Top Studios and Concert Halls

Rimsky-Korsakov – Christmas Eve Suite / Ansermet

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

More music conduced by Ernest Ansermet

  • An early pressing of Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations that was giving us the rich and Tubey Magical London / Decca sound we were looking for, with an INCREDIBLE Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two
  • 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
  • These sides are clear, full-bodied and present, with plenty of space around the players, the unmistakable sonic hallmark of the properly mastered, properly pressed vintage analog LP
  • The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds are superb, making this a very special copy indeed

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from May 1957 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Orchestre de la 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 your decision to rid yourself of their insufferable mediocrity.)

The Christmas Eve suite takes up the entire first side, with three shorter pieces comprising the second. Rimsky-Korsakov’s exotic orchestrations, much like those found on his wonderful Scheherazade and The Tale of the Tsar Saltan, are pure audiophile ear candy from first note to last.

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Rimsky-Korsakov / The Tale of Tsar Saltan / Ansermet

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

More Classical and Orchestral Recordings

  • This London Whiteback stereo pressing boasts big, bold, dynamic Tubey Magical 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
  • No question this is a Demo Disc Quality recording – it’s rich and real, with huge WHOMP factor down low, as well as clear, uncolored brass and robust lower strings
  • 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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Herrmann – This Is What We Call Blockbuster Sound

More of the Music of Bernard Herrmann

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Bernard Herrmann

This is an outstanding recording, with a huge three-dimensional stage. It’s open and clear, with an extended top and plenty going on down low. The sound on the best pressings is nothing short of amazing.

This is Demo Disc quality sound by any measure, especially on Big Speakers at Loud Levels.

If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this killer album from 1975 belongs in your collection.

Side one boasts some wonderful material from Mysterious Island and Jason and the Argonauts. Who else but Herrmann could have orchestrated such phantasmagorical goings on?

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver Suite takes up all of side two. The complete score from which the suite is taken can be found on the original Herrmann album The Three Worlds of Gulliver, a long-time and extremely rare member of the TAS Super Disc List.

Borrowing from the Best

One reason this music is so wonderful is because it’s been more or less lifted from, and orchestrated exactly like, Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan.

Herrmann was no doubt familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s work, and knew that his “sound” was exactly the one that would work for the film. He overlayed his own compositional style onto Rimsky-Korsakov’s, and the result is a soundtrack of breathtaking beauty, full of exotic instrumental colors and delicious audiophile-candy percussion.

This Orchestral Spectacular should have a place of honor in any audiophile’s Classical Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.

Elton John / Honky Chateau – A Must Own Classic

More Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

  • This vintage UK import pressing boasts superb Tubey Magical British Rock sound, with excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • A monster Demo Disc – the bottom end is huge, the top is open and extended, and the overall tonality rich and balanced
  • An amazing recording and a founding member of our Top 100 – it’s a shame we rarely find them with sound this good and audiophile quality surfaces (DJM see-through vinyl being what it is)
  • 5 stars: “The most focused and accomplished set of songs Elton John and Bernie Taupin ever wrote.”

If you doubt that Elton John was an unusually gifted Pop Music Genius for much of the ’70s, just play this record. These eleven tracks should serve as all the proof you could possibly need. There’s not a dog in the bunch, and most of these songs are positively brilliant. Drop the needle on any track, you simply can’t go wrong.

Honky Chateau has to be one of the best sounding rock records of all time — certainly worthy of a prized spot on our Rock and Pop Top 100 List. It’s a shining example of just how good High-Production-Value rock music of the ’70s can be.

The amount of effort that went into the recording of Honky Chateau is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list. It seems that no effort or cost was spared in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted.

The sides that had sound that jumped out of the speakers, with driving rhythmic energy, worked the best for us. They really brought this music to life and allowed us to make sense of it. This is yet another definition of a Hot Stamper — it’s the copy that lets the music work as music.

Big Production Tubey Magical British Rock just does not get much better than Honky Chateau. (more…)

Debussy – La Mer / Ansermet

More of the music of Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

More music conducted by Ernest Ansermet

  • A vintage Decca import pressing of these wonderful orchestral pieces that was doing just about everything right, with both sides earning seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades
  • La Mer is on side one and it is lovely – rich and sweet, tonally correct, dynamic, and extended on the top and the bottom
  • Two other major works found on this compilation are Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun and Clair De Lune
  • The richness of the strings is displayed here beautifully for fans of the classical Golden Age – it’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years
  •  When you hear how good this record sounds, you may have a hard time believing that it’s a budget reissue from 1972, but that’s precisely what it is. Even more extraordinary, the right copies are the ones that win shootouts
  • There are about 100 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly deserve a place on that list.

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Our System Just Loves Certain Records – Why Do You Suppose That Is?

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The highest fidelity vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

Be that as it may. What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that phony sound is no longer in vogue. A new, but equally phony sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played over the last few years, is a very different sound, with a very different suite of shortcomings.

These newer records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and lacking in ambience.

These are currently the hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, AP or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had an infuriating tonal balance problem we noted in practically every record we played — sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(Bernie Grundman cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose to go a different way, but his way turned out to be every bit as problematical.)

Are the audiophiles who buy these new, super-smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are.

As we have been saying for years, first you need to have reasonably good sound. Then you can buy records that actually are good.

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality issues of these modern remasterings?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary.

The Ideal System for an Exceptionally Well Recorded Album

It’s clear our stereo loves this record. Let’s talk about why that might be the case.

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Beethoven / Symphony No. 9 / Ansermet

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

Decca and London Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

  • An early London pressing of this definitive performance by Ansermet and the Suisse Romande that was doing just about everything right, earning excellent Double Plus (A++) grades on both sides
  • 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 sound here is wonderfully rich, lively and musical yet still clear and spacious, making this a Must Own pressing of Beethoven’s 9th – you will be hard pressed to find any other in its league (a subject we discuss in the listing below)
  • “…the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande play very well, facing every challenge with musical integrity that reveals to the listener that emotional engagement with the score is far more meaningful than virtuosity for its own sake.”

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Billie Holiday – Lady In Satin

More Billie Holiday

More Pop and Jazz Vocal Albums

  • A stunning Columbia Red Label pressing with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side one mated to an excellent Double Plus (A++) side two – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Dramatically richer, fuller and more Tubey Magical than all of the other copies we played, with breathy vocals and rosiny, fairly smooth strings
  • There may be amazingly good sounding original pressings, as amazingly good as this one, but we’ve never run into one and we have our doubts about the existence of such a magical LP – where could they all be hiding?
  • “I’m a Fool to Want You” on this very copy may just send chills racing up and down your spine
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Lady Day herself said that this session was her personal favorite.”
  • Reviews and commentaries for some of the amazing music recorded in the 30th Street Studios
  • If you’re a fan of Lady Day, this Columbia recording from 1958 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1958 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

On the better copies both the sound and music are absolutely breathtaking. They reproduce clearly what, to our minds, are the three most important elements in the recording — strings, rhythm, and vocal — and, more importantly, the are reproduced properly balanced with one another.

The monos, as you might expect, balance the three elements well enough, but the problem with mono is that the vocals and instruments are jammed together in the center of the soundfield, layered atop one another. Real clarity, the kind that live music has in abundance, is difficult if not impossible under the circumstances. Only the stereo pressings provide the space that each of the elements need in order to be heard.

Naturally, the vocals have to be the main focus on a Billie Holiday record. They should be rich and tubey, yet clear, breathy and transparent. To qualify as a Hot Stamper, the pressings we offer must be highly resolving. You will hear everything, surrounded by the natural space of the legendary Columbia 30th Street Studio in which the recording was made.

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Ravel / Daphnis et Chloé / Monteux

More of the music of Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)

  • A vintage UK Decca pressing of Ravel’s complete Masterpiece that was doing everything right, earning INSANELY GOOD Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades throughout
  • The sound is big and rich, lively and open, with TONS of depth and huge climaxes that hold together
  • The voices in the chorus are clear, natural, separate and full-bodied — this is the hallmark of a vintage Golden Age recording: naturalness
  • We know of no other recording of the work that does as good a job of capturing such a large orchestra and chorus
  • Of course, Monteux is a master of the French idiom — his performance of the complete ballet here is definitive in our opinion
  • There are about 150 orchestral recordings we’ve awarded the honor of offering the Best Performances with the Highest Quality Sound, and this record certainly has earned a place on that list.

Both sides here are BIG, with the space and depth of the wonderful Kingsway Hall that the LSO perform in. John Culshaw produced the album, which surely accounts for the huge size and space, not to mention quality, of the recording. The sound is dynamic and tonally correct throughout.

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Charles Mingus – Mingus Dynasty

More Charles Mingus

More Jazz Recordings

  • An original 6-Eye Stereo copy with superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides
  • This pressing is rich and tubey, yet still clear and spacious, with a notably solid and articulate bottom end that does a superb job of captureing the beauty of Mingus’s double bass
  • Bucketfuls of studio ambience, and Tubey Magic to die for – this 30th Street recording shows just how good Columbia’s engineers were back then
  • Be careful though – a record with this kind of sound will make all your Heavy Vinyl pressing sound as washed out, lifeless and veiled as we know them to be, news that may come as quite a shock
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Mingus Dynasty is still an excellent album; in fact, it’s a testament to just how high a level Mingus was working on that an album of this caliber could have gotten lost in the shuffle.”
  • If you’re a fan of jazz from the Golden Age of the ’50s and ’60s, this Columbia from 1960 undoubtedly belongs in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1960 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is a wonderful example of the kind of record that makes record collecting FUN.

If innovative Large Group Jazz is your thing, you should get a big kick out of this one. If you like the sound of relaxed, tube-mastered jazz — and what red blooded audiophile doesn’t? — you can’t do much better than the Mingus recordings on Columbia from this era. (We’ve now done shootouts for the album before this one and the one to follow. Both are amazing, musically and sonically.) The warmth and immediacy of the sound here are guaranteed to blow practically any record of this kind you own right out of the water.

Both sides of this very special pressing are huge, rich, tubey and clear. As soon as the band got going we knew that this was absolutely the right sound for this music. 

Amazing Tubey Magic

For we audiophiles, both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1960 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy should be just the record for you.

It’s spacious, sweet and positively dripping with ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound here is positively uncanny. This is vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it.

This is the sound of Tubey Magic. No recordings will ever be made like this again, and no CD will ever capture what is in the grooves of this record. There is of course a CD of the album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

We played a handful of later pressings that didn’t really do it for us. They offer improved clarity, but can’t deliver the tubey goodness that you’ll hear on the best early pressings. We won’t be bothering with them anymore. It’s tubes or nothing on this album.

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