Tape Talk: UltraAnalogue Recordings

UltraAnalogue Recordings was formed to record chamber music, in a natural acoustic, with custom tube electronics and analog tape – to allow you to experience the ultimate in recorded sound. Hearing analogue tape will completely change your concept of Hi-Fi sound. The master tape duplicates you receive, all 15-ips 2-track, will be as close as possible to the master tape and when played in a fine system, will bring you closer to the live musical event and allow you to experience the raw emotion in the music. http://ultraanaloguerecordings.com/wpsite/home/
This is how Dr. Edward Pong introduce you to his Hi Fi recordings realm, and let me tell you: he’s very passionate about it!
1/4″, 1/2 Track Format @ 15 ips sampler
When I started in this Hi End magazine as a contributor, I asked Matej if I could write a column about analog tape and tape decks since this has been my specialty for many years. When my late father gave me my first open reel deck back in 1978, it was the beginning of a long and happy association with tape that has endured over 35 years. It was a SONY TC-560D. Since then, I have graduated into bigger formats like 1/2″ Masters running @ 30ips and 2″ recording tape as well in recording studios from all around the world. As a Mastering Engineer with over 1,000 projects under my belt, I had the opportunity to work with 1/2″ tape masters from all the biggest commercial labels during the 90’s: SONY, BMG, Polygram, Universal, MCA, Fania, you named it! The best Latino recording engineers from PR, USA and South America were my everyday bread. Working with these gentlemen was a privilege and a real life education that I’ll never forget. Some of them jumped into a plane in Colombia, Miami or New York after finishing their mixes, arriving in Puerto Rico hours later for me to take care of their projects while they sleep on the carpet. They already knew the quality of my work and the bond we formed along the years were enough as for they to trust their works on my ears. That was the biggest satisfaction in my career, as well as the good money, of course!
From the almost 20 tape companies specializing in the “master copies” niche, now “en vogue”, Ed Pong was the second one to answer my petition (first one were STS) and without hesitation he went to make a fresh sampler of his label, UltraAnalogue Recordings, for me. He said: “I only make 2 tapes at a time,so, give me a chance”. Talking with this guy is a real nice experience. His enthusiasm about analog sound, tube equipment, vintage mics and recording is contagious! He talks about his Studer A-80 machines as part of his family and even send me a photo of his tech, Roger, aligning one of his gems. Tony Ma is the genius behind Ed’s tube gear.
His recording studio is right in his living room and he records straight from his Royer vacuum tube microphones to his tubed pre-amp and then to one of his A-80’s. Nothing could be more pure than that since he doesn’t use any console or sound processors while recording his projects. Now you can realize why he call his label “ultra analog” and it’s because it is simply that! Up in Canada, Ed bring his talents to his home and do the recording sessions with this simple, but effective analog chain. I have been told that he also held live presentations by his pool at home. I’ll try to get invited to one of those as it could be a good excuse to write another article…perhaps the magazine’s owner could invest into this…Ha!
Western Electric pre-amp and other analog gear connected to the A-80
The Sampler:
Two weeks after asking Ed to mail one of his samplers, the tape arrived at our facilities and without hesitation I opened the expected box. Inside, I found the white box with the 10.5″ aluminum reel inside, a CD and instructions giving you the specs of the tape on hand.
The enclosed instructions specify that the tape comes on “tails” position, needing rewind and also advise you of the 1 KHz tone behind the leader in order for you to calibrate the output of your deck to O VU if your machine has that feature (pro’ decks has it). If your machine does not provide for this, Ed can supply you with a tape recorded to NAB standards. Remember that this tape is calibrated to 396 nWb/m instead of the common 250 nWb/m, meaning that your meters would be pegging all tape long and distorting on “hot” passages. Be sure to specify how do you want it before ordering.
We thread our tape on my Crown SX-822, perfectly restored by the very well known Crown’s guru, Chuck Ziska, and rewound the tape to the “heads” position. The machine has been warming up for about an hour before the session started.  Please, be aware of the tone and be careful with your system volume. You can easily blow a driver if the volume is too high (it happened to me back in 1985 when I blew a pair of IMF Professional Monitors midranges with the cal tone of a Revox B-225 CD Player!, SHIT!).
Crown SX-822 winding the tape. Yeeepeee!
Minutes later we dim the lights and the show began. The sound filled the air with the strings and piano of chamber music as if they were playing in front of me! The presence and imaging of the performance were just excellent. My wife Carolyn asked me to try to match a live performance volume just to appreciate the sound’s nature better. My Tannoys DMT 15 System II came alive with the effortless music emanating from the Crown 15ips master copy of the UltraAnalogue sampler. I use these monitors for critical  listening because these are the ones I used to make all those many Masterings years ago. I won a Grammy with this pair, so, it’s my preferred choice. They are just very honest, natural and free of reflections thanks to my big room and professional acoustics. Even at those fortissimo passages, my Crown Studio Reference amp with its 760 watts per channel didn’t even blink while handling the strong demand of this excellent performance.
Yes! The performance. What can I say? These young and talented musicians are not playing games. They are deeply as serious as the recording from Ed Pong is. They are very articulated, with excellent tempo and technique. For those of you who loves chamber classical music and regularly attends this kind of concertos, would be just fascinated with what you are going to hear. This is a “chamber’s banquet”! I have to congratulate Ed and his visionary mission. What he’s doing with his label, which started from zero years ago, has become a favorite among the new tape reelers!  Besides, at the price he sell the tapes, we can qualify it as one of the best values out there.

Other Details

When compared with the flashy Open Reel Records fancy box and glossy graphics, Ed’s tape looks strictly “commercial”. Similar to the masters you receive from a recording studio to make a Mastering or duplication. Nothing feisty here, except for the high class music and quality of the tape (RTM 900). This tape is the correct one since Ed records 4db+ over the NAB “0” and needs a tape that could take it all. There’s no bells and whistles. Your money is well invested just on the “core” and Ed aware me of this. For a person like myself who doesn’t belief in paying more for the reel than for the tape itself, this is just right. I don’t see how they make money for the amount they charge (I believe $250.00).
The CD Test:
Incidentally, Ed Pong included a CD with music from 2 of the main performers in the sampler: Yun-Yang Lee (piano) and Sietse-Jan Weijenberg. 
Well, since I’m an avid recordist, I couldn’t resist to commit the sacrilege of recording a piece of the CD to my Crown SX-822 @ 15 ips on a virgin ATR tape. I said: “Well, let’s see what the hell is going on here”. I took the outputs of the CDP directly to my Crown…and hit record/play. Mmmmmmm, close but not the same, as the CD itself does not compare with the tape’s sound. No way José. I even found that the CD has more hiss than the tape itself. The hell with it! If you have a good tape deck don’t loose time with the CD. Go straight to the tape (am I sounding a little bit biased for the tape?) Wonder why! Ha,ha,ha!


As I explained on another review, these tapes are not for everyone. Not cheap and requires a good playback system to appreciate the investment as it should be. I can buy a case of Capture 930 tape with that and record over 250 tracks…but unless I have access to one of Ed’s masters, it would never sound as good,so, why bother?
The package is not fancy, neither the aluminum reels. You wouldn’t receive a glossy plastic box either or a free ticket to the next Ed Pong’s concerts by the pool. What you are going to receive are years of cumulative experience recording excellent performances using a minimalist technique that will transport you to a “live concert” at home. Of course, it is not a live presentation and it has its limitations, but; what is perfect in this hobby? I did found the sound a little darker than the tracks from Open Reel Records tape and this could be due to the system used or perhaps the tape formula itself. That’s not better or worse, just different and completely superior to any heavily processed new recording around.
If you have the dinero, by all means, go ahead and try one yourself. The good thing about quality products is that you don’t need to mortgage your home and invest on a $100k+ system in order to appreciate it. With a reasonable and decent audio system any of these tapes would make it sing. You’ll be surprised how a good reel to reel deck with a nice recording can squashed even a vinyl’s. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen.
Long Live Analog!
Carlitos Guzmán- Mono & Stereo High End Magazine Senior Contributing Writer

Producer Comments:

Dear Carlos:
Wow – I’m speechless! Your words are so eloquent! You really said it all …. My focus is to record the most engaging performances with the best sound I can get, from the most enduring music of all time for the audiophile to enjoy. It’s really about the music. In fact I only record the music I love ….

Actually, I make just 1 copy at a time…. Because the recording amp for the Studer is based on the Bendex Red Bank Gold Pin 6900 tube. (Very rare, very expensive, but wonderful sound character) I just bought 2 pairs of vintage Western Electric 300b, the 1956 pair I’m going to try in the microphone pre-amp… I hope to do my next recording session with Japanese virtuoso, Tatsuki Narita in November, with them, if the sound is better…. I actually record in an indoor pool ( water covered) that is 40 x 50 , lined with cedar and high ceilings… The acoustics have a nice natural reverb…I’ve had other engineers recording here… Solo cello…

I’m not really sure I have anything to add, except ” thank you for listening & appreciation my efforts & music….”

My Thank you for writing such a wonderful review!

Ed – UltraAnalogue Recordings