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ARSCLIST  November 2013

ARSCLIST November 2013

Subject:

Re: The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained

From:

Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 21 Nov 2013 07:04:31 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (369 lines)

Hi John (and Jamie):

Like I said yesterday, if you "get yesterday's middlemen" too far out of the way, the effect is 
usually toxic in the marketplace. Been proven time and time again. It's a fact of life. Business 
people get it. Science people sometimes can't grasp it. Music is an art and a business and there's 
some science in there in the background (boy do recording engineers hate to hear that, but it's the 
truth).

There has even been grousing (including from me) when modern "cleanup" tools are applied too 
aggressively to old disk recordings. Even in the case of low-fidelity early recordings, one has to 
be very careful and tasteful. From talking to guys like Seth Winner and Doug Pomeroy, I get the 
impression that it's most important to get an excellent analog playback (find the best source 
possible, clean it correctly, use the correct needle, use the right disk EQ to get the desired 
result, etc) than to fiddle with DSP. The modern DSP (which is much better than the days of throwing 
CEDAR all over everything and sucking the life out of it) then acts more as a buff than a scrub.

I actually think the market for more-aggressive "re-imagining" of sound is in the rock world. There 
have already been some successful cases where either the band itself or the original producer return 
to the multi-tracks and remix for clearer, punchier sound. Rock fans, think of all the 
musically-excellent but sonically-challenged albums of the 60s through the late 70s. The same can be 
said of country music (which had a heyday in that period), funk music (same story) and some of the 
fusion-jazz records. In those days, a lot of sound quality could be lost on the way from the basic 
tracks to the final 2-track, and many times the original LP was cut from a copy of that tape. One 
case that stands out in my mind is the 5.1 remix of "Derek and the Dominos" for SACD. It's still 
muddy and there are still too many guitars playing in exactly the same frequencies, but when it's 
spread out wider and the bass amped up a little bit, it's easier to enjoy. Eric Clapton's "461 Ocean 
Blvd" benefitted even more from a 5.1 remix, because the basic tracks were pretty crisp. I noticed 
with the new remaster of the Who's "Tommy" that they seem to have taken some cues from the 5.1 SACD 
and remixed stereo accordingly (clearer, more defined, even more punchy drums than previous issues, 
vocals by Pete and Roger separated in the stereo field). Interestingly, I think that many rock 
albums don't invoke a "sonic memory" so much as a musical memory. Screw up the things people 
remember popping out of their car radio speakers while they sang along, and they get mad, but 
otherwise minds seem more open to re-thinking the original sound, at least based on sales of 
radically-altered-sounding reissues. I think the reason for this is clear -- the "sonic memory" 
stuff is more in the jazz and classical realms because that music was probably fallen in love with 
under decent if not good listening conditions (because a radio in a car has too much background 
noise to hear it). In a sense, the music is not as "portable" and requires more careful listening by 
its very nature. The rock and pop stuff, for better or worse, was loved out of AM radio speakers and 
junky car "stereos" of the 70s, and on cheap home systems. In those cases, the love was truly for 
the tune, not the tone.

-- Tom Fine

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Thursday, November 21, 2013 12:19 AM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained


> All interesting discussion, obviously invoking a lot of personal responses.
> I look at this just like I look at our trying to restore an acoustic 78
> from 100 years ago.  The engineers in those days had definite ideas and
> techniques on how to get the best result out of the record grooves, as
> heard on the equipment of the day.  Nobody (or almost nobody) today wants
> to hear an acoustic record played on the contemporaneous acoustic playback
> equipment of that day, and we would never try to replicate the methods of
> the engineers of that time, assuming we could discover (and understand)
> what they were.  Rather, we will use a modern magnetic cartridge and
> carefully select the stylus to get the most sonic information we can out of
> the groove of that old record, which is way more than they could get in the
> era when that record was first released (and we certainly do our best to
> pitch it correctly).
>
> The issues today in dealing with older tape material from 50 years ago is
> not different.  If you want to hear the nostalgia effect of the LP of Miles
> Davis (with the record playing off pitch, etc), then by all means listen to
> the LP on your old tube equipment and be happy.   But if you are the
> corporate owner of this original material, in my view you should be trying
> to capture everything possible off that master tape, which will certainly
> be way more than was possible in the time it was recorded, and then giving
> the public the best possible rendition of what is on that tape, using
> today's standards.  The judgment of those guys involved when these old
> recordings were made, while deserving of respect, is basically irrelevant
> and can't really be duplicated anyway.  And were those guys active today,
> they would certainly not limit themselves to what was possible using the
> equipment that was current way back when.  The public at large really
> doesn't yearn for the exact sound of the old LP, and I'm not buying that
> argument as a justification for trying to duplicate that sound.  There is
> no "market pressure" in the public at large (a few of us collectors aside)
> to replicate the exact sound that could be achieved 50 years ago.  The mere
> fact of correcting the pitch a quarter tone vastly changes both the tone of
> the involved instruments as well the emotional content of the music.  And
> there can be no argument that getting the pitch right gets us a lot closer
> to what the involved artists meant to do.  That should be our goal for all
> purposes, and that is what is embedded on that master tape.  My view is get
> yesterday's middlemen (or rather our perceptions today of what they were
> doing 50 years ago) out of the way.  Of course that requires excellent
> judgment today, which is another topic.
>
> Best,
> John Haley
>
>
> On Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 9:50 PM, Jamie Howarth <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>> Tape is in good shape, just some riffling on the edges that any decent
>> machine will take in stride.
>> Wilder knows the tape and the catalog and he's really good. Enough said.
>>
>> Matching the sound that people are used to only makes sense if the sound
>> they are used to is correct. Otherwise they should have remastered it 1/4
>> tone off-pitch. Accurate playback never undermines the validity of an
>> archive or a remaster, it's the remastering choices that can screw it up.
>> Which in this case clearly didn't happen.
>>
>> I guarantee Mark would never just "antique" a tape playback for marketing
>> purposes. He's too good. Running something through tubes is not why Mark
>> may (or may not) have used a Pultec, it's simply because that's what was
>> used on the original, and Laico knew what he was doing, and to get it to
>> sound right you gotta use the same filter curves. If those curves were
>> readily and exactly available in top-notch DSP (they're not) then that
>> would have been fine. That's not  "thinking too much as a scientist or
>> engineer" that's thinking as somebody who has never yet seen a case where a
>> faulty or diminished playback yields more aesthetically valid results
>> compared to a more accurate rendition of the recording's original intent.
>> And Wilder didn't play it on an Ampex 300. QED. He knows that the ATR is
>> more neutral, and more of the music will come through.
>>
>> We tried to get in with Battery on this one and missed, not sure why - and
>> pitched hard for it, on the premise that we might be able to pull slightly
>> more from the tape with our electronics than the 1975/Spitz ATR, as we have
>> done elsewhere.  And that the tape speed issues would automatically correct
>> themselves, that part is a no-brainer.  Mark expressed the reasonable
>> disinclination to play the tape again...  the producer OTOH actually states
>> that often he favors the lower-fi vibe of his recollection than going for
>> precision audio. I think he suspects that if it's too pristine it will be
>> less emotional. I don't see how that's the case, seems to me that whatever
>> takes the intervening noise and distortion out of the way of the
>> performance is to the good. Above my pay grade. He gets good results, and
>> is well-regarded and on this point we simply disagree a bit.
>>
>> But there's no way a slightly clearer tape reproduction would have thrown
>> anybody out of the record. And again, 90% is the mastering skill -
>> obviously having the best raw source is important. And a top-notch playback
>> with speed correction is not going to circumvent the art and tech burned
>> into the tape, it will simply convey it more exactly. And then Mark does
>> his thing, and the result is beauty.
>>
>> Another thing I think is commonly romanticized about the older equipment
>> and which is misguided is the notion that their guts are mystical, and that
>> you gotta have these because they sound "better" than anything
>> contemporary,  which is nuts. The reason the vintage gear is popular (maybe
>> too popular)  is because it's the stuff that has survived because it was
>> good. API 550s would not have worked on this record because the Q is
>> sharper and the frequency points are different, not because of the
>> transistors. It's a compatibility issue, in a sense. You simply could twist
>> the API's knobs until doomsday and not match the Pultecs. Neither is better
>> than the other. They're different, not so much because of how they achieve
>> gain, or the circuit topology - but because the knobs sound different when
>> you twist them. And unfortunately most of the recent digital stuff doesn't
>> really operate like the old stuff - because the old stuff was designed with
>> a slide rule based on what sounded good to the engineer, not the other way
>> around. A lot of the effects devices of that era were designed by ear, and
>> the curves were purpose-built for the studios and styles of the day - they
>> worked. They call it "work" for a reason. These were working guys,
>> listening and twisting knobs until it "worked". The Rupert Neve 80xx
>> equalizers were broad as hell, and had really useful carefully chosen
>> frequency points (by real mixers) and that's why they sounded good and have
>> survived as classics, not because they were using slow 3055's driving a
>> transformer.
>>
>> In the case of this recording, where Teo and Laico made a great effort to
>> be as realistic as possible, and where some correction had to have done on
>> the original LPs  - because nothing matched the control room without more
>> "work" done on it - you gotta assume that they were the best judges at how
>> to get the control room sound onto the vinyl. And using a Pultec or LA-2A
>> or whatever doesn't do that because its tubes, or its vintage, it does that
>> because that's the tools they used, those are the filter curves they were
>> hearing. Recently I've been trying to figure out how to un-hype the
>> elevated top of a Bones Howe recording, wherein the tones are perfectly
>> spot-on. Notwithstanding the fact that I don't have the exact mastering
>> gear he and the mastering guy did, it's possible to mock up a system that
>> is similar to what they might have had in their homes when listening to the
>> check-lacquers that this EQ master is a derivation of.  And listening on a
>> pair of AR 4xs lent great insight into what they thought sounded right,
>> because on those speakers it sounded like it should - "by the tones" on an
>> Plangent/ATR - only  if the tweeter level was backed off a quarter turn.
>> Which they probably did to make sure they didn't release something too dull
>> for AM radio.  So there you go, Reverse engineering that transfer-function
>> with a DSP equalizer came very close to their original intent on modern
>> equipment, and when it got to be exactly what it took to un-ring the bell
>> of the AR speaker (considered as a "filter") suddenly the tape sounded
>> right, all on modern gear. A lot of cross-EQ but it wasn't done by going
>> back to ancient equipment So there's where the use of vintage equipment can
>> lend insight into original intent without being strapped with the obvious
>> downside of lower-fidelity gear. . And probably if I could mime the exact
>> equalizers in the mastering chain i'd do even better. And probably the
>> easiest way to do that would be with a Pultec likely to have been in the
>> mastering chain on the day it was cut - but not because it's tubes, but
>> because that's probably what was in the room in 1965 as Bones and the
>> mastering guy corrected it for release.
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>> On Nov 20, 2013, at 9:57 AM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>
>> > Hi John:
>> >
>> > The rationale was three-fold:
>> >
>> > 1. play the tape as little as possible because it's not in good shape
>> >
>> > 2. try to match the sound to what people are used to. This album has a
>> huge "sonic memory" out there with the buying public and critics. If the
>> reissue team didn't reference the original LPs for the mix and the general
>> sonic ambience, they'd get slammed by critics and careful-listening fans.
>> Those who don't "get" or accept this rationale are thinking too much as a
>> scientist or engineer and not enough as a music business person. One has to
>> understand the market, plain and simple. Deviating too far from what I call
>> a "sonic memory" is toxic to sales. I can cite numerous examples.
>> >
>> > 3. given that Mark Wilder has a long track record of excellent remasters
>> that sell well, I tend to trust his judgement to mix outside the box. In my
>> own experiments with using, for instance Izotope's "mastering EQ" plug-in
>> in Sony Soundforge vs. going back out to analog and using my Great River
>> mastering equalizer, I always prefer the Great River. I do not believe that
>> DSP has gotten as good-sounding as the best analog gear for "sweetening"
>> something to an individual's taste. I'd trust the Great River or my trusty
>> Pultec equalizers anyday over any DSP I've heard. I would also trust Mark's
>> analog mixer over, for instance, the ubiquitous Protools mixing interface.
>> Again, this is not worth arguing if someone is a hardcore believer in doing
>> these things in the box. Tomato, tomahto. Wilder and Sony have a proven
>> track record of sales to back up their work methods.
>> >
>> > I also think they cut new LPs out of the mixdown process. Like the LP
>> niche-renaissance or not, cutting an LP that will retail for $30 with a $10
>> profit for the issuer is a good business move for a popular title like this.
>> >
>> > Regarding why the mono -- purely a marketing choice. There are many fans
>> out there, myself included, who prefer the mono version of this album and
>> are thrilled to have it in a high-resolution new version (I'm probably not
>> alone having worn out my original mono Columbia LP). Like the mono Beatles
>> albums, at least up to Sgt. Pepper -- and we can debate whether this is
>> true all the way through their last mono offering, the White Album -- with
>> the Miles Davis small-group albums of the late 50s and early 60s, the music
>> hangs together better in the mono mixes. I immediately notice that I hear
>> complete ensemble songs instead of compositions of well-played sounds
>> coming from three different directions. I feel the same way about the Blue
>> Note small-group records up to the mid-60s. Small-group jazz does lend
>> itself to close-in mic'ing in order to get all the details of playing. But,
>> then taking those close-mic'd signals and building them into a
>> non-distracting stereo image took some learning and practice. It still
>> wasn't right in the 70s, when you'd have close-in wide-spread stereo
>> mic'ing of the piano (inside the lid, invariably) and drums, but have
>> single-mic'd horns then spread across the soundstage (think of Pablo
>> small-group records made at A&R or Group IV studios). It was unrealistic,
>> like one's head was simultaneously inside the piano, drum set and yet out
>> in the room to hear the horns spread across a plain. One can get used to
>> it, but an excellent mono mix keeps just the music and the ensemble front
>> and center.
>> >
>> > Given how terrible the original CD reissues of Sony's jazz library
>> sounded (including "Kind of Blue"), I am thrilled that lessons were learned
>> and budgets are being used to get us modern remasters that are faithful to
>> the "sonic memory" but also crisp and clear and dynamic as is expected in a
>> modern setting. To my ears, the "Kind of Blue" remasters keep the balance
>> and vitality of the original issues but remove several layers of fuzz and
>> gauze, so you get the same instrument tonality and mix approved by the
>> original team, but it's now like you're hearing it out of the original
>> signal chain instead of behind a layer of cutting-master tape smear and LP
>> fuzz. Oh, and this stereo version is speed-corrected, unlike the original
>> LP.
>> >
>> > -- Tom Fine
>> >
>> > ----- Original Message ----- From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
>> > To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> > Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:30 AM
>> > Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] The new "Kind of Blue" remasters explained
>> >
>> >
>> >> Of course they should have used the session tapes, not later mixdowns.
>> >> That's a given.   The part I don't get here is doing DA and AD
>> conversion
>> >> just to use the analog mixer, if I understood that right.  The resulting
>> >> 192/24 signal has thus been unnecessarily converted twice already and
>> >> subjected to a bunch of old analog electronics.  Also, I don't get the
>> need
>> >> for a mono version derived from the same tapes, and personally, instead
>> of
>> >> that I would much rather have had a three-track SACD version, which they
>> >> have precluded, but that's me.
>> >>
>> >> Best,
>> >> John Haley
>> >>
>> >>
>> >>
>> >> On Wed, Nov 20, 2013 at 6:44 AM, Tom Fine <[log in to unmask]
>> >wrote:
>> >>
>> >>> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_p7Qbb_LAo
>> >>>
>> >>> Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" archival transfer made by Mark Wilder on an
>> >>> ATR-100.
>> >>>
>> >>> This text (below) copied from the Kind of Blue description at
>> HDTracks.com
>> >>> (HIGHLY recommend the new 192/24 downloads of BOTH stereo and mono,
>> they
>> >>> sound fantastic): The new mono mix is also in the new Miles Davis Mono
>> CD
>> >>> box set. As I understand the description below and in other interviews
>> with
>> >>> Wilder and Berkowitz, the 192/24 transfer from the 3-track was a
>> straight,
>> >>> high-quality NAB playback. Then all remixing and remastering was done
>> by
>> >>> bringing the 3-track high-resolution digital back out to analog,
>> mixing and
>> >>> processing using analog equipment, and then back to a 192/24 stereo
>> (and
>> >>> mono) master.
>> >>>
>> >>> -----------------------------------------------
>> >>> Kind of Blue Becomes Digital, by Engineer Mark Wilder
>> >>>
>> >>> "Since the Kind of Blue mixed masters are multiple generations from the
>> >>> original (due to excessive play/wear), we decided to go directly to the
>> >>> original session reels. Not only does this put us at the original
>> session
>> >>> as a starting point, but it also allows us to deal with the pitch
>> issue as
>> >>> well.
>> >>>
>> >>> The three, 3-track half-inch tapes are in good condition, but age has
>> >>> force them to "scallop" a little, meaning that the edges curl away
>> from the
>> >>> tape head. This changed the initial focus from mixing from the
>> originals to
>> >>> archiving them before mixing and working from the archive files. This
>> >>> allowed us to gently guide the tape against the playback head to get
>> >>> optimal contact and fidelity.
>> >>>
>> >>> The archiving was done at 192kHz/24 bits, played from a modified Ampex
>> ATR
>> >>> 104, and hard-wired to HDCD Model 2's directly patched to a Lynx 2
>> sound
>> >>> card.
>> >>>
>> >>> An upside to working from the archive files was the ability to chase
>> the
>> >>> original fader moves done during the mix in 1959. We constantly
>> compared to
>> >>> an early pressing - mono and stereo - and worked bar by bar to
>> duplicate
>> >>> the level moves on the three tracks to match as well as possible.
>> >>>
>> >>> Each channel was converted to analog and passed through a GML mixer,
>> >>> bussed to stereo or mono - depending on the release format - and
>> converted
>> >>> once again to 192Kc/24 bits. At the GML, we inserted processing where
>> >>> needed."
>> >>>
>> >>> - Mark Wilder, Battery Studios
>> >>>
>> >>> ----------------------------------------------------------
>> >>>
>> >>> -- Tom Fine
>> >>>
>> >>
>>
>
> 

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