Monday, August 15, 2016

Mixing to tape vs not... A listening test.

By Tim Dolbear

I promised some test files of mixing to tape.

Here is a song, NOT MIXED, just a fader up/ruff mix of the session, no plugs other than some verb in the AUX. This is a song I am tracking/producing for Paul Martinez called "The Little Things"

Test files; 44.1k 24bit. Sample Rate Conversion (SRC) was done with Saracon. Tape is ATR Master Tape at 15IPS. Session is at 96k.

1. No tape = The ruff mix leaves Sequoia, Mytek D/A feeding a Great River EQ-2NV, into our Manley ME VaribleMu the captured back to Sequoia at 96k using an Apogee A/D.

2. Tape Clean =  The ruff mix is leaves Sequoia, Mytek D/A feeding a Great River EQ-2NV, into our Manley ME VaribleMu then to the MCI JH110B and captured back to Sequoia at 96k.  Levels are set very cleanly, Less tape compression and saturation happens as a result.

3. Tape-Pushed = Same routing as Tape Clean but hitting the tape +3db harder.

Info about level:
The Taped Pushed version is louder RMS of course, but no peak overs.  In fact I can feed it a normal level and have the A/D peaking at about -4db, And then bring up the Feed to the tape machine 6 db and the peak after tape never goes above -1db at the A/D, no overs.

RMS comes up, tape compression comes up, the Limiting the tape imposes kicks in and makes it so I bring it up +20db on input and not have overs at the A/D.  Very cool!  So notice the peaks and not just the RMS. But really its about the over all sound. thats it.

All in/out levels on the machine are Calibrated to 0VU/-16DB digital. The input feed to the tape machine is handled by the Mastering edition Manley Vari-Mu that is Stepped in DBs so recall on a mix is possible

Remember the best way to compare these files is to load the 3 wav files in to your DAW on separate tracks and Solo the one you want to hear. Its a good way to go back and forth to compare. In Samplitude/Sequoia you can mute tracks 2 and 3, and while track 1 plays, if you solo either 2 or 3, it switches instantly to the solo'd track.

Enjoy and post your comments!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Part 6: MCI JH110B Rebuild - Done! Time for the rap-up!

By Tim Dolbear

It's Done!   Long road, but it's done and sounds amazing! Mixes sound like a record! I am totally sold on mixing to Analog tape.

Doing the final setup with the MRL was a challenge, not the normal alignment part but I had to setup everything such as erase depth, Rec Lin, Bias Freq... So it was an all day and evening thing... But Its now done and running amazingly.

Total cost... (not to mention the hours spent)
$2438.59 (original unit w/shipping was $749)

Thanks for following along. Here is links to all the installments.

The Adventure Begins

Part 1 Rebuild the rack and replace all the IC sockets...

Part 2 Re-assembly

Part 3 Rebuilding all the Molex Connectors.

Part 4 We Got Sound!

Part 4 Smoke in the studio!

Part 5 The final Stretch!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Part 5: MCI JH110B Rebuild - Final Stretch...

By Tim Dolbear

The Sony MCI JH-110B Rebuld Saga...

Just finished re-cap'ing the audio penthouse. Audio is much more stable sounding and feeling. Operations are smooth and how they should be.  We just ordered the MRL alignment tape from MARA Machines ( They are the kings of rebuilding MCI machines). Once the tape arrives we will do final alignment and setup and we are done!

We do have 2 remaining little fixes we need to address that will not stop us from using the machine in the meantime:

First there is still the transport issue that when the small board/joystick for the MVC is connected, the Rewind and FF buttons will not trigger the motors. The lifter will go, lights changed, but no movement. I can RR and FF using the Joystick just fine. When I unplug the MVC, RR and FF work perfectly BUT the digital count then does not work anymore and sits at 0.10... I do not need the MVC, but would like the RTZ and counter to operate.  Anyone have an idea?

Second, the channel 1 input into the Audio Penthouse, the connector can loose contact even though its screwed into place, something breaks contact when I open and close the drawer... simple fix, just annoying.

But right now we can print to tape and playback and the machine is not even bias/aligned, so good sign!

That's all for now, till next update!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Part 4: MCI JH110B Rebuild - Smoke in the studio!!!

By Tim Dolbear

So... first the good. I built the switching system to allow me to route to/thru/from the JH110B tape machine, adding it to the signal path of the Mix Buss.

I decided to do a switching system and not a patchbay as I am not a fan of patchbays or connectors.

See my blog about connectors and patchbays:

I also decided to do a terminal connection instead of XLR ins/outs. Connectors just have such a small point of contact verses terminals.

I did a test measurement prior to adding the switching system,  I figured the first thing many would think was the same thing I thought about; will it add noise or a loss of sound quality?

 Adding the Switcher into the signal path, only added 1 balanced cable to my mix buss signal path when its going straight through, meaning no tape machine in line:  Mytek D/A feeding the GR EQ-2NV (in Bypass for the test) into the Manley Mastering Edition Variable Mu into the switcher, out to the Apogee A/D. Of course it added to it all the wiring for the Switcher box.

Crazy as it seems, My noise floor went down from -82.6 db to -83.7 db and my volume back into the DAW from the mix buss is .2db louder.  I can not explain it as all the cables are the same except for the 1 new 3ft balanced cable added between the Manley and the Switcher.  It may be the difference between the Variable Mu being warmed up for 1 hour verses 4 hours. (first test was at noon, 2nd was at 4pm).  Regardless, sound perfect and did not add any noise issues.

While then testing the route to the tape machine, setting levels, and working with a TC Electronics Volume Pilot that is inline between the tape machine and the monitor send, audio was working nicely on the JH110B, still not bias/aligned, but passing sound both in INPUT and REPRO (while Recording) modes. Suddenly a bad sound came through the right side speakers, and smoke poured out of the Audio Penthouse of the JH110B. I quickly killed power to the JH110B and opened the door for some fresh air...

Another Resister blew, this time one on the 18v input to the I/O card for the right side or Ch2.  I checked the 2 tantalum caps that are inline with it and booth are dead shorted now... good grief!

At this point I will of course replace the resister but also plan to replace all the tantalum caps on the audio boards (repro, rec, bias, I/O).  Fun!  But apparently needed since I have so many bad and going bad daily.

Till next time!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Part 4: MCI JH110B Rebuild - We Got Sound!

By Tim Dolbear

A bad cap on the left channel's Repro Board was causing a resistor to blow spectacularly and with both parts fix and the IC that they supplied -18v to also replaced for good measure, we have sound!

And even at this point it sounds COOL!

Big thanks for the help of Dan Hembree, my wife's brother, who used to work at Rupert Neve Designs and now owns

The machine is not setup yet correctly for Bias/levels so we are running it with the settings the old owners had for the tape they were using, but we are able to record and listen back to tape! New MRL tape should be here in a couple weeks for final setup.

One last issue we are tracking down is that the transport controls still are acting up; FF and RW work perfectly, then the motors stop responding to the buttons, again, the lifters still worked. The joystick still RW and FW but the motors will not moved when pressing RW or FF.  Also the stop sometimes will not stop playback meaning when you push the stop bottom the machine stops, but releasing the stop button and play resumes.

While trouble shooting I unplugged the MVC (Joystick shuttle) board and now the controls are all solid. I suspect the sensitivity is set too high and its triggering something or simply there is a bad part.  I will not use the MVC but without it's little board plugged in, the RTZ no logger works. so...

Next I need to build the switching system that will allow me to add the JH110B into the Mixbuss Loop I use while mixing, and allow for playback to the DAW or straight to the monitoring. I am not a fan of patchbays, and thus the switching system. Stay tuned.

On ward!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Part 3 : MCI JH110B rebuild - Update June 27, 2016 We got spin!

By Tim Dolbear

I had tons of Molex connection issues and after cleaning and tweaking them endlessly we got Spin!

Also the RTZ works. Have yet to test storing locator points but RTZ was the main thing.

I placed a old trash real and the old head stack back on so the old tape would not gum up the new ones. I was worried about snapping the tape on first test. Also I have torque settings to do still.

The transport worked ok but seemed shaky, then after a few days of checking it the FF and RW stopped, the lifters still worked, and the joystick still RW and FW but the motors will not moved when pressing RW or FF.  So its all bad Molex connections.

So I took apart EVERY Molex connector, popped the pins out really, and reshaped and cleaned each pin to bring the connectors full back to life, about 200 pins I estimate. 6 hours later everything runs so much more solid!

Next is the Audio Drawer of DEATH!!!  That's right, no sound even passing on channel 1 and channel 2 shows -20db twitching.

Time to shuffle cards and see if I can find the bad boards then on to fixing 'em.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Part 2 : MCI JH110B rebuild - Update June 12, 2016

By Tim Dolbear

Part 2,  Soldering is done, time to clean and put back it back together and test.

The headstack is due back from JRF in a few days. $580! ...basically a new headstack: 2 heads replaced and 1 relapped, Flutter cleansed and all optically aligned...Oh and a new block.
Ouch!  But at least it will be stellar!

So the replacement of the sockets, is done. I replaced most all the chips with new ones. I also went through and re-soldered every Molex connection on the boards, so every pin...about 1000 of them... Then cleaned every connector and connection.

I reassembled the motherboard and daughter boards while looking at the picture I took during disassembly.  You can see my tablet below the Deck.

With everything back together I was able to place it in the studio even though I need to rebuild the Power supply which had showed weak measurements for the 22volt regulators (only 6v), Powering up the unit, nothing works. The right channel showered a pegged level (oscillating?) and the right side did not... the VU on the right does not light up but the buttons do, so it has power...  more fun, but really I can't know for sure or deal with those issues until I fix the power supply. Then I can test again. Also the heads will be back then.

But it looks so good in the studio!!!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Part 1, Eclectica Studio's MCI JH110B rebuild report May 22, 2016

By Tim Dolbear

Part 1,  ...and so it begins!

The first thing we needed to do was strip the unit completely. I removed the deck from the rack or "furniture part" and then removed all the circuit boards and motherboard. I then removed the rack mounting system so I could cut new pieces to use to mount the rack rails to the 'Furniture'.  I also removed the face plate from the deck to I could unscrew it from the rack rails, and also clean under the face plate.

In the picture you can see the white strips of wood which are the new pieces. The rack rails mount to this new wood and the entire part attaches to the square black frame, which then mounts into the furniture and is able to rotate allowing for access to the circuitry.

 I also mounted the Penthouse or 4-space rack that houses the 2 channels of In/Out circuitry.  Now it's looking like it supposed to...

And then I started on the electronics.

All the red IC sockets need to be replaced and all the Molex connectors need to be resoldered to fix any cold solder connections to the boards. The very first IC socket took me 30 minutes to remove, it shattered into 30 pieces...
I thought "oh no, this is going to take forever! I have 50+ red IC sockets to replace!"  But the next one took 3 minutes to remove and the rest took 2min to remove, clean the IC and replace. 

Here is a before and after of the first board done and the old sockets.

This week the head stack goes off for relapping, I swapped out the block, the black top of the assembly, so my good stack, which came with the JH110B had the nice block.  I had bought a 
head stack off of eBay simply for the nicer looking block. The heads are in almost perfect condition but JRF will optically align the head stack and if they feel they need relapping, they shall do that too.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Adventure of the Eclectica Studios' MCI JH110B 1/4" Mastering deck.

By Tim Dolbear

 Our new MCI JH110B 1/4" Mastering Deck has arrived!  The unit works but I want it brought back to spec and update all the things that a 1979 unit should have, and needs to have, updated and addressed.

Over the next month or two I will be completely refurbishing our new MCI JH110B. If you want to follow along.         Subscribe to my blog!

The unit was damaged a little in shipping, the wood supports that hold the Deck to the housing split and the unit bounced inside the rack bending a metal support holding the motherboard.  So that's the first thing I will be fixing. Since all the circuit boards need to come off for recap/socket replacement and so on, I will strip the unit and fix the supports so I can rebuild it as the pieces are recapped and fixed up.

This unit has the horrible Red IC sockets still on only about 1/2 of the motherboards, The ICs just fall out of them. The unit looks like it was maintained well and many things fixed in the late 1990's.

So new sockets, recapping and reseating the Molex connectors all need to be done. I need to also go through the Power Supply and clean every square inch of every thing. The unit works but I want it brought back to spec and update the things a 1979 unit should have and needs to have updated.

The 2 head stacks I have are both off to JRF this week. JRF had relapped the heads once before as their sticker and info are on them. The Erase head has a small chip out of the face, not where tape touches, If JRF decides its an issue we have a 2nd spare head stack we can pull parts from.

This is a picture of The Landcaster Opera House in Buffalo, NY. We believe this MCI 1/4" lived and worked here from 1979 until put into storage around 2000. The unit was then purchased by an engineer 10 years later who was going to restore it and never got time to. Now its here at Eclectica Studios in Austin Tx.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sound Experience with Tim Dolbear on EnterTalkRadio

By Tim Dolbear

The Launch of Sound Experience with Tim Dolbear on EnterTalkRadio!

April 4th, 2016

Hey All,

Monday April 4th at 7pm Eastern(4pm Pacific) we kick off my first live weekly radio show and our special guest will be world renown Grammy nominated Master Engineer and Record Label owner Michael Romanowski.

The show will air Live on, please check for more...

After the live airing of the show, you can then listen to the show anytime, just go to our show page and listening under the "Shows On Demand" area at

Shows will be available for one year and, I believe, the shows are also available as a podcast on iTunes too.

Since the shows are live and always will feature a special guest, we will have listener call ins to ask questions live on the air. You can also submit questions on our FaceBook page:

Here is our tentative schedule of guest for April:
April 4th,   Michael Romanowski
April 11th, Legendary rock singer of TNT and Skid Row, Tony Harnell
April 18th, Mix engineer and producer Ross Hogarth
April 25th, Audio engineer and recording Professor at The BlackBird Academy Mark Rubel

I look forward to having a lot of fun with this, and believe we can all learn from each others vast range of experiences.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Attack of the Expanding Blog! We are going Live on the radio and podcast! "Sound Experience with Tim Dolbear"

By Tim Dolbear

Today we are signing papers to bring an expanded version of my blog to EnterTalk Radio

We will be starting next month the new show "Sound Experience with Tim Dolbear."  This is a live show, hosted by me with special guest every week form the world of recording; Famous Producers, Musicians, Audio Gurus, Equipment Designers... And during the live show, you can call in and ask questions, or email them in prior to the show. 

The show will be live and then available on the station's site as a Pod Cast and download. 

I am very excited to be doing this adventure and can't wait to start!  More info coming soon!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Pt2. All this Machinery...Guest response from Marc DeGeorge from Solid State Logic

By Tim Dolbear

In response and addition to my blog: All this machinery making modern music...

Special Guest Blogger, Marc DeGeorge
Solid State Logic
US Sales & Marketing Manager

Always good to see you (Tim) at the show (and elsewhere!). I think you are correct in thinking that there is a "gear hoarding syndrome" going on. I don't think it's a new problem though. G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) as it's referred to is an issue of the human condition. That is, we as humans look for the easiest solution to a problem. In many ways, that's a good thing. It's helped us survive and (sort of) evolve over thousands of years. However, there is the dark side of it, and that is the idea that (as you mentioned) a tool solves problems. If you have all the tools, then you can solve all the problems. The problem with that, as you know, is that that's only half the truth. A tool, applied correctly and skillfully solves the problem. It doesn’t solve the problem to just simply apply a preset, unless that preset just so happens to be exactly the right thing that is needed at that moment. Not likely.

Now, full confession here, as I work for SSL, a manufacturer, It’s part of my job to sell stuff, to hit goals and make money for the company I work for. We are in business not only to make great stuff, but to make a profit for our shareholder. While we don’t try to achieve this by giving out misleading information or by selling things to people that don’t need them, there are companies in the industry that unfortunately do. Telling myths makes your and my job more difficult, because now we have to dispel that misinformation as well as try to properly inform and educate with the correct info. I’d much rather prefer a world where everyone knows how to properly achieve great sounds and spends their time in pursuit of honing their skills. Perhaps one day!

On the other side of things, you mentioned songwriting (or lack thereof these days). This is really the result of many factors. A few of those being; the changes in the music industry, the huge supply of options really creating less choices, and the internet creating extremes. Popular artists are hyper-popular, and those who don't become multi-platinum getting washed out by the noise on top.

At the NAMM show, I was walking by a stand being built. Their boom box was playing a song from a semi-famous band, Zebra; "Tell Me What You Want." Zebra was never a huge success in their time during the 80s, but they were a great regional success. I’m sure they still have a large fan base here in the Northeast, and probably elsewhere, but they never went platinum, possibly not even gold. It’s difficult if not impossible to be a band like that these days, as it's either boom or bust, and very little in-between. While that's not entirely different that before, it's the extremes of which things happen. We are all so hyper-connected, and so flooded with information all of the time, that if an artist is not the biggest and the loudest right now and all the time, then they will struggle to be heard. Finally, it's not so cool to be in a band anymore. Shows like American Idol or The Voice are an effect of this individual ideal. The guitar heroes of today are DJs, or R&B and Hip Hop singers. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but that type of music is perfect for the now era. When it comes out, it either hits, or it doesn't. There's no time for artist development, and no money.

We are still in flux in our business. I do see some good and positive things out there. Change is happening, maybe not as fast as we'd like, but I do know that there are plenty of those still in the industry today that will not go quietly into the night. They will take a stand and fight for what they believe in: great music, preformed and produced with care and skill. I think we should seek these people out, and join them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Eclectica Studios Update...what's new?

By Tim Dolbear

So its mid February, 2016 and things are moving along well. We have some cool things we are planning to add to the studio this year. Its all still in the works... so stay tuned...

I am also looking for ways to expand operations and possibly bring in a partner with complimenting set of skills. It has to be the right fit. I fully believe that 2 people can make happen 3x what a single person can. So hit me up if you want to talk about this. but remember, this is business.

Coming up next week I go to The Backbird Academy to teach as I do every 3 months, all about working with Samplitude and Sequoia for recording/mixing/ mastering and audio restoration.

While I am there I will get to hang out with Marc Rubel and Joe Palmaccio, which I greatly look forward too. Then friday I go to McAllen Texas to record the Circus Harmonos Vasquez, the world famous Circus.

Every year I do the mix for the Circus' DVD release for the year's performance, you know,,, as you leave the arena after watching the circus, you can purchase it on DVD and take the memories home! Well I am the guy who mixes the audio for the DVD each year. This year I will also be handling the recording for it, specifically the room mics that are so important for this. I plan to post a blog all about it with tons of pics so stay tuned.

That's all for now!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

All this machinery making modern music...

By Tim Dolbear

Can it still be open hearted?

I am just back from the NAMM 2016 show is So California, a 4 day event filled with every Musical Instrument and Pro Audio manufacturer, all showing their newest gear for recording, performing and making music to the million or so visitors that attend.

I came back with a few thoughts to ponder, things that I have had on my mind for a while but seem to be brought to the forefront once again while at this show. I have no real answers, and I too fall into most of the traps I will bring up. Feel free to comment or reply...

Since when is it more desired to be the guy in the studio (engineer) or a "producer", than a actual musician with talent?

People collect recording gear and build home studios like car fans did back in the 60/70s; They build these awesome hot rods and mussel cars or huge 4x4 trucks, and never even drive them over 55mph or off road...

Nowadays, People collect audio plugins like Pokemon cards, and 500 series units like Tupperware. It seems to be a trap people are falling into... "If I just own this piece of gear with its magic button, I will succeed and be admired".

"Just because you have a nice kitchen, don't mean you know how to cook"- Tim Dolbear

It seems like the only people profiting from all this is Manufactures. Sure good gear is needed, but things have gotten out of hand.

Over the last 20+ years, struggling musicians that could not afford to record their music in a real studio, bought gear to record themselves. As these people realized they could not "Make it" as an musician and become a Rock Star, they decided to offer recording services with the gear they had and then bought more gear to bulk up the equipment list.

Then while learning about working in the studio, either from the forums, magazines and youtube, they learn about audio engineers who have worked on high profile albums. Some of these guys have even moved into Rock Star status.

Now...over the years, with so many people doing just this, suddenly we find everyone wanting to be a audio engineers and/or producers and be that next "Rock Star". Audio Manufactures come in and speak into our minds that if we just have this piece of gear or that plugin, we can "make it" and be the Rock Star we have always strived to be, feeding the dream, or disease.

A side affect is that with less and less people striving to be good songwriters, or good musicians, there is less and less work for these struggling studio engineers.

Paul McCartney recorded his McCartney II Album by plugging his tube mic directly into the Studer 16 track tape machine, no preamp even...  Ponder that for a minute. 

Does anyone else get the sense that making music nowadays is simply a form of  "playing a video game"? Search back to what made you want to become a musician, what gave you a desire to make music. No one cares what frame the Mona Lisa has around it, or what font a poem uses. Its about the song, not the gear. Everyone Agrees that a great song recorded badly is so much better than a bad song recorded beautifully.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Crimson Audio's new HPA100 Headphone amp - Tim's Review

By Tim Dolbear

As I have written about before ( "What are you listening on?"), I like to check my mixes on headphones and earbuds. Of course I monitor while mixing through a Neumann K&H series monitoring setup but then switch over to check the over all EQ and how the mix translates using devices other than speakers in a room. I usually plug my headphones and earbuds into my Mytek Stereo192-DSD D/A converter, which of course has a very nice headphone amp built in.

Last year, Dan Hembree, who just happens to be my brother-in-law, left Rupert Neve Designs where he had worked designing many of their well know product to strike out on his own. His new company Crimson Audio LLC was soon established.

Dan quickly got busy designing up a soon to be released studio monitoring controller and other products, He also does design and engineering work for many other high end recording studio equipment manufacturers such as BAE, Nashville based Sphere Recording Consoles and Teagarden Audio.

The first product Dan has released under Crimson Audio is the headphone amp section from his monitor controller design; The HPA100. Last summer Dan asked me to beta test it so lets dive in...

I received the HPA100 and connected it to the outputs on the back of my Mytek Stereo192DSD and ran a wonderfully recorded classical recording out from my Sequoia workstation. I set up the volumes to match on both the Mytek's headphone output and the HPA100's output. This first test I simply came out the -10 outs on the back of the Mytek to feed the HPA100 thus leaving my studio monitoring unchanged. The HPA100 can accept a -10 or +4 input and you can select the RCA unbalanced inputs or the Balanced XLR-1/4" combination jacks by way of a selector on the front of the unit.

The HPA100 is a single headphone stereo channel amp and is meant for high quality listening, My live room headphone amps are made by Fostex (PH-5) and CAD, a 4 headphone channel unit. I also compared with these, though they are fed from my RME setups D/A converters and which are good, but are no Mytek D/A, ya know?

The difference between the Mytek Headphone out and the HPA100's output was not at first a huge difference. It seemed like the HPA100 had a slightly more open sound but at the end of the track, the music became more dynamic and the performance came to the big ending and there it was! I could hear a distortion in the recording, either a mic preamp or something in the recording signal chain clipping. Not digital distortion and not an overload feeding the HPA100, this was clip distortion from an analog piece of gear during tracking. I could hear it through the HPA100 and not through the Mytek.

I could also hear it through my Neumann monitoring system but not as apparent as the HPA100 revealed it. Amazing!  I was sold then and there.

Compared to the Fostex and the CAD, the HPA100 is in a different league. In comparison to the Mytek, it's a nice upgrade and worth it as it reveals noises and issues that were not reviled on other listening systems. If it can reveal such things and save me from missing something as important as this was to the classical recording, it's worth it!

Lastly, I asked Dan to send a unit over to Steven Epstein, a friend and decorated Classical Producer and he simply fell in love with it. Steve said about the HPA100 “The Crimson Audio Headphone Amplifier produces a transparent and natural sound which can be experienced in a variety of listening environments from the exacting demands of a recording studio to enjoying audiophile­-type quality at home”

Many Pro Audio shops will be carrying the HPA100 soon, but you can contact him directly if you want to test it out or buy one. It retails for $349 which is a fantastic deal for such design quality.