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How to make your stereo sound real (Read 378 times)
Steve Deckert
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How to make your stereo sound real
12/24/22 at 18:01:53
 

Before I start this post - there is sound real and there is sound real good.  To have the later takes exceptional musicians on top of everything else.


We've all heard talk about getting things to sound real.  Certainly I've babbled about it dozens of times on these forums. But this night something extraordinary happened and took it to a new level.  What could possibly take it higher than past ramblings?  The recording.  And this particular session at UltraAnalogue Recordings was the catalyst for a mind numbing experience I recently had -- on video none the less...

The recording, Mendelssohn Piano Trio No.1, Op.49 - Alena Baeva, Narek Hakhnazaryan, Vadym Kholodenko,  was first watched on YouTube and listened to through headphones and then again through my stereo.  Here is a link to that: https://youtu.be/08DQm3ecDu4

Then I listened to it on my smaller tape machine, the 1500 which has been fully serviced and re-capped.  I didn't like the sound... in fact for a minute or two I began to wonder if Ed had lost his mind?  It was lean and the imaging was impossible to lock into a visual. Very blurry.  I was so intrigued by this horrible sound I had to find out what is causing it... so I removed my custom preamp from the signal path thinking a tube had gone south.  Played the tape again on just the machine, and same result.  

I then got out my best tape machine and rolled it into the listening room and listened to the tape again.  This time it was very nice.  Still, all we've accomplished is getting something from sounding like shit to sounding very nice.  Woohoo! Roll Eyes  A $375 reel of tape needs to sound a lot better than this, I thought.

Then I remembered a switch setting on the machine that I had forgotten about, flipped it, and listened to the tape again.  Now it was sounding really good.  So, I decided to make the first video, which was this tape being played on the tape machine.  This was the sonic plateau I was looking for to motivate me to take it to level three, which involves a whole different setup.

Because frankly, using a solid state tape machine to play back one of these tapes make it hard to hear what all the fuss is about with Eds insane recording path shown here:





Which is to say that most any other master tape from some run of the mill studio would sound nearly as good. SO, lets hook up level 3 and see what happens...

Level 3 is hooking the tape head directly to an all tube tape head preamp with zero negative feedback and an adjustable EQ, the output is fed into a ZROCK2 set flat but to add the extra 4dB of needed gain and lend some of it's intoxicating midrange magic to the equation and this directly connected to the Sarah 300B amp driving the Zen Master Series baffles.

By the end of the listening session my head was so fried that I didn't know what to do.  I was flabbergasted.  As you'll see at the end of the video my reaction was unscripted.

So to make your stereo sound this real takes a lot of ducks in a row, and more importantly is this:  The levels.  Level 1 was listening to the digital recording of it on youtube.  Level 2 was listening to it on the good tape machine.  And Level 3 was changing over to an all tube signal path with ne feedback.  Between level 2 and level 3 my thoughts were borderline if the experience was really worth $375 or $13/minute.  In fact I would say it wasn't.  However after level 3 it left a life long impression that even if I never get to hear it again was defiantly worth the money and then some.  You can spend more than this eating a hamburger at Disneyworld with your family and forget the experience with ease.

So to make master tapes worth the steep price of admission the following ingredients are needed:


Record real instruments in a real space.  Use real microphones with the very best tube microphone preamps using the very best Western Electric tubes.  Use silver wire.  Record on pimped out tape machines so you have a real recording. That's step one.  Can't happen without this step.

Playback on pimped out tape machines with feedback free all tube signal path directly from the tape head.  Use Decware amplification and large speakers.




https://youtu.be/tHvdt8EgEt8







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Ed Pong
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Re: How to make your stereo sound real
Reply #1 - 12/25/22 at 18:07:19
 
Steve,
This was definitely a fun video, & I could hear, even on this simple YouTube clip, the juice that’s on this tape!

Just some thoughts on these Piano Trio tapes. As I was sitting, listening to this concert, I was blown away by the beauty of the overall soundscape. It had it all, a light delicacy & a huge dense sound when all the music reached the fortes. The soft marriage of the violin & cello sounds was magical. This Mendelssohn Trio has both of these extremes in spades.

Roger, my Studer tech, used to record the rock bands in London England & loves to be listening on the headphones at the tape deck. I love the live & would not miss this for the world!

When I first heard these tracks, the naturalness of the sound really messed with me, as I’ve never heard such a presentation of sound. This is really the effects of the 1956 WE437a in the mic-pre amp. This is the only change from my other recordings. The combination of these 3 instruments also created an unbelievably beautiful sound…The fascinating thing in audio, is one never knows the effects of anything, until you hear the effects. Then there’s a “Oh WOW, I didn’t know it can sound like that, or so good!”

That’s why I told you, “the sound of these tapes will mess with you.” Judging from your reaction at the end of this video, I think I was right!

The absolute 1st step requirement to hear this sound, is to have world class soloists, happy to perform at their top level… I really see that is the critical thing in these recordings. All the great tubes/electronics/tape decks/room mean nothing, if the performance being recording is not mind blowing.

The 2nd requirement is the instruments being recorded, because, they create the soundscape we’re trying to record… sounds logical, but many have no idea what goes into making a violin or cello sound “good”… None of this recording would’ve created this emotion if not for the instruments being played here…

The 3rd and easiest of all these things, is the recording chain… as difficult as it was to build this sound path, it’s something we can do. Lastly, but not least is the room. Without a good/pleasing natural reverb, the magic would be missing. The 2 earlier requirements are out of our control…

My conclusion is a magical recording happens rarely & I was lucky we were ready & captured it this time!

Ed
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JBzen
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Re: How to make your stereo sound real
Reply #2 - 01/05/23 at 00:57:46
 
Down another rabbit hole... Wink

I listened to both videos of Ed's recording on a set of big box store bought head phones. It was a noticeable improvement between the solid state tape machine electronics as compared to the repro head>ZP3 tube pre. So much so I jumped on a Otari 5050 in well maintained shape. It's going to be a bit of a learning curve to add those recommened tweaks. Kind of exciting to own a 40 year old workhorse.

This was further reinforced when I played the two videos on a SE84 sourced from the TV rca outs to a toslink converter feeding a ZDAC. Big difference between the two videos! Exciting times are here again!

John
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AMC CD8b>XO3>Cambridge CXN2>ZDAC>ZBIT>braided silver/occ> Zrock2>CSP2+>SE84 milflex copper 25th>9AWG silver/copper braid>lii Crystal 10 in Huijgen cabinets. Ortofon 2M Bronze>JVC QL-F4>ZP3>Isolation-AC filtering-Room treatment. Otari MX5050B2.
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JBzen
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Re: How to make your stereo sound real
Reply #3 - 01/14/23 at 13:55:05
 
The Otari had some issues Huh
Be careful when searching for reel to reels.
Do your research before buying.
Know what you are going to use the machine for before a purchase.
Try the machine before buying.
Do not buy a machine that has not been tested.
A honest description of the machine is worth a thousand pictures on ebay.

My purchase on ebay excited me but when it arrived there was an issue with the capstan motor. It has a noise when running and needs a twirl of the thumb and forefinger sometimes at power up. This can be fixed but could easily cost 1/2 the price paid for the machine or more!

The seller admitted that it was not used for awhile. He did not detect the noise when checking it before the listing. He also reimbursed me for this issue.

I decided to keep the machine. This particular model has known inheritat issues. All things do! I will do a complete going over and the head mod. The ZP3 will need a tape input added. Hopefully it will not take a couple years! It is in very good cosmetic condition. I like the style 😎



John

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AMC CD8b>XO3>Cambridge CXN2>ZDAC>ZBIT>braided silver/occ> Zrock2>CSP2+>SE84 milflex copper 25th>9AWG silver/copper braid>lii Crystal 10 in Huijgen cabinets. Ortofon 2M Bronze>JVC QL-F4>ZP3>Isolation-AC filtering-Room treatment. Otari MX5050B2.
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Steve Deckert
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If the 1st watt
sucks why continue?

Posts: 5855
Re: How to make your stereo sound real
Reply #4 - 01/24/23 at 03:39:51
 

Ed,

The reaction you saw me have at the end of the video was rare. It was a one two punch. I couldn't believe it sounded so real -- that was one.  And I couldn't believe the musicianship was so good --that was two.  

It is amazing how going from the tape heads directly into the ZP3 with tape mod and a ZROCK2 let the recording come alive.  Really no comparison between that all triode signal path and the solid state tape machine.  Just goes to demonstrate we really only hear the weakest link.  If you're going to pay money for all all tube signal path recording on tape, you best plan to have an all tube signal path to play it back from.  That was the true takeaway.

Steve

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