Analogplanet Visits Sterling Sound and Interviews Ryan K. Smith

Intervention Records' Shane Buettner was at Sterling Sound yesterday to oversee the mastering of Big Audio Dynamite's 1985 debut album This is Big Audio Dynamite

. Buettner invited me over to watch. I asked if, assuming time permitted, I could interview Ryan K. Smith. When he said "yes", I drove right in.

So enjoy this visit to Sterling Sound, watch Mr. Smith at work in the room he's "inherited" from the great George Marino and then the interview.

FinallyI have an HD camcorder with zoom function and combined with an outboard stereo microphone plugged into the camcorder, you'll find this to be the highest quality analogplanet video yet. Because it was the first time I'd used the camcorder, I used the ZOOM microphone/iPhone combo to back up the audio, but as you'll hear, it wasn't really necessary and won't be in the picture going forward.

Grant M's picture

Thanks Mike for the great interview. Really great to see the studio set up, and hear from Ryan, who seems like a really nice and thoughtful fan of the music, and the analog mastering process, he obviously cares about quality and it shows!

Bob Levin's picture

Cutting is a dying art form, unfortunately and nobody's getting any younger.
I listen and marvel at the sonic handiwork of those great engineers who have gone to the great mastering room in the sky. Kong, Marino, Sax, Moss, Ricker & Traugott.
A new generation needs to be trained under the living masters. (No pun intended.)

theboogeydown's picture

Any chance you caught what brand of towers are over his shoulder in video? Always curious as to what guys like that are using.

Michael Fremer's picture
my new username's picture

I really appreciated hearing how RKS came into this position and his overall candor. I've emailed Sterling and a few other houses previously when asking about client projects and their silence, although perhaps not unexpected, is regrettable (and not totally necessary IMO, despite what the contract may say)

It may have begun with a bit of luck here and there, but producers and labels who care about the sound quality of the project are the reason we have Smith today. I wish there were more of him (and them.)

theboogeydown's picture

Just noticed that he did Adele's latest too. I wonder what he did specific for vinyl as noted on jacket.

Bob Levin's picture

I don't think he had anything to do with the messed up pressings, however. (Pop. Tick. Click.)
He did the limited edition Aerosmith "Rocks" with Jack Douglas and Steve Berkowitz supervising.
Stamped out very nicely at RTI.

padreken's picture

I thought those tracks sounded great on the Negotiations and Love Songs 2 record comp, but his mastering takes them to a higher level.

I'm going to have to order West Side Story.

JPinhammer's picture

I am not allowed to watch this video in Germany. What a shame.

Michael Fremer's picture
Even directly on the YouTube channel? Why is that?
JPinhammer's picture

The blocking of YouTube videos in Germany is part of an ongoing dispute between the video sharing platform YouTube and the Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte (GEMA), a performance rights organisation in Germany.

According to a German court in Hamburg, Google's subsidiary YouTube could be held liable for damages when it hosts copyrighted videos without the copyright holder's permission.[1] As a result, music videos for major label artists on YouTube, as well as many videos containing background music, are censored in Germany since the end of March 2009 after the previous agreement had expired and negotiations for a new license agreement were stopped. On 30 June 2015, Google won a partial victory against GEMA in a state court in Munich, which ruled that they could not be held liable for such damages.

mikemoon's picture


Great interview and it was very informative. Do you have any rough idea of how long Sterling went without the all analog lathe? I know it came back around 2008/2009 but I wasn't sure when it was retired. I've always wondered. Also, is Ryan the only engineer there that cuts AAA. I ask this because Ray Janos does excellent work but 95% of his cuts are contemporary artists and I'm sure most of his are digital cuts but a few of the records I have with his initials "RJ" are potentially all analog, particularly Drive By Truckers (Mastered by: Greg Calbi/Ray Janos).

Thanks and keep up the good work!

Michael Fremer's picture
Can cut AAA. The issue is the preview head on the tape recorder. George Marino cut AAA using the original lathe that's still in use.
mikemoon's picture

I think I follow you, so Ryan's room is the only one that has the preview head that can cut AAA. Ray's likely has a high res (24/96) digital delay for non analog cuts but would be capable with the right preview head. I know George and Ray both worked on the Mission of Burma reissues that you reviewed and that would be cut in George's room AAA. I know the majority if not all RJ cuts have a digital step, I just don't want to assume they are all this way. I imagine he could just as easily use the AAA room to cut as well if needed.

I know Drive by Truckers record and mix analog and go great lengths to make their vinyl sound good, so skipping the last step wouldn't make much sense. They are analog guys. Oddly enough, Ryan cut their latest live album which you would think that one is certainly digital due to the nature of modern day live recording. It sounds great! I'm mainly referring to their studio efforts.

Another scenario I noticed at Sterling were on the superb Beastie Boys reissues. Ill Communication was the first or at least one of the first to be cut AAA on that lathe at Sterling. I don't think any initials are in it, just Sterling, which if I'm not mistaken that was how George would leave it. Ray cut Paul's Boutique which I'd think would have to be digital due to all the samples. He also cut Check Your Head which I always thought was AAA, as the SQ is very similar to Ill Communication. The oddest of the bunch is that some of the B-sides in the Deluxe Beastie Boys boxes were actually cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering.

Hopefully, I'm not mucking all this information up, just trying to have a better understanding. It's all about learning and appreciating this artform. Thanks for the response.

Michael Fremer's picture
George was cutting using the remote lathe (non was in his room) they had long tie lines between his room and the lathe and of course they used the preview head equipped ATR recorder shown in the video. I'm sure Ray cuts from whatever source he's given and there's no reason that lathe can't cut from tape. While I was at Sterling, Greg Calbi had the Drive By Truckers in his room mastering their new release. Not sure of the source and I'm sure at the time they were just listening and taking notes.
SteveG's picture

Like the new camera. Thanks to Ryan, Shane, and you!

mikemoon's picture

Thanks for the info!

Jon's picture

Hi Michael,

This has been your best interview yet. Not only that, but with an engineer of whom I am a huge fan. I first got wind of his name with the first of the just-completed Living Stereo series from Analogue Productions. I have bought virtually all of them, including the last four of the 25-run series that I purchased two weeks ago.

It is interesting because of that last batch, I'd never really felt the Brahms, Prokofiev, Rosza and Mendelssohn violin concertos were RCA's best work in a pure technical sense. I'd always put them down pretty low on the Living Stereo list. But these latest reissues in my opinion do more to bring out the best in these particular titles than anything I have heard before. With the Brahms and Rosza in particular, you'd think he'd found entirely new tapes that no one else has used before. The Classic Records reissue of that disc almost sounds like the tape had lost half its oxide, with that characteristic "tube overload" type of distortion even at low signal levels. This does not happen at all with Ryan's reissue. I'd love to see another batch of these from Analogue Productions - hopefully the series did very well.

Anyway, I will happily buy any classical stuff remastered and cut by Ryan and I hope classical projects keep coming his way. It was interesting to hear about all the 3 to 2 work he did. I never even thought about that when listening to my RCA reissues but I now realise that of course - he would have been working from 3 track masters for most of them.

By the way, if you ever happen to visit Abbey Road, I'd love you to interview Sean Macgee. That is another name coming up with increasing regularity on the vinyl reissue front (especially with classical from my own perspective) and like Ryan, his work is extremely solid, dependable and never disappoints.

Thanks again for this interview. btw, what power amps is Ryan using please?

Michael Fremer's picture
Search the site and you'll find that coverage and a Sean Magee interview as well.
ronrubin's picture

Great interview! Were you referring to the Soundtrack or the Original Broadway Cast recording?

RubenH's picture

from 1957

Consoleman's picture

Anyone notice the Technics SL-10 on the desk? I wonder what they use it for.

Bob Levin's picture

Now I'm going to have a few more sleepless nights asking the same thing.

RubenH's picture

Always a pleasure to see what's behind "the curtain."
I just received West Side Story and am looking forward to cueing it up; hope it lives up to the raves I'm reading. Thanks, and congrats on the new camera, as it really adds to the presentation.

Jonicont's picture

Drive-ByTruckers record to 2" tape. Greg does a fantastic job on their records

marmil's picture

Michael - is the George Marino interview available to watch anywhere?