Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Saint-Saëns / Rondo Capriccioso / Chausson / Poeme / Oistrakh

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  • With two Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning sides, this collection of violin showpieces simply could not be beat 
  • This copy was dramatically fuller, richer, tubier and smoother than the others we played, and ALIVE with pyrotechnic fireworks on side one
  • A superb 1963 Living Stereo recording with Tubey Magic to die for, one of the best violin recordings we have ever offered
  • The highlight for us on a collection like this is always going to be The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, “one of Saint-Saëns’ few genuine showpieces.”

The violin here is superb — rich, smooth, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound. The Tubey Magical richness is to die for. This record sounds like a Living Stereo recording from 1963 in all the best ways.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Zero smear, high-rez transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — it takes the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible.

The Miracle of Living Stereo

This record shows off Living Stereo sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented (on side one; side two is simply violin and piano) 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.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for RCA in the Living Stereo era, is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us.

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

This is pretty much as good as it gets, folks.

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Tchaikovsky / Capriccio Italien & Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Festival

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•Incredible sound on both sides of this London Phase 4 pressing with each side earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close them – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
•These pieces are some of THE BEST on record – not only do they have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performances are superb in every way as well
•The energy and excitement of these works are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like nothing you have ever heard
•This White Hot pressing may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection

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’70s EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the limitations of the equipment we were using, bad setups, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today.

Working in unfathomably complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record will be yours to enjoy for as long as you live. (more…)

Prokofiev / Symphonies No. 1 & 7 – Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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What to listen for on this album? That’s easy: The all-too-common ’70s EMI harshness and shrillness. We could never understand why audiophiles revered EMI as a label the way they did back the day. I chalk it up — as I do most of the mistaken judgments audiophiles tend to make about the sound of records, my own judgments included — to the limitations of the equipment, bad setups, bad rooms and poor record cleaning. 

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s — McIntosh, Marantz, etc. (I myself had an Audio Research SP3-A1 and a D-75a, later a D-76a) — the flaws heard on most copies of this record wouldn’t be nearly as offensive as they are to those of us playing them on the much more revealing systems that are possible today.

Working in unfathomably complicated and unpredictable combination, today’s modern systems, painstakingly set up and tweaked through trial and error, in heavily treated rooms, using only records that have been subjected to the most advanced cleaning technologies — these are what make it possible to know what your records really sound like. 

These are what make it possible for us to do our job. You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like on your system and in your room. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record will be yours to enjoy for as long as you live. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh – Not Too Big to Fail

More Tchaikovsky

More Concerto for Violin & Orchestra / Oistrakh

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Side two of this copy from our 2016 shootout provides a clear example of the effect known as the “The Violin That Ate Cincinatti.”

Yes, it may be oversized, but it’s so REAL and IMMEDIATE and harmonically correct in every way that we felt more than justified in ignoring the fact that the instrument could never sound in the concert hall the way it does here — unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound — big, but surely quite different) (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Fest. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

AN AMAZING A++++ SIDE TWO, presenting the complete work by Rimsky-Korsakov. The Capriccio Espagnol here is one of THE BEST on record. Not only does it have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performance is superb on every level as well. The energy and excitement of the piece are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like no other you have ever heard. 

This beyond White Hot Stamper may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection. The energy, size, scope and immediacy found on this Four Plus copy is easily superior to that of any other recording of the work we have ever heard!

What this album has going for it over the London/Decca with Argenta is an even more exciting Capriccio Espagnol, with orchestral power and vibrant color that rival the composer’s Scheherazade and arguably exceed it, compressing as it does its bright orchestration into fewer than 15 minutes of unalloyed brilliance. I would argue that the sound here easily beats nine out of ten copies of LSC 2446, quite a feat when you consider what that record is selling for these days.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. Scroll down to read more about them.

Capriccio Espagnol

The Most Exciting, Colorful Performance of all time — Black gets everything out of this famous work on this London recording.

Huge Wall to Wall Demo Disc sound, with the kind of IMMEDIACY that would make the folks at Mercury jealous. We grade this side A++++. You will find very few Living Stereos and Mercuries with this kind of sound, that I can assure you. (more…)

JS Bach / Two and Three Part Inventions / Glenn Gould

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  • Bach’s Inventions returns to the site with stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side two and an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Amazingly natural “you are there” sound – the room and the piano sound exactly the way I’ve heard them in real life, so what more can you ask for?
  • “The little 2 and 3 part creations last just a couple minutes each and present a wealth of creativity from the mind of Johann Sebastian, expertly enunciated by the most technically complete Bach pianist of the century.” Larry VanDeSande
  • 4 1/2 stars: “For many, the albums Glenn Gould recorded for Columbia between 1955 and 1981 are documents of unalloyed genius, particularly in his imaginative and masterful performances of Bach’s keyboard works.”

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Mussorgsky et al. – Danse Infernale – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky

Danse Infernale

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

It took two copies — one for side one, one for side two — to find two sides this good. We love this album but most copies are unbelievably dreadful. (Actually, if you’ve played a fair number of DG recordings over the years you might not have any trouble believing how bad the average one is, so I take that back.) 

This German Import has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — of a kind. Being a DG recording, one of the things you won’t be demonstrating with this record is natural string tone — it’s just not part of the DG sound. But, this record is ALIVE.

Some of the most powerful deep bass I have ever heard on LP. Dynamics that are rarely heard outside of the concert hall. Wonderful spaciousness, openness and depth. String basses and cellos that growl like the real thing.

But you don’t really want to buy this record for the sound, as good as it is in its own way. What you want to buy this record for is the best performance of Night On Bald Mountain ever recorded. Fiedler plays it with a kind of abandonment that no other conductor has to my knowledge. It’s supposed to be a wild witches’ frenzy, and this is the only performance I know of that allows you to picture such diabolic revelry in your mind’s eye. (more…)

Borodin / Sym. No. 2 / Tchaikovsky / Francesca Da Rimini / Varviso – Reviewed in 2012

More Borodin 

More Sym. No. 2 / Tchaikovsky / Francesca Da Rimini / Varviso 

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This London Whiteback pressing (CS 6578) has SHOCKINGLY GOOD sound; in many ways it deserves to be called a Demo Disc. It has at least one quality that one virtually never hears on an audiophile reissue: a smooth, natural top end. This record only sounds correct and “real” at louder volumes, in the same way that a live orchestra often sounds a bit lifeless in the quiet passages, only to get exciting, big and powerful when the score calls for it. For this to happen on record you need real dynamics and tonal neutrality. (more…)

Mendelssohn / Violin Concerto in E Minor / Rybar – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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

Violin Concerto in E Minor / Rybar

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This Whitehall budget reissue stereo pressing has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on both sides and a performance by Peter Rybar that can hold its own against any you may have heard.   

This recording easily beats most vintage Shaded Dogs, Mercurys and London records we’ve ever played here at Better Records, and it was released on vinyl by a relatively obscure budget label that most audiophiles have never even heard of and would probably not want to be caught dead with.

Which is a good reason to judge records by playing them, not reading about them, on the net or in magazines. The sound of this record is so wonderful that, had it been a rare Shaded Dog, Merc or London it would have sold for something approaching twice the money we are asking here. In my experience relatively few of those recordings are as good as this one. (more…)