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on 16 August 2014
Performance 4.5-5/5, Recording 3.5-4/5

UPDATE on 22 Nov 2014: I have now done file, waveform and spectral analysis on one whole movement from each of the nine symphonies comparing up to four CD release versions. Details and URLs of screenshots of some results are posted in the comments section (two reduced sized images are now included below, a new feature to upload photos; for large images see the comments section). The results largely corroborate with my earlier listening impressions. Most importantly, the sampled files from the CDs from this new Blu-ray/CD set have IDENTICAL NUMBER OF BYTES AND RUNTIME down to 0.001s from those of the hybrid SACD CD layers and THEIR WAVEFORMS ARE IDENTICAL. File comparisons between these two versions show FIVE OUT OF NINE SAMPLED MOVEMENTS ARE BIT-FOR-BIT IDENTICAL. Spectrograms reveal FREQUENCIES ARE LIMITED TO 12kHz only at -70dB, well below human hearing and CD sample rate limits. I am now 99% certain that the new version is really using the same 24-bit/96kHz digital master as the 2003 SACD set with no further remastering in the majority of the symphonies and perhaps a minuscule amount in the rest.

This long review rather than covering old territories like Karajan, his legacy or the HD audio vs. CD debate instead offers something more original and tries to get to the truth behind the new remaster, based on real listening tests comparing three formats and versions (CD, SACD, Blu-ray) simultaneously and other evidence. The more I look the more suspicious it gets. This release never claims to be a new analogue to digital transfer. The review also outlines some trade-offs of listening to Pure Audio Blu-ray compared to CD and SACD.

The previous major release versions of the complete set are:
1962 Analogue recording, 1963 LP
1989 digital remix, CD, ADD
1997 Original-Image Bit-Processing (Vol. 1 of the Complete Beethoven Edition)
2003 'stereo and high bit stereo remix', using 24/96 source, hybrid SACD (with No. 9 rehearsal excerpts on bonus disc 6)

What ADD means (quote verbatim from the Carlos Kleiber Schubert symphonies 3 & 8 first release CD booklet):
ADD Analogue tape recorder used during session recording, digital tape recorder used during subsequent mixing and/or editing and during mastering (transcription)

The new Blu-ray only has stereo tracks, as PCM 24/96 4.6 Mbps. The menu is a static screen in high definition, 1080i60, encoded with AVC at 1.66 Mbps.

I have the 1963 recordings (reissued around 2000 as Collectors Edition: 463 088-2) and the SACD set (474 600-2) for comparison. This will always be one of the reference sets for a non-HIP recording.

I have done non-blinded comparative listening tests on similar excerpts on various equipment in two rooms (mainly stereo but also in a 5.1 set-up) using both stereo RCA analogue and HDMI connections. At any time I had three players running and switched inputs on the pre-amp. My stereo pre-amp allows quick input switching (instant) but HDMI surround receivers incur delays of up to seven seconds to lock on.

The new remaster on Blu-ray and CDs sounds a little louder (by ear) than the SACDs/CDs by about 0.5dB and the collectors edition CDs by about 1.5 dB. To rule out players' analogue output differences I swapped discs and the difference remains. This immediately poses the problem of precise level matching for comparison.

Allowing for the volume differences, the Blu-ray sounds the same as the SACDs. The collectors edition CDs sound a little thinner and drier than the others but the difference is lessened once volume is matched. All the versions are still recognisable as old recordings. Unlike some people's criticism of the first release CDs I find them quite listenable on decent equipment, in fact rather good for 1963 recording: there is very little background hiss and no distortion. The SACDs and Blu-ray are not a quantum leap step up.

A brief wiki article on audio remaster would be a useful primer of what it involves, particularly the distinction between analogue to digital and digital to digital transfer.

Unlike the EMI stereo remastered SACDs (which mention new analogue to digital transfer with restoration, editing, equilisation and the engineers involved), there are no notes whatsoever on the remastering process in this set or on DG's website. All the works have already been mixed on digital tape from previous releases. In the absence of any indication we have to assume it's merely a new digital tape transfer to CD and Blu-ray.

The 2003 SACD set was already a new digital remix and remaster using 24/96 source by Emil Berliner Studios (it says so in each booklet of the six SACDs) and this new CD/BD set very much sounds like it is merely using the same digital master. If that is the case (and also thought by some on the only theoretical advantage (from the purist's point of view) with this release using PCM is it is the native studio master format without conversion to DSD. I say theoretical because the reconstructed analogue waveforms between 24/96 PCM and DSD are very similar and in practice the audible difference is non-existent.

Credits for the Pure Audio Blu-ray are given to MSM Studios (the CDs are still by EB Studios) and it could just be authoring, otherwise the CDs and Blu-ray would be different. It's conceivable they have made some small changes (EQ, volume) here and there to the 2003 master but there is no obvious audible difference and the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

I do not have the Beethoven edition with Original-Image Bit-Mapping (used in 'The Originals' re-issues) to compare with [EDIT: I later have Symphony No. 9 OIBP, see the update note above for details]. These are remixed using 'psycho-acoustical principles' and are meant to sound different. The 'greater presence' using OIBP results in a more fuzzy soundstage at the expense of clarity and instrumental separation. Whether you like it better than the other versions is a matter of preference. The non-OIBP versions are better candidates for comparison with each other.

According to the booklet, the CD movement timings in this set exactly match those of the hybrid SACD set to the nearest second but not the collectors edition. According to my player (no printed info is provided for the BD timings) the BD timings closely match the SACD to within one second. This is good circumstantial evidence that the 2003 24/96 master is used [EDIT: see update note above for further file analysis].

Beware of volume levels on sound perception. Be wary of claims that a new remaster sounds a lot better without hearing it yourself or at least having examined the evidence critically. Case in point: when 'The Originals' came out, many like it. Now the pendulum swings back and people like the new version better. The people who only had the OIBP CDs to compare with would likely also prefer the clarity in the first release CDs had they had the chance to compare them also. [EDIT: see update note above using waveform and spectral analysis to substantiate this point.]

The symphony No. 9 rehearsal is exactly the same as on the SACD/CD but only on Blu-ray here. It is of limited value if you don't speak fluent German to understand what Karajan said. This set has a new essay "KARAJAN BEETHOVEN SYMPHONIES LP set 1963" by Richard Osborne. Another short commentary "A Note on the Art of Rehearsing" is taken from the last part of a longer essay "KARAJAN * BEETHOVEN * SACD A note on recording technology and the art of rehearsing" by RO in the SACD set. Unlike the CD and SACD sets there are no notes (by RO) for each symphony.

The Facsimile reproductions and photos are new to this set.

This book format with cardboard holders for CDs is the first from DG that I have seen. The outer case is slightly larger than the SACD set, which is the same size as CD sets. The Kleiber and the Strauss remastered CD/BD sets are all in different sizes. I wish DG would stick to one form factor, otherwise how are we supposed to fit them neatly on the shelves?

The issues are:
1. This BD takes about one minute to reach the menu, a lot slower than CDs and DVDs. It is due to BD-Java which is needed for special functions like the coloured buttons, Picture-in-picture and BD-Live but none of these is utilised on this disc. I suspect it is needed for the pop-up track info, therefore it is quite unnecessary.

2. It does not resume play, a side-effect of BD-J. Once you stop the disc, it has to reload from scratch. If you don't want that, then use 'pause'.

3. A display screen is required to navigate at least the first time.

4. Filling up one BD with all the tracks does not allow for easy navigation. The tracks (or chapters) are laid out only by numbers like a square grid/table. The track info only pops-up when selected or when clicking 'tracklist'. Otherwise you select by trial and error or consult the the book first or fast forward one by one. Blu-ray players generally don't make direct access to tracks over 9 that easy and there are 41 tracks in all. So it is tedious even with the screen. Requiring a screen to navigate is a big turn-off, just like playing a DVD-Audio, especially in those with stereo only set-up not connected to TVs.

5. When using HDMI it takes longer to lock on and by then the first few seconds of the track is missing so you end up pressing '<< to go back to the beginning again.

6. For those with old non-HDMI receivers or external DACs high resolution audio from copy-protected Blu-ray discs cannot be passed via coaxial or optical cables without down-sampling to 48kHz.

For me, loading a CD or SACD is much more convenient all round. BD to replace SACD in the future? Not sure about that. I was an early Blu-ray adopter and therefore not against it or new technology in any way. Most of the points made above are not the fault of the format as such but rather the software design and authoring of discs. More consideration should be given to make it more user-friendly.

If you already have the SACDs then no, unless you care for the new printed extras (who actually does?) or if you are a collector of these deluxe sets. If you only have the 1989 or 1997 sets then it depends on how much you like the performance, how important sound improvement (however incremental) is to you and how much you are prepared to spend (reasonable at £25 but not more).

There are many other superb choices in all formats to choose from. I collect many sets and single recordings: Beethoven's music has room for many different interpretations. My current favourite SACD cycle is Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. The other sets I like are: Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker (on CD set or separate DVD-Audio discs, a native 24/96 recording, no longer available), and Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra on CD (their Proms cycle is excellent).

Time will tell if this is the start of another long series of 'remastered at 24/96' but my impression of this and the Carlos Kleiber: Complete Orchestral Recordings on Deutsche Grammophon box is more like a re-package rather than complete fresh start from the analogue tapes.

As in the film industry, music studios exploit the upgrade obsession of consumers. I won't rush out in the future to double or triple dip for another remaster on recordings I already have even if it is 24/192 or 32/384 unless the studios tell us clearly that it is a new analogue to digital transfer and what they do with it. If it is just a digital remastering then studios should come clean and tell us why and for what improvement to justify the expense for upgrade.
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2323 comments| 58 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 July 2014
I have owned this set of symphonies as recorded in the 1960's on CD since 1999. I have always much admired this set of symphonies. What i liked most about them is:

1: The driving forward momentum and pulse

2: The fine playing of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

3: The driven energy that both that the conductor and orchestra give to the Beethoven Symphonies

4: Swift speeds judged to perfection played with no repeats.

What i didn't like:

5: The only thing that bugged me about the 1999 release was the distant and underwhelmed state of the recordings when compared to newer more modern recordings from the last decade.

With the release of this 2014 new re-masters point 5 will now read:

5. The new remaster has brought these fine 1963 recordings up to date and rival all competitors. As a overall set, this set of Beethoven Symphonies played by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Herbert von Karajan is a clear first choice. Hidden detail from previous releases of this set is now revealed in this new re-master with fine spread of audio and separation of orchestral detail together with tangible real sense of power and depth to the recordings not previously revealed.

What you get with this set is perfection, illumination, detail, humanity, driven, energetic, energy, enthusiasm and beauty. What you might miss is some quirkiness or humour that other sets might reveal, but what you won't get is the pulsating energy that this set brings and a clean straight performance. Recommended.
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Nine Symphonies on five newly remastered CDs --- OR one Blu-Ray Audio Disc (it plays for 6 hours, 2 minutes).

To show off their new Blu-Ray technology, Deutsche Grammophon had the choice of three different Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic cycles of the Beethoven Symphonies.
Surprisingly, they went with the earliest one - recorded in 1962, ignoring his new and improved versions from 1977 and 1984.

The 1962 Beethoven cycle was recorded in the Jesus-Christus Kirche, the site for all Karajan recordings, 1959-1974.
From 1974, Karajan insisted on recording in the Philharmonie, the orchestra's new concert hall, with a clearer but drier sound.

After the move to the the Philharmonie, lower strings still recorded well,
but the violins lost some of their accustomed sweetness.
(not helped by the aging Karajan's insistence on final approval - as we age we don't hear highs as clearly as before).
After his death, these recordings were remastered - rebalancing the treble
(the "Karajan Gold" series).
They now actually sound pretty good - but still second best.

Apart from the warmer sound of the 1962 Beethoven cycle, the performances are remarkably similar, aside from a more urgent first movement in the 1977 Eroica.

Herbert von Karajan was famous for his love of racing cars,
but his Beethoven always struck me as more of a Mercedes-Benz limousine.
Very unfashionable in our historically correct time.
There are other big orchestra sets out there, but none are quite as luxurious as Karajan's 1962 Beethoven.
(it can also be quite exciting).

This is now Karajan's preferred Beethoven Cycle: Best Performance / Best Sound.

5 CDS + 1 Blu-Ray Audio disc in a hardcover book with slipcase (13 x 15 x 3 centimeters).
The cover design is identical to the 1963 LP box.
Unfortunately the program notes for the music are gone.
In their place, you get a new essay by Richard Osborne plus a lot of nice photographs.

P.S. There is a companion Blu-Ray Deluxe Edition of Karajan's recordings of Richard Strauss: ASIN:B00JEPZVYM
or on the Amazon search bar, enter "CD & Vinyl: Karajan Strauss Blu"
Once again, DG went with his acoustic Jesus-Christus recordings over the digital Philharmonie remakes.

[hint: for ease of navigation, read the review though to the end, then come back and click on the links.]

Blu-Ray Audio appears to be the wave of the future.
Its not uncommon to find ordinary CDs remastered at "24-bit/96 kHz", but the CD medium is incapable of accurately reproducing everything on the master.
You need SACD or Blu-Ray Audio to realise the full potential of the original master tape.

It will play on any Blu-Ray Video player.
Keep the video output connected to your TV to read the disc menu.
Connect the audio to your Hi-Fi system.

The only real advantage of Blu-Ray over the older SACD technology is a longer playing time - The Blu-Ray Audio disc included with Solti's Ring plays for fifteen hours.
Two channels of high definition sound: 2.0 LPCM 24-bit/96 kHZ (these numbers can theoretically go higher on Blu-Ray).

Blu-Ray is capable of more than two channels.
The Carlos Kleiber Blu-Ray Audio Deluxe Edition included an option of 5.0 surround sound, remixed from the master tape:
Complete Orchestra Recordings
The Karajan Blu-Ray Audio takes a purist approach: Just the two channels as originally issued.

In addition to the music, the Blu-Ray includes a 29 minute orchestra-only rehearsal of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
Video content on the Blu-Ray is minimal:
Nine symphonies = 38 individual movements
The track listing on your TV screen permits access to each movement (the rehearsal takes an additional 3 tracks).
There are no subtitles for the rehearsal, nor is a translation printed in the booklet.

You also get the symphonies on five standard CDs.
The CD remasterings are credited to "Emil Berliner Studios", copyright 2014.
This is at least the third time they have been remastered for CD.
They sound fine to me.

The Blu-Ray Audio remastering is credited to "MSM Studios, Munich", copyright 2014.
I wonder how it compares to the eleven year-old SACD remastering?
(6 hours, 2 minutes = 1 Blu-Ray = 6 SACDs)

Pretty sure either are preferable to CD,
but I am not the best judge:
1) My ears are 65 years old.
2) The Berlin Philharmonic is a tight squeeze in my apartment - My landlord won't allow concert hall realism in his building.
Playing Blu-Ray Audio with the volume turned down is self-defeating.


The booklet notes make a misleading point:
"Never before had all nine symphonies been recorded and released as an integrally planned subscription set, handsomely annotated".

This was not the first Beethoven Symphony set.
It was preceded by seven mono sets and five stereo sets. *
Karajan/DG wasn't even Karajan's first Beethoven cycle, or the first stereo cycle recorded by the Berlin Philharmonic.

EMI already had a set of Beethoven Symphonies with Karajan and the Philharmonia Orchestra, so their immediate priorities were elsewhere.

EMI recorded two stereo sets between 1957 and 1960:
Otto Klemperer with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and
Andre Cluytens with the Berlin Philharmonic

Herbert von Karajan was under contract to EMI when Cluytens recorded his set with the Berlin Philharmonic.
This perceived snub may have been one of the reasons for his switch to Deutsche Grammophon.

I suppose you could be pedantic and describe the 1962 DG cycle as the first "integrally planned subscription set".
Nowadays it's called pre-ordering.

* -- Mono:
Weingartner, Toscanini, Walter, Scherchen, Karajan, Jochum, Schuricht
(the last three had at least one symphony in stereo).
The mono sets by Furtwangler and Mengelberg relied on radio broadcasts that didn't become public until the early '70s.
-- Stereo:
Bruno Walter: Bruno Walter: The Edition (rec 1958-59) - part of an inexpensive 39 CD mega-box.
Josef Krips: Forever Beethoven (Coll) (Tin) (1959) - earlier releases were on the Everest label (good) and the Bescol label (bad).
Otto Klemperer: Beethoven: Symphonies & Overtures (1957-60) - my favorite, but I'm old and cranky.
Andre Cluytens: Beethoven: Symphonies (1957-60) - first Berlin Philharmonic set
Franz Konwitschny: Beethoven - Complete Symphonies (1960-62)

- Ernest Ansermet started a stereo set in 1958, but didn't finish it until 1963.
- Rene Leibowitz and the Royal Philharmonic recorded a set in 1962 (concurrent with Karajan) for Reader's Digest. Sold by mail-order.


Earliest was a 1952-1955 set with the Philharmonia Orchestra: Beethoven: Symphonies & Overtures 1951-1955 (Karajan Official Remastered Edition)
This may be Karajan's most interesting Beethoven, but it is handicapped by mono sound in all but Symphony 8.

1977 Berlin cycle: Beethoven: 9 Symphonies; Overtures
1984 Berlin cycle: Beethoven - also includes the Concerti, Overtures and Missa Solemnis in mostly DDD recordings
- remarkable bargain (13 CDs for 18 Pounds).

Also very interesting is Karajan's first DVD video Beethoven set:
Beethoven - the Symphonies (Von Karajan, Berliner Po) [DVD] [2006] [Region 1] [NTSC], filmed 1967-1972
Four directors of varying competence.
The guy who directed Symphony 6 is hopeless.
The rest is watchable.

Eighty percent of screen time is devoted to close-ups of Karajan.
It got worse when Karajan took over the directing duties himself for an early 80's cycle on five Sony DVDs.


I was just reminded of how old I am.
I bought this in 1964.
It was my introduction to Beethoven's Symphonies.
I was an impressionable teenager, new to classical music, and fell in love with Herbert von Karajan.
The sheer look and feel of DG's 1960's LP records had something to do with it.
They were twice as thick as American records, came in luxurious plastic-lined sleeves and didn't snap, crackle and pop like American pressings
(they also cost a lot more than American records, but Karajan's new Beethoven box was specially priced).

This infatuation lasted until I discovered Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter at my college record store.
The 1970's LP pressings were execrable, but the music making was revelatory.
Two dinosaurs from the Nineteenth Century who lived long enough to record in stereo.
(I also discovered Furtwangler, Mengelberg and Toscanini,
but they didn't make it that far).

But you never entirely forget your first love.
Fifty years later I am reintroducing myself to Herbert von Karajan.
Mixed feelings.
But I'm glad I had the opportunity, and it didn't even cost too much.
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on 8 October 2015
I owned the vinyl set of these symphonies (still do) and remember being blown away by the recorded sound and the performances. Since then I have purchased the set on CD and now this newly remastered set beautifully presented with the original artwork and comprehensive notes.
The sound is just amazing and the performances, though old school to some ears, are to my ears as fresh and satisfying as when I first heard them all those years ago! I have many sets of the Beethoven symphonies and many more individual favourite performances but this is the one set that I value most highly and wouldn't ever want to be without.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 31 January 2015
If you are a collector of Beethoven symphony cycles, chances are you already have the 1963 set in your collection. If not, this luxury re-issue is your perfect opportunity. For those who have more modern versions (by Karajan or others) of these truly timeless works, the set would also definitely be worth your money. And those who have no complete cycle at all could very profitably start with this one.

The current Amazon price is really something of a steal. Buy a copy while you can.
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on 5 September 2014
An old recording that I have from the LP era.. I have the originals! The crazy people that prefers the Lps to the CDs are really insane. Nor the Cd is much better sound and with a regular level from the first movement till the end free of distortion as happened in the end of each vynil records, but if you choose the new Blu-Ray audio disc included in the pack you discover a new recording made in 1962!!!

The best Beethoven symphonies of all time unfortunately with some traditional cuts that is the only little sin of the original edition.

Congratulations DG for the beautiful volume of information and the re realese of the 9th rehearsal that I have also in LP in a separetly recording published in late 60s.
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on 2 August 2014
I've been listening to these again - the original vinyl box sex, and have read with some interest a Karajan retrospective article in Gramophone in March 1964. The original DGG vinyl sound is a bit heavy and indistinct at times to my ear. This set was recorded in K's early middle age when he was starting to develop from a rather aggressive, humourless and brilliant style, sometimes heavy-handed, to something a little more chilled and laid back. This set was during his transition, if you could call it that, so to some extent it is a bit of both worlds. He always had the best musical resources and used them well.

Everyone has personal preferences, and they change with time. Mine is Solti (who like K was at his best in the opera pit), based mostly on live performance. I now enjoy the more intimate Krivine sound. Differing opinion is typified with K. Possibly the only general agreement is his peerless Bruckner.

Worth £30, as this is certainly an important project in the history of recorded Beethoven, and sold in vast numbers at the time, more the individual recordings rather than the box set.
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on 29 April 2015
A masterfully and lovingly created box set, which one could recommend to any lover of Beethoven's symphonies, and/or of Karajan who probably saw himself as standing shoulder to shoulder with Beethoven! But even with 24 bit technology, which improves on previous CDs, the dynamic range just isn't as broad as it is on vinyl. But for its price this is the best box set of Beethoven's symphonies you can buy. Magnificent booklet too. Enjoy
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on 20 August 2015
This is a review of the blu ray disc only Having had these recordings in my collection since the 1960,s - I have to say that these new transfers in HD audio do full justice to these legendary recordings of the Beethoven symphonies .I would describe the sound as demonstration quality
The overall set including the CD,s is very handsomely packaged
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on 13 August 2014
I love these recordings save for #6. This review is about sound quality. See the following link.
People just do not understand digital sampling theory, this document describes in exquisite detail why sampling beyond 44.1 or 48kHz and playback with 24bit is pointless. 16 bits and 44.1 or 48kHz is in reality as good as it can get. 24 bits is useful when editing but adds nothing in playback. Blind listening test have show that no one can tell what recording is playing beyond what you would get by purely guessing. The only differences people hear are due to differences in the master used to make the digital recording.
If you wish to keep believing in all this rubbish about sampling frequency and bit depth you can reach me at the Flat Earth Society, next to the office for Creation Science.
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