Labels With Shortcomings – Speakers Corner – Classical

Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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Sonic Grade: B

Our catalog from the ’90s recommended this Heavy Vinyl Decca pressing from Speakers Corner.

We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Excellent, one of the best of the Deccas. Better sound by far than the Classic with Reiner, although of course the original of that record is quite good [actually it is not].

You may get better results if you reverse your absolute phase when playing this record. It’s been a while since I did it so better to check it yourself and see how you like it each way. (more…)

Grieg / Peer Gynt – Speakers Corner Reviewed, with Handy VTA Advice

More of the music of Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Edvard Grieg

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Reviews and Commentaries for Peer Gynt

Sonic Grade: C+

The Fjeldstad has long been one of our favorite performances of Peer Gynt here at Better Records. 

This record is handy for VTA set-up as well, a subject discussed below in our listing from 2010.

The sound is excellent for a modern reissue*, but in the loudest sections the orchestra can get to be a bit much, taking on a somewhat harsh quality. (The quieter passages are superb: sweet and spacious.)

So I adjusted the VTA a bit to see what would happen, and was surprised to find that even the slightest change in VTA caused the strings to lose practically all their rosiny texture and become unbearably smeared.

This is precisely why it’s a good heavy vinyl recording for setting up your turntable. If you can get the strings to play with reasonably good texture on this record you probably have your VTA set correctly. (more…)

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

More of the music of Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker – Ansermet (Reviewed in the ’90s)

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Nutcracker Available Now

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

More Classical Music

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Sonic Grade: B?

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

Superb! New records just don’t sound any better! This is the complete Nutcracker Ballet as conducted by Ansermet for Decca, a record that sets a standard of performance and sound that is unlikely ever to be equaled, and almost certainly not to be surpassed.


More Heavy Vinyl Reviews

Here are some of our reviews and commentaries concerning the many Heavy Vinyl pressings we’ve played over the years, well over 200 at this stage of the game. Feel free to pick your poison.

Heavy Vinyl Commentaries

Heavy Vinyl Disasters

Heavy Vinyl Mediocrities

Heavy Vinyl Winners

There are many kinds of audiophile pressings — Half-Speeds, Direct-to-Discs, Heavy Vinyl Remasters, Japanese Pressings, the list of records offered to the audiophile with supposedly superior sound quality is a long one indeed.

Having been in the audiophile record biz for more than thirty years, it has been our misfortune to have played them by the hundreds,

In order to help you avoid the worst of the worst, we put a great many of them in a section of their own, which we call:

Bad Sounding Audiophile Records – The Complete List

How did we find so many bad sounding records? The same way we find so many good sounding ones. We included them in our shootouts, comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stampers.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, that much more inexcusable.

Rachmaninoff / Piano Concerto No. 3 – Speakers Corner Remasters a Classic Mercury, Part One

More Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

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This commentary was written in 2004. We carried Heavy Vinyl back then, and for that I would like to apologize. Like the audiophiles of today, at the time I thought I knew a great deal more about records and their proper reproduction than I actually did.

Yes, I admit it: I suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect. There is one very powerful benefit that I gained from being so mistaken. Having experienced it myself, the signs that you think you know more than you do are very easy to spot in others.  If you want to see the effect firsthand, go to any audiophile forum and start reading any thread you find there. It would be hard to miss.

Some thoughts on the new 180 gram Mercury reissues by Speakers Corner and a bunch of other record related stuff.

The Absolute Sound weighed in with their view of the series:

Speakers Corner has given these recordings the respect they deserve. The packaging is gorgeous: a black album titled “The Living Presence of 20th Century Music” and displaying the Mercury logo holds the three records with their original covers and liner notes. In addition, there are informative annotations on the music and Dorati, and a history of Mercury Living Presence…They sound at least as good and in some ways better than the originals…There are no negatives and not enough superlatives to describe these magnificent reissues. It’s rare that performance, sound, and musical value combine at this level in a recording.

Arthur B. Lintgen, The Absolute Sound, February/March 2004

Let me start by saying that I have not listened to a single one of the new Mercury titles.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state for the record that the chances of the above statements as quoted in TAS being true are so close to zero that they cannot be calculated by anything but the latest Cray computer.

Has Speakers Corner produced a single classical record that’s better than a good original pressing? One or two. Maybe. So what are the chances they did so with these? Almost none I would say. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite / Ansermet – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

More on The Firebird

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

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds.

Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

“Excellent sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan on Speakers Corner – Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Just So Damn VAGUE

rimsktaleo_speakerscornerSonic Grade: C

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing shown here in order to see how it would fare up against a pair of wonderful sounding Londons we were in the process of shooting out a while ago. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.
(more…)

Albeniz / Suite Espanola – De Burgos – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas! Excellent sound and lovely music. This pressing also sounds much better than the Super Analogue pressing of the same music.

When you get the right original pressing — London or Decca — they’re even better, but they sure are hard to find on quiet vinyl.

Brahms / Piano Concerto #1 / Curzon / Szell – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

One of the best of the Speakers Corner heavy vinyl reissues. As you may know they have gone way downhill lately. Haven’t played this LP in a while but I remember liking it quite a bit back in the day.

Grieg / Piano Concerto – Curzon / Boult – Speakers Corner (Reviewed in the ’90s)

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Sonic Grade: B

One of the better Speakers Corner Deccas. We haven’t played a copy of this record in years, but back in the day we liked it, so let’s call it a “B” with the caveat that the older the review, the more likely we are to have changed our minds. Not sure if we would still agree with what we wrote back in the ’90s when this record came out, but here it is anyway.

One of the best Deccas — superb sound and music that belongs in your life!

This performance also includes Franck’s “Variations Symphoniques” and Litolff”s “Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique, Op. 102”.