FIM’s Winston Ma has opportunities that would be the envy of any audiophile disc collector. He can secure the reissue rights for his small audiophile label to classic recordings of the past which have had a treasured place in his own personal library – in this case for 43 years! He feels this 1963 Phase4 album is one of the best recordings ever made of music for the screen. The Phase4 Stereo process used multimiking to an extent not done before – recording on 48 separate channels originally and then mixing down to two for the stereo release on LP. Exaggerated "ping-pong" stereo effects were the norm and there was no attempt to make the final recording sound similar to what you would hear in a concert hall – processing a unique studio sound, just as with most rock recordings, was the goal. And in the case of film music, that was completely appropriate.
Unfortunately, when the original analog tapes arrived in the mastering studio of Paul Stubblebine in San Francisco they sounded terrible – two narrow signals coming directly from the center of the drivers on the left and right. Grammy-winning engineer Paul, who has already enhanced such classics as Jazz In the Pawnshop (creating an enveloping multichannel SACD out of the stereo original tapes!), went to work on the Decca tapes, first converting them with special equipment to three channels to begin to fill the huge hole in the middle. Then a special Neve mixer was used to mix the sound back to two channels for the xrcd24 mastering. The final product is a standard 44.1/24 CD.
The results are quite good, and only sound overly-processed if you attempt to gain a surround sound effect by running them thru ProLogic II or Circle Surround. Then they sound terrible again, almost like the master tapes were full of signal dropouts. The dramatic arrangements and orchestrations of these scores come thru with great impact in good old stereo. The nine-minute suite from Bernstein’s On The Waterfront music was my favorite on the disc, but I also appreciated the main theme music from Rosza’s Spellbound score, in spite of missing the sound of the theremin in the original. The disc is packaged beautifully, with a reprint of the original LP liner notes and four pages of stills from the various classic films – the whole thing on heavy plasticized pages. And unlike most of the JVC-originated xrcds, the notes are all in English. Plus the disc itself resides in a soft fabric & plastic liner before it is put in the heavy paper slot bound into the small book package (reminding you of albums of shellac 78s if you’re old enough for that). JVC originally jammed the expensive xrcds directly into very hard and abrasive cardboard slots without any protective sleeves at all, causing scratches as you inserted and removed them.
– John Sunier