Records that Are Good for Testing Vague Imaging

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…)

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.
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Dave Grusin / Discovered Again! – Relax, Stare into the Middle Distance and Listen to the Players as a Group

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Many years ago we had discussed the polarity issues associated with this record:

According to the liner notes, this album has its polarity reversed. They tell you straight out to reverse the positive and negative at the speaker terminals for the best “transient response and spatial clarity.”

That out of phase quality is as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to listen for. There’s an unpleasant hardness and hollowness to the midrange, a lack of depth, and an off-putting opaque quality to the sound. The top gets dull and the bass gets weird and wonky.

With our EAR 324p phono stage, the click of a button reverses the polarity. I can’t tell you how handy it is to have such a tool at your disposal. Checking the polarity for Discovered Again couldn’t have been easier.

But get this: most side ones are NOT out of polarity. How about them apples! We could not have been more shocked. Here is the most famous reversed polarity audiophile recording in the history of the world, and it turns out most copies are not reversed on side one at all.

Latest Findings

I did not do the shootout for the album, but I wanted to check on the polarity just to hear it for myself. I must admit I had to go back and forth a number of times, using my favorite song on the album and an old Demo track from back in my earliest days in audio, the mid- to late-’70s: Keep Your Eye On The Sparrow.

Harvey Mason’s super punchy drum playing catches your attention right off the back. A tambourine comes along in the left channel at some point. Lots of bass. Rit’s guitar in the right channel and Grusin’s keyboards in the center fill out the soundstage. The ensemble is on fire.

Evaluating the sonic differences of the individual instruments in and out of polarity had me confused. A typical conundrum: Should the tambourine be smoother with more body, or brighter with more harmonic overtones? Which is right? Who can say definitively?

It was only after about fifteen minutes of playing the album, switching the polarity back and forth, that the penny dropped.

Focussed on an individual instrument, I could hear it just fine both ways. But then I noticed that with the polarity reversed the group got vague. The images seemed blurrier, less defined. If I relaxed and just stared into the middle distance and let the music flow, the band seemed to be more jumbled up and messy.

That was the key. The obvious change when the polarity was wrong was a loss of image specificity. Flipping the record over to side two and using my new “lens” to hear the difference with the polarity changed, it was obvious when the polarity was right or wrong.

I have experimented with polarity on scores of records. Certain effects on certain records are unmistakable. But these effects seem to vary a great deal from title to title. Grusin’s brilliant direct to disc recording initially had me at a loss. With a little experimentation, the improvement in the sound with the correct polarity became evident over time, as it always seems to do. Thank god I didn’t have to change speaker leads the way I used to in the old days. (more…)

Schubert / Piano Sonata in B Flat Major / Anda – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame

This Super Hot Stamper original Large Tulips DG pressing (with stereo in red on the cover) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records cannot even 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 like you are sitting in a real concert hall, this is the record for you. It’s what Golden Age Classical Recordings are known for — THIS SOUND.  (more…)

Brahms / Four Symphonies / Boult (4 LP Box Set)

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This is an IMMACULATE looking EMI 4 LP Box Set. Unlike many of the typical ’70s mid-hall, vague, cold sounding EMIs that some audiophiles seem to like. these recordings have much more presence, as well as beautifully textured strings. 

In fact the more I play this set the more I like it. Boult brings quite a bit of energy to these performances, especially considering his age at the time (he was in his 80s!).