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Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering & DVD

Interviewed: Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering and DVD


Interviewer: Matt Rowe
with assistance from Greg Warner and Grey Cavitt.


Date of Interview: March, 2003
Website: www.gatewaymastering.com

2" 8-Track ATR used in the Beck "Sea Change" surround mix.

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MusicTAP recently had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering. Bob graciously agreed to answer a set of questions formulated by myself and TAP writers, Greg Warner and Grey Cavitt. We hope that you'll enjoy the insight that Bob 's answers provide into the world of mastering and the role that it plays in delivering quality music. We like to take this opportunity to thank Bob Ludwig for taking the time out of a very busy schedule to participate. We now turn it over to Bob.

Before I start with these “re-mastering” questions, I wish to remind readers that my main job is doing first-time original mastering of projects that have never been released before! I work with the major labels- Sony Music Entertainment, EMI Group, Universal Music Group, Warner Brothers Music, BMG Entertainment etc. I’m lucky to be among a select group of mastering people artists and producers turn to for engineering the final creative step of their new music.

For me, the pressure of doing original mastering brings about a hundred times more pressure than doing re-mastering of existing catalog work. The accountability of deciding how a new-born conception will be presented to the public for the first time is a much heavier responsibility than addressing a project for re-mastering that had already been approved by the Artist. Most audiophile and other small record companies don’t often use first-run mastering engineers for catalog re-mastering because we are, of necessity, too expensive to hire.

While the competition between us is intense, all the top first-run people know each other and we all consider ourselves friends. We often help each other, sharing hard won knowledge about some piece of gear, or even swapping lacquers when a batch was discovered to be bad etc. We enjoy a high degree of professional ethics. Bad mouthing of other engineers or gear is kept to a verbal minimum and almost never in print. We make our living from state-of-the-art gear and manufacturers often turn to this group for evaluation before releasing something to the public. Professional mastering engineers are the keepers of the artist’s secrets. Seldom do we reveal what we are about to work on without the record companies’ permission.

MusicTAP: There are many people, and I mean many people, that do not know or understand the difference in sound other than does a re-master sound cleaner, punchier. How would you explain to people the differences in order to give them the ability to notice for themselves the improvements?

Bob Ludwig: To me there is no “rule” that a re-mastering sounds “cleaner and punchier” or even better than the original. There are so many factors, mostly, who is involved with the re-mastering? What tapes were available?

There are several box sets out that are so poorly done, I could site lots of examples that can show this, but of course I never would.

So, to get back to the assumption that re-masterings always sound better, when they do, the quality of Analog to Digital converters has improved in the past 7 years or so thus, all things being equal, projects can be re-done with better fidelity now. Also, the availability of digital gear that runs at higher sampling rates and wider bit depths keep the rest of the post production stream more audiophile.

The only way to notice for yourself the difference in an original recording and the re-issue of it is to play both side by side and hear the differences.

MusicTAP: We’re in an era where re-masters arrive by the boatload from whatever label’s ship that has just arrived in the harbour brings to us. The problem is that, as consumers, we are unable to differentiate what was the “original” sound as recorded in the studio vs. new reissues of the same songs. They sound cleaner but are they representative of the actual masters?

Bob Ludwig: It’s often hard to tell. I just bought the SACD of one of my most favorite recordings that I have heard since my childhood, Billy Holiday’s “Lady In Satin”. I put on the disc and my heart was broken, I got none of the chills I used to get. I put on my old LP and the chills were back! I noticed the LP was much slower than the new re-mastering. So, only the people involved know which is “right”, but to me, the new version totally lost the magic, even if the new speed can be shown to be “correct”…so what!

On the other hand, The Stones “Beggars Banquet” can be shown to now be at the same speed the original “Rosetta Stone” singles were and that the original EQ’d and compressed production masters were at fault. The album sounds SO much better to me now. So it can go both ways.

MusicTAP: Obviously, what was recorded in the studio by the original band is what was recorded. What guarantees do consumers have that remixed product doesn’t have the ‘stamp’ of the remixing team; that the re-mastered product is not the audio vision of the team rather than what actually came off the master tapes.

Bob Ludwig: There are only guarantees when it says the artist were involved, otherwise, who knows! Remixing can be dangerous, the older and fewer tracks, the less dangerous. Sony’s mixing “Kind Of Blue” or my mix (and mastering) of the new Patsy Kline hits on MCA I did from the original 3-track masters one can’t go too far wrong. One removes a whole generation of tape hiss and distortion this way. 8 track? Much more room to go wrong…24 track? Almost impossible to duplicate the original in many cases. Some cases like “Tommy” which was remixed from the original 8-track (and I got to re-master it several years ago), Pete Townshend told John Astley, one of the remix engineers, that he wishes it had always sounded that way. The Fleetwood Mac surround DVD-A I mastered with Ken Callait had some new parts added, BUT they were parts the group had always wanted to hear but there was no room on the stereo mix. Perfect!

If the artists are not involved, indeed, the re-mastered version may not be the artist’s vision. Often budgets don’t allow such participation.

MusicTAP: Why re-master at all? What has new technology brought to us that give the ability to make a better original?

Bob Ludwig: Speaking for myself, when I started my own business, Gateway Mastering & DVD, I was finally able to have what I think is the ultimate new technology, a great acoustic, a listening room with what are, to me, the world’s best and most accurate speakers, my unique serial #1 and #2 Eggleston Works “Ivy” speakers (check their web site for information). I use bridged Cello Performance Mark II amplifiers capable of producing something like 3,000 watt peaks. I use the new utterly amazing Transparent Audio Opus MM Speaker cables and even my patch cords are made using Transparent Audio cable. Listening in my room is a dream and it is often easy as pie to hear an older project and know what to correct immediately.

The other main technology is intense investigation of superior analog tape machine playback. We have ¼”, ½” and 1” stereo machines with Ampex Class-A electronics, Aria Discrete Class-A electronics and Tim DeParavicini’s Esoteric Audio Research tube electronics and a set of Cello tape electronics as well. Choosing the best electronics for the particular job can often get you half way to your destination before moving a knob.

MusicTAP: What is your history? In other words, what started your career in re-mastering and how did you get to where you are now? A small biographical sketch.

Bob Ludwig: I am first a musician. I have a Bachelor’s and a Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. While at Eastman, I was an announcer at a local classical commercial radio station and I was also the Principal Trumpet player with the Utica Symphony Orchestra. I was also in the school’s recording dept. and recorded countless recitals and large concerts. I freelanced for Century Records and recorded many local school concerts through-out Western New York State. While finishing up my Masters degree, Phil Ramone (then unbelievable engineer and now famous producer of Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Chicago, Barbra Streisand etc etc.) came up to teach the first recording workshop at Eastman. I was his de-facto assistant. I left Rochester to work with Phil at A&R Recording in NY. I was an assistant engineer and, while there, I learned the art of disk cutting and mastering. Phil was my mentor, I couldn’t have had a luckier start in my career. Every engineer there spent some time learning to cut disks as it was felt that one couldn’t be a good mix engineer if one didn’t understand the limitations of disk cutting. When I got to that part of my training I immediately enjoyed it and starting attracting clientele from outside the regular studio work. I could read scores and thus attracted classical companies like Nonesuch Records, one of my oldest and much loved client.

There was a new acetate disk cutterhead developed by Mr. Georg Neumann, the SX-68. The sound improvement from this new cutterhead was like going from 7.5 ips to 30 ips tape. There was a new company opening up in NY that not only would be the first company to have this new head but they also had fantastic European Studer and Telefunken tape machine which were far ahead of the Ampex 440 machines of the time in tape handling and speed stability. This company was named Sterling Sound and I left A&R to become their first employee and, later on, Vice President of the company. Even though it was early in my career, I was already doing most all of Nonesuch’s catalog. On the pop side, I was doing the original mastering on Led Zeppelin II, Houses of the Holy, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Band, and lots of other great stuff.

Every mastering engineer worth their salt has always done re-issues of older works. I did all of Eric Clapton's “Derek and the Dominoes” albums once, They have probably been done 10 times since!

MusicTAP: How did you come to start Gateway Mastering & DVD? What factors encouraged you start your own mastering facility?

Bob Ludwig: When I was Vice President of Sterling Sound many people thought I owned it. When I worked at Masterdisk many people thought it was all mine. I was just an employee at both facilities. I have always wanted the ultimate sound environment and have the very best equipment. Most big mastering facilities are places with 5 or more engineers, every time an expensive piece of gear comes out all 5 engineers want it and it is often too expensive for management to buy it for everyone, so nobody gets one! By starting my own company the buck stops with me. I can build the best room I wish and get all the gear I think is best without being beholden to anyone else.

The biggest factor for starting my own business was my reputation in the industry. When one goes to the bankers for a huge loan, they want to see contracts, yet, independent mastering engineers never have contracts with anyone, it is always “what was your last hit”? Fortunately, my track record was enough for financing. Go to www.allmusic.com and search for Bob Ludwig under “artist” for a very partial discography. None of my records from before 1972 seem to be on this list (Led Zeppelin, AC/DC's “Back In Black”, the early The Band records, Sly and the Family Stone etc.) Search also under Robert Ludwig and Robert C. Ludwig (most of the Nonesuch and New World Records classical credit me with my proper name!).

MusicTAP: The recent re-masters for The Police were wonderful to my ears. However, the later albums for The Police, and I’m talking the chronological order, seems to benefit a little less than the earlier (the first two albums) issues. It’s my feeling that there was a lot less going on in the first two albums than there is in the remaining catalogue. Is that an assessment that you would agree with? If so, why would that be?

Bob Ludwig: I agree with you. The reason the recent albums don’t experience as much improvement is that Hugh Padgham mixed them and he did near-perfect mixes! What’s to fix?

MusicTAP: You've re-mastered the Essential Leonard Cohen. My, and many others', love for LC is as heart rending as his lyrical output is. Your re-masters deepened the underlying ‘darkness’ of his music. Do you have to prepare to re-master a certain disc, especially one so full of tonal qualities like Leonard Cohen?

Bob Ludwig: With my schedule I never get to prepare! I walk in the studio and do whatever comes in the door right then and there. Leonard was totally involved with the Essential LC and guarded his precious sound from being anything other than what he wanted. I love Leonard, he is one of my favorite artists.

MusicTAP: What was your most challenging project?

Bob Ludwig: When I originally cut the masters for the second Band album (Up on Cripple Creek etc.), the vinyl of their first album had all the low bass cut-off as it was done by a union cutting engineer at Capitol in NY. The Band’s sound IS that low, huge sound. It was almost impossible to cut moderately loud and still keep the bass without skipping. In fact, I think on some cheap turntables some of them DID skip anyway!!

The Velvet Underground masters were hard to do, they were sometimes so raw.

MusicTAP: Which project in your career was your most satisfying? One that gave you the most ‘bang for your buck’, one that you’re most proud of?

Bob Ludwig: Many come to mind, all equally favorites:

Reference discs for “Music From Big Pink

The rest of the early Band albums especially the second one (I didn’t get any credit, as was the norm, until the “Moondog Matinee” vinyl came out).

Dire Strait’s “Brother’s In Arms” which almost single handedly established the new CD format.

The second Led Zeppelin album and “Houses of The Holy

Jimi Hendrix : "The Cry of Love” and “Band of Gypsys

All of Bruce Springsteen’s records, especially “Born In the USA” which was the first commercially released compact disc that was manufactured in America!

Nirvana

Bryan Ferry’s entire output

Hall and Oates entire output

Almost all of Rush’s entire output.

Any of the Eric Clapton records I did.

ZZ Top’s unbelievable records like “Deguello

Lou Reed’s records

Many of the famous Nonesuch Records “Explorer Series” of amazing world-music.

The Rolling Stones re-issues on Hybrid SACD

Sly and the Family Stone “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” (Family Affair, etc).

I could go on and on…

MusicTAP: Is there a work out there that you’d love to revisit? By that I mean, is there material out there that you’d love to re-master?

Bob Ludwig: Yes, all of Sly Stone’s work and Prince’s early albums.

MusicTAP: What was working with Phil Ramone like?

Bob Ludwig: Phil was my mentor, and he in turn was influenced by Tom Dowd; both men are pure genius. His A&R (Arnold and Ramone) Recording Studios was the cream of the independent studios in NYC at the end of the 1960’s. Nothing could touch them back then. He had the best engineers and the best maintenance people. They all own their own businesses now. I’m on an advisory board with Phil for NARAS, I just love hearing him talk, about anything!!

MusicTAP: What is the usual process from when Gateway is contacted for a project to the final release?

Bob Ludwig: Someone calls us and schedules a day I can work on their record. Either I do it alone, or the producer and sometimes, artists attends. The day arrives, I listen to their raw tape and hear in my head how I think it could sound. I turn the knobs on the right gear to make it sound like I hear it in my head. I master it, discuss if any remixing needs to be done and do any further editing that needs to be done. When the artist, producer, A&R person and the manager all agree I have gotten as much musicality out of their original master tape as possible, the approved master is copied to the appropriate medium desired by the plant (PCM 1630, exabyte DDP tape, Pre-master CD-R, or Yellow Book CD-ROM.) The actual parts going to the plant are quality controlled from top to bottom by one of my engineers, usually with headphones to catch problems one can’t hear in speakers, and notes are made of any abnormal sounds that are in fact approved.

On very rare occasions the artists may ask me to approve the final CD pressing (they can sound quite bad or match what we have given them) which I may do.

MusicTAP: Gateway Mastering and you have been at the cutting edge of high resolution mastering in the digital format for years. Do you still feel on that edge, and if so, what from that special view do you see approaching?

Bob Ludwig: Absolutely on the edge! I was one of the first to have Tim DeParavicini’s 1” wide stereo tape machines (I already have had my first Number One hit with the 1” machine, Creed's single “With Arms Wide Open” was mixed to 1”. As wide as ½” sounds, 1” sounds wider! I have the ATR Services “Aria” pure discreet Class A solid state tape amplifiers as well. I am also the first to own the ATR Services 2” eight track with an extra time code track for doing surround sound from analog mixes. I just purchased a state-of-the-art 8 channel surround console with 120 volt rails on it from Sound Performance Laboratories in Germany. In the digital domain, the gear is finally starting to catch-up to the promise high resolution digital brought to us. It has been ten years since I bought one of the first 96kHz/24 bit converters from dCS in the UK. There was a while when I had serial #1 of some of their gear. I once had a 192kHz converter where the only thing I could do with it was play it back through another 192kHz converter! There was no means of easily storing it for a while.

MusicTAP: Do you typically get involved with surround or stereo remixing, or do you focus on the mastering?

Bob Ludwig: I have mastered over 100 surround sound projects. The only mixing I do is on special occasions like Patsy Klein or re-balancing stems, I once mixed a Mariah Carey vocal, but all that is rare, I have plenty to do with just mastering!

MusicTAP: What are your feelings about the various sound formats that you have worked with over the years, and what do you specifically think about the new high-resolution formats?

Bob Ludwig: Analog tape has always sounded wonderful. Vinyl disk is a medium our ear really loves, a good vinyl turntable and phono preamp is a very musical thing. When digital was first introduced in the 1970’s before the CD was invented, I initially loved the sound of it. I got to work with some amazing sounding early digital recordings like Donald Fagen’s “The Nightfly”, Rush’s “Moving Pictures”, The Police’s “Synchronicity”. No hiss and 100% speed stability, for the first time, on classical piano. I loved it. The 3M digital and Soundstream digital machines sounded very good. Then when CD players came out I got bothered, like a lot of other people, with the brittleness and lack of echo detail and soundstage that characterized “bad” digital sound. It certainly wasn’t “Perfect Sound Forever” as was advertised! As our ears got better and gear got better I pushed for engineers to stop using 16 bits DATs and move up to 88.2kHz or even 192kHz/24 bit recordings. The final result is definitely better. Now I love the new high resolution digital formats. Finally, the high resolution digital is always better than analog from a technical specification and, while not always, it can even sound better to our ears. I’m still a great believer in the use of tube gear and analog!

MusicTAP: This question is for the benefit of newcomers to SACD. What is DSD, and what are the benefits of it?

Bob Ludwig: Direct Stream Digital is an updated version of an old technology Sigma-Delta conversion process that dbx used in the late 1970’s. Instead of sampling the sound at 96kHz per second with a 24 bit wide word, DSD, the present system, is a one bit sample but done at over 2.8 Megahertz per second. The benefits are that it is considered a direct replacement for the CD with surround sound added. No video screens (or no extra added value for some minds), put it in the player, press play and music comes out! It can have the added advantage right now of having a hybrid layer that is near 100% compatible with all existing CD players.

MusicTAP: What are the advantages to a floating control room?

Bob Ludwig: The floating floor keeps the sounds in the two mastering studios we have from interfering with each other and the outside world. It can reduce airborne noise and especially impact noises.

MusicTAP: How much freedom do you usually have with projects?

Bob Ludwig: It’s the Artist’s record so I do everything possible to restrict my freedom to bring our their vision of their music. Having said that, people use first-run mastering people like Stephen Marcussen, Doug Sax, Ted Jensen, Greg Calbi, George Marino, Tony Dawsey etc. because of their reputation. People know that these people can often bring out musical elements hidden in the mixes that the producers would never have thought possible. They are worth the extra money when your project will be competing with all the other records out there. We are all here to serve the producer/artist and the music. If they want it mastered backwards, we will be happy to do it. The producers use our “take” on it as a great starting point.

MusicTAP: What are the different challenges in working with older master tapes compared to newer ones? How do you feel about the quality of the older versus the newer tapes, and how does that affect your mastering approaches?

Bob Ludwig: Many of the analog tapes from the 1970s-1990s didn’t age well as the lubricant doesn’t last a long time. These tapes will gum up the heads so badly that they will actually come to a halt and not pass through the machine! There is a method of baking the old tapes that literally brings them back to life, although sometimes it does increase the print-through all analog tapes experience where the sound of one layer of the tape is superimposed on the next layer of the wound tape. The Rolling Stones ABKCO tapes were sufficiently old to not suffer from any of these problems and did not need any baking. They were in terrific physical shape. Some of the analog Police tapes did need some baking to restore them. Really old tapes like the Agfa 555 or 525 and BASF tapes play as though they were recorded yesterday. None of this affects my mastering approach.

MusicTAP: How much equalizing do you typically have to employ, and what is its role in bringing out the sound of a master tape?

Bob Ludwig: Equalizing is one of the prime tools of a mastering engineer. The idea is always to make everything sound as musical as possible. Like analog tape machines, I have many different equalizers, each on “state-of-the-art” in it’s own way, yet they all sound different which is why I own so many. In the analog world, the tube Manley “Massive Passive” equalizer can create a beautiful over-all color for a recording. The GML (Massenburg Labs) equalizer can do surgical, precise equalizing without making any kind of sonic signature. Others like the Avalon have very musical EQ curves and the Millennia Media has the ability to operate either in solid state or as a tube eq. In the digital domain, George Massenburg also makes a wonderful digital equalizer. Daniel Weiss has a special “linear phase” digital equalizer quite unlike anything else. Equalizers can make dull tapes sound normal, they can make bright tapes sound normal, whatever it takes. Use of them varies from nothing (if it doesn’t need it and already sounds good) to amazing amounts, totally depending on the circumstances.

MusicTAP: What do you think of “pro-sumer” mixing and mastering software packages such as SoundForge, Bias PEAK or Bias Deck, et al?

Bob Ludwig: I’m not aware of anything ever coming into me on those formats, so no thoughts.

MusicTAP: How has Pro Tools changed your methods, and what are your thoughts about it? Do you even use it?

Bob Ludwig: We have 8 different brands of professional workstations at Gateway Mastering & DVD. We receive material on all of them from time to time. ProTools is the most ubiquitous of them all. About 60-70% of the projects we do come in on analog tape. Of those that come in on digital, the vast majority come in on ProTools as a source. The new ProTools HD which can operate at 192kHz is fantastic for multi-track work, but not as perfect as a mastering tool. Producers sometimes bring in music mixed to “stems” with vocals (with all effects and reverb) on one or two channels, background vocals on another pair, then the instrumental track on yet another pair and occasionally certain important instruments may be isolated. This way, if there is a problem with the vocal levels it can be corrected right there in mastering by remixing it!

MusicTAP: Were you pleased with the Rolling Stones reissues and the reactions, both commercially and critically, to them?

Bob Ludwig: Jody Klein, the Senior Vice-President of ABKCO who was responsible for the project and the rest of the team, Teri Landi from ABKCO, Steve Rosenthal from the Magic Shop and the other transfer engineers in the UK were all thrilled. I have had many people come up to me and tell me that these records have made them listen to music again. What they mean is, as professionals, we hear a lot of music but seldom get a chance to kick-back and put something on and just listen for enjoyment!! This was about the highest compliment I could ever receive. As you probably know, even one title like "Hot Rocks" outsold every other SACD and DVD-Audio disc ever made combined!!

MusicTAP: Why did you choose the controversial option of transferring the Rolling Stones to Direct Stream Digital instead of mastering from the original analog masters?

Bob Ludwig: I did not choose a thing, I had zero to do with that decision.

ABKCO had embarked on an archiving program of their master tapes to DSD. When they decided to do the Stones re-mastered set they decided to send me masters that were already quality controlled for no drop-outs, no sticky splices, best source, etc. etc. It took about 4 months of fitting it into my schedule as it was, if I had be given the analog sources, which I would have been glad to work with, it would have been intolerably expensive and much longer. I was pleased to work with the SACD tapes, it kept me much more fresh for the important creative work and not bog me down with the physical decisions. With the Meitner converters on the most high resolution monitoring system one can not reliably pick the master vs. the copy.

MusicTAP: Did you choose the same route with the Police discs?

Bob Ludwig: Universal asked me if I would prefer working from the original tapes and of course I said yes. This was not a vast catalog situation. I was supplied original analog tapes and digital tapes of those albums recorded to digital. I insisted that they check for any analog sources that might have been made at the same time as the digital sources. They found them but I discovered the analog tapes were made as backups from the digital masters, so there was no extra resolution on them, only hiss!

MusicTAP: Is there any truth to the rumors that the Stones re-masters would be pressed to vinyl from analog tapes, or were those bootleg projects and rumors?

Bob Ludwig: Sorry, I can’t speak about any projects my clients have not announced to the public. I am much too busy to be reading most internet newsgroups. The few times I started reading some of the Stones comments, I stopped as the people writing them didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Plus, I found many of these people don’t actually like the music, they just like to collect and talk about minutia.

MusicTAP: Can you drop hints about any future re-mastering jobs under way?

Bob Ludwig: No, it is my policy not to discuss anything my clients do not announce.

MusicTAP: You have done a marvelous job introducing Steely Dan to the CD era. Might you repeat the job with SACD?

Bob Ludwig: The very first surround project I mastered was the DTS CD release of “Gaucho”. Universal has recently announced that "Gaucho" will soon be released on SACD. Warner has already released Donald Fagen”s “The Nightfly” on DVD-Audio this past December. Elliot Scheiner mixed both albums originally and I mastered both originally. It is great to have the original team together again for the SACD and DVD-Audio versions. They sound totally amazing thanks to Elliot Scheiner's fantastic mixing, there wasn’t much for me to do.

MusicTAP: Today’s bands going into the studio have the ability to create their material using the highest quality means available to them. Will this potentially negate the need for re-mastering in the future, say 30 years from now?

Bob Ludwig: Could be once the DVD-Video, DVD-Audio and SACD surround sound is omnipresent, people may not be interested in further speaker expansion. Perhaps in 30 years it will be broadcast directly into our heads and will need re-mastering for yet another format to come!

MusicTAP: What might upcoming technology add to 50/60 year old masters? Let’s say for the fun of it, “Who’s Next” 30 years from now.

Bob Ludwig: Noise reduction that is ever more effective with less negative effects. Equalizers that are tuned to a musical scale and can actually follow an instrument playing through the scales, allowing the mastering engineer to almost “remix” the problems in the master tapes.

MusicTAP: How closely do you work with the artist? I’m assuming that the bigger the artist, the more involvement they may want. Or does the Producer generally just hand off the final mix and say ‘go to it’? What might a set of guidelines be, for example?

Bob Ludwig: Usually Producers attend sessions, and if the artist is also a producer or co-producer they come. A big percentage of my sessions are client attended. I like having the person who can make a decision right there in the spot. We certainly so a lot of session work these days via the internet sending massive files over the net for quality checking around the world.

Almost always, there are notes from the Producer or we have a phone call for as long as we need to be on the same page. They depend on my musical skills to maximize the musicality inherent in their tapes.

MusicTAP: What is your spin on the analog vs digital argument? When you hear amateur audiophiles rattling about the ‘warmth of vinyl’ and the ‘brittleness or flatness’ of digital, do you feel that so much smoke is being blown about nothing or is there validity?

Bob Ludwig: Early digital devices could sound pretty good (Soundstream digital, 3M 32 track multi-track and 4-track) or pretty bad (average consumer CD player). The explosion of CD caused great research in the digital-to-analog conversion process, but there were only a handful of professional machines actually recording thus less research in the analog-to-digital conversion process.. Finally, in the mid-80’s the quality of the ultra-critical analog-to-digital converters started happening. Designers finally found that digital could be so accurate, the slightest error in the ANALOG part of the design was easily heard! Now, a great converter takes as much care with the analog circuitry as the digital. With high resolution digital, it is almost impossible to pick out the original from the copy, while with vinyl, one can ALWAYS pick out the original vs the vinyl playback!

MusicTAP: What would you say to people considering what you do as a career? What would be a logical progression?

Bob Ludwig: First, be a musician! It is a apparently a very difficult thing to be a successful mastering engineer, if you look at the mastering credits on big selling commercial CD releases you will see the same names now as one did 10 or even 20 years ago. It is a very small group of people on the “A” list. I think I have the best job in the world (although the long hours are not great!)

MusicTAP: What do you see beyond SACD/DVD-A/XRCD? What do you envision as being a new update (if you were creating one) to the reproduction of music in the next 10 years? 20 years?

Bob Ludwig: The Blu Ray disc has already been announced, and I look forward to this even newer technology that was announced a year ago!

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1829241.stm

MusicTAP: Bob, thanks for this wonderful opportunity to help the consumer to understand a little more about the process. We know that you’re very busy and really appreciate your taking some time out here.

Bob Ludwig: You are welcome!


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