Labels We Love – Decca/London/Argo

Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

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Holst / The Planets – We Call This “Blockbuster Sound”

More of the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

Reviews and Commentaries for The Planets

This is what we here at Better Records refer to as Blockbuster Sound.

Even on the best copies, the recording does not sound very much like a live orchestra, nor is it trying to. It’s trying to be huge and powerful in your home.

It’s more in line with a Rock Demo Disc such as Crime of the Century or Dark Side of the Moon, in the sense that everything has been carefully and artificially placed in the soundfield, each with its own space and sonic qualities.

It’s clearly not the recreation of a live orchestral event. No live concert I have ever attended sounded anything like this record.

Instead it’s the actual creation of a unique orchestral sound, with unique staging of its own design.  Lots of microphones were used, which cause instruments and sometimes whole sections of the orchestra to appear in places and take up spaces they could possible take up.

If your stereo images well, with three-dimensional staging and depth, you will have no trouble hearing what we are talking about with any pressing of the album.

This is the sound that Bernard Herrmann made such wonderful use of with his series of Phase IV recordings for Decca, rather than the four mics and two stereo channels of the Fiedler Gaite Parisienne from RCA in 1954.

Which is ironic. HP talked about The Absolute Sound of live unamplified music as being the standard, yet somehow this recording ended up in his Top Twelve All Time Greats. Makes no sense to me, but neither do many of the records on The TAS Super Disc List. That said, our current favorite Planets is the other Planets on the TAS List, Previn’s on EMI.

If I were in charge of the TAS Super Disc List, I would not have put this record on it. Here are some others that we do not think qualify as Super Discs.

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Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

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.

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Beethoven / Septet / Members of the Vienna Octet

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

More Records on Decca and London

  • With outstanding grades on both sides, the sound here is realistic and natural, if not DEMO DISC quality
  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, the sound on this import pressing is classic Decca from 1959 – rich, smooth and completely free of the hi-fi-ish qualities some audiophiles seem to admire by the likes of Reference, Telarc, Wilson and the like
  • This record was cut by real Decca engineers and in 1969 they certainly still knew what they were doing
  • Both sides are full, rich, spacious, big and present, with very little smear and a very healthy dose of Tubey Magic
  • At the right level, the level at which these instruments are heard in performance, the sound is tonally right on the money
  • We’ve been raving about this album forever, first on Blueback and on UK Stereo Treasury, and now on Ace of Diamonds – all three can be superb
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with music and sound like this, we hope to be able to do this shootout again soon

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…)

Bizet / Symphony in C Major / Ansermet

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

This London pressing of Ansermet’s 1961 recording has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. The Symphony in C, which takes up the whole of side one, is BIG and LIVELY, which is just the kind of sound that makes us swoon here at Better Records. Live music IS big and lively, so why shouldn’t the best records be? The bottom end has real power on this copy, the way live music does.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

It’s precisely this kind of big, rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement.

The second movement has a sublimely gorgeous oboe part you must hear. The whole side is wonderfully spacious, with real depth. The sound of the 1961 tape must be truly magical. If you don’t know why we revere the Golden Age of Classical Recordings — 1954 to 1969 or so — buy this record. (more…)

Massenet / Le Cid – This Blueback Was Awful

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jules Massenet (1842-1912)

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

Sonic Grade: F

Don’t buy into that record collector/audiophile canard that the originals are always the best sounding pressings.

This original Blueback pressing — true, we only had the one, so take it for what it’s worth — was a complete disaster: shrill, with no top or bottom to speak of, the very definition of boxy sound.

Our current favorite for sound and performance is the one Fremaux conducted for EMI in 1971.

It had been on the TAS List for some time, but we confess we didn’t bother finding out how good it was until about five years ago when it became clear to us what a wonderful conductor Louis Fremaux could be.

Here are some other Hot Stamper pressings of TAS List titles that we like.

Back to London

The sound of the London original you see above was much too unpleasant to be played on high quality modern equipment. There are quite a number of others that we’ve run into over the years with similar shortcomings.

A stereo that looks like the console below — or one that sounds like an old console even though it has new components, there are plenty of those out there in audiophile land — is perfect for all your Bad Sounding Golden Age Recordings.

Or you could get that old console sound by powering your system with the Mac 30s you see below. They are very good at hiding the faults of old records (and plenty of new ones too).

Our Pledge of Service to You, the Discriminating Audiophile 

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

You can find this album 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. (Some records in the Hall of Shame have sound that was passable but the music was not up to our standards, or some combination of the two.  These are also records that audiophiles can safely avoid.)

Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult

  • This rich, sweet and full-bodied UK pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Side one gives you not only a wonderful Clair De Lune, but a number of shorter works by Faure, Massenet and Elgar as well, with side two highlighted by meditative pieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky and others
  • We can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound – this record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on tape
  • It’s the same recording as the famous Living Stereo Clair De Lune, LSC-2326, but with a couple of extra tracks included
  • The other main difference between the Living Stereo pressing on our Decca here is that the Decca has better sound

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, 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.

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Bartok / Concerto for Orchestra / Solti

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

More Must Own Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Huge hall, massive weight and powerful energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • The sound here is glorious, full of all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • There are many great recordings of the work, and we had plenty to choose from, but for sonics and performance combined, Solti’s Decca recording from 1965 could not be beat
  • “Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was one of the finest of its day and remains so. Highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of Bartok’s orchestral masterpiece, this London from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • Watch out for Solti’s later recordings for Decca – they usually have an obvious shortcoming which we cannot abide in the classical records we play

Solti breathes life into these works as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

“Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.”

There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • With two outstanding sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound as good as it does here, and the Bruch Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • The glorious sound of these truly great 1958 All Tube “Decca Tree” recordings from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this disc, and once the needle hits the groove it won’t take you long to hear it
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will be competitive with nearly all comers, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others that have impressed in the past
  • The violin is so sweet and present, so rich, natural and real, you will forget you’re listening to a record at all

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Take care, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place 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.

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Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture on London

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

More than ten years ago, 2010 or thereabouts I’m guessing, we felt we were ready to do a shootout for Tchaikovsky’s famous 1812 Overture, music that surely belongs in any serious audiophile record collection.

On a well-known work such as this, we started by pulling out every performance on every label we had in our backroom and playing them one after the other. Most never made it to the half-minute mark. Compressor distortion or inner groove overcutting at the huge climax of the work? Forget it. On the trade-in pile you go.

A few days went by while we were cleaning and listening to the hopefuls. We then proceeded to track down more of the pressings we had liked in our preliminary round of listening. At the end we had a good-sized pile of LPs that we thought shootout-worthy, pressings that included various RCA, Decca and London LPs.

The London you see above did not impress us. We much preferred the Decca Budget Reissue cut from the same tapes.

There are a number of other Deccas and Londons that we’ve played over the years that were disappointing, and they can be found here.


Music Background

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