What are the best sounding classical CDs

I am looking to start a classical collection. I am looking for some suggestions on good classical preformances that have excellent sound.
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Buy the penguin guide to CDs and use it to reference the best performances and recordings of your favorite pieces.
Sometimes the best performances aren't the best recordings, so sometimes you'll have to compromise.
The JVC XRCD series has a number of the RCA Living
Stereo classical reissues. They are legendary
performances, known for their outstanding sound
quality. Their only disadvantage is price ($25+ each).
I've got the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto performed
by Jascha Heifetz and the Chicago Symphony, and it's
outstanding. There are a number of other similarly
excellent classical issues.
My general rule of thumb for sound quality (ignoring the performance) for a high end system, is to avoid Deutche Grammonphon CDs. While there are a few good ones; generally the way they are engineered they sound great in a budget system, boombox, or in the car; but cause me to have quick listener fatigue in a better system.
As far as the Penguin guide mentioned above: I personally find that they do a very very good job of choosing good performances; but do not do such a good job on sound quality. I suspect that the systems that some reviewers use are mid-fi at best, or they don't believe in better cables. I have compared a number of remastered CDs with older versions. Many that got worse in my opinion, they thought were a big improvement. I do agree that those new issues sound better on budget gear and boom boxes.
No label has the best sound quality on all its CD's. In fact few of even the so called audiophile labels have any.

Real, and true sonic quality has little to do with the label, and more to do with which engineer was on the job during recording.

Few engineers and producers can resist (over) using the very expensive and elaborate mixing equipment they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on.

And no audiophile products whatever are brand wide high quality (with very few exceptions).

Even the so called all time great sonic performances are subject to scrutiny for over processing in the mixing.

And typically playback systems are so colored, especially when chosen for their overbearing distorted bass reproduction that is so popular, and not true in revealing generally what is actually on the CD in the first place.

But, if its the truest possible to the sonic quality of the actual intruments in a concert performance you seek, there is a 'short' list of tried and true well produced albums (from surprising labels) that can be used for testing your system. But will no doubt at the same time inform you of the very poor quality of almost all other CD's.

It can be found under the 'MUSIC' link at: http://www.linkwitzlab.com/music.htm

There is nothing to buy there, but While you are there you can become educated in the realities of reproduced sound by checking out other of its links.

I can guarantee you that you will find no better quality recordings listed anywhere. If you have an even modestly accurate system, you may find yourself enjoying mucic that you otherwise would have no interest in, just because of its real, and therefore involving, sonic qualities.
Sugarbrie; agree mostly on the DG recordings...however, I have found that the CD's from DG marked "4D" recording are quite "entertaining". I would not state that they are accurate as an RCA red dog purist microphone approach as I suspect they are heavily engineered, but they are nonetheless enjoyable in a hi-fi sense, and certainly not treble harsh as most DG.
PAL; anything on the Lyrita label, they did not know how to make a bad recording, the drawback is that the catalog is only more recent English composers (last 75 or so years), not everyone’s cup of tea.
Agree with RCA living releases, even the BMG releases are quite good..never cared much for the old Mercury living presence..found them to be lacking in dynamics.
I have found channel classics to be some of the best recorded CD's. They have an excellent mix of performers as well. If you like BACH and enjoy violin solos you can not go wrong with Rachel Podger. Go to www.channel.nl
Bioman, I agree with you. Without naming names, some DG reissues came to mind in my second post about the Penguin guide. Older DG is better. I have not cared for too many of those "DG Originals" CDs that look like an LP. I have some I like for the performance only.

London/Decca overall are quite good; and for historic, the "Decca Legends" and "The Classic Sound" are well made. For Bernstein fans, I find those newer "Bernstein Century" on Sony an overall improvement from the older "The Royal Edition" (which are OK as well).

I agree with those who like the Mercury Living Presence historic, and the RCA Living Stereo.

Reference Recordings, Delos, Cisco, the Living Stereo Re-issues on Classic Records, are some of the most consistent and excellent recordings. M*A, Goldberg Variations performed by Ito Emma deserves an award for performance and sonic quality. These would be my first tier for sonic quality. The second would be Sony Classical label--not their economy essentials, but the Sony Classical label. Many Telarc discs (but certainly not all--they tend to run the full gamut on sound quality) would also be in this category. MFSL is a great audiophile label, that never really got classical right. The engineers clearly knew more about rock and jazz than classical--but they didn't do too much classical anyway.
I'm surprised noone mentioned Decca/London label. I have a few of their CDs including some from the Decca Legends series and I though the sound AND the performances were excellent. My system is not expensive but neither is it midfi (Spica, Densen, Monarchy, Rega), and almost all Decca CDs are very enjoyable. To pick one ... Decca Legends "Romantic Russia". recordings from 1966 and 1956 which sound like they were made yesterday.
I am pretty surprise that there is no advocate of Harmonia Mundi or BIS. For Baroque music, they both make excellent recordings.

Also Deutsche Harmonia Mundi produces some good recordings.

Happy Listening!

Sorry sugarbrie .. I didn't see your later post.

DG is a strange label. Usually good performances (in my limited-knowledge-opinion), usually bad sound (to my ears, on my system).

The reason I like Decca so much is they seem to get the perfect balance between reproducing the reverb/ringing of a large concert hall, without overdoing it and letting the sound becoming too much of a mush from all the ringing.

DG seems to have very very dead acoustics .. almost like it was recorded in an anechoic chamber. Perhaps that's the German taste ?
I agree with many of the observations regarding DG CDs, but I look at my CD collection, and a fairly high percentage of the recordings are on DG. If you listen to more modern classical music, you will find that there is very often only one recording of a piece, and that it is on the DG label. That said, quite a few of the 20/21 recordings that have come out recently on DG have excellent sound.

Quite a few recent EMI recordings (especially the BSO recordings) have excellent sound, as well.

And, of course, as has been mentioned, anything on Reference Recordings is always top-caliber.
Seantaylor, just kidding. I was just having some fun with the "noone" as a one syllable word. From some reading I have done, Decca has some great engineers in London in the 40s through the 60s who really cared about quality and accuracy. I agree with you about the balanced sound. I have bought quite a few "Legends" and the earlier "The Classic Sound" solely based on the label, and have not been disapointed. Who ever is putting together the series; they are making some great choices, and have the same level of care as the original engineers who made the recordings.

Phillips has put together quite a few historic recording that sell as 2 CD sets for the single price. There are quite a few good ones in there, especially the chamber music.

The Mercury Living Presence Label is back on CD. As many viny-philes know, the MLP recordings are some of the best ever made. Judicious care was taken in the recording process, including using a single pair of Neumann tube powered mikes(no multi-miking garbage), recorded to 35mm high speed recording tape, and even the groove spacing on the LPs was variable based on the dynamics of the passage. The recordings capture the imaging beautifully, due to the proper miking, and the hall in which the performance took place is well captured. Perspective, space, proportion, depth, tonality, dynamics, and detail are all there - miked from the listener's point of view just slightly above the audience. These are well worth a listen if you like accurate presentation of your classical music as I do.
Thanks guys! I have ordered some of your suggestions. They should be arriving soon.
Hard to believe no one has mentioned anything from the budget ($6 or $7) Naxos label. Just a few recommendations:

Barber Violin Concerto
Boccherini Flute Quintets
Vaughan Williams Antarctica Symphony
Prokofiev Violin Concertos
Reference Recordings are always sonically second to none, especially the newest HDCD recordings. Professor Johnson must be the best recording engineer in the business. Sometimes the performances aren't up to the quality of the recording, but this is being very nit picky. If you are just starting out buying the titles that are available on Reference and are looking for excellent recordings, then look no further. If you are shopping for another version of the same work, you might prefer the performances of other conductors or orchestras. The one work that I do think is outstanding is Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherezade. This is my favorite version of this work. The Mussourgsky Pictures, however, is one of my least favorites because of the tempo at which it's performed. But sonically, no other versions begin to compare.

The newer Telarcs are excellent as well and the performances are also first rate.