Dr. AIX's POSTS — 18 April 2015

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Today is Record Store Day 2015. It’s a day dedicated to celebrating the venerable and market resurgence of the vinyl LP. There’s no chance that vinyl LPs will become mainstream like they were prior to digital music recording and distribution but it’s nice to see advocates rally around local record outlets.

The event brings out devotees both young and old. I’ve seen pictures of customers lined up waiting to enter their favorite record store for a chance to thumb through aisles of vintage vinyl. There’s also a lot of new vinyl LPs being produced and released. I heard a piece on NPR about one of the biggest duplication facilities having to double its capacity. Lest we get too excited and attack too much significance to the increasing popularity of spinning pieces of black 180 or 200-gram vinyl, keep in mind that total revenue from vinyl LPs in 2014 amounted to only 2-3%. There is a lot of hype associated with vinyl LPs, most of it exaggerated.

However, today artists like Dave Groh and Foo Fighters, Steve Earle and Dresden Dolls will be at different shops around the country and in fact, around the world to show off their new vinyl LPs.

One notable development this year is the release of Elvis’ historic first recording on Third Man Records. A few months ago, on what would have been Elvis’ 80th birthday, Jack White outbid all competing bidders and acquired the only existing acetate of that session. It was made in 1953 at The Memphis Recording Service (home of the Sun Record Label) in Memphis, TN. According to the Sun Records website, “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” were recorded by for around $4.00. The studio owner wasn’t around, so his assistant, Marion Keisker handled the session. Elvis wants to see what his voice sounded like on a record and he had aspirations to become a professional singer. He took the acetate home, and reportedly gave it to his mother as a much-belated extra birthday present.

Acetates are one offs…they are not used to duplicate multiple copies…so the $300K that Jack White spent on this little piece of history may have been a great deal. Especially as he had the acetate transferred to PCM digital by legendary music archivist Alan Stoker at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Take a look at the video below of the transfer session:

Video 1 – The transfer of the Elvis acetate to digital by Alan Stoker.

Third Man Records is planning to release a facsimile of this transfer without any alterations or restoration work today as part of the Record Store Day events. There are plans to restore the recording and remaster it for a 7″ vinyl record at some point in the future.

As I watched the video, I was surprised that Alan didn’t use high-end equipment. I’m not an expert on state-of-the-art turntables and preamps but it seems to me that given the historic nature of this recording AND the importance of getting this final transfer done right, they might have sought out studio equipped with state-of-the-art gear. I’m not say that Alan isn’t competent but I think it could have been done better.

It’s not unlike the analog “masters” that are being transferred by junior studio engineers at the major labels using their standard 2-track machines. There are regular studio reel-to-reel machines and then there are state-of-the-art transfer machines that spare no expense to get every last bit of fidelity off of a master tape. There is a difference.

I don’t know anything about the sample rate, word length, or equipment used during the transfer but I can be pretty sure that they didn’t use the Plangent Process or the latest ADC with the project. It’s a shame…I’m not a huge Elvis fan but this is a project that deserves extraordinary care and attention…just as ALL transfers to high-resolution formats should. We’re taking something from the past and future proofing it.

Don’t be surprised if this decidedly standard resolution, marginal fidelity digital transfer shows up as a high-resolution digital download on the usual sites…with a Hi-Res Music logo! I couldn’t resist.

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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.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. Just a quick comment regarding the front end to playback the Elvis track. The turntable used was a Technics SP10 or SP15 by the look of it and the arm an early SME, not too sure about the cartridge but at least he talked about the stylus profile to avoid surface noise. The detachable headshell allowed quick swaps for the cartridge but there was no VTA adjustment and using a stereo cartridge was not the best option but probably all he had.

    The cleaning process for the record should have been more extensive than a quick wipe over and playing the record wet, here it was seriously remiss IMV. Not a state of the art transfer but a quick and dirty solution without forethought to the uniqueness of the event at all. Maybe after blowing 300k on buying this disk he went cheap arse on the transfer!

  2. The source recording was a 78 rpm (by the look of it on the video) acetate, and as you have often mentioned, the sonic limitations of supposedly higher fidelity LPs make them far from HiRes in quality. Isn’t it a bit inconsistent to assume that state-of-the-art gear would somehow have extracted more sonic detail in this case?

    As the old saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

    • I can’t be sure that a better playback setup would have resulted in a better transfer but why wouldn’t you opt for the very best available? Seems to be a case of penny wise and pound foolish to me.

      • Holy Gods of Acetatel Batman!,
        Mark can’t you hear all that wonderful analog warmth, inner detail, the soul in the music. I’ll bet Mikey Fremer nominates it for Records to Die For of the Year! The guys at Acoustic Sounds will for sure release it as a 11.2MHz Quad rate DSD.

        Snap, crackle, pop! Rice Krispies 😉

  3. Hello. I believe that the ONLY and special WAY to transfer this ELVIS JEWEL acetate and ALL but ALL and OLD (also news) vinils is the only one in the world machine capable to make and aquasi excelent and unique job,this is the ELPJ LASER TURNTABLE thats born and died in U.S.A in 1982, but and a special japanese men BUY the product in U$S 23.000.000 in 1999 (yes 23M), and now at presente they make this machine without ANY type of cartridge,with minimun NOISE,this is the machine thats make the apropiate TRANSFER only,NO PHISICAL CONTACT. Look in ELPJ.COM.GOD BLESS THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE TRANSFERS OF OLD GOOD MUSIC.Please Mr. professional audio ingenieros,use the apropiate TOOLS.

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