The Intervention Mission: Archive-Quality LPs of the Music We Love

 

I’m Shane Buettner, Founder and Boss of Intervention Records. IR exists for one simple reason, to produce archive-quality LPs of music we love!

 

Intervention's sonic goal is that each record we do must be the single definitive, final version of that album, the one real music lovers will seek out. That’s why we work from the original master tapes whenever possible, and always from the very best sources available. We only approve and and move forward with our releases when we are confident we will produce the definitive vinyl edition of that recording.

 

We will always reveal the exact source material we use and we stand by our commitment so that our customers know that our vinyl will always be the definitive go-to for any title we produce. 

 

While the LPs and the sound are the highest priority, recreating (or in some cases creating anew) the outer package is something we take every bit as seriously. The tactile memories many of us have of our first LPs are the amazing artistic statements of the cover and packaging. I grew up in the LP era and the first record I ever bought with my own allowance money (at 7 years old!) was Kiss Love Gun. An amazing cover that came complete with a faux paper love gun inside. Kiss’ showmanship involved a lot more than makeup! 

 

I have always loved rich, chunky cover art and gatefold jackets that so many artists and artisans labored to create before the CD came along and miniaturized this formerly bigger-than-life experience. This is not at all unlike what happened when so many grand, ornate single-screen movie houses gave way to shoebox-sized multiplexes. Same program material, but a dramatically different sensory experience.

 

When possible we will upgrade single-jacket releases to beautiful gatefolds, we will create lyrics sheets and other inserts whenever we can but we’ll still store your LPs in the best, most protective inners sleeves. We expect these LPs to last and look and sound as fresh decades away as they do today. 

 

Why Vinyl? Why Not High-Res Digital?

Records sound the best, period. Vinyl records are the best, most consistent way of producing the emotional thrills and chills that happen when you feel like you’re attending a performance. This emotional sensation can be achieved even with studio recordings when the source allows it, and vinyl playback is the most reliable and durable way to deliver this mainline hit of musical emotion time and time again for decades. 

 

Vinyl takes the lid off the music in way that the best digital never does. Notes start and stop and float on with timing that is impeccable (assuming your turntable speed is set correctly!), timbres of instruments and vocals are natural, and the imaging rounds out fully into the third dimension. Vinyl recreates these subtleties with far more finesse and nuance.

While high-res digital sounds noticeably better than 16bit/44kHz it’s still just better digital. It still doesn’t relax the soul or immerse the listener the way vinyl does, even when the vinyl is sourced from digital masters. How can this be? I believe that moving the signal processing out of real-time playback like a digitally-sourced LP does results in superior sound. And of course with modern 20- or 24-bit masters the full bit depth is preserved during mastering as opposed the CD, which involves truncating the music exponentially to fit into a 16-bit container.

 

I can only speculate on the specific mechanics of all this, but the ear/brain needs to do a lot of heavily lifting to turn digital’s discrete samples of audio into an approximation of a continuous waveform. There is a ton of processing in any Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) that occurs in real-time while you are listening. The oversampling and filtering that occurs is seldom benign in the time domain, and in nearly all digital playback devices playback involves unnatural artifacts, including ringing artifacts that actually occur before the musical transient as well as after it. Where in nature would one hear distortion of a transient before the transient itself? Only in digital audio!

 

Analog playback on vinyl by contrast is a mechanical process and relatively straightforward on the ear/brain during real-time playback. As the stylus navigates the groove the waveform is reproduced without oversampling, brick-wall filters or digital signal processing. Dragging a rock through a valley is an apt analogy; from a high level it really is that simple.

How does all this hypothetical add up to what we hear? Vinyl takes the lid off the music in way that the best digital never does. Notes start and stop and float on with timing that is impeccable (assuming your turntable speed is set correctly!), timbres of instruments and vocals are wonderfully natural, and the imaging rounds out fully into the third dimension. Performers live and breathe in your listening room. Vinyl also does microdynamics in far superior and convincing fashion - like when a singer ramps up or down in vocal power, or steps slightly closer to or farther away from the mic. Vinyl recreates these subtleties with far more finesse and nuance than digital ever will.

What Makes a Great-Sounding Record?

 

Sound quality on LPs is a delicate dance between the quality and condition of the source material and today’s superiority in mastering and manufacturing. While in decades past "new" records were made by melting down old records, dirt and labels and all, today’s vinyl is a boutique process using pure new materials. Records that used to be pressed in the millions at different facilities with vastly different qualities are now typically pressed at a single place in the thousands. IR's stampers are replaced every 500 copies. Every copy of every Intervention record is by nature a hot stamper!

 

So it is often possible to exceed the sound of an original pressing even with secondary sources because today’s mastering suites and production facilities are so superior. But there’s more!

 

There are often two aesthetics in vinyl reissues- to recreate the original vinyl releases, or to capture what’s really on the master. Intervention Records pursues what’s on the master, not the potential limitations of the original LPs and there are solid reasons for this approach. Many many LPs from the 60s, 70s and 80s were bass limited on purpose, and often the mastering chains and consumer playback systems were lower in resolution resulting in engineers pushing the midrange and treble to create a false sense of "detai" or excitement.

Record companies were notorious back in the day for hiring people to listen to their records with mass market “kiddy” stereos to see if the “needle” would jump out of the groove during playback, and if it did they would typically go and filter out the bass without the knowledge let alone consent of the band or the engineers who mastered these records.

 

This is why it’s crucial in so many cases to be true to what’s on the original master, not the original vinyl release. You will always hear the full range of the master with rich but detailed bass, beautiful midrange textures and shimmering high frequencies. With Intervention you are hearing everything that's on the master!

Have Tape ... Will Travel!

In today's reissue market if you want to use the best possible sources and not work from copies or in some instances copies of copies, you need to go where the tapes are! Analog master tapes of treasured music are the most precious commodoties to be entrusted with. In some cases the labels understandably will only allow their tapes to be transported close to where they are stored for mastering, via courier. Where these mastering adventures will take us in the future is unknown, but in the US Intervention Records' is extreemly fortunate in that it has superlative mastering partners on each coast.

Kevin Gray of Cohearent Audio, Los Angeles

IR’s mastering facility of choice on the west coast is Kevin Gray’s Cohearent Audio in southern California. While Kevin’s experience, reputation and list of clients – Music Matters Jazz, Analogue Productions, Impex, Sundazed to name but a few- are beyond reproach, it’s my personal experiences with Kevin that made him IR's go-to guy for this most crucial aspect of IR’s releases. Kevin’s sensibilities regarding mastering are exactly what IR needs, and Kevin’s mastering system is the one that is put together in a way that most closely mirrors what I would want in my own mastering system.

 

Cohearent's Kevin Gray and Intervention's Shane Buettner Mastering at Cohearent Audio

 

 

 

 

Music Matters’ Joe Harley and Ron Rambach in the past invited me to their mastering sessions with Kevin where I witnessed his dedication to craft firsthand. Kevin is not limited in his thinking to simply trying to recreate earlier LP releases, he’s much more interested in getting to the essence of the performance that is actually captured on the masters themselves.

This is an absolutely crucial distinction. Today’s best LPs need to aim higher than replicating the original LPs, since those all too often were flawed in ways the original artists and mastering engineers were not aware of and weren’t intended. Kevin understands this and excels at delivering all of what was best in the original LPs, but also knows how to go beyond that to get the very essence of what’s on the original masters in an artistically honest way.

Click HERE to see Cohearent Audio's website.

Ryan K. Smith of Sterling Sound, New York City

In a real sense you already know Sterling Sound’s Ryan K. Smith (pictured at right with Intervention's Shane Buettner). If you’ve bought any LPs from major labels or premium reissue labels like Analogue Productions over the last several years you already have a pile of records with Ryan’s “RKS” scribe in the runout. My shelves are loaded with RKS cuts, and over the last several months alone I’ve bought records from Adele, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards that were cut by Ryan!

So when it became clear in March of 2016 that Sony Music’s special relationship with Sterling Sound in New York meant that fabled studio was the only place to master directly from the best existing analog tape for IR’s reissue of This is Big Audio Dynamite I jumped at the chance to work with Ryan!

Ryan earned a degree in music before turning to mastering/engineering. He learned the craft of pure analog vinyl cutting from the late, great George Marino, a man recording engineers from the best studios around the world would bring their tapes to in order to get the great sounding lacquers cut for vinyl releases. Ryan’s cuts are masterful for wide-open dynamics and vast soundstages that don’t lose any of the immediacy that the best vinyl playback always delivers.