Sonic Nirvana? Thinking Outside Of The “Technically-Oriented” Box

It’s fairly easy to purchase the latest miracle toy and install it - and then, in time, become disillusioned...

By James Cadwallader May 12, 2016

Mixing via the gain knob? Yup. Simple and effective.

Whenever I’m at the local Guitar Hut, I like to listen to the people who come in and talk with the pro audio sales guy about gear. These conversations are often filled with nebulous audiophilic adjectives like “warm”, “sweet” and “punchy”.

The sales guy has little motivation to be a source of truthful or accurate information. He just wants to make a sale. Meanwhile many of his customers already have their minds made up as to what piece of gear they need, and why. 

It’s fairly easy to pick out those who will make a purchase and install it in their system – and then, in time, become disillusioned enough to again pick up the quest for the next piece of gear that promises sonic nirvana.

After more than 30 years of work with professional live and recorded sound, I find it unfortunate that so many are trapped in this scenario. Collectively, we have yet to reach a uniform level of conceptual awareness about sound systems and ways of attaining excellent results because of a fixation with gear.

For many years, I was bound, seeing just individual trees. Fortunately, Bob Brooks helped me to see the rest of the forest.

Bob came up back in the heyday of 1950s broadcasting, has been extensively involved with both live and studio production, and for 10 years owned one of the most successful studios in western Canada, Little Mountain Sound. 

I met Bob eight years ago, and wish that I’d met him much earlier in my professional development. A true mentor, Bob has pushed me to hear and think outside the “technically-oriented” box that traps so many of us. We easily fool ourselves into believing that because the technical issues are “technically” correct, the sonic issues are “sonically” correct. 

Even when we’re absolutely sure our ears are telling us that something is amiss, we still deny and defend, even to our own demise. 

I like gear, but now recognize that if I release my inner Tim Taylor, I’ll end up sitting on the couch in my underwear surrounded by boxes of Class A this, digital that, and tubes galore, giggling like Beavis & Butthead. 

Sorry, it’s best not to go there.

Since Bob helped enlighten me, my personal “key” to achieving consistent, reliable and (pardon the lack of modesty) excellent results boils down to this: it’s not what you’ve got, but how you use it. 

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