On October 6, 1953, RCA Victor made its first experimental "binaural" recordings. At New York's Manhattan Center, Leopold Stokowski conducted a pick-up orchestra in Enesco's Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 and Tchaikovsky's Waltz from Eugene Onegin. In December RCA continued stereo tests in Manhattan Center with Pierre Monteux and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Then, in February 1954, RCA took equipment to Bostons Symphony Hall, where Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony were recording Berlioz's The Damnation of Faust. For the first time, RCA engineers captured the performance on both mono and two-track tape. These experiments, combined with further technological refinements employed in Chicago's Orchestra Hall in March 1954, were the first forays into the world of stereo.
At the time that RCA initiated multi-track sessions, disc mastering and consumer playback technology were monaural. RCA Victor proceeded to use two- and three-track equipment to record the world's greatest artists--Heifetz, Piatigorsky, Reiner, Munch, Rubinstein, Fiedler--in anticipation that home technology would catch up to stereo sound. Finally, in 1955, 1/4" 7 1/2ips stereophonic tape players arrived on the consumer market, and RCA released its first Stereo Orthophonic tapes.
Stereo Orthophonic tapes redefined high fidelity. In 1958, the Western Electric Company produced the breakthrough Westrex Stereo disc cutter, thereby revolutionizing master disc production. Stereo playback equipment was developed to coincide with the new disc cutting technology. The same year, Living Stereo LP records were launched, ushering in the golden age of stereo high fidelity.
RCA Victor's first two-track sessions in late 1953 and early 1954 were captured on proprietary RCA RT-21 1/4" 30 ips tape machines, wired to a pair of mono mixers, each dedicated to one tape track. Neumann U-47 cardioid and M-49/50 omnidirectional microphones were favored, as were RCA-designed LC-1A 15" duo-cone speakers in the control room. Three track recordings were realized on tube amplifier Ampex 300-3 1/2" machines running at 15ips and in later years at 30ips, and were mixed down to 1/4" two-track masters. No equalization was used in the original tracking process; the microphone signals were summed through passive electronics and printed straight to tape. In addition, no equalization was used to alter playback takes for artist approval.
About the SACD releases, from Remastering Supervisor John Newton of Soundmirror:
Since the earliest days of recording, engineers have strived to make recorded sound as immediate and thrilling as natural sound. The earliest electrical recordings were made with a single microphone positioned in the hall for optimum balance. The signal was fed to a cutting lathe, and with the advent of magnetic recording, to a monaural tape recorder; as copy of that tape was used to produce the LPs which consumers listened to at home.
With stereo, two microphones were placed in the hall. Signals were fed to a stereo tape recorder and consumers, listening back on two speakers, heard a new depth of sound. By placing microphones in the left, center and right of the hall, engineers progressed to 3-channel recordings, which afforded then greater control over the musical balances that ended up in the stereo mix. Even as CDs replaced LPs, this same process was often followed.
Today, with the advent of SACD and multi-channel playback, the listener can hear the left, center and right channels exactly as the engineers heard them at the original recording sessions. In this series of Living Stereo reissues on hybrid SACDs, we have used the 3-channel original tapes whenever they existed; when the material was recorded only in stereo, we used that tape. Some of the SACDs will therefore contain 2-channel or a combination of 2- and 3-channel material. We used only two or three of the available six channels on the SACD disc because that was the vision of the original producers.
Daniel Guss (Series Producer):
Even with a standard CD player, improvements will be heard because the CD layer has been derived from the SACD remastering. There is more hall ambience, and a greater immediacy to the sound.
The new CD layers are better than any other CD transfers which have come before for a number of reasons.
1. The tapes are played on higher quality analog machines than were previously available.
2. The correct equalization has been used in all cases.
3. Converting analog signals to DSD and then using appropriate down conversion to 44.1/16 produces a better sonic result than converting directly to 44.1/16.
What you hear depends on your disc player, amplifiers and speakers.
- If you have a multichannel SACD player with multichannel amplifiers and speakers, you can play back any of the three versions.
- If you have a stereo SACD player, you'll be able to enjoy the stereo SACD version and the CD version. Unlike some other systems, both stereo versions are complete studio masters that reflect the creative decisions of the artists and producers. They're never computer derived "fold-downs."
- If you have a CD player, you'll hear the 16-bit CD version. It's compatible with the more than 600 million players worldwide. The CD version can even be based on the DSD studio master, thanks to the Super Bit Mapping process. The result is the highest fidelity available on Compact Disc.
Back to RCA's Living Stereo Series at ArkivMusic.com