Boston, MA (August 17, 2004)–Soundmirror, Inc. has taken delivery of a unique custom playback deck that was specifically designed for A-D transfers of vintage classical analog master tapes for re-release on SACD. Based on a mint condition Studer A80 VU transport, the machine utilizes custom two- and three-track headblocks from JRF Magnetic Sciences and five channels of Aria Reference Series electronics from ATR Services.
Soundmirror founder and president John Newton initiated construction of the unique custom deck to ensure pristine sound quality when transferring the legendary performances from analog tapes to DSD digital. The first phase of the continuing remastering project–contracted in its entirety to Soundmirror by BMG Classics–involves ten SACD releases compiled from RCA Living Stereo masters recorded between 1956 and 1962. The transfers were made from the original quarter-inch two-track and half-inch three-track edited session master tapes.
“Instead of rebuilding a vintage recorder from that era, as has been done with some other reissues, we decided instead to come up with the very finest playback machine available,” said Newton. “We don’t believe consumers want to hear the deficiencies of old technology, but rather only the best of the sound from that era.”
Newton adds that the first roll of tape played through the Aria electronics confirmed the wisdom of his decision. “Clearly the capability of the record channels of the time exceeded that of the playback channels. As far as noise levels, distortion and frequency extension, what we heard almost certainly sounded better than when the tapes were played back at the time of recording.”
John French of JRF Magnetic Sciences coordinated the overall Studer customization process, supplied the new Flux Magnetics heads, and fitted them to the headblock assemblies. Final deck assembly was at ATR Services in York, Pennsylvania, where Mike Spitz and Andrew Bigham mounted and calibrated the Aria Reference Series discrete class-A electronics. Five channels of playback electronics were included to allow switching between three-channel and two-channel tapes without re-calibration of electronics.
The hybrid SACD releases from RCA Living Stereo series will be in stereo on both the CD and SACD layers, plus discrete three-channel on the SACD multichannel layer for those performances recorded in the three-channel format. No attempt was made to generate surround channels using digital signal processing. All three-to-two mixes were done using a custom passive mixer, and the only other components in the signal path were Siltech audio cables, the dcs DSD converters, and–when needed–a custom passive playback equalizer for those tapes recorded using the AME (Ampex Mastering Equalization) curve.
John Newton is the supervisor for the BMG Classics project at Soundmirror, assisted by mastering engineer Mark Donahue and DSD engineer Philipp Nedel.
“This remastering is a very special event,” concluded Newton, “and what struck us is how good those tapes sounded. When we first played one of the Boston Symphony recordings, everybody who was listening instantly recognized not only the distinctive sound of the orchestra, but the sound of Symphony Hall as well. It’s a sound we’re still trying to get today, and there it was on those tapes from nearly fifty years ago.”
In addition to the BSO under the baton of Charles Munch and Pierre Monteux, the first group of ten hybrid SACD releases also includes the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (under Fritz Reiner) and stellar soloists such as Van Cliburn, Arthur Rubinstein and Jascha Heifetz.
ATR Services, Inc.
JRF Magnetic Sciences