President/Editor/Publisher: Kerry J Haps
Vice-President: Michael Kolar
Secretary: Chris Cwiak

Volume 24 Number 3
March 2009

EARS meets at Backthird Audio

67 S. Stolp Ave, Aurora, IL

Tuesday, March 31st, 7:30pm


Hey Hey!

EARS meets this month at Benjie Hughes' Backthird Audio in Aurora. Backthird Audio exists to cherish music and the people who make it, and to make possible a community in which they can flourish. They're located in a recording studio in downtown Aurora. About half of their day-to-day business is studio-based - including not only recording, but arranging, songwriting and licensing, and education. The other half of their work takes them out of the studio - their performance arm, Backthird Events, books DJs, musicians and their house band, the Total Package, for weddings and corporate events all over Chicago and its suburbs. Benjie's a singer-songwriter and jack of many trades who sees himself more as an entrepreneur than an engineer these days. His focus has been on building the structures and habits that allow people to connect professionally and personally so more of us can get paid for doing what we love. It's a perfect case study in how a true music lover can make a living at it in these times by marketing all the various talents they have to offer. One very interesting thing they do is called "The Guild", which is a monthly meeting to discuss current and important issues in the music business. From listening parties where everyone's challenged to bring a record and offer it up for discussion, to open mic nights, and even viewing a great documentary about a great Chicago band making a great album to spark discussion about that collision of art and commerce, they're always setting the stage for great discussions. -KJH
Coming from the east or west on I-88: 
• Exit on Rt. 31/Lake Street. 
• Turn south (right) at the ramp and go 1.5 miles into downtown Aurora. 
• Turn left (east) on Benton Street. 
• Turn left (north) at the second light onto Stolp Avenue. 
Look for our parking lot immediately on your left after turning onto Stolp. 
We’re literally the “back third” of a downtown retail building. You won’t see a 
street number but you’ll see the Backthird Audio logo on the brick wall on the 
far side of this lot. You can cross this first lot and park in the second lot. You’ll see our entrance 
at the top of a set of wood stairs overlooking this back lot – again with our “B” 
logo on the door. 
Recap/Appreciation File

EARS MEETING AT Black Lion Audio 2-24-09

The immortal words of former EARdrum editor, Tim Powell (of Metro Mobil Recording) kicked off this month's meeting: "You can't spell analog without 'anal' or 'log.'"  And you can't spell Digi mods without Black Lion Audio. Matt Newport began BLA in 2004, and went full-time in 2006 with $35 in his pocket and no major funding. Starting with MOTU mods, he eventually moved on to Digidesign mods and now does about 60-70 of them a month. Before all this, he studied vocal jazz in college and upon graduation, thought he'd like to work in a recording studio. After a stint at Redhouse Recording in Kansas, he interned with someone who built custom B3's and then went on to work in RF airport tech. Black Lion now has 3 dealers, though they have been backing slowly away from that approach as no one can sell them quite like themselves. His clients tend to be more from out-of-town than right here in Chicago, and though he is booked through April as of our meeting, he will gladly accept walk-ins.

BLA has also recently jumped headfirst into developing and manufacturing their own products. Besides their Sparrow ADC, Auteur Pre, Matt has developed a patented clock design, their Micro Clock Mk2. He can do internal or external word clocks just as well, though some claim that external clocks are of absolutely no use due to latency caused by the run of cabling. This controversy has more to do with jitter caused by extended cable runs and the assumption that a PLL will be forced to sync to an inferior source because of this.  Matt has found a way around this, though he recommends not trying to drive a cable longer than a meter.  His clock design utilizes third-harmonic crystal oscillators because they have a higher Q factor and provide the best imaging he's ever heard, claiming that they sound as good as 30 ips to him.  

The main event of the evening, to this scribe at least, was Matt's talk of an A/D converter design.  He says that the simple act of electrons flowing within a standard A/D converter creates a mechanical noise, a harmonic that cross-talks into the data and clock stream; most folks filter the data stream heavily, but they've built a converter to take care of it completely. Black Lion couples a ferrite bead with a capacitor which forms a low pass filter with a cutoff of 3hz. This allows the DC signal to flow unimpeded, but presents an impedance to any AC harmonics, preventing them from passing.

Matt also had the following takes on some topics of interest:

- He doesn't ever want to do NAMM. It's basically Guitar Center on steroids and wants to do something more honest and genuine than that.
- The Digidesign Control 24 is pathetically under-designed on the inside. 
- The 003 is such a small step forward that it's more of a step sideways. The software drivers of the internal firmware are so similar to that of the 002 that Digi would have to go out of its way to make it incompatible.
- Solder needs lead, otherwise the parts it's used to adhere and connect will fail quicker. The guise of being "green" by removing lead from solder is actually hurting the environment more because landfills are being filled up with these young parts that have failed.

One of Black Lion's more common mods is the 002R, of which there are several levels: HD, Tweakhead and Signature.  Based on the level of service you choose, you can have your 002's master clock, preamps, power supply and analog stages made to simply sound better. This will of course void your Digidesign warranty, but Black Lion takes care of that by extending you a two-year warranty of their own. Pretty much the only thing that BLA won't be able to help you with is if your DSP goes down; everything else, they can handle. Matt does note that Digi typically takes excellent care of its customers. For instance, he makes note of a problem that I've experienced with the 002; the power harness has a tendency to go bad, causing the unit to cycle on and off. Digi will gladly ship you a new harness if you run into this issue, effectively saving you any real downtime.

A very hearty EARS cheer and thank you to Matt Newport for taking us inside his Black Lion Audio, where he gainfully employs 10 people, 9 of them full-time. When asked about the backlog of work he has, the abundance of space in his workshop, and why he doesn't just simply hire additional hands to help him keep up with the pace and pull in more money, he says he just wants to keep his operation simple. He knows everyone he works with. He insists on people interning there before they can be hired to see if it would be a good mutual match. He treats his employees fairly and compensates them well, but admits he can be difficult to work for because of his high and exacting standards. He's got several more things he'd like to work on, including maybe doing more products than mods. He's built a completely passive EQ and just recently got a prototype 2-channel D/A running. And on the personal side, he's got a brand-new baby on the way! Congrats to Matt! Oh, and if you find yourself at Black Lion, mind the cat; Arkansas is adorable, but will not hesitate to claw you one. -Chris Cwiak, EARS' Secretary

Next Month

While EARS has stuck pretty darn close to always meeting on the last Tuesday of the month, we might be changing it up in April, so stay tuned. We will, of course, try to give much more than usual notice of the date and details. - KJH


Meet me in St. Louis?
Actually, I can't make it, but check out this AES Third Annual Central Region Student Summit at Webster University in St. Louis. Our own former V.P. Mark Rubel alerted me to the fact that this is shaping up to be almost like a mini-TapeOpCon, which, by the way, isn't happening this year. Rubel's in for a 6 hour "Late Night Analog Session" with Chris Mara and a panel discussion on Vintage Gear Addiction. Other notable presenters include Phil Ramone, Frank Fillipetti, and John Storyk. They welcome non-student members at only $20.00 for the whole weekend including two breakfasts and a lunch. Some dorm rooms are available for only $30.00 a night. Wait a sec... Why can't I go?... - KJH

Where's the Beef? (Double Cheese Combo.)

Big EARS cheers this month to Danny Leake and Marshall Terry for their contributions. -KJH

Hi Guys, I have a “Beef”. I don’t mind iLoks and protection devices to combat pirating of software. What I have a problem with is shoddy equipment and intractable responses. Some years back I had a protection device for Nuendo on a chain with 3 iLoks. Compared to the Synclock device the iLoks are built like Abrams tanks. To make a long story short, the cheap plastic broke and the Synclock was lost on a gig. I had registered the program and contacted Steinberg about options... they never even answered my emails. Later on, at an AES convention, I cornered some Steinberg people who told me if the device was lost then program was lost and I would have to buy another... NOT IN THIS LIFTIME! I was even told to buy insurance for it to which I answered, “I buy insurance for big heavy metal items with names like Massenberg and Manley, not a $26 piece of plastic.” If they are going to be that rigid then they need to make that sucker out of stainless steel or at least as substantial as an iLok which, by the way, has a plan for the replacement of broken or lost iLoks. Steinberg seems to have gotten better since being bought by Yamaha. I’ve had at least two busted Synclocks replaced and recoded with the help of a product specialist who shall remain nameless in case he wasn’t supposed to be that helpful. The truth is that software is not just being used in studios anymore. They are in the real world of Road Touring, Freelance Engineers moving from studio to studio, and the usual “friction” that happens in studios from time to time. Two things need to happen: 1)These devices need to be made more sturdy and 2)Some plan for registered owners of the software to replace broken or lost protection devices needs to be in place. After all, why do you register? Is it to identify you as the real owner of the software or is it just a cheap source of advertising for the manufacturers to sell you something else? (Editor's note: While it won't help prevent losing the darn little things, the best tip I've heard for preventing breakage is to use a short little 6" USB extension between your dongle and usb port. Check out for lots of great options, including right angle connectors.) - Danny Leake, Urban Guerrilla Engineers

I've got to get this off my chest... I really hate writing this, as I imagine exactly half of the WTB's are written with this same feeling. For audiophile lovers of CD and vinyl (including our very own VP), I feel I speak for most of us when we say that when considering the ULTIMATE way to hear the music we love, from classical to Pink Floyd, is for that music to be treated to the half-speed mastering and laquer cutting process that is Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab's Gain 2 magic. The transfer is always lovingly done, and when a classic recording is taken from the vaults, spooled up on a high grade tape machine and cut to either vinyl or it's final digital audio conversion, it shines with the description "Original Master Recording", because that's exactly what it is, as close as we can get with today's processes. A good friend of mine just came from Reckless records carrying home a brand new issue of John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" (one of my favorite records!), an Original Master Recording, pressed on 180g by MFSL. I ran to the store, skipped lunch, and put a reserve on the LAST copy they had, which was at a different location. It's a limited pressing, of course. I quickly paid the $26 + tax. After getting it home and listening to it, I was shocked on how things sounded - amazingly crisp and clear - too crisp and clear. Vocal echoes were softer than before. Ringo's drums weren't as intense and biting as they are on the original copy I have. The mix was different. The inside cover says it all. I read this, added to the original album sleeve, after the first side had finished: "Digitally Re-Mixed at Abbey Road studios under the personal supervision of YOKO ONO, Spring/Summer 2000. Re-mix engineer: Peter Cobbin / Asst. Mirek Stiles, Mastered: Steve Rooke." (by the way, yes, her name appears in all caps on the record, just as above.) This is NOT an Original Master Recording! Now, this could end up turning into a personal "Beef" with Yoko , but it doesn't matter who's at the helm. Simply put - if this isn't the direct mix that was originally issued - the final mix reels that Spector and Lennon OK'd, that Phil MacDonald, Richard Lush, John Lickie and others engineered - then MFSL is not putting out a record that touts Original Master Recording on the front. The sound is fantastic - but it's not what I know. It doesn't help that I enjoy the original mixes more, either. Usually I don't mind if my Zombies box set gets polished with a fresh master. A remix is different. The mastering is done by Steve Rooke - a ME at Abbey Road studios who did a phenomenal sounding job on the 'gel' on the album - and the pressing itself is of fantastic packaging, thick card-stock, and is still the utmost audiophile experience that I have yet to hear out of a commercial release of any importance or genreless stature. That's the Beef. -Marshall Terry, Stereophonic Studios
Keep watching for that promised review of the Toft Audio Designs ATB console. In the meantime, if you're thinking of dropping your hard earned money on one, think twice and ask me about my horrible experience first. -KJH 

An EARS Cheer the late, great, Mike Rasfeld. March 19 marked the 20th anniversary of his untimely passing. His brother Jim has done a really nice job of remembering this founder of EARS on a Mike Rasfeld website dedicated to his remarkable life. In honor of the 20 year mark, he's made available some great old home videos. See Mike giving a bike tour of his childhood haunts in my own Wheaton, a tour of ACME recording, and his last birthday party with family. It's a humbling thing to watch and think of what he started and how we might still be making him proud. - KJH


Suggestions Welcome!

 There are endless good reasons to band together here as EARS. It can be whatever we want it to be. If you have any ideas for the EARdrum, our website, or future meetings, please email us. We still have a lot of great meeting plans lining up, some website plans, and a lot of good fresh energy and hopes for a more vibrant, participatory EARS, so of course we're very interested in your input on everything EARS. Please! :) - KJH
Our Archives are again up to date. Check out the website for that and more EARS info. Also, I'd like to complete our files with the pre-2001 EARdrums. By my calculations we're missing the first 16 years! (Now minus that first one.) I know Timothy Powell has a year or so on his Metro-Mobile website but that still leaves a lot missing. If you happen to have your old paper copies or files you could get to me, I would love to get them online for posterity. Let me know. - KJH

A note about our Website
I've noticed that it doesn't automatically update in some web browsers. If you're looking for something (such as the latest EARdrum) and it looks like old info, try reloading the page. -KJH

Another note about our Website, and our Logo

I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that it's time for a bit of updating. We think EARS deserves a bit of a makeover and can't help but wonder who among us might actually double as a professional designer but with the necessary sensitivity to our audio world. Drop us a note if you'd like to consider helping us out with a new look for the website, logo, etc. -KJH


Thanks to all who support EARS through paying their dues. Just as a reminder, they're due yearly by the October meeting and this is a prerequisite for voting and joining us for the Holiday Party and BBQ in August (and occasionally things like the Grammy Party), but they're always welcome. Dues checks (or cash, but no credit cards) for $25.00 can be made out to EARS and given to any of our officers or sent to the following address:

Engineering and Recording Society of Chicago, C/O Eric Roth, Treasurer, PO Box 98, Highland Park, IL 60035-0098 - KJH
A (few) (more) word(s) from the Prez...

or “Just asking...”
Ah, so another EARdrum out the door, another meeting lined up. Another month to start over and pull it all together again. Maybe it's just a run of purchases that upped the odds, maybe I'm just in a good mood, or maybe it still feels so strange to have Where's The Beef? back that I just can't help pointing out a couple of positive experiences I've had with retailers and customer service lately. First off, I've noted here a time or two that I'm a big fan of Universal Audio's UAD-1 (and now UAD-2) powered plug-ins. Well, now I'm a total fan of their customer service. I had a couple of simple little issues with their online store that ended up accumulating as I very patiently assumed they'd eventually take care of me. Well, they did, in spades. All I had to do was ask. They took care of me like I was their best customer, and so I just can't resist noting it here. Now, I tend toward loyal, so I pretty much go to our own Sam Rodgers of Sweetwater with my first inquiry on anything I need, having learned to trust his absolutely wonderful, personal service and always great deals, but when I do have to go elsewhere due to them just not carrying what I want, I'm sometimes surprised at what I find. "Uncle E" Eric Dahlberg of JRR Shop in Irvine, CA gave me one of those rare customer service experiences by simply suggesting a package deal that I hadn't thought of. I'm sure glad I told him what I was really trying to accomplish instead of just ordering from their online store. ATS Acoustics, downstate, did me right, mostly by just getting me my acoustic absorption materials very quickly, but also by really knowing their stuff and selling products that are just as effective as their much more expensive name-brand equivalents. Mercenary Audio took good care of me by getting my new monitors shipped out the same afternoon I called and then Focal is going the extra mile for me, replacing the Focal Twin6 Be's just for a simple cosmetic difference between two runs. I guess it just pays to ask. 
Speaking of just asking, I think it's safe to say that this month's host, Bengie Hughes has proven very good at asking what he really has to offer out of his studio and what the community really needs. I hope you'll join us there to hear a little more and see a really nice space that you might not have guessed you'd find right in the shadow of an Aurora casino. 
You know, though, there's something I want to ask you! I throw the "Suggestions Welcome!" in every EARdrum, but I really want to make a little push to find out what you all really want from EARS. It seems EARS' major decisions are made in just a couple of ways, by election each Autumn, and occasionally by our Steering Committee. If you read the bylaws, you might note that a lot of things are left pretty vague and nebulous. Roles and responsibilities, procedures... Really, it becomes pretty clear pretty quick that we're running more on gentlemen's agreements than hard and fast rules and regulations. Behind the scenes, it can be very interesting to observe how certain situations stay stuck in the same stalemates of indecision and other things seem to evolve into traditions that feel like law. Who's really in charge here? Is it me, the Elected President? Is it the Steering Committee? Or is it you, the members? Aren't we here to serve you? We're way overdue for an update to our bylaws, and there's talk of making some efforts to shore those up, so it seems a good time to ask: What do YOU want from EARS? What do you think we're doing well and what do you think we're sorely in need of improving? Talk to us. Tell us what you wish you'd see us doing. And while you're at it, tell us what you could offer to help with. Seriously. 
Well, the mastering project I'm double checking while writing this all sounds pretty good and so I guess it's time to get back to mixing that album. Sometimes, isn't working with music just such a gas?
Thanks and EARS cheers to those who are stepping up and contributing to this little newsletter, and to our growing community of EARS, and for allowing me to turn the tables and ask you a question. I'm just asking, but I hope it doesn't stop there. 

At your service,
Kerry J Haps



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