Archive for August, 2012

stop this crazy thing

It’s Friday! And a long weekend! And while I do indeed feel better (thanks for asking), I have a lot of catch-up to play.

BUT! I don’t want to send you into a long weekend without something. Here, have a long but interesting article on the history of progressive rock. Or if that’s not to your tastes, and you just want something to make you giggle uncontrollably? Can do, sport! Enjoy:

You’re welcome. ^_^

Back next week. Have a good weekend, everybody.

the future is very fucking nigh

I was going to post this week about microphones, but I’ve been fighting some sort of nasty head cold all week, and really just have no brain for writing right now. So, next week in DIY: microphones!

Fortunately, I have something easy and short to write about.

Last week I had a guest post from a spambot. Okay, no, it wasn’t a guest post from a spambot. It was a spambot’s comment, however, that was not merely on topic, but useful, relevant, interesting, and started a valid argument.

Instead of approving it, I elevated it to top level (spam content graphically blocked out) and said “your move.”

I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

In response to this post on acoustic sound dampening for your DIY home studio, the same spambot – and from the blanked out material, it’s clearly the same bot – has this to contribute:


I recently finished a 10 x 18 room, with some guidance from ReadyTraps (they will help with cad design and useful advice for small dollars, nice products too). In a nutshell, I doubled the drywall with “Green Glue” in-between, added about 12 2×4 by 2″, 6 2×4 by 4″ panels of 703, some on the wall, some spaced. Then two wall to ceiling superchunks. Is it acoustically perfect? NO, but it sure is predictable for monitoring, and dry enough to get very clean live tracks that do not have the boxy home studio sound. My room still booms in the sub 100 range, but its not hard to mix around. In my mind, a workable room that can be had for a couple grand, in combination with the great DAW’s available now, is what is bringing recording to the masses. Yeah, we all get to play now! I think the article would be more aptly named “Why your bass traps don’t work perfectly”.

I want to note for the record that the spambot’s actual spam content had nothing to do with Ready Traps or GreenGlue.

Really, I don’t have much of anything bad to say about this at all. Corning 703 is a good rigid sound-absorber, and you’ll find plenty of DIY centred around using it for sound panels. It’s good material, and not very expensive for those 2″ sheets they’re talking about. More expensive than my carpet baffles, but you’re not gonna break the bank.

The only thing I’m not sure about at this point is how a spambot does physical construction, but then again, I’m making assumptions. Maybe this is in the virtual world. In which case, hey, Smartbot! Say hi to Tron and Ram for me, would you? It’s been a while. ^_^

i did not come from a human mother
i am the speed, the information i collect
and i can do anything i want

and newfoundland (part 1)

And then we left for Newfoundland.

small airport; small plane

I didn’t have any playing set up in St. John’s; the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival had been the starting idea that got this whole tour+trip going, and it’s for maritimes musicians. But Anna’s wanted to hear Newfoundland music on Newfoundland soil for a long time, which sounds good to me (ar ar ar), and besides, with the third book in the Free Court of Seattle series being set partly in St. John’s, she wanted to see it for herself.

So that formed the nucleus of the original trip plan, and everything else I’ve typed about got bolted on to that.

Pretty much as advertised

We spent the first day mostly wandering around downtown, getting a feel for it. A big theme in Faerie Blood and its sequels to come is that warders of towns – magical protectors, more or less – know their towns by walking them, and that comes straight out of, well, that’s what Anna and I do, whereever we go. I also take about a zillion photos.

Which is why this post is mostly photos. 😀

We stayed at the B&B on the far right

Strongbad’s new business

Downtown by the waterfront

Trekkies Only Need Apply

So many row houses, so many colours

Of course, we hit George Street

No sign of Captain Blue or Captain Scarlet

I mentioned that this was a musical culture, and I carried around my zouk a lot of the time. Not all the time, but a lot. So when we stopped late for ice cream at Moo-Moo’s:

Stop here, seriously

…the guy who took our order was all, “What’s in the instrument bag?” and when I told him it was a zouk, he didn’t need to ask what it was – he got all excited and wanted me to play it right there. Which, of course, I did, and people were all excited by that.

They have music festivals there all summer; we’d just got in late for one on George Street, and were arriving for another that was coincident with a busker/street performance festival.

So, yeah, already, my kind of town.

We’d arrived too late in the day to get to either Fred’s Music or O’Brian’s:

Pilgrimage stop achievement: unlocked!

So we hit both of those the next day. Anna bought CDs, I noticed they were selling the Quebecois spoons I’d got in Joliette, we nattered, and got advice at Fred’s about the more interesting hiking paths up Signal Hill.

Now, if you don’t know, Signal Hill is a big historical deal, in part because it’s the site of the first battle of the Seven Years War, and guards the entrance to St. John’s, the easternmost harbour in North America, and was all strategic and such during the Napoleonic Wars and even later.

But more relevantly to my interests, it was also the reception point for Marconi’s first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission – a supposedly impossible feat, due to the curvature of the Earth. (They didn’t know about the ionosphere yet, which bounces radio waves, which lets you transmit around the world.)

The original receiver set is long gone, of course. But a shortwave station is maintained at Cabot Tower, and if you’re wondering: yes, they do contact postcards. I have one now! In person doesn’t entirely count, of course, but I had to.

Trail up!

Oh look, the lowlands of Skyrim!

Easy-peasy. Hop up this like a goddamn goat.

No, really

Green means gold mine, right?

The hiking was really pleasant. We took the more aggressive routes – you can pavement it all the way up to the old gun fortifications and towers and everything if you want – but the trails are really just nice. It feels like you’re really pretty far out there, even though you’re not.

Napoleonic Wars Gun Emplacements

Nice views, too:

St. John’s, from about a third of the way up

Lighthouse at the Narrows

The fog was rolling in pretty thickly.

Music from the Edge of Heaven

Cabot Tower

After touring the museum (which is mostly placards and such; super interesting, but not hugely photoworthy)…

Well, okay, one

…Anna and I went back outside the tower and played like we were shooting a goddamn music video. It was awesome.

Okay, I want the musicians in that courtyard, and we’ll bring the helicopter shot up the hillside on the right. See it?

Eventually we headed back down the hill. We stopped at a geology centre, ironically for food and not rocks…

No, Anna, put it down

The boring way up the hill

There are lots more, but the photo count here is crazy already. So we went home for dinner, ate at a little Chinese place, wandered downtown a little more and went on a ghost tour.

Hey! The Atlantic is cold!

Down the hill from our house

One second exposure, handheld

Next up: Festival! I sing stories about how you don’t become a pirate! And! Great Big Sea in Torbay!

fred says hi

Fred enjoys watching me work on blog posts from Assigned Kittypost 1:

gonna be the future soon

Remember this XKCD?

I am staring at Mission. Fucking. Accomplished. in my spam queue right now. In response to my post last week about studio monitors and the importance of flat frequency response curves:

The text:

Why have I included a frequency-response curve here? I mentioned earlier that the frequency-response curves in a sales brochure are typically meaningless in terms of providing information that’s useful to an end user. Actually, though, I’d go further than that, and suggest that in many respects making any judgment about the worth or likely value of a monitor by examining its frequency-response curve is not far short of pointless. I often read opinions on the SOS Forum arguing that to be of any value monitors require a ‘flat frequency response’, but numerous recordings made during what many would consider the golden age for musical sound quality (the ’60s and ’70s) were monitored on speakers that were all over the place in terms of frequency response — and I don’t know why recording engineers seem to believe so strongly that a monitor should be anechoically ‘flat’ when so much end-product evidence suggests that this isn’t particularly important.

Constructive. Relevant. Interesting. Starts an argument. And the blocked-out information reveals it to be a spambot.

I kind of want to approve it! I’m not. I’m going one further: elevation to top of post, and addressing the spambot’s point, since it had one. Congratulations, spambot, well done: you’ve earned it.

My response, I suppose, would be that the nonflat monitor speakers of the time were reasonably accurate representations of average home speakers, which were nowhere near flat either.

And once you got into the era of flat response curves being achieved, followed by an era of goosing-by-design (rather than nonflat-by-technological limitations), it became necessary to move to a neutral reference base for studios. Simply put, you can’t try to guess all the many ways that people intentionally-off-flat-response systems, so don’t try to optimise for any of them; optimise instead for the average of all of those systems.

I’d also argue that the late 60s weren’t my idea of a golden era of recording. There are some fantastic jazz and classical recordings from the era, absolutely, but a lot of rock and pop was still very fuzzy and often kind of muddled. To my ear, recording continued to improve up until the Loudness Wars – with a hiccough as everyone learned to deal with digital equipment – and that’s fashion, not technology.

So that’s why I still argue that in the current era going for flat – or reasonably close to it – is the best idea.

Your move, spambot. I’ll be checking the queue.

it’s not your fault… or is it?

studio buildout, part 3: playback amps

Woo! We’re Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival official photos page. Wait for it and you’ll see Anna and me both! Front page! 😀 We’re in fact in several photos here – one where I’m performing solo (my extended version of Ten Finger Johnny) and later with Anna in session. 😀

(Sadly, the photos – by Rick West – were taken down in when they redid their website)

Newfoundland music on Newfoundland soil. That’s called the correct way Even if I do have an uncanny ability to blink just in time for the photo. XD

But now, back to business.

Last time, we talked about monitor speakers; what to look for when you have no money, characteristics to seek out, simple mods to improve their behaviour, and so on.

But unless you went with powered monitors, you’re going to need amplifiers to drive those monitor speakers. Since you’re reading this, you probably aren’t going to just go out and pay full retail for some very nice new equipment; let’s talk DIY!

First, I need to repeat something I said last time:

The cheap but rebuildable equipment you want mostly comes from the 1970s… There are a couple of key reasons for this: 1. By this time, transistor audio technology had settled down, and no longer sounded like ass. 2. The state of the art was finally good enough (in transistors) that the then-goal of broad and equal frequency handling – meaning, flat audio reproduction curves – became realistically attainable, and people were still trying really hard for it.

This is true in amplifiers, too. Some would argue that in amps, you want to stick to the early 70s. I don’t particularly agree, but be careful when you get into the early 80s, just because of audio fashion trends being what they were.

You can also step back a bit into the 1960s, if you’re willing to learn vacuum-tube equipment. In some ways, that’s easier to work on, and you’ll get fantastic bang-per-buck. Look for EICO, Dynaco, Harmon-Kardon, just for examples; and research tubes first, to see what’s back in production.

Tube equipment has downsides, though: you can’t tip them on the side, they use a lot more electricity, need more ventilation space, generate a lot more heat, and most importantly of all, the power rail tends to be hanging out in the 450 volt range. Careful with those pliers!

Think of it as the advanced class

So unless you’re okay with that, stick to the transistor era.

If you poke around, you can find a pretty good number of old 70s component-stereo-system amplifiers for very little money. Don’t buy the combined units, with turntables and tape decks built in; those were junk then, and are junk now. You’ll see nostalgia for some of that era, and entertaining tho’ that might be, it’s not our goal. Look for something that’s just amplifier and pre-amp – preferably a unit without even a radio.

Undeniably groovy, but still kinda terrible

Pioneer is usually a good, safe bet, as brands of the era go; it’s right in that sweet spot of quality and commonality. So is Harmon Kardon. Sansui, Kenwood, and Marantz are often excellent, but tend to cost more even now. My general approach is to keep an eye open and when I see something of the right sort, then search the web for it and see what people have to say. AudioKarma and Gearsluts are both pretty good data sources in this regard.

My current studio monitor amp is a Pioneer SA-5200. It was made for all of three years (1972-1975) and I picked it up at a thrift shop for all of $5. They go for under $35 on eBay, working to various degrees.

Not mine, but same model. Not so groovy, but far more competent.

It has no power to speak of (20w), but you don’t need it for this application; most importantly, it’s noted for being a very clean amp; very low distortion and very low noise, at least as it shipped from the factory. And it has enough power to drive all my mains, and reference headphones.

That said, it sounded pretty terrible when I bought it, and got worse over time. This is where you need to know something which may and may not make any sense to you, depending upon how much you know about electronics: electrolytic capacitors age and die. And every audio chain you’ll find in any of these amps uses lots of them.

You’ll have to rip out and replace every one.

I’ve talked often about how the most important item in your studio toolkit is the soldering iron. Amps of these vintage can be rebuilt, without complex tools. The parts are large and relatively easy to access. You’ll want a low-wattage soldering iron, so you don’t damage the board with too much heat. You’ll want direct-value replacement swaps on those capacitors, in terms of uF rating. (You can go higher in voltage if you want; that’s a matter of how much the capacitor will tolerate, so replacing with higher voltage is safe.)

The electrolytic capacitors look like this, on the circuit board:

Or Doctor Who. Are you The Doctor? No? Don’t reverse polarity.

Coming out of the bottom of each of those cylinders are a pair of metal wires. Those go through the circuit board and are soldered into place, making contact with the printed circuit on the other side of that board. You’ll need to de-solder those connections, pull up the capacitor, and replace it with caps of the same capacity.

As a side note, these are not the only kinds of capacitors. You’ll see many flat discs; those are ceramic capacitors. Barring physical damage, you’ll never need to replace one. Similarly, you’ll occasionally find flattish rectangular capacitors. Those are usually film, and again, leave them alone, they’re fine.

Doing all this is kind of a pain in the ass, but you generally need to do it in equipment of this vintage. Here’s a bit of a map:

It’s dangerous to go to Toshi Station alone! Take this.

Any stereo amplifier is really two amplifiers combined together into a single box, one for the left channel, one for the right channel. You can see above how this results in symmetrical layout of components! Anywhere you have that kind of symmetry, you’re dealing with the left and right channels, duplicated. Anywhere you’re not seeing symmetry, you’re probably looking at power circuits.

Advanced students will want to bypass the tone controls. There’s no single way to do that, so I’m not going to post pictures. But I will explain why: it’s because, as with the monitor speakers, you don’t want help. You want flat response, or as close as you can get to it. The ideal studio monitor amplifier would be a wire, with gain – that is, a wire that magically changed nothing about your sound other than volume.

Tone adjustment knobs and systems, by definition, deviate from flatness. They’ll also add noise, so just bypass them. It’s also one less set of components to rebuild, so saves you time!

And that’s how to get a quality monitor amplifier on the smallest budget – at least, that I’ve found so far. Next week: I dunno! Microphones, or possibly digital audio workstation software and computers to run it on. One of those. Happy rewiring! ^_^

ps: Let the kitty help!

No, no, not wire snips – can opener! Here, I’ll get it.


This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio.

train and moncton

And so we left beautiful Montréal!

G’bye, island! G’bye, Montréal!

We took viaRail overnight to Moncton, and had a sleeping room, which is actually a room, which means we had a room on a train, which is kind of amazing – like, there was enough floorspace to pace if you wanted to – but sadly I was not able to photograph it well.

But seriously, floor space and a closet and our own washroom and AC power and a fold-out desk. And two bunk beds. And a door. With keys. ♥

The Quebec countryside is pretty and mostly farms. Here’s one:

And then the sun set, prettily:

So we watched that for a while, and I wrote a little in my paper journal (but not as much as I’d meant to) and we went to dinner, which was fantastic, and where I discovered I’m rather fond of ice wine, which would also be fantastic if it wasn’t $90 a bottle.


Back in the room, Anna wrote into the night.

…while I headed back up to the lounge car to – well, my plan was just rehearse. But I picked up an audience, and it turned into a little late-night concert! Small but enthusiastic, which seems to be kind of a theme for my shows this trip. Hopefully I can turn that into larger and enthusiastic at some point, but small crowds are great if they’re actually involved and paying attention.

Right after the show, the train stopped and a chunk of it separated off to go to Gasbé, which is where everyone in Quebec goes for vacation. Seriously, everybody. But we kept going, after dropping them off, and awoke to the low forests of New Brunswick!

Facing east, difficult to photograph

We went up to get breakfast (and found we’d missed it, thanks to our phones not picking up the timezone change – hello, Atlantic Time!) but got something in the lounge car instead. And a surprise concert by someone else!

Joanna Barker

After her show, we chatted and traded CDs. She was also playing her way across Canada, but doing it entirely on the train! She’d started on Vancouver Island and was heading back home to St. John’s. Guys, I so need to do this. Seriously.

It took me a while to figure out this name:

Not みらみち. Mir-ra-ma-shee, as in “where you’re tied up to a tree.”

Around noon, we arrived in Moncton and were met by our gracious hosts, Pauline and Neil and the adorable Miss B! Who totally looks and sounds like Boo from Monsters, Inc. They took us home, then out to THE FOOD OF THEIR PEOPLE! Poutine Rapeé.

I have to admit my first thought with the rapeé was that it was a sweet, and that the outer coating was sugar? But it’s a savoury – the outer layer is potato, and on the inside, smoked meats! It’s very much like hombow, only because it’s boiled (very traditional, you say?) it kind of has a slime layer. Which you scrape off, and then it’s actually pretty good!

Miss B and Dad, Neil

Seriously, she’s Boo incarnate. We kept waiting for her to shout KITTY!

We had a whole day, so Pauline and Neil drove us around to show us the countryside. New Brunswick is unsurprisingly also lovely countryside:

Click here for closeup

Click to enlarge

…albeit infested by GIANT LOBSTERS:

Acadian! Lobsters! Of! Unusual! Size!

She’s Et, Jim

Et too, Anna?

And then back to town and off to do a house concert! Again, small but enthusiastic; there were some last-minute cancellations due to the best weather of the last two years and impromptu camping and other outdoors excursions. But, again, enthusiastic. It’s a theme, really. At least one person took some video, hopefully I can get it from him! I need to get off my ass and ask about that… XD

Right about here I started figuring something about the differences between cultures and how much they do or do not value music.

Cascadia’s not particularly music-hostile. Some places genuinely are, and not just fundamentalist environments either. (Singapore is, from what I’m told, rather music-hostile. Just as an example.)

But it’s not a thing that people do, in general. And it’s a little weird if someone does do it; it’s a little spooky, or a little magical, and a bit discouraged, socially. Recorded music is everywhere, but performers are… not generally welcome. I’ve been treated very roughly at farmer’s markets where I’m supposed to be playing, because the farmers – as one put it, too my face – think I’m a “parasite” for not being, well, a farmer.

For not being productive, really, because what I make isn’t important. And it’s socially okay to make that very clear. I’ve had people ask what I was happy about, and when I tell them about it and it’s some music thing, they abruptly changed the subject.

That’s not the norm – in that it’s not the most common reaction – but it normal, in that it happens often enough to be unremarkable. It’s not worth noting.

Unless, of course, I’m explaining the differences between places, like I am now.

So it’s not suppressed – and classical is outright approved of – so there are instrument stores here, and some very good ones! (Dusty Strings in Fremont, Seattle; American Music in Bellevue both come to mind.) But, well, they’re niche. They’re quirky. In a positive sense, absolutely! But… quirky. Off-beat. Off-path. Certainly not something you’d find sharing a big-box store parking lot with Costco or, oh, Home Depot.


Yeah. It’s like that.

Every instrument store I went into starting with Montréal and heading east had more variety – not necessarily total stock, but overall variety – than anything I’ve ever seen before this trip. Even the small ones.

That only happens if you have economic demand. And that economic demand tells you, as clearly as can be told without being there, how far down that difference goes. Music is productive; music is something people do.

I’ll talk more about this later. Thank you again, Pauline and Neil, for having us in – and next up: St. John’s!

ps: I bought a xaphoon in Moncton. I’d never seen one before. The first noise I got out of it sounded like a moose call but it really sounds like a hybrid of oboe and sax.

Also in Moncton:

OMG DO WANT. Godin. Particularly the A5 (5-string) version. Droooooooool.

studio days

Trying to work in the studio in August was not my best idea. We lack A/C and we’re having a severe heat warning, and, well, yeah. GENIUS!

It’s more time for me to be putting together autumn shows. I just got back from a Far Away tour (next part of that on Monday, previous instalments here and here) so I’m wanting to tour more around Cascadia this time.

And in general I’m feeling pretty stalled out. I guess that’s part of post-tour letdown and not being able to work much in the studio because of the heat (and the associated resulting noise, and also dayjob crap) but it’s weighing on me.

So if anybody has any ideas or suggestions? I’m feeling adrift. Throw me a sign.

studio buildout part 2: monitors

Building out home studios has become de rigueur for musicians of all kinds of levels. This is part two on a series of doing it on the really cheap.

Last week, we talked about the room itself. That’s important, so if you missed it, start there.

But this week, let’s talk monitoring. You already know you need microphones and a sound interface and some sort of recording kit (In free software, I suggest Ardour, if you can make it past the learning curve), but hearing what you’ve recorded being played back is just as important.

Despite this, a lot of people – including me – will try to work off studio reference headphones. Don’t get me wrong, you’ll need those, particularly for listening to tracks you’ve already recorded while playing out the next track you’re adding. Shure makes a nice pair, the SRH-440s, occasionally discounted as low as $50ish.

No joke here; just decent basic headset

But you’ll also want speakers. The audio experience is simply different, and it’s different in important ways. Ideally – particularly if you can’t afford a mastering pass but want to come as close as you can – you’ll have a bunch of different kinds, from crap laptop and computer desktop speakers (critical, given how much people listen on those horrible things) up to some genuinely good pairs of different quality levels.

But this can be a many-thousands-of-dollars project! If you can’t spend any money, what do you do?

The easiest and arguably best thing to do, if you have some money, is to research and buy a good set of self-powered studio monitors. These are speakers with built-in amps, and they’ve become rather the standard. The amps can be tailored to the speakers, which can in turn be tailored to the cabinet in which it’s all mounted. It’s your plug-and-play solution. Hie thee off to a good equipment seller and have at.

But if you’re reading this, you’re probably more of a hax0r, and want to DIY it. Or you just have to, because you have no money to speak of.

Or possibly YKINMK, but that’s okay.

Okay, first, let’s start with an overall tip: the cheap but rebuildable equipment you want mostly comes from the 1970s and early 1980s. There are a couple of key reasons for this: 1. By this time, transistor audio technology had settled down, and no longer sounded like ass. 2. The state of the art was finally good enough (in transistors) that the then-goal of broad and equal frequency handling – meaning, flat audio reproduction curves – became realistically attainable, and people were still trying really hard for it.

Seriously, “reproduce all frequencies, high and low, the same amount” sounds obvious? But that was difficult. People would even print their equipment response curves on packaging.

what you want

what you don’t want

And this last bit is really important, because once reproduction technology really got under control, manufacturers started realising that they could make their systems sound better by not having flat response curves across all frequencies of sound. They’d intentionally boost attractive frequencies a bit, nudge characteristics around – all to make the system sound better.

And that’s great, unless you’re in a recording studio, where you really want that flat response curve. If you sound good on that, you’ll sound good all kinds of places. When you’re recording, you want accuracy, not help.

So. If you have virtually no money and want to do the best you can with a single pair of speakers, look for a pair of these little beauties on eBay:

hey kids, did you know radio shack used to make radios?

These are the Realistic Minimus 7, introduced in 1978. These particular speakers look like they’re from the 80s; the originals had wood cases, not metal. You’ll also see white metal cases, instead of black, and they tend to be cheaper for no functional reason.

And they are the best audio devices Radio Shack ever made. Seriously, when introduced, they showed them off in stores by discreetly placing them atop a pair of massive fuckoff four-way monster speakers on one of their best kits, blasting, with a sign saying ALL THE SOUND COMES FROM THESE —> pointing at the tiny speakers.

This isn’t to say they’re perfect. Far from it. Sound response drops way off after 70-90 hz and there’s nothing to speak of under 50. But in new condition, they are probably the most precise speakers you will ever hear for under $500.

So get a pair of these. You’ll spend $20 if you look around enough.

But there’s a catch, of course. Notice I said in new condition above. These won’t be.

just walk away

The original crossover design in the Minimus 7 is ultra-minimalist (hence the name), which is part of the brilliance of their design. It also used something called a nonpolarised electrolytic capacitor as part of the sound circuit. These components age, and age badly.

So once you have your Minimus 7s, start googling around for “minimus 7 crossover upgrade kit.” One kind will be a direct replacement of the capacitor with a new film capacitor pair; these sound awesome, are really cheap, and leave the speaker with its original response curve. But it won’t be completely flat. Another will be a more complex and expensive kit, which will include a coil; it’s usually called something like a Zobel Network Crossover. That will get you your flattest curve.

And you get to make a decision here which way you want to go. Either way has its advantages, and the decision’s up to you.

If you have a little more money, do the direct-replacement upgrade on the 7s, and then also look for a pair of Minimus 11 or Optimus PRO-x77 speakers. The 11 was a larger version of the 7; it has a bit better bass range. The 77x was an attempt to merge the two product lines; it was not very successful, but can be salvaged.

takes some work, tho’

You can find both of these, too, for around $20, but be careful with the x77; the foam on the woofers can degrade over time. (Which is what that picture above was about.) The 11 didn’t have this problem.

For either the 11 or the x77, however, get Zobel-type crossover replacement kit. Both of these have better low end response than the 7 series, so you’ll get a wider area of flat response curve. A completely upgraded PRO-x77 (with the degrading foam replaced, in particular) or 11 make lovely, lovely studio monitors.

Then grab a pair of cheap computer speakers from RePC or free from Craigslist. It doesn’t matter what you get, as long as they work as originally designed. You won’t mix for or on these, but you’ll test against them occasionally to make sure what you’re doing can still be heard.

yes, yes, too easy

As is probably unsurprising, I have a setup kind of like this. I have a pair of AFCOs rather than Minimus 7 speakers, but they’re similar devices, and have been similarly modded. I have a pair of Optimus PRO-x77s that needed new woofers but now have nicely flat response curves; they’re becoming workhorses.

I also have a pair of Bose 301 that I mostly use for checking out bass, because even modded, the x77s aren’t awesome on the low end. (But the Bose are not good monitor speakers overall – they “help” – so I don’t rely on them.) And finally, I have a pair of junk powered computer speakers that I fixed and modded to interface with my studio monitor amp while still using their built-in amplifier.

I got the AFCOs for free; no, wait, it was better than that. I found them, abandoned, outdoors, in Seattle’s U. District. The mod kits were $12, and now they’re two of my favourite listening speakers. The computer speakers, I’ve had since my Amiga. The x77s – I don’t even know. I’ve had them sitting around in a box as spare/junk speakers for just forever, not even realising that with a few mods and a few hours work, they’d suddenly turn awesome.

So now I have a four-sound-profile mini-mastering setup, all for on the order of $150 out of pocket, including speaker wire. Is it BEST SETUP EVAR?! Hell no. But it’s genuinely pretty good, gives me a variety of listening models, and I sure wish I’d had it while recording Dick Tracy Must Die. You’ll hear the difference that a better setup can bring on Din of Thieves.

Next time: if you didn’t go with self-powered speakers, you’ll need a monitor amp! As always, I have some suggestions. Ja ne!

This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, on building out a home recording studio.

montréal et joliette

So we got on a train from Toronto and went to Montréal! I hate airplane travel but love train travel, and this was quite a bit like the Cascadian rail that I take from Seattle to Vancouver all the time, with two minor differences: 1. the foot was much better, but 2. no lounge or separate dining car, which means I was essentially just in a seat for those hours.

For most people, they’d take the better food – and it was fabulous – but I’d rather have the ability to get up and walk to another car. I hate sitting that long.

Taking pictures from the train didn’t work very well because the sunlight was on the wrong side. But we saw this:

hi lake!

And this:

seems familiar

Which reminded me of this:

oooooh rite

And then once we got there we saw this:


…and I went Hel-LO, Montréal! And then we went to dinner with Vicka and Pywaket! And I determined that in fact, rabbit is super tasty, as was the gelato and chocolate at Suite 88 up on the Plateau, which is where we spent most of our time.

Montreal looks a lot like this!

And also has this, which is where Anna and I would buy all the things if we lived there:

home of the bass ukelele, which I desperately want

Next day was up early for Festival Mémoire et Racines in Joliette! And Em picked us up from Hotel Lord Berri and took us to her favourite Quebec poutine-and-steamed-bun-hot-dog place on the way. I realised I’d forgot my phone so most of this are sadly just off my phone. But!

Anna was particularly happy to see these guys:

Les Charbonniers de l’enfer

…because they never travel all the way out to Cascadia! So she got to see them live. In a tent! And sang along like this:

i did not understand the lyrics

The big OMG SQUEE for me was that some of the musicians were having little pickup sessions, and they’d get together and play at this one building outside the green room, and other people could sit in on this ring of tables around them if you wanted, and play along. So of course I did that, briefly playing with the new spoons I’d just bought:

Picture courtesy Em F

…and then with my zouk, which I had of course brought up from Montréal.

And that went over so well that I got called up to the main circle to play.


Honestly, it was one of those, “…me?” and “is this really happening?” moments, because this is one of those bullshit daydream fantasy events that doesn’t ever actually happen in real life, except hi, it was happening right then.

It was epic. I played along for a while and eventually introduced a set that featured my Mystery Tune and got a round of applause from the core group over that. They liked both the tune and the whole set! But didn’t know it either – until now, anyway. 😀

Anyway, once that broke up, we went over to the crafts area and bought dinner and I had a kind of hilarious language fail moment. Apparently there’s a thing in bilingual people where your main language is Language A and the second language you speak is Language B and All Other Languages become Language B.

So if you walk up to a vendor you discover is Francophone-only but you didn’t know they were Francophone-only you might just panic and spew, “chotto matte gozaimasu, atashino tomodachi furansugo hanashima ANNA-CHAN!”

And then they ask if you have any English and you go O.O and “…I have some English” and you ignore the question about your native language like you don’t understand it and run away.

so embarrassing XD

The evening concerts were great! I wish I’d had my proper camera; the iPhone doesn’t do well in low and evening light. But this is what Bernard Simard et compagnie looked like:

only, you know, larger

And this is what … I think these are still they, anyway, I’ll edit this when I’m sure… Belzebuth sounded like, recorded on an iPhone!

you can hear Anna in this next to me 😀

And that’s a whole lot of photos! Next: MOAR TRAINS! Only with better photographs, and a surprise concert ON A TRAIN, and Moncton!

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