This year I decided to participate in as many of the audio shows as possible…including the Capitol AudioFest, which just wrapped up in Silver Spring, Maryland. This year’s event was a major step up from the business park Crowne Plaza Hotel for a number of reasons. The most important, from my personal perspective, was the absence of bed bugs. Last year I woke up one morning with red bites all over my body (I will never stay in a Crowned Plaza Hotel again…they blamed me for the numerous bites that I suffered!).
The CAF benefited from the location in downtown Silver Spring. Unlike the corporate park location of last year, you can walk outside the door of the Sheraton and within a few minutes walk be at a good restaurant or city center filled with families, young people and seniors. The hotel was also better suited to an audiophile show. There are lots of individual rooms and good traffic flow with four elevators from the lobby, I think Gary switched to a much better hotel and I hope he returns to the Sheraton next year.
I stopped by Greg Beron’s Unite Home Audio room last evening for a brief listen to some of his analog reel to reel machines, MBL electronics and speakers playing 15 ips stereo tapes. Greg hosts evening listening session after hours to allow visitors to relax and enjoy his system without the hustle and bustle of the day. He was playing Steely Dan’s Aja when I walked in. It sounded really great! I wasn’t even in the best location but was honestly impressed with the sound. It was warm and punchy with a decent amount of high end. Not bad at for a classic platinum pop/rock recording from the late 70s that has been identified by the library of Congress as a culturally important creative work. It didn’t hurt that this was music that I knew very well and associated with a very special time in my life.
Figure 1 – Walter Becker and Donal Fagen – Steely Dan
But what I wouldn’t give to have a 5.1 surround mix in full HD-Audio. It turns out that DTS Entertainment acquired a license from Universal Music Group to prepare a surround version of the record. But when the multitrack masters for “Black Cow” and the title track couldn’t be located, the project was scrapped. According to Wikipedia article on the album, Donald Fagen has offered a monetary reward for the any information leading to the return of the missing multitrack tapes.
In reading the credits for the album, I was pleased to see the name Joe Bellamy listed as one of the second engineers on the project. I worked for Joe as his second engineer when he was engineering at Mama Jo’s studio in North Hollywood. I remember him talking about the very exacting process they went through in the recording of the basic tracks for the album. They had two or three different rhythm sections come in and work up the tracks and then they would compare them and pick the one with the best feel.
It takes me back 30 plus years to the magic of 24-track analog tape and the very different production processes that we used to make records. The United Home Audio room playing analog tape took me back but I can’t help but think how incredible those productions would sound mixed in surround and released without being mastered at all. I can only dream.