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My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1 (Read 2592 times)
Jeff of Arabica
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My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
06/27/18 at 07:30:09
 
First off, I apologize to anyone anxiously awaiting this series of posts I am just beginning to create.  I will break down my experiences in Canada, at Ed Pong’s UltraAnalogue Recordings, into three separate posts.  The first post (this one) will focus exclusively on my pre-concert visit to Ed Pong’s concert venue/recording studio.  

So, quick background introduction as to how this all came about….   As many of you know, I am obsessed with the sound of analog tape.  I really don’t care about the inconvenience, expense (well, I kinda care about this), lack of variety or access to media in general, complicatedness, delicateness, etc., etc., etc.   I love analog tape because in my opinion, based on my personal experience, there simply is not another format that can compete with what makes this format so great.  And unless you’ve heard a well recorded/engineered/mixed master tape, or one just off the master, it will be difficult to understand what I am talking about.  For those that were fortunate enough to receive the Tape Tour gear, you were exposed to analog tape in its most base-level form.  It only gets better from there, but as many of you heard, it is a unique and special sound characteristic that if nothing else, lead to intrigue and desire to learn more about this format.  Well, if you want to know how far you can go in the tape journey, then you need not look any further than UltraAnalogue (UA) Recordings.  I am going to share what I saw and heard at Ed’s studio.  Even with my prior familiarization with tape and high-end tape rigs, I was not prepared for what I was about to witness.  Before I continue, this is going to sound like an UA promotional ad.   That’s because what I am about to share is that good!  Regardless of how this comes off, it is simply my honest opinion.  I paid for my airfare, my hotel, the concert tickets, and the three tape reels of the Narek concert I attended.  This is just me, Decware owner and forum member, sharing my experience.  

Alrighty then, here we go.  UA is situated in a beautiful suburb about 45 mins outside of Toronto.  I have been to Canada, but never Toronto.  I would be lying if I said that the allure of this City had nothing to do with my decision to go.  But, at the end of the day, it was Ed’s invitation and the amazing talent of Narek Hakhnazaryan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narek_Hakhnazaryan) that got me to Toronto that weekend.  Now, to get all of the tourist ramblings out of the way.  There is a really cool wine region on the way to Niagra falls.  Lots of wineries!! And to my surprise, being from California, some very good ones (I bought some to bring home!).  The food and craft beer/distilling scene is fairly robust and the history of Toronto was far more interesting than I had assumed.  It was a fun place to visit – all audiophilia aside.  

The purpose of the trip was to see Narek in concert, at Ed’s studio on Saturday.  I arrived on Thursday evening, so Ed invited me over on Friday to see his digs before the concert.  He knew well in advance my infatuation with tape so it was an obvious “yes” when he asked if I would like to not only see his gear on Friday, but to have a listen  of an actual “master” tape of a recording that he made from a prior concert performance.  Wow!  For someone to spin a MASTER tape for a listening session, especially when  that very tape is used to make copies which are then used to make all of the tapes he later sells, is a BIG deal.  The master is the tape for which the original performance was recorded.  Most studies make master copies that are then used to produce the CD’s, vinyl, other reels for retail sale, etc.  Why is this a big deal?  Well, there is no better representation of the performance than the master itself.  Also, tape is not forever.  Each time it is played, there is wear that occurs.  Masters are coveted, and for good reason.  

Ed Pong’s (UltraAnalogue Recordings) recording and playback system – is by far, the most unique “system” I have every laid my eyes on.  Why?  It is 90% custom and hand built by the unsung hero, Tony Ma, who was also there for me to meet and talk to.  I say unsung not because he is intentionally kept in the shadows, but because he is one smart audio/electronics engineer that has accomplished many impressive feats – most of which by nature go unnoticed.  Tony, like Ed, is a very nice and giving person.  Had I not already had dinner plans with the wife, Tony and Ed would have accommodated all the questions I had thrown at them, even if that led into the wee hours of the night.  UA is a team effort driven by Ed Pong who is absolutely a man of no compromise!  This is something I and many of us here can wholeheartedly appreciate – especially Steve.  And speaking of Steve, he is the sole reason I fell in love with analog tape and the only reason I ever discovered Ed in the first place.  

There was without doubt, a great deal of time (and money) spent developing Ed’s recording and playback system at UA.  He and Tony conspired on every single piece of equipment involved in the recording and playback chain.  No, I am not exaggerating.  As you will see in the photo album I created, there is not a single piece of equipment in this chain that was not imagined, custom designed and built by Ed & Tony.  I think now is a great time to share these photos of Ed’s system.  Because of the amount of images and not wanting to crop and resize, I built an album on Imgur.  

Here is the link: https://imgur.com/a/eQTBKIN

What you see is the all analogue, all tube-based tape recording equipment used to record the live concerts at Ed’s studio.  You will also see images I took of Ed’s playback system, including his custom modified (by Tony of course) Quad ESLs.  There are far too many custom/unique feature for me to cover in this post, so if interested, fire off your questions to Ed Pong and Tony Ma who are both members of this forum.  They will be more than happy to provide all the juicy details surrounding everything in these pictures.

What I do know is I saw a lot of rare and expensive tubes in this system!  Are you sitting down?  Ok, there were no less than thirty Western Electric 300B’s throughout his systems.  These are originals, not reproductions.  You will find these tubes for sale now for over $1000 a piece if I remember correctly.  They are considered one of the best tubes every created.  

I got a nice education on some other special tubes in Ed’s system that I had not been exposed to prior.  The Western Electric 437A’s, RCA 826’s, RCA 838’s, and RCA 805’s.  The RCA’s are the rather large output tubes you will see in several photos.  Curious about the 437A’s?  Here you go, https://www.tubedepot.com/products/western-electric-437a
Notice the price on these babies?  Ed has many of these installed in various pieces of equipment.  

I feel it important to clarify, UA is not merely an exercise in exorbitant spending.  As a matter of fact, many of the 300B’s Ed has were obtained in bulk a long time ago before the prices reached where they are today.  Every piece of equipment down to every tube is there for no other reason than “no compromise” sound quality.  Sure, Ed has, and continues to spend a grip on tubes to maintain or improve his system, but it is done for no other reason than superior results.  Ed is a humble man and only wants his recordings to truly be the next best thing to the live recording.  

I had the pleasure of listening to Ed’s all tube, all analog playback system.  The master he spun, which was honestly, the most real musical experience I have had to date, was the Tatsuki Narita and Yun-Yang Lee tape.  If I was to sum it up, Ed’s equipment placed me back at that concert. The system was the conduit, while successfully standing 100% out of the way of the music.  I got the impression that there was no coloration imparted by the system.  I can say this truthfully and with confidence now, after the fact, because I attended a live concert at Ed’s venue.  That tape, through Ed’s system, sounded so real!  Huge dynamic range with insanely noticeable low level detail.  I could hear absolutely everything.  This was a classical concert with piano and violin.  There were extreme peaks – a transient extravaganza.  It was territory that would create moments of wincing or cringing under unideal circumstances.  Ed’s tape, played through his system, was anything but that.  The musical performance was exciting while avoiding fatigue and other byproducts of bad recordings or playback systems.  There was so much musical information captured on that tape – some of which were non-musical (i.e. performer’s breath, bow taps/strikes other than on the strings, ambient noise from the audience or stage performers, etc.), which is what I really enjoyed and appreciated about the tape.  It was real.  I have lots of tapes, all well recorded and sounding fantastic, but they still sound “recorded.”  I don’t mean that in a bad way either.  There is something to be said about listening to an album/performance that was well mixed and engineered.  With UltraAnalogue tapes, you get what the audience of that concert got.  It is a very unique approach to producing analog tape and I have to say, that day of listening the Friday before the concert, ruined me – it was really that good.  

Next post…  The Narek Concert!
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Ed Pong
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #1 - 06/27/18 at 12:52:29
 
Hey Jeff,

I'm so happy you enjoyed your trip to TO!

So much fun to meet such a passionate audiophile like you! Thanks for all your kind words!

Looking at the tubes... there are 28 Western Electric tubes in total:
12 WE300b & 14WE437a  in the chain... with 2 vintage NOS 1956 WE300b - these are in the mic-pre amp & create magic!

a couple of tidbits on the system:

I asked Focal to calculate the dimensions of the sub enclosure, for their 15" driver, with the height & width set... the depth table is used to time align the sub with the Quad. I built the enclosure & it integrated perfectly...

The Quad 63's are 30 years old, completely stock except for the silver cables to the amps (by passing a speaker cable). The magic comes from Tony's electronics....!

Ed
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Lon
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #2 - 06/27/18 at 14:07:46
 
Great report Jeff! I can tell you had a wonderful experience.
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Acetone
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #3 - 06/27/18 at 15:26:53
 
Hey JOA,  Wow! Sounds like it was the analogue trip of a life time! And, I Love all that equipment. Do you remember how many mics were used, where they were placed, and what type of mics were used? I look forward to hearing some of that R2R goodness some day at your place. Although I'm not sure if I'm prepared to be ruined by the experience.
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Ed Pong
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #4 - 06/28/18 at 00:30:24
 
2 mics were used, at a height of 7 feet & 7 feet from Narek with the piano at 10 feet.

Royer 122v tubed ribbon mics, with our custom silver interconnect

Ed
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #5 - 06/28/18 at 02:58:12
 

So now you see first hand why any manufacture who wanted the absolute most perfect source to evaluate their gear with, would be hard pressed to find better than UltraAnalogue Recordings.  I listen to it on everything we make, and from time to time my Acoustat Monitors which have no interfaces, but rather the pates of each output tube are directly connected to the panels and the response is 20Hz to 20kHz from the panels.  It's like a musical endoscope.  Ed's tapes are outrageous on stuff like that!

Right now I'm doing the final listening room evaluation of the first Anniversary Zen Amp to go out the door, so I'll be throwing some of Ed's tapes at that for the rest of the evening.

Steve
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Jeff of Arabica
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #6 - 06/28/18 at 03:15:42
 
Thanks guys.  I feel really fortunate to have been able to venture up to Ed's place and experience UA firsthand.  Steve, you are right in saying "now you see first hand."  I always heard you and trusted your descriptions of Ed's tapes.  But they are that good where words alone just can't do justice.

My ZMA is back and installed.  I have only heard Ed's tapes on my Rachel, so I can't tell you how excited I am to experience them in the ZMA.   Smiley

On a side note, after looking back at that last post, did I dethrone "Will" for the longest user post on record?   Grin
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #7 - 06/28/18 at 03:34:45
 
Well after the Narek concert I had 2 violinists come to test & have a wonderful new violinist to join our group...

She's Alena Baeva from Luxembourg... we recorded some "Fast Food" (no rehearsals - just hit the record button...) tracks... amazingly something she's not played for 8-9 years... an amazing Paganiniana - the refinement is almost scary & I'm happy to say, I got it on tape!

www.alenabaeva.com      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ckqOukGKK8

every artist has their own "sound" & I look forward to be making recordings with her soon! I'll likely bring Yun-Yang Lee from Paris as I love his musicality & sound production...

Jeff, this might be worth another trip north... will let you know...

Ed
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #8 - 07/01/18 at 13:11:53
 
Steve,

Perhaps you could comment about that small reel of Fast Food by Alena Baeva...  a harbinger of recordings to come...

Here are a few tidbits about that piece & her:

The piece was Paganiniana, adapted from Paganini's music by the great Nathan Milstein. Alena won the second Moscow Paganini competition in 2004 and the famed Wienawski Competition in 2001 at the age of 16.

Ed
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #9 - 07/02/18 at 00:14:15
 

Yes, I'd be more than happy to.  Ed was kind enough to send me this reel with 2 tracks on it and I have to say I was pretty impressed with it.  I made it my Saturday evening listening subject matter and simply played the tape about 6 times or more.  Each time just enjoying both the recording and the musician.  I also noticed that I liked the timbre of this violin quite a bit.  Nice to be fully aware the instruments are individuals also. Much of this is lost when transferred to other formats, and especially the dynamics.  Dynamics is what pushes tape to the top of the format wars.  

I see a very bright future for UltraAnalogue Recordings!

Steve
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #10 - 07/02/18 at 04:47:33
 

Please if you haven't visited the youtube link Ed posted, do it tonight!



At 9:40 she goes into a solo where the entire place turns to stone and punctuates with a single note that is so soft and so high that it actually packed the same if not more power than the entire orchestra... similar to the way a whisper is always heard but loud talking is often overlooked.

So after having watched her video I made a back-up copy of the tape and proceeded to listen to it another 4 or 5 times.  It's one thing to watch this on youtube... but then to have her in your room standing between your speakers with nothing else in the way is just about too good to be legal.

Again, a bright future for Ed and his amazing company, UltraAnalogue Recordings.  It should be obvious by now to anyone who is following his work, that he has the ability and the tenacity to seek out the very best talent for his up close and personal tapes.  I have a nice collection of master tapes, many of which I will always bitch about how much I had to pay for them, but never Ed's tapes because nowhere else, not even famous studios, will you get this level of fidelity.  It is a true reference, and that's worth a lot.  To hear the music without a mixing console or all the convoluted wire that goes with it, but instead on the best tube signal path with only two microphones done live, no cuts, printed directly to tape.... who does that?  

When you find the one man on the planet that does that, and then you combine the talent he records, it's really over the top stuff.  If you study Ed's all tube signal path and ultra modified tape machines, you will eventually figure out he is applying the same expectations and goals to the artists he finds to record, which isn't surprising because no mater how good your gear, it only sounds as good as what you record!!!

Steve

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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #11 - 08/11/18 at 01:35:33
 
Many Thanks Steve for your kind words...

You're absolutely right about the artists & their performances... there is nothing worse than a great recording of an uninspired performance... That's why my biggest task is to entice the best young artists, on the world stage, to come have some fun with us....

Alena Baeva will be coming to my place March 16 for her first concert & recordings... AND she'll be bringing Van Cliburn Competition winner, Vadym Kholodenko with her to perform...  they were both here in July to test & I've never heard piano sound production like Vadym's...

They both have international solo careers & I feel very fortunate to have them come to play in my place & record....!

www.alenabaeva.com
www.vadymkholodenko.com

Jeff.... maybe this will be worth another trip to TO....

Ed
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Re: My Trip to UltraAnalgoue Recordings: Part 1
Reply #12 - 08/11/18 at 04:31:19
 

That's just so impressive!  See, retirement has made you dangerous!  

Steve
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