Thanks for all your comments and insights. All very interesting as always.
I totally agree with you that the better Columbia remix/remaster jobs of recent years are very much
superior to the original LPs, as are the RCA SACDs to even the much-loved Living Stereo LPs. One
man's ears, opinions, etc.
I also agree with Don Cox about 20-bit transfers. One of the lesser-known aspects of the Mercury
CD's is that the A-D was done at 24-bit an the signal was then down-converted on the way to the 1630
mastering deck. So the capture was in 24-bit, which definitely made a difference to the ears of the
producer, mastering engineers and various guests to the studio while the equipment was being
selected. The dcs converter that was used was MUCH better-sounding than other equipment tested. If
the only choice had been a Sony 16-bit converter, the CDs wouldn't have happened. The chain used was
analog playback > dcs A-D converter (44.1kHz/16-bit) > Harmonia Mundia (sp?) digital buss and
dither-down module (Weiss designed) > digital input of 1630 recorders (2 masters made
simultaneously). In the early days, problems had to be fixed with video-style insert-edits on the
1630 system. Later, a Sonic Solutions computer was used for complex edits and also to sync up SFX
and music for the "1812" and "Wellington's Victory" CD. None of Sonic's "cleanup" DSP stuff was used
because it wasn't deemed good-sounding. When the Sonic computer was used, content was uploaded and
downloaded to 1630 all-digital, no re-converting or other such stuff.
I cringed a little bit right after I hit "send" because I don't want to set up a false dicotomy of
"produced sound" vs. a notion of "documentary sound." As I tried to say, ALL good classical
recordings are "productions," meaning they are heard from a sonic position not possible to attain in
the recording space, unless you are a character from "Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger" and can float
somewhere above and behind the conductor's head or elsewhere in the hall (or have many ears in many
places at once if more than a few mics are used). Mics hear differently from humans, so production
is involved in setting and mixing the mics to get a desired stereo or mono image. Even a single-mic
approach isn't "documentary" because the mic placement is designed for a "super-real" pickup and
then of course there's editing and re-takes and the like. The reasons for all of this is that a
record is made to be listened to over and over, and it must be "super-real" to be enjoyable, free of
bad flubs, sonically sparkling, etc. This is why I don't believe in issuing recordings of radio
broadcasts, because the performance was a one-time event and often containing flubs or other things
that would not pass muster with a recording session of yore (today is a different matter, a lot of
new-issue classical stuff is just concert recordings with maybe a few hours of patch-ups afterwards,
and it sounds it!).
So nobody in the "golden age" execpt cheapo labels issuing concert recordings from Europe were
taking a "documentary" approach.
What I mean by "produced sound" is an ambience and even reverb/illusion of space that has little or
nothing to do with the recording venue but rather is created by mixing, EQ and adding reverb later.
That's what Kazdin was doing with his more elaborate "magic." It's also what Denon was doing with
their recordings made in an anacholic chamber in the 70s. I'd call that the extreme of "produced
sound." Probably the other end is a produced classical recording (ie specific mic placement not in
an audience sound-plain, editing and retakes) made with one mic, which Mercury and RCA were doing in
the early 50's. That's not a "documentary" but the sound is what that mic was capturing in that
acoustic space and the dynamics and details were left up to the orchestra. Mercury and RCA, and also
Decca, kept more to this philosophy (with RCA having more mics as time went on and moving more
toward a "produced sound" philosophy as time went on). Columbia was always more into "produced
sound" to one degree or another, as far as I can tell. I think EMI, Philips and DGG always preferred
that direction too. There were exceptions to all of these generalizations, of course, as each
recording project was unique.
- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Dennis Rooney" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Saturday, June 02, 2012 1:08 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Who needs vinyl?
> Dear Tom,
> In reply...
> On Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 7:45 PM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> One man's opinions ...
>> 1. the early CD's "Great Performances of the Century" or whatever the
>> series was called, with the fake "newspaper front page" artwork, generally
> Actually, that line was called "Great Performances" and was, indeed, done
> mostly from Lp cutting masters ("two-tracks") often with little or no
> expertise in the A/D transfer, audible splices unfiexed, etc.
>> 2. Dennis Rooney produced a good series of reissues in the late 90's,
>> Masterworks Heritage. I have those versions of Szell/Cleveland, whatever
>> was released in the series, and it is fantastic.
>> 3. I thought much more care was taken and better quality resulted with the
>> Bernstein Edition reissues of the 90's, vs the earlier reissues.
> *THANKS AGAIN*
>> 4. A lot of the better second-generation reissues seem to have been
>> re-packaged in that dirt-cheap "essential" series, which has cheezy artwork
>> and sketchy recording/production details but sometimes quite good sound.
>> Some of them sound like they are "Great Performances of the 20th Century"
>> first-generation transfers repackaged, but I might be wrong on that.
> Essential Classics was something of a grab bag regarding audio quality but
> after 1992 it improved when A&R rather than Marketing supervised the studio
>> 5. In general, to my ears, Columbia's recordings were of inconsistent
>> quality. Sometimes they did really well, sometimes not. I tend to hear
>> through their inadequate recordings if it's a Szell or a great Bernstein
>> performance. If it's a lackluster Bernstein or a so-so Ormandy, I can't
>> cotton to the poor-sounding recordings.
> In general, the Columbia master tapes sound better than any Lp release.
> Their true quality was much more accurately reflected in the CD reissues
> from the early 90s on.*
>> Columbia always used several to many mics, so the big problem they have is
>> the same all over-mic'd classical recordings have -- unnatural ambience,
>> congested and un-detailed sound when everyone is playing loud, shifting
>> placement of instruments depending on their volume levels (ie bleed into a
>> number of mics), and dynamics controlled at the mixing board rather than by
>> the orchestra.
> *Fred Plaut did not believe in stereo and Masterworks did not make a
> regular stereo master until December, 1956 (the Bernstein MESSIAH). His mic
> technique was referred to by many of his colleagues as "multi-mic mono".
> Only one Columbia engineer, Harold Chapman ("Chappie"), had a true
> understanding of stereophony and how to mic for it, which is why his
> recordings possess a true stereo image.*
> When they got into Andy Kazdan sonic productions, that's a different way of
>> making a classical record and it sometimes has its benefits, but it's
>> definitely a "produced" sound vs. a "recorded" sound. There's a difference
>> between a produced performance -- all great classical albums are "produced"
>> in the sense that they are super-perfect and super-real compared to all but
>> a few spontaneous performances -- and a produced sound, which means that
>> the overall sound quality is a production of mixing and adding echo and the
>> like, it's not something that can happen at all in real-time in a real
>> space. Like I said, sometimes it's very interesting and works well, so I'm
>> not blanket condemning it. Columbia was definitely very into "produced
>> sound" for their classical records from the late 60's onward. I discussed
>> this in my presentation at the AES in NY last year, including details on
>> Columbia's 1975 Grammy Award-winning recording of "Daphnis and Chloe" that
>> involved 32 microphones and separate mixes for stereo and quad. In my
>> opinion, it works as a vehicle to get into the music (for instance, the
>> details of every voice in the chorus, the details of every little nuance of
>> sound from the solo instruments, very clear details within sections as long
>> as not too many people were playing at the same time), but it's definitely
>> a produced sound. Some in the audience very much didn't like the Columbia
>> approach vs. earlier few-mic RCA approaches.
> -- Tom Fine
> *In truth, Columbia was "into a 'produced sound'" from 1939 on. All
> 33-1/3rpm lacquer masters produced after that date assumed post-production
> in creating the 78rpm masters. EQ, reverb, and level adjustments were all
> routine and the practice continued into the Lp era. Its 3-track, 1/2-in
> stereo masters had all three tracks in constant motion. We automated
> several mixes in doing a/d transfers of them and the sight of the faders
> during playback was a sight to see. Andy Kazdin was certainly delighted
> with "produced sound". He wanted no part of documentary reality. "We're
> making MAGIC here!" was his motto.*
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "L. Hunter Kevil" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Friday, June 01, 2012 5:09 PM
>> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Who needs vinyl?
>> Steve and Richard,
>>> Can you give us any clues as to how to identify which Sony reissues have
>>> been outstandingly remastered and which have not?
>>> Hunter Kevil
>>> On Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 3:09 PM, [Richard A Kaplan] <[log in to unmask]
>>> Sony's release of Bernstein's Mahler cycle last year in new masterings
>>>> session tapes was revelatory; it shows (a) what they're capable of when
>>>> they're willing to use the resources, and (b) how inadequate the huge
>>>> bulk of
>>>> their CD reissues have (has?) been. I'm with Steve: More!
>>>> Rich Kaplan
>>>> In a message dated 6/1/2012 3:05:07 P.M. Central Daylight Time,
>>>> [log in to unmask] writes:
>>>> I recently heard the last 2 movements of the Beethoven 3d Piano Concero
>>>> the radio and was amazed. I had no idea who was before the public at
>>>> present who played the piece this well. What particularly grabbed me was
>>>> rich the piano tone was, how clear the various piiano voices and
>>>> parts were and how well the whole thing sounded together.
>>>> Imagine my surprise. It was Leon Fleisher, George Szell and the
>>>> Orchestra, made in 1959.
>>>> After a bit of investigation, I learned it was a new, 2012 24 bit
>>>> from Sony. I orderd the box of the 5 Beethoven and two Brahms Concerti
>>>> night. When it arrived, it also proved to contain the Brahms Handel
>>>> Variations, the op. 39 Waltzes and Mozarrt's 25th Concerto.
>>>> I'm playing the 3d now through my office listening set-up. It's far
>>>> than the radio disclosed.
>>>> Though I've yet to see a review that addresses it, this is clearly (!) a
>>>> huge improvement over all previous releases in any format.
>>>> I am assuming they've used Capstan as there is no wow or flutter-
>>>> to which my my ear is particulary sensitive. The crispness of the sound
>>>> indicates corrections to problems caused by slight misphasings, firmly
>>>> distinctly positioning the instruments within the orchestra. A slight
>>>> made here at about 2700 cycles allows the piano to sound completely
>>>> equalized throughout its range with no notes suddenly sticking out. The
>>>> occassional buzzy noise I used to think were defects in the recording
>>>> now revealed as piano problems. I can't hear any tape hiss at all. The
>>>> negative is that the time between movements is often too short and
>>>> to the music's pulse.
>>>> Oh, yes. Setting aside a few missed notes in a few of the more elaboate
>>>> passages, the 3d is a terrific performance. They are well enough known
>>>> now not to require a review.
>>>> The digital millenium has arrived. More! More!
>>>> Steve Smolian
> Dennis D. Rooney
> 303 W. 66th Street, 9HE
> New York, NY 10023