We recently scurried down to deepest, darkest Devon to chew the fat with Simon Heyworth at his beautiful state-of-the-art Super Audio Mastering (SAM) facility. Simon kicked off his audio career in the early-‘70s at Virgin’s The Manor studio - where he co-produced Tubular Bells - before going on to establish himself as one of the most talented mastering engineers on the planet. As well as mastering hundreds of new albums since SAM opened its doors back in 2002, Simon has also been responsible for numerous critically-acclaimed re-masters including Nick Drake, Brian Eno, King Crimson, George Harrison and Simple Minds.
Over a two-part interview – and with the help of fellow SAM engineer Andy Miles - Heyworth explains the ins and outs of the complex creative process in which he “polishes” fresh-from-the-studio mixes into the high-end sonic gems you can all enjoy on your hi-fis.
MF: How would you sum up what the mastering process is all about?
SH: “The simple way to look at it is if you’re a carpenter, you go and make a table and you make a really nice table and you go, ‘Yeah, that looks okay, that’s nice… but it’s not finished’. Now, there’s a guy down the road who is really good at polishing and that’s us. And I think it’s as simple as that really. We’re just the polishers! The polishing can either be polishing out imperfections or it can be polishing something up to a shine… with what we do, we like people to go, ‘Wow, I never knew it could sound that good! You seem to have breathed new life into this’ and these are the kind of comments that we get. The other thing we do of course is provide a purely technical service of providing masters for CD-pressing, downloading audio from the internet and a whole myriad of data compression services and metadata input. Crucially, we are the last link in the chain of record-making so the quality control aspects are very important such as flagging up the existence of odd noises, ticks and pops and removing them where possible so that the end product is clean.”