Thursday, March 7, 2013

Columbia SAX 2468

SAX 2468

Mozart:  Symphonies No. 38 in D "Prague", No. 39 in E flat

Otto Klemperer, conductor
Philharmonia Orchestra

Pressing:  ER2

Condition:  NM

YAX 539-2
YAX 540-4

Performance:  10/10

Sound:  7/10


Klemperer could do Mozart right.  Tempos are quite perfect, and you get the clean, clear textures that Klemperer is known for, particularly with the wind instruments.  Here he does the "Prague" symphony (No. 38) and Symphony No. 39.  I'm pretty content with this late red label pressing, which plays cleanly without fault and delivers the music very well.  I'd be willing to say that it probably sounds as good as a first pressing, but I haven't done the comparison.  Production quality is, as with all the Columbia SAX records, quite high with a beautifully laminated cover with a lovely painting and solid liner notes on the rear.  If you're looking for it in digital, you should also have no difficulties here, as EMI has released this in a number of incarnations.  You can find the 3 CD boxed set of all the late symphonies as part of the Great Recordings of the Century series (may be out of print, but you can definitely find this used) and if you're willing to dish out a little extra cash, you can get the same recordings in SACD format with a nice booklet-bound case (I wrote about this in a prior blog from 2012).  I've listened to the digital, and, in all honesty, I much prefer the vinyl format.  Everything sounds much warmer, and there is a greater sense of realism when you listen.  This is true whether you're listening to it on loudspeakers or as headphones. 



  1. I believe the postage stamp Columbia was very early on and short lived relative to even the first EMI color postage stamp pressings. Columbia was merged into EMI classical with some recordings being reissued in the ASD series and some as budget Concert Classics (SXLP). So by the late sixties, no more SAX lps were made.

    I've got the second label of SAX 2486, Mozart 40 and 41, a sister recording to this LP. I do not like the sound.

  2. I don't have SAX 2486 but have the other Klemperer Mozart SAX recordings. I think a few of them are blue/silver and the others are either second label or third. To my understanding, the second label pressings were still made with valve/tube equipment, so the sound quality is not altogether too different from the first pressings. The third pressing, the postage stamp, was not made with valve/tube equipment, so I think it sounds different. I would have to agree that the third pressings don't sound as good as the first two. I also feel that the vinyl of the third pressing is flimsier than that of the first two pressings.

  3. I had to ream the holes out on my two postage stamp SAX. One I made the mistake of putting on without reaming and it took a few minutes to flex it lose (definitely thinner vinyl, but not too thin). I wonder if they had ever been played! I got the pair of them for $15.50 delivered!

    I have enough EMI ASD to make some strong hypothesis’s. With ASD, the second label is interesting. Early second label releases like ASD 621 and 627 appear cut from the same sonic cloth as my loan Gold & Cream Hiawatha ASD 467 and the SXLP 20000 series LP’s. All have strong, tight bass (for a valve recording chain). This tautness helps define the entire sound field lending more detail to the presentation and fleshing out instruments better than other golden age labels.

    One of the prices of this strong, taut bass presentation is the minimizing of tube bloom. Its a bargain though as tube bloom seems to be an affectation of a looser sound. In a nutshell, if you have a typical all valve playback system you likely are not able to achieve the tightest sound. In this case, the benefits of the EMI tautness may be washed out some. Add to this the absence of tube bloom and the ASD/SXLP take a hit. The magic of your living stereo, living presence, and full frequency stereophonic sound records will tend to sound more appealing.

    A tighter tube system (lower output impedance at all stages, which is starting to sound like a good transistor system) and perhaps a tight solid state driven sub-woofer in the mix will change everything. Now one can hear the clout behind the ASD sound, the orchestral drive, and accurate sound field. Your Mercury, Decca, and RCA sound washed out and lack the same level of involvement. You would still hear a more controlled tube bloom overall in the sound with these other labels. A nice solid state system would probably be close to this, but the lovely Decca bloom and high frequencies would lose more of their magic. With your ASD, a more solid state like system will give you much of their greatness.

    1. Continued:
      The great thing about EMI is the later pressings of the golden era recordings also are good. All have even tighter bass then the original SAX, ASD, etc. The Big Dog pressings achieve a taught big, dynamic presentation, but the mid-range sounds a bit diffuse (the sonic consequences of integrated circuits perhaps). The color postage stamp with ring is much the same. The Black and White postage stamp (have white ring around outside of label) issues cover a long period of time and later in the series begin to devolve towards the later pressing sound. The best of these preserve much of the valve like presentation, but often with a touch of dryness to the sound. They have better macro dynamics than the originals. Many of the other sub labels have rings on the outside of the label which dates them to this period. By the time of the latter ASD labels, the sub-labels appear to use the standard ASD labels like the big dog or color stamp with ring. This covers from about 1971 and on.

      Please note here I am talking about reissues of recordings made before 1964. Newer recordings in the ring period have a hard time fleshing out the mid-range, featuring a tipped up top end and a dry sound. Many of these are on the TAS list. These tend to be very dynamic LP’s that do not have the mid-range of the better EMIs.

      My favorite pressings are the color postage stamp (3rd label) and the semi-circle (2nd label much like the SAX 2nd label). I am not sure at what point the 2nd label changes from valve to discrete transistor mastering (it could be as late as the number jump to ASD 2000s). My best guess with Concert Classics is that this change occurs when the numbering jumps to SXLP 30000. Early ASD before ASD 575 reissued on the second label all have the discrete transistor signature. By the time of the color postage stamp (no ring), many of the Columbia SAX Blue and Silver releases were reissued in the SXLP 30000 series and some at full price in the ASD series. I believe the Columbia SAX labels of similar appearance show up at the same time, but do not sound the same!

    2. and more:
      So, what is this sound? It has the strong bass of the later issues, but it is more organic and integrated. My Menuhin semi-circle pressing of Paganini Violin concertos has stunning sound. The bass has a slam that integrates with the hall for magnificent sound. The strings and Menuhin come across with a very pure, vivid sound that make my all valve EMI recordings sound dry in comparison. All (as in 100%) of my semi-circle and postage stamp reissues deliver this kind of sound. Menuhin with Bath Festival Orchestra Brandenburg Concertos sound fantastic and vivid. The same group doing the Haffner Serenade on a valve ASD (627) has a drier less involving sound. I have many more examples. The only thing I hear that might be a bit better on the all valve pressings is some treble delicacy. The reissue pressings carry the day with better strings, brass, bass, and general instrumental definition. The reissues sound more dynamic in almost every way, but particularly in the frequency extremes. I've never heard any kind of breakup or congestion during orchestral crescendos or choral/operatic. Nice deep sound stages too.

      Now with the new issues on the color postage stamp and semi-circle the sound is not quite the same. I'd hoped it might be better than the reissues. The Barenboim Beethoven Piano Concerto recordings have beautiful piano sound (Emperor in particular). The rest of the orchestral sound is a little more restrained. I'd say the sound is a bit tighter, but also less dynamic where the 100% valve based reissue master tapes give a little more oomph. Interesting sound to be sure, but just not as engaging overall. I would favor the semi-circle issues a bit more as they seem to have a little more involving sound. The sound is still nice and vivid with all of these. Remember, that before the ASD 2000s you may end up with an all valve recording, so you can't lose either way. The ASD semi-circle is a winner in all incarnations. Ditto for the color postage stamp.

    3. almost there:
      Now to the SAX reissues. The ones I know the best are on ASD or SXLP. Up through about SXLP 30140, at about the end of the no-ring blue label SXLPs, we have the same mastering as just discussed for the ASD semi-circle and color stamp pressings. I had not separated the sound in my mind until recently from the gold and cream reissues. The sound definitely carries a little more tube plumpness with the SAX reissues. They are quite lovely and involving, but perhaps not quite the tour de force of the ASD reissues. This is a forming opinion. The ASDs may not have the staying power of the SAX reissues. It seems the SAX have a touch of tube bloom in their sound. They do sound different now that I think back on these recordings. This could just be hall sound, but perhaps the chain recording to tape was different (engineers and locations not the same to be sure).

      I don't have enough true SAX pressings to form a good hypothesis as to their sound. I've got other comments on this blog stating where my five Columbia “early red's” (semi-circle SAX 2nd label) do not sound good. If these are tube pressing then I am a monkey's uncle or these are some of the worst tube pressings known to mankind. My two “late red” pressings (SAX stamp, a postage stamp with a musical note on the label) are excellent. Possibly, Columbia got its act together on these and they are great transistor-based pressings. They are absolutely different from the ASD reissue sound. The blog host (whose SAX collection dwarf's mine) maintains these are not all valve, but seems to rate the “late red's” pretty highly. I saw another reference on the internet that said these late reds sound strange, as in not good. Any day now I will have my Peter and the Wolf Blue and Silver. Who knows what Columbia classical was doing in its death throws? I've guessed that they might not have remastered some of these and just grabbed old plates and used them (they basically did this with Epic SAX releases so why not their own?). If anyone has $50,000 lying around, I'd be glad to pick up enough examples to sort this out.

      Based on my experience so far I will continue to slum it with the ASD style Columbia reissues and SAX late reds. I do not expect to be astounded by my first Blue and Silver, but I've been wrong before. There is little doubt in my mind that the ASD and SAX sound is distinct. The SAX pressings (along with early SAN Angel) are very different (SAN Angel more very bad in my one copy that has similar sub-numbering to SAX, YAX prefix). I will continue to tip toe my way in as late reds are not that common (cheap though) and the price of the Blue and Silver makes them a rare treat where I've got to be pretty juiced for the performance/sound combination. I'd buy more of the second label if very cheap. Right now I am Jonesing for a semi-circle or color stamp reissue pressing of ASD 255, MICHELANGELI: Rachmaninov - Piano Concerto No.4/ Ravel - Piano Concerto.

    4. Wow, you have clearly thought a great deal about this topic. Thank you very much for contributing your thoughts to my blog (I am the blog host). If there are any other blog followers out there, I hope that they also benefit from your insight.

      I think you are right about the EMI ASD pressings. The second pressing (semi-circle dog) is, in my opinion, not inferior to the first white/gold pressing. I have read that these were also pressed using valve/tube equipment. In my experience, they sound fabulous. I am listening as I write to a second pressing of ASD 422, Rafael Kubelik conducting Borodin's Polovtsian Dances and Symphony No. 2. I bought this a few months ago on Ebay as a Buy-It-Now, thinking that it would not be easy to find in either first or second pressing. Totally worth it. Very dynamic record. I love Russian orchestral music and can say that this one is a winner. I also have a second pressing of George Pretre conducting Russian orchestral music (ASD 509) which I managed to find on Ebay for 19 GBP -- another good buy. Though I haven't heard the first pressings of either, it would be hard to convince me that they are significantly better. So, like you, if I find the second pressings for not too much money, I pick them up.

    5. You must have quite a system that allows you to really appreciate the bass on these recordings. I think I described my system in an earlier blog post. It's by far not the highest end (I had to stick to a budget and have a family to feed), and it's not set up in the most ideal way (we live in a one bedroom condo with my toddler son), but I can still greatly appreciate its sound. Rega RP6 turntable, Musical Fidelity V-LPS II phono stage, Musical Fidelity M6i integrated amp (solid state), Von Schweikert VR2 speakers, MIT AVT2 speaker cables. What are your components, if I may ask? Do you have a special listening room in your home? I can't say that I have the technical expertise like you to dissect all the ranges of the recording, but I am able to comment in more layman's terms of my overall subjective impression of an album.

    6. Some of the later EMI recordings that are postage stamp first pressings are decent. They do sound different than the Golden Age recordings. This may be due to heavier miking, perhaps, as opposed to the more simple miking systems of the late 1950s-early 1960s. The albums do sound a bit "cleaner" and crisper -- as you say, "tighter". Some of them I find to be very pleasing to the ear (Riccardo Muti's Pictures at an Exhibition ASD 3645 ... quite late, or many of Andre Previn's recordings with the LSO like the Planets ASD 3002). I have a Barenboim and Barbirolli doing Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1, color postage stamp first pressing. Nice, but not outstanding.

    7. As for the SAXes, my opinion thus far from listening to over 100 of them is that they can be a mixed bag. Some are excellent. Some are great. Some are okay. I have a second pressing of Karajan conducting the BPO in Dvorak's New World. Sounds a bit muddy to me, but it may be the pressing. First pressing of Karajan doing Mussorgsky's Pictures. I REALLY wanted to like this one. It had one of the more beautiful covers of a classical album that I'd ever seen and I heard the CD reissue and liked it. However, as I wrote about in my blog, I was quite disappointed with the record. I even heard TWO copies of the same pressing and they were both the same. Very muddy and no clarity in dynamic passages. I will keep mine, but I will probably not listen to it as often as I listen to some of the other versions of Pictures. The Klemperer recordings have mostly been very good. His Mozart recordings sound quite good, even in later pressings. His Richard Strauss is excellent, and I have yet to write a post on any of these. I really like Giulini's SAX recordings. I wrote about his Tchaikovsky 6th and have yet to comment on his Tchaikovsky 2nd, Dvorak 9th, and Falla Three-Cornered Hat. I have a blue/silver of Andre Cluytens Russian Orchestral Works (SAX 2355) which I paid dearly for from a UK dealer. It had a little more surface noise that I would've liked for an EX rated pressing, but it is still very enjoyable. Dynamic as a good recording of Russian music should be. I initially had the same philosophy as you. I tried to buy all the second pressings I could for "reasonable" prices, since I had heard that they were also tube recordings and probably were not a lot different from the blue/silver. I would still support this as a reasonable approach, since there is a big price differential, and I really can't say that the blue/silver is FAR superior to the second pressing. So I wouldn't think of getting the ASD style Columbia reissues as "slumming" it. You're getting a very decent pressing for a much more affordable price. Those that you REALLY like, you can always hunt down the blue/silver.

      As you mentioned previously, the Far East market is very hungry for the SAX recordings. I had to really fight for the rare blue/silver copies which I own. The Szell recordings I won I had to give an arm or leg for. None of those went for any less than $170. I happen to have the blue/silver of Lovro von Matacic conducting Prince Igor and Night on Bald Mountain. That also set me back some (a copy JUST sold today for $280+). Needless to say, my wife was not very happy to hear that I had made these purchases, and after having built my collection of some 100+ SAX recordings, I've called it quits. I will not do that again, and I would certainly never ever put down the several hundred to thousands for a blue/silver Kogan. I was "lucky" to buy a second pressing Kogan doing Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto (SAX 2323) in the early 2000s for 75 GBP.

      Let me know if you get that Michelangeli. That is a very famous recording and considered to be one of the reference recordings for those two works. Should sound excellent in any pressing!

    8. I paid $14 for my Paganini delivered. I thought it would blow like my five Columbia 2nd labels. It was quite a surprise. Glad to hear the early second label stuff is tube from other sources (I just use my ears). Later second label stuff is not. I expect your reissue 2nd label are early discrete transistors. Done right these can be quite good. EMI generally had very consistent results. I am surprised to hear that Columbia SAX is a bit more variable. All of my reissues on SXLP and ASD are quite fetching. RCA and Mercury sure put out their share of duds and London/Decca too on occasion.

      Local audiophile and the famous Mr. Salvatore are quite big on the mofi pictures. I'll hear that eventually. I have the Previn planets which is getting close to an earlier B&W pressing. It does well with that piece and I like it, but the dryness is there. My B&W pressing of Rachmaninoff Symphony 2 is supposed to be earlier, but sounds quite dry to my ears. I think I have the Alto reissue of that and it kind of leaves me cold too. Alto, Testament, and Speakers corner all have that dry sound (integrated circuits are the culprit in my little mind). I just auditioned Milstein Mozart VC2 on Concert classic (comes with Giles Beeth 4 from an SBO on other side). It beat the Testament. I was lucky to get the SXLP cheap enough. "I happen to have the blue/silver of Lovro von Matacic conducting Prince Igor and Night on Bald Mountain. That also set me back some (a copy JUST sold today for $280+" ---- SXLP of that I have here is very nice. SXLP 30070 Lovro Von Matacic, Philharmonia Orchestra Russian Orchestral Favourites.

      Is there a way to post attachments? I have made a very thorough listing of the SXLP concert classics. I also have a nice STS stereo treasury list that links these to the London counterparts. I believe both of these lists are quite complete for the first two or three hundred LP's.

      I was doing the Decca/London thing until fumbling onto EMI/Columbia and then my jaw dropped. I think the Barenboim/Klemperer Emperor (ASD 2500) was what got me going. Early SXLPs of Scherazade and Beethoven 3 also caught my sonic interest (gobs of bass for a valve recording). Menuhin Brandenburg also was good on color stamp. Started dabbling in late May culminating in the recent frenzy of purchasing activity.

    9. Good point on the miking. I'll have to listen for that more.

      Well I can see why your wife would be after you. It sounds like she has a good head on her shoulders. If you can snag some deals and then sell off a few records and make a small profit, she might let you live. My buddy Russian Mike kind of gets through audio that way with some of the goofy vintage mono equipment and recordings. With some smarts one can enjoy equipment and recordings without breaking the bank. It takes some time. I've not been good at selling and am amazed you peeled off all that vinyl in the midst of a very busy career path. I look at my 8000 LPs I should get rid of and go into turtle on its back mode.

    10. I've tried to stay away from Audiophile land, but I guess we are dragging the blog there. First off I'll say that I've always been a bit of a label collector. I also do Nonesuch's.

      My system is built back from Vandersteen 4a speakers (not quattro's!). This speaker was the precursor to the Vandersteen model 5 line. The 4a is a later version of the model 4 with all new drivers (so anyone reading, 4a is a totally different animal from a 4, get the serial number and confirm with Vandersteen if buying one used.) I think it was Richard V. himself who told me that he discontinued the 4a because it was 5% of his sales and 95% of his calls. One of the big changes with the model 5 was an integrated subwoofer amplifier (and the parametric room eq). I imagine the customers put whatever on the 4a subwoofers and did not like the sound. You could also run them full range with one amp (bad idea) for perhaps even worse sound.

      To get these babies going you must have electron kinetics Eagle 2a amps or similar. For those who want to live dangerously (me), you can get the bridged version (the 1500 monoblocks) which does a paltry 700 watts into the 4 ohm subwoofer load. Krell, no good. The other must have is Van Den Hul Magnum which is an eight guage silver coated speaker cable. If you don't have this you are not hearing the speaker to its full potential. The Eagle amplifiers were optimized for second order distortion by the legendary John Iverson. My belief is this design factor allows them to integrate better with other amplifiers (tube if one has any sense). I fortunately have not landed Eagle 1500s. Apparently, if you buzz them by like unplugging the rca connection with them on, are fully capable of erasing the magnets on your woofers. I am due to install a doubled up run of magnum on these.

      My only quibbles with the model 5 are the loss of this above subwoofer componentry. The 5 has no eagle, no magnum, and the big one is no dyna audio drivers. Otherwise the new speakers should be infinitely superior to its forefather the 4a.

      Unfortunately, in my time with these speakers I have found small changes in the bass have a big effect on the whole range of sound. Initially I ran ARC M100 monoblocks on the top end (D160 at first), but was playing around with an Eico ST-40 I built I decided that I preferred the midrange of the Eico and then yada, yada I ended up with custom built 300B monoblock amps for the midwoofer and 6B4G(2A3) for midrange and tweeter array. Custom Loesch preamp with Bendix 6900 line stage was in quickly too after this. My long standing turntable has been the well-tempered turntable. It has a tricked out tripod suspension underneath it built with inflatable toy footballs which is kind of a poor man's air suspension like on the Rockport turntables (courtesy of another friend). With the Loesch I went to a Benz glider and then within a few years to a Benz Ruby Medium output which I've used for some time. Not familiar with Loesch. Try

      Cabling is all Monster M1500 for interconnects and M2.4s biwire for each of the top sets of amps. The Loesch has a customer power supply using a Bendix 6080. Every stinking tube in the system has been exhaustively tweaked out with all the various types. The line stage and phono stage have seperate power supplies and use a total of four 12ax7s. That was a tweeking nightmare because of all of the many kinds of 12ax7, but getting those tubes right really changed the system.

    11. Oh Jeez, there's more:
      Kind of built my own house by tearing out all the interior walls of a house I built. Took a 3 bedroom down to a 2 bedroom and I've got a kitchen/dining/living great room that is about 25 by 20 feet. Closed cell foam to the drywall on the outside walls. Blue Jean insulation in all the interior walls. Doubled up drywall with green glue in select walls. Glue down flooring with special two part glue that has some damping properties (for footfalls). Eight dedicated lines for the audio system (which was not that bad because they are only 20 feet from the breaker).

      With the house and career crapola on me I'd been dormant for some time until the last year. Since then, did some minor, fully reversible crossover surgery to allow the 300B amp (push pull on both sets of monoblocks) to cover the midrange. I much preferred the 6b4g amp on the midrange, but I needed more power. Local EE PHD friend measured and determined this. 300B amp does about 35 watts. 6b4G 9 watts. With the greater listening distance in the new house, the 9 watt 6b4g was not enough. With both of these amps the coupling caps have been shrunk done. For the tweeter amp, this allowed the crossover in the speaker to be bypassed. For the midamp I can eliminate an interconnect and the passive part of the crossover. The smaller coupling cap means the tweeter amp is only driving 5000 hz and up. With carefully tweaking I recovered much of the 6b4g sound. My dream is to get Concert Fidelity monoblocks at 60 watts per channel to get back the 6b4g sound on the midrange:

      The big change recently has been the crossover. Early on I went for a tube crossover. The local bassophile I met recently was clocking my system in the bass with an array of Vandersteen subs and speakers. I was not happy. The EE PHD said put that Vandersteen active crossover back in. I tried it and decided it was the direction I needed to go with. I have been slowly rebuilding and upgrading it over the last few months. A biggy was shunting and playing with volume pots. They were stepped and too big. With careful design I was able to take my preamp from a 4 db then a 5 db step in the listening range down to 1 db steps. The Vandersteen was shunted from about 2 db steps to 1/4 db steps in the optimum level range (sorry Dicky V).

      As I said before little changes in the bass with the speakers have big impacts on the full range sound. The work on the Vandersteen crossover will keep me busy for some time to come with big changes in sound. I've also got quite a few cap upgrades waiting to be done in the rest of the components.

      My experience with tweaks has been that audio is like the reverse of the saying "the bigger you are the harder you fall." With audio I find as the system improves small changes that eliminate a problem make even bigger differences. Screw something up that you had right and "the bigger you are the harder you fall."

      Also love power cords. Recently upgraded crossover to Pangea SE. Like Shunyata Sidewinder still on the Eagle sub amp.

      Another, duh tweek, from the bassophile was to play around with tilt on my speakers. Big change in soundstaging and bass performance.

      You had to ask!