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Bob Ludwig, President and Chief Engineer of Gateway Mastering Studios Inc.will shortly be adding a one-inch stereo machine to his repertoire of formats. Obviously, as these machines gain popularity, there will be an increasing flow of tapes to turn into CDs, DVD-Audio discs and SACDs. I asked Bob a few questions...
Firstly, why do you need a one-inch machine?
Avitar (formerly Power Station in NYC) will have access to a Tim de Paravicini one-inch tape machine, and presumably master tapes in the format will be made. Aerosmith have already made use of his one-inch machine for a few of the cuts on their most recent recordings. People who own these machines are not comfortable shipping them down the block let alone to Maine, so I wanted to have one in case they wished to use our services. The main reason however is James Guthrie (Pink Floyd etc.), whose opinion I highly value, has said that his tape electronics are the best that have ever been built, so I expect that there will be many occasions to use them, not only for re-issue work but also for my regular mastering duties. Around 70% of the new work we get in is still sent to us on analogue tape.
Do you need a one-inch stereo machine right now - are people bringing in one-inch masters, or do you hope that it will happen more in the future?
The half-inch machine will have an immediate application, the one-inch is for the future.
Why de Paravicini's machine rather than a JRF Magnetics or ATR Services conversion?
Our deck will come from Mike Spitz, the electronics and head stack will come from Tim. I asked Jason Cosaro and James Guthrie if they would be comfortable having their tapes mastered on a machine with someone else's electronics and they would not be happy. Apparently Tim de Paravicini has made a breakthrough in the quality of the electronics and he has in fact established his own standard curves for both 15 ips and 30 ips.
Do the tubes really help?
Tubes are a tool like anything else. Aside from digital clones, any other process is a sound-altering situation for better or worse. We presently have six different types of tape electronics on which to replay our clients tapes. They all have their own sound and usually only one of them is ideal for a particular kind of music. For grunge rock, solid state is almost always better.
How do you feel about running tape at 18ips as de Paravicini has suggested?
It is his standard and if it works best than that is OK. As a mastering studio, believe me, we will be playing the tape back at whatever speed it was recorded!!
Would there be any advantage in going up to two-inch stereo?
The wider the tape, the quieter it can be, but also the more difficult it is to keep in proper azimuth (phase) adjustment. One-inch is less good in this regard than half-inch which is less good than quarter-inch etc. One-inch is probably the widest without the trade-offs getting too poor.
Is one-inch the ultimate mastering format, or can digital compete?
I think it is a tool. I think if one did a normal pop project one would find that half-inch was superior for some tracks than the one-inch. 16-bit CD/DAT digital almost never wins a shoot-out (although occasionally it does win so it is not an absolute!) whereas 96kHz/24-bit or even 44.1/24-bit digital can sound amazingly accurate with todays best converters. Often it is a trade-off. A great re-mixer can sound best on digital where it is an almost exact version of what came off his console whereas other mixers use analogue as a tool to round the sound out. They prefer what comes off the tape instead of the console output.
Will digital eventually supersede one-inch so completely that one-inch becomes irrelevant?
Not for a while, but perhaps.