AES meeting archive

October 17, 2012

Meeting Topic: A Subjective Comparison of Vocal Microphone Qualities

Speaker Name: Bradford Swanson

Meeting Location: Room 209 Durgin Hall, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell MA

For this UMass Lowell AES meeting, former Sound Recording Technology Graduate student Bradford Swanson shared a research project regarding the subjective comparison of vocal microphones on various sources. While most engineers learn to understand the differences between microphones through practical use, some microphone companies such as Shure and Rode have developed web applications for comparing timbral qualities of their microphones. Often, these online resources are less than ideal due to variations in performance between each test, and the lack of a scientific control. Brad’s research involved developing a system by which microphones could be used/tested, with the results available for quick comparison all in one online resource.

Using the UML SRT mic locker, Brad created a system by which to compare the same exact performance of a singer on several different microphones at once. In total, he evaluated 43 microphones
arranged in 12 groups of 3-5 per performance. A diverse selection including dynamic, small/large diaphragm condenser, and tube condenser microphones were all part of the groups tested. Different settings for each individual mic were also tested.
Brad’s presentation detailed the exhaustive process of recording the samples as well as the rigorous preparation required to ensure an honest and accurate scientific experiment. Long before the culminating research/recording session, Brad had to analyze the signal chain for imprecision and technical malfunction. If certain microphones did not perform up to snuff in these original tests, they were either fixed or disqualified from the study (hence the absence of the of UML’s well weathered U87). Brad admitted that this project encompassed just a fraction of the available vocal microphones available to engineers today, not to mention the multitude of microphone applications that remain unexamined.

Brad’s work can be found at

October 3rd, 2012

Meeting Topic: Tracking Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Speaker Name: John Hanlon

Meeting Location: University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell, MA, USA

This meeting we had the pleasure of hosting guest lecturer John Hanlon, an accomplished recording/mixing engineer, most notable for working with Neil Young. Fresh out of sessions for Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s latest record, “Americana”, John presented to us an intimate gaze into what went into the completely nontraditional sessions. Starting with the months of pre-production, to the puzzle of setting up a live to multi-track session in Young’s house, John took us through what went into satisfying Young’s expectations. Using pictures and diagrams, he revealed how he set up a typical living room space to record an entire band, including drums and vocals, all playing at once. *This included monitors that reinforced the vocals, and a subwoofer reinforcing the kick drum. On top of that, he described the control room, set up in a bedroom. This featured several vintage analog consoles, tape machines, a pro-tools rig, and outboard gear. While a signal flow nightmare, John was able to maintain an organized studio. Extensive planning, pre-production, and having a dependable, hard-working assistant were all credited to the success of the sessions.
We were lucky enough to hear a sneak preview of the record, including tracks from the blu-ray disc with 24bit, 192kHz audio. From the listening, it was clear that the extreme tracking method was not just to satisfy Young’s requests, as the sonic character lent by the vintage gear resulted in a uniquely raw sound.
We’d like to thank John Hanlon for coming and sharing his expertise and experiences. It truly provided us all with a new perspective on how recordings can be made.

September 28, 2012

Meeting Topic: UML Masters Presentation: STAAG

Speaker Name: D. James Tagg

Meeting Location: 114 Durgin Hall, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Lowell MA

This week UML Masters Graduate Jamie Tagg presented a new microphone technique called STAAG (Stereo Technique for Augmented Ambiance Gradient) that he had
developed during his studies at UMass Lowell. As a concert recordist, Jamie was dissatisfied with the spatial qualities of standard stereo miking techniques and wanted to find a way to improve image, realism and flexibility in his recordings. Jamie’s research resulted in a 4 microphone array consisting of two stereo pairs, one facing the performers and one away. Each pair resembles an ORTF setup. The angles between each front mic and each rear mic can be varied to gain the desired balance of direct and ambient information. The left and right microphone of each pair can be set at either 17cm or 30cm depending on the desired sound. A more detailed analysis of these measurements can be found in Jamie’s engineering brief on the AES Library.

After describing the technique and its development, Jamie demonstrated some recorded material in both stereo and surround. Lastly, he allowed audience members to interact with mixes of three different recordings he made using STAAG to fully realize the capabilities of the different pairs of microphones. This first hand experience greatly helped our understanding of the technique and solidified an already convincing argument.

Many thanks to Jamie for the enthusiastic pursuit of audio knowledge and for sharing this with us.

September 19, 2012

Meeting Topic: Kick Off Meeting And Critical Listening Session

Meeting Location: Durgin Hall, UMass – Lowell, Lowell, MA – USA

What a turnout for the first meeting of the school year! The officers started the meeting by introducing themselves, and explaining a little about the UML Audio Engineering Society to new and returning members. Questions were answered, t-shirts were sold, and the crowd was re-assured that our meetings are open to the public and that no commitment from meeting to meeting is required.

Since we wanted to start the new school year off with something engaging, the bulk of the meeting consisted of a critical listening session in UML’s Durgin 114. Each person who brought a CD was given the chance to play one track and talk briefly about why that track was chosen. The selections spanned a wide range of genre’s and were everything from professional surround-sound mixes to student hobby-projects. The listening list included the following:

1. Pink Floyd — Great Gig In The Sky (surround) (eng by James Guthrie)
2. Porcupine Tree — The Creator Has A Master Tape (eng by Paul Northfield)
3. Kimbra — Warrior (eng by Mark Foster and Isom Innis)
4. Radiohead — 15 Step (eng by Nigel Godrich)
5. Deathcab For Cutie — St. Peter’s Cathedral (eng by Alan Moulder)
6. KayoDot — A Pitcher of Summer (eng by Jim Fogarty)
7. Thiry Seconds To Mars — Kings and Queens (eng by Ryan William and Tom Biller)
8. Periphery — Mile Zero (eng byTaylor Larson)
9. Siriusmo — Mbox (eng by Mortiz Friedrich)
10. In Numbers — Misfortune (eng by Bryce Keriger)
11. Charles Mingus — Pithecanthropus Erectus

May 2nd, 2012

Meeting Topic: Automatic Mixing

Moderator Name: Jamie Tagg

Speaker Name: Nick Foudi

Other business or activities at the meeting: Closing semester sentiments and thanks for a great year of UML SRT AES events!

Meeting Location: Durgin Hall 209

During this meeting, second year grad student Nick Foudi gave a presentation of his Master’s Thesis. His focus was on automatic mixing, whereby code he developed in Matlab has exclusive control over mix parameters from multi-track to stereo. He introduced the concept as not necessarily a way to get rid of a sound engineer’s job, but to simply make it easier and faster. He described similar projects that have attempted the same goals, and pointed out some of the flaws that he wished to overcome in his own algorithms.

Describing how his program works, he first mentions that at this point, it only takes care of compression and it won’t add any EQ, reverb, or effects. It decides each track’s compression parameters based on a key track, which is designated based on an evaluation of all tracks dynamic range, seeking out the one with the least variation. The other tracks follow an algorithm based upon the model track that manipulated their dynamics.

Nick played back a few examples of before/after mixes with and without his program; no other processing was used. It was clear, and everyone in attendance who spoke up agreed, that the program improved the mix. In Many cases, tracks that were originally buried came through the mix well after the auto-mix processing. Also, it was apparent that the program worked better with some songs/genres than others, as each have their own general trend/style of dynamics and instrument balances.

Overall, it is a very interesting and impressive program, and leaves us wondering if auto-mixing programs will be a regular part of the industry in years to come. However, it was made clear at this meeting how complicated auto-mixing is, and where many improvements can be made in future processing schemes.

Written By: Wes Moore and Jamie Tagg

April 25, 2012

Meeting Topic: UML SRT Listening Session in Durgin 114!!

Moderator Name: Jamie Tagg

Speaker Name: All Students Present

Other business or activities at the meeting: General discussion of sessions, studios, and current equipment issues. Overall a casual end-of-semester decompression.

Meeting Location: Durgin 114

This week we help a critical listening session with selections by lottery. As students were picked out of a hat, they would present a single tune and discuss what they liked/didn’t like, as well as any background they had discovered about the sessions. The listening list included the following:

1. Holst – The Plantes (eng by Doug Iszlai at UML)
2. Ghost of Perdition – Opeth (eng by Jens Bogren and Opeth)
3. 1/4 Chicken Dark – The Goat Rodeo Sessions (eng by Richard King)
4. Here and Heaven – The Goat Rodeo Sessions (eng by Richard King)
5. She’s Bad – Beneath the Sheets (eng by Drew Hooke)
6. The Leper Affinity – Opeth (eng by Jens Bogren and Opeth)
7. Harvest – Opeth (eng by Jens Bogren and Opeth)
8. Do You Know Where Your Commin From? – Jamiroquai (eng Steven Barkan)
9. You Couldn’t Hold a Torch – Busta Rhymes (eng Dr. Dre)
10. Summit – Skrillex
11. Faith – Sheila Nichols (eng Scott Campbell and Chris Lord-Alge)
12. Polite Dance Song – The Bird and the Bea (eng Greg Kurstin)
13. Hands and Faces – The Used (eng Jeremy Hatcher)

April 4th, 2012

Meeting Topic: Filed Trip to Gateway Mastering!!

Moderator Name: Jamie Tagg

Speaker Name: Adam Ayan

Other business or activities at the meeting: None.

Meeting Location: Gateway Mastering and DVD, Portland, ME

This meeting consisted of a field trip to the famed mastering house and workplace of UML Alumni Adam Ayan (and Bob Ludwig), who took us on a tour of the facility and discussed current trends in mastering. Adam discussed media types, transfer methods, shared many examples of his work ranging from independent bands to be released on iTunes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert in surround for Blu-Ray. The majority of the trip was spent openly asking questions and picking Adam’s brain about mastering techniques, gear, and the music business in general. Topics also included ear training techniques to monitor types to business practices and the average workday.

Ayan demonstrated the difference that mastering makes with audio examples from before and after the process. Debunking the misconception that mastering is just about making things louder, Ayan contrasted several song samples, one of which was entirely unmastered, one of which was fully mastered and the final simply raised up 8dB. The difference were startling and illuminating to just what the mastering process does.

We are extremely grateful to be welcomed to such a wonderful audio haven and would like to thank Adam Ayan Bob Ludwig for sharing their world.

Written By: Jeremy Moisson and Jamie Tagg

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