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Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro (Read 9877 times)
Jeff of Arabica
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Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
09/18/17 at 22:09:48
 
The time has come.  After many hours of listening, I am ready to put “pen to paper.”  Rather than write one, ungodly long post (although this post turned out longer than I intended), about my entire experience with this SVHS player and audio tapes, I will break it down into smaller and easier to digest chunks.  First, will be a general introduction and some overall statements about my time spent with this equipment.  This will be followed by individual posts discussing my observations with each tape on Tour.  

The Tape Tour “System.”  First up, the Samsung VR8460 HiFi VHS recorder/player.  If you have been following Steve’s journey to find, test, and deploy a VHS player for this tour, you know it was riddled with frustrations and misfortunes.  Steve admitted this was not his first choice, but ultimately felt it was “good enough” to accomplish the task at hand.  After spending a lot of time with this machine, I will agree.  It ain’t pretty, but when you have a listen, you will be blinded by her intoxicating, and mesmerizing speech.  

Also included were four VHS tapes.  In no particular order, there is “The Ed Pong Mix” which was produced from a 15 IPS (inches per second), NAB equalized, master tape from Ultra Analogue Recordings.  It is a two track teaser personally sent to Steve by Ed Pong, the mastermind behind Ultra Analogue.  Next up is a “The Toronto Mix” which was produced from a 7.5 IPS, IEC equalized master tape of a live performance hosted by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto (what a great performance overall).  Third up is a 30 IPS, NAB equalized master tape of a live performance of the “Dicks Hat Band.”  Last but not least, and the most unique tape of them all, for a few reasons, is “The Palomino Mix.”  This was a conglomeration of remastered tracks, using a proprietary in-house process at Decware, recorded to a reel in 7.5 IPS.  More about these tapes to come with future review posts.  

Let’s define the system used for evaluation.  
Playback Machine:  Samsung VHS, described above
Pre-Amplification:  Decware Zen Ultra, using the 2-channel stereo pre-amp section
Amplification:  a) Decware Zen Mystery Amp;  b) Decware Torii MKIV
Speakers:  Omega Super Alnico High Output
Reel-to-Reel:  SonoruS customized Revox B270 with SonoruS tube-based tape playback stage/pre-amp.  
Other:  Zen Switch Box, PS Audio Direct Stream DAC, Tidal.  

As you may already know, I have a ZMA, which is my primary amplifier and the one that powers my Omega SAHOs full-time.  Well, misfortune fell upon me just prior to my schedule finally freeing up to allow me to sit down and immerse myself in this Tape Tour system.  A meter on my ZMA went out, which would impact the sound if not addressed.  My original plan was to get the ZMA back to Decware, get it back home, then start the listening.  I got impatient and curious, which motivated me to put in my Torii MKIV which was in its Pelican case in my garage.  What this all means, is I had a chance to run this Tape Tour setup through two great Decware amplifiers, the ZMA and Torii.  

Ultimately, the results I got from my ZMA - once back in place - mirrored that of my Torii, but in a noticeably different way.  Point being, how I feel about this evaluation is amplifier agnostic, as it relates to my ZMA and Torii (and equally important, how they mend with all of my other gear).  I will say this… the VHS player greatly benefited from pre-amplification through my Zen Ultra, but this was not surprising considering the source.  I spent plenty of time with it direct to my amps as well as through the pre-amp.  I consistently preferred the sound through the Ultra.  

To put it simply and directly, I was blown away by the sound produced by this process of using SVHS tapes to record audio.  Most shocking was not the actual use of VHS tape as the software media, but the playback hardware itself!  For those on the tour, you will see.  It is comical… until you push play.  Then it is REAL!  When chatting with Steve about this project, the motivation behind this was to see if all the beauties and wonders of master reel tape can be created on a format that is more approachable price-wise.  SVHS tape is far cheaper than a blank master tape reel.  It is obvious that the VHS player is the constraint.  This should not surprise anyone and it is expected that it would be the weak link.  Getting into analog tape is expensive.  The upfront cost for the hardware can be significantly high, but it is the music reels that is the hardest pill to swallow when it comes to sticking with this format for music playback.  Tape is not for everyone, and as I mentioned prior, this VHS format is a way to test the water without spending a fortune figuring out if you like it enough to pursue it further.

This was a real analog tape experience.  The dynamic range of the music on these tapes was high enough for me to know I was listening to tape.  There are many ways to achieve high quality music playback, but there is something about the sweetness of sound that tape produces.  I have a decent number of expensive, high quality reels.  I am familiar with what this format is capable of.  However, the density and dynamic range that these SVHS tapes demonstrated was surprising.  Equipment matters, we all know this.  But the biggest mind blow, was how good this system sounds even played on THIS machine.  

Ponder this for a second.  Identify the best recorded vinyl record you own or have had the pleasure of hearing.  How do you think that would sound if you played it on a consumer-grade 1988, $99 original MSRP (with stock worn stylus/cartridge) record player you just picked up on Ebay for $30?  It just won’t.  Tape is in a league of its own when it comes to music formats.  If it wasn’t, these four tapes that Steve compiled would not have impressed me like they did on this old, stock, crappy little VHS player.

The general highlights that seem to be present to varying degrees across all four tapes was accuracy, realism, and pleasantness of sound.  Despite having collectively listened in excess of 50 hours to these tapes, never was I fatigued or bored.  The tapes kept me engaged, excited, and rewarded as they were able to take advantage of the sound staging, holographic imaging, detail, and density that my Decware equipment is fully capable of presenting.  None of us installed these 950 horsepower engines to run a 12 second quarter-mile pressing the gas only half-way.  I am not talking about loudness.  We don’t need to run our gear at 150 mph.  But we do want to feel the power of movement.  We want to pull G’s while we play our favorite tracks.  These SVHS tapes run through my Decware gear provided that very fulfilling and exciting experience.  No B.S., this was a whole hell of a lot of fun!

That is it for now.  Like I said, I will go through my notes and make a separate post about each tape since they are all so very different.  It is then that I can be a bit more specific when commenting on the sound characteristics of each.  The Ed Pong Mix tape review is next….
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #1 - 09/19/17 at 18:06:51
 
Jeff, did you run balanced or single-ended (RCA) into your ZMA?
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #2 - 09/19/17 at 22:57:30
 
Single-ended.  My ZMA is not equipped with balanced inputs.
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #3 - 09/20/17 at 01:13:29
 
Before you post your review I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the Ed Pong tape will be the best sound quality most people will have ever heard in their lifetime even on VHS! All of the tapes are of course good, but if you're into insane purity from the microphone all the way to the tape there is nothing better than UltraAnalogue Recordings.

Steve
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #4 - 09/20/17 at 02:26:59
 
Ha!  I just finished my review of the Ed Pong tape when I saw your post.  Too funny!  I couldn't agree more.  Ill be posting it in just a couple minutes.
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #5 - 09/20/17 at 02:39:09
 
Decware Tape Tour Review

Ed Pong Sampler:  15 IPS, NAB Equilization

This SVHS tape was a transfer of two tracks off of a master reel sampler originally produced by owner of Ultra Analogue Recordings, Ed Pong.  Ever since I first learned of Ultra Analogue here on Decware, I was intrigued and anxious to hear what Mr. Pong was cooking up.  Just reading his website, it is obvious that his recording equipment is like no other.  But after a short conversation with Steve, it became even more apparent the lengths in which he is willing to go in order to achieve audio nirvana.  We all know this is not a cheap hobby, but Ed’s willingness to take “pay-to-play” to another level is profound.  Having listened to a representation of Ed’s work (not the real deal) on this SVHS, I am far less hesitant to drop $250 on his tapes.  I always felt they were probably stellar, but for that kind of coin, it doesn’t take much to thwart your inhibition.  If his recordings sound this good on an SVHS tape, run through a consumer grade (and very old) player, there is no doubt the real deal will be nothing less than heavenly.  I will be partaking in some UA in the future for sure.  

So, I wanted to start with this tape for one very simple reason.  Knowing what I know of Ultra Analogue, my expectations were very high and I wanted to set the bar high. I have not heard his recordings before but it does not require a PhD or an IQ of 150 to know it was likely going to impress. I knew it would sound fantastic and boy did it not disappoint!!  So, I expected great, and it delivered!  Of all the tapes, it wins.  There are only two tracks on this tape but it really did not take any more to instill the level of confidence I needed to make that statement - and it’s simply a VHS dub!  

I don’t want this to turn into a review of Ultra Analogue.  They are fantastic and once you hear this sample, you will agree.  Rather, this is about the SVHS and its ability to deliver an honest, high quality, analog experience from the very best of masters, and run through what most would consider garbage equipment.   Even with the crappy playback system in this Samsung VHS payer, there was enough realism coming through to give you a lifelike experience.  This was Steve’s intent with these four tapes – to give us a taste of VHS audio from a variety of source types and quality of recordings. And when you get this player and these four tapes, you will know precisely what I am talking about.  

The sound staging was very good.  It was layered more so in depth than in width.  However, the imaging did range from about 150 to 175 degrees on my system.  It is my guess, with the actual UA master reel and a tape rig that could do it justice, both the soundstage and imaging would be improved.  

Some noteworthy observations from my hours of listening with this tape:
a) The percussive effect of the hammers hitting the piano strings make you forget it is a reproduction and not a live recording.  This is where the density of sound that tape is capable of producing, bests all other media.

b) You can really hear the reverb from the wood of the violin body resulting from the plucking of the strings.  

c) The sound from the bow moving across the strings resonates in a true-to-life fashion.  It sounds intimate, close and honest.

d) The applause from the audience makes you feel as though you are in the 3rd row of the audience.

e) Extremely harmonious.  Not merely a sum of its parts.  The analog recording system from the microphones to the recorders to this playback system must be responsible for this.

f) The room in which it was recorded is large and tall (looking through the website pictures) and the tape produces a sound that is representative of that environment, even though I have no idea what it actually sounds like live.  That is what I mean by this particular tape being believable.  It sounds exactly like what it looks like in the photos – and this is not a qualitative statement.  It is a statement about realism.  

g) This sampler is a testament of transients.  This SVHS tape handled it like a dream.  The soft sections followed by immediate attacks and back again were dreamy.  Vinyl simply could not compete with this.  It’s simply physics.  

h) The entire tape was accurate!  But it was not fatiguing or harsh.  It was analytical, but the analysis was performed by a Professor of Literature as opposed to a Professor of Chemistry.  This to me is what the analog tape experience is all about.  There are certain portions of this sampler that I know would have made me cringe if recorded on digital equipment and played back on optical media.  While exciting and dynamic, it remained VERY palatable throughout.    

What an amazing production, what an amazing tape experience!  Boy, this will be a tough act to follow.  Next up, “The Toronto Mix” tape.
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #6 - 09/20/17 at 04:27:23
 
Great kick-off Jeff.

I look forward to the Unit with my ear brain connection......ZMA, driven Direct or with my 6922 tube variant/FET/Hybrid, Class A ARC LS-2B MkII. .....the ARC soundstage...with my preferred Cryo'd Mullard in her....is waiting.........driven thru the ZMA NOS'd.
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #7 - 09/20/17 at 20:12:15
 
Decware Tape Tour – Review #2:  The Toronto Mix

This is a recording of a live performance hosted by the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto.  I won’t go into the details of this club and the caliber of musicians they have hosted over the years, as this is clearly narrated by the broadcaster in the introduction to the concert.  

I must say, this was a beautiful performance.  Aside from the technicalities of the recording and playback performance, these are stellar musicians.  And like the Ed Pong Mix, this too was a great analog experience.  I have immersed myself over the last couple of weeks in nothing but tape.  And not just any tape.  What I was sent in this Pelican case is no average run of the mill stuff.  On average, I have a pretty good balance of analog and digital.  Digital for access and convenience, and analog for pure aural bliss.  I would say I typically listen 65% analog (tape and vinyl) to 35% digital.  The last two weeks has been 90% analog and 10% digital.  It reaffirmed for me why I spend what I do on reel tape and vinyl when clearly digital is the cheaper route (generally).  But I am not a digital hater by any means and I have some killer hi-res digital tracks and optical discs.  I just prefer analog sound.  

While the “analog experience” in this tape was great, it was not at the level of what I experienced on the Ed Pong Mix tape when it comes to realism.  I attribute this to the intimacy of the venue and insane quality of the recording equipment at Ultra Analogue.  

The musicians in this Toronto tape are so good, it does come off more like a studio performance than a live performance – not in a bad way by any means.  It sounds live, but almost too pure in the performance.  That being said, the analog tape playback with THESE musicians achieves such a great balance of talent and realism.    

The background of this tape is nice and black.  Overall, it is a warmer sound presentation with slightly soft edges.  It is open and airy giving the listener a great sense of space.  The word “lush” kept coming to mind when describing various aspects of this performance.    

It presents as a stage performance in a mid-size concert hall.  I felt as though I was sitting in Row “P,” slightly right of center.  While it still had a coziness to the sound, it lacked the intimacy and immediacy of the Ed Pong Mix, for a point of reference.  

Other non-musical elements worth noting are the broadcaster and the audience.  The broadcaster’s voice was a natural baritone, almost hypnotic.  It came across as very natural.  And it was the audience claps and coughs that reminded me this was in fact a live performance.  I appreciated these human elements.  

If “Realism” was a category, this recording would rank high, but falls short of the level, “Being in the Room.”  I would classify it as being an “Ultra-Stellar Recording.”

Track 1: Piano solo by Angela Huwitt.  Damn!  Angela Huwitt is a talented pianist.  Luscious midrange.  Excellent piano note decay throughout.  Very good tonal balance.

Track 2:  Mezzo-Soprano/Piano.  Lower and mid-treble beauty. Good reverberation in Catherine Robbin’s voice.  This was a great track but my least favorite of the four.    

Track 3:  Tenor/Piano.  Great mid range “presence” in the 1Khz to 3Khz range.  Piano was set back behind the vocalist.  Laid back sound with very sweet lower harmonics. Treble a bit soft at times, which made it extremely non-fatiguing, but didn’t excite my speakers like I was hoping for.  Michael Shada, the epitome of tenor, was dynamic and entertaining.  The tape presented his voice in a very believable manner.  

Track 4: Angela Huwitt performed along with violinist James Ehnes.  Unlike her piano solo, which was more forward in presentation, the piano in this track was positioned behind the violin and therefore lacked some of the power and intensity displayed in Track 1. The violin in this track sounded so pure and accurate, and the tape is reproducing it in such a lush and palatable manner.  Not nearly as exciting as the violin in the Ed Pong Mix but still very lifelike.  Some great dynamic moments showing off the superior transient capability of analog tape – void of the edginess and/or harshness often the by-product of digital reproductions.  

All in all, this was a great tape that I enjoyed listening to several times over.

Next up....   the Dicks Hat Band Tape.
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #8 - 09/21/17 at 06:25:46
 
Decware Tape Tour – Review #3:  The Dicks Hat Band

This was dubbed from the 30 IPS master tape, the highest of the three reel copies.  Just a quick note on tape speed.  Generally speaking, the faster the speed, the better the sound quality.  This is due primarily to a better signal to noise ratio and wow and flutter specifications, as well as improved frequency response.

I’m going to keep this one short.  It gives someone else a chance to elaborate more on this particular tape.  Also, I did some real-time A/B comparison using my Zen Switch Box on The Palomino Mix tape, since that was the only tape I could pull up many of the tracks for comparison on my R2R and Tidal streaming service.  That will take an effort to write up.  

Anyway, back to this fine tape.  I really enjoyed the music very much.  I had never heard music from this band prior, but I found it to be really nice.  The tape resolved the soundstage very well.  This is a multi-piece band and the instrument separation was very good.  It had nice depth and the width was moderate.  From a stage performance, it was as wide as I would have expected with the positioning of the performers.  This was definitely a toe tapping performance.  

There was a lot going on in this tape from brass, percussion, strings, vocals, and keys.  This SVHS reproduced the instruments accurately, with a pleasant analog warmth.  This made for a tape that was very easy to listen to.  Despite some high-pitch peaks and volume shifts, never was it tizzy or brittle.

The frequency range on this tape was the most extended (due to the genre) of all the three master tape dubs.  The highs were there, and very present at times, but it was the bass extension that made this tape so fun to listen to.  The sound was viscous, but not in a sluggish, or muddled way.  The range of instruments made for a complex sound and I felt the tape presented this performance in a rather smooth manner making it a tape I could play over and over again.  

For those not too familiar with the analog tape sound signature, when you commit to diving into these tapes head first and really get familiar with their sound characteristic, when you then go back to a digital source, it will certainly be an ah-ha moment.  If you are curious as to what analog tape sounds like, or need some re-familiarization, this Tape Tour will do it – guaranteed.  
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #9 - 09/24/17 at 13:34:26
 
Quote:
The room in which it was recorded is large and tall (looking through the website pictures) and the tape produces a sound that is representative of that environment, even though I have no idea what it actually sounds like live.  That is what I mean by this particular tape being believable.  It sounds exactly like what it looks like in the photos – and this is not a qualitative statement.  It is a statement about realism.


First I want to thank you & Steve for all your kind words about my UA recordings! I'm very happy, thru this "simply" VHS recorder you are able to taste the beauty of tape...!

I want to extend an open invitation to any of you who would like to attend a live concert & recording at my place... I know Toronto is kinda far for most... but maybe interesting for you to hear the live concert & then the tape of the event.... Please just email me at:

info@ultraanaloguerecordings.com

PS. Tatsuki & Yun-Yang ( the 2 on this sampler tape) are arriving Oct 6 to play a concert at my place on October 14.... so more wonderful tapes coming...! Smiley

Ed Pong
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #10 - 09/24/17 at 14:47:10
 
At the same time for those DIY lover can watch and listen the recording and play back gear also the all tube muti amps system too which can't get from the market
tony ma
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #11 - 09/24/17 at 19:08:44
 
Ed and Tony, what an incredible offer and while Toronto is a venture for me in California, the experience would certainly outweigh any travel inconvenience.  And, I have never been to Toronto so even more incentive.  :)   As a R2R enthusiast, being able to enjoy the live performance and then hear that concert reproduced on tape out of your tube-based setup would be an opportunity like no other.  Wow!  

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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #12 - 09/24/17 at 19:40:50
 
Last but not least, The Palomino Mix tape review.  It is long, but there were 14 unique tracks to listen to and compare.  In my opinion, this is what made this Tour incredibly special.  I think you will find this one very interesting.  That is why I saved this one for last. I knew it would be the most fun and fascinating of all the tapes, just because of what it is, and the comparison it allows.  This is Steve’s earlier post about this specific tape:

This tape is a never been heard before demonstration of a re-mastering process I have been developing over the years that has the ability to transmute digital back to analog and does so without a computer, solid state parts, nor even a circuit board. It's a 100% analogue process... organic, non GMO if you will.

Since the only way to hear this process is to have an analog playback system and since I can't press records here at Decware, I am taking this opportunity to let all of you hear it by making the entire first tape using it.

It's important to understand that the source for this tape was not high resolution digital files, nor even rebook CD, but rather a stream from the internet at 320 kbps, which is how so many of us are now listening to digital with our computers. I figure if the process actually works, it will work on that.

This gives those of you who get on the list to hear the tapes, an opportunity to do direct side by side comparisons of the tracks on the tape with the original source tracks from the internet.


That is exactly what I did.  With the other tapes, there were no digital streams available to bring up for direct A/B comparisons.  So, for this tape, I connected the Samsung VHS player and my PS Audio DirectSteam DAC, to my Zen Ultra Pre-Amp.  The Ultra has multiple inputs and a switch, which allowed me to cue up the same track on two separate source - the SVHS tape and Tidal steam.  To set the foundation of this comparison, I used the Hi-Fi subscription service of Tidal, which produced 16-bit, 44 kHz playback with 650+ kbps data rates, some much higher as you will see.  Apart from one, every Tidal track was at least twice the data rate of the Deezer source used by Steve to create this tape through his remastering process.  That is really what made this review and comparison so very intriguing and interesting.  Important to consider during this head-to-head, my streaming setup is pretty stellar.  My Huron based DirectStream DAC, with the Bridge II network card, offers native support for Tidal, which streams directly to the DAC, no computers involved.  It also will do a full unfold of MQA, but even when available for some of these tracks, I chose not to select the MQA option as that would not be a fair comparison.  

In this side-by-side comparison, the tape and Tidal tracks were started at the same time so that throughout the entire song, I could simply flip the input switch in real-time to bounce back and forth between the SVHS tape and Tidal.  It was an extremely effective (seemingly ideal) means to compare.  

After completing my review of all 14 tracks, I then played the master reel dub of This Palorino Mix that Steve made for me.  I spun it on my SonoruS custom tube staged R2R machine with its accompanying SonoruS tube-based playback pre-amp.  It was an amazing listen through my system!  I interjected some relative comments below as you will see.  


Track 1 - A Kiss to Build a Dream On (Mislabeled as “Novocaine”):  Tidal did not have this track available for streaming.  I had a DSD version of it on optical disk, but not appropriate for this comparison.  All in all, I felt as though this track played very well on my system.  The strings and vocals were palpable, and the bass and treble extension were satisfying.  I have heard the digital version of this song many, many times in the past, so it was nice to hear it on tape playback.  It was velvety and smooth with a deep, dark background.    

Track 2 - California Dreamin’:  (693kbps stream)  This is obviously a famous song and one I have heard many times.  Unlike Track 1, this was available on Tidal for comparison.  Once significant difference immediately apparent was the vocals on tape.  It is hard to describe, but they sounded like a “hall” effect was applied compared to the stream which made it sound slightly processed.*  Despite this, the tape offered superior presence of both voice and instruments.  This made the track on tape feel more real.  It was a bit shouty at times,* but overall I preferred the tape due to better dynamics and realism.  Overall, the Tidal track was a bit tighter, such as in the piano notes, but the tape was more exciting to listen to.  
*Not present on Palorino Mix master reel dub

Track 3 - Fanfare for the Common Man: Central Band of the Royal Air Force (Mislabeled as “Zill Bell”):  (Unknown date rate for stream)  I could not determine the actual performers of this track on this mix tape, so I threw a dart and selected a version by Alan Copland on Tidal.  Both were very similar, except for the bass which was much better on tape.  Steve’s descriptor of “OK – fuzzy ending” on the song list sheet was accurate.  The kettle drum at the very end was grossly distorted, but the rest was fine.  The dynamic range was impressive, even on this VHS rig.  The transient response was honorable.

Track 4 – Blue Moon: (Unknown data rate for stream).  Noticeable difference between the two sources.  The tape was much more expressive, particularly when it came to the cymbals and snare drum. The stream in comparison felt as though it was veiled.  Also, on tape the band came off as being staged closer to the listener.  However, I did not like the guitar on tape as it was very echo-ey at times.  The vocals on both tracks were very similar, but the singers voice was more resolute on tape - her breath audible.  The singer was staged slightly left of center on tape*, where on the stream it was front and center, which I preferred.  
*I found this to be the case on more than one track leading me to believe the right channel output voltage on the Samsung might be marginally less than the left channel output.

Track 5 – Iron Hand:  (Unknown data rate for stream).  Overall, they were both comparable, but the bass on the stream was appreciably better.  It was tighter, fuller, bigger. Great reference track for bass quality evaluation.  And the distorted bass note that Steve mentioned was quite apparent – making me cringe.   The guitar notes were very similar between the two.  I would be splitting hairs to name a winner in that category.  The vocals were also similar, but like in Track 4, the imaging was slightly better in the stream, but the tape gave it a more natural tone.

Track 6 – After the Storm:  (Unknown data rate for stream).  As was the case in Track 5, the bass was much better on the stream, in my opinion.  It was rather anemic on tape.  But, for a tape track created from a 320 kbps stream, wow!  Nit picking here, but the fingers rubbing across the strings was more prominent on the stream.  The cymbal strikes were more forward on tape, which as a drummer, I enjoyed.  Overall, I felt there was better soundstaging on the stream.  The tape was a little too laid back comparatively.  This could simply be a byproduct of resolution. On the tape, there was a bit of a channel mix-up which reversed the L and R information on the tape.  This made the A/B exercise a bit distracting at first, but I adjusted.  


Track 7 – Take the “A” Train: (666 kbps stream) Similar sound quality but lack of right channel info on tape.*  Overall, the subtleties in the stream were more voluminous and with greater detail, especially the guitar reverb and string resonance.  I preferred the xylophone on tape.  It was natural and controlled.  On the stream it was a bit shrill at the higher registers.  All in all, this was a battle to the finish.  Very impressive reproduction on the tape.  The stream was twice the data rate, yet the tape held its own.  If I had to choose, it would be the stream by a hair.  Only because the movement of sound and the soundstage was a bit better rendered on the stream.  
*Not the case on the Palorino Mix master reel dub, making me further suspect the right channel output voltage level on the Samsung.

Track 8 – Ophelia:  (862 kbps stream)  The vocals were a bit echo-ey (similar to Track 4) on the tape making the stream more resolute. To an extent, this trampled the piano at times, but during lulls in the vocals the piano notes came through with harmonic richness and resonated beautifully.  While the tone and timbre were very good in both the tape and stream, superior decay resulted in a more lifelike experience on tape.   This was a very dynamic track and reproduced excellently on tape.  Considering it was produced from a 320 kbps source, compared to the 862 kbps Tidal stream, it is hard to believe how good it actually sounds, especially when you also factor in the equipment.  Nuts!  

Track 9 – And I Love Her:  (515 kbps stream)  
Tape: Sweet, lush sound. Resonant. Authentic. Tight.  
Stream:  Distant (Guitar in particular).  Slightly processed. Less natural.  
This was a dream song to real-time A/B compare as it was so consistent throughout.  I could really focus on the nuances.  Actually, both the tape and streamed tracks sounded quite nice.  However, the stream presented more akin to a fine studio performance whereas the tape seduced me into believing I was a spectator in the audience of a quaint venue.  The tape wins here.
Note: Tape’s R & L channel reversed.

Track 10 – Deeper Well: (832 kbps)  Like Track 9, I enjoyed listening to this song on both the tape and the stream.  This was another very effective one to A/B in real-time.  Over the last year, I feel as though I have listened to enough analog tape to have a good sense of its signature, in general.  And this exercise has only honed it further.  For those who get on this Tour and listen to this rig, you too will be able to blindly listen and say, “that was tape,” or “that was digital.” I preferred the tape for no other reason than it sounds like tape.  I felt the details were similar, but the tape has a silkiness to the sound that I adore.  For me, it emulates “real” better than that of the hi-fi Tidal stream.  Though there was one exception.  The violin solo was much better on the stream.  It was more refined.  On the tape, it was intense to the point of being aggressive and sloppy.*  It simply fell apart.* On the flip side, the applause and female vocals were more realistic.  
Note: R & L channel reversal.
*Not the case on the Palorino Mix master reel dub

Track 11 – Stormy Monday:  (874 kbps)   So, this was a higher data rate stream, which sounded great through my system.  The tape was also a great reproduction of this song, Stormy Monday.  This was a recording of a live performance.  I felt the tape handedly bested the stream in dynamic range, creating a more exciting listening experience.  The drums and cymbal crashes in particular were coming off very sincere.  It was this honesty in the instruments that created a sense of presence during the performance.  I do have a couple gripes.  At points in the performance it was strident, and if played repeatedly, it could become fatiguing.*  Also, there were times, similar to a couple of the other tracks, where the vocals were plagued by that echo-ey effect.  Otherwise, this was a great track - especially considering its opponent, an 874 kbps stream.
*Much less of an issue on the Palorino Mix master reel dub

Track 12 – Tall Trees in Georgia (Live):  (767 kbps) This one may be too close to call.  They both were pretty on par with one another and if 10 people were polled, I would suspect that 5 would choose the tape, and the other 5 the digital stream.*  If forced to choose, I would select the tape only because there were moments where Eva’s voice and her guitar were more convincing.
*All 10 would choose the Palorino master dub if they heard it

Track 13 – Stormy Monday - Allman Brothers Band: (1633 kbps) Here wer are dealing with two very different sound characteristics.  Overall, the stream had better soundstaging, detail (guitar distortion), and instrument separation. Unfortunately, the tape lacked bass volume and punch, which made it sound somewhat thin.  Also, cymbal runs get muddled in parts and become distracting.*  But, the tape has its moments of glory.  I found the vocals coming off more realistic, along with some of the guitar runs.  They were more forward, more charismatic, and more “in the flesh.”  The resolution of thisstream was much higher than the others, and factoring in the good and the bad with the tape track, the decision would go to the stream, but if this bout was fought in a ring, as opposed to a listening room, it would not be unanimous.  
*Not the case on the Palorino master dub.  While bass was still thin, this track sounded SO MUCH better on my R2R rig.  

Track 14 – Misty:  (602 kbps)  In my opinion, this is the best track to simply compare the flavor of analog tape sound - compared to the flavor of digital sound.  In my system, the two tracks were so similar in all regards, trying to differentiate them would be nothing more than an exercise in splitting hairs.  So, after two runs of A/B switching and attempting to take notes, I realized it was pointless.  From that point on, I simply focused on the “flavor” and had a great time comparing nothing more than the fact that one was being played from analog tape and the other a digital source.*  If you feed the digital stream well enough, this is your analog tape vs. digital “sand box.”
*The master reel sounded AMAZING!

For this particular comparison experience alone, I really hope people take advantage of this Tape Tour opportunity.  Even if you are short on time and can only toss up a one paragraph review of your overall experience, that is fine.  Whatever works for you.  Just do it!  You won't regret it, I promise.
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #13 - 09/27/17 at 05:19:27
 
Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the great in depth analysis!

The Palomino Tape results were interesting and expected. Remember this was a test tape I did one night randomly using his song list to work on the remastering process.  

Using Deezer at 320 kbps is right at that point where streaming becomes just listenable. It is easier to hear what the remastering process is doing during tests like this when you work from a handicap... basically if you can make a few tracks sound really good from what amounts to basically almost complete crap... you know it has great promise and I think we definitely did that.

Getting levels right is tediously difficult since the SVHS tape can't support the same levels as reel to reel it's all too easy to clip. There are actually many settings in the complete process to get wrong that only appear in certain parts of the recording as you heard in some of the tracks, and some full time problems including channel reversals ; )

All easily mastered with more time and practice. For me the opportunity to get feedback on my worse case scenario is massively helpful and appreciated. You would gasp if you saw one of the cables used in the signal path during this test (which I also did on purpose).  

So with that said, it should be re-pointed out that there is no comparison between Deezer 320 kps and Title HiFi.  The difference is huge.  Had we started with Title HiFi, or even hi-res 24 bit files, or DSD files it would have been considerably more impressive, but when I was making this tape it was for myself as a test bed, I just decided at the last minute to include it in the tape tour.

If we have a follow up tape tour, perhaps with a better player, I will take the opportunity to do another Palomino style tape made from hi-res sources and tighter production tolerances which would be a truer review of the process.

I think dropping the master reels to a lower bias when recording would help manage the process specific to transferring it to SVHS tape.. but then you know, it's like surfing, you like to ride the edge but in doing so you will often wipe out : )

Steve


P.S.  For those who are following this thread I should point out that my comments about the difference between Deezer 320kbps and Title HiFi are with both of them up sampled to DSD. Just proves the algorithms in the up sampling are on a pretty short leash as they should be. You can't put back what is not there with up sampling, only make what's there less tedious.

Also I would like to confirm that the differences in imaging between MP3 and HiFi streams are large. In fact it is the imaging and sound stage that suffers the worse from compressing digital streams.
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Reply #14 - 09/27/17 at 06:08:02
 
Well Steve, whatever you are doing behind the curtain with this remastering process of yours is pretty damn cool.  I certainly realized your constraints going into this and that is what took me aback.  I really was not expecting it to compete at the level it did.  As you read, it was not a slam dunk where the Tidal streams smushed the remastered MP3s every time.  There is something to what you are doing in order for these tracks to sound that good, despite the time crunch, maiden voyage, and equipment snafu's that were only making this mission that much more treacherous.  

And for those reading, I purposely brought in the HiFi tracks to compare because these remasters were sounding too good not to.  After a couple informal listens of the Palomino tape before the critical listening began, it was blatantly obvious the remasters would annihilate the original 320 kbps streams.  I knew these remastered tracks had advanced a few weight classes and needed a true contender.   What a match that was!!  

I am still shaking my head in disbelief.  For what you were able to do on that Palomino tape with all those challenges and limitations, is a real mind bender.  If this was your "worst case scenario," man...  I can't wait to hear your "Ok, I've got this" work.  All you need now in order to make this happen is a 34 hour day!   Wink  

Quote:
Also I would like to confirm that the differences in imaging between MP3 and HiFi streams are large. In fact it is the imaging and sound stage that suffers the worse from compressing digital streams.


Thanks for this explanation on the imaging and soundstaging.  it explains a lot about what I was hearing.  

Quote:
If we have a follow up tape tour, perhaps with a better player, I will take the opportunity to do another Palomino style tape made from hi-res sources and tighter production tolerances which would be a truer review of the process.


Yes sir!  Count me in if you do.  
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #15 - 11/08/17 at 05:50:02
 
Quote:
I want to extend an open invitation to any of you who would like to attend a live concert & recording at my place... I know Toronto is kinda far for most... but maybe interesting for you to hear the live concert & then the tape of the event....


Ed,
In regard to your very generous and amazing invitation, I was wondering if there were any concerts scheduled prior to the end of the year?  I am in need of some airline miles before year end and would love to take you up on your offer Smiley

Plus my wife an I are looking to get away for a few days and neither of us have been to Toronto, so an ancillary benefit!

Cheers,
Jeff
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Reply #16 - 11/08/17 at 14:23:26
 
Hi Jeff,

I'm sorry, I don't have anything before the end of the year.. BUT I'm planning a concert for a cellist who will make these tapes... out of this world... Narek Hakhnazaryan... He just played a concert in Toronto & he's given me 3 possible dates in 2018... I can let you know when I have it firm..  He's the premier young cellist of this generation...IMHO

In the mean time.. have a look at these links to Narek...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJkIsdDG2Rk
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0g00bVs0zBg
http://www.intermusica.co.uk/artist/Narek-Hakhnazaryan

He's the real deal...!
All the best Smiley
Ed
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Reply #17 - 11/08/17 at 16:01:44
 
Hi Ed,
HOLY CR@*!!  You weren't exaggerating when you said this guys is the real deal.  Unbelievable.  

Yes!  Please let me know the dates.  I can't miss this.  And put me on the list for his tapes.  Im not leaving empty handed Smiley

Thanks again Ed.

Cheers,
Jeff
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #18 - 11/08/17 at 18:12:30
 
Ed,

I have personally never heard tape to tape live but I might have to fly up from Boston to see that amazing performer and hear tape to tape as well. The talent and passion he has is infectious.

Please keep us informed.

JD
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Reply #19 - 11/08/17 at 19:10:10
 
For those here interested.... please email me & I will put you on the email list for my concerts.... ejpong@yahoo.com

Narek's concerts will sellout fast... I have about 90 seats max....

Thanks for your interest!   Audio & tape are great, but NOTHING can beat LIVE... a chance to hear the live & then the tape....

Ed
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Reply #20 - 11/09/17 at 05:29:46
 
My guess is that if one were to grab some video clips of the performance, and of the tape being made live, and then of Ed Pong handing you a 1 to 1 real time copy of it... It would easily make the tape worth three times what you will pay for it or more...  

Imagine buying such a tape on ebay... it doesn't exist. Even the "respectable" tape guys on ebay can't usually tell you what generation a copy is relative to the master when pressed unless they made the tape themselves from the master which is rare.  

I have a whole collection of expensive ebay tapes that are supposed dupes of the master tapes  and they sound like crap compared to what they could have sounded like. And honestly, I would have been OK with paying three times what I did if some of these tapes from ebay sellers sounded as good as I had hoped they might. You don't have this problem with Ed Pong's tapes, but Ed's tapes will ironically create this problem.

What?  Yes, it's true.  How good something sounds is always relative to how good you've heard something sound. Once you hear Ultra Analogue Recordings from Ed, better than half of your tape collection suddenly lacks luster.  

I'm dead serious.  The bar is raised so high here compared to typical world class studio recordings, because those recordings used a mixing console and inferior electronics by comparison. If you grew up as I did loving Sheffield Labs, M&K Realtime Recordings and the like, this is just above that... I know it's hard to imagine but it's true and when you see the electronics first hand that have been developed for Ed's recordings and learn what has gone into them, it shifts from being hard to imagine to being awe inspiring because you realize there isn't any thing ever going to sound better than this... it's actually impossible.

Steve

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Reply #21 - 11/09/17 at 06:15:28
 
Some might think my enthusiasm for Ed's tape process is overblown, or perhaps bought because it's so over the top... so let me explain why it's pushing my buttons.

Ed's tape process, in particular the microphones and custom tube electronics featuring exotic tubes and battery power supplies with silver wire and no connectors, everything soldered together (like a real man) are at the very top of absolute transparency as a reference recording. I can not find anything that is better. It is my current reference and a timeless one at that as I can look forward to getting my huge electrostatics out over the holidays and continue to hone their amplifiers with these tapes. For the most neurotic audiophile these tapes are a must have reference.

As a company who is trying to build the same world class reference grade electronics, you know the type that takes your breath away, our results will always only be relative to our references.  Get it?

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Reply #22 - 11/09/17 at 14:00:31
 
Steve, WOW, thank you for your incredible words.....! Smiley

I think we both know, it's the geek in us that drives us to push the envelope in everything we do...

I'm always concentrating in pushing the envelope in the instruments & the artists who "drive them", as well as the electronics.... They are truly formula one drivers....! Everyone knows a formula one car is fast, but very few people know how to drive them to their full potential.... the same is true of string instruments....Narek, Tatsuki, Xiang, & Yun-Yang are true formula one drivers...

Ed
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Reply #23 - 11/09/17 at 23:29:24
 
Indeed, it is a balance that make it so good. It wouldn't matter how good it is if what you recorded was mediocre.
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Reply #24 - 11/30/17 at 15:13:26
 
For those of you who have expressed an interest in coming to a concert & live recording..... I'm happy to post these YouTube links to some of Tatsuki & Yun-Yang's recent concert on Oct 14, 2017

There will be new tapes coming from this session...!

https://youtu.be/nfVJOkHuRJM
https://youtu.be/432uZZILOJY
https://youtu.be/0tuzRuFe4fw

Enjoy Smiley
Ed
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Reply #25 - 12/11/17 at 00:03:38
 
Is the tape tour still in progress? If so, where can I find details about how to participate? I always liked tape. In the late 1990's I was using VHS to record custom playlists from tapes and radio shows. Alas, the recorder failed - VCR's were notoriously unreliable. But this tiny resurgence in tape is intriguing. I won't get too excited about it, though. Tape was never very popular. It was  relatively expensive and somewhat inconvenient to use. It's most commonly experienced version, the Phillips cassette, wasn't exactly a hi fi medium (and was never meant to be).
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #26 - 12/11/17 at 05:41:51
 
Hi jwil,
The Tour is in full swing!  The gear is headed to Lonely Raven next. There is a active list which can be found here: tinyurl.com/decwaretapetour

Just click on the month tabs at the bottom to see the next available slot. We are running about 2 weeks behind schedule.  That being said, next available slot is in March.  

Would you like me to add you to the list?
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Reply #27 - 12/11/17 at 13:32:03
 
Yes I would appreciate a March date. Thanks.
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Reply #28 - 12/12/17 at 06:49:31
 
You are officially on the list!
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Reply #29 - 01/26/18 at 19:26:25
 
I finally have a date for cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan for a concert at my place (near Toronto)... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJkIsdDG2Rk&list=PLDXDYaINzencpE2A3Zw03xa0K9vNTK...

Saturday May 26, 2pm... I just sent out an announcement, if those here did not get it... please let me know .... will forward to you...

It's a bit far to come for music, but you will be amazed at his playing & the live sound... further more, you can sample the tape from the concert later.

I also have a concert for Tatsuki & Yun on Saturday March 17, 2pm. It will be an all Saint Saens program... (French composer)

Please email me if anyone is interested to come & I will forward details.

Ed
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Reply #30 - 03/20/18 at 15:04:32
 
Regrettably, I have to ask to be taken off the tape tour schedule, because I will not have any spare time to properly participate in the next few months. Perhaps when things change I will ask to be re-scheduled.

Sorry if this causes any inconvenience.

jw
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Reply #31 - 04/03/18 at 06:57:55
 
Quote:
I finally have a date for cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan for a concert at my place (near Toronto)... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJkIsdDG2Rk&list=PLDXDYaINzencpE2A3Zw03xa0K9vNTK....

Saturday May 26, 2pm... I just sent out an announcement, if those here did not get it... please let me know .... will forward to you...


I had Ed reserve me two tickets to this concert.  Yes, it is far from California, but how could I pass up this opportunity!  

Narek has MIND BLOWING talent.  To be present, within several feet of him while he performs is the first unbelievable feature of this concert offering.  

The part I still cannot believe is the opportunity to enjoy the live concert, up close and personal, then go back and experience that exact concert played back on the actual master tape that Ed recorded using his one-of-a-kind tube based tape recording gear.  So, I will hear it live, closer than I will ever get to Narek, ever.  Then, Ed will bless me with the master tape reproduction right after so that I can make the most ideal comparison of a live concert and master tape playback humanly possible.  JFC!!!

If I was living in Antarctica, I would still find a way to make it to this concert at Ed’s place.  Toronto, here I come.....
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #32 - 04/04/18 at 02:10:48
 
Well Jeff, I'm very happy to hear you are such a die heart sound audio geek! But you are right... Narek is unbelievable & to hear him this close is something...

Without letting the cat-out-of-the bag.... the encore piece will be very special...  If you can get to TO on thursday, come up on Friday to have some fun before the concert & I can likely play you some tracks as we test the sound... lots of audio fun...!

Please let me know your travel plans..
Ed
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #33 - 05/19/18 at 01:09:26
 
Flight and hotel booked for my upcoming trip to Toronto to visit Mr. Ed Pong and witness, up close and personal, the magic of cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan performing live at UltraAnalogue Recordings.    

I’m equally exciited to see Ed’s tube-based tape recording system in the flesh!  I have seen and read so much about this masterpiece of a system that has evolved over the years into what could be the most authentic recording system on earth.  Yeah, my excitement is fully justified.  Concert is next Saturday but will stop in on Friday to spend some personal time with Ed and his tape system to fully appreciate what is happening there at UltraAnalogue.  I am a lucky man!  

Will be attending with my beautiful wife who is a saint for putting up with my hobby!  :)
Short but sweet trip.  Will take the afternoon on Friday after UA visit to hit Niagra falls and the Toronto wine country.  Why not?!

I will report back after the trip!
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #34 - 05/19/18 at 01:12:04
 
Have a wonderful trip Jeff.
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #35 - 05/19/18 at 01:35:17
 
Thanks so much Lon.
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #36 - 05/21/18 at 04:08:07
 
Ed Pong at UltraAnalogue Recordings is such a nice guy and gracious host!  He just sent me an email about meeting up on Friday at his recording studio prior to the concert on Saturday.  Here is the explanation of his system he provided to prepare me for what I will be experiencing.  I have no other words, but “WOW!”

“I mainly want you to taste the sound of tape thru my crazy system... Studer with WE437a tape amp, battery supply to the playback amp... plus my audio system... all interstage coupled silver transformers throughout... all Western Electric 437a input tubes on all amps & WE300b line stage with silver stepup & output transformers....

I want to make your trip worth while...

This will surprise you how a pair of old simple Quad 63's can sound with the right amplification....

There is a subwoofer I made (Focal 15" drivers) powered by a RCA 838 transmission tube amp & JBL super highs powered by RCA 826 transmission tube amp.

The Quads have parallel WE300b single ended amps.... all with silver interstage & output transformers...

Crossover is WE300b based... so whole chain of tape recording to playback output is WE based.... only other tube is the super rare Bendex Red Bugle 6900 tube in the tape record amp...

So the sound of my tapes are based on these circuits & tubes...”


Seriously!?!?!?  I know Steve can read, understand, and fully appreciate all of this!  I have been eager to experience what Ed Pong has to offer, and man, I can’t think of a better way to divulge myself for the first time than what I have in store this weekend.  

It was by far the best sounding tape in my opinion, on the Decware Tape Tour and that was not even close to the actual UltraAnalogue product.  For any tape heads out there, check out his products and stay tuned, I will report back in detail what I experience this coming weekend.  

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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #37 - 05/22/18 at 19:21:24
 
Well, Jeff, I'm very impressed you would come all this way to hear a concert & some audio...

But, I agree with you, no where will you be able to hear Narek this close & chat with him after...

Also, I will play you the REAL master tape of 3 wonderful recordings... not the running copy of the master..

This way, you will hear something not many have heard... especially on the electronics it was monitored & recorded on....

I hope this will be a ear opening experience for you....!

see you soon
Ed
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Re: Inaugural Decware Tape Tour - Review Intro
Reply #38 - 05/23/18 at 02:08:42
 
Hey Jeff,

I'm happy for you (and envious, too). Have a great time, and remember that we need DETAILS! when you get back.

Randy
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