Archive for the ‘NEIA’ Category

Classic Gear: Distressor

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

By Carlton Meriwether (from the New England Institute of Art AKA AI New England)

Distressor EL8-X

Distressor EL8-X

Distressor EL8-X

The Distressor EL8-X is a mono digital compressor/ limiter produced by Empirical Labs. A highly adaptable machine they’re considered one of the industry standards for compression and distortion. They have a multitude of compression ratios ranging from 1:1 to 20:1 and a Nuke setting for brick wall limiting. Two types of distortion can be applied focusing on 2nd or 3rd harmonics.  Time based features like attack and release are calibrated to keep consistency between machines when stereo linking.

The Distressor was built with not only modern compression but with vintage emulation in mind. The Distressor has a soft parabolic knee when set to ratios less than 6:1 giving a more natural sound to compression. Setting the unit to 6:1 or greater applies a more sharp vintage knee to simulate tube, FET, or  optical compressor machines from the past. There are specific settings listed by the manufacturer to emulate the LA-2A, 3A, 4A; the dbx160; the Fairchild IGFET and 670.

With a frequency range of 2Hz to 160kHz and a 110dB dynamic range the Distressor is a complete all around compressor. With an MSRP of $3000 for a pair ($2295 through dealers like SweetWater) the Distressor is a reasonably affordable replacement for multiple vintage compressor/limiter rack modules. An over all well built machine utilizing all metal film and Roeder resistors, the craftsmanship is well above average in American made electronics. The hand connected input and output ports allow for consumer changing of the “hot” pin in the xlr connectors to match any gear already in use and the A/C power source can run on 110 and 220 volt inputs giving the Distressor superior compatibility on a global scale.


Classic Gear: dbx 160

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Written by Joe Cenedella (New England Institute of Art AKA A.I. New England)

dbx 160 (1976) Designed by David Blackmer, using early Overeasy circuit and RMS detection

The dbx 160 was introduced in 1976 as a professional quality compressor/limiter.  The brainchild of David E. Blackmer (founder of dbx) it quickly became a must have for studio engineers of the time.  Besides being one of the earliest compressors, the dbx 160 introduced to the market features that allowed for a much smoother and more natural sounding compression.  The 160 uses voltage controlled amplifiers (VCAs) which adjust gain settings to fluctuate with the voltage creating smooth and natural sounding compression that closely simulates how the human ear interprets sound. Along with the VCA the dbx 160 introduced true RMS detection paired with feed forward gain reduction. This allows the model to achieve an infinite compression ratio (120:1) without excessive gain levels, and without excessive distortion, which causes oscillation in the feedback loop. All models of compressors at the time the dbx 160 was introduced gave the user some control over compression in the form of preset ratios (10:1, 20:1). (source) this is where the VCA’s come in allowing the attack and release to fluctuate with the input signals envelope. This allowed for more of a set it and forget it approach instead of constantly adjusting the ratio throughout a performance.

The Features:

Auto detected/attenuated 40dB for ground loop hum

Introduced “over-easy” compression, or soft knee compression

Adjustable threshold 10mV-3V

LEDs for input level, output level, or gain

First to have fully adjustable compression up to 120:1

RMS detection, VCAs, and Feed Forward gain reduction

VU origin adjustable 20dB (+/- 10dB input)

Mono inputs, two required for stereo tracking

Output level of +/- 26dB Hi-Z, +/-24dB Lo-Z

Cost New: $300 in 1976

Cost Now: pair sells on ebay for $1600

Link to user manual:

Official dbx Pro Audio Info:

Other Sources:,_Inc.

Studio Construction Photos: Con-Fusion Entertainment

Saturday, June 12th, 2010

Several months ago I was approached by two former students (Evan Schlosser and Robie Rowland) at the New England Institute of Art to help them to design a studio in a rented space in Allston.  They introduced me to their partner Arjun Ray and I started consulting with them.  The space was being converted into rehearsal  spaces and construction was already underway in the space to convert it from an office building into a rehearsal room.  We would convert that into a fully-functional professional studio.

After measuring the space and investigating the existing construction, I came up with a design that would isolate the studio from their 3 neighbors as much as possible and that would provide them with 2 large and functional live rooms and  a good sized and well proportioned control room.  My initial design follows but had to be altered some to address problems such as sprinkler and HVAC locations.

Original Studio Design

The Original Design for Con-Fusion Entertainment's Studio

One of the things that is very nice about the space is the two large windows allowing natural light into the studio’s control room.  I designed all of the spaces to avoid parallel wall to help prevent problems with standing waves and the accumulation of low frequencies in less-than-ideal locations.  The rectangular space is broken up in such a way that the control room gets larger the further away from the mix position.  Both the live rooms have site-lines to the control room as well.  The control room, where the most time will be spent, is the largest room and will allow for comfortable seating for producers, engineers and their clients.

Here are some of the early construction photos.  In the pictures are Arjun Ray, Robie Rowland and Evan Schlosser (The 3 partners of Con-Fusion Entertainment), and Mike, Rick and Robie the Elder.  I tried to create some order to the photos to create a narrative.  At this point, nearly all of the metal studs are in place and drywall is starting to be hung.

Looking at control room from inside the large live room

Looking at control room from inside the large live room

View out of the control room door

View out of the control room door

View into the corner of the control room

View into the corner of the control room

View out the main control room window

View out the main control room window

The wall makes a slight job at the studio entrance

The wall makes a slight job at the studio entrance

Exterior walls filled with 703 fiberglass insulation

Exterior walls filled with 703 fiberglass insulation

Detail of the double wall construction

Detail of the double wall construction

3 Layer studio window in progress

3 Layer studio window in progress

Detail of finished studio window

Detail of finished studio window

Cutting metal studs makes sparks!

Cutting metal studs makes sparks!

Placing the first piece of gypsum board

Placing the first piece of gypsum board (from the left: Evan, Robie and Arjun)

Arjun sealing the top edge of the drywall

Arjun sealing the top edge of the drywall

Signatures of the builders on the first drywall

Signatures of the builders on the first drywall

So those are some of the pictures of the progress.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Audio Quality: How to Build a Listening Room (Part 2)

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Just a quick update about our listening room project.  It turns out the New England Institute of Art will not be interested in treating room 112 because the room is being given to the admissions department.  There is currently no information about where the new room will be located.  I have been told that NEIA has recently built a new critical listening space in a different building, but I have not seen the space yet.

So we are on the search for another room to work in!  Please send a note or leave a comment if you think you might know of a good room for us to work in.


How to Become a Hip Hop Producer

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Their is difference between someone who makes beats – meaning composing and performing (or programming) original instrumental music, someone who is really a producer, and a recording engineer that specializes in hip hop tracking and production.

The fastest way to learn to beat making is to make beats with whatever you have available. I have worked with a couple of heads who were complete geniuses with the Playstation software from MTV. Their music was simply amazing. Software that is highly under-rated is FL Studio or FruityLoops. The step sequencer is the easiest way to make music quickly. Read the manual! Watch videos online.  Start working with as many other beat makers that you can find on the net, in your home town. For me, competition made me write stuff that was much better than working by myself in a vacuum. The three big instruments to learn would be keys, drums, and bass. You did not need to work in a studio to do this kind of work. You need a computer, a decent audio interface (Not an M-Box), and a couple of nice monitors. If money is a factor, don’t get a Mac. You get a lot more computer in the PC world and there’s tons of software available.

A real producer puts the whole show together. They hire everyone, often write songs with the artists, choose the studio to work in, find live musicians to fill out the sound. Sometimes that means doing everything yourself. A lot of the time the producer FUNDS the project and gets the biggest share of the profit (if any).  A producer is a big picture person usually with an excellent understanding of the psychology of creative people, motivation, fear, competition and excellence. This is something that comes with lots of experience, a strong musical background, charisma and usually fame or money.

An engineer deals with the tiniest details of tracking and mixing. Moving a mic a half inch, rotating a mic off axis, how to attenuate the peaks of the kick to get it to sound bigger, without making it wimpy. Attack and Release time minutia for compressing drums, bass and vocals. How the sound stage can be used to the best advantage, how to either avoid masking or use it to create new timbres. You need to learn this either in a studio as an apprentice, in a good audio school that has great facilities (I teach at New England Institute of Art in Boston and at U. Mass Lowell both have great facilities) and then leverage that into getting good internships.

Sometimes there are people who really are all three. Sometimes you will find yourself in one role or the other depending on who you’re working with.

The best job to get to learn audio engineering is working for live sound companies as a grunt. You will carry the bass bins, mic stands and a 43 foot console. But you will get to watch the FOH and monitor guys throw down. Live is good because it forces you to learn to do things quickly and it puts you around dozens of musicians every weekend. Not wanting to be embarassed is a very powerful way to learn.  You are always on stage being watched from the time you load in, to the time you strike the stage.

(posted to GearSlutz 7-4-09)

For NEIA Students: Cheap Alesis HD24 Caddy Options

Saturday, January 24th, 2009
Alesis HD24 Hard Drive Caddy

Alesis HD24 Hard Drive Caddy

Most of my audio students at the NEIA (the New England Institute of Art) want to know the cheapest way to get an Alesis HD24 caddy for their Recording 1 and Recording 2 classes. Unfortunately you pay for convenience when you shop at the school store, but you can get it cheaper off the web. As per usual you can find the best deal at Amazon right here. At the time of this post, Amazon has it listed at $22.95 via Musician’s Friend. After you order this, you will also need a IDE/PATA drive to stick in it. You won’t need a very big disk for your classes at the Art Institute. Anything more than 80 GB will be fine.

Current Great Deal on Amazon:
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 – Hard drive – 160 GB – internal – 3.5 (currently $47.41)

Make sure to NOT buy anything that says SATA on it, or anything that says 2.5″.  What you want is a 3.5″ 7200 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute) (IDE or PATA or Ultra ATA) Hard Drive.  You can get one that is boxed or OEM, which is cheaper. Here’s a few inexpensive options:

If you are mobile or adventurous you can always go to Microcenter in Cambridge on Memorial Drive to buy your hard drive.  They have great deals and a convenient order-on-the-web and then pick-up at store feature. I really hope that this helps!


Grad School, Baritone Guitars and the Sierra EP

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

It has been quite a while since my last post.  I intentionally took the Summer off, but I never expected to be so busy. I wanted to give an update on what I have been working on.

I am still teaching in the Audio Production Department at the New England Institute of Art on Fridays. I have some great students this Fall and the class size is pretty small, so I think that we will make more progress than usual.  The problems of our current economic depression have prevented many students from obtaining financing for school and as a result I am teaching half the classes that I normally would. This has opened up some opportunities with my time that are pretty exciting.

I started a master’s program in Sound Recording Technology at U. Mass Lowell. As far as I know, this program is the first of its kind.  There are two concentration options: production and research.  I will probably concentrate of doing research. I want to learn to develop products for the audio and music industry. It is very strange to be a student again, but I am enjoying spending time learning new technologies and techniques.

I have also been prototyping a specialty baritone guitar.  I had spent quite some time trying to find a production instrument that met my requirements, but I wasn’t able to find (at a reasonable price!) a comfortable instrument that sounded the way I wanted it to sound.  With all of the instruments I played, the string tension was too loose and felt floppy and imprecise.  The tuning machine holes were too small to allow a larger gauge string, so simply increasing the gauge of the strings was impossible without modification.  The other problem was finding an amp/cabinet combination that both produced adequate low end and cut well.  All in all, my search was really disappointing. So I decided to start designing and building my prototype.  I will include some new posts about that guitar soon, but time is short now.

The next bit of news is that I have completed producing Sierra‘s EP “Rocks.” The record has just been mastered by Matt Azevedo at M-Works and it sounds wonderful. I think that Sierra is going to be a rock star and that her performances and songwriting are really inspiring. The songs are filled with hope and honesty. I will send out new information as we get closer to releasing the record.

Modeling a Room in 3D with Google SketchUp

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

It is now free to download and use a high quality 3D modeling software application. Just visit Google’s new 3D modeling center:

The drawing above is a scale model of the control room at Indecent Music with one monitor, sans equipment and furniture. Measuring the SPLs in a room and using a model like this helps you to interpret the data you get from your SPL. It also helps you to see how sound might be reflecting in your room. The walls and other surfaces are easy to understand in 3D.

A floor plan view or a horizontal slice lets you write in data points to make the a data model.

It’s pretty easy to see how this kind of a tool could make working in your room easy and and more scientific.

The other thing that I love about SketchUp is that it has a built in tool to get models from Google 3D Warehouse and to upload your own models to share with others. This allows for both online collaboration with colleagues and for collabs with people you don’t know. One of the things that makes 3D modeling so painful, is the need to recreate all of the models that you need to use yourself. Most people end up buying a library of components for use with their own industries. For instance, Kitchen Designers use a variety of different CAD applications to design kitchens, but who wants to model 2300 variants of a Kraftmaid cabinet? So you buy the models from the source.

With the 3D Warehouse, you can check to see if anyone has made something similar already that you can reuse or recycle. Extremely useful. As long as everyone shares, this kind of system works very, very well. Did you notice the model of the monitor? That model was downloaded and imported straight from the 3D Warehouse. I probably saved an hour or more!

New School Year

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

It’s September again and all the students have returned to Boston. This Semester finds me teaching both Audio Recording I and Audio Technology II at NEIA. I will also be doing a lot of additional work in the studio on more songwriting and production projects, recording some modern concert music on location at Tufts University and working on getting back in shape for performing again.

Some changes of note at NEIA: The school has given up on digital tape and now we begin an era of recording to stand-alone hard-disk recorder, namely Alesis’ ADAT HD24. The units can handle 24 tracks of 44.1/48Khz and 12 tracks of 88.2/96Khz. The units have decent AD-DA and store data in a manner that is easily moved around and transferred to computers or other devices. They use cheap IDE drives, so you don’t need to archive the recordings onto tape or optical to store the data, but rather just leave in on the disk. Very convenient.

One major adjustment with this new equipment, is that 16 track mixes are now a possibility in Studio F, where previously we were really only able to do 8 track mixes. This also means that there will be more demand to work in Studio F.

I am working on a portable PA device to run off of regular store-bought batteries for at least a couple of hours. I am working with Chris Davis and Richard O’Connell on this project and more information about this will be available soon. We’ll be using a digital amplifier that can run easily on low voltage, like 12V for instance. The advantage of the digital amps is that they weight much less and require much less heat dissipation.