Labels We Love – EMI/Harvest

Massenet – Pros, Cons and a Milestone of Audio Progress

More of the music of Jules Massenet (1842—1912)

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

About ten years ago we reviewed a copy of the album that had a sub-optimal side two, a side two that suffered from screechy string tone.

Since that time we’ve made a number of improvements to our cleaning regimen and playback system, and the result has been that our last couple of shootouts went off without a hitch, showing us string tone that was virtually free of screechiness. (The Greensleeves reissues never had much of a screechy strings problem as they tended to be mastered on the smooth side. They are more forgiving of second-rate playback in that respect, but they can also never win shootouts with that overly smooth sound.) [1]

Problem solved! The records were fine, we just couldn’t play them back then as well as we can now.

In 2012, ten years ago, I had been selling records to audiophiles professionally for 25 years. I had owned a State of the Art system for 37 years.

But I knew I still had plenty to learn, and I kept at it.

After a decade’s worth of tweaking and tuning, the strings of this recording started to sound the way Stuart Eltham and his fellow engineers undoubtedly wanted them to.

This is how you chart your audio progress, by challenging yourself with difficult to reproduce recordings and building on the improvements you continue to make as the years and decades go by.

If you’re in the market for records that can show you that there is still plenty of work left to be done in this crazy audio hobby we’ve all chosen, we have scores of them on the Better Records site.

If we can get them to sound better, so can you.

[1] Our latest preoccupation here on the blog is to point out as often as we can that the Modern Heavy Vinyl remastered pressing is too often just too damn smooth.

The remastered box sets of The Beatles (see: Pepper, Sgt.., etc.) are the poster boys for making records sound more “analog” by boosting the bass and smoothing the treble, like your old ’70s system used to do. (Those of you who were in the hobby back then know exactly the sound I am talking about. For those who would like to know more, we wrote this overview.)

The Beatles records that we sell as Hot Stampers have nothing in common with that absurdly artificial approach. Mid-Fi systems may benefit from more bass and less top end, but Hi-Fi systems worthy of the name will not, hence our distaste for this kind of EQ overreach. More example of overly smooth modern records can be found here, with more to be added as time permits.


Our Review from 2012

This is a record that clearly belongs on a Super Disc list. If Harry hadn’t already put it there we certainly would have.

We would love to compile a Super Disc list of our own, but unless you have just the right copy of whatever title you find on the list, you may not have anything like Super Disc sound quality, so why a list at all? It creates more problems for audiophiles than it solves. [We have since changed our minds about Super Disc lists.]

Both sides of this TAS List disc contain audiophile Must Own Demonstration pieces, full of Tubey Magic, powerful dynamics, real depth, lifelike ambience, and uncannily accurate instrumental timbres, especially from the woodwinds. Add explosive dynamics and deep bass and you have yourself a genuine audiophile recording.

The sound is so rich you will not believe you are listening to an EMI. If more EMI records sounded like this we would be putting them on the site left and right. Unfortunately, in our experience the majority are thin, shrill and vague. Not so here.

Side One – Le Cid

A+++, so much bigger and livelier than the other copies we played. Huge size and scope, with an extended top, good texture to the strings, and lower strings that are rich and rosiny in the best tradition of vintage Deccas and RCAs.

As it stands it is clearly a Demo Disc of real power. It’s smooth and natural, which means you can really turn it up if you want that front row center seat.

Side Two – Scenes Pittoresques / The Last Sleep of the Virgin

A+ to A++, good, just clearly not as good as this amazing side one. It’s big, rich and spacious — 3-D in fact — but the string tone is not as warm and textured as it should be.

Which means it has some of that typically screechy EMI String Sound one often hears on their recordings.

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Paganini – Violin Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / Menuhin

The Music of Paganini Available Now

Album Reviews of the Music of Paganini

  • Two of the truly great virtuoso/romantic violin concertos, boasting superb 1961 EMI Golden Age Analog Sound
  • The complete first Violin Concerto on this vintage LP has killer sound, right up there with our Shootout Winner from the last go around
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than most others
  • The best balance of orchestra and soloist we know of for both works, with sound to rival the greatest violin concerto recordings we’ve played

Another remarkable Demo Disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording Technology, in this case 1961, with the added benefit of mastering using the more modern cutting equipment of the ’70s. (We are of course here referring to the good modern mastering of 40 years ago, not the bad modern mastering of today.)

This combination of old and new works wonders on this title as you will surely hear for yourself on this wonderful copy.

The sound of the best copies is transparent, undistorted, three-dimensional and REAL, without any sacrifice in solidity, richness or Tubey Magic. 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. (more…)

Queen – A Day At the Races

More Queen

Hot Stamper Albums with Huge Choruses


  • This UK copy of the band’s fifth studio album boasts incredible Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish – just shy of out Shootout Winner
  • We shot out a number of other imports and this one had the presence, bass, and dynamics that were missing from practically all other copies we played
  • Forget the domestic pressings – they may be cut at Sterling, but they never sound like these shockingly good British LPs
  • “A Day at the Races is a bit tighter than its predecessor… its sleek, streamlined finish is the biggest indication that Queen has entered a new phase, where they’re globe-conquering titans instead of underdogs on the make.”

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Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from start to finish, this mindblowing recording is guaranteed to rock your world – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The transparency, the clarity, the energy, the power – it’s all here on these very special import pressings
  • Just listen to how clear the clocks are on Time, how breathy the vocals are on Breathe, how textured the synthesizers are and how silky the top end is from the beginning of the album all the way to the powerful finish
  • A Top 100 album (Top Ten actually) and a Rock Demo Disc to rival the most amazing sounding records of all time
  • 5 stars: “…what gives the album true power is the subtly textured music… no other record defines [Pink Floyd] quite as well as this one.”

This vintage import pressing has the presence, the richness, the size and the energy you always wanted to hear on Dark Side — AND NOW YOU CAN! (more…)

Paul McCartney – McCartney II

More Paul McCartney

More Beatles

  • With KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout, this vintage British pressing could not be beat
  • Forget the dubby domestic pressings – these UK imports are the only ones that can deliver the McCartney II Magic
  • Both of these sides are clean, clear, and dynamic with lots of Tubey Magic and a huge bottom end
  • “Entitled McCartney II because its one-man band approach mirrors that of his first solo album, Paul McCartney’s first record since the breakup of Wings was greeted upon its release as a return to form… [It] finds Paul in an adventurous state of mind, which is a relief after years of formulaic pop.”
  • “… it’s certainly stronger than Speed and, in its own way, as satisfying as Venus and Mars… It’s a laid-back, almost effortless collection of professional pop and, as such, it’s one of his strongest albums.” 

If you’ve heard the album, you know it’s not exactly a straight-ahead pop record. Paul is in his one-man-band mode here, just as he was for his brilliant solo debut, but this time around he relies more on synth-heavy arrangements and plenty of studio experimentation. Assuming you have the right pressing, UK only in our experience, it can be a very good sounding record. (more…)

Falla – The Three Cornered Hat / De Burgos

More of the Music of Manuel de Falla (1876-1946)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • With two INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this vintage British EMI import pressing could not be beat
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • The best sides were always the biggest, clearest and most three-dimensional, assuming they were able to retain the rich, natural, balanced tonality that is inherently key to a good record, or a great one in this case

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Paul McCartney and Wings – Ram

  • This vintage pressing of McCartney’s 1971 Classic boasts outstanding sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides
  • A copy like this is a real audiophile treat – here is the rich, warm, clear, natural and lively sound you want for Ram   
  • Many of the man’s most memorable songs are here: Too Many People, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Monkberry Moon Delight, Heart Of The Country and more
  • 5 stars: “These songs may not be self-styled major statements, but they are endearing and enduring, as is Ram itself, which seems like a more unique, exquisite pleasure with each passing year.”

I remember this album being dismissed as lightweight back in the day and I may have even felt the same to be honest. Heck, compared to Abbey Road and The White Album, the very same thing could be said about most of McCartney’s albums.

McCartney isn’t out to blow you away with high-production value rock here, apart from Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey. He’s making some lovely pop music with his wife and sharing it with the world. And what’s so wrong with that? (more…)

Mussorgsky & Ravel – Pictures at an Exhibition

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for Mussorgsky’s Music

  • This British EMI import pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • Our favorite performance by far, with big, bold and powerful sonics like no other recording we know
  • The brass clarity, the dynamics, the deep bass and the sheer power of the orchestra are almost hard to believe
  • No vintage recording of these works compares with Muti’s – and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite is an extra special added bonus on side two
  • 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.

This EMI import pressing gives you the complete Pictures at an Exhibition with a TOP PERFORMANCE and SUPERB SONICS from first note to last.

As this is my All Time Favorite performance of Pictures, this record naturally comes very highly recommended. Pictures is a piece of music that has been recorded countless times, and I’ve played scores of different recordings, but the only one that truly satisfies is this one, Muti’s 1979 recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Much like Previn and the LSO’s performance of The Planets, he finds the music in the work that no one else seems to.

For his 1979 review of the Mussorgsky, Robert Layton in the GRAMOPHONE writes of Muti and The Philadelphia Orchestra :

…what orchestral playing they offer us. The lower strings in ‘Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle’ have an extraordinary richness, body and presence, and “Baba Yaga”, which opens the second side, has an unsurpassed virtuosity and attack as well as being of demonstration standard as a recording. The glorious body of tone, the richly glowing colours, the sheer homogeneity of the strings and perfection of the ensemble is a constant source of pleasure.

Of the performance of Stravinsky’s Firebird, Layton writes:

…Muti’s reading is second to none and the orchestral playing is altogether breathtaking. The recording is amazingly lifelike and truthful.

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Kate Bush – Hounds Of Love

More Kate Bush

More Art Rock

  • An original UK import pressing with seriously good sound from start to finish
  • Guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard, this Brit is big, lively, and full-bodied with excellent presence – Kate’s wonderfully breathy vocals really soar
  • The domestic pressings are clearly made from dubs and should have no business taking up space in any serious audiophile record collection (but you may have noticed that we have a habit of saying that about a lot of records)
  • 4 1/2 stars: “…from the minutiae of each song to the broad sweeping arc of the two suites, all heavily ornamented with layered instrumentation, makes this record wonderfully overpowering as a piece of pop music.”
  • If you’re a fan of the Ms Bush, her Magnum Opus from 1985 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1985 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Deep Purple – One of the All Time Great Sounding Live Rock Albums

deeppmadei_1606_1152215422More of the Music of Deep Purple

More Live Rock Recordings of Interest

Machine Head Live? That would not be far off, and the fact they brought Martin Birch along with them all the way to Japan in order to engineer a live album that was only supposed to sell to the Japanese market (!) could not have been more fortuitous for us audiophiles.

Machine Head is clearly one of the best sounding hard rock records ever made, and Made In Japan, its successor, sounds more like a top quality studio production than any live album I’ve ever heard. It’s shocking how clean and undistorted the sound is. Equally shocking is the fact that it’s every bit as big and lively as a Hard Rockin’ Live Album should be.

This is a combination the likes of which we hear far too rarely.

We’ve raved about a number of live albums over the years. Some of the better sounding ones that come readily to mind (in alphabetical order) are listed below. Fans of any of these bands can be proud to have a Hot Stamper pressing of any of these albums in their collection.

The albums I would want in my personal collection are noted with an asterisk [*].

  • The Band / Rock of Ages*
  • Harry Belafonte / At Carnegie Hall*
  • David Bowie / David Live*
  • Johnny Cash / At San Quentin
  • Cheap Trick / At Budokan
  • Eric Clapton / Just One Night*
  • Deep Purple / Made in Japan
  • Donny Hathaway / Live*
  • Jimi Hendrix / The Jimi Hendrix Concerts
  • Humble Pie / Performance – Rockin’ The Fillmore
  • Albert King / Live Wire – Blues Power
  • Little Feat / Waiting For Columbus*
  • Lou Rawls / Live!*
  • The Rolling Stones / Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out* 
  • The Who / Live at Leeds*

Having just played a stack of copies of Made In Japan, I’d put it right up there with the best of the best.

In terms of Tubey Magic, richness and naturalness — qualities that are usually in very short supply on live albums — I would have to say that the shootout winning copies of Made In Japan might just take Top Honors for Best Sounding Live Rock Album of All Time. Yes, the sound is that good.

Want to find your own top quality copy?

Consider taking our Moderately Helpful Advice about the pressings that have tended to win shootouts over the years.

In our experience, this record sounds best this way:

On Big Speakers at Loud Levels 

On the Right Early Pressing 

On the Right British Import Pressing 

Watch out for this UK pressing, it sounds as dubby as the domestic pressings do.

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