Because I don’t shout “Analog Rules!” from the tops of
buildings on a regular basis, some audiophiles might conclude that I’m
pro-digital and anti-analog. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t
care whether the source or final playback medium is digital or analog, what I
care about is how many generations is it from the original master.
Ideally, I want to listen to masters, whether they were
originally digital or analog. But in reality the only masters I listen to on a
regular basis are from the recordings I made myself. Everything else is usually
at least a couple of generations away from a master. And every time a recording
is transferred or copied to another generation, some fidelity is lost. Granted,
there are a few “restorative” processes, such as the Plangent Process, which has
additional generations but adds fidelity, but they are not common.
Given that we don’t often get to hear first generation masters,
the next best thing is a copy with as few intermediary steps as possible, and
no D/A or A/D transfers if it was originally an analog recording.
If a recording was originally made in the analog domain,
usually I would prefer to hear an analog copy of the recording. So that means
LPs. But if I have a choice between an LP and a commercial tape release, I’d
take the tape version every time, unless it’s a 3 ¾ ips Dolby-encoded copy.
Why? The tape has fewer steps in the reproduction and playback process.
Back in the ’60’s and ’70’s J. Gordon Holt always chose the
tape release over the LP. Granted that tape machines were more advanced than
record playback systems back then, but even today I’d rather hear a Tape
Project release than an new LP of the same material.
The main reason that all re-releases of older material don’t
sound better than the originals is the combination of deterioration of the
original masters and the difficulty in obtaining and maintaining the proper
vintage equipment for the transfer/mastering process. Every tape machine has
it’s own signature distortion, and the playback machine’s flutter and wow, judder,
and tape scrape resonances effect the sound, just as the recording machine’s
There is one way that I know to reduce the tape machine
non-linearities – the Plangent Processes. If you want to hear how well it works, go to their site and listen to the
audio samples. I have an interview with their president, Jamie Howarth, in the
very near future.
I strongly encourage you to seek out or make your own masters. Record
something, anything…After all, unless you’ve got a good source it doesn’t
matter how good the rest of your signal chain is.