Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Albeniz / Turina – Iberia / Danzas Fantasticas

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

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • With two seriously good Double Plus (A++) sides, this reissue pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other Iberia you’ve heard, especially if what you own is the Speakers Corner Decca (which is actually not a bad record)
  • Here you will find the huge hall, correct string tone, and spacious, open sound that are traits common to all the best vintage orchestral pressings
  • Listen to the plucked basses – clear, not smeary, with no sacrifice in richness. Take it from us, the guys that play classical recordings by the score, this is hard for a record to do!
  • Ernst Ansermet conducted some of the best sounding records ever made — here are some of the ones we’ve reviewed
  • We don’t have any problem recommending a Budget Reissue pressing such as this one, not when it has this kind of audiophile sound. In fact, some of them are so good that, even up against the best vintage pressings, they actually win the shootout

The sound of this copy is so transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic, that we knew we had a real winner on our hands as soon as the needle hit the groove.

We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

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Rachmaninoff and Liszt / Favorite Classics for Piano / Pennario on Capitol

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Records We’ve Discovered

We found White Hot Stamper sound on side two of this solo piano recording.

It’s big, rich and above all REAL sounding, with natural studio space. The legendary soloist Leonard Pennario is presented here at the height of his powers.

Superb choice of material, from Clair De Lune to Liebestraum to the Hungarian Rhapsody No . 2.

On the rare Stereo pressing of course — we want to hear all that studio space reproduced, just as your two ears would have heard it (more or less).

Side One

Graded Super Hot for the huge, solid-sounding piano, played with such verve and skill. The musical power on this side is stupendous. 

Side Two

Even better! No smear, with incredible clarity, and no sacrifice in weight or richness.

All of which adds up to a top quality piano recording in every way.

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Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult

  • This rich, sweet and full-bodied UK pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Side one gives you not only a wonderful Clair De Lune, but a number of shorter works by Faure, Massenet and Elgar as well, with side two highlighted by meditative pieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky and others
  • We can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound – this record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on tape
  • It’s the same recording as the famous Living Stereo Clair De Lune, LSC-2326, but with a couple of extra tracks included
  • The other main difference between the Living Stereo pressing on our Decca here is that the Decca has better sound

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

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Liszt, Ludwig, Grundman and Sax

Liszt & Weber / Ballade No. 2, Mephisto Waltz / Bar-Illan

The Liszt side here actually has the best sound, earning a seriously good grade of A++ to A+++.

This is one of the few audiophile-label recordings I have ever played that actually sounds NATURAL and CORRECT. This is a very real sounding piano; there are not many recordings that can capture that instrument’s weight, but this one sure does.

Side One

A++ sound, very open and real. This is a big piano with a solid bottom end playing in a big room. A trace of smear on the transients keeps it from the full Three Plus grade.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, less smeary so we raised the grade a bit. The music is dark and somewhat “out there” but the sound is AMAZING. 

A top quality solo piano recording from an “audiophile” label? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t heard it for myself.

That’s not really being fair, though. Some of us remember that Robert Ludwig cut another “audiophile” pressing, this one for Athena, and did a great job on it. (The other four records Athena released before they went out of business were awful, including the one mastered by Doug Sax.)

I suspect that if Ludwig hadn’t stopped cutting records years ago, we would not be complaining nearly as much as we do about the sound of the modern Heavy Vinyl pressings currently inundating the market.

Bernie and Doug really started letting the record lovers of the world down beginning as far back as the ’90s.

The muddy messes Doug Sax cut for Analogue Productions and the awful Living Stereo records Bernie cut for Classic Records were sad chapters in both men’s body of work. Here were two of the All Time Greats. Their fall was precipitous and painful for those of us who never gave up on analog. In those dark days they mastered one record after another so unlike the amazing sounding ones they had made in the ’70s and well into the ’80s.

We have nothing personal against either one of them, of course. We just haven’t liked the sound of very many of the records they’ve mastered for the last thirty years, and we have never been shy about saying so.

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Sibelius / Finlandia / Mackerras – Reviewed in 2015

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

A shocking Stereo Treasury sleeper with a superb Shaded-Dog-beating side one. Side one is nearly White Hot – it’s exceptionally transparent and dynamic. Real Demo Disc sound and music on side one – spectacular works played with feeling.

This is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1960 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

Side One

More spacious than practically any other copy we heard thanks to an extended, correct top end.

This side was also very dynamic, and it gets loud in the right way, never harsh or screechy.

Correct from top to bottom, and there are not many records we can say that about. So natural in every way.

The brass is HUGE and POWERFUL on this side. Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Mackerras is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Side Two

Good clarity and top extension, with full-bodied, textured strings. Gets a little hot at its loudest but manages to stay under control and enjoyable throughout.

The opening track on side two, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, is one of my favorite pieces of orchestral music. Mackerras and the London Proms make it magical.

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Haydn / Symphonies 100 & 101 – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

The New York Times review for these performances called them “matchless” and we see no reason to disagree! With Super Hot Stamper sound for No. 100, “Military”, we’re confident you will have a very hard time finding better sound and music from Haydn than is found on this original Black Label Vanguard Stereophonic Demonstration Disc.

Side one, containing Symphony No. 100, “Military,” is smooth and rich and full of tubey magic, the kind of analog sound that has not been recorded for more than thirty years. Because the top end is not boosted and phony like most audiophile pressings, you can play a record like this at much more realistic levels without fatigue or harshness.

Try that with the average Reference or Telarc.

The sound is a bit distant, mid-hall we would call it, but wide and full of depth the way these vintage recordings often are.

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Strauss / Schubert – Dances of Old Vienna / Boskovsky

More of the music of Johann Strauss (1804-1849)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • An original UK Decca pressing of this wonderful sounding record boasting STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades from first note to last
  • Tonally correct from top to bottom and full of Tubey Magic, it’s unbelievably spacious and three-dimensional, with depth to rival any recording you may own
  • The violin (played by Boskovsky himself) is immediate, real and lively here – there is a transparency and ease to the sound that is not often heard in recordings from any era, making this a very special record indeed
  • 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

Wow, what a find! This is a WONDERFUL sounding record with vintage Decca / London sound. There is not a trace of hyped-up sound to be found on this record.

So spacious! This is a fairly small ensemble, not a huge orchestra, playing in a lively hall, exactly the kind of hall in which this music was meant to be heard. The reason everything on this disc sounds right is that the venue, the sound and the music are authentic to these works in practically every detail.

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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.

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Handel / Water Music – Leppard

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

The performance by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable.

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a while back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above). (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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