Genre – Percussion

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite – Testing for Shrill, Gritty Strings

This Angel Melodiya pressing of Bizet’s Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two incredible sides. Demo Quality Sound barely begins to do it justice. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a KNOCKOUT.

But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one — it’s guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There’s only one way to find out.

And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that rewards your system’s neutrality. (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…)

Dick Schory / Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp – Listening for a Sweetly Extended Top End

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What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It’s the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity — perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear. You may just find yourself operating on a higher sonic plane than you ever thought possible.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs, and rightfully so. It certainly can be a Super Disc, but only when you have the right pressing. It’s a real treat to hear such a crazy assortment of percussion instruments with this kind of amazingly clear, high-resolution sound!

This is one of the Demo Discs on the TAS List which truly deserves its status when, and only when, you have a killer copy.

Polarity

Music for Bang, Baa-room and Harp is yet another one of the many pressings we’ve discovered with reversed polarity on some copies. (more…)

Terry Snyder – Persuasive Percussion – A Knockout Percussion Extravaganza from Command

More Amazing Percussion Recordings We’ve Reviewed

We’ve just created a new section. In it you will find records with exceptional sound and music that we’ve discovered over the years, records that are probably not well known to most audiophiles. You might consider it our version of 1001 Records to Hear Before You Die, except that there are only 120 titles or so, and the common theme is that the right pressings of these titles have truly audiophile sound. Please to enjoy.

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  • Persuasive Percussion makes its Hot Stamper debut with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • Explosive energy, but surprisingly the sound is both relaxed and sweet at the same time, never squawky
  • Exceptional extension up high and down low — this is the copy that showed us just how good the album could sound
  • Simply amazing space, ambience and depth – if you have never heard one of these kinds of records, you are really in for a treat with this one
  • “This album was one of the early examples of “hi-fi” back in the late 50’s and early 60’s. How vivid is my memory of the bongos first playing from the left speaker…and then from the right one. And that wonderful sound! I could close my eyes now and relive a moment in time”

(more…)

Bizet-Shchedrin / Carmen Ballet Suite / Rozhdestvensky

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

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  • Unbelievable Shootout Winning Demo Disc quality sound on side one – this Triple Plus (A+++) side had more energy and snap than practically any we played
  • Side two was not especially good, but that’s really not a problem since side one has by far the better music – it’s where the most exciting, most percussive movements can be found
  • To be honest, the copy I owned for years still had a pristine side two, mostly because I never bothered to play it much
  • When you come to the end of side one you will not be wanting more – you will have heard everything that’s good about this remarkable composition
  • This gloriously exciting and fun music belongs in any audiophile’s collection

(more…)

Vivid and Accurate Timbre for Reeds and Percussion – True Demo Disc Sound

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This is one of the most phenomenal sounding records I have ever heard in my life. Take the best sound you ever heard from the best authentic Mercury classical record (not that Heavy Vinyl BS) and translate it into pop arrangements for clarinets, flutes, saxes, oboes, bassoons, and what do you have?

Sound that leaps out of the speakers with absolutely dead on tonality.

But what is most shocking of all is how vivid and accurate the timbre of every instrument is.

Yes, it’s multi-miked, and sometimes the engineers play with the channels a bit much (especially at the start of the first track).

That said, if you have the system for it, it’s very possible you have never heard most of these instruments sound this real, as if you were standing right in the studio with them. It’s that crazy good.

Which brings up a question: Who but Better Records is finding incredible Demonstration Quality recordings like these nowadays?

Harry Pearson used to. Jim Mitchell did back in the ’80s.

Are the Audiophile Reviewers of today picking up the baton that the giants of the past have dropped at their feet.

I see little evidence of it. In fact I see none.

(more…)

Dick Schory – Listen for an Extended Top End on Bang Baaroom and Harp

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

What to listen for you ask? Top end, plain and simple. It’s the RARE copy that really has the incredible extension of the side two we heard recently. The space, the clarity, the harmonic complexity — perhaps one out of ten copies will show you a side two like that.

The highs are so good on this record you can use it as a setup tool. Adjust your VTA, tracking weight and the like for the most natural and clear top end, then check for all the other qualities you want to hear and you may just find yourself operating on a higher plane than before.
(more…)

Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular – Our Favorite Record for Cartridge Setup

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Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular just happens to be our favorite Test Disc, eclipsing all others in the areas of naturalness and difficulty of reproduction. Any tweak or new room treatment — we seem to do them almost weekly these days — has to pass one test and one test only — the Bob and Ray Test. 

This record has the power to help you get to the next level in audio like no other. Six words hold the key to better sound: The Song of the Volga Boatman.

For the purpose of mounting new carts, our favorite track is The Song of the Volga Boatman on Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular (LSP 1773). It’s by far the most difficult track we know of to get to sound right.

There are about twenty places in the music that we use as tests, and the right setting is the one that gets the most of them to sound their best. With every change some of the twenty will sound better and some will sound worse. Recognizing when the sound is the biggest, clearest, and most balanced from top to bottom is a skill that has taken me twenty years to acquire.

It’s a lot harder than it looks. The longer you have been in audio the more complicated it seems, which may be counterintuitive but comports well with our day-to-day experience very well.

All our room treatments and tweaks must pass The Bob and Ray Test as well. It’s the one record we have relied on more than any other over the course of the last year or two.

Presenting as it does a huge studio full of brass players, no record we know of is more dynamic or more natural sounding — when the system is working right. When it’s not working right the first thirty seconds is all it takes to show you the trouble you are in.

If you don’t have a record like that in your collection, you need to find one.

It will be invaluable in the long run. The copy we have is so good (White Hot, the best we have ever played), and so important to our operation here, that it would not be for sale at any (well, almost any) price.

The Bob and Ray Trombone / Trumpet Test

One of the key tests on Bob and Ray that keeps us on the straight and narrow is the duet between the trombone and the trumpet about half way through The Song of the Volga Boatman. I have never heard a small speaker reproduce a trombone properly, and when tweaking the system, when the trombone has more of the heft and solidity of the real instrument, that is a tweak we want to pursue. The trumpet interweaving with it in the right rear corner of the studio tests the transients and high frequency harmonics in the same section. With any change to the stereo, both of those instruments are going to sound better. For a change to be positive they must both sound better. (more…)

Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra – Viva Cugat

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This crazy Cugat record (is there any other kind?) is a BALL and has absolutely amazing Demo Disc quality sound on side two, better than Super Hot Stamper quality. 

It sounds like Henry Mancini on speed, and the recording quality puts most of Mancini’s records to shame to boot. This is Bachelor Pad music for those who like their Bachelor Pad to be FUN!

Side Two

With A++ to A+++ sound this side is pretty much doing it all. So spacious! And such tremendous low and high frequency extension, the kind that vintage records usually have trouble with. Not this copy. The strings and horns can get slightly aggressive

Make sure you have your VTA set dead right or this record will be a mess. Careful adjustment is critical to reproduce this kind of complex and lively sound. (more…)

Dick Schory – The Happy Hits – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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Side One – A++. This side is full and rich yet clear. Listen to that crazy banjo on track two; that’s not an easy instrument to get to sound right, but the RCA engineers pull it off. The brass is a bit “hot” at times so we took off one plus. For all we know this is as good as it gets. 

Side Two – A++, not quite as warm as side one, but more lively and really jumpin’. The last track is truly Demo Disc quality. The bottom and top are extended and the sound is rich in the best possible sense of the word. Superb sound and plenty of fun, wacky music!

  • Super Hot on both sides on this rare title – the sound is killer on most tracks
  • Side one is rich and tubey yet clear, our favorite combination
  • Side two has the best sounding track on the album – Demo Disc quality
  • Quiet vinyl, with sound that’s more lively and energetic than most Schory discs

As is usually the case with these vintage Living Stereo pressings, the vinyl may not be dead quiet but it’s certainly quiet enough for any problems to stay hidden well underneath the music.  (more…)