Classical – “Sleeper” Top Quality Recordings

Seventies EMI Classical LPs and Vintage Tube Playback

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

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

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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 the way they did back in the ’70s. Harry Pearson loved many of their recordings, but I sure didn’t.  To this day, some of the records on the TAS List seem to me better suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the ’70s than the modern systems of today.

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 four basics:

  • the limitations of the equipment,
  • bad setups,
  • bad rooms, and
  • poor record cleaning

If you had vintage tube equipment back in the ’70s such as 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 exist today.

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. 

The more revealing, more accurate systems of today are in fact what make it possible for us to do our job.

We used to not do it as well, and we talk about it in our Live and Learn section.

You, of course, have the option of hearing our records any way you like. They should sound amazing on your system and in your room, and we stand behind that claim with a 100% Money Back Guarantee. The cleaning and evaluation of the sound has been done.  The record is correct. All you need to do is play it back properly.

With each improvement you make in your system, the kinds of high quality pressings we sell — we call them Hot Stampers — will continue to reveal better and better sound in their grooves.

This is not true for the Modern Heavy Vinyl reissue. The better a system gets, the more the faults of those pressings come to light.  This typically sad story is one that is all too common with our customers. (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 2 – Katchen / Solti

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

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  • An outstanding reissue pressing of this superb recording with solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • I’ve known how good this reissue can sound for more than twenty years – it is guaranteed to beat any and every pressing you have of the work or your money back
  • Big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound that simply does not exist except in the world of the properly cleaned, properly pressed vintage LP
  • On both of these sides you’ll hear rich strings, clear horns, a piano that is full-bodied and natural, with a solid low end (the kind you rarely hear on record but is nonetheless strikingly obvious in the presence of the real instrument)
  • “Is the pulse even, building in steady crescendo, or do those famous opening measures find some subtle phrase within? Most settle for the former; not so, Katchen and Solti – and that pretty much describes the attitude of these artists in this piece altogether: searching for and finding the phrase within the obvious.”

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Ravel / Piano Concertos / Haas – A Real Sleeper on Philips

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to do them again. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more

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This Philips recording from 1970 on exceptionally quiet Dutch vinyl has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one for one of Ravel’s best known piano works, the Piano Concerto in G. Most Philips records are much too thick, dull and opaque to be taken seriously, by us anyway. (In this respect they have many sonic attributes in common with Londons from the ’70s and ’80s.)

Dropping the needle on this pressing, however, was a pleasant surprise. It’s big and spacious on side one, with zero smear on a piano that is both full and clear.

This is a difficult combination to achieve in our experience, and the kind of sound we do not hesitate to praise highly here at Better Records.

To us it sounds right, and when the sound is as right as it is here, the wonderful piano music of Ravel can really work its magic. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – Capriccio Italien / Ormandy

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

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

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  • This classical masterpiece returns to the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or very close to it from first note to last
  • Dynamic, huge, lively, transparent and natural – with a record this good, your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • “Tchaikovsky possessed a remarkable talent for instrumentation, instinctively scoring his works to obtain a maximum variety of color and the widest possible range of tonal effects. His “Capriccio Italien”, vibrant with the raw colors of its Italian song and dance rhythms, is one of his most popular works and shows the composer’s complete mastery of orchestration.”

We’ve had copies of the album in the past, but they sure never sounded like this! From both an audiophile and music lover’s perspective, you would have a hard time finding a record that holds this much appeal to both groups.

The orchestra is big and rich, and there is lovely sheen to the strings. The piano is surrounded by plenty of space, with great depth to the hall. The weight and bite of the brass are near perfection. The top is extended and open. And the loud passages are big and stay smooth, with very little congestion even at the climax of the work. So LIFELIKE this way. (more…)

Chopin / 24 Etudes / Vasary – A Demo Disc for Solo Piano on DG

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings with Demo Disc Sound

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  • This stunning album of some of Chopin’s greatest piano pieces has superb sound, boasting a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
  • This magnificent sounding (and surprisingly hard to find) pressing is yet another example of a classical “sleeper,” one that can hold its own with practically any solo piano recording you have ever heard
  • As expected, Vasary performs with consummate skill, bringing out nuances in the work that may have escaped others – the results are captivating
  • “… an extraordinarily impassioned work, belying its technical utility.”

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John Williams / Guitar Concertos – Superb Sound from Columbia in 1977

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them.
This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.

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This Columbia record from 1977 has GLORIOUS Demo Disc Quality sound on its White Hot side one, rivaling the very best orchestral guitar recordings by the likes of Rodrigo, Falla and Albeniz on Golden Age London vinyl we have ever heard.

If I could have only one guitar concerto recording in my collection, there’s a very good chance I would choose this one — that’s of course assuming I could have a copy that sounds as good as this one does on side one. It’s spacious and open and three-dimensional in a way that few classical recordings we play are, and we an awful lot of top quality classical records. 

We would love to find some nice London guitar concerto records to offer our customers, but these days such records are very hard to find and often too expensive for us to buy when we do.

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

We found this one, however, and although it may not be from the Golden Age or on London, it sounds to these ears every bit as good as any guitar concerto record I can remember hearing from that era or that label.

And the music is sublime. I heard this piece at a customer’s home in a very large room with a high ceiling, the speakers pulled well out from the walls. The speakers disappeared, leaving sound that was nothing less than glorious, as big as the room and as natural as any I had heard up until that time. That was about ten years ago. I’ve lusted for a huge dedicated room ever since.

It took us many years to find enough copies of the album to do a shootout. This is the only one with a White Hot side one. It’s by far the best on that side. (more…)

Vivaldi – The Four Seasons / I Solisti Di Zagreb / Tomasow

More of the Music of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

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  • This superb Vanguard recording of one of our favorite performances of the work boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound throughout
  • This pressing has all the qualities that make analog so involving and pleasurable — the warmth, the richness, the naturalness, and above all the realism
  • The sound here has the power to transport you completely, with solid imaging and a real sense of space, qualities that allow us to forget we are in our listening rooms and not in the concert hall

Folks, we have some good news for those of you who have been waiting for one of the best-sounding, most beautifully performed Four Seasons ever recorded. Let’s just say that this small ensemble recording is as close to perfect as any we have ever heard. The harpsichord is especially good on the Vanguard recording, better than the RCA I would venture. Its placement in the soundfield is subtly natural, precisely the way one would expect to hear it in performance.

All four movements are performed with great spirit, and other than a sour note right at the start — listen for it! — the playing is of the highest quality. I prefer the performance — slightly — to the famous RCA. (more…)

Can You Imagine Getting a Record This Good in the Mail?

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

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The MHS pressing above can have superb sound.

MHS remastered the original 1967 Melodiya tape in 1979, dramatically improving upon the sound of the version that I knew on Angel, which shouldn’t have been too hard as the Angel is not very good.

Wait a minute. Scratch that. MHS didn’t cut the record, an engineer at a mastering house did. Fortunately for us audiophiles, the job fell to none other than Bill Kipper at Masterdisk.

Think what a different audio world it would be if we still had Bill Kipper with us today, along with the amazingly accurate and resolving cutting system he used at Masterdisk. There are no records being produced today that sound remotely as good as this budget subscription disc. Furthermore, to my knowledge no record this good has been cut for more than thirty years. The world is awash in mediocre records.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can all be thankful that we still have the records he and so many other talented engineers mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and far into the future. (more…)

Finlandia – Striving for Orchestral Clarity with Decca and Failing with RCA

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

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

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The original RCA Living Stereo pressings we played in our 2014 shootout were not competitive with the best Deccas and London reissues.

Is the original the best way to go?

In our experience with Finlandia, not so much.

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The record you see above 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 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, 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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Handel – Water Music / Leppard

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

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

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  • 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)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

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 few weeks 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…)