Top Engineers – Kenneth Wilkinson

Rossini – Overtures / Maag

xxxxx

  • With a BETTER than Triple Plus (A+++ to A++++) side two and a side one that earned a very respectable grade of Double Plus (A++), the orchestral power of display here is positively PHENOMENAL
  • Wilkie’s Decca Tree recording is overflowing with the kind of rich, spacious, Tubey Magical sound that can only be found on vintage vinyl
  • Performances and sound like no other – Maag’s Rossini is in a league of its own
  • “You’d think Maag would approach the scores the way most conductors do: gung-ho and hell bent for leather. He doesn’t. In fact, Maag displays a good deal of reserve, calculating his interpretations for the biggest payoff. For instance, in William Tell he keeps the opening sections in check, and then he builds the final segment into a most-exciting whirlwind, the conclusion carrying you away.”

*NOTE: On side two, a light crackle is audible on the first minute and during the early quiet intro to Track 1, Semiramide Overture. Afterwards, the record plays about as quiet as they ever do, Mint Minus Minus.

Please note: we award the More Than Three Plus (A++++) grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we called it A+++ to A++++!

We award this copy’s side two our better than Three Plus grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a recording to a level never experienced by us before, a level we had no idea even existed. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

The reason we called side two More Than Three Pluses is that of the eight or so copies we had in our shootout, no other copy on either side sounded as good as side two of this copy. We play a lot of classical records around here and this one really stood out from the pack as a true One Percenter.

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

Everyone needs a good Rossini Overtures – the music is exciting and fun, not to mention Demonstration Quality on a pressing such as this. The combination of sound and performance on the best of the Maag-led Londons could not be equaled. Gamba on London was much too sleepy for our tastes, and the famous Reiner on RCA left a lot to be desired. It’s mid-hall perspective and dynamic compression took all the fun out of this music. After hearing the killer Maag pressings, nothing else would do!

Note that the orchestra is none other than the Paris Conservatoire, whose playing of the famously demanding Stravinsky Rite of Spring, under Monteux (LSC 2085), is absolutely stunning as well. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with Katchen and Solti

More Rachmaninoff

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,

Saturday morning 06.15 waking up, checking messages, news and of course your site. Actually a daily routine.

Finding there Rachmaninov 2. For so many, as for me, an astonishing work.

So once again excited. Then checking reviews on the performance (you just take it for granted what an amazing thing this internet is). Searching, finding and reading about this specific performance is fun, thrilling in a way and in the process you learn more about the composer and piece.

The reviews show the performance as a stand out; for some brusque and maybe too fast leaving out the drama, but for many an exhilarating benchmark.

Afterwords going back to the better-record site to read about the recording. What a great story about Wilkie and the Decca tree.

And then of course being able to actually buy that record. What a privilege!
A big big thank you. (more…)

Chopin / Concerto No. 1 / Rubinstein / Skrowaczewski

xxxxx

  • With two Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sides, this Shaded Dog pressing is the best sounding Chopin First Piano Concerto we have ever heard
  • So big and transparent, with weight and heft to the brass like no other, we guarantee you have never heard a better piano concerto recording (unless you already one of our White Hot Stamper LPs)
  • The secret to the superior sound of this particular Rubinstein recording over so many others is the engineering by Kenneth Wilkinson – the glorious hall the London Symphony plays in doesn’t hurt either
  • Chopin, according to Arthur Hedley, “had the rare gift of a very personal melody, expressive of heart-felt emotion, and his music is penetrated by a poetic feeling that has an almost universal appeal…”

“Present-day evaluation places him among the immortals of music by reason of his insight into the secret places of the heart and because of his awareness of the magical new sonorities to be drawn from the piano.”

We heard dramatically more layered depth and more hall than we were accustomed to from the dozen or so RCA Rubinstein recordings that we’ve auditioned over the years. This is a closer approximation of live music than we were expecting, and in that sense it came as an exceedingly pleasant surprise. The shootout has been years in the making, with some copies waiting for their day in the spotlight over ten years.

The strings have lovely Living Stereo (Decca-engineered) texture as well. As befits a Wilkinson recording from 1961, there is no shortage of clarity to balance out the Tubey Magical warmth and richness.

(We have lately been surveying some of his recordings from the late-’60s and ’70s to our great disappointment. The All Tube Recording Chain was gone. Opacity and lack of warmth prevented us from proceeding with any shootouts we might have attempted.)

And for those who prefer original pressings to reissues, here is the record that makes your case. None of the White Dogs or Red Seal reissues could hold a candle to the real Shaded Dog label LPs. They are in a league of their own.

We love the huge, Tubey Magical sound of this recording. The piano is solid and powerful — like a real piano.

Tremendous hall space, weight and energy, this is DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND by any standard. (more…)

Ted Heath – Swings In High Stereo

xxxxx

  • Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) DEMO DISC SOUND from the first note to the last; the best sound we heard for this album in our shootout all day
  • Kingsway Hall, Wilkinson and the Decca Tree add up to Audiophile Quality Big Band sound, on this copy anyway
  • Heath and his group play with all the energy and verve essential to this joyful Big Band music – he really does swing in high stereo
  • We consider Ted Heath’s early London recordings to be some of the best big band ever recorded

This album has DEMO DISC SOUND like you will not believe. Just listen to Heath’s arrangement of Big Ben, the second track on side two, for Audiophile Quality Big Band sound the likes of which you may have never heard. (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Enesco, Smetana, et al.

 

A SUPERB White Hot side one coupled with a better than Super Hot (A++ to A+++) side two, back to back on one disc, is a surprise indeed.This is only the second time a disc from a Reader’s Digest box set has made it to the site, and we’re continuing with more exciting orchestral music — Capriccio Espagnol (side two) and the Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 (side one) are the two longest pieces on record 8 of the set, and both of them are knockouts on this pressing.

This is truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND! Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich and sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a recording engineer in the early days of stereo. This record should provide you with all the proof you need.

Play it up against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music.

Living Stereo Sound

You may remember that recordings from these sets were reissued by Chesky back in the ’90s, with mediocre sound of course, as all their reissues are at best mediocre. We never carried any of them even when we were carrying audiophile reissues.

I remember the first time I heard some of the records from this Scheherazade set and was knocked out — here was Tubey Magical RCA Living Stereo sound at a fraction of the price the real RCAs were commanding (a price I confess I could not begin to afford).

The problem — and it’s still a problem, though not much of one if you have a high quality, properly set up front end — is the vinyl. These sets were produced cheaply in order to be priced affordably (under $20 for 10 LPs in a box!), and that means the best vinyl was simply not part of the budget. To find pressings that play even Mint Minus Minus is not easy, even today. Back then, before the advent of modern enzyme-based cleaning fluids and expensive record cleaning vacuum machinery, there was no way to get the vinyl to play even that well.

This copy plays a bit quieter than most at Mint Minus Minus to Mint Minus, about as quiet as a well cared for vintage Shaded Dog or Merc.

As you can imagine we did not have dozens of these sets with which to do our shootout. We had three, and this copy is clearly the overall winner of the group by a substantial margin. (more…)

Beethoven / Symphony Nos. 4 & 5 / Leibowitz

 

xxxxx
xxxxx
xxxxx

This single disc, taken from the 7 LP Readers Digest Box Set, contains THE BEST sounding recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony we have ever played at Better Records. And that makes it something very special indeed, with nothing short of White Hot sonics and a top performance by Rene Leibowitz conducting the Royal Philharmonic.

Produced by Charles Gerhardt and engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson, to my mind this has always been one of the finest groups of recordings of the complete symphonies of Beethoven , held back only by the usual pressing variations (and the RDG ’60s vinyl). Until we amassed a pile of these sets and got them sparkling clean we had no idea that the recordings could sound this good, good enough in fact to beat all comers — from every major label and then some — in our shootout!

You may have noticed that Beethoven’s symphonies rarely make it to the site. There’s a reason for this: most of the recordings of them don’t sound very good. We are happy to report that, at least when it comes to the Fourth and Fifth, that problem has been solved.

Side Two – Symphony No. 5

A+++. The hall here is HUGE; your speakers will simply disappear. The sound is rich, Tubey Magical and clear, all at the same time. (It’s not quite as clear as the Solti on CS 6092 we will be listing but in every other way it’s better than that record.)

The string texture reminds me of the finest Living Stereos I have heard. The overall sound is as dynamic and exciting as one could hope for, yet Leibowitz manages to make it more lyrical and flowing as well. I know of none better.

One other copy, competitive in most ways with this one, was somewhat more lush and tubey. We felt in the end that the sound on this pressing was actually more correct and lifelike. We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use. It’s precisely this kind of big, clear sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London (and RDG!) recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement with our fellow record lovers. (more…)

Stravinsky / Petrushka – Superb on Readers Digest Vinyl

 

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • With a Triple Plus (A+++) shootout winning side one and a Double Plus (A++) side two, this is a Petrushka that is guaranteed to blow your mind (just as it blew ours)
  • As good as the famous Dorati recording for Mercury may be – assuming you have one that sounds as good as the best copies can – we still this Readers Digest pressing to be superior in all the most important ways, as well as being the Mercury equal in performance
  • One listen to this famous Kenneth Wilkinson Decca tree recording with the Royal Philharmonic and you’ll see why we could find no competition for it
  • The biggest problem with these wonderful recordings is the vinyl – no copy played better than Mint Minus Minus to EX++

What a recording! So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression. Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard, especially on side one.

A truly extraordinary recording mastered beautifully but pressed on vinyl that has never been known for its quality.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a work of Stravinsky’s. They’re clear and textured, yet rich and full-bodied. The bottom is big and weighty. The horns are tubey and full and never screechy, even in the most difficult passages.

About as close to live music as I think this piece can sound in my listening room.

Most recordings we played were profoundly unnatural, lacking transparency and the relaxed sense of involvement that tricks you into thinking “you are there.” (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / Capriccio Espagnol & Le Coq D’Or / Danon

xxxxx
xxxxx

  • White Hot Stamper sound for Capriccio Espagnol, with a tremendously exciting performance
  • Big stage, great ENERGY, lots of hall ambience and solid orchestral weight – hard to fault!
  • Orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol
  • If you like Reiner’s Scheherazade – and who doesn’t? – you are sure to be knocked out by this recording

For your listening pleasure, we proudly offer our music loving fans a SUPERB sounding White Hot Capriccio Espagnol, performed with passion and precision by the Royal Philharmonic under the direction of Oscar Danon. This is only the second disc from a Reader’s Digest box set to make it to the site, but what a disc it is — orchestral music doesn’t get much more EXCITING or COLORFUL than Capriccio Espagnol. It’s truly a knockout on this pressing: White Hot Stamper As Good As It Gets sound.

This is what we mean by DEMO DISC sound. Records do not get much more spacious, open, transparent, rich or sweet. Kenneth Wilkinson was the man behind the board for many of these RDG recordings, this very one in fact, and as you will hear, he was pretty much in a league of his own as a engineer in the early days of stereo. This record is proof positive of his uncanny recording skills. (Check out the Decca Tree tab above.)

Play it against the best of the RCAs, Londons and Mercs from the period and you will see what I mean. And of course it will completely DESTROY any pressing you may have on Heavy Vinyl, from any label, at any playback speed, of any music. (more…)

Azimuth, VTA, Anti-Skate and Tracking Weight – We Got to Live Together

xxx

With a shout out to my man Sly!

In this listing you can find commentary and advice about tonearm azimuth adjustment, Ansermet’s recordings, Speakers Corner 180g pressings, and more.

The Borodin title you see pictured has DEMO QUALITY SOUND OF THE HIGHEST ORDER!

One of the great London records. The performance by Ansermet is definitive, IMHO, and this recording ranks in the Top Ten Decca/ Londons I’ve ever heard.

The powerful lower strings and brass are gorgeous. Ansermet and the Suisse Romande get that sound better than any performers I know. You will see my raves on record after record of theirs produced in this era. No doubt the wonderful hall they record in is the key. One can assume Decca engineers use similar techniques for their recordings regardless of the artists involved. The only real variable should be the hall. Ansermet’s recordings with the Suisse Romande have a richness in the lower registers that is unique in my experience. His Pictures At Exhibition has phenomenally powerful brass, the best I’ve ever heard. The same is true for his Night On Bald Mountain. Neither performance does much for me — they’re both too slow — but the sound is out of this world. Like it is here.

One of the reasons this record is sounding so good today (1/12/05) is that I spent last weekend adjusting my Triplanar tonearm. The sound was bothering me somewhat, so I decided to start experimenting again with the azimuth adjustment. I changed the azimuth in the smallest increments I could manage, which on this turnable are exceedingly small increments, until at some point the bass started to go deeper, dynamics improved, and the overall tonal balance became fuller and richer. Basically the cartridge was becoming perfectly vertical to the record. I don’t think this can be done any other way than by ear, although I don’t know that for a fact. (more…)

Ted Heath – Shall We Dance – Absolutely Amazing Sound (and We Love the Music Too)

xxx

One of the best sounding records we have ever played, the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band. Both sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard. Three elements create the magic here: Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

More Big Band Jazz

Years ago we wrote in another listing “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album like no copy we have ever played.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway Hall, Kenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes. (more…)