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Sound Advice

In With The Old, Out With The New

Three Reasons to Reconsider High Technology

Reason 1 – Analog audio had been refined to an art form with its origins dating back to Alexander Graham Bell. While tube technology was extremely inefficient due to heat loss, it sounded very pure and warm. Transistors were bulky compared to integrated circuits but they were produced on printed circuit boards that simply had more conductor for the electrons to flow through. Many audio designers maintain that “If ICs are so good, why don’t you see them in any of the finest audio amplifiers?” Fact is that the transistor has rivaled tubes in sound quality while being a far more efficient device. The IC might never be able to produce enough current reliably to be considered for amplification but it has a home in many other low current applications like mixing consoles and processors of most every type. In plain English this means that today you can still find “state of the art” analog studios and sound reinforcement systems that can sound amazing. Analog is not perfect. It has noise, it has heat loss, it has distortion, but it is easy to listen to.

Reason 2 – The digital revolution has moved so fast that not enough attention has been paid to how the product sounds compared to how many functions it can perform. The current digital mixing consoles are sold on their features. Further proof of this is the re-emergence of tubes in combination with transistors and ICs in processors designed to add warmth to the sound. If you are continuing to doubt the above, buy your next CD from the store then download the hit song from the Internet, burn a copy of it and listen to them both in a high-end, hi-fi shop on a set of speakers worth over $3,000. The difference between the two discs will astound you.

Reason 3 – People. A Front of House engineer that has been on tour with a metal band for the last 10 years probably does not hear well anymore. Conversely, a graduate of a production school program has not had enough hands on experience to make a good recording or handle a live show. A person can read all the books on golf ever written and not break 100 playing the game. You have to do it to be good at it! It will not hurt if you have a solid understanding of acoustics and electronics while you are at it. I have seen PA technicians put speaker boxes out of phase, have no idea about time alignment of drivers vs. delay lines vs. delay effects. Front of House sound “engineers” who must have gotten the gig because of how they bop their heads in time with the flashing red lights on the console and studio engineers who got their gig because of how cool they were to party with.

Ted Barker is an independent audio consultant and production specialist affiliated with Show Pro in Toronto. He can be reached by e-mail at tbar61@yahoo.co.uk.

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