Category Archives for "Gear"

December 8, 2016

The 27 Foot Long Loudspeaker

the-27-foot-long-speaker

It’s 27 feet long!

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.

Western Electric 55W driver

Western Electric 55W driver

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.

expohorn02

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.

New Music Gear Monday: FabFilter Pro-R Reverb Plugin

FabFilter Pro-RWe’re starting to see more and more next generation DAW plugins where outside the box thinking results in an easier user interface which ultimates leads to new or more useful sounds. Nowhere is that more evident than with the new FabFilter Pro-R Reverb plugin which takes many of the more difficult reverb concepts and controls and presents them in a new, easier to understand way.

FabFilter Pro-R has the same familiar interface as it’s other wonderful plugins, showing a real time waveform display, but this time with a decay time and EQ curve superimposed over the top. While there are many unique features of the plugin, one of the most striking and useful is the previously mentioned decay curve, which allows the user to simply grab and shape as necessary. This allows you to have different decay times for different frequencies, which while not totally unique, is presented here in a way that’s far easier to achieve the final result you’re looking for.

Another unique feature is the continuously variable Space control that lets the user fade between dozens of different room models and automatically chooses a matching decay time. Once again this is possible with most other reverb plugins, but the fact that as you dial up the Space control it automatically switches from algorithm to algorithm is not only pretty cool, but one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” features.

There’s also a Distance control that adjusts how close the source is in relation to the reverb, so you can bring things closer or further away as needed. Of course, on most reverbs you can do this by adjusting the first reflections, but this is so much easier. A Character control also changes the sound from a clean, transparent decay to one with that’s over-modulated for a chorus-like effect. This is one clever plug!

The FabFilter Pro-R reverb plugin costs $199 (EUR 169 or GBP 149), and supports both Windows and Mac OS X in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS, and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Check out the website for more details, or this excellent video that pretty much explains everything.

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 29, 2016

7 Ways Electric Guitar Manufacturers Save Money (And Make You Pay More)

electric guitar manufacturersElectric guitar manufacturing has come a long way since the early days of guitar-crazed 60s. Back then, if you didn’t buy a brand name at a premium price, chances are that you were getting an instrument that was difficult to play and only a few steps beyond wood plank. Today’s precision manufacturing has changed all of that, and it’s surprising how good sounding and playable even the most inexpensive guitar can be. That doesn’t mean that electric guitar manufacturers haven’t found new ways to save money though, and this video from Phillip McKnight shows the 7 ways that could happen.

If you don’t have time to watch, here’s a list, although Phil’s explanations are worth the viewing as it’s pretty educational.

1. Inlays

2. Maple veneer

3. Binding

4. Set neck

5. Pickups

6. Photo finish

7. Wood

If you’re a guitar player, this is well worth the watch.

November 28, 2016

Cool Cyber Monday Recording Accessories

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).

earpeaceEarPeace 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.

 

blockliteBlocklite – 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 headphonesMonoprice 8323 Headphones – Tired of spending big money on replacing trashed headphones? At $28 you won’t find a cheaper and better sounding replacement.

 

 

lynda.comLynda.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-sn1-tunerSnark 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.

Shop Amazon for Cyber Monday deals in musical instruments.

 

active-snare-dampeningRemo 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-vuPrimacoustic 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-reamp-jcrRadial 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-strechaString 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.

music-producers-handbook-2e-coverBooks 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 productionmixing, 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-clipThe 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!

Shop Amazon for Cyber Monday deals in electronics.

November 22, 2016

Adobe VoCo – With Great Power Comes Responsibility

Adobe VoCoAdobe recently provided a sneak peak of a feature of the upcoming Adobe Max product that they call VoCo, which will prove to be revolution in both dialog and music vocal recording if it works as previewed. So what is VoCo? The company is calling it “Photoshop for voice.” It samples the voice of a person and then allows you to construct or reconstruct dialog in that person’s voice, even if they didn’t say it in the first place! In other words, you can now manipulate voice like text.

VoCo will be very cool for those working with dialog for film and television, where you can rebuild the lines you need instead of going to ADR or resorting to massive cleanup tools. It’s a no brainer there, providing there’s some way to insert the needed voice inflections. I don’t know if this can be used for singing, but it would be a boon to producers to be able to replace a word or phrase on an otherwise perfect vocal after the fact. Those are some of its very cool upsides.

The downsides are many, however. It could give unscrupulous people a means to construct “fake news” with quotes that don’t actually exist. It could allow a producer to construct a vocal that actually had never been sung against an artist’s wishes to fulfill a contract. It potentially puts the power of performance into the hands of someone other than the performer.

Since VoCo is still on the drawing board, it’s too early to say if the powers above are overstated or not, but while we look at all the cool applications for the feature, there’s a lot of potential for the less than honorable there as well.

That’s why I look at the video below with a combination of awe and fear. This is some great technology that certainly has current real-world applications, but are we opening up Pandora’s Box here? See for yourself.

November 17, 2016

Yes, There’s A Film About The 808 Drum Machine

TR-808 drum machineI’m old enough to remember when drum machines first came out. The LinnDrum (see my Roger Linn interview for some great insight on how it was developed) was a wonder that allowed producers to finally get perfect time while scaring the pants off drummers everywhere now fearful for their jobs. Most of the LinnDrum imitators that followed tried to improve upon the sound and feel, but not all. One drum machine that seemed like a joke to many back then was the Roland TR-808, mostly because the sounds seemed so lame when compared to the machines based around real drum samples. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, as the hip-hop community embraced the machine as it became an essential part of the sound of the genre.

A new upcoming film called 808 celebrates the machine and it’s influence on a generation of music makers, and it will debut on December 9th exclusively on Apple Music. The documentary is narrated by Beats 1 DJ Zane Low, and features a diverse number of contributors including Rick Rubin, Pharrell Williams, David Guetta, Phil Collins, Questlove, Afrika Bambata, among many more.

Here’s the trailer. Looks like it should be pretty good, and hopefully will finally answer the question why this iconic unit was discontinued at the peak of its use.

New Music Gear Monday: Slate Control Monitor Controller

Slate ControlOne of the most important components of a home or desktop studio is the monitor controller, and while there are more and more such devices on the market these days, not all are a good fit for many studios. For instance, the needs of someone working with a laptop mixing on headphones are completely different from someone who’s actually recording people in the room or needs the highest quality monitor signal path possible. The new Slate Control fits into the latter category, with features usually found on a full-blown recording console but that are often needed in today’s in-the-box world.

First of all, the Slate Control head can be used as either an independent table top module, integrated directly into the RAVEN MTX Mk2 or RAVEN Z3 armrest, or even integrated into an older analog console, since it’s only 7 inches deep. If a retrofit is in your stars, Slate Control adds 7 stereo monitor path inputs but also connects to the solo buss signal and logic inputs of your existing console for seamless control.

Regardless of the environment it’s being used, the controller has a wide array of pro features, including 3 speaker selections, each with an LFE Enable switch, and speaker B and C have trim controls for matching levels with speaker A. Speaking of LFE, the LFE Output has multiple modes with a 12dB per octave low pass filter that can be set at 80 or 120Hz, or a Direct Output Mode, along with Polarity and Level Trim. A CAL Mode also allows you to preset a reference level for the speakers, disabling the main control room volume control. The speaker section of the controller also features cut, mono compatibility and left speaker polarity functions as well.

Slate Control also has multiple cue outputs and headphone outputs with some very useful talkback functions. The Talkback System has both a built-in mic and external mic input, which allows both reverse talkback for instant communication with the artist, and a feature called Selectable Auto Talkback that engages the talkback automatically when the music stops.

All inputs and outputs are balanced and diode protected against accidental phantom power (48V) connections, with DB25 connections for inputs and outputs, and DB9 connections for Aux and Talkback Aux remote functions. There’s also an on-board USB Hub for iLok and phone charging, as well as an 1/8th inch input for playback from an mobile phone. Best of all, the audio signal path was designed by famed audio developer Paul Wolf so the audio quality if top-notch.

The Slate Control isn’t inexpensive at $2,499, but neither are the other high-end controllers on the market that offer similar features and quality. Check out the dedicated page here for more information.

Can A New Process Improve Record Pressing?

Injection moulding pressingMaking a vinyl record is a messy, time consuming business. It involves toxic chemical baths, huge mechanical presses, stampers that wear out easily, and maybe worst of all, the final product is made from a petroleum product. Record pressing has shown small improvements over the years, but for the most part, it’s still done the way it was 40+ years ago.

But that could change soon. A new injection moulding process invented by the Dutch company Symcon, promises not only to cut production costs, but to improve sound quality, and reduce the environment impact of conventional record pressing as well.

In a conventional record press, a PVC puck is heated with steam until it’s soft, then placed between the two stampers that press the puck for about 8 seconds. Another 16 seconds is then required for the record to cool off before the process can begin again.

In the new process, the plastic mixture is heated in advance, injected between the two stampers, then pressed for a few seconds and cooled for another 20 seconds to make sure the mixture reaches the outer edges of the stampers.

There are several big advantages with injection moulding. First of all, the amount of energy used is cut by up to 65%. There’s no excess vinyl around the record that needs to be cut off, and the stampers last much longer before they degrade. Currently, a stamper only lasts for around 2,000 records before it must be replaced. Yet another happy byproduct is that the noise is reduced by up to 10dB over conventionally pressed records.

This seems like a slam dunk, but there are still a few challenges to overcome though. So far, injection moulded records are less durable, as they show signs of wear after 35 plays compared to 50 times for a vinyl record. The price is also about 25% higher, although that should come down over time. It also takes more time to actually press the record, which is a serious disadvantage.

So this new system holds a lot of promise, but it’s too early to tell whether it’s revolutionary or not. Here’s a video that explains more, as well as a bit of an interview with one of the engineers.

November 8, 2016

The Story Behind Bruce Springsteen’s Iconic Hybrid Telecaster

Bruce Springsteen TelecasterThere are some guitars that are forever linked to certain musicians. Eric Clapton’s “Blackie” and “Brownie” Strats, Brian May’s home-built one-off, Neil Young’s “Old Black” Les Paul, and B.B. King’s “Lucille” ES355 are just a few that come to mind. But there is another that fits nicely into this category and deserves equal attention because of its backstory, and that’s Bruce Springsteen’s very unique Telecaster.

Like “Blackie,” Bruce’s Telecaster is a hybrid of parts collected from at least 2 other guitars. It’s a 50’s Telecaster body with what looks to be a 57 Esquire neck originally purchased from Phil Petillo’s Neptune NJ guitar shop for $185. That’s only part of the story though.

The Telecaster body was originally jury-rigged with four pickups wired into extra output jacks so that each could plug into a separate channel of a recording console. The thought behind this wasn’t so much for the sound, but so that the session player original owner could collect four times union scale for playing four slightly different versions of the same guitar part. As a result of the modification, a lot of the body underneath the pickguard was routed out for the extra electronics.

Petillo removed the extra pickups and returned the guitar to original Telecaster shape before he sold it Springsteen, but a huge side effect of the routing was that the Tele was now really light, giving it a sound a feel unlike any other (see the picture on the left).

Bruce wasn’t one to sit still with one version of the instrument however, and over the years had it significantly modified, all personally done by Petillo. He added his patented triangular Precision Frets, a six saddle titanium bridge, and custom hot-wound waterproofed pickups and electronics so they could better survive a sweat-soaked 4 hour show.

Bruce played the guitar in virtually every live show until around 2005, when the wear and tear of the road finally took it’s toll and the guitar was retired. He now plays clones of his original Tele on tour, but still uses his favorite when he records.

Now for really cool part. It’s been estimated that the guitar is worth anywhere between $1 million and $5 million, depending upon the collector that could manage to get his hands on it. For now, that’s not going to happen, since the Tele has been Bruce Springsteen’s partner for more than 40 years now, and that partnership shows no sign of ending.