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?
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.