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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Berlin Trivia and Vintage Studio Porn - David Bowie meets Herbert Von Karajan


Last week a tour through Emil Berliner Studios was organized by Michael Vrzal of Fidelity Magazine in Berlin.

This very studio was used by David Bowie when he recorded Heroes, Helden in Berlin.

The 'Meistersaal' which was used as one of seven concert halls in the vicinity of Potdamer Platz in the 1920ies is also in this building. It can be used for recordings as well.
In the 70ies it was a lonely place with little buildings around it, except the Berlin Wall a stone throw away.

Rainer Maillard, Producer of Emil Berliner Studios (center) explains the Analog studio.
Of course they have all the digital fancy stuff used in 'modern' recordings as well, but the emphasis of this visit was purely analog.

The studio inherited a lot of gear from Deutsche Grammophon, actually the mixing console is from the late 1950ies and was used for Furtwängler and early Karajan recordings. Built from German broadcast modules like the famous V72 tube mic preamp or Eckmiller faders. In 100% working condition it is still used for analog recordings here. 50 years are quite a lifetime for professionally used gear!

The very Studer machine used for Bowie's recording is still there.
Fully refurbished it is now used for transfering analog master tapes to digital formats for international customers for example.
There was a jazz tape mounted and played, which sounded beautifully direct.

There is a Neumann VMS80 record cutting lathe as well, used for making direct to disc LPs under the label of
'Berliner Meister Schallplatten'.
5 records are on the market already!

The machine is equipped with a Technics built direct drive, nothing you find in the DJ deck or the SP10 though...
Ortofon amps are used to drive the cutting head.

The SX74 cutting head in detail. There is a tube that sucks the freshly cut material from the lacquer disc away.
For cooling the head down some helium gas is flowing across the cutting head, there is a hose coming in at the yellow triangle.
To control the adjustment of the cutting head there is a magnifying device permantenly installed on the right.

There is also another microscope on the left to control the grooves.
For convinience this can be viewed on a video monitor as well, all analog of course..

A dummy lacquer disc is on the lathe. In order to hold it firmly there is a vacuum pump sucking the disc to the platter.
Otherwise it would be pushed away from the force of the cutting head. In production the readily cut disc is put in to a metal transport container as fast as possible, to be transferred to the record pressing company.

A close up of the platter with the holes allowing the vacuum pump to do its job.
These lacquer discs are larger than a 12 inch LP, but not 16 inch transcription size.
The machine was adjusted to 14 inch diameter lacquer discs.
The control panel allowing adjustments of platter speed and groove width.
To make 'Halfspeed' cuttings for example.

If using a tape a source for cutting, the recording engineer needs to hear the music signal a bit earlier before the cutting head does its irreversible job. With this time ahead the engineer can control the width of the groove. To get this little extra time the tape machine offers some special way of having the tape mounted, this way there is a second or so between the signal for the engineer and the signal going to actual cutting head. Obviously the tape machine needs two sepreate playback heads for this.

If used for direct to disc cutting this can not be done, since the signal goes directly from the musicians, microphones, mixing console to the cutting head amps. In this case the record width is put to maximum to allow sudden dynamic peaks in the music to find their place with out overcutting into the neigbour groove.
Apart from the technical aspects, the musicians have to be 100% concentrated if using this direct to disc recording.

In digital recordings they have the ease of mind that they can do endless recordings and editing takes together if a little mistake happens. Not possible in direct to disc though. This way all counting the typical one, two three, four is also between the tracks adding to the captured performance atmosphere on these discs. I hope that a lot of musicians dare to go this route.

Thanks a lot to Rainer Maillard again for opening the studio and showing around.
Thanks to Michael Vrzal for suggesting this visit.

Thanks to Thomas Schick for suggesting such a juicy post and pixes... and thanking LencoHeaven's folks, as well.

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