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Thread: Purchasing "good" recordings

  1. #1
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    Default Purchasing "good" recordings

    This might sound like a very newbie question...whenever I purchase used CD's and Vinyl it is hit or miss of what will be a good recording of the album I buy. Should I research the label? Are newer CD's better quality?

    I have found especially for Harbeth speakers, they reveal poor recordings exceptionally well. Does anyone have any advice on purchasing good recordings? (80% CD 20% vinyl....for now)

    Thanks.

  2. #2
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    Default

    Other than the label, the engineer/s, and the artistes. try this site for starters... http://www.justiceforaudio.org/forum/ and this site http://www.dr.loudness-war.info/

    Think after a while, you might see some commonalities regarding better quality recordings. There are relationships, and you'll start to appreciate them after some research, trial and error.

    good luck.

  3. #3
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    It's totally hit and miss. All types of music have good and bad recordings and nothing has improved over the years as I have some stunning ancient recordings and many up to date naff ones. You can't even go by the label as it is often down to the producer/engineer etc.

    I have found that some artists have better recordings, maybe because they oversee how the recordings are produced but all told I reckon it is 80% poor to 20% good.

  4. #4
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    Thanks guys. When auditioning the P3ESR's I was floored at how different certain recordings sounded - it was like night and day.

  5. #5
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    Default

    Recording, editing, "mastering" and presenting a commercial recording to the public is not a linear process. It is far more political than you´d imagine. The critical component is what must seem like an entirely technical process is not really equipment related at all. It´s the vision that the producer (who found the funding to make the recording) has in mind. After all, just like a oil painter, he´s starting out with a completely blank canvass. He could splatter some sonic paint on it across the left-right sound stage that leaps out and grabs your attention. Or he could use some soft, pastel shades to render his vision of a beautiful, natural landscape, as for example Turner did.

    You can imagine that there are as many schools of recording production as there are styles of painting. There are no absolutes. Producers range in age from their early 20s to late 70s and obviously what an old man may find natural and involving and worth ruminating over a young man may instinctively reject as too dull and lifeless. What you hear is ultimately the vision that the producer has in mind, not the recording engineer (or even artist) who are under contract to him and he can and will override.

    Every respected and experienced recording engineer will, at one time or another, have accepted a job, done his best to position the microphones in what he considers the best place for the most natural sound, optimally adjusted the levels to balance the performers just right, only to be crushed under the ego of the producer who has a different sonic vision - and the muscle to demand it.

    I`d guess that not one producer in a hundred considers himself to be an ´audiophile`. This explains why as noted earlier some older recordings made on what is now laughably obsolete museum pieces can sound wonderful, but many - perhaps most? - modern recordings churned-out by young inexperienced producers reflect the personality of youth, and not the wisdom of old age. He who pays the bills calls the shots and this is never more true than in the recording industry.

    I´ve given some clips to such older Brittain recordings on another thread.
    Alan A. Shaw
    Designer, owner
    Harbeth Audio UK

  6. #6
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    Default

    Thanks a lot Alan, not a linear process at all. Great analogy using the oil painter. I will take kittykat's response in looking for commonalities as a guideline in conjunction with the hope that they tend to produce similar work from recording to recording. Of course, my ears have the final say.

    My brother told me that 'true audiophiles' only shoot to purchase mono recordings, which I argued might not sound better for EVERYTHING. Does anyone have any insight that might support or reject his theory?

  7. #7
    Phil100 Guest

    Default Penguin Guide to Recorded Classical Music

    I have used the Penguin Guides with great success - these have pointed me at excellent recordings and performances, including budget labels and bargain reissues on CD of old vinyl. Standard of criticism can be very high. In my opinion you can't lose with these thick paperbacks. Buy the newest edition as it comes out to catch the newer recordings and budget reissues.

    While predominantly about the quality of the performance they also talk about recording or transfer quality.

    http://www.amazon.com/Penguin-Guide-...dp_ob_title_bk

    You will note from the comments on Amazon that it has its critics. Nonetheless I have bought some great recordings based on Penguin Guide recommendations.

    EDIT: many of my favorite (as in most enjoyable sounding) CDs are re-releases of great quality analog recordings that are quite old. My old Sugden cd player seems good at retrieving something approaching a quasi-vinyl sound - the audio critics also said this.

    There are Penguin Guide "rosette" winners here: http://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/ros...=0&keyword=all

    The rosette is given to recordings regarded as very special indeed by any one of the reviewers as a personal response, as opposed to four stars ("really exceptional") and key symbol ("top recommendation") rankings which supposedly are more objective assessments. Rosetted CDs I have bought are nearly always extremely interesting and sometimes bargains. Three stars or more tends to be worth buying.

    My most favorite piano recording for its period - no competition - is a Penguin rosette winner: http://www.amazon.com/Arturo-Benedet.../dp/B001ICZ0YA

    Through a good open-sounding system, this CD is so beautiful it can make me weep. Benedetti's piano playing is amazing and, although it's from 1957(!), so is the recording. Anyone who is into piano and hasn't heard this is really missing something.

    Nevertheless I have bought CDs which haven't make it into the Penguin Guide which I still love, often because of liking particular performers.
    Last edited by Phil100; 07-06-2011 at 08:57 AM. Reason: Definition of highest Penguin rankings

  8. #8
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    Default producer politics

    Thanks for that post, Alan. A very good friend of mine, a first call studio drummer, refers to producers as "reducers".

    Anyway, have fun discovering some of the great recordings out there - your Harbeths will let you know when you've found a good one :)

  9. #9
    Phil100 Guest

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    Quote Originally Posted by Haligonian View Post
    My brother told me that 'true audiophiles' only shoot to purchase mono recordings, which I argued might not sound better for EVERYTHING. Does anyone have any insight that might support or reject his theory?
    While I probably don't fit the definition of a "true audiophile", I've never heard that one. Without stereo there's no soundstage or imaging. For me, those are a large part of the enjoyment and give physicality to a good recording.

  10. #10
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    Default

    Thanks for the help, and especially for pointing me in the direction of the penguin book, and the Benedetti recording. I will definitely grab a copy of each and give the cd/vinyl a shot on my new P3's!

    Phil, you are obviously a classical enthusiast. As a piano beginner that guide would be a great start for some extra motivation.

  11. #11
    Phil100 Guest

    Default

    I like classical of various periods + jazz + rock + anything in no particular order. So long as it is good. It was classical (late baroque ensemble and medieval choral specifically) that made me get more into hifi though.

  12. #12
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    Default

    The dr loudness war site can be an extremely useful source of information, at least as a starting point, for music purchasing decisions.

    try downloading the top 1500 albums or so, ranked by albums with the highest dynamic range. The minimum and maximum dynamic range value by track is listed as well. You can run a standard deviation to give an idea how “even” the “quality” (loudness being the proxy in this case) of the album/s. The smaller the number indicates album consistency of some sort.

    There seems to me at least some correlation between lack of range compression, positive subjective impressions and good quality recordings in the overall sense.

  13. #13
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    Default

    One could peruse amazon.com buyer reviews, classicstoday.com reviews, and the perfunctory Penguin guides for suggested recordings/performances. I find all of these less than ideal and prefer the hearing is believing approach. There are some very good all classical (or all whatever kind of music you listen to) internet stations that play a genre 24/7, and if you are patient and keep a pen and paper nearby you can jot down a selection that appeals to you and investigate further. I prefer this latter approach.

    I also look for recordings/performances on certain labels to see what they offer in their catalogs. I've found Pentatone, Alia Vox, Tacet, Living Stereo, Mercury Living Presence, Channel Classics, BIS, Linn, MDG, Harmonia Mundi, Praga Digitals (to name some) to be generally very good. If I hear a selection on internet radio I like and then find it on one of my favored labels better yet.

    Two personal favorite SACD recordings/performances from past two years:

    Mozart Divertimento K563, Trio Zimmermann, BIS-SACD-1817
    Saint Saens Piano Quartets, Mozart Piano Quartet, MDG 943 1519-6

  14. #14
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    Default Golden Oldies vs. Modern ???

    Quote Originally Posted by A.S. View Post

    Every respected and experienced recording engineer will, at one time or another, have accepted a job, done his best to position the microphones in what he considers the best place for the most natural sound, optimally adjusted the levels to balance the performers just right, only to be crushed under the ego of the producer who has a different sonic vision - and the muscle to demand it.

    I`d guess that not one producer in a hundred considers himself to be an ´audiophile`. This explains why as noted earlier some older recordings made on what is now laughably obsolete museum pieces can sound wonderful, but many - perhaps most? - modern recordings churned-out by young inexperienced producers reflect the personality of youth, and not the wisdom of old age. He who pays the bills calls the shots and this is never more true than in the recording industry.
    I have been giving much thought to this concept over the last few weeks. As hoped, a bit of browsing through the collection of Alan's past comments found the post quoted above, fitting the conundrum I've observed: some fantastic recordings from around 1960, a couple of good ones from the last couple of years, and (to my ears anyway) an absolute dud from 2011.

    Last Sunday morning the kitchen radio was on BBC Radio 3. I came back from somewhere and my wife, who is indifferent to classical music and opera in particular, said to me she had really been wowed by an aria just played on the 'Sunday Morning' programme. Checked the listings, then listened on the iPlayer - it was a performance of Vissi d'arte from Tosca by Leontyne Price with Rome Opera Orchestra, recorded June 1960. Even through the mediocre speakers on our computer it seemed as every bit as good as my wife had suggested. After a bit of research I ordered the most consistently recommended CD version of that recording. It arrived mid-week and - I know this sounds cliched - is thrilling. I can't wait to hear it on Harbeths.

    One of the standard demo tracks for my planned new system is a 1962 recording of a duet from Puccini's Il Tabarro (Renata Tebaldi, Mario del Monaco, Orchestra del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino) - E ben altro il mio sogno! It is a deservedly classic recording and and one which the new kit must render well.

    Leaping ahead nearly 50 years, another test track is I was glad (Parry) from the eponymous 2011 CD by Harry Christophers and the Sixteen. It is a beautiful recording - choir, organ, church acoustics etc. - not only to me but was also commented upon by the dealer where I heard it through Monitor 30.1s and SHL5s.

    Another impressive modern recording was one I heard on Radio 3's CD Review just a few weeks ago: Emanuel Ax's new CD Variations - a 2013 release. It was the Introduction to Beethoven's Eroica Variations that caught my attention.

    Finally the dud: a 2011 recording of Mozart's requiem - the Dies Irae sounding disappointingly muddy.

    Golden oldies indeed, and a mixed bag from our current era.

    Mark

  15. #15
    Gregl Guest

    Default Vinyl solution?

    Yes switch 70% vinyl 30% cd

  16. #16
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    Default Right of Spring

    My favourite piece of music is Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. My favourite recording of this piece (and I have 30 or so) dates from 1958 (Bernstein NYP).

    True most of this is down to an astonishing performance by the New York Philharmonic, but the mastering of the recording must be pretty good too giving the sheer electricity it generates. There is a slight hissing audible in the quieter passages, but this is easily forgiven.

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    Default You're in good company. Stravinsky, too, loved it.

    Quote Originally Posted by broadsword View Post
    ...Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. My favourite recording of this piece .... dates from 1958 (Bernstein NYP).

    True most of this is down to an astonishing performance by the New York Philharmonic ....
    Broadsword,

    I really must check out that recording. Apparently Stravinsky himself raved about it. My source for this info? One of the books that I am reading (in this case savouring) at the moment is Dinner with Lenny - The last long interview with Leonard Bernstein.

    Jonathon Cott, the interviewer / author, writes in the very first paragraph of the book: " 'Wow!' A galvanized Stravinsky reportedly exclaimed after listening to Leonard Bernstein's astonishing recording of the Rite of Spring - a still unsurpassed performance that Columbia Records captured more than 50 years ago in a single inspired and electrically charged recording session on January 20, 1958 in New York City".

    Your comments on the recording and the quote from the book serve as a reminder that it really is the music that matters.

    The book is a recent release and was reviewed in several weekend papers last week:
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/ebb4302a-a...#axzz2RenaSt36
    http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...t-8555071.html

    Mark

  18. #18
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    Default Medium?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregl View Post
    Yes switch 70% vinyl 30% cd
    Sorry, but what has the medium to do with it?

  19. #19
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    Default Difference between neutral and colored sound?

    Which recordings are considered to be neutral and good recordings? In other words, no oil painting (see comment A.S.) but a sharp picture or will it always be an oil painting or an aquarel ? As a pianist my reference to judge sound is the piano and I find for example the recordings of -Paul Lewis Beethoven sonatas- and Perahia with the Goldberg variations- among the best in my collection. Another good example of a old but terrific recording are Wagners Ring des N. with Solti on Decca (late fifties!)

    In audio/music reviews often recordings are considered to be outstanding of quality, 9 out of 10 I find them not neutral and coloured in a way the recording sounds artificial.

    What's the difference between natural and neutral?

  20. #20
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    Default Simple recording techniques?

    Alan mentions some older recordings as being of high quality. I love the singing of Nat King Cole, and the recording quality is superb. He's ' there with you ' in my opinion. Some American sound engineers were streets ahead of their British counterparts in the late '50s/early '60s.

    That said, those early recordings at EMI Abbey Road are superb. As one who dabbles a little in live sound and recording, I do find simple mic. techniques often give the best recording quality. Not a hard and fast rule, as some multi mic. recordings also produce a superb result.

    In the popular music world, many quote the recordings of Norman Petty ( Buddy Holly and others ) as excellent. I heard the CD of Buddy Holly ' From the Original Master Tapes ' and have to agree. Not all my records, CDs, etc. are of the highest recording quality, but I'd rather have them than miss out on the pleasure of listening to music.

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