_Composers – Khachaturian

Hearing Is All It Should Take, Right?

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Some person on some audiophile forum might feel obligated at some point to explain to you, benighted soul that you are, that the old classical records you and other audiophiles revere are so drastically compromised and limited that they just can’t sound any good.

It’s just a fact. It’s science. Technology marches on and has left those old records collecting dust on the ash heap of history.

That’s why the audio world was crying out for Bernie Grundman to recut those Living Stereo recordings from the ’50s and ’60s on his modern cutting equipment and have RTI press them on quiet, flat, high-resolution 180 gram vinyl, following the best practices of an industry that everybody knows has been constantly improving for decades.

But for those of us who actually play these records, there is little evidence to support any of these statements of “fact.”

However, the above sentence only makes sense if the following four conditions have been met for the person judging the new pressings against the old ones:

  1. He or she has a good stereo,
  2. A good record cleaning system, and
  3. Knows how to do shootouts using his or her
  4. Well developed critical listening skills

If you have spent much time on this blog, you have probably read by now that the first three on this list are what allow you to develop the fourth.

Compromises?

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, similar to the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we have high quality equipment on which to play them

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. When playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in the music and the quality of the performance.

Whatever the limitations of the medium, they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

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Destination Stereo and the State of Reviewing As We See It

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other.

When “in-the-know” audiophiles discuss three-dimensionality, soundstaging and depth, they should be talking about a record that sounds like this.

But are they? The glorious, life-changing sound of one heavy vinyl reissue after another seems to be the only kind of record audiophiles want to discuss these days.

More’s the pity. A record as good as Destination Stereo belongs in every serious audiophile’s collection. Allow me to make the case.

The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so often lacking in many of the qualities prized by audiophiles, all you have to do is put this record on for them. 

Just play Gnomus to hear The Power of the Orchestra, Living Stereo style.

The fourth and fifth movements of Capriccio Espagnol, the second track on side one, sound superb, CLEARLY better here than on the Shaded Dog pressings we played about a year ago (which were terrible and never made it to the site. Great performance but bad mastering of what obviously was a very good master tape).

You can also hear the Living Stereo sound especially well on the excerpt from “The Fourth of July” performed by Morton Gould. It’s one of the best sounding tracks here.

I don’t think the RCA engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the bass and dynamics that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

The State of Reviewing

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this often had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings. What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones.

Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of these records.

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The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and Others

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical Albums from The Core Collection

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record Sound,” which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion.

Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Liebestraum / Composed By – Franz Liszt
Gayne Ballet Suite: Lullaby / Composed By – Khatchaturian
Moonglow And The Theme From “Picnic”
Dancing Through The Years

Side Two

Jalousie / Composed By – Gade
Fantasia On “Greensleeves” / arr. Vaughan Williams
Hernando’s Hideaway / Written-By – Jerry Ross, Richard Adler
The Bohemian Girl: Overture / Composed By – Balfe

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Rodgers / Slaughter on Tenth Avenue – How is this title not on the TAS List?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars

More Living Stereo Recordings

This copy from years ago was so good on side two it almost left me speechless.

How is this title not on the TAS List?

Why is it not one of the most sought-after recordings in the RCA canon? Beats the hell out of me.

But wait just one minute. Until a month ago [now years ago] I surely had no idea how good this record could sound, so how can I criticize others for not appreciating a record I had never taken the time to appreciate myself?

Which more than anything else prompts the question — why is no one exploring, discovering and then bringing to light the exceptional qualities of these wonderful vintage recordings (besides your humble writer of course)?

HP has passed on. Who today is fit to carry his mantle into the coming world of audio?

Looking around I find very few prospects. None in fact. But then again, I’m not looking very hard.

I could care less what any of these people have to say about the sound quality of the records they play.

They all seem to like records that don’t sound very good to us, so why put any faith in their reviews for other records?

Reviewer malpractice? We’ve been writing about it for more than 25 years.

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Destination Stereo – Demo Disc Living Stereo Sound

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Your Destination — Stereo!

“Your passport to great music in new sound by the world’s greatest artists.”

This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*.

Side one is White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in-the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this.

Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than many might think. 

This record is designed to show off the Living Stereo sound at its best and it succeeds magnificently. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

Just play Gnomus to hear The Power of the Orchestra, Living Stereo style.

The fourth and fifth movements of Capriccio Espagnol, the second track on side one, sound superb, CLEARLY better here than on the Shaded Dog pressings we played about a year ago (which were terrible and never made it to the site. Great performance but bad mastering of what obviously was a very good master tape).

You can also hear the Living Stereo sound especially well on the excerpt from “The Fourth of July” performed by Morton Gould. It’s one of the best sounding tracks here.

I don’t think the RCA engineers can cut this record much better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the bass and dynamics that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is as good as it gets, folks.

The State of Reviewing

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this often had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings. What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones. Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of them.

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Bose Salutes the Sound Of Mercury Records (Along with Some Audio Lessons I Learned Long Ago)

More Speaker Advice

Reviews and Commentaries for Classical Records on Mercury

This Bose / Mercury Demonstration LP is autographed by none other than Amar G. Bose. The autograph reads “To EMI, with regards and best wishes, Amar G. Bose.”

Bose may not have ever made very good speakers, but they sure knew good recordings when they heard them. This LP has excerpts from some of the top Mercury titles, including music by Copland (El Salon Mexico), Kodaly (Hary Janos Suite), Mussorgsky/ Ravel (Pictures At An Exhibition), and Rimsky-Korsakov (Russian Easter Overture).I played one of these Bose records years ago and was surprised at how good it sounded. The transfers of the Mercury tapes were excellent! I guess that makes sense — if you want to show off your speakers you better use a well-mastered record for the demonstration.

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I bought them on the spot. It was only later when I got home that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in; it really was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280DR’s. Now that was a great speaker! 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED.

This was the mid-’70s, 40+ years ago, and I am proud to say I have never owned a “small” speaker since. I’ve heard a lot of them — some good, most of them not so good — but that’s a sound I personally could never live with. Especially if you are trying to play large orchestral works like those found on this LP. Small speakers just can’t move enough air to bring this music to life in any way that gives meaning to the term Hi-Fidelity.

This record is so amazing it might even make a pair of Bose 901’s sound good!

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Rodgers – Slaughter On Tenth Avenue / Fiedler

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound throughout this RCA Shaded Dog pressing in Living Stereo – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • The music flows from the speakers effortlessly. You are there.
  • This record will have you asking why so few Living Stereo pressings actually do what this one does. The more critical listeners among you will recognize that this is a very special copy indeed. Everyone else will just enjoy the hell out of it.
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Living Stereo from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Years ago we wrote:

This copy was so good it almost left me speechless. Why is it not one of the most sought-after recordings in the RCA canon? Beats the hell out of me.

But wait just one minute. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out just how good this record could sound, so how can I criticize others for not appreciating a record I had never taken the time to appreciate myself?

Which more than anything else prompts the question — why is no one exploring, discovering and then bringing to light the exceptional qualities of these wonderful vintage recordings (besides those of us here, of course)?

(more…)

Khachaturian and Kabalevsky – Suites from Gayne and The Comedians

More Classical records 

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard either of these works sound remotely as good as they do here
  • Yes, these are not the performances audiophiles have long known about from their inclusion on the TAS Super Disc List – these are actually BETTER performances, with better sound in almost every possible way
  • The Comedians in Living Stereo may have more hall, but the performance is lackluster and stilted compared to the energy and precision Golschmann brings to the work
  • The TAS List Khachaturian on London/Decca is a good record, but frankly it has never impressed us as much as it impressed HP, and now with this Vanguard you can hear just how good this exciting, glorious music can sound, with a performance that is every bit as good or better than the composer’s own

There is an interesting story behind this album.

I collected this title for a decade or more after hearing a really good sounding copy a long time ago, probably fifteen or twenty years ago now that I think about it.

I then proceeded to pick them up whenever I saw them in my local shops. I might have found one every two to three years in audiophile playing condition.

After having them cleaned, one day a few years back I sat down and played them all.

To my chagrin only one copy had the White Hot Stamper sound I knew was on the record, the copy I had played so long ago. The others were good, probably Super Hot, but the real thing takes the recording to another level.

Only one had the right stampers, and all the rest of the also-rans had different stampers.

And when I went looking online I could find no copies with the stampers I knew to be the best.

This is that copy. There is nothing else like it. Not sure when we will ever see its like again. (more…)

Compromised Recordings and the Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s like the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we can play them on the high quality equipment of today.

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performances.

Whatever the limitations of the medium, they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction. It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same.

The One Out of Ten Rule

If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a more manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it.

If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.


FURTHER READING

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

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Tchaikovsky / Romeo & Juliet / Dorati – Reviewed in 2011

Hot Stamper Classical Pressings Available Now

30+ Reviews of Mercury Classical Recordings

SUPERB Nearly White Hot Stamper sound on side two. With a grade of A++ to A+++, this is clearly the best sounding Romeo and Juliet we have ever heard. Rich lower strings, clear horns, big cymbal crashes, zero smear — rich and tubey but clear, right up there with the best of the RCA’s and London’s. And Dorati turns in a top performance with the London Symphony.

Was We Wrong?

We played an Orange label late reissue of this title a while back and had this to say about it:

DEMO QUALITY thanks to superb low distortion mastering. Another very exciting Mercury recording. Some of these Orange Label pressings, which are cut with much better cutting equipment than was available when the original album was released, can show you just how good the master tape really is. This kind of sound is not easy to cut, and it appears that the amplifiers of the day just weren’t up to it. This copy gets rid of all the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished!

Dorati breathes fire into the famous Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet on side 2. Unfortunately, the mastering on this copy is not very good. The sound is bright and dry.

This work frequently is recorded with harsh sound; the orchestration must be difficult to capture on tape. But Mercury here seems to have managed a feat few others can claim. I’m guessing the earlier pressings have too much cutter distortion to get this one right; I don’t recall the other copies I’ve heard sounding this good.

This RFR early Colorback pressing — is there an FR pressing? Don’t know — has superb mastering for the Tchaicovsky, so in that sense we can say that the old cutter heads were doing just fine, thank you very much.

But side one is awful — crude, harsh and full of the old school cutter head distortion we decry above. So which is it?

Both I guess. Depends on the record, right? That’s why you have to play them to know. Which we don’t mind doing as long as we can charge $150 for our trouble (not to mention what it takes to find a pressing like this nowadays). (more…)