Cutting Up: Stereophile's Liszt Piano Sonata LP Page 6

Almost a month after our first attempt, JA and I made our way back to Camarillo to try again. This time it took us only a few minutes to set up. We arrived at 10am and were cutting side A before 11. This time, the first note was on the tape. "It took me four hours to restore the 20-bit master from the Exabyte archive tapes," John mused, "just five seconds to redo the problem edit, and another two hours to remake each master. With an analog master tape, we could have fixed the problem in five minutes total!" Stan was dubious about our first attempt—A3—and insisted on cutting an extra back-up, so we wound up with five A sides. As we listened to one of Silverman's thunderous climaxes, John asked Stan if people would have any problems tracking the disc. "Hey, man, that's your problem—all I do is cut what you give me!"

By 4pm we had another pair of B sides cut. The day had seemed uneventful, but we were too cautious to celebrate yet. I should point out that though Stan seemed—even to such eagle-eyed observers as JA and I—to be doing very little between takes, underneath his casual-seeming exterior he was calculating constantly. He made subtle adjustments with each pass and, when we got the next batch of test pressings, it became obvious that he was picking up on cues that the rest of us had missed. We wound up approving the last cuts we attempted: A5/B4.

Awaiting those new TPs, we were tense. What if we had bad lacquers? What if we had to start over again? It fell to me to listen first—nobody else had the guts. Truthfully, neither did I—my fingers were shaking as I cued the lead-in groove. Side A4 was much better. Nonfill was nonexistent, and, while there was pre-echo, it was much quieter and far less prevalent than in the last batch. Before I went on to listen to the B3 cut on the opposite side, I went back and listened to A4 again. It was definitely better, but not, I felt, quite there. I cracked open A5 and listened. Yes! You will still hear some ghostly pre-echo, but this side has all the magic. I went back and compared B3 and B4, settling at last on B4.

Before we approved the sides, however, we held a group listening at my house. Executive Producer Gretchen Grogan, JA, and I agreed that, mild pre-echo aside, A5/B4 was a recording we could all be proud of. Just to be certain, we listened to my LP of Bolet playing the B-Minor Sonata. London had managed to fit the entire work on one side of the disc, mostly by cutting the level way back—and even then, they were plagued by pre-echo far worse than we had to settle for. And the dynamic range that results from our cut is so seductive that I'd be loath to surrender any of it—not that we could guarantee that a reduction would eliminate any problems.

In a sense, the very quality of RTI's 180gm pressing works against it. They've managed to produce some of the quietest vinyl I've ever heard, and that means that you can hear even further into the recording and all of the mechanical parts involved in playback.

I'm glad we decided to release Sonata on LP, even though it was a lot of hard—and frequently frustrating—work. For one thing, I believe it to be a spectacular performance. We must have listened to it hundreds of times in the process of releasing the LP, and it holds up. Oh my yes, it definitely holds up. But the whole process also taught us some lessons about making black discs. I love LPs, but now I understand why the major labels converted to CDs so precipitously. In digital production, if you follow the rules meticulously, you will get consistent results. Not so in the exciting world of analog. There you can follow all the rules and still be at the mercy of your lacquer, plating facility, or vinyl pellet producer—to name just a few. Every day is an adventure. Let's face it—the major record labels just aren't all that adventurous.

From the evidence, we are. And I sure hope you are, too. After all, this Sonata takes you on a trip to both heaven and hell. As for JA and me—we've been there already.—Wes Phillips

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