I have finally amassed (thanks to Helpful Others) full-resolution WAV files of the 1985 Brad
Kay/Steve Lasker LP version and the 1999 RCA/BMG (Lasker providing files to Seth Winner for sync and
restoration) version. Also included in the ZIP archive are scans of the LP liner notes concerning
the two 1932 accidental stereo recordings.
Opinions are likely to vary on which "sounds better" because the tonality is very different and
different restoration and sync methods were used.
As I said before, I believe that, for whatever reason that the RCA/BMG reissues are out of phase.
My reasoning -- one man's hearing impressions -- is as follows:
1. assuming the mic setups were as diagrammed by Kay/Lasker in the LP liner notes, what should be
dead center is not at all in the center.
2. even if the Kay/Lasker mic diagram is incorrect, even if the two mics were on opposite corners of
the room, the piano shouldn't sound like it's in two different places at once, which it does on the
3. there is far too much difference information prevailent in the RCA reissues. Whereas the
Kay/Lasker version sounds like two recording setups were made in about the same place (since the
engineer would likely know what was a good single-mic pickup in the controlled environment of the
recording studio, why wouldn't this be the case?), with the difference information being mainly
"room tone" and some arrival time differences for instruments further back in the room. In other
words, if two mics were placed relatively close together in a typical highly-deadened 1930s
recording studio, there wouldn't be all that much "stereophony" recorded, but there would be suble
clues about where instruments sit in the depth of the room and also what reflections are coming off
which walls when, giving more of sense of the room size and reverberncy than a "spread out" ensemble
such as one would get with close-micing everything and then creating a mixed-out-of-the-ether
sound-picture (ala most 1970s big band records).
What may have happened was that one of the recorders or microphones was wired in opposite polarity
from the other, so if both disks were played back on the same system, one side would be out of phase
to the other. It's also possible that the transfer Lasker brought to Winner (Seth said he didn't do
the disk-to-digital transfers) were made at different times on different playback systems that were
in opposite polarity. What does surprise me is that Steve Lasker didn't refer to his own earlier
stereo LP work and use it as a reference, when the later version is clearly very different
stereophony and indeed sounds like stereotypical (pun intended) out of phase stereophony.
Finally, it's just my personal taste, and I understand possible reasons for why it wasn't done, but
I would have gone after that high-pitched tone that's very audible on the RCA reissue. I don't care
if I took out the little bit of high treble present in the recordings, I would have notched or
low-passed it. Very little of the musical energy is in frequencies where that tone is and the tone
is really annoying to my ears. Seth told me that it's "groove chatter" caused by the wax cooling
while the recording was being made, that it would thus be present on all pressings of the recording,
and that it was likely aggressively notched and high-passed on the LP version. He also said that the
transfers for the LP version may have been played back with RIAA EQ, which would have rolled off the
top end more aggressively. How to deal with tone was in the purview of the RCA reissue producer.
Were I the producer, I would have sacrificed the bright CD sound quality to get rid of or severely
attenuate that tone. It's worth noting that nowadays, with modern spectrum-"healing" tools, you can
go about it more precisely and less brute-force than could be done in 1999.
-- Tom Fine