Month: December 2022

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture / Marche Slave / Alwyn

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding sound from start to finish – this Decca recording of the 1812 from 1958 is the only one we know of that can show you the power of Live Music for this important work
  • This UK pressing is BIG, lively, clear, open and resolving of musical information like no copy of the 1812 you’ve heard
  • The two coupling pieces, Marche Slave and the Capriccio Italien, also have rich, powerful, weighty brass and lower strings
  • The most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of – we encourage you to compare this to the best orchestral recording in your collection and let the chips fall where they may
  •  When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1970, but that’s precisely what it is. Even more extraordinary, the right copies are the ones that win shootouts
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this recording certainly deserve a place on that list.

There is some noticeable low frequency rumble under the quietest passages of the music for those of you with the big woofers to hear it!

The lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.

The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

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Marty Paich Big Band – What’s New

More Marty Paich

More Jazz Recordings of Interest

  • Discovery may not have produced or released a lot of top sounding titles, but this record by itself puts them well ahead of Classic Records, Mobile Fidelity and the dozens of other remastering houses who have turned out close to zero records of this sonic quality
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1957 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you – the music and sound are enchanting.
  • This copy is super-spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience – the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny
  • With engineering from the legendary Bones Howe at Radio Recorders, this record’s audiophile credentials are fully in order
  • If you’re a fan of brilliant West Coast Jazz charts, this All Tube Recording from 1957 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1957 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If you large group swinging West Coast Jazz is your thing – think Art Pepper Plus Eleven – you will really get a kick out of this one.

Albert Marx was the producer of the original sessions back in 1957. Fast-forward to the ’80s and Marx is now the owner of his very own jazz label, Discovery Records. Who would know the sound of the original tapes better than he? Working with Dave Ellsworth at KM, Marx has here produced one of the best jazz reissues we’ve heard in years.

The Original

We finally got hold of an original, and sure enough, it had some of the qualities we might have guessed it would have.

It was big and rich, as expected, but it was also crude and gritty, like a lot of old jazz and pop vocal records from the ’50s are.

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Dave Grusin – Discovered Again!

  • This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing boasts outstanding  sound from first note to last
  • After critically listening to this record good and loud, I have to award the album The Greatest Direct to Disc Recording of All Time
  • The songs, the players, the arrangements, the sound – this is a record that will reward hundreds of plays for decades to come
  • Side one of this copy is OUT of polarity, one of the few we found that way, and not a copy you should be if you can’t switch
  • “Everything about this project is just right from the gentle contemporary feel of the music to the superb sound of the [album] itself.”

We are on record as being big fans of this album. Unlike most Direct to Disc recordings, Discovered Again actually contains real music worth listening to. During our all-day shootout, the more we played the record, the more we appreciated it. These are top quality players totally in the groove on this material. When it’s played well, and the sound is as good as it is here, there’s nothing dated about this kind of jazz. Hey, what can we say — it works.

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Listening in Depth to JT

More of the Music of James Taylor

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

Musically this is one of Taylor’s best. Every track is good and many are wonderful. There are five or six James Taylor records that are Desert Island Discs for me. I know they probably wouldn’t let me take six of the same artists’ records to my island, but I would hope they would make an exception for James Taylor, because his albums really do set a standard that few other singer/songwriters’ albums can meet.

Start with Sweet Baby James, the first album, which we can’t find for you because only the British ones sound good and they are just to hard to find in clean condition [not true, we did the shootout in 2022], and JT. The next group to pursue would contain Mud Slide Slim, One Man Dog and Dad Loves His Work, and then maybe Flag.

As audiophiles we all know that sound and music are inseparable. After dropping the needle on a dozen or so copies, all originals by the way, you KNOW when the music is working its magic and when it’s not. As with any pop album there are always some songs that sound better than others, but when you find yourself marvelling at how well-written and well-produced a song is, you know that the sound is doing what it needs to do. It’s communicating the Musical Values of the material.

The most important of all these Musical Values is ENERGY, and boy do the best copies have plenty of it.

Side One

Your Smiling Face

Our favorite test track for side one. The best copies have punchy bass and drums that are hard to beat!

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How Not to Conduct a Proper Shootout for Aqualung

I think this commentary was written in 2010 or thereabouts, since that’s the date on Fremer’s Aqualung review, which can be found here. I have made a few changes to the commentary below, but most of the original has been left intact.

We recently put up a Hot Stamper Aqualung that just BLEW THE DOORS OFF the CLASSIC 200g pressing. Michael Fremer may think the new reissue is the ultimate pressing, but we sure don’t. 

The Aqualung shootout on his site is priceless. He has so many silly things to say about it, let’s not waste any more time and get right to them.

His Shootout Begins

He says he “… compared Classic’s new 200g reissue with: 1) an original UK Chrysalis 2) an original American Chrysalis/Warner Brothers, 3) an original French Pink Label Island, 4) The Mobile Fidelity ½ speed mastered edition and 5) DCC’s 180g issue mastered by the team of Hoffman and Gray.”

How many of each? One, right? (All the articles in front of the nouns are singular. Assuming MF is using good grammar, how many could there be?)

Mikey, that’s your first mistake.

When it comes to the domestic release, one is a wholly inadequate sample size for pressings that were pumped out by the millions and therefore mastered multiple times. Go to Discogs if you want to see just how many different stamper numbers can be found in the original Reprise pressings. Hint: it’s a lot. Some of them are known to us to be awful, some fall into the middle of the pack, and some we like. Figuring out which are which has taken us a lifetime of work and is well beyond the ability of any single person to decode for more than a few dozen records.

Maybe you got hold of a bad sounding “original American Chrysalis/Warner Brothers,” did you ever think of that? The record bins are full of them.

If you did get hold of a bad one — and all the evidence points in that direction — the value of your shootout just went flying out the window, defenestrated as some might say.

Proper shootouts cannot be carried out using a small number of pressings. Anybody who claims to know anything about records ought to know that.

This next line just floors me.

Now rather than make value judgments, let’s just compare without prejudice.

This guy may not be good for much, but he sure is good for a laugh.

Does he really expect us to believe that the comments that follow are not biased in any way, that they are The Truth, that he is able to measure “intimacy and warmth” and tell us precisely how much of each there is on any given pressing? Who in his right mind thinks like that?  (At this rate he may end up wandering about a park with snot running down his nose, greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Help is available; perhaps Stereophile has a mental health plan under which he could be covered.)

Soon enough he goes on to give his opinion as to the merits of each of the pressings noted above. I’m sorry, did I say opinion? I meant comparisons without prejudice. Sorry, my bad.

The Big Truth

And of course he is more than welcome to make any and all the comparisons he deems fit, each from that lovely sample size of one. And if he wants to add another sample (size = 1) to the mix by playing the DCC gold CD, he’s welcome to do that too, which he did. I’m guessing that his CD player is every bit as accurate as his front end (comprising turntable/ arm/ cartridge/ phono stage/ cables), which, if he were to ascribe a number to the accuracy of all the pieces that make up this chain, would have to be in the 100% or so range. Or as the late John McLaughlin might say, on a scale of one to ten: ten, meaning Metaphysically Accurate.

No colorations. No imperfections. Pure Truth, and nothing but.

I could go on like this for days, but even I’m getting tired of it. Without a basic understanding of records and the wide variation in the quality of pressings, you cannot design a testing protocol that will result in any meaningful findings.

You end up with a Pseudo Shootout, custom made for an audience of one, especially one who never wants to be wrong. If you are not trying to separate truth from falsehood, open to the possibility of overturning your preconceived notions by the proper use of the scientific method, how can you learn anything?

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Count Basie & Oscar Peterson – Two Pianos and No Smear on Either?

More of the Music of Count Basie

More of the Music of Oscar Peterson

There was not a trace of smear on the pianos, which is unusual in our experience, although no one ever seems to talk about smeary pianos in the audiophile world other than us.

With 176 keys on hand, this recording presents the audiophile with a great piano test.

The Piano

If you have full-range speakers, some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. This is what we look for in a good piano recording. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn out stampers and bad vinyl. But some copies survive all such hazards.

They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range (and of course the wonderful performance of the pianist) on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

Analogue Productions Heavy Vinyl

AP did another one of the Basie Peterson collaborations on vinyl, a longtime favorite of ours, The Timekeepers. Considering their dismal track record — an unbroken string of failures, with not one success of which I am aware — I’m quite sure the Hot Stamper we are offering here will blow the doors off anything they will ever do on vinyl.

AMG Review

From the same week that resulted in Night Rider and Timekeepers, this is the fifth album that documents the matchup of Count Basie and Oscar Peterson. The two pianists (backed by bassist John Heard and drummer Louis Bellson) play five standards and three blues with predictable swing, finding much more in common with each other than one might have originally suspected.


Further Reading

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pablo Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Count Basie

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Oscar Peterson

Laurindo Almeida – It’s A Bossa Nova World

More Laurindo Almeida

More Bossa Nova Recordings

  • An original Capitol stereo pressing of this superb Bossa Nova classic with Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Here is the Tubey Magical richness, size and space that only the best vintage pressings are capable of conveying to the critical listener
  • The brilliance of this All Tube Chain recording from Capitol makes all the hard work you’ve put into your system pay off
  • You will certainly hear this music far better than anyone who had the kind of vintage equipment it would have been reproduced with back in the ’60s
  • A Jazz Classic from 1963 that should appeal to any fan of Bossa Nova music
  • The complete list of titles from 1963 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Sarah Vaughan – Sings George Gershwin, Volume One

More Sarah Vaughan

  • Sarah Vaughan’s 1957 release returns to the site for only the second time with excellent Double Plus (A++) sound throughout this early Black Label Mercury stereo pressing
  • This copy has more richness, space, clarity, dynamics and, most especially, vocal intimacy than most of what we played
  • Hard to imagine we would ever run into a quieter copy than this one – Mint Minus Minus with no marks that play and no groove damage makes this a very special copy indeed
  • Hal Mooney brilliantly handles the arrangements, letting Sarah stretch and bend Gershwin’s notes to her heart’s content

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Classic Records First Three Classical Releases, Reviewed Circa 1994

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Hundreds of Living Stereo Records

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound.”

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  Some Classic Records pressings may be on Harry’s TAS list — disgraceful but true — but that certainly has no bearing on whether or not they are very good records. 

I had a chance to play LSC 1806 (pictured above) not long ago and I was dumbfounded at how bright, shrill and aggressive it was.

I still remember playing my first Classic Records title, their first release, which would probably have been in 1994. The deep bass of the organ at the start of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the horns and the tympani blasting out from a dead silent background, put a lump in my throat. Had they actually managed to remaster these old recordings so well that the vintage pressings I was selling for such high prices would soon be worthless? I really do remember having that thought race through my mind.

But then the strings came in, shrieking and as bright as the worst Angel or DG pressing I’d ever heard. It was as if somebody had turned the treble control up on my preamp two or three clicks, into ear-bleeding territory. All my equipment at the time was vintage and tube, and even though my system erred on the dark side tonally, the first Classic release was clearly off the charts too bright and transistory, with none of the lovely texture and sheen that RCA was famous for in the early days of Living Stereo.

I knew right then that my vintage record business was safe.

Here is our review from the ’90s, written shortly after the release of Classic’s first three titles. (With minor additions and changes for clarity and context.)

Hall of Shame Pressings, Every One

I’m reminded of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the reputed superiority of the Classic Records Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222 (if memory serves), I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I played. The sound was, in a word, awful.

To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in History.

[To be fair, Analogue Productions probably now holds that crown.]

When Harry Pearson (of all people! — this is the guy who started the Living Stereo craze by putting these forgotten old records on the TAS list in the first place) gave a rave review to LSC 1806, I had to stand up (in print anyway) and say that the emperor clearly had removed all his clothes, if he ever had any to begin with.

This got me kicked out of TAS by the way, as Harry does not take criticism well. I make a lot of enemies in this business with my commentary and reviews, but I see no way to avoid the fallout for calling a spade a spade.

Is anybody insane enough to stand up for LSC 1806 today? Considering that there is a die-hard contingent of people who still think Mobile Fidelity is the greatest label of all time, there may well be “audiophiles” with crude audio equipment or poorly developed critical listening skills, or both (probably both, as the two go hand in hand), that still find the sound of the shrill, screechy strings of the Classic pressing somehow pleasing to the ear. Hey, anything is possible.

As I’ve said again and again, the better a stereo gets, the more obvious the differences between good vintage pressings and most current reissues become. Modest front ends and mediocre playback systems can disguise these differences and mislead the amateur audiophile.

And the “professional” too. We’ve all had the experience of going back to play a record from years ago that we remember as being amazing, only to find it amazingly bad.

The Japanese Led Zeppelin series from the ’90s comes immediately to mind. How could my system have been so dull that those bright pressings actually fooled me into thinking they sounded good all those years ago? I’ve done a few Mea Culpas over the years, and that’s one of the bigger ones.

Remember when Chesky Records were all the rage? Does anybody in his right mind play that shit anymore?

A short anecdote: A good customer called me up one night many years ago. He had just finished playing the Chesky pressing of Spain, and had pulled out his Shaded Dog original to compare. The sound of his Shaded Dog pressing was so much better that he took his Chesky and, with great satisfaction, ceremoniously dropped it in the trash can, noting, “Of course I could have sold it or traded it away, but nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

Another anecdote: when Chesky first got started in the remastering business, a friend picked up their pressing of LSC 2150, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije with Reiner. He played it for me when I came over to hear his system, and he and I were both shocked that his ’70s Red Seal pressing was better in every way.

We wanted to know: What kind of audiophile label can’t even go head to head with a cheap reissue put out twenty years after the initial release just to keep the bins stocked and satisfy the needs of the low-budget classical record buyer?

The answer: Plenty of them, and definitely Chesky. Playing most Classic Records classical titles is a painful experience these days. I do not recommend it to anyone with good equipment. If you love the Living Stereo sound and cannot afford vintage pressings, consider playing the CDs RCA remastered. The one I know well is clearly better than Classic’s and AP’s LP.

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Spirit’s Third Album, Clear – Another Useless Sundazed Heavy Vinyl LP

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Spirit

Hot Stamper Pressings of Psychedelic Rock Recordings Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Although it’s been many years since I last played it, I’m fairly confidant that the Sundazed only hints at the real sound of the best copies. Most Sundazed records would end up in our Hall of Shame if we ever bothered to audition them.

Being in the “record business,” such as it is, I’ve played my share and more of awful sounding Heavy Vinyl.

Even back in the (embarrassing) days when we were selling them we carried only about one out of ten that were in print. A big portion of the nine we didn’t stock were just awful as I recall.

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