Labels We Love – RCA Living Stereo

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 record 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…)

Perez Prado – Prez

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  • A superb copy with solid Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – this bad boy is a BIG step up from any Perez Prado record you have ever heard, guaranteed
  • With Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation like you will not believe – this copy is spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience
  • The driving, syncopated, heavily percussive arrangements add immensely to the fun, with the timbre of every scratcher and drum rendered in glorious Technicolor sound 
  • This is Vintage All Tube Analog at its best – the magic hidden in the grooves of the record really comes through on this pressing.

This SUPERB sounding copy of Prez has a lot in common with the other Living Stereo / Exotica titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Arthur Lyman, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Ted Heath, Martin Denny and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it! (more…)

Sibelius / Symphony #2 on Shaded Dog – Reviewed in 2013

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Back in 2013 we liked this versioni, but recently when we played a copy or two it did not impress us as much. Our system was very different in 2013, and, of course, the copies of the record we have now are not the same as the ones we played all those years ago.

We currently prefer the Barbarolli on Readers Digest. The Mackerras on London reissue or RCA Victrola are both good too.

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Henry Mancini – Mr. Lucky Goes Latin

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This very nice looking RCA Living Stereo Popular White Dog LP is a superb example of Living Stereo tubey magic at its best. Ideal for your bachelor pad! Skip track one on side one and go straight to Slow Hot Wind to hear some Mancini magic.

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Szeryng – Munch – Not Recommended

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1S/ 1S Shaded Dog.

The violin is very immediate sounding on this recording, maybe too much so. The sound of the orchestra is where this record falls short.

It’s congested, thin and shrill in places. The right copy of Heifetz’s performance on LSC 1992 is a much better record overall. Some may prefer Szeryng’s way with this famous piece, which is a matter of taste of course.

If you’re listening for just the performance and the sound of the violin, you may find this record to be more acceptable.

Dick Schory – Music To Break Any Mood – Reviewed in 2009

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

This is the successor to Bang Baaroom, and as you can imagine it’s music in the same percussive style, the major difference here being the addition of a giant gong which the producers justifiably take great pride in. This title is also at least 5 times as rare as LSP 1866; I haven’t seen one of these in years! (more…)

Bruch / Scottish Fantasy – Airless, Smeary and Low-Rez on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

It should go without saying that a good original pressing kills the Classic reissue, and the Classic version is one of the better Classics. Still, it’s no match for the real thing, not even close. The Classic is airless, smeary and low-rez, which means that all the subtleties of the music and the performance will be much more difficult to appreciate. 

I dare say that were you to hear a top quality copy it would be all but impossible to sit through the Classic ever again. (That might be true for all Classic records — once you hear the real thing it’s hard to imagine be able to tolerate the sound of this reissue.)

OUR HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY

WHITE HOT Stamper sound for the Bruch side of this original RCA Shaded Dog, one of the best Heifetz concerto titles of all time. (I’m trying to think of a Heifetz title that sounds better and coming up blank.)

This was our shootout winner on side two, beating all comers, earning our highest grade, the full Three Pluses (our blue ribbon, gold medal, and best in show all wrapped into one). The sound is nothing short of DEMO DISC QUALITY.

If you want to demonstrate the magic of Living Stereo recordings, jump right to the second movement of the Bruch. The sonority of the massed strings is to die for. When Heifetz enters, the immediacy of his violin further adds to the transcendental quality of the experience. Sonically and musically it doesn’t get much better than this, on Living Stereo or anywhere else.

The violin is captured beautifully on side two. More importantly there is a lovely lyricism in Heifetz’s playing which suits Bruch’s Romantic work perfectly. I know of no better performance. (more…)

The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and More

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Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion. Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

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Saint-Saens / Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso / Friedman

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  • A nearly White Hot side two with the complete Saint-Saens work
  • Side two has explosive dynamics and near-perfect violin reproduction
  • Side one has the first movement of the Paganini Concerto No. 1
  • A Mohr/Layton Living Stereo Shaded Dog pressing from 1962

Side Two – Paganini – 2nd / 3rd Movements / Saint-Saens – Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso 

A++ to A+++, nearly White Hot. Big and lively, and so involving. Huge space, great dynamics, so immediate and engrossing. 

It’s one of the best sounding violin-led orchestral recordings we have played in recent memory, and we’ve played them by the hundreds and hundreds. (Practice makes perfect as they say.)

Side two of this copy easily puts most of the TAS Super Discs to shame. I would venture to say that there’s a very good chance that you have NEVER heard a violin-led orchestral recording as good as this one (that is, unless you own some of our White Hot Stamper violin records).

Side One – Paganini – Concerto No. 1 – First Movement (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…)