Miles Showell on Remastering The Rolling Stones

Famous for his half-speed masters, mastering engineer Miles Showell talks us through his work on three LPs from the legendary Rolling Stones.

With the announcement of the newly half-speed remastered Rolling Stones albums Exile on Main St, Some Girls and Sticky Fingers, Miles takes us through his work on the three LPs and the initial box set release in 2018.

"While I was not granted access to the original master tapes (some of which are getting pretty worn and should be used as little as possible to prevent further damage) I was loaned an archive hard disk by the management. On this disk were two separate sets of high resolution flat transfers from what the management considers are the master tapes for each album. Where the source was analogue tape (two or there of the later albums are digital recordings and these were digitally dubbed at their original sample rate to the hard disk) the two archive transfers were DSD and also 24 bit 192 kHz PCM (a few were 24 bit 176.4 kHz). I was told to listen to both and choose whichever one I felt was the best to use. In most cases the DSD transfer won, but not always. Once I had chosen, I was given free range to just ‘do my thing’ which was remarkable freedom. I had no instructions from the band’s management or from Universal other than to do it as well as I could."

"At no point was any digital peak limiting applied to these albums as this is never good for audiophile releases and is completely useless as a source for vinyl records (full scale digital audio is already too loud to cut from, so it is pointless to smash it against the brick wall only to drop the level still further for the cut. Adding limiting would have been the worst of all worlds, increased distortion and “mush” with no useable level increase). On some songs I did apply some gentle tube compression (I have an analogue tube AT-101, which is a very faithful Fairchild 670 recreation, it sounds wonderful, almost certainly because of the 22 tubes in it). This compression was for artistic effect and feel and not to over hype the music and make it too pumped. I am no fan of extreme compression but like salt and pepper in cooking, a little bit carefully applied at the right time in the right quantity can really improve things."

"During the mastering of these albums I was also loaned a set of original pressings for every album. This was an excellent reference point as I could play these on the calibrated system on the lathe while also listening to the files. My goal was to make these new cuts at least as good as the originals and hopefully better. This is not as easy as it sounds due to the wear on some of the tapes. Essentially, when the original cuts were made, the tapes were obviously in mint condition which is a huge advantage for the original pressings, but I have a far cleaner signal path than was available to the original cutting engineers which helps me a little. I am happy that I achieved my goal. I feel supremely honoured to have been given access to these classic recordings and the sessions will live long in my memory."

The three LPs, alongside a bundle are available on the Abbey Road Shop for pre-order today, where you'll also find a selection of other Rolling Stones albums Miles has worked on, which will all be released on 26 June 2020.