President/Editor/Publisher: Kerry J Haps
Vice-President: Michael Kolar
Secretary: Chris Cwiak
Volume 24 Number 6
EARS meets at Groovemaster Studios
1719 S. Clinton St., Chicago, IL
Tuesday, June 30th, 7:30pm
Here's a mid-summer treat for you. For years Johnny K's been that local hero who's out there making us all proud on the world stage. Big name bands selling big and getting big attention... and quite a big list of 'em, too. At my first few Grammy parties, he was "that guy" - the one everyone's talking about. "Did you meet Johnny K? He's up in the VIP section". This year, the story was a little different, as he'd moved up to the real VIP section, the actual show in LA, nominated for Producer of the Year. Not long after that, Michael Kolar and I found ourselves at another NARAS event where he was interviewed and when we introduced ourselves he just lit up at the mention of EARS. "EARS! Wow! I haven't been to an EARS meeting in years! That's great that you're still going. We should do a meeting at the Groove! You know, I actually hosted a meeting years ago in my basement studio..." Well, needless to say, that was a sound for sore ears. It's a lot of work putting these meetings and EARDrums together and for someone like Johnny K to be so excited at the mention of it, and anxious to host a meeting, well, that just makes it all worth it.
(For those who don't know) Johnny K is a Grammy Nominated Producer best known for his work with Disturbed, 3 Doors Down, Staind, Finger 11, Plain White T's, and Black Tide! Johnny has also worked with many other great bands such as Kill Hannah, Simple Plan, Avenged Sevenfold, Drowning Pool, Halestorm, Machine Head, Royal, and Twigs. Look for his releases this year from some new artists as well as veterans SOiL, Adelita's Way, Valora, Powerspace, and Airbourne. Records produced by Johnny K have sold nearly twenty million copies worldwide which includes 7 Gold and 4 Platinum awards.
Groovemaster Studios is a 40,000 sq ft multi-studio complex offering state-of-the-art studios featuring an SSL 4080 G+ series console with Ultimation and a Vintage Neve 8128 with flying faders. The music complex includes rehearsal rooms, pre-production rooms, an extensive microphone collection, over 80 different guitars, numerous amps, and outstanding outboard gear, not to mention a hot tub, gym and dramatic views of the Chicago skyline!
Groovemaster is located at 1719 S Clinton St, Chicago, IL 60616. We have parking in our North and South lots, as well as along either side of Clinton St.
If you are driving from the South, take 90/94 North/West to the Roosevelt exit, head 3 blocks east to Canal St. Take a right at Canal and head south to the second stop light at 18th street. Turn right (west) on 18th Street and the next block on your right is Clinton. We are the first building on the right, the tallest 6 story building you will see is ours.
If heading down from the North, again take 90/94 South/East to the 18th Street exit. At the stoplight take a left and head east for 3 blocks. The 4th block is ours, Clinton St. It is directly across from Kentone's Diner.
By public transportation you may take the Red line south to the Cermak/Chinatown stop. Walk along Cermak West until you hit Canal St. Walk North on Canal St. until you hit the first stoplight (18th St). Walk one block west on 18th Street and you will be at Clinton. By bus, take the Halsted #8 to the 18th St stop. Walk east on 18th 4 blocks until you come to Clinton.
While just seeing this amazing facility and hearing a bit from Johnny will certainly make for a full meeting, we also have the bonus of one of our members bringing along U47 and C12 clones he's built himself. Johnny's got a C24 to compare but we're still looking for a good U47 or higher-end clone to compare his to. We've got access to a Wunder CM7-GT, but if anyone has better, drop me a line.
See ya there! -KJH
EARS MEETING AT STUDIO 11: May 26, 2009
During my years as a sound engineering student at Columbia College Chicago, I couldnt help but feel that we in the audio department were sort of relegated to also-ran status by the school, not in the typical sense of not being shown any love by the administration, but in that we sound students were always kept in out-of-the-way places. My first year at Columbia was spent far-flung from the rest of the school buildings in the South Loop at 676 N. LaSalle, now home to Wall to Wall. Subsequently, the department was relocated to the basement of the 33 E. Congress building. The basement. Really? Eight foot ceilings. No sunlight. Gotta keep us audio gargoyles out of view of the rest of the student populace, lest they be frightened into giving their cash to some other institution of learning, I guess.
As it turns out, that was the perfect training for how life in a recording studio would be once we got out into the real world. Dan Scalpone and Alex Gross, our hosts for the evening (manager/engineer; studio A engineer, respectively) are no strangers to the lifestyle. They began working together back in 1993 when they also were Columbia students, in a basement apartment in Evanston. Luckily, they had a deaf upstairs neighbor who couldnt tell when they were working. The guys obtained a TC Finalizer that people started just showing up to have their mixes mastered through, and things took off. They finally decided in 1998 that a basement apartment was no place to run this big an operation, and moved to a coach house at State and Superior. Eventually, the housing market boomed, and new construction began to take its toll on their space, causing the building to be constantly vibrating and making working there impossible.
Scalpone and Gross found their current digs downtown at 209 W. Lake in 2000 as a barren, open space. The building also housed two dominatrices downstairs. How could this not be a perfect space for a studio? After lots and lots of work and some financial strain, Studio 11 finally got up and running in 2004 in the top floor of this 1880s-era building. It now boasts two studio control rooms and a host of smallish live rooms, which fits its predominate use in film, television and the rap and urban genres. The whole place has a dark, almost sinister vibe to it, especially Alexs studio A. Dan stated that going into the space, he definitely did not want a sterile, uninspiring, boring environment, and he has most assuredly succeeded in that aspect. The back wall of studio A is lined with empty liquor bottles, invoking more a feel of a bar than a studio. Alex claims that an empty bottle absorbs more bass than a human body, plus it looks cool. The roof even somehow has that eerie vibe going for it. Perhaps thats why scenes from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight were filmed on it.
Alex has hung two Earthworks omnis from the ceiling of studio A, splitting the room in half width-wise and in thirds length-wise, at a height of about ten to twelve feet. He primarily uses them to record smaller accentual instruments like tambourine. The console he works on is an Oram BEQ32 with Purple Audio upgrades. Alex also went out and bought a second, non-functioning Oram to use for spare parts and highly recommends this practice to help keep downtime to a minimum if a module goes bad in the midst of a session. He loves the pres on drums and is absolutely keen on the cut-only EQ circuit. Alex is also working on his own line of near-field speakers, White Lines Audio. They feature a 1 baffle, 3/4 thick ported cabinet and are passive. Compared to NS-10s, theyre far more bassy and dark-sounding...then again, it could have just been the feel of the room.
A big thank you to Dan Scalpone and Alex Gross for their hospitality in opening up their doors to what wound up being another really well-attended EARS meeting. The attitude and demeanor of our hosts definitely did not reflect the dark overtones of the space itself, which certainly would explain the success achieved by all the parties involved with Studio 11 in helping to inspire clients creativity. Im not quite sure if we as engineers love to be cooped up in spaces reminiscent of caves because thats our nature or simply because thats all we know. Sound work can be isolating in every sense of the word: by baffling an instrument during tracking; soloing up a track during mixing; keeping the sounds of the outside world out of our audio; or intently focusing on listening to one thing. Downtown seems to melt away upon setting foot into Studio 11, and its a welcoming isolation.
-Chris Cwiak, EARS Secretary
Also this past month...
There's been a lot going on this past month.
AES met at the incredible facility of a quite famous Chicago pair of brothers in the film business. Our own James Bond helped to tour us through, showing off their many awards and incredible facilities, including a screening room that is quite possibly the nicest theater I'll ever experience. This labor of love was done right and no expense was spared. We even got to watch reel one of part two of the trilogy that made the anonymous brothers famous. I can't say more about it due to a signed non-disclosure agreement, but I will say that when Mr. Bond 'reloaded' the reel we all had so enjoyed seeing it in such a pristine situation, both the audio and video, that we were on the edge of our amazing seats ready to go again.
NARAS put together a panel of Mike Clink, Keith Olsen, and Ron Nevison at Shure's new SN Shure theater. Mark Brunner of Shure moderated the panel quite deftly and these three legends of our trade spoke candidly about their amazing experiences and even played some samples of their most notable work before revealing some of the behind the scenes things we didn't know. For me, it was worth it just to be in the same room with the man who recorded Kashmir.
The next day, Shure hosted the "Art & Science of Microphone Techniques for Studio Recording featuring Keith Olsen". Along with Shure's own Gino Sigismondi, Keith basically walked a small group of 15 or so of us through some basic ground rules before getting into some of his more specific techniques and a good dose of his deep reserves of incredible stories from his wealth of experiences. This was, if I'm not mistaken, the first such event Shure's done, and as I understand it they're basically finally feeling settled into their new digs and want to do more of this kind of thing. I really look forward to what else they might come up with to take advantage of their awesome facilities.
Did you miss any of that? All I can say is it pays to be on the mailing lists. Drop AES, NARAS, and Shure a line and you'll be sure to know what's happening around town. - KJH
Keep that last Tuesday, the 28th of July, open. If meeting plans necessitate a different date, we'll let you know with plenty of notice. We've got some great things lining up, but actually, nothing really shaping up for July, so let us know if you have an idea! Also, the following month will be our annual BBQ. We've got a couple of ideas for a location but it's not set in stone yet, so if you're place would be an amazing location for us, now's the time to let us know! - KJH
Attention Starving Musicians with teeth!
On Thursday, July 9th, 2009, MusiCares, in conjunction with the Chicago Federation of Musicians will be sponsoring FREE Dental Services to low-income Chicago-area musicians and other music professionals. Services will consist of a dental exam, basic teeth cleaning and polishing, and two bite-wing x-rays, and will be provided by Mobile Dentists.
WHEN: Thursday, July 9th, 2009; 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
WHERE: Chicago Federation of Musicians, 656 W. Randolph, Ste. 2W, Chicago, IL
HOW: Participants must be pre-screened and appointments scheduled in advance. Call MusiCares @ 877-303-6962 toll-free for more information and/or to apply/register.
Where's the Beef? (Insert loop of crickets.)
Thanks again to Messrs. Powell, Leake, and especially Terry for their recent submissions and do know that we're glad to receive any content you'd like to offer. -KJH
MT's Magical Mystery Tip
Magical Mystery Tip #3
Tube Rolling Demystified
The land of valve designed electronics keeps slipping further and further away pricewise, vintage tubes made by the greats such as RCA, Telefunken, Mullard, etc keep shooting up in price due to dwindling stocks. Boutique designers are charging more and more for a sound and descriptions of what it means to be tube amplified that get hazier and hazier as the years go by. Vintage units from Altec and anything in a foreign language that resembles German shoot up on eBay once theres mention of it being used previously in older recordings, or with the promise that its the undiscovered jem in the international marketplace that is, at the same time, warm, clear, gritty, crisp, hi-fi, classic, pure and colored.
To think that one tube, or tubes in general, are the answer to amazing recordings misses the point that its a color in the toolbox (anyone else noticing my common viewpoint, here?). But due to the numerous different makes of tubes by different companies and compatible tubes in the same family, one piece of gear microphones, preamps, guitar cabinets swapping out the tube for another make or type has been the easiest way to DIY and experiment to get the most out of what you seek in your gear.
There are two main ways to change, or roll your tubes:
ONE Change the manufacturer! Due to differences in materials, machinery, craftsmanship, schematics, design and layout, tubes that come from different factories (and eras as well) provide a subtle change of color without changing vital characteristics of the gear. For the rest of this, Ill stick to the tube everyone knows the 12AX7/7025. The 7025, or most preamp tubes designated by numbers only, are military spec tubes crafted to higher specifications. Are they better? They sound different, and tend to be more reliable in the long run, with the added bonus of low microphonics (resonance amplified through the glass tube).
Tubes made in Germany, like Telefunkens (of course), have been lauded by the tube gurus of our time (Oliver Archut of TAB-Funkenwerk and Aspen Pittman of Groove Tubes, to name a few) as one of the most consistent and well constructed of their time. Mullard, manufactured in the UK, seemed to permeate British television sets, amplifiers and consoles. RCA, the radio giant of days past (and today as well), had their tubes all over the Americas, and familiar names such as GE, Westinghouse, Sylvania pick a lightbulb and they probably made tubes back then all had separate patents on a tube that does the same thing.
The main specific differences are in plate length and glass envelope sizing, with plate length being the biggest difference to my ears. The plate is the outer sheet of metal that attracts the electrons, operating at a high voltage, and is where the audio output of the tube is usually taken. Shorter, smaller plates, found in early RCA and Telefunken designs exhibit a more condensed quality of the audio bigger, rounder, and smoother on the edges. A larger, long plate design (Im talking about differences of about 1mm to 3mm longer) has a greater surface area to collect the electrons, and tend to have increased headroom and greater HF detail and edge. Along with these observations, era is important, too modern recreations of the small plate design convey that bigness and roundness as well but have tradeoffs some accentuate different frequencies, some run hotter at the same voltage supply, which cause them to be grainier and some run cooler, which make them more neutral and sterile sounding.
The glass envelope seems to affect it as well. A larger vacuum surface area seems to increase headroom and lower microphony. Metal shielded, wartime tubes impart a different sound, too the metal envelope is much more microphonic, but its microphony seems to let the tube sing at harmonics. Sometimes this singing is a bad thing, of course, especially when accuracy is a concern.
TWO Switching within the tube family. The 12A_7 variety of tubes is a long list with 12AU7, AT7, AY7, etc., etc. varieties. They all operate in very close and similar conditions, so they can be easily substituted in each others places. The main difference? The gain amplification they provide.
The 12AX7 has a gain factor, or mu, of 100. The 12AT7 has a mu of only 60. The 12AU7 is even less with a mu of 17! Lower mu values mean less gain, of course, but not linearly. So, a tube with a mu of 50 isnt half as loud as a mu of 100. Remember, power increase is a square so although the changes are drastic, theyre not *very very* drastic.
Outside of gain, what can one expect? Things such as tranconductance (sensitivity), saturation and cutoff points change, and how the particular tube and amplifier accepts a tube it wasnt directly designed for is a journey on its own. If you stay in the family, not much overloading harm could be done, unless you put an AX tube in an AU designed amp. It might be gnarly! These points and values that change are due to overall tube design and specific characteristics each is designed for. The circuit designed around the tube youre rolling also impacts upon your success. Ive had a tube mic designed around a 12AX7 that LOVES a 12AT7 instead, and Ive also been across a 12AX7 design that just sounded best with the modern tube it was shipped with. It all comes down to one thing: your ears.
In the end, heres a starting point. Head to eBay or your local guitar store and get a few 12AX7s, a few 12AT7s and a 12AY7 (mu of 90). Sovtek makes modern Russian tubes that are dark and syrupy in character older RCA tubes are fantastic and at a great price at the moment and also look into the JJ Chech made tubes. Look at your plate sizes, and try to get one from each side of the Atlantic. Dont freak out if you cant afford the expensive ones you might be surprised to find that the hype is only that or you might fall in love with the most coveted tube maker of all times!
And here's a word from one of our readers in response to last month's column:
Hi, True to his word (as always) Tim Powell got me signed back up with you folks. I've been out of the loop since I left Ardent and moved back to Pittsburgh. Good to be back. I read with interest the speaker/magnet article and would like to add to the discussion. In addition to the difference in fluxivity of the magnets, the way in which the magnetic circuit (the iron that delivers the flux to the voice coil gap) is designed helps to increase (or not) the amount of flux in the voice coil gap. On those big old JBL's we all had in our control rooms at one time, you could barely get anything iron to stick to the back of the magnet assembly. That was because the magnetic circuit had almost all the flux concentrated in the voice coil gap. Very efficient speakers. With most of the ceramic magnet speakers, you could hang a claw hammer off the back. Not very efficient speakers. Thus endeth the lesson. Regards, Don Bell
Surrealistically, - Marshall Terry, Stereophonic Studios
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
Notes about our Website, and our Logo
We've noticed that the website doesn't auto 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. Also, 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
Hey Hey! A very special thanks to Chicago's own Shure Incorporated for renewing their sponsorship. We really appreciate it and especially would like to thank Mike Lohman, Mark Brunner, and everyone at Shure for always being so generous in supporting the Chicago recording community even as they continue to set and raise the standards for great microphones. Have you heard, by the way, that they've once again entered the Ribbon mic market? A bit of EARS trivia is our own Gary Kahn's mother was years ago the last of the great ribbon hangers at Shure and when she left, they simply had no one who knew how to do it. It could be said that Shure's relationship to EARS goes back to before we even began. The next time that little twitch that always wants to try something new hits you and you think you might try something different on the snare, remember that Shure helps pay for that beer you drink at the BBQ or that glass of wine at the Holiday Party, and then when you sober up and realize that can't possibly be the reason to choose a mic, use the 57 anyway, because it's simply the right thing to do. :) -KJH
A (few) (more) word(s) from the Prez...
or I Wanna Groove With You
Hey Hey! Well, EARS is on a tear. The last couple of meetings have been well attended and we're bringing in new members faster than I can meet 'em. It's been a lot of fun to see things growing and expanding. We're even getting more content for the EARDrum. Next month we've even got a product review scheduled. It's becoming a lot of work and we're looking at how we might share the load a bit. This should open me up for some other things. Brace yourself! EARS might be on the cusp of some big things. Then again, we're not sure what we're doing next month, so perhaps I shouldn't get too ahead of myself. :) In any case, thank you to all who are contributing and helping us make this happen and a big and hearty welcome to the new members.
I have to say that I've been thrilled lately with the recaps Chris is writing and with MT's Tech Tips, but this month's MTTT strikes a particularly personal chord with me as my family business, and even a small family fortune (that didn't quite last to my generation) came from tubes. My Great Grandfather used what resource he had to buy up tubes during the great depression and when things turned around after the war he was sitting on a gold mine of tubes with which he built TVs and made a comfortable life for himself at Blackwell Radio and Television. I still have a little tweaker screwdriver with his company name, address in E. St. Louis, and old-style phone number from the days of picking up the phone and telling the operator the number. As he told it, in those early days of TV, you didn't buy one as much as you had a local shop build it for you. I'm not sure of the details there, and haven't really found anything to fully explain what he had meant by it, so I'm not really quite sure how long it was before he transitioned to repairing the mass-produced TVs, but I do know that it lasted at least through most of my Grandfather's life, as he took over the business after marrying my Grandmother and renamed it Earl's TV, the shop I used to hang out in, every chance I had, growing up. It was only very recently that I actually had to buy a TV, Radio, or any other home entertainment electronics, and I still have his Calex Model 603 Tube Tester with two drawers full of old tubes. I think it's safe to say most of the tubes are later models, but it could be that one or two might just be from that original stock. When Grandpa Earl passed away a couple of years ago, I actually made a bouquet of 'flowers' out of some of the tubes for his funeral.
Speaking of... just after sending last month's EARdrum, I learned of Jay Bennett's passing. For my money, his work with Wilco was their absolute best stuff and who knows what he might've still had in him. He was already sorely missed and now will continue to be.
And then of course, we've just lost Michael Jackson. I don't even know what to say there. What a talent, what a tragedy, what a phenomenon. What might he yet have done? It's easy to say he'd long ago lost that magic that made him the King of Pop, but he'd reinvented himself before and well, I guess we'll never know. I wonder if anyone reading this has any first hand stories to share with us next month? I wonder what spectacles we're about to witness as the world continues to deal with it's loss. I wonder what questions are yet to arise and what answers we'll finally have. I wonder what we'll learn from his story.
On a lighter note... Go see "Anvil! The Story of Anvil" at the first chance you get. You'll laugh so hard you'll cry, and you'll also be touched. It's everything you'd want in a real life Spinal Tap.
On a more technical note, check out Pleasurize Music Foundation. Could this be a huge tool in ending the loudness war? What we're really talking about here, as I see it, is taking an idea like Bob Katz' K System and agreeing on a way of measuring and, more importantly, displaying the rating on packaging. If you want to compress the life out of something, go ahead, but it's going to say right on the cover that there's only 1 dB of dynamic range left in this "music". But if you want to keep a good 8 or 12 dB of distance between your peaks and averages, you can proudly display that too. If you've taken a closer look at it, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Maybe it's even something EARS can get behind?
Oh, and one more thing... Jim Cogan, former Columbia College prof and co-author of Temples of Sound. If you have any contact info for him, we'd certainly appreciate it.
Finally, once in awhile I get asked, usually when people realize how much work this is or how much flack comes with the job, why I do this. (Sometimes it's my wife asking! :) I'll tell you the answer right here. I love a good EARS meeting. I love music. I love audio. I love musicians. I love engineers and producers and even people who fancy themselves as such but are in reality a million miles from it. (Well, ok... there are certain... diminishing returns.) I got involved in EARS and immediately loved it. I stepped up to help just to make sure things kept going, fearing that this great thing could go away just because the people throwing their bodies across the tracks to keep it alive were wearing out. Now I find myself in that same hot seat and if I don't put a meeting together, there isn't one! If I don't pull an EARDrum together, there isn't one! But that's just the hard part. If it were just making sure it happens, that would get boring and tiresome. What really makes it worth it is to see it growing, expanding, picking up some momentum. With every little step forward we're building something, and as we do, we're doing it together. That's all I want. I luvs me a good EARS meeting. I luvs me a good EARDrum. We're starting to rock again. We're starting to groove again. And we're doing it together. I expect Tuesday night to be a huge turnout, and I expect there'll be a lot of people coming away very glad they did. I hate to abuse a metaphor, but that's the kind of rhythm I'm talking about.
See ya at the Groove...
At your service,
Kerry J Haps