Composers

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. 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. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. 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.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears. (more…)

Remind Me, What Is the Point of Listening to a Quiet Record with Mediocre Sound?

xxxxx

A mediocre reissue from Philips, bad enough to qualify for our Hall of Shame.

This is some truly dead as a doornail sound, sound which is not remotely competitive with the real Mercury pressings we’ve played. The FR pressings of the recording can be phenomenally good.  Even the later M2 pressings from Philips can be excellent. 

Back in the ’80s and ’90s I actually used to like some of the Golden Import pressings.  That was a long time go, and thankfully our playback system is quite a bit more revealing than the one I had back in those days.

After playing literally tens of thousands of records since then, my critical listening skills are better too.

Now when I play these imports, they sound veiled, overly smooth, smeary and compressed, not too different from the average Philips pressing, which of course is what they are. They’re all remastered by Philips using the Mercury tapes.

Sadly, not much of the Mercury Living Presence sound has survived.

They’re good for audiophiles who care more about quiet surfaces than good sound.  We are firmly staked at the opposite side of that trade-off. Quiet vinyl means nothing if the sound is poor.

Our advice: Don’t waste your money.


This Record Is Good for Testing the Following Qualities

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency 

Copland / Billy The Kid / Rodeo – Johanos

More Classical Masterpieces

More Orchestral Spectaculars

xxxxx

  • This Copland masterpiece makes its Hot Stamper debut with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
  • “To the ultimate delight of audiences Copland managed to weave musical complexity with popular style.”

This vintage Turnabout pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for —this sound. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Blockbuster Sound

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

xxxxx

This 2-pack boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top. It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our recent shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)

Ravel / Piano Concertos / Haas – A Real Sleeper on Philips

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to do them again. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more

xxxxx

This Philips recording from 1970 on exceptionally quiet Dutch vinyl has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one for one of Ravel’s best known piano works, the Piano Concerto in G. Most Philips records are much too thick, dull and opaque to be taken seriously, by us anyway. (In this respect they have many sonic attributes in common with Londons from the ’70s and ’80s.)

Dropping the needle on this pressing, however, was a pleasant surprise. It’s big and spacious on side one, with zero smear on a piano that is both full and clear.

This is a difficult combination to achieve in our experience, and the kind of sound we do not hesitate to praise highly here at Better Records.

To us it sounds right, and when the sound is as right as it is here, the wonderful piano music of Ravel can really work its magic. (more…)

Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3 – Adjusting the VTA to Achieve Correct String Tonality

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

More VTA Advice

xxxxx

When your VTA, azimuth, tracking weight and anti-skate are correct, this is the record that will make it clear to you that your efforts have paid off.

What to listen for you ask? With the proper adjustment the harmonics of the strings will sound extended and correct. And you can’t really know how right it can sound until you go through hours of experimentation with all the forces that affect the way the needle rides the groove.

Without precise VTA adjustment there is almost no way this record will do everything it’s capable of doing. There will be hardness, smear, sourness, thinness — something will be off somewhere. With total control over your arm and cartridge setup, these problems will all but vanish. (Depending on the quality of the equipment of course.)

We harp on all aspects of record reproduction for a reason. When you have done the work, pressings such as this one are simply GLORIOUS.

Whatever Happened to Decca’s Famously Rich, Rosiny Strings?

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play, it’s an art that is not lost on us.

It’s also 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.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many Golden Age records.

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


Shostakovich – Symphonies Nos. 6 and 11 / Berglund

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

xxxxx

  • This stunning double album makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on all FOUR sides of this original EMI pressing
  • The notes on every side say practically the same things – big, solid, weighty, punchy, dynamic, clear, musical, balanced
  • We don’t always hear those qualities on the TAS List Super Disc records we play in our shootouts, but we sure heard them on this one! (It has been off the list for a long time now, but back in the ’80s this is the pressing audiophiles were after.)
  • With sound this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all

(more…)

Beethoven / Violin Concerto – Classic Records Reviewed

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings Featuring Jascha Heifetz

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: D

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

It is an airless fraud, a cheap fake reproduction that’s incapable of fooling anyone with two good ears, a properly set up stereo and a decent collection of Golden Age violin concertos. 

The Classic pressing of this album does not present the listener with the sound of a real, wood instrument bowed by horsehair in physical space.

Notes from a Recent Hot Stamper Pressing (more…)

Debussy / Iberia on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

xxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fidelity system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up the wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that? Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 26 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

MORE RECORDS GOOD FOR JUDGING THESE QUALITIES

Ambience, Size and Space

Smear

String Tone and Texture

Transparency Vs Opacity

(more…)

Carl Orff / Carmina Burana / Jochum – Amazing on DG Vinyl

More of the Music of Carl Orff (1895-1982)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

xxxxx

  • A superb copy of this strikingly original work with outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish – the orchestral power of display here is really something to hear if you have the system for it
  • This spectacular recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – here is the analog sound we love
  • We’ve auditioned quite a number of recordings of the work, and as far as we are concerned, on the right pressing this is the best sounding version that exists on vinyl
  • “With the direction of Eugen Jochum and the bonus of the incomparable rich, powerful voice of baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this 1968 performance is a classic, and very probably the best, recording of the opera.”

(more…)