Reference Recordings


Am I the only one who doesn’t like the sound of the highly touted Reference Recordings.  While there are some exceptions (e.g. Prokofiev “Alexander Nevsky,”) I find the orchestral perspective on most of their discs so distant that the sound is muddled and sound staging practically non existent.
Anyone else feel that way?
7c67ab18 c2ce 4b45 9523 fc4a71684ce0rvpiano
I agree. I own all of the RR vinyl and am disappointed in the sound.
Had high hopes but they all sound pretty flat.
And yet, they’re held in such high regard.
I guess by the mid-fi crowd
Personally I enjoy their more distant, minimalist miking which is like what I hear at live classical concerts, but I can understand that not everybody wants that type of presentation for home listening.
I kind of know what you're talking about. RR were always quiet, quality vinyl but a little polite, almost like they were stepped on. Not unlike a lot of MoFi reissues.  

Then the last year or so my system got so much better, and when I play those same RR now it's like, What was I thinking?!! Damn, these are fine!

Sorry, guys. Really. But you got it all wrong. Maybe when your systems advance beyond the mid-fi stage you will see the light too?
I’m not talking about the RR LPs,  They’re Fantastic.
I’m referring to their CDs.
If you can hear soundstaging on them,  you have some unusual system.
Over the decades I bought many CDs that were highly rated sonically, but did not feel they were, BUT, overtime as I upgraded my system those discs sounded better and better
The last time I visited audio dealers to audition speakers I'd bring a selection of CDs from the ones I enjoyed listening to, some that were not the best sound quality, as I needed to hear what those would sound like.  One of the dealers I visited insisted on playing music that brought out the best in the speakers he was playing, but music I'd never select for listening at home.  This guy actually pushed back when I asked him to play the "Born to Run" CD, as he said that one was "too harsh".  As it turns out, when he finally put that one on, I could not tolerate the sound for an entire song.
Tweak1,

I’ve had the same experience.  The better my system, the better they sounded.
BUT, sound staging has never been a strong point, as they prefer distant microphone placement.  Some like it that way.
I don’t.
Boy, millercarbon must have some fantastic imagination. Those Tektons are some of the worst imaging speakers I have ever heard. Right up there with Bose 901's
The only RR recording I have is an Airto disc. They use the same minimalist microphone scheme but in a large empty Hall. The resulting reverberation made for an interesting presentation. My imagination jumped to a band playing in an empty warehouse. The music is great.
I have not gotten another RR record if that means anything.  
You do not hear music at a concert like this as the hall is usually full of people which changes the acoustics rather dramatically. 
Minimalist miking doesn’t necessarily produce poor sound staging. The classic 1950’s RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence recordings were minimally miked but had wonderful sound staging.
FWIW, one of favorite labels. I find the sound staging, and especially the dynamics to be excellent. Proper HDCD decoding can be quite beneficial on the appropriate recordings.
@rvpiano, 
I agree with your impressions of the RCA Living Stereo and Mercury Living Presence. They represent splendid examples of minimalist microphone recordings. They have certainly stood the test of time.
Charles 
They got a nice sound in the Baha’i Temple.

Ya think Keith Johnson’s 3 channel recording history has anything to do with the lower presence of "soundstaging?"
I really like the RCA’s as well. The Mercury’s not as much. The Mercury’s used 3 channels. For better or worse,  strictly 2 channel in my set up.
If I had to choose I'd prefer RCA over Mercury as well.
Charles 
Yes Reference Recordings only sound good when played on MC’s system.
Just for fun I dug out Eiji Oue’s Mephisto & Co CD. I played it back on my Marantz 11S3 CDP. Sort of closed in and dullish - greatly reduced sound stage. I run up the volume - it improved considerably, but really nothing great. Then I put it on my Wadia CDP. At the same volume the improvement was huge, full stage width and height, decent depth but not with pinpoint clarity, but then, FWIW, I’ve never experienced pin point clarity in a symphony hall, even in Orchestra row seats.

FWIW my system is tuned ’warm’ (using tubes) and my ears are getting old. I suspect those with younger ears and a more neutral system would find considerable enjoyment in this disc. Generally speaking I’ve never heard a RR CD that was as good as the vinyl (On my old near SOTA system) but I found a lot of the older CD’s quite good. I listen to them infrequently but I do and still enjoy them.

FWIW, by way of making a point about sound systems - I used to have some Quad 63’s. In initially I found them cool and flat sound stage wise. Height and depth were on vacation. Then I discovered that they really opened up at higher volumes. Volume was what was missing. I played Opus 3’s ’depth of image’ it was all there just as it was set forth in their booklet (this was on vinyl).

For the record I loved those old vinyl Living Stereo’s - some of the best sound I’ve heard at home. The Merc’s were good, mostly enjoyable and some were really great but that was all on vinyl. I think most of the goodness disappeared on CD’s, RCA and Merc. On CD’s I like the Merc’s better, not so much the RCA’s if at all.

TMI, IMHO, FWIW.
I have found them to be fine, maybe a slightly distant soundstage but pretty natural sounding to me compared with listening in a concert hall from mid-hall.  Their SACDs with the Pittsburgh SO are very good in that format.   I would not necessarily think Johnson's miking is minimalist, though--I don't think he's ever been above multi-miking.  Telarc was more minimalist than RR..
As for the ‘50’s RCA and Mercury reissues on CD, I find the latter to be consistently fine sounding, but the former to be of very uneven sound quality.
An exception to the usual distant RR sound is a new recording of Beethoven’s 9th with Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony. Streaming on Idagio, the Reference immediate sound seems spectacularly suited to the piece.
(Does the exception prove the rule? NO, that’s a stupid expression.)
In listening further, it seems to me that the Minnesota Orchestra recordings do have a recessed quality not found on the others.  I still get a soundstage, but it does have a distant perspective.  I'd be curious how much the hall has to do with that--perhaps Schubert, who I believe lives in Minneapolis, has heard the orchestra in that hall and could chime in.  The new recordings from Pittsburgh and Kansas City are really good. and quite different in perspective., as were the recordings from Dallas.