New Studio Alert: Room 17 in Bushwick, Brooklyn

April 24, 2013 by  

When Adam Lasus decided to partner up with Joe Rogers and Scott Porter at the new Room 17 in Brooklyn, it was something of a homecoming. Until high rents and new opportunities convinced him and his wife to move to LA in 2006, Lasus had run his Fireproof Recording Studio Ghostbusters-style, out of a converted 19th century firehouse in Red Hook. Between that space and an even earlier studio in Philly, Lasus had worked with a long line of indie rock artists like Helium, Yo La Tengo, Ben Harper, Dawn Landes, Matt Keating, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.

Although his own personal studio and Neotek Elan console still live on the West Coast, Lasus seems thrilled to be commuting back east, sometimes staying for a week or more in order to work on projects in this new room. When we met, he was in town to record a new solo album for a songwriter named Aaron Lee Tasjan. “In L.A. there are maybe 20, 30 really awesome indie bands doing great things,” Lasus says. “Here in Brooklyn there are that many on this block.”

Lasus is a youthful-seeming 44. He’s ginger-haired and gregarious, with a charming, almost boyish sense of enthusiasm for both his tools and for the people he records with. One of those people is Joe Rogers, a young label-owner, songwriter, and a former client who now runs day-to-day operations at Room 17 and engineers the bulk of the sessions. Rogers started putting out records over 10 years ago, working out of a makeshift studio in the Bronx, and has recorded with artists like The Shivers and Kelli Scarr.

The control room at Room 17 Recording

The Room 17 control room

The two of them sit together for an extended interview in a cavernous yet surprisingly well-controlled mix room, and occasionally finish each other’s thoughts and sentences. They share some central ideas: That trust and camaraderie are the most important aspects of the client/engineer relationship; That digital is fine but tape is more fun; And that smashing mic signals through cheap old transistor stereos is a badass thing to do.

Unable to make this meeting is a third partner, the musician and investor Scott Porter. Like Rogers, he’s a close friend and former client of Lasus’, who has made the transition from performer to producer/engineer in his own right.

When I stop by, he’s off tending to his other businesses – a pair of nearby Bushwick venues called “The Wick” and “The Well.”

Room 17 sits on a revitalizing Bushwick block, part of a once-industrial strip close to the border of East Williamsburg. The studio is located just down the street from local “DIY” venue The House of Yes, and not far from 3rd Ward, Shea Stadium, The Sweatshop, and essentially, the whole burgeoning Bushwick art and music scene.

As I walk toward their building, I pass an old minibus, parked about dozen yards from their door. It’s spray-painted in technicolor graffiti and stuffed full of the Brooklyn equivalent of hippies (presumably psych-folk fans) brandishing iPhones and acoustic guitars. They’re perhaps indicative of this new Bushwick, although by no means emblematic of it.

As austere and industrial as the area might seem to the outside eye, the three studio partners still had a hell of a time finding a 10 year lease here (perhaps one of the only arrangements that really makes sense for a fairly high-cost, low-profit business like an affordable music studio.) New York landlords know the deal: Once the artists start moving in, residential rents start going up, and soon after, commercial rents will follow. In real life, just as in the online world, art and culture are perhaps among the biggest drivers of perceived value and economic growth. (If only more artists knew how to capitalize on that).

The inside of the studio mirrors the area itself. It’s a large warehouse space that blends thrifty professionalism with a sensible minimalist build. Rather than re-imagining the concrete raw space, the studio instead re-purposes it, keeping much of the site’s lofty, wide-open appeal intact.

The live room

Room 17 live room

Each of the rooms is huge, and somewhat spare, with stone floors and a few strategically placed carpets. But they are also unexpectedly well-balanced. There’s barely a parallel wall in the whole place, and the 14-foot-high ceilings are stuffed full of 6-12 inches of insulation, practically eliminating the need for additional trapping. Otherwise all that’s there is cement, glass and drywall, allowing the space to retain some subtle reflections that make the room sound airy and alive.

The main tracking space is enormous on its own, and it connects to two ample iso booths that are larger than some other studios’ live rooms. Even the control room by itself is bigger than many Brooklyn apartments. All these spaces are linked by immense glass doors, and downstairs there’s a makeshift echo chamber that sometimes doubles as an additional live room. Put together, it’s well over 3,000 square feet of recording space.

Trident 80 Series console

Trident 80 Series console

Gear at Room 17 is as distinctive as the space. The console is a rare Trident – an early 80 series refurbed with a newly upgraded master section. The main recorder is an equally unusual 2” Otari, once property of Manhattan’s legendary Unique Recording Studios, and it comes equipped with both the 24- and 16-track headstacks.

Naturally, there’s also a Pro Tools HD rig, and an island of rack gear is stuffed with some interesting and esoteric pieces from Valley People, Manley, ADR, TapCo, Focusrite, MXR, Allison Research and Symetrix. The mic locker is full of vibey old dynamics and some great-sounding, cost-effective mics from Peluso, Gefell, AKG, Oktava, Michael Joly Engineering and Mojave.

The idea here is to keep things affordable while offering a larger, less intimidating space that bands might otherwise find in a similar price bracket. To Lasus, one of the few challenges is helping the kinds of bands he loves working with understand that they can afford to work with him:

“A lot of bands will see something like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on my discography and just assume we’re going to be too expensive,” he says when the subject of rates comes up. But what they tend to forget is that when Lasus recorded them, CYHSY were just like so many other Brooklyn bands: unknown and inexperienced weekend warriors, uncertain about just what to expect from some of their first real studio dates.

Lasus recalls giving their drummer Sean Greenhalgh a beer early on in their first session. They had been nervous about playing earlier in the day than usual, and that move seemed to set him at ease.

It was a way of communicating something Lasus tries to make clear in every session, one way or the other: Getting great recordings isn’t about judging the artists. It’s about understanding them. It’s about making them feel relaxed and capturing them in their most natural and un-reflexive state.

If there’s some deeper purpose to all Lasus’ high-spirited chatter and convivial energy, it’s probably that.

The live room with views into two iso booths and control room

The live room with views into two iso booths and control room

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer, college professor, and journalist. He records and mixes all over NYC, masters at JLM, teaches at CUNY, is a regular contributor to SonicScoop, and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

Project Studio Toolbox: The Best Mid-Priced Condensers for $500-$1500

March 22, 2012 by  

Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.

Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.

Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.

With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:

The Workhorse LDCs

Audio-Technica
AT4050 ($700 street)

Audio-Technica AT4050

As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.

This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.

It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.

AT4047 ($700 street)

Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.

The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.

AKG
C-414 ($800-$950 street)

There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.

C-414 XLS

For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.

I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.

To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.

However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.

M-Audio
Sputnik ($700-800 street)

M-Audio Sputnik

The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.

This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.

The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.

The SDCs

AKG
C 451 B ($580 Street)

For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.

Oktava
MK-012 ($380+ street)

Oktava MK-012

The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.

To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.

Neumann
KM-184 ($850 street)

Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.

Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.

Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.

Also worth a look: the beyerdynamic MC 901 and 903, Earthworks mics, and anything from Schoeps.

The “Blue Collar Boutiques”

Bock 195

Bock Audio
195 ($1,000 street)

The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.

Mojave
MA-200 ($1000 street)

Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.

The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.

Peluso
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)

Peluso 22 251

Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.

That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.

In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn recording engineer and studio journalist. He is a regular contributor to SonicScoop and edits the music blog Trust Me, I’m A Scientist.

Studio Sweet Spot: EastSide Sound

April 19, 2011 by  

Facility Name: EastSide Sound

Website: www.eastsidesound.com

Location: Lower East Side of New York, since 1972!

Neighborhood Advantages: The LES is the heart of live music; there are musicians everywhere, rehearsal spaces, venues etc so musicians are very familiar with the area and feel right at home… no uptown traffic hell and office scene…plus EastSide Sound is in on the ground floor and right in front of a park so you can avoid elevator gear load ins and you can go take a break surrounded by greenery, shoot some hoops, throw a football or kick a soccer ball in the nearby courts.

Date of Birth: We’ve been in business since 1972 when Lou Holtzman opened the original EastSide Sound on Allen St. In 2001 Lou Holtzman partnered up with Fran Cathcart and we moved to Forsyth St, just a few blocks away.

Facility Focus: We are primarily a tracking and mixing facility although we occasionally do mastering sessions and we do have a production suite often used as a writing room. We are also set up for audio post and to sync audio to video for film/TV work.

Panoramic EastSide Sound live room

Mission Statement: EastSide Sound believes that your music and your vision come first and we are committed to working hard until you are satisfied with the results. Many Gold, Platinum and Grammy award winning records have come out of EastSide Sound which shows how many artists have made EastSide Sound their home.

Clients/Credits: Gold and Platinum records, 5 Grammy Awards; clients include Les Paul, Lou Reed, John Zorn, Santana, Sting, Joss Stone, Eric Clapton, Pat Metheny, Jeff Beck, Laurie Anderson, Luther Vandross, Sevendust, Mariah Carey, Cindy Lauper, John Leguizamo, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Joe Perry, Goo Goo Dolls, Edgar Winter, Chico Freeman, Peter Frampton, Beyonce, Herbie Hancock, Toni Braxton, Hanson, MeShell Ndegeocello, Joe Claussel, Steve Torre, Robin Eubanks, Isaac Mizrahi, Randy Brecker, Frank London, Violent Femmes, Twisted Sister, Gravity Kills, System of a Down, Leela James, Lila Downs, Estelle, MTV, VH1, HBO, BBC, Comedy Central, Target, Grupo Latin Vibe and many, many more.

Key Personnel: Lou Holtzman (owner/engineer/the oracle), Grammy-winning Fran Cathcart (owner/producer/engineer), Grammy-winning Marc Urselli (producer/chief engineer/studio manager), Eric Elterman (producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist)

System Highlights: EastSide Sound is the perfect hybrid between analog and digital. We believe in and offer the best of both worlds. We have a fantastic Harrison Series Ten B board, a warm and punchy sounding 96 channel true analog board with total digital recall and full automation (no converters, the sound stays analog but you can automate anything and everything: faders, EQs, sends, inserts etc). The Harrison is complemented by a 64 output Pro Tools HD system and by a vast amount of analog outboard gear (LA2, LA3, LA4, 1176, Altec’s etc) and pre-amps (API, Neve, Trident, Ampex, Universal Audio, TF Pro, Summit, Altec’s etc).

EastSide Sound control room: Click for full equipment list.

Is this a trick question? Of course I will risk my life throwing water, milk, coffee and juices at the fire to save everything! …but if in the fire I were to spot a wild dragon running at me I guess I’ll grab the hard drives with all the sessions and get the hell out!

Rave Reviews: When people keep coming back, record after record, it must mean something, right? John Zorn has made hundreds of records and the last 30 or so were done at EastSide Sound. He also said that his records have never sounded so good, and others have said the same thing.

Everyone that comes by EastSide Sound always comments on what a cozy and relaxed vibe there is and everyone that records at EastSide comes back for more. They love the ability to choose between recording in the same space or being isolated in different booths so that they can later edit all the tracks without leakage. They love the ability to have total recall to instantly continue working on something unfinished a month later, with no downtime. They also love our professional, award-winning, cool and down to earth staff. And last but not least they LOVE the sound we get!

Most Memorable Session Ever: Too many… but one I recall is when Les Paul was over for some tracking and we were about to order in some pizza and he said something like “1947, Corona NY, First Pizza: I was there!”

Session You’d Like to Forget: The no-shows, the guys that think they own the world and arrive 4 hours late, the singers who can’t sing for the life of them but think that Autotune and capable audio engineers are an excuse for them to attempt a career in music anyway!

Dream Session (if you could host ANY session with any client, living or dead, what would it be?): Some of my personal favorite sessions are the ones with John Zorn, an incredible composer, genius and fantastic personality. Every session is always populated with incredible musicians.

Living or Dead? Would love to have worked with Hendrix, The Beatles and a… how about a Led Zeppelin reunion? But I guess we can’t complain considering many of the other giants have worked here (Les Paul, Eric Clapton, Sting, Lou Reed and many others). – Marc Urselli

Visit www.eastsidesound.com for more information and to get in touch!

Re-Tooling In The New Year: Gear Mods & DIY Electronics

January 13, 2011 by  

As we get further into the new year, savvy studio owners clear out closets, take stock of what tools have been collecting dust, and decide what to repair, what to jettison, and what to sell to help soften their tax burden. Today we explore a fourth option: Gear Mods.

Designing sustainable hit products for a broad market requires that manufacturers look for places where they can shave costs: A savings of five cents on resistors here, a few dollars in loosened quality control there, and developers can strike a useful balance between cost, performance, and sustainable profits. By their nature, economies of scale require compromises- compromises that the re-designers we visited refuse to make.

The first stop on our tour of the re-tools brought us to OktavaMod‘s Michael Joly. Joly is a personable and responsive tech who has made a name for himself by designing upgrades for the most popular offerings from Rode, Blue, Apex, and of course Oktava.

The OktavaMod - Joly's mod of the Oktava MK-219

It’s been years since Joly began toying with one of the first affordable large-diaphragm condenser microphones available in the U.S., the Oktava MK-219. Although this Russian-made mic featured sturdy build quality and respectable sound, Joly wondered what corners he could paste back on the microphone to help it better stand up to the venerable U87, whose role it hoped to fill at a fraction of the price.

“I spent a lot of time studying the mic, just holding it, looking it over and asking questions,” says Joly. One of the first things he did was cut off the front grill slats and convert the thick protective mesh to a single resilient layer. “That change alone makes the open area larger and reduces the internal coloration of the head-basket. Right away you have a mic that’s much more clear and accurate. The transient response instantly improves.”

Although a dozen or more of these small changes go into this or any of his mods, Joly is a results-focused engineer who’d rather serve the entree than lecture about the recipe: “I’ve found my clients want to know about the results” he says, “not the resistors.”

To that end, Joly strives toward a personal sonic benchmark that he developed through years of work at dbx and Earthworks. “I want to take some of the question marks out of upgrading a microphone. I’m not into offering a Chinese-menu full of different options, or asking my clients to jump through hoops to figure out what they want. I develop a sound that resonates with me and then offer it up.”

The positive response to these mods encouraged Joly to keep pursuing his singular sonic vision. He explains that he’s after a tone with body, one that owes its heritage to the classic Neumann designs:

OktavaMod's NT1A

“I appreciate what the [AKG] C12 does, but that’s not my sound. I think of The Beatles recording around a U48, and to me, that’s the sound of pop music.” The OktavaMod sound, he says, is “slightly mid-forward, with a useable proximity effect, and a flat, sibilance free-top end.”

This flavor suits Joly’s customers, who “have turned away from overly bright microphones” and ship their affordable workhorses to Cape Cod, MA to be tamed of resonant peaks and errant top-end.

Joly continues to rethink popular microphone designs each year in hopes of giving them an edge: “I launched the Rode NT1 mod last January, and it’s the fastest selling mod I’ve ever done. It’s popularity is already approaching the Oktava 012 and 219 mods in magnitude, and they’ve been on the market for over 5 years!”

When asked about the popularity of this new mod, he comments: “There’s a lot of nt1s out there. It’s an affordable mic with a good reputation, but the more people use it the more they say: ‘I like the mic, but I’m having trouble with sibilance. Can you do something about that?’”

Joly’s mods start as low as $99.00 for a critically-acclaimed upgrade to the Oktava MK-012. Joly’s newly-proven Rode NT-1 modification, which adds a custom-designed capsule and head-basket while retaining Rode’s super-quiet electronics, runs $379.00.

Black Lion Audio: Suped-Up Interfaces & More

Our next call took us to the workshop of Matt Newport, who spearheads the Chicago-based team Black Lion Audio. Although they’re quickly growing a reputation for their original designs, Black Lion is still best-known for their popular mods of the Digidesign 002 and 003. Like OktavaMod, Newport’s company grew on a reputation for customer service, surprising sound quality, and accolades on internet forums.

The Black Lion Digi 002R mod

The Black Lion story begins with an Alesis 3630 and a dare: “I loved recording music and was working on a project with a friend. We didn’t have a big budget or a lot of gear,” says Newport. Noticing a talent for circuits, Newport’s friend challenged him to try a mod of his Alesis 3630: “There’s no way you can make this thing sound better.”

With affection, Newport states that the 3630 was “designed to give you the most noise and hiss and pumping possible.” So he swapped out the VCA as well as the input and output transformers, and began performing these in-depth mods himself, and selling DIY kits. “When [the mod] came out, I was met with skepticism, which was frustrating at first. But then the word got out: ‘Hey, this thing actually sounds good’”.

The first 002 mod was born out of a customer request: “I started with the MOTU interfaces, because that’s what we were using for a recording project. Once I offered those, people just started asking for a mod on the 002. I figured I’d give it a shot, and the next thing we knew, we could barely keep up!”

The Black Lion 192 mod

Since then, these hard-working Chicagoans have grown to a team of twelve that knocks out proven upgrades on Digi 002s, 003s, and 192s on a tight schedule. These suped-up boxes see action on sessions with artists as varied as Alison Kraus, MGMT, Beyonce, and Slayer.

In addition to improving the analog front-end, Black Lion technicians alter the rate of the internal clocks to “provide fat midrange with deep, extended bottom-end”.

Successes here have inspired the Black Lion team to fill a niche by designing their own high-quality, low-cost preamps and clocks from scratch.

Matt Newport breathes diodes, dreams circuits, and will happily talk design theory for long stretches. However, the black Lion ethos itself is simple: “We try to work hard to offer the best quality sound for the least dollars.”

Black Lion Audio's Auteur Preamp

This simple approach has its own challenges: “because of our human perceptions, companies tend to do better when they price products higher than they need to. It’s a weird aspect of human psychology: When offered something that performs the same for less money, a few people will say “great I’ll take it!”. The rest think ‘Nah, I want to spend more and get the prestige piece.’ That’s why the thing that has moved our products best has always been word-of-mouth.

“Thankfully, people tell their friends, and swear up and down that the products sound amazing, even though they don’t cost as much as some of the biggest names.”

A new mod to a 002R or 003R essentially doubles the cost of the interface. Regardless, Black Lion’s customers believe in the upgrades enough that they’re willing to wait on line for the privilege.

Samar Audio & Microphone Design and The Wider World of Mods

For classically-trained concert pianist and audio designer Dr. Mark Fouxman, each new microphone is an adventure and an individual work of art. His journey in audio began decades ago in Soviet Siberia where, faced with a shortage of recording equipment, he learned to build his own.

Fouxman’s ($149) mod of the AKG C1000 re-seats the capsule closer to the grill and adds a less reflective wire mesh, to complement his electronic upgrades.

Fouxman learns from the classics and strives to make microphones perform as a cohesive whole: “The best microphones are very well-organized systems. The capsule design influences the electronics, which ask for its own choice of output transformer,” he says in a deep Russian accent. “But many mics today are designed very cut-and-paste. It’s like taking a pair of eyes from Jennifer, a nose from David, the mouth from Susan, and try to arrange them into a beautiful face.”

Like Joly, Fouxman has discovered first-hand how much impact the acoustic design of the head-basket can have on the performance. For instance, Fouxman ’s mod of the ubiquitous AKG C1000, re-seats the capsule closer to the grill and adds a less reflective wire mesh, to complement his electronic upgrades. Fouxman says his customers feel these changes turn a “forgotten doorstop” into the reliable, all-purpose tool its manufacturers intended.

In addition to condenser mods, Fouxman has a passion for the classic ribbon microphones. He is able to rebuild or re-voice, making new corrugations, and replacing weakened magnets with custom-machined Neodymium, which he believes “preserve the original sound while boosting output.”

Experience here has led Fouxman to create his own line of custom transformers and ribbon designs, which he offers through Samar Audio & Microphone Design.

The work of techs like these keep us in touch with roots of recording technology. Whether in the laboratories of German engineers, or the workshops of the great American recording studios, the most important tools we use each day were developed in small teams and perfected by passionate individuals with clear sonic goals.

Like many independent re-designers, these three techs cultivate the sort of renegade prestige that continues to drive interest in high-caliber mods and DIY electronics. Some of the other prominent names in the world of gear mods include Scott Dorsey (of the “Dorsey Mod” and others), Dave Royer (who offered redesigns of Chinese tube mics before launching Mojave Audio), Steve Sank (famous pioneering mods that turn the beyer m160 into a near-clone of an RCA 77DX), Klaus Heyne & Bill Bradley (who rebuild classic Neumanns and retools new ones), Jim Jacobsen (who sells a line of custom retools through jjaudiomic.com), Jim Williams (a long-time uncompromising tech at audioupgrades.com), and Dan Torres (the authority on modding Fender tube amps at torresengineering.com.)

Although many of us would prefer turnkey solutions like the ones profiled in this piece, anyone with the time and inclination can learn more about the circuits and designs that power the tools they use every day.

Much of the best DIY literature exists off the beaten path in out-of-print magazines and on internet forums. For the eager engineer, a quick Google search of the word “mod” next to any of the names listed above will unearth countless entries containing diagrams, detailed instructions and links to kits. Happy modding! Have fun and remember never to let the tools take over.  — Justin Colletti

Justin Colletti is a Brooklyn-based audio engineer and music producer who’s worked with Hotels, DeLeon, Soundpool, Team Genius and Monocle, as well as clients such as Nintendo, JDub, Blue Note Records, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit him at www.justincolletti.com.