Labels We Love – Philips

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)

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 while 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…)

Mozart / String Quartets – VTA and Balance

What to Listen for ask? Dryness.

Some of the copies lacked the richness to balance out the clarity and became dry sounding. There is a balance to be found. The right VTA will be critical in this regard. When you have all the space; the clearest, most extended harmonics; AND good weight and richness in the lower registers of the cello, you are where you need to be (keeping in mind that it can always get better if you have the patience and motivation to tweak further).

On the other side of that coin is smear, usually from too much tubey richness. Again, finding the balance is key.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.


OUR HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM 2013

Easily one of the finest string quartet recordings we have ever had the pleasure to play, this Philips pressing earned strong grades on both sides for its lovely recreation of space, Tubey Magical richness, and rosiny string textures.  

It sounds very much like live music, or at least what you imagine this music would sound like live. Of course, live classical music is shocking in its clarity and freedom from artificiality, and no recording I have ever heard duplicates that sound with perfect fidelity, but when the pressing is as clear and transparent and natural as this one, your ability to suspend disbelief seems to require no effort at all.

Close your eyes and your brain, search as it may, can find nothing in the recording to interfere with the appreciation of even the most subtle nuances of the score. This is the mark of a very fine record indeed.

You may notice that we do very few chamber music records on the site. Thousands of these works have been recorded, and to be honest a large portion of them actually have quite decent sound. Obviously a handful of instruments is much more easily captured on tape than the fifty or more pieces in a modern large orchestra.

But when we hear one with this kind of transparency and fidelity, we make every effort to track down more copies, working through them to discover the truly Hot Stamper pressings lurking within their identical looking covers.

This copy had the sound we were looking for. Those of you with exceptionally clean, clear systems, capable of reproducing both the clarity and the Tubey Magic captured on the tape, are in for a real treat.

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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 these days.)

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 most of the Philips pressings we’ve played over the years: 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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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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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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