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What is Old is New Again! Golden Oldie LPs From
Strauss Waltzes, Fritz Reiner, Chicago Symphony (RCA LSC-2500 Classic Records 200 Gram Quiex LP)
Rhapsodies, Leopold Stokowski, RCA Symphony (RCA LSC-2471 Classic Records 200 Gram Quiex LP)
Time for a shootout. These stunning recordings from the RCA vaults have been re-pressed by the folks at Classic Records, on yet another vinyl formulation, and we're supposed to buy them again? They're improved, they said. I said," Prove it!," so a shootout was arranged. Classic Records provided their new 200-gram editions, and I provided the older (circa 1998) Classic 180-gram releases that I love so much, and that we're being asked to replace.
I had to get warmed up for this event. First I gave the new copies and my library editions a double bath in L'Art du Son record cleaning solution on my VPI record cleaning machine. I even replaced the inner sleeves with rice paper sleeves to keep them pristine. I demagnetized my ZYX phono cartridge and rebalanced my VPI JMW-9 tonearm. Everything downstream was warmed up. I even added air to the Townshend 3D Seismic Sink under the turntable! There was nothing more to do other than sit down and listen.
First up was the ultra-delicious recording by Mohr and Layton of Strauss Waltzes (LSC-2500). I have played my original Classic release less than six times, say once a year, as I suspect is typical of this recording. The older LPs from Classic differ in three ways from the new releases: (1) The new editions are thicker, at 200 grams vs. 180 grams, and feel it; (2) the new ones are perfectly flat out to the edge, while the older copies have raised outer rims and concave surfaces; (3) and finally, the new LPs use a recently-invented vinyl formulation that supposedly lowers noise.
I love this recording. The violins are sweet and textured, the bass full and impactful, and the surface of my 180-gram LP is very quiet. Reiner does a terrific job of sensing the rhythms, the rubati and ritardanti, of vintage Strauss like no other. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra sounds like they were recording in Vienna. I just did not believe that my 180-gram LP could be bettered by the 200-gram copy, but oh well, it was! The new pressing is a conservative 20 percent improvement in every way. I heard more of those wonderful violins, bigger and fuller bass, and blacker backgrounds and surfaces. The deep bass seemed better connected to the midbass and midrange, while the older LP had frequency peaks and valleys by comparison. The new release was more musical, with images popping with a renewed pace and feel. The 200-gram Quiex edition just ran away with the comparison. If you treasure magnificent Strauss, you must have the 200-gram LP in your collection, even if you already own the 180-gram edition. It simply makes good musical sense.
Next up is the amazing Stokowski Rhapsodies (LSC-2471). This is a sensational release, and one that is fun to play for your friends. It is a powerful recording, with lots of Stoky flare and fire. The pickup orchestra and recording team could not dim Leopold as he compelled his orchestral forces to new levels of feeling and rhythm. This is a WOW recording that uses every bit of tape headroom available in 1961. My 180-gram copy has been played perhaps 30 or 40 times. It's an LP I use to show off my latest gear. It still sounds quite good, though it showed some mistracking in the loudest passages and was not as quiet as I remembered. Also, the outer lip causes the stylus to miss the first bar of music if you aren't careful. Nevertheless, a very serviceable LP.
The 200-gram edition is dramatically better! The differences were greater than they were with the Strauss LPs. I couldn't get over how much my older Classic LP had declined, or how much the new one had been improved. I remembered that the older edition trounced my original RCA LP. Well, the 200-gram Quiex does it again. It was clean, powerful, smooth, and completely trackable to the loudest note. I loved the way it showed off black backgrounds and delicate instruments during quiet passages. I'd say that the new 200-gram LP was a 40- to 50-percent improvement over my well-loved original Classic LP. Buy it before they sell them all!
Now for a bonus—I own the aluminum lacquer masters (one for each side) from which the original 180-gram LPs of the Stokowski recording were cut! I've only played these three times, as Bernie Grundman thinks their life expectancy is only 100 plays. They are flat as pancakes, and are 14 inches in diameter, but they still fit on my Scout. They sound very tape-like, very honest and bold, with incredible definition. They are also quite alive-sounding. I compared them to the 180-gram and the 200-gram editions, to see which one was more faithful to the master and the tape.
After renewing my memory of the sound of the lacquers, I have to say that they sound like neither the 180-gram nor the 200-gram LP, though in terms of definition and detail, they are a bit closer to the 200-gram LP. Their inner detail is similar, and ambience retrieval is close. Otherwise, the lacquers are nowhere near as rich sounding as either LP, or as liquid in texture. The lacquers sound brighter, and quiet instruments are more delicate. Somehow the pacing seems quicker, and fortes faster, bolder, and cleaner. The lacquers are amazing, and unequaled by either vinyl pressing. The 200-gram LP is closer, but still sounds "LP-ish" rather than tape-like. Vinyl just has a sound of its own, as does aluminum. I find the sound of vinyl additive, while aluminum is more neutral. I'm glad I own the lacquers, but I love the vinyl editions as well.
This is a conundrum, but there's good news! The first law of hi-fi states, "You never know what you are missing." Since you probably don't have lacquers to compare, you won't lose any sleep over this. The 200-gram Classic releases are great values. You will certainly get your money's worth in quality and music. Vote for these new vinyl releases with your wallet.