A Quick Visit to a Mastering Studio

Dan Schmalle and Luke Manley smile in the background, while Brian Damkroger and I sit in the engineers' seats. Photo by Philip O'Hanlon.

On the first day of the California Audio Show, I heard some of the most beautiful music in a room hosted by Acoustic Analysis, The Tape Project, and Bottlehead, featuring a system made of Focal Diablo Utopia loudspeakers, Focal SW1000 Be subwoofers, a VTL TL-6.5 Signature line preamp and MB-450 Signature III monoblock power amplifiers, Siltech cables, and a Bottlehead-modified Otari tape machine. The music had such a smooth, effortless quality to it, unlike anything else I heard at the show: The sound of tape. It was an awesome listening experience.

On the following evening, I got to visit the mastering studio where the team from The Tape Project does its work, duplicating classic albums from master tapes. There, at 1340 Mission Street in San Francisco, I met with VTL’s Luke Manley; On A Higher Note’s Philip O’Hanlon; Acoustic Analysis’ Bob Hodas; The Tape Project’s Dan Schmalle and Piper Payne; and Stereophile’s Brian Damkroger. Hodas and Schmalle played a few recordings for us and gave us a tour of the entire facility.

The coolest part, though, was just sitting where the engineer sits, looking down at all those sliders, buttons, and knobs—EAR 660 compressor units and EAR 825 equalizers proved especially tantalizing—and staring into the space between the massive Focal Grand Utopia monitors, mated to appropriately powerful (800W!) VTL Siegfried monoblocks, as the music came to life for us.

Imagine being the one who sits there every day.

For more info on the studio, visit Paul Stubblebine and Michael Romanowski.