Meitner / Sonoma History
If it weren't for Ed Meitner and his team, evangelizing the Super Audio CD format would have been far more difficult. We had the critical goal from the beginning to show off exactly what the format, and particularly DSD recording technology, was capable of sonically. We could not afford to go public with SA-CD titles that, while were recorded with DSD technology, suffered from inferior analog design or from inferior conversion or clocking. From the start, there had to be absolutely no question that the SA-CD format offered far superior sonic quality to its PCM competitors. So at an early stage, on the advice from DMP Records' Tom Jung, (Pictured on the left with Ed on the right), we went to Ed for DSD conversion. This move ultimately paid off. It was not long before SA-CD had the blessing of many die-hard analog audiophiles. While other DSD conversion was available to us. Ed's designs always sounded more natural and analog-like.
Ed's Mark 1 DSD D to A and the first Switchman
Ed takes a non-traditional approach to circuit design. I've seen Ed throw away the application notes for integrated circuits and design based on his in-depth knowledge of the internals of a chip. The man is brilliant! When we needed a D to A to take to professional and consumer trade shows to show off the format, Ed threw together several Mark 1 DSD D to A's (left) in record time. We also needed a completely transparent multchannel pre-amp with multiple inputs and level memories for these shows. This is how the first Switchman came to be. The program was amplified by 5 PASS X-600 mono blocks and played out prototype Sony SSM9ED speakers designed by Dan Anagnos with an extended bandwidth out to 100kHz in order to show off DSD's capabilities. (This is the same monitor system used in Super Audio Center's Boulder Colorado multichannel mastering suite - with an 11 foot distance from the listener to each speaker.) These shows were a hit among audiophiles.
MKII Stereo Converters Make First Surround SA-CD's
With the exception of a few recordings made with a Philips prototype 8 channel DSD recorder and their own converters, many of the early surround recordings were made on the system pictured to the left. It was comprised of multiple Meitner MK II Stereo DSD A to D and D to A converters. These converters were connected to a DSD to AES conversion unit made by Sony Oxford - which was connected to a Sony DADR-5000 prototype recorder made by Sony Pictures for film production. Prior to the availability of Multichannel SA-CD players, this system was used for surround playbacks at trade shows.
A New ERA - Sonoma and the MKIII Converters
The DADR-5000 with multiple MKII stereo converters was clearly not ready for prime time. While it sounded superb, it couldn't edit and it was extremely finicky to set up. For every 6 tracks, there were about 20 cables to connect along with complex switch and software settings. At times, clock cable lengths would have to be adjusted to make the system work properly. I lost a lot of hair readying these systems for live recordings. During our struggle with these systems, it became clear that if we wanted a reliable DSD multitrack system suitable for recording and post production, we would have to make it ourselves. So once again we called on Ed Meitner to create the DSD Converters. One thing that had to go were all the BNC cables. A single duplex glass optical ST cable replaced 12 finicky BNC cables and it electrically isolated the audio electronics from the computer electronics. The importants of this last point should not be underestimated. ST Optical allowed the computer to be far removed from the audio environment where it would generate both acoustic and electrical noise. So we started out to design the Sonoma, and Ed began the design of the Mark III converter set that would be included in the first 70 systems built for use internationally. The first systems were not very powerful editors, but as time went by, we added what we needed to do the job at hand. Our design motivation was based on what we needed to produce music rather than what we thought the market would like to see in a workstation. It's analogous to making records where art rather than the market motivates the music. Those are always better records. This fleet of Sonomas and Meitner MKIII Converters made hundreds of amazing live and studio SA-CD's around the world.
Next Generation Sonoma and Meitner MKIV Are Born
Sony Hands Off Sonoma to Super Audio Center LLC
1994 brought us the MK IV converter set from Emm Labs and a new generation Sonoma board. Both improved sound quality and functionality. The MK IV converters added PCM to DSD format conversion in both directions and optical connectors in both directions on each converter. The new Sonoma card added Time Code chase and play as well as the modularity to create larger multitrack recorders in a single computer. With these new capabilities - a DSD multitrack recorder which performed beautifully as a studio multitrack recorder and editor - the era of DSD production for popular music began. The first session to use the Sonoma DSD multitrack in place of the contemporary defacto-standard workstation was John Hiatt's "Master of Disaster" recorded at Ardent studios in Memphis Tennessee. It was a landmark event because the Sonoma was able to handle all the demands of a popular music session where overdubs, in-session editing, and vocal compositing happen regularly. You can learn more about this session from producer Jim Dickinson who is interviewed on John Hiatt's web site or have a look at our latest Sonoma Multitrack advertisement for his condensed comments.
and the bit goes on™...
Since Hiatt's session many demanding multitrack projects have been produced on the Sonoma with the Meitner MK IV front end. In every case members of the project were stunned by the dramatic sonic improvement that the Meitner / Sonoma combination brought to the project. In every case the reaction was much like that of Mr. Dickinson's. (Jim Dickinson and son Luther pictured on left.)