probably-bad

The records on this list have never been auditioned by us, so in all honesty we cannot say what they actually sound like.

However, having played similar records by the score, we feel fairly confident that they are very unlikely to be better than mediocre.

If you have one of these titles and think it sounds great, we might be persuaded to order one up and give it a critical spin. Until that happens — and of course the chances of it happening are slim and none, since rarely does anyone bother to tell us how great any of these remastered titles are — these records, like all records, should only be purchased with the right to return them if the sound is not up to snuff.

The major audiophile record retailers do not take returns for new product that is not defective, so if you do decide to buy one of these titles, we advise you to buy it used.

Tchaikovsky / Symphony No. 4 in Living Stereo – What Does It Sound Like Now?

The Music of Tchaikovsky Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Tchaikovsky

Years ago we wrote:

This is a 1s/5s Shaded Dog. TAS List (or at least it used to be). Probably the reason HP likes this LP so much is that it has a very wide soundstage. It also has good solid weight. A little soft on top, but that comes with the territory.

This is a very old review, probably from about 15 years ago. I don’t think I could recommend this record today. It probably belongs on this list, but I cannot truthfully say that it does one way or another. As I recall, the copies I’ve played more recently were not impressive.

If I played it today, would I find it to be as bad as this Living Stereo pressing? Who knows? That experiment has not been run.

Classic Records remastered a version of the album in 1995. In another listing we mentioned that Classic had the habit of  equalizing their classical records to make them all but intolerable on a modern hi-fidelity system:

Classic, as is their wont, boosted the upper midrange, and that, coupled with their transistory mastering equipment, makes the strings brighter, grainier and yet somehow lacking in texture and sheen compared to the originals (a clear sign of a low-res cutting chain).

Once you recognize that quality in the sound of a record it’s hard to ignore, and I hear it on practically every Classic Record I play. This commentary has more on the subject.

RCA is more famous for its string tone than anything else. If the strings on the Classic Records LPs don’t bother you, you can save yourself a lot of money by not buying vintage RCA pressings, and get a lot quieter vinyl to boot.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Another label you are no doubt familiar with used to make ridiculously bright classical records. Here is one of their worst.

If you would like to see other records with string tone we found to be too bright, click here.

Some Advice

We much prefer Mravinsky’s performances of the later symphonies, but good sounding copies of his records are just too hard to find, and may in fact not be findable, so we have never actually done a shootout for any of them.

The Band / Music From Big Pink – Bad Bass Like This Is Just Annoying

More of the Music of The Band

Roots Rock LPs with Hot Stampers Available Now

Sonic Grade: D

In 2012 the “new” MoFi put out another remastered Big Pink. Since their track record at this point is, to be honest, abysmal, we have not felt the need to audition it.

It’s very possible, even likely, that they restored some of the bass that’s missing from so many of the originals.

But bad half-speed mastered bass — poorly defined, never deep and never punchy — is that the kind of bass that would even be desirable?

To us, it is very much a problem. Bad bass is just plain annoying. Fortunately for us it is a problem we have to deal with much less often now that we’ve all but stopped playing half-speed mastered records.

(Here are some other records with exceptionally sloppy bass. If the bass on these records does not sound sloppy to you, you have your work cut out for you. Some of our favorite records for testing bass definition can be found here.)

Sucked Out Mids

The Doors first album was yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for sucked-out mids. Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center. 

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room and farther apart and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you own. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for more than 40 years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

And note also that when you play your records too quietly, it results in an exaggerated, artificial sense of depth. That’s one of the main reasons we play them loud; we want to hear the pressings that have real presence and immediacy, because they’re the ones that are most likely to win our shootouts.

If you have any of our White Hot stampers you surely know what I’m talking about.


FURTHER READING

Records that Are Good for Testing Bass and Whomp

Records that Are Good for Testing Midrange Presence

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Neil Young / Harvest – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Pressing Sound?

More of the Music of Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Harvest

How does the heavy vinyl sound? We have no idea, never played one.

Actually, we do have an idea. Although we’ve never auditioned the heavy vinyl pressing of Harvest, we have played the newly remastered After the Gold Rush. We concluded that this is a reissue series that holds very little appeal for us as audiophiles. Some excerpts from our review for ATGR follow.

We know what the good pressings of the album sound like, we play them regularly, and this newly remastered vinyl is missing almost everything that makes the album essential to any Right Thinking Music Lover’s collection.

We can summarize the sound of this awful record in one word: boring. Since some of you may want to know more than that we’ll be happy to break it down for you a bit further.

What It Does Right

It’s tonally correct.

Can’t think of anything else…

What It Does Wrong

Where to begin?

It has no real space or ambience. When you play this record it sounds as if they must have recorded it in a heavily padded studio. Somehow the originals of After the Gold Rush, like most of Neil’s classic albums from the era, are clear, open and spacious.

Cleverly the engineers responsible for this audiophile remastering have managed to reproduce the sound of a dead studio on a record that wasn’t recorded in one.

In addition, the record never gets loud. The good pressings get very loud. They rock, they’re overflowing with energy.

And, lastly, there’s no real weight to the bottom end. The Whomp Factor on this new pressing is practically non-existent. The low end of the originals is huge, deep and powerful.

The Bottom Line

This new Heavy Vinyl pressing is boring beyond all understanding. I wouldn’t give you a nickel for it. If Neil Young actually had anything to do with it he should be ashamed of himself.

If you want a good copy of the album we have them on the site from time to time. If you can’t afford our Hot Stampers, please don’t waste your money on this one. I have an old CD from 30 years ago, and it is dramatically better than this LP.

Pass / Fail

We think the Heavy Vinyl pressing of After the Gold Rush is so awful that whatever supporters it may have — and there are surely some who have spoken well of it on audiophile forums somewhere, having seen the most ridiculously bad audiophile records touted again and again — are failing utterly in this hobby in one or both of the following ways.

They either cannot reproduce its shortcomings, or, having reproduced them, they have failed to recognize them.

Either one spells trouble. One or both should act as a wake up call of the most pressing kind. We explain what we mean by this kind of failure in more detail here:

Some records are so wrong, or are so lacking in qualities that are crucial to the reproduction of Hi-Fidelity sound — qualities typically found in abundance on the right vintage pressings — that the supporters of these records are failing fundamentally to judge them 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 not a system that is necessarily hopeless or unmusical.

A system that can play the MoFi of Aja without revealing to the listener how wrong it is must necessarily be at another level of bad entirely. A stereo of such poor quality is clearly a failure, what else could it be?

My system in the ’80s played the MoFi Aja just fine. Looking back on it now, I realize my system was doing more wrong than right. (Having very poorly-developed critical listening skills played a big part in my apparent satisfaction with both the MoFi pressing and the sound of my stereo in general.)

Today’s incarnation of that awful MoFi is the Cisco pressing, and yes, some folks are as clueless these days as I was in 1982.

Like all Self-Taught Audiophiles, I had a lousy teacher. I didn’t know it at the time — how could I? — but I had a very long way to go.

Some of the lessons I learned along the way, lessons you may find helpful in your own personal audio journey, can be found here.

The dramatic audio progress we’ve made in our 35 years in the record business, playing and selling thousands of audiophile quality vinyl LPs, is what has allowed us to recognize just how second- and third-rate most Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered pressings really are.

Head to head with a good vintage LP — those you see pictured below, for example — they are simply not competitive. We think the new Harvest is unlikely to be worth our time, but if you have a copy of the album and like the sound of it, please send it to us so that we can hear it for ourselves We will put it up against the amazing sounding vintage pressings we offer and report our findings, whatever they turn out to be.

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Little Feat / Dixie Chicken – How Does the MoFi Sound?

Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

How does the MoFi pressing sound?

We have no idea; we’ve never bothered to order one, for at least one very good reason. This is an album about rhythm.

Half-Speed mastered records have sloppy bass and, consequently, lack rhythmic drive.

Who is his right mind would want to half-speed master an album by Little Feat, one of the most rhythmically accomplished bands in rock and roll history?

The obvious answer is that it was a bad idea. But, if you’re Mobile Fidelity, and that’s the only idea you’ve ever had because you are in the half-speed mastering business, then what else can you do?

As the old saying goes, to a hammer everything looks like a nail.

OUR PREVIOUS HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY

Folks, this is no demo disc by any means, but the later pressings strip away the two qualities that really make this music work and bring it to life: Tubey Magic and Big Bass. This side two has both in SPADES.

Listen to how breathy and transparent the chorus is on the first track. Now layer that sound on top of a fat and punchy bottom end and you have the formula for Little Feat Magic at its funky best. This is the sound they heard in the control room, of that I have no doubt, and it is all over this side two. No side of any copy we played was better.

Personally

The All Music Guide (and lots of other critics) think this is Little Feat at their best. With tracks such as Two Trains, Dixie Chicken, Fat Man in the Bathtub and Roll Um Easy, who’s gonna disagree!? (I guess I am. I prefer Waiting for Columbus and The Last Record Album but cannot deny that Dixie Chicken is probably the best of the albums that came before them.)

Some Relevant Commentaries

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Basie & Peterson – Probably Bad Sounding on Heavy Vinyl, But Who Can Be Bothered to Find Out?

More of the Music of Count Basie

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

Analogue Productions remastered this longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers, on 45 RPM vinyl. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, scoring not a single winner with which I am familiar — I’m guessing the Hot Stamper we offered here would have blown the doors off their version, as well as any other Basie album they have done or will ever do on vinyl.

A good customer emailed us back in 2012 with the quote below, authenticating our rather negative disposition at the time concerning the AP releases from the ’90s:

Recently I unearthed a pile of “The Tracking Angle” magazines, MF’s short-lived venture in publishing, that I’d kept all these years (this may damn me in your eyes, but at the time he was one of the more animated [animated but consistently wrong, not a good tradeoff] writers on audio). I dutifully reread the very first issue (Jan. 1995) for the first time in many years, even a review of “Tea for the Tillerman,”… I was flabbergasted to come across this:

So what does Mr. “Better Records” think? In a newsletter where he says a digital remastered OJC vinyl title sounds better than Acoustic Sounds’ all analogue version and says the whole lot of them “suck” and “simply cannot sound good on a good stereo,” he calls this Cat Stevens reissue “Fabulous. Very dynamic with plenty of presence in the midrange, unlike the ‘audiophile’ records of today.”

We proudly stand behind every word. If the comparable OJC title sounds better than the remastered one Acoustic Sounds is peddling, then it sounds better, digital remastering or no digital remastering. We don’t pay any attention to who makes the records, how they make them or why they make them. We just play them and let the chips fall will they may. Mr. Fremer thinks that making records the “right” way should result in better sounding records, but we have found precious little evidence to back up that theory, and volumes of evidence refuting it.

Yes, those Analogue Productions records sucked, they continue to suck, and they will always suck. The “audiophile” records of that day did lack presence, and the passage of time is not going to change that fact. Play practically any Reference, Chesky or Classic title from 1995 to the present day and listen for the veiled midrange, the opacity, the smeary transients, and the generally constricted, compressed, lifeless quality of its sound, a sound that has been boring us to tears for close to two decades (and fundamentally undermining the very rationale for the expense and hassle of analog itself in the modern digital age, a much more serious charge).

Ask yourself, where are those records now?

Piled on the ash heap of analog history, that’s where (apologies to Leon Trotsky). Nobody writes about them anymore, and it’s not because they were so good, no matter what any audiophile-type reviewer thought or may think about them.

As long as Analogue Productions is around, at least no one can say that Mobile Fidelity makes the worst sounding audiophile records in the world. They are certainly some of the worst, but not so hopeless that they have never made a single good sounding record, which is the title that Chad Kassem holds.

To the best of our knowledge. Obviously we have only played a small fraction of the records released on his godawful label. In our defense let me say that a small fraction was all we could take.


FURTHER READING

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Benny Carter / Swingin’ the ’20s – Skip the OJC

More of the Music of Benny Carter

Contemporary Jazz Records Available Now

This album is fairly common on the OJC pressing from 1988, but more recently we’ve found the sound of the OJC pressings we’ve played seriously wanting. They have the kind of bad reissue sound that that plays right into the prejudices of record collectors and audiophiles alike, the kind for whom nothing but an original will do.

They were dramatically smaller, flatter, more recessed and more lifeless than even the worst of the ’70s LPs we played. (We tend to like those by the way.)

The lesson? Not all reissues are created equal. Some OJC pressings are great — including even some of the new ones — some are awful, and the only way to judge them fairly is to judge them individually, which requires actually playing a large sample.

Since virtually no record collectors or audiophiles like doing that, they make faulty judgments – OJC’s are cheap reissues sourced from digital tapes, run for the hills! – based on their biases and reliance on inadequate sample sizes.

You can find those who subscribe to this approach on every audiophile forum there is. The methods they have adopted do not produce good results, but as long as they stick to them, they will never have to worry about discovering that inconvenient truth.

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Albeniz / Suite Espanola – How Do the Remastered Pressings Sound?

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

In 2011 we made the (usually pointless) effort to compare our London pressing to the 180 gram Speakers Corner reissue which we were carrying at the time. We noted simply that it “was a joke next to this copy.”

I wish I could tell you in what way the Heavy Vinyl pressing was a joke — we try to be very specific about the shortcomings of these records, which is why we publish our notes for some of them — but the old notes are long gone.

Naturally we don’t have the reissue to play this time around. Still, we are confident that the results of any comparison would be the same.

Mark Lehman in the Absolute Sound gave the ORG Heavy Vinyl remastering Five Stars, having this to say about the sound:

ORG’s 45rpm remastering is terrific (as indeed are all of the ORG vinyl reissues I’ve heard). Comparison with the late- 60s London LP on which the Suite first appeared reveals sharpened and clarified attacks and articulations, more tightly focused individual strands, fuller and warmer string choirs, more resonant brass, more pillowy air around flutes, clarinets, and oboes, and more nuance and opulence in the orchestral blends. The total effect is to make Albeniz’s composition even more sweeping, rhapsodic, richly hued, evocative, and involving—and that’s saying something, considering how good the sonics are on this recording’s first incarnation.

If only it were true!

We readily admit we have never played the ORG pressing and have no plans to, but when has a Heavy Vinyl pressing ever had any of the qualities described above, let alone in such abundance?

Never in our experience, and our experience extends to hundreds and hundreds of them.

Enough about records we’ve never played. Let’s discuss some of the pressings of this very recording — a favorite of ours, for which we have done a number of shootouts — that we actually have played

The Super Analogue remaster from the ’90s was awful. I would give it an F if I were grading it today.

The Speakers Corner pressing earned a B grade from us, which makes it one of the better releases on that label.

One or two out of ten would rate a B I would guess. I don’t know of any record of theirs that rates a grade higher than B. Using letter grades, our grading system of White Hot, Super Hot and Hot would translate to something like A Plus, A and A Minus. Which means that there is no Heavy Vinyl pressing, from any era, on any label, that should be able to beat any Hot Stamper pressing on our site, and we back that up with a 100% Money Back Guarantee.

The only real competition to our Hot Stamper is going to be an original London.

As always we guarantee our pressing will beat anything you have ever heard, including the ORG, the Super Analogue, the Speakers Corner, or whatever else you may have — or your money back.

This is a guarantee that, to our knowledge, no one else in the record business can or will make.

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John Coltrane / Soultrane – The Original OJC Sucks

More of the Music of John Coltrane

Potentially Good Sounding OJC Pressings

Not Very Good Sounding OJC Pressings

The early OJC reissues of this title are awful, and whatever Heavy Vinyl they’re churning out these days is probably every bit as bad, but in the opposite way.

The OJC is thin and bright, and the modern reissue (I’m guessing, based on playing scores of them) is probably thick, veiled, overly smooth, lacking in space and boosted in the bass — because that’s the sound that audiophiles record buyers seem to like these days.

Without the excellent sounding ’60s and ’70s reissues that we are still able to find in audiophile playing condition, all that we would have available with which to do our shootouts would be the originals. At the big bucks those records go for nowadays, shootouts would simply be impossible.

So our thanks go to Rudy for doing a good job on these later pressings!

And brickbats to George Horn, who seems to be the guy who cut the original OJC pressings. We like a lot of his work, but in this case he’s let us down.

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Benny Carter – Analogue Productions Fails Spectacularly Right Out of the Gate

More Contemporary Label Jazz

More Letters Comparing Hot Stamper Pressings to their Heavy Vinyl Counterparts

You may remember what a disaster the Analogue Productions version from back in the ’90s was. (Or maybe you agree with Michael Fremer that they were god’s gift to the audiophile record lovers of the world. We thought they were crap right from the get go and were not the least bit shy about saying so,)

I haven’t heard the new 45 RPM version and don’t intend to, but I seriously doubt that it sounds like our good Hot Stamper pressings. We have yet to hear a single Heavy Vinyl 45 that sounds any good to us, judged by the standards we set in our shootouts.

[This is no longer true, there is one, so stay tuned to read all about it one of these days.]

Actually, to run the risk of sounding overly pedantic, the records themselves set the standards.

We simply grade them on the curve they establish.

We guarantee that none of their LPs can hold a candle to our records or your money back. If you have one of the new pressings and don’t know what’s wrong with it, or don’t think that anything is wrong with it, try ours. It will show you just how much better a real record can sound, with more space, more transparency, more energy, more presence, more drive, more ambience –more of everything that’s good about the sound of music on vinyl.

It is our contention that no one alive today makes records that sound as good as the ones we sell. Once you hear our Hot Stamper pressing, those Heavy Vinyl records you bought might not ever sound right to you again.

They sure don’t sound right to us, but we have the good fortune of being able to play the best older pressings (reissues included) side by side with the new ones, where the faults of the current reissues become much more audible — in fact, exceedingly obvious. When you can hear them that way, head to head, there really is no comparison. 


More Heavy Vinyl Reviews

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. (more…)

Jennifer Warnes / Famous Blue Raincoat – How Do the Heavy Vinyl Versions Sound?

More of the Music of Jennifer Warnes

More of the Music of Leonard Cohen

Reviews and Commentaries for Famous Blue Raincoat

What’s interesting about the Cypress LPs is that they come two very different ways. Most of them are ridiculously thin, bright, grainy and digital sounding. This explains why some audiophiles in the past have preferred the Canadian pressings: they are smoother and fuller.

However, compared to the good stamper domestic versions they are dull and lifeless.

The Classic 180 gram reissue that came out a number of years ago was somewhere in between the good stamper originals and the bad stamper originals. The better sounding Cypress pressings absolutely MURDER it.

As far as the new Cisco 45 RPM pressings are concerned, we’ve never bothered to crack one open and play it. It’s been quite a while since Bernie cut any record that we thought sounded good, and some of his recent work has been unbelievably bad (the Doors box comes readily to mind), so we’ve never felt motivated enough to make the effort.

He cut many versions of this record as you probably know, some of which have turned out to be Hot Stampers, but that was a long time ago.

Does the Audio World really need another Heavy Vinyl Debunking entry from us? If Heavy Vinyl pressings are giving you the sound you want, you sure don’t need to be on our site. Those sacred cows get slaughtered pretty regularly around here.

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