Audiophile LP's

That title sounds pretty general but I didn't know how else to name it to attract some attention. For several decades in the production of vinyl the sound quality has widely varied due to recording process, pressing, and other factors. I remember years ago that some commonly available LP's were also available in a much higher quality (and a higher price) than the standard LP and offered superior sound quality. Can't remember all the terms to describe these records but direct-to-disk, master recording, and probably a few others I can't recall. Back then I never purchased any of those since when the needle dropped and music was there what else mattered? To buy a record at 2 or 3 times the standard price didn't make sense to anyone I knew at the time.
My question....I know that numerous sellers on the web list LP's for sell as "mastered", "audiophile", and the like. Back in the day were current sellers offering these truly superior records just trying a ripoff? If not, are most of the ones still in existence only are owned by private collectors?

Any of Doug Sax's Sheffield Labs direct disk LP's are worth their weight in gold for sound quality! A true reference for what an LP is capable of! I have several: Leinsdorf and the LA Philharmonic doing the music of Prokofiev and Wagner (LAB 7 and 8). Thelma Houston "I've Got The Music In Me". And " Harry James And His Big Band". 

I consider the British EMI pressing of Pink Floyd's The Wall reference quality. Though the Columbia (US) pressing is very close!
The best are the enemy of the good! Discerning collectors have been searching and acquiring these LP's for many years. Original Blue Note jazz LP's have been hot items for a long time! 
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Here's another vote for Sheffield Labs :-)

Another label sold as "audiophile" is Tacet, but i do have an issue with them...
- sound engineering is superb
- the pressings are quiet (i.e. track noise compared to others)
- very flat pressings

But my issue is - the grooves are cut too close together - you can hear the content of the upcoming groove (i.e. in the next revolution) in the background, because during cutting process, each cut groove is distorted by the cutting of the present groove it is next to. Loud rtacks are not as noticeable, but solo artist pressings are ver noticeable

I would like to think this is an oversight, but every Tacet album I have suffers this same issue. 

Deutsche Grammophon is one of my all time favourites for non-audiophile pressings

Another vote for the Sheffield Direct to Discs(and no compression). The Thelma Houston/Pressure Cooker album, will REALLY test a system’s mettle, played at anything close to realistic levels. Doug Sax will probably always be my all time favorite Music Mixologist/engineering talent. What a shame, to have lost him! Acoustic Sounds bought his entire facility(The Mastering Lab), from his estate. Crystal Clear made some excellent Direct to Discs. If you want to test a system/room, for bottom end response, get The Fox Touch(Virgil Fox playing the Fratelli-Ruffatti Organ, in Garden Grove, Calif.). That album has some 16Hz fundamentals on it(the 32’ pipes). The early MFSLs were great too(especially Dark Side of The Moon). Their new ones(anything after they started making CDs), not so much(to me). Nautilus put out a few REALLY well mixed/mastered/pressed, 1/2 speed mastered discs, Fleetwood Mac’s, ’Rumours’, being my favorite of those releases. Then there’s their Heart/Dreamboat Annie, too. I even enjoy some of the old Telarcs(ie: Stravinsky’s Firebird). If you can locate an original pressing of Ry Cooder’s, Bop ’Til You Drop, it was the first major-label(Warner Bros.) vinyl, to ever be digitally mastered and is a lot of fun. I sold a lot of speakers, using that as a demo album. Glad I learned how to care for vinyls, early on. My old, "audiophile" pressings were certainly worth the time/effort. Hell- I’ve still got my original Columbia, Dave Brubeck/Take Five. I can’t imagine a better mix/pressing (audiophile or not), though there may be one out there. In my opinion, one of the things that made a lot of those vinyls so very good, was the use of tubes, in those old recording/mastering/cutting systems.
Refence Recordings by Keith Johnson are among the best LPs ever made, and the musicians are generally superior to those recorded by Sheffield.

Check out the Better Records web store.

I know the owner can be a bit of a "hard" salesman with a pitch that can get annoying.

However, I can personally state that Hot Stampers are no hype,  The owner of the site has been able to perfect a system that allows him to compare vintage vinyl copies to identify the best sounding ones.

However, be prepared to pay a premium for this service.

I think the OP’s question was directed to LPs marketed as "audiophile" rather than the not so simple task of finding a "best pressing" among various commercial releases.
To the OP’s question, many of the direct to disc records sound fabulous-- the music itself is a question of taste.
The MoFi’s (the original ones pressed on the JVC vinyl in japan) were fabulously made and many were offered at a time when the quality of US vinyl was shoddy. In retrospect, my experience is that some of them hold up sonically, while others sound "fiddled with" compared to other, regular commercial copies. The vinyl formulation was superb, though, and in my view, has never been bettered.
At the time, most of these were more expensive than the standard issue, but not extraordinarily so. I have shelves full of them that I rarely listen to, from the old Mark Levinson and Wilsons, to various direct to disc, including M&K, Sheffield, Crystal Clear and a host of others, including a lot of the old MoFi.
I can’t comment on Tom Port- discussions of his business model usually involve controversy over the price of otherwise common pressings. The cost is in the identification of a good sounding copy. I go through this process on my own to lesser or greater degrees depending on the record and how much I care about it. That can be time consuming and costly.
There are some very well known "best" (or great) pressings -- copies that were generally released (not as "audiophile") and at the time, probably regarded as nothing special to most people. With the Death of Vinyl, and the obsessive pursuit of older, analog copies, entire communities have been built (virtually) around seeking out and comparing various pressings, identifying them by country of origin, pressing plant, deadwax nomenclature, etc.
This is different than collecting Blue Notes or other high value jazz or classical records which today command a high price.
The biggest bugaboo with old records, apart from identifying preferred pressings, is typically condition.
To the OP’s question, were these worth it at the time? I’d say yes, having bought and enjoyed many of them. I would distinguish this from the current audiophile pressings (almost always remastered reissues rather than original releases). In some cases, these current (even if out of print) audiophile releases make sense given the cost or scarcity (and condition) of the original releases. And in some cases, the audiophile remaster actually does sound better than the original commercial release (depending on what you call the "original").
I think, from today’s vantage point, looking back, you have to take it on a record by record basis, rather than declaring that an original pressing or the audiophile remaster is better. And, even in that comparison, people’s views will differ, depending on personal preference, system strengths (or weaknesses), etc.
Dear @jrpnde:  From latest 5-6 years ( maybe more. ) almost all the hype of those Audiophile spe ial recording pressings were/are only people making bu$sineSS taking each one of us money with out a true justifications.

I'm not against some one that is making money this is not the issue but that the " extremely high quality " they were/are talking about just does not exist.

Yes, there are a few " new pressings " that are really really good but the majority it's not. Problem is that the corrupted " reviewers " are part of that part of the corrupted AHEE.

I totally agree with @roberjerman @rodman99999  about the D2D Sheffield Labs recordings that are outstanding. I own all titles but the non-D2D Sheffield are very good too.
Crystal Clear D2D are good but not all of them the VirgilFox is really good. 
Nautilius is something as Crystal Clear where some are very good as the one named here.
Almost all Telarc's are exceptional recordings.
Some of the Denon PCM are very good too.
Some of the D2D M&K realtime recordings are a must to listen it.
Delos is another label with very good quality as is too Proprius and Reference Recordings.
Some Audioquest are really fine too as Opus and Athena.

There are new recordings ( not re-issues ) that are very good latter on I will try to post about.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,

I have most of the RRs and Sheffields (and actually appreciate the RRs a little more).Some of the Telarcs were also very good and I also like some of the EMIs for content and quality. However, I find LPs from Pierre Vernay (French) and OPUS 3 (Sweden) to be some of the best analog, but, of course of limited scope. At one point until these records appeared, I dropped out of the audiophile rat race because the discs in HP's list used to judge top equipment were nearly unobtainable.
My favorite "audiophile" recording is the 1977 D-2-D "The Direct Disc Sound of The Glenn Miller Orchestra" (GADD-1020) The music is very fine and the sound is simply stunning. If you can find a copy, buy it.
M&K made some really good sounding direct to disc recordings in the 80s including the drum record. Nonesuch label classical records were often spectacular due to the engineers  Marc J. Aubort and Joanna Nickrenz Who did the New Jersey Percussion Ensemble recording that is phenomenal.
Of course, in addition to what's been mentioned already, there are the much lauded (especially by the late, great HP) early Mercury pressings and RCA "Shaded Dog" but recently - once the return of vinyl became evident to major music companies - fidelity on many labels' newer releases seems to have deteriorated. I read somewhere (WSJ, I think) that digital recordings (i.e., CD format) were simply transferred to vinyl and sold at a premium price. If that's true, it would partially explain the alleged problem.
Not yet appearing in this thread: Gilian Welsh's new label is quite good. She's only released a couple of albums so far (with David Rawlings), but both albums I've purchased ("Harrow and Harvest" and "Poor David's Almanac") were excellent.
Anyone listen to Joni Mitchell's albums? Talk about amazing production values. Brilliant stuff. Audiophile? No, just well produced records. Audiophilia? What's that? A disease?
                           "Audiophilia?What's that? A disease?"                                                                                                                                                    Yes. It is. An incurable one at that. Although hardly life threatening.
When Tower records was going out of business they were selling their Sheffield Labs LP’s out for $7.99 a pop.  I bought a s###load of them at that price.
As has been mentioned, the Leinsdorf — Prokofiev and Wagner LP’s as well as the Harry James direct discs are sensational.
There have always been audiophile pressings, they were just never so heavily and aggressively marketed as they are today.

One group that was not mentioned was Columbia Records' Half Speed Mastered Series.  

I have all bar two of the Nimbus Supercut records which were available from Practical Hi-Fi/Hi-Fi Today magazine here in the UK. Limited to 1,000 pressings, half speed mastered and pressed on virgin vinyl these can be found on eBay, but at nothing like the original price of £5.25 (if memory serves !!). Original master tapes were used for each monthly issue and these are well worth seeking out. When the magazine went bust the remaining stock of discs was bought by British Audio/Moth Group and were sold off for a fiver each including Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band- the Beatles (sigh !!!).
lewm is SO right about the Reference Recordings LP's. Though not as startling "alive" sounding as direct-to-disk LP's (RR are recorded on a really good analog reel-to-reel recorder by Keith Johnson), they not only contain great sound, but also great music (unlike Sheffield's imo). I particularly like the label's Baroque artists and repertoire.
Dear friends: Well here I come again with these great labels and a must to look for to any one:

Clarity Recordings especially its " one side " recordings.
Three Blind Mice. ACT Music ( expetional. ). REGA recordings ( yes, the same TT manufacturer. ). All the Stockfish ( DMM ). First Impression Music ( FIM. ). Wind Music ( extraordynary recoprdings. ).

In the last time I´m extremely selective of what to buy of those " audiophile quality " recording hypes because the majority are truly BS . More and more I’m buying less and less LPs. Well, I own thousands so makes no sense to follow accumulating LPs with no time to listen it because the day has only 24 hours.

I forgot: the " one side " Stereophile recordings,.

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
For me, quality of musical performance trumps audiophile sound.  When I'm listening to an audiophile lp, I often focus on the qualities of my system rather than just disappearing into the music itself.
Not me, I'm always " disappearing into the MUSIC it self ". ALWAYS but when I'm doing tests/evaluations.

Dear friends: You have to listen the piano of Ayado player/singer with this label: East Work Entertaiment.

16 Eyes Records, Top Music,  of course all the VTL ones, the Shumann  piano works recorded by Green Room Productions ( just listen it. ),  ssome of the Chesky Records,  Concord jazz, Pure Audiophile Records,  ATR, The MusicLab, Groove Note.

There are several great labels and is impossible to remember  all but the ones posted in this thread are really good and something to look for, yes at premium prices.

But our hobby ask for the best posible software.

Last year I happened across a 1958 recording titled:

"The Arrival of Victor Feldman"

Feldman plays vibes and piano and is accompanied by the legendary Scott LaFaro on bass and Stan Levy on drums. It’s an extraordinary recording and worth looking for.

For those of you who don’t know the name Scott LaFaro, he was the bass player that Bill Evans used on his landmark recordings in the early 60’s.

These cats are the best of the best, and the sonics are exceptional.

As an exercise, after I bought the vinyl album, I went out and scored a CD copy.  Here's a flac rip from the CD.
Victor Feldman also worked as a session guy with the so-called LA rock mafia in the '70s-- he played with Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and also appeared on many Steely Dan albums. 
Back in the day were current sellers offering these truly superior records just trying a ripoff?

Personally, especially in contrast to current day sales and what some record labels are asking for reissues, I don't think so.

Case in point: Better Records

Considering the inherent mechanical wear on the vinyl itself, $100+ for a vinyl recording?  That's too rich for my blood.   Maybe I'm just not into collecting for collecting's sake. I wanna listen to my record purchases not let them sit unopened or played once in hopes of making a profit at some later date. 

IMHO, because of vinyl's resurgence, high demand and probably a bit of opportunistic greed, current day records labels are ripping us off. 
Tom Port of Better Records listens to dozens if not 50 to 100 pressings of an LP.  There may or may not be a hot stamper among them.  However, after 30 years in the business, he is knows which stampers, countries of origin and pressing plants have the potential to be a hot stamper.  Then he cleans and grades the record.  He has a full time staff doing this.  So, his hot stampers maybe expensive, but you generally get the best sounding performance on LP that is available.  If one has to purchase $100s of an LP to find one or two hot stampers, then there is a cost involved.  He dumps the less than hot stampers for sale for $1 to $5, often at a loss.  I've purchased many of his tossed LPs (Jazz reissues or late pressings, Classical issues that are just not exceptional sounding recordings). Although I'm satisfied with them, that doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer the hot stampers he sells.  They do sound amazing on my high end system.

I've had to do the same thing with some of my rare ethnic recordings where I buy every copy available to find a clean and hopefully good sounding copy.  It's expensive and time consuming.  E.g. I'm on my 9th copy of Israel Today on Capitol with Trio Aravah without finding a clean copy.  The CD reissue was made from an LP.   I'm on my 7th copy of Sounds with Marshall & Manne on Capitol, all good sounding but none better than VG condition.  I'd pay $50 for a clean copy.
The first pressings of RCA Victor's legendary 'Shaded Dog' stereo LPs were vastly superior to later pressings, especially if the performance was not crammed into the full 30 to 33 minutes per side. Two perfect examples are the original RCA LSC-2068, the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto with Artur Rubinstein, Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, and RCA LSC-6149, a complete recording of Puccini's Turandot. The Rachmaninov was originally just that single concerto without its later Liszt Concerto No. 1 companion piece, and the placement of the piano and the orchestra was perfectly captured in a concert hall ambience; the opera set was superb, with characters moving about as if on stage, and absolutely no distortion, even in the loudest choral and orchestral climaxes. Why did later pressings sound so distorted and undefined?
Dear friends: I forgot these superb labels: Water lily, Wilson Audio ( we have to remember is that D.Wilson first than all is a recoprding engineer way before he designed Wilson speakers. ) a must to have/listen it's an outstanding experience,  S2S Sense Corporation, Banshee Empire.

All the labels I named in this thread have astonishing quality recorded levels and second to none.

Those " one " side LP recordings are something  2die4.

Dear friends: I can see and unsderstand that many of us are still facinated  by the RCA SD, Mercury, London, Decca and the like. As a fact I own " thousands " of them and many are really good but if what we are looking for is just top quality recordings ( no matters kind/genre/style of music. ) then we have to listen at least  these two LPs:

Kit Chan by Banshee Empire Pte.   This one was mastered by D.Sax ( whom unfortunatelly pass away. ) and pre-mastered in Germany by Pauler Acoustics DMM process.

Youn Sun Nah by ACT as the other made it in Germany. This talent singer ( player too. ) recorded 3 albuns/fourLPs try to find out at least her first Same Girl ( I own all. ).

Both coming from different rpoducers/engineers but shares similar quality characteristics: dead silence vynil during play ( and I mean it ), not even in between tracks or at the begins and end of the LP can listen any any noise of any kind as if we are listening a CD, the recordings has a truly natural presentation where we can detect we are really hearing a LP ( no not as a live event but...),  the way the engineers choosed the microphones positions and quality of the mics just first rate, seems to me that these recordings were recorded more as a digital processing than analog, rythm and tonal balance is outstanding as are the transient and decay time, dynamic of notes and harmonics are so " true " that I want /desire that every recording could sounds as these ones, are so near of D2D but with out noises that I can't explain exactly what I'm listening through and no idea of the recording proccess.

Obviously that these recordings are new recordings taking advantage of today more advanced technology than in the vintage times. No, I'm not dimish in any way the very good vintage LPs I named but always is something really fresh that we can have access to that kind of quality levels.
Obviously that as better your resolution and quality performance levels of your audio system as better will be your experiences with.

Now, I wonder  why  the ones recording manufacturers can't make  that same quality level on its recordings.
If we put any of the Analogue Productions recordings ( even the D2D ) against those both recordings there is no contest and even we can say for sure that those AP recordings are pure bs. Difference is " order of magnitud ".

Some recordings in the labels I named in my posts are near both reference LPs . 

Regards and enjoy the MUSIC NOT DISTORTIONS,
If you really want your sox blown off, listen to the first and only Flim & the BBs vinyl album.  It's a sonic revelation.  One of my preferred 'showoff' albums to the local doubters...who become believers when the record ends.
The Linda Ronstadt big band recordings are fantastic sound quality.  Doug Sax Mastering as he mastered many of Lindas Recordings
The Sheffield Labs Moscow Sessions is great.  Appalachian Spring on this records is the best version and recording I have heard of this piece done by a Russian orchestra go figure 
As a teenager and budding guitarist in the '60's I learned much from listening to music of The Ventures. Every guy I knew back then had at least one of their albums. Since they were an instrumental group and recorded instrumental versions of current popular songs, even parents (including mine) didn't mind hearing the music.In those days I didn't know anyone that had a true high fidelity stereo setup.My rig was an all-in-one machine with a foldout turntable and two speakers that could be separated from the main unit or attached for a compact moveable package. I believe it probably cost no more than $150. But those Ventures records sounded so much better than anything else I played on it. I owned every Ventures album.In later years as music trends changed, and my interests too, I sold those Venture records along with others at a garage sale. Mistake!! Given the seemingly superior quality of those recordings, I wonder if any of you still have them and can comment on the sound quality? I know Venture LP's can still be bought but whether the quality is equal to the originals?
Agree with Sheffield D to D records I have several. Another among my best SQ records are the American Grammaphone LP's.  Many are pressed on JVC transllucent vinyl. The Fresh Aire series first pressings are just marvelous. When I sold records in the 80's and 90's we purchased our records from the master distributor for American Grammaphone. 
Anyone tried Linn Records or CD's, for that matter, I think they work/sound very well??? How about GRP???
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Just checked my "Audiophile" section, most of which I bought in the '70s and '80s. Labels:
- Pierre Verany -- some absolutely terrific albums with extremely realistic sound. Not really an audiophile label, but terrific sound revered in audiophile circles back in the day.
Proprius - Some of my favorites for sound and music, including Cantate Domino (now a Christmas standard in our family) and Jazz at the Pawnshop (as real a live jazz performance album as I've heard).
M&K Realtime - For Duke has been a go-to demo disc for me for many years -- the horns are right there in your room.
Opus 3 - A series of what they called "test records" for various sonic attributes like timbre and ambience. Terrific, natural sound, sometimes interesting material.
Ambience Recordings - Nice sound, so-so material.
East Wind - ditto
- Direct-Disk -- several albums with excellent sound, not so crazy about the music. 
Oops, skipped:
- Umbrella, several releases with killer sound
- Ambience Recordings
- East Wind
I'm always on the lookout for great vinyl, ever since I found MFSL's Dark Side of the Moon. But it's been tough finding Rock, R&B, Folk; etc, music That is both well recorded and worthy of higher resolution. The content has to have some micro-detail and dynamics to begin with.
After reading the first few posts in this thread, I checked the Sheffield site. All of the titles that caught my eye are no longer available on vinyl!
On the RR site I've only found Fiona Boyes. (I may have to get this.)
So the search continues.
Just before signing in here I happened to order Elvis Costello's Bread & Chocolate and Bette Midler's first album from the MFSL sale that Music Direct is having. But the motivation here is more the 50% off than the expectation of any WOW moments.
So I'll comb through the rest of the posts for recommended vinyl that I would want to listen to and can ACTUALLY BUY.

My contribution? The Other Side Of Desire by Ricki Lee Jones on TOSOD records. Must be her own label. I use "Feet On The Ground" as my reference track for speaker placement. The sound-stage is very wide and deep, the dynamic range is as well. I also really like the song.
@2channel8 for reference sound on folk music you are far better off seeking out original 60s and early 70s pressings. Pink Label Islands for example are almost without exception superb and the best way to listen to Fairport and Denny. Likewise the original pressings of Pentagle, Bert Jansch, ISB and rarities like Heron. Being folk music don’t look hear for the greatest in dynamics or slam but for artful reproduction of real musicians in space (even outside pace Heron) these LPs are hard to beat

some of my favorites here
Has anyone mentioned the Water Lily Acoustics, ’A Meeting By The River’? All SE tubed recording chain, to a two track, 1 Inch RTR and no effects or compression. Gorgeous miking/mixing/sound and natural hall ambiance. Won a Grammy.  Not certain if the pressings are as good now, as when it came out, BUT- still available.
Blue Öyster Cult: Agents of Fortune (CBS UK 1976).
Bought it for Xmas 1976. Years later when I first listened it with true HQ cartridge I was blown away as the whole sound/music space became visible with unbelievable refined and nuanced sound in mid and high register especially... suddenly Albert Bouchard´s symbals filled the landscape, dancing and shining and sparkling as if the sound came from another another world. Buck Dharma´s solo on "Don´t fear the Reaper" raised straight into the high sky and cut like a scythe, it was both terrifying and very beautiful at the same time. The sound is nothing but absolutely fantastic. To make it better is a very hard job, for any record manufacturer of today. Actually I tried one "180 g high quality" reissue but sold it shortly afterwards.
I have a couple of other rock albums which actually are like audiophile quality so I don´t need "audiophile quality" LPs to judge my system.