Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Classical Audiophile Reissues, Part 1 (Three Cornered Hat Shoot Out)

I've been supplementing my collection lately and scarfing up some Salvatore Supreme Recordings Demi-Gods and Basic list items (see our links in the lower left). I must say I am going to break away a bit from the great one  (I've been modeling my system to gain better "Sound Floor" and Aqlam just got the Salvatore rave components, Frankenstein 300B and Coincident Phono Stage.) First up is the famous SXL 2296 pictured left. I've not loved my Speaker Corner reissues of Decca and they have appeared to be the victim of a dry sound (please stay away from the La Folia reissue also as the ATR mastercut can be had used and sometimes sealed for reasonable prices and their is no comparison). The Falla under review is in Salvatore's Basic list and the originals are quite expensive even on the London Blueback, so I decided to give this a try (I'll report in part 2 on Janis/Rach3 Mercury). Surely, a quite dynamic sound, but very dry. I hope the originals don't sound this bad and for me this opens the door in a big way that the prescribed Salvatore system and recordings may be flawed in that their does not appear to be a reverence for the microdynamic and palpability of some of the original pressings on RCA, Mercury, Decca/London, EMI ASD and SAX. I am stumped by this, but must conclude that the step up transformer based high output MC sound in even the best configurations, must improve the sound floor markedly while also losing some of the microdynamics and palpability of an all tube signal path. The Speakers Corner under consideration here does impressive in the macro-dynamics area and definition, but falls utterly flat in the palpability and microdynamics. We'll get back to this in some further reviews below, but onward for now!

Also on the Salvatore list are a selection of Classic Records Everest reissues. One of these is a very nice Demi-God and will be reviewed in part 2. These were mastered by Bernie Grundmann with his all tube mastering rig (Bernie do the ORG stuff now). Over the course of listening to nearly a dozen of Grundmann's tube efforts, the sound is very dynamic and extended but is also a little bit washed out in the palpability arena (similar issues with Doug Sax The Master Lab stuff too). I suspect this may have much to do with the more modern tube complement in Grundmann's cutting amps, but this is pure conjecture as I 'm not aware of any detailed information on his equipment. I suppose you can't have everything and these modern tube cutting systems do seem to have a much better sound floor and increased dynamics.

Sargent's Prokofiev 5 is an impressive affair sonically. Despite some palpability issues, the dyamics are impressive and could the 35mm sound be more dynamic in some ways? A very worthy occupant of the Basic List and highly recommended though I must say I doubt this is the best performance of a piece that is not one of my many favorite Prokofiev pieces.

The Everest Falla sports the Complete Ballet and really is on par with the above Prokofiev sonically, but perhaps without some of the power bass given the piece. A worthy and interesting LP, but I'm not sure the complete ballet is for me.

These two Everest and the one's coming up in part two are still available new. At this time Acoustic Sounds has great prices and if wait for one of their 10% of sales (Memorial day, etc.), you should be able to score 4 Everests for $90 delivered which is an awesome price for a ticket to Salvatore land. The Classic reissues look awesome with very thick stock on the covers and vinyl noise is acceptable, but not perfect.

In part 2, I will make an effort to compare to some of the original Everest pressings, but I seriously doubt they will be competitive with Grundmann's laudable efforts. Any palpability advantages of the originals will not overcome the impressive dynamics and 35mm vividness revealed by Grundmann's efforts.

While we are at it we might as well have a Three Cornered Hat Shoot Out. How can I do this when we are talking about reissues? Because I have the original Blue and Silver pressing and the 2nd Magic pressing which is technically a reissue. First up the Blue and Silver which is the winner of this shoot out despite a surprisingly light bass presentation. It has nice palpability and high frequency presentation and is a fine record though I do not absolutely love it. The second Magic pressing (similar looking, but not sounding to the 2nd ASD label called semi-circle) sounds like someone poured some gravel into the violins. These pressings also sound a bit rolled off and really just do not have the magic of the original Blue and Silver (however, in some cases you might find a Blue and Silver stamper number on the 2nd label I've heard). I hate the 2nd label Magic with a passion bordering on the religious. Every other emi pressing and label type has redeeming quality except for these and possibly the SAN White Angels which seem to suffer the same affliction. I'd love to get a copy of the Concert Classic reissue SXLP 30198. I paid $60 for the Blue and Silver and coughed up $16 for the Magic pressing just so I could see the difference. The budget conscious might try to snag the Ace of Diamonds reissue of the Ansermet and really the ORG reissue ought to be nice too at $55 new.

Aqlam is quite the fan of this LP and it is another impressive effort by Grundmann (now with ORG). The ORG 2LP 45rpm reissue packs a punch and retains a nice tube sound that is remarkably close to the original. I compared with my original and I was surprised, but the original despite a slightly recordy sound in comparison to the ORG beat it overall because of a more coherent, palpable sound with greater micro-dynamics. Side 1 of the ORG is damaged and I'll be returning it for something else. The ORG vinyl seemed a bit noisy for a new pressing (but not bad enough to demand a return.) I am very impressed with Grundmann's efforts at ORG and this LP is on sale for $40 at the Elusive Disc right now. I got my original just this Fall for less, but I suspect that the 45RPM ORG will win out on many systems. Brahms himselft stated in a fit of passion, "I'd give all of my Compositions if I could have written such a Piece as The Hebrides!" All of this being said, I do not think this is one of the great Decca/Londons. It is very, very good.  Sadly my Stereo Treasury STS 15091 leaves a bit to be desired and I'm not confident of the quality of something like a grooved FFRR reissue with the same cover (but you never know....)

I really had trouble selecting a Hi-Q release as the Electric Recording Company has greedily locked up the rights to the 60 best vintage EMI recordings. Hi-Q has been left to pick the remains of the catalog, but fortunately their is a lot of meat on the EMI bone. It was a hard call, but on listening to the digital versions and performance reviews of many of the recordings I went with the Kletzki Sibelius 2 recorded in 1955. Online, one could hear that the digital copies had a bit of a rolled off sound without the greatest dynamics, but it seemed like it had potential, Kletzki's performance was a bit under the radar, but well liked. Mind you this was pressed by EMI just like the Testament stuff (which I detest and reader Kho concurs). Another reader pointed out that this was a direct metal disaster or DMM. Usually, DMM is the kiss of death in most cases unless it is done very, very well. I have quite a few DMM german pressings of French Harmonia Mundi which are unbelievably good (see Salvatore Land link where many of these are in the mighty Divinity and Demi-God sonic classifications.) So, actually when I heard the Hi-Q were DMM I secretly had high hopes.

The Hi-Q sound on this LP was amazing. I still can't believe EMI did this and I'd be very interested in any vintage rock reissues EMI might attempt with this technology. Amazingly, EMI has preserved much of the tube feel and goodness. This is a sea change from the Testament reissues and very, very promising. I can't comment on how good Hi-Q is in the bass, dynamics, and thunder department as the original tape of this venerable recording never had it in it. Everyone who has heard this LP likes it and I think this is because of the performance and the remarkable preservation of the the "tube" sound for lack of a better word. I like the label and feel of this record which is quite stiff. The vinyl noise level was outstanding on the Hi-Q, much better than the Maag ORG or the Everest above. An excellent effort and I will have to seek out another Hi-Q title.

The Resphigi Queen of Sheeba was a fun selection from Reference. These are technically all reissues as for some time Reference stopped LP production putting out only CDs. The local audiophiles have quite a few of the recent Reference Recording efforts on hand, but not this one. Queen of Sheeba is a rarely recorded piece, which set this apart. The Queen was very enjoyable and the sound is astounding. Professor Keith O. Johnson (of Astounding Sound Show fame) has really out done himself. I believe one of the factors that has pushed these Reference LPs to new heights is Chad Kassem's QRP pressings (Chad owns Acoustic Sounds, aka Analog Productions, bought the defunct Classic Records, etc., a vinyl God). These are pretty quiet, but where they excel is in their reproduction of the extremes. Reference has been playing with their own half speed mastering setup for some time if memory serves me right with their point .5 masters at the end of their original run of LPs. Now, "the lathe system has custom electronics by Nelson Pass. The simple signal path contains no compression, equalization or unnecessary circuitry. RR Chief Engineer and Technical Director, “Prof.” Keith Johnson consulted on the design of the system and helped with the rebuilding of the lathe and electronics, which is owned and operated by long-time mastering expert Paul Stubblebine. “Prof.” Johnson has pronounced it equal to the challenge of our master tapes!" The results are really impressive and the sound is very different from the rest of the LPs under review which are all reissues of Golden Era recordings (1958-1963). Unbelievable bass extension and dynamics. A very clean crystalline sound that I am sure will impress on any type of system. This is the future of audiophile vinyl and it is a very bright future indeed. Reference Recordings sonically are a very different animal from any other label and I highly recommend them. My only complaint is the repertoire which seems to feature titles for which renowned audiophile records already exist. The B side of this LP is the Pines of Rome, need I say more.

In the background of this whole listening session has been a major upgrade of the power cables in my system. I've been in love with the sound of the PS Audio AC-12 and finally got all 9 power cables of it in my system broken in enough for some serious listening. I am amazed at the dynamics and sound stage definition provided by these cables, but I am shocked out how they allow micro-detail and palpability to flow in the system. My vintage vinyl sonically explodes with such a coherent front that the jump factor than many of the audiophile reissue efforts have at the extremes seems to be largely negated. The AC-12 let the tube black magic flow in unbelievable ways and have achieved a true synergy en masse in my system.

In my confusion for the Shoot Out, I got it into my little brain that my STS 15014, Falla, El Amor Brujo/Retablo De Maese Pedro, was the Stereo Treasury reissue of the very desirable earlier London Blueback with Argenta (CS 6050). Its not, its a reissue of the revered Decca SXL 2260. So, somehow this LP found its way into the melee last night. I'd heard it before and thought it was extremely impressive, but had not given it a full listen. Master Peter's Puppet Show was an astounding tour de force on the lowly Stereo Treasury. It had 95% of what one might associate with tube magic with an uncanny edge in the definition department.

Two years ago I made piles and piles of Deccas and Londons in the hopes of chasing down this elusive type of sound. STS 15015, Bruch/Scottish Fantasia, was a very nice LP (though I've got a number of copies and the Decca SDD Ace of Diamonds and other STS are not as good). I even wrote a piece on the late Bluebacks on this site.

The winner for the night and this article is the STS Puppet Show. A wonderful blend of tube sound with excellent definition. This may be the best pressing of this recording. I think I coughed up $12 for this copy as an additional piece for on an ebay order. I am glad I did. It seems I may have to work on my Decca piles to see if I can find more of these sonic gems. I am astounded.


  1. Meles, you beat me to the reissue post, but thanks for starting the conversation. I'm glad you'll be spreading this over multiple posts, since there is a lot to be said here, and I hope that readers will chime in about their own impressions.

    1. I've not heard the Speakers Corner Three-Cornered Hat, but I have a wide-band FFRR blueback that I particularly like. In general, I have had good experiences with Speakers Corner Deccas (Espana is fabulous as is the Oistrakh Hindemith/Bruch), but I suppose not all of them will please everyone. Like you, I picked up the Everest Jorda Classic Records reissue and was impressed with the sound quality. The performance didn't quite reach the level of the Ansermet, in my opinion, but the sound is very detailed and natural with a wide sound stage. I'd offer another alternative, which may be a little harder to acquire. This is the EMI ASD with de burgos conducting the Philharmonia. De Burgos had a flair for Spanish music, and that recording was no exception. Tubey goodness.

    2. I have never been a fan of the Prokofiev 5th, and I passed up the Everest reissue for this reason. Your comments may change my mind. I've long thought the Martinon Living Stereo was the one to get, though even when I heard that one, I wasn't blown away. Personally, I prefer the Prokofiev 7th, though I'm just not gung ho about his symphonies.

    3. I really like that Giulini SAX and am sorry that you're not as enamored by it. No worries. I've only heard the blue/silver first pressing, and while it may not be perfect, it's one of my favorite SAXes. I know you are not a fan of the semi circle pressings. I still find them better than the postage stamp magic notes, but I'm sure you disagree.

    4. Two thumbs up for the ORG Maag Mendelssohn. On my system, it is powerful. The final movement of the Scotch Symphony has such conviction, and the sound stage is expansive. Dynamics are impressive. I once owned the blueback and sold it, because I was not wholly satisfied with its sound. Not so here. I'd keep the ORG over the original any day.

    5. FINALLY!!! A review of a Hi-Q supercut reissue! Thanks for initiating this. I have been meaning to explore these reissues, but my feverish pursuit of Blue Notes has precluded any recent classical purchases. Since I reviewed the original Kletzki SAX two years ago, I'm absolutely curious as to how this reissue performs in comparison. I would wager to say that you might be holding the more sonically pleasing copy. There is some low level distortion on the original that probably is absent on the reissue.

    Looking forward to the next batch ...

  2. I'll keep an eye out for the De Burgos. I'll report back on my final impressions of Prokofiev 5th. The Giulini SAX did win the competition here, but it just does not quite gel completely in my system enough for me to love it. On the ORG, well your system has changed a lot since you had the original, I would not be so sure. I've not noticed distortion on Kletzki, but I am not sure what you mean by low level.

  3. Twice mentioned the ASD de Burgos matrices are on SXLP..have the Guilini longer have the Ansermet (£1.60 in 1986 the treble is obviously very toppy (as with the Albeniz Espanola/Burgos SXL from '68)..SXL 2260 matrices are on early SDD pressings...preferred the Ansermet side myself (the BR 10inch mono is good - a direct reissue of the original issue).
    The Kletzki was a very poor sounding SAX - also the SXLP...the mono 33CX's of Sibelius #1/2 are well worth acquiring.
    Have a 'G' CS of the Maag/Mendelssohn - but not listened..maybe it's the same matrices as the SDD recut?

    BTW..the WRC spreadsheet link is below the Beethoven PC bash..

    1. My Maag/Mend Scotch 3 STS is 4W and I don't recall liking it too much. Mine is like a narrow label ED3 style pressing so one can hope the SDD is early enough to still have the G pressing. For US buyers I'd recommend snagging the blueback for cheap enough or the ORG. That smoking good STS 15014 Puppet Show is a grooved label with a W pressing. I've always thought these early STS, early SDD, London FFRR groove pressings had potential and this is the first one that makes me think that the original may not be better. For SXL this roughly corresponds to an ED2 pressing, but the ED2 started a lot earlier than these three labels. By the way, when exactly do the ED1 pressings stop in the SXL 2000/6000 series? I've got a nice STS 15006 Sym. Fantastique coming in to compare with blueback (I love the picture on the STS so I couldn't resist snagging it.) I may fish around for some more of these style pressing in the collection to see if I can strike gold. A few of the Neumann pressings can work well, but it seems very hit or miss. I've always preferred the original til this point.

  4. Did some spring-cleaning prior many Decca's are currently not to hand.
    Was wrong re: the CS Maag (mine c.1967, grooved) it's 4W/4W..but the SDD (c1966) is 3D/3E..surprised me..The SXL original was different...these are also 'spare' matrices.. the 1966 Master Peter SDD is 1E/1E - with indications few prior SXL's were sold.

    1. Perhaps in the budget vein they used old matrices for the SDD and gave the new mastering to the full priced CS of teh Maag/Mendelsohn 3. I am surprised your Puppet Show SDD appears to have the original 1E/1E, though pretty sure I have Midsummers Night Dream (CS 6001) that is grooved FFRR 1E/1E blueback that does not sound like original pressing FFSS which is delightful. Very surprised my grooved W STS Master Peter's Puppet Show pressing sounds so amazingly good (on two systems now). I am not sure what they were up to with their numbering and wonder if they might restart with another label, etc.

      'Spare' matrices? Does this mean they cut a bunch of mothers in a session and sometimes did not use all of them immediately to produce LPs? I just heard of Palace in Germany acquiring 15 Swedish presses and all of the metal stampers at the factory, so like they could reissue Swedish ABBA LPs or something in vintage sound (kidding.)

      Ok, either you have the memory of ten elephants or you have some note system on pressings. What is going on here? Sounds like you made it back to the home front, but not yet spry enough to climb to the top of your pyramid of 50,000 UK pressings. Hope things are going well.

    2. My first World of.. SPA is a nice addition. SPA233 Rodrigo Guitar Concerto. They must have been trying very hard because matrices 12G/6G. I think their work paid off as this is well done. I am not in love with the sound, but I can see why some might find this superior to the original ED1 pressings. It is a respectable budget LP that will get played again.

  5. Could class it as 'physiotherapy'..but quite a few things are currently beyond me..
    Most original SXL releases are '1' @ the 9 o'clock position...but Decca clearly retained a few 'spares' in the UK aside from those stampers, from the same matrices, they sent overseas.

    My late-1975 copy of that SPA is 11G / 6G..but this was issued in 1972 there will be even earlier stampers.

    1. I suspect possibly that our two pressings were made with the Neumann SX-74 (my liner manufacturing code dates mine at May of 78 which I suspect is pretty accurate. I am not so sure that earlier stampers with the earlier Neumann will be better. My SPA Rodrigo had a lot of body and growl to the bass.

      In the case of the US London, they were made in England, so the US stampers were not sent overseas, which I am sure you know. I wonder about Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc. I know they ran some mothers to make a ton of stampers so it is no surprise that they would reserve matrices from the same cutting session for use years later.

      It is interesting that some of the matrices are different on the budget reissues some of the time between the US and UK. I did no expect this.

      I just scored a bunch of ED1 Decca Opera boxes this weekend and one Tebaldi SXL. For most of these I likely have the London equivalent. It will be interesting to here the subtle differences. I suspect the London boxes are more common and more likely to have later stampers as a group. I will have to read these all the way down to the tax code and comment in upcoming part 2 of Decca vs. London (I'll keep an eye at 9 o'clock, but mostly those are 1 here too). I also expect that when given the easy option the Decca plant held back the best stampers. It will be some fun detective work especially with the Charm database which I hope has release dates for the US opera versions (It should, but it has almost no stereo treasury in it).

  6. Can provide stamper info for some original SXL opera issues - as the USAF stuff included new/unplayed 'Figaro'/Kleiber/'Zauberflote'/Bohm - 'Aida'/Karajan (both in red sleeves) also have original issues of: Turandot/Golden Girl/Trovatore/Boheme/Rheingold/Walkure 3 (sold Walkure 1)/Otello:SET

  7. I have just listened to my decca french copy of Ansermet "the three cornered hat" and I have been rewarded by a lovely 3D sound and air. Not a magic tube sound ,but not a dry one. French decca are said to be inferior to english ones.This one dates I think from before 1970 and was made by BIEM.

    1. I've seen the French Decca, etc. LPs go for considerable money depending on vintage. I've always loved the French label Harmonia Mundi and my early American Decca pressed Nonesuch LPs on virgin vinyl often feature recordings from Club Francais Du Disque.

      I've stayed away from non-UK pressed Decca because most I here and see are not as good. The French pressings are of strong interest to me and I wish we have more detail from the deadwax of your LP. I've also been prejudiced for UK EMI pressings. Some of the French pressings of these are surprisingly valuable.

      I also hear that some of the Japanese EMI and possibly Decca reissue material is very desirable. I've heard of a complete Du Pre box listing for something like $50,000.

  8. 'BIEM' is something else!
    The French Decca copy may be mastered by Philips (3 digit matrix code); depending on the LP's vintage

    1. There is only ZAL 5138 R3 on one face and ZAL 5139 RZ on the other face.

    2. Thx. I've not seen that on British one. Generally, not a lot of information in English on French pressings so this is much appreciated.

  9. I' d like stampers. Buckingham code priceless. My Tosca was nice press.

    1. All sides are auto-coupled; so the following are numbered as per the LP ie 4E/2E is side 1/6.. Not incuded BUCKINGHAM Code, as too complex if spare matrices were used..

      SET: Fledermaus (OT) 4E/2E/2E/1E/2E/1E... Salome (OT)5D/3D/3D/8D... Otello (OT/ET) 2D/8D/3E/3D/3D/1D... SXL: Boheme (OT/white folder) 4D/2E/1D/2M... Aida (ET/red folder) 4E/3E/2E/2E/3E/3E... Zauberflote (ET?/red folder) 1E/2E/1E/1E/1E/1E... Tosca (ET) 2E/2E/2E/2E... Peter Grimes (MT:1963 pressed) 6E/5E/6E/5E/6E/9E... Figaro (ET: 2 are pancake pressings) 5E/4K/4E/4F/4F/2K/3E/3F... Rheingold (ET) 3E/2E/2E/3E/3E/3E... Walkure3 (RT) 1E/1E/3K/1E... Trovatore (ET;1 pancake) 3E/1E/1E/1K/1E/1K... Fanciulla (RT) 2E/2K/2E/2K/2K/2E.., Turandot (RT) 1E/3D/2E/2E/1E/2E

    2. Matrices contiued