Top Studios and Concert Halls

Miles Davis – Porgy and Bess on the Six Eye Label

More Vintage Columbia Pressings

More Miles Davis / More Gil Evans

  • Insanely good sound on both sides of this original Columbia Six-Eye pressing with each earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades
  • Both sides are full of that old-school Columbia jazz Tubey Magic – the brass is full-bodied with lots of air, the bass is surprisingly well-defined, the top end is extended and sweet, and the soundfield is HUGE and three-dimensional
  • 5 stars: “It was Evans’ intimate knowledge of the composition as well as the performer that allowed him to so definitively capture the essence of both… No observation or collection of American jazz can be deemed complete without this recording.”
  • Teo Macero was the producer, Fred Plaut the engineer for these sessions in Columbia’s glorious sounding 30th Street Studio.
  • It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.
  • If you’re a fan of the marvelous collaborations of Davis and Evans circa 1959, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this album belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1959 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Elton John / Honky Chateau – Salvation Is a Great Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

More Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus. [We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.)

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year [2016] as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the final, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

The Gerry Mulligan Quartet – What Is There To Say?

More Gerry Mulligan

More Recordings on Vintage Columbia Vinyl

  • With superb Double Plus (A++) grades from top to bottom, this early 6-Eye stereo LP is doing just about everything right
  • The sound here is tubier, more transparent, more dynamic, with more of that “jumpin’ out of the speakers” quality that only The Real Thing ever has
  • With explosive dynamics and rich, full-bodied, Tubey Magical sax sound, it’s hard to imagine any reissue, vintage or otherwise, can hold a candle to the sound of this amazing record
  • Recorded at Columbia’s famous 30th Street studios, here is a record that sounds like Kind of Blue, Ah Um and Time Out, for the simple reason that all were recorded in the same studio using the same equipment (and perhaps even the same engineers)
  • 5 stars: “The last of the pianoless quartet albums that Gerry Mulligan recorded in the 1950s is one of the best … every selection is memorable…”

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Mussorgsky / Pictures at an Exhibition (Piano Version) / Ashkenazy

More of the music of Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

  • A superb early London stereo pressing of our favorite solo piano performance of Mussorgsky’s masterful suite, with Double Plus (A++) sound from the first note to the last
  • It also plays a bit quieter than Mint Minus Minus – about as quiet as any copy ever will
  • The weight and warmth of side one’s recording from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this very disc
  • The orchestral performance of the work is squeezed onto the second side of the record, and that is just not going to work with a 30 minute long piece of music unless you like sound that is compressed and bass-shy

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Sibelius – Violin Concerto / Ricci – Fjelstad

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • This Sibelius Violin Concerto has top sonics and a performance to match
  • It’s some of the best sound we have ever heard for the work, right up there with our longtime favorite, the Heifetz on Living Stereo (LSC 2435)
  • One of the truly great 1958 All Tube recordings from Kingsway Hall, captured faithfully in all its beauty by Alan Reeve & Gordon Parry on this very disc
  • “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.”
  • If you’re a fan of Ricci’s (as are we), this is a Must Own from 1958 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The best Shaded Dog pressings of the Heifetz performance on RCA (LSC 2435) are the equal of this London. RCA presents the violin more immediately in the soundfield. Decca’s engineers integrated the violinist into the orchestra, which of course is the way it would be heard in the concert hall. To our ears, both approaches work exceptionally well — when you have at your disposal exceptional pressings of each. We had copies of both that were Hard to Fault, which made for a very enjoyable shootout.

Note that it has been close to ten years since our last big shootout for the work. That’s how long it takes to find enough clean London, Decca and RCA pressings for recordings such as these. Noisy, second-rate copies are everywhere. Top quality early pressings in clean condition come our way less than once a year. There are literally thousands of clean, vintage classical pressing sitting in our stockroom, waiting for a few more copies to come our way so that we can finally do a shootout.

With engineering in the legendary Kingsway Hall, there is a richness to the sound of the strings that is exceptional, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl). It 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.

It’s also 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 timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record any better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the resolving power, clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. They cannot 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 your decision to rid yourself of their unforgiveable mediocrity.)

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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…)

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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Billie Holiday / Lady In Satin – On Classic Records

More of the Music of Billie Holiday

Hot Stamper Pressings of Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

It’s been quite a while since I played the Classic Records pressing that came out in 1998, but I remember it as nothing special, tonally correct but with somewhat low-rez vocals and lacking in both space and warmth.

Records made for audiophiles are rarely any good, so rarely in fact that we are positively shocked when such records are even halfway decent. After playing so many bad audiophile records for so many years it’s practically a truism here at Better Records.

A recording like this is the perfect example of why we pay no attention whatsoever to the bona fides of the disc, but instead make our judgments strictly on the merits of the record spinning on the table. The listener normally does not even know the label of the pressing he is reviewing. It could be a Six Eye original, the 360 reissue, or even a (gasp!) ’70s-era LP.

We don’t care what the label is. What does that have to do with anything? We’re looking for the best sound. We don’t play labels, we play unique pressings of the album.  We assume that every pressing sounds different from every other pressing. Our job is to figure out what each of them is doing right and wrong. 

We mix up all our copies and play them one after another until we come across the best sounding one.

This approach has opened up a world of sound that most audiophiles — at least the ones who buy into the hype associated with the typical audiophile pressing — will never be able to experience.

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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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Respighi / Pines & Fountains Of Rome / Ansermet

Click Here to See Our Favorite Pines of Rome

More Reviews and Commentaries for The Pines of Rome

This review was written at least ten years ago. Since then we have done extensive shootouts for both The Pines and The Fountains of Rome.

The London with Ernst Ansermet you see pictured, though good, did not make the cut and no Hot Stamper pressings — correction, no Hot Stamper pressings hot enough to offer our customers — were found of this recording from 1964.

Here is our old review. Needless to say, we have learned a lot since then.

EXCELLENT SOUND! Not a Demo Disc by any means, but a well-recorded, well-mastered Pines.

The problem with Pines is normally too much close miking. This London places the orchestra in a more natural perspective, which I much prefer.

Side two, the Pines, also has the best sound. 

Overview of the Works

Reviewing the Pines with Kempe on Readers Digest vinyl, we noted that our shootout from a few years back has been at least thirty years in the making — that’s how long I have been picking up the RDG sets, ever since my friend Robert Pincus turned me on to them all those years ago.

Around 2016 we surveyed the recordings of the work we had on hand, close to a dozen different performances I  think, and found them all wanting, save three: the Reiner (which is still on the TAS List), the Reader’s Digest pressing with Kempe (our second favorite, and a fairly close second at that), and a London with Kertesz.

If a particular performance had any distortion or limitation problems in the higher frequencies, it was quickly rejected out of hand. Same with a lack of low end whomp and weight. On The Pines both are crucial.

No other pieces of music of which we are aware have so much going on up high and down low. This narrowed the field of potential Hot Stampers considerably. Great performances by top conductors could not get over these hurdles — high and low — time and time again.

For these reasons, it took us years to find the right recordings. We knew the Reiner would be hard to beat, but we kept trying record after record hoping that we could find one to wrest the crown away from what is widely considered the greatest recording of the works ever made.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Wilkinson working with his Decca colleagues nailed it — in 1964!

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud — and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it — the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.

All three of the finalists could claim enthusiastic performances with powerful energy and top quality orchestral playing.

The best pressings were doing everything right. There was plenty of top end, with virtually no harmonic distortion, and when I say plenty, I mean the right amount. Not many engineers managed to get all the highs correctly onto the tape, but Lewis Layton and Kenneth Wilkinson sure did.

So many recordings had screechy strings and horns. When the music would get loud, and the Pines gets very loud indeed, assuming the recording will let it, the sound would become unbearably harsh and unpleasant. This is the opposite of what should happen, and it was obvious that those recordings would not make it past the first round.


FURTHER READING

More Orchestral Music Conducted by Ernest Ansermet

What to Listen For on Classical Records

Best Orchestral Performances with Top Quality Sound

Well Recorded Classical Albums from The Core Collection Available Now