Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Hearing Is All It Should Take, Right?

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Some person on some audiophile forum might feel obligated at some point to explain to you, benighted soul that you are, that the old classical records you and other audiophiles revere are so drastically compromised and limited that they just can’t sound any good.

It’s just a fact. It’s science. Technology marches on and has left those old records collecting dust on the ash heap of history.

That’s why the audio world was crying out for Bernie Grundman to recut those Living Stereo recordings from the ’50s and ’60s on his modern cutting equipment and have RTI press them on quiet, flat, high-resolution 180 gram vinyl, following the best practices of an industry that everybody knows has been constantly improving for decades.

But for those of us who actually play these records, there is little evidence to support any of these statements of “fact.”

However, the above sentence only makes sense if the following four conditions have been met for the person judging the new pressings against the old ones:

  1. He or she has a good stereo,
  2. A good record cleaning system, and
  3. Knows how to do shootouts using his or her
  4. Well developed critical listening skills

If you have spent much time on this blog, you have probably read by now that the first three on this list are what allow you to develop the fourth.

Compromises?

The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, similar to the one you see pictured here, were compromised in every imaginable way.

Yet somehow they manage to stand sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that has come after them, now that we have high quality equipment on which to play them

The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. When playing them you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in the music and the quality of the performance.

Whatever the limitations of the medium, they seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the musical experience.

That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable.

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Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Listen for Dry Strings

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for Chabrier’s Orchestral Music

On many copies the strings are somewhat dry, lacking some of the Tubey Magic heard on the better copies.

This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years.

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do.

Our 17Dx is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard.  

It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in even the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are noticing these things on the records they review, whether it be in magazines, websites or audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

You, dear reader, know the answer to that one, since you are reading the only writer that has been criticizing these know-nothings going on three decades.

The frequency response of the 17DX is shown below. Hard to draw a line much flatter than that.

Some cartridges are known to have ridiculous response curves. Here’s one, and there are lots more like it.

Today’s MoFi Disaster Is Pictures at an Exhibition

moussmofiMore of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

The MoFi mastering of Pictures and The Firebird here are a joke. All that phony boosted top end makes the strings sound funny and causes mischief in virtually every other part of the orchestra as well. Not surprisingly, those boosted highs are missing from the real EMIs.

These are exactly the kind of unbearably bright strings that Stan Ricker seems to favor.

moussmofiThe proof? Find me a Mobile Fidelity classical record with that little SR/2 in the dead wax that does not have bright string tone. I have yet to hear one.

The last time I played a copy of MFSL 1-520 I found the sound so hi-fi-ish I couldn’t stand to be in the room with it for more than a minute. Of course the bass is jello as well. The EMI with the right stampers is worlds better.

(Warning: The domestic Angel regular version and the 45 are both awful.)

MoFi had a bad habit of making bright classical records. I suppose you could say they had a bad habit of making bright records in general. A few are dull, some are just right, but most of them are bright in one way or another. Dull playback equipment? An attempt to confuse detail with resolution?

Whatever the reasons, the more accurate and revealing your equipment becomes, the more obvious the shortcomings of Mobile Fidelity’s records will be. My tolerance for their phony EQ is at an all time low. But hey, that’s me.

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Tchaikovsky – The Violin That Ate Cincinatti

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

More Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Our review for the MHS pressing of the famous concerto was entitled: 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 on this record — unless you were actually playing it (and even then I doubt if it would be precisely the same sound — big, but surely quite different).

This is where the mindless and all but fetishistic embrace of “the absolute sound” breaks down completely. Recordings that do not conform to the ideal sound of the concert hall are not necessarily bad or wrong. Sometimes — as we think might be the case here — records with this sound can actually be more involving than their more “natural” counterparts.

This is especially true for rock and jazz, but it can also be true — at least to some degree — for classical music as well. If you don’t agree with us that the sound of the violin on side two of this pressing is more musically involving than it is on side one, you may of course return it for a full refund.

Remastering 101

MHS remastered the original 1967 Melodiya tape in 1979 in order to produce this record, 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.

Once Masterdisk had done their job, MHS proceeded with theirs, pressing it on reasonably quiet vinyl and mailing it out to all their subscribers.

Can you imagine getting a record this good in the mail? It boggles the mind. Of course Reader’s Digest did something very similar in prior decades, and some of their pressings are superb, but I can’t think of a single one that sounds this good or plays this quietly. [That is no longer true, we have played some awfully good ones.]

For a subscription service record label release, this one raises the bar substantially. Hell, for a recording of the work itself this copy raises the bar. It’s without a doubt one of the best recordings of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a score of them if not more.

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The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and Others

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical Albums from The Core Collection

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record Sound,” which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion.

Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Liebestraum / Composed By – Franz Liszt
Gayne Ballet Suite: Lullaby / Composed By – Khatchaturian
Moonglow And The Theme From “Picnic”
Dancing Through The Years

Side Two

Jalousie / Composed By – Gade
Fantasia On “Greensleeves” / arr. Vaughan Williams
Hernando’s Hideaway / Written-By – Jerry Ross, Richard Adler
The Bohemian Girl: Overture / Composed By – Balfe

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Set-up Discs, Part Two – Dialing in the Anti-Skate

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Turntable Setup Advice

More Advice on Adjusting Anti-skate

I once adjusted my anti-skate while playing this very album, at the time dialing it in to a “T”. Over the years I’ve found that the best test for fine anti-skate adjustment is massed strings, and not just at the end of a side but right at the beginning too.

When you have all the rosiny texture, the high-end harmonic extension, the least shrillness and the widest and deepest staging, you are there, assuming that tracking weight, azimuth and VTA are correct as well.

Four variables to mess with is admittedly a bitch, but having the right record to test with is absolutely critical as well. Maybe we should call it five variables.

And if I only had one record to bring to someone’s house in order to evaluate their equipment, this would certainly be a top choice. If you can make this record sound the way it should, your stereo is cookin’. If you are having problems, this record will show them to you in short order. (more…)

Violin Recordings and the Problem of Smear

More Hot Stamper Pressings of Violin Recordings

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

This Shaded Dog pressing of LSC 2129 had practically no smear on either the violin or the orchestra.

Try to find a violin concerto record with no smear.

We often say that Shaded Dogs, being vintage All Tube recordings, tend to have tube smear.

But what about the ’70s Transistor Mastered Red Label pressings – where does their smear come from?

Let’s face it: records from every era more often than not have some smear and we can never really know what accounts for it.

The key thing is to be able to recognize it for what it is. (We find modern records, especially those pressed at RTI, to be quite smeary as a rule. They also tend to be congested, blurry, thick, veiled, and ambience-challenged. For some reason most audiophiles — and the reviewers who write for them — rarely seem to notice these shortcomings.)

Of course, if your system itself has smear it becomes that much harder to hear the smear on your records.  Practically every tube system I have ever heard had more smear than I could tolerate – it comes with the territory. And high-powered transistor amps are notoriously smeary, opaque and ambience-challenged. Our low-powered, all-transistor rig has no trouble showing us the amount of smear on records, including those that have virtually none.

Keep in mind that one thing live music never has is smear of any kind. Live music is smear-free. It can be harmonically distorted, hard, edgy, thin, fat, dark, and all the rest, but one thing it can never be is smeary.

That is a shortcoming unique to the reproduction of music, and one which causes many of the pressings we sell to have their sonic grades lowered.

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The Bloated Cello Sound Some Audiophiles Find Appealing

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Claude Debussy

On this pressing we were a bit surprised at how natural the cello sounded — more like the real instrument and less like the typical recording of it. 

Normally when recording the cello, the microphones are placed fairly close to the instrument. This often results in what’s known as the “proximity effect,” which simply describes a boost in the lower frequencies relative to the more linear response of the microphone when placed at a distance.

The famous Starker cello recordings on Mercury — you know the ones, the originals and even the reissues sell for hundreds and hundreds of dollars — suffer from this effect, which audiophiles seem to prefer. (The Mercury heavy vinyl reissues, at least the ones I’ve played, were ridiculously fat and bloated in the bottom.)

Audiophiles did not seem to mind much, judging by the apparently strong sales and the rave reviews I read. Bass shy systems, and that means most of the systems owned by audiophiles, probably benefited from the bass boost.

Systems with lots of large woofers — at least in our case — would of course make the sound of these pressings positively unbearable. That indeed was our experience.

Getting back to the record at hand, it presents a more natural cello if only because the instrument has been miked from a greater distance.

Side two is a bit fuller sounding than side one, and one of them is going to sound more correct on your system than the other. I would not even want to say for sure which one actually is more correct, as the slight difference between them might be subtle enough to play into room and system non-linearities that plague all stereos and rooms.

Both sides here will sound the way these real instruments sound when played in the kinds of rooms that one might hear them in, practice rooms perhaps. That makes this recording unusual in the world of “audiophile recordings,” if I can call this one, and no less refreshing and enjoyable for it.

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Romantic Russia – Who on Earth Could Possibly Take the Sound of this Awful Remaster Seriously?

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Georg Solti

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

There actually is such a person who does exactly that, can you imagine?

Only an Audiophile True Believer could be fooled by sound so ridiculously unnatural.

But the world is full of such people. They bought into the Audiophile BS of Mobile Fidelity in the ’80s and apparently haven’t learned much since.

Now they think Heavy Vinyl is the answer to the world’s problems. The more things change…

If your stereo is any good at all, you should have no trouble hearing the sonic qualities of this album described below. If you are on this blog, and you have tried some of our Hot Stamper pressings, there is a good chance you’re hearing pretty much what we’re hearing. Why else why would you pay our prices?

One thing I can tell you: we would never charge money for a record that sounds as weird and wrong as this MoFi.

A well-known reviewer has many kind things to say about this pressing, but we think it sounds like a hi-fi-ish version of a ’70s London, which means it’s opaque and the strings are badly lacking in Tubey Magical sheen and richness.

The bass is like jello on the MoFi, unlike the real London which has fairly decent bass.

If a self-styled Audiophile Reviewer cannot hear the obvious faults of this pressing, I would say there’s a good chance one or both of the following is true:

  1. His equipment is not telling him what the record is really doing, and/or,
  2. His listening skills are not sufficiently developed to notice the shortcomings in the sound.

The result is the worst kind of Reviewer Malpractice.

But is it really the worst kind? It seems to be the only kind!

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We Make the Case that Even CDs Have Better Sound than LPs from Classic Records

brahmvioli_1903_debunk

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

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

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records Living Stereo pressing.

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, and one is actually quite good. 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.

The CDs are better for all I know. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s generally poor track record.

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