Tribute to Neil Muncy

At age of 74, Neil Muncy, an icon in the audio industry, passed on August 10, 2012 after a long illness.

Neil Muncy

The passing of Neil Muncy has been difficult for many in the audio industry.  He contributed so much.

We cannot begin to list his contributions, but he is most known for his work in identifying the cause of hums and buzzes that are often found in sound reinforcement systems. It became known as “The Pin 1 Problem”.  His writings in the June 1995 AES Journal special issue on Grounding and Shielding made him famous worldwide. He was also an equipment designer, a recording guru and and expert on magnetic tape recording. His love for jazz was evidenced by his collection of incredible recordings.

In addition to his technical skills, he was a fantastic teacher – one of the best in the audio industry.

Here’s a couple of common quotes from Neil Muncy that we all love and have repeated many times.

  • “Audio problems are like onions. You peel a layer, you cry a little, and then you peel another one.”
  • “A pin one problem is like letting the fox in the hen house, and giving him a Gold Mastercard.”

We will all miss Neil, and will forever treasure his contributions to our industry.

1997 Grounding & Shielding Workshop. (L to R) Steve Macatee, Bill Whitlock, Neil Muncy, Martin van Dyjk, & Phil Giddings

Here are some comments from the He(a)rd.

My gratitude for everything that he has done for this list and the industry at large.

Neil is a great guy, and we frequently discussed not only audio but our shared love of Food Network’s various shows, and a variety of other decidedly non-audio topics.

I wish him comfort, peace, and most hopefully, recovery.


Ethan Wetzell

I’d like to add my best wishes and respect for Neil. I first met Neil at a workshop in Dallas along with several other luminaries on and off
this list. Neil and I communicated off-list a few times in recent years and I consider it a real honor to know him. The SAC community
is better place because of his presence.

Dick Trump
Triad AV Services

Reading this saddens me greatly. I corresponded with Neil off list for  quite a while, most recently about two months ago. Like most “old
scientists” Neil was in the philosophical mode. It’s interesting to  note that many of the greatest minds in science did some of their most
illuminating work at later stages of life where a lifetime of work and  experience had opened them to truths that might be hidden from those who
are engaged in more active, hands-on research and practical application.

It’s a circle, isn’t it?

Thinking back on what passes for a career, I can’t remember a time when  I did not know and respect the name “Neil Muncy” as a leading thinking
and do-er in sound and audio and like so many of the best teachers…and  not to intentionally leave anyone out, I think of Don and Carolyn, Pat
and Brenda, Ray Rayburn, Bill Whitlock, Chip Sams, Jay Mitchell, Doug  Jones and a host of others and and off list who kept on teaching even in
the face of those of us who just couldn’t see it.

Neil, you’re in our prayers and God’s hands.

Jim Sorensen

I first heard of Neil Muncy via the recording community where I lived in NYC. Neil was making some nice custom recording consoles. I think at least one of his consoles was in use at A&R Recording when I worked there.

I first met Neil in person when we were both teaching at Eastman School of Music’s Summer Recording Workshops. He impressed me both for his technical insights and the stunning jazz recordings he had made.

Since that time he became famous world wide for the June 1995 AES Journal special issue on Grounding and Shielding.

I am keeping Neil and family in my prayers in this difficult time.

Ray A. Rayburn

One of my fondest memories of Neil was when I walked into a Grounding Workshop that we sponsored in Toronto, many years ago. Neil, clean-cut and in suit-and-tie was peering at his custom-made “pin 1 problem demonstrator mixer” through his bifocals and turning knobs. He exclaimed “Sometimes you can’t get this stuff to hum, no matter what you do!” He did finally succeed and it was a memorable learning experience.

He is one of those rare folks that can reduce the theoretical to the practical.

God speed, Neil and family.

Pat Brown

I grew up in the DC area and met Neil in the late 70’s. At that time,  there was no such ting as an off the shelf audio console. Neil was  building custom consoles suitable for remote recording, and was the  local Ampex guru (which expanded over time to be “the” Ampex guru).
This comes as a double whammy, as Kurt Whittig, the engineer who Neil  collaborated with to make the most phenomenal live to 3 track recordings  that I have ever heard, passed away last week.

For many years, Neil (thankfully) invited me to participate in many  endeavors and activities, and as a result, meet professionals that I  would never have come into contact with otherwise. He was instrumental  in leading both me and my colleague, David Griesinger, down the  proverbial rabbit hole that led to the development of of the LARES  system, and provided a lot of the engineering expertise that led to the  successful installation of the first system, which is still in daily  use. Needless to say, I am still in the rabbit hole, and thanks to  Neil I’m still encountering things that are “curiouser and curiouser”.

Best, Steve Barbar Lares Associates

It’s a little odd, but this news has deeply saddened me. More than I’d have expected!

I did not have the privilege of meeting Neil face-to-face, which I regret.

But I had many a spirited conversation via email, and of course this forum.

He is such a humble guy – if you don’t ask you’ll never learn all that he did in his career. Sometimes it is comical!! Many years ago, I was somehow directed to Neil because I had a couple of Ampex decks that I was trying to rebuild. I had no idea he was considered an Ampex guru, and nothing from those conversations would have led me to know, except that it was obvious he knew a LOT about them.

After the Pin-1 issue of the journal I contacted him – not knowing he was the same guy that had helped me with my tape decks. He was very patient, and explained, in great detail, and increasing depth, about audio interconnections, and all the perils. He also reinforced Don Davis’s infamous “standing on the shoulders of giants” or “the ancients are stealing…” concepts, encouraging me to dig through both CBC and BBC archives.

Then we ‘met’ here, and the conversations continued. And oddly enough that’s when I finally made the connection between Mr. Pin-1 and Mr. Ampex. He thought it was pretty funny.

He is a great guy, and he has done much for professional audio. I sincerely hope that this is a false alarm, and he returns to share more of his knowledge.

Bill Thompson, CTS

I just received word that Neil is no longer able to communicate, even with the people there in person. He is under pain management and is on oxygen.
Close relatives say it will be any time now. He’s been having health problems most of the year and currently has pneumonia and multiple organ
failure. He’s only a few years older than me – in his early 70s.

I will sorely miss Neil and I’m grateful that I was able to spend considerable quality time with him over the years. I first met him in 1994 at an AES presentation here in California and he persuaded me to get up on stage and talk about balanced interfaces … I overcame stage fright for the
first time and his passion was contagious. I made it clear to him several times over the years that I would do my best to carry on his teaching work.
May he rest in peace.

Bill Whitlock, president & chief engineer
Jensen Transformers, Inc.

While many of you know Neil as a brilliant genius when it comes to professional audio, I had the unique experience to enjoy a great friendship these past few years with Neil, and had the pleasure of driving him from Toronto to Salt Lake City and back with a vanload full of interesting gadgets for the Hums, buzzes, and things that go zap workshop. What a fun trip, we got to see some wonderful sights along the way! Since then, I had several occasions where he’d invite me over for dinner (he made an outstanding gourmet meal every time), then after dinner play some recordings he made of some Jazz concerts he recorded at the El Macombo years ago on his restored Ampex equipment. He had a tape baking mechanism to resuscitate these old reel tapes that have been sitting in his basement for decades, I’m sure that some of these recordings may not have been playable again, making it that much more special. No “shop” talk, just enjoying each other’s company.

I remember the purging of “stuff” he had accumulated over the years (his basement was packed full of it), then sold/gave it all away in the mother of all garage sales, he didn’t want Mary to be burdened with having to dispose of it all when he passed, I paid him hundreds dollars for some priceless engineering texts from him, and an old Ivie octave analyzer that I still need to resuscitate.

Last Christmas day he called me for a favour of some sort, he was in the hospital after having suffered a fall from his wheelchair, and needed something done with his computer network, if I could drop by the following week when he was back home. I knew he was alone in the hospital that day, I had a couple hours to spare that afternoon before our family Christmas dinner, so what the heck, drive an hour to the hospital and surprise him, stayed for an hour or so and had a wonderful chat. Got home just in time as the turkey was being put on the table (yikes)! Unfortunately his health never really recovered over the coming months, it was heartbreaking to see him suffer, having just gone through similar with my mother’s passing this past spring, I knew he didn’t have much longer to go, but I remained optimistic that he’d somehow bounce back. At least he is no longer in pain now, and probably enjoying all the incredible Jazz music one can dream of!

All this to say that in addition to learning so much here at SynAudCon, it’s the friendships and memories we gain that are so much more valuable, and am so grateful for. Keeps me sane with all the crazy audio projects I take on (and swear I’ll never repeat)! Thanks Pat and Brenda for providing the opportunity!

I know Mary appreciates your thoughts and prayers (I met her for the first time yesterday), I’m not sure she fully comprehends what a generous impact Neil has had on so many people in our small corner of the world, but I’m sure she will find out soon enough!

Arthur Skudra

I too find myself strangely affected by Neil’s passing. The reason I say ‘strangely’ is I only shared one meal with him person to person. As many regulars know my serious interest in audio was renewed a few years ago. At the 07 Hum and Buzzes workshop I sat done to a table with an extra chair
that was also occupied by an older man that was in a wheel chair. He was really friendly, and as we exchanged pleasantries I found out this was Neil
Muncy. I knew who he was because as a kid I was interested in audio, but that was not a professional path I had followed. He was warm, and would was
so willing to exchange info with the Heard and sometimes follow up personally. I was really touched by this in the following years.

I hope his wife will be able to see some of these comments. Arthur if there is a way you can facilitate this I will appreciate it.

As for the friends and family we share life with, I have this to say. Share a laugh and a kind word of appreciation with them. I so wish I were saying
this directly to Neil, and not just to those who also appreciate him.

Blessings and gratitude to all.

Joe Nickell

I echo a lot of the comments made so far about Neil. But the posting below from one that I consider a “giant” in our industry really hit me.

I guess this is what you call “giants standing on the shoulders of giants”

Thank you,
Jim LaRue, owner
LaRue Electrical Specialties

I never had the chance to meet Neil in person.
I did have the privilege of a few private email conversations.
Generosity and Humility were the outstanding attributes of Neil’s emails.

I guess I’m not alone in a strong desire to leave the world a better  place than when I entered it. Sometimes I get a chance to contribute  something small along the way. Mostly I fumble along in the dark.

I can’t imagine Neil as having a different goal … In my view he
succeeded in no small measure.

  • A life well lived.
  • A life deserving celebration !
  • A life not to be forgotten.

Peter Patrick

Like many here, I have known of Neil for decades and have benefited from his experience and wisdom.

But I began a friendship with Neil when I first arranged for him to be hired to track down the source of noise at a concert hall project I was the electroacoustics consultant for. I arranged a dinner while he was “in town” for this with myself, Mary Gruszka and David Andrews. Great company and I
think all I did was “shut up and listen” as these folks talked about everything from audio to noise to the old SAC TEF workshops, etc.

Most recently (2 years ago) I spent 9 days flying up to then help Neil drive his van down for a week’s worth of noise-tracing at a major project in NYC. I acted as the project manager and then drove him back home. Needless to say, we had many hours of exchanging war stories, telling bad jokes, etc.

After we all saw what he could do Neil was hired by my colleagues for 2-3 other large-scale projects which exhibited noise and required such advanced
skills to track down the sources and mitigate or reduce it to an acceptable level. In all cases Neil would simply not give up until he found the
problem. Even when it was on his own dime. And these were all very complicated problems which had “defeated” myself and all the other trades
and engineers.

That last project I did with Neil had the added benefit of giving Neil a great reason to live and get out and do what he did best (and better than anyone else). He had been home-bound and in his wheelchair for a while and wasn’t working much so I think he loved getting my call and the subsequent
work. We would email back & forth weeks after I got him home as I implemented the very specific fixes he had reserached and concluded would
be worth the effort and expense. BTW – everything he ever prescribed did work.

I feel honored ot have worked with him (more like: for him) and feel very good about helping him to get a meaningful project that revived him for a while.

I will miss him, that is for certain.

Tom Young
Electroacoustic Design Services

I had the good fortune to attend a workshop Neil did which was sponsored by the Chicago AES chapter in 1999. As others have noted Neil was captivating. The binder that came with the workshop was a treat in itself.

The workshop was aptly titled: “Grounding, Shielding, Hums, Buzzes, and Things that Go ZAP! In Audio Signal Processing Systems”.

Larry Pajakowski

I learned of Neil’s passing on Facebook. My acquaintance was only in  passing. My former boss introduced me to Neil well over 20 years ago
when he was living in MD. I was a rank helper and we were just starting  to figure out what we could do with our new TEF 10. Mostly I just shut  up and listened. Neil pulled out a baking sheet wave ‘tank’ and started  explaining to me the acoustic principles being discussed. The second time was in a SurgeX booth at NSCA where he blew up an MOV. There was a  certain glee in doing so. I still have it. His ’95 AES contribution on  Pin 1 has yielded much practical advance to our community. Neil will be missed.

Keith Dorset

As one who is mostly in “lurk-mode” of late, I heard of Mr. Muncy’s passing here while catching up on posts this weekend. I only met Neil once at the SLC Hum/Buzz workshop, but his simple primer on how electricity works was/is still the best I’be ever heard, and many light bulbs lit up for the first time over this thick skull.

I loved the way he slugged it out with his test rigs to show us the Pin-1 principles. When it didn’t work the first time, no problem – he was teaching us how to set up meaningful test rigs so we could trust the results.

My wife has been in a wheelchair for a long time (teenage inner tubing accident), and she, like Neil, inspire me with how they just get on with living in spite of the extra hurdles placed in front of them. Neil was a giant, and his influence in the Heard reached even to the outer fringes like mine.

God speed to Mary, and RIP Neil.

Brad “I felt a great disturbance in the Force” Walker
Flamingo Audio

Neil was a joy to interact with at audio and acoustic meetings.
Toward the end we exchanged numerous emails on life in a wheelchair, swapping ideas on how to get things done. A life not to be forgotten. RIP old friend.

Richard H. Campbell, FAES, FASA, NCAC

And not forgetting, whenever Neil was asked how he was doing, the answer was always “Within 3dB!” The answer was predicable but still funny no matter how many times I heard it.

I shall also never forget other gems of Neil’s wit such as: “As busy as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest” or “As nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs”. Great visuals!

I learnt so much from Neil, and it was an honor to have known him. RIP Neil.

Andy Benton
SurgeX International

Like many here, I never had the opportunity to meet Neil in person, but I did spend some time soaking in his knowledge after I asked a question to the heard about an old theater I was doing a little consulting for. After a few emails, we connected via phone and he spent at least an hour schooling me on the history of theater sound and sharing stories of providing and designing systems for the Toronto film festival.

Before our series of conversations regarding the theater ended, he genuinely and warmly invited me to visit him if I was ever in the Toronto area. I remember being extremely humbled that a giant in the industry like Neil would spend several hours investing in a little “nobody” like me…

He will be missed.

Wes Wakefield

I met Neil ten years ago, as a small (tiny) contractor. He was super nice and really patient with a super young brat.

Awesome neil’isms

Josh Evans

I first saw Neil teaching a seminar in 1994 with Pat. He spoke about the new TOA DACSYS digital processor and sparked my interest in crossovers, time alignment, signal delay. Since then I have followed Neil’s many articles and teachings in buzz, hum, pin 1, grounding, ect. I will miss Neil Muncy.

Best Regards,

Mike Moe