President/Editor/Publisher: Kerry J Haps
Vice-President: Michael Kolar
Secretary: Chris Cwiak

Volume 24 Number 2
February 2009

EARS meets at Black Lion Audio

1800 W. Cuyler, Chicago, IL

Tuesday, Feb. 24th, 7:30pm


Hey Hey!

EARS meets this month at Matt Newport's Black Lion Audio. Matt began in RF electronics and airport navigation systems, then Black Lion Audio began in the business of modifications to audio gear in 2005 and has expanded to include new products in the last year. Besides their mods, they're now making state of the art clocks, ADCs, and pres at very affordable prices.

Their mod of a Digi 002R has recently been used in the making of Altiverb's newest reverbs (Paramount's M room).  It's been used on projects for Michelle Williams, Kirk Franklin, Fox, Chevrolet, Discovery Channel, and IK Multimedia.  It's also been used to track recent recordings for Decca Records, and has been chosen by the Los Angeles Opera for their live recording setup.  Their Auteur preamp is currently being used to track all of the guitars on the Donnas latest record, and their Micro Clock was used on recent releases by Everclear and Jars of Clay. They've done mod work for tons of other folks, including Mattel, Jay Ruston, George Landress, Wes Dooley (AEA), Earl Cohen, Los Angeles Opera, Sony Scoring, Trevor Gilchrist, Marty Frasu/David Newman, Sony BMG Classical, Warner Brothers, Terry Setter (Chameleon Labs), Derrick Carter, Marcy Playground, Jason Lytle/Grandaddy, Lee Hester, Owen Biddle, Ira Ingber, James Demeter, Disney, Rick Heil, Dave Newfeld, James Mercer (Shins), David Pajo (Slint, Zwan), Ming Freeman, and many others. I've been talking to Matt about a meeting for some time, we even had a meeting set up last September that had to be cancelled, so I'm very excited to finally see it happen.  

They're at roughly Irving Park and Ravenswood, on the West side of the Metra Tracks, right next to the Irving Park Brown Line stop, down the block from the Montrose Brown Line stop, and also down the block from the Ravenswood Metra stop. There's parking in the back of the building along Belle Plain & Ravenswood, as well as in front. There's also tons of parking on the East side of the Metra Tracks and it's usually fairly empty at night. Once inside, I'm afraid there's plenty of space but not much seeting, so if you want to be sure to avoid standing through a presentation, bring a folding chair. -KJH

Also, After the meeting...

We're all invited to a combination Birthday/Mardi Gras celebration beginning at 10:30 p.m. at the Underground Wonderbar (10 E. Walton). Happy Birthday to our own Fran Allen-Leake! -KJH

Recap/Appreciation File


This month, our esteemed vice president Michael Kolar hosted our monthly meeting at his Soundscape Studios, located on the near south side at 2010 S. Wabash.  His digs are part of a one-stop shop for artists of all types. In addition to his studio, the building houses a photography studio, video post-production, conference rooms and graphic design among others. Michael says it really helps with networking and to help some of his lesser-known clients get a lot of the other work that surrounds an album done. Prior to Soundscape moving in a little over two years ago, Mike had a ton of work to do. The place desperately needed to be cleaned, the floors needed to be leveled off and a tunnel in which Michael speculated that one might find Hoffa's body needed to be sealed off. Back during Prohibition, the basement where Soundscape is now located was a storehouse for booze. Below what is now the live room is the tunnel through which the hooch was transported to an adjacent brothel. 

In getting the place up to working order, Mike turned to some good friends and fellow EARS members for help and advice.  Sam Rogers of Sweetwater helped obtain the absorption cloud on the ceiling of the control room. Gary Khan hooked him up with diffusers. Michael himself made a bunch of orange diffusers that line the control room walls, floated the wood floors on neoprene and installed the sliding glass door between the control room and live room that used to reside with him at the old Fulton Street location. Danny Leake took a listen to the room and helped tweak it to where it's at today, which is a remarkably neutral sound given that the room has four 90-degree corners and an 8-foot ceiling. 

The live room just off the control room has an interesting ceiling setup. Half of the room has a high ceiling, about 12-15 feet high, while the other half has the standard 8-foot high ceiling of the rest of the facility. Michael has left the brick exposed here in the live room, as he has to a degree in the control room, for its irregular surface. This may change though, as the room is still a work in progress. The room sounds surprisingly large. Off to one side of the live room, adjacent to the control room, is an iso booth. It's much more dead-sounding and of heavy-duty construction than Michael's old whisper room at his former location. This iso booth works well for the style of music that the bulk of his clientele work in, hip hop. Mike focuses on vocal clarity in his mixes to work within that genre. The breakout box in the live room features TRS, XLR, CAT-5 and MIDI, as well as adapters which allow him to run mic power supplies through the MIDI jacks.

Down the hall from the main control and live rooms is another control room / live room tandem. This second control room is used as a production studio for corporate voice over or as a budget room. The live room is actually more of a large booth, but worked well for Michael's work with a Fallout Boy guitarist on a Lupe Fiasco record. 

Michael professed his love for the nice Benchmark d/a converter he's been using. It features 2 channels of d/a, with three sources in and dedicated level control as well as an auto clock feature. Its connectors are BNC (British Naval Connector -- a format found on many oscilloscopes). Mike informs us that they were made to support the weight of your average 170-pound British seaman if a wave came by and knocked him over while he was in the midst of grabbing one of these connectors. Needless to say, they're extremely heavy-duty. Mike's also been using a new Neotek Sytek pre. He tells us that he prefers to shop local for his pres, as Chicago has the highest number of pre manufacturers anywhere. There was also a nice discussion of insurance, as Mike recently had some water damage. He pays $1400 a year for $100k of equipment, so really, it's not a bad deal. 

One other noteworthy piece of equipment at Soundscape is the Omni-bot 2000. It's a tape machine robot made back in the mid-1980's. You can set the robot to record along a pre-determined'll finish back where it starts and go into standby mode. If it detects any sound differential along that pre-determined path, its alarm system will be set off. It can either play a pre-recorded sound back (e.g. -- a dog barking, or human voice yelling for the intruder to get out) or dial a pre-determined phone number and you can listen to what's happening in your space. The robot is controlled remotely and Mike's used it to make small mic placement adjustments when he's been short-staffed. The servos on it are pretty noisy though, so you have to make your adjustment, then sit and wait to listen after the motor stops running. He's also used it to run messages to interns working down the hall. 

A huge thanks to v.p. Kolar for showing us his hospitality for the evening. He brought in chicken from Harold's, a south side Chicago institution. I recommend either the mild or hot sauce, though Michael's partial to the mild. Even sans sauce, the chicken's pretty damn good. If there's one thing Mike knows better than food, it's sound. Having gone out to dinner with him and listened to his work, this much is evident. -Chris Cwiak - EARS' Secretary

Once again, EARS' dues-paying members (plus a guest) were invited to join the Recording Academy Chicago Chapter's Grammy Awards Telecast Viewing Party at the Hard Rock Café. It was a good time as always, though do please read this month's "Where's the Beef?" below. We had a nice little turnout representing EARS. NARAS had to scale back on it's invite this time around, but between a couple of us who are also NARAS members bringing EARS as guests and paying for a couple of tickets we were able to still honor the invitation to all who RSVP'd. Congrats to Chicago area talents who made the list of nominees, including Johnny K for producer of the year (for The Plain White T's, Staind, and 3 Doors Down) and Craig Bauer for rapper Lupe Fiasco in several categories. Chris Willis, along with David Frost & Tom Lazarus won Best Engineered Album, Classical for "Traditions and Transformations; Sounds Of Silk Road Chicago", the CSO won Best Orchestral Performance for "Shostakovich: Symphyony No. 4", and the Pacifica Quartet won Best Chamber Music Performance for "Carter, Elliot: String Quartets Nos. 1 And 5". Larry Sturm came away with one for Jennifer Hudson's self-titled Best R&B Album. Congrats to all involved! -KJH

Next Month

Keep that last Tuesday of March open! - KJH


Where's the Beef? (It's finally back!)

Well, a big EARS cheer to Timothy Powell, of Metro Mobile Recording and the original EARdrum editor, who's stepped up to the plate to finally bring this back to life. Here is, hopefully, only the first in a newly resurrected series from EARS' illustrious past. -KJH

I’m baaaaack!  Life on the road (actually life in dumpster-filled alleys) has been hectic. But I could not let this beef go unwritten.  

Do you work on jazz records? How about folk, reggae, Latin, classical, gospel, polka, or video soundtracks? Are you a NARAS®  member? Did you watch the GRAMMY® Awards show? Are you pissed off like I am? Hey, NARAS President Neil Portnoy, I’ve got a complaint!
Years ago, I attracted the ire of NARAS for a “Where’s The Beef?” article in The EARDRUM that was reprinted in other publications.  I wrote that the GRAMMY Awards were a “sham” because there were only 4 awards for engineers and producers out of the total 79 possible, even though we made up more than half of the NARAS membership. Also, I complained that our contributions to the industry were rarely recognized on the live show. 

Well, the recent GRAMMY show has sunk even lower. The show completely ignored vast areas of the NARAS community. There were NO segments highlighting most of the award categories.  I realize that there’s not enough time during the broadcast for each category. But no jazz? No gospel?  No classical? 

This year, there was no effort to show much more than rap, Mouse-o-Lini acts (like Miley Cyrus) and American Idol pop. Only about 11 awards were given out during the live show, the rest given during the pre- awards ceremony.
Even when a segment featured an act with some artistic credibility, all of a sudden a rapper would appear in the middle of the song for no musical reason, like Jay-Z walking into middle of the Coldplay set. I respect the skills of the rappers, but really...Allen Toussaint, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Lil Wayne? And who could forget the spectacle of Steve Wonder paired with The Jonas Brothers. I bet he didn’t see that coming. When Justin Timberlake ends up looking like the show’s main professional, something’s wrong. 

Maybe next year, the GRAMMY show can feature a classical segment “Rap-Sody In Blue” with pianist Daniel Barenboim, cellist Yo- Yo Ma, and nasty rapper Lil Kim freestylin’ about pimps and cootchie.  Or maybe Chicago’s own Eddie Blazonczyk’s Versatones hooked up with Foxy Brown and Britney Spears in a “Polk-A-Roo” tribute to the late hip- hop icon Biggie Smalls? 

If you are involved in any of the ignored music communities, I strongly urge you to protest loudly to NARAS about the show. Unless NARAS adds a separate broadcast for the full pre-awards show, we need to pressure them to honor the hard work of every member and every music genre.  -Timothy Powell

(and here's an additional comment from the good Danny Leake that I just had to include...)
"I remember the hassle I got, getting the Recording Engineer and Mastering Engineer Grammys for the Album of the Year and Record of the Year. It was like pulling teeth... What really irked me, and I said this to just about everyone I could that night (this year's Grammys)... In the past the Pre-Telecast awards were usually run on a "crawl" on the bottom of the screen during the "bumpers" going to commercial. They didn't do it this year, as if no one cared about the Pre-Telecast awards or that they didn't exist. Any "civilians" not in the know would never know that there were any other award categories. I really didn't think that was cool... especially if you're trying to educate people about music styles other than just Rock, Rap, or Country." -Danny Leake

(and then an additional submission by "Where's the Beef"'s biggest fan, Unfrozen Caveman Engineer...) 
"Ladies and gentlemen of the EARS, I'm just a caveman. I fell on some ice and was later thawed by some of your scientists who stretched me out across a vintage Neve console. Your world frightens and confuses me! . . . When I hear my voice on your Digital Audio Workstations, I wonder, will anyone believe I can hear the aliasing? I get so upset, I take off my cans and run to the nearest bar, where I get Carlos to make me one of those martinis he's so famous for, to soothe my primitive caveman brain. But whatever world you're from, I do know one thing--Chinese mics are bad, and we should talk a lot about talking about it." -Unfrozen Caveman Engineer
Next month, watch for a review of the Toft Audio Designs ATB console. In the meantime, if you're thinking of dropping your hard earned money on one, think twice and ask me about my horrible experience first. -KJH

MT's Tech Tip

In PART 1, this month, I'm giving a basic understanding of our favorite unit - the db !
Let's first define a db, or decibel. It's a compound term - deci, meaning one tenth of, and bel - a unit of measurement noted by - you guessed it - Alexander Graham Bell. That means, if we're talking about 10db, that's equal to 1 bel. Sound is the motion of air, so sound creates changes in air pressure.  A db helps defines the SPL - or sound pressure level. However...
The 'straight-up' db

A decibel is always measured in relation to something. Think of Einstein - everything is relative! We commonly use the reference level of the softest sound level that most humans can hear - and everything is in relation to that - which although isn't 'silence' in reality, it's silence to us.

The 'dbm' we all use and love
By using a different reference, AES has tailored using the decibel towards something in the range of our hearing - and, for deeper reasons covered here, also so the db scale doesn't get sensitive around the typical recording level range we use. So, we use an adjusted version, called dbm, which makes 0 db occur when the signal causes a charge of 0.775 V. So, all of our measurements rely on voltage. A weak signal is a small voltage. A loud signal is a loud voltage!
How 'bout that +4 ?
You may have seen plastered on almost every piece of gear we use that the 'professional gear' operating level standard is +4 dbm - which means that the standard operating level operates at 1.23 volts. Conversely, consumer gear usually (but not always) operates at -10 dbm - which shows that pro, or +4 gear can handle louder signals with greater clarity and much less distortion than -10 gear. This is why we use what we use!
Note - I've seen people say that +4 relates to a balanced connection (like an XLR, that has a +, -, and ground connection) and that -10 is an unbalanced connection (just + and ground). They usually went hand in hand back in the day, as the electronics in the -10 gear were unbalanced as well - but numerous things out there are unbalanced and handle a +4 level. The fantastic FMR RNC is an example. Operates great with a +4 level source (meaning it won't distort at high volumes easily), but it doesn't 'balance' the line. Operating level and input connections are sometimes coupled, but it's never a rule!
Next month, I'll relate db to VU - and then use the two concepts together to talk about the difference of recording in digital and analog (and how digital was never meant to 'ride the rails' of loudness!)
For those who would like the whole story of db and the rest of the math, check out:
Read more about the FMR RNC here:
Until next month... don't blow your ears out! -Marshall Terry

An Opportunity

Doug McBride is looking to consolidate Gravity Studios into the back 1/2 of the first floor (from the A lounge back) and make available for rent the front half of the 1st floor as a pro-built-out studio/ offices/ with lounge, bath, kitchenette etc.... Drop him a line if you're interested. -KJH

An EARS Cheer

Our own Greg Riggs recently moved out to L.A.. Not wanting to lose touch with this guy I'd come to really respect, appreciate, and enjoy, both for his audio/industry knowledge AND his love of the finer things, I was on the phone with him one Saturday when it occurred to me to ask him to sum up his experience with EARS and comment on what he'd found/expected to find to fill the EARS shaped hole in his life. Here's the result and a hearty EARS cheer to Greg, a class act if ever there was. Remember Greg, you know exactly what to tell 'em when they ask for more verb in the cans. -KJH

My few years with EARS.
After almost 10 years with Shure Inc. I decided to check off an item on my list of things to do in life… live in California. I must say the winters are nice, the music and recording talent is vast, and the pastures are different (notice I didn’t say greener because our pastures are scorched brown). Professionally, I took an opportunity to join Guitar Center Management’s sourcing team, managing a collection of audio and lighting brands from cradle to grave, including a line of studio mics. 
Looking back, I can honestly say that EARS was a unique opportunity to see the diverse talent, facilities, and passion in the Chicago area. Although I didn’t work on projects from start to finish, I fully appreciated the exposure to members in their own environment, the historical perspective of how a particular piece of gear works, willingness to share one’s craft, the trust to ask questions, the scientific breakdown of how things work, and the occasional classic curmudgeonly comments on how things were and ought to still be.
My role with EARS began as the Shure liaison, but I quickly came to be an independent dues paying member. The benefits to me were clear. For less than the price of a concert, I’m going to visit some really cool rooms, meet some really cool people, and learn a few things over the course of the year. (not to mention lots of beer and pizza). I feel I joined the organization at a time of rebirth and rejuvenation. I’m glad to have known many people by name, grew to recognize a lot of faces, and saw new faces emerge and stick around. I’m also happy I was able to give back occasionally in the form of side conversations, trade show reports, and business trends.

In the present, I haven’t found an EARS alternative in LA. I have done some mic evaluations with staff at SAE, met some “vintage” guys with a vintage studio in the valley whose jazz fusion chops rival Steely Dan, and found a Gospel church whose house band is worthy of Danny Leake’s magic. I’ve also found a few opportunities to mentor some friends and youngins in the universal art and science of basic audio and acoustics regardless of how many bits are in the box. Oh the joy of Ohm’s law, polar patterns, mic selection and placement, judicious subtractive EQ, and just good players.

In the future, I probably won’t find a replacement for EARS in LA. Instead I’ll meet different people, look for new opportunities to network and learn, and seek to give back to my mentors by helping others. EARS will always be a part of my professional education, and I hope the organization continues to evolve, grow, and help people indefinitely as individuals come and go. My best wishes to each of you, and feel free to stay in touch.
Best regards,
Greg Riggs


Suggestions Welcome!

 There are endless good reasons to band together here as EARS. It can be whatever we want it to be. If you have any ideas for the EARdrum, our website, or future meetings, please email us. We still have a lot of great meeting plans lining up, some website plans, and a lot of good fresh energy and hopes for a more vibrant, participatory EARS, so of course we're very interested in your input on everything EARS. Please! :) - KJH
Our Archives are again up to date. Check out the website for that and more EARS info. Also, I'd like to complete our files with the pre-2001 EARdrums. By my calculations we're missing the first 16 years! (Now minus that first one.) I know Timothy Powell has a year or so on his Metro-Mobile website but that still leaves a lot missing. If you happen to have your old paper copies or files you could get to me, I would love to get them online for posterity. Let me know. - KJH

A note about our Website
I've noticed that it doesn't automatically update in some web browsers. If you're looking for something (such as the latest EARdrum) and it looks like old info, try reloading the page. -KJH

Another note about our Website, and our Logo

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it's time for a bit of updating. We think EARS deserves a bit of a makeover and can't help but wonder who among us might actually double as a professional designer but with the necessary sensitivity to our audio world. Drop us a note if you'd like to consider helping us out with a new look for the website, logo, etc. -KJH


Thanks to all who support EARS through paying their dues. Just as a reminder, they're due yearly by the October meeting and this is a prerequisite for voting and joining us for the Holiday Party and BBQ in August (and occasionally things like the Grammy Party), but they're always welcome. Dues checks (or cash, but no credit cards) for $25.00 can be made out to EARS and given to any of our officers or sent to the following address:

Engineering and Recording Society of Chicago, C/O Eric Roth, Treasurer, PO Box 98, Highland Park, IL 60035-0098 - KJH
A (few) (more) word(s) from the Prez...

or “It never rains (in Southern California) it pours, man it pours.”
Well, well. In fine fashion this time the content we've been begging for flooded in. I wouldn't call it a wildest dream, but I was not really expecting the Where's the Beef column to come back from the dead this month and really had no reason to think Timothy Powell would find the time. I'm so thankful to the original EARdrum editor for jumping back in. Let's see where this thing goes, uh? As I've said before, we've got the ear of a lot of readers, let's show 'em what's up in Chicago. 
As we've got plenty for you to read this time around, and I've got plenty of work to keep me busy with two albums to mix in my (newly) fully treated room on my new, amazing, Focal Twin6 Bes, in the box on a 14 Core MacPro with all the UAD-2 magic that can be mustered, I'll leave it at that and get back to that which brings us together in the first place... Music. 

At your service,
Kerry J Haps



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