_Composers – Tchaikovsky

What Do You Mean by “Boxy” Sound?

More of the Music of Tchaikovsky

Album Reviews of the music of Tchaikovsky

Many Golden Age classical records simply do not sound good, and this is one of them. We have never heard a good sounding copy of LSC 2216, and we’ve played quite a number of them over the decades we’ve been in the business of selling them. (LSC 1901, with Monteux conducting, is no better.)

A copy came in a while back so I figured it was time to give it a spin and see if there was any reason to change my opinion. Hey, maybe this one had Hot Stampers! Can’t say it wouldn’t be possible. Unlikely, yes, impossible, no.

So here’s what I heard. No real top above 6k, hardly any bottom, but with a very wide stage – the textbook definition of “boxy sound.” (Dry and thin too, on a vintage RCA pressing no less!)

If you are a fan of Living Stereo pressings, have you noticed that many of them – this one for example – don’t sound good?

If you’re an audiophile with good equipment, you should have. But did you? Or did you buy into the hype surrounding these rare LSC pressings and just ignore the problems with the sound?

There is an abundance of audiophile collector hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and many of them are awful.

Music Matters made this garbage remaster. Did anyone notice how awful it sounded? I could list a hundred more that range from bad to worse — and I have! Take your pick: there are more than 150 entries in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section, each one worse sounding than the next.

Audiophiles seem to have approached these records naively instead of skeptically.

(But wait a minute. Who am I to talk? I did the same thing when I first got into audio and record collecting in the Seventies.)

How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how bad these records sound.

Maybe not this guy, or the “In Groove” guy, but there has to be at least some group of audiophiles, however small their number might be, with decent equipment and two working ears out there, right? (Excluding our customers of course, they have to know what is going on to spend the kind of money they spend on our records. And then write us all those enthusiastic letters.)

I would say RCA’s track record during the ’50s and ’60s is a pretty good one, offering potentially excellent sound for roughly one out of every three titles or so.

But that means that odds are there would have to be a lot of dogs in their catalog. This is definitely one of them. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Speakers Corner Reviewed

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Sonic Grade: B

Our catalog from the ’90s recommended this Heavy Vinyl Decca pressing from Speakers Corner.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Excellent, one of the best of the Deccas. Better sound by far than the Classic with Reiner, although of course the original of that record is quite good [actually it is not].

You may get better results if you reverse your absolute phase when playing this record. It’s been a while since I did it so better to check it yourself and see how you like it each way. (more…)

Does Anybody (Other than Us) Ever Talk About the Dry String Tone of Some London Pressings?

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Not that we know of. If audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them are listening critically to these famous recordings on high quality equipment, why do they never talk about this problem?

Here is what we noticed when we played a big batch of Nutcracker recordings on London and Decca:

On some copies of this album the strings are dry, lacking in that wonderful quality we like to call Tubey Magic. Dry is decidedly not our sound, although it can often be heard on the hundreds of London pressings we’ve played over the years.

And we imagined that this might be the culprit:

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange, the one that so many moving coils have these days, you may not notice this tonality issue nearly as often as we do.

Our Dynavector 17Dx Karat is ruler flat and quite tonally unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

Case in Point

We occasionally take the time to create a little “test” to see if audiophiles — customers or just visitors to the blog, makes no difference to us — can hear a specific quality we’d noticed when auditioning a record. Normally this would be a quality that jumped out at us when playing the record, and we were just curious as to whether it jumped out at anybody else.

On this version of Sweet Baby James we heard something that took us by surprise, an artifact we subsequently dubbed an “EQ Anomaly.” We put the question of what this anomaly might be to our readers and waited for someone to spot it. And here is what we got in return. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / 1812 – A Must Own Performance by Alwyn on Decca

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Years ago we found a very special copy of this album in a shootout and gave it a grade of A++++. We don’t give out that grade anymore, but we gave it out to this side one back in the day. We describe what let this copy earn that grade below.

A BEYOND White Hot Quadruple Plus side one – hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 in Demo Disc sound. This is the most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of, with the best sound ever to boot on this copy. This is an exceptional Decca remastering of a superb Golden Age recording on very good vinyl.

The WHOMP FACTOR on this side one has to be heard to be believed. If you’ve got the woofers for it this record is going to rock your world!

Side One (1812 Overture)

Off the charts, the best we have ever heard this work sound. Big, rich, clean and clear barely begins to do this side justice. The strings are wonderfully textured and not screechy in the slightest.

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Alwyn is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

Here’s what you get on this side one:

The most dynamic sound we have ever heard for any side of this album.

The most weight and power we have ever heard for the 1812, and as you can imagine, for this work to have the kind of power this pressing has was nothing less than a THRILL to hear. Who knew? Until we played this copy, not us!

The most depth and space we have ever heard on this album.

To earn our coveted Three Plus (OR BETTER) rating here at Better Records all you have to do is be the best copy we’ve ever played. Just be right in every way (or almost every way; no record can be perfect, but some, such as this one, seem to us to get pretty darn close). (more…)

Tchaikovsky – Capriccio Italien / Ormandy

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

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  • This classical masterpiece returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it from first note to last
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • “Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration.”

We’ve had copies of the album in the past, but they sure never sounded like this! From both an audiophile and music lover’s perspective, you would have a hard time finding a record that holds this much appeal to both groups.

The orchestra is big and rich, and there is lovely sheen to the strings. The piano is surrounded by plenty of space, with great depth to the hall. The weight and bite of the brass are near perfection. The top is extended and open. And the loud passages are big and stay smooth, with very little congestion even at the climax of the work. So LIFELIKE this way. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Highlights / Fistoulari

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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  • An outstanding copy of Fistoulari’s powerful and exciting recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • So transparent, dynamic and REAL, this copy raises the bar for the sound of ballet music on vinyl
  • The most popular ballet in the world with out-of-this-world Decca engineered All Tube sound – it’s a match!
  • It took us years to find enough copies to do this shootout – not many copies will play as quietly as this one
  • “It is a superb account of Swan Lake, perhaps better than most recordings out there. Maestro Fistoulari and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam are in top form.”

This London UK import is one of the best single-disc versions of the ballet we have ever played. This is the one folks, assuming you do not want a (nearly) complete performance of the work. (For that we recommend the 2 LP box set with Ansermet.)

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work. (more…)

Compromised Recordings and the Rapture of the Purely Musical Experience

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

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The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s like the one you see pictured above were compromised in every imaginable way. Yet somehow they manage to be 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 / Swan Lake / Grossman – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

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This budget Whitehall pressing is one of the most incredible SLEEPERS in the entire classical catalog, with SUPERB sound as well as performances of the highest quality from the Vienna Festival Orchestra. The sound is big and bold, spacious, open and sweet in the best golden age tradition. Superior pressings of this recording would give all but the best Shaded Dogs, Londons and Mercs a serious run for their money, beating most of them handily. Yes, it’s that good. The string tone and rosiny texture on side two are especially noteworthy.

There’s a freedom from coloration on either side that is positively refreshing after playing most vintage classical recordings. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – 1812 Overture / Marche Slave and More / Alwyn

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

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  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – this Decca recording of the 1812 from 1958 is the only one we know of that can show you the power of Live Music for this important work
  • This UK pressing is BIG, lively, clear, open and resolving of musical information like no copy of the 1812 you’ve heard
  • The two coupling pieces, Marche Slave and the Capriccio Italien, also have rich, powerful, weighty brass and lower strings
  • The most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of – we encourage you to compare this to the best orchestral recording in your collection and let the chips fall where they may

There is some noticeable low frequency rumble under the quietest passages of the music for those of you with the big woofers to hear it!

The lower strings are rich and surrounded by lovely hall space. This is not a sound one hears on record often enough and it is glorious when a pressing as good as this one can help make that sound clear to you.

The string sections from top to bottom are shockingly rich and sweet — this pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

The 1958 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer. (more…)

Can You Imagine Getting a Record This Good in the Mail?

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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The MHS pressing above can have superb sound.

MHS remastered the original 1967 Melodiya tape in 1979, dramatically improving upon the sound of the version that I knew on Angel, which shouldn’t have been too hard as the Angel is not very good.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. MHS didn’t cut the record, an engineer at a mastering house did. Fortunately for us audiophiles, the job fell to none other than Bill Kipper at Masterdisk.

Think what a different audio world it would be if we still had Bill Kipper with us today, along with the amazingly accurate and resolving cutting system he used at Masterdisk. There are no records being produced today that sound remotely as good as this budget subscription disc. Furthermore, to my knowledge no record this good has been cut for more than thirty years. The world is awash in mediocre records.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can all be thankful that we still have the records he and so many other talented engineers mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and far into the future. (more…)