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Sound Advice

Creating 2nd Headphone Feed When Only One is Available by by George Kourounis

August 18th, 2002

Sometimes when you are working on a recording session, it’s not uncommon that one musician wants to hear a different headphone mix of the music than the rest of the band. The drummer may want to hear lots of the bass guitar and kick drum, while the guitarist wants to hear mostly himself (not a rare thing among guitarists). Achieving this task isn’t difficult, provided you are in a studio that has two discrete headphone cue feeds. If, however, you are in a studio that has only one headphone feed, then you’re forced to improvise with the resources you have available.

If you’re lucky, the studio will have an extra amplifier sitting around. If not, you may need to borrow the amplifier from the stereo system in the lounge or the studio manager’s office (always ask permission first). It doesn’t need to be a Bryston or anything like that, but it must have enough juice to power a couple of sets of headphones.

If the studio’s cue system is fed from, for example, auxiliary sends 5 and 6, then use them to send your first stereo mix to whichever musicians want it. Then, for the second mix, take the outputs of another pair of auxiliary sends from the patchbay (3 and 4 will work fine) and route them to the imputs of your “borrowed” amplifier. Connect the outputs of that amplifier to a headphone cue box via a banana plug to XLR adapter cable (or something similar). Connect your headphones to the cue box and – abracadabra! – instant second stereo headphone mix!

An important note, though: caution must be taken when setting the levels on the power amp and attention to the impedance of the headphones should be observed so that you don’t end up blowing up a set of headphones by mistake. Musicians hate that, studio owners hate that even more and loasting headphones is generally considered and engineering no-no.

Going to the extra trouble of creating a second cue system can be a little time-consuming while setting it up, but the benefits can be rewarding. If the musicians have the exact mix in their headphones that they want, they will likely give a better musical performance. The better the musical performance, the better the song will be and the happier everyone involved will be.

George Kourounis, Studio Instructor, Trebas Insitute/Engineer, Cherry Beach Sound

The Future Is Back … by Neil Muncy

August 18th, 2002

Vintage recording equipment, such as microphones, equalizers, preamps and compressors have been hot items on the resale market over the past several years.

It’s readily accepted that much recent equipment manufactured with ICs and to a certain “price point” does not sound as musically correct as older gear which was often constructed to a laboratory standard. Prices of high-demand older pieces have soared dramatically because of limited supply. And yet, people still fork out inflated dollars because they believe the only way to obtain that classic sound is with the authentic gear it was first made on. The question is, would you pay $4000 for a 40 year old tube microphone in mediocre condition? What if the single tube for that very mocrophone cost you a cool $800 when it was time to replace it? Would you still purchase it?

This trend has not gone unnoticed by several hip companies who have introduced updated versions of old classics using discrete parts and a simple audio path retaining signal integrity. When coupled with quieter modern day components, these new pieces can sound as good as, and often better than their ancestors from which they were derived. Moreover, they use commonly available parts and inexpensive tubes to keep service costs within line. Yet, no matter how good they sound, these newer pieces lack the “marquee value” of older, more established audio devices, whose mere mention reduces many of us to quivering, monosyllabic gear groupies. Yes folks, snob value is alive and well within our industry.

For those of you not afraid to pay less for older technology wrapped in new boxes it’s worth your while to check out current products from Groove Tube (tube mics), Demeter Amplification (tube mic pre’s, direct boxes), Tube Tch (mic pre’s, compressors, equalizers), Manley (tube mics, tube multitrack recorder parts), Demaria Labs (tube compressors) and others. Older equipment can be a bargain up to a certain price point, however once that moocho dollar threshold is crossed, you owe it to yourself to check out what newer technology with an eye towards the past, has come up with. Has anyone else besides myself coined the phrase “Back to the Future”? Now there’s a title for a song, a movie, or … something!

Barry Lubotta – Owner, Pizazzaudio Recording Studio, Weston, ON.

Toys Vs. Tunes by Avery Tanner

August 18th, 2002

We are all looking for the tools needed to make better recordings, and there has been a lot of excitement over affordable digital multitracks. I’ve heard people say that this equipment will put pro studios out of business.

What these people seem to be assuming, is that they will be able to make great recordings at home purely by virtue of the equipment used. Granted, the better the quality, the easier it is to get results, but people make music – not machines. Drum machines supply fabulous drum sounds at the touch of a button – yet, we’ve all heard some awful program. Digital effects supply great reverbs for a small investment. Remember though, thousands of other people are recording in the same “virtual room” as you are. Use some imagination or your recording may seem dull because we’ve heard “that sound” before. There is no substitute for the real thing and no shortcuts around the work needed to create excellence. The old fundamentals still apply. The right microphone on the right instrument in the right place is still the only place to start. No matter what machine you record on, it can only (hopefully) give back what you put into it. Remember, garbage in – garbage out. Don’t get me wrong – I love my toys, but they are only a means to an end.

Avery Tanner – Owner/Producer, Wolf Trax Audio Productions, Toronto, ON. Credits include The Swinging Gurus, Big Rude Jake and the Gentlemen Players and Cool Congress.

Take 5 by Danny Crain

July 18th, 2002

“I was wondering how to go about making a tape …” Ever hear that one? Believe it or not, I haven’t grown tired of answering that question.

There are a lot of first-timers out there, and some of them are going to come through and become good clients and excellent word-of-mouth advertisers. Five minutes of patient conversation on their level, briefly guiding them through the steps, will score serious brownie points. Send them a polished info pack ,set up a studio tour, and you’ve probably got the job. Sure you have to know how to work those toys and keep on top of the happenin’ techniques, but a little personality never hurt any studio. It’s like the tape on any reel to reel machine: what goes around comes around. By the way, I have become tired of “Yeah, I’ve got this tape and I was wondering if you guys could take out the voices …”

Danny Crain – Engineer/Producer, Outreach Productions, Keswick Ridge, NB.

Hearing Frequencies by Rob Patterson

July 18th, 2002

Making a live set-up sound good may have as much to do with your ears as it does with the room.

We have 2 all heard feedback at one time or another, but did we know what frequency was ringing? I’m sure almost all guitarists know that the A above middle C is 440Hz, but not everyone knows what frequency the next A going up the scale is. You guessed it, 880 Hz. With a little experimenting and some simple math, I’m sure most people will be able to guess at least in the ballpark of what frequency is sounding off. For those sound engineers who think they have perfect pitch (if that exists), here’s a way to find the frequency of a specific note: Multiplying the frequency of any known note (ie: A 440 Hz) by 1.059546 will give you the frequency of the next note up the scale (A# 466.2 Hz). Here’s the point to all this – getting to know your frequencies just by hearing them will take some of the guess work out of your EQing. Use any instrument you can get your hands on to give you sound to experiment with (even if it is controlled feedback). I’ve included the math as it might answer some of those questions you thought were too stupid to ask. By the way … what is a one-third octave EQ anyway?

Rob Patterson – freelance sound engineer and MIDI programmer, Toronto, ON

Making Babies by Paul D. Bauman

July 18th, 2002

Manufacturing – a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Somebody has to make all of those fun toys for audio engineers to play with and for people to be entertained by.

But coming out with a new product can be difficult and challenging process, much akin to giving birth – the spark of an idea or identification of a need (inspiration?); a gestation period (design); labour (struggling with a prototype and shaking out the bugs – perspiration); nurturing (going into acutal production); then raising the child to maturity (dealing with production, component supply and quality control).

You might get the idea that there’s a busy bunch of seriously pregnant engineers out there! I’m proud to be a part of the process here at Adamson, where at the moment we’re in various stages of nurturing, raising, and proud parenthood. And as a distracted new product papa, I offer my apologies as this is normally a tips and advice column. To be honest, I don’t have any advice right now – I’ve been too busy with the kids to be able to tell you what to do with them! One important thing, though. Never under any uncertain terms, lend your car keys to a 1000 watt loudspeaker on a Saturday night.

Paul D. Bauman – Chief Engineer, Adamson Acoustic Design Corporation, Pickering, ON.

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