Written by 4:50 am Audiophile Music

The Bobbleheads Digitally Recorded Album Basks In Analog Vinyl Warmth

Mark Smotroff Gets A Bob-Bob-Bobbleheads Eye View of The Benefit of LP Mastering


Good morning, class!  Quick survey: How many of you have a friend who is in a band of some sort that has released a recording to the public?  

Raise your hands.  

There… that’s what I figured: most of you!

AR-BobbleheadsLPcover225.jpgHeck, right here at Audiophilereview I know that our editor Steven Stone plays in bands and has recorded everything from small groups to orchestras.  And, yes, Dear Readers, yours truly is also a musician, composer and performer with several albums out on CD (both with my old band www.ingdom.com, some tracks used in TV/film, and even a new musical I’m slowly rolling out www.dialthemusical.com).

One thing I haven’t personally done — yet — is release an album on an actual record. However, one of my good friends, bandmates and periodic-co-composers — John Ashfield — recently released a new album on vinyl with this band, The Bobbleheads.  And this event afforded me the opportunity to help him spot-check the album’s actual disc mastering prior to release. 

I even get a special thank you credit in the album’s liner notes and got to do a cameo appearance in one of their music videos (full disclosure!).

The Bobbleheads, are a fun power pop trio here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their songs are pretty great and this album is a well-produced, super-tight ‘n concise, 30-plus-minute rock ‘n roll adventure. Produced by one of our mutual friends who happens to be one of the Bay Area’s greatest and most respected musicians, Doug Hilsinger (Bomb, Waycross, Enorchestra), the resultant independently released LP titled “Make Yourself Happy” is a major label worthy endeavor. 

Heck, KROQ-FM’s “Rodney on the ROQ” liked it immediately and played one of the tracks on his show upon its release (“Turn The Radio On”).  

AR-BobbleheadsLabel225.jpgNow, rather than review the album formally — which would be a little awkward for me, being a friend of the band — I thought you might be interested to hear a bit about what we learned in the LP mastering process. Both John and I have issued many CDs over the years, so we certainly know the power of good mastering in making the recordings sound as good as possible. In fact, mastering for The Bobbleheads’ album was done by another Bay Area musician friend, Chris Xefos (King Missile, Floatation Device).

But there is a whole separate mastering process that goes on in preparing the master disc for pressing the vinyl records and that is what we’re going to reflect on here. Actually, it was a comment John made when he came over to hear the test pressing on my sound systems that compelled me to write this article.  

“All of a sudden, my band’s little new album project sounded like a real big time record and I could really hear the sound of the room we recorded in,” says Ashfield. “Not that it sounded bad before. Even though we did it all digital in Pro Tools, the final mixes that Doug Hilsinger created sound tremendous, full and warm.  Chris Xefos’ mastering was solid and sympathetic to the music.”

The Bobbleheads’ sound on record features a big chiming Rickenbacker guitar crunch, fat Fender Precision bass and an equally big drum sound. 

“When you add to the LP mastering compression and other adjustments necessary for keeping the grooves of the record consistent for vinyl playback, suddenly the band sound got even more realistic than ever, like we were all there playing in the room together. The vinyl became transparent in that sense and the recording was sounding more like I’d dreamed. It was a very cool moment and realization of the impact that the vinyl mastering can have over the final sound of a recording,” Ashfield explained.

So, you can imagine how other artists must feel the first time they hear their music played back on a turntable via a record.  

The Bobbleheads album was mastered for vinyl and manufactured at Pirate Press, here in San Francisco.

“To my ear, as both composer and performer, our album sounds less digital-y on the vinyl than the CD version, continued Ashfield.  “When I hear music that is obviously digital, I immediately envision sand on a beach. Some grains of sand are more coarse than others and the finer grain you get with digital, the better things can sound… But at the end of the day, its still a digital thing.  Analog is more like tasty pudding or creamy peanut butter, there are no rough edges. So, it seems that adding this bit of analog process to our mostly digital project has somehow smoothed some of the rough digital edges in a very positive way.”

]]>Many times people ask me about how a vinyl album sounds — a very difficult and often subjective experiential determination. There are so many variables including the amplifiers, cartridges, styluses and speakers being used to listen to the recording.  I have to admit to hearing some digitally made vinyl records that do sound warmer than their CD counterparts.  They benefit not only from the physical playback process but also getting warmed up by a tube pre-amp and such. They all combine to make things sound warmer.

To that, Ashfield continues: 

AR-BobbleheadsLabel2225.jpg“I gave a test pressing to three of my close friends who have good quality turntables and went around to each of their homes to spot check and listen for any weirdness,” added Ashfield.  “Mark’s system clearly sounded the best as he had the fanciest turntable, but the others also sounded great relative to their stereo systems. And that is what I was listening for. Each time I played the disc on a different system, I heard that consistent sound coming through the speakers. My music was sounding the way I’d always dreamed it should.”

For those of you who care about these sorts of details, my turntable is a Music Hall MMF 7.1 with a Goldring 2400 cartridge, played through a Bellari tube pre-amp into a Denon AVR-3802 Integrated Amp, over a pair of JBL 4410A Studio Monitors. 

So there you have it, we have another convert to the joys of vinyl and one who can directly appreciate the nuance and detailing that can happen as a result. 

The Bobbleheads album is available on vinyl via Amazon and other retailers such as CDBaby. . It comes on nicely pressed, thick, well-centered, 180-gram translucent creamsicle-orange vinyl. Its also available on on Apple’s iTunes and Apple Music streaming.

Check it out. If you like The Beatles and The Monkees, Fountains of Wayne and The Cars, Weezer, The Byrds and The Who, you might just like The Bobbleheads. Its all a big bunch of fun!

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