VINYL CRAFTSMANSHIP

Rudy

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Curious comment about the use of tubes. Bernie Grundman's facility has two cutting lathes--one lathe uses a tube-driven electronics chain, the other solid state. So using vacuum tubes is not all that unheard of. They make the choice depending on what type of sound they want in the finished product, as tube and solid state have a different sound where one is more suited to a recording than another.

This cracked me up:

Electric Recording’s prices have drawn head-scratching through the cliquey world of high-end vinyl producers. Chad Kassem, whose company Acoustic Sounds, in Salina, Kan., is one of the world’s biggest vinyl empires, said he admired Hutchison’s work.

“I tip my hat to any company that goes the extra mile to make things as best as possible,” Kassem said.

But he said he was proud of Acoustic Sounds’s work, which like Electric Recording cuts its masters from original tapes and goes to great lengths to capture original design details — and sells most of its records for about $35. I asked Kassem what is the difference between a $35 reissue and a $500 one.

He paused for a moment, then said: “Four hundred sixty-five dollars.”
Such a classic "Chad moment" there. :laugh: He's said a few things to us in person that are not printable here--he's an unforgettable character to say the least, and doesn't pull any punches. But I will say that of all the reissue labels out there, Analogue Productions (Acoustic Sounds is the retail side, where AP is the actual record label) is doing some of the best work out there with their selection of titles, and they sound incredible.

If these records have Michael Fremer's stamp of approval, they have to be good. The article doesn't even mention Fremer's playback system, beyond a tossed-off comment about the speakers. (I think he has one of the Wilson Audio systems.) The turntable and tonearm are from Continuum Labs and at the time he purchased his, the retail price was I think $160k. (Those of us in the industry can get accommodation pricing, which he did, so he likely paid nowhere near that much.) I've heard Continuum's Obsidian/Viper combo and it is one of the best systems I've ever heard. And yes, it would be a bit above my pay grade. :D
 

Murray

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The turntable and tonearm are from Continuum Labs and at the time he purchased his, the retail price was I think $160k.
If they are made from solid unobtainium, forged in a dragon's breath, the stylus is tipped with unicorn horn, and hand assembled by elves in an enchanted forest, then that is one heck of a good deal! Otherwise, not so much. :laugh:
 

Rudy

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One thing that bothers me about some of these audiophile releases is that the artists or albums are so obscure that many of us have no interest in them. That niche is very small. Most of us who buy these just want better sounding versions than those that have been available beforehand, whether they are previous vinyl releases or digital/CD.
 

lj

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The average listener will say of the standard musical product they buy, "it's good enough for me". Thank goodness there are listeners who want a better sounding version, and fortunately that's where the vinyl craftsmen come into play.
 

Murray

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That was a very interesting article. It reminds me of a documentary I watched about a Swiss watchmaker, who makes watches completely by hand, using vintage tools. While the large companies crank out thousands of watches a day, largely assembled by robots, this guy is only able to make one or two watches a month, and they cost more than my house. Yet, wealthy collectors are willing to pay in advance, and wait for years to get theirs. Craftsmanship, and exclusivity, come at a price...

While I have no doubt that those Electric Recordings LPs would sound good, given the careful mastering and attention to detail, I know that my sound system is such that I would never get the full benefit (playing a $400 record with a $100 cartridge seems kind of silly)!

It seems that Electric Recordings' catalog is comprised of pretty old recordings, and mastered from the original tapes. That begs the question, wouldn't those tapes have degraded to some degree after having been in storage all those years? Is it possible that a clean, original LP could actually sound better, since the tape was fresh then?
 

lj

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That's a good question Murray. And here is another question. Consider the very best of the best vinyl records from the original tape--I know that the records are one generation removed from the original tape--but for average person would the high quality record and original tape (assuming the tape hasn't degraded) sound virtually indistinguishable?
 

Murray

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That's a good question Murray. And here is another question. Consider the very best of the best vinyl records from the original tape--I know that the records are one generation removed from the original tape--but for average person would the high quality record and original tape (assuming the tape hasn't degraded) sound virtually indistinguishable?
Hmm... the "average person" these days listens to compressed digital files, or low bit-rate streams, on a smartphone, through cheap earbuds, and thinks that they sound good. At home, they may play music through a little Bluetooth speaker, or listen through an app on their TV - through the TV speakers (gasp!). Can such an "average person" hear the difference between their low-quality setup, and a high-quality source played through good components and speakers? I'm sure that they can. They may be blown away by the difference. Would it matter to most of them? No. Convenience is valued over everything else. Having to carry only one device around, which contains one's telephone, computer, radio, stereo, entire music collection, watch, alarm clock, books, camera etc. is what's important, even if that device is nowhere near the best at any of those functions... it's "good enough". [/end old man rant]

As for myself, I honestly don't know if I could tell the difference between a high quality vinyl record, and the original master tape used to make it. I've never had the opportunity to hear a studio master tape, let alone do an A/B comparison with another format through the same amp/speakers. Perhaps the tape would have some hiss which would give it away?
 

Rudy

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As for myself, I honestly don't know if I could tell the difference between a high quality vinyl record, and the original master tape used to make it. I've never had the opportunity to hear a studio master tape, let alone do an A/B comparison with another format through the same amp/speakers. Perhaps the tape would have some hiss which would give it away?
That tape hiss would be on the master the record is cut from, so what you'd hear is the slight vinyl noise as the record is playing. Although with high-quality pressings on the best equipment, the vinyl noise is quiet enough that it's barely audible anyways. The type of buyers would would spend $100 or more for an audiophile record have the equipment to play it back on--$100 may not even cover the interconnect from the tonearm to the preamp. 😁 (So you can pretty much guarantee that anyone who can afford a $400 record has the right caliber of equipment to play it back on.)

The audiophile labels will cut directly from the original 2-track master if they are doing an "AAA" (all analog, in other words...it's an extension of the SPARS code on CDs) cutting. One thing I notice about those masterings is that they have less tape hiss and more immediacy and clarity than a record made from a 2nd generation or later dub (also called "safeties" or "cutting masters," where a copy of the tape already has the mastering EQ applied to it).

There have been some comparisons. One mastering engineer cut a lacquer at 45 RPM, then also mastered it for CD and DSD (which is the digital technology that SACD uses). When they listened to the playback, the 45 RPM most closely resembled the original tape. The CD had good tonality but the loss in resolution would cut back the reverb trails. The DSD's tonality was slightly off (which could have been corrected with EQ--since they weren't mastering for SACD, they only copied the tape straight over to DSD), but it retained the resolution and the reverb trails. (The reverb trails would be the decay as the sound trails off in a recording that has reverb added to it; the reverb would seem to end sooner in lower resolutions.)

45 RPM is preferred since the higher angular velocity allows higher frequencies to be cut with less distortion (the "waves" in the vinyl are more spaced apart), and the higher speed can also allow for more signal to be recorded onto the disc, which has the effect of pushing the noise further into the background (you reduce your volume on playback, in other words).
 

lj

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In the early 1960s Columbia Records heavily advertised their Stereo 360 Sound. I will be quoting directly from the upper caption on the jacket of the Tony Bennett "This Is All I Ask" album from 1963.

"Stereo 360 Sound represents the ultimate in listening enjoyment. Every aspect of recording activity has been carefully supervised by Columbia's engineers and craftsmen, using the very latest electronic equipment. Stereo 360 Sound creates the effect of surrounding the listener with glorious, true-to-life active sound. It is as if one were sitting in the first row center at an actual performance. Columbia's studios have been designed with uniform sound characteristics and are equipped with sixteen-channel consoles and custom- calibrated multi-track tape machines engineered and built in Columbia's own specifications. The microphones used are chosen for their individual sound properties depending upon the orchestration, the artist and the concept of the producer of the recording. Some of the microphones are: The Sony C37A, Telefunken-Neumann's U67, U47, M49B, KM54A, KM56, the AKG's C60, C12, and Electro Voice 655C. Only high-output tape affording maximum signal to noise ratio is used. Such tape, of great tensile strength and thickness, additionally aids in the elimination of print-through and reduction of distortion and hiss. The reduction of the original multi-track tape to the final master tape is performed on editing consoles hand-tooled by Columbia's engineering staff to accommodate any number of channels. The transfer of master tape to master lacquer is made via a Westrex or Ortofon cutter installed on a Scully lathe equipped with automatic variable pitch and electronic depth controls. Before production is begun, a master pressing is compared to the final tape (A-B checked). It is only after the recording has passed this critical test that Columbia's engineers give the final approval for manufacture, secure in the knowledge that each Stereo 360 Sound disc will have the same full-bodied, multi-dimensional sound as that originally recorded in the studio."

Wow--what a technical process!
 

Rudy

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Those early technical notes were always a blast to read. 😁 Can't say I've ever read the "360 Sound" description though! A lot of those labels in the early days had their own recording techniques and would write a lengthy description of them on the back of the jacket or on the inner sleeve. RCA had some cool sleeves describing how their brand new Living Stereo records worked. Dynagroove also had its own feature on the jackets. (Which was ironic since they bragged about low distortion, yet part of the Dynagroove process deliberately added distortion! This was later uncovered in one of the earlier issues of Stereophile back in the day.)

I miss that era, when things were always new and exciting.
 
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lj

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Rudy--your opinion please--in the recording process is a top quality microphone the key element in creating a perfect recording sound or is it all of the above elements as described in the "360 Sound"? Interestingly, per an internet search, all the microphone companies listed for use in the 360 Sound in 1963 are still around in 2020.
 

Rudy

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Rudy--your opinion please--in the recording process is a top quality microphone the key element in creating a perfect recording sound or is it all of the above elements as described in the "360 Sound"?
Microphones are an incredibly deep subject. @Bobberman knows a lot about them, primarily in voice work, but can probably explain them a lot better than I can. (I know how the different types work.)

For a recording studio's purposes, microphones all have different sounds, and there are also different types of microphones, and different pickup patterns. It's not a matter of one microphone being better than another, but more like picking the appropriate microphone for a task. Some mics are directional, so they pick up more sound in one direction than another--a drum kit might use these so adjacent drums or cymbals are not interfering. Some mics sound better in front of an electric guitar amplifier, while others might sound better on vocals or acoustic instruments. Some musicians even have a microphone preference--some prefer a condenser mic, where others would prefer a tube-driven ribbon mic from several decades ago.

A lot of the "360 Sound" idea is basically marketing talk--what they did is really not too much different from other studios. However, all the studios had their own processes. Each studio has their own rooms to record in, electronics, the brands of tape machines, a large selection of microphones, etc., which is why many studios had an identifiable sound. Listen to something like the Beatles' Abbey Road album and you can get a feel for what the EMI studio sounded like. Capitol's studios were also legendary. RCA had a handful of halls they recorded their classical recordings in, and while each hall could have a different sound, their technique (microphones, electronics, even the brand of tape they used) all gave them a signature sound.

In early A&M history, most of those early records were made at one studio--Gold Star. Gold Star Studios had their own sound via their three-track tape machines and their legendary reverb chamber, which was a concrete bunker beneath the studio. (A reverb chamber like theirs is basically a speaker and a microphone placed into an empty concrete room--the recording console can send reverb from the mixing board to the speaker, then pick up that reverb on the microphone and feed it back to the console.) This was the same reverb used by Phil Spector on his Wall of Sound productions. Other studios might have used a "plate" reverb--a giant plate of metal that they fed to a transducer that would make the plate vibrate, and a pickup that picked up the vibrations on the other end of it. Some guitar amps in the past used a spring reverb--a transducer at one end of a spring, and a pickup at the other end. These all made reverb, but through very different methods. For classical recordings, the concert halls or theaters used by the labels had their own natural reverb.

There really is a lot that goes into making a recording, and I guess the easiest thing to say is that the end result of each studio's process is what gives them each their unique sound. One isn't necessarily better than another, in other words.
 

lj

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Thanks Rudy for your explanation. You made a complex subject matter understandable.

I just thought of several more microphone questions, if you could answer. The legendary November 1962 Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall concert was held at a venue known for its legendary acoustics. And yet the concert everyone said was a sonic disaster due to the poor placement of the microphones. At many locations in the Hall people could not clearly hear the vocals and instruments. Can a poor placement of microphones negate a concert hall noted for its superior acoustics? And yet the concert recording for album and later CD release sounds extraordinary. Apparently the microphone placements had no effect upon the tape machine's excellent end product. Could you also explain that?
 

Rudy

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I can try. 😉

I don't know how that recording was made. And being 1962, I don't know if they would have amplified the sound onstage for the audience or not--I've never looked into it enough. If they did, their systems back then would have been very limited compared to what is available today (which has been a standard since the 1970s, but with many improvements in modern times).

In modern times, a live recording can be made off of the same microphones that the performers are using to amplify the sound for the audience. The microphones, and any other direct feeds from onstage instruments (for instance, an electric guitar, keyboard, etc. could be routed straight to the mixing board, although in live situations it's much rarer than in a studio), all end up at the mixing board. If they are recording the show, they may take a little extra care in microphone placement but besides that, a multichannel recorder could record all of the channels from the mixer. They have to do a mix for the audience as a live event, but at a later time, they could remix it (and add overdubs) in the studio to make it sound better on a recording that we buy. It's more complicated than that in reality, but that is the basic idea.

As for microphone placement in a live environment, it's very true that bad mic placement can sound awful. In the early days of stereo, though, engineers were able to record a full orchestra with only two mics, and some of those are still held in high regard. (RCA started with two mics, then after several years started using a center mic to fill in the middle (which was then mixed equally to the left and right channels). While the trend in recent decades has been to use a mic on individual sections or performers, there are still excellent sounding recordings being made with two mics.

Problems with bad mic placement would probably revolve around the mics being too far away from individual performers, some instruments being louder than others, or mics placed in such a way that too much of the hall ambiance is picked up relative to the music. There are also different reflections in each hall that need to be accounted for--the sound of an orchestra or performer bounces off of hard surfaces, and bad mic placement might pick up the reflections in such a way that makes the recording sound unclear.

It is possible, if that 1962 Bossa Nova concert was being amplified in addition to being recorded, the mics may have been set up to sound good to tape, but for sound reinforcement the mics may have been in a bad spot to pick up and amplify the sound properly. It's easy for louder instruments to overpower softer ones, and if the softer performers are too far from the mics, they would not be heard as well.
 

Rudy

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BTW, I should add that in modern times, there are actually two mixes going on during a live concert. There is a mix made for the audience, but there is also a mix for the musicians onstage. There are either monitors (down low on the stage) that play back towards the performers, or in the past couple of decades they have been using wireless earbuds. They need to hear a mix in order to be able to hear the other performers on stage, due to the volume levels of the music overpowering what they would hear without the monitors.
 

lj

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Thanks Rudy for your your information. This very moment I just found the following per an internet search from a Nov. 22, 1962 New York TImes review of the 1962 Carnegie Hall Bossa Nova concert: "
 

lj

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Sorry I pushed prematurely the reply button. Here is the quote from the NY Times--"They faced a forest of microphones (at least 11 by cursory count) which fed the proceedings to two government agencies, a television network and a recording company, but did relatively little for the audience in Carnegie Hall. The amplifying system reduced the Brazilian instrumental groups to a monotonous mush. Singers and guitarists who faced the microphones more or less alone fared better in that they could be heard."
 

Rudy

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It sounds like each organization had their own mics at the event.
 

lj

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Was it necessary for each organization to have their own mic? Couldn't they have shared mics? Or would that have been impossible, that is, would each organization need their own mic wired up to their own tape machine/recording device? I recall seeing old newsreels of FDR addressing Congress and at the podium he had 3 mics with one labeled NBC and the others labeled CBS and MBS. Would each mic be wired to go out to their respective radio audience? When you have the larger instrumental groups at Carnegie Hall playing before 11 mics would the inevitable outcome always be sound distortion for the audience?
 

tomswift2002

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Was it necessary for each organization to have their own mic? Couldn't they have shared mics? Or would that have been impossible, that is, would each organization need their own mic wired up to their own tape machine/recording device? I recall seeing old newsreels of FDR addressing Congress and at the podium he had 3 mics with one labeled NBC and the others labeled CBS and MBS. Would each mic be wired to go out to their respective radio audience? When you have the larger instrumental groups at Carnegie Hall playing before 11 mics would the inevitable outcome always be sound distortion for the audience?
Nowadays it’s usually up to the place holding the event. If they choose, they can have one mix and just run it too a mixer/splitter that each organization can plug into. Other locations, allow each individual organization to setup their own mic’s. As for those old newsreels, I would think that the technology was there, especially at the White House (since there are films where the old Presidents had one mic), but it was more advertising than anything else.
 

lj

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Thanks Rudy for your explanation. You made a complex subject matter understandable.

I just thought of several more microphone questions, if you could answer. The legendary November 1962 Bossa Nova at Carnegie Hall concert was held at a venue known for its legendary acoustics. And yet the concert everyone said was a sonic disaster due to the poor placement of the microphones. At many locations in the Hall people could not clearly hear the vocals and instruments. Can a poor placement of microphones negate a concert hall noted for its superior acoustics? And yet the concert recording for album and later CD release sounds extraordinary. Apparently the microphone placements had no effect upon the tape machine's excellent end product. Could you also explain that?
I went to my Ruy Castro book "Bossa Nova" and on pp. 248-249 in reference to the 1962 Carnegie Hall concert he wrote: "All of the microphones worked well except for the internal sound microphones of the theater itself. Frey's team, overly preoccupied with recording a disc of the show, had paid little attention to this particular detail." Where would the internal sound mics be placed? Along the wall of the theater? At the foot of the stage? What kind of sound check should have been made for them, but apparently was not done? Are internal sound mics like today's boundary mics? Would this mean that the "forest of microphones" on stage would not amplify sound to the audience, but only feed the sound directly to their sponsors, that is, Audio-Fidelity, CBS, Voice of America, USIA, BBC, Radio Free Europe, and Radio Bandeirantes? So in essence, without the internal sound mics working properly, the audience truly heard an acoustical performance and depending on their seating, a very poor acoustical sound.
 
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