too-smooth-modern

Whether made by DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, many remastered audiophile pressings started to have a tonality problem that we found insufferable from day one: they are just too damn smooth.

Other consistent problems found on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue, in addition to being too smooth, are shortcomings that rob the music of its life and energy. Thick, opaque, and lacking in ambience, this is what we find on record after record. It may be someone’s idea of “analog,” but it is definitely not ours.

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 Audiophile Hall of Shame.

Sonic Grade: F

Hopelessly murky, muddy, opaque, ambience-free sound, and so artificial I honestly cannot make any sense of it.

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.


Further Reading

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

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

[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 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!

MF could hear how bad it was. True to form, he thinks he knows why it doesn’t sound good:

As expected, Rubber Soul, sourced from George Martin’s 1987 16 bit, 44.1k remix sounds like a CD. Why should it sound like anything else? That’s from what it was essentially mastered. The sound is flattened against the speakers, hard, two-dimensional and generally hash on top, yet it does have a few good qualities as CDs often do: there’s good clarity and detail on some instruments. The strings are dreadful and the voices not far behind. The overall sound is dry and decay is unnaturally fast and falls into dead zone.

It strikes me as odd that the new vinyl should sound like a CD. I have listened to the newly remastered 2009 CD of Rubber Soul in stereo extensively and think it sounds quite good, clearly better than the Heavy Vinyl pressing that’s made from the very same 16 bit, 44.1k remixed digital source.

If the source makes the new vinyl sound bad, why doesn’t it make the new CD sound bad? I can tell you that the new CD sounds dramatically better than the 1987 CD I’ve owned for twenty years. They’re not even close. How could that be if, as MF seems to believe, the compromised digital source is the problem?

Fortunately I didn’t know what the source for the new CD was when I was listening to it. I assumed it came from the carefully remastered hi-rez tapes that were being used to make the new series in its entirety, digital sources that are supposed to result in sound with more analog qualities. Well, based on what I’ve heard, they do, and those more analog qualities obviously extend to the new Rubber Soul compact disc. At least to these ears they do.

Possibly my ignorance of the source tape allowed me to avoid the kind of confirmation bias — hearing what you expect to hear — that is surely one of the biggest pitfalls in all of audio.

Doors Progress

He raved about the digitally remastered Doors Box Set when it came out, but now that Acoustic Sounds is doing Doors albums on 45 he is singing a different tune:

Whatever I wrote about that box then [5/1/2010 if you care to look it up], now, by comparison, the best I can say for The Doors on that set is that it sounds like you’re hearing the album played back on the best CD player ever. It’s smoooooth, laid back and pleasant but totally lacks balls, grit, detail, spaciousness and raw emotional power. The entire presentation is flat against a wall set up between the speakers. The double 45 has greater dynamics, detail, spaciousness and appropriate grit—everything the smooooth 192k/24 bit sourced version lacks.

We, on the other hand, had no trouble at all hearing how bad it was right from the start. For our last Hot Stamper shootout winner of The Soft Parade we noted:

Need I even mention how much better this copy sounds than the recent 180g version from the Rhino Box Set, digitally remastered by Bernie Grundman? That thing is just awful, possibly the worst sounding pressing I have ever heard. The Gold CD Hoffman did for Audio Fidelity would be night and day better. So much for the concept of vinyl superiority. Not with Bernie at the helm.

To his credit MF finally recognizes his mistake, but let’s stop and think about how he came by this insight. He did it by playing a pressing that, to his mind, has every reason to sound better, being sourced from analog tapes and mastered at 45. Now he hears that Bernie’s cutting sounds like a CD. To us it sounded worse than a CD when we played it the first time, vinyl or no vinyl. We even recommended the Hoffman-mastered DCC Gold CDs for those who didn’t want to spring for one of our Hot Stamper pressings. As we like to say, good digital beats bad analog any day.

Real Progress

Then again, who are we to talk? Bear in mind that as recently as 2000-something we were still recommending the DCC vinyl pressings, records that I can’t stand to listen to these days. My system couldn’t show me how colored and lifeless they were then, but it sure can now.

It’s amazing how far you can get in 10 years if you’re obsessive enough and driven enough and are willing to devote huge amounts of your time and effort to the pursuit of better audio. This will be especially true if you are perfectly happy to let your ears, not your brain, inform your understanding of the sound of the records you play.

If we thought like most audiophiles, that money buys good sound and original pressings are usually the best, there would be no such thing as Hot Stampers.

That’s Fremer’s world, not ours. He’s making progress in some areas, not so much in others, but man, he sure has a long way to go. At this rate it will take him forever. It just goes to prove that Mistaken Thinking can really slow down your progress.

Take our advice (and stop taking his, which is also our advice) and you will be amazed at the positive changes that are sure to come your way.

So, What’s The Grade?

MF’s grade for the new Rubber Soul pressing was a 5 on a scale of 1 to 11. If we were to follow the more standard scale of 1 to 10, we would probably give Rubber Soul a 2, at most 2.5 (and that’s only if we were in an expecially generous mood). The new record is a drag, and even the remastered CD is better. Under those circumstances how can the 180 gram pressing be a 5? Maybe in Fremer’s world you automatically get three points for being made out of vinyl. He seems to really like the stuff, even when it doesn’t sound good. Never could figure that one out.

More Beatles Heavy Vinyl?

Due to the heavy volume of mail on the subject (2 emails flooded in!) we finally broke down and bought the set. As we pursue our Hot Stamper shootouts of The Beatles’ catalog we will be commenting on how the new pressings sound from time to time and in no particular order. We’re also in no particular hurry; practically nothing on Heavy Vinyl impresses us these days and we expect The Beatles records to be no different, rave reviews (for most of them) from audiophile reviewers notwithstanding.

UPDATE 2021

After playing two titles and hearing the same mediocre sound, this survey is on indefinite hiatus.

Who has the time to play crappy records, especially when there are so many good ones, or potentially good ones, that we don’t find the time to get to as it is?

The Sound of the Heavy Vinyl Reissues Doug Sax Mastered in the ’90s

More of the Music of Sonny Rollins

More Records Mastered by Doug Sax

Longstanding customers know that we have been relentlessly critical of most audiophile LPs for years, especially in the case of these Analogue Productions releases from back in the early ’90s. A well-known reviewer loved them, I hated them, and he and I haven’t seen eye to eye on much since.

Newflash!

Just dug up part of my old commentary discussing the faults with the original series that Doug Sax cut for Acoustic Sounds. Check it out.

In the listing for the OJC pressing of Way Out West we wrote:

Guaranteed better than any 33 rpm 180 gram version ever made, or your money back! (Of course I’m referring to a certain pressing from the early ’90s mastered by Doug Sax, which is a textbook example of murky, tubby, flabby sound. Too many bad tubes in the chain? Who knows?

This OJC version also has its problems, but at least the shortcomings of the OJC are tolerable. Who can sit through a pressing that’s so thick and lifeless it communicates none of the player’s love for the music? If you have midrangy bad transistor equipment, go with the 180 gram version (at twice the price). If you have good equipment, go with this one.

[We are no longer fans of the OJC of Way Out West, and would never sell a record that sounds the way even the best copies do as a Hot Stamper. It’s not hopeless the way the Heavy Vinyl pressing is, but it’s not very good either. It’s yet another example of a record we was wrong about. Live and Learn, right?]

The following commentary comes from our catalog from the mid- to late-’90s, back when I could still find great jazz records like Alternate Takes. Note also that the AP records were in print at the time.

Acoustic Sounds had just remastered and ruined a big batch of famous jazz records, and shortly thereafter a certain writer in TAS had said nice things about them.

Said writer and I got into a war of words over these records, long, long ago. You’ll notice that no one ever mentions these awful records anymore, and for good reason: they suck. If you own any of them, do yourself a favor and get either the CD or a good LP for comparison purposes. I expect you will hear what I’m talking about.

In my essay on reviewers I attack him for giving a big “Thumbs Up” in TAS to the botched remastering of Sonny’s Way Out West. The OJC reissue, though superior, is still only a pale shadow of the original.

Now we have the real thing! This LP has three alternate takes from that session, all mastered by George Horn, and surprise, surprise, surprise, they sound just like my original, much better than (but not so different from) the OJC, and worlds away from the muted flab of the Analogue Productions LP!

Anyone who owns a representative sample of records engineered by Roy Dunann knows that the overly sweet, delicate sound of the cymbals on the Analogue Productions Way Out West is unusual — if not positively unheard of — for him. His cymbal sound is lively, aggressive, with much more “splash” — more impact, more presence.

These “live music” qualities have been equalized out on the remastering and other patently euphonic qualities equalized in.

Anyway, the important thing is not the sound I or some reviewer or anybody else likes. It’s what you like that counts.

With that in mind, I’m so sure you’ll prefer the sound of Alternate Takes, that you’ll recognize and appreciate the differences I’m talking about, that I’m willing to make you this very special offer:

If Alternate Takes isn’t about the best sounding jazz record you ever heard, send it back to me and I’ll give you $30 toward anything else in the catalog! If you own any Analogue Productions LP, mail or fax me a copy of your receipt (along with your order) and I will give you a better sounding jazz record free as a bonus!

If you don’t own the AP Way Out West, call Chad up and order it. You really owe it to yourself to hear this mess! What have you got to lose? Acoustic Sounds offers a money-back guarantee. They say “guaranteed better than the original.”

What they don’t say is “guaranteed better than a plain old everyday standard-issue domestic copy which is still available from that pain-in-the-ass Tom Port over at Better Records” — because it’s not (better, although it may be still available)!

Robert Brook discovered a killer Way Out West not long ago which caused the heavens to open up and the angels to sing. I know exactly what he talking about. It’s happened to me more times than I can remember.

His story:

We added some thoughts of our own in this commentary:

We think both are worth reading.

Now Back to Our More Recent Commentary

Hey, here’s a question for you. When was the last time you read a word about those Heavy Vinyl pressings, so incompetently mastered by Doug Sax. With no real presence and bloated bass, they’re pure audiophile “smile curve” trash of the worst kind.

They’ve rather fallen from favor, have they not? I wonder why. Could it be that they were as ridiculously bad as I said they were back in 1995, and it just took the rest of the world a little longer to recognize that fact? Perhaps audiophiles are making progress. It’s just taking them a long, long time. Hey, it took me a long, long time, so who am I to talk?

[This prediction turned out to be way off the mark. If anything, the remastered records being made today sound worse than ever.]

No doubt most audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them think that making records the “right” way should result in better sound, but we have found precious little evidence to back up that theory, and volumes of evidence to refute 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 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.

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

Hot Stamper Pressings of Contemporary Label Jazz Albums Available Now

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 play one, 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 one of 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 vintage LPs 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 (vintage 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. 

What to Listen For

As a general rule, this Heavy Vinyl pressing will fall short in some or all of the following areas:


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.

There are many kinds of audiophile pressings — Half-Speeds, Direct-to-Discs, Heavy Vinyl Remasters, Japanese Pressings, the list of records offered to the audiophile with supposedly superior sound quality is endless. Having been in the audiophile record biz for more than thirty years, it has been our misfortune to have played them by the hundreds,

How did we find so many bad sounding records? The same way we find so many good sounding ones. We included them in our shootouts, comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper Pressings..

When you can hear them that way, up against an actual good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

Back to 2000

Even as recently as the early 2000s, we were often impressed with many of the better Heavy Vinyl pressings. 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.

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 or worse.

When I say worse, I know whereof I speak. Some audiophile records have pissed me off so badly I was motivated to create a special ring of hell 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 see things the same way.

Steppenwolf – Gold: Their Great (But Awful Sounding) Hits

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries and Reviews

There is an interesting story behind how I got my mitts on this particular Heavy Vinyl pressing.

Months ago [now years], a fellow contacted us to buy some of our Hot Stamper pressings.  We sent him one or two, and he soon wrote back to say he was not happy with the sound. We exchanged emails with him for a while, trying to rectify the situation in the hopes that we could get him some records that he would be happy with.

In the middle of all this back and forth, we thought it would be worthwhile knowing what this gentleman thought was a good sounding record, seeing as how ours were not meeting his standards. Our discussion soon crossed over into Heavy Vinyl territory. We asked, “Were there any that he liked the sound of?”  Why yes, there were.

You guessed it. The above-pictured album from Analogue Productions is one he recommended. (There was another he also said we should try, but after playing this one we decided against buying any more records he recommended, for reasons that will soon be evident.)

So we bought a copy. Soon enough we found ourselves playing our newly remastered Heavy Vinyl LP.

Right from the get-go, thick, murky, compressed, lifeless, ambience-free, dead-as-a-doornail sound was now coming out of my speakers. Like sludge from a sewer you might say. The stereo had sounded fine moments before. What the hell was happening?

I quickly grabbed a Super Hot copy of the album off the shelf and put it on the table.

Here was the energy, clarity, presence, space and more that had been missing mere moments ago while the Heavy Vinyl pressing played. Now, coming out my speakers was everything that makes a good vintage pressing such a joy to listen to.

I felt like turning it up and rocking out. The first song is Born to Be Wild. Who doesn’t love to blast Born to Be Wild?

What a difference. Night and Day. Maybe more!

If this Steppenwolf LP isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Not-Yet record, I can’t imagine what would be.

As I was thinking about the turgid, compressed, veiled, overly smooth but not tonally incorrect sound coming out of my speakers, I thought back about the kinds of stereo systems that can produce that sound on command. They often look like the one you see below.

If this is your idea of good sound, you are in luck. You can buy your Limited Edition Heavy Vinyl audiophile pressings from Acoustic Sounds to your heart’s content.  They’re sure a helluva lot cheaper than our records, and they apparently do a bang up job of giving you precisely the sound you’re looking for.

To finish up with our little story, to no one’s surprise we never could satisfy our new customer. We ended up refunding him all his money. It seems our records were expensive, and simply not much better than records he owned or could find cheaply enough.  Ours might be even worse! Who the hell do we think we are?  The nerve.

I also know he wasn’t playing them on an old console. He took great pains to tell me all about his fancy handmade tonearm, custom tube preamp and screen speakers. State of the Art stuff in his mind, no doubt about it.

But if your system is so ridiculously bad that an Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl LP doesn’t call attention to its manifold shortcomings, doesn’t actually make your head hurt and your blood boil at the very idea that someone would charge money for such bad sound, you might want to think about scrapping your precious audiophile equipment and starting over.

Of course, this guy and the thousands of other audiophiles like him would never do such a thing. They are thoroughly invested in whatever approach to audio they have taken, and nobody can teach them anything.

They already know more than you ever will.

They’re also the ones keeping hopelessly incompetent labels like Analogue Productions in business.  They supported Classic Records before it went under, they support Mobile Fidelity to this day. They are the guys that buy Heavy Vinyl records and extoll their virtues on audiophile forums far and wide.  Some even make youtube videos about this crap now and get tens of thousands of hits.

It’s sad, but there is nothing we can do but keep on doing what we are doing: finding good pressings for audiophiles who  appreciate the difference.

Another way we can help is this.

Use the guide below when you do your shootouts for records, Heavy Vinyl and otherwise. Perhaps you will avoid the mistakes the above-mentioned gentleman made.  We include them in practically every listening of every record we sell.

What We Listen For

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

And this blog is full of advice explaining practically everything there is to know about records, all of it gained using one approach and only one approach: by conducting experiments.

Letting go of theories that don’t produce good results is but one of the many steps you will end up taking on the long road to better sounding records. It’s a step you can take right now. Should you start on this journey, you may come to realize what a watershed moment it turned out to be.

We Can Help

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.

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Santana’s First Album on MoFi Vinyl – We Owe You an Apology

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Santana

Sonic Grade: F

Santana is a record we admit to having liked when it came out back in 2007. Since then we have changed our minds. As embarrassing as it may be, and let’s be clear, this pressing is very embarrassing, We Got This One Wrong and there is no sense trying to hide it.

It’s just so 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 [now discontinued] blog on the site: “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.”

And I noted that the Abraxas they remastered 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.

We also mentioned a while back (4/29/08, time flies) on our blog how bad the latest crop of MoFi vinyl was, with the heading: “Mobile Fidelity, Ouch.” Please to enjoy:

On another note, we played some godawful sounding MoFi pressings over the last few weeks:

  • Linda Ronstadt;
  • 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.

Well, maybe so, but we are going 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.

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If You Can’t Make a Good Record, Why Make Any Record At All?

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Can’t Buy A Thrill

This has to be one of the worst sounding versions ever pressed.

You think the average ABC or MCA pressing is opaque, flat and lifeless, not to mention compromised at both ends of the frequency spectrum?

You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!

As bad as the typical copy of this album is, the Speakers Corner Heavy Vinyl is even worse, with not a single redeeming quality to its credit.

If this is what passes for an Audiophile Record these days, and it is, it’s just one more nail in the coffin for Heavy Vinyl.

But that’s not the half of it.

Go to Acoustic Sounds’ website and read all the positive customer reviews — they love it! Is there any heavy vinyl pressing on the planet that a sizable contingent of audiophiles won’t say something nice about, no matter how bad it sounds? I can’t think of one.

To sum up, this record is nothing less than an affront to analog itself. I guarantee you the CD is better, if you get a good one. I own four or five and the best of them has far more musical energy than this thick, dull, opaque and boring piece of audiophile analog trash.

It was probably made from a digital copy of the master, or more likely a digital copy of an analog dub of the master — three generations, that’s sure what it sounds like — but that’s no excuse.

If you can’t make a good record, don’t make any record at all. Shelve the project. The audiophile vinyl world is drowning in bad sounding pressings; we don’t need any more, thank you very much.

Rachmaninoff – Speakers Corner Ruins a Classic Mercury, Part One

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos

This commentary was written in 2004. We carried Heavy Vinyl back then, and for that, knowing what I know now, I can only apologize.

Back then, I thought I knew a great deal more about records and  how to reproduce them than I actually did.  Yes, I have to admit it: I suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

On the bright side, there is one very powerful benefit that I gained from being so mistaken. Having failed to recognize my own shortcomings, the signs that someone thinks they know more than they do are easy for me to spot. Here is one of my favorite examples. I link to it a lot.

If you want to see the effect played out in the cyber world, go to any audiophile forum and start reading any thread about records you find there. The D-K effect is hard to miss. Some of the experts on these forums have even convinced themselves that they know things that cannot be known, which is always a sure sign they know a great deal less than they think they do.  

Our Old Commentary

Some thoughts on the new 180 gram Mercury reissues by Speakers Corner and a bunch of other record related stuff.

The Absolute Sound weighed in with their view of the series:

Speakers Corner has given these recordings the respect they deserve. The packaging is gorgeous: a black album titled “The Living Presence of 20th Century Music” and displaying the Mercury logo holds the three records with their original covers and liner notes. In addition, there are informative annotations on the music and Dorati, and a history of Mercury Living Presence…They sound at least as good and in some ways better than the originals…There are no negatives and not enough superlatives to describe these magnificent reissues. It’s rare that performance, sound, and musical value combine at this level in a recording.

Arthur B. Lintgen, The Absolute Sound, February/March 2004

Let me start by saying that I have not listened to a single one of the new Mercury titles.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state for the record that the chances of the above statements being true are so close to zero that they cannot be calculated by anything but the latest Cray computer.

Has Speakers Corner produced a single classical record that’s better than a well-mastered, properly-pressed original pressing? One or two. Maybe. [These days we would say zero is the right number.]  So what are the chances they did so with these? Almost none I would say.

The above review reminds me of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the supposed superiority of the Classic Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222, I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I heard.

The sound was, in a word, awful. To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in the History of the World. [Presently there are too many contenders for that title to hold that view anymore.]

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Rimsky-Korsakov – A Classic Records Disaster

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

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP poorly mastered for the benefit of audiophiles looking for easy answers and quick fixes.

In 2009 or 2010, during our testing of the TT Weights turntable products, the record I played again and again — close to a hundred times over the course of two days — was a wonderful White Dog pressing of LSC 2446. The sound was glorious, some of the finest reproduction of a large orchestral work I have ever heard.  

(Late in life, Harry Pearson disgraced himself by putting this Classic Record on his TAS List of Super Discs.)

A week later I was still testing the system, and again using Scheherazade. A friend brought over his Classic pressing, probably the same one I would have sold him in the mid-’90s. Now we could compare the two.

It was a massacre. The sound on the reissue is simply AWFUL.

There is no transient information anywhere on that heavy vinyl pressing whatsoever. No instruments have any texture — not the strings, not the woodwinds, nothing. There is no air going through the flutes. There is no rosin on the bow of the solo violin.

The tympani are a blurry mess. Triangle: okay. Bass drum: okay. Everything else: FAIL.

Not having played it in years, I could not believe how much worse the record sounded than I remember. The gulf between the real thing and the Classic wannabe was now so huge that the reissue was nothing less than positively UNPLEASANT to listen to. Enjoyment? Out of the question.

TAS List? The original is, but the Classic is too. Now how messed up is that?

Disgraceful, that’s all I have to say about it.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, obviously I would not have put this record on it.

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

Here are some 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.

(more…)

Paul Simon – What to Think When the New Version Is Completely Unrecognizable?

More of the Music of Paul Simon

Reviews and Commentaries for Graceland

Sonic Grade: F

Where did this thick, dull, bloated, opaque turd come from?

Having played at least 50-75 copies of the album over the last ten years, I can honestly say I have never heard one that sounded like this new version (maybe some record club copy we picked up by accident did, can’t say it never happened).

Can that possibly be a good thing?

Well, in favor of that proposition, I guess you could say it sounds less like a CD now.

On the other side of the ledger, it now sounds a great deal more like a bad LP.

We listen to piles of pressings of Graceland regularly. We know what the album generally sounds like, the range from bad to good, and we know what qualities the very best copies must have in order to win one of our shootouts.

Above all the one thing Graceland has going for it sonically is CLARITY. It can be open and spacious, tonally correct, with punchy, tight bass and present, breathy vocals. The best of the best copies have all these qualities, but the one quality any good copy must have is clarity, because that’s what’s good about the sound of the record. Without clarity the music doesn’t even work.

The new version has been “fixed.” It got rid of all that pesky grit and grain and CD-like sound from the original digital mix by simply equalizing them away.

Cut the top, cut the upper mids, boost the lower mids and upper bass and voila – now it’s what Graceland would have sounded like had it been all analog from the start, AAA baby!

Or at least analog for those who don’t know what good analog sounds like.

But it never was all analog, and trying to make it sound that way just ruins the one quality that it actually had going for it — clarity.

VTA

You can adjust your VTA and other table settings until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get this pressing to sound right, and you’ll certainly never get it to sound very much like any Sterling original pressing I’ve ever heard.

The digital spit and grit is still there, under the darker EQ. And now it’s even worse — Simon’s voice has a thick, dull blanket over it, but you can still hear the spit underneath it.

You could probably take the CD and equalize it to sound like this record. But what would be the point?

The Bright Side

Well, perhaps there is a point to this equalization madness.

The CD already exists. It has a sound.

The original record has a sound too, and it’s a fairly common LP in the used bins. You could buy two or three for not that much money and try to find one you like better than the vinyl version you probably already own.

Or, dissatisfied with the sound of the original records and CDs above, and not in the market to spend hundreds of dollars on a good copy from us, you could look at the new Heavy Vinyl pressing as another option, a different take, a new approach, something along those lines.

Just don’t think that by doing so you’re going to hear Graceland the way Paul Simon, Roy Halee, or the folks at Sterling wanted you to hear it.

They produced millions of copies that mostly sound one way, and now some fellows — at least one of whom was involved with the new project, to be fair, but it was 40 years ago(!), and it’s fair to point that out too, right? — some new fellows have produced a few thousand copies that sound another way.

It’s clear to us who got it right, but based on what I’ve been reading in preparation for writing this commentary, the audiophile reviewers and at least some of the audiophile public at large see it quite differently.

Our Offer [no longer valid, sorry]

We are more than happy to let you decide the issue for yourself. Rather than throwing up our hands and saying “we give up,” we actually would like to help you make an informed decision.

To that end we will happily send you our copy of the Heavy Vinyl version along with your purchase of any Hot Stamper of Graceland on the site. Play them head to head and let the chips fall where they may.

The only thing we ask is that you return it to us so the next person who wants to compare the two can do so. (Assuming you like the Hot Stamper better of course. If you don’t, send them both back for a full refund, including the domestic shipping. No, really, we insist.)


Our latest preoccupation here on the blog is to point out as often as we can that the Modern Heavy Vinyl remastered pressing is often just too damn smooth.

Whether made by DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, many remastered audiophile pressings started to have a tonality problem that we found insufferable from day one: they are just too damn smooth.

Other consistent problems found on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue, in addition to being too smooth, are shortcomings that rob the music of its life and energy. Thick, opaque, and lacking in ambience, this is what we hear on record after record pressed on Heavy Vinyl.

It may be someone’s idea of “analog,” but it’s definitely not ours.

The remastered box sets of The Beatles (see: Pepper, Sgt.., etc.) are the poster boys for making records sound more “analog” by boosting the bass and smoothing the treble, like your old ’70s system used to do. (Those of you who were in the hobby back then know exactly the sound I am talking about. For those who would like to know more, we wrote this overview.)

The Beatles records that we sell as Hot Stampers have nothing in common with that absurdly artificial approach. Mid-Fi systems may benefit from more bass and less top end, but Hi-Fi systems worthy of the name will not, hence our distaste for this kind of EQ overreach.

More example of overly smooth modern records can be found here. More will be added as time permits.


Further Reading