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Exile On Main Street
The Rolling Stones
- Release Date 06 May 2016
- In Stock
- Product code
- Double Vinyl LP
- UMC / Polydor
Halfspeeding is an elaborate process whereby the source is played back at half its normal speed and the turntable on the disc cutting lathe is running at 16 2/3 R.P.M.
Because both the source and the cut were running at half their “normal” speeds everything plays back at the right speed when the record is played at home.
180gm double LP, replica VERY LIMITED first pressing packaging with additional ‘obi strip’. Includes 12 original postcards photographed by Norman Seeff.
Album photography and concept by Robert Frank. Original colour printed inner sleeves.
Exile On Main Street was released in 1972 and was The Rolling Stones’ 10th studio album. While some tracks dated from the sessions for their previous long player, ‘Sticky Fingers’, the rest were recorded in the basement of Nellcôte, a mansion leased by Keith Richards in the south of France after the band had found it expedient to leave Britain for tax reasons.
Although first received with mixed, hesitant reviews, ‘Exile…’ reached number one in the UK and the US, where it has also achieved platinum status and is now widely regarded as one of the group’s very best records. With Jagger’s vocals low in the mix and the sessions notorious for many participants’ prodigious use of narcotics and booze, the album should have been set-up for failure. Even Bill Wyman struggled amongst the chaos and therefore only featured on backing vocals on eight of its 18 tracks. Instead, the results were so powerful and enduring that the album eventually ended up at Number 7 on Rolling Stones Magazine’s Top 500 albums of all time.
The sleeve is famous for the collage of images taken from Robert Frank’s 1958 book ‘The Americans’. Characters used in the artwork include Joe Allen, “The Human Corkscrew”, a renowned contortionist from the 1950s and, perhaps most famous of all, Three Ball Charlie. Three Ball Charlie was a man able to fit a tennis ball, a golf ball, and a "5" billiard ball simultaneously in his mouth – a remarkable feat - and his image is the one that many people associate most readily with this unimpeachable rock classic.
The original cut for this record was half speed mastered at Abbey Road Studios. Miles Showell, Mastering Engineer at Abbey Road explains in depth below.
1.What is ‘Half-Speed Mastering’?
This is an elaborate process whereby the source is played back at half its normal speed and the turntable on the disc cutting lathe is running at 16 2/3 R.P.M. Because both the source and the cut were running at half their “normal” speeds everything plays back at the right speed when the record is played at home.
2.What are the advantages of Half-Speed Mastering?
The vinyl L.P. is an analogue sound carrier. Therefore the size and shape of the groove carrying the music is directly related to whatever the music is doing at any particular point. By reducing the speed by a factor of two the recording stylus has twice as long to carve the intricate groove into the master lacquer. Also, any difficult to cut high-frequency information becomes fairly easy to cut mid-range. The result is a record that is capable of extremely clean and un-forced high-frequency response as well as a detailed and solid stereo image.
3.Are there any disadvantages?
Only two, having to listen to music at half-speed for hour after hour can be a little difficult at least until I get to hear back the resulting cut when it all becomes worthwhile. The other dis-advantage is an inability to do any de-essing. De-essing is a form of processing the signal whereby the “sss” and “t” sounds from the vocalist are controlled in order to avoid sibilance and distortion on playback. None of the tools I would ordinarily employ on a real-time cut work at half speed as the frequencies are wrong so the offending “sss” does not trigger the limiter and everything is moving so slowly there is no acceleration as such for the de-esser to look out for. This has always been the Achilles heel of half-speed cutting until now (see below).
4.What was the source for this record?
24bit/96khz digital transfers supplied by the Stones made from original ¼” tapes. This album was mastered in Los Angeles and high resolution mastered files as approved by the band and their management were supplied to Abbey Road. Miles cut this release from these mastered files and apart from some minor de-essing, no further processing was applied by him.
5.Why could it not be cut ‘all analogue’?
The biggest variable when cutting from tape is the replay machine. Every individual roller in the tape’s path will have a direct effect on the quality of the audio emanating from the machine. In addition to this, there is the issue of the sub 30Hz low-frequency roll off on an advance head disc-cutting tape machine which in effect will come into play at 60 Hz when running at half speed. In addition to this, there are also some unpredictable frequency anomalies in the 35-38 Hz region with analogue tape that will double up at half speed. These are all problems if you want to hear as originally intended the lowest register of the bass end on a recording. There is also the lesser potential problem of tape weave that effectively increases at lower speeds and leads to less high frequency stability and the possibility of minor azimuth errors. Even if these problems could be overcome, the source tapes for this album are held in an archive in America. The days of shipping precious analogue masters over the Atlantic are long gone. Even if Universal were to break their internal no overseas shipping rule, it would be close to impossible to get insurance cover for the tapes. Also analogue tape becomes degraded with each pass over the replay heads. These tapes are getting old and it is no longer considered good practise to play and play and play precious old original masters for fear of wearing them out. I can completely understand the reasons for the concerns that some people have when cutting classic albums from digital sources. Historically, there have been some horrible digital transfers used as a vinyl cutting source. This has absolutely not been the case with this series. Micro-management of the audio and attention to detail has been the order of the day.
6.Are there any advantages to this working method?
Yes, any problems with the tape can be treated far more accurately digitally than they could be by using traditional analogue techniques. For example de-essing. I can, by clever editing, target just the offending “sss” and leave intact the rest of the audio. Therefore high-hats, bright guitars and snare drums are not affected or reduced in impact. Using an analogue scatter-gun de-esser approach would also trigger the limiter in many parts of the audio that do not need to be worked on. The de-esser cannot tell a bright guitar from bright vocal and will smooth everything out leading to dull guitars or soft snare drums and weak hi-hats. Targeting the “sss” sounds in the vocal as I have done in this series is time consuming but is worthwhile in the pursuit of the very best possible sounding record. Also if there was any damage to the analogue tape (drop-outs and clicks for example) this can by and large be restored using modern digital methods in a way that is unobtrusive and this would be impossible using analogue methods. For the record, none of the albums in this series have been de-noised. Only clicks and drop-outs have been repaired.
Miles Showell – Mastering Engineer, Abbey Road Studios