the audio analyst — Pierre Sprey and Mapleshade Productions: The Artist and the Artistry

by Greg Weaver

This is the first of a two part work. It recounts the opportunity I had to sit in on a live session at Mapleshade studios, and reveals much as to why the Mapleshade sound is so unique. Part two, following hereafter, is the summation of a four hour taped interview with Mapleshade's founder and recording engineer, Pierre Sprey. It contains some rather unorthodox views which may start you thinking about the way recordings are made! But for now, let's take a look at what goes on in the mansion recording studio known as Mapleshade.

Background To A Journey

My first exposure to Mapleshade products came while I was with the previously mentioned high end audio store in central Pennsylvania in early 1993. One of the first discs I auditioned from this label was a thing called Jazznost. It was the first collaboration of a fine Soviet Union horn section and an outstanding American rhythm section led by pianist Walter Davis, Jr., and was recorded by Pierre Sprey and Mapleshade in May of 1989.

On The Road Again...

The day chosen for the first of my several visits came on a glorious day in early February with the sun shining and the temperature in the high 50's. The trip itself was relaxing and calming, with Mapleshade recordings in the Clarion in-dash player the entire way! Research, you know? It took just slightly over an hour to make the journey as it is barely sixty miles from my home in southern Maryland.

"I have to work with small studios. The big ones won't shut anything off"! He is of course referring to things like large appliances and computers which spike, surge and generally grunge up the electricity supply during recording, mastering and playback. I myself have a switch on my refrigerator and shut off my furnace/air conditioning for similar reasons when critically listening or reviewing. Pierre continued, "The man and his wife think I'm a nutcase, but it's good for their reputation (having Mapleshade master there), so they tolerate it." He did mention they got pretty irate the first few times because they forgot to turn the refrigerator back on. But I assured him they should have only made that mistake once — just like me!

"I could have built a sound booth right here," as he gestures to where his current pre amps and deck reside. "But, then I would have to use long cables to go up and over the walls and down into the booth. I couldn't take the phones off for a live reference to the master either, I'd have to use some kind of monitoring system. No, this is much better!"

"Great, man" was his reply.

Part 2: The Interview

Greg: It is kind of refreshing to see someone step back from almost dogmatic adherence to conventional theory and approach the design of sonic components with their ears in mind.