So who am I? I'm an audio engineer who has been designing audio equipment since the 1970s, relying on a combination of original research, proven classic design methodology and an unwillingless to compromise my work to achieve success. I learned electronics during the 1970s in the traditional methodology and philosophy. It’s not uncommon to see one of my products still working after more than thirty years of daily use.
Since the 1970s, I’ve been many things: sitter-in-libraries, airline passenger, traveler, student, teacher, friend, artist, photographer, failed world conqueror, audio engineer, recording engineer, and audio equipment designer known for “artistic engineering” of custom recording equipment, sound systems, loudspeakers, electric guitars and basses, music instrument effects and amplifiers. Nowadays, I don’t run marathons but I do run an electroacoustics and psychoacoustics research laboratory; recording studio, record label and a book publishing company. Joining is fun too. In 2003, I was honored to be allowed to join the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, a.k.a, “The Recording Academy” — you know, they put on those Grammy Awards shows you don’t watch on TV each year.
When I was a teenager in the early 1970s, like so many others, I wanted to be a star musician. One nitpicky detail prevented the realization of that dream: I lacked the dexterity needed to play an instrument. Oops. Fortunately, I did have a knack for “the other end of the microphone”: making the recordings, running the sound system, building music instruments, taking the publicity photographs and making little bits of furniture and knick-knacks. My quest became not to make my fame and fortune through the medium of audio, but to emphasize the “artness” of audio, not the cold technology. Great artistic decision, bad business decision. No complaints, though. Thus began my behind-the-scenes career in the music industry.
It’s a great life, making things that add beauty to others’ lives, and creating the means for others to express their creativity and artistry.
My friends and colleagues describe my approach as "artistic engineering" because for me the equipment isn't just a piece of equipment, it's an artwork that just happens to make sound or music. Music and all the things to go into making and rexcrding music have been a lifelong passion. I am the head of a research laboratory, KVG Laboratories, which involves undertaking many unique and often odd experiments into every aspect of music, music recording and music reproduction. Over the past thirty-some years, I've been content to quietly work behind the scenes, in my neverending quest to improve recording technology, recording techniques, playback equipment and music instruments themselves, including:
- The use of equalization in the studio.
- Electronic reverberation.
- Guitar speaker cabinets.
- Vocal recording.
- Guitar recording.
- Spatial imaging in recordings and loudspeaker systems.
- Quality losses in sound recording and reproduction equipment.
- Resonance and its influence on tone.
- Music instruments, and loudspeaker quality.
- The influence of acoustics on intelligibility and clarity of speech and music recording and reproduction.
- The influence of amplifier bias, circuitry operating points and distortion on amplifier tone.
- The influence of microphone characteristics and preamplifier tonality on the sound of a recording.
My background in professional audio is extensive. I received my degree in Communication Science from the University of Missouri, Kansas City; as well as other formal training from the Institute Of High Fidelity and CBS Laboratories. Nearby my home was a United States Patent Depository, and for a few years I would spend the weekends combing through patents, white papers and a variety of reference works for inspiration and to validate my own primary research. I received much of my electronics training from retired Western Electric engineers, and apprenticed under several recording and audio engineers. Finally, I had the privilege to attend lectures, workshops and demonstrations given by many of the legends of audio and music, including Les Paul, Paul Klipsch, Joesph D'Appolito, Rudy Bozak, Winslow Burhoe, Roy Cizek, Roy Allison, Oskar Heil, Niro Nakamichi, Harvey Fletcher, Don Davis, Robert "Bob" Fine and many others.
For more than forty years, I have:
- Created many original audio equipment and music instrument designs, some of which are patented.
- Researched audio electronics, acoustics, psychoacoustics and music-related phenomena in his quest for ever-better sound.
- Written numerous white papers on audio and photography.
- Been interviewed on many audio topics, most recently about reverb in recordings for an upcoming issue of Bill Ricchini's blog.
- Contributed an article which was published in The Encyclopedia Of Sound.
- He has given public presentations to numerous organizations.
- Been published nationally in several publications and reference works.
- Presented an experimental loudpeaker before the Boston Audio Society in 1999.
- Reviewed other manufacturer's prototypes and products, most recently Monster Cable's "Monster Turbines" In-Ear Speakers.
- Made numerous professional recordings, one of which had the honor to be submitted for the 53rd Grammy Award for Best Engineered Classical Album.
- Produced several record albums, including The Inner Voices: "And So It Goes", Earworm: "City Woman", Twangdillo & Kitch: "Confess!" and many others.
- Designed archival re-mastering systems.
- Assisted in the design of the original re-mastering studio of the Marr Sound Archive working alongside Robert L. "Mac" McDonald, Gaylord Marr, Charles Haddix and Steve Smolian.
- Engineered live concerts and events, studio music recordings, television and radio broadcast audio, motion picture sound, sound effects and dialog/spoken word recordings for a many different musicians, including Ray Hildebrand, Paul Land and Stephanie Boosada.
- Mastered numerous professional recordings for clients as diverse as Ray Hildebrand, Diversity Records, Fidelis Records, Suzanne Brown, SRA Studios and many others.
- Consulted on venue acoustics and acoustic design; my clients have included recording studios and clients as diverse as The Kansas City Symphony.
- Provided audio equipment design and repair services.
- Provided music instrument design and repair services.
- Taught professional audio, sound recording techniques and sound re-enforcement system operation.
My appraoch to both loudspeaker design and professional sound recording is known for a vivdly realistic "reach-out-and-touch-it" feel. Experience has given me an intuitive approach to amplifier and music instrument design, and I've developed to ability to sit down, grab parts off the shelf and assemble an amplifier while a guitarist is playing, then fine-tune the amplifier's sound until the guitarist says it's perfect. I don't use computer simulations to design equipment. After all, do you hear like a computer? I didn't think so. Instead, I rely on my practical experience, classic electronic and acoustical formulae, which I calculate by hand then verify through extensive testing and listening sessions. To stay fresh creatively, I enjoy photography, and have become well known as an artistic photographer whose work has garnered awards. I prefer the discipline of film cameras as my preferred photography medium.
As you can see, sound is my all-consuming passion, driving me to research its every aspect, from psychoacoustics to the underying physics.
Be sure to visit the National Academy of the Recording Arts & Sciences, also known as The Recording Academy (the folks who bring you the Grammy Awards). By the way, I'm a member of The Recording Academy, so I can assure you that a visit to their hallowed halls is well worth your time if you're interested in the music scene.
Sound isn't my only areas of experience. I have been privileged to receive invaluable instruction from some of the luminairies of photography, including Kjell Sandved, Fred Picker, Warren Sward and Lester Couch. Were it not for their insight, I'd still be using a cheap box camera taking badly composed snapshots. I will be forever grateful for their unique insights and (sometimes scathing) critiques. It bore fruit: besides a successful career in professional photography, I managed to win a few awards, mainly for my botanical photography.
Without some business savvy, no amount of artistic or engineering creativity will lead to success. My father, Robert D. Gray, retired as a very successful hospital CEO. I'm blessed to have grown up under his tutelage. Also, I have to thank William McVey for his invaluable training into value proposition marketing and Deming's Fourteen Points. Dr. McVey was a disciple of W. Edwards Deming.