As part of the CE Week event last week, The Recording Academy® Producers and Engineers Wing celebrated the 25th anniversary of Sony’s Legacy Recordings by giving them a Certificate of Merit “acknowledging its excellence in producing and archiving digitally remastered titles, on a continuing basis, for more than 25 years”. The event was held at Battery Studios, a historic studio in midtown Manhattan. I was honored to be able to attend this rare event, which included listening sessions and audio demonstrations by the very talented engineers that bring us the very best versions of music from the Sony catalog…as high-resolution transfers from standard-res analog tapes.
Dave O’Donnell, the producer and engineer of the new James Taylor album “Before the World”, and I took the subway uptown following my last demo session in the basement of the Altman Building. Dave was kind enough to head into the city early enough to hear my presentation of real high-resolution audio in full 5.1 surround before we went to the Battery Studios event.
Dave used to have his studio in the building when it was the Record Plant. They’ve redone the place since Dave housed his business there…it’s got a lovely rooftop garden, illuminated artwork on the walls, and a very long list of both analog and digital playback machines. There’s a lot of history at this place. In fact, it was the last place that John Lennon used before his tragic death in 1980. Here’s a picture that I took of a photo pinned to the wall of Matt Cavaluzzo’s room.
Figure 1 – John Lennon and Yoko Ono in one of the studios at Battery Studios when it was the Record Plant.
The event began with some food and drink on the 11th floor. The weather was ideal and everyone enjoyed the roof top views of the city. Marc Finer of the DEG and Maureen Droney of the P&E Wing of NARAS gave the Certificate of Merit to John Jackson of Sony’s Legacy Recordings. It was very nice that the excellence of the work done at this facility was recognized.
Then it was time to divide the large group into manageable subgroups and visit the three studios for the demos. Vic Anesini, a veteran engineer with a long list of credits, manned the first room that my group visited. He introduced himself and his studio, showed us a few vintage photos, and held up the boxes containing the masters for Harry Nilsson’s 1971 classic “Nilsson Schmilsson” album. Here were the original master tapes. I had to get a couple of pictures…
Figure 2 – The box and label containing the “Original Master Tape” of “Nilsson Schmilsson”. [Click to enlarge]
Here’s another photo showing the equalization setting that the late Doug Sax applied during the original mastering of this project:
Figure 3 – The box containing side one of “Nilsson Schilsson” with the penciled notes indicating the EQ used during the mastering session. [Click to enlarge]
Vic played the original digital transfer (Battery Studios uses Pacific Microsonic Model 2 ADC/DACs) and then the high-res transfer remastered version. The cymbals and snare on the original sounded a bit harsh so he used Doug’s original notes to make some adjustments. It was interesting to me that his “sonic” ideal or goal is not an arbitrary “ideal” sound. He models his work on matching the sound of the original vinyl LP from 1971. Is this what audiophiles want? Could it be made to sound better than the original?
Vic also demonstrated “Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel. Both the Nilsson and Simon and Garfunkel tracks come from an era when I was a very active listener (of vinyl LPs). Hearing these tracks from the original transfer encoded at 96/24 PCM was a revelation…for a couple of reasons. First, the engineers and Sony choose to use 96 kHz/24-bit PCM (they sometimes use 192 as well)…and this is SONY’s operation. Why wouldn’t they archive these priceless masters using DSD? When asked that very question, John Jackson said they’ve considered it but the engineers are very pleased with PCM at 96/24.
The second thing that came to mind was the absence of any audiophile tweaks in the room. No special power conditioners, standard issue IEC power cords, star quad Mogami cables ($1.50 per foot), and B&W 801 Series III speakers. Here I was at the epicenter of audio restoration and the studios didn’t use anything esoteric or tweaky. If they’re the ones establishing the sound of these masters for all time and they’re happy with regular IEC power cords, why do exotic cable companies and audio accessory manufacturers make such outrageous claims and charge premium prices for things that aren’t used in the production of new music releases? I’m just saying.
I’ll share my thoughts as my group moved to the Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck demo tomorrow.