Demo Discs for Dynamics

Tchaikovsky / 1812 – A Must Own Performance by Alwyn on Decca

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Years ago we found a very special copy of this album in a shootout and gave it a grade of A++++. We don’t give out that grade anymore, but we gave it out to this side one back in the day. We describe what let this copy earn that grade below.

A BEYOND White Hot Quadruple Plus side one – hear Tchaikovsky’s 1812 in Demo Disc sound. This is the most exciting and beautifully played 1812 we know of, with the best sound ever to boot on this copy. This is an exceptional Decca remastering of a superb Golden Age recording on very good vinyl.

The WHOMP FACTOR on this side one has to be heard to be believed. If you’ve got the woofers for it this record is going to rock your world!

Side One (1812 Overture)

Off the charts, the best we have ever heard this work sound. Big, rich, clean and clear barely begins to do this side justice. The strings are wonderfully textured and not screechy in the slightest.

The brass is big and clear and weighty, just the way it should be, as that is precisely the sound you hear in the concert hall, especially that part about being clear: live music is more than anything else completely clear. We should all strive for that sound in our reproduction of orchestral music.

Not many recordings capture the brass this well. (Ansermet on London comes to mind of course but many of his performances leave much to be desired. Here Alwyn is on top of his game with performances that are definitive.)

Here’s what you get on this side one:

The most dynamic sound we have ever heard for any side of this album.

The most weight and power we have ever heard for the 1812, and as you can imagine, for this work to have the kind of power this pressing has was nothing less than a THRILL to hear. Who knew? Until we played this copy, not us!

The most depth and space we have ever heard on this album.

To earn our coveted Three Plus (OR BETTER) rating here at Better Records all you have to do is be the best copy we’ve ever played. Just be right in every way (or almost every way; no record can be perfect, but some, such as this one, seem to us to get pretty darn close). (more…)

Mussorgsky et al. / Danse Infernale / Fiedler – Our Favorite Night On Bald Mountain

More of the Music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

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  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides make this the consistently best sounding batch of Orchestral Showpieces we have ever played
  • After a two year hiatus, our favorite performance of Night on Bald Mountain is back, and it’s guaranteed to blow your mind (and maybe a woofer or two)
  • Side one also boasts an excellent Danse Macabre, with a powerful finish that may remind you of the thrill of live orchestral music
  • Side two contains a wonderfully exciting Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Both sides are clear and transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling
  • Watch your levels – this pressing is dramatically more DYNAMIC than most Golden Age recordings

If you like Orchestral Spectaculars, have we got the record for you!

This pressing clearly has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND — not in every way, but in some important ways. The ENERGY of both the sound and the performances of these barnburning showpieces is truly awesome. Fiedler brings this music to LIFE like no other conductor we have heard.

This pressing boasts relatively rich, sweet strings, especially for a Deutsche Grammophon LP. Both sides really get quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy (and the reason it is so hard to find a copy that plays better than Mint Minus Minus. We do have a quieter copy with lower grades if you are interested though.) (more…)

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues / Volume III – An Audiophile Record with Honest-go-Goodness Real Music

More Lincoln Mayorga

More Direct-to-Disc Recordings

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  • A KILLER copy with Demo Disc Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it from start to finish
  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for Volume III, clearly the best sounding title in the series
  • A superb pressing with energy and presence that just jumps right out of your speakers – this is but one of the qualities that separates the truly Hot Stampers from the pack

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tambourines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer / Self-Titled – Out of This World Sound on Big Speakers at Loud Levels

More Emerson, Lake and Palmer

More Prog Rock

  • This vintage Island Pink Rim import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally QUIET vinyl too
  • Spacious, rich and dynamic, with especially smooth, present vocals – this is what we love about Eddie Offord’s work here
  • ANALOG at its Tubey Magical finest – you’ll never play a CD that sounds this good as long as you live
  • Lucky Man and Take A Pebble on this copy have Demo Disc Quality Sound like you won’t believe
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lively, ambitious, almost entirely successful debut album… [which] showcased the group at its least pretentious and most musicianly …there isn’t much excess, and there is a lot of impressive musicianship here.”

If you’ve got the system to play this one loud enough, with the low end weight and energy it requires, you are in for a treat. The organ that opens side two will rattle the foundation of your house if you’re not careful. This music really needs that kind of megawatt reproduction to make sense. This is bombastic prog that wants desperately to rock your world. At moderate levels it just sounds overblown and silly. At loud levels, it actually will rock your world.

This UK Island pink rim import pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely 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 studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Expanding Space Itself on The Dark Side of the Moon

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

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A few years back we played a copy with all the presence, all the richness, all the size and all the energy we ever hoped to hear from a top quality pressing of Dark Side of the Moon. It did it ALL and then some. The raging guitar solos (there are three of them) on Money seemed to somehow expand the system itself, making it bigger and more powerful than I have ever heard. Even our best copies of Blood Sweat and Tears have never managed to create such a huge space with that kind of raw power. This copy broke through all the barriers, taking the system to an entirely new level of sound.

Take the clocks on Time. There are whirring mechanisms that can be heard deep in the soundstage on this copy that I’ve never heard as clearly before. On most copies you can’t even tell they are there. Talk about transparency — I bet you’ve NEVER heard so many chimes so clearly and cleanly, with such little distortion on this track. (more…)

Weber / Overtures / Ansermet / Suisse Romande

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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GLORIOUS Super Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on side two of this original London Blueback UK pressing. Yes, it has the Decca / London sound we expect from Ansermet, the Suisse Romande orchestra, and the amazing Victoria Hall they recorded in — rich and spacious, with lovely texture to the strings.

But that’s not all. This record is exceptionally DYNAMIC. If you like listening to your records at realistic levels — the only way to fly to our way of thinking — then you had better watch your levels! The huge bottom end makes those dynamic passages a thrill to experience. Make sure your VTA is carefully adjusted — a big deal with us these days — and you will be in for the ride of your life.

Side Two

A++ to A+++. The only reason we did not award the full three pluses was that there is a touch of congestion in some of the loudest passages. Other than that there is practically nothing to fault with the sound! No smear, present and clear. (more…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola / De Burgos – Such a Dynamic Recording

More of the music of Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

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Wow, is this record ever DYNAMIC! I would put it in the top 2 or 3 percent of the most dynamic recordings we have played over the course of the last twenty five years. It also has tons of DEPTH. The brass is at the far back of the stage, just exactly where they would be placed in the concert hall, which greatly adds to the realism of the recording.

The strings may not be quite as sweet as the best earlier Londons, but the trade off is well worth it when you hear a record with this kind of LIFE and so little distortion.

Note that careful VTA adjustment for a record with this kind of dynamic energy is a must. Having your front end carefully calibrated to this record is the only way to guarantee there is no distortion or shrillness in even the loudest passages.

What to Listen For (WTLF)

Clear castanets.

Big bass drum thwacks.

Crescendos that build to intense climaxes.

Rich strings (or as rich as they can be in 1969, a good ten years after the amazingly Tubey Magical recordings of the ’50s).

Heavy Vinyl

In 2011 we made the (usually pointless) effort to compare our London pressing to the 180 gram Speakers Corner reissue which we were carrying at the time. We noted simply that it “was a joke next to this copy.” We don’t have the reissue to play this time around but we are confident that the results of any comparison would be the same. (more…)

Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic

More Steely Dan

More Reviews and Commentaries for Pretzel Logic

More Top 100 Rock and Pop Albums

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  • Simply phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum of the guitars, along with the kind of richness, body and harmonic coherency that have all but disappeared from modern remasterings.
  • Becker and Fagen spared no effort in the recording of this album – the mix is PERFECTION
  • A Top 100 Album and our pick for The Best Sounding Steely Dan Recording of Them All
  • 5 stars: “Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one.”

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Art Pepper / Intensity – Thoughts on One of the Most Dynamic Contemporary Recordings

More Art Pepper

A Classic Case of Audio Progress

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[This commentary was written in 2008.]

Intensity is right — this is some SERIOUSLY GOOD SOUNDING alto saxophone led quartet jazz. AMG was right to give this one 4 1/2 stars — the musicianship is top notch and Pepper’s playing is INSPIRED throughout. 

The real surprise was how well recorded this album from 1963 is. I can’t recall a more DYNAMIC Contemporary. Pepper’s sax gets seriously LOUD in some passages. This is very much a good thing. Not only is he totally committed to the music, but the engineers are getting that energy onto the record so that we at home can feel the moment to moment raw power of his playing.

(Pepper was famous for saying that his playing is best when he just plays whatever he feels in the moment, and this record is the best kind of evidence for the truth of that claim.)

Of course, since this is a Roy Dunann recording, all the tubey magical richness and sweetness are here as well, but what is surprising is how transparent, spacious and clear the sound is. Some of Roy’s recordings can sound a bit dead (recording in your stockroom is not always the best for spaciousness) and sometimes are a bit thick as well. Not so here. But it should be pointed out that we liked what we heard from a previous shootout too.

Last time around we wrote:

This record has superb sound: you can actually hear the keys clacking on the man’s alto. And that sort of detail does not come at the expense of phony brightness as it would with your typical audiophile recording. The tonality of the sax, drums, and bass are right on the money, exactly the way we expect Roy DuNann’s recording to be.

This time around we got more extension out of the cymbals. Either these copies are better, were cleaned better, or were helped quite a bit by our new Townshend SuperTweeters. (Probably the last two more than the first one.) (more…)

Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

TAS List Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

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WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie. (more…)