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We'll fix it in the mix. Monitoring on the ultra cheap

All Rights Reserved © 1997 Duncan R Fry


I think I've mentioned in a previous article that in earlier days I had a rehearsal studio. Business was very good, but it occurred to me that I could get much more money per hour if I had demo facilities.

So I put myself into debt to acquire an 8 track tape deck. Not a compact little DA 88 or Adat like you would get today, but a venerable Tascam 80-8. It was a great machine, strong, super reliable, and what it lacked in flexibility it sure made up for in weight, because it was a real hernia provoker! It never missed a beat as long as I had it, but it did have one interesting little quirk; if it did a lot of rewinding it would start to creep its way to the edge of the shelf it was sitting on, with disastrous consequences for anyone sitting underneath!

With the help of my friend Colin I put together a rudimentary (transl. Cheap. Ed) mixing console, the semi legendary Gigmaster Mk 1 (the front panel of which still hangs on my wall), with 12 channels and 2 way EQ ('More' and 'Less'). I bought a box of TDK SA cassettes, cleaned the head on the cassette deck, and I was all set to go.

The I realised I'd forgotten something - studio monitors. Something big and impressive to look at, and so efficient that they would deliver ear bleeding volume when driven hard by my 20 watt (on a good day with the wind in the right direction) old hi fi amp.

I looked at the price of some big JBL monitors, and promptly forgot about that idea! Something just a little more economical, perhaps? Then I remembered that in the garage I had a pair of big old Jensen speaker boxes. I had bought them at a time when bigger was better, and more bass was even better still. They were a four way design, with a 15" low, and both 6" and 4" midranges that you could blend together (it didn't matter which one you chose, they both sounded like crap!), and a little tweeter on top. But they were big, and what's more I already owned them!

I dragged them out of the garage, blew the dust and the cobwebs off them, and plugged them in to have a listen. Well, something came out but it wasn't terribly musical. Every bass note sounded like Grandpa farting in the bath. Prising off the grille cloth I soon saw why – mice had eaten all the soft foam surrounds from the 15s, and they were just flapping away in the frames like a freshly landed snapper.

Crikey, what could I do? I had a band of reggae plumbers (Jason Dreadlock and the Stopcocks) coming in on Saturday to take advantage of the new demo facilities, and I had no money to buy some new 15s. The two heavy duty RCFs that I had were doing stage monitor wedge duty in the rehearsal studio, so I couldn't take them.

And then I thought of Norm Edge. Good old Norm. I think he's shuffled off this mortal coil now, but back then he had a speaker repair shop on Nepean Highway in Gardenvale, Melbourne, next to Lucky Burgers. What was lucky about them I never knew. Lucky to eat there once and live to eat another day, probably.

Just a small digression: As I tap this out on my lap with one eye on the keyboard and the other on the TV, a commercial comes on for Woman's Daze magazine, with the headline on the cover: "Princess Di falls for rich Count" or some such drivel. And I'm instantly reminded of the classic story about the Australian farmer who sends his son off to a very upper class private school in England so he can mingle with the sons of aristocrats and get the benefits of a good education. So, when the kid has been there for a while, he sends his parents a photo of himself dressed up in the bizarre school uniform that is peculiar to these places, and he writes on the back. "Dear Mum and Dad. Here I am at school. Don't I look just like a real Count. Love Cedric"

The farmer takes one look at it, sighs, and hands it to his wife. "I dunno, dear," he says, "All that money we're spending on his education and he still can't spell!"

Anyway, back to the tenuous thread of my story. Norm was a little eccentric. Whether it was the fumes from the speaker glue, or just nature's way of making sure that not everyone becomes a brain surgeon…I don't know. But he certainly was cheap! And that was my primary concern.

So I unscrewed the drivers from the boxes, threw them in the Mini, and whizzed down to Norm's 'World o' Speakers'.

"Can you fix these for me, Norm?" I asked. He took one look at them, sniffed, and rolled his eyes to heaven.

"Huh, Jensens," he grunted. "Probably not the world's most shithouse speaker, but not very far off!" Well, that really filled me with confidence.

Then he launched into a diatribe on what was wrong with them, how poorly they worked, how little power they handled, how anyone could put them into a box and still sleep at night, that sort of thing. When he started to go red in the face and dribble, I put my hands up to stop him.

"Yes, yes, I know all that, but can you fix them?" I interrupted.

"Fix 'em? Course I can," he said, hurt that his professional abilities had been challenged, and calming down somewhat now that he had got his complaints off his chest. "You can pick them up on Friday."

Now for the big question. "And, er, Norm, er, how much do you think they might cost?" I braced myself for the shock.

"Well, it's a lot of work. New foam, take 'em apart, umm, let's say $15 the pair. That sound fair?"

Fair? I shook his hand, said I'd see him Friday, and got out of there quick before he changed his mind. Thank heavens for speaker glue fumes, was all I could say!


When I picked them up on the Friday, he'd done a really good job. I stuck them back in the boxes, mounted them on the walls of the control room, and got ready for the session.

I think the tweeters died about half an hour into the mixdown, when a burst of rewind 'monkey talk' blew the diaphragms across the room. The midranges hung together until the end of the session, but they were D.O.A. in the morning. The 15s, though, for all of Norm's protestations, worked for ever and a day!

During the next week Dave Park helped me redesign the layout of the boxes. We made new baffles and nailed them over the old ones, replaced the two midranges with one that actually worked, and popped a piezo in as top end!

The piezo was a little bit too bright sounding, but a piece of foam rubber across the front fixed that. I never had a complaint about them (about lots of other things, but never the monitors!) and after the EPA closed down the studio (perhaps more on this at another time) I sold them to someone else for $400, who's used them ever since!


This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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