Advice – What to Listen For – Classical Records

The Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

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This work is more often than not recorded with harsh sound. The exciting orchestration must surely be very difficult to capture on tape. But Mercury here seems to have managed to do it, a feat few others can claim.

This side one is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY, thanks to superb low distortion mastering. It’s yet another very exciting Mercury recording. The quiet passages have unusually sweet sound. This kind of sound is not easy to cut. This copy gets rid of the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished. (more…)

Finlandia – Striving for Orchestral Clarity with Decca and Failing with RCA

 

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

 

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The original RCA Living Stereo pressings we played in our 2014 shootout were not competitive with the best Deccas and London reissues.

Original is better? In our experience with Finlandia, not so much.

 

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The record you see above is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, 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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What to Listen for on EMI’s Wonderful Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 with Previn

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That’s an easy one: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label to the extent that they did back in the day. I chalk it up, as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles make about the sound of records, my own included (we do have a We Was Wrong section right on the site, the only one of its kind to my knowledge), to limited equipment, bad rooms and poor record cleaning.

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I had an Audio Research D-75a and later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems of today.

Working in impossibly complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set-up through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like.

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room; the cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.
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VTA – A Few Moments of Experimentation Can Really Pay Off

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically adjust your VTA.

Experimenting with the VTA for this record we found a precise point where it all came together, far beyond whatever expectations we might have had at the time, which revealed a violin floating between the speakers, an effect that as audiophiles we appreciate for the magic trick that it is.

The sound of the wood of the instrument became so clear, the harmonic textures so natural, it was quite a shock to hear a good record somehow become an amazing one. All it took was a few moments of experimentation.

With the right VTA setting we immediately heard more harmonic detail, with no sacrifice in richness. That’s the clearest sign that your setup is right, or very close to it.
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Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade / Ansermet / Suisse Romande

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I attended this Dec. 2013 concert; it was a thrill like no other. (Well, maybe The Planets.)

“Guest conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos’s attention to detail delivers the razzle dazzle and also discovers renewed radiance in ‘Scheherazade.'”

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We did a monster shootout for this music in 2014, one we had been planning for more than two years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London (CS 6212, his second stereo recording, from 1961, not the earlier and noticeably poorer sounding recording from in 1959); the Ormandy on Columbia, and a few others we felt had shown potential.

The only recordings that held up all the way through — the fourth movement being THE Ball Breaker of all time, for both the engineers and musicians — were those by Reiner and Ansermet. This was disappointing considering how much time and money we spent finding, cleaning and playing those ten or so other pressings.

Here it is a year later and we’re capitalizing on what we learned from the first big go around, which is simply this: the Ansermet recording on Decca/London can not only hold its own with the Reiner on RCA, but beat it in virtually any area. The presentation and the sound itself are both more relaxed and natural, even when compared to the best RCA pressings.

The emotional content of the first three movements (all of side one) under Ansermet’s direction are clearly superior. The roller coaster excitement Reiner and the CSO bring to the fourth movement cannot be faulted, or equaled. In every other way Ansermet’s performance is the one for me.

Both Sides

Superb! Big brass, so full-bodied and dynamic, yet clear and not thick or overly tubey. Lots of space as is usually the case with Ansermet’s recordings from this era.

Both sides here are BIG, with the space and depth of the wonderful Victoria Hall that the L’Orchestre De La Suisse Romande perform in. As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are as big and rich as any you’ve heard. On the finest pressings (known around these parts as Hot Stampers) they seem to be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.

The solo violin is present and so real you will have a hard time believing it.

This copy is huge in every dimension, just as all the best ones always are, with maximum amounts of height, width, and depth. The transparency is also superb — you really hear into this one in the way that only the best Golden Age recordings allow.

Side Two Coupling Work

Borodin: Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances

The Borodin is amazing on this pressing’s side two!

Huge scope — depth and width like you will not believe, perfect for this music. The voices in the chorus are clearly separated out and so big and rich! Open and sweet in the best Golden Age tradition, as well as smooth and natural, like live music should be.

Awful Shaded Dogs

The somewhat shocking news is just how awful most Shaded Dog copies of LSC 2446 are. Even the ones with the “right” stampers are often far from what they should be. It is my heretical opinion that only one or two out of ten copies of the RCA vinyl will beat the Living Stereo CD, and no reissue of any kind can touch it. The CD sounds right. Most vinyl pressings do not.

As is so often the case, hearing the phenomenally good pressings is what truly makes all the time and effort we put into the shootout worthwhile.

Ansermet’s performance with the Suisse Romande here may not have the uncanny precision of Reiner’s with the CSO, but he does manage to bring out most of the more lyrical elements that seem to hold less interest for Reiner.

The key element is the brass — it must have tremendous weight and power, otherwise the proceedings become thin and lose their energy. Consequently, the copies without good weight to the brass and richness in the lower strings fared poorly in our shootout.

Lessons Learned, 2015

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter-than-it-should-be top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

See more of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov in stock

 

The Dvorak Violin Concerto – Was Sound This Good Still Possible in 1980?

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You’ll find amazing nearly White Hot Stamper sound on side two of this exceptionally quiet Philips recording

Yes, it was still possible to record classical music properly in 1980, though few labels managed to do it

A SUPERB performance from Salvatore Accardo, certainly competitive with the best we have heard

Yes, it was still possible to record classical music properly in 1980, though not many labels managed to pull it off. (Londons from this era are especially opaque and airless. We find them as irritating and frustrating as most of the Heavy Vinyl releases being foisted on the audiophile public today.)

The orchestral passages are rich and sweet, the violin present, its harmonic colors gloriously intact. This is still ANALOG, with the better copies displaying much of the Tubey Magic of ’50s and ’60s vinyl without as much compressor distortion (the Achilles’ heel of so many of the great recordings from the Golden Era).

And the fairly quiet Dutch vinyl here is a refreshing change from the notoriously noisy vintage pressings we suffer through every week (ah, but we don’t mind, the sound is so good!).

See more commentaries as well as our in stock recordings featuring the violin
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Today’s MoFi Mess Is Pictures at an Exhibition

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Sonic Grade: D

A Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP debunked.

The MoFi mastering here is a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?
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