will grow quite a bit older and quite a bit grayer before anyone from the audiophile commentariat notices just how bad this record sounds. I hope I’m proven wrong.

Screechy, bright, shrill, thin and harsh, it’s hard to imagine worse sound from this piece of Heavy Vinyl garbage.

NO warmth.

NO sweetness.

NO richness.

NO Tubey Magic.

In other words, NO trace of the original’s (or the early reissue’s) analog sound. At most I may own one or two classical CDs that sound this bad, and I own quite a few. When audiophiles of an analog bent tell you they don’t like the sound of CDs, this is why they don’t like them: they sound like this junky heavy vinyl record.

I have to wonder how records this awful get released.

Then again, the Heavy Vinyl Buyer of today is not known for his discrimination. If he were, Sundazed, Mobile Fidelity, Analogue Productions, Music Matters and a host of others would have gone out of business many years ago.

This link will take you to some other exceptionally bad records that, like this one, were marketed to audiophiles for their supposedly superior sound. On today’s modern systems, it should be obvious that they have nothing of the kind and that, in fact, the opposite is true.

(more…)

The Doors – L.A. Woman Is a Disaster on German Heavy Vinyl, Part One

There is [was; it’s out of print now] a German 180 gram pressing of L.A. Woman which [was] so bad, I am calling this commentary The Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing is a sign that, to me at least, The End Is Near, or May Be. If this isn’t a good example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

[This commentary was written a long time ago and much of our thinking about the recordings of The Doors has evolved since then, having played scores of their records in shootouts and learned something from every one. Click here to read more.]

Dateline: January, 2005

[Note that some of this commentary from the dawn of time (2005 qualifies when it comes to Hot Stampers) falls under the heading of We Was Wrong, especially the part about there not being a good vinyl version of the album. We heard some killer pressings starting around 2011-2012, but boy are they few and far between.]

There is a new 180 gram German pressing of The Doors LA Woman album which is so bad, I am calling this commentary Audiophile Apocalypse. The fact that some audiophiles and audiophile reviewers appear to like this pressing to me is a sign that The End Is Near. There is no hope for audiophiles if they can’t tell a good record from a bad one, and this is clearly a bad one.

When I first played it I thought there must be something wrong with my stereo. There was no deep bass. (This recording has amazing deep bass.) The sound was upper midrangey and distorted. There was no extreme top at all. This surprised me, as I had heard that this was supposed to be a good record. What I heard coming off the copy that I was playing was pure garbage. I was confused. (more…)

Grant Green on Music Matters – Tizzy Cymbals and a Bright Snare Drum, That’s Your Idea of Audiophile Sound?

Hot Stamper Blue Note Albums Available Now

Hot Stamper Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and a Heavy Vinyl Disaster if there ever was one (and oh yes, the audiophile world is drowning in them).

After discovering Hot Stampers and the mind-blowing sound they deliver, a new customer generously sent me a few of his favorite Heavy Vinyl pressings to audition, records that he considered the best of the modern reissues that he owns.

He admitted that most of what he has on Heavy Vinyl is not very good, and now that he can clearly hear what he has been missing, having heard some of our best Hot Stamper jazz pressings, he is going to be putting them up on Ebay and selling them to anyone foolish enough to throw their money away on this kind of vinyl junk.

We say more power to him.  That money can be used to buy records that actually are good sounding, not just supposed to be good sounding because they were custom manufactured with the utmost care and marketed at high prices to soi-disant audiophiles.

Audiophile records are a scam. They always have been and they always will be.

I haven’t listened to a copy of this album in a very long time, but I know a good sounding jazz record when I hear one, having critically auditioned more than a thousand over the course of the 33 years I have been in business. (To be clear, we only sold verified good sounding records starting in 2004.)

I knew pretty early on in the session that this was not a good sounding jazz record.  Five minutes was all it took, but I probably wasted another ten making sure the sound was as hopeless as it originally seemed.

For those of you who might have trouble reading my handwriting, my notes say:

Bass is sloppy and fat.

The bass is boosted and badly lacks definition. It constantly calls attention to itself. It is the kind of sloppy bass that cannot be found on any RVG recording, none that I have ever heard anyway, and I’ve heard them by the hundreds.

You no doubt know about the boosted bass on the remastered Beatles albums. It’s that sound. Irritating in the extreme, and just plain wrong.

Reserved. Playing through a curtain.

Very few Heavy Vinyl records these days do not sound veiled and reserved in the midrange.

To get a better sense of the effect, throw a medium weight blanket over your speakers. Voila! Your thin vinyl now weighs 180 grams!

No space.

Typical of Heavy Vinyl. The studio space and ambience found on the better vintage pressings, the kind we play all day long, is GONE.

(more…)

Sonny Rollins – Good Digital Beats Bad Analog Any Day

The Music of Sonny Rollins Available Now

And this is some very bad analog indeed!

Sonny Rollins Plus 4 on Two Slabs of 45 RPM Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl – Reviewed in 2010

I cannot recall hearing a more ridiculously thick, opaque and unnatural sounding audiophile record than this, and believe me, I’ve heard plenty

As I noted in another commentary “Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Vinyl, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition — aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads each with a track record more dismal than the next?”

It reminds me of the turgid muck that Doug Sax was cutting for Analogue Productions back in the ’90s. The CD has to sound better than this. There’s no way could it sound worse.

CD Update: I managed to track down a copy of the CD and it DOES sound better than this awful record, and by a long shot. It’s not a great sounding CD, but it sure isn’t the disaster this record is. Buy the CD and whatever you do, don’t waste money on this kind of crap vinyl.

This is a very bad sounding record, so bad that one minute’s play will have you up and out of your chair trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with your system. But don’t bother. It’s not your stereo, it’s this record.

It has the power to make your perfectly enjoyable speakers sound like someone has wrapped them in four inches of cotton bunting.

Presence? Gone!

Transients? Who needs ’em!

Ambience, Openness, Three-Dimensionality?

Uh, will you consider settling for Murk, Bloat and Smear? There’s a Special on them today at Acoustic Sounds.

And yet no one seems to have noticed, except us of course.

Inspected By… Nobody?

Ask yourself this question. How did this record get approved? Did no one ever play it? Hoffman and Gray let their names be put on this piece of crap? Kassem I can understand; he’s been making bad records for more than twenty years and wouldn’t know a good record if it bit him in the butt. But this is really beyond the pale. It doesn’t even pass the laugh test. I honestly don’t think I have a CD that sounds this bad, and I have hundreds of them. (I play them in the car.)

We don’t feel it’s incumbent upon us to defend the sound of these pressings. We think for the most part they are awful and we want nothing to do with them.

But don’t those who DO think these remastered pressings sound good — the audiophile reviewers and the forum posters specifically — have at least some obligation to point out to the rest of the audiophile community that at least one of them is spectacularly bad, as is surely the case here.

Is it herd mentality? Is it that they don’t want to rock the boat? They can’t say something bad about even one of these Heavy Vinyl pressings because that might reflect badly on all of them?

I’m starting to feel like Mr. Jones: Something’s going on, but I don’t know what it is. Dear reader, this is the audiophile world we live in today. If you expect anyone to tell you the truth about the current crop of remastered vinyl, you are in for some real disappointment.

We don’t have the time to critique what’s out there, and it seems that the reviewers and forum posters lack the — what? desire, courage, or maybe just the basic critical listening skills — to do it properly.

Which means that in the world of Heavy Vinyl, it’s every man for himself.

And a very different world from the world of Old Vinyl, the kind we offer. In our world we are behind you all the way. Your satisfaction is guaranteed or you get your money back.

Now which world would you rather live in?

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Donald Fagen / Morph The Cat – Mastered by the Cats from DCC

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Yet another Disastrous Heavy Vinyl release with godawful sound, and in this case, equally godawful music, a fitting entry for our Hall of Shame.

Sonic Grade: F

Hopelessly murky, muddy, opaque, ambience-free sound, and so artificial I honestly cannot make any sense of it. Pure sludge.  This is someone’s idea of analog? It sure ain’t mine.

Is this music for robots? That would explain a lot. Audiophile robots, perhaps?

Why do audiophiles waste their money on crap like this?

And Kamikiriad from 1993 was musically every bit as bad.

The last good record Donald Fagen was involved with was The NIghtfly.

After that, there is no reason to buy anything he recorded, whether as a solo artist or as part of the reformed Steely Dan.

And there would never be a good reason to buy a record that sounds as bad as this one on vinyl.

The CD has to be better.

Michael Hedges – Some of the Most Unnatural Digital Sound We Have Ever Heard

A Record Better Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

Another Example of Ridiculously Artificial “Audiophile Bullshit” Sound

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

It sounds as if someone went into the biggest room in the studio they could book, sat Michael Hedges down on a stool out in the middle of it, and then took all the mics and aimed them at the walls. Roll tape! (Assuming they used tape, who knows what kind of crap digital system they were using.)

And the best part is that it was nominated for an engineering Grammy!

If you think the average music lover today wouldn’t know good sound if it bit him in the ass, this album is proof that nothing has changed, not since 1984 anyway.

(more…)