Solid Air (Vinyl) (Half-speed Master) (2016)

Released by Universal Music on 6 May 2016 (delayed from 15 April 2016) on high quality audiophile vinyl.

Unlike previous re-issues the album was cut at half-speed at Abbey Road Studios. This technique results in the very highest quality sound reproduction.

The process involves the original 1/4 inch studio master tape being played back at precisely half its recorded speed while the cutting lathe is similarly turned at half the desired playback speed. This allows the cutting head twice the time to cut the intricate groove, affording considerably more accuracy with important matters such as frequency extremes and micro-dynamic contrasts. The resulting cuts have excellent high frequency response and very solid and stable stereo images.

Further details are provided in the press release kit (below) which includes a detailed explanation of the mastering process.

  1. Solid Air (J. Martyn)Solid Air Web Half Speed
  2. Over The Hill (J. Martyn)
  3. Don’t Want To Know (J. Martyn)
  4. I’d Rather Be The Devil (S. James)
  5. Go Down Easy (J. Martyn)
  6. Dreams By The Sea (J. Martyn)
  7. May You Never (J. Martyn)
  8. The Man In The Station (J. Martyn)
  9. The Easy Blues (J. Martyn)


Press Release

Recorded at the Sound Techniques Studio in Chelsea during 1972, John Martyn’s seminal album Solid Air was released in February 1973.

Emotionally intense and hauntingly beautiful Solid Air encapsulates almost every musical genre with ease and accomplishment. The songs are exquisitely crafted fusions of blues, country, folk, jazz and rock, with dazzling guitar, musicianship and outstanding vocals.

“I really like the title track. It was done for a friend of mine [Nick Drake], and it was done right with very clear motives, and I’m very pleased with it, for varying reasons. It has got a very simple message, but you’ll have to work that one out for yourself…”

Go Down Easy and Don’t Want To Know proved to be chill-out masterpieces decades before the phrase had ever been invented. I’d Rather Be The Devil is viciously wild with echo drenched guitar, however Martyn will always be remembered for May You Never, a delightful song of kindhearted advice that he recorded in one take at two in the morning accompanied only by his acoustic guitar.
“A great album…as a single overall expression ‘Solid Air’ flows beautifully and shows the entire spectrum of music that John Martyn has at his fingertips.” (Sounds 7/4/73)
“Solid Air shines out like a beacon in the darkness.” (Pippin)
“With mellow jazzy flourishes and warm acoustic sounds, Solid Air is the musical equivalent of a reassuring hug… a quiveringly sexy folk record.” – (Q, 1999 voting Solid Air as one of the best chill-out albums of all time)
“An ocean of tension quivers beneath surface tranquility” – Mojo

This time defying album is packaged in a superb reproduction of the original gatefold sleeve adorned by unmistakable schlieren photography (a photograph of the flow of fluids of varying density) that demonstrates the ‘solid’ nature of air.

Considered by many to be his finest, and without doubt his most famous album, the enduring theme of love epitomizes Martyn’s philosophy on life.

“Love – Nuff Said.”


Universal Music Catalogue & Abbey Road Studios’ Half-Speed Mastering Series Press Release

Six Iconic Albums Half-Speed Mastered For A Superior Listening Experience

umc

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
John Martyn – Solid Air
Cream – Disraeli Gears
Free – Fire and Water
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

Release 15th April 2016

Images and Miles Showell’s personal notes for each record are available here (see below).

Six iconic albums have been exclusively Half Speed Mastered for vinyl at the world’s most famous studio Abbey Road, to bring a superior listening experience with a new level of depth and clarity.

This limited edition launch range, all pressed on 180g vinyl, come in deluxe packaging that includes a certificate of authenticity from Abbey Road, with all releases an exact replica of the first pressings in terms of artwork.

Cut by Miles Showell, one of the world’s leading exponents of half speed cutting, these are among the very finest vinyl pressings that these albums have ever received. Half speed mastering has resulted in “superior high frequency response (treble) and very solid and stable stereo images”, and pressed to a very high standard in Germany, ensuring top notch sound quality.

Further care has been taken to create packaging that adheres to the same high standards, from giving each album its own individual obi strip to creating detailed artwork reproduction. ‘Exile On Main Street’, for instance, comes with the 12 original postcard inserts taken by Norman Seef, art director for the original 1972 pressing of the album, while The Police’s ‘Ghost In The Machine’ features a replica of the original picture inner sleeve.

Miles Showell says: “Anything recorded in a professional studio… that still sounds good, is going to benefit from being half-speed mastered. That’s the beauty of [half-speed mastering]. You don’t need the world’s greatest turntables… [and with] a moderately reasonable hi-fi deck, something you order for about £200 or up from there, you’d easily hear the difference between a normal cut and a half-speed cut.

“If the source isn’t good enough, I won’t be doing it. I’m not here to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. I want to make sure that everything I’ve got is good. So… if there’s no high quality source to work from, there’s not a lot of point.”

The six initial releases are:abbey road studios

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main St
The Police – Ghost in the Machine
John Martyn – Solid Air
Cream – Disraeli Gears
Free – Fire and Water
Simple Minds – New Gold Dream

All vinyl are available via the Abbey Road shop.

The technical description of ‘the process’:

Abbey Road’s engineers have been cutting grooves into discs since the studios first opened their doors in 1931. In 2013, award-winning engineer Miles Showell joined their existing mastering team, bringing a wealth of disc-cutting experience with him.

One of the artisan techniques offered by Abbey Road that results in the very highest quality sound reproduction is Half Speed Cutting. Simply put, this process involves the master source being played back at precisely half its recorded speed while the cutting lathe is similarly turned at half the desired playback speed. This allows the cutting head twice the time to cut the intricate groove, affording considerably more accuracy with important matters such as frequency extremes and micro-dynamic contrasts. The resulting cuts have excellent high frequency response (treble) and very solid and stable stereo images.

Of course, it is not as simple as running everything at half rate. There is an EQ curve applied to all vinyl records and by running the lathe at half speed, all the frequencies are wrong. However, the technical staff at Abbey Road have had new custom built filters installed which allow Miles to practice half speed cutting to the full on a modified Neumann VMS-80 lathe.

For more information please contact B** P***** at P*****.

Key:

The Rolling Stones, ‘Exile on Main St’ – Cut from 24bit/96khz digital transfers supplied by The Rolling Stones and made from original ¼” tapes
The Police ‘Ghost in the Machine’ – Cut from a high-resolution digital transfer from the best known ¼ analogue tape in existence
John Martyn ‘Solid Air’ – Cut from a high-resolution digital transfer from the ¼” analogue masters
Cream ‘Disraeli Gears’ – Cut from digital transfers made from the original ¼” MONO masters (with edits) from Atlantic Studios NYC, 1967 – transfers were made at Sterling Sound, NYC, in 2013
Free ‘Fire and Water’ – Cut from digital transfers from the original ¼” tapes, recently prepared by Free remastering engineers Andy Pearce and Matt Wortham
Simple Minds ‘New Gold Dream’ – Cut from a high-resolution digital transfer from the original ½” analogue masters


Universal Music Press Kit Solid Air – ARHSLP003

Miles Showell (Engineer) Notes

1. What is ‘Half-Speed Mastering’?

This is an elaborate process whereby the source is played back at half it’s normal speed and the turntable on the disc cutting lathe is running at 16
2/3 R.P.M. Because both the source and the cut were running at half their “normal” speeds everything plays back at the right speed when the record is played at home.

2. What are the advantages of Half-Speed Mastering?

The vinyl L.P. is an analogue sound carrier. Therefore the size and shape of the groove carrying the music is directly related to whatever the music is doing at any particular point. By reducing the speed by a factor of two the recording stylus has twice as long to carve the intricate groove into the master lacquer. Also, any difficult to cut high-frequency information becomes fairly easy to cut mid-range. The result is a record that is capable of extremely clean and un-forced high-frequency response as well as a detailed and solid stereo image.

3. Are there any disadvantages?

Only two, having to listen to music at half-speed for hour after hour can be a little difficult at least until I get to hear back the resulting cut when it all becomes worthwhile. The other dis-advantage is an inability to do any de-essing. De-essing is a form of processing the signal whereby the “sss” and “t” sounds from the vocalist are controlled in order to avoid sibilance and distortion on playback. None of the tools I would ordinarily employ on a real-time cut work at half speed as the frequencies are wrong so the offending “sss” does not trigger the limiter and everything is moving so slowly there is no acceleration as such for the de-esser to look out for. This has always been the Achilles heel of half-speed cutting until now (see below).

4. What was the source for this record?

This album was cut from a high-resolution digital transfer from the 1⁄4” analogue masters. The tapes were re-played on an Ampex ATR-102 fitted with custom extended bass response playback heads. Only minimal sympathetic equalisation was applied to the transfer to keep everything as pure as possible. Also, as this was an analogue, vinyl only high quality release, I did not apply any digital limiting. This is added to almost all digital releases to make them appear to be loud and is responsible for “the loudness war” and in almost every case is anything but natural and pure sounding.

5. Why could you not cut it all analogue?

The biggest variable when cutting from tape is the replay machine. Every individual roller in the tape’s path will have a direct effect on the quality of the audio emanating from the machine. In addition to this, there is the issue of the sub 30Hz low-frequency roll off on an advance head disc-cutting tape machine which in effect will come into play at 60 Hz when running at half speed. In addition to this, there
are also some unpredictable frequency anomalies in the 35-38 Hz region with analogue tape that will double up at half speed. These are all problems if you want to hear as originally intended the lowest register of the bass end on a recording. There is also the lesser potential problem of tape weave that effectively increases at lower speeds and leads to less high frequency stability and the possibility of minor azimuth errors. Even if these problems could be overcome the master tapes for this album were encoded with Dolby A noise reduction. Dolby only ever made a very small quantity of half-speed enabled Dolby A cards, none of which are available to me. Although the technical team at Abbey Road are more than capable of modifying some spare Dolby A cards for half-speed use, to do so would require an intimate knowledge of the expansion circuit in the card which has never been made available outside of the Dolby Company. Finally, analogue tape becomes degraded with each pass over the replay heads. These tapes are getting old and it is no longer considered good practise to play and play and play precious old original masters for fear of damage and general wear and tear. Far better, then, to eliminate the variable of
the reply machine, to decode the Dolby noise reduction correctly and to minimise wear of the master by capturing the music digitally at very high resolution using professional converters locked down with stable external word-clocks. To capture from an Ampex ATR-102 with extended bass heads is a far superior method in my opinion.

6. Are there any advantages to this working method?

Yes, any problems with the tape can be treated far more accurately digitally than they could be by using traditional analogue techniques. For example de-essing. I can, by clever editing, target just the offending “sss” and leave intact the rest of the audio. Therefore high-hats, bright guitars and snare drums are not affected or reduced in impact. Using an analogue scatter-gun de-esser approach would also trigger the limiter in many parts of the audio that do not need to be worked on. The de-esser cannot tell a bright guitar from bright vocal and will smooth everything out leading to dull guitars or soft snare drums and weak hi-hats. Targeting the “sss” sounds in the vocal as I have done in this series is time consuming but is worthwhile in the pursuit of the very best possible sounding record. Also if there was any damage to the analogue tape (drop-outs and clicks for example) this can by and large be restored using modern digital methods in a way that is unobtrusive and this would be impossible using analogue methods. For the record, none of the albums in this series have been de-noised.

Only clicks and drop-outs have been repaired.

Miles Showell