Silverbirch Debuts The Sweet Sound Of Tape: Introducing Our New ATR Services (Mike Spitz) Custom Remanufactured 1/2″ ATR-102 (Ampex) with Stock and Aria Electronics and Flux Magnetics Mastering Series Extended Response Heads Mastering Deck
Since the majority of our independent clients mix within digital workstations, why would we invest over $15,000. for a tape deck?
Well, historically, some of the best sounding albums ever recorded were mixed to 1/2″ tape. Secondly, quite a few major label projects are currently mixed to this format. Thirdly, hardly any indie projects are mixed to 1/2″ and that’s where we can help bridge the gap.
We are offering a service called “Layback Mastering”. That simply means that your digital mixes will be passed through the record head, tape and playback head(s) as part of our mastering process. It is not necessary to actually record the audio, stop and play it back. One only has to put the deck in record and rewind as necessary. It is still recorded to tape but the audio returns to the mastering session it real time. This makes for a an easy to compare experience. It is easy to quickly hear whether the tape will be helpful to the mix, or not. The tapes can be recycled many times with no significant sonic degradation.
Most of the mastering work here is done analog anyway and so by using our Lavry high-end converters, any infinitesimal audio changes caused by leaving the digital domain are far offset by the quality of sound that class-A analog gear can potentially add to your project. Of course, not all audio will benefit by going to tape, but it’s a powerful option to have available.
If you have worked at our studio before and have noticed the imposing tape recorder in the corner, you may well ask what the fuss is all about! Well, that was a Studer A80 1/4″ deck running at 15 ips only. While this was used successfully on quite a few blues and roots albums, this particular model, using 1/4″ tape, doesn’t offer the fidelity and low noise floor necessary to be used on most modern recordings and therefore, although a great sounding machine in its class, it had limited use here. Our new machine is a quanatum leap forward in sound and versatility.
In keeping with our almost completed two year commitment to rebuild and upgrade every aspect of our mastering suite, our research revealed that every world-class mastering suite had a 1/2″ deck. They are used to transfer audio mixed to 1/2″ and also for layback mastering.
It was also clear that the most popular deck was the Ampex ATR 102. In addition, as we did our searches, we saw various words and phrases such as “ATR Services”, “Mike Spitz Remanufactured”, “Flux Heads”, “Aria Electronics”, etc.
We learned that the Ampex brand was the first reel to reel tape recorder to be used in professional applications. ABC started using one to record the Bing Crosby shows in 1948. The last ones were produced in the ’90’s when it appeared that digital was going to take over all the pro audio applications. Well, it appears that a great many people still like the sound of tape, analog summing and analog mastering.
Mike Spitz of ATR Services has built up a loyal following by rebuilding Ampex tape decks. He calls it remanufacturing, . Flux Magnetics are a company that makes new and improved head stacks for these machines. The heads on our machine are the Flux Magnetics Mastering Series Extended Response Heads. Designed by David Hill of Cranesong and ATR Services, Aria Electronics are a modern alternative to the original Ampex electronics.
In other words, a Spitz remanufactured Ampex deck with Flux heads and Aria Electronics is a hybrid modern machine that never existed in days when these machines were still coming off the production line, but it still sounds like tape. We also decided that the original electronics might be useful so our machine is the custom built version, with both electronics, so that we could also offer the vintage sound.
Here’s a quote from the ATR website: The classic Ampex ATR-102 recorder/reproducer is completely restored, updated and modified to be as reliable as possible. Our machines perform at or better than original Ampex specifications, in some cases besting tolerances for mechanical and audio precision by 60% or more!
Oh, and if the noise floor isn’t low enough for you, we bought a Dolby SR noise reduction unit, just in case!
Silverbirch has offered high quality analog and digital mastering for years and so it’s only appropriate that we add a high quality tape deck in order to offer you the sweet sound of tape.
Andy Krehm, our mastering engineer, was expecting to this machine to be a useful addition to his already formidable arsenal of gear but was not prepared for the wonderful effect it can have on some tracks. In fact, he has used the deck on all, or parts of, about 30% of the albums he has worked on since it has been up and running.
As a bonus, our recording clients can now cost effectively mix to 1/2″ tape and any studio or band is welcome to book a couple of hours and run their mixes to or through our Ampex 102 at $50. per hour. If you don’t need your mixes archived to tape but just want them run to tape and back in to the hard drive, there is no charge to use our recycled tape which is replaced as soon as it shows any signs of degradation. Obviously this is a effective option for recording and mastering clients.