Bob Ludwig ist der wohl gefragteste und mit den meisten Preisen überhäufte Master- und Remastermind der Welt.
Zunächst bei Sterling Sound, dann bei Masterdisk, gründete er 1993 seine eigene Firma Gateway Mastering in Portland, Maine www.gatewaymastering.com . Ludwig masterte tausende Alben (als Robert C. Ludwig übrigens auch Klassik-Aufnahmen) von Jimi Hendrix über Led Zeppelin bis zu Rush, Dire Straits oder Suzanne Vega. Vor allem seine Großtaten für Steely Dan etablierten ihn auch unter HiFi-Fans als Guru.
AUDIO How can you really improve the sound of an ancient analogue or an old digital master and which tools can help ?
Ludwig: Mastering is the final creative step in the record making process. A good mastering studio has great ears, an incredibly accurate monitoring system living within an accurate room. The purpose of mastering is to maximize the musicality inherent in the master mix. Pop music is like Musique Concrete where many disparate sounds that were not performed at the same time are brought together as a performance for the first time over a set of speakers. An engineer mixing is thus totally dependant on what he is hearing on the studio speakers and if those speakers are very bright, their mix will sound dull on more accurate systems. A mastering engineer will try to equalize the different tracks to sound correct and perhaps more musical on accurate systems. They will compress the dynamic range if it is too wide for replay in a wide variety of places like riding in a car etc. If the master tape is already too compressed, they will try to put some dynamics into the sound... whatever is needed and most musical. A great mastering engineer can hear the raw tape from the mix room, imagine in their head what it could sound like and know what knobs on the gear to move to make it sound like it does in their imagination.
Mastering tools include modified tape machines that can replay master tapes better than the day they were first recorded. Some studios allow one to choose between solid state or tube electronics for the most euphonic sounding playback. State-of-the-art analog consoles can mix the sound with ultra-low distortion electronics far superior to those available when the old tapes were made. Most great mastering studios combine the best of classic legacy gear and the most up to date analog and digital gear. Today's analog to digital converters driven by Rubidium atomic clocks can capture high quality digital signals that can not be differentiated from the original analog source by anyone I have tested.
AUDIO Do you think that the loudness war means the death of dynamics in pop music?
Ludwig: In many cases, yes.
will explain the whole issue to you in less than 2 minutes. For several years now we are at the maximum, it can not be made any louder in the future as there is no dynamic range left! The good news is that many artists and producers are now becoming aware of the problems and some of them are finally asking us to put the dynamics back in and that is wonderful.
AUDIO Do you suffer from the sound of the current pop/rock recordings?
Ludwig: Yes in many cases. Like other listeners, I hear a new artist and like the music but don't feel like listening to it again because the lack of dynamics is such an assault on the ear. I always try to maintain dynamics in my mastering if allowed. When I hear compressors pumping and the chorus sounding smaller than the verses it really annoys me.
AUDIO What do you think about brickwall limiting ?
Ludwig: Digital domain "look-ahead" limiters are the very devices that made the level wars possible. We are +6 to +9dB louder than it is almost possible to do with analog gear and tape. They have their place in mastering, but the abuse of them is rampant.
It is so bad that a great mixer who worked a whole career with analog tape is now forced to take his beautiful mixes and artificially raise the level and lower the dynamics, just to get them approved by an A&R person who refuses to turn up their playback volume!
AUDIO If a producer demands "the loudest cd ever" - what would youcanswer ?
Ludwig: I'm in business to serve my clients and make them happy. Sometimes I will do one closer to the way I want and then do one as they asked and give it to them to choose. Right now, most often they choose the loudest one unfortunately.
AUDIO Do you support the "Turn Me Up!" movement ?
Ludwig: Yes, but to be honest I haven't seen any public awareness come from them, have they run any advertisements done other public education yet? The video I mentioned above is the best education so far.
AUDIO Which are the three best sounding records you've (re)mastered
Ludwig: There are so many, but a few that I originally mastered come to mind are the Elvis Costello "All This Useless Beauty", the original vinyl of Sly and the Family Stone "There's A Riot Going On", Rage Against the Machine's first vinyl, Dire Straits, "Brothers in Arms", Roxy Music "Avalon", the SACD release of the Rolling Stones "Beggar's Banquet", the SACD of Sam Cooke and countless Nonesuch Records classical and world music.
AUDIO And the three worst sounding (maybe some you are not responsable for) ?
Ludwig: I can say without hesitation that there isn't one single album I have done where I have not gone 110% to make a client happy. So even if the tape that came to me sounded like dog meat at least it left sounding as good as good as it could to the client. Sometimes a "bad" recording ends up being totally appropriate. The hissy, out-of-azimuth, off speed cassette master for Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" album remains one of my most favorite works of art ever.