Given all that technical guff in the last post you would expect that I would be doing similar things for the re-pressing of City Slab Horror, also happening this year. But I’m not touching it. It doesn’t need it.
At least do no harm.
CSH was the first album we mixed to digital, up the end of 1984. This master tape still existed in the age of DAT recorders, which I used as a big interface to transfer the sound by optical cable to a hard drive. The album-to-be is will be cut from a second generation digital source – the first time the vinyl has been cut from a clean master.
The story of how we had a digital tape recorder in 1984 is a good one. Told vaguely; a big wig from SONY, let’s say it was the president, was coming down to Australia to make sure the local SONY retailers were up to scratch. He may not have known that in the hold of the aircraft was a few of everything SONY made at the time, delivered to select shops just in time to be seen in the inspection.
One of the shops was Bernie’s Radio and Electrical, a place where my old man bought a lot of ‘hi fi’ and where therefore I was tolerated. I went in there one day, and the owner offered me a left over something he didn’t know what do with.
This PCM-501 was mine for $800 plus the Betamax video deck. It takes sound and breaks it up into digital dots which then get recorded to videotape. Pretty cool. (By the way Bernie’s Radio and Electrical later became B.R.E. Audio Visual, a significant dealer in such things).
So CSH was recorded to a very high grade Betamax tape. As we mixed down we would pause the Betamax between tracks and let it roll just before the multitrack. That’s one reason why the songs have gaps unlike Since The Accident. But also no tape hiss, and 16 bit recording compared to the relatively low quality of open reel*. It sounded great, but just in case there was a problem we hired a Revox A77 and dubbed to spools of tape.
There was a problem. They didn’t have digital in the cutting room in London and so the UK album was cut from the dubs. Other copies including CDs were cut from copies of the tapes. Ouch. If you ever wondered why I was happy to start selling CDs myself, it was partly to make the music available as it was originally recorded!
But the actual digital mixdowns sound just fine for the period. We had a short discussion about re-mastering, but really anything that was on the multitrack is there.
PCM has two problems. The first is that the stereo tracks are recorded sequentially, flipping left and right every digital frame. That means there’s a phase between them, a phase that’s a really high frequency that means dogs would be upset, if it was still audible on the vinyl. The other is ‘sirens’ – a high pitched wail that can be heard very faintly in silence. It would be a problem if the high pitched squeal of our micro-composer’s synch pulse wasn’t 100x louder.
Actually the only bummer is that the SONY PCM-601 has digital out, which means I could have copied direct digital. But really from PCM D/A out to DAT A/D in was still beyond anything else affordable in the era 84-94 and it’s why we still have all our old recordings. And I still have the PCM-501.
* Yes you heard me. Open reel tape machines are at best equivalent to old samplers. This guy is annoying but he’s dead right.
@ 11m20s in – the very best open reel quality is 13bit. A Revox A77 is more like 12 bit quality! Seeing as the vinyl can only be inferior to the media from which it is copied… well.