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Saturday, December 25, 2010

The man behind the ribbon mic

Check out this profile of longtime ribbon mic technician Clarence Kane in Radio World.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Funky and Uncommon Recording Gear: JBL 8330 Cinema Speakers

Why own a pair of these? For the fun of it. Sometimes, music is supposed to be something enjoyable. Get a pair of these as an alternate pair of speakers. Give your ears a break. Put a movie theater or club vibe in your mix room as an alternate check on a mix. These come to market used all the time due to movie theater upgrades. It is not uncommon to find these for $100 to $200 each.

--Steven Langer

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Funky and Uncommon Recording Gear: Ashly SC-50 Compressor

Bear's Gone Fission wrote:

Ashly SC-50 compressor - The general view on this model is that the blue pannel versions are the best as they use a discrete component VCA instead of the later dbx VCA, but my black pannel has the discrete VCA. Remove the foam inside the cases, as if it hasn't started yet, it will start falling to bits and sticking all over the circuit boards. Socketed opamp construction is the norm, generally older types, so there might be some value in trying upgrades, but I think it rocks stock. Not the quietest thing, but it sounds excellently distressed on guitars.

Fletcher said:

It happens to be one of the finest compressors known to man for lead guitar/loud guitar solo shit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Funky and Uncommon Recording Gear: Omni Dynamic Microphones

I'm going general on this, because there are many specific mics that will fall in here and fit the general description. Some omni dynamics (OD) of note--the EV 635a/PL-5, EV RE-50, Beyer M-101, Sennheiser MD-21, and the Shure-built Realistic 1070. A couple of those are still in production or reissued, and there are other offerings by Shure and Audio-Technica that I know of.

Advantages? A couple are obvious. Most will take SPL as well as any other dynamic mic. And of course they have an omni pickup pattern, although there can still be somewhat of a directional tendency at higher frequencies.

A couple of things aren't so obvious. Some of this becomes clearer when drawn into relief with a typical cardioid dynamic (CD) mic. Most CD's will have a presence boost up top as well as the proximity-boost effect--close micing a guitar speaker is pretty effective at getting a simulated Fletcher-Munson effect when doing control-room volume, keeping some of the loud-amp-in-the-room character. An OD doesn't play this game, so it's nice for contrast--lets say you don't want a mid scoop, but want a more midrangey sound for slide guitar. Most OD's have a pretty flat frequency response within their ranges, so you can often get very flat and accurate mids. Also, if the response goes deep enough, bass on an pressure-gradient omni (dynamics and most small-diaphragm condensor omnis) is generally flatter and truer than on a directional mic. Limited band-width with pure mids can be nice for sounding old-timey or intentionally lo- or mid-fi--the 635a can be great for carving out a niche for a sound in a mix.

The other element is that OD's have the omni pattern advantage with less sensitivity than an omni condensor--less reach, less truck-rumbling-by-two-blocks-away, less computer fan, and so forth. That and their SPL handling generally makes them work quite well for difficult percussion like triangles, tambourines, and so forth--if your omni condensor fails the "car-keys test" your OD might save your butt on that type of application.

Definitely a good way to diversify the tool kit--compared to another flavor of the same-old, you can use them differently and do more things when tracking.

--Bear's Gone Fission

Funky and Uncommon Recording Gear: Piezo Pickup

This is a really practical tip for the home recordist who works sporadically. MIDI, automation, and DAW's have brought a lot of easy recall into reach. But it only goes so far. Micing is hard to do a recall on, unless it's an instrument that lives in a spot and mics that are planted around it. Most acoustic guitars aren't in a fixed position through downtime.

Pickups minimize how critical the mic position and position in the room are. But most pickups are designed for live use and not recording. Some magnetic pickups can do moderately well on realism, and some are just a cool sound on their own terms; for me, I like mag's as a deliberate choice for their specific vibe, especially if I want some impact off of the low strings. Under-saddle piezo pickups are designed for gain before feedback, and they are placed in about the deadest spot on the guitar, harmonically speaking -- advances have been made, but a lot of it seems like electronic band-aids on a sound that isn't about tone but about easy going live. Internal mini-mics never seem to turn out well -- the sound resolves outside the instrument, not inside it, and catching a good set of modes in a box is hit or miss.

My choice is an antique, easy, and cheap technology. This is as old as the Barcus Berry "Hot Dot" pickup of the 70s, where the piezo crystal pickup is just in a lump like a fat quarter and stuck to the soundboard, either inside or outside the guitar. Mine is a John Pearse pickup for small-body guitars (discontinued, but I got it on clearance so get whatever's available) inside my Seagull Grand parlor-sized guitar, connected to an endpin jack. I run it into a DI box into a console pre and eq to taste, but generally not a lot of eq. Does it sound as good as a good placement of a large diaphragm condensor? Well, it certainly doesn't sound the same -- more mellow, less etched, but pretty real and life-like. If you take some time to dial in the gain structure when you set up, there's no piezo "quack" and it's much more alive than an under-saddle job.

A cool aspect is that these pickups can be really cheap, and many are designed to be a detachable outboard accessory so you can switch instruments. Not the best thing for playing live and loud, and they can pick up other instruments if you're cutting a band live. But a really nice solution for doing a solid plug-and-play sound for home recording or overdubs.

--Bear's Gone Fission

Funky and Uncommon Recording Gear: Aphex Dominator Model 700

These are fairly good limiters. They get decent write ups by the pros on RAP and other places. The praise they get is not lavish but respectful.

I used the Aphex Dominator on a project. The vocalist, JD McPherson, wanted to sound like Little Richard so I smashed his voice into the Dominator and voila we got there. Actually I think the vocalist naturally possesses one of those sort of voices anyhow but hitting the Dominator just brought it out. You could not hear the Dominator at all in terms of color or artifacts but you could hear it in terms of how it brought that snarl out of the singer's voice.

According to Bear's Gone Fission: "The thing about Aphex was that their heydey was of an analog era when people actually wanted a clean sound without artifacts. They do this job incredibly well, but it's no longer in vogue. Thus the 'tubescense' revisions."

He also said: "You gotta love trends and fads for downgrading great bits of kit to really accessible price points. If you aren't doing anything very extreme, you will never hear the sound of the Dominator, just fewer extreme transients, which makes it a great piece for tasks you wouldn't use, say, an LA-2 for. Of course, you wouldn't expect the Dominator to do what an LA-2 does, either. That's the point in my mind - I've got stuff like the SC-50 for color, and a couple Aphex pieces for transparent dynamics chores."

This is one of my all times favorite pieces of gear.

--Steven Langer