Soundkeeper Recordings Debuts

Like most Stereophile readers, we have grown accustomed to seeing Barry Diament's name on superb-sounding recordings, since he has mastered albums by artists from AC/DC to Warren Zevon—and every letter in between. When the magazine still had its editorial offices in Santa Fe, Diament dropped by one afternoon to say hi, so now we feel like we can brag, "Hey, we know that guy!"

Recently, we received an email from Diament, announcing his new label, Soundkeeper Recordings. Diament wrote: "Soundkeeper is something I've dreamt about since my earliest days as an engineer. Although many know me as a mastering engineer, I started in a studio, doing recording, overdubbing, mixing, then vinyl mastering, etc. As a music lover and audiophile, my strongest interest has always been in the original recording, since I believe what exits the microphones determines the largest part of the final sound quality. (I moved toward mastering in those days because I didn't want to place seven microphones on a snare drum.)"

With Soundkeeper, Diament gets to dictate everything up to, and, of course, beyond the microphone feeds. For his first release, Art Halperin's Lift, Diament recorded all the songs direct to stereo as complete performances, with no overdubs or board mixing. He had the band balance itself and control the musical dynamics. Lift was recorded in an upstate New York church in two sessions, using a matched pair of Earthworks QTC-1s, separated by a Jecklin disc-like baffle Diament built himself, and, for the first session, Mogami microphone cables into a Metric Halo MIO2882. For the second session, Diament substituted Nordost Valkyrja mike cables and a Metric Halo ULN-2. He used the Metric Halo MIO Record Panel on his PowerBook to capture the audio and mastered the recording with Bias Peak Pro 5.

Purist as that is, we were impressed with Diament's comments on the next stage of the process, since our experience with Stereophile's recordings is that, even though they are bit-for-bit duplicates, our production CDs never sound quite as good as the CD-R masters we send to our duplication facility. "I mastered the CD to a disc description protocol (DDP) file set with glass cut at 1x and injection molding cycle close to none seconds, instead of the more common four seconds. This produced the first CD pressing [I've experienced] where I have trouble distinguishing the pressing from the CD-R reference I made for myself. I can still hear a change, but now I have to play both samples simultaneously and switch between transports in order to detect it. In the past, all I needed to do was hear a pressing to note the loss of focus and fine detail."

But that's not all, as they say on TV. Soundkeeper is offering Lift in three formats: as a CD pressing ($15); as a one-off CD-R, slow-burned from the hard-disk CD master ($20); and as a one-off DVD-R (with 24/96 stereo audio, no video beyond the menu, playable in most DVD players), slow-burned from the hard-disk DVD master ($30).

What's that you say, what about the music? You can hear samples of Halperin's music at Soundkeeper's website. Art Halperin was the last person signed by the late, great John Hammond (Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, et al) and has had a distinguished career as a studio and back-up musician, playing guitar for Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Marty Stuart, Joni Mitchell, the Band's Robbie Robertson, the Temptations, David Grisman, Doc Watson, and Squeeze's Glen Tillbrook. On Lift, the music is mostly acoustic (Halperin plugs in on a few tracks) with an American/Celtic vibe.

Art Halperin's Lift can be ordered from Soundkeeper's website.