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seen and heard @ CES, part I

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by Danny Kaey on January 16 '08

Mastertape dubs from Quinton / AAA and The TapeProject

Who’d have thunk it?  It’s 2008, music servers are knocking on everyone’s door; iTunes is quickly becoming the norm for music purchases; vinyl records, especially 45rpm double disc editions, are selling like hot cakes and yet two companies are embarking on travels to even higher esoteric grounds: real time duplicated reel to reel mastertape dubs!

Indeed, you heard right – mind you these have nothing in common with pre-recorded tapes of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s (mass dupe'd at typically 30x (!) normal speed, hit or miss sonics) – no sir, these are pristinely produced reference quality (is there any other?) tapes duplicated with the best possible machines and mastering labs.

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Both Quinton / AAA (Austrian high-end label from Vienna in collaboration with the AnalogAudioAssociation from Germany) and TapeProject (Paul Stubbelbine, Dan Schmalle and Michael Romanowski) make these dubs available on RMGI SM468 tape, in ¼” width recorded with the CCIR/IEC eq curve and 2mm track gap at 15ips speed for best possible sound.

Tapes were seen and heard at the Luxman/Vivid room Mirage Suites (Studer A80 w/ Doc Bottlehead custom electronics), EAR/Tim d.Paravicini custom electronics Technics RS-1500, FIM and Kubala-Sosna/Kharma room as well as several others.  Rumor has it that next year a dedicated tape room will be available for all to see and witness… wow!


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The six Quinton / AAA titles (2 10” reels per title) currently available (though to be dramatically expanding their catalog this year) are modern day audiophile jazz recordings.  Artistically, these are what I would classify as contemporary jazz recordings by such artists as Sabina Hank, Joe Locke, Ed Howard and many others.  Sound quality is simply stunning to say the least.  Everything you have heard about the sound of mastertapes is true – I personally compared the sound of the six titels to their respective compact disc counterparts on my system and can tell you that the discs have absolutely zero chance against the superior tapes.  The best of the best!

The TapeProject on the other hand (also 2 tapes per title), went the route of actually reissuing classical, rock, pop and jazz titles, ten of which are available as of this writing.  Applause is to be given to these guys for I know that securing the rights to these titels (Saxopone Colossus, Waltz for Debby, Symphonic Dances from Reference Recordings, etc.) could not have been easy to do.  Sound wise these are the definitive versions to be had as was aptly demonstrated in various rooms at CES.  I am not kidding: you won’t find better versions of these classic recordings anywhere from anyone – period.

There is only one downside to these elaborate and time consuming works of art: cost.  At roughly $300+ a title

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 (yes, both labels offer subscription models with certain discounts if you commit to buying a set), these master recordings aren’t cheap.  Add to that cost a well maintained or reconditioned consumer or pro deck ($1000 to $10000+) and you quickly see how expensive this proposition is.  Alas, for people who want the best, there is nothing better!  Full reviews scheduled shortly! (Joe Kubala holding Quinton's Kyoto and giving it the ol' Thumbs up, way up!)

 



iPhone

Yep, I don’t think I have seen a higher iPhone density at any other time or place since its launch in late June.  It looks as though just about everyone had one!  Surprisingly, foreigners sprung tons of iPhones, which means they either a) bought them legit through their international carriers, or b), bought them in the US (what with the instant 40% discount you get these days with the dollar being so low) and unlocked them through third party apps. 

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This tremendous iPhone density perhaps explains some of the hick-ups I’ve noticed during my visit: sporadic internet access restrictions; iPhone’s striking visual voicemail not working properly; missed calls (and voicemails) not showing up until the next day; etc.  Meanwhile, someyoungguy who ran around with an ATT badge claimed to a friend of his that iPhone now accounts for 80-90% of continued internet traffic read: website usage on ATT’s GSM system – staggering numbers if true, since iPhone has been on sale today for exactly 200 days. 

Several audio & music demos I came across featured iPhone’s as the source, or at least, people who had brought theirs had asked the iPhone be used for music playback.  Wow!

 

I get a kick thinking back to what all naysayers had professed 6 months ago “iPhone? No one will buy one, its too expensive!”  I think Apple has a winner on their hands!

 

Stay tuned for part II…

Comments

I experienced the sound of a master tape firsthand on a tour to Acoustech Mastering in Camarillo, CA a couple of years ago. Granted, you couldn't ask for a more controlled and perfect audition environment than that of a mastering studio. At the time, they were working on Yes's Fragile reissue. I swear I never had heard that album like I did over there before, nor have done ever since. Jon Anderson and company simply were there after the first choruses of "Roundabout", I just didn't need to stretch my imagination to feel the presence, dimension and body of the band as if they were playing in front of you. That's the kind of experience that make you a believer in analog. Only DSD direct recordings have been able to make a similar impact in me. In these times, it seems to be going against all logic to care about and promote reel to reel tapes, specially since there are not many people looking to put up with the work (and the expense) needed to make them work. But if you absolutely have to have the best at any cost, I can't think of a better way to get into audio nirvana.