interview series (5) – Dave Hill

Dave, some of your Cranesong devices are already legend – how did that affair once started?

Before I started Crane Song I had been designing the Summit Audio Gear through and including the DCL-200, plus some gear that did not get finished. I was teaching electronics at a 2 year technology school at the start of the Summit thing and also was part owner of a small studio that had a 1” 8 track, and Ampex MM1000. The studio grew into what is Inland Sea Recording owned by me, which is a for commercial room with a lot of nice microphones and other gear.  It now serves as a design environment and has a number of customers that help keep it going.  Developing in a real studio environment helps make sure that what you are working on works correctly and sounds good.  When doing a session if one needs to mess with the gear it questions the design, but if you can turn a knob and it makes some thing sound good, it tells you something about the design.

Now you are the man behind Dave Hill Designs. Why did you started this very new venture? Do you still develop stuff to be released under the Cranesong brand?

Dave Hill Designs has different marketing channels and a bit of a different kind of design, it is all SMT. It also allowed trying different ideas and developing some different kinds of technology.  I am doing designs for both and Crane Song just starting shipping a 500 series tube compressor, a very vintage sounding device, there are 2 more 500 modules planned.  I now own 100% of both companies. At some point in time some of the digital controlled analog technology will migrate into some new Crane Song designs.

You have developed both, analog and digital designs. Your recent Titan compressor is a hybrid design: Analog signal path but digital side chain. Is going hybrid the future?

The digital side chain in a compressor has been used before by others.  It solved a number of problems that would have been very costly to do analog.  Being able to have digital control of Attack and Release time with their wide dynamic range requirement has some design challenges. The DSP also allows you to do some different things.  DSP is not without it’s challenges.  In Titan it has a 870kHz sample rate. I think we will see more mixed technology in the future.  I am working on some things and I know others that are.

Why did you choose a PWM design for that compressor? What makes it preferable over an ordinary RMS detector based compressor architecture?

I think this is miss understood,  PWM is pulse width modulation it a gain control method.  RMS means root-mean-square  in a compressor RMS is a measurement of the audio energy and is used to control how much gain reduction.  RMS equals power in the audio signal.  PWM can be a very clean gain control method with no VCA artifacts.

How do you plan, design and evaluate your devices from a technical and musical perspective in general? And where does the inspiration comes from?

I design gear to solve problems I have in recording, get a sound, or to create a new sound.  As an example sometimes when recording there is a problem with the sound of a vocal phrase, it may be a transit problem or a resonance.  What I do is study it, think about it and an idea may occur as a way to solve the problem or the idea may lead to making some thing that solves the problem.  Some times the idea leads no where, but resurfaces a year or two later.  Music and recoding should be creative not a process of copying a piece of vintage gear to record a vintage sound.

One of the things I do when designing something is I look for different ways to do it, not follow the common approaches. Different design approaches result in different sounds.  What something sounds like is the most important part.

From your point of view: Does a compressor has to have a sort of Mojo or should the device stay transparent?

There are two different worlds with compressors depending on what one wants to do and this is program, function and artistic dependent.  At times you want to control dynamics without changing the sound.  Hi-res audio if you like, and there are times when you want a color but not use an EQ, the ultimate compressor could do both, but this is not an easy task, and is it something that can be affordable?  In an ideal world one can put circuits in a box that can do both kinds of sounds, transparent and colored, but colors are different so it becomes complex very fast.

The, are many technologies that compressors have been built with over the years, gain control elements have been, tubes, diodes, optical, PWM, voltage controlled amplifiers with several different approaches.  After the gain control part has been sorted out, one needs to deal with the control path (side chain) and the audio path.  The control path affects the dynamic operation and the audio path affects audio non dynamic distortions on the first approximation, but audio path distortions can have dynamic character, just different from control path distortions.  Does the audio path overload and what does it do to peaks when one is using a long attack time?  Pass the peaks undistorted or clip them, soft or hard?  Colors come in many forms.  A simple example is you want some thing to sound warm, add some low mid, this is not the same as a distortion affecting the low mid, but it does change the color.

Flexibility is a good thing, If one can build a compressor that can do many sounds it saves the need to buy many different kinds of compressors, if it works well enough.  It may also add a little creativity and allow the creation of new sounds which is more important than copying old sounds.

What’s the challenge when designing digital dynamic processors these days? Quite a number of users still quote analog to be better.

On the digital side there are problems dealing with the sampled audio and what happens on the make up gain side of things.  With sampled data finding the peak of the signal is much more difficult than in the analog domain.  The peak may be between two samples, 192k works better than 44.1k, more samples to work with.

If you have a problem with how digital sounds, move to 192k, it is better, signal processing is better, it images better.  I have in my possession what I think is the best compressor plug-in.  It has not been released to the public.  I did a careful A-B with a very good analog box, the analog box wins.

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  1. Heard of Crane Song before. Never heard of Dave. Would love to get some hardware some day too. Don’t even mind spending mucho dollars on it, if I have it. Easy come easy go, right?

    Always nice when someone takes the time to put their side of things.

  2. Wondering what compressor plugin he is talking about… Is it Thrillseeker VBL, or Slate Digital VBC ?


  3. Speaking of analog, I think the differences are too minor to notice, and the difference in price is too easy to notice. 🙂 I also think that in the end it all comes to knowledge and ears, and preferences. Having said that, I’m about to make some really nice DIY pieces, for fun… some comps and an EQ.

  4. It’s wonderful to hear from Dave Hill ! A great read from a legend audio designer who continues to provide excellent products for audio excellence. Cheers! ; )

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