Mercury Living Presence
Interview met Bob Eberenz
© 1998 Classic Records
On November 3, 1997, I sat with in a basement studio filled with vintage recording gear in Oradel New Jersey. I came to talk about "The Golden Era of Recording" with a very important part of the Mercury Living Presence recording team. As the interview progressed I began to fully appreciate the contribution to recording made by Bob Eberenz - the man and his machines.
H: Tell me about your background, training and how it is that you came to the audio business.
E: I came from the film industry. In 1945, I started my career in Hollywood as a sound engineer. My first employer was Charlie Chaplin on one of his films. Subsequently, I worked for several motion picture companies including Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. I started as a production mixer. I also acted in various other capacities such as a cable man and boom man. I also did some mixing. Eventually I decided I wanted to get away from that end of the business and go into the technical end such as design and construction of facilities in the film business. I did this until early 1950 when I was called into the service. I was stationed in New York and worked for one year at the army Pictorial Center in Long Island City which is now the Kaufman Astoria Studios. It had previously been the Paramount Pictures New York facilities.
H: What did you do next?
E: I came out of the army and then was recalled into the reserves and went overseas for the Korean War as a front-line combat cameraman. When the Chinese entered the war, I was withdrawn back to Tokyo since they were getting rid of all non-essential personnel. In Tokyo, I was involved with the film facilities and the newsreel footage from the Korean War. We screened the footage and presented it to General Mac Arthur and the foreign press for them to use in European and US newsreels. In 1952, I volunteered to go back to Korea and work for the United States Information Agency. I was assigned to operate a studio and became involved in the sound, photographic and laboratory end of motion picture production.
H: And after the War?
E: I then came back to the United States and was hired by Alltech Service to do some of the initial stereophonic theater installations. I was the head of the mid-west office in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for the design and layout and planning of the stereo sound for movie theaters in that area of the country.
H: Did this pre-date the stereo recordings for records?
E: Yes. The film industry was more interested in stereo initially and was involved in stereo quite a few years before the record industry. At that time there was no stereo cutter. There were some double track stereo records which played with two tone arms which had to be cued simultaneously.
E: I then became involved with Perspectasound which was owned by a former employer Loew's Incorporated. Before long I was asked to join the company's studio facilities in New York. I became chief engineer. I was also involved in Fine Sound Incorporated which was owned by Loew's Inc. Bob Fine was the president. They had studio and film facilities in New York. I was first involved in just the film side. Eventually, I had to learn disk-cutting. As part of the engineering plan of the facility in 1953, I rebuilt the disk-cutting facilities which, at that time, were just about all monaural.
H: Were you doing stereo recordings for film in 1953?
E: Yes. In 1953 we were doing three track stereo magnetic film for feature films.
H: What type of machines did you use?
E: This was all done on Westrex 35 mm film machines.
H: So instead of using regular film stock, you were using the same medium, but the film was coated with oxide?
E: Yes. We were doing a preparation of feature films for stereophonic release in New York. I was also involved in the setting up and tuning of cutters.
H: Which is an art in itself.
E: Yes I learned this after stacks and stacks of lacquers that I cut and threw out until I tuned the thing until it was acceptable to the Mercury personnel who were in charge of the sessions.
H: This was still in the mono days?
E: Yes. I was working with David Hall who was in charge of the Mercury classics at that time. At that time, we were doing the Patti Page television show. Patti Page was a Mercury artist and Bob Fine decided to record everything in stereo even though it was going to be released in mono and the broadcast was in mono.
H: Was this done just experimentally?
E: Nr. We all knew that eventually we were going to have stereo records.
H: You knew what it would be like from your involvement in stereo films.
E: Yes. So we did a conversion on our Studio B. The console we had was a 12 input console built by RCA. I did a conversion to 3 - four channels outputs within 2 to 3 days. This allowed for four different recording sources. We actually worked all night before the first Patti Page show and were still soldering the last few wires as the musicians were arriving for the show. All the shows were done in stereo on a 35 mm Westrex machine. Later, when stereo records came out, we had a nice library of her material already recorded in stereo. Studio A was later converted in the same manner as Studio B.
H: Was there any experimentation that you recall being done between two track and three track stereo recording?
E: In the mid-1950"s we had a mobile recording truck which was used for the Mercury classical series. We used two Fairchild mono tape machines on the truck. Later on we added a two track and did some experimental recordings on two track. Also, we did some recordings with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in which they piped the program over the telephone lines to a studio in Chicago for a recording in Stereo. Some of the earlier recordings of the Chicago Symphony were done in two channel stereo as well as in mono - before three track recording came in.
H: When did this start?
E: We put permanent two channel equipment on the truck around 1957.
H: So you stayed on working with the Mercury team?
E: No, In 1958, Loew's Inc. decided to close down the studio. Columbia Pictures had purchased the building wanted to covert the studio to a theater for their executives. We would have only been left with one film and one sound studio which was not practical for our purposes. So we decided to close the facilities. I left the company and went to Washington, DC for one year and built a film studio for Byron Motion Pictures. They were doing industrial and government films.
H:So, when did you come back to work with Bob Fine?
E: In late in 1958, Bob created Fine Recording in New York. I organized the engineering for the company. We expanded from one to four studios over a period of time.
H: So when did three-track recording begin?
E: In 1958, I converted the truck. I removed the two tracks and replaced them with two three track Ampex machines. We still had the 2 Fairchild mono machines which we later replaced with two Ampex 300 mono machines. The Fairchilds were replaced because they were hard to service. They were big and heavy and were a lot of trouble to keep them running. Additionally, all of the transmission gear was rebuilt and all new equipment was put in. The telephone monitoring system was installed. The first trip with the truck was done in the fall of 1958.
H: Where were these sessions?
E: We recorded in London including the Dorati recording of Firebird. Then we went to Paris where we recorded 4 albums at the Saint Suplice with the organist Marcel Dupre. We then went to Italy to record four operas in the town of Bressia. We also recorded Maria Callas at La Scalla in Milan. We then returned to the United States.
H: Did you work on the truck along the way?
E: Nr. When the truck returned to the states each year after we had done our summer recording. I always stripped the truck down and kept all the equipment in the studios which were in the GreatNorthern Hotel. All of the maintenance that needed to be done was done in the studio. When we went out to do the next series of recordings, we would put everything back on the truck and test it. The late fall and winter recordings were done in Minnesota, Rochester and Detroit. The truck would come back to the studio and the equipment would be put back in the studio until it was time to go to the spring recording sessions. We would do this sequence every year.
H: When did the 35MM film recorders come along?
E; The film machines came in 1962. They were put on the truck when we did the London sessions that year. We did Rostropovich and his wife Galina Visjnevskaja for Philips. We also did Richter and Rostropovich in that same session which we did for Philips.
H: What about the recordings in Russia?
E: In 1962 we received the official word that we could record in the Soviet Union. The truck had already come back to New York. We prepared the truck again for Russia and had to make some conversions since we knew we could not get a regular motor generator, that we used in London, shipped to Russia. We converted the Ampex machines to change the motors to 50 cycles and we changed the film machine motors to 50 cycles also.
H: How did the you get the Truck to Russia?
E: We sent it by ship from New York to Rotterdam. We made arrangements to have it driven from Rotterdam to Moscow. Then we found out that a Russian ship had been sent to Rotterdam to pick up the truck. They brought it to the port of Vivorg in the Baltic States which was a restricted area and foreigners were not allowed. They then took the truck from the ship and put it on a flatcar and sent it by rail to Moscow.
H: Sounds like everything went pretty smoothly.
E: Well, not exactly. You see, when we got to Moscow to do the sessions the truck was nowhere to be found. We were told that it would be at a particular rail yard. We got to the rail yard with all our official documents, and went from one official to the next to find the truck. But no one could find the truck.
H: So, what did you do?
E: Finally, one official said they would go back into the rail yards and see if they could find the truck. We ended up in the middle of this little shack in the middle of this huge rail yard where the women who were the brakemen on the railroads were cooking their dinners. All of a sudden I see a locomotive going down this track pulling a rail car with the truck. We started to yell "There it is!"
H: Was it all in one piece?
E: Yes, but it was fastened down to the flatcar with big heavy steel strappings and wooden timbers on either side of the wheels to keep the truck from moving. We had no tools to break it free, so we had to round up workmen to cut the bands loose and to get the heavy logs that were spiked down to the flatcar deck out of the way. We also had to get the truck down off the flatcar onto the loading dock which was about 12 inches below the height of the top of the rail car. We got four or five people behind the truck to push. I was sitting in the truck steering it. When they finally pushed the truck off the flatbed, the truck started to go off at a 45 degree angle. I thought that was it and we were going to lose everything. I was getting ready to bail out. Then the truck righted itself and we got it off the rail car.
H: So, all was saved.
E: Except that when we finally got that done we discovered that there was no gas in the truck since it was removed for transport before it was put aboard the ship.
H: Gasoline was not easy to get in Russia, I'll bet.
E: Correct. We found a big dump truck that was in the rail yard, commandeered the driver and asked him if we could get some gas from his truck. The man said "yes", but we had nothing to use to move the gas from one truck to the other. Finally, through our translator, the man told us he had something that we might be able to carry it with. This was an old inner tube which was sealed on one end. We ended up putting gas into the inner tube and carrying it over to our truck and dumping it into our tank. We made about two or three trips. That was all he could give us.
H: So you got some gas and then what happened?
E: We got the truck started. We were on our way to the hall when we realized we were close to Red Square. So, we decided to take the truck to Red Square and take some pictures of the truck in front of the church on the square. We pulled in and jumped out of the truck. As we started to take pictures, the police began running towards us. We thought we were in big trouble and were going to end up in jail. The police were nice and merely told us to park the truck in the opposite direction and not pointed towards Lenin's tomb. We parked the truck the other way and took our pictures. We finally made it to the hall for the session. I think it was for the Byron Janis recordings.
H: What recordings were done there?
E: The Rach 1 and 3. There was also a series recordings which came out as the encores and also a live concert at the Tsjaikovski conservatory. The Balalaika recording was the last thing that was done there. Funny, for a time we weren't sure if the Balalaika recording was going to go. At the last minute a truck load of Balalaikas showed up and off we went recording.
H: What an experience.
E: We had quite a time. We enjoyed it. The food wasn't the greatest and the hotel accommodations were pretty sparse, but we managed to live there.
H: How did you find the people in Russia? At that time, I know there was a lot of propaganda in the United States about how the Russians were terrible people. From what I have heard from you, Wilma and others, being there was a real recognition that these were good people just like anywhere else.
E: Yes, the people were nice. While we were there Van Cliburn performed in the same hall. We didn't record the performance, but had the privilege to see it.
H: That would have been after he won the Tsjaikovski Competition?
H: Did the Russians record the performance?
E: The Russians might have recorded the performance. I am pretty sure they did. They had a permanent facility at the hall for recording. In fact, we used the recording room where they had their consoles with their tape machines as a monitor room. We put our own speakers in and did our own monitoring.
H: What was the level of the sophistication of the Russian gear at that time?
E: All of the equipment, both the console and tape machines were German. It was all Telefunken.
H: Was their equipment on par with American equipment?
E: It good equipment. It was state of the art. It was not only on par, it was much more sophisticated and complex. American equipment was very simple at that time. There was very little that you could have a problem with due to its simplicity. This was great when we were away from home where you don't have the ability to get parts. It was great to know that you could rely on the equipment . We had very few equipment problems on the road. I recall only once in London I had one torch motor relay go out on me. I did not have a spare in that case.
H: What did you do?
E: I had one made for me in about a day. I usually kept spares of most equipment. We only experienced minor problems. There was always the problem of a noisy vacuum tubes, though. But we carried enough along with us to replace whatever we had to.
H: I assume that one of the standard operation procedures in getting ready for recordings was to make sure there was consistent level of noise in the system.
E: Whenever we set up, from the day before the recording until after the recording was finished, we would constantly have the generators on. This ensured that the equipment was always heated up and running the whole time we were there so we never had the problem with warm up time.
H: The Moscow recordings were done at the end of 1962 when Philips owned the company?
H: Didn't Mercury change in the years thereafter?
E: Yes, after acquiring Mercury in 1962, Philips began to take a different direction and began to taper off doing that number of recordings.
H: You had done a lot of recordings prior to this change. When you consider that the catalogue has approximately 450 titles, which averages to approximately 50 recordings per year - alot!
E: Yes, we did a lot of recordings. We were recording full time. We also did a lot of in studio recordings. Soloists especially. We did sessions with Starker, Byron Janis and, Rapheal Puyana with the harpsichord. Those were fills between what else we did. With the big orchestras we did a certain amount of solo works at Fine Recording.
H: You were involved with a lot of those as well?
E: Yes. Most of the time I did them. If the sessions were four or five days in a row I would do 2 or 3 and then someone else would take over. A lot of times we did the soloists at night because of the voice problems. After the initial set up was done it was just a matter of starting and stopping the tape machines and running playbacks. After we had everything set up and had the sound we wanted, there wasn't much that had to be done. The initial set-up, setting up the microphones, and getting the sound that the A&R people wanted was the toughest part.
H: Describe the set-up for a session and all of the difficulties you encountered.
E: Whatever hall we were in, we had a basic idea of what we had to start with for whatever orchestra that we were working with, whether it was a large orchestra, or reduced size orchestra, depending on the selections which were to be recorded. We knew from our experience in the past with that orchestra how we had to mike that orchestra. We knew what a good staring point was. We would start with that previous knowledge and from that , with the orchestra playing during the rehearsal period, we would make whatever adjustments we had to make. For example, if we weren't getting enough woodwinds, we would make an adjustment for that.
H: Are you talking about microphone placement?
E: Yes. It might be a matter of placing the mike up or down a few inches to get the focus we wanted to get.
H: The people in the control room determined this?
E: The people listening in the control room would tell us if they were having a problem with the sound levels. We would go into the control room and listen. They would tell us that certain things were not being picked up correctly. We would make suggestions including moving that particular instrument so they could get a better focus on that instrument.. It was matter of not only the placement, but working with the conductor so that the conductor could get something out of the orchestra that the A&R people felt that they weren't getting.
H; I assume that part of the A&R team included Wilma, Harold and others.
E: Yeas. Wilma and Harold were the basic ones that did most of the recordings. We did have another person who worked for Mercury at the same time Harold was there who also used to work the sessions as an A & R person. That was Clair Van Ausdall. He did a lot of the recordings that were done with the Rochester Orchestra. He was co-A & R on that. He also did sessions when Wilma was no longer with Mercury. We usually brought in another person from London to co-A&R with Harold. It really takes two people to do it. You not only have to watch timings, but you have to know how much recording time you have, when the break times are and all of that
H: It is a lot of coordination. What was Bob Fines' involvement during the period during which you were there from late 1958 through the end? What was his role primarily?
E: Bob was running the studios in New York. He was generally in charge of operations and engineering. I was his right hand man and we did many things together. Consequently, I did a lot of things on my own.
H: Were you the guy who had his head in the tape machines?
E: I was the guy who had his head in the tape machines. Always.
H: And you're the one who had the hands on the tubes.
E: That's right.
H: So Bob Fine ran the recordings?
E: Bob was generally in on these sessions. He would come to London or Rochester or Minnesota and would be there for the initial set-up while we were doing all of the ticklish jobs. Then, after we were rolling, he would generally go back to New York and leave me alone. After awhile he didn't come on the sessions at all. After Wilma left the company, there was just Harold and myself more or less that did the sessions.
H: So Harold was there the whole time?
E: Through the whole time. As long as I was involved, Harold was there.
H: Would you and Harold have worked on those Starker recordings together?
H: That would be the ones which are very famous in our world. The Bach sonatas and partitas for solo cello, which I believe came out as a three record set. I think you're listed on the liner notes of that particular recording. That is one of the ones that sticks out in my mind. Do you remember much about that particular set of recordings - where they were done, for example?
E: We did some at Fine. We did a solo recording with Starker in London also. I can't recall specifically where that one was recorded. A lot of times we would do a recording and have sessions all day long. We might also do solo sessions in the evening. There were many times when we would do morning, afternoon and evening sessions.
H: So, with a solo cello recording like that, you would still use the three track set-up?
E: There was a three track, but we would change the setting so that it would be for just that solo instrument. We wouldn't use the full orchestra setting, the side microphone settings would come in.
H: I see. So, the setting, relative to an orchestral recording would have been more collapsed and the microphones would be closer together, I assume.
E: Right. The side microphones would come in.
H: How was Starker to work with?
H: Very professional?
E: Extremely professional. I never saw him get excited in any way.
H: Any particularly trying or difficult times that you recall? I always hear these stories from engineers and producers where even with the best laid plans it seems that there are forces working against you which are sometimes hard to overcome.
E: Offhand I can't think of anything that we had a tremendous amount of problems with.
H: So you have had an incredible amount of good fortune.
E: Equipment-wise, 99% of the time we had no problems other than minor ones which could be taken care of immediately. There was only one time that we had a major disaster with the equipment. That was in London when, during the night, the regulator on the generator went bad and the voltage went up on all of the equipment and consequently cooked out the transformer and one of the three track machines, one of the monitor amplifiers and did some other damage here and there. We were able to salvage the session. It was a Gina Bachauer session of Chopin. I said there is nothing I could do, so let the orchestra rehearse the first session while I work on getting the equipment back.
H: What did you do?
E: Well, I got the two monos back, as well as the monitoring system and one three track. I couldn't do anything with the other three track because the transformer was really gone. We were then ready to record with one three track and two mono's. Everything went off great. They rehearsed enough that they could go right ahead and perform. It took until the next day when I was able to get a temporary transformer from an Ampex representative in England and hooked it up to the bottom of the machine with wires coming out of it. It kept us going until we got the second three track going the next day. Of course I duplicated the tapes immediately to get a back up. That is really the only serious problem we ever had with our equipment.
H: Was any of the equipment finiky?
E: Of course the other big thing was with microphones. The microphones were always a problem, especially in England with the moisture and high humidity the capsules would get noisy. So the capsules always were taken out and put into the hot box every night. We had a box inside the truck that we kept heated. We would put the capsules away every night.
H: It is really damp and cold over there.
E: So they would come out in the morning, be perfectly okay and would last through the daily the sessions.
H: Would you say that one of the reasons you did not have many problems was because the way you maintained the gear?
E: Yes. The gear was torn down at least once a year everything was gone over mechanically. The electronics were gone over so that we knew that everything was in top notch shape when we put it back on the truck. Of course when we did the sessions in the studio in New York, we usually used the same three track machines that we had on the truck. We would roll them into the studio and use them. So we consistently used the same machines either on the road or in the studio. They worked out great.
H: Looking back on your years of experience with the vintage gear of which you are obviously still a fan, what would you say were the limitations of the gear and/or the inherent problems? As you suggested earlier, the gear certainly was very simple. I think that probably had some impact on the sound of the recordings that resulted. There is a nice purity in the recordings which probably is related to that. I don't know, I am just speculating. But what aspects of the this gear was finicky or problematic and imparted on the recording its' nature?
E: Our whole concept and Bob's concept was simplicity in the whole system. Not only in the studio, but also the system that was on the truck. So consequently, between the microphone and the tape machine itself, we had very little of any electronics. We had no equalization, no devices of any kind between the microphone and the tape machine. All we had was a fader, set level; a line amplifier, which was a Pultec MB2 classic amplifier known to every studio in the world.
H: So that was driving the faders?
E: That would be the output of the microphone. We went from that with a plus four bus right into the tape machine. We modified the front end of the tape machines so we eliminated one stage of amplification in the recording. This was a great advantage, practically driving the record head from the line amp. It was a very simple system. Between the head and the microphone there was just a minimum of amplification. I think that simplicity was one of the secrets of how we were able to get the clean, pure sound that we did
. H: What were the impacts of the microphones. Did you use different microphones over time?
E: Originally we used the U47 with the mono recordings. Then, when we went to stereo, the U47 was the center mike and they filled on the left and right with the Telefunken 201 microphone. They were the first microphone which was a miniature microphone that Telefunken made. It was a small mike with a vacuum tube in the microphone column, no transformers in it. The transformer was in the line of the cable coming out of the mike and into the power supply. We used those and the Telefunken KM 56s. We tried those for awhile. Then, when we finally we got enough 201s, we used nothing but 201s thereafter.
H: When was that?
E: By 1959 or 60 we were on 201s exclusively.
H: So those were driving all the three track machines, film machines and the mono machines as well?
E: We used nothing but the 201 s from then on for all of the Mercury sessions.
H: That is an interesting thing. I think that contributes somewhat to the Mercury sound. Most other companies I have run across did not use the 201s exclusively. And also, as we both know, they tended to use helper mikes out in the orchestra and mix 6 mikes or more down to three tracks. In the case of RCA they used a minimum of six microphones. So that really changed the sound a fair amount as well.
E: We never used more than 3 microphones.
H: What was the sound of the 201s like compared with the 47s or the 56s?
E: Well, it is hard to explain. The 201 has a certain crispness and brightness that is a distinctive sound. I think if you listen to RCA or Columbia or any other records and then you hear a Mercury record, you immediately know it's a Mercury. It has a sound . . .
H: Like no other.
H: One of the things I have noticed from my own casual listening over the years is that the upper frequencies are different on Mercury recordings. There seems to be a little more roll-of on some of the other recordings in the higher frequency, whereas Mercury seemed to be more extended.
E: This was one of the problems originally with that microphone. When that mike was originally designed as a studio mike, the people who had the first microphones did not like them as a close mike in the studio.
E: A lot of them just put 201's in the back corner and said they couldn't use them. We started using them for classical recordings and used them for distance recordings of the orchestra, we found that it was a fantastic microphone for that kind of recording.
H: And they were very good for bass. You could get a lot of good bass response and a lot of detail.
E: That's correct.
H: Let's talk about cutter heads and cutting systems because you were, as you suggested earlier, intimately involved in the process of dealing with heads. Tell me about how it all developed.
E: Originally, in the mono days, we were using the Miller cutter which was a clamped cutter. Its frequency response was beautiful, but it was a tough cutter to get adjusted to where you wanted it. As I said before, I spent many hours and many stacks of lacquer cutting tests and re-tuning to get the frequency response that I wanted.
H: So you were basically equalizing or flattening it.
E: Flattening it, basically, to try to get the peaks out of it.
H: These were mechanical peaks
E: Yes. They were damped out with a special rubber compound inside the cutter.
H: So the only way to get around the mechanical peaks which were inherent in the system was to equalize them with circuitry?
E: Not really. We did not use any equalization for the cutter head itself. We just used the plain RIAA curve on them and tried to get them mechanically so that you would get the results you wanted as far as response level and that you didn't push them into distortion. I spent many days adjusting those mono cutters. Back in the Fine Sound days, we had four scully lathes. They were tandem lathes with cutters on all four. Of course the big problem with tandem lathes was to make sure that both cutters were of the same response.
H: What about stereo cutters?
E: When Fine Recordings started up stereo first came in. We had the Westrex A-type cutter. We never used the Westrex cutting amplifiers, an instead we used Macintosh 200 watt power amps to drive the head. And we used no feedback. We did our feedback mechanically in the cutter. We made a little modification mechanically to the cutter
H: You changed the torque tube set-up and so forth?
H: That's interesting.
E: When they came out with the B and C cutters, we tried them. But we could never get the sound out of the Bs and Cs that we could get out of the A cutter, so we never really used the other cutters.
H: What was peculiar about that A cutter?
E: It was just a very tricky cutter. In the beginning, we always had a cutter at California being repaired, because we were blowing them right and left to get the level on that we wanted and to keep them running. It was a problem. But we overcame it and it worked out great. We used those right up until the end.
H: One of the things I've learned from doing all of the reissues that we've done, and this even applies to Mercury, is that you were doing the best you could with the cutting systems that existed then. You were right on the edge of technology and you were trying to flatten them out. The objective was, as I understand, to cut as close a representation of the tape as possible.
H: Especially in Mercury's case with no EQ. The problem is, in hindsight, that whenever you do a transfer to another medium through a mechanical device, there is no way to perfectly get an analog copy of it. What I've learned is that, in may cases, the sound on the records is quite different that what is actually on the tapes. This is evidenced by Wilma's assertion, when she was doing the CD transfers, that she was, for the first time. getting the true sound that was on the tapes. That before, some of the limitations made it impossible to really get the sound from the tapes.
E: Sure. Just the process of cutting the lacquer and going through all of the steps before you get a pressing, all of the mechanical things that go in-between, are all factors in the final end product.
H: In going through that process, do you remember listening to test pressings and thinking that it sounded good for a test [pressing, but that it did not sound like the tape and what can we do?
E: That never fell into my position. I never had to make those decisions. Those decisions always went to Bob Fine. Wilma would ask Bob to listen to it and he would give her his opinion. If there was something that had to be done mechanically or electronically to alter it, then I got called.
H: How has gear changed over time? You are still actively involved. What do you think about the progress as it applies to equipment. Has equipment gotten better or worse, and in what ways?
E: In many aspects the equipment is much better. The tape machine transports are much, much better than what we were working with in the 50's and 60's. The handing of the tape is much better now. I still have my feelings about the electronics, though. I don't feel that the electronics are as good today as what we had with the old vacuum tube electronics.
E: I think that there are many inherent capabilities of the vacuum tube and there are many things you could do with it you can't do with a transistor or an IC today. One of them is the distortion. You cannot drive some of the record amplifiers to the extent that we were able to do with the vacuum tube. We could drive the vacuum tube amplifier way into distortion before you really heard it. The distortion was measurable with test equipment but not to the ear. Today, with the transistor and the IC, you're in that position where you hear peculiar things that you did not hear with a vacuum tube. As for tae machines, mechanically, the drive systems on the machines today are beautiful. They handle tape beautifully. But I am still a vacuum tube person as far as the electronics go. Not only in cutting amplifiers, recording amplifiers, and reproducing amplifier but also in power amplifiers for driving speakers. At least you know when you have a 100 watt amplifier driving a good speaker system, that's one place you are not having distortion problems and you are hearing what the speaker is capable of putting out. Keep a clean system all the way though from the playback amplifier through the console through the monitoring system.
H: Your approach is music to the ears of many audiophiles who are by and large tube oriented. How do you feel about digital?
E: I am not against digital recording. Digital recording for the mass market is great. A CD is a great release product. The lack of deterioration and lack of clicks and pops and so on is great. And the signal to noise is great. But there is something that comes off of a tape or off a good vinyl disc which has a different sound
H: It does have a different sound. All of this suggests to me that everything adds its own little flavor to what is really happening. The vacuum tube or the IC or the wire or the particular tube that you are using adds its own little flair to what the final product is in terms of what we are actually hearing back. At the end you just judge whether it is pleasant or not.
E: Right, absolutely.
H: It is not necessarily how absolutely accurate it is in comparison to the experience of having been there. As you would probably agree, even the first generation of master tape would have a hard time conveying the brevity and experience of being in that particular location when the musicians were playing.
E: That's right. Something is already lost once it gets onto the tape.