A listener should always have certain things in mind when he listens to Classical Music and buys Cds and DVDs. I have summarized the basic points in 10 Commandments, our credo.
Commandment 1: Listen to classical music!
The more you listen the more you love classical music. Tune and listen to classical music radios in your area or on the Internet. Search through your music collection, your family/friends' music collection and I'm sure you'll find some classical music to enjoy.
Commandment 2: Choose the Big names at start and Learn to Listen!
Choose composers that you know such as Beethoven and Mozart to start with and works that you might have heard of such as Beethoven's 5th Symphony or Mozart's 'Little Night Music' serenade. At the beginning, choose what pleases your ear. However, gradually, you should explore and learn to listen to the varieties of classical music from the polyphonic music of the Middle Ages to the atonal music of the 20th & 21st centuries.
Commandment 3: Be selective when you buy!
When you come to the point that you will buy a classical music recording do not choose any mart/super market to go to. Visit a specialized store with music recordings and search through their classical music section or choose a major classical music Internet shop. This, though, does not mean that expensive recordings guarantee better music quality to inexpensive ones. Remember, the performance matters the most, not the price.
Commandment 4: Old and New Performances!
A newer recording of a work does not mean that is by definition better than an older one in terms of interpretation. You may like more the 1937 recording of Verdi's Falstaff by Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra to Karajan's 1957 interpretation of the same work.
Commandment 5: Authentic and Modern Instruments!
When a music piece is recorded by musicians who play on authentic or period instruments it is not certain that the sound will be closer to what was heard in the 18th century, for example. Wood, glues and repairs as well as a performer's virtuosity may alter the sound produced by an old instrument. Also, the sound of a 18th c. performance may not be better compared to the sound produced with modern instruments.
Commandment 6: AAD, DDD (analog or digital) | CD or LP (digital or vinyl
record sound) | streaming audio !
CD and DVD recordings may be marked as AAD, ADD, or DDD or other similar marking on disc covers or the discs themselves. An AAD or analog recording (originally recorded on professional tape recorder) may be better than a DDD (digital recording) and a performance recorded initially on analog audio or video tape may be better than a new production recorded digitally. It is not the production process and the medium that matters but the quality of the performance that was captured on it.
LPs (vinyl records) have reappeared in recent years and classical music sound perfectionists claim that they are superior to CD sound if played on high-end equipment. This is true in the sense that the depth of sound that is by definition generated by the turn table head may create the illusion of the concert room. Apart from the crackles and ticks that can be heard, vinyl aficionados claim that the LP sound is warm and alive but the CD sound is cold and anemic. From a technical point of view, sound quality of CDs is far better than LPs. But even CD fans disagree among themselves. During the first years of CD production they claimed that those first CD recordings (AAD) sounded awfully but now they claim that the new recordings (DDD) are worse than the previous ones. Well, it seems that it is all a matter of taste.
Streaming audio is fine if your are listening classical music in the street or where you cannot have your equipment with you but remember this is compressed music compared to CDs or even LPs.
I have used top-of the-art (not high-end) equipment and I have recorded all of my LPs onto CDs using direct recording .wav files on a CD-Recorder Machine. I just do not have the space to store LPs but I have a room wall with all of my 20.000 CDs. I listen to CDs and focus on the performance not on how rich the sound is. There is no "rich sound" when you listen to 1930s, 1940s, 1950s Mono recording of excellent performances.
Commandment 7: Compare and Contrast Recordings!
It's good practice, even from the start, to own more than one recordings of at least the major works. When you listen to a Beethoven's 9th conducted by Karajan and the same work conducted by Bohm or Barenboim they are not the same. The notes and the melody may be the same but the tempos and the emphases of the various parts are different because each conductor interprets the work in its own way. This also explains why different recordings of the same work may differ in recorded time. Listen and decide what you like most.
Commandment 8: Use some decent equipment!
All right! You may listen to classical music from your smart phone, tablet or your laptop but in order to unleash the beauty of the performances buy some descent stereo equipment or a home cinema/theater system.
Commandment 9: How about some History!
Classical music is not just the music produced by composers in the 18th century. A short classical music history book or relevant Internet sites with the development of classical music and biographies of composers will help you understand the complexities and varieties of classical music compositions from the Middle Ages to the 21st century.
Commandment 10: Use Sinfonias site!
Well, there are many classical music sites out there but Sinfonias is made and maintained with the serious classical music listener in mind.