I'm not sure you can point to one label and call it the best for classical. DG has released some that are wonderful, some are ordinary at best. Ditto Teldec, Sony, Decca, etc. My favorite (remember "my") label for sonics is Telarc. Find the sound to be consistently excellent, but there are dissenters. Also, there is not enough serious stuff on the label to suit my tastes.
The best value in CDs - one Sam Tellig has written about at least a couple of times - is Naxos (IMHO). Rarely will you get a clunker musically or sonically. You just don't get the marquee names. Of course, that's how Klaus keeps the costs realistic. They have won a number of awards in Grammaphone and Penguin guides, among others. In sum, if someone wants to build a good classical discography and doesn't want to float a second mortgage, he can't do any better than Naxos.
www.naxos.com if you want to give 'em a look.
I am not a huge classical fan however I really like the way Telarc and Delos sound. Delos has such a detailed and dynamic soundstage it would probably be my favorite but Telarc is so accurate it is worth mentioning.
Reference Recordings. They have a great web site with all of their titles listed.
I am only beginning to "get into classical" but have noticed that there is some excellent recordings of not so well-played music (Reference Recording of Copland Fanfare comes to mind) that are not as enjoyable to listen to as a less recording of a better performance. I have purchased a couple of the 24/96 digital master from original master tape and they are great performances and sound just fine.
while not offering much "mainstream" music, lyrita recorded some of the most spectacular classical lp's ever. i find harmonia mundi and bis to offer consistently excellent classical cd's, also on the more obscure side. _kelly
Jorge: If you are just getting started building a classical musical collection, here are a couple of suggestions. First, look for a book titled "The NPR Guide to Classical Music", or words to that effect. One of the main music critics has evaluated the best recordings for many of the major composers and their best-known works. The book is a graet starting point for "newbies". Second suggestion: try the RCA "Living Stereo" re-issue series and the Mercury "Living Presence" re-issue series. Both feature great recordings from the 1950's and early 1960's, and both series have some superb recordings. Finally, as to labels:
there are already some good suggestions from others. Over the past 40 years or so, the following labels have had some fine recordings: Decca, London, Teldec, Harmonia Mundi, BIS, Lyrita, Deutsche Grammophon (although their recording quality was sometimes not the best during the 1970's and early 1980's), Telarc (usually on the cutting edge of recording technology). There are also some fine classical recordings on Dorian and Chesky.
If you like classical music, I would seriously consider a vinyl frontend, because so far CD still falls behind the old technology in the renderings of big orchestral events in practically all parameters that are important for an audiophile and musiclover. As far as LP's are concerend you will find Decca, Emi, Mercury, RCA, Harmonia Mundi and most of the reissues (Classic Records) interesting. Perhaps the new technologies on the horizon will equal or better vinyl.
As far as CD's are concerend, I think the above posts are excellent, though I would warn of Deutsche Grammophon. I just bought Abado's Beethoven Symphonies with the Berlin Philharmonics and when I put it on, I thought my system was bust. Veiled, no punch, very distantly miked, no soundstage, in short terrible. Seems they are up to their old tricks of the 70's and 80' again. Telarc and RR have proven very reliable to these ears, harmonia mundi, Delos, sometimes Sony and the Mercury reissues on CD are generally quite enjoyable. Hope that helps a bit.
Jorge, IMHO as a classical music fan, "that label is best which offers the best performance of the work" (the one you refer, maybe)... As far as re-issues on CD go, Decca 24/96 remasters, Sony Classical, and EMI "art" offer good sound. But, in my system, they don't beat LP -- see Detlof above et alia...
Listen & enjoy, the music counts!
Reference Recordings is my favorite--but they are not all equal. I have a Mozart Concerto that is terrible, but then all of the Eiji Oui with Minnisota are exceptional--probably the best Classical I own on CD. Delos, Chesky, and Sony Classical are also excellent--but definitely a second to Reference Recordings in my opinion. On vinyl I like Reference Recordings, Sheffield, Klavier, and Classic Records Re-issues (180g). Again, there is some variation on these. Reference Recordings here has the most variation--I've gotten a few with quite a bit of surface noise. The others are consistent. The re-issues seem to generally be a function of the source material. I hope that helps.
If Deutsche Grammophon is not such good, why is that label among the most expensive ones? Why do most of the most prestigious orchestras record for this label? For example de Berlin and Viena Philharmonics. Thanks for your responds.
Jorge, we audiophiles are few, we don't count on the big market, so the big record labels don't record according to our gospel and/or needs. They record for the needs of the mainstream. Now most low end, mid fi CD players sound rather forward and harsh in the highs, so the very drawn back renderings of the Beethoven in my excample may be just right for that kind of gear. The ordinary music lover, not being audiophile hardly cares for soundstage, resolution, layering of depth, right placement of instruments or what have you. He quite innocently just wants to enjoy the music. He will not buy for "sound", as many of us do, he will buy for the artistic rendering, which not all of us, but the mainstream of music lovers would.
I'm with Detlof all the way on his recommendations and also agree to be careful of Duetsch Grammophone recordings so far as quality of the recordings, not too many good ones on vinyl although many excellent performances to answer Jorge. Some of their more recent digital recordings are better IMO. It is unfortunate that a label that records such great orchestras with many excellent performances would not be as discriminating in the engineering of their recordings.
Detloff's answer is right. DG sounds like it does because they multi-mike everything, then use the engineer to mix everything the way the engineer feels sounds natural (not necessarily what the orchestra sounded like in the recording venue, either). On a revealing system this will usually show up (although their recent recordings sound reasonably good), but on an ordinary system that the masses use (including many music critics) it sounds fine. I agree with a lot of the posts above--for a "best" record company, you have to decide if you want sonics or great performers/performances. Actually, these days most classical labels do a decent recording job, although Reference, Telarc, Delos, Harmonia Mundi, EMI and London/Decca have consistently fine sound. It wasn't always that way--many Columbias/CBS and early digital recordings from the "major" labels sound downright awful. As far as performers and performances go, that's personal taste for the most part. Some of the performances panned above are pretty good, in my opinion, but that's my viewpoint only. The big names aren't always the best; many of the Naxos recordings are superb performances, but you'll be hard-pressed to recognize the artists. That's why I like having a good tuner and a good classical station, to sample the performances before I buy them.
In my earlier post, I recommended a book, but did not have the title exactly correct. The name of the book is: "The NPR Guide To Building A Classical CD Collection", and it is written by Ted Libbey. It was re-printed in 1999. The book does an excellent job of reviewing some 350 recordings that form the core of a good classical collection, and recommends the best recordings of each of the works. Hope it helps.
Hi, in my opinion Teldec and Telarc CD recordings, and all the mercury Living Presence CD recordings, sound super BRIGHT to the point of pain. The Sony CDs sound wonderful, whether you get super bit mapping versions or not.
The reason that these three labels sound bright is that the absolute phase is reversed. If you listen with the phase correct, they don't sound bright.
Elgordo, I had never heard this! Thanks, I will try reversing the phase instead of putting these CDs away, never to play them again.
You learn something every day. Thanks again!
Elgordo and Sc53, excuse my ignorance but, what do you mean with "the absolute phase is reversed"? Could you please explain me that? Thank you!
I can't believe no one has mentioned Philips, which has some truly stellar performers and performances, recorded with true concert hall perspective--no artificial emphasis on any instrument or section of the orchestra as in many Decca, DG, Sony, etc. The Philips two-fers are far better values than even Naxos, with some unmatched performances and perfectly suitable if not outstanding recordings from the golden days of analog--late 60's to early 80's. Stay away from almost any recordings made digitally before about 1990, except Telarc, which got digital right from the outset, but has strayed into "hi-fi" territory too much lately. I find RR recordings bloated and overblown, with generally uninspired performances. Hyperion usually has very realistic chamber music recordings, but sometimes they allow too much reverb. A lot of the RCA Red Seal classics are superb, but some are rather overdone at the frequency extremes, and can sound congested in climaxes. The old Mercury stuff can be very sharp on top due to the type of recorders they used, but the orchestral perspective is realistic.
Reference recordings is in class by itself!