Only one boxed set to recommend (see the end), but I'd first recommend you consider individual LPs to get better performances than any one boxed set provides overall.
Among more well known performances in good sonics that I'd recommend:
Sym 1 & 2, Marriner/ASMF, Philips 6500 113
Sym 3, Kleiber,Eric/VPO in mono on London/Decca
Sym 5, Kleiber,Carlos/VPO, DGG 2530 516
Sym 6, Walter/ColumbiaSO or Kleiber/Concertgebouw
Sym 7, Kleiber/VPO, DGG 2530 706
Sym 8, Norrington/LondonClassicPlayers, EMI EL 2705631
Sym 9, Solti/ChicagoSO, Decca 6BB 121/2 (or London)
Tacet Records has been working on a cycle of new recordings by Kajski and the Polish Chamber Philhamonic Orchestra and releasing them on vinyl. These are very nice, fresh performances in excellent sonics; don't be put off by the lack of big name recognition. So far, they have completed on vinyl the 1st and 2d on one disc, the 5th, and the 7th (Tacet L149, L157 and L164). These are special, imo.
For period instrument histroically informed performances, you might consider the series by Norrington and the London Classic Players on EMI. I don't think it was ever packaged as a box set.
For a box set, if you must, consider looking for the performances by Rene Leibowitz and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recorded in marvelous sound by Kenneth Wilkinson (Gerhardt, producer) for Readers Digest. This set often sells for under $25-50 on the used market. These are all very good performances by an excellent conductor, and the recording quality by Wilkinson is excellent.
Get the Readers Digest complete set with Rene Leibowitz. Just make sure you get the stereo version...
Well I have some recommendations for complete boxed sets, but right up-front, I like my Beethoven clean, clear lined, and energized. I'm not up to deep, 'brooding' Beethoven.
Harnoncourt's set which blends the efect of the HIP but uses modern instruments. Scrubbed from the over orchestrated performances that were so common for so many years and are still highly regarded.
Bernsteins set - despite his general reputation for overblown distorted interpertations of a lot of music, in this set he gets the 'beat' - it is uplifting and energized. He did a similar set of the Schumann Symphonies with the same result. Whoda guessed. :-)
Vanska recent performances - a complete set of performances but not in a box set yet. You have to buy them individually. Excellent sound, SACD if you care, straight ahead performances. BTW I like them best with the volume up a bit.
Wand's set on RCA. Very tradition 'Germanic' performances.
I agree with Rushton, the best Beethoven is not found in sets. And as he has already recommended, BUY the Kleiber 5th! There is no other like it, IMHO.
I'm very fond of my Von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 7th Symphony, DGG 2531 107. I think the detail is amazing. In fact I listened to it late last night through headphones and again this morning through my speakers after hearing the 7th used in the film "The Knowing."
Bernstein's boxed set with the Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophone) offers both good performances and outstanding,up front sonics.
I second the vote by Rushton and add Symphony 4, Herbert von Karajan, Berlin Philharmonic DG 2531 104
The Klieber perfomances are excellent. Some of the better performances on LP, however, do not offer the best sonics. One case in point would be Szell's. I have the ones on the Epic label - I am told the original releases sound better. There are also some great performances on the Angel label by Giulini and Klemperer. Some of the Böhm ones on DG are great performances, but again not so great sonics. The Karajan ones are hit and miss, depending on which set of his you are listening to, and I am not familiar enough with them all to comment on which are the best.
For many musicians, the best period instrument performances by far are those of John Eliot Gardiner, though these are only available on CD to my knowledge. Much better interpreted and performed than the Norrington versions, for sure.
Bruno Walter for the 6th, my favorite recording period. Karajan is better on the odd ones , 3,5, 7 and 9 are very good. If you are going to get one set the Karajan should be easy to find and has good sound as well.
The Solti 9th, very deservedly recommended by Rushton above, was re-released by Mobile Fidelity in the 1980's, with excellent sonics. I suspect it isn't findable today, unless you get lucky purchasing a used copy, but it appears to have again been re-released, this time by Decca (for $65!):http://store.acousticsounds.com/browse_detail.cfm?Title_ID=10274
It has been on TAS/HP's recommended recordings list, as an LP. Note the review comments by a purchaser about pressing and recording quality, though.
I strongly second Stan's recommendation of the Walter 6th. I have it on a 1980's Japanese import CBS/Sony remaster, probably not findable these days, but get it in any form you can!
I cannot say enough about the Gardiner recordings - top of the list. Alas, CD only ...
Next would be Claudio Abbado's second set (live) with Berlin, released on DVD. WOW! Alas, DVD only ...
Next would be Kleiber, then Szell.
The Kleiber 5/7 is absolutely fantastic - good luck finding it. (Has been reissued in SACD.) It is a "Desert Island" disc for most who own it.
The Szell ones are hit and miss on sonics. I have an anniversary boxed set that is quite good (Columbia 1970, I think). Some great interpretations, some decent sonics, some real "yawn" moments, too.
Frankly I am not a fan of Bernstein and Karajan. To each his own ...
Sorry ... I realized after I posted my less than humble opinion that:
A. I had not answered the question, and
B. The first response did!
Sorry for the extra wind! :)
Wow. Overlooked that the request was for LP's. You can ignore most of the stuff I recommended. Some would be hard to find, some impossible because it started life as a CD. Am I blind or what! :-(
The only consolation is that I wasn't the only one. :-)
The Kleiber recordings of the Beethoven 5th and 7th on DGG (2530516 and 2530706) do appear fairly regularly on eBay and with dealers. There are lots of them out there and, as many have noted, they are well worth the search. They should not be very expensive when found.
The Kleiber 5/7 is absolutely fantastic - good luck finding it.
Sonically the Vanska series with the Minnesota SO are impressive - some better than others - just issued the last two - they are not in a box set but come 2 sym. per package - in SACD. For the best performances in a box set go with Karajan's first cycle with the BPO - issued in 1961-62 - inexpensive for the box.
As a subsequent set, one has given me the most enriching experiences with the Beethoven symphonies yet: Scherchens mono set. I haven't heard everything, (who could?) but I've not heard more athletic, giddy, dramatic yet verdant Beethoven than this. As for the so-called "second rate" orchestras he used, I find most of their playing astonishing in regards to unanimity when reacting to Scherchen's often ultra-quick tempi. The mono sound is decidedly mono, but it's balanced from top to bottom and the early tube-cut pressings are pretty silky.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond -- much appreciated. There's a lot of good information here and I'm sure I'll have fun finding and listening to your recommendations.
Since my previous (useless) post, I have found that I actually have two boxed sets of Beethoven on LP:
Szell/Cleveland (1970) - avoid this one, for sure; sonics stink (very inconsistent, especially from side A to side B in the same symphony!), though I agree with some of the interpretatoins (the funeral march in 3 is just great!)
Toscannini/NBC - I have actually 5 sets of this. (don't ask) The recordings are great and the performances are great. The sonics (all mono) suffer from their technology, but are at the top of the pack for the time. If you can find this cheap and in good condition, get it and listen. I would not go terribly out of my way to find it, though, nor would I pay top dollar, but it is absolutely essential to have and hear.
For sound, the old ones aren't the standard. The rec's you have received are decidedly uncharacteristic.
No one on several boards I know say to avoid Szell's set, whether it's the 70 reissue, the Epic box, etc. All the performances are good. Every symphony.
I always disagree with Carlos Kleiber as best 5th. Just get the CD of both, cheap.
HVK 63 is very good as a set, although some dislike fast superficial 6th.
that's what I believe, after collecting symphony recordings for over 35 years now.
I have the Solti boxed set (Decca) of all of Beethoven's symphonies and completely love it - a great recording (IMO) and Solti's treatments, especially of the 7th(my all-time favorite) and 9th, are truly spectacular.
I know this was a year ago, but I am going to retroactively open my mouth and further insert my foot (not unusual) and fully endorse the Cleveland/Szell set. I am listening right now to the 1970 issued boxed set of Beethoven symphonies. The playing is just fantastic - articulate and passionate, and the sonics are really, really good - bordering on spectacular.
For the record, we all live and learn. I knew the performances are highly acclaimed, but I was not impressed with the sonics of the pressings. I am revisiting with a different cartridge a year later and I am just smitten with this set.
Lastly, the strings are outstanding, but those winds are absolutely phenomenal. Wow! Stunning! If you (the original poster) happen upon this old thread again, give the Szell set a listen. You might like it.
For the record (pun somewhat intended), I am using a ProJect Xperience fitted with a Dynavector 10x5, playing through a McIntosh C26, MC2100, and ML1Cs.
Great sounding as far as sonics - Vanska, Mackeras' most recent set. Great performances - Furtwangler - particularly the 9th on EMI, Karajan's 1960's cycle. Personally, I'd pick the performance over the sonics any day.