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ARSCLIST  September 2012

ARSCLIST September 2012

Subject:

Re: A Miracle in Sound

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 21 Sep 2012 15:23:32 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (88 lines)

Hi Dave:

Yes, "Miracle In Sound" was Mercury's first demo/sampler of their stereo 2-track tapes. The copy you 
have seems to be a later 1/4-track version duplicated by Bel Canto. Based on my experience with many 
Bel Canto products, I would say do not lift a finger bothering to transfer it as it will sound like 
crap. They were among the _worst_ mass duplicators, and that's saying a lot on the bad side of the 
ledger.

As for "firsts" with stereo tapes sold to consumers, Mercury was late to the party. I bet Livingston 
was among the first, they sold stuff like hotel ballroom bands recorded in an amateurish manner but 
definitely sounding like 2-channel stereo. RCA stepped into stereo in 1955, with very nice deluxe 
packaging and, at least in the early tapes I have, careful attention to mastering and duping. 
Columbia, Capitol and Mercury stepped in by mid-1956. The 2-track tape era seems to have lasted 
until about 1958, when Ampex and others put out quarter-track tape machines. That all about 
coincided with the introduction of the stereo LP, which was real mass medium of early-era stereo 
(although mono records far outsold stereo records until mono records were phased out by retailers in 
the mid-60's -- see John Eargle's RIAA-provided statistics in one of his JAES articles about 
mono-stereo compatibility).

An interesting thing about Mercury's early 2-track tapes is that they didn't include a whole album's 
worth of material. So the classical tapes had one piece about akin to one side of an LP. The jazz 
and pop stuff was kept to about 20-25 minutes, usually cherry-picking songs from a full LP of 
material. This changed for the jazz and pop stuff late in the 2-track era, but not for the classical 
until the introduction of 1/4-track tapes.

My opinion of the old 2-track tapes is that they can be quite good-sounding if hiss-laden. They were 
a premium-priced niche product, and much care was taken in their production in the early days. 
Almost all material that was put out on 2-track tapes by the major labels ended up in 
better-sounding CDs later, but there are some exceptions. The Toch 3rd by Steinberg/Pittsburgh for 
instance (Capitol) and some of the non-Barbirolli Halle material from Mercury. There was quite a bit 
of pop and some jazz that never made it to CD, for instance that Pete Rugolo "For Hifi Bugs" album 
that I linked to a Youtube earlier.

Once you get into the quarter-track era, I say it's buyer beware. There are some good mass-duped 
quarter-tracks but there was a lot of really bad-sounding product put out there by everyone. It got 
much worse from the mid-60's onward, and anything that was duped for 3.75IPS playback isn't worth a 
first look, much less a second look. Same goes for the short-lived RCA 4-track cartridges and the 
Muntz 4-track cartridges. Not quite as bad as 8-track tapes, but pretty darn close.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "David Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, September 21, 2012 2:48 PM
Subject: [ARSCLIST] A Miracle in Sound


> Tom Fine & Fellow ARSClisters,
>
> You may remember some months ago I instituted a thread about David Carroll,
> investigating a claim that his "Let's Dance" was the first stereo album
> issued on tape.
> That milestone was pretty easily discredited, and there was a lot of
> interesting discussion around it. But the claim was based on the inclusion
> of a track from that album
> on an early Mercury stereo demonstration tape circulated to promote their
> interests in stereo. I was never able to get, from the List at least, an
> answer as to what that
> tape was.
>
> Imagine my surprise when -- a couple of months after that thread expired --
> I found a copy of that very tape in the thrift store across from my
> apartment building. Seek
> and ye shall find, I guess. It is Mercury DEMS-1, "A Miracle in Sound."
> Scans of all the visual materials are to be found in a folder I set up here:
>
> https://www.box.com/s/j6tj6v7sghdyftwyl5gb
>
> It may only be the first demo that Mercury circulated to tout their brand
> of stereo, but I view that as a milestone in itself and refuse to further
> qualify it into insignificance.
> You are all welcome to do so if you like. The Bel Canto slip was in the
> box, and I wonder if that was simply put there by the original owner of
> this tape, or if Mercury may
> have had a hand in distributing Bel Canto for a time.
>
> I would love to have the tape transferred, despite the fact that it
> consists of material issued elsewhere. But it is in very fragile condition;
> the box is obviously water damaged.
> and the tape is dried out.
>
> Answering my own question yet again,
>
> David "Uncle Dave" Lewis
> Lebanon, OH
> 

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