Ball State University is a public research university with over 20,000 students and several top-ranking academic programs. Ball State’s Music Media Production program, which is housed in the university’s School of Music, boasts a 10,000 square-foot facility with 11 recording spaces, computer labs and mixing rooms. In March of 2019, Ball State invited George Massenburg, inventor of the parametric equalizer and renowned engineer (Weather Report, Herbie Hancock, Little Feat) and producer Chuck Ainlay (Mark Knopfler, Dire Straits, Reba McEntire) to give a joint recording workshop. To provide the legendary engineers as well as workshop attendees with unparalleled sonic accuracy, the event required state-of-the-art studio monitors.
To ensure the highest level of sound quality for the workshop, Ball State’s Assistant Professor of Music Media Production Dr. Christoph Nils Thompson equipped Ball State’s studio complex with JBL 708P Master Reference Monitors, which were recommended to him by Ainlay.
The two-day event began with a keynote presentation by Ainlay and Massenburg on Sunday, March 17th, which was open to the public. The workshop itself was held the next day, attended by a mix of specially-invited guests, students and the public. Due to space limitations, only around 80 people could be present in the studio, but groups were rotated in throughout the afternoon. Ball State also live-streamed audio and video from the workshop for students to watch remotely.
The workshop took place in Ball State’s Studio 1, a suite of interconnected recording spaces dominated by two large, state-of-the-art control rooms. The subject of the recording session was a seven-piece band comprised of Ball State Jazz faculty, playing original music composed by another Ball State professor. Ainlay and Massenburg worked as a team, combining their different approaches to recording, mixing and production.
The production team relied heavily on the JBL 708Ps for reference. The 708P’s eight-inch Differential Drive low-frequency transducers delivered extended bass response with low distortion and high SPL capability. JBL’s patented Image Control WaveGuides ensured a wide enough ‘sweet spot’ for both engineers and the audience in the room to hear everything with maximum detail and consistency. Thompson especially appreciated the 708P’s onboard digital equalization, which made it quick and easy to optimize the monitors’ frequency response for the control room.
“I had worked with Chuck before,” said Dr. Christoph Nils Thompson, Assistant Professor of Music Media Production. “The summer before, he had been at Ball State and tracked some music, and he brought those JBLs. That was the first time I actually heard them. The chemistry was just great with Chuck, so we decided to bring him back. I had also worked with George Massenburg two years before, and he was great. Since he’s really kind of peerless in the industry, he’s the kind of person you want to bring. Both Chuck and George are part of METAlliance, where they work together frequently. Luckily, everyone’s schedules worked out and they were both available at the same time.”
“What was cool about it is that George and Chuck have such contrasting approaches,” added Thompson. “Chuck likes to do everything right then and there, putting all the ‘color’ in as he tracks. George has the approach of recording everything as pristine as possible, then doing most of the stuff in post. So, they were really complimenting each other where George would be operating and sitting at the console, and Chuck mic’ed everything and brought in his analog gear to dial in the sounds he liked. It was really cool seeing the two work together.”
“The JBL 708Ps were very easy to set up, and worked really well,” continued Thompson. “At that price, there aren’t many monitors out there with that much control—especially with digital control. With analog controls, sometimes you have to fiddle around until the levels are exact. But with the digital control, they were spot on. The bass was defined, the treble very crisp. It’s definitely a high-resolution monitor.”