_Composers – Saint-Saens

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 quality.

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 bad sound can be found here.

Modern records of all kinds with bad 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 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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Saint-Saens / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rubinstein – Living Stereo Magic

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb TAS List Piano Concerto recording finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet and scratch-free as we can find it
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you love this famous piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this recording on his TAS List of Super Disc LPs, and with good reason — the sound is wonderfully relaxed and natural. 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.

The great Artur Rubinstein’s performance of these wonderful works is superb.

Our Shaded Dog pressing here offers plenty of Living Stereo Magic. This wonderful record boasts a natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also presents the listener with a correctly-sized piano, which is fairly unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings. (more…)

Bizet / Saint-Saens / Gounod, et al. – Ballet Highlights From French Opera

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

    • With top grades on both sides, this original Mercury stereo pressing of these renowned ballet works features some of the BEST sound we’ve heard from Paray
    • Listen to the lush strings and the overall weighty, rich sound on the Massenet piece on side two – that is the sound of a Shootout Winning pressing
    • The Ballet Music from Faust may just give the impossibly rare RCA (LSC 2449) a run for its money in terms of sound and performance
    • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and scratch-free surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
    • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
    • If you’re a fan of delightful orchestral showpieces such as these ballet highlights, this LP from 1961 belongs in your collection
    • The complete list of titles from 1961 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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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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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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Saint-Saens / Chabrier / Danse Macabre / Espana and More

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

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

  • This EMI import pressing boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • Both sides here are BIGGER and RICHER than any other we played – they’re super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, and have all of the weight of the orchestra down low (not to mention some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard)
  • If you want a classical record to TEST your system and DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy!
  • This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Orchestral Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
  • 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.

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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

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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.

(more…)

Rabin / The Magic Bow – Another TAS List Oversight?

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

This original Capitol record with Michael Rabin is ONE OF THE VERY BEST VIOLIN RECORDINGS we have ever played here at Better Records. The sound is OUT OF THIS WORLD! The immediacy of the violin tone is unbelievable — Rabin is in the room with you throughout the entirety of the record in a way that few recordings in our experience could hope to equal.

What more can we say, other than the music is every bit as good as the sound. If you love the Classical Romantic period, and who doesn’t?, these selections will have you in a world of sound and music rarely matched by anything but the best in live performance.

Another TAS List Oversight

This is another record that is not on the TAS List, but would certainly take top honors in a head to head shootout with any of the violin works to be found there.

TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers

Records that Do Not Belong on a Super Disc List

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