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Vinyl Review: Sibelius – Violin Concerto, Oistrakh, Ormandy, Philadelphia Orch (Speakers Corner 180g)

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Sound: 8.8
Pressing: 8.4
Value: 9.0

Speakers Corner reissue released in 2017. 180g vinyl. Catalog Number: Columbia MS 6157. UPC: 4260019715333. MSRP: $35. Buy on Amazon.com

Introduction

Speakers Corner is mining the Columbia vaults for early stereo gems, of which this title is one. There are some legendary titles and performances from that era, but per our review philosophy, this review will focus on the sound quality on the disc instead of the music. I happen to love the music here (Sibelius is one of my favorite composers), but that doesn’t make me an expert on it. Surely enough has been said about this popular concerto and this well-known performance over the years.

I compared the 2017 Speakers Corner 180g reissue with an original stereo 1961-ish Columbia 6-eye and a late ’60s 2-eye with white “360 Stereo” lettering. Oddly, the label variant Speakers Corner used for their reissue is the mid ’60s 2-eye with black “360 Stereo” lettering, which would have been the second issue of this release, the first being the 6-eye label.

Sound: 8.8

A few things struck me about this recording. First, the violin is really, really big. Too big compared to the orchestra. It’s fun for a minute, but ultimately gives me the awkward sense of being on stage with the performers instead of in the audience. I’m not sure, but it may also contribute to the rather shallow soundstage depth. Second, like most Columbia recordings, the quality is solid but lacks refinement. Everything sounds just a little aggressive; like there is always a touch of overload on the tape.

What about the differences between these pressings? Well, the 2-eye lost out to the 6-eye, as you may have expected. The 2-eye isn’t bad, actually, but it has some glare and the massed strings are boxy. Double bass sounded surprisingly good, however, and the sweetness of the woodwinds was nicely replicated. I would not pass up a NM 2-eye if you find one for cheap.

The winner between the 6-eye and Speakers Corner is tougher to call. There are some distinct differences, the most obvious of which is the superior transparency of the reissue. Distinguishing individual instruments is easier with the Speakers Corner, due in part to the lower noise floor, but also resulting from what sounds to me like more modern/accurate mastering and cutting equipment.

Similar to the way the cutting heads used early on by RCA and Decca added a little magic to the sound on those original pressings, the 6-eye has tone and substance the reissue doesn’t quite match. The age of the tapes is probably a contributing factor to this as well. If you can get past the grit on the 6-eye (especially in the higher frequency massed strings and brass), and your system is on the lean side of neutral already, an early original could be preferred.

However, on my system, I’d reach for the Speakers Corner reissue more often, simply because I typically like to “hear into” the performance more than I like to hear a sweetened version of it. Both the original and reissue have their charms. Maybe one of each is best?

(See reference system for context on sound evaluation.)

Pressing/packaging: 8.4

Perfectly flat and centered, with no visible defects. This is the norm with Speakers Corner and I have to admit I’ve become spoiled to it. As my recent streak of defective discs from Music Matters proves, just because a reissue is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. Pressing records is hard to do well, but if the quality control dude is sleeping on the job, it’s almost impossible. Luckily, I can’t recall ever seeing a flaw in a Speakers Corner release. Again, spoiled! This record has a few more pops than other slabs from this label, however, which is why the score isn’t higher. Also, the label design isn’t from the first pressing, so I dinged the score a little for that transgression as well! The jacket is flawless.

Value: 9.0

Being able to conveniently purchase lovingly created reissues like this at reasonable prices is a luxury we should all be thankful for. Early stereo 6-eye originals are getting tough to find (check eBay), and clean copies go for more than $35. If you crave the tubey magic of the originals, seek one out. If you prefer accuracy and nice vinyl with only minimal noise, go with this reissue.

By the way, be sure to check out the new website Speakers Corner launched called Pure-Analogue.com. It’s a great resource for information about how vinyl records are mastered.

Speakers Corner reissue LP on Amazon.com:

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