This is the set made for EMI with analogue recording equipment in the early 1970's. They were recorded, like the 1960's analogue set on DGG, in the Jesus-Christus-Kirche. Both of these sets have been remastered, the DGG one using 24 bit technology as opposed to the Original Bit Imaging favoured on other DGG discs and the EMI one using there own methods.
On the face of it, one would expect the EMI recording to have the edge as sound simply because it is the later recording done in the same venue and also being analogue. That is not the case as the EMI recording becomes uncomfortably edgy on the top range at climatic points (the start of the fourth symphony will suffice) and with a strange tendency to 'glassiness' (check the timpani roll before the final section of the fifth symphony for this)on some textures including the timpani and trumpets when played loudly. Additionally, the EMI recording allows far more of the church echo to intrude and this results in too much resonance on the lower strings in particular with a consequent loss of detail as regards notes played (pitch). In all of these respects they remind me of the LP set I once owned of these recordings which had the same characteristics.
The DGG remastered discs are far clearer and truthful in all of these respects and this applies throughout the two sets despite the disparity in their recording ages and venues. I have spent two weeks doing A/B comparisons of these three sets to attempt a reasonable and secure evaluation of their relative merits. I is worth noting that all three have received conflicting opinions from reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic as regards preferences ranging from highly enthusiastic to dismissive.
The performances themselves are surprisingly different bearing in mind usual Karajan's consistency. The EMI recording offers far more driven and dramatic performances that, in a way, suit the closer recorded balance. However this can also be accumulatively over-bearing however and certainly larger than life. At the same time the recordings lack internal detail especially when compared to the more natural balances of the earliest DGG set from the 1960's. That set, while still rising impressively to climatic moments, offers a far more balletic view at times such as in the third movement of the sixth symphony.
The other option is the analogue set of the 1970's DGG recording of the symphonies. As a set of performances it falls between the other two described above and is a fair example of the Philharmonie venue as regards sound. This is not to everyone's taste although I personally have not found the recording to be a problem to that enjoyment.
My conclusion is that all three sets have much to offer as regards performances. The EMI set is the most driven and the earlier DGG set has a touch more of the dance about it. The !970's DGG recording comes between those two. The EMI recording offers sound that is very 'present' to the point of being strident at climatic points and lacking bass detail. The first DGG recording is arguably the most realistic, greatly aided by the venue, an early favourite with DGG. The later set is very clear with plenty of weight but some find it lacking in bloom.
This is not the only attempt to describe the options for collectors but I offer the above comparisons to try and give further objective reasons for making a choice based on direct comparisons after extended A/B checking.
Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:
I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)
I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)
I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)