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Mercury Living Presence in the 50's and 60's
Old 12th June 2015
  #1
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Mercury Living Presence in the 50's and 60's

3x Telefunken/Schoeps M201 omnis spread across the front of the stage, no spot mics. Recorded to 3 track (and simultaneously mono also): A Fine Art: The Mercury Living Presence Recordings | Stereophile.com
Old 12th June 2015
  #2
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A very interesting read, thanks for the link.

Regards, Christine
Old 12th June 2015 | Show parent
  #3
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12ax7's Avatar
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by connloyalist ➡️
A very interesting read, thanks for the link.
Regards, Christine
Oh, yeah!
...And one cool picture here:
.
Old 12th June 2015
  #4
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asbury media's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Wow, thank you for the link!

I had the privilege of working with Wilma Fine on some of the MLP CD releases for PolyGram.

Tom Fine nailed the mix chain she used, 3 track tape or Mag Film through a Westrex 6 channel mixer then to the dcs converter. There were no pan pots on the Wextrex so the center track was split and sent to two channels, one to the left, one to the right. Dither on the other hand was rarely used, Wilma felt the noise from the tape was enough to modulate the LSB right down into black. Wilma would occasionally use dither to mask changes in room tone due to edits, crazy right?

As her son mentions in the article Wilma did indeed have amazing ears, when I asked how she managed to keep her hearing so sharp, she replied that “the secret was to keep working”. I wish my memory has better but I do recall when I asked her about mic placement she said “it's all about the center mic, get that right and the rest is easy”. So the obvious next question was, what mics did you use? Now this is something I clearly remember but contradicts everything I've read, for Wilma replied in a sweet Texas twang “why Tom, M-49s of course”.

For the record I believe the gentleman pictured in the remote van is Robert “Red” Eberenz. Red was a pioneer in remote recording and a big part of their team.

Thanks for letting me share.

Curly
Old 12th June 2015
  #5
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"It was a realism," the Fines' rightfully proud son says today of his parents' sonic aims. "They wanted an honesty: the honest sound of the instruments, how they really sounded. They wanted a clarity to everything. They weren't as interested in sounding like you were in the tenth row as they were in hearing inside the music."

Words describing an end result to which I aspire...

Thanks for posting that article!

HB
Old 13th June 2015
  #6
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🎧 5 years
I love these recordings. I had our library purchase the 50 CD set.

I still am so impressed with how live the sound is. They took such care in every step of the process.

When Philips took it over they found the whole process too expensive. At least that is what I read. If my memory serves me correctly, it took a whole extra recording session just to get the mics placed correctly. Imagine how expensive that is when you have to assemble an entire orchestra!
Old 13th June 2015
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I, too, have the commemorative set. I really enjoy it. But imagine how exciting it was in the mid to late 50's when these were coming out on records! My small circle of friends and I eagerly awaited a new MLP record. Likewise the London FFRR LP's, Decca in the UK. Capitol had some great releases, too, but for classical it was MLP and FFRR. And I still have all the ones I bought with my paper route money.
Old 13th June 2015
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So why isn't the three spaced omni approach more utilized today for ensemble recording?
Old 13th June 2015 | Show parent
  #9
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Many engineers don't like the way the center mono mic fits into the stereo image. They prefer to use a pair of mics in the center.

One could think of the Onno bar commonly used by several prominent ex-Philips engineers (4 DPA omnis across the front of an ensemble, the middle two spaced approximately a foot and angled out at 90 degrees) as an evolution of the 3-mic setup, as it uses the narrow, yet still stereo, image of 2 closely spaced omnis to fill in the center of the soundscape.

Give a listen to the first decade-and-a-half or so of the Telarc labels orchestral recordings (I'm thinking of ones from '79-'83 or so from Cleveland, Boston, St. Louis orchestras, though there are surely others) engineered by Jack Renner. He really fashioned his approach after Bob Fine's technique, using, early on, 3 Schoeps MK2 omnis alone to record these large ensembles, and adding some spots where deemed necessary as time went on. These can give you an idea of what the 3 mic setup sounds like with modern digital equipment, and you can compare it to other recordings from the time by Decca, Philips, Sony, etc for perspective on the 3-mic technique's unique sound characteristics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tvlenthe ➡️
So why isn't the three spaced omni approach more utilized today for ensemble recording?
Old 14th June 2015
  #10
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The Fennell Cleveland Symphonic Winds (TELARC Holst/Handel/Bach Audiophile LP) is without a doubt one of the best sounding "source" instances of commercially distributed recorded music I've ever heard. Talk about "close your eyes and you're there"...! Makes analog believers of MP3 fiends with regular effect, they, who have ears to hear.

I like it.

HB
Old 14th June 2015
  #11
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Didn't MLP switch from three to two mics in their later recordings?

Last edited by boojum; 14th June 2015 at 05:08 PM..
Old 14th June 2015
  #12
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🎧 5 years
I owned most of the early mono Mercury LP's. Found them in pristine condition at an estate sale. Guy recorded them to reel tape and then didn't use the LP's anymore. The entire Mercury setup was a quality minimalist setup. Even the mono's sounded extraordinary. I also had a handful of the slightly later stereo recordings done with 3 omni's. Also excellent. I also have the later CD releases of these. I don't think there was all that much magic involved. Just using the best equipment available and mess with the signal as little as they could possibly get by with. Along with knowing where to place the mikes.
Old 14th June 2015
  #13
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They got themselves a solid 'house sound' relatively early (as in 'The House of Mercury') and this evolved directly from the single mic mono practice which immediately preceded it. They stuck with it thereafter, not even conceding to spot miking. Stereo made new demands, and they adapted their prior (mono) methods to embrace the new delivery medium.

Conservative, sensible steps, building on the foundation of what preceded it. Compare this with the debacle of quad, surround and movie-theatre sound which followed in the decades after....standards created 'on the run' and dubious uniformity (if any) of theoretical underpinnings
Old 14th June 2015 | Show parent
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➡️
They got themselves a solid 'house sound' relatively early (as in 'The House of Mercury') and this evolved directly from the single mic mono practice which immediately preceded it. They stuck with it thereafter, not even conceding to spot miking. Stereo made new demands, and they adapted their prior (mono) methods to embrace the new delivery medium.
My understanding is that during the early stereo reproduction days engineers were concerned with how many mics were necessary for an effective stereo sound stage. In the early experiments with stereo they arrayed a ridiculously large amount of mics in front of the ensemble and played it back on an equally large number of speakers in front of the listener (I think it was something like 80 mics but I may be completely wrong on that). In any event, it was very effective but not practical.

So the question was what is the fewest number of mics needed to accurately portray the sound field. They number MLP came up with was three.

I'm not saying you are incorrect either, but it seems that they came to the three mic approach from both sides.
Old 16th June 2015 | Show parent
  #15
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty ➡️
My understanding is that during the early stereo reproduction days engineers were concerned with how many mics were necessary for an effective stereo sound stage. In the early experiments with stereo they arrayed a ridiculously large amount of mics in front of the ensemble and played it back on an equally large number of speakers in front of the listener (I think it was something like 80 mics but I may be completely wrong on that). In any event, it was very effective but not practical.

So the question was what is the fewest number of mics needed to accurately portray the sound field. They number MLP came up with was three.

I'm not saying you are incorrect either, but it seems that they came to the three mic approach from both sides.
Well, I think you are conflating some things. The Bell Labs experiments in the early 30's with dozens of microphones and speakers were generation before Mercury records. They were attempting soundfield reconstruction. They decided the fewest that did something like that was 3 channels (down from 80). Alan Blumlein came up with the way to make it work acceptably with two channels, and two mics.

If you read the article linked above, I think you get the idea it was all about the microphones. There were good, relatively quiet, wide-bandwidth omni condensers to attempt getting the sound of a full orchestra. Some experiments with only two mics, but they complained of the well known hole in the middle. Though not mentioned I don't think the cardioids of the day were match for a full orchestra. So the development by Mercury of the 3 spaced omni approach was a way to use good omni mics, get stereo and avoid the hole in the middle. So 3 channels was the least that let them do that with those mixed down to 2 channel stereo for distribution.

So I would say Studer58's description is about right. They got a house sound using wide bandwidth omni's in mono, and adapted it as simply as possible for stereo.
Old 16th June 2015
  #16
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There's some more elaboration here, including the technique of Wilma Cozart reading the score and 'calling out the changes' just ahead of George Piros' vinyl mastering moves ! Mercury Living Presence Resounds Again on May 14 | Stereophile.com
Old 16th June 2015 | Show parent
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty ➡️
My understanding is that during the early stereo reproduction days engineers were concerned with how many mics were necessary for an effective stereo sound stage. In the early experiments with stereo they arrayed a ridiculously large amount of mics in front of the ensemble and played it back on an equally large number of speakers in front of the listener (I think it was something like 80 mics but I may be completely wrong on that). In any event, it was very effective but not practical.

So the question was what is the fewest number of mics needed to accurately portray the sound field. They number MLP came up with was three.

I'm not saying you are incorrect either, but it seems that they came to the three mic approach from both sides.
If you study this contribution the mono sound was given considerable thought and fine-tuning >>> Mercury Living Presence - Mono Days

I find it fascinating that the choice of the Telefunken mic was based largely upon its rising top end and ability to 'cut through'.

Who's willing to bet that if the low cost/tilted up treble Chinese mics of the last decade had been available back then, they wouldn't have pounced upon those for the same capability ?

"Imagine-This" scenario.....if all you had was a world of mono sound, and your only tool was a single high-quality mic, how much better would that make us as audio engineers to have to place that mic in exactly the right spot in the auditorium. I reckon it would sharpen our game no end...and once perfected, you'd be allowed to 'graduate' to stereo after a few years' apprenticeship in MonoLand !
Old 16th June 2015
  #18
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More priceless pics and recording snippets here: MERCURY RECORDS Living Presence - Wilma Cozart Fine and 50 Years Mercury Recordings

..... especially in the 'Microphone Placement' section. It seems Decca used 3 mics even in the mono days:

"Already in the mono days English Decca used at least three microphones instead of one as Mercury (and also Philips) did. And the orchestra is not situated on stage with the division by stairs and on different levels. Sitting in the hall is more practical. Acoustically this means that the reverberation time is approximately the same in all directions. The use of more than one microphone makes it possible to adjust and blend the instruments in the back of the orchestra and give a different perspective as can be heard in many Decca mono recordings"

I find it intriguing that Mercury in the mono era used its single mic 25 feet in the air, whereas for the stereo Decca recordings 9.5 to 12 feet seems to have been the norm.
Old 16th June 2015 | Show parent
  #19
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➡️
I find it intriguing that Mercury in the mono era used its single mic 25 feet in the air, whereas for the stereo Decca recordings 9.5 to 12 feet seems to have been the norm.
I'm somewhat puzzled about this too
Old 17th June 2015
  #20
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If one imagines the mic pickup as something like an umbrella (ok, for an omni, somewhere between a sphere and an umbrella, depending on HF lift and off axis performance, especially with those 'interesting' older mics...), then the closer to the stage it's lowered the more sectional or selective it's pickup is going to become relative to what's directly below it.

Conversely the higher and more central the mic, the more global its pickup of the whole ensemble, albeit with perhaps less focus than the lower mic(s) ?
Old 17th June 2015 | Show parent
  #21
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➡️
More priceless pics and recording snippets here: MERCURY RECORDS Living Presence - Wilma Cozart Fine and 50 Years Mercury Recordings

..... especially in the 'Microphone Placement' section. It seems Decca used 3 mics even in the mono days:

"Already in the mono days English Decca used at least three microphones instead of one as Mercury (and also Philips) did. And the orchestra is not situated on stage with the division by stairs and on different levels. Sitting in the hall is more practical. Acoustically this means that the reverberation time is approximately the same in all directions. The use of more than one microphone makes it possible to adjust and blend the instruments in the back of the orchestra and give a different perspective as can be heard in many Decca mono recordings"

I find it intriguing that Mercury in the mono era used its single mic 25 feet in the air, whereas for the stereo Decca recordings 9.5 to 12 feet seems to have been the norm.
Loved the picture of them listening to the tape on the three Altecs in the hall for monitors.
Old 17th June 2015
  #22
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yep, 3 mics = 3 monitor speakers....makes sense Home theater before its time !
Old 17th June 2015 | Show parent
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➡️
yep, 3 mics = 3 monitor speakers....makes sense Home theater before its time !
Those Altecs, properly set up and balanced to the room (horn-to-LF), were excellent reference speakers, albeit bulky and heavy. An it must have sounded really cool in the pictured environment...

Sometimes I really miss my tri-amped A7s under 500Hz and 3K horns, voice coils aligned, and critically balanced. I'm pretty sure my wife fell in love with me listening to Paul Simon, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell on them, in my apartment. I miss the speakers until I remember transporting them, and the rather enormous footprint in my 200ft2 apartment. I don't have the Altecs any more. But I do still have the girl.

The photo is it, with the addition of a small horn on a 808-8A with the "hi-fi" aluminum diaphragm.

HB
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Mercury Living Presence in the 50's and 60's-a7.jpg  
Old 27th June 2015 | Show parent
  #24
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🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by esldude ➡️
Well, I think you are conflating some things. The Bell Labs experiments in the early 30's with dozens of microphones and speakers were generation before Mercury records. They were attempting soundfield reconstruction. They decided the fewest that did something like that was 3 channels (down from 80). Alan Blumlein came up with the way to make it work acceptably with two channels, and two mics.
I looked back to see if I could find the article where I read that and I can't seem to find it. So perhaps it doesn't even exist and I was conflating two different articles I read.

However, I think in the broader context of the question of how many mics to use, they clearly were interested in using the minimum number of mics to adequately present a stereo soundstage, which was the question ever since the 80 mic array a generation before.
Old 28th June 2015 | Show parent
  #25
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🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by shosty ➡️
However, I think in the broader context of the question of how many mics to use, they clearly were interested in using the minimum number of mics to adequately present a stereo soundstage, which was the question ever since the 80 mic array a generation before.
or, the minimum was all they could technically deal with. I wonder about the reverence for these recordings. They sound good for their day, but are nothing compared to the finest recordings of today.
Old 28th June 2015 | Show parent
  #26
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🎧 5 years
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Originally Posted by David Spearritt ➡️
or, the minimum was all they could technically deal with. I wonder about the reverence for these recordings. They sound good for their day, but are nothing compared to the finest recordings of today.
Looking at the photos in this article, it looks like in the mid and late 1950s Decca was using more than three mics. But I am not clear on that question of what the technological capabilities were in regards to the number of mics when MLP started recording in stereo.

The Decca Sound: Secrets Of The Engineers – The Polymath Perspective

But in any event, it seems they didn't increase the number of mics later when they did have the option.

IMHO, the Mercury Living Presence recording have a "live" sound that many contemporary recordings still do not match. But I agree, it is hard to compare MLP with the finest recordings of today.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #27
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Came across this article the other day:

https://www.theabsolutesound.com/art...iving-presence

It lists a few early “Lucy” records, the discs engineered by Lauterslager at Philips using the M3 adopted from their work with Fine.

I find this era to be particularly interesting, as MLP was just about finished, but Philips was really taking flight, and would seemingly inherit and further refine Fine’s techniques in the subsequent decades.

They reference the schoeps mk23, which I assume to be the mk3 (2, Omni, 3, DF). This tracks with some previous comments in other threads by DTF, that Lauterslager would employ Schoeps mk3’s as his main array for orchestral recording, albeit in modified form.

An interesting listening test is comparing the Mercury Dorati/LSO “Moldau/Vltava” recorded in the early 60s, to the later Philips “Ma Vlast” version by Dorati and the Concertgebouw from the mid 80s. Fine on the first, Lauterslager on the second. Very similar character! Apocryphally, this later record was cut with 3 mics (mk3’s) on the floor of the concertgebouw, showcasing the tradition and its evolution over the years.
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