Custom Deck Made for Classical Transfers at Soundmirror

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Project supervisor John Newton (left), mastering engineer Mark Donahue and the custom Studer A80 with Aria Reference Series electronics

Photo: Gene Ritvo

Soundmirror Inc. (Boston) has taken delivery of a custom playback deck that was specifically designed for A/D transfers of vintage classical analog master tapes for a BMG Classics re-release on SACD. Based on a mint-condition Studer A80 VU transport, the one-of-a-kind machine utilizes custom 2- and 3-track head blocks from JRF Magnetic Sciences and five channels of Aria Reference Series electronics from ATR Services.

Soundmirror founder and president John Newton, who is also the supervisor for the BMG Classics project, initiated construction of the custom deck to ensure pristine sound quality when transferring the classical performances from analog tapes to DSD digital. The first phase of the ongoing remastering project—contracted in its entirety to Soundmirror by BMG Classics—involves 10 SACD releases compiled from RCA Living Stereo masters recorded between 1956 and 1962. The transfers were made from the original edited session master tapes. Newton was assisted by mastering engineer Mark Donahue and DSD engineer Philipp Nedel. The recordings feature performances by the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

“Instead of rebuilding a vintage recorder from that era, as has been done with some other reissues, we decided to come up with the very finest playback machine available,” says 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.”

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, Penn., 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 3-channel and 2-channel tapes without recalibration of electronics.

The hybrid SACD releases from RCA Living Stereo series will be in stereo on both the CD and SACD layers, plus discrete 3-channel on the SACD multichannel layer for those performances recorded in the 3-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.

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