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The best labels for the best sound in classical music


zenpmd
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The most impressive recordings I've heard are from Reference Recordings.

 

Also usually rather audiophile are Linn, Channel Classic, Pentatone, and BIS.

 

Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, and Alpha do tend to be well recorded but sometimes can be hit and miss.

 

The big labels, be it Sony or Universal (DG, Decca, Warner, etc.) do have the occasional good recording, but you really don't know what you're getting before you listen, some of them can also be pretty bad or compressed or both.

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The most impressive recordings I've heard are from Reference Recordings.

 

Impressive maybe, but like Telarc they have a tendency to produce a sound that appeals to audiophile tastes, i.e. they often have such a powerful bass that seems unrealistic to me. I like those recordings, but I don't see them as a true reflection of the sound you can hear live.

 

I think the level of recording quality in classical labels is generally very high today. The most important limitation comes from the fact that recordings are now often done live, which requires a more close-up recording to reduce audience noise. Many productions by top stars on big labels (Rattle on EMI/Warner, Grimaud or Mutter on DG, and many more) sound average for that reason.

 

On the other hand, I found Pentatone, BIS and Channel to produce the most consistent high quality sound. But there are many other small labels with state of the art sound, and none really stands out.

 

Some people focus on the recording format (PCM or DSD), but IMHO this is just a detail that hardly affects the end result. Until only a few years years ago, BIS recorded in 24/44 PCM, while 24/96 was already the standard. The sa-cd.net forum had a big BIS fanbase (BIS owner Robert von Bahr posted there), and many people where shocked when they heard about this, but funnily nobody ever complained about "low-rez PCM sound" on BIS SACDs recorded in 24/44, while many say CDs are generally unlistenable because of the 16/44 limitations.

Claude

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Impressive maybe, but like Telarc they have a tendency to produce a sound that appeals to audiophile tastes, i.e. they often have such a powerful bass that seems unrealistic to me. I like those recordings, but I don't see them as a true reflection of the sound you can hear live.

That is certainly true. I've chosen the term "impressive" for a reason, I'm continually impressed by how much you hear on them.

 

I agree that a live experience is usually very different, even in the best seats in an acoustically optimized space (and I'm not talking about the old 19th century concert buildings that usually sound horrible). But without opening the can of worms of comparing Hifi to live, I sometimes expect different things from my Hifi reproduction than from a live concert. And RR really excels at the former. I don't tend to listen to it very often, but this has more to do with their selection of repertoire and orchestras.

 

On everything else you said, I fully agree.

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The most impressive recordings I've heard are from Reference Recordings.

 

Also usually rather audiophile are Linn, Channel Classic, Pentatone, and BIS.

 

Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, and Alpha do tend to be well recorded but sometimes can be hit and miss.

 

The big labels, be it Sony or Universal (DG, Decca, Warner, etc.) do have the occasional good recording, but you really don't know what you're getting before you listen, some of them can also be pretty bad or compressed or both.

 

I would add the label Challenge Classics to the list of labels that make good recordings of classical music. From the downloads I have from them I find them to be not only musically very good indeed, but also some of the most natural and realistic concert hall sound without the often too close and mulitmic'd of the biggies like DGG whose recordings seem to be made for people with boombox systems all too often.

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Along with the others mentioned, Da Capo and Norway's 2L can be quite good (though the selection for the latter is limited); Jordi Savall's recordings for his own Alia Vox label have very good sound; and for modern classical, Nonesuch can be good.

 

Edit: Heh, I see while I was typing, another couple of DaCapo recommendations have rolled in. :)

 

A thought about how to find labels - look at the Gramophone Magazine list of recommendations for a few months and see what labels those recordings are on.

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I agree that a live experience is usually very different, even in the best seats in an acoustically optimized space (and I'm not talking about the old 19th century concert buildings that usually sound horrible). But without opening the can of worms of comparing Hifi to live, I sometimes expect different things from my Hifi reproduction than from a live concert. And RR really excels at the former. I don't tend to listen to it very often, but this has more to do with their selection of repertoire and orchestras.

 

I'm pretty sure that CatManDo was not comparing live music to HiFi, but rather live recorded music to studio music, such as the LSO Live label.

 

"The function of music is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought", Sir Thomas Beecham. 

 

 

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I'm pretty sure that CatManDo was not comparing live music to HiFi, but rather live recorded music to studio music, such as the LSO Live label.

 

No, I was comparing the recorded sound with sound that I'm used to hearing live (in other orchestra halls of course).

 

Many Telarc and Reference Recordings albums I have heard have a powerful bass sound that I've never heard live, and rarely on recordings by "non-audiophile" labels. I think that this is deliberate, because the target audience of these labels (hifi fans) likes that "wall-shaking" sound.

 

I enjoy those recordings, but they are a bit artificial, like silicone breasts ;)

Claude

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I'm pretty sure that CatManDo was not comparing live music to HiFi, but rather live recorded music to studio music, such as the LSO Live label.

The LSO live label is actually a rather problematic example as many of their recordings are only so so sound quality wise. Part of the deal is probably that some of them are recorded in the Barbican hall, a venue with notoriously tricky acoustics. I'm more impressed by what I hear e.g. from the Boston Symphony's own label.

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No, I was comparing the recorded sound with sound that I'm used to hearing live (in other orchestra halls of course).

 

Many Telarc and Reference Recordings albums I have heard have a powerful bass sound that I've never heard live, and rarely on recordings by "non-audiophile" labels. I think that this is deliberate, because the target audience of these labels (hifi fans) likes that "wall-shaking" sound.

 

I enjoy those recordings, but they are a bit artificial, like silicone breasts ;)

Fundamentally we agree I think.

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I agree with Musicophile’s list of Reference Recordings, Linn, Channel Classics, Pentatone, BIS, Harmonia Mundi, Hyperion, and Alpha.

 

In addition, I would add the following smaller labels as ones that generally making excellent quality recordings, with quality being more variable from album to album as you go down the list:

 

Ramée

Ricercar

Arts Productions

Alia Vox

Aeon

Zig-Zag Territoires

Ligia

Mirare

Glossa

Da Capo

Capriccio

Naïve

The Audio Tragic

 

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No, I was comparing the recorded sound with sound that I'm used to hearing live (in other orchestra halls of course).

 

Many Telarc and Reference Recordings albums I have heard have a powerful bass sound that I've never heard live, and rarely on recordings by "non-audiophile" labels. I think that this is deliberate, because the target audience of these labels (hifi fans) likes that "wall-shaking" sound.

 

I enjoy those recordings, but they are a bit artificial, like silicone breasts ;)

 

That may be speaker/system dependent, as the recordings from Telarc and Reference Recordings sound the most like live acoustic music I've heard in good concert halls in my system.

 

However, I find the weight and impact of a bass drum and the amount of air hitting my stomach to be even more powerful live. Much the same is true for organ, other low percussion instruments and string basses, they are more intense live in a good concert hall than either Telarc or Reference Recordings, however those to labels are the ones that gets me the closest to a concert hall experience.

 

I also find Channel Classics, PentaTone, Mercury Living Presence and RCA Living Stereo SACDs to also have quite realistic bass, as well as realistic midrange and highs.

 

I also believe a real orchestra in my room would shake my walls way more than any recording.

 

BTW, Telarc uses no EQ, as little mixing as possible, they are as natural as they come. Michael Bishop upon Erich Kunzel's death stated that most of the recordings of the Cincinnati Pops were "direct to PCM" and later "direct to DSD". All the sound effects were played live with the orchestra and Kunzel only did one single take of each piece of music. There is no post editing, no level changes, etc., what we get is exactly what happened in Music Hall Cincinnati. This is a close to a concert hall experience as can be IMHO.

I have dementia. I save all my posts in a text file I call Forums.  I do a search in that file to find out what I said or did in the past.

 

I still love music.

 

Teresa

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The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's CSO Resound label produces remarkably high quality recordings. My ears are trained by hearing many performances by the CSO in their home venue, and I find these CSO Resound recordings really put me in that space and capture the sound of the hall.

 

Also, Cedille is a consistent winner both in recording quality and performance quality.

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Maybe time to time also Mariinsky label produce quite nice sounding live records. I have also some Halle and RCO Live albums where they sound stunning to my ears. Agree with @jiminlogansquare about CSO Resound. I think as always problem is with the selections and content - classical music has quite a lot good quality record labels - oh I would be adding Hyperion as well ;-)

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Krzysztof Maj

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Just want to clarify best sounding does not mean best performance-

Agree,

 

There is no label that consistently produces good performance.

 

Of the labels mentioned above, I had the best % of good performances on Harmonia Mundi (they really have an excellent choice of artists).

 

Beyond that, it is really a case-by-case situation. The smaller labels like Hyperion, BIS, and Chandos tend to have lesser known artists, but care about them more, so there are many gems, but also many recordings I wouldn't consider outstanding.

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I am going to through my 2-cents into this discussion. First I will nominate Tudor for inclusion with the caveat that I only have one recording from this label but I think the SQ is excellent and that is a 16/44 download (Robin Ticciati, Dvorak's New World Symphony; American Suite). The American Suite is excellent and I can't believe I did not have this piece already. I also think that most of John Eargle's recordings on Delos (1980's - 1990's) have very good sonics.

 

The other comment that I wanted to add was that in comparing the labels that people have added to the list, how different they can sound from each other. Telarc does not sound like Linn which does not sound like Hyperion etc, etc. Each label seems to present a different "view" of what a recording should be. I don't know if this is influenced at all by whether or not multichannel was used, as in the case of Linn.

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The other comment that I wanted to add was that in comparing the labels that people have added to the list, how different they can sound from each other. Telarc does not sound like Linn which does not sound like Hyperion etc, etc. Each label seems to present a different "view" of what a recording should be. I don't know if this is influenced at all by whether or not multichannel was used, as in the case of Linn.

I'd agree that labels do tend to have a "house sound". Some examples: Telarc is (or was, are they still around?), similar to RR discussed above, made to impress. Sometimes a bit too much.

 

Another example I know well is BIS. I find them to be all about transparency, but the recordings can be perceived by some as a bit dry. Furthermore, they are extremely uncompressed. An extreme example is the recent recording of Ravel's Daphnis with Nézet-Séguin and the Rotterdam, which goes up to DR19! What that means essentially that at normal playback levels I usually worry for the first 30 seconds if the recording really has started already (it has but is barely audible). While I hate compression in general, on this particular recording I just can't play it without playing with the volume remote on my amp.

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