ORIGINAL SOUND

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MASTERING INSIGHTS

HEEP'S BETTER

One of the happier and more rewarding projects I’ve been involved with is the remastering of the Uriah Heep back-catalogue for re-issue by Castle Communications.

All the early Heep albums were originally recorded at Lansdowne Studios so Robert Corich of Red Steel Music thought it only appropriate that we should do the work.

I’ve always described any kind of work in a recording studio as being 20% technology and 80% psychology, and more than 20 years experience has only served to confirm this, so, in trying to explain why the new Uriah Heep CDs sound so different and, to most people it seems, so much better, I really need to go into the philosophy behind the way I work, as in the final analysis this has to be the most influential factor.


The real mastermind and motivating force behind the current Uriah Heep project has been Robert Corich, who is a real Heep fan. Not only has he gained access to all the original quarter-inch album masters but he has also found the master tapes for a number of other tracks, some of which have not been released, until now. This has meant that we have not only been able to improve on the sound quality of the earlier CD and LP releases, but we have also been able to add bonus tracks to each album. These tracks have been carefully selected to represent other work the the band was doing at the time. In some cases they are simply additional tracks which never made it to the LP due to time constraints, but we have also included singles, and alternative mixes and takes.


We began by listening to the LP and as many of the earlier CD releases as we could lay our hands on. For some of the albums Robert had not only the UK CD but also the German one or the American one, we listened to them all and - unsurprisingly - they all sounded quite different from one another. Some were just flat (unequalised) copies of the master tape, while others had been variously improved or degraded, but none of them sounded as good as they could in my view, and Robert, as a die-hard fan agreed.

WonderworldThe process of remastering proved quite straightforward, partly because Peter Gallen’s mixes were great, but also because the original Lansdowne masters had been preserved in very good condition. Some of the quarter-inch tapes were suffering a little from oxide-shedding where the bonding material had destabilised and the magnetic layer of the tape was literally falling apart! This has become a common problem with some tapes from this period and the cure is simply to bake the tapes in a slow oven! This stabilises the tape and removes any moisture which may have become absorbed into it.

The next step is to adjust the replay characteristics of the playback machine to match the tape. This is done with reference to a set of frequency alignment tones recorded on the tape as part of the original mixing session. This ensures the tape is being played back 100% correctly. Having done that it then becomes a matter of engineering judgement as to how much, if any, equalisation, compression, limiting etc. should be applied. (In fact none of the remastered Heep albums have been limited or compressed in any way so the dynamics are fully preserved.)

Return to FantasySuch processing can be applied at the analogue stage, before the signal is digitised, or it can be done in the digital domain as part of the digital editing process. My own feeling is that while digital processes can be very fine, very precise (and even, in some cases, very good!) analogue 'problems' require analogue solutions. For the Uriah Heep albums I was able to choose analogue equalisers by Klein & Hummell, Massenburg or Neve (being German, American and British respectively.) The decisions I made on this actually varied from album to album, and in one or two cases I was only able to achieve the results I wanted using two equaliser units together!

I went through each album making EQ and level decisions on a track-by-track basis and then used the Sonic Solutions hard disk editor to reassemble the individual tracks again. The editor was also used to remake any dodgy tape splices, to make precise level adjustments and to smooth out some of the track endings and fade outs.

WonderworldBy working in this way I have been able to create results which couldn't have been achieved using the technology available to the band at the time, but at every stage I've tried to work bear in mind what the original tapes were all about... tried to add a little something to the sound, not just alter it to make it sound more modern - the music, the performance and the basic characteristics of the recording have, I hope, been respected and preserved. In some cases the differences are subtle, but in others I think the improvement has been quite dramatic.

The new remasters can now speak for themselves. They all have a silver sticker denoting their remaster status and boasting the superbly restored original artwork. I think the remasters look good and sound good, but more to the point the reviewers and the fans seem to agree: they say they’ve never heard anything like it, which was my intention. I went looking on those tapes for as much detail as I could with the deliberate aim of bringing it out. You should hear things you’ve never heard before - and I’m not just talking about the bonus tracks!

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