For what it's worth, I agree with you for the most part about
Hi Mark,

For what it's worth, I agree with you for the most part about using newer playback equipment in playing back open reel tapes.  From a historical perspective, there are a few facts I know about the earlier Living Stereo CDs issued by BMG that might be of interest.

The first Living Stereo CD series started in 1992, not the 1980s.  I was a remastering engineer at BMG at that time.  Although this was never acknowledged publicly, only one CD was ever remastered on an Ampex 351.  That was "The Reiner Sound", which was the very first one done. The 351 was not in great condition, and contrary to the press reports, had not been refurbished.  It was mechanically very noisy, very difficult to use, and quite frankly didn't sound that good, so we decided to use an Ampex 440 (a transistor three-track) for all the other projects instead, which was the only alternative we had at the time.  Not surprisingly, we never told the marketing people.  In addition, the two-track Living Stereo masters were reproduced on an Ampex ATR-102, since we even never had access to a two-track 351 machine.  We also used EQ as needed, both analog and digital, and occasionally a small touch of digital reverb.

Not surprisingly, the later Living Stereo CDs we did at BMG in the middle to late 1990s were sonically much better, as we had better quality and later higher resolution A-Ds, better digital processing equipment, as well as higher quality (and significantly quieter) remastering rooms.


Jon Samuels

 From: Mark Donahue <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask] 
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 9:44 PM
Subject: Re: [ARSCLIST] Mercury Living Presence
I just want to make one quick comment about this idea that playing back 60
year old tapes is best realized through playing them back on 60 year old
The reality here is that the ability to get the signal on to tape is a much
easier task than getting it back off and the recorders of the day were much
better at recording than playback. I remastered the entire Living Stereo
series and was stunned as to how much information I could get off these
tapes using state of the art modern analog playback. I then compared these
to the transfers that were made with an Ampex 300 that was restored for the
CD reissue project at RCA in the late 1980's and the differences were
nothing less than astounding. Modern playback with low wow and flutter and
an order of magnitude better performance in frequency response, noise and
distortion revealed information that was on the tapes that had never
actually been heard.
As always, YMMV.
All the best,
Mark Donahue

On Tue, Jun 12, 2012 at 1:21 PM, DAVID BURNHAM <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> One more point, a lot is said about the problems with not using the
> original playback equipment.  I would just like to comment that I think
> anyone would admit that a Studer A-80, (a popular mastering machine), has
> far better flutter and speed consistency specs than an Ampex 300.  I think
> ideal mastering will occur if the electronics with the original specs,
> (which may mean using the original heads), are fitted onto a modern
> machine.  In the notes of the SACD I'm listening to it says that the
> mastered SACD was compared with the original tape played on Wilma Cozart
> Fine's personal Ampex 300.  That should be fairly accurate.  I agree with
> Tom Fine that if the SACDs had been made using the original sources on the
> original playback situations, the final product would have been that much
> better.

Mark Donahue
Chief Mastering Engineer
Soundmirror, Inc.
Boston, MA
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