Masterdisk is the house that mastered your recordings. Their most notable mastering engineer was Bob Ludwig and you will often see his initials hand scribed in the dead wax. Ludwig worked for Sterling Sound for many years and now owns Gateway Mastering in Portland, ME. Dennis King worked at Masterdisk, as well and did beautiful work; most of his work was for Atlantic. Again, you generally see his initials in the dead wax. Howie Weinberg worked out of Masterdisk as well.
Jeez, how's THAT for an answer!
Marty, your reputation precedes you. Does dead wax scribbling tell you anything more about the pressing, the era, the LP...etc?
I can't really talk about my reputation with the court case still pending, but I can say that I was not in Chicago that night and the baby doesn't look a thing like me.
You will find lots of stuff in the dead wax and a good part of it is dictated by the label, not the mastering lab. I am hardly the authority on this stuff. Usually, the catalogue number (just thought I'd throw one in for our Brit friends)and matrix number. This information can either be type set or hand scribed. The catalogue number is self explanatory, but the matrix number can tell you what master, mother and stamper were used. Unforunately, there was no standard for this and various labels used different systems of encoding this information, but most of this info is available on the net. The catalogue numbers are generally temporally sequential, and that allows one to broadly date the recording sessions in most cases. The presumption is that the earlier stampers and masterings are better. This is pretty much a trap. Take a common rock album, "Who's Next" for instance. The first Brit pressing, on Trak is quite nice. The second pressing was mastered by Denis Blackham, this is known because his signature, hand scribed, "Bilbo" is in the dead wax. It is, arguably, the best pressing of this old war horse out there and by a very wide margin. BTW his current website for Skye Mastering is a model of the type:
Broadly speaking the best pressings are from the country where the record label is located, as often, masters are not allowed to travel to other countries and safety masters, which are one generation away, are used in other markets. But record producing, mastering and pressing were really pretty loosely structured in the sense that, as soon as you think that you have a rule, you find some recording that breaks it.
Once in a while, some wag, will also scribe a message in the dead wax and there are many threads on Vinyl Asylum detailing these scribblings. "My Cat Is Dead", etc.
In the US, some of the most highly regarded mastering houses are:
Artisan Sound their logo is an "A" with rings around it like the planet Saturn. It kind of looks like a space ship.
Sterling Sound You will find a small type set "sterling"
The Mastering Lab "TML" typeset, Doug Sax worked here and often you will find his initials in the dead wax. He also mastered all of the Sheffeld Labs recordings.
"Van Gelder" typeset, Rudy Van Gelder is certainly the best known recording engineer and mastering engineer in all of Jazz. He worked for all of the major jazz labels, and engineered many of the touchstone recordings of the golden age of jazz at his recording studio in scenic New Jersey.
There are many other good mastering houses, perhaps someone else will chime in.
Thanks for sharing...To follow up on the master/safety distinction: Japanese LPs seem to command some price premium over the years reflecting better quality. Would you say part of that quality is in their mastering process?
Certain Blue Note dates were never released domestically while Japan got the 1st pressing. Any comment about that?
IMHO, some Japanese pressings are sought after, not for their mastering quality, but for their pressing quality. When we started using recycled vinyl, chopping up records to make yet more records, the Japanese were still producing a premium product with virgin vinyl and greater care in the pressing process. This is why the surfaces are almost always better on the Japanese product. MoFi started by having their records pressed in Japan and these are fantastically quiet records. These early MoFis were also mastered by one of the greatest mastering engineers of all time, Stan Ricker and they are as good as records get. Unfortunately, Gary Georgi took over the mastering chores and his hearing issues caused the skewed frequency response that one hears on the middle period MoFis. The horrible MoFi Aja being a good example of mastering gone bad. The Japanese were big jazz fans and a giant market for relatively small labels like Blue Note, so they did get unique product from time to time. And Blue Note also just shelved some sessions deciding that either there was no market for the product, or performances that were not consonant with their artistic sensibilites. But Japanese mastering being better? Not in my personal, subjective experience, at all. As an example, take the much poo pooed Japanese Pink Floyd "The Wall", Japanese CBS/Sony 40AP1750, HP's list and all that. The early US pressing, Columbia PAL 36184 with Mastering Lab "TML" stampers just kills it. Same for almost all original Blue Notes compared to the King Japanese product. And no Japanese jazz release, that was also released here, would command a higher price than a clean original pressing. The difference, in some cases, would be thousands of dollars. Others are free to disagree, but I own lots of these recordings and most of the Japanese stuff has incredibly silent surfaces and sounds like it was not only made from safety masters but that the mastering engineers leaned on the frequency response a tad. YMMV.
I have been thinking about getting some Mofi but am not sure if those have gone thru too much EQ
any comments on those copies? Im particularly interested in getting some Supertramp (Crime/Quietest
what I refer to as the Supertramp trilogy). Any thoughts?
Funny you should ask, we had an informal meeting of the Portland Audiofoos club last night and I had loaned my UHQR of "Crime" to one of the members, as well as the UHQR "I Robot". Since we had them there, we put on "School" and cranked it. Everyone's head shook with surprise at the dynamics and the 3D textures. All were shocked, myself included, as I do not play this but once every few years. Candidly, this is not my type of music, so I have never done a comparison with the A&M LP, the original Brit pressing or the standard MoFi. So, for all I know, they could all be better. I can say that I am happy with my pressing though. Maybe someone with more experience can weigh in on this. I did have a Sweet Thunder half speed of one of the other Tramp albums at one time. They were made in Canada. I can't remember the album and the sonics were nothing special so it moved on to a new owner with a greater appreciation of the music.
The MoFis are a crap shoot. Pretty much anything mastered by Gary Giorgi has the smiley face EQ. He had a well documented hearing issue which lead to some strange sounding albums. Compare the horrible MoFi Aja to a nice Bob Ludwig mastered copy. The MoFi sounds like crap, but many like it for the quiet surfaces and thumping bass. The original releases, mastered by Stan Ricker, fare much better, though there are good and bad here as well. Dark Side is just not what it should be and is inferior to both my Brit and German pressings, as well as the Japanese Pro Use half-speed. Too bad really. But there are some stellar records in this group, the "Close to the Edge", the Poco, the Doors, the Band, really, there are a lot of great ones that are the best release of the material. Notice that, broadly, MoFi did better with groups recorded in the US, than Brit groups. The Stones and Beatles stuff is just terrible. The thrashing done to "Sticky Fingers" really hurts.
The original US and UK "Close to the Edge" are both superior to the MOFI. Another kick a** version is the Japanese release ATLANTIC P10116A.
Regarding DSOTM, there are at least a half dozen pressings that blow away the MOFI. They include:
HARVEST 8556731 The British Centenary Direct Metal Master
EMI EMLF97002 Japanese Pro Series
HARVEST 1C06205249Q German Quadraphonic
EMI EMS80324 Japanese release
The 30th Anniversary release is a joke.
Bill, I totally agree on the Floyd, but have not heard the DMM or German quad releases. How does the German quad compare to the regular German issue. Or, do you have your SQ decoder out?
Would demur on the Yes though, owning both original US and UK pressings and still prefering the MoFi for inner detail and a kind of liquid quality. But then again, the guys tell me that I can't hear worth a crap. Sounds like I need to find a Japanese pressing of this one though.
I remeber as kid reading all kinds of messages in the last groove. Turn me over, play me again, comes to mind. Some were more personal. I forgot about these little notes until now. You can bet I'm gonna check my records when I get home tonight.
>>all kinds of messages in the last groove<<
It's fun to look for this stuff. One of my favorites is on original pressings of Led Zeppelin III. In the deadwax of side 1 is "Do What Thou Wilt" and side 2 "So Mote Be It".
These are phrases from a work by Aleister Crowley who is greatly admired by Page; he has a huge collection of Crowley's manuscripts, artwork, and memorabilia.
At one time he owned one of Crowley's homes in Scotland.
Refer to Michael fremer's article on stereophile 8/06 article page34 about some info on inner wax writings mean. Happy listening