We can, we played it.
Or, to be more correct, we played them. Two pressings, each with one good side and one very bad side.
This 2-pack from many years ago (ten perhaps), described below, boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top.
It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.
But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.
Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it.
If you collect Super Discs based on their catalog numbers and labels and preferred countries of manufacture, you are in big trouble when it comes time to play the damn things. That approach doesn’t work for sound and never did.
If your stereo is workin’ right this is not news to you. The proof? The first disc in this 2-pack is Dutch. It earned a Super Hot grade in our blind test, beating every British copy we played against it save one. Side two however was recessed, dark and lifeless. Another NFG side, but the perfect complement to our White Hot British side two!
Hot Stampers are the only way to get this problematical recording to come to life, to convey the real power of Holst’s music. The typical copy of this record is dull, two-dimensional, smeary, veiled, opaque and compressed. If you were never impressed with the sound of HP’s favorite — a member of the Top Twelve TAS Super Disc List — this might just be the copy that will change your mind.
Our best Hot Stampers (depending on how hot they are) can show you an entirely different recording: rich, spacious, sweet, dynamic, full of ambience and orchestral detail — in short, a world of sound (no pun intended) barely hinted at by the standard import pressing.
Brass with Bite
The best copies get real weight to the brass as well as the bite of real trumpets, trombones and tubas. The thin ones lose the weight and the smeary ones lose the bite.
With the better copies you can clearly distinguish all the elements of the orchestra. You can actually hear where the bass oboe (discussed in the Wikipedia entry) is used. On the best copies the sonorities of this amazingly diverse group of instruments are much more discernible. You will no doubt hear sounds you never heard in this piece before, and that, as I’m sure you will agree, can be a thrill akin to the thrill of the live performance itself.
Side Two (English Pressing)
A+++, and easily the best side two we have ever heard for Mehta’s performance on Decca/London.
It’s big, transparent, and dynamic, with amazing energy. It has HUGE WEIGHT in the brass that only the best of the best copies have. Copies with all the bottom and all the top are rare indeed.
This is what we sometimes refer to as Blockbuster Sound. It does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.
It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities. It’s not the recreation of a live orchestral event — it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral staging of its own making.
(Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.)
Side One (Dutch Pressing)
A++, almost as good! This copy has Demo Disc Dynamic and Energetic sound from start to finish. It starts out a bit smeary but the smear abates about one to two minutes in. The lower strings are wonderful, with texture and body.
The last time around we said, “Don’t bother with the Dutch ones; they really suck.” Seems we were a bit unfair to our Dutch friends. This time around we heard at least one Dutch pressing — this one on side two — that had very good sound. If you had some of both the British and the Dutch pressings, there’s a chance that one of the Dutch copies might win that shootout. It didn’t win ours but it certainly has the potential to beat the Brits.
Speakers Corner and Super Analogue
Avoid both of the above mentioned Heavy Vinyl pressings. I would award a failing grade to the former; it’s unbelievably bad. I’d go with a C Minus or so for the Super Analogue. It’s not awful but it is bloated and dark like most of the records that label put out. Any good import pressing will kill it.
Our Famous 2-packs
Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you have before you a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.
Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork which has been aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of wildly differently quality, in our experience it happens all the time. In fact it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade. That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.
Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides you certainly won’t have to.