A "SUPERDISC" is a very special record created with only one thing in mind: "QUALITY". What makes a SUPERDISC so "super" is that it is the perfect integration of artists, musical compositions, production, manufacturing and packaging. There are three main groups of superdiscs which are represented in the Nautilus line of products:
(1) DD - the direct-to-disc recording
(2) DGT - the digital recording
(3) HSM - the high-technology, analog recording
(HSM includes variations and combinations of all three processes).
DD - The Direct-to-disk recording
Direct-to-disc recordings are always performed "live." Until the commercial applications of digital recording were available, direct-to-disc performances were the only way to accurately record a session with a minimum of distortion, maximum dynamic range and widest possible frequency response. Analog signals from the artists are passed directly through the recording console to a modified cutting lathe which etches in real-time the master lacquer. By eliminating tape machines and magnetic tape, there can be no wow and flutter problems, no tape hiss, no tape saturation, no tape transport noise, no electronic distortions or abnormalities.
Because these sessions are live, there can be no editing or overdubbing. Any mistakes during the recording of an entire side, of up to 22 minutes of material, will ruin the lacquer. The music will have to be recorded again until the side is perfect. The performers will naturally be under extreme pressure, but it is this need for complete accuracy that adds immeasurably to the excitement of such a session.
Since only a very limited number of lacquers may be cut during these live sessions, the manufacturing capabilities are significantly reduced. On the average, only 25,000 records are ever available per title of a direct-to-disc release.
DGT - Digital recording
Digital recording is an outgrowth of space and computer technology applied to the recording industry. Also called pulse-code-modulated recording (PCM), digital processes convert continuous sine wave (analog) energy into a series of pulses identified by the digital recorder as numerical values. This is accomplished by sampling the audio spectrum at a series of defined points at up to 50,000 times per second. Since all that is recorded on the digital tape is "numbers" there is incredible accuracy. No matter how badly the values are stored on the recording medium, when played back they cannot be decoded inaccurately. A distorted number "5" can only be interpreted as a "5," and not some other value. In addition, almost ten times as much dynamic energy, before tape saturation, can be captured using digital recording techniques. Frequency response is literally from the lowest possible bass notes to the very highest harmonics in the musical spectrum with little or no deviation from "flat" or reference levels. Distortion, wow and flutter, tape hiss and tape transport noises are non-existent.
The advantage to digital recording is that multi-track recorders have been developed which allow artists to over-dubb, mix and edit performances in the studio. This flexibility alone makes digital recording the basis for some phenomenal records from major artists of today.
The main drawback to direct-to-disc recordings is that major recording artists in contemporary music are not capable of recording their music in real-time. They rely on editing-out mistakes and remixing and re-recording (over-dubbing) counterpart melodies or additional instrumental passages. The problem therefore was "how to get a major artist on a superdisc?" Two methods were devised. The first was to carefully remaster original tapes (half-speed mastering) of the desired performers and the second was to record them using a new technology called "digital."
Half-speed mastering(HSM) is a process in which the original master two-track tapes are run at half of their normal speed during the mastering (lacquer cutting) process. The cutting lathe is also run at half of its normal speed. Thus the playback ratios remain the same. The advantage to this slow cutting speed is that'a more perfect groove can be etched onto the lacquer. Better frequency response, wider dynamic range and considerably less distortion are the benefits.
If compared to the equivalent commercial pressings of the same music, halfspeed mastered records are significantly better. Unfortunately however, the music available as half-speed mastered releases is older catalog titles. The problem still remained: "How do you get contemporary artists with NEW MATERIAL on a SUPERDISC?"
A FINAL NOTE
It should be pointed out that each of the processes described has certain advantages and disadvantages. It takes experience to determine which technique to use with which artist/s, in which studio and with what type of music, to make the finest possible SUPERDISC. Regardless of the recording techniques however, without extreme care in cutting lacquers, plating them, and pressing the final discs, a SUPERDISC will only be as good as the weakest link in this chain.
Some issues available in dbx-format