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ABOUT Straight Ahead Records

A WORD ABOUT THE SOUND BY BERNIE GRUNDMAN

Stewart Levine and I started Straight Ahead Records because we have similar tastes in music and an appreciation for great sounding recordings. For some time now, we have had a growing interest in making recordings that capture a realism that we both experienced primarily during the 1950’s and 60’s and occasionally thereafter. With Stewart handling primarily the musical production, I want, in turn, to talk about our sound.

The concept for Straight Ahead Records’ sound is the result of many years of listening to recordings from the beginning of high fidelity sound in the early fifties to the advent of stereo recordings in the mid fifties to the present day. Over these fifty years, many recordings stood out as capturing a realism and naturalness that moved you into their environment, with the sense that you could touch the instruments. This magic that some recordings have is no easy task to produce. The problem lies in the delicacy and complexity of an audio signal and our ability to detect subtle losses or distortion in a recording let alone the credibility of the environment that is presented to the listener. These factors of clean, natural sound and a plausible environment are essential to creating the audiophile’s dream of capturing the essence of being there as it is happening. This is what Straight Ahead Records is trying to achieve, and if that is coupled with good musical productions without one subordinated to the other, but in perfect synergy, then we have succeeded.

When I started working in Hollywood in the mid-sixties, I had the good fortune to start at a studio that I idolized as a teenager in the 50’s. All through my teens, my money went for audio equipment and records. Some of the most impressive recordings were from Contemporary Records, and that is where I started. While there, I learned the secret of how their recordings were made. They were truly done in a unique way. No one else made recordings in this way then or to this day. I have held this knowledge all these years and had always dreamed of making recordings in this way. With this concept as a guide, I set my engineering staff, at our mastering studio in Hollywood, the task of developing the studio and related electronics that are similar but optimized for today’s mastering equipment. Generally speaking, our signal path uses a unique shared electronic circuitry that enables us to use multiple microphones, but with less overall electronics than two. The result is a purity of quality and naturalness rarely found in any recordings. Some two microphone recordings are close to this quality, but suffer from the limitations of only being able to record one or two instruments well. These compromises are not present with our system.

In addition to a superior signal path, the signal goes direct to separate computers for high resolution and standard CD formats and to our analogue tape machines for making vinyl. We firmly believe that digital transfers degrade the signal, so the recording computer also makes the master that goes for replication. We feel that the fewer steps and no signal manipulation in the digital domain are essential to preserving the highest quality. These recordings are truly for the discriminating audiophile and Stewart Levine and I wish you great adventures in listening.


A WORD ABOUT STRAIGHT AHEAD RECORDS BY STEWART LEVINE
Bernie Grundman and I have been working together making records since 1975. He was the chief mastering engineer at A&M Studios and I was in the middle of what was an extremely prolific and productive period in my long and varied career as a record producer. I had just completed an album with the great Minnie Ripperton and another one the The Crusaders and once again, much to my dismay, the vinyl acetates did not compare to the original tapes that we had recorded in the studio. Someone whose opinion I valued suggested that I go to A&M and work with a guy named Bernie Grundman. At this point, I had been just about everywhere else.

Bernie’s mastering “suite” was the size of a postage stamp and I was less than impressed until I got home with my “ref” and for the very first time in my career, I had a “record” that sounded like my tapes. We have been working together ever since that day!! During countless hours in the studio together, Bernie and I discovered that we shared a passion for Italian espresso and the great sounding records of the “Golden Age of Recording”, the late 1950’s.

We would meet on Saturday mornings at my home, drink fine coffee and talk endlessly about the beauty of the recordings made during this era. It is from these meetings that we finally decided to get together and try to create some “new” memorable moments where worthy music and great sound come together. It is no coincidence that most great albums combine these two ingredients.

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