Lou Pallo’s “Thank You Les” Gets a 10 for Sound at Analog Planet

Michael Fremer at Analog Planet gave Lou Pallo’s “Thank You Les – A Tribute To Les Paul” vinyl a “9” for musical content and a “10” for sound in his recent review. Here’s what Michael had to say:

“The production was all-analog on vintage tube gear that warmed up the CD reviewed here a few months ago, but on vinyl? OMG! Anyone who thinks CDs are “transparent to the source” will surely change their minds hearing this AA recording in its most pure AAA state…”

Read the full review here.

“Thank You Les” was mastered by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk.

Lou Pallo Thank You Les Album Cover

In addition to the great review from Michael Fremer, “Thank You Les” has earned the titles of “Best Tribute Album” and “Best Long Form Video” in the artist and industry judging portion of the Independent Music Awards, in addition to “Best Tribute Album” in the world-wide voting Vox Populi (People’s Choice).

Here’s an interview with Lou Pallo at The Independent Music Awards site.

Get the vinyl at Elusive Disc.

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Don Muro “It’s Time” Reissue Remastered by Alex DeTurk

Coming October 8th, 2013
Limited edition of 500 LPs

“Most lost-classic reissues fit snugly into genre ghettos, but Don Muro’s 1977 masterpiece ‘It’s Time’ defies even our precise 21st-century methods of classification. Rock, funk, synth-pop, disco, ambient, space-age: nothing suffices. It’s funny, it’s solemn, it’s light, it’s shady, it’s sly, it’s earnest, and it’s none and all of the above. Enjoy it ironically and suddenly it gets sublime; take it seriously and soon enough it’s having fun at your expense. I dare you to try to file this one away – chances are it’ll keep poking its head out of your collection, challenging you to figure it all out before it even attracts a speck of dust.” – Marc Masters (Pitchfork, The Wire)

2013 remaster by Alex DeTurk at Masterdisk

From the original 1977 back cover…

“On this album Don plays the following instruments:
ARP Polyphonic Synthesizer System (2600, Odyssey, String Ensemble)
ARP Pro-Soloist
Oberheim Digital Sequencer
Acoustic Piano
Rhodes 73 and 88 Electric Pianos
Hammond RT3 Organ
Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Bass Guitar
Drums and Percussion

Get it at Flannelgraph Records!

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Ask the Engineer with Scott Hull: How Much Music Fits on an LP Side PART 2

Last time we cut mono test tones and found out how big a difference a little bit of level can make on the duration of an LP side.

So let’s now look at a typical rock program. For our example this music is compressed — something like a classic Rolling Stones record — but not peak limited like a typical radio rock hit of today.

The grooves for this cut wiggle back and forth and up and down. That is how a stereo disk works. The more stereo the mix is (for example, guitars and drums panned to the sides) the deeper the groove is. A deeper cut is also wider — check your geometry lessons from middle school. 

image of vinyl grooves, magnifiedDoes anyone know what the word “analog” means? The signal and the groove is an analog of the original audio, i.e. the groove and signal are analogous. (I should not try to use such big words.) But louder alone does not determine how much space the grooves take up on the disk. The character of the program, how loud, how soft, how much bass and how much stereo all contribute to the picture. Bass has the biggest overall impact on duration.  

So when measuring the grooves to see if they will fit on a side, the cutting engineer has to consider the bass, the peak level, the average level and the duration of the music. Every change you make to the music is a compromise, so deciding how much bass, how much level and how much compression has to be decided by ear and with experience.  

Why do records that come from one studio sound better? One simple reason is the engineer, and how much they care.  

John McLaughlin Now Here ThisThe sad truth is, a typical engineer hears the music and says, “Oh it’s kind of bright, lets roll of the top; they probably won’t notice… and wow, they put a lot of bass in the mix too so we had better roll that off too! And wait a second, the floor tom is panned all the way to the side and that means we have to put in a low frequency EQ called an Elliptical to partially mono the bass.” You can certainly expect this record to sound weak, limp and dull. I don’t even like my breakfast cereal that way.  

What if that same music could be cut and fit, in full frequency range, with the bass intact and the floor tom where it belongs — but just lower the level 1db. Only a patient, determined and experienced disk cutting engineer, who is compensated for his or her time, will push that cut, take the right chances and make an amazing record. But what about the compromises?  

I cut a recent John McLaughlin album, “Now Here This,” for the Abstract Logix label. It would have sounded awful if the bottom end had been rolled off. It was in-your-face with bass and that was how the artist wanted it. So to fit the music on the side, the level had to be reduced. Not a lot, just a db – but in this case, with a quiet pressing, there was no creative damage done to the music.  This is the caring part. 

I recently cut a very demanding Glen Frey record, “After Hours,” with my young ace cutter Alex DeTurk assisting. We cut many refs and compared the playback to the tape master — that’s right I said “analog tape master.” It IS very cool to cut an analog record from an analog tape through an analog console! The original Elliot Scheiner-mixed 2 track analog was beautiful. I was tasked with making the record sound exactly the same as the analog tape. They wanted full range, no filters, almost no de-essing, and NO digital or analog processing of any kind. Well, let me say it wasn’t easy. But I’m super proud that Michael Fremmer’s review claimed it to be a 10 of 10 for sound. (link )  It only took experience, determination, and patience. Just like anything worth doing well.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Medium: Mastering for Vinyl in the Digital Age, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

In our last session my client and I were in the mastering suite — now we’re in the lathe room. I’ve got my high res vinyl-centric files lined up. Now I have to ask myself a lot of questions. How loud can I get this and still fit the program on the side? Is it going to sound good all the way in to the center of the disk? No, probably not. How much high frequency stuff is going on here? — in the vocals and cymbals?

The vocal is waaaaaay back in an Aztec temple chamber — no worry about lancing ssss sibilance messing playback up. Some of the cymbal crashes are forward, but I know I have some room in terms of level so amplitude of the crash should be tamed. Usually we listeners can take a little more cymbal than vocal, so I’m in a good position to not have to use any high frequency limiting.

Photo of Alex DeTurk adjusting the latheNext I ask myself How deep is this thing going to cut? It’s possible to cut a deep groove all the way to the metal plate sandwitched between layers of lacquer, and we DON’T want that. This music has some pretty heavy downtuned guitars in the sides, so we’re going deep, but nowhere near the real danger zone. I do note that this is going to eat through the disc at a brisk pace though.

I look at my LPI meter — it tells me how many lines per inch are going to cut on the disc based on all my current settings. With this you can estimate the total run time to figure out about how far into the disc you’re going to go. Right now it looks like we’re going all the way in, and I don’t like it.

Metal (the music, not the substance) albums don’t fare too well in the inner diameter. I have the choice to either put my elliptical filter in, or drop the level. The elliptical will sum my low end in the sides to mono — with the result that I’ll loose some of the width in the guitars. That would be detrimental to the sound, so I choose instead to lower the level another .5 dB. Now we should finish in a friendlier place.

Time to cut. This part goes quickly — it’s the prep that takes all the time — and the result looks good! Off to plating and then pressing. I won’t hear this again unless there is a problem or I have a finished LP in my hands.

In this case, there was a problem. The test pressing comes back sounding really gritty and harsh in the top end, tinny to the max. What happened? My bet is on the quality of vinyl used: the grooves still look good under the microscope, but the surrounding vinyl looks like kitty litter. I bet it’s re-grind. The disc isn’t really even black, more like dark gray. OK, let’s call up the plant and see if there is an alternate vinyl source we can use and try again. Luckily they can still use the stampers and we don’t have to go back to square one.

We wait around for a couple more weeks, and the new test pressing comes back. This round looks a lot better! And it sounds better too; quieter overall and the high end actually resembles what I put down in the first place. I’d say we’re done, run the presses!

Now for the home test…

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Getting the Most Out of Your Medium: Mastering for Vinyl in the Digital Age, Part 1

So I’m sitting down with a client friend today. He has a concept EP that he’s been working on for the past couple of months, but now it’s ready to go. As we sit and chat before the session I figure out he’s looking to do a vinyl as well as digital release. Things just got more interesting for me.

Photo of Alex DeTurk
Alex with a project he cut for the Luaka Bop label.
Unfortunately for the the ones footing the bill, it’s common knowledge (or at least it should be) that the CD master doesn’t always make the best cut. And he wants a nice hot CD master. Not only that, but my friend had done all his tracking and mixing at 24bit 96k. Sounds like a perfect time to suggest doing two different mastering passes. One will be the loud 16bit 44.1 CD/dig release, the other a full dynamic/depth interpretation at high resolution 24bit 96k. Sweeet. Turns out the label will pay for it: great.

After touching on all the finer points of mastering we get to work. I do the CD version first. After each transfer I work out a different vinyl-centric approach and print at high res. On this project I’m looking to get out of any squashed digital peak limiting, though I’m still using some analouge hard limiting for feel, really to get that kick drum right. I also tend to change the EQ once the material is brought back from the brink of converter/limiter annihilation. Sometimes the annihilation is doing a good thing, in this case it was making the high freq crunchy and present, so I brought up a bit more of the highs to reflect this in the vinyl transfer. Also the bass changes when you pull it back too, the dynamics of it, in this case too much, so pulling out a little more in the low end helped keep things feel balanced. Onwards we go EQing the EP down in parallel.

Had this been an LP, I would have approached the CD and vinyl mastering in two separate sessions. The process would become exhausting over the course of a full length album. But in the case of a shorter program like this one, it’s great to give the client immediate feedback on what the vinyl would sound like.

Now I’m checking out the potential side lengths and formulating my best release format. Hmmmm, a 12 and 14 min side. Could be a 10″ at 33 1/3 or, yes, my favorite 12″ 45 rpm. Maximum disk diameter means less inner band distortion. High speed 45 rpm keeps the groove geometry nice and open, extended high freq response. Great, awesome. The 14 min side is a bit consistently loud, so we may have to cut the level back a dB or two – but it’s well worth it for the 12″ 45.

We’re done for the day. My client takes a reference home to check it out – and loves it. If he wanted to change anything, I would have had to change both EQs — so it’s especially good that we nailed it on the first pass.

Continued in Part 2.

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Facebook Vinyl Giveaway: Javelin’s “Canyon Candy” EP

Head on over to the Masterdisk Facebook page to enter to win a copy of the limited edition vinyl 10″ release of Javelin’s Canyon Candy on the Luaka Bop label!

Photo of the Canyon Candy label
Canyon Candy Side B
Photo of Scott Hull with Canyon Candy
Mastering engineer Scott Hull with Canyon Candy in the Masterdisk back lounge.
Photo of Alex DeTurk with Javelin's Canyon Candy
Cutting engineer Alex DeTurk with Canyon Candy in front of the lathe.
photo of the Canyon Candy runoff groove with Masterdisk stamp.
Note the MASTERDISK stamp in the deadwax and Alex's initials to the right.