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Sound Advice

How To Approach Repairs by Paul Buchanan

September 18th, 2002

Repair pointers always seem to be easier to remember or visualize when one is faced with an “eleventh hour repair”. I can’t say that there is one tip that can be globalized to all repairs; specific units, however, can have similar fault conditions that make repair pointers much easier to provide. Hence, the only advice that I can offer is to approach each repair with the same method.

Hope the following helps:

1. Perform a visual inspection before you power up the unit (to see if there are any burnt components, etc.)
2. Start trouble-shooting with the power supply section. Make sure you have all rails up and running. Is there a short from ground to the supply? If so, then check filter caps for shorts and transistor/regulator insulator inconsistencies.
3. Break up the unit into three stages: a) input section; b) control section/filtering; and c) output section. If the unit has more than one channel, use the good channel as a reference for your repair.
4. Never spend more than two hours on a repair at one time. Take a break or start another repair that you know you can finish quickly. Take the manual home at night and plan another repair strategy for the next attempt.

Paul Buchanan is chief technician at Contact Distribution, servicing amplifiers, processing devices and other professional audio equipment.

One Console; Four + Techs by Steve Parton

September 18th, 2002

Whether you are told in advance or not, during multiple-act “festival” style gigs, some bands are going to show up with their own sound techs. This usually happens with the bigger bands who will have arrived after an afternoon of sound engineering mayhem.

As I’m sure you have already labelled all the microphones, the next thing you can do for your newly-arrived sound tech is to have all the auxiliary sends labelled or to put the FXs in the order they appear on the rack. Insert cables labelled to the corresponding gate or compressor would be good, too. And make sure you update the masking tape on the board, because things change easily in this type of show, and making a mental note of a switched channel doesn’t do much good for the other sound techs.

If the show is not the on-the-fly type and there are several soundchecks before the show, the single coolest tool on the face of the planet is a dictaphone or recording Walkman. This way I can check my band(s) and then say to the next sound tech, “It’s all yours, Sherri. Change what you like; I’ve recorded all my settings on this here dictaphone.”

How’s that for camaraderie between sound techs?

Steve Parton, Montreal, PQ-based freelance sound tech.

The Word on MDMs by Ron Skinner

September 18th, 2002

Modular Digital Multitrack (MDM) recorders have brought the digital world a bit closer to home. MDMs have been introduced to the marketplace over the past few years, and this technology is starting to make recording industry professionals rethink the current use of multitrack recording. MDMs are relatively inexpensive, rackmounted eight-track recording devices. They can be easily expanded to as many as 128 tracks of digital recording simply by purchasing additional units. The average price of an eight-track system is under $5,000. MDMs are currently being marketed by three manufacturers (Alesis, Tascam and Fostex). While each manufacturer offers its own unique features and operating standards, the basic premise behind the designs of these units is the same — providing eight tracks of digital recording in a small, inexpensive and expandable unit.

The initial market for Modular Digital Multitrack recorders was the project or home studio. This is the first time digital recording has been taken out of the professional recording studio and put in the home. Over thirty thousand MDMs have been sold in North America since their introduction almost two years ago. This success has created a large network of users who can share ideas and work on each others’ projects. Musicians can now record music in their home recording studios and then send the tape to other musicians to add finishing touches and overdubs (the tape format for these recorders is either S-VHS or 8mm video tape).

The possibilities of this format and its vast popularity has most recently caught the attention of the professional recording and broadcast industries. This type of recording is still not as reliable as professional open reel recorders like the Sony PCM-3348. However, it is being used for jingle and promo production, non-crucial music recording and in the pre-production stages of album projects. Broadcasters are also beginning to use MDMs for complex documentary productions that require mixes that may be too difficult to achieve with multi-machine mixing. In many cases, eight tracks are enough to accommodate a fairly large radio production.

The development of this technology has brought the price of digital multitrack recording down substantially; and it gives musicians and broadcasters the ability to create high quality recording projects at a relatively low cost. MDM recording is an example of how digital technology is starting to touch every aspect of our professional lives. It is this digital technology that provides us with greater flexibility and enhanced creativity. MDM recording is yet another tool within the digital domain that can be used in various types of audio production, from simple home recording projects to more advanced radio and professional recording applications.

Ron Skinner, Radio Technician, CBC Broadcast Centre; independent engineer/producer.

Live Recording in the Studio by Kevin Doyle

September 18th, 2002

Recently, I was approached by David Deacon and the Word to co-produce and record an album; with the intention of recording the band ‘live-off-the-floor’, including solos and vocals. Their wish was to capture a live organic sound, using all-natural instruments and no computer-based sequencing or sampling.

I was somewhat surprised by this request. In the last three years, I have worked on more than thirty albums, but even so, the last album I recorded live-off-the-floor was in the fall of 1992.

I looked forward to the challenge of re-discovering recording methods that would maximize the sound quality without compromising the flexibility to be efficient and practical in the live environment.

For the drums, I used a 421 for the midrange and a D112E for the low end of the bass drum. After moving the mics around for the optimum position, I used an old Neve EQ to add extra low end and midrange. On the snare, I used two SM 57s: one on top, and the other underneath. After getting the right blend, I added a little top end from a Neve EQ. For the toms, I used KM 100s (-10dB) for their warm low end and clean top end. For the overheads, I used a pair of 414s with their phase reversed. I found that without the phase reversal, I was experiencing acoustic phasing problems in the low end. I tend to never roll off the low end on the overheads, because I like the richness they add to the toms and snare. If I have too much snare in the overhead mics, I’ll strap a stereo compressor over them with a very fast attack and fast release time.

For the bass, I used a Sanken CU-41 on the amp and an active DI. The Sanken is a great mic for bass and guitar amps. The microphone is almost impossible to overload, and has great low frequency response, which are features hard to find in a condenser microphone.

I used two Neve 1073 modules as mic pre-amps and EQ on the bass. I find the 1073s have a great low end and can be punchy and warm. Before hitting tape, I used a little compression from an LA-2 for the DI and a highly-modified LA-3 for the amp.

David Shaw, the piano player and co-producer, informed me that he would be doing very dynamic solos live off the floor, and also some very quiet playing in some of the verses. With this in mind, I chose to use two B+K 4000 series microphones, and the Drawmer 1960 mic pre-amps, for their great transient response and tube sound. I had my assistant, Stuart Brawley (a piano virtuoso in his own right), place the mic pre-amps right on the floor, and under my instructions from the control room, had him set the appropriate levels. After adding about 3dB at 15kHz with some outboard GML EQs, I went directly to tape from the 1960, bypassing the console completely.

With the guitars, I used a stereo DI and a U-67 (-10dB) and SM 57 on the amp. The U-67 has a really warm low end, and the 57 has a good midrange. Depending on the guitar part, I would vary the mixture of the microphones, rather than using EQ. If I needed to use any compression, I used an LA-3 or Summitt.

For the acoustic guitars, I really like the sound of a B+K mic with a Pultec EQ. With acoustic guitars, pianos and many other acoustic instruments, I tend to avoid using any compression at all. I’m still waiting for the optimum compressor for some acoustic instruments that doesn’t affect the quality of the sound.

For the lead vocals, I placed the singer on the floor so he was able to have good eye contact with all the members of the band. I prefer good tube mics, with a GML pre-amp on the floor. For compression, I’ll switch between a dbx 165a or a UREI with a GML or API equalizer.

I’ve been extremely satisfied recording like this recently, and am really enjoying live recording again.

Kevin Doyle has engineered recent projects for Shirley Eikhard, Harem Scarem and Lawrence Gowan, and is currently Head Engineer at D.A.V.E. (formerly Sounds Interchange)

Miking Pianos by George Semkiw

September 18th, 2002

When I mic a piano, I use omnidirectional mics. (Neumann KM56) and place them in the middle of the keyboards. The first mic is placed closer to the bass strings, the second mic is towards the higher strings. You may have to put some sponge around the mic stand to absorb the vibrations after closing the lid but close the lid totally. This gives me a very present piano sound which is not muddy – usually associated with cardioid microphones. When the lid is closed, it helps me keep the leakage (incoming leakage from other instruments) down to a minimum and still allows me to get a full ,present piano sound. If the piano has soft-actioned hammers, place mics closer to hammers; if the piano has a hard-actioned hammers, place mics closer to the hammers; if the piano has a hard-actioned hammer response, place the mics further away from the hammers.

Placement of mics should be done with individual taste in mind and with regards to how the piano actually sounds.

George Semkiw – producer/engineer (Lou Reed, Harry Belafonte, Johnnie Lovesin and The Sattalites).

Focus On The Mix by Tony Cre

September 18th, 2002

Good microphone techniques, understanding the frequency ranges of all the instruments involved and learning how to use processing equipment creatively and sparingly will help you achieve a good, full-sounding mix – but you must always have a focus to make it all gel.

The vocal or melody line is always the most important part of the music and should never be lost or buried in the mix. The other instruments, whether they be rich-sounding keyboards, searing horns or a driving rhythm section, are there to support the melody, but should not be lost or buried in the mix either. Remember, each instrument has its own space and place in the mix.

Tony Cre – live sound engineer (credits include Lee Aaron, The Spoons).

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