More tales of Mark and Steve

I knew Steve and a bunch of other guys from hanging around in an internet forum for recording studio engineers. I went there on the rumor that someone had some stems from Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. Never did not get them, but I started reading a series of posts called the Bitch Slap Diaries containing a hilarious compendium of recording studio shenanigans–at times I was laughing so hard I had tears running down my face… I have always been drawn into the world of how things work since I am better with electronics and engineering than I am with music, and I read recording magazines voraciously, and later web materials. So, I had a lot of book knowledge when we talked about recording and mixing, and they graciously allowed me to hang out and pretend I was one of the guys instead of a Wanna-Be with a boring day job.

Well, we all got to talking a lot and at that time the forum attracted some incredibly successful and funny music industry types and we had a blast. Some of these guys were super cool. I recall one man who was on a team that received a Grammy for a song he helped record. He was so modest that he claimed his sole contribution to the project was sitting at the keyboard of the computer running pro tools and hitting the space bar to start and stop the recording… Even his modesty was humorous.

Steve’s web handle in the forum was Loudist, and he sure loved to stir the pot–create conflict–shit slinging we called it, and most partook enthusiastically. I can’t even remember my own internet handle from that forum, but as part of the shenanigans there I created a number of aliases, saying all sorts of silly things and at times even had them in a flame war with each other–those in the know being suitably humored… After a while though, It got so that people could immediately recognize my writing style and immediately identify my aliases as simply me slinging more shit. It was a blast until, like many good things, at some point it wasn’t anymore, and we moved on.

Loudist had a dry and dark sense of humor and we got on famously. He did have the habit of talking for hours on the phone, and when he called, that was the end of anything else I had planned for the evening. We spent countless enjoyable hours discussing the Theory of the Popular Song, and solved many other world problems as well… 😉

Then someone posted in the forum “Loudist has died”, I resolved to fly to Florida and meet his family and extend my regrets–and did so. Some other guys from the internet forum came as well, and we car-pooled to the funeral reception. Well, these guys started blowing doobie in the car. I was sober by then and did not inhale, at least not first hand smoke… Well, we show up at the house and I feel like when we opened the doors doob smoke came billowing out like the pot smoke filled car in Up In Smoke. My clothes smelled like reefer and I wanted to tell Steve’s relatives that I wasn’t inhaling, but that would have made it more awkward, and nobody really cared.

At this gathering, I had the chance to speak to one of the engineers who recorded the Layla album, and he gave me the skinny on how that went down–but that’s a story for another day. Also met the guy who mixed down La Vida Loca and heard some back story on that as well. I joined a dinner in the hotel with these industry guys around the table, dishing the gossip on the rich and famous, and that was as cool a thing as I could ever imagine.

Home Stereo Basics for Engineers, Part 2

Last post we laid some groundwork, the most important concept is to think about different types of amplifiers connected together internally or with RCA cables. Let’s start thinking about the input selector knob at a deeper level, which is essential for teeing up Part 3.

When we have a simple receiver, its simple to operate and it doesn’t take any under-the-hood insight to use it. We have a tuner built in, and maybe we plug in a cd player or record player into their designated sockets. To select what we want to hear, we turn the input selector and it just works.

To use the features of a more advanced receiver, we need to think about the input selector more deeply. What the input selector is doing is connecting an internal or external component to the input of the power amplifier. These signals are routed at the consumer standard -10DVB whether internal or external.

The chassis which is often called the pre-amp, contains a function in addition to the signal routing. It has a signal processing component that typically has frequency based gain controls–typically Treble and Bass, a high and low pass filter, respectively, and often a “loudness” control which boosts low frequences to match the human ear’s lower sensitivity to bass frequencies at low volumes, and of course an overall gain control called the volume control. We can consider the signal processing unit to take the line level in (-10DBV) and emit a line level signal.

For those who have seen a component stereo system, this is more visually obvious as the power amplifier is physically separate from what we call the pre-amp, and is connected to the power amp by RCA cables. That which is not the power amp is often nicknamed the pre-amp though it may or may not actually contain a phono preamp, and always contains signal routing capabilities and a gain control (audiophile components often do not contain any frequency shaping to maintain a higher fidelity signal).

When a chassis does not contain a tuner, but it has the signal switching and gain control and the power amplifier, it is often called an Integrated Amplifier. An integrated amplifier may or may not contain a phono preamp.

The main point here is that I defined a pre-amp in the first post as an amplifier that takes a signal lower than line level and boosts it to line level–that is an engineering or electronic definition. In common parlance, however, the component that does the signal switching and gain control is referred to as a pre-amp, whether it actually contains a phono preamp or not.

Well, thats a lot of discussion, and aside from some vocabulary lessons, we are not yet very far from where we started. This discussion does present or re-enforce fundamental concepts that help us understand what’s going on when we take it to the next level. What if we add some signal output sockets to the back of the receiver and add a second selector knob. This additional selector determines what line level signal from the various line level inputs, including a tuner and phono preamp, is sent to a line output in the back, and one of the options of the power amp input selector is getting its signal from an external line level socket that is not connected to any line level sources in the receiver.

Well, the options and possibilities multiply, and that takes us to the pinnacle of the discussion in part 3.