_Composers – Mussorgsky

Mussorgsky – Don’t Waste Your Money on this 1960 RCA

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

Never liked the performance. The sound can be quite good however. Many copies are congested in the loudest passages. Without a good cleaning, this record is very unlikely to sound good on high quality modern equipment.

There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings.


Our Pledge of Service to You, the Discriminating Audiophile 

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a free service from your record-loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with others that — in our opinion — are best avoided by audiophiles looking for hi-fidelity sound. Some of these records may have passable, but the music is weak.  These are also records you can safely avoid.

We also have an Audiophile Record Hall of Shame for records that were marketed to audiophiles with claims of superior sound. If you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that these records are some of the worst sounding pressings we have ever had the misfortune to play.

We routinely put them in our Hot Stamper Shootouts, head to head with the vintage records we offer. We are often more than a little surprised at just how bad an “audiophile record” can sound and still be considered an “audiophile record.”

If you own any of these so-called audiophile pressings, let us send you one of our Hot Stamper LPs so that you can hear it for yourself in your own home, on your own system. Every one of our records is guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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Mussorgsky – An Exceptionally Natural Piano Recording

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

This original London pressing of the solo piano version of Pictures has uncannily natural piano reproduction, which is why we are awarding this side one our highest sonic grade, A Triple Plus.

The fact that the recording takes place in Kingsway Hall in 1967 no doubt plays a large part in the natural sound. The hall is bigger here than on other copies, the piano even more solidly weighted, yet none of this comes at the expense of the clarity of the playing.

The piano has no smear, allowing both the percussive aspects of the instrument and the extended harmonics of the notes to be heard clearly and appreciated fully.

Pianos are very good for testing your system, room, tweaks, electricity and all the rest, not to mention turntable setup and adjustment. More records that are good for testing and improving your playback can be found here.


Side two has Mehta’s performance of the orchestrated work squeezed onto side two, which is never a good idea if one is looking for high quality orchestral sound. The performance itself is mediocre as well.

We are not, and never have been, big fans of Mehta’s work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on London Records.

The exceptionally rare copy of Mehta’s Planets can sound good, but 90% of them do not — just don’t make the mistake of telling that to the average audiophile who owns one. Harry told him it was the best, he paid good money for it, and until someone tells him different it had better be “the one Planets to own.”

We see one of our roles here at Better Records as being the guys who actually will “tell you different,” and, more importantly, can back up our opinions with the records that make our case for us. (more…)

Witches’ Brew on Classic Records and How Crazy Wrong We Were

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now

More Reviews and Commentaries for Witches’ Brew

Below you will find our old review for the Classic Records’ pressing. I obviously did not like it.

However, in moving to Georgia this year (2022), I was digging through some old catalogs from the early Nineties, and something I read in one of them chilled me to the bone. There it was in black and white: my rave review for the Classic Witches’ Brew. Here it is on the front page of the catalog, along with at least one other record that I would be embarrassed to sell today: the OJC pressing of Saxophone Colossus.

As soon as I find my review in the old catalog, I will post it. I can hardly believe I wrote it, but I did. I wrote all my catalogs back then, so the extent of my incompetence is undeniable.

Below you will find our old commentary detailing the shortcomings of the Classic, a record I liked just fine in 1994, but whose sound I would find intolerable less than ten years later.

I thought my stereo was awesome in 1994, but it should be obvious to anyone that I could not have been more wrong. The Dunning-Kruger effect is real, and I clearly suffered from it. IN 1994 I had been a fairly dedicated audiophile for more than twenty years, and a strongly opiniated audiophile record dealer who took pride in his curated offerings for seven of those years. I thought I knew what I was talking about. Looking back, I clearly had a lot to learn. We did our first shootout ten years later, and that’s when our real education began.


Our Old Review

Please to enjoy.

If this isn’t the perfect example of a Pass/Fail record, I don’t know what would be.

I’ve long held that the remastering of this album is nothing less than a crime against music lovers and audiophiles of every stripe. Boosting the bass and highs and adding transistory harshness is the last thing in the world that Witches’ Brew needed.

At the risk of insulting some of you out there, if you think the Classic Records version of this album sounds good, your system must be some combination of low-rez, dull and bass shy, or you must like really hi-fi-ish sound.

There is no way that that record should ever sound good on a full-range system that’s reasonably revealing and tonally accurate.

I’ve heard this record played by people attempting to demonstrate the brilliant sound of their system, a demonstration which nearly caused blood to run from my ears. All the while they stood there with a big grin on their face, so pleased with the sound.

I don’t understand how anyone can put up with that kind of sound, but obviously people do.  People like lots of things I don’t like, and the Classic record is just one more to add to that list. 

Classic Records pressings may have been mastered by one of the greats, Bernie Grundman, but he was well past his prime, as we explain here.

More Classic Bashing

Classic Records ruined this album, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has played their classical reissues.

Their version is dramatically more aggressive than the Shaded Dogs we’ve played.

The strings are exceptionally shrill and screechy even by Classic’s standards. True, the original is not the smoothest, sweetest recording Decca ever made, but what Classic did was take Decca’s sound and amplify its shortcomings.

(The other poster boy for shrill strings is Classic’s remastering of LSC 1806. A review will be coming eventually.)

Apparently, most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a top quality classical recording. 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. I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, 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.

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you, dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

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The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, here you will find practically none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be, because we’ve played them by the hundreds on big speakers at loud levels.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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Ballet Music From The Opera – How Much Tubey Magic Is Too Much?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This Super Rare, Highly Collectible copy of LSC 2400 has vintage RCA Golden Age sound, for better and for worse. Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s got a healthy dose of Living Stereo Tubey Magic. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found here.  

And the hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA.

(EMI is super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out of phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Not our sound, sorry.)

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. [Note that we almost never put records with a grade this low on the site these days.]

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

Price Versus Quality

Speaking of cheap reissues, we are on record as being fans of a great many Budget Reissue Classical LPs for decades. My catalogs from the ’90s were full of reissues with exceptionally good sound.

Now that we do things differently, we’ve discovered some budget pressings that are so well-mastered they have the potential — accent on the word potential — to win shootouts.

Vintage Vinyl

Plenty of the records we audition suffer from Bad Tube Mastering, a quality we have no trouble recognizing and criticize at length all over this very blog.

In that respect we have little in common with the True Believers who seem to want to defend analog regardless of its shortcomings.

We don’t hesitate to criticize new records that have bad sound and old records that have bad sound. Bad sound is bad sound no matter when the record was pressed.

Vintage classical records with weak sound can be found here.

Modern records of all kinds with weak sound can be found here.

Too Many Tubes?

With too many tubes in the mastering chain, you end up with mud pies, and nobody, outside of this guy and the customers who buy his wares, wants those.

But is it just a matter of having too many tubes in the mastering chain?

If it is, then how to explain the awful sound of this Analogue Productions reissue, which was mastered using no tubes whatsoever?

Or this one?

Did Kevin Gray screw up, or does Chad just like murky sounding records?

Hey, why not crowdsource the answer? Please go to your favorite audiophile forum and start a thread with that question. Once you have done so, please send a link to: tom@better-records.com

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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 so-called “glorious, life-changing” sound of one heavy vinyl reissue after another seems to be the only kind of record audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them want to talk about these days.

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.

A Must Own Living Stereo from 1959

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). [We’re not so sure that is true, the record may in fact be a lot better than we give it credit for.]

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.

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Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

  • This British EMI import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Our favorite performance by far, with big, bold and powerful sonics like no other recording we know
  • The brass clarity, the dynamics, the deep bass and the sheer power of the orchestra are almost hard to believe
  • No vintage recording of these works compares with Muti’s – and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is an extra special added bonus on side two
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

This EMI import pressing gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition with a TOP PERFORMANCE and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last.

As this is my All Time Favorite performance of Pictures, this record naturally comes very highly recommended. Pictures is a piece of music that has been recorded countless times, and I’ve played scores of different recordings, but the only one that truly satisfies is this one, Muti’s 1979 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much like Previn and the LSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else seems to.

For his 1979 review of the Mussorgsky, Robert Layton in the GRAMOPHONE writes of Muti and The Philadelphia Orchestra :

…what orchestral playing they offer us. The lower strings in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ have an extraordinary richness, body and presence, and “Baba Yaga”, which opens the second side, has an unsurpassed virtuosity and attack as well as being of demonstration standard as a recording. The glorious body of tone, the richly glowing colours, the sheer homogeneity of the strings and perfection of the ensemble is a constant source of pleasure.

Of the performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird, Layton writes:

…Muti’s reading is second to none and the orchestral playing is altogether breathtaking. The recording is amazingly lifelike and truthful.

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Mussorgsky / Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version) / Ashkenazy

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

  • A superb early London stereo pressing of our favorite solo piano performance of Mussorgsky’s masterful suite, with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • The weight and warmth of side one’s recording from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this very disc
  • The orchestral performance of the work is squeezed onto the second side of the record, and that is just not going to work with a 30-minute-long piece of music — the sound is compressed and bass-shy

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Ballet Music From The Opera – Skip the Classic Records Pressing

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP debunked.

Classic Records ruined this album, as anyone who has played some of their classical reissues should have expected. Their version is dramatically more aggressive, shrill and harsh than the Shaded Dogs we’ve played, with almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have in such abundance.

In fact their pressing is just plain awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and should be avoided at any price. 

Apparently, most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a top quality classical recording. 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. I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, 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.

The last review we wrote for the remastered Scheherazade, which fittingly ended up in our Hall of Shame, with an equally fitting sonic grade of F.

TAS Superdisc List to this day? Of course it is!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding and starts revealing the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

With an Old School Audio System you will continue to be fooled by bad records, just as I and all my audio buds were fooled twenty and thirty years ago. Audio has improved immensely in that time. If you’re still playing Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile pressings, there’s a world of sound you’re missing. We would love to help you find it.

One amazing sounding Orchestral Hot Stamper pressing might just be what it takes to get the ball rolling.

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Today’s MoFi Disaster Is Pictures at an Exhibition

moussmofiMore of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The MoFi mastering of Pictures and The Firebird here are a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

These are exactly the kind of unbearably bright strings that Stan Ricker seems to favor.

The proof? Find me a Mobile Fidelity classical record with that little SR/2 in the dead wax that does not have bright string tone. I have yet to hear one.

The last time I played a copy of MFSL 1-520 I found the sound so hi-fi-ish I couldn’t stand to be in the room with it for more than a minute. Of course the bass is jello as well. The EMI with the right stampers is worlds better.

(Warning: The domestic Angel regular version and the 45 are both awful.)

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. (More reviews here.) I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?

Whatever the reasons, the more accurate and revealing your equipment becomes, the more obvious the shortcomings of Mobile Fidelity’s records will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

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