Sonicraft A2DX Lab: Ultimate Multitrack Analog to Digital Transfers
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Janice Brown is a prolific writer and reporter for Pro Sound News. Janice visited Sonicraft A2DX Lab and in a Sound Recording feature of the March 2007 issue entitled "Honing One's Sonicraft", she wrote:

" In an alternate universe, engineer Steve Puntolillo might be a super hero with a 'T' for Transfer on his cape, swooping down to what would be his underground lair, the Sonicraft A2DX Lab. Puntolillo is a man with a 'fanatical determination,' on an 'unrelenting quest' to deliver the best-possible analog-to-digital transfers off of any analog open-reel tape.

" Puntolillo has spent years collecting all the machines and components to be able to do this; he now has everything needed to play any tape format--encoded with any noise reduction system--and transfer at what he's established as the highest quality and level of transparency. In a way, he's ridding the world of unplayable tapes and imperfect transfers.

The fully restored vintage 1970 Ampex MM1000 and the same macine in pieces (at left)

" Puntolillo has been at it since 2001, inspired by a client who needed 1" 8-track tapes (with dbx noise reduction) transferred for a 5.1 remix, a job no available transfer house could do. He set up Sonicraft as the Îultimate' transfer house in a world where transfers are a side-business, an extra service a 'full-service' studio can provide simply because they own some old machines.

" Sonicraft not only owns and maintains all these old machines, Puntolillo has also painstakingly modified several makes and models, scrutinizing the entire signal path an analog recording travels when being digitized at this facility. And this is what he calls Îthe simplicity' of his work. 'Part of the beauty of this is in its simplicity--we just look at every little thing between tape and computer and make sure it's all as perfect as can be,' Puntolillo shares.

" Puntolillo divulges Sonicraft's inventory on its encyclopedic website, describing the breadth of what he's taken on here with 'what, why and hows' and photo evidence of it all. Some of these are totally arcane technologies, but on the off chance that someone needs a transfer off a rare format, recorded in Europe and encoded with some rare noise reduction system, Sonicraft has the goods.

" Conceptually, Sonicraft does on a large scale what is very much expected on a smaller scale. 'A mastering engineer has a great two-track machine to do his mastering from, and he tweaks it to death to be sure he's doing the best job,' Puntolillo notes. 'How come no one has done that for a 24-track machine? The answer's obvious--because it's a ponderous job. But, we did it.'

" Puntolillo is referring to the first Ampex MM1200 24-track machine he fully restored, carefully inspecting each and every component and where he could make improvements, did. ÎI used Flux Magnetics extended playback mastering heads, audiophile line amps, found better lower-noise transistors, and entirely recapped these machines including comparing capacitors in critical locations in the signal path.' he explains. 'For instance, the output coupling capacitor in our modified MM1200s is the last component the audio sees before the analog to digital converters, and I hand-selected them. Testing and perfecting on this level may seem like audiophile lunacy, but really, the sonic difference one set of coupling caps made over another was not a nuance. Any pro audio engineer would have changed these if they'd heard the A/B because there's no kind of outboard gear or plugin that could recover the vibrancy in the sound in the same way.

" Actually, Sonicraft has now restored and modified three MM1200s, and an MM1000 Puntolillo calls the Godzilla of multitracks. 'It did up to 2' 16-track, sounded incredible and launched the heyday of multitrack recording,' he says of the machine. Some other modified and optimized machines at Sonicraft are the Ampex MR-70 1/2' 3-track and 1' 4-Track vacuum tube recorders, the Îmighty A2DX Scully 284 1' 12-track,' Ampex 440Cs fully rebuilt with Flux heads, RTZ record and repro amps, fixed precision guides and constant tension mods, ATR-rebuilt Ampex ATR100, Studer A80 RC and a full range of semi-pro/project studio formats. A-to-D conversion takes place over 24 tracks of Mytek 96/24 converters that have been factory-modified with precision calibrated 2 db-stepped attenuators.

" Whether it's sought or not, the comprehensive inventory gets a response, though at the end of the day, it's the rare customer who knows about output coupling capacitors and all the hidden circuitry. 'Most people see our website, look at all the machines, tape formats and noise reduction systems and they think 'this guy is nuts, but he can surely play my tapes,' and they send me their stuff,' Puntolillo laughs. 'But there is a middle ground that's more discerning and a handful that do actually want to dig in, and ask me about the line amps, the converters.'

" Though Puntolillo may seem like a guru curator in an audio museum, his work and Sonicraft as a facility are incredibly useful to a real cross-section of the industry. Major and independent record labels, artists that own the rights to their catalogs, producers and recording and mastering engineers, studio managers and artist foundations are the main Sonicraft clients. Puntolillo tries to steer clear of retail work (i.e. recordings of grandpa on tapes left sitting in the attic), sticking to studio recordings, and says most of the transfers he does go on to be used for remixes and re-releases.

" A lot of my clients are recording studios, which I love supporting because it's such a win-win situation,' says Puntolillo. A client walks in and has some tapes, but the studio doesn't have the right tape machines. I'm perfect for that situation. Not only can the studio now accept the work, but if you're going to mix something, why not start out with the very best material. It can be very significant, the quality of the transfer you'll get here versus somewhere else.'

" Puntolillo deals equally with the single-tape client and the client sitting on an entire library, though he admits when he started sourcing Sonicraft equipment and strategizing the business in '01, hi-res and surround re-releases were a promising business prospect. ÎI was hoping that the 'remixing for surround' trend would take off because that would have made Sonicraft a really hot commodity,' Puntolillo shares. ÎBut I also knew that there was a really good chance it wouldn't, for a number of reasons. And so when I started, I was prepared for that to not happen.'

" Puntolillo has business and technical savvy; he's become a guru of conversion and the Îultimate' transfer house is ultimately very employable. 'I let my business tell me what it is,' he maintains. 'Right now, there are a few people doing multitrack transfers, but there are million of tapes sitting on shelves, hidden in the mountains, to the point where if I was the only one, I'd be in trouble.'"

 

 
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