I'm not saying this is the case with these specific tapes, but azimuth gets tricky with rock master
The mastering engineer who cut the LPs of a Led Zeppelin anthology, a guy who always works with a
phase display right in front of his face, told me that he was sent digital masters to cut the LPs
and a bunch of the songs were clearly out of azimuth. He speculated that all the tapes had been
played back on the same machine but no one had changed anzimuth for each tape -- or that the master
tapes were made up of songs mixed at different studios without a common azimuth reference. That is
what I think is common with big-name rock albums -- stuff mixed at several different studios at
different times comprising the 2-track master tape. Unless the producer or mixing engineer carried
around a single alignment tape and adjusted both play and record azimuth to it at each studio, how
likely is that every song is locked into the same azimuth? I remember with multi-track tapes, it was
drummed into everyone's head at Sigma Sound NYC to adjust the 24-track machine's azimuth (align
play, then align record to play), print tones and then don't touch a damn thing on the machine while
that reel is being recorded. Preferably don't touch a damn thing throughout the multi-track
sessions, if the band is working during a block-booked time period (and also pray that the Ampex 456
tape batch you're using was slit well enough to stay within the azimuth you set as it travelled
through the transport). I don't think that kind of discipline was universally enforced industry-wide
with 2-track mix-master tapes, so it's entirely possible that the master for an LP side contains
songs slightly or more than slightly out of azimuth from each other. I'm not sure how many people
paid attention to this issue back in the day. I don't think Bob Morrison at STL or Jay McKnight at
MRL ever claimed that all of their tapes carried the same azimuth, because they don't. That's why
the only assurance I can think of is the producer carrying a single 2-track alignment tape to every
studio and having everyone standardize on that one tape.
Specific to the Tom Petty remasters -- Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman's place is a good engineer
with a long track record of good-sounding remastering work. I'm sure he pays careful attention to
things like azimuth. Come to think of it, I'd bet that he is well aware of RX's tools including EQ
compare, and there are complex reasons we don't know as to why EQ'd copy tapes sounded better than
master tapes in the cases where they were used.
-- Tom Fine
----- Original Message -----
From: "John Haley" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, April 07, 2015 1:28 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] More tales of woe from the tape vaults
> And there is always the issue of: did they set the azimuth right for the
> "worn out" sounding masters? I know that's a basic thing, but I have
> learned in life to ask the dumb questions. I also don't know what "worn
> out" sounding means. Unless they were playing the master tapes at parties
> or something, there is no reason they would be "worn out." If there were a
> more specific response about what is wrong with them, perhaps the issues
> could be addressed.
> On Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 12:49 PM, Richard L. Hess <[log in to unmask]>
>> On 2015-04-07 11:54 AM, Tom Fine wrote:
>>> I just had e-mail correspondence with one of the first-person
>>> participants. He told me that the tapes were playable as in they'd pass
>>> through a transport, but they sounded "worn out" compared to the EQ'd
>>> copies that they used. The decision was to use what the artist and
>>> producer thought sounded better. It's an aesthetic and artistic
>>> decision. In any case, moves are afoot to clarify the text on the
>>> HDTracks website.
>> The only question I have with that was what would the "worn out" tapes
>> sound like if the same EQ was applied to them as was applied back in the
>> day to the EQ'd masters, thereby saving a generation?
>> Samplitude and iZotope both offer an "EQ match" function, so it might be a
>> quick test (tweak to taste later if there seems to be a good reason to use
>> the "worn out" tapes with modern EQ).
>> Richard L. Hess email: [log in to unmask]
>> Aurora, Ontario, Canada 647 479 2800
>> Quality tape transfers -- even from hard-to-play tapes.