Category Archives for "Engineering"

How To Sound Like The Beatles Using Modern Gear

Beatles GuitarsIf you ever wanted to record some of those authentic Beatles guitar sounds but didn’t know how to go about getting them, then this is the video for you. It uses only modern gear and relies mostly on pedal combinations. Granted, the amp is a Vox AC30 and the guitars and bass are modern versions of what John, Paul and George used, but the sounds are pretty much nailed.

Here’s a list of the timings and what gear combinations are used.
0:00 – Hard Day’s Night
0:31 – Nowhere Man
0:47 – Taxman
1:00 – Paperback Writer
1:18 – Think For Yourself
1:45 – Revolution
2:05 – Happiness is a Warm Gun
2:31 – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Vox AC30 Amplifier:
Rickenbacker 330 Electric Guitar:
Rickenbacker 360-12 Electric Guitar:
Epiphone Hummingbird Pro Acoustic/Electric Guitar:
Epiphone Casino Electric Guitar:
Hofner 500/1 Violin Bass:

MXR Studio Compressor
Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini
Sola Sound Tone Bender Mk IV Fuzz
JHS Colour Box
DLS Effects Versa Vibe
Keeley Caverns Delay-Reverb
Boss FBM-1 Fender Bassman Overdrive
TC Electronic Ditto Looper

Mixing Synth Bass And Real Bass Tracks

synth bassSometimes synth bass tracks are a real bear to get to fit into the mix, but add a real bass to that and many mixers will be pulling their hair out before they make it work. That’s because a synth can have way more low end than a bass and it’s not always easy to tame. At the same time, it can also have a very wide frequency range that gets in the way with other instruments in the mix. That makes mixing synth and real bass especially tricky.

Here’s a video by Ryan West that features some Softube plugins that can help keep both synth and real bass under control and really working in the mix.

7 Tips For Improving Your Drum Sound

7 tips for improving your drum soundWhen it comes to your drum sound, sometimes the smallest details can make a big difference when you consider that there are usually multiple mics involved. Changing one thing can sometimes make a difference, but sometimes it’s the fact that many small adjustments have a cumulative effective on the overall sound. Here are 7 tips culled from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook 3rd edition that can individually or together improve your recorded drum sound.

1. Microphones aimed at the center of the drum will provide the most attack. For more body or ring, aim it more towards the rim.

2. The best way to hear exactly what the drum sounds like when doing a mic check is to have the drummer hit the drum about once per second so there’s enough time between hits to hear how long the ring is.

3. Try to keep any mics underneath the drums at a 90 degree angle to the mic on top to keep the acoustic phase shift to a minimum.

4. Most mics placed underneath the drums will be out of phase with the tops mics. Switch the polarity on your preamp, console or DAW and choose the position that has the most bottom end.

5. Try to keep all mics as parallel as possible to keep the acoustic phase shift to a minimum.

6. The main thing about mic placement on the drums is to place the mics in such a way where the drummer never has to be concerned about hitting them.

7. The ambient sound of the room is a big part of the drum sound. Don’t overlook using room mics where possible.

The above tips can generally apply to just about any drum miking setup, but remember to listen carefully after each adjustment to note the difference, if any, that occurs, then make sure it fits with the track.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

Simon Phillips Talks Drums

Simon PhillipsSimon Phillips is one of the best drummers in the world and has the resume to prove it. From Jeff Beck to The Who to Judas Priest to being a member of Toto and a prolific session drummer, Simon is well respected for not only his playing, but his drum and recording acumen as well.

Here’s a video from Simon’s studio in Los Angeles where he discusses his thoughts on drum miking and equalization. I especially liked the explanation of how he treated and miked his bass drums, and that comes at around 17 minutes into the video.

It should be noted that Simon has a fairly large kit with lots of toms and multiple snare drums, but the information he shares is pretty basic and works with a kit of any size.

[Photographer: Mark Regemann, Germany (german user Jorainbo2001)]

Look Out Security – Headphones Turned Into Secret Microphones

Headphones secret microphonesIf you’ve studied audio technology at all then you know that loudspeakers/headphones and microphones are both principally the same in how they operate, they just work backwards from one other. Where the diaphragm of a microphone responds to moving air molecules to turn sound into an electronic signal, the loudspeaker turns an electronic signal into moving air molecules thanks to the motion of its diaphragm. We’ve used loudspeakers as mics in the past, most recently with the popular subkick on kick and bass, but now an Israeli company has found a way to turn headphones and earbuds into secret microphones to record the surrounding conversations.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University have created a proof-of-concept exploit called “Speake(a)r,” that found that headphones were nearly as good as a microphone at picking up audio in a room. The hack is done by restasking the RealTek audio codec chip output found in many desktop computers from an audio output to an input. Apparently this is fairly easy to do, but hackers just haven’t it discovered it yet. The worst part is that it doesn’t even require a new driver, since the embedded chip has no security built into it and is easily reprogrammed.

Keep in mind that this is just a proof-of-concept, so no need to worry about your conversations or your audio tracks being compromise yet, but it does bring up a big question about the security of the everyday computer peripherals that we all use. Probably the last thing we ever think about is the cyber-security of our audio gear, but perhaps its time to be concerned.

What’s worse is the fact that audio professionals usually use higher-quality headphones than the average earbud listener, which means that the capture quality is better as well, although I’m not exactly sure the frequency response would be that good with closed-back headphones tightly fitted to the head. Then again, it’s pretty rare that matters of national security is discussed in a recording studio (unless you’re with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter). Still, it’s time to be aware that some of our everyday studio gear can be turned into secret microphones.

November 30, 2016

Crappy Sound Checklist

Crappy sound checklistWhether you’re in a live situation or in the studio, things can suddenly sound distorted, or there could be no sound output at all. You can spend a lot of time chasing your tail trying to find out what’s wrong unless you have an orderly procedure to follow that allows you to troubleshoot the system quickly so you can get back making music in short order. If something doesn’t appear to be working or if the sound is noisy or distorted, here’s a checklist to help you get to the bottom of the problem.

If There’s No Audio:

  • Is the mic plugged into the correct channel?
  • Is the Mute switch on the channel engaged?
  • Is the input button on the DAW selected?
  • Is the Mic/Line control raised high enough?
  • Is the master fader at or near zero?
  • Is there an outboard device connected to the insert of the channel or interface? Disconnect it to see if the sound returns. If it does, the fault lies with the outboard device or its cables. Is the device turned on?
  • Is there sound getting to the output? If you have meter deflection but no sound, the problem could be with the amps or speakers. Are they turned on?
  • Try another mic cable
  • Try another microphone.

If The Audio Is Distorted:

  • Are all mics distorted or just one? If all are distorted, then check to see if the amplifiers for the sound system are overloading. Also, check to seen if a speaker is blown.
  • Is the mic input trim control set too high?
  • Is distortion occurring somewhere else in the console or signal path? Use a PFL (pre-fader listen) to check.
  • Are any overload lights on anywhere in the system?
  • Try another mic cable.
  • Try another microphone.

Follow the above checklist and you should find your problem with a minimum amount of time spent.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

Using LUFS For Mixing

Using LUFS for mixingYou might have noticed that in the last few years, the differences in level between television shows, commercials, and channels are pretty even, with no big jumps in volume. That’s because viewers were complaining for years about the fact that there was a dramatic increase in level whenever a commercial aired because it was so compressed compared to the program that you were watching. Congress set out to do something about this, and in 2012 adopted a method to normalize those volume jumps that the European Broadcast Union put into place the year before – Loudness Unit Full Scale or LUFS.

LUFS (called LKFS in Europe) is a way to measure the perceived loudness of a program by measuring both the transient peaks and the steady-state program level over time using an a specially created algorithm. It’s different from a normal meter in that it doesn’t represent signal level – it measures how loud we perceive an audio program to be. For a broadcaster this is actually pretty serious, since if a station violates the mandated LUFS level of -23, it could possibly lose its broadcast license.

Even though LUFS was intended primarily for broadcast audio delivery, it has a new increased meaning in music production as well, as you’ll see in the video below. Thanks to the fact that streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music are now normalizing the songs so the level is the same from tune to tune, there’s no real benefit for compressing a song to within an inch of its life any more. In fact, less volume and more dynamic range are actually your friend.

Using a LUFS meter allows you to optimize your music mixes for a variety of platforms to be sure that they’re always in the sweet spot for dynamic range.

Check out this video from MasteringTheMix that uses its LEVELS plugin to illustrate how this all works. Keep in mind that there are other LUFS meters on the market as well from TC Electronic, Waves or other developers.

Direct Box Basics

Radial JDI direct boxDirect boxes are something that we use every day in recording, yet take for granted because of their simplicity. Here’s an excerpt from my Recording Engineer’s Handbook that looks at the ins and outs of this useful recording tool.

“Direct Injection (DI or “going direct”) of a signal means that a microphone is bypassed, and the instrument (always electric or electrified) is plugged directly into the console or recording device. This was originally done to cut down on the number of mics (and therefore the leakage) used in a tracking session with a lot of instruments playing simultaneously. However, a DI is now used because it either makes the instrument sound better (like in the case of electric keyboards) or is just easier and faster.

Why can’t you just plug your guitar or keyboard directly into the mic preamp without the direct box? Most preamps now have a separate input dedicated for instruments, but there was a time when that wasn’t the case and plugging an electric guitar (for instance) into an XLR mic input would cause an impedance mismatch that would change the frequency response of the instrument (although it wouldn’t hurt anything), usually causing the high frequencies to drop off and therefore make the instrument sound dull.

Advantages of Direct Injection
There are a number of reasons to use direct injection when recording:

  • Direct Box transformers provide ground isolation and allow long cable runs from high impedance sources like guitars and keyboards without excessive bandwidth loss.
  • The extremely high impedance of the DI insures a perfect match with almost every kind of pickup to provide a warmer, more natural sound.
  • The length of cable can be extended up to 50 feet without signal degradation.

Direct Box Types
There are two basic types of direct boxes; active (which can provide gain to the audio signal and therefore needs electronics requiring either battery or AC power), or passive (which provides no gain and doesn’t require power). Which is better? Once again, there are good and poor examples of each. Generally speaking, the more you pay the higher quality they are.

An active DI sometimes has enough gain to be able to actually replace the mic amp and connect directly to your DAW.

An excellent passive DI can be built around the fine Jensen transformer specially designed for the task ( for do-it-yourself instructions) but you can buy basically the same thing from Radial Engineering in their JDI direct box (see the figure on the left). Also, most modern mic pres now come with a separate DI input on a 1/4” guitar jack.

Direct Box Setup
Not much setup is required to use a direct box. For the most part, you just plug the instrument in and play. About the only thing that you might have to set is the gain on an active box (which is usually only a switch that provides a 10 dB boost or so) or the ground switch. Most DI’s have a ground switch to reduce hum in the event of a ground loop between the instrument and the DI. Set it to the quietest position.”

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

Choosing the Right Microphone For The Job

Choosing the right microphoneWhile it’s safe to say that most engineers rely on experience when choosing which microphone to use in a given situation, these are some things to consciously consider when selecting a microphone. Here’s a list of items to think about from the latest edition of my Recording Engineer’s Handbook.

  • There’s no one mic that works well on everything. Just because you have what could be considered a “great” mic doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be the best choice in all situations. There are times when the characteristics of that mic just don’t match up with the instrument you’re recording, and another mic will work better. In fact, sometimes even an inexpensive mic can work better than an expensive one.
  • Select a microphone that complements the instrument you’ll be recording. For instance, if you have an instrument that has a very edgy top end, you normally wouldn’t want to choose a mic that also has that quality, since those frequencies will be emphasized. Instead, you might want to choose a mic that’s a bit mellower, such as a ribbon. This is one of the reasons that a ribbon mic is often preferred on brass, for instance.
  • Is the mic designed to be used in the free field or in the diffuse field? Free-field means the sound that comes directly from the source dominates what the mic hears. Diffuse-field means that the room reflections play a large role in what the mic hears. Mics designed for free-field use tend to have a flat frequency response in the high frequencies, and as a result can sound dull when placed farther away in room from the sound source. Diffuse-field mics have a boost in the upper frequencies that make them sound flat when placed farther away. A good example of a diffuse-field mic is the esteemed Neumann M 50, which was meant to be placed somewhat away from an orchestra, so it has a high-frequency boost to compensate for the distance.
  • Select a mic that won’t be overloaded by the source. Some mics are sensitive enough that you must be aware of how they’re used. You wouldn’t want to put certain ribbon or condenser mics on a snare drum with a heavy-hitting drummer, for instance. Even some dynamic mics have little tolerance for high sound-pressure levels, so always take that into account.
  • Choose the right polar pattern for the job. If leakage is a consideration, then choose a mic with the proper directional capabilities for the job. If a mic is flat on-axis (at the front), it probably will roll off some of the highs when it’s 90 degrees off-axis (on the side). If it’s flat 90 degrees off-axis, it may have a rising high end when it’s on-axis.
  • Is proximity effect an issue? If you intended to place the mic within 6 inches or closer from the source, will the bass buildup from the proximity effect be too much? If you think that may be the case, consider an omni pattern instead.
  • A large-diaphragm condenser mic is not necessarily better than small-diaphragm condenser. Believe it or not, small diaphragm condenser microphones can sometimes capture the lower frequencies better, are generally less colored off-axis than large-diaphragm mics, and have a smoother frequency response. Large-diaphragm mics are a little less noisy, though.

You can read more from The Recording Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

New Music Gear Monday: Audio-Technica ATM350a Instrument Microphone

audio-technica atm350aWe all have our favorite mics for recording specific instruments in the studio, but when it comes to miking them live, everything is out the window. Mostly that’s because mounting many mics can be a pain. While you can afford to spend time getting the placement just right in the studio, when it’s live everything is fast, fast and faster, so that becomes the primary consideration, although it still has to sound good. Thankfully, Audio-Technica has taken all this into consideration with introduction of its new ATM350a instrument microphone.

The ATM350a is a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that’s able to take high SPL levels (up to 159dB SPL!), which is essential for a mic that’s tightly placed on an instrument, and is basically an upgrade of the previous ATM350. Where the new version shines though, is the fact that it comes with an array of mounts that makes it able to easily fit on almost any instrument, from string bass to drums to piano to horns and almost anything else you can think of.

Each version of the mic comes with a specialized mount for a particular instrument, although there are also multiple mounts provided in each kit.  The ATM350U kit with Universal Clip-on Mounting System, for instance, includes the ATM350a Microphone, an AT8543 Power Module, an AT8491U Universal Clip-on Mount, an AT8490 5″ Gooseneck, an AT8468 Violin Mount (hook-and-loop fastener), and a protective carrying case. Other kits include one with a 9 inch gooseneck and a magnetic mount intended specifically for piano miking, one for drum miking with a very cool universal mount, one for woodwind miking, and one that includes a wireless transmitter. The mounting hardware is also available separately.

The Audio-Technica ATM350a retails for  between $299 to $349, depending upon the package. There’s more detailed info on the company’s website, and on the video below.