_Composers – Wagner

Beethoven – The Classic Pressing Can Have Very Good Sound

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

Somehow we managed to have a Classic Records pressing on hand to play in our most recent shootout for the Beethoven Symphony No. 4.

We knew all the way back in 1997 that Classic had done a good job with the record – we recommended it as one of the best Classic Records pressings in our catalogs at the time — but we sure didn’t expect it to do as well as it did, earning 2 pluses on one side and close to that on the other.

Years ago we wrote:

Here is the kind of sound that Classic Records could not ignore, even though the original was only ever made available as part of RCA’s budget reissue series, Victrola.

Don’t let its budget status fool you — this pressing puts to shame most of what came out on the full price Living Stereo label. (And handily beats any Classic Records reissue ever made.)

The top and bottom are wrong to varying degrees on both sides of the Classic, as you can see from our notes, which read:

Side One:

  • big,
  • a little shiny up top
  • not as rich but weighty

Side Two:

  • leaned out up top
  • blurry down low

At least the midrange is more or less correct.

A potentially good Heavy Vinyl pressing, worth picking up if you can find one at a good price.

Note that it comes with different coupling works, as well as on both 180 amd 200 gram vinyl.

To sum up, these grades mean that the Classic will beat the lesser Victrola pressings, and be beaten by the better ones, for what that’s worth.

Side One

Symphony No. 4 In B-flat, Op. 60 – Beethoven, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra
I. Adagio, Allegro Vivace
II. Adagio
III. Menuetto: Allegro Vivace – Trio: Un Poco Meno Allegro

Side Two

Symphony No. 4 In B-flat, Op. 60 – Beethoven, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra
IV. Allegro Ma Non Troppo

Siegfried Idyll – Wagner, performed by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Further Reading

Below you will find our reviews of the more than 200 Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years. Feel free to pick your poison.

And finally,

Even as recently as the early 2000s, we were still impressed with many of the better Heavy Vinyl pressings. If we’d never made the progress we’ve worked so hard to make over the course of the last twenty or more years, perhaps we would find more merit in the Heavy Vinyl reissues so many audiophiles seem impressed by.

We’ll never know of course; that’s a bell that can be unrung. We did the work, we can’t undo it, and the system that resulted from it is merciless in revealing the truth — that these newer pressings are second-rate at best and much more often than not third-rate and even worse.

Some audiophile records have such bad sound, I felt motivated to create a special list for them. Others are just BS. I’m sure you know the type.

Setting higher standards — no, being able to set higher standards — in our minds is a clear mark of progress. Judging by the hundreds of letters we’ve received, especially the ones comparing our records to their Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed mastered counterparts, we know that our customers see things the same way.


Richard Wagner – The Sound of Stokowski and Wagner

More Richard Wagner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this vintage Shaded Dog pressing of this sought-after classic of the Living Stereo canon is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • Lewis Layton engineered this blockbuster recording, and after hearing his brilliant work for The Pines of Rome with Reiner, we can see why they gave him the job
  • The rich, textured sheen of the strings that the advent of Living Stereo brought into being in the ’50s and early ’60s is clearly evident throughout these pieces, something that the Heavy Vinyl crowd will never experience — simply because that sound just does not exist on modern records
  • These shorter pieces are ideal for those who want to listen to Wagner’s music and don’t have the two hours one of his better-known operas requires of its audience


Liszt / Les Preludes / Mehta

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

This London UK pressing from 1967 has excellent sound on both sides. Some of what we’ve always liked about Decca/London from the period (mid- to late-’60s, in this case 1967) can be heard on this pressing: transparency; the texture on the strings; the natural timbre of the instruments.  

These London pressings are quite hard to find in our experience. The music is wonderful throughout, perhaps the reason that so few of these have found their way to the record bins here in L.A. 

Here Mehta is conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, not to be confused with the recordings he made in Los Angeles with the L.A. Philharmonic in Royce Hall.

A Word about Mehta and the L.A. Phil

Unlike many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them, we have never been impressed by the recordings Zubin Mehta made with the L.A. Philharmonic.

In a review of another Mehta recording, we noted:

They almost always suffer from exactly the same problems that we heard on this album. We had about five copies on hand in preparation for a shootout, some of which I had noted seemed to sound fine, but once we listened more critically we started to hear the problems that eventually caused us to abandon the shootout and give away the stock to our good customers for free.

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.” (In Harry’s defense, Previn’s recording of the work for EMI is also on the TAS list, just not at the top with the Best of the Bunch.)

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 support our case.

This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.


Beethoven / Symphony No. 4 / Siegfried Idyll / Monteux

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This early Plum Label Victrola pressing of these lively and masterful performances earned outstanding grades on both sides
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – all qualities the best vintage vinyl classical pressings have in abundance
  • A top performance by Monteux and the LSO, with strings that are tonally correct, rich, and sweet — this is our pick for the best Beethoven 4th
  • The horns on the Wagner piece are exceptionally well reproduced here as well – how could a Wagner record be any good without good horns?
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings that offer the discriminating audiophile pressings with the Best Performances and Top Quality Sound. This record has earned a place on that list.

Both sides of this early Plum Label Victrola pressing are superb, with the kind of string tone only found on the best of the Living Stereo releases and other top quality Golden Age recordings.

Here is the kind of sound that Classic Records could not ignore, even though the original was only ever made available as part of RCA’s budget reissue series, Victrola.

Don’t let its budget status fool you — this pressing puts to shame most of what came out on the full price Living Stereo label. (And handily beats any Classic Records reissue ever made.)

And Monteux is once again superb.

We played a large group of Beethoven’s symphonies this week and this was clearly one of the best, if not THE best. Well recorded Beethoven is hard to come by. The box sets we played were mediocre at best, and that left us with only a handful of clean early pressings. These records just aren’t out there like they used to be.


Wagner / Excerpts from Operas / Dorati

More of the Music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard this underrated Wagner album sound remotely as good as it does here
  • Mercury is one of the few labels that can bring to life the power of the orchestra that Wagner’s music demands, and the engineers (Robert Eberenz, et al) do not disappoint
  • One of the better Watford Town Hall recordings (The Firebird would be another one), this album was recorded in 1959 and it fully captures the magic of the venue as only an All Tube Recording / Mastering Chain from that era can
  • I’ve known how good the right pressings of this album can sound for more than twenty years — it’s about time we did the shootout!
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Mercury recording from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.


Everything But the Beer – Pros and Cons from a Long-Ago Shootout

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This VERY RARE 2 LP Shaded Dog pressing has Super Hot Stamper sound. Much of what’s good about Golden Age recordings is heard here, with side one for example having the sound of a HUGE hall and that Three-Dimensional quality that the best vintage recordings are able to convey so well.

We constantly knock Heavy Vinyl here at Better Records for the simple reason that we play vintage recordings such as this by the score every month and can hear what they do so well. Unfortunately the huge hall and the 3-D soundstaging they effortlessly reproduce cannot be found on any Heavy Vinyl pressing we know of.

Such qualities allow this record to sound — in some ways, to be sure not all — like live music.

Side One

Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 – Elgar
Mignon Overture – Thomas
Largo from Xerxes – Handel
Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin – Wagner


A++, with the huge hall and 3-D sound we mentioned above. Very clear, especially when quiet. There’s a big bass drum on one of these tracks that is killer. A little more Tubey Magic would have been nice. As it is, this side sounds REALISTIC, like a real live concert.


Wagner for Band / Fennell / Eastman Wind Ensemble

More of the music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

  • Wagner for Band finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • There is plenty on offer for the discriminating audiophile, with the spaciousness, clarity, tonality and freedom from artificiality that are hallmarks of the best Mercury recordings of Fennell leading the EWE
  • Far richer, smoother and livelier than every other pressing we played, with Tubey Magic and space we guarantee you have never heard on any Fennell record before
  • An incredibly rare TAS List recording, now replaced on the list by a Speakers Corner LP – from the looks of it, The Absolute Sound is going deaf in its old age


London Records Takes You on A Journey Into [Potentially Very Good] Stereo Sound

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings by Decca

[Written a very long time ago!]

INSANELY GOOD vintage Decca sound from 1958 — bigger, richer and more Tubey Magical than 9 out of 10 (or more!) records we’ve ever played from the pre-’60s early stereo Golden Age. How they got this one so right is beyond me.

We were sorely tempted to grade it White Hot, but chose instead to err on the side of modesty and call it A++ to A+++ or better (which is practically White Hot when you think about it).

Can it be that THIS was the first stereophonic sound music lovers of the world were exposed to on LP? (Stereo tapes may have existed in 1954, but they had to wait until 1958 to be transferred to vinyl.)

Could we possibly have fallen so far in only fifty years?

Judging by the quality of the sound on this copy — dramatically better than others we’ve played, and quieter too — the answer can only be a resounding yes. If you like your sound BIG and LUSH, this record is guaranteed to blow your mind.

Chabrier’s Espana with Argenta gets things off to an amazing start — when have you heard it sound better?!

Capriccio Espagnol (Rimsky-Korsakov), Mozart’s Concerto Piano Concerto No. 27 and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring are included here as well, all with audiophile sound to die for.

Both Sides are KILLER

A++ to A+++, big, spacious, Tubey Magically Rich, as well as tonally Right On The Money (ROTM), the sound here is Hard To Fault (HTF) — IF one is willing to accept the euphonic colorations of the equipment used at the time. We know the sound isn’t real — one would never hear it sound this way in the concert hall — but we love it anyway!

Heavy Vinyl

Rather surprisingly there is a Heavy Vinyl import reissue of this album available, at a cost of $50, not cheap by any means and undoubtedly a pale shadow of this London Blueback LP. There is simply no chance in the world that a recording of this fidelity could be mastered and pressed properly these days — we sure haven’t heard one, and we’ve played them by the hundreds. We implore anyone who made the mistake of buying such a modern record to pick this one up and hear what they couldn’t possibly know they were missing, but is nevertheless clearly audible on this very pressing for all to enjoy. (more…)

Wagner – Ansermet Conducts Wagner

More of the music of Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

  • Another stunning classical release makes its Hot Stamper debut, here with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Our first Hot Stamper for a recording of Wagner’s music – it took us a very long time to find a recording that had the audiophile goods that this one does
  • Clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling, this is a sound that the Modern Reissue fails to reproduce utterly
  • If you don’t have an amazing sounding Wagner record — the low brass is to die for here — this record needs to find a home in your collection
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – if you need proof, here it is