_Composers – Ravel

Ravel / Daphnis et Chloé / Monteux

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  • A vintage UK Decca pressing of Ravel’s complete Masterpiece that was doing everything right, earning INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout
  • The sound is big and rich, lively and open, with TONS of depth and huge climaxes that hold together
  • The voices in the chorus are clear, natural, separate and full-bodied — this is the hallmark of a vintage Golden Age recording: naturalness
  • We know of no other recording of the work that does as good a job of capturing such a large orchestra and chorus
  • Of course, Monteux is a master of the French idiom — his performance of the complete ballet here is definitive in our opinion
  • 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 has earned a place on that list.

Both sides here are BIG, with the space and depth of the wonderful Kingsway Hall that the LSO perform in. John Culshaw produced the album, which surely accounts for the huge size and space, not to mention quality, of the recording. The sound is dynamic and tonally correct throughout.

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Piano Works of Debussy & Ravel – This Is How to Make a Good Audiophile Record

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Mastered by Robert Ludwig

A lovely solo piano recording from Athena, which is certainly not a label we have ever associated with good sound. Just the opposite in fact.

But they did a great job on this album (or at least I thought so many years ago when I last played it. For purposes of this commentary, let’s assume the sound still holds up).

This is how to make a good audiophile record.

Yes, there is such a thing. They may be rare but they do exist. We have quite a few of them for sale as a matter of fact.

Take a good tape, hire someone who knows his way around a normal-speed cutting lathe (with 5800+ credits on Discogs, I would hope he knows what he’s doing) as well as classical music (he cut a huge number of records for Nonesuch back in the day), press it on good vinyl and let the audiophiles of the world enjoy it.

The Connoisseur Society original may in fact be better, but where are you going to find one?

Robert, Bernie and Doug – An Honest Comparison

In another listing for an audiophile record that Robert Ludwig cut, we noted:

I suspect that if Ludwig hadn’t stopped cutting records years ago, we would not be complaining nearly as much about the questionable sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings currently inundating the market.

Bernie and Doug really started letting the record lovers of the world down, beginning as far back as the ’90s. See here and here.

The muddy messes Doug Sax cut for Analogue Productions and the awful Living Stereo records Bernie cut for Classic Records were sad chapters in both men’s body of work. Here are two of the All Time Greats. Their fall was precipitous and painful for those of us who never gave up on analog.

In those dark days, they were mastering one bad record after another, all of them so unlike the amazing sounding records they had been making by the score in the ’70s and well into the ’80s.

We have nothing personal against either one of them, of course. We just haven’t liked the sound of very many of the records they’ve mastered for the last thirty years, and we have never been shy about saying so.

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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…)

Classic Records First Three Classical Releases, Reviewed Circa 1994

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Hundreds of Living Stereo Records

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound.”

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  Some Classic Records pressings may be on Harry’s TAS list — disgraceful but true — but that certainly has no bearing on whether or not they are very good records. 

I had a chance to play LSC 1806 (pictured above) not long ago and I was dumbfounded at how bright, shrill and aggressive it was.

I still remember playing my first Classic Records title, their first release, which would probably have been in 1994. The deep bass of the organ at the start of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the horns and the tympani blasting out from a dead silent background, put a lump in my throat. Had they actually managed to remaster these old recordings so well that the vintage pressings I was selling for such high prices would soon be worthless? I really do remember having that thought race through my mind.

But then the strings came in, shrieking and as bright as the worst Angel or DG pressing I’d ever heard. It was as if somebody had turned the treble control up on my preamp two or three clicks, into ear-bleeding territory. All my equipment at the time was vintage and tube, and even though my system erred on the dark side tonally, the first Classic release was clearly off the charts too bright and transistory, with none of the lovely texture and sheen that RCA was famous for in the early days of Living Stereo.

I knew right then that my vintage record business was safe.

Here is our review from the ’90s, written shortly after the release of Classic’s first three titles. (With minor additions and changes for clarity and context.)

Hall of Shame Pressings, Every One

I’m reminded of the nonsense I read in TAS and elsewhere in the mid-’90s regarding the reputed superiority of the Classic Records Living Stereo reissues. After playing their first three titles: 1806, 1817 and 2222 (if memory serves), I could find no resemblance between the reviews I read and the actual sound of the records I played. The sound was, in a word, awful.

To this day I consider them to be the Single Worst Reissue Series in History.

[To be fair, Analogue Productions probably now holds that crown.]

When Harry Pearson (of all people! — this is the guy who started the Living Stereo craze by putting these forgotten old records on the TAS list in the first place) gave a rave review to LSC 1806, I had to stand up (in print anyway) and say that the emperor clearly had removed all his clothes, if he ever had any to begin with.

This got me kicked out of TAS by the way, as Harry does not take criticism well. I make a lot of enemies in this business with my commentary and reviews, but I see no way to avoid the fallout for calling a spade a spade.

Is anybody insane enough to stand up for LSC 1806 today? Considering that there is a die-hard contingent of people who still think Mobile Fidelity is the greatest label of all time, there may well be “audiophiles” with crude audio equipment or poorly developed critical listening skills, or both (probably both, as the two go hand in hand), that still find the sound of the shrill, screechy strings of the Classic pressing somehow pleasing to the ear. Hey, anything is possible.

As I’ve said again and again, the better a stereo gets, the more obvious the differences between good vintage pressings and most current reissues become. Modest front ends and mediocre playback systems can disguise these differences and mislead the amateur audiophile.

And the “professional” too. We’ve all had the experience of going back to play a record from years ago that we remember as being amazing, only to find it amazingly bad.

The Japanese Led Zeppelin series from the ’90s comes immediately to mind. How could my system have been so dull that those bright pressings actually fooled me into thinking they sounded good all those years ago? I’ve done a few Mea Culpas over the years, and that’s one of the bigger ones.

Remember when Chesky Records were all the rage? Does anybody in his right mind play that shit anymore?

A short anecdote: A good customer called me up one night many years ago. He had just finished playing the Chesky pressing of Spain, and had pulled out his Shaded Dog original to compare. The sound of his Shaded Dog pressing was so much better that he took his Chesky and, with great satisfaction, ceremoniously dropped it in the trash can, noting, “Of course I could have sold it or traded it away, but nobody should have to listen to sound like that.”

Another anecdote: when Chesky first got started in the remastering business, a friend picked up their pressing of LSC 2150, Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije with Reiner. He played it for me when I came over to hear his system, and he and I were both shocked that his ’70s Red Seal pressing was better in every way.

We wanted to know: What kind of audiophile label can’t even go head to head with a cheap reissue put out twenty years after the initial release just to keep the bins stocked and satisfy the needs of the low-budget classical record buyer?

The answer: Plenty of them, and definitely Chesky. Playing most Classic Records classical titles is a painful experience these days. I do not recommend it to anyone with good equipment. If you love the Living Stereo sound and cannot afford vintage pressings, consider playing the CDs RCA remastered. The one I know well is clearly better than Classic’s and AP’s LP.

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Ravel, Saint-Saens et al. / Tzigane, Havanaise / Kyung-Wha Chung

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

This 1979 London original English pressing of violin showpieces (reviewed in 2012) has Super Hot Stamper sound on side two, which came as a bit of a shock to us after playing side one, which is as congested and opaque as one would expect from such a late London recording.

A great many Decca recordings from the Seventies are not to our liking, for reasons we lay out here.

Side two is fabulous — full-bodied, rich and sweet. Even though it may have been recorded in 1977, the engineer is Kenneth Wilkinson, and the hall is Kingsway — not many bad recordings can be attributed to either.    

But bad mastering or bad pressing quality are surely not the fault of either. When the record doesn’t come out of the oven right, the sound is going to suffer, and the sound on this side one is insufferable all right.

But side two is GLORIOUS; it has wonderful music played with skill and feeling. (more…)

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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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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Saint-Saens – The Best Danse Macabre on Record

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

More of the music of Paul Dukas (1865-1935)

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894)

Saint-Saens’ symphonic poem, Danse Macabre, the second piece on the second side, is the heart of the album and its raison d’être for us. This is where the real fireworks can be found, although that’s not really fair as there are fireworks aplenty on both sides.

What we have here is the best Danse Macabre we have ever played.

We have always been fans of Gibson’s performance on the legendary Witches’ Brew. As good as that recording may be, this one is clearly superior in practically every way — it’s bigger, clearer, richer, more resolving, more spacious, more real and, to my surprise, more EXCITING and involving.

If you own a copy of LSC 2225, hopefully not the awful Classic pressing, you need to hear what Fremaux and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra have accomplished.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)

This piece opens the side. There is depth and richness to beat the band, as well as clarity and tonal correctness that let you forget the recording and just enjoy the music.

A superb performance as well, as good as any we know of. And the sound is the equal of the best recordings we’ve played.

Espana. Rhapsody For Orchestra (Chabrier)

As good as Fremaux is, I think the Ansermet (CS 6438) might still have the edge, but both are so good that it might just come down to a matter of taste. You cannot go wrong with either.

And now we actually prefer the famous Argenta recording for Decca that’s on the TAS List, CS 6006.

Side One

Bolero (Ravel)

Comparable to our longtime favorite for sound and performance with Ansermet, we cannot say which one we would prefer without doing quite a bit more critical listening, a luxury we do not have at the moment.

We can tell you this: Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable.

This side one was far and away the best we played. 

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Debussy)

Transparency, depth and space were superb on this side, allowing that “you are there” feeling to take hold in the mind. The best copies like this one had plenty of all three.

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