Posts Tagged ‘audio’

Shortly after completing my review of the AEA N22, I was contacted by Patrick Timmons from a company I had honestly never heard of before….Feather Microphones.

Patrick said he had some mics that he wanted me to try out.  I was happy to oblige, as I love trying out new gear, and telling my audio friends about it. Patrick sent me two different models, the Black Beauty and the Blonde (ash).

From the moment I opened the UPS package, I knew that Patrick takes pride in his products. They came in an ample sized water tight pelican style case.  The mics fit quite snugly in the cushioned insert and further came in a velvet type pouch.
The mics themselves are beautifully designed.  They look like a work of art.


As the XLR connector is the only thing occupying the bottom of the mic, they require a generic shockmount that will fit multiple sized mics.  Patrick happily sent me an extra to use.

I tried the mics out on a number of different instruments (drum overhead, drum room, upright bass, acoustic guitar, lap steel and ukulele) and shot it out against of few other ribbons and old standbys.  I enjoyed the Black Beauty personally, so I stuck with that one for the remainder of my testing.

(At the very bottom you will find a link to download a few samples)

Overall, I found that the Feather excels with acoustic instruments.  It sounds quite natural.  I honestly wasn’t a fan of it on drums at all. I found it to be quite harsh on the high end, which is odd for a ribbon. The cymbals had a strange bite to them which I found pretty unusable as an overhead or drum room mic, almost like some weird phase incoherence in the upper frequencies. I’d be curious to find out what causes this. I have my assumptions, but I’m not qualified to voice my speculations.

My colleague, Tim Mauldin and I recorded a few acoustic songs for singer/songwriter, Lilly Pappas, and I use the Feather everywhere I could.  We put the Feather up against a “ribbon standard” (the Royer R-121) on acoustic guitar.  The Feather had an upper midrange that just sounded “right”.  I literally didn’t EQ it at all in the final mix.   Same with the lap steel.  I had the Feather sitting in front of a Fender ’57 Deluxe Reissue.  With the exception of notch filtering some hum out of the amp, no EQ was used and no compression was used.

On upright bass, it sounded surprisingly close to my AT4050.  The Feather had a bit more “woodiness” to it. So if you’re looking for a natural sounding mic for bass or maybe cello, this mic is great. I ended up using the Feather in my mix over the AT4050.  Although the AT was more than usable and maybe even had a rounder bottom, the Feather just seemed sit better in the mix.

If you are looking for a nice neutral ribbon mic for acoustic instruments, I would seriously consider getting your hands on a Feather. They will definitely be an eye catcher for your clients as well. The only big turnoff I would say is the price.  I can get an AEA N22 which is also a fantastic ribbon for $300 less.  Granted, they aren’t for the same purpose, in my opinion, but there are a lot of mics you can also buy for $1200.  Although, I could argue that the service is second to none, Patrick is fantastic, and you would be supporting a small startup business. He was extremely responsive with any questions that I had, and went out of his way to make sure I had a good experience with his gear.

Here is a link to download a few samples of the mic.

In the zip file you will find a comparison of the Feather and Royer on acoustic guitar, lap steel, and bass.  For guitar and steel, the mics were place right next to each other.  On the upright bass the AT4050 is about 1 foot above the bridge, and the Feather is right at the bridge (so not a completely direct comparison).  There is also a song that was recorded using almost entirely the Feather microphone (all stringed instruments).  It turned out pretty amazing I think.  Virtually no EQ or compression on this track.  Vocal performance by Lilly Pappas Bjorklund, and all other instruments performed by Tim Mauldin.

Alternately, you can stream the song below.


I know it’s been a long time, but I FINALLY got around to completing this whole mix test.  Luckily, things have been really busy at work.  I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since early December.

To use a phrase from the broadcast field – ‘if you’re just now joining us’ I’m testing the workflow and sonic tradeoffs of mixing ITB vs. OTB vs. summing and using different types of plugins.   If you would like the history of this test, please visit my previous post here.

So, without further ado, here are the results.  (all files are 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV)

All the tracks have the EXACT same start and end point.   The levels are somewhat matched, but not EXACTLY.  When you pull these up in your DAW, you may have to move faders just a tiny bit to match.  (I know, I’m a slacker)

Take a listen and see which one YOU think sounds the best.  I’d love to hear from you.  Of course this isn’t ALL about sound, it’s about the tradeoff between sound and workflow.   I’ll explain my opinions further down.

1. McDSP ITB mix
2. McDSP analog summed
3. McDSP analog summed through Vintech
4. Waves SSL ITB mix
5. Waves SSL analog summed
6. Waves SSL analog summed through Vintech
7. SSL Duality LFAC mix

So, this whole exercise was definitely an experience that both reinforced some existing perceptions and helped me to realize a few others. In past “shootouts” I usually leave my opinions out of it and let the reader/listener make up their own mind.  This time around I think my opinion is critical to this post.

Now, one of the biggest surprises that I has was the fact that  I was able to get the mixes so close to each other  for starting from scratch each time.  All in all, there isn’t a lot of difference between these.  I think this speaks to the fact that the tools used to mix are pretty inconsequential compared to the engineer him/herself and the tracking process.  Most bands these days want to rush through tracking and “fix it in the mix”.  That is the biggest mistake you can make as a band.  The SOUND of the record comes from getting the right sounds in the room at the microphone.

The band and I both liked the Waves SSL ITB mix summed through the Vintech (1073  clone) the best as far as pure sonics were concerned.  This mix was by far the most impactful, spacious, and slick in my opinion.  The standard summed mixes ran through the internal stereo mix bus of the Speck X-Sum.  The Vintech mix replaces the 2 bus mix stage of the Speck summing mixer with the line input of the Vintech preamp.  I found that the summing mixer had a much more desirable character when going through the Vintech.

The console mix turned out pretty good I thought.   I was a bit concerned going in that this one would be a disaster.  I haven’t mixed on a console in a long time and I was not completely familiar with the room/speakers.  Surprisingly I was making pretty much the same sonic moves as the other mixes.  I did have to do some submixing due to only have 24 Pro Tools outputs.  I was surprised by how compressed it was compared to the others, but I guess that makes sense (many more amps, electronics, and the 2 bus mix compressor in the actual console is much more forgiving and therefore you can push it more).  The stereo image was definitely the widest on this mix.  As far as workflow is concerned, this reinforced  that I love the sound of analog consoles, but I don’t really think it’s worth the hassle.  It took a long time to get everything running, there’s always the whole session recall issue, and there were maintenance issues while mixing.  Two channels were not working which meant I went from 22 channels down to 20.  The dynamic IN buttons on nearly every channel had to be exercised profusely before the signal stopped cutting out.  HOWEVER, once I was setup on the board, I didn’t get a good mix going in a much shorter time than the other ITB mixes.  I did do the SSL Duality mix last though, so that could have something to do with it.  By that time I kind of knew what needed to be done.

I kind of have the same thoughts about the summing mixer.  Unless you have something like a Dangerous 2 Bus with no pan/volume pot and one that is normalled to the patchbay, it’s kind of pain to deal with the setup and patching of an analog summing mixer.  I think it made a significant improvement in the sound, but is it enough to justify the cost of a nice summing mixer and all the setup time and lack of recall?  I’m not sure.  Depends on the project and my workload that week I guess.

All of these are totally usable mixes.  There aren’t significant enough differences in any one of them for me to say, oh I don’t like that.  I was assuming the Waves SSL mix would take more time because I’ve been mixing so long with EQ that has a graphic display.  I was wrong.  I love the SSL “sound” for rock and using those plugins helped me achieve the desired effect more quickly. I do also like the idea of using the same plugin on each channel just like a console to get a more glued sound.  In the McDSP mix I was also using a few random plugins like the Waves RenEQ.

I would like to thank all the guys in Highway Headline for lending their awesome musical talents for this project.  If you like the song, please check on their webpage.  It should be available for download shortly.  I’d also like to thank Colson Wilhoit for assisting on the console mix at Webster University.  This test was very insightful for me and I hope you benefit from it as well!  Talk to  you soon!

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

SSL Duality Analog Console

SSL Duality Analog Console at Webster University

I’m back!    ….finally!

Between nothing really piquing my interest in the audio world and my newborn son being in the hospital for a few weeks, I’ve been neglecting the ol’ audio blog.

BUT , I’ve been REALLY excited to post about our newest purchase over at SmithLee….the AEA R88 stereo ribbon microphone!  *trumpet fanfare*
A few months back,  Travis Atkinson of AEA held a mic demo at SmithLee (arranged by Gary Copeland of South-Fi).  It was attended by a group of our engineer friends around St. Louis.  Travis brought the entire AEA mic family along with some preampes including the new RPQ 500. We had tons of fun micing drums, piano, bass, and vocals with nothing but AEA ribbons, most of which were on AEA preamps.  Theodore Brookins, Grover Stewart Jr., and Jesse James Gannon are the amazing musicians who helped us out.  Those guys are a phenomenal talent.

As soon as we mic’d up the piano with the R88, I knew it had to be mine.  It’s like that scene in Wayne’s World where he drives by the Fender Strat in the music store.

“She will be mine….oh yes….she WILL be mine.”

Now, I’ve mic’d our Steinway M at SmithLee COUNTLESS times.  I’ve tried every combination of microphone and position one could think of, but I’ve NEVER heard our piano sound this great until the R88 came along.  I played the recordings for David Smith (owner of SmithLee) who has owned the piano for well over 30 years.  He said it sounded like a new instrument – and he knows that piano better than anyone.  It finally came to life.  It was clear and present without that harsh 5-7kHz area that can sometimes sound too tingey on a piano.  And the phase….OH THE PHASE!  It was aligned!   (without having to spend half and hour moving mics back and forth).  The best position I’ve found so far is from Stav’s book Mixing With Your Mind.  He suggests an LDC M/S setup right around the curve of the piano.  This technique was  a ear opener for me.  But the R88 blew that setup out of the water.  We didn’t track with any compression or EQ and it sounded like a piano should.  This mic doesn’t quite suffer from the usual need for a little extra top like most ribbons do.

Now, I must preface all of this by saying we did run the R88 through the AEA RPQ500 preamp which has a MUCH higher impedance and gain than most other pres.  According to Wes Dooley, these mics really like having that big impedance and gain boost to clear up and get above the noise.  Days after that session was over, I mic’d the piano again with the R88 running through our Amek 9098 preamp.   It was still amazing, but I could tell right away that the R88 paired with the RPQ500 is a match made in heaven.  If you’re going to spend $1,800 on this mic, I would highly suggest putting out a little more and buying the preamp to go with it.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.  I’m not going to go through all of the features of the preamp here, and why you should buy it because, let’s face it, you DO have the internet.  But to be helpful, here’s the link.

Next, we switched the R88 over to drum overhead duty.  Holy. Cow.  Again, phenomenal tone!  Instantly a round, classic sound.  We had no phase issues from placing mics as a spaced pair, and the cymbals didn’t rip your face off.  The toms had a beefy presence to them while keeping a nice balance in the kit overall.  Granted, having Grover as a drummer made this easy!  Now, I will say that this mic may not work for every application.  I probably wouldn’t chose it if I were recording metal, and maybe not even hard rock.  Like I said, it’s a “classic” sound….round, well balanced, not too hyped, and smooth……veeeery smooth.

At a later date I use the R88 in M/S mode for a room mic about 8 feet out from the kit, level with the toms. I hate to sound like a broken record, but again….knocked out the park.  I’ve never heard our room sound so good before!  The room just sounded bigger and more open.  I could hear the nuances and reflections that I just couldn’t get with many of the condensers that I had been using.   I was having a discussion with Travis about a client of his ONLY wanting to use the R88 as a room mic and nothing more.  I couldn’t understand why on earth someone would possibly take such a great mic and use it for just one thing.  After setting this mic up in the room, I now understand why.  NOTHING in our mic cabinet is a better room mic.  Period.  I wish I had 2 of these!

At this point, I’m going to have to do a supplemental post after I’ve recorded a few different instruments with this mic.   I can’t wait to record some guitar or horns with this thing.  I’ve been out of the studio for a few weeks with my son being in the hospital and haven’t had the chance yet.  But I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.  HUGE props to Wes Dooley on this one.  This mic is nothing short of stellar.  ALL of the AEA stuff is!   We tested out the R44, A840, R84, and R92.  I was completely impressed with the lot, and so were the other engineers that attended the session.  In fact, after the mic demo, 4 mics and 3 preamps were sold that week by engineers who attended.  I think that’s a huge testament to the sound quality of Wes’s products.  I’m sure everyone there would have bought one if money weren’t an issue.

I will post audio samples as soon as I get out of the hospital where I’m currently writing this.  In the mean time, have some pictures!


I finally got around to grabbing some samples of this and posting them.  So, here you go!  Download and take a listen to the R88.
R88 Samples

They are all 320k mp3 to keep the file size down.  I know…lame.  All of the files have NO EQ/Comp or ANY processing.
What we’ve got is the following:

1. Band – Full Band With R88 on Piano.mp3 – Recording from the AEA mic demo I talked about above.  Full band is playing with the R88 featured on the piano.

2. Band – R88 on Piano Solo.mp3 – Same recording as #1 but with the Piano Solo’d.

3. My Horrible Drumming – R88 MS Room Mic.mp3 – Let’s get one thing straight….I’m not a drummer.  This is me playing drums to see how the R88 sounded as a room mic.  So this is the R88 in M/S mode in the middle of the room.

4. R88 on OH.mp3 – Again, from the AEA mic demo, but this time the R88 is used as an Overhead on the kit.

5. R88 on Piano Classical.mp3 – Totally separate recording.  R88 on the piano.  I know, the piano needs to be tuned!