Labels We Love – Philips

Mozart / String Quartets / Quartetto Italiano

More of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

 

  • One of the finest string quartet recordings we have ever had the pleasure to play – lovely recreation of space, Tubey Magical richness, and rosiny string textures
  • Clear and transparent and natural – your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all
  • “The playing of the Quartetto Italiano has a freshness, range and subtlety that vividly realizes the music in all its variety, while technical problems seem to have been solved so that the music making can be both spontaneous-sounding and thoughtful throughout.”

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Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 / Kondrashin / Richter

More of the music of Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

More Classical Masterpieces

  • The finest Liszt 1st and 2nd Piano Concertos we know of for their performances, and unquestionably for sonics (when the sonics are this good!)
  • The best pressings of this title are more like LIVE MUSIC than any classical recording you own (outside of one of our Hot Stamper pressings of course, those can be every bit as good) or your money back
  • So big, rich and transparent we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording (unless you already one of our White Hot copies!)

*NOTE: Unlike Concerto No. 1, The Second Piano Concerto opens very quietly, so there will likely never be a vintage pressing of the album that will get that opening to play like a CD. Expect to hear some random ticks, a small price to pay to hear this wonderful performance on top quality analog.

Richter and Kondrashin deliver the finest Liszt 1st & 2nd Piano Concertos I know of, musically, sonically and in every other way. Richter’s performance here is alternately energetic and lyrical, precisely as the work demands. The recording itself is explosively dynamic. The brass is unbelievably full, rich and powerful. You won’t find a better recording of this music anywhere, and this pressing just cannot be beat.

Big and rich (always a problem with piano recordings: you want to hear the percussive qualities of the instrument, but few copies can pull it off without sounding thin). We love the BIG, FAT, Tubey Magical sound of this recording! The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

Huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. (more…)

Dvorak / Violin Concerto – A Killer Philips Recording

More of the music of Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904)

More Recordings Featuring the Violin

  • This Philips import pressing of Dvorak’s classical masterpieces boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER from the first note to the last
  • The orchestral passages are rich and sweet, the violin present, its harmonics gloriously intact
  • We audiophiles are fortunate indeed that a violinist of Accardo’s skill and taste recorded this piece for Philips at a time when their recording technology was still capable of capturing the sound of his violin in rich, warm, sweet, clear ANALOG
  • A SUPERB performance from Salvatore Accardo, certainly competitive with the best we have heard – we know of none better

Yes, it was still possible to record classical music properly in 1980, though not many labels managed to pull it off. (Londons from this era are especially opaque and airless. We find them as irritating and frustrating as most of the Heavy Vinyl releases being foisted on the audiophile public today.)

The orchestral passages are rich and sweet, the violin present, its harmonic colors gloriously intact. This is still ANALOG, with the better copies displaying much of the Tubey Magic of ’50s and ’60s vinyl without as much compressor distortion (the Achilles’ heel of so many of the great recordings from the Golden Era).

Accardo is an accomplished performer of the works of Paganini, but those recordings are on DG and we would not expect them to be of acceptable audio quality for our customers. We will investigate further of course, as Paganini’s works for violin are some of the most sublime in the repertoire.

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Respighi / The Birds on Golden Import Reissue

Hot Stamper Mercury Pressings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Classical Records on Mercury 

These days, most Golden Import reissues we play sound much too much like the bulk of the Philips pressings we’ve played over the years tend to sound: 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.

More than anything the changes we hear in the records we play now tie into the idea of Progress in audio, since without progress the records that sounded good to me in 2006 would still sound good to me now, and thank goodness they don’t.

Live and Learn is our motto, onward and upward, and we have made that approach to audio the very foundation of our business.

If you are stuck in a Heavy Vinyl rut, we can help you get out of it. We did precisely that for these folks, and we can do it for you.

(You may of course not be aware that you are stuck in a rut. Most audiophiles aren’t. The best way out of that predicament is to hear how mediocre these modern records sound compared to the vintage Hot Stampers we offer. Once you hear the difference, your days of buying newly remastered releases will most likely be over. Even if our pricey curated pressings are beyond your budget, you can avail yourself of the methods we describe to find killer records on your own.)

A TAS List Mistake?

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 had not played later in life on better equipment.

In 2006, mostly what we were doing in the commentary you see below was bashing the Just Plain Awful Speakers Corner Mercury series that seemed to please everyone else. We thought those remastered pressings were disgraceful, the worst of the worst. Every title from that series that I played was so wrong as to defy understanding. I stopped after two. Two was all I could take.

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 awful records? (more…)

Where Cheap Turntables Fall Flat – The Music of Franz Liszt

More Classical and Orchestral Music

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Classical music is unquestionably the ultimate test for proper turntable/arm/cartridge set-up. The Liszt recording you see pictured is a superb choice for adjusting tracking weight, VTA, azimuth and the like.

One of the reasons $10,000+ front ends exist is to play large scale, complex, difficult-to-reproduce music such as Liszt’s two piano concertos. You don’t need to spend that kind of money to play this record, but if you choose to, it would surely be the kind of record that can show you the sound your tens of thousands of dollars has paid for.

It has been my experience that cheap tables more often than not collapse completely under the weight of a mighty record such as this.
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Debussy & Ravel / String Quartets – Quartetto Italiano

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  • This wonderful classical release has long been a favorite of ours here at Better Records, and this pressing is outstanding, offering Double Plus (A+++) sound throughout
  • The stereo sound here is Tubey Magical, lively and clear, with the kind of three-dimensionality that will fill your listening room from wall to wall that only the best vintage vinyl can offer
  • A rare title and a very difficult one to find with audiophile quality playing surfaces – this is about as quiet as we can find them, folks
  • “From the opening bars, Quartetto Italiano distinguish themselves as eminent interpreters of Debussy… The Ravel quartet also receives an outstanding treatment: atmospheric, rhythmically secure and supple.”

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Ravel / Piano Concertos / Haas – A Real Sleeper on Philips

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

This Philips recording from 1970 on exceptionally quiet Dutch vinyl has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on side one for one of Ravel’s best known piano works, the Piano Concerto in G. Most Philips records are much too thick, dull and opaque to be taken seriously, by us anyway. (In this respect they have many sonic attributes in common with Londons from the ’70s and ’80s.)

Dropping the needle on this pressing, however, was a pleasant surprise. It’s big and spacious on side one, with zero smear on a piano that is both full and clear.

This is a difficult combination to achieve in our experience, and the kind of sound we do not hesitate to praise highly here at Better Records.

To us it sounds right, and when the sound is as right as it is here, the wonderful piano music of Ravel can really work its magic. (more…)

Liszt / Piano Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 – Awful Mercury Mastering

Sonic Grade: F

This recording was released through Mercury after Philips bought the label. It was recorded by Robert Fine and Wilma Cozart, mastered by George Piros, the legendary Mercury team of renown. It is instructive to note that the Philips mastering is dramatically superior to the mediocre Mercury mastering, which may strike you as counterintuitive, but is nonetheless a fact. It’s precisely the reason we play records all day here at Better Records. You can’t judge a record by its credentials. The only way to know how it sounds is to play it, and to really know how it sounds you must play it against a sizeable number of other copies.

Then, and only then, can you talk knowledgeably about the sound. (Note to forum posters: this means you.)

The potentially right pressing comes in a cover very much like this one:

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Handel / Water Music – Leppard

More of the music of George Frederick Handel (1685-1759)

More Hot Stamper Pressings of the Best in Classical Music

  • An outstanding copy of Handel’s masterpiece with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • A bigger hall, more transparency, and more clearly layered depth and more space than many others
  • Shockingly AIRY and WARM, this is the kind of sound that makes it easy to fall in love with an oft-heard piece such as The Water Music
  • Note how far back the trumpets are in the hall, yet they are still clear, tonally correct and not smeared – that’s the sound one hears in a live performance (and too rarely on a record)

This recording should be part of any serious Classical Collection. Others that belong in that Must Own category can be found here.

The performance by the English Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Raymond Leppard is currently my favorite, owing in large part to the fact that it has the kind of sound I find the most natural and enjoyable.

In a way this may not be quite fair to other equally well-known, well-respected performances. We went through an elimination round for the work a few weeks back, winnowing the recordings down to those that had the best sound, regardless of performance — perhaps some of the discarded records had even better performances than Leppard’s. At this late stage who can say?

We audiophiles want the music we play to sound its best, a requirement which more often than not involves compromises of one kind or another. We are happy to report that that does not appear to be the case with The Water Music (keeping in mind the caveat above). (more…)

Gerry Mulligan Quartet – Spring Is Sprung

More Gerry Mulligan

More Jazz Recordings featuring the Saxophone

  • With shootout-winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades on both sides, it just doesn’t get any better than this copy of Mulligan’s superb sounding and Hard To Find 1963 release on Philips
  • Quincy Jones directed, and Phil Ramone made sure the album would be exceptionally well-recorded, which it is!
  • Big, rich, and Tubey Magical, this pressing let us hear Mulligan’s quartet with the energy and clarity these classic jazz performances deserve
  • 4 Stars: “Mulligan and Brookmeyer always seem to stimulate one another’s playing to a high level, and this album is no exception. The group gets into a swinging groove right away with its updated treatment of a Count Basie favorite, “Jive at Five,” followed by Mulligan’s brisk yet intricate jazz waltz “Four for Three.””

Need a refresher course in Tubey Magic after playing too many modern recordings or remasterings? These Philips pressings are overflowing with it. Rich, smooth, sweet, full of ambience, dead-on correct tonality — everything that we listen for in a great record is here.

This record is the very definition of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made that sound like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of this album, but those of us with a good turntable couldn’t care less.

This vintage stereo pressing has the kind of Midrange Magic that modern records barely begin to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it ain’t coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage All Tube Analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds. Clean and Clear Yet Rich and Sweet.

This copy managed to find the ideal balance of these attributes. You want to find that rare copy that keeps what is good about a Tubey Magical analog recording from The Golden Age of ’60s Jazz while managing to avoid the pitfalls so common to them: compression, opacity, veiling, and too many more to list.

To be sure, the fault is not with the recording (I guess; again, not having heard the master tape) but with the typical pressing. Bad vinyl, bad mastering, who knows why so many copies sound so thick, dead and dull?

What the Best Sides of Spring Is Sprung Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1963
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

The Big Room

Huge amounts of ambience fill out the space and extend from wall to wall (and all the way to the back wall of the studio), leaving plenty of room around each of the players.

Full-bodied sound, open and spacious, bursting with life and energy — these are the hallmarks of our Truly Hot Stampers. If your stereo is cookin’ these days, this record will surely be an unqualified Sonic Treat.

What We’re Listening For on Spring Is Sprung

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.

If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Jive At Five
Four For Three
17 Mile Drive

Side Two

Subterranean Blues
Spring Is Sprung
Open Country

AMG Review

This obscure Phillips LP features Gerry Mulligan leading a quartet with his frequent collaborator Bob Brookmeyer, bassist Bill Crow, and drummer Gus Johnson. Mulligan and Brookmeyer always seem to stimulate one another’s playing to a high level, and this album is no exception.

The group gets into a swinging groove right away with its updated treatment of a Count Basie favorite, “Jive at Five,” followed by Mulligan’s brisk yet intricate jazz waltz “Four for Three.” Brookmeyer switches to piano for the leader’s loping “Subterranean Blues.” Mulligan takes his place at the keyboard for “Spring Is Sprung,” a brisk blues that showcases the valve trombonist extensively, though Mulligan’s piano chops shouldn’t be discounted. The session wraps with yet another look at Brookmeyer’s “Open Country,” a great piece of which Mulligan was very fond.

Peter Stenshoel’s album of the week: Spring Is Sprung by Gerry Mulligan

Fresh on the heels of learning to love both Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk, I spied yet another Quartet record at Sioux Falls’ Lewis Drug. Not familiar with the name Gerry Mulligan, I still took a chance and somehow cajoled my mother to buy Spring Is Sprung–perhaps for somebody’s birthday.

The find was delightful. The reason didn’t hit me at first, but the music’s airy texture owes itself to the lack of piano. And at least two geniuses are at work. Gerry Mulligan’s baritone sax is confident and friendly. Bob Brookmeyer’s valve trombone collides with Mulligan and teases out tangy counterpoint and growl. Listen to how well they communicate in their pared down version of the Count Basie and Harry “Sweets” Edison vehicle, Jive At Five.

Pianoless quartets were something Mulligan pioneered with Chet Baker in the late 40s. It requires a special ear to arrange charts without the large harmonic assistance of a keyboard. Mulligan’s skill as an arranger is evident in his collaborations with Miles Davis, Claude Thornhill, and Stan Kenton. Piano does make its way in to side two of Spring Is Sprung, where Mulligan and Brookmeyer play one chart each to enhance the other’s solo performance.

It turns out this Philips record is quite rare. This quartet did concerts in Europe but after three years was disbanded as Mulligan moved on to yet another quartet and all kinds of collaborations.