Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Converter line in tests

I did another set of tests between the Apogee Mini-Me, MOTU UltraLite (first generation), Focusrite Scarlett 18i6, and the M-Audio 2626. All recording was done at 96kHz, 24-bit. As per a suggestion by termites2 on Reddit, I did a test of a line-level signal coming into each converter.
Now one of my big problems is that I don't even own a CD player anymore. I think my parents might have one. So what I had to do was take the headphone output of one of the few Macs in my studio which actually has a working optical drive (this is a long-running frustration of mine) and in iTunes play a CD through the headphone output.
Yeah. Not exactly the highest-end way to get audio into a computer. But it's what I have.
So I took the headphone out and injected it into the high impedance instrument jacks on the front of a pair of Neve 1272 mic preamps (BAE). The balanced output from the Neves fed the analog inputs of the different converters.
Note: the converters all take about the same line in level EXCEPT for the Scarlett. So I turned the Scarlett down 9.8dB in Samplitude in order for it to match level-wise.
So now the analog path of this test is... well it's funky. Good preamps but lousy source 'cause that's all I've got. Such is life. (The recording is noisier than it should be, and the overall audio quality of what is otherwise a stellar recording and mix is not as good as it could be with, er, a better D/A converter.)
Listening through, with full-range and fully-mixed material, it's kind of interesting to hear the differences in converters. The tests all play through as an "album" in Bandcamp (embedded above).
I lined up the waveforms so that they're sample accurate (well, +/- a sample because there's a bit of argument where each conversion is concerned). Then, for my amusement, I inverted the polarity of the MOTU, the Scarlett, and the M-Audio 2626, and played them along with the Apogee's track (which was not inverted.)
Top to bottom: Apogee, MOTU, Scarlett, M-Audio 2626.
Interestingly the Scarlett (which is the third track) goes so perfectly out of phase with the Apogee at one point that it actually disappears. (Note that the inversion was done at the track level so it does not appear in the waveform view above. Also, there's some obnoxious noise evident in the inversion.)
That's it. I'm tired of testing things. Tests. Meh. It's time to make some records. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Drums to Save the World

Sometimes audio mixing is ideological. I don't like to think about it as ideological, but it is. Like for instance one can get all ideological about never replacing drum sounds, using the myriad of tools out there.
I like to pretend I'm not ideological. Actually, I may be entirely too lazy to be ideological. I don't want to replace the snare and the kick because that's really boring.
But I'm also not into spending hours and hours trying to get a particular snare sound. I just want it to sound "good", whatever good might mean on a particular day, and then start playing.
I guess the same thing goes with all instruments. Once I get a guitar sound which works, I stop. If I need another sound for another part of a song or whatever, I'll go for that but I don't really want to sit there all day tweaking sounds. I want to play.
I'm starting to get uninterested in "dead" kick drums. I kind of want a kick to ring out like a marching-band bass drum. Now, I'm only saying this about my music -- there's plenty of awesome records out there in different genres that just sound fantastic and have very different kicks and such. But I do want the kit to all sound like it was played at the same time and in roughly the same acoustical space. I guess "When the Levee Breaks" is the direction I'm going in there.
How to get the hi-hats to shut up has been my question of late. Maybe by asking the drummer to play them quieter? Nah, that can't possibly be it...
Now, the fact is that the only way I know how to mix music is too loud. Too much compression. I need to become less like that. Then again, I've been complaining for years that I mix too loud (the volumes in my control room are not very loud, I mean the mix itself). I mix movies too loud. I mix music too loud.
It's because of the compression. That stuff is like a drug. You get on the compression pipe and you just can't say no to it. Because compression makes everything sound awesome. You know it does. You know you want more of it.
Sigh. These are the things I'll be working on for the coming year.

Friday, December 21, 2012

You are so lucky...

This is my last Tyrannosaurus Mouse upload this year.

The mix is just distorted. But in a way that amuses me. The bass essentially sounded that way to start with. The drums have a world of compression on them. The center mic is a large-diaphragm (just like all these recent recordings) and has the reverb and even more compression on it.

I dig the kick sound here. The mic is only generally pointing at the kick. It's probably pointing at about the center of the rack toms.
I'm using two of Samplitude's reverbs in series.

Yeah, the whole thing sounds pretty dirty. But like I said, I kind of dig it. Click through to see the music player. Then turn it up.
Rock your vole.

Melt With Ruth

This is a thing we did extemporaneously the other night. Five tracks: three through Neve preamps for drums, one on the bass, one built-in M-Audio 2626 preamp on guitar. On the mix there's a lot, and I mean a lot, of compression.
The guitar is insanely out of tune. The playing is... well... extemporaneous. That means we were making things up as we went along. Sometimes our ability to read one another's minds is hampered by the aluminum foil hat I wear. But that's not the point of this recording. The point of this recording is to us an idea or a notion of what recording might be like over the coming year.
Hi hats are too loud. We need quieter hi hats. I hear things about the Zildjian K Constantinople hi hats.
Boy are they expensive...

Neve Vs M-Audio 2626

I'm surprised at how good the cheap preamps and converters all sound. And it may be that the problem with the cheap preamps and converters is that they will start to sound tiring after a while of listening or that when you start stacking them in a mix they get to be a bit either harsh or muddy. But one at a time, especially when you're not A/B'ing them against very expensive gear, they sound quite nice.
Above is a test of the Neve 1272 mic preamp vs the internal preamp on the M-Audio 2626. It's an unfair comparison and you don't need to do a double-blind study to realize that wow, the Neves sure do sound nice.

I actually through a scientific evaluation out the window and went and EQ'ed the tracks. Individually. Just to make them each sound very nice. The Neve, of course, has the low-mid thump that had to be cut out. But I added a bit more in the 4K range to each of them (although the center frequencies are somewhat different.)

You're Gonna Carry That Weight

A rack of rock. That's the power supply for an AKG C12A at the top left, the red thing is a Focusrite Scarlett, below that in grey is the M-Audio 2626, and at the bottom are Neve 1272's preamp pairs by BAE (one is mine and one is Scott Hirshon's).
There's a lot of iron in this box and it makes it hard to carry around. There may be a consensus that we don't want to be carrying the C12A. The C12A sounds great, but it's expensive, delicate, and the mounting hardware is simply horrible.
But we are going to be adding at least two and probably three more preamps in a 500-series 1U rack. Which means more weight.
Sigh. You know what? I really dig the M-Audio converters on acoustic guitar (at least). I actually, and I realize this is an act of apostasy to say so, like them better than the Apogee preamps. I know, right? The Apogees are more "pristine" certainly but there's a certain low-frequency grungyness that the M-Audio 2626 has that's very musical. Which does discourage me from wanted to get it modified by Black Lion. Well, I guess that makes my life cheaper and easier though.
On the other hand, things that make my life harder and more expensive: I'm liking is 96kHz sampling frequency. It's not that you can hear better high end really. Or I mean I can't. But it has a betterment to the sound I like. There's a betterization. There. That's the scientific term for it.
But at 96kHz we're taking up a lot more resources. This means that if we want to use a laptop to record, we need to use the 2626 going into the Scarlett (because only the Scarlett has USB and nobody bothers to make laptops with Firewire ports anymore). But if we want to use the (Firewire) 2626's A/D converters we have to get digital audio into the Scarlett and we're limited in the way that can work. The ADAT interface on the 2626 and Scarlett only gives us four channels across the optical. We can get two more channels via S/P Dif. Can we record basic tracks entirely  by using only six channels of audio?
Probably not. We also have six more analog inputs on the Scarlett but I don't like the sound of the Scarlett as much as the 2626. But you know, the Scarlett's clarity and the M-Audio's gnarlity might make a good combination.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

More Converter Tests

Converter Tests. This is the most exciting album you've ever heard. Okay, not really. This is a test of converters using a Martin D-28 acoustic guitar into an AKG 460 microphone with a CK-1 capsule. I pulled a tiny bit of 250Hz from all tracks in the 48 kHz tests. Which is kind of dumb of me as I should have treated all the tracks equally but I didn't do that.

Other scientific problems with this test: The room is noisy. Each take is a different performance. The converters are not all set to exactly the same level.
I tested four A/D converters
  1. M-Audio 2626
  2. Apogee Mini-Me
  3. Focusrite Scarlett
  4. MOTU Ultralite (1st generation)
Each of these converters also has built-in microphone preamps. I tested those too.
I tested both 48K and 96K clocks. The file naming, although not as consistent as it should have been, goes like this:
Clock speed (48 kHz or 96 kHz)
Then I tell you whether I used a Neve 1272 preamp or the built-in preamp of the converter.
Then I tell you what the converter was.
Optionally (and only with the MOTU converter) I indicate if the internal clock or the Apogee's clock was used.
If you want to listen without being influenced by what is what then go ahead and play the album. It's only a few minutes long.

Now here is the key (note that number 9 is "Neve (preamp) to Apogee (converter)".)

I managed to forget to test the preamps on the 2626 on their own. Oops. That would have been nice to hear. 
My preliminary conclusion is that I kind of like the M-Audio 2626's converters. I hear that the Apogee is "higher end" but there's something nice about the grit (there's that word again) of the 2626.

The Frontier of Reason

Greg and Lily stopped by last night for a little rehearsal. Basically it was a "Drew only knows two chords, it's time to teach him more chords" rehearsal.

Now my job is to figure out how I'm going to record the three (Editor's note: why three?) records I want to make this year.
The Focusrite Scarlett 18i6 is a neat little interface. Presumably it will work with an iPad, which amuses me greatly.
The inputs on it are hot, boy. According to their website:

  • Input Level: +10dBu for 0dBFS (balanced inputs)
  • Input Impedance: >10kΩ

Whereas the M-Audio 2626 has what I would consider to be more reasonable levels:

  • Maximum Input level +19.6dBu, typical
  • Input Impedance >20k Ohms, balanced

That's almost a 10dB difference. The answer, of course, is to turn down any mic preamps feeding the Scarlett by about 10dB. (Ironically, the Scarlett's mic preamps are pretty quiet, unless the XLR's work at some lower level by default and I haven't figured out how to turn them up yet.)
Of course, what we can do is drive the Focusrite Scarlett with the M-Audio 2626. That is, if we were inclined to do such things. We can feed the Scarlett from the 2626 via ADAT lightpipe. We probably won't be doing that unless we have to record some crazy number of tracks for some reason.

The big thing with the Scarlett is that it is USB and not Firewire. That means that we can use a laptop with it rather than bringing a hundred pounds of computer around with us. (Ask any of my bandmates how much they enjoy doing that when you have the chance.)

Did I mention that the Scarlett's interface is vastly better than the 2626? And I don't even use the 2626 drivers as a rule nowadays, having found that the Samplitude "low-latency" drivers work better with it.

I've done tests. Hoo boy have I done tests. And you shall be subjected to my tests. Oh yes you will.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Falling Angels

Which brings me to last night's Tyrannosaurus Mouse rehearsal. Again we went to Looming Productions as a 3-piece. My rack, which is hardly portable, has 4 Neve 1272 preamps and the M-Audio 2626 A/D converter and preamp.
Here's a mix of Fiery the Angels Fell. (You can only see it in the web version of this post.)

I put the bass into the 1st Neve preamp. Ethan decided that some beat-up Samson microphone from the PA was the best choice. That is, it was a better choice than the even more beat-up no-name "58-esque" mic they had there. That actually sounded pretty good. It's a very aggressive bass sound but more than appropriate with Ethan's 5-string fretless. (UPDATE: Ethan says that he actually swapped out a Sampson for an actual 58, albeit more beat up.)
The drums had a center microphone of an AKG C12A and a "Y" configuration of a pair of Oktava 012 mics. I wanted the 012's because of their off-axis smoothness (over the AKG 460's). I set them relatively low rather than above the kit. The three drum mics (left, right, and center) all went through Neve preamps.
My big problem is that hi-hats are too loud. I mean, that's a big problem in my life.
I thought that by putting the mics "low" and facing the front of the kit I'd get a somewhat more kick and tom sort of sound.
Basically I think that worked. Still need to find a way to quiet the hi-hats. They're kind of like sopranos in a chorus in that way you want to shush them. Right?
Should there be more spread in the stereo-ness of the drums? I dunno. I feel a bit of longing of isolating the drums a bit more. The AKG center, being a tube mic, is a bit "fuzzy" sounding. I'm not entirely sure of how much I dig it but it certainly gives heft and center to the kick drum.
At some point I'm going to go on at length about the "three microphone" setup for a drum kit where one of those mics is not the kick drum. Because I'm not that sure I'm into a kick drum mic so much as just a "front of the kit" mic.
The guitar, which is my SG going into a VOX amp, was barely paid attention to by me. It's recorded with a '57 draped over the cabinet and the preamp is the 2626 (input number 5).
We recorded at 96kHz. I seriously don't know if that realistically makes much difference to us. Is it really better than 48K? Who knows. I'll be doing some experiments at some point.

Gritty Swagger

I don't think I have any kind of gritty swagger. Not like Howl from Beware of Darkness.
The most recent Taxi listings are all about the gritty swagger. I mean, that's the language they actually use to describe the songs.
I get the feeling that editors on TV shows put in songs they really like but can't afford. And then music supervisors are stuck with trying desperately to find affordable songs which match what the editor originally had in there before they get onto the mix stage. I mean, that's my feeling.
It's funny too that Taxi just goes ahead and puts YouTube URL's in their listings -- of videos of music similar to the style that they're looking for.
The latter half of December has no Taxi listings appropriate for Tyrannosaurus Mouse, Pleasure for the Empire, or Prague Spring.
I can haz gritty swaggers?

Additional coolness: dudes making and modifying microphones. Michael Joly mods Oktava and other mics.
Dude on Reddit made his own guitar magazine. Danny's Guitar Channel.

Things That Are Cool

Among things that are cool is an iPad app called Auria which allows for recording multitrack. You need a USB interface for it. Something like a Scarlett if you want to do at least 8 tracks. If you've got an iPad, an interface (and the camera connection kit for the iPad which is like $35 from Apple or vastly less from elsewhere) then it's a pretty cool and lightweight way to do recordings.

What else is cool? Mother Leopard is cool. Jeremy Crowson turned me on to them.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Engineering only a 7?

Here's the first feedback we've gotten for anything submitted to Taxi. Hmm... I must have misunderstood what "song" means in this case.
But the recording is "Not great"? I'll have to differ with you there. I think it sounds pretty cool. It's not like it could be been produced with any, say, more expensive gear or mixed with a better mixing console. Beats me what they're looking for there -- probably just more compression.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Live Belle Saff

Are there any great drum sounds from live records? Like knock-your-socks off drum sounds?

Belle Adair is pretty groovy.

Here's a mastering house: Carl Saff.

Internet Notebook Sounds and Music

Remember how these blogs are essentially my Internet notebook? No? Well you're about to be reminded.

The M-Audio 2626. The drivers which come with it are... persnickity. I lose ASIO buffers all day long. ASIO4ALL drivers are better. But so far the best drivers for me are the Samplitude low-latency drivers built into Samplitude. So you know what? Them's what I'm going with.

Otherwise the 2626 sounds pretty good. Yeah, I could get an upgrade by getting it modified for $575 plus shipping both ways. But I could get a pair of Lindell mic preamps for that price too. And the preamps will make a bigger difference to the sound.

Another issue which comes up is transportation. I'll probably end up with a Gator 4U bag. That's 2U for the two sets of Neve preamps and 1U for a 500 strip and 1U for the interface.

I wish there were a way to get Firewire into an iPad. Or I wish I had another Mini. Or something.

I'd also like a way of miking drums in a way that makes me happy. I'd like a very simple microphone setup that gives me both the presence and the bombasity I like.

I... you know... I don't like kick drum microphones. I mean. Yeah. There are some great kick drum sounds out there in the wild. But they frequently sound to me like they're not from the same drum kit when they're miked.

One trick seems to be getting the damn cymbals to shut up. Drums you hit hard. Those metal things on top? Not so much.

The drum sound on Sunshine of Your Love is pretty good. It's a bit cardboard for my taste. But he's such a good drummer with such great control of the dynamics of the kit that it sounds pretty good.

Fleetwood Mac's The Chain has a great, dry, '70's drum sound. Snares released from the snare drum before the chorus. The drum itself has a decent amount of resonance even though the acoustical space is so dead. And, again, the cymbals are under control. Playing drums is really hard.

I keep coming back to ABACAB. That, and the fact that my mother, strangely, liked the rhythm in the song "Mama".

The gold standard is always Kashmir. I'll take another listen. A Whole Lotta Love has an impressive drum sound.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I want three of these Lindell 6X-500 preamps.
Most of the time I'm recording I'm doing it "blind". More accurately it would be called "deaf" as I can't hear what I'm recording -- I'm just looking at levels and microphone placement and imagining that it must sound okay.
So what I typically want is a high-end preamp that doesn't have a lot of controls on it. This is why the Neve 1272's work so well for me. You can be really, really stupid and record something with a 1272 and it'll sound great.
This Lindell preamps are very inexpensive (when you can find them in stock). They do require a 500 series power supply and housing. And on the Internet they sound great. What am I going to do with the EQ on them? Probably like I do with all Pultecs -- turn some knobs and trust it'll sound awesome.
You know what's also very cool? These Ear Trumpet Labs microphones. At $500 they're well-reviewed on the Internetz and the Josephene will be perfect on The Imaginary Opera.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Recording in the City

Last night was another City Samana rehearsal. I recorded with the M-Audio 2626. The mic setup was a pair of spaced Shure SM 58's in the room to pick up guitars, an AKG C12A as the side mic and an Oktava 012 as the mid mic in an M/S pair over the drums, and a Rode NT1A on the bass amp. The input routing changed a bit over the session.
I only brought one pair of BAE Neve 1272 preamps. I was sort of kicking myself over that decision, I may as well bring both pairs I have.
My other brilliant move was that I didn't have headphones with me. To which I say derp.
The Neve's were routed directly into the M-Audio. And I'm watching the meters and there's this very clear spike punching ever second or so into the meters. I have no idea what that's all about so I pull the Neves out for the first couple hours.
Then I had an epiphany that the Neves maybe hate to see phantom power. I was, due to the fact that I hadn't bothered to bring any XLR to 1/4" cables, running directly into the M-Audio's mic preamps. Yes, I do realize that's not best practice. So on the last thing we recorded (above) Neve's were on the "room" mics.
I do like the space on the room mics. That part is nice. Guitar amps are usually recorded with a mic shoved right up in the grill but I kind of like having a few feet on them.
One issue for me is that the drums don't really have enough isolation to make them sounds like the monsters they should sound like. We don't have any baffles or anything (of course). But I'm thinking that maybe a trio of mics for the drums is what's in order. And maybe pointing guitar amps in another direction?
And, of course, asking Dave to hit the toms harder than the cymbals... ;-)
Here I boosted the drum M/S pair leaving the room mics a bit lower but smashing the drums a tad more. This song was brought about by Dave saying "What are we going to do?" and me saying "Something funky" and him replying "Like what?"

I may have overcompensated for my percussive loudness desired by making the drums too loud in this.  They're too loud and too compressed. I fought to make them too loud and too compressed. And I won.

Recording directly to Samplitude on my old PC I reported a lot of ASIO lost buffers. Like hundreds and hundreds of instances of lost buffers. I can't hear any clicking most of the time. But this is a thing which has must needs be fixed. I have no idea.
As a musical caveat: we're making these things up as we go along. I, certainly, have no idea what we're doing before we actually do it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sound Check Day

Do you like microphone preamp shootouts?

Yeah, the Brent Averil API 312 doesn't seem to blow away the others like you think it would. But that's the thing. One at a time these sorts of things don't make such a big deal. But when you start to build up tracks it starts to make a difference. Like Alan Douches says, it's an "accumulation of subtleties."
You know what seems cool though? The Little Labs Lmno preamp.
I'm also somewhat curious about the Lindell preamp.
The A Designs 500 HR is a relatively inexpensive 500 rack with power supply (at $300).
Radial makes a 3-slot 500 rack (also in a 1U space) for only $350.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Clock Test

So I did a test of the internal clocks of both the MOTU UltraLite (the original one) and the M-Audio 2626. Using the internal microphone preamps we're looking at stock versions of each device.
The difference is that I flipped back and forth between the internal clocks on each of those interfaces and the S/Pdif clock from an Apogee Mini-Me.
The recording was made at 96kHz.
The EQ I used on the tracks. Just a little scoop at 277 seemed to do the trick.
The guitar is a Martin D28 going into an AKG 460 with a CK1 capsule. I put a tiny amount of EQ on the tracks just to cut out some of that low-frequency stuff and the 70Hz cut was switched on at the microphone itself. I'm recording in my relatively noisy control room but I used no noise reduction.
I then offer a version which is "mixed" with some nice reverb and compression. This is just so you (I) don't get tired of listening to dry guitar.
Remember, all of this is at 96kHz. I did not A/B anything against 48kHz or the like.
Also, I did not use fancy-pants mic preamps. No Neve, no API. So you're listening for clock differences. But you're also hearing preamp differences.
Note that you won't see the above link if you got this post as an email or in an RSS reader. You must come to the blog.
The numbers in the file are from Freesound contributor Corsica S.
Now ostensibly you should listen to the above track (embedded in Bandcamp) without my prejudicing you regarding which track is which. So I won't. Just listen.


It goes like this:
1. 2626 internal clock
2. 2626 Apogee clock
3. 2626 internal clock mixed with some reverb and compression more the way I'd probably actually do it
4. 2626 Apogee clock with reverb
1.1 UltraLite Apogee clock
2.2 UltraLite internal clock
3.3 UltraLite Apogee clock reverb
4.4 UltraLite internal clock reverb

My conclusion? Wow, at 96k there certainly is no difference that's particularly shocking between the internal and external clock. Knowing this will save me some money in external clocks, that's for sure.
Now I also did a couple quick tests with playback. At 48kHz the MOTU converter sounds much better with an external clock. I knew that before I did this test. With the external clock the high end is much less cloudy. I did not hear those differences when I was listening at 96kHz.

Monday, December 10, 2012


So I own a very expensive piece of software called Metacorder. It cost nigh on $1700 when I bought it in 2006. It has a USB dongle and only works on a Mac.
The Mac I had it installed on is now dead.
In order to put Metacorder on a new Mac I need to upgrade it. This will cost $295. Note that this is a piece of software which isn't even being updated anymore. 
The irony here is that the competing software is only $256 to buy. It's called Boom Recorder. It's actually only $250 in the iTunes store.
There's also a freeware program called Traverso which very well may work. I don't know yet if it can handle more than a stereo pair for recording. It looks like it will but I'll have to see. The difference with Boom Recorder and Metacorder and regular music applications is primarily the ability to read and time-stamp with incoming timecode. I don't care about timecode when I'm making movies, much less recording music. So there.
AKG C12A power supply 2618
 Taking pictures of my AKG C12A (power supply 2618) and microphone (2129).

Inside the box...

AKG C12A no 2129

The back of the microphone.

A little bit closer.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Drums and Microphone

From this thread, the measured dB SPL of drummers:

At drummer's ears
21" ride = 102 db
21" ride (bell) = 112 db
Bass drum = 105 db
Toms = 110 db
Snare 5x14 single roll all rimshot 120 db
Snare (maximum rimshot) 125 db
16" crash = 111 db
14" hats (maximum/open) = 117 db
18" china (maximum) 118 db

Quiet groove: drummer ears 105 db - 5 feet 100 db - 25 feet 96 db
medium groove: drummer ears 110 db - 5 feet 105 db - 25 feet 102 db
Solid groove: drummer ears 115 db - 5 feet 110 db - 25 feet 108 db
Maximum (snare): drummer ears 125 db - 5 feet 120 db - 25 feet 116 db

And some specs on the AKG C12A
  • Frequency Response 10Hz - 20kHz
  • Output Sensitivity 4mV/Pa
  • Max SPL 118dB for 0.5%THD
  • Self Noise (CCIR)
  • Self Noise (DIN/IEC) 20dB-A
  • Output Impedance 200Ω
  • Recommended Load 0.5kΩ
  • Powering Proprietary unit

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Clocks and Neve Shalom

I normally don't agree with Bob Katz. He's a mastering engineer who put himself in the fray of the "loudness wars" of the 90's.
He is, apparently, also in the fray of the "external clocks are always worse" arguments. Those arguments are weird. I first got wind of them on the Black Lion Audio site. External clocking is "controversial". The whole notion that it's controversial is absurd to me.
Ah. Well as it turns out I have to agree with Bob Katz on this. Why? Because he's not talking about clocking a MOTU interface with an Apogee clock. He's talking about clocking a Lavry A/D with a Big Ben.
Yeah, that doesn't really matter. With the high-end converters the built-in clocks are pretty good so you don't need an external clock.
But with cheapo converters you'll get a HUGE increase in quality when you externally clock. Listening to the output of my MOTU UltraLite on its own clock and then with the clock from the Apogee Mini-me reveals a vast difference in audio quality. I mean it's eminently obvious, you don't need to do a blind A/B. Just flip the switch and see.
UPDATE: I'm completely wrong about this. I cannot replicate that experiment I undertook once upon a time wherein I determined that the MOTU plugged into an Apogee clock started sounding a lot better. So Bob Katz is right about clocks all sounding about the same, as far as I can tell.
If a bear snuggles a log in the woods, will you hear it?
I've grown weary of the sound of Neve preamps on drums. Don't dig the sound on snare. Not on kick. Room? I dunno. I'm thinking something else like D.W. Fern. Or maybe API all around. Yeah. API all around.
Now that's not to say I don't prefer Neves on electric guitars. Because I do. Just... drums. They're too... I dunno... pillow-y?


There's a number of options for API clones out there. Including:
The Warm Audio half-rack 312 for $450.
The Black Lion half-rack 312 for $350.
Five Fish Studios make some fun kits. But I don't know if I'm really that into soldering together a whole preamp.
I thought I'd dig the Akai SynthStation 25 more than I do. First of all, the keys are smaller than standard size. They're bigger than accordion though. The app that's made for it sounds more like a Roland from 1985 than anything else. I haven't fooled around with the Fairlight app that much. I think the ARP might be better served by Android.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


I went and ordered an M-Audio ProFire 2626. B&H was blowing them out at $309 but I missed that sale by one day and so I ordered it at $399.
The joke is, of course, that my entire plan is to blow an astonishing $575 for a modification plus an additional $315 for the clock. But uh, those will come later. Maybe much later.
Why? Why do we (I) need multitrack recording capability? Three reasons:
1. I have many albums I need to make. I need to create the a.) Imaginary Opera. I have a mythical band called b.) Pleasure for the Empire which needs to be fed. Plus, I bet we could do things with c.) Tyrannosaurus Mouse if only we had a decent drumkit.
2. In order to prevent a certain level of screaming on set it would be nice to be able to throw wireless lavs on all actors, recording all of the talent as isos, and mixing later. It's maybe not so much "screaming" on set that's the problem as perhaps a general level of irritation because we nominally do not have a professional boom op on set.
3. There are occasions when tracking a musical group like the Russian Chamber Chorus of New York that a stereo pair of microphones is not adequate for. Such a multichannel solution would be very welcome.

Monday, December 3, 2012


The funny thing is that just as I was finishing up my last post I was offered to borrow a MOTU 2402 Mark II.
Funny peculiar. Not funny ha-ha.
The problem with that particular unit is that it doesn't use Firewire -- it uses its own proprietary interface on a PCi card. This means it needs a full-sized computer to work. Also, it only does a 48k sampling frequency.
That being said, Black Lion Audio will do a modification/upgrade for $345.
But what if one had desires for a more portable system?
I see three options.
1. Just use the un-modifyable MOTU UltraLite that I already have (free). It'll work at high sample rates and connects to most any computer but doesn't sound as awesome as I'd like (although when it's clocked by the Apogee sounds worlds better than when it uses its own clock.
2. Get a MOTU 828 Mk II (used) and get Black Lion to upgrade it for $340. As a Firewire device it'll use small computers, plus it'll record up to 96kHz.
3. Get a Behringer ADA8000 (about $200) and upgrade it with a Black Lion mod. For $450 they claim they can bring the quality of the 8000 into the realm of Apogee Rosetta converters. Now, this system can only do 48kHz and requires ADAT optical inputs on a recording device. It's possible I could just take my silver-faced ADAT and record to (egads!) tape but I'd still have to find a way to get that signal into a computer (using either the borrowed 2408 or perhaps a [Editor's note: apparently I just stopped writing this post here when I realized how absurd it would be to get a MOTU 828 Mk II in order to transfer.]

Sunday, December 2, 2012


So I only have one good converter. It's a stereo Apogee. And it'll convert to AES or S/Pdif but also has a USB output.
But my monitors are all through a first-generation MOTU UltraLite. Thing is I clock the UltraLite with the Apogee's S/Pdif output and it makes a gianormous difference in the sound quality.*
So here's the thing: to record a band it would be nice to be able to do more than two channels of high-end quality at a time.
I was looking at the Apogee Ensemble but the darn thing is 1. almost two thousand bucks and 2. only works on a Mac.

Then I started looking around at other converters. Black Lion, which is a company that's no slouch when it comes to modding and upgrading stuff, claims that their modification to the Behringer ADA8000 makes it sound at least as good as the Apogee Ensemble.
Note that brand - new the Behringer is only about $200. The mod, at $255 actually costs more than the unit new. And the "premiere" mod is $450!
So that's a total of $455 (plus shipping) or $650 (plus shipping) for a pretty hopped-up A/D converter with 8 channels.
But here's the thing -- the ADA8000 only gets you as far as ADAT lightpipe conversion. There's still no way for me to get the signal into a computer.
And you can probably get an Apogee Rosetta 800 used for about $800 (well, that would be a pretty good deal actually). But still, that's without the card to get the signal into the computer. So adding the X-FireWire card brings you up to $1300 or $1400.
OK, so if you think in terms of the $455 version of the Behringer ADA8000 you still need to figure a way to get that signal into your computer.
So one needs a cheap ADAT optical-to-Firewire interface.
If one happened to have one of those lying around then the $455 (plus shipping) is likely money well-spent.
Hmm... A funny thing happened at the end of me writing this post. I'll tell you about it in the next post.

*It turns out the clock does not make that much difference in sound quality.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Analog to Digital

One of the few studios in NYC with a Daking console in it is The Maid's Room.
But that's not what I'm here to talk about right now.
Getting back to the notion of recording I've come up with this signal flow chart.
I'm not entirely sure this makes sense to anyone but me.

The key to this chart is using just gear that I have (or have access to). It's for recording a quartet which is all together in a room. The bleed will be... well it'll be enormous between instruments. There will be no isolation, no ability to fix single notes. We'll be able to fix sections by editing. But if I play a wrong note we'll have to cut in from another portion of the song where I don't mess up.
I think it's perfectly possible for the Samanas to make a very groovy space-rock record which will sound pretty darn good this way.
This is me. Thinking that.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Samana Recording

Greg recorded the rehearsal last night using a Fostex portable recorder and a pair of Shure SM58's.

To me this recording is shockingly good. The 58's were a spaced pair pointed almost straight down on either side of the kick drum (and slightly away from the drums). The bass amp was directly in-between the centerline between the mics, about five feet away. The two guitar amps were on either side.
Greg Bartus and Andrew Bellware recording City Samanas.


Tonight I played with the City Samanas at their groovy rehearsal time-share space at Smith and 9th in Brooklyn.
I realize these pictures look as though I took some grainy pictures of each of the CS and then composited my ridiculous face on top.
Dave Wolfe and Andrew Bellware.
In fact, it sure doesn't look like I'm playing in any of these pictures. And, of course, I'm not. Because I'm taking pictures. Sheesh.
We had loads of fun. You know, two chords (because after all, who can remember three chords, amirite?) Big, lush, ambient stuff.
Andrew Bellware with Greg Bartus.
I played the SG through the Marshall 800 at the studio (and I used my MXR analog delay).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

All Your 80's Are Belong To Us

Hello? You know what's just straight-up nuts?
Just (seemingly) a few years ago it cost a hundred thousand dollars to get a Fairlight CMI.
And now it's a freakin' app on iTunes. Yeah, it'll work on iPads and iPods. An App.

Even better is that for an additional seventy bucks you can get this keyboard from Akai -- the SynthStation25 -- and dock your iPod Touch in it. So a Fairlight. For less than a hundred bucks.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Records, Giants, Fishbowls

Erika Records is a vinyl manufacturing joint out in California.
As of right this minute the notion of straight-ahead stealing riffs from the oeuvre of Gentle Giant seems like a good idea.

This is what 5.1 meters look like when they actually work in Samplitude.
There was a Tyrannosaurus Mouse discussion the other day about how you don't see "fishbowl" baffles around drummers on TV so much these days. And it occurred to me that the reason was the prevalence of in-ear-monitors for singers. The singer's ability to hear themselves = they aren't as concerned about the drum volume onstage so drummers don't have to be surrounded by plexiglass.
Of course, then immediately afterward on Saturday Night Live the band Maroon 5 uses a fishbowl.
Now, they also used IEM's. And they're also one of the best sounding acts on SNL I've heard in a while. The mix was really quite good. I'm not really into Maroon 5 myself but ya gotta admit they sounded pretty good.

More Thinking Out Loud About Drums

It occurs to me, in my own little way, that there's a very amusing notion about recording drums with just a couple microphones. Like maybe four microphones -- two overhead and two in the room. Yes, no separate mic for the kick. And during the course of a song one could fade back and forth between the overheads and the room mics just to create and dynamic change of the acoustical space.
I mean, it's a matter of having a drum kit that sounds great, in a room that sounds great, played by a great drummer, right? Once you have all those things together all you have to do is put a couple mics in front (or above) and record away.
One thing I'd like to do is get away from Neve preamps on drums. I know, I'm a huge fan of Neve. But for drums... my feeling is that they're just too big and pilloughy. I think something with a bit more snap to them like say API preamps might be more like what the doctor ordered.
Maybe close overheads with API's and distant mics with something thicker and tube-ish? There is merit to that.
Making the room mics responsible for the sound of the kick would mean you'd have to have a whole lot of faith in the sound of your kick. I'm thinking that it might be worthwhile to spend all of one's time tuning the drums and not the microphones.
Sigh. Now I wish I'd never sold my API's. Well, the Neves I got to replace them are more useful to me in everyday life though.
And, as I'd already determined, it's easier to go somewhere else to record drums anyway.

Friday, November 23, 2012


All my life I've been unhappy with the D chord on a guitar. I'm talking about the chord that's the first one you learn, the one that's a triangle of fingers with an open D string. You know the one.
Thing is, that chord is always out of tune.
Enough so that on recordings sometimes I'll tune the guitar just for the D chord and then punch in on the chord where I need it. Which is, you know, not optimal. I just want the chord to sound in tune. (The other chord which consistently bugs me is an Eb major as a double-barre.)
The problem is that guitars have frets. And the frets are all an equal distance from the nut and the bridge. But the strings are different sizes. And therefore the neck of the guitar is just an average of in-tune-ness. [And that's in relationship even-temperment, which is as good as we could ever pray to get on a guitar.]
So I got my Gibson SG and it sounds great but I didn't like the intonation and I decided it was time to put an Earvana compensated nut on it. I'm too much a fraidy cat to pop the nut off my own guitar so I took it to Matt at 30th Street Guitars here in NYC and had him install the nut and set up the guitar. As always, Matt did an amazing job of setup. (As a side note, he did a different thing to the nut of my Les Paul -- putting a little piece of bone on the G string, which sounds really dirty but really helps with the intonation.)
The installation and setup was $110, more than worth it. The guitar came new with a pretty darn good setup but it's even better now.
A note on the recording: the SG was plugged directly into my Lil' Dawg Amp "Mutt", which then fed a 12" Celestion Alnico Blue. The microphone was an AKG C12a (backed off a couple feet because it really couldn't take the guitar amp levels and I wouldn't have used it except that all my other mics are away right now because of the session we did the other night) into a Neve 1272 preamp and an Apogee Mini-me converter. There is only the slightest bit of compression on the 2-mix buss and other than that there are no effects.
My conclusion?
I've been waiting for this freaking thing my entire life. Yes, it sounds vastly better. The nuts are only $35 for crying out loud.
This is not entirely a proper A/B test (because I was not as careful about the tuning as I was with the Earvana test and there is some delay on the guitar so it's an unfair test) but here's the same guitar from before the installation of the Earvana:

Yeah, this makes a big difference. I don't really know why there's such a prejudice against these nuts. I mean, everybody should use them. That's my take away.
Will I replace the nut on my Les Paul (even though it's been specially modified?) Yes, eventually. Will I replace the nut on my Blattocaster which has the specially made bone nut that Ethan made? Um. Yy... yes. Eventually. (I mean, it's really cool that Ethan cut that himself and installed it and it sounds great it's just that... yeah...)
So that's where I'm at with the Earvana nut.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Drums and Venues

Recording drums is a major pain. Any other individual instrument I can do a perfectly reasonable job of recording here in my studio.
But drums are a very big deal and hard to get right. And the fact is that on a normal album you spend a relatively minimal amount of time actually recording the drums as compared to overdubbing vocals and (for Pete's sake) mixing.
Also, since the advent of the drum machine the number of studios and rooms which are any good for drums has plummeted.
Recording at Stan's the other day has made me think briefly about how Tyrannosaurus Mouse might record drums, if we were to record drums.
A kick and two room mics are all you need, right fellas? Right? Actually and for serious I cannot tell you how awesome a kick and an overhead can sound. With a nice kit and a good room that's all you need. Right?
Who am I trying to convince here?
The fact is that buying the multi-channel converters and preamps and microphones just to record drums doesn't make much sense when you can spend the whole day in a studio which already has that gear (and a good drum set) is just $600 or so.
This Danny Thompson work looks like the inside liner to an album to me.

WPRB in Princeton has a list of venues in NYC and Philadelphia and between. It's a tad out-of-date but has a lot of venues on it.

The Mouse Goes Back to the Studio

 Last night we recorded an "acoustic" version of the Mouseverture. We went to Stanley John Mitchell's studio in his house in Brooklyn.
 We recorded all in one room (the room with the piano, which Arie is sitting at but that you cannot see in these pictures. We experimented with a number of different ways of recording the 40-seconds of music we were trying to get, including playing in 6/8 and playing (I hope you're sitting down) quieter.
We recorded onto a Roland VS1680. This means we'll have to get the tracks off of it. Which will be a tad exciting. We suspect two tracks at a time rolled off onto a CD or another computer but we don't know yet.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On seminal British 1970s prog rock band Gentle Giant

There's a band out of Stanford, teachers actually, called Glass Wave. They put out one CD. They do a very groovy thing. They sound like an older-fashioned early prog rock act. One difference is that they have a female vocalist, Christy Wampole. Yeah, they kind of do an It's a Beautiful Day thing.
This is a podcast with the guitar player of Glass Wave, talking about Gentle Giant.

Glass Wave is basically the West Coast version of Tyrannosaurus Mouse. But with a better guitar player and singer.

I love Wampole's sound. What's funny about this record is that although it feels like '68-'72 somewhere I can't actually come up with an analogous singer. Not Savage Rose, or Renaissance. She does an interesting thing where she sounds very close (miked) but kicks in her vibrato late in held notes. Hmm... I guess if there were one artist she sounds the most like it would be Donovan.

The guitar sounds are old-fashioned-ish and sound fantastic.

It's okay if I have a crush on the singer, right?*

*True story: Tommy Rowen put that op-ed up on Facebook before I'd even heard of Glass Wave.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Groove it.

Groovy. Here's an article on Nat Cassidy's new opera. It's coming to the Kennedy Center.

E Flat

So I just cannot get an Eb major chord to sound in tune on any guitar. I never have.
Over the years it's bugged me so much that I've either avoided music which has an Eb (forcing a transposition to another key), or re-tuned for the Eb chord and punching in and out on that chord while recording.
My Les Paul has a tiny sliver of bone on the G string that was put on there by Matt at 30th Street. But tomorrow I'm going to go beg him to put my Earvana nut on my new SG. I have two reasons to want that, first of all my issues with D chords and Eb chords in general and then also the fact that my SG feels more irksome than either my LP or the Blattocaster.
Wish me luck.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Tyrannical Things for Today

The Legion Bar is a venue in Brooklyn.
So is Spike Hill.
I got one of these Standard Leather Guitar Mounts from Guitar Ideas. It's tres groovy. I got turned onto these kinds of mounts from Mandolin Brothers, because that's how they hang their guitars. The only guitars it won't work with are those which have the tuners all on one side of the headstock. But as we all know those kinds of guitars are completely irrelevant anyway.

I don't quite understand what this opera is that Nat Cassidy is working on but it has something to do with Dunsany's Charon, which is fairly high on the awesome scale.
I think I know the answer to the question of what we're going to do as far as any sort of organized promotion of Tyrannosaurus Mouse, et al. We're just going to use Taxi. We'll submit for whatever we're eligible for and suchly. There. It'll cost about $500 for the year including the costs of delivering things and so forth. All done like that.

So that and CDBaby. That's our promotional plan. Taxi, CDBaby. There ya go.
The Sweatshop is another rehearsal studio in Williamsburg. Their website is pretty obnoxious though.

Bandcamp lets you upload 24-bit files! Tell me that isn't the sexiest thing you've heard all day.
Here’s what you can upload:
  • lossless WAV, AIFF and FLAC files
  • 16 and 24-bit samples
  • 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192kHz sample rates
  • stereo and mono

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Eventually I'll Get This Right

We rehearsed as a power trio (bass, drums, guitar) last night. This notion of rehearsing things as a power trio before we add in Arie on keys has some degree of merit in that we can get the rhythm section tight before adding keyboard parts.
If you're not actually in Tyrannosaurus Mouse you'll find the following very boring. But here's a link to the recordings from the rehearsal.

You really really do not want to listen to this. It really is just a raw rehearsal where we're trying to figure out what we're doing and playing 3-minute songs for 15 minutes. And listening to me try to figure out "Alphabet City" is right painful.
So, things we've agreed upon:
1. We're making an album called "Love Songs for the Apocalypse".
(I suppose it could be "Love Songs of the Apocalypse" if someone decides or wants.)
2. When we play louder, the three of us (Ethan, Lou, and I) play better. We each suffer from the same fault in that we spend a lot of effort listening to the other players in the band. I know, in most bands this wouldn't be a "fault" but rather "Thank goodness someone is actually listening." But the three of us do it so much that we tend to play tentatively if we're playing quietly.
If we play really loudly though we all play with more authority.
All of the material we played at this rehearsal was being made up on the spot. We had zero notion of what the structures were going to be for anything we played. We frequently had no idea what chords we were going to play. So seriously, sometimes Ethan or I would shout out chords to one another. Sometimes he and I would just guess correctly. Most of the time we guessed wrongly. But I'll tell ya, it's really hard to improvise a harmonic structure in an ensemble situation and ever get it right. So yay for us.

3. We can't rehearse in Greenpoint until the gas shortage is over because Ethan can't get fuel for his car.
4. My new SG sounds fantastic. Now, it is getting my Earvana nut on it (you'll notice I throw it way out of tune by the end of each song). Other than that it's a fantastic guitar. Fantastic. Even Ethan thought it had a great neck, and he's very persnickety about his guitars.
That's the SG through an MXR analog delay and a Vox AC30. The bass is Ethan's Music Man fretless. Lou is playing the Tama kit there in Room C.
5. I really like Looming rehearsal studios. Their place is about the best value in Brooklyn.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Groove to my buddy Mike Kessell's band, Cavallo.

They're a heavy rock-instrumental outfit and I dig them. They recorded this album at Studio G in Brooklyn.
I ordered it on vinyl. Because vinyl is cool.

Thou rank unchin-snouted varlot

Or: Loudness Part II

Remember this Sound on Sound article about loudness?

Here's the "unofficial" dynamic range database. Note that "dynamic range" is exactly, er, not what the issue is.
Lou likes elephants.

The EBU measure of loudness range is a measure of the ‘three-second window, gated K-weighted RMS variability’ of audio content.

Keep that in mind.

At all times.

The really really weird thing is that applying a limiter can effectively increase the dynamic range of a signal. That is it'll increase the RMS dynamic range, not the peak dynamic range.
Which is a really interesting way to think about it.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012


So then, when we release "TM01" (that's the code for the first Tyrannosaurus Mouse album), what shall we do with it? UPDATE: so far we have buy-in from half the band on the name "eponymouse" for our first album. I think our second album should be "disambiguation".
OK, so what do we do this this record?

We can do some radio promotion with it. I've done such things back in the early 90's. I spent quite a bit of cash on some albums that never quite charted on CMJ.
Peter Hay over at Twin Vision says that you have to think at least $1000 for a regional release and $2000 in order to promote a national release. I like Peter Hay. He's a real nice guy. Known for being honest. And although he never got any of my records to chart, they did get a buncha airplay.

Sonic Bids -- they cost $6.99/month. It's a... actually I have no idea what it is.

Oasis CD has a kind of cool thing where they have a sampler CD which goes out to radio stations. To get that though you have to replicate a CD. I estimate the cost of 300 CD's to be about $860 with jewel cases, barcodes, and their radio promotion program. (Note that replicating CD's with Oasis includes CDBaby which would otherwise cost $50/year.) Basically this would mean taking one song and putting it on their compilation CD. Nobody is directly "pushing" the song though, so it would be a matter of radio stations just wanting to play it (unlikely).

Moving the Blags

I'm re-consolodating my blogs.  I know, you wanted them separate. But my little mind just doesn't work that way. All my blogging -- ...