Top Engineers – Stuart Eltham

Massenet / Le Cid – Sonic Pros and Cons

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Jules Massenet (1842—1912)

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

About ten years ago we reviewed a copy of the album that had a sub-optimal side two, a side two that suffered from screechy string tone. Since that time we’ve made a number of improvements to our cleaning regimen and playback system, and the result has been that our last couple of shootouts went off without a hitch, showing us string tone that was virtually free of screechiness. (The Greensleeves reissues never had much of a screechy strings problem as they tend to be mastered on the smooth side. They are more forgiving of second-rate playback in that respect, but they can also never win shootouts with that overly smooth sound.)

Problem solved! The records were fine, we just could not play them back then as well as we can now. In 2012, ten years ago, I had been selling records to audiophiles professionally for 25 years. I had owned a State of the Art system for 37 years.

But I knew I still had plenty to learn, and I kept at it. After a decade’s worth of tweaking and tuning, the strings of this recording started to sound the way Stuart Eltham and his fellow engineers surely wanted them to.

A True Super Disc

This is a record that clearly belongs on a Super Disc list. If Harry hadn’t already put it there we certainly would have.

We would love to compile a Super Disc list of our own, but unless you have just the right copy of whatever title you find on the list, you may not have anything like Super Disc sound quality, so why a list at all? It creates more problems for audiophiles than it solves.

Both sides of this TAS List disc contain audiophile Must Own Demonstration pieces, full of Tubey Magic, powerful dynamics, real depth, lifelike ambience, and uncannily accurate instrumental timbres, especially from the woodwinds. Add explosive dynamics and deep bass and you have yourself a genuine audiophile recording.

The sound is so rich you will not believe you are listening to an EMI. If more EMI records sounded like this we would be putting them on the site left and right. Unfortunately, in our experience the majority are thin, shrill and vague. Not so here!

Side One – Le Cid

A+++, so much bigger and livelier than the other copies we played. Huge size and scope, with an extended top, good texture to the strings, and lower strings that are rich and rosiny in the best tradition of vintage Deccas and RCAs.

As it stands it is clearly a Demo Disc of real power. It’s smooth and natural, which means you can really turn it up if you want that front row center seat.

Side Two – Scenes Pittoresques / The Last Sleep of the Virgin

A+ to A++, good, just clearly not as good as this amazing side one. It’s big, rich and spacious — 3-D in fact — but the string tone is not as warm and textured as it should be.

Which means it has some of that typically screechy EMI String Sound one hears on their recordings.

(more…)

Massenet / Le Cid Ballet Music / Fremaux

More of the music of Jules Massenet (1842—1912)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This shockingly well recorded orchestral recording returns to the site on vintage British EMI import vinyl with INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it throughout
  • So much bigger and livelier than the other copies we played, with an extended top, rosiny texture to the strings, and lower strings that are rich and vibrant in the best tradition of vintage Deccas and RCAs
  • A Demo Disc of real power with huge size and scope – it’s smooth and natural, which means you can really turn it up if you want that front row center seat
  • Let’s give credit where credit is due – Stuart Eltham is an immensely talented recording engineer and this is unquestionably some of his finest work
  • This Orchestral Spectacular should be part of any serious Classical Collection
  • Others that belong in that category can be found here

This is a record that clearly belongs on a Super Disc list; if Harry hadn’t already put it there we certainly would have. (We would love to compile a Super Disc list of our own, but unless you have just the right copy of whatever title you find on the list, you may not have anything like Super Disc sound quality, so why a list at all? It creates more problems for audiophiles than it solves.)

Both sides of this TAS List disc contain audiophile Must Own Demonstration pieces, full of Tubey Magic, powerful dynamics, real depth, lifelike ambience, and uncannily accurate instrumental timbres, especially from the woodwinds. Add explosive dynamics and deep bass and you have yourself a genuine audiophile recording.

The sound is so rich you will not believe you are listening to an EMI. If more EMI records sounded like this we would be putting them on the site left and right. Unfortunately, in our experience the majority are thin, shrill and vague. Not so here!

(more…)

Saint-Saens / Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”) / Fremaux

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • For the first time in over a year, one of Saint-Saens’ greatest masterpieces returns to Better Records with truly STUNNING Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound throughout – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Clear and transparent and natural – your ability to suspend disbelief requires practically no effort at all
  • What this copy did better than practically any other was show us just how rich, smooth and Tubey Magical 1973 EMI sound could be
  • “The whole work is a magnificent and fantastical symphonic machine that’s an apotheosis of the orchestral technology of the late 19th century.”
  • TAS List Super Discs with Hot Stampers
  • Reviews and Commentaries for TAS Super Discs

(more…)

Massenet on Klavier – Now With Added Smile Curve

Klavier Is a Label Audiophiles Should Avoid at Any Price

This Is yet Another Pressing Perfectly Suited to the Stereos of the Past

Sonic Grade: F

This hi-fi-ish Doug Sax/ Acoustic Sounds butchering of Fremaux’s performance from 1971 is insufferable.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

Back in the day, audiophiles in droves bought this pressing from all the major mail order audiophile record dealers (you know who I’m talking about), apparently not noticing the overblown bass and spark-spark-sparkling top end. 

Perhaps the same audiophiles who think that Mobile Fidelity makes good sounding records? It would not surprise me. Same wine, different bottle.

The Smile Curve

If you’ve spent any time on this site, you should know by now that many audiophile records sound worse than the typical CD. The typical CD does not have an equalization curve resembling a smile. The classic smile curve starts up high on the left, gets low in the middle, and rises again at the end, resulting in boosted bass, boosted top end, and a sucked out midrange — the Mobile Fidelity formula in a nutshell.

If your system needs boosted bass and highs, perhaps because your speakers are too small, well, I suppose you could try this Klavier pressing.

Here’s a better idea. Fix your stereo so you won’t need phony audiophile records like this one to make it sound good.

FURTHER READING

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 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.

Either of the two records shown will be dramatically better sounding than the Klavier pressing.

(more…)

Berlioz – Another Dubby Mess from Klavier

Klavier Is a Label Best Avoided by Audiophiles

Actual Audiophile Quality Pressings of Orchestral Music Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

The sound is smeary, thick and opaque because, among other things, the record was mastered by Doug Sax from a copy tape, and not all that well either.

It is yet another murky Audiophile Piece of Trash from the mastering lathe of the formerly brilliant Doug Sax. He used to cut the best sounding records in the world. Then he started working for Analogue Productions and never cut a good record again as far as I know.

On this record, in Doug’s defense it’s only fair to point out that he had only dub tapes to work with, which is neither here nor there as these pressings are not worth the dime’s worth of vinyl used to make them.

Maybe the hearing-challenged Chad Kassem wanted this sound — almost all his remastered titles have the same faults — and simply asked that Doug cut it to sound real good like analog spossed to sound in the mind of this kingpin, which meant smooth, fat, thick and smeary.

Yes, this is exactly what some folks think analog is supposed to sound like.

Just ask whoever mastered the Beatles records in 2014. Somebody boosted the bass and smoothed out the upper midrange, and I don’t think they did that by accident. They actually thought it was good idea.

Harry Moss obviously would not have agreed, but he’s not around anymore to do the job right.

Here is the cover for the real EMI. No idea if the sound is any good, but it has to be better than the awful Klavier, doesn’t it?

Below are some thoughts from a recent classical listing that we hope will shed some light on our longstanding aversion to the sound of these modern remastered records.

Modern Opacity

What is lost in these newly remastered recordings? Lots of things, but the most obvious and bothersome is TRANSPARENCY. Modern records are just so damn opaque. We can’s stand that sound. It drives us crazy. Important musical information — the kind we hear on even second-rate regular pressings — is simply nowhere to be found. That audiophiles as a whole — including those that pass themselves off as the champions of analog in the audio press — do not notice these failings does not speak well for either their equipment or their critical listening skills.

It is our contention that no one alive today makes records that sound as good as the ones we sell. Once you hear our Hot Stamper pressing, those 180 gram records you own may never sound right to you again. They sure don’t sound right to us, but we are in the enviable position of being able to play the best properly cleaned older pressings (reissues included) side by side with the new ones, where the faults of the current reissues become much more recognizable, even obvious. When you can hear them that way, head to head, there really is no comparison.

(more…)

Tchaikovsky / Symphony No. 1 ’Winter Dreams’ – Muti – Reviewed in 2009

EMI Postage Stamp pressing with EXCELLENT SOUND and a remarkably energetic and nuanced performance.

This is the first recording of this symphony that I’ve ever liked. Muti gets it!

And the sound is actually quite good for EMI in this period, 1976.

Stuart Eltham is the recording engineer and he is to be commended for getting some real dynamics and power into the grooves of this record.

Sibelius / The Popular Sibelius – Reviewed in 2005

More of the music of Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

This Minty looking EMI is a real SLEEPER!

BIG, EXCITING SOUND! With a spirited performance to match from Berglund, a man well known for his Sibelius work. This is not one of those vague, washed out EMIs

This record is ALIVE. Recorded by Stuart Eltham in 1972, you will be hard pressed to find more immediacy in an EMI. The sound may even be a bit over the top on some selections — whether it is or not will probably depend on your tastes and playback system. But one listen to the third track on side one should convince you that you’re in the presence of a superb recording.

This record includes Finlandia, Valse Triste, Karelia – Intermezzo, The Swan Of Tuonela, Lemminkaines’s Return, King Christian II – Elegy, Musette & Nocturne.

Saint-Saens / Carnival of the Animals – Klavier Reviewed

More of the music of Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921)

Klavier Is a Label Audiophiles Should Avoid at Any Price

Sonic Grade: D

Yet another murky, smeary Audiophile Piece of Trash from the mastering lathe of the formerly brilliant Doug Sax. He used to cut the best sounding records in the world. Then he started working for AP and to my knowledge hasn’t cut a good sounding record since.

For those of us who remember his consistently superb work in the ’70s, we sadly note that he passed away in 2015. I was honored to have met him a few years back at a Chopin concert performed by Lincoln Mayorga. 

I found both he and Lincoln to be gentlemen and artists of the highest caliber. Needless to say, this Klavier is not the kind of record that he would want to be remembered by.

On this record, in Doug’s defense it’s only fair to point out that he had only dub tapes to work with, which is neither here nor there as these pressings are not worth the dime’s worth of vinyl used to make them.

Can this possibly be the sound that EMI engineer Stuart Eltham was after?

(more…)