Orchestral / Classical Music

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra – MoFi Reviewed

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Recordings We’ve Reviewed

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Is the painting on the cover that of a man whose head is hurting from the ridiculously bright string tone of this MoFi?

Doubtful. Impossible actually. But that’s exactly how my head feels when I play one of these awful MoFi classical releases.

Their rock, pop and jazz remasters were hit and miss in the old days, with some real winners hidden amongst the junk, but every one of their classical releases that I ever played was a dog..

One way you know you dealing with bad records and collector mentality? When you find one of these records in your local used record store, it is almost guaranteed to be pristine. Good records get played. MoFi’s classical releases got collected and sat on a shelf.

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found to be yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

Can you believe this bright and phony sounding piece of junk was once on the TAS Super Disc List? Sad, isn’t it? At least Harry had the good sense to delete it way back in the ’80s, along with all the rest of the awful MoFi’s that were on it at the time.  

Hey, I sure liked a lot of my MoFi’s in the ’80s too. Thank god I didn’t have my own Super Disc list at the time. It would be every bit as embarrassing as Harry’s list is these days, although it’s really not Harry’s list these days anymore, or at least not exclusively his list. It now has lots of new stuff on there and much of it appears to be of dubious quality, but that’s pure prejudice on my part of course. I have never played most of the records and have no intention of finding out what they sound like. Much of it is music that does not appeal to me, and some of the new additions are on Heavy Vinyl, so why bother?


Sullivan-Mackerras / Pineapple Poll Ballet / Mackerras

More Classical and Orchestral Music

More TAS List Super Discs

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides, this wonderful recording of the Pineapple Poll ballet has superb sound that will be very hard to beat
  • In the best tradition of vintage All Tube analog from 1962, these sides are both rich and clear, with rhythmic drive and energy that keeps the festivities briskly humming along, just as they would in one of the composer’s famous operettas
  • Remarkably colorful orchestration – the brilliant music of Sir Arthur Sullivan shines on this famous TAS List Super Disc
  • “As a score, [Pineapple Poll] quite simply sparkles like freshly popped champagne. … In fact, this is a comic masterpiece. Any viewer will be impressed with the vivacious dancing and the ‘built in’ humour which pervades the work…”

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Trying to Get at the Truth of The Four Seasons with Transistors

A classic case of Live and Learn

Tubes in Audio

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In 2007 we did a shootout for this album and noted the following:

For those with better tube gear, the string tone on this record is sublime, with that rosin-on-the-bow quality that tubes seem to bring out in a way virtually nothing else can, at least in my experience.

Our experience since 2007 has changed our view concerning the magical power of tubes to bring out the rosiny texture of bowed stringed instruments. We have in fact changed our minds completely with respect to that unquestioned belief.

Our transistor equipment — and by ours we mean the unnamed low-powered ’70s integrated amp we use, mated with the EAR 324P phono, making no claims whatsoever for any other transistor equipment of any kind, almost all of which in my experience is not very good — is dramatically faster, more transparent, dynamic and resolving than any tube equipment we have ever heard.

It is, simply put, much more TRUTHFUL. It is precisely this quality that is hardest to find in all of audio.

It is also the one quality of our system that, more than any other, allows us to do our job correctly and efficiently.

Our equipment lets us hear the sound of the record being played, uncolored and unadorned. It also has the added benefit of sounding to us more like live music. 

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Massenet / Le Cid Ballet Music – Now With New and Improved Smile Curve EQ

Klavier Is a Label Best Avoided by Audiophiles

They Make Records Perfectly Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: D

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end.  Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records?

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Better yet, fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 1 – RCA 1957 Living Stereo Is Hard to Beat

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  • Both sides of this vintage Victrola pressing are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully preset piano and three-dimensional space around the musicians
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • I used to think that the Classic was better than the Victrola, but that was a long time ago, and I hear a lot of midrange magic on this LP that I don’t think you can find on practically any modern remaster, by Classic Records or anyone else
  • The Classic will be quieter though – we had a devil of a time finding Vics pressings with audiophile quality vinyl

I highly recommend this one, musically and sonically. Everybody loves Rachmaninoff, especially when Byron Janis is at the keyboard, and the Strauss piece is engaging on its own as well.

1957 stereo, can you imagine?

Here is a complete list of Living Stereo Classical titles we have available on the site at this time. On our blog you can find reviews for the hundreds of others we’ve auditioned over the years.

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Shostakovich / The Age of Gold – If You Own This Pressing, My Guess Is It’s Pristine

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

When Classic Records was blowing out its unsold inventory through the Tower Records Classical Annex in Hollywood many years ago — apparently they had run into some financial trouble — this was a title you could pick up for under ten bucks. I remember it being $7, but my memory may not be correct on that point. Whatever the price, it was cheap.

And even at that price it seemed nobody really wanted it.  Which is as it should be. Heavy Vinyl or no Heavy Vinyl, a bad record is a bad record and not worth the bother of sitting down and listening to it.

If you own this record, my guess is it is pristine.

If you played it at all, you played it once and put it away on a shelf where it probably sits to this very day. Good records get played and bad records don’t. If you have lots of pristine records on your shelves, ask yourself this question: Why don’t I want to play them?

You may not like the implications of the answer: They aren’t any good.

And that means you should never have bought them in the first place. But we all make mistakes. Owning up to them may be hard, but it is the only way to make any real progress in this hobby.

The One Out of Ten Rule

If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a more manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it.

If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low, if our experience is any guide.

If you want nothing but amazing sounding classical records, we typically have quite a selection.


What Do You Mean by “Boxy” Sound?

More of the Music of Tchaikovsky

Album Reviews of the music of Tchaikovsky

Many Golden Age classical records simply do not sound good, and this is one of them. We have never heard a good sounding copy of LSC 2216, and we’ve played quite a number of them over the decades we’ve been in the business of selling them. (LSC 1901, with Monteux conducting, is no better.)

A copy came in a while back so I figured it was time to give it a spin and see if there was any reason to change my opinion. Hey, maybe this one had Hot Stampers! Can’t say it wouldn’t be possible. Unlikely, yes, impossible, no.

So here’s what I heard. No real top above 6k, hardly any bottom, but with a very wide stage – the textbook definition of “boxy sound.” (Dry and thin too, on a vintage RCA pressing no less!)

If you are a fan of Living Stereo pressings, have you noticed that many of them – this one for example – don’t sound good?

If you’re an audiophile with good equipment, you should have. But did you? Or did you buy into the hype surrounding these rare LSC pressings and just ignore the problems with the sound?

There is an abundance of audiophile collector hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and many of them are awful.

Music Matters made this garbage remaster. Did anyone notice how awful it sounded? I could list a hundred more that range from bad to worse — and I have! Take your pick: there are more than 150 entries in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section, each one worse sounding than the next.

Audiophiles seem to have approached these records naively instead of skeptically.

(But wait a minute. Who am I to talk? I did the same thing when I first got into audio and record collecting in the Seventies.)

How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how bad these records sound.

Maybe not this guy, or the “In Groove” guy, but there has to be at least some group of audiophiles, however small their number might be, with decent equipment and two working ears out there, right? (Excluding our customers of course, they have to know what is going on to spend the kind of money they spend on our records. And then write us all those enthusiastic letters.)

I would say RCA’s track record during the ’50s and ’60s is a pretty good one, offering potentially excellent sound for roughly one out of every three titles or so.

But that means that odds are there would have to be a lot of dogs in their catalog. This is definitely one of them. (more…)

Suppe et al / Overture Overture / Agoult

More Classical and Orchestral Music

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Decca engineered Living Stereo album – both sides of LSC 2134 earned our top grade of A+++
  • This 1957 Decca recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Cyril Windebank was the engineer — you may remember him from SXL 2012, the legendary recording of Peer Gynt with Fjelstad
  • The most energetic performances we heard, with sound like nothing else we played – Agoult’s overtures are in a league of their own
  • Classic Records did this title back in the ’90s, and was as mediocre and unsatisfying as most of their sorry releases
  • “Suppé certainly has a knack for a good tune, well suited to even the most unpolished of brass band arrangements – the characterful orchestral playing, however, brings these neglected works to life with aplomb.”

When this 1957 recording was first released, you could only buy it in mono, under the title Overtures… In Spades! It would be two years before the stereo pressing was available through RCA. There are two covers and I believe we have Shaded Dog pressings with both. This copy, our Shootout Winner, has the first cover you see in the listing.

Everyone needs a good album of Overtures – the music is exciting and fun, not to mention Demonstration Quality on a pressing such as this. The combination of sound and performance on the best of the RCA Shaded Dog pressings could not be equaled.  (more…)

Barney Kessel / Carmen – A Great Disc for Testing Transparency

More Barney Kessel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Barney Kessel

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We highly recommend you make every effort to find yourself a copy of this album and use it to test your system. The right pressing can be both a great Demo Disc and a great Test Disc.

Transparency Is Key

The best Hot Stamper Original pressings have the Tubey Magic we’ve come to expect from Contemporary circa 1958, with that warm, rich, full-bodied sound that RVG often struggles to get on tape. However, some pressings in our shootout managed to give us an extra level of transparency and ambience that most original pressings rarely did.

There’s a room around this drum kit. So many copies don’t show you that room, not if they have the full sound that a copy like this does.

It’s amazing all the detail you can hear in a leaned-out record, but what good is that? The sound is all leaned out.

If you like that sound, buy the OJC or the CD. Leave these originals to those of us who are after this sound. (more…)