Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Large (and Very LOUD) Legacy of Bob Heil

"Woo You Weel....Wike We Woo?" The Squakin' Heil Talk Box

Bob Heil is truly a unique dude, and one of the real living legends in the arena of pro sound. And I use the word arena in the quite literal sense, as it was Heil's pioneering designs and high-powered hardware that so many of the classic supergroups trucked around from arena to arena during rock's glory days. His credits are astonishing when you add them up. From taking cast-off theater equipment to build The Grateful Dead's notorious Wall of Sound, to being the engineering mastermind behind sound systems for The Who (can you say Quadraphenia?), Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, Humble Pie and many others. Heil was literally one of the agents of change that took live sound reinforcement from the dark ages of the 100-watt Shure Vocal Master to the fully modular, crossed-over, bi-amped, triamped, multi-channel mega-ton mega-watt monster of the modern day. And lest we not forget that wierd, wonderful device called the Heil Talk-Box, made famous by Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and Joe Perry. Oooh-wah-oo-wah, baby! And all the while, Mr. Heil has continued to stay active in his first love, amateur "ham" radio.

The Great Wall of China Cat Sunflower

One thing Heil had not done until recently, was to design and build microphones. over the last decade or so, Heil, along with lifelong friend Joe Walsh, began to revamp the dynamic microphone. For 40 years the industry has been using the same tired old dynamics, so Heil set out to create a newer better transducer for broadcast, stage and studio. The result is the startlingly good line of Heil microphones, quickly becoming embraced by the professional music and sound industry, as well as broadcast, podcast, VO and ham radio. The Heil dynamics' sonic purity, detail and quietness not only beat the usual crowd of dynamics, they rival much more expensive condensers. Analog Planet proudly offers the PR Series, among others. In addition to all being excellent vocal mics, the PR20 and PR40 are our new go-to mics for snare and kick, respectively, and the PR30 may be the best electric guitar dynamic since the Sennheiser MD421. I personally own a couple of these, including a Classic Pro (a PR20 element inside a replica body of the 1950's RCA 74 ribbon) which I use as my personal voice mic. Check out the PR series here.

Heil's Fantastic 40: The PR40 rocks for numerous applications

In four decades in the business, Bob Heil's still as excited about his endeavors as ever. He's easy to get on the phone, and when you do, it's like a pep-talk. His contagious enthusiasm is like that of a 20 year old!

Bob Heil when he WAS 20!

Much has been written about Heil and his accomplishments, as a quick Google search will show. Here are more resources to explore about the iconic Bob Heil:

Heil Mics on Analog Planet
Heil Sound Homepage
Blog 2006
Blog 2007

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bye Bye API -- Hello Pacific-AAAAH!!!

The vaunted A-Designs Pacifica Dual Solid-State Mic Preamp. As Rachel Ray would say, "Yummo!"

I know it's been forever since I blogged. You know how it is -- you get busy, then the stock market tanks, then comes the holiday season, then your toddler starts projectile vomiting, yada yada yada. Sheesh!

Anyhoo, in this first blog of '09 we're singing the praises of the A-Designs Pacifica, the discrete transistor preamp based on the legendary Quad-8 Pacifica console of the 1970s. Over the years, API has been widely heralded by engineers -- myself included -- as being the ultimate "American" sounding mic-pre circuit. Well, maybe not. Read this letter I wrote to A-Designs last week:

For 20 years the API 512 was my go-to mic-pre for pretty much anything and everything in the studio. Lately, I’ve been finding that I go to the A-Designs Pacifica instead. Why? Because it has everything I like about API and then some. It’s midrange character reminds me of the API but the Pacifica is less mid-forward and in general rounder, bigger and more open than the API. It has more high and low frequency response, sort of like a 512 with the “loudness” button on. As a result, the A-Designs is more detailed and airy, while having the fast dynamics that I always liked about the API.

I noticed this when I had a 512 and an A-Designs P-1 Pacifica module side by side in a 500-rack. On a male vocal, using a Mojave MA-200, the P-1 gave a bigger, more present sound. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy the sound of British iron (Neve,Trident, Daking) as much as the next guy, but ultimately I guess I lean more on the versatility of that clean, fast “American” sound. The Pacifica, with its Quad Eight heritage, may be the ultimate American preamp. Move over API!

A-Designs Homepage

Pacifica on Analog Planet

The Heritage Desk! A real Quad Eight Pacifica console, circa '79, rocking on in Austin.

It's All About The Tone, Baby!