Audio Underground Roadshow

Monday, November 10th, 2008 | by

TransAudio Group, distributor of high-end pro audio gear, put on its first “Audio Underground Roadshow” in early September. I wrote at the time about an exciting new microphone that was unofficially introduced there — David Bock’s model 507 elliptical-capsule tube microphone — but never circled back to write about the rest of the show. So, here we go.

Welcome To The HangarJohn Baccigaluppi’s Hangar Studio played host to the event, which was attended by audio gearheads from all over Northern California. Scheduled to speak were Ryan Hewitt, perhaps best known for his engineering and production work with Red Hot Chili Peppers and the band members’ solo projects, and George Massenburg, founder of the eponymous GML and engineer/producer on hundreds of amazing records, including some of the ones on your iPod.

The event promised gear demos by the principals of TRUE Systems, Daking Audio, Tonelux, A Designs, and Bock Audio. And John B. was offering free back-issues of Tape Op Magazine.

Just to recap: celebrity engineers, pro audio product designers, new gear announcements, technical demonstrations, free magazines. What’s not to love? I have not seen the event feedback to TransAudio, but I imagine they got high marks for creating such a unique educational opportunity.

Each of the vendors set up a table in the Hangar’s lounge, with sample gear laid out for inspection. Geoff Daking, David Bock, and Tim Spencer spent a lot of time there, talking to attendees and answering questions about gear. One thought for next time — a couple of listening stations with CDs that compare or demo various pieces of gear would add a lot of value to the ‘expo’ part of the show.

The day’s formal program began in the Hangar’s main live room, which could seat 500 comfortably without even having to move the cabs, amps, keyboards, and tape decks stacked around the periphery. The place is ginormous; I’m not sure if they manufactured blimps in there, or just landed them.

Vintage drumsThe crew had set up folding chairs for the attendees, facing a stage with a row of mics and chairs for the day’s closing panel. Along the opposite wall were a sexy vintage Gretsch drum kit, miked up with an ifet7 on kick and an overhead mid-side pair comprised of a Wunder CM12 (side) and Bock 251 (mid), and a gobo’d-off space for acoustic guitar, miked with what I believe is one of John B’s GDR-era Gefell KM84 clones, and Bock’s aforementioned 507. The gear was tantalizing!

Peter Montessi of A-DesignsThe program opened with Peter Montessi of A Designs. The company manufactures about a half-dozen mic pres; Peter led a tour through the lineup. Especially notable for me was the Pacifica two-channel pre, which is based on the Quad-Eight consoles of the 1970s. I definitely want one of these… I remember Larry Crane’s review in Tape Op, which concluded: “Now, my dilemma is that I want to keep the Pacifica even though I already own enough damn preamps. Should I sell one of the other ones? Damn.”

Tim Spencer of TRUE SystemsNext up was Tim Spencer of TRUE Systems. We gathered in the control room while drummer James Neil sat down at his Gretsch kit. Tim was demonstrating the mid-side decoder built into the P2 Analog 2-channel mic pre.

Remember the mid-side pair above the drums? Wow. I was floored. The drums were huge. The kit sounded brilliant.

Sure, it was perfectly tuned, and James is a great player, and the three mics on the kit have a combined retail value of $15,000, not to mention the stadium-sized live room, the P2 Analog pre, and the high-end converters and external clocks and monitors and all the rest of the gear that was capturing this incredible, unachievable sound. My collection of mics, most of which were acquired specifically for recording my drum kit, suddenly seemed small, misdirected, and a little sad.

Paul Wolff of Tonelux
Ryan Hewitt

Next up were Ryan Hewitt and Paul Wolff, talking about the modular consoles manufactured by Tonelux. The concept is really appealing: buy a 16-channel chassis and fill it with any combination of mic pre’s, EQs, line mixers, busses, and so on. (Check out the “Configulizer” on the Tonelux website to design your own dream console. But you might want to give your Visa card to your spouse first, just to be safe.)

Ryan is a fan and user of Tonelux gear, and Paul Wolff is a genuine showman. This session was a lot of fun.

Most of the group had spent two hours packed into the Hangar’s control room at this point. It was a tight fit; apparently the earlier plan to split the group in two didn’t fly. Unfortunately the HVAC system wasn’t keeping up with the heat generated by 40+ engineers in full-bore gear lust, so by the time we filed out at 1pm we were all a bit more warm and damp than when we’d gone in. It was a good time for a lunch break.

Geoff DakingAfterwards, I couldn’t bring myself to squeeze back into the sauna to hear Geoff Daking speak, so I settled for a lone photo shot through the control-room glass. I think Geoff was talking about his new single-channel mic-pre/DI, the Mic Pre One, about which you will eventually be able to read more at Daking‘s website.

David BockDavid Bock was next on the schedule. In addition to being an inspired mic designer and builder, he’s an eloquent and entertaining speaker; he addressed the crowd from the stage initially, giving a brief history of the vintage-mic recreation market, and extolling the virtues of condenser mics for bringing out the intimacy of an artist’s performance.

Then the whole group returned to the control room, while drummer James Neil gave that mid-side pair some more exercise. Again, the mono channel alone (a Bock 251) provided a ton of depth and realism. As the side channel was brought in, the drums got even bigger. They eventually turned up the ifet7 on kick, but I’m not sure they needed to.

David Bock

You get both power and detail from condenser mics. If you were to use dynamic mics in that same position, it would just sound kind of cloudy. You’d get a recording, but it would sound cloudy and undefined across the entire frequency spectrum.

Kris AnayaDavid then introduced his elliptical-capsule microphone, which was set up in front of Kris Anaya of the band An Angle. Kris played acoustic guitar and sang while we listened through the Bock 507. The vocal sound was instantly stunning — intimate, clear, soulful, rich, deep, all the great high-end audio adjectives apply to this microphone. The guitar sound was crystal clear, with good string definition and nice resonance from the body. This was the first time I’d ever responded to a sound check with the thought, yeah, that mic is worth $7000.

Closing out the day, all the vendors took to the stage, along with Ryan Hewitt and George Massenburg. Fueled by questions from the audience, the group spoke for about 90 minutes, telling stories, discussing techniques, crucifying passionless artists, and more. It was a great climax, both educational and entertaining. Following are some highlights.

Keep your eyes on the Audio Underground Roadshow website. If the show comes to your town, don’t miss it.

Paul Wolff

The first time that I worked with a drummer that had no meter, then suddenly had meter, his education was, literally, the manager went in and held a gun to his head. And then he played it perfectly.

Ryan HewittThe Panel

I love both things equally. I think that doing the minimum miking thing is certainly more refreshing, but if I have someone else that I have to please, it’s my job to please them. It’s a service industry. If they want to be slick, I’ll make them slick.

When they say I want it to sound like this record here and this record here, I’ve learned that you have to distill that down to specific aspects of what they’re hearing. Like when a guy says I want a John Bonham sound, there’s no fucking way they’re getting a John Bonham sound. What they mean is a roomy drum sound. They’re not going to play a 26-inch drum sound tuned way up high. You want that sound, go dig him up.

But you have to figure out what is important to those people, to deconstruct their thinking about what they want to hear, from what they’re saying.

George Massenburg

if you make your record, and you’re true to yourself, then it pretty much doesn’t matter what anybody says about it.

Here’s the full set of photos: Flickr – Audio Underground Roadshow photos

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