New Floor

So this last week has been a little weird and a bit of an adventure. Last Friday, during that big storm that hit Southern California, I was recording some background vocals for one of my own songs when I suddenly discovered that all the carpet in the studio was soaking wet. Basically there was a huge puddle on the side of the studio outside that drained into the studio somehow. Walking around caused about an inch of water to splash up wherever I walked. So I quickly got all the equipment off the floor and then started moving everything out. The carpet was obviously trashed so that got removed. 

 

 
 

 

As much of a pain as that was, it actually worked out pretty well. Recently I had been feeling like the room might be a little bit too "dead" sounding so after airing the room out for a few days I started experimenting to find out how the room sounded without the carpet and just the raw concrete. I set up a pair of monitors and spent a long time listening to a lot of different songs. It was pretty obvious that they sounded a lot brighter and more open on the exposed concrete. I also set up the drums and did a quick recording of them just on a couple packing blankets and I really like the way they sounded compared the the results I was getting previously. Overall they were brighter, less boomy, more balanced, and the room mics sounded a lot more exciting and like a bigger space. So I decided to just roll with the concrete, I found an awesome rug to put down to tame a little bit of slap echo, set everything back up, and now I'm back in business with an even better sounding room. I also kinda like the new look. Check it out:

 

 
 
 

 

So who wants to come track some drums?

 

-Peter Duff

Owner/Engineer

 

2016 Reflection

2016 has been the most successful year in the studio so far, so I wanted to take a look back at some of the awesome people that I got to work with and some up the updates that I’ve made to the studio.

 

Coral Bells

 

Throughout 2016 I got to work on several songs with Coral Bells. According to their Facebook, “Coral Bells is a six-piece folky amalgamation of Southern California wine drinking beach dwellers,” which is a pretty great and accurate description. We recorded our first song together at the end of last year and have been working on the rest of their EP one song at a time since. We recently finished tracking the last song for this release which should be completed in early January and the EP is expected to be released shortly afterwards. They bring a ton of passion to their unique sound, so every time they come into the studio I know we’re going to come up with something great. Another thing I love about this group is the opportunity to record a wide variety of less-common acoustic instruments which is great since, whenever possible, I love to record something real rather than using virtual instruments. In addition to guitars and bass they bring in ukulele, mandolin, glockenspiel, a frog, and my personal favorite, a harmonium (which was awesome.) One of their songs also provided the opportunity to dust off my old trombone, saxophone, and vintage Hammond chord organ. Their Christmas song “Krampus” (released Dec 14) was probably one of the most fun and unique songs I’ve have the chance to work on!

facebook.com/coralbellsband

Garrett Stollar

 
 

One of my first projects of 2016 was working on Garrett Stollar’s debut EP. Garrett is a relatively new artist to San Diego, he moved down here recently from Oregon to attend USD. While playing some shows there he met Eliza Rose Vera who pointed him in the direction of The Grey Brick. I’m so glad she did because his songwriting and awesome blend of singer-songwriter and pop sounds was really fun to be a part of. The backbone of the EP is his acoustic guitar and vocals, but each song provided a new opportunity to add different elements, including synthetic drums, live snare drums played with brushes, electric guitars, spacey pad effects and more. For one song I was even able to create the main percussion sounds for the drum beat by sampling a piece of plywood! The variety of songs and instrumentation allowed lots of room for creativity and made this project a ton of fun to work on from the first preproduction session through final mixing and mastering. After finishing the album Garrett went out of the country for a while, so the release is actually still in the works, but it should be available early 2017.

From Chaos and Heaven

 
 

Another one of my favorite artists to work with of 2016 was the band From Chaos and Heaven. From Chaos and Heaven is a pop-rock band with emo and pop-punk influences. I love the energy they bring out in their songs, big vocals, big guitars, big drums, just the way I like it. Their style is pretty similar to some of the bands I’ve played in and tried to start, so it’s really fun to work on. In addition,  these guys are some of the nicest people I’ve had in the studio so I always look forward to our sessions. (And they also regularly bring donuts, huge plus.) One thing about them that really impressed me was after the first song we did together their drummer left and I was afraid that would hold them back, but without skipping a beat their lead singer Alex got behind the kit for the second two songs and did a really amazing job. Those first three songs should be released soon as an EP, and then we’re expecting to start on some more songs in 2017!

facebook.com/fromchaosandheaven

Noah Rickertsen

 
 

Another highlight of my year was working with Noah Rickertsen. Noah is a singer-songwriter with a pop/country flair. He is a graduate of Berklee College of Music and recently won 2nd place at the San Diego County Fair singer-songwriter competition. He just has a really, really good voice. I find his voice both familiar and unique and the same time. That, along with his great melodies and lyrics, makes his songs very engaging. One of the fun things about working with Noah in the studio is there is normally lots of room for experimentation. He normally has an idea of where he wants the song to go, but other than the main guitar and vocals a lot of the arrangements are written in the studio which is always an exciting process since you don’t know where the song will take you. Whenever he comes into the studio I know I have to be ready for anything he might throw at me which keeps me on my toes and makes the sessions exciting.

facebook.com/NoahRickertsenMusic

 

There’s far too many other projects to list in detail, but a few more favorites would include:

 

Mandala: These guys are a metalcore band who I mixed a few songs for. Their music is great and their attitudes are even better. They have a really huge sound which is super fun to mix. In 2017 I’m looking forward to doing some songs together start to finish.

facebook.com/mandalabandofficial

NEIN: Power pop from the 1980s reunited 30 years later. This trio gets a huge energetic sound from few members. Their sound reminds me of bands like The Who which is awesome! We did an eight song album together and it was a ton of fun to have these guys in the studio.

facebook.com/NEINtheband

Brendan Clemente: Brendan is a singer-songwriter with a love for reggae music. We did a single together back in the spring and it was awesome to help him build out the production around his vocals and guitar. He also had a friend add some horns and keys which really gave the song a cool flair!

facebook.com/brendanclementemusic

The Hand of Gavrilo: This band is awesome. They’re a three piece rock band that’s loud, dirty, and unique sounding. They make great use of ambient/spacey effects, bass distortion, and interesting time signatures and grooves. I’ve had the opportunity to mix four songs for them over the last couple years and they just recently came in and tracked and mixed a new three song EP. Keep an eye out for that soon in the new year.

facebook.com/thehandofgavrilo

Tony Silipigno: Tony has a really cool, unique sound and he has written some of the most fun songs I’ve had the pleasure of recording. His style could be described as punk rock songwriting over almost ragtime-esq piano, which sounds like a strange combination, but it works perfectly and his lyrics are delightfully honest and fun. His five song piano and vocal EP was recently completed and should be out soon.

Upgrades:

 

One of the biggest additions to the studio this year was a new guitar head. I wanted to add something to my collection that was reliable and able to do a wide range of tones very well. After lots of shopping around I landed on the Mesa 5:25 Express Plus. This amp is awesome because it has four different voicings that can provide a wide variety of tones from a couple clean flavors and light drives all the way up through chunky and heavy distortions. It also includes three different types of EQs and switchable wattages (which make the amp class A, class A push-pull, or class A/B) to really make it a swiss army knife amp! It’s also a nice contrast to my Fender Twin since the Mesa uses EL84 tubes and the Fender uses 6L6 tubes.

 
 

Another big change I made this year was to my monitoring. A couple years ago I upgraded to Adam AX7 monitors (which I love,) but towards the beginning of this year I realized that they weren’t telling me enough about the sub bass frequencies as my old monitors were since the Adams have 7” speakers and my old monitors had 8” speakers. So I purchased a monitor controller (a PreSonus Monitor Station 2) and now I have both pairs of speakers set up all the time and can easily switch between the two. The Adams are still the overall favorite for sure and I spend most of my time mixing on those speakers, but being able to switch back to my older Mackies helps me hear other frequencies and get a better sense of the big picture. The monitor controller also makes it easier to switch to my Avantone mixcube. As a result, while I’m mixing or mastering, I’m spending more time making sure things sound good on different speakers which I feel improves the overall mix and it’s ability to translate to other systems.

This summer I finally had some time to devote to improving the look of the studio. The entire time I’ve been working here in San Diego I’ve wanted to improve the look and feel of the control room. The way the room was always seemed a little cluttered to me and like it was lacking a little “vibe.” So I installed a big curtain to cover some of the less-than-pretty parts of the room and I changed the lighting to cool vintage style “Edison bulbs” which I really enjoy. Now I feel like the studio looks more exciting and feels more like a creative and fun space which just makes it nicer to work in every day.

 
 

The final additions to the studio for 2016 were a couple new keyboards. Over the last year I’ve gotten way more interested in vintage electric piano sounds and vintage organ sounds. I find they work really nicely to fill out all sorts of productions (and I also started messing with them more for fun,) but unfortunately I didn’t have that many sounds for electric keyboards or organs in my digital piano as I would like, and I also wasn’t really satisfied with the virtual instruments I have. So I was super excited when I learned about the Yamaha Reface Series and last week I finally got both the Yamaha Reface CP electric piano and the Yamaha Reface YC organ. Both these keyboards sound amazing, have a wide variety of sounds available, and are super easy and fun to use. I can’t wait to use them on some new songs.

 
 

 

Looking forward to all the new music we'll make in 2017!

 

-Peter

Engineer/Owner

Mixing vs Mastering

"Wait, I thought mixing and mastering were the same thing?" "I just recorded a song, do I need to get it mixed, or do I need to get it mastered?" "Why do you charge so much more for mixing than mastering?" It's not uncommon for me to get questions like these when I'm working with musicians that are new to the recording process, so I wanted to try to clear some of that up.

Here's the simplest way I can describe the difference: Mixing is the process of taking all the parts that were recorded for one song and making them sound good together. Mastering is the process of taking all the songs on an album and making them sound good together. They are different and you do need both.

Once upon a time, back in the analog days, the need for the different steps was more clear. Musicians would come into the studio and record onto multi-track analog tape. The mixing engineer would then mix the multi-track down to a two track tape (one track for left and one track for right to make it stereo.) But of course in those days people listened to music on record players and not large reel to reel tape machines, so it was another engineers job to take all the tapes for an album and transfer them to vinyl. Those guys were the original mastering engineers. Today, because you can record something on your laptop (or even phone) and then quickly export an mp3 and upload to Sound Cloud the distinction between each step is less clear. 

So now you're probably thinking "Okay that sounds cool man, but I'm not getting my album pressed to vinyl" or "but I'm only doing a single not an album, so do I still need mastering?" Yes. Mastering is still an important step, the role has changed slightly with the advent of digital recording. In addition to making sure an album sounds good all the way through, the main role of mastering these days is to make the mixes louder and to add a final polish to the mix. 

Now let's break it down a little further to help you understand what can be accomplished in each step and what you need for your project:

Mixing:

Mixing is the stage where the most work can be done to improve the sound of a recording. This is because, as opposed to mastering, I have access to each part of the song and I can process and balance everything separately.  Mixing would be the right thing to do if you're looking for changes like these:

  • "Can you make the vocal cut through the guitars?"
  • "Everything seems kinda muddy, can you make it sound clearer?"
  • "The drums seem kinda small, can you make them bigger?"
  • "I want a bunch of cool delays and reverbs on the vocals"
  • "I want the second chorus of the song to hit harder and be more exciting"
  • "The lead guitar should be more prominent in the bridge but the rhythm guitar is covering it up."
  • "The vocals don't feel like they're 'sitting right' with the rest of the track"
  • "The acoustic guitar track seems too boomy"
  • "I recorded myself at home and it sounds okay but I don't really know what I'm doing and want to take it to the next level"

Here's what a typical mix session for a full band looks like in Pro Tools:

 
Mixing.jpg
 

As you can see in the main part of the window there's a bunch of tracks. Starting from the top there's the drums (grey,) bass (blue,) guitars (orange/red,) keys (green,) and vocals (pink/purple.) In addition there's some extra tracks you're not seeing that have to do with effects like delays and reverbs, parallel processing, and mix buses. On the smaller left side part of the window you can see a bunch of little grey dots on each track. Those are all my effects and processing for each track.

So if you want to have your song mixed you'll need to be able to send me individual audio files for each part like you see above. You don't have to use Pro Tools in order for me to be able to mix your song, you can export tracks like that from any software. (Send me an email if you need help.)

Mastering:

Like I mentioned above mastering is mainly final polishing. This stage is mainly about small adjustments and improvements. If you're looking for a huge night-and-day difference or major overhaul the song should probably be remixed. In mastering I'll make sure that all the songs sound good together, they're all loud enough to be played alongside other professional recordings, and I'll make sure that the song will sound good on a variety of speakers. Mastering would be the right choice for you if you've already spent a lot of time mixing the song yourself or had it mixed by another engineer and are happy with the sound overall but looking for changes like these:

  • "The mix sounds great, I just think it needs to sound more full in the low end"
  • "Overall the balance seems good, but some of the highs are a little harsh"
  • "My song isn't quite as loud as other commercial releases, can you help me with that?"
  • "I think the mix is like 90% of the way there, but I just want to see if you can get a little more clarity and energy out of it"
  • "My mixes sound good in my studio, but I don't have very good monitors or a well treated room so I just want a pro to double check it and make sure I didn't miss anything" 
  • "I had this song mixed at another studio and I like what that engineer did, but it seems a little dull so I want it a little brighter"

Here's what a typical album mastering session looks like in Pro Tools:

 
 

As you can see this is much simpler than the mix. There's one stereo track for each song on the EP. The mixes were probably 95% of the way there, so I just applied some subtle compression, EQ, and final limiting to make sure everything sounded nice and even across the EP. They're also laid out from left to right like that so that I can adjust the spacing and transition between the songs on the EP. Sometimes a large gap is nice at the end of a song if the next song has a different feel, sometimes a much smaller gap is appropriate if you want to keep the energy moving. In this step I can even have the songs overlap just a little bit if you want the next song to start while a guitar is fading out from the previous song.

Here's what a mastering session might look like if it's only a single instead of an EP and there's more work to be done:

 
Single Mastering.jpg
 

"You said this was for a single but there's three tracks there!" Yes, but as you can see all the waveforms are identical. In order to dive deeper and make more adjustments to the sound I duplicated the track a couple times in order to do something called mid/side processing and parallel processing. (The previous EP example didn't require that special treatment since the mixes sounded better to start with, but I will use mid/side and parallel processing on full albums as well if I think it will help.) Don't worry about that too much, but what's important to see here is that even though it's just a single and not a full album there's still more work that can be done and mastering is still important. 

So if you want to have your single or EP mastered you just need to send a single stereo audio file for each song.

If you compare the mastering images and the mixing image you can probably understand the difference in price a little better as well. Typically mastering takes me about 1 hour per song and mixing normally takes me about 1 day per song.

 

Hopefully this all makes sense now, but wait there's one more thing...

 
 

Stem Mastering:

Stem mastering is a fairly newer process that sort of lives in the space between mixing and mastering. Stems are basically sub groups of a mix, for example: All the drums, all the guitars, bass, all the vocals. By mastering stems instead of the full mix the mastering engineer has a little more control than typical mastering, but it's not like starting from scratch. Working with stems keeps the main mix intact but lets the mastering engineer adjust things that they normally would not be able to. For example if the mastering engineer thought "this mix sounds great, but all the vocals should just be a little louder," or "the drums sound good but I want a little more low end in the kick drum but not the bass guitar" these could be addressed in a stem master. Some engineers don't like stem mastering, but I find that it can be a great solution in these cases:

  • When the mix is pretty close but not as good as it could be.
  • When a song should be re-mixed but the client doesn't have the budget it can be better than nothing.
  • When the songs across an album are really inconsistent stem mastering can help get them closer by having more control over the balance of instruments.

Here's what a typical stem mastering session looks like in Pro Tools:

 
 

So in this example I was sent stems for drums, bass, guitars, vocals, and effects (reverbs/delays.) The engineer who mixed the song did a good job, but we felt like the drums could be punchier and heavier and the guitar tone/general clarity could be improved in addition to normal mastering.

 

Hopefully this post clears up some of the confusion between the steps and can help you decide what you need from me to make the most of your music.

 

-Peter Duff

Head Engineer

"Completely Free"

MIX BEFORE AND AFTER: "COMPLETELY FREE" - MANDALA (METAL)

This song is by a cool metal band from San Diego called Mandala. They had me mix this song back in the spring of 2016. They recorded themselves at home using a basic eight channel Focusrite interface and Audix drum mic kit. The raw tracks were actually pretty good quality for the way they were recorded, but for the really aggressive modern metal sound they are going for the tracks needed a lot of work. The biggest things that needed to be addressed were the guitar and drum tones which needed to feel a lot bigger, heavier, and more in-your-face. The kick and snare definitely needed more power, the cymbals were a bit thin, and the toms needed a lot more definition and energy. The raw vocals felt a little small as well. Because they were recorded on a dynamic mic in a small dry space, they needed to be brightened up, have some of the mud removed, and be given some extra size with some subtle reverbs. In addition, like most home recordings, I felt everything needed to be "glued" together a bit and to be given a sense that they're all playing together in the same space rather than recorded separately which gives the song a more powerful feel.

Here's a section of the song the way it was before mixing, and the same section after mixing: (listen with headphones or good speakers if possible)

 
 

In addition to the big picture things that needed to be addressed, there were also a couple parts of the songs that I was able to be more creative with effects to make the song really feel polished and professional. 

First is a clip from the intro of the song which starts out with a single guitar before adding additional parts and building up. In the raw tracks the solo guitar felt pretty small so I knew I wanted to make it a little thicker and clearer, but also give it some interesting effects to give it a cooler sense of space to help it stand alone. In addition, when the other parts enter I wanted to make it feel bigger and more balanced. The original tracks only had one take of the rhythm guitar so I needed to add a doubled part so that the stereo image could be more balanced. Finally, I wanted to make sure that each time more instrumentation was added it felt like the power and volume was building.

Here's a clip from the intro before and after mixing:

 
 

Finally, there's an instrumental break towards the end of the song that felt a little empty to me. Like the intro, there's one guitar that is playing a riff that feels a little small that needed to be enhanced. It is accompanied by a couple sustained chords from the rhythm guitar, and again there was only one take of it so I knew I wanted to do something to add some balance in the stereo field. However, unlike the intro, I didn't want to double that guitar because I wanted the energy in the instrumental section to come down a little bit so that when the next section of the song came in I could create impact by adding more parts back into the instrumentation. It's much easier to make something seem big if it is preceded by something small. So in this section I used some interesting panning to create space, balance, and a different feel than the rest of the song. Another issue with this section was the sustained chords which ended just a little bit too early and left a couple little gaps that made it feel a little empty, so I had to use a combination of stretching and effects to make those chords feel longer and to create a bed of sound for the lead guitar. Finally, there is some cymbal work on the drums and a fill before the full band re-enters that needed a little enhancement to really shine.

Here's the instrumental section before and after mixing:

 
 

Of course home recordings always have their limitations, and the final product could have been even better if it was recorded here, but overall the band and I were super happy with how this came out. It's great to be able to take something that was done with a pretty basic recording set up and make it sound professional. If you liked the song please take a minute to check out and "like" Mandala's Facebook page and maybe check out some of their shows around San Diego.  

facebook.com/mandalabandofficial

 

-Peter Duff

Head Engineer

New Monitors: Adam A7Xs

adama7x

Upgrading the monitors here at the Grey Brick Recording Studio has been on the to do list for a while. Up until now I have been working on my trusty Mackie MR8 MKIIs, and while they have served me very well for years I started to notice their limitations. When I moved the studio down here to San Diego, one of my main goals was to improve the accuracy of my monitoring. My first focus in the new studio was to invest a lot into the acoustics of my control room by building more effective bass traps and adding more broadband absorption and diffusion, since it’s a good rule of thumb to make sure the room sounds good before investing a lot into monitors themselves. Working on the room greatly improved the sound of my monitors but it also started to reveal some of their shortcomings. Once I finished treating the new room I realized that I had invested three times the amount my Mackies are worth on the acoustics, so I thought maybe it was finally time to upgrade.

 

The main things I was looking for in a new set of monitors was a more full and accurate bass, and smoother less harsh upper mids and highs. I narrowed my search down to two pairs: Dynaudio BM5 mkIIIs and Adam A7Xs. I demoed the Dynaudios at a store here in San diego, and while I was very impressed with the bass, I felt like there was something missing and a little empty in the mids. I also felt like the high end might be a little grating after long hours of use. I didn’t get a chance to listen to the Adams A7Xs personally, but I got a very good recommendation for them from another engineer I used to work with who uses them in his personal studio. So after crossing the Dynaudios off my list I decided to go with the Adams.

 

After working on the Adams A7Xs for a couple weeks now, I can say that they are awesome and I am very satisfied. The bass is indeed much fuller and more even than on the old Mackies. The front ports on the Adam A7Xs really help move a lot more air, and I think that having the ports on the front of the speaker rather than in the rear (like the Mackie MR8 MKIIs) helps to keep the bass more even throughout the room by avoiding putting as much bass energy in the corners. I was also pleasantly surprised at how smooth the high end is. Adam uses a unique ribbon tweeter design that allows their speakers to reproduce extremely high frequencies. Because of this, I assumed that the A7Xs might be pretty bright, but instead I found that the high end is very pleasing. Another side effect of the smoothness in the highs is the Adam A7Xs have a lower apparent volume than the Mackie MR8 MKIIs did. If I set both sets of speakers to a level of about 85 decibels with a sound pressure meter the Adams just feel a little quieter and less in-your-face. This is great because it means that they seem to fatigue my ears significantly less after a full day of mixing than my old Mackies did. Finally, the new monitors have a much better transient response. Everything just sounds a little bit sharper and more clearly defined.

 

As a result of upgrading the monitors in the recording studio, my mixes have been translating significantly better outside of the room here at the Grey Brick. This means my mixes sound more consistent across more playback systems in different settings. The new speakers help me get better results and make mixing more enjoyable. Overall I am very happy with the upgrade.

 

-Peter Duff


Head Engineer

First Month at the New Studio

guitar tracking protools
recording studio san diego
auralex microphone

 

This week marks one month at the new studio in San Diego. There’s still a lot of work to do before everything is completely finished, but I’ve made a lot of progress. All the equipment, gear, and instruments are set up; I’ve organized my new mic locker; the old acoustic treatment is hung; and I’ve built two new massive bass traps and five more broadband absorbers. I’ve also been moving forward with an EP I’m recording for Vantage. We had another session last week and finished up guitars, so we’re about halfway done with that now. I’ve also been mixing an acoustic EP for Cramer Creative and that’s about halfway done now as well and it’s sounding awesome.

Vocal Booth

The other thing I devoted a lot of energy to this month was trying to figure out my plan for adding a live room. Originally I was planning on building a room myself, but because of some complications with the space, it became clear that would be very difficult and impractical. So instead I’ve decided to purchase a very high quality pre-made isolation booth from VocalBooth.com. That room will be approximately 8 feet by 8 feet and will be great for tracking vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, and other instruments. While it would also be possible to track drums in the isolation booth, I will most likely track drums in the control room because it is so much larger and I’ve already done some tests and drums sound really nice in that room. The booth should hopefully be arriving in another week or two and then everything should be up and running sometime in the middle of September.

 

In the meantime I’ve got some more treatment to build for the control room. I’m building a 3 foot by 3 foot QRD diffusor for the back wall, and I’m also building some combination absorber/diffusor panels for the ceiling. I’ve also got more mixing to do and some promotional and marketing materials to put together.

 

Everything is really starting to come together.

 

-Peter Duff


Head Engineer

The Grey Brick Recording Studio Has Moved!

If you have been following the studio on FaceBook, or if you know me personally, you're probably aware that there have been some big changes happening for the studio and for myself. The big studio news is that The Grey Brick Recording Studio has officially moved from Walnut to the San Diego area. The main reason for the move is that I just got married and my wife is starting a job near San Diego. Last month I finally graduated from Cal Poly Pomona with a degree in music with an emphasis in industry studies (recording/production/business) and I am now going to be working full time as a freelance audio engineer and producer.

After living in the LA area for the last four years, it became clear to me that it the area is oversaturated with engineers and producers. If I wanted to work my way up in an existing commercial studio, then LA would be an awesome place to do that, but since I want to work for myself and eventually have my own commercial studio I felt as though there was too much competition and noise in Los Angeles and it will be easier for me to make a name for myself in San Diego by being a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

My wife and I have found a place to rent in Lemon Grove which is just immediately east of San Diego itself and just a little bit south of San Diego State University. I spent the two weeks after graduation moving and starting to improve the sound isolation of the new control room. (Huge shoutout to my buddy and client Tyler Ray for helping out with his truck.) I'm very excited for the new control room. The old room was 12 feet by 14 feet which is a decent size, but the wavelengths of some low frequencies are over 20 feet long, so longer and bigger rooms are definitely preferable. The new control room is a nice and spacious 14 feet by 24 feet which is over twice as big as the old room. (366 sqft vs 168 sqft.) The increased space will make the monitoring much more accurate which will make the mixes done in that room sound more balanced and consistent. In addition, I will be increasing the amount of acoustic treatment and using more effective treatment techniques to further improve the performance of the room. At the moment I do not yet have a live room set up so I will be doing tracking and mixing in the one room for now while I'm getting the new studio up and running. I'm expecting it to actually work pretty well since the new control room is also much larger than the old live room which was only about 12x18. My hope is to have a separate tracking room set up sometime in the next few months.

I'd like to say a huge thank you to the artists that made The Grey Brick Studio come to life at the old location, particularly Tyler Ray, Greasy Spoons, and Good Rocky's Revolver. I will certainly miss all my friends and clients from the Pomona/LA area, but I'm very excited to make new connections and meet new artists in San Diego. I'm also really looking forward to a couple projects that are in the works, (more on those soon.)

Thanks so much for all your support and stay tuned over the next couple weeks for more updates about getting the new studio up and running, and how you can continue to support The Grey Brick Recording Studio at it’s new location.

Thanks,

Peter Duff

Head Engineer

 

Ribbon Mic Transformer Upgrade

Last year, I bought a pair of MXL R40 ribbon microphones for the studio. These mics aren't the most amazing mics ever, but they were cheep enough that I decided to get a couple to play around with. After experimenting with them for a while, I discovered that they actually worked quite well for some things. I really like them as drum room mics, and they blend well with other mics on guitar amps. But unfortunately, these mics have a pretty big limitation which is they have a pretty poor signal to noise ratio and their output is really, really low. This meant that if I tried to record anything quiet with these mics the result wasn't always very usable since the mics have a high self noise and then extra noise is introduced when adding a lot of gain on a preamp to compensate for the low output. 

A couple months ago I came across an article online about a simple modification for these mics. It said that by replacing the low quality, made in China, transformer, with a higher quality transformer that is made in the US, the mics would have less self noise, a higher output, and a better frequency response. Naturally, I was very interested, so I ordered two of the higher quality transformers.

I finally got the transformers last week and I got to work. It was a pretty easy process. I just had to open them up, unsolder the old transformer from the ribbon and the output, pull it out, and then solder the new one in.

Once I was done, they did indeed sound better than before. It seems like they capture more "airy" high frequencies and have a little less noise. So I'm really happy about that. Unfortunately, the overall output level did not increase as much as I would like. I think I got about additional 2-3 decibels of output, which is nice, but the article I read claimed that the output increased by about 5 decibels.

My original hope for this modification was that increased output would enable me to use them on really quiet sources (such as a few feet away from an acoustic guitar,) but they still have too low of an output to really make this practical since ribbon microphones in general have very low outputs and require a lot of gain from a preamp. I'm not too disappointed though, I will continue to use them in the same way as drum room mics and on guitar amps and the better frequency response will definitely be beneficial in those applications. And besides, I just got an amazing acoustic guitar tone during a session this week by using the Lewitt LCT 940 and Rode NTK in the way that I was hoping to use R40s.

Overall this was a fun project and it will make some tracks in my recordings sound a little better. I guess I'll still have to get an Audio Technica AT4081 for the studio someday :)

-Peter Duff

Head Engineer

Lewitt LCT 940

Yesterday I finally went to pick out a new high end large diaphragm microphone since I've been feeling that there was room to improve the quality of the vocals I've been recording here at The Grey Brick. For about the last year, my go to mic for vocals has been the AKG c414-ULS, and before that I was using the Rode NTK. Both of those mics are wonderful and have served me well, but I have never been 100% satisfied with how they performed on vocals. The NTK has a nice brightness to it, which helps it cut through the mix, but sometimes I feel like it doesn't authentically reproduce the lower "body" part of singer's voices. Also, because of its brightness, the NTK tends to over exaggerate vocalist's sibilance ("s" sounds or other sounds that involve air moving through teeth.) Because of those two problems, I found myself gravitating towards the 414 since it has a more full body sound and a softer top end. However, this sometimes caused the 414 to have a somewhat "muddy" sound to it that has more trouble cutting through in a dense mix.

So when I started searching for a new mic, my goal was to find one that could combine what I liked about the 414 and the NTK without their drawbacks: a strong body without being muddy, and a bright and exciting top end without being harsh. That's exactly what I found in the Lewitt LCT 940. It has the body and warmth and also a great top end that really cuts through.

The Lewitt LCT 940 is a very unique microphone because it features a fully tube circuit as well as a fully FET circuit (solid state.) The tube side has the nice, classic, smooth and warm sound, while the FET side is known for being very clear and rich. The LCT 940 allows me to mix and blend these two sounds which gives the mic a lot of flexibility. In addition to vocals, I look forward to using the LCT 940 on electric and acoustic guitars, upright basses and bass amps, and toms and kick drums.

Check out what producer and engineer Bryant Siono has to say about the Lewitt LCT 940:

I'm really excited to get to use this new tool to help the artists I work with sound even better. Now, instead of starting with an okay vocal sound and making it sound good in the mix, I'll be able to take a great vocal sound and make it amazing. There are currently 23 songs in progress at The Grey Brick and this new mic is really going to help put the finishing touch on all of them.

 

-Peter Duff

Head Engineer