What I was always told about Columbia -- and keep in mind this is from the perspective of
competitors, although my father did have contact here and there with Columbia over the years,
including in the early LP days since Reeves developed their own microgroove system with Fairchild --
was that Columbia was very hidebound and conservative in all matters technical. Their recordings
were considered technically "boring" and "dull," although I now thing that was more the fault of
their mastering techniques. Columbia never embraced 2- or 3- mic stereo, opting for more mics than
Mercury or RCA from the get-go. They also seem to have had some strange procedures and techniques,
based on what veterans have said and written. And there seemed to be technical factions, meaning the
product was uniform-sounding or consistent.
Mike Gray wrote a really good technical history of Columbia that was published in The Absolute Sound
right after they went to the larger format. It was the usual Mike article -- well-researched and
vault-verified with cooperation from the company (Sony by then).
Columbia's engineers were capable of excellent classical recordings. Listen to the CD reissues
Dennis Rooney did in the 90's, especially the Szell albums. To think that Szell was consigned to
Epic so as not to ruffle Ormandy's sales. No disrespect to Ormandy's many fine albums, but Szell was
a top-league conductor and he had Cleveland in top-league playing condition throughout his Epic
One thing both RCA and Columbia had to deal with in the 1950's is that their technical staffs were
led by guys (all men) who came up cutting 78RPM disks, sometimes going back to the
acoustical-recording era. This was the same thing as in later years getting guys who came up in the
early 60's to get into the age of DAWs and digital editing. There's a friction of the old against
the new. Stereophony was just too new for some of the old hands. Notice that the smaller companies
who jumped into stereophony early and with both feet tended to have younger technical people
involved in the recording and production, and stereotypically (pun intended), younger people tend to
be more open to new ideas and techniques. This is ironic, because 2-channel stereophony was proven
and tested in the 1930's when some of the old guard were still kids.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "David Lewis" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:31 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] early stereophony
> In his liner notes to "The Birth of the Third Stream" (Columbia CK 64829)
> George Avakian touches on, but does not elaborate,
> that some experimental stereo recording was made during the June 1957
> sessions for the Adventures in Sound LP "Modern
> Jazz Concert" but does not elaborate. Back when the CD was released I sent
> a query through the Sony grapevine, and what
> came back was that the stereo equipment had just arrived at Columbia but no
> one really knew how to operate it, and that some
> testing was done for the "Modern Jazz Concert" album in stereo, but none
> was usable, and none was saved.
> I guess they had figured it out at least by the time of Stravinsky's "Agon"
> in 1958. If, as Tom said, Mercury was "late in the game"
> in 1955 in dealing with the stereo phenomenon, then Columbia was almost not
> in the game at all. Personal opinion: Once they did
> get it going, stereo did provide for a big boost in their overall
> sound quality, though that opinion may be influenced by shoddy
> mastering/pressing and the tattered condition of some mono Columbia tapes
> that have come down to us.
> Uncle Dave Lewis
> Lebanon, OH
> On Tue, Sep 25, 2012 at 11:54 AM, Dennis Rooney <[log in to unmask]>wrote:
>> I found no reference to the MAR items in my archival research on Szell's
>> Columbia/Epic recordings. It's entirely possible that RCA recorded them.
>> There was great resistance to stereo from Fred Plaut and others. and I
>> never found any evidence of experimental binaural setups that preceded
>> * of Dec. 1956. However, when inspecting the tapes at IMAR, I came across
>> an Ormandy/PO recording (I no longer remember the repertoire) recorded
>> c1955 in 3-track, 1/4-inch format. The contents were never released.