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Boulez Conducts Bartok- "Concerto For Orchestra" (MQ/MAQ 32132): Q8 Vs. Sony SACD

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M-D-Z

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My very brief excursion into Stereo 8 track was maddening enough, most especially with those interruptive track breaks, sometimes even during a song. I started collecting Open Reel instead and it further drove me insane when the majors, intent on SAVING tape, opted for 3 3/4 ips releases. And of course the best was saved for last .... releasing Dolby b encoded OR 7 1/2 ips tapes as the decks in those days were not exactly S/N ratio champs [unlike those super duper $8K Open Reel Decks of today].

And now Acoustic Sounds and Elusive Disc are offering 15 ips STEREO Open Reels with laser imprinted graphics on metal reels for $450 ~ $600 EACH! Good Luck with THAT!
Yeah, stereo 2-track, so you need a deck that does that too at 15 IPS. But still, they can't manufacture them fast enough for the demand,
I've heard them, and they do sound incredibly good.

Then there are 1/4" tapes even better than that, as you might imagine. I have a friend who among other things collects direct recorded tapes, musicians playing straight into a tape recording deck to make just one finished tape in one sitting, and that's the best I've heard from home consumer format tape. Of course the playback machine was an AMPEX MR-70 with a set of heads that alone cost more than a brand new Corvette!
 

4-earredwonder

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I normally wouldn't go back to record onto another open reel tape from a Q-8 - I'm better off sending in quad to a Tascam 234 recording on Maxell XLII --- but if it were stereo, I'd send it to the Nak CR-7 or Denon DN790R, more than good enough for the 1/4" 3.75IPS 8-trk tape recordings. My Nak 680ZX has a 15/16" speed which helps out in cases like these too,
The problem is tape speed, all Q-8s play @ 3.75" and my decks are all too fast, so that requires another step. The Otari MX5050 BQII can be configured to turn at 3.75 but I have to go inside the machine to do that, and recalibrate to the lower speed. (a reel PITA) pun intended.

There is no quad cassette better than the 234 that I have seen.
It all sounds SO complicated.........and I'm sure you'd agree if D~V could access those 15 ips QUAD masters of Bernstein/Boulez it would make life SO MUCH EASIER! No offense, but I've heard some FLAC transfers [via DVD~R] from Q8 and they hardly compare to FLAC 5.1/QUADs made from Robbin OR sources [as one would expect].

And I've read that some reviewers in Stereophile/Absolute Sound have equated those new custom duplicated 15 ips Open Reel Stereo tapes to be the VERY best sound ever experienced for the consumer! But, at what price and the available list of recordings is MINISCULE and not likely to expand in my lifetime.
 
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M-D-Z

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It all sounds SO complicated.........and I'm sure you'd agree if D~V could access those 15 ips QUAD masters of Bernstein/Boulez it would make life SO MUCH EASIER! No offense, but I've heard some FLAC transfers [via DVD~R] from Q8 and they hardly compare to FLAC 5.1/QUADs made from Robbin OR sources [as one would expect].
It’s not complicated when everything is there ready to roll. It’s just a matter of whether or not it’s even worth the tape and time spent, because for me it’s all in service to the music, or what’s the point?

I’ve got some pretty piss-poor quality recordings of music that is very important to me artistically and emotionally, but I gotta have it, so I let my brain and imagination freely make all the subtle adjustments and tweaks - filling in all the deficiencies with perfection, this mode of listening is a lost art, especially for the younger generations who never knew junk, like squinting at a 12” CRT in glorious B&W, (mostly light grey) built into a colossal wooden cabinet with a tiny rounded screen nearly obscured by snow, lines and other coat hanger antennae compounded artifacts of interference, but you watch gladly, because you wanted to see Buck Rodgers, and you had to walk more than a mile to your neighbors’ house because they had a TV and you (we) did not.

I for one can occasionally live with suffering substandard recordings and enjoy them immensely as long as I know I can hear other well presented selections guaranteed to blow me away. It’s a good thing we could never imagine how good music could sound at home, because if I knew how good it would eventually become, but also that I would have to wait 30,50 or 70 years later to enjoy it, I don’t know if I would’ve had that much patience.
 

M-D-Z

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And I've read that some reviewers in Stereophile/Absolute Sound have equated those new custom duplicated 15 ips Open Reel Stereo tapes to be the VERY best sound ever experienced for the consumer! But, at what price and the available list of recordings is MINISCULE and not likely to expand in my lifetime.
Even those are dependent upon the variable limits of available quality for whatever source tape they can get hold of.
If you go to The Tape Project, https://tapeproject.com/why-tape/ you can read a bit about their thinking.
Even what was once a perfect master could have dropouts, wear from being run too many times through sometimes bad machines, partial demagnetization from careless proximity to let’s say speaker magnets sitting on a table, prolonged exposure to heat, humidity, age, then there are the royalties, and the cost of a brand new reel of mastering tape at $80 apiece, X2 because at 15 IPS you often need two reels to get all the music included. And the time required to actually record because these are not created on ultra-high speed tape duplicators and the machines needed to record the signal onto the tape are understandably expensive to buy, calibrate competently, maintain, buy parts for, resurface heads, clean, and operate, cuz you can’t expect a kid trained by Mickey Dee’s flipping burgers to operate the decks, these tapes’ final cost starts to make sense, if only to those who can afford them.

I have considered buying one sampler (discounted) to see if the idea starts to gel for me. But of course I might only ever buy just one,, more just to have one as a special treat, and for future quality comparisons. - - But I doubt that I’ll ever see my way clear to spend that kind of bread on one recording.
 

4-earredwonder

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It’s not complicated when everything is there ready to roll. It’s just a matter of whether or not it’s even worth the tape and time spent, because for me it’s all in service to the music, or what’s the point?

I’ve got some pretty piss-poor quality recordings of music that is very important to me artistically and emotionally, but I gotta have it, so I let my brain and imagination freely make all the subtle adjustments and tweaks - filling in all the deficiencies with perfection, this mode of listening is a lost art, especially for the younger generations who never knew junk, like squinting at a 12” CRT in glorious B&W, (mostly light grey) built into a colossal wooden cabinet with a tiny rounded screen nearly obscured by snow, lines and other coat hanger antennae compounded artifacts of interference, but you watch gladly, because you wanted to see Buck Rodgers, and you had to walk more than a mile to your neighbors’ house because they had a TV and you (we) did not.

I for one can occasionally live with suffering substandard recordings and enjoy them immensely as long as I know I can hear other well presented selections guaranteed to blow me away. It’s a good thing we could never imagine how good music could sound at home, because if I knew how good it would eventually become, but also that I would have to wait 30,50 or 70 years later to enjoy it, I don’t know if I would’ve had that much patience.
I hear you loud and clear but we have differing philosophies on what THIS human can bear.

I grew up with substandard audio. My first experience was at age 5 when my Grandfather passed and my Aunt, his daughter, was playing Tchaikovsky on a 78 rpm Victrola and sobbing hysterically at the same time mourning his loss. I loved the music and it moved me in ways I cannot express but I was constantly reminded of the crackling sound emanating from that ancient horn.






At an early age, a 45 rpm spindled electric 'device' entered our lives and for hours on end I loaded that machine with adolescent sing a longs and grooved to the sounds and even sought to entertain my parent's friends by attempting to mimic the voices coming out of those tiny speakers. Imagine a 7 year old belting out "They try to tell us we're too young ..... too young to really fall in Love...." In retrospect.......hysterically comical! I was told not to quit my day job which was just being a kid.



I was always infatuated with sound .......and we finally graduated to a console ..... that all in one wooden monstrosity which housed a turntable and an AM/FM radio and STEREO speakers at their zenith ... or so, I thought.






When I grew older and worked summer jobs and did chores around our house which was a funeral home I became interested in components ......a simple EV receiver, smaller than a shoebox with probably 20 [or less] watts per channel and a pair of rudimentary wooden speakers from Radio Shack or Lafayette Electronics which took me an entire summer to pay for. Alas, I had graduated to the BIG time. Really?

When I finally moved on to College, in my sophomore year I met a friend with way WAY deeper pockets than mine who was insanely attracted to the high end. He was buying these gigundus Voice of Theater speakers, elaborate turntables/tonearms/cartridges, hefty amps and his final budget breaking blow was a professional Ampex Open Reel Recorder which was actually a console on casters which at the time cost mucho dinero. My puny set~up paled in comparison, but rather than envy him, I vowed to someday work harder and have all his toys and MORE. Once that high end audio bug bites .... there is NO cure......no vaccination to prevent further deluge. I was HOOKED.

Which leads me to my present philosophy. We've all been [or I've been] through so many substandard formats over the years ......do I even need to mention them ..... and am acutely aware that Master Tapes dating back to the 50's have been recorded at 15 ips or better and IMO, settling for 1 7/8, 3 3/4 or even 7 1/2 ips just doesn't cut the mustard. Did I also mention I was into 8/Super 8mm film making and collecting and I recently had the good fortune to procure a PRISTINE restored BD~V copy of Birth of A Nation [the original 1915 D W Griffith Production] with a newly recorded LOSSLESS 5.1 score for FIFTEEN BUCKS [back in the day, a 10 minute poorly replicated 8mm version ran MORE THAN THAT] so I am acutely aware of what I want ..... and need. Hopefully, the best quality of a sound recording or film currently available for 'consumer use...'

While I totally understand and respect the philosophies of fellow QQers who frequently post and are, like us, QUAD junkies who, for the sake of hearing an album in surround, will listen on turntables to matrixed discs and revel at the acquisition of a rare Q8 tape [and the woes associated with the care and feeding of 8 tracks, in general], I just cannot go there anymore. Hey, I was into matrix vinyl, CD~4, Quad Open Reel for fifteen years.

I am also a vociferous foe of LOSSY encoding and rail against pricey remasters that are DTS/DD .......... because I REALLY and TRULY feel that after waiting 40, 50 or more years to hear an analogue recording in all its glory, the releasing company didn't have the BALLS or RESPECT to at least give us a LOSSLESS remaster in the best fidelity possible. And yes, my ears and my system are good enough to notice THAT difference ..... In SPADES ... except on very rare occasions when that LOSSY remaster is absolutely, positively exceptionally well done....which is NOT always the case.

Because I do feel since we've technologically come a LONG, LONG way and have DUTIFULLY supported both the artists and record companies over the years by buying .... and re purchasing these discs in multiple formats .....we should be accorded more respect than that.

While I realize other QQers don't share that sentiment [rather have it in LOSSY surround .... than NOT], I think they're really missing the point because one day as all our fortunes hopefully change for the better, these same QQers will upgrade their audio systems and finally and unequivocally hear the difference between LOSSY and LOSSLESS .... and then it's too late. Guaranteed a lot of these discs will NEVER be remastered at that higher bit rate again...at least on physical disc.

Sorry to ramble but after spending the good part of a lifetime seeking that 'perfect sound forever ....' I think I'm 'somewhat' deserving of a break and am quite happy at the moment that companies like Dutton Vocalion have [perhaps] heard our pleas and are finally giving us what I think WE deserve. And that goes for those quality SURROUND reissues from the majors/artists who DO care and have made room in their budgets to include a LOSSLESS encode [FINALLY], instead of lavishing their budgets on coffee table sized books and baubles, bangles and beads!

No, folks .... none of us are ENTITLED to anything in life ........ but it's good to know there still remain those entities who do genuinely care and attempt to give us the GOLD in lieu of tarnished silver. And AMEN to that.
 
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skherbeck

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I would love for any recording I purchase to be the best possible fidelity and lossless, but when all that's available is something less than that, I still sometimes want to hear it. My grandfather's recordings are in mono and only available on CD or vinyl... but I still want to hear them (and they will never be available as lossless.) Life is too short to wait until (maybe) a lossless version is released. :)
 

ubertrout

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Thanks for doing this! I've heard before that Sony was at best neutral about multichannel (their interest was DSD and high-fidelity), while the demand for multichannel came from Philips. In the end they made some sterling stereo-only releases, and a number of good new recordings, but only eight multichannel mixes from analog sources:

There's also the Japan-only Bernstein recordings of the Mahler Symphonies for Columbia, where the MCH mix is from the original multitracks, even where a quad exists.

I'd love to see more comparisons like the above, it's a real public service. I have yet to see someone definitively say that any of these 8 is an actual discrete mix.
 

sjcorne

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I'd love to see more comparisons like the above, it's a real public service. I have yet to see someone definitively say that any of these 8 is an actual discrete mix.
I personally love doing this stuff. I'm hoping to get to the others (particularly E. Power Biggs' Four Toccatas and The Planets) at some point, though the Q8s are rather scarce. I was lucky to grab the Bartok tape in a lot of Columbia classical Q8s.

The actual discrete quad mix of this title is quite amazing. Though the SACD obviously offers high fidelity, the Q8 really makes it an instant coaster.
 

fredblue

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afaik CBS had two main approaches for their Classical/Masterworks Quad releases, they were either "surround sound spectaculars" with active mixes (and billed as such on the SQ LP sleeves for titles like Carmina Burana, Power Biggs Bach Toccata @Freiburg, the Bartok Concerto in question) or concert hall type with venue ambience style presentation. what I don't know is how many of those Sony SACDs from Quads had active mixes and how many had ambient but I have all those SACDs and they are for the most part ambient style surround presentation.. the Biggs Toccata SACD is the most active surround by a mile and even that feels like it might've been futzed with somewhat.. tbh at this point I've written them all off as a bad lot from an active surround pov but i am very grateful to sjc for this and any other research he puts into this stuff.
 

ubertrout

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afaik CBS had two main approaches for their Classical/Masterworks Quad releases, they were either "surround sound spectaculars" with active mixes (and billed as such on the SQ LP sleeves for titles like Carmina Burana, Power Biggs Bach Toccata @Freiburg, the Bartok Concerto in question) or concert hall type with venue ambience style presentation. what I don't know is how many of those Sony SACDs from Quads had active mixes and how many had ambient but I have all those SACDs and they are for the most part ambient style surround presentation.. the Biggs Toccata SACD is the most active surround by a mile and even that feels like it might've been futzed with somewhat.. tbh at this point I've written them all off as a bad lot from an active surround pov but i am very grateful to sjc for this and any other research he puts into this stuff.
My impression is that Columbia in particular - and to a lesser degree RCA - was pretty adventrous with their uses of quadraphonic mixing, preferring more aggressive uses of the technology. My impression is that the Sony SACDs are a particularly poor representation of Sony and RCA's surround sound mixing.

In fact, I feel like of the SACDs Dutton has done from these labels, the only ones that aren't particularly discrete are the Arthur Rubinstein recordings, and that seems to reflect Michael Dutton being a Rubinstein fan (which shows good taste). The rest use the surround channels extremely aggressively - even if some choices might be controversial they're definitely interesting.
 

4-earredwonder

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While I appreciate your passion Ralphie, my only commercial copy of "Under the Yum Yum Tree" is only available on Edison cylinder. So, I have to take it lossy and crackly. Come to think of it, where am I going to put the hand crank "talking machines" in the spouse's home? Little does she know. oi vay....
Well John, until your beloved Edison cylinder of "Under the Yum Yum Tree" is remastered in Dolby Atmos, might I offer an alternative:


And since it's flu season, I wouldn't advise operating that hand cranked 'Talking machine' with the same arm you've had your shot in. It may talk back!
 
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4-earredwonder

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Thanks for doing this! I've heard before that Sony was at best neutral about multichannel (their interest was DSD and high-fidelity), while the demand for multichannel came from Philips. In the end they made some sterling stereo-only releases, and a number of good new recordings, but only eight multichannel mixes from analog sources:

There's also the Japan-only Bernstein recordings of the Mahler Symphonies for Columbia, where the MCH mix is from the original multitracks, even where a quad exists.

I'd love to see more comparisons like the above, it's a real public service. I have yet to see someone definitively say that any of these 8 is an actual discrete mix.
You're quite correct in assuming SONY was reluctant and indifferent with regards to multichannel and their flagship player, the Stereo only SCD~1 [$5K], reflected their philosophy. It was only done to compete with DVD~Audio which offered multichannel titles right out of the gate......and Philips' insistence.



 
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sjcorne

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My impression is that Columbia in particular - and to a lesser degree RCA - was pretty adventurous with their uses of quadraphonic mixing, preferring more aggressive uses of the technology.
You're absolutely right regarding Columbia, however I think they mixed that way not necessarily by personal preference, but more as a way to get the most separation out of their SQ matrix LPs.

Columbia's in-house quad mixers were given certain parameters to follow to ensure their mix (mostly) survived the SQ encode/decode process, and could be played back in standard stereo or even mono without issue, such as:
  1. Nothing should be placed rear center (as it will cancel out completely when the LP is played back in mono)
  2. Reverbs have to come from the same place/direction as its instrument
  3. Nothing should be placed dead center (in all four speakers at the same volume)
There are probably others I'm forgetting. The overall point is the "four-corner discrete" style was really just adopted to get the most out of SQ. Though SQ is definitely a big part of the failure of quad, we wouldn't have gotten these amazing discrete quad mixes without it.

There are definitely some Columbia quads that do break these rules (and as such often don't decode very well)- but the ones by the most experienced quad gurus at Columbia (Larry Keyes, Don Young) rarely stray away from them.

RCA was using Q8 only and then CD-4 vinyl, which despite offering more separation actually allowed their engineers to make the mixes LESS discrete (vocals x4, instrument bleed between channels, etc). They did start putting out uber-discrete Columbia-style mixes later on (Pure Prairie League, later Guess Who) that sound awesome in CD-4. Why they didn't do more like that is beyond me...
 
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4-earredwonder

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You're absolutely right regarding Columbia, however I think they mixed that way not necessarily by personal preference, but more as a way to get the most separation out of their SQ matrix LPs.

Columbia's in-house quad mixers were given certain parameters to follow to ensure their mix (mostly) survived the SQ encode/decode process, and could be played back in standard stereo or even mono without issue, such as:
  1. Nothing should be placed rear center (as it will cancel out completely when the LP is played back in mono)
  2. Reverbs have to come from the same place/direction as its instrument
  3. Nothing should be placed dead center (in all four speakers at the same volume)
There are probably others I'm forgetting. The overall point is the "four-corner discrete" style was really just adopted to get the most out of SQ. Though SQ is definitely a big part of the failure of quad, we wouldn't have gotten these amazing discrete quad mixes without it.

There are definitely some Columbia quads that do break these rules (and as such often don't decode very well)- but the ones by the most experienced quad gurus at Columbia (Larry Keyes, Don Young) rarely stray away from them.

RCA was using Q8 only and then CD-4 vinyl, which despite offering more separation actually allowed their engineers to make the mixes LESS discrete (vocals x4, instrument bleed between channels, etc). They did start putting out uber-discrete Columbia-style mixes later on (Pure Prairie League, later Guess Who) that sound awesome in CD-4. Why they didn't do more like that is beyond me...
Nice overview, sjcorne, but unlike Columbia Records, RCA was releasing some fantastic discrete QUAD Open Reels with dolby b encoding. Why Columbia 'stubbornly' resisted, especially since their SQ matrix system was an utter failure with those subpar decoders at the time, choosing instead Q8 as their option, still remains an ultimate mystery to me.



 
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sjcorne

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With a couple of exceptions all of the Columbia quad 8 track tapes have very active quad mixes. I've heard them all.
Wow! That is quite an achievement. I'm hoping to get there myself someday...

Obviously I don't expect you to remember everything, but do you recall if Herbie Hancock's Secrets and Santana's Festival have any actual separation?
 
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fredblue

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Wow! That is quite an achievement. I'm hoping to get there myself someday...

Obviously I don't expect you to remember everything, but do you recall if Herbie Hancock's Secrets and Santana's Festival have any actual separation?
just want to chip in for a sec if I may, to say that while i agree most Columbia Rock/Pop/Soul (etc) Quads were active mixes, i'm pretty sure not all Masterworks Quad mixes are active extravaganzas, some of their Classical SQ LPs were called "surround spectaculars" or "surround sound" but others had more of a concert hall ambient type mix.

wrt Herbie's Secrets, a member here (i'll ask if he is happy to be identified) who's opinion about this stuff I trust totally has the Q8 and told me it is not discrete.

as for Festival, another QQ member who also knows their stuff and who has the Q8 (winopener) has described it on QQ as a "sucky" mix, double Stereo with different EQ in the Front channels from the duplicated Rears.

here's the exact quote from winopener;

"Let me say it clear: Festival quad is a double-stereo with different EQ for front and rear. There's nothing real quad going on. That's why i said it does need a remix: it's not a question of encoding/decoding, it's possible to argue for long about the fidelity of a quad 8 track but in any case it is a discrete media, and the quad presentation sucks big time."

check out the chat in this QQ thread on Santana's Lotus;

https://www.quadraphonicquad.com/forums/index.php?threads/santana-lotus-complete-edition-in-sacd-surround-sound-and-dsd-256-stereo-download.23209/page-3#post-328901
 

fredblue

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I've said it before a few times on QQ, I firmly believe either something latterly went seriously awry with Fred Catero's Quad setup in San Francisco or he just threw in the towel and started faking it by '76 because all his later Quad "mixes" (Santana's "Amigos" and "Festival" and Herbie Hancock's "Secrets") are very poor and none of the SQ LPs of those three even do the basics, like you can't sum the Rears to Mono and cancel vocals and stuff out, etc like you can with every other CBS Rock/Pop SQ LP. i definitely smell something fishy with those three and i'm not talking about Fred's Homemade Fisherman's Pie! :p
 

fredblue

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oh and very sorry its the wrong thread sjc but I have to say it now before I forget (!) can you please add Mac Davis' "Thunder In The Afternoon" to the list of Quads with Bass in Left Rear and Drums in Right Rear?

thank you!

edit: not sure if i have posted about it before? (told you i was getting forgetful!) but i have a theory about those 76/77 CBS Quads that all have Bass Rear Left/Drums Rear Right which are all uncredited on their SQ LPs.. basically that they were all by one engineer and I'm pretty sure I know who that engineer was..
 
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