Spectra Dynamics is a small Welsh company specialising in the production of a rather interesting, soft polyurethane material, which is very dense, very flexible, and exhibits a high degree of self-damping due to its long-chain molecular structure. The company already manufactures a range of products based on this material, most of which are aimed specifically at the hi-fi market, but some of them seem equally applicable to the recording studio.
Spectra Dynamics first contacted me after reading my suggestion of mounting monitor speakers on blobs of Blu-Tak, whereupon they informed me that they sold a material which would provide greater isolation, and which wouldn't get squashed flat with age. I was intrigued enough to take a look. The product in question consists of a set of four huge stick-on feet (around 5cm in diameter), called Foculpods, normally sold to hi-fi users to isolate their CD players and record decks from vibration. Foculpods do seem to provide a respectable amount of isolation, and they have a very tacky feel, which makes them incredibly non-slip.
Apparently, the material works best when it is under compression, so speaker mounting seems to utilise its properties to their greatest advantage, but you can also buy sheets or blocks of the stuff to use in room construction. It is rather more expensive than neoprene, but in certain strategic situations, the extra cost may well be justified.
Another application for the material is treating the insides of loudspeaker cabinets, and although I haven't tried this on any of my own monitors yet, there are various testimonials to indicate that it is often beneficial -- or there is at least an audible difference. Essentially, the inside surfaces of the cabinet are treated by fixing quarter-inch thick Deflex panels, which have a Fresnel lens-style ribbing moulded on to their surface. My calculations suggest the lens contour will have little, or no effect in refracting anything other than the very highest frequencies, but the surface area will be increased, thus helping absorption. The manufacturers claim that the material works by reducing the amount of reflected energy redirected back through the bass driver's cone. Contoured pieces are also available for treating the inside corners of the cabinet, but again, I can't say at this stage whether this makes a significant difference.
After experimenting with the Spectra Dynamics polymer, I feel that it has a number of beneficial uses, including loudspeaker isolation, isolating guitar amps from the floor (try four Foculpods on the amp, and then stand this on a small paving slab), studio construction, damping resonant panels, and treating equipment where there is a tendency for the lid to vibrate in sympathy with the mains transformer. You could even try isolating DAT, CD, DCC, or ADAT/DA88 recorders in any environments where there is a lot of structural vibration.
You really have to handle this material to appreciate how dense and non-slip it is -- its texture approaches that of the dead rubber bats you can get from joke shops! The way that it absorbs energy is explained by simple physics -- it is not just another 'snake-oil' product spawned by the hi-fi business, but equally, it isn't going to miraculously solve all your problems either. Ultimately, it's just a new material, and like any material, it has to be used in the right context to produce worthwhile results. Even so, the more you think about it, the more applications you can find for it.
£ Foculpods £14.95 per pack of four; Deflex panels for loudspeaker modifications (28x21cm) £7.95 each; plain sheets available in various sizes from 2 to 8mm thick. Full price list on request. Prices include VAT.
A Spectra Dynamics Ltd, Talargoch Trading Estate, Meliden Road, Dyserth, Clwyd, LL18 6DD.
T 01745 571600.
F 01745 570194.
Guitar amps don't figure largely in the pages of SOS, but this little practice amp turns out to be ideal for recording rock and blues guitar. It's a very nice looking amp, with classic tweed covering, a traditional fabric speaker grille, and vintage (Vox) AC30-style pointer knobs. Metal protectors are fitted to the front corners of the cabinet, and there's no risk of poking anything through the speaker, as the back is completely sealed.
Although little larger than a gift-wrapped bundle of 12 issues of SOS, this 15 Watt, solid state amp delivers a very mature sound, with plenty of punch at the bottom end, and tonally, it sounds very much like a small valve amp. The controls are simple enough, and include gain, volume, bass, middle, and treble, plus a button which increases the gain setting for more heavily overdriven sounds. Reverb and channel switching are not available, but in the studio, the chances are that you'll add your own effects anyway, and overdub any different sounds at other times.
Some practice amps end up sounding thin and fizzy, but this one sounds like a quieter version of a big amp, having a very natural tone with plenty of touch responsiveness. The background noise level is acceptably low, and because the maximum power is only 15 Watts, the amp can be miked up in a home studio without giving the neighbours too much of a hard time. Having said that, I can't help feeling that this tiny amp goes a lot louder than it has any right to do with a 15 Watt rating.
Tonally, you can move from a clean '60s sound, through to a very convincing mid '70s rock sound, so if you're into recording indie music, you should be able to coax all the classic noises out of this baby. There's also enough overdrive in hand to play saturated lead sounds, but modern metal players may want to patch in a pedal to provide even more gain for single-handed virtuosity.
Best of all is the price. The VGA 15 costs just £99, which makes it about the same as a decent effects pedal, so now you have no excuse not to explore the more traditional methods of guitar recording.
£ £99 inc VAT.
A Washburn, Amor Way, Letchworth, Herts, SG6 1UG.
T 01462 482466.
F 01462 482997.