Conductors

Saint-Saens / Symphony No. 3 / Mehta

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

Our favorite performance of this magnificent work is the Fremaux on EMI from 1973

This is an old review from 2011. I doubt we would have anything nice to say about this recording these days. Our system has come a long way since then, and these Mehta Londons have revealed themselves to be much more artificial sounding than we thought they were, or, more accurately, could tell they were back in 2011. In a review of another Mehta recording, we noted:

Unlike many audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them, we have never been enamored with the recordings Zubin Mehta made with the LA Philharmonic.

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.”

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 make our case for us.

Our review from 2011:

This British London pressing is the winner of our shootout for this performance. We had three London pressings, all the same stamper numbers if I recall correctly, and this is the only copy to have Super Hot Stamper sound on either side. Side one is actually quite nice, with lovely texture to the strings.

The sound is transparent and natural, two qualities that are in short supply on most of the recordings Mehta did with the L.A. Phil. in our experience.

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Respighi / Pines of Rome / Reiner – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing of Reiners’s excellent 1960 recording had the glorious Living Stereo sound we were looking for
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • There were only three performances with audiophile quality sound in our shootout, and the Shaded Dog pressings not only had the best performances, but the sound that the team of Mohr/Layton managed to achieve was second to none
  • In other words, Harry was right to put this on his TAS Super Disc list – it really is a super disc
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that can capture both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the Living Stereo strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Reiner and the CSO brought to these difficult and demanding works so many years ago
  • There are roughly 150 orchestral recordings that we think offer the discriminating audiophile the best combination of Superior Performances with Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.

This shootout has been at least five years in the making, and the case could be made that something like fifteen is closer to the truth. Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand — close to a dozen different performances, I think — and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I would love to give it a spin.

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is, of course, the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing — where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago.

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Albeniz / Turina – Iberia / Danzas Fantasticas

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this reissue pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Iberia you’ve heard, especially if what you own is the Speakers Corner Decca (which is actually not a bad record)
  • Here you will find the huge hall, correct string tone, and spacious, open sound that are traits common to all the best vintage orchestral pressings
  • 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
  • We don’t have any problem recommending a Budget Reissue pressing such as this one, not when it has this kind of audiophile sound. In fact, some of them are so good that, even up against the best vintage pressings, they actually win the shootout

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.

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Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

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Holst / The Planets – We Call This “Blockbuster Sound”

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This is what we here at Better Records refer to as Blockbuster Sound.

Even on the best copies, the recording does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.

It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully and artificially placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities.

It’s clearly not the recreation of a live orchestral event. No live concert I have ever attended sounded anything like this record.

Instead it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral sound, with unique staging of its own design.  Lots of microphones were used, which cause instruments and sometimes whole sections of the orchestra to appear in places and take up spaces they could possible take up.

If your stereo images well, with three-dimensional staging and depth, you will have no trouble hearing what we are talking about with any pressing of the album.

This is the sound that Bernard Herrmann made such wonderful use of with his series of Phase IV recordings for Decca, rather than the four mics and two stereo channels of the Fiedler Gaite Parisienne from RCA in 1954.

Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would not have put this record on it. Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

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Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne – Our Shootout Winner from 2004

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

More Reviews and Commentaries for Gaite Parisienne

In 2004 we wrote:

 11S/ 10S are the best stampers we have found for this amazing DEMONSTRATION QUALITY record!

I think that information still holds up. I can also tell you that 5S/5S has never impressed us much. We’re not sure if it’s bad enough to belong in the Bad Shaded Dog category, but audiophiles would be wise to give it a miss at anything over a nominal price.

Side 1 plays nearly NM without a pop! Side 2 opens with a half inch scratch. But think about it — isn’t one side about the right amount for this kind of music? Do you really need to play side 2 after hearing side 1? This copy gives you a good portion of the music with AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND.

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Four mics and two channels and it blows away 90% of all the classical recordings ever made.

Some old record collectors and tube equipment lovers [not so much anymore] say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it. (And this record proves that sometimes old records just sound like old records.)


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records (more…)

Bizet / Symphony in C Major / Ansermet

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

This London pressing of Ansermet’s 1961 recording has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. The Symphony in C, which takes up the whole of side one, is BIG and LIVELY, which is just the kind of sound that makes us swoon here at Better Records. Live music IS big and lively, so why shouldn’t the best records be? The bottom end has real power on this copy, the way live music does.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

It’s precisely this kind of big, rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement.

The second movement has a sublimely gorgeous oboe part you must hear. The whole side is wonderfully spacious, with real depth. The sound of the 1961 tape must be truly magical. If you don’t know why we revere the Golden Age of Classical Recordings — 1954 to 1969 or so — buy this record. (more…)

Hearing Is All It Should Take, Right?

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Some person on some audiophile forum might feel obligated at some point to explain to you, benighted soul that you are, that the old classical records you and other audiophiles revere are so drastically compromised and limited that they just can’t sound any good.

It’s just a fact. It’s science. Technology marches on and has left those old records collecting dust on the ash heap of history.

That’s why the audio world was crying out for Bernie Grundman to recut those Living Stereo recordings from the ’50s and ’60s on his modern cutting equipment and have RTI press them on quiet, flat, high-resolution 180 gram vinyl, following the best practices of an industry that everybody knows has been constantly improving for decades.

But for those of us who actually play these records, there is little evidence to support any of these statements of “fact.”

However, the above sentence only makes sense if the following four conditions have been met for the person judging the new pressings against the old ones:

  1. He or she has a good stereo,
  2. A good record cleaning system, and
  3. Knows how to do shootouts using his or her
  4. Well developed critical listening skills

If you have spent much time on this blog, you have probably read by now that the first three on this list are what allow you to develop the fourth.

Compromises?

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, similar to the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we have high quality equipment on which to play them

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. When playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in the music and the quality of the performance.

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.

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The Power of the Orchestra – Remastered by Chesky!

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pictures at an Exhibition

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pictures at an Exhibition

Sonic Grade: F

Lifeless, compressed and thin sounding, here you will find practically none of the weight and whomp that turn the best Shaded Dog pressings into the powerful listening experiences we know them to be, because we’ve played them by the hundreds on big speakers at loud levels.

It’s clean and transparent, I’ll give it that, which is no doubt why so many audiophiles have been fooled into thinking it actually sounds better than the original.

But of course there is no original; there are thousands of them, and they all sound different.

The Hot Stamper commentary below is for a pair of records that proves our case in the clearest possible way.

We sold a two pack of Hot Stamper pressings, one with a good side one and one with a good side two. Why? Because the other sides were terrible! If you have a bad original, perhaps the Chesky will be better.

Our advice is not to own a bad original, or this poorly-mastered Chesky reissue, but instead we advise that you make the effort to find a good original, or two or three, as many as it takes to get two good sides.

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