Labels We Love – Mercury (Classical)

Liszt / Enesco – Hungarian Rhapsodies / Roumanian Rhapsodies / Dorati

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1880)

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  • This wonderful collection of rhapsodies finally makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • One of the best of the Mercury Living Presence Titles – the orchestra is big, rich and tubey, yet the dynamics and transparency are first rate
  • Beautifully performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (our favorite performances of these works in fact), under the direction of Antal Dorati
  • Other versions — the Oscar Danon we like on RDG, for example — may be faster, but Dorati and the LSO bring an energy and spirit to these pieces that we feel is unequaled on vintage vinyl
  • “The playing is flawless… if you like and/or appreciate the music of these composers, your life would be remiss not having heard these performances.”

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The Said and the Unsaid – The Firebird on Mercury

More on The Firebird

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

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For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:

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.

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.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

Paris 1917-1938 / Dorati / LSO – Side One Versus Side Two

More music conducted by Antal Dorati

What to Listen For – Side to Side Differences

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Super Hot Stamper sound for Eric Satie’s wonderfully eccentric Parade (and the Auric piece as well) can be found on this rare original promo copy of Mercury 90435, a record that was previously on the TAS List if I’m not mistaken.

It certainly deserves to be. The sound is BIG and OPEN, and like so many Mercury recordings with the London Symphony, it’s rich and full-bodied, not thin and nasally as is so often the case with their domestically recorded releases. Above all the sound is transparent, lively and dynamic.

In many ways this album would certainly serve quite well as an audiophile Demo Disc: the timbre of the wide array of instruments used is (mostly) Right On The Money.

Check out the lengthy and humorous producer’s notes for the sessions below. And people think The Beatles discovered experimental sounds in the studio.

With one small exception: the brass doesn’t have all the weight of the real thing, and for that we have deducted one plus from our top grade of three.

Side one has Classic Bad Mercury Sound — so screechy, hard and thin. How many audiophiles own records like this and don’t know that the sound of one side is awful and the other brilliant?

Since so few have ever commented publicly about such matters — and even supposedly knowledgeable audiophile reviewers never bother to even bring up the subject of one side versus the other — one must conclude that this is a subject that has yet to pierce the consciousness of most of our audiophile brethren, especially the ones who haven’t yet discovered this site.

Now’s a good time to start. Dig in, you may be surprised by what you find.

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Unsolicited Audio Advice – Small Speakers and Some Audio Lessons I Learned Over the Last 40+ Years

Do not believe a word you hear in this video. You probably shouldn’t even watch it.

Small speakers are incapable of providing lifelike musical reproduction in the home.

You will never feel you are in the presence of live musicians with a system like this. Real acoustic instruments move lots of air, that’s why we can hear them all the way at the back of the concert hall. Little speakers, unlike big speakers, do a very poor job of moving air. Screen speakers are not quite as bad as small speakers like the ones you see above, but they suffer from the same limitation: they can’t move much air.

I’ve never had speakers this small (or screens), but I’ve heard many systems with little speakers on stands, with and without subs, and all of them without exception left a great deal to be desired. When I find myself in a room with such systems I listen for a few moments for curiosity’s sake more than anything else just to hear what they might be doing better or worse, and then I get the hell out before I become to irritated.

If you get talked into buying a system like this — novice audiophiles constantly get talked into buying bad stereo systems in every audio salon in the world — you will have a hard time getting very far in audio, and will probably just end up stuck at this unacceptably low level. So don’t do it!

This system may represent a floor, a good entry point for the budding enthusiast, but it is also a ceiling in the sense that it will keep you from making any real progress in the hobby. Which would be a shame. I have dedicated more than 45 years of my life to audio and have no intention of abandoning it. On the contrary, I get better at it all the time.

Can you imagine hooking up a turntable to these little boxes? Why bother? Everything that’s good about analog would be inaudible on this system, and that right there is all the reason you should not go this route.

And to show you how clueless this set-up is, the two towers of record shelving behind and to the outside of the speakers are in the worst possible place you could ever put them. Nothing should go there (unless you have Hallographs). Keep the rear corners behind the speakers mostly empty unless you know what you are doing. This guy clearly does not.

Some of my old audio history:

I was duped into buying my first real audiophile speaker, Infinity Monitors, when the clever salesman played Sheffield’s S9 through them. I bought them on the spot. It was only later when I got home that none of my other records sounded as good, or even good for that matter. That was my first exposure to a Direct to Disc recording. To this day I can still picture the room the Infinity’s were playing in; it really was a watershed moment in my audiophile life.

And of course I couldn’t wait to get rid of them once I heard them in my own system with my own records. I quickly traded them in for a pair of RTR 280DR’s. Now that was a great speaker! 15 panel RTR Electrostatic unit for the highs; lots of woofers and mids and even a piezo tweeter for the rest. More than 5 feet tall and well over 100 pounds each, that speaker ROCKED. (more…)

Rachmaninoff – Piano Concerto No. 3 / Janis / Dorati

The music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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  • Stunning sound for this classic Byron Janis Mercury album with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • The piano is huge and weighty, the strings rich and highly resolving, and the overall presentation is powerful, balanced, dynamic and exciting like few other piano concerto recordings we have ever had the pleasure to audition
  • Not only is this the consistently best sounding copy we have had to offer in years, but we are happy to report that the vinyl is especially quiet for a vintage Plum Label Mercury stereo pressing

Fine and Cozart

The piano is huge and powerful, yet the percussive and lighter qualities of the instrument are heard clearly and in proper relation to the orchestra as a whole.

I simply cannot criticize the work that Fine and Cozart have achieved with this recording, and believe me, there are very few records in this world about which I could not find something to criiticize. It is, after all, our job, and we like to set VERY high standards for the work we do. (more…)

Stravinsky / Song of the Nightingale / Dorati

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

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I believe you’ll find that Mercury’s sonics are superior to RCA’s for this music, and I prefer Dorati’s interpretation over Reiner’s as well. Although this record looks practically unplayed, it has vinyl typical of the era.

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

More of the music of Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)

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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…)