Digital vs Analog Masters

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Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby dcharrison » Tue Dec 20, 2016 3:35 pm

I would be curious to know how many of your clients present you with masters that have been recorded digitally vs how many produce recordings that are all analogue.
A client of mine is questioning the wisdom of releasing work on vinyl when the original recordings were digital. Your thoughts?
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Aussie0zborn » Wed Dec 21, 2016 6:30 am

I'll let the pro disc cutters answer the first question. As for the second question, what option do you have? Being recorded digitally is no reason not to issue the recording on vinyl. If that's how they recorded it, that's all you have to work with.

If you look at the introduction of digital in disc cutting, it went something like this :

1. Sony 1610 and then 1630 PCM stereo systems (3/4" U-Matic videocassette) used by big studios and large record companies.
Initially analogue multi-track recordings were mixed to digital. Analogue masters transferred to digital for distribution worldwide so that each country cuts from the same generation. No more 5th generation analogue tapes.

2. Smaller studios used the Sony F1 PCM stereo system (1/2" Beta videocassette) as the mixdown format from analogue multitrack masters. The idea of bypassing one generation of analogue tape and mixing to digital took the world by storm.

3. Large recording studios invest in digital multitrack machines.

4. DAT supersedes F1.

5. You probably know the rest from here. Analogue multitrack studios die, etc.

So, given that there a few analogue multitrack studios around today, the trick would be to make a digital recording that lends itself to the vinyl medium following the general recommendations such as no sibilance on vocals and hi-hats, no panning of low frequencies, etc. or you could just fix these problems when mastering.

Releasing digital recordings on vinyl doesn't necessarily show a lack wisdom and neither should the recording being digital preclude the release of a vinyl edition. It's just how recordings are made these days.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Sillitoe » Wed Dec 21, 2016 9:00 am

Analog/digital talk (among lots of other things) in this great video with Pete Lyman and Warren Huart.

viewtopic.php?f=2&t=6651

Cheers
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby concretecowboy71 » Fri Dec 23, 2016 11:30 am

If we only cut analog masters, we would be out of business!

Personally I do not know many artists with the monetary resources to do an all analog project. I think we are well past the days of either/or...it is a digital world. You work with it or you get left behind.

It really boils down to how good the master sounds. A well recorded, mastered digital recording sounds very good on vinyl.

A crappy tape job with sound like crap on a record. The medium does not dictate the quality of the final product, the program material does.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Greg Reierson » Fri Dec 23, 2016 12:06 pm

The problem with the analog vs. digital argument is that some take a philosophical view of it and then the sound becomes less important than the belief. Cognitive dissonance. "I like analog so this must the the sound I like" sort of thing. Tail wagging the dog, but it's their tail and their dog so they get to decide.

I cut from tape and many 100% analog projects would benefit from a digital process or two but I'll do whatever they hire me to do. What they think sounds cool could be great, could be terrible, could be over my head and I don't realize how cool it really is - or the exact opposite. Who's to say. There have been a few head scratchers but that goes for a good chunk of the musical content we all work with anyway. Not really our call either way.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby smithadamm » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:10 am

Ultimately, that question doesn't matter. You should be able to cut from either format and the wisdom of cutting digital to analog has nothing to do with anything.

I'm a big fan of cutting from all analog mixes. When I was working as a recording engineer I made many recordings that were fully analog, so I would insist on a ME that could cut all analog, and wouldn't work with a ME that was going to digitize the mixes to process and cut. Not that I was a purist, but I was fastest working with tape and I didn't want the ME to put the mixes through any extra A/D-D/A processing so I would just hire a guy that wouldn't.

This is kind of beside the point, but I would push back on this some...
concretecowboy71 wrote:Personally I do not know many artists with the monetary resources to do an all analog project.


Total myth that analog projects are more expensive than digital projects. I've recorded and mastered many, many analog projects that were done on shoestring budgets. Analog is only more expensive than digital if the recording engineer is inexperienced in analog. Not going to say much more on that as I'm digressing into Albini territory.

As a mastering engineer, I've cut all analog masters that were done by engineers that I consider to be among the best I've ever seen, and I consider those to be some of my best work, I've also assisted on all analog cuts where the masters were a total mess due to engineers that were inexperienced in the process of analog (I once had to change the playback speed of an assembled analog master as the ME was cutting because the client didn't understand that different tape machines could record at different speeds).

So, what I'm saying is, all analog masters are great, but like any master, you can get into garbage in/garbage out territory and that gets more probable as people venture into formats that they don't know how to work with but at the end of the day the wisdom of the process of changing formats is in service of the art, sometimes the medium of the pre-lacquer material is the message and sometimes it isn't. So basically this...

concretecowboy71 wrote:
A crappy tape job with sound like crap on a record. The medium does not dictate the quality of the final product, the program material does.


and this...

Greg Reierson wrote:I'll do whatever they hire me to do. What they think sounds cool could be great, could be terrible, could be over my head and I don't realize how cool it really is - or the exact opposite. Who's to say. There have been a few head scratchers but that goes for a good chunk of the musical content we all work with anyway. Not really our call either way.
Last edited by smithadamm on Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:28 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby smithadamm » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:26 am

dbl post
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Gridlock » Wed Dec 28, 2016 4:48 am

Is Albini on the forum? See: Albini . there are a lot of really great analog folks out there cutting on stuff who have not heard of and thus take no advice from the forum. All hail the mighty forum. I'm actually posting this message from an old Winchester brand typewriter!
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby Phinster » Thu Dec 29, 2016 8:35 am

The industry at large adopted digital, mostly PCM 1630, from the late 80's. See Aussie0zborn's excellent post. All the engineers at the studio I worked in
loved it.

As I remember, it solved more problems than it created, until the 'loudness war' reared it's ugly head. This probably accounts for the digital backlash nowadays. :)
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby jesusfwrl » Thu Feb 09, 2017 12:03 pm

The loudness war has been going on since the early days of recorded sound, and more potent weapons kept on being developed... It is not DSP that caused this mess, it just seemed to lend itself to such uses.

In my view, the question would be what is the purpose of releasing anything in any format?

A digital master as a stereo PCM 192/24 file would need to be converted to analog, then the analog signal would have to go though some analog signal processing, amplification and transduction into mechanical motion, and then the reproduction system would try to trace the groove, transduce it back into an electrical signal, then more analog signal processing and amplification and then again mechanical motion.
Reproducing the PCM192/24 file directly would require a conversion to analog, amplification and transduction to mechanical motion in the loudspeaker. Shorter process, most likely better sound.

Applying this to an analog recording, cutting from a master tape to disk is a longer process than just reproducing the master tape, although the problem here is that you can not clone the master tape. Copying the master tape onto another tape would be the realistic way, but this will definitely have an effect on the sound, just as cutting it to disk will have some kind of effect on it. Following this concept, the ultimate form of analog recording would be going Direct-to-Disk and reproducing the resulting vinyl records, while the ultimate form of digital recording would be direct to the A/D converter and then reproducing the cloned digital file. This, from a purely theoretical perspective.

In practise, the A/D conversion and subsequent D/A conversion would always leave their mark and any cutterhead and reproduction cartridge or tape head would also leave their mark. There is no such thing as perfect recording and reproduction.

It is still important to not do unnecessary steps, to make the most of it.
If I get a master on analog tape I will cut it using an entirely analog signal path. If I receive a master as a digital file, I will take the output of the D/A converter and an analog signal path thereafter.

The PCM192/24 file would also get degraded when going to 44/16 for the CD version, and likewise with the master tape, if you are also making a CD version of that.
The equivalent of not cutting a digital master to disk would be not offering a digital version of an analog master!
Perhaps also not offering a downsampled version of a high sample rate master...and not offering a narrow track version of 1/2" or 1" master tape, and so on and so forth...
In most cases people also make an MP3 version of their master tape or high sample rate digital master, and it sounds horrible on my speakers, but it probably sounds good to those who will listen to it in the bus on a portable device with ear buds. I will never know, because I will never try this. But there is obviously a demand for it. Is there a point in doing this? Considering that the MP3 sales will significantly augment the income, that pays those who work on this album, I guess all possible formats are justified.
Each consumer can then decide on their own individual preferences based on their own biases and intended listening setting.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby diamone » Mon Apr 17, 2017 3:14 pm

One thing you have to remember if you are cutting from tape:

Unless you are working with a production master that was recorded all in the same session all on one (or two) reels of tape on the same machine (e.g. if you get original work-parts and have to mix and master on the fly) then - as everybody knows - every machine is different and may have slightly different rack wrap height azimuth and zenith - especially height and azimuth.

Even with the advent of MRL calibration tapes - every original work part is going to be slightly different - meaning if there are multiple work parts from different sessions on different recorders on the same reel - you are going to have the impossible task of re-tweaking the player inbetween each session.

They had that problem with a recent Jimi Hendrix release. Workparts - even the ones that were all from the same studio and recorded on the same deck days weeks months or years apart - nevermind the oddballs - were so all over the map tech-wise that they COULDN'T remix on the fly and cut direct to master the lacquer/CD from the analog sources.

So they had to do an ADD mixing and mastering whether they liked it or not - i.e. set up each session tape with the perfect RWHAZ - transfer the whole session to digital - take what they wanted - mix in digital to a 2 track digital master - so the same for all the other sessions - assemble the master and then cut from there.

Meaning if all your workparts are close enough in spec that you can get away with it - by all means play it ``live'' on the tube gear of your choice, mix in analog on the fly and cut on the fly. Otherwise explain to the customer about the Jimi Hendrix project and hope for the best.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby jesusfwrl » Wed Apr 19, 2017 11:52 am

Luckily, I've never had to deal with such a situation yet.
A big amount of my mastering work fortunately comes from customers whose albums I have also recorded myself on tape. Most of my recording work for the past few years has been direct to 2 track master tape, performed entirely live in the studio, captured using minimalist miking techniques and mixed to stereo on the fly, along with tape effects and whatnot.

I am quiet intense about keeping my tape machines accurately calibrated and documenting each session like a beaurocrat!
I also record a number of tones and sweeps on the beginning of each tape along with 30 seconds of silence (just bias) to check bias/noise/etc. The recordings are done on a single machine on consecutive days, while the musicians live in the studio guest room for the duration of the recording session.
I even make notes of the tape machine serial number to use the exact same machine for the tape to disk transfer later on. I regularly use two identical Telefunken M15A machines fitted with identical Studer Butterfly heads and identical modifications to the electronics, and keep them identically calibrated. Their performance is so closely matched, that it is almost impossible to hear any difference between the two machines, but I still use the machine for the transfer just in case...

As for the Jimi Hendrix project, are you referring to multitrack tape? Was it ever common practise to cut the masters directly from the multitrack tape, through the output of the mixing console? What if you would need to ride the faders? Would you have a mix engineer ride the faders while you cut the lacquer? If you are going to be doing that, you might as well go direct-to-disk, it is almost as difficult and doubles as a selling point.
You can of course also do the mix down to stereo master tape in the analog domain individually for each piece that comes from a different session, after aligning the tape machine accordingly. That's when it comes in handy to have a separate set of tones for each session, and well documented tapes. Then, when you have the stereo mixdown for each song on tape, you can work on sequencing the album by cutting and splicing the pieces together. Whether you transfer the multitrack tapes to stereo tape or to digital, you'd still need to try to align the multitrack tape machine to each session.
The DAW won't fix that.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby diamone » Wed Apr 19, 2017 5:35 pm

jesusfwrl wrote:I regularly use two identical...with identical ...and identical... and identically calibrated.
Their performance is so closely matched, that it is almost impossible to hear any difference.
But as you just admitted - there IS a difference simply because it IS analog (even though two digital machines don't do THAT much better).
jesusfwrl wrote:As for the Jimi Hendrix project, are you referring to multitrack tape?
And the 2-track or mono mixdowns when that's all they had.
jesusfwrl wrote:Was it ever common practise to cut the masters directly from the multitrack tape, through the output of the mixing console?
A few guys did it, but everybody else mixed to quarter-inch, edited takes together if necessary and then cut their lacquers from that.

Only when the audiophile LPs started coming out in the 70s did they start doing that on a quasi-regular basis. And even then - since it was going to be an LP again (vs CD or download) they never had to worry about that because they only ever used single-pass quarter-inch LP masters which might have been as much as 3 or 4 generations down from the work parts depending on who did what to where.
jesusfwrl wrote:What if you would need to ride the faders? Would you have a mix engineer ride the faders while you cut the lacquer?
Once again - some guys did that, just like some guys did one-step processing vs three-step - but the guys that had the self confidence to do that on a day in and day out basis were rare indeed.

Of course with the advent of the DMM in the 80s, the few guys that COULD do that but rarely did - they came out of the closet because all of a sudden it was a boon to save money doing that and get a better wider ranging record in the end vs what you could get on a lacquer.
jesusfwrl wrote:If you are going to be doing that, you might as well go direct-to-disk, it is almost as difficult and doubles as a selling point.
Where do you think all the DtD and later DMM guys cut their teeth at?
jesusfwrl wrote:You can of course also do the mix down to stereo master tape in the analog domain individually for each piece that comes from a different session, after aligning the tape machine accordingly.
That goes back to the days of taking a whole multitrack session reel - setting up for the mixdown of that reel only and laying the mix of the whole reel down on single-pass quarter-inch tape - from which guys would edit e.g. the long-false-start of one take with a pickup of another take or punch in and out or etc. to make a complete take - that you'll never find on the multi because of the assembly process.

From which the album lacquer would then be prepared - by physically cutting each song from its' session-mixdown reel and splicing it in a row with all the others being edited out of their reels - which is why you often see cases where alternate takes - even mixed to stereo or mono - surviving better than the album master from not having been used for re-mastering everytime somebody turned around.

Also since in those days people REHEARSED on their own TIME AND DIME BEFORE they came into the studio - or else they would take the material on the road first instead of after like now - plenty of takes are nearly indistinguishable from the master - which is also why lots of guys producing audiophile reissues anymore go thru the whole session and finds out if A) any of the other takes are that close to the master and B) if they are in any better shape. Thousands of audiophile recordbuyers never know the difference.

And there's guys - especially at e.g. Classic Records or Cornerstone or etc that took the extra time to do that - and paid for the extra step - and all the extra tape and studio time needed to do it - out of their own pocket - for something only they and 3, 8 or 13 of their friends could tell the difference - when there was only going to be e.g. 1,000 copies of said audiophile LP going to be sold anyway.
jesusfwrl wrote:Then, when you have the stereo mixdown for each song on tape, you can work on sequencing the album by cutting and splicing the pieces together.
Which is exactly what these guys would do again all on their own dimes until they kept getting whined at by the label or mixing studio that they were using up all the time and other acts wanted to get in and get out.

All the guys from that viewpoint that I knew were all like `Your bill (at the studio or label) is paid so what's the g.d. difference? This is in the days remember when the 12 tracks of an album were cut in four 3-hour sessions over no more than a week - each session having four songs in three hours, making 16 tracks in case some weren't right for the album and ended up as singles or B sides. Overdubs on selected tracks as well as mixing was another week tops for both, and by the following Monday you had to have your finished LP ready for your label brass for approval or changes.

How many times guys have sprinted down Santa Monica Blvd with a master tape (or finished set of lacquers if you were lucky and your studio had a mastering suite) from e.g. Radio Recorders out to e.g. Kaiser Century plating and pressing so they could catch the last demo press run at 8 o'clock on a Sunday night - stand there and wait for their records and then have guys stay up all night sleeving them by themselves just so they'd have `em by 9 AM in the morning to give to label brass - nobody will never know.
jesusfwrl wrote:Whether you transfer the multitrack tapes to stereo tape or to digital, you'd still need to try to align the multitrack tape machine to each session.
Yep.
jesusfwrl wrote:The DAW won't fix that.
Nope. But how many guys do you know are gonna wanna spend that much extra time and money to do THAT? It's been years since NORMAL guys in the NORMAL studios pitched a bitch about somebody sending them an e.g. digital transfer done by just any Louie Shmoo in the tape library who barely knows how to lace up nevermind do his own calibration.

Which is one of a number of reasons why the gap between the commercial guys and the artisan types in mastering just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger - just like the bellies of the artisan guys from constantly being picked on by the commercial guys.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby jesusfwrl » Mon Apr 24, 2017 5:58 am

There is always a difference between two seemingly identical machines, no matter if it is tape, disk, digital, or just signal processing. The more effort expended in calibrating them the less pronounced the difference will be. The better the design of the equipment, the better their ability to remain calibrated for the following hours so you can get a chance to get some work done before you need to re-calibrate again. Past a certain point of wear, tear and ageing, it becomes impossible to keep things accurately calibrated, so constant maintenance is also important. The lower the quality the design and circuit implementation or mechanical structure, the less likely it is that you can accurately and predictably calibrate two machines for similar performance. This also applies to the two channels of a stereophonic setup.
The better the monitoring setup and measurement instruments, the more audible/measurable the differences are going to be. The ideal is to have such an accurate monitoring setup, such high quality equipment, well maintained and precisely calibrated, that if you cannot hear much of a difference during your work, then nobody else is going to be able to hear any difference later, on the finished product. In this sense the studio setup must outperform the audiophile setup of the consumer, which unfortunately very rarely happens.

In general, there is a right way to do things and a wrong way. The fact that occasionally in certain industries at certain points in history more and more people seem to be opting for the wrong way of doing things, doesn't legitimise the practice.
Magnetic tape and disk recording are complicated and demanding, but nowadays there are many simpler alternatives. If people are not prepared to properly align and calibrate tape machines, maintain a decent signal path, and make the most of their ludicrously expensive disk mastering system, then why bother? You can just get a smartphone and get it over with, fast, cheap and easy.
There is no reason to adulterate the disk medium or the tape medium.
MP3 downloads will work just fine for those who don't care much about the result anyway.

On the other hand, if a customer is not prepared to pay you for aligning the tape machine to their tape, then they probably shouldn't bother with tape as the source medium. If they are not prepared to pay for disk mastering, then vinyl is probably not the right medium for them. It is not like in the 30's, where you are limited in your choices of format. We are fortunate nowadays to have a huge variety of formats, ranging from expensive and complicated to cheap and easy, and from excellent sounding to plain offensive to one's senses.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby diamone » Mon Apr 24, 2017 2:23 pm

jesusfwrl wrote:If a customer is not prepared to pay you for aligning the tape machine to their tape, then they probably shouldn't bother with tape as the source medium.

If they are not prepared to pay for disk mastering, then vinyl is probably not the right medium for them.
And as previously stated in the Dealing with Customers thread viewtopic.php?f=11&t=7110 - on one hand if somebody needs handholding and babysitting maybe they need to pay extra for a broker or logistics guy to run all the interference and translate back and forth - or on the other hand - maybe you need to have your own liaison staff on-site and charge the same extra money the broker would charge and do it yourself.

Like I said - the only thing that counts is that you and your customer get to that mutually satisfying conclusion. How you get there is immaterial.
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Re: Digital vs Analog Masters

Unread postby jesusfwrl » Fri Apr 28, 2017 6:32 am

Well said, diamone!
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