Written by our Staff Editor
Part 1 of this article can be read here
The sound engineer, whether amateur or professional, is always limited by the resources at hand – both software and often hardware. Compounded with the limitations of the original source material, often scratchy 78s, transcription discs or worse, the transferrer of 78s can spend hours, if not days at “repairing” or restoring old forgotten 78s.
For example, Damian Rogan, who runs the website, damians78s.co.uk, reports that time spent restoring a 78 can depend on multiple factors.
“…it very much depends on the age of the recording and the condition of the record, which may often be closely linked.” He goes on to add, “Some 78s may be in excellent condition (especially if they’re fairly late 78s) and respond very easily to restoration: fairly decent transfers can be made in a couple of hours. Very old records tend to have many clicks to be removed, and can have other issues to be dealt with. There are times when just de-clicking one side of a 12″ record can take two hours or more – especially if the record is fractured or gouged. There are some that I’ve had to play multiple times in order to catch all the damaged grooves so I can then stitch the side together properly. After that, all the other parts of the process increase the overall time. Sometimes it can take a considerable amount of time to hunt down another recording or a score of a work in order to find out what key it’s likely to be in, and therefore what speed adjustments need to be carried out. This is a particular issue with English Columbia’s around the 1926-28, where speeds could vary across a side.”
While restoring 78s can be time-consuming, another restorer – Bill Anderson; a member of the 78rpm Collectors’ Community; suggests anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes per record side of restoration as a guide. When you consider that some 78rpm sets cover six or eight sides, the total time spent transferring and restoring a recording can be very time-consuming, but the rewards can be very encouraging.
For many, transferring a long-forgotten 78rpm may in fact be its first “airing” since it was pressed over 50 or more years ago. With record companies reluctant to transfer, restore and reissue their vast 78 rpm holdings; due to many factors, including a perceived limited buying cliental, damaged holdings, changes in music tastes over the past few years and the limited machinery available to play many of these recordings in the first place – it’s any wonder that the process has often been left to amateurs, hobbyists and small labels, like Pristine Audio, to delve into the vast, forgotten music opus of 78rpm recordings.
For many, however, it affords a chance to start new businesses; coupled with the internet’s ability to offer downloadable recordings and streaming; as well as re-introduce to a new, and younger audience a vast array of interesting, forgotten musical heritage.
The ‘Human’ Touch:
In many cases, the restorer must work within the limitations of the original recording which can lie as far back in the recording process as the original recording process itself. Early recordings were primitively recorded and used inconsistent standards. Early cutter heads were highly inefficient.  Variations in speed, pitch, groove widths and record composition makes the task of transferring a record, more or less, a case of detective work.
Essentially, it comes down to what sounds “right” to the ear, how much of the recording should be removed with filters and how much should be added.
As one restorer suggests, “…you have the broad-spectrum surface noise from the playback process. This is the one very tricky area where an engineer can ruin a recording if he does it wrong. The problem is that since the noise is broad spectrum, an engineer can slice off ambient noise from the program material as well as the noise.”
Of course, this can also work in reverse, as it’s quite common for restorers to unintentionally add additional information to the digital signal. But in all cases, there comes a point at which a sound engineer must decide how much “tampering” is required and then stop.
Damian Rogan adds:
“In terms of equalisation, I’m very much an interventionist. Recordings can be made to sound much more natural with equalisation that goes beyond the basic turnover and rolloff. In particular this has a huge impact on acoustic recordings (where traditionally no equalisation is applied). However, this can result in increased noise particularly at higher frequencies. As I’m happy to listen past the noise, I prefer to get a more natural instrumental sound with more noise. It very much comes down to sounding right – as you make fine equalisation adjustments, you suddenly find the recorded sound becomes more natural.”
For other restorers,
“restoration relies on one’s intuition, but it should be done with awareness of the recording company, the vintage of the discs, and the equalisation settings the companies used. In some cases you may know what the recording should sound like due personal knowledge of the venue. Otherwise, written descriptions by engineers, producers, performers, or record critics can be very useful. Finally, discussing the restoration processes with experienced record collectors will give you additional guidance and insights.”
So, does it really come down to personal preferences?
The CHARM website , which features a lengthy article on transferring and restoring 78s offers this interesting observation:
“As to the ethics of [interventualizing], it will be up to you to decide, but there are times when doing nothing about it ruins the performance. What would the original performers have wanted you to do? It is a dilemma, and whatever any one tells you, there is no right or wrong answer. It is right for the listener who wants it that way, and wrong for the one who does not. One can argue that it is being more faithful to the composer’s intentions.”
CONTRIBUTORS:Many thanks to the following contributors to this article:
- Damian Rogan
- Bill Anderson