Labels We Love – Decca/London/Argo

Smetana and Dvorak – Bohemian Rhapsody

More of the Music of Smetana

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • We can honestly say we have never heard these wonderfully melodic works played with more verve and skill
  • Nor have we heard any performances with better sound – this may be a budget Decca reissue, but as some of you Hot Stamper fans have discovered, it is not unusual for these later Deccas to beat the originals
  • And note that this pressing is no spring chicken — it’s almost 50 years old
  • This copy has many condition issues — if it didn’t sound as amazing as it does we wouldn’t bother listing it, but it does!
  • The original Decca and London pressings are rare and expensive, but if you one, you really owe it to yourself to hear just how good this pressing sounds
  • “The performances of The Bartered Bride extracts have all of the necessary sparkle and verve, while Kertesz’s credentials as a Dvorák conductor are second to none.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1962. Other recommended titles from 1962 can be found here.

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best-sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing Grateful Dead music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


This record shows off vintage Decca sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so consistently unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for Decca in the Fifties and Sixties, is on display here for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl).

It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us. I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records. (more…)

The Moody Blues – To Our Children’s Children’s Children

More of The Moody Blues

More Psych Rock

  • An early UK Threshold pressing with lush but clear Tubey Magical Double Plus (A++) sound throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • You get richness, fullness and warmth on both of these sides, which is exactly what you want for the Moodies’ music
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from most other copies we played
  • “It is the fourth of what are popularly considered the group’s “core seven” (or Classic Seven) albums from 1967 to 1972, and as such represents the peak of their career to some.”
  • “There are no extended suites on this album, but Justin Hayward’s ‘Watching and Waiting’ and ‘Gypsy’ have proved to be among the most popular songs in the group’s history.”

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Ravel and Ansermet Produce The Best Bolero on Vinyl

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

The sound is clear, with wonderful depth to the stage.

As a rule, the classic ’50s and ’60s recordings of Ansermet and the Suisse Romande in Victoria Hall are as big and rich as any you may have ever heard.

These recordings may just be the ideal blend of clarity and richness, with depth and spaciousness that will put to shame 98% of the classical recordings ever made.

Side One

Bolero (Ravel)

Tubey and clear, with both the snare and the flute coming from so far back in the hall! OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power.

Turn it up and it really comes to life like LIVE MUSIC. It’s big, wide and believable. We loved it!

Side Two

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Dukas)

ZERO compression. ZERO distortion when loud. Which means it has ZERO compressor distortion, something not five out of a hundred Golden Age recordings can claim. Nice extended top too.

There is depth and richness to beat the band, as well as clarity and tonal correctness that let you forget the recording and just enjoy the music. This piece is not quite as transparent as the Ravel, but still has earned every one of its Three Pluses.

The timbre of the brass is right on the money. As we have noted before, the brass of the Suisse Romande is some of the best to have ever been committed to analog tape.

Again, this side had OUTSTANDING energy and dynamic power the likes of which we think you may never have heard.

La Valse (Ravel)

Boasting some of the best sound of the three works we played on this copy. Again, with that wondrously huge hall adding a sense of space that will allow your speakers to disappear. The performers are not too close, which is very much in keeping with live music.

In his tribute to Ravel after the composer’s death in 1937, Paul Landormy described the work as follows:

“….the most unexpected of the compositions of Ravel, revealing to us heretofore unexpected depths of Romanticism, power, vigor, and rapture in this musician whose expression is usually limited to the manifestations of an essentially classical genius.”


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Top Quality Classical “Sleeper” Recordings

Demo Disc Quality Orchestral Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

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

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Hot Stamper Pressings of Classical Albums from The Core Collection

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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Stravinsky / Petrushka / Mehta – Not Recommended

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

Reviews and Commentaries for Recordings by Decca

Sonic Grade: F 

A Hall of Shame Pressing and a Classical Record we can’t recommend.

We’re big fans of Decca/London Records in general, but in this case the sound and the performances are simply not acceptable.

We had three original UK pressed copies of CS 6554 and none of them sounded any good to us.

What’s worse, Mehta and the Los Angeles Phil play the work quite poorly. How this album got released in 1967 I have no idea.


A PUBLIC SERVICE

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some Hall of Shame records the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good pressing, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much less excusable.


Rimsky-Korsakov / Scheherazade – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

More Stamper and Pressing Information

In 2015 we wrote:

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

We recently did the shootout again, and now with a much more clear, accurate upper midrange and an even more extended top end, the stampers that we used to find “brighter than ideal” are almost always just too damn bright, period.

We will never buy another copy with those stampers.

We was wrong and we don’t mind admitting it. We must have learned something, right?. We ran an experiment, we discovered something new about this album, and that has to be seen as a good thing.

If you have been making improvements to your system, room, electricity, etc., then you too own records which don’t sound as good as you remember them.

You just don’t know which ones they are, assuming you haven’t played them in a while.

One Stamper to Rule Them All

Which leaves one and only one stamper that can win a shootout. There is another stamper we like well enough to offer to our discriminating customers, but after that it is all downhill, and steeply.

Here are Some Other Albums with One Set of Stampers that Consistently Win Shootouts

Of course the right stampers are the hardest ones to find too. All of which explains why you rarely see a copy of the album for sale on our site.

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An Extraordinary Recording of the Beethoven Septet – This Is Why You Must Do Shootouts

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

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

My first note on side one is “HTF” — Hard To Fault, for the sound was both rich and sweet, with easily recognized, unerringly correct timbres for all seven of the instruments which are heard in the work. The legendary 1959 Decca Tree microphone setup had worked its magic once again.

And, as good as it was, we were surprised to discover that side two was actually even better! The sound was more spacious and more transparent; we asked ourselves, how is this even possible?

Hard to believe but side two had the sound that was TRULY Hard To Fault. This is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about. If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?

Without the best pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It’s only when you have something better that its faults come into focus. (We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers!)

Side One

A++, so good, yet in comparison to side two we realized that it was not as present, spacious and transparent as it SEEMED.

Side Two

A+++, White Hot!

Ah, here was the sound we didn’t know we were missing. So big and open, with space for every player, each clearly laid out across the stage. This is Hi-Fi at its best.

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Sibelius / Violin Concerto / Ricci / Fjelstad

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • This Sibelius Violin Concerto has top sonics and a performance to match
  • It’s some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, right up there with our longtime favorite, the Heifetz on Living Stereo (LSC 2435)
  • One of the truly great 1958 All Tube recordings from Kingsway Hall, captured faithfully in all its beauty by Alan Reeve & Gordon Parry on this very disc
  • “In the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ricci’s (as are we), this is a Must Own from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best Shaded Dog pressings of the Heifetz performance on RCA (LSC 2435) are the equal of this London. RCA presents the violin more immediately in the soundfield. Decca’s engineers integrated the violinist into the orchestra, which of course is the way it would be heard in the concert hall. To our ears, both approaches work exceptionally well — when you have at your disposal exceptional pressings of each. We had copies of both that were Hard to Fault, which made for a very enjoyable shootout.

Note that it has been close to ten years since our last big shootout for the work. That’s how long it takes to find enough clean London, Decca and RCA pressings for recordings such as these. Noisy, second-rate copies are everywhere. Top quality early pressings in clean condition come our way less than once a year. There are literally thousands of clean, vintage classical pressing sitting in our stockroom, waiting for a few more copies to come our way so that we can finally do a shootout.

With engineering in the legendary Kingsway Hall, there is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not being lost on us.

It’s also 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.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

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 unforgiveable mediocrity.)

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Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Ansermet

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Chabrier

  • This superb Chabrier album contains our favorite Espana Rhapsody, and this copy lets you hear it with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • The “Espana” rhapsody for orchestra in Nearly White Hot stamper sound here is guaranteed to blow your mind
  • This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic – HERE is the sound we love
  • All the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration, thanks to the brilliant engineering of Roy Wallace
  • Ansermet’s Chabrier disc has long been a favorite of ours here at Better Records – this copy will show you why

If you want a classical record to TEST your system, if you want a classical record to DEMO your system, you will have a hard time finding a better pressing than this very copy.

Who can resist these sublime orchestral works? To quote an infamous (around here) label, they are an audiophile’s dream come true. The Tracklist tab has extensive background information on most of these works.

So clear and clean, and spread out on such a huge stage, either one or both of these sides will serve you well as your go-to reference disc for Orchestral Reproduction.

Listen for the waves of sound in Espana — only the best copies bring out the energy and power of Chabrier’s remarkable orchestration.

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Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake Ballet Highlights / Ansermet

More of the music of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

More Records on Decca and London

  • This vintage London stereo pressing of the Suisse Romande’s extraordinary performance of the the Swan Lake Highlights boasts superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • It’s also impossibly quiet at Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus, a grade that practically none of our vintage classical titles – even the most well-cared-for ones – ever play at
  • Rosiny string tone and texture, rich tonality, a big hall, practically no smear, lovely transparency – the sound here hard to fault
  • The miking is tasteful, with much less spotlighting than most of the classical recordings we play
  • That gorgeous clarinet says it all, so rich and Tubey Magical – not many copies had the full measure of that sound the way this one did

I rank the performance here by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande second to none. (The Fistoulari on London can be especially good on the right pressing as well.)

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here. (The Royal Gala Ballet is a good example. If you have the two grand to spend we highly recommend you find yourself a good one. And don’t waste your money on the Classic no matter what you may have read elsewhere.)

Speaking of bad sounding Heavy Vinyl, Speakers Corner reissued the complete Swan Lake 2-LP recording on 180g fifteen years ago or so and ruined it. Imagine that. (I happily admit their Nutcracker was quite good for a Heavy Vinyl reissue. It cannot hold a candle to a good vintage pressing but it will beat most of what’s out there on audiophile vinyl, which, truth be told, isn’t saying much.)

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