reviewer

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

There actually is such a person who does, 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!

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

(more…)

Does It Seem to You That This Guy Knows Much About Dark Side of the Moon?

It does not to me, but I admit to some bias when it comes to DSOTM. I must have played more than a hundred copies over the last forty-odd years. I was sure I understood exactly which copies had the best sound, and again and again I was proved wrong.

We only found out what the best sounding versions were about five or six years ago. We did that by doing shootout after shootout with every version we could lay our hands on, starting around 2005. We even did a shootout for two different Mobile Fidelity pressings many years ago, which we think makes for some good reading to this day.

It’s especially good reading for those who don’t appreciate how dramatic pressing variations can be for even quality controlled limited editions. The comparison of the two MoFi’s centers around the idea that midrange tonality is by far the most important quality to listen for on Dark Side, and that, surprisingly to some audiophiles, but obviously not to us, there are MoFi pressings with a correct midrange and there are some without.

Is this fellow listening for midrange tonality? If you watch the video and he says he is, then you can let me know!  And if not, you can ask him in the comments why he wasn’t. Maybe he just likes the chiming clocks and the bass of the heartbeat. Some audiophiles have been known to ignore the fundamentals when comparing records.

And picking six random copies of six different pressings is not exactly approaching the problem scientifically either of course. It is a clear violation of the First Cornerstone of Hot Stamper Shootouts, to wit

  1. You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.

Impressive Records? Not Really

Most of the versions of DSOTM that this individual is reviewing have never impressed us sonically. They are the pressings that most audiophiles have probably heard about and read about in the magazines and on forums. If you know practically nothing about the album going in, these might be the six pressings you would consider playing against each other in a shootout. To be charitable, I suppose you could call it a good start.

Our reviewer seems to be the type who puts a great deal of faith in so-called audiophile pressings — the Japanese Pro-Use Series, the UHQR — the kinds of records that sound more and more artificial and/or mediocre to us with each passing year.

If your stereo is not showing you what’s wrong with these kinds of records, you have your work cut out for you. This is especially true of some of the Ultra High Quality Records put out my Mobile Fidelity in the early ’80s, like this one.

Our Take on DSOTM Pressings

The domestic pressings we have auditioned over the years have never made it into a real shootout. They have always sounded far too flat and veiled to be taken seriously. There are some very good sounding Pink Floyd pressings on domestic vinyl — Wish You Were Here and The Wall can both sound amazing on domestic vinyl — but Dark Side is not one of them in our experience.

The Doug Sax-mastered Heavy Vinyl version from 2003 we played year ago was way too bright and phony to these ears. We hated it and said so at the time.

We came across a very early British pressing about fifteen years ago, the one with the solid blue triangle label, but it was not as good as other pressings we were playing at the time and we never bought another one.

We’ve liked a lot of later UK pressings over the years, but we don’t go out of our way to buy those anymore now that we have heard the really amazing pressings we like now.

As I said, we discovered the killer stampers about five years ago, and that showed us an Out of This World Dark Side we had no idea could even exist. We have a name for pressings like those. We call them Breakthrough Pressings, and we even sometimes used to award them a sonic grade of more than Three Pluses.

Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for the kinds of pressings that simply blew our minds, with sound so far superior to any copy we’d ever heard that they broke our grading scale.

Two Minutes Was Enough

I frankly admit I did not spend two minutes watching this video. I simply do not have the patience to watch audiophiles like this guy opine about records he thinks he knows a lot better than he actually does.

That said, if there is a pressing that he thinks is the best, and you own one, we would be happy to send you a Hot Stamper to go head to head with it and let the chips fall where they may.

We are not in the opinion business. Opinions are cheap. Everybody has them. We wrote a bit about the subject in a post entitled Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works. A relevant excerpt:

Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.

All forums — whatever their benefits — cannot overcome this problem.

Next time someone posts an opinion about a record, ask yourself “What does his system sound like?”

If you don’t know the answer, why would you put any stock in his opinion? For all you know his system sucks and his critical listening skills are non-existent. He might have a pair of JBL 100s in the basement and a Dual turntable (or the modern equivalent of same).

He may hate the records whose sound you love and love the records whose sound you hate.

Rather than being in the opinion business, we prefer being in the better sounding records business, offering, as we like to say, Records for Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records.

Our records are expensive, but they deliver the sound we describe, and we have the letters from customers to prove it.

Customer Testimonials for Dark Side of the Moon

And if we are wrong — which does happen from time to time, we see no reason to hide the fact — you get your money back.

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Pink Floyd

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

(more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Mediocrity Is… Fragile

The Analogue Productions 180g reissue shown here is mastered by Steve Hoffman and Kevin Grey, two guys with reputations for doing good work, but the results of their latest collaboration [can you believe this record came out in 2006!?] leave much to be desired.

The overall sound is lean. This is especially noticeable on the too thin-sounding guitars and vocals. Believe me, it’s no fun to play a Yes album with thin guitars and vocals.

Also, there’s a noticeable lack of ambience throughout the record. What comes to mind when I hear a record that sounds like this is the dreaded R word: Reissue. I find it hard to believe they had the actual two-track original master tape to work with. The sound is just too anemic to have come from the real tape. If they did have the real tape, then they really botched the job.
(more…)

Houses of the Holy on Classic Records and About 156 Other Records No Audiophile Should Own

This is another one of the VERY BAD records Michael Fremer put on his 2009 Top LP list, while passing over one of Classic’s better titles: the first Led Zeppelin album. (We don’t like it as much as we used to, but it is still a good record if you get a good pressing of it, something that can never be guaranteed. We link to our review of it below.)

Michael Fremer’s web site used to be called called musicangle (now defunct). On this site you would have been able to find a feature called157 In-Print LPs You Should Own!

Surprisingly the link still works! If I had made a list this ridiculous it would have become a Live and Learn commentary, out of sheer embarrassment if for no other reason. But back to our story.

I can’t begin to count the bad records on this list. There are scores of them — albums that are so bad that we actually created a Hall of Shame section (linked below) to help you avoid them.

But Michael Fremer holds just the opposite view; he thinks these are records you should own. Now I suppose we can disagree over the merits (or lack of them) of a title such as Houses of the Holy on Classic (reviewed here). It’s a free country after all.

But the reason this list does such positive harm to the record-loving audiophile public, in my opinion, is that MF passes over one of the best records Classic ever cut, Led Zeppelin’s Self-Titled First Album, in order to put the bright and aggressive piece of crap Houses of the Holy on the list in its place.

(more…)

Rachmaninoff / Symphonic Dances / Johanos – Audiophile Reviewers Raved About This Muddy Mess

I guess things never change.

Sonic Grade: F

This Athena LP is now long out of print, but it received rave reviews when it was released. (We quote many of them below.) This album is a member of the TAS Super Disc list, but we found the sound awfully opaque, smeary, slow and compressed, the kind of bad “analog” sound that Doug Sax brought to the early AP releases. 

The sticker on the shrink wrap of a previous copy had these quotes:

“…for this is the definitive symphonic recording to date.” – J. Gordon Holt/ Stereophile

“Wins ‘Best Record of the Year’ award against tough competition.” – Joe Hart/High End Audio Press & Music Review

“HP heard the Athena remastering of the Rachmaninoff and found it stunning. He could recommend it without reservation.” – Harry Pearson/The Absolute Sound #57

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

(more…)

Billy Joel / 52nd Street – A Random Copy Tells You What, Exactly?

More Billy Joel

Reviews and Commentaries for 52nd Street

Sonic Grade: Side One: F / Side Two: C+

The Impex (Cisco) 180 gram remastering of 52nd Street was cut by Kevin Gray, under the direction of Robert Pincus (aka Mr Record), at the now defunct AcousTech Mastering in Camarillo. We noted the following in a recent review for a much superior (how could it not be?) Hot Stamper pressing:

Side one is a joke (zero ambience, resolution, energy, etc.) but side two is actually quite good. Side two fixes the biggest problem with the album: hard, honky vocals.

In his review appearing in The Absolute Sound, Neil Gader plucks two songs out of the album’s nine as especially meritorious. Oddly enough they’re both on side two. I wonder why.  (more…)

The Beatles / Rubber Soul – How Does the Heavy Vinyl Sound?

This review was originally written in 2015

We are so excited to tell you about the first of the Heavy Vinyl Beatles remasters we’ve played! As we cycle through our regular Hot Stamper shootouts for The Beatles’ albums we will be of course be reviewing more of them*. I specifically chose this one to start with, having spent a great deal of time over the last year testing the best vinyl pressings against three different CD versions of Rubber Soul.

The short version of our review of the new Rubber Soul vinyl would simply point out that it’s awful, and, unsurprisingly, it’s awful in most of the ways that practically all modern Heavy Vinyl records are: it’s opaque, airless, energy-less and just a drag.

I was looking forward to the opportunity to take Michael Fremer, the foremost champion of thick vinyl dreck from sources far and wide, to task in expectation of his rave review, when to my surprise I found the rug had been pulled out from under me — he didn’t like it either. Damn!.
(more…)

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

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 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 I find them completely and utterly unlistenable.

(more…)

Stevie Wonder / Songs in the Key of Life on Heavy Vinyl – Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

More Stevie Wonder

Hot Stamper Pressings of Songs in the Key of Life Available Now

[This commentary was written more than ten years ago. I just went to this reviewer’s website to make sure the quote below was accurate, and everything you need to see is still up and as misguided as ever.]

I will ask the question again: Is This a Well-Engineered Album?

How on Earth could anyone possibly know such a thing?

Some background. Years ago our first ever Hot Stamper shootout for Songs in the Key of Life had us enthusiastically singing its praises:

HOT STAMPERS DISCOVERED for one of the funkiest and most consistent double albums of all time! It’s beyond difficult to find great sounding Stevie Wonder vinyl, but here’s a copy that proves it’s possible if you try hard enough. So many copies are terrible in so many different ways — we should know, we played them. And just to be clear, this copy is far from perfect as well, but it did more things right in more places than we ever expected it would or could. And that means it showed us a great sounding Stevie Wonder record we never knew existed.

But a noted reviewer says it’s a bad recording. Does he know something we don’t?

Not exactly. The fact is he doesn’t know something we do, something he, like anybody else, could have found out had he simply done his homework. (We call them shootouts, but homework is certainly a serviceable and in some ways even more accurate description: it’s work and you do it at home.)

All it takes is one good copy to falsify the assertion this fellow makes. We in fact found more than one. But I’m quite sure we do things very differently at Better Records than they do at any reviewer’s digs. (more…)

Gresham’s Law and The State of Reviewing As Seen by Us in 2015

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings.

What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones. Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of them.

Reviewer malpractice? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years.

More Living Stereo Recordings


This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*.

White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in -the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this. Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than we normally assume.  (more…)