George Massenburg, Engineer and Inventor
George Massenburg, celebrated recording engineer and producer, authored and presented the seminal paper on parametric equalization at the 1972 Audio Engineering Society convention. His company, GML, produces equipment for recording applications, including the recent GML 2032 Mic Pre and Parametric EQ.
Quick bio: George Massenburg, celebrated recording engineer and producer, authored and presented the seminal paper on parametric equalization at the 1972 Audio Engineering Society convention. His company, GML, produces equipment for recording applications, including the recent GML 2032 Mic Pre and Parametric EQ. He's collaborated on more than 200 albums, from artists like James Taylor, Billy Joel, and Lyle Lovett, and he's currently Adjunct Professor of Recording Arts and Sciences at McGill University in Montreal, and a visiting lecturer at UCLA, USC, and Middle Tennessee State University.
Sam: From the start of GML, your products were designed to provide either better sound quality through the device, or tools to help the engineer achieve better sound, or both. How much of this was based on your own needs as an engineer/producer and how much on your view of the industry?
Massenburg: For the most part, I designed gear either because there wasn't anything around that would do what I wanted to hear, or because what was available didn't work right. Very little of what I work on is in response to what I perceive as "industry need." On occasion, mainly when I'm talked into designing something for someone's perceived need, I design to someone else's spec. None of these products paid back their development costs or are still around today.
Sam: You started GML to offer equalization and compression with cleaner signal paths. What convinced you it was achievable?
Massenburg: In the beginning, prior to starting GML, I designed and built the first commercial parametric equalizer. Selling an industry on the first one was the real challenge. After the idea was established, the quality of manufacture was the issue. The company that was doing it was building deeply flawed gear that I loathed having my name on. So we started GML to improve the manufacturing. We knew it would sell.
Sam: In 1999 you launched a new company called Massenburg Design Works. My understanding is that this was to refocus your skills on DSP-based software products. Did you see the same need for better/cleaner algorithms, or did you try to re-create your analog products in the digital world?
Massenburg: Jim Pace and I decided to start a separate software company with designs that wouldn't be confused with GML's. Even today, after several companies have more closely modeled digital products after vintage analog products, I still don't feel comfortable doing so, even though it's been pointed out we could make a ton of money doing so.
Sam: Your dynamics processor offers more control than most, making it more flexible but also a bit tricky to use. Is there a need to reduce the control options product designers give users?
Massenburg: If I were beholden to a market, I might have to simplify the user interface on the 8900 [Analog Dynamic Range Controller]. But I won't. There are enough good engineers out there who understand it. By the way, all that's required to master it is to use one's ears. Our digital dynamic range controller is scalable; it has a flexible front panel that switches between a simple three-knob interface, up to a mystifying tweak-head version with 20 or so controls.
Sam: With so much of your work focused on improving sound quality of recordings, how do you feel about compression (AAC, MP3, etc.)?
Massenburg: Bit-rate reduction is a necessary evil, but it's absolutely clear that the current state of the art in moving data across the net and storing it on a local resource puts nowhere near the same restriction on file size as it did in 1997. Most of the time, there's simply no need to squeeze the bejezuz out of music today, yet we continue to feel that it's important to do so. I think students need to be trained to hear what these codec algorithms really do to their music. Perhaps then they'll be more reluctant to process it to death.
Sam Berkow is the founding partner of SIA Acoustics, an acoustical design firm with offices in New York and Hollywood, Calif.