Every year around this time I like to pretend I have a rich uncle or something and then think about what they would get me for Christmas. This year rich uncle would get me a Linn Sondek Limited Edition Retro LP12 with the walnut finish. I’ve been thinking a lot about home stereos lately, I really want to build a solid system for listening. For a long time I’ve lived by a rule that I’d only spend money on things related to making music or graphic design. This means I have a great set of monitors in the studio, but in my living room I listen to music on a $200 set of Logitech speakers. For some reason I never really thought about how ridiculous this was, especially considering how much enjoyment I get out of listening to music.
So I was walking down Market street the other day and stumbled in to San Francisco Stereo & Theater Systems where they had a pair of B&W 683′s on the floor. I plugged in my iPhone (I know, MP3 is not worthy of a hi-fi system, but it’s all I had), cued up Beyond the Wizard’s Sleeve’s rendition of Midlake’s Roscoe and proceeded to melt into the seat. I’ve never heard sound like this. Yes, I have Adam’s in the studio, but that’s a near-field system designed for professional use. They’re meant to sound very flat and honest, they’re not necessarily supposed to sound pretty and warm and they’re certainly not designed to fill up a large room.
So this all got me thinking, I need to build a proper hi-fi. I have an old (but powerful) Denon hand-me-down amp in storage that I could dust off, just add some B&W’s and I’m set. But then I started thinking that I couldn’t bring myself to play MP3′s through a system like that so I would have to start rebuilding my music collection based on FLAC and WAV, which could take some time. Finally I realized this would still involve D/A conversion at some stage (which I was thinking could be handled by a spare MOTU 828MKII) so it still wouldn’t be ideal. This is when it finally occurred to me that I need to get a proper turntable and expand my vinyl collection.
Enter the Linn Sondek LP12, which apparently sounds incredible and — as you can see from the photos above — is absolutely gorgeous. Unfortunately it’s about $2500 so it’s never going to happen. There’s got to be some less expensive alternatives out there, guess I’ll have to dig around a little. At any rate, if my long-lost, wealthy second cousin is reading this, you can ship it all direct or I’ll take a personal check.
I’m always looking for ways to make traveling easier; it’s a chore lugging heavy gear around airports and trying to scam your way onto planes with oversized, overweight “carry-ons” to avoid checked overage fees. I currently use a custom ATA flight case — which I check — for carrying prints, and an SKB 3I-2011 carry-on for music equipment. I really like the SKB but it’s just a little smaller than I need it to be and sort of cumbersome to wheel around.
Over the years I keep seeing the 4 wheeled roller suitcases here and there — particularly in Tokyo where it seemed like everyone had them. The 4 wheel concept seems great for getting around the apparently the cases are very light (and strong), leaving plenty of overhead to make it under the magic 50 lb. check barrier. On my recent trip to Toronto I finally was able to catch the brand name of one of the nicer ones I’ve seen, the German-man Rimowa. I jotted it down and did a search when I got home. The more I looked into these cases the more I was amazed at the build quality and aesthetics. Unfortunately they’re ridiculously expensive — $1000 for the carry-on model I want — so I’ll be sticking with my humble SKB for the time being.
Rimowa also happens to have a pretty interesting Flash-based site (which weighs just about as heavily on your bandwidth as their products do on your wallet). I rarely find Flash-based manufacturer sites like this of any use (in fact I loathe them most of the time, opting to browse via HTML on a retailer’s site instead) but Rimowa’s is pretty slick and actually rather functional. Seeing the models standing by the cases is a clever way to quickly gauge their relative sizes.
You’ll find some more interesting shots of various Rimowas here.
Whenever I see images like the ones below by Drew Gardner, I always ask myself how the hell they do it. Apparently they do it with $36,000 cameras. That’s not to say it’s all about the equipment, but 39 mega pixels doesn’t hurt. The Phase One camera system seems pretty incredible: a medium format, full-frame sensor that can produce “Noise-free exposures of up to an hour”. Crazy…
Artistically Gardner’s work (examples below) isn’t really my style, but technically it always amazes me that people can create images like this. The Strobist recently mentioned Gardner and his Phase One Masterclass. At $2,850 I won’t be attending anytime soon, but it would be great to see the process of someone who has mastered photography on this level.
Here’s a peek at Gardner’s process in his “Epic Location Photography” trailer:
My Sony R7 Reverb from eBay came today, dead. I replaced a dead battery tonight but that didn’t clear anything up, still just passing a dry signal and a dead rotary encoder knob. Not sure what the issue is, if anyone knows a good Sony tech let me know, I have the schematics. Also need a good Lexicon tech too.
I made the drive out to Sacramento this morning to have the next Tycho single mastered by Eric Broyhill at Monster Lab Audio. In case this is sounding familiar to you, it’s because this is my second pass at this song. I mixed and mastered it last month but after repeated listens, something just wasn’t quite right so I did another mix over the past week and it’s finally wrapped. It’s been a long road, this particular track is sonically very dense and it’s been a very difficult one to mix. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the idea of mastering, it’s the last stage in the production process in which an engineer puts the finishing touches on your music and gets it into the form it will take for the final release — be it CD, MP3, vinyl, or otherwise. That is, of course, a gross oversimplification of what mastering is, if you’re really interested in the details here’s the Wiki article on the subject. It’s a vital step in the process of moving a recording out of your studio and into the real world where every stereo and every room is different, and you hope that your music sounds good on and in all of them. I think most importantly it puts another set of critical ears on your music. By the end of the production process your own ears can become deaf to the subtleties (or not-so-subtleties) and details of the material so it’s vital to have some fresh ears hear it for the first time and recognize it for what it is, not what it has become for you through infinite listens. Ideally, those ears belong to a capable person who knows waaaay more than you’ll ever know about the science and nuance behind how people perceive sound. Mastering can be heavy-handed or light and transparent, and therein lies the problem. Because the process can have such a profound effect on the final product, you have to trust the person doing it. You must have faith that they get what you’re trying to do with a song. It’s a very difficult thing to hand over the reigns to something you’ve put so much of yourself into, to another person who may or may not understand the essence of what you’re trying to do sonically with a song.
I was fortunate enough to meet Eric Broyhill back when I was finishing up my first album and he’s mastered all of my releases since. He’s great at understanding what I am going for and I am always amazed at the night-and-day results when I compare his versions with the raw material. The shots above are from his space which is located inside Hangar Studios (John Baccigaluppi’s studio and the home of TapeOp magazine) in Sacramento. I took these shots during a session a while back so they aren’t really up to date, I think he’s replaced a few pieces in the rack but the interiors are the same and that’s the really impressive thing about the place (unless you’re like me and you can’t stop staring at the Manley Massive Passive). A mastering environment has to be acoustically treated to ensure accurate monitoring of the material. There are many ways to go about this, most involve fiber sound absorbers and diffusers. I’ve always admired Eric’s solution to these problems from both a technical and aesthetic perspective. He was able to build much of the treatments into the structure so that they’re almost unnoticeable but the most prominent element is definitely meant to be noticed. The primary diffuser on the front wall is a giant face he had built by a local artist out of wood blocks set at varying heights (see picture above). This randomly redirects reflected sound waves to avoid phasing issues that can be caused by parallel surfaces. It looks amazing and sounds even more amazing when paired with the incredible Earthworks Sigma monitors he uses. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a better sounding system than this one.
Now it’s time to finish up the album. I really can’t wait for the day I get to drive back out there, it’s always like a celebration for me at the end of the months spent in the studio slaving away on the music. You get to hand it over and then watch it become complete. If you’re in the market for mastering — which any self-respecting musician should be — definitely check out Eric at Monsterlab, he does incredible work at very reasonable rates. And if you’re not in Northern California I know he can do the work remotely as we did a couple sessions that way. Monsterlab Audio
Beamer turned me on to the new Akai APC40 last weekend. It was just announced at NAMM and looks to be a great alternative to the Monome for Ableton Live. Seems like a safe bet as a VJ app controller as well. More Info
The Chicago Tribune has posted a nice collection of old gadgetry. Yes, we do have all of this stuff now, but none of it looks this cool. My favorite is the inlaid computer keyboard, I’m trying to do something similar with some recording equipment my desk right now but somehow I doubt it will be that clean.
This year I had a very nice christmas, I went back to Sacramento to see my family and came home with some great stuff (5 cutting boards! Also, pants.) But, since I’m not related to or friends with any millionaires and/or billionaires, I didn’t quite get everything I wanted. The following is my dream wish-list which I am publishing here in the hopes that JimmyWarren Buffett will read it and decide that I need all this crap next Christmas.
The Herman Miller Embody Chair
I thought I’d start out with something somewhat practical, a humble chair. Although it stops seeming so humble when it looks like a hybrid of 70′s aircraft interior design and an alien throne and costs $1,600. I have never sat in one of these or even seen one in person, but every review I’ve read is glowing and I fondly recall my brief time sitting in a Herman Miller Aeron while I worked at Adobe. As a follow up to his iconic Aeron chair, designer Bill Stumpf created the new Embody just before he passed away in 2006.
Chances I’ll ever get one: Actually quite good. I have been sitting in a $150 Office Max monstrosity for years now and considering how much time I spend at my desk, I really owe it to my backside to invest in a good seat.
After a lot of thought, I finally decided my next camera, if bought today, would be a D700. The only problem is my D80 hasn’t been stolen or dropped into a lake yet. I did drop it recently, breaking the flash, but it still works and the repair would be cheap so it’s really hard to justify dropping $2,700 on a new camera. Of course, a new camera this nice would need a very, very nice lens to do it justice. Add at least $1,000.
Price: $2,700 – $3,700
Chances I’ll ever get one: Slim. By the time I upgrade there will probably be something bigger and better in this price class. Although, I will definitely be getting something on this level, one of the gear purchases I regret most was skimping on my current rig (D80 + Tamron Lens).
Solid State Logic Matrix Console
I thought I would sneak the big one in the middle. If you aren’t a total audio geek or professional engineer, you probably don’t know or care what this is, but if you’ve ever listened to popular music then you’ve no doubt heard an SSL console at work. SSL makes some of the best sounding recording equipment known to man and their consoles (basically huge mixers) have been used to record countless hit records. I use SSL plugins, which are basically software emulators of their real-world counterparts. The plugins do sound amazing, but there’s nothing like the real thing. 16 channels of SSL EQ, motorized faders, DAW control…The list goes on. Of course it’s not cheap, hint: just the legs for this thing cost $900. While it is a steal compared to it’s full sized brethren, the price puts it’s well into pros-only territory.
Price: $26,000 (yes, three zeroes)
Chances I’ll…. Let’s just stop there, it’s not happening. Ever.
Ok, back to something a bit more reasonable. The Cintiq is the top of the line Wacom, it’s essentially one of their tablets grafted to an LCD monitor. I got a chance to try one of these at OFFF in Barcelona and it was pretty incredible, actually being able to interact directly with the screen is a very refreshing way to work. The only problem I have with the Cintiq is that you really can’t color calibrate it properly, the touch sensitive membrane interferes with colorimeters. So essentially you would need this screen and then another for color proofing, causing a problem with desk space.
Chances: Pretty slim at the moment. This is the sort of thing I’d love to have, but it would really be hard to justify considering how seldom I would probably use it. If they came out with an LED version and dropped the price to around $1,500 I’d give it some more consideration.
AKG K 702 Headphones
Although not ideal, headphones are sometimes a necessity when working late hours on music projects. I broke the jack on my AKG K 240′s a while back and have sort of been limping along with them (have to jiggle the cord every hour or so to get stereo sound out of them). The K 702′s are the new, top of the line set from AKG and probably blow away those entry-level 240′s I’ve been using all these years. The beauty of buying high-end headphones for music production is that they also sound great for recreational listening.
Chances: Marginal. Headphones aren’t a huge priority for me so I haven’t done much research. When I do replace my set, if I spend anywhere near $450 I will definitely look around for some alternatives to the AKG’s before I take the plunge.
Adam Sub 8
I thought I’d end it off with something I’ll definitely be getting, though from myself. I ordered the Adam Sub 8 yesterday to complement my recently acquired Adam A7′s (pictured, the speakers closest to the monitor). I have been suffering with M-Audio BX8′s for about 6 years now. I sold my Event 20/20′s, then traded my Event Tria’s to get them for some insane reason I can’t quite recall now. They are really just terrible monitors, completely inaccurate. But I used them for so long that I got used to their inaccuracies and just sort of settled into a rut. After a very long and very frustrating ordeal mixing my latest single I decided enough was enough and got the A7′s. They’re incredibly accurate and very easy to work with, my ear fatigue is almost non-existent now. The only problem is they are small, they’ve only got 6″ drivers, so it’s hard for them to fill my studio and produce the lower ranges. So I decided to go all out and get the Sub 8 to fill in the low end. Let’s just hope it lives up to the sound of the A7′s.
Chances: It’s in the mail.
So that’s it, not so much to ask right? Mr. Buffett, if you’re reading, I will accept a wire transfer, at your age I don’t expect you to shlep this stuff all around town. Anyways, has anyone had any experience with any of this stuff? Any thoughts? I’d love to know about the Embody in particular, that thing is calling me in a big way.