AES Section Meeting Reports

District of Columbia - April 26, 2018

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The Washington D.C. Regional Section met on April 26, 2018 at the newly renamed Tonal Park, formerly known as Airshow Mastering, in Takoma Park, Maryland with 35 attendees, 30 of whom are AES members, for a presentation titled, "Classic Recording Techniques for a High-Resolution Future" by DW Fearn.

The meeting started at 7:10 with Tonal Park owner Charlie Pilzner, welcoming everyone and introducing Section Chair Mike Ducassoux.

Mike started by, thanking Charlie for generously donating the space and dinner. He then went on to preview our upcoming meetings, in June in conjunction with SBE and SMPTE, at WETA, featuring Dolby/ATMOS, and the conference on Preservation and Archiving at the Library of Congress in Culpepper, Virginia June 28th through 30th.

He also previewed our August meeting at a local/national broadcast station, and a proposed meeting in early October, as yet unconfirmed, with Sennheiser at Towson University, and a social meeting in early December.

Charlie came back up and introduced Doug Fearn of DW Fearn, well known manufacturer of tube preamps. He laid out the plan for the evening, we had two musicians play, and we'd listen to them both live then recorded via a chain of high quality analog and DSD.

Fearn discussed the technical history of recording, going back to wire and wax, when it was a mechanical process. The key was there was only one mic in the early days. Mixing was done through placement in the room.

In the mid 1920s, while multiple mics were possible, single mics were still the common use. Carbon mics were used at that time, which were great for telephones, since nothing needed to be amplified, but they were noisy and had limited frequency response in other applications.

Later microphones patented in 1916 featured a wire moving through a magnetic field to generate electricity, but there were no permanent magnets available until the 1930s. Speakers and microphones from that era used electro magnets. Patent for the condenser mic also came down in 1916 from Bell Labs, even though the materials weren't available yet. Neumann in Germany and Harry Olson at RCA in the US were the first to use condenser technology in the 1930s.

Alan Blumlein in England was intrigued by stereo, and invented a microphone through speaker stereo system, including the first stereo cutting head, even though the technology did not exist yet to create the system.

RCA continued to manufacture ribbon mics through the 1970s, but when they stopped, ribbon mics went into a low period, until Wes Dooley came along. With his background of repairing old RCA ribbons, he released a new version of the RCA44. Dooley continued to build new ribbon mics, including the R88, Fearn's favorite mic.

Fearn started building preamps commercially in the early 90s because he was unhappy with the sound of the solid state preamps that were common at the time. His intention was to recreate the sound of tubes that he had in his earlier studio days.

Fearn started discussing digital technology and the implications of higher sampling rates and bit depths, and the difference between square waves and sine waves. One of the drawbacks of DSD is the cut-off of frequencies, and the resulting build-up of noise in the super-sonic range above the level of hearing, in the 60K - 70K range.

Doug was accompanied by musicians George and Geoff Hazelrigg, who discussed the creative process as it related to both Tonal Park and DW Fearn. They also discussed coming back on Saturday night to to a live to DSD recording.

Doug explained the signal chain they would use, with minimal processing. Then the musicians played two songs, and we played it back. This was followed by a Q&A, and networking. The meeting ended at 9:30pm.

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AES - Audio Engineering Society