ML4001 Glossy Blue Label
Columbia invented the Long Playing Microgroove record.  The picture above is Microgroove 12-inch classical LP number one.  The Columbia introductory catalog of 105 classical and popular recordings, both 10-inch and 12-inch, was released on June 21, 1948.  The press demonstration was on June 19.  This edition of the blue classical label is the earliest.  The musical note and microphone logo to the left is the identifier for a record pressed in 1948-49.  The pop recordings used a similar red label.  Green was used for broadway shows.

Columbia ML4001, Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor, Nathan Milstein Violin, Bruno Walter conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York, Recorded: May 16, 1945, Carnegie Hall, New York City.; Original 78 rpm release: set M-577 (mx XCO 34739 -- XCO 34708). Original LP release: ML 4001; Session producer: Goddard Lieberson; Originally Released 1945; Mono recording, Bruno Walter Edition, SMK 64459

ML4001 was mastered direct-to-disc on 16-inch lacquer.  By 1949 magnetic tape was used for mastering.

The following is an extract from the Sony website (a few years ago): A Brief History of the Sony Classical Label
.  This page has evidently been removed from the Sony website.

"In 1948, Columbia gained a formidable edge on its competitors with the introduction of long-playing 33-1/3 rpm records (in 10" and 12" formats), establishing a new industry standard that would hold for almost 40 years. The first 12" recording, released on June 28, 1948, and selling at a premium price of $4.85, featured violinist Nathan Milstein in the Mendelssohn Concerto in E minor with Bruno Walter conducting the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York; the first 10" 33-1/3 recording (selling for $3.85) featured Walter conducting Beethoven's Symphony No. 8."

Billboard Magazine July 3, 1948 published the entire first release of Columbia Microgroove recordings.  ML2001, Beethoven's 8th, is number one in the list of 10-inch classical recordings.

Columbia began to master classical music at 33 RPM years before the first releases in 1948.  The 78s were mastered simultaneously with the 16-inch lacquer masters at 33 RPM.  The 33 RPM masters were shelved in anticipation of the planned release of the Microgroove LP in 1948.  RCA had released a long playing 12-inch vinyl record in the 1930s.  It failed because of excessive groove wear.  The available cartridges tracked too heavy for vinyl.  The RCA had a 1.5-mil groove.

The Columbia Microgroove LP introduced the 1-mil groove that was the industry standard until stereo converted to a .7-mil groove in late 1958.  Many Columbia classical recordings were released at the same time when ML4001 was put on the market.  ML4001 is technically number one because of the number.

The earliest blue labels were glossy.  The later blue labels were flat finish and continued until the new Columbia gray label was introduced in 1955.  There are several variations of the blue label.

The following is from High Fidelity Magazine, April 1976, Volume 26, Number 4.  An interview with Edward Wallerstein (1891-1970).
I insisted that our setup be built so that everything that was recorded at 78 rpm was also done at 33 rpm on 16-inch blanks. This gave Columbia a tremendous advantage over its competitors, who, when the LP finally appeared, were forced to make copies from their old, noisy shellac records for any material predating tape. RCA issued many of these old records with words of apology for their poor quality printed on the jackets. Columbia had masters of good quality going back almost ten years, and this made a great deal of difference in our early technical superiority................
Columbia also had an advantage in that we were the first people in the U.S. to use tape for master recording. Murphy was one of the first to see a German Magnetophon tape recorder in newly liberated Luxemburg after the war. He quickly packed it up and shipped it back to CBS. Not long thereafter both EMI and Ampex came out with machines, and we immediately placed an order for both. By mid-1947 (see note below), we were using them and had discontinued direct disc cutting. The Ampex proved to be the better machine, so we sent the EMI machines back. Of the originally issued LPs about 40% were from tape originals".  (end of Wallerstein quote)

NOTE: mid-1947: Columbia archival information indicates 1949 to be the actual beginning of taped masters being used in the manufacturing of records. 


The early Columbia direct-to-disk recordings may sound lifeless through solid state circuitry, but can have remarkable fidelity when played through vintage tube systems.  They were usually quickly worn out with the metal needle cartridges of the era.  The G.E. (some were diamond tipped) magnetic cartridge, introduced in 1946, was already on the market when the LP was released.  It is possible to find blue labels that are not severely worn.  The General Electric cartridge had enough compliance to play vinyl without damage, if the stylus was not severely worn.

ML4001 cover released 1948


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