Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mercury SR 90205

Mercury Living Presence SR 90205

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21, Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36

Paul Paray, conductor
Detroit Symphony Orchestra

Pressing: US, dark maroon, Colorback

Condition:  EX+


Performance: 7/10

Sound:  6/10

Price range: $32-40, mean $37 on popsike

Comments:  When I first picked up this album from a record store in Chicago, I really wanted to like it.  I'd been looking for it for a while.  Cool cover.  However, years later, it is not my go-to album for Beethoven's first two symphonies.  Why?  Well, the performances are pretty fine, don't get me wrong.  The Detroiters play with passion.  Tempos are swift.  It's the recording quality that places it in Mercury's mediocre category.  The sound is very thin sounding.  I think the mikes are close up, so you have that very close-up immediate sound (as if you are standing with the conductor) which is intrinsic to a number of the Mercury recordings.  With Beethoven, I prefer to hear more of a hall acoustic.  So, for the sound quality, this is somewhat disappointing.  Unless you find it cheap, go for the Szell, Walter, Klemperer, Karajan, or Bernstein recordings.


  1. I don't have this one, but listening to the above samples I can hear the tube bloat the robs the bass of definition and drive. This tube bloat is a huge part of the sound on all golden era tube pressings. Some of London/Decca's later blue backs seem to escape this disease. EMI/Columbia has a much tighter Vintage sound with excellent drive. Klemperer Beethoven 2 is very, very nice.

    What exactly is tube bloat? It is partially a function of output impedance (plate resistance on tubes). With a loudspeaker the output impedance of an amp interacts with the impedance with frequency of a speaker. A difficult speaker with wildly varying impedances across the spectrum will have a flatter frequency response with an amplifier with a lower output impedance (solid state). Put the same speaker with a high output impedance tube amp and the frequency response is much less flat and the amplifier is strained and sounds sickly.

    A analogous situation happens in the various stages of a tube playback and recording chain. Each stage has input and output impedances. Electrical engineering, clearly shows that you can experience high frequency and low frequency loss if the proceeding output is not low enough to drive the next stage's input impedance. Input capacitance is a huge factor for high frequency roll off. Interconnects contribute to this and longer runs increase this. Each stage has an input capacitance. The cure is often low output impedance which helps with both losses in the highs and lows. Input load is important too.

    What I hear in playback gear is that tubes with very low output impedances have good drive like solid state equipment. These are generally more expensive and esoteric tubes. The typical tube in the typical recording chain does not control the sound as well. This is hard to explain in engineering terms, but in the low frequencies these tubes do not control and convey the bass as well. Instrumental definition suffers. Once you start loosing this control, tube bloom starts to increase. It can sound wonderful in certain instances, but it is a false God. In order to get it, you have to have horrible bass and control. The soundstage loses definition. The sound is not life-like.

    Often when trying different tube types there are subtle differences in control which are attributable to higher plate resistance (higher output impedance). I've been dealing with these affects in a large way when audition tube versus solid state crossovers and tweeking tube types in amplifiers and preamplifiers. My line stage tube is a 6900 and I recently tried a Russina alternative. At first blush, I had nice highs and bloom. But it quickly became apparent that the baby had been thrown out with the bath water. Orchestral drive was gone.

    Rough as it is, my current thoughts on tube sound.

  2. Thank you very much for your detailed post on tube sound. I wish I could reply in a more educated way, but I have never owned tube equipment. I've thought about it many times but have never pulled the trigger. Just might have to consider auditioning some equipment next time I'm in the market for a new amp!

    1. Listen to the sample provided in your post on your computer. You can easily hear the fuzzy, indistinct bass. Not a good thing.

      Just upgraded a set of integrated circuits in my active subwoofer crossover. Made a nice improvement with a lower noise floor (something that is hard to describe, but easily audible). Soundstaging and bass improved to some extent with a little more weight down low. Some stridency removed from string sound if you would believe.

      I'd stay with solid state. Tubes have the possibility of yielding a lot more dynamics. A system I have with tubes on top and solid state powered subs can make sense. The bare bones of my system can be had for the following prices:
      Vandersteen 4a (with active crossover) - $1200 (must be a 4a, not a 4!)
      Eagle 2a (2c or higher good) - $300
      Van den hul magnum sub cable - $150

      All of these are hard to find and pretty much minimum requirements to get these speakers performing well. They need a big room as they range from 24-40000hz.

      Other hybrid systems exist, but they are hard to beat for the money. Once you have the bass system, you can run anything on it as budget allows. With this system you can do tubes without penalty in the bass. These speakers are known for a concert hall like presentation.

    2. I'll throw this in here, but the unexpectedly lower noise floor is helpful for the latter pressings. The B&W are helped, but the Big Dog pressings seem to benefit the most. I would say they have the lowest noise floor of any of the EMI pressings. I've commented about the great bass and extended highs on these before. The midrange has always sounded a little unfocused. The improved noise floor makes for a more beguiling presentation. My SLS 5117 Messiaen Turangalila Symphony sounds nicely improved, but I am not quite won over. I really like the early recorded material reissued on the Big Dog at this point:
      1. ESD 7028 Pineapple Poll -- the tube sound is not quite evident, but has a nice magical clarity no doubt due to the tube master tape. Bass is quite nice and the noise floor is pretty good, so a winner. I doubt an original pressing could keep up in the bass or noise floor department.
      2. CFP 40214 -- Dances, Dvorak, Grieg, & Brahms -- not as nice as pineapple poll as my pressing is probably more around the time of a late B&W, but still a good record.
      3. SXDW 3029 -- probably in the same camp as the CFP above, but a bit better
      4. ESD 1077541 -- Groves Sullivan Overtures -- yikes. Recorded in 1973 and a bit in 1968. This think kicks major but in the noise floor and bass department. If these areas make your day, this might be better than the original LPs. Way more dynamic the TAS listed Messian above.
      5. SXDW 3053 Busoni PC, Ogden -- the phasey midrange sound has left me wanting in the past, but this recording is now delivering on dynamics, bass, and superior noise floor. The Big Dog is howling at the moon. The big sound and that noise floor get me past the midrange. A very nice record that I expect rivals the original LP from 1968. The piano pieces from 1961 are quite nice with a little more magic if not quite the noise floor and bass performance. I find these Busoni piano variations highly entertaining.

      I just through on a B&W pressing (likely original) of Previn's Planets (ASD 3002). It does not have the noise floor and bass capabilities of these later pressings. I'd like to here a Big Dog pressing of this to see what it could do!

      For that matter, I will try to acquire some more Big Dogs, especially of some Golden Era ASD and SAX. Dynamic pieces might work quite well on these pressings.

      On the audio front, I am not resting on my laurels. I am pursuing a step up transformer for my system. It holds the possibility of better noise floor performance and dynamics. The Lyra Delos based cartridge system of a friend just had one thrown in and I heard great potential in these areas once it gets tuned in.

      All of the EMI pressings are getting very interesting at this point. I want to listen quite a bit more as I am not quite sure what to go for next.

    3. The step up transformer was a sonic disaster, but in fairness it was presenting an 80 ohm load to a cartridge that specs a 1000 ohm load. Lyra Delos specs 100-800, but 5-15 ohm with a step up transformer, so the load may have been fine.