_Conductors – Mehta

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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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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Holst – Can You Imagine Sound this Bad from a TAS List Super Disc?

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

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

We can, we played it.

Or, to be more correct, we played them. Two pressings, each with one good side and one very bad side.

This 2-pack from many years ago (ten perhaps), described below, boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top.

It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it. (more…)

Mussorgsky / Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version) / Ashkenazy

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

  • A superb early London stereo pressing of our favorite solo piano performance of Mussorgsky’s masterful suite, with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • It also plays a bit quieter than Mint Minus Minus – about as quiet as any copy ever will
  • The weight and warmth of side one’s recording from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this very disc
  • The orchestral performance of the work is squeezed onto the second side of the record, and that is just not going to work with a 30 minute long piece of music unless you like sound that is compressed and bass-shy

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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 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.


Holst / The Planets – Proper VTA Adjustment Is Critical

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

More VTA Advice

Accurate VTA adjustment for classical records is critical to their proper reproduction. If you do not have an arm that allows you to easily adjust its VTA, then you will just have to do it the hard way (which normally means loosening a set screw and moving the arm up and down until you get lucky with the right height).

Yes, it may be time consuming, it may even be a major pain in the ass, but there is no question in my mind that you will hear a dramatic improvement in the sound of your classical records once you have learned to precisely adjust the VTA for each and every one of them. We heard the improvement on this record, and do pretty much on all the classical LPs we play. All records really.

VTA is not a corner you should be cutting. Its careful adjustment is critical. Of course, so are anti-skate, azimuth and tracking weight. The links below have a fair amount of advice on turntable setup which might be worth checking out.

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Williams / Star Wars, Close Encounters and Other Multi-Miked Messes

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

This Mobile Fidelity LP contains the music of Star Wars and Close Encounters, conducted by Zubin Mehta. The MoFi pressing is far more TRANSPARENT than the London pressings we have auditioned of the album, even the ones half-speed mastered by Stan Ricker himself.

Yes, he cut the original Londons! At Half Speed! (We’ve also played some later pressings not mastered by Stan, of course. Who can predict which version would sound the best?)

It’s still one of the better MoFi remasters, all things considered. The music, to these ears, has always been hi-fi-ish schlock, and the recording itself is too multi-miked to be taken seriously. It sounds far too much like a bad Phase IV recording, and we know whereof we speak when it comes to Phase IV, good or bad. We’ve played them by the dozens.

This famous record from the Top Seven of the TAS Super Disc List has the same problem, but I never hear anybody mention it. Why, I cannot imagine, other than our favorite explanation for just about everything that seems to fly under the audiophile radar, or perhaps a better description would be flying over the heads of the self-appointed audiophile cognoscenti, that old standby, Reviewer Malpractice.

Bottom line, a loser, but the original Londons are even worse!

For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.

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Copland / Lincoln Portrait / Mehta

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

AMAZING A+++ sound from START TO FINISH for all three works on this White Hot Stamper 2-pack!

Both of the copies in this 2-pack have one Shootout Winning superb sounding side and one side that plainly just didn’t cut it, so we combined them to give you out of this world White Hot Stamper sound for the entire album. The two good sides (out of four) boast Demo Disc sound quality!

This may not be a Copland work you know well, and I’m guessing the percussion concerto is not familiar either. Both are quite interesting and enjoyable if not exactly Must Owns. That said, the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. The percussion works which start on side one and take up all of side two have amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

We are on record as rarely being impressed with the recordings Zubin Mehta undertook as Music Director of the L.A. Phil. Audiophiles for some reason hold them in much higher esteem than we do, but then again audiophiles hold a great many recordings in much higher esteem than we do. It’s dumbfounding how many audiophiles and reviewers revere records which strike our ears as hard to take seriously. The TAS Super Disc List is full of them, and so are the entries in the annual Stereophile Records to Die For issue. We debunk them on the site by the carload, and even the hundreds that we’ve done are but a fraction of the bad records receiving undeserved praise in the audiophile rags over the years. (more…)

Dvorak / Symphony No. 9 – An Overview of Decca’s Recordings

This commentary was written close to a decade ago, when we were first trying to figure out which pressings and performances of the work were worth pursuing.

Please to enjoy.

We got off to a rough start with this piece of music. The early pressings we played were often sonically uninspiring, and that’s being charitable.

The London pressings with Kubelik (CS 6020) that we had thought were competitive with some of the better recordings we had on hand turned out to be disappointing. The strings were often hard and shrill, the overall sound crude and full of tube smear.

These Londons cost us a pretty penny owing to the high quality condition we require them to be in for our shootouts. In the end, all that time, effort and money was for naught. A big chunk of dough was headed down the drain.

The Stereo Treasury pressing of this same performance sounded better to us than any of the Bluebacks we played but far from competitive with the recordings we ended up preferring.

The Londons and Deccas from 1967 with Kertesz conducting the LSO also left much to be desired sonically. After hearing the 9th on both London and Decca, we did a quick needle drop on the other symphonies from the complete cycle that Kertesz conducted and concluded that none of them were worth our time.

The trade-in pile was growing ever taller.

Then some good news came our way when we dropped the needle on the Decca/London recording with Mehta and the LA Phil. Our best London sounded shockingly good, much better than the one Decca pressing we had on hand.

His 8th Symphony (CS 6979) is also quite good by the way.

This is surprising because we rarely like anything by Mehta and the LA Phil. from this period — the recording in question is from 1975 — but of course we are happy to be surprised when the recordings sound as good as the ones we played.

The one that seemed to us to be the best balance of sound and performance was conducted by Istvan Kertesz, but not with the LSO.

His recording with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1961, his debut for Decca as a matter of fact, is the one that ended up winning our shootout of a dozen pressings or so.

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 carried those kinds of records.

We prefer a later pressing of the recording though, not the original. You can find the one we like on this very blog by doing a quick search for the music of Dvorak.

Here are more reviews of music conducted by Kertesz, a man whose work we very much admire.

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Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra / Mehta – Not Good Enough

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Richard Strauss

Sonic Grade: C

A very good performance, with passable sonics.

But passable sonics are not going to cut it at the prices we charge.

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.

Here is what my notes say:

By the way, if you do have some of these and want to play them, the 4G side two was the best we played, much better than any 6G side two.

Opacity Vs. Transparency

Note that we have been especially anti-heavy vinyl in our recent commentaries for their consistently opaque character, the opposite of what is necessary in order to hear into the music, deep into the soundstage, to see and hear ALL the instruments, even the ones at the back.

Try that with any Classic Record or Speakers Corner pressing. Our Hot Stamper pressings can show you precisely what you have been missing all these years if you have been collecting and playing releases from those labels and others like them.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three-dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many even dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean British copies with which to do a shootout? These records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of British pressings of Classic Rock albums.

One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

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