CAPTURING THE MAGIC OF MASTER TAPE
How exactly does Horch House translate an original analogue master tape into faithful copies on reel-to-reel tape and vinyl records?
We use a process that’s been meticulously researched and developed by our expert team of sound engineers, with input from some of the world’s leading specialists.
Our first step is to carefully assess the sound quality of the original master tape, which our experts do in great detail. The unfortunate fact is that tapes do tend to age over time, and most analogue masters are now between 30-80+ years old. What we’re looking to do, therefore, as an integral part of our copying process, is to restore the sound quality back to its original level. We want you to hear exactly what the first sound engineers heard (and indeed the musicians themselves), on the day that the original recording was made. This is in stark contrast to any kind of ‘remastering’, which we most definitely do not do! We’re not looking to ‘improve’ the recording in any way, but rather to return it as closely as possible to its full original beauty.
We call this our ‘soft refurbishing’ process.
Soft refurbishing: new life for much-loved masters
Horch House sound engineer Christoph Stickel has a remarkable knowledge of the complex elements underpinning the sound quality of an analogue master tape, enabling him to assess, understand and restore a tape’s original quality and achieve the correct tonal balance according to whether it was recorded 30, 40 or 50 years ago.
Stickel will typically begin by making analogue and digital test copies of the original master, so that he can spend as many hours as needed to assess and refine sound quality and perfect his refurbishing strategy without ‘overworking’ the precious original studio master tape.
No mixing desks, sound processors, limiters or compressors are used in this process. It’s an entirely analogue approach, using only analogue tools. Fine adjustments are made by ear and by hand to our Studer playback and recording machines, tweaking, testing and re-tweaking to replicate the parameters that produced the original recording. Once the optimum settings have been found, additional test recordings are made and measurements taken, followed by a further refining process. Only when an absolutely optimal result has been achieved, will our ‘soft refurbished’ master tape copies be made from the precious original.
The sound quality is therefore fine-tuned without introducing any additional stages into the signal path, hence virtually nothing is lost while the original beauty and character of the original recording are fully regained.
Reel-to-reel analogue master tape copies
The original analogue master tape is copied, in real time, from a Studer A807 or A80R (depending on the original tape format) to a small bank of just eight finely-tuned Studer top-of-range A80R master recorders. Our reel-to-reel tapes are the classic SM-468, the only tape that has proven its worth and stood the test of time over several decades. The recording quality is constantly monitored throughout, using sound level meters to ensure the best signal to noise ratio.
Such high quality analogue recording equipment requires significant expertise to operate and maintain to optimum levels. At Horch House we’re very fortunate to have the backing of leading expert Andreas Kuhn, one of the most highly regarded Studer reel-to-reel engineers in the world. Andreas scrupulously maintains and services all of our equipment.
To ensure that every tape copied meets identically high standards, all of our Studer machines are checked daily using state-of-the-art measuring equipment, so that they remain in peak condition at all times with no exceptions. Our measuring equipment is also regularly tested and recalibrated.
This level of attention to quality assurance has earned us ISO certification, enabling us to guarantee a consistently high level of quality across all Horch House products.
Audiophile-grade vinyl records
Most of our vinyl records* are then created direct from one of our newly-refurbished master tape copies. We work with a small number of hand-selected high quality pressing plants in Germany, who diligently produce our records using audiophile-grade 180g virgin vinyl.
* A small number of our vinyl records are created from remastered digital masters supplied direct from the record companies, as part of our licensing agreement with them. Where this is the case, it’s specified on the relevant album’s web page.