Labels We Love – Mercury (Classical)

The Brahms Violin Concerto – Unplug or Suffer the Consequences!

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

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The massed strings here, such as those found at the opening, are close miked and immediate in the “Mercury recording style.” Your electricity better be good when you play this record, because it presents a test many of you will have trouble passing at even moderate levels. 

We’ve often encouraged our readers and customers to go about unplugging things in their homes in order to test the effect of clean electricity on their playback systems. The opening of this record is a perfect example of the kind of material with which everyone should be testing in order to hear these changes. I’d be very surprised if the strings on this record don’t sound noticeably better after you’ve unplugged a few things in your house, and the more the better.

The effect should not be the least bit subtle. It’s certainly not subtle in our system.

The same would be true for any of the tweaks we recommend. The Talisman or Hallographs would be a godsend for proper playback of this record. Hard to imagine what it would sound like without them. (To tell you the truth we don’t really want to know.) (more…)

Richard Wagner – Wagner for Band / Eastman Wind Ensemble

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  • Wagner for Band finally makes its Hot Stamper debut with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • There is plenty on offer for the discriminating audiophile, with the spaciousness, clarity, tonality and freedom from artificiality that are hallmarks of the best Mercury recordings of Fennell leading the EWE
  • Far richer, smoother and livelier than every other pressing we played, with Tubey Magic and space we guarantee you have never heard on any Fennell record before
  • An incredibly rare TAS List recording, now replaced on the list by a Speakers Corner LP – from the looks of it, The Absolute Sound is going deaf in its old agestere

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Stravinsky / The Firebird / Dorati

More on The Firebird

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

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White Hot Front Row Center sound on side one – amazingly lifelike. One listen to either side and you’ll know this is one of the Top Mercury Titles of All Time. Dorati breathes life into the work as only he can. This is the first time the Mercury Firebird has ever made it to the site, and this copy is killer.

Side One

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Side Two

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy. (more…)

Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

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ADDENDUM 2020

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like Philips pressings have a tendency to sound: too smooth, smeary, compressed, recessed and veiled. 

Can’t say what this one sounds like, it sold many years ago, but I would not expect any Golden Import to sound good to me now. The famous Bolero on the TAS List had seemed to me to be a Harry Pearson mistake from the old days, a record he clearly liked at one time and simply not played later in life on better equipment.

Mostly what we were doing below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that everyone else seemed to like. What a disaster.

And where, may I ask, are those awful Mercury’s now?

On the trash heap of Heavy Vinyl Rip-offs from the past I hope. (I hope — audiophiles seem to like so many bad sounding records that it would not surprise me if there were still some die-hard fans of the series.)

How bad does a stereo have to be to keep you from hearing what is wrong with the sound of these badly remastered records? (more…)

Respighi / The Birds / Dorati – Reviewed in 2005

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This Maroon Label Mercury TAS List reissue with a black and white back cover has a decent sounding ”The Birds”, but an EXCEPTIONALLY nice ”Brazilian Impressions’.’ I don’t know when I’ve heard a better copy for that work.

It’s everything that a good Mercury should be: dynamic, open, immediate, exciting, and of course, with Dorati and the LSO, beautifully performed. The Golden Import on this title is excellent and I’m quite sure it’s better on side one. But the side two here gives you the REAL Mercury sound that Mercury fans love. I count myself among them. (more…)

Tchaikovsky – The Nutcracker Ballet / Dorati / LSO

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  • The Hot Stamper return of this stunning rendition of The Nutcracker, with a Triple Plus (A+++) side three and nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound on sides one and four – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • If you love the excitement Dorati brings to warhorses such as this, coupled with the equally exciting sound that Mercury achieved under Robert Fine, you will have a hard time finding a better combination of the two than this very record
  • The sound is glorious – full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with virtually no smear
  • With this early pressing the power of the orchestra will come to life right in your very own listening room
  • “The last of Tchaikovsky’s three great ballets, and was premiered in 1892, the year before his enigmatic death.

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Tchaikovsky / Romeo & Juliet / Dorati – Reviewed in 2011

Hot Stamper Classical Pressings Available Now

30+ Reviews of Mercury Classical Recordings

 

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SUPERB Nearly White Hot Stamper sound on side two. With a grade of A++ to A+++, this is clearly the best sounding Romeo and Juliet we have ever heard. Rich lower strings, clear horns, big cymbal crashes, zero smear — rich and tubey but clear, right up there with the best of the RCA’s and London’s. And Dorati turns in a top performance with the London Symphony.

Was We Wrong?

We played an Orange label late reissue of this title a while back and had this to say about it:

DEMO QUALITY thanks to superb low distortion mastering. Another very exciting Mercury recording. Some of these Orange Label pressings, which are cut with much better cutting equipment than was available when the original album was released, can show you just how good the master tape really is. This kind of sound is not easy to cut, and it appears that the amplifiers of the day just weren’t up to it. This copy gets rid of all the cutter head distortion and coloration and allows you to hear what the Mercury engineers accomplished!

Dorati breathes fire into the famous Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet on side 2. Unfortunately, the mastering on this copy is not very good. The sound is bright and dry.

This work frequently is recorded with harsh sound; the orchestration must be difficult to capture on tape. But Mercury here seems to have managed a feat few others can claim. I’m guessing the earlier pressings have too much cutter distortion to get this one right; I don’t recall the other copies I’ve heard sounding this good.

This RFR early Colorback pressing — is there an FR pressing? Don’t know — has superb mastering for the Tchaicovsky, so in that sense we can say that the old cutter heads were doing just fine, thank you very much.

But side one is awful — crude, harsh and full of the old school cutter head distortion we decry above. So which is it?

Both I guess. Depends on the record, right? That’s why you have to play them to know. Which we don’t mind doing as long as we can charge $150 for our trouble (not to mention what it takes to find a pressing like this nowadays). (more…)

Winds In Hi-Fi / Fennell / EWE – Reviewed in 2010

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DEMONSTRATION QUALITY. Famous TAS list LP! Superb sound. Mercury knows how to capture the bite of the brass. Fennell is a master of this sort of sweet and lyrical Wind Music.

Harry Pearson put this record on his TAS List of Super Discs.

The credit must go to Fennel along with the brilliant engineering team at Mercury. I’ve been told that he was a stickler for making sure everyone was perfectly in tune and playing correctly within the ensemble. That’s exactly what you hear when you play a record like this — it’s practically sonic perfection.

Fennell made a number of band music recordings for Mercury. My favorite is British Band Classics Vol. 2, which was the first Mercury recording I ever heard. I went out and bought a copy of it immediately from my local Tower Records on Golden Import.

Years later when I heard the real thing, and original pressing, I realized the Golden Import was a pretty second rate reissue, fine for the $4.99 I might have paid but a big step down from the early pressings.

Also, if you ever see a clean copy of Vol. 1, only available in Mono, pick it up. If it’s cut right it too is out of this world.

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Janis/ Dorati – Years Ago We Liked a Mono Pressing

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CBFR-1/CBFR-2. This Mono pressing sounds SUPERB, much smoother and more natural than I remember the Stereo pressings sounding. What’s interesting about these Monos is they’re not mastered by Robert Fine. They are mastered by someone with the initials J.J., who apparently does all the Mono mastering. The reason Mercury Monos can sound as good as they do is because they have their own separate microphone feed and their own separate Mono tape recorder dedicated all to themselves. (London did the same thing and that’s why so many London Monos are amazing sounding.)

I don’t think you can find a better sounding Rachmaninoff 3rd on Mercury than this one. 

[Of course we no longer agree with that.  The best stereo copies are in an entirely different league. The mono can be good, but it cannot be great in the way the stereo pressings can be.] (more…)