Top Engineers – Lewis Layton

Strauss / Also Sprach Zarathustra / Reiner

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Records We’ve Reviewed

  • An early Shaded Dog pressing of this wonderful classical Masterpiece with superb Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • It’s also fairly quiet at Mint Minus Minus, a grade that even our most well-cared-for vintage classical titles have trouble playing at
  • The vibrant colors of the orchestra are captured brilliantly in All Tube Analog by the RCA engineers, creating an immersive and engrossing listening experience for the work without equal in our experience
  • There is plenty on offer for the discriminating audiophile, with the spaciousness, clarity, tonality and freedom from artificiality that are hallmarks of the best Living Stereo recordings
  • “Reiner’s close familiarity with the score and personal relationship with Strauss himself add extra weight to the authority and importance of his interpretation of Also sprach Zarathustra.”


Prokofiev / Piano Concerto No. 3 / Cliburn

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergei Prokofiev

  • An early Shaded Dog pressing of these wonderful performances by pianist Van Cliburn and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Walter Hendl, here with INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) Living Stereo sound from first note to last
  • Both of these sides boast full brass and an especially clear, solid, present piano, one with practically no trace of vintage analog tube smear
  • Most of the Van Cliburn recordings for RCA that we’ve played over the years did not sound very good to us, which is why you haven’t seen one our site since 2005 (!)
  • Back in the days when the TAS Super Disc List meant something, this record was on it and deservedly so
  • To read the 60-odd reviews and commentaries we’ve written for piano concertos, please click here
  • The best sounding piano concerto records that we’ve auditioned to date can be found here


Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

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

[This review is from many years ago. I cannot say we would still feel the same way about the reissue reviewed here.]

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Side One

A++, Super Hot! The quieter passages have some of the richest, sweetest, most Tubey Magical sound you will ever hear in your home. There is not a trace of phony sound anywhere to be found, and the most pronounced effect it has on the listener is to make him relax and forget entirely about the sound. With this record the music is all.

The hall is huge with space around all the instruments.

Listen to how breathy the flutes are. This of course is a result of the judicious use of compression. The loudest string passages can get congested, another result of the use of compression (unavoidable in classical recordings), so we are holding the grade at A++.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, and some of the best sound we heard all day in our shootout! Every bit as rich and full-bodied as side one, but with less compression this side is more dynamic and exciting than any other that we played. A little dark, but that prevents the strings from becoming strident when loud.

The clarinet is especially musical on this recording. What a record!

Reissues Vs Originals

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

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.


Richard Wagner – The Sound of Stokowski and Wagner

More Richard Wagner

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • With two stunning Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this vintage Shaded Dog pressing of this sought-after classic of the Living Stereo canon is close to the BEST we have ever heard, right up there with our Shootout Winner
  • 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 the advent of Living Stereo brought into being in the ’50s and early ’60s is clearly evident throughout these pieces, something that the Heavy Vinyl crowd will never experience — simply 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 better-known operas requires of its audience


Sibelius / Violin Concerto on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Superb Recordings with Jascha Heifetz Performing

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records Classical LP badly mastered to the detriment of those lured by the promise of easy answers and quick fixes.

Classic remastered this title in the ’90s — of course they did, it’s clearly one of the better Heifetz recordings.

As expected, their version was awful, as bad as LSC 1903, 1992, 2129 and others too numerous to list.  

It’s both aggressive and lacking in texture at the same time, the worst of both worlds.

Bernie’s cutting system is what I would call Low Resolution — the harmonics and subtleties of the sound simply disappear.

The world is full of them.

In these four words we can describe the sound of the average Classic Records pressing. If you have the Classic, do your own shootout. We guarantee any of our Hot Stamper pressings will murder theirs.


Beethoven – Transparency and Piano Weight Are Key

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

Notes from a recent shootout.

This pressing has the real Living Stereo magic in spades, but unlike most of the RCA concerto recordings, Richter, the brilliant soloist featured here, is not overly spotlighted, hence the much more immersive “concert hall” sound.

The piano is part of the orchestra, and properly sized, allowing the contributions of the other musicians in the orchestra to be heard more clearly, laid out as they are elegantly across a huge and deep Boston Symphony Hall stage.

All of which adds up to a top quality piano concerto recording in every way.

When it comes to clarity in orchestral music, there is nothing that comes close to the sound of a live performance.

However, some records, this one especially, give you the sense that you are hearing it all. Audio may be an illusion but it can be a very convincing one.

The spaciousness and three-dimensionality of the recording are also exceptional. Through the efforts and skill of the RCA engineers, that striking openness in the recording is somehow combined with an electrifying immediacy in the sound of the piano, no mean feat. One rarely hears both, except of course live (and not always even then).

There may be other performances of merit, but I know of no recording of this music with better sound. If you are demonstrating naturalistic sound, not bombastic Hi-Fi spectacularity, this pressing more than qualifies as a DEMO DISC.

What to Listen For

What typically separates the killer copies from the merely good ones are qualities that we often look for in the records we play: transparency. Transparency allows you to hear into the recording, reproducing the ambience and subtle musical cues and details that high-resolution analog is known for.

(Note that most Heavy Vinyl pressings being produced these days seem to be seriously Transparency Challenged. Lots of important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate standard-weight pressings — is simply not to be found.)

Solid weighty sound for a piano concerto recording is critically important as well. The piano has to be big, powerful, and solid, as massive as a boulder, just the way it can be in the concert hall. In this respect it helps to have Sviatoslav Richter pounding away on the instrument of course.

Side One

Amazing – big and rich without a touch of smear on the strings or the percussive piano. The piano is right sized and that is unusual indeed in our experience.

Dynamic as all get out, with lively horns and a piano that is clear and present. Tonally correct, in a big hall, the sound is Hard To Fault.

The piano is so clear, yet the orchestra is as rich and smooth as one could possibly ask for. No smear, no congestion, no bandwidth limitations – this is the sound of the master tape. No modern reissue — digital or analog — will ever be able to reproduce more than a fraction of the sound found on this pressing.

Side Two

Big, lively and less congested that most of the copies we played. Side one had no smear, this side has a touch, but the sound is wonderful nevertheless.

Listen to the woodwinds on this side; they are glorious. You will have a hard time finding better sound for that section of the orchestra on other recordings.

Further Reading

Sibelius – Violin Concerto / Heifetz / Hendl

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

Superb Recordings with Jascha Heifetz Performing


  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides, this copy of the Sibelius Violin Concerto boasts seriously good Living Stereo sonics from 1961 and a fiery performance from Heifetz in his prime
  • It’s some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, right up there with Ricci’s on Decca/London
  • The nothing-less-than-breathtaking performance by Heifetz may raise this one to the rank of First Among Equals for those of you who prize immediacy and energy in your violin recordings
  • If you have one of our killer Hot Stampers of the Beethoven or Tchaikovsky violin concertos, you know exactly the sound I am talking about
  • “In the easier and looser concerto forms invented by Mendelssohn and Schumann I have not met a more original, a more masterly, and a more exhilarating work than the Sibelius violin concerto.”
  • Here is a list of records that, like this one, contain some of our Favorite Performances with Top Quality Sound
  • 1960 was a great years for classical recordings – other Must Own Orchestral releases can be found here.

Early Shaded Dog pressings of Heifetz’s records rarely survived in audiophile playing condition. Top quality early pressings in clean condition come our way at most a few times a year, which means shootouts for them get done infrequently. There are hundreds, even thousands, of clean, vintage classical pressings sitting in our stockroom waiting for a few more copies to come our way so that we can finally do a shootout. These things cannot be rushed.

As for the sound, it’s practically impossible to find the richly textured, natural string tone offered here on anything but the vintage pressings produced in the 50s and 60s. Record making may be a lost art, but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play, it’s an art that is not being lost on us.


Respighi / Pines of Rome – Reviewed (Inaccurately) in 2006

More of the music of Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pines of Rome

Back in 2006 we liked Red Seal pressings of Living Stereo recordings a lot more than we do now, so take this commentary with a huge grain of salt. Only the advent of top quality cleaning equipment and much improved playback made it possible for us to hear the earlier pressings in all their glory.

A lot of records that I used to like because they were cleaner and brighter — later Red Seal Living Stereos, some OJC jazz, some reissues of rock — sounded much better when my system was darker and less revealing.

There are a lot of live and learn entries about these records, and this is one from 15 years ago that could (probably, the record is long gone and not around to be played) not be more wrong.


Schubert / Death and the Maiden / Julliard String Quartet

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Franz Schubert

Wow! One of the RAREST and most sought after RCA Shaded Dog pressings (LSC 2378) in BEAUTIFUL CONDITION with SUPERB SOUND (on side two anyway). This Demo Copy has a side two with the kind of richness and sweetness lacking on many of the RCA chamber recordings we’ve played in the past, and in fact is lacking somewhat on side one of this very record.

Side two, which has the third and fourth movement of Death and the Maiden, is wonderful here, earning a sonic grade of A++. It’s very transparent, with real “rosin on the bow” resolution and naturalness.

Side one, with sound that rates something in the range of A to A+, was somewhat lean and midrangy, a common fault with RCA’s chamber recordings. It does have lovely 3-D soundstaging and spaciousness though.

This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.


Rachmaninoff / Concerto No. 3 / Janis – Wrong Again?

More of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943)

Reviews and Commentaries for Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concertos

In 2007 we raved about this title:

Outstanding! Sounds just like the already very good shaded dog, in many ways better. (I don’t have that one around to compare anymore but this LP has that same natural, smooth sound, while being cut a bit cleaner.) 

We have two copies of this Victrola, both with the same stamper numbers, and this is definitely the better of the two sonically. It has more presence, more transparency and better dynamics.

In preparation for our latest big shootout, we decided to give the Victrola another listen, and the one copy we had on hand was not impressive to say the least. It was dark, thin and flat.

Three strikes and it was out. Seems as though we were wrong.

Did we have better copies in 2007? Perhaps.

Our advice: skip it. If you do buy one, buy it for cheap.