lps sound bad

I am finally listening to lps after going perhaps 20 years without, due to a recent (about 3 months) investment into a vinyl rig. I'm absolutely bummed that perhaps 30 to 40% of my collection really isn't worth playing due to sonic considerations.

I have an aproximate 2,000 lp collection, nearly all are new album, record show, or garage sale purchases dating from the early 70's thru the mid 80's. These are mostly all very well preserved, with minimal wear, dust pops, scratches etc. My problem is not with the shape or cleanliness of the records (they have been hand cleaned in accordance with 'expert' advice, then cleaned again in a VPI 16.5). Nor are they mistracked, none of that inner groove distortion.

It is also not a setup issue, cartridge setup is absolutely correct, and every other parameter of setup, from the wall shelves/isolation to power cords and ICs has had careful attention.

My issue is in the mastering and/or pressing of the lps. This 30 to 40% have issues, mostly with small soundstaging and/or lack of frequency extension, especially in the bass. They simply sound small scale and lightweight, like mid-fi to me. The other 60 to 70% of my collection sound relatively huge in comparison, large, airy soundstaging, transparent, dynamic, especially the micro dynamics.

Now, the vast majority of the 30 to 40% that sound small scale are what I believe to be, original pressings of 70's rock music. The rest, mostly 50's and 60's recordings from a huge variety of genres, sound wonderful, mostly way better than my digital.

I suspect what I'm hearing is excessive compression due to poor mastering and/or pressing. At this point I'm not sure whether the main culprit is mastering or pressings. As I previously mentioned, most of these recordings were purchased in the early 70's to mid 80's, thus, I believe they are original pressings, which leaves mastering as the culprit. On the other hand, I have digital remasters of a number of these rock recording, a small number sound larger scale than their lp counterparts, which leads me to suspect pressings in some cases.

From this, I extrapolate that mastering is the culprit in most cases. Furthermore, I believe the bad sounding lps sound bad because of solid state recording studio equipment. My 50's and 60's recordings nearly all sound big, large scale, some may not have the greatest frequency extension, especially in the highs, but they all are tonally and dimensionally full, some luciously so, in the midrange. These recordings come from the heyday of tube equipment, both in the recording studio and home audio.

I should add, I'm not trying to make a case of solid state recording studios being the sole culprit here, as a small percentage of my 70's rock recordings sound large scale and satisfying. Rather I think it is solid state done on the cheap, and with bad ears on the part of the producers and engineers that is at fault. The late 60's and early 70's had more than it's fair share of crappy solid state, and most producers and engineers didn't know the first thing about quality sound (as remains the case).

Still, it seems the 50's and 60's producers and engineers could do less harm to the sound, the tube recording equipment always had the relatively voluptuous midrange. And perhaps the tube home audio of the day let them hear at least a semblance of quality, so they tried to replicate that sound in the studio.

As things stand, I'm somewhat disappointed in vinyl at this point. I was hoping these 70's rock recordings would sound much better than their cd counterparts (remastered or not). 30 to 40% of my collection is basically throw away at this point, I don't care to go through all the hassles inherent in the playing of records that sound only as good or worse than their digital counterparts.

I'm now getting the itch to buy lps new, I'm just wondering if the newly minted rock lps of classic rock are worth buying. It seems the digital remasters I have are only marginally better, in most cases, over older digital pressings. I suspect the same will hold true for vinyl, the new remasters will only sound marginally better than my original pressings.

At this point, I'm basically writing off classic rock recordings on lp. While I know classic rock can sound good on lp, the small number of exceptions I've experienced leave me highly skeptical. Future purchases will be mostly limited to recordings (of all genres) prior to the 70's. Future classic rock purchases will be mostly in digital form, for any lp purchases I will have to rely on thumbs up by reviewers I trust. Contemporary recordings are problematic as well, sound quality is all over the place in the digital recording studios, it seems to be a crapshoot, have to rely on reviewers here as well.

Vinyl setup:
VPI Scoutmaster
JMW 10.5i tonearm
Dynavector 20XL
Cayin Phono-One
Sonofjim, you are correct with your assesment of Tom. He is stubborn and opinionated, and very passionate about his stuff. He is also pretty honest about his own shortcommings. His offerings are albums he knows and loves. He rarely ventures into that he does not know well. If you like his taste in music and can afford him, he is a great find. Certainly not for everybody.
Hi All,
This is Tom Port. I haven't posted on a thread in years, but I would just like to say that I agree with the original poster that the average rock record does sound pretty bad. We turned the consequences of that fact into our main business, which as you probably know is selling Hot Stampers. But you don't need to pay our prices, and there's a lot you can do to get much better sound from your rock vinyl. There are many tips on the site, but here are a few to get you started.

1. Cleaning fluids make all the difference in the world. It's just amazing what modern fluids can do. We sell some, but feel free to buy them from anyone. I'm not trying to hustle your business here.

2. High quality front end. The Scoutmaster is a nice table but that acylic platter is bad news, replacing it with the super platter would help a lot. A top quality phono stage is huge too.

3. So with top quality cleaning and top quality front end sound, the next step is the cheapest and most work intensive: buy lots of copies of your favorite records. At least five, and ten is even better. You will find Hot Stampers, and you will learn all about stampers that tend to sound good or bad, and this will help guide you in the future.

That, in a nutshell, is all there is to it. The devil is in the details of course; it took me about twenty years of serious collecting and audio exploration to get to the point where I am today, but there really are no shortcuts. Whatever work you do pays off, sooner or later. With the right cleaning fluids, stereo, and plenty of copies of any title, you will find that virtually no CD or current heavy vinyl reissue can compete with the Real Thing -- maybe one out of fifty or so can, depending on what you listen for of course.

If you go to our site and read all about Joni Mitchell's Blue you will see where we are coming from, on that record and hundreds more. And if you wish to play the Blue Game, we are happy to help!
Thanks for adding your input Tom. Your site is what has inspired my to do just what you're recommending here. As I said, I will likely buy more from the site in the future but it's too pricey for me to justify building a large collection that way. Too bad they're not tax deductable.
Sns, If you really want to hear what LPs are all about, you might want to reflect on the process that made them. Just like books, first editions of LPs are the key. You want the LP made in the country that the band recorded in, and the first press. Master tapes go downhill, compression and EQ get added, stampers wear out. All these things make getting the first press a paramount issue.

So, ELP's first release for example: You want the Pink Island edition from the UK. The American Cotillion label is a weak second and no other edition is worth playing as they all suck.

King Crimson 2nd LP: again, Pink Island, a second best is the second Island label with the pink ring. The bass on this record is amazing!

If you dig through your collection, I think you will find that your attitude about the LPs will change once you hear how important original pressings are!!
Atmasphere, I have no doubt that many of those first editions sound great. As I mentioned previously, many of these records were purchased new in the 70's, others at record shows in the 80's. I would think most of those new purchases from the 70's would be first pressings, they sound lousy. On the other hand, some sound ok, or even good. From this, I would extrapolate that some of these 'original' lps sound lousy due to several considerations.

1. Perhaps they are not original pressings even though they were purchased close to their original release date. Perhaps they were using different stampers right from the get go.

2. Perhaps they were not using the 1st generation masters in all cases. They were using safety masters for some pressings right from the get go (thus the UK band on US release, others, who knows why).

3. The recording studio botched the job, these records will not sound good regardless of stamping or masters used.

I know some of the purchases from the 80's are not original pressings as they have different labels from the originals on them.

Perhaps later editions of 'original' pressings may sound better in some cases. These editions may have used master tapes and/or better stampers than those 'original' pressings.

To me, this whole issue of what sounds good or bad is a can of worms. I think Tom is the expert in this, he's heard lots of pressings, it seems there is great variability. Who knows what the hell you're buying! In the end you need to find someone you trust, or listen prior to buying.