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Any mastering engineers work directly from tape?
Old 10th May 2006
  #1
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Any mastering engineers work directly from tape?

Some mastering engineers I contacted want to transfer my tape to 24-96, and then work from there.
If it were only going to be made into a cd, and that engineer preferred purely digital eq's or compression, ok.

But doesn't it seem counterintuitive to take my tape, transfer to 24-96, then send back to analog to run through high-end analog hardware? Does anyone run straight from the tape through the analog gear first?

Also, I want to make vinyl eventually. Why not run directly from tape to vinyl, rather than from tape to 24-96 to vinyl. I contacted one vinyl pressing plant - they could do only basic level changes going from tape directly to vinyl. A rare expensive system could be set up (that he didn't have) so that the tape would pass through in real time, through different settings of eq/compression somehow.
Why not bounce from tape through the appropriate mastering gear back to tape, to avoid digital, until it had to be transferred finally to make the cd?

Last edited by Lek; 10th May 2006 at 11:06 PM..
Old 10th May 2006
  #2
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Old 10th May 2006
  #3
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Just about every mastering engineer can work from tape and go analog. Except maybe your guy.

Direct to vinyl from tape requires a tape deck with a preview head. You can probably find soneone on the internet that has that kind of rig. It's rare though.
Old 11th May 2006
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer
Just about every mastering engineer can work from tape and go analog. Except maybe your guy.
The ability to work from tape is pretty common, though some newer places aren't bothering to invest in analog machines since they are expensive, require maintenance, and are used less and less frequently with every passing month. I wish more people sent in tape so I could fire up the machines more often.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Masterer
Direct to vinyl from tape requires a tape deck with a preview head. You can probably find soneone on the internet that has that kind of rig. It's rare though.
If you use different facilities to master the CD vs. LP from the original tape, there will probably be a lack of continuity between the vinyl release and the CD release. Two different places, two different chains, two different engineers... There are a few ways to minimize the issue, or it just may not be a concern for you, and that's OK too. Just something to think about.
Old 11th May 2006
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lek
Some mastering engineers I contacted want to transfer my tape to 24-96, and then work from there.
If it were only going to be made into a cd, and that engineer preferred purely digital eq's or compression, ok.

But doesn't it seem counterintuitive to take my tape, transfer to 24-96, then send back to analog to run through high-end analog hardware? Does anyone run straight from the tape through the analog gear first?

Also, I want to make vinyl eventually. Why not run directly from tape to vinyl, rather than from tape to 24-96 to vinyl. I contacted one vinyl pressing plant - they could do only basic level changes going from tape directly to vinyl. A rare expensive system could be set up (that he didn't have) so that the tape would pass through in real time, through different settings of eq/compression somehow.
Why not bounce from tape through the appropriate mastering gear back to tape, to avoid digital, until it had to be transferred finally to make the cd?
I was one of those mastering engineers who used to transfer to 24/88.2 before starting the mastering process. The main reason was that I didn't own a 1/2" machine. I always took the tape to a studio with a good machine and converters and had them transfer it to my hard drive.

If really good converters are used in the tape to digital process and the same for the mastering engineer's analog loop, the difference in going to back to the analog world to master is really minimal. I know, technically not a good thing to do but in practice, when mastering just about everything but classical or say beautifully recorded bare-bones acoustic music, nobody is going to notice the difference.

I've mastered at least a dozen albums using this method. The reason my clients let me do this is that at the time, my competition in the area who had a good deck to master from were at least twice the price as my suite and, I'd also like to think that they came to me b/c they liked my work and weren't concerned about how I did the job.

I now have a top of the line 1/2" deck (ATR-104 Spitz rebuilt w/Aria electronics) but to date, nobody has brought me any 1/2" tape to master from. I must admit, running a 4 minute song over and over from the 1/2" until I'm happy with my work is a daunting thought, given that I learned to mastered starting from digital files but I guess I will try it if the opportunity presents itself. BTW, I have the utmost respect for the "old school" MEs who mastered from tape every day.

Meanwhile, I'm a happy camper auditioning the mixes coming out of my computer and then running through the 1/2", layback style. My clients and I try the tape quite often and end up chosing it quite a bit. When it works, sometimes its "wow!" or maybe, "what just happened, what did you change, what's it doing? ". Many of my clients seem to be aware that tape is a good thing to try and therefore this acquistion, and my willingness to use it, is definitely causing some good "word of mouth"!

As for vinyl, If it's a loud alternative or pop project, I actually suggest that my clients get it mastered by the studio who is creating the lacquer. In fact, I recommend one of my Toronto competitors, Lacquer channel, being the altruist guy that I am. This is b/c I know vinyl guys hate working from CD masters that are bright and loud.

The only alternative that I can suggest, for continuity and budget reasons, is a method that was once requested by a record company. They asked for a second master with less compression and volume. This was an easy process. We mastered a track for the CD and then we backed off on the volume of the last analog unit feeding the A to D and even cut the digital limiter down to next to nothing. Sure it sounded a little different but not nearly as different as going to a different mastering engineer! I should follow up with the client to see how it went but maybe the engineers who master vinyl could comment on this technique.

Andy,

Silverbirch Productions
Old 11th May 2006
  #6
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just to clarify,
I'm not saying these mastering engineers don't have tape machines.
I'm saying that they will take the tape I send them, then convert it to digital before doing anything with it.
Then again, perhaps they'll convert it to digital, figure out if they want to use analog outboard gear, and then work directly from the tape...

Last edited by Lek; 11th May 2006 at 03:39 PM..
Old 11th May 2006
  #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lek
just to clarify,
I'm not saying these mastering engineers don't have tape machines.
I'm saying that they will take the tape I send them, then convert it to digital before doing anything with it.
Then again, perhaps they'll convert it to digital, figure out if they want to use analog outboard gear, and then work directly from the tape...
I was inferring in my previous post that mastering from digital, after the whole album is loaded up, marked and scanned through, seems infinitely easier than working with one track at a time from tape.

I mean how would you know which track would be good to start with and which tracks should be mastered as a group (less knobs to twirl, etc) unless you have the whole album loaded and laid out on one or two tracks? I guess one could listen to a cd of the album and make notes but it seems to me that mastering directly from tape would add a good 15 to 25% to the time and as I said before, the only difference is the 2nd conversion to analog, if one choses to go that way for some of all of the songs.

Anyway, like I said, I learned to master in the age of the computer and using tape is a new (and wonderful) experience and I would defer to those that have done it on a regular basic to tell us the pros and cons of either method.

I'm just pointing out why some mastering engineers would prefer to do the transfer and then start workingl.

Last edited by Andy Krehm; 11th May 2006 at 04:15 PM..
Old 11th May 2006
  #8
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My own personal inclination when given tape is to avoid an additonal AD/DA loop and just go straight from the tape to the analog process chain and then to the AD. To me the simplest chain possible that still gets you the desired results is nearly always the best way to proceed when mastering.

A couple of exceptions I can see:
I recently did a session where the client (who does lo-fi 20's/30's inspired stuff) actually brought in their 4 track cassette deck and we started with just transferring his mixes that he did on the fly first to 24bit/88.2 as a way of having the mixes final prior to mastering.

And if the tape was truly in bad shape for something like an archival transfer then sometimes just doing the least number of passes possible can also be the best method.

As far as direct transfer of tape to vinyl master -
if the cutting engineer just uses fixed or manually set pitch and depth then you don't need a preview line - but I would only do this for short sides - and if you truly wanted best results then working with a preview line and a pitch/depth computer would be the way to go.
There are indeed still a large number of mastering houses that have tape decks with both preview and program paths:
Masterdisk, Abbey Road, SAE, Golden Mastering, Bernie Grundmann, Trutone, and probably a number of others should all be able to do a true AAA transfer if you explicitly request if from them. All of these facilities also do CD mastering - so if you were looking for consistency between your releases then you could also have them take care of this for you too.

Best regards,
Steve Berson
Old 11th May 2006
  #9
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lucey's Avatar
I occasionally, and happily work from tape.

1/4" or 1/2" Ampex in house
and 1" available with a rental.
Old 11th May 2006
  #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lek
But doesn't it seem counterintuitive to take my tape, transfer to 24-96, then send back to analog to run through high-end analog hardware? Does anyone run straight from the tape through the analog gear first?
Yah, indeed.

Most serious mastering houses will process the analog tape on load-in rather than going through unnecessary conversions...
Old 11th May 2006
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad Blackwood
Yah, indeed.

Most serious mastering houses will process the analog tape on load-in rather than going through unnecessary conversions...
Whew, I'm glad finally be able to join the ranks of the serious guys! Now if someone would just send me a tape I promise to try processing it on load in.

Last edited by Andy Krehm; 11th May 2006 at 07:33 PM..
Old 13th May 2006
  #12
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I learned to master primarily from tape and DAT's in a mostly analog processor based studio. The converters I had access to were not really good enough to do multiple conversions with, so I got accustomed to process on load in. I don't think it's better than process on load out, just what I got used to. Until I had enough experience to raise my skill level, I did a lot of re-loads. Once you get your head trained to work that way, you can work quickly with confidence.
Dave McNair
Old 13th May 2006
  #13
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Three Scenarios:

1. If it's recent project on new tape, process on load-in to avoid multiple AD conversions... although multiple conversion is not a mortal sin, chances are it'll sound better with only one conversion.

2. If it's a remastering job where the fragile tapes have been baked, it's better to transfer them first, then work with the EQ on the digital files till you're ready to print, and replay the tape one more time with EQ. Much safer than multiple plays of old fragile tape.

If the tape is holding up pretty well, print again if needed, you've got the digital transfer to cover yourself should the tape self destruct.

3. Once in a while you run into a situation where a tape has been digitally transered for preservation, and the only thing you have to work with are the digital files. Then you have to decide whether to do the mastering digitally, or do another ADC... depends on the quality of the original transfer, and the mastering path.

JT
Old 13th May 2006
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jerry Tubb
Three Scenarios:

1. If it's recent project on new tape, process on load-in to avoid multiple AD conversions... although multiple conversion is not a mortal sin, chances are it'll sound better with only one conversion.

2. If it's a remastering job where the fragile tapes have been baked, it's better to transfer them first, then work with the EQ on the digital files till you're ready to print, and replay the tape one more time with EQ. Much safer than multiple plays of old fragile tape.

If the tape is holding up pretty well, print again if needed, you've got the digital transfer to cover yourself should the tape self destruct.

3. Once in a while you run into a situation where a tape has been digitally transered for preservation, and the only thing you have to work with are the digital files. Then you have to decide whether to do the mastering digitally, or do another ADC... depends on the quality of the original transfer, and the mastering path.

JT
Thanks Jerry, that's good advice, especially if any restoration work comes my way.

#2 could also be a useful way to go for those of us that are used to working from fully loaded album, in order, with markers, top & tailed on one or two tracks before actually starting the mastering process. On second thought, the eq & compression might change a bit but from my recent experience with "lay-back" mastering, it would probably be subtle.

And just to be the devil's advocate, I'd love to do an ABX test on some golden ears comparing a one-time process from tape (A) and a load to digital @ 24/88.2 with process through analog loop (B). Of course we'd be using my ATR-104 with Aria Electronics and LavryGold converters.

This would be a test to see if the difference is noticible enough (or at all?) to choose the purest technical path (A) vs the speed and accuracy of (B). When I say speed and accuracy, I mean for tape newbies like me who have no experience processing on load-in. I fully understand that in the "old days", once had no choice and learned how to work that way very efficiently. I also sure it would take me 50% longer to master on load-in because there would really be no overview of the whole project unless perhaps one had a CD of the mixes and made notes?

However, given the number of tapes I've been given in my almost 15 years of mastering, I don't think I'm going to lose any sleep over it!
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