Mercury Living Presence On SACD

Audiophiles and music lovers enamored of the legendary Mercury Living Presence series of recordings will have plenty to celebrate with a recent announcement from Universal Music Group (UMG).

UMG reports that the Decca Music Group, which owns the Mercury Living Presence classical catalogue, will release the recordings on SACD starting on September 13 in the UK. The company adds that each SACD release will feature a three-channel (left, right, and center) transfer of the original three-channel recording and a new DSD two-channel stereo mix, as well as the original CD mix prepared by the label's noted producer Wilma Cozart Fine.

With these discs, UMG claims that this will be the first opportunity for Mercury Living Presence enthusiasts to hear these recordings in their original three-channel format. The company also says that every transfer is a direct DSD (Direct Stream Digital) analog-to-digital transfer from the original analog master tape.

The first Mercury Living Presence SACDs will include Antal Dorati's complete recording of Stravinsky's Firebird with the London Symphony Orchestra, his recording of Respighi's Ancient Airs & Dances with the Philharmonia Hungarica, American virtuoso Byron Janis performing Rachmaninoff's Second and Third Piano Concertos, Hungarian cellist Janos Starker's definitive performance of Bach's Cello Suites, Frederick Fennell's disc of Sousa marches, Howard Hanson's own interpretations of his first two symphonies, and the discs of Chabrier and Suppé from Paul Paray conducting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

UMG says that future Mercury Living Presence SACDs will include Antal Dorati's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture and the recording of balalaika favourites from the Osipov Russian Folk Orchestra.

The company states that, just like its CD transfers in the 1990s, only the original masters have been used for the new SACDs. The multi-channel tracks were mastered using Saki Magnetics three-channel heads (specially built for this series) mounted on Studer A80R or Studer A820 1" recorders, with analog-to-digital conversion done exclusively via DSD, using dCS equipment.

In its press release, UMG notes, "This combination of superior head construction, high quality electronics and transport, and direct-to-DSD conversion results in a very high quality transfer; there is less risk of wow and flutter, a better signal-to-noise ratio, and because the signal path incorporates no transformers, there is less possibility of distortion."

The company also asserts that repeated comparisons were made throughout the entire process to both a playback of the original masters on an Ampex 300 machine previously belonging to Wilma Cozart Fine and to the original CD transfers which she herself produced. Those original CD transfers are included on all Mercury Living Presence hybrid SACDs.

Stereophile's Kal Rubinson is planning a complete review of the Mercury Living Presence SACDs in an upcoming installment of his "Music In the Round" column. KR notes that he already has the first 10 of the similar series that BMG is creating from the original three-channel (or two-channel) masters of the RCA Living Presence classics and is putting those reviews in the next MITR column.