An Interview With Bob
Owner of HDTT
Article By Nels Ferre
mentioned High Definition
Tape Transfers (HDTT) in a piece that I wrote on my views regarding
the current state of affairs in the music industry. Bob Witrak, owner of
HDTT, sells high definition digital transfers of out of print classical
music, sourced from old open reel tapes. These tapes are consumer
releases, not the master tapes, and yet sound incredible. The more I
listened to my purchases, which I downloaded from the HDTT website, the
more curious I became about Bob's operation. I really encourage our
readers to check out HDTT — the recordings Bob offers are truly special. I
decided to ask Bob some questions, and share the answers with our readers.
NF: Tell us a bit about you and how you came up with the
idea of selling very high quality digital transfers of old reel to reel
BW: What happened was I got into reels about
seven years ago
I was always a big vinyl guy and I started to hear attributes I wasn't
hearing in vinyl, like the strings on reels just sound "right" to me,
as I was collecting more and more tapes I noticed many reels contained
forgotten performances of historical importance, with unusually good sound
quality. Then I started to make copies for my own enjoyment and people in
the high-end audio industry heard them and convinced me to sell them to
NF: Most of the recordings you offer are copies of
50+ year old tapes. Are there any special challenges these tapes present
as far as working with them (brittleness or oxide shedding?)
BW: The one thing you do not want to do is rewind or
fast forward the tape and then stop in the middle of the tape: it will
break almost all the time. You really have to invest in a very good tape deck. Our reference deck is a Studer 810, which has
the ability to FF or Rewind at a 1/3 of the speed. This really helps
tremendously as far as breakage. The Studer is a great tool for the
archivists I also have a Nagra 4 which is also very easy on tape, and its
mechanism is a work art.
As for brittleness, you just have to handle the
tapes with a little TLC. Shedding really isn't an issue, the sticky back tape
syndrome didn't happened until the late 70's and early 80's, the
tapes I use were made way before that era.
NF: Right now I am listening to Stravinsky's L'Histoire
du Soldat, which your website states is from a 1956
performance. While I guess Stravinsky isn't my "thing" musically,
sonically this recording in awesome. Headphone users will really be
amazed. This is one of the best stereo recordings I have ever heard. I
always thought stereo came out in 1958, was it released earlier on open
BW: The Stravinsky is without a doubt one of the best
stereo recordings period, also the recording took place at the "old"
Carnegie Hall which should tell you why the recording is so special.
I believe if I'm not mistaken that the first Stereo
Release was on a RCA 2- track tape in 1954 it Reiner's Ein Heldenleben,
I have a copy and it's still a tremendous recording minimally mic'ed and
very natural sounding.
NF: When I think back to when I bought my first cassette
deck in the late 1970s, I remember that I could make far superior quality
tapes at home by using LPs as the source. With the exception of Mobile
Fidelity Sound Labs and their real time copies from the original master
tapes made on specially modified JVC decks, prerecorded tapes just were
not very good. It is not unlike the difference today between a CD and an
MP3 or, to some, CDs and LPs. Your offerings are copies of commercially
available tapes. Why do these recordings sound so good?
BW: All the equipment we use in our mastering process
from the electronics to the cables, digital conversion right down to
vibration control. (Vibration control is super critical, and a special
shout out to Peter Bizlewicz of Symposium Acoustics who has helped out
with HDTT from the outset. Also, his vibration control devices are the
best in the industry.) All of the equipment has been matched and tested
for the best sound quality possible for reel transfers.
As for the all important analog to digital conversion,
this a very critical part of my releases. I use Weiss digital components
we have found them to be the most accurate and transparent electronics for
digital conversion. (As a side note Daniel Weiss owner of Weiss Digital is
one of the nicest guys you can meet in the pro audio world and has really
helped me in achieving great sound.)
NF: Can you explain how these recordings are so quiet
(no hiss) and have really good dynamic range when they were made long
before any type of noise reduction was available?
BW: This has all to do with the choices I made and the
long experimenting that was done with selecting the right components in
the mastering chain, most of the big commercial mastering houses don't
pay any mind to audiophile techniques such as cabling, power conditioning,
vibration control etc. Pro audio people think audiophiles practice voodoo
and most of what we do to achieve audiophile sound is dubious.
Many audio reviewers have been delighted with our
releases because of the clean, transparent musical sound we get from our
sources we have been told that are releases are the most analog sounding
digital they have heard. And this is all due to using audiophile
NF: These recordings sound to me like a perfectly quiet
LP played upon a very high quality analog front end. Is this due to
your specially modified playback and digital conversion gear? How close
could a hobbyist with a nice open reel deck, say a Revox B77 or a Teac
X2000R, come to achieving this result with open reel tape at home?
BW: I think it would be difficult to achieve high
quality sound with a deck using the stock electronics that are in consumer
or pro audio decks it would be advisable to use an external tape pre-amp
like you would use in a high end vinyl setup and as always vibration
control and cabling is always critical.
As for the digital conversion this is the expensive
part, lower end digital converters are usually not up to the task in
making high quality transfers. Unfortunately, to make high quality
transfers, the digital end can get extremely pricey.
NF: Listening to Beethoven's 4th Symphony,
from 1962 four-track tape, I am amazed at the quality. This one, for me, is a
winner all around both musically and sonically. This 46 year old recording
makes me wonder if the older recording engineers have forgotten more than
most of the engineers today will ever know. What are your thoughts?
BW: I personally prefer the older engineers, having said
that there are some recordings made today that are very good, but overall
I prefer the older recordings the older engineers kept it simple and
basically were interested more in capturing the event in a more natural
NF: You don't offer all of your releases as downloads:
some are only available as physical media. You state that all of your
physical medial is burned, not stamped, for superior quality. Why does it
make a difference?
BW: We now offer about 90 percent of our releases as 24/96
downloads. The CD and DVD blanks are extremely critical for sound
quality there is a huge difference in the quality of blanks. The reason
for this has to do with many different variables such as the dye used the
metal used and also the roundness of the blank, also the close tolerances
that are used in the manufacturing process. We have auditioned many
different blanks from many different manufacturers and I feel we have
found the best for music reproduction, of course we are always on the
lookout for even better blanks. Also the burning process is super critical
and also the burner used.
We also have announced a new product called HQCD (High
Quality CD) which is a very high quality blank that is made special for
the burner we use (which is a special pro audio burner made to make
masters) the CD-R has extremely low jitter characteristics and each
release is burned at 1x speed, it sounds excellent and is the best CD
blanks we have heard, readers can check it out at our website.
NF: How many customers are downloading as opposed to
buying physical media?
BW: It's around a 60-40 split, with downloads ahead,
CD and DVD orders are still very strong and I anticipate it to be similar
in the future.
NF: Many USB DACs today are capable of 24-bit/48kHz maximum
decoding. While your recordings sound fantastic at this resolution, how
much is a customer missing by not being able to decode to 24/96?
BW: Of course it is always better to playback at the
highest resolution as possible and there is a difference between 24/48 and
24/96, but listening to our recordings at lower resolution you will
probably hear about 80 to 90 percent of the 24/96 playback. And, as usual,
the quality of the electronics plays a major part in this.
NF: How do you decide what recordings to offer?
BW: We scour through many recordings, check for renewal
of copyrights, and if they have exceptional sound and are also favorable
renditions of that particular piece it might make it for release. It takes
a lot of auditioning. Another thing I'd like to mention is that we really
try to offer recordings that haven't been released or haven't been
released for a long time, we are not in competition with the big
commercial labels. As our ads say we offer "rare recordings in audiophile
NF: Understood, but is there any possibility of
releasing Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition or Night on Bald Mountain?
BW: If one comes along that makes the grade of course!!
NF: Thanks for your time and efforts.
BW: Thanks, Nels for giving me the opportunity to
introduce your readers to HDTT