New source for master tape copies of EMI recordings

adrianywu

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Nov 15, 2021
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Late last year, I read on a tape forum that an Italian audio magazine called Audiophile Sound, which had already released several LPs of early EMI recordings, has secured the right to release tape copies from the EMI catalogue. Even though the LPs were mastered from digital files, the tape copies would be made directly from the analog master tapes. The first three tapes due for release include a mono and two stereo titles. Intrigued, I got in touch with the editor, a gentleman named Pierre Buldoc. He is extremely knowledgeable in classical music in general, and in historical recordings in particular. He told me that Abbey Road Studios had made direct 1:1 copies of the EMI master tapes for him, which he will use as production masters to produce his commercial releases. Even though the tapes were not yet ready for release commercially, he was kind enough to make me advance copies of all three titles. Due to COVID disruptions, it took about three months to receive the copies. Since the printed materials were not yet ready, I only received the tapes in the boxes but without labels or booklets.
Here is some information on these tapes provided by Pierre.
"As far as the three titles are concerned, the masters are all on ¼’’ tape. Abbey Road using a Studer A80 duplicates for us, flat and back to back, the original masters (edited work parts on ¼’’ tape) onto another Studer A80 this time however equipped with ½’’ tape heads. Like this we lose very little in the making of our production master, maybe 1 db. The production master on ½’’ tape therefore becomes our master and is then played back on an Ampex ATR 102 which then sends the signal straight to the duplicating recorder, another Studer A 80 this time modified by the late Tim de Paravicini. Cabling is all by Yamamura."

There is a choice of using the SM900 studio mastering tape, or the thinner LPR90 long play tape, which will save a little bit of money and space. The customer can also choose between IEC/CCIR or NAB equalizations. For 15ips, I prefer IEC/CCIR. The cost is 200 Euros per album.
The first tape I listened to was one of my favorite recordings, a mono recording of Maria Callas singing opera arias (33CX 1231, recorded in 1954). Playing the tape with my Nagra T Audio through my tube tape head preamp, the first thing that struck me was the crystalline clarity of Callas's voice. Even though the sound was bunched into the center, since it was in mono, there was good depth perception. In fact, one can hear the layers of instruments, with the voice floating in front occupying its own space. The voice has tremendous body and presence. The dynamic range of the recording is very wide, since unlike many coloratura sopranos, Callas' dramatic voice could sustain the volume to the extreme of her high register, and the range from the quietest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo is huge. The background noise of the tape is low, which is remarkable given its age and the lack of any noise reduction technology at the time. I could actually detect tape saturation at one point when she hit a high note with full force. Another remarkable aspect is the transparency, and one can really hear into the recording, clearly distinguishing all the instruments playing behind her even without the stereo spatial cues. The woodwinds have a wonderful tone as one can hear the vibrations from the body of the instruments.
After going through the tape, I turned to the LP, a reissue by Testament. This was played on my Garrard 301/SME 3012 with the Ikeda 9Mono cartridge. The phono preamp is of the same design as my tape head preamp, but built on PCB rather than with point-to-point wiring. Overall, the sound is a little less transparent on the LP. There is less depth, and the voice is not as well separated spatially from the orchestra. The dynamic range also seems a bit compressed compared to the tape, but not dramatically so. At the beginning of "Poveri Fiori", the strings have a bit less air, and sound less transparent. "Ebben? Ne Andò Lontana" from La Wally sounds a bit less stirring on LP than on tape. On "Cavatina: Una Voce Poco Fà" from Il Barbiere Di Siviglia, the pizzicato strings that accompanied the voice at the beginning sound less dynamic on the LP. It has visceral impact on the tape, even though it is played quite softly. One can feel the vibrations after the strings have been plucked. On the Bell Song from Lakme, when the tambourines come in at around 4 minutes, one can hear more depth on the tape, and they have more separation from the rest of the orchestra. On the plus side, the LP is tonally indistinguishable from the tape, which means nobody tried to "improve" the tonal balance Legge originally intended. The deficiencies of the LP that I mentioned, if they can be called that, are sins of omission, not commission, but the same cannot be said about some of the other reissue LPs I have heard.
 

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adrianywu

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The other two currently available titles are in stereo. The Rossini Overtures with Carlo Maria Giulini conducting the Philhamonia Orchestra is not a well-known recording, and there is only one modern reissue on 45 rpm LPs. The recording was made in 1962 and 1964 at Kingsway Hall by Douglas Larter on 1/4” tape running at 15 ips and the LP was first issued on SAX2560 in 1965. The most famous Rossini overtures recording is the Decca SXL2266 with Pierino Gamba conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, and these two recordings have three pieces in common, including the Thieving Magpie, William Tell and Semiramide. The other two pieces on the EMI tape are Tancredi and Cinderella. The sound of the EMI tape is very transparent with lovely highs and impressive dynamics. However, the low end is a bit anemic compared to the many Decca Kingsway Hall recordings I am familiar with. This gives the overall sound a more lightweight presentation. The depth of the soundstage also seems a bit flatter than the best Decca recordings. I examined several more EMI tapes from different sources and I can confirm the general impression that the EMI sound is flatter and more lightweight than that of Decca (or Mercury for that matter). I wonder if this was deliberate, since the Kingsway Hall acoustics were very favorable for the low frequencies. This presentation in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the recording, and the performance is incisive and idiomatic, as one would expect from this brilliant maestro. The Philharmonia was considered one of the best orchestras in the world at that time, and this is clearly evident in this recording. The Gamba recording was made in Walthamstow Town Hall, another great venue, by the celebrated Kenneth Wilkinson. I do not have a tape of this recording, and I prefer the sound of the EMI tape to my Speakers Corner reissued Gamba LP, which has distortions in several places

The other stereo tape is the famous Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli recording of the Ravel piano concerto in G and the Rachmaninoff fourth piano concerto. The original recording was made at Abbey Road's studio one in 1957 by Christopher Parker, widely considered the best recording engineer at EMI. Mysterious and aristocratic, Michelangeli was as elusive as he was brilliant. His public performances were infrequent, and he was known for cancelling concerts. He did not make many studio recordings, and much of his discography came from live concerts and broadcasts. The original LP (ASD255) of this recording is rare and expensive, and you should expect to pay at least $200 for a decent example. I have the SXLP reissue from 1974, which some listeners find preferable to the original ASD, but I find the sound quality nothing to write home about. The tape is something else altogether. It has a fuller and warmer low end than the Rossini recording, with the transparency and tonal qualities I usually associate with recordings from the vacuum tube era. This recording leaves one in no doubt of Michelangeli's technical prowess (he was Maurizio Pollini's teacher, after all), as the Rachmaninoff concerto is very difficult indeed, but it is the delicacy and elegance of his playing that fully reflect his aristocratic disposition. Rachmaninoff's second and third piano concertos are far more frequently performed and recorded, but Michelangeli was a great champion of the fourth, and with good reason. In his hands and under the baton of Ettore Gracis, there is a great deal of excitement as well as the composer's trademark romanticism. After hearing this performance, one cannot but be convinced of its place in the pantheon of great concertos.
The Ravel piano concerto in G is one of my favorite pieces (as are most Ravel compositions). The opening movement never sounds rushed or frenzied as it can be under the hands of lesser mortals. Control is perfect throughout, the phrasing and rubato as natural as breathing and never sound forced or contrived. The master's use of subtle micro-dynamic contrasts are best reflected on tape, as I find some of the finer details obscured in the LP. The adagio movement is some of the most beautiful music ever written, and on first listening, Michelangeli's playing can sound surprisingly cool. The reason is because he never makes abrupt changes in dynamics and tempo, or takes excessive liberty with rubato. However, it takes intent listening to bring out the subtle and refined shaping of the phrases and the fine dynamic shading that make the experience utterly mesmerizing. And I always find myself listening much more intently while playing tape, perhaps because there is just so much more detail than any other medium. This experience reminds me of the last time I heard this piece performed live at a concert in France with Jean-Yves Thibaudet on the piano, and I was transported once more to the venue, which was the Chateau de Clos de Vougeot in Burgundy.
The jazz-inspired final movement is full of excitement, and Michelangeli shows that he can do excitement as well as anyone. The long, sweeping runs are executed with laser-like precision and clarity, and again, nothing sounds hurried or frenzied. After listening to this performance, I can understand why he has a god-like aura amongst pianists.

The cost is 200 Euros for each album, which is a considerable sum when one can get a reissued LP for one-fifth of the price. On the other hand, the tape is guaranteed to sound closer to the original performance than any other medium, including the original LP, which sells for far more in the case of the Michelangeli. And for me, time is the most valuable commodity, so why waste it on inferior sounding LPs when something better is available ?
 

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bonzo75

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Beautifully written and also agree on your final concluding statement.

With Testament though I still have to hear a nice reissue.

Gian also knows Pierre well and some others buy from him on the forum
 

ksalno

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Is there a link? I found a website called the audiophileshop which sells the magazine and some vinyl but don't see any way to order a tape.
 

kodomo

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microstrip

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Do you know from which country the tapes are shipped?
 

ksalno

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astrotoy

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Adrian, thanks for the detailed analysis. The Michelangeli ASD255 is one of my favorite recordings. I bought a really beat up copy of the original LP in London many years ago - 5GBP or so. I digitized it with my Pacific Microsonics Model Two at 192/24 and put my Izotope RX3 advanced on it and was able to clean up the copy amazingly well. But the tape will be so much better. The current price for a nice copy of the original record makes the tape a bargain. So that will be my first purchase. I have the original SAX2560 Giulini LP and compared to my Decca Gamba which is 10 to 15% faster than the Giulini, depending on the overture. So the Gamba wins for being more spirited. I don't notice a huge difference in the low frequencies, but some in the dynamics, where the Gamba edges out the Giulini. I may still get it as well as the Callas arias, which I think I only have in the EMI 96/24 digital issue of all of the Callas EMI recordings done by Warner a few years ago.

The pricing of the tapes is about the best that I have ever seen for commercial tapes - especially buying the LPR90 tape on a single reel.

I'm ordering the tapes right now!

Larry
 
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Audiophile Bill

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Anyone got the link to the shop to order the tapes?
 

Audiophile Bill

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adrianywu

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Pierre told me that the printing was delayed, but I think he has them now. He copies the tapes one by one rather than using a splitter and multiple machines like Analogue Productions, and so it will take longer. It also means you should get it ASAP since the number of copies will be limited. Since he has not put the link in his webpage formally, I guess he is not quite ready yet, but do write to him and put your order in. He normally only charges your card when he is ready to ship.
 

microstrip

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(...) The pricing of the tapes is about the best that I have ever seen for commercial tapes - especially buying the LPR90 tape on a single reel. (...)

I am not a tape expert, but I quote from TapeProject:

"Speaking only for The Tape Project, we don't use 1 mil tape for two reasons. The thin tape is less sturdy and more subject to damage. And the additional print-through...I don't know whether it bothers anyone else but it really bothers me."
 

adrianywu

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Nov 15, 2021
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I am not a tape expert, but I quote from TapeProject:

"Speaking only for The Tape Project, we don't use 1 mil tape for two reasons. The thin tape is less sturdy and more subject to damage. And the additional print-through...I don't know whether it bothers anyone else but it really bothers me."
The LPR90 is pretty good for print through, but in any case, you should play or at least wind and rewind a tape at least once a year. If you have a machine that handles tapes well, such as an A80 or a Nagra TA, the 1mil tape should not be a problem. Not sure about other machines though.
 

astrotoy

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I agree with Adrian. Having a machine that does a slower library wind helps greatly with print through. I only do library wind with my Ampex ATR-102's. I think it is more common with higher end pro machines. My Otari MX5050BII only has the fast winds. Storing tails out after a complete regular tape play also is good. Then the only fast rewind the tape undergoes is just before regular playback and the tight tape is only on the reel for a few minutes during playback.

PS. I ordered the EMI tapes from Pierre last night and received confirmation about one hour ago. They are having a heat wave in Italy so will not be shipping until next week. Thanks, Adrian.

Larry
 

kodomo

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Has anyone received their tapes, any reviews yet?
 

PaulB

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Has anyone received their tapes, any reviews yet?
I was told second week of August, due mainly to the heat in the UK.
 

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