Composers

The Music of Leonard Bernstein – Our Four Plus Mind Blowing Shootout Winner

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This London Phase 4 British import has some of the most SPECTACULAR sound I have ever heard reproduced from disc. The sound is so BIG and BOLD that it handily puts to shame 95% or more of all the Golden Age Shaded Dogs, London Bluebacks, Mercury Living Presence’s, EMI’s and Decca’s we’ve ever played. If we had a Classical Top 100 list, this record would belong in a Top Ten taken from it, right near the top judging by what I heard when I played it.

Side two here is BEYOND White Hot, earning a sonic grade of A++++! I don’t know that any other copy has earned such a high grade for side two but this one sure did. It blew our minds.

If you have a system with the speed, power and size to play this record properly (yes, you will need all three and a whole lot more), it’s hard to imagine it would not qualify as the best sounding classical recording you’ve ever heard. Demo Disc barely begins to do it justice. What sound. What music. What a record! Side two is where the real action is on this album, and it is presented here with SPECTACULAR AUDIO FIDELITY the likes of which you may have never experienced. (more…)

An Extraordinary Recording of the Carmen Fantasie – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

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This London Whiteback LP has DEMO DISC sound like you will not believe, especially on side two, which earned our coveted A Triple Plus rating. The sound is warm, sweet and transparent; in short, absolutely GORGEOUS. We call it AGAIG — As Good As It Gets!

As this is one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time, it is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophle’s collection. (If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.) Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout.

And side one was just a step below the second side in terms of sound quality, with very solid A++ sound. To find two sides of this caliber, on quiet vinyl no less, is no mean feat. You could easily go through ten copies without finding one as consistently good sounding as this one.

A True Demo Disc, Or Was It?

Ricci’s playing of the Bizet-Sarasate Carmen Fantasie is OUT OF THIS WORLD. There is no greater perforrmance on record in my opinion, and few works that have as much Audiophile Appeal.

Which is why I’ve had a copy of this record in my own collection for about fifteen years marked “My Demo Disc”. But this copy KILLED it. How could that be?

It just goes to show: No matter how good a particular copy of a record may sound to you, when you clean and play enough of them you will almost always find one that’s better, and often surprisingly better. Shootouts are the only way to find these kinds of records. Nothing else works. If you’re not doing shootouts (or buying the winners of shootouts from us) you simply don’t have top quality copies in your collection, except in the rare instances where you just got lucky. In the world of records luck can only take you so far. The rest of the journey requires effort. (more…)

Milstein / Encores / Pommers – Reviewed in 2009

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This original Rainbow Label Capitol pressing has D1 / D1 stampers (!) and the shrink still on the cover — now how rare is that!? Copies in this condition regularly fetch $300-400 on ebay these days, some as much as $450, and it’s highly unlikely that any of those sound as good as this one. (Unless those sellers use the same advanced cleaning fluids and techniques we do and have access to an $8000 record cleaning machine, that is.)

The sound is SUPERB, especially on side two, which we rated A Double Plus. Side two had a bit more presence and transparency than side one and that, along with quieter vniyl, kicked the grade up a notch. The third work on side two, a piece by Fritz Kreisler, is one of the highlights of the entire album.

The sound is smooth and sweet throughout, and of course the playing is superb. We are big fans of Nathan Milstein here at Better Records and it’s records like this that justify our enthusiasm. The album comprises works for violin and piano by Kreisler, Schumann, Szymanowski, Handel, others. 

Unreleased UHQR Test Pressing

More on the UHQR

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Near Mint UHQR JVC Test Record in a white generic jacket.

The RAREST of the RARE! I’ve never even seen one offered for sale!

For those of you who do not know the complete story, basically the UHQR — the ultra high quality record — was invented by JVC as a test to see how good the ultimate vinyl pressing could sound. It was thicker, had a longer pressing cycle, and other technological improvements, all with the goal of making the ultimate lp.

Mobile Fidelity produced limited editions of eight titles on UHQR, and both Reference and Telarc produced one each.

Apparently tests were done by others as well, because here we have some m&k recordings on UHQR. I believe they are not known to exist — until now. I bought them from m&k myself a few years back, along with some flamenco fevers and a box full of unplayed for dukes. That was a good day for better records!

Anyway, obviously the price you see reflects the collectibility of such a unique pressing, not necessarily the musical or sonic qualities it may possess. If you want to be not just the first but the only person to own such a pressing, this is your opportunity to do so. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

Dear Reader,

We have just recently moved our record business to our new Shopify store. None of the links to the old site will work anymore. We apologize for the inconvenience and hope to be able to rectify the situation soon. For now please check out Better Records, Mach II, home of the ultimate vinyl pressing, the White Hot Stamper.

Tom Port – Better Records

 

rimsktaleo_speakerscorner

Rimsky-Korsakov – The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner

Sonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
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Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Munch / Boston – Hard to Recommend on Classic Records

More Antonin Dvorak

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

A Classic Records pressing (Remember the Sound!) that never sounded much good to me. But the original never impressed either, as you can see from our review of it.

I have never heard a copy of this record sound better than decent. This title is very unlikely to have the wonderful sound of the best Living Stereo pressings that you can find on our site, each of which has been carefully evaluated to the highest standards.

We love the Starker recordings on Mercury. Wish we could afford to buy some and do a shootout. At the prices they command these days, that is very unlikely to happen.

We used to recommend this Superanalogue pressing when it was in print. I doubt we would care much for it now.

Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras on VICS 1069 – A $50 Hot Stamper from 2004(!)

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DEMO QUALITY SOUND and quiet surfaces too.

I don’t know when I’ve heard this album with better sound. This one may be better than the best Shaded Dog for all I know — it’s that good.

You’ll notice that there is a copy of this very same record on the website for $1.99. That one sounds dull. I don’t think you’ll be able to find a better sounding copy of this record than the pressing we are selling here, because it really is an exceptionally good sounding record. If it weren’t, it would be more like $1.99.

[Yes, we used to sell some records for $1.99. Probably should have donated them to the Goodwill. Most of our run-of-the-mill classical goes there now. The local record stores don’t want them anymore. That ship has sailed.]

Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque – Reversed Polarity Copy

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This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

This is a WONDERFUL sounding, very quiet original Shaded Dog pressing of one of the rarest Living Stereo titles. Dropping the needle on side one was a shock — the sound was terrible: thin, shrill and practically unlistenable. Since I know this to be an exceptionally good sounding record, there was only one possibility: reverse absolute phase. Sure enough, the magic of Living Stereo reappeared. If you can’t reverse your polarity, this is not the record for you! 

Are they all that way? I have no way of knowing. I run across a clean quiet copy like this once every ten years or so. If any of you out there own this record and yours is not reversed phase let me know what your stamper numbers are, I’d be very interested.

This has always been a favorite title with audiophiles. It’s full of lovely orchestral colors, much like The Nutcracker. As usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops are accorded superb sound.

The Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the pure musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction. It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.

 

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This work is difficult to find with anything but harsh sound. Such powerful and exciting orchestration must surely be problematic to capture on tape.

But Mercury managed to do it, a feat few others labels can claim.

This side one is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY, thanks to its superb low-distortion mastering. It’s yet another 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.

Side One

The balanced tonality is key, especially when you have such lively brass and strings. The top is correct, even sweet, and you can’t say that about very many Mercs. Exceptionally tight bass too.

I don’t know of a better performance or a better recording of the work.

Side Two

Dorati breathes fire into the famous Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet on side 2. Unfortunately, the sound is never as good in our experience as it is on side one.

Clear horns, a big hall — if it were a bit less bright it would probably have earned another plus.

Rabin / The Magic Bow / Slatkin – Reviewed in 2010

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This original Capitol record with Michael Rabin is ONE OF THE VERY BEST VIOLIN RECORDINGS we have ever played here at Better Records. The sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The immediacy of the violin tone is unbelievable — Rabin is in the room with you throughout the entirety of the record in a way that few recordings in our experience could hope to equal.

What more can we say, other than the music is every bit as good as the sound. If you love the Classical Romantic period, and who doesn’t, these selections will have you in a world of sound and music rarely matched by anything but the best in live performance.

Another TAS List Oversight

This is another record that is not on the TAS List, but would certainly take top honors in a head to head shootout with any of the violin works to be found there. (more…)