I do agree that there are and have been phono preamp designs that hone very closely to the RIAA
de-emphasis curve. However, I think you'll find many pre-emphasis inaccuracies, especially with
beloved "golden era" LP mastering chains. So you have the same problems there that Richard
described. That said, I do believe that an accurate playback curve is always best because you are
then not compounding inaccuracies.
As for your point about playback on vintage tape machines, I've come to agree with you. The reason
is, we now have the ability to have an essentially transparent and high-resolution digital copy of
the tape. So, if one wants to add a vintage sound quality, it can now be done from that digital
copy, without having to subject a fragile and/or unstable old tape to another playback. This was not
possible as recently as 20 years ago, and the sound quality of a sterile modern tape machine
combined with even the best digital chains of the day left many listeners (ie buyers, ie those who
pay the bills and enable the transfers in the first place) unhappy.
It's also worth noting that FEW beloved LPs were ever mastered "flat", with no EQ, dynamics control
or even added echo and other effects. Look at pictures of old mastering rooms. Racks of Pultec EQs,
often a few classic compressors, usually Fairchild high-frequency limiters (to prevent blowing out
expensive Westrex cutting heads), sometimes tape delays or echo plates or other effects. There was
much "seasoning" going on from the day any "seasoning" devices were invented. It's part of the
creative process. In more than one case, I've heard either a high resolution "purist" transfer from
a master tape, or heard a second-generation tape copy of the master tape, and then gone back and
listened to the originally-mastered LP record and much preferred the sound that the original
mastering engineer got.
But I'm talking about RELEASE media, and there's a difference between that and ARCHIVAL media. The
struggle going on right now is, with tape getting worn out and unstable, a transition in thinking
needs to take place. The master tape is no longer the archival media, it's an artifact in the
archive but not the go-to for the latest re-release. That playback you do today might be the last
time that tape plays (ask Decca about the Solti Ring cycle masters). So I think the focus now needs
to shift to a highly accurate and "clean" playback, into a high-resolution digital file. That file
now becomes your canvas, to be (non-destructively) colored as a mastering engineer or producer
wishes. It's a very different MO from tradition and from very recent times, so there will be some
painful adjustments. The most painful, to record companies, is the idea of investing hefty sums now
for many future releases (from the archival digital files). Getting around quarterly profit demands
and short-sighted budgeting is very hard, and may not be possible as the business continues to
shrink. Remember that many back-catalog reissues net only a few ten thousand dollars, in the best
case. So the budget to remaster from old tapes is very small. This is the case with classical, most
jazz, and anything but the big hits with pop and rock.
Maybe it's time for a "Output=Input Alliance." Advocate for super-accurate tape playbacks into
high-resolution digital master files. Do not alienate record company finance guys by suggesting they
are ignorant and cheap. Do not criticize the creative judgements of successful producers and
mastering engineers, just show them a new, less risky and more future-proof way to be creative. And
don't rail at consumers who take their music listening seriously wishing for a new release of a
favorite album to sound something like the version they grew up loving. Those supposedly benighted
tin-eared fanatics are who pay the bills, and their tastes and judgements are ignored at great risk.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "Fred Thal" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Friday, October 11, 2013 7:08 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] a prime case of why subjective reviews of audio gear are USELESS
> Hello Tom, Jamie and Richard
> Tom, as I remember it, in the 1970s a debate simmered over the
> precision of the (purported) audiophile grade phono preamplifers. Did
> they track the RIAA de-emphasis curve accurately? How closely,
> I remember Mark Levinson at that time asserting that one-tenth of a dB
> mattered. He was then ridiculed in certain quarters and saw his
> products dismissed by subjectivists who complained that they sounded
> too cold and analytical.
> I think you are correct Richard to point out pre-emphasis inaccuracies
> found in old master tapes. Often, we have reason to suspect that they
> were huge. And I agree with Jamie about the advantages of performing
> de-emphasis in the digital domain. We advocated for this as the least
> destructive post process back in 2000. And we were certainly not the
> first to arrive at this conclusion.
> And Jamie, I am very happy to see you express the view that playing
> the tape right really matters. Again, this is what ATL (Audio Transfer
> Laboratory) has been saying since back in the 1990s.
> It could appear that we have lost much of the technological expertise
> that was once present in the record industry. The David Smiths, who
> knew better, are now gone, tragically, at the very time their
> knowledge is most needed. Interestingly today it is sometimes the
> library science majors, working in the AV preservation field, who seem
> more concerned about doing the analog to digital transfers in the most
> technically correct manor.
> Meanwhile, over in the music industry, artistic (well, hopefully)
> re-mastering during the domain transfer process remains widely
> prevalent. Witness the mis-guided but popular approach of adding a new
> layer of analog coloration (distortion) in the transfer process by
> selecting a classic tape machine for the transfer.
> Jamie, I note that Plangent has made alliances with other transfer
> studios, so I hope you will now consider an alliance with us at ATL
> and ATAE. Seems to me that we might share the same goal: Preserving
> the world's recorded music heritage to the best of our ability.
> Fred Thal