Dear Dan Popp,
I usually donít compare SACD and CD layers of my discs, but concentrate on SACD. For this Beethoven cycle I was intrigued to check out the CD layer, as it is my first ever Beethoven symphonies cycle with Karajan in any format. My first ever SACD was Mahlerís symphony no. 6 with Tilson Thomas, before I got my first SACD player. So I was familiar with the performance and redbook transfer before I had a chance to hear it as a SACD. The sound levels are equal throughout, and that is the disc we usually play to our friends for demonstration of sound quality differences. First CD layer, then SACD layer, and the levels are always the same! Now, to be honest, out of some 100 SACDs we have, neither me or my partner really bothered to switch between the layers and compare sound levels, but when I did that with Beethoven I was quite surprised that there was a significant difference.
Now, during the years I spent in a sound studio as a trainee music producer my tutors, experienced in pop and classical music recordings were always very aware of the fact that louder they play the recording, it tends to Ďsoundí better. Itís a little trick I also learned very well, that Iím not surprised if someone else is using it for the same reasons. And the reason I mentioned the differences of sound levels in my review was just stressing the fact, not trying to say that is good or bad thing to do. From my correspondence with DG Iíve learned that DSD and CD transfers were made directly from stereo master tapes, so Iím pretty sure there was already some sort of compression used before the final master tapes were produced. And I didnít hear any significant difference in relative dynamic range on CD and SACD layer here, so my conclusion is that the PCM and DSD signals were just transferred in different levels.
As for stereo image, you are perfectly right Ė most of modern recordings are mix of different types of microphones and positioning and all those signals have to be perfectly blended in the control room. After all, that mix is what makes the difference between good and not so good recordings Ė natural transparency and depth of the big orchestra being the most difficult thing to achieve. Call me purist, but (and Iím talking from my actual experience) the less microphones used Ė better the recording. One of my favourite recordings ever are Mahlerís symphonies on DENON with Eliahu Inbal, recorded from 1985-1992 with only one stereo pair of B&K microphones. No dummy head used, but the mics were positioned up and away from the orchestra. But making recordings like that is more complicated than is seems Ė first of all, they have to be made in acoustically superior halls and they require hours and hours of very precise positioning, i.e. orchestra playing many days just for the sake of the sound technician. Multi miking is much cheaper solution, just drop as many mikes as you have, record separate sections of the orchestra on multi-channel tape, dismiss the orchestra and mix it all later on. That approach is also more appealing for the sound technicians, as it gives them the opportunity to ďdoĒ something, not just plug in the cables and press the record button once the microphones are set.
Back to Karajanís set, weíre talking here of early stereo days when the fascination with the new technology was as exciting as the music itself. Keeping in mind that Herby himself was very technical man, personally supervising microphone positioning, sound, colours and perspective. Also, he himself never hided the fact that he also overdubbed certain passages and certain orchestral groups (if I remember well, second violins were mostly overdubbed) in these recordings. In the sixties that was a perfectly acceptable approach, as the recorded orchestral sound was treated as something different from the concert orchestral sound.
I wasnít clear in my original review when I said Ďtoo many microphones usedíÖ what I meant was remiking, - changing microphone positions for different sections of the same piece. It is interesting to compare early Karajanís stereo recordings with the later ones, especially digital Ė with the change of the orchestral sound he was producing, the recordings were more natural and concert-like.