_Conductors – Reiner

Destination Stereo and the State of Reviewing As We See It

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other.

When “in-the-know” audiophiles discuss three-dimensionality, soundstaging and depth, they should be talking about a record that sounds like this.

But are they? The glorious, life-changing sound of one heavy vinyl reissue after another seems to be the only kind of record audiophiles want to discuss these days.

More’s the pity. A record as good as Destination Stereo belongs in every serious audiophile’s collection. Allow me to make the case.

The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so often lacking in many of the qualities prized by audiophiles, all you have to do is put this record on for them. 

Just play Gnomus to hear The Power of the Orchestra, Living Stereo style.

The fourth and fifth movements of Capriccio Espagnol, the second track on side one, sound superb, CLEARLY better here than on the Shaded Dog pressings we played about a year ago (which were terrible and never made it to the site. Great performance but bad mastering of what obviously was a very good master tape).

You can also hear the Living Stereo sound especially well on the excerpt from “The Fourth of July” performed by Morton Gould. It’s one of the best sounding tracks here.

I don’t think the RCA engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the bass and dynamics that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

The State of Reviewing

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this often had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings. What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones.

Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of these records.

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Respighi / Pines of Rome – A Shootout Twenty Years in the Making

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

We did a monster shootout for this music in 2021, one we had been planning for more than twenty years. On hand were quite a few copies of the Reiner on RCA; the Ansermet on London; the Maazel on Decca and London (the Decca being on the TAS List), the Kempe on Readers Digest, and quite a few others we felt had at least the potential to sound good.

Allow me to back up a bit.

In the late-’70s, when I first started paying attention to the TAS Super Disc List, I read about the Pines of Rome with 1S stampers. I could never find one, and the Shaded Dogs and Red Seals that I did find never sounded all that good to me.

I know now that I did not have the stereo system back then (equipment, room, etc.) that could reproduce a recording of such difficulty.

In the ’80s, the Mobile Fidelity pressing of the Pines of Rome, like all of their classical releases, without exception, never sounded right to me either.

It was certainly better than the Classic Records release from 1995 of the Reiner Pines. That record was just too harsh sounding, with the shrill strings that Bernie Grundman was cutting on practically every title put out by that awful label. I fell for some of them — I actually raved about Witches’ Brew on Classic back then, an endorsement that mortifies me to this day — but most of their classical records were junk that I was selling for cheap to the audiophiles who fell for the favorable reviews written about Classic Records in the magazines. Some things never change!

In the ’90s, the Decca on Speakers Corner came along and sounded fine to me. Not great, but good enough to sell if you wanted a good, quiet Pines for $30. It might not be fair to blame Speakers Corner for the shortcomings of their pressing, since the vintage Deccas with Maazel we’ve played have pretty much the same problems as the modern heavy vinyl classical LP: smeary strings, and an obvious lack of depth and transparency

In 2006 we played a Red Seal pressing of LSC 2436 that we liked at the time, but that was on a darker and less revealing system. It was a year before we found out about the amazing Walker Enzyme Record Cleaning System, which came along in 2007 and changed everything for us.

Around 2010 we played what we thought was a fairly good sounding London with Ansermet conducting, but by 2016 that recording was no longer competitive. A nice old record, but the world is full of nice old records. We had set our sights on a Hot Stamper pressing of a great recording with a performance to match. It would take us another six years of wandering in the wilderness before we were finally able to find what we were looking for.

Cut to 2016

In 2016 we we began a serious survey of the recordings 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.

The Prevatelli on London you see pictured was very compressed. When the music is supposed to get loud at the end of the Pines, it never does!  If more vintage Londons had sound as bad as the three or four copies we had on hand (it’s a fairly common used record, now I know why), we would happily admit that going the Heavy Vinyl route is a good idea.

And there certainly are a lot of bad vintage pressings — we should know, we’ve played them by the hundreds — but they pale up against the number of bad Modern Heavy Vinyl pressings.

Distortion

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!

What to Listen For

So many recordings had screechy strings and sour 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’s recording 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 will 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. 

Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale

This album is especially Difficult to ReproduceDo not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable / arm / cartridge setup. The Pines of Rome would be a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as these two tones poems. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has bought you.

It has been my experience that cheap tables (anything under $1k I would guess) more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this. If you have one of those, this is probably not the record for you.

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Brahms / Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1s is also that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1s pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here.

Less than half the time, probably closer to a quarter or a third.

Of course, to avoid being biased, the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1s loses so often.

If you are interested in finding the best sounding pressings, you have to approach the problem scientifically, and that means running Record Experiments.

Practically everything you read on this blog we learned through experimentation.

When we experimented with the Classic Records pressing of LSC 1903, we were none too pleased with what we heard. Our review is reproduced below.

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 was a disaster: shrill, smeary and unmusical.

(In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer for those of you who might be less familiar with his more recent work. He was great in the ’70s, but the work he did in the ’90s leaves a lot to be desired.)

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa). They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records and how revealing your system is.

My guess is that the CDs are probably better sounding. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s track record and the fact that CDs are cheap now because nobody wants them anymore. 

If you must have Heifetz’s 1958 performance, our advice is to buy the CD.

We know for a fact that the Living Stereo CD of Reiner’s Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it, TAS Super Disc Listing or no TAS Super Disc Listing.

As you may know, Classic is a label which we found very hard to like right from the beginning. We like them even less now. They may have gone out of business but their bad records are still plentiful on ebay and you can actually still buy some their leftover crap right from the world’s biggest retailer of bad sounding audiophile records, Acoustic Sounds.

If you don’t care how bad your records sound, Chad Kassem is your man.


Who Can’t Hear Differences in Sound from Side to Side on Most Records?

rimskscheh_2446More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

Both the Chesky [1] and Classic reissue pressings of LSC 2446 are just plain terrible. Embarrassingly the latter is found on the TAS List.

There is a newly remastered 33 RPM pressing of the album garnering rave reviews in the audiophile press. We didn’t like it either. It fails the violin test that we wrote about here.

Please note that in many of the reviews for the new pressing, the original vinyl used for comparison is a Shaded Dog pressing. In our experience almost no Shaded Dog pressings are competitive with the later White Dog pressings, and many of them are just plain awful, as we have noted previously on the site.

rimskscheh_chesky

The “original is better” premise of most reviewers renders the work they do practically worthless, at least to those of us who take the time to play a wide variety of pressings and judge them on the merits of their sound, not the color of their labels.

Missing the Obvious

The RCA White Dog with the best side two in our shootout had a very unmusical side one. Since reviewers virtually never discuss the sonic differences between the two (or more) sides of the albums they audition, how critically can they be listening? Under the circumstances how can we take anything they have to say about the sound of the record seriously?

The sound is obviously different from side to side on most of the records we play, often dramatically so (as in the case of Scheherazade), yet audiophile reviewers practically never seem to notice these obvious, common, unmistakable differences in sound, the kind that we discuss in every listing on the site. If they can’t hear the clear differences in sound from side to side, doesn’t that call into question their abilities at the most basic level?

Heavy Vinyl

For us it is this glaring obtuseness that best explains the modern audiophile reviewer’s infatuation with Heavy Vinyl. Poor reproduction or poor listening skills, it could be one or the other; most likely it’s some combination of the two (they clearly do go hand in hand, no surprise there). We can never be sure exactly where the fault lies. But do we really need to concern ourselves with the reasons for their shocking incompetence?

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We Heap Scorn Upon Chesky Records, With Good Reason

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

Our Favorite Performance of Scheherazade – Ansermet with the Suisse Romande

Sonic Grade: F

Chesky is one of the WORST AUDIOPHILE LABELS in the history of the world. Their recordings are so artificial and “wrong” that they defy understanding. That some audiophiles actually buy into this junk sound is equal parts astonishing and depressing.

Their own records are a joke, and their remasterings of the RCA Living Stereo catalog are an abomination.

The best RCA Living Stereo pressings are full of Tubey Magic. The Chesky pressings I have played have none.

What else would you need to know about their awful records than that?

If there is a more CLUELESS audiophile label on the planet, I don’t know what it could be, and I don’t want to find out. 

(Turns out there is someone producing the worst kind of remastered junk vinyl who may be even more clueless than Chesky, imagine that!)

Tchaikovsky – Better Front Ends Actually Reduce Surface Noise

The Music of Tchaikovsky Available Now

Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

No marks that play appreciably but that RCA vinyl is up to its old tricks again. Mint Minus Minus with constant light surface noise underneath the music in the quieter sections is the rule here. The first half inch of side two is where you will notice it the most. We are of the opinion that good sound and good music allow you to pretty much ignore surfaces such as these, scratches being another thing entirely of course. If there is any problem we offer a money back guarantee on this one.

Better Front Ends

I would make the further point that the better your front end is the less likely you are to have a problem with vinyl like this, which is the opposite of what many audiophiles perceive to be the case. In other words, some of the cheaper tables and carts seem to make the surface noise more objectionable, not less. On the other hand, some pricey cartridges — the Benz line comes to mind — are consistently noisier than those by Dynavector, Lyra and others, in our experience anyway.


FURTHER READING

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Making Audio Progress 

Unsolicited Audio Advice

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Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Reiner

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

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • An outstanding pressing of Heifetz’s amazing 1958 recording for RCA in glorious Living Stereo sound, earning solid Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • A superb pressing, with lovely richness, warmth, and real immediacy throughout – the overall sound is rich, sweet and Tubey Magical
  • Heifetz is a fiery player – this pressing will allow you to hear the subtleties of his bowing in a coherent, natural and realistic way
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity he brings to this difficult and demanding work
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings that offer the discriminating audiophile pressings with the Best Performances and Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.

For those of you who have only heard the Classic pressing, you are in for a world of better sound. The Classic is both aggressive and lacking in texture at the same time, the worst of both worlds. Bernie’s cutting system is what I would call Low Resolution — the harmonics and subtleties of the sound simply disappear.

We write about it on our blog, under the heading Bernie Grundman’s Work for Classic Records in Four Words: Hard, Sour, Colored and Crude. Search for it if you would like to know more.

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Rachmaninoff / De Falla – Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini / Nights In The Gardens Of Spain

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

More Classical Recordings in Living Stereo

  • You’ll find STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Living Stereo sound throughout this vintage (but not original) RCA pressing of these wonderful classical compositions
  • The rich, textured sheen of the strings the RCA engineers achieved in the ’50s and ’60s is a joy to hear throughout these pieces
  • This is something the Heavy Vinyl crowd will never experience, because that sound just does not exist on modern remastered records the way it does on these vintage pressings
  • The Tubey Magical richness is off the charts on this copy – if you want to know what kind of sound wins shootouts around these parts, this pressing will show you
  • To see more of the best orchestral recordings with top quality sound we’ve done shootouts for, click here
  • If you’re a fan of Rachmaninoff and/or Rubinstein, this Living Stereo from 1960 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Until we heard the right later pressings, we had always been disappointed with this TAS List recording, wondering what all the fuss was about. The original Shaded Dog pressings we had played left a lot to be desired. Like many of the old records we audition, it badly lacked both highs and lows, our definition of boxy sound.

Well, now we know. The early Shaded Dog pressings have consistently worse sound than the reissues we are offering here.

We never offered the record in Hot Stamper form because we didn’t think the sound of the originals was all that impressive, TAS List or no TAS List.

Mystery solved, and truly Hot Stampers have now been made available to the discriminating audiophile.

Harry’s list, as was so often the case, did not provide the information needed to find the pressing that captured all the qualities of the recording the way this one does.

Did Harry have a good later pressing? Did he have an original and simply liked it more than we did? We’ll never know.

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Destination Stereo – Demo Disc Living Stereo Sound

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Your Destination — Stereo!

“Your passport to great music in new sound by the world’s greatest artists.”

This reasonably quiet RCA Shaded Dog LP has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND on BOTH sides. It is without a doubt THE best sounding copy we have ever heard*.

Side one is White Hot, with some of the best 1959 Living Stereo we’ve ever heard. Explosive dynamics, HUGE space and size, with unerringly correct tonality, this is a Demo Disc like no other. When “in-the-know” audiophiles discuss soundstaging and depth, they had better be talking about a record that sounds like this.

Shockingly real – proof positive that the cutting systems of the day are capable of much better sound than many might think. 

This record is designed to show off the Living Stereo sound at its best and it succeeds magnificently. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

Just play Gnomus to hear The Power of the Orchestra, Living Stereo style.

The fourth and fifth movements of Capriccio Espagnol, the second track on side one, sound superb, CLEARLY better here than on the Shaded Dog pressings we played about a year ago (which were terrible and never made it to the site. Great performance but bad mastering of what obviously was a very good master tape).

You can also hear the Living Stereo sound especially well on the excerpt from “The Fourth of July” performed by Morton Gould. It’s one of the best sounding tracks here.

I don’t think the RCA engineers can cut this record much better — it has all the Living Stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the bass and dynamics that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is as good as it gets, folks.

The State of Reviewing

Even twenty years ago reviewers noted that tracks on compilations such as this often had better sound than the albums from which they were taken, proof that they were listening critically and comparing pressings. What happened to reviewers of that caliber?

I can tell you what happened to them: they left audio, driven out according to the principle that underlies Gresham’s Law: bad reviewers drive out good ones. Which leaves you with the type that can’t tell how truly awful most modern Heavy Vinyl Reissues are. A sad state of affairs if you ask me, but one that no longer impacts our business as we simply don’t bother to buy, sell or play most of them.

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Albeniz / Falla / Granados / Spain / Reiner

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

Spain has been an audiophile favorite for a very long time. Everybody should know it by now, what with both Chesky and Classic Records having remastered it in the ’90s, dismally of course, as neither of these companies showed the slightest sense that they understood how lackluster, if not downright awful, the resulting products of their efforts turned out to be.

No doubt Analogue Productions will see fit to ruin the recording the way they ruined Scheherazade.

This has never been one of the best Living Stereo titles in our experience. The highest grade I would give it would probably be a B.

“Our experience” is the key phrase in the above sentence. I can’t say there aren’t amazing sounding pressings of the album, it’s simply the case that we have never played one.

If I saw one for cheap I would of course pick it up, but in the modern world of records, that is very unlikely indeed.

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