The Audio Expert by Ethan Winer Book Review

Brandon Drury —  January 5, 2012 — 1 Comment
The Audio Expert

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Most of you know who Ethan Winer is. He’s well known on most forums. He owns the Realtraps acoustic products company. Make sure to check out the interview I did with Ethan several months ago.

Quick Conclusion: After reading how well the concepts of the electronics section were put together in an absolutely clear, simple fashion – Electronics is something I have a bit of college education in – I quickly went on Amazon to see if Ethan had written any books on the computer language I’m now learning (C++). This kind of writing is what I’m looking for!

In Secondhand Lions, Robert Duvall has his “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech. If you haven’t see it, imagine an old guy worth respecting giving a “What every boy needs to know about being a man” speech.

Ethan has taken longer than Robert Duvall (about 738 pages longer) to give his “what every audio boy needs to know about being an audio man” speech. It’s great hearing from a guy who’s ran a pro studio in the 70s, built his own console, build his own synth, ran a software company, and now runs an acoustics company.

This speech is interesting. Not everything will apply to all people. Some of it you REALLY need to know for this gig. Some of it probably won’t matter, but is just fun to know for those so inclined. Do you REALLY need to know what the vents do on a dynamic mic? Hell, I don’t know. I’m glad I know now!

Regardless of whether every little facet of info is going to directly impact your life as an audio dude/chick, I have to say that THIS would be required reading to my boy if he were about to do this.

If I had this book in 2001 when I started, I believe I would be armed to effectively deal with the people who I feel misled me, regardless of their motives (malice, stupidity, ignorance, going with the flow of the herd), and I would have the foundation necessary to achieve my audio goals faster and at less expense. I like that.

The Book

Ethan took on a hell of a project with this 739 page hog. It really does appear that Ethan attempted to cover pretty much EVERYTHING about the science of audio. I think it’s safe to say he succeeded. While there are entire books on probably each chapter Ethan has covered, he’s done a phenomenal job of telling you what you need to know about practically every important “audio guy” topic. In particular, the way he taught the electronics chapter REALLY impressed me. I’ve been reading endlessly for the past week on C++ and have not come anywhere close to the caliber and effectiveness Ethan has executed in this book.

I’m no spring chicken with this audio stuff. However, I’ve got to admit that my understanding of aliasing, speaker edge refraction, why small diaphragm condensers are noisier than large diaphragm condensers, etc were sketchy at best. It was freakin’ AWESOME getting an overview of such things that I’ve always been curious about.

Not An Art Of Engineering Book

I’m sure this was by design, but Ethan doesn’t really get into the art of engineering much. There really aren’t any discussions on which three mics to toss on a guitar cabinet or the morality of sample layering. You don’t hear tricks like duplicating a track, high passing it, and crushing it with a compressor.

For a person wanting a straight shot to major label recording quality, quite a bit of the information presented here will be considered anecdotal. There’s a certain Jeopardy knowledge nature to some of this stuff.

They say opposites attract. I have quite a few friends who really don’t care about the science of audio and just want to know how to get the Deadmau5 kick drum or the Periphery guitars. These types of guys could definitely directly benefit from the acoustics chapter, but I’m not sure their mixes are going to directly improve from understanding what a capacitor mic does. It’s not really that kind of book. It’s not going to help you with bolt-on vs set neck guitars and the kinds of things us metalheads need to know that I teach in Killer Home Recording.

Overall Benefits

Some of us NEED to know stuff for the sake of NEEDING to know stuff. This book is exceptional at filling in just about every step you may have missed along the way. There really is something to having a complete understanding of all things audio, at least the first 3-4 levels deep anyway. (You may not be designing transfer functions in non-linear systems just because of reading this book.)

By empirically looking all all factors of audio, there’s one thing you can be guaranteed of. You will never be ripped off. You will never pay $2,000 for a device when a $400 gadget can do it just as well. For me, this book helped push me over the edge in looking at an API preamp, for example, as NOT some magic wizard black box, but a hunk of capacitors, resistors, etc that can be cloned and replicated. (Obviously, API does it every day.)

Learning to NOT worship high end toys forces that piece of gear to be judged on it’s own merit. A toy that is supposed to sound GREAT, must stand out in blind tests. Hype is a psychological flaw. It explains why I’m absolutely LOVING the ADK Thor right now even though I own mics that cost 10x as much.

The breaking down of audio into 4 factors was simply brilliant. I doubt Ethan invented the concept, but it seems like he did as this kind of talk is so rare in audio forums around the web. It was new to me anyway. It’s probably common knowledge for physicists or people designing plugins from the ground up, but this kind of talk sure makes you question each and every piece of gear you own. It makes you WANT to hear it in a blind test. It makes you WANT to understand what it’s really doing and it makes you want to know if you can get the exact same caliber of results with gear that costs a fraction of the price.

This prison-like need to prove oneself with endless racks of $2,000 compressors and such seems absurd (unless it’s working for you). The game of getting tools that perform just as well on all tests we have at our disposal at a fraction of the cost becomes more fun.

My favorite discussion was on the math used in EQ plugins. We are all taught we need to use 50 different kinds of EQ on each mix. I’ve always wondered why I need so many equalizers in my UAD Omni collection. I end up using the Cambridge almost all the time. When it’s GUI fights me I switch to Alloy. Ethan shed some light on the fact that a HUGE majority of the EQ plugins out there are all using the exact same arithmetic. Sure enough, if you ever dabble in C++ audio developer land you see there are a handful of libraries available that each company adds their little quirk to. THERE ARE ONLY SO MANY KNOWN WAYS OF MAKING AN EQUALIZER. The point is a person needs to be careful about bias causing you to prefer this EQ or that one. Those EQs may be identical and the only differences may be psychological. This made me feel better about having hell telling the difference between two clean equalizers.

I loved the acoustics chapter. I’m well-read on this topic, but what I loved most was the confidence in which Ethan, who definitely knows his way around the bass trap, was able to condense his acoustic knowledge into just a few pages. It reminded me of what the physicists call “elegant” when a math equation like E=mc2 replaces pages of equations. That chapter right there is worth the price of the book. It’s amazing how he broke the basics down into a handful of paragraphs that cover the ENTIRE thing. Of course, he filled it in with all kinds of tidbit knowledge, the kind of info you pick up from running an acoustics company….the kind that make you lose sleep at night wondering.

Critique #1
I say this after every book review. Especially after hanging out with Ethan for an hour on Skype, I have to say I wish more of his personality was in the book. I haven’t heard a good argument why a book can’t be both highly informative and FUN, but it seems the consensus in “real author” land is the two are mostly mutually exclusive.

Ethan did have some fun wise cracks here and there, but it was a bit more Dan-Rather-ish that I would have preferred. I wouldn’t say the book reads like a text book, necessarily, but if this book was a restaurant they’d give you 2 or 3 forks. ;)

Then again, this is from a guy who used the phrase “coked up nuns” in Killer Home Recording. :beerbangX:.

Critique #2
A huge majority of The Audio Expert is fact and hard to debate. Science knows the wavelength of a 100Hz sound wave. If you can counter that with hard evidence you may be up for a Nobel Prize.

Most of the time Ethan does a great job of stating when he’s in “opinion mode”. I have no problem with any audio dude having an opinion. I think even the newest of newbies should immediately start to form opinions. However, there was one time where an opinion was presented in a way that seemed like it may be a bit more objective than I would have liked.

From Page #266:

Programming volume changes manually is more effective than finding the right compressor settings, which are are rarely correct for the entire length of a tune.

My rebuttal. After watching Michael Wagener at his workshop in 2006 apply nearly 15-20dB of compression to a lead vocal on the way in and then another 20db during mixing, I immediately realized that there were two clearly different camps to this compression thing. Some people say to use almost zero and rely on automation. Some of those people have sold a zillion records and probably 10 you’ve bought. Some people say to nuke it 8 times. Some of those people have sold a zillion records and probably 11 you’ve bought. :p

For anyone who thinks that 30-40dB of compression reduction is absurd, take a listen to Ozzy’s “No More Tears” and decide if it’s all the negative descriptive words that people may use. While you are at it, check out my 50dB Compression video in the Audio Hyper Guides. Hard compression, when done right, can sound very, very clean under the right circumstances. It’s tricky and it has to be done well.

Note: Again, Ethan is very good about telling you when he’s about to shift from fact land to opinion land. This was one little slip up I caught. I’m a stickler for such things.

Not For Super Beginners
It says right in the introduction that the book is not intended for beginners, although I have to say those are the people that could stand to use such a dense overview of the whole damn thing the most.

There are math equations in this book, but they are always expressed in as simple as terms possible. On the section where Ethan explains how to get a giant room with a 7 second reverb time down to 2.5 seconds of reverb time, he walks you through every step like my 7th grade teacher did. It was fairly reassuring. I’m the kind of guy that gives bonus points for math equations, but I have to say that even if I was petrified by math I wouldn’t penalize this book a hair.

Anyone remotely curious about all things audio should read this book. It may not make you a major label engineer overnight, but it provides an outstanding background. Ethan is shooting down myths like crazy and gives the audio files to back it up. A person who ingests just one of these myths may waste thousands of hours and years of time. It’s hard to put value on something like that, but I consider it essential. For the audio dude obsessed with all things audio I think this knowledge is astounding.

Buy The Audio Expert @ Ethan Winer’s website!

Saved Comments
shroombaker – 11-13-2012, 09:26 AM Edit Reply
I’m with you on the review, so far, Brandon… because it’s taken me a month to read HALF of it. Another month to go!

DanTheMan – 11-13-2012, 11:53 AM Edit Reply
Nice review Brandon. I’ve been wanting to get this book for a while now.


bitflipper – 11-13-2012, 12:58 PM Edit Reply
Great analogy with Duvall’s Second-hand Lions speech, one of my all-time favorite movie soliloquies. It’s the perfect context to describe Ethan’s POV.

I knew in advance that the “everything you need to know” claim was an exaggeration (my bookshelf’s pretty big and still doesn’t contain everything I need to know). However, I’ve always enjoyed Ethan’s style and bought the book more as a show of support. With suitably lowered expectations, I was not disappointed.

brandondrury – 11-13-2012, 01:04 PM Edit Reply
I knew in advance that the “everything you need to know” claim was an exaggeration (my bookshelf’s pretty big and still doesn’t contain everything I need to know). However, I’ve always enjoyed Ethan’s style and bought the book more as a show of support. With suitably lowered expectations, I was not disappointed.
A buddy of mine once got in a fight at a restaurant when he CLEARLY made a joke. He made the point about being “intelligent enough to get the joke”. I’m imagining that there will be those who will kick, cry, and scream over such a title/description. It’s clearly not meant to be taken 100% literally, but that may be why it’s so damn fun.


rca33 – 11-13-2012, 04:14 PM Edit Reply
Ethan is one of those guys who made a lot of (true) statements that many people didn’t wanted to be heard.
, and that is great, imho.

There was a lot of bullshit on the audio world for decades, and while many statements were correct by principle, they were amazingly overrated.

Ethan has a very objective way of proving what he’s saying, giving a meaning to “hearing is believing”.

Ethan Winer – 11-14-2012, 10:48 AM Edit Reply
Thanks very much guys, and thanks especially to Brandon.


cporro – 11-17-2012, 12:05 PM Edit Reply
I got my copy yesterday. read 30 of 700 pages. not ready to comment on the content. but i think the philosophy is pretty cool as stated in the front of the book. something i personally agree with. information should be shared not horded for competitive advantage. Cutting through bs is pretty valuable too. i feel like there are more options (and hype) then ever before…especially with the emerging project studio market.

Ethan Winer – 11-18-2012, 01:28 PM Edit Reply
Originally Posted by cporro
information should be shared not horded for competitive advantage.
Excellent point. I remember many years ago sitting in on a recording session at a professional studio. I was dismayed by all the jargon the engineer used, being intentionally confusing when describing what he was doing to the client. At that moment I realized insecure people believe they must guard their knowledge from others, for fear of not being needed anymore.


brandondrury – 11-18-2012, 01:56 PM Edit Reply
I was dismayed by all the jargon the engineer used, being intentionally confusing when describing what he was doing to the client.
Maybe he was just getting even. Clients are always confusing the hell out of me like when they ask for a “greener” snare drum.

Ethan Winer – 11-19-2012, 02:08 PM Edit Reply
Nah, he was being a jerk just to be a jerk.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.

One response to The Audio Expert by Ethan Winer Book Review

  1. PASCAL Philippe March 9, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks for the review.
    And thanks Ethan Winer for his explanations on acoustic, shared on his website.

    I learned a lot years ago…and now i know i will never mix in a crappy room anymore ;)

    After doing some basic mic measures in my old flat (sweep sines 1Hz step), i learned the hard way why my mixes where always flawed in low mid-bass domain (at least ;) ) Two -12,-15dB holes in the spectrum…shot down :)

    Since, i moved and things are better. And i’m more confident in my skills because i know acoustic can kill your mix, even if you are skilled.
    Next step : treat my new room ;)

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