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In this episode of Sound Design Live, I talk with the co-founder of Audio Test Kitchen, Alex Oana. We discuss entrepreneurship and how Audio Test Kitchen enables you to compare 300 microphones through double-blind listening tests from your own studio.
- How did you get so many recommendations on LinkedIn?
- What is the goal of Audio Test Kitchen? Why would I go there? What problem am I trying to solve with the tool?
- How you got the idea, where it came from?
- What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making who are new to pro audio and microphone choice?
- How many microphones have you measured? What are one or two of the things you were most surprised to learn from measuring 300 microphones?
- How were the recordings created?
- VOCALS: Single vocal performance “bottled” by a laboratory-grade, neutral microphone in an anechoic chamber, re-amplified via a “vocal surrogate” loudspeaker into each product microphone, one at a time. Schoeps MK2 flat omni
- Tell us about the biggest or maybe most painful mistake you’ve made on the job and how you recovered.
Often times that’s the hardest thing, that last 5% of getting it perfect.Alex Oana
- All music in this episode by Robin Applewood.
- Audio Test Kitchen Has Revolutionized the Microphone Shootout
- Vocal Surrogate: Schoeps CMC6 body with MK2 capsule, DPA 4011, Adam S3H, ATC SCM45A.
- Why don’t we just stop this game of telephone and why don’t we just make it so that the person with the vision in their head for how they want to sound can just audition the tools that make the sound themselves.
- We had to solve two huge problems: bring it to your environment where you are comfortable and then reduce the variables to the gear itself where the gear never changes.
- We have had no complaints from 54 microphone manufacturers.
- Often times that’s the hardest thing, that last 5% of getting it perfect. It’s the most expensive. It’s the most time-consuming. That’s when we need a breakthrough.
- That decision to do what it takes to deliver what we value was a $20k decision.
This transcript was generated automatically. Please let me know if you see any mistakes.
Welcome Sound Desig Live, the home of the world’s best online training and sound system, tuning that you can do at your own pace from anywhere in the world. I’m Nathan Lively, and today I’m joined by the co-founder of Audio Test Kitchen, Alex Oana. Alex, welcome to Sound Design Live.
Thank you, Nathan.Really a pleasure to be here with you in real time. First, many thousands of miles, but you’re located back where I spent almost two decades going to college and making records and mixing live sound. And now I’m on the West Coast in L.A. and you you got me out of bed real early this morning at a super non rock n roll time of the day, man.
That’s what I should have been going to bed. Yes. And not at the same time, but we’ve switched places because I spent several years living in Oakland and then moved to Minneapolis only a few years ago. So honestly, there are better. Yeah, I wish we could trade places sometimes.
Awesome. Well, Alex, I’m really excited to talk to you about audio test kitchen today and all of the ways that that people and the sounds on live community can use the tool and how you built it. But before we do that, when you get let’s say when you get into a studio and you’re trying to maybe figure out how it sounds and what it feels like for the first time, what’s maybe one of the first audio test tracks you like to play to, you know, see how it feels and how it’s going to work for you.
Steely Dan Pegg.
I mean, come on. Donald Fagan, night fly. I mean, come on. Daft Punk is everything just feels right.
So, Alex, how did you get your first job in audio? Like what was your first paying gig?
Oh, man. You know, getting a first anything for me, I think has been a result of being passionate. And that can, at some points in one’s career, trump expertise or talent.
Like, I think the first job in an audio that I got was as I was there and I kept showing up and I kept being like really like into it and really intense.
And I was in Northfield, Minnesota, and I was still in college. And I first of all, I got a job within sail of colleges like kind of technical services. And so I was hauling around TV’s on carts.
That was my first job in audio as well, except it was for the recording department, for the for the music department doing recording. But it’s very similar, I think, to what you were doing.
And so I think by the time my my senior year of college, I caught the attention of the big time audio production company in Northfield, Minnesota, that would do the big gigs in the Twin Cities.
Right. And so because because the the owner and operator of that company, Brent, day of Day Productions, he like saw me work in work in the shows at CNN all and down at the local club.
And I was like, hey, kid, let me in particular into my weirdly Creevey.
Well, there may be some accuracy to that, but, you know, like you, we need people to recognize our ambition and our passion.
I remember Lauren Wick, Lander of Southern Thunder. Go get Narin shout out.
Yes. Lauren is now works with Axium, which is a Italian brand of like loudspeakers and pro audio stuff. But I remember sitting across from Lauren, I had mixed his band.
His wife is a lead singer and a Patsy Cline cover band, and he played drums. And I was just like I and my friend Brent Dey, who is hiring me for Day Productions, was like, hey, this guy could.
This guy could give you this guy could give you a gig someday, you know, do a really good job.
So I made a cassette recording and like I would like cared so much about, like, the way they sounded live at that show and the way the recording sounded really as early as I could in my career.
I would record the shows and then that turned into just recording for the sake of recording and really being so interested in that fine tuning process of those audio relationships.
And that’s a kind of a different world between live and and and the studio. There’s a club in in Minneapolis downtown called the Fine Line Music Cafe.
And I was I was a wee lad in college looking through the window of the club is going to look at that.
And I saw the like, the meter’s going up and down on the console and like, oh, my God, I’ve got to get my hands on that console someday. And then eventually I did.
I got my breakthrough. I got my chance from Lauren Wick Lander of Southern Thunder. Thank you, Lauren.
And and then there was another moment in there where I was. So I was recording the bands. That was like a super important thing. So and I was doing it for either free or for like, so little money. And I would record them on the stereo.
Digital, you know, dat tape, you know, like a digital audio tape. Yeah. And then eventually an eight track, eight hour tape, digital and or sometimes just a cassette.
But I would like pay as much attention to the live mics that I was crafting.
And they’re a great monitor mix for them on onstage, as I would this kind of sub mix of out of the buses, the groups that I was creating onto the tape. And it had to be a different balance. You know, what’s going to sound good in the room is not good. You have to create a different balance for what’s going to sound good on the tape.
So I did that and then people would come to me saying, like, dude, your board mic sounds better than the album that we just made in the studio. So I knew I was onto something. And then that served as a bridge for me to what I really wanted to do, which was to be in the studio.
You’ve gone on to do more like sound, lots of recording. You had the software project now. And I know we that there are a lot of interesting stories in there, but I was wondering if maybe you could pick one. And what I want you to think about is maybe one decision that you made to get more of the work that you really loved. So I wonder if you could sort of. Can you think of something and sort of take us to that moment?
Yeah. Probably is around the time of transitioning my career from live sound to the studio and are super. More important thing for anybody to do when they imagine the place they want to go and they’re not there yet is to, number one, allow themselves to imagine it and then talk about it and put it out there. And I would say some really simple I did that changed my whole life. So there I am. I’m the front of house engineer at the Fine Line Music Cafe downtown Minneapolis, a venue that’s about 600 people at Max.
And it’s like a bar and it’s a restaurant and it’s a nightclub and bar. I was mixing there like Prince would sometimes show up, just like I remember I was spotlight up even as some other band had brought their front house.
And Prince was like three feet away from me in the balcony maze.
And my hands are burning on this like giant like incandescence like, you know, tinder box that’s about to burn the venue down. And it’s like it’s really him. And like that feeling that you get of like there’s something. Fame. Like electricity. Anyway, so there was at this club the fine line. There was a bouncer to just the dude at the door had nothing to do with music or sound or anything like that. But his side hustle.
I’m not sure which was a side hustle.
He was also a realtor and he we were friendly and and and I’ve chatted with him in and he maybe said something about like, hey, what you know, are you ever looking for, you know, a property to buy?
I’m like, you know what I’m looking for?
I. I want to buy up for his or her. I can set up a studio.
Oh, really? Okay, cool. And then I was like and I was like I think is going to be a barn and is gonna be on the country and it’s going to be this huge thing. And then you know, Chatterji Panjaitan, in a couple months later he’s like, dude, I found a place.
And so it was a is a little house in a part of Minneapolis next to the University of Minnesota, affectionately refer to Dinkytown Dinkytown as this little community of like shops and the houses and stuff. Next to you. And there was a little house where in the 70s, a record label called Twin Tone Records had started just a couple music freaks. And then from that, they’re like, well, we need to record our bands. And so they, like, started recording their bands in living room.
And eventually, sometime in the early 80s, they even built an addition on the house and they sliced a big hole in the side of the house so they could have like real control room glass. And so often it was a house and a studio. And this is the place that the bouncer from the fine line took me over there. And it was such a dump. It was Mel that was it looked like no one had, like, opened the curtains or windows.
And in a decade. No, but I was like, okay, I can live here. I can work here. I can. There’s a couple extra rooms I can rent out. I’m taking it and it was so little money was like 80 something thousand dollars. So like at the time, I mean, this is like early 90s. I mean, that was like an astronomical amount of money. Right. But somehow I mustered with the help.
I think my mom loaned me some some cash. Sure. And then by the time the sale went through, though, I had the cash. And like, Mom, I don’t need your cash anymore.
But, Mom, that 4000 dollars that you’ve known me. I keep it and buy some gear with it. So I did that.
So I but my first recording console Macchi thirty to thirty eight bucks, an eight bucks. All analog. No compression. So you’re keeping it real. Yeah, I, I really love here in that story because so many times I hear people telling me that I really just, I need to get I need to get myself out there. And to a lot of people that means sending their resumé to a lot of studios or to a lot of production houses.
And I think you just have to keep in mind that that is kind of the first thing that everybody thinks about. Right. And you’re basically doing the coldest form of communication and outreach that you can. But I hear a lot of stories like yours where it was because you were so passionate in talking to a lot of people that then, you know, those sort of all your connections in your network starts to really engage in like and then and then something like this happens.
You get an opportunity and then, you know, you sue you had over the fence and you’re like, I don’t know, I’m going to make this work.
But you you made it work. So. Yes. Light years ahead. How did you get so many recommendations on LinkedIn? Do you have somewhere north of 20? Do you like 21 or 23? Yeah, and most and engineers have maybe one or two.
My thought on that is like, you know, it’s it’s your network and it’s it’s treating people right. And it’s your passion and it’s giving. And like, I likely would have written a recommendation in in response or maybe I initiated by writing a recommendation for someone else. And perhaps this happened at a time when linked in software itself was more focused on like, hey, you’re a new member, whatever, build your profile. Maybe they still do that.
But I think that that’s that’s key to it right there.
It’s about in every scenario that you’re in a work scenario, any kind of relationship, you have an opportunity not just to do the job, but to be a great person and and to treat people right.
And if the number the high number of recommendations I have on LinkedIn is an indication of anything, hopefully it’s an indication that I’m not only did I do a good job, but like I I cared, you know, I cared about the people.
And I think that one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my career actually is those moments in time when I put the project before the people.
And dude, every time that happened, it got painful. There was a painful moment where there was a reckoning.
And like one thing that’s that’s cool about relationships is it’s like nature. If there’s an imbalance, it will force you to deal with that imbalance at some point or else you’re just going to die of stress, which I prefer not to do. So for those of you who are listening to this on the podcast, you’ll want to know that we’re also recording video. So this will be on YouTube. So at some point in this conversation, if Alex starts to show us Web sites and things on his computer, he’s going to.
We also try to describe that, but just also know that there’s a video on YouTube that you can go and look at of what we’re actually doing on his computer.
For people who don’t know what is the goal of audio test kitchen? Why would I go there? What’s the problem?
I want to solve with this tool you’ve created Audio Test Kitchen lets you hear the gear before you buy it on your test kitchen, lets you hear the gear.
If you have questions about like how does this thing sound? Maybe you’re a student, maybe you’re an enthusiast enthusiast. What’s a better word than that, Nathan? A hobbyist, whatever. You just love sound. You’re curious. Right.
But doesn’t it make sense that in a world in a world where we’re like, it’s so easy to transmit you, technically speaking, high quality audio, high quality video over the Internet to wherever people are.
And there’s these products that make sound or shape or sound or capture sound. Does that make sense that, like, you would be able to audition how those tools sound before you buy them?
I mean, that all this everything’s in place except for the raw data that you need to be able to adequately audition in a neutral, unbiased environment and compare those to other pieces of you’re in that same category.
So that’s what all a test kitchen did. Yes, that would be the next question for most people is, yes, it makes sense. Oh, but how would you do that? That’s impossible. Right. And we’re gonna get into how you did that. But first, I just want to sort of job people’s attention to the way that we have all traditionally done this, which is most people in my case, either you’re on a show and and you get to try something new, a new microphone.
You’re like, oh, this new microphone. Let’s try that. That sounds different. Or you go to a music store and probably lots of people have had this experience of go into the music store where they have a bunch of different microphones set up and you can basically pick them up and talk into them. Oh, we’re seeing into them or whatever you want. And they had headphones. And that gives you a particular experience where you get to hear your own voice through a bunch of different microphones.
And that’s eye opening for a lot of people. Right. All of a sudden.
But, you know, you in that context, not only do you get to hear your own voice, you get to hear all the background noise in the in the store, the air conditioning.
And you can turn up the headphones so loud that anything sounds blisteringly amazing. Right. So kind of two problems there. Right. Which is, one, you have to go to this place where they have this and they only have like six or seven. And then, yeah, there’s all this background noise and you don’t really get to to use the conditions that you want to hear the microphone under in the studio or in live use. Cool. So let’s get into it a little bit more.
Next, I’d like to just know, like, where you got the idea from and then maybe we can actually take a look at the site itself. So, dude, I’ve been a audio enthusiast as like a young.
Listener, listeners, stereos and and and building Hi-Fi systems, it just in terms of selecting the right parts to go together, and then that evolved into becoming a live sound engineer and a recording engineer. And then that evolved into me writing for some magazines like Pro Audio Review, which doesn’t exist anymore.
Sound on sound, press on news. These kinds of things. And coming from the perspective of trying to review gear.
So a review is supposed to serve as a kind of a surrogate for like, hey, let me have an experience with the gear, so and write about it and describe it clearly enough.
And from some kind of position that allows you to develop an understanding and maybe make conclusions about that piece of gear.
So I was in that role and then I started working for vintage King Audio as a sales person. So here I meant on the phone. I’m answering emails and I’m trying to do the same thing. It’s like, oh, you I’ve got I’m surrounded by this gear. And eventually at the Los Angeles Vintage King showroom, which is like one of the only places on the planet that actually has gear plugged in that you can come and check out in an audition.
And so I’m surrounded by this stuff and poor you.
And I really mean that poor these people on the other end of the phone or email, they have no access. They can’t come in here. The WHO gear for themselves. They can’t touch it and and get some kind of experience with it. So I was always in this, you know, fortunate and unfortunate position of being like a translator and an interpreter.
And like on two levels, the number one, my goal is like, okay, well, what problem do you want to solve? What do you want to sound like?
What inspires you?
So I’ve got to translate your abilities. Number one, you got to have an ability to translate your desires, your thoughts, your way of talking about sound.
Then I take that in and interpret it and you saying, like, you know, warm that has a meaning to you. Warm might have a totally different meaning to me. OK, now we’re into a game of telephone and through this, so we’ve got a process that breaks down.
It’s like you’ve got an intention.
You’ve got to desire something that you’re looking for, something you’re trying to do to get tools that will translate your innermost vision, your desire, and then you’re looking through several layers of telephone to try to to actually get that piece of gear, to translate your thoughts and to convey, you know, who you are as a you know, your voice as a podcast or your voice as a singer, your fingers as a guitarist, whatever. And so that it just made sense to me that why don’t we just stop this game of telephone?
And why don’t we just make it so that the person with the vision in their head for how they want to sound can just audition the tools that make the sound shape, the sound, the capture sound themselves. That’s really great.
It was really through all these conversations you were having of trying to describe gear to people or help them make purchasing decisions that led you to you were trying to figure out how do we stop this game of telephone and how do I just bring the gear to you without me actually, like driving to your house and like setting up a hundred microphones.
We are the first to admit that if you could create the perfect scenario where like every microphone, let’s say, for example, because audio test kitchen launched with a library of 300 large Styrofoam condenser microphones, all comparable online, all standardized recordings and this unbias interface.
But unless this they like you, Nathan, are thinking about 20 of them right there in the right price range.
They’re like. That’s that’s on your short list. So if I could set up a scenario in the studio, it’s your studio.
You know the speakers. You know the headphones.
You know the acoustics. Everything is perfectly level matched. And I’m just standardize these conditions one step further. I’m going to make it so that the every that the source that we record through every one of those microphones never changes. Well, what the heck, sources that I mean, so and so imagine trying to do that in a store or somebody else’s studio. OK, listen, it’s not your space, not your listening environment, not your speakers, not your headphones.
You might feel under pressure if you know you’re paying for that studio time or if you’re like in the store in that environment.
And certainly, even if you just walked around that room where you had all those microphones level mash and set up perfectly and you talked into each one, you had some were playing to each one. There are variables galore.
And so all of a sudden what happens is you’re going to start making conclusions about the gear that have nothing to do with the gear.
They have to do with like, oh, your acoustic guitar that you’re auditioning and every one of those mikes. It went slightly out of tune on a couple of them. Or the tuning change to whatever, and it change in such a way that when you’re comparing one mike versus another, you’re like, there’s something I like a little better about this, Mike.
Well, there may be truly differences between those two microphones, but the source that you recorded on them also changed.
Well, so now what are you comparing?
So we had to solve two really huge problems with with the way that people have been able to audition gear in the past. And that is like we wanted to bring it to your environment that you’re comfortable with.
You’re familiar with that, the power that that comparison.
And then we also we also knew that we needed to make it. So the only variable is the gear itself.
The source never changes.
So that that really was our journey and that that’s that’s our our big one two punch break through delivering those comparisons to you in a way that you can easily do them.
And that’s our Web site in an unbiased, controlled setting. And then creating the conditions and capturing the data that powers these comparisons. And you know what, man? Another role that I’ve had in my career as I’ve also been a manufacturer, I was the vice president of Slate Slate Digital Slate Media Technology, and I created a product called The Raven.
So it’s a touchscreen controller for DWC. And although that thing does not make a sound, it does not process a sound.
Being in that manufacturer’s seat, the last thing you want is the is for the users, for for retailers to not get it. Do not get what you’ve created.
And so let’s say that I’m a microphone manufacturer and some of my problem then is helping is needing people to understand what I’ve created. What is the sound of this thing that I’ve created? And having been in that seat now as a running audio test kitchen. I know how much passion and blood, sweat and tears has gone into the creation of these products.
And the last thing we wanted to do is to misrepresent the way these products sound in our comparisons and audio test kitchen. And so we talked with manufacturers. We said, like, how do you measure the quality of your microphones? How do you. What kinds of tests do you perform to even develop the tools that you create?
So we incorporated some of those same techniques and I can only fast-Forward to launch day.
And after now, nine months after our initial beta launch and seven months after our public launch, we have had no complaints from 54 microphone manufacturers. Wow. Congratulations. The people who make the most expensive, you know, ten thousand dollars, Sony see 800 or Telefunken microphones all the way down to an 80 dollar sterling Mike.
I mean, this is miraculous that 250 physical microphones could have all been represented in a fair and accurate way to what those mikes really sound like in in real life. Sure. And I’ll say one more thing, and that’s because we recorded them in real life. We didn’t simulate anything. We didn’t digitally model anything. We put these microphones up in a in acoustic environments and created all kinds of different scenarios from the lowest lows to the highest highs and, you know, vocals and guitars and drums and all this stuff.
So you’ve mentioned several times how important it was, the test procedure that you used. Yeah, I want to talk about that for a minute, cause I know that’s kind of the question on people’s minds is there’s less as they’re listening to this. There’s a lot of people that listen to the sound online podcast that do measurement and then work on live shows and measurement is very important to them. So I know that we could fill a whole other interview with just going through all the methods because there are multiple instruments and then how you handled all of that and there’s all these workflows you had to develop to make those multiple instruments.
And I first just want to direct people to a YouTube video called Audio Test. Kitchen has revolutionized the microphone shoot out because when you watch that, you will be able to watch Alex talk about how they worked with a kick drum and how they set up the microphones and where things went wrong and then the entire signal chain just for that one thing. And so to see like a half an hour of hand, just talking about this one instrument, in this one scenario, you realize like what he had to go through to figure all this stuff out.
So I thought maybe instead of that, we could talk about the vocals. So let’s talk about the workflow for recording the vocals and I’ll just say so you don’t have to repeat it. In the app itself, it says vocals. Single vocal performed by a laboratory grade neutral microphone in an anechoic chamber. Re amplified via a vocal surrogate loudspeaker into each product microphone one at a time. And I looked and then later on, you say that that laboratory, great neutral microphone, I believe, is a Szeps in Katou.
We were very listening, driven in our in our R&D process because my team and I, which at the time and ah this development process of like, okay, how can we actually create a system where like if you put a loudspeaker in front of a microphone, it sounds just like a human being.
And for that microphone we were really skeptical that that was possible. And so you’ve Dathan, you have, like, thrown me right into the hot seat.
The hardest one of the hardest things that we had to do and one of the most important use cases for microphones is vocals. Right.
So how do you how do you cook maintain consistency and and your question? It goes taps right into a fundamental principle of audio test kitchen. That is, the source can never change. Because if if you if we recorded the most amazing vocalist in the world who was capable of singing near perfectly 250 times, you know, into every microphone.
First of all, that would take a week.
We would have to be serving them the exact same lemon and honey tea, you know, at a dig at precise intervals. So we we actually tried some of that and it just wasn’t humanly possible.
And we would as we are comparing microphones, we would get fooled like, okay. Do I like that, Mike, better?
Because the performance is different. So we had to eliminate all that stuff. We created what we call our vocal surrogate, which actually is capable of re singing into a microphone.
So in order to find that Szeps CMC six body with an M.K. to Omni capsule in order to find the DPA 40 A11, those are the two capture mikes that we use in order to find the add on s h loudspeaker and the ATC SDM 45, a loudspeaker that served as our vocal surrogates.
We spent months testing all kinds of different microphones, all kinds of different loudspeakers in different acoustic environments, at different reapplication dis distances. We really relied on our ears to, first of all, steer us to like, hey, sure, this Mike has a really flat response.
But like, does it sound like music? Does this sound like a person? You know, would I it closing my eyes believe that that is an acoustic guitar playing live into that microphone, kind of close my eyes and believe that as a person singing into that microphone.
So that was really our first getting over the hump, our next getting over the hump, the last five or 10 percent of getting it perfect. You know, oftentimes that’s the hardest thing, right? That last five percent. It’s the most expensive, it’s the most time consuming. And that’s when we really needed a breakthrough and we had to call in calling a lifeline.
And fortunately, someone picked up on the other end.
What happened? Oh, you want to know?
Harmon Harmon Laboratories.
Dr. Shamala seeking. Yeah. Yeah.
We, um, we done as much as we could in our own studio facilities. You know, just traditional recording studios. And we had access to some of the world’s greatest loud speakers and capture microphones, actually, courtesy of us being in a studio that was parked above vintage King audio. L.A. show. I mean, this was like years after I’d already left vintage King.
I had formerly been a salesperson and marketing person with them, but I still have a great relationship with them.
And they they loaned us speakers and and stuff. So we got to really test the best of the best sort of breakthrough, though, the two close at last five or 10 percent gap.
We knew we needed really like we knew we needed the kind of facilities where real audio, R&D and development is done.
So I’m talking like an echo chamber. Right.
And for those of you who know what an anechoic chamber is, you know that it’s a place where you can go in and you can, as I’ve been talking about, eliminate all the variables except the one that you want to test.
So it’s a room where you when you make a sound in it, it’s not going to throw anything back at you. No artifact. So an echo. Of course we know what that is and meaning a lack of or none. So we got anechoic no echoes. Right.
So what we we knew that we needed to be in an environment like this so we could identify the final differences between what we were capturing.
And in that process of bottling a human voice, bottling an acoustic performance from an acoustic guitar, and then rethinking that into these large diaphragm condenser microphones, because there was still a little bit of a difference.
Our measurement capabilities were tapped out. That was it.
So we got really fortunate to actually on a tour of the Harman facilities that we were very craftily got ourselves on. They walked us back through the laboratory part and where all the chambers are.
And we had our laptop in the backpack ready to show them a demo. And we already had the 250 physical microphones with these.
You got a meeting at Harmons on to tour. We booked a tour.
Did you talk about it? Just like, you know, refusing to, you know, to be to be stopped? This is the kind of stuff you’ve got to do in your career, you know? You go. You can’t just send out your resume like you’re talking about, Nathan. You know, you can’t just drop the email like we had called these guys.
We got you know, we thought we got into mode by like the former president of the A-S frickin called them on our behalf and we got nothing. I mean, come on. We thought it was a no. Right.
But so we booked ourselves on this tour. Okay. Last ditch effort. We’re out here at Harmons facilities. Luckily, they’re nearby where we live in Southern California.
And we walked back through the lab and they’re like, oh, hi. We’re like, hey, we’re all a test kitchen, blah, blah, blah. They’re like, oh, it’s interesting.
We were just talking about you.
Interesting. Like what? Serendipity talked about network effect.
So we would nam had just the teacher Nam in Anaheim, California had just commenced and one of our buddies, Ted White, over at Focus.
Right. Had also had also worked at Harmon and had mentioned something about what we were doing.
And so when we showed up, not only did we finally have a face to face with the very people on the planet who could help us, but we also had a warm introduction made prior to that.
So Dr. Sean Olive, he’s a super duper bigwig in the field of acoustics and has created such things as like a headphone target curve, which is like imagine you had the question how if I could correct the response of every headphone or if as a headphone designer, I was trying to target a certain frequency response.
What’s what’s the target?
Harmon is like one of one or two or three people or organizations on the planet who has defined that how headphones should sound.
And this is the kind of stuff you can do when you have an anechoic chamber and they have four of them. So Dr Sean Olive. Todd Welty, homemade concert rapport. And Dan PIJ welcomed us with open arms.
And we spent probably two months there doing research and also then doing a final capture of the way that.
We wanted to once we had Nathan bottled the vocals, we wanted to replay and these vocals in different acoustic environments to represent what you know, someone who’s actually, you know, buys one these microphones and used one of these microphones might experience themselves.
So he did want in in the we re amplified or re sang in the anechoic chamber.
So there are zero artifacts. We did have one in kind of a medium room, kind of like bedroom acoustics ish. And then we did one in a more lively, larger room.
So it was through working with being able to be in a controlled environment with some of their test tools and being able to to analyze. OK. Here’s how close are the test kitchen could get in the traditional recording studio.
The difference between a live vocal and a one that’s bottled in reapplied. Let’s measure that difference.
And then Harman just went like, OK, we’re going to take that difference in. NULL it out. That’s gone. All of a sudden, we’re in a position where the bottled and re amplified vocal was indistinguishable. When you close your eyes from the real thing. One of the things that you would like to know probably about the test kitchen is that it’s free and you can make when you first arrive at it. If you’ve never if you’ve never been there before.
You’re gonna have a few microphones. You can play with in the taste test. And that’s the area at the top, right below the place where you hit play and you see the wave form. The taste test is where you do your audio comparisons. And below that we call that the flex box. And you could do a lot of stuff in there, like compare frequency response graphs and you can search for more microphones. The second you hit that lows, magnifying glass is the search thing.
The second you hit that magnifying glass for search. If you’re not already logged in user, just create a free account.
And please sign up for join the mailing lists. And here’s why. Because we’ve only released half the content that we’ve captured on these 300 microphones. We’ve got tons more that we’re gonna put out there. And there’s there’s a few really fun Easter eggs that we’re gonna put out soon.
These are the category that you that we have now is large diaphragm condenser mikes.
But we also recorded an estimate, them seven, s.m 58 and s.M 57 alongside all these large diaphragm mikes. Just to have as a reference point, because everybody knows those.
Right. So, Youlden, that you’ll be able to find out about that when you join the mailing list.
Good. All right. So we’ve got in the search box here hundreds of microphones. And I think what we should do is, you know, there’s some cool ones in the taste test already.
We got one from LeWitt, one from Townsend Labs is the modeling mike, one from Sterling, one hundred bucks from Gage.
But I’m going to clear out that test right now. I’m just gonna put those microphones in the cupboard and I’ll tell you, you know, covered as a kitchen theme. But it’s also what the Brits call the place where they store their microphones there. Mike covered. And so I’m a click on the cupboard here. And it’s right next to the. It’s a tab in this in this in the flex box where you also do search. And that’s where you can kind of store your stuff.
You can create a little collection to to test. And you can also, like, save stuff for later if you want there.
So I’m going to go back to the search box and I’m going to click on the upper right hand corner that filters. And I’m just going to do kind of like look like what’s a question a lot of people have on their mind? I’d say in the studio realm, it’s like, hey, do I have to spend three thousand dollars on a you eighty-seven?
Yes, that’s a really good point. I think one of the biggest first questions is how much do I need to spend? Like, can I get away with a hundred dollar or two hundred dollar mike or do I need to jump up to a thousand. I like what’s the different.
How do those two price ranges compare. Totally.
I mean, it’s a totally legit question. And I think another thing to ask yourself is it’s so we give you for the first time ever, the ability to do a legitimate, totally unbiased comparison between an 80 dollar mike and a ten thousand dollar mike and anything in between.
So you can do that. You can compare the sound, you can compare the frequency response graphs and like it’s mind blowing and you will find gems at every price range.
But I have to tell you, you know, it’s not just about, you know, what a microphone costs is a reflection of a number of things that might be due to, you know, the brand value.
But now, before you toss out, just like, oh, it’s just a brand name, let’s think about this for a second. Why might I want to spend three thousand plus dollars on a new menu? Eighty seven.
Well, because if I run a voiceover studio, that might be the very thing that my clients need to see that I have on my gear list to trust that I know what I’m doing.
Yeah. Has an eight year credibility shared my credibility. Exactly. So.
And and also like, if you want another reason to get to pay for a Norman brand three you eighty-seven might be because you need to maintain a certain consistency and be able to collaborate with others and have the same sound from studio to studio. I mean, that was the reason why, you know, a lot of people installed Solid-State logic consoles in their studios in the 80s and 90s was so that we could have this what we have now with Dawe, which is like the same sound wherever you go.
So you could work in multiple locations, multiple cities anyway.
So there’s a use there’s a reason why a brand and what you would pay for it, if you feel like that is in a you know, has something more to it. It goes beyond the sound.
Another thing that is a that can be something that makes one product more expensive than another that isn’t sound related is build quality, is components selection.
Think so. It again, talking about that last five percent. Nathan, like the last five percent, offered the most expensive, most time consuming part. And you’ve got companies like you know, I mentioned Telefunken earlier.
They are they are scrutinizing every last detail of their microphones and that, you know, to deliver something that is going to last for you.
That is going to. And, you know, maybe has a better build quality in. And maybe they have better customer support.
So you have to kind of keep all these things in mind when you are talking about getting your tools.
And on the other end of that spectrum, there’s also incredible opportunities for value at every price range.
And you will find an audio test. Kitchen is, I think, the first tool to make it possible if sound is the most important thing.
And and sound is your is the top quality by which you are choosing and perhaps buying a piece of gear already. Test Kitchen gives you the opportunity to make your comparison solely based on that for the for the first time ever. So now that we’ve talked all about this kind of you eighty-seven use case in mice filtered search, I just typed in the numbers, the number eighty seven and came up all the microphones that that argue eighty sevens.
There’s only one.
No I mean 87 and all the clones of Uut seven still let me pull up say the warm audio. So here’s the norm. You eighty seven. Thirty six hundred bucks.
I’ve dragged that from the search up into my taste. US.
I just drag the warm audio w.a. a D7 from the search into the taste test.
And Nathan, you might notice that the microphone when the first load in the taste test is, is a little bit grayed out and it says loading audio and that because in order to make a really snappy interface that makes these comparisons instantaneous, we load a bunch of audio in the background.
So your act, we’re actually loading about 20 sources per microphone as soon as you add it to the taste test.
So be a little bit patient. But then the reward, the payoff is when you’re using it interface and it just responds instantaneously. And then let’s take an example. I mentioned earlier a modeling microphone. Let’s take the towns and labs. It’s they have a modeling microphone, which is one that is one physical microphone, and then they measure other that measure other microphones.
And I think from like a classic or B and create a digital model of that and then apply it to the sound of their physical microphone and allows you to select the different sounding microphones right within their software in your day. W.
So they have one called the LDA eighty-seven LDA probably stands for large diaphragm.
Let’s look at the polu. So Eighty-seven. So this is an all analog clone of of a what clone is a kind of a common term.
I’m not sure the degree to which they were really attempting to clone seven, but that one’s four six eleven hundred sixty nine dollars and then we’ll pick out one more. Let’s do Antelope and Off has another modeling microphone company.
So it’s one physical microphone that you buy and then you can play lots of different digital models to it. Now for all that we’ve talked about sound, I actually want to start with a really fun tool that is like gives you your ears superpowers.
And this was only possible through Harmon Laboratories. So I’m going to click on a tab of the flex box on the left and I’m in select frequency cur frequency response graphs. Up until this point in time have been a total mixed bag. A double edged sword.
There is hated as much as they’re loved. And here’s why.
It’s because if they’re if the frequency response graphs are measured and reported by each manufacturer individually, they can apply their own, their own smoothing, their own margins of error, their own reporting.
That doesn’t necessarily cirilli relate to the way another manufacturer, Suran does, or even how their aph looks.
Maybe like the X and the Y axis could be slightly differently. Other lines are in different places, right? So, yeah, exactly.
They would have the exact same methodology and the same transparency. But the way that they report it, you can’t literally line it up.
So thanks to Harman Labs, we were able to measure the frequency response of every one of these microphones in an identical setting in their anechoic chamber and for the first time ever, make it so that you can do a frequency response comparison.
Side by side, apples to apples of three hundred microphones. So here we go again. I’m going to click on that.
So. Here’s our ears, superpower’s, the each microphone has its own color coding, so the No menu, 87. Thirty six hundred bucks is the red line. And I click over to the warm W 87 as the orange line, and we can instantly see that the low frequency is pretty similar, pretty similar through the meds. And then all of a sudden there’s some pretty significant deviation in the high frequency response centered around six kilohertz. Really different response on those two.
And so all of a sudden I’m going like, well, so what?
Why might that be if Warm was trying to clone or recreate the U.D. seven? Well, what if their model of the seven was a vintage one that had a softer Top End response?
Because personally, my experience and from anecdotally what I’ve heard from others is that there’s a difference between the modern new Eighty-seven produced by Norman and a vintage one.
OK. And that might be due to aging, but it also might be due to differences in how their production process and their their components specs have changed over time. That’s so funny.
So they might even argue are clone sounds more like a U. 87 than the real thing. That’s right.
I’ve noticed that companies that do modelling microphones like Townsend Labs, sleigh Gaige Antelope, they have the liberty of not only of of giving you multiple versions of you, Eddie Sevan’s, as as models.
So you can take a modern one, you can pick a vintage one and and and play with those different different profiles.
Did test kitchen is primarily it’s a it’s designed to help you focus on the sound. But there’s also some cool visual tools like the frequency response curves, give your ears superpowers and that they can help you go like, oh wow.
OK, I’m going. I see a dip here at six thousand at six K. I’m gonna start listening for that. Also, it opens up your hearing. But there’s some other tools that we built in to. And I’m just gonna go to the upper right hand corner and click on this I button.
And we have both ethic. We have actually hotkeys that allow you to more quickly navigate your session.
And I’m going to use one of those hotkeys right now. And it’s the the numbers on my keyboard, on my laptop.
Numbers one, two, three, four, five and six will select taste tests, the corresponding taste test slots, which are also numbered. So I can easily now it’s just my hand on my my numbers on my laptop jump between the eighty seven response and the warm you eighty seven response and the plew so you eighty seven you the nomen, the antelope, the Najman, the Townsend. And so I can really quickly not only get a visual comparison but also that that same principle works really great when you’re comparing microphones.
And in that, in that Hartke menu you’ll see there’s a few other cool ones too, like hitting the Beaky takes you back to the beginning of the audio track. So while we’re talking about audio tracks, it’s like we know what you’re the sound that you’re comparing is hugely important to what we built. And we were super deliberate about designing the content to create something that was actually fun, to listen to good music, and also that would bring out and reveal all the characteristics of the microphones that you need.
So I’m actually going to show you some of the solos here. There’s two songs right now.
And again, if you join the mailing list, you’ll know over the next couple months, as soon as we release the two other songs that we have in other genres so that you can get different types of music and different types of sounding, different sounding sources to compare these microphones on.
So this first song I pull up, it’s a it’s like old school, L.A. hip hop tune. And within it you can solo the bass, you like the guitar or the piano vocal piano room, and then also a drum stem and a dry mix. And the dry mixes is just a different version of the mix, which is in the stack effect here, which is a really cool tool. The stack effect was processed with USD plugins, so they were really cool like they did about a week or two after we launched the calls up and said, dude, this is amazing that like, can you how quickly can you build us an audio test kitchen for our site?
And I hope it’s okay for me to talk about that, but that’s a work and work in progress with those guys. And they’ve got some some cool they sent us some satellites and all their plug ins so that we could we could take our full band mixes here and process them as as you would if you were making a record.
And so, Natalie, can you hear the raw sound of each one of these microphones? But you can hear it in context of like here’s here’s the plugin settings. Never change. Mixed, never changed. But we add a little compression to the vocals that is a little compression to the drums.
We didn’t eat anything because as for the main differences between these microphones, but we added like a touch of reverb and like, you know, little slap back on the vocal, that kind of thing.
So you could kind of real world contextualize how these microphones might be if you were to own them. And that brings me to the stack defects so that for those of you who are just listening to the podcast, there’s a toggled between solo. So that would be able to, you know, hear any individual instrument within the track. And then the opposite side of that toggle stack defect. And it’s basically a mix.
But why we call it stacked is because what happens is if you record using you, if you record every source using one microphone, it’s personality stacks up.
If you’ve got eight sources, 10 sources, 12 sources in your track, all of a sudden you get an eight exit, 10x, a 12 axing of that microphones, personality, its characteristics. So if it was hard and this is something anything that I observed in in the showroom a lot at Binish King or when I was doing shootouts, comparing a microphone on a single source, sometimes those differences are pretty subtle. So we wanted to create a way to naturally amplify the differences between mikes, no processing, no trickery.
It’s just literally like, hey, man. And, you know, this is what a lot of people do anyway. It’s like, you know, he knows you’re talking into a Hail Pyar 40.
What if that were your one and only Mike?
Or what if that were your best Mike and you just recorded everything with it and you’re like a little distorted by your vocals, but you also stuck it in front of, you know, a guitar but a bass. And when you put it, you know, in the kick drum and you put it, you know, you’d have to put it on everything, your tambourine.
So that’s what stack effect simulates. You know, if sound if the sound is really the most important thing and it’s it’s more important than price and it’s more important than looking, you know, at a frequency response graph and more important than how these products look. They’re visual design, the aesthetics. You can flip the audio test, kitchen interface, which is just a free Web site, works in your browser into blind mode, operating in my former features.
Oh, good. Good.
So you would ask me about this? Okay, you flip it in the blind mode and interface automatically shuffles the position of the microphones in the tape taste test at random so that you can’t, you know, track.
Oh, that Mike was, you know, the the norm and that was the worm. And then so it allows you and then it it makes them anonymous.
So now we can’t see the pictures, the microphones anymore. We can only see like our little audio test kitchen logo and a letter assigned to each one of those microphone taste test slots.
So the thing that you want to do as your listening, you want to take notes on each microphone.
So, like, let’s let’s say that we were doing a listening session and and rather than trying to get good audio over Zoom and have it sound all funky and like, hey, it sounds weird to me.
Go, go and do this on audio test kitchen.
It’s free. So let’s just say this first microphone. I’m like, you know, Chris above eight K, let’s just say my ears are that are that good.
And then I go to the next one and I’m doing some listening and I go like a bit woolly and see.
There we go. And this is these are terms that make sense to me. But you know, if I said wolly to you, you might be like, oh my God, I’ve been looking for a Willie Brown all my life.
That’s the one.
But for me, I’m like, Wolly is not what I’m looking for right now. So a bit woolly in the low mids. Okay. So I and I submit that. No. Make sure you submit every time. And then this next one I’m listening and I go like oh man. That’s like oh Ben TopT and exclamation point. Hit submit and the next one. So you get the idea. And this last one I’m going to go like one of my favorite terms.
Supple. Oh yeah. It’s a full mid range.
So and it’s suffered mid range that I have been looking for all my all my life for I’m finally ready sevens.
OK, so now I’m done with my blind test. I’m gonna flip it back in a normal mode and then go back to the flex box and I’ll get to select the tab. The third one down the little notepad. Now I can see. Now I can see who what my what my notes are.
And it looks like I have you guys, since I’m a logged in user, it actually records my historical notes that I’ve done in all my listening to the you eighty seven, for example. So I’ve got notes from today, I’ve got notes from April 18th. I’ve gotten so but if we’re looking at just the notes that I put today, now I can see like. Oh, in my blind taste test. The you know, remember, I was looking for the one that had the supple mid range and in this case, it just so happens that I didn’t actually listen these but I can see which microphone had the supple mid range.
It was the warm audio w eighty seven. Five ninety nine. Oh my gosh. I just saved myself three thousand dollars.
And then, you know, if you, if you really want to on one way that you can as a as someone who is hopefully benefiting from using audio test kitchen, you can click, you can click the shopping cart and you know, you wouldn’t be purchasing a microphone through us but you would be taken to your favorite dealer to make a purchase.
And then that our relationships with dealers, we actually are just getting those going would help keep audio test kitchen free.
I was hoping you could tell us about maybe one of the biggest or most painful mistakes you’ve made in your career applies to audio test kitchen is that we had to be okay with that.
The idea and the fact that developing a product is a journey and we had to take failures.
And you referred to some videos that are available to to watch about audio test kitchens process online.
We had to be able to get like here. Here we are in the studio. Picture this where? East West Studios. And we’ve got 250 microphones and we’ve got a crew of 10 that we’ve hired.
And we’re paying, you know, the rate of a world class top studio every day and assistant engineers and all the stuff.
And we’re three 1/2 days into recording drums on these microphones and we realize something is not right now and we have to.
And that was a real moment. And we had to choose at that moment who we are. Are we the people who go like, hey, welcome to Audio Test Kitchen. Now, it’s not quite perfect and you’re gonna have to ignore the fact that the tuning of the bass drum, the snare drum, slightly changes in the high hat is a little off from time to time.
But this is the closest you’ve ever gotten to be able to do a legitimate, you know, unbiased a B test under standardized conditions online for free.
Sure. Not community that we had to go to. And that decision, that decision to to stand up for and do what it takes to achieve and deliver what we value was a twenty thousand dollar decision.
Throughway that studio time, the drum rental, all that stuff, and then had to swallow that like, oh my gosh, our best laid plans lead us to failure.
But now think about like a much more epic expression of this. Let’s look look at a company that, like, makes rockets. Let’s look at like space X or something like that.
They build in failure as part of their cycle. They are they’re trying desperately to make things fail, because when it comes down to putting the human beings in the dragon capsule, that then can’t fail.
So if you flip it and go like, let’s find out every place possible, we can make this thing fail and let’s just be like, let’s embrace that and let failure be our teacher fail forward.
That’s. Man, if you can swallow your ego and reconcile with, like, dang, I thought I was really smart. Coming up with this idea how to solve this problem, I guess it didn’t work. So I guess I’m not as great as I am.
But your greatness is in your ability to adapt and learn from your mistakes and adapt.
Can you think of one book that has been really helpful to you? Call of the Wild Jack London. Yes.
Wow, that’s a good one. OK, cool. I was just reminded of that.
It’s like, you know, sometimes your life really does depend on lighting that match.
What’s one or two that you have to listen to every time they come out? Lewis, how’s School of Greatness, OK? That’s a good one. Well, Alex, where is the best place for people to follow your work?
So I would I would invite everybody to go to audio test, kitchen, dot com and first thing, actually scroll to the very bottom of that home page where you can learn about some of the behind the scenes stuff and and see some lasers and robots and actions like tab watch one minute video that is on a test kitchen. In a nutshell, it shows you some of the processes we went through in the studios in the anechoic chamber at Harmon, go all the way to the bottom of that home page and join the newsletter.
And that way you can hear about the new content that’s going to be coming out. And just go receive, receive.
Look for audio test kitchen on Facebook. Look for us on Instagram and let’s see me personally.
You can reach me firstname.lastname@example.org.
All right, Alex, thank you so much for joining me on Sound Design Live
Nathan, thank you so much for having me as your guests. And I want to say hey and thank you to everybody who’s listening. We are all in this together, making the world a better starting place. I admire you. I applaud you.
Be courageous in not compromising your own standards and make the world; bend the world to your vision.