Labels We Love – Decca/London Phase 4

Rozsa / Music From the Film Ben Hur – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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

This TAS List Super Hot Stamper pressing of one of the greatest and most famous Orchestral Blockbuster Soundtracks ever recorded more than lives up to our expectations for Decca Phase 4. This is Phase 4 done RIGHT.

As with all the best Herrmann releases, the huge size and scope you hear is the sound of orchestral music recorded in glorious ANALOG!

The sound is so clear, spacious and three-dimensional that you will feel as if your speakers have disappeared before your very eyes.

The layering of depth is really something to hear on this copy, with choirs of brass instruments located precisely in space, some further back, some off to the side of the soundstage. And what a soundstage it is, so wide and deep. Transparency – a quality you find on both sides of this copy — is what makes this all sound so REAL.

Opacity Vs. Transparency

Note that we have been especially anti-heavy vinyl in our recent commentaries for their consistently opaque character, the opposite of what is necessary in order to hear into the music, deep into the soundstage, to see and hear ALL the instruments, even the ones at the back. Try that with any Classic Record or Speakers Corner pressing. It’s records like this that show you precisely what you have been missing all these years if you have been collecting and playing releases from those labels and the others like them. (more…)

The Music of Leonard Bernstein – Hot Stampers Revealed! Get the Scoop Right Here

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If you have a system with the speed, power and size to play this record properly (yes, you will need all three and a whole lot more), it’s hard to imagine it would not qualify as the best sounding classical recording you’ve ever heard. Demo Disc barely begins to do it justice. What sound. What music. What a record! Side two is where the real action is on this album, and it is presented here with SPECTACULAR AUDIO FIDELITY the likes of which you may have never experienced.

Hot Stampers Revealed

Looking to pick up a Hot Stamper locally on your own? Easy — all the best Decca and London copies (British only of course) are 1L on both sides. I suppose it’s only fair to point out that all the worst copies have 1L on both sides, the reason being that all the copies are 1L on both sides, regardless of how they sound.

And here you thought I was actually being helpful. But we are being helpful. We’re telling you the truth. Stamper numbers only tell a part of the story, and they can be very misleading, in the sense that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. This is of course a subject near and dear to our hearts, and we discuss it at length in the commentary we call The Book of Hot Stampers. (more…)

The Jacques Loussier Trio – Brandenburg Concerto No. 5

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  • This jazzy, innovative interpretation of three of Bach’s most famous works boasts Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Baroque genius meets jazz pioneer in this unique confluence of musical conventions
  • Full-bodied and warm, exactly the way you want your vintage analog to sound – the piano is surprisingly real here, solid and dynamic
  • Born from his love of classical works and improvisation, Loussier “loved to play the music, but add my own notes, expanding the harmonies and playing around with that music,” and the results should be interesting to fans of jazz and classical music alike

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Tchaikovsky / Capriccio Italien & Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Festival

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•Incredible sound on both sides of this London Phase 4 pressing with each side earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close them – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
•These pieces are some of THE BEST on record – not only do they have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performances are superb in every way as well
•The energy and excitement of these works are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like nothing you have ever heard
•This White Hot pressing may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection

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Ronnie Aldrich / Melody and Percussion For Two Pianos – Reviewed in 2012

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

This Decca Phase 4 record from 1962 has Demo Disc sound of a sort on side one. Super Hot sonics, coupled with the Super Phase 4 “jumping out of the speakers” recording techniques that were employed, mean that this is one LIVELY record!

The pianos can get to be a bit much, but when they are under control, the huge stage and the effect of all the percussion that jumps out of the soundfield is really quite something to behold. Zero smear on this side too, which is what makes it work — the blunting of all those transients would quickly ruin the fun. Which is what happens on side two; the smear and hardness of the typical Phase 4 pressing are evident and do spoil all the fun.

Try tracks 1, 2, 4 and 6 – talk about immediacy and explosive dynamics.

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol / Black / London Fest. – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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

AN AMAZING A++++ SIDE TWO, presenting the complete work by Rimsky-Korsakov. The Capriccio Espagnol here is one of THE BEST on record. Not only does it have incredibly powerful DEMO DISC sound, but the performance is superb on every level as well. The energy and excitement of the piece are brought to life by Stanley Black and the London Festival Orchestra like no other you have ever heard. 

This beyond White Hot Stamper may make you reevaluate virtually every classical recording in your collection. The energy, size, scope and immediacy found on this Four Plus copy is easily superior to that of any other recording of the work we have ever heard!

What this album has going for it over the London/Decca with Argenta is an even more exciting Capriccio Espagnol, with orchestral power and vibrant color that rival the composer’s Scheherazade and arguably exceed it, compressing as it does its bright orchestration into fewer than 15 minutes of unalloyed brilliance. I would argue that the sound here easily beats nine out of ten copies of LSC 2446, quite a feat when you consider what that record is selling for these days.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. Scroll down to read more about them.

Capriccio Espagnol

The Most Exciting, Colorful Performance of all time — Black gets everything out of this famous work on this London recording.

Huge Wall to Wall Demo Disc sound, with the kind of IMMEDIACY that would make the folks at Mercury jealous. We grade this side A++++. You will find very few Living Stereos and Mercuries with this kind of sound, that I can assure you. (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – The Fantasy Film World of… – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

More Bernard Herrmann

More Fantasy Film World of…

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

Two AMAZING SOUNDING DEMO DISC LPS for the price of one! We’ve mated the HOTTEST SIDE ONE of one copy with the HOTTEST SIDE TWO of another to produce the best sounding complete Fantasy Film World we have ever heard. A+++ sound, with the kind of orchestral power that few recordings in the history of the world can lay claim to. There’s a reason this record is on the TAS Superdisc list — if any LP should be called a Superdisc, this one should. (With Phase Four sound you might even call it a Super-Duper-Disc.)   (more…)

Sibelius / Finlandia and Karelia Suite / Kord – Our Shootout Winner from 2013

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A few months back we stumbled upon the London pressing of this relatively rare record — never heard of it before, and who on earth is Kazimierz Kord? — and were shocked to hear how good the random copy of this unknown-to-us recording sounded. The brass was incredibly solid and powerful; I don’t think I had ever heard Finlandia with the kind of heavy brass that this record was able to reproduce. We had to know more! 

We started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after another. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Sour or thin brass on the opening salvo of Finlandia? Forget it; on to the trade-in pile you go.

(If you have too many classical records taking up too much space and need to winnow them down to a manageable size, pick a composer and play half a dozen of his works. Most classical records display an irredeemable mediocrity right from the start; it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it. If you’re after the best sound, it’s the rare record that will have it, which makes clearing shelf space a lot easier than you might imagine. If you keep more than one out of ten you’re probably setting the bar too low if our experience is any guide.) (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – Conducts Psycho and Other Film Scores – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

More Bernard Herrmann

More Conducts Psycho and Other Film Scores

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

This very nice looking London Phase 4 LP has SUPERB SOUND for some of these pieces. Especially noteworthy is the ’Psycho Narrative For Orchestra’, at 14 minutes the longest piece here. Written purely for string orchestra, the tonality is Right On The Money (ROTM), with cellos that growl like the real thing. 

In fact, so much of this sounds so good, and is such a brilliant showcase for one of the great orchestral colorists, Bernard Herrmann, that you’ll be asking yourself why more classical music doesn’t sound like this. (more…)

Sibelius, Liszt, Dukas et al. / Bernard Herrmann Conducts – London Phase 4 Debunked

More Bernard Herrmann

More London Phase 4 Debunked

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing.

While preparing for a Finlandia shootout recently we happened to drop the needle on this album, a 1977 Phase 4 recording made in Kingsway Hall and engineered by Arthur Lilley. We could hardly believe how bad it sounded. The multi-miking is the worst I have ever heard! We like lots of Phase 4 recordings — especially those of Bernard Herrmann — but this is definitely not one of them. 

Are they all bad? Who can say? We sure aren’t going to be wasting any more time and money on the album in order to find out, I can tell you that.

The Obsession soundtrack is a dog as well; audiophiles looking for good sound are best advised to avoid them both.