_Conductors – Mehta

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 quite 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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

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.

(more…)

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra / Mehta

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.

We have never been fans of the recordings Zubin Mehta made with the LA Phil.

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 good, but once we listened more critically we started to hear the problems that eventually caused us to abandon our efforts and give away the stock to our good customers for free.

Here is what my notes say:

  • Tonally correct
  • Still opaque
  • Badly needs tubes, space and transparency

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.

(more…)

Holst / The Planets – 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 sometimes 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 placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities. It’s not the recreation of a live orchestral event — it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral staging of its own making.

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.

(more…)

Varese / Arcana / Mehta – Speed Is Key

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883-1965)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

  • Incredible sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY form start to finish — amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality
  • A recording that allows your speakers to disappear completely like no other
  • A powerful Test Disc as well – use this one to check your speed and staging, subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this

Incredible sound for this CRAZY 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has 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.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its proper reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.

(more…)

A Reviewer Liked London CS 6357 a Whole Lot More Than I Did – A Cautionary Tale

This group of superb Decca/London LPs are available on our site

240+ Reviews of Decca/London/Argo Recordings

While digging around the web I ran into a site called From Miles to Mozart, which purports to be “An exploration of the incredible world of classical and jazz recordings”

Fair enough. Here is what the reviewer had to say about a London we did not think sounded very good, CS 6357. At the time, he was most of the way through a fairly complete survey of London Bluebacks, and when those were done he went on to review a Whiteback pressing of this London, which appears to be the only pressing he had on hand. (We of course had only the one as well.)

I’d run out of blue so next up was CS 6357 with its retro FFSS label, a white back FFSS. Clifford Curzon scores a knockout with the Dvorak Quintet with a very refined late Blueback sound; truly transcendental sound of the highest order. Another white back FFSS followed in CS 6379 Mozart Clarinet Quintet with a magical clarinet but some edginess at times with some of the instruments. Overall the Clarinet Quintet had very strong sound to rival most any Blueback. Unfortunately, the Mozart Divertimenti on side 2 was not as assured with quite a few signs of strain in the highs indicative some early transistor changing the precious Blueback sound. CS 6379 was recorded by Smith and Parry October, 1963 at Sofiensaal, Vienna with the LP coming out in May of 1964. CS 6357 was recorded in Sofiensaal, Vienna by Culshaw and Parry in October 1962 with the LP in October 1963. Overall two strong LP’s without a Blueback! (Well, CS 6357 does exist with a Blueback.)

He has some ideas about “precious Blueback sound” and the half-speed mastering setup used to achieve them. I will leave that for others to discuss, mostly because I could not seriously entertain this fellow’s writing once I found out what he had to say about one of Mobile Fidelity’s earliest half-speed mastered releases:

Zubin Mehta Conducts Music from Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (MFSL 1-008)

Comments: If you want to hear what audiophile vinyl sounds like, this is a great way to start. Whether you like science fiction movies or not, this record is a must hear … and try to turn up the volume if you can. This Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab pressing of Decca SXL 6885 (London ZM 1001) is one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings I have ever heard. It may not be the recording used for the movies (John Williams conducted those himself), but it sounds significantly better in terms of recording quality. Talk about lifelike presence, huge dynamic range, bass depth with real visceral impact — this record has DEMONSTRATION written all over it. Even the Cantina Band track gives you the impression of an alien jazz/pop band playing right before you. I was fortunate enough to get my copy for free from a friend, and only recently did I realize that this album sells for some money. Looking for a change from the same old EMI, Decca, RCA, Mercury, DG, or Philips? Try this one.

If this is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc, you are setting the bar awfully low, about even with the height of the carpeting. I consider it a piece of Audiophile trash, one that I never bothered to discuss on the blog. Were I to grade it today I would probably give it a D for sound and an F for music. I remember playing it back in the late-’70 or early-’80s and wondering what on earth was the appeal of such a cheesy, lowest-common-denominator schlockfest.

Years ago I did a little shootout with a few of the early London pressings of the album — which were also mastered by Stan Ricker, not sure if many of you out there knew that — as well as some later pressings not cut by SR, and of course the MoFi.

The MoFi was clearly better than any of the three regular London pressings, as they were just not very good sounding at all, suffering from a problem which makes most later Londons hard to enjoy. That problem is opacity.

For classical and orchestral music it’s the kiss of death.  It is also one of the main reasons we like so few orchestral recordings pressed on Heavy Vinyl. Most of them badly lack transparency, a sonic issue we wrote about more than a decade ago.

If I were to review this MoFi today, I would no doubt end up putting it in a little section I like to call Stone Age Audio Records, comprising the kinds of records that sounded good on modest stereos in the Seventies and Eighties, the ones with loudness controls and speakers sitting on milk crates. On today’s modern and dramatically more revealing equipment these records show themselves to be intolerably phony and offer very little in the way of fidelity.

If your stereo is bad enough to make playback of these records tolerable, you are definitely on the wrong site. Unless of course you want to get rid of all the equipment you own and start over, which is probably the best advice I could give you. With a fresh start you may just find yourself getting a lot more out of this hobby than you ever thought possible. But you would need to rethink your approach to audio, and so does Mr Miles to Mozart.

To sum up, if this MoFi is your idea of an audiophile Demo Disc — if it is in fact “one of the most incredible sounding orchestral recordings [you] have ever heard” — then your evaluations of the records you review on your blog — audiophile or otherwise — are clearly not to be trusted.

(more…)

Strauss / Sinfonia Domestica / Mehta

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

Richard Strauss Records We’ve Reviewed

This London Whiteback LP (CS 6663) is one of Mehta’s famous Royce Hall recordings from the early ’70s, here presented with Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides!

Side One

A++, perhaps a bit less, maybe A+ to A++ is more accurate but it’s either A++ or something very close to it.

The strings are rich and textured, especially considering this recording is a bit late for London. The sound starts heading south in the late ’60s and by the ’70s not many Londons have the sound we prize here at Better Records. Just play any Solti record from the ’70s to hear what I mean.

This one still has most of the analog magic we expect from London, with a wide, deep stage. The sound is lively, fairly transparent, but a bit dark.

Side Two

Side two has a bit more top end extension, somewhat more resolution, while still retaining the bass and dynamics of side one. A slightly stronger side two, still about A++. (more…)