Regarding your comment about transfer technology ...
The ability to do an excellent playback of old tapes was there all along. The discipline and
dedication to hunt down the masters and to play them back in a superb analog chain was what was
lacking. So that was there in any time period since the tapes were originally recorded.
As for digital transfer technology, there were some breakthroughs in the late 1980's that raised the
bar. I recently did a presentation at the AES convention in NYC about the technical history of
Mercury Living Presence, and part of the discussion was about the CD reissues. We had present in the
room the original transfer engineer, Dennis Drake, and I had the opportunity as I was preparing the
presentation to talk at length with Dennis about the year-long process, in 1988-89, of selecting and
building the transfer chain. Just in that timeframe, dcs came out with the converter selected, which
allowed 24-bit words at up to 48kHz sampling rate. Right up near the time the CD remastering was to
start, Harmonia Mundi came out with their digital buss that included a dither card and a
downsampling card. This allowed a desireable-sounding down-conversion to the 1630 (44.1/16)
mastering standard. So as of 1990, it was possible to do a transfer that could come much closer to
the master tapes than any previous mass-media technology. I think Sony came out with their Super Bit
Mapping (20-bit) technology in the early 90's, and JVC had a similar system that was more a
system-wide approach, from digital master recorder to glass-master cutter.
Technology did advance rapidly in the 1990's, as we all know. By the end of the decade, you could
master directly to a computer hard drive and very good converter units had come way down in price.
And of course the rise of multiple DAW software and plug-ins has vastly expanded the options
available -- although recent discussion on this list highlights how bad so many modern efforts
But, by 1990, when there was still a robust market for classical reissue CD's, a producer had the
ability to select an excellent transfer chain and execute results nearer to the master tape than
ever possible before in a release medium.
One factor with Sony is that they had already invested a lot in lousy-sounding reissues in the
1980's, and sold plenty of copies. Sony and BMG/RCA took an approach of "get it all out there on CD"
and minded quantity goals over quality goals. To be fair, when they started putting product on the
market in 1982, the digital mastering equipment was not as good as it was at the end of the 80's.
But we've all heard the stories of using 3rd and 4th generation tapes, of interns in hallways
"dubbing" on misaligned tape machines to banks of 1600 systems on portable carts. That may be
exaggerated, but the early-issue CD's stand on their own wobbly legs, sounding terrible in most
cases. And yet, everyone sold a lot of units of these bad-sounding CD's, so there wasn't a lot of
corporate pressure to put quality first. The success of the Mercury reissues, followed by much
better reissues from RCA that also succeeded in the marketplace, prompted others to go back and do
their own "original look and feel and made from the real master tapes" reissues. The problem for
Sony and others was that they did their programs too late, the shark had already been jumped and
classical CD sales were beginning to crater.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dave Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, January 06, 2010 12:19 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Sony and Binaural
On another topic within this thread, Masterworks Heritage made its bow
in 1995, and I'm curious as to how much earlier it would have needed to
emerge to enjoy success. Seems to me that much before 1995 the transfer
technology and even the ability of engineers was not quite to the level
that would have made it a more going concern than it was in '95. I never
had any trouble selling the Bidu Sayao discs or the Mahler First with
Mitropoulos and Minneapolis, but there were other, far more conservative
choices that did stiff and I think that Masterworks Heritage launched so
many titles at first that the market simply wasn't to bear all of them.
Certainly the digital transfers of 1989 had a long way to go before they
reached the standard that is familiar to us now.
David "Uncle Dave" Lewis
Assistant Editor, Classical
Ann Arbor, Michigan
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Andrew Hamilton
Sent: Tuesday, January 05, 2010 5:19 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Sony and Binaural
Quite right. And, as the Wacky-Package on the topic continues:
"...these labelling differences led to a couple of experiments whereby
"Left" and "Right" lacquers of two recordings were painstakingly
synchronised. These experiments proved that for these sessions two
microphones had been used, placed near each other and each leading to
own turntable, with binaural sound being the result when synchronised.
two binaural recordings were made available to the Leopold Stokowski
and both have now been released on CD: Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries on
Cala Records CACD0549 and the 'Scherzo' from Mendelssohn's Midsummer
Dream on Cala Records CACD0551."
P. S., Hi there, Mr. Lewis! Got any Elvis (wine)?
On 1/5/10 11:42 AM, "Mike Gray" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> For "left" / "right" to produce 'binaural' would require two entirely
> independent microphone mixers feeding two separate disc-cutters.
> Anything else is a fantasy.
> Mike Gray
> Dave Lewis wrote:
>> Edward Johnson, in his notes for Cala 551, "Stokowski Beethoven
>> No. 7 and Other First Stereo Releases on CD" states:
>> "In 2004, Anthony Fountain, Classical Archivist at Sony Music Studios
>> New York, found many lacquer masters that Stokowski and the All
>> Youth Orchestra had recorded in Hollywood after their 1941 summer
>> The most significant part of the discovery was that all the
>> were made in duplicate, with each pair of discs labeled "Left" and
>> "Right" respectively. [...] It was an exciting discovery and the
>> Stokowski Society wished to license a complete CD of these AAYO
>> 'binaural' recordings. However, the Sony powers-that-be decided that
>> such a discovery should appear on their own label instead, along with
>> any other records of the period that had been recorded binaurally.
>> included the Stravinsky/New York Philharmonic sets of the early 1940s
>> which the composer conducted his own 'Rite of Spring' and other works
>> [...] However, it all came to nought in 2006 when the senior
>> in charge were dismissed due to the poor sales of both their new and
>> historic releases. The Stokowski/AAYO lacquers were sent off for
>> and the transferring equipment dismantled, so it seems that the
>> opportunity for hearing more of these historic recordings binaurally
>> has, tragically, now gone."
>> Okay - I'm assuming that these notes, published with the final
>> Society release that appeared in November, speak the truth. But just
>> last week I heard a Sony producer protesting on NPR that "people
>> not take it on themselves and reissue classic recordings. First we
>> to locate the original master recording, then we have to find the
>> holder of the performance rights, etc." The NPR commentator added
>> Sony has transferred about 10,000 classic recordings since 1994 or
>> but is doing so in the face of the realization that only minimal
>> financial gain is likely to be made in such endeavor.
>> However, if they have "dismantled" [...] "the transferring equipment"
>> then all that the Sony producer said is mere bluster; one has to
>> that they aren't doing any of that kind of work now, based on what is
>> said in the Stokowski notes. Who is telling the truth?
>> David "Uncle Dave" Lewis
>> Assistant Editor, Classical
>> Rovi Corporation
[log in to unmask]