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Opus 3 Analogue Master Tapes

Music Catalogue On Analogue Tape By Hugh Robjohns
Published March 2015

Independent Swedish record company Opus 3 were formed in 1976 by Jan-Eric Persson. They specialise in audiophile recordings of acoustic jazz, blues, folk and classical music, and their focus is very much on great music played by great musicians in great acoustic spaces.

Why ‘review’ a record company? Well, I believe that Opus 3 are — at the time of writing — unique in offering quarter-inch tape copies of their analogue tape masters, with around 50 titles available spanning solo piano, wind ensembles, orchestral, classical guitar, jazz (classic, modern and swing) and world music, as well as four ‘sampler’ compilation albums. That means analogue die-hards finally have access to some high-quality analogue reference material, free from any of the pops, crackles and other distractions that become inevitable with vinyl records.

Opus 3 Analogue Master TapesJan-Eric’s aim is to provide the listener with the closest possible recreation of the feeling and atmosphere that everyone experienced at the moment of recording. All forms of artifice and electronic manipulation that could change the natural sound are avoided — so there’s no EQ, no compression, and no studio sessions with multiple pan-potted mics and digital reverb! Everything’s recorded on location via a minimal recording chain comprising (mainly) valve preamps and a simple crossed figure-of-eight Blumlein mic array. All of the Opus 3 recordings I’ve heard have certainly reproduced an ‘in the room’ character that few conventional commercial recordings match.

The master tape dubs are recorded at 15ips in the half-track format, with CCIR equalisation. No noise reduction is employed, and each tape is dubbed individually and directly from the original master tapes. Jan-Eric kindly sent me a sampler tape to appraise, (One: Open Reel Selection Vol III, catalogue number AMC-23130). The tape was well packaged, and a printed sheet gave the album details, track list, durations and recording format. The tape reel was wound tail out, and had been topped-and-tailed with yellow and red leader tape, respectively.

I was familiar with a few of the tracks from various Opus 3 CDs and vinyl records I’ve purchased over the years, amongst them a stunning version of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ performed by Cyndee Peters and Eric Bibb. I used my Studer A807 to replay the tape via a Crookwood M1 mastering console, which made level-matched comparison against CD and vinyl easy. Running the tape alongside a (now-deleted) CD release of the same track, the two were virtually indistinguishable, although there was fractionally more broadband noise on the tape (not surprising, since it was a dub copy), but the bells on the track were a little sweeter and more open at the top end than on the CD.

I also have the same track on vinyl, from an Ortofon Pickup Test Record (0003), produced in collaboration with Opus 3 in 1985. Almost inevitably, the vinyl tonality was slightly different, but the noise floor was noticeably higher and the high end, although open and airy, wasn’t quite as clean. There was a hint of grittiness not present on the tape, probably down to tracking distortion.

Unfortunately, these master tape copies aren’t cheap (the raw tape stock accounts for around $60£40 of the cost), and can only be bought directly from Opus 3. The samplers are around $240£160 each (1900 SEK), and the albums $370£245 each (2900 SEK), and these prices don’t include shipping. But it’s encouraging to know that the option to acquire studio-grade 'master' tapes exists, and I’m told it is an increasingly popular format with well-heeled audiophiles who continue to eschew digital formats! Hugh Robjohns

From about £160 at current exchange rates.

From about $240 at current exchange rates.