In Search of the Elusive Volume Control

Did you ever find yourself asking the question “How did I get here?”

The first pro-quality drum kit that I had was a Gretsch five piece with birch shells, Ludwig hardware, and Avedis Zildjian cymbals. It was purchased second hand in the mid 1970s. After being overly influenced by Bill Bruford, a set of six Remo Roto-toms was added a few years later. As much as I enjoyed the set there were two problems associated with it. First, in spite of some nice Shure and AKG mics, it was difficult to get a decent sound out of them in my home recording studio. Of course, being that the “studio” was a basement with scant acoustical treatment and a seven foot ceiling, the kit could hardly be blamed. The second and perhaps more confounding problem was the loudness level. In fair consideration to the rest of the family and neighbors, there were limits on when I could play. I simply could not afford any manner of “sound proof” room and unlike the ubiquitous guitars, basses, and keyboards that my friends played, there was no volume control on a drum kit. As I was finishing my degree in electrical engineering at the time, I was hopeful that there might be a technological solution down the road, something more advanced than the “beep-boop” Syndrums of the day.

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DIY Bass Trap

So I’ve been busy lately.  Built a new recording/practice studio this summer/fall and I’m finally getting a few finishing touches done. One of those “touches” is acoustic treatment.

One of the more important aspects of studio acoustics is making sure you have a reasonable reverberation time. At the bass end of things, most untreated rooms are filled with the acoustic equivalent of mud. Trying to mix in such an environment is difficult at best. So, the front line treatment is something called a “bass trap”. You can find decent bass traps from a variety of companies such as GIK. The job of the bass trap is to absorb low frequency energy thereby reducing the sonic mud for a more clear and detailed response. Many bass traps are little more than a frame filled with a rigid fiberglass or rock wool material (denser than typical house insulation) and covered with a fire-rated acoustical cloth (such as loudspeaker grill cloth).

As part of the construction, I wound up with a box of 12 two-by-four foot sheets of two inch thick Owens-Corning 703 rigid fiberglass left over. So I purchased eight yards of Guilford of Maine fabric from GIK and sew-on Velcro from Industrial Webbing, made a pattern that is essentially a two-by-four foot box with a lid, six inches high. The Velcro covers the three edges. I dropped in three sheets of the 703, closed the lid, and bingo, four nice bass traps. The photo below shows one of the units open, ready to receive the 703. Note that there is an extra 3″ of fabric beyond the Velcro to help keep any stray fibers contained.

Opened bass trap

Bass traps are most effective in the corners of the room. These units are stiff enough that they stand up by themselves so I simply propped them in each corner. Here is one sitting behind my drum kit:

Bass trap in corner

These were relatively inexpensive to make, especially considering that the 703 was surplus from the construction. I can barely sew on a button, so a faithful family member did the sewing duties for which I am extremely grateful.

FYI, a thread about the studio was started on the VDrums forum this past summer. You can find it here.

This Might Actually Be Useful For Someone

In the midst of the general flotsam and jetsam that is the Refuge, I thought I would post something that some readers might actually find useful.
DIY Guitar Rack, Completed
It’s an inexpensive DIY multi-guitar/bass rack. The one I made holds six guitars/basses (seven in a pinch) and total parts cost was around $20. It’s made out of PVC and pipe insulation. It’s about 36 inches wide, 30 inches high and around 10 deep. It can be scaled easily for fewer or greater instruments. All you need to put it together is a hack saw (and a rat tail file can be useful too, which I’ll explain).
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Non Essential Sound Products

A while back I offered my thoughts on a particular type of over-priced and over-hyped audio snake oil, namely power cables. So today I get my new issue of Bass Player magazine and what do I see? Why it’s an add from Essential Sound Products hawking their MusicCord AC power cord with the headline “Your stock power cord is choking your sound!” If you go to their site (which I won’t link to) you will find unsubstantiated claims about other AC power cords producing “Thin, One-Dimensional Tone; Attenuated, Gutless Bass Response; Hiss, Buzz and Noisy Backgrounds;  High-Frequency Roll-Off; Blurred Imaging; Bloated, Sluggish Bass Response” and other issues. Geez, I certainly wouldn’t want my bass guitar to suffer from “Bloated, sluggish, attenuated, gutless bass response”. Granted, I always thought that “bloated” was rather the opposite of “attenuated and gutless” in this sort of situation, but perhaps normal AC power cords are worse than I thought. Of course, you won’t find anything on their site in the way of serious double blind listening tests to validate these claims. As I offered a light critique in the afore-mentioned post, I won’t rehash it here. I only have three things to say regarding this company right now:

1. Apparently they have discovered (or are at least hoping) that naive musicians offer a profitable new market beyond tweak audiophiles. And hey, given that higher end basses are in the multi-thousand dollar range these days, maybe $100 for a power cord is well within the budget of the “tone paranoid”.

2. Not to be outdone by the power cord, the company also offers a six outlet power strip. With surge suppressor mind you! On sale, the bargain price of just a dollar short of $500. Why, you save $100 compared to the normal price! Gee, I can think of an alternate route: Go to the local hardware or electronics shop, pick up their most rugged surge suppressor power strip, give $100 to charity, buy a new stomp box, fold up a bunch of $20 bills and stuff them under the leg of that wobbly table in the back room to level it, and you’ll still be ahead.

3. They are not the worst offender. Look at this. That’s right, $3500 for an AC power cord.  This is nothing short of vile.

While searching for some material on this topic, I came across this article discussing whether or not there are audible differences attributable to power cords.  When I got to this part I just had to laugh:

To many in the engineering community, blind ABX is an accepted experimental design. Using the blind ABX protocol, we failed to hear any differences between an assortment of generic power cords and Nordost Valhalla. Therefore, we cannot conclude that different power cords produce a difference using the blind ABX protocol. However, we also cannot conclude that there are no differences. We simply failed to prove that differences can be detected to a statistically significant degree using a blind ABX protocol.

So in other words, if a proper double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences, the only thing you have shown is that a double-blind test doesn’t reveal any differences. Apparently, there are no further consequences or conclusions to be drawn and it has nothing to do with what humans can or cannot hear. Brilliant!

ProAudio Review Jumps the Shark

As a long-time pro audio guy, I’ve been reading ProAudio Review for years. They do a good job of keeping me informed of the latest gear and spotting new trends. I received the September issue yesterday with the cover tease “Technically Speaking, Snake Oil Vs. Reality”. This was the topic of Editor Frank Wells’ column and I assumed that it was going to refer to a take-down of some dubious claims made by the “tweak audiophile” community from the perspective of audio professionals. What sorts of claims? Well, the audibility of $5000 loudspeaker cables, for example. What I discovered was pretty much the opposite.

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Opposite Foot Triplet

For those who read my continuing meanderings on getting my right side to behave just like my left, today we’re going to talk about triplets. Of course, these wouldn’t be your everyday, garden variety triplets ‘cause we’re too screwy for that here at The Chimp Refuge. No, this is going to be special.

Ah, the myriad joys and accidental discoveries of symmetrical drumming. For those who read my continuing meanderings on getting my right side to behave just like my left, today we’re going to talk about triplets. Of course, these wouldn’t be your everyday, garden variety triplets ‘cause we’re too screwy for that here at The Chimp Refuge. No, this is going to be special.

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