Best mastered recordings

I've noticed, here recently, that often times the difference in redbook, HDCD, etc, doesn't hinge as much on the final quality product/disc but more the way the recording was recorded and mastered. Specifally, I've found that I can take the same recording (Saint-Saens Symp No3) on three different labels (EMI, Telarc and Deutsche Grammophon), yet they all sound different, to some degree. I've noticed, for this particular recording, EMI and Telarc sound similar but distinctive. Yet, compared to DG, they don't match up. In fact, when compared to a borrowed SACD version of the same recording, the DG sounds more closely to its higher resolution counterpart.

To my point. Am I the only to conclude such a thing? If not, has anyone else found which recording labels produce the better recordings in comparison to others? What were your overall findings?



I spend a lot of time researching the label/audio engineer/mastering. It makes an enormous difference. Budget and target audience also plays a big role - often movies soundtracks get more money and you get a much higher quality production aimed at the commercial theatre THX sound systems.

I find Telarc (Micahel Bishop and Co.) very good on the whole. I have only had severe trouble with RCA and DG. However DG also has some exceptional stuff - so it is hard to generalize by a label alone.

In more popular genres here are a few names to look for in engineers credits (you can find this info on artists direct):
Doug Sax (Sheffiled labs fame and mastering of loads of stuff)
Bob Ludwig (Mastering - loads of stuff)
Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan)
Chuck Ainlay (Mark Knopfler sound)
Peter Walsh (Peter Gabriel...)
Hugh Padgham (Police etc.)
Quincy Jones (Earth Wind and Fire etc.)
George Massenburg
Gavin Lurssen
James Guthrie (Pink Floyd sound)
Steve Hoffman
Michael Bishop (6 Grammys)

Engineers to avoid
Steve Lillywhite (may have started the whole movement towards really horrible compressed sound - it worked for U2 and many bands followed)
Rick Rubin
Vlado Meller (Although he is noted for the Red Hot Chilli Peps and Oasis Morning Glory - overly compressed sound - he has done some great work for Tower of Power - he may be governed by the band/producers requirements desires for harsh compressed sound, in any case he has produced some over compressed stuff in the past so carries a "warning")
Ted Jensen
Rob Cavallo
Dan Hirsh
Bill Inglot
Janne Hansson
Alan Smyth
Leon Zervos
Brian Gardener
Joseph M. Palmaccio
"Sound different, to some degree?" Heck, they are entirely different from the instruments, players, venues, recording team, mastering team, producers, etc. How can you ascribe any difference to one parameter or another?

"I've noticed, for this particular recording, EMI and Telarc sound similar but distinctive. Yet, compared to DG, they don't match up." Duh. There is no way to say "this particular recording" since there are, at least, three entirely different recordings being discussed.

I don't see any point.
I agree with Kal in that there is no way that you can say that the recordings involved are the same recording, but would like to point out at least one thing in general. Each of the recording companies mentioned has different recording philosophies and uses different techniques to record. Telarc has been more of a minimalist, "audiophile" label; depending on when the Telarc recording was made, they may have used as their principal miking array three spaced omni-directional mikes, which will result in a spacious but diffuse soundstage compared to a multi-miked product, such as EMI and DG use. EMI, while it does multi-mike, generally has in the past had a basic miking array that was the main source of their finished product--the spot mikes were used to fix things that didn't work as well as they had wanted in the limited time they had to make the recording in what may have been a new venue for them (this from a talk I had with one of their former recording engineers). DG's general recording philosophy, from what I have read in the past, has been to multi-mike everything, run it all through a very sophisticated mixer and let the producer (tonmeister), in conjunction with the artists, come up with a finished product. Their recording chain is highly processed, is often recorded using short takes of each part of a work rather than a complete movement, and is the antithesis of the audiophile purist recording philosophy--they will be the first to admit that their recordings are intended to appeal to the music lover rather than the audiophile, and I have found that they often tend to sound better on a mass-market system than they do on some high-quality audiophile systems. That their recordings sound like the real thing you'd hear in a concert hall is coincidental, in my view, but the fact that they sound as good as they do musically is a tribute to their artists and to the musical sensibilities of their "tonmeisters".

There, I got that off my chest. In answer to the question, ignoring the example, yes, different recording companies produce different results in their recordings, and there are some that are better than others, depending on what your priorities are in listening to music on your system. Check the archives, there are a lot of threads on this topic. I personally find that, as a general proposition, classical recordings these days of orchestral works have gotten to the point where most of them sound pretty decent to me, though my favorite labels seem to be Telarc, Reference Recordings, London/Decca, Harmonia Mundi, Bis, Ondine, Delos (now defunct, I fear) and the San Francisco Symphony's house label (and take note, there are a number of different recording philosophies represented in this group). None of these companies can match a live concert performance, but these are the labels that seem to produce a more realistic facsimile of a real performance to me. YMMV.
The guys that consistently seem to do the best jobs are Stan Ricker and Steve Hoffman. There are a few people who have made a name in the business that I think must either be deaf or just don't care, but I have yet to hear anything bad by the two afore mentioned gentlemen...

As far as the Saint-Saens Symp No3 recording, there must be dozens of them, if not considerably more, and they all sound different. There are too many places to lay the blame or responsibility for that.



Lots of reasons why recordings sound many people with input, different rooms, different mic's, different mic placement...ect...lots and lots of reasons.

Check out some of these recording sessions using Royer Labs ribbon Mic's....lots of pics, and even sound'll get the idea.

Also, some of the Stereophile recordings go into different Mic types, and can order these recordings from Stereophile.

I really like Bernie Grundman's work. I also like Stan Ricker.
Gents, maybe there is a slight misconception that should be clarified. I understand the differences between one recording to another. Teams, musicians, etc...they all will play their own role in making the final product distinctive. Maybe I should have been a little more decisive in my word selection. (KR4 - sorry if I portrayed myself as an idiot, but looks are deceiving.)

Nevertheless, it seems others beside myself understand that even though recordings differ one to another, its hard to overlook the fact that some labels do a better job at recording the venue than others. Even to the degree that some labels do a better job at capturing a bad performance. I would hope thats why we purchase products from those labels; we feel they do a better job at capturing the moment better than others.

Its also more evident that I am not the only to think one company produces a better "final product" than another. In addition, some producers/recording teams/performers do a better job as well.

Rcprince - thanks for the insight on label philosophies. Thats one thing I hadn't considered. This "shows" in the examples of recording techniques you mentioned, and how they change from label to label.

Thanks for the constructive conversation, gents.
Craig--what I find interesting, and it shows how different people hear things, is that it seems you preferred the DG recording, where I have rarely liked their recordings. I will admit, though, that they do make musically involving recordings on occasion, as sometimes spotlighting an instrument in the mix might better let the emotion of the music come through. Shadorne and others bring up the good point of the recording engineer (I would add the producer too) being of importance. In the classical field some of the people I look for are Mohr-Layton (the original RCA team from back in the 50s), Wilma Cozart-Bob Fine (from the old Mercuries), Kenneth Wilkinson (London/Decca, some RCAs, from the early days of stereo), John Eargle (Delos), Peter McGrath/Tony Faulkner-Robina Young (Harmonia Mundi; Faulkner has done work for others as well), Woods/Bishop-Renner (Telarc), Keith Johnson (Reference Recordings), Kavi Alexander (Water Lily--he is the most purist of this bunch, and quite frankly there are times where his approach might not appeal to me), Craig Dory (Dorian) and the Nicrenz/Aubort team from Vox. EMI had and has a number of good recording teams as well, I just don't recall their names, the engineer I know from there is Simon Woods, who used to be our New Jersy Symphony's CEO, and his recordings were quite good. All of these teams use different techniques to record an orchestra, both from their basic philosophies but also depending on the piece, the venue, the size of the ensemble, the artists (don't think for a minute that Heifetz or Rubenstein didn't want themselves to be spotlit!), etc., and what they come up with may not necessarily sound like what you'd hear in row K of the concert hall, but I think they all have done a good job of getting the bulk of the event on record for us.
I really like Bernie Grundman's work. I also like Stan Ricker.

Indeed how could I have missed Bernie/Stan off from my list of good audio engineers....
Maybe I've been the more fortunate one to have purchased the better DG recordings, unknowingly. Mind you, I may not have years of exposure to classical music and recordings like many of you, but at this point in my progression, I favor more toward the DG releases than I do others I've mentioned previously(EMI, Telarc, Sony, RCA, Hyperion etc). Even the release I have purchased (Saint Saens No3) from multiple labels.

The DG releases have a more sense of immediacy. They tend to have a stronger presence in the recording than other, IMO. This is a quality in the recording I like...a lot. It could be the recording techniques used; I'm not sure. Regardless, it sounds great on my system. Then again, could it be the system? It's more mid-fi in quality. Not mass market, but not high end either.

I'll have to be a bit more discerning in my purchases from here on out. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for the engineers and producers you all mentioned.
You have to be more specific as regards DG recordings, such as listing the ones you like. In the 70s and 80s DG produced some of the most irritating recordings on the market - harmonically thin, etched, bass shy, dry, no soundstaging. They changed in the 90s and have actually, I've heard, remastered some performances and completely changed the sound.

On the pop side of things, Columbia did the same thing in the 60s and 70s. Their pop and jazz recordings were awful, especially compared to companies like Atlantic and Warner from same period. I remember reading Rolling Stone articles in 1970 talking about the shameful quality of Columbia's Dylan and Santana releases. In the 70s I would try to find import releases of Columbia's stuff.

For the last 8-10 years Columbia (Sony) has been releasing some excellent sounding remastered albums
"I remember reading Rolling Stone articles in 1970 talking about the shameful quality of Columbia's Dylan and Santana releases. In the 70s I would try to find import releases of Columbia's stuff.

For the last 8-10 years Columbia (Sony) has been releasing some excellent sounding remastered albums "

I have a recent re-release of Santana's Abraxas on Vinyl, and it possibly the worst sounding drek I've ever encountered, far worse than the original crap.
Good thread. As for Rick Rubin, I've only heard his work with Johnny Cash on the American label, which is recorded very well. I'm surprised that he doesn't do a good job on other albums he's produced.
I've never liked any DG recording I've listened to and avoid them like the plague.
Telarc recordings do usually sound very good, but some of their newer CD rereleases of things like TimeWarp sound compressed and truncated compared to the originals. I was dismayed to have spent $18.00 for junk.
It is a shame that one cannot return bad sounding recordings to the manufacturer as the junk they are. All any one cares is if they play. Because of the "you open it, your stuck with it" policy the consumer has no recourse but to be stuck with a growing pile of CDs destined for the "trade in stores" where we recieve pennies on the dollar. The music (and software industry in general) is immune to any feedback on the buyer's displeasure at the recording quality of the product.
WOW! I'm glad I didn't purchase older copies of DG releases. I'm referring to recent releases/remasters...
As for Rick Rubin, I've only heard his work with Johnny Cash on the American label, which is recorded very well. I'm surprised that he doesn't do a good job on other albums he's produced.

He likes clipping nearly everything. Producing Metallica will really suit his heavy handed skills with compressor/limiters!
I just checked the release dates of all my DG CD's and none were released before 2001. I guess this puts me in the clear.
What a shame ! That so much great music is being destroyed by completely ignorant engineers/ artists or both. Another thread talks about Bob Ludwig doing a very poor job on the latest Springsteen disc, "Magic." Since I know Ludwig did a great job on the Stones sacd remasters, it is probably Bruces' fault that his new disc sounds like crap(I hope).
If not, then it means no one is good or no one can resist what a big shot artist wants, even if he doesn't know what he's doing. The thing about Springsteen is he doesn't need the money so you would think he would care about the quality of what he is putting out? Think about the Doors, Yes, Stones, Creedence re-masters, and the Who's and Allman's Deluxe albums as good, then wonder why the Beatles, Led Zep, and others can't be put out in good form.