29 June, 2011

Talk SACD

Talk SACD
Marantz DV-6001
Sony SCD-1/SCD-777ES

As you may have noticed, I have added an SACD corner to the right-hand column. The reason is, there are many wonderful SACDs available in the library and I have been playing them recently with great pleasure.

At the start I must state I am not an SACD expert; far from it, as I have just too many LPs and CDs, I have never really "seriously" taken up the format.

When the format was first launched, my reaction was pretty negative. Many of the early so-called SACDs were just re-mastered from PCM sources, and they did not sound too good (even atrocious) through the earlier players.

Later, I was gradually converted to the view that the format is a good one. First, many red-book CDs that were recorded in DSD (like many Sony's, one of my favorite labels, sonically speaking) sounded very good, despite being 44.1 down-mixes. Second, I got to hear at my own home some real SACDs, and they sounded superb. Here is my experience.

"Real" SACD (Single layer)
Some years ago I decided to buy a player that can play SACD. As I did not need HDMI or watch much video (to this day I still watch VCD sometimes, remember that format? Bet you don't have it) I bought a second-hand lowly Cambridge Audio DVD-87, little brother to the rave-reviewed DVD-89.

My friend whlee lent me his collection of pure SACDs (single layer), including several Keiko Lee recordings, and I must say the sound through my lowly DVD-87 was sensational. Most noticeable were the naturalness of the recordings and the dark background. Then I borrowed the famous Sony Yo-Yo Ma Solo recording (I think the first SACD on the market), and I bought it!

Hybrid SACD
While the single layer SACDs sound great, the hybrid SACD/CD, which is the majority, had gained an undeserved bad reputation. This is unfortunate, a result of the hurry to make money in the early days of the format. As I mentioned before, many of the early so-called SACDs were just re-mastered from PCM sources, and they did not always compare favorably to the original CD.

But the situation now is quite different. There are many real DSD recordings, and their SACD layer sound superior even on hybrid discs. Many labels make DSD recordings now, and most sound very good. For me, recordings made by Dutch Polyhymnia (almost everything on the Pentatone label, and many on other labels; see their website) always sound great, no surprise as this company is an off-spin of the always reliable Philips.

Newer re-mastering of old material has improved.
Even cheap hybrids can sound very good. The RCA Living Stereo SACD/CD issues are great examples. They sell at mid-price and, if you ask me, sound better than the older series (even on the CD layer).

Sony SCD-1/SCD-777ES
Basically they are almost the same player and Sony's flagship. Thanks to the loan by my friend 300b123 and transportation by com-buddy, I had the opportunity to listen to the SCD-777ES in my own home, for quite a period. The player obviously played SACDs better than CDs. However, even then, like many of the latter-day Sony CDPs, it has a trace of brightness that was hard to eradicate, more pronounced when playing CD. I think the just discontinued (but still sometimes available) SCD-XA5400ES is a better player overall (my write-up, even just an initial impression).

As most people have a lot more CDs than SACDs, many eventually gave up the format because the CD part of their multi-players is not up to par compared with dedicated CD players. That was exactly what happened to my friend whlee, who sold his Sony SCD-777ES together with all his SACDS after hearing Revox and Micromega.

I think if you have the space and do appreciate SACD, it is better to have 2 dedicated players, one for CD and one for SACD. This is what I do. Except in a low-cost system, a multi-player would not do.

Marantz DV-6001
(TAS review, HiFi Choice review)
This I got at a close-out in HK. It performance has continued to surprise me. recently I have been re-vamping my setups and I have decided to have SACD capability in my reference setup. Just now this is what I am using:

CD: Audio Research CD2 as transport-Gotham XLR digital cable
Digital Switching Station: Genesis Digital Lens.
DAC1: Audio Note DAC-2 (old version; PCM-63) connected with Gotham coaxial digital cable
DAC2: Musical Fidelity M1 connected by Gotham XLR digital cable
SACD: Marantz DV-6001 analogue out
Preamp: Kondo M7
Amp: Elekit 2300 or Wavac MD-300B (Ongaku is too hot in the summer)
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury

I think I do not have to describe much and you will know what I am getting at just by looking at the equipment list. The setup is quite revealing and the CD playback is of quite reasonable quality, yet the humble DV-6001 has a place in the system.

All the library SACDs are hybrid discs. Playing SACD, through its own analogue out, the DV-6001 stands up to my CD setups. The same disc's CD layer played on my CD setup may have even better control, slam and brilliance, but the DV-6001 has a warmth and natural finesse that is quite irresistible, just don't crank it up too much. Not absolutely necessary maybe, but good to have in the system.

Regular CDs sound warm through the DV-6001, but resolution is not of the highest class. The digital output is of quite good quality, and through the MF M1 DAC the sound is hard to fault, and should shame many a mid-priced CDP.

Purists will frown upon this (all) multi-player as being just "fake" SACD playback and more PCM conversion: the vast majority of DACs these days covert both high-bit PCM (CD, DVD-A) and DSD into low-bit PCM before the final conversion to analogue (one exception is Wolfson chip, which can directly convert DSD to analogue). But I think there is something inexplicable in the extraction and conversion here, as even so the SACD sound is still lovely, and different from the CD layer. It is too bad the digital output mutes itself with SACD, but the DV-6001s own DAC section is satisfying enough.

A bargain that is more comfortable to listen to than earlier Sony flagships; current models from Marantz are likely just as good (as SACD player).

26 June, 2011

Audiophiles in Illness - Music as Therapy

Editor's Note: Audiophiles in Illness - Music as Therapy
Why do we listen to music?

For Robin

When I recently came back from NYC, I called my friend Robin the Scot. We chatted about audio for a while, when he said "...by the way, I am in Queen Mary Hospital..."

Robin was besieged by what has only now been confirmed to be a serious illness. I'd not expound too much on that, what I want to examine is his response on that day, so typical of him. First, chatting with me as we used to, on unfinished business (in audio), then letting me know about the news, as a gentleman would do.

Before all this happened, he and his wife had just bought a dream house on a hill in Taipei. They are now in Taipei, taking care of that matter. Robin is also receiving treatment in Taipei, so we would not be seeing him for a while here. What I do want to report here is one of the first things Robin did over there - putting together an audio system. Robin wrote me:

"...just yesterday I finally got a second system up and running here in our Taiwan house. It consists of Usher S520 speakers + matching 330 stands (all bought new the other day), an Usher AU7500 integrated amp (ditto), my Nakamichi 600 cassette deck, your Scott FM radio, a Sony S370 Blu-ray player (which can also play SACDs etc), an LG hi-def TV set, and complete internet TV package from 中华电信. It can't compare to our HK audio setup, of course, but it makes really quite nice sounds and it's a lot of fun to play with. And I love being able to watch the performance in full HD while listening to the music through a half-decent sound system..."

Robin's email got my thoughts shooting off in all directions. Central to all this is that a music lover cannot live without music. But then, are audiophiles always music lovers? Why do we listen to music? Is there anything that makes audiophiles different in illness? Using the 2 short phrases of the title of this article, plus a few others, I did some Google searches.

Audiophiles in Illness Google search: Audiophiles in Illness not surprisingly turns out many articles about how sick we are as audiophiles, but nothing on how we behave in physical illness. I can only tell you what I do. If I don't feel too well, or just feeling down, I do listen to music, which usually makes me feel better. But when really seriously ill, like in fever, I tend not to, as listening to music does take effort and concentration. I think Robin's illness is fortunately not making him too sick physically, and his ability to enjoy music is intact. As for music as therapy, I am sure we all think so, hence no need to search on that.

Why do we listen to music? Google search: Why do we listen to music? turns out quite a few side-tracking but interesting articles which you may want to peruse. Most pertinent to audiophilia is this article on Why Do So Many Smart People Listen to Such Terrible Music? I have to say I enjoyed it much.

I often ask people if they would choose to watch a comedy or a sad movie when they feel sad. Most people opt for comedies, but I know when I am sad I prefer the latter. Here is an article on Why do we listen to sad music when we are sad, which uses the siege of Leningrad as an illustration.

Who is your friend in audio?
Like in many hobbies, we make many acquaintances in audio, but few real friends, On the audio internet, we see marauding squads engaged in all manners of slander and fighting, in the name of friendship; we see people leaving a forum en mass under the pretext of bondage; we even see people getting close to others only to make money off them. All these behaviors all have nothing to do with friendship, far from it.

You may have read my Yumcha Diaries. Let me tell you, although we may do some home visits afterwards, during the lunch we almost never talked about audio. To me, friends talk about the awful political climate that is choking us, debate on government policies and consult on personal difficulties etc. We do sometimes talk about the CDs we like, for the love of music. But audio, not that much.

An audio friend is one who you can learn from and rely on in matters of music and audio. While I may have led Robin towards his Yamaha speakers, Robin has done far more for me by restoring my Garrard and opening my ears to reel-to-reel. And we can really talk, about politics or classical music or whatever. One doesn't meet many friends like that on the audiophile path. We all need more friends like him, so Robin,
Get Well Soon!

If you wish to re-cap some of my time spent with Robin, just search for "Robin" in the right-hand column and those articles shall out.

video

Battle of the Fisher Integrated Amps

Battle of the Fisher Integrated Amps
The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 18-06-11
Tannoy Canterbury SE (one more!)

Be it serendipity or pure chance, things are buzzing on the Tannoy Canterbury front!

When I first visited new Canterbury user SG (report here) I was told just a day before, in the company of limage, he was visited by a fellow who had expressed interest in the loudspeakers. By chance later I was talking to my friend icefox, who knew the fellow, abc2009, and the two came to my place for a second tasting of the Canterbury the day before my second visit to SG.

Since abc2009 wanted to know how the Canterbury would do with his equipment, he brought along his vintage Fisher integrated amp. After showing him what the Canterbury could do with SET amps, we proceeded to use his Fisher:

The Fisher X-1000
High Fidelity article
The Fisher X-1000 is the most powerful Fisher integrated, using a pair of EL34 in push pull. abc2009 was advised to purchase this integrated because some vintage guru told him that its preamp section is almost the same as the very expensive (and imho over-rated) 400CXII.

This particular sample seemed in good electronic shape, fitted with almost all Dutch Amperex small tubes and re-issue "Mullard" power tubes. The sound driving the Canterbury was very good, even brute in its power, but something was clearly missing. Even compared to my flea-powered SET amps, where was the bottom octave? And its lack of rhythmic finesse was also apparent.

The Fisher X-101-C
Most unlikely review in UK's Gramophone!
Great pics in Audio Classics Germany
I happened to have a Fisher X-101-C at home, and I had previously used it to drive the Canterbury to great effect. The model numbers of Fisher are sometimes confusing, this is the one with a "C". This is a later one with less power than the X-1000, a pair of 7591 in push-pull. My sample has all-US small tubes (RCAs mostly) and well used old 7591s.




The One-Sided Match
I would not mince words, the X-101-C just completely out-classed the X-1000
. It was not even close, and you should have seen abc2009's jaws drop! Although the X-101-C has less brute force than the X-1000, it has a lot more finesse, much better micro- and macro-dynamics. The amplifier delivered a stunning performance of that famous last track on the Manger Test CD. And, yes, the bottom octave is back!

So much for those silly Anglophile "tube gurus" in Hong Kong who look down on almost all things American, always saying things like "...EL34 is better than 7591...", "...Amperex is better than RCA..." etc. There is a good reason why I have long avoided that crowd, who should spend a lot more time listening to real music than roll tubes.

Convinced of Tannoy Canterbury's potential, abc2009 bought a pair of SE the next day!

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 18-06-11
On this day, icefox came to yumcha with abc2009 and a new friend AL (whom you shall hear about later). Afterwards, we went up to abc2009's place, and it was quite an interesting experience with the partnering gears too.

This very new pair of Canterbury never sounded less than very good at abc2009's place, even if they were pushed flush against the wall. We experimented a bit with placement. Depending on where on sat, some preferred them a bit further out, and some not.

We started with a full set of expensive Boulder Preamp + Amp. While sound was not bad it certainly lacked excitement, and in this case can be instantly dismissed. I have heard Boulder to better effect with speakers like the Wilson Sophia, but, like SG's Goldmund, it certainly is not the ticket to Tannoy. We then proceeded to the tubed gears:

Digital 1: Wadia transport + DAC
Digital 2: Sony PR-DV50P (that amazing best buy reported before; click for info; also here)
Vinyl: Lenco with Denon 103R
Phonoamp: ICL Model 4 (actually my loan)
Preamp: Gnostic Technology 27D (website inoperative)
Amp: Leak 12+
Integrated amp: Fisher X-1000
Loudspeakers: Tannoy Canterbury SE

27D + Leak 12+ The sound was immediately more engaging than the Boulder combo. However, it was lacking just a little in color. When we played the vinyl I was very surprised by the sound that came out. I had never heard the Denon 103 to have a lean mid-bass and bass. I think the preamp is brand new and should take some time to run in. I have previously heard the neutral 27D many times; although not by any stretch of the imagination a romantic device, it should sound a little richer and smoother than what we heard.

Fisher X-1000 The Fisher integrated showed a clean pair of heels to the previous combo. Richer, more textured, more dynamic, and, interestingly, not a whiff less in details. Preferred.

David vs Goliath I thank abc2009 for satisfying my curiosity. The humble Sony PR-50P delivered a more musical sound than the Wadia, particularly with its top open. It was even a little fuller in bass, and I think it reached slightly lower. Sometimes the Wadia was a little tidier, but overall I'd say, given the price spread, I'd opt for the Sony over the Wadia.

The Bottom Octave and the Bottom Line
Remember that bottom octave? Compared to my HE, it was still missing in abc2009's setup. Neither the Fisher nor the separates unearthed it. In the case of the X-1000, it is not surprising, as it was not able to do so also in my place, but it is the same case with the 27D/12+. I wonder if the speakers are just too new; the hard edges need a lot of run-in. Our friend whlee's Turnberry took forever to open up in the bass.

What bottom line? Well, let me say, yes, the Canterbury may be expensive, but it can be cheap to run if you have the right stuff. For peanuts, much less than a pair of boutique cables, the unsung Sony and Fisher X-101-C will deliver a very high level of performance. There is so much baloney out there in the high-end, particularly about very expensive loudspeakers that can only sound good with very expensive gears. Why should you bother?

25 June, 2011

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 11-06-11 Sonus faber Jadis Boulder Linn

2 views of the Phoenix

The Yumcha Diaries 飲茶後記: 11-06-11The Sonus faber Fenice
Jadis JP800 JA800
Boulder 2008
Linn LP12 with Akiva and Urika

I just got back from NYC when I received a surprise call and from our dear 鄔 Sir Sir, and an invitation to re-visit 盧華煇, aka ML. I had long gotten wind that shortly after our last visit, his system had undergone several major changes. After yumcha, I went alone. Here's the current setup (changed component in red):

Vinyl 1 - Clearaudio Statement-Goldfinger
Vinyl 2 - Continuum Caliburn-Cobra arm-Airtight PC-1 on dedicated stand (not heard on this occasion)
Vinyl 3 - Linn LP-12 Lingo, with Akiva cartridge and built-in Urika phonostage.
Phonopreamp - Boulder 2008
Digital Transport- Metronome Kalista Reference SE on stands
DAC - Wadia 931 Controller + 922 monoblock DAC
Preamp - Jadis JP800
Amp - Jadis JA-800 monoblocks
Speakers - The Sonus faber Fenice
Cables - Siltech speaker cables
da Venezia, the Sonus faber Fenice
Must-Read: Detailed Examination of the speaker (What HiFi)
The raison-d'etre of the visit was this limited edition flagship, called Fenice, one of 30 pairs in the world. I wonder whether the mainland Chinese owners will ever learn how to pronounce the "c" in Italian, though as a whole things have improved - at least some of the newly rich know how to pronounce Gucci, a testament to the success of the Italians in promoting their luxury goods.

In case you do not know, La Fenice, the phoenix, is also the name of Venice's venerable opera house, which had literally risen from the ashes to remain as much a symbol of the city as San Marco, the gondola or whatever (good read). While I have never set foot inside, I did once stay in the very nice hotel next to it, of the same name.

You may know from my Sonus faber overview (last article, scroll down; or click here) I am a fan of the company's founder Franco Serblin, who has NOT been with the company since 2005. But I no longer have interest in this company now that Serblin is long gone. To draw a parallel, do you think current Mark Levinson is nearly as interesting or as good sounding as the older classics (the answer is, for my taste, no; and they are boring as well)? Still, I'd not miss the chance to hear this rare bird and I am glad I did.

It should be mentioned that in ML's room, the speakers look smaller than his previous ones, and more right in size. Make sure you read the interesting link I provided above, for the design is really quite unlike anything else, though somehow something reminds me of the Clearaudio Statement, also residing in the room. ML told me one of my "friends" (he never mentions names but usually use the euphemism for this "class" of ignoranti, arroganti, illiterati and stronzi of the HK audio scene) insisted the design is totally wrong before hearing a note, but ML thinks the designer should know better. As long as all roads lead to Rome, it is beneficial to try out new things.

Jadis JP800/JA800
ML aptly switched to a tubed system to drive the Fenice. I am sure Sonus faber Asia is still mightily disappointed that ML did not choose Audio Research, which is also not only distributed by them, but owned by the same mother company (incidentally, it may be time to write an overview to recap the glorious past of ARC, now that it is a completely different and much less interesting company without the great William Johnson).

As you may have read from my short Jadis Overview (scroll down below; or click here), I think the JP800 is an updated version of the venerable JP80, and even the tube complement look familiar (ECC82 X 6, ECC83 X 2, EL84 X6, EF86 X 2' all those tubes used in the power supply!). I was glad for the opportunity to hear it. Being a SET user, I am less enthused about the monstrous high-powered JA-800 monoblocks, which employ KT90. They surprisingly did not run too hot, and apparently each tube can be individually biased.

Boulder 2008 phono preamplifier
I was really pleased to be able to also audition ML's new phonoamp, the wonderful Boulder 2008 (Stereophile review). I have previously heard this at our friend 珠寶梁 Jewelry Leung's place to marvelous effect. It was an experience difficult to fault and since then it has gone to the top of my wanted list, despite my usual preference for some tubes in the phono chain.





Volare, or plus ça change?
Since I have previously examined in extreme detail about sound at ML's place, which in my opinion is much more determined by the room as well as power conditioning than by equipment, and the tonal difference between loudspeakers at his place is much smaller than usual, I shall make just a few points:

--The overall sound is improved from the 2 previous visits. A fuller and somewhat more alert sound that can go louder than before without altering image specificity.

--The phono setup is improved. Compared to the FM Acoustics 222 MkII used previously, through the Boulder the Clearaudio Statement/Goldfinger gained some much needed rhythm and pace, though it is still definitely no champ in this department (as a comparison with the LP12 shows). For myself, I have always preferred the sound of Boulder to FM Acoustics (its home electronics all sound colored and artificial to me), so this result does not surprise me.

--The LP-12 shows a clean pair of heels to the Clearaudio in many areas. While everyone preferred vocals through the Linn than the Clearaudio, with guitar music I also found the Linn to be much more informative when it comes to the feeling of plucked strings, portrayal of the leading edge and even the quality of the bass notes' sustains. The on board Urika phonoamp seems to me an excellent one.

--We spent quite a bit of time testing out 2 sets of jumpers for the speakers. IMHO the Audio Note silver jumpers decisively outperformed the stock ones as well as a set of Siltech. I should say though that personally I always bi-wire with loudspeaker designed to be operated so.

24 June, 2011

Overview: Sonus faber Franco Serblin

Overview: Sonus faber

I made the acquaintance of Sonus faber as soon as I came to HK in 1992. A good colleague has a pair of Electa Amator I, and I like it and started to pay attention to the brand. But it took me two decades to learn to not capitalize the second word.

This overview is about older Sf products only, for reasons mentioned below.

Sonus faber = Franco Serblin, for me at least
I have always supported the concept of auteur, so, since Sonus faber now is without its founder Franco Serblin (since 2005), I am afraid, at least to me, Sf has ceased to be Sf. Its official website is uninformative, and doesn't even mention Serblin, talking about re-writing history.

Franco Serblin (official site) has now a new company, and THAT is the company to watch. Its Ktema speakers I have heard at the 2010 HK show and it was wonderful (my report, 6moons review, ).

Considering the classic status of that older generation of Sf, not much info is available on the internet. I urge you to see this informative remnant product webpage from 1997, before it is gone.

L: Signum; R: Concertino

Concertino and Signum
The first pair of Sf I owned was the humble first-generation Concertino (tnt review), the smallest in the series. Personally I thought it was the best in the series. The somewhat bigger Concerto has a more textured sound, but less lively to my ears. And I never did quite like the floorstander Concerto Grand Piano, its passive radiator always sounding a little artificial to me. What a bargain then, and why is hifi so expensive now?

Casting a huge soundstage and performing on a par with the venerable LS3/5A, the Concertino matched beautifully with all manners of tube amps, but the most miraculous thing about them is that they will work with SET amps if your room is not too big! 300B, yes.

I have not heard the subsequent iterations of this one-of-a-kind "AV" series.

The next pair I got was the Signum, which I regret selling to this day. It was discontinued very soon for reasons I am not familiar with. Compared to the older offerings, like the Amators, the sound was more modern and tipped up in the treble. I think this one demands a tube amp.

Guarneri
This may be the most famous Sf product ever. I have heard them many times, but they rarely sounded good. The best was in a second-hand shop, driven by vintage McIntosh MC30 (fabulous amps). The dedicated stands look good but I don't think they are practical. Best violin sound among Sf? I don't know, but in terms of all-rounded merit, I think this ranks low.

Pic: Electa Amator II with the passive radiator at back

Electa Amator I and II
stereophile review of I
I have heard many pairs of these and they remain a clear favorite. The original (I) version sported an expensive Dynaudio esotar tweeter, and not only my colleague had it, but also my good friend tkl (remember Audioboard?). The sound was wonderful, phenomenal string sound, mid-range magic and great bass. MkII caused some consternation since the tweeter was changed and a passive radiator was added, much like its bigger brother Extrema, a speaker I have never had the good fortune to won. Of course, I acquired a pair of II and still have them among my prized possessions (my review here). Have I heard better bookshelves? Different, yes, better, no.

Larger Speakers designed by Serblin
My own interest was, and is, in the state-of-the-art smaller speakers. When it comes to larger speakers, as my own inclination is for horns, I'd not choose Sf (Extrema would be the extreme for me, and its footprint is big!). I have rarely heard good Cremona or Amati, but there was one notable exception, at my friend simcity's place I did hear his excellent pair of Amati (picture below; report here).

I am not familiar with all the later variations, Hommage etc, the names confuse me. Don't you hate updates?

Loudspeaker stands
I like the adjustable stands, wonderful, and they match with everything I throw at them. But when it comes to those stands with marble base, no; let me be frank, I don't like them, esthetically and sonically. And then there were many Chinese replicas, so beware.

Tube or Solid-State?
IMHO, you are not getting the best out of Sf if you are not using at least some tube equipment. A tube preamp is mandatory (as with almost everything). Why buy something famous for its portrayal of strings and then use it with solid-state?

Cables/Yter (official site)
For me, Sf works with simple professional cables, like my Gotham and Belden. Results with boutique cables are often disastrous. If you have to go upmarket, Serblin's own Yter is a good choice.

CD recommendations: Classical

Recommendation: Classical
CDs from the Library

New Issues
Since I already have more CDs than I can consume in more than a life time, I don't buy many new CDs, but every year I buy the newest set of EMI Lugano. Martha Argerich plays some of the pieces but mostly the performances are from her motivated friends, and what a trove of treasury! This year's offerings are among the strongest ever.

Lola Bobesco is much under-rated and neglected. Grab this Bach concerti LP or CD (Talent) while you can. Sound and playing all first-class.

Along with his violin works, the Brandenburg Concertos are are my favorite Bach works. This version with Orchestra Mozart (DG) is not perfect but still very good. I have never quite taken to Abbado before, but his work now with Lucerne and Orchestra Mozart are wonderful. Available in CD or DVD.

Piano Recordings
This being Chopin's Centennial, the library is flooded by various Chopin recordings. Some of the most classy ones are by the under-rated Bella Davidovich, now re-issued by Brilliant Classics. No "spontaneous" or "impulsive" pulling and pushing for no reason, but well structured and everything sound inevitable. Great Chopin.

Not to be forgotten is the immaculate Orfeo recording of some of Beethoven's variations by Bruno Leonardo Gelber, a pianist whom I have always admired.


BBC Legend is highly reliable as a source of historic live performances. Two Gilels issues are of course wonderful. Gilels' Beethoven recordings rank among the greatest ever made. This live account of the Waldstein attains lofty heights. The other lesser known pieces are gems too. The 1984 Scarlatti and Debussy are even in marvelous sound.








Orchestral
I have not heard a better recorded or played version of Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony than Haitink's (Decca). The instruments are virtually 3 dimensional. Recorded by Colin Morfoot. Now available mid-priced coupled with the 9th.
Ashkenazy is a warm Sibelian, and this earlier account of Finlandia with the PO (later version with BSO) is a strong performance worthy of putting along side Barbirolli. Perfectly recorded by Kenneth Wilkinson. Now available only in budget 2CD sets.

Wonderful Prokofiev playing from the Russian duo. Krainev has previously appeared in HK under the auspices of the Chopin Society. What a marvelous musician! As usual, the Teldec recording is clear as day. Now available only in budget 2fers (Apex).

I actually prefer Shchedrin's arrangement of Carmen suite to Bizet's own. The Rozdhestventsky version is now on Melodiya, ugly cover and somewhat brittle sound, both inferior to the original LP! But the performance of the Bloshoi is wonderful and the coupling is a gem!

The spirited period instrument style suits Handel's music to a T. Wonderfully natural recording from Naxos. Top recommendation for this repertoire.

More Violin and Chamber
For me, the Smetana trio is the perfect ensemble for a difficult genre. Their perfect balance is at turns intimate and symphonic. A version of the great Tchaikovsky that offers more than any other version (Supraphon).

The Reger is is THE find of the year. I have heard some of these solo Reger violin works (Dorian) before, but none captured my heart like this one. Thanks to the HK library! I wish there are more recordings by this young violinist.