The Espana side earned our rare and coveted Four Plus (A++++) Sonic Grade – Wow! Monstrous size and dynamic power thanks to the brilliant Decca engineering of Roy Wallace. Without a doubt the most spectacular sound we’ve ever heard from CS 6438.
This Beyond White Hot Stamper London pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on side one which is very, very hard to come by on this record!
And all that weight and energy down low is what really makes Espana magical. You won’t believe the sound!
If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than side one of this very copy.
Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous (around here) label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. The Track Listing tab has extensive background information on most of these works.
More “real” sounding, BIGGER and RICHER than any side one we played, hence the superlative grade. Clean bottom and lower mids. Zero smear. It’s so full-bodied and rich, yet clear and clean, and spread out on such a huge stage, this side may become your go-to reference disc for Orchestral Reproduction.
Listen for the waves of sound in Espana — only the best copies bring out the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration.
Few classical records we play ever sound this good, and we play them by the hundreds.
It’s DYNAMIC, energetic, and transparent like you will not believe. The sound is big and comes jumpin’ right out of the speakers.
It’s amazing all right, but side one is even more amazing!
A Longtime Favorite
This has been a favorite recording of ours here at Better Records for a very long time, since at least the mid-’90s or thereabouts. We’ve mentioned how much we like the sound of Londons with catalog numbers ranging from about 6400 to 6500 or so (which are simply Decca recordings from the mid-’60s), and this one (CS 6438) is one of the best reasons we hold that view.
You get some of the Tubey Magic and golden age sound from Decca’s earlier days, coupled with the clarity and freedom from compression and tube smear of their later period. In other words, this record strikes the perfect sonic balance, retaining qualities from different periods that are normally at odds with each other. Here they work together wonderfully.
The Typical Pressing
The typical pressing of this fairly common London has real issues, the most common ones being a lack of top end and a lack of midrange presence, making the sound darker and more distant than it should be. On the other extreme, many copies lack weight down low, thinning out the sound and washing out the lower strings. We’ve been saving up copies of this title for a while now, and dropping the needle on some of them made us wonder what the hell we saw in this record in the first place.
On many copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years. If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do. Our 17D3 is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.
Production and Engineering
James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from January of 1960 in Geneva’s glorious sounding Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time; more amazing sounding recordings were made there than any other hall we know of. There is a richness to the sound that exceeds all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least. It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass and the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.
This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one of them, can ever begin to sound the way this record sounds.
Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.
Heavy Vinyl and the TAS List
I much prefer Ansermet’s and Argenta’s performances to those of Paray on Mercury. I know of none better. It should also be noted that the famous Classic pressing of the Mercury (SR 90212) is a grainy, gritty, shrill piece of crap. I don’t know how dull and smeary a stereo would have to be in order to play a record that phony and modern sounding and make it listenable, but I know that it would have to be very dull and very smeary, with the kind of vintage sound that might work for Classic’s Heavy Vinyl pressings but not much else.
The Speakers Corner reissue of the Decca pressing is one that we used to like; we graded it a B years ago. Probably we would like it a lot less now, but without one around to play we can’t really know what it sounds like. It could have been remastered again and ruined for all we know. And are we really going to crack open and clean and critically listen to ten copies of a Heavy Vinyl pressing that has very little chance of competing with our Hot Stampers? The question answers itself.
TAS List, Really?
The fact that the Mercury is on the TAS List of Super Discs is disgraceful. Of course this lovely London is nowhere to be found on Harry’s List, which should not be too surprising. Most of the best recordings we have ever played are exactly that — not to be found on his list.
Inclusion on The TAS List doesn’t guarantee great sound, but Better Records does. If you don’t think a Hot Stamper pressing sounds as good as we’ve described, we’re always happy to take it back and refund your money. We want you to be satisfied with every record you buy from us. Good luck getting ol’ Harry to send you a check when the TAS-approved pressings you pick up don’t sound right. In our experience, most of them don’t
London Vs. Decca
A crude comparison can be made with the British London and Decca pressings of this title, assuming the tester has at least two or three of each. (Forget the domestic Londons; they are dubby and hopeless).
This bit from a Decca copy we listed in 2012 gets at the heart of it.
This Super Hot Stamper Decca reissue pressing has a superb side one, with some of the loveliest orchestral reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy has mids and highs that are hard to beat. It’s super clean and clear, harmonically and tonally correct, with real dynamics. The string tone is so sweet and silky I have to say it’s practically As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) .
As long as you can live with a lack of bass. The best London pressings have more weight, but they rarely have the sweet and open highs of this pressing.
This is, as we say, a crude comparison. Some Londons have relatively sweet, silky highs; some Deccas do not. Some Londons do not have much bass; some Deccas, on the other hand, do.
We ran into the same thing with Aqualung, Who’s Next, Thick As a Brick, ELP’s first album and quite a few others that we could list. The Brits tend to have better highs; the American pressings tend to have more and better bass.