_Composers – Holst

Holst / The Planets – Proper VTA Adjustment Is Critical

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

More VTA Advice

Accurate VTA adjustment for classical records is critical to their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your classical records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them. We heard the improvement on this record, and do pretty much on all the classical LPs we play. All records really.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Its careful adjustment is critical. Of course, so are anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight. The links below have a fair amount of advice on turntable setup which might be worth checking out.

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Holst / The Planets – MoFi and UHQR Reviewed

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

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

Sonic Grade: Regular MoFi LP: F / UHQR: D

Years ago we auditioned an excellent sounding Decca Purple Label British import LP, the same performance, the same recording that Mobile Fidelity remastered (#510), but, thankfully, it sounded A WHOLE LOT BETTER!

I just listened to both and a catalog of the faults of the MFSL pressing would be quite lengthy. I won’t waste your time listing them.

Although the recording is far from perfect, the Decca pressing shows it in its proper light. It finds the right balance between the multi-miked sound of the Super Disc List Mehta and a vintage recording from the Golden Age such as the famous Boult. The sound is very dynamic and the brass has tremendous weight.

The MoFi is thin and bright.

Their UHQR is somewhat better, not quite as thin and phony up top, but not really very good either.

Avoid them both.


Our favorite performance of The Planets can be found here.

Many of Solti’s recordings from the Seventies are not to our liking, for reasons we lay out here.

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Holst – The Planets / Previn

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

  • With outstanding sonic grades on both sides, this early EMI pressing is guaranteed to be the best copy of Holst’s Magnum Opus, The Planets, you have ever played
  • Orchestral power like practically no other music on vinyl you may have heard, and Previn’s and the LSO’s performances are without peer in our estimation
  • These sides are rich, clear and dynamic, with weighty brass, and the kind of dynamic power that lefts the energy level right into space
  • A TAS List Super Disc, with a performance that’s as spectacular as the recording by the two Christophers
  • More of our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality sound

These sides have some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, and that’s saying something considering the scores of recordings we have played of this famous and famously well-loved piece.

Fortunately for audiophiles who love The Planets but are disappointed by most performances, a group that includes us to be sure, the amazing sound found on this copy is coupled with a superb performance.

As you might imagine, on a big system this would make for a powerful listening experience, which is exactly the experience we ourselves had during our recent shootout. This copy actually deserves its place on the TAS List.

Both sides earned strong grades for their powerful energy and orchestral excitement, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Blockbuster Sound

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This is what we here at Better Records sometimes refer to as Blockbuster Sound.

Even on the best copies, the recording does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.

It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities. It’s not the recreation of a live orchestral event — it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral staging of its own making.

Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would not have put this record on it. Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Holst / The Planets – On 2 Japanese 45 RPM LPs, It’s Just Awful

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This EMI 45 RPM Japanese Import 2 LP set with the OBI strip and Little Sign Of Play (LSOP) is widely considered one of the great Planets, but it’s not, based on our playing of a copy we had years ago, which means it belongs in our Hall of Shame. 

The best copies on British or Dutch EMI vinyl are clearly better than this “audiophile” pressing.

What could be less surprising?

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Letter of the Week – “A very rewarding day spent visiting a remarkable piece of music.”

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

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

Hey Tom, 

I spent the day today shooting out various interpretations and sonics of the above, and, I must admit, the Previn leads the field. More decay, transparency, sweetness, magic and imagination than the Mehta, Stokowski and numerous others. If you have an amazing copy, especially re side two, please put my name on it and let me know. [We do this shootout regularly and will be glad to hold the next killer copy for you.]

A very rewarding day spent visiting a remarkable piece of music. The Previn should be used for proper set up of a big system because it does everything right and demands the same of your system.

Best,
Phil
And thank you

You are preaching to the choir on that one, loved it for at least the last ten years and can find nothing to compare with it.

I was very fortunate to see the work performed at Disney Hall. No record can come close but some come closer than others. (more…)

British Band Classics Vol. 2 – The First Classical Record I Bought as an Audiophile

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

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

British Band Classics Volume Two was the first Mercury classical LP I ever bought. After hearing it at an audiophile friend’s house I went down to Tower Records and found one in the bin. I think the price was $3.99 for the Golden Import pressing, which of course was the only one available. That was what I had heard, so I had no idea that the original even existed, let alone sounded better and would one day sell for many hundreds of dollars. This was the ’70s, when you could walk into a record store and buy new records, and long before HP created a feeding frenzy for vintage Mercs.

As I’m writing this, I can picture myself in the store. I can still remember that the clerk who helped me find the record commented that I should have come in the week before when the record was on sale for $1 off. I certainly feel like I got my money’s worth that day. This album went on to become one of my personal treasures. I used to marvel at the way the wind instruments actually sounded like the pipes of an organ. (I wasn’t really sure at first that there wasn’t an organ playing somewhere on the record. I didn’t know much about classical music then. ) (more…)

Holst / The Planets / Steinberg – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

[This listing from 2008 has not aged well. We no longer recommend this performance of The Planets. If you want to try one, make sure to get one on the Large Tulips label.]

Side one here is AGAIG, as good as it gets. It shows the listener more of everything that’s wonderful about this wondrous work. Side two is very nearly as good, and was only beaten slightly by one other copy in our shootout. This pressing gives you the complete work in the best sound we can find. 

This was one long shootout, two and a half years in the making.

And I spent at least ten years before that collecting enough copies to be able to find some pattern in the stampers that clued me in as to what to look for.

It was a long time coming but we expect you will find it was all worth it in the end. This music is so important and moving; it belongs in every audiophile’s collection.

To get Steinberg’s version into your collection has not been easy, until now. This is the one. 

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Holst / The Planets / Boult

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This 1967 recording of the work has one very special quality that’s not often heard on classical vinyl — THE FEEL OF LIVE MUSIC. This is also something you will not often hear us say about EMI recordings from the late ’60s and ’70s.

Unlike HP and most audiophiles in the ’70s, we find that EMI’s recordings leave a lot to be desired, lacking in warmth, with a thin, sour, overly clear presentation. Great for muddy equipment but bad news on higher resolution modern rigs.

Super Hot Stampers on both sides means this Planets can take on any pressing you have of the piece and show you what you’ve been missing out on all these years.

There are a LOT of bad Planets out there. With its monstrously large orchestra and chorus, it’s not an easy work to capture on tape. (more…)

Holst – Testing with Mars and Saturn

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

Mars on the first side and Saturn on the second present serious challenges for any vinyl pressings you may own. Generally speaking, the White Hot copies tend to have a bit more top end extension, and/or more lower end weight. Let’s get to the specifics of the two movements we feel are the best test for The Planets as a whole.

The War Test — Side One

War, the first movement, has the string players “bouncing” their bows upside down to create the effect you hear. It’s not fingers plucking the strings; it’s the wood of the bows bouncing on the strings. The quality of that technique is so obvious and correct sounding on the good copies and so blurry and indistinct on the bad ones that you could almost judge the whole first side by that sound alone. When it’s right it’s really right. 

And of course the players are spread out wider and the soundfield is so much more transparent when these types of sonic qualities are brought out. This bouncing bow test makes it easy to separate the better copies from the also-rans when it comes to smear, resolution, transparency and the like. (more…)