Wow! 2019 went by like a blur and now a new decade is upon us! This does mark quite an important chapter in Rarefied’s existence because it was in 2010 that I began talking with Wes Lachot about designing a studio for the property I had just acquired.
Speaking of acquired… the end of the year always brings about some “capital expenditures”. 2019 was another solid year for the studio so I was able to make some exciting purchases. I also received a few generous gifts from family members for the holidays. So here’s what’s new at the studio:
First up is the API 2500 Bus Compressor. This is definitely one of the classic stereo compressors at this point. It’s characterized by the usual API in your face sound. This is another great option at Rarefied to make drums jump out of a mix. Some people even use it on the whole mix. We’ll see where I end up liking it most. It has a lot of great options including variable knee (affects the way the compressor goes into compression), several side chain options to focus the compression on different frequencies, two feedback styles (old = feedback, new = feedforward), and even some different ways to link the channels. It also has either manual or automatic make up gain. All in all it’s quite a beast!
Next up is an Eventide DDL-500. I had to take out the Harrison 32 eq to make room for this, but that unit was on loan anyhow and wasn’t getting used much. The DDL is going to be great as a pre-delay for the Plate Reverb as well as generally another option for outboard delay at the studio. It differs from all my other outboard delays in that it’s actually digital. This does afford setting very precise delays either in seconds or BPM, which is always handy. However, it does have an analog saturation circuit inside to keep some analog mojo to the unit. It also supports tap tempo input, infinite repeat, inversion of the delayed signals’ polarity, a low pass filter option, an insert point for adding effects to the delay line, and an input that allows you to control various functions including acting as an LFO input to change the delay time (for cool comb filter and flanging effects).
Highland Dynamics + delta 4-7
Highland Dynamics is the maker of the BG-2 compressor which has become an absolute favorite around here for it’s tone shaping and ultra smooth compression. When Bryce Gonzales of Highland Dynamics said he was doing a small run of the best stereo tube preamp he could design, I was intrigued. A stereo tube pre was on my radar because I only have a bunch of mono tube pre’s. Given how much I loved the BG-2 it seemed like a fair bet to spring for one of only 20 of these boutique tube pre’s. Due to its exclusive nature, Bryce considers these units to be part of his Highland Dynamics “+” line. The plus sign indicating extra special.
The design is based off of an old classic, the REDD 47. This was a tube preamp design used many moons ago at EMI/Abbey Road studios. Lots of classic British records were done with a preamp of this type. But Bryce selected some very particular components to be part of this build; components he carefully selected by ear for maximum sonic goodness. He told me that he simply could not get these parts in enough quantity to make this part of his standard product line, so that’s why he has only committed to making 20 of them. I feel very lucky to be #8!
Just like the BG, the sound is very smooth and breaks up in extremely pleasing ways. One of my favorite experiences so far with the preamp was on a pair of large diaphragm compressors used as drum overheads (AT4050’s). The drums came through in a glorious way and the cymbals exploded with so much energy that it really made my hairs stand on end. I look forward to trying this beast on more and more sources.
Of the famous tube mics of yesteryear, there is one that for whatever reason has become so coveted that vintage units are selling for $30,000 or more. That mic is the Telefunken ELA M 251 and while I won’t hesitate to buy a vintage mic (like my Neumann U47 and U67), $30,000 is a bit ridiculous! So I started looking at the clone market for the 251 and the Upton 251 ended up coming to the forefront for me. While not cheap, it’s certainly not the most expensive option out there. However, in discussing the 3 top contenders with my sales rep at Vintage King he said that the Upton had been winning every in-store shootout they’d done. And he was not incentivized to tell me this because the other two options were more expensive. So I went with the Upton and so far so good. I did a quick shootout with it and the U67 recently on a male vocal and it certainly was holding its own against the vintage U67. I’ve had a bit of a cold so my ears are not at their best, so I will have to re-evaluate this later, but the main thing I noticed was that the 251 had a nice control to its low end. It was a bit more natural, while the U67 was getting a bit muddy or exaggerated. Not a bad thing always, but I can see why the 251 might be so coveted. More tests are needed. However, I can say that the build quality on the Upton is superb and it comes in a Pelican case which is super hefty. It did not come with a shock mount, but I sourced one from Peluso Microphones and modified the Pelican foam to store it with the rest of the mic’s componentry.
AKG 414 EB (pair)
I realized that I only had one pair of large diaphragm condensers (the Audio Technica AT4050’s). I have some other LDC’s, but that was the only pair that I had and sometimes a pair of LDC’s is really what you want. So I gave it some thought and decided that a pair of vintage AKG 414’s would be the best option. The 414’s are famous and one of the most popular mics to find at studios or even in people’s personal collections for their home studios. They’ve gone through many iterations over the years and the version sold today is, of course, not made the same way as the original. And as such things go, somehow they apparently got it right the first time and just managed to mess it up more and more as time went on.
Anyhow, these original variants (the EB’s) are distinctive in their silver color and angular bodies. They also have one very important thing, a capsule identical with another incredible mic, the AKG C12. The C12 is another of the famous tube mics of yesteryear, currently demanding prices around $16,000. So the original 414 started with the wonderful design of the C12 capsule and the capsule really is where the business happens in a microphone. At some point, however, AKG essentially cost-reduced the capsule and replaced a difficult to make brass ring that surround the diaphragm with a teflon version. But in so doing, many have found the mic lost something in the process even though AKG didn’t even bother to change the name of the mic when they originally did this. So certain EB’s have the brass ring and others do not. The ones I bought do, thankfully. I heard them today as drum overheads and they definitely sounded great. The engineer saw no reason to eq them. I think this pair of LDC’s is going to be seeing a lot of use around here.
p.s. I did some digging on the “DANEY” etched into the mics and I think they belonged to a guy named Gil Daney from Alaska. Vintage King went through these mics for me before I bought them, but it seems he kept them in good shape besides carving his name into them so boldly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve engraved most of my mics too. But, for anything of significant value I definitely chose to be more discreet about where I did the etching!
beyerdynamic M 201 TG
An engineer friend of mine, Bryan Stamps, told me recently how excited he was about the snare sounds he was getting with the beyerdynamic M 201. It’s rare that anyone finds something they like more than a good old Shure SM57, so I took note and asked for one from my in-laws. I have yet to try it, but since posting about it on Instagram I had many comments from others that it really is something special on snare. It certainly looks well made, which is good if it’s going to be near a drummer’s stick!
One thing I’ve discovered over the years is the incredible character of old Electrovoice mics. The company still makes fantastic products (like the RE-20), but there was a design and sonic aesthetic of their old mics that was very unique. So I ended up receiving this mic as a gift and I expect to find some quirky use for it as I always do. It’s a shotgun mic, meaning, it picks up very directionally and from a good distance. That’s something unusual right there. But as you can see from the picture the design is far out. It looks like some kind of ray gun from a 1950’s sci-fi movie. I shall have to report back on how it sounds, but several people on Instagram got excited when I shared this. One guy said it was used to as a room mic (presumably) on a Foo Fighters record wherein it was pointed at a metal garage door. To be verified, but anyhow, pretty cool idea!
There are a few other new things in the studio now, such as the Soyuz Launcher (colored mic booster) and the Undertone Audio (UTA) Vari-cap guitar cable (cable with variable capacitance for tone control), but as this post has gotten long-winded enough I will leave it at that and just say thank you to everyone that has come to Rarefied as a musician, engineer, or producer. It’s not really about the gear, but I do enjoy seeing these tools put to good use for the what it’s really all about: the art of music. So here’s to a new decade of recording, mixing, mastering, and general muckery with audio. May we never lose sight of the art.