Friday, December 24, 2004

RCA's Living Stereo Bartok: Which to buy?

Those faced with the pressing decision of the day--whether to buy the recently-issued RCA SACD of the Fritz Reiner Bartok Concerto for Orchestra or the much more expensive JVC xrcd now have an answer: read on.

I cannot fathom why it should be that a lower-resolution medium should produce superior sound, but so it is: the xrcd has the SACD beat on every sonic point you can imagine. The only way in which the SACD is superior is in its ability to separate the strands of the orchestra--the strings sound like a group of individual string players working together; the xrcd strings are more of a massed force. Is this musically meaningful? Not particularly, and not to me.

The SACD has several problems: it is weak in the midange and upper bass, which causes the orchestra to sound relatively anemic. There seems to be plenty of energy in the highs, but they take center stage, which should not be the case. The xrcd sounds more like the real thing.

Whether the transfer engineers (SoundMirror) have somehow improperly equalized the SACD is an open question. In a recent edition of The Absolute Sound, they make certain statements regarding how the Living Stereo master tapes should be equalized which may be debatable. Apparently there were a number of different EQ profiles used in the making of the original recordings, and some guesswork was involved on the part of the transfer men. I'm not sure they've made the proper choice in every case, and the recording under question may provide evidence to that effect.



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At 7:29 AM, Anonymous Damian said...

The Concerto for Orchestra was recorded on two tracks, not 3. Does anyone know what deck was used? The earliest recordings were made on the RCA RT21, later being made on Ampex 300 machines. VERY CURIOUS as to which deck was used...

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