Ethan's Magazine Articles (and Videos!)
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Over the years I have written more than 100 feature articles for the fields of audio recording, electronics, music, and computer programming. These articles have appeared in publications such as PC Magazine, Audio Media, Microsoft Systems Journal, Mix, Electronic Musician, Strings, Programmers Journal, The Strad, Recording, and many others. Following are some of the articles that are still relevant to today's technology.
The articles on this page are organized by category: Recording Applications, Audio Magic, Technical and Construction projects, Music, BASIC Programming, General Interest, and Links.
|I wrote Using a Mixer with a DAW for
EQ magazine because I was answering the same questions over and over in the audio
newsgroups: Why do earlier tracks end up on my overdubs? How do I monitor with reverb
without recording the reverb too? And many other related questions. If you have a
DAW and a small mixer, this article is for you.
My Acoustics FAQ explains how important acoustic treatment is. It's a very thorough introduction to this fascinating subject.
All other acoustics articles are now on the Articles page of my company's site: www.realtraps.com/articles.htm. There are also many educational acoustic videos on the RealTraps site: www.realtraps.com/videos.htm
|The Art of Equalization may well be
the first article ever printed in a main-stream magazine that explains how
equalizers are used in the recording studio. I wrote this in 1979 for
Popular Electronics - please understand that some of the descriptions are now slightly
dated! But it remains a clear and accessible explanation of this complex and fascinating
I also write a column for Audio Solutions, a quarterly magazine published by the GC Pro Division of Guitar Center. Besides my regular column, several issues also include additional feature articles by me. Click Archives in the lower right for the complete list of issues.
If you use analog synthesizers and want to understand what all the knobs and buttons really do, my 20 minute video How to program analog synthesizers is for you. It explains in great detail how to program analog style hardware and software synthesizers. Topics include oscillators, ADSR envelope generators, filters, LFOs, and much more. Waveforms are shown on an oscilloscope to better understand what's happening under the hood. There's a lot of fine detail on the screen, so be sure to watch it in 720p High Definition.
The compressor is one of the most useful audio tools we have, yet it's operation is not obvious to many people who are just getting started in recording. This brief tutorial explains the basic principles.
Everyone knows about the infamous "Loudness Wars," where every CD tries to compete with every other CD based on sheer volume alone. My Peak Slammer review explains how to achieve maximum volume with no audible artifacts using this clever and inexpensive DirectX plug-in.
The terms slew rate and slew rate limiting are often used to describe the performance of audio devices, but many people don't fully understand what these terms mean. This expanded description of slew rate and slew rate limiting from my book The Audio Expert also explains more about how capacitors charge over time.
For years the back pages of audio and recording magazines have featured ads for devices that claim to remove vocal tracks from a stereo recording. Is there really a magical way to remove a lead vocal from a commercial recording to create your own instant Karaoke backing tracks? Read The Truth About Vocal Eliminators, first published in the August, 1999 edition of ProRec, to find out.
|Kill Studio Hum and Buzz at the Source
was originally published in the September 1997 issue of Recording. It shows how
to wire your own lighting dimmers using variable transformers instead of the more
common and cheaper, but electrically noisy, solid state dimmers. Some frequent causes of
hum and buzz interference in the recording studio are also explored.
The first article in my three-part series for Keyboard magazine explains how to partition, backup, and organize your hard drives. The second article describes menu and folder organization, and other related tips. The third and final part in the series explains how to optimize a Windows computer for audio recording, and offers many related tips and suggestions.
The debate between analog tape and digital recording has been going on for years, even though the winner is clear to me. While we wait for the rest of the world to see the light, HERE is my take on the benefits of subtle analog-like distortion from Sound On Sound magazine.
My more recent article for Sound On Sound addresses some people's obsession with Vintage Gear.
Is it live or is it Memorex? One goal of music recording is to capture a true sound, so when played back it sounds like the musicians are right there in the room with you. The experiment shown in the video Recorded Realism proves it's not an easy task! We weren't entirely successful, but did manage to get fairly close with some of the instruments. Enjoy!
Did you ever wonder why filling a drinking glass makes its resonant frequency go down instead of up? My very short YouTube video Vodka Glass shows the phenomenon clearly. You're welcome to email from the home page of this site for the explanation, or ask on YouTube in a comment to the video.
|Add Realism to Your Synthesized Sequences,
from Recording, November 1997. Sequencers and sampling have become some of the
most useful tools for budding composers. This article shows how you can make your
sequences sound more like the real thing, and was written from the perspective of
someone who plays regularly in a symphony orchestra.
Vienna SoundFont Studio, published in Recording, May 1999. The newer models of SoundBlaster sound cards include the Vienna program that lets you create, loop, and organize your own recorded samples and play them from a MIDI keyboard. But Vienna's online documentation is poorly organized and incomplete. This article explains what Vienna does and how it works, and takes you step by step through the process of creating a multi-voice SoundFont.
If you use Sonar and SoundFonts with a Creative Labs sound card, this article is a must-read. It explains the many failings of Sonar's built-in SoundFont "support" and shows - step by step - how to overcome them all. With the tips in this article you'll be able to load any number of SoundFonts into multiple banks, prevent Sonar from clearing them each time you load a song, and be able to see all of the instrument names in all banks so you can easily choose the ones you want.
Speaking of SoundFonts, I recently added a number of original SoundFonts to my site HERE.
|Here's another Sonar article,
this time for Mix magazine, which offers several useful tips for using this fabulous
Creative Labs asked me to write this review of the Audigy Platinum eX sound card in exchange for keeping the review unit. I accepted the gift and wrote a favorable review (which was sincere at the time). Unfortunately, the bugs I discovered have never been fixed, and it looks like they never will be for users of Windows 98, anyway. I am leaving this review in place because the second half has a tutorial on the new Modulator Routings feature introduced with the SoundFont 2.1 specification, and some people may find that information useful.
In Striving For New Lows I explain why I chose the SoundBlaster Live card as the core for my then-current setup, and along the way describe many useful tips for creating and editing samples in the popular SoundFont format. Though I no longer rely on any products from Creative Labs, many home recording enthusiasts will still find this article useful.
A SoundBlaster Live Value sound card costs about $60, and most "professional" sound cards cost 5-10 times that much. Is there a difference? Are the expensive cards worth the extra cost? The Sound Card Quality Report details my tests of the SoundBlaster Live's audio quality, and also compares it to a few other audio sound cards.
If you use a SoundBlaster Live card be sure to download my block diagram that illustrates the internal signal routing.
|I wrote Designing a Music-Related
Web Site to accompany a presentation I gave at a local musicians users group
meeting. The material is not too advanced, and it answers a lot of basic questions
musicians have about setting up a web site to promote their music.
Using Visio Professional 5.0 for CD Labels and Artwork is a brief overview of using this excellent program for the stated purpose. Besides the article text, there's a ZIP file you can download that contains blank templates and samples for CD labels, CD covers, and CD back panels with spine text.
I wrote Copy Protection: The Audio Industry's Dirty Little Secret for ProRec out of frustration over the increasing number of software vendors that use this nasty and inexcusable practice. If you agree with what I've written, please join me in refusing to buy any program that is copy protected.
I was honored to present a workshop at the AES show in October 2009 that dispelled many common audio myths. Here's a video version of that workshop on YouTube: AES Audio Myths Workshop
I found the explanation for seemingly unreasonable audiophile beliefs, and I describe it here in detail.
My article Perception - the Final Frontier from Tape Op magazine is a must-read, and it received praise from such noted engineers as Thomas Barefoot and Bob Clearmountain.
Digital audio converters and sound cards have improved enormously over the years, and even budget models these days are clean enough to capture and reproduce music accurately. Yet some people still believe you must spend thousands of dollars per channel to get acceptable quality. Play the files in my Converter Loop-Back Tests and find out what you can hear - if you dare!
Debate rages in both audiophile and professional audio circles about the importance of low-level artifacts such as distortion, jitter, quantization noise, and summing errors in DAW software. My Artifact Audibility article addresses the audibility of very soft distortion and other artifacts, and includes Wave files you can download to discover for yourself at what volume level these can be heard.
Even more debate rages about the value of high-end gear versus more affordable choices. In June 2010 I got together with several friends to test three A/D/A converters - the description, result files, and a link to a YouTube video are in this Converters Comparison report.
Conventional wisdom says that setting digital record levels to peak around -20 dB below full scale sounds better than recording at levels closer to the 0 dB maximum. But is this really true, or just another Internet myth? Read The Truth About Record Levels and download the example files to find out for yourself.
My article at the Home Toys web site furthers my quest to define audio fidelity, and explain what matters and what does not when buying audio gear.
If you've ever wondered about phase shift and how it's used in audio circuits, here is a mini-article I wrote that explains the role of phase shift in equalizers. Also see the fabulous article by David Clark here that details his tests on the audibility of phase shift.
Many people claim that early digital audio sounded terrible. But is that really true? The article Early Digital Audio lets you judge this for yourself.
Every successful audio engineer knows how to get a good sound, but the lack of a solid technical foundation prevents many from fully understanding why what they do works. The result is endless arguments over the value of gold-plated connectors and audiophile speaker cable. I wrote Dispelling Popular Audio Myths for Audio Media magazine in 1999 to help put things into perspective, and separate fact from fiction.
After seeing my Myths article above, Skeptic magazine asked me to write an updated version but with a slant toward audiophiles, and Audiophoolery was the result. More than just a rehash of the same ideas, this one also identifies the only four parameters that define everything that matters with audio.
Everyone knows that 24-bit recording is better than 16, right? But is recording at 24 bits really worth the added overhead of half again more disk space and CPU power? Can anyone really hear a difference? More important, can you hear any difference? Here is your chance to find out.
My Dither Test is similar in concept to the 24-bit test above, but instead invites you to try to tell which portions of a file have been reduced from 24 bits to 16 bits via truncation, and which parts were reduced using dither.
My friend Mikael Eriksson has created an even better self-test for identifying dither and very soft artifacts. Better, he is tabulating the test results (anonymously) and will make the statistics available publicly. If you believe you can identify the application of dither, but want to know for sure, please take this test!
I admit that my Soda Blind Test is not about audio magic, but it's not totally unrelated. The lesson learned here applies equally to hearing, and possibly other human senses.
Sean Olive is a well-known audio scientist, and his blog entry The Dishonesty of Sighted Listening Tests explains the importance of listening blind when assessing audio quality.
Douglas Self is another expert audio engineer and myth debunker. His page Science and Subjectivism in Audio is excellent and highly recommended.
Just for fun I made the R-Rated video Acoustic Treatment Exposed to explain the basics of acoustic treatment.
If you are offended by total female nudity, PLEASE DO NOT VIEW this video. Everyone else, I hope you have as much fun watching as I had making it.
Technical and Construction Projects
|Build a Better Bass Trap, originally
printed in Electronic Musician, June 1995. This article gives plans and
instructions for building bass traps and acoustic treatment for recording studio
control rooms. Several related topics are explained along the way, including standing
waves, using pink noise to measure a room's response, and the pros and cons of using
monitor equalizers to compensate for room acoustics.
Some time ago I came up with a seemingly fabulous idea for a clever product I was sure could make a million dollars. The only problem was it didn't work! Read all about it in Ethan's Failed Reverb Live Room.
I'm not big on hardware hacking, but out of necessity I reverse-engineered the audio output restriction on my Motorola Adventure V750 cell phone so I could play MP3 files through my car stereo.
I wrote Build a Microphone Polarity Tester in 1980 for R-e/p magazine, and then recycled it again in 1997 for Recording. This clever build-it project shows how to test the output polarity of your microphones, to determine which output pin is positive.
The Hardware Tutor is a complete beginner's guide to understanding how electronic circuits operate. It was written from the perspective of a BASIC computer programmer, but can be readily appreciated by anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating topic. I wrote this mini-book in 1987 to accompany one of my software products, and recently revised and edited it slightly. Warning: This is a major work. The text alone is more than 7500 words, and there are 36 drawings and figures. But it's surely a good read!
|When the original tube in your U-47 microphone
dies, the best solution is to replace it with an FET. If you're handy, you'll do it
yourself by following the instructions in my U47-FET article,
and save a bundle in the process.
If you ever wanted to understand how a stereo phaser effect unit really works, this build-it article from the June 1979 R-e/p magazine has the answer. I wrote Build a Stereo Synthesizer to show how such a circuit is designed, but the article is useful even if you don't plan to actually assemble one yourself.
We all know what the meters on our recording console and tape deck really do, right? There's actually a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think! My Peak-Reading Meters article from the April 1981 R-e/p magazine looks at how audio level meters really work, and includes schematics and an in-depth discussion of how these devices are designed.
Audio Filters - Theory and Practice, from the August 1981 issue of R-e/p magazine, begins by explaining what audio filters are and how they work, and concludes with a pair of clever and useful build-it projects. The first project shows how to build a filter that removes popping Ps from a track after it's been recorded; the other shows how hum can be removed from a live audio signal, without having to pass the signal through a filter!
|Think you know everything about distortion? Then you better read Pre-Distortion Techniques from the December 1981 issue of R-e/p
magazine! It explains how you can reduce the distortion inherent in an analog tape
recorder by intentionally adding an opposite distortion to the record electronics. There's
also a schematic and instructions for building your own THD distortion analyzer.
If you have more ambition than cash, you might consider building your own gear instead of buying. Spectrum Analyzer and Equalizer Design, from the February 1982 issue of R-e/p, has complete instructions for building a spectrum analyzer to aid room tuning, parametric and graphic equalizers, and an electronic crossover for bi-amping your monitors.
My Oscilloscope article from the August 1982 issue of R-e/p magazine explains what this useful test instrument is all about, how it works, and shows how it can be used for audio testing and tape recorder alignment.
Mike Pads and Other Small Gadgets shows how to build, well, mike pads and other small gadgets. Included are circuit diagrams for passive high, mid, and low-cut filters, a battery powered phantom microphone supply, an active direct box, and a simple audio test oscillator. There's also a computer program you can download that calculates component values for the pad and roll-off circuits.
This Basic Music Theory video course is meant to complement my Audio Expert book, though it includes much more than just music theory. The entire course is longer than 2-1/2 hours, so it's divided into five video segments. This project took me six months - I hope you like it! Full details are in the YouTube description for Segment 1 in the link above, where you can also purchase a DVD.
Analyze This is an exercise in analyzing classical music - in this case Bach's fabulous Chorale #8.
Accompaniment Products for Musicians, printed originally in Strings magazine, July 1997. This article was written mainly for classical musicians, but anyone who is interested in learning how backing software programs and other accompaniment products work will find it helpful.
More Accompaniment Products for Musicians, again from Strings magazine, is mainly a review of Yamaha's excellent Visual Arranger composing software.
Buying Classical Music on the Internet is from the November/December 1999 issue of Strings magazine. It relates my experiences finding and buying classical music CDs and sheet music on the web, and rates many of the popular web sites that offer these products for sale.
Ethan's Cello Concerto is featured in the May 1999 issue of Strings magazine, and this article describes the concerto and how it came to be written and recorded. You can view and print the cello solo music, and even listen to the concerto online or download it as an mp3 audio file.
Beta Blockers and Performance Anxiety in Musicians provides a rational look at using beta blockers to combat "rubber fingers," panic, and other physical problems faced by musicians in high-stress performance situations. (This article was written by the Beta Blocker Study Committee of FLUTE, headed by Karla Harby.) For another look at the effects and treatment of severe performance anxiety I suggest the book Stage Fright by Michael J. Goode, available at his web site.
|I wrote From Sawdust to Sine Waves, about
luthiers Bob and Deena Spear, in 1994 for The Strad, a popular British magazine for string
players. This is a fascinating account of how modern makers use both state of the art and
centuries-old techniques to create excellent modern instruments. Bob discusses the cello
he sold to Mstislav Rostropovich, and I even got to meet Slava and
interview him for this article!
In the Express Lane: Learning the Cello as an Adult is intended for ambitious adult cello students, but may also be of interest to cello teachers. It presents practice tips and suggestions to help achieve good bow control as quickly as possible.
I created the two charts Instruments of the Orchestra and Their Ranges to help me when composing, and I'm sure others will find them useful too. The GIF files for Page 1 (70 KB) and Page 2 (80 KB) list the playable ranges for all of the instruments in the orchestra, and also show what ranges are appropriate for amateur players. Besides note ranges, the woodwind "break points" are also shown, so you know what note pairs are difficult to finger and should not be trilled. For trombones, the slide ranges are shown so you don't write a slide that's impossible to play. Offsets for all transposing instruments are also given. Click the links above to display the pages, or right-click and select Save Target As to save them on your computer. Special thanks to Arnie Gross and Bruce Levine for their valuable input.
PC Magazine's PC-Setup from 1993 is an installation program for in-house programmers, shareware authors, data services, and others who distribute software to non-technical users. It supports multiple distribution disks, and automatic or manual file installation. It also creates directories and subdirectories as necessary. PKUNZIP.EXE is required on all distribution files, as is DOS 3.0 or later. A number of useful programming techniques are shown including reading file names from disk, copying files, launching programs and retrieving their DOS ERRORLEVEL, and much more.
PCToday and PCCopy from PC Magazine in 1991 make backing up your day's work quick and convenient. PCToday scans all the files on your hard disk and makes a list of all the files on or since the date specified. PCCopy then uses the list to copy those files to your designated destination. Besides the utilities themselves, the included source code shows how to query all of the drives on a system and determine which are fixed or floppy or on a network, read and compare file dates and times, plus many other programming useful tasks.
|All Users Are Not Idiots
is an op-ed piece I wrote for the December 1997 issue of Visual Basic Programmers
Journal detailing some ways that programmers can make their Windows programs better
for the folks who have to use them.
Ethan Winer's best-selling book PC Magazine BASIC Techniques and Utilities is now out of print, but it's available here for downloading. The WINER.ZIP file contains the complete text of this popular book, along with source files for all of the subroutines and example programs that were included in the original printed edition. New: Thomas Antoni has converted my entire book into PDF format, and made it available on his web site. This is the version I now recommend.
Programming source files and examples:
|BigPut shows how to load and save entire
arrays (or any area of memory for that matter) by calling BASIC's internal routines for
GET and PUT. Accessing these routines directly is much faster than using individual GET or
PUT commands on each array element in a FOR/NEXT loop. NOTE: This program
works only when compiled; not in the BASIC editor.
ColorPrint is a User To User submission I edited for PC Magazine, showing how to print text in graphics mode and also specify a background color.
Database is a skeleton for a complete data-entry system, featuring on-screen field entry and editing. The entered data can be saved to disk, and retrieved for viewing or editing later. This program may be easily customized to suit your own needs, and complete instructions for doing that are included in the program's header comments.
Encrypt is a BASIC-only version of the QuickPak encrypt/decrypt utility. It's not a rocket science algorithm, but it's pretty secure anyway!
Execute is a combination demo and BASIC Function that lets you run another program. But unlike SHELL it retrieves that program's DOS exit code. You specify the program name, and optional parameters, and it returns 0 for success or the ERRORLEVEL if one was set by the program.
ExeName shows how to tell the path from which your program has been run. This is useful when you need to open a data file, but your program may have been run by adding the path explicitly and thus you can't count on that being the current directory. So even your program was run using C:\PATH\PROGRAM you can still determine what "PATH" is and also if your program was renamed.
FreeText is a complete, though minimal, freeform text database program that you can use as is, or integrate with an existing program. It lets you write, read, and update text entries of varying length, and access those entries by record number. The text is stored in a binary file, and it can be edited and resaved even if the new text is longer than the old. A parallel index file tracks where each block of text is located, letting you access the text by record number. Requires QuickPak Professional.
Map is a BASIC utility much like the DOS MEM.EXE program. It was written by Robert Hummel, and shows how DOS memory is allocated and searched. This one is not for the faint of heart!
PDQZip was written by Crescent customer Dan Moore, and it reads and reports all information about any standard ZIP file such as the files contained and their dates and sizes.
Serial contains CALL Interrupt source code showing how to read the serial number of any disk.
SwapCom shows how to swap Com ports 1/3 and 2/4, so you can get at those higher ports using the standard BASIC OPEN COM command.
|If you hate traffic lights as much as I do, you'll
enjoy my video Connecticut
Traffic Lights. In this scathing critique of traffic signals I show the problems, and
explain what should be done to manage traffic more efficiently and more fairly.
New pickles - also called half-sours or quarter-sours - are the kind you find in a good Jewish deli, and they taste great. But it's rare to find good ones at the supermarket, and when you do they're usually too expensive. Fortunately, using my new pickles recipe you can easily make them yourself!
Ethan addresses 1,000,000 people. On April 29, 2011 Joe Crummey said on his WABC radio talk show that nobody supports pornography being in public libraries except the libraries. So I called in and gave my opposing opinion. Here's the LINK (1.3 MB MP3 file).
Be Smart With Your Money explains my approach to saving money and spending wisely.
Critical Thinking is an op-ed article that ran in the July 30, 2000 edition of my local newspaper, the Danbury News-Times. When I submitted this piece, Mary Connolly, the News-Times editor, told me, "I think it's wonderful." Perhaps it should be required reading for all consumers, educators, and lawmakers.
More recently I wrote A Skeptic's Call to Action for The New England Journal of Skepticism, encouraging their readers to do more to promote their worthy cause.
My little op-ed piece on the state of television may amuse you, but it's absolutely serious.
If you believe in god and are easily offended, please do not read The Problem with (Criticizing) Prayer.
If you're a religious conservative, don't read my article Why Do Conservatives Hate Sex? either.
Speaking of which, my Brief History of Conservatives highlights some of history's progress against conservatives over the years.
Most of the articles listed here were written by me, but Sign Man was written about me for the local newspaper when I'd had enough of roadside advertising and decided to do something about it.
explains how to protect yourself and your friends from spam and other nuisance
If you like pinball you'll love the short video "tour" of my vintage Gorger and Firepower pinball machines. See it in hi-res on Vimeo, or for older computers it's also on YouTube. I also made this follow-up video to show my two newer pinball machines, Black Knight and Rescue 911.
Connecticut Traffic Lights is an older article about these annoying contraptions. We can put a man on the moon, but apparently the state Department of Transportation can't make a few light bulbs turn on and off intelligently.
What can you do when a product you bought doesn't work properly and the company won't answer your tech support phone calls or email? Sometimes nothing, except complain loudly and publicly. My Onions and Pearls article for ProRec awards kudos and raspberries - and names names - to a variety of manufacturers.
I gathered up a few select Letters to the Editor I've written to newspapers over the years, on a variety of subjects. My oldest cousin says I'm a curmudgeon. Who, me?!
If you get a computer virus, my article Removing a Computer Virus might save you a bunch of hassle and the cost of hiring a pro. My earlier article Avoiding Email Viruses explains how to avoid getting a virus in the first place.
Visit Ethan's Acoustics forum HERE at MusicPlayer.com.
Eddie Ciletti is a columnist for Mix magazine as well as an audio educator. His Tangible Technology web site is chock full of audio goodness, and the Introduction to Electronics page is a great place to jump in.
Have more questions about electronics? The EEWeb Electrical Engineering Community is a great online forum. Equally useful is the TechXchange forum, hosted by the electronic parts supplier Digi-Key.
Sign up for the DigiFreq newsletter by Scott R. Garrigus HERE - essential reading for anyone who uses SONAR.
Entire contents of this web site Copyright © 1997- by Ethan Winer. All rights reserved.