Digital Recording As A Master Tape? Nope.

I’ve been focused on finishing and laying out the “Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Audio” as of late. I apologize for not getting more posts on this site. Bear with me for another month or so.

A reader linked me to an article by Michael Fremer over at Analog Planet titled, “Analogy Records Sells Only Master Tapes“. I read the piece, the comments, and even posted a comment of my own. Once again, the allure of analog tape is being used to sell “master tapes”, but the tapes aren’t made from analog masters!

In the ABOUT US section of their website:

“Analogy Records is the world’s first record label to produce contemporary artists at its recording studio, distributing ORIGINAL MASTER TAPES.

Instead of producing copies from any pre-existing master, for each order Analogy Records produces an original master directly from the multi-track recording system, thus removing an additional stage. No first generation copies but only original Master Tapes, in order to ensure the best listening experience ever.”

One of the commenters on the Analog Planet site correctly pointed out that “Original master tapes are either the first generation mix from multitracks (or original unprocessed recordings) used for archival purposes and for actually mastering the commercial copies of the recording.”

The Analogy Records representative replied, “That’s exactly what we’re doing, printing from the studio’s multitrack system via analog mixing (or summing if you prefer the term) to 1/4″ tape. Sincerely I don’t know any other term to define a mix that jumps out from the mixer main out hitting the tape.”

What’s missing from this discussion is the fact that the “master tapes” being sold are first generation copies of high-resolution digital masters—not analog master multitrack tapes. To the analog tape purists of the world, this completely discounts their value. These are not analog productions!

Several years ago, I had the same idea. I have a large catalog of amazing sounding high-resolution music titles. I offered to make first generation (“master tapes”) copies of my digital masters available to reel-to-reel owners. I follow a R+R group on Yahoo led by “tech guru” David Pogue and posted my idea to them. Initially, David and others were very interested in the idea. When they learned that the original source recording was made using PCM digital at 96 kHz/24-bits, David’s opinion changed. He was adamant that an analog tape made from a digital master would carry the “digititis” that was forever imprinted on the PCM digital masters. He’s completely wrong about that notion, but whatever (I have actually made copies from digital masters and had R+R purists rave about the fidelity).

I abandoned the idea. What’s the point of spending hundreds of dollars on a tape copy of a high-res music master when you could just get the high-res original? If a customer really wants the sound of analog tape, they could make their own copies at home. Or they could run the clean digital signal through an “analog tape plug-in”, which adds distortion, high-frequency hiss, scrape flutter, modulation noise, and EQ artifacts (which analog tape lovers cherish).

So Analogy Records is deliberately misleading its customers. It comes down to definitions. The guy from Analogy stated, “To clarify, in the music industry, a ‘Master’ is the final product that comes out from the recording system (whatever it is), recorded to a media (tape, DAT, lathe, file etc.). This ‘Master’ is then used to create copies of different media.” Once again the “provenance” issue becomes relevant. He’s both right and wrong. What he says is technically correct but practically wrong because he doesn’t talk about the digital multitracks used to make the copies.

Analogy Records isn’t selling “master tapes”. They are selling first generation analog tape copies of high-resolution digital sources. And I’ll bet that they sound great…better than the third generation Tape Project tapes that go for hundreds of dollars. But they should rightly be called “high-resolution to analog transfers”.

Why would you name your company “Analogy Records” and use “Studio Original Master Tapes” as your tag line, when you’re not using “master tapes” as your source? It seems to me that this is a misleading, money grab pitch to analog tape lovers. If this works for them, then I should offer analog tape copies of my catalog. Hmmm…


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.

28 thoughts on “Digital Recording As A Master Tape? Nope.

  • Rodrian Roadeye

    I’m sure that Neil Young has a lot of “authentic” analog masters of his own material as he has always hated digital.

    • Glen Scott

      Analogy Records Sells Only Master Tapes
      By Michael Fremer • Posted: Feb 11, 2016 • Published: Feb 10, 2016 The label is called “Analogy Records” but for now it doesn’t sell records. It only sells “master tapes”.
      How can it do that? It records its artists to multitrack digital at 192/32 bit and then if you order a copy, it mixes down from the multitrack recording to produce an analog master tape that you get.
      He actually does acknowledge that these tapes are made from Digital files in his post.

      • Yep, I missed that line when I authored the post. It’s disappointing that he didn’t explain the ramifications…but oh well.

        • Typically, a 16 bit analog-to-digital converter may have a dynamic range of between 90 to 95 dB (Metzler 2005:132), whereas the signal-to-noise ratio (roughly the equivalent of dynamic range, noting the absence of quantization noise but presence of tape hiss) of a professional reel-to-reel 1/4 inch tape recorder would be between 60 and 70 dB at the recorder’s rated output (Metzler 2005:111). 24 bit can have a dynamic range of 144 db. That is a huge range for a recording engineer to be able to work with.

          This is an advantage that recording in digital has over recording in analog and why off the bat it is easier to deal with. Bob Ludwig one of the greatest recording engineers of all time, liked digital because at last, recording drums could come much closer to the original event whereas before, you had to use compression or a lot of other tricks. Getting wrapped up in a lack of standard is a bit silly because how the final product sounds is a collaboration between the producer, engineer and artist so what is used will change based upon what end product needs to sound like.

          Many feel that final mixing process sounds better in analog, that may be true depending on what is trying to be achieved. But thinking that somehow the final product is “less than” because it was recorded in digital, or that digital is anywhere in the chain, just shows a lack of understanding of the complete recording chain of events that takes place.

          • So true…I’ve made analog tape copies from analog sources and digital high-res sources and found that reel-to-reel advocates preferred the digital sourced fidelity.

  • Hello Mark
    Maybe you could clarify for us just how a typical recording session operates. If theses artist want analog recordings then they could record direct to disc or tape and call it good. But what your saying is everything is converted to digital, then back to analog again for these purist. Is it fair to say there is no recording standard in the music industry?.

    • If an artist/producer wants to stay in the analog domain they can choose a variety of production methods. There is not standard way to create a released album. It could be Pro Tools in combination with analog tape, which gets called “100% analog”, it could be DSD mixed through an analog mixing desk and called “analog”, or an analog multitrack that gets mixed to “analog”. No rules…too little information.

  • charlie w

    I posted the article on a hi-fi enthusiasts site on Google+ and made the same assertions: these are NOT master tapes but copies.

  • charlie w

    And Fremer’s reply is so classy

    • The anger and language that Mr. Fremer wrote to me yesterday was inappropriate to say the least. It’s upsetting and unwarranted but perhaps reflective of his style. I won’t be responding in kind. I made an error and corrected it when asked. End of story.

      • Chris Wright

        Very unfortunate use of language by Mr Fremer. Disappointed.

        • Mr. Fremer’s demeanor and foulness was completely unwarranted..and his private communication was much worse. Very crude indeed.

          I acknowledged my mistake, corrected the mistake, and apologized to him via private email. He’s obviously got an axe to grind.

          • Chris Wright

            I have been fortunate enough to attend a few events involving Michael Fremer at old London HiFi shows and had nothing but the deepest respect for the man. However I think his elevation to the status of world spokesman on analog, although fully deserved, has gone to his head. It seems that any mention of digital is enough to incur his wrath and, of course Mark, he probably sees you as something of a digital evangelist. It’s all such a shame because he’s apparently lost any sense of balance or objectivity.

          • Chris, thanks for the observation. I’ve never had any difficulties with Mr. Fremer in the past. When I exposed the Audioquest cable situation, he wrote a couple of things that weren’t complimentary. I’m not at all interested in dueling with him…he’s sees things differently than I do and apparently has a very short fuse.

  • Mark,
    I’m somewhat confused here. Looking at Analogy’s website, I don’t see any mention of digital recordings, or any transfer being done in the digital domain? They seem to record in analog and sell in analog (tape) format. The products seem to be all their own label, recorded by Analogy, so I don’t see anything misleading. It doesn’t seem like they are taking a digital PCM master and copying it to analog tape. Am I missing something?

  • Musiklover

    Reading his comments it seems that Michael Fremer is really angry with you.

    • Michael was upset at my post yesterday which incorrectly stated that he didn’t get into the details of Analogy Records’ provenance. I missed his opening statement to that effect. He contacted me and I changed the post. His language and attitude were inappropriate and highly offensive. I apologized and have moved on.

      • Soundmind

        I post again, I don’t see how anyone who is knowledgeable in this industry can take someone who demagnetizes plastic phonograph records seriously. What’s more his boss JA IMO made a damned fool of himself again seeming to agree with him at a so called debate at a trade show some years ago taking what he heard while doing something else in a hallway outside the room where the recording was being played and NEVER once bothered himself to take the demagnetizer into his lab to test it to see if what he thought he heard was real or just a fluke of the acoustics of where he happened to be on the two occasions. There is a word for people like these; “amateurs.” I don’t know what Fremer’s background is but IMO Atkinson is no more than a glorified bench tech who happens to also be the publisher of a hobbyist audio magazine. The only people who could believe what he writes IMO are those who know even less than he does. Why else subscribe? There’s nothing there of real value. Even most of his tests are flawed.and don’t tell you the things you really need to know….like harmonic distortion of woofers.


        “Steven you were there, you heard it.”

        “Yes I heard it.”

        Yep, that proves it. Steve heard it too so it must be true.

        What was Steve supposed to do, contradict his boss in public? Last time he’d ever get to write a review for a fee for Stereophile.

        • Mark, the folks at the publications run hot and cold. I know most of the writers and editors…John Atkinson, Robert Harley, Art Dudley, Neil Gader, and more. They have their positions, preferences, and passions just like the rest of us. However, the requirements of the their jobs makes me question their judgement. If you were employed as a reviewer and your boss asked you to review a 1-meter USB cable, what would you say? I’m afraid that an honest review would be rejected by the editors because it said the cable didn’t impact the sound.

          It’s the nature of the business and the reason why I write my blog. Contrary to Mr. Fremer’s flaming comment at Analog Planet, I don’t lie and I don’t make stuff up. I have made mistakes…including about his assessment of the Analogy Records releases, which I quickly changed and then apologized to him for…but in general I want people to see past the hype and promotion.

          It’s unfortunate that the high-end publishing business is so cozy with the manufacturers.

          • Soundmind

            I don’t think you fully understand what I meant. I’m not just saying they’re lying, I’m saying they don’t know very much. Their knowledge is extremely limited and utterly inadequate. Tyros look up to them as knowledgeable experts. I look down on them like they are ants and I’m on top of the Empire State Building. Don’t think I’m being smug, I know plenty of people who are on top of Mount Everest looking down at me the same way as I look at the audio gurus. What do these people actually know? What is their training? Atkinson thinks he knows amplifiers. Could he ever write the equations for an existing design let alone design one as an electronics engineer would, not a tinkerer? Can he calculate Fourier Transforms and inverse transforms? Can he calculate negative feedback circuits? Can he even plot load lines for transistors or tubes? One thing I am certain these people do not know anything about and that is sound.

            ” If you were employed as a reviewer and your boss asked you to review a 1-meter USB cable, what would you say?”

            I’d say I’m in the wrong job. I aspire to more challenging and useful things in life. I’d say I’d wasted all my education on something that is irrelevant and meaningless. Maybe I’d shoot myself for having to do this to earn a living. Why does anyone actually even care?

          • Mark, the audio publishing business works are a variety of levels. Everyone employed to write technical reviews, music reviews etc. need have a Ph.D. to be knowledgeable…experience does count for a lot. I know enough electronics, physic, math, and science to be dangerous, but I also have 40 years of being a professional audio engineer, musician, and record producer. There is undoubtedly a lot of misleading information put out as definitive information. That’s just the way it is.

  • At the NYAS 2015, a vendor was actually using R2R to demo a lot of their high priced wares. I wonder if they used the this company’s service to cut the actual tape.

    The crowd had this sort of mixed reaction to it. On one hand, it was really cool to watch the reel spin and have Ella pop out. No doubt about it. On the other, it obviously came off gimmicky as both the price of the machine they used and whole process of switching tapes was ludicrous.

    And then of course someone asked, “Hey, how do I skip to the next track?”

    I was waiting for some analog guy to go, “What is this ‘skip’ you speak of?”

    Anyway, there is no way in hell this company can claim they are selling masters. It’s not even legal (they would agree with me). As you said Mark, they are analog copies (which in itself is fine for folks who want that).

    • Alex, I’m in touch with the guy at Analogy Records…nice guy and informed. However, he knows exactly what he’s doing with regards to his analog “masters”. Why else wouldn’t be state on his website that the sources are Pro Tools files. For him, and many others, the output of an analog mixing console into an analog tape machine creates an “analog master tape”.

      I’ve done the same thing…and I don’t consider the analog tapes “copies” since the fidelity of the high-resolution music source is so much higher than the analog tape. They are first generation “masters”. But you have to let consumers know that they came from a PCM digital source.

      • I’m going to play devil’s advocate here for the purpose of discussion:

        To produce a “master” you must engage in the act of “mastering,” which is part science, part art, and many times, part luck. I’ve always felt that the master itself is an artistic product unto itself, and at Metal-Fi, we do our darnest to treat it as such. And I’m going to make a leap of faith here and claim that you too believe that “mastering” is a skill and it takes many years to get really good at.

        As such, I don’t think you can really claim that Analog is producing real “masters” – at least in the traditional sense of the word. I think they are more akin to analog copies, since there is very little “mastering” going on. Even the example you gave with your own stuff, I’d say that the “mastering” happened in the digital domain and you copied that work into the analog one. Yeah, I agree with you, that you could probably get away with calling them “masters” but I still think what Analog is doing is more akin to an analog archival service – nothing more, nothing less.

        • Alex…thanks for the comments but I’m afraid I don’t agree with them. It is not necessary to “master” a recording to have a master. The process of mastering a record in preparation for release is challenging and requires skill, experience, good ears, great equipment, and musicianship. But messing around with dynamics and equalization (among other processes) can diminish the fidelity of an album while making it more commercially viable. Steve Wilson doesn’t master his albums and neither do I.

          Roberto “Robbo” Vigo, the proprietor and engineer at Analogy Records, is technically correct in stating that his products are “analog tape masters”. The qualify as “masters” because they are the original output from his Pro Tools digital multitrack, analog mixer, and Thermionic Culture Little Bustard analog summing box. I have no argument with this approach. He’s certainly not alone is using analog, tube summing processors to “warm up” the “allegedly harsh” output of a digital recorder. They are “masters” but his source recordings were not done on analog tape machines and thus the “analog” pedigree that so many audiophiles desire—especially reel-to-reel owners—isn’t true. There are audio enthusiasts that believe any digital step permanently pollutes the signal. They want analog, analog, and analog all the way through the process.

          Analogy should state more clearly on their website that the original master is digital…not analog. Their multitrack master is high-resolution digital and the make first generation transfers to analog tape. It’s really that simple. Some people will be put off and others won’t.

          • Mastering prepares for transfer. If your flat transfers (mix->medium) sound great on all manner of device, more power to you. However, all that means is you did the work up front to ensure the flat transfer would happen successfully. The fact you don’t have a separate mastering stage is just semantics.

            I do stand corrected though; I should have went to his site for more details. I had THOUGHT he was making transfers of masters he was not involved in. Since that’s not the case these are indeed original masters.

            For some reason I thought he was getting masters from another engineer and transferring them to R2R.

          • Masters and mastering are two different things. There are multitrack masters that are never “mastered” and mixdown masters that may or may not be mastered.

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