If you know a sound pro who’s been good this year (OK, as good as they could manage), make sure to check out our annual PSN gift guide, where we review and recommend a slew (or sleigh) of goodies. I’ve always loved the fun lists and have often wished I could tack on a few entries, so this year, I decided to heck with it—here’s a few recommendations of my own.
We’re heavy readers in my house, so a lot of my suggestions are books, starting with a brand-new one—Mirror Sound: A Look into the People and Processes Behind Self-Recorded Music by Spencer Tweedy (Jeff Tweedy’s son) and photographer Lawrence Azerrad ($40/hardcover/Prestel). This lush coffee table book is filled with insights from the likes of Sharon Van Etten, Suzanne Ciani, the late Emitt Rhodes, Mac DeMarco, Tune-Yards and nearly 25 others. While there’s plenty of gear-packed studio shots to pore over, the book takes more of a philosophical bent as it explores why people self-record and the give-and-take of the process.
One of the most talked about audio-related books this year (and with good reason) has been The Last Seat in the House: The Story of Hanley Sound, by John Kane ($35/paperback/University Press of Mississippi). Bill Hanley is revered for having provided audio for the legendary 1969 Woodstock festival, keeping the show rolling for an audience of 400,000. Nine years in the making, Kane interviewed more than 100 performers and audio pros (and had considerable input from Hanley himself), resulting in a solid, informative and entertaining read.
For those who love music writing with a true literary vibe, look no further than Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing by Peter Guralnick ($30/hardcover/Little, Brown & Co.). Considered by many to be perhaps the greatest chronicler of rock and roots music, Guralnick applies his talents here to profiling the likes of Dick Curless, Doc Pomus, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Solomon Burke, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and many others for a dense but often rewarding tome.
Some other good stuff besides books: When we’re not under lockdown, people are still increasingly recording on the go, and having some good portable speakers on hand is a necessity for sharing playback without having to pass headphones around (ewww). In our household, our budding teenage music maker has been using Mackie’s CR3-X multimedia monitors. At 7.8 lbs., they’re portable enough that she can take them to a friend’s house; they have nice clarity and provide solid punch for a speaker that size; and at $99, they cost just enough that they’re treated with care and respect (something teens are not always known for doing).
Last up, IsoAcoustics is known for its studio monitor isolation stands, but one of its latest products is the zaZen isolation platform ($199), primarily intended to decouple stereo components like turntables, tube amps and so forth from the surfaces they sit on. I tried a zaZen I model under both a modern Pro-Ject Debut III and a vintage Technics SL-5, and in both cases, it did a lot to provide acoustic clarity and detail. The bass in Sade’s “Paradise” was suddenly right in the room with me, while the moving parts of The Blue Nile’s “Tinseltown in the Rain” became more defined but no less epic. Measuring 17”x15”, the zaZen I holds up to 25 lbs., while the zaZen II has a capacity of 40 lbs.
Of course, what we all want to give and receive most this year is a little peace and a respite from the difficult times we’ve gone through in 2020. Whatever you celebrate this holiday season, make the most of it, congratulate yourself on getting to this point, take a deep breath (so long as you’re socially distanced!) and look forward to a far better, far brighter and far busier 2021.