A Gonzo Review of Slate’s VSX Modeling Headphones

1.

I’ve been working on an album for almost two years, all from home. I began this venture when words like “quarantine” had just started floating around the pop media field and I hadn’t done any recording in years so I started accumulating a home studio: a refurbished computer and a preamp; quickly the computer wasn’t powerful enough so I bought another with that stimulus check while watching for some weird momentary deal that just doesn’t happen anymore on Ebay for my dream mic; settled on a mic closet I figured I could work with.

Who gives a fuck?

All the while I’m wondering, what is this for? Where does it land? Who will give an actual fuck? Do you know how many players there are, from hacks to professionals, out there saturating the internet with tracks? Mostly trustafarian fuckclowns out for a grab of glory in this so-called market of self-produced musicians, self-published authors, self-acclaimed artists of all kinds with a bankroll to make absolutely sure we hear about them even if we never wanted to and hope to never hear from them again. Not saying there isn’t any talent out there, just saying that what’s always been true is still true given a very different playing field–what we hear about is not decided by actual value of the art.

And I’m here thinking I’ll make an album, and market it with no money. Picking up whatever free plugins I can, trying to gauge their worth and then Slate’s all access pass of a shit-ton of classic emulation plugins came into play after a few months of tooling around and I started hearing stuff improve. Cool, right?–all set, I’ve got what I need.

After 20 months of recording, mixing, even playing around with the remastering myself, using the car stereo (as many in my situation have and still do) as the final word on whether I’m getting anywhere, I have come to the conclusion that the answer to my question, “Who gives a fuck?” lands specifically on me. Obviously, if I’m still working on this, I give a fuck what it sounds like. That’s where Steven Slate had me–headphones boasting of accurate simulations floating from famous studios to cars and boomboxes. I could hardly do without this in my situation.

2.

But the price was too high, that’s where I was off the hook again. I dismissed the many ad campaigns, entered a couple contests for a freebie, telling myself I wouldn’t even watch for the results and then watched for them. I have a pair of dog-shit monitors I stopped using once I found a hundred dollars for a headphone calibration system which seemed to help matters from results between my man-cave trailer where I’ve been recording and the car. It was all I needed, I swore.

Then Slate started in with the monthly plans on these VSX headphones. First I think it was forty dollars a month for something like a year–tempting, but not going to fly with all the monthly shit I’m paying already. Then I think there was a twenty-dollar campaign.

Then while I was pointlessly reading reviews, daydreaming against my will over the latest sweepstakes or something I came across a dealer I’ve used on many occasions, one with a bank attached to it I had actually bagged on through bankruptcy for about 800 dollars worth of gear once before. Put in my application as a kind of joke, and there it was–an offer to buy it over, I don’t know, what might as well be twenty years, no interest, at ten dollars a month–just about what I make from my Patreon page.

3.

I was in the backyard waiting to sign for the package. It was Friday and I do most of my work on the weekends, so if this Fedex driver ran off with my fucking headphones I was going to chase him down at high speed risking life and limb rather than wait until Monday. I figured I’d hear him pull into the driveway, the dog would bark, he’d knock at the door. Instead he parked on the street, started driving off by the time I dashed in the back and out the front; watching him pull away, I heard myself yelling at him comically while tripping over the package he felt no need to acquire a signature for, despite the box I checked requesting just that.

4.

I’m not going to say I know the first thing about these studios the headphones are meant to emulate. I’ve never been in those studios, or worked in any studio of comparable note because as you may or may not have gathered by now, my dear loyal and discerning readers, I’m not flush. I’ve worked in good studios, academic studios, with an academic budget, and some great gear. I was more of a subject in audio classes than I was an engineer, a choice I came to regret somewhat in these past couple years honing engineering skills for this project.

The fact is, I couldn’t give two shits how close the emulations come to the studios; what I was interested in was getting a well-rounded mix, and when I bounce from my favorite of the studio simulations to the bass-heavy, unflattering SUV, then the Ipod and club and “audiophile” stereo system, and all of these things, I find I’m want to make compromises. It’s enlightening to me both as an engineer and an artist, a good lot of fun and what I didn’t expect was that something about the experience of doing my early work on a tune in this system actually promotes creative choices beyond what I was making without it. That’s good shit.

I’ll probably never give up the car stereo check as my final reference–there’s something about these frequencies pushing actual air before entering my most cherished two bodily cavities that I can’t replace, no matter what the headphone reference system has to offer–but the thing has delivered as promised. Even if I’m the only one that gives a fuck how much better this album will be as a result of the credit line bankrolling it (for an amount I do solemnly swear to pay in full this time around).

So God bless Steven Slate, for winning another fight against my better financial judgement, and God bless S——-y Bank for believing in me again despite how it worked out for you the first time.


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