Category Archives for "Hardware"
There’s no question that vinyl is back with a bang, and as a result, so is the turntable business. In fact, most turntable manufacturers both big and small have experienced double digit sales growth in the last few years, a trend that looks like it won’t be stopping anytime soon.
But what exactly goes into making a turntable, especially a high-end one? In the following video you’ll no doubt marvel at what a fine hand-crafted precision tool the Riga RP8 is as you see it being made from scratch. By the way, the RP8 sells for $3,500 with the stylus cartridge and $3,000 without.
That’s no doubt more than most people are willing to spend on a device to play their vinyl (in most cases their entire playback system doesn’t cost that much), but it doesn’t make the RP8 any less cool if you have that kind of money to spend.
If you love old recording desks, then you have a chance to buy not one, but 2 iconic consoles that have huge pedigrees with tons of hits. The first is the EMI TG12345 MK IV from Abbey Road Studios made famous for the recording of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and albums by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Kate Bush, The Cure, among many others.
Back in the day, all consoles at Abbey Road and other EMI-owned studios were designed and built by the EMI in-house technical staff. and this particular desk is only one of two like it ever built (the other now belonging to producer Michael Hedges). The console has 40 channels, with a compressor on each channel (which was quite innovative for its time), divided into 24 input channels and 16 monitor channels, since this is from the days of 16 track tape recording.
Many think that the solid state TG12345 MK IV was the best sounding console every built, although I know at least a couple of former Abbey Road engineers who disagree and think the tube REDD series sounded better, but that’s probably splitting hairs. Regardless, it’s still in working order and is up for auction at Bonhams. It’s expected to go for somewhere in the high 6 figures!
The second classic desk is a very nice API 2488 from Sunset Sound Factory in Hollywood which has been heavily modified and fully restored (which cost around $165k in today’s dollars). It has 36 inputs, 16 busses and 29 (!) full monitor channels, plus a Martinsound Flying Fader package.
This console was at the heart of recordings by Chili Peppers, Motorhead, Sheryl Crow, Brian Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Beck, Jimmy Cliff, Smashing Pumpkins and many more. No mention of the price, but it’s available from Vintage King.
The best thing about these desks is that they’re available in working order and should find a nice home without being parted out. There’s less and less of a need for a big piece of iron like these iconic consoles these days, but hopefully they’ll both find nice homes.
If you were to place one electric guitar sound up on a pedestal as the one to copy, it would probably be the one from AC/DC’s Angus Young. “Back In Black” is still looked upon as an iconic record and sound, and guitar players, engineers and producers have been using a variety of methods to reproduce it every since. The fact of the matter is that his sound in some ways is dead simple, with just a guitar and amp and no pedals, and in another way pretty complex, as you’ll see in this video.
One of the things I liked here is that every aspect of Angus sound is detailed, right down to the amp settings (which are not what you might think), strings and pots on the guitar. It all comes from Angus guitar tech Trace Foster as interviewed by Premier Guitar’s Chris Kies. At the end of the video, guitar tech Greg Howard goes over rhythm guitar player Stevie Young’s very unique (at least guitar-wise) rig as well. You can find out more details about their touring rigs here.
Now let’s all go back to basics by working with the guitar and amp first to get the sound before you introduce those pedals.[photo: weatherman90]
About 3 years ago I posted about my top 10 compressors, but things have changed a lot since then, so I thought it was time to post an updated list. Many of the entries haven’t changed, but a few have (especially on the software side).
This list is a combination of hardware and software, since most of us live in a DAW world these days. Also, the ranking is somewhat arbitrary based on my personal usage. Okay, here we go.
1. Universal Audio 1176: I don’t care which version you use, the 1176 is about as close to a desert island compressor as you’ll get due to its versatility. I like to use it on kick, snare, guitars, bass, vocals – just about anything. It can be aggressive or smooth sounding, but nothing pulls an instrument out of a mix in the same way.
2. Teletronix/Universal Audio LA-2A: Once again, I don’t care which version of the hardware or software you use, the LA-2A has a sound and feel all its own. It can work pretty well on most instruments, but it stands out on vocals, and is dead easy to use. I rarely use a lot, as I like the sound of 2 to 3 dB of gain reduction in most situations.
3. Universal Audio LA-3: Perhaps the ultimate electric guitar compressor, I’ve used it successfully on piano and keyboards as well. Nothing works quite the same with electric guitars in a mix.
4. UAD Precision Limiter: This is a plug that I use on every mix. It doesn’t really try to emulate anything else and it doesn’t have to. It can sit there and be very transparent while putting an absolute ceiling on the peaks of a mix (the way I like to use it), or you can set it to be really aggressive and squeeze every last drop of dynamics from the mix, if that’s what you’re looking for.
5. PSP Vintage Warmer: I don’t know what it is but the Vintage Warmer makes a mix sound better just by being in the signal path. I hardly ever adjust it much, but it always seems to pull the mix together. I like to use it as the first thing on my stereo buss and feed it into an SSL buss compressor, then the Precision Limiter.
6. SSL Buss Compressor: This is the sound that made so many pop and rock records in the 80s and 90s, and it still works great in those genres. I once worked in a studio that had the buss compressor on their 9k labeled as “The Good Button.” Why? Because no matter how your mix sounded, once the SSL buss compressor was engaged, it sounded better.
7. JST Finality: Joey Sturgis is a clever guy and his Finality is a great example of a new take on a classic design (the 1176). The Finality sounds great on drums and bass, doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take up too many system resources. Very cool.
8. dbx 160: I just love the 160s; any of them. For a punchy drum sound, you can’t beat the hardware 160X’s (or even the A model). In software, the UAD 160 sounds great. My favorite for aggressive kick and snare, but it will pull a piano or acoustic guitar up front as well.
9. Fairchild 660/670: When it comes to buss compression, the Fairchild 670 stands is king of the hill for many kinds of music (especially retro or acoustic). It just adds a glue and warmth that you have trouble getting any other way. Just a little bit (a couple of dB) seems to work a lot better than a whole lot. The 660 is the mono version of the more widely known 670, and was the sound you heard on many of The Beatle records (Ringo’s drums, for instance).
10. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Few modern compressors have caught on so widely as the Distressor, and that’s because there are few that are as versatile. I like to track with it on vocals to keep the peaks under control, but there are few compressors that are as effective on room mics, especially when it’s set to “Nuke.” I’m so happy that there’s now a plugin version as well.
Honorable Mention. Pro Tools Native Digirack Compressor/Limiter: I personally think this is one of the most versatile compressors that you can find. It can sound transparent and it can sound aggressive, and since it doesn’t take up much in the way of systems resources, you can use a lot of them in a big mix. Don’t overlook it.
Once again, my top 10 compressors are what I always use, so this is a clearly personal opinion. There’s lots of great compressor out there (especially in software), but I’ve come to rely on these units because I know what they’ll do in most situations.
What are your favorites?
We’ve been hearing about vinyl record manufacturing coming into the future for some time, and here’s another example. Some Canadian design engineers who usually put their R&D talents into things like MRI machines went to work on the vinyl record press. They made some huge improvements and came up with the Warm Tone vinyl record press.
What’s cool about the Warm Tone press is that so many pain points of the record making process are improved, not just one. Everything from the way the vinyl puck (the piece of plastic before it becomes a record) is warmed and formed to the way the finished record is picked up off the press has been improved. As a result, you now have a high-tech device that’s much more efficient than anything that’s come before.
You always hear that word “efficient” thrown about, but in this case it’s a huge improvement that can end up saving the customer (you, the artist) money.
The typical old-school record press has a 30 to 40% failure rate, meaning that for every 1,000 records pressed, 300 to 400 are bad and must be recycled thanks to everything from operator error or mechanical failure. The Warm Tone is down near 1%!
It’s faster too, spitting out 3 records per minute versus less than 2 from the old system.
All this from a machine that’s iOS operated by a single technician for every 4 presses, as compared to the normal one technician for every press.
The bottom line is that every though each press costs $195,000, it should actually bring the cost of making a record down, and speed up the manufacturing as well. If you’re suffering from a long wait time for your vinyl album to be pressed (as long as 4 months in some cases), then hopefully that wait time can chopped down to something bearable soon.
From the beginning of recording time we’ve been aiming microphones at the source by eye when first setting up. For the most part they’re pretty forgiving if we don’t point them exactly perfectly, and a quick listen will tell us if we need to adjust. But wouldn’t it be cool if there was a more precise way to position a microphone? Now there is with the new Aston Starlight laser targeting microphone.
The Aston Starlight is a small diaphragm condenser mic that features a built-in class 2 laser (the same strength as what you’ll find in a laser pointer) to show you exactly where the mic is pointing. I know that Sennheiser experimented with some prototypes of something similar 7 or 8 years ago, but the Starlight is the first mic to actually go into production with this technology. The laser can be turned on or off with a chassis mounted switch.
It would be cool enough if that was the only unique feature of the mic, but there’s a lot more. The mic features a sintered metal head over the diaphragm, and a 100% stainless tumbled steel chassis, making it virtually indestructible (just like the old E/V mics). The sintered head is made up of micro ball bearings that can be manufactured in such a way as to tune both the capsule and the cavity around it.
There’s more. The Starlight also contains a unique voicing circuit that gives the mic 3 different sounds. When Vintage is selected on the 3 way switch, the mic has a lift in the bass frequencies and a gentle rolloff in the top end. The Modern position provides more of a flat frequency response, and the Hybrid gives a combination of both. There’s also a 3 position bass rolloff switch, and a pad switch that provides both -10 and -20dB pads.
The Aston Starlight is also priced very reasonably. The mic has a street price of $349 while a stereo pair goes for $699 and includes a stereo bar. You can visit the dedicated page at AstonMics.com or check out the video below.
We could all use a little bit of shopping help when it comes to buying Christmas gifts for the people around us in the music and recording business. If you’re in a quandary about what to buy, you’re in luck as I have a list of recommendations that covers a wide variety of items and price ranges. All of these following products I use regularly.
1. EarPeace Hearing Protectors I personally never go into a loud audio situation without these little gems. They are soooo much better than foam or wax earplugs in that they cut the level down without affecting the frequency response, plus you get an extra one with each pair! Since I found these EarPeaces, I feel absolutely naked and scared when I don’t have them on me. At less than $20, you just can’t go wrong.
2. Equator D5 Monitors
Want to know my secret weapon when it comes to mixing? It’s these little Equator coaxial monitors. I’ve used them on every mix for the last 3 years and all I can say is they’re the best small monitor (5 inch woofer) I’ve ever used. You just can’t find a better pair of speakers at this price point ($449) anywhere. Get the matching isolation pads too, an absolute bargain at $20!
3. Blocklite This goes under the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?”. Blocklite is a simple LED add-on to any 9 volt battery that turns it into a flashlight that’s perfect for checking all those dark spaces during a session or show. Cheap too at only $19.95 for a package of 3 including the batteries!
4. Radial JDI Direct Box
This is the best DI on the market, period. It’s built like a tank and will last forever, and captures the low end that those cheap DI’s could only dream about. You need at least one of these. At $199, it’s still a bargain and you will hear the difference immediately.
5. Monoprice 8323 Headphones It’s shocking how good these phones are for $28. They’re pretty comfortable, have a really tight fit, and provide a surprisingly balanced sound. In fact, I would trust the low end on the 8323’s more than on a couple alternatives that I have that cost 4 or 5 times more. Don’t let the “DJ-style” in the description scare you, these are terrific for the price.
6. Books by Bobby Owsinski
Okay, so I’m a little biased, but if you’re looking for a book for someone in the music business, you’ll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There’s something for everyone, including books on mixing, recording, recording drums, mastering, being a studio musician or a touring musician, improving your band, producing, navigating the new music business, social media for musicians, studio building, guitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.
7. Golden Age Project Pre-73 Mic Preamp
Everybody wants a Neve preamp but a lot of us can’t spring for a couple of channels of 1073s. The Golden Age Project Pre–73 was built to sound a lot like the 1073 and it does a pretty good job of it (and the latest MK III version is even better). It’s not the real thing, but for only $379 it’s surprising how close it gets. If that’s too expensive, get the Pre73 JR version for only $249. The Pre73 is what I use for my podcast voice.
8. Lynda.com Online Training Tutorials If you don’t know about Lynda.com then you really should. They’re the #1 portal on the Internet for video learning, with over 3800 high-quality courses on just about any kind of tech you can think of. While you’re there, check out the courses I’ve done for Lynda. Lynda is just $24.99 for a full month, which allows you to access as many courses as you can watch. Here’s a free 7 day trial.
9. Warm Audio WA76 Compressor/Limiter
I happen to think that the 1176 was the best compressor/limiter ever invented, since it works on just about any source and even does things that no other compressor on the market can do. A vintage 1176 (or even a new UA model) will set you back a bundle, but you can get so close you might not tell the difference with the Warm Audio’s WA-76. I liked it so much I bought 3. An absolute steal at $599. Also check out their great API-style WA12 mic preamp as well (I own a couple of those too).
10. Snark SN-1 Guitar Tuner We’ve all gotten used to using software guitar tuners, but when you want to tune as fast as possible, this is the best tuner I’ve found. It clips right onto the guitar so you don’t even have to plug it in, and it even has a built-in metronome. At $9.95 each, it’s unbeatable.
Audiophiles can be quite obsessive, and when you’re an engineer it can make that obsession even worse. In the 1930s engineer Roderick Denman built a huge loudspeaker into the roof of his house that faced straight downward into an octagonal listening area that he used for the flare of his giant horn, which extended some 20 feet. There he placed a few reclining chairs. Basically, you were sitting entirely inside the speaker when you listened!
In order to get the best frequency response from the horn, it had to be large and straight. Many horns of the day were curved, which provided great low end response, but limited the highs, which why the only way Denman could could achieve such a large horn was to build it as part of his house.
The compression driver used to drive the horn was the then new Western Electric 555W (see on the right), designed by the famous Bell Labs and said to be one of the greatest speakers ever made. They have run in theaters for more than 60 years and today are bought and sold for thousands of dollars.
The loudspeaker was used for demonstrations until a wall fell on it during WWII and it was almost destroyed. Since then it’s been part of the Scientific Museum at Blythe House in the UK, but it wasn’t until recently that sound artist in residence Alex Kolkowski decided to build a modern version of it according to the original specification.
After 8 months the speaker is finally operational and on display at the museum. It’s also working again with the help of the original driver, and has a frequency response of 32Hz to 6kHz.
Those of us who grew up with horn-loaded speakers know how good they can sound under the right circumstances. They’re very efficient and directional, which is great for live sound, but also pretty bulky, which is why line-arrays are used in virtually every sound reinforcement situation today. Too bad, because they sounded great.
That said, it’s very cool that Denman’s horn has been recreated and available for all to see and hear again.
If 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.
We all love a deal and Cyber Monday is the day for it, so I decided to put together my own list of cool gear especially for musicians and engineers. Here are some accessory items that make great gifts for any musician or engineer (even yourself).
EarPeace Hearing Protectors – They reduce the volume but don’t change the frequency response, plus they come with an extra ear protector, a cool carrying case, and different filters. I don’t know what I’d do without them. You’ll use them more than you ever thought. Black Friday deal from $12.
Blocklite – This goes under the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?”. Blocklite is a simple LED add-on to any 9 volt battery that turns it into a flashlight that’s perfect for checking all those dark spaces during a session or show. Cheap too at only $17.95 for a package of 3 including the batteries!
Monoprice 8323 Headphones – Tired of spending big money on replacing trashed headphones? At $28 you won’t find a cheaper and better sounding replacement.
Lynda.com Online Training Tutorials – Have you ever wanted to learn a piece of software, but hated the “how-to” videos you found on YouTube with bad audio and lighting and people that barely know what they’re doing? Try Lynda.com, with more than 1500 courses with super high production values by experts and in small digestible bites. Check out my courses, and get 7 days free of unlimited access to lynda.com.
Snark SN-1 Guitar Tuner – We’ve all gotten used to using software guitar tuners, but when you want to tune as fast as possible, this is the best tuner I’ve found. It clips right onto the guitar so you don’t even have to plug it in, and it even has a built-in metronome. At $9.95 each, it’s unbeatable.
Remo Active Snare Dampening System – Designed in conjunction with drumming heavyweight Dave Weckl to get rid of unwanted ringing without the tape. Once fitted to the drum by attaching it to the rim, you can adjust the amount of dampening by either moving the Dampener from the center to the edge of the drum head, or by sliding the O ring up or down. Genius! And just $32.50.
Primacoustic VoxGuard VU – Like other vocal isolators only better in that it adds a 3 inch by 7 inch Plexiglass window so that the vocalist can see the rest of the band or receive cues from the producer (among other things). The unit fits on to a common microphone stand and an extender clamp allows you to fit the microphone holder. It’s also adjustable so that you can move the mic closer or further from the vocalist. Just $99.
Radial Engineering Reamp JCR reverse direct box – which has all the features needed to make the operation happen both quickly and easily.The Reamp JCR is actually a reverse direct box in that it takes a signal from your recording device via an XLR cable, then sounds it out to the amp via a 1/4″ jack. The $199 box also features phase invert and ground lift switches on the input side, and a filter control switch, mute and level control pot on the output side.
String Strecha – New guitar strings sound great but it takes so much time until they stretch out, but String Strecha will allow you to stretch each string by the same amount every time. This thing is a favorite of top-flight guitar techs everywhere, and you should have one in your guitar case or in the studio at all times. Well worth the $12.50.
Books By Bobby Owsinski – Okay, so I’m a little biased, but if you’re looking for a book for someone in the music business, you’ll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There’s something for everyone, including books on production, mixing, recording, recording drums, mastering, being a studio musician or a touring musician, improving your band, navigating the new music business, social media for musicians, studio building, guitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.
The X-Clip – If you want to mount an SM57 and a small diaphragm condenser mic right next to one another and keep them in perfect phase, then the X-Clip is just the thing you need. Get one for $19.95, or the Studio Bundle of 3 for $49.95.
Have a happy Cyber Monday!