The copy we are selling is similar to the one pictured above.
Side One: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)*
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus (often quieter than this grade)*
- A stunning pressing, with a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated with an outstanding Double Plus (A++) side one
- Both sides are open, high-rez, and spacious, with depth like you will not believe and some of the least shrill string reproduction we have ever heard for this music (which is the main problem we run into on the album)
- Gloriously exciting and fun music that belongs in any audiophile's collection
- This spectacular Demo Disc recording is big, clear, rich, dynamic, transparent and energetic - HERE is the sound we love, and that is so hard to find
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- On side one, a small bubble makes 6 light thumps in the quiet passage two inches from the end of the side.
- On side two, a mark makes 6 moderately light swooshy crackles about one inch into the side.
Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing classical music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.
This Angel Melodiya pressing of Bizet's Carmen, rearranged by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin for strings and 47 percussion instruments, has two outstanding sides. If you have the system to play it, this copy is a knockout.
But boy is it a difficult record to reproduce. You better have everything working right when you play this one -- it's guaranteed to bring practically any audiophile system to its knees. Speed, resolving power and freedom from distortion are what this record needs to sound its best. Is your system up to it? There's only one way to find out.
And if you have any peaky audiophile wire or equipment in your system, the kind that is full of detail but calls attention to itself, you are in big trouble with a record like this. More than anything this is a record that will reward your system's neutrality.
What the best sides of this wonderful classical release have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1967
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there's more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
Top Quality Sound
The mastering EQ is close to perfection, with correct tonality from top to bottom. It's surprisingly rich and smooth. Transparency and top-end extension were excellent as well. The timpani has the weight and whomp of the real thing, and they're way at the back where they should be.
This is a superb Demonstration disc, but it is also an excellent Test disc. The sound of the best copies is rich, full-bodied, incredibly spacious, and exceptionally extended up top. There is a prodigious amount of musical information spread across the soundstage, much of it difficult to reproduce.
Musicians are banging on so many different percussive devices (often at the far back of the stage, or, even better, far back and left or right) that getting each one's sonic character to clearly come through is a challenge -- and when you've met it, a thrill. If you've done your homework, this is the kind of record that can show you what you've accomplished.
On the best copies the strings have wonderful texture and sheen. If your system isn't up to it (or you have a copy with a problem in this area), the strings might sound a little shrill and possibly grainy as well, but I'm here to tell you that the sound on the best copies is just fine with respect to string tone and timbre. You will need to look elsewhere for the problem.
What We're Listening For on The Carmen Ballet Suite
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Famous in its Day
The Carmen Ballet Suite was deservedly famous in audiophile circles back in the '70s. Even with the dubious equipment that a high-end stereo store might be running, this record would still sound shockingly good. It has so much "life" to it, so many interesting colors, and above all such three-dimensional spaciousness, it can make even bad transistor equipment, which is pretty much all there was back then, sound good. (The store I frequented carried the classic tube Audio Research electronics -- that's where I bought mine -- but most stores were all-transistor, and high-power transistors at that, not a sound I care to revisit. Would love to hear my SP3-A-1 again though!)
Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of other pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
Our Difficulty of Reproduction Scale
This album is especially Difficult to Reproduce. Do not attempt to play it on anything but the highest quality equipment.
It took a long time to get to the point where we could clean the record properly, twenty years or so, and about the same amount of time to get the stereo to the level it needed to be, involving, you guessed it, many of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we tout so obsessively.
It's not easy to find a pressing with the low end whomp factor, midrange energy and overall dynamic power that this music needs, and it takes one helluva stereo to play one too.
As we've said before, these kinds of recordings - Ambrosia; Blood, Sweat and Tears; The Yes Album; Dark Side of the Moon, Led Zeppelin II - they are designed to bring an audio system to its knees.
If you have the kind of big system that a record like this demands, when you drop the needle on the best of our Hot Stamper pressings, you are going to hear some amazing sound .
A Must Own Classical Record
This Demo Disc Quality recording should be part of any serious Classical Music Collection. Others that belong in that category can be found here.
- First Intermezzo - Changing of the Guard
- Entrance of Carmen & Habanera
- Second Intermezzo
- Toreador & Carmen
- Card Scene