According to Howard Massey in his excellent book “The Great British Studios”, half speed mastering originally came about when John Lennon arrived in the Apple cutting room to master his new 45 “Power To The People” and wanted it “loud”. As a result the engineers came up with the ingenious idea of cutting the disc at half speed. This meant playing back the master tape at half speed and having the cutting lathe cut at half speed too, resulting in the engineers being able to get more level on the acetate but “with much better bass too”.Solid_air_half_speed_master

The Abbey Road website has this to say about 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.”

This particular album has been cut from a hi-rez digital transfer from the original quarter inch analogue masters replayed on an Ampex ATR-102 tape playerfitted with custom made extended bass response playback heads.

So that’s the technical bit out the way, but what about the music? Solid Air is a classic album from John Martyn that was originally released on Island Records in 1973. It’s widely acclaimed as one of THE records you should hear and Q magazine rated it the 67th greatest British album ever made. It was recorded in December 1972 at Basing Street Studios and Sound Techniques and is very much in the laidback, folk-jazz-rock-blues style…if that’s even a thing and remains one of the favourite albums ever here at Hifi Pig towers. It’s a record I’m sure many readers will already own, or at least know, so why bother with this particular version of it?
Well, I was a bit apprehensive when we sent for this album if truth be known as it’s music I already own and it was twenty five quid. It arrived a couple of weeks ago, along with a certificate of authentication, but I wanted to wait for just the right moment to finally pop it on the record spinner…and I’m glad I did. From the first few bars of the opening track “Solid Air” it is clear that we are experiencing something quite special in sonic terms. Yes there are the promised exceptionally clear and pin sharp upper frequencies, but what really shone out for me was the clarity and purity of the acoustic bass on the record.

There is simply more of everything on this copy and it makes the music even more enjoyable in every way. Close your eyes and the mix is laid out before you in three dimensional space to the point of it being almost tangible.
So, twenty five notes for a bit of vinyl? Damned right! I’d suggest that even if you wanted to get this record just to show off what your vinyl front end can do when unsuspecting and dubious friends come over it would be well worth it, but in addition to the sonic fireworks you also get great music that, to my mind, is presented in the very best way it can be short of getting hold of the master tape. Superb and highly recommended if you are in any way, shape or form interested in hearing how truly great vinyl records can sound. If you buy just one record this month then make it this one – yes, even if you already own it in another format!

Stuart Smith

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