Records that Are Good for Testing Orchestral Depth, Size and Space

Berlioz / Symphonie Fantastique – Gorgeous Living Stereo Strings

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

More Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture

Gorgeous Golden Age Tubey Magical strings, lovely hall acoustics. The size and power of a large orchestra in Living Stereo sound. One of our favorite performances of Berlioz’s masterwork.

This is a piece that’s difficult to squeeze onto two sides of a single LP, as it clocks in at around 45 minutes, which means that the mastering engineer has three options when cutting the record: compress the dynamics, lower the level, or filter out the deep bass. The RCA mastering engineer for this pressing managed to hold on to the powerful dynamics captured by the Decca (as far as I know) recording team, seemingly without doing harm to dynamics, levels or deep bass. How, I have no idea.

Maybe it’s the gorgeous Living Stereo strings and hall acoustics that let us forget about the possibility of compromises occurring in other areas.

So open and spacious, with gorgeous, richly textured strings — this is the VIVID sound we love from the Golden Age!

The hall is huge, the brass solid and powerful, the top and bottom extends properly, the stage is wide and clear — what more can you ask for? 

Classic Records Pressings and Their Abysmal String Tone

Of course this was always the downfall of the Classic Records RCA remasterings. Their records had bass and dynamics, no one could deny it, but the strings were usually shrill and the hall practically non-existent. We found out just today [which was quite a while ago of course] that there is a new series of recuts coming from Acoustic Sounds. Based on their dismal track record I will be very surprised if they are much better than mediocre. We look forward to playing one or two.

Monteux Is The Man

According to the biographical sketch in Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Monteux “was never an ostentatious conductor … [he prepared] his orchestra in often arduous rehearsals and then [used] small but decisive gestures to obtain playing of fine texture, careful detail and powerful rhythmic energy, retaining to the last his extraordinary grasp of musical structure and a faultless ear for sound quality.” – Wikipedia

Ballet Music From The Opera – Listening for Smear and Compression

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200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This Super Rare, Highly Collectible copy of LSC 2400 has vintage RCA Golden Age sound, for better and for worse. Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s got a heavy dose of Living Stereo Tubey Magic. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found here.  

And the hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA. (EMI is super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out of phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Not our sound, sorry.)

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magic colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus.

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear from compression of course, but the quiet passages are magical.


This Recording Is Good for Testing the Following Qualities:

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Smear


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

Bach / The Fox Touch, Volume 1 – Not As Good As We Thought, Sorry!

[The review reproduced below was written in 2010. Recently I have played copies of these Crystal Clear organ recordings and been much less impressed.

The ambience is a fraction of what it should be, and the reason I know that is that the vintage organ recordings I play have dramatically more size and space than these audiophile pressings do.]

A classic case of Live and Learn. As we like to say, all these audiophile records sound great sitting on the shelf. When you finally pull one out to play it, you may find that it doesn’t sound the nearly as good as you remember it, and that’s a good thing. That’s a sign you are making progress in this hobby.

Ten years from now, if during that time you’ve worked hard on your stereo system, room, electricity and all the rest, your Heavy Vinyl pressings will have flaws you never knew were there.

Our customers know what I am talking about. Some have even written us letters about it.


Our old review, mea culpa

    • White Hot on both sides, a DEMO DISC quality organ Direct to Disc recording
    • Full, rich, spacious, big and transparent, with no smear
    • The size and power of a huge church organ captured in glorious direct to disc analog
    • We’ve never been fans of Crystal Clear, but even we must admit this recording is Hard To Fault

Are we changing our tune about Audiophile records? Not in the least; we love the ones that sound right. The fact that so few of them do is not our fault. 

The methods used to make a given record are of no interest whatsoever to us. We clean and play the pressings that we have on hand and judge the sound and music according to a single standard that we set for all such recordings. Organ records, in this case, get judged against other organ records. If you’ve been an audiophile for forty years as I have, you’ve heard plenty of organ records.

Practically every audiophile label on the planet produced at least one, and most made more than one. Some of the major labels made them by the dozen in the ’50s and ’60s, and many of those can sound quite wonderful.

Who made this one, how they made it or why they made it the way they did is none of our concern, nor in our mind should it be of any concern to you. The music, the sound and the surfaces are what are important in a record, nothing else.

Richter was making recordings of this caliber for London in the ’50s. Clearly the direct to disc process is not revelatory when it comes to organ records (or any other records for that matter), but finding vintage Londons with quiet vinyl that sound as good as this disc does is neither easy nor cheap these days, so we are happy to offer our Bach loving customers a chance to hear these classic works sounding as good as they can outside of a church or concert hall.

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Debussy on Classic Records – What, Specifically, Are Its Shortcomings?

The Music of Claude Debussy Available Now

Album Reviews of the music of Claude Debussy

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

The Classic of LSC 2222 is all but unlistenable on a highly resolving, properly set-up hi-fi system.

The opacity, transient smear and loss of harmonic information and ambience found on Classic’s pressing was enough to drive us right up a wall. Who can sit through a record that sounds like that?

The Classic reissue has plenty of deep bass, but the overall sound is shrill and hard and altogether unpleasant, so the better bass comes at a steep price.

Way back in 1994, long before we had anything like the system we do now, we were finding fault with the “Classic Records Sound” and said as much in our catalogs.

With each passing year — 28 and counting — we like that sound less.  The Classic may be on Harry’s TAS list — sad but true — but that certainly has no bearing on the fact that it’s not a very good record.

For a better sounding recording of Iberia, click here.

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Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Fistoulari – Our Favorite Recording of the Highlights

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

More Imported Pressings on Decca and London

Kenneth Wilkinson engineered this album for Decca in 1961.

It’s as wide, deep, and three-dimensional as any, which is, of course, all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

Highlights of the recording include huge amounts of bass; a clear snare at the back of the hall (a good test of transparency of the record and of your system and room); full-bodied horns and strings which never become blary or shrill; and of course huge amounts of space.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in your decision to rid yourself of their mediocrity.)

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

In my notes I remarked that when the music is quiet the sound is so spacious, clear, and sweet it will have you thinking you are sitting in the concert hall. One thing live classical music does much better than any recording in my experience is that it gets very, very quiet, yet stays clear and spacious. None of the thousands of classical recordings I have heard to date reproduce that quality completely, but this one gets awfully darn close.

Note that the big finale at the end of side two is loud and HUGE on this album. There is a touch of compressor overload, but no actual inner groove distortion. At first we thought the former may have indeed been the latter because we had a copy or two with chewed-up inner grooves.

This one plays clean to the end, and boy does it get loud and powerful at the climax of the work.

All the qualities we look for in a classical recording are found here:

  • lovely string tone and texture,
  • rich bass,
  • a big hall,
  • no smear,
  • lovely transparency

How many classical records have all these qualities? One out of a hundred?

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Varese et al. / Percussion Music / New Jersey Percussion Ensemble

TAS List Records Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Disc Recordings

WHITE HOT stampers on side one of this CRAZY FUN 20th Century Percussion Music album, featuring classical works which rely almost exclusively on percussion (piano and voice also make appearances). My favorite piece here may be Ionisation, which uses real sirens (the Old School ones cranked by hand) as part of Varese’s uniquely specialized instrumental array.

But the main reason audiophiles will love this album is not the music, but the SOUND. Ionisation has amazing depth, soundstaging, dynamics, three-dimensionality and absolutely dead-on tonality — it’s hard to imagine a recording that allows your speakers to disappear more completely than this one. And the bottom end is BIG and powerful, probably the main reason the album has been on the TAS Super Disc for decades. If you’ve got full range speakers with big woofers and like to play your music loud, this record will give your system quite a workout.

With the invention of new instruments and increased cross-cultural exchange in the 20th century, composers’ interest in writing for percussion exploded, creating a uniquely modern genre that embraced both the future and the ancient past. The New Jersey Percussion Ensemble was founded in 1968 to perform this new literature, here performing works by Varèse, Cowell, and others.

It also makes a superb test disc. Subtle changes in your equipment can have a big effect on recordings like this. The instrumental palette is large and colorful, giving the critical listener plenty to work with.

And this copy is perfect for testing because is is nearly FLAWLESS in its sound on side one. No other copy could touch it. Many copies are not especially transparent, spacious or three-dimensional, and lack extension on both ends of the frequency spectrum.

The SPEED of the percussion is also critical to its accurate reproduction. No two pieces of electronics will get this record to sound the same, and some will fail miserably. If vintage tube gear is your idea of good sound, this record may help you to better understand where its shortcomings lie. (more…)

Bach / Organ Music Volume 2 – Size and Space Are Key

More of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

More Records that Are Good for Testing Orchestral Depth, Size and Space

Rock and Jazz Records that Are Good for Testing Ambience, Size and Space

Some audiophiles buy organ records to show off their subwoofers. Exceptional pressings of exceptional recordings such as this one will allow you to do that, but the best of them have musical qualities far beyond simple demonstrations of bass fundamentals. Carl Weinrich understands this music perfectly and makes it come alive in a way I’ve rarely heard by other performers.

For those of you who think technology marches on — which of course it does in some ways — this 1963 recording shows that the RCA engineers were capable of capturing the authentic sound of the instrument with the vintage tube equipment available to them. In my opinion they could do it better back in those days.

Musically speaking there aren’t many organists in Carl Weinrich’s class. The only other Bach organ records of this caliber that we know of are the two volumes that Karl Richter recorded for Decca in the mid-’50s. You can’t go wrong with any of them. At least one belongs in any serious audiophile’s collection.

Size and Space

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.

Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have stumbled upon the copy that sounded so exceptionally open and clear. And how many of even the most dedicated audiophiles would have more than one of two clean vintage pressings with which to do a shootout? These kinds of records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of vintage Living Stereo albums.

When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.

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Prokofiev’s Lt. Kije at 45 RPM – An Audiophile Pressing to Shame Them All

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

This Japanese 45 RPM remastering of our favorite recording of Prokofiev’s wonderful Lt. Kije Suite has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND. For starters, there are very few records with dynamics comparable to these. Since this is my favorite performance of all time, I can’t recommend the record any more highly. 

Most of what’s “bad” about a DG recording from 1978 is ameliorated with this pressing. The bass drum (drums?) here must be heard to be believed. We know of no Golden Age recording with as believable a presentation of the instrument as this.

The drum is clearly and precisely located at the back of the stage; even better, it’s as huge and powerful and room-filling as it would have been had you attended the session yourself. That’s our idea of hi-fidelity here at Better Records. (more…)