Analog Tape Dr. AIX's POSTS — 11 July 2015

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The production of an album can be accomplished using a lot of different approaches and techniques. The purist approach involves getting the artist/band to perform their set in the studio and a recording engineer capturing a live mix to a stereo recorder. Jared Sachs uses a version of this technique when he produces his DSD classical projects. I think I would be too nervous to lock down my mixes at the time of the performance but I do understand the basic concept.

The Stereophile family of sites sent out the AnalogPlanet newsletter the other day and I clicked on an album review that Michael Fremer wrote about Jerome Sabbagh’s new project called “The Turn”. Michael loves this project and rated both the music and the sound a “10” from the vinyl LPs. It’s unclear what the maximum rating is because the graphic shows an “11” above the “10” but maybe it’s the Marshall Amp thing from the movie “Spinal Tap”. Anyway, he’s very complimentary and discussed at length the process that Jermone and his production team went through to successfully produce a limited run of 180-gram vinyl LPs.

However, the production “provenance” of this project involves some compromises that are unusual. The album was recorded “the way records used to be made”. Engineer James Farber brought Jermome and his quartet in to Sear Sound and in a single session captured over an hour of material. The project resulted in a double disc album…that’s four sides of 180-gram vinyl. The engineer miked up the instruments, balanced and EQ’d them through an analog console, and then recorded them on a stereo analog reel-to-reel tape machine.

But the budget wasn’t large enough to allow the purchase of sufficient raw tape stock to cover the entire session, so “the choice was made to record, bounce to high resolution digital and re-use the tape”. It was at this point in the article that I dropped my jaw. Why in the world would a knowledgeable artist and engineer allow this to happen? The cost of a 1/4″ reel of tape is about $65 per reel. At 15 ips (inches per second) that 2500′ reel will provide about 30 minutes of recording time. Now I don’t know the hourly cost of the studio but “bouncing” from the analog master tape takes real time. Therefore, in order to re-use a reel of tape containing 30 minutes of music will tape 30 minutes (or more). I can’t imagine that the cost of the studio is less than $100 per hour making the cost saving almost meaningless. Not to mention that the background noise of a new reel of tape is substantially quieter than recording over a used tape. IMHO they should have purchased the tape and then sold whatever they didn’t use. Cost savings should have been applied somewhere else.

There “is no analog master tape of the entire record”. What a shame. Doug Sax mastered the record for digital distribution on CD and “high-resolution” download. I checked and the album is available in “Audiophile 192kHz/24bit & 96kHz/24bit” AIFF files on HDtracks. Nowhere on the HDtracks album page is there any mention of the analog tape to high-res digital transfer provenance of this album. This information is available and should be included in the “About This Album” section. This is prime example of a “Hi-Res Transfer”…from analog tape to high-res digital.

I imagine that the recording sound great…I’m not going to download the album and do an analysis.

The artist funded the vinyl LP mastering (also by Doug Sax) and production of 500 limited edition copies through Kickstarter. They raised $10,570! If they had only thought of raising the money before they recorded over the tape! Choosing to compromise the “all analog signal path” seems rather shortsighted to me.

To be continued…

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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.

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