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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hollywood Sound Designer Scott Martin Gershin On My Latest Inner Circle Podcast

Scott Martin Gershin image
This week on my Inner Circle Podcast I'm pleased to have my good friend sound designer Scott Martin Gershin. Scott has worked on some of the biggest Hollywood blockbuster films including Pacific Rim, Gladiator, Star Trek, Hellboy and about a hundred others. He's also worked on a number of television shows and video games (including Final Fantasy and Resident Evil), so he's seen it all when it comes to working at the highest levels in a town that only wants the best.

Scott will give you some inside info on field recording (especially getting realistic gunshot sounds) as well as his thoughts on going to the mix stage with 2,000 tracks of audio across 6 Pro Tools rigs!

On the intro I'll talk about why opening acts for big concert acts lose money as well as a number of tools under $100 that will help boost your productivity.

Remember that you can find the podcast either at, or on iTunes or Stitcher

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jimi Hendrix "Third Stone From The Sun" Isolated Guitar

Here's a real treat. It's an isolated guitar part from the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Third Stone From The Sun" from the first Are You Experienced album. Here's what to listen for:

1. The guitar begins in stereo with the drier side to the left and the effect to the right. At 2:31 it pans out across the stereo spectrum back and forth, and does so for the remainder of the song.

2. Listen to the subtle delayed reverb, which you can hear better during the panning after 2:31, and a lot after 6:00 when the level is increased.

3. I love the fact that Jimi changes pickups frequently to change the sound in different sections of the song.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Get Ready For A New Audio Format

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 10.55.40 PM
One might say that we need another audio format like we need a hole in the head, but here's a new one that actually makes some sense. The good people at high-end Meridian Audio have come up with an interesting way to pack a lossless encode into an MP3 container.

The new format is called MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) and is backwards compatible with any player that can play a standard MP3 file. If the player has an MQA decoder, the listener can enjoy full lossless hi-resolution audio as well.

There's another part to this that's interesting. The actual music file that is being downloaded or streamed can first be authenticated by the owner (the artist or record label). If you're using Meridian's new MQA decoder hardware a little green LED will light to tell you that you're listening to an authenticated version.

It's still not clear exactly how this new format works, although the lossless part seems to unfold as either a FLAC or ALAC file so at least there's no proprietary format secretly wrapped in. Remember that Meridian was responsible for the lossless MLP format used in DVD-Audio discs, although that doesn't seem to be part of this format as far as I can tell.

Meridian feels that this format will take the music and audio world by storm, but only a few companies have officially signed on so far. Hi-res download site 7Digital and streaming service TIDAL might be the most significant, since the benefits for streaming are obvious in being able to deliver hi-res audio with less bandwidth.

The major labels also appear to enthusiastic, as the beauty is that a label won't have to issue two separate releases - one an MP3 and another hi-res so it will keep the inventory down.

So what do you think? Are we ready for a new format? Is this something that you'll think will help the music business or just another wave of the hi-res flag hoping that someone will salute?

You can find out more about MQA on Meridian's dedicated website.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Drum Tuning For Engineers

Criss-cross drum tuning image
There's no doubt that getting a drum sound is the number one priority for any recording that has a drummer. Sometimes you luck out and the drums sound great by just putting the mics up, but other times they require some care in order to make them sound the way you want.

The first best thing that can be done is to change the heads, but the drum still has to be tuned, and many times the drummer isn't that much better than the engineer when it comes to making those babies sing.

Here's an excerpt from my Recording Engineer's Handbook 3rd edition that describes the best method for tuning the drums.

"Unless you’re already a drummer, you probably aren’t aware of the proper way to tune a drum. The process is actually quite simple, but does take some time and experimentation. The idea is to make sure that all of the tension rods that hold the head on have the same tension at each lug. What you want is for the pitch to sound the same at each lug as you tap near it. Here’s how it’s done:
  1. Hit the head an inch in front of each lug of the drum. Is the sound the same at each lug? 
  2. Using a drum key, adjust the tension so that the sound is the same at each lug. Is the sound the same at each lug now?
  3. When the pitch (the tension) is the same at each lug, then when hit the drum in the center. It should have a nice even decay.  
  4. Using the same technique, tune the the bottom head to the same pitch as the top head. What does the drum sound like now when you hit it in the center? Is the tone even? Is the decay even? Are there any overtones?
TIP: For faster and more even tuning, adjust the lugs in a criss-cross pattern as shown on the left.

Tuning Between the Top and Bottom Head
 There are three ways to tune drums that use a top and bottom head: 
  • The top and bottom heads are tuned to the same pitch. This provides the purest tone and longest sustain.
  • The bottom head is tuned lower than the top. This provides a deep sound with a lot of sustain as well as a pitch drop or "growl." 
  • The bottom is tuned higher (tighter) than the top. This also produces a pitch drop  sound, although it’s a bit shallower and has a shorter sustain. 

When the drum is first tuned, both heads are tuned to the same pitch. After the correct pitch for the top head is selected, tune the bottom head anywhere from a third to a fifth away from the top head if that’s the sound you’re looking for."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Don't Buy 3 TB Hard Drives

Hard Drive Annual Failure Rate imageFor music and audio professionals, we live and die by our DAW and that means everything attached to it as well.

Recently the backup company Backblaze evaluated their more than 41,000 drives and found that 3 Terabyte hard drives had a fairly high failure rate as compared to any other size.

There's also some evidence that regular old consumer drives are at least as reliable and maybe even more so than the higher priced enterprise drives. Also that Hitachi drives were the most reliable, followed by Western Digital with the least reliable being the Seagate.

Hard Drive Annual Survival Rate imageWhat's should you buy? The company recommends 4 TB drives (like this one) for both value and reliability.

2 TB drives are a real bargain now as well. Be sure to buy 2 (one for backup).

Monday, February 9, 2015

New Music Gear Monday: Devialet Phantom Monitor Speaker

Devialet Phantom image
Usually when I post a piece of gear on New Music Monday it's because it's something new that I spotted that I think might be useful to at least some of my readers. I rarely get to try the piece myself. Then again, it isn't a review that I'm posting - it's more of a heads-up than anything else.

Today's product I have played with a little and it's a mindblower. It's the Devialet Phantom monitor speaker, and it just might be the leap in speaker technology that we've all been waiting for.

The Devialet Phantom a rather small egg-shaped active three way monitor that features dual woofers that fire out the sides. It includes Devialet's own amplifiers that have what they call ADH technology (which from what I can gather is a hybrid analog and digital power supply that uses the the analog portion as a sort of bias for the digital side). The French company has been awarded 77 patents and has racked up 37 sound and design awards for the amplifier since it was released in 2010.

The Phantom is aimed at the audiophile market and their specs are a function of that so I won't quote them here. The only thing that counts anyway is the sound. So how did they sound?

I have never heard such low end from such a small speaker. Unbelievable. I was just in two of the best mastering houses in Hollywood and the subwoofers they used to reproduce that bass were both huge and expensive. As far as the mid and hi-frequency range, I was hearing things that I didn't hear during the microscope of mastering. In fact, I was hearing all sorts of flaws with my mixes that made me want to immediately go back and tweak. These things are surgical, but I bet you can get a great mix with them.

What was hard to believe was that all this sound was coming out of something that was only 10 inches x 10 inches x 13 inches, in a hotel room with no special acoustic treatment! Many speakers today can get you some low end, but few can get you the sub-bass that the Phantoms reproduced, especially considering their size.

The other thing that was interesting is that they were being connected wirelessly! You can connect to them digitally via lightpipe if you want, but what I was heard was through a hot spot convertor that Devialet calls "Dialog." Don't forget, the speakers are meant for consumers so they're capable of being spread out in different rooms like a Sonos system and can be sent audio via a free app. As far as I could tell, no degradation.

One of the downfall of audiophile-style speakers in a recording or mixing environment is the reliability factor. The things tend to blow up on the first big kick hit or dropped microphone that happens. Manual De La Fuente (Devialet's general manager) assured me that the DSP inside the Phantom would prevent that from happening, as it senses signal conditions and instantly adapts before any mechanical or thermal problems arise.

Once again, I'm generally skeptical of audiophile anything, but what I heard was certainly worthy of checking out further. I'd love to get these into my studio for a try. That said, both Sting and producer Rick Rubin are said to have given them a thumbs up as well, so at least there are some other pros that initially feel as I do.

The Devialet Phantom won't be available until April in the US. The best part is that they're priced very reasonably for a high-end speaker at $1,990 each for the Phantom and $2,390 each for the more powerful Silver Phantom. Check out more about it on the Devielet website.

Here's what the Phantom looks like inside.


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