Paints-and-Brushes

In the digital age where the conversion and capture of audio is largely transparent to the source, mic and mic pre selection is key.
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While reviewing the microphone-preamp-laden content for this issue of PAR, I was reminded of my early years as a studio tech, when I was first learning the intricacies of mic and pre interaction and their effects on recordings. When building a small tracking room, part of an equipment package we purchased from a former studio owner included a Trident TSM console.

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We were assured we’d love the console, however, on powering it up, only three channels acceptably passed audio. A major refitting — recapping, replacing worn pots and switches, undoing signal flow modifications and so on — was undertaken. While testing, the mic pres revealed themselves as somewhat flawed. The discrete amplifiers were fed from a good Jensen transformer, but the implementation failed to yield the results one would expect from such a simple, classic design.

I perused the transformer application notes, then placed a call to Jensen. To my great fortune, Deane Jensen himself answered the phone. I asked my question about the TSM design, and Deane launched into a dissertation on the history of the transformer, aspects of transformer-based design that affect the sonic performance of a circuit and details on how his company’s transformers were developed for superior performance.

Nearly an hour later, overwhelmed with a wealth of insight, I reluctantly had to bring the conversation back to the TSM. Then, in two sentences, Deane solved our problem, telling me that the secondary of the transformer had been loaded poorly, and suggesting a change to the RC circuit across the secondary. A few minutes later, after replacing two components, I was measuring performance like I’d expected from the mic pre, proven out by the pres’ performance in subsequent tracking sessions.

The Trident didn’t actually last long in the room, a key client wanting us to put in another SSL. The Trident also had age- and abuse-based issues that typically meant I had a handful of problems to address every morning to keep the beast performing acceptably. There was also the issue of the automation — the first-generation Allison 65K VCA-based system was way past being in vogue. That said, we did manage to produce some wonderful tracks, including the very first from the room, Roseanne Cash’s Interiors, where she first explored her post-country voice.

Particularly now, in the digital age where the conversion and capture of audio is largely transparent to the source, mic and mic pre selection are the paint and brush equivalents in creating sonic portraits. Sure, you can color a sound once it’s in the box, but at the fine-art stratosphere of recording, the moment of sonic capture and the calculated interplay between sound, mic and pre, are where magic can happen. Here’s wishing you magic as you blend your sonic palette.