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Audio: No Experience Necessary!

To find work as a waiter or teamster, you need experience. However, to work in most other professions, whether it's as governor of California, or in the

To find work as a waiter or teamster, you need experience. However, to work in most other professions, whether it’s as governor of California, or in the “craft” of creating audio, you don’t need to know anything. It wasn’t always this way: In the Paleolithic analog era, engineers actually had to learn something about gear (maintenance, alignment tones, etc.) for the equipment to even operate.

Tape hiss and noise were once a problem, so engineers learned to carefully set up gain structures to optimize recording levels and avoid a sea of hiss. But thanks to today’s digital technology, everything’s point-and-shoot: You don’t need to know anything! Now, just record your tracks at -20dB or so (to nasty digital overload distortion), and digitally boost them later to a perfect 0dB. That is, if you don’t mind making perfect 14-bit recordings…

Creating audio with today’s affordable, advanced systems is like shooting pictures with an autofocus 400x digital zoom camera or a pocket DV camcorder with built-in stereo microphone. Whatever you create will look great! Your mom will even say that your productions seem “very professional.” Pretty soon, you can even fool yourself into thinking you have talent. Why worry about all that composition/lighting/perspective stuff? Forget about it! What really counts is having a trendy moderne camera or a DAW with 900 virtual tracks!

Of course, if you’re among that endangered species who still care how something really sounds (and not just to your mom), maybe a little learning is in order. Sure, rules are sometimes meant to be broken, but you gotta know the rules before you know you’re breaking them. The sad part is, there’s a lot of money wasted by those who take information out of context and leap to the wrong conclusion. Will an exotic preamp used by — insert famous engineer here — lead to better sound? Maybe. A hot preamp is a wonderful thing, but unless there’s a decent mic in the chain, the effort and money are wasted. In this case, someone’s setup would be improved with a better mic and a mid-line preamp.

Recently, I heard from some readers who complained after buying a compact 5.1 monitor system that I’d reviewed. One flaw in the system was that in a small room, it was very bass-heavy, even with the LF attenuator way down. However, moving the subwoofer away from nearby walls or corners, or raising the sub so it wouldn’t load with the floor, took care of the problem. The solution was right out of Acoustics 1A. Alternatively, though, a 100kž resistor (perhaps with a switch to put it in/out of the circuit) in line with the internal amp feeding the sub would have done just as well. Maybe these days, understanding audio or electronic basics is a lost art…

…Or maybe I’m just a feisty old-school curmudgeon. After all, I did just turn 50. And I’m still learning…