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Classical record collecting on a budget (long)

Posted on January 22, 2011 at 09:13:05
vinyl phanatic

Posts: 1596
Location: Washington DC
Joined: May 22, 2006
OK, I will say up front that this does not pretend to be complete in any way, and the point is to show ways to get the great sound of early “Golden Age” stereo recordings at a lot less than the sometimes insane collector-driven prices of the original issues. I know that 90% of experienced collectors will already know 90% of all of this, but maybe there might be at least some nugget of value to everyone. I welcome comments, additions, whatever. Here goes…

Decca SXL
If you want to get that great Decca sound at a reasonable price, my favorite bargain in classical records is the second label London issues. For some reason, while Decca continued to use the FFSS designation on the UK issues, the London issues went to FFRR. This label is not understood by a lot of collectors, and is often ignored. It is easily identified by having “Made in England…” (there are variations of the exact text) in an arc across the top of the label, and the band that says "stereophonic" is a bit wider than the later issues. If the label is grooved (as in the pic) it is the equivalent of the second wideband Decca label, made from about 1964-1969. They sell for very low prices, and are often better than the first pressings (even on SXLs). The ‘70s London issues are fine, but these are better.

Is the London equivalent of :

Some more things to look for are Spanish and French pressings of SXL’s. Every one that I have had has been very fine, especially the ones from Spanish Columbia. Once again, a fraction of the expense of the UK SXL discs.
Most people know that the UK pressed Stereo Treasury Series issues are good, but the issues on the Richmond label which were pressed by Decca in the UK are also very good. US pressed Richmonds are pretty much awful and should be avoided.

Spanish pressing ------- UK pressed Richmond

EMI ASD, SAX, etc.
ASD issues were usually reissued very nicely on the “Classic For Pleasure” label, sometimes pressed from the original stampers. An earlier reissue label was the “HMV Concert Classics” with numbers that had an SXLP prefix. These go back to the early 60’s and are quite good. A lot of EMI Columbias (SAX) were issued on this label, as well as a good bit of stuff originally issued in France by EMI (ASDF, SAXF) that never had a UK issue. Speaking of French issues, rare and pricey SAX issues (Kogan, etc.) can be had for much less on the original French issues, which are very good. Some SAX Columbia recordings were issued as ASD’s after the demise of the SAX label in the early ‘70s (i.e. the Klemperer Mahler 2nd).
Some of the very expensive early ASD’s were issued in the US on the Capitol label. Some of these go for extravagant prices on the White/Gold originals, such as the Kempe/Berlin Phil. Recordings. The Capitols can be had for a buck or two, while the ASD’s go for $300-$400 and up. No, they’re not as good, but they are very nice records of some great performances. Look for the early label with the round Capitol logo on the side, rather than the top.

-----French Columbia first label

People often disregard Canadian pressings of Living Stereo recordings, which I think is due in part to lumping them together with the dreadful Canadian Mercury issues. The Mercurys were done by an outside vendor and pressed on some of the worst vinyl I have ever seen. RCA, on the other hand, had their own pressing plant in Montreal and the quality control was very good. They are very nice records, although as a rule, not quite as good as the US pressings. They tend to sell for much less, and you can get nice copies of some otherwise very pricey issues for not much money.
With the later “Dynagroove” recordings, it’s good to look for the UK issues. The story is that while they say Dynagroove on the cover, the English engineers thought that the process sucked, and disabled the circuitry when they mastered them. You usually have to look at eBay for these, but they are not normally very expensive. Search for SB and SER (for the multi-disc sets). Another good bet with these is reel to reel tapes, which of course were not subject to the Dynagroove process, as it was used only for LPs.

As I said above, avoid Canadian pressings like the plague. I’ve had a good number of them and not one of them was even listenable. There may be exceptions to this, but that has been my experience.
Look for US issues on the Wing label that were pressed from the original stampers. You can look in the deadwax and see the stamper number with the original 90xxx number crossed out and another hand written number with the Wing issue number. There are tons of these in the thrift stores, usually ignored by collectors. Of course, the Golden Imports are very good, but the Wings pressed with original stampers will give more of the character of the originals.

Early Everest classical recordings are very good, especially if you like an up-close “Mercury” style perspective. Just make sure to avoid anything issued after the company was no longer owned by the Belock Instrument Company. The early covers always had the Belock name listed on them. The easy way to do this is to avoid anything with the orange and blue label pictured. There are a number of different labels. The only ones that tend to get expensive are the early turquoise labels with the dowel-rod inner sleeves.

This is the label that generally is not so good. For very late issues, it is the first label.

Do not overlook early Westminster stereo issues with the black and red label. These are very good recordings that often do not sell for much and can commonly be found in thrift stores and dollar bins in the US. Some of these are issues of early stereo recordings originally done on Erato which are nearly impossible to find in the US. The ones with Maurice Rosenthal and the Paris Opera Orchestra are wonderful. Ones that were made after Westminster was acquired by ABC/Paramount are not as good, but still can be worth having. This is clearly noted on the cover and the label is black with a blue stripe.

US Columbia
Two-Eye issues of records that were originally 6-eyes are virtually as good as the originals and cost a lot less. I am not crazy about the 70’s and 80’s issues with the light brown label or the Odyssey reissues.
The UK issues of US Columbias are very good. These can be spotted by the fact that they say CBS, not Columbia (because EMI owned the Columbia name in the UK). Early ones have an SBRG prefix and sometimes can go for some money, especially the Bruno Walters. Later ones say “CBS Classics” and can be had for a song. They are very good, pressed in the UK by EMI.


In addition to the EMI releases I talked about above, there are some very good sounding US Capitol releases. The first label with the logo on the side do tend to be better. Quality on these can be uneven, but they can be had so cheaply (except for Milstein, Rabin and Stokowski) they’re worth a shot if in nice condition. The more expensive rarities can be had cheaply with nice sound on Seraphim.


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Good! And if you don't mind me adding a bit..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 09:50:54
Decca/London Dutch pressings--don't pass them up.
If you're in the US, shop the bargain bins at HalfPrice Books. Lots of minty classical albums, better than the full-priced classical section. I've found Szell/Cleveland stuff on Epic Stereorama gold label, London, Phillips, RCA, Mercury etc.
Last trip, a large stash of music by 20th Century American composers on mint Turnabout (an under-rated label), even some rarely-recorded Rimsky-Korsakov ("The Invisible City of Kitezh"). Dollar each and it was a 20%-off day.
Columbia Odysseys performed by Eugene Ormandy and the Philly are several cuts above the rest, at least to my ears. The Oistrakh Sibelius violin concerto, and Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra immediately spring to mind. The latter is as good as the London/Deccas.


thank you!!, posted on January 22, 2011 at 11:02:04

Posts: 505
Location: northwest
Joined: January 13, 2007
Great post. Yes, we already know some of this stuff, but there is a lot in your post I did not know. Thanks for thinking of the rest of us. Most appreciated.


I've studied deeply in the philosophies of the religions----but cheerfulness kept breaking through

Leonard Cohen


RE: Good! And if you don't mind me adding a bit..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 11:04:57

Posts: 505
Location: northwest
Joined: January 13, 2007
I agree regarding Half Price Books. It's always rewarding to spend some hours going through their stuff.

I am not so sure about the Columbia Odyssey's though. Some of their stuff is quite good, but others are hard and bright sounding. YMMV.


I've studied deeply in the philosophies of the religions----but cheerfulness kept breaking through

Leonard Cohen


RE: Good! And if you don't mind me adding a bit..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 11:19:58
The Szell/Cleveland Odysseys are blah but the Ormandys a really good. That Franck I referred to in my post, when I spin it and get to the end, that baby-crap brown Odyssey label is always a shock. I expect London maroon.


RE: Good! And if you don't mind me adding a bit..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 12:22:49
First, I'll add my thanks to vinyl phanatic. And that's a very good point about Vox/Turnabout -- some sound awful, others superb, but a lot of great music for very little money. The Aubort/Nickrenz team worked for them and got some great sounding results.

Odyssey was an unusual label. It wasn't just American Columbia reissues, so as with Vox/Turnabout, I would hesitate to generalize.

IMO the Columbia Oistrakh Sibelius was an unusually fine recording with tremendous stereo separation (maybe too much) -- I have the 6-eye. Some of the other early stereo Ormandy/PO on Columbia also sounds very good.

Vinyl phanatic didn't mention Vanguard, but I think they got good results. IIRC Vanguard was run by two brothers, one of whom died only a few years ago and was a serious audiophile. Edit: I should also mention Connoisseur Society, who had good sounding LPs IMO. Not to be confused with Musical Heritage Society, great music, often reissues of European material, but not always great sound.


That is actually the third London label..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 13:08:45

Posts: 3938
Joined: October 3, 2001
...the second is similar, but says 'Made in England' alone at the top. That label was from 1963-65. Then came the 'Made in England by the Decca Record Company' with a groove, about 1965-1967, and then the same label without a groove, 1968-1970. You will sometimes find the second label in a blueback cover, or the FFSS label in a whiteback.

For RCAs, the big bargain is the plum Victrola. They never used Dynagroove, and nowadays mint stereo copies are amazingly cheap. Of course, some of the Decca-sourced shaded dogs were reissued on London STS and Decca Ace of Diamonds after RCA and Decca broke up in 1967.

I wouldn't bother with the Wing reissues, most of the Merc titles have come down enough that you can just buy originals. Same thing with Columbia six-eye classicals, they are amazingly cheap, as are original Everest silverback stereos.


you are correct, posted on January 22, 2011 at 13:54:00
vinyl phanatic

Posts: 1596
Location: Washington DC
Joined: May 22, 2006
Thant's what I meant when I said that there are variations in the text at the top of the label. I was not clear on the chronology, thanks for that.

There are all kinds overlap with jackets, labels and inner sleeves at the time of the turnover from the first to the second label on London. I have even found FFSS discs that were in an FFRR jacket and for which there never was an FFSS jacket (see pic, CS 6370).

My point about the 2-eye Columbias (and the Mercury Wings) applies mostly to the few that are expensive in their original issues. A NM 6-eye copy of the Bruno Walter Beethoven 6 will cost about $50-$75 (it used to be more) and a 2-eye goes for about $20 or less.

Victrolas, of course, are very good, but I figured most people already know that. I probably should have mentioned them.


Vanguard was an omission, they are very nice. nt, posted on January 22, 2011 at 13:55:24
vinyl phanatic

Posts: 1596
Location: Washington DC
Joined: May 22, 2006


The London records were pressed in the UK, but...., posted on January 22, 2011 at 15:10:45

Posts: 3938
Joined: October 3, 2001
...were shipped to the US in only inner sleeves. The New York office designed and printed the London jackets, and then whatever records they got from the UK were sleeved in them.

Some of the blueback jacket pictures are a real hoot, as you probably know, you have to wonder what they were thinking. I hope they got the models for cheap.


There is one Odyssey that sounds much better than the original..., posted on January 22, 2011 at 15:15:28

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Joined: October 3, 2001
.....but you are right, most of them are bright and harsh.


FFSS and FFRR, posted on January 23, 2011 at 04:08:14

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Location: surrey
Joined: June 21, 2003
During the second world war Decca worked for the government and invented a new Radar system.FFRR was a byproduct of this research.
When Decca started to produce stereo recordings they used FFSS designation on the labels and covers,and FFRR for the mono issues.
This all makes common sense,and yet.....I see on your (very clear)labelography for the US market Decca used FFRR for stereo recordings!
Sometimes I think Record Companies of the period were confusing on purpose.


GREAT POST, VP - But What About....?, posted on January 23, 2011 at 04:35:02

Posts: 2317
Location: Sacramento CALIFORNIA
Joined: January 3, 2008 your opinion on the PHILIPS label? I have several classical LPs on it, and I have been pleased with some amazing sonics and overall enjoyable spinning sessions with the red / orange Philips label.

However, that is me, perhaps you or others have a different opinion?...

Also, I have found quite a few unique and one of a kind classical works on the Westminster label. Frankly, I will snag anything I see from this label in my vinyl hunts.

Thanks V P for a most enjoyable original post. Most of that you said I've seen but I wasn't familier with their actual specs, ect. I thank you for it, and if you come across any other labels that had some classical works (EPIC Records?) please post.

Peace, Ed
"Some Folks Need An Education ... Don't Give Up Or We'll Lose The Nation" C. 1970 MARK FARNER of Grand Funk Railroad from "Sin's A Good Man's Brother"


Thanks!, posted on January 23, 2011 at 06:33:44

Posts: 2585
Location: Bend, Oregon
Joined: January 14, 2007
January 28, 2012
Though I've read much of this info before, this is excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time. We need more of this on the site.


RE: Philips, posted on January 23, 2011 at 07:41:58
vinyl phanatic

Posts: 1596
Location: Washington DC
Joined: May 22, 2006
Definitely an omission. Philips are very fine records and are very plentiful. Ones that might fit into this topic would be the ones produced by Mercury. For a time after the acquisition of Mercury by Philips in the mid-'60s, Philips recordings issued in the US were made by Mercury. These have a black label, a number with a PHS prefix and RFR stampers. These are very good records.

Thanks for reminding me.


You took on a tougher task in your post --, posted on January 23, 2011 at 12:34:15
I'm good at finding $10 LPs for 25 cents, but your post deals with finding $500 LPs for 25 cents, which takes sharp eyes, sharp ears, and more than a little sophistication. I'll definitely keep your comments in mind.


Great Post and info!!!......, posted on January 23, 2011 at 15:41:42
Posts: 831
Location: Denver Colorado
Joined: January 7, 2002
I also prefer the London/Decca classicals, my only comment is that I prefer the FFRRs over the FFSSs, but i have found that some prefer one over the other, just have to sample a few for yourself. The Londons are great for a number of reasons, beside the great sound quality, they are also available in a very wide number of recordings, whatever you like is likely on a London!, plus they are common, easy to find, and generally cheap. OA can't go wrong with a London.

EMI, are better yet, but a lot harder to find, and often demand a price premium.

Columbia's have dreadful QC, i advoid them, although they do have some good recordings.

Philips, is another fav of mine.

Other labels, not mentioned and should not be overlooked for less common pieces, i for example like Baroque and earlier music, which is generally not available or popular on the major more common labels. MHS, for example has a lot of good off-the-wall unheard of recordings, often recorded in europe and often very good QC. some MHS LPs are of better quality than the original labels! look for "Bill Kipler - Masterdisk" in small print at the bottom of the back cover, his recordings are excellent!
Give me analog or give me silence!


RCA LM, posted on January 23, 2011 at 15:45:40
Posts: 831
Location: Denver Colorado
Joined: January 7, 2002
oh, and the RCA LM (mono) recordings of the 50s are very pure sounding, often very clean or mint copies can be obtained for $1 or less, where the same RCA LSC recording will demand $100 or more! these are the LPs that turned me on to MONO!
Give me analog or give me silence!


RE: Philips - agree, DG too...., posted on January 23, 2011 at 15:52:57
Posts: 831
Location: Denver Colorado
Joined: January 7, 2002
yes, Philips is a high quality label with top notch recordings in the late 60s thru the 70s. pressings were generally thin and should be checked for warps, but most are great! I generally prefer Philips over London, but they are both great!. DG too is a good label, earlier tulip pressings are more desired, but the later DGs are good too, but not quite up to London stds, DG balance tends towards the high end sadly. I was never a fan of Mercurys, but many like them a lot, think it a stereo imaging thing maybe.
Give me analog or give me silence!


The Ace of Diamonds, posted on January 24, 2011 at 05:50:23
Pedro V.A.

Posts: 131
Location: Spain
Joined: June 9, 2009
are very nice pressings of some expensive SXL. In example, these GOS are very nice:

the SXL equivalent is awfully expensive!

I think this was the first stereo pressing of this recording (first issued in mono LXT).

The budget SPA pressings are also good if you don't mind the art cover.

For RCA the UK Decca pressed Victrolas sound warm and full. I have never listen to an original RCA LSC, but these pressings sound more than ok for me and cost 5% of the originals. I also love the art covers.

And don't miss the WRC EMI reissues. The equivalent of this (ASD 326) is very expensive, and believe me, this WRC sounds great!


Minor amendment, posted on January 24, 2011 at 10:55:58
Charlie S in Maryland

FFRR resulted from Decca's wartime effort in making recordings needed to train sonar (not radar) operators to recognize underwater sounds made by submarines.

Decca later developed a single groove stereo disc system using lateral and vertical modulations for the two stereo channels. When the Westrex 45/45 system was adopted as the stereo disc standard few Westrex 45/45 cutterheads were available. Decca used their existing lateral/vertical cutterhead to produce 45/45 masters by matrixing the right/left stereo channels into sum and difference signals. My understanding is that the earliest FFSS discs were mastered this way. My experience was that these first FFSS records, albeit stereo, did not have the fidelity of their mono FFRR counterparts. Decca later switched to proper 45/45/ cutters.

I suspect that the Decca MI cartridges still in production (which are matrixed lateral/vertical pickups) were originally developed for FFSS playback.


RE: Classical record collecting on a budget (long), posted on January 24, 2011 at 14:01:32

Posts: 119
Location: Colombia / Miami, FL
Joined: August 1, 2010
Nice post!

I dont know if this is going to be of some use to anyone, but its very interesting that I have a lot of London records... Colombian made! (Colombia, South America)

I dont know if this happened anywhere else, but it seems that London licensed the production of these LPs to a Colombian company for the Colombian/South America market. Needless to say, they sound wonderful! Some of them are among my fav records.

Take care,

Alex Escobar
Scott 222D
Yamaha YP-D71 TT
Martin Logan Motion 4 Speakers
Hopefully growing!


RE: Classical record collecting on a budget (long), posted on January 24, 2011 at 16:16:48

Posts: 50
Location: SF Bay Area, USA
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Awesome, thanks! This is going straight into my bookmarks folder, as I'm always clueless as to what gems I may be missing when I peruse used classical vinyl at thrift stores and such. This is exactly the kind of info I need.


RE: Classical record collecting on a budget (long), posted on January 24, 2011 at 18:49:56
vinyl phanatic

Posts: 1596
Location: Washington DC
Joined: May 22, 2006
If they are on the London label, they may indeed be from South America. I made the mistake for some time of thinking that "Discos Columbia S.A." was a South American company. It is, of course, not. That is the official name of the Spanish Columbia label, based in Madrid.

It can be a little confusing.


RE: Classical record collecting on a budget (long), posted on January 24, 2011 at 21:02:36

Posts: 1500
Location: Mid-Michigan Area
Joined: October 14, 2008
Thanks, great info.

Someone mentioned the Nickrenz/Aubort team with the Vox Turnabout label. They also produced some amazing records for Nonesuch. The Vanguard "Cardinal" label is another I can recommend.

Deutsche Grammophon (later non-tulips) can also be found cheap. Very hit or miss soundwise depending on who produced them. Big orchestras usually sound a bit off because of all the mikes they used, but there's some quartets, trios and sonatas that sound pretty good. The vinyl is usually very quiet.

I always buy Angel red label mono's made in England that are in nice condition. Sometimes you can find London's Argo label at decent prices. Usually great recordings on high quality vinyl.


good start...., posted on January 24, 2011 at 23:03:13
Posts: 831
Location: Denver Colorado
Joined: January 7, 2002
if i were to start over, i would not buy any classical LPs for more than $1 for the first few yrs, you can find a lot at library, thrifts, and garage sales for that or less! that and stick to the recommendations stated here...
Give me analog or give me silence!


RE: GREAT POST, VP - But What About....?, posted on January 25, 2011 at 03:29:21

Posts: 48
Location: So Sweden
Joined: August 22, 2010
One more push for philips here.

UK and Dutch pressings are usually excellent. I would describe the recordings as usually natural and non-exaggerated.

A neat aspect is that they are plentiful, use excellent artists, and unusually consistent through the years and label changes: green (mono); HiFi-Stereo; Maroon, Red-Bold Silver; Red/Blue-silver, Red/Blue-white and the digital label. Nowadays Hi-Fi Stereo and green labels can fetch ridiculous prices (Grumiaux solo Bach comes to mind.
Later issues 70-80 are usually very thin as someone mentioned but if it is a Dutch pressing you can count on it to be dead quiet.

I used pass over philips records for quite some time. Now my pulse definitely increase when I spot early pressings I don't own.


RE: good start...., posted on January 25, 2011 at 17:25:02

Posts: 396
Joined: August 2, 2009
The first couple of thousand is trial and error(getting experience of each label and about artist. You guys are lucky to have internet for plenty information. When I started there was no internet like now. Only information I can get was through auction catalog and visiting LP shop.). After that you will have enough feel for classical lps.



RE: Classical record collecting on a budget (long), posted on March 31, 2015 at 18:10:04

Posts: 186
Location: Miami, FL
Joined: September 22, 2005

Mention should be made of the Quintessence label. These are remasterings drawn from RCA and Readers Digest, and are quite good, and pressed on virgin vinyl. Recordings highly sought after such as The Romantic Rachmaninoff set with Earl Wild, the RCA blockbuster Power of the Orchestra and many other productions engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson are on this label and can be had for bargain prices


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