Top Studios and Concert Halls – Kingsway Hall

Bizet / Carmen Fantaisie on Speakers Corner Vinyl

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

More Performances by Ruggiero Ricci

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Sonic Grade: C

Speakers Corner remastered this title back in the ’90s and did a decent enough job. I would guess my grade would be about a “C.” We carried it and recommended it at the time. I doubt if I would have very many kind things to say about it now. We’ve played an enormous number of superb classical records in the last ten years or so, raising the bar dramatically higher than it used to be.

To illustrate what we don’t like about these Heavy Vinyl pressings, even when they’re good, we have reproduced our review for the Speakers Corner pressing of The Tale of the Tsar Saltan which we played in a recent shootout against the vintage Londons we had on hand.

We cracked open the Speakers Corner pressing in order to see how it would fare up against our wonderful sounding Londons. Here’s what we heard in our head to head comparison.

The soundstage, never much of a concern to us at here at Better Records but nevertheless instructive in this case, shrinks roughly 25% with the new pressing; depth and ambience are reduced about the same amount. Similar and even more problematical losses can be heard in the area of top end extension. But what really bothered me was this: The sound was just so VAGUE.

There was a cloud of musical instruments, some here, some there, but they were very hard to SEE. On the Londons we played they were clear. You could point to each and every one. On this pressing it was impossible.

Case in point: the snare drum, which on this recording is located toward the back of the stage, roughly halfway between dead center and the far left of the hall. As soon as I heard it on the reissue I recognized how blurry and smeary it was relative to the clarity and immediacy it had on the earlier London pressings. I’m not sure how else to describe it – diffuse, washed out, veiled. It’s just vague.

This particular Heavy Vinyl reissue is more or less tonally correct, which is not something you can say about many reissues these days. In that respect it’s tolerable and even enjoyable. I guess for thirty bucks that’s about the most you can hope for.

But… when I hear this kind of sound only one word comes to mind, a terrible word, a word that makes us recoil in shock and horror. That word is DUB. This reissue is made from copy tapes.

Copies in analog or copies in digital, who is to say, but it sure ain’t the master tape we’re hearing, of that we can be fairly certain. How else to explain such mediocrity of sound?

Yes, the cutting systems being used to master these vintage recordings aren’t very good; that seems safe to say. Are the tapes too old and worn? Is the vinyl of today simply not capable of storing the kind of magical sound we find so often in pressings from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s?

To all these questions and more we have but one answer: we don’t know. We know we don’t like the sound of very many of these modern reissues and I guess that’s probably all that we need to know about them. If someone ever figures out how to make a good sounding modern reissue we’ll ask them how they did it. Until then it seems the question is moot.

Back in 2011 we stopped carrying Heavy Vinyl and other Audiophile LPs of all kinds. So many of them don’t even sound this good, and this sound bores us to tears. (more…)

Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio

Our Stereo

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, nothing added, nothing taken away.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record.

We don’t want to do what some audiophiles prefer to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi,” not “Hi-Fi,” and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, slower and tubier, a vintage Living Stereo record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable.

But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary: (more…)

Was It Even Possible for Harry Pearson to Create a Meaningful Super Disc List?

A customer brought up Harry Pearson in a discussion we were having about the best sounding records, to wit:

You’re as much a pioneer as Harry Pearson ever was, and your authenticity is unchallengeable…

Even I wouldn’t go that far! We make plenty of mistakes, and we learn new things about records all the time, so calling us “unchallengable” is way off the mark. However, we are always up for the challenge, and are happy to put our records up against any and all comers.

As far as Harry Pearson, I had this to say about the man:

Very kind of you to say. I think Harry could have been much better at his job if he had modern record cleaning technology, better playback, and a staff of people playing thousands of records every year to discover the best sounding pressings for him.

No one can succeed as a one man show in audio. Audio is too complicated. It takes a team of dedicated professionals with expertise in every area of audio and record collecting to do it right.

He never understood stampers and the like because he didn’t have the research staff to get the data he would have needed to find the stamper patterns.

He was stuck at the level of labels, and also not nearly skeptical enough of the idea that “the original is better,” a myth audiophiles cling to to this very day. That, and the superiority of the Heavy Vinyl remaster, which we both know is a crock of sh*t. (more…)

Elgar / Enigma Variations in Living Stereo – Sometimes Tubey Magic Comes at a Price

Living Stereo Orchestral Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

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This famous Shaded Dog, containing two superb performances by Monteux and the LSO, has many of the Golden Age strengths and weaknesses we know well here at Better Records, having played literally hundreds upon hundreds of these vintage pressings over the last twenty years or so. 

The wonderful sounding tube compressors that were used back in the day result in quieter passages that are positively swimming in ambience and low-level orchestral detail. Tube compression is often a large part of what we mean when we use the term Tubey Magic.

If you want to know what Zero Tubey Magic sounds like, play some Telarcs or Reference Recordings from the ’70s and ’80s. Or a modern digital recording on CD.

But all that sweet and rich Tubey Magic comes at a price when it’s time for the orchestra to get loud. It either can’t, or the louder passages simply distort from compressor overload. Fortunately on this copy the orchestra does not distort, it simply never gets as loud as it would in a real concert hall, clearly the lesser and more preferable of the two evils. (more…)

Debussy / Prelude & Ravel / Rapsodie / Monteux

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  • With two Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sides, this original stereo copy of CS 6248 is hard to beat
  • This copy is HUGE, rich, clear, dynamic, with exceptionally three-dimensional hall space (the snare is WAY back there)
  • Superb 1961 All Tube recordings of groundbreaking masterpieces by Debussy and Ravel
  • The exceptionally natural recording Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun lets you appreciate the wonder of the piece

Transparent and spacious, wide and naturally staged, clean yet rich, with zero coloration, there is nothing here to fault. Nearly Triple Plus all the way. So relaxed and natural you will soon find yourself lost in the music. (more…)

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

More Ted Heath

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The Highest Fidelity Recordings Are Truly Amazing If You Can Play Them Right

That’s a big if. It’s in fact the biggest if in all of audio.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the one you see pictured above? The timbre of the instruments is Hi-Fi in the best sense of the word. The unique sound of every instrument is reproduced with remarkable fidelity. That’s what we at Better Records mean by “Hi-Fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS Sound that passes for Hi-Fidelity these days. There’s no boosted top, there’s no bloated bottom, there’s no sucked-out midrange. This is Hi-Fidelity for those who recognize The Real Thing when they hear it.

Tubey Magic

The best copies of Swings in High Stereo have a lot in common with the other Decca and Living Stereo titles we’ve listed over the years, albums by the likes of Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Dick Schory, Edmundo Ros, Prez Prado and a handful of others. Talk about making your speakers disappear, these records will do it!

An album like this is all about Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation. For us audiophiles both the sound and the music here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1958 All Tube Analog sound can be, a killer Hot Stamper copy may be just the record for you.

The best copies are super 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. Someday there may well be a CD of this album, but those of us in possession of a working turntable could care less.

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.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, nothing added, and nothing taken away.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record. We don’t want to do what some audiophiles like to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi”, not “Hi-Fi”, and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, slower and tubier, this record would not sound as good as it does. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable. But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary: (more…)

Overture! Overture! / Agoult on Decca Engineered Living Stereo

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

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This is a Minty looking Shaded Dog RCA Living Stereo LP with Very Little Sign of Play (VLSOP). The record plays about Mint Minus, very quiet for these old Shaded Dogs. Although this is not the best copy we’ve ever played, on this copy you still get some of the most beautiful string tone you’ve ever heard, courtesy of the Decca engineers who recorded this music. The performances of these shorter, lighter, more entertaining pieces are excellent as well, some of the best we’ve come across.

“Raymond Agoult conducts the New Symphony Orchestra of London performing selections by: von Suppé, Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold, Adolphe Charles Adam, and Daniel François Espirt Auber. Glorious Kingsway Hall recording.” (more…)

Shostakovich – Symphony No.1 / The Age Of Gold Ballet Suite / Martinon

More of the music of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • The Symphony No. 1 concludes for about the first inch on side two and is excellent as well, with many of the same attributes, as rightly befits a true Golden Age Classic from 1959
  • Recorded in Kingsway Hall with the London Symphony, this Decca licensed title has orchestral sound to rival the best you’ve heard
  • “This is an example of what art as recorded sound should strive to be. A triumph for all participants.”

The second picture you see is the original Living Stereo release.

Our Story

The first copy of the album I got my hands on and needle-dropped blew me away with its big, open, clear, solid orchestral sound. Close to three years later, when we had enough copies to do this shootout, sure enough it won. That rarely happens — in a big pile of records there’s almost always something better than whatever we’ve heard — but it happened this time.

Imagine if I had played one of the bad sounding or noisy ones to start with. It’s unlikely I would have been motivated to pursue the title and consequently the shootout we just did would have never happened. Lucky for us all that that first copy was so good.

These sides are “real” sounding, with a clean bottom and clean lower mids. Little to no smear. The sound is full-bodied and rich, yet clear and clean, and spread out on a huge stage – it’s yet another example of proper Orchestral Reproduction.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage.  (more…)

One of Our Favorite Engineers – Kenneth Wilkinson

Hot Stamper Pressings of Recordings by Kenneth Wilkinson

Reviews and Commentaries for the Recordings of Kenneth Wilkinson

More of Our Favorite Engineers

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KENNETH WILKINSON is one of our favorite engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Kenneth Wilkinson engineered albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries. 

Recordings made in Kingsway Hall

The Insufficiently Dedicated Will Struggle Mightily with The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

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An orchestral dreadnought such as this requires mastering and pressing of the highest quality.

Herrmann’s music taxes the limits of LP playback itself, with deep organ notes (listen for the famous Decca rumble accompanying the organ if you have the deep bass reproduction to hear it); incredible dynamics from every area of the stage; masses of strings playing at the top of their registers with abandon; huge drums; powerful brass effects everywhere — every sound an orchestra can produce is found on this record, and then some.

You will hear plenty of sounds that defy description, that’s for sure. Some of the time I can’t even imagine what instrument could possibly make such a sound!

Your Hard Work Pays Off

A recording of this size and scope will bring virtually any stereo system to its knees. This is the real Power Of The Orchestra! You had better have a top quality front end if you want to play this record properly, not to mention plenty of power and big speakers.

This is not the record for the Weekend Budget Audiophile. If you haven’t put in the years of effort and invested the tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and room treatments it takes to play records of this difficulty, your system is probably not up to the challenge this album represents.

If on the other hand, you have done the work and spent the money, this is the album that will show you what you have achieved. (more…)