If you were there at the time, Queen was a very big thing. From the early 1970s right up to (and beyond) the death of singer Freddie Mercury in 1991, the band had a string of gold and platinum selling records across the globe. Queen’s music might not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but there’s no denying the power of Pomp Prog.
Recently, Queen and Universal Music announced the launch of an 18-disc, 180g coloured vinyl, half-speed-master, back-to-the-master-tapes box set of the band’s 15 studio albums, called (appropriately enough) Queen: The Studio Collection.
This has been a five-year project, engaging the services of mastering guru Bob Ludwig, and Abbey Road’s vinyl expert Miles Showell. This involved tracking down the best possible surviving sources (‘Under Pressure’ and five tracks from Innuendo were as much examples of audio archaeology as remastering.
Such was the dedication to the project, Queen’s surviving members blind tested the work of leading engineers, before settling on Grammy-winner Ludwig. He supervised the inspection process and encoding to 24-bit, 96kHz digital masters, which allowed the restoration process to take place (high-performance tape master correction is performed using a program called Retouch by Cambridge-based company CEDAR, but can only take place in the digital domain, and the technology is capped at 24/96). Following this, the vinyl was cut from these new master files.
Showell used a Neumann VMS80 lathe, with custom-designed RIAA amplification for the half-speed cut, and – in a rare occurrence today – the lacquers were checked and rechecked before they were sent to Optimal in Germany for pressing. Optimal was also involved in the development of new pigments for coloured vinyl, ensuring these albums were not compromised by the colour itself (as used to be the case with introducing dyes into the vinyl). This too was tested under blind conditions against 180g uncoloured vinyl albums. The colours used reflect the primary colour used in that album’s artwork.
Queen’s last two albums – Innuendo and Made in Heaven – were LPs cut in the time of CD and it was recommended that they become double LPs for the box set. Also, Queen II (which originally had a ‘white’ and ‘black’ side instead of A and B) is now spread over two LPs, with artwork embedded into the other side of each disc. A glossy, 108 page book accompanies the box.