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Tag Archives: getting technical

  • For home audio editors: Hooking up an audio level meter to your laptop or stereo system

    Once in a while, we get questions from independent audio editors about how to hook up one of our audio meters to their home editing system. We had another such request only last week, so we thought we would put up an walkthrough of how to connect an audio level meter to a home editing system, laptop, cellphone, or amp. The principle is the same in hooking up any of the equipment, with minor variations in wiring.

    Take, for example, our POD3A Stereo Audio Level meter with VU and Peak level information.

    POD3A Three Quarter

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  • Modifying our AMS Select series: Part 2: AMS8

    The Ward-Beck team is going full speed ahead with our AMS Select series redesigns, and we are now tackling the AMS8-2A 2RU monitoring system!

    The greatest challenge is that this redesign is constrained by the limitations of the old design. As much as we can, we are trying to integrate new design elements and technical improvements into the old design, rather than replace the old redesign entirely. This helps us to retain backwards compatibility as much as possible, and reduce redesign cost. In some way, this is more challenging than starting from scratch. For instance, the speaker grills on the front panel had to be designed into a position that is optimal for sound, but not interfering with any screwing/fastening locations from the old design. Likewise, the new speakers and tweeters had to be positioned so that they could co-exist with the circuit boards and LEDs on the front panel. Yet, at the end of the day, the newly redesigned system is already starting to sound good!

    A preliminary speaker grill design:

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  • Modifying our AMS Select series: Part 1: AMS4

    Ward-Beck's R&D team has a new project! We are working on modifying our AMS Select series of audio meters.

    Over the past year, Ward-Beck has been working on perfecting the speaker design used in our audio meter/monitor solutions. The new speaker design has been perfected, and our first use of the new design was in our AMS2 Mini Cue Speakers. The AMS2's sound performance have been well-received by our customers, and we are now working to redesign the rest of our Select series to incorporate the new speaker design.

    First up, the AMS4 Audio Monitoring System!

    AMS4-1AA Three Quarter

    Our redesign is still in the preliminary stages, but take a sneak peek at some of the stages of redesign, and what we expect the finished product to look like.

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  • Repairing an Audio Bit Buddy - The importance of using the right batteries in your products

    At Ward-Beck it is not uncommon for us to get repair orders for our products from time to time. Sure, the products we sell can be repaired outside, but it makes sense to send them to the factory that produced them, because we have all the production details to compare against, while doing the repair, in order to do an optimal job. In addition, if there have been software or hardware updates made to the project in the meanwhile, we can update those while we are repairing the unit.

    Another compelling reason is that we generally have access to the manuals and working files of the product, and considering we are dealing with fine electronics, we are mostly likely to know the nitty gritty about all the tiny components involved in the manufacture of one of our products. And that is what brings us to the Audio Bit Buddy that we recently repaired at our Toronto office. This ABB1 was quite old, dating all the way back from 2005, and had developed quite an odd problem.

    When in digital mode, it would not pass audio to the headphone jack or the meters until tapped on the side. Each time the unit was powered off and back on again, the procedure had to be repeated. The analog side worked fine, as did the status and error indicator, but in digital mode the issues lay.

    The initial thought of our technical team was there might be something wrong with the continuity of the power switch on the digital side, or a problem with an intermittent switch. Once the unit was received at our repair location, the ABB was taken apart, and a closer look revealed a different – if somewhat related- issue.

    Now, as mentioned before, this ABB1 was quite old, dating all the way back from 2005, which means the software and some of the hardware was outdated and replaced by newer components. However, the main problem was a more timeless: the wrong battery had been used.

    Our ABB units run on four 1.2V Ni-Cad batteries, which can be recharged with the charging adapter that is included with the ABB1. In the place of these batteries, someone has placed in a 9V Lithium battery, which is far too powerful, and is liable to damage components of the ABB1.

    If you notice the tape on the red wire, you will see that the original battery strap has been cut off and another one has been spliced in. There was also acid found on the metal battery bracket. Put together, these two things most likely mean that, at some point, the batteries leaked and damaged the connection to the original battery strap.

    Our technical team replaced the 9V batteries with four 1.2V Ni-Cad batteries, and repaired the broken connection to the battery strap. We also reprogrammed the ABB1 with the latest software, to ensure that the additional voltage had not corrupted the program.

    On the other hand, it is heartening to know that an ABB1 produced all the way back in 2005 (9 years ago!) has lasted this long, with only an odd little issue popping up. Ward-Beck products, truly made to last : )


  • Lies my digital video engineer told me.

    (Eugene Johnson joins us today with a great column on "Lies my digital video engineer told me.")

    1) Once the audio signal is digitized, it is perfect, impervious to noise and degradation, much better than an analog signal.

    2) After your digital audio signals are embedded in the video stream, a robust transmission system, it arrives at its destination perfectly. You save on cabling and installation costs; what could be better?

    3) Audio is not as complicated as video, and we are experts at manipulating the video signal and transmitting it. Audio basically just comes along for a free ride.

    This is just a sampling of the comments you run into in the field. So, who needs an audio specialist? Only those with money to burn, or those freakish "golden ears".

    The example scenario to refute these perceptions is to look at the great "unwashed masses" of television or video signal consumers. This group easily outnumbers the TV professional literati a thousand fold. Give them marginal video with pristine audio, and they will by and large continue watching the program. Switch to perfect video and poor audio and ten to one they will switch. The human ear is more discerning than the eye. Audio does not matter? Of course, it does.

    The theatre of the mind works better with good audio and poor or no video, than it does with good video and poor or no audio.

    All audio starts as an analog signal, and at the consumer's ears ends up as an analog signal. Care must be taken at both ends of the conversion, to and from the digital domain, to make these processes transparent. Do not introduce audio artifacts, pick up audible digital sync signals, and do not hit the digital cliff where all audio just stops and disappears. Be mindful that although the signal is digital, basically a squarewave of ones and zeroes, headroom, dynamic range, noise and total harmonic distortion still matter.

    Of course, proper levels must still be maintained. Regulatory bodies worldwide have introduced legislation that dictate that levels shifting program to program, program to advertisements (especially) are not acceptable or desirable to the consuming masses. So, here is another area where our digital audio signals have to be corralled to be considered perfect.

    The tools to control our signals have long existed in the analog domain and one can still easily use these tools by extracting a digitized embedded audio signal from the video steam converting it to analog, processing it in the analog domain, then converting it back to digital before re-embedding it into the video stream. Even typing this is exhausting, and it is not a practical solution. So the audio specialists have had to come up with carefully designed solutions to do all this processing, while remaining in the digital domain.

    With multiple audio signals being embedded in the video stream, currently sixteen channels, it is crucial that the signals are "packaged" properly before embedding. One expects a 5.1 surround sound signal to arrive in the proscribed sequence of L, R, C, Lfe, Ls and Rs so that the surround audio complements the video. If L and R are reversed you lose the spatial context of the video. More alarmingly, if C and Lfe are reversed (a common error) you lose the centre channel, which is generally the dialogue or voice track, and it will not take the consumer very long to switch to another program. All the pristine video in the world will not save the program if this happens.

    So we have audio products designed by audio experts to lead our video brothers out of this morrass.   A to D and D to A converters, processors that control of levels automatically or through operator intervention, channel shuffling or swapping, channel substitution to allow voice tracks to be replaced by another language or to replace a corrupted audio track and more...

    (Simplified journey of some of the steps an audio signal must go through before reaching it's destination.)

    And through it all we need world class audio monitoring to guide the program creators, program distributors and program delivery services, and give them real time analog access to the digital audio programs every step of the way. Yes, we know that it is not as glitzy or glamorous as high quality video. But, without good clean audio, the video is just a silent movie. And even those needed the piano player and captions to engage the viewing public.

     (Thank you for taking the time to explain all this to us, Eugene!)

  • Tool of the Day: Cable Sleeves

    The tool of the day at our WBS plant is the cable sleeve, which we slip over the end of wires to insulate and separate them near the termination.

    We’ll try to conduct a short tutorial on cable sleeving and while can’t guarantee it’ll be electrifying, we hope you’ll get a charge out of it anyways. Currently sitting on our WIP racks are some POD6 miniature headset amplifiers, getting ready to be shipped out. Now, Watt are we going to be doing to these pretty little boxes?*

    *Getting sick of our puns yet? It hertz us more than it hertz you.

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  • We have split millions of signals - The Evolution of a Distribution Amplifier


    Pictured above: The Ward-Beck distribution amplifier, from its original design in 1971, to the current one.

    As legend goes, Ron Ward and Rodger Beck started experimenting with solid state amplifiers while still working for McCurdy Radio Industries. Mr. George McCurdy allegedly forbade them on pain of dismissal to give up this foolish notion and stop wasting time with these "new fangled transistors" which were only good enough for cheap "made in Japan" radios. Professional equipment used vacuum tubes and that was what was used in in the McCurdy product line.

    Ward and Beck persevered and so was born the precursor to one of the first products designed and manufactured by Ward-Beck Systems Ltd. after these renegades broke away from MRI and formed their own company. Christened the M600, the very first production models used germanium transistors. Later models used silicon transistors. The M600 was a 50 to 70 dB gain brick that could be used as a microphone preamplifier or a line/distribution amplifier. Equipped with both input and output transformers and loads of headroom, this was a truly versatile universal amplifier built like the proverbial outhouse. Eight units and a 48 volt power supply were accommodated in a 2 RU frame.

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  • 600 Ohms: Is it neccessary?

    About one year ago we stopped producing 600 Ohm output devices in our analog audio product line. We standardized on 60 Ohm devices in our distribution amplifier line. This simplifies our SKU's and benefits the user since they gain headroom and reduce power consumption. The 60 Ohm output impedance provides sufficient isolation between the splits of a distribution amplifier.

    There are still users out there that seek devices with a 600 Ohm output impedance. A little research on the internet (that great source of information, mis-information and confusion) served to inform me that the there is a great lack of understanding of how the 600 Ohm standard came about and why today, it is no longer a requirement.

    m8204a alone
    Pictured above: The M8204A - a 600 Ohm analog audio distribution amplifier that we recently discontinued.  

    The M8204A has been replaced with the current M8204.

    I did find this informative paper by Frank McClatchie that explains everything very well. Thank you Frank! See the internet can be informative... avoid the discussion groups where they attribute "sound coloration" and "sheen" and all sorts of sound qualities and effects to the impedance of the devices which carry the audio signal.

    By: Frank McClatchie

    The standard for audio was born out of the radio industries need to set a standard, and has always been related to 600 Ohms impedance with the level measured in dBm which refers to Decibel milli-Watts of power delivered to the "load". One milli-Watt = 0dBm. However in recent years the audio industry has changed it method of delivering audio power.

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  • Watching the Olympics in the US

    Ward-Beck Systems has supplied equipment to Olympic games broadcasters since the summer games in Montreal in 1976. That year a large contingent of audio consoles and intercom systems that would later be integrated in to the CBC network country wide were ordered by the CBC.


    The M1002 a ten channel portable console, for venue production, was designed to specifications issued by CBC's ORTO. Later this console was re-issued as the T1202 with inputs increased to twelve. We dubbed this a transportable console since the weight as described by our US sales person, Bill McFadden, was "heavier than a dead priest" and required two persons to move. Many of these M1002 and T1202 consoles are still doing yeoman's work in music production today.

    2014 and many Olympic games later, watching the Olympic coverage from Sochi on NBC while in Florida, what a different experience for a Canadian. You get a totally different perspective on the games. In Canada we are so used to be able to switch between local and international coverage. NBC, CBC and BBC coverage is readily available on cable and satellite services.

    Regardless, the NBC production is top-notch with great video and crystal clear audio. One can only marvel at extent of technological progress and innovation that our industry has has gone through in a relatively short 38 years.

    Thanks to all the athletes participating, congratulations to all the winners and to Canada's team, "Go Canada Go!"

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