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FOH Engineer Charles A. Martinez on Audix Mics and Headphones
Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2021
FOH Engineer Charles A. Martinez on Audix Mics and Headphones

Charles A. Martinez on Audix mics: "Just Like with Audix Headphones, my preference for Audix mics is very simple: I hear more of what I want and less of what I don't."

New York, NY (December 1, 2021) — Recording and concert engineer Charles A. Martinez points out that the website AllMusic has spread his credits over several profiles based on slight variations of his name. Perhaps that’s because a single profile isn’t big enough to contain a career as diverse and impressive as his. He spent a decade as chief engineer at NYC’s Dangerous Music studios, working with artists such as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. He has recorded Broadway cast albums featuring such luminaries as Kristin Chenoweth. He engineered two songs on Toots and the Maytals’ True Love, which won a Grammy® Award for Best Reggae Album in 2004, then mixed FOH for Steely Dan from 2009 to 2013. He’s even restored forensic audio for the FBI. Now about to tour with Foghat and Little Feat, Martinez stands poised to record dates in full multitrack, entrusting post-show mixing to his set of Audix A150 headphones. Also at arm’s reach is his trusted collection of Audix microphones:  the D6 mic, which he’s sworn by for the kick drum on every tour since he acquired it, i5 and D4 instrument mics on snare and toms, respectively, and SCX25A condensers on anything he chooses.

This life began with deep roots. “My family was musical,” he recalls. “We always had a piano in the house and sing-alongs, and I have recordings of me singing with my dad at the piano from as young as two and a half. I started piano lessons at six, violin at nine, bass at 12. Oddly, I got a bass performance scholarship to St. John’s University — where I studied to be a pharmacist. I guess the idea was to make good money so I could buy music gear. Halfway through, I decided I liked recording more than learning how to accept insurance and count pills. I did the engineering program at the Institute of Audio Research in Manhattan and right after graduating, started at Dangerous Music recording studios. The Rolling Stones did a ton of stuff for Bridges to Babylon there.”

One bit of canonical wisdom taught in the crucible of professional recording is that mixing primarily or even exclusively on headphones is simply not done — a tradition that Martinez says the A150s turned on its head. “I’ve always been a huge fan of Audix mics, but I wasn’t in the market for headphones when the A150s first came out,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be the guy returning them with lukewarm feedback. But then I put them on.”

Martinez describes the ensuing sonic experience as a revelation. “I didn’t have to learn them,” he says. “Older mixes I’d done on near- or mid-field monitors, or on some of my other headphones, translated perfectly in the A150s. When I mixed new stuff, then put it up on my main studio monitors, in my car, wherever, everything just translated beautifully. They were very accurate. I could hear all the nuance. The low end didn’t get lumpy or thin, and the stereo imaging maintained my intent. Plus, they’re comfortable to wear and not fatiguing to listen to for extended periods.

“Bottom line, they simply sound better than my other headphones. I’ve already mixed an album on them: Rustbelt by Scott Sharrard, who was Gregg Allman’s musical director then joined Little Feat in 2020. I also tried the A152s, which have this luxurious, tight bass extension, but opted for the 150s for my work. They’re both winners in my opinion.”

When the discussion turns to Audix mics, Martinez finds they share a virtue with the A150s. “Just like with Audix headphones, my preference for Audix Mics is very simple: I hear more of what I want and less of what I don’t. The two mics I always throw in my luggage for gigs where I don’t know what to expect are the D6 and the i5. Because once you have a great kick and snare, you can build everything around that.”

While the D6 has earned pole position as the go-to bass drum mic in the industry, Martinez praises its fidelity on other sources. “I was running low on mics for a horn section at one gig, so I thought I’d try it on baritone sax,” he recalls. “I fell in love with it immediately. I keep a low profile on social media, and I think that was one of the only things I posted on Twitter that entire year! The D6 has since become a requested mic for bari sax. Just recently I used a D6 on the bottom rotor of a Leslie speaker as well. It was perfect because you could roll off a lot of the highs but still keep great definition.”

Compared to the “usual suspects” for snare drum miking, Martinez says the i5 “has all of the meat but none of the rumble. It has that crispness on the top end but is never harsh. If you think of mics as EQ devices, the i5 is like the EQ curve I’d apply after the fact, only before the fact.”

Martinez’s most recent discovery is the SCX25A studio condenser: “A couple of years ago Audix let me borrow a bunch of mics I hadn’t heard before. I was a holdout on the SCX25As but didn’t realize how much I relied on them until I was asked to give them back. I use them on toms, as overheads, on vocals, as room mics, on acoustic instruments like string sections. With the piano clips, a pair provides the best closed-lid piano sound you can get, and I’ve tried literally everything. The SCX25As just have a richer, more natural tone. They’re euphonic and not hyped. I don’t want to talk down about anyone else’s product, but I consider them a more hi-fi 414. They just sound great on more sources without needing to EQ afterwards. They’re also surprisingly shock-resistant.”

Often microphones offer a choice between high SPL handling and detail. Martinez describes how Audix offers both across all the models he uses, and how that’s a must for his client roster. “Take Foghat. It’s hard-hitting boogie rock, and fans want to be smacked in the face with that energy when they see a show,” he explains. “Whereas Steely Dan has more engineers, musicians, and producers in the audience than probably any other band. That audience wants a hi-fi living room experience. Little Feat is somewhere in between, with players covering multiple instruments and all singing. What I see Audix equipment as doing is letting me cater to each of those very different audiences without worrying about it.”

Asked to share the most memorable advice he ever received, Martinez recalls, “I once asked a very famous rock star how to be successful in the music business. The answer I wanted was ‘Come tour with our band!’ But he just said, ‘Give it 11 years.’ When I look at how long I spent grinding through school, working lights and sound in small nightclubs in Queens, then finally finding myself a freelancer with great clients, he was spot-on almost to the month. To that I would add, keep your mind open. I got a bass scholarship but when I got into studios and heard players that made me sound like I never took one lesson, it was clear working as a session bassist wasn’t going to happen. So, the thing, or combination of things, you do better than anyone else might not be obvious at first. But it’s there, and if you keep showing up with an open mind, you’ll find it. Once you do, it’s a wondrous thing.”