Labels We Love – Philips

Handel / Water Music / Leppard – Our Favorite Performance with Top Quality Sound

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A distinguished member of our The Better Records Hall of Fame for Orchestral Music.

The performance here by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable. This pressing boasts the biggest hall, the most transparency, and it has more clearly layered depth and more space than any other pressing we played. With White Hot stampers on side two and a Super Hot side one, this copy is right up there with the best Water Music we’ve heard. 

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above).

We managed to find three (!) recordings that had both superb sound and top quality performances. This then is my favorite of the three, though not by much; on the best pressings all were Demo Disc quality, and most were pressed on very quiet vinyl. (more…)

Mendelssohn/ Symphony No. 4 & Music from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – Colin Davis

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Here’s a great Philips LP! Davis really does Mendelssohn right.

A lively performance and this copy sounds MUCH BETTER than others we played.  It had much less of the smear and opacity that characterizes most Philips records. At most one out of ten is any good in our experience. 

See more Philips records we’ve reviewed.

Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio – Red Gardenia

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  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Yamamoto Philips Direct to Disc album – both sides earned our top grade of Triple Plus – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The piano is dynamic and solid – imagine a Three Blind Mice piano date recorded Direct-to-Disc – that’s the sound of this album
  • This is one of the few audiophile records worthy of the name. It’s also five times as rare as Blues to East and the music is better
  • There are two Stevie Wonder songs given a wonderful piano trio arrangement here that are just out of this world 

This group plays with tremendous vigor. They really swing and are tight as a drum. On this album there’s almost none of that “introspective noodling jazz” that the Japanese are infamous for. I love Midnight Sugar as much as the next guy, but too much of that kind of music is wearying.

Yamamoto’s Trio wants to show that it can play good old-fashioned straight ahead American lively piano jazz with the best of them. And they can. You will also be hard pressed to find better sound for a small ensemble like this. Since Rudy Van Gelder was not particularly adept at recording the piano, many of the great pianists cannot be heard properly on Prestige, Blue Note and other original label recordings.

Philips is one of the better direct disc labels from back in the day (although that isn’t saying much because most of them were mediocre at best). It was garnering rave reviews from TAS a couple of decades ago. Does anybody remember? Probably not, but I do. I flipped out when I saw this record in my local shop. They charged top dollar but I paid it, knowing what a rare and special record it is. (more…)

Mozart / String Quartets / Quartetto Italiano

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  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, this Philips pressing will be very hard to beat – reasonably quiet vinyl too
  • One of the finest string quartet recordings we have ever had the pleasure to play – lovely recreation of space, Tubey Magical richness, and rosiny string textures
  • Clear and transparent and natural – your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all
  • “The playing of the Quartetto Italiano has a freshness, range and subtlety that vividly realizes the music in all its variety, while technical problems seem to have been solved so that the music making can be both spontaneous-sounding and thoughtful throughout.”

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Woody Herman – Swing Low, Sweet Clarinet

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  • A stunning Hot Stamper original stereo pressing of Woody Herman’s highly regarded 1962 Philips release, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it
  • The Tubey Magical richness of some of the better Philips pressings from this era have really taken us by surprise – these are some amazingly good recordings!
  • Exceptionally spacious and three-dimensional, as well as relaxed and full-bodied, this is by far the best sounding Woody Herman record we have ever run acrossl
  • “Sticking exclusively to clarinet, he shows himself to be a fine improviser and an expressive player who gives fresh interpretations to a variety of standards, some closely associated with Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw [whose good records we never seem to find]. …[an] out-of-print but worthy LP.”

For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are wonderful. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good a 1962 All Tube Analog Philips recording can sound, this killer copy will do the trick. (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

 

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Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Paul Mauriat / More Mauriat – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

Paul Mauriat — you may remember him for his big hit “Love Is Blue” which hit Number One in 1968 — must have been a very busy man in 1967 when this album came out — he released six that year! I would bet that most of them do not sound very good — hell, side two of this album doesn’t even sound good — but side one sure does. 

We gave it a sonic grade of A++ for the better sounding tracks on that side. It’s Super Hot all right, 3-D and Tubey Magical like you will not believe. If you have a big, rich, even lush-sounding system, this record is going to blow your mind!

Try tracks 2,3 and 5; talk about fun ’60s pop with great sound!

Side one A++

Side two No Grade, way too shrill and smeary (more…)

Rachmaninoff / Three Symphonies / Waart – Reviewed in 2005

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Three Symphonies / Waart

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

Three Minty looking Philips Import LPs with EXCELLENT SOUND!

The sound is dark and rich. You may prefer it as I do to the famous Previn performances on EMI, which have that mid-hall, vague ’70s EMI sound. It never appealed to me. 

The performances are excellent as well. The second symphony belongs in any serious collection and you get a very good one in this box set. This set includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphonies 1-3 and ‘The Rock,’ Op. 7.

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Grumiaux – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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

This White Hot Two-Pack of the most well-known and beloved violin concerto in the classical repertoire gives you a TOP performance with TOP quality sound from first note to last. No single copy had two sides as good as these, so we’ve combined two LPs to bring you the best Tchaicovsky Violin Concerto ever to hit the site.

In choosing these two sides we put special emphasis on the sound of the violin. Many copies suffered from a slight screechiness to the sound of the instrument, but we present here a violin that is rich and sweet, yet retains the full pallette of its complex harmonics.

Side One – Record One

A++, with Tubey Magic to die for. The sound is rich, with a bit of tube smear that does little damage to the overall sound. Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are in evidence throughout the side. There’s so much energy that, in comparison to some copies, this side almost sounded like it was running fast!

Side two of this LP earned a grade of A+ — it’s too smeary and dark for our taste. (more…)

Barber, Bartok, Britten, Respighi / I Musici

More Barber, Bartok, Britten, Respighi / I Musici

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

This Philips Festivo reissue LP (not as pictured by the way, that’s an original) plays Mint Minus or better and sounds GREAT! This is a wonderful record — I Musici is one of my favorite groups. They play with tremendous energy, enthusiasm and feeling, taking works that have been recorded poorly by too many others and giving them a new lease on life.

The ‘Ancient Dances and Airs’ is superb here, one of the best on record. Britten’s ‘Simple Symphony’ is one of the best I’ve ever heard as well. Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ is good but you can find better if you look hard enough. Highest recommendation for music.