Tales Of Hoffman: Michael Fremer Speaks with Steve Hoffman Part 2

M.F.:Here and there. Okay. Now what's happening with these Everest 35MM tape classical LP titles. Are they selling?

S.H.:Yeah. We would like to do some more. It's so expensive

M.F.:What 35 millimeter plyaback chain are you using to play those back?

S.H.:We're using a local collector in Los Angeles who has a pretty good sounding set up.

M.F.:It's a Westrex?

S.H.: It's been modified a little bit, but it's still very hard on the film.

M.F.:Wilma Cozart Fine (producer of the Mercury Living Presence series of classical LPs, and wife of legendary engineer Robert Fine) had a bunch of us over to PolyGram's Edison New Jersey facility a few years ago to "A/B" 35MM film originals with CD re-issues and she was using the original recording chain for playback, but it was in the same room and it was so noisy.....

S.H.:Oh yeah, hearing the noise, it's like editing film.

M.F.:Machine guns.

S.H.:You don't hear anything.

M.F.:You were saying the machine you're using is hard on the tape, but isn't 35MM mag tape rugged? On the film dubbing stage it rolls back and forth hundreds of time an hour.

S.H.:It's substantial, but unfortunately, no one realized back in the 1950s that the metal film cans that they were storing the film in causes a chemical reaction which causes it to decompose.

M.F.:Oh, that's nice.

S.H.:So the oxide on the film is turned to vinegar, and it has this horrible smell, and you have to wear a mask with an oxygen tube. You know, it's not a fun thing.

M.F.:Then all of these tapes should be transferred right away, right?

S.H.:They should be but they probably won't be. Well, no, Omega's doing it, aren't they? Sure Vanguard....

M.F.:They're doing a lot of 20 bit CD's. There's an outstanding Everest SBM (Super Bit Mapping) compilation (The Sound of Everest [EVC 9050]).

S.H.:Sure, yeah. They'll take care of Everest, you know, I don't have to stay up all night.

M.F.:Now what other titles are you considering for vinyl issue? Why Elton John's Madman Across the Water of all the titles in the world? (Since issued [ LPZ 2004])

S.H.:Two reasons. One. Everyone is clamoring for an Elton John album. We wanted to do one that hadn't been done.

M.F.:You know which one really has to be done The eponymous one.


M.F.:Because the bass on that tape, must be unbelievable.

S.H.:Yes, it's unbelievable.

M.F.:I have never...the British Dick James Music LP of that (DJLPS 406) has the most thunderous....

S.H.:Yes, that's the one!

M.F.:....deepest bass I've ever heard in my life on a record. I don't know what it is, but MCA/Uni killed it. They just rolled it off. And they rolled it off on the original CD too, that's what kills me. The first CD I heard had no bass on it.


M.F.:That LP........

S.H.:Because that CD was made from the LP tape.

M.F.:But UNI could have cut it on its record , since Dick James Music cut it on their record. Why would they do kill it like that?

S.H.:It's apples and oranges, Michael. That's England. We're the U.S.

M.F.:So Madman..... is your next LP reissue?


M.F.:And are you're gonna do the gatefold?


M.F.:And that same kind of paper?


M.F.:That should be an nice. When is that gonna happen?

S.H.:Soon as I get the time to cut it.

M.F.:Where is the tape right now?


M.F.:And you're gonna go over there to get it, or are they gonna ship it to you?

S.H.:I don't know. That's a great album. It needs a good LP cut.


M.F.:And what else are you considering? Any of the things that you've done on CD?

S.H.:We're doing The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds on LP (since released [LPZ 2006]).

M.F.:You are?

S.H.:Uh huh.

M.F.:Are you willing to talk about that gold CD issue on the record?

S.H.:Yes. Let's talk about that now, shall we?

M.F.:Yeah, we'll get this right on the record and then we'll....

S.H.:On the record.

M.F.:Okay. I just will say that when I spoke to you on the phone about Pet Sounds that I thought your issue sounded fundamentally better than Capitol's, and I couldn't understand why it would sound so different.

S.H.:Here's what I think happened. They used the same tape I did. We both used the same tape.


S.H.: Upon hearing their CD I didn't recognize little parts of the album. I believe what they have done to clean up the intros of the songs is, they went back and used the multi-track source for a lot of that album.

M.F.:It was a mixed to mono, it was never a stereo mix, but it's generated from a multi-track?


M.F.:Why doesn't someone do a stereo mix of that?

S.H.:Well, you have to ask the Beach Boys.

M.F.:Why doesn't, I guess Brian meant it to be mono.

S.H.:Yes. He wanted it mono, you know, he has one eardrum. He can only hear in mono and that's how he wanted it.

M.F.:But you did use the same tape?

S.H.:Capitol and DCC Compact Classics, as far as I can tell used the same tape. The changes occurred because of their mastering sound, their no-noising, and their use of the remixed intros from another source sliced on.

M.F.:In the digital domain?

S.H.:In the digital domain, okay. Allwe did was, we transferred the tape straight from reel to reel into the digital chain. We didn't even use any equalization. Let me say this a little stronger. If you threaded up the tape on this machine and you played our CD, it's gonna sound the same. We didn't do anything to it. It's a straight transfer.

M.F.:Okay. It is, though, apparently recorded a few dB louder than the Capitol.

S.H.:It's possible that our CD's a little louder than Capitol's, yeah.

M.F.:(MF quotes from masterer Barry Diament's letter in issue 101 of The Absolute Sound, in which Diament accuses Hoffman of "doctoring" the sound on DCC's Pet Sounds. )

"More level. (That's okay , as long as it's not the kind of level coming out of the major "cutting" houses nowadays. That is to say, the 'Damn the Overload light, let's play tricks with the Least Significant Bits and also use that midrange compressor/ limit and maybe that razzer too. No one seems to notice the gross overload' level like on the last Nine Inch Nails or Rolling Stones records".

S.H.:His imagination is running away with him here. It was a straight transfer, we didn't do anything to it. We ran it straight, from beginning to end. Side One, Side Two.

M.F.:No EQ.

S.H.:Nothing, No EQ, none.


S.H.:(In his letter, Diament also accuses Hoffman of jacking up the bass on his transfer). That low end bass that you hear on there that so many people have written us "Thank you for the bass," he's saying it's too much bass. That's the bass that was on there! That's how it was mixed.


S.H.:Capitol removed the bass. That's its prerogative. Capitol can do anything it wants. They own it. They can remove the bass. They can remove the hiss if they want to. They can EQ the high end up or down.

M.F.: (Diament also made another accusation in his letter, which MF read out loud to Hoffman). "One section in particular had me worried about the level mania I mentioned earlier. On the introduction to "Wouldn't It Be Nice" one can hear on the DCC CD a level boost of several dB for the first several seconds after which the level is quickly brought down to "normal" for the rest of the tune. Was the goal to "grab" the listener with volume"?

S.H.:That's on the master tape! It's on every version of that LP, single, ever released except Capitol's new CD, because as I've said, they didn't use that intro. They recreated an intro from the multi-track.

M.F.:(Again, MF quoting from the Diament letter) "And the noise floor is swamped in hum [which I'd guess is coming from the analogue playback machine]" )

S.H.:What are we using , a Wollensak!?

M.F.:Those are outrageous accusations!

S.H.:It's on the tape that way.

M.F.:I have Barry Diament home telephone number, we should call him.

S.H.:You call him. I can't deal with these guys. You know, I get too angry. What's on our CD is what's on the master tape.


S.H.:That's all there is. You know, if that noise, you know, bothers them or makes them unhappy, I can't help that. I can't change physics.

M.F.:And you didn't cut it at a high level....

S.H.:We cut it at the same level that we cut all of our CD's, the louder the better. Any quieter and you get, you know....

M.F.:And you don't go over board.

S.H.:No. You can't go over board. This is the end. This is the bottom. This is the top.

M.F.:So what noise can he be talking about? What is he talking about?


M.F.:It doesn't make sense.

S.H.:His ears are deceiving him.

M.F. :That letter is self-serving, and you certainly feel you should have been spoken to, you should of at least had the opportunity to respond.

S.H.:It would have been nice if he'd have asked me, and I'm sure the Capitol engineer would have been happy to chat with him also. I mean at Capitol they were trying to make the cleanest, quietest version of Pet Sounds that they could, so they, took out all the tape hiss using NoNoise™, and they made the intros in the multi-track a lot quieter. You know, ours is the audiophile version which means that if you don't hear a little bit of tape hiss on there something's wrong.


S.H.:And if you don't hear the sound of the master tape, why are you paying $29.95, when you can be paying $11.95. That's the whole idea. You want to hear what the master sounds like, this is what it sounds like. You don't like it? That's the way it goes.

M.F.:And when they mixed the multi-track down to those openings, how did they...how many tracks was it? Was it a four-track or an eight-track?

S.H.:As far as I know it was an eight track. Seven tracks of singing, one track of music, or in the case of "Wouldn't it Be Nice" I think maybe the music started out on a four-track then it was bounced to one-track of an eight-track.


S.H.:So they probably went back to the original guitar intro on that original multitrack tape that didn't have any hiss because it hadn't been, you know...

M.F.:Generationed down.

S.H.:Generationed down, so they transferred that across.

M.F.:So that is being anally retentive on a certain level.

S.H.:They wanted to restore it to what they felt would be acceptable for the masses. But audiophiles I would have thought, until I read this thing, would never fall for something like that because they know that there's no such thing as a hiss-less song from 1966.

M.F.:And they want what it was. They want the real thing.

S.H.:Sure. They want the real thing, and once you compromise it, one it's not analog anymore and two, you know, you might as well go back and overdub some other instruments on there.

M.F.:Right, exactly.

S.H.:We worked hard on that.

M.F.:Are all of your, all the records that you released in the first phase of vinyl, the clear green vinyl, are those all analog records?


M.F.:The Ray Charles?

S.H.:There's a Harry Chapin. There were three Ray Charles.

M.F.:So the Genius+Soul= Jazz that's all analog?

S.H.:Right, and all that distortion that you hear on that was done during the recording.

M.F.:You can hear it on the Impulse version of it also.

S.H.:Yeah. Lots of overload

M.F.:What do you hear from consumers. You hear mostly "thank yous"?

S.H.:Always "thank you"s.

M.F.:Very few complaints?

S.H.:Very few complaints.

M.F.:What's a good selling title,

S.H.:One of your personal favorites (sonically) The Eagles Greatest Hits (GZS 1039).


S.H.:Which is the one that we've had more letters on than almost any other one.

M.F.:Because it's such a big improvement over.....

S.H.:Big, big, big "thank you"s. "We can hear it now," the guitars.

M.F.:Because you went back to the original masters on each one, and did each one separately.

S.H.:Which was a real pain in the ass, Michael, let me tell you.

M.F.:I'm sure it was. Are you considering doing that on any other greatest hits?

S.H.:Always. We did that on Linda Ronstadt's Greatest Hits (GZS 1040), and onElton John's Greatest Hits (GZS 1071) which just came out.

M.F.:You didn't use the same tape as Nautilus did for its half-speed mastered LP? You went back to each master tape? Really?

S.H.:Had to.

M.F.:Not a great sounding set, I mean, under any circumstances, and a weird compilation to begin with. Why did you use another track from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as a bonus track when there was four tracks on there already? Whose choice was that?

S.H.:That was the way it was. That's Elton John's Greatest Hits.

M.F.:I mean that one extra cut is not on the original LP.

S.H.:The original British Elton John Greatest Hits had "Candle in the Wind." The original American Elton John Greatest Hits did not have "Candle in the Wind," but had "Benny and the Jets."

M.F.:Oh, I see.

S.H.:So we comprised and put "Benny and the Jets" and "Candle in the Wind."


S.H.:So it's the English version and the American version, because if we didn't do that we would have gotten letters from our English consumers saying, "Hey, this isn't right," and then we would have gotten letters from our American consumers, so...

M.F.:How about more jazz titles on vinyl; any chances of that?

S.H.:Yes, we'd like to do some Verve titles and some Fantasy and Contemporary titles. We don't want to get into that right now, but yeah!

M.F.:You're in a niche market; you gotta handle it carefully.

S.H.:It's a niche market, and we're not necessarily a small company, but we're very caring and everything is very meticulous. The covers have to be perfect. It's hard.

M.F.:Well your packaging has been copied by Sony. Obviously you've seen that.

S.H.:Sure. That's okay. I don't mind that. But it takes time, you know, on that Eagles Greatest Hits package. I don't know if you noticed or not, but that little Eagles head on that...

M.F.:It's raised, like the original

S.H.:I mean it took us months to get that original paper.

M.F.:And your fans appreciate all of that and they're willing to pay the money for that.

S.H.:Sure, but it takes time and effort, and we just can't roll these things out on an assembly line.

M.F.:You know I've heard that Sony is now gonna do Dylan'sHighway 61 Revisited (GZS 1021)?

S.H.:I wonder why.

M.F.:Do you have an infinite print run of that?


M.F.:In other words, you can keep putting that out?

S.H.:I don't know for how long.

M.F.:You know they're doing it.

S.H.:Every audiophile who may like that album has it already, so I don't know what they plan on doing.

M.F.:I wish they would do a vinyl cutting of that. That CD-that's one of the best sounding CD's I've ever heard. Have you played around with the Apogee UV 22?

S.H.:Uh, huh.

M.F.:What do you think of that?

S.H.:I like it.

M.F.:You don't think it's worth trading in the Wadia?

S.H.:No. Here's why: when we settled on the Wadia, here's what we did. We put one of our engineers in the microphone room, we had him singing. We turned our underground echo chambers on and we made tapes using all the D/A converters and A/D converters. We had him singing live, and what you hear first with most of the converters, is that the reverb drops out. With the Wadia the input and output sounded the same.

M.F.:Okay, here's one other question. You released Mel Tormé's Encore at Marty's New York ( originally Flair PG 8200 LP)?

S.H.:I didn't work on that. I don't know.

M.F.:Who did it?

S.H.:That was done for us.

M.F.:Was that the only other one that was done outside? You've done almost everything for DCC.

S.H.:That was done for us......

M.F.:I haven't heard that yet.

S.H.:A studio in LA, funny I can't think of the name at the moment.

M.F.:That's strange. You're in L.A. , you usually.....

S.H.:Yeah, I didn't have time to deal with that one.

M.F.:Now what I don't understand: that's not a particularly good sounding recording. Mel Torme And Friends Recorded Live at Marty's (Finesse W2X 37484 two LP set) is an unbelievable sounding recording, what happened? Why didn't you do that one?

S.H.:There was some problem with the master tape.


S.H.:Yeah, either it was lost or something.

M.F.:I wonder if Mel Torme knows where it is? Finesse Records, that was a CBS distributed label I believe. You think it will ever turn up?

S.H.:I hope so.

M.F.:Have you ever heard that record?


M.F.:It's astounding. It's like you're right in that club.

S.H.:Of course.

M.F.:So you can get PolyGram catalog now?


M.F.:You've got Capitol?

S.H.:We're making friends all the time, even with some of the former "untouchables" because they're learning that even though they've released gold CD's, you know........ .

M.F.: Yes, I know!