Direct-to-disc records are making a strong bid to become part of the hi-fi scene, even to the extent of having drawn flak from those who make "indirect"-to-disc recordings.
By way of explanation, a direct-to-disc recording is made without tape. And, it was once thought, without much of anything else: The performance went straight from microphone to record cutter. However, today's direct-to-disc methods do not rule out the mixing console, nor - if my ears do not decive me - certain signal-processing "sweeteners" on the way to the cutting lathe.
The big factor missing in these recordings is the master tape and the attendant processing associated with tape, including editing, retakes, splicing-in, overdubbing, manipulation of various tracks and so on. According to the proponents of direct-to-disc, all of this detracts from the clarity of the end product. According to the majority of the recording industry, it is the use of tape and its versatility that makes for more realistic and convincing stereo productions for playback on home-music systems. Tape also enables a recording team to prepare a given performance for optimum presentation in different formats - stereo, four-channel, mono - and thereby serve the needs of home listeners as well as of broadcasters. One thing is certain: In direct-to-disc, the performers must be right the first time; there is no provision for correcting a faulty passage and artfully splicing it into the tape later.
It is this very demanding rigor that tends to keep direct-to-disc recordings limited to relatively small performing groups. There has been only one such recording of a full symphony orchestra (the Cleveland) and no operas or musical comedies. But within the context of what is (so far anyway) a somewhat limited musical scope, we do have some interesting releases. Included in a recent batch sent by Audio Technica, which firm has become the U.S. distributor for them, are releases from Umbrella, a Canadian recording outfit; Sonic Arts, based in San Francisco; Telarc of Cleveland, and RVC, which is actually RCA Records of Japan. As a group, these discs are more interesting sonically than musically, although the single most impressive recording on both counts - to my ears - is the Telarc release (5036) of "Michael Murray Playing the Great Organ in the Methuen Memorial Music Hall." Another exceptionally clean album is "Trackin" (RCA RDC-3), which has a jazz quartet and plays at 45 rpm rather than at 33 rpm. Umbrella's best entry in this group is "Big Band Jazz" (which features the Humber College Jazz Ensemble "on the way to the Montreux Jazz Festival" (UMB-DD7). Solo piano is shown to advantage in selections by Schumann, Liszt and Chopin played by David Montgomery and recorded binaurally (Sonic Arts Number 5), so that listening with headphones adds some spatial realism, including apparent changes of microphone position.
All of these new discs sound uncommonly good, but I still am not sure whether that is due to the nonuse of tape or to the general care used in other aspects of their processing and manufacture, since I have enjoyed silent grooves, inner ensemble detail and generally great sound from many discs made in the usual way. For those interested in direct-to-disc records, a catalogue is available from Audio Technica Inc., 33 Shiawassee Ave., Fairlawn, Ohio 44313.