Top Studios and Concert Halls – Kingsway Hall

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.

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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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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Mussorgsky – An Exceptionally Natural Piano Recording

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Mussorgsky

This original London pressing of the solo piano version of Pictures has uncannily natural piano reproduction, which is why we are awarding this side one our highest sonic grade, A Triple Plus.

The fact that the recording takes place in Kingsway Hall in 1967 no doubt plays a large part in the natural sound. The hall is bigger here than on other copies, the piano even more solidly weighted, yet none of this comes at the expense of the clarity of the playing.

The piano has no smear, allowing both the percussive aspects of the instrument and the extended harmonics of the notes to be heard clearly and appreciated fully.

Pianos are very good for testing your system, room, tweaks, electricity and all the rest, not to mention turntable setup and adjustment. More records that are good for testing and improving your playback can be found here.


Side two has Mehta’s performance of the orchestrated work squeezed onto side two, which is never a good idea if one is looking for high quality orchestral sound. The performance itself is mediocre as well.

We are not, and never have been, big fans of Mehta’s work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on London Records.

The exceptionally rare copy of Mehta’s Planets can sound good, but 90% of them do not — just don’t make the mistake of telling that to the average audiophile who owns one. Harry told him it was the best, he paid good money for it, and until someone tells him different it had better be “the one Planets to own.”

We see one of our roles here at Better Records as being the guys who actually will “tell you different,” and, more importantly, can back up our opinions with the records that make our case for us. (more…)

Ted Heath / Shall We Dance

More Ted Heath

More Big Band Jazz Recordings

  • This original London pressing boasts outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades from first note to last – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Both of these sides are huge, rich, weighty and dynamic like few records you have ever heard – it sets the Gold Standard for Tubey Magical Big Band sound
  • It’s simply bigger, more transparent, less distorted, more three-dimensional and more REAL than much of what we played
  • Credit Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson, and the Decca “Tree” microphone setup as the three elements used to create the magic in these grooves

Years ago we wrote in another listing, “We had a copy of Heath’s Shall We Dance not long ago that had some of the biggest, richest, most powerful sound I have ever heard. Watch for Hot Stampers coming to the site soon.” Well, now they’re here, and this copy fulfills the promise of the album better than most others we played in our recent Shootout.

DEMO DISC SOUND barely begins to do this one justice. This is Audiophile Quality Big Band sound to beat them all. The American big bands rarely got the kind of sound that the Decca engineers were able to achieve on records like this. For one thing they didn’t have Kingsway HallKenneth Wilkinson or the Decca “Tree” microphone setup.

Unlike some of the American big band leaders who were well past their prime by the advent of the two-channel era, Heath is able to play with all the energy and verve required for this style of music. He really does “swing in high stereo” on these big band dance tunes.

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Ravel, Saint-Saens et al. / Tzigane, Havanaise / Kyung-Wha Chung

Hot Stamper Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

More Top Quality Violin Recordings

This 1979 London original English pressing of violin showpieces (reviewed in 2012) has Super Hot Stamper sound on side two, which came as a bit of a shock to us after playing side one, which is as congested and opaque as one would expect from such a late London recording.

A great many Decca recordings from the Seventies are not to our liking, for reasons we lay out here.

Side two is fabulous — full-bodied, rich and sweet. Even though it may have been recorded in 1977, the engineer is Kenneth Wilkinson, and the hall is Kingsway — not many bad recordings can be attributed to either.    

But bad mastering or bad pressing quality are surely not the fault of either. When the record doesn’t come out of the oven right, the sound is going to suffer, and the sound on this side one is insufferable all right.

But side two is GLORIOUS; it has wonderful music played with skill and feeling. (more…)

The Biggest “If” in All of Audio

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The best of the best 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.

But that is not our story for today. Our story today concerns the relationship between more accurate timbre and higher fidelity.

What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc 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 being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile 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 heard on practically every record they released:

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

Nowadays that kind of low fidelity sound is no longer in vogue.

A new, equally low fidelity sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played in recent years, is a very different sound from that described above, with a different but no less irritating suite of shortcomings.

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

Such are the current hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, Analogue Productions or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had a problem we heard in practically every infuriatingly unbalanced 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.

(The exception: Bernie Grundman. Bernie cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose a different path, but his path turned out to be every bid as problematical. And Mobile Fidelity no longer makes bright records with ill-defined, bloated bass. Now they make overly smooth records with ill-defined, bloated bass.)

Are the audiophiles buying these new, unnaturally smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are. Everybody else is getting taken to the cleaners. Ripped off. Sold a bill of goods. Etc. Etc. (There are scores of terms for this activity because there have always been companies and individuals who were happy to take your money in exchange for something of low quality dressed up in fancy packaging.)

The First Thing

As we have been saying for years, to get anywhere in this hobby, the first thing you need is reasonably good stereo sound.

Then you can buy records that actually have the potential to be good records. Records with higher fidelity. Records that are tonally correct.

If you’re buying these modern heavy vinyl pressings, what are you going to do with them when you finally get around to making your stereo reproduce music properly and can hear how second- and third-rate they are?

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality shortcomings of these modern remastered records?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary for the answer. (more…)

Mendelssohn and Bruch / Violin Concertos / Ricci

More of the music of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

  • With two outstanding sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto sound as good as it does here, and the Bruch Concerto on the second side is every bit as good
  • The glorious sound of these truly great 1958 All Tube “Decca Tree” recordings from Kingsway Hall is faithfully captured in all its beauty on this disc, and once the needle hits the groove it won’t take you long to hear it
  • 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
  • With sonic grades like these, you can be sure this pressing will be competitive with nearly all comers, including the performances by Heifetz, Rybar, and others that have impressed in the past
  • The violin is so sweet and present, so rich, natural and real, you will forget you’re listening to a record at all

This is one of the ALL TIME GREAT violin concerto records. In Ruggiero Ricci’s hands both works are nothing short of magical. If you want to know why people drool over Golden Age recordings, listen to the violin. Take care, when you hear it you may find yourself drooling too.

The staging of the orchestra and violin is exactly the way we want to hear it in our heads. Whether it would really sound this way in a concert hall is impossible to say — concert halls all sound different — but the skill and the emotion of the playing is communicated beautifully on this LP. This is a sweetheart of a record, full of the Tubey Magic for which London recordings are justly famous.

As we noted above, engineering took place 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.

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Herrmann – The Fantasy Film World of Bernard Herrmann

More Bernard Herrmann

Bernard Herrmann Records We’ve Reviewed

  • This early British London pressing offers superb Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides, giving you plenty of blockbuster sound for those who can play a record like this good and loud
  • On the best copies, you will hear the power of the orchestra come to life right in your very own listening room
  • The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of wall to wall and floor to ceiling spaciousness that may just leave you in awe
  • A superb Phase 4 recording by Arthur Lilley, taking advantage of the legendary acoustics of Kingsway Hall
  • If like us you’re a fan of Blockbuster Orchestral Recordings, this is a killer album from 1974 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1974 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

The soundfield is big, open and transparent, with the kind of three-dimensionality most orchestral recordings simply fail to reproduce. The brass here is weighty and powerful, and you can really hear the pluck of the strings on the harp.

Harry Pearson put the Decca pressing of this title on his TAS List of Super Discs. (We take issue with that choice below.) (more…)

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
  • 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 — the sound is compressed and bass-shy

(more…)