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Beethoven / Piano Concerto No. 3 – Katchen / Gamba

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

Classical and Orchestral Imports on Decca & London

CS 6096 Blueback LP.  This is one of the RAREST and BEST Londons I have ever heard. I think this is the first copy I ever played and it’s absolutely WONDERFUL. The sound is London at its best.

What’s especially striking is the quality of the piano — it’s absolute perfection. The quiet vinyl actually lets you hear the quietest piano parts clearly, no mean feat when it comes to Golden Age recordings.

I don’t know of a better Beethoven 3rd — this one sets the standard for me.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s and have since turned into a veritable science.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.

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The Doors – Strange Days

More of The Doors

  • This excellent copy of Strange Days boasts Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on both sides
  • An outstanding-sounding pressing of one of the most difficult-to-find records in the world of Hot Stampers
  • Demo Quality sound for so many classics: “When The Music’s Over,” “Moonlight Drive,” “Love Me Two Times,” and more
  • “… if The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club and The Beach Boys had Pet Sounds, then The Doors’ answer was Strange Days. This experimentation can be heard in the very first notes of the title track, as Ray Manzarek’s spacey keyboards set the tone for Morrison’s eerie, distorted warning, ‘Strange days have found us.’ It’s the perfect introduction to a perfectly strange album.”
  • If you’re a fan of The Doors, this early pressing from 1967 surely belong in your collection
  • The complete list of titles from 1967 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1967 Tubey Analog sound can be, this copy will can do just that.

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 anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve it. (more…)

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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Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh

More Sly and the Family Stone

More Soul, Blues, and R&B

  • A Fresh like you’ve never heard, with KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or close to them throughout this early Epic pressing
  • The sound is punchy and full-bodied with excellent clarity; it’s also smooth in the best tradition of analog from the early ’70s – this is the right sound for the music, no question about it
  • “Jazz legend Miles Davis was so impressed by the song ‘In Time’ from the album that he made his band listen to the track repeatedly for a full 30 minutes.” – Wikipedia
  • 4 stars: “Fresh expands and brightens the slow grooves of There’s a Riot Goin’ On, turning them, for the most part, into friendly, welcoming rhythms.”

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The Beatles – The White Album

More of The Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for The White Album

  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides, this British pressing is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other White Album you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • This copy of the Beatles’ Masterpiece (my personal favorite of all their albums) is going to thrill and delight the lucky person who snags it
  • If you’ve heard the half-speed and Heavy Vinyl versions of The White Album, then you know how riddled they are with unacceptable flaws
  • They are simply not enjoyable on high-quality equipment, unlike this copy, which is guaranteed to be an unalloyed joy to play
  • “If there is still any doubt that Lennon and McCartney are the greatest song writers since Schubert, then next Friday – with the publication of the new Beatles double LP – should surely see the last vestiges of cultural snobbery and bourgeois prejudice swept away in a deluge of joyful music making…” Right On!

Our Hot Stampers have always been a BIG hit with the folks who’ve been lucky enough to snare them. If you’re ready for a High-Quality copy of The White Album that’s sure to massacre all the pressings you’ve heard until now, you should jump right on this bad boy. (more…)

Yes – 90125

More Yes

More Prog Rock

  • An original German Atco import pressing that was doing practically everything right, earning killer Nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) grades from start to finish – just shy of our Shootout Winner
  • Both of these sides are spacious, solid and dynamic with huge bass and analog richness that’s hard to find on this album
  • There’s tons of life and energy here and the vocals sound just right
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these vintage LPs – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A stunning self-reinvention by a band that many had given up for dead, 90125 is the album that introduced a whole new generation of listeners to Yes… there’s nary a duff track on the album.”

I’m pleased to report that we can now add 90125 to our small list of ’80s albums that can sound excellent on the right pressing. Drop the needle on “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and we bet you’ll agree.

So many copies we played were full of that digital grit and grain that we hear on so many records from the era. This one is an entirely different story. It has wonderful analog qualities, with more richness and smoothness than most pressings.

The recording itself is outstanding: punchy and lively with an especially beefy bottom end, the kind a good rock record needs. But you would never know it by playing the average pressing you might pick up for five bucks at your local used record store. The typical copy of this record is pretty average sounding. Let’s face it: Every mastering mistake that CAN be made WILL be made sooner or later with mass-produced vinyl like this.

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Ohm Stereo Imaging Demonstration Record – Potentially Superb Sound

This review is from 2008. If you see one of these in the record bins, pick it up, it won’t cost you much.

This Ohm LP has tracks from some of the world’s finest superdisks such as Flamenco Fever, Hot Stix and For Duke. It also includes various selections from Vanguard. The last copy I played had SUPERB sound.

Note especially the first track on side two performed by the PDQ Bach Ensemble — it’s truly DEMONSTRATION QUALITY. 

The record is pressed on Teldec Virgin Vinyl. The back cover features extensive liner notes, explaining what to listen for on each of these unique selections.

I was heartened to see Gino Vanelli’s name on one of the tracks, taken from Powerful People, a personal favorite of mine.

The album was mastered by none other than Bill Kipper, one of our favorite mastering engineers. We discussed his work in a previous listing:

Think what a different audio world it would be if we still had Bill Kipper with us today, along with the amazingly accurate and resolving cutting system he used at Masterdisk.

As far as we can tell, there are no records being produced today that sound remotely as good as this budget subscription disc.

Furthermore, to my knowledge no record this good has been cut for more than thirty years. The world is awash in mediocre remastered records and we want nothing to do with any of them, not when there are so many good vintage pressings still to be discovered and enjoyed.

The likes of Bill Kipper are no longer with us, but we can be thankful that we still have the records he and so many talented others mastered all those years ago, to enjoy now and for countless years to come.

Keep in mind that it’s all but impossible to wear out a record these days with modern, properly set up equipment, no matter how often you play it.

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Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

More Led Zeppelin

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • Here are the Rock and Roll Classics that reign supreme to this very day – Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, every one sounding better than you’ve ever heard them or your money back
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best, and one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard at.

You’d better be ready to rock, because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud levels, but practically any copy will punish you mercilessly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels.

I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel more than a little disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels many audiophiles prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where exactly is the fidelity?

How on earth is a speaker system like this one going to reproduce the 22 inch (or more!) kick drum of John Bonham?

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Jimmy Buffett – Changes In Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes

More Jimmy Buffett

  • Boasting two excellent Double Plus (A++) sides, we guarantee you’ve never heard Buffet’s 1977 Pop Masterpiece sound this good – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of this wonderful album, a vintage pressing like this one is the way to go
  • 4 stars: “…one reason Changes… is his best record yet is simply the sound… The main reason it’s Buffett’s best is the songs, most of which he wrote. Buffett has always been a good songwriter when he had the time to apply himself, and he’s been developing a persona that reaches its culmination here.”

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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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