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Editor Mark Davie mark@audiotechnology.com.au Publisher Philip Spencer philip@alchemedia.com.au Editorial Director Christopher Holder chris@audiotechnology.com.au Publication Director Stewart Woodhill stewart@alchemedia.com.au Art Direction & Design Dominic Carey dominic@alchemedia.com.au Additional Design Daniel Howard daniel@alchemedia.com.au Advertising Philip Spencer philip@alchemedia.com.au Accounts Jaedd Asthana jaedd@alchemedia.com.au Subscriptions Miriam Mulcahy mim@alchemedia.com.au E: info@alchemedia.com.au W: www.audiotechnology.com.au

Regular Contributors Martin Walker Michael Stavrou Paul Tingen Graeme Hague Guy Harrison Greg Walker James Roche Greg Simmons Tom Flint Robin Gist Blair Joscelyne Mark Woods Andrew Bencina Jason Fernandez Brent Heber Gareth Stuckey Cover photo Zan Nakari

AudioTechnology magazine (ISSN 1440-2432) is published by Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd (ABN 34 074 431 628). Contact (Advertising, Subscriptions) T: +61 2 9986 1188 PO Box 6216, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086, Australia. Contact (Editorial) T: +61 3 5331 4949 PO Box 295, Ballarat VIC 3353, Australia.

All material in this magazine is copyright Š 2014 Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd. Apart from any fair dealing permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process with out written permission. The publishers believe all information supplied in this magazine to be correct at the time of publication. They are not in a position to make a guarantee to this effect and accept no liability in the event of any information proving inaccurate. After investigation and to the best of our knowledge and belief, prices, addresses and phone numbers were up to date at the time of publication. It is not possible for the publishers to ensure that advertisements appearing in this publication comply with the Trade Practices Act, 1974. The responsibility is on the person, company or advertising agency submitting or directing the advertisement for publication. The publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions, although every endeavour has been made to ensure complete accuracy. 12/11/2014.

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COVER STORY

Dave Pensado Mixes Michael Jackson’s Latest Single Over 13 Months

CONTENTS

More Than Meets the Eye: Jensen Transformers’ Bill Whitlock vs the Harmonic Wars

24

In Deep With a Classic: Remixing Deep Purple

36

Studio Focus: Sunshine Recorder

30

Arturia Spark 2

46

AwTAC 500 Series Channel 48 Amplifier

PC Audio Last Word: Wally De Backer & Franc Tetaz AT 6

16

TABLE OF

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MicW N201: Matched Pair 42 Condenser Mics

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Apple Notes

40

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GENERAL NEWS

U KNOW IT Yes, it’s true, the most cloned/emulated/lusted after studio mic ever, the legendary Neumann U47 FET is back. It’s been reissued as a Collectors Edition, using the original production documents and schematics. A big part of the mic’s special DNA is down to the FET 80 circuit technology, which was the first of its kind to process high sound pressure levels, allowing it to be positioned directly in front of loud amps. The reissue includes the original K47 double large-diaphragm capsule

with a slight boost in the range above 2kHz, a switchable low-cut filter raises the lower cutoff frequency electronically from 40Hz to 140Hz, and switchable attenuation can reduce transmission levels by 10dB. In addition, to prevent overloading of the connected preamp, the output signal can be reduced by 6dB via a switch on the bottom of the microphone. Sennheiser Australia: 1800 764 573 or www.sennhesier.com.au

S3: IT’S TIME Avid’s S3L compact live console was unveiled back in May and now the much-anticipated studio version has been announced. It’s a compact,  EUCONenabled, ergonomic desktop surface in a traditional console layout combined with the upgraded tech of the flagship S6, without the S6 pricetag. Features include: 16 channel strips, each with a touch-sensitive, motorised fader and 10-segment signal level meter (supports up to six fader banks); 32 touch-sensitive, push-button rotary encoders for panning, gain control, plug-in parameter adjustments, and more (16 channel control, 16 assignable, each with a tri-colour LED function indicator); 32 hi-res OLED displays for viewing track names/numbers, detailed metering data (from mono to 5.1 surround), parameter names/values, current automation mode, and more; solo, mute, AT 8

channel select, and record/automation-enable keys on every channel; a touch strip provides easy access to transport controls; dozens of dedicated buttons and switches for navigation, automation, control assignment, and software control; built-in 4×6 AVB Core Audio interface includes two XLR mic/line inputs, two TRS line inputs, two XLR line outputs, two TRS line outputs, and a stereo headphone output; EUCON technology: create up to 12 custom mixer layouts and recall them to the surface at any time — ideal for mixing drums, vocals, dialogue, sound effects, and other groupings; record and monitor directly via the 4-in/6-out AVB audio interface; and a ribbon controller for intuitive transport navigation. Avid: 1300 734 454 or www.avid.com


RODE ON-CAMERA The new Stereo VideoMic X is Rode’s flagship on-camera stereo mic. The microphone features an acoustically matched pair of condenser capsules, housed in integrated Rycote Lyre multi-axis shockmounts. Its body is constructed from aluminium, while remaining lightweight (300g) with a 3.5mm stereo output (via the included SC2 cable) and mini XLR, which can be used simultaneously and is powered by an internal 9V battery or by P48 phantom power standard. The rear panel of the mic features a range of adjustments, including a three-stage highpass filter (0/75/150Hz), a three-stage level control (-10/0/+20dB) and frequency boost designed to help pick out high frequency detail and combat HF loss experienced when using a wind sock. The settings are accessed via press-button digital switching and are retained when the microphone is powered off.

Summer Ensemble Apogee has always dressed up the Ensemble as the perfect accoutrement to Apple’s line of designer hardware. The new addition has arrived as a late season accessory to Apple’s top of the line Mac Pro, in black to suit the primary finish of the trashcan. It’s a similar proposition to the last Ensemble, with some really worthwhile additions. The carry-over features include eight mic preamps with 75dB of gain, Apogee’s renowned AD conversion and soft limit, two headphone outputs, front panel metering, etc. The new hits are dual reamping outputs alongside the DI inputs,

dedicated knobs for headphone level, simultaneous front panel I/O metering, buttons for selecting input and four assignable ones, and a built-in talkback mic. Digital I/O has also been expanded, and Thunderbolt 2 is the connection of choice for super-low latency. Best of all, Apogee includes two Thunderbolt ports for chaining multiple devices. Finally, someone followed the Thunderbolt spec sheet! Sound Distribution: (02) 8007 3327 or info@sounddistribution.com.au

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LIVE NEWS

MIXER IN A BOX Behringer’s X Air is a range of wireless and remotecontrollable mixers — harnessing the ‘mixer in a stage box’ platform. All of the new mixers (12 to 18 inputs) feature the “Midas-designed” mic preamps, an integrated tri-mode wi-fi router and 4 x X32 stereo FX processors (which includes close to 50 of the X32’s plug-ins). Certain X Air models will feature multichannel, bidirectional USB audio/MIDI interfaces and Ultranet connectivity for Behringer’s P-16 Personal Monitoring System. The range isn’t

confined to iOS, but includes Android, Windows, Linux tablets and PC notebooks. The X18 (pictured) can be used as a universal dock for tablets and notebooks, with the XR18, XR16 or XR12 acting as stage box format mixers. They come with a rackmounting kit and should be shipping early 2015. Galactic Music: (03) 8813 0241 or www.galacticmusic.com.au

LITTLE MIXX ARX’s MixxMaker is a nifty multi-format Bluetooth, USB and analogue audio mixer. It addresses the modern day “bewildering variety” of audio protocols and connectors “quickly, easily and faultlessly”, according to ARX boss Colin Park. “We’ve integrated Bluetooth, USB and analogue audio interface technologies into a compact 1U package with a wide range of features including Bluetooth, USB and

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minijack inputs, two balanced XLR microphone inputs, global three-way EQ control and phantom power for condenser microphones.” Applications include: auditorium AV systems; industrial paging/BGM systems; broadcast submixers; and multi-input sound reinforcement systems. TRC: (03) 9874 5988 or sales@trc.com.au


DAS SUB DAS Audio’s Action series of speakers just got a new brother – the Action 118A single 18-inch powered horn-based subwoofer system. A 1600W (3200W peak) Class-D amplifier drives the 18LX long excursion bass loudspeaker, which incorporates a four-inch voice coil for high power handling. The amplifier also integrates switch-mode power supply and DSP, with a unique EQ switch for either deep or loud bass response. Other features include a polarity

reverse switch, filtered output defeat, switch and gain control. The system has two balanced inputs with stereo filtered output connections for satellite systems. The variable crossover ranges from 100Hz to 160Hz, although this can be defeated to offer stereo ‘loop thru’ connections. Edwards Sound: 1800 287 149 or www.edwardssound.com.au

HI-FI WI-FI NOT SCI-FI Having pioneered the use of iPad mix control, Mackie is going again with its take on the new ‘mixer in a stagebox’ paradigm. The DL32R is a 32-in, 14 (fully assignable) XLR outs, 3U rack mountable mixer/stage box which is wirelessly controlled via an iPad. It’s designed for larger venues and allows the FOH engineers to move freely while maintaining complete control. The mixer includes AES digital outs, a Dante expansion card (in case you need more outs) and 32 recallable primo Onyx+ mic preamps. It can also record and playback multi-channel audio and will support 24-in/out to a USB 2.0 hard drive, which Mackie says will increase to 32-ins/outs after

launch. There’s support for up to 10 simultaneous iOS devices, allowing musicians to trigger backing tracks or fine tune monitor mixes while you control the FOH sound. The DSP engine allows three stereo effects processors, along with 36 input channels (32 ins and four returns) with full channel processing and 28 output buses. The DSP also allows you to set A/B sources, which means if disaster strikes, you can switch to a backup instrument/mic on the same channel. CMI: (03) 9315 2244 or sales@cmi.com.au

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SOFTWARE NEWS

MORE MOTU I/O OPTIONS Hot on the heels of the release of the 1248, 8M and 16A interfaces, MOTU now brings us the 24Ai and 24Ao: two new audio interfaces that offer 24 channels of high-quality analogue audio input or output in a single rack space, combined with three banks of ADAT optical, for a total of 72 channels of I/O. All analogue I/O is supplied on standard DB-25 D-sub connectors or, interestingly, 12-pin Phoenix (Euroblock) connectors for studio and industrial installations alike. Similar to the 1248, 8M and 16A, the 24Ai and 24Ao are equipped with DSP-driven mixing/effects and AVB Ethernet. With all five interface models, users can mix and

match complementary I/O configurations and unify operation on their shared AVB audio networking platform. The 24Ai and 24Ao connect to a computer through USB 2.0, while for expanded systems, you can use a Thunderbolt-equipped interface, such as the 16A, for 256-channel computer I/O, with the 24Ai and 24Ao units connected via AVB networking, which supports hundreds of network channels. Network Audio Solutions: 1300 306 670 or www.networkaudio.com.au

PAPEN WORKS QUAD Rob Papen Soundware has released a ground-up Rack Extension synth for Propellerhead Reason: Quad. At its core Quad is a traditional twooscillator subtractive synth but its sophistication lies in how the oscillators combine with cross modulation functions, generating a wide range of harmonics. Four XY pads dominate the main screen, giving OSC 1 and OSC 2 their distinctive Phase Distortion and Wave Shaper capabilities — and also giving rise to the Quad name. Quad is packed with wide-ranging Rob Papen-designed presets or you can delve deeper courtesy of an AT 12

extensive modulation matrix; two effects processors that can be automated within the mod matrix or via the ‘back panel’-positioned ‘external’ CV; LFO 1 and 2 and Envelope 1 and 2 that can be temposynced; AMP section for controlling the volume contour; and more. Moreover, QUAD offers no fewer than 28 filter types via two top-notch analoguemodelled filters with various routings, as well as an arpeggiator with several playback modes. Elfa: (03) 9474 1000 or elfa.com.au


BREATHING LIFE INTO FILM SCORES? Do you want the good news or the bad news? The bad news is there’s now a program called Xhail that can automatically generate genrespecific film music. The good news is they’re paying musicians to supply the source music material.

timing, or even syncing musical cues to onscreen action. The software remembers the cue/music that’s been generated and will not regenerate the same cues again… so long as the user has downloaded and paid for its licence.

Xhail allows users to create original, copyrighted musical pieces from a centralised database of tagged musical stems or instruments. You just type in a word, for example ‘Fantasy’ and the software (in real time) generates an original musical piece to fit that genre. Adding textual cues, at any stage of the composition, allows users change the way the music sounds, adding instruments, changing genre,

The platform is the creation of Score Music Interactive (SMI), which wants to work hand-in-hand with composers and have some pretty nice publishing deals to offer. The company says it has created music cue blueprint templates in all genres, for “composers and musicians to follow and populate.” When a musician works with Xhail, a blueprint template is delivered to them as a MIDI file. Which sets out two

rules for musicians to follow, timing and harmonic mapping of the cue. Musicians can then compose/record their original compositions using whatever instruments they like, returning the finished pieces (without processing or mixing) as individual instrument session wavs. Those individual instrument wavs are tagged then stored in a massive library system in the cloud. Ready for someone using the platform, to type in a cue, which shuffles the wavs and uniquely arranges them for users. SMI offer musicians a generous 50/50 split in the publishing and sync licence profits.

UAD2 OCTO SHARC ATTACK Universal Audio has a new line of UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt DSP Accelerators. The UAD-2 is available in two flavours, Quad or Octo, with a choice of four or eight SHARC processors, they can also be integrated alongside UAD-2 PCIe cards and Thunderbolt-enabled Apollo interfaces, including Apollo Twin, Apollo, and Apollo 16 — which would be a nice ‘problem’ to have. The Satellite Thunderbolt Octo Ultimate is UA’s flagship package, and includes 90-odd UA-developed plug-ins — up to and including UAD software v7.8. CMI:  (03) 9315 2244 or sales@cmi.com.au AT 13


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FEATURE

Artist: Michael Jackson Album: Xscape youtube.com/watch?v=GJDdBbgJafU AT 16


Posthumous albums are fraught with pitfalls and controversy. Unless the album was already finished before the artist died, accusations of the record company and/or musician’s family exploiting the musician’s legacy for their own personal gain are par for the course. Even when unreleased material is revived from the vaults with the best intentions, the simple fact those songs never made the grade in their time often says enough. Then there’s the question of how much to polish: should demos, or even unreleased finished tracks, be left alone or enhanced by new parts? And if enhancement is the logical choice, should the production follow a contemporary style or hark back to the artist’s day? All these issues are particularly poignant in the case of the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. Ever since his tragic death on June 25, 2009, there has been endless controversy surrounding the posthumous release of material starring the entertainer, starting with This Is It. The documentary centred around the lead-up rehearsals for the ill-fated concert series planned to start at London’s O2 Arena on July 13th 2009 — Jackson’s first full run since his HIStory world tour ended in 1997. Some of Jackson’s family members opposed the movie’s release, making accusations of “shameless profiteering” and a body stand-in being used in certain scenes. Nonetheless, the movie was mostly well-received by critics and fans alike, something that cannot be said of Jackson’s first posthumous solo album, Michael (2010), which was marred by claims three of the songs were not sung by Jackson, surrounded by dissent within the Jackson family ranks, and yielded mostly mixed or average reviews. MORE MJ MAGIC

Reportedly, a whopping eight posthumous Michael Jackson solo albums are planned. After the lukewarm reactions to Michael, a team of ultraheavyweight executive producers was assembled for the second release, Xscape: John Branca and John McClain (executors of Jackson’s estate), the legendary L.A. Reid (chairman and CEO of Epic Records and producer of OutKast, Toni Braxton, Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Pink, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Kanye West, Usher, and more), and the ubiquitous Timbaland. Only one of the producers that appeared on Michael received a return call, Dutchman Giorgio Tuinfort, who has worked with Akon, Lady Gaga, David Guetta and Whitney Houston. Rounding out the production team are other well-known names such as Babyface, Stargate, and Rodney Jerkins. It seems the draw of the King of Pop is still strong. The team of mixers that worked on the second album also received an overhaul, and consisted of Timbaland’s right-hand man Chris Godbey, Jerkins and his engineer Trehy Harris, and star pop/R&B mixers Jaycen Joshua and Dave Pensado. The latter was entrusted with arguably the most delicate and important task: to put the final touches on the first single and opening track of the album, Love Never

Felt So Good. The song had been co-written and produced in 1983 by Jackson and Paul Anka. 30 years later, Tuinfort and McClain dressed the song up in a contemporary jacket, resulting in a gentle, uplifting “classy disco-soul” song, that’s been called “airy, sweet, funky and pretty much impossible to dislike.” There’s also a completely unrelated version that has Justin Timberlake duetting with Jackson, which was produced by Timbaland and Jerome Harmon. The Tuinfort-McClain-Pensado version of Love Never Felt So Good, was to be Xscape’s calling card and it’s an indication of the supreme importance attached to the song that Pensado spent a whopping two months full-time on the mix, spread out over an even more astonishing 13 months.

The funny thing is they asked me to turn it round in a week. I actually did some all-nighters to make it happen, and then the mix stretched out to 13 months!

Pensado explains he got the gig because of “personal relationships”, in this case with L.A. Reid, John McClain, and engineer and programmer Jon Nettlesbey, who often works with McClain and was involved in the making of both Michael and Xscape. Of course, nobody gets a job as important as this one on personal connections alone. But Pensado’s immense track record — which includes names like Mary J Blige, Beyoncé, Keyshia Cole, Christina Aguilera, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Pink and more — speaks for itself. During the mid-’00s, the three mixers working at Larrabee Studios in Los Angeles — Pensado, Manny Marroquin, and Pensado’s former assistant Jaycen Joshua — were responsible for mixing more than half of all charting pop/R&B songs in the US. XSCAPE ROUTE

Pensado first received the Love Never Felt So Good session in April 2013, when he was working at a facility in Burbank, and recalls “the funny thing is they asked me to turn it round in a week. I actually did some all-nighters to make it happen, and then the mix stretched out to 13 months! After my first week in April, I did a couple more days in May and in July, four days in September, 10 days in March 2014, and I then worked again for most of April and seven or eight days in May of this year. I did most of the mix at Echobar in the San Fernando Valley, which is owned by producers Erik Reichers and Bob Horn. I mixed the song by myself, with my main points of reference being the reactions from

John McClain, Jon Nettlesbey and L.A. Reid, who are both perfectionists and have strong opinions. “The approval process also involved Jackson family members, so there was a big psychological component in getting all these incredibly talented and strong-willed people on the same page, and this is one of the reasons why the entire mix project took so long. We all took the process very seriously, because it’s Michael. We experimented with many different things, which greatly added to the time it took to complete the mix. I think five or six different guitar parts were tried, and several different bass, keyboard and drum parts. I would just wake up one morning and find a new guitar part in my computer; I’d throw it in, make it work, send it back out and wait for feedback.” The place where Pensado mixed Love Never Felt So Good mattered very little, because he worked entirely in-the-box. The mixer — whose roots go back to working in recording studios and as a live sound engineer in Atlanta in the ’70s and ’80s before he moved to Los Angeles in 1990 — has long been famous for working on large SSL desks. He says that he still loves working in analogue and on a desk (“It makes me feel like a big shot!”), and his new facility is currently being set up to make this possible, if his clients prefer it and have the budget. Obviously, budget was no issue with Love Never Felt So Good, so it was purely Pensado’s choice. “I didn’t want to mix this song in analogue,” explains Pensado, “because the original track I was working with and the whole feel of the song was already very analogue-like. Everybody involved had an opinion on the song’s direction, with some wanting it to be very modern-sounding and others wanting it to sound more like a classic record. I wanted to enhance the integrity of the song and try to make a record Michael would have fallen in love with if he were still alive. I wanted it to have a classic Thriller feel, but for people to also get a sense it was a new record when they hear it. To achieve this, the record had to be dressed up and framed in modern technology and sound. For this reason, I intentionally avoided a console and didn’t use any outboard gear apart from a Bricasti reverb. “I also had to stay in-the-box because I did a lot of MS processing. The most unusual and challenging aspect of the session was that Paul Anka’s piano part and all Michael’s vocals — a centre lead vocal, and stereo background vocals — were on one stereo track. Dealing with that piano/ vocal track was the starting point of my mix. There was no other way to do it. What I did is kind of neat, and I am really proud it. I used the UAD Brainworx bx_digital V2 in MS mode. I figured that the keyboards had all the information I needed in the sides of the stereo track and most of what I needed from Michael came from the middle. I EQ’d the keyboards and the vocals differently, taking out 12dB of 1.2kHz from the stereo section, i.e. the keyboards, and adding at 500-600Hz and 5-6kHz on the middle mono section, i.e. the vocals. When you look at it you wonder how on earth it can ever sound good, but it does.”

AT 17


MIX NOTES: VOCALS & DRUMS

The final ProTools session for Love Never Felt So Good is minimal by modern standards. It totals 36 tracks, including auxes, effects sends, and mix buses. Pensado took the session from close to the top, starting with his aux group tracks: “I always have those five tracks in my sessions, because they allow me to treat the drums, or music beds, etc as a whole and in relation to each other — it helps me glue each of these elements together. For example, in this session I pulled out a little bit of mid-range from the All Music aux track, because I wanted to create more space for Michael’s voice. In general I am a big believer in EQ-ing individual tracks correctly before they get to the aux tracks, so you’ll rarely see me use EQ on them. In this case the EQ comes from the Brainworx Saturator, which allowed me to manipulate the size of the mid-range. I also added the Massey L2007 to the All Drums track, because I felt the drums weren’t quite gelling together, they didn’t feel enough like a performance and a little bit of limiting from the Massey helped achieve that. “The effects tracks are part of my starting template, but nothing in my sessions ever ends up the way it starts out. At one point during this mix I was using all of these effects tracks, and I must have eventually rejected all of them I guess because they felt too contrived. In the end I only used the Split Harmony track on the guitars, and the Bricasti track, which is outboard. The setting I used on the Bricasti was Large Hall, which I tweaked and took out a little bit of bottom end. 1 “As I mentioned earlier, I began the mix by working on the vocals/piano track, and applying the bx_digital V2 in MS mode. The piano is the main driving force of the music, and combined with the bass for the majority of the song’s harmonic content — I used the guitars more like a rhythm instrument in the final mix. This meant I had to reach a compromise and find a place for both Michael’s vocals and the piano. The plug-in world does mid-side better than the analogue world, and bx_digital is one of my favourite plug-ins. In addition to the V2, I used the McDSP AE400 on the piano/vocals track, as a multi-band compression EQ. I am expanding at 78Hz, and cutting at 1.2kHz, 5.5kHz and 10kHz — the latter setting is also acting as a bit of a de-esser. Finally, I’m also using a Massey CT compressor, set to moderate compression, medium attack and fast release. I tried every plug-in I had on the vocals, as well as some outboard, and in the end I was really happy with this combination. “My next step after dealing with the piano/ vocals track was to make the drums work. The piano/vocals track was not recorded to a clicktrack, and the drums drifted a little bit here and there. You can see in the edit window that all kick and snare hits are placed individually, and the same was done with the other drum and percussion elements, though some were recorded back into the session after the editing, so you don’t see the individual regions anymore. I reprinted some of these tracks to get rid of some AT 18


2

We all took the process very seriously, because it’s Michael

1

of the real-time processing, because ProTools is happier when there’s less processing going on. The individual placing of the drum and percussion hits was done by Giorgio and his team, and later by me. It took me days! “Drums (Track 21) is a kick and snare loop I inherited. I’m using it more for the snare sound and a little bit to fatten the hi-hat. 2 The main colour on that Drums track and the hi-hat (Track 27) is coming from iZotope’s Ozone 5. On the drums I am taking out 6dB of 8kHz and have dipped a high shelf as well. I like to use saturation and harmonic colouration for EQ, adding between 130-800Hz and more between 800-6000Hz, then kissing it with a little compression — and that’s it. The hi-hat is really critical for the groove. For the kick drums (Tracks 22 & 23), I actually used three of my own samples to get a more modern sound. I wanted it as close to a modern dance vibe as possible, without it being immediately obvious. I didn’t use any of the original kick sound. The kick (Track 22) is sent to a parallel chain on Track 19 with a Focusrite compressor and Puig Pultec EQ to get it to sound more in your face. “There’s also a parallel snare (Track 20) with a dbx 160, but I don’t appear to have used it. I must have tried it and eventually muted it. Again I replaced the actual snare (Track 24) with a sample of my own to get it to sound more powerful. AT 19


LEFT TURN INTO PENSADO’S PLACE Pensado’s career took a left turn after he suffered a medical incident in the summer of 2010. He made a full recovery, but the event gave him time to re-assess his life, and he decided “I wanted to do types of projects I’d not previously done. So I took an alternative direction, and mixed lots of indie projects. My manager, Herb Trawick, and I also began Pensado’s Place, which has become huge. Every Wednesday I get to do the show and hang out with friends and buddies. However, I’ve also continued to mix hip-hop, pop, and R&B projects over the last few years, and I’m busier than ever.” Pensado’s Place, a weekly Internet studio talk show, has grabbed the attention of engineers, mixers, and producers worldwide, and has also expanded into the Pensado Awards. Pensado left Larrabee in 2011 and has since been working in several different facilities. At the time of the interview he was about to move into his own facility that would include a Neve desk, tons of outboard gear, and, of course, his stateof-the-art ProTools rig. With no signs of slowing down, his recent major credits include Mariah Carey, Keyshia Cole, Earth Wind & Fire, Macy Gray, and, of course, Michael Jackson.

6

5

THAT VOICE Pensado: “I don’t know why Michael Jackson’s vocals ended up on the same track as the piano. I asked if there was anything else, but I was told it was all they had. The track was recorded during the sessions for Thriller, and Michael really didn’t do demos. When he went into the studio, everything that was recorded was meant to be the final version, even though he would redo his vocals sometimes. So the piano/vocals track was the final thing. “I wish you could just hear Michael’s voice, because he really is himself on this. His finger snaps while singing are really loud, and done with immaculate timing, though you can’t hear them in the final version because they’re covered by the snare and claps. But he was really into it. This was a genuine performance. It was pretty spectacular, and so good that I sometimes did not feel worthy of working on it. All sorts of things were floating through my mind while working on the track, ‘Should I be doing this?’ But then I thought: ‘Somebody is going to do it, so it might as well be me.’ “When I first heard that vocal I was so excited, because it’s the reason I’m a musician, and a mixer. We don’t sell our technical skills, what we do is use these skills to enhance a performance and a vibe and the feel of a song. And that is what I feel I accomplished with this mix.”

3

4 AT 20


3 Then there are two clap tracks (Tracks 25 & 26), and I’m using the SPL Transient Designer on Track 25, just to add a bit more attack. The Avid Pro Limiter is just keeping it in place. It’s a very musical plug-in, and I’m using a short attack time to keep it up there in your face a little bit. There is a really fine line between hypnotic and monotonous, and in this song I tried to make sure that all the frequencies above 800Hz lock together in a bedrock groove that hypnotises you, while the frequencies underneath keep you interested. The second clap track uses my samples as well. Finally, there are two percussion tracks (28 & 29) and I’m making a concession to the sound of the past here by using a plug-in version of the old EMI Beatles compressor.”

MIX NOTES: MUSIC & FINAL MIXDOWN

Pensado: “The bass (Track 31) has a Waves Renaissance RBass on it, which adds a little bit of low end; a UAD BlueStripe 1176 compressor, which really grabs things; and a Little Labs Voice of God, to add some real sub bass. 4 The cool thing is instead of parallel compressing the bass, I parallel re-amp it (Track 30) with a Softube plug-in that emulates an Ampeg SVT 810 cabinet, which is known for a really great bass sound with a nice high end. I love the guitars (Tracks 32 & 33), which I think are the original guitars added by Giorgio. 5 I’m using more of the guitar on Track 33, and it has the Brainworx Rockrack amp simulator on it, on a Funky Clean preset, which really pushes the guitar in your face. I also had the dbx 160 on the guitar, which is great for R&B guitars, and I’m doing a send to the Split Harmonizer aux (Track 14), which has the Waves Doubler 2, with a stock harmonizer setting. I also have the Waves S1 on it which allowed me to widen the guitar and make it sound bigger, without hearing the effect. I like to use the S1 on vocals as well.

6 “I used Mathew Lane’s DrMS to place the keyboards (Track 34) more in the middle than on the sides, which is kind of odd, but it worked better that way. The strings in this session, which were done by Giorgio’s man, Franck van der Heijden, are just perfect. I used the Massenberg EQ to introduce a high-pass filter at 200Hz, dip out some 500Hz, 800Hz and 4kHz, and add at 6kHz. I also applied iZotope’s Alloy 2 plug-in, using the Exciter part of it, in a tube-tape retro setting, to give the strings some more colour. I’m compressing the strings with Alloy 2 as well, and using Ozone 5 for some stereo imaging. I panned the frequencies above 10kHz really wide, and then narrowed the panning as you go down the frequency spectrum — so 10-20kHz is really wide, 3-10kHz is less wide, 400-3000Hz even less wide, and everything under 400Hz is mostly mono. It’s a neat trick. The final track is a brief piano part in the third verse and it was perfect, so I didn’t touch it. “The session was in 24-bit/44.1k, and all the audio tracks are sent to the aux tracks in red near the top of the session (tracks 5-9). There is some volume automation on the individual aux tracks because I wanted the flow of the music to follow the energy of Michael’s singing. Michael’s energy determines when those tracks come up and when they go down. For example, it looks as if the third chorus is coming down halfway through, but what was happening was that chorus was starting get away from me and I couldn’t work out why, so I decided to bring it down a bit. These volume changes were done very late in the mix, and incorporated my experiences with playing live. I’m trying to create the same feeling coming out of the speakers as I had when I was on stage. People complain that programmed music has no dynamics, but if you look at my sessions, you’ll see the dynamics change constantly.

“The aux tracks go to the Master Fader (Track 2), which in turn goes to the Mix Bus (Track 3), on which I have my stereo bus effects. In this case I used the Slate Digital FX-G Virtual Mastering plug-in, just kissing it barely with a threshold of almost 0, the gain is just 2dB, the attack and release are at ‘noon’, the ratio is 1.2:1 and I am not adding any transients or detail. I put the Waves L2 after the Slate so neither had to work too much. If one of them had to do all the heavy lifting, I would not have liked the sound very much, but both of them doing it together gave me a much more transparent sound. I knew that Bernie Grundman was going to master the song, so I wanted to make sure the processing done by the L2 and Slate was very benign to give him enough space to do his thing.” MIXED DIVIDENDS

Ironically, despite the ‘week-long mix’ turning into a 13-month journey, Pensado says the version eventually used was 85% the mix he submitted after that first week. “Moreover, we didn’t really do small tweaks in those 13 months,” said Pensado. “We experimented in a big way, particularly using all kinds of different musical parts! I wasn’t against all that experimenting. In fact, I thought we could make it better, just like everyone else. None of us knew we would end up with a mix very close to what we initially had, with most of Giorgio’s parts in place.” It just goes to show that even for those at the top of the game, the laws of diminishing returns still apply, and endlessly tinkering with a mix often doesn’t pay dividends. At least in this case, Love Never Felt So Good gave Jackson the honour of being the first artist in history to have a top 10 single in the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades. Thanks in no small degree to Pensado weaving his elaborate mix magic over what surely must be a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records’ longest-ever professional mix. AT 21


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FEATURE

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

In a digital audio landscape, transformers are the new tubes. But there’s much, much more to transformer design than perceived ‘warmth’. Jensen Transformers’ president Bill Whitlock talks cores, phase distortion, and the enduring legacy of Deane Jensen. Story: Mark Davie

AT 24


There’s a fresh fracas to rival the Loudness Wars — we’re on the slippery downslope of the Battle for Harmonics, and it’s getting muddy. At first, we were happy with the three T’s: the harmonic triangle of Tubes, Tape, and Transformers — each far more than a prosaic electronic component or pitstop in your signal chain, but a potentially prized colour in your tonal palette. Lately, we’ve seen some hysteria over hysteresis. Most of us wouldn’t have the foggiest clue what it is, but we want it, that’s for sure. I’ve been reading one-sheets for transformer-laden gear that never mention noise isolation, but can’t wait to slip in a Trademarked reference to hysteresis-induced harmonics. And just recently, news of a glitch plugin came across my desk. Its name? Hysteresis [take a look at our news pages for more]. But have we overdriven our common sense so far as to dig up coal and declare it gold? Bill Whitlock certainly thinks so. He was the president of Jensen Transformers until just recently when the company was bought out by its number one customer, Radial Engineering. He was also a lifelong friend of founder Deane Jensen, and has continued his legacy of great transformer design through an intimate knowledge of the component’s role. As far as Jensen is concerned, high levels of hysteresis have never been a desirable trait. “Deane was convinced that the goal in music reproduction was to accurately reproduce that oscilloscope waveform,” said Whitlock. “The main reason people use a transformer in the first place is to get rid of ground noise: hum, buzz and all those other issues. So if you do try to get rid of noise, I think it’s extremely critical you put a transformer in the signal path that’s not going to ruin your signal quality. If I had to put the goal of Jensen in a single word, it’s ‘transparency’; to make transformers that sound like they’re not there.” It’s a good point. Do we want components that do their job as cleanly and efficiently as possible, or components with inferior performance that imbue a subjective ‘sense’ of warmth? If the popularity of Radial’s JDI box is anything to go by, we value transparency even if we don’t realise it. JENSEN TRANSFORMED

Bill Whitlock has always followed in Deane Jensen’s footsteps, but in the way a cleanup hitter treads the same bases as the leadoff batter; he gets everyone home. The first time the pair met was during a job interview at Quad Eight where Jensen, the chief engineer at the time, was interviewing Whitlock as his potential replacement. Jensen was practically edging towards the door, itching to start up Jensen Transformers. It was 1971, and Whitlock had just moved to California, the audio engineering hotbed where UREI had just dropped the 1176 peak limiter, and Quad Eight was building arguably the best consoles of the day. Jensen had worked at Quad Eight since 1968, and before that, a stint at UREI. But it was his work as a consultant to Wally Heider Studios that

led him to look deeply at transformers. The studio was complaining about an edgy sound from their consoles they didn’t like, and charged him with unearthing the issue. It eventually led him to the transformers, and after taking some measurements, he didn’t like what he saw. Jensen didn’t have breakthrough expertise in winding coils — that had been happening for 50 years — or alloying metals (though he did develop expertise later). Instead, he had an understanding of how the transformer interacted with the circuitry that surrounded it. And that’s where all the problems were.

party software supplier for Hewlett Packard. “That was the beginning of the quest, and he gradually discovered how to overcome what was wrong with these transformers. In 1974 the line of Jensen Transformers was born, in fact, this year is Jensen’s 40th anniversary.” In his research, Jensen found the problems resided in three general areas: the selection of core material, phase distortion, and frequency range. Here’s Whitlock’s beginner’s guide to what was wrong. SELECTION OF CORE MATERIAL

Whitlock: “Core material selection is critical to both low level and high level harmonic distortion in transformers. The high level part is due to core saturation. Basically, you can wind a coil around a piece of core material and keep increasing the current flow through it and create a stronger and stronger magnetising field, but AT SOME POINT THAT CORE MATERIAL WON’T BE ABLE TO HOLD ANY MORE

Deane Jensen circa late ‘60s

If I had to put the goal of Jensen in a single word, it would be ’transparent’; to make transformers that sound like they’re not there

WHAT HE FOUND IN THOSE TRANSFORMERS WERE, “UNDAMPED ‘SCREAMING’ HIGH FREQUENCY RESONANCES IN THE ULTRASONIC REGION AND VERY INADEQUATE LOW FREQUENCY RESPONSE,” said Whitlock. “It was bad enough that it would change the timbre of things like kick drums.” It would manifest itself as harshness you couldn’t quite put your finger on, but you could hear something was wrong. The quest to get rid of all those effects led him to start Jensen Transformers. He soon realised he needed more computing power. So, along with two experts, developed the Comtran Circuit Modelling software. This was the mid’70s, when state-of-the-art for the day were Hewlett Packard programmable calculators. Whitlock: “The program was written in Rocky Mountain Basic, and Hewlett Packard was so impressed it started selling his software. Deane was so proud that he was the first ever third-

MAGNETIC FLUX. IT’S SATURATED. If you take the coil further than that, all the excess magnetic field radiates out into the air in each direction, because it can’t flow through the material. “That eventually got solved by using a very high-permeability core material called Permalloy. It’s basically an 80% nickel alloy that’s got traces of molybdenum, iron, and some other things in it. Its permeability is up between 50-100,000 — extremely high, compared to about 300 for ordinary steel. Sometimes it’s called Mu-metal, which is actually a brand name, like calling a facial tissue a Kleenex. “At the other end, the very low level distortion is caused by what’s called magnetic hysteresis. An analogy is when you use a piece of metal as a spring. If you hold a piece of metal in your hand and push it in one direction it will deflect, and when you let it go it will return to where it started… sort of. And if you push it in the other direction it will come back to its resting position… sort of. “Hysteresis is that little difference in the resting position after it’s been exercised in one direction and then the other. So if you magnetise the core very strongly in one direction and then turn off the current, the magnetic field in the core doesn’t quite return to zero. The effect is, it has a harmonic distortion, a very small signal. “Deane found it could be altered with specific annealing processes, because THIS PROPERTY IS SET BY THE HEATING AND COOLING RATE THAT SETS THE METALLURGY OF THE CORE MATERIAL. TO THIS DAY IT’S OUR TRADE SECRET — THE COOKIE RECIPE FOR OUR HEATTREATED CORE MATERIAL THAT GETS US AN EXTREMELY SMALL DISTORTION LEVEL AT LOW-LEVEL SIGNALS.”

PHASE DISTORTION & FREQUENCY RANGE

The other two points are somewhat related, as Whitlock explains: “The classical specification for an audio system is that the low-frequency response extends to 20Hz. Well, it turns out that TO GET GOOD REPLICATION OF FREQUENCIES IN A WAVEFORM DOWN AT THE 20-30HZ REGION, THE -3DB POINT HAS TO EXTEND DOWN TO LESS THAN 1HZ. AT 25


“It’s not widely known but it was driven home by a 1989 AES paper, by a Georgia Tech professor called Marshall Leach, that hasn’t received enough attention. He showed, mathematically, the relationship between phase distortion and bandwidth. “But the popular misconception is that phase shift is the same thing as phase distortion. This really bothered Deane and he wrote a paper about it in 1986 that basically said as long as a phase shift is linear with frequency, it turns into a very benign time delay. It’s no worse to the fidelity of a signal than moving your head an inch further away from the speaker. “What really alters the shape of the waveform and the timbre of the music is a non-linearity in that phase relationship. That’s why you’ll see on all the Jensen data sheets that we measure phase distortion as a deviation from linear phase. IF YOU CAN STAY LINEAR PHASE ACROSS THE AUDIO SPECTRUM,

Winding a transfomer at the Jensen factory

WHICH OUR TRANSFORMERS TYPICALLY DO, STAYING WITHIN A COUPLE OF DEGREES FROM 20HZ TO 20KHZ, YOU CAN VERY ACCURATELY REPRODUCE THE REAL WAVEFORM OF THE MUSIC, which was Deane’s goal.

that Deane co-wrote a paper about with his friend Gary Sokolich in 1988. “It basically says IF YOU HAVE RESONANT PEAKS THAT EXAGGERATE ULTRASONIC FREQUENCIES IN AN AUDIO SIGNAL CHAIN, IT IS ALMOST CERTAIN YOU WILL CAUSE SOME VERY UGLY DISTORTIONS IN DOWNSTREAM

Deane was convinced that the goal in music reproduction was to accurately reproduce that oscilloscope waveform

“But the really interesting thing happens at the high-frequency end, where bandwidth is related to phase distortion by a factor that depends on the nature of the filters. For a simple one-pole filter, 230kHz of bandwidth at the 3dB points was required to stay within five degrees of phase distortion at 20kHz. “However, you can make the roll-off much steeper and get that same five degrees of phase distortion criteria in a bandwidth as small as 25kHz, but you have to do it with a filter that’s designed for the purpose, and that’s what Bessel filters are extremely good at. “All Jensen transformers roll-off as a secondorder Bessel low-pass filter. Therefore they have impeccable phase response way up to 20kHz and don’t do any peaking above that. Even today if you do a frequency response sweep of other transformers, you’ll find some very peaky resonances out in the 50-100kHz region. And if you put a square wave through, it will cause ringing on the top of the square wave. This has some rather devastating musical results, which swings us into the topic of spectral contamination AT 26

EQUIPMENT. Ultrasonic signals come along today

from things like DAC clock residue and D/A converter outputs. With phonographs it’s due to ultrasonic mechanical resonances in the stylus, but you can end up with a considerable amount of energy out in the 40-50kHz range. “If this is allowed to travel through the system, it will end up going through amplifier stages. And because op-amps have the least amount of feedback at these ultrasonic frequencies, they become quite non-linear and behave as mixers. “If you put two frequencies into any non-linear device like an amplifier, you will get a sum and difference frequencies. And if you put in a complex set they cross-modulate with each other and the harmonic mixing products of these ultrasonic harmonics regurgitate down in the audible spectrum. And they do it at very non-harmonically related frequencies. This has been confirmed with listening tests. It essentially brings down a kind of veil — almost like modulation distortion or modulation noise — that’s very noticeable when it goes away. This can also lead to very blurred imaging in stereo when you have this nonharmonic related background grunge present. “So transformers can perform as very phaselinear, low-pass filters to keep this ultrasonic garbage from travelling downstream. That’s what Deane wanted to solve, problems caused in ordinary designs by people that did not understand how the transformer interacted with the things around it.”

USING TRANSFORMERS FOR DISTORTION

These days, there’s a lot of talk about harmonic distortion in transformers, without a real appreciation of how it’s generated, or if it’s

desirable. While Whitlock and Jensen often turn manufacturers away who are looking for those distortion characteristics, he knows very well why they’re asking: “They’re the people that want colouration. Some people call it ‘warmth’ — the harmonic distortions of the transformer. I’LL GRANT YOU, THEY ARE VERY DIFFERENT TO ELECTRONIC DISTORTIONS BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL LOW ORDER. IF YOU START CROWDING ANY MAGNETIC DEVICE, INCLUDING ANALOGUE MAGNETIC TAPE, AND START PUSHING IT TOWARDS SATURATION, WHAT YOU GET IS SECOND OR THIRD HARMONIC DISTORTION.

“You don’t get a lot of the seventh, 19th and 33rd like you would if you pressed an op-amp — which get real ugly, real quick, because the harmonic distortion mechanism produces not only low order distortion products but extremely high order artefacts that sound really ugly. “So transformers among the nostalgia crowd, for lack of a better term, are going after that original transformer warmth and overload characteristics which goes hand in hand with the way tubes overload, as opposed to op-amps. They’d rather it gracefully enter their saturation, and older transformers will produce significant amounts of low frequency distortion at normal operating levels.” STEELING YOURSELF

Permalloy isn’t a recent invention, it’s been around since 1914. The reason it’s not always used is typically because of cost. Not all transformers on the market are equal, instead we have a wide variety of offerings using cheaper core materials that don’t suit the application; lower windings; and smaller transformers that don’t have high inductance. This is one of Whitlock’s pet peeves. Because unless the manufacturer is honest, and publishes specs to back it up, it’s hard to know what’s hiding in those coils. Whitlock: “For a given source of signal to keep the impedance of the transformer high as frequency goes down, you have to have a certain amount of inductance. The inductance of


Taping and adding Faraday shields

990 OP-AMP One of Jensen’s most famous designs is the 990 opamp, which is still produced today by the John Hardy Company, albeit re-designed slightly to replace parts that are no longer available. Whitlock explains the problems Jensen was trying to solve with the 990. Whitlock: “Most mic preamps have good noise performance at decent gain, but when you reduce the gain, the input noise suffers, largely because of the increased impedance of the feedback networks. In mic preamps, the resistors of the feedback network contribute a very significant amount of noise to the circuit, because resistors all make random thermal noise, and the higher in value they are, the more noise they make. “So there’s a design quandary. You want to keep the feedback network at a very low impedance, but the lower you make it, the harder it is for the output of the op-amp to drive that network. It becomes quite a severe load. So Deane tried to create an ideal amplifier that had an extremely low noise input stage. He solved it by using National’s LM394 super-matched pair, which is basically 100 transistors randomly parallel to make two extremely well-matched differential transistors. And because there are essentially lots of transistors in parallel inside the package, it has extremely good noise performance — that became the input stage.

“Then he used a very high current output stage and ran it on ±24V rails. And it has a peak output current of 240mA, so it has no problem driving a couple of hundred ohms of feedback network. “The patented part of the 990 is the little inductors used in the emitters of the input differential pair, which solves a problem that gets deeply technical to try and explain. It has to do with the frequency compensation and stability under feedback which is normally solved by putting some resistors in those emitters. But if you put resistors there it adds a lot of noise to the amplifier. So Deane solved the problem by putting inductors there instead of resistors. “They had the intended effect of degenerating the gain at high frequencies but without paying the noise penalty. So it has a very unique combination of qualities that make it very, very popular and of course two of those are used in the Jensen Twin Servo mic preamp, which has won quite a number of listening test shoot-outs and was the personal favourite of singers like Tony Bennett, who used to carry his own around in a foam-lined case. “The 990 makes a good mic preamp and a good line driver — it will drive a 75Ω load to full bore levels — it’s just good at everything, and designed especially for pro audio.”

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WHITLOCK’S FINAL INNINGS

Whitlock’s run with Jensen isn’t over, for the next four years at least, Whitlock is staying put at Jensen. But running a company as the legacy of a great but troubled man hasn’t been easy. Jensen’s father had been a very high-level physicist for Westinghouse, the kind of physicist the government contracted for projects shrouded in secrecy. The company he kept included Albert Einstein, who would occasionally drop around for a cuppa and chat. His father, according to Whitlock, had incredibly high standards and wasn’t the most encouraging of figures. “I think to some extent Deane got the patent [in the 990 op-amp, see sidebar] just to prove to his father how clever he Every transformer is tested before it leaves the factory. was,” reasoned Whitlock. “One of Deane’s problems was constantly trying to prove himself to his father a coil is proportional to the number of turns and who was a pious, academic man, and very hard the permeability of the core material. Since steel to impress. Deane also was a petit-mal epileptic has a low permeability, it requires more turns than which he tried to hide all his life, and his identical a high-nickel core material would. On the other twin brother was killed as they crossed the street hand, steel will support much stronger magnetic when they were 14 years old, which really left some fields before it starts to saturate. mental trauma on Deane.” “Steel transformers should only be used when It’s a lot to carry, and although Jensen was a the source of the signal has an extremely low genius, he gradually became weighed down by impedance, like when you can connect it directly problems with the company. The pair had caught to the output of an op-amp. But in practical up over the years since their first meeting at equipment, there is a network of some sort between Quad Eight: Whitlock helped Jensen brainstorm the op-amp and the output pin, so to use the the 990 circuitry; and while he was head of transformer on the output, we rarely, in fact never, electronic engineering at Capitol/EMI, used Jensen recommend using a steel core transformer. transformers in a stereo widening product he “Most of our competitors will use small steel built called The Spatializer. Fed up with Capitol, core transformers because the material is much Whitlock was ready to throw in the towel after cheaper, and it will handle a greater signal level in a seven years, so Jensen suggested they team up and smaller package. But the distortion characteristics form a consulting team. The consulting business are completely unacceptable. Steel has very was going well, but Jensen was very close-mouthed high hysteresis distortion and even though that about the mounting problems his transformer distortion will not increase a lot until it reaches company was facing. saturation, which is at a higher level, it’s a trade-off It all became too much for Jensen, as Whitlock we’re not willing to make. They’re often the size tells it: “He went out for a walk one Saturday of a postage stamp and physics just doesn’t allow morning as he customarily did and didn’t come a transformer to perform at 20 or 30Hz back.AMI got worried, and on Monday called the EMA_AT102_[Press}.pdf 1 without 10/06/14 11:40 being fairly large.” Jensen offices to ask if anybody had seen Deane.

They found him in his office with an empty bottle of wine and a revolver in his hands. He’d blown his brains out. In the note there were lots of things including problems with suppliers, a friend that had really taken advantage of him, and he just couldn’t see his way out. In his suicide note he said, ‘Bill is strong, I think he can deal with all this. I leave everything I own to Bill.’” It turned out Jensen was upside down to the tune of almost half a million dollars, ‘everything he owned’ needed salvaging. At first, Whitlock wanted to smack his friend for not confiding in him. But eventually, against the advice of his lawyer and accountant to close the doors, Whitlock decided to take Jensen on and continue the legacy. At age 70, he’s had his fill of dealing with the administrative side of the business, and is looking forward to relinquishing day-to-day management to spend more time brainstorming new ideas, writing and lecturing. One of his email taglines reads: ‘Marketing has become the fine art of deception by omission’, so full-disclosure specs is another tradition of Jensen’s he willingly carried on. While he’s seen other companies ruined by cheapening the internals of its product, his 20 years of business with Radial’s President, Peter Janis, gives him confidence in the future. For now, Radial plans to operate Jensen as an independent supplier, of which Radial is a customer. So hopefully we’ll see the Eclipse transformers Radial has been using in its multi-channel variants of the JDI — a move necessitated by their popularity — replaced by the rightful component from Jensen.

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FEATURE

IN DEEP WITH A CLASSIC Martin Pullan balances where only the brave dare, and remixes the three concerts Deep Purple’s classic live album Made in Japan were culled from. Story: Mark Davie

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The original mix [of Made In Japan] sounds bloody awesome… it’s actually quite hard to get as good as it, let alone better

It’s the car crash syndrome. You know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t help yourself. And in the music world, bad press is too hard to ignore: papers, blogs, forums — bad reviews are everywhere — just one look away from ruining your mood. It takes an iron will to look away, because we all want everyone else to validate what we do. Rarely though do you see mixes evaluated. There are the widely scorned, like the mastering of Metallica’s Death Magnetic which became the poster child for everything wrong with the Loudness Wars. It was an easy target; the crushed dynamic range and excessive clipping made it simple to pinpoint the culprit. But for the most part, it’s too difficult to judge each contributor’s input. Was that blazing, clipped guitar a bad balance decision or a producer’s intent? There is, however, one area where there’s a baseline for comparison. And consequently, an army of forum trolls poised with their opinions. I’m talking about remixing a classic album, and specifically, one of the all-time greats — Deep Purple’s live album Made In Japan. It’s the definitive record of Deep Purple’s live prowess, with the original album’s track list cherry picked from three concerts across Osaka and Tokyo in 1972. Deep Purple fans really dig this album. And they know it inside out. Martin Pullan of Edensound Mastering not only remastered Martin Birch’s original 1972 mix, but has remixed and mastered the entire three concerts — six hours of material — and now he can’t help but check in occassionally to see how the fans are taking it. REMIXING A REMIX

By all accounts, the usability of the recordings was a surprise to everyone at the time. The band had set aside $3000 for the recording, but didn’t have high hopes for the outcome. Martin Birch, the engineer, was similarly skeptical when he saw the equipment the budget afforded — a skinny eight-track and no balance controls. But the whole thing went down live to eighttrack tape, and became one of their biggest hits. The band have suggested part of the reason the performances are so good is because their expectations of the recording were so low they were only focused on the show. The only time all three concerts have been mixed

before, was in 1993 — at Abbey Road by Darren Godwin, assisted by Simon Robinson, the researcher on the project. It was a package called Live In Japan. “The general opinion is that, compared to the original, those mixes aren’t very good,” said Pullan. “My aim was to improve on that.” So far, the reactions have been encouragingly positive. On one entrenched Deep Purple fan site, the first review reads: ’Are Martin Pullan’s mixes better than the 1972 ones? I dare to say, ’no’, but they come very close.’ Which is about as glowing as you can expect. DEEP CONNECTIONS

Though he wouldn’t say it, Pullan is somewhat of a Deep Purple aficionado. He’s one of a handful of mixers over the years who’s been deeply embedded in the Deep Purple camp. His credits also include mastering for their Total Abandon Australia live DVD, he’s mixed and mastered a number of other Deep Purple concerts including from California, Paris, Stockholm, and projects for former members of the band including Blackmore’s Knight’s A Knight in York (5.1 and stereo) and Jon Lord’s Concerto for Group & Orchestra (5.1 and stereo). But even though Pullan has invested so much time in the Deep Purple catalogue, he doesn’t bother himself with researching the minutiae of how the songs were recorded, what gear was used, or what the halls were like. Everything he needs to know can be heard on the eight tracks in front of him. Pullan: “Drums are a stereo pair; bass on one track — nice and distorted; guitar on one track — nice and out of tune — Ritchie would forever be tuning up his guitar mid song, those cuts never featured on Made In Japan; organ on one track; vocal on another; and then the luxury of two tracks for the audience. “The original mix of Made In Japan sounds bloody awesome. The energy’s there, and it’s actually quite hard to get as good as it, let alone better. “I try to bring a new approach. I’m not trying to be true to how they were mixed in the first place, we’ve got new technology now. We can jazz them up a bit and make them sound more exciting.” These days, the number of tracks in a live recording would typically be upwards of 40. Regardless of the technology at his disposal, Pullan’s mix was still limited by Martin Birch’s initial decisions. “They only had eight tracks, and they had to make decisions and lock them in,” said

Pullan. “The drum mix is really good, but because it’s on two tracks, it means I can’t separate things too much.” One alteration Pullan did make, based on his knowledge of the band, was to flip the original stereo panning choices. The original has guitarist Ritchie Blackmore on the left hand side, and Jon Lord, the keyboard player, on the right — a configuration they never appeared in on stage. One of the many releases in this new batch is Kevin Shirley’s original 1972 album remix plus Pullan’s new encores, which is a bit weird, because it flips between the two panning choices. “I took it upon myself to change it around, not really thinking about this permutation. My decision may have been a foolish one,” concedes Pullan. “Some people have mentioned it, and they think it’s a mistake.” RECALLING 1972

As well as the number of tracks, a big difference between today and 1972 is the choice of whether to mix in-the-box or on a console. Pullan makes no bones about it, he’d rather be in a DAW. “I think you can get it better,” he said. “I come from big old analogue consoles, started on a big old Neve and worked on all of them. But I much prefer mixing in-the-box because of the amount of control. Besides, if you mix in-the-box and tell someone it was done on an analogue console, they’d believe you. There’s no way you can do all those fader rides with an analogue console, particularly in the days before automation. Plus, you don’t have to finish the mix at three in the morning when everyone is tired. You can come back to it exactly as you left it and refine it. There is a danger of over-refining, people will just pick at things until they bleed — so you’ve got to be careful.” Pullan was supplied with 24-bit/96k transfers from when Made In Japan was remastered. He still uses ProTools 9, because he keeps his TC Powercore card around when he has to master 96k files. Typically he would master through an analogue chain, but his hardware TC Electronic Finalizer only runs at 24-bit/48k. The Powercore card gives him access to TC’s MD3 stereo mastering tools from the System 6000 for those high definition Blu-Ray releases. Pullan walked through each of the eight tracks and offered insight into how he applied 21st century tools to a ’70s rock recording. AT 31


VOCALS Ian Gillan might not be the most famous of the Deep Purple quartet, but as the only moving source on stage, the spill into his mic became a critical factor in Pullan’s balance. “If he’s singing in front of Ritchie’s amp and you get more guitar, there’s not a lot you can do about it,” explained Pullan. “THE EFFECT IS, THE GUITAR GETS A LOT TINNIER AND TOPPIER. SO PULLING THE GUITAR CHANNEL DOWN MAKES THAT WORSE. YOU JUST HAVE TO LIVE WITH IT. AND YOU CAN’T EQ IT OUT OF THE VOCAL, IT WILL JUST AFFECT IT TOO BADLY.

“On the vocal I’ve got some Waves L3 multi-band, it’s not my favourite thing, but subtly tightens it. I’ve also rolled off the bottom end and made notches at 670Hz, where the room was ringing, and 200Hz, where the room was boomy. There are a lot of vocal

DRUMS The drums were probably the hardest to manage, because of the inflexibility of only having a stereo mix. But Pullan still managed to coax a little extra out of what was there. Pullan: “It’d be great to have more tracks, even though they sound really good. Once you start adding overall top end to the drums then you bring up the hi-hats. I’ve added a bit of snappy high mids to accentuate the snare. At the same time, I’m rolling off the top end a little too because the cymbals are quite splashy, particularly on the Tokyo concert. I’m always pulling little dips out, based on ringing I can hear. This comes from mastering, because I’m always pulling little notches out of masters. “On the Tokyo gig, I also used a de-esser at 3.6kHz to control the splashiness of the cymbals. I set a Waves HComp with a fairly slow attack and a fast release, so I don’t chop off the attack on the drums. And another EQ to take out some more notches. Funnily enough — and this always happens to me — I’ve taken off top end in one EQ, then added it back in again.”

BASS Pullan: “The bass is quite distorted coming from his amp. On the SSL EQ I’ve rolled a little bit of low end below 50Hz, and added some fairly tight high end at 800Hz and 1.5kHz, notched out around 200Hz, and added some 60Hz. “On the Digi EQ I’ve got three notches between 70 and 200Hz. I’ve got the Kramer PIE compressor, which I love. I have to make sure it’s not on the Analogue setting, because it gets too noisy if you have too many on the mix.”

AT 32

rides on the Tokyo gig, and overall the vocal is probably a little lower because of the spill. The whole mix is really different for the Tokyo show.” For reverbs, Pullan favours the Lexicon PCM Native bundle. And rather than trying to match the space, it’s a purely subjective exercise for him. “I’m not going to make it sound like the Taj Mahal if it was a small room,” said Pullan. “But I’m not analysing what was there. What’s on the audience mics is nice, a few individuals, but mostly a good crowd sound and a large sounding space. I’ve got three reverbs: a drum reverb, a short reverb and a long one. I’ve got a delay as well. The drum reverb is set at 1.1s, and is a little longer than the short tail.”


GUITAR & ORGAN Ritchie Blackmore and John Lord’s playing feature heavily in the makeup of Deep Purple. And Pullan spent the time getting them to really cut through the mix. Pullan: “On the guitar, I’ve got 4dB of 3kHz on the EMI brilliance box EQ. I don’t know what it’s trying to be, but it sounds good. I’ve got a notch out at 300Hz, and then I’m using the SSL compressor with yet more 2kHz added. It sounds quite radical in solo, but when I’m EQ’ing, I’m doing it in the mix. I’m obviously adding quite a bit of level as well. “On the organ I’m adding a bit of top end, and a little bit of bottom end for some growl. I’ve also added some compression on the SSL plug-in too, with bottom end roll off and bottom end added. It’s a different net effect on that though.”

Edensound Mastering's Martin Pullan trying not to stress about what fans think of his mix.

MASTERING YOUR OWN MIX

With roughly 21 years between each of the releases — 1972, 1993 and 2014 — there has also been a number of format changes. And while the CD was around in 1993, Pullan notes they didn’t start to get really loud till about 1996. So the only version he was competing with was Kevin Shirley’s recent remix of the original. “Mastering older versus newer material isn’t really a different process, except for being extra conscious of not slamming it too hard,” said Pullan. “It’s a bit of a balance, because you can’t finalise something for digital release that’s really quiet. “I tried not to squash it too much, but I was also conscious of what Kevin had done with his, in terms of level, and his was reasonably loud. My aim is to get something reasonably loud, without killing the dynamics. I’VE USED A LOT OF BOXES, BUT FIND I’M ABLE TO DO IT BETTER WITH THE TC FINALIZER THAN ANYTHING ELSE. PARTICULARLY BECAUSE YOU CAN CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE SOFT CLIPPING, WHEREAS WITH A LOT OF OTHER BOXES LIKE THE WAVES L2, THERE’S NO CHOICE, IT IS WHAT IT IS. Even with the TC plug-ins, I can’t

get something as loud and punchy as I can with the Finalizer itself. “I was at Abbey Road and they had a TC System 5000 there, but never used it. It was a remix of a Pseudo Echo track I’d mastered here, and they really wanted me to match it, but I couldn’t. They couldn’t get it as loud and punchy with the gear they had there when they weren’t using the 5000.

They weren’t normally concerned with getting things loud, because it’s not their thing, but I really needed to match it. The engineer didn’t know how to use it, so we got the tech guy to set it up, and we both tweaked things till it sounded good. But it was still a challenge. For some reason the Finalizer is easy to use and makes sense to me. I think a lot of people don’t like it because of some skewed perception, but clients don’t tend to care about esoteric gear, it’s just how it sounds.” Mastering your own mix is often considered a no-no, but when you’re an experienced mastering engineer, it’s easier to have the required objectivity. Pullan keeps mastering in mind while he’s mixing, because there are certain things he finds easier to apply to a stereo master. Pullan: “Sometimes there’s an accumulation of resonance because of the keys of songs. It’s not something you’re necessarily conscious of when you’re mixing individual tracks, as when you’ve got them all in. So you might not go in to every track and reduce one particular frequency, you might do it on the whole lot at the end of the day. “I try to treat it like it’s someone else’s mix, and that I haven’t got it all right just because I’ve mixed it. I’ve taken some width out of the lows, interestingly, and added some overall width. You’ve got to be sensitive though, if you bring the sides up too far you’re going to lose your vocal, snare and kick drum. But it does tend to give the mix a bit

more overall excitement. Then I’ve got two plug-in EQs, plus I used an analogue EQ, and two lots of analogue compression — a multi-band and single band compressor. Then I also used some EQ and three-band compression in the TC Finalizer as well. “I was using CD Architect on my PC to assemble the final master. But now I tend to put together DDP files in my Mac, rather than physical CD masters. I still think it’s a good idea to have a different physical machine to record onto, just because of the processing and the disk usage. So I’m sticking with it.” MIXED RESULT

Pullan’s mix is a lesson in creative restraint and an ear for detail. The remix isn’t an over-the-top parade of sizzle. It’s a ‘true to the source’ remix, that brings a worthy level of detail, brightness and excitement to the recordings absent from the 1993 versions. And that’s what fans want to hear. A tip for all the audiophiles harping on about the warmth of vinyl: Pullan says the vinyl versions are actually a bit toppier than the CD. “I asked them when I heard it back,” said Pullan. “Because I wasn’t sure if it was my replay system or not. But they confirmed the mastering engineer at the pressing plant added some top end. I didn’t mind, but it’s funny that the vinyl sounds harsher than the CD.” AT 33


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REGULARS

STUDIO FOCUS:

SUNSHINE RECORDER Lee Cardan is floating between studios at the moment, and it’s not the greatest feeling. On the one hand, he’s got Sunshine Recorder up and running at the old Atlantis Sound location in Port Melbourne, but he’s also got the unenviable task of tearing down Eastern Bloc Studios in Hawthorn, his old gaff. He took over Eastern Bloc from Jonathan Burnside about four years ago, funnily enough, the tenant before Burnside happened to be Dave McCluney of Atlantis Sound. A couple of years ago, Cardan had started to run into issues with the Hawthorn lease and contacted McCluney, knowing he’d faced similar problems with the owners. Then about a year and a half ago, McCluney rang Cardan to say he was intending to sell Atlantis’ Port Melbourne location. Small world. After working through the numbers with accountants, brokers and lawyers, a deal was struck and, for a second time, Cardan has taken occupation of Atlantis Sound’s last resting place. As part of the deal, the two engineers swapped consoles. Cardan had been presiding over a 42-channel MCI 500 console, and it worked out easier for the 64-channel AMS Calrec UA8000 to stay where it was in Port Melbourne. Everything else came with Cardan from Hawthorn, including AT 36

vintage pairs of Teletronix LA2As and LA3As, two EMT140 stereo plate reverbs, the MCI two-inch 24-track tape machine, a vintage pair of Neumann U87s and a U47 FET, 1967 Ampeg B15 bass amplifier, a 1966 Vox AC30 and plenty more. While Cardan misses the MCI board, he’s more than happy with the sound of the Calrec, and is particularly a fan of its build quality. “Simple functionality was really missing on the MCI,” he explained. “Even just getting an insert on the stereo bus, you’d always have to take the stereo out and mult it so you could listen to what you were doing. I love that thing, it was awesome to work with, the top end was so clear and the bottom end was round, but you had to force it to do what you wanted. And it wasn’t built to last; each channel was one big card that would flap in the wind like a piece of paper. Even just having smaller modules, steel frames, bracing everywhere on the Calrec means you’re going to have less problems. The compressors are great on the Calrec, and you’ve got a parallel stereo bus, if you want, right on the console.” With the move, and new name, has come a fresh perspective. A bit tired of solely renting a space to hired guns, or working long hours on projects he’s

not sold on, Cardan turning Sunshine Recorder into a community experience. A community he wants to be a part of himself. He wants Sunshine Recorder to act as a label and management for artists that want to be a part of something more than just coming in to track drums for an EP. Cardan: “When we find artists we want to work with, we invite them in. We might spend a week on one song just because we want to. A lot of people that record here know each other and play on each other’s stuff.” For now, the external hires are paying the bills. And Cardan doesn’t want that to stop, but it is nice when there’s no sessions on to be able to leave mics set up and flesh out songs on a whim. There’s an astounding collection of quality instruments and effects on offer. And with three live rooms, there are plenty of spaces to get the sound you’re after. There’s also another production space with an adjoining live room, which Cardan is hoping to integrate as part of the bigger offer, and really have Sunshine Recorder running on all cylinders. Sunshine Recorder: 12/339 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne VIC 0417 440 084 or www.sunshine-recorder.com


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REGULARS

PC Audio Do the words Windows 10 fill you with excitement or dread? Find out more about next year’s release from Microsoft, and then make up your own mind. Column: Martin Walker

The next Windows release is currently expected to arrive sometime in the second half of 2015. But in a strange move that has left many people guessing, Microsoft has jumped from Windows 8 straight to Windows 10. The official explanation from Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore is that “Windows 10 is built for screens from four to 80 inches. The fullness in this upgraded version of the Windows product seems more appropriate in giving it a name Windows 10. Its fullness applies to Windows Phone, too, which will see Windows 10 as its next major upgrade.” In other words, Windows 10 is seen as a major step forward, and is destined to be your go-to OS for everything from your main studio PC to your mobile phone. However, it seems punters aren’t having this. Some have said MS avoided the number 9 because it’s deemed unlucky in Japan, others have surmised that Windows 10 will appear more in line with Apple’s OS X. A few have even speculated that software applications sloppily checking for the correct version of Windows on launch may abort when detecting a ‘9’, assuming that the user is still using a now incompatible Windows 95 or 98. Whatever the real reason, Windows 10 will be noteworthy for its re-introduction of the muchdiscussed Start button and associated menu. Many users missed these in the controversial Windows 8, and were also left confused by its awkward attempts to combine key-based desktop and touchscreen gesture-based mobile environments. Finally accepting that users “Don’t want to have to learn a new way to drive”, Microsoft delivers a far more streamlined combo in Windows 10, with a split menu displaying Windows 7-style apps on the left, and metro-style Windows 8 ‘live tiles’ on the right giving you real-time notification of such things as email arrivals and Facebook messages. The menu and its tiles are resizable, as are the modern apps (in Windows 8 the new-style apps invariably filled the screen). Other new graphic features will include a quadrant snap mode that lets you display multiple Windows Store apps on screen simultaneously (up to four for those who own a really large screen); a new Task View button on the taskbar to provide one-click access to all your currently running AT 38

applications (making it easier to switch between them); and Virtual Desktops so you can set up multiple workspaces each containing different app collections, perhaps grouping your work and leisure activities separately. The interface will also change dynamically, determined by whether you’re working with a mouse and keyboard or a touchscreen tablet, rather than having to switch manually between Desktop and Touchscreen modes as in Windows 8. Hopefully the new interface will seem familiar to existing users of both Windows 7 and 8. UPDATE STATE

One recent survey indicates that Windows 8 is still only used by around 13% of desktop PC users two years since its release, compared with 51% still using Windows 7 and 24% running the no longer supported Windows XP, so it’s vitally important to Microsoft that Windows 10 is widely adopted. Rumours are that it will be a free upgrade for existing users of the full Windows 8.1 retail version, while existing Windows 7 users (along with OEM users of Windows 8.1 — typically those who buy their PCs with Windows preinstalled) are likely to be charged a small fee for a downloadable version of the Windows 10 upgrade. However, all future Windows 10 updates are likely to be free for consumers, in an effort to encourage them to run the latest version. Updates are also expected to be released more often, to keep we consumer folk excited. However, frequent updates are normally discouraged by the business community. They traditionally want a rock-solid platform that stays the same as long as possible, so they can roll it out to all their employees once, and once only. This typically happens a year after initial release (once any initial bugs have been eradicated), so the release of the Windows 8.1 update almost exactly a year after the original with a significant number of new features and changes was yet another reason that businesses were slow to adopt Windows 8. This time around Microsoft is likely to introduce a long-term model for business users, only releasing updates once every few years that incorporate a succession of consumer updates in one fell swoop.

So what does all this mean for the musician? Well, some users love to try out new operating system features, and if you’re a heavy ‘app’ user with a touchscreen tablet I’m sure you’ll welcome Windows 10 and its array of new features with open arms. If you’re intrigued and have a spare PC to hand, by all means take the plunge right now and install the free Windows 10 Technical Preview, which by all accounts seems remarkably stable already. If on the other hand, like many musicians (including me), you spend at least 90% of your computing time working with your desktop sequencer and/or audio editor on a largish screen, and the rest exploring online or interacting with friends and colleagues, you may scarcely notice which operating system you’re currently running at the time. Like business users, studio-based musicians often tend to stick with what they know is rock-solid for both their music hardware and its drivers, and my main desktop PC is therefore still running Windows 7, which will continue to be supported by Microsoft for another five years until 2020. Unlike changes in CPU/motherboard, changes in operating system rarely offer quantum leaps in audio performance, so until software developers drop support for Windows 7, or introduce new software that really does take advantage of specific Windows 10 features, in my opinion there’s no actual ‘need’ for musicians to upgrade. So, although all new PCs will arrive with Windows 10 pre-installed from sometime in 2015, you’re highly unlikely to see any improvement in the performance of any of your audio applications by changing to this OS on an existing PC. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been using PCs since 1991 — working my way from MS-DOS to Windows 3.1, then Windows 95, Windows 98, avoiding Windows 2000 and ME, sticking with the musicians’ firm favourite Windows XP for many years, then bypassing Vista and finally moving over to Windows 7 after Windows 8 had been released — that the novelty of changing OS has finally worn off. For anyone with a lot of software to reinstall, it tends to be something to put off until you really have to change. For me, making music is far more important.


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REGULARS

Apple Notes How not to get stuck out in the wilds of Yosemite Column: Anthony Garvin

A couple of issues back we parsed the Mac OS X 10.10 announcement and noted some of Yosemite’s features that looked appealing to DAW users. Having installed Yosemite myself (on a test partition, see below), here is some initial info on where it’s at, and whether it’s wise to hike into Yosemite this early. DAW SUPPORT

As with any OS update, some software works fine, some doesn’t — though really, it’s too early to say unequivocally that any are completely bug free. Here’s the official word (as of late October): ProTools: This classic line straight from Avid: “Note that Mac OS X 10.10 ‘Yosemite’ has not been qualified with any version of ProTools.” Ableton Live: Ableton notes that Live 9.1.5 or higher is compatible with Yosemite, and that there are currently no known issues with Max For Live and 10.10. They have pointed out, though, that some older third-party 32-bit plug-ins used in Live may have issues due to outdated coding frameworks. If you are having graphical issues with some of your older plug-ins, this is a sign of the problem. Logic Pro: Oddly, I cannot find any official word from Apple that Logic Pro X is compatible with Yosemite, but certainly no word that it isn’t. In my (limited) usage so far, I have not had any problems. Cubase: Steinberg does not recommend updating to Yosemite just yet as they have had sporadic feedback of issues from users and are yet to fully test compatibility with Cubase. Make sure to keep an eye out on www. audiotechnology.com.au for updates on Yosemite compatibility as they come. Even with only patchy support from the top DAW developers, remember that there is probably much more software you rely on for day-to-day production needs: plug-ins, audio drivers, MIDI drivers, control surfaces, etc. My advice — don’t upgrade just yet! Having said that, there are some nifty features in the new OS, and with installation being fairly straightforward (and free), there’s no harm in installing the OS on a separate partition on your Mac and taking it for a spin. AT 40

INSTALLATION TIPS

When I wrote about Mavericks back in Issue 99 (search ‘Mavericks’ at audiotechnology.com.au), I included some tips on getting the best out of a new OS install, most of which still applies. Here’s a re-cap: • Try it on a separate partition first, so you take baby steps in setting it up. Using Disk Utility, you can resize and create partitions on your internal drive, and I strongly encourage trying any new OS this way first. • Consider a clean install. It’s more time consuming, but is also a good opportunity to install all your software bit-by-bit, to 100% check, and test, that everything is compatible with the new OS. You’ll also most likely free up some internal hard drive space, which is particularly valuable if you are using smaller SSD drives. • Don’t upgrade under any time pressure. Things may go wrong and you’ll need time and patience to resolve them. • Peculiar to the new OS, when I did a clean install it defaulted to turning on File Vault encryption as part of my user account setup, which you are guided through after installation. This has been a problem for DAWs in the past, particularly for ProTools, so at this stage I recommend turning this off when going through the setup process. iOS & MAC OS XOXO

The most obvious change in Yosemite is significantly updated graphics, which are merging closer and closer to an iOS look. Personally, I like the graphical update and feel it’s mostly aesthetic — not actually changing the way we use the OS significantly on a day-to-day level, yet… But it does make me think, with Apple seemingly wanting to blur the lines between Mac, iPad and iPhone, how much longer will we have a separate operating system for our Macs? Sooner or later, are we going to have ‘Apple OS’ and effectively run the same software across all our devices like Microsoft is attempting with Windows 10? And where does that leave us with our DAWs? As I’ve mused previously, most DAW developers could harness iOS better in my opinion, and

perhaps the developer that does so first will have a head start on future OS updates. Anyway, apart from the graphical updates perhaps being a sign of what’s to come, the most exciting features for me are iCloud Drive and Airdrop — which I’ve mentioned previously, but now allow for a more ‘open’ file sync across multiple devices (like Dropbox, but built into the OS), seamless emailing of large files (by uploading to iCloud rather than sending as an attachment), and an easy two-way drop between Mac and iOS devices. These seem to work fine so far in my experience. A FEW MORE TIPS

iCloud Drive requires an update to the files in your iCloud — meaning once done, the files are no longer accessible by any OS prior to Yosemite or iOS 8. Watch out if you are still running older systems. Notifications (and the new related Extensions) have been significantly enhanced — which in my opinion are an unnecessary distraction while working in the studio. The best thing I’ve done in the last 18 months is turn them off — you can do this by heading to System Preference > Notifications. From there, you can either set a ‘Do Not Disturb’ for certain times during the day, or go through the various items in the Notification Centre and adjust if, or how, they go about annoying you. A slightly more hidden feature of Yosemite is ‘Rename Items…’ Which is particularly useful for batch renaming files. If you are working with multiple cues, takes, samples or similar, this feature will allow you to append a common string of letters or numbers to a selection of multiple files, append sequential numbers, or help with other bulkrenaming tasks. You can access this by selecting multiple files in Finder, right-clicking and selecting ‘Rename [x] Items…’ from there, you have options to Replace Text, Add Text or Format. All in all, as third party developers play catch-up, Yosemite is certainly nothing to be wary of. From here, taking the plunge is up to you.


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REVIEW

MICW N201 MATCHED PAIR It’s a Chinese measurement mic that’s the spitting image of a DPA. But is it imitation or inevitability? Review: Greg Simmons

NEED TO KNOW

Flashback to late 2013… I’m sitting in a small café on Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, sipping tea and eating a brownie. Peter Orehov of CDA slides a black plastic package across the table. Inside are two sleek black microphones with stainless steel grids on the ends. “Looks like they ripped off DPA!” I exclaim with a hint of cynicism. “You reckon?” counters Peter with a grin. MicW is a microphone manufacturer based in the Xicheng district of Beijing, China. Rather than paraphrasing their story in my own words, it’s easier to quote their publicity material: “MicW is a member of BSWA Technologies Ltd., a measurement microphone company. BSWA was founded in 1998 as a joint venture between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and five sound engineers looking to market better, more affordable measurement microphones.

Price $1800/matched pair Contact CDA Pro Audio: (02) 9330 1750 or info@ cda-proaudio.com

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Pros Affordable. Forgiving and easy-going. High sound quality.

Today, BSWA microphones are widely used in aerospace, automotive, and environmental noise measurements. The experience and expertise gained from designing and manufacturing measurement microphones enabled BSWA to create the new microphone brand ‘MicW’ for use in audio and music oriented applications.” As a regular user of DPA microphones, the historical parallels and product similarities between DPA and MicW are certainly not lost on me — one could easily believe that MicW was the DPA of an alternate universe. IMITATION BY DESIGN

With its smoothly tapered matte black body and machined stainless steel protection grid, MicW’s N201 looks remarkably like DPA’s famed 4004 and 4007 reference microphones. As the saying goes, ‘imitation is the most sincere form of

Cons Marginally lower resolution and less bandwidth than the more expensive microphones it resembles. Huge MicW logo makes it look cheap.

flattery’. But is there more here than imitation and less here than flattery? If you are going to build a high quality reference microphone you need to start with a small single-diaphragm capsule. To ensure symmetry, you’ll mount it in an end-address configuration. If you need an XLR output, the end with the XLR is going to have a larger diameter than the end with the capsule. If that microphone is intended to have an accurate omnidirectional polar response, you’ll want to smoothly taper its shape from the XLR to the capsule so that sound energy arriving from the rear can diffract around the body and onto the diaphragm. To assist further with the diffraction you’ll fit a carefully machined acoustic grid over the diaphragm, rather than a simple wire mesh. So it’s no coincidence every reference and measurement microphone on the market that

Summary An excellent value-for-money microphone. Its forgiving and easy-going nature made pulling acceptable high quality sounds a breeze, and it never failed to inspire positive comments from performers. The subtle high frequency roll-off proves advantageous for close-miking and for distant miking of bright sound sources, but is perhaps less suited to distant miking of more mellow sound sources.


has a built-in XLR output follows roughly the same tapered shape, size and grid — in most cases they conform to the recommended standard dimensions for measurement microphones as described in IEC 61094. Give any of those microphones a matte black finish so it won’t draw attention to itself on stage and it will begin to look like a DPA. House the capsule in stainless steel and taper the body with a smoothly changing contour, rather than a simple conical transition, and it will look exactly like a DPA. I hate to say it, but it’s true.

0dB and +1dB, settling to +0.5dB at around 12kHz. The response then rolled off in a very linear manner at about 6dB/octave, reaching -5dB at 20kHz. It’s not exactly the “flat frequency response from 20Hz to 20kHz” mentioned on the website, but it’s more than acceptable and can actually be quite helpful. No phase response curves were given, but MicW’s website claims their stereo pairs are matched within five degrees.

N IS FOR NICKEL

The first thing to note about the N201 is the build quality: it is satisfyingly weighty to hold, the matte black finish feels smooth and reassuringly thick and the XLRs have gold plated pins. There are no protruding or lopsided screw heads and no gritty threads — both things that I’ve come to expect from low cost microphones from China. The hole that provides access to the screw that holds the XLR connector in place is filled with a tiny rubber plug, perhaps to keep the screw in place or perhaps to ensure a smoother uninterrupted surface. Either way, it’s a nice touch… One thing I don’t like is that the stainless steel protection grid has a slightly larger outside diameter than the microphone body that it screws on to. This leaves a small overhanging ridge around the base of the grid, creating the impression of a bad fit. The shock mounts are a very good copy — but a copy nonetheless — of Rycote’s Lyre system, with a solid brass thread, a cable retention clamp and a locking nut that is strong enough to hold the mic at any chosen angle. They’re a cinch to use, but I suspect the N201 isn’t quite heavy enough to put the suspension sufficiently into its elastic phase after the weight of the microphone cable has been taken up by the retention clamp — I’d like to see a bit more ‘suspension’ in the suspension, so to speak. A close inspection of the foam pop filters reveals that they are, in fact, made of foam and they do, in fact, filter pops. Good.

The N201 is part of MicW’s ‘N-Series’ of pre-polarised single-diaphragm condenser microphones and features a nickel diaphragm mounted in a stainless steel housing. The diaphragm measures 12.7mm in diameter and is 5μm thick. Being a true pressure transducer, it has an omnidirectional polar response. According to MicW’s website the N201 offers a maximum SPL handling capability of 135dB and a self-noise of 18dBA — both in the ballpark for a diaphragm of these dimensions although the selfnoise is a dB or two on the high side. The sensitivity is quoted as a very healthy 40mV/ Pa, so the N201 won’t need much gain to deliver a useful signal level. In fact, such a high output could easily overload the inputs of some padless preamps when close-miking loud sound sources. That’s not a criticism of the N201; rather, it is a criticism of the widespread move towards cheaper preamps without pad switches. Such padless preamps are currently prevalent in many consoles and interfaces, and are the bane of my existence. The N201’s high sensitivity combined with less than 70Ω of output impedance means it should have no problem driving the long cable runs found in concert halls and similar venues. IN THE BOX

The stereo kit offered for review was packaged in a generic Pelican-style case complete with strong locking latches, an automatic pressure equalising valve and a pick-and-pluck foam lining that had been picked and plucked to accommodate two N201 microphones, two pop filters and two shock mounts. Hidden behind the lining in the lid was a calibration chart for each microphone. The units provided for this review were serial numbers 490530 and 490556; not consecutive numbers off the production line but the similarities in the specifications suggest they were handpicked to create a stereo pair. The charts for both microphones showed a measured sensitivity of 44.2mV/Pa at 250Hz, 4dB (i.e. 1.6x) higher than that quoted on the website. Watch out padless preamps! The frequency response measurements were made under free field conditions and a sensible amount of smoothing was applied to iron out any sonically irrelevant ripples or kinks without hiding anything of significance. Both microphones offered a ruler flat response from 20Hz to 2kHz. From 2kHz onwards there were small deviations between

BUILD QUALITY

grand piano, played by the wonderful Simon Tedeschi. The N201s were spaced approximately 30cm apart, aligned above the curved rim of the cabinet and aimed towards the centre of the strings with the lid at full stick. This placement produced an even spread across the spectrum with no dead spots or hot spots. The resulting sound was, first and foremost, tightly controlled without being lean. Simon played a number of jazz and blues standards, and the N201s tracked the punctuated ‘swing’ dynamics very well. The attack of the notes had a good sense of felt hammers hitting metal strings, and was captured in an excellent balance with the fundamental note and its harmonics; as a result, the overall articulation and expression was represented extremely well. The only noticeable colouration — if you could call it that — was the gentle roll-off above 12kHz, which proved beneficial in this case by creating a sound that was not as in-your-face as the placement would suggest. The second test presented something a bit more challenging: the bağlama (a Turkish lute, also known as the ‘saz’) performed by Wessam Zaia. The bağlama has a long thin neck and a relatively small but deep resonating body, with seven strings arranged in two sets of two — rather like a 12-string guitar — and one set of three. It produces a sound that is rich in transients and higher harmonics, and will quickly reveal any high frequency harshness in a microphone or signal path. The N201s were set up as a close-miked stereo pair, approximately 27cm apart and 60cm from the soundboard. One was focused on the area where the strings are plucked to capture the articulation; the other was focused on the neck to capture a sense of movement in the playing. As with the piano test, the N201s tracked the transients extremely well and captured the overall tonality with no fuss or complaints. All the harmonic richness of the strings was present, along with the complex attack transients from the multiple sets of strings. Once again, the gentle rolloff above 12kHz proved beneficial by permitting such a close microphone placement without creating any harshness. The acoustics of the studio were quite dry, but after adding a healthy dose of reverberation I was transported to a steam house in Istanbul. Pass the hookah… As a final test on strings, I used the N201s for a direct-to-stereo recording of a string quartet with soprano. The composition was contemporary, with lots of pizzicatos and similar angular and disjointed playing — the kind that benefits from the faster and sharply focused sound of a small single diaphragm rather than the rounder soft-focused sound of a large dual diaphragm. After a bit of

It’s no coincidence every reference and measurement microphone on the market that has a built-in XLR output follows roughly the same tapered shape, size and grid

HOW IT MEASURES UP

When reviewing the sound quality of a microphone it’s not good enough to plug it into your MBox and say, “One, two, one, two.” You need to use very clean preamplifiers and AD converters to ensure you are hearing the microphone and not the preamps or converters. The equipment used for these tests included the Maselec MMA-4XR mic preamplifier into the line inputs of a PrismSound Orpheus interface, the new Nagra Seven, and an Apogee Quartet — a good range of devices. The first test was a recording of a Shigeru Kawai

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fiddling with the microphone placement a stereo image appeared that suited the composition very well — relatively wide, with a decent sense of depth and surprisingly good localisation. The N201s tracked the complexities of the composition with no complaints; their ability to track fast transients captured the pizzicatos with ease, while their high frequency roll-off tamed the edginess of the strings and the upper harmonics of the soprano. Happy composer? Tick! Moving away from strings, I took the N201s to Foundry 616, a jazz club in Sydney. A single N201 placed approximately 1.2m above the snare provided a first-rate overhead supplement to the sound coming off stage. Very few microphones work well in this scenario — most end up sounding harsh and/or mushy in the high frequencies, blurring the sound of the cymbals and generally being more harmful than helpful. On kits that did not have a second mounted tom I placed the other N201 in the space between the mounted tom and floor tom, aimed towards the snare. This combination produced a remarkably good overall balance with well-defined transients, and excellent reproduction of the snare when it was being rubbed with brushes. Inspired by how well the N201s worked on the metallic sounds of cymbals, I decided to try them on brass. The American Brass Quintet (ABQ) performing live at City Recital Hall provided an excellent sound source. The ABQ set up on stage in a horse-shoe shape, with the low brass instruments furthest back playing out to the audience, and the front-most horns facing each other across the stage. Because horns are very directional instruments that move around as they are played, the goal is to place the microphone(s) in such a way that avoids ever being directly on-axis with any one horn — lest that horn becomes way too loud and direct! I placed the N201s approximately 35cm apart on a stereo bar hanging from the ceiling, aimed just above the bells of the front-most horns and pulled about four metres back when measured diagonally upwards from the centre of the ensemble. The resulting sound was an instant crowd-pleaser; a smooth balanced sound that captured all the articulation and expression of the players in a good balance with the hall’s reverberation, without ever becoming inappropriately bright or harsh. Once again, the N201’s subtle high frequency roll-off allowed them to be used in situations where other small single-diaphragm omnis would be considered too bright or harsh. POSITIVE RESPONSES

Over the duration of the review period the matched pair of N201s inadvertently became my ‘go to’ microphones. They offered the kind of sound quality heard in microphones costing twice as much, while their gentle HF roll-off made them less critical. When there was time to tweak the placement it was possible to extract an excellent sound from the N201s, but I was constantly surprised by how fast and easy it was to produce a totally acceptable sound within

AT 44

heavy time constraints. More critically revealing microphones often require more time to reach an acceptable result. One of the things that stood out during all of my experiences with the N201 was the very positive reaction it got from musicians in recording situations. In some cases, the musicians preferred the N201 to the more expensive microphones I had in place. I believe that was due to the N201’s seemingly contradictory combination of a fast transient response and a subtle HF roll-off. This allows it to be placed close enough for detail without sounding overly bright or clinical, and therefore not as revealing of flaws in the musician’s technique! Gripes? None really, although I think the packaging lets them down. If MicW were to put the matched pair of N201s in a polished wooden box with a plush velvet lining and get rid of that huge cartoonish logo on the microphone itself, they could add another $1000 to the price and nobody

would be complaining. In fact, some people might take them a bit more seriously. Is the N201 as good as the DPAs it looks like? No, it is not; at least not in absolute terms. Where it falls short in comparison to the more expensive microphones is not in its sound quality, but in its very forgiving and easy-going nature. Its only sins are sins of omission. For those times when you need that ‘take no prisoners’ approach to absolute clarity and separation — when you simply must extract detail from a very complex sound source and you have the time to tweak the placement — you’re going to want the extended bandwidth and higher resolution of a DPA 4006 or similar. For situations where there’s a risk of the sound getting too bright or clinical, or when you need to get a good sound fast, or where it is not worth risking a more expensive microphone, it is very hard to beat the N201. Is there room in my kit for a matched pair of N201s? Absolutely.


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REVIEW

ARTURIA SPARK 2 Version one of Spark was packed full of sounds, now with version two, you can get under the hood and build your own. Review: Brad Watts

NEED TO KNOW

A few issues ago I had the pleasure of auditioning Arturia’s Spark software and SparkLE hardware hybrid drum machine and sound design system. A number of points impressed me about the package, most notably the compact control surface and the awesome collection of sounds supplied with the system. More recently, Arturia has revamped the software end of things with Spark V2. This next iteration includes a remodelled user interface, utilising tabs to organise the various modules of the system into an easier to follow workflow. With the functionality to be your last stop in beats production, Spark is quite a complex beast and so this interface upgrade alone justifies the update. Equally as important is how the revised design will allow future add-ons to be made by the Arturia designers. Cost for version one owners of Spark is zilch — it’s a standard, gratis upgrade. If you’re diving in for the first time the cost is a mere US$169 — a remarkable price for such rhythmic potential (remember the package including either the Spark

Price US$169 Contact CMI Music & Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or info@ cmi.com.au

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or SparkLE controller is more). You can also choose between Spark or SparkLE control surface GUIs, so the plug-in will match whichever unit you’re toting. UNDER THE HOOD

Possibly one of the more exciting additions is the modular ‘Virtual Analog’ drum synth. Spark has always been built upon Arturia’s modular Virtual Analog sound engine, but in previous versions only developers had access to the building blocks. Now it’s possible to add and subtract modules, create your own patch routings, and assign up to six macro controls. You’ve got complete control over the inner workings of Spark with V2. This architecture is based on the synthesis engine developed for the Origin keyboard and is comprehensive even for a normal synth, let alone a percussion unit. Bear in mind Spark also delivers sample playback and physical modelling engines, so there’s a lot of power at your disposal. Just some of the modules available include up to nine variable shape VA oscillators, up to

Pro’s Good interface made even better. Modulation options aplenty.. Additional juicy sound library. Free upgrade!

Cons There are none — honest!

four filters (with eight different modes), six envelopes, two LFOs, two CV modulators and two ring modulators, along with two Karplus Strong-based filters (the Karplus Strong filters are derived from one of the first physical modelling algorithms from way back in the 1980s). There’s a bucketload of options here, to the point where Spark isn’t solely a percussion module — you’ll find yourself building basses and pads with this puppy too. Incidentally, macros can be set up and assigned to alter multiple parameters of each module via six virtual pots. These could be assigned to the six assignable hardware pots on the Spark controller, or you could do some remapping and control these via other controllers. There’s also a huge cross section of provided effects — up to 14 per individual instrument including compression, reverb, a bit-crusher, EQ, chorus, delay, distortion, phasing, plate reverb, destroyer(!), flanger, space pan, limiter, and a sub generator.

Summary Spark V2 lets you get under the hood and mess around with the building blocks of Arturia’s Virtual Analog engine. For Spark users it’s a no-brainer, free upgrade. For anyone else, the Spark was already a whole lot of drum machine, now even better.


SPARKS FLYING

Given the extra interface real estate of the new tabbed system, there’s a swathe of additional features squeezed into Spark V2. Obviously bespoke patch creation is also now possible, and a revamped library management window makes curation of the supplied library and your own creations easier. Where would you save your modular patches otherwise? Thankfully the factory patches are now also editable. REX file import is now a ‘system-wide’ feature, allowing REX files to be played back via pads (should you own the Spark control surface), along with the ability to manipulate individual REX slices. There’s also a better mixer, an expanded pattern editing screen, and get this; triggering song segments from hardware — either the Spark and SparkLE controllers or third party outboard triggering devices. Personally I prefer the SparkLE GUI, it’s simply cleaner and more concise, but I’m using the instrument without an outboard controller. If you do have either of the controllers you can turn off the controller auto detection and choose between GUIs also. Spec-wise, Spark V2 is qualified to run on all the popular platforms including VST, AU, RTAS, and AAX. It is, of course, 64-bit. The question is; would I own it? Well, to be honest, I already owned it, having been very impressed with the sound library available in version one. These sounds are remarkably solid and exude real drum machine goodness — a rare feat for software-based percussion stations. Following my last review of Spark with the SparkLE controller I had a number of people call and ask for my ‘honest’ opinion of the Spark library (hey, I don’t make this stuff up!). After sending a few sounds around the interwebs, most enquiries resulted in those guys jumping on the Spark bandwagon — I know those guys are going to pleased with this upgrade — just like I have been. Very cool sounds with a superbly versatile interface. Top shelf!

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REVIEW

AWTAC CHANNEL AMPLIFIER 500 Series Microphone Preamp/Equaliser

AwTAC’s Channel Amplifier comes straight out of the Big Apple packing some big colour and big ideas into a 500 series box.

NEED TO KNOW

Review: Greg Walker

Price Channel Amp: $1949 Compressor: $1349 Contact Federal Audio: 0475 063 309 or sales@federalaudio.com.au AT 48

Pros Fully featured & great sounding module Great distortion & harmonic saturation tool Users can gang units for mix & summing bus work

Cons No centre detents Phantom LED light very bright Takes up two rack slots Taper on output attenuator very quick at the bottom of its range

Summary A great sounding, versatile pre/EQ combo that packs a serious punch. Distortion and saturation characteristics at high input settings add great flexibility to go with the cleaner sounds. With extra features like the forward/back presence control, transformer loading selector and panning matrix, AwTAC has delivered a very desirable piece of kit.


AwTAC is an audio brand I hadn't come across before. It turns out that AwTAC stands for Awesome Transistor Amplifier Company based in the good ol’ US of A, with its 500 series modules coming out of New York City. AwTAC’s philosophy is a simple one of building by hand and tuning designs by ear. The other guiding principle at AwTAC HQ is to use transformers wherever possible… truckloads of the things. As their informative and colourful (they describe their products as ‘f**king awesome') website illustrates, these guys are passionate about ’70s recording gear and have dedicated themselves to delivering on those kinds of classic sounds. It's early days yet with a product line comprising just a compressor and preamp/EQ module, but already the companies' philosophy seems to be bearing fruit, and its the latter 'Channel Amplifier' pre/EQ we'll be looking at here.

17kHz, while the low frequencies are 35Hz, 70Hz or 130Hz. The midrange has separate controls for cut/boost and frequency selection with the choice of notch or bell curves at the all-important 1kHz and 3kHz bands. The other curves are set at 300Hz, 500Hz, 600Hz, 800Hz, 5kHz and 8kHz. All bands are ±12dB with the high and low bands featuring Baxandall designs. There is also a curious forward/ back switch which acts as a kind of presence control to allow things to sit forward or back in the mix depending on the instrument and where you want to place it in the mix. There's no doubt these are well thought-out frequency bands and the sound of the EQ is musical, sweet up top and nice and chunky down low. A bypass switch at the bottom of the unit completes the controls and allows for easy A/Bing of the EQ'd signal. TONE MONSTER

TACKING ON THE EXTRAS

Somewhat unusually for the 500 series format this preamp/EQ module is a two rack-space unit with preamp controls on the left hand side and equaliser facilities on the right. The faceplate is finished in a nifty semi-industrial slate grey and the build quality looks to be excellent, with the chunky steel housing being complemented by no-fuss grey knobs and steel switches as well as gold-plated connectors. Everything feels smooth and easy to operate with more finger space than the average 500 series unit. My only small gripe here is the lack of centre detents. The mic pre features custom wound Sowter and Crimson Audio transformers, and Cinemag inductors in the circuit, as well as some extra features not found in many other designs. Firstly, below the standard phantom power (with a very bright LED indicator), low-end filter and phase reverse switches are two additional smaller switches. The first of these is a simple left/centre/ right panning matrix that comes into its own when two or more Channel Amplifiers are set up together to form a mixer. The extra I/O offered by the double width format means the Channel Amplifier can be shoehorned into a mix bus role and multiple modules can be daisy chained together — there's even the possibility of building yourself a complete multichannel AwTAC mixer in the 500 series format. The second switch offers output transformer loading at 1200Ω, 600Ω, or removes the load resistance altogether in the middle position. Below these is a standard 1/4-inch socket to DI instruments, which automatically overrides the mic/line XLR input on the back of the unit. The gain structure is simply determined by input and attenuation controls. HOT FUZZ

Perhaps the most unusual characteristic of the Channel Amplifier is the fact that the higher input settings quickly bring about the onset of saturation and distortion artefacts, even with DI'd signals. It’s a cinch to get things hotted up through the AwTAC, and a joy to hear a circuit that’s been

These guys are passionate about ’70s recording gear and have dedicated themselves to delivering on those kinds of classic sounds

designed to be overdriven. The only place you need to be careful is when driving the input extra hard. The attenuating pot has a very quick taper at the lower end of its range, so matching levels can be tricky. Running line level signals back through the Channel Amplifier can deliver anything from subtle tonal thickening to outright fuzz. In short, this thing is designed to be driven into the red. The harder you drive it the more the treble rises to prominence but this is no bad thing as the distortion is a very useable 'transformer saturated' one rather than a harsh buzz saw effect. I found the saturation and distortion effects delivered by the AwTAC to be extremely pleasing and quite addictive. On the right material it’s a real rock ’n’ roll powerhouse of a box and works beautifully on all sorts of sources including vocals and electric guitars. If things are getting a little too bright you might also consider turning to the neighbouring EQ controls.

You can probably tell by now that I'm a fan of the AwTAC Channel Amplifier. It's got attitude to burn and I love the fact the preamp/EQ combination has so many different options with regard to flavouring source material and generating exciting harmonic colourings. I should also probably mention that it’s a very good clean preamp as well. I recorded various sources including acoustic guitar, drum overheads, lead and backing vocals, double bass and kick drum with the preamp set to moderate input levels and captured lovely detailed images of all these sources that sat really well in a mix context. The preamp has a fairly forward character to it with the EQ bypassed but it is not overly bright or harsh sounding. I found the EQ particularly helpful in bringing out the punch and weight of the kick drum, the midrange and top end of a vocalist, and the detail of finger picked guitar parts. On the postproduction side, I feel like I’m only just beginning to tap into what this module can do. I have run whole mixes through a stereo pair of the Channel Amplifiers and the results can be anything from gently sweetening to totally bombastic and floor shaking. On drum bus and vocal or guitar tracks this thing really does deliver sensational tonal and harmonic excitement and it’s hard to see this not becoming a somewhat iconic little saturation box over the next few years. It’s been a mystery to me why more companies haven't been pumping out distortion ‘colouring’ modules for the 500 series and it seems that AwTAC has finally risen to the challenge with a great, versatile, musical module that has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. I highly recommend the Channel Amplifier though it will take up a fair bit of your rack space. Oh and be warned… you're gonna want two!

EQUAL BILLING

The Channel Amplifier has three bands of EQ with some interesting frequency choices along the way. The high shelf starts at 6kHz, then up to 11kHz or AT 49


REVIEW

ACOUSTIC TECHNOLOGIES Blackbird TLA1.4 Stick System Acoustic Technologies’s Blackbird line array sings a sweet song that might just soothe your problems if you give it a listen. Review: Mark Woods

NEED TO KNOW

The first PA I was ever aware of was a column PA. A rectangular box, hung vertically on each side of the school hall’s proscenium arch. The cloth covers had imprints of four speakers, maybe 10 inches in diameter. They must have worked, because everything went through them… speeches, movies, the annual school theatrical production. If asked at the time, I would have guessed the four-speakers-in-each-box design was to make it louder, not realising it was an early application of line array theory and coverage was the real reason. Books have been written about line array theory but put simply, it’s about sound projection. Mounting the speakers in a vertical array causes the speakers outputs to constructively and destructively interfere with each other. It sounds nasty but depending on the number of speakers, the size of the speakers and the spacing between their centres, a line array system can project sound in a tightly controlled vertical direction. Pure line array theory describes some very large numbers of drivers and very long arrays that are impractical here in the real world, but even though the theory is compromised some benefits remain. In the case of the mid-range only old-style column PAs, any narrowing of the vertical coverage meant more sound energy could be directed at the audience, and less at the ceiling where it would bounce back to smear the sound. When I was mixing stadium shows in the ’80s and ’90s, the production companies were flying baskets of modular boxes or walls of full-range speakers. Walking away from the FOH position and moving around the venues usually revealed big differences in volume and frequency response, especially a long way from the stage. And once the speakers were flown there was little anyone could do about it. Today’s big concerts have the scale for large arrays that deliver tight vertical coverage over a wide frequency range to focus the sound and reduce reflections. Current high-end line array systems extend the technology by using prediction programs combined with steerable elements to achieve even coverage for all seats.

Price Starting at $5495 for 1 x TLA1164 Line Array w/ flight case 1 x TL210A Sub w/cover 1 x Speaker lead

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Contact Acoustic Technologies: (07) 3376 4122 or info@atprofessional.com.au

Pros Wide, even dispersion Long throw with great intelligibility Convenient setup

Cons Not for hard rock

Summary Acoustic Technologies’s Blackbird System provides the logical next step for those who want line array performance without buying into big boxes. It gives you the coverage without the footprint.


LITTLE GUYS LINE UP

But what about line arrays for smaller shows? Early bands tried using column PAs, sometimes with a separate horn on top, but they lacked bass and weren’t efficient enough to provide the volume required for noisy bands, so they were replaced by horn-loaded, big black box systems. The big black box PAs are still widely used in venues today, and they’re certainly louder and bassier than those old columns, but their coverage is notoriously uneven, and they generally only deliver full-range sound to listeners who are right in front of the speakers. Time for some new thinking. Australian company Acoustic Technologies makes a range of high-end speakers and over the last 10 years has gained considerable expertise in line array technology by supplying steerable line array systems to venues like courts, and houses of parliament and worship. Its Firebird and Blackbird speakers are modern line array systems designed for small- to medium-sized live productions. The entry point for these systems is the Blackbird TLA1.4 System. BLACKBIRD’S SONG

The Blackbird TLA1.4 System starts with the TLA1164 mid-high line array. Custom made from extruded aluminium and finished with black powder coat paint, it’s a passive array with 16 x 3.5-inch full-range neodymium drivers stacked nearly 1.5m high. It’s tall but only 100mm deep and wide, that’s where the ‘stick’ nickname comes from, and weighs a mere 8kg — it can be carried in one hand. The Blackbird system’s low-frequencies come from the TLA210A sub-cabinet and that’s where the line array theory gets compromised. According to the theory, to become directional a source needs to be bigger than the wavelength it’s producing… about four times bigger… so (without doing the maths) you need a very long array to be directional at low frequencies. Predictably, the TLA210 sub is omni-directional like others of its type. Made from birch ply and finished with Acoustic Technologies’s excellent AcoustiCoate finish, its dimensions of 370 x 650 x 520mm are normal enough for a sub housing two 10inch speakers — in this case proprietary drivers made for Acoustic Technologies by B&C. Inside the 29kg cabinet lives a 2.5kW two-channel Class D amplifier. One side of the amp drives the stick, the other the sub. The frequency response, internal delays and protection circuits are all controlled by the internal networkable DSP. The factory settings give you a tuned ready-to-go PA, but there is access to some DSP functions via Acoustic Technologies’s Podware software program. The optional TLA210 passive sub (that can be run from the TLA210A powered sub) completes the package. Systems can easily be scaled for different shows and Acoustic Technologies offers a number of ready-to-go turnkey systems. Transporting them is interesting and even though the Blackbird Stick system is aimed at professional users, it’s not restricted to them. The sticks come in suitably long, custom road cases, the subs can be ordered with a road case built for two or individual padded bags. Production companies will get the subs in a road case and travel the system in a truck. Bands or acts that carry their own Blackbird system will choose the padded bags for the subs. Two sticks plus two subs in bags will fit in a large wagon, with room left for other gear. At the show the sticks are inserted into one of the two mounting sockets built into the top and side of the sub cabinet. The supplied Speakon lead connects the stick to the sub and away you go. Instant PA and it’s easier than putting speakers on stands. LINING THEM UP

Firing up the Blackbird system for the first time is quite exciting (if you like that sort of thing) and it takes a little bit of getting used to. The projection characteristics are very different to horn-loaded box designs and the first impression is the spacious, open sound these things produce. If you stand within a couple of metres of the sticks the sound is weird, you start to hear parts of individual drivers but the whole sound feels like it’s developing behind you. If you stand a few metres in front of them and give them a good roadie-strength ‘check, one, two’, they don’t bite like regular powered boxes and they’re not quite as loud, but they do have reasonable volume and they don’t want to feed back. If you move sideways across the front of the speakers the coverage is even and the sound seems on-axis over a much wider plane than horn-loaded speakers. If you play music through them and move back 50m they sound clear as a bell.

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Four Blackbirds sitting in a row, testing out their voices before hitting the big stage.

This long, wide, vertically-focused projection is the Blackbird’s main strength. By their nature line-array systems lose less energy over distance than point-source systems. And to provide the same horizontal coverage (120 degrees) with hornloaded speakers you’d need more of them; they’d need to be splayed to get the horizontal coverage; and you’d need delays to get the same distance. The narrow vertical focus (15 degrees) also reduces distracting reflections, which in turn increases intelligibility at long distances. HAIR OF THE BEARD

I took a pair of sticks/subs to the Theatre Royal for my new favourite band, The Beards’ recent show. I soon found out they weren’t direct enough for side-fill so I sat them beside the much bigger black box main PA and pointed them forward. At low to medium volume the Blackbird system was great and filled the room easily. At higher volumes it was noticeable that the system does have a volume limit… even though they sound much louder than they look. The DSP keeps them tidy but you can hear the limiting. For the show we ran them off auxiliary sends and fed them mainly vocals. Don’t know what it was like up the front during the show but they threw easily to the back of the room and seamlessly became part of the FOH system. A better environment for them would be a jazz band in a park with about 500 people, or more, in the audience. It sounds like a lot of people for a system that’s quite hard to see outdoors, but the wide dispersion and long throw covers a large area AT 52

with even, full-range, intelligible sound. The old problem of the level being too loud and too harsh near the speakers and too indistinct away from, or to the side of, the speakers is greatly diminished. If the band is bass heavy or there’s not enough bass outdoors, then more subs can be added. The Blackbirds also throw a fair amount of nearly fullrange sound from the rear-sides of the sticks. They sound quite good back there, it’s stable with open mics, and small bands who play fairly close to them may find they don’t need separate monitors. Acoustic Technologies reports the Blackbird has become its top-selling speaker system and I can see why. It doesn’t replace my old double fourway for really loud gigs but it would deliver more even, clearer sound to the audience than hornloaded designs for many… maybe most… other types of audio productions. Typically, churches are cavernous yet require good intelligibility; the Blackbird system would be ideal. Town halls, school halls, sports grounds, back-of-a-truck-onthe-football-oval gigs are all candidates. Any sort of corporate event, whether spoken word or multimedia presentation, would benefit from the quick set-up, even coverage and modern, efficient look of the system. The once ubiquitous old columns still adorn the walls of many country community halls… but I don’t think they get used much. The Acoustic Technologies Blackbird TLA1.4 system is the evolutionary replacement that leaves them about half a century behind.


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REGULARS

LAST WORD with

Wally De Backer & Franc Tetaz: Software authorisations woes Photo: Hugh Hamilton

For the Grammywinning Wally De Backer (AKA Gotye) life turned upside down with the global success of Someone That I Used to Know. He now has time to work on new music from the studio he’s completing on his parents’ property in southern coastal Victoria. His coconspirator, producer Franc Tetaz, rode the success of Someone to move home to L.A. where he works as a freelance producer. He maintains Moose Mastering in Melbourne. Last Word will play host to Wally and Franc’s ramblings about the future of audio for the next few issues.

AT 54

Wally: If software developers want a good authorisation blueprint then they should download Ableton Live and see how easy it is to install the file and log into your account. All your authorisations are there; just tick them off and it’s done. It should be that easy. On the other hand there are a few pieces of music software I like to use but find incredibly frustrating to authorise and every time I authorise them I’m thinking, “I wish I’d cracked this software!” Because it would have been quicker and easier. So I find Ableton’s authorisation system pretty seamless. They don’t force you to download another app, like their own Update Centre or something similar. It’s all done via the web — much easier than some third-party download portal. But otherwise, iLok works fine for me. In fact, if I had everything on an iLok I think I’d be okay about that — it’s portable, and you have your authorisations on hand. Franc: I wish we could all agree on just one system in the same way MIDI is one protocol everyone agreed on. That would be great. Currently it’s like everyone has their own version of ‘MIDI’ and it’s a pain. I have a horrible time trying to keep track of my authorisations. My writing/compositional setup is filled with a bunch of different manufacturers that make a whole variety of different sample libraries, and every single one of them has some damn-annoying third-party app you have to download. Wally: Heard about the organisations that will shut down your online life for you after your death — you give them all your passwords and they’ll tie-up the digital loose ends? Maybe someone will come up with something similar for our active music software life. Log into one place when you authorise software and it would automatically log in to other accounts for you. I’d sign up to that. I mean, I’ve had instances where I’ve had to lay my hand on three different serial numbers to download a version upgrade. First you’ve got your initial serial number, then an authorisation number, and finally another specific code that relates to the serial of your computer. So if you upgraded to a new laptop the authorisation loop goes into a spin: “Woops, we’re going to have to send you a new code for your new system!” Arrrghhh! Franc: I have one particular software instrument that you can’t copy onto another drive. If you want to copy it you have to go back to the original DVDs and install it from scratch — all eight DVDs! I’ve sent pleading emails, and they’ve apologised but it’s just the way it works. It’s a twohour exercise!

Wally: After intense touring I often get a little OCD about organising my life. Earlier this year I had the time to organise all my music software. I compiled a massive master hard drive with all my installers on it and they’re just DVD disc images. It took forever, and I’m not entirely sure I’ve benefitted from the exercise, other than killing a bit of time. But it does mean if I go on the road and need to overhaul my system on the fly, there’s no recalling, “oh shit my DVDs are at home or where’s the authorisations?” I’ve got a screen sheet with all my authorisation numbers of the different versions and all the installers in a folder on one drive — it’s not a bad repository. POWER TO BURN

Wally: It’s interesting to note how a production project isn’t limited by computing power these days. Computer power isn’t a factor, it’s more about how you can access different types of technology for different sounds. I’ve now got a lot of gear. I haven’t really explored a lot of it yet. And sometimes I think, maybe I’m wasting my time just collecting this stuff. Am I getting any creative benefit out of this? Part of my intention is for my friends to be able to use that gear and maybe make it available to musicians more broadly in the future. I try not to stand there and linger at the edge of my studio looking at a drum machine thinking, “Yeah, I own that drum machine!” Sure, it’s nice to own it, but I only want to look at it as a creative device and have a chance to use it. So it’s great to have the funds to do that at some stage when it’s the end result for my track. Otherwise I really try not to go, “Yeah, lots of stuff!” Franc: I disagree. I think you should indulge in those feelings. I want to see a video of that. That would be very good. Wally: … you’re thinking of a video piece that’s just a cabinet of all my drum machines all playing at the same time? Perhaps. I know I’m attracted to the aesthetics of gear as well but I’m not such a tragic that I care about whether I happen to own the Ace Tone Rhythm Ace or whether I have the Roland equivalent rebadged or the Hammond equivalent. But having access to as wide as variety of sounds, that’s interesting to me. And it’s the same with the software options we now have. We now have access to an enormous breadth of tonal and textural qualities — the combinations are endless. And, in theory, that breadth should result in all manner of different types of records. In theory.

AudioTechnology App Issue 16  

Pensado Revives Michael Jackson; Jensen Transformers – There’s More than Meets the Eye; In Deep with Deep Purple’s Classic Made In Japan. Re...

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