Demo Discs for Recordings that Are Doing It All

Leonard Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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Conducts Symphonic Dances…

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  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on both sides of this vintage Columbia pressing – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The best copies are out of this world, reproducing some of the most dynamic, exciting, richest, and most spacious sound we have ever heard from the man’s records
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
  • Vibrant orchestrations, high quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an immersive and engrossing listening experience

One of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at the legendary 30th St studios in New York but I was wrong, Manhattan Center’s huge stage served as the venue. Either way the sound is no less glorious.

The big advantage this copy had over most is the fullness of the brass. The shrill sound of the brass on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed in the trade pile. Fortunately the sound here is rich and clean, with solid deep bass. The stage is huge, with the multi-miking kept to a minimum so that you can really hear the space.

Vintage Analog

This vintage Columbia pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the same room, this is the record for you. It’s what Vintage Records are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

The Genius of Leonard Bernstein (and the Columbia Engineers)

What both sides of this pressing have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1961
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional space of the club

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we describe above, and for that you will need to take this copy of the record home and throw it on your table.

A Big Group of Musicians Needs This Kind of Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

And most of the time those very special pressings are just plain more involving. When you hear a copy that does all that — a copy like this one — it’s an entirely different listening experience.

What We’re Listening For on this wonderful 1961 release

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness common to most LPs.
  • Tight, note-like bass — which ties in with good transient information, as well as the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the players.
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The musicians aren’t “back there” somewhere, way behind the speakers. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would have put them.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Hi-Fidelity

What do we love about these vintage pressings? The timbre of every instrument is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange.

This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it. I’m pretty sure our customers do, and whoever picks this record up is guaranteed to get a real kick out of it.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”

Side Two

Symphonic Suite from the Film “On The Waterfront”

Wikipedia

Leonard Bernstein (August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American composer, conductor, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim. According to The New York Times, he was “one of the most prodigiously talented and successful musicians in American history.”

His fame derived from his long tenure as the music director of the New York Philharmonic, from his conducting of concerts with most of the world’s leading orchestras, and from his music for West Side Story, as well as Candide, Wonderful Town, On the Town and his own Mass.

Bernstein was also the first conductor to give numerous television lectures on classical music, starting in 1954 and continuing until his death. In addition, he was a skilled pianist, often conducting piano concertos from the keyboard.

As a composer he wrote in many styles encompassing symphonic and orchestral music, ballet, film and theatre music, choral works, opera, chamber music and pieces for the piano. Many of his works are regularly performed around the world, although none has matched the tremendous popular and commercial success of West Side Story.

On the Waterfront

When he was asked to compose the score for On the Waterfront in 1954, Leonard Bernstein was 35 and already a major celebrity, but otherwise an unlikely candidate for the job. He had never written a movie score, and was not enthusiastic about doing it. In his 1959 book The Joy of Music [highly recommended by the way] (in a chapter whimsically titled “Interlude: Upper Dubbing, California”) Bernstein wrote:

When I was first shown a rough cut of the picture I thought it a masterpiece of direction; and Marlon Brando seemed to me to be giving the greatest performance I had ever seen him give, which is saying a good deal. I was swept by my enthusiasm into accepting the commission to write the score, although I had [until then] resisted all such offers on the grounds that it is a musically unsatisfactory experience for a composer to write a score whose chief merit ought to be its unobtrusiveness.”

Bernstein contributed compelling, distinctive music that gave the film much of its intensity, and received one of On the Waterfront’s12 Academy Award nominations (he didn’t win). Still, being a novice, he was shocked at the way his music was chopped up to serve the film: entire scenes were cut, music was turned abruptly on and off, and a piece “planned as a composition, with a beginning, middle and end, would be silenced seven bars before the end.” Kazan used music sparingly (typically when there wasn’t much dialogue), and only 35 minutes of Bernstein’s music made it into the 107-minute film. Wrote Bernstein:

And so the composer sits by, protesting as he can, but ultimately accepting, be it with heavy heart, the inevitable loss of a good part of his score. Everyone tries to comfort him. ‘You can always use it in a suite.’ Cold comfort. It is for the good of the picture, he repeats numbly to himself.

The Symphonic Suite in which he used it is in five connected sections. The slow first section is the prelude to the movie, accompanying the very stark-looking credits that begin the film. The succeeding Presto barbaro, ushered in by percussion (as it is at the start of the film’s action) contains music that accompanies the frequent violence in the film. A central Andante largamente is based on the love-interest music. The fourth and fifth sections are from the final scenes, in which the hero fights with the mobsters and then staggers, bloody and bruised, to lead the dock workers (physically) into the warehouse and (symbolically) out of the domination of the gangsters.

LA Phil

Return to Forever – Romantic Warrior – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Romantic Warrior

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This White Hot Stamper Romantic Warrior has a side one that will blow your mind. It’s 100% guaranteed to bring any stereo to its knees! Turn this one up and prepare yourself for the kind of sound that perhaps one out of a hundred records has to offer, with cymbal crashes that really crash, bass that threatens to move your house off its foundation and energy that is hard to believe was encoded into a thin piece of vinyl decades ago. But here it is! This copy is all that and more. 

Romantic Warrior is MY FAVORITE JAZZ/ROCK FUSION ALBUM of all time! As good as the music is, the sound is even BETTER! This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do these kind of sonics justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest MUSICAL statements of all time, it’s one of the great RECORDING STATEMENTS. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY. (more…)

The Music of Leonard Bernstein – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2012

More of the music of Leonard Bernstein 

More Rogers 

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

This London Phase 4 British import has some of the most SPECTACULAR sound I have ever heard reproduced from disc. The sound is so BIG and BOLD that it handily puts to shame 95% or more of all the Golden Age Shaded Dogs, London Bluebacks, Mercury Living Presence’s, EMI’s and Decca’s we’ve ever played. If we had a Classical Top 100 list, this record would belong in a Top Ten taken from it, right near the top judging by what I heard when I played it.

Side two here is BEYOND White Hot, earning a sonic grade of A++++! I don’t know that any other copy has earned such a high grade for side two but this one sure did. It blew our minds. (more…)

Jacques Loussier – Jacques Loussier Plays J.S. Bach Encore – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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More Jacques Loussier Plays J.S. Bach Encore

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This is a Brand New, Unplayed Japanese 45 RPM Audiocheck Pressing with DEMO DISC quality sound! This is absolutely one of the best sounding jazz records we have ever played here at Better Records!

For those of you who are not familiar with the Audiocheck 45 RPM series from Japan, these are albums remastered at 45 with some material left off by necessity, since the maximum for each side is closer to 12 minutes than the standard LP limit of 20 minutes. (more…)

Holst / The Planets / Previn / LSO – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

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The Planets / Previn / LSO

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

This Beyond White Hot Stamper Planets has Out Of This World sound on side two, where it earned a Four Plus sonic grade for its MINDBLOWING orchestral power, especially from the brass section, a subject we discuss at length below. 

This is some of the best sound I have ever heard coming out of my two speakers, if not THE best. Side two of this very copy takes the recording to a level we had no idea was possible. Out of the fifty or so copies of The Planets we’ve played in the last decade or so, this is without a doubt the best side two of them all.

We can only hope to find a side one as good in the next ten years. It probably exists, but will it take us another fifty copies to run into it? Only time will tell! (more…)

The Three – The Three (45 RPM) – Our Four Plus Copy from 2013

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More The Three (45 RPM)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.

More A++++ Hot Stamper Pressings.

Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience. (more…)

Shelly Manne & His Friends – Bells Are Ringing – What to Listen For

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

I have a very long history with this album, dating back close to twenty years. My friend Robert Pincus first turned me on to the CD, which, happily for all concerned was mastered beautifully. We used it to test and tweak my stereo and many of those that were owned by friends. 

Playing the original stereo record, which I assumed must never have been reissued due to its rarity (I have since learned otherwise), all I could hear on my ’90s all tube system was blurred mids, lack of transient attack, sloppy bass, lack of space and transparency, and other shortcomings too numerous to mention that I simply attributed at the time to vintage jazz vinyl.

Wellthings have certainly changed.

I have virtually none of the equipment I had back then, and I hear none of the problems with this copy that I heard back then on pressing I owned. This is clearly a different LP, I sold the old one off years ago, but I have to think that much of the change in the sound was a change in cleaning, equipment, tweaks and room treatments, all the stuff we prattle on about endlessly on the site.

In other words, if you have a highly-resolving modern system and a good room, you are should be knocked out by the sound of this record. I sure was. (more…)

Julie London – Julie

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  • This outstanding vintage Liberty stereo pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from top to bottom – exceptionally quiet vinyl for a Julie London album too (don’t get me started)
  • In-the-room presence, preternaturally breathy vocals, and boatloads of wonderful Tubey Magic
  • This amazing sleeper of a record belongs right up at the top of Ms. London’s oeuvre (25 albums strong) along with Julie Is Her Name – high praise indeed
  • 4 stars: “Usually put into a torch song setting, this release allows London to shed that garment and become jazzy. Instead of being sultry, she becomes dazzling and sparkling. She also becomes more adept at phrasing and timing and takes a risk or two in the tradition of a jazz singer.”

The great Jimmy Rowles plays piano, handled the arrangements and fronts the big group here, taking the music in a wonderfully jazzy direction that suits Julie’s vocal style perfectly. (more…)

Richard & Linda Thompson – Shoot Out The Lights – Bigger, Taller, Wider, Deeper

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on what to listen for (WTLF).

One of the qualities we don’t talk about nearly enough on the site is the SIZE of a record’s presentation. Some copies of the album don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. Other copies do, creating a huge soundfield from which the instruments and voices positively jump out of the speakers. 

When you hear a copy that can do that, needless to say (at least to anyone who’s actually bought some of our best Hot Stamper pressings) it’s an entirely different listening experience.

With constant improvements to the system Shoot Out is now so powerful a recording that we had no choice but to add it to our Top 100 list in 2014, but we would go even further than that and say that it would belong on a list of the Top Ten Best Sounding Rock Records of All Time. (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – Conducts Jane Eyre And Other Film Scores

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

This BEYOND White Hot Stamper Side Two completely blew our minds with Bernard Herrmann orchestral MAGIC. Side two is just OUT OF THIS WORLD. Since side two is where the Three Worlds of Gulliver suite is found — the very same superbly recorded music that is on Harry’s Super Disc List — you can be sure that is this is some of the best sounding Bernard Herrmann music you will ever have the opportunity to hear, if not THE best. The sound is DEMONSTRATION QUALITY of the HIGHEST ORDER. 

When it comes to this side two what we have here is a record that sounds so good, with the needle hits the groove you will feel like you’ve just threaded up the master tape and hit play. The effect is that you’re so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience you forget you’re listening to a record. You’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that. (more…)