Unless a producer is willing to make a 3-2 mix every time a new mass-media master is made, you have
to make a 2-track "cutting master." It's worth noting that almost all overseas LP issues of Mercury
Living Presence, as well as all reel tapes, record-club LPs and some LP reissues were made from
second-generation (or later) tapes. At the original LP cutting sessions, the 3-2 mix sent to the LP
cutter was also recorded to 2-track tapes. These were then sent to overseas affiliates, sometimes
dubs of these tapes (3rd generation) were sent overseas. Dubs (3rd generation) were sent to the
record clubs (which cut their own, lower-level, squashed-dynamics versions), and reel tapes were at
least third generation, usually 4th generation.
Notable exception to these trends are some early stereo-era EMI releases of Mercury albums. In those
cases, EMI was sent either laquers or metal parts to press at their plants. These records contain
"FR" (Fine Recording) notations in the deadwax. I don't think this MO was followed during the whole
time EMI was issuing stereo Mercury material. When Philips bought Mercury and took over European
pressing and distribution, they worked from 2-track (second generation) tapes, and cut their own LPs
(at lower average levels but with the same dynamics as USA Mercury LPs).
I have long argued (and get very little traction with people who can make the changes) that all
releases (CD, downloads, LPs, etc) should clearly state their source. The stupid three-letter codes
on CDs are useless, they are a way to cover up using multi-generation tapes or inferior digital
Also, people who were in the reissue business in the 90s will back me up on this, it's not an
overstatement to say that Mercury Living Presence CDs raised the bar on truth-in-advertising and
reissue practices in general. When MLP succeeded in the marketplace and received rave reviews,
everyone started going back as close to session tapes as they could, and the general quality of
reissue CDs improved. It happened first with classical, then jazz, then blues/country/rock/etc.
Credit definitely goes to the vault-diggers at the big labels, who dug in and found master media
instead of relying on "we always used this third-generation tape to cut LPs so it's good enough."
The later 90s advent of the DAW meant that first-generation session tapes could be transferred and
re-edited, as long as reliable original edit notes still existed. To their credit, Sony and BMG made
very audible improvements in their classical reissues if one compares first-generation and
latest-generation CDs. Two great examples are RCA Living Stereos from the early "Gold Seal" days vs
the hybrid SACDs, and Columbia recordings of Szell/Cleveland from the "Great Performances" early era
discs vs. Dennis Rooney's Masterworks Heritage CDs. EMI also improved between early era and "Great
Recordings of the Century" versions, but I don't like the Abbey Road love affair with hiss-reduction
DSP. I'll always prefer original dynamics and "air" with the tape hiss.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carl Pultz" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 7:32 AM
Subject: [ARSCLIST] When's a master a master?
> There is another way to look at it. Those work-parts were left alone so
> preserved from repeated use. They didn't suffer as the Decca Ring Cycle
> apparently did (an assumption there as to why that's all worn out). Once a
> really good release format came along, they were rested and ready. Also, if
> the originals had been lost, there were lots of secondary sources. The pity
> is it took so long, and buyers were denied superior product for years.
> Treating the 2-track mix as the "master" also makes sense given the
> occasional disaster that had to be addressed. The patching of stereo masters
> with bits from mono takes points to that. I'm thinking of Munch La Mer and
> Reiner Symph Domestica; there may have been more or different examples.
> Were the originals edited? Or was that left to the mix down masters? Again,
> posterity might have been served by not cutting up the originals. More work
> for Jon and Mark, et al. Hats off to them in any case. The complete Reiner
> box is like a gift from heaven.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List
> [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Tom Fine
> Sent: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 6:17 AM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Fwd: [ARSCLIST] "Why Vinyl Is the Only Worthwhile
> Way to Own Music"
> As far as I know, the only RCA Living Stereo issues that are all from
> first-generation tapes are the BMG SACD/CD discs. Jon Samuels and Mark
> Donahue will correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is that all of
> the 3-track session tapes were mixed to 2-tracks, which were then edited
> into "master" tapes. And, a third generation dub was often used to cut LPs.
> For the earliest stereo recordings, the ones made on the RCA 2-track machine
> at 30IPS, at least the earliest stereo LPs were cut from first-generation
> tapes. Later LPs may have been cut from dubs (they must have been, because
> the first generation tapes were still in good playing condition 50 years