Tom Fine

Tom Fine  |  Sep 01, 2023  |  8 comments
The concept of streaming digital music files over distances great (as with internet-streaming services like Spotify, Qobuz, Tidal, etc.) and small (from a home-PC hard drive, NAS, or networked music server) became mainstream only recently. But it was already brewing during the late 20th century, with people illegally downloading low-bitrate MP3 files made from CD rips and coming close to killing the recorded-music industry.

That wasn't streaming exactly, or not in the current sense, because the files needed to be downloaded, stored locally, then either played out of a computer or loaded onto a portable player, but from that point forward it was a steady march to the streaming-dominated present.

Never mind Napster—the first subscription audio "streaming" service was one you probably wouldn't think of: Audible, the audio book service now owned by Amazon, which started up in 1995. I did beta testing and editing work for early-days Audible, and around that time, I started loading up home-ripped MP3 files on a pocket-sized Rio MP3 player (which by then had replaced Audible's proprietary player), using it in place of a portable CD player. This led to experiments with a PC music library/player running Linux, controlled by a Handspring PalmOS device connected to the stereo system via a Sound Blaster 16 card.

Tom Fine  |  Aug 22, 2023  |  2 comments
The wall of Gold and Platinum Disc Awards, as displayed at the Gateway Mastering website.

In Part 1 of this interview, which announced that famed mastering engineer Bob Ludwig was retiring, Ludwig discussed his early days as a music-loving student, as a trumpet player, his graduation from Eastman College with a Master's degree in music performance, and how working with legendary engineer and producer Phil Ramone at A&R Studio awakened his interest in how records are made. In this second part, Ludwig talks about how he moved to Sterling Sound, then to Masterdisk, and finally how and why he set up his own studio, Gateway Mastering Studios in Portland, Maine.

Tom Fine  |  Aug 21, 2023  |  7 comments
Photo: Peter Luehr

If album sales, longevity of career, position on the leading edge of audio technology, reputation in the music business, and involvement in many of the most important albums in history are the measurements, Bob Ludwig is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) of music mastering.

"I'm an old goat, anyway," he joked during our multiday, many-hours conversation, centered around his recent retirement announcement and his five-plus decades as a mastering engineer.

If Bob Ludwig is the Michael Jordan of music mastering—and the case can definitely be made—then this is big news. I'll repeat it for emphasis: Bob Ludwig is retiring. Ludwig stopped taking new work on June 30, 2023.

Tom Fine  |  Jul 31, 2023  |  1 comments
Behold the genius of Quincy Delight Jones Jr., well known as Q, still with us at age 90. There isn't enough space to get into all his accomplishments, so I will focus on five favorite albums, which he either headlined or was heavily involved with.
Tom Fine  |  Jul 25, 2023  |  2 comments
Little Feat's beginning was a slow burn, bolstered by the faith of record company execs as the band found its groove. Once it found its, um, feat, the band thrived through deaths and other turmoil. In fact, they're still at it. This fall, according to Rhino Records, the band will be performing "on back-to-back nights ... at selected venues" the two albums that document the time they found their way: 1972's Sailin' Shoes and 1973's Dixie Chicken.

In conjunction with that 50th anniversary mini-tour, Rhino has issued deluxe remasters of both albums on 3 LPs or 2 CDs, with plenty of bonus material and a previously unissued live show with each album. On the LP sets, the two original albums were remastered by Bernie Grundman "from the flat master tapes," according to Steve Woolard, Rhino's head of A&R. Plating and pressing was done at Precision Record Pressing in Ontario, Canada. Rhino was kind enough to send me both the LP and CD sets so that I could compare the sound and presentation.

Tom Fine  |  Jul 07, 2023  |  16 comments
It takes a while for audio-related technologies to mature. Tubed amplifiers were invented by Lee de Forest in the nineteen-teens, but while there are still some adherents of early high-distortion triode designs, the age of mainstream high-fidelity amplification dawned with higher-power/lower-distortion amplifiers developed by Williamson and McIntosh followed by the Ultralinear take on the Williamson concept. That was 30+ years down the technology-evolution timeline after de Forest.

And when it comes to solid state amplifiers—the usual kind—does anyone prefer the state of the (germanium) art circa early 1960s to modern silicon class-AB designs? I doubt it.

Now, decades into its own development, class-D amplification seems to have sea legs, even in the audiophile world.

Tom Fine  |  May 08, 2023  |  1 comments
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, also known as Jaws, was a self-taught originator of soul jazz. He recorded the first records that blend Hammond organ and tenor sax, with Bill Doggett at the B3, for Roost Records in May 1952. He continued to develop his blues-based, jukebox-friendly style of jazz and, in 1955, joined forces with a young organ player from Philadelphia named Shirley Scott. They recorded together for King and Prestige Records and formed a gigging band with drums and bass.

In three 1958 sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's Hackensack, New Jersey, "living room" studio, Davis and Scott recorded four seminal soul-jazz albums, the "Cookbooks." Themed around bluesy originals and spirited takes on comfortable standards, the albums featured liner notes and song titles that relate to an imagined soul kitchen, with a generous helping of kitschy references to the "simmerin'" music on the platters. Craft Recordings, the reissue label for the Concord Music Group, has collected the four "Cookbook" albums into a box set of vinyl cut from the two-track master tapes by Bernie Grundman and plated and pressed at RTI in California.

Tom Fine  |  Mar 14, 2023  |  6 comments
Most of us were not born with musical tastes intact. Tastes develop over time as we learn and experience new music and other things. An open mind, an ear attuned to songs and sound, and a procession of mentors and musical guides make for a musical life that's rich and full. To my way of thinking, the best life has a soundtrack that's varied and constantly expanding.

Which is not to say there aren't transformative events. Prior to my lightning-strike moment—about which, more in a minute—the blues were all around me, as they always are around all of us. As a kid attuned to rock'n'roll, growing up in the suburbs with a full FM dial, I was exposed to blues-based music current and past, from Elvis on the oldies stations to Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

Jim Austin, Robert Baird, Phil Brett, Tom Fine, Anne E. Johnson  |  Feb 09, 2023  |  0 comments
Peggy Lee: Norma Deloris Egstrom from Jamestown, North Dakota (Expanded Edition); Blancmange: Private View; Weyes Blood: And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow; Pit Pony: World to Me; Various Artists: Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver
Tom Fine  |  Dec 07, 2022  |  4 comments
The year 1965 was turbulent, pivotal, and consequential. LBJ sent soldiers to the Dominican Republic, stepped into Vietnam with both feet, and signed laws expanding voting rights and creating Medicare and Medicaid. Antiwar protests gathered steam, Bob Dylan went electric, the Beatles played Shea Stadium, Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game, and pioneering DJ Alan Freed died.