• Alternatives to Bad “Pro” Audio Websites

    This is a list of great pro audio resources, just the good stuff. The websites below have all been super helpful to me – some were eye opening to me when I was getting started, but many are professional resources that I continue to rely on.

    Pro Audio Resources

    AES – The Audio Engineering Society is a tech-centric organization, publishing paid and free audio tech research & resources, from studio engineering, to electrical engineering, to acoustic physics.

    DIY Recording Equipment – This shop grew out of a wiki for DIY audio projects – the wiki is still up, and the basic kits they sell are great.

    Group DIY – A forum for techies who want to learn about audio electronics, schematics and how to build things. Not for beginners.

    Pro Sound News – A free magazine (online and in print), that’s more focused on new gear than the process. It’s good for keeping tabs on industry trends.

    Pro Sound Web, R / E / P Community – If you’re looking for a direct alternative to GS, this is it. It’s not flashy, but is frequented by professionals with years of experience.

    Recording Hacks – Their microphone database is exhaustive and contains useful info (not marketing copy).

    Tape Op – The gold standard. It’s a free magazine (available online and in print), and has a message board that’s underused these days, but full of great info.

    Working Class Audio – What is it like to work as a professional audio engineer? This podcast will tell you all about it.

    Backstory…

    This list was inspired by a petition I signed last week, Gearslutz, Please Change Your Name. If you’re reading this and don’t know about GS, it’s a popular audio forum with a terrible name that’s both sexist and unprofessional.

    The site is nearly 20 years old and the name is far from a new controversy – but shockingly the owner responded today, announcing that the site will change its name! I guess thousands of signatures changed his mind. Better late than never.

    That said, the GS is still a bad source for basic recording info (maybe a byproduct of the unprofessional name?). I’ve found the site to be awash in users who lack experience, but are more than happy to express strong opinions. Anything or anyone emphasizing gear acquisition as the solution to audio problems is not to be trusted.

  • Analog in 2021

    Does it make sense to seek out analog or “vintage” recording gear in 2021? Does it sound better? It is worth owning? What’s the point these days? Here are some thoughts on analog in an increasingly digital world.

    To start, there are many drawbacks to the oldest and most prestigious “Vintage” recording equipment – the expense, reliability, maintenance, etc. – but the real-deal stuff that’s been used in studios since the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s really does sound great. There’s a reason it’s been in continuous use.

    And while this magical gear does exist, there’s also plenty of old gear that sounds, boring. Equipment was routinely modified in busy studios, for functionality or tone, and two identical-looking devices may have very different circuits.

    An original Neve 1081, recapped and serviced many times over the years.

    The good stuff was generally well designed though. Even by today’s standards, a 1970’s preamp can sound not just good, but high fidelity. On the other hand, modern reproductions of the classics (like the million Neve clones), don’t always manage to recreate that magic. Once little changes to the circuit are made and pennies are pinched on parts, subjective audio quality aside, a bad reproduction can have more noise and hiss than a 50 year old original.

    Going digital, we now have access to multiple copies of the best analog gear. Software companies stepped in to bring these audio tools to the masses, trying to capture the sound of prized vintage equipment in a different way. And plugins sound great now!

    I use the Soundtoys “Devil-Loc” plugin on virtually every mix, but even with all my tech experience, I’ve never laid hands on an original Shure Level-Loc (the hardware that inspired the software).

    Analog Hardware: Shure Level-Loc (audiofanzine)
    Software Reproduction: Soundtoys Devil-Loc (Soundtoys)

    With so many high quality plugins on the market, a lot of pro audio chatter has shifted from, “does this plugin sound good?” To, “which one of these plugins is best?” There are options.

    So, why go analog? In a technical sense, you don’t have a choice. Processing on the way in and out of your computer will always be analog. Even “digital” mics with a USB connection are analog, they just have a built-in digital convertor. If you want to record, you can’t escape analog electronics.

    That said, nearly all of the good old analog stuff has been identified and snatched up. There are still deals to be had, but the hidden treasures are long gone. Buying equipment labeled “Vintage” should be thought of as an investment.

    Summit TLA-100A, all fixed up.

    Analog consoles and tape machines tend to stay popular though, cause they’re fun! Tape imposes creative limitations, the mechanical interaction is exciting, and they do have a “sound.” However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that anything with spinning reels will deliver some holy-grail tape sound.

    A lot of mass-marketed analog gear from the 80s and 90s is still floating around, but most of it is nothing special. Tape machines made by Fostex, Tascam, Teac, etc. can sound decent when properly used, or be distorted for cool tones, but these days they should really be considered “lo-fi.” The same goes for mixers, there’s a lot of garbage out there. Do some research and expect to pay for the good stuff.

    My advice is to invest in whatever will make your creative process easier. A control surface can help you program a beat, an analog console makes sense if you record lots of inputs at once, etc. – seek out a workflow that works for you. I still like to work with faders and knobs, even with lots of plugins.

  • New Year, New Blog

    It’s been a bit. I haven’t blogged about studio work in few years, but this feels like the right time to shake off the dust. At least WordPress still looks familiar.

    For one thing, I’ve settled back into a work-rhythm that’s stable enough to make this worthwhile. If you know me, you know I spent a ton of time studio building and moving gear around Seattle pre-Covid. My situation was stabilizing and work was picking up last March, but like everyone else, it was all turned upside down. To state the obvious, Covid is still raging, and until live music returns, the entire music world will feel it. I’ve “pivoted” to more tech work for 7 Hills and Studio X, designing and learning more about acoustics, and taking on non-audio writing work. I’m making it work, grateful to keep doing what I love and happy to see my creative work on an uptick the last couple months. 

    Why blog? As an engineer/producer with 15 years of experience, I know what sounds good – and my tech experience gives me another level of understanding. I’m here to share cool gear photos and thoughts from the repair bench, albums I’m working on & music that I like, things I find interesting, etc.

    Hopefully you find something here that inspires you to make a great recording – or you can hire me 😉