SH Spotlight By request: How I mixed Nat King Cole multi-tracks into stereo for SACD & 45 RPM LP.

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Steve Hoffman, Sep 20, 2012.

  1. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    A few of you who have enjoyed the SACDs from Analogue Productions have recently asked about my mixing technique on the stereo SACD/DSD/CD mix of LOVE IS THE THING I did for AP in 2008 with the master of the master Kevin Gray.

    The album was recorded in December of 1956. Very early stereo for 10 songs, the other two, mono only.

    For the stereo songs: We used Capitol ZD/11 "Edited A Takes" 1/2 inch 15 ips work parts. They are dry so the first thing was to get the proper echo. Echo was fed to the two orchestra tracks with some LA2A on the echo returns (only) and a nice treble cut to get that Capitol Vintage Reverb sound. The echo level on the vocal was different than on the orchestra since the band had many loud/soft passages, the 'verb has to stay somewhat constant and not vanish when the music was at a low level. Tricky but it's how they did it in 1956 as well. Nat's echo was not EQ'd nor compressed. I matched both by ear.

    The all important vocal to music ratio I also matched by ear, no compression or limiting was used, playback was an Studer A-80 mastering deck with a special custom three track head stack made just for this project. I always made sure that Nat was the star of the show, not the orchestra which (if left unchecked) would have overwhelmed the vocal many times for each song. I constantly was moving faders to keep this from happening, basically reproducing the same vocal/music ratio style of the original monaural versions of the songs (which are also on the SACD/CD so you can hear the mono "hit" version of this #1 album just the way they heard it in 1957).

    The Neumann microphones and mic pres used originally in 1956 had a wicked peak around 12k on the vocal microphone and 8k on the orchestral mics (not heard on the old Altec monitors). I smoothed both out around -2 db to get a more balanced sound, same as I did in 1996 for the DCC Gold CD version, same as the original Capitol engineer did when mixing the stereo LP tape (but he went way over the top) and same as the engineer did when mixing the mono version live in the studio. You'll notice that "WHEN I FALL IN LOVE" sounds a bit "sharper" than the rest of the songs. I tried to compensate a bit for that but basically left it.

    The low frequency anomalies on Nat's vocal microphone I left alone. Gives your subwoofer a workout. This and "ST. LOUIS BLUES" are the only two Nat King Cole albums that feature an "unsocked" Neumann microphone.

    That is basically it. Each song was mixed for the disk (and 45 RPM vinyl version) strictly by ear. The mixes for digital and vinyl are close but they don't match exactly, since they were done on different days. I always appreciate the beautiful recorded sound the Capitol engineers got back in the brand-new Tower Studio. By 1957 they were dumping TWICE AS MUCH reverb on their recordings ( to keep up with the over-the-top HI-FI craze sweeping the LP market) so this is one of the last big Capitol albums to have a reasonable amount of mono reverb on the full track version.

    For the DSD capture we used the Grimm Audio DSD recorder. The analog version was captured by the lathe.

    Hope this helps you enjoy this great #1 album from December, 1956 even more. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

    Attached Files:

    GerryO, ParloFax and vonwegen like this.
  2. TLMusic

    TLMusic Musician & record collector

    How did you create the echo?

    With chambers I'm guessing...
  3. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    We had a little room behind the studio, wired it in to the console with three ins and outs (for the left, center and right levels to be independent).

    A real pain in the buttocks.
    vonwegen likes this.
  4. alchemy

    alchemy Forum Resident

    Sterling, VA
    Thanks for your insight. It make listening to the CD even more fun!
  5. TLMusic

    TLMusic Musician & record collector

    Wow, you got such a reverberant sound from a "little room". Did you play the tracks through speakers (what kind?), and mic it somehow in the room?

    I'm trying to picture how that could be done...
  6. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    We have our ways. Basically the same way a "cave echo effect" would have been dreamed up in a 1930's radio show. That's all reverb is. Just sound bouncing off a long wall in a small room via speaker and off axis microphones. Plus a little trick I have for making the reverb time a bit longer...
    funknik and vonwegen like this.
  7. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    More people have asked me about this album than many others I've worked on over the years. I guess a lot of people hold it near and dear, as I do..
    McLover likes this.
  8. howlinrock

    howlinrock Forum Resident In Memoriam

    SF Bay Area
    I'm one of those. This recording is one of the greatest pop vocal LP's of all time. IMO. I appreciate your notes on the mixing technique applied to this one. Your great work made this LP shine all the more.
  9. Hamhead

    Hamhead The Bear From Delaware

    That disc is a masterpiece and a work of art, thanks Steve.
  10. hodgo

    hodgo Tea Making Gort (Yorkshire Branch) Staff

    East Yorkshire
    Thanks for the insight into your work Steve and also for the finished product the SACD's are the pride of my collection.

    I'm sure someone (Maybe Steve) posted an image of the actual chamber they used for this project, the threads are so vast that as of yet I've been unable to locate it.
  11. Randy Goldberg

    Randy Goldberg Forum Resident

    Yes. Love Is The Thing and the other Nat King Cole sacd's are the finest sounding disc's in my collection.
  12. Ricko

    Ricko Forum Resident

    Thanks Steve.

    This is the kinda stuff I basically come here to read.
    SandAndGlass and rxcory like this.
  13. John DeAngelis

    John DeAngelis Senior Member

    New York, NY

    Thanks for sharing, Steve.
  14. wcarroll

    wcarroll Forum Resident

    Baton Rouge, LA
    Is this something that has to be practiced many times to get right for the final production? I imagine it is very important particularly for the vinyl cutting.

    Didn't you also use the ZD-11 tape as a guide to how the stereo mix should sound? I just listened to this tape and thought it sounded quite similar to the Analogue Productions mix. Hearing this old 2-track tape is fun, but something did go wrong with the vocals being distorted. Sounded best when I was hearing from the next room. :eek: Lots of sibilance!

    Anyway, the AP SACD of "Love Is The Thing" is my favorite of the Nat King Cole series. The 45 vinyl is on my short list to get. :righton:
  15. Chip TRG

    Chip TRG Senior Member

    Do The Tower reverb chambers still exist, and are they anywhere near operational?
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Yes they do and they are.
  17. japhyman

    japhyman Forum Resident

    +1:righton: Me too. Thanks Steve. What a dream it would be for every audiophile release to include notes like this....
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    It's interesting to read but I feel most people couldn't care less. For the few that do, I'm always willing to answer any questions.
    CBackley, SandAndGlass and vonwegen like this.
  19. krlpuretone

    krlpuretone Forum Resident

    Grantham, NH
    Steve, how many "dry runs" did you practice with before the money version?

    Or do you just start with a basic level set and man the faders throughout?

    And how long did it take? Couple days? A week?
  20. Tingman

    Tingman Forum Resident

    Waukesha, WI USA
    Steve- thanks for posting this information and also for your work on the Nat King Cole sacd's - they are wonderful.
  21. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    Fair questions.

    On LOVE IS THE THING, I remember from the DCC version the basic things that needed to be done in mixing. The DCC safety four track was put to good use after 12 years (and some baking) and I practiced my moves using it. I got the basic EQ and mix levels down to refresh my memory. Fortunately (and this is not always the case) each song was very close in level to the rest of them and that made it possible to maintain an average "area" where the faders could hang out. I had to just memorize the parts in each song where the orchestra overwhelmed the vocal. That was not fun but it worked.

    The real pain in the toes was the three channel surround mix I did for the album. Harder to mix on three speakers than two, something I had no prior experience with. Had to really improvise since the echo of the voice had to go on the outer two channels leaving the center channel dry. Crazy.

    It took a day for the three channel surround mix, a day for the two channel DSD and CD split feed mix and a grueling day for the 45 RPM lacquer mix. One goof there and we had to start over on the side, since the entire side had to be mixed "live" as we were cutting...

    Quite an experience, mixing one album three different times.. Good thing I like Nat King Cole...
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  22. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Mastering Engineer Your Host Thread Starter

    You're welcome. I play them all the time. I can finally relax and enjoy the music. Still can't believe that Acoustic Sounds let me put the true mono mixes as bonus tracks on JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS, ST. LOUIS BLUES, LOVE IS THE THING and THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU. Cost them a fortune.
    vonwegen likes this.
  23. jhw59

    jhw59 Forum Resident

    Thank you for writing this. I love this recording and so does my wife!
  24. wcarroll

    wcarroll Forum Resident

    Baton Rouge, LA
    Wish they would do vinyl releases of the mono mixes. Or just "Love Is The Thing" would be great. It's hard to find original mono copies of this that are in nice condition.
  25. action pact

    action pact Music Omnivore

    The amount of care and detail you put into this project is nothing short of remarkable! I haven't heard it, but I imagine it sounds amazing.

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