Frequently Asked Questions Concerning
The Sound Of the CDs 
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Last updated 5/3/2003

The Sound On The Discs  

Besides the extra time you take, what do you do that is so special compared to other people who master CDís?

My goal, and itís been the same goal that Iíve had since I listened to my grandmotherís Zenith phonograph. I want that "breath of life." Thatís what I want. If it sounds like a fake approximation of nothing thatís aliveóthat is not it for me. I want it to sound like, (and it doesnít matter if it is Buddy Holly or Blood, Sweat and Tears or The Doors) I want it to sound like they could be standing in the same room where you are listening. Sometimes I succeed more than others, depending on the quality of the original tape, but thatís what I want. I want it to sound "alive".  

But you still try and make it sound like the original master tape rather than "improving" it to your taste.

DCC releases are true to the master tape. Listen to live music. Listen to drums and cymbals. No sizzle whatsoever on the cymbal, but on the snare, yes. Live sounds are very complex and textured. They don't have "one note" boosted top end. They sound rich and real, with overtones up the ying yang. Why should recorded music not sound that way? If someone's stereo needs that treble boost, they should just use a tone control. I'll never tell. If it makes one happy, do it. But, why should I build that treble boost right in to the CD or LP like Rhino and some other companies do? You can't get rid of it that way. And believe me, someday, you will want to get rid of it!

On the other hand, I never "mellow out" a master tape. That's silly. On a good playback system, my mastering work should sound lifelike. That's always been my goal. I can't worry about what kind of stereo one will be playing it back on. That way leads to madness. I like to know the wide range of gear people have from cheap to expensive. It's a nice thing to have people with $20,000 and $500 stereo sets both say one of my CD's that I mastered sounds good, but there is no way to tailor a CD to sound good on say only $1000 systems. Too many variables.

But I thought you wanted the CD to sound like the master tape so a flat transfer would be in order. In an old thread, you mentioned that a flat transfer was just what it says, a straight copy of the 2 track master tape (in a stereo case). Is that master what the artist intended us to hear, or is there a step beyond this stage that the artist approves (the mastering stage)? To use a photography analogy, is the master tape like a film negative or is it the final print? 

I ask because I was under the impression that if we get all the playback equipment correct and reproduce the master tape, we could do no better. It seems that even you tweak a little in the remastering process, although you try to tweak only if necessary and try to keep the tweaking transparent. I agree with you that it's better to have a flat transfer than an over processed remastering that cannot be undone. (Does it mean that if we have a flat transfer and the right equipment and your secret recipe and ears, we could all "Hoffmanize" our own discs, track by track?) Maybe in some greedless future, companies could include flat transfers AND their mastering choices on the same discs. Just wondering.

Steve Hoffman
In film lingo, the master tape COULD be an "interpositive" OR the untimed camera negative. 

Each case is different. Sometimes, a tape marked master needs work before it can sound its best. Sometimes not. 

For me, how I approach the mastering totally depends on the sound of the original tape, and what I WANT IT to sound like.

There are a couple of terms that come up when talking about mastering for CD that you could clear up. They are premastering and you've talked about practice mastering. Are they the same?

No. Pre-mastering is someone else making the mastering engineer a copy of the master tape to use for mastering.

What I do is just called "Practice Mastering"..... I listen to all of the different CD's and LP's of a title and compare to the master tape. Then I do several different Practice Masterings and live with them for a while. When I finally decide what I want to do I go in to the studio and do it; saves expensive studio money that way...

Steve can certainly chime in here too, but my opinion is that the master tape is not necessarily the "end all and be all". Why? Well, for whatever reason, some tapes just sound wonky. Take much of the Stones' early RCA material. The bass is a bit lacking, and there's often a *nasty* lower midrange hump that can make things very "AM radio" sounding. Do some tweaking (which some might call "massive" EQ), and things actually start to sound decent. 

Really, if all we were ever after was a straight reproduction of the master, there'd be no such thing as "remastering" - you'd cue up the master tape and record it to digital. Obviously, in many cases, some "work" can go a long way to making something sound better. (It can also have the opposite effect, but that's another story).

Luke, I recall you and I went around and around with the "Chicago II" remaster. I maintained that the sound should be left as is because that is the way it had basically always been released. You insisted that it could be improved. I will now back down and give you that. But, I still like the way the CD sounds, though. The question is knowing when NOT to alter the master tape, and if you do, by how much...
Also, relating to what I had stated in another thread a couple of days ago, I think of a flat transfer as being one with NO EQ added. That is, apart from any other manipulation that may occur in the mastering process.

Relating to what I had stated in another thread a couple of days ago, I think of a flat transfer as being one with NO EQ added. That is, apart from any other manipulation that may occur in the mastering process. 
"The question is knowing when NOT to alter the master tape, and if you do, by how much..." YES, THIS IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD MASTERING ENGINEER AND A BAD ONE! BTW, a flat transfer COULD be one with no eq added, but it would have to have NO compression or digital dynamic manipulation as well.

Over in your BIO it says after working at a radio station: "He then moved to MCA Records for nine years, where he found buried treasures in the vaults and championed the idea that catalog artists' re-releases could be profitable." Were you the engineer or in charge of the vault? What did you do there?

No no. I wasn't the engineer. I was the administrator; the guy who thought up the projects on paper. 

I worked on 20 projects per month and wormed my way in to the engineering side of it because I didn't like how the projects were coming out. But I was not an official engineer.

How does the "Masteree" know how a performance SHOULD sound? 
I was reading elsewhere a while back where an obviously stupid person was complaining about current re-masters and how "all they did was turn up the treble". 

Chuckling to myself over what a chucklehead he was, I dismissed his statement immediately. 

But it's come back to haunt me. I know nothing about what it takes to 'remaster' an album (or CD). 

How does a person know what it should sound like? There are so many possible variables, it staggers the mind. 

And, assuming you get all those variables tacked down to a gnat's ass, what about good old problems with the original? Like a capstan motor running a bit too slow, so the pitch is off, that kind of thing.

For me, I just like a certain lifelike sound. The "breath of life". Every old master tape has it lurking somewhere inside. It just has to be brought a bit to the surface for our ears (eager to identify real life) to accept the fact that there MIGHT be a real person singing or playing...All the mastering work I do is dedicated to this one thing. 
Anything else is just playing Mastering God in my book.

I just read an article in Stereophile that raised what I thought was an interesting notion. It is the idea that in order to hear a piece of music as the artist (or engineer) has intended a listener should play the cut back at the same level that it was EQ'd and mastered at. The theory being that our perception of frequency extremes changes more than the average loudness change. If we do not play it back at or near the same level then we are , in a sense, changing the EQ. I was thinking if this is the case how would the average listener know what level to play a recording back at. Do you tend to master at the same db level no matter what or would it change depending on the style and type of music? 

I think that the playback level is easy to find out, of course it depend on your equipment, but the volume knob is to be rotated until you got a sense of focus, like with an camera. 
For each picture . 
For each disc

Interesting comment. I never thought of it that way but that is indeed what I do. I have no set "rule" for this. I can instantly tell when a piece of music has been mixed too loud, in the studio because at a "normal" volume, it is bass shy and unbalanced. The clipping of the playback amps actually influenced the mix to such an extent that it sounds crappy at an unclipped volume. I master at a comfortable volume, with a minute or two of "blasting" just to make sure that I'm in touch with that big sound. Of course every case is different. For the most part, I try and make things sound good at lower levels but always check that they sound good screaming loud as well.

Vinyl vs. master tape? 
I know (well, have read) that vinyl has it's own "sound", or rather, a coloration of sound that people find euphonic. Steve, I'm curious - after years of hearing analog master tapes and then cutting vinyl from them, what would *you* choose to listen to for maximum listening pleasure? Do you find vinyl a more pleasurable listening experience than analog tape because of how it colors the sound? Or do you always want to get as close to the master tape as possible? 

Good question. I know what you are saying, but I prefer the sound that I create. Sounds a trifle stuck up, but I've been doing this for so long, I have actually figured out how to make the LP cut and the master tape sound EXACTLY the same. A few tricks that I have up my sleeve. The "colorations" that you hear on YOUR turntable however, I have NO CONTROL OVER WHATSOEVER. That's a little scary for me. Your table, your cart---either moving coil or moving magnet, your interconnects, your phono preamp, all of these things tailor the sound a certain way that I couldn't even guess. So, if it sounds good to YOU, that's what counts. I always feel I have done a good job if my LP cutting and my CD master sound close in a blindfold test. The DCC LP of "Willie And The Poor Boys" and the DCC Gold CD of the same title, if both played at the SAME level, should sound really close, if your system is reproducing everything properly. The Doors first album on DCC LP and CD will NOT match, due to different mastering styles I had to employ because of the length of the LP sides. Did I even answer your question?

Sort of! It's actually a bit reassuring that you can get nearly identical sound out of both the vinyl and cds that you master. Emphasis on you. But then again... it is disconcerting knowing that the turntable/cartridge combination one has is probably doing the most coloration! Hmm.. I'm still going to try to pin you down, which I know you don't like, so you don't have to answer if you don't want. Ok... so lets say you've mastered Green River (my fav!) for vinyl, cd, and you also ran it off to a personal reel-to-reel tape copy while you were at it. Later on, you're at home with your sweetie, and you happen to have all three versions of Green River there with ya... what would you reach for with just sonics in mind (ignoring the ritual part of the experience -- or the convenience aspect with CDs). The tape? The cd? The vinyl? 

I've got it now. Well, if I was with my sweetie (Karla), I would punch the CD. It would have the same tonality as the LP. If I was alone, I would play the LP. A bit more "glow" due to the slightly euphonic sound of my Joule Electra Phono Stage. I wouldn't play the reel to reel copy of the master tape. It would be so dull that I wouldn't really enjoy it much, even though it sounds exactly like the mix. How's that?

In the summer of 2002, you were commissioned along with Kevin Gray to master some albums at 45 RPM. Talk about how you go about doing that mastering since most LP's are 33 1/3 RPM, but Chad at Acoustic Sounds wants the best sound possible for this limited run.

"New Adventures In Mastering" (or, "Trying to cut records at 45 RPM")

I've been spending this week trying to successfully master Sonny Rollins "Way Out West" and The Bill Evans Trio "Waltz For Debby" onto 45 RPM discs. "Tis a struggle folks! These recordings are VERY dynamic and very left/right heavy; doom for the mastering engineer. 

Kevin Gray, who I feel is the best damn record cutter in the world today, has been tearing his hair out. And let me tell you, that's not a good idea... 

However, we have nailed 'em! Thank goodness. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night otherwise. The trick of making a good record, is to, well, make a good record. This means following certain "rules". Among them are the two most basic: 

Rule one: The sound has to be louder than the noise of the vinyl. 

Rule two: The sound can't be too loud or the groove will break. 

End of old rules. New rules: 


I will not add ANY limiting or compression to our discs while cutting, even if the dynamic range on the master tapes is greater than the range of our VU meters (amazing, but true!) 

I will not tamper in any way with the pure tonality of the original master recordings, even if one drum "thwack" is 10db hotter than the rest of the music floor. 

Kevin and I will not cut too far into the record center at 45 RPM so that even an average stylus can track the groove with ease. 

I will not let Kevin strangle me or kick my ass in any way, even though he wants to by now. 

My point is, I think you will find that this new series of 45 RPM Jazz reissues from Analogue Productions (see my homepage) are going to be the most pure and dynamic recreations of the original master tapes we have ever heard yet. 

Steve, I must ask this question. Back on the old DCC forum, I recall you being quite anti-45rpm. You even stated that you felt companies such as classic records were ripping off customers by charging more for 45 rpm discs than for the standard 33 1/3. You felt there was no sonic benefits to the higher speed. Has something now happened to change your mind? I'm not trying to back you into a corner here, as I absolutely love your work. I'm just trying to understand your change of heart. Thanks for any light your can shed on this.

Kevin Gray and I got a chance to muck around with some test cuts using a famous master tape. The result? Of course, the 45 RPM version could be cut louder, with less groove stress; further away from the vinyl noise floor. 
I was impressed. Great for very dynamic master tapes, like the classic jazz stuff I am working on now, useless for very compressed and processed rock stuff. Amazing sounding vinyl process, when done correctly. You'll see!

Sometimes when talking about "breath of life" the discussion centers around using tubes versus transistors to achieve a "warm" sound. More specifically, explain the difference between the bass "warmth" and content.

Hmmmm. How to describe the difference between bass warmth and "single line" bass. Think back to the last time you were at a live show with an electric bass player. Remember how great the bass sounded? Punchy, powerful, yet complex? Overtones from the speaker cabinet interacting with the bass amp and speakers to make a neat sound, sometimes boomy and distorted, but always pleasing? Now, imagine trying to capture that sound on a recording. Very hard, but it can be done, sometimes. More often than not, it was easier in the old days. No complex digital recording machines to filter out the bass overtones at the push of a button. Mastering engineers HATE bass like that. Mastering engineers LOVE synth bass. One single note, no overtones, no warmth, no nuttin' but that single note line. So, mastering engineers "EQ OUT" the bass overtones (that you love so much in a live gig) and make the bass sound as much like a synth bass as possible. It even has a name. It is called "removing the cloud". When they do that, much of the warmth of sound flies out the door with it. The early CD's (the ones that people bitched the most about), tended to master everything "flat" from an analog tape (usually a safety or EQ dub), cause they were in a hurry to get the stuff out there. Looking back on that distant past, one can hear that AT LEAST those CD's have the correct bass warmth intact. Most new remasters have done naughty things to the bass response (among other things) so the discs sound, er, bad...  

OK, now specifically about tubes. What some call a "warm" sound from using tubes, others think the sound is "slow" or "mushy". How do your respond to that opinion?

This subject recently came up on the forum, here is what I said:

PLEASE READ: Vacuum Tubes Do Not Make Your Music Sound "Tubey" or "Mushy"!
I've noticed a few threads in the past week talk about the fact that running music through tubes adds a "tube sound" that people associate with inaccurate reproduction.

Please note: TUBES BY THEMSELVES DO NOT MAKE MUSIC SOUND LIKE MUSH. However, some vintage tube gear designs can make the bass sag and can "slow down" the pace of the music. The upside is a spooky lifelike midrange. Modern tube gear (like I use in the studio) sounds wonderful, with none of the old-style compromises of the Golden Age gear.

Don't confuse the two things. If a reviewer sez that "A Night At The Opera" by Queen on DCC sounds "overly rounded and muddled" and blaming it on tubes that I use I have to laugh. First of all, a good MODERN tube circuit sounds wonderful, no bass bloat or other "vintage" anomalies. (Second of all, I didn't use any tubes on the DCC QUEEN CD, heh.)

At any rate, don't confuse a vintage tube playback system with a modern tube playback system. They sound nothing alike. I love them both, and can afford them both. But TUBES THEMSELVES sound more musical than transistors (IMO) and a good circuit design will take advantage of this. The downside? $$$!

During a discussion of a certain record label and one of the producers who likes to over compress and brighten the EQ on their remasters it was stated that: "Steve said that it's VERY hard to undo bad eq. Much easier to sharpen up a dull recording than toning down a ear bleeding one.' Please elaborate on your statement.

Bad EQ can come from several sources in a mastering and recording room:

Digital EQ (ecch)

Parametric EQ: (Sontec) (GM Labs) (Manley) etc.

Older style EQ: (Pultec) (Universal Audio) etc.

Graphic EQ: (1/3 octave) etc.

Recording desk EQ: Broad sweep three band EQ like Trident, etc. 

Who knows what a mastering or recording engineer might use? Although I can usually tell what has been used and have a similar unit to undo the damage, most folks can't. So, their "treble" control won't work to get rid of the damage. See? It's not specific enough. Now, on the other hand, if a CD is a little dull, just a tiny tweak up with a home treble knob usually works, and it sounds better, the way the consumer wants it to. So, easier to add, than subtract.

What are the advantages of tubes in a mastering chain??? Nearly all mastering studio use solid state gear.

The advantage? Give a listen. It's obvious! Why no one else (besides Doug Sax) does it? Can't be loaded on to a Sonic Solutions hard drive. (Har har...)

Another question about the "Removing The Cloud"...

I recall on the old board a post about removing the "Cloud" that can exist in the LF Bass region during the Mastering process..... Steve would you mind expanding as to what problems this "Cloud" can cause during the Mastering process.... or is it just a "preferred" sound at the end of the day for the Mastering engineer concerned? It seems such a grave pity to remove that "fat" or "thick" sound that may have been quite intentionally captured in the initial recording. 

This "cloud" refers to (usually) the UPPER low freq's---Around 90 to 250 cycles. This is the natural "warmth" area of electric/amped, or acoustic bass reproduction. This natural sound can go out of control when (in the old days), a lot of "bounce" dubs were made in the recording process. The bass gets muddier and muddier, losing whatever impact it once had on the earlier generation tape. 

Modern mastering engineers refer to this cloud when playing almost ANY music source. Most engineers remember the bad old days of crappy stereo systems that "doubled" the bass response at 200 cycles and left little down in the deep bass region starting at 70 or below. So, mastering engineers got in the habit of always removing this cloud, to let the low bass shine through over their playback systems. In the 80's and later, the habit stuck, even though playback systems improved. One reason being that most mastering rooms have speakers pushed against the back wall, doubling the "bad" bass response in the upper area. Engineers hate that sound. On the other hand, a mixing engineer might add too much bass if their monitors are out in the middle of the room ("Hotel California"). 

I've seen so many mastering engineers "EQ out" any kind of fat sound in the upper bass region, even though they KNOW that the bass guitar or acoustic bass sounds this way in real life. 

When synth bass came in, it must have been a mastering engineers' dream come true. No more bass cloud, because there were no more bass overtones... 

Funny enough, it was the Rap Music engineers that finally broke mastering engineers of this habit (at least when doing Rap). Rap guys LIKE the air to move in this region of their music. They WANT that cloud there. 

I've seen engineers "humor" these Rap engineers, and then go back to their old "thinning" ways when working on any other type of music. 

How exactly do you define "tonality"? (Presupposing it's possible to do the description justice in words). 

I have a good sense of "tone" with regards to the sound of a guitar. But I have a bit more trouble grasping the concept of "tonally correct" when it comes to mastering a recording of an entire band. 

Speaking of guitar tone, I heard the DCC Elvis 24K CD today. The guitar tone on "Little Sister" is wicked cool!

That guitar sound on Elvis' "Little Sister" is the late Hank Garland playing a 1961 Fender (white cream) Jazzmaster through a Tweed Fender bassman amp, cranked. The recording engineer told me he had never heard a guitar that loud in RCA's Nashville Studio before. Amazing guitar tone, considering Hank Garland hadn't even seen (let alone played) a Jazzmaster guitar before that session. He just made that riff up on the spot, too! I love stories like that. 

Tonality, the way I mean it in this context is like the following: 

When I feed music into a digital machine, I expect it to have the same exact tonal balance when it comes back out. It's that simple. In other words, exactly the same freq. response, same dynamics, etc. Doesn't matter what the ACTUAL tonality of the master tape is. Could be Yoko Ono screaming for all I care. It MUST sound the same when it is spit back out again. It must also sound the same when it comes back from the manufacturing plant on a CD or SACD or WHATEVER. 

So to recap, the tonality of the LP or CD or whatever must match the tonality of the source (master tape). If it doesn't, how the heck can a mastering engineer control what happens after manufacture? (Actually, we have ways, but that's another story).. 

At other times, when I refer to tonality, I usually mean that either a master tape, or a pair of speakers or amps or guitar amps or whatever, has a "pleasing" tone. Or, to put it more directly, a tonal spectrum that I (Steve H.) likes. Not too much, this or that, just a natural "occurs in nature" sound. Even if it comes from a totally synth source. Our ears want to hear "natural". Anything else is just a mere recording...  


What do you think about the [insert favorite] CD put out by [add favorite record label like MFSL, etc.]

As a rule I don't comment on the work of other labels.

What does Steve think about the [re-] mastering work of [insert Bill Inglot, Bob Irwin, Doug Sax or favorite engineer]

As a rule, I do not comment on the work of others.

How and why do you know that a given engineer actually had the original master tapes for the CD transfer - especially considering his stories about how different it is sometimes to find these real tapes (Bob Dylan!) and due to that he may be one of the first to go for these tapes?

Well, some times I just know where the goods are, and how they are used. For example, I know what Dennis Drake used to use at PolyGram because we talked. After he left, I lost touch, and the mastering is too over the top for me. But Bill Levenson is still there and he cares. Believe it or not, some companies really only have one or two (at the most) tapes of a certain album: The Master, and a safety. Even Capitol USA has only two. So, when I hear a CD out there that sounds good to me, I will do a little research and find out what was used, and who used it. Now, I don't obsess over this, but it's interesting to me; like a puzzle. But better than solving it, is sharing great sounds with music lovers. A win-win situation!

A few of you have called or Emailed me in regards to what famous oldies were recorded at Gold Star when it was operating. Rather than answer each of you, I'll just post it here. Now, this is just off the top of my head. I am sure there are a lot more, but here goes: 

"I Got You Babe" "Tequila", "Summertime Blues", "La Bamba", "Da Doo Ron Ron", "You've Lost That Loving Feeling", "Land Of 1000 Dances", "Be My Baby", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "(There Was A) Tall Oak Tree", "Hey Little One", "The Big Hurt", "The Lonely Bull", "Tijuana Taxi" and all the other Herb Alpert stuff, All the Eddie Cochran stuff, Ritchie Valens stuff, "He's A Rebel", "To Know Him Is To Love Him", "River Deep, Mountain High", and all the great Phil Spector stuff. "The In Crowd", "Please, Mr. Custer", More Beach Boys stuff including "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and "Drive In", and other things like "Call Me" and "Let's Dance" by Chris Montez, "Johnny Willow" by Fred Darian---- 

And tons more that my brain can't spew forward at the moment.  

Anyone know why the great Phil Spector insisted on Mono only for all of his mixes, even through the middle 1960's?
Steve's answer: Not to name drop, but Phil Spector told me that to him, MONO meant "finished". He said that one of his productions was only finished when mixed to mono. In stereo, the mix would suffer if someone was not in the right listening spot, or the stereo was not balanced properly, or the stereo mix was played back in mono by mistake, or one speaker got disconnected. He HATED that kind of stuff. Stuff he couldn't control. He wanted complete control over every part of production. See what he means? Until the mix is totally mono, the perception of it can be altered by accident or design. Remember in the early 1970's when the "Back To Mono" buttons were all the rage? I remember a picture of George Harrison wearing one. Phil's doing, I'm sure! I'm sure he will be real crazy about surround sound.

Recently on the main DCC Forum someone commented about how things appeared to be identical and how they sounded identical once dumped into a digital workstation and edited--something Steve never does. Here is how it went:

Steve, here's something to think about. If you *did* have to chance to remaster the Beatles, what would you do in cases like This Boy? The edit on the stereo mix is *terrible*. Would you just leave it as-is, or go ahead and tidy it up? Just for the hell of it I went ahead and "fixed" the edit here - it actually sounds good now! Hell, I can't even tell there's an edit any more...
I'm not sure how many other cases there are like that, but... 

Steve Hoffman 

"This Boy", stereo mix (which I hate, by the way), would have to be mastered (at least by me), with edit intact. Anything else would mean dumping to digital workstation. Something I never do.. 


Hmm...I still don't know why. Doing a simple edit doesn't change the sound (as changing levels would)... 


Ok, so here's what I did:
- loaded This Boy into ProTools and made the edit
- did a "mix" of this edit
- loaded both the edit and the original mix into a new PT session
- inverted the original mix and played them back in mono

Result? ZERO output, indicating that the two files were identical (up to the edit, anyway).

Yes, doing adjustments like EQ and level on workstations may harden up the sound, but I don't believe simple edits are a problem. And they shouldn't be - you're only moving bits around in time, not changing the bits themselves.. 

Grant T. 

Luke, I realize this is for Steve Hoffman but I'm going to jump in here.
Every time you make a change to a 16-bit file you increase the bit word-length. If you save the file back to 16-bit the software has to chop off the extra data thereby casing you to lose sonic information. If the software uses dither, and I'm certain Pro Tools does, it's a little better because instead of quantinization noise we now have dither noise. So it's just not a case of moving bits around. You ARE losing sound. It may or may not be noticeable.

Sure, you can do small, simple edits without a noticeable loss but the losses are still there. It's all math.


Well, I still don't see why there would be *any* changes to the bits - you're not changing the values at all, you're simply moving where those values are in the file. Just like with regular editing. If you cut a piece of tape with scissors, you're removing some information, but you're (obviously) not even touching the information that's left... 

Then Todd F. said:

I see your point about not affecting the data before or after the edit point but digital information is a very tricky beast. I've done a lot of recording, editing, mangling, etc. in the digital domain and the "character" of the tone does change with even the slightest edits. Try some off your experiments with a pink noise tone. It changes sometimes very slightly. I think Steve's philosophy with creating a digital master makes a lot of sense and the end result shows it. He seems to keep as little signal routing as possible before reaching the final step of going to his digital master. I've always noticed how the character of an analog source changes when it is digitized. In the past when I used to do all of my music on an analog 4-track (and spent tons of time listening to every aspect of the work in progress) I definitely noticed the change when bumping the info to DAT. It's difficult to explain what the change was but I'll try. The overall tone of the music usually became a little leaner and a bit colder (not in a negative way but just different). I especially noticed this with acoustic guitars, the strings lost some of their width. I sometimes made some EQ adjustments to work with the perceived changes. All the digital workstations (IMO) have different sonic signatures because of the specific software dependant algorithms they each use. I think Steve wants to keep the master tape source as pure as possible keeping out as many digital thumbprints as possible. Whatever he's doing is working great. Also, as annoying as some poor edits can be, sometimes they are just the historical reality of a given piece. As sick as it sounds, I actually miss the guitar drop out in "Day Tripper". I'm used to it and to me it sounds strange for not being there in the new version. I always appreciate the flaws in a finished work from the past being left alone (not corrected by future cooks) because it shows what the artists were able to achieve at the time and also over-look.

To which Steve said: Just wanted to repeat this here. Todd nailed it, exactly. 

Most mastering studios use digital workstations... and I think it's a good tool for storage mastertapes, which are in bad conditions. The questions is: how long the tapes will survive... or how long is the life cycle of a digital medium?

The best way to store master tapes, is to leave them be. Once dubbed to some shaky digital format, the original tape most always get tossed in the trash. Then, the digital format goes out of date, or is replaced by something better and you just have an obsolete copy instead of the original, which would still have been playable, if left alone to begin with! One famous artist who has control of his (or her) own stuff is right now is in the process of dubbing everything to 24/96 and tossing the analog originals. I've tried to talk them out of it many times, but they believes the hype, and considers the originals useless after redubbing. What are you going to do? 

Oh, God, please say it isn't Neil Young! It sure sounds like him.... I know you can't reply or comment, Steve, but by golly, I'm gonna buy second vinyl copies of his recordings! 

It's not Neil Young.... 

P H E W ! ! ! Thats-a-close-one! Thanks, Steve! Now if we could only get him off his DVD-A only kick. 

Neil Young transferring to digital and tossing the masters - never - the man is about as anti-digital as can possibly be! He'd have to be dead and buried for his analog stuff to disappear... Gotta love Mr. Young - he's a part owner of Lionel trains and is one of the folks who designs their equipment and electronics. He's an old fashioned kinda guy... 

Good point Mike. Neil always was very outspoken in his hatred of CD and actually ICE newsletter reported that he wanted to release his entire Reprise catalog on SACD. Too bad he's currently signed to Warner and they of course nixed that idea. That's the one and only reason he's big on DVD-A. . .'cause it's a step up from CD, not because he prefers it to SACD. 

Grant T. 

That an artist's tapes are in good care come down to several things, among them are if an artist owns his tapes, if they were stolen and are in somebody's bedroom closet or doghouse, if a company let them languish in some warehouse, or the studio let everybody play with them. Some artists don't look back and don't care about anything they did in the past since they probably recorded them under the influence of massive drugs, or the songs remind them of sadder times, never mind that it was at the height of their career. Some are soooo possessive that they won't give them up, or, at least want Fort Knox for the licensing alone. Then there's Allen Klein...

I agree that the original tapes should be left alone and not dubbed to digital only to throw the analog originals away in the trash. 


Well, I'm not involved with this case... but Steve what happened with the Steely Dan mastertapes? I've heard the mastertapes were in very bad condition, and Roger Nichols copied them on a digital tape a loooong time ago! Do you think they would be playable today??? I have heard the latest remasters and I like them.

Grant T. 
I understand that Roger Nichols went back to those original analog tapes for the latest remasters where he could. At least he was smart enough to not toss them. I understand the formerly Polygram, which includes A&M and Motown, backed up their catalog to 30 ips 1" analog for safety, while Sony tried to transfer everything to DSD. Rhino makes 30ips copies whenever they can.

Steve Hoffman 
Nothing wrong with the Steely Dan tapes except some of them need to be baked to be played. 

AAAArrrrggh. This is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night. Couldn't they at least have transferred it to DSD or sent you the tapes--you know, as useless momentos? 

Believe me, I tried, Greg. This type of thing is very common. Remember when MGM buried all of its old files in a big landfill? UCLA would have come over and taken everything away for nothing, but no; buried is better.... Oh well. 

This situation puzzles me the most bout musicians & studios. Why is it that some musicians do the transfer & trash analog masters while others (such as Petty) almost go into on-going depression when there masters are destroyed. Some musicians have killer vaults (such as the Dead) while others have no idea where all the studio stuff is anymore. My buddy has hundreds of master studio reels that he was given that nobody even bothered to label. Some well known musicians have no idea that my buddy has hours of their masters (for free). The most pathetic part of this situation is that he recently sold some of it back to record companies that released it on various different box sets. He asked them what format they wanted it in and they demanded digital. He said he didn't have a burner so they gave him one. The burner they sent is inferior to the one I have and now Luke's mom (no offense, just remember your example) is in line at Best Buy buying these box sets of copies of digital copies made on a cheap burner from analog masters played on my buddies ragged out reel-to-reel. Gonna stop the story now before I really tell ya what I'm thinkin'.

I think it has yet to be grasped that original master tapes and other original recording media are an authentic work of art. No one would scan or photograph a "van Gogh" painting, then burn it, because the scan is more durable. BTW does anybody have the recent CD release of "Louis Armstromg Plays W.C. Handy" ? The original tapes are lost, so they synchronized a copy master and a mint LP from the first pressing and mixed that to get closer to the original sound. What an effort, just to restore the sound of a tape that shouldn't have been lost in the first place. 

"David" asks about Fleetwood Mac RUMORS new versions compared to the original released many years ago and NOT remastered by Ken Perry:
Yet, even on these, I can hear how much treble "zing" and "air" have been eq'ed into the picture. Just to make sure we're tonally on the same page, the opening 4 downbeats on the high-hat during "You Make Loving Fun" defines this brightness for me...brutal. The acoustic strings on "Never Going Back" are just way too sharp and bright, and "Don't Stop" just sounds plain awful...thin and bright. "Gold Dust Woman"...bright.

If I had to pick the least offender from the upbeat songs, offhand, I'd probably say "Second Hand News" and only because it doesn't have any tambourines or high-hats crashing along throughout the entire song. Yet, everywhere that bright wispiness is still evident (i.e. added "air" to the vocals). Again, my system is anything BUT bright to begin with. I'd hate to imagine what this sounds like on a pair of itty bitty neutral mini-monitors!

Funny thing is...I dragged out the previous 1975 album on CD, and why it might be considered a touch bright - it's much more pleasantly so to these ears - with a fatter bottom to help balance things out.

David, what you're hearing added EQ wise is:

+5db @ 10k

+3db @ 6K

-5db @ 100 cycles

If you want to fix your CD, try REVERSING THE ABOVE.

Of course, going out and buying a $9,000.00 Sontec Parametric to fix a $14.00 CD is a bit much.....But you can use it on all the other "whitened" CD's in your collection as well!
A buddy of mine asked this, and Steve suggested I post it here. So I am. FWIW, he was talking to Talmy about the Who tapes.

I did mention the Ampex "AME" equalization, and how many 3-track ampexes used them, but he said the 3 track tapes were NAB - although very bright. Since they are so bright, I suspect they might actually be AME.
Are those stereo mixes really bright?

I first learned about AME when remixing some Arthur Lyman stuff for Ryko - I
had 3 track masters that were screamingly bright when using NAB - and a 7 1/2ips stereo mix of some tracks which they had lost the masters on, and
those mixes were screamingly bright too. Turned out they were all AME.

I may ask someone if ALL Ampex 3 track machines were AME or if it was a
selectable thing.
Steve Hoffman 

Luke, Regarding the stereo mixes on Who's Missing:
As I remember, the stereo mixes were actually kind of midrangy, and I did this type of EQ to them:

-2 @ 3000 cycles, +2 @ 10,0000 cycles, +2 @ 50 cycles.

Of course, these were mixed by someone other than Talmy at IBC, since he doesn't recall that these exist. But, Talmy would never have used AME. No British producer or engineer would have. Talmy would have added console EQ instead. AME, or "Ampex Master Eq" curve was invented by some genius at Ampex to help reduce tape hiss. When you used it, it added (among other weird sh*t) +8db at 1000 to the recording. When you played it back, it SUBTRACTED 8db at 1000.

Problem was, IF YOUR RECORDING LEVELS WENT INTO THE RED AT ALL, YOU HIT A WALL OF MIDRANGE DISTORTION THAT COULD KILL YOU, cause the thing just overloaded, and not in a nice way. Just listen to any RCA Living Stereo LP master AME tape recorded after 1959! Ouch!

So, engineers who liked to use tape saturation for compression would never use AME. Talmy (and most British folks back then) liked to push the meters at levels of +12 to saturate the tape!!!! Even today, the "0" set up tone on an analog tape machine is only +3. That is 3 db above the old "0 vu" setting established back in 1954. So, as you can imagine, recording at +12 is darn hot, well into extreme saturation. This is the reason that Talmy says that there is no tape hiss on the three tracks. The music was recorded so loud on the tape, that the hiss (way down there at -20 db) is not there. If he tried that with AME, WHAM! They would have runs screaming.

I have an Ampex four track machine that has AME on it (if selected). It cost extra in the old days, but some engineers used it a little bit; ("Ring A Ding" LP by Sinatra was recorded AME). I've never run across a British tape that ever did, though. Only CCIR (British EQ) or good old NAB (National Association of Broadcasters). Most of the British rock tapes that I have worked with are +12 NAB (The Cars, Who's Next, Rod Stewart "Never A Dull Moment", Fresh Cream, etc.) Oh, and the CORRECT AME EQ has not much to do with the top end, just the midrange.
This help? 

-2 @ 3000 cycles, +2 @ 10,0000 cycles, +2 @ 50 cycles.

That's probably why the stuff you mastered (WM LP/CD, TM LP) sounds better than the stuff you didn't (TM CD) - the TM CD doesn't have the fullness that your stuff does.

quote: "Of course, these were mixed by someone other than Talmy at IBC, since he doesn't recall that these exist."

Well, who knows. That was a long time ago. Memories fade. For all we know he *did* do those mixes and just doesn't remember it. 
Please forgive a possibly stupid question from a newbe: Where does the RIAA Curve fit in to all of this?

Steve Hoffman 
Welcome. The RIAA EQ curve has to do with phonograph records only. 

Simply stated, the Recording Industry curve, which was standardized in 1954-55, means the following:

When a record is cut, the treble control is turned all the way up, and the bass control is turned all the way down, so the lacquer sounds pretty funky. But, it does two important things for the recording:

The bass is mostly removed, so the groove can be smaller. Bass information takes up so much space on a record, that without the bass cut, the side of an LP would be under five minutes, max.

The treble boost, helps to eliminate surface noise.


Here's how: When the record is PLAYED BACK on your stereo, your Phono preamp has an RIAA decoder in it that adds the exact amount of bass back, and decreases the treble by the right amount, thereby taking the surface noise way down with it. You see?

Kind of a early Dolby type deal.

So, it's crucial that YOUR phono preamp has the correct RIAA curve in it. Most tube phono stages are off a little, and most moving coil carts vary from neutral as well.

That's it. The RIAA curve is still being used Worldwide when Phonograph records are cut, making the almost 50 year old stardard something of a survivor. A well cut LP when played back correctly can still sound amazing and lifelike; a true "analog" of a sound wave.

John, no question is stupid. Ask whatever you want! 
Mikey you recall a 10 track recorder introduced around 1967?
There is a studio in Minnesota that has (they believe) the last working unit.
The transport is a Viking unit, the electronics have no name on them. It was solid state.
It mounts sideways in a standard 21 inch rack...and it looks REALLY cool!!
Ever heard of it, or do you think that was a custom thing?

Steve Hoffman 
I've heard of a "twelve track" that belonged to Mustang Records...Wasn't "Talk Talk" by the Music Machine recorded on it, along with the Bobby Fuller Four stuff?
Never actually seen one, or a 10-track for that matter.
Others have though, I'm sure.. 
The Record Plant had a 12-track machine. That's what much of Electric Ladyland was done on. I seem to remember reading that Eddie Kramer thought it kind of sucked, and was very happy to move to 16-track shortly after that. Just as Abbey Road was going to 8-track... 
Steve Hoffman 
Well, in order to get 12 tracks on 1 inch tape, compromises have to be made in sound quality. That is why recording engineers who cared about sound quality hated the 2" 24 track machines that replaced the amazing sounding 2" 16 track decks of the 1970's. Adding 8 more tracks in without changing tape width ain't any way to run an airline, if you ask me. 
I don't believe that was the issue with Kramer. Or, at least I haven't seen him mention it. It was stuff like noisy punch-ins and such.