All Telarc recordings have the absolute polarity reversed. If you have a polarity switch on your CD player or DAC, flip it to 180. If you don't have a switch, you need to get a conponent that has one. Other major labels with reversed absolute polarity are: Mercury, RCA, Capital, EMI, Decca, London, MCA and some Sony to name a few. Once you know the sound of reversed polarity (which you obviously do)it's hard to listen this way. Correcting the polarity also tightens the bass and makes the topend less shrill.
I think it is more the result of the methods that Telarc uses. Decca typically uses a lot of mikes so the instruments are heard more clearly, but depending on the mix may not be more realistic. I think what you are hearing at live performances has nothing to do with the issues created by mic'ing/mixing techniques - I think it has to do more with the dynamics of the sound which cannot be reproduced on recordings. By the way, were there mic's in any of those concert halls - many now supplement the live sound with amplification? Harry Pearson of TAS made a statement about Telarc some years ago, based on what had been his similar (to your's) view of Telarc - that was, as the performance of DAC's and CDP's got better, he had found the sound much better than he previously believed. Its instructive to listen to some of Telarc's early LP's - they didn't sound dull and lifeless at all, quite the contrary. By the way, I would not consider Decca to be a good company to look to for sound quality, although some of their stuff is excellent, they did have a couple of great engineers. For good recordings, minimally miked in a good acoustic, listen to recordings by Delos, Dorian, Hyperion, to name a few - the performances are usually excellent as well.
What does "absolute reverse polarity mean", and why would so many major labels purposely mess up their recordings for 99.999% of their consumers?
"Absolute Polarity" often mis-referred to as Absolute Phase is when the + and - signals are reversed in both channels at the same time. For the purposes of visualization, using a flat line, a speaker with correct phase would produce a rise and, if the polarity were reversed, the same signal would produce a dip. Sort of like breathing in when you should be breathing out. Recordings are not the only products with Absolute Polarity issues. Lots of tube pre-amps do this, especially the ones with only 2 tubes. Fortunately the manufacturers advise of this in their manuals. This, IMHO, is not as big an issue as some would make it as many recordings are of mixed polarity in the first place - each mic' used presents an opportunity, etc, but when it does exist it can make a big difference. Nice to have a switch built into your pre-amp (or CD player) - that's they only way you know for sure if the reversal exists on any individual cut.
Newbee, I would take issue with your broad statement about Decca recordings. The Decca recordings from the late 50's through the early 70's are some of the greatest examples of orchestral and opera recordings in natural sounding, correctly captured acoustic environment sonics that we have. I'd be happy to offer some suggestions offline for you to consider, but any of the reissues listed in the Speakers Corner catalog will illustrate this.
Of course, there is also the London/Decca Phase Four series, which is unnatural multi-miked sound at its worst extreme. :-)
Rushton, I did say that Decca had SOME excellent stuff and a couple of GREAT engineers! Those recordings bracketing 1960 +/- 5 years were often excellent, but IMHO outside of that time frame they were less consistently so. Lots of multi miking going on then. Do you recall who invented the Decca Tree(?), it wasn't Wilkinson was it?
Newbee, thanks for clarifying your comment. I totally agree about the golden years of 1956-1965 or so. As the to Decca tree, Wilkinson was involved, but so was Gordon Parry. And Wilkinson also ended up using some additional mikes over the years.
Still, there are a number of Decca recordings up through the early 70's are marvelous. Consider:
Varese, Arcana/Integrales/Ionisation, Mehta/LAPO, 1971
Holst, Planets, Mehta/LAPO, 1971
Beethoven, 9th Sym, Solti/CSO 1972
Stravinsky, Rite of Spring, Solti/CSO 1974
Prokofiev, Sym 6, Weller/LondonPO 1975
Respighi, Pines of Rome, Maazel/Cleveland 1975
But I suppose I shouldn't hijack Dazzdax's thread further on this offshoot.
To get on topic with the question, I agree with Dazzdax's sentiment that the Telarcs sound veiled. To me, even their early LPs sound like they have an electronic haze to them as thought the signal has been routed through too many miles of cable and too many layers of mixing board. None of the Decca's we've mentioned sound that way.
For CDs, there are many Decca recordings in the 80s (not just in the "Golden Years") that are sonically excellent; if not in the demonstration quality bracket. For example, some of the MSO recordings with Charles Dutoit are very good (Ravel, Bizet etc) and Dohnanyi (Dvorak etc). The problem with Telarc recordings is that they often have a recessed sound- lacking in detail- (blame it on the over-hyped monster cables- kidding aside- they lack the last ounce of definition and vivacity). For example Dohnanyi's Beethoven cycle. Even Telarc jazz possess some of that quality (some of the recordings with Oscar Peterson and Jacques Loussier). There is a certain enhanced bloom that seems to obsure the detail a little. However on a really excellent playback system, the recordings do sound better than the initial first impression- actually all the detail is all there- it just has to be picked up properly. The better your equipment, the better Telarc discs sound. Telarc's "Super Bass" along with some of Kunzel's recording of film scores and Frederick Fennell's are some of the best Telarc demonstration-quality discs. At the same time I am not that enamoured with the DSD system (Telarc uses this quite often)- in my opinion many of Chesky recordings, and especially XRCDs far surpass the artificialness of DSD recordings.
I tend to agree with Newbee and others here. Telarc does not go for immediate sound, relying on spaced omnis for their principal recording mikes (at least in the old days), which results in a spacious sound but without the pinpoint imaging that you get with more spot mikes. I think that's a principal reason for the veiled/opaque sound you're referring to. Interestingly, it seems that the louder you play a Telarc recording, the better it sounds, don't ask me why. And I concur that the better gear you have, the better a Telarc recording sounds--I've noticed this as my system has evolved. I tend to like Telarc recordings (some of their SACDs are superb), though my speaker system, which is a quasi-omni and very wide-dispersion, may be tailor-made for their recording philosophy.