Jon, thanks to you and Mark for these insights. Let me reaffirm that despite
the limitations you had, those masterings were a revelation to those of us
who grew up with Dynaflex Victrola LPs. I couldn't stop playing Reiner Sound
- it was astonishing.
I just got a SACD player - talk about being late for a party! - and my only
discs of that format are the Reiner Mahlers. The change to Song of the
Earth, which was so distortion-ridden and clouded in previous issues, is
Tom speaks of a marketing aspect to original equipment, and that appeal is
strong. Decca "Originals" - yeah. What I like to think is that the Mercury,
RCA, and Columbia Heritage programs came along at a critical moment, waving
a banner of quality, right when many of us were disenchanted with the
promise of the new medium (digital, CD). We didn't know that a decade later,
there would be a whole new compromise barreling down the road (mp3),
threatening again to make sound quality a non-priority.
How much more difficult might it be today to push back against that
compromise if those reissues hadn't adjusted people's expectations? That
they sold well was one win. But the inspiration they provided to younger
people in the recording trade must also have had a lasting effect. Certainly
did for me.
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Jon Samuels
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 10:44 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] RCA Living Stereo CDs
For what it's worth, I agree with you for the most part about
For what it's worth, I agree with you for the most part about using newer
playback equipment in playing back open reel tapes. From a
historical perspective, there are a few facts I know about the earlier
Living Stereo CDs issued by BMG that might be of interest.
The first Living Stereo CD series started in 1992, not the 1980s. I was a
remastering engineer at BMG at that time. Although this was never
acknowledged publicly, only one CD was ever remastered on an Ampex 351.
That was "The Reiner Sound", which was the very first one done. The 351 was
not in great condition, and contrary to the press reports, had not been
refurbished. It was mechanically very noisy, very difficult to use, and
quite frankly didn't sound that good, so we decided to use an Ampex 440 (a
transistor three-track) for all the other projects instead, which was the
only alternative we had at the time. Not surprisingly, we never told the
marketing people. In addition, the two-track Living Stereo masters were
reproduced on an Ampex ATR-102, since we even never had access to a
two-track 351 machine. We also used EQ as needed, both analog and digital,
and occasionally a small touch of digital reverb.
Not surprisingly, the later Living Stereo CDs we did at BMG in the middle to
late 1990s were sonically much better, as we had better quality and later
higher resolution A-Ds, better digital processing equipment, as well as
higher quality (and significantly quieter) remastering rooms.
From: Mark Donahue <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 9:44 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence
I just want to make one quick comment about this idea that playing back 60
year old tapes is best realized through playing them back on 60 year old
The reality here is that the ability to get the signal on to tape is a much
easier task than getting it back off and the recorders of the day were much
better at recording than playback. I remastered the entire Living Stereo
series and was stunned as to how much information I could get off these
tapes using state of the art modern analog playback. I then compared these
to the transfers that were made with an Ampex 300 that was restored for the
CD reissue project at RCA in the late 1980's and the differences were
nothing less than astounding. Modern playback with low wow and flutter and
an order of magnitude better performance in frequency response, noise and
distortion revealed information that was on the tapes that had never
actually been heard.
As always, YMMV.
All the best,