"FROM THE WELL"
If you've gotten this far in the website, perhaps you'd like some words about all of this – the builds, the sound, the reasons and history... well, the best thing I can do is just talk a bit.
What makes certain records just work? (The songs, of course, but also the tone!)
Where and when was THAT recorded?
On what? Through what?
“Hey, this master sounds different (even a bit 'lifeless' or 'too smooth') compared to the original!”
What mastering engineer is in the deadwax of that first master?
Where was this lacquer cut?
Why does 'this' amp sound right, but one just two years later, 'not quite'??
As a parallel to actively recording as well as electrical engineering as Chief Tech / R&D at Peter Reardon's Shadow Hills Industries, I listened to everything in every way. LP masters, CD issues, high res sources, direct tape copies – not particularly for any kind of 'audiophile' reason – but rather an emotional one. Sometimes the most 'naked' mastering or treatment didn't convey the emotion. Sometimes it needed to be a bit raw – unwieldy – and accidentally imaginative.
We needed and loved and connected with something else all these years. Something 'wild' in the equipment.
So, I've listened and traveled through a century of recorded music. I've been taking it to an extreme, listening to the sonic signature of every component I could put my senses on – transformer, transistor, resistor, capacitor, layout, wiring – it's a lot. It's been an overwhelming decade.
I've kept 'golden gear' stock for 'don't touch it' restorations – and made notes along the way on the parts inside – carbon film resistors? Is that just a generic ceramic capacitor? “Wow, the 'nice' capacitor took away the gritty mojo that we liked about it. Leave it!”
I've also taken the same model and dived into rewiring and heavy modifications. “It's cool, and does a 'thing', but let's lift the pillow off of it. Let's take off the veil. Let's keep it signature but let's go where it hasn't been gone before.” “Those selected transistor substitutions sound so much more REAL than the stock ones!” “I had no idea that just the *make* of the parts could change the amp so much! I actually hear the metal/carbon/iron/jelly/capacitor/liquid/grain of the gear, now!”
Those folks who gave me their favorite pieces of gear, gave me records to listen to and said 'I trust you, just make it better' – they've always gotten my best. I became my own engineering department. I still work directly and practically exclusively for Shadow Hills. I have creations that are outside of the SH cannon. Odes to 1960's manufacturing and the wild passion of audio. Some things are tuned in precisely. Some are simply 'drawing a circle on a chalkboard' – years of practice but only a moment to do. Somehow, doing it by ear and hand keeps the ghosts in it all. Keeps it wild. Stays in the spirit. Here it is.
....A few wild memories come to me...
...going into fanatical detail to 'charm the ghost' up... the biggest so far was a vintage 8068 Neve desk, that over 40 different types of modern and NOS capacitors were listened to and auditioned for a re-'cap'. (The sound varied tremendously as different capacitors were used in the summing amps.)
...another is 'The Chief', an odd battery-powered Stromberg Carlson amp from the 40's that started my connection of the 'texture of the hiss' and how it comes through the whole rest of the sound...
...experiments with new variations of capsules and head-amps for unique Altec microphones...
At every little bit, building audio equipment is much like anything else in music making - adding up all the small differences and, at the same time, having a zoomed out, big picture feeling – it's an 'at a glance, in the moment, no-mind, don't think too much outside of the feeling' feeling. And - spend a lot of time in nature.
It all adds up.
What's 'better' is not always 'best'.
The medium is the message.
How something is built and laid out is just as important as the schematic itself.
Those takes -
those records -
that connection -
We can all 'feel' a phony vocal take. There's no faking it when we hear real emotion. We jump in and feel the song, feel the touch, feel the music. That's why we're musical – we're sharing ourselves with sound. And who likes a phony?
I like to make and voice things to sound like I live.
It always shows!