By the way ...
1. It's worth checking out Better Records website. I'll be the first to say they charge more than
I'd pay for most of those LPs and their descriptions are a bit overboard, but what they noted in
their listening tests, for titles that I own, tend to agree with what I hear and listen for. Their
descriptions with the notoriously varied Steely Dan records, for instance, are correct based on my
own experiences. Also their descriptions of Rolling Stones pressings. Now, whether ANYONE should pay
hundreds of dollars for the musically mediocre "Emotional Rescue" is another matter!
2. You'd think, in the age of high-resolution downloads, that you'd pay your money and be assured of
always getting a high quality remaster. This is not always the case for two reasons. First and most
important is that lousy remastering sounds lousy in high-def like it sounds lousy in 128kbps MP3.
More bits don't make better sound, better remastering makes better sound. Most high-def titles seem
to be less-crunched versions of the latest CD reissue, so they were still mastered with the
aesthetics of the mainstream CD market. The relatively few exceptions really are a different beast.
Bernie Grundman and his guys have done by and large a great job on the Blue Note catalogs, and
credit to Don Was for telling them to go for quality over mass market aesthetics. Bernie has worked
with enough Rudy Van Gelder titles over the years to know Rudy's somewhat strange tonal colors, and
he's mitigated the worst harshness but kept important aspects like punch drums and interesting
reverb/room tone (Rudy had all kinds of tricks combining room mics and echo chambers and reverb
The second thing, about most or all commercial downloads, is the fact that the file quality is only
as good as the downloading protocols. I don't know of any download seller that uses checksum
verification to make sure files arrive bit-perfect to how they are sent. In theory, this shouldn't
be a problem in the vast majority of cases. In my experience, I'd say it probably isn't a problem
based on what I hear with my own ears, but I don't know for a fact because no download I've ever
received from a retail seller offered checksum verification. Meanwhile, if I upload a CD master to a
plant of any repute today, they want a checksum-verifiable DDP archive. So I have to assume that
over-internet transmission is not perfect nor failsafe. Consider that most downloads are either
super-dense lossy formats like MP3 or AAC, or they are non-lossy dense-compressed formats like ALAC
or FLAC. So stray bits or lost bits theoretically matter more. This all might be a phantom menace,
but since there is not bit-perfect verification going on, we don't really know one way or the other.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Tom Fine" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, March 06, 2015 12:59 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Another vinyl fad
> Hi John:
> Regarding Reiner's "Sheherazade," I agree the SACD is good, but I have to say I prefer the latest
> LP rendering from Analogue Productions (Chad Kassem). Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound did a "live"
> 3-2 mix and cut the LP at the same time, no digital involved. It sounds way better than my first
> edition Living Stereo LP, which has a washed out sound due to 50-year-old disk-cutting technology
> and the fact that they used a second-generation "cutting master" to make their LPs. I don't care
> for messing with 3-channel playback on that SACD, I actually prefer the 2-channel stereo image.
> The new LP has more presence and a more natural bottom end, to my ears. The bigger issue for me
> is, I don't really love the piece of music (but anyone who collects classical recordings has heard
> it _many_ times because everyone and their uncle has recorded a version).
> In general, some of the reissuers are making better vinyl records than originals, some aren't.
> Playback chain, mastering taste and cutting the actual lacquers are all crafts, very much
> dependent on taste. Some listeners just prefer CDs or other digital media. It's senseless to wage
> that "war" here -- it's totally a matter of personal taste. If one listened only to test tones,
> the "argument" would be simpler. I still listen to a lot of LP records, some of them dubbed into
> my digital library (which analog jihadists would say defeats the whole purpose).
> -- Tom Fine
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: <[log in to unmask]>
> Sent: Friday, March 06, 2015 9:38 AM
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Another vinyl fad
>> Interesting article and response by Tom. There are a great many variables
>> and factors that go into the process of creating a recording as well as
>> remastering it, and you cannot escape the "personal" ones such as the taste
>> and even the hearing of the people who are doing the work. The equipment
>> is one thing, but the judgment of the people using it is even more
>> I wish that the listeners for the not-so-blind test of the RCA Living
>> Stereo Scheherazade (presumably Reiner's fantastic 1960 recording with the
>> Chicago Symphony Orch.) could have added to their test the fantastic
>> three-channel Living Stereo SACD version, taken right off the original
>> three channel master tapes. I know you are not such a fan of SACD's in
>> general, Tom, but this one is so great that I can't imagine ever wanting to
>> listen to a vinyl version of this recording again after hearing it, either
>> original vinyl or as repressed. I think at least in this case, the vinyl
>> versions are probably rendered superfluous. You simply cannot get this
>> kind of sound quality from vinyl, any of it, period. As I recall, the SACD
>> cost $11.
>> John Haley
>> On Fri, Mar 6, 2015 at 8:52 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>
>>> The premise of this guy's business model is not BS at all. Every cut
>>> (lacquer) definitely sounds different and there are audible differences in
>>> stampers, for instance with early RCA Living Stereo LPs. In the case of
>>> Mercury, about which I can speak first hand, the original stereo pressings
>>> (designated with an "I" and something like "A1" in the deadwax) are VAST
>>> superior-sounding to later pressings because the early ones were pressed by
>>> RCA at the same Indianapolis plant that was doing the superb Living Stereo
>>> vinyl. After Philips took control of Mercury, they forced all pressing to
>>> the company-owned plant at Richmond IN, which was inferior. However, under
>>> strict orders to put quality above cost and carefully monitored, Richmond
>>> did produce some good-sounding cuts in the early "RFR" pressings. But, by
>>> the mid-60's, quality was awful across the board. The same is true of
>>> Command Classics. The original pressings were quite good, but late MCA/ABC
>>> pressings done out in California are terrible. In the case of RCA, most
>>> people say anything pressed with the Dynagroove system is inferior to
>>> previous cuts. RCA then went to paper-thin vinyl, which was also noisy at
>>> first but got quieter over time.
>>> In the pop/rock world, in almost all cases, the first pressing with a
>>> verified cut by the listed mastering engineer is almost always superior to
>>> subsequent pressings. In the case of a huge hit, several very good
>>> mastering engineers may have cut lacquers, and there will be debate over
>>> which sounds the best. Also, in the case of mega-hits like for instance
>>> Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours," the same 2-track tape was used to cut _many_
>>> lacquers. Even though Ken Perry at Capitol cut most of those lacquers, the
>>> earlier pressings sound better because the tape had been run through the
>>> machine fewer times. This is even more true with digital masters, for
>>> instance Bruce Springsteen "Born In the USA." If you believe in such things
>>> as "clones" in the U-Matic days, then theoretically there should be no
>>> differences, but there are because "cloning" added jitter and
>>> error-correction and thus the U-Matic tapes got to sounding worse as they
>>> went down the line.
>>> I also see a lot of record-club dreck out in the used vinyl market, and
>>> you have to be careful to spot it. Some is clearly labelled on the sleeve,
>>> "Manufactured for the Columbia Record Club" and the like. But much is more
>>> subtle. One has to look closely at the deadwax and know the cutting marks
>>> of the various mastering engineers.
>>> Bottom line, if you can afford a house-priced LP playback system, you're
>>> not going to flinch at paying top dollar to a guy who will hunt down the
>>> very best pressings in the very best conditions.
>>> And by the way, there are differences in CD editions because different
>>> glass-master machines add more or less jitter (this shouldn't be a problem
>>> under modern conditions, but it was in the 1990s), and different component
>>> materials mean different discs behave mechanically differently in various
>>> players, adding error-correction and jitter in some cases. People forget
>>> that CD manufacturing and playback are mechanical processes, and bits may
>>> well be bits going in but they can get mangled in the mechanics.
>>> Finally, in the age of remastering and reissuing, there are HUGE sonic
>>> differences in playback and transfer chains when analog sources are
>>> involved. Almost nothing from the pre-transistor era gets remastered using
>>> similar equipment to what produced it, and I hear errors with playback EQ
>>> curves all the time. Furthermore, a modern CD reissue will have very
>>> different EQ in the remastering chain from most LPs. Those of us who deal
>>> with old tapes often see cutting EQ notes on the boxes. There were
>>> regularly large (+/-5 or 6dB) cuts and boosts at various frequencies, in
>>> order to make records sound louder and to make them more trackable. This
>>> was less that case with classical, but compromises often needed to be made
>>> in low frequencies to allow trackability, and a low-pass filter was often
>>> in the cutting chain to prevent blowing out the cutterhead with the steep
>>> HF boost in the RIAA curve. This is why a competently-produced CD reissue
>>> should always sound more similar to the master tape (for better or worse)
>>> than "golden era" vinyl.
>>> People who can't hear these kinds of differences wouldn't be interested in
>>> high-quality used vinyl and can stick to earbuds and all you can eat
>>> streaming. People with the ability and equipment to listen carefully do
>>> tend to care about sound quality and seek out their favorite versions of
>>> old gems.
>>> -- Tom Fine
>>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Chris Bishop" <[log in to unmask]>
>>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>>> Sent: Friday, March 06, 2015 7:56 AM
>>> Subject: [ARSCLIST] Another vinyl fad