_Composers – Holst

Holst / The Planets – We Call This “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 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 and artificially placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities.

It’s clearly not the recreation of a live orchestral event. No live concert I have ever attended sounded anything like this record.

Instead it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral sound, with unique staging of its own design.  Lots of microphones were used, which cause instruments and sometimes whole sections of the orchestra to appear in places and take up spaces they could possible take up.

If your stereo images well, with three-dimensional staging and depth, you will have no trouble hearing what we are talking about with any pressing of the album.

This is the sound that Bernard Herrmann made such wonderful use of with his series of Phase IV recordings for Decca, rather than the four mics and two stereo channels of the Fiedler Gaite Parisienne from RCA in 1954.

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 – Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc?

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

We can, we played it.

Or, to be more correct, we played them. Two pressings, each with one good side and one very bad side.

This 2-pack from many years ago (ten perhaps), described below, 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 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…)

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 – 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 you see pictured, which of course was the only one available. That was what I had heard, so I had no idea what the original even looked like, 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. )

When I went to England a number of years ago I attended a wind band concert in the park not far from Buckingham Palace. Out in the open the sound was very sweet but dull — the high frequencies dissipate in the open air. It was one of my early lessons in audio. Live sound is not always what it’s cracked up to be, and recorded sound can be amazing — on the right stereo with the right pressing of the right recording.

Much of the credit for the sound on this album must go to Fennell. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, which is only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right, it is out of this world.

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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…)