Stills / Manassas – A Classic Records Disaster

More of the Music of Stephen Stills

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stephen Stills

The Classic pressing was a disaster. Can you imagine adding the kind of grungy, gritty sound that Bernie’s mastering chain is known for (around these parts, anyway) to a recording with those problems already? It was a match made in hell.

Back in the day when I was selling lots of Classic Heavy Vinyl, this was one of the titles I refused to have anything to do with. This and Stephen Stills’ first album — both were personal favorites of mine and both were awful on remastered Heavy Vinyl.

Is it the worst version of the album ever made? Hard to imagine it would have much competition.

Lots of rave reviews for the two of them in the audiophile press at the time though. I guess nothing ever really changes, does it? Played a Sundazed record lately? Well, there you go. How are these people impressed with such bad sound?

Of course I know exactly how it is possible to be impressed by bad sound. I spent my first twenty years in audio being clueless. Why should I expect the audiophile of today to have figured things out in less time than it took me?

I was a clueless audiophile record dealer (but I repeat myself) in the 90s, and I have the catalogs to prove it.

Falling Short

As a general rule, Manassas, like most Heavy Vinyl pressings, will fall short in some or all of the following areas when played head to head against the vintage pressings we offer:

My question to the Vinyl True Believers of the world is this: Why own a turntable if you’re going to play records like these?

I have boxes of CDs with more musically involving sound and I don’t even bother to play those. Why would I take the time to throw on some 180 gram record that sounds worse than a good CD?

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer.

Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will — we hope — be over.

Even if our pricey curated pressings are too expensive, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.


Copland – Not as Good a TAS List Title as We Thought, Sorry!

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

We had a handful of copies of this famous TAS List title in the backroom, so we decided it was high time to get a shootout going. We pulled all the pressings of the music (both Billy the Kid and Rodeo) we had on hand on every label and proceeded to needle-drop them in preparation for a big Copland shootout.

Much to our chagrin, without exception all the copies of LSC 2195 were awful. The sound was completely hopeless. Our notes read:

  • Smeary — (more records with smeary sound can be found here),
  • Dry — (more records with dry sound can be found here),
  • Bright — (more records with bright sound can be found here),
  • Flat — (more records with flat sound can be found here),

Those records weren’t cheap. That was a lot of money down the drain. Not only can’t we sell records that sound as bad as this Living Stereo — our customers simply would not buy them — but we would never even try. Unlike other record dealers, we actually know what our records sound like. We don’t care about the reputations of the records we sell. We only care about their sound.

Some of the records on the TAS List seem better suited to the old school audio systems of the 60s, 70s and 80s than the modern systems of today.

Many of them used to sound good on those older systems, and I should know, I had an Old School stereo. Some of the records I used to think sounded good back in the day don’t sound too good to me anymore. For a more complete list of those records, not just the ones on the TAS List, click here.

What Pressings Did They Have

Whatever pressings they were playing over there at The Absolute Sound — they almost never say, which is something that has bothered me since I first started paying much attention to the list in the early-90s — I hope they were better than the Shaded Dogs we auditioned.

Who knows? Better yet, who cares? Who cares what Harry put on his TAS List all those years ago?

There are a lot of records I used to like and don’t anymore, why should he be any different? The fact that he is no longer around to change his mind is unfortunate and casts a shadow on all the records from the list that he was responsible for, a very large number.

Not that the new additions are any better. Once the Classic Records titles were added, I surmised that whaever standards had been in place back in the day had been lowered in order to accommodate the advertisers’ wishes that newly remastered pressings be recognized as Super Discs too, even the worst of them.

Live and Learn

LSC 2195 has been on the TAS List for a very long time, and we raved about a copy of the album back in 2011, but it now seems pretty clear that we were wrong.

The sound of the RCA originals was much too unpleasant to be played on high quality modern equipment. There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings.

An old school stereo is perfect for all your bad sounding golden age recordings.

You can also get that sound by powering your modern system with the Mac 30s you see pictured. They are very good at hiding the faults of old records, and plenty of new ones too. Just the thing for you Heavy Vinyl fans, but the opposite of what you should use if you want to know what your records sound like.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with others that — in our opinion — are best avoided by audiophiles looking for hi-fidelity sound. Some of these records may have passable sonics, but the music is weak. These are also titles you can safely avoid.

We also have an Audiophile Hall of Shame for records that were marketed to audiophiles with claims of superior sound. If you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that these records are some of the worst sounding pressings we have ever had the misfortune to play.

We routinely put them in our Hot Stamper shootouts, head to head with the vintage records we offer. We are often more than a little surprised at just how bad an “audiophile record” can sound and still be considered an “audiophile record.”

If you own any of these so-called audiophile pressings, let us send you one of our Hot Stamper LPs so that you can hear it for yourself in your own home, on your own system. Every one of our records is guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.


Offenbach – More Bad Tube Mastering from the Formerly Brilliant Doug Sax

Audiophile Quality Pressings of Orchestral Music Available Now

Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

The sound is smeary, thick and opaque because, among other things, the record was mastered by Doug Sax on tube equipment from a copy tape, and not all that well either.

It is yet another murky audiophile piece of trash from the mastering lathe of the formerly brilliant Doug Sax. Back in the day he cut some the best sounding records ever made.

Then he started working for Analogue Productions and never cut a good sounding record again as far as I know. (Obviously I cannot have played everything he worked on from the mid-90s on. Who would want to?)

On this Offenbach record, in Doug’s defense it’s only fair to point out that he had dub tapes to work with, which is neither here nor there as these pressings are not worth the dime’s worth of vinyl used to make them.

Should you buy a record because it was made this way?

According to the back of the jacket:

Mastering by Doug Sax at The Mastering Lab using an all vacuum tube system.

Single Step processing was used for this “Limited Edition” release. The stamper was made from the first generation master and not more than 500 were pressed from each stamper. This process allows all records to be of “test pressing quality.” Klavier records are used by many manufacturers and audio specialty shops for demonstrating their equipment.

Maybe the notoriously hearing-challenged Chad Kassem wanted this sound — almost all his remastered titles have the same faults — and simply asked that Doug cut it to sound real good like analog spossed ta sound in the mind of this kingpin, which meant smooth, fat, thick and smeary. (Back in the 70s, if you had a fairly typical stereo system — Japanese receiver and three-way box speakers with a 12″ woofer — you surely know the sound I am talking about. Record stores are one of the few places one can go to hear that sound these days. If you’re old like me, it can really take you back.)

This Is Analog?

Apparently, even in our modern era this is what some folks think analog should sound like.

Just ask whoever remastered The Beatles on Heavy Vinyl. Somebody boosted the bass and smoothed out the upper midrange, and I don’t think they did that by accident. They actually thought it was good idea.

Harry Moss obviously would not have agreed, but he’s not around anymore to do the job right.

Here is the cover for the real EMI. No idea if the sound is any good, but it has to be better than the awful Klavier, doesn’t it? (We plan on doing a shootout for this title soon.)

Below are some thoughts from a recent classical listing that we hope will shed some light on our longstanding aversion to the sound of these modern remastered records.

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings? Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is transparency. Modern records are just so damn opaque. We can’s stand that sound. It drives us crazy.

Important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. That audiophiles as a whole — including those that pass themselves off as the champions of analog in the audio press — do not notice these failings does not speak well for either their equipment or their critical listening skills.

It is our contention that no one alive today makes records that sound as good as the ones we sell. Once you hear one of our Hot Stamper pressings, those 180 gram records you own may never sound right to you again. They sure don’t sound right to us, but we are in the enviable position of being able to play the best properly cleaned older pressings (reissues included) side by side with the new ones, where the faults of the current reissues become much more recognizable, even obvious. When you can hear them that way, head to head, there really is no comparison.

Ballet Music From The Opera – How Much Tubey Magic Is Too Much?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

The hall is HUGE — so transparent, spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA.

(EMI recordings may be super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out-of-phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Not our sound, sorry.)

We strongly believe that there will never be a modern reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found on the best of these Living Stereo original pressings.

Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses we noted on a copy we played way back when.

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. 

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

Plenty of the records we audition suffer from Bad Tube Mastering, a quality we have no trouble recognizing and criticize at length all over this very blog.

In that respect we have little in common with the True Believers who seem to want to defend analog regardless of its shortcomings.

We don’t hesitate to criticize new records that have bad sound as well as old records that have bad sound.

Bad sound is bad sound no matter when the record was pressed.

Too Many Tubes?

With too many tubes in the mastering chain, you end up with mud pies, and nobody, outside of this guy and the customers who buy his wares, wants those.

But is it just a matter of having too many tubes in the mastering chain?

If it is, then how to explain the awful sound of this Analogue Productions reissue, which was mastered using no tubes whatsoever (we suspect)?

Or this one?

Did Kevin Gray screw up, or does Chad just like murky sounding records?

Hey, why not crowdsource the answer? Please go to your favorite audiophile forum and start a thread with that question. Once you have done so, please send a link to:

Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly setup hi-fi system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up a wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that?

The Classic reissue has plenty of deep bass, but the overall sound is shrill and hard and altogether unpleasant. The better bass comes at a steep price.

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs. (Sometimes. Sometimes we were as wrong as wrong can be.)

With each passing year — 29 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

For a better sounding recording of Iberia, click here.

Here Are More Titles that Are Good for Judging These Recording Qualities


Sibelius / Finlandia – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Sonic Grade: F

Classic Records ruined this album. Their version is dramatically more smeared and low-rez than our good vintage pressings, with almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have in such abundance.

[This turns out not to be true, as we discovered to our chagrin in 2014.]

In fact their pressing is just plain awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and should be avoided at anything other than a nominal price.

Our current favorite pressing is this one on a budget Decca reissue. Go figure.

If you’re tempted to pick one up for a few bucks to hear how badly mastered their version is, go for it. If you actually want a record to play for enjoyment, don’t bother — it’s a complete waste of money.

It is yet another example of a record that has no business being on the TAS List.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of the best Living Stereo pressings like those we sell. If they had, Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and described as such by us way back in 1994.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases.


The Doors / L.A. Woman – Rhino Heavy Vinyl Reviewed

See all of our Doors albums in stock

Reviews and Commentaries for L.A. Woman

The Rhino pressing we auditioned from the Doors Box Set was surprisingly good. It’s rich and smooth with an extended top end — tonally correct in other words — and there’s lots of bass.

This is all to the good. For the thirty bucks you might pay for it you’re getting a very good record, assuming yours sounds like ours, something we should really not be assuming, but we do it because there is simply no other way to write about records other than to describe the sound of the ones we actually have played.

What it clearly lacks compared to the best originals is, first and foremost, vocal immediacy.

Jim Morrison seems to be singing through a veil, an effect which becomes more and more bothersome over time, as these kinds of frustrating shortcomings have a habit of doing.

A bit blurry, a bit smeary, somewhat lacking in air and space, on the plus side it has good energy and better bass than most of the copies we played. All in all we would probably give it a “B.” You could do a helluva lot worse.

Record Collecting Advice

All the ’70s and ’80s reissues of this album we’ve ever played were just awful, especially those with the date inscribed in the dead wax. For more moderately helpful advice, click here.

Remastering Out Too Much of the Good Stuff

What is lost in the newly remastered recordings so popular with the record collecting public these days ? Lots of things, but the most obvious and irritating is the loss of transparency.

Modern records tend to be small, veiled and recessed, and they rarely image well. But the most important quality they lack is transparency. Almost without exception they are opaque. They resist our efforts to hear into the music.

We don’t like that sound, and we like it less with each passing day, although we certainly used to put up with it back when we were selling what we considered to be the better Heavy Vinyl pressings from the likes of DCC, Speakers Corner, Cisco and even Classic Records.

Now when we play those records they either bore us to tears or frustrate us with their veiled, vague, lifeless, ambience-challenged presentation.

It was sometime in 2007 when we turned a corner. The remastered Blue on Rhino Heavy Vinyl came out and was such a mediocrity that we asked ourselves “Why bother?” That was all she wrote.

We stopped selling those second- and third-rate remasters and dedicated ourselves to finding, cleaning, playing and critically evaluating vintage pressings, regardless of era or genre of music.

The result is a website full of great sounding records that should find special appeal with audiophiles who set high standards, who own good equipment and who have well-developed critical listening skills.

These newer records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and lacking in ambience. These are currently the hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP.

Here are some of the Commentaries we’ve written about Heavy Vinyl over the years. Please to enjoy.

A Confession

Even as recently as the early 2000s, we were still impressed with many of the better Heavy Vinyl pressings we’d auditioned. If we’d never made the progress we’ve worked so hard to make over the course of the last twenty or more years, perhaps we would find more merit in the Heavy Vinyl reissues so many audiophiles seem impressed by these days.

We’ll never know of course; that’s a bell that can be unrung. We did the work, we can’t undo it, and the system that resulted from it is merciless in revealing the truth — that these newer pressings are second-rate at best and much more often than not third-rate and even worse.

Some audiophile records sound so bad, I was pissed off enough to create a special list for them.

Setting higher standards — no, being able to set higher standards — in our minds is a clear mark of progress. Judging by the hundreds of letters we’ve received, especially the ones comparing our records to their Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered counterparts, we know that our customers often see things the same way.

Rimsky-Korsakov – Compression Works Its Magic Once Again

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

Some notes about the compression we heard on side two of a Blueback pressing of The Christmas Eve Suite album back in 2012:

Even more transparent and high-rez than side one. The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds make this a very special pressing indeed.

The horns are somewhat smeary and do get a bit congested when loud. There is more compression on this side two than there was on the best copy we played, and that means low level detail is superb, but louder parts, such as when the more powerful brass comes in, can get problematical.

Note how good The Flight of the Bumble Bee sounds here. Compression is helping bring out all the ambience and detail in the recording, and there’s no downside because the orchestra is playing softly, unlike the piece that precedes it.

A classic case of compression having sonic tradeoffs.

Side One

This side one had top end extension, good presence and clarity, all qualities that are often in short supply on old classical pressings such as these.

We were also impressed with the depth of the soundstage and the textured strings. This copy however was not quite as full-bodied and powerful down low as the best we played.

The Original Sexier Cover

Note that the earlier cover has more skin showing, which contradicts the conventional narrative that the ’50s were more prudish than the ’60s.


Free / The Free Story – Another Dubby Compilation

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Free

Hot Stamper Pressings of British Blues Rock Albums Available Now

This is a Limited Edition Black Label Island Numbered Import 2 LP set.

The sound is passable at best. Unfortunately, like many of the compilations done over the years, this is a very dubby sounding album. It’s smearyveiled, and lacks space.

The good vintage pressings of the original albums just kill it. 

Not all compilation albums are bad. Here are some with the potential for very good sound.


Chicago – What We Heard Circa 2008

More of the Music of Chicago

Reviews and Commentaries for Chicago Transit Authority

In 2008, we had a lot of trouble finding good sound on the copies of the first album that we had on hand, more than a dozen I’m sure.

Over the next five to ten years we managed to do a much better job of cleaning and playing the band’s debut, to the delight of our listening panel as well as our Hot Stamper fans.

This is the kind of album that most audiophiles would be sorely tempted to give up on. Who can blame them?

So Many Faults, So Little Time

The average copy of this album is an unmitigated DISASTER. The smeary brass alone is enough to drive anyone from the room.

To a list of its faults you can confidently add some or all of the following:

1) blobby, blurry, out of control bass;
2) opaque, veiled mids;
3) rolled off highs, or no highs, whichever the case may be, common to virtually every pressing you find;
4) plain old distortion; and, last but not least,
5) the kind of compressed, lifeless sound that manages to make this groundbreaking album boring — and that’s not easy to do.

The music ROCKS! It’s the crappy records Columbia pressed that suck.