Jack White is no fan of digital audio

Tape Op magazine's interview with the former White Stripe reveals what it takes to make great-sounding records.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read

I devoured Tape Op magazine's interview with Jack White III (the White Stripes), mostly because the man is as obsessed with sound quality as I am. The interview was conducted by Tape Op's editor, Larry Crane, but it sounds more like a freewheeling conversation than an interview. Crane founded the magazine 15 years ago, and it now has a circulation of 55,000 print copies.

White never takes the easy way with his music and recording, and prefers analog tape machines, "I like the constriction of 8-track. I like knowing in the back of my head that albums like [the Beatles'] 'Revolver' were recorded on 4-track. If we can't do it on 8-track, twice as many tracks as that, then what are we doing here?"

Tape Op

He may be in his mid-thirties, but White's not the least bit seduced by the advantages of digital recording techniques, "Anytime I've ever had to mix something in Pro Tools where there's an unlimited opportunity, I just don't like it. It feels really uncomfortable to me. It's scary." And he wants his crew focused on the task at hand, "There's nothing worse than working in a studio and you come around and everyone is on laptops or cell phones and no one even heard what you recorded."

White prefers to listen at really loud volume in the studio over big monitors, but he knows that most folks are going to be listening to his music over less powerful systems. So he uses a rather unorthodox mixing technique, "Jack Lawrence bought me an FM [radio] transmitter, so now I can do a lot of mixes in my car...It's an astoundingly accurate way of mixing."

Tape Op is published bi-monthly and is chock full of in-depth interviews (up to 10,000 words). Some of the best ones were with Beatles recording engineer Geoff Emerick, the Doors' engineer Bruce Botnick, Radiohead's engineer, Pavement, DJ Spooky, and David Byrne, but Crane is still trying to snag an interview with the Beatles' producer George Martin. Tape Op mostly focuses on record producers, musicians, and engineers' efforts to make great-sounding recordings. Crane and his friend, publisher John Baccigaluppi, offer free print subscriptions in the United States and the United Kingdom, and paid subscriptions elsewhere. Tape Op's Web site has bits and pieces of the print magazine online, plus bonus material, but you'll miss most of the juiciest bits if you only read Tape Op online. The print version is where most of the action is. I love that, but I'm into physical media and I have around 20 or 30 Tape Op magazines in my collection.

Tape Op is more than interviews, there are tons of gear-oriented articles, like "A Crash Course on Fender Amplifiers" and tips like "Tips for Recording Vocals," but for me the interviews make the magazine.

Crane is also an engineer and owns Jackpot Recording Studio in Portland, Ore., so he relates to his interview subjects. He's one of them and the magazine really reflects that. Jackpot has recorded Stephen Malkmus, The Decemberists, M. Ward, Sonic Youth, She & Him, Stephen Malkmus, and lots of other great bands.