October 28, 2004
Legendary Audio announced the worldwide launch of its aptly-named Masterpiece analog mastering system at the 117th AES Convention. Conceived by veteran mastering engineer and company owner Billy Stull, with all circuitry designed by audio legend Rupert Neve, the Masterpiece is a comprehensive analog mastering processor.
Nearly three years in the making, the product is a 6U frame equipped with eight vertically-oriented filter modules that are reminiscent of vintage Neve designs. In the Masterpiece's standard configuration, these modules are comprised of four stereo pairs collectively offering a wide palette of sonic amenities, including precision peak and shelving equalizers, a full-featured dynamics section, highly authentic tape texture (thanks to a real tape drive circuit), incremental phase rotation and various classic audio functions.
Although many of the modules' topologies are based upon older designs, every circuit was meticulously updated to attain the highest modern specifications. "By reworking the ICs, transformers and such we've really coaxed a lovely sound out of this box," says Neve. "In many respects, the Masterpiece reminds me of the famous consoles I made for George Martin in the late '70s and I'm very pleased with the pristine audio quality we've managed to achieve with it."
The right side of the Masterpiece's chassis is home to the processor's master section, which boasts a new feature known as image control. Neve explains, "Image control is quite remarkable in that it can be used to increase or decrease the width of the stereo sound image, enhance or reduce the level of natural ambience inherent in a recording, and even alter the placement of elements on the sound stage, such as dramatically moving instruments from one position in the stereo field to another or sending vocals forward, backward or completely out of the mix. It's rather stunning. Once engineers have had the opportunity to experiment with this feature, they'll very likely never want to switch it off!"
Both Neve and Stull view this product as a particularly ideal solution for breathing more life into projects that have been recorded in home studio setups. "Seeing that the price of digital recording gear has come down to the point where many engineers and musicians are now doing their own sessions at home, the quality of these recordings can sometimes be less than competitive," Stull notes. "However, the Masterpiece provides an arsenal of tools that is very effective in enhancing, restructuring and repairing those types of recordings. In the right hands, this product can make even relatively lackluster stereo tracks sound like they were recorded in a world-class studio. And, of course, it can do some equally amazing things to projects recorded on half-million dollar desks as well."
Sets of high pass, band pass and low pass filters can be inserted in the path of each circuit block except, of course, the EQ sections, allowing fine adjustments to be made in any part of the high, mid or low bands or across the full frequency spectrum. "This is another unique feature and allows you to do some things that can't yet be done in a recording studio environment," says Stull. "For example, you can choose to fatten up only the bottom end of a song with a classic tape saturation, spot in compressors on just the midrange if vocals are a problem and so on. Auxiliary inputs even allow you to insert another piece of equipment, such as a favorite compressor, into the system and similarly use it on anypart--or all--of the three bands."
The level of precision that the Masterpiece affords is downright surgical. Most of the significant controls allow changes to be made in not only 1 dB increments, but in 1/4 dB steps as well via 'zoom' buttons.
The signal flow can easily be modified by simply rearranging the positions of the modules, and users can elect to further customize their systems by installing more than two of any specific module if desired (albeit at the expense of removing something else).
All inputs and insertion points feature accurate 'transformer-like' topologies and the main outputs use new toroidal transformers. A massive linear toroidal-based power supply is also employed, as are many illuminated pushbuttons (over 140!) and precisely calibrated controls that clearly reveal the status and performance to the educated user.
Limited quantities of the Masterpiece will be available shortly following AES and may be purchased directly from the manufacturer for $19,000.
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