From The Absolute Sound Issue 128
Remastering the Greats: Steve Hoffman of DCC Compact Classics
by Richard Boesser
"Mastering is like putting an original painting in just the right light and then photographing it." So began my series of telephone conversations with Steve Hoffman of DCC Compact Classics, a man who masters CDs and LPs in musical ways. His biographical sketch is short and sweet: Born and lives in Los Angeles. Master's degree in Mass Communication Sciences from Cal State, Northridge. On-air time on public radio during college. Afternoon broadcast engineer at a commercial LA station. Then 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. Now DCC for some 12 years. DCC's website tells the company's history and has a direct-order catalog (http://www.dcccompactclassics.com/).
Over the years, Hoffman has remastered an array of recordings onto gold CDs and 180-gram LPs. His Nat "King" Cole's Greatest Hits on 180-gram vinyl is a wonderful time-machine experience for the listener. Indeed, Hoffman's name is on a large stack of excellent work. He had three new mastering projects going on during the period we talked. His work continues to bring riches to music lovers everywhere.
Richard Boesser: How do a digital and an LP mastering machine compare?
Steve Hoffman: One machine converts magnetic impulses on a tape to a true analog -- a sympathetic vibration on revolving media as invented by Edison and refined by Berliner. Digital mastering samples what's on the tape and turns it into a facsimile of what you've put into it. Each of these formats, within its specific limitations, can yield great results.
RB: What physical item do you hand over to production in each case?
SH: With digital, it's one of several formats, based on the strength or weakness of the CD plant that's being used on the project. The plant makes the laser glass master. What I give them emerges from the other end pretty much unchanged.
RB: So digital is clean out of the door. How about vinyl?
SH: Nowadays we use good old lacquers. You take something that is soft, you revolve it, and you scream into it, or today send in an electronic impulse. Basically, you're cutting a groove in the piece of material. The lacquer immediately starts to decompose. Those rigid, hard grooves that you just cut there are starting to loosen up. You have to send it over to the plater but quick!
RB: Who makes the machine you master vinyl on?
SH: Neumann, early Seventies. Engineers have modified the one I use up the ying-yang over the years. The Neumanns sound the best. I use one whenever I'm making an LP.
RB: What surprises you the most in your business?
SH: Not much in the mastering realm is a surprise. What is strange is how people store their tapes. I've found them in a bathroom with a half-inch of mold. I've found some in a lunchroom with people eating pizza on them. Once I opened a box in a dank vault and found a family of rats nesting on top. I ran screaming, "This isn't in my job description!"
RB: What do you receive from the record companies on a project? A mountain of original tapes?
SH: Well, there's only one master. But here's something interesting: In the 1950s and early 1960s, for example, when Frank Sinatra came into Capitol to make, let's say, "Come Fly With Me," they had everything recording. Two mono tape machines going, two multi-track tape machines going, one had a little bit of echo, one was bone dry with no echo. All these machines were running all the time for every take. If he sang "Come Fly With Me" eight times to get it right, all that music was captured by these different machines. So you'd have a mono take from machine A, and another mono take from machine AA, as they called them. Lots of tapes.
Now over the years, all these tapes may have gotten jumbled up. A box was labeled with masking tape. Forty years later, the label has dropped off. All you know is that the tape looks old. All that's on that outer box is a number, like L523A or X397B. Numbers are meaningless without the cross-reference list. But if the label falls off, and the tape is in a room with 9,000 other tapes, you can't re-file it. So it goes on a shelf, and after 20 years, you want to locate that tape. The record company's not likely to admit they can't find something. So I may receive 40 reels from around that time period.
That gets into detective work. But I don't mind that. I get to hear alternate versions of songs that are frozen in my brain from years of radio. I also get to hear the moments before and after that song was made, how it all came together, the mistakes. The song becomes something new for me. It's a fun part of my job, fitting together an intricate puzzle.
RB: What feeling do you get when everything is working perfectly and the music is coming through clearly and well?
SH: It's a really good feeling, a tingling. It happened to me this afternoon. I'm working on Peggy Lee's Greatest Hits and they finally unearthed some original tapes of some of her best songs, like "Fever." It was a thrill hearing it on the session tape. There's no echo and it's unprocessed -- it sounds like she's standing right there in the room. It gave me the old thrill.
RB: When was that tape made?
SH:May 1958. Very intimate without the echo and compression and all the things that make it sound the way we've heard it all these years. To hear it suddenly removed of all that, on a small scale, is something like how the Sistine Chapel ceiling must look now compared to 30 years ago.
RB: Many layers stripped away.
SH: But "Fever" can't be issued that way, because, without all the extraneous stuff, it's interesting to listen to, but it's not the Hit. . . I'm going to have to degrade the sound a bit. It needs a little compression, some echo, equalization. Not as much of this stuff as they might have added in the old days, but enough -- or it's unrecognizable.
RB: What is compression or limiting?
SH: I first noticed compression a zillion years ago on some of the early Beatles LPs. Whenever their vocals stopped on a song, the background music came up in volume. [A great example is on "Dizzy Miss Lizzy."] I thought, "Why is that?"
Compression is the most necessary and the least understood aspect of recording technology. It's been in existence since we started recording electronically in 1925. Without compression, it's hard to imagine that the record could be made correctly. When using compression, after a certain volume level things will slowly stop getting louder, depending on how you set it. It reduces loud sounds and brings up quiet sounds. When abused, it sounds horrible; when used correctly, it sounds wonderful. Natural compression occurs with tape saturation and vacuum tubes. Tube gear is much more forgiving than solid state in this regard.
So a compressor helps things "sit" in the mix correctly and convincingly. Many creative ways are available to the good engineer to keep the use of compression undetectable. If you remove it, you know it -- your recording can sound amateur.
[Or another example:] Say you want to use a DAT machine and two microphones to make a home tape of your uncle's jazz band. Drummer, bass, piano, and trumpet. One blast from that trumpet is maybe ten times louder than the other instruments, and more than your little DAT can absorb without overloading. A compressor will keep the horn sounding like it's in the same room with the other instruments. Without that, you have the rhythm section at one level and the horn comes in and blows the whole thing out, drives everything into distortion, and ruins your record.
Barbra Streisand, for example, from loud to soft, has a huge dynamic range. If you were to mix her with an orchestra without compression, she would sound too loud or too quiet. So you limit or compress her a bit to keep her "in" the mix.
RB: You can't have a person "ride" her voice while varying the input level of the tape?
SH: You can't. It's physically impossible; we move too slowly. We use compressors with technology borrowed from the 1930s film industry (among other places) to do that. If it's done right, it's nearly undetectable.
RB: What is a mastertape versus a session tape?
SH: In the case of Peggy Lee or Nat "King" Cole, I'm working with "work parts" or "session reels." With Peggy Lee's "Fever," the session reel is half-inch three-channel tape that was part of the recording session and has all the takes on it. They chose Take 5 and that's the little part of it that they gave me. It's the original tape that the musicians recorded onto. The session tape is mixed to a two-track tape for cutting records. I skipped this tape and went directly for the cleaner three-track.
RB: How often do you get the original session tapes?
SH: Sometimes, when I feel the two-track stereo mix is really lacking. Depending on the studio -- "Fever" was done at Capitol here in Los Angeles -- each engineer had his own idea what that tape should sound like. Some have echo on them, some don't. Some are compressed, some aren't. Some sound good, some don't. No one's touched this tape in over 40 years. The session was recorded on this tape and then mixed into stereo. No one's gone back this far in the process before.
RB: So you must also mix this thing.
SH: Yes, but it's very simple. Music left, music right, her in the center. That's how they did it in those days. The compromises they had to make back then for getting things onto a phonograph record aren't necessarily the compromises we have to deal with now. But we're also used to hearing them sound a certain way. If you start removing those compromises, it doesn't sound normal. So I have to keep it recognizable.
RB: The more recently made tapes you receive are already mixed?
SH: Sure. For me, if it's more than four channels, I don't want to mix it. Above four is a real serious mix. Four and below is rudimentary enough to control. A mix from an album like Van Halen, they spent a month mixing. I'd never want to mess with that.
At the beginning of my career, I had a chance to do that. But it's too easy to play God, saying, "I like lead guitar louder or background vocals quieter." That's not what it's about. But with old Fifties stuff, I'm happy to improve it. If I can't, I'll use the existing mix.
RB: What makes reissues sound different from the original LP?
SH: I worked on Joni Mitchell's Blue, for example. The mastertape and the original LP sound nothing alike. You couldn't cut what's on the mastertape onto an LP, her voice is too dynamic. Your stylus at home would have jumped right out of the groove in the old days. To avoid that, the cutting engineer had to compress the dynamic range and change the tonality of the song to get the thing on the album. And No. 1 on Side One would have had a different sound from No.6 on Side One because the closer you get to the center of the record, the harder it is to cut. Even from one song to the next is a whole other thing.
With CDs you don't have these problems. With CDs, it really boils down to how I want it to sound. Whatever I have to do to achieve that sound, I'll do. Sometimes it's taking a mastertape that's solid state, and playing it back on a tube tape recorder. On the Joni Mitchell, that early Seventies solid-state sound is slightly brittle. Adding just one layer of vacuum tubes in there makes her sound much more lifelike. But in another instance, the mastertape might be too muddy, and I'd do the opposite.
RB: Tell me about the sound you like.
SH: When I was a toddler, I had a little Decca portable phonograph that I listened to "Tequila" and Elvis on, songs like that. One day I brought them over to my grandmother's. She had this old Fifties Zenith monstrosity console with a big lightning bolt on the front that lit up when you turned it on. I played some of my records on there and the world opened up. The 15-inch speaker resonated with what I later called the "breath of life." I'm always seeking that "breath of life" on modern gear. The sound of a natural midrange. It's like when you're walking in the street and you enter a club. You can instantly tell there is live music. Sound's bouncing off the walls, it's natural, and the sound is more of a wash. No one strives to make a canned recording. But they seldom succeed because no one listens to a live singer with his ear right up against the singer's mouth, where the microphone is. You'd be arrested. . . .
I was at a stereo show a few years back. I heard string quartet music coming from an exhibit and I said, "Now that disc has the correct tone for a string quartet. Everything is in proportion." Then I turned the corner and it was an actual quartet of humans with instruments. None of that high-end sheen that some people now consider real string tone. Instead we had resin, wood, and real instruments. It's humbling.
By the way, I made my grandmother give my parents that Zenith so I could play records on it. Wish I still had it!
RB: How is the bandwidth on older tape machines? I've heard that they may only go up to about 15,000 cycles.
SH: No, they weren't stopping at 15,000, but the signal started going off of spec around there. They couldn't lie in the spec sheets, because engineers would always call 'em on it. It kept the companies that made professional gear honest. Those were the most conservative specs they could publish. No one lied the way they do now. For example, a McIntosh MC30 tube amplifier might have been rated at 30 watts per channel but could really deliver around 38-40.
The tube Ampex machine's strong suit was the "record" mode -- it would sound great. It doesn't sound as good using the playback heads, though. For good playback, you have to tweak the electronics in the older Ampexes to give them quicker response, by putting in some modern things. Everything was a lot slower in those old days.
RB: Why did you start using the VAC 140 monoblocks as cutter amps?
SH: Kevin Hayes [of VAC] and I thought it would work, and it did. You want the cutter amp to be as neutral as possible but still have that "breath of life."
RB: Power conditioning?
SH: The mastering studio that I use for record cutting in LA has dedicated lines that are conditioned. Everything is set up for maximum current sucking. I always have to remind myself that most of the recordings from the Golden Era were made with zip cord and unreliable machinery. Nothing was tweaked out, yet it all sounded great.
RB: What is your take on microphones?
SH: When I was at Cal State Northridge, I took many radio broadcasting classes. They had tons of tape recorders and microphones that had been donated by radio and TV stations in LA. All tube everything. I remember the sound of one RCA ribbon mike. I spoke a "123 test," recording it into a mono Ampex tape recorder. I played my voice back and it sounded good. I also vividly remember a GE 1950 radio console we used at the radio station. This thing had 25 pots on it and you could turn every one of them all the way up and there was no noise! The good old days. Even in the Solid-State Seventies, we college radio dudes knew that tube gear sounded better!
RB: So there are classic ribbons and then the Neumanns.
SH: The Neumanns were necessary evils in the Fifties because of the low resolution of the playback systems. Neumanns helped the sound immensely. But today, if you sang into a Neumann and you sang into a ribbon mike, I believe the average audiophile would prefer the sound of the ribbon. Now that the signal path is so clean, that Neumann can hurt your ears. It's really colored...the top end on that mike has an overloading distortion that a lot of people love. I don't -- I'm spoiled by the sound of "smooth."
RB: So for further natural-sounding mike research, the ribbon should be the starting place?
SH: Absolutely. The old RCAs are the best, if they're restored right. There are companies making them now in the old way, as well. They sound very good as long as you don't get your mouth too close. From 1936 to the early 1950s, ribbon mikes were the state of the art. I remember on "The Tonight Show" they still used ribbon mikes on the horns in the 1980s.
I just thought of a neat fact from years ago. It's about echo chambers. In the old days, any independent studio around town could patch into a major studio's echo chamber. If you were at Capitol and no one was using one of the echo chambers over at Gold Star, for example, you could dial over there on a dedicated phone line and patch into it. Just feed your signal right through the air of their chamber. I love that!
RB: How about speakers?
SH: In the Seventies, I went through JBL 100s, AR 3As and a bunch of others that I could barely afford...But it wasn't till I found an old pair of Tannoys from 1965, big old giants from England, that I said, "Ahh." They're 98 dB efficient, humongously large, and sound great, unless you mind that they only go up to about 12k. I found mine in a Salvation Army-type store. I knew Tannoys from the studios -- the 12-inch Tannoy Golds were in many US studios in the Seventies and Eighties.
I have Tannoy Windsors and Lancasters. They both contain the 15-inch dual-concentric unit. Super-smooth with no bells or whistles. A seamless "midrange magic" sound. They developed that speaker during World War II so the RAF could learn to distinguish between the different sounds of aircraft or submarines.
Tannoys don't work on everything. I realized when I first set up 30-year-old speakers that modern electronics sounded all wrong. So I tried some Mac 60s and a Marantz 7 tube preamp and that was much better. They really are amazing from about 30 Hz up. The Windsors were the monitors in the old Olympic Studios in England. Everything was mixed on them -- the Stones, Rod Stewart, the Who, Hendrix. And when you listen to those recordings through these speakers you go, "Oh my God! I get it!" Hendrix on other speakers may sound a little off, but on the Tannoys, he's perfect. Try "Jumpin' Jack Flash," and you can actually hear what the mixer was striving for. . .
It's that big old solid, realistic sound, not particularly full of detail, but full of old-fashioned resonance. That comes from having the 15-incher in there -- nothing like a 15 to get that big "thwack" out of life. Most audiophiles think Tannoys are slower than heck, but I love 'em for certain types of music...
RB: In mastering, you can customize the sound for LP or CD?
SH: Yes. I'm an LP lover, always have been. If you have a good player and cartridge, LPs can sound wonderful. RCAs from the late 1950s -- they sound magical. If you find a good-sounding recording, it's going to sound good on LP. If you get a bad-sounding recording, it's going to sound bad on LP. Same with CDs, there's just more bad-sounding CDs than good sounding ones. In the old days, a mastering engineer couldn't add more top end on an LP, it wouldn't work. Now some young kid's going to come and say, "I want more top end on my CD than anybody else's," or more bass stomp or whatever. And the mastering engineer will add it. There's no mistracking or anything; it just doesn't sound good.
There's no one holding in the reins. In the old days, the mechanical process itself held in the reins, and kept records sounding pretty much in the same sonic ballpark. Cutter-head and mastering techniques will vary things, but certain things you couldn't do. The Kinks couldn't walk into the mastering room in 1965 and say, "Hey, Man, we want more top end on ‘You Really Got Me.'" The guy's going to say, "We can't put any more on here," and they'd say, "Oh, okay." Now, anybody can do anything!
RB: What about the brick wall they talk about with current CDs, the fact that there's no room above about 20,000 cycles to store information?
SH: Just a part of PCM technology. I try to ignore the shortcomings. Let me tell you my theory about bandwidth. The heart of the music's the midrange. If you muck around with that, you don't have a good-sounding record. On an LP, by the inner groove area, you might end up with nothing over 12,000 cycles. Yet we all love our LPs, right? So it's not that giant high-end extension that audiophiles love. What they love is the top end in proportion to the midband and the bass. If you don't have that, your music's not going to sound lifelike. If your music doesn't sound lifelike, you've lost most audiophiles.
Whatever your home equipment does, it doesn't make any difference when a Nat "King" Cole tape only goes to 13,000 cycles. I would rather the thing reproduce the 50-15,000 range than worry about what's beyond. I know I'm alone in this. . .
RB: What about the part of a recording I'll call the upper third, where so often digital can be fatiguing?
SH: That can be the mastering engineer's fault. Most of the CDs I've mastered have been done so there's no fatigue, splatter, or ill-defined top end -- getting everything in proportion and not exaggerating one part of the spectrum. A theory of equalization says if you screw around with one part of the spectrum, other parts suffer. I think this is not really understood by many engineers. There's always cause and effect. It doesn't really have anything to do with bandwidth. . . .
RB: The music lover on a budget can get more good sound for the money on vinyl than CDs. Really good CD playback gets more expensive.
SH: Heavens above! The very first time I heard a CD was at an old Pacific Stereo store in the San Fernando Valley. Let me tell you, this thing sounded so bad, it scared me. It was an Arista record sampler, the Kinks, I don't know who else, maybe Barry Manilow. It was the only CD in the place -- maybe 1982? And I realized why it sounded so terrible -- it was because the mastering engineer had turned the treble all the way up. I walked in there and said, "My LP sounds better than this." And the sales guy said, "It does sound a little tinny, doesn't it?" My first taste of CD. But to answer your question, good CD players don't have to cost a lot. Just read The Absolute Sound.
RB: What drew you to mastering?
SH: I started out as a mastering engineer by necessity. I'm an A&R guy. Artist and Repertoire people pick songs and sign artists. I started hearing how awful the sound quality was on my test pressings. What were these engineers doing to the music? What kind of tapes were they getting to work with?
So I learned the hows and whys of mastering. One of the early things we did was make a special test CD. This was way before the days of CDR. We recorded a CD of us in the mastering room, singing, whistling, walking around. Pink noise, high tones, low tones. I brought in my guitar and strummed into each microphone, etc. Then we made a CD master and sent it over to our plant. They pressed it and I was amazed -- it all came back exactly the way it went in. Maybe a hint of ambiance was gone, but the tonality was the same. That's when I realized a CD could sound pretty good. You just have to know what you're doing, since it's so revealing.
RB: Why does a DCC 24-karat gold CD sound better than a mass-produced CD?
SH: No mastering engineer at any major record label has enough time. I spent five weeks on Joni Mitchell's Blue. It was a complicated one. But that's DCC -- they let me. A major like Warner issues 35 titles a month. They don't have time to muck around.
RB: Where do you think the less-than-satisfactory sound comes in with CDs?
SH: Let's look at what a CD actually does. Take a piece of paper and draw a wavy line to represent the sound wave. Your CD samples each part of that wave. Instead of one wavy line, you're getting Morse-code -- dot-da-dot-dot-dot. Our human ears are used to hearing things in a certain way. Some of us who are familiar with live music in the concert hall would notice the lack of ambiance on certain CDs. Loss of ambient information becomes obvious. So do harshness, dryness, and other baddies, when we know what to listen for. Mastering engineers try many ways to circumvent that. There are multiple styles of analog-to-digital converters. Some are better with ambiance; some are better with other [things.] I like to add a little extra ambiance at the beginning so that when it slips through the cracks, there is still enough to sound lifelike. Certain types of tubes have a coloration that give an overabundance of ambient sound.
...On CDs there are certain ways to make sure that the ambiance stays there, little secret tricks. We'll see what happens with SACD. Time will tell.
...Higher resolution doesn't always (to me) mean an improvement in older recordings, though. Let me use my tried-and-true analogy: The Louvre has loaned me the Mona Lisa. I've invited all my friends over to see it. I show it to them in the house under controlled lighting, so it looks great. Then we take it outside into natural sunlight and there's every crack, piece of dust, all the age. It will be so revealing and so accurate that you'll experience it in a very clinical way, but you won't get any pleasure out of it.
Unless the mastering is really great, all that's up there is annoyance -- headache-land. Music for insects. . . .When higher resolution digital standards are locked in big time, we'll embrace them. Until then it's the current standard CDs I'm working with...
RB: Is the cartridge in a record player doing a similar function as the analog-to-digital converter?
SH: Yes. Except the parameters are wider on the cartridge. You can take eight cartridges and styluses and none of them will sound alike. That makes the cutting engineer's job harder, since the sound will be in the ear of the listener, depending on the cartridge.
Certain cartridges are known for certain characteristics, a rising top end, warmth, inner detail, outer detail. But if your recording already has inner detail, and if your playback system is adding more and more inner detail through interconnects, speakers, and electronics, when you turn your record on, it's going to sound like your woofer has been disconnected.
With a CD, there is less chance of going astray than with a turntable...Getting the breath of life out of a CD player is not just based on its cost...I have seven playback systems in seven rooms I can screw around with in case I get too cocky...I can get captivated by the sound of a particular one and say, "Wow, this could sound even better." So I start to tweak and move speakers around -- and then I remember the most important thing -- it's a bad-sounding recording. So on goes a good-sounding recording and everything gets moved back again. Just remember, not every recording sounds good. If you can tell the difference on your stereo, you probably have a pretty good stereo. If everything sounds the same on it, it can't be right.
RB: You listen critically at work. How much do you listen critically in the car or at the house?
SH: Think of a film editor at the movies after hours. How can he not look at the editing of that movie? I love music and some of my favorite is from the 1920s and 1930s. These are 78s, but I'm able to tune the noise out. When I play a Benny Goodman 78, I don't even hear the scratches. If others are in the room they'll say, "What is that noise?" I say, "That's the noise of every 78. Since there's nothing you can do about it, why dwell?"
RB: Isn't a full orchestra the hardest thing to reproduce?
SH: Analog or digital, it's hard to get the orchestra back out again. You're doomed to compromise by the very nature of the microphone. A person might say, "I need to recreate the volume of an orchestra in my living room." But it's not just about volume. An orchestra is a complex organism. How can an orchestra enter the recording chain correctly through microphones? You're handicapped from the beginning.
However, in the Fifties Mercury and RCA used minimal-miking. The conductor was the guy to make each section louder or quieter. Those are among the best sounding orchestral recordings I've ever heard. The idea didn't last long.
...I've been told tubes are to analog as transistors are to digital. One sounds human while the other sounds like a recording of a human. Why? Tubes are able to reproduce more accurately the sounds of our world. I'm not a scientist, but I know it's true. I've made the experiment many times and I always come up with the same thing. Tubes, however, have their limitations. When they exceed their capabilities, they start to overload, sag, they get hot and wear out. All the reasons why the industry wanted to get them out. What they didn't realize was, they were throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Richard Boesser lives with his family on the coast of California. He caught the hi-fi bug during the mid-Sixties from his father's stereo, listening to Tijuana Brass records and the Beatles. His prime hobby to this day is listening and tinkering with his stereo set-up. He likes tubes, vinyl, and some CDs. He conducted the Saul Marantz interview that ran in Issue 94.
Hoffman on the Recordings
Elvis 24K Gold Greatest Hits INFO
RCA Nashville. Good tapes. Lots of life. Most of the Elvis in stereo was engineered by my buddy Bill Porter. He's the man. I think it's fascinating when you find something that sounds good with a minimal amount of equipment. That always gives me a little thrill.
Roy Orbison's Greatest Hits LISTEN
Those sessions span 1959-1963 at RCA Nashville Sound Studios, again, done by Bill Porter. Whatever I said for the Elvis tapes goes for Orbison. Great music, all recorded live! Bill Porter's motto about bandwidth was "From DC to light." Of course with the monitors they were using you couldn't hear anything below 50 cycles. And they probably heard little over 12,000. It's a nice thought but reality imposed the limitations of the day. Considering the good results, it was probably a good thing they stayed focused on the range they had. They had a lucky combination of engineering and equipment.
The Eagles: Hotel California LISTEN
First of all, the tape wouldn't play because of the "sticky shed" syndrome. The binding and oxides gum up. Any tape made after about 1974 is prone to that. However, if you heat tapes up in a convection oven, the tape will play for a week or two. So we cooked Hotel California. I had to sign a disclaimer for Ampex saying it's not their fault if the tapes are accidentally destroyed. I thought, "Sheesh, why does it have to be Hotel California that needs cooking?"
The tapes came back and they played fine. Phew. Next, the sound itself: It's a long story, including getting a pair of the same small JBL monitors they mixed it with originally. This was the toughest job I've ever done, a real pain, but I think it turned out very well. Others do, too. The Eagles Greatest Hits had the same set of problems.
The Doors' First Album LISTEN
Good old Sunset Sound in Hollywood. The first Doors album was recorded on four-track, so it has a nice vintage sound. They're playing in the same room, it's almost spontaneous, it's being created before our eyes.
Jim Croce LISTEN
I compiled his first album in its entirety, along with the best from his other two. Lots of songs we all love. That was a pleasure to do. All the tapes were in great shape, properly stored in one place at the right temperature. That was a snap.
Ray Charles INFO
Over many years, we worked his entire catalog for one project or another. Ray and I like each other. A one-album venture turned into years of working side by side.
The Beach Boys INFO
Love the Beach Boys. There's always been the stereo versus mono Beach Boys controversy. The mono mixes were the ones that Brian Wilson liked because he only had one ear drum working at full throttle. Yet the stereo mixes had all the life and dynamic range and were more satisfying musically, in my opinion. This was because engineer Chuck Britz was in a hurry to do the stereo mixes when Brian wasn't around; therefore they were not over-mixed.
Greatest Hits Fundamentals INFO
All the "Best of" rock albums we know and love have always been made from tape copies, for obvious reasons. The original masters are on other reels that correspond to the original LPs. So when they needed to make, let's say, an Elton John Greatest Hits, they'd make copies of all the masters and then use that copy. I could be wrong, but I think our company is the first to bypass the "Greatest Hits second-generation syndrome" copy and use the original masters for every song. It's a real hassle, since each song from each album has its own set-up tones, its own peculiarities that match the rest of the songs on that tape. You can't just string them all together, because levels aren't the same and the balance is off here and there. But it's worth the work.
Jazz Samba INFO
Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd: Jazz Samba was done by a private "We'll Record Your School Party" kind of outfit in Washington, D.C. Set up their Ampex two-track at All Souls Church. Great natural echo there. One of those albums that ends up sounding audiophile in a nice way. Everything sounds natural. That album started the Bossa Nova trend. It preceded the famous Getz/Gilberto album by about a year.