Conductors

Today’s MoFi Disaster Is Pictures at an Exhibition

moussmofiMore of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The MoFi mastering here is a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

These are exactly the kind of unbearably bright strings that Stan Ricker seems to favor.

The proof? Find me a Mobile Fidelity classical record with that little SR/2 in the dead wax that does not have bright string tone. I have yet to hear one.

The last time I played a copy of MFSL 1-520 I found the sound so hi-fi-ish I couldn’t stand to be in the room with it for more than a minute. The bass is of course jello as well. The EMI with the right stampers is worlds better. (Warning: The domestic Angel regular version and the 45 are both awful.)

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?

Whatever the reasons, the more accurate and revealing your equipment becomes, the more obvious the shortcomings of Mobile Fidelity’s records will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

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Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

These are THE BEST HAYDN SYMPHONIES I have ever heard on disc. Folks, until I heard Dorati and the Festival Chamber Orchestra perform these pieces I never knew there could be this much FIRE in Haydn’s music. (Please excuse the pun; the 59th Symphony is entitled “Fire”.)

Mercury bring the kind of recording energy and presence to this music that I have frankly never heard before. Credit must go to both Dorati and his players.

His tempi are fast and sprightly throughout, and the smaller orchestra allows the players to zig and zag with the musical changes much more quickly than would be the case with a larger and more inertia-bound group.

The FCO are so technically proficient and so light on their feet that Dorati was able to push them to dizzying heights of performance. For the first time I can honestly say that Haydn’s music really works — it’s wonderful!

(If you’ve ever heard Previn conducting Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the L.A. Phil from 1990 you will know what I mean. In his (their) hands the work is so lively it’s hard to hear it performed by anyone else. Bad digital sound but it’s worth it to hear the piece played with such gusto.)

Dorati and Haydn

As you may know, Dorati recorded all the symphonies of Haydn for London/Decca. Having played some of them I can tell you they certainly do not sound like this! (Perhaps my copies were not the best, but how many copies of these records can be found nowadays? Not enough to do shootouts with, that’s for sure.)

This recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc, on side one especially. Here the sound is rich and smooth like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency. We graded it A++ to A+++ — side two had more texture to the massed strings than this side one, so we downgraded it half a plus. In virtually every other way it was SUPERB!

Side Two

A touch of that Mercury brightness can be heard on this side, but it is well under control at normal listening levels. The strings are textured and lively, the orchestra just bursting with enthusiasm for this music and the recording captures it all! A++ to A+++, again, superb, and priced accordingly.

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We Heap Scorn Upon Chesky Records, With Good Reason

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

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

Sonic Grade: F

Chesky is one of the WORST AUDIOPHILE LABELS in the history of the world. Their recordings are so artificial and “wrong” that they defy understanding. That some audiophiles actually buy into this junk sound is equal parts astonishing and depressing.

Their own records are a joke, and their remasterings of the RCA Living Stereo catalog are an abomination.

The best RCA Living Stereo pressings are full of Tubey Magic. The Chesky pressings I have played have none.

What else would you need to know about their awful records than that?

If there is a more CLUELESS audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know what it could be, and I don’t want to find out. 

(Turns out there is someone producing the worst kind of remastered junk vinyl who may be even more clueless than Chesky, imagine that!)

Ravel and Ansermet Produce The Best Bolero on Vinyl

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage.

As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard.

These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.

Side One

Bolero (Ravel)

Tubey and clear, with both the snare and the flute coming from so far back in the hall! OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power.

Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable. We loved it!

Side Two

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)

ZERO compression. ZERO distortion when loud. Which means it has ZERO compressor distortion, something not five out of a hundred Golden Age recordings can claim. Nice extended top too.

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. This piece is not quite as transparent as the Ravel, but still has earned every one of its Three Pluses.

The timbre of the brass is right on the money. As we have noted before, the brass of the Suisse Romande is some of the best to have ever been committed to analog tape.

Again, this side had OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power the likes of which we think you may never have heard.

La Valse (Ravel)

Boasting some of the best sound of the three works we played on this copy. Again, with that wondrously huge hall adding a sense of space that will allow your speakers to disappear. The performers are not too close, which is very much in keeping with live music.

In his tribute to Ravel after the composer’s death in 1937, Paul Landormy described the work as follows:

“….the most unexpected of the compositions of Ravel, revealing to us heretofore unexpected depths of Romanticism, power, vigor, and rapture in this musician whose expression is usually limited to the manifestations of an essentially classical genius.”


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Top Quality Classical “Sleeper” Recordings

Demo Disc Quality Orchestral Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

The Royal Ballet – Gala Performances – on Classic Records

More Reviews of Classic Records Classical Titles

More Heavy Vinyl Commentaries 

Sonic Grade: C or Better 

Probably a fairly good Classic Records album. When I played this record years ago I thought it was one of the better Classic RCA titles. You can be sure it won’t sound like the original — [almost] no Classic record does — but it might be pretty good all things considered. One thing to consider is that the original in clean condition sells for many thousands of dollars!

Here are a few commentaries you may care to read about Bernie Grundman‘s work as a mastering engineer, good and bad.


FURTHER READING

Heavy Vinyl Disasters 

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities 

Heavy Vinyl Winners

Tchaikovsky – Better Front Ends Actually Reduce Surface Noise

The Music of Tchaikovsky Available Now

Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

No marks that play appreciably but that RCA vinyl is up to its old tricks again. Mint Minus Minus with constant light surface noise underneath the music in the quieter sections is the rule here. The first half inch of side two is where you will notice it the most. We are of the opinion that good sound and good music allow you to pretty much ignore surfaces such as these, scratches being another thing entirely of course. If there is any problem we offer a money back guarantee on this one.

Better Front Ends

I would make the further point that the better your front end is the less likely you are to have a problem with vinyl like this, which is the opposite of what many audiophiles perceive to be the case. In other words, some of the cheaper tables and carts seem to make the surface noise more objectionable, not less. On the other hand, some pricey cartridges — the Benz line comes to mind — are consistently noisier than those by Dynavector, Lyra and others, in our experience anyway.


FURTHER READING

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

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The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and Others

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical Albums from The Core Collection

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion.

Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

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Stravinsky / Petrushka / Mehta – Not Recommended

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings by Decca

Sonic Grade: F 

A Hall of Shame Pressing and a Classical Record we can’t recommend.

We’re big fans of Decca/London Records in general, but in this case the sound and the performances are simply not acceptable.

We had three original UK pressed copies of CS 6554 and none of them sounded any good to us.

What’s worse, Mehta and the Los Angeles Phil play the work quite poorly. How this album got released in 1967 I have no idea.


A PUBLIC SERVICE

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some Hall of Shame records the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.


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

Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

More Stamper and Pressing Information

In 2015 we wrote:

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

We recently did the shootout again, and now with a much more clear, accurate upper midrange and an even more extended top end, the stampers that we used to find “brighter than ideal” are almost always just too damn bright, period.

We will never buy another copy with those stampers.

We was wrong and we don’t mind admitting it. We must have learned something, right?. We ran an experiment, we discovered something new about this album, and that has to be seen as a good thing.

If you have been making improvements to your system, room, electricity, etc., then you too own records which don’t sound as good as you remember them.

You just don’t know which ones they are, assuming you haven’t played them in a while.

One Stamper to Rule Them All

Which leaves one and only one stamper that can win a shootout. There is another stamper we like well enough to offer to our discriminating customers, but after that it is all downhill, and steeply.

Here are Some Other Albums with One Set of Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

Of course the right stampers are the hardest ones to find too. All of which explains why you rarely see a copy of the album for sale on our site.

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