_Conductors – Ansermet

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

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

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

Not that we know of. If audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them are listening carefully 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?

Like what, you ask? Like:

Not to mention the fact that we have played a lot of these kinds of records:

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 Number One

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.

Crickets. Nada. Zilch. Not even one response.

Does no one own the new Heavy Vinyl reissue? As we said in our review, it’s very good sounding and the vinyl is quiet. I think you could buy one for twenty bucks or less before it went out of print. Seems like someone should have bought one and played it.

If someone did play it, they must not have heard it, because the anomaly could be described in ten words or less in an email to me.

Many of the Heavy Vinyl pressings we play these days — watch for reviews for some heavy hitters coming soon — suffer from the same problem, a shortcoming, by the way, that is almost never heard on authentic vintage vinyl pressings in our experience, our experience being derived from the tens of thousands of them that we have auditioned over the past twenty years.

In the case of Sweet Baby James  I believe I know why most audiophiles can’t hear it: It actually helps fix a problem in their systems. That’s probably why lots of records these days have it. Audiophiles may actually prefer that their records have it. They sure don’t seem to complain about it much.

But if your system is correct from top to bottom, it’s easy to hear. In fact it sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Case in Point Number Two

Nobody seems to want to play this game, although Geoff Edgers took a stab at it, and he would no doubt describe himself as more of a music lover than an audiophile.

I guess none of this should come as a surprise, because only one person wanted to play this game, and it’s been around for more than fifteen years.

These games, as well as doing your own shootouts, can radically change everything you do in audio for the better.

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Rimsky-Korsakov – Compression Works Its Magic Once Again

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

Some notes about the compression we heard on side two of a Blueback pressing of The Christmas Eve Suite album back in 2012:

Even more transparent and high-rez than side one. The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds make this a very special pressing indeed.

The horns are somewhat smeary and do get a bit congested when loud. There is more compression on this side two than there was on the best copy we played, and that means low level detail is superb, but louder parts, such as when the more powerful brass comes in, can get problematical.

Note how good The Flight of the Bumble Bee sounds here. Compression is helping bring out all the ambience and detail in the recording, and there’s no downside because the orchestra is playing softly, unlike the piece that precedes it.

In other words, it’s a classic tradeoff.

Side One

This side one had top end extension, good presence and clarity, all qualities that are often in short supply on old classical pressings such as these.

We were also impressed with the depth of the soundstage and the textured strings. This copy however was not quite as full-bodied and powerful down low as the best we played.

The Original Sexier Cover

Note that the earlier cover has more skin showing, which contradicts the conventional narrative that the ’50s were more prudish than the ’60s.

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Stravinsky / Song of the Nightingale / Ansermet

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

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

  • This vintage London stereo pressing of the L’Orchestre De La Suisse Romande‘s performance of Stravinsky’s symphonic poems earned STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout
  • 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
  • Both of these sides are BIGGER and RICHER than all of what we played – they’re super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, and have all of the weight of the orchestra down low
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

“Song of the Nightingale” is far more enjoyable in Ansermet’s hands than in Reiner’s or Dorati’s. The sound is significantly better on this pressing than on the Stereo Treasury, the RCA, and the Mercury versions.

Once past the obvious saturation that opens this recording, the sound is perfection. The percussion leaps off of this LP like it does with a good Direct To Disc recording.

The strength of this LP is “Song of the Nightingale.” The “Pulcinella Suite” never sounds as good. But what does?

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Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve Suite / Ansermet

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

More music conduced by Ernest Ansermet

  • An early pressing of Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations that was giving us the rich and Tubey Magical London / Decca sound we were looking for, with an INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • 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
  • These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
  • The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds are superb, making this a very special copy indeed

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from May 1957 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day; possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

The Christmas Eve suite takes up the entire first side, with three shorter pieces comprising the second. Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations, much like those found on his wonderful Scheherazade and The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, are pure audiophile ear candy from first note to last.

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Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This London Whiteback stereo pressing boasts big, bold, dynamic Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from first note to last
  • 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
  • No question this is a Demo Disc Quality recording – it’s rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings
  • Here is the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for
  • The Speakers Corner pressing of Ansermet’s famous recording is mediocre, with many faults, all discussed here
  • We would love to be able to find Ansermet’s Scheherazade on London (not Decca!) vinyl, but as you may have read on the blog, the right stampers of that record are almost impossible to find these days, although that has not stopped us from trying

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in you decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

This London pressing contains a stunningly BEAUTIFUL Tale of the Tsar Saltan Suite. It’s clearly one of the great Demo Disc Quality recordings from the Golden Age (or any age for that matter), with everything that a top Golden Age Orchestral recording should have: all the magic; all the timbral and harmonic subtlety; all the sweetness and warmth; all the Tubey Magical richness.

All that and more. Folks, this is the kind of record that makes you sit up and take notice. Finally, HERE is the kind of sound that can bring an orchestra to life in your very own listening room.

It has the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for. (Unlike some of their recordings — Pictures at an Exhibition comes readily to mind — the tempi here are not too slow. The tempi are in fact just right. We love the sound of Ansermet’s records but when the performance drags it’s hard to enjoy the music. For top quality performances of the work by other conductors — rarely in stock I regret to say — please check the site.)

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Debussy – La Mer / Ansermet

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • A vintage Decca import pressing of these wonderful orchestral pieces that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades
  • La Mer is on side one and it is lovely – rich and sweet, tonally correct, dynamic, and extended on the top and the bottom
  • Two other major works found on this compilation are Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Clair De Lune
  • The richness of the strings is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age – it’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years
  •  When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1972, but that’s precisely what it is. Even more extraordinary, the right copies are the ones that win shootouts
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Beethoven / Symphony No. 9 / Ansermet

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

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • An early London pressing of this definitive performance by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande that was doing just about everything right, earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • 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
  • The sound here is wonderfully rich, lively and musical yet still clear and spacious, making this a Must Own pressing of Beethoven’s 9th – you will be hard pressed to find any other in its league (a subject we discuss in the listing below)
  • “…the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande play very well, facing every challenge with musical integrity that reveals to the listener that emotional engagement with the score is far more meaningful than virtuosity for its own sake.”

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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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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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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…)