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 Stories of the Tune

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Michael Green
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PostSubject: Stories of the Tune   Tue May 22, 2012 2:00 pm

Behind every sound of the tune is a story.

I find engineering interesting but it's only as good as practicality. Audio is many times built from engineering, I believe this to be backwards. Engineering should not be at the mercy of a piece of test equipment that has been made to measure a word developed by a techy. Think about it the terms we use and the test we make are based on us trying to figure out how to measure something that happens in nature. After time in audio we have turned it around so that we are designing to a measurement instead of the other way around.

Who's to say that any of the measurements made for us to use is accurate? Is a herz really an accurate measurement in all situations and if not why do we still use it and the other terms as representing what we call an absolute? I for years have found that audio has failed to produce absolutes when describing sound and the measurements of sound. Why is this a problem? The answer is simple. If our foundation is based on an inaccurate statements,terms and figures and we end up basing our findings on this non-truth than we are not using the absolute truth as a starting point. Fact is sound has a variable factor to it that changes under conditions and should be tested as a result finder and not a source giver.

Early on in my career I saw music making, recording and listening as a variable event. One that changed as conditions changed. Tempo, speed, pitch and all the other musical terms are what makes a musical note real. Reproducing music is a real time event as well and is controlled by the varying process of energy. How this plays out in our world means everything.

One of my earliest visits to the studio was done at the famous Criteria Studios in Miami where I cut many of my audio teeth. I had the oppertunity to not only do in studio work from start to finish but also toured giving me both the aspect of what was going on in the "big room" as well as the process of the audio chain. Seeing the note conceived at different locations and watching it become captured, stored, mastered and replayed gave me an insight and perspective that has always stayed with me. The first of which is one based on the personalities of the biz. Very few of the professionals in the music business do music start to finish. Everyone depends on everyone else from the building of speakers and amplifiers to acoustics to playing to engineering. And everyone has their own ideas of what sound is. To not tattle on anyone I'm going to use a few of these stories with anonymous names to show examples, but first let me explain something.

Do you know what a microphone is and how it is used? If you did you would stop assuming that microphones can give you an accurate view of what the music note is. A microphone is not a perfect representative and when we say "sounds live" we are using a wide brush that has been invented by the audiophile world that does not exist. I know for fact if you are using a stock mic out of it's box to do your testing and the element protector is still on it you are not using a mic fully exposed to the sound wave. A microphone is a tool used to pick up energy produced by soundwaves, but because the soundwaves are far bigger than the microphones element/diaphragm the mic (any mic) only picks up a small picture of the whole. And every mic is influenced by it's housing and anything it is touching. In reality the microphone itself has it's own effect on the soundwave being gathered. Each piece of your audio chain is a part just like a microphone, and each part has particular jobs to do. Understanding those jobs will help you get a better picture of what audio reproduction is and isn't. It will also help you get away from using tools to replace your ears.

What sounds good is all that matters. Measuring tools in audio do not represent what you are hearing! let me put this into practicality for you.

There was a review done on me a while back where I was tuning up a system at the same time a well known testing engineer was doing the same system. A very nice guy and we will leave names out. The system was tune using the state of the art tools by the engineer. Everything on the computer said the system was playing accurate however the sound was noticeably off according to the folks listening after the tuning. The highs were hard and there was a lack of musicality and depth to the sound. There were parts of the music missing it seemed according to their comments. Even though this was the case the system was labeled as tuned. But was it? I was asked to tune the same system using the method of the tune with no help from computers or mics. The first thing I did was free the highs up to sound relaxed and natural. The second was to add depth and music pace. In the end the system tuned by ear mechanically sounded far better to them than the system using tests with mics and computers.

WHY? GIGO

The mic/computer system only knew what it was being told from one, a very limited source and two, that source turned into a program. The computer was only a tool and this tool only dealt with the information supplied. I't didn't deal with the whole picture so only EQed the info it had gathered making the music unlistenable to the discerning ear.

I've done this test all over the world with every type of test equipment posible and the results are the same. Listening is far different than testing. listening is far different than sampling a piece than putting only that piece into a program for correcting. What you end up with is a very unbalanced sound where the music sounds sterile or exaggerated and still out of tune. The big problem though is audiophiles have been told that this is accurate and are being told to listen to it even though it sounds non-musical to them. This is completely backward from what our industry set out to do. We have taken the art out of being artist, and the high end audio industry should have always been based on truth and art.

Even in the earliest days of my professional music experiences I spent my time making sound and when the tools didn't do the sound to my studio engineers liking I gave them the sound they wanted without caring for the test results. If a kick drum doesn't sound tight it doesn't sound tight because of the job at the drum itself and the mic picking up the drum. We then would trace the signal through the chain if needed till we got the sound we wanted on the tape. this meant tuning up the signal path acoustically mechanically and electrically. If we would have cropped the signal we got you never would have heard the kick with all of it's impact. In todays world we trim up the computerized EQ (removing music) till we get the frequencies left that give the appearance of tightness. We do this with our amps, speakers, DACs, cable and the rest of the chain. What we should be doing is fixing the source itself preserving the signal.

In the late seventies I was working on a recording days after the original take was made. The engineers were staying up late playing with the EQ and effects trying to get the drums to sound right. The studio drummer was sitting there bored to death and he and I started to talk about the session. His problem was the engineers were trying to fix something that happened in the signal. After the engineers left we hung out in the studio a while. Martin started to play the drums and I recorded. The first thing we noticed was the sound in the studio sounded completely different from the mixing room. During the recording that day they were using a mic on the drums that had their cases on that are used to protect them from impact incase of being dropped. These were the first to go cleaning up the signal dramatically. From that point we wired the mics without their regular connectors (a trick I learned in my own studio). before the night was over we completely redid the signal path getting rid of most of the fat between the drum and the tape machine. We also got rid of the God awful sounding foam around the drum kit and made our own barricade sound box that housed the mic and kick drum. Did it look stock? No. Did I get in huge trouble the next morning? Yes. But, the drums were so clean they almost threw the JBLs out of their cabinets when they hit.


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PostSubject: Re: Stories of the Tune   Tue May 22, 2012 4:47 pm

What is our starting point?

We need to get real in our industry. For over 50 years we have heard enough audio BS to fuel our cities for life. Being on the inside I am shocked that designers and reviewers have managed to pull the wool over listeners eyes/ears to such a great extent. All this talk of testing and technology, please! It's all a story, and a story based on something that doesn't even exist. I'm listening to a speaker right now that easiely reproduces mid twenties yet according to the test at the factory or where ever the magic happened they tested out at 45hz as being their lowest point without a huge roll off and distortion. Try telling this to the organ music being played.

I believe strongly that high end audio took a wrong turn when they started telling technical stories that had no foundation. It's the nature of man's ego but this story telling has cost us the loss of almost an entire industry. I get some of my products by the same people who build for NASA so I'm not down on technology, I'm down on prefab technology. Many people in our industry and the hobbyist who participated still don't know what distortion is and how to prevent it. We don't even have a good idea of the starting point. Go around to many speaker factories and take a peek at how the speakers are being tested before they head out the door. A box filled with foam and a microphone. I kid you not. I did a tour of the main speaker builders facilities and their test rooms are foamed covered rooms or small boxes not more than 8'X8' filled with foam that the finished speakers are put in front of for a measurement before they go out the door. These are not obscure speaker brands I'm talking about either. These are your high end favorites. Do you know that RoomTune installed our own anechoic chamber at one time? It was useless. It didn't measure any of the products we tested in it to the specs provided by the manufactures. This got me curious. While tuning up rooms around the world I brought two pairs of speakers with me and stopped at several well known anechoic chambers as well as speaker builders plants and recording studios. One was my own speaker and the other was a well known high end audio monitor. I wanted to see how they both stacked up. I also wanted to visualize the changes made on the tunable ones and how they showed up on the specs. Well if this was not interesting enough, I decided to also bring my Martin Guitar and tuner.

My first stop was one of the major microphone factories. I was greeted by some really cool people who told me right up front some of the fallacies in the speaker building industry (I agreed). I also shared with them something I notice in my own room and wanted to test it there. One of them is the effect of the back of the cabinet during testing. Most speaker companies do this simple test measuring speakers at different points around the cabinet however in an anechoic chamber there is a weird build up of energy that happens on the back side of the cabinet that is directly opposite the location of the mic in the room. Yes, the mic itself was causing a frequency void on the opposite side of the cabinet which causes an anomaly in testing. After further testing this you can also see the mic stand and speaker stand in the tests. The effects are not minor and there is no accurate way to remove the readings by deleting them from the program. With some products this is not that big of a deal but when we are talking speakers where their main function is to put sound waves back into the room it is huge.

The results

First the stock speaker from the other company did not match the spec sheet from their own factory, not even close in any chamber. Second when we put my speaker in we saw a dip in the 3500hz range. I went in and tightened the tuning bolt just slightly came out and it was back to flat. We had fun for about a hour testing the different settings on the tunable speakers. We also at every stop (that had a studio) did something unusual I thought. We recorded notes from the guitar then played them back through both speakers. The dampened cabinet always came up missing the fullness of the guitar notes (like half of the content was missing) in the tests where the free resonate speakers mimicked the guitar pretty well and the bonus was with a little time and tuning looked like the gutiar notes almost exactly on the screen. Finally I wanted to take a look at the speaker in tune with the guitar and see how it did on a straight sweep afterward. This was the one that always made people's eyebrow raise. After the speaker was tuned to sound like the guitar notes it didn't measure that well in the anechoic room. Great in the studios but not the chambers. In fact it showed peeks and dips in the tests. What does this mean? later

A major flag for me. Not one of the anechoic chambers measured the same, and not once did the fixed speaker sound the same or tested the same in any room it was put in. The tunable speaker was able to adapted and so did the guitar but the monitor did terrible. So bad that I had 2 more brands sent to me while I was on the road and the same thing happened. The fixed tuned, dampened speakers did not match rooms or the guitar and were not able to be put intune with any of the rooms.

Based on my findings I determined that all the speakers I designed were going to be two things.

1) free resonate

2) tunable

I was also not going to design my speakers or components based on a starting point that did not exist. Music and the notes that make up music are more than something we get from test based on a thought of what space without effect is. Anechoic is an idea. It's great for testing before and after pictures based on something in that particular anechoic chamber but is not a universal rule or standard. meaning if you test something in one particular place it does not test the same in any other place. This is something that the instrument designer knows and designs by. In high end audio the designing parameters are still way behind the realities of how energy and notes work on a moving planet.


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PostSubject: Re: Stories of the Tune   Tue May 22, 2012 4:54 pm

A note that is very important and needs to be taken seriously. I'm not asking you to throw away your test equipment but if you are going to use it as something that is accurate, it is not the case. At best your test equipment is going to let you know what you have before and after which is not a bad thing, but is it telling you what is going on and what your room is doing? No. It is telling you what your room would be doing if it was back where the test equipment was built or what it sounded like before it was shipped to your location. it is also telling what it is picking up only and not what is really there.

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PostSubject: Re: Stories of the Tune   Tue May 22, 2012 7:36 pm

Sound pressure

How important is sound pressure. My first time having diner with the owner of one of the biggest high end audio magazines he ask me "does acoustical treatment really matter?". I kid you not. I about fell out of my seat. Your room is your system! Another time I walk into a studio in Nashville to do some acoustical work as well as design their new studio. In there were 3 engineers in the room. One the mastering engineer and the other two his tech assistants. They were aligning up the tweeters to go in a straight line from the speakers to his ears. Many times I've seen people walk around putting tape on the floor where the speakers are supposed to go based on the factory setup guidelines. I say to myself "this must be a bad dream". People really do buy into the myths of audio. Your room is unique to itself. It has it's own identity. It's own set of rules that apply to it and no other room. No two rooms even if the same measurements sound the same. Why? Your room is much more than a rectangle, it is an environment. Environments host humidity, mechanic pressure, electromagnetism, gravity and your soundwaves. Everything in your room as well as anything attached to your room effects the soundwaves that come from your speakers. Your entire speaker is a source. Being told your speakers are the drivers in them only is a myth. your drivers are what they are attached to. To prove this we built speakers out of several materials claimed to be inert materials in the 90's. Every speaker we built plus speakers we bought from manufacturers sounded different when feet were put underneath them. Even if you were able to make a speaker that did not vibrate the floor underneath them would making the entire speaker cabinet a source.

So why are there so many speakers designed on myths and faulty theories? basically these designs come from the same people who publish papers that say sound waves reflect in your rooms in straight lines and make up myths like first wall reflections being found with a flashlight and mirrors. I let those types drown in their own debates. The fact is your room works off of the build up of pressure zones that are created by the enclosure of your room being stimulated by sound waves. To test this we took three different instruments and put them in both the outside and an inside environment to see how they reacted. We did the same test with a loudspeaker. Outside the horn instrument did have a direction to it. The drum and guitar sounded very omni directional. When the three were moved inside it was quite a different story. All three instruments built up the rooms sound pressure and you could not tell where the sound was coming from until the upper corners of the room were treated then you could start to hear the placement, but it still was not clear until the mid-seams in the room were treated with a barricade setup. After this it was clear as to the exact location of the instrument.

Your room does not look like a mission impossible movie with all the laser beams reflecting off of the walls. Rooms build up pressure according to the shape of your acoustical space and load the room. The higher the frequencies the more there is a beaming effect but the majority of your sound is round spherical build up of pressure. You can hear this pressure as you walk through your room.

How powerful is air pressure?

Back in 2006 I was working on a recording as the acoustical engineer in NY. The main recording area was 45' X 30' with a ceiling that was 16' high. All MGA products were used in the recording including MGA ceiling clouds. One day while setting up mics and zoning in the halos for the piano the pianist was also there for some prerecording and tuning of the piano. I was making an adjustment on one of the clouds 10' away from the piano when the musician said stop. He asked what I had just done to the room. I thought that he heard something and wanted me to make a change. I told him what I did and he sat there looking at me explaining that I had changed the pressure on the keyboard. He asked if I would take the setting back to what is was. At that point I loosened the 24"X36" cloud. He immediately say stop "the keys tightened up". He explained that I was effecting the pressure on the Steinway's key when he pressed on them. Hard to believe we decided to do this a few more times. Tightening the cloud would tighten up the attack but also made it easier to push the keys. Loosening the cloud would make the keys harder to push and made the piano more full and lush. The soundwaves were strong enough when the pressure changed to effect the keys and sound board evidently on a grand piano. This may seem remarkable till we study how pianos and other instruments change in environments.

Years ago I was asked to give a demonstration of how tuning works in a tunable room at the state university of NY. Instead of setting up a stereo I did my demonstration with a drum. In a tunable room there is an adjustment every 16" where you can change the pitch of the room, zone the room, or even put part of the room out of tune with another part. The first thing I did was tune one of the corners of the room differently than the rest of the room. Then we held the drum in that part of the room tuning the drum. After the drum was in tune we moved the drum to another part of the room and played it. It was now out of tune. We took the drum back to the corner that was tuned to the drum and the drum went back in tune without adjusting it. We did this experiment with and without a stand giving the same results. The same room was clearly zoning differently proving that waves did not travel in a straight line but instead rooms build up pressure. This pressure is strong enough to put an instrument in and out of tune. We then divided this same room into differently tuned zones and would send a student into the room to mark the the areas they felt the drum changed from one pitch to another. The students were not in the room while it was divided using the inwall tuning screws and ever student that went in with the drum made the same markings on the floor showing where the room was changed in pitch.

the zone microphone test

Using a drum we tested the pressure zone theory to see if a room can be divided in zones. The room tested was 50' X 60' with 14' ceilings. We zoned off the room and placed a microphone in the middle of each zone. We then tuned a drum in one of the zones. As the drum was moved from zone to zone we recorded the drum changing sound and going out and into tune. Some zones in the same room were tuned to a different pitch other parts out of tune and the one zone the original tuned spot. All of the zones in the same room changed the performance of the drum. We then took a speaker playing a drum note and did the exact same experiment showing us that the speaker went in and out of tune just as the drum did. After getting the results we took one of our tunable speakers and placed it in each zone tuning it to the zone. We were able to tune the speaker in each zone as opposed to the fixed tuned speaker that was only in tune in one zone with no ability to change. The only zone the tunable speaker would not tune to was the out of tune zone. We then tuned up the area and tuned the speaker to this area.

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