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
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.
It's true, the only way to know what a given LP will sound like is to play it. 1st pressings and good stampers guarantee nothing. Tom Port states this on his site. Luckily I enjoy most of the pressings I've found. Part of the fun is in the hunt.
Hi, with all due respect, almost every statement Atmasphere has made here is a myth which we discuss on our site when we do shootouts for some of the very records mentioned.

Just to address one: ELP's first album. The Pink Label can sound very good, but the Cotillion is clearly made from the same master tape and has much better bass and whomp factor on side two. Here is the extensive commentary from that listing:

This original Cotillion LP has THE BEST SIDE TWO WE'VE EVER HEARD! Lucky Man ROCKS on this copy like you won't believe. If you've got the system to play this one loud enough, with the bass power this album demands, you are in for a treat.

The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you're not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. It's big bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels it actually CAN rock your world.

Folks, this is ANALOG at its tubey magical finest. You ain't never gonna play a CD that sounds like this as long as you live. I don't want to rain on your parade but digital media are seemingly incapable of reproducing this kind of sound. There are nice sounding CDs in the world but there aren't any that sound like this, not in my experience anyway. If you are thinking that someday a better digital system is going to come along in order to save you the trouble and expense of having to find and acquire these expensive original pressings, think again. Ain't gonna happen. This is the kind of record that shows you what's wrong with your BEST sounding CDs. (Let's not even talk about the average one in your or my collection. The less said the better.)

Although this copy is not as magical on side one as our best Brit, it's pretty close, one plus short of the coveted Triple. Side two takes the crown with Three Pluses, and deserves every one.

The Brit copies may take top honors for side one ("sweetness, openness, tubey magic, correct tonality, presence without aggressiveness, well-defined note-like bass, extended airy highs") but the Hot Stamper Cotillion copies KILL on side two. They really ROCK, with greater dynamic contrasts and seriously prodigious bass, some of the best ever committed to vinyl. The Brits are a bit too "pretty" sounding. They're too polite for this bombastic music. This music needs the whomp down below and lots of jump factor to work its magic. The Brits are super-low distortion, with a more open, sweeter sound, especially up top, but the power of the music is just not as powerful as it can be on these very special Cotillions.

This Cotillion on side one is a rare gem indeed, truly the best domestic we heard. It's not quite as smooth and sweet, but it's every bit as good in most other areas, and better in the bass. The Cotillion pressings of this album have bass that puts 99% of all the rock records in the world to shame. (And 100% of the half-speed mastered records!)

This is a case where, to get the ultimate sound, you not only need two copies, you need two copies made in different countries!


If you have fifty copies of this record, including plenty of imports, you will find out that the facts do not follow the logic.

Another case in point: Jethro Tull's Stand Up. The Sunray label Brit reissues consistently trounce the Pink Label originals. The commentary can be found here:


The best pink label sold for much less, and for good reason: the sound was not up to the best, and never has been.

I can cite scores, if not hundreds, of examples that break all the record collecting rules. It's what our site is all about: forget the rules, listen to the grooves. The grooves can teach you about records. Rules have a tendency to prevent you from learning about records. You're not going to play a record you "know" won't sound good, right? But what if it does?

Anyway, I don't really mean to get on anyone's case about these myths. They are all over the place. Like conventional wisdom they are comfortable and reassuring to believe, they even make a certain amount of sense, but as a practical matter they can only cause you to miss out on some great sounding pressings. We go out of way to refute them at every turn, and there are scores of listings that point them out on the site.

Our Manifesto discusses many of the same issues:


I'm not saying buy the records from us. I'm saying let thinking about records take a back seat to listening to records and you will learn a lot more than the other way around.
Best, TP
Humorem, Good work!

Over the years I would most definitely keep it to myself how many copies of a particular Lp I would buy searching for THE one to own.

Many just would not understand this process.
For the past twenty years I travel to Europe and always send back vinyl.
If your building a record collection today from scratch and want it all with music and sonics, your going to pay.

If your searching for that one or two all time favorite Lps perhaps from your youth, Better Records is the way to go.

I know whats involved.