Friday, June 4, 2010

Better records?


Better records?

Sometimes I will allow myself to read “audiophile” stuff on the internet – things like interviews with Steve Hoffman (the mastering engineer), or articles on so-called “audiophile” websites that sell expensive records (ordinary pressings that have been cleaned really well). I love to read such heated arguments about how to clean phonograph records – one guy says the brushes are junk, another likes this fluid or that fluid. Rec-O-Vac? After we clean the LP, how do we get the, er…residue off of it?

It doesn’t take a genius to know that there are some records that sound a lot better than others. Same goes for CD’s. I have noticed that audiophile folks tend to trash Japanese pressings / masterings – so, I guess some of them are not in the business of “listening”! Japanese LP pressings are usually ‘quieter’; and some Japanese CD masterings are definitely different from their non-Japanese versions. For me, usually that’s a good thing! The new / recent Tom Waits Japanese SHM-CD releases? Never re-mastered in the US, as far as I know.

So I don’t have a million dollar stereo or “audiophile ears”. I basically have the same stereo that I started working on about 1975 or so. Yes, I’ve changed my turntable, and a Minidisc deck replaced a cassette deck. Amp & speakers – still the same. Mixing board still the same. THE SAME. Upgrade the needle / cartridge on the turntable and – BOOM! – sounds good…sounds better…no, I didn’t re-adjust the tone-arm – so perhaps I am talking through my hat.

Some folks do not go for re-mastered CD’s. I can see that – the lack of desire to buy a secondary preference version of a much-loved title. I’ve sat through enough “low level” CD’s to have some idea of when to re-buy. And I have a clear idea (of my own collection, anyway!) of what titles to “keep the old versions” – “Satisfaction” in stereo, Japanese “Hot Rocks 1” is a good case in point. All those early Rolling Stones songs in stereo, that one’s a keeper! Mobile Fidelity “Tommy” by The Who? Compared to the sound of the Deluxe version 2CD, that one is NOT a keeper. Should be able to even flog that one on eBay!

Ever upgrade from a US pressing to, say, a German pressing? It can be a dramatic difference. Or ever buy a French (Euro) version of an LP to get a gatefold cover of an album that only ever had a single sleeve in England or the US? Or ever buy a Japanese pressing of an LP – just to get the quieter vinyl? Many of these propositions are how / why my collection swelled due to “over-collecting” – always wanting to try and get the most preferable version of something that I liked.

For some artists, I just keep all the variants – Frank Zappa, Gruppo Sportivo, Split Enz – thankfully, I do not “keep everything” on many more artists than those three! But let’s hear it for European 7” picture sleeves! And Japanese pressings! And Japanese little paper album covers! And SACD’s! Let’s say “Thanks!” if you ever bought something a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) time – and were happy with the results.

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