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Interview

Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler half-speed mastering details revealed

Abbey Road mastering engineer Miles Showell provides SDE with some fascinating insight into researching tape sources

Next week, Universal Music will reissue half-speed mastered vinyl pressings of Dire Straits‘ 1985 album Brothers in Arms and Mark Knopfler‘s 1983 soundtrack to Bill Forsyth’s film Local Hero.

Both albums have digital master tapes, but Abbey Road mastering engineer – and half-speed specialist – Miles Showell talks exclusively to SDE about the detective work required to source the correct tapes in preparation for the half-speed mastering process and some surprising discoveries along the way…

SDE: Is the forthcoming half-speed mastered vinyl of Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms a 33RPM or 45RPM pressing?

Miles Showell: I can confirm that Brothers In Arms was cut as a double 45 RPM edition.

SDE: Given that the album was a digital recording, could you reveal what source material you were working with?

Miles: I was allowed access to the original Sony 1610 format digital master from the archive vaults. This is important because many of the previous vinyl/reissues/manufacturing runs (including those originating from other territories) were made from digital clones of this tape.

SDE: Isn’t a digital clone identical to the digital original?

Miles: Back in 1984, most of us believed the hype that digital clones were identical to the original. We now know that anything that went through a Sony DAE-1100 editor was subtly different (it is just that we did not know what to listen for then). To prove this, I had access to a digital copy made (by a VERY reputable studio) from [producer] Neil Dorfman’s personal clone 1610 tape, and the original masters sounded better. Not a huge difference, but more open and a better stereo image.

SDE: Was it difficult getting the gear to allow you to play these old formats?

Miles: Abbey Road still has several well-maintained Sony 1630 systems (1630 is fully backwards compatible with 1610) which are in excellent condition and given good tape stock continue to work well. Thankfully, the masters were edited onto Sony U-matic cassettes which are standing the test of time very well (compared to Ampex U-matics, which are another story altogether). I was running a tape verifier while I was dubbing from the master tape and the error count was still very low. The 1630 digital processor was locked down using a very stable word clock generator and everything was working nicely and sounding as good as it could and certainly better than a non-word clock locked system would have done in the mid-1980s.

SDE: Was this audio on the Sony 1610 16 bit and 44.1 kHz?

Miles: Yes, this was the standard for 1610 as used in the music industry (Sony did offer 44.056 kHz 16 bit for the NTSC TV broadcast world, but I never ever saw that used for music).

SDE: What was the process once you had captured this audio?

Miles: Once I had captured the masters into my workstation, I upsampled it to 88.2 kHz and mastered the album via my go to analogue mastering chain.

SDE: Could you remind us what your go to analogue mastering chain is, again?

Miles: Sure, I have various EQs, my go to is a SONTEC MES-432C which is a hand built esoteric American unit, I also have EQs from Manley (Massive Passive Mastering edition), Dangerous Music and Maselec as well as some original EMI TG mastering EQs. Although, unless faced with an audio salvage situation, then I adopt the less is more approach when it comes to processing, preferring to let the original recordings speak for themselves. Therefore, for both of these albums, only the Sontec & Dangerous Music EQ were used as the original recordings are excellent.

Compression-wise I have a gorgeous Analogue Tube AT-101 which is a really faithful recreation of the legendary Fairchild 670, but without 60 years of wear and tear and indifferent maintenance. This is an all tube (valve) design and it is incredible. I should stress that at no point is the sound seriously compressed for these albums, but if you want a rock record to rock, then some subtle compression can really hit the spot. In the console here I also have a ShadowHills Industries compressor, but the Analogue Tube AT-101 was the order of the day.

SDE: How do approvals work?

Miles: All the audio, as mastered by me, was approved by Mark Knopfler’s team before anything was cut. Then, having got approval from Mark’s team, I cut and checked a test acetate (essential for a half-speed album). Once I was happy with the acetate, the master lacquers could be cut.

While I am proud of my work on Brothers in Arms and great though that album is, I am actually even more excited by what we were able to achieve with Local Hero.

SDE: Why’s that?

Miles: The message I was getting from Universal was that the master was on an early digital system and probably could not be recovered. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I did some digging, and it turns out that the master for this album was on a JVC digital format U-matic cassette. JVC was a rival system to Sony’s, which sounded better than Sony, but ultimately was not successful.

I managed to find a studio in Japan who were willing to make a transfer of this tape for me. However, before it was sent to Tokyo, I read through all of the information from the JVC tape box pdf scans and I was intrigued by a comment which said “Copied from 3M 32-track” which did not make sense at first. So I called up all the scans of the 32-track 3M reel and low and behold Sides A & B were assembled onto 4 tracks of the 32-track multi (tracks 11 & 12 for Side A and tracks 21 & 22 for Side B – this was good thinking as these four tracks are in the middle of the tape and are usually the last ones to suffer from dropouts and failures).

SDE: Let me get this right. You are you saying that what we normally call the ‘original stereo master’ – usually found on old analogue reels – is actually, in the case of Local Hero, four tracks on a very old digital multi-track tape?

Miles: Yes, Incredibly, this album was locked on two obsolete digital formats for which there are very few working machines left to recover the audio. The JVC tape is actually a copy via analogue of the 3M original master (analogue out of the 3M machine feeding analogue in of the JVC. Not what we would consider good practice technically these days, but the only way to do it in 1983).

In addition to this, the 3M machine used the now obsolete sample rate of 50 kHz so the JVC tape as well as having an extra digital to analogue and analogue to digital step, is lower bandwidth than the 3M original (JVC, like Sony was 44.1 kHz).


The 3M 32-track multi-track contains the original master of Local Hero. This image was kindly supplied by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios (click to enlarge)

SDE: What detective work was required to free this audio from the confines of these obsolete formats?

Miles: I managed to find an archiving company in Germany that have a working 3M multitrack which they have modified to give digital output (not an option that 3M ever offered) so I had the direct digital feed as well as the analogue out from the 3M machine captured at 96 kHz as well (in case the 3M converters had a ‘nice’ sound). The original 3M master tape played perfectly and the studio in Germany were able to recover everything we needed from it. The direct digital audio from the 3M tape (which I converted to 96 kHz) sounded better than the machine’s analogue output, so this was what I used.

The archive audio from Germany along with my mastered files are all now stored in the Universal vault, so this album is now preserved for the future. My educated guess is that when Local Hero was originally mastered in 1983, Bob Ludwig would have probably used the JVC tape as these were more common in mastering houses at that time. 3M multi track machines were huge and heavy and pretty much the preserve of recording studios. As a consequence, it would have needed to be hired in for mastering. While this is possible, I somewhat doubt it. Therefore, this half-speed release is probably the first time Local Hero has ever been mastered from the original source.

Many thanks to Miles Showell and the team at Abbey Road Studios for this fascinating insight into the half-speed mastering process. Both Brothers in Arms and Local Hero are reissued on half-speed mastered vinyl on 19 March 2021.

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Dire Straits

Brothers in Arms - 2LP half-speed vinyl

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Mark Knopfler

Local Hero - half-speed mastered vinyl

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Brothers in Arms 2LP half-speed mastered vinyl

Side 1

  1. So Far Away
  2. Money For Nothing

Side 2

  1. Walk Of Life
  2. Your Latest Trick

Side 3

  1. Why Worry
  2. Ride Across The River

Side 4

  1. The Man’s Too Strong
  2. One World
  3. Brothers In Arms

Local Hero half-speed mastered vinyl LP

Side 1

  1. The Rocks And The Water
  2. Wild Theme
  3. Freeway Flyer
  4. Boomtown (Variation Louis’ Favourite)
  5. The Way It Always Starts
  6. The Rocks And The Thunder
  7. The Ceilidh And The Northern Lights

Side 2

  1. The Mist Covered Mountains
  2. The Ceilidh: Louis’ Favourite / Billy’s Tune
  3. Whistle Theme
  4. Smooching
  5. Stargazer
  6. The Rocks And The Thunder
  7. Going Home: Theme Of The Local Hero

SuperDeluxeEdition.com helps fans around the world discover physical music and discuss releases. To keep the site free, SDE participates in various affiliate programs, including Amazon and earns from qualifying purchases.

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Mark S

This sounds truly amazing! Great pressing and fantastic dynamic master.

Paul Taylor

Did side one of Local Hero finish so abruptly on the original album? I honestly can’t remember but it sounds a wee bit wrong

C. DeFrancesco

Brilliant. Thank you for your diligence.

Mick Richardson

I have had all the dire straits vinyls cds, & I must say the new mofi, sacd hybrids are buy far the best recordings ever, my hifi is new upgrade cost of £35,000, I am 66 & had hifi since I was 14, they sound amazing.

Ashley Kimel

Dumb question: Are the BiA tracks the full length versions as on the CD or the vinyl edits?

William Darlington

Interesting but I smell audiophile nonsense. He said “the original masters sounded better…more open and a better stereo image.” I appreciate that there are often errors in digital copies of digital masters but, unless there is a distinct, obvious flaw in the copy, the two versions must sound exactly the same.

Mark Phillips

My overwhelming memory of Brothers In Arms is it reminds me of when i had a Saturday job in the Tandy store in Beckenham High Street. (US readers = Radio Shack) in the middle of the floor of the small shop was a hi fi stack comprising the best kit Tandy had to offer. There was a turntable at the top, and a huge receiver underneath, hooked up to the biggest speakers available.

Every Saturday morning, at about 8:30 before we opened, the assistant manager “Randy” Richard, would put BIA on the turntable, drop the needle on to Money for Nothing, and crank the volume up to an ear-bleeding level. The drums sounded amazing, and you coujd actually hear the shop windows rattle!

The other track he did this with was Ride Like The Wind by Christopher Cross. Memories….

Mick richardson

I have a £ 35,000 hifi & just bought the new mofi, sacd hybrid collection & have most copies of vinyl & cd issues, & the sacds are unbelievable! Mick.

Stormwatch Druid

Really interesting article Thanks Paul, although you might have high quality digital, who doesn’t like a nice vinyl (probably just us old farts) have most of my albums on 24/96 flac files but when you hold a nice new copy of an album knowing it has been got at by Miles. Like Genesis seconds out album, just happy to have a nice copy of it, Might stick on the flacs on the digital system for convenience but now and again you know it it just nice and get the vinyl out. As Brothers in arms was one of the first albums (DDD) recorded for the CD generation will be interesting to see how it comes across on this new vinyl.

Tom

I’m curious how the masters are usually sent to distant places such as Germany. Ate they mailed or are they delivered in person?

mister-a

Thanks Paul for posting the Local Hero master tape scan (would be nice to also see a copy of the Brothers In Arms master if that was avaialable).

Interesting to find out that at that time (January 1983), digital masters were starting to be prepared for albums that were still being mainly issued on vinyl – I think the first cds only started to be sold at the end of the previous year and as far as I know Local Hero was not released on cd at the same time as the original lp.

Looks like Knopfler had already started to join the digital world a few years before the fully digital Brothers in Arms (wonder if a digital master exists for Alchemy as well and if that is one of the reasons it has always sounded so good?).

Paul, also curious about the source of the partial track sheets on the graphic at the top of the page-is that a preview of the LP packaging?

Broshoe

Very interesting read, but seems like a lot of work to produce a fragile piece of plastic.

Mark S

I think you’re on the wrong website, this site is for people interested in high quality CD & Vinyl re-issues both of which require a lot of work to produce a quality product.

Phil Educate

I don’t understand why people don’t talk about the obvious absurdity of transferring a digital recording to vinyl. Why on earth would you do that? I understand the logic of transferring an analog recording to vinyl, if you believe that analog reproduction (i.e. vinyl) has inherent benefits over digital, but once the music has already been in the digital domain, what could possibly be gained by transferring it to an analog reproduction system that includes pops and clicks and other surface noise, and wow+flutter and other distortion?

Mark S

Actually Phil this assumes that a digital recording will always be better stored/played digitally.

What you are missing are four critical factors that can make vinyl sound better than CD.

Whilst CD is on paper better than vinyl there are four key contributing factors that can narrow or even reverse the gap and vinyl can come out on top.

1) Mastering quality, CDs often suffer from far louder and more compressed mastering so vinyl often wins here

2) Quality of the replay DAC, in most cases vinyl wins here again as the DAC used to produce the vinyl will most likely be better than the DAC used in the home to play the Cd

3) The quality of the replay system and here either could win

4) The quality of the pressing where vinyl is far more vulnerable.

As with many issues it’s always far more complex then a simple yes or no and therefore no it not absurd.

Additionally people just want to buy vinyl, period.

Clem Feeney

“The archive audio from Germany along with my mastered files are all now stored in the Universal vault, so this album is now preserved for the future.”

Ummmmmm, lots of American Universal artists may disagree.

Carl Ewens

The best version would surely be on cd, not vinyl, as it is all digitally recorded, and vinyl whilst lucrative from the commercial point of view as a retro product is corrupted by the needle running through the plastic grooves gathering the inevitable dust, causing hiss, crackle and pop…or as Bob Dylan says:
‘when all of your advisors heave their plastic at your feet to convince you of their claims, trying to prove that all your conclusions should be more drastic, won’t you come see me…’

Mark S

Depends on many factors but whilst CD is on paper better than vinyl there are four key contributing factors that can narrow or even reverse the gap and vinyl can come out on top.

1) Mastering quality, CDs often suffer from far louder and more compressed mastering so vinyl often wins here

2) Quality of the replay DAC, in most cases vinyl wins here again as the DAC used to produce the vinyl will most likely be better than the DAC used in the home to play the Cd

3) The quality of the replay system and here either could win

4) The quality of the pressing where vinyl is far more vulnerable.

As with many issues it’s always far more complex then a simple yes or no

Mark Vick

I’ve just presented a 10min piece on YouTube regarding mastering which I thought you might be interested in and touches on some of these aforementioned processes.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjsL3qaAVxU
Not wishing to spam, just thought readers might be interested on the topic, thanks Paul.

David Carrick

Great insightful article… keep ’em coming!

Paul Chapman

any idea if there will be download codes with these?

Garrett

If Brothers was recorded in 16/44 does it really make sense to get it on vinyl? I understand that vinyl has a different timbre to digital, my record collection speaks to that. But wouldn’t the highest fidelity be in digital for this album?

Mark S

I would assume that the DAC used by Miles will be far better than the DACs used by most people to replay digital.

I would say that in theory this will be the best possible sounding vinyl version of this album.

Let’s be clear most vinyl warmth is distortion! I use a Rega P10 and it is far more neutral and more detailed which many describe as sounding more digital.

Paul Wren

Nice article – I love all this technical talk about mastering sources.

Jeff

I completely second that statement… good show Paul!

Thanks and All the Best – Jeff

Paulo Emilio

Everthing to increase the quality of goodusic is welcome but I think os time to released the Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler in special Editions with bônus tracks , demos and outtakes ! The fans Will be pleasure !

JulesRules

Oh, how I long for deluxe editions with live tracks…

But at least this shows that there is potential for future releases. I’m not too hot on the HDCD gimmick that was used with the old MK solo remasters anyway.

Tony

Marvellous read, even if I didn’t understand most of it!

Ian Sharp

It’s odd isn’t it? I love reading this sort of article and allowing most of the technical detail go over my head. I also enjoy reading magazines about playing guitar or keyboards although I can do neither.

It all brings us closer to the music we love I guess!

Kevin O.

*lo and behold.

Michael

Informative article, Paul. It helped confirmed what I suspected were some technical challenges for engineers when dealing with archived tapes AND whatever available (if available) older equipment that would allow the engineer to extract the best sound for remastering to a new source. I’m glad Miles Showell pointed out that sometimes digital sounds better than analog. So many of my friends opine that analog is always superior to digital, which I disagree with, and why I continue to collect CDs and SACDs along with vinyl records.

But, aside from good engineering, we have to be conscious of our own home sound system set-up. In particular, the performance and placement of our speakers, and of course, addressing the acoustic anomalies inherent in one’s living space (reverb, vibration, etc.). Because how and where we listen to music also impacts the sound quality the engineer worked hard to perfect for our listening pleasure.

Quante

What a great read. Most of it goes over my head, but I’m in admiration of people like Miles who preserve musical heritage and improve the listening experience for consumers. I managed to electrocute myself once on a dodgy plug, so I know my limitations with technology, and am relieved competent people exist to restore gems like Local Hero.

fan

” Once I had captured the masters into my workstation, I upsampled it to 88.2 kHz and mastered the album ”

Doesn’t upsampling degrades the original digital signal?

JulesRules

Why should it? Downsampling is a different case…

Paul Taylor

Certainly a fascinating read, although I wouldn’t have understood the technical talk any less if it had been written in German! :-D :-D

Nathan Thomas

Thanks for this Paul – when people talk about remastering as if it’s just a case of pushing a few buttons on a computer it’s always cool to hear about the hard work & expertise that actually goes into these releases.

Bill

I wonder what the sonic differences will be between the Abbey Road Brothers in Arms and the reference standard Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs releases of a few years ago.

Likewise, I wonder what the difference will be between this release and the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs releases scheduled for LP and SACD later this year in the US.

Jim Vandegrift

These interviews are gold. Thanks for doing them.

Remon van Aube

Great stuff to read. I might need to recap it a few more times to let it sink in. At the same time it is interesting reading the job is detective work digging up the original material. Then again, all of it was recorded in the 80s and I myself would not really know if my archive is somewhere on the attic (or not).

Kauwgompie

Great read. One has to ask how many times these albums, in particular Brothers In Arms, can be reissued WITHOUT any bonus material. I’m glad labels find a way to make money over and over from the same album but please give us some bonus material. Brothers In Arms always sounded great, even the original 80’s cd.

Dave H

Interesting stuff, thanks Paul.

Could do with a movie reissue with the bonus soundtrack on DVD / blu-ray with the hi-res files. At least a CD reissue using the new old masters.

Not surprised the 3M Scotch tape held up so well, re-record not fade away! For anyone who remembers the advert.

Timm Davison

This was a fascinating read. With all the vinyl reissues coming out these days, it’s interesting to find out some of the ways they make it back onto new wax for the consumer. Thanks Paul!

Tyrone

Has the original digital Sony 1610 master been released on CD?
16 bit / 44.1khz on vinyl? Perhaps interpolation can inprove things? – Im gonna give this a shot.

Nice work SDE. These interviews are up my street. The Brothers In Arms master has been discussed for eons – thanks for clearing this up.

Bat Out Of Hell master tapes next!!

AC

+1 for a CD version.

Rob M

+2

Rick

I would love to own both of these, but perhaps at a lower price, if they ever get there.

Martin Foyle

Fascinating stuff about Local Hero. Cal is probably in the same situation, any sign of it be restored & reissued?

Clem Feeney

Exactly what I’m thinking. My old cassette of Cal could do with a sonic upgrade. Beautiful music on it, the best of the Dire Straits era soundtrack albums.

Renato

The umpteenth vinyl version: please stop!

Nathan Thomas

I think you’re on the wrong website if you can’t be bothered to read the interview & see why this version is a welcome addition & not just ‘the umpteenth vinyl version’.

Jan

Brilliant read, well done Paul. Looking forward to Local Hero.

Saar Freedman

I am not very Tech-Savvy, but I found this to be a fascinating read. it’s always great when someone goes the extra mile especially with such an amazing sounding albums as these. And Yes, you can mess up Brothers in Arms, just listen to the much hated 2005 SACD remaster, shudder.

I was originally not tempted to pick BIA because I already have the superb Mobile Fidelity edition but now I am tempted all the same.

Henrik

More specifically – what is wrong with the 2005 SACD ?

JulesRules

Take a look… the SACD stereo (as well as the DualDisc stereo layer) sticks out like a sore thumb:

http://dr.loudness-war.info/album/list/year?album=brothers+in+arms

Gary Thompson

£34.99 on Amazon UK at the mo.

Mike the Fish

That’s pretty cool with the 3M tape.

Tony

Instead of re-releasing Brothers in arms again I wish they would release Alchemy on vinyl.

Nathan Thomas

By ‘they’ I guess you actually mean Mark Knopfler as it’s not in the gift of the record company to release whatever they want, if the artist isn’t on the same page.

Bill

That is entirely dependent upon who owns the masters.

If the record company does they can do what they like with them.

Andy

This!!!!!!!

My copy of alchemy has a few crackles :)