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The Mysterious Case of AP's "Royal Ballet Gala" reissue

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  • The Mysterious Case of AP's "Royal Ballet Gala" reissue

    In recent years, Acoustic Sounds/Analogue Productions has been reissuing a series of RCA/Decca/Decca-for-RCA audiophile classics on LP and SACD. These have, of course, been reissued many times previously; most notably, Classic Records issued LPs and Gold CDs of many of these same titles in the mid-90s, mastered by Bernie Grundman. When Acoustic Sounds bought out the assets of Classic Records upon the latter's demise in the early 2000s, they acquired the masters for these reissues. Nonetheless, when it came time for the current reissue series, Chad Kassem notably stated that he would not have even considered a reissue series unless the LPs were demonstrably superior sonically to Classic's reissues, and that these clearly were. In the case of the new series, both LP and SACD remastering was done by William Makkee, and the results have generally been well-received.

    Thus, it comes as a surprise to read the ad copy for AP's new reissue of the famed "Royal Ballet Gala" set, which quotes from Michael Fremer's review:

    Analogue Productions' Classic Records buyout brought with it metal parts for many albums, cut by Bernie Grundman, including for this record. ... AP chose to produce a new stamper using the "mother" cut from the original master tape by Bernie Grundman.
    So, unlike their practice with the other reissues in this series, AP elected to re-use the Grundman mastering for this set. The copy for the SACD set compounds the mystery:

    SACD layer contains both the stereo mix (mastered by Bernie Grundman), mono mix (mastered by Willem Makkee)
    CD layer only contains the stereo mix
    This is puzzling on many levels. First off, why the mono mix at all? It doesn't seem to be held in especially high regard over the stereo (this is Ansermet and the Royal Opera House Orchestra, not The Beatles!), and I've never seen it reissued before. It seems to be more a curiosity attached to this set of discs rather than a real draw. More to the point, it shows that AP was willing to have Makkee do some work on this set...so why stick with the Grundman mastering? This is especially relevant considering that Grundman's digital mastering was intended for CD; we have no idea whether it was remastered directly to Redbook, or to a interim high-res digital format such as 24/96, since Classic never bothered to reveal the mastering details of their CDs. However, it simply couldn't have been originally mastered to DSD, as that format hadn't been developed at the time the Classic CDs were made.

    Given all this, while AP has remained mum on the reasons for these mastering decisions, it seems hard to avoid the likely conclusion that, in the past twenty-plus years, the stereo master tapes for RBG have either been lost or damaged, to the point that a new remastering became impossible (the same was true for the master tapes of Solt's monumental Wagner Ring Cycle -- when time came to make the Esoteric SACD set about a decade ago, it was found that the master tapes had deteriorated to the point of being unusable; thus, it and the ensuing Deluxe Edition had to be based on the 20-bit PCM master made in 1996). This would be why the mono mix, presumably from undamaged tapes, could be newly-remastered for DSD, but Grundman's work had to be used for the stereo.

    What does that mean for the buyer? Well, if you have the Classic LPs in good condition, any improvement you might hear in the new set would be purely due to improvements in vinyl formulations and pressing equipment since the 1990s -- which, to be honest, may well be considerable. The SACD is a different matter. Unless you desperately want to hear the mono mix, you are almost certainly going to be getting an SACD track that is merely upsampled PCM...and that well might be merely upsampled Redbook. Now, in fairness, Grundman's digital remastering of this set is very, very good -- it's one of the best-sounding CD releases in my collection -- but it isn't DSD. You may still want to buy it if you don't have the Classic CD set, which is long out-of-print and quite pricey on the second-hand market, but it's quite possible that there will really be no sonic differences between its SACD and CD layers, so the only improvement you might hear is if your DAC is better-optimized for DSD playback over PCM.

    In any event, this isn't the first time questions have been raised about AP's SACD reissues. A number of their popular SACD releases, including "Tea for the Tillerman," "Getz/Gilberto," "Ella and Louis," and Sam Cooke's "Night Beat" (among others), mastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, turned out to be upsampled from 20/48 PCM. Acoustic Sounds eventually had to include that information in their ad copy, claiming that Marino had concluded after extensive testing that "the George Massenburg GML 20 bit A/D produced the best and most synergistic sound for the project." Perhaps. But the fact remains that, until Acoustic Sounds added that disclaimer, people were purchasing their SACDs under the impression that these were remasters straight to DSD, not to upsampled PCM. And there's still no word on whether the SACD of RBG might even be sourced from upsampled 16/44.1.

    Chad, you got a lotta 'splainin' to do!


  • #2
    I'm taking offers on my 9 disc Classic set cut at 45-- hardly played, owned from new, never driven in rain, etc.

    Comment


    • #3
      I don’t know about the SACDs but there was a *rumor* that the original Royal Ballet set master tapes were MIA.

      Thing is every original RCA RBG I heard was defective on Side one. They all had a swishing sound at the very beginning. Both the original RCA and Classic Records reissues go for bongo bucks today. So the plus is that Chad’s reissue is easily available and affordable too. Not to mention one of Wilkie’s finest efforts.
      Myles B. Astor, PhD, Administrator
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      • #4
        Nick Danger (or whatever you real name is) any version RBG is a gift from the gods to your average audiophile, esp since these went for $1500+ well before Classic Records was even a sparkle in Hobsons eye - I know this to be true, that's what an orig box set cost me way back in 1990! Im not Chad's spokesperson but if i were a betting man I'd say he thinks about SACD, and CDs in general about as much as I care about whats on TV, which is to say probably not at all. To your point, if the provenance of the digital file used to produce the SACD is what your gripe is about and if matters that much just get the vinyl its better anyways
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        • MylesBAstor
          MylesBAstor commented
          Editing a comment
          My audiobuddy sold his original RBG set for $3k. He used that to partially finance a VPI TNT Turntable.

        • Bill Hart
          Bill Hart commented
          Editing a comment
          Rob- no relation to Carlos?

        • Rob
          Rob commented
          Editing a comment
          could be...did you get a text of his schmeckle standing at attention?

      • #5
        Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post
        I'm taking offers on my 9 disc Classic set cut at 45-- hardly played, owned from new, never driven in rain, etc.
        I sold one of my RBG Classic 45 sets to one of the AudioNirvana members really wanted it. In between what i paid and what they were going for. After all it was for a AN member. There were two different sets issued, maybe with two different pressing weights, don't remember. One box had a maroon circle and the other gold or some other color. They did the same with the Weaver's 45's and the Belafonte at Carnegie Hall 45's. I bought them all! back in the day and still have them except for the one RGB set.

        I did also buy two copies of the 33 1/3 set which were reissues of the original Soria set, with the black book binding. Never opened either one, since I also bought the regular version to play, which Chad copies in his release. Someone told me that the reissue with the fancy book is getting high prices on ebay these days. Maybe I should sell one!

        I have the two RGB tape set that ABC Intl (the one based in China) released. It was supposedly made from the master, but my guess it was from a safety master. Anyway, there are a couple of funny edits, cutting off the tail of the reverb at the end of two movements of the Nutcracker, maybe one or two seconds at the end of each. I wrote them, and they said that those were in the masters they had. Otherwise quite nice. The two reels are a little over 60 minutes long, about 2/3rds of the entire two record album.

        Finally, maybe 25 years ago, I found a mono set in Rasputin's for a couple of bucks. I never played it, but the book was in very nice shape. I ended up selling it for a few more bucks when Classics was doing its reissues. Of course, I should have kept it!

        Larry
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        Comment


        • Bill Hart
          Bill Hart commented
          Editing a comment
          Larry- this one is in a black box with a gold seal and I think uses a Quiex formulation- pretty sure 200g, 9 single sided 45 rpm discs with a reproduction of the original cover inside the box. I know this is regarded as a sonic wonder, but I find it snoozeville. I suspect this is an earlier set, after the 180g, but before Clarity was introduced by Hobson. Pretty sure it is this: https://www.popsike.com/The-Royal-Ba...454104832.html
          The original Soria series were beautiful.

        • astrotoy
          astrotoy commented
          Editing a comment
          Thanks, Bill. Yes, that looks like it. I found a few of the boxes I have last night and some have the maroon circle and some have the gold circle. I remember that the boxes that first came out had the maroon circle and then they issued ones with the gold circle. I never could keep straight the various vinyl formulations that Classics did. I found another multidisc 45 rpm box last night, The Albeniz Iberia, which was released as a 2 record two fold album originally. I was a charter subscriber to Classics first issues, including their boxes (got a low number!, wow) but they never emailed me about new releases or upgrades to vinyl or 45rpm versions. I did buy the 45rpm versions from Music Direct or Chad and I think I have all the classical 45 issues. Bought a few of the 45 Columbia jazz issues (Time Out, Sketches in Spain, Ah-Um). Now I have safety masters (15ips 2 track) of Time Out and Ah-Um.

          I agree - Soria did wonderful jobs for RCA. I have a bunch of the albums they did - except for RBG - they are or were not expensive on the used market.

          Larry

      • #6
        Originally posted by MylesBAstor View Post
        I don’t know about the SACDs but there was a *rumor* that the original Royal Ballet set master tapes were MIA.
        .
        Few years ago, I heard it from the little bird that the original master tapes were in Asia or they were in possession of an entity in Asia. If what I heard is correct then thank god, the master tapes are not MIA. Gary Koh should chime in and straighten me out.

        Comment


        • garylkoh
          garylkoh commented
          Editing a comment
          Haha. Mum's the word. Anyone who have heard my 45rpm test pressings have left with mouth agape. I don't believe that the tapes of the RBG in Asia are from the safety masters - probably a couple more generations than that.

        • astrotoy
          astrotoy commented
          Editing a comment
          Gary, will those ever see the light of day? Larry

        • garylkoh
          garylkoh commented
          Editing a comment
          From what I know of the business relationship at this point, those will never go into production. It is truly unfortunate as we've done the comparison to the latest 33rpm reissues and to an original Soria..... one of the sad stories of music reissues.

      • #7
        Originally posted by Ki Choi View Post

        Few years ago, I heard it from the little bird that the original master tapes were in Asia or they were in possession of an entity in Asia. If what I heard is correct then thank god, the master tapes are not MIA. Gary Koh should chime in and straighten me out.
        Here is the company in China ABCrecord or ABC Int'l. Maybe it is the source of the little bird that Ki heard. I bought my RBG tapes from them. Notice they claim that all their tapes (and they have a lot of them) are all direct copies from the original master tapes. They also have stolen some of the language that Tape Project uses in their materials. The long article is in both English and Chinese, and has lots of pictures. One claim is that all dubbing is done between Studer A80's and there are plenty of pictures. The tapes I bought have very fancy packaging and each reel is engraved and numbered, much like the Tape Project, but even fancier. Their prices were not cheap, and have gone up to $350 per reel.

        http://www.abcrecord.com/en/article.php?id=68

        Larry
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        • #8
          Originally posted by astrotoy View Post

          Here is the company in China ABCrecord or ABC Int'l. Maybe it is the source of the little bird that Ki heard. I bought my RBG tapes from them. Notice they claim that all their tapes (and they have a lot of them) are all direct copies from the original master tapes. They also have stolen some of the language that Tape Project uses in their materials. The long article is in both English and Chinese, and has lots of pictures. One claim is that all dubbing is done between Studer A80's and there are plenty of pictures. The tapes I bought have very fancy packaging and each reel is engraved and numbered, much like the Tape Project, but even fancier. Their prices were not cheap, and have gone up to $350 per reel.

          http://www.abcrecord.com/en/article.php?id=68

          Larry
          What do you think about the sound of The Royal Ballet tape? Considerably better then the LP?
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          • #9
            Originally posted by Marcus View Post
            What do you think about the sound of The Royal Ballet tape? Considerably better then the LP?
            I haven't listened to the tapes for some time. However, I remember thinking they were better than the Classics Reissues. Three potential deal breakers. First, you only get about 2/3rds of the contents of the two records (60 minutes or so out of 90 minutes). Second the two tapes cost about $700-800 including the shipping from China. I think I paid $600+ two or three years ago when I bought them. Third, there are annoying cutoffs at the ends of two of the Nutcracker excerpts where instead of a slow fade to silence, the music ends abruptly. As I wrote earlier, I emailed them about the issue and they said they checked and it was on their master tapes. It is not on the Classics reissue - 33 or 45 (or Chad's reissue). So it makes me convinced they do not have the master tapes as they claim.

            One important note about RBG and all the other RCA releases produced and engineered by Decca, is that they were never owned by RCA, only licensed by Decca to RCA for a ten year period. After that the rights went back to Decca. A large number of the recordings were then released by Decca, typically on their mid-priced and bargain labels, by this time (early '70's) using solid state electronics for the reissues, rather than tubes as in the originals. Part of RGB (the Nutcracker) ended up on bargain disc Decca SPA173. That is why Willem Makkee did the remastering of the album, since the Decca tapes are all stored in Germany (after Decca was bought by Polygram in 1980 after Decca founder Edward Lewis's death).

            Larry
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            • #10
              Originally posted by astrotoy View Post

              I haven't listened to the tapes for some time. However, I remember thinking they were better than the Classics Reissues. Three potential deal breakers. First, you only get about 2/3rds of the contents of the two records (60 minutes or so out of 90 minutes). Second the two tapes cost about $700-800 including the shipping from China. I think I paid $600+ two or three years ago when I bought them. Third, there are annoying cutoffs at the ends of two of the Nutcracker excerpts where instead of a slow fade to silence, the music ends abruptly. As I wrote earlier, I emailed them about the issue and they said they checked and it was on their master tapes. It is not on the Classics reissue - 33 or 45 (or Chad's reissue). So it makes me convinced they do not have the master tapes as they claim.

              One important note about RBG and all the other RCA releases produced and engineered by Decca, is that they were never owned by RCA, only licensed by Decca to RCA for a ten year period. After that the rights went back to Decca. A large number of the recordings were then released by Decca, typically on their mid-priced and bargain labels, by this time (early '70's) using solid state electronics for the reissues, rather than tubes as in the originals. Part of RGB (the Nutcracker) ended up on bargain disc Decca SPA173. That is why Willem Makkee did the remastering of the album, since the Decca tapes are all stored in Germany (after Decca was bought by Polygram in 1980 after Decca founder Edward Lewis's death).

              Larry
              I never really thought about it, but that RCA album is really a 'greatest hits' comp, isn't it? What are the full ballet recordings like, on the original Decca releases, compared to this holy grail RCA? Is there something special about the RCA? (I assume the cost of the full ballets on original mint Deccas would be a big bite, but ....)>

              Comment


              • #11
                Originally posted by Bill Hart View Post

                I never really thought about it, but that RCA album is really a 'greatest hits' comp, isn't it? What are the full ballet recordings like, on the original Decca releases, compared to this holy grail RCA? Is there something special about the RCA? (I assume the cost of the full ballets on original mint Deccas would be a big bite, but ....)>
                Bill, RBG was a completely separate recording done by Ansermet with the Royal Orchestra of Covent Garden in London. I have all the Tchaikovsky Ballets and the Deilbes Coppelia that Ansermet did with his own orchestra in Geneva. Don't think he did any of the other ballets separately. The price of all the three Tchaikovsky ballets (Nutcracker, Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty) as well as the Delibes Coppelia in original Decca pressings would be cheaper than an original RBG. I think the sonics of RBG are better - Wilkie did RBG at Kingsway while Roy Wallace did the complete ballets at the Geneva hall. Still you get the whole ballets (total of 9 discs) with the Ansermet OSR recordings. The other excerpts were never recorded by Ansermet elsewhere.

                Interestingly, Ansermet did Swan Lake and Nutcracker in October and November of 1958 and Sleeping Beauty in March-April 1959, all in Victoria Hall Geneva with his own L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande which he had founded almost 40 years earlier.. He did the RBG in January 1959 in between in London. The Delibes Coppelia was done in 1957. I remember that one especially since my parents owned a mono copy and played it regularly while I was growing up in the '50's and early '60's.

                Larry
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                Comment


                • Bill Hart
                  Bill Hart commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Fascinating. Decca recorded, but did not first release by them and instead licensed to RCA. There must be a story to that. You implied in your earlier post that Decca only released after the license to RCA expired, so no contemporanous releases in the UK, Germany, etc. by either company?

                • astrotoy
                  astrotoy commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Decca was also pressing the RCA releases in the UK. So there are typically contemporaneous releases of RCA recordings in the US and UK. Some of the Decca engineered RCAs like Witches Brew were issued in both the US and UK (different catalogue numbers but both RCA label) while some like RBG were only issued in the US. Eventually most of the Decca engineered RCA's came out in the UK after the ten year license period was over. These were all produced and engineered by Decca, recorded in British studios (occasionally Paris and Vienna) with orchestras and conductors that were either under contract to Decca or had relationships with Decca. There were a few, like the Reiner recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic that were a mix of RCA artists and Decca orchestras.

                  Decca did a few other cross label recordings, always Decca did the engineering. For example, there are several Columbia (US)- Decca recordings with Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic on the Decca label (Mahler Das Lied von der Erde and a Mozart Piano Concerto album) and then on the Columbia label (the Verdi Falstaff with Bernstein was a Decca engineered recording).

                  Decca even engineered several Vox recordings and, of course, they produced and engineered the entire Lyrita stereo catalogue.

                  Not sure about the German Decca releases. I have a few, nothing from the RCA recordings, but they seem to be more like reissues from the '70's or later.

                  PS. I think I told this story earlier on AN. When I was interviewing long time Decca engineer Mike Mailes, he told me about his first trip to the US in the early '70's. He was working with Wilkie in DC with the National Symphony under Dorati. (They did the famous Gerhard Plague recording during those sessions). One of the National Symphony players told Mike that the US had some excellent recording engineers also. He mentioned a few recordings on RCA like Venice and Witches Brew. Mike said that he agreed that they were superior recordings. Then he added that they had been engineered for RCA by Decca!

                  Larry

                • Bill Hart
                  Bill Hart commented
                  Editing a comment
                  thank you Larry. No doubt you did comment on this before. I certainly like The Plague, though it doesn't get much play time here.

              • #12
                Ok, I finally did some comparisons of my different RBG albums last night. I just compared the first two cuts, both from the Nutcracker - the March and the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies. The three different versions : The recent AP release from Chad (33RPM), the Classics 45 version, and the tape from from ABC Intl. The differences were pretty clear, with my preference in order: first the Classics45, next the AP LP, and last the tape. Here'w why.

                The Classics45 and the AP version are pretty close. However, the Classics45 had a better sense of space - I can easily hear the wonderful acoustic of Kingsway Hall, better than in the AP version, which sounds a bit more up close. The tonality of the instruments - the celeste in the Sugar Plum is a good test, are very similar. According to Discogs, the going price of the 45 version is around $800, so unless you have to have it, the AP version at less than 10% of the price is the way to go.

                Here is the problem with the tape. Besides the abrupt cut off at the end of a couple of the Nutcracker selections (Sugar Plum is one of those), there is some funny fades during the piece, particularly the March. In the ABC Intl brochure on their website, they say they take the master tape and make improvements in it. Clearly one big advantage to tape is that there is essentially no crosstalk between channels, so there is a much better sense of channel separation. However, on this tape, it also sounds like there was some fiddling with the channel volume when loud parts in the right channel are faded quite abruptly, sort of like what happens at the end of the Sugar Plum, but only in the right channel - the left channel keeps on going - so it doesn't seem to be a tape problem. I think I may have noticed this earlier, but the direct comparisons make it very clear. Otherwise, the tape is probably at the same level as the Classics45 version, and costs about the same, maybe a bit cheaper for the 2 reels (although it only contains 60 minutes of the 90 minute double album).

                Hope this helps people that are looking at this wonderful album. This was recorded in January 1959, one of the earlier stereo albums that Wilkie recorded. Before Decca started releasing stereo vinyl a few months earlier, they did two separate recordings - mono and stereo, of their albums - both done at the same recording session, but with separate teams of producers and engineers. Wilkie was always assigned to the mono team, since that was the one that was going to be released and make money for Decca. The two recordings, mono and stereo would have different takes, different edits, etc. (John Dunkerley told me about this), in essence two different albums. After stereo records were introduced, Wilkie was moved over to do the stereo recordings, with his version of the Decca tree - different mike choices and positions than Roy Wallace who invented the tree. Over time, Wilkie's became the standard Decca Tree as Roy moved out of the engineering side.

                Larry
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                Comment


                • #13
                  One other small point on RBG. In the Classics 33RPM version, the records are pressed in automatic changer sequence (I believe this is the same as the original) 1-4 and 2-3. The AP version has it in manual sequence 1-2, 3-4. In general, the US market was given automatic changer sequence albums for all multidisc albums (I have some that are 1-12, 2-11, 3-10, etc.) UK stereo multirecord albums started in the '50's with automatic changer sequence, but fairly quickly switched (around 1960 or so) to manual sequence.

                  Records would have a thick bead around the outer rim to prevent (actually minimize) the actual grooves from one record hitting the record below. Remember, the new record got up to speed by its friction with the record below (Yikes!).

                  How many of us in the US started with automatic changers? And we wonder why the Brits have records that are in better condition than the Yanks.

                  Larry
                  Analog- VPIClassic3-3DArm,SoundsmithZephyrII+MiyajimaZeroMono, 2xAmpex ATR-102,Doshi3.0 BottleheadPhonoPre,Herron VTPH-2A
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                  Dig Play-mchNADAC, LampiPac, Roon, HQP, Oppo105
                  Electronics-Herron 360Pre,CJ MET1mchPre, Cary2A3monoamps
                  Speakers-AvantgardeDuosLR,3SolosC,LR,RR
                  Other-512Engineer/Marutani Symmetrical Power, ArtKelmGround1, AudioDiskVinylCleaner,AirTightRecordFlat, Scott Rust Interconnects,
                  Music-15KRecs(90%classical),1KR2Rtapes,50TBrips

                  Comment


                  • #14
                    I have the original Classic Records 9 disc (prior to the Quiex) 45rpm Box set, and it's killer. disc 1 is a standard demo disc for me and really does the space and is alive with energy and sparkle. super quiet and rock solid authority.

                    and I have the Original Classic 33 set with the inner booklet. it's very good too.

                    it's such accessible Classical music and I play it for certain visitors that are 'meh' toward classical music and it always brings the oohs and ahhhs.

                    Comment


                    • #15
                      To add a late update: I decided to get the new SACD set after all. I ripped the tracks and analyzed them, finding what appear to be non-noise high-frequency signal reaching out to at least the 32kHz range (there appears to be some noise beyond that, peaking at 41kHz before fading away to zero around 50kHz. This leads me to suspect that Grundman's digital remastering job, although never detailed by AP, seems to have been to a higher resolution than Redbook; I'm guessing it was originally to something like 24/96, since DSD itself wasn't around at the time. At any rate, it sounds fantastic -- no complaints here!

                      Comment


                      • astrotoy
                        astrotoy commented
                        Editing a comment
                        Thanks for the update. Great to hear about the sound quality. You had mentioned in your OP about the Esoteric SACD Ring set based on a 20bit digital transfer. If it were 96/24 or 96/20 that should make a good SACD transfer with the HF content up to 32, 41 and fading out by 50. People were definitely doing 192/24 PCM as early as the late 90's (my Pacific Microsonics Model Two is from that era). 88/24 dated from a few years earlier at least with Pacific Microsonics Model One.

                        Larry
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