Renowned mastering engineer Kevin Gray works on a lot of albums, but sometimes even he gets excited by the sounds coming out of his speakers. That was the case when he dug into the 30th anniversary vinyl reissue of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon.
“That was one of my favorites I’ve ever worked on," Gray said from his Cohearent Audio studio in Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley as we spoke for the Caropop podcast. "When I threaded the tape up and hit play and heard the heartbeats at the beginning, it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck."
Knowing that multiple versions of this "iconic," sonically stunning album already were in circulation, Gray felt pressure to do something special with this 2003 edition, on which he collaborated with fellow mastering engineer Doug Sax.
"Mobile Fidelity had done one," Gray said. "Other people had done one. So we kind of felt like we had to beat what they were doing."
On the bright side, he said: “We were cutting it on vinyl from the original master tape."
When he cued up the the tape, Some of the sounds jumped out of the grooves almost literally. For instance, there's the cacophony of alarm clocks that kicks off "Time."
“That was a tricky thing to cut,” he said. "I could send you a photograph of what the grooves looked like on that. It's pretty wild."
"Please do," I said.
He sent two photos.
The first one, at the top of this post, "is a wide shot showing the pressing on the lathe," he wrote. "The other [below] is a close-up of the video monitor. It is showing an instant (a couple milliseconds high) X 9 grooves (about 18 sec wide, first couple grooves to left are before they start) of the clocks chiming on Pink Floyd -Dark Side of the Moon."
Harvest released the 30th anniversary Dark Side of the Moon vinyl in Europe to rave reviews, and it remains a much-sought-after version. Good luck finding a copy for less than $100 (and if you do, please give me a heads-up).
Gray said his mastering philosophy remains consistent no matter the album:
“I tend to go for smooth but without sucking out midrange, which a few mastering guys do thinking they’re making it sound more high fidelity. I try to make it sound smooth and balanced."