- A superb copy of Wonder’s wonderful documentary soundtrack from 1979 with Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides
- The sound here is bigger and livelier than on most other copies we played – above all it’s balanced, avoiding the tonality issues we heard on so many other pressings
- “… there is beauty here. Stevie’s unquenchable desire for experimentation and love for melody are in full effect, and some of the magic and mystery of the botanic planet is evoked.”
A customer brought up Harry Pearson in a discussion we were having about the best sounding records, which went a little something like this:
“You’re as much a pioneer as Harry Pearson ever was, and your authenticity is unchallengeable…”
Even I wouldn’t go that far! We make plenty of mistakes, and we learn new things about records all the time, so calling us “unchallengable” is way off the mark. However, we are always up for the challenge, and are happy to put our records up against any and all comers.
As far as Harry Pearson, I had this to say about the man:
Very kind of you to say. I think Harry could have been much better at his job if he had modern record cleaning technology, better playback, and a staff of people playing thousands of records every year help him discover the best sounding pressings.
No one can succeed as a one man show in audio. Audio is too complicated. It takes a team of dedicated professionals with expertise in every area of audio and record collecting to do it right.
He never understood stampers and the like because he didn’t have the research staff to get the data he would have needed to find the stamper patterns.
He was stuck at the level of labels, and also not nearly skeptical enough of the idea that “the original is better,” a myth audiophiles cling to to this very day. That, and the superiority of the Heavy Vinyl remaster, which we both know is a crock of sh*t.
Our comments for The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann have something to say about these same issues.
Decca Versus London
There’s a reason this record is on the TAS List of Super Discs — if any LP should be called a Super Disc, this one should. (With Phase Four sound you might even call it a Super-Duper-Disc.)
But Harry is, not atypically, rather misinformed about the catalog number and country of manufacture. He exclusively admits the Decca pressing to his list, and that is clearly contrary to our experience in general as well as our findings for this shootout. The best Decca pressing we played rated no better than a B+ for either side. That’s five — count them, five — sonic grades lower than the A Triple Plus sides of our best London copy.
If you are one of those audiophiles who’s been following Harry down the rabbit hole for years, discovering a little site called Better Records may just turn out to be a life-changing event. Here you can find records that live up to the hype, ours and his.
Selling the Hype
Record dealers that sell records based on their reputation — and that means pretty much all of them — are selling the hype.
If they haven’t played the record, they can’t tell you what it sounds like, TAS List or no TAS List.
The catalog number may be right, but finding the sound that lives up to the description can only be done one way: by playing the record.
Most copies of The Fantasy Film World, whether they have a Decca label or a London one (all of the ones we are selling are mastered and pressed by Decca; some get one label and some get the other) leave much to be desired.
- With two solid Double Plus (A++) sides, you’ll have a hard time finding a copy that sounds remotely as good as this original UA pressing
- This one is doing almost everything right – it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than a lot of what we played
- As one might expect, the sound absolutely jumps out of the speakers on this recording
- I recall this record being on the TAS List back in the day – it appears to have since dropped off the newer iterations, but we still think of it as a Super Disc
- “While eschewing the grandiose string arrangements and heroic sweep of the composer’s best-known efforts, it’s nevertheless one of Williams’ most delightful and ambitious scores, applying traditional Western instrumentation like guitar, banjo, and harmonica to melodies rooted in contemporary pop and jazz.”
Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for.
Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be rather Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found.
Lack of smear is also important, especially on a recording with so many plucked instruments. The speed and clarity of the transients, the sense that fingers are pulling on strings, strings that are ringing with tonally correct harmonics, is what makes these records so much fun to play.
The best copies really get that sound right, in the same way that the best copies of Cat Stevens’ records get the sound of stringed instruments right.
An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality.
Herrmann’s music taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep organ notes (listen for the famous Decca rumble accompanying the organ if you have the deep bass reproduction to hear it); incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects everywhere — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.
You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!
Journey to the Center of the Earth
All those lovely harps! You can practically feel the cool air of the cave as you descend into the blackness.
The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
Side one boasts some wonderful material from Jason and the Argonauts, including the fight with the skeletons that we all remember from our Saturday matinee movie days. Who else could have orchestrated such a film?
The Day the Earth Stood Still
Astonishingly powerful deep bass and drum sounds!
- Both sides of this vintage Mango pressing were giving us the big and bold sound we were looking for, earning superb Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER
- We shot out a number of other copies and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most of what we played
- The sound is lively, punchy, and powerful – with all due respect, it should MURDER whatever copies you may have
- 5 stars: “In 1973, when the movie The Harder They Come was released, reggae was not on the radar screen of American pop culture. The soundtrack went a ways toward changing that situation. Collections don’t come much better than this.”
- Spacious, rich and smooth – only vintage analog seems capable of reproducing all three of these qualities without sacrificing resolution, staging, imaging or presence
- Tonality is the hardest thing to get right on this album, and here it is practically right on the money
- For those of you who like to do your own shootouts, good luck, you will need a lot of early pressings to find one that sounds as good as this one does
- The biggest selling album of the ’60s – 54 weeks at Number One (!)
- 5 stars: “The soundtrack of the West Side Story film is deservedly one of the most popular soundtrack recordings of all time, and one of the relatively few to have attained long-term popularity beyond a specialized soundtrack/theatrical musical audience.”
- If you’re a fan of Leonard Bernstein’s, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this Top Title from 1961 belongs in your collection.
This album is at least five times more common in mono than it is in stereo, and finding enough clean early stereo pressings takes us years nowadays.
- An original RCA Red Seal pressing with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them from start to finish
- On this killer copy you will hear deep bass notes; incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects, and more
- Every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some — it’s the very definition of Demo Disc sound
- These wonderful works, undoubtedly some of the greatest Bernard Herrmann composed, should be part of any serious Orchestral Collection
- 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.
- This copy of Davis’ superb 1959 release boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
- Yes, there is no question that the early Six Eye pressings will always win our shootouts — they can be amazing
- Nevertheless, we were fairly shocked that this budget jazz reissue from 1973 did as well as it did, with the best copy earning a very respectable two pluses
- More evidence that high quality remastering was being done regularly throughout the ’70s and ’80s
- Davis partners here with jazz greats, including John Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and others
- “… it should become clear why ‘Jazz Track’ is a vital Miles album as well as a testimony to the importance of the movies to jazz–as a medium for improvised soundtracks and, more importantly, as a source of theme music potentially as rich as the music of Broadway…”
- “It’s doubtful that “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Stella by Starlight” would have caught on without Bill [Evans’] artistry (which is not to take anything away from Red [Garland], whose ballads simply lacked the intricate, delicately shaded beauty of Bill’s pensive voicings on the slow ballads).”
The nine minute plus long Green Dolphin Street that opens side two is nothing short of amazing, some of the coolest jazz you will ever hear, on any record, at any price. With Stella by Starlight and Fran Dance on the same side, that gives you about 20 minutes of great sounding jazz by Miles’ classic Kind of Blue lineup. (more…)
- This vintage pressing of the National Phil’s performance of selections from three of Herrmann’s classic “phantasmagorical” film scores boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades from first note to last
- A superb 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.
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…)
- An incredible copy of Dylan’s 1973 soundtrack album with Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on both sides – just shy of our Shootout Winner
- This one is doing practically everything right – it’s bigger, bolder, richer and more clean, clear and open than almost anything else we played
- Includes the hit “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” which charted on the Top 20 and would be famously covered in later years by the likes of Eric Clapton and Guns N’ Roses
- “This record also proved that Dylan could shoehorn his music within the requirements of a movie score without compromising its content or quality, something that only the Beatles, unique among rock artists, had really managed to do up to that time…”