Labels We Love – Decca/London/Argo

Finlandia – Striving for Orchestral Clarity with Decca and Failing with RCA

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

sibelfinla_2336

The original RCA Living Stereo pressings we played in our 2014 shootout were not competitive with the best Deccas and London reissues.

Is the original the best way to go?

In our experience with Finlandia, not so much.

xxx

The record you see above is yet another wonderful example of what the much-lauded Decca recording engineers were able to capture on analog tape all those years ago. The 1961 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from the early-’70s, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.
(more…)

Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Fistoulari – Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

xxxxx

Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

It’s as wide, deep, and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test of transparency of the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich bass,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • lovely transparency

How many classical records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?


FURTHER READING

Advice – What to Listen For on Classical Records

Classical – Best Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical – Demo Disc Quality Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Paganini – Kreisler / Concerto In One Movement / Campoli – Reviewed in 2019 and 2008

The Music of Paganini Available Now

More Album Reviews of the Music of Paganini

xxxxx

  • This exceptionally rare early London pressing features Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER and includes a wonderful performance of the Saint-Saens Violin Concerto No. 3
  • This is a spectacular recording – it’s big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic, and is guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own
  • Campoli brings his warmth, feeling, and technical precision to these classical masterpieces
  • The Decca engineers captured the correct amount of detail in the bowing and fingering – it’s not overdone as it is in so many records that many audiophiles prefer, with the mics much too close to the strings

This is a WONDERFUL sounding violin concerto recording. It has TUBEY MAGIC as well as MUSIC to die for. What”s most interesting about the sound is how well the violin is integrated into the orchestra. On most RCAs, just to pick one golden age label to use as an example, the violin is typically hugely oversized and placed far in front of the orchestra. Not so here. The violin is of a whole with the orchestra, which makes for a much more natural and relaxed presentation. (more…)

Bizet – L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Ansermet

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) Shootout Winning side one mated to a nearly as good side two, this pressing has the best sounding Carmen Suite we have ever heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This is the best sounding and quietest Carmen Suite to ever make it to the site, and it was worth the wait – the sound of this vintage Blueback is absolutely breathtaking
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good ’60s All Tube Analog can be, this killer copy should be just the record to do it
  • Recorded in 1961 using the amazing Decca Tree mic setup, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording

This is High Fidelity Audiophile Gold, with an orchestra that sounds so real it will take your breath away. The Golden Age tapes have clearly been mastered brilliantly onto this vintage London Blueback vinyl.

No doubt you have run into something like this in our classical listings:

This London is energetic, dynamic, spacious, transparent, rich and sweet. James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these 1961 sessions in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology,

We were impressed with the fact that this pressing excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, allowing the listener to inhabit the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way. (more…)

Varese / Arcana / Mehta – Speed Is Key

More of the music of Edgar Varese (1883-1965)

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

xxxxx

  • Incredible sound throughout with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades  
  • DEMO DISC QUALITY form start to finish — amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality
  • A recording that allows your speakers to disappear completely like no other
  • A powerful Test Disc as well – use this one to check your speed and staging, subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this

Incredible sound for this CRAZY 20th Century music, featuring wild and wacky works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (not one, not two, but three bass drums!). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will LOVE this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its proper reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie.

(more…)

Savoy Brown Blues Band – Shake Down

More British Blues Rock

xxxxx

  • Shake Down finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • Big, with a punchy bottom end and driving blues/rock energy, as well as the all-import British Tubey Magic, here you will find all the elements critical to the best sounding copies
  • “… a raw and immediate album of hard primal blues and blues-rock with huge bass guitar, lots of guitar solos, piano and powerful drums… if you like the British Blues in the vein of early Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall or Chicken Shack, don’t hesitate ! This is enthusiastic and thrilling top-notch album.”

(more…)

Weber / Overtures / Ansermet / Suisse Romande

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

xxxxx

GLORIOUS Super Hot Stamper sound or BETTER on side two of this original London Blueback UK pressing. Yes, it has the Decca / London sound we expect from Ansermet, the Suisse Romande orchestra, and the amazing Victoria Hall they recorded in — rich and spacious, with lovely texture to the strings.

But that’s not all. This record is exceptionally DYNAMIC. If you like listening to your records at realistic levels — the only way to fly to our way of thinking — then you had better watch your levels! The huge bottom end makes those dynamic passages a thrill to experience. Make sure your VTA is carefully adjusted — a big deal with us these days — and you will be in for the ride of your life.

Side Two

A++ to A+++. The only reason we did not award the full three pluses was that there is a touch of congestion in some of the loudest passages. Other than that there is practically nothing to fault with the sound! No smear, present and clear. (more…)

John Mayall with Eric Clapton – Blues Breakers

More John Mayall

More Eric Clapton

xxxxx

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

  • You’ll find outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides of this superb pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Far more richer, smoother and livelier than most, with Tubey Magic and space you won’t believe
  • The Decca UK vinyl on this superb pressing is as QUIET as we ever expect to find for this album
  • 5 stars: “Bluesbreakers was Eric Clapton’s first fully realized album as a blues guitarist — more than that, it was a seminal blues album of the 1960s, perhaps the best British blues album ever cut, and the best LP ever recorded by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.”

This copy is guaranteed to be clearly superior to virtually all imports, all domestic pressings, whatever crappy Heavy Vinyl they’re making these days — in short, any version of this music on any format that you’ve ever played. This is it folks. They cut this one right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to know it. Blues Breakers finally sounds the way you always wanted it to sound.

We’ve been searching for copies of Bluesbreakers for years — everyone wants a great copy of this Five Star Classic, the only album John Mayall ever made that we would consider a Must Own. After many, many years of experimentation and dozens of copies purchased we’ve finally discovered the British pressings that deliver the best sound we’ve ever heard for this music.

But they don’t come easy and they sure don’t come cheap, so don’t expect the floodgates to open with White Hot Stamper after White Hot Stamper hitting the site. One was it and it will be a year or two at the very least before we have a big enough stack of copies with which to do a shootout fo find another.

Until then this is a great copy that belongs in your collection, and it’s QUIET. (more…)

Holst / The Planets – Dutch Versus Brit

What to Listen For – Side to Side Differences

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

More Recordings conducted by Zubin Mehta

xxxxx

This 2-pack boasts White Hot Stamper sound on side two for the Mehta Planets. Yes, it IS possible. Side two shows you what this record is actually capable of — big WHOMP, no SMEAR, super SPACIOUS, DYNAMIC, with an EXTENDED top. It beat every London pressing we threw at it, coming out on top for our recent shootout. Folks, we 100% guarantee that whatever pressing you have of this performance, this copy will trounce it.

But side one of this London original British pressing was awful. We wrote it off as NFG after about a minute; that’s all we could take of the bright, hard-sounding brass of War.

Can you imagine sound this bad from a TAS List Super Disc record? We can, we played it.

If you collect Super Discs based on their catalog numbers and labels and preferred countries of manufacture, you are in big trouble when it comes time to play the damn things. That approach doesn’t work for sound and never did.

If your stereo is workin’ right this is not news to you. The proof? The first disc in this 2-pack is Dutch. It earned a Super Hot grade in our blind test, beating every British copy we played against it save one. Side two however was recessed, dark and lifeless. Another NFG side, but the perfect complement to our White Hot British side two!

Hot Stampers are the only way to get this problematical recording to come to life, to convey the real power of Holst’s music. The typical copy of this record is dull, two-dimensional, smeary, veiled, opaque and compressed. If you were never impressed with the sound of HP’s favorite — a member of the Top Twelve TAS Super Disc List — this might just be the copy that will change your mind. (more…)

Beethoven / Septet In E Minor / Members of the Vienna Octet

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)  

More Records on Decca and London 

xxxxx

xxxxx

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, the sound here is realistic and natural, if not DEMO DISC quality
  • Both sides are full, rich, spacious, big and present, with no smear and a healthy dose of Tubey Magic
  • At the right level, the level at which these instruments are heard in performance, the sound is perfection
  • We’ve been raving about this album forever, on Blueback and on UK Stereo Treasury – both can be superb

We normally do not put as much effort into finding top quality pressings of chamber music as we do for the large orchestral works favored by audiophiles (or at least the audiophiles who are willing to spend the money to buy our records), works such as Scheherazade and The Planets. However, if more of them sounded as good as this one we would be more than happy to do just that. (more…)