I first became aware of Italian label Hemiolia Records a few years ago at the Munich High-End Show. I had a quick flick through the selection of tapes they had on display, but at the time wasn’t familiar with the artists in their catalogue. Back then I was busy buying up all the favourites I could afford from Horch House (now sadly defunct) and Open Reel Records, and my budget didn’t quite stretch to taking a punt on new music that wasn’t yet on my ‘must have’ list.
Anyway, fast forward to the Munich Show a couple of years back, where I noticed that Hemiolia were promoting a new tape project: they’d acquired the rights to publish previously unreleased tapes from the personal archive of the one and only Luciano Pavarotti! Now, I’m not the world’s greatest opera buff, having only ever been to one performance (La Bohème, in Taormina in Sicily, which was spellbinding, so I’m definitely open to learning more).
Opera luddite I may be, but as a lover of a wide variety of classical music from multiple periods and genres, I made a bee-line for the Hemiolia stand and came away with my very own Pavarotti master copy.
So, who are Hemiolia Records?
Hemiolia is the creation of recording engineers Pietro Benini and Claudio Valieri, who are based across two locations in Italy: the Hemiolia headquarters in Perugia, Umbria, and the recording and mastering studio in Savio, Emilia Romagna. (‘Hemiolia’, out of interest, is a rhythmic pattern in music of syncopated beats, with two beats in the time of three or three beats in the time of two… yep, I Googled it!).
The Savio studio is equipped with professional analogue recorders of all formats – including 2-inch 24-track – all perfectly maintained and calibrated. This allows Pietro to offer the potential for restoration of even the most precious of original masters.
The Perugia HQ, meanwhile, houses the master copying production facilities, in which 16 Telefunken M15A tape recorders are fed from 2 Studer A80 VUs. Alongside the copying room is an exquisitely stocked listening room, and fully climate-controlled storage facilities where Hemiolia stores both its stocks of blank tapes (from Recording the Masters) and its recordings – the master copy for safe keeping, and the master copies available for sale.
Actually, let’s go back to the recording studio for a moment, since it deserves a bit more of a description. The studio was designed and built in 1990 by the British Society Audio Design Group – an organization which also lists the creation of Abbey Road Studios among its credits. The Savio studio is built mainly of stone and wood, and it has various natural acoustic treatments built into the design, such as chambers and alcoves designed to provide the perfect recording environment. It’s a benchmark of technical and acoustic quality and, having been in operation for almost three decades now, the Hemiolia facility has recorded in excess of 600 albums.
Hemiolia’s master tapes: a high quality product
Hemiolia’s catalogue of master tape copies currently numbers around 15 titles. Every one of them is certificated with the Hemiolia ‘A4P’ process – which you can read more about on Hemiolia’s website, but essentially this is the customer’s guarantee that Hemiolia’s tapes are what the purport to be: authentic, fully authorized, studio quality master tape copies, sourced direct from the original masters. Which is important, because not everything sold as such is what it seems. We’re seeing more and more tapes of highly dubious provenance coming to the market, some of which are being sold by companies that appear, on the surface at least, to be fully legitimate. So it pays to be careful. Hemiolia’s reels, which are stunningly beautiful, bear an electronic watermark (ERW).
When you buy a true master copy from a reputable company, the experience really does stand out as fundamentally different from buying what’s otherwise essentially a pirate. Really, you get what you pay for.
In the case of Hemiolia, their master copies come with a lifetime warranty – and an extremely generous one at that. Even if you damage a tape accidentally – let’s say your tape deck develops a fault, or your mate leaves a tape on top of a loudspeaker and demagnetizes it – this is within warranty. And the warranty even applies if you buy the tape second hand, as long as you have the name of the original purchaser and the serial number of the tape. Of course there may be some charge for the replacement, depending on what the problem was, but the company commits to keeping things as fair and affordable as possible. Which is really quite something!
The Hemiolia catalogue
There are several collections in the Hemiolia range.
The Gold Collection is Hemiolia’s primary collection, comprising recordings made by Hemiolia mostly in natural environments, and featuring their own artists.
The Studio Reference Collection again features the label’s own artists, but here the recordings are madeexclusively in Hemiolia’s Savio studios, to the highest possible technical standards.
The Prestige Collection, which includes the Pavarotti tapes, is taken from historical masters and showcases great historical artists. These tapes are made from the original master tape archives.
The Live Collection, as the name suggests, is entirely made up of live music recordings. Again, these are made in natural environments: beautiful concert halls in which the whole live concert is mixed ‘live’ down to two tracks and recorded as is. Of course this type of recording may often have a few coughs, the odd sound of a chair scraping the floor, and may not be as technically perfect as a studio recording, but the essence of the live performance is fully captured on tape, with no attempt made to subsequently remove these extraneous noises. This is often my favorite type of recording.
From what I can see, all tapes are Recording the Masters SM900, and there’s a choice of CCIR or NAB. The recordings are made at an operating level of 320nWb/m.
You can find out more and browse the complete catalogue at http://www.hemioliarecords.com/HemioliaEN/Home.html
There’s also plenty of interesting information about Hemiolia’s production processes on their website, including topics such as: recording in natural environments, making live recordings, studio recordings, editing and mastering, quality control of blank tapes, and equipment maintenance.
Coming up soon – a report from my listening room, having spent some quality time with the Pavarotti tapes from The Prestige Collection. Watch this space…!