Conductors

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra – MoFi Reviewed

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Recordings We’ve Reviewed

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Is the painting on the cover that of a man whose head is hurting from the ridiculously bright string tone of this MoFi?

Doubtful. Impossible actually. But that’s exactly how my head feels when I play one of these awful MoFi classical releases.

Their rock, pop and jazz remasters were hit and miss in the old days, with some real winners hidden amongst the junk, but every one of their classical releases that I ever played was a dog..

One way you know you dealing with bad records and collector mentality? When you find one of these records in your local used record store, it is almost guaranteed to be pristine. Good records get played. MoFi’s classical releases got collected and sat on a shelf.

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found to be yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

Can you believe this bright and phony sounding piece of junk was once on the TAS Super Disc List? Sad, isn’t it? At least Harry had the good sense to delete it way back in the ’80s, along with all the rest of the awful MoFi’s that were on it at the time.  

Hey, I sure liked a lot of my MoFi’s in the ’80s too. Thank god I didn’t have my own Super Disc list at the time. It would be every bit as embarrassing as Harry’s list is these days, although it’s really not Harry’s list these days anymore, or at least not exclusively his list. It now has lots of new stuff on there and much of it appears to be of dubious quality, but that’s pure prejudice on my part of course. I have never played most of the records and have no intention of finding out what they sound like. Much of it is music that does not appeal to me, and some of the new additions are on Heavy Vinyl, so why bother?


Sullivan-Mackerras / Pineapple Poll Ballet / Mackerras

More Classical and Orchestral Music

More TAS List Super Discs

  • With Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides, this wonderful recording of the Pineapple Poll ballet has superb sound that will be very hard to beat
  • In the best tradition of vintage All Tube analog from 1962, these sides are both rich and clear, with rhythmic drive and energy that keeps the festivities briskly humming along, just as they would in one of the composer’s famous operettas
  • Remarkably colorful orchestration – the brilliant music of Sir Arthur Sullivan shines on this famous TAS List Super Disc
  • “As a score, [Pineapple Poll] quite simply sparkles like freshly popped champagne. … In fact, this is a comic masterpiece. Any viewer will be impressed with the vivacious dancing and the ‘built in’ humour which pervades the work…”

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Massenet / Le Cid Ballet Music – Now With New and Improved Smile Curve EQ

Klavier Is a Label Best Avoided by Audiophiles

They Make Records Perfectly Suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: D

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end.  Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records?

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Better yet, fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 1 – RCA 1957 Living Stereo Is Hard to Beat

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  • Both sides of this vintage Victrola pressing are big, full-bodied, clean and clear, with a wonderfully preset piano and three-dimensional space around the musicians
  • 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
  • I used to think that the Classic was better than the Victrola, but that was a long time ago, and I hear a lot of midrange magic on this LP that I don’t think you can find on practically any modern remaster, by Classic Records or anyone else
  • The Classic will be quieter though – we had a devil of a time finding Vics pressings with audiophile quality vinyl

I highly recommend this one, musically and sonically. Everybody loves Rachmaninoff, especially when Byron Janis is at the keyboard, and the Strauss piece is engaging on its own as well.

1957 stereo, can you imagine?

Here is a complete list of Living Stereo Classical titles we have available on the site at this time. On our blog you can find reviews for the hundreds of others we’ve auditioned over the years.

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Shostakovich / The Age of Gold – If You Own This Pressing, My Guess Is It’s Pristine

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

When Classic Records was blowing out its unsold inventory through the Tower Records Classical Annex in Hollywood many years ago — apparently they had run into some financial trouble — this was a title you could pick up for under ten bucks. I remember it being $7, but my memory may not be correct on that point. Whatever the price, it was cheap.

And even at that price it seemed nobody really wanted it.  Which is as it should be. Heavy Vinyl or no Heavy Vinyl, a bad record is a bad record and not worth the bother of sitting down and listening to it.

If you own this record, my guess is it is pristine.

If you played it at all, you played it once and put it away on a shelf where it probably sits to this very day. Good records get played and bad records don’t. If you have lots of pristine records on your shelves, ask yourself this question: Why don’t I want to play them?

You may not like the implications of the answer: They aren’t any good.

And that means you should never have bought them in the first place. But we all make mistakes. Owning up to them may be hard, but it is the only way to make any real progress in this hobby.

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.

If you want nothing but amazing sounding classical records, we typically have quite a selection.


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…)

Suppe et al / Overture Overture / Agoult

More Classical and Orchestral Music

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Decca engineered Living Stereo album – both sides of LSC 2134 earned our top grade of A+++
  • This 1957 Decca recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Cyril Windebank was the engineer — you may remember him from SXL 2012, the legendary recording of Peer Gynt with Fjelstad
  • The most energetic performances we heard, with sound like nothing else we played – Agoult’s overtures are in a league of their own
  • Classic Records did this title back in the ’90s, and was as mediocre and unsatisfying as most of their sorry releases
  • “Suppé certainly has a knack for a good tune, well suited to even the most unpolished of brass band arrangements – the characterful orchestral playing, however, brings these neglected works to life with aplomb.”

When this 1957 recording was first released, you could only buy it in mono, under the title Overtures… In Spades! It would be two years before the stereo pressing was available through RCA. There are two covers and I believe we have Shaded Dog pressings with both. This copy, our Shootout Winner, has the first cover you see in the listing.

Everyone needs a good album of Overtures – the music is exciting and fun, not to mention Demonstration Quality on a pressing such as this. The combination of sound and performance on the best of the RCA Shaded Dog pressings could not be equaled.  (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 Tubey Magic. This 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…)

Albeniz / Turina – Iberia / Danzas Fantasticas / Ansermet

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Spectacular Orchestral Recordings

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  • This SUPERB classical release finally returns to the site with STUNNING sound, earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides
  • We have some good sounding reissues with condition issues, but they do not win shootouts the way the right originals do
  • A huge hall, correct string tone, spacious and open as practically any orchestral recording you can find
  • Listen to the plucked basses – clear, not smeary, with no sacrifice in richness. Take it from us, the guys that play classical recordings by the score, this is hard for a record to do!
  • Ernst Ansermet conducted some of the best sounding records ever made — here are some of the ones we’ve reviewed

The sound of this copy is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had a real winner on our hands as soon as the needle hit the groove.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)