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Audio Society of Minnesota September 2013 – The Tape Project

September 23, 2013


The Audio Society of Minnesota continues to amaze me with thought-provoking meetings. This year’s kick-off meeting featured the Tape Project. The idea here is to get master tapes and covert them to audiophile quality consumer reel to reel tape.  This is a very expensive proposition. First getting a vintage reel to reel machine in good shape is a about a $1200 investment (and likely in need some reconditioning so you need money and friends with skills). Then each album is about $500 (how dare I complain about 180 gram vinyl at $30).  Back in my youth, reel to reel was the ultimate audiophile format.

The meeting started with a Skype interview with Paul Subblebline, one of the chief partners of the project, explaining  the process. Half the battle is finding quality source material, as few labels take their archives seriously. The next battle is finding quality blank tape stock.  It sounds like The Tape project is both diligent in finding quality masters and conscientious in their tape stock.  Technically these guys know what they are doing – they are not amateurs, but true pros.  It is pretty apparent this is a labor of love – nobody is getting rich off this (except the greedy labels and their licensing fees).

Then we headed into a listening session.  A good reel to reel is the best analog sound you could ever experience – the idea of carefully and competently dubbing the analog master tapes to the consumer equivalent  is pretty mind-blowing.

So how did it sound?  The first sample was a classical piece – I was too ignorant to evaluate.  Next up was Credence Clearwater Revival’s  “Willie And the Poor Boys.”  it sounded like what I imagine the original mastering studio wizards heard.  It was about as alive in studio as you can get.  Every instrument was so distinct and when I closed my eyes I could  imagine John Fogerty cutting the vocals behind the glass.    I was starting to get it.  Another classical piece sounded good, but that is not my thing.

Smith Sermon

The the coup de grâce: Jimmy Smith’s The Sermon! (a Rudy Van Gelder Blue Note).  Oh my – this was like nothing I have ever heard before (and I have heard this album dozen’s of times).  I would pay $500 to have this edition (if I had a system to play it on).  Van Gelder is the greatest jazz engineer/producer of all time and this is like reading his doctoral thesis. I went home and listened to my 2000 RVG remaster on CD.  It did not sound like shit, but it was not what I just heard either.  The CD did not have the warmth or the nuance.  The most arresting sonic feature I witnessed on the reel to reel version was a subtle echoing of the horn featured in the left channel in the right channel – the CD is nothing like this.  I honestly will not forget the beauty of that reel to reel recording and I know I will never hear The Sermon! like that ever again.  A fragile moment.


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