Just picked up and been listening to;
Miles Davis - Kind of Blue
Can't believe the sound quality. The ST-RT's reproduce the the horns, base and piano incredibly well. Originally recorded in 1959 this particular CD was remastered in 1997 and the blurb states that they corrected a pitch problem that was on the original LP. If recording quality was this good back in '59 what happened after that. Was there a lost art for a couple of decades
Some would say there was - and some would say we still haven't fully found our way back, in terms of engineering practice.
Some of the engineers working in the 50s were really very
good. They had to be in part because of what they were required to do as a matter of routine, like mix a complete orchestra's worth of spot mics and main mic on the fly so the result could go straight to a stereo recorder. That's all there was in general use until about 1960 when 3 and 4 tracks became popular. In the late 60s, 16 tracks became common in US studios and we entered the era of "fixing it in the mix" from about 1970 to present, where mixing decisions can be deferred until "later" when it gets mixed.
It is possible to imagine how the work of an inspired and talented engineer in mixing something on the fly, including large scale levels adjustments on the master fader to accommodate gross differences in level through the course of a long symphony or jazz piece would have a certain integrity of sound that is the result of a single inspired performance not only by the musician(s) but the engineer.
I have been blown away by the quality of the studio work for what amounted to popular music in the early 50s, like Santa Baby by Eartha Kit: http://tinyurl.com/cb7cos
from 1953 or so.
Some Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly work is extremely well recorded, I am told, if you can hear an early master before the "echo" (which Presley hated) was added. I have heard some spectacular old Presley - pretty amazing performances from him, too.
Circumstances of the times worked in favor of good finished sound, like the absence of transistors pretty well anywhere in the equipment chain, the absence of exotic signal processing like multi-band parametric EQs and multi-band compression (both done in the digital domain), and the absence of multi track recording, and the limits imposed by analog tape on the number of ovedubs possible, Les Paul aside.
The enforced simplicity helped keep the sound listenable.