Performers

Paganini / Concerto No. 1 / Rabin – Reviewed in 2011

This is a rare and very nice looking Capitol LP. The violin sounds rich and sweet, although the sound of the orchestra is a bit “old school” with too much congestion and distortion during the louder sections to qualify as a Hot Stamper were we to put this record in a shootout.

Which makes it a “good, not great” vintage classical record, best played on an Old School Stereo system.

The much more revealing systems of today, like the one we employed to audition this very copy, simply make it too easy to spot its many faults.

Vintage Vinyl

We are not fans of vintage vinyl because we like the sound of old records. Lots of old records don’t sound good to us at all, and we review them by the score on this very blog.

We like old records because they have the potential to sound better than every other kind of record, including the ones that have been made and marketed to audiophiles over the course of the last thirty years or so.

We wrote about that subject in a commentary we call The Big If. An excerpt:

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if. In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

We go on to discuss the wonderfully accurate timbre of the better vintage pressings, in contrast to the consistently inaccurate tonality of the Modern Heavy Vinyl pressing. It’s a long story but we think it is well worth your time if you are an audiophile looking for better sounding vinyl.


AMG Biography

Michael Rabin managed to be one of the most talented and tragic violin virtuosi of his generation. Hailed as a child prodigy, his talent matured gracefully into an adult level, but he failed to follow in his emotional growth, resulting in a cutting short of his career. He never reached the age of 36, yet remains one of the most fondly remembered of virtuoso violinists for listeners and fellow musicians such as Pinchas Zukerman, with whom he shared a teacher.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.


New to the Blog? Start Here

What exactly are Hot Stamper pressings?

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

Brahms / Sonatas Nos. 2 & 3 / Rubinstein and Szeryng – Reviewed in 2010

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Titles Available Now

3S/ 4S RCA Shaded Dog.

Third in a series of masterpieces for violin and piano.

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

The sound is actually quite decent when you INVERT the ABSOLUTE PHASE. If you cannot or will not do that, this record will not sound good — it’s somewhat hard and bright.

It will never be a Top Shaded Dog but it is a good one with the absolute phase inverted.


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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Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • With two outstanding sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound as good as it does here, and the Bruch Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • The glorious sound of these truly great 1958 All Tube “Decca Tree” recordings from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this disc, and once the needle hits the groove it won’t take you long to hear it
  • 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
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will be competitive with nearly all comers, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others that have impressed in the past
  • The violin is so sweet and present, so rich, natural and real, you will forget you’re listening to a record at all

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Take care, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place in the legendary Kingsway Hall. There is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

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Prokofiev / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Graffman – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

This Plum Label Original pressing is one of the TOP VICTROLA TITLES! The sound is excellent, with real weight to the orchestra, powerful dynamics, deep bass, and solid piano tone.

Add to that a wonderful performance by Gary Graffman and the San Francisco Symphony, and you have one truly OUTSTANDING record. (If you can add 1 or 2 db to the top end, it’s even better.) 

Here are some of the reviews and commentaries we’ve written for Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we developed in the early 2000s and have since turned into a fine art.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

(more…)

When You Hear Sound Like This, You Know It’s Right

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Franz Schubert

What I hear on this pressing is sound that is absolutely free from any top end boost, much the way live music is. There’s plenty of tape hiss and air; the highs aren’t rolled off, they’re just not boosted the way they normally are in a recording.

A few years back I had a chance to see a piano trio play locally; they even performed a piece by Schubert. The one thing I noticed immediately during their performance was how smooth and natural the top end was. I was no more than ten feet from the performers in a fairly reverberant room, and yet the sound I heard was the opposite of what passes in some circles for Hi-Fidelity.

This is the OPPOSITE of those echo-drenched recordings that some audiophiles seem to like, with microphones placed twenty feet away from the performers so that they are awash in “ambience.” If you know anything about us, you know that this is not our sound.

I have never heard live music sound like that and that should settle the question. It does in my mind anyway. The Chesky label (just to choose one awful audiophile label to pick on) is a joke and always will be.

How anyone buys into that phony sound is beyond me, but any audio show will prove to you that there is no shortage of audiophiles who love the Chesky “sound,” and probably never will be. (more…)

Saint-Saens / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rubinstein – Living Stereo Magic

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb TAS List Piano Concerto recording finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet and scratch-free as we can find it
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you love this famous piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this recording on his TAS List of Super Disc LPs, and with good reason — the sound is wonderfully relaxed and natural. This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD, enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured.

The great Artur Rubinstein’s performance of these wonderful works is superb.

Our Shaded Dog pressing here offers plenty of Living Stereo Magic. This wonderful record boasts a natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also presents the listener with a correctly-sized piano, which is fairly unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Piano Concerto No. 1 – Our Favorite Performance and Sound By Far

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

More Classical Music

  • A stunning copy of this classical masterpiece with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it from start to finish
  • By far our favorite performance for the work, and fortunately for us audiophiles, it is also the best sounding recording of the work that we know of
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • When the brass is the way it is here – rich and clear, not thin and shrill – you have yourself a top quality DG pressing
  • Virtually no smear to the strings, horns or piano – this is Golden Age Recording done right!
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings that offer the discriminating audiophile vinyl pressings with the Best Performances and Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.
  • More entries in our Well Recorded Classical Albums –The Core Collection

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Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Katchen / Solti

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Rachmaninoff

Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

This is a twenty year old review of a pressing we have not played in many years, so please take what we say with a very large grain of salt.

Beating that in mind, if you see one for cheap in your local record store, give it a good look and, for the five bucks they will probably be asking, take a chance to see if the record actually does have the sound we heard all those years ago.

Folks, what we are offering here is THE SLEEPER Hot Stamper pressing of all time. Side one earned an amazingly good grade of A++ with side two every bit as good. The buyer of this album is going to be SHOCKED when he sees what pressing it is. 

For those of you who cherish pressings for their best sound and performances — as opposed to the typical audiophile collector who prefers the “right” original labels on his records, of course produced only in the “right” countries — this is the record for you.

Hold it up for your (right-thinking or otherwise) audiophile friends to witness before you put it on your table and BLOW THEIR MINDS.

How did this kind of sound get produced so cheaply, so late in the game? From what tape, by what engineer? It is a mystery to me, one that is very unlikely to be explained to anyone’s satisfaction. (more…)

Schumann and Grieg Piano Concertos / Lupu / Previn

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

xxxxx

  • A superb UK Decca pressing of this wonderful classical masterpiece with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Both sides boast full brass and an especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • Back in the days when the TAS Super Disc List meant something, this record was on it and deservedly so
  • The London pressings of the same album can be very good in their own right, but they don’t win shootouts – only the best of these Decca pressings do, a subject we discuss in some of these listings
  • Our two favorite recordings of the Grieg Piano Concerto are this one and Rubinstein’s for RCA in 1962
  • 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.

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