Labels We Love – Decca/London Phase 4

Schubert / Symphony No. 9 / Krips – Hot Stampers Revealed!

Looking to pick up a Hot Stamper on your own? Easy — all the best Decca copies in our shootout had the stampers 5G/7G.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that all the worst copies had those same stampers.

There were a few others as well — it was quite a big shootout — but most of those ended up in the middle of the pack.

And here you thought I was actually being helpful. But we are being helpful. We’re sharing with you an important 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. To know what a record sounds like you have to play it.

This is a subject near and dear to us here at Better Records, and has been for many decades.

We discuss it at length in a commentary you may have seen on the site called The Book of Hot Stampers.

FROM OUR ORIGINAL COMMENTARY

Krips’ 1958 recording for Decca is brought to life on a fairly quiet and certainly quite wonderful World of the Great Classics pressing from 1976. This copy was clearly the best we played, showing us a huge hall, with layered depth that was only hinted at on most pressings, regardless of age.

The strings are remarkably rich and sweet. This pressing is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers of the day were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago.

What was most striking about this shootout, our first for the Krips / LSO performance of the work, was how poorly the original London Bluebacks fared when going head to head with the best vintage reissues. In fact, they were so obviously inferior I doubt we would have even needed another pressing to know that they could not possibly be competitive.

The two we had were crude, flat, full of harmonic distortion, and both had clearly restricted frequency extremes. I remember liking the Blueback pressings I played ten or twenty years ago. Did I have better copies, or was my system not capable of showing me the shortcomings I so clearly heard this time around? Since this is a question that cannot be answered with any certainty, we’ll have to leave it there.

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Franz Schubert


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Classical and Orchestral Music

More Albums Engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson

More Stamper and Pressing Information

Bernstein / The Music of Leonard Bernstein – 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 sharing with you an important 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. To know what a record sounds like you have to play it.

This is a subject near and dear to us here at Better Records, and has been for many decades. We discuss it at length in a commentary you may have seen on the site called The Book of Hot Stampers.

More Stamper and Pressing Information

More Albums with One Set of Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

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Bernard Herrmann – The Fantasy Film World of…

More Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann Records We’ve Reviewed

  • This early British London pressing offers superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, giving you plenty of blockbuster sound for those who can play a record like this good and loud
  • On the best copies, such as this one, you will hear the power of the orchestra come to life right in your very own listening room
  • The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of wall to wall and floor to ceiling spaciousness that may just leave you in awe
  • A superb Phase 4 recording by Arthur Lilley, taking advantage of the legendary acoustics of Kingsway Hall
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1974 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of three-dimensionality most orchestral recordings simply fail to reproduce. The brass here is weighty and powerful, and you can really hear the pluck of the strings on the harp.

Harry Pearson put the Decca pressing of this title on his TAS List of Super Discs. (We take issue with that choice below.) (more…)

Herrmann – Listening in Depth to The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

Music like this 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!

TRACK LISTING

Side One

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?

Side Two

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Astonishingly powerful deep bass and drum sounds!

Fahrenheit 451

One of our key tests for side two is the string tone on the Fire Engine sequence here. The best copies had wonderfully textured and tonally correct strings, with just the right amount of sheen — not glossy, not gritty, not blurry, but just right.

Any orchestral recording without good string tone is a lost cause. (Almost all Classic Records fail miserably in this regard. They may be on the TAS List but that sure doesn’t mean they sound any good!)

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Phase IV and the TAS List – Three-Dimensional Depth, Transparency and Space

Hot Stamper Phase 4 Recordings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Phase 4 Recordings

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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…)

Edmundo Ros / Latin Hits I Missed

More Exotica

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

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Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and a Record We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

It’s unfortunate that Edmundo Ros and his orchestra command so little respect these days from the general record buying public. As for audiophiles, it’s doubtful that many even know who he or they is/are. We at Better Records are doing our best to change all that, continuing with this, the second Ros title we’ve managed to find with amazing sound and music since the first one went up in 2013.

It’s one of the liveliest, best sounding Phase 4 titles we have heard in quite a while. Stampers simply do not get much hotter than these.  

From the perspective of a level playing field, I cannot think of too many rock records that sound as BIG and DYNAMIC as this very pressing, nor many that are as spacious and clear. As good as the best German pressings of Dark Side of the Moon may be, the White Hot eight hundred dollar killer copies we have from time to time, this recording is every bit as exciting and in most ways more lifelike, with uncannily accurate instrumental timbres. (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – The Mysterious Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

Reviews and Commentaries for Soundtracks and Soundtrack Music

  • This superb release finally returns to the site with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • An outstanding 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.
  • The complete list of titles from 1975 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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…)

Was It Even Possible for Harry Pearson to Create a Meaningful Super Disc List?

A customer brought up Harry Pearson in a discussion we were having about the best sounding records, to wit:

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 to discover the best sounding pressings for him.

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. (more…)

Bernstein – The Music of Leonard Bernstein / Rogers

More music written or performed by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • A STUNNING pressing with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout – a true Orchestral Demo Disc from 1970
  • As I write this, dollar for dollar this is probably the best sound for the money on the site
  • The Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story” sound superb here – big, rich and Tubey Magical
  • The performances are superb – energetic as befits most of the music, yet lyrical when the score calls for it
  • Vibrant orchestrations, top quality sound and fairly quiet surfaces combine for an astounding listening experience
  • Big speakers and loud levels are the sine qua non for the proper reproduction of this album

This London Phase 4 British import has some of the most SPECTACULAR sound I have ever heard reproduced from disc. The sound is so BIG and BOLD that it handily puts to shame 95% or more of all the Golden Age Shaded Dogs, London Bluebacks, Mercury Living Presence’s, EMI’s and Decca’s we’ve ever played. If we had a Classical Top 100 list, this record would belong in a Top Ten taken from it, right near the top judging by what I heard when I played it.

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 orchestral 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 some of the best orchestral action can be found, and it is presented here with SPECTACULAR AUDIO FIDELITY the likes of which you may have never experienced. (more…)

Bernard Herrmann – Music From The Great Movie Thrillers

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This is a BEAUTIFUL London Phase 4 LP with Very Little Sign of Play. It contains music from Hitchcock classics – “Psycho” “Marnie” “North by Northwest” “Vertigo” and “The Trouble With Harry”.

Bernard Herrmann released many LPs on London Phase 4, and this is one of the better ones. Included are new recordings of scores to five Alfred Hitchcock films. Psycho opens the LP, and Herrmann has arranged the music into a 14 minute “Narrative For Orchestra.” A 10 minute suite from Marnie follows, then the main theme from North by Northwest. Side 2 starts with three selections from Vertigo and ends with “A Portrait of ‘Hitch,'” based on motifs from the score to The Trouble With Harry.


OLD PHASE 4 NOTES FROM A LONG TIME AGO

[Some of this we still agree with and some we do not, so take it for what it’s worth.]

Phase IV, Are You Serious?

Yes, absolutely. Allow me to make the case this way. Phase 4 has the life, dynamics, and deep articulate bass not found on most Golden Age recordings. There is no compression to speak of on the album, not on the best copies anyway.

Shaded Dogs may have sweeter strings and more Tubey Magic (which, as anyone who listens to live classical music knows, is mostly a euphonic coloration), but this recording sounds dramatically more like live music than most of them in every way other than soundstaging.

There are of course multiple mikes being used, and sometimes they call attention to themselves, but for the most part the stage is wide and deep enough, and the mikes far enough from the orchestral sections, to create the illusion of a real orchestra in a hall.

The tympani at the back (along with most of the percussion) are especially convincing in this regard. On the copies with the most correct top ends, the triangles and bells are shockingly lifelike, sounding, to my “mind’s ear” exactly the way they do in the concert hall.