Demo Discs for Big Speakers that Play at Loud Levels – Orchestral

Respighi / Pines of Rome / Reiner – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

More music conducted by Fritz Reiner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two Double Plus (A++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing of Reiners’s excellent 1960 recording had the glorious Living Stereo sound we were looking for
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • There were only three performances with audiophile quality sound in our shootout, and the Shaded Dog pressings not only had the best performances, but the sound that the team of Mohr/Layton managed to achieve was second to none
  • In other words, Harry was right to put this on his TAS Super Disc list – it really is a super disc
  • If you know anything about these works, you know that have tons of top and bottom end, and it is the rare pressing that can capture both
  • The texture and harmonic overtones of the Living Stereo strings are near perfection – as we listened we became completely immersed in the music on the record, transfixed by the remarkable virtuosity Reiner and the CSO brought to these difficult and demanding works so many years ago
  • There are roughly 150 orchestral recordings that we think offer the discriminating audiophile the best combination of Superior Performances with Top Quality SoundThis record has earned a place on that list.

This shootout has been at least five years in the making, and the case could be made that something like fifteen is closer to the truth. Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand — close to a dozen different performances, I think — and found them all wanting, save three: this one (which is still on the TAS List), a Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with low end whomp and weight. On these works both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

We never did find something better. Our best Shaded Dog ended up winning the shootout. The best RCA pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton nailed it — in 1960!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and both the Pines and the Fountains get very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing. Still, with the best copies going head to head with each other, Reiner had more of all the qualities we were looking for.

How did the famous 1S/1S pressing fare? No idea. I haven’t seen one in twenty years. It may be better than the White Hot copy we are offering here. I certainly would not make the mistake of saying what it sounds without having played it. If someone has one and wants to send it to me to audition, I would love to give it a spin.

Some recordings we played lacked transparency, as well as the relaxed sense of involvement that eases one’s ability to be tricked into thinking “you (really) are there.”

The famous 1977 Maazel recording for Decca, which was on the TAS List for a long time, suffered from a bad case of multi-miking and the transparency issue mentioned above. What do you expect from 1977?

This is, of course, the knock on the Modern Heavy Vinyl Pressing — where is the transparency? The space? The three-dimensional depth? If your stereo can reproduce these qualities — a big if, since even as recently as twenty years ago mine could not — you should have given up on these opaque and airless frauds years ago.

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Herrmann – The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann Records We’ve Reviewed

  • This early British London pressing offers superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, giving you plenty of blockbuster sound for those who can play a record like this good and loud
  • On the best copies, you will hear the power of the orchestra come to life right in your very own listening room
  • The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of wall to wall and floor to ceiling spaciousness that may just leave you in awe
  • A superb Phase 4 recording by Arthur Lilley, taking advantage of the legendary acoustics of Kingsway Hall
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1974 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of three-dimensionality most orchestral recordings simply fail to reproduce. The brass here is weighty and powerful, and you can really hear the pluck of the strings on the harp.

Harry Pearson put the Decca pressing of this title on his TAS List of Super Discs. (We take issue with that choice below.) (more…)

Bernstein – Conducts Symphonic Dances from West Side Story

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This vintage Columbia stereo pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it from first note to last
  • 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 Columbia records, especially those conducted by Leonard Bernstein
  • The music is wonderful of course, with the Suites giving you all the best parts of his marvelous compositions with none of the filler
  • These vibrant orchestrations are played with tremendous energy, and that, coupled with rich and tubey analog sound, combine for an especially immersive and engrossing listening experience, particularly on side one here
  • For those of you playing along at home, it should be obvious why side one earned the higher grade – some of the qualities important to the sound are in greater abundance on side one, and this is not in any way difficult to hear

This is one of the great Columbia recordings. I suspected it might have been done at their legendary Columbia 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.

One of the biggest advantages this copy had over most of what we played is fuller brass. The shrill sounding horns on most Columbia albums is what gets them tossed into the trade pile. Fortunately for us audiophiles who care about these sorts of things, 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 this big group of musicians occupies.

There is a HUGE amount of top end on this recording. Wildly splashing cymbals and other percussion instruments are everywhere, and they are a joy to hear. No original was as clean up top as this reissue, and without a clear, (mostly) distortion-free top end, the work will simply not sound the way Bernstein wanted it to.

All that percussion is in the score. The high-frequency energy – perhaps the most I have ever heard from any recording of his music — is there for a reason. He conducted his own score, and one can only assume he liked the way it came out. We sure did. (more…)

Herrmann – Citizen Kane (The Classic Film Scores of Bernard Herrmann)

More of the music of Bernard Herrman (1911–1975)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • This original RCA Red Seal pressing boast KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first side and solid Double Plus (A++) sound on the second
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • 5 Stars: “… the best of the entire series by conductor Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra… every track is worthwhile and memorably played.”
  • If you’re a Bernard Herrmann fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1974 is clearly one of his best
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The Citizen Kane Suite on this album is to die for — BIG, BOLD, DYNAMIC sound like few records you own. It’s a real desert island disc for me. (The CD, by the way, is actually quite good. I have it in the car and play it often.)

The Concerto Macabre for Piano and Orchestra (from “Hangover Square”) is superbly well-recorded and a brilliant piece of music as well.

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Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Ansermet

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chabrier

  • This superb Chabrier album contains our favorite Espana Rhapsody, and this copy lets you hear it with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • The “Espana” rhapsody for orchestra in Nearly White Hot stamper sound here is guaranteed to blow your mind
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
  • All the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Roy Wallace
  • Ansermet’s Chabrier disc has long been a favorite of ours here at Better Records – this copy will show you why

If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous (around here) label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. The Tracklist tab has extensive background information on most of these works.

So clear and clean, and spread out on such a huge stage, either one or both of these sides will serve you well as your go-to reference disc for Orchestral Reproduction.

Listen for the waves of sound in Espana — only the best copies bring out the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration.

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Orff / Carmina Burana – Amazing on DG Vinyl

More of the Music of Carl Orff (1895-1982)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • A STUNNING copy of this strikingly original work with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from the first note to the last – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • This spectacular recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the analog sound we love
  • We’ve auditioned quite a number of recordings of the work, and as far as we are concerned, on the right pressing this is the best sounding version that exists on vinyl – the orchestral power on display is positively PHENOMENAL
  • “With the direction of Eugen Jochum and the bonus of the incomparable rich, powerful voice of baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, this 1968 performance is a classic, and very probably the best, recording of the opera.”

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Herrmann – The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

More Reviews of Soundtrack Music

  • An outstanding recording with a huge three-dimensional stage, open, clear, extended up top and down low — the sound on this pressing is nothing short of amazing
  • 4 stars: “The sound glitters, some of the brightest and richest audio of its period (attested to by the album’s being part of Decca/London Phase 4 Stereo), and the performances have a dignity and intensity that makes the music — drawn from the key parts of Herrmann’s scores for the Ray Harryhausen-created fantasy films The Three Worlds of Gulliver, Mysterious Island, and Jason and the Argonauts — seem even more serious and profound than it originally did.”
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1975 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List.

This vintage London Phase 4 Stereo pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely 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 studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings 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. (more…)

Rodgers – Slaughter On Tenth Avenue / Fiedler

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound throughout this RCA Shaded Dog pressing in Living Stereo – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • The music flows from the speakers effortlessly. You are there.
  • This record will have you asking why so few Living Stereo pressings actually do what this one does. The more critical listeners among you will recognize that this is a very special copy indeed. Everyone else will just enjoy the hell out of it.
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Living Stereo from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Years ago we wrote:

This copy was so good it almost left me speechless. Why is it not one of the most sought-after recordings in the RCA canon? Beats the hell out of me.

But wait just one minute. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out just how good this record could sound, so how can I criticize others for not appreciating a record I had never taken the time to appreciate myself?

Which more than anything else prompts the question — why is no one exploring, discovering and then bringing to light the exceptional qualities of these wonderful vintage recordings (besides those of us here, of course)?

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Mussorgsky – Big Speakers, Loud Levels and More Power to the Orchestra

 

Hot Stamper LPs that Need to Be Played on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

Recordings that Sound Their Best on Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

The darker brass instruments like tubas, trombones and french horns are superb here. Other Golden Age recordings of the work, as enjoyable as they may be in other respects, do not fully reproduce the weighty quality of the brass, probably because of compression, limiting, tube smear, or some combination of the three.

The brass on this record has a power like practically no other. It’s also tonally correct. It’s not aggressive. It’s not irritating. It’s just immediate and powerful the way the real thing is when you hear it live. That’s what really caught my ear when I first played the recording.

There is a blast of brass at the end of Catacombs that is so big and real, it makes you forget you’re listening to a recording. You hear every brass instrument, full size, full weight. I still remember the night I was playing that album, good and loud of course, when that part of the work played through. It was truly startling in its power. (Back then I had the Legacy Whisper speaker system, the one with eight 15″ woofers. They moved air like nobody’s business. If you want to reproduce the power of the trombone, the loudest instrument in the orchestra, they’re your man.)

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Bernstein – The Music of Leonard Bernstein / Rogers

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • A STUNNING pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – a true Orchestral Demo Disc from 1970
  • As I write this, dollar for dollar this is probably the best sound for the money on the site
  • The Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” sound superb here – big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • The performances are superb – energetic as befits most of the music, yet lyrical when the score calls for it
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • Big speakers and loud levels are the sine qua non for the proper reproduction of this album

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.

If you have a system with the speed, power, and size to play this record properly (yes, you will need all three and a whole lot more), it’s hard to imagine it would not qualify as the best-sounding orchestral recording you’ve ever heard.

Demo Disc barely begins to do it justice. What sound. What music. What a record!

Side two is where the some of the best orchestral action can be found, and it is presented here with SPECTACULAR AUDIO FIDELITY the likes of which you may have never experienced. (more…)