Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A SAX Baker's Dozen That Really Cooks


One of the issues with determining what are the best Columbia's is cost.  If one were to accumulate copies of every pressing of each SAX one would spend over $84,000!  You could probably hit $100,000 adding most of the reissues.  LP price is of course determined by supply and demand.  Price alone is not an indicator of record quality.  If a very good record is in low supply, the price can be very high.  A great record in large supply may cost much less money.

One of the points of this blog is to help better inform the savvy collector so they may get the most pleasure from their acquisitions.  So in that vein, I am providing the most expensive SAX issues that also were also pressed on the semi-circle and magic notes labels (magic notes has an ASD-like postage stamp on a red label).  This wealth of pressings indicates that many of these LP's were sold. What follows is this list of popular releases that despite the large supply, still fetch high prices.  I did take some editorial control of this and all of Mr. Klemperer's Mozart Symphonies were cut from the list (several have been reviewed on this site).

SAX 2411
Brahms: Violin Concerto

ONRF, Klemperer, Oistrakh

$450      Popsike Entries: 239

I'd favor the Magic Notes pressing at $5.  One might also try Concert Classic SXLP30264, Classics for Pleasure CFP 4398, or the semi-circle at $30.  Many more options with this LP than with the Szell Beethoven 9 at $2000 for the Blue and Silver as one's only choice.
Update (3/3/2014):
Played this last night and as detailed below in the 3/2 updates once again I was amazed by the later Notes pressing (pictured left). I played three other records I had on notes label:
SAX 5266 Haydn 100 & 102, Klemperer
SAX 2436 Mozart 35 & 36, Klemperer
SAX 2421 Ballet Music from Opera, Karajan

All had the great extended sound as detailed in the updates below. SAX 2421 was very impressive. Sonically, the Notes pressings are basically Columbia Studio 2 Stereo pressings. Recent improvements in sound floor with some diode upgrades (mentioned with the Schubert update  below) have also improved the sound of the second label, magic notes pressings. The Magic are completely unobjectionable now with a nice warmth, but they do not have the treble extension of the Studio 2 Stereo and Notes label sound which makes them sound less dynamic. I would expect the blue and silver pressings to suffer also in comparison, but they do have a much more magical sound. To be blunt, and given sound floor provisos, I prefer the sound of every one of these Notes pressings to my current favorite blue and silver, the extremely magical Peter and the Wolf below. All that being said, these are not the finest EMI pressings. I have a few early black and white stamp pressings of SAX material on ASD that have a more pristine sound and better noise floor performance (ASD 2863 Dvorak 9, Karajan and ASD 2835 Poulenc Organ Con.) These were both original SAX releases and the Poulenc is so good that I've been playing for months not even realizing its SAX roots. These two are definantly very, very fine, but I've just begun listening to later pressings. I expect that it will not be a simple matter in that it looks likely that different vintages of original recording will sound better on different pressings. EMI wa an amazing label with a wealth of excellent pressings.


SAX 2315

Beethoven: Violin Concerto

FNRO, Cluytens, Oistrakh

$400      Popsike Entries: 433

The Concert Classic SXLP30168 is out of the Chevrons, so I'd favor the Magic Notes at $50. Semi-circle $90.  See the review on this site (Columbia SAX 2315 Oistrakh's Classic Beethoven)

Note:  Chevron SXLP label is blue without postage stamp.  The Chevrons are the little V shaped symbols all over the label.

SAX 2417

Weber: Overtures 

Philh, Klemperer

$400      Popsike Entries: 21

Well so much for the power of spreadsheets as this only shows 21 entries in Popsike. I'd say this sold quite a few of the latter pressings and very few Blue and Silver. I'd grab a Magic Notes pressing for $10. Semi is $33.

SAX 2316-7

Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Philh, Callas

$650      Popsike Entries: 81

The SLS5166 is a very late reissue which might not have enough of the beloved SAX midrange. Magic Notes  at $40 has my reissue money. Semi $50 .

SAX 2412-4

Bellini: Norma 

La Scala, Serafin, Callas

$900      Popsike Entries: 102

The SLS5186 is a very late reissue which might not have enough of the beloved SAX midrange. Magic Notes  at $50 has my reissue money. Semi $100.

SAX 2441

Mahler: Symphony 4

Philh, Klemperer, Schwarzkopf

$200      Popsike Entries: 96

I believe Klemperer's performance here is held in the highest regard.

I'd favor the Magic Notes for $10, but ASD 2799 color stamp of this would have similar sound to a Chevron Concert Classic Pressing and would have a heavier bass experience than any of the SAX.  It would be a very safe bet.  Semi $25.
Update (3/2/2014):
I now have the ASD ($6 to my door) and it delivers a nice warm, defined sound with hints of tube magic and a decent sound floor.  I like the LP, but also will nab a Notes pressing (see my updates below on this list).

SAX 2393

Mendelssohn: Midsummer Nights Dream 

Philh, Klemperer

$150      Popsike Entries: 90

Magic Notes is my reissue of choice at $10. Concert Classic SXLP30191 would be out of the Chevrons.  Semi $20 (see its review here, Columbia SAX 2393 A Midsummer for mid-summer)

SAX 2397

Schubert: Symphony 9 

Philh. Klemperer

$150      Popsike Entries: 86

I'd go for the Magic Notes at $15. Semi $30.
Update (3/2/2014):
I've got the notes pressing in hand now ($8 delivered). At first I was disappointed with this LP (and other notes pressings) as the sound was too bright and not musical. That has reversed with recent sound floor improvements to my system, particularly diode upgrades with hexfred's and Schottky's. I highly suggest modernizing equipment diodes to these (similar results possible with circuitry mods to older diodes, but changing the diode is better and a minimal parts expense). These changes have lowered the sound floor a lot and the final change to the Schottky's eliminated all ringing and overshoot clearing up an amazing amount of has from the sound while a more detailed soundstage.  The net result is that the record under review has excellent clarity and definition.  Combined with a better sound floor, and this notes pressing is a real contender.  I'll be comparing this with the Speaker's Corner Decca Schumann Great Symphony and update.

SAX 2497

Tchaikovsky: Symphony 5 

Philh, Klemperer

$130      Popsike Entries: 50

Based on the Amazon reviews this is a fairly desirable performance.

I'd favor Magic Notes at $15.  Semi $20.

SAX 2398

Mendelssohn: Symphony 4 

Philh, Klemperer

$125      Popsike Entries: 111

Again I'd favor the Magic Notes at $10 as the reissue of choice.  Concert Classic SXLP30178 would offer a bassier sound with a big soundstage, but it is out of the Chevrons, so midrange may not be as good as the SAX. Semi $15.
Update (3/2/2014):
$8 delivered for the notes pressing. Another record transformed by the diode change in the update above. I will say that the notes pressing is a very similar to the stunning Studio 2 Stereo releases done by Columbia at the same time. My TWO 221, Stereo Showpieces (Silvestri) on this label has a very defined presentation also, but their is a large distinction; the Studio 2's are original recordings from the late 60's, not reissues of golden age material (1955-1963). The last gasp from the Columbia classical group and they go out with a bang (the original Klavier's Masssent Le Cid was Studio 2 Stereo, TWO 350.) For some reason the SAX reissues won't sing without modern diode performance, but the Studio 2's do well. I really liked the Schumann 4 I listened to last night.

SAX 2375

Prokofiev: Peter & Wolf; Mozart: Toy Symphony

Philh, Karajan

$120      Popsike Entries: 29

I will personally vouch that this is a very nice record (I own the Blue and Silver).  Magic notes would be my top reissue at $10.  Semi $10.

SAX 2494

Tchaikovsky: Symphony 4 

Philh, Klemperer

$120      Popsike Entries: 49

Klemperer has some regard for his Tchaikovsky. Magic Notes reissue of choice at $20. Semi $20.

SAX 2389

Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; Handel-Harty: Water Music 


$100      Popsike Entries: 48

I will personally vouch for the Magic Notes pressing as the reissue of choice as I own it. Concert Classic SXLP30161 is out of the Chrevrons. Semi $20.

I would love to have a Blue and Silver of this. The Magic Notes I suspect images much like the Blue and Silver, but without as much magic in the air.
Update (3/2/2014):
I now also have a Magic pressing (semi) on hand to compare with my beloved notes pressing, an experiment that cost me $8. It does not have the surreal treble extension and sound floor performance of the Notes pressing. AQL has a copy of the notes and just does not like the performances. I absolutely love them and they work very well with the sound. This is syrupy Karajan at his best and is a nice contrast with a more faithful interpretation or original instrument performance. A nice counterpoint to my original instrument Harmonia Mundi LP with McCegan and the Philharmonia Baroque doing Water Music (Supreme Recordings Demi-God no less). The London Szell Water Music is not something I recommend at all (big orchestra sound, austere interpretation that is all wrong).

Summary Comments:
The number of Popsike entries is a key metric, but be advised Popsike only records sales of $25 or above.  Popsike can be very deceiving on lower priced LP's.  Even with that proviso, I'd say the two Oistrakh LP's at the top of the list must really be something given the supply and the prices they command.  Luckily for cheapskates, reissues abound.

I'd point out the two opera entries.  For opera, the number of Popsike entries is impressive though bear in mind that Popsike was able to pick up the reissues well because they were pricier for these multiple LP sets.

I will also point out that my reissue recommendations are guesses at this point.  Chevrons Concert Classic pressings have been consistently good and retain a tube like flavor.  My Magic Notes of SAX 2389 is impressive, but I believe the originals with Columbia SAX will almost always better the SAX later labels.

Hopefully this is a stimulating list for the site as only one of the LP's have been reviewed so far.


  1. Expect upcoming reviews for SAX 2397, SAX 2398, SAX 2494, and SAX 2497!

  2. Four updates added to the post today with some recent acquisitions!