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Why the Marriage between Room Gear and Audio Engineer Is So Important?

Dennis Foley December 16, 2014 No Comments
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In a recent Google Hangout I got together a bunch of experienced and talented audio engineers to help bridge the gap between what you are hearing as an engineer and how the room is causing that problem. We tried to cut through some of the confusion between “mix sound” and “room sound”. The following video and transcript comes from one particular section where we addressed the issue “Why the Marriage between Room Gear and Audio Engineer Is So Important?”. If you would like to see the full hour and a half discussion you can see the video further down the page.

Joseph Baffy (JB): We have to agree on something, like I think if we started at the simplest level and one of things that pisses me off is when I see people trying to sell foam as sound-proofing or bass absorber, absorbers. I mean it actually irks me because I think it’s false advertising, 100% false advertising. You can’t absorb bass with freaking Styrofoam or maybe with foam I know that. So you know if we could just spread the word at a certain fashion that you just, sound-proofing and room treatment aren’t the same.

I’ve looked up this little thing alright. I’d like to tell you a little story, alright? My background before I decided to be, entering into the mixing world / recording world, I’ve been mixing and recording for ten years going on eleven years now. I was a robotics engineer and we actually developed quality control methods that were based off of vibration, off from resonance, okay where we got a really high-tech space shuttle part and we have to x-ray it and go through all kinds of crap to make sure that this thing is what it looks like and there is a science that came along from back in the 60’s, and even further than that but my research goes back to the 60’s.

Anyway we figured out a way to vibrate a piece of metal and say “Yes this metal has no fissures or no cracks or there’s no defects in this piece of metal” alright we actually taken that to a point where you know where Lay’s potato chips, they make potato chips and they fall into this metal like chute and the chute vibrates, okay it vibrates at a frequency that is resonant to a really good Lay’s chip and those all move on to the left and the broken ones move off to the right because they don’t resonate at the same frequency. So I mean that is fantastic, that is so cool, alright now.

Brad Pierce (BP): That’s cool

JB: You got to be weird to think that’s cool probably and I think we’re all in that group.

Joshua Wilson (JW): Yeah, yeah it is pretty cool.

JB: Absolutely so you know being kind of a weirdo I want to say like “Okay if I’m cracking a snare and I know that I got a good microphone on it and I’ve done this a couple of times and I’ve got it right in my room right” right now my studio is totally out of commission due to a natural disaster, it flooded with shit water, city sewer broke and it filled up with poop water so I’m in a rented space and this rented space is a, it’s almost as crappy as my studio is right now alright cause they’re using foam for bass traps.

I brought my mix home last night and the high-end was so freaking high because the place is so filled with foam that it was sucking the high-end out and I couldn’t hear it. Now I only know that because I’ve watched Dennis’ videos for the last three years and I’ve rebooked and I’ve learned you know that progress and growth that we talked about. If you put a kid and I shouldn’t say kid if you put an inexperienced engineer in that space and he would be beating his head against the wall wondering why his high-end is so crispy that it’s giving people headaches and no one likes his mix.

He’s going to, he might not, it might take him a year or six months, a week it depend on if he’s a lot smarter than me it’s not going to take him long. But I know that resonance and vibration and how Dennis says you know “Do the sweep” okay we play that through our speakers and play that sine wave that we’re listening our mix on and we get that plot and then we have to build in and interpret that plot and I think that’s just something that isn’t exciting when you go to a website that’ll explain to you what those little equations are, you get about half way through a page and a lot of folks fall asleep because it’s not an exciting thing.

So I would propose that and I’m going to step out on a limb here and say, if you can’t manage the high-end you got too much foam, if your bass is also smeared to crap you don’t have bass absorbers. Alright I don’t know how else to define that you know a better way. If you’re snare’s not cracking, your 170 hertz is missing, you’ve got a anti high note. That’s when, I don’t know how to explain it if someone came to me and said “I can’t get a good snare sound” I’d say “Well you got a mid-range problem, you know your 170, 200 hertz is got a huge spike in it”.

Dennis Foley (DF): And more importantly along those same lines Joseph.

JB: Okay.

DF: I think is you’re not going to get it right electronically.

JB: No.

DF: And I think a lot of people think they can correct things that are caused by the room electronically and boy you just can’t. You could EQ, you can if you’ve got a dip in your frequency response, you can EQ into that dip all day long until your EQ blows up you’re still not going to hear it.

BP: That’s right.

DF: You’re not going to hear it and it’s really that cut and dry and I think people have to understand that gear is not, there’s this marriage you know between gear, room and engineer and the room is always been the weakest link I think and people just don’t understand how important it is. You come to my studio, you sit in the listening chair, I will change your perception of room sound forever and you will never be the same. I’m sure Joshua’s never going to be the same after coming to my room and obviously it’s a room that’s got everything addressed correctly and taken care of and we all can’t be that fortunate and I get that.

So how do we take those absolutes between gear quality and room quality and get them closer together and you know this is good that we’re having these discussions and maybe through a series of these we can come up with a step 1, step 2, step 3 approach that the new guys can use to help them along. If we can get them moving quicker, out of the gate faster maybe the learning curves and all of this knowledge can translate better for everyone. I don’t know I’m searching as much as everybody else is.

JW: I think the thing what we’re doing right now is already a step in the right direction just because no one acknowledges anything until it’s discussed and when you have a group of people who are involved in the same thing, people tend to start to listen eventually. So just doing these videos, just having these discussions is already going to put something in someone’s mind like “Well let me start listening to my room” you know and just like default, it’s going to be at the back of their mind they can’t get something right like they’re going to instead of thinking of you know trying to compensate they’re going to start listening to their room and eventually it will start frustrating them the more that people like pay attention to this so.

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Dennis Foley

I am an acoustic engineer with over 30 years’ experience in the business. My technology has been used in Electric Lady Land Studios, Sony Music of New York, Cello Music and Films founded by Mark Levinson, and Saltmines Studios in Mesa, Arizona, along with hundreds of others.

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