Day: May 29, 2018

Even magic bullets have off days.

Without knowing I was doing it, I reminded Ron of a song he meant to record that kind of got lost in the shuffle, and he decided it would make a perfect closing track.

Last week he came over so we could get down the bed tracks. Recording the guitar was quick and easy, as usual. Recording the lead vocal was another story.

I’ve talked before about how my Pearlman TM-1 has become a magic bullet when it comes to tracking vocals. At this point there must be somewhere near twenty different singers I’ve put in front of it, with vocal ranges and timbres that are all over the map, and it’s never once been the wrong choice. Even when I’ve auditioned a different mic for fun, I always come back to the TM-1. It’s the mic I’ve used to record Ron’s voice and all the vocal harmonies I’ve added from day one.

This night, for the first time, it didn’t work.

The song we were recording might feature the most dynamic vocal performance of any song Ron’s written. He starts out right at the bottom of his vocal range, just above a whisper, and then in a matter of seconds he’s belting it out with a lot of force at the very top of his range.

I’ve never had any trouble smoothing out this sort of thing before. Usually mic placement and a bit of compression will do the trick. This time the difference in volume between the quiet parts and the loud parts was astronomical, and there was no way to get the two to coexist in a way that sounded natural. I tried putting the mic in omni to cancel out the proximity effect. That helped a little, but not enough.

At times like these I’m glad I invested in so many different microphones over the years, whether I needed them at the time or not.

My first thought was to try switching to a dynamic mic. Maybe the relative lack of sensitivity there would have a narrowing effect. The SM7B that decided to be a dickface when Jess was here was in a kinder mood this time around and worked without any issues. The volume discrepancy wasn’t as bad, but way too much of the detail in Ron’s voice was getting lost.

When that didn’t cut it, I figured the Pearlman TM-250 I’ve come to love on violin, cello, and certain acoustic guitar tracks was worth a shot. I don’t know what’s going on in this mic’s guts, but somehow it smoothed things out to the point that the fader-riding I was expecting to have to do even in a best-case scenario was no longer necessary. It was nuts. A little kiss of compression and it sounded just right. The dynamics were still there, but now they lived in a comfortable, sane range.

It’s fun having to problem-solve like this on the fly sometimes. Almost makes me feel like I’ll be a real recording engineer someday, Pinocchio-style.

Oh yeah — at long last, I found someone selling a pair of Sennheiser HD 265 headphones on eBay for a not-stupid price. Score! This is an expense I can justify, because these are my utility headphones. Used pairs in any sort of decent condition are almost impossible to come by now that they’ve been discontinued for so long, and if anything ever happened to my grizzled old pair, I’d be in a bit of a bind. I feel better having a backup pair around.

They’re in near-mint condition. There are only one or two little scuffs. Next to the pair I’ve been using for pretty much everything for twenty years now, they almost look like a different species.

That’s just messed up.

The physical degradation of my long-suffering pair of HD 265s has been such a gradual process, I didn’t notice the sound was changing along with the appearance. As the headband has lost most of its shape and the faux-leather ear pads have exploded, allowing the cloth and foam inside to escape, it’s turned these cans into something closer to a closed/open hybrid. The ear pads, or what’s left of them, sit on the ear more than they wrap around it. All of these factors have combined to create — for me, at least — the ideal headphones.

No wonder I didn’t understand why most of the old reviews I read online had people complaining about how bass-heavy these headphones were. The ones I’ve been using scarcely sound like themselves anymore. They’re much more open and balanced, with a great, deep soundstage.

Who knew something could evolve into a better version of itself while falling apart?

Putting on a pair that might as well have come straight out of the box was a strange experience. I’d forgotten how well these things isolate sound with a headband that hasn’t lost most of its grab. And holy hell, there is a lot of bass when the ear pads cup your ears the way they’re supposed to. Too much for my taste.

It’s going to take a while to break these guys in, but I’m confident someday they can look as dilapidated and sound as good as their brethren.