Dr. AIX's POSTS — 02 March 2015

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Whether you’re a fan of Mark Knopfler or not, you should check out the Henrik Hansen film of his creative process during the recording of his album “Tracker”. You can view it on YouTube or Vimeo by clicking here. I am a fan and found the five minute video very interesting and very nicely done. Mark Knopfler is widely recognized as one of the best songwriters and musicians of his generation.

I haven’t heard the new album yet (it will be released on the 16th of March) but from the hints given by the selections on the film, I’m very tempted to purchase it. But I’ll have to choose carefully which version of the project to buy. The Universal Music Site sells four different versions of the project. There’s a standard CD for $14.00, a “Deluxe” CD which includes 4 bonus tracks and carries a $18.50 price tag, Box Set that has the Henrik Hansen video, plenty of photos, a book, the “deluxe” version of the CD at $92.00, and finally a double vinyl LP version for $28.00. As of today, I didn’t see the album at the HDtracks website.

Imagine if Mark Knopfler had also included a 5.1 surround Blu-ray Pure Audio version of the disc as well as the formats mentioned above. I would definitely be more interested if he had…more interested than purchasing a double vinyl LP. But he and his label decided against doing a high-resolution, surround release…instead there’s lots of talk about how this entire album was produced using “analog” equipment. But if you watch the video carefully you’ll notice several images of a Pro Tools screen (see below). How can a new recording be both an analog recording (for the alleged “warmth and sound”) and be done on Pro Tools, the ubiquitous digital audio workstation that dominates the market for professional studios?

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Figure 1 – A shoot from the “Tracker” video showing the Pro Tools screen augmented with the CLASP system.

Mark and his engineer recorded the entire album in the digital domain. This is NOT an analog recording, which I’m sure will disappoint hard-core analog tape lovers. Unfortunately, there’s no indication of the PCM sample rate in anything I was able to find online although I would be very surprised if they used 44.1 kHz (the native rate for CDs). My guess is that they used 88.2 kHz at 24-bits and downconverted to CD spec during the mastering stage. So why would so many people be buzzing about the headline, “Mark Knopfler records new album in analog!”?

CLASP is a fairly recent innovation that inserts an analog tape machine in between the source audio and the recording on PT. CLASP is an acronym for Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor. It turns out that analog tape machines are able to record AND playback at the same time. The REPRO head peels off the newly recorded audio just a split second after the RECORD head put it on the tape and pass it along to the Pro Tools track. The “euphonic” quality of the short trip on analog tape is then imprinted on the digital Pro Tools rig after going through an analog to digital conversion. Engineers and producers get the alleged “benefits” of analog tape and the flexibility of a PCM digital audio workstation.

It seems like a lot of trouble to me…but for those interested in real analog tape sound, this is nice compromise. But what do you call it? Contrary to the articles and marketing for “Tracker”, this is not an analog recording. The tracks exist only on the Pro Tools system. However, the “quality” of analog tape has been maintained by going through the CLASP system. If I had my way, I’d record without the compromises of analog tape because you can always pass the tracks through a 24-track tape machine later but if you reduce the fidelity of the source tracks you can’t ever claim high-resolution status…although I’m sure they’ll try.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Is CLASP just a ploy to satisfy analog devotees who don’t believe digital can ever do an analog sound? Or do you think it is impossible to create a digital tool that emulates the transform of an analog tape loop accurately? I’d be astonished if CLASP was the only way to get that sound…….

    • CLASP is simply a tool that keeps analog tape “sound” relevant in a Pro Tools world. The plugins that try to do the same thing don’t sound as good as the real thing…but they are close. Personally, I would rather record in High-Res and then apply fidelity reducing processes as I want later.

  2. That’s a shame. No matter if your an analog or digital person your going to get what you’ll feel is a compromised recording. Only people that will be happy is the analog guy that never looks beyond the marketing lie that this is a pure analog recording when it isn’t. 🙁

  3. I suppose this is the equivalent of using tube based amplification for reproducing digitally recorded and distributed music. Many people like how the added distortions sound. My problem is with marketing and hype. Btw I’m sure soon enough there will be a digital filter succesfully simulating how analogue tape sounds, the way it has been done already with older analog recording equipment and amps. But that will be digital so ‘no good’… Musicians need a crash course on ‘digital’. If they can be hyped what one can expect of their fans? Good thing such things are virtually non existent in the classical music world. They probably don’t care about sound quality..

    • I agree that the choice of recording technologies is a decision by engineers, artists, and producers. This is simply another way to live in the past.

  4. Don’t worry, by the time it’s been mastered and compressed half to death, any distinctive sonic contribution from the original recording will have been eliminated.

    • Not so Roderick. CD Mastering by Bob Ludwig and Vinyl cutting by Bernie Grundman in LA directly..both from THE 1″ Stereo Analog Master. What happens when radio get a hold of it is another story but from us, it’s pretty ….well, have a listen yourself.

  5. As Alice in Wonderland said,”Curiouser and Curiouser”..

  6. Hey Mark

    Read your post, watched the video and popped in my B/D of John Gorka. Just imagine that

  7. I’m a huge Knopfler fan and the recording sounds good in either format. But the “all analog” claim is disingenuous at best and definitely misleading “marketing speak”.

    Since your article the “Tracker” album has been released as a “HiRes” download. I put it in quotes not because I’m not a complete dis-believer in hi res (if done properly) but a look at the spectrograms for this recording show no information above the Redbook 44.1cut off.

    Comparing my CD with a friend’s download at 24-192 sounds no different whatsoever on a $2500 balanced headphone ->DAC -> dedicated headphone amp set-up.

    Although by no means a high end set-up, it is certainly better than average and does reveal the difference between good and bad recording/mastering.

    I’m becoming more skeptical of hi-res offerings as time goes on because I’ve heard Redbook that sounds as good when done right (ie. little compression and a fairly flat transfer from a well done master).

    These old rockers releasing >$100 box sets is getting old already and it just got started. Guess they have to attract enough deep-pocketed customers to pay for all the new technology.

    I wonder how those recordings from the 1950’s ever managed to sound so good?

    • Thanks Peter…your observations are exactly why using CLASP or analog tape at the beginning of a project shortchanges the possibility for a high-resolution download later. Too bad.

  8. Pardon the repetition and grammar mistakes in the above reply. I see no editing function for comments and my proof reading isn’t so good on a tablet 😉

  9. Hi Mark, the engineer you speak of in this article is myself….Guy Fletcher. I’d like to clarify a few misconceptions you have highlighted/created. Firstly, this IS to all intents and purposes an analog recording. Everything was recorded onto tape (using CLASP) and then resided in the Pro Tools system at 96k 24bit. ALL overdubs were treated in the same way and any ‘comping’ from multiple takes we did, were done in the digital domain. The album was mixed (using individual outputs) on an API Legacy console DIRECTLY to 1″ stereo analog tape and the CD and Vinyl were BOTH cut directly from this analog master (no digital there). The only (very small) compromise to this otherwise entirely analog project was the A-D and D-A conversion into and out of the DAW for which we use Prism converters as we rate these very highly. The reaction to the sonic quality of the record speaks for itself.

    I’m happy to answer any questions about this or any other MK or GF project on my website. http://www.guyfletcher.co.uk

    thanks
    Guy

    • Thanks very much to reaching out to me and for the comments. I’m running off to the university this morning but will be back in touch.

    • i’m no music sound techie – though I am a huge fan of the work of mark knopfler/guy fletcher – and i can honestly say that i have never read so many positive comments about the sonic qualities of an album.

      check out his website as he suggests.

      it’s also filled with great tracks, and MK’s work keeps getting better with each album – how they will beat this one is beyond me, but don’t bet against it. i said that after ‘privateering’….and i am pretty sure they went and did it.

      • As I mentioned, I’m a huge fan of Mark Knopfler and I know that the analog sound that Guy and the rest of the production team achieved served the project well. I can only imagine how much better it would sound if I had been able to get a split of the mics through the console before the CLASP system.

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