Saturday, August 27, 2011

Where does the audio for Earache's vinyl LP re-issues come from?

Question from Jason ( :

What is the audio on Earache's vinyl re-issues cut from? Is it re-mastered from the original tape or is it the same lacquer used on the original pressing?


Answer: Thanks for the great question Jase. We recently re-issued the first 4 Morbid Angel albums on gatefold LP wax, and the audio for them simply comes from the CD, but newer acts have their wax pressed direct from the studio masters (also known as "files") obviously. The recent Morbid Angel wax was certainly NOT advertised as "coming from original masters/tapes" or anything, but partly due to audiophile concerns we did re-issue the recent Napalm Death 'Scum' vinyl as Full Dynamic Range audio from original PCM betamax tapes, complete with rough mixes (from cassette tape!).

Earache keeps an archive of original analogue tapes and we also keep some metalwork (Mothers) used in making the original vinyls but sad to say, its just not practical to use them to produce new vinyl in 2011. For this reason the new LPs do sound slightly different to the original editions which were created using an all analogue signal path back in the day.

Analogue audio is a very temperamental format- playback of old tapes from the era is a real chore, that is if you can still find the right kind of tape player in the first place! Unless the exact speed, settings, EQ and other controls are set exactly like in the past -ie on the day of the original mastering session - the resulting audio coming off the tapes can be pretty unfamiliar.

I've mentioned in the past on this blog how we attempted to release a "re-mastered from the original tapes" version of Morbid Angel back when we last did a re-issue campaign, but scrapped the idea because it sounded so different. I really should dig those tapes out and post em here.

01 Maze of Torment (rough mix) by digearache

Another wrinkle in the process is that few vinyl pressing plants still exist these days- something like 75% of all European wax is made by one plant- GZ in Czech Republic - who prefer delivery of audio files over the internet, a fact which would shock the audiophile all-analog purist crowd.

The main reason for using the CD to make the wax is not the convenience but familiarity. Many thousands of copies have been sold in the 2 decades since release, so that is the sound that fans are used to, we'd get complaints if the vinyls sounded any different I think.

Newer Earache bands released in recent years don't have that kind of 'familiarity problem'. Hence Earache does aim to release all its newer vinyls as close to the original studio sound as possible - we go to great lengths to ban any digital FX added in the mastering process for vinyl. Our mastering engineer performs 2 mastering sessions, one for LP with emphasis on maintaining the studio dynamics, and one for CD/digital with a touch of EQ and compression for a tad of loudness. I should point out that Earache is not into the Loudness War and we master our Cds carefully, not brickwalled to the max.


Wes said...

I'd rather know when/if we'll get some BOLT THROWER reissues on vinyl!!

Joaquim said...

Dig, doesn't this deny the uniqueness of the vinyl format? Vinyl buyers supposedly buy vinyl because it sounds more organic and the bass is louder, the sound is "warmer" and the sound wave, being analog, is closer in some way, to the original execution and the original recording.

If you are using the cds as the masters, this contradicts all of this, doesn't it? The vinyls already are a copy of the compressed digital sound, and basically what we are buying is a vinyl copy of a cd!

Speaking of masters this reminds me of the endless phone calls I had to make to SUM records, the Argentinian label that released several of your releases in South America. What a nightmare that was! Many many calls. I trust they sent it all back to you and it worked out in the end didn't it? I was curious at the time as what those "cd masters" were, since as far as I knew when you send a cd to the pressing plant (I have done it once with my band) it's just a regular cd.

Digby said...

Hey Joachim- good point!

You are correct, and that is the point I'm trying to make. If you want all analogue-created 'warm sounding' vinyl try ebay for an original pressing from the 80s 90s. It will be very expensive but what you get for your money is a different more dynamic sound, and at a low volume.

If you buy any modern pressing on vinyl of an 80s/90s era recording (not just Earache) there is a massive chance it is actually created from CD...and its preferable this way as 1) its convenient for the label 2) The CD sound is what is familiar to thousands of fans and 3) the original 80s analog sound cannot be re-created satisfactorily in this modern digital age -so why even try?

Maybe ask the folks at Back On Black - a label which specialises in reprints of old metal classics what they use for "masters". It will be a CD, I guarantee it.

Yes, it was a bunch of Cds which were used as audio "masters" for SUM records in Argentina, along with CDr of digital artwork.

Anonymous said...

I know it's out of the topic but will you repress first VADER on vinyl anytime?

Maress said...

I don't understand why CDs have to be EQ'ed and compressed. They are much more capable of representing the sound of the master tape created in studio than vinyl.

I bought Annihilator's 'Criteria for a Black Widow' couple of weeks ago. It was released 2010 by Earache. I suppose it's remastered. It sounded compressed and loud, so I don't believe those words that Earache's CDs are carefully mastered

And what is the point of releasing vinyls which are taken from the same digital master as CD or taken directly from the CD? Technical specification of vinyl is worse than in the CD, so I think the only reason to release vinyl is the 'vinyl sound' which you get when you master the vinyl direct from the original master tapes

Digby said...

Hey Maress-

you should believe it because its 100% true. All of our recently recorded vinyls are created with emphasis on dynamic range and less volume (that's what the volume knob on the amp is for). Bands like Cauldron, Evile and White Wizzard all have lower volume on their vinyls, specifically because the mastering was handled by Earache in recent years -and took the form of two sessions- one for CD and one for wax. For those bands-because they were recent- the audio on the wax WAS NOT TAKEN FROM CD!!

The problem comes from re-issuing 10-15-20+ year vintage recordings, CD is the only format around that can be relied upon. Vintage analog tape is too unpredictable to "remaster" from. In many cases improper storage has meant the tape has actually oxidised (gone green/rusty) and has to be "baked' for 24 hours in an oven to fix the ferric oxide back onto the adhesive backing tape.In short, the process is medieval and a lot of hassle.

In Annihilators case the masters were created by Jeff Waters as he owns the copyright and merely licensed the recordings to Earache. The vinyl is cut from CD and the sonic quality was the responsibility of the licensor (Annihilator). In other words Earache just printed what we were given.

Hansen said...

Regarding Back On Black I remember reading an answer from them about this. They basicly use the best source available to them. Previously they only used CD's but recently they have started using the original tapes if they are available. The Testament and Thin Lizzy albums were all taken from the original master and they sound excellent. The Judas Priest albums were taken from the remastered CD's and the ones I heard sounds like crap.

I don't buy your argument why not to use the original masters. Just listen to the vinyl reissues of the old Metallica albums, the sound is fantastic and I certainly don't miss the CD sound. If you have the right equipment and storage facilities, it shouldn't be a problem using the original master tapes.

Anonymous said...

Mastering "from CD" is utterly, completely #$%@!! pointless. Thanks for being honest but this should be clear UP FRONT. If the sound is from CD, I will LISTEN TO THE CD. Thank you very much, Earache.

Anonymous said...

I just cannot believe that people would complain if the vinyl "sounded different". You apparently are not aware than metalheads can be very discerning, and many these days are recording vinyl in the hopes that it sounds better than the CD - and yes, that means dynamic range. I think many of them would be rather irked to read your comments here!

DKP said...

Honestly, I LIKE that Morbid Angel rough mix. It sounds like real instruments! Punchy and life-like.

Jason said...

Yes, what DKP said. Not saying it sounds BETTER than the official version, but hearing a rawer mix like that is really enlightening, not to mention FUN and a breathe of fresh air to an old favorite.

Does this mean you guys have MULTI-TRACKS for some of the old earache releases, as opposed to stereo mixes?