RCA Living Stereo

I have collected vinyl for over fifty years. Jazz, classical, rock… I have lots of late fifties jazz recordings… some of the best are RCA Living Stereo albums. So, over the years if I found a Living Stereo Album, even not in the category of music I liked, I would buy it. I just found a couple dozen… I had bought over the years, usually for a dollar. I had cleaned them on my record cleaning machine, treated with Last and hid them in the corner.

I am currently listening to one called, Lisbon At Twilight… stereo 1958. Wonderful recording. There are a lot of these orchestral works created.. jazzy often from contemporary tunes. The recordings are compelling, so are the orchestrations and individually musicians even though I would have to classify much as elevator music.


But with such great recordings in a great system they can be really enjoyable. They are 180 gram of heavier as well. $1… what a deal… blast from the past.


I own many RCA Living Stereo recordings, and I agree, some sound spectacular. I found a crap load in decent condition at a record store near where I work. I think I bought like 15 of them in one shot there, paying on average $3.99 per Lp. Others I acquired from both Ebay and discogs.

One thing I have learned is that on occasion, the white dog labels sound better than the shaded dog....for instance Sheherazade...

The Phase 4 Lp's sound great as well, I pick them up whenever I come across them in good condition. 

That was the golden age of vinyl. High quality hifi sound was a new thing then that sold and all the record companies marketed their own brand of cutting edge sound.    RCA was a big name back then!

That was a special time. These days most people pay little attention to sound quality. That alone will sell little. People could care less. That’s ok. It is what it is. Those who do care can feast on more great recordings than ever and more produced every day. The times they are always a changing.

There was real completion for higher fidelity in the 50’s. Before stereo I have a lot of Hi-Fidelity albums boasting of greater fidelity leading up to stereo. For me, unfortunately no mater how high fidelity is… if it is not stereo it doesn’t keep my interest. But the 50’s was a great time on advancement in high fidelity.


I don't know what you're used to listening to, but RCA is by far the absolute worst manufacturer I've ever heard on LP.  The sound quality is very poor, and the engineering is as bad.  Supposedly, the shaded dog LP's are better quality RCA LP's, and the white dog about the worst, as RCA's focus on quality went to zero very quickly, and shaded dog are earlier than white dog.  Supposedly, some very early RCA, which I suppose could be some of the Living Stereo LP's are the best RCA LP's, but I have found that they are very bad for the music that I listen to: classical, acoustic, etc. 

As more of a jazz aficionado and a some time classical music listener, I cannot agree that RCA are the worst among vintage LP brands. Although some recordings are not very good for sure. (I am trying now to think what brand is categorically worse than RCA. I personally always disliked Deutsche Gramophone for their shrillness, and for jazz, nothing sounds worse than Roulette.  I usually did not care for Angel recordings pressed in the USA; UK pressings were much better.) I actually like some of the Dynagroove recordings. Heifitz plays the Sibelius Violin Concerto was excellent, or so I thought. Or was it Heifitz per se who could overcome anything and blow your mind?

When Deutsche Gramophone went digital they were terrible! I pulled one out a couple months ago… horribly shrill! @lewm you are absolutely correct… before they went digital they were really good… often the standard. 

I remember buying albums in the late 70’s early 80’s and being really uncertain as to what was going on… it was hot or miss. 

@drbond according to Tom at Better Records, the white dog Rca Living Stereo pressing is superior in sound quality to the shaded dog Reiner Sheherazade. I tend to trust his opinion as this is what he does for a living. I’ve bought many a record from him over the years, including the above, and I can attest that he knows his stuff. According to Tom, today's Lp's do not have that "tubey magic" that yesteryears Lp's possessed. Yes, they may be quieter. But they are lifeless. The older pressings present a living breathing person. 

Also, not all Living Stereo lps were all that great (Tom will even admit that) but some were fantastic. Like any other label, there were duds.

Mercury Living Presence was also a great sounding lp/label. Most of those I own sound superior to Anything released today. Most current releases sound like utter garbage.



White dog? Shaded dog? The specific album I was speaking of is an outline in blue… no shading.


Yes, no series are all great… some duds are not unusual. 

I've certainly mentioned this a few times, but my dad was a high-fi enthusiast from the veritable birth of the hobby. He built a tubed hi-fi mono set-up on the kitchen table, complete with AM tuner.. When stereo was introduced he was one of the first to adopt it. He gave me all his cast-off systems. He took me to hi-fi shows. I inherited my share of hi-fi demonstration records and "This is Stereo!" demonstration records. I've got a cut of steam trains pulling in and out of stations. That same LP has a cut that follows the narrator as he walks to his tenth-row center seat as a tap dance number is happening on the stage in front of him. I inherited Shaded Dogs and Shaded Label EMI Angel records. Columbia Six Eyes, both gray and red labeled. Sorry to report, I still take out these ancient novelty LPs and listen to 'em.


@drbond  You've just been plumb unlucky!


I own both the book of Valin "the RCA Bible" and also an Italian edition printed 30 years ago called "the records of the golden age" for my choices and for documenting myself.

I believe that the Italian edition is more complete and reliable as it is written by a passionate audiophile as well as accompanied by beautiful images where the best and worst RCA, Mercury, Decca and the London counterparts are reported .... if you are passionate, look for this book now out of print but sometimes you will find a used copy for sale on ebay.




So maybe I exaggerated slightly about RCA LP's, but only slightly:  the only label that I've heard that was a worse recording than RCA is a Supraphon LP from the former USSR, Czech manufacture. . . but they were on about equal footing with RCA.  

In my experience, the most reliable label for classical LP recordings and engineering is Philips. 

Philip I find spotty. Some excellent. Some a little dull for want of a better word. I thought DG were a bit shrill even before digital came into vogue, but after that they became unbearable. I suppose it would depend on what I was using for playback in the 70s. I still own all those LPs but rarely play them.

50's/early 60's RCA and Mercury "Living Presence" LP Cover  have the most interesting LP artwork. 

That's about the only certainty of Classical LP's during the "Golden Years."

SQ is all over the place with all the labels. I have great sounding albums from all the usual suspects.

There may something  to particular pressing/conductor/orchestra.

What's better-dull performance/good recording or great performance/so-so recording?

"The recordings are compelling, so are the orchestrations and individually musicians even though I would have to classify much as elevator music."

ghdprentice-If you like to explore-Esquivel! 

Zip-boing-bloop! Pour yourself a martini while listening.




@mapman: “This was the golden age of vinyl” I could not agree more!! I’ve been randomly visiting a charity thrift store by me for the last few years. I usually pick up a couple or few and only pick NM visually vinyl condition. Jacket is my secondary concern. They always have about a four-foot stack to choose from. Many stragglers never sell, the usual suspects. Jazz is rare, although Classical is available. They were 25 cents each, but price recently soared to 50 cents! Various labels acquired over the years. These records are TRUE GEMS folks! Good luck on your searches!

My thought is that many of the Living Stereo three track recordings were recorded superbly however the pressings are compromised. Along the same lines as the Mercury Living Presence pressings. Analogue Productions remastered and reissued a good number of the RCA's and a few of the Mercury's also. I have their Reiner / Chicago 'Scheherazade' hybrid SACD and it is among the best sounding CD's in my collection. I would assume the vinyl reissues to be excellent also.

@lewm I agree, to me the Deutsche Grammophone recordings are tough to listen to, though I have a couple that are just all-right. Do you know Deutsche Grammophone's 'Archive Productions' label, which concentrated on historical performance practice? Since I only have a mono table, I only collect the mono releases. Anyway, they are excellent. I haven't heard the stereo.

I find that  the DG Archiv Productions are often wonderful. Try a recording by the Musica Antiqua Koln, headed up by Reinhard Goebel. . Compositions from underappreciated composers played with passion and verve. Excellent sound quality,too. I actually saw them perform live when they came to L.A.

Over the years I have listened to a thousand plus LSC records, and compared back to back often more than dozen different copies of the same album in one sitting. On systems that got huge grins and thumbs up from seasoned audiophiles.

Here's my brief opinion about LSC in a few bullet points:

*The sound quality ranges from ABYSMAL to STELLAR, even for the same album. So, if you heard a copy, it could have been anywhere on the spectrum. Don't judge all based on a single experience.

*You MUST look at the deadwax, and learn how to read it. It will tell you with almost certainty whether it will sound superb or junk. There's also individual variations per albums, but the deadwax will tell you with 90+% accuracy what you can expect.

*Records pressed in the Indianapolis plant are the best. Very rare to find big disappointments from them.

*Records pressed in the Hollywood plant: I sadly learned that when I see the H stamped in the deadwax, better to let that go without a listen. Even if it's a first pressing in mint condition, a mid pressing Indiana will sound noticeably much better. I keep them only when there's no Indy pressing.... although in such cases, when only H mastered and pressed a more limited album, they did a much better job compared to just keeping up the numbers on a best-seller when Indy was maxed out.

*Early versus late pressing makes all the difference with LSC. First lacquers tend to be jaw-droppers, 2nd through 4th pretty good, 5th-9th oookay, 10th plus mediocre at best...sadly, I have seen lacquers in the high 30- 40 count, even 60! Anything above 20th lacquer or so is pure junk, not even the shade of an early lacquer. When I listened to such lacquers back to back, I often have to double check whether the album covers got mixed up, as a 2nd lacquer VS a 30th lacquer will sound as a completely different recording, different performers playing different music. Very early VS very late: there is a TREMENDOUS information loss with RCA, MUCH WORSE than Philips, Decca, EMI... etc. With other labels early pressings are still quite a bit a step up, but I have never seen then use such worn out lacquers and stampers as RCA does.

*The earlier LSCs (Shaded dog et al) used high quality vinyl. Later on, as vinyl got more expensive RCA started cutting the budget and used less, and much lower quality vinyl to press. Hence, the Dynagroove frisbies are quite noisy (loud noisefloor) in comparison to the Shaded dogs. 

*The early LSCs relied heavily on the ingenuity of the cutting engineer to transfer amazing dynamics to the record. (You might have heard of the name of George Piros, a legend in the industry.) Later on theycomputerized the process, so the cutting lathe was automatically controlled by a computer instead of the cutting engineer. (Mind you, there were only a few cutting engineers for the entire recording industry who could cut with exceptional dynamics.) The computerized process was a hit-or-miss, largely miss. Was called Dynagroove. Dynagroove used automatically controlled cutter optimization to squeeze more music onto a single side, but was not as good at cutting exceptional dynamics. Combined with the poor vinyl quality used, this often led to serious audible deficiencies. Comparing the Dynagroove re-releases of the earlier Shaded Dogs, I always found that the Dynas were a very very far cry. Yet, if you have a very late lacquer Shaded dog, it might sound worse than a first lacquer Dyna. Compare two first lacquers of Shaded Dog / Dyna, and in every case you will donate the Dyna to a less involved music lover. 

*Just because it's Dynagroove, it might not sound bad. Heard a few excellent Dynas. The pre-requisites: pressed in Indiana and early lacquers.

*Q: Are LSCs colored, or what? => A: Phono EQ is vital. If your phono stage plays EMI or early Columbia with perfect tone and timre and spatial and dynamics contrasts, then it is guaranteed that the LSCs will sound colored and mushed, often even distorted. This is true for every label, every record: to tell whether it's of high or low recording quality, you MUST play it back with the proper EQ curve. In case you are wondering about proper EQ for LSC, RCA made public their recommended phono circuitry to play back their albums with. (Google up RCA phono, easy find). Build it with high(est) quality parts, with an excellent power supply, and perhaps you will be very much surprised if you think of LSC as lowly.

Have fun! ;



@edcyn Yes, I too am a fan of Musica Antiqua Köln but sadly they are no longer. I lived in Nippes Köln (the outer ring) as a graduate student. I love that city and still listen via stream WDR 3 consistently. I wanted to also add that Archive Productions released a number of 7 inch 45's and they sound amazing. I'm aware that much of the AP catalogue has been transferred to CD but I am a skeptic just because the vinyl is so rich and clear.

Does anyone have experience with the Soviet Russian label Melodia? I have a nice sounding LP of the Ukrainian State Philharmonic. Was just wanting to hear your thoughts.

@realworldaudio I've played some really good sounding Dynagroove pressings. I believe Lewm stated the same. I never got excitement from playing RCA Victor Shaded Dog pressings. Maybe it's because of all the filtering that was originally used but the Analogue Production reissues crush the originals. At least on my stereo.



Wow… that is some in depth knowledge on a pretty esoteric subject. Also, really interesting. Thank you for your post. It is typical for any label to have variable sound quality. Although some are better than others. I do remember one or two having high levels of surface noise. I’ll have to look at them more carefully.


Also, you reminded me of different equalization curves… which my phono stage has as an option. I’ll have to be careful to use them.


Thank you for the info.

@realworldaudio   that is a spectacular post!  Thank you very much.  I think that most of us on this forum understand much (maybe even most) of what you stated.  But how incredibly well you laid it out is a work of art.  Thanks again, very much appreciated.