Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Who says great vocal sound has to be expensive?

Great vocal sound needn't be expensive. In fact, it's shocking how inexpensive it's getting. Take microphones, for instance. Quality large-diaphragm condenser mics used to cost hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. Today there are truly excellent models for under 150 dollars...sometimes well under.

Take my new favorite, the NADY SCM-960. It has a 1" gold-sputtered diaphragm, switchable polar patterns (omni and cardioid), and a built-in 10db pad. That's the "nuts and bolts". The bottom line is, this thing sounds GREAT! It's warm and full on the bottom, with no "boom" on male voices, and crisp and present in the midrange and highs. This one really "cuts" through a dense mix...just what I need for voiceover work, and producing my radio show "Saving the 70s"

Next in my vocal chain is the ART Studio MP tube microphone preamp. It has a built-in limiter. Tweaked judiciously, this thing gives your voice that extra "something"...fullness, body, and 'punch'. Don't take my word for it, go to the above website and hear how my voice sounds through it! These are dynamite products, priced VERY affordably!

Are their problems? OF COURSE! Judicious adjustment of mic gain is necessary to avoid noise. The mic itself doesn't come with ANY attachment to mount it to a stand...UNFORGIVABLE with a mic that's designed EXCLUSIVELY for stand mounting. And spider shock-mount costs about 20 bucks (I got mine from Musicians Friend, where I bought the mic and preamp). And you'll need a good windscreen. That's it. THOSE ARE THE ONLY RESTRICTIONS TO THESE INCREDIBLY AFFORDABLE PRODUCTS! So if you have a studio for music, a radio broadcast, podcast, whatever, you simply must check these products out! YOU'RE WELCOME!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

New favorite headphones/Bose hater no more!

To say I've been a Bose hater for a long time is a slight exaggeration. I don't "hate" Bose. I just hate the direct/reflecting principle as applied to speakers. The goal of speaker systems SHOULD BE to present what's on the recording, in as linear and phase-coherent a manner as possible. Any "ambience" heard should be that of the original recording venue (or in the case of pop music, that chosen by the producer and artist(s)), NOT added randomly by the room! Bouncing sounds randomly off walls may sound pleasant. But it is the antithesis of HIGH FIDELITY!  That pleasant "warm glow", that pleasing homogenous sound IS AN INACCURACY, and not being on the original recording, IS NOT TRUE TO THE ARTISTIC VISION OF THOSE WHO MADE THE RECORDING!

Alright, that's my case against Bose. Now why I've fallen in love with one of their products. For my 50th(!!!) birthday, I received a pair of the Bose on-ear headphones. Now I've been a headphone junkie since about the age of 12, when I first patched a set of (very cheap) 'phones to my parents' Magnavox console stereo, and heard that amazing, engulfing panorama of sound for the first time. It still makes me smile! It's why, I'm embarrassed to admit, I became an early addict of "easy listening" music...the best sound on early FM stereo radio came from those "elevator music" stations, and it was magnificent!

At age 15 I got my first radio job, and have spent hours a day with headphones ever since. And I've been through a ton of them...from Koss to Sennheiser, moving coil to electrostatic, closed back to "open aire". There are many that I've enjoyed (many more that I've despised), but NEVER have I heard anything as startling as the clarity of these Bose headphones. With most headphones, there's an adjustment period. It takes time to get used to the particular colorations of each new design, until I train myself to listen through the flaws, and simply enjoy the music. Not so with the Bose headphones. 

The first time I heard them, they simply sounded RIGHT. No adjustment period was necessary. The bass is FULLY extended (down to the very "bassment"...a 20hz tone will rattle your grey matter!). The midrange is delightfully smooth, and uncolored. Highs are crisp, clear, and without undue emphasis to any sliver of the spectrum. THAT is why they sounded "right" to begin with. No strange "cupped hands" (around ears) coloration in the midrange, typical of so many closed-back headphones. No low bass rolloff, as typical of most lightweight, open-back headphones. EVERYTHING IS THERE, and in proper proportion.

That's what struck me in the beginning, but not what keeps me grinning. THAT (stupid grin on my face) comes from the ability of these 'phones to lay bare hidden details in recordings I've heard dozens, or even hundreds of times...resulting in new listening pleasure from even VERY familiar recordings! THAT makes the 160+ dollar investment seem like a steal! These things are simply marvelous.

So now for the first time in my adult life, when I visit an electronics store, I walk right past the display of headphones. I AM NOT INTERESTED IN OWNING ANY OTHER 'PHONES! For a headphone junkie like me, with shelves and drawers full of Sonys, Beyerdynamics, Sennheisers, and Koss'es, that is quite a statement! Thank you Robin (my lovely wife!) Your love is the greatest gift of all. But second, is those freakin' Bose headphones!

Now, that Bose Wave Music system looks like a pretty damn nice audio system for a small room, like a bedroom! ;)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Asus EeePC--what a great gadget!

A couple of weeks ago I bought an Asus EeePC

What a great gadget! I wanted one when they first came out with a custom version of Linux last fall, but I held off. However, when a version with XP pre-installed became available, the EeePC went from an amazingly cute "geek toy", to a useful tool. Yes it's under-powered by the standards of today's full size/full price "fire breathing" dual-core monsters. It's STARVED for storage space, as well. A 28 dollar 8GB SDHC card from New Egg fixed that. So there are limitations. But it can do more than 90 percent of what I ask of a computer. It even works well at capturing video (from the built-in webcam) at 30fps (using Windows Movie Maker).

More on my experiences later with this wonderful gadget, er...useful tool.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Welcome back, old friend!

I love headphones. Conventional wisdom is that studios should NEVER use headphones for mixing and mastering, because mixes created on headphones don't sound right on speakers. Bullshit! If you know what you're doing, understand the differences between how we hear headphones and speakers, and finally USE THE RIGHT HEADPHONES, there's no damn reason why you can't mix on headphones. It's my FAVORITE way to mix, because I can hear more clearly how every piece fits in the final puzzle that is my MIX! Each individual strand is clearly audible.

I write, voice, and produce for radio. The most important questions during the "process are:

1)-Is your music bed overpowering the voice?

2)-Does the voice sound both full, AND crisp?

3)-Is everything in the mix clearly audible, and in proper proportion?

4)-Is the audio spectrum well filled-out. Is there something going on "down there", and if so is it balanced with the rest of the mix? Is the octave to octave balance in proper proportion? Too damn many radio and tv commercials are PIERCINGLY bright! IT'S ABOUT BALANCE!

5)-Does everything CONGEAL into a mix that's greater than the "sum of it's parts"?

ALL OF THE ABOVE IS EASIER TO HEAR WITH HEADPHONES! Especially a truly revealing pair, like the Sony MDR-7506 (also known in consumer circles as the MDR-V6), LONG MY REFERENCE! Mixes done on these things sound immaculate, and hold together on far less revealing speaker systems! YES they're a little "clinical" sounding (on the "brightly lit" side of neutral). That'll keep you from making things painfully bright! They have FULLY extended bass (down to the "bassment") without any "bloat" or bass emphasis. And they're supremely comfortable! You can wear them for MANY hours (and I have, for a long, LONG time!) My 13 year-old MDR-7506 has been out of service a while because both earcups were split. I just ordered replacements from B&H Photo ( ), and after much prodding, the THIRD PAIR OF EARPADS IS IN PLACE! Welcome back old friend!

Monday, January 7, 2008

Recording with Vista

On Dec 21 my new computer arrived...a Dell Inspiron 531 (Athlon 64x2 5000+, 2GB RAM, 500GB hard drive), The operating system? Vista Home Premium! I decided I'd evetually have to make my peace with the new OS, so I went for sooner.

WELL, Adobe Audition can only be coaxed to work if you right click on the icon and choose "run as administrator". Otherwise, you're unable to save files. I can deal with that. What's REALLY strange is the way Vista deals with audio. My old HP system had a mute control. When I turned on my mic, I muted the speakers to avoid feedback. Well try to get feedback with Vista. It doesn't seem possible. First of all, when you plug in a board or mic preamp, NOTHING COMES OUT OF THE SPEAKERS UNLESS YOU'RE IN PLAYBACK. NOTHING! You can record, but NOTHING emerges from the speakers during recording.Then there's the record mixer in Vista. Actually there isn't (a recording mixer in Vista). Vista attempts to set levels on it's own. I can turn the input, and output on my mic preamp all the way down, and for most of the pots' travel Vista turns the level an aggressive AGC! But I still had to experiment before I found an input level that yielded clean audio. I CANNOT make Adobe Audition's meters reach 0dbfs, but I can sure as hell make the incoming audio sound distorted. WEIRD!

Update: A program from a small company called "Actual Solution" fixes Vista's mixer issues, by adding back all the control available in XP (and then some). "Power Mixer for Vista" is 18 bucks, and money well spent! My computer is stable now, no BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) in many days. I'm beginning to think I will actually be able to tolerate working on a Vista PC!