When Carlos Alvarez goes to the studio, he always takes a broad-rimmed straw hat that he places on top of his customized outboard-gear rack.
"It's my good luck thing," the engineer says. "Sometimes I'll put it on. It's 'in' all of my records."
The hat, which belonged to his grandfather, a Cuban farmer, can be seen as a metaphor for Alvarez himself: In a world of Pro Tools and plug-ins, the three-time Grammy Award and seven-time Latin Grammy winner is an analog-effects master who delicately molds the sound of every voice and instrument he mixes.