Orchestral / Classical Music

Milhaud / La Creation du Monde / Munch

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M-/ M- – to M-. 1s/ 2s. Side 2 has DEMO QUALITY sound. These rare Soria pressings have a tendency to be noisy so this is as quiet a copy as you are likely to find.

Unusually smooth sound. Just the opposite of the Mercury recordings. Perfect for this kind of music.


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical – Demo Disc Quality Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Winds In Hi-Fi – Grainger / Rogers / Milhaud / Strauss – Fennell

More Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Recordings

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  • This famous TAS list LP finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it throughout
  • This pressing boasts superb sound on both sides – Mercury knows how to capture the bite of the brass
  • Fennell is a master of this sort of sweet and lyrical Wind Music
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the Mercury sound we love, and that is so hard to find

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

The credit must go to Fennel along with the brilliant engineering team at Mercury. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Fennell made a number of band music recordings for Mercury. My favorite is British Band Classics Vol. 2, which was the first Mercury recording I ever heard. I went out and bought a copy of it immediately from my local Tower Records on Golden Import.

Years later when I heard the real thing, and original pressing, I realized the Golden Import was a pretty second rate reissue, fine for the $4.99 I might have paid but a big step down from the early pressings.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right it too is out of this world. (more…)

Can You Imagine Getting a Record This Good in the Mail?

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

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The MHS pressing above can have superb sound.

MHS remastered the original 1967 Melodiya tape in 1979, dramatically improving upon the sound of the version that I knew on Angel, which shouldn’t have been too hard as the Angel is not very good.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. MHS didn’t cut the record, an engineer at a mastering house did. Fortunately for us audiophiles, the job fell to none other than Bill Kipper at Masterdisk.

Think what a different audio world it would be if we still had Bill Kipper with us today, along with the amazingly accurate and resolving cutting system he used at Masterdisk. There are no records being produced today that sound remotely as good as this budget subscription disc. Furthermore, to my knowledge no record this good has been cut for more than thirty years. The world is awash in mediocre records.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can all be thankful that we still have the records he and so many other talented engineers mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and far into the future. (more…)

Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter – Awful Mercury Mastering

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

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Sonic Grade: F

This recording was released through Mercury after Philips bought the label. It was recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that the Philips mastering is dramatically superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may strike you as counterintuitive, but is nonetheless a fact. It’s precisely the reason we play records all day here at Better Records. You can’t judge a record by its credentials. The only way to know how it sounds is to play it, and to really know how it sounds you must play it against a sizeable number of other copies.

Then, and only then, can you talk knowledgeably about the sound. (Note to forum posters: this means you.)

The potentially right pressing comes in a cover very much like this one:

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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.

Is the original the best way to go?

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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Holst / The Planets – Proper VTA Adjustment Is Critical

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

More VTA Advice

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Accurate VTA adjustment for classical records is critical to their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your classical records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them. We heard the improvement on this record, and do pretty much on all the classical LPs we play. All records really.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Its careful adjustment is critical. Of course, so are anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight. The links below have a fair amount of advice on turntable setup which might be worth checking out.

Blockbuster

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.


Further Reading

Record Cleaning Advice

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

and

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Fistoulari – Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

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

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

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 timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test of transparency of the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich bass,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • lovely transparency

How many classical records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical – Demo Disc Quality Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Holst / The Planets – Remastered on 2 Japanese 45 RPM LPs, It’s Just Awful

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

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This EMI 45 RPM Japanese Import 2 LP set with the OBI strip and Little Sign Of Play (LSOP) is widely considered one of the great Planets, but it’s not, based on our playing of a copy we had years ago, which means it belongs in our Hall of Shame. 

The best copies on British or Dutch EMI vinyl are clearly better than this “audiophile” pressing. What else is new? 


FURTHER READING

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – 45 RPM Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Audiophile Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Direct to Disc Recordings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Japanese Pressings

Record Collecting Myths

Handel – Water Music / Leppard

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

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  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

The performance by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable.

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above). (more…)

Beethoven – Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Munch

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

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  • Presenting the best sounding recording of the Beethoven Violin Concerto we know of
  • Our vintage pressing of this brilliant Living Stereo recording — from 1956! — boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • Heifetz’s violin is immediate, real and lively here – you are in the presence of greatness with this copy
  • The orchestra is wide, tall, spacious, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • Hard to find them without marks or groove damage, but here is one without either, and the sound is magnificent (which is the hardest thing of all to find)

The reproduction of the violin here is superb — harmonically rich, natural, clean, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound, as well as the fact that they become less congested in the louder passages and don’t get shrill or blary.

The best copies display a Tubey Magical richness — especially evident in the basses and celli — that is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Little smear, exceptional resolution, transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — the best copies take the sound of the recording right to the limits of what we thought possible.

Heifetz is a fiery player. On a good pressing such as this one, you will hear all the detail of his bowing without being overpowered by it. As we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity he brings to such a difficult and demanding work. (more…)