Composers

Massenet – Pros, Cons and a Milestone of Audio Progress

More of the music of Jules Massenet (1842—1912)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jules Massenet (1842—1912)

About ten years ago we reviewed a copy of the album that had a sub-optimal side two, a side two that suffered from screechy string tone.

Since that time we’ve made a number of improvements to our cleaning regimen and playback system, and the result has been that our last couple of shootouts went off without a hitch, showing us string tone that was virtually free of screechiness. (The Greensleeves reissues never had much of a screechy strings problem as they tended to be mastered on the smooth side. They are more forgiving of second-rate playback in that respect, but they can also never win shootouts with that overly smooth sound.) [1]

Problem solved! The records were fine, we just couldn’t play them back then as well as we can now.

In 2012, ten years ago, I had been selling records to audiophiles professionally for 25 years. I had owned a State of the Art system for 37 years.

But I knew I still had plenty to learn, and I kept at it.

After a decade’s worth of tweaking and tuning, the strings of this recording started to sound the way Stuart Eltham and his fellow engineers undoubtedly wanted them to.

This is how you chart your audio progress, by challenging yourself with difficult to reproduce recordings and building on the improvements you continue to make as the years and decades go by.

If you’re in the market for records that can show you that there is still plenty of work left to be done in this crazy audio hobby we’ve all chosen, we have scores of them on the Better Records site.

If we can get them to sound better, so can you.

[1.] Our latest preoccupation here on the blog is to point out as often as we can that the Modern Heavy Vinyl remastered pressing is too often just too smooth.

The remastered box sets of The Beatles (see: Pepper, Sgt., etc.) are the poster boys for making records sound more “analog” by boosting the bass and smoothing the treble, like your old ’70s system used to do. (Those of you who were in the hobby back then know exactly the sound I am talking about.)

The Beatles records that we sell as Hot Stampers have nothing in common with that absurdly artificial approach. Mid-Fi systems may benefit from more bass and less top end, but Hi-Fi systems worthy of the name will not, hence our distaste for this kind of EQ overreach. More example of overly smooth modern records can be found here, with more to be added as time permits.


Our Review from 2012

This is a record that clearly belongs on a Super Disc list. If Harry hadn’t already put it there we certainly would have.

We would love to compile a Super Disc list of our own, but unless you have just the right copy of whatever title you find on the list, you may not have anything like Super Disc sound quality, so why a list at all? It creates more problems for audiophiles than it solves. [We have since changed our minds about Super Disc lists.]

Both sides of this TAS List disc contain audiophile Must Own Demonstration pieces, full of Tubey Magic, powerful dynamics, real depth, lifelike ambience, and uncannily accurate instrumental timbres, especially from the woodwinds. Add explosive dynamics and deep bass and you have yourself a genuine audiophile recording.

The sound is so rich you will not believe you are listening to an EMI. If more EMI records sounded like this we would be putting them on the site left and right. Unfortunately, in our experience the majority are thin, shrill and vague. Not so here.

Side One – Le Cid

A+++, so much bigger and livelier than the other copies we played. Huge size and scope, with an extended top, good texture to the strings, and lower strings that are rich and rosiny in the best tradition of vintage Deccas and RCAs.

As it stands it is clearly a Demo Disc of real power. It’s smooth and natural, which means you can really turn it up if you want that front row center seat.

Side Two – Scenes Pittoresques / The Last Sleep of the Virgin

A+ to A++, good, just clearly not as good as this amazing side one. It’s big, rich and spacious — 3-D in fact — but the string tone is not as warm and textured as it should be.

Which means it has some of that typically screechy EMI String Sound one often hears on their recordings.


Further Reading

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Unsolicited Audio Advice

Record Playback Advice 

Turntable Setup 

Beethoven / Piano Concerto No. 3 – Katchen / Gamba

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

Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

CS 6096 Blueback LP.  This is one of the RAREST and BEST Londons I have ever heard. I think this is the first copy I ever played and it’s absolutely WONDERFUL. The sound is London at its best.

What’s especially striking is the quality of the piano — it’s absolute perfection. The quiet vinyl actually lets you hear the quietest piano parts clearly, no mean feat when it comes to Golden Age recordings.

I don’t know of a better Beethoven 3rd — this one sets the standard for me.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve Suite / Ansermet

More of the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

More music conduced by Ernest Ansermet

  • An early pressing of Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations that was giving us the rich and Tubey Magical London / Decca sound we were looking for, with an INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
  • The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds are superb, making this a very special copy indeed

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from May 1957 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day; possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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 weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can 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 insufferable mediocrity.)

The Christmas Eve suite takes up the entire first side, with three shorter pieces comprising the second. Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations, much like those found on his wonderful Scheherazade and The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, are pure audiophile ear candy from first note to last.

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Ohm Stereo Imaging Demonstration Record – Potentially Superb Sound

This review is from 2008. If you see one of these in the record bins, pick it up, it won’t cost you much.

This Ohm LP has tracks from some of the world’s finest superdisks such as Flamenco Fever, Hot Stix and For Duke. It also includes various selections from Vanguard. The last copy I played had SUPERB sound.

Note especially the first track on side two performed by the PDQ Bach Ensemble — it’s truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY. 

The record is pressed on Teldec Virgin Vinyl. The back cover features extensive liner notes, explaining what to listen for on each of these unique selections.

I was heartened to see Gino Vanelli’s name on one of the tracks, taken from Powerful People, a personal favorite of mine.

The album was mastered by none other than Bill Kipper, one of our favorite mastering engineers. We discussed his work in a previous listing:

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.

As far as we can tell, 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 remastered records and we want nothing to do with any of them, not when there are so many good vintage pressings still to be discovered and enjoyed.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can be thankful that we still have the records he and so many talented others mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and for countless years to come.

Keep in mind that it’s all but impossible to wear out a record these days with modern, properly set up equipment, no matter how often you play it.

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Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan / Ansermet

More of the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This London Whiteback stereo pressing boasts big, bold, dynamic Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • No question this is a Demo Disc Quality recording – it’s rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings
  • Here is the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for
  • The Speakers Corner pressing of Ansermet’s famous recording is mediocre, with many faults, all discussed here
  • We would love to be able to find Ansermet’s Scheherazade on London (not Decca!) vinyl, but as you may have read on the blog, the right stampers of that record are almost impossible to find these days, although that has not stopped us from trying

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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 weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can 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 you decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

This London pressing contains a stunningly BEAUTIFUL Tale of the Tsar Saltan Suite. It’s clearly one of the great Demo Disc Quality recordings from the Golden Age (or any age for that matter), with everything that a top Golden Age Orchestral recording should have: all the magic; all the timbral and harmonic subtlety; all the sweetness and warmth; all the Tubey Magical richness.

All that and more. Folks, this is the kind of record that makes you sit up and take notice. Finally, HERE is the kind of sound that can bring an orchestra to life in your very own listening room.

It has the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for. (Unlike some of their recordings — Pictures at an Exhibition comes readily to mind — the tempi here are not too slow. The tempi are in fact just right. We love the sound of Ansermet’s records but when the performance drags it’s hard to enjoy the music. For top quality performances of the work by other conductors — rarely in stock I regret to say — please check the site.)

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Herrmann – This Is What We Call Blockbuster Sound

More of the Music of Bernard Herrmann

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bernard Herrmann

This is an outstanding recording, with a huge three-dimensional stage. It’s open and clear, with an extended top and plenty going on down low. The sound on the best pressings is nothing short of amazing.

This is Demo Disc quality sound by any measure, especially on Big Speakers at Loud Levels.

If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this killer album from 1975 belongs in your collection.

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List.

Borrowing from the Best

One reason this music is so wonderful is because it’s been more or less lifted from, and orchestrated exactly like, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan.

Herrmann was no doubt familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s work, and knew that his “sound” was exactly the one that would work for the film. He overlayed his own compositional style onto Rimsky-Korsakov’s, and the result is a soundtrack of breathtaking beauty, full of exotic instrumental colors and delicious audiophile-candy percussion.

This Orchestral Spectacular should have a place of honor in any audiophile’s Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Offenbach & Strauss – A Waste of Money on the Mercury Original

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More of the music of Johann Strauss (1804-1849)

This lovely Mercury boasts one of the greatest performances of the piece ever recorded. 

Dorati is surely The Man when it comes to energy, drive and dynamic excitement with this venerable warhorse. He and his Minneapolis Symphony play the hell out of this boisterous music, and luckily for us audiophiles, the Mercury engineers give us Demonstration Quality Sound to go with it.

But not on the original pressing.

The original Mercury release of this record (90016) is a shrill piece of trash, as is the Mercury Wing pressing. So many of the early Mercurys were poorly mastered it seems.

We used to really like the Golden Import reissue, but that was years ago. Not sure how we would feel about it now.

Our current favorite performance of The Gay Parisian is this one on, gulp, Readers Digest.


Many original Mercury records simply do not sound good, and this is one of them. We have never heard a good sounding copy of SR90016, and we’ve played plenty of them over the more than three decades we’ve been in the business of selling Golden Age Classical records.

The originals that we’ve run into have all had shrill sound, and that sound is just not going to be acceptable on today’s highly-tweaked stereos.

Some of the early Mercs seem better suited to the Old School Audio Systems of the ’60s and ’70s than the modern systems of today. Some of these records used to sound good on those older systems, and I should know. I had an Old School stereo and some of the records I used to think sounded good back in the day don’t sound too good to me anymore. For a more complete list of those records, click here.

Aren’t the Original Pressings the Best?

No. The idea that the original is the best sounding version of any album is a myth, and an easily debunked one.

To make the case, here is just a small sampling of records with the potential to sound better on specific reissue pressings when compared head to head against the best originals. We also have some amazing sounding reissues available should you wish to purchase pressings that beat the originals — any originals — and we back up that claim with a money back guarantee.

How Did We Figure All of This Out?

There are more than 2000 Hot Stamper reviews on this blog. Do you know how we learned so much about so many records?

Simple. We ran thousands and thousands of record experiments under carefully controlled conditions, and we continue to run scores of them week in and week out to this very day.

If you want to learn about records, we recommend you do the same. You won’t be able to do more than one or two a week, but one or two a week is better than none, which is how many the average audiophile seems to want to do, based on my reading of the sites that they hang out on.

When it comes to finding the best sounding records ever made, our advice is simple. Play them the right way and pay attention to what they are trying to teach you. You will learn more with this approach than with any other.

Have You Noticed…

If you’re a fan of Mercury Living Presence records — and what right-thinking audiophile wouldn’t be? — have you noticed that many of them, this one for example, don’t sound very 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 pressings and just ignore the problems with the sound?

There is plenty of 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 most of them are downright awful.

It seems as if the audiophile public has bought completely into the hype for these modern Heavy Vinyl pressings. Audiophiles have too often made the mistake of approaching these records without the slightest trace of skepticism. 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.

I would say Mercury’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 be a lot of dogs in their catalog. This is definitely one of them.

To see the 50+ Living Presence classical titles we’ve reviewed to date, click here.

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Mussorgsky – Don’t Waste Your Money on this 1960 RCA

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

Never liked the performance. The sound can be quite good however. Many copies are congested in the loudest passages. Without a good cleaning, this record is very unlikely to sound good on high quality modern equipment.

There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings.


Our Pledge of Service to You, the Discriminating Audiophile 

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a free service from your record-loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with others that — in our opinion — are best avoided by audiophiles looking for hi-fidelity sound. Some of these records may have passable, but the music is weak.  These are also records you can safely avoid.

We also have an Audiophile Record Hall of Shame for records that were marketed to audiophiles with claims of superior sound. If you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that these records are some of the worst sounding pressings we have ever had the misfortune to play.

We routinely put them in our Hot Stamper Shootouts, head to head with the vintage records we offer. We are often more than a little surprised at just how bad an “audiophile record” can sound and still be considered an “audiophile record.”

If you own any of these so-called audiophile pressings, let us send you one of our Hot Stamper LPs so that you can hear it for yourself in your own home, on your own system. Every one of our records is guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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Debussy – La Mer / Ansermet

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • A vintage Decca import pressing of these wonderful orchestral pieces that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades
  • La Mer is on side one and it is lovely – rich and sweet, tonally correct, dynamic, and extended on the top and the bottom
  • Two other major works found on this compilation are Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Clair De Lune
  • The richness of the strings is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age – it’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years
  •  When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1972, but that’s precisely what it is. Even more extraordinary, the right copies are the ones that win shootouts
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Paganini – Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / Menuhin

The Music of Paganini Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Paganini

  • Two of the truly great virtuoso/romantic violin concertos, boasting superb 1961 EMI Golden Age Analog Sound
  • The complete first Violin Concerto on this vintage LP has killer sound, right up there with our Shootout Winner from the last go around
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than most others
  • The best balance of orchestra and soloist we know of for both works, with sound to rival the greatest violin concerto recordings we’ve played

Another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, in this case 1961, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40 years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today.)

This combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on this wonderful copy.

The sound of the best copies is transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)