tom port

Letter of the Week – “The overall tonal balance is fantastic. Big, room filling sound.”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

  Hey Tom, 

I am taking my time going through all my hot stampers one by one. Still waiting for my cartridge to break in so I know things will only get better!

This album is amazing. I forgot how good it was. Only had the cassette back in the day and loved playing it in the car. The overall tonal balance is fantastic. Big, room filling sound. Jackson’s voice is just so well centered in the mix. I think your rating may have been a bit conservative. Hard to believe it can sound much better. Side 2 is probably my favorite and sounds even better than side 1 to my ears–but it is close. Another winner for sure!

Thanks!

Rob

Rob,

Glad you liked it!

As for the notes about the grades, we don’t keep them around, but we liked two copies better than that one, which just goes to show you can never know how good it can get until it gets that good. That is the only way to know: to hear it for yourself. That is what shootouts are for.

This is something the forum posters cannot understand. They think they have a Hot Stamper when what they actually have (maybe!) is a Good Sounding Record. They don’t know how amazing the record can sound — so much more amazing than the one they own, probably — so they assume they have the best. They probably do not, but who really knows? The shootout is the evidence, and they never bothered to conduct one.

The “probably” you see in two of the sentences is there for a good reason. We make a point of being clear about what we can know and we cannot know, and we cannot know what a record sounds like if we have not played it.

This is obviously true for those of us who try to listen as critically as possible, but we also know that it is important to think about records the right way. Bad Thinking keeps audiophiles from making progress in this hobby just as much as bad equipment and bad records do. We are trying to help, we’re doing the best we can, one Better Record at a time

Like I said, glad you are enjoying yours.

Best, TP

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Balalaika Favorites on Classic Records – Unpleasantly Hard and Sour

What else is new?

Sonic Grade: F

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as unpleasantly hard and sour. Many of the later Mercury reissues pressed by Columbia had some of that sound, so I was already familiar with it when their pressing came out in 1998 as part of the just-plain-awful Mercury series they released.

I suspect I would hear it that way today. Bernie Grundman could cut the bass, the dynamics, and the energy onto the record. Everything else was worse 99% of the time.

The fast transients of the plucked strings of the Balalaikas was just way beyond the ability of his colored and crude cutting system. Harmonic extension and midrange delicacy were qualities that practically no Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing could claim to have.

Or, to be precise, they claimed to have them, and whether they really believed they did or not, they sure fooled a lot of audiophiles and the reviewers that write for them.

The better your stereo gets the worse those records sound, and they fall further and further behind with each passing year.

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.

More Balalaika Favorites


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Classic Records – Classical

Classic Records – Jazz 

Classic Records – Rock and Pop 

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities 

Heavy Vinyl Winners

The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

  • This is Exile raw and real the way it should be – full-bodied and punchy with great presence and energy
  • Fairly quiet vinyl for this Stones album – here is a copy that plays very close to Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus on all four sides
  • 5 stars: “Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, this Must Own Classic from 1972 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

All four sides here have the kind of bass, energy, and presence that is essential for this music to rock the way it wants to. A copy like this conveys the emotional power of The Stones’ performances in a way that most pressings simply fail to do.

This shootout is always a struggle, an uphill battle all the way. You’d have to find, clean and play a ton of copies to come up with four sides that can do this music justice. We’re sure that Stones fans and Hot Stamper die-hards are going to be very pleased with this copy.

This vintage Artisan mastered pressing (the only ones that have any hope of sounding good) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Bartok / Concerto for Orchestra / Solti

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

More Must Own Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Huge hall, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • The sound here is glorious, full of all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • There are many great recordings of the work, and we had plenty to choose from, but for sonics and performance combined, Solti’s Decca recording from 1965 could not be beat
  • “Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was one of the finest of its day and remains so. Highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of Bartok’s orchestral masterpiece, this London from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • Watch out for Solti’s later recordings for Decca – they usually have an obvious shortcoming which we cannot abide when playing classical records

Solti breathes life into these works as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

“Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.”

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Aerosmith – Done With Mirrors

More Aerosmith

  • Big and solid guitars, with great bass, full vocals, and tons of Tubey Magic – this the way to hear the band
  • 4 stars: “Unlike the records that preceded it, Done with Mirrors is powered by the same smart-assed lyrics and filthy guitars that formed the core of Aerosmith’s best songs… it marks the beginning of their remarkable comeback.”

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Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

A Wealth of Recordings

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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Bob Dylan – The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

More Bob Dylan

More Folk Music

  • This vintage Columbia 360 2 Eye Stereo pressing has stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the second side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the first
  • Both of these sides are amazingly spacious, full-bodied, natural and clear with great presence
  • It’s clear these classic songs have stood the test of time: Blowin’ in the Wind; Girl from the North Country; Masters of War; A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right and many more
  • 5 stars: “This is rich, imaginative music, capturing the sound and spirit of America… Dylan, in many ways, recorded music that equaled this, but he never topped it.”

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan is clearly our favorite of the early Dylan albums for both music and sound. We’re picking up both mono and stereo copies when we see them clean (which is rare) and both the mono mix and the stereo mix can sound out of this world.

Hearing these great songs sound so intimate and lifelike on a top-quality pressing can be a sublime experience. We should know; we enjoyed the hell out of this very copy.

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this primarily vocal music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Bob Dylan singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that.

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Marty Robbins – Portrait of Marty

More Marty Robbins

More Country and Country Rock

  • A KILLER sounding copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from the first note to the last
  • The kind of Tubey Magical, tonally correct, spacious sound on this stereo 360 pressing from 1962 is nothing less than an audiophile THRILL
  • The Analog sound here makes a mockery of even the most advanced digital playback systems, including the ones that haven’t been invented yet!
  • If you’re a fan of Marty’s, this vintage record from 1962 belongs in your collection.

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A Frequently Asked Question – Do I already have some Hot Stamper pressings in my collection?

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope these comments will be of value.

Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

Yes, you do. You just don’t know which ones they are.

If you have a good sized collection of LPs, mastered and pressed from the ’50s to the ’80s, you surely do. In fact you must have at least some. The problem is, how can you possibly know which records are Hot Stampers and which aren’t?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing is through the shootout process.

If you’ve done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are — they’re the ones that won the shootout.

One very important fact to keep in mind: Hot Stampers and Good Sounding Records Are Not the Same Thing

And some shootouts are not worthy of the name. Only that rare audiophile who conducts rigorous shootouts of multiple LPs from different eras can know which are the best sounding pressings (keeping in mind that the results from any given shootout, like any scientific finding, are provisional.)

How hot your shootout winners are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head.

Needless to say, we welcome the challenge! And we happily refund your money if you believe your copy bested ours.


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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Huey Lewis and The News – Fore!

More Huey Lewis and The News

  • The band’s 1986 follow-up to Sports finally arrives on the site with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • The open, spacious soundstage and full-bodied tonality here are obvious for all to hear – huge, punchy, lively and rockin’ throughout
  • This copy will show you just how big, lively and POWERFUL this music can be on the right pressing
  • “This is by far one of the absolute best releases by Huey Lewis & the News. Powerful, hard-hitting, and quite emotional. . . for those of you who like hard-hitting, powerful rock music from the ’80s era.”

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