Grace Design Newsletter - May 2004
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<<User's Spotlight >>

Bob Ludwig-
Gateway Mastering and DVD
Bob Ludwig working his magic

Mastering engineer extraordinaire Bob Ludwig opened the doors at Gateway Mastering and DVD almost 10 years ago. While already one of the top players in a very elite field, opening Gateway galvanized Mr. Ludwig’s stature as the world’s first call mastering engineer. A perennial award winner and owner of two very golden ears, Bob Ludwig’s name has become synonymous with impeccably mastered records in every imaginable musical genre.

Gateway Mastering has also become a powerhouse for multi-channel audio and video DVD development, combining a myriad of DVD authoring and production services under one roof.

Gateway Mastering and DVD has purchased a number of Grace Design model 901 reference headphone amplifiers for quality control, and more recently an m906 5.1 monitor control system for their surround DVD authoring facility. So we are thrilled and honored to have an opportunity to catch up with Mr. Ludwig and learn a bit more about him and his wonderful audio empire.

Thanks Bob!

Q) Could we find out a little bit about your background? How did you end up becoming a mastering engineer?
Some audio engineers come to the profession via engineering schools and some, like me, came up from a music conservatory and then learned the engineering aspect. So I am first a musician. I have a Bachelor’s and a Master of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. While at Eastman I was an announcer at a local classical commercial radio station. I was also the Principal Trumpet player with the Utica Symphony Orchestra. As soon as I was allowed I joined the school’s recording dept. and recorded countless recitals and large concerts. I freelanced for Century Records and recorded many local school concerts throughout Western New York State.

While finishing up my Masters degree, Phil Ramone, Grammy winning producer of Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand etc. came up to teach the first recording workshop at Eastman. I was his de-facto assistant. I left Rochester to work with Phil at A&R Recording Studios in NY. I was an assistant engineer and, while there, I learned the art of disk cutting and mastering. Phil was my mentor, I couldn't have had a luckier start in my career. Every engineer there spent some time learning to cut disks as it was felt that one couldn’t be a good mix engineer if one didn’t understand the limitations of disk cutting. I seemed genetically disposed to this and starting attracting clientele from outside the regular studio work. I could read scores and thus attracted classical companies like Nonesuch Records, one of my oldest and much loved clients.

After a few years I left A&R and moved to Sterling Sound. I became Vice President of the company. Even though it was early in my career, I was already doing most all of Nonesuch’s catalog. On the pop side, I was doing the original disk cutting on Led Zepplin II, Houses of the Holy, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Band, lot’s of great stuff. At one point Sterling Sound and Masterdisk were owned by the same public company (OCG Technology) and after being at Sterling for 7 years I moved over to Masterdisk. Then in 1992 Gateway Mastering was incorporated in the State of Maine and my attended first session was on Jan 8 1993.

Q) To many of our readers, mastering may be somewhat of a black art. We labor to make the best mixes possible, then we send them off to be mastered and they miraculously come back sounding like a record. It’s clearly more than subtly applying the proper compression, limiting and EQ. Can you give us a little insight into your process as a mastering engineer?
This is what one needs to become a good mastering engineer: I hear an un-mastered original tape from the mixing studio. I can imagine in my head what it could sound like and know what knobs to move to make it sound the way I hear it! Every day when I get a new recording in to master, I take a little bit of time to quickly listen to the verse and chorus of most of the songs so I can gather an impression of where the artist is coming from. Often, especially with new groups, the A&R person will put all the good songs at the start of the album so the Program Director at the station will not have any trouble “finding” the best tracks which might entice him to air the recording. So, often the artist is really a little different that the initial few songs. I want to be sure the album has a “context” of it’s own.

With the advent of “look ahead” digital domain limiters several years ago, the average volume of CDs has increased so the RMS peaks are sometimes within 4 dB of pure maximum sine wave level tone! The mastering engineer needs to be a musician so that one can best judge the best trade-off between dynamic range to maintain the life of the music versus the sheer excitement of loud volume to impress the artist, program director and A&R person. Sometimes this is a very tricky decision. Once one decides on the “bearings” for the music the idea is to make it flow from start to ending in one long enjoyable playback without ever needing to change the playback volume control. One needs a calibrated monitoring system and one that is very wide range and dynamic. I have found through the years that as the quality of one’s monitoring system improves, the final product will sound good on a wide range of systems.

Q) Gateway has purchased quite a few model 901 headphone amplifiers and an m906 5.1 monitor controller. Would you explain the role these products play in your facility?
Quality controlling our work is of utmost importance to us. As it is imperative to master on loudspeakers any approved master quality tapes that are being sent out for replication are put through a stringent headphone listening by our experienced engineers, each of whom has passed a rigorous listening examination we give them before hiring them. Out of perhaps 50 or 60 people who have taken this test, only 2 of them have heard everything there is to hear on this recording I prepared.

If there is a question, source checking needs to be done, thus it is very helpful to have a headphone amplifier that can deal with both analog and digital inputs. Probably 98% of our digital work has sampling rates between 44.1 and 96kHz which the model 901 can easily handle. Our 176.4 and 192kHz stereo work which we do for DVD-Audio projects is downsampled with a dCS 974 unit so we can use the Grace 901’s. Surround work is listened to in 2 passes in order not to miss some subtle problem that one could never perceive while facing the left-center-right front speakers. Due to time restraints, we often use two Model 901’s with two engineers splitting up their 3 channels a piece mix.

For surround monitoring in our DVD Video and Audio Authoring suite we used to use a small format digital console. It didn’t work at 96kHz so when Grace came out with their always audiophile designed, m906 5.1 monitor controller we were anxious to try it. It worked perfectly for our needs and now we have quite a few square feet of space we have reclaimed by eliminating the old console.

I enjoy editing on headphones, especially while clients are talking or otherwise occupied as it gives me a quiet, concentrated environment in which to listen.

Q) DVD-audio, DSD and SACD are hopefully helping to elevate our industry out of its 16bit/44.1 rut. Being very close to the delivery end of these new higher-resolution formats affords you a unique perspective on the ways they may be changing our industry. How do you envision the future of these higher resolution audio formats?
I sincerely hope that people will have a more realistic, emotionally engaging experience when listening to higher resolution sounds. With the average person being satisfied with lower than CD quality in exchange for convenience, there will always be those for whom nothing but the best will do. When I did the ABKCO Rolling Stones re-issues on hybrid SACD, people would come up to me and tell me that as a result of those discs they went out and bought a SACD player and they were “listening to music again” as they did when they were younger. This is most satisfying!

Q) We know that you work on more than your fair share of the records being released today. Any projects currently on your plate that you are particularly excited about?
We have a policy of not speaking about unreleased work but recent projects I did that I was excited about include the recent Incubus album, the Eric Clapton “Robert Johnson” album (especially the surround version). The Allman Brothers “Eat a Peach” and “Live At the Filmore” surround albums. A few years ago I was working on two masterpieces at the same time. I’m lucky to get one or two a year and to be doing two at once was breathtaking. They were Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising” and Beck’s “Sea Change” (check out the surround SACD of that one!).

Visit Gateway Mastering and DVD
online at

Bob Ludwig at work with the m906

<<Dealer Spotlight >>

Wind Over The Earth

Maxine, Mickey, Barbara and Amber

A true pro audio iconoclast, Mickey Houlihan never fails to inspire and encourage everyone who enters his sphere of influence. Whether assisting a customer with equipment recommendations and advice, or freely volunteering information from his vast knowledge of music and people, Mickey always leaves a positive lasting impression with everyone he associates with.

Mickey was a founding partner of Grace Design ten years ago, and remains and invaluable mentor and friend to our company. Mickey founded Wind Over The Earth in the 1980s as not only a first class pro audio dealership, but also as an important informational resource for engineers and musicians around the globe. Wind Over The Earth has overseen the construction of many world-class recording studios and aided the production of countless successful recording projects.

Mickey is also a dedicated, seasoned engineer and producer, with an amazing list of credits to his name. Mickey’s Wind Over The Earth record label boasts a remarkable roster of international talent, including multi-instrumentalist and composer David Darling, East African musician Samite and harpist and soprano Therese Schroeder-Sheker.

Mickey (aft) on location in the Grand Canyon with the Paul Winter Consort

Five years ago, Mickey relocated all operations to a new building in east Boulder. This relocation included his vision to create a local audio industry collective/ brain trust, and neighboring units soon filled up with other audio companies, including Dave Glasser’s Airshow Mastering, a Sony DSD post production facility and recently, the amazing Immersive Studios.

Wind Over The Earth remains one of the great independent pro audio dealerships in the country. The staff is always knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. Plus, anyone who calls has a good chance of speaking to Mr. Houlihan personally, which is certain to be an enlightening and rewarding experience. So without further adieu...

Q. How did you get your start in the audio business?
By Accident… Bad Brains… Dumb Luck… something like that! I love being part of the creative process, being present in a way that engages the cosmic muse. I had the good fortune to work with the musician Paul Winter as he traversed the planet exploring music making in the wild. Each take was truly a once in a lifetime experience because everything was alive and constantly changing. I got very caught up in the magic of nature and the way sound moved in different environments.

I have had some unbelievable experiences listening to the sounds of whales and I love the way the sounds of the birds and frogs seem to wake up the trees in spring. I was on those trips and in those environments partly because of my willingness to drag some very high tech recording gear along. The choice of equipment and its survival became a big part of the overall experience for me and because of the battery considerations and weight, I truly had to get the most out of each piece. My love of the wilderness experiences very quickly began to include the equipment that I depended on and from there it grew into sharing that love and enthusiasm with others. When I wasn't looking it turned into a business.

Q. Being a mentor to so many people, it would be interesting to know who some of your mentors were / are.
I am still awed by things that I learned from Joseph Campbell some twenty years ago. I only worked with him for a week but he had a profound effect on me. These days, my mentors in the art of recording are my engineering collaborators Tom Bates and Michael Verdick. I think mentoring grows out of respectful relationships and as the relationships deepen the lessons are often more about the nature of life than the mastery of a specific tool. My love of sounds has led me to the technology to explore them and the technology has led me to and let me work with some of the greatest beings on the planet.

Q. You have always done such an amazing job promoting and selling Grace Design products. Why do you think Grace Design and Wind Over The Earth have been such a good fit?
I have my own passions about the gear that works for me and sometimes that enthusiasm is relevant. What is more important to a customer however, is whether a particular piece of equipment is right for them. We encourage critical listening evaluations and Grace Design products reveal their attributes under these circumstances..

Q. The pro audio industry has gone through some remarkable changes in the past few years- most notably the brisk advancement of widely available, high quality home recording technology. How have these changes affected your business at WOTE?
Many of our long term customers who are skilled professionals understand what they need and value us for the service that we can provide. The biggest change for us are the new customers who are more amateur and somewhat confused by product marketing. They have the impression that if they can buy the gear, they can go home and with out any effort or training make great recordings. We have to do a lot more explaining that while this is "technically" true, it would take a great deal of luck and diligence pull it off. We encourage training at all levels because in addition to the technical skills, it also helps to reconnect people in ways that working at home doesn't.

Q. Any major long term goals for Wind Over The Earth you’d like to discuss?
I like these questions.
Our long term goals go a bit beyond audio though I think they are goals shared by most individuals. We want a healthy planet and nourishing relationships with all its inhabitants. Art has always been part of that dialog and we could definitely use more artists. Toward that end we have begun our own school of recording arts. Our goal is to reveal the creative process in a teachable curriculum.

Visit Wind Over The Earth online at

Mickey's field recording setup in Siberia (on the right is an early Lunatec V2 prototype)

<<Tech Talk >>

s-Lock is our new PLL circuitry that has been specifically developed by Grace Design for the m906 and its stereo brothers, the m904 and m904B. The truly wonderful thing about s-Lock is that regardless of the condition of the external clock used as a reference for these systems, s-Lock will take the clock source, do its magic, and provide an extremely stable and ultra-low jitter clock to run the DACs. The goal, of course, is pristine audio. Here’s a bit more detail on how this works:

s-Lock is a crystal-based PLL (Phase Lock Loop) used for regenerating the incoming digital clock. The crystals used have extremely low intrinsic jitter and are capable of locking to sample rates of up to 192kHz. When the digital input selected for the DAC is active, the s-Lock circuitry automatically captures the incoming recovered clock from AES3, S/PDIF, TOSLINK, or ADAT or from an external Word Clock or Super Clock.

Once phase-lock with the incoming signal has been achieved, the DAC's, which have been running off the original clock, are switched to run off the ultra-low jitter s-Lock system clock. If at any time s-Lock is lost or not achieved, the DAC’s are run off the original clock. The s-Lock system can effectively lock to input sample rates of 44.1kHz or 48kHz +/- 10Hz, 88.2kHz or 96kHz +/- 20Hz and 176.4kHz or 192kHz +/- 40Hz.

If the incoming digital audio signal or word clock frequency is outside of these tolerances or if an invalid clock source is selected, the s-Lock circuit will not lock and the s-Lock indicator on the system LCD will flash. Even if the s-Lock does not achieve lock, the digital audio receiver circuits in the m906, m904 and m904B can achieve excellent recovered clock jitter performance.

About Grace Design

Grace Design was established in 1994 and is a leading manufacturer of world-class hardware for the professional audio industry. Grace Design’s mission is to provide audio professionals with exceptionally engineered and built products coupled with best-in-class customer service. The product line currently consists of the model 801, 801R, 201, 101, Lunatec V3 microphone preamps, the model 901 reference headphone amplifier and the m904, m904B and m906 reference monitoring systems. The company’s customers include audio professionals in the music, film, television, live sound, education and corporate markets.

Thanks for your continued support!
-The Grace Design Team

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