Labels We Love – RCA Victrola Budget Reissue

Gounod / Faust – A Wonderful Victrola Pressing from 1965

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

250+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP has many shortcomings, but its strengths more than compensate for them.

The MIDRANGE is pure MAGIC. The sweet, textured strings, the back of the stage percussion, the placement of the orchestral sections in the soundstage, the performance itself — all combine to make you forget you are listening to an old, somewhat flawed record.

What has been captured in the grooves of the vinyl allows the listener to do what few recordings can — suspend his disbelief.

It’s not an old record. It’s living, breathing music being performed in the present, at this very moment. It’s happening — one is under the sway of Gounod’s music just as if one were attending the live event. The mind has somehow lost track of the fact that its owner is sitting at home.

The listener is transported by the sound, mentally, not physically, to a plane where the real world has no meaning, where music is the only reality.

I played this record and made critical notes for a while. At some point I lost interest in that activity.

I simply began to marvel at what the Decca engineers had managed to do, which was to draw me in completely.


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Prokofiev / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Graffman – Reviewed in 2008

More of the music of Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

This Plum Label Original pressing is one of the TOP VICTROLA TITLES! The sound is excellent, with real weight to the orchestra, powerful dynamics, deep bass, and solid piano tone.

Add to that a wonderful performance by Gary Graffman and the San Francisco Symphony, and you have one truly OUTSTANDING record. (If you can add 1 or 2 db to the top end, it’s even better.) 

Here are some of the reviews and commentaries we’ve written for Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we developed in the early 2000s and have since turned into a fine art.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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Rossini-Respighi / La Boutique Fantasque / Fiedler

More Music Conducted by Arthur Fiedler

More Living Stereo Recordings

  • Outstanding sound throughout this vintage RCA Victrola stereo pressing of these delightful orchestral pieces
  • Unlike the original Shaded Dog pressings, this Victrola is in correct polarity on both sides
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – this recording, when mastered and pressed right, as is the case here, is the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • When we talk about space and transparency, we’re talking about recordings that sound like this one
  • A favorite title with audiophiles – it’s full of lovely orchestral colors and, as usual, Fiedler and the Boston Pops know how to bring them out
  • More of the music of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1863)
  • More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Fiedler has a way with the Ibert piece here like nobody’s business; the performance is definitive, although the sound is not as good as La Boutique Fantasque, which is nothing short of amazing. The Kay piece sounds excellent here and is beautifully performed. Fiedler is hard to beat on music like this.

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Beethoven / Symphony No. 4 / Siegfried Idyll / Monteux

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This early Plum Label Victrola pressing of these lively and masterful performances earned outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • Tons of energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – all qualities the best vintage vinyl classical pressings have in abundance
  • A top performance of the 4th by Monteux and the LSO, with strings that are tonally correct, rich, and sweet
  • The horns on the Wagner piece are exceptionally well reproduced here as well – how could a Wagner record be any good without good horns?
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings that offer the discriminating audiophile pressings with the Best Performances and Top Quality Sound. This record has earned a place on that list.

Both sides of this early Plum Label Victrola pressing are superb, with the kind of string tone only found on the best of the Living Stereo releases and other top quality Golden Age recordings.

Here is the kind of sound that Classic Records could not ignore, even though the original was only ever made available as part of RCA’s budget reissue series, Victrola.

Don’t let its budget status fool you — this pressing puts to shame most of what came out on the full price Living Stereo label. (And handily beats any Classic Records reissue ever made.)

And Monteux is once again superb.

We played a large group of Beethoven’s symphonies this week and this was clearly one of the best, if not THE best. Well recorded Beethoven is hard to come by. The box sets we played were mediocre at best, and that left us with only a handful of clean early pressings. These records just aren’t out there like they used to be.

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Vintage Vinyl Sound You Won’t Find on Modern LPs and CDs

Classical Living Stereo Titles Available Now

More Recordings from Kingsway Hall

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

It’s also proof positive that Decca’s choice of Kingsway Hall as a recording venue was a good one. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so consistently unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD and no Heavy Vinyl pressing ever sounded like this in our experience.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for Decca in the Fifties and Sixties, is on display here for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl).

It may be a lost art, but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play, it’s an art that is not lost on us. I don’t think the Decca engineers could have recorded this music much better than they dhave here — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

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Saint-Saëns, Chausson – Poème / Introduction And Rondo Capriccio / Oistrakh

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout this original RCA Victrola Stereo pressing
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that most of our classical records, even the mintiest ones, cannot quite manage
  • One of the best violin recordings we offer – the rich, textured sheen of the strings is clearly evident throughout these pieces
  • The sound is big and rich and ALIVE with pyrotechnic fireworks on side one – if you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them
  • The highlight for us on a collection like this is always going to be The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, “one of Saint-Saëns’ few genuine showpieces.”

The violin here is superb — rich, smooth, clear, resolving. What sets the truly killer pressings apart is the depth, width and three-dimensional quality of the sound. The Tubey Magical richness is to die for.

Big space, a solid bottom, and plenty of dynamic energy are strongly in evidence throughout. Zero smear, high-rez transparency, tremendous dynamics, a violin that is present and solid — it takes the sound of this recording beyond what we thought was possible.

The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented (on side one; side two is simply violin and piano) with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy. If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings is on display for fans of the classical Golden Age.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years. It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us.

I don’t think the RCA engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the stereo magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

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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.”

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…)

Gounod – Does Your Copy Have Clipped Bass?

This RCA Plum Label Victrola LP, the budget reissue of the incredibly rare LSC 2449, has some of the best and worst Golden Age sound I’ve ever heard. It has most of the magic of the better VICS copy I rave about.

When a cutting amplifier runs out of juice, the bass simply “clips.” The beginning of the bass note is heard, and then it just stops. A fair number of RCA Shaded Dog originals have this problem. The cutting amplifiers of the day were often not up to the job. They ran out of power.

It’s amazing to me that so few collectors of these records even know what I’m talking about when I mention this shortcoming. They just assume it’s something in the recording perhaps. But it’s not. Oftentimes it is simply stamper variations that separate the clipped records from the unclipped records.

The more compression that is used, the less likely it is that the amplifiers will clip at all. But that’s obviously not the solution. And of course if you play records like this back on say, Quads, a notoriously compressed and bass-shy speaker to begin with, you’ll never notice any of this.

You also won’t hear it on this system.

Ah, but here is a wonderful recording that, on the better pressings at least, has deep, powerful, unclipped bass that can rattle the walls and sound like your flooring is in danger of being warped. But you need big woofers to get that effect, and lots of them.

But side two actually sounds quite good. Not as good as the best Shaded Dog copies possibly, but since those are $1000 and up, this has to be considered a good alternative at a fair price.

Lots of Living Stereo magic and a wonderful performance by Gibson make this record easy to recommend.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

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Bach / Mozart / Two Violin Concertos – Laredo

More Violin Recordings

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Classical and Orchestral Titles Available Now

This original plum label Victrola pressing from 1965 has SUPERB sound on both sides. The Bach piece is a rich tapestry of strings spread across the stage and clearly separated left to right. There’s not much depth but that seems of little consequence; all the instruments are heard in their proper space and location. The tonality is right on the money throughout.

The Mozart concerto starts out sounding a bit opaque, but about an inch or so into the side it opens up wonderfully, with sweet, spacious, natural sound from there on out. Jaime Laredo plays both works superbly, and the Living Stereo quality sound brings his playing to life in a way that few recordings can.

Although never released as a real LSC, this Victrola pressing is every bit the equal of most of the better Living Stereo pressings. (more…)

Verdi / Rossini / Overtures and Intermezzos – Solti

More Classical and Orchestral Music

More Living Stereos

  • Off the charts “Triple Triple” (A+++) sound for this classic Decca engineered “Living Stereo” Victrola from 1965 – both sides of this pressing earned our top grade of A+++
  • Listen to how rich the cellos sound — this is Tubey Magical Analog and its most luscious and enchanting.
  • You could easily play one hundred classical albums and not hear this kind of sound!
  • If you have the real Living Stereo pressing (with the cool die-cut cover), let us send you this pressing to compare — who knows, you might like it even better than your Shaded Dog
  • Classic Records did this title back in the ’90s, and it was one of the worst of their sorry releases

This 1959 Decca recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl.

On this copy you will find As Good As It Gets sound. It’s so BIG and RICH you will have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1965, but that’s precisely what it is.

Ah but it’s a reissue from back in the day when they knew how to cut a record properly, regardless of its retail price.

The rich, textured, rosin-on-the-bow lower strings on this record are to die for. Find me a modern record that sounds like this and I will eat it.

And by “modern record” we hasten to include both modern recordings and modern remasterings of older recordings. NO ONE alive today can make a record that sound even remotely as good as this. To call it a lost art is to understand something that few vinyl-loving audiophiles appear to have grasped since the advent of the Modern Reissue, which is simply this: they can’t begin to compete.

After twenty years of trying and literally hundreds of failed examples the engineers of today have yet to make a record that sounds as powerful and life-like as this London from almost fifty years ago.

Fortunately for the both of us we are not trying to make a record that sounds the way this one does. We’re just trying to find one, and folks, we found the hell out of this one. (more…)