Records that Are Good for Testing String Tone and Texture

Haydn / Symphonies 100 & 101 – Reviewed in 2010

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Joseph Haydn

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

The New York Times review for these performances called them “matchless” and we see no reason to disagree! With Super Hot Stamper sound for No. 100, “Military”, we’re confident you will have a very hard time finding better sound and music from Haydn than is found on this original Black Label Vanguard Stereophonic Demonstration Disc.

Side one, containing Symphony No. 100, “Military”, is smooth and rich and full of tubey magic, the kind of analog sound that has not been recorded for more than thirty years. Because the top end is not boosted and phony like most audiophile pressings, you can play a record like this at much more realistic levels without fatigue or harshness.

Try that with the average Reference or Telarc.

The sound is a bit distant, mid-hall we would call it, but wide and full of depth the way these vintage recordings often are.

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Bill Evans / Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra – Not Recommended

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More Jazz Piano Recordings

We played a short stack of these, the second album Evans made with symphony orchestra, but we found the strings just too shrill for our taste, so we gave up, at least for now.

For 34 years we’ve been helping music loving audiophiles the world over avoid bad sounding records.

We play mediocre-to-bad sounding pressings so that you don’t have to, a public service from your record loving friends at Better Records.

You can find this one in our Hall of Shame, along with more than 350 others that — in our opinion — qualify as some of the worst sounding records ever made. (On some records in the Hall of Shame the sound is passable but the music is bad.  These are also records you can safely avoid.)

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another. The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

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.

Kenny Burrell – God Bless The Child

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More recordings by Rudy Van Gelder

  • Amazing sound from start to finish on this Shootout Winning TRIPLE TRIPLE (A+++) copy
  • One of our favorite CTI albums, and surely one of the best sounding, especially on this pressing
  • Credit goes to Rudy Van Gelder once again for the huge space that the superbly well-recorded orchestra occupies
  • AMG raves “This is Burrell at his level best as a player to be sure, but also as a composer and as a bandleader. Magnificent.”

God Bless The Child is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others at the top of my list would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

What’s especially notable is how well-recorded the strings are. They have just the right amount of texture and immediacy without being forced or shrill. They’re also very well integrated into the mix. I wouldn’t have expected RVG to pull it off so well — I’ve heard other CTI records where the orchestration was abominable — but here it works as well as on any album I know of.

The bass is deep and defined; the tonality of the guitar and its overall harmonic richness are beautifully rendered. The piano has the weight and heft of the real thing.

This kind of warm, rich, Tubey Magical analog sound is gone forever. You have to go back to 1971 to find it. (more…)

Kenny Burrell / God Bless The Child – Great Arrangements by Don Sebesky

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Don Sebesky, A Top Arranger

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This is one of our favorite orchestra-backed jazz records here at Better Records. A few others off the top of my head would be Wes Montgomery’s California Dreaming (1966, and also Sebesky-arranged), Grover Washington’s All the King’s Horses (1973) and Deodato’s Prelude (also 1973, with brilliant arrangements by the man himself).

On a killer copy like this the sound is out of this world. Rich and full, open and transparent, this one defeated all comers in our shootout, taking the Top Prize for sound and earning all Three Pluses. (more…)

Richard Wagner – The Sound of Stokowski and Wagner

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More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With a nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) side one and a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side two, our Shaded Dog pressing of this sought-after classic of the Living Stereo canon will be very hard to beat/li>
  • Lewis Layton engineered this blockbuster recording, and after hearing his brilliant work for The Pines of Rome with Reiner we can see why they gave him the job
  • The rich, textured sheen of the strings that Living Stereo made possible in the ’50s and early ’60s is clearly evident throughout these pieces, something that the Heavy Vinyl crowd will never experience, because that sound just does not exist on modern records
  • These shorter pieces are ideal for those who want to listen to Wagner’s music and don’t have the two hours one of his famous operas requires of the audience

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Bizet / L’arlesienne And Carmen Suites – Dry Strings on One Side, Fine on the Other

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

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My notes for side two on a copy we recently auditioned read:

Could use more tubes.

Strings could be a bit smoother.

Needs a bit more weight down low.

My notes for side one:

Side one had all of this and more!

Some Common Issues with Londons

Many London and Decca pressings lack weight down low, thinning out the sound and washing out the lower strings.

On some sides of some copies the strings are dry, lacking Tubey Magic. This is decidedly not our sound, although it can easily be heard on many London pressings, the kind we’ve played by the hundreds over the years.

If you have a rich sounding cartridge, perhaps with that little dip in the upper midrange that so many moving coils have these days, you will not notice this tonality issue nearly as much as we do.

Our 17Dx is ruler flat and quite unforgiving in this regard. It makes our shootouts much easier, but brings out the flaws in all but the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.

Can we really be hearing all these things that nobody else seems to be hearing? Things like:

If audiophiles and audiophile reviewers are hearing these things on the records they review, in magazines and audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them? (Of course, they may in fact be discussing the hell out of them. I rarely read anything they write. But I don’t think they are discussing these things much. If they are, and you read them, please shoot me a link so that I can be a part of the discussion.) (more…)

Linda Ronstadt – What’s New

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More Nelson Riddle

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on both sides, this is without a doubt some of the best sound we have ever heard for What’s New
  • So hugely spacious and three-dimensional, yet with a tonally correct and fairly natural sounding Linda, this is the way to hear it
  • What engineer George Massenburg gets right is the sound of an orchestra, augmented with jazz musicians (Ray Brown, Tommy Tedesco, Plas Johnson, Bob Cooper), all performing live in a huge studio
  • “…the best and most serious attempt to rehabilitate an idea of pop that Beatlemania… undid in the mid-60’s.”

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Bernard Herrmann – Listening in Depth to The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

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Bernard Herrmann Recordings We’ve Reviewed

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Music like this taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep organ notes (listen for the famous Decca rumble accompanying the organ if you have the deep bass reproduction to hear it); incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects everywhere — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some. (You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!)

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Journey to the Center of the Earth

All those lovely harps! You can practically feel the cool air of the cave as you descend into the blackness.

The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Jason and the Argonauts, including the fight with the skeletons that we all remember from our Saturday matinee movie days. Who else could have orchestrated such a film?

Side Two

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Astonishingly powerful deep bass and drum sounds!

Fahrenheit 451

One of our key tests for side two is the string tone on the Fire Engine sequence here. The best copies had wonderfully textured and tonally correct strings, with just the right amount of sheen — not glossy, not gritty, not blurry, but just right.

Any orchestral recording without good string tone is a lost cause. (Almost all Classic Records fail miserably in this regard. They may be on the TAS List but that sure doesn’t mean they sound any good!)

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Bill Evans / Symbiosis – One of the Few MPS Pressings with (Potentially) Top Sound

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More Jazz Piano Recordings

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  • An outstanding copy of Evans’ wonderful 1974 album accompanied by symphony orchestra with solid Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER throughout
  • We dropped the needle on a copy years ago and heard wonderful audiophile sound right from the get-go
  • Bigger, richer, more Tubey Magical, with more extension on both ends of the spectrum and more depth, width and height than most other copies we played
  • We are not big fans of the MPS label — most of their stuff, especially the Oscar Peterson records they made, is not very good — but we sure liked this one
  • “… a special and unique entry in Evans’ huge catalog… Not your “typical” Bill Evans album–but that’s what makes SYMBIOSIS such a fine, gently challenging listen.”

On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn’t up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I’m here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem. (more…)

Gershwin / Concerto in F – String Tone Is Key

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More Orchestral Spectaculars

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Sonic Grade: C-

I must admit Classic Records did a passable job with this one. The two things that separate the good originals from the reissue are in some ways related. Classic, as is their wont, boosted the upper midrange, and that, coupled with their transistory mastering equipment, makes the strings brighter, grainier and yet somehow lacking in texture and sheen compared to the originals (a clear sign of a low-res cutting chain).

Once you recognize that quality in the sound of a record it’s hard to ignore, and I hear it on every Classic Record I play. (This commentary has more on the subject.)

RCA is more famous for its string tone than anything else. If the strings on the Classic Records LPs don’t bother you, you can save yourself a lot of money by not buying authentic RCA pressings — and get quieter vinyl to boot.

Here are some other records that are good for testing string tone and texture.


HOT STAMPERS

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Well Recorded Classical Albums – The Core Collection (more…)