April 15, 2015

The Age of Miracles and Wonders

I've been in audio geek mode the past week or so.

The Guinea Pigs sound system lost a monitor amplifier at our last gig - one of two ancient amps that Dan trucks around, and I volunteered to pick up a solid-state replacement that could feed both mains and monitors. I'm slowly building up my own PA system (having previously purchased a mixer, snake, monitor speakers, and accessories), so added a 500W / Channel solid state amplifier at low cost, and a wooden rack to mount it in. I feel very professional.

That got me thinking about Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle Road - I'm the audio engineer in charge, and have been running a "two amplifier" system there for a few years (with digital delay to control echoes for the satellite system, 200' down the road). So while I was prepping and messing with the new amp, I picked up some way too inexpensive (seemingly) speaker cables: 2 x 30' Speakon-to-1/2" ($12.50 per) and 2 x 15' 1/4"-to-1/4" ($12 per) and some 1/4" couplers - which will give me some additional flexibility when setting things up this July. The cables came in today and I spent some time unwrapping them, marking them (I use blue tape on the ends of my cables, and blue velcro ties), and stowing them in the gack bags and bins. 

And while I was at it, I picked up an old audio engineers bible, The Sound Reinforcement Handbook by Gary Davis. (which apparently you can download for free online at PDF Shack - not sure if that's legit or not, but with a 1988 printing date, I am sure they've made their money by now. I'd just as soon have it in print, old school like.

A lot of what's in the handbook will be, I am sure old hat to me, but there are a few things I'd like to learn more about - compression, tone control for various instruments (drums, guitars, voice), speaker placement, etc. I've picked up some stuff over the years; as a musician with electric guitars and basses, as a utility and computer geek at various corporate productions. But always more to learn.

As I lay on the couch reading this afternoon, I thought about how many fun toys I have at my fingertips, in my arsenal these days. I've got a portable o-scope that interfaces with a laptop. I've got a signal generator, both a hardware version and an app on my phone. I've got a kicking audio signal analyzer for my iPad. I can set up a sound system throw some pink noise in, and tweak the tone for the room. I have amazing tech for very little money that would have cost 10's of thousands back in the late 70's / early 80's.

I thought back to my 8th grade self, who wanted very much to mess around with this stuff. How I would love to jump back in time with all my toys and help that little kid with a science fair project. I thought about my college self, getting a EE degree in analog design, running around Worcester county recording marimbas to characterize the frequency content and envelope the better to synthesize the instrument. I was minoring in music, mucking around with an ARP 2600 and a four-track recorder when I could get my hands on it. Having fun.

I never did much with music out of school - the Carter / Reagan recession was in full swing, the cool companies like Bose were not hiring, and I was happy to get my first job that led me down the power quality road. And it was not too many years later that digital sound came along and blew analog synthesizers out of the water. 

But here I am, 30+ years down the road, and whatever fire was there is still burning. I'll probably never be much more than an audio hobbyist, but it gives me great joy to have the right tools, the right knowledge, the experience to put a decent system together. Back to the couch, to geek out. Watch out world!

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