_Composers – Bizet

Gounod / Faust Ballet Music – Does Your Copy Have Clipped Bass?

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 better 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 is 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.

You also won’t hear it on this system.

Ah, but here is a wonderful recording that, on the better pressings at least, has deep, powerful, unclipped bass that can rattle the walls and sound like your flooring is in danger of being warped. But you need big woofers to get that effect, and lots of them.

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.

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

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Bizet / L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Dry Strings on One Side, Fine on the Other

My notes for side two on a copy we recently auditioned read:

Could use more tubes.

Strings could be a bit smoother.

Needs a bit more weight down low.

My notes for side one:

Side one had all of this and more!

Some Common Issues with Londons

Many London and Decca pressings lack weight down low, thinning out the sound and washing out the lower strings.

On some sides of some copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years.

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do.

Our 17Dx is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them? (Of course, they may in fact be discussing the hell out of them. I rarely read anything they write. But I don’t think they are discussing these things much. If they are, and you read them, please shoot me a link so that I can be a part of the discussion.)

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

If you have vintage equipment, you never have to worry about the strings on your London orchestral recordings be overly dry sounding.

You haven’t solved the problem, obviously.  You’ve just made it much more difficult — impossible even — to hear what is really on your records.

Some audiophiles have gone down this road and may not even realize what road they are on. It is a dead end if you want to progress in this hobby. If you want to find Better Records, you need equipment that can distinguish good records from bad ones. Vintage tube equipment is good for many things, but helping you find the best sounding records is not one of them.

A rack full of equipment such as the one shown here is also very good for eliminating the kinds of subtleties and nuances that distinguish the best records from the second- and third-rate ones.

If you have this kind of electronic firepower, Heavy Vinyl pressings and Half-Speed Mastered LPs don’t sound nearly as irritating as they do to those of us without the kind of electronic overkill shown here. It can’t help but get between you and the music.

But it looks awesome, it costs a fortune, and for those with better eyes than ears, it is impressive as hell.

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Letter of the Week – “You’re letting me see what my system is capable of…”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I’m the one who purchased Ricci’s Carmen yesterday. I can’t wait to receive it! I was surprised and delighted to read on your blog about the copy that sold on ebay for *even more* than I paid for mine. (I never even look at records on ebay anymore – after getting caught up in a couple of bidding wars, I just don’t feel good buying that way anymore.)

This is my fifth purchase from you. It’s my first white hot stamper, it’s the most I’ve paid so far, and it’s the first time I am purchasing a record that I don’t already have multiple copies of. I’ve been dying to see if my system is up to the task of reproducing violin well, and this beautiful music seems the ideal test case. I’ve been on a spree, but I’m going to have to cool it for a while after this. I’ll keep an eye out for a good copy of Avalon, or Leonard Cohen’s Songs, or maybe if a DSOTM comes back up, I won’t chicken out this time…

Aaron

Aaron,

I hope you like the record as much as we did. It is indeed a very special album, and I hope it sounds like six hundred dollars worth of music and sound to you. The Heifetz recordings have especially good violin reproduction if you want to keep going in that direction.

Take your time on picking up hot stampers, most of them come around again eventually, no since going broke!

Thanks for your letter.

TP

Thanks Tom! I’m having a lot of fun with my records from you, but yes, now it’s time to delight in what I’ve got for a while. I’ll probably go back to being a lurker/drooler on your site, the way I was for several years until recently. 

I upgraded to a Soundsmith Sussurro cartridge during the pandemic, and now, some records absolutely JUMP out of my speakers. Including all of yours. It’s a thrill. You’re letting me see what my system is capable of, and instead of that new amp I thought I needed, I’m buying some records from you instead. 
Plus, when a cartridge/system gets the *tone* of instruments right, there’s no mistaking it, and you didn’t even realize you were missing anything. It’s easy to think a recording and system are accurate, but then you hear accurate reproduction and you just say “oh.”
Aaron
Aaron,
You make a good point. If I could get more audiophiles to try a Hot Stamper pressing, and simply take the time to compare it to whatever Heavy Vinyl LP they might have been listening to, I think there would be a lot of them saying “Oh.”
How will they ever know what they are missing if they won’t try a different approach?
I think you know the answer as well as anyone. You were a lurker, and now, having actually heard some Hot Stamper pressings, you are a believer. The records speak for themselves. As I wrote to a customer not long ago, “Explaining doesn’t work. Only hearing works.
Thanks for your letter,
TP

FURTHER READING

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Bizet – Saint-Saens – Carmen Fantaisie / Introduction And Rondo Capriccioso / Ricci / Gamba

NEWSFLASH:

We sold this copy last night (10/10), immediately after one had sold in an auction on ebay for $787, a price almost two hundred dollars more than what we were asking. Note that our copy was cleaned and auditioned and found to be both phenomenally good sounding and reasonably quiet. None of these things could be said of the record on ebay of course, but apparently the word is out that this is an amazing recording and the bidding reflected that fact. I have never seen one go for anything like this kind of dough. Now that they do — there were four bidders about $550 — you should not expect to see a Hot Stamper pressing of the album show up on our site again unless we get very lucky locally, and that is highly unlikely. Here is the link to the auction, which will only be up for about 2 weeks.

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

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

  • Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound throughout — Triple Plus (A+++) on both sides and vinyl that is as quiet as any that can be found from this era
  • This is a spectacular recording, and one of the Greatest Violin Showpiece Albums of All Time
  • It is certainly a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. If you’re on our site and taking the time to read this, that probably means you.
  • Ruggiero Ricci is superb throughout – we know of no better performances of this works than those found on this very record
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case

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

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite – Testing for Shrill, Gritty Strings

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

This Angel Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality.

Testing

This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce.

Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the far back of the stage, or, even better, far back and left or right) that getting each one’s sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge — and when you’ve met it, a thrill. If you’ve done your homework, this is the kind of record that can show you what you’ve accomplished.

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem. (more…)

Barney Kessel / Carmen – A Great Disc for Testing Transparency

More Barney Kessel

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

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

More Advice for Setting Your Anti-skate

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…)