Top Engineers – Roy Wallace

Tchaikovsky / Sleeping Beauty / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This vintage London pressing of Tchaikovsky’s complete Sleeping Beauty boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) Demo Disc sound on all SIX sides
  • These sides are doing pretty much everything right – they’re rich, clear, undistorted, open, spacious, and have depth and transparency to rival the best recordings you may have heard
  • Ansermet is of course a master of the ballet and the performance here by the Suisse Romande is outstanding, perhaps even definitive
  • If you’re a fan of Ansermet’s performances of Tchaikovsky’s famous ballets, this superb All Tube Recording from 1959 belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

Big Decca sound! Powerful deep bass. Beautiful string tone and sharply articulated brass sound. This is a wonderful record.

Ansermet is surely the man for this music, and the famously huge hall he recorded in just as surely contributes much to the wonderful sound here.

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Bizet / Symphony in C Major / Ansermet

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

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

This London pressing of Ansermet’s 1961 recording has SUPERB Super Hot Stamper sound on BOTH sides. The Symphony in C, which takes up the whole of side one, is BIG and LIVELY, which is just the kind of sound that makes us swoon here at Better Records. Live music IS big and lively, so why shouldn’t the best records be? The bottom end has real power on this copy, the way live music does.

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, rich sound that makes audiophiles prize Decca-London recordings above those of virtually any other label, and here, unlike in so many areas of audio, we are fully in agreement.

The second movement has a sublimely gorgeous oboe part you must hear. The whole side is wonderfully spacious, with real depth. The sound of the 1961 tape must be truly magical. If you don’t know why we revere the Golden Age of Classical Recordings — 1954 to 1969 or so — buy this record. (more…)

Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Listen for Dry Strings

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for Chabrier’s Orchestral Music

On many copies the strings are somewhat dry, lacking some of the Tubey Magic heard on the better copies.

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 even the best pressings, exactly the job we require it to do.

We discussed the issue in a commentary entitled Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio.

Here are some of the other records we’ve discovered 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 noticing these things on the records they review, whether it be in magazines, websites or audiophile forums, why aren’t they discussing them?

You, dear reader, know the answer to that one, since you are reading the only writer that has been criticizing these know-nothings going on three decades.

The frequency response of the 17DX is shown below. Hard to draw a line much flatter than that.

Some cartridges are known to have ridiculous response curves. Here’s one, and there are lots more like it.

Borodin on Speakers Corner – You Say the Budget Stereo Treasury Has Better Sound?

More of the music of Alexander Borodin (1833-1887)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

A decent enough Speakers Corner Decca.

The Heavy Vinyl reissue of this title is not bad, but like a number of reissues, it lacks the weight found on the early London pressings. (Classic Records pressings rarely had that problem. Just the opposite in fact. The bass was boosted most of the time, especially the deep bass.)

I remember this Speakers Corner pressing being a little flat and bright. (I admit that I haven’t played it in years so I could easily be wrong.)

The glorious sound I hear on the best London pressings is not the kind of thing I hear on 180 gram records by Speakers Corner, or anybody else for that matter.

They do a good job some of the time, but none of their records can compete with a vintage pressing when that vintage pressing is mastered and pressed properly. 

The best pressings of this UK London Stereo Treasury from the Seventies will beat the pants off of it. That ought to tell you something, right?

A budget reissue that is clearly superior to the best that modern mastering has to offer?

It happens all the time. It’s the rule, not the exception.


The second symphony is a work that audiophiles should love. It shares many qualities with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, which you will surely recognize.

It also has some lovely passages that remind me of the Tale of The Tsar Saltan, another work by the same composer.

If you like exotic and colorfully orchestrated symphonic sound, you will be hard-pressed to find better.

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Falla / El Amor Brujo – Brilliant Decca Remastering from 1967

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

Hot Stamper Pressings of Orchestral Spectaculars Available Now

The famous Ansermet recording of El Retablo de Maese Pedro (Master Peter’s Puppet Show) has been mastered on this London Stereo Treasury Import LP to near PERFECTION.

This is High Fidelity Audiophile Demo Disc Quality Gold, with bells, drums, voices, trumpets, strings, woodwinds and more, all sounding so real it will take your breath away.

The Golden Age tape from 1961 has been mastered brilliantly with “modern” mastering equipment from 1967, 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.  

You can be pretty sure of two things when you hear a record of this quality: one, the original won’t sound as good, having been cut on much cruder equipment.

Overstepping the Bounds

[Note that in 2022 we would no longer make such a bold statement. We would require a number of originals to play in order to come to that conclusion, and since there is no early London pressing, only the pricey and hard to get hold of Decca, we never had any intention of going down that road.] 

And two, no modern recutting of the tapes by the likes of Speakers Corner for example could begin to capture this kind of naturalistic sound. I have never heard a Heavy Vinyl pressing begin to do what this record is doing. This STS may be a London budget reissue pressing, but it was mastered by Decca, pressed in England on high quality vinyl, using fairly fresh tapes, and mastered about as well as a record can be mastered. The sound is REAL and BELIEVABLE.

When have you ever heard a modern remastering with this kind of depth and width to the soundstage? I have yet to have the pleasure and I’ve played scores of them, close to a hundred I would guess [this was written in 2012 and we have played a great many more than a hundred as of 2022].

We used to carry all that Heavy Vinyl back in the day and I played them and reviewed them as they came out, rejecting a good 80% right from the get go. None, not one, ever sounded like this.

Our Pricing from 2012

$175 for a reissue might seem to be a stretch, but we know an amazing record when we hear one, and we know that the next copy that comes along is very unlikely to sound as good as this one does. That’s simply “regression toward the mean,” a reality we have learned to respect.

We don’t sell our records based on their reputations. We sell them based on the sound inscribed in their grooves, and these are some mighty fine grooves on side two. A+++ White Hot Stamper Can’t Be Beat grooves!

Side Two

A+++, even more open than the copy we thought was White Hot, with fuller vocals and more 3-D sound than we had any right to expect.

A True Demo Disc, that’s for sure.

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Beethoven / Symphony No. 5 / Ansermet

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

More Recordings conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • An excellent pressing of this superb performance of Beethoven’s legendary 5th with Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER 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 texture on the strings is captured perfectly – this is an area in which modern pressings fail utterly, and without good string reproduction, especially in the lower registers, a Beethoven symphony is simply not a pleasurable experience, not on highly resolving equipment anyway
  • Clear, transparent, natural – throw this one on your turntable and your ability to suspend disbelief will require practically no effort at all
  • Guaranteed to put to shame any Heavy Vinyl pressing of orchestral music you own or your money back

Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is practically nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. Practically none of them will ever begin to sound the way this record sounds.

Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time. (more…)

Stravinsky / The Firebird Suite on Speakers Corner

More on The Firebird

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

This is probably one of the better Speakers Corner Deccas.

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 sound with a wonderful performance from Ansermet.”

Currently our favorite Firebird is the original pressing on Mercury with Dorati conducting. Our opinion is very unlikely to change concerning the best combination of sound and performance. The record is simply a monster on the right pressing.

We have never heard an especially good sounding London or Decca of Ansermet’s performance, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We tend to avoid judging records we have not played and we encourage the audiophile community to do the same.


As a general rule, this Heavy Vinyl pressing will fall short in most of the following areas:

Ambience, Size and Space

Compression 

Energy

Smear

Transparency


FURTHER READING

The sonic signature of the modern Heavy Vinyl Classical Reissue in Four Words: Diffuse, Washed Out, Veiled, and Vague.

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Delibes / Coppelia & Sylvia – London Vs. Decca

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Once again, the right Decca reissue blows the doors off the original London we played. This has lately become a pattern, but keep in mind it’s a pattern that’s reliable less than half the time, if memory is any guide. Many of the Decca reissues we’ve played over the last few years have failed badly in a head to head with their earlier-mastered and -pressed counterparts.

But the ones that beat all comers are the ones that stick in our minds and show up on our site.

Clearly a case of confirmation bias, but at least we know something about our own biases, and that puts us well ahead of the audiophile pack.

Record collectors and record collecting audiophiles will tell you it shouldn’t happen, but fools like us, who refuse to accept the prognostications of those supposedly “in the know,” have done the work and come up with the experimental data that’s proven them wrong again and again.

Sort of. We had one, and only one, pressing of the original London (CS 6185), and boy was it a mess — crude as crude can be. It sounded like an “old London record” — we’ve played them by the hundreds, if not thousands, so we know that sound fairly well by now — not the Decca engineered and mastered vintage collectible we know it to be.

Are there copies that sound better? Surely there are, but how are you going to find them? Are you going to shell out the going rate of $25-50 on ebay for one (or more) clean copies, only to find that it/they sound every bit as bad as the one we auditioned? The question answers itself.

If, however, you are one of the lucky few who has a nice London or Decca original of this recording, please let us send you this copy so that you can do the shootout for yourself. You may be shocked at how good this music can sound on the right pressing. And if your copy sounds better than ours we will be very shocked indeed. [This offer was only good while we had the record, and it is long gone at this point. We still remember the sound though!]

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with unerring timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section of the orchestra.

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Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for Chabrier’s Orchestral Music

The Espana side earned our rare and coveted Four Plus A++++ grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a given recording to a level we’ve never experienced before and had no idea could even exist. 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.

Wow! Monstrous size and dynamic power thanks to the brilliant Decca engineering of Roy Wallace. Without a doubt the most spectacular sound we’ve ever heard from CS 6438.

This Beyond White Hot Stamper London pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on side one which is very, very hard to come by on this record!

And all that weight and energy down low is what really makes Espana magical. You won’t believe the sound!  (more…)

Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan / Ansermet

More of the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This early London stereo copy has superb sound from the first note to the last
  • It’s so rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings – wow!
  • Here is the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for
  • The Speakers Corner pressing of Ansermet’s famous recording is mediocre, with many faults, all discussed here
  • We would love to be able to find Ansermet’s Scheherazade on London (not Decca!) vinyl, but as you may have read on the blog, the right stampers of that record are almost impossible to find these days, although that has not stopped us from trying

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from April of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, possibly of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound beyond all others, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat not a single one, can begin to sound the way this record sounds. (Before you put them in storage or on Ebay please play them against this pressing so that you can be confident in you decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

This London pressing contains a stunningly BEAUTIFUL Tale of the Tsar Saltan Suite. It’s clearly one of the great Demo Disc Quality recordings from the Golden Age (or any age for that matter), with everything that a top Golden Age Orchestral recording should have: all the magic; all the timbral and harmonic subtlety; all the sweetness and warmth; all the Tubey Magical richness.

All that and more. Folks, this is the kind of record that makes you sit up and take notice. Finally, HERE is the kind of sound that can bring an orchestra to life in your very own listening room.

It has the kind of depth and three-dimensional soundstaging that the recordings by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande are famous for. (Unlike some of their recordings — Pictures at an Exhibition comes readily to mind — the tempi here are not too slow. The tempi are in fact just right. We love the sound of Ansermet’s records but when the performance drags it’s hard to enjoy the music. For top quality performances of the work by other conductors — rarely in stock I regret to say — please check the site.)

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