_Composers – Brahms

Brahms / Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 / Rubinstein and Szeryng – Reviewed in 2010

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

3S/ 4S RCA Shaded Dog.

Third in a series of masterpieces for violin and piano.

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

The sound is actually quite decent when you INVERT the ABSOLUTE PHASE. If you cannot or will not do that, this record will not sound good — it’s somewhat hard and bright.

It will never be a Top Shaded Dog but it is a good one with the absolute phase inverted.


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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Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Brahms / Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1s is also that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1s pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here.

Less than half the time, probably closer to a quarter or a third.

Of course, to avoid being biased, the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1s loses so often.

If you are interested in finding the best sounding pressings, you have to approach the problem scientifically, and that means running Record Experiments.

Practically everything you read on this blog we learned through experimentation.

When we experimented with the Classic Records pressing of LSC 1903, we were none too pleased with what we heard. Our review is reproduced below.

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 was a disaster: shrill, smeary and unmusical.

(In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer for those of you who might be less familiar with his more recent work. He was great in the ’70s, but the work he did in the ’90s leaves a lot to be desired.)

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa). They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records and how revealing your system is.

My guess is that the CDs are probably better sounding. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s track record and the fact that CDs are cheap now because nobody wants them anymore. 

If you must have Heifetz’s 1958 performance, our advice is to buy the CD.

We know for a fact that the Living Stereo CD of Reiner’s Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it, TAS Super Disc Listing or no TAS Super Disc Listing.

As you may know, Classic is a label which we found very hard to like right from the beginning. We like them even less now. They may have gone out of business but their bad records are still plentiful on ebay and you can actually still buy some their leftover crap right from the world’s biggest retailer of bad sounding audiophile records, Acoustic Sounds.

If you don’t care how bad your records sound, Chad Kassem is your man.


Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Classic Records and the TAS List

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

This is a classic case of Live and Learn.

We used to like the Classic Records pressing of LSC 2241 a lot more than we do now. Our system was noticeably darker and apparently far less revealing when we last auditioned the Classic back in the ’90s, and those two qualities did most of the heavy lifting needed to disguise its shortcomings. We mistakenly noted:

HP put the Shaded Dog pressing (the only way it comes; there is no RCA reissue to my knowledge) on his TAS List of Super Discs, and with good reason: it’s wonderful!

The rest of our commentary still holds up though:

But for some reason he also put the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl reissue on the list, and that record’s not even passable, let alone wonderful. It’s far too lean and modern sounding, and no original Living Stereo record would ever sound that way, thank goodness. 

If they did few audiophiles would still be paying the top dollar collector prices that the Shaded Dog commands to this day.

Updated Thoughts on the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl Reissue

The Classic on Heavy Vinyl (LSC 2241) is lean and modern sounding. No early Living Stereo pressing sounds like it in our experience, and we can only thank goodness for that. If originals and early reissues did sound more like the Classic pressings, my guess is that few would collect them and practically no one would put much sonic stock in them.

Apparently most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a classical recording of the quality of a good original pressing (or good ’60s or ’70s reissue). 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 recognized and identified as such by us way back in 1994.

Here are some Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that actually have audiophile sound quality, guaranteed. And if for some reason you disagree with us about how good they sound, we will be happy to give you your money back.

Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Falla / Ritual Fire Dance – Entremont

More Columbia Classical Recordings

More Classical “Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

  • Philippe Entremont’s delightful 1967 release returns with superb sound on both sides
  • It’s solid and weighty like no other, with less smear, situated in the biggest space, with the most energetic performances
  • These sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully present piano and plenty of 3-D space around it
  • 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
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all

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Lincoln Mayorga, Pianist – Reverse Your Polarity!

Hot Stamper Pressings of Direct-to-Disc Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Direct to Disc Recordings

This Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP is one of the best Sheffields.

Lincoln Mayorga is an accomplished classical pianist: this is arguably his best work. (I had a chance to see him perform at a recital of Chopin’s works early in 2010 and he played superbly — for close to two hours without the aid of sheet music I might add.) 

You might want to try reversing the phase when playing this LP; it definitely helps the sound, a subject we discuss below.

With the polarity reversed, this is a top quality solo piano recording in every way.

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

Reversing the absolute phase on this record recently was quite interesting. The sound of the piano itself was already very good. With the phase reversed what really changed with the sense of space surrounding it, which immediately became much more palpable. The piano, though tonally similar to the way it sounded with the phase left alone, came to life more — more solid and punchy and percussive.

How do you change the absolute phase you ask? You must either switch the positive and negative at the speaker, the amp, or at the head shell leads, or you must have a switch that inverts phase on your preamp or phono stage. (The EAR 324p we use has just such a switch and let me tell you, it comes in very handy in situations like these.) If you can’t do any of those, or are unwilling to do any of those, this record will still sound good. It just won’t sound as good.

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It’s Records Like This that Give Decca Reissues a Bad Reputation

More of the music of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Hot Stamper Classical Imports on Decca & London

Apparently mastered with no regard to sound quality, this Decca SPA reissue is muddy, dull, congested and full of harmonic distortion in the louder passages.

How do we know that? We go out of our way to play every pressing we can get our hands on, even cheap reissues such as this. That’s our job.  We play everything to find the best sounding records so you don’t have to.

And some of these cheap reissues win shootouts!

But you can’t guess which ones will. You have to play them to find out.

And that’s how we know that some of them are good, some of them are mediocre, and some, like this one, are just awful.

Want to be assured of getting good sounding pressings of the greatest classical recordings of all time?

Step right up and order anything you see here, guaranteed to please:

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

The RCA you see pictured here of the same recording should have very good sound, but we have not played that one in a very long time and it would not surprise us if we did not find it nearly as appealing now as it was back then.

A PUBLIC SERVICE

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, and we tell you about them! It’s yet another public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this Decca in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some Hall of Shame records the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, much less excusable.


We Make the Case that Even CDs Have Better Sound than LPs from Classic Records

brahmvioli_1903_debunk

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 is a disaster: shrill, smeary and profoundly unmusical.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records Living Stereo pressing.

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa).

They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others, and one is actually quite good. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records.

The CDs are better for all I know. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s generally poor track record.

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Brahms – Concerto for Violin and Cello / Tragic Overture / Walter

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

  • An outstanding copy of this wonderful Columbia recording – you’ll find solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish on this pressing
  • This copy showed us the balance of clarity and sweetness we were looking for in the violin and cello – not many Columbia recordings from this era can do that
  • This recording is big, clear, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl classical pressing you own
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s the proof

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Milstein Miniatures – Milstein / Pommers

More Violin Recordings

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this copy is guaranteed to sound better than any vintage pressing of violin pieces you’ve heard, and it plays as quietly as any copy ever will (and far better than most)
  • We are big fans of Nathan Milstein here at Better Records and it’s records like this that justify our enthusiasm
  • Works for violin and piano by Chopin, Vivaldi, Smetana, Brahms, Stravinsky and others – and each is played with the feeling and skill as would be expected from one of the greatest performers of his generation
  • The appeal for the casual listener may not warrant the expense, but those who seek out these kinds of vintage ’50s pressings should find much to like here

A wonderful batch of short violin pieces with piano accompaniment: Previously we had written: (more…)

Brahms / Symphony No. 1 in C Minor / Krips

More of the Music of Brahms

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Hot Stamper sound of both sides of this fairly quiet London Blueback pressing.

It has been our experience that good sounding Brahms Symphonies are exceedingly difficult to find on vinyl. This may in fact be the first one to make it to the site. This copy has many nice sonic qualities which we discuss in more detail below. It’s Old School but enjoyable. Krips’ performance with the Vienna Phil is excellent. (more…)