compression-tradeoffs

Tchaikovsky / Excerpts from The Nutcracker

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

[This review is from many years ago. I cannot say we would still feel the same way about the reissue reviewed here.]

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Side One

A++, Super Hot! The quieter passages have some of the richest, sweetest, most Tubey Magical sound you will ever hear in your home. There is not a trace of phony sound anywhere to be found, and the most pronounced effect it has on the listener is to make him relax and forget entirely about the sound. With this record the music is all.

The hall is huge with space around all the instruments.

Listen to how breathy the flutes are. This of course is a result of the judicious use of compression. The loudest string passages can get congested, another result of the use of compression (unavoidable in classical recordings), so we are holding the grade at A++.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, and some of the best sound we heard all day in our shootout! Every bit as rich and full-bodied as side one, but with less compression this side is more dynamic and exciting than any other that we played. A little dark, but that prevents the strings from becoming strident when loud.

The clarinet is especially musical on this recording. What a record!

Reissues Vs Originals

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including, but not limited to, the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

In a somewhat (but not too) surprising turn of events, the reissue pressing we are offering here beat all the originals and early reissues we could throw at it. Finally, this legendary Mohr/Layton production can be heard in its full glory!

If you like your Nutcracker exciting and dynamic, this is the copy for you.

Don’t buy into that record collecting / audiophile canard that the originals are better.

We like our recordings to have as many Live Music qualities as possible, and those qualities really come through on a record such as this when reproduced on the full-range speaker system we use.

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Ballet Music From The Opera – How Much Tubey Magic Is Too Much?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

More on the Subject of Tubes in Audio

The hall is HUGE — so transparent, spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA.

(EMI recordings may be super spacious but much of that space is weird, coming from out-of-phase back channels folded in to the stereo mix. And often so mid-hall and distant. Not our sound, sorry.)

We strongly believe that there will never be a modern reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found on the best of these Living Stereo original pressings.

Here are some of the strengths and weaknesses we noted on a copy we played way back when.

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. 

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

Plenty of the records we audition suffer from Bad Tube Mastering, a quality we have no trouble recognizing and criticize at length all over this very blog.

In that respect we have little in common with the True Believers who seem to want to defend analog regardless of its shortcomings.

We don’t hesitate to criticize new records that have bad sound as well as old records that have bad sound.

Bad sound is bad sound no matter when the record was pressed.

Too Many Tubes?

With too many tubes in the mastering chain, you end up with mud pies, and nobody, outside of this guy and the customers who buy his wares, wants those.

But is it just a matter of having too many tubes in the mastering chain?

If it is, then how to explain the awful sound of this Analogue Productions reissue, which was mastered using no tubes whatsoever (we suspect)?

Or this one?

Did Kevin Gray screw up, or does Chad just like murky sounding records?

Hey, why not crowdsource the answer? Please go to your favorite audiophile forum and start a thread with that question. Once you have done so, please send a link to: tom@better-records.com

Ravel, Falla – Alborado…, Bolero, more – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

Side two here has a SUPERB sounding Bolero, and an EVEN BETTER Alborado del Gracioso, possibly the best we have ever heard. Truly A Triple Plus sound.

As you probably know, Bolero is very hard to find on vinyl properly performed with audiophile quality sound. The sound of Bolero here is excellent: very natural, not harsh at the end where the trombones comes in, and not too compressed.

This is probably the biggest problem with most recordings of the work. Compression makes the quieter parts ravishingly open and clear, and positively ruins the climax with distortion caused by compressor overload.

A classic case of compression having sonic tradeoffs.

Alborado… has some of the best sound we have heard on London. It’s spacious, dynamic and clear. With an extended top end, the strings and horns sound harmonically correct. The orchestra from top to bottom is tonally correct as well.

Side One

The material on side one is not quite in the same league as that of side two, earning a grade of A+ for both works. The sound is a bit dry and lean, which means it is very detailed and clear but may not wear well unless your system is very rich and full in the lower mids and below.

My guess is that Old School Vintage Tube Equipment (or the modern equivalent thereof) may be just right for this side.

Either way, no matter what equipment you have, side two should be quite a thrill.

Side One

Weber / Berlioz – Invitation To The Waltz
Falla – The Three Cornered Hat

Side Two

Ravel – Bolero
Ravel – Alborado Del Gracioso

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Rimsky-Korsakov – Compression Works Its Magic Once Again

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

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Rimsky-Korsakov

Some notes about the compression we heard on side two of a Blueback pressing of The Christmas Eve Suite album back in 2012:

Even more transparent and high-rez than side one. The texture on the strings and the breathy quality of the woodwinds make this a very special pressing indeed.

The horns are somewhat smeary and do get a bit congested when loud. There is more compression on this side two than there was on the best copy we played, and that means low level detail is superb, but louder parts, such as when the more powerful brass comes in, can get problematical.

Note how good The Flight of the Bumble Bee sounds here. Compression is helping bring out all the ambience and detail in the recording, and there’s no downside because the orchestra is playing softly, unlike the piece that precedes it.

A classic case of compression having sonic tradeoffs.

Side One

This side one had top end extension, good presence and clarity, all qualities that are often in short supply on old classical pressings such as these.

We were also impressed with the depth of the soundstage and the textured strings. This copy however was not quite as full-bodied and powerful down low as the best we played.

The Original Sexier Cover

Note that the earlier cover has more skin showing, which contradicts the conventional narrative that the ’50s were more prudish than the ’60s.

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Verdi, et al. / Ballet Music From The Opera

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

This Super Rare, Highly Collectible copy of LSC 2400 has vintage RCA Golden Age sound, for better and for worse. Even though the album was recorded by Decca, it’s got a healthy dose of Living Stereo Tubey Magic. There will never be a reissue of this record that even remotely captures the richness of the sound found here.  

And the hall is HUGE — so spacious and three-dimensional it’s almost shocking, especially if you’ve been playing the kind of dry, multi-miked modern recordings that the ’70s ushered in for London and RCA.

Side One

Big and lively. The Tubey Magical colorations are a bit much for us, with too much tube smear on the strings and brass to earn more than a single plus. [Note that we almost never put records with a grade this low on the site these days.]

Side Two

Even bigger and more spacious, with some smear caused by the serious amounts of tube compression being used, of course, but the quiet passages are magical. [Which is precisely what heavy tube compression is designed to accomplish.]

The Victrola Reissue

We much prefer the sound of the Victrola reissue, VICS 1206, which came out in 1966.

As for the Victrola pressing, we’re guessing — how could we possibly know for sure? — that less tube compression was used in the mastering.

It’s still plenty tubey, but more to our taste for not being overly tubey.

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Peter Frampton – Wind of Change

The Music of Peter Frampton Available Now

Peter Frampton Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • Frampton’s solo debut returns, now with Double Plus (A+++) sound on both sides and fairly quiet vinyl for an early UK pressing circa 1972
  • This vintage British pressing is the very definition of TUBEY MAGIC, with sound so rich and sweet it will make you want to take all your CDs and dump them in the trash (now that record stores don’t even want them anymore)
  • The best copies like this one keep what’s good about the recording while letting us hear into the soundfield with glorious transparency
  • 4 stars: “The sound is crisp, the melodies catchy, and Frampton’s distinctive, elliptical Gibson Les Paul guitar leads soar throughout…“

This is some of the best High-Production-Value rock music of the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, Yes, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd, Elton John and 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 best song Peter Frampton ever wrote (and performed) is on this very record, in White Hot Stamper sound no less: All I Wanna Be (Is by Your Side). It has the Tubey Magical sound WE LOVE here at Better Records.

However, the richness that makes British recordings from the era so good can easily go over the edge, turning the sound into a thick, mucky stew in which the individual sonic components become difficult to separate out. Think of the typically dull Who’s Next or early Genesis or Jethro Tull albums and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

Only a select group of pressings are able to strike the right balance between Tubey Magic and clarity. This is one of those.

And as far as we can tell it’s the only version of the album that’s pressed from the master tape. The domestic A&M LPs are clearly made from dubbed tapes. They are as flat, small, smeary, veiled and opaque as any Heavy Vinyl pressing being made today, and we long ago gave up on them (i.e., domestic pressings of this album and Heavy Vinyl in general). (more…)

Strauss / Don Quixote / Reiner on Soria Living Stereo

More of the music of Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)

Richard Strauss Records We’ve Reviewed

6S/ 5S. RCA Soria pressing in like new condition, which means it plays about M–, maybe a little better.

This is the best sounding copy of this album I have ever heard.

Far from the best RCA Living Stereo has to offer, this copy is not nearly as dreadful as I remember the last one sounded.

The quieter passages are especially lovely.

The climaxes are strained as usual but I’ve never heard a copy of this record that didn’t have that problem.

A classic case of compression causing sonic tradeoffs.

The record comes with a gorgeous heavyweight slipcase and the 12-page libretto complete with custom artwork.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of these older reviews are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding the best sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s. We found the records you see in these listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described in the listing and priced according to how good the sound and surfaces seemed to us at the time.

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 then.

Nowadays, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions along with a number of other pressings, awarded sonic grades, then carefully condition checked 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 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, would ever be able to do the kind of work we do.

Every record we offer is unique, and 100% guaranteed to satisfy or your money back.

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Bizet / Carmen for Orchestra / Gould – A Demo Disc for Size and Space

DEMO QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is the three dimensional quality of Living Stereo recordings. Amazing depth and width can be heard on this record. And the music is sublime.

I confess I somewhat misjudged this title. Yes, the opening is compressed, which led me to think that the entire record was compressed, but that’s not true. In some ways it’s quite dynamic. The quiet portions are very quiet; in a couple of places there are just horns playing off in the deep distance, followed by some flutes, and they sound very natural, just as you would hear them in a concert hall.

This record has one quality that sets it apart, and that is a tremendous sense of depth and a wide soundstage. Because so much of the music is quiet, and seems to be coming from so far back in the hall, you really get drawn into it, and lose the sense of being in your own living room. There are a couple of exciting climaxes, but for the most part this is fairly quiet music the way Gould has orchestrated it. I find it enchanting.

This is not the Power of the Orchestra. These are the Colors of the Orchestra.

This 1S copy is the best I’ve heard. This record looks brand new and plays about as good as one would expect from the RCA vinyl of the day, which is slightly ticky. I’ve never heard a quieter copy.


This is an Older Classical/Orchestral Review

Most of these older reviews are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding the best sounding pressings we started developing in the early 2000s. We found the records you see in these listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described in the listing and priced according to how good the sound and surfaces seemed to us at the time.

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 then.

Nowadays, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions along with a number of other pressings, awarded sonic grades, then carefully condition checked 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 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, would ever be able to do the kind of work we do.

Every record we offer is unique, and 100% guaranteed to satisfy or your money back.


New to the Blog? Start Here

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

More Classical and Orchestral Commentaries and Reviews

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

Tchaikovsky / The Nutcracker – Compression Works Its Magic

Reviews and Commentaries for The Nutcracker

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

This RCA reissue pressing of LSC 2328 has some of the BEST SOUND we have ever heard for The Nutcracker, and we’ve played them by the dozens, on the greatest Golden Age labels of all time, including the likes of Mercury, RCA and London.

For our shootout we played Ansermet’s performance of the Suites on London, as well as pressings by Reiner and Fiedler, both of whom opted against using the Suites as Tchaikovsky wrote them, preferring instead to create a shorter version of the complete ballet with excerpts of their own choosing (shown below).

The CSO, as one might expect, plays this work with more precision and control than any other. They also bring more excitement and dynamic contrasts to their performance, adding greatly to our enjoyment of the music.

Side One

A++, Super Hot! The quieter passages have some of the richest, sweetest, most Tubey Magical sound you will ever hear in your home. There is not a trace of phony sound anywhere to be found, and the most pronounced effect it has on the listener is to make him relax and forget entirely about the sound. With this record the music is all.

The hall is huge with space around all the instruments.

Listen to how breathy the flutes are. This of course is a result of the judicious use of compression. The loudest string passages can get congested, another result of the use of compression (unavoidable in classical recordings), so we are holding the grade at A++.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, and some of the best sound we heard all day in our shootout! Every bit as rich and full-bodied as side one, but with less compression this side is more dynamic and exciting than any other that we played. A little dark, but that prevents the strings from becoming strident when loud.

The clarinet is especially musical on this recording. What a record.


Reviews and Commentaries for Music Conducted by Fritz Reiner

Living Stereo Titles Available Now

200+ Reviews of Living Stereo Records

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