Labels We Love – RCA Living Stereo

Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

A Wealth of Recordings

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

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Rodgers – Slaughter On Tenth Avenue / Fiedler

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A+++) sound throughout this RCA Shaded Dog pressing in Living Stereo – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • The music flows from the speakers effortlessly. You are there.
  • This record will have you asking why so few Living Stereo pressings actually do what this one does. The more critical listeners among you will recognize that this is a very special copy indeed. Everyone else will just enjoy the hell out of it.
  • If you’re a fan of orchestral showpieces such as these, this Living Stereo from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1966 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Years ago we wrote:

This copy was so good it almost left me speechless. Why is it not one of the most sought-after recordings in the RCA canon? Beats the hell out of me.
But wait just one minute. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out just how good this record could sound, so how can I criticize others for not appreciating a record I had never taken the time to appreciate myself?
Which more than anything else prompts the question — why is no one exploring, discovering and then bringing to light the exceptional qualities of these wonderful vintage recordings (besides those of us here, of course)?

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Chopin, Rachmaninoff et al. / Richter – Reviewed in 2011

More of the music of Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

  • This original White Dog Stereo pressing (just missed the cutoff for “Living Stereo” but the sound is awesome anyway) boasts STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • A WONDERFUL collection of solo piano works performed by one of our favorite pianists, Sviatoslav Richter
  • The piano is present and clear, with no practically no smear whatsoever – both sides are dynamic and open with plenty of weight
  • Recorded live in concert on December 26, 1960, at Carnegie Hall in New York, and December 28, 1960, at Mosque Hall in Newark
  • If you’re a fan of piano showpieces such as these, this recording from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This vintage RCA Victor Red Seal pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of 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 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.

The Piano

On the transparent and tonally correct copies it is clear and full-bodied. The piano in a solo recording such as this often makes for a good test.

How easily can you see it and how much like a real piano does it sound? 

If you have full-range speakers some of the qualities you may recognize in the sound of the piano are WEIGHT and WARMTH. The piano is not hard, brittle or tinkly. Instead, the best copies show you a wonderfully full-bodied, warm, rich, smooth piano, one which sounds remarkably like the ones we’ve all heard countless times in piano bars and restaurants.

In other words like a real piano, not a recorded one. Bad mastering can ruin the sound, and often does, along with worn-out stampers and bad vinyl and five-gram needles that scrape off the high frequencies. But some copies survive all such hazards. They manage to reproduce the full spectrum of the piano’s wide range on vintage vinyl, showing us the kind of sound we simply cannot find any other way.

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Henry Mancini / Our Man In Hollywood – Making More Progress in Audio

The story of our recent shootout is what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the beast for those of us who constantly make improvements to our playback and critically listen to records all day.

Courtesy of Revolutions in Audio

In our previous listings we noted:

This is one of those odd records in which the variation in sound quality from track to track is dramatic. Take the first two tracks on side one — they suck. They sound like your average LSP Mancini album, the kind I have suffered through far too many times. And that means bad bad bad. 

But track three boasts DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND and the next one is nearly as good. Listen to that wonderful glockenspiel. It sound every bit as magical as anything on Bang, Baa-room and Harp, and that’s some pretty magical sound in my book!

Same thing happens on side two. Bad sound for the first tracks, then track four sounds great, followed by a pretty good five and a lovely six with a chorus of voices to die for. Go figure.

Is there a copy that sounds good from start to finish? Doubtful.

We’ve made a dozen or more improvements to the system since we last did this shootout, and I’m happy to report that most of the tracks we had trouble with in the past are now sounding very good indeed. Of course the better tracks we noted from years ago are even better, making this a consistently good sounding Mancini record.

One obvious change from the old days is that we now spend a fair amount of time honing in the VTA for every title. That may account for the fact that the first track on side one, which used to be problematical, now sounds wonderful. The value of getting the correct VTA setting — by ear, for every record — cannot be overestimated in our opinion.

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

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Dvorak / Cello Concerto – Hard to Recommend in Living Stereo or on Heavy Vinyl

I have never heard a copy of this record sound better than decent. This title is very unlikely to have the wonderful sound of the best Living Stereo pressings that you can find on our site, each of which has been carefully evaluated to the highest standards.

If you can get one for cheap, go for it. Otherwise I recommend that you pass if what you are looking for is audiophile quality sound.

Perhaps the poor recording quality (I’m guessing; obviously I’ve never heard the master tape) explains the poor sound of the Classic Records remastered version from 1994.

Not that that stopped anybody from buying those awful 180 gram pressings! They may have been mastered by one of the greats, Bernie Grundman, but he was well past his prime when he was working for that awful label, as we explain here.

More Bad Sounding RCA Shaded Dog Pressings

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Top Quality Classical “Sleeper” Recordings

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Demo Disc Quality Orchestral Recordings

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Debussy / Images Pour Orchestre / Munch – Reviewed in 2006

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Iberia on side two sounds exceptionally good. It’s also a better performance than the famous Reiner. Munch understands this music perfectly.

This recording has an extremely open, extended top end. If you can add a few dB around 50 cycles, you will have the best of both worlds. 

For a better sounding recording of Iberia, click here.

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Saint-Saens / Piano Concerto No. 2 / Rubinstein – Living Stereo Magic

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This superb TAS List Piano Concerto recording finally arrives on the site with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and vinyl that’s about as quiet and scratch-free as we can find it
  • With huge amounts of hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • Some old record collectors (like me) say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be – here’s all the proof anyone with two working ears and top quality audiophile equipment needs to make the case
  • If you love this famous piano concerto as much as we do, this is surely a classic from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Harry Pearson put this recording on his TAS List of Super Disc LPs, and with good reason — the sound is wonderfully relaxed and natural. This Shaded Dog pressing is exceptionally lively and dynamic. The sound is BIG and BOLD, enough to fill up your listening room and then some. The piano is clean and clear, and the strings are rich and textured.

The great Artur Rubinstein’s performance of these wonderful works is superb.

Our Shaded Dog pressing here offers plenty of Living Stereo Magic. This wonderful record boasts a natural orchestral perspective and superb string tone. It also presents the listener with a correctly-sized piano, which is fairly unusual for Rubinstein’s recordings. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Symphony #6 (Pathetique) / Monteux

This review and commentary was written in 2011. It still holds up though — wouldn’t change a thing.

Presenting a first for Better Records: a White Hot Stamper copy of this CORRECTLY remastered version of LSC 1901, which just happens to be a recording from the earliest days of stereo, 1955! It’s guaranteed to KILL any and all original Shaded Dogs, as well as the more common reissues; White Dogs, Red Seals, Victrolas, Classic Heavy Vinyl, you name it, this pressing will beat the pants off of it and in the process show you precisely what is wrong with each and every one of them.

Over the past twenty years we’ve played hundreds of early RCAs and we have sure never heard one sound like this, with so much richness, Tubey Magic, LIFE and CLARITY.

Where is the cutter head distortion, congestion and frequency limiting that ruins so many of the early pressings?

Mostly — I’m tempted to say completely — gone. We’ve played at least three Shaded Dogs of LSC 1901 since 2011 and all three were AWFUL.

The size and scope of this recording is enormous, with the orchestral sections clearly staged wide and deep. Where is the old tube smear and compression and opacity? It must not be on the tape, because I hear no trace of it.

This copy is cut clean, its dynamics intact, which just goes to show how much better the master tape must be than we’ve been led to believe by the original Shady Dogs and the hacks at Classic Records.

The lower strings are especially textured and rich. That’s the Living Stereo sound we love!

This was by far one of the most natural sounding classical recordings we’ve played in months. Not many classical White Hot stampers come our way, and fewer still make it to the site. We hope whoever buys this record has a large classical collection so that he can see why we think this pressing belongs in the rarefied stratosphere of the All Time Greats.

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic pressing, but I remember it as none-too-impressive, playing into my natural prejudice against early Living Stereo recordings and Classic Records themselves.

But RCA managed to cut this record amazingly well decades after the tape was first recorded, not for audiophiles, but for music lovers. Maybe that’s the secret.

Records For Audiophiles, Not Audiophile Records

Of course it is. Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely that we are shocked when such a record is even halfway decent. After playing so many bad records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A record like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the pressing at hand.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that the typical audiophile — one who believes the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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Paul Desmond & Gerry Mulligan – Two Of A Mind

More Paul Desmond

More Living Stereo Recordings

  • Superb Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last on this RCA pressing in glorious Living Stereo
  • Both sides here are tonally rich, and with killer Living Stereo sound, you hear both of these brilliant hornmen presented as solid and real in the soundfield as any you may have heard
  • If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1962 All Tube Analog sound can be, this vintage pressing may be just the record for you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Altoist Paul Desmond and baritonist Gerry Mulligan always made for a perfect team during their infrequent collaborations. Both of the saxophonists had immediately distinctive light tones, strong wits, and the ability to improvise melodically. Highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of the smooth jazz stylings of Paul Desmond, this is a Must Own Classic from 1962 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1962 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

THIS is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There actually IS a CD of this album, and YouTube videos of it too, but those of us with good turntables could care less.

And if you have an especially good turntable and the system that goes with it, we think you will find a world of difference in the sound of our Hot Stamper early pressing and any of the Heavy Vinyl records being produced of this very title.

They may be good — excellent even — but you won’t know what you are missing until you hear our record (or yours if you have an especially good one).

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Shostakovich – Symphony No.1 / The Age Of Gold Ballet Suite / Martinon

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Classical Living Stereo Titles Available Now

  • The Symphony No. 1 concludes for about the first inch on side two and is excellent as well, with many of the same attributes, as rightly befits a true Golden Age Classic from 1959
  • Recorded in Kingsway Hall with the London Symphony, this Decca licensed title has orchestral sound to rival the best you’ve heard
  • “This is an example of what art as recorded sound should strive to be. A triumph for all participants.”

The second picture you see is the original Living Stereo release.

Our Story

The first copy of the album I got my hands on and needle-dropped blew me away with its big, open, clear, solid orchestral sound. Close to three years later, when we had enough copies to do this shootout, sure enough it won. That rarely happens — in a big pile of records there’s almost always something better than whatever we’ve heard — but it happened this time.

Imagine if I had played one of the bad sounding or noisy ones to start with. It’s unlikely I would have been motivated to pursue the title and consequently the shootout we just did would have never happened. Lucky for us all that that first copy was so good.

These sides are “real” sounding, with a clean bottom and clean lower mids. Little to no smear. The sound is full-bodied and rich, yet clear and clean, and spread out on a huge stage – it’s yet another example of proper Orchestral Reproduction.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage.  (more…)