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Mastering the 1972 Grateful Dead Tour

Even the most casual Grateful Dead fan knows that 1972 is an important number for the band.

For many Deadheads, that year arguably produced the best tour of the band’s history. And when I say arguably, I mean this fact has literally been argued since bootlegs of the show’s on the ’72 tour started circulating freely so many years ago. And those arguments aren't likely to stop soon.

Before 2011, the tapes from the tour had already been compiled into four separate official releases, including the popular Europe 72 and Steppin’ Out. But that was nothing compared to what was released in September of last year: Europe ’72: The Complete Recordings.

It wasn't misleading when Rhino Records termed the release a “mega box set” – it included 22 shows spread out over 73 CDs, after all. The $450 box set brought together a ton of unreleased material from the tour, and the 7,200 sets sold out quickly.

But more important to us CD mastering engineers here at Sage Audio was the fact that these songs weren't just thrown on to new CDs that were subsequently stuffed inside unique packaging (though to be fair, the box built to look like a steamer trunk is pretty cool). No, each was remixed and remastered from the original 16-track masters. I recently discovered an article from Mix magazine that spoke with the mixer and the CD mastering engineer of the project. The article is a few months old now, but has some great insight into the reissue process.

First up is Jamie Howarth, who transferred the originally 16-track masters.

“Plangent Processes transferred at 24/96 using our process to track the original tape machines’ bias oscillator, using the bias as a clock source,” Howarth told the magazine. “Bias is applied in the original recording by a precision oscillator that is much more stable than the tape transport. We basically pitch-correct very quickly and remove the wow and flutter of the original machine.

Next, the new tapes were shipped over to Jeffrey Norman at Mockingbird Mastering, who had a short time to mix around 400 songs. He gives us a little insight into how he kept his ears fresh during that time.

“I had five months to mix a project of about 400 songs,” he said. “The challenge was how to mix so many songs and do a good job. The basic sound was right from the stage. I didn't monitor too loudly and I took breaks. I got a basic template that would work for each show. I had to average five or six songs a day.”

Finally, the new mixes were mastered at Airshow, a CD mastering studio in Boulder, Colo. by David Glassner.

“Before we got started, David Lemieux said to be familiar with the other releases,” he said, referring to the previously released material from the Dead’s 1972 tour. “This is its own thing. It’s a lot live-er sound, I think, a less-processed sound. The performances had a lot of consistency in the playing and tones of the instruments through the whole tour.”

Quite a project, to say the least.

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