Exclusive Interview With Bob Ludwig
Interview conducted via e-mail on May 11, 2004
This interview is ã 2004 Allan Hirt
and cannot be copied, altered, or reproduced without my permission.
For those of you who enjoy listening to Styx, it is the result of many
people, not the least of which is the mastering engineer. This is the
final person in the chain, and can help or hurt what is on tape. One
of the best (and well-known) in the business is Bob Ludwig, who is
the founder and president of of Gateway
Mastering & DVD in scenic Portland, Maine. To see some of Gateway
and Bob's accomplishments and awards, click
here. Bob has worked with some of the biggest recording artists
in the world, and the list reads like a who's
Bob has mastered a few Styx releases, including the recent Come
Sail Away: The Styx Anthology. Bob was gracious enough to take
time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions
Allan Hirt: You
have mastered many A&M releases for Styx. In the past Dennis
DeYoung was involved in the mastering process to some
degree. For this release, was the band or Dennis involved?
How are they to work with?
Ludwig: Oh yes they are always involved, which I think is great. Most
I am involved
in re-issues they artist is involved, but sometimes
they aren’t and that isn’t right if they are still interested.
you work on autopilot since you've worked with the Styx material
or do you treat it as a new project each time?
Believe me with me there is no such thing as “autopilot”.
Every time it is a new challenge. For instance, even though I have
worked on some of these tapes before, this past summer I completely
remodeled my room with the latest Transparent Audio MM Opus cable
a big difference to me. In addition, I installed the Western
Hemisphere’s first 124 volt DC rail 8 channel analog console
from Sound Performance Laboratories in Germany. So while I had an excellent
signal path before, now I believe it is un-rivaled by anyone in the
the Anthology, it was the first time you had worked
with the RCA/Wooden Nickel era material. What were you sent
to master from (i.e. ¼” 15ips stereo master for individual
tracks, 1" stereo album master tapes)? By the quality on the
release, it sounds like the tapes are in good condition. Is
that the case, or did you need to do a lot of work to them?
Yes those tapes were in good shape, as is fortunately almost the whole
We were sent the original ¼” 15ips masters
of all the albums. The masters ARE the album takes. Side A is all compiled
together, same with Side B. All the singles were derived from those
takes I believe. 1” stereo masters did not exist until a few
years ago, ½” didn’t come into general use until
AH: Since you've done many different Styx releases at this point,
do you use the master tapes every time, or do you have them stored
somewhere on a hard drive for future use and processing?
use the original master tapes every time. As I said, I constantly
my studio to the finest components available. If I used digitized
transfers of the songs from several years ago they would not enjoy
the added dimension of the new cables and console. If we are doing
something like a box set and individual album releases, of course then
we use the identical mastered sound file for both the box set and the
In your mastering process, did you transfer the Styx tapes
at a higher bitrate (192/24 or 96/24) and then dither down to
44/16? Did you do it all in PCM? And if you did transfer at a
higher bitrate, did you do it in mind for future SACD or DVD-
Yes and no. Our Pacific Microsonic always records everything at 176.4
(4 x 441000
Hz) and decimates it to 44.1kHz. If there were plans
for a SACD or DVD-A release it might have made economic sense, but
these days record companies are only interested in doing these high
resolution releases if there are 5.1 surround mixes involves and there
aren’t any of those for Styx.
The work you do, at least the Styx releases I have heard, do not seem
to exhibit the hallmark of many "modern" mastering
jobs (i.e. maximized, very small dynamic ranges, excessive noise
reduction). How have you been able to escape
the trappings of this trend? Or do you feel the pressure?
constantly fighting to maintain dynamic range which is always completely
lost at the expense of high level. This is actually quite
stupid beyond belief as all it takes to make something loud AND dynamic
is to slightly turn up the playback knob of your CD player! Radio stations
are all in competition with each other so there is never any problem
having something sound “loud” on the radio. Fortunately
the band wish to maintain their signature sound that best represents
their art. Squeezing it to death does harm to that esthetic so they
are happy to have the records be adequately loud but very dynamic.
Bravo to them!
How has your approach to mastering changed over the years?
Do you find that the amount of technology today has made your
job harder or easier? And do you feel that the quality of
lower cost mastering tools has helped or hurt the industry by
allowing Joe Musician to master his own album?
My approach has always been to have the finest monitoring system, the
room and the best gear. So my approach has been
to constantly upgrade, almost at any cost, to have the very best. This
is why I started my own studio. When I worked for Masterdisk and Sterling
Sound there were other engineers there. If I wanted something, the
other engineers would want it too and often it would be too costly
to buy something for 5 or 6 engineers at once. I don’t have that
issue anymore. We are still very analog oriented (as well as having
a killer amount of state-of-the-art digital gear. We were the first
mastering studio to do a high resolution digital project using alpha
software and hardware on Sonic Solutions and we were the first in America
to own the dCS 96kHz and then 192kHz converters when they were first
invented. Some of the technology allows me to do more of what I think
the final result should be. Some things like digital domain “look-ahead” compressors
have been a curse as those are the devices that crush the life out
of some music when over-used.
cost mastering tools simply aren’t used by professionals
as there isn’t enougn digital signal processing in them to sound
any good. Mastering is extremely difficult and requires a dedicated
acoustically near-perfect room with excellent monitors. Hardly any “Joe
Musician” has that. They can approximate something, but seldom
does it sound very good. This is especially true when they try to make
things sound loud, yet dynamic…very difficult to do with cheap
tools. A professional mastering job is more crucial than ever now that
musicians don’t use real studios as much. For the past 10 years
the average quality of the mixes coming to us is getting worse not
better due to so much basement and garage recording. A good mastering
job can make a poor recording at least sound “normal”!
equipment did you use in the mastering of the Anthology?
reproduced the tapes on my Ampex machines with the fabulous “Aria” discrete
Class-A electronics designed by Dave Hill that was used on the Rolling
Stones re-issues and many of my analog projects. As I said, the console
was my SPL 124 volt DC rail class-A console. I don’t want to
give away too many secrets!
For the last few Styx songs on the Anthology (from Return
to Paradise and Cyclorama), did you use the existing
mastering, or were you supplied the tapes for mastering? To
my ears, the mastering sounds different especially on "One
very newest song was mastered in Chicago and I was requested to use the
already approved version of that.
AH: This Styx Anthology has been a long time in the making,
dating back to 1998 or 1999. Have you worked on interim
versions that were rumored to have been more than 2 CDs?
Bill Levinson at Universal probably has been dealing with that!
primary job, or possibly love, is doing new projects
vs. back catalog releases such as the Anthology. Do you have
a preference to projects, and how much latitude do you have
in accepting work vs. turning it down or giving it to your
colleagues at Gateway when the customer is specifically asking to have
you do the job?
Ayan, my protégée at Gateway Mastering & DVD,
got so good at mastering we had to build him his own room! Adam has
plenty of his own clients so if someone asks for me and it works in
the schedule, they get me! I love doing a wide range of projects. Fortunately
for me I get to work on a lot of truly fabulous music. I am one of
those engineers that has reached “critical mass”. If I
turn on a radio, almost any time of day, and spin from one end of the
dial to another I will almost always hear something I have worked on
at some time, often 2 or 3 songs! If I go into a mall for ½ and
hour I will always hear something I’ve done on their PA system.
It’s great! So I love doing all the first-line projects I do.
It is much more difficult to make the first statement of how a recording
will sound. With back catalog there is already a history of how it
is “supposed” to sound and the artist either wants to to
be in that neighborhood, or they wish to entirely re-work it…it
is up to them…it is their music afterall.
Allan and StyxCollector would once again like to thank Bob
Ludwig for making this e-mail interview possible.