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Positive Feedback ISSUE 17
january/february 2005


Scheherazade, The Newest Living Stereo Reissue on SACD
by Robert H. Levi


Round 2, and RCA/BMG is reissuing the next ten great RCA Living Stereo classics on SACD. The first to hit the shelves is the Reiner masterpiece, Scheherazade, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recorded in 1960. It was a three microphone recording by the legendary Mohr/Layton team and is a favorite for many including yours truly. I love this recording and I love the Classic Records 200 gram reissue at 33rpm. Bernie Grundman mastered the LP using all tube gear and wonderful taste I might add, using the three track master tape direct to LP. The SACD is remastered by Soundmirror, Inc., John Newton, Producer. All mastering was on solid state equipment. The SACD recording is labeled 82876-66377-2. It is the best of the RCA/BMG reissues so far! 

There are a lot of variables when comparing LP to SACD. The biggest is, of course, a Grado Statement cartridge vs. a ModWright Sony 999 playback deck. But lets enter hi-fi fantasy land and assume they are both well intentioned, highly musical, faithful playback sources. I started both the SACD and LP simultaneously, and switched back and forth to compare the sound. 

It was obvious that the source tape was identical for both LP and SACD. Both were vary musical and very low in distortion and other artifacts. The LP was a tiny bit sweeter and less robust. It sounded just like I was using a Grado Statement and was predictable to the last note. It also delivered tube mastering and minimal equalization, if any. The SACD was 95% as sweet, nearly as textured, and a bit more dynamic and spacial. It also sounded minimally tweaked and it sounded like TUBE MASTERING. What's going on here! How can this be? The liner notes clearly say solid state mastering and the last ten SACD's have clearly sounded that way! The Scheherazade, if mastered on solid state gear, has tubes in the chain somewhere I bet. It no longer sounds like Siltech cabling either. Are we witnessing a sonic miracle or did these Yankees get lucky? 

The last ten of these RCA/BMG reissues are rather dry, cool, and only moderately musical. The Scheherazade and Song of the Nightingale, recorded in 1956, are honeyed, layered, and superbly listenable. This SACD is so much better than Soundmirror's first efforts, I am shocked. I will leave the detective work to reviewers based in NY and not LA to solve this puzzle. I just hope the rest of the series sounds like this fabulous reissue. 

I would not throw away your Classic Reissue just yet, but if you play it on a compromised LP system you may be better off with the SACD. The SACD has that master tape sound. It takes you to the edge of the recording venue and allows you to peak behind the curtain. It's hard top criticize, too. It does so little wrong and sounds so realistic and mellifluous, it's hard to find a weakness. The distortion levels are a magnitude lower than typical and the solidity of the sound is quite modern. Ambient decay is pretty darn ideal and textural cues outstanding. This is an amazing turn of events. I'd categorize this sound as equal to or better than the best Mercury reissues on SACD, which I like very much.

RCA/BMG has righted all wrongs and reissued Scheherazade to perfection on SACD. Heads up against the Classic Records 200 gram reissue, it sounds a bit different though equally wonderful. It's a miracle I think and mastered to levels rarely seen on SACD or any other medium. I can't believe this SACD came from the same source as the first ten, but who knows what tomfoolery we have here. Maybe they got lucky or the humidity was higher than usual, but I don't care. It truly sounds to me like they used a tube tape deck for remastering or the like. Buy the Reiner RCA/BMG Scheherazade for your SACD collection and enjoy state of the art sound from 50 year old recordings. Please Mr. Newton, what ever you did this time, do it again! This SACD is a big slice of audio heaven!