Monday, November 29, 2010

New Musical Tools - Electro-Voice, TC Helicon and Ovation

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I had the opportunity to play my guitar and sing for a group of women at a women's shelter in Chicago while others from my church served lunch.  I played mainly Christian praise songs as well as a few Christmas songs.

This was the first time I had a chance to try out the Electro-Voice N/D 767a microphone with my Mackie SRM350 speakers.  It worked great!  The microphone gave me a lot more depth to my voice as I sung mostly within 1 to 2 inches from the windscreen.  Since the microphone has a lot more volume than a standard Shure SM58, I was able to turn down the overall volume level on the PA and I was still louder than with an SM58 microphone!

The Electro-Voice mic really sounded nice with my rather "thin" sounding voice.  The proximity effect from singing close to the windscreen never sounded "boomy" but rather just gave me a fullness that I was often missing when just using a Shure SM58 microphone.

Just before lunch was served, my cousin Sue gave a testimony and borrowed my PA system.  I switched the microphone to a Shure SM 58 as I knew that she would never hold the microphone anywhere close to her mouth.  I was right.  She held it around chest level and so I had to turn up the volume on the PA to compensate for the distance of the microphone to the source.  Since the Electro-Voice N/D 767a really only sounds good when close mic'ed, I figured the SM58 would be the better choice for her to use.  I was right.

Besides the microphone being used for the first time, I also had the chance to use the TC Helicon Harmony G XT harmonizer as well.  I used it sparingly to give some of the songs a little extra vocal punch with two extra harmony parts singing along with my main voice.  It worked great too!

My new Ovation Custom Elite C2078 LX acoustic guitar was also used on this gig.  I did not utilize my full array of pedals with the guitar but decided to only use the built-in reverb from the TC Helicon unit.  While I missed the fullness I get from my other pedals and processors for my guitar, it still sounded very good!  Definitely, the Ovation's built-in preamp and pickup does a terrific job all by itself.

Now that I think about it, the one Mackie SRM350 speaker that I used was also "new" as well as it was purchased on eBay to compliment my other speaker.  So actually, every piece of equipment I used on this gig was new!  It was great to try out all the new gear together.  I'm looking forward to the next time I can play live again... which will be this Sunday at church!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TC Helicon Harmony G XT

Harmonizers aren't new.  They've been around for a while.  But this one is unique because it's my first one!  :)

What does it do?  Well, several things.  It's main function is to create 2 and 3 part harmonies out of one singing voice.  All you have to do is sing and the unit will figure out a third above and a fifth above your singing voice and "clone" your voice singing in those new notes!  (Or, it can sing an octave above or below, or even a third or a sixth below.)  Instant harmonies of three voices!  How does it know if you want a major harmony chord or a minor?  Well, it follows your guitar which is also plugged into the unit and figures it out based on the chords your guitar is playing.  Pretty nifty, eh?

Besides harmonies, the TC Helicon Harmony G XT also has effects like Reverb, Echo, Doubling, flanging, compression and pitch correction.  Yes, it will even make a slightly off-pitch singer sound like he/she is singing on the correct pitch.  The effects are also shared with the guitar if you decide to use the unit to control your guitar sound too.

So, no more singing by myself... I now have two singing partners whenever I need them.  I just have to step on the switch and there they are!

My first public performance with it will be the day after Thanksgiving at a women's shelter in Chicago.  Our church will be serving lunch that day and I'll be the entertainment.  It will be interesting to see people's reaction to this when they see one person at the mic, but hear three people singing.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rectilinear Correction of Fisheye Images in Photoshop CS5

The upper two images above were taken with a Nikon D3 camera and a Nikon 16mm f2.8 Fisheye lens. The venue is the Marriott in Burr Ridge, IL.  The top image is the original image and the middle image is one that was corrected in Adobe Photoshop CS5 Camera RAW.  The bottom image is a standard 24mm image taken with the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens.  All images were taken in the RAW format.

While the corrected image "fixes" the curved distortion so typical of fisheye lenses, it does stretch the image on the far left and right sides.  If you zoom in, you'll see the distortion.  Still, it is possible to crop the far left and right sides to eliminate the distorted sections, but it makes the image less wide by doing that.  The 24mm image doesn't have the curved distortion, as expected, but it has a much less wide angle of view..

Remember too that the Nikon D3 is a full frame camera.  So the equivalent focal lengths using APS-C sensor digital cameras would be 10.5mm (compared to the 16mm full frame fisheye) and 17mm (for the 24mm full frame lens.)

I suppose you need to make decisions as to what's most important.  Be sure to click on each image for a closer look.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Not My Wedding...

Nice looking wedding couple!  Unfortunately, I don't have a clue who they are!

I was at the Marriott in Burr Ridge, IL this past Friday taking photos of their banquet room on the hotel's behalf and the bride and groom who had booked the room for their reception came in to check out the progress of the decorating.  They were amazed and happy with the way the room looked and afterward they shared a private moment together.

Since their photographer was outside of the room taking photos of other events at the time, I decided to take a shot of the couple to cover it for him.  I've given the photo to the hotel who is welcome to give it to the bride and groom with my compliments.

Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time...

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day

Thanks to all our military personnel for keeping our country safe and defending our freedom!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Undercover Boss - Season Two Episode 7 - Chicago Cubs & Rocco Caputo

Like many other Cub fans and television viewers, I tuned in to watch Sunday night's episode of Undercover Boss on CBS.  Episode 7 of Season Two featured Todd Ricketts, one of the owners of the Chicago Cubs as he went undercover to see how employees of the Cubs organization did their everyday job.

One of the featured employees teaching Ricketts how to do his job was a food vendor named Rocco Caputo.  The second I saw him on the TV screen, I knew immediately that I had taken his photograph back in July 2007.  I was attending a Cubs vs. Astro game at Wrigley Field and as I normally do, I was taking photos of everything that happened at the game and that included food vendors!  I don't know what triggered me to remember his face, but I immediately knew that my photograph was of Rocco.  I did not post his photo on my blog at the time, but I still remembered his face.  You can see that post by clicking here.

Rocco was assigned to teach Todd Ricketts the ropes of how to sell hot dogs.  Despite his best efforts, Ricketts failed at selling hot dogs and actually threw away four of them just so he could go back and claim he sold all his hot dogs.  But Rocco found four hot dogs that were thrown into a trash bin and confronted Ricketts about them.  Ricketts denied it was his hot dogs, but you could tell Rocco did not believe him.  Since he could not prove it belonged to Ricketts, he had to take him at his word.

Later, after Ricketts identified himself to Rocco as one of the owners of the team, he awarded Rocco the first "Wrigley Field - Employee of the Year Award" for his dedicated work.  Now his name will forever be in the hallowed halls of Wrigley Field.  I remember watching Rocco working in 2007 and at that time he was selling beer.  I recall thinking to myself that selling beer had to be one of the hardest jobs for a food vendor because beer is pretty heavy to have to carry all day long.  Maybe that's why I remembered Rocco's face after all these years!

Congratulations to Rocco for his award for 2010.  I wonder if anyone will remember him when they ask him for food at Wrigley Field in 2011 after having watched this episode.  I hope they do.  I know I remembered him and that's even before this show aired.

Be sure to click on the image for a closer look.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mic Showdown - Shure SM58, Beta 58a, Beta 57a, Electro-Voice N/D767a

I decided to do a comparison of various vocal microphones to find the best sounding microphone for my voice when singing live into a PA system... I reported this on a thread on

I've now lived with the Beta versions of the Shure mics for about 4 days. The Electro-Voice... only one day. So please keep this in mind. Also, the tests I made are not scientific... these are just my own observations of the mics with my voice, not anyone else's. While all mics are great mics in their own right, there are distinct differences that can easily be heard. Whether they suit you or not is hard to tell. But these are my own conclusions based on what I hear for my own voice and my own preferences.

Also please note that my voice is rather "thin" in comparison to other male tenor voices. It doesn't have much depth to it when I sing. So I rely a lot on proximity effect (rising bass response when singing up close to a mic) to get some depth to my voice.

Also, these tests are geared for LIVE use... not for recordings. I'm not listening for the best recorded sound... I'm listening for the best live sound through a PA.

Shure SM58...
This is the standard by which most mics are probably compared to and that's most likely due to the fact that it has been around FOREVER. It's an old design, but one that has definitely lasted. I've used this line of mics for probably 40 years. The one I'm using to compare is perhaps 3 years old and hasn't really been used all that much. Relatively new, I'd say.

By itself, the SM58 is great. It's very smooth sounding and has a decent sound for most voices in my opinion. I've heard this mic used by a lot of people over the 40 years. Everyone seems to be pretty good sounding with it. While it claims to have a rising frequency response, you don't really hear that when you compare it to the other mics in this test. By itself, perhaps. In comparison.... no.

While some may say it's muted, I don't think it really is. I think its response is just smooth and so when compared to others that definitely have brighter sounds, it makes this mic sound muted.

Shure Beta 58a...
This was the obvious choice to compare against the SM58. Essentially, it's the updated version of the SM58. In comparison, it was louder than the SM58, slightly brighter, but seemed to lack bass response in comparison. I think this may be due to the relative level of frequencies, but not actually lacking in bass. Since the brighter high frequencies are more pronounced, you feel you are having less bass. Even singing close up on the mic (lips touching the screen), I don't seem to be able to get back the bass I think it should have for my voice. Mid frequencies also seem more forward to me. So with these two areas being emphasized more, the bass seems a lot less in comparison.

Shure Beta 57a...
This mic is advertised to be an instrument mic, more so than a vocal mic, although many people use the Beta 57a for vocals as well. In the past, I had a standard SM57 and recall it to be great sounding for vocals as well as instruments. An SM57 would work great for snare drums, toms, percussion and guitar amps (from what I'm told... although I never needed to mic my guitar amps in the past.)

The Beta 57a is similar to my recollection of what an SM57 is capable of as it seems to be much brighter than both the SM58 and Beta 58a. Of all, it had the least amount of bass response with my voice. Even singing with lips touching the mic, I could not get a decent bass response increase with proximity effect. So it could be that its proximity effect is very low, or that perhaps it just has low bass. I'm not sure what, but it definitely cannot give the kind of bass I hear with the other three mics. But due to its clear high frequency range, I see this mic as something that would be a killer sound if you want clean, crisp percussive sounds reproduced. For this, I agree, it's probably best suited to mic instruments...especially percussion instruments.

Electro-Voice N/D767a...
My first initial impression of this mic was, "Wow... this is so much louder than the other three mics!" Then, my next impression was, "Wow, this mic sounds funny..." Why? Well, with the gain moved up so much more, I found I had to move farther back from the mic than with the other mics so that I wasn't influenced by the shear volume increase! So my thin voice sounded even thinner and actually sounded really bad. I was extremely disappointed on my first try with the mic.

Then, I found out something interesting with the EV... it absolutely sounds awful if you sing without your lips within perhaps 1 inch or less to the screen! When I turned the gain down on my PA to compensate for the increased volume and I started singing with my lips literally touching the windscreen, this mic was AMAZING! Of all the mics, it has the deepest proximity effect but it doesn't seem to make the mic muddy sounding in the low-end! This is probably what they advertise as their VOB effect (Vocally Optimized Bass.) It actually works! Deep clean bass for thin voices.

The upper-end clarity is there as well. Very clean sounding. Mid frequencies are not too forward, but very clear as well. For my thinner sounding voice, this mic is what does the trick for me. It makes me sound a lot deeper than I actually am without a mic, but doesn't make me sound boomy. And it has a lot more clarity on the high frequencies than the SM58 or Beta 58a. Brighter than the Beta 57a? I'm not quite sure. It may be on par with it... I just can't tell. The two mics are so different that I don't think it is fair to compare them together with my voice.

Can the EV mic work with instruments? I haven't a clue. I didn't try it. But my gut feeling is that this mic is really a vocal mic. It's best qualities really only work when you are within about 1 inch or less from the windscreen. That would be hard for an instrument to be played properly with that kind of requirement.

In conclusion, for me, the Electro-Voice mic wins for my thin voice. Will it work for your voice? Who knows. Get one and try it. I'm really curious what it will do for people with deeper voices. I've read reviews where they all say it's great on female voices. But not many mention about male voices with this mic. Perhaps my thin male voice works with this as it falls closer to a female voice due to lack of depth. I don't sing as high as a woman... but the thin quality puts it as a good candidate for this mic.

Also, I'd like to mention that I don't think the EV mic would make a good general mic to use for various people who need to pass the mic around for announcements. For that, the Shure SM58 would be best. Why? Well, the EV needs your lips within one inch to make it sound good. Anything farther away lacks all bass and volume. Most people are afraid to sing or talk into a mic within one inch of the windscreen. Ever see what people who never use a mic do when you hand them one? It's probably about one foot away from their mouths! You'd never hear anything out of the EV mic if it was held that far away! With the Shure SM58, it's overall smooth sound and lack of need to be close to it would definitely work best. Very bright mics would just squeal in feedback if you turned up the gain to compensate for someone holding the mic a foot away from their mouth.

So in conclusion, for my voice, I'd rank the mic preferences like this:

1. Electro-Voice N/D 767a
2. Shure Beta 58a
3. Shure SM58
4. Shure Beta 57a

With your voice? Who knows...

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sometimes It's A Parent's Job To Make Their Kids' Lives Miserable...

Back in the late 70's and early 80's our family owned a stereo store in Skokie, IL.  My father, brother and I worked at the store selling mid to high-end audio gear.  It was a lot of fun working in a business where I got to play with the latest stereo equipment and listen to music all day long.  Many "regular" customers of our store would come in to just "shoot the breeze" with us and listen to music and play with the new gear too.

Since our store was in Skokie, many Jewish families frequented our store since Skokie (at least at that time) had a large number of Jewish families living in the town.  If you know anything about Jewish culture and stereotypes (no pun intended), you'll know that sometimes it was the Jewish mom's job to try to make their kid's lives miserable.  It wasn't done to be mean... it was more like a game they played with their kids.  While I am not Jewish, many of my friends were and so I got to see how all this often played out.

Anyway, I recall one incident where one of our regular store customers named Joel came into the store one day with his mom.  Joel visited quite often and so my brother and I knew him well.  He was about our age and was still deciding what to do with his life, so he thought he'd go to college and take up "Business" as his major.  Well, the decision to go to college was probably the best thing he could have done and I'm sure his mom knew that and was proud of it too.  But it was her "job" to make his life miserable, right?  So here's what his mom did right in front of us at the store...

Joel: "Ma, I'm going to go to college and major in Business."
Mom: "Business?!  Are you crazy?  You don't need to take business to be in business!"
Joel:: "Ma, I"m going to take business."
Mom: "You don't need business!  Business?  Why take business?  Here, look at these two guys (my brother and me)...  did you guys take business?"
Russ: "No 'mam."
Mom: "See, HE didn't take business.  But he's IN business!  Isn't this a business?  (referring to our store.)
Joel: "Well... yeah..."
Mom: "HE didn't take business, but HE's in business!  You don't need to take business!"
Joel: "Ma, it's not the same thing..."
Mom: "What do you mean?  This is a business!  Is this not a business?  What are you talking about?  This is business!... You don't need to take business to be in business!"

With that, she gave us a sly smile while Joel squirmed around trying to figure out how to cope with his mom.  My brother and I were doing our best to hold in the laughter.  :)

Sometimes, you just gotta love 'em.  I love Jewish moms!  :)