Recording Producer and Managing Director Rainer Maillard (Emil Berliner Studios) on the new series on vinyl
Sometimes many years have to pass for old treasures to be rediscovered. For their 125th anniversary in 2023, Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft will be releasing a very special new series on vinyl: the Original Source Series. For the first time, reissues of legendary recordings from the 1970s have been cut directly from the 4-track ½ inch masters, rather than the stereo ¼ inch tape copies. The result will be the highest-possible, audiophile quality and gives listeners the chance to enjoy this repertoire as never before.
In order to better understand the background to this extraordinary series, it is worth looking at DG’s technical developments in sound recording. The recording department started producing for quadrophonic surround sound as early as 1970. The recording format was a 4-track analogue tape with left, right, front and rear channels. After the recording was finished, these 4-track tapes were edited in the studio at DG’s site in Hanover. The recording takes were cut with scissors and reassembled with sticky tape.
However, back in the day, there was no consumer format ready for quadrophonic playback, so DG was producing for the future. The label did release these recordings on regular vinyl LPs in stereo, of course. For this purpose, the engineers had to create a stereo downmix of the 4-track master tape. For the international distribution, DG then made copies of this copy and sent them around the world for local manufacturing.
A tape copy can never sound as good as the original master tape, so the idea was born to make a product of the highest quality by using the original 4-track masters for lacquer cutting instead of the 2-track copies. They sound sensational, thanks to the expert team involved back in the day, and the analogue recording technology they were using.
For the new releases, two technical aspects had to be taken into account: First, the 4-track tape is twice as wide as the usual 2-track tape, therefore we needed a special tape machine. It must be able to deliver a so-called preview signal, which allows the disc cutting lathe to cut a perfect groove in the disc. Our tape machine had to be modified for this purpose and is probably the only one of its kind in the world right now. Second, we needed to mix the front and rear channels down to stereo in real time. A completely new, custom-built mixing desk was required for this project. Emil Berliner Studios have designed a passive mixer, which renders the highest quality without introducing any additional noise to the signal.
The Original Source Series means: no tape copies used, no unnecessary devices in the signal path and of course no digital sound processing: pure analogue. This is the shortest possible way from the original master to the cutter head.
Compared to the original releases, the advantages in sound are outstanding: More clarity, more details and a better frequency response, as well as less noise, less distortion and less compression.
Sidney C. Meyer