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Reissue of Living Stereo on Compact disc

[Italian version]

The name Living Stereo conjures up images of vinyl records from the 1950s and 1960s which were known for renowned sound. A label of RCA Victor, Living Stereo records provided great musical scores. The vinyl was very high quality, and the record pressing was done exceptionally well. Pressing was done by the RCA Victor Company in the USA and Canada. The record jackets were works of art in themselves. The Living Stereo logo was distinctive and could not be missed when shopping for records - it consisted of the words "Living Stereo" with a drawing of a speaker on the right and left.

Excellent to mint condition versions of these records are very hard to find these days. This is because many people threw them out (they never knew how valuable they were destined to become one day). On the used market, some Living Stereo records command high prices (up to $US 400).

So even if an audiophile could afford to purchase a mint condition Living Stereo record, such a record may be hard to find. Enter the compact disc! The music industry has always had a fascination with reissues.
The engineers simply have to provide a new medium, and the industry will find new ways to market older music by reissuing everything. This fattens the profit of the music industry, and keeps you and me buying new ways to play the same old music. But in the case of the Living Stereo label, the CD really is a good thing (at least in terms of availability). Now everyone can listen to Living Stereo music without having to raid the bank, or searching forever for scratched up old vinyl in dusty covers!

Living Stereo CDs are issued by BMG Music. I purchased a bunch of these CDs from a big record store in downtown Toronto for evaluation on my stereo system. Since I had a few original Living Stereo vinyl records, I was in the position to compare the sound of the new CDs to the original records.
Can the Living Stereo CD be as good as the original records, or possibly even better? That was the million dollar question that I set about to answer. The price of these CDs was very affordable.

My stereo system is 100% vacuum tube. I use it as my reference system to compare to every other electronic component. The system consists of a Dual CS 505-3 belt drive turntable with a Ortofon OMB 20 cartridge, a Parasound C/DX-88 CD player, a Dynaco PAS-3 preamplifier, a Dynaco ST-70 Series II amplifier, and a pair of Paradigm 11se Mark II speakers. This system provides 35 watts per channel in class A.

It should be noted that not all of the Living Stereo records were reissued on CD - just the most popular ones. I bought and listened to

  1. Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibition, A Night on Bald Mountain, and Other Russian Showpieces [Fritz Reiner/ Chicago Symphony Orchestra] (09026-61958-2)
  2. Richard Strauss in High Fidelity, Also sprach Zarathustra - Ein Heldenleben [Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony] (09026-61494-2)
  3. Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade, Stravinsky - Song of the Nightingale [Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony (09026-68168-2)
  4. Vienna [Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony] (09026-68160-2]
  5. Reiner Conducts Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6, Op. 74 "Pathetique", 1812 Overture, Liszt - Mephisto Waltzp [Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony] (09026-61246-2)
  6. Dvorak - New World Symphony and other orchestral masterworks [Fritz Reiner/Chicago Symphony] (09026-62587-2).
Since I had the original Mussorgsky - Pictures at an Exhibtion, I was able to make direct A/B comparisons of the CD versus the vinyl record. I simply staggered the start time by 10 seconds, and switched back and forth using the preamplifier control switch. I also compared the CD and LP by listening to whole sections at a time. I also had a few other Living Stereo records (although not the same as the CDs purchased), so I was able to compare the overall sound of the CDs versus the LPs.

After very careful listening for many hours, I found the Living Stereo CDs to be very faithful reproductions when compared to the original vinyl records. The original master tapes were used in producing the CDs, so the source material was identical for CD compared to LP. I found that the CD version was punchy and vibrant.
As typical of all CDs, the sound was more metallic, but that was to be expected. The use of a 100% vacuum tube stereo system softened the CD somewhat (compared to using a solid state system). This may account partly for my final conclusion (see below).

The cymbals and trumpets in the Mussorgsky piece were more realistic in the CD version. On the other hand, the violins were more alive in the LP. The overall trend that I found was that certain passages sounded more realistic in the CD, whereas other musical parts sounded more real in the LP version. I kept on flip flopping back and forth in trying to decide which I preferred - CD or LP. In the final analysis, I decided that both sounded excellent, and I want to have both in my collection.

My only conclusion, is that it is a draw - I can't tell which I like better overall. So, to go back to the original question - can the CD version be as good or better than the LP - I would state that the CD is as good as the LP, but not better.
Either version would do well in anyones' collection. No doubt the LPs are much more collectable. The fact that the CD sound as good as the original LP is an accomplishment in itself. In this particular battle, the CD and the LP both win!

Copyright © 1998 Harvey A. Kader for TNT Audio.

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