Sonicraft A2DX Lab: Ultimate Multitrack Analog to Digital Transfers
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ABOUT STEVE PUNTOLILLO - IN HIS OWN WORDS

Steve PuntolilloA prospective transfer client once asked me, "Who are you?" It was a startling question. Maybe you are wondering the same thing: "Why should I hand my tapes over to this guy?" Let me give you the relevant historical information to make that decision.

I was born to do this. My parents claim that, as a toddler, I played their records incessantly. They could ask for any song from their shelf of 78's and I could find the record and play it, including turning to the correct side of the disc before putting it on the player. Don't ask me how I knew.

By the time I was five years old, I was making recordings with their Webster Chicago tape recorder. At age eight, I bought my first reel-to-reel. By age fifteen, I was taping my band. I first set foot in a recording studio (Scepter Records in NYC) at age sixteen. And, before I learned to drive, I had done my first recording session as a studio musician -- a demo for Rupert Holmes who later became famous with his Pina Colada Song.

It's tough to make ends meet as an aspiring musician and recording engineer, so I worked part-time in the family business reconditioning machinery . That experience became very important later when I would be faced with resurrecting a herd of vintage analog multitrack tape machines from the rubble of time and neglect.

I learned the audio business working freelance in NYC and NJ recording studios. I got to hang out with some great recording engineers, musicians and technicians who taught me recording techniques and the technical end of constructing, assembling and integrating a recording studio. Eventually, I partnered with two friends to build an independent multitrack recording studio where I recorded a little bit of everything from voiceovers to rock bands to small orchestras.

Then, it was time for a breather. I was drawn into the early days of the personal computer revolution. I bought my own computer, taught myself how to program it and ended up landing a job as computer systems integrator developing turnkey graphics workstations.

I spent a decade designing and supporting computer workstations for media creation specialists. Then, after entertaining a brief but rewarding romance with sales, PR and marketing, I went back to the streets to work with the very first web authoring/ serving tools from Silicon Graphics as well as 3D animation workstations and non-linear video editing systems.

Things were coming full circle for me. Personal computers were becoming much more powerful and I could see the dawn of full-scale computer-based digital audio on the horizon. The thought of merging my analog audio expertise with what I had learned about computer system integration was irresistible.

So, I plunged headlong into uncovering the secrets of how to deliver on digital audio's promise. My research and experimentation quickly taught me that achieving great digital sound is every bit as involved as achieving great analog sound. As soon as CD recorders fell below $1000, I built my first digital audio workstation. Amazingly enough, without the slightest effort on my part, projects arrived almost immediately. Surprise! I was in business.

I quit my day gig and started Sonicraft. Initially, I produced soundtracks for corporate creative services departments that lacked audio production facilities. But, other clients brought me work for the entertainment industry. I have mastered over 100 commercial CD projects for Warner Chappell Music, Mode Records, Koch Entertainment, and many others, mixed and mastered several 5.1 surround projects for Mode, and mastered almost 60 Elektra music videos for broadcast on MTV and BET, as well as distribution on VHS and DVD including projects for Metallica, Bjork, Missy Elliott, Staind, Third Eye Blind, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Smashmouth, Natalie Merchant and many others.

A crossroads came in Y2K. In the midst of a 5.1 DVD project, I needed a simple multitrack analog-to-digital transfer done. This was outsourced to a major label in-house studio reputed to be the best transfer facility in Manhattan. The results were disastrous. (For details on this story, click here.) After the dust settled, it was painfully clear that there was a need for a dedicated state-of-the-art transfer lab.

As a mastering engineer, I knew how much time, money and expertise I had invested in making absolutely sure transfers from my stereo tape machine were of the highest quality. But, that was only one machine with two tracks. Now I would have to build a lab where several multitrack tape machines were evolved to the same sonic perfection. I asked myself, "What would it take to do this right?"

This was a provocative question that took a few years to answer. After countless hours of R&D with the help and guidance of more than a dozen industry experts, experimenting with precision parts, audiophile-grade components, and breakthrough tape head technology, the first A2DX Ampex MM1200 multitrack was built. It was time to put it to the test.MM1200

I dug out a 24-track master of some acoustic music I had recorded in the early 80's. I clearly remember struggling with the multitrack master during the mix, unable to get the openness and tactile sound I wanted. I had a terrific mixing room at my disposal, but nothing I did: EQ, compression, whatever -- could make those tracks come to life the way I hoped they would. Now, 20 years later, I baked the tape, ran the transfer and pulled the tracks up at my workstation.

I really wasn't prepared for the shock. In striking contrast, without doing a thing, the tracks had openness, definition, clarity and depth. I could hear everything. I tried some digital EQ and effects to see what would happen, but no matter how invasive the digital processing, the tracks stayed sweet.

That's when I knew I had something. The next step was to make the machine record perfectly. I wanted to confirm that our playback systems were delivering everything that was on the tape. Here was the acid test. A listening comparison between high resolution digital source material and record / playback from the A2DX machine revealed that nothing was lost. Absolutely everything that was in the source material was still there in playback. And, as if that wasn't good enough, it came back with a very subtle but lovely sonic signature. What more could you ask for, right?

One of our first clients, the late Ron Jefferson, a noted jazz musician and bandleader, brought a 20+ year-old analog multitrack master tapes of one if his early jazz ensembles for us to transfer. He told me, "Some of these wonderful musicians have left us. I believe this is the last recording Sonny Stitt ever made. When he heard his finished transfers, he raved, "It sounds wonderful! I love the clarity! It's like being back in the room with the musicians. I heard things on those tapes I've never heard before."

This is the kind of thing that keeps me going.

And so it went, format after format, machine restoration after machine restoration, and for every machine selected: testing, listening, fixing, listening, tweaking, listening, adjusting, listening, upgrading, listening, comparing, listening, listening, listening.

Innumerable man-hours later, we have a fleet of carefully selected hand-tuned machines and a transfer system that just has to be the best on the planet. We also have a passionately appreciative clientele of artists, songwriters, music content owners, music producers, recording engineers, mastering engineers, recording studio managers, artist foundations and record labels.

And, we're not finished. We're leaving no stone unturned in finding ways to improve Sonicraft A2DX lab and keep it the ultimate in transfer facilities.

Today, transfers are our business. You have our complete attention. We are 100% focused on being The Real Deal in tape restoration and transfer.

No one knows the future, but for now my hope is that people like you will bring us your tapes and rest knowing that you've gotten the absolute best transfers possible. And, if you're going to remix, remaster, or repurpose those tapes, I want you to have the exciting and amazing experience I had when I pulled my first A2DX transfer up and heard analog recording like never before.

You can contact Steve at: steve@sonicraft.com or call (732) 303-8559.

 

 
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