Editor’s Note: Before we dive into Hubcon 2022 coverage, let’s take care of the elephant in the room—what the hell is Hubcon? Hubcon is a gathering of Part-Time Audiophile writers and editors. During our planning of this strategic-social event several exotic locations were discussed: those included Toronto, Hawaii, and Cartagena. Alas, we decided on something closer to home for our initial outing—the state of North Carolina. Home to both Dave McNair and Eric Franklin Shook, and within reach of Grover Neville, Graig Neville, and Jameson Mourafetis. In short, Hubcon is where love and audiophilia meet and shake hands.
Going To Dave School
There’s been a lot of talk about “going to Dave School” and why it’s important that we do at Part-Time Audiophile ever since Grover Neville and myself returned from Summer NAMM back in 2019.
What’s Dave School? I’m glad you asked.
Words and Photos by Eric Franklin Shook
Dave School is where someone with a fanatical interest in recorded music and its consumption, can get a first hand look at how the sausage is made, and further hear firsthand what’s done to make music special, and also gain insight as to what the artist and label sign-off on when a recording project meets its final stage. From the raw mixes to the final product, we learn what 40+ years of Grammy winning recording, mixing, and mastering experience has to offer.
And these years of experience that Dave McNair has amassed in the music industry DO NOT come from silly little vintage “ReMaStEr” side projects that no one even asked for, and not to name names, but those self-aggrandizing types have done well to promote themselves to audiophiles, so you already know who they are without me telling you.
Dave’s industry experience is informed from working directly with artists such as: Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Patti Smith, Los Lobos, Willie Nelson, Rod Stewart, Maroon Five, The Doobie Brothers, The Police, Philip Glass, Beck, Cindy Lauper, and Miles Davis.
And that’s just to name the few that I can remember. Just know that my guy is cooler than your guy.
Why is Dave School so important?
What Dave School does for us Part-Time Audiophile reviewers who have been is part ear training and part understanding how topologies work to manipulate the signal path. Dave’s studio system is exacting and precise enough to explore the plankton and brand of microphone dust embedded into most quality recordings.
With that, differences in gear and adjustments made in the pro-DAW or on the analog equipment now have a more tangible presence in the mind’s eye. Again, informing the reviewer on how to listen with intent and make sound opinions (and sometimes adjustments) on gear and the recordings used to enjoy them.
That’s the short and sweet of it, but to experience it is something else entirely.
Dave’s Hi-Fi Gear Library
Aside from Dave’s studio integrating some key components from the hi-fi world into his pro workspace, namely the: Acora SRC-2 speakers (reviewed here), Pass Labs XA-200.8 monoblocks (reviewed here), along with cables from Cardas, and balanced power systems from Equitech. Dave has also cataloged the output results of almost every passive (or low level) piece of gear that’s come through his home hi-fi rig and studio space.
Using some of the most respected and trusted methods available, Dave McNair has developed a “gear library” where he keeps direct signal recordings of cartridges, tonearms, turntables, cables, DACs, you name it. If it can output or transmit a signal, he can record it.
With this library of recordings, one can load a few sample passages into the pro-DAW (digital audio workspace) and playback multiple samples at once, while shifting between samples to hear what each piece of gear did to manipulate the sound. It’s as brilliant as it is convenient.
One example of note was Dave’s comparison of four different hi-fi interconnect cables, two balanced and two single-ended, all went head to head, playing the same musical passage, time and level matched, with switching handled by the pro-DAW.
Amazingly, but as expected, each pair of interconnect cable’s impact on the sound was somewhat subtle, but to the fanatical and audiophile cursed of us, it wasn’t as subtle as you might think and quite elucidating when comparing any of the four cables back-to-back in real time.
The most expensive cable of the group did come out on top. Drat! But would you believe that a $55 per/meter pair of single-ended RCA cables came out in our top two favourites? It’s true.
The Pro vs The Hi-Fi
When it comes to the pro-side gear in Dave’s studio, he could tell you more about the why and what magic each component brings to the table, but a few have stood out to Grover, Jameson, and myself over several visits and listening sessions at the Dave McNair Mastering Studio.
Firstly, you really get to know these pieces and what they are capable of when you pull them in and out of the recording chain. Luckily this is easier than you would imagine, since many can be bypassed easily with either a defeat switch or simple repositioning of a cable. Furthermore, these difference can be recorded and worked into the pro-DAW for even more side by side real time comparisons of their output.
Yes, the DACs, the compressors, and de-fuz-ifiers are all cool as shit, and can spin gold from sheep’s wool. But it’s the EQ’s that are hitting that extra sexy chord with Grover, Jameson, and myself. Namely the one from Terry Audio called the CEQ, a six-band passive mix and mastering equalizer, which seems to have the devil himself locked into a less than fair contract for full access to the limits of witchcraft and sorcery.
“The CEQ is a fully hand-built, inductor based discrete equalizer using true ‘Western Electric’ era inductor design, expanded and adapted Pultec passive resonant shelves and boosts; a Neumann PEV lacquer/vinyl cutting midrange boost and a novel tailored active mid cut circuit that adjusts not only frequencies but also the reactivity of audio and music.” —Terry Audio website
Doesn’t that sound sexy?
Do we like it more because it seems like integrating it into a hi-fi system seems possible? Maybe.
Do we like it more because it looks cool fascia with its un-numbered raised indices that require a sheet sheet and a steep learning curve to master? Definitely!
The Rebuilt Skully Record Lathe
Dave has written extensively about his record cutting experience and record lathe before in his tongue-in-cheek titled Ivory Tower column. Read those below.
- Hi-Fi: Why Do Records Sound Better? | The Ivory Tower
- How Recordings Are Produced, and What It Means to Your Hi-Fi | The Ivory Tower
Along with appearing on our Occasional Podcast where he and host Brian Hunter discuss even deeper into how vinyl records are made.
I implore you further to hold steady, as the Skully Record Lathe in Dave’s Mastering Studio has just received years worth of overhauling, customization, pimping-out, and fortifying from some of the world’s foremost authorities (still alive) on the equipment and process of vinyl cutting. This undertaking was expensive as shit, nearly killed a few people, and required a lifetime’s worth of patience and meditative restraint just to get through with success.
“Imagine showing up to the drag strip in a stock Bugatti Veyron, and everyone thinks it’s cute, but then a super-modified 2,400 bhp Unicorn is there waiting to each your lunch with a 0-100 time that’s twice as fast as your 0-60 time. That’s how you quantify Dave’s Rebuilt Skully Record Lathe.” —Grover Neville
We’ve heard what comes off the newly modified record lathe, and it’s more than astounding.
With that, more vinyl surprises and lathe related content (in all forms) is coming.
We can’t wait to show-n-tell you about it, and it’s going to be good.
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