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CSeitz's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: May 11 2007 - 8:13pm
Mercury Living Presence

I gave up buying CDs in the early nineties because they sounded so harsh that I derived no satisfaction from listening to them. I recently bought a new NAD CD player and listened to many of the disks again. I think they do sound somewhat better but there is still something wrong.

I was browsing the local Barns and Noble store and spied some reissues of the Mercury Living Presence recordings. I bought several. These CDs really sound good. The stereo image is excellent. The dynamics is excellent for analog masters. The transfer to CD sounds very clean with only a slight hint of edginess. I have very few CDs that sound this good.


Logan's picture
Last seen: 6 years 10 months ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 7:22pm
Re: Mercury Living Presence

This is true. The same applies, in general, to the RCA Living Stereo reissues. But in both cases a good copy of the vinyl original on a good turntable still sounds even better.

Yiangos's picture
Last seen: 6 years 2 weeks ago
Joined: Sep 7 2005 - 8:41am
Re: Mercury Living Presence

You'd be surprised how much better cds are since the 90s.
They're not perfect but the improvement is quite hugh.

Jim Tavegia
Jim Tavegia's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 1 2005 - 4:27pm
Re: Mercury Living Presence

I have some original vinyl of the RCA Living Stereo and now the remasterd SACDs and the SACDs win. I must say that the analogue tape recordings are remarkable and I think something was lost in the disc cutting process.

It is not an awful, night and day thing, but the SACD does prove to me that even the recording engineers back in the 50's knew what they were doing. Evidence of Kind Of Blue is proof.

John Marks' Kind Of Blue article is always worth a re-read.

JonP's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Jun 23 2007 - 4:58pm
Re: Mercury Living Presence


Those observations regarding the latest SACD issues of Living Stereo are very interesting. Unfortunately by the time I was earning a living the original Mercury and RCA LPs had long gone out of print.

I "settled" for buying a handful of the Mercury CD reissues in the early 1990s. At the time I only purchased a couple of the original Living Stereo reissues - these were of course from the first batch of around the same time, so they were the old 16 bit Redbook standard.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Mercury CD reissues. There is never any doubt the sound is very "in your face" and it rather strikes me as what the conducter might be likely to hear. The Living Stereo releases on the other hand strike me a bit more expansive and I liken them more to what I would expect from an auditorium seat perhaps 6 rows back.

The problem I have with these Mercury reissues is that even when a recording is made in the same venue at around the same time and using exact same equipment, there is still an inconsistency to them. For example, The Starker Watford Town Hall reissues - Schumann, Lalo etc versus the Dvorak. I find the Dvorak reissue to be more strident and glassy in the upper midrange (say around 5Khz - 8Khz). But the Schumann / Lalo release has a much more balanced sound.

Then there are the Szeryng reissues - Brahms and Khachaturian one the one hand versus the Schumann and Mendelssohn on the other. Again, the Brahms and Khachaturian has a bit of a glassiness and harshness that is missing from the Schumann and Mendelssohn reissue.

It is hard for me to know why these differences should exist. Is it minor changes in microphone positioning, for example? Is it perhaps and inconsistency in the master tapes that meant slight bias differences from one tape to the other (and that is actually what this glassiness and harshness sounds like to me - the bias not being exactly the same from tape to tape).

So for me I have to be careful about which Mercury reissues I buy. Some of them are astounding - the Janis Rachmaninoff and the Hanson symphonies, for example and most of the ones from around 1956. Some of them I simply cannot listen to - they are excessively strident in that upper midrange and listening at any sort of realistic volume level is fatiguing.

I have noticed that most of the Living Stereo releases I have auditioned don't have this upper midrange harshness. They of course have some other issues (like ocassional tape saturation, etc), but overall I think they are a touch more consistent.

I'm thinking of getting some of the Living Stereo SACD reissues. Sadly I don't have a SACD player yet, but my understanding is that the CD layer of these reissues is better than the original CD reissues.

I have read some criticism regarding the fact that the Living Stereo SACD reissues are being engineered with a more modern Studer machine rather than the original Ampex machines. I can see both sides of the argument here. If one wants to get closer to the real truth of what the actual master tapes sound like, perhaps a state of the art analogue machine is the way to go. The old Ampex is going to add more colour to the sound. Then again, the other side of the argument is that with the original master tape playbacks, the Ampex machines were of course used.

Perhaps someone can clarify the status with these Hybrid SACD Living Stereo reissues. I understand it is still an ongoing process. Is this correct? And as for Mercury, I have not seen a reissue for about 2 or 3 years. I guess they are all over and done with.

CECE's picture
Last seen: Never ago
Joined: Sep 17 2005 - 8:16am
Re: Mercury Living Presence

DSD SACD will smoke anything else for consumer reproduction. LP vinyl is not gonna ever give you as close a sound to what was on them BIg 2" or so master tapes, that you never ever hear until DSD/SACD brings it home. Any talk of vinyl sounding more natural real blah blah blah is horse manure. DSD/SACD gets you back to the original tapes. Either the "old" analog master tpaes or current digital originals. Those "old" analog tapes from teh 50's and 60's where made on incredible pro machines...the consumer had no way to ever get to hear what was on it, using stuff out of teh 60's and 70's for home reproction. The playback medium of home vinyl or cassetee or even open reel reel consumer stuff doesn't bring you back to teh original tapes. 15 or 30 IPS 2" studio recorders. can't be reduced to a vinyl LP and you think you hear the original recording, can't happen. DSD/SACD brings it back Just look at teh SPECS of DSD/SACD and 2" Ampex, Studers etc. Vinyl LP can't do it neither can cassetet or 1/4" home stuff. DSD finally brings it closer and closer. No LP will ever beat DSD recording playback. No amount of creative writing is gonna make Vinyl sound like studio tapes or DSD/SACD. Go spend $6500 on a phono cartridge, you think that is gonna match DSD? Impossible. And DSD/SACd does it for prices based on reality A $300 SACD player is gonna do it better than any grossly overpriced TT nonsense. 21st century, things do improve and do it better for less. How come the 1957 Chevy just can't quite match up to a current model car. Duh, things do improve. Why does audio wanna keep trying to convince you backwards is batter? Fuel injection sure did replace wonder cars start and run in any weather, my old Chrysler would need holding the sticking choke on the 66 Newport when it was rainging!! Yeah, old sure ain't better than new. DSD BABY!!!

Elk's picture
Last seen: 1 year 10 months ago
Joined: Dec 26 2006 - 6:32am
Re: Mercury Living Presence

Valve Nut, great observations!

From my experience, just about everything can change the sound of one recording to another - microphone placement, equipment, even temperature and humidity. It can drive one absolutely nuts.

I don't know the specifics of the recordings you identify but they were constantly experimenting and trying to improve so I am sure the mastertapes do indeed sound different from each other. Also, who knows what the recordings we are listening to were made from, the master?, a master dupe?, etc.

59mga's picture
Last seen: 4 months 4 weeks ago
Joined: Jun 21 2006 - 6:52am
Re: Mercury Living Presence


Also, who knows what the recordings we are listening to were made from, the master?, a master dupe?, etc.

Another consideration for these reissues is the storage of the master tapes. As you pointed out, Elk, "temperature and humidity" are a factor and can affect the master tapes, before and after the recording. Also, proper storage of the masters is critical...again, temp and humidity along with rotation of the tape as to avoid the tape becoming magnetized.

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