_Conductors – Fistoulari

Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3 / Ashkenazy / Fistoulari

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) 

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • A vintage London Stereo pressing of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 boasting excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Spacious, rich and smooth – only vintage analog seems capable of reproducing all three of these qualities without sacrificing resolution, staging, imaging or presence
  • Looking to demonstrate just how good 1963 Tubey Analog sound can be? This outstanding copy may be just the record for you
  • If you love this well-known piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1963 that belongs in your collection.

This Decca-engineered recording from the Walthamstow Assembly Hall is rich and natural, with lovely transparency and virtually no smear to the strings, horns or piano.

What an amazing recording. What an amazing piece of music.

The sound is explosively dynamic and on this copy it was positively jumping out of the speakers. In addition, the brass and strings are full-bodied, with practically no stridency, an unusual feat the Decca engineers seem to have accomplished.

Big, rich sound can sometimes present problems for piano recordings. You want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies pull off that trick without sounding thin. This one showed us a piano that was both clear and full-bodied.

With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is Demo Disc quality sound by any standard. Once the needle has dropped you will quickly forget about the sound (and all the money you paid to get it!) and simply find yourself in the presence of some of the greatest musicians of their generation, captured on one the greatest analog recordings of the day.

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Offenbach – Strings and Brass Are Tough to Get Right

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

More Reviews and Commentaries for Gaite Parisienne

Our favorite recording of the work is this one on Readers Digest with Fistoulari conducting.

It’s also an excellent record to test with. As you no doubt know, there is a lot of “action” in this piece of music.

To get the strings and the brass to sound lively yet natural is a bit of a trick. (It doesn’t help that the polarity is reversed.)

When I first played this record many years ago, I was none too happy about the string tone. After making a few tweaky adjustments, the strings became much clearer and more textured. The overall presentation still sounded rich, but was now dramatically more natural and relaxed.

It was this record that made me realize some of the changes I had made to my stereo back then had caused it to have a certain hi-fi-ish quality, which seemed to work fine on the popular and jazz recordings I was using as test discs at the time.

But the reproduction of classical music is the ultimate challenge for any stereo.

And this record was telling me I wasn’t getting it right. I’m happy to report that things are sounding wonderful now, on every kind of record: jazz, rock and especially on excellent classical recordings such as this one, on Readers Digest no less (!)

A famous jazz album by Michel LeGrand was also helpful in getting my playback to be more correct.

We are in the process of making some lists (more lists!) for records we’ve found to be good for testing, tweaking and tuning your system, your room and your front end setup, among other things. So far, we have compiled these groups:

These are the records that challenged me and helped me to achieve more progress in audio. If you want to improve your stereo, these are some of the best records we know of to help you get to the next level.

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Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake Highlights / Fistoulari

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

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

  • This Demo Disc quality pressing of Fistoulari’s powerful and exciting recording boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it 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
  • So transparent, dynamic and REAL, this copy raises the bar for the sound of ballet music on vinyl
  • One of the most popular ballets in the world, presented here with out-of-this-world Decca engineered All Tube Chain sound from 1961 – it’s a match!
  • For the Highlights of Swan Lake, we know of no better performance, and we certainly know of no better sounding recording on vinyl
  • It took us years to find enough copies to do this shootout – not many copies will play as quietly as this one, and many of them will have their inner grooves destroyed by the mistracking tonearms of the day
  • The big finish at the end of the second side is so powerful it might just take your breath away – show me a modern remastering with that kind of sound and I will eat it
  • “It is a superb account of Swan Lake, perhaps better than most recordings out there. Maestro Fistoulari and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam are in top form.”
  • If you’re a fan of delightful orchestral showpieces such as these ballet highlights, this LP from 1961 belongs in your collection

This London UK import is one of the best single-disc versions of the ballet we have ever played. This is the one folks, assuming you do not want a (nearly) complete performance of the work. (For that we recommend the 2 LP box set with Ansermet.)

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake – Fistoulari Conducts Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

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

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961, and, as usual, he did a great job.

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 timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test for transparency, of both the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot 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 mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

Like Live Music

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall.

One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious.

None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close. Other records with that live music quality can be found here.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich tonality,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • superb transparency

How many classical records have all of these qualities in such abundance?

One out of a hundred? If that!

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Ballet Music From The Opera – How Much Tubey Magic Is Too Much?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This Super Rare, Highly Collectible copy of LSC 2400 has vintage RCA Golden Age sound, for better and for worse. Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s got a healthy dose of Living Stereo Tubey Magic. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found here.  

And the hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA.

(EMI is super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out of phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Not our sound, sorry.)

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. [Note that we almost never put records with a grade this low on the site these days.]

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

Price Versus Quality

Speaking of cheap reissues, we are on record as being fans of a great many Budget Reissue Classical LPs for decades. My catalogs from the ’90s were full of reissues with exceptionally good sound.

Now that we do things differently, we’ve discovered some budget pressings that are so well-mastered they have the potential — accent on the word potential — to win shootouts.

Vintage Vinyl

Plenty of the records we audition suffer from Bad Tube Mastering, a quality we have no trouble recognizing and criticize at length all over this very blog.

In that respect we have little in common with the True Believers who seem to want to defend analog regardless of its shortcomings.

We don’t hesitate to criticize new records that have bad sound and old records that have bad sound. Bad sound is bad sound no matter when the record was pressed.

Vintage classical records with weak sound can be found here.

Modern records of all kinds with weak sound can be found here.

Too Many Tubes?

With too many tubes in the mastering chain, you end up with mud pies, and nobody, outside of this guy and the customers who buy his wares, wants those.

But is it just a matter of having too many tubes in the mastering chain?

If it is, then how to explain the awful sound of this Analogue Productions reissue, which was mastered using no tubes whatsoever?

Or this one?

Did Kevin Gray screw up, or does Chad just like murky sounding records?

Hey, why not crowdsource the answer? Please go to your favorite audiophile forum and start a thread with that question. Once you have done so, please send a link to: tom@better-records.com

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Ballet Music From The Opera – Skip the Classic Records Pressing

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile 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. 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.

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!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) 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 Audio 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.

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A Simple Test for Polarity – Listen to the Solo Violin

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

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

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Both sides are reversed.

On side two, the Chopin side, notice how vague the solo violin is with the polarity wrong.

As soon as it is switched, a solid, real, natural, palpable violin pops into view.

That’s how you know when your polarity is correct, folks!

This Heavy Vinyl pressing is also quite vague, but you can reverse your polarity until the cows come home, it ain’t gettin’ any better.

Here are some other Records that Are Good for Testing Vague Imaging


The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it.

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

Ballet Music From The Opera / Fistoulari – Reviewed in 2013

Better than Super Hot Stamper sound on side one of this lovely Victrola reissue from 1960, one of the best in the entire series.

Pay attention to the brass — yes, it may have some tubey smear, but listen to how HUGE and POWERFUL it is! Drop the needle on the first side and watch (or listen) as the sound comes jumping out of your speakers.

Modern records can’t do that.

These Decca-derived recordings are highly sought after, and with good reason. It’s hard to imagine a more wonderful audiophile disc, both in terms of the program and the quality of the sound.

This is the precisely the kind of big, bold, lifelike sound Decca engineers were able to capture on tape, and RCA mastering engineers were able to master from that analog tape, fifty or so years ago. (more…)

Offenbach & Chopin / Gaite Parisienne & Les Sylphides – Reverse Your Polarity

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

This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.

Amazing in every way! The top end of this record is clear, clean and correct. No other copy sounded like this one on the first side. When you hear all the percussion instruments — the tambourines, triangles, wood blocks and what-have-you — you know instantly that they sound RIGHT.

The overall sound is very different from many of the other recordings of the work that we have offered in the past. Rather than smooth, rich and sweet, the sound here is big and bold and clear like nothing we have ever played.

This is Front Row Center sound for those whose systems can reproduce it!

And this is truly a top performance by Fistoulari and the Royal Philharmonic. I know of none better. For music and sound this is the one!

Side One

The Triple Plus sound makes this THE Gaite Parisienne to Own.

If you have a hot copy of LSC 1817 consider yourself very fortunate. If your copy of LSC 1817 has never thrilled you, then this pressing will beat the pants off it, as it is pretty darn THRILLING. Even if you do have a great 1817 I would still put this up against it and expect it to win the shootout.

It’s clear, clean and above all, TRANSPARENT. This is a claim no modern remastered record, in our opinion, can make. The energy is spectacular on this side. Not only that, but listen to the bite of the brass — that’s some high-rez sound! (more…)

Saint-Saens / Violin Concerto No. 3 – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

This White Hot Stamper original Blue Angel pressing has some of the most exquisite sound for a violin/orchestral recording we have ever heard here at Better Records. I do not think there is any Heifetz album on RCA Shaded Dog (or otherwise) to compete with it. We would rank this Angel recording/pressing with the best of Rabin and Milstein on Capitol, as well as the wonderful Ricci and Campoli discs on London/Decca. In other words, this is one of the best sounding violin-led orchestral recordings we have yet to play, and we’ve played them by the hundreds and hundreds. (Practice makes perfect they say.)

So clear, so three-dimensional, so relaxed, rich and sweet — can it get any better? I’d have to say not much!

It’s the Chausson piece that earned our highest grade of Three Pluses, a work that is certainly less well-known than the legendary Saint-Saens Third. Both are superb examples of the kind of sophisticated, melody-driven music the French Romantic school was producing in the latter part of the 19th century. You may become as big a fan of the Chausson as we happily admit to being now, having heard this wonderful pressing. (more…)