You could be onto something with transformers. Consider all the transformers in the signal path on a
Mercury recording (and there were more with RCA and Decca because they used mixing console with
input and output transformers during recording):
1. transformers on the microphones' electronics, outputting nominally 150ohms impedence
2. transformers in and out on the Pultec MB1 preamps/distribution amps
3. transformers matching the line level from the Pultec to the grid of the second stage on the Ampex
350-type electronics (this was common, most pros feeding those things line level bypassed the mic
preamp and the attenuate-boost network used for stock line-level balanced inputs)
On cutting the records:
1. transformer ouputs on the 3-track Ampex tape recorders
2. transformer inputs and outputs on the Westrex 3-2 mixing board, also transformer split of the
center channel and transformer combine of the center with the left and right channels.
3. transformer inputs and outputs on the cutting amplifiers, and likely transformers internally on
the cutting lathe's RIAA emphasis circuitry
For Decca, the number of transformers would have been about the same.
For RCA, they dubbed their 3-tracks to a 2-track cutting master, so add in a generation of tape and
also transformers in the dubbing circuit. Same with Columbia.
Lots of iron in those old records.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Stamler" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Monday, November 17, 2014 10:24 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Recording technology
> On 11/17/2014 7:30 PM, Tom Fine wrote:
>> I've often wondered about applying the Mercury technique, including
>> using the real-deal Schoeps M201 microphones (they need restoration, but
>> they're still alive), with a modern high-resolution digital recording
>> rig. Will people like it without the "thickening" of magnetic tape? Was
>> that part of the secret with Mercury and RCA (both used the same kind of
>> Ampex tape machines for most of the best-liked recordings, and RCA used
>> somewhat similar but usually more microphones). Decca also used Ampex
>> tape machines for their early stereo recordings. How much of the beloved
>> sound is tape-related? I don't know the answer. I tend to think the love
>> is more mic-technique related but a modern all-digital version might
>> require some mastering EQ nip and tuck to thicken it out a tiny bit.
> Tom, I hear what you're saying, and more-or-less agree, but I'm not sure all of the "thickening"
> came from tape. The following is a digression from the main topic, but perhaps an interesting one.
> I say that based on some experiments I've done, back in the 1970s and about 10 years ago. The more
> recent first: I was reviewing a pair of Microtech Gefell M930 microphones for Recording magazine.
> (I gave them a rave, and subsequently bought the review pair. I was apparently the fifth reciewer
> in a row to do that. They've become my "money" microphones, the most pried in my collection.
> Well, I was at a local studio trying them out on drums. They're sufficiently high-output that I
> wondered what would happen if I ran them from a stand-alone phantom supply straight into the
> recorder (a ProTools rig). Now, via every mic preamp I tried these were thoroughly modern
> transformerless microphones, with incredibly clean and present sound (the're particularly good on
> drums, I've found). I plugged them into a transformer-coupled phantom supply I'd borrowed from
> George Vazquez Wolin, and suddenly it was 1966 and I was listening to drums from a Stax or Motown
> classic -- think "midnight Train to Georgia", say. I heard all the thick sound of a classic analog
> setup -- from a ProTools rig, no less. It all came, as far as I could tell, from the transformer
> I'd added to each channel (the phantom supply dated from the 1960s, probably, so the transformers
> in it weren't modern).
> The experiments I did in the 1970s involved listening to Ampex (A440C) and Studer (B67) tape
> decks. I heard what I think of as classic Studer sound from it: warmish, slightly
> compressed-sounding, and "thick", what I'ver seen referred to as the "gluing-together" of the mix.
> I heard this sonic signature, to a lesser extent, from the Ampex too.
> So big deal, right? That's the stereotypical sound of tape. Yeah, but there was no tape; I was
> listening to the Studer with its switch set in the "Source" position. Ditto the Ampex, again to a
> lesser extent.
> I think I was hearing transformers again when I looped signal through these tape machines. Also
> perhaps electrolytic capacitors; rhe Studer used lots of them, mostly of the tantalum variety, and
> mostly without polarizing voltage. The Ampex used nearly as many, but they were aluminum, and
> motsly had polarizing voltages across them.
> But when Tom and others talk about the "thickrning" sound of tape, they *may* be hearing the sound
> of the electronics, particularly the transformers in the circuit. If thhat's true, by the way, it
> suggezts that Tom's experiment of recording in the classic Mercury fashion through a high-res
> digital setup might profit, not necessarily from running the signal through tape, but
> incorporating a few old-style (UTC, Triad) transformers into the chain.
> Now back to the topic, which is already in progress:
>> Unfortunately, we discuss this in a time where there is very little
>> budget to make proper classical recordings and we don't live in an age
>> of giants as far as conductors and orchestras go. Part of what you might
>> dislike about modern classical releases is that fact that most of them
>> are really nothing more than forever-playable broadcasts, recordings of
>> live performances (something totally different from a recording
>> session). In the best cases today, a major orchestra records a live
>> performance and then the union rates allow for a short after-concert
>> "patchup" session. Rarely have there been carefully heard playbacks, so
>> the patchup decisions are made on the fly by an overworked producer or
>> producer/engineer. Keep in mind that Mercury, RCA and Decca session
>> books will clearly show that a major symphonic piece could have taken
>> 2-3 full days to get on tape. Sessions went even longer in the 70s
>> (perhaps not to better ends). That's unheard of today. Also today, the
>> market is flooded with junk, b- and c-list orchestras recording on the
>> cheap for the likes of Naxos. None of it appeals at all when compared to
>> the great recordings from the "golden age." It's the Wal-Marting of
>> classical music, if you will. Just like journalism, just like book
>> authoring, music-making and recording are crafts. When there is not
>> money and time to allow for craftsmanship, record companies and
>> consumers (and what used to be called newspaper readers, and book
>> buyers) get what they are willing to pay for.
> Again I agree; most of the modern conductors I've heard are pallid compared to the Reiners and
> Munches of my youth. I invite you to hear one exception, though: David Robertson. I heard him
> conduct Beethoven 9 in 2013, and it gave me the same tingle the Reiner recording always has. And
> he kicks serious butt on Stravinsky -- he plays it with passion, while most moderns aeem afraid to
> get their hair mussed up.