_Composers – Bizet

Barney Kessel / Carmen – A Great Disc for Testing Transparency

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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…)

Gounod / Ballet Music from Faust / Gibson – Classic Records Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for Guonod / Faust Ballet Music

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Sonic Grade: C

Classic Records did a passable job with LSC 2449, one of their better efforts, but of course it has almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have, and they have them more often than not in abundance.

Their version is not awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and considering that the original goes for many, many hundreds of dollars, might be worth picking up at a reasonable price.

Most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original. If they had Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994 as soon as we had a chance to play them.

I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled (HP, how could you?), but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. (We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.)

And the fact that so many of them are currently on the TAS List is a sad comment on how far the mighty have fallen.

FURTHER READING

Classical Living Stereo Titles Available Now

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Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

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

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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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…)

Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

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

More Turntable Setup Advice

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I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Bizet – L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Ansermet

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one mated to a nearly as good side two, this pressing has the best sounding Carmen Suite we have ever heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the best sounding and quietest Carmen Suite to ever make it to the site, and it was worth the wait – the sound of this vintage Blueback is absolutely breathtaking
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it
  • Recorded in 1961 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

This is High Fidelity Audiophile Gold, with an orchestra that sounds so real it will take your breath away. The Golden Age tapes have clearly been mastered brilliantly onto this vintage London Blueback vinyl.

No doubt you have run into something like this in our classical listings:

This London is energetic, dynamic, spacious, transparent, rich and sweet. James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these 1961 sessions in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology,

We were impressed with the fact that this pressing excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, allowing the listener to inhabit the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky

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

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  • Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound on side one – this Triple Plus (A+++) side had more energy and snap than practically any we played
  • Side two was not especially good, but that’s really not a problem since side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found
  • To be honest, the copy I owned for years still had a pristine side two, mostly because I never bothered to play it much
  • When you come to the end of side one you will not be wanting more – you will have heard everything that’s good about this remarkable composition
  • This gloriously exciting and fun music belongs in any audiophile’s collection

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What We Listen For – Timbre, Richness, Tubey Magic and Freedom from Artificiality

More Barney Kessel

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Barney Kessel

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This Home Audio Exercise entry was inspired by the wonderful qualities of the Contemporary recording you see pictured, qualities brought to our attention while doing a shootout of various pressings of the album in early 2009. 

We addressed a number of issues in our commentary: first and foremost what we were listening for on the album (and what we were hearing). A bit of mono versus stereo (in this case both can be good), followed by some Audiophile Equipment bashing.

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

Two of the best sounding jazz guitar records in the history of the world were made by Barney Kessel for Contemporary: this one, and Music To Listen To Barney Kessel By. I used to have them both in my personal collection. [This was written many years ago when I actually had a personal collection. With 40,000 records in stock I don’t need a collection of my own anymore. Any record I might want to play is in stock, waiting to be shot out.]

Such a wonderful idea for an album. The melodies from Bizet’s Carmen are unforgettable and perfect fodder for jazz improvisation. Don’t think that this is just guitar and rhythm. This is a full band with lots of horns, clarinets of all kinds, bassoons, oboes, flutes, piano, vibes — the variety of sounds to be found on this album is practically unlimited. And with Roy DuNann’s engineering, you will never hear richer, fuller sound with more accurate timbers for all the instruments mentioned above. The guy was a genius. His recordings define High Fidelity for me. I know of none better. (more…)

Bizet & Gounod / Ballet Music / Gibson – Does Your Copy Have Clipped Bass?

 

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This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP has many shortcomings, but its strengths more than compensate for them. The MIDRANGE is pure MAGIC. The sweet, textured strings, the back of the stage percussion, the placement of the orchestral sections in the soundstage, the performance itself — all combine to make you forget you are listening to an old, somewhat flawed record. What has been captured in the grooves of the vinyl allows the listener to do what few recordings can — suspend his disbelief.

It’s not an old record. It’s living, breathing music being performed in the present, at this very moment. It’s happening — one is under the sway of Bizet’s music just as if one were attending the live event. The mind has somehow lost track of the fact that its owner is sitting at home. The listener is transported by the sound, mentally, not physically, to a plane where the real world has no meaning, where music is the only reality.

I played this record and made critical notes for a while. At some point I lost interest in that activity. I simply began to marvel at what the Decca engineers had managed to do: draw me in completely.

Enough about me. 

Here are the comments for the other copy of 1108 we just put up.

This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP, the budget reissue of the incredibly rare LSC 2449, has some of the best and worst Golden Age sound I’ve ever heard. It has most of the magic of the Hot domestic VICS copy I rave about.

When a cutting amplifier runs out of juice, the bass simply “clips.” The beginning of the bass note is heard, and then it just stops. A fair number of RCA Shaded Dog originals have this problem. The cutting amplifiers of the day were often not up to the job.

It’s amazing to me that few collectors of these records even know what I’m talking about when I mention this shortcoming. They just assume it’s something in the recording perhaps. But it’s not. Often times it is simply stamper variations that separate the clipped records from the unclipped records.

The more compression that’s used, the less likely it is that the amplifiers will clip at all. But that’s obviously not the solution. And of course if you play records like this back on say, Quads, a notoriously compressed and bass shy speaker to begin with, you’ll never notice any of this.

But side two actually sounds quite good. Not as good as the best Shaded Dog copies possibly, but since those are $1000 and up, this has to be considered a good alternative at a fair price.

Lots of Living Stereo magic and a wonderful performance by Gibson make this record easy to recommend.

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

 

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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…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky – Just Awful on Alto Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Alto records did this title on 180 gram more than a decade ago, and it was a COMPLETE DISASTER. Those of you getting our catalogs in the ’90s when that record came around were warned not to buy it. I was lucky enough to own a very good original pressing of it at the time, which of course made it all too easy to recognize just how poorly the new pressing had been mastered.

No criticisms of the quality of the mastering were offered in the audiophile press however, none that I saw anyway.

And every major audiophile record dealer carried it. Funny how some things never change. (more…)