Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.
One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.
It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
I don’t know of a piano concerto record that more correctly captures the relationship between the piano and the orchestra. The piano here is huge and powerful, yet at the same time, the percussive and lighter qualities are clearly expressed in relation to the entire orchestra. There are places on this album where the brass is as powerful and dynamic as I’ve ever heard on record.
The title originally came out as a Mercury, recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that this Philips mastering is clearly superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may be counterintuitive, but is demonstrably true nonetheless.
Which is why we actually listen to the records we sell here at Better Records, because you can’t judge a record by its credentials — you must play it.
Classical Music on Vinyl — An Overview
We sometimes mention the benefits to be gained from listening to classical music on a regular basis. Once a week is a good rule of thumb for playing a recording from the classical world I should think. We all love our rock, jazz, folk and the rest, but there is something about classical music that has the power to restore a certain balance in your musical life that, for whatever reason, cannot be accomplished by other music. Perhaps it grounds your listening experience in something less immediately gratifying, yet deeper and more enriching over time. Once habituated to the effect, the changes in one’s mood are easy to recognize.
Moving Beyond the Average
Of course it should be pointed out that the average classical record is at best a mediocrity and more often than not a sonic disaster. There are many excellent pressings of rock and jazz, but when it comes to classical music — by its nature so much more difficult to record (and reproduce!) — the choices narrow substantially.
Most of what passed for good classical sound when I was coming up in audio — the DGs, EMIs, Sheffields and other audiophile pressings — are hard to take seriously when played on the modern high quality equipment of today.
We probably audition at least five records for every one we think might pass muster in a future shootout, and we’re pulling only from the labels we know to be good. We wouldn’t even waste our time playing the average Angel, Columbia or DG, or EMI for that matter. The losers vastly outweigh the winners, and there are only so many hours in a day. Who has the time to hunt for so few needles in so many haystacks?
Commitment of Resources
With the above in mind, it should be clear that assembling a top quality classical collection requires much more in the way of resources — money and time — than it would for any other genre of music.
We are happy to do some of that work for you — our best classical pressings are amazing in almost every way — potentially saving you a lifetime of work. But we do so at a price; the service we provide is labor-intensive. And, as you may have noticed, vintage classical records are not getting any cheaper or easier to find.
On the positive side, every Hot Stamper we sell is 100% guaranteed to satisfy in every way: music, sound, and playing condition. Ideally this means less work for you and more time for listening enjoyment, weekly or more if you can manage to carve it out of your schedule.
Check out our Better Records Hall of Fame for Orchestral Music.
We have a section for all the Classical Records we’ve reviewed on the site to date.
We also have a section for all the Heavy Vinyl Classical Records we’ve reviewed on the site.
We also have a number of Commentaries specifically addressing issues we’ve encountered when playing classical recordings.