From the desk of Steve Smart: Remastering “10….1″ by Midnight Oil.

10987654321-5079d0f4e4904

 

To book Steve for your mastering project, contact Lynley on 02 9698 5888 or mastering@studios301.com

Being a mastering engineer, I listen to a multitude of different music, and I never know beforehand what I am getting myself in for. But on this occasion, I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for, and that was (re)mastering what I consider to be one of Australia’s most classic albums – Midnight Oil’s “10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.”

Steve Smart

Steve Smart

Nick Launay, the original producer of the album, had mentioned to me once that he would love to re-master the album – so I leapt at the chance and offered him my services. Nick and I had worked together on other projects, including some later Midnight Oil recordings, so we knew that if we got together we could make this album sound the way it should. So when Nick was in Australia over a Christmas break, he put the wheels in motion for us to begin the mastering.

Nick_Launay_01

Nick Launay

I had listened to this album many times, so I knew it backwards. But back then, I was listening to it on good old vinyl. In the very early days of compact disc, this album was rereleased on the format, and it was often said that the vinyl sounded a lot better than the CD. So you can imagine the joy I got from knowing that the album was going to be remastered, using today’s current digital technology for release on iTunes – and a possible re-release on CD.

The Original Tapes

The first part of the process was to get the source material, and Midnight Oil has an extensive archive of all of its original recordings, so with the help of Jim Moginie and Arlene Brookes we were able to access the original masters. The fact that we were able to get possession of the original ½” analogue mix tapes was a major bonus in the whole mastering process.

These tapes of course dated back to the early 80’s, so they required a process called baking to be done to them first, which then allowed me to play back the tapes without damaging them. One down side of this was that the many tape edits that were done on the original masters (due to Nick’s amazing and creative production techniques) came apart after the baking process. So many of them had to be re-edited back together again by Nick himself, in order to have them play back as they were originally edited!

So with the luxury of having the original master tapes back to their fresh condition, Nick and I decided to try a number of different tape machines, to see what sounded best. In the end, we settled for the same model that was used to record them, the Ampex ATR100 (Nick had a particular way of recording onto that machine using its saturation and fluxivity qualities). Here at 301 we also have a choice of head blocks – one of which is the Mastering EXT, which has an extended low frequency range. The other is the Ampex standard specification. At this point we decided to faithfully playback the tapes the way they were recorded, using the Ampex standard spec head block.

107384

8 rack-mounted Neve 1084 equalisers

The Mastering Process

When Nick and I played the master tapes back unprocessed, we just stood there and looked at each other in amazement at how good they sounded. They not only sounded better than the previous CD release, but of course they sounded better than the vinyl version as well.

It was at this point that Nick and I decided to use his favourite equalisers for the mastering process. So we called Jim Moginie and he brought in eight rack-mounted Neve 1084 equalisers from his studio (these, as Nick recalled, where the same equalisers he used in the album’s recording process). As Nick, Jim and myself sat down in the mastering studio, we found that all that was needed to bring this classic album back to life was a very small amount of high frequency boost from the Neve’s.

Nick, at this point, said that this was the first time he had heard this record sound exactly as he remembered it in the mixing studio all those years ago.

301AD[mast-indierock]studios301-C-728x90

Little else was done in the re-mastering, just a slight amount of additional analogue compression, a little more equalisation here and there, and some level balancing between the songs on the album.

During the process of remastering this album, Nick said to me that even with today’s modern techniques and all that he has learnt since producing that album, he could not explain how he achieved some of the amazing sounds found in the recording. Jim said that Nick was like a man possessed when working on the album originally, and none of them realised how unique this album would be…. and how timeless it would become.

Thanks to Arlene Brookes for her assistance with this article.

 

To book Steve for your mastering project, contact Lynley on 02 9698 5888 or mastering@studios301.com

14 Responses to “From the desk of Steve Smart: Remastering “10….1″ by Midnight Oil.”

  1. David Herbert

    Wow that is so amazing. I will grab a copy of this CD when it comes out. Good work Steve :)

    Reply

    • Anthony Mcgarry.

      To Steve Smart, have purchased 10-1 and returned it to JB Hifi, no way was this a 2014 remastered version, did A-b comparisons with 80’s era cd release exactly same version, same sterile dull sound, also did comparison with your superb Essential Oils compilation which revealed all of the fine detail of the 10-1 songs. What on earth has happened? The cd booklet had no mention whatsoever of who if indeed anyone had remastered this disc. I’m sure it was 80’s era disc, which is what I already owned. Very disappointing, where can I purchase the Steve Smart 2014 Remaster?
      Anthony Perth WA. July 1st,2014.

      Reply

      • Steve Smart

        Hi Anthony,

        Sometimes retail outlets are left with old stock. You may want to ask the retailer to order the specific release, or even contact the record label to enquire where the remastered versions are distributed to.

        We hope you do find and enjoy the release.

        Regards,
        Steve Smart

        Reply

      • Fred

        You are right Anthony. I did exatly the the A-B comparisons. I have been cheated.
        It’s even worse if uou compare with the Itunes version which is much better and got some remixes.
        I got all the other remasered Cds and there are awesome.
        There is a rel problem with 10-1 and JB HIFI

        Reply

  2. Martin van Veluwen

    I bought a copy of this album on cassette at the Bellingen Markets and was struck
    at how dynamic and well recorded this album was. I then digitized the tape so i could check out the waveforms, became a Nick Launay fan and sourced both the Vinyl and CD versions to compare the differences. I loved the Vinyl ending loop trick.
    I think part of the reason it sounds so great is you have Great songs played by
    Great players engineered and Produced by a Great set of ears who offered
    Great ideas. Nick is extremely Clever and then some…

    Just Magic and Timeless.

    Reply

  3. Richard Austin

    A great and concisely written story Steve. Love your work.

    Reply

  4. Steve Lees

    It was with great delight to hear about this newly remastered classic, but sadly it was a great let down to hear that: “just a slight amount of additional analogue compression” turned out to be yet another massively over compressed destruction of a classic recording. After you got to hear how great the original 2 track master sounded, it is a shame you (or someone forced you to) keep that gem to yourselves and release such a poor disc. The original CD release had around 13DB od dynamic range, this new one only musters 6db. A total shame as yet another great opportunity goes south.

    Reply

    • Steve Smart

      Hi Steve,

      With the continuing developing trends of CD mastering, it was a decision that was made on the day, to bring it up to contemporary digital mastering standards.

      Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

      Regards,
      Steve Smart

      Reply

  5. Erwin Vomberg

    idiots. vinyl better than CD. a little compression? slamming it to 6db dynamics overall? are you kidding? and all this analog-tape-bs-gear-name-dropping. and a producer who remembers sounds from exactly tenth of years ago? does he hear voices? there are institutions, that can help him … I think this all is a real delusional advertising bullshit campaign … and the result is awful. bigmouths not pros are you both.

    Reply

    • Steve Smart

      Hi Erwin,

      No compressor was hurt in the remastering of this album.

      Thanks for your comments, much appreciated.

      Regards,
      Steve Smart

      Reply

  6. Anton

    Hi Steve,
    Just curious, when you do these listening tests of 10-1 are you listening at 24bit/96khz/192khz resolution? Is that a factor why the master tape would sound so good?
    Also is 10-1 the only Oil’s master tape that has been remastered?
    Were the other master tapes Midnight oil, Head Injuries,Postcard,Diesel, also remastered this same way? Thought Essential Oils compilation was just brilliant, songs leapt out of my speakers like never before, is there a phase correction process involved as there are ambience and instruments I’ve not heard before, from classic vinyl to the first releases on cd.

    Thank you Steve,
    Anton. Sydney NSW.

    Reply

  7. Steve Lees

    Slamming masters is NOT a developing trend Steve, it has been around for a decade and it is a practice that takes people in your position to have the intestinal fortitude to change. LOUD is not better, music needs to breath. It would be better to be remembered for being the one who said NO to the destruction of classic records, than to be just another forgotten ‘me too’ mastering engineer who follows ‘trends’, particularly old trends…

    Reply

  8. Crockett.

    I found “ESSENTIAL OILS” very brittle and flat, so have relegated it to the car, which, lets face it, is what it was mastered for. Luckily, I have first gen. vinyl and first issue CD, so need not bother with these.
    When the original tapes were recorded so well, how is it even possible to ‘go backwards’ with what we now understand about the pitfalls of mastering for volume.

    Reply

  9. Mike

    I think it is very unfortunate that for all the effort that went into the remastering of this and the bulk of the catalogue that not one element of the packaging was changed from the first CD release. I’m not surprised that retailers are confused – take away the little sticker from the front and there is nothing to suggest that additional hours of labour have been spent on remastering these recordings. It feels like half a job has been done and they were rushed out for the Sydney Oils museum opening. Pity. A nice digipak format across the catalogue would have been welcome, some new liner notes or even restoring the sleeves to be replicas of the LPs. All good options. For what it’s worth, I thought the remaster of Head Injuries did little to improve the original but PWAP was an improvement, but it was always boxy.

    Reply

Leave a Reply