Direct-to-Master Session with Naxatras May 13 by J. I. Agnew in Producer's Notes

Naxatras II

Just a year after the release of their internationally successful debut album, Naxatras are releasing their second LP, simply titled “Naxatras II”. In between, their creative efforts brought us an EP with a memorable cover featuring a psychedelic painting of a horse. The trademark face mask from the debut’s cover has returned on the second album in the form of a sparkling astronomic design.

How it started

DSC02006John Vagenas, John Delias and Kostas Harizanis arrived at Magnetic Fidelity for the first time in November 2015, modestly asking to record a few songs on tape as a demo, just to be able to hear what they sound like as a band. Less than half a song into the session, the “talent” alarm was ringing and it was certain that this is not yet another ordinary band. I tried my best to convince them that this would not be a mere demo recording and while not fully convinced at the time, they flawlessly performed their eight songs all within a single day!
The recording day had been preceded by two days of setting up the equipment and adjusting the sound, in a provisional studio set up in the building grounds of what is now the Disk Cutting Laboratory of Magnetic Fidelity. The mastering room had not been built yet. The band chose to use cassette tape as a recording medium, to keep costs within their student budget. They were 21 years old.

So, a year, a tour, a top 40 album and far over one million ecstatic listeners later, they arrived once again at Magnetic Fidelity, this time armed with confidence, better equipment and a guest star, the experienced jazz saxophonist Alex Vagenas!

Recording

On December 17, 2015, Naxatras were once again set up their equipment in a studio which by this time resembled a real studio rather than a construction site. Apart from their own recently upgraded equipment, they were also able to use a variety of newly acquired recording equipment at Magnetic Fidelity: Vacuum tube instrument amplifiers, recorded through vacuum tube recording equipment, utilising 1/4″ tape as the medium of choice.
We took 5 days and gallons of herbal tea to set everything up and the usual single day for a performance equally as flawless and far more confident that their recording debut of the previous year. It was evident from the onset that this time the process of making the album was fully intentional.

Technical Approach

Minimalist approaches were chosen for the recording setup, with the band members all playing in the same room at the same time, with just the saxophone player performing in a separate room to take advantage of the plate reverb setup, gently decorating the sound of Alex Vagenas’s tenor saxophone.
DSC02076The drums were captured using three microphones, two large diaphragm condenser microphones, picking up most of the sound and a large capsule dynamic microphone augmenting the low frequencies and punch of the bass drum. The bass was recorded through a 15″ moving coil transducer intended to pick up the extreme low end spectrum on one of the two bass amplifiers used, while the other one had a vintage dynamic microphone capture the rest of the tone.
Two rather unusual dynamic microphones were placed on the two loudspeakers of the guitar amplifier in a stereo configuration, while all the effects on the instruments were applied and controlled by the performers in real time.

The vocals, also sung in real time, were routed to another vacuum tube guitar amplifier to achieve the desired effect.
The tenor saxophone, being isolated in a separate room, was simply recorded through an omnidirectional large diaphragm condenser microphone placed at a distance, to collect the reflected sound in the room along with the sound of an acoustic plate reverb unit, hung from the ceiling.
Being in a playful mood, the band also brought an analog synthesizer over, with CB/Gate connectivity. This was promptly hooked up to the big analog modular synthesizer (a permanent resident of Magnetic Fidelity) and space exploration ensued. Complementing the space theme of the album, an intro (Oort Cloud) and outro (Evening Star) were devised making heavy use of synthetic sounds. At the closing of the outro, tape delay with heavy feedback was added in real time from the mastering room.

IMG_7966Most of the microphone signals were routed to microphone preamplifiers with no additional signal processing, and subsequently fed into a vacuum tube summing mixer. The stereophonic output signal went to a vacuum tube equaliser and a vacuum tube compressor before reaching the stereophonic tape machine. Tape levels were set unusually hot, to take advantage of the particularities of tape saturation. The electronics of the Telefunken M15A used for this task
have been modified to allow exceptional levels of tape saturation to be achieved, long before the electronics reach anywhere near their limits. As a positive side effect, that greatly improves the signal to noise ratio without any need for noise reduction circuitry.

After recording

naxatras II cover

Once the tape was recorded there was no further signal processing. A couple of razor blade edits later, intended to precisely adjust the space between the songs, the tape was reproduced and the audio signal converted to digital for the DSD and PCM releases, in separate passes for each.
The tape would then be reproduced once again, with the signal this time being routed to the custom disk cutting electronics, providing the high current drive signal for the cutterhead which cuts grooves into the lacquer master disk. The disk cutting process is done directly from the master tape, entirely in the analog domain. The master lacquer disks are then plated, thereby creating the metal stampers from which the vinyl records will be pressed.

The entire process of producing an album was made under one roof in the presence and under the direct control of the artists. As a closing note, it must be pointed out that Naxatras are an independent band, not signed to a record label, who fund and produce their own recordings and release them on their own.
The dedication to their art from an early age is evident through their productivity and creative efforts, three specimens of which are already in circulation within the space of 12 months and do their magic to listeners the world over.

 

Project Summary

Naxatras is a hard psychedelic rock band from Greece.
100% Analog Direct-to-Master Recording on ATR Magnetics 1/4″ Tape at Magnetic Fidelity, using mostly vacuum tube equipment. Engineered by J. I. Agnew. Disk Mastering/Cutting at Magnetic Fidelity by J. I. Agnew on a 100% analog signal path directly from the 1/4″ Master Tapes. CD authoring by Sabine Steldinger on a GNU/Linux audio workstation.

The conversion to DSD was done with high quality equipment directly from the analog mastertapes. No signal processing was done in the digital domain. The DSD version is a direct transfer of the master tape done as the final step, with every effort taken to ensure that it sounds as close as technically possible to the original analog recording.

Artists:
John Delias – Guitar
John Vagenas – Bass and Vocals
Kostas Harizanis – Drums
Alex Vagenas – Tambourine on “Sisters Of The Sun” and Saxophone on “Evening Star”

Naxatras Facebook Page

Tech Specs Naxatras

Original Recording Format: 1/4″ ATR Magnetics Magnetic Tape
Original Recording Tape Machine: Telefunken M15A
Recording Engineer: J. I. Agnew
Recording Location: Magnetic Fidelity, Greece
Mixing Board: Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard II
Producer: Naxatras and J.I. Agnew

Mastering Format: 1/4″ Analog Tape, 15 ips, half-track stereo, CCIR eq
Mastering Tape Machine: Custom Telefunken M15A with Studer Butterfly Heads
Digital Transfer: Direct transfer to DSD from the analog master tapes with no further processing or editing
Transfer Sampling Frequencies: 5.6 MHz
Digital Converter: Burr-Brown
Mastering Engineer: J. I. Agnew
Mastering Room: Magnetic Fidelity
Monitoring System: Magnetovolt Extended Range Modular Monitoring System based on KEF Reference Series Drivers

J. I. Agnew (Originally written on 27/04/2016)

J. I. Agnew

J. I. Agnew is an Analog Mastering/Disk Cutting Engineer at Magnetic Fidelity. He also works as an Analog Audio Electronics Designer at Magnetovolt. He studied Audio Engineering and Music Technology, received an MA in Sonic Arts and Media Production, and went onto PhD-level research in Analog Synthesis Systems.
Jesus spent a decade as an internationally touring musician and also taught various Audio Engineering Subjects in academic environments and conferences. He has extensive work experience in recording, mastering and media production facilities and is a member of the Audio Engineering Society.

5 responses to “Direct-to-Master Session with Naxatras”

  1. Philip Adderley says:

    sounds so cool to keep it all in the analogue domain till DSD xfer J.I. Agnew; and also to use the Thermionic Culture stuff, which i have a high regard for – can’t wait to hear the results; is there going to be an analogue only version to vinyl (please)?

    • Jesus I. Agnew says:

      Thanks, Phillip! The plan is to soon offer fully analog vinyl records, cassette tape and 1/4″ reel-to-reel tape. I will personally be cutting the master disks and duplicating the tapes directly from the 1/4″ master tape and I will be keeping it entirely in the analog domain. The Fat Bustard sounds as fat as the name implies…

      • Philip Adderley says:

        thanks for the reply jesus; great well i’m defo interested in the vinyl and the reel-to-reel; i’ve got a nice mk iv revox a77 1/2, 15/7.5 set up for IEC; so the reel-to-reel sounds good 🙂 i notice you’re in leighton buzzard, i used to live in cranfield – nick beggs is still in LB i believe? i looked at the equipment list for Magnetic Fidelity too; cool list; notice you got FB II and the green… which one was these sessions used to sum? or did you mix-and-max? started following you guys on twitter too – take care

        • Jesus I. Agnew says:

          It is the Custom Green Fat Bastard that you can hear in this recording. We had the standard FB II a while back and then upgraded to the Custom Green one, with some of our modifications, NOS tubes, external power supply and so on… It is used as the main mixer/summing buss. Magnetic Fidelity being predominantly a mastering studio, we do not use a traditional format mixing console for our Direct-to-Master recordings. Just separate mic preamps going to the summing mixer with the shortest possible signal path to the tape machine. Your A77 will be happily singing soon when we have the tape version ready!

          • Philip Adderley says:

            n1; keep me in the loop on twitter when you get the vinyl and reel to reel – 15ips IEC 1/2 from 1st gen will sound sweet on the A77!!!