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By Royal (vinyl) appointment

In this week's report, PSNE talks to Barry Grint about mastering the official recording of the recent Royal Wedding.

It was a beautiful sunny day, Monday 2nd May. A fitting – and, for the UK, unusually warm – end to the May Day weekend. But not for Barry Grint (pictured) and Jack Adams. The two mastering engineers spent the entire public holiday away from the sunlight in the Alchemy basement studio, mastering the official recordings of the Royal Wedding of William and Catherine, which took place three days before. But not for CD, no: this was the mastering for vinyl and cassette formats. With record label Decca planning to make them available to the public through mail order, time was of the essence for the two experienced engineers, their SADiE 5 system and their Neumann VMS80 vinyl cutting lathe. PSNE caught up with Grint in the last stages of the process. So how has it gone today? Barry Grint (BG): The downloads were put up on [Decca] Alchemy’s ftp site within four hours of the ceremony finishing. Mike Hatch and the Floating Earth mobile made the official recording at the Abbey. So today we’re downloading 16-bit 44.1kHz WAV files, then it’s a case of pieceing them together in the right order with the side breaks – ABCD for a double album, about 70 minutes altogether.
 What’s different about these formats in comparison with CD? With vinyl you’ve got background the disc surface noise, and with cassette you’ve got tape hiss. So where for the CD you can have a large dynamic range, for vinyl you have to reduce that a little, just to make sure that everything is coming through clearly, particularly where the couple are saying the vows, because they weren’t close miked. If you are buying cassette or vinyl, you’ll want to hear the vows, so there’s a level of adjusting to do in comparison to what was required for the digital download and CD. 
 Have you had to alter anything to make it fit in the constraints of ‘20-minutes-a-side’ vinyl? Not in terms of the running time; the lengths of the sides are absolutely fine. It’s more of a case of accommodating that noise floor. So we’ve had to lift little bits [of speech] during the marriage responses. On Side D, it finishes with the Widor Toccata [played in the Abbey but omitted from the broadcast as the cameras were following the procession] which then leads to the peal of bells. That’s closest to the centre of the record so there is more chance of it being distorted. Thus we’ve had to be careful with the level the bells are being mastered at. [Note: This is to try to avoid the effect called ‘inner groove distortion’: on playback, a stylus travels over less vinyl nearer the centre of a record so the quality drops off and distortion increases, especially with high levels and high frequencies. Also, the stylus is sitting square in the groove, but is slightly twisted. This causes an effect similar to an azimuth error leading to a loss of high frequencies.] As a project, other than the levels issue, has there been anything else of concern? It is, to all intents and purposes, a classical record – so you have to treat it with some respect – you can’t just stuff a limiter on the end to hold it all together. What we used to do would be ride the fader through the recordings, take notes of where the quieter passages are, where the loud ones are, so you can get a good average level, and so you don’t have to do anything that would be obvious to the listener, like a sudden level change. And in a digital way we’ve done exactly that, in that we’ve gone through and changed levels within pieces. Something like Parry’s Blessed Pair Of Sirens the finish has a really big crescendo, so we needed to pull that back, just creep it down, otherwise we’d have had to pull the whole track down from the beginning. What about EQing or other fixes? Not much: we’ve used a touch of SADiE EQ, a bit of ‘air’ in the top end. And that’s been about it. You’re mastering it for cassette too. How is that? We’re running that to a CD master, but also uploading files to the ftp server, so Decca can take whichever version they prefer. The last time we mastered for cassette was about 20 years ago!