Wednesday, December 30, 2015

sE Electronics Z5600a II and Voodoo VR1 microphone on review.

By Tim Dolbear

sE Electronics is the maker of many outstanding microphones, including my all time favorite small diaphragm condensers, The sE5. I fell in love with The sE5 while trying them out for my MIX review and you can read about them here:

MIX magazine review - sE5

Chris Dauray who works with sE and helped me out on the MIX review, setup me up with a few more 'of my choice' mics to try out. This time it was the Z5600a II multi-pattern large diaphragm condenser and a pair of Voodoo ribbon mics.

First up is the Z5600a II.  $1249 list

This is a 9 pattern tube condenser mic with built in -10 db pad and HP filter. It comes in a great flight case with remote power supply that also has the pattern selection on it, a large and of quality shock mount, and cabling.

The sound is upfront, mid-range focused and filled with harmonics, as you'd expect from a tube mic that has a good transformer in the output stage. The polar patterns range from Omni through Cardio to figure 8. I liked the sound of the mic in Omni pattern more than cardio.  Example, when tracking acoustic guitar, Set to cardio, the sound of the strings and left hand came through, but in Omni, the entire instrument came through. Also the added depth of the room came to life in Omni.

It was a very nice feature being able to dial in the polar patterns, if I wanted a Cardio pattern that was slightly more open than normal, simple select the setting that works. Very cool!

This mic would find itself at home tracking vocals for Rock and hardrock. This mic is on my list of wants for future purchases. :-)

Next up is the sE Voodoo Ribbon mic VR1. $499List

These are small passive ribbon mics that have an extended high range and are not a budget ribbon mic. I have try others in the $200-600 range and hated them, terrible. The Royer ribbon mics start at $1000 and I just have not gotten a chance to use them as I figured I would want to buy it if I loved it... So if the VR1 sounds of the quality of the $1000+ ribbons, I am in business. The VR1 comes in at half the price and with so many engineers bragging about their beautiful high end response and rich mids and lows, I could not wait to try them out.

The VR1 do not have a HP filter and of course due to the low output inherent to a ribbon microphone's design, no pad. Also, the VR1 has a transform on it's output so if you hit the mic with 48v phantom power, the mic will not have issue. This is unlike most ribbon mics on the market which will fry an ugly death if you accidentally hit them with phantom power.

I received a pair of mics so I could test them as overheads for drums, but first up was what these are known for and I had waited a long time to get them in here to try out; Electric Guitars.

The VR1 sounded creamy yet tight, smooth frequency response and no "dull high-end" like I have run into in the past with ribbons. It made my SM57 (Transformer-less) sound very upfront and tight but not in a good way. In fact, I could not believe how bad my normal guitar amping mics (SM57 transformer-less and Audix D1) sounded in comparison to the VR1.

The VR1 just Killed it!

Compared with my Shure KSM27, a condenser mic I often use for electric guitar, it simply had a more creamy smooth sound, the KSM sounded bright and even a tad harsh. Since the VR1 is a figure 8 pattern as most all ribbon mics are, it kept up with the condenser as they both had depth and "room" in their sound. The two complimented each other very well.

The VR1 is now my go to electric guitar mic. Its fantastic!

Many of my friends like ribbon mics as overheads, but for me I am not really a fan. First you need to be in a room with at least a 15ft ceiling as the figure 8 pattern catches reflections off the ceiling and kills the sound. Also the sound of a ribbon on a kit is very dull and not modern sounding to me at all. Even in a throwback vintage sounding recording, its not the sound I would look for. Just not to my personal taste.

Also if you are using a set of ribbons for over heads, I would only use a single as having 2 mics both in figure 8 pattern over a kit can cause all sorts of phase issues not to mention all the reflections being picked up. Just my 2cents.

I do look forward to using them on Horns (Brass) as I know the will be perfect. These have found a new home. I really really like these Ribbons and they deserve the hype they get.

Bravo sE, Bravo!

'till next time!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Monitoring...what are you double checking your work on?

By Tim Dolbear

Lets first start by stating and hopefully agreeing on this: Your studio control room's design and acoustic layout is the most important factor, If it's off, it does not matter what speaker or monitor setup you have, everything will be off.

Even my professionally designed control room at Eclectica Studios had issues that I dealt with for years and ended up throwing a lot of money at it to correct it.

I talk with many other mixing engineers about how they monitor while mixing. Some use one set of speakers, other have 3 or 4 pair, some studios have studio monitors all staked up on top one other... Some swear by the age old practice of burning the mix to CD or cassette before that and listening to their work in their car. Dave Pensado talks about the small Aurotones he keeps to the side of him, right next to each other simply to hear the song.

We live in a full range world now. 

For me, I have really settled into a setup that consist of a single high end monitor setup but with a few extras.

My Studio monitors are Nuemann KH Series: the KH120 and Sub, fed by the  Mytek Stereo192 DSD D/A. They sound amazing; clean, clear and correct.

Interestingly, for a minute I added a second set of 6.5" studio monitors, and had them sitting right next to the KH120s, But they killed the sound, the stereo field of the KH120s just closed up. Now when I see studio with speakers next to other speakers I wonder if they know what they are loosing by setting a big box next to a speaker they are listening too, or if they even noticed the stereo field disappearing and the sound closing up.

But really, what's the point of having lots of good sounding speakers that really sound basically the same when the consumer will be listening to your music on earbuds which have a completely different presentation or a Bose stereo system that is not setup to spec...

If I mix on speakers, as I do, and then switch to another pair of speakers, it confuses the situation as to my reference point of the tonalities of the mix..."Is there too much 600hz in the mix or is it just these speakers have more low mids than the first set?"

But popping in Earbuds or on a set of headphones will resets your brain and point of view for listening.

Aurotones are an interesting small 4.5" single speaker in a small box, and have for decades been "industry standard" for low-fi mix checking as they represented small boom boxes and TV speakers well. But it's almost 2016 (in a few weeks), people do not listen to music on boomboxes, or to their TVs using the built in speakers anymore. Boomboxes are now earbuds and headphones, TVs plug into Stereo and 5.1 Home systems. Car stereos are basically full range and decent nowadays,  no more single speaker AM radios for automobile entertainment.

While interviewing engineers and artist for the "How We Listen" feature I wrote for Professional sound I spoke with Tony Harnell and him mentioning how he only listens to music on his earbuds nowadays, I realized, outside my studio walls, things really are changing...

So instead of a 2nd and 3rd pair of speakers or my car... I now check my mixes using a set of medium range earbuds and a set of decent headphones that sit between the Bose headphones and crappy Beats headphones that are so popular with fashion conscience. Since checking mixes and masters with earbuds and headphones earlier this year, my work is translating better than ever to all mediums.

So a few things to take away...

You have to work in an acoustically correct room. You need one set of REALLY good monitoring and know how they sound like you know your own soul. You need to know how speakers and the room sound together and there is no better way than to listen to music you know and love on them everyday.

Then, you need to be checking your mixes on what the consumers will be listening to your work on. For the most part, if its not a full range stereo, its earbuds and headphones.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Adding body and girth to a thin snare drum sound using no samples.

By Tim Dolbear

What to do when the snare drum track you are mixing has no body to it...

I am mixing a rock album right now that has a very "PINGY" and thin sounding snare drum, yet most of the songs are dictating a warm, fat snare sound. In this case I really hate to trigger the snare and use a sample and loses all the drum's nuances. In fact over the last few years I really have stayed away from replacing drums, the feel is never exactly right and the overheads still play out the original. This is where re-micing comes in. Like Re-amping, but without the "amp sound". 

There are a few ways to re-mic a snare. Both ways require you playing the snare track out of your DAW and into a speaker in your live room. For me, I simply send a feed to the headphone amp and plug in whichever speaker cabinet I want to use.  

First you may have heard of, the old "My snare has no snare sound to it, it sounds like a tom" fix. For this you take a snare drum, placed on a stand and set a raw speaker (no cabinet) on top of the snare facing down. and bottom mic the snare drum. Or lay a 1x10 or 1x12" speaker cabinet on its back and place the snare drum face down on the speaker and mic the snare side, now facing up, of the up-side-down snare. When you feed sound into the speaker, it "hits" the snare drum and the snares on the 'bottom' of the drum react, mic records it. Simple. 

But today we are going to talk about adding girth and body to a thin snare sound, something that is not talked about as much as just adding "snare sound".

This recording had a top and bottom mic for the snare, each on its own track. Take a listen.

I first solo's just the top mic track and feed it out of the DAW into the Headphone feed for the Live room. I plugged into the headphone amp an early '80's original 2x12 cabinet that has a Celestion G12-30 and a G12-35 speaker. These 2 speakers in this over sized cabinet have a nice low mid overtone, perfect for what I was looking for.

More about Eclectica Studios' speaker cabs

I then Mic'd the cabinet with a tranformer-less SM57 and sent it through a MANLEY FORCE preamp into an old Ashley SC50 compressor. Using the EQ on the original snare channel in the mix, I EQ'd the sound feeding the headphone amp so that what I was hearing coming out of the speaker and captured into my workstation was to my liking, I also added a slight gate to it to lessen the cymbal bleed.  Then I record the mic'd speaker to a empty track.

Next I switched back to hearing just my workstation in order to mix the parts together and turned off the EQ i used to flavor the speaker. I zoomed in on the 3 tracks (Top, Bottom, and re-mic) and time aligned the new re-mic snare track to the top mic to be in phase.

(In the picture the Snare bottom track, in the middle, has been phase flipped 180 degrees)

Now, using the 3 faders I blended the 3 tracks of snare together and added a little high EQ to the Top snare mic track.

Download All the samples

Happen re-mic'n!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New Manley Variable Mu video and changes to my Youtube Channel

By Tim Dolbear

Hey all!

I wanted to invite you to my YouTube channel in case you have not been there before or have yet to subscribed to it. It has over 250k views which is cool for a channel with very specific recording studio info!

The URL is
(formally TimDolbearMagix)

This is different than the channel for Eclectica Studio with its videos specifically for the Studio.

Its URL is

TimDolbearOnline contains videos for Samplitude and Sequoia DAWs, Fostex Monitors, UAD, and interview with famous engineers. Now it also contains a new section for Manley Labs, I will be adding more and more content for Manley Labs over the next few months, the first one is a rather technical video, but still interesting: Setting up the Variable Mu's service adjustments.

So please drop by my channel and subscribe!

Enjoy the video:

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Pillow and the Stone - The differences in microphone pre-amps and how to choose one.

By Tim Dolbear

For the last 20 years I have run the course of Mic Preamps here at Eclectica Studios. From crappy $50  "tube" preamps and built in mixer preamps to my collection of top-of-the-line Manley and Great River pres. I have learned so much. For me the Microphone Preamp is very important, more so than the mic. A bad preamp can make a $4000 mic sound like a $200 mic and a top of the line Mic Pre can make a $200 mic sound like a $4000 mic... Imagine what the $4000 mic sounds like through that top of the line pre! Mic Preamps can add color and warmth, harmonic richness, or the can add crud and cloudiness.

Every thing comes into play, The input impedance, the microphone amplification section, various features such as a high-pass filter, phase reverse or pad and the output section. and the output transformer. Not to mention is the output transformer adding or taking away from the sound?


Peavey TMP-1 Tube Pre

For fun, here is a run down of pres I have had owned through the years:

Studio Master Diamond Series Mixer (Early 90's)

Peavey TMP1 (90's)

Bellari MP1  ( mid 90's through 2012)

ART MP 1 (90's)

Mackie 2404 (Mid 90's -2000)

Fostex Digital Mixers VM200 (2000-2003)

Mackie 2408 (2003-2012)

Warm Audio TB 12 (2013-2014)

Manley 40db Mono (2001-)

The "MASH" Unit (2001-)

Great River MP-2NV (2014-)

Manley FORCE (2015-)

I used my Studio Master Diamond series with my Fostex R8 Reel-Reel, and it sounded great for what I was doing at the time. But needing more inputs and routing capability, I moved up to a Mackie 2404. I had various different "tube" preamps that I had hoped would be an improvement on the built in Mackie Pres; the ART, the Bellari, the Peavey TMP1, but none of them really did anything great. I even swapped out the tubes with various upgrade tubes, even NOS (New Old Stock) RCA 12AX7 from 1963. The Bellari sounds a little nicer, but it was not a game changer.

...I came to realize that you can not get a wonderful tube sound from a unit using a wallwart. The Manley has 300vDC rails powering it. The ART MP1 can run on a 9volt battery...

studio 2001 with Fostex VM200s
In 1999 I opened Eclectica Studios and bought 2 Fostex VM200 digital boards. I soon after realized just how bad a mixer could sound and missed my Mackie 2404 big time. I soon bought my first REAL preamp, "real" meaning instead of a 5 cent op-amp chip that's found in mid/cheap lever mixer, the Manley 40db Mic Pre was 1 channel, $2200 retail and was PRO all the way. Its changed everything for me.

I took a tour of the Manley factory with my wife Angela in 2001 and bought the mic pre directly from Eveanna Manley. The entire drive home all I could think of is how I just spent almost $2000 on 1 channel of mic pre, basically 1 knob! We got to the studio and plugged it in and was floored at the difference. Even a SM58 sounded like a high end studio mic!

Realizing how amazing the sound of the Manley was, clear, tons of tone and resolution, I knew I needed more than just the 1 channel of hi-end mic pre, so I bought the Altec 1678 (aka the MASH unit, Microphone Amplification System Housing) for about $600, an old auto mixer made for installs that retailed for $3000+ in 1979. A monster unit with amazing transformers and sound. I had it mod'd so the inputs feed the mic preamp into the channel's volume control and then straight out the direct out bypassing all the Auto Mix features. I also had channels 4-8 mod'd to pad the input 3db. The MASH unit is solid state and up until that point in my career I did not know that solid state could sound as good as tube, difference but just as good.

I replaced the Fostex mixers, which were at this point just CUE mixers for head phone feeds and monitoring with a mod'd Mackie 2408. Its preamps were pretty good for a mixer a I used them to track drums since the MASH unit tended to clip the frontend when tracking LOUD drummers.

The Mackie left a few years ago when I moved to using totalmix for all cue mixing. At that point I had the Manley 40db, the MASH unit, and the Warm Audio TB12 which is a solid state API style mic pre.( My MIX Magazine review of the TB12)  The Warm Audio was soon replaced with the amazing Great River Neve style 2 channel MP-2NV preamp. We recently added the Manley FORCE, 4 channels of preamps that are designed differently than the 40db preamp but wonderful sounding. There will be a video series about the FORCE coming out soon, Watch my blog for more on that.

Great River MP-2NV

Manley 40db 

The Pillow and the Stone

So why the different preamps? If the Manley 40db sounded so amazing, why not buy 8 of them and you're done?

Picture a stone floor. Beautiful, with colors, grain and veins running through it.

Now picture a Pillow, the nicest pillow you have ever felt or seen. Silky, soft, the perfect size.

If you take a tennis ball and throw it at the stone floor it's going to bounce back to you, quickly and with strength and purpose and note the stone does not move at all. The stone floor is not smooth so there is also various reactions, the ball may vary its course and not bounce back perfectly to you and the harder you throw the ball at it the more the angles come into play, we call this odd order harmonic distortion. You can have a fun time bouncing things off of it, a golf ball, super ball, even dropping a drinking glass on it is fun and yields a interesting shattering.

Now throw the tennis ball at the pillow. No bounce and not really fun. it does kind of react and the pillow really reacts to the ball hitting it, we'll call this reaction even order harmonic distortion. Dropping the glass on it and the glass is preserved perfectly. If I lay my head down on the pillow, it's amazing! ...and I would not want to sleep with my head on the stone floor.

So for somethings, the pillow is the best choice, other times the stone is.  No right or wrong, simply choices since both are equally as good for their specific applications.

Harmonic distortion can best be heard in guitar amps.  If you listen to an old solid state guitar amp, you will hear odd order harmonic distortion which can seem more harsh, verses a tube amp whose distortion is based on even order harmonic distortion that is sweeter sounding and often called more musical. 


I chose the "pillow" and "stone" because  they are relevant to our audio uses. Tubes are the Pillow and solid state is the Stone in the example, My Great River and MASH unit mic pres are both solid state and the sound is more upfront than my Manley Tube Mic Pres. The Great River also sound more aggressive with a great strong mid-range, great for rock drums, bass, electric guitars, vocals... while the Manley is great for those things too but yield a different version, more depth, sweeter and more round, nice lows and sweet highs.

A bluesy electric guitar through the Manley Tube preamp sounds more 3d, warmer and full. The Great River yields a more upfront stronger sound. 2 completely different colors and each has its place.

For this example, and its not a prefect example, no Eq was used but some compression was used during tracking, same setting, 2 different compressor units (Ashley SC50/55). The Kick mic is a transformer-less SM57, Snare is my strange Cad dynamic mic. No overheads, just the 2 channels of kick and snare.

Kick and snare through the Manley Force

Kick and snare through the Great River MP-2NV

So I choose simply depending on what I am recording. For male vocals, Singer songwriter style, the Manley tube preamp, and for Male Rock vocal, most likely the Great River MP-2NV. For violin, tube, for acoustic guitar, tube, but for acoustic guitar in a driving dense mix, the Great River.

Its really wonderfully having these 2 very different types of preamp in a recording to add the range of colors. See my blog post on using variations to make your recordings BIG sounding. spice-is-spice-of-life

I hope this helps you understand and think about types of preamps and understand the value of good preamps. My best advice is to rent as many high end preamps as you can and try them out. When you find and buy ones you love, you will keep them forever so they are worth investing in.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What is this?

Tim Dolbear

Last Friday I was in NYC and spent the day at Sony/Battery Studios located in the formal home of the Record Plant. I had a blast hanging out with the gang there. Everywhere you look was amazing history and vibe from years of amazing artist working in those rooms; John Lennon, Kiss, Aerosmith, Paul Simon, Jimi Hendrix, New York Dolls, and so many more.

Nowadays the studio is the mastering studio for Sony and its subsidiaries and they are not only master the new releases, but handle the transfer of the older music to digital for achieving. At one point Vic Anesini handed me a 1/4" reel in an old box, I flipped it over and it was the original master for many Elvis songs recorded in the early 1960's. Amazing!

That brings us to this:

Since records made during and just after WWII were made of lesser than quality ingredients, the lacquer is no longer sticking to its sub-frame and thus the album is falling apart. So in order to transfer in for achieving, they have to go to the original metal stamp that was made for record pressing... and this record player will play a metal stamp!

The table turns backwards and you use the arm on the left whose needle is an upside down "V" shape not a normal down facing point. Since not only does it spin backwards, but the the grooves are no longer valleys, but are mountains and the needle has to straddle the the ridge. Dig?

It was amazing to check out as it is a one of a kind.

Btw, it lives in this room:

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Visit To Chez Boom Audio : Post Production - Deep in the Heart of Texas

By Tim Dolbear

In August, Argosy Console asked if I would visit Shayna Brown of Chez Boom Audio and write about their move to studio A at Tequila Mockingbird Studios. I hope you enjoy learning about:

Post Production - Deep in the Heart of Texas

Shayna Brown’s Chez Boom Audio and Argosy

In the center of Austin, just a few blocks west of the State Capital of Texas, is a studio rich with history and vibe called Tequila Mockingbird.

Known for hosting musicians from the Central Texas area such as Bob Schneider, Shawn Colvin, Dale Watson and so many others, this multi room studio compound has the look and feel that encompasses the charm that one hopes to find when you visit a studio located in such a music and film driven town. Tequila Mockingbird is also home to Emmy nominated and highly sought after audio engineer Shayna Brown’s Chez Boom Audio. In early August 2015, we got the opportunity to visit Chez Boom Audio and learn more about the workings of this post production professional.

Shayna Brown has worked with an amazing array of industry heavy-hitters throughout her years of work as an audio engineer doing voice over, film mixing, television and radio advertising, music editing and her specialty ADR or Automatic Dialog Replacement for film. ADR is the process of replacing the actors’ dialog that was recorded poorly while on location. Actors come to Chez Boom and redo their speaking parts.

Brown has hundreds of film and television credits including True Detective, Supernatural, Revolution, 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Sideways, Once Upon A Time In Mexico…and the list goes on. A wide range of work that shows she is at the top of her game. But let’s step back a few years to when a 15-year-old Shayna Brown landed herself an internship at Tequila Mockingbird Studios.

“My father is a musician so I grew up in studios and so it’s very familiar for me. When my dad was in the studio, I would just go with him and help him out,” Brown said. “Then I started interning at Tequila Mockingbird Studios and I thought that I wanted to be a music engineer, but I didn’t like the late nights and music recording just wasn’t for me.”

Digital audio was just emerging as the new standard while Brown was studying at the University of Texas. “Back before it was even called Protools I started taking classes for it and my father’s friends started calling me saying ‘Hey, I’ll pay you to give me a lesson, how does this stuff work?’ And I kinda got into it that way,” Brown said.

“What then changed me from music to film is that film director Robert Rodriguez came to town and he did not have a studio to do ADR. So he set up with the basics we had here at the time at Tequila Mockingbird and his people came in for the session but I ran the board. His people showed me how to set up a session and how to do ADR,” Brown said.

“I was also working with Matthew McConaughey on a TXDOT spot and he needed ADR too, and I thought, hey I now know how to do this. Between him and Robert, the LA studios felt comfortable using me for their ADR needs.

“My work nowadays is split, half the time on ADR and half on post production, Radio and TV stuff, sound effects and music editing, which is also fun. I like how quick these types of projects go, I am not on any one project for more than a few days. I’m in a really cool city, which is a hotspot now for film and TV production,” Brown said.

Chez Boom Audio interconnects to the film and TV studios in Los Angeles and beyond via ISDN connection allowing for sessions to be “attended” and worked on from anywhere. For the ISDN feeds and monitoring CUE setups, she uses a Mackie 1604 mixer.

“Most people when they do ADR do not want anything more than just a microphone and a mic pre and that’s it,” Brown said. “I use a Grace Designs 2 channel mic pre for ADR but also have available mic preamps from API and the AVID HD Omni 2 channel preamp.” Other pieces of studio kit include a Manley Vari-mu Compressor and large LCD flat panel screens for video overlay.

In 2015, Chez Boom Audio moved its base of operations to a bigger room at the Tequila Mockingbird Studio Complex. “The move was just because I had finally outgrown that old room,” Brown said. “I was doing enough big, high profile ADR work that it seemed like the time to upgrade my room to match the work.”

The new studio has now been remodeled in a comfortable setup to match Brown and her clients’ workflow, with both a large live room and vocal booth, both with line of sight to the control room, as well as a client office just off the control room.

“The Argosy console is awesome, I think it looks like a starship. It was an easy choice to make coming from a no frills wood desk that was basically a table.” Purchased at the recommendation of friends and assembled by herself, the Argosy Dual 15 Workstation console is the centerpiece of the control room and lends a classy and professional tone to the entire studio image and workflow.

Chez Boom’s new live room can now accommodate all types of sessions, with movable sound baffles used to setup areas for ADR and voice over sessions. This allows the room to be scaled to the needs of the session. This is a great workflow solution as it allows for the area to accommodate from a single actor to a round table Podcast, and expanding it outward into the room allow for any combination of artist and even bands to work comfortably.

The main ADR setup includes a large LCD screen for playback and a clear line of sight to the control room. The mic selection consists of a Sennheiser MKH 416 microphone, the standard and most ask for mic for ADR work, and a Lavalier mic for backup, while a Neumann TLM 103 handles the voice version duties.

We had a lot of fun meeting Shayna Brown and touring Chez Boom Audio. For more information, check out Chez Boom’s website


Monday, September 14, 2015

Your Team:The company you keep.

By Tim Dolbear

Over the last 30 years, since joining my first 'Pro' rock band, on through some touring, studio work and then on to owning Eclectica Studios and working full time as a producer for the last 16 years, I have learn a lot of things about people, musicians, egos, pride, and artist. I have learned a few thing about who we pick to work with, or your 'team'. I wanted to share a few things that I hope will help you out as you work in this strange industry full of musicians, producers, wannabees and professionals.

Who you choose to work with. 
You have to remember that you do not have to work with the person you are currently working with, unless there is a gun to your head, you are free to move on. If its not working, cut and run. Or in a blink of the eye, 20 years will have gone by and the ship you hoped to be on will have sailed.

There is no time for drama, druggies, alcoholics, nut jobs, prima donna... And you need people who understand your vision and are at or above your level of talent. Above your level is really what you need to be striving for. Team members that are 'above' your level help you strive. Teaming up with people below you will usually drag you down to their level.

I understand that change is hard sometimes, but moving to a situation that fits you better is always worth it. And it can be quite inspiring too.

Choosing a studio engineer.
Find someone who gets you and your music and will put the time into achieving what you are paying them to do. If they are not the most knowledgeable person about what you are hiring them to do, don't hire them. Why would you? Their lack of knowledge will cost you money and time and cause all sorts of stresses.

Find someone with proper experience and not just credits. Gold records and a Grammy do not equal experience. I know, as a trainer for Sequoia now for 5+ years, I am still amazed at the lack of experience and knowledge some of the people I've trained have, yet they have Gold and Platinum albums hanging on the wall.

Once you have the right engineer, someone with knowledge and experience that fits your needs, let him do what he does best. A friend of mine is a doctor and told me all about patients coming into his office and telling him their diagnosis and what he needs to do, that they had read it on the internet... How absurd! If they thought he needed to be told what to do, why are they there? But it happens in the studio too. You need to trust the fact that the engineer you picked has the experience and know-how to do what you hired him or her to do.

Picking studio musicians and players.
I always say, let the professional do what they do best, and with session musicians and players you always get the best results by doing this.

For example, I give a drummer the basic grooves that I need him to lay down, then I let them do that voodoo that he do so well. This is what they do, and their enhancements to my basic ideas will be way better then what I could have envision, you know?

I have played guitar on hundreds of releases, you probably know my background. I was tracking an acoustic guitar solo on a song and the client instructed me to the point were it sounded like a horrible solo done with a keyboard. They even at one point said "I don't think it should be played like that, a guitar player wouldn't do that."
Other clients have brought me simple solos to redo that they had played but wanted done better, but then would not let me do anything other than note for note exact reproduction of what they did. Imagine what the song and solo could have been like if they had allowed me to do my thing.

I'll leave you with this. 

Remember if you have chosen a person to be part of your team, you need to trust what they do, otherwise you really do not have a team and you will be unhappy and frustrated, along with frustrating everyone around you through out the project.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

My Flow: The journey of sound at Eclectica Studios

By Tim Dolbear

I was asked to go a little in depth about the signal flow here at Eclectica Studios.(
It's really straight forward once you use it, but it may seem a little overwhelming at first... so lets dive in...

I currently have 12 mic lines on my wall jackplate in live room feeding into the control room and directly into the corresponding preamp for the feed. No patchbay, if you want to use the Manley mic pre, you plug into feed #9 on the live room panel.

My current preamps:

-Manley 40db, 1 channel

-Great River MP-2NV, 2 channels with the GR EQ-2NV inserted

-Altec 8 channel mod'd preamp from 1979 called the MASH unit (Microphone amplification system housing)

Each Preamp feeds its own compressor and the compressors feed an Apogee AD-16 analog to digital converter (not the rosetta, the original sounded better IMO). The AD-16 feeds optically the ADAT ins on the RME 9652 and 9632 interfaces that work as a single interface. I work at 96k sample rate so there are 4 channels per optical line.

I use RME's Totalmix nowadays instead of a real console. It handles all my routing, TB, cue and CR monitoring... It allows me to save mixer setups and recall session setups on the fly. It stays open on my 2nd monitor.

Liveroom headphone amp is fed from the RME 9632's analog out (the Cue mix). The Control Room (CR) is feed from the 9652 optical out to the Mytek Stereo 192DSD.

My Mixbuss: While tracking and editing in Sequoia, the master out normally feeds outputs 1-2 of the 9652 to the Mytek Stereo 192DSD. For mixing I switch Totalmix to a different setup (Preset) and feed Sequoia's master out to outputs 5-6 which send out to a Mytek Stereo 96. This D/A converter feeds the Great River EQ-2NV which then feeds the Apogee AD16 inputs 12-13 and are recorded onto a track in the project, printed as the Mix. Inputs 12-13 also then feed back out to the Mytek Stereo 192DSD for monitoring in the CR of the mix buss loop.

The GR EQ-2NV has 2 ins and outs pre channel. When used with the MP-2NV preamp, the preamp has a insert designed for the EQ-2NV that places the EQ in the proper signal path prior to the output transformer creatin a perfect "Channel strip" circuit. There is also a set of XLR in/outs on the EQ and a switch on the front that allows you to change between the mic pre insert and the XLR connection, very cool!! So for tracking, its set for the micpre insert, for mixing and mastering it is set to the XLR ins and outs.

Here is the breakdown:

Manley 40db, feeds switch that allows it to go to Ashley SC55 (1981) into the AD16 ch 9

GR MP-2NV, ch 1 feeds Ashley SC-55(1981) into AD16 ch 10,
GR MP-2NV, ch 2 feeds switch, allowing it to feed SC55 into AD16 ch11

Altec preamp "MASH Unit"
ch 1 feeds a Ashly CL-50(mid 1980s)
ch 2 feeds a Ashly SC-50(mid 1980s)
ch 3 straight in
ch 4 straight in
ch 5 + 6 Room mics or overheads, feeds Ashly CL-52 (mid 1990s)
ch 7,8 straight in
...these feeding AD16 1-8

Simple, straight through workflow. Want to track a vocal through the GR preamp? Plug the vocal mic into the input in the live room and arm the track for the input in Sequoia. Done. Adjust the Preamp and compressor.

Now go make some music!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

How to naturally add textures to your drum recordings.

By Tim Dolbear

So there are 2 mics I use to add a trashy-ness to a otherwise beautifully recorded drum track. Now I know there are lots of plug-ins and toys where you add distortion and compression to the sound to trash them up a bit so they sound more "rock 'n roll" but why fake it? I prefer to address it naturally by using a trashy sounding mic and adding it in under the drum tracks during mix.

Here's what I do; When I track drums for a rock song or any song I think may need this, I set up one of my 2 favorite mics for this trickery as a secondary overhead and record it to its own track. Once done I have it along with the normal mics all tracked out on separate tracks: Kick, Snare, Overheads, Tom, Floor tom, and trashy mic. Then during mix after I have the drums sounding good and balanced I bring up the trashy mic's fader until it flavors the sound just how I want.

The 2 mics I use are:

The America D4T mic from the late 1930's; complete trashy sound.

The Turner U9SA from the 1940's with its Paper diaphragm; sounds like an old Glenn Miller recording.  Yes, I still have the original tags and box.

So, how does it sound?

In these examples, I am using the Turner Mic set up directly above the snare about 4 ft up. Its plugged into a Manley Mic pre and a Ashly SC55 compressor with a 7:1 ration and about 4-6db of reduction.

The Example 1 first plays just the solo'd Turner Mic track, then just the normal drum tracks and at 14sec the turner track is unmuted and you hear them blending. The Turner is just tucked in under the normal tracks to add some MIDs and trashiness to the mix. Example 2 simply goes back and forth with the Turner on and off. These are the unEQ'd and unmixed drums. Just the raw tracks from the tracking session.

Example 1 wave file 22secs 44.1 16bit

Example 2 wave file 38secs 44.1 16bit

Example 3 Turner mic solo'd

Its subtle in the mixed in examples, but effective in a mix.

One last note, watch for phase issues, flip the phase on your trashy mic back and forth till you fine a blend you like, also move it around if needed so when it's mixed in with the other mics it relates to them well.  

Now, go make some music!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Cables and the re-appearance of Tone. The Colossal Cables Review

This is part 2 of Cables, connectors, patch-bays, pedals, and the disappearance of tone: Go to Part One

By Tim Dolbear

My good friend Paul Martinez told me about a cable company here in Austin called Colossal Cables that is selling world wide and gaining some real attention in the musician and studio world and the Audiophile world. He wanted me to meet the owner of the company Brian Mendes and check out what he was doing. So in late July we all went out for a meal and Brian brought me a few samples to check out.

He gave me his new prototype 20ft XLR Mic cable, a guitar cable called Sweet Fats, and a short speaker cable. All built very well with the finest ingredients and rapped in a cut resistant fabric. I tested these out against what I normally use which is mostly Monster and Mogami cables. I tested both in my live rig and studio here at Eclectica Studios.

I started my testing by plugging in my Republic 50 watt tube head into my 1974 Marshall with well broken in Greenback 25watt reissue speakers, using this massive but short speaker cable from Colossal Cables. Then I unrolled the two similar length guitar cables: My Monster instrument cable and the Colossal Sweet Fats cable. Each cable I then rapped around the handle of the Amp and the other end around my guitar strap so I could quickly swap between these instrument cables.

The monster cable I had always used and even showed off in Part 1 of this article about cables sounded in comparison to the Colossal cable like a old cassette recordings and worst yet, the touch and feel of playing through it now felt like I had a dying tube in the input section of the Amp. What in the world? Just swapping between the two cables, Monster and Colossal Sweet Fats was disheartening to say the least. The Colossal cable had taken the sound and feel to a new level.

When you go from a Pro-Co or Belden guitar cables to a Monster cable there is a big difference, less mid sounding and more highs, but going to a Colossal Sweet Fats from the Monster cable was more then just a better EQ curve. Yes, the highs now sounded like a Low-Pass (High Cut) filter had been removed from my sound and the Mids had changed completely becoming solid, present, clear... But beyond the EQ change, the touch of playing the guitar changed. Hard to describe unless you are a player, but imagine the different between driving a car with 4 really low filled almost flat tires verses driving with them properly inflated.

Download Test Files HERE  (44.1k 16bit files, SRC by Saracon) 35Meg Download

Next I tested the Speaker cable. Now remember that speaker cables are not shielded as instrument or mic/line cables are, as those types carry and a very small amount of voltage, sometimes less than a watch battery's voltage... a speaker cable carries AC electricity and instead of micro-watts, they carry 10, 50, 100 or even 1000 watts.

Though the Colossal speaker cable is built like a tank which is a plus for working musicians, it did not sound much different really to my standard 16 guage 4ft cable I normally use. Note: The speaker cabinet does play a part in this as guitar speakers only produce usable frequencies up to about 5k. Looking at a Spectral display of the frequency response of the recording, there is nothing coming out above 15k and from 5K to 14k, the level dropped from -30db to -90db steeply. So using this speaker cable on a full range speaker system or PA will give a different result.

I thought the 2 different speaker cables sounded different in the room while testing but this is why I record everything and listen back unbiased by visuals and excitement. On playback I am not hearing much difference. With lots of distortion set on the amp (High Gain), there may be a slight bit of upper harmonics coming though better, but setting the amp to a clean/bluesy sound, I don't hear a difference. I included this example too in the Test Files.

Test System:
Amp Mic: Audix D1
Room Mic: sE5 matched set (Room mics not provided in test files)
Preamp: Great River MP-2NV + EQ-2NV(Bypassed)
Compressor: Ashly SC55 (compression off)
AD: Apogee AD16
DA: Mytek Stereo192DSD
DAW: Sequoia running at 96K
Monitoring: Neumann 120/Sub

1974 Marshal Slant cabinet, D1 mix(Colossal XLR not Picture)
I then tested the Mic Cable, again great build quality, and the sound was again, revealing and Amazing! Using the Colossal XLR (still in beta at this time but you can special order them) added not only a nicer, truer frequency response but the resolution came alive. It reminded me of the first time I used my Manley Preamp, which was my first REAL quality preamp, and could not believe the resolution and depth that it pulled from the microphone. This cable did the same thing. In the example you can hear more of the "room sound" in the signal the mic captured. Amazing! Instead of the mic sounding like it's flat against the cabinet, suddenly there is depth and life.

Here is the kicker... the 20ft XLR Mic cable, is plugged into my wall box that is wired into my preamps in the control room, about 20FT from the panel. The cables I used are all good quality (Mogami)but still, they are in the chain of cables in the listening test, as the signal flows: Mix>Colossal XLR>Panel>Mogami runs>Preamp. So just replacing the 20ft run that is in the live room, between the Mic and the Panel yielded this amazing improvement.

Lastly I tested the guitar cables again, this time my Gibson J100Extra with a LR Baggs LB6 pickup. The guitar, like all my acoustics, has no preamp inside the guitar, instead I use a Steward Active DI box. This means that a 1 million ohm signal, or very tiny almost non-existing voltage is leaving the guitar and traveling to the DI box where it is amplified up to Mic level. A good test for cables. In comparison to the monster cable, the Colossal Sweet Fats cable sounds more extended, again as if again a low-pass filter or high-cut filter had been removed. The smooth extend highs are really the most noticeable part to the improvement. I got similar results from testing my Fender Bass direct line into the Great River Preamp.

So, in conclusion, Its not a small difference, but a very big improvements using Colossal cables. These are a big step up in sound quality and in capturing the true sound, but they are not cheap... most in the $100+ per cable...and I purchased a lot of cables last night and I have more still I want to get such as to replace my room mic runs. In addition to the XLR Mic and the guitar cables, I also bought new lines cables to replace the runs from my Mytek Stereo 192DSD D/A converter to my powered monitors. Even though the runs are a higher voltage (+4 professional line level) I am hoping there is the same type of improvement. I will write about how that goes in a followup soon!

Now, Go make some music!

Download Test Files HERE  (44.1k 16bit files, SRC by Saracon) 35Meg Download


Today I received my cables for the monitor section allowing me to hook up the Mytek Stereo 192DSD directly through to my Neumann Monitoring. The difference is noticeable across the entire frequency spectrum, sound is more present, and the depth and resolution are all better now. This means that the new cable do make a difference even when running a +4 professional line level through them.

Now the consideration of swapping out more cable runs and I am already saving my dollars to do just that. This is an great way to upgrade your studio at its very foundation. I seriously recommend buying a Guitar or Mic ColossalFat cable and trying it out. As the example show, its not a subtle improvement, its a BIG improvement.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Spice is the spice of life"

By Tim Dolbear

I always say "Spice is the spice of life" and that variety helps flavor our experiences, especially in audio production.

I receive many recordings into Eclectica Studios for mixing that have good intentions sprinkled all over them, but usually these good intentions do not work out as the original recording engineer had intended or hoped for.

An example would be an acoustic guitar that was tracked once, panned Left, then the audio was copied to a second track and panned Right. This second track is then delayed or moved slightly later in time to make a "Stereo sounding" part...  ...Or another would be when 10 tracks of electric guitars are recorded to make the "Wall of sound" and are done by just tracking the same thing over and over again...

In the first example this is simply the same guitar part with one side coming out of the speaker a few millisecond later than the other speaker. This does not cause the illusion of 2 guitar players playing, but simply creates panning to one side when listened to through headphones. When listening with speakers, if you are anywhere but exactly in the center of the two speakers, it sounds mono and tunnel like.

The second example is even worst, if you track the same guitar player playing the same guitar and parts 10 times, you actually get a smaller sound then just two properly done takes. This is because the sound starts cancelling itself out after the first few tracks are layered.

That bring us to the topic of variations.  


It's always good to layer parts that warrant it, but you do not want to simply record a part the same way twice. Lets take the electric guitar example. I find the best way to track 2 guitar parts and get them to sound big and gorgeous together is to first dial in the guitar and amp to the sound you want, mic it and track it. Then play the part again as close as possible to the way you performed it the first time and simply hard pan these take, Left/Right.

For this second track though, you want to vary the elements as much as possible; Different guitar, different amp, or maybe different speaker cabinet, different microphone, even a different preamp for the mic, any change will help.

When you swap out an element in the recording chain, even just one of the above listed elements, it changes the spectrum and tones, even the timbre of the part and therefore sits together with the first part beautifully.

The frequency spectrum of the two parts now compliment each other rather than cancel out each other due to similarities in frequencies. The more variation, the bigger the combine sound is. 

When tracking acoustic guitars, I always use 2 different guitars, but often use the same ADK A51TC mic into my MANLEY preamp. Since the guitar is the main element, for me its enough to swap that out. I also usually use my solid maple Guild Dreadnought for the first take and then my Gibson J100 Extra jumbo body or even my Oscar Schmidt wood bodied Dobro for the second take. I also will capo one of the guitars at the 4th, 5th or 7th fret to make sure I play different chordal registries on the one of the takes.

When a vocalist wants to double up a part, depending on the style, I will sometimes change the mic that we are using. I may have them stand back from the mic or move closer, just to vary the tone by way of the proximity affect of the mic. Sometime turning their head to face off angle with the mic to get more 'room' sound into the take. Again, any and all variations will help because the same voice tracking the same part twice, when they come together in a mix you get a thinning out of the sound from some phase cancelling, and it's usually the lower tones. You end up with a thinner sound, while all along you were trying to make it thicker.

These same kind of principles are for mixing too. Last night I mixed a track that had 2 electric guitar rhythm parts, panned Left and Right, but they had the EXACT same sound from using the same patch on a Line6 POD.

To counter this I sent one through a UAD NEVE 1081 EQ and the other into a UAD API Channel. First I solo'd and then centered the Left guitar to hear it independently. I open the 1081 EQ and emphasis the Hi-mids and lows around 100hz. Then moved it back to Left and unsolo'd it. Next I solo'd and panned center the Right guitar and with the API Channel I High Passed at 100Hz, and dialed in more Mids around 1KHz. I then panned it Right again and unsolo'd. Now when played back together, the two guitar tracks sound fuller and compliment each other.

A key here is to use not only two different EQ settings but also 2 different EQs. These two modeled after their hardware counterparts that have their own personality and ways of affecting the sound.

Channel strips do not equal a console.

I have seen many people using the same Channel strip across their entire mix, example would be the UAD API channel strip on every channel in in a mix in order to get "That API sound". It looks good on your screen and gives you that "I am working on a console" vibe, but even though each track can be affected in a manor that is like an API console, a very big ingredient is missing; Variations in the sound from channel to channel that the hardware console exhibits.

For instance...24 channels of a real API Vision console will have 24 channels that sound basically the same, but not exactly the same due to component within the channel stip. These little variation make the overall tone and sound blend together and fill in. I have a friend who works on a SSL 4000 console and he knows which channels sound best for certain things; "Channel 6 sounds best for snare, 17 and 21 for electric guitar..." This is because as the components age and change, the sound changes too.

This is one place where Plugins are not yet emulating the hardware: Unit to unit Variations.

It goes beyond a big mixing console. I just added a Great River EQ-2NV to my master buss for mixing. Its fed by a Mytek D/A and capture with an Apogee A/D. Beyond the wonderful sounding EQ curve I get from the EQ-2NV, the sound stage or stereo image and depth are all enhanced and affected greatly. The 2 channels are discrete and therefore slightly different I am guessing, but I am sure both channels are dialed in slightly different from each other too, do to the setting of the EQ knobs on each channel by hand with no automatic recall. Just dialing them in to the best of my ability.  

Regardless of what contributes to it, the variations between the Left and Right create something wonderful! It makes me wonder if any of my plugins, while running in stereo, are not simply the same mono channel that was modeled being doubled to make the two channels for a stereo instance?

My UAD MANLEY Massive Passive plugin sounds great as an EQ but does not affect the depth and stereo stage even 20% of what the Hardware Great River does, could this be why? I may research how UA models stereo units if I get a chance.

Regardless, there is a wonderful sound pallet that comes from the imperfections of analog gear.

So there you have it. Switch it up, use different elements in your productions, and then send me your tracks to Mix and master :-)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Yesterday and today...and the future of music.

By Tim Dolbear

Someone the other day asked me what is the future of music and music technology? I thought for a few minutes and answered:

"I believe it will continue to be more and more automatic (autotune, auto song arrangements, auto mixing, auto mastering) until its gets to the point where its not creative or enjoyable anymore for anyone at any level. And it will go back to basics, but music will only be a shell of what it once was. With no return on investment, nothing of quality will be available and Music will simply fall away as its appeal and stimulus will not keep up with humans' shortening attention spans".

To elaborate more...
Programs like MAGIX Music Maker have one click buttons for making a song; asking what style? upbeat or slow...? and then with one click the music and loops are all added to the project and the song is done. Add to that auto lyric writing, coming soon auto singer, and the song is done. There is software to mix the song to the style you want. Then you have LandR, the auto-matic mastering service that has reported to already master 1.5 million song at $9 each. All of these services and software suck at making music to put it bluntly, but they will get better and better...

"Do you want a guitar for Christmas or an Xbox?"
There are real musicians out there, but as the younger generations come up, they have less and less of a want or drive to learn instruments and music theory. I remember teaching guitar lessons years ago and having student quit because it was harder than Guitar Hero to play a real guitar. They had been perverted in their views by playing the easy and automatic video game. People would even record themselves playing Guitar Hero and put it on YouTube, as if what they did was real music, as a real musician or artist. 

Labels were flooded with demos all sounding the same and using the same beats and music when Garageband first came out. 

Right now...
If people are willing to pay $5 for a coffee but not even 99cents for a song for an artist they like, then there is no way real musicians will continue putting out music, not because of the monetary cost, but because or the lack of return on investments and the discouragement that it brings.

We are surrounded by a flood of really bad music, YouTube is filled with a million bands and singers that are nothing special. But I say they have always been there.

The Real 1989

Back in the 80's when I was in the clubs in Los Angeles, there was a million bands out there all struggling to "Make it". But we only knew of the ones around us we could see and hear in person. We did not realize every town had hundreds if not thousands of bands all trying to "make it". So we had drive, we saw the dream as reachable feed by news of bands getting "signed' and a music world filled with Rock Stars.

Now that the days of Rock Stars are gone and the industry has completely changed, I do believe that just as many bands "make it" to the next level as always have, but its so hard to see them as nowadays EVERYONE is out there and available to been seen. In 1989, if you got to make a record, or got onto MTV, so people on the other coast could see you, you had arrived! And you did have a chance to make a career out of music. But now everyone is on YouTube, everyone records and the same pool that has always been there is now see-able as flooded. We see this flood and think "no one is making it nowadays, I know of all these people on face book and none of them are making it anywhere". Well we just did not have Facebook, let alone the internet in 1989 to see all of the others drowning in the pool. So we held on to our dreams and aspirations.

That's enough food for thought on this day in an interesting time.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Perfection vs Performance …but we can have both.

By Tim Dolbear -

"Music nowadays has no mojo"   -Joe Walsh in an interview on "Live From Daryl's House with Daryl Hall"

I have always been a producer that tracked out the band separately. Most bands I have worked with over the years have not been rehearsed up enough to track live. Bands nowadays don’t get the opportunity to work out parts as they did 25+ years ago.

In 1981 when Journey came in to record a new album, they had just toured for the previous year straight, and worked on the new material on the road. They were so tight as a band that tracking live was easy and natural for them. But nowadays things are different. Less opportunity to play live and labels that financed tours and gave opportunities to develop as a band are long gone. Bands that play originals are not able to be out performing all the time, there is just not the opportunity to do so.

Less back up a bit, all the way to the start of rock ‘n roll and see where we went off track…

My wife Angela, a singer/songwriter herself and I just toured Graceland. When we left Elvis’ house and drove over to Nashville we popped in some Elvis, cause that’s what you do. The CD collection spanned his career starting with his fantastic early Rock ‘n rock/delta blues/country influence music and progressed through the Hawaii and Vegas years and into his over the top production in the 70s. We listen to about 5 songs and commented on what a great singer he really was, and the energy and life in his music. We heard just heard a few tunes from Sun Records and then tracks from RCA studio B in Nashville, all cut live with the band and singers all in a room performing the song live.

The album played and his career evolved, then something changed. He had had no pitch issues in his early recordings up through 1962, but his next studio albums in 1968 and 1969’s “From Elvis in Memphis” suddenly there are pitch issues. Mind you, these are not blatant pitch issues, just intonation issues caused by monitoring.

Suggested listening:
Elvis Presley:
1954 “That’s Alright”
1969 “Suspicious Minds”

“That’s alright” During an uneventful recording session at Sun Studios on the evening of July 5, 1954, Presley, Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (string bass) were taking a break between recordings when Presley started fooling around with an up-tempo version of Arthur Crudup's song "That's All Right, Mama".Black began joining in on his upright bass, and soon they were joined by Moore on guitar. Producer Sam Phillips, taken aback by this sudden upbeat atmosphere, asked the three of them to start again so he could record it.
“Suspicious Minds” The 1969 recording “From Elvis in Memphis”: the song "Suspicious Minds" recorded at the January 23, 1969 session, that took place between 4 am and 7 am. It took eight takes to produce the music for the final song that was later overdubbed by Presley that same night.

I thought maybe it was because of his lifestyle but singling in pitch or intonated usually is not something that goes away with drugs use; listen to the Beatles, Arrowsmith, or a thousand other bands that recorded in the 60s/70s/80s. We also notice that the life and energy was gone, but that of course could have been a lifestyle factor.

Side note: Did you know that if a singer is tracking and is singing slightly but
consistently sharp, that means they can hear themselves too much and if you turn down their monitor send of their voice to their headphones or monitoring, you can bring them right back into tune. Same with flat, they hear themselves not enough, turn their voices up slightly and bring them back up intonated. Slight volume adjustments that the singer will not even really notice.
Side note to the side note… that’s why I am against monitor mixers in the booth with a singer, the type that have individual controls providing a “mix”. If the singer is setting the monitoring volume of their own voice, there is no fixing the intonation. As they can’t tell if they are off because of this volume phenomenon.

When Elvis was in the room with his band he was performing, and having fun. They were creating something special, not just manufacturing something or put the parts down.

So was this an isolation issue, an issue of being recorded alone and without the band at the same times? Or was it because in 1969 he was now monitoring through headphones? Angela hates recording with headphones, always has, and there are a few singers out there that have been reported to track in the control room with a handheld mic, Bono from U2 is one of those said to do this.

On the other hand, as a studio musician I have learned to do full takes to get great energy from my instrument when tracking alone, others I work with also seem to get great takes while tracking alone. But when I track electric guitar I am in the control room with the speakers cranked up and I am into it. So is it as simple as just tracking through the entire song without punching and then comping takes together later? Or are we back to headphones being suspect?

First and foremost, the vocals are the most important part of a song after the song itself.

Back at Eclectica Studios to test out our theories, we setup a pair of Fostex PX-6 studio monitors in the live room, about 3ft in front of Angela with a handheld mic in her hand. We then setup playback of the music into the monitors and tracked her singing with the hand held microphone to the song “Storms”, a single she released last December. Instantly she loved this setup; the freedom, the simple performing of the song, free in the room.

We next set up a large diaphragm studio recording mic, just a simple SHURE KSM series with a proper wind screen setup on a stand, just as we would in a “normal” vocal recording session, but with the speakers still taking the place of the headphones. We got some speaker bleed as you would imaging, but to offset that, we recorded a 2nd pass with her standing in front of the mic but not singing. Then on playback we played both the vocal and non-vocal versions with the non-vocal version flipped out of phase to cancel most of the speaker’s bleed, it worked rather well!

Then I stuck a set of my favorite KRK headphones( KNS 8400) on her, we dialed in the monitoring using the headphones and killed the speakers in the room and recorded her singing the song 1 more time. Angela then joined me in the control room and we listened back to her takes, and instantly we were able to hear a different in performance, energy, tone and pitch.

The versions with the speakers in the room were in pitch though-out, the performance was open and natural. But the version with headphones was noticeably pitchy and lifeless in comparison. You could hear her listening to the headphone monitors and having to focus on listening to the headphones for lack of a better description. The takes with the speakers in the room she just sang the song the way she does live; cut loose and not held back or distracted by the strange monitoring. It sounded perfect! and Amazing!

There was no real difference performance wise between the handheld and the studio mic versions outside of a little music bleeding through which was really a non-factor. Since the studio mic sounded better as it’s a studio mic, that’s the directions we will continue with. We ended up moving the monitors back to be about 6’ away from the mic and singing position as they filled the room and sounded better from there.

We are early into this and already have a permanent setup for tracking vocals with the speaker setup. It’s wonderful, as if the band is in the room with you and not strapped onto the sides of your head. The volume of the speakers is controlled by the singer and no vocals are fed back into them. So the speaker monitor volume remains relatively low and the singer hears themselves in the room.

It’s not for everyone, but everyone should try it. You can't pitch correct the takes afterwards because of the bleed through of the music. But you won’t need to if you are rehearsed. So, if you want a “pop autotuned” sounding vocal, well Autotune sucks the life out of the performance anyway so just use headphones... but, I suggest that you just try this out, this was not a subtle difference.

Tim out!