“As music lovers, we’re spoilt for choice. Our favorite tunes are now available in a wider variety of formats than ever before. But whether you’re a vinyl collector, a digital convert or a die hard reel-to-reel aficionado, one thing’s agreed: nothing can ever sound – or feel – quite like an original analogue master tape. Unfortunately, unless you’re in the band or own the record label, you’re unlikely to ever hear one, right?” That’s quite an opening gambit for a press release but, having met the guys behind the Horch House project, it’s one that is somewhat justified…read on.

Austria-based Horch House was created for the sole purpose of bringing the magic of analogue master tapes to music lovers in a variety of formats. Long negotiations with music publishers have been involved, followed by detailed research into the highest level of equipment and processes to capture that magic and deliver it via direct, faithful, fully licensed and approved copies. Horch House master tape copies

As a result, Horch House are now delighted offering the original master tape experience on reel-to-reel tapes, audiophile-grade vinyl records and in three high-resolution digital formats: 24 bit/96kHz and 24 bit/192kHz each in WAV, and DSD in DFF.

To translate original analogue master tapes into faithful copies, Horch House’s team of sound engineers use a painstaking process that has been meticulously researched and developed in collaboration with some of the world’s leading experts (think of specialists whose client lists include Sir Paul McCartney, Sony and Abbey Road Studios and you get a sense of the level of know-how involved).

The first step is to carefully assess the sound quality of each original master tape. Tapes age over time and most analogue masters are now between 30-80+ years old. What Horch House are looking to do, therefore, as an integral part of the copying process, is to restore the sound quality back to its original level. This ‘soft refurbishing’ process is in stark contrast to any kind of ‘remastering’ (which they most definitely do not do).

Horch House sound engineer Christoph Stickel has a remarkable knowledge of the complex elements underpinning the audio quality of an analogue master tape, enabling him to assess, understand and restore a tape’s original quality and achieve the correct tonal balance according to whether it was recorded 30, 40 or 50 years ago. No mixing desks, sound processors, limiters or compressors are used in the process. It’s an entirely analogue approach, using only analogue tools. No additional stages are introduced into the signal path, so virtually nothing is lost while the original beauty and character of the original recording are fully regained.

Stickel will typically begin by making analogue and digital test copies of the original master so that he can spend as many hours as needed to perfect his refurbishing strategy without overworking the irreplaceable original tape. Fine adjustments are made by ear and by hand to the company’s small bank of top-of-range Studer playback and recording machines (which are checked and measured daily to ensure consistently excellent quality), with Stickel exhaustively tweaking, testing and re-tweaking to replicate the parameters that produced the original recording. Only when an absolutely optimal result has been achieved will the ‘soft refurbished’ master tape copies then be made from the precious original – in small batches of just eight, in real time, and with constant quality monitoring throughout.

Audiophile-grade vinyl records are then created directly from one of the newly-refurbished master tape copies.

In creating digital copies, Horch House’s selection of equipment and attention to detail are as painstaking as those used in their analogue processes. No computers are used; each file is created entirely ‘natively’, converting directly from the refurbished master tape copy into each format separately, never compressing from one format to another. A Studer A80 is fed into one of two top-of-range analogue to digital converters, and then both machines are finely adjusted to achieve the best possible result for each specific format. Both of the studio-grade analogue to digital converters use an atomic clock rather than the standard quartz clock in order to guarantee complete synchronization with the recording machine.

An impressive list of record labels and publishers, including Warner Classics, Sony Classics, Universal and Deutsche Grammophon, already support the Horch House project and more are currently in negotiation. “Our current catalogue is just the beginning,” says music producer and joint Horch House owner, Thilo Berg. “I’m keen to speak to any and every music publisher in the business with a view to delivering the widest possible portfolio of high quality analogue master tape copies to as many people as we can”.

Prices range between 300-600 Euros for reel-to-reel tapes, 20-180 Euros for audiophile-grade vinyl records and 25-215 Euros for high-resolution digital formats (24 bit/96kHz and 24 bit/192kHz each in WAV, and DSD in DFF).

 

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