_Composers – Prokofiev

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

What to listen for on this album? That’s easy:

The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness.

We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t. 

To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles so often make about the sound of the records they play, my own judgments included — to five basic problem areas that create havoc when attempting to reproduce recorded music in the home:

  1. equipment shortcomings,
  2. poor setups,
  3. bad electricity,
  4. bad rooms, and
  5. poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as McIntosh, Marantz, etc. — I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that exist today.

Today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to find Hot Stamper pressings.

We used to not do our job nearly as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

Not everyone can do that, and we do get returns from time to time of records we are pretty sure would be hard to beat. When we hear that someone’s Mobile Fidelity pressings sound better to them, we know there is nothing we can do but give such a person his money back. See one through five above.

However

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers.


FURTHER READING

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

(more…)

Classic Records and Audio Progress

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 reproduced properly. 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.)

UPDATE 8/2010

Classic Records has officially gone under. They will not be missed, not by us anyway, except for this reason: to borrow a line from Richard Nixon, I guess we won’t have Classic Records to kick around anymore. We’ve been beating that dead horse since the day they started making records back in 1994. There are scores of commentaries on the site about their awful records for those who are interested.

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!

Audio Progress

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have somehow managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop carrying them in 2011.) 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 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.


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Top Quality Classical “Sleeper” Recordings

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Demo Disc Quality Orchestral Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Prokofiev / Saint-Saëns – Peter and the Wolf / Carnival of the Animals

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)

  • With two top sides, this early Wideband UK stereo London pressing had the sound we were looking for
  • This Demo Disc Quality recording has wonderful sound for both of these works, bettering our favorites from years past
  • Like so many of the top Deccas from this era, the sound is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic
  • Here you will find some of the best orchestral Hot Stamper sound we offer
  • The sound of the orchestra is dramatically richer and sweeter than you will hear on any other performance or pressing of the work — we would expect nothing else from Decca’s engineers working in Kingsway Hall
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Decca recording from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • More Reviews and Commentaries for Peter and the Wolf

(more…)

When It Comes to Prokofiev, Classic Records Got One Thing Right

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

Sonic Grade: F 

The Classic has dreadful sound. Their entire Mercury series is a complete disaster.

No audiophile with good equipment and two working ears should have been fooled by the hype swirling around their Heavy Vinyl pressings, although plenty of audiophiles were. 

Bad equipment? Ears not working? Your guess is as good as mine. 

Classic Records is right about the performance, however. See for yourself:

“Whether you prefer the fabulous bass dynamics and savage paganism of the Scythian Suite, the colorful and captivating sound-portrait of the fairy tale Love for Three Oranges Suite, Dorati’s super-charged readings of these scores are unsurpassed. Acclaimed by critics and audiophiles alike as among the very best of the best Mercury’s, this dramatic and riveting combination of Prokofiev, Dorati and Mercury Living Presence is a sure winner.” – Classic Records  

What they are not telling you is that their mastering of the album was dreadful.

If you know the sound of Mercury’s records well, you know that the last thing you would want would be a pressing of SR 90006 that could be described by any of the following five words: Hard, Sour, Colored, Crude or Airless.

But that is exactly what you get with the Classic Records pressing.

If you own the Classic, we can demonstrate just how awful it is, right in your own home. Just buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings and you will hear all the things that your Classic is doing wrong. It does take two working ears and good equipment though, so if you have a top quality system, we have a top quality pressing for you to play on it.

FURTHER READING

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad. He cut some amazingly good records in the ’70s and ’80s but the by the ’90s we are not aware of any record he cut that would be worth owning.

Classic Records – Classical

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Prokofiev / Peter & The Wolf / Rossi – How Does the Narrator Sound?

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

The narrator for this piece almost always sounds like he’s in a sound booth, of varying sound quality to be sure. (Bernstein’s narration is one of the worst in this respect, sounding more like Aqualung than Lennie.) 

Somehow Boris Karloff sounds like he is on stage with the orchestra here. He’s either been recorded on stage, or precisely the right amount and kind of reverb has been added to his voice to match the sound of the hall.

He sounds perfectly integrated with the orchestra, a feat none of the other recordings we played managed to accomplish, and at which most failed badly.

And did I mention that it was made in 1957? You couldn’t even buy it on stereo disc back then!

In addition to the unerringly correct timbre of every instrument in the soundfield, the overall presentation is exceptionally spacious, open and three-dimensional, with an unusually extended top (the lack of which often badly hurts vintage pressings). The bottom goes very deep as well; watch for it when the bass drum comes into play. (Prokofiev sure loved his bass drums — sometimes there are three — and god bless him for it!)

Zero smear as well, something we would not expect from an all-tube 1957 recording, having played them by the hundreds in any given year. (We cannot date the Vanguard label accurately, and we think the cutting amps may be transistor, which usually works out to be the best of both worlds in our experience.)

A Knockout

When you hear the bassoon or clarinet or oboe playing their solo parts on this record you should be knocked out by how real those instruments sound. Man, this is analog at its best. You will have an impossible time finding this piece of music recorded, mastered and pressed with better sound than on this very side one.

That makes this pressing both a superb Demo Disc as well as a top quality Audio Test Disc.

Your Guard Against Phony Hi-Fi sound

As you make changes to your setup, equipment, room, electrical system and who knows what else (we’re hoping you do; it can make all your Hot Stampers even hotter), this record will show you the progress you are making, as well as keep you on the straight and narrow. If you know anything about audio, you know that it’s easy to go off the rails. Happens to the best of us. That’s why it’s essential to have records like this one handy, to help you get back on the right path should some hi-fi-ish sounding something-or-other make itself appealing to you in an unguarded moment (to mix yet another metaphor).

(more…)

Destination Stereo and the State of Reviewing As We See It

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 assume. 

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.

(more…)

Grieg / Piano Concerto – With a Correctly Sized Piano for a Change

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

This Shaded Dog pressing has exceptionally lively and dynamic sound on side two, which earned an A++ grade and plays quietly to boot! The sound is BIG and BOLD enough to fill up your listening room and then some.

The piano is clean and clear, the strings are rich and textured.

And his performance of this wonderful work is superb, as is his performance of the shorter coupling works on side two (which actually have the best sound here). 

This is wonderfully recorded music. It has a very natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone.

It also boasts a correctly-sized piano, which is quite unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings.

(more…)

Prokofiev / Love for Three Oranges Suite – Dorati

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

  • INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound is found throughout this original (but not FR-1, those didn’t do as well!) Mercury LP
  • Absolutely As Good As It Gets – it’s easy to forget just how REAL a recording like this from 1957 can sound
  • We have a preference for Dorati’s work with the London Symphony Orchestra, and a record like this will show you exactly why we do
  • If you’re a fan of 20th century orchestral showpieces such as these, Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart have here produced a very special record of two of the best
  • We hope you like your sound big and bold,m because that is the sound they were obviously going for
  • I have to admit I was never a fan of this album until only a few years ago, when I finally got my hands on a clean copy and heard the powerful sound of the London Symphony come blasting out of my speakers — what a thrill!
  • This record seems to have dropped from the TAS Super Disc list, which is only fitting since those nitwits have been watering it down with one crappy title after another since HP passed in 2014

In the heyday of the ’90s, when these records were all the rage, this copy would have sold for at least $1000 and probably more. And the copy that sold for that would have been very unlikely to sound as good as this one, if only for the fact that cleaning technologies have advanced so much over the last twenty years or so (and no, I do not mean ultrasonic cleaning. I mean scrubbing the right fluids and using the right machines to vacuum them off).

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Mendelssohn & Prokofiev / Violin Concertos – On Classic Records

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP we found wanting.

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.)

UPDATE 8/2010

Classic Records has officially gone under. They will not be missed, not by us anyway, except for this reason: to borrow a line from Richard Nixon, I guess we won’t have Classic Records to kick around anymore. We’ve been beating that dead horse since the day they started making records back in 1994. There are scores of commentaries on the site about their awful records for those who are interested.

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!

Audio Progress

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have somehow managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop carrying them in 2011.) 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 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.

(more…)

Grieg / Piano Concerto and Favorite Encores / Wallenstein

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

  • This superb album of Grieg’s piano music returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish on this fairly quiet Shaded Dog pressing
  • These sides are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully preset piano and plenty of 3-D space around all of the players
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s the proof
  • “But Grieg’s Concerto is much more than a vehicle for pianistic virtuosity. It has been described as a “tone poem for piano and orchestra” in which an array of colors and moods unfolds. From the beginning of the first movement’s first theme, the piano and the instruments of the orchestra enter into an almost constant dialogue.”

This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured. Artur Rubinstein’s performance of this wonderful work is superb, as is his performance of the shorter coupling works on side two.

Living Stereo MAGIC. This is wonderfully recorded music. It has a very natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also boasts a correctly-sized piano, which is quite unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings.

More entries in our Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection available on our site

(more…)