Top Engineers – Kenneth Wilkinson

Ravel, Saint-Saens et al. / Tzigane, Havanaise / Kyung-Wha Chung

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

This 1979 London original English pressing of violin showpieces (reviewed in 2012) has Super Hot Stamper sound on side two, which came as a bit of a shock to us after playing side one, which is as congested and opaque as one would expect from such a late London recording.

Side two is fabulous — full-bodied, rich and sweet. Even though it may have been recorded in 1977, the engineer is Kenneth Wilkinson, and the hall is Kingsway — not many bad recordings can be attributed to either.    

But bad mastering or bad pressing quality are surely not the fault of either; when the record doesn’t come out of the oven right, the sound is going to suffer, and the sound on this side one is insufferable all right.

But side two is GLORIOUS; it has wonderful music played with the greatest skill and feeling.  (more…)

The Biggest “If” in All of Audio

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The best of the best vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

But that is not our story for today. Our story today concerns the relationship between more accurate timbre and higher fidelity.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured above?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems heard on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that kind of low fidelity sound is no longer in vogue.

A new, equally low fidelity sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played in recent years, is a very different sound from that described above, with a different but no less irritating suite of shortcomings.

These new records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and badly lacking in ambience.

Such are the current hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had a problem we heard in practically every infuriatingly unbalanced record we played: sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(The exception: Bernie Grundman. Bernie cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose a different path, but his path turned out to be every bid as problematical. And Mobile Fidelity no longer makes bright records with ill-defined, bloated bass. Now they make overly smooth records with ill-defined, bloated bass.)

Are the audiophiles buying these new, unnaturally smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are. Everybody else is getting taken to the cleaners. Ripped off. Sold a bill of goods. Etc. Etc. (There are scores of terms for this activity because there have always been companies and individuals who were happy to take your money in exchange for something of low quality dressed up in fancy packaging.)

The First Thing

As we have been saying for years, to get anywhere in this hobby, the first thing you need is reasonably good stereo sound.

Then you can buy records that actually have the potential to be good records. Records with higher fidelity. Records that are tonally correct.

If you’re buying these modern heavy vinyl pressings, what are you going to do with them when you finally get around to making your stereo reproduce music properly and can hear how second- and third-rate they are?

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality shortcomings of these modern remastered records?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary for the answer. (more…)

Debussy / Clair de Lune / Agoult

  • This rich, sweet and full-bodied UK pressing boasts excellent Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from top to bottom – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Side one gives you not only a wonderful Clair De Lune, but a number of shorter works by Faure, Massenet and Elgar as well, with side two highlighted by meditative pieces by Bach, Tchaikovsky and others
  • We can’t imagine a more beautiful record, both in terms of the program and the sound – this record is a wonderful example of what the Decca recording engineers (Kenneth Wilkinson in this case) were able to capture on tape
  • It’s the same recording as the famous Living Stereo Clair De Lune, LSC-2326, but with a couple of extra tracks included
  • The other main difference between the Living Stereo pressing on our Decca here is that the Decca has better sound

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music.

It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording. We were impressed with the fact that it excelled in so many areas of reproduction. The illusion of disappearing speakers is one of the more attractive aspects of the sound here, pulling the listener into the space of the concert hall in an especially engrossing way.

The 1959 master has been transferred brilliantly using “modern” cutting equipment (from 1970, not the low-rez junk they’re forced to make do with these days), giving you, the listener, sound that only the best of both worlds can offer.

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Bartok / Concerto for Orchestra / Solti

More of the music of Bela Bartok (1881-1945)

More Must Own Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • Huge hall, massive weight and powerful energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard
  • The sound here is glorious, full of all of the qualities that make listening to classical music in analog so involving
  • There are many great recordings of the work, and we had plenty to choose from, but for sonics and performance combined, Solti’s Decca recording from 1965 could not be beat
  • “Solti’s Concerto for Orchestra with the LSO was one of the finest of its day and remains so. Highly recommended.”
  • If you’re a fan of Bartok’s orchestral masterpiece, this London from 1965 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1965 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.
  • Watch out for Solti’s later recordings for Decca – they usually have an obvious shortcoming which we cannot abide in the classical records we play

Solti breathes life into these works as only he can and the Decca engineering team led by Kenneth Wilkinson do him proud.

“Solti was regarded as, above all, a superb Wagnerian. His performances and countless recordings of other nineteenth century German and Austrian music were also well-regarded, as were his Verdi and his frequent forays into such twentieth century repertory as Bartók, Shostakovich, and Stravinsky.”

There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Tchaikovsky / 1812 Overture – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the 1812 Overture

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 polarity 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…)

Ballet Music From The Opera – How Much Tubey Magic Is Too Much?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

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 healthy 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 Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. [Note that we almost never put records with a grade this low on the site these days.]

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

Price Versus Quality

Speaking of cheap reissues, we are on record as being fans of a great many Budget Reissue Classical LPs for decades. My catalogs from the ’90s were full of reissues with exceptionally good sound.

Now that we do things differently, we’ve discovered some budget pressings that are so well-mastered they have the potential — accent on the word potential — to win shootouts.

Vintage Vinyl

Plenty of the records we audition suffer from Bad Tube Mastering, a quality we have no trouble recognizing and criticize at length all over this very blog.

In that respect we have little in common with the True Believers who seem to want to defend analog regardless of its quality.

We don’t hesitate to criticize new records that have bad sound and old records that have bad sound. Bad sound is bad sound no matter when the record was pressed.

Vintage classical records with bad sound can be found here.

Modern records of all kinds with bad sound can be found here.

Too Many Tubes?

With too many tubes in the mastering chain you end up with mud pies, and nobody, outside of this guy and the customers who buy his wares, wants those.

But is it just a matter of having too many tubes in the mastering chain?

If it is, then how to explain the awful sound of this Analogue Productions reissue, which was mastered using no tubes whatsoever?

Or this one?

Did Kevin Gray screw up, or does Chad just like murky sounding records?

Hey, why not crowdsource the answer? Please go to your favorite audiophile forum and start a thread with that question. Once you have done so, please send a link to: tom@better-records.com

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Mozart – Clarinet and Horn Concertos / Maag

More of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

More music conducted by Peter Maag

  • An outstanding copy of this wonderful classical release with solid Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Big, clear, present and transparent, with a HUGE bottom end, you better believe that this is some Demo Disc sound
  • Both sides are open, high-rez, and spacious, with depth like you will not believe and some of the least shrill string reproduction we have ever heard for this music (which is the main problem we ran into on the album)
  • These wonderful concertos — some of the greatest ever composed — should be part of any serious Classical Collection.
  • Others that belong in that category can be found here.
  • Kenneth Wilkinson was probably the engineer for these sessions in glorious Kingsway Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

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Stravinsky / Le Sacre du Printemps – Speakers Corner Reviewed

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

We used to think this was one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

Having recently played the London pressing of the same performance, cut by Decca of course, we think we are almost certainly wrong about the quality of the sound, but who knows? Maybe Speakers Corner remastered the record properly and fixed its shortcomings.

Hah, just joking. In our experience that has never happened and we think it is very unlikely that it ever will.

Years ago we wrote the following:

Wow! What a performance! What dynamic full bodied sound! To be fair, I pulled out my original London, one of those awful mid-’70s English pressings that are never quiet, and yes, some of the ambience on the original is missing here on the new version, but everything else seems right: dynamics, tonality, the frequency extremes (including some pretty awesome deep bass).

Some of the above could be right, the parts about the tonality and such. Speakers Corner could have added some bass and lower midrange to make the sound less thin, and taken out some of the upper midrange to make the loud passages less blary, but it certainly doesn’t solve the most serious issues we had with the recording, which is the fact that it is opaque and flat, two qualities that are the death of orchestral music on vinyl.

Here are the notes we made for the London.

The two paragraphs you see reproduced below are also full of bad advice we had given out in the past:

1. Can’t be sure we would still feel that way but I’m guessing this is a good record if you can pick one up at a cheap price. 

2. If you have a quiet original, great, consider yourself lucky. As few of you have any copy at all, I recommend this one. The alternative is to miss Solti’s energetic performance and the precision of the Chicago Symphony, one of the few orchestras capable of making sense out of this complex and infuriating work. (At least it used to infuriate audiences. Now our modern ears can take a difficult work like this and appreciate the complex rhythms and atonality as the expression of a truly original mind.

This paragraph we would still agree with wholeheartedly:

This is not music to play while you are having dinner. This is music to engage the mind fully. It belongs in any collection. Yours in fact. Unless you have small speakers, in which case you would be wasting your money, as small speakers cannot begin to reproduce the power of this work in the hands of Solti and the CSO [or anybody else for that matter].


FURTHER READING

More music conducted by Georg Solti

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Kenneth Wilkinson

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now

Falla / Ravel / El Amor Brujo / De Burgos

More of the music of Manuel De Falla (1876-1946)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • With STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout, this vintage Decca pressing of these sublime classical works could not be beat
  • Powerful energy, loads of detail and texture, superb transparency and excellent clarity – the very definition of DEMO DISC sound
  • Richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than other copies, with breathy vocals and rosiny, smooth strings
  • We discovered to our surprise that the right reissues can sound just as good as the best early pressings – plenty of early LPs just sound like old records, which simply means that having a clean original is no guarantee of anything in the crazy world of records
  • This link will take you to more of our Favorite Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of having the Best Performances with Demo Disc Sound, and this superb LP certainly deserve a place on that list

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Ballet Music From The Opera – Skip the Classic Records Pressing

Hot Stamper Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP debunked.

Classic Records ruined this album, as anyone who has played some of their classical reissues should have expected. Their version is dramatically more aggressive, shrill and harsh than the Shaded Dogs we’ve played, with almost none of the sweetness, richness and ambience that the best RCA pressings have in such abundance.

In fact their pressing is just plain awful, like most of the classical recordings they remastered, and should be avoided at any price. 

Apparently, most audiophiles (including audiophile record reviewers) have never heard a top quality classical recording. If they had, Classic Records would have gone out of business immediately after producing their first three Living Stereo titles, all of which were dreadful and labeled as such by us way back in 1994. I’m not sure why the rest of the audiophile community was so easily fooled, but I can say that we weren’t, at least when it came to their classical releases. 

We admit to having made plenty of mistaken judgments about their jazz and rock, and we have the We Was Wrong entries to prove it.

The last review we wrote for the remastered Scheherazade, which fittingly ended up in our Hall of Shame, with an equally fitting sonic grade of F.

TAS Superdisc List to this day? Of course it is!

With every improvement we’ve made to our system over the years, their records have managed to sound progressively worse. (This is pretty much true for all Heavy Vinyl pressings, another good reason for our decision to stop buying them in 2007.) That ought to tell you something.

Better audio stops hiding and starts revealing the shortcomings of bad records. At the same time, and much more importantly, better audio reveals more and more of the strengths and beauty of good records.

Which of course begs the question of what actually is a good record — what it is that makes one record good and another bad — but luckily for you dear reader, you are actually on a site that has much to say about those very issues.

There are scores of commentaries on the site about the huge improvements in audio available to the discerning (and well-healed) audiophile. It’s the reason Hot Stampers can and do sound dramatically better than their Heavy Vinyl or Audiophile counterparts: because your stereo is good enough to show you the difference.

With an Old School Audio System you will continue to be fooled by bad records, just as I and all my audio buds were fooled twenty and thirty years ago. Audio has improved immensely in that time. If you’re still playing Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile pressings, there’s a world of sound you’re missing. We would love to help you find it.

One amazing sounding Orchestral Hot Stamper pressing might just be what it takes to get the ball rolling.

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