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THE EVENT FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
MORE INTEGRATE NEWS Stav Returns!: Mike Stavrou will be back in 2011 demonstrating key ear-opening concepts from his Stav’s Word column and top-selling book Mixing With Your Mind. Simmo Returns!: Greg Simmons will also be reprising his day of Studio Fundamentals, including: ‘Getting it Right the First Time’, Monitoring Fundamentals’ and ‘Microphones – Choosing & Using’. AFTRS 5.1 Mixing Workshop: Learn the fundamentals of 5.1 mixing for feature film and TV from Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Head of Sound, Chris McKeith. Soak up real-world examples of surround mixing at work in the school’s main mix theatre. Perfect for aspiring sound-forpicture mix engineers. Logic & ProTools Masterclasses: Power users take note! In Paul Najar (Logic) and UTS ProSchool’s Brent Heber (’Tools) we have a couple of genuine fourth-dan DAW warriors who will drill deep into advanced features and techniques in these two masterclasses.
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When in Fiji, do as the Fijians do...
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I’ll admit it, I was ill prepared. Here was I on holiday in Fiji and foolishly I’d left my multitrack recording facility at home. What a goose. When I arrived at my idyllic destination – a turquoise, tropical fish infested paradise located within a coconut’s cross of the island where Tom Hanks washed up, I quickly discovered that some of the best music I’d heard in years was being played by the local ‘String Band’. I tried to block it out – ‘You’re on holiday you fool, for God’s sake switch off your inner audio engineer and go snorkelling’ – but in the end the temptation was just too great. Before I knew it I was sheepishly approaching the band like some dodgy missionary, asking if the guys minded whether I recorded them (maybe there would be an album in it… who knew?). To rewind just a little, I’d been forewarned that the islanders loved to play guitars and ukuleles, so I’d carried with me some new strings for both, which I’d handed over as a gift when I first arrived. Lucky for me I also had a Zoom H3 Handy Recorder with me by coincidence – I’m reviewing the unit in the next issue of AT and was intending to work with it in Sydney on the return leg of the trip. As it was, in Fiji in particular, this little recorder turned out to be very handy indeed. Now I won’t bore you with the details of the recording; suffice it to say there weren’t any. The band played, I sat with them in the sweltering heat, the Handy Recorder teetered in front of them like a wonky tin toy and two mobile phones and a laptop tried – mostly in vain, it turned out – to capture some ‘ambience’ around them. Hey, I’m a studio engineer – I was looking for options… any other perspective on the performance I could dredge up basically. I needn’t have bothered. The 24-bit/44.1kHz recording using the built-in electret condensers sounded pretty good. Admittedly, there was the not so small issue of the internal preamp of the recorder only having three gain settings: low (which was always far too low), high (which blew out every time I tried it) and auto (which I didn’t trust), which made the whole thing a little frustrating. With no monitoring capabilities to speak of I figured the ‘auto’ option risked ruining the whole show, so I opted for ‘low’ – very low. The other recording files were write-offs for different AT 8
reasons. Remember I was on holiday in sweltering heat so I wasn’t really trying too hard, and I was very loath to start ‘problem solving’ the situation. I figured I’d capture what I could with a minimum of fuss and then don my goggles and flippers and get back to the holiday at hand. The laptop ended up drawing far too much attention to itself, parked under a coconut palm. Every time I set it up, within minutes half a dozen local kids would be gathered around it, pointing and giggling. Every time I saw them flash their pearly whites I figured the recording was a goner. The only other saving grace would have been my iPhone 4, the physical nature of which made it a little more clandestine, but before I could get the files off it, that phone ended up at the bottom of Sydney harbour when I unwittingly leant over the side of Rick O’Neil’s boat to reach for a mooring rope and the phone fell out of my pocket – kerplop – and sank like… well, like an iPhone. I’ve since mastered up an album of the ‘String Band’ which I’ll be posting on the AT website shortly. The results are great… well, very good is probably a more accurate appraisal of the recordings, but the band is fantastic. Next time I’m going over there armed with a slightly more elaborate setup: something that records six or eight tracks, not two, a small quiver of decent mics and preamps with settings that read ‘just right’, not ‘low’, ‘high’ and ‘auto’. I’ll also be taking more strings and plectrums as well. Economically speaking these guys are poor, yet wealthy beyond measure in many other respects. They sing masterful three and four-part harmonies but their instruments are barely functional and they don’t have any money for new ones. One Yamaha six-string is due to break any day now, courtesy of a lifting bridge, the other is virtually untuneable – too much sea air I think. The ukulele only has three strings – has done for nearly a year apparently – and all the tuning pegs are made of driftwood, the originals lost or broken. So if anyone has a decent steel six-string guitar or ukulele wasting away from neglect in a cupboard somewhere that they might be willing to donate, I’m all ears. I’m very keen to get them some new instruments by hook or by crook… That’s right, I’m turning into a missionary – who would have thought? Contact me at my normal email address if, after you’ve had a listen to the recordings online, you feel the same.
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DAVE ARON & SNOOP DOGG – LIVE
FLOOD & PJ HARVEY – MAKE ENGLAND SHAKE
SxSW: AUSSIES IN AUSTIN
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AT penetrates the haze of gunja smoke backstage at Supafest to get the low-down from Dave Aron on mixing the biggest hip-hop act on the planet.. AT gets inside the head of iconic engineer/producer Flood to find out what it took to make PJ Harvey’s latest album a piece of art. One of the biggest music festivals in the world, South By Southwest has its fair share of Aussie bands on the bill. AT had an insider in the crowd trying to act like a local.
Readers Letters. News and new product information. Synth/noise artist, Henry, and electronica DJ, Cornel, get together to create a dirty country rock album with bags of attitude. Country rock has never sounded so cool. Around the studio traps featuring Jaminajar and Pirate Studios. As Brad Watts disappears into a cloud of internet backups and file sharing, Martin Walker offers a reality check to those who fancy running their projects at 192kHz. Rick sends dispatches from Greece: “Tell them they have to make a record once a year (stop) And do it with real talent (stop) Otherwise they’re just fraudsters (stop)
This issue Rob Squire looks at the benefits of carrying around some custommade pads for those occasions where you’re mics are too hot to handle.
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YOUR WORD Readers’ Letters
BALANCED SUBS IS THE NEW BLACK
Re: Time To Shelve The Low End, Issue 80: Thank God for Howard Page. His article on taming sub frequencies with live sound in Issue 80 was brilliant. Now all we need is for the article to be made compulsory reading for every live engineer! I saw Linkin Park at Newcastle Entertainment Centre in December last year where the gig was spoiled by lousy FOH. Let’s take just the kick drum for example. I’m pretty sure I know what a kick drum sounds like: click of transient, shell sound, and all over in half a second. Not at Linkin Park, baby. This guy’s kit had a two-second kick sound, most of which was made up of about 100Hz. I want a live kick drum to punch me in the chest. I don’t want a sumo to sit on my chest. A kick drum through a PA should go ‘doof ’ not ‘wooooooommm’! Dean Morris, NSW. –– Re: Time To Shelve The Low End, Issue 80: Dear Howard Page: If only your article on low-end shelving had been read by mixers of this year’s Bluesfest in Byron Bay. Despite its huge size and budget, this year’s festival was by far one of the worst sounding in its history. I arrived at the festival on the Friday afternoon and could hear (and feel) the bass rumble coming from the site well before I entered the grounds. It sounded more like a war zone than a music festival. Nearly every issue regarding uncontrolled sub-bass mentioned in your article was apparent at every tent I visited. Even music that wouldn’t normally require deep subs such as British soul star, Eli Paperboy Reed, and the man himself, Bob Dylan, were treated to massive subsonics and muddy mixing. Every vocal felt like it was struggling to find a place in the mix; snares drums sounded more like cheap toms, and had no ‘crack’; kick drums sounded like subsonic explosions. Very few drum kits throughout the weekend sounded natural or balanced. It was all very frustrating. I understand that at a music festival musicians don’t often get to use their own gear or manage a decent sound check, but I’m sure if thing’s hadn’t been so bass heavy, the sound would have better served the musicians on stage.
Sure, adding subsonics to bass instruments has enabled some sound engineers to broaden the contrasts of modern music but this technique is often misused by inexperienced mixers. It would seem to me more logical to start a mix with less (not more) bass, and only add more when required, rather than begin a mix with deep subsonic bass and a larger-than-life kick drum. Perhaps the wrong PAs were chosen for the festival this year; perhaps the engineers weren’t to blame. I guess we’ll never know. I just hope next year the organisers learn from their mistakes to justify the $500+ tickets. Chris, Melbourne VIC. –– MORE ON LIVE MIXING
Re: Ed Space, Issue 80: Regarding Andy Stewart’s editorial in Issue 80, Leaving a Space for the Star of the Show, and with reference to Howard Page’s article on subs in the same issue, I’d like to add my two-cents worth if I may. On more than one occasion I’ve played a CD (that I have lovingly mixed in my studio) on a large system only to hear way more low-end than I ever intended. I agree with Andy (and Howard) about subs and vocal levels wholeheartedly, except to say that rather than turn vocals up I would assert that you need to turn everything else down. Mix with gain and EQ. Be ruthless with the high-pass filter. Know the bottom-most frequency that any one instrument can produce and roll off everything below that. Most guys can’t sing lower than 125Hz. Most girls can’t sing below 300Hz. Try mixing without compressors. Otherwise, depending on the threshold, attack and release, you’re only likely to be adding additional background noise to the mix. Another trick is to cut every second frequency below 125Hz on the third-octave EQ, so as to reduce the overwhelming power of the low end without destroying the impact of the kick and bass. There are several other factors that need to be addressed in order for us all to deliver better mixes to our audiences. Assuming one has a decent system, good mics and great musicians one must still deal with venues with stages that are too small, guitarists who insist on running their Marshall stacks at 11 (‘Hey, that’s my sound, man’) and drummers who only know fortissimo
This issue’s best Your Word contribution will be receiving a copy of Tony Mott’s fantastic new photography coffee table book, Rock’n’Roll Photography is The New Trainspotting. It’s the kind of book that’s perfect for the coffee table of every control room in Australia, and features amazing images of countless artists and performers, some of them in clobber they probably wished they’d kept in the cupboard. It’s guaranteed to keeps clients and engineers entertained for hours and make everyone who leafs through it smile
(that’s Italian for loud)! I also think we need to get back to the notion of ‘reinforcement’ in smaller spaces. It’s entirely possible that only the singer’s mic needs to be amplified in most small venues because every other instrument can be heard sufficiently without extra power behind it. Just because something is miked up doesn’t mean it needs to be up in the mix. Al Craig, Balgowlah NSW. –– COLIN ELLIS SAYS: TURN IT UP, MATE!
Re: Ed Space, Issue 80: I feel compelled to reply to Andy’s editorial in Issue 80, where for the most part you lay blame on mix engineers for poor vocal levels and vocal quality at live concerts. I think the assumption that all a sound engineer need do is push the vocal fader up and avoid some frequency masking, is for the most part missing the main problems that sound engineers have to deal with for live vocal clarity. When there’s any problem with the sound, people immediately blame the sound engineer and fail to recognise the real source of the problem, which in most cases originates from the last person to ever be blamed – the musician. Most live audio engineers spend their whole lives tearing their hair out to get that elusive vocal sitting a beautiful 3dB over the band mix, with perfect intelligibility (just like the album). The problem has a storyline that varies, but the theme is always the same. It starts with the drummer, who smashes everything in sight, as hard and as fast as he possibly can, even in supposedly quiet ballads. This then gives the guitar player the excuse he needs to turn his Marshall stack up to 11, which is loud enough to annihilate a 500,000W PA system. The poor bass player really doesn’t want to, but he then turns his rig up ’til the speakers are getting a pole-axing, but still complains he can’t hear himself over the guitar and drums. The next important thing for the blameless musicians to do is cram themselves in as close as possible to one another on stage – even if it’s 60-feet wide, they only use 10 of it so the ‘vibe’ is right. All that’s left for the singer to do – who can’t understand why he can’t hear himself amidst 130dBA of sound – is to get in-ear monitors, so that he can now sing like Frank Sinatra, with the microphone eight inches away from his mouth, and mumble his poetic lyrics just the way he
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Distributed in Australia by CMI Music & Audio 03 9315 2244 firstname.lastname@example.org AT 15
did in the isolation booth at the studio – which sounded great on the album. Every now and then he will scream a word or two just to blow the PA (and everyone’s ears) to pieces. So the poor sucker sitting at the end of this catastrophic chain of events is the FOH engineer. When he pushes the vocal fader up, all that happens is the whole band volume goes up, and the vocal actually appears to be getting quieter in comparison to the now louder and messier band sound. In fact, often you can turn every other channel completely off, except for the one vocal channel, and you still won’t be able to hear the vocal, just a whole lot of messy band spill, which I think you referred to as a ‘socialist morass’ mix. You would think it should be easy for the sound engineer to tell the band to turn down and the singer to stop mumbling and get on the bloody mic, but I can tell you from experience that this is the most frustratingly futile waste of time you could ever imagine. Musicians never – repeat never – turn down; it doesn’t matter if they’re playing a 100-seat club or Madison Square Garden. The more you hassle them, the more you are messing with their art! And eventually you will be sacked. No, I think it’s easier to just keep blaming the sound engineer for everything – they’re used to it. Colin Ellis Editor’s Response: Thanks for your response Colin; great to hear from someone as experienced as your good self (Colin has spent decades mixing countless acts, including INXS, Midnight Oil and the John Butler Trio), but with respect, I think you might have missed the main point of my article, which was simply to observe that in those circumstances where the singer isn’t mumbling and the drummer isn’t apeing the drumkit in the way you’re describing – where the band is competent and professional – that vocals can still be mixed too low. Not all gigs have the insurmountable problems you describe (as you’ll be well aware) – although I appreciate there are plenty of circumstances where these issues can make the task nigh impossible – yet even when things are sweet from a technical perspective, the same mistakes are often made. The last thing my article intended to do was bash sound engineers. Why on earth would I want to do that? I am one! But nor would I argue that bashing musicians is any more preferable. I understand that there are all kinds of reasons why a vocal mic might sometimes contain more band than singer, but it’s not always the case. I was simply trying to make the point that there are ways to combat these problems – some of which involve communicating concerns to the band, others that involve instrument and amp placement etc – but I’ve been to countless gigs where none of those problems have been evident, yet still the vocal is inaudible. If the vocals can be made clearer and fuller at least in those circumstances, wouldn’t that be a good start? –– AT 16
BUYING OS: ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE
Re: Mark Coglan’s ‘Retailer’s Perspective’, Issue 80: I’ve just finished reading Mark Coglan’s ‘justification’ for not buying gear from overseas. He sounds a little like Gerry Harvey to me, or a poor insurance salesman. The ‘scare tactics’ he is deploying do little to lend faith to the local supplier and as far as I can see are nothing but unqualified rants. How many pieces of equipment from overseas actually break down and require warranty? How many home studio owners have difficulty installing a PCI card or some drivers? Very few. Over the years I have imported a Focusrite ISA 828, Liquid Mix 32, Liquid Pre, Neve and Neumann modules, BFE and Filtek Modules (can’t even get that stuff in Australia usually), a UAD card, a Fireface 800 and two Neumann U87s in addition to several Gibsons, Fenders and other items. In particular, I find there’s always a great saving to be had importing microphones from a reputable dealer as these never require voltage changes. How many Valley People or dbx 160x units can you sell me? I can’t even get them in Australia. I had to import them! In all this time I have never had any item fail on me and the lead-time from the US is usually three or four days shipping. Companies such as Zen Pro Audio (Warren Dent from the USA – a regular on gearslutz) and others are more than happy to send two units to Australia so you can decide what one you want then you freight the other one back. This constitutes better service than most local suppliers are willing to offer. In this day and age where fast internet, email and postage turnarounds are the norm, dealing with an overseas store is just like dealing with a supplier based in Melbourne or Sydney – sometimes better. In fact, Warren usually answers my emails the same day and provides fantastic advice from the front line – not from an article or spec sheet. Your “that’s $88” attitude simply shows a burntout retailer who is disillusioned by the success of eBay. You would gain more support if you would show both sides to the story – which, simply put, is that there is a very small risk involved in importing goods that can be far outweighed by the savings you will receive, provided the power supply of the unit is selectable. I’d argue that in the present financial climate it’s better to become more competitive than try to scare people off buying perfectly good product from overseas. Your letter simply lost you another client in my case. And yes, I do purchase locally as well. Please, in future, focus on the facts, not the scare tactics you employ to drive your business. I am a consumer, not a competitor, but I am a learned consumer and quite capable of installing a driver or switching a PSU from 110 to 240V. Mark, it’s a global economy now, whether you like it or not, and while you may be able to fool the home enthusiast into buying their first Casio keyboard, the attitude you expressed in your letter
only alienates the semi-pro and professional operators out there who spend the bigger dollars by providing what can simply be seen as nothing more than a snap reaction to reduced sales from the advent of online stores serving a global consumer base. I encourage all AT readers to use their own judgment and read between the lines. Patrick Corballis, CCC Australia. –– SMOKE ME A KIPEN
Re: Lost In Sound, Issue 80: [An email to Doron Kipen from a reader] I was thrilled to open my copy of AudioTechnology yesterday to discover a story on you. I have run a successful music composition and sound design company for 27 years called Made to Measure Music, and in those years I’ve produced thousands of jingles and TV network ID packages including the Channel 9 News theme, A Current Affair, Sale of the Century and Temptation, UKTV, ABC Station IDs as well as all Channel 9’s promo music from 1989 to 2004. What’s interesting is that I was inspired by you in the ’70s! When you were ill, I was working as a Radiation Oncology Technician at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital when you were under the care of Dr David Green, and I was one of the technicians who treated you each day during that period. I remember quite clearly that even though you were so sick, you gave me some advice on how I might find a career in sound. Well I would just like to say a big thank you because in 1980 I became the engineer at 2UW, and in 1982 an engineer at David and John Recordings in Crows Nest. I just wanted you to know that you inspired someone to follow their dreams and for that I thank you. I am also very pleased to read that you appear to have regained your health. My very best wishes to you. Bob Davies, NSW –– A NEW iPATCH
Re: On The Bench, 79: Having just read Rob Squire’s article on patching an iPod into the studio (Issue 79), I wanted to share some information on two products from the audiophile world that make iPod integration very easy. Firstly there’s Pure’s i-20 dock, which offers a digital output that can be used with any D/A converter or perhaps even straight into a digital console. The other is Wadia’s 170i – another dock that accesses the iPod’s digital output stream. Both work well. Thanks for a great magazine! Martin Penicka
! Want to give Rick a kick, Andy a rev-up or Stav a serve? Get in touch: email@example.com
HALF A 1073
NEWS: GENERAL IN BRIEF ROLAND BR-80 MICRO BR DIGITAL RECORDER The Boss BR-80 Micro BR is a portable recording and jam-along tool. It’s equipped with three modes to create, record, and perform your music: an eight-track multi-track recorder mode; an ‘eBand’ mode for onstage backing tracks and phrase training; and a live recording mode for capturing stereo recordings. You can even combine the three modes seamlessly. Record your phrase ideas and import them into the multitrack to use as foundations for song production. Once you’ve added tracks, import your finished songs into eBand mode for backing-track accompaniment. Price: $379. Roland Corporation: (02) 9982 8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NEUMANN GOES LOW Neumann recently announced the new KH 120 two-way active nearfield monitor, and has now followed up with the launch of a matching subwoofer, the KH 810. The KH 810 can be dedicated to reproducing the LFE channel in a surround sound system or as a means of providing low-frequency extension with an increased maximum SPL. With the KH 810, it is now possible to assemble flexible monitoring systems for studios of different sizes.
AMS Neve 1073LBEQ tinyurl.com/6d9fnhj
SHAVED DOWN STUDIOLIVE $1980 | presonus.com
Following the success of the StudioLive 16.4.2 and StudioLive 24.4.2, PreSonus has released the StudioLive 16.0.2 digital mixer. The 16.0.2 offers the same audio quality as the two larger StudioLive models, with high-headroom, 32-bit floating-point processing, XMAX mic preamps, and 24-bit/48kHz converters with 118dB dynamic range. The mixer also sports a pair of programmable, stereo, 32-bit floating-point effects processors, loaded with reverb and delay presets and assigned to dedicated FX buses. The 16.0.2 has MIDI I/O, providing MIDI control over mixer parameters. Input channels one to eight have 1/4-inch TRS line inputs and XLR microphone inputs, while channels nine to 16 are configured as ‘odd/even’ stereo pairs; odd-numbered channels have 1/4-inch TRS line inputs and mic inputs, while even numbered channels offer 1/4inch TRS line ins only. Channels 13 through 16 have RCA line inputs. PreSonus Australia (02) 9648 5855 or email@example.com
The integrated 7.1 ‘High Definition Bass Manager’ is compatible with all formats. Eight electronically balanced analogue XLR inputs provide flexible interconnectivity and a built-in volume control permits centralised system adjustment of replay levels. Syntec International: 1800 648 628 or firstname.lastname@example.org
RME BOB RME has started shipping assorted BOB-16 breakout boxes – rack solutions for interconnecting multi-channel XLRs with D-sub connectors. Three versions are available: the BOB-16 I connects 16 XLR inputs to two D-sub 25-pin outputs; BOB-16 O connects eight XLR outputs to two D-sub 25-pin inputs; and BOB-16 I/O connects eight XLR inputs to a D-sub 25-pin connector and eight XLR outputs to another D-sub 25-pin connector. The BOB-16 range is pin compatible to the standard Tascam pinout format. Adapters for the Yamaha format are also available. Innovative Music: (03) 9540 0658 or email@example.com
RUN FOR THE HILLS Unfortunately, a tad late for the Mother’s Day sales, Michael Bolton and Delta Goodrem have snuggled up to recorded a duet. The song is to be released on Bolton’s freshly minted album: Gems: The Duets Collection. “Come on – he’s one of the greatest singers on the planet,” say fellow collaborators, Rascal Flatts. Sounds sappy? You can bet your lengthy mullet it is. Gems will be available ‘at all good record stores’ from June 21, so get your pre-orders happening at www.michaelbolton.com. Incidentally, the duo recently boogied down on the US ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. You heard it here…
THE TRIBE SPEAKS
$TBA | korg.com
Many wondered if the Korg Monotron would mark the beginning of a swag of analogue synth releases from Korg, and as it transpires, that’s exactly what’s going on. Korg recently introduced the Monotribe Analogue Ribbon Station – bringing responsive real-time control to analogue groove-making. It’s looking like a whole new era of classics is about to be unleashed by Korg. Monotribe highlights include: true analogue synthesis, three-part analogue drums using discrete analogue circuitry, Electribe style sequencing, Active Step and Flux features for real-time dynamic loop manipulation and an advanced multi-function ribbon keyboard. This features Chromatic, Continuous, and Wide modes, while auto-tuning provides stable pitch for accurate chromatic playability. There’s a selectable oscillator waveform, noise generator, and LFO and the unit uses the same VCF (filter) circuit as the classic MS-10/MS-20, while sync I/O jacks allow synchronised integration with multiple units. Music Link (03) 9765 6565 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Boss Micro BR BR-80 tinyurl.com/6bshhl2
$2999 | mackie.com
Straight from the Mackie machine is the 32-channel Mackie 3204-VLZ3, combining VLZ3 low-noise, high-headroom technology with an increased channel count, 28 XDR2 mic channels, each with three-band, sweepable mid-EQ, dual RMFX+ effect processors and true four-bus architecture. You can even connect to your laptop to record the show, stream house music (or psy-trance if that’s your bag), or use your favourite plug-ins live using the built-in 4x2 USB interface. The 3204-VLZ3 also features eight dedicated in-line compressors, six independent aux sends, and to top it all off, every aux send features a TRS insert! Also available is the 2404-VLZ3, featuring… erm, 24 channels. Price is $2999 and $2499 respectively. Music Link (03) 9765 6565 or email@example.com
RETURNETH A CLASSIC $1099 | eventelectronics.com
Event Electronics is deservedly excited to announce the release of a new generation of the original 20/20bas speaker. First released in 1995, the original 20/20 nearfield studio monitor created quite a stir at the time and launched the Event brand worldwide. The 20/20 combined a magnetically shielded 25mm silk dome tweeter alongside an eight-inch mineral-impregnated polypropylene cone bass driver. A laminated and internally dampened MDF cabinet with a front-mounted large diameter bass-port assisted in providing the 20/20’s impressive low-end response. A year later Event released a powered version, the 20/20bas. Now, 15 years on, Event is proud to announce a new generation of clarity, transparency and definition with the release of the 20/20bas V3. This new speaker incorporates a number of fundamental improvements over the original, while remaining true to its character and performance strengths. Event Electronics www.eventelectronics.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
RECORDING ENGINEER ROGER NICHOLS PASSES Veteran recording engineer and seven-time Grammy winner, Roger Nichols, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away on the 9th April at the age of 66. Roger worked with some of the biggest names in music – Diana Ross, Frank Zappa, Johnny Winter, John Denver, Jimmy Buffett, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Al Di Meola, Plácido Domingo, Rickie Lee Jones – but it was his work with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen (aka Steely Dan) that Roger was possibly best known for. Believe it or not, he also invented the first sampling drum machine – the Wendl Jr. – first used on Steely Dan’s 1979 album, Gaucho, which remains a benchmark in record production to this day. Born in Oakland, California, Nichols grew up in Cucamonga, California, where he recorded early projects by his high school buddy, Frank Zappa. He later attended Oregon State University where he studied nuclear physics. After working at the San Onofre nuclear plant for three years, he returned to professional recording in the late 1960s. He was a giant in his field, a real innovator, and his passing is a sad loss for the audio industry worldwide. Image by Deborah Gray Mitchell
ROKIT TO THE MOON & BACK KRK Systems has released a powerful new three-way midfield monitor – the Rokit RP10-3. Designed to deliver full range professional performance, the integrated 10-inch lowfrequency driver and cabinet design deliver true bass response down to 35Hz. The RP10-3 also offers a rotatable one-inch soft dome tweeter and four-inch midrange speaker mounting plate that ensures accurate acoustic alignment for vertical and horizontal installation. So if they’re too tall for your monitor position (at 54cm) they can easily be laid on their side, without compromising the sound. Music Link: (03) 9765 6565 or atdept@ musiclink.com.au
Milab Supercardioid Capsule tinyurl.com/3fmzvcy
IN BRIEF THE GOOD DOCTOR The founder of Bose Corporation, Dr Amar Bose, has donated most of the company’s trading stock to MIT, the university where he received his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and PhD. The philanthropic doctor gave the stock in the form of non-voting shares, while dividends will be ploughed back into education and research at the prestigious establishment. Dr Bose remains at the helm of the company, retaining his titles of Chairman and Technical Director. In a news release on its website, MIT explained that Dr Bose was asked to join the faculty of electrical engineering in 1956 and accepted with the intention of teaching for no more than two years. He remained at the faculty until 2001.
WARNER GOES EAST Warner Music has been bought by an industrial group whose holdings range from oil and aluminium firms, through to the UK’s Top Up TV. Access Industries, run by Russian born billionaire Len Blavatnik, paid $3.3bn (AUD$3.06) in cash for the world’s third largest music firm. Warner has been struggling with declining sales and profits for quite some time due to independent labels, along with the trend for internet distribution of music products. Warner Music Group, whose entire music and publishing businesses have been sold, will become a private company with its shares delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. Len Blavatnik seems to be a perfect fit for a music industry mogul, having emigrated to the US at the age of 21, making his fortunes in the New York real estate market, before turning to his homeland for further investment opportunities. Rumour is Blavatnik also has his sights set on EMI.
MOTIF GETS MOXED For the past decade the MOTIF has been Yamaha’s answer to music production synthesisers for both live performance and studio use. Combining MOTIF technology with USB computer integration technology, the MOX series is the most powerful, mobile and affordable Yamaha music workstation ever. Just some of the MOX features include: 1217 voices and 355MB of waveforms taken from the MOTIF XS, more than 256 Performances, Virtual Circuitry Modelling (VCM) effects, 6720 arpeggiator patterns, a four-part interactive arpeggio engine, Direct Performance recording, a comprehensive sequencer including step recording as well as a built-in four-in, two-out USB audio/MIDI interface. The MOX also features a newly developed 61-key semi-weighted keyboard (for the MOX6) and an 88-key ‘Graded Hammer Standard’ keyboard for the MOX8. Yamaha Music Australia: 1800 805 413 or email@example.com
JUPITER RETURNS $4299 | roland.com.au
Roland’s Jupiter is possibly one of the most revered electronic instruments in the history of synthesis. Manufactured from 1981 through to ’84, the eight-voice super-synth missed out on MIDI, but did offer revolutionary features such as splitting two patches across the keyboard, and 1ms amplitude envelopes. Now, Roland has reinstated the legacy of the original Jupiter with the Jupiter-80 – a liveperformance synth with a massive sound. The Jupiter-80’s ‘SuperNatural’ synthesis engine is designed for vintage synth sound recreation, and includes an intuitive front panel and colour touchscreen, 76-note semi-weighted synth keyboard, and 256 voices (this varies according to sound-generator load). There’s also a USB-memory song player/recorder for backing tracks or quick idea capturing, plus it integrates with your computer to act as a MIDI/audio interface. Roland Corporation (02) 9982 8266 or firstname.lastname@example.org
$599 | mackie.com
Mackie recently announced a complete redesign of its powered studio monitors, releasing the MRmk2 Mackie Reference Monitors. Mackie MRmk2 monitors feature new transducers specifically designed to match their respective amplification. Both models employ a one-inch neodymium magnet-driven soft-dome tweeter featuring ferro-fluid cooling. The 51/4-inch (MR5mk2 at $399) and eight-inch (MR8mk2 at $599) hyperboliccurved cone woofers reduce severe cone resonances to minimise distortion. The Class A/B amplifier section features XLR, TRS and RCA connectivity, along with useradjustable acoustic controls for simple room correction. The cabinet is rear-ported, also reportedly reducing distortion, and features a custom waveguide and moulded baffle, offering balance to the HF/LF content while increasing both the stereo imaging and depth of field. Music Link (03) 9765 6565 or email@example.com
Welcome to the Sweet Spot It’s simply the best way to test-drive PA speakers and studio monitors…
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Find The Sweet Spot for PA Speakers at Soundcorp The Sweet Spot is a purpose-built listening room featuring the best PA speakers from around the world. Inside you’ll find a range of speakers set up ready for comparison. Our staff can help you get started and answer any questions you may have. Come on in and experience The Sweet Spot for yourself, we know you’ll love it.
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Showroom & The Sweet Spot located at 570 City Road South Melbourne 3205 • phone. 03 9694 2600 • fax. 03 9694 2626 • email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.soundcorp.com.au AT 21
AB FAB! – FABFILTER PRO-G
FabFilter has released a new gate – the FabFilter Pro-G tinyurl.com/3psgw5p
PIX & STIX
APOGEE DUET 2
Aspiring musicians (with a gentle touch) should check out this project from the Australian group behind the Wallee mount for the iPad. The designers are developing rubberised accessories, branded Pix & Stix, to be used with GarageBand on the iPad. The package includes a pair of drum sticks and a guitar pick that lets you use the iPad ‘like a real instrument’. Both the sticks and the guitar pick include electroconductive rubber tips compatible with the iPad’s capacitive touchscreen display.
The Duet 2 features balanced outputs, independent speaker and headphone outputs, a full-colour OLED display, configurable touch pads, and what many would imagine to be a stretch at this price point; improved sound quality. With a new breakout cable design and optional breakout box, Duet 2 is even more streamlined than the original. Features include two inputs and four outputs (independent speaker and headphone outs), redesigned mic preamps with up to 75dB of gain, selectable 48V phantom power and phase invert, balanced outputs, 24-bit/192kHz recording and 192kHz A/D and D/A conversion, and Soft Limit. $TBA Sound Devices: (02) 9283 2077 or email@example.com
ECHOES, ECHOES, ECHOES. Nomad Factory recently announced the release of Echoes – an ‘analogue echo box’ style plug-in designed to reproduce classic vintage delay effects. Following on from the philosophy behind Nomad Factory’s Magnetic plug-in, Echoes is designed to be very easy to use. Unlike many other delay plug-ins that have dozens of unnecessary knobs and confusing parameters, Echoes leans toward the essence of the original effects by keeping things simple. A full downloadable demo version is available that’s compatible with Intel-based Macs running OSX 10.5 and up (Audio Unit, RTAS, and VST). Windows requirements are a Pentium iV or AthlonXP 2GHz machine. Nomad Factory: www.nomadfactory.com
OMEGA & THE IPAD
US$14.95 | pixandstix.com
The group is selling a set of two sticks and one pick for US$14.95 in a project that is funded in a similar way to Kickstarter. The group is now accepting pre-orders and production will begin when the project reaches its funding goal. If not enough people jump on the Pix & Stix bandwagon, then your money will be refunded after 30 days. PIX & STIX www.pixandstix.com
KOMPLETE AUDIO 6
$399 | native-instruments.com
Komplete Audio 6 is a six-channel audio interface providing digital I/O, MIDI and low-latency performance – all in a hefty metal casing. The two inputs are armed with preamps, while Cirrus Logic-based converters look after A/D and D/A conversion. Features include four balanced analogue outputs (1/4inch TRS), digital stereo input and output (RCA, S/PDIF) and MIDI I/O for master keyboard, Maschine, or any third-party MIDI controller. A headphone output with independent level control and source switch also make the cut and the unit is completely USB powered. CMI (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
In a lovely little convergence of technology in the ‘iPad revolution’ you can now use a Lexicon Omega audio interface and an iPad to record directly to GarageBand. In a recent press release, Lexicon announced that the Omega can now be used in conjunction with your iPad to simultaneously record up to four tracks to the diminutive DAW. The Lexicon Omega streams 24-bit audio at 44.1kHz to an iPad over USB, utilising the Apple Camera connection kit for both recording and playback. Jands: (02) 9582 0909 or firstname.lastname@example.org
WAVES ONE KNOB PLUG-INS Waves Audio recently announced the OneKnob series; a set of seven plug-ins, all of which provide a particular effect controlled by a single knob. Waves claim they’re easy to use (like duh!). OneKnob plug-ins feature the best of Waves’ audio processes rolled into the most intuitive interfaces you’re likely to come across… ever. The idea is that when users don’t feel like tweaking loads of parameters – when they want to stay focused on the music and simply dial up some great-sounding effects – the OneKnob plug-ins fit the bill. They could be just what they’ve been looking for. The OneKnob series is native only and sells for $349. Sound & Music: (03) 9555 8081 or email@example.com
RED 5 STANDING BY $TBA | focusrite.com
RedNet 5 is the latest addition to the RedNet family of networked audio interfaces from Focusrite. Connecting to your ProTools HD system via DigiLink, RedNet 5 allows you to use the low-latency performance of your ProTools HD cards alongside RedNet’s audio interfaces. RedNet boasts excellent sound quality with a dynamic range of 120dB and supports up to 32 channels of simultaneous inputs and outputs (16 inputs and 16 outputs at 192kHz). To achieve even higher channel counts, multiple RedNet 5s can be connected to additional ProTools HD cards. You can assign any available audio source or destination on the RedNet network to RedNet 5 with the dragand-drop RedNet software control panel, and channel assignments appear in ProTools exactly as they would with any other HD-compatible audio interface. ELECTRIC FACTORY (03) 9474 1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequency Spectrum Delays tinyurl.com/3zjtjxe
SENNHEISER’S MIX TAPE
$FREE-ish | facebook.com/ SennheiserAustraliaNewZealand
Who doesn’t remember the lovingly created mix tapes of the ’80s? Well, pretty much anyone younger than about 30 we’d wager. Back in the day, armed with a cassette recorder and a few cassettes, music fans could compile and give away their own best-of albums – much to the annoyance of record labels and artists the world over. With the new Sennheiser MixTape FaceBook app, Sennheiser now offers you the chance to relive the past and record your very own virtual cassette. You can hit record at www.facebook.com/ SennheiserAustraliaNewZealand, as well as on the official regional Sennheiser pages. Click the ‘Like’ button and start compiling. Once you’ve created a playlist, each song can be played for 30 seconds. If the mix-up tickles you or your mates’ fancy, the complete tracks can be bought via iTunes. SYNTEC INTERNATIONAl 1800 648 628 or email@example.com
DR BOB’S COLLECTOR PACK $329 | arturia.com
Arturia’s Dr Bob’s Collector Pack includes the ubiquitous Minimoog V and Moog Modular V virtual instruments from Arturia, along with a book and documentary. Both the Minimoog and Moog Modular have been famously used by the likes of Tangerine Dream, The Beatles, Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, Keith Emerson, Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze, setting the backdrop for the last 30 years of electronic music. Moog, the film, takes you inside the mind of the legendary inventor as he shares his ideas about creativity, design, interactivity, and spirituality. Moog also features interviews and performances by Stereolab, Keith Emerson, Jean-Jacques Perrey & Luke Vibert, Rick Wakeman, DJ Spooky, Money Mark and others. The book, From Bob Moog’s Private Archives, is curated and prefaced by Michelle Moog-Koussa, President of the Bob Moog Foundation, and unveils never before seen photographs and rare documents of Bob Moog. Profits from the package go to the Bob Moog Foundation – an institution founded to educate and inspire children and adults through the possibilities of electronic music. CMI (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
IN BRIEF RME REMOTE CONTROL RME offers Remote Control for the Fireface UFX and ADI-8 QS. The optional remote sports a metal case with one big wheel dial and two push-buttons. The functions of the ADI-8 QS stay unchanged (volume, store, recall). On the Fireface UFX the Remote Control takes charge of the most important monitoring functions: main output volume, both headphone outputs (switchable), dim (with user adjustable value), recall and store of a reference level for the main outputs (user adjustable value), and a button that’s programmable to control functions like talkback, secondary monitors, or mono for example. Availability is expected to be around June 2011. Innovative Music: (03) 9540 0658 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ONE OR TWO HUMPS? Camel Audio has released Steamworx Sound Library for Alchemy and Alchemy Player, designed by none other than our own regular PC Audio columnist, Martin Walker (congrats Martin!). The Steamworx library, incorporating over 240MB of sample content, is a cinematic netherworld featuring everything from keyboard instruments made from clocks and drum kits built from steam-powered machines, to fog-shrouded soundscapes and gothic choirs. With intricate contraptions, grunge-laden grooves, multilayered arpeggios and hand-crafted percussion, you will find moods suited to epic soundtrack, delicate ambient, sci-fi, industrial and the supernatural. Camel Audio: www.camelaudio.com
ANOTHER LEGEND FROM UA Universal Audio has released UAD Software version 5.9, which, along with new features for the UAD-2 Satellite Firewire DSP Accelerator, includes the Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb plug-in. The original Lexicon 224, released in 1978, is famous for its lush reverb tail that almost singlehandedly defined the sound of an era. With UA’s modelling gumption, the Lexicon 224 plug-in for UAD-2 captures all eight reverb programs available from the original 224 firmware version 4.4. The emulation also incorporates the original unit’s input transformers and early A/D and D/A converters. Available via UA’s online store for a mere $349. CMI: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
SUPER CHEAP GUITAR SYNTH Winning the ‘cleverest iOS app in a long while’ prize here at AT, the Backline Engineering Note Synth app turns an iDevice into a guitar synth when paired with the Line 6 MIDI Mobilizer. Note Synth is a pitch-to-MIDI-note converter that will convert the note you’re playing into MIDI information, recognised by MIDI keyboards and sound modules. Simply plug your guitar into your iOS device, and plug the MIDI Mobilizer output into a keyboard or sound module MIDI input. Available via the iTunes App Store for a scant $3.99 Backline Engineering: www.backline-eng.com
RACK YOUR MAC
NEWS: LIVE IN BRIEF I’M HEARING YOU! Audio-Technica, the new self-appointed kings of headphones of all descriptions, have a new ‘Ear PA’ series for use with in-ear monitor systems. But are they new? As it turns out, the Ear PA range is made up of previously existing models: two ear canal models (the ATH-CKM70 at $99 and the ATH-CK70PRO at $199) and the headphone model that many of us are already familiar with (the popular ATH-M50 at $249). It begs the question: how many singers will wear the M50s live? Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or email@example.com
Apple rumoured to be shrinking Mac Pro tinyurl.com/3lto6zy
JBL PRX600 SERIES $Various | jbl.com
Replacing JBL’s PRX500 product line is the PRX600 series. There are six speakers in the range: three two-way models (PRX612M, PRX615M and PRX625), a single three-way design (PRX635), and a pair of single 18-inch subwoofers (PRX618S and PRX618S-XLF). The speakers are all manufactured using 25 and 19mm plywood with tongue and groove joints, dent resistant 16-gauge steel grilles and JBL’s tour grade Duraflex finish. Where a cabinet features flying hardware, 14-gauge steel is used and tested to a yield strength of 455kg. The PRX600 series varies from $1271 for the PRX612M, $1453 for the PRX615M, $1908 for the PRX635 and $2362 for the PRX618S-XLF subwoofer. JANDS (02) 9582 0909 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ARX recently introduced the BSX 16; a single channel 16-way active press/broadcast splitter with transformer balanced and isolated output splits. Although only a single channel unit, there are dual inputs with individual gain and level controls, for use when using lecterns with dual microphones. Dual-loop outputs are available to connect the BSX16 to additional units, or for the dual inputs to continue on to a mixing console. An additional XLR PA output connector is available on the rear panel for basic system connection. Additionally, there’s audio output level monitoring provided by both an LED output meter, and a headphone output. Price: $2499
$699 ESP | tascam.com
ARX: (03) 9555 7859 or email@example.com
TURBOSOUND FLASHLINE This year’s prolight+sound exhibition at Frankfurt Messe saw a preview of Turbosound’s Flashline TFS-900 large-format line array system designed for large concert stages. Flashline offers massive power density in a very small footprint. With its total complement of 11 drive units, the design of the TFS-900H mid/high cabinet aims to maximise performance from each of its four frequency bands by the use of dedicated, high power drive units. The matching TFS-900L subwoofer is a dual 18-inch cabinet employing hybrid horn-loading techniques that generates prodigious sub-frequency energy with a 3000W power rating. Hills SVL: (02) 9647 1411 or firstname.lastname@example.org
IN THE GUN – AGAIN Sennheiser has presented two new MKH series shotgun microphones at NAB in Las Vegas that can be used either as analogue or digital microphones. The compact MKH 8060 is a versatile short-gun microphone, equally at home on or off camera, while the longer MKH 8070 rifle microphone is a specialist for more distant sound sources. Both models feature that natural and lifelike Sennheiser sound, as off-axis sound is attenuated without colouration. They’re also extremely weather-resistant, and can cope with what Sennheiser describes as “climatically difficult conditions,” such as extreme cold and moisture. Syntec International: 1800 648 628 or email@example.com
Tascam’s TA-1VP vocal processor was co-developed with Antares Audio Technologies. The rack-mount processor includes a microphone preamp (with phantom), compression, de-essing, microphone and tube modelling and Antares’ world (in)famous Auto-Tune pitch correction. The TA-1VP can be used in live performances, or of course, in the studio. An XLR microphone input is provided on the front panel and processing is laid out in simple-to-use blocks, each with dedicated buttons and meters. Antares’ microphone and tube modelling is included alongside any level of pitch correction, in a variety of user-selectable scales. All settings can be recalled through presets on the front panel or through MIDI. There’s even S/PDIF I/O for seamless digital integration.
TBA | turbosound.co.uk
Turbosound has released its companion subwoofer for the Milan M15. The Milan M18 sub is a self-powered single 18-inch bandpass subwoofer for use with the Milan M15 full range enclosure or other systems. The M18 is constructed from 15mm laminated plywood and comes supplied with wheels. The internal 1000W amplifier features two input channels with both ‘link’ and high-passed outputs. The two inputs allow a stereo feed (when only one sub is used) to be connected directly, highpassed and fed through to the stereo mid-high cabinets. The left and right signals are summed within the subwoofer through a low-pass filter. A sub level control allows balancing the subwoofer with mid-high cabinets. HILLS SVL (02) 9647 1411 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ELECTRIC FACTORY (03) 9474 1000 or email@example.com
KAWAI ATTACK KAWAI MP SERIES. THRILLER SOUND. Here is richness, attack, response and expression you never thought you’d hear from a digital. The lightweight MP6 STAGE PIANO and its serious big brother, the MP10 PROFESSIONAL STAGE PIANO redefine the onstage experience for the player. World’s best actions on a rock solid base, sensational EP sounds and amp sim, unique USB play + record WAV + MP3. Try them at our FREE workshops with jazz pianist Greg Coffin: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide in April/May 2011.
Register at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to kawai.net.au for all the technical info. AT 26
SOUNDCRAFT Si+ Si Series Upgraded tinyurl.com/3jeubru
SAMSON GOES BANTAM WEIGHT?
$499 | samsontech.com
Delivering 400W of power, the Samson Auro D412 features a 12-inch extended low frequency driver and accompanying 33mm compression driver. The Auro D412 is lightweight, yet designed to be resilient to life on the road. The unit provides two oversized carry handles, while the solid polypropylene construction provides the roadworthiness and durability. Auro D412 is aimed at sound professionals and performers seeking to bridge the gap between portable and fixed installation applications. The unit includes 1/4-inch line and XLR mic inputs, along with volume control and a two-band equaliser. The speaker also features a 13/8-inch pole mount receptacle and dual-angle floor monitor positioning options. Plus, the Optimax processing ensures Auro D412 will operate at high volume levels without sacrificing low end. It’s also available as a 15-inch version. Sounds like a hoot! ELECTRIC FACTORY (03) 9474 1000 or email@example.com
YOOF STAY IN BED National Youth Week is about taking one of Australia’s most valuable assets – teenagers – and engaging them. And, of course, teens love pop music, so it made sense to kick off National Youth Week with a concert – the kids turn up to hear the rock ’n’ roll bands and the ‘powers that be’ engage them with important life-skill messages about tax, superannuation and chlamydia. And so it was in Melbourne on April 2, where the government engaged Video Hits to launch Youth Week with an afternoon of music. The Vines, Jebediah, along with high-energy newcomers Tim & Jean excited a modest crowd who had separated themselves from the company of their doonas to brave a typically grey Melbourne afternoon. Frank Madzin of Madzin Productions was on hand to transform Birrarung Marr Park into a live broadcast venue. Frank also used the occasion to audition the new EAW KF740 line array; a three-way full-range unit with 4 x 10-inch phasealigned woofers, 2 x horn-loaded 8-inch midrange devices, 2 x 1.4-inch exit, and 2.5-inch voice coil horn-loaded compression drivers. Frank extolled: “If this system can take The Vines in its stride it’ll handle pretty much anything.” Madzin Productions: (02) 8209 3802 or www.madzin.com.au Production Audio (EAW): (03) 9264 8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
BIGGER THAN BEN HUR Narrated by Russell Crowe and performed in the 80,000-capacity ANZ Stadium in Sydney, the theatre production of Ben-Hur rivalled the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in both size and scale. For two nights, the show filled the 15,000 square metre performance area with 200 actors, 24 horses and a full-on chariot race. Travelling outside Paris for the first time since it debuted in 2006, the StadeFrance Live Events production required immense co-operation between its French producers and the Australian logistics teams. All audio technical management was in the hands of GL Events Audiovisual, and a team headed up by Fred Viricel, the technical director of sound.
ARMONÍA PRO UPGRADE
$FREE | powersoft-audio.com
Powersoft’s version 2.1.803 upgrade of its Armonía Pro Audio Suite software includes a new I/O Signal Integrity Monitor feature. Armonía was designed to deliver comprehensive control of all aspects of the amplifier/speaker audio chain. The I/O Signal Integrity Monitor furthers this control by providing information on input signal irregularities. The I/O Signal Integrity Monitor notifies the engineer of any system irregularities due to missing input signals or loudspeaker failures. The software enhancement was designed to work without complicated initial measurements, yielding accurate information via a programmable pilot tone and trigger threshold. The I/O Signal Integrity Monitor will raise the alarm even if a single loudspeaker within a complex system dies, no matter if it’s one of multiple lo-Z drivers wired in parallel or individual units in a hi-Z 70/100V line.
In the world’s biggest theatrical space, audio distribution was planned and achieved over an EtherSound network, using Ethernet and optical links. The system, designed by J.Lyonnet, used L– Acoustics cabinets, with amplifiers connected to EtherSound via a Digigram ES8out, with Yamaha stage-boxes and consoles. 220 L–Acoustic cabinets in 32x line-array clusters were brought in for the occasion and enabled by two AuviTran AVM500-ES matrixes. Production Audio Services: (03) 9878 1444 or email@example.com
PRODUCTION AUDIO SERVICES (03) 9264 8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
& DAVE ARON – LIVE AT SUPAFEST
At this year’s Supafest at the Melbourne Show Grounds, AT caught up with an engineer with a fascinating career, both live and in the studio. Text: Andy Stewart
I think I was the last person to walk through the gate at Supafest. By the time I rocked up the security guards at the front entrance were wandering aimlessly, head down, kicking small rocks along the gravel road, wishing they were anywhere else. There was garbage everywhere and nearly all the acts had come and gone. I was still several hundred yards away from the main arena at this point but already I had a strong sense that this gig was going to be loud. Somewhere just over the rise all hell was cutting loose – someone was playing a 60-foot kick drum (or so it seemed) and the crowd was responding as one giant acoustic white noise generator measuring up around 100dB. Somehow I had to hook up with Dave Aron – Snoop Dogg’s front of house (and studio) engineer – in amongst all this madness. I pushed through the countless heaving, sweaty, tattooed, weight-trained and cleavaged bodies and screamed down the ear canal of one of the security blokes at front of house: “I’M LOOKING FOR DAVE ARON!” to which he first looked bemused, then thoughtful, then politely stood to one side without responding. At front of house I quickly spotted a guy looking into the crowd in similar bemusement. ‘That must be Dave’ I thought. I took a chance… “Dave?” “ANDY, HEY… THANKS FOR COMING MAN, NICE TO MEET YOU!” Dave yelled mercilessly down my right ear canal. “MAN THAT’S A CRAZY CROWD OUT THERE,” I yelled back, as I put all my crap down and heaved a sigh of relief. From that point on my ears endured more punishment than a Welsh rugby scrum. Glancing around the mix position while Nelly played a bad AC/DC cover, I immediately spotted a glowing decibel speedo that was proudly measuring the gig at 119dB (C-weighted). “BLOODY HELL! IT’S LOUD!” I joked to Dave. “IS THE EPA GUY BOUND AND GAGGED IN THE TOILET OR SOMETHING?” MIXED EMOTIONS
Dave Aron has been mixing live and in the studio since the early ’80s, engineering and mixing countless multi-platinum selling albums for artists such as U2, Price, Dr Dré, Bobby Brown, 2-Pac and the man of this particular hour, Snoop Dogg. Dave first hooked up with Snoop back in ’92 when he was only a pup. Dave had been working at the famous Larrabee Studios in LA with several other acts when the two did some recording sessions together and quickly hit it off. Since then Dave has worked on several of Snoop’s albums, and mixed hundreds of his live shows. It’s still unusual to come across an engineer that’s been so successful in two disciplines. I knew Dave was a studio engineer at heart but he looked super relaxed at front of house, blasé even. After the show I asked him how he’d managed to become so comfortable with both roles: Dave Aron: Actually, when I first hooked up with Snoop Dogg I thought the live side of my engineering life was over. I’d done a lot of live mixing when I was in college mainly because it was easier to do that than get a job in a big studio. I figured it had been fun and I’d loved the immediate gratification of live sound but I really liked the long lasting rewards of the recording industry too. I always like to hear stuff I’ve recorded or mixed on the radio, see my name in the credits, hold the album in my hand – like we all do – because when the concert’s over, it’s over.
But in 1995 when Snoop asked me to tour with him so that his gigs ‘could sound as good as his records’, I said ‘sure, we can work that out, go on the road’. Hey, it was Snoop Dogg – you don’t want to turn that gig down! It sounded fun, got me out of the studio and travelling around the world, seeing places I’d never been before. At that young age, circumnavigating the globe with Snoop was amazing. And it’s still a lot of fun. Snoop and I have a very close working relationship these days. I ride with him to the gigs – I don’t ride the crew bus – I get well paid and I don’t have to share rooms with other people. That’s about as good as it gets on the road. PARALLELS & DIFFERENCES
Andy Stewart: What are the parallels between your studio and FOH mixing work would you say? DA: I have a studio mindset when I’m mixing live, meaning that I like to have the gig sound as it would in a studio through some decent monitors. I’m always trying to eliminate the ambience of the room or venue to make it seem as though I’m in a studio. Having said that, this doesn’t mean my technique is the same as if I was in the studio. It’s quite different even though the results are much the same. Live you’re dealing with open mics and a lot of other things you don’t have to contend with in the studio. For example, I do a lot of additive EQ when I’m in the studio, and use less compression, whereas live I tend to use more compression and subtractive EQ, and then turn the whole thing up. AS: Why so? DA: When you’re in the studio you’re trying to bring out the best of a lot of sounds whereas live, turning things up tends to reveal stuff I want to remove. Consequently, I’m usually ‘taking the garbage out’ with subtractive EQ, and then turning the sound up to compensate. Instead of increasing the high-mids and highs to make a sound cut through as I might do in the studio, live I’ll take out low-mids and lows. Quite often there’s a lot of ugly low-mids coming off stage. To me a lot of that information almost hurts your ears live and clouds things in a gaudy way. AS: By low-mids are you generally talking about frequencies below around 900Hz, or more like 600? DA: I’m talking about say around 630 – 800Hz. Lower than that too sometimes; it depends on the room of course. I find a lot of problems at 400 and 500Hz too. So I suppose I’m talking about anywhere from 800Hz all the way down to about 160. I’m always ducking and sweeping the EQ so I can find exactly where the problem lies and what makes it sweeter when I dip it. For instance, with the kick drum I tend to take out anywhere between 400 and 600Hz – I’m just gonna pull that right on out. When I take those frequencies out I get a much more polished result. HIP-HOP SUBS
AS: Has hip-hop got an overall EQ, stylistically speaking, would you say? DA: No, I don’t think so. Although I sometimes find these hip-hop gigs a little heavy in the subs department. At a rap gig like this, everyone seems to think it’s very important to have a ton of sub and consequently a lot of times the PA doesn’t have enough highs and mids to cater to the clarity I’m after. Often they think hip-hop has gotta have an overload of bass – and it’s true, it does – but it still has to be AT 29
I like bling!: Snoop Dogg’s new Telefunken wireless mic stole the show at Supafest, taking mic bling to a whole new level.
even all the way up to the top-end. I hate hearing mixes where it’s just too subby. A lot of times I actually have to turn the subs down so that I can get more volume out of the PA. That generally gives the system back a lot of its clarity and headroom. You still get the bottom-end, just without the boominess. I high-pass filter the low end of the PA up to maybe 40, 50 or even 60Hz sometimes. This allows me to turn the whole system up more and ironically get more bottom-end out of it. You might think you’d get more power leaving those super-low frequencies in but really it’s just adding more boom and garbage. It’s not as tight sounding either, and I like a tight low end. Basically, if you amplify 30Hz it’s not gonna do much of anything except eat up your amp power and all your speaker space. AS: What instruments penetrate right down into the sub-harmonics of your mix after you’ve filtered the system like that? Just kick and bass? DA: It depends. We do a lot of DJ gigs with Snoop, and others with the full band. If I’m doing a DJ gig I’m going to try and get as much out of that DJ system as I can. I will maybe filter up to 40 or 50Hz sometimes – depending on the song even. Some songs have so much bottom end in them that I have to filter them quite heavily. Because every record they’re spinning was mixed at a different studio, sometimes I find those gigs are more like a live mastering session. I know certain songs are going to need some high-end pulled out otherwise it’s going to sound really brittle but then the next song needs all that put back in. SHEER VOLUME
Sitting backstage with Dave after the show – with post-concert festival mayhem all around us – I remarked on how loud the concert had seemed AT 30
earlier in the night. I had to break out my in-ear monitors – sans cables – which do a good job of knocking the sound down to more modest levels, but at that point of the show it was pretty much all over in terms of fidelity… DA: Ha! I thought that was about normal volume for us – a comfortable mixing level. I don’t like to go too much louder than that but I certainly don’t like it to get any quieter. If it’s less than that I’m usually dissatisfied. AS: So 116dB (C-weighted) is normal for you? DA: Pretty much. Don’t forget though that with the mix position elevated on a riser like it was tonight – and everybody else on the ground – you’re going to get much more clarity and subs. So in some ways that dB figure was slightly misleading. That’s why I kept stepping down into the crowd – to hear what it really sounded like at ground level. I have to adjust what I’m hearing sometimes to cater to what the audience needs. There might be more bass at my mix position than I’d prefer but I have to tolerate that to give the audience the right mix. I find myself in that situation a lot! NO DOGG’S BREAKFAST
AS: I was amazed how refined it sounded tonight I have to say – before I put the plugs in. Apologies! One of the best lives mixes I’ve ever heard. I guess, because it was a festival gig, I was expecting it to sound pretty chaotic up there. Was any of the music pre-recorded tonight? DA: No, but I can sympathise with your expectations. As you infer, most rap shows I hear sound very chaotic and I don’t like that at all. They’re mostly all bass – really boomy with a bunch of guys yelling on stage. You never really hear the lead guy because there are so many others trying to fill the space. And sometimes the sound engineer doesn’t know the music
and therefore who to turn up when they’re rapping. Snoop’s gigs on the other hand are very controlled, although a lot of credit for that must go to the band and Snoop Dogg himself. AS: Yeah, they seem incredibly tight. DA: Snoop is dominant and all the other guys know how to work their mics and be right under him – that’s why I think it sounds less chaotic. Add to that the fact that I remove some of the boominess from the PA and it amounts to a significant difference. Unlike some, I’m lucky in that I’ve actually got signals I can work with and mix properly! REAL DRUMS
AS: And you had real drum sounds up there tonight I noticed. Were you triggering stuff as well to augment the real kit? DA: We are triggering other sounds – the drummer has a pad up there that he plays a lot of claps and wind chimes sounds with. But the kick is all acoustic and the snare is all real snare. There aren’t any triggers adding to their tones. There are two mics on the bass drum that I often blend together: one gives me the attack and the other provides the thump and sustain. I also doublemic the snares – of which there’s often three. AS: What mics are you using? DA: We usually use an AKG D112 on the outside of the bass drum and a Shure Beta 91 – the flat boundary mic – in the bottom of the drum. I use the 112 a lot live because it’s got a nice attack to it and I’ve been using it since the ’80s, so you kinda get used to shit don’t you. I don’t rely on it 100 percent though, and I don’t always blend the two mics either. Sometimes I just end up using the one that sounds best on the night. Snares, I generally mic top and bottom, and in terms of the mix I might distinguish one snare from the others by adding a little more reverb.
AS: What mic does Snoop sing into these days? DA: Funny you should ask that because I only got a new mic for him three weeks ago. We used to use a blinged-out Sennheiser, which was cool, but that was starting to need replacing so we swapped if for this new Telefunken. It’s basically a Shure wireless mic with a Telefunken M80 capsule replacing the 58. I love it: it’s got a higher output and much greater fidelity. It’s still a dynamic mic but it has a lot of feedback rejection on the back end… it’s very directional. AS: What’s Snoop’s voice like to work with? DA: He’s got an awesome voice. He raps low but he knows how to push from the diaphragm and project his sound. He’s got a hell of an ‘s’ on him though. I usually haave to run a de-esser across it, which ideally is a dbx 902; that’s the king. You can’t beat it. Digitally, a lot of times Snoop’s signal chain will have an 1176 plug-in and an SSL channel strip to give it that pristine sound and then I’ll follow that up with a Waves C4 multiband compressor so I can smooth out any frequencies that threaten to get too strident. With Snoop’s voice I generally go for a direct, in-your-face sound, so I don’t put a lot of reverb on him… or anything else for that matter. I like a very in-your-face sound. I always use echoes and reverbs sparingly – as you may have heard tonight – manually riding them in and out instead of leaving them static in the mix. It gives me the dry punch I need and the spacey contrast at specific points. That’s one of the differences with live mixing. You don’t need ambient reverbs of any kind in most venues. DRIVING THE MIX-BUS
AS: What about overall mix-bus compression or EQ. Do you use any of that, and if so, what? DA: I EQ and compress everything on the individual channels, so no, there’s nothing on the main bus. I don’t like compressors on the mix bus unless we’re in a club situation, but again it really
just depends on the venue. I’m also constantly checking whether the system tech has things too compressed. If I can’t get any bottom end or volume out of the PA, or if I can hear the system breathing and pumping, I always say something – back it off or give it a faster release time. I’m big on releasing compression. If I use any kind of bus compressor I find I’m usually mixing it back in with the uncompressed signals – that works for me sometimes. For instance I might slam a compressor with a bunch of drums, then mix that back in with the uncompressed signal, but I’m not gonna rely on that for my entire drum sound. It’s not what I’m looking for sonically. I can usually get the sound I want by treating individual channels. I don’t put too much individual compression on Snoop’s vocal either, or much on the bass. But then again, sometimes I do. That’s the whole thing about this live gig. You can never say ‘I always do this’ or ‘I never do that’ because the day I say it, the next day I’m doing it, you know? There’s always something different happening at the next venue – that I do know! That’s half the fun of it. I like the dynamics in our show. That’s one of its strengths and I don’t wanna choke it. As a general rule I find I’m usually loosening things up. Things sound too constrained to my ear when you have things too compressed. I don’t like that sound. I like multiband compression a lot, maybe even more than regular compression because they’re reactive to tone not just overall gain, like the Waves C4. For instance, I like to boost a lot of presence into Snoop’s vocal but I don’t want it to sound shrill and harsh when he hits the mic hard, so I set up the C4 to catch those frequencies when they need controlling. And I have a disclosure to make here: I’m a Waves representative, so I do a lot of beta testing for them and use a lot of their plug-ins.
DAVE ARON’S NEW HOLLYWOOD STUDIO By the time this magazine goes to press Dave Aron should be moving into his new studio facility in Hollywood. He claims to be ‘the only guy in America’ building a new studio at the moment, and he may not be far wrong. Dave is a passionate man driven by the dream to have his own commercial space, and with a strong client list that includes the likes of Snoop Dogg he can justify the outlay. Dave Aron: I know it’s crazy to be opening up a studio right now when everybody else seems to be closing down, but this is what I do, and I’m not gonna short change myself. I had my studio at home for a while, which was awesome in some respects, but it wasn’t making enough money because I just didn’t feel comfortable bringing clients like Bootsy Collins into my house to record.
I also had neighbour problems and zoning problems with the city – they were always messing with me for having a studio in the house. So last year I decided it was time to get a real commercial facility up and running once and for all. I was tired of doing everything renegade-style and I really needed a place where other engineers could work, so that even when I’m out on the road touring, the gear can be working and paying its way. One thing I know is that by the time the new studio is finished, I’ll have a really comfortable place to work and I’ll have fulfilled one of my dreams: to make a bomb studio that’s geared to me, looks like me, and aesthetically, is me. Of course I’m also stressing out bigtime right now trying to get this shit done while I’m on the road! I’ve
got other guys doing it for me right now, but man it’s tough. The main studio is gonna have a secondhand SSL 6056 in it that’s in beautiful condition. I love those boards – that’s what I’ve mixed all my classics albums on. It’s going to have a customised centre section with a Smart AV Tango console in it so you’re not working on one side of the console all the time like most people are when they combine a big analogue board with computers. When I moved to L.A. 20 years ago I never dreamed I’d be able to afford a console like this. It’s incredible really. AS: When do you think the studios will be ready? DA: My back two rooms should be ready by the time I get home. AS: Which is when? DA: Tomorrow, I hope!
I dare not touch it!: Dave Aron at the helm.
AS: So you’re really using the multi-bands to control the tone of the mix more than the dynamics in some respects, which is very much a studio mentality. DA: Exactly. They catch the ugliness. That’s exactly what I like about multi-band compression. THE STUDIO MENTALITY
AS: Can you tell me a bit more about what taking a ‘studio mentality’ out on the road with you means in a practical sense? DA: It means I’m used to being in the studio, making mixes sound exactly how I want them to and I like my live gigs to sound that way too. I like to hear every nuance in a live mix: every little thing that Snoop’s doing with his voice; the grace notes Carlos is playing on the snare; the little keyboard parts and the percussion stuff, which I’ll pan here and there. I want to hear a whole spectrum of sound coming at me, not just a bunch of instruments piled up in the centre sounding like a glorified line check. I find a lot of sound guys do that. They bring sounds up to where you can hear them, but that’s not really a mix is it? I try and create a big picture with the sound. That to me is what I mean by a ‘studio mentality’. I’ve been in the studio so much that I can’t really hear music any other way. I don’t like to hear it and go, ‘oh that sounds live’. I don’t like that kind of comment at all. I want people to go away from these gigs going, ‘Oh fuck, it sounded like we were in my living room or the studio’. I want drummers from the audience to come up to AT 32
me and say, ‘Wow, I loved the way you had the drums sounding tonight man, they were killer!’. I want guitarists to come up to me at the same gig and say, ‘Man those guitars sounded awesome tonight’. That’s what I’m going for. I hate the attitude that says, ‘Well it’s a live gig, it’s alright if it has this or that shortcoming’. I want to appeal to every person in the audience, not give them one type of generic sound. I’m always tweaking the mix until it comes alive – that’s the point where it suddenly becomes studio quality. AS: Is most of this tweaking essentially about EQ once the gig’s in full swing? DA: A lot of it is EQ; a lot of it is balancing the gain structure. I try to keep my faders at nominal levels as much as I can and deal with the ‘head amps’ – as they’re called nowadays – to balance things out. But likewise I’m more than happy to have the keyboards down at –20 if necessary. I’m not scared to move a fader! The thing is I need a lot of headroom because I hate running everything hot. I like everything to be cruising. I’m always telling system engineers to ‘open it up please’, and then let me bring it back down to a manageable level where I can control it. I like a system that’s got a ton of headroom where elements are discrete and distinct. To me it’s the equivalent of a racing driver in a Formula One car. You’ve got to be skilled to drive it when it’s that powerful and wide open, but if you’re good you’re gonna win the race. It’s the same with a great engineer on a great system. The opposite is also true: put a great driver who’s
used to a Ferrari in a little Honda and you’ll have the thing redlining all night. You’re never really gonna win that way. If you’ve got plenty of power and headroom, and the smarts to control the PA without applying mountains of crude compression, you’re the winner. AS: What about panning? DA: I do pan a lot but it really depends on the venue. When I’m at The House of Blues in L.A. for instance I have stuff panned all over the place like an album. But with DJ-based Snoop gigs I find I only get enough punch out of the system if it’s panned at around nine and three o’clock, or sometimes even ten and two. It also just depends on how I’m feeling on the night. Sometimes I’ll do an audiophile mix, sometimes I’ll do a more in-your-face, kick-ass, raw, hard mix. It really depends on the venue and whether there’s a dB restriction – things like that. If you have a ridiculously low decibel restriction – and they’re very strict about it – that’s when I’ll typically pull out a real audiophile mix, where I have things panned all over the place, and more bottom-end to make it feel like you’re sitting in your living room listening to a record. SPEAKER POSITION
AS: You’re big on speaker placement I understand. DA: … and I always say this about it: a good live mix is all about the speaker position. If you’ve got that right you’ve got 90% of the game won. If the speakers aren’t positioned properly – if I walk in and see a stacked PA, right away I’m like, ‘oh boy, this might be a problem’. Shit, give me a Peavey
board, I don’t care. It’s not going to make my mix – it’s just not. The other thing that’s critically important is you want to have good amps, and enough power. That’s the whole game to me. Forget about the compression, forget about the board, if I have a set of correctly flown speakers and some kick-ass amps I could do a whole gig with no reverbs, no effects, no compression and a cheap-arsed board. The rest of this shit is really kind of incidental, a luxury at that point. WHEN TO TURN UP
AS: So do you go to all your gigs early then and get involved in setups or are you mostly reliant on system techs? DA: I rely a lot on system techs… and a lot on just chance! AS: So you’re not rocking up 12 noon going, ‘Hey that’s not right, you gotta change that?’ DA: No, because, as I said earlier, I’ve got a real comfortable position here where I ride in Snoop’s bus and it’s fun. We play video games the whole way – it’s a laugh a minute. Snoop leaves a lot later than the crew you see, so sometimes I don’t even make it to soundcheck. AS: Seriously? DA: Yep. If I get there beforehand then cool, that’s a bonus. But I always know I’ve got the first song to get it together and I mostly trust the system techs to get it right. I really don’t have time to go in at noon and sit there all day and play with the system. I don’t like long sound checks anyway, and besides, it never comes out sounding the same as when you left it at soundcheck anyway. Once the venue fills up with bodies it’s always different. There’s all this noise in the room for starters. You always think you’ve got it loud enough... but it never is! People are making so much noise that the clarity is almost halved from
what you had at soundcheck. There’s no 90dB noise floor to overcome so what’s the point? I like to be prepared for the gig but I don’t rely on soundcheck to be everything it’s going to be that night. A lot of this game is about making it happen on the night, staying relaxed and sticking with it. If I were doing monitors I certainly couldn’t operate like that – no way. There’s far too much preparation. But at front of house I’ve only got one mix to deal with and I know what my priorities are. As soon as the show starts I know it’s gonna start with some sort of DJ intro and I’m gonna have that up. And then the DJ’s gonna talk so I know I gotta have his mic up. I know Snoop’s gonna come out next and I make sure his voice is heard as soon as he says his first words. AS: How do you determine that for sure? DA: Well I hear him saying little things before the actual verse comes in. If he doesn’t say anything then my heart always skips a couple of beats hoping it’s gonna be there. But once I hear him saying some hype stuff like, ‘Hey what’s up everybody?’, I know it’s gonna be right. Once that’s established, I’m all good. Then I start working on other stuff. I’ll go right away to the kick, make sure I can hear that nice and solid. Make sure I can hear the snare hitting right where I want it. Next I make sure the bass is filling in everything. Then the keys – they’re gonna be there – they always are! And that’s pretty much the essence of the whole mix. By the second song I’m just tweaking. AS: Do you have song presets on the digital consoles at all? DA: No, never. Usually we don’t get the same board two nights in a row. Hell, usually I never even know what board I’m gonna be looking at until I get there. It could be a Yamaha PDM5, it could be Digidesign Profile… whatever.
The other night I walked in and discovered a Midas Pro 6. I was stoked! It was the first time I’d worked on one of those – it was awesome. It sounded so good – heavy duty. That’s a great board! One board I’ve really been liking lately is the Soundcraft Vi6. Those are nice. I really like their sound. The new Digicos are nice too. But as I say, I never know what I’m gonna get that night. So as you can imagine it’s hard to have presets when you don’t even know what board you’re gonna be using! I just dial up the mix and it is what it is. AS: That’s a pretty refreshing – almost anarchic – perspective, I’ve gotta say. DA: Well it is. For me it works. A lot of guys are really anal and obsess over preparations, but that’s just not me, you know? I don’t say they’re wrong for working the way they do. There’s a guy who mixes for Tool, who I met at a gig, who showed up at eight in the morning and worked with the system techs all day. He had the whole thing sounding really nice and he was there till the end of the night! That’s dedication. By showtime it sounded awesome! I can appreciate that whole approach; it’s just not for me that’s all. I’m an on-the-fly kinda guy. AS: I guess it’s good to know your strengths. There’s no point trying to be ‘anal guy’ when you’re just not.
DA: Exactly. In truth, I’m trying to get in and out of soundcheck as fast as possible, I’m not gonna lie to you! I never leave before I feel it’s ready but once it is I’m outta there! I know I’m gonna be able to fix whatever I need to fix that night so there’s just no point hangin’ around. That approach comes back and bites you occasionally, I’ll admit, but most of the time it’s cool. And it makes the gig exciting for me. I need that little extra juice, that bolt of adrenalin.
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AT gets inside the head of iconic engineer/producer Flood to find out what it took to make PJ Harvey’s latest album a unique piece of art. Text: Paul Tingen
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Flood’s first credit on a major release album – assistant engineer on New Order’s Movement, which makes it a good occasion to put his working methods under the microscope. The legendary producer has been called “one of the most successful and prolific producers of his generation,” and “enigmatic yet ubiquitous,” and this much is in evidence purely from looking at a list of just some of the acts he’s worked with: U2, Nick Cave, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, The Charlatans, Smashing Pumpkins, Sinéad O’Connor, The Killers, Goldfrapp, Editors, and many others. Flood has worked with a strikingly wide variety of genres and instruments, including New Wave, synthpop, postpunk, guitar rock, Britpop, synthrock, blues, avant-garde, country, folk, and so on. The Briton is known for innovating and pushing artists in new directions and many of the albums he’s produced have been career-defining stylistic innovations for the acts involved. Flood’s march through the studio and music industries began in 1978, when he was taken on as a runner at Battery Studios in London. Born Mark Ellis, he received the nickname Flood after the floods of tea he served during one particular late-night session. He continued his apprenticeship at Marcus Studios and then Trident Studios, before turning freelance as an engineer/producer in 1985. His involvement with U2 began soon afterwards, in 1987, when he engineered The Joshua Tree. He graduated to coproducing U2 on Zooropa (1993) and Pop (1997).
Flood made his acquaintance with PJ Harvey in 1995, co-producing To Bring You My Love, her third album and international breakthrough. Since then Flood has co-produced three more for Harvey: Is This Desire? (1998), White Chalk (2006) and most recently Let England Shake, the startling album that’s the focus of this article. The story of its making illustrates much about what makes Flood a great producer. SHAKEN NOT STIRRED
Let England Shake is PJ Harvey’s meditation on the dark underbelly of the English nation: it’s penchant for death and destruction, particularly as exemplified in WW1. Harvey’s lyrics are stark, arresting, uncompromising – the music, by contrast, is melodic and graceful, almost upbeat, and rich in textures, with instruments like autoharp, trombone, xylophone, sax, zither, violin, and bass harmonica supplementing the more traditional electric guitars, drums, and keyboards. All of this is framed in an unusual sound image. Whereas most rock-influenced music these days is obsessed with loudness, detailed definition, and enhanced low and high-end, Let England Shake has none of these qualities. Instead, the low and high end are muted (there’s hardly any bass guitar) and the sound image has a distant quality. OH THE DEMO!
Let England Shake has received widespread praise from critics around the world, and has enjoyed the highest chart positions of any of her albums, reaching the top 10 in at least a dozen nations (No. 6 in Australia).
All in all it appears Harvey, Flood, and the other participants in the making of Let England Shake have surpassed themselves. The English producer endured one and a half hours of intense questioning on the phone about the album’s development and was eager to paint as full an image of the recordings and production decisions as was possible. Speaking from his 140dB management office in London, Flood related: “Polly had actually done the demos for this album two years ago, but everything was put on hold while she and John Parish recorded their collaborative duo album, A Woman A Man Walked By , which I mixed. I talked a lot with Polly about what eventually became Let England Shake, and she said that she wanted it to be just her, John, Mick Harvey and myself, and that she wanted to record it in an environment that she’d never used before.” John Parish and Australian Mick Harvey are long-standing collaborators of Harvey, and both are multi-instrumentalists and producers – the former has also worked with Goldfrapp, Eels and Tracy Chapman, the latter is the founding member of The Bad Seeds with Nick Cave. While PJ Harvey had an instant vision of her core team, it took a little while before she hit on the perfect location for the recordings, which turned out to be, of course, in England. “She went to Berlin and I think somewhere else as well, but nothing seemed to strike her, perhaps because all places she looked at were studios, even if fairly unconventional ones. Then one day she phoned me up and said that she’d found a church in Dorset [southwest England, near the small town of Bridport] that’s also an art centre, and that it had an absolutely amazing feel. She asked me to come down, and when I walked in I immediately thought, ‘this is perfect’. “After that it was a matter of planning how we were going to do it. I enlisted the services of my good friend and engineer Rob Kirwan, and together we compiled a small studio that was easy to pack up and rebuild again around the weddings and funerals that were also booked
in at that time. Rob and I arrived a couple of days before everyone else for the sessions, which took place over five weeks during April and May 2010. We set up a ProControl console and ProTools HD3 rig at the altar end of the church, right where the choir would sit, and put all the machinery in the vestry. We then picked four recording areas and put up as many microphones as we possibly could. Polly’s recording area ended up on stage, there was a drum area off to one side, a keyboard area, and a little bit further back down the church another area for drums, percussion and guitars. Then we started recording.” BARE BONES DEMOS
PJ Harvey’s first instrument is guitar, but she has gone on to play a whole range of instruments, and she tends to apply them on her self-recorded and self-played four-track demos, which she uses as blueprints for her albums. In interviews – for example a lengthy piece in the Bridport News local newspaper – Harvey has explained that she had deliberately kept the demos for Let England Shake very simple, “mostly with one or two instruments with a voice,” to allow for input from Flood and the other musicians and a fairly improvisational approach to arranging and recording the songs. She remarked that the sessions were “very spontaneous, and that kept it very exciting so it was a wonderful atmosphere in which to work. It was very fast, very exciting because each new song was bursting up. Everybody felt they had freedom to contribute and bring their own ideas and we were all firing off of each other.” This was seconded by Flood, who recalled, “Polly’s demos tend to be very good sketchpads of her songs, but the major difference between working on this album and previous albums with her was that it was the first time Polly was completely open to any new ideas. That’s not to say that she wasn’t open in the past, but she used to adhere to her demos very strongly, to the degree that it became a little bit of a joke between us, as in: ‘oh the demo!’ This time she’d say, ‘no
ASSAULT & BATTERY 2
Flood is notoriously camera shy – this is as close to a portrait of him as we could get.
Flood mixed Let England Shake at Assault & Battery 1, a studio normally used by the legendary Alan Moulder. Flood and Moulder co-own Assault & Battery 1 and 2, with Flood more regularly using 2. The latter studio is called “the UK’s greatest tracking studio,” on the Miloco website (miloco.co.uk), and it sports a large 11x7m live room with an astonishing amount of keyboards, guitars, guitar amps and guitar pedals. However, with its large Neve VR60 and ProTools HD3 the studio can also be used for other purposes. Gorgeous as A&B 2 appears, the question is inevitable: in this day and age of tracking facilities closing everywhere and the only studios remaining being mixing suites and the one or two big studios that each country appear to have, why open a tracking facility?
Flood: “Alan and I have been friends for God knows how many years and we always felt we didn’t want to open up our own studio. Then the downstairs room – A&B1 – came up for lease at a time when Alan was getting frustrated going around all sorts of places to mix and having to recalibrate his system every time. So we decided to go for it. Some time later studio 2 upstairs became available, and I had already come to the conclusion that the space I had at the time was costing me lots of money for what essentially had become a room to hold my equipment in. So I decided to move all my gear to A&B2. We tried to make sure that it’s not just a space with good quality mics and mic amps, but that it would also have a lot of instruments. Essentially we want it to be a place primarily
for musicians, which seems to be against the grain of what many big studios are about. “But the days of recording big albums in big studios are numbered, because the budgets aren’t there anymore. The things people cut back on are 1: producers, and 2: studios, because they cost money. So this year we’re looking at alternatives in terms of using the room. We’ve done a live concert here and recorded that, in order to see whether we get a better performance and recording, and we’re also trying to get unsigned bands to record here very cheaply in downtime and weekends, which is a great way to train people. We definitely don’t want the room to end up being some kind of big white elephant.”
Mick Harvey & PJ Harvey (left) in discussion while John Parish (seated) and Jean-Marc Butty look on.
no no, I don’t want the demo’. Ironically, there were a couple of situations where John, Mick, and I actually preferred the demo, which of course resulted in fits of laughter from everybody. The other major thing we discussed about the album was that with the lyrics being so strong and powerful, it would be easy to create a sort of bombastic, gothic and very ‘down’ record. Polly didn’t want that. So we all made a strong effort to ensure the music was bright and alive.” THE BENIGN PRESENCE
Like PJ Harvey in the local Bridport newspaper exclusive, Flood described sessions that were remarkably easy-going and inspired, with little of the blood, sweat and tears that are the hallmark of the English ‘underbelly’ mentality and that often find their way into tortuous studio experiences as well. It meant that Flood’s role in this particular project was often reminiscent of his earliest position – making tea – and being a benign presence in the background. He remarked, “My role as a producer varies a lot depending on the project. If I’m working with a young band, I may be very directive. Some people need a lot of guiding, some people need motivating, some people just need a second opinion, but some people don’t need any of that. That’s one of my strengths I think – being adaptable to the situation. I’m most interested in keeping the emotions of a session on track, so that the music is a reflection of that, rather than just a technical exercise that anybody can do. Most definitely a lot of what I do is about people management, and to get people in the best possible creative space, where they feel safe enough to also make mistakes, and therewith try out new ideas. Sometimes this means creating a nice cosy atmosphere, sometimes it can be good if the atmosphere is a bit more moody and confrontational. Through all that, I feel – I hope – that most of the music I work on has something extra. “But there was no people management required with Polly’s album. That was one of the most
amazing things about this record. It was more like four or five friends coming together, sitting down and being so relaxed in each other’s company that it was inspirational, rather than too comfortable. There were no ego-clashes; it was really just good fun. We worked on everything as a complete collective. Polly would be driving things a lot of the time, but as I said, she was very open to trying things in different ways. One of my roles was to keep track of the time: we had to record 15 songs in five five-day weeks, and make sure that we got everything done. But mostly this was often just a matter of sitting down and having a cup of tea and a relaxed chat about what we were going to do that day.” MUSICAL CHAIRS
“Many of the arrangement ideas came from John and Mick and everybody brought a large collection of instruments along, because all of us wanted to hear different things on the record that you normally wouldn’t hear. Polly was very much into the idea of brass from the beginning, even though there was no brass on her demos, and John brought down xylophones because he thought they might add an interesting texture. A lot of the times we’d record basic tracks with either John or Mick playing drums, Polly singing and playing autoharp or sometimes guitar. Whoever was left generally played a keyboard or additional guitar in support. Many of the vocals we recorded with these backing tracks ended up as the master vocal. Polly played the autoharp on most songs, which was simultaneously miked and run through a lot of her effects pedals – so it didn’t necessarily sound like an autoharp on every song. Jean-Marc [Butty] also came in for the third week to play drums, and for a few days right at the end for some backing vocal overdubs. “Many arrangements stayed close to the demo, mainly because the songs were so well written the moment we started padding them out it took away from the song. In general we were taking things out so that there was more of a sense of atmosphere and of the personality of the place
where we recorded. There was only a bass on a couple of songs, which definitely contributed to the shape of the record. Sometimes a bass can make an arrangement sound too rocky and too weighed down, but this was one of many decisions that was never consciously taken. It was simply a matter of every time we tried a bass, or maybe bass pedals, or the bass notes of the organ in the church, there was a feeling that it rooted things down too much and often that didn’t feel right. Normally you’d have lively conversations about this, but instead it was more like, ‘oh yeah, it’s like that, so let’s try something different’.” ACOUSTIC ADVANTAGE
Moving on to the subject of the gear with which Let England Shake was recorded, Flood elaborated: “the equipment was set up by a company called Tickle Music Hire, which is one of the last hire companies left in the UK. I talked with Rob about what we needed, and eventually we decided we wanted 24 inputs, maybe a little more, and that we were never going to need massive amounts of outboard. Having said that we did have requests for specific microphones and mic pres: Neve 1073s, 1086s, Focusrites, and so on – all the usual suspects. “We found very quickly that the acoustics of the church were really good. You obviously worry about a space being very dead sounding, or metallic, or too ambient which generally means you can’t get any definition. But it seemed that pretty much every microphone that we put up didn’t need any EQ-ing. The space was so powerful that the exact nature of the mics and mic pres we were using was less important, though obviously we did spend some time finding the best pairings of mics with preamps. “The drums were miked very sparingly, with only a few close mics and the overheads picking up the ambience. Initially we started tracking with a lot of ambient mics, but after a while we used only close mics because the ambient positions were tending to swamp the music. We eventually AT 39
Minimal Mics: Jean-Marc Butty takes the bit between his teeth during the session.
backed these off a little to give it a bit of air, and provide ambience that wasn’t out of control. Polly brought along her grandfather’s military bass drum and snare, which both had a peculiar sound that led us to testing ribbons, dynamics and condensers on the kit. We ended up using quite a few ribbon mics actually. I’ve sort of fallen back in love with them again recently.” POLLY’S SOUND
“On Polly’s voice we used a Shure Beta 58 and a Sigma Sontronics ribbon and a very old Neumann Gefell M7 capsule on the CMV563. Polly sang through all three, and we made a choice as to which one fitted each song. The feed from the 58 was split, with one signal going directly to us and the other going through three or four footpedals. The best example of that is the song Written On The Forehead, which has a vocal sound that’s generated entirely from the footpedal feed. In fact, many of the lead vocals on the album went through the pedal effects chain. Sometimes I would supplement that with the Sigma, because it had good warmth, body, and top end. The autoharp was recorded with an AKG 451 and also a 58 or a 57. It had a contact microphone that went through an amplifier and in fact most of the autoharp sound you hear on the album is from the amplifier. “Particularly when Polly was also playing autoharp, recording her voice was quite tricky, because she moves around quite a lot while playing and that often made the decision for us as to what vocal mic to use – the 58 was the most directional, so we used that less. But I never worry about bleed. If the instrument is going to be on the final backing track and it’s integral to the performance of the voice, or vice versa, then just record them together. Obviously, if you’re AT 40
going to record something as a guide, then yes, you have to be more careful about them.” BLEEDIN’
“Did I place the guitar amps in another space to avoid bleed? [deep sigh]… They are all such high quality players that it was easy to redo a backing track. If that was the case, it was usually done because of a mood. “Polly’s amplifier on stage was pointing away a little bit, and her mics would point away a little from the drums. The keyboards and guitars were sort of in front of her, but also off to one side, facing some of the amplifiers in the corners. Whatever you do in that situation, you’re going to get a natural blur in the room. “Years ago I did a mix for Trent Reznor, who was involved in the Natural Born Killers movie. I was working on his version of Rock ‘n Roll Nigger – the Patti Smith track – and I spent two days beating my head against the wall doing everything I could to try to get rid of spill – gating, etc – but it just didn’t feel right. Then I realised that spill is something that binds everything together. So I just stopped trying to control it, and EQ’d and compressed things in a moderate way. When you’re recording with that mentality and you know that most of what you’re recording is going to stay and people aren’t going to make loads of mistakes, then spill actually works to your advantage. It doesn’t work for everything, and I know that spill drives some people potty, but I find that if you put your faders up in a straight line, everything sort of joins together.” WEIRD GREY HAZE
Flood has declared in the previous century that he’s “a bit of a diehard analogue fan,” and said
things like: “analogue isn’t accurate, but it is musical,” and “there’s also a psychological reason why I prefer recording on analogue. You want a point of focus. Digital recording is way too fluid.” Today he admits that he “still is ultimately a diehard analogue fan. I have realised over the years that I like the sound of analogue, particularly that cumulative sound when you combine 24 to 40 tracks. Over the last 10 years I’ve spent a lot of time recording basic tracks and some overdubs to analogue tape, and then transferring everything to ProTools before adding more overdubs where necessary. That’s my ideal way of working, which I would have liked to adopt with Polly’s album. But the big problem these days is that you can’t get a workable, serviceable tape machine that will be reliable in an environment that goes hot and cold all the time – a good tape technician would have had to come all the way from London, which would have taken five hours. So there are practical obstacles to using analogue tape. Also, many people who say they are analogue diehards forget the hours of one’s life wasted trying to get tape machines to sync up! “Conversely, we had a problem with digital sync during the recordings and we just phoned somebody up who said: ‘download this bit of software.’ Even if the main ProTools rig had packed up, we’d still have gotten away with continuing on a laptop. Recording digitally is do-able just about everywhere these days. Having said all that, we used ProTools mainly as a tape recorder during the sessions. Psychologically, when you’re recording to tape you conduct a session in a different way. There were a couple of times when we did a few edits to try out arrangements, using it to its advantage, but that
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was it. Digital has come of age though. If you’re working with a rock band and you’ve recorded it to analogue tape and you get all the analogue compression you like, and then you transfer it to 24/96, it sounds pretty much the same. All of the characteristics of tape are transferred to digital.
We ended up using quite a few ribbon mics actually. I’ve sort of fallen back in love with them again recently.
“On the other hand, the moment you do lots of editing and are using a lot of plug-ins, working at 96k is a bit like working with two analogue 24-tracks – the computer is constantly crashing, and so on. So I now generally work at 48k. The A/D and D/A processors are a lot better these days, and also, you get to know digital inside out and learn to work with it, in the same way as you used to able to differentiate between two different brands of tape or tape machines. Even still, a lot of digital turns into some kind of big grey mush these days. I could sit here and spend 10 hours ranting about that. It’s like you have all the best speakers and amps and instruments and mixers and in the end everything comes out of a very small amp with a 57 on it. Whatever plug-ins and soft synths you use, particularly when you’re working with core audio, everything has a sound to it. Individually things may sound great, but when you put them together there’s this weird grey haze that affects everything. It takes time to peel that off. And then people smash things to oblivion with limiters, which doesn’t allow humans to grow into the sound. It’s like the most amazing shop front ever, but when you go into the store you realise everything is blown out of all proportion and the store is actually full of rubbish.” FRESH AIR
As was already noted above, Let England Shake doesn’t have the in-your-face shop front, full of neon lights and primary colours. On the contrary, the slightly faraway, emerging-fromthe-mist and pastel-coloured sound image seems to partially obscure the music, meaning it needs repeated listening to fully reveal its power. Flood went into detail about his mix of the album, which was done in Assault & Battery, the London studio he co-owns with Alan Moulder (Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine, Them Crooked Vultures), and explained how Let England Shake’s unique sound image came into being.
REGARDING OUTBOARD & PLUG-INS Flood: “I’m mostly looking towards outboard when mixing, but there are half a dozen plug-ins that I tend to use all the time, like the Sony Oxford EQ, and I really like EchoFarm, and SoundToys and also the BombFactory stuff. Sometimes I monitor a sound with the BF1176, and I’ll then later replace it with a real 1176, but sometimes that isn’t necessary. In any case, to sit in a room where you can make these choices is really helpful. On the other hand, it can take a long time for people to work out that you don’t have to use every option. This is particularly relevant these days with people having loads of plug-ins in their computer. I have happily sat there and used every plug-in that was available, but if you have something that sounds great, why change it? You don’t always need to throw the kitchen sink at things. Sometimes you hear that people have not trusted their own instincts, and had something that sounded great, but felt obliged to use plug-ins just because they were there.”
“I think the sound of the album is most of all an accurate reflection of the sound of the church – it almost created itself. As I said, we recorded everything flat and when it came to mixing, to be quite honest, it was just a matter of enhancing what was there. I mixed in Assault & Battery studio 1, which is Alan’s mix room, on his 72-channel G+ SSL 4000, which is the most fantastic-sounding SSL I have ever worked on. I personally don’t like mixing in the box, because I feel that you often end up with a slightly compressed, closed-down sound. If you’re sitting in front of a large SSL desk, at least you’re getting things out into the fresh air. “The mixes for Polly were a question of getting things out of the box, laying them out over the desk, and getting the balances to the same place as they were with the rough mixes, and then
trying to better that. Sometimes I’d try different things, but often it was like, ‘no, that’s starting to make the track feel different from the rough mixes,’ which were just the perfect blueprints for most songs. A lot of time I was simply trying to improve what was already there, but particularly with the backing vocals there was work to be done to make them blend. Most of the reverbs came from the church, but I did use a few outboard reverbs as well, particularly on Polly’s vocals. Because of the strong lyrics and our desire to not make the music confrontational in any shape or form, I mixed most of her vocals in a pop way, using a few slightly different reverbs, and wideners and certain types of slapback and delays and things like that. I also wanted to make sure the mixes would have the same feel on all kinds of speakers, so there was a lot of listening to computer speakers and bouncing down to MP3 and seeing how that sounded, and listening soft and loud. I was treating it like a pop mix.” MXING UP A STORM
“A few songs took more work. Written on the Forehead for instance was quite difficult to mix, in terms of recreating the feeling that Polly’s demo had. Only towards the end of the process did I feel I really achieved what that song needed. The issues were to do with choice of instruments and when they came in. There were also several issues with things like the backing vocals, and when to bring in and take out the loop. With the title track it was a question of making sure it had a raw feel without going for a lo-fi sound. John and I disagreed about In The Dark Places for pretty much the entire making of the record, which became a bit of a running joke! We tried that song two or three different ways, but what you hear on the record is the version I preferred! “I mixed back into ProTools, using the Lavry AD122-96 Mastering A/D Converter, which is an amazing sounding unit. I also mixed to one of our Ampex ATR 100 two-track recorders, and sent the two mixes off to John and Mick without saying which was which. Generally the tape version sounded better, but there were a couple of songs where we used the ProTools mixdown. FINAL MASTERING
At the end of our long conversation Flood and I got into a conversation about the relevance of albums in the early 21st century: “Nowadays it’s all about a quick hit, the shopfront window side is so important, and listeners will, at best, go to iTunes and listen to a couple of things and buy just a few things. It’s not today’s generation’s fault that they can’t listen to a whole album, they just haven’t grown up with albums. This is one of the things I’m most proud of with Polly’s album. Even in this day and age, everyone is talking about an album. As an artistic piece of music, it’s not trying to be commercial, but it’s also not trying to be confrontational and artistic for its own sake. It is art, it is a full album, and it’s really listenable.”
Aussies in Austin
One of the biggest music festivals in the world, South By Southwest has its fair share of Aussie bands on the bill. Others just turn up. Text: Jonathan Burnside AT 44
Cowboy boots, ten-gallon hats, rodeo belt buckles and western shirts. Crew cuts above red necks and big blonde hair-helmets towering over the finest plastic surgery Houston oil money can buy. Local wranglers spit tobacco on the saw-dusted floors and hassle the long-haired musicians playing in the corner: “Hey, you ladies come here often?” Ah, Texas, where the homemade jalapeno wine can rot the shell off an armadillo and the main talk at the mesquite barbecue is about the calibre of each deer rifle in the gun rack and the size of the perfect boot knife. So why would over three dozen Australian bands travel 30,000 kilometers round trip this March to the Lone Star State in an effort to put themselves on the international musical roadmap? South By Southwest, arguably the world’s premier music industry event that takes place each year in the decidedly non-international state of Texas. South By Southwest started in 1987 as a music festival, the brainchild of the publishers and staffers of the Austin Chronicle newspaper. Originally founded to promote Austin music to the world, now the world’s musicians travel to Austin to promote themselves. South By Southwest now includes the SxSW Film Conference and Festival and the SxSW Interactive Conference, which for the first time this year sold more passes than the SxSW Music Conference and Festival. Although Texas may seem like an odd place for it all to take place, the city of Austin is a perfect fit. For years now, Austin has been home to more original music nightclubs than any other city in the world. In a vast wasteland of cattle ranges, oil refineries and Republican-voting good ol’ boys, the city has distinguished itself as a music-centric, cultural mecca. Two centuries ago, the town’s colonial German and Mexican roots helped established beer, bordellos, tequila and accordions as cornerstones of the local economy. When Austin became the capitol of the Republic of Texas, an independent nation that existed from 1836 to 1846, money flowed in and the nightlife boomed. Free-flowing whiskey, working girls and unique music – an odd melding of ¾-time polkas, accordions and gut string guitars – were the precedents of what the city of 800,000 is today. The ubiquitous saloons around Sixth Street, which once provided comfort and distraction to ranch hands, caballeros, soldiers, politicians and their cattle baron patrons, are where bands now perform during South By Southwest. Colonel George Custard’s regiment spent their last days of rest and relaxation in these same dives before riding off to their final unhappy hunting ground. Modern day Texas is, more or less, a part of the United States and Austin is still its capital and its biggest college party town. Every year in March, Australian bands and music industry types descend upon Austin like a swarm of locusts, joining well over 2000 other bands from around the world buzzing down the same migratory path. Most of the Australian bands perform at The Aussie BBQ, an event put on by Stagemothers and Sounds Australia (see sidebar). This year, the show featured 36 bands on three stages at a venue called Maggie Mae’s, which is housed in the same buildings that were favourite Austin watering holes as far back as the 1850s. I went to Austin this year to find out what motivated these enterprising Australians to undertake such an epic journey and whether it had been worth the effort of marking Austin, Texas, on their road maps to international success.
First I spoke with Tim Johnston, who made the trip with Vaudeville Smash, a band of Melbourne-based “yacht rockers” who created quite a buzz (and plenty of “WTF?”) while in Austin. Tim teaches technical production at RMIT in Melbourne and he’s a whizz-bang-how’s-your-voltagethis-morning studio engineer. I first met Tim in Melbourne a few years back, when we were handing each other studio batons during a tag-team album project. It was a nice surprise to bump into him on a jam-packed Austin street. A VAUDEVILLIAN SMASH
Jonathan Burnside: So what inspired you to come all the way across the world to attend South By Southwest Tim? Tim Johnston: I’ve been working with Vaudeville Smash in the studio in Melbourne and when they asked me to come along to South By Southwest, I looked at the invitation as a chance to hang out with a bunch of talented and amusing guys at an incredibly vibrant and highly regarded music festival. South By Southwest not only has innumerable bands from around the world, it also attracts the representatives of record companies, promoters and publishers. It’s a great promotional and networking opportunity for bands and audio professionals alike. It also offers a different view into the music industry than you’d get from Australia: one where everything operates on a far larger and more professional level and where music is looked upon as a serious business. JB: Besides sucking up food, air and beer, what was your exact role on the trip? TJ: My role ended up being one of lending a hand in whatever way possible to make the whole experience for the band run as smoothly as possible. This meant driving the van to and from the gigs so the band didn’t have to worry about having a few drinks. I helped load the gear in and out and took photos and videos of performances. I gave instructions to the in-house FOH engineers and cued them on upcoming vocals, vocoder bits and instrumental solos. Yacht Rock may sound like a summer breeze, but it relies on seamless production. JB: What were the highs and lows of the journey? TJ: There were no real lows because we all worked together to keep things positive. Driving from LA to Austin in a minivan that barely fits eight people and luggage, even after serious Tetris-type packing, is certainly not for the faint of heart. It could be a recipe for disaster for many bands. Luckily this band is a tight-knit bunch of people and it turned out to be a hilarious trip through some absolutely spectacular country. But we did lose the lead singer in Las Vegas for a night. Eventually he resurfaced, although his wallet still hasn’t. JB: Any advice you would offer to other Australians who might be planning to attend South By Southwest? TJ: Triple-check the band’s equipment and all cartage arrangements. The shipping company we were using to get the gear to the US messed up on the paperwork so our backline never left the Melbourne airport. We didn’t find this out until we arrived in Los Angeles and we experienced some high anxiety at that point. But, luckily, Austin is a music town so we were able to rent everything our show required there, even though it meant our guitarist had to sleep in the rental place’s parking lot all night to insure a spot at the front of the line when the shop opened. Apparently, there were a lot of other bands with the same problem!
Sounds Australia is a national export initiative that aims to create a unified platform for Australian music at international music showcases and market events. It’s supported through a financial partnership between both Federal and State governments, along with music industry bodies such as APRA-AMCOS, PPCA and the Australian Music Industry Association (AMIN). To learn more about their efforts to bring Australian music to the world stage, check them out at: www.soundsaustralia.com.au.
BOAT PEOPLE IN AMERICA
I also caught up with Robin Waters, who was my very dedicated second engineer during the recording of Dan Sultan’s ARIA-winning album Get Out While You Can. Robin’s Brisbane-based band, The Boat People, had just played a smoking set at the Aussie BBQ, and I figured I’d hit him with some questions while he was still hot. Jonathan Burnside: What inspired you to take the effort to get the band over to SXSW Robin? Robin Waters: This is our fifth trip to the USA and our second to South By Southwest. We wanted to come back here to introduce the people we work with here to our new album, Dear Darkly. South By Southwest tied in well with that. JB: What’s the major difference you’ve observed between Australia and the US, music businesswise? RW: The sheer scale is much greater in the US – just the actual number of people involved. Generally people are very positive here and there is much less of a tall poppy syndrome than back home in Oz. But as a caveat, I’ve seen a lot of Australian bands coming over who have done well in Australia by sounding American or like a particular successful American act. Those bands aren’t going to do well in the US because they won’t stand out from what’s already here. It’s hard to sell ice to the Eskimos. JB: If you were going to chart your trip as a profit and loss statement, what would the bottom line be? RW: The trip itself would probably be a slight financial loss. But the film and TV syncs that we’ve picked up from all our trips would take us into profit territory. Some of the great government support programs that are available to Australian bands have really helped us as well. That’s definitely something American bands don’t receive!
Pete Kicks from Satellite Sky and his sister Kim crank it out at an ‘unofficial’ gig on 6th St during SxSW. PHOTO: Casey Jones AT 46
I think the best result is that the trips have given us a better sense of what we need to do to make worthwhile music that stands out in the context of the whole world. It’s easy, as an Australian band, to get into the mentality of trying to live up to what people and the media in Australia are in the habit of looking for. But trying to give people what they are accustomed to not only limits the band creatively but also makes the band less interesting to anyone outside of the Australian environment. JB: That’s a good point. You have to think internationally to be international. And that might not always make you a hero in your hometown. So how would you advise other bands considering taking the leap across the Pacific? RW: As someone who makes music, it’s your responsibility to expand your horizons as much as possible. That means travelling, being inspired by new experiences and by meeting people who didn’t grow up with you and don’t hang out in the same inner-city clique as you. That said, I’m not sure I’d advise South By Southwest as your introduction to the US music business, if business is the sole criteria of your trip. Unless you’re doing well enough in Australia to have some serious buzz around your band, you should perhaps look into some other smaller festivals over here. CMJ Music Marathon in New York during October is a good first step, for instance. But musically, all of these trips overseas have helped us obtain a better sense of who we are as well as giving us the confidence to follow through business-wise. We’ll continue to build this thing slowly – giving our music the opportunity to connect with people over here who are passionate enough about it to help us. And those we’ve met so far have been amazingly supportive and positive.
After thanking Robin with a “nice talk, mate”, I left the Great Aussie BBQ and headed down Sixth Street, which, during South By Southwest, is closed off to traffic and is absolutely packed with music-goers. Through an open window of one of the smallish clubs that seem to line the street for miles, I saw a woman with multi-coloured hair smashing her kit like each drum was the captive head of a loser ex-boyfriend. That and the sign that read ‘Three Dollar Margaritas’ provided plenty incentive to get me through the door. Drink in hand, I was basking in the noisy grunge/glam energy when the singer yelled out, “Thank you Austin! We’ve come all the way from Melbourne, Australia, to play for you and we’re having a blast!” I was surprised. The show wasn’t an official South By Southwest showcase, just one of the hundreds of events taking place each day and night free to the public – no wristband required. South By Southwest has taken on such a momentum that artists from around the globe head to Austin to take their places even without official showcase bookings. Every record store, dive bar, pizza joint, laundromat and pawn shop puts on sideshows on their retail floor or parking lot. I wondered whether this Aussie band had busked rather than BBQ’d their way to Austin. After the show, I introduced myself to Melburnian siblings Kim and Pete Kicks, the drummer and guitarist/singer of Satellite Sky. Jonathan Burnside: More Aussies! I had no idea where you were from when I wandered in. Your show wasn’t an official showcase. Does that mean you’ve come all this way on your own bat? Pete Kicks: Yes. Being an independent band, we organised everything ourselves with no label, management or government support. We’d been over to the US before and made friends with the
Nic Lam (left) and Marc Lucchesi from the Vaudeville Smash
other bands we played with while we were here. They’ve been happy to lend us a hand and get these Austin shows, as well as dates in Arizona and Los Angeles. JB: So you’re not ones just to fill out an application, lick a stamp and hope someone agrees to help you make your dreams come true? Kim Kicks: We can make it to the post, but we’re not people who have the patience to wait for acceptance letters in the mail. The world is a big place and if you really believe in what you’re doing, don’t sit around waiting for someone else to approach you or fund you to come and play festivals like South By Southwest. We work, work and then we do more work. We go out there and make it happen for ourselves. We make sure our live show is at a level that will allow us to stand out from the crowd. The work pays off. Every venue we’ve played in The States has let us know we’re welcome back any time. JB: What motivated you to do all this work to play at South By Southwest in particular? KK: While some say size doesn’t matter, it really does in this instance. Almost everyone involved in the music industry in the US and most parts of the world are here representing. For us personally, the fact that all our shows were on Sixth Street definitely helped expose us to a wider audience. Most of the connections we made were quite random and involved people like yourself, who happened to be walking past the venue while we were playing and liked what they heard. As a band, it’s easy to get lost amongst the hundreds of other bands playing at that moment, so we were lucky that some of the stages we played opened onto Sixth Street and we were able to draw in crowds. Working with some good event promoters also helped. They were very AT 48
James O’Brien (left) and Charles Dugan from the Boat People.
supportive in creating a buzz around our shows. JB: Having walked the walk, how would you advise intrepid Aussies considering such a move? PK: I’d advise them to carry their passports when driving from L.A. to Austin. We didn’t. Unbeknownst to us, there was a US border control just outside of El Paso! We were detained at 7am in a small office in the middle of the desert until several phone calls were made verifying who we were. It was like some bad American movie. We were just wishing we weren’t the ones appearing in it. JB: So what’s the tally? Do you believe the trip has paid off for you? PK: Definitely. We’ve met awesome people and bands throughout the week. Several of the bands we played with have asked us to tour with them in the future and we’ve forged good working relationships. But it’s not really about an end result at the moment. We see it as a starting point for our band in the US. We received a really positive response from our shows and any time there’s an opportunity to play to crowds like in Austin, it reaffirms our desire to tour consistently and get our music out there. We’re definitely not going to sit on our arses waiting for someone else to do the work for us. And now we have several opportunities waiting that have since come our way as a result of playing at SxSW. It’s been well worth the work. ONE FOR THE ROAD
I said goodbye to Satellite Sky and limped off into the busy crowd. It had been a great week of music but rough at times. In an unsuccessful effort to pass myself off as local colour, I’d worn a pair of black cowboy boots on my first day of revelry in Austin. After a long afternoon session of listening and drinking, I crossed a cobblestone street with
a friend who was by then literally and figuratively blind. His seeing eye dog bolted, now also blind having lapped up several Lone Star tallboys. I viciously twisted my ankle as the heel of my boot sank into a rut while trying to save my friend from a fall. As we hobbled to the corner, my friend (let’s call him John, because that’s his name), heard beats blasting from a boom box that belonged to a dozen Brooklyn rappers busting rhymes on the sidewalk. John promptly dropped his pants, showed them his third eye and yelled, “hip-hop sucks!” – an opinion I neither endorse nor agree with. The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You suddenly played in my head as everyone on the street glared at me as I tried to pull John’s pants up with one hand and grab for the drunken dog with the other. Ah, Texas! Well worth the trip. Contact Jonathan Burnside at www.jonathanburnside.com Check out the bands above at: www.satelliteskymusic.com www.theboaties.com www.thevaudevillesmash.com
STAGE MOTHERS The Aussie BBQ claims to be the biggest Australian music festival outside of Australia. In 2003, two Melburnian music fans put together a South By Southwest showcase for some of their beloved Aussie bands and used an Australian-style BBQ as the theme. They’ve since grown into a collective called Stage Mothers that describes itself as being “a helping hand in showcasing Australian music to a global market.” Their Aussie BBQ shows are now mini festivals of Australian music around the world’s biggest music festivals. To date, Stage Mothers have showcased over two hundred Australian artists in four countries through Aussie BBQ shows. Their website is: www. stagemothers.com
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ON THE BENCH PADS
When your audio is overloading and there’s no pad on the preamp, what do you do? Reach for a DIY solution of course. Text: Rob Squire
When AT’s editor Andy Stewart began leaning on me for another article recently I suspected the magazine must have been in need of some padding out [He’s kidding of course – Ed.]. Casting my mind around potential topics I came across the perfect solution – I’d write about pads! Not the sort of pads I need to strap to my swollen knees these days when I’m called on to crawl underneath consoles, but rather the sort that typically lurk behind switches on microphones and preamps.
too close to 0dBFS for his engineering comfort. The preamps did offer a 20dB pad switch, and sure enough, engaging these dropped the signals right down to levels that were safely remote from those threatening clips. Indeed, the gain on the preamps could now be increased from their minimum setting. Perfect solution? Not quite!
The pad is one of the most obvious of audio control functions: flick the switch and the signal level drops by the prescribed amount; flick it again and the signal is restored. Here we’ll explore why we need them, how to design them and importantly how you can build your own.
He’d also been paying sufficient attention to notice that while the built-in pads sorted out the level issues they also did something to the sonics that wasn’t to his liking. As we all tend to do these days he immediately hopped online and perused the big name forums for an explanation to his experience. As is also often the case, by the time he called over to the workshop he was armed with pages of confusing and inaccurate e-drivel about pads, preamps and sonics.
SO WHAT GIVES?
Last month I had a client contact me who was in need of some custom pads for teaming with his microphone selection and API preamps. His quandary was understandable. While recording drums at the minimum gain settings he’d found the API preamps still often yielded levels that were too hot for both the preamps themselves and his downstream recording medium. The signals were either clipping outright or hovering
Let’s break an API-style preamp down into two essential parts, noting also that this exploration applies to all input transformer-based preamps. In a preamp of this style, the first thing the signal hits is the transformer. This part gives some voltage gain into the second part – the amplifier stage comprised of electronic components. While the transformer can’t provide any control over the signal level
passing through it, the amplifier electronics following the transformer is intrinsically linked to the front panel gain control, which most certainly does vary the level passing through it. Regardless of the position of the front panel gain control – indeed regardless of anything to do with the amplifier stage – the transformer can be overloaded with a sufficiently hot signal directly from the microphone, which by the way, isn’t always a bad thing! A transformer passing a very hot signal can sometimes yield a euphonically desirable distortion, a topic explored in detail way back in Issue 55. A problem arises, however, when this hot signal then hits the amplifying electronics, which even at its minimum gain setting still overloads – and this overloaded signal doesn’t sound nice. So, there’s a dilemma: when the pad in the preamp (which is placed before the transformer) attenuates the signal by 20dB, it solves the problem of overloading the electronics, but also drops the signal level through the transformer, thus significantly reducing its euphonic contribution to the overall sound. This was my client’s basic problem. To solve the problem what we needed was a custom pad that dropped the signal by around only 5dB, rather than 20. Placing this in-line between the mic and the preamp would drop the level sufficiently to overcome the overloading of the electronics, while simultaneously keeping the signal hot enough through the transformer to maintain some of its desirable distortion. There are innumerable preamps out there that produce a nasty overload when they’re hit with a very hot signal, even at their minimum gain setting. This is why most manufacturers – though strangely not all – provide a pad to soften the blow to the preamp stage. To manage these padless preamp varieties in particular, having some custom-built external pads in your back pocket can be a real lifesaver for an engineer. NOT AN iPAD
In essence a pad is simply a string of selected value resistors that provide a desired attenuation. There are a bunch of different ways of connecting resistors, of course, with each design meeting differing objectives and generating different outcomes. Back in the day when professional audio systems were based around 600Ω input and output impedances, pads were designed to achieve a particular attenuation while consistently maintaining this 600Ω impedance. The two typical pads that met this objective were called ‘T’ pads or ‘Pi’ pads, with both having balanced and unbalanced versions. Calculation of the actual resistors required in these sorts of pads was (and remains) complex, where solving the twin goals of impedance and attenuation sometimes yields physically impossible resistor values. Fortunately, most audio equipment today doesn’t provide – nor require – matched 600Ω input and output impedances and so pads on modern audio systems can be of a simpler type called ‘L’ pads (for unbalanced signals) or ‘U’ pads (for balanced signals). While we still need to consider the impedance of the pad and the devices connected to it, we’re free of the strict 600Ω requirement. MICROPHONE PADS
Microphones typically have an output impedance somewhere around 200Ω while most preamps have an
impedance of around 2000Ω. Even though the exact values found in the variety of real-world products vary around these figures, they’re sufficient to get us into the ballpark to begin designing a microphone pad.
In the U-pad illustration above, the value of R1 is always the same value as R2, the rule being that larger values of R1 and R2 and/or smaller values of R3 increase the amount of attenuation the pad provides. While there’s an infinite combination of resistor values that can meet a given attenuation we still want to keep the input and output impedance of the pad in the sensible range, and this constrains our choices. Here’s a table of attenuation and suggested resistor values: Attenuation (dB)
R1 & R2 - (Ohms)
R3 - (Ohms)
Attenuation amount is varied from 5dB dependent on the input impedance of the preamp
Note that the exact amount of attenuation will vary with the input impedance of the microphone preamp used and that some old-school preamps with lower input impedances will cause a greater amount of attenuation to occur than the table indicates. Some of the new-school preamps with a variable input impedance – which seems to be becoming the current fad – will actually create an amount of attenuation that varies with the input impedance dialed up. This could be a cool side effect of the design… or a pain in arse, depending on your circumstances. PUTTING IT TOGETHER
There are a few manufacturers of XLR barrels around but one that’s particularly neat is the Neutrik barrel system. This adaptor fully disassembles into separate parts that screw back together to provide a robust XLR-to-XLR connector with sufficient room inside the barrel to incorporate the pad components. In the picture above, the resistors are mounted directly off the XLR solder lugs with R3 soldered between Pins 2 and 3 of the male XLR, while R1 and R2 fly off Pins 2 and 3, and connect to their respective pins on the female XLR at the AT 51
Roll out the Barrel: Pads are easy to make and handy to carry with you to that next recording or live gig.
other end. Don’t forget to run a wire from Pin 1 of the male XLR to Pin 1 of the female XLR to maintain the ground connection. As the barrel parts screw together it’s also a good idea to gently twist up the wires in the reverse direction a few turns before screwing the sections together. This enables the wires to unwind and avoid being over stretched or broken at the solder joints as the connector is assembled. Placing heatshink over the joints where the wires join the resistors is also a good idea. LINE ’EM UP
This is all well and good for microphones of course, but what about line level signals? I’ve built a number of fixed pads for studios that required one set of line outputs to be reined in to match other sources. Here the same U-pad as for microphones will work but the overall impedance of the pad has been increased to suit broader range line-level sources, where there’s greater variation in the load different devices can drive without distortion. TABLE OF VALUES:
R1 & R2 - (Ohms)
R3 - (Ohms)
These depths of attenuation assume the line input has an input impedance of 10kΩ.
Useful for taking a line-level signal down to microphone level.
THE VARIABLE PAD
A fully variable pad can transform the fixed pad into a new tool of exploration, useful not only between microphones and preamps but also across line outputs. This is particularly the case with some tube equipment that overloads gracefully, but while pushing the unit with hot level yields the sound you’re seeking, the output level becomes too unwieldy to deal with. Here the pad can be placed in between the output of the device you’re plying with hot levels and the next device in the chain. While there’s some compromise with the impedances involved, the solution in the above circuit works fine in 99% of situations. Here a dual-gang 1kΩ log pot is wired as a variable balanced attenuator with R2 setting the maximum amount of attenuation. With R2 being a 150Ω resistor the attenuation ranges from 0 to 25dB. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE
While we still have these XLR barrel adapters open in our hands there are other uses for them well worth considering. Do you recall my reminder to join Pins 1 together in the XLR adapter of the microphone pad? If not, you may have already gone ahead and made it and forgotten to make this connection. No stress, inadvertently you’ve just made another handy tool: a ground-lift connector – where Pins 2 and 3 connect straight through but Pin 1 is left disconnected. When hunting down a ground loop hum, having one of these in your back pocket can be pretty handy. A phase reverse adapter can likewise be helpful, where the wiring between Pins 2 and 3 is swapped over from the male to the female XLR. I carry both of these types of adapters in my troubleshooting tool kit along with a 40dB pad, which allows me to take a line level signal and inject it into a preamp at a typical microphone input level. A word of warning though: if you do decide to wire these alternatives up, make damn sure you mark them clearly ‘Earth lifted!’ and ‘Phase reversed!’. SHAPING YOUR SOUND
My dictionary gives a number of meanings for the word ‘pad’, but one I particularly like is: “a material used to protect something or give it shape, to clean or polish articles” [kind of like an editor – Ed.]. Armed with a range of pads of differing attenuations you can certainly shape, clean and polish your audio.
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Wagons: Country rock has never sounded so cool. Text: Greg Walker Photos: Michael Christian
What do you get when you take an artist who grew up in the synth/noise art-music scene and put him together with a producer who has a happening electronica solo career and who DJs in Melbourne’s uber-cool club scene. Well, as it turns out, you get a dirty country rock album with bags of attitude and no synths, click tracks or loops to be seen! Wagons are a band that have been on the up and up for several years now and its main man, Henry Wagons, proves to be a hard man to track down, what with local and US touring and the odd bit of TV compering here and there as well. Henry cut his musical teeth playing analogue synthesizers in various noise bands before falling in love with country music and turning his mind to songwriting and putting together the Wagons band. For their new record Rumble, Shake & Tumble, Henry chose to work with producer/ composer and all-round audio good-guy, Cornel Wilczek (aka QUA), and the record was recorded, mixed and mastered at Cornel’s Electric Dreams studio. A fascinating shared complex in South Melbourne, Electric Dreams is heaving with modular and keyboard synthesizers, strange and varied acoustic instruments and seemingly endless rooms full of other talented composers and producers all beavering away. I caught up with Henry at the studio to talk about the new record and before long Cornel joined us for a cuppa. BASIC TRACKING
Greg Walker: So Henry, talk me through the basic tracking for the new album. AT 54
Henry Wagons: The band is a six-piece that’s living all over Australia and the world – we’ve even got Steve Hassett living in New York City at the moment! Because of this I basically rehearsed up the songs as a core rhythm section: just me, Mark Dawson and Si Francis working as a three piece with acoustic guitar, bass and drums, and that’s how we did the initial tracking as well. It was a really good process because it crystalised the songs and encouraged us to work to create a lot of drama and dynamics in a very bare-bones kind of way. The songs stood on their own with those parts and then everyone else kind of danced around the core sounds with their overdubs. I’ve been getting into a lot of old ’50s and ’60s stuff like George Jones, Merl Haggard and Johnny Cash where the production is quite rhythmic and minimal, so our tracking started with that kind of simple core. We did all the beds live. I was set up here by the window [Henry pointing to one of the large light-filled windows on the far side of the control room], Mark was DI’d on bass closer to the door and Si had his drums in the main tracking room with clear sight-lines through the doorway. Cornel was in the room too, so there was a real sense of comradery and we could all speak to each other really easily. GW: Did you track vocals live too? HW: We did track the vocals live, though there are only two tracks on the album where we kept them. I wasn’t planning on keeping any of them actually but there were a couple where I wasn’t able to capture the same kind of intimacy when
we eventually went back to it. If you’re able to back yourself enough, I think there’s certainly something to be said for recording a guitar and vocal at once. It’s a nightmare for engineers getting the mics right, but there’s some sort of unique relationship between the guitar and the vocals where there’s an extra sense of intimate space that you don’t get when everything gets sucked out in the vacuum, so to speak. GW: I agree. It’s kinda weird that when you write and perform a song you’re always playing and singing simultaneously, and then when you get to the studio the first thing producers and engineers tend to do is split that relationship up. HW: I’ve actually had band members get the shits where we’ve tried to track parts and I’ve ended up playing a different thing because I’m not singing. Thankfully that didn’t happen this time. Cornel did find it frustrating sometimes because we’ve been playing together for so long that the band literally pulses together. He felt that Mark and Si were incredibly empathetic to the story of the song, almost to a fault, where the drums pulse and change in and out of the song. It’s the furthest thing from playing to a click. I imagine Si being like the crying clown in the corner quietly weeping to my lyrics, but then bringing it all home at the end of the song. I couldn’t ask for anything better, but it’s nothing like playing with some slick Nashville session musicians. GW: I think that’s a real strength of this record. It doesn’t sound at all like that airbrushed country stuff. The band’s got a very loose-limbed kind of sound and that’s what gives the music its
rollicking feel and that’s how you guys sound live too. So did Cornel get involved in pre-production? HW: Cornel didn’t do too much of that, but certainly a little bit. A couple of the early demos were sounding pretty Travelling Wilburys and he really seemed to get off on that, and was excited to be working on the project. There’s nothing better than having a producer on board who’s genuinely excited by the material because, as you know, it’s a pretty intimate relationship between a band and a producer. He just gave us a lot of encouragement early on, and once we got the bed tracks down he spent a lot of time mixing sounds and getting things just right. ON THE WAGON
GW: And how did you approach the overdub process? HW: It was all about adding colours to the bed tracks we already had. Everybody had a go with the guitar solos. Our usual lead guitarist, Richard Blazé, was just about to finish his specialist medical exams and was incredibly busy. He managed to come in and shred a few solos but we also got our current live lead guitarist playing on a couple of tracks, Chris Altman played pedal steel and lead guitar on some tracks, and Mark did a lead part each as well. GW: The lead guitars sound great on this record. How did you get those sounds? HW: Cornel’s got to take a lot of credit for that, and an amp that I’ve got – a ’90s Tweed Fender Pro Junior that’s been modded. It’s got two knobs on it and if you want it to sound crunchier you just have to turn it up. It was quite manageable in the studio and it sounded superb. We used the AEA R84 ribbon mic quite a bit as a guitar amp mic, and a Heil vocal mic, which sounded pretty amazing too.
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GW: Did you mix through the (Toft) analogue console I see sitting here or did you keep it digital during mixdown? HW: We mixed this record pretty much ‘in the box’ on the computer the whole way. Having said that, I don’t think Cornel works in a particularly digital way. I think in the digital world there’s a tendency to isolate certain frequencies and become incredibly precise about it, but I was amazed how much he worked with both analogue outboard and digital emulations of analogue EQ to sculpt the sounds with just a couple of high, mid and low knobs. It was a case of EQing with colour as opposed to precision. There was a lot more additive EQ than I thought there’d be, and it definitely gives it an old-time flavour, which is what I was after. Apart from the first track, Down Low, where we went for an almost Kenny Loggins ’80s hi-fi sort of sound, this is definitely a grittier, more distorted sounding record than anything we’ve done before. Apart from the Slate Audio plug-ins that got used on a few tracks, I really liked the SPL tube saturation plug-in. Some of the Abbey Road limiters sounded great too, particularly when they were slammed. The mixing process went for a few weeks at least. It was a pretty dynamic process and there were times when we were overdubbing in another room while mixing in this one. Cornel ended up mastering the album too which did his head in a bit – he was like a mad scientist – getting too immersed in his work but, in the end the professor ended up timetravelling, you know… and pulled it off. ENTER THE MAD SCIENTIST
At this point in our conversation Cornel arrived looking quite the mad professor after a late night DJing in town, and joined in the discussion in timely fashion over revitalising coffees… GW: Henry and I were talking before about the grit and distortion sounds on this record. Can you comment on that a bit? Cornel Wilczek: There are some strong contrasts on this album. Some sounds are very clean, others have a strong grit, while a couple are made up of two main sounds; a very clean one and a super dirty one – that’s something I’m really into at the moment.
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IN YOUR DREAMS Electric Dreams is a multi-room ‘modular’ studio environment in South Melbourne. Initially set up by Cornel Wilczek it now houses six resident producer/musicians in total. The studio consists of a veritable rabbit warren of interconnected medium-sized and smaller rooms beautifully built and fitted out to let in a maximum amount of natural light while retaining a balanced sound. Each person has their own control room, edit suite or mix room and tie lines connect everyone to all the main tracking spaces. Recording gear is pooled on a needs basis and pretty much everything from outboard to monitors and desks has wheels under it so it can be moved around according to the requirements of a particular project. The gear list includes mics from Neumann, AKG, MicrotechGeffel, Blue, Sennheiser, Shure and Heil. Outboard includes a lot of Millennia Media and Great River pres as well as some tasty Thermionic Culture dynamics, Chandler and Neve gear and a Toft 16-channel console. Monitoring is by Focal, Yamaha and Adam.
GW: Can you tell us a bit about the vocal mic choices? CW: We mainly used the Blue Bottle valve mic with the interchangeable heads. I actually bought it when the brand was called Red. The capsule we ended up with was the R8, which is apparently the hybrid version they designed after researching what people liked about various different ‘classic’ microphones. It supposedly combines all the best characteristics of these different great mics in one capsule. HW: No wonder it sounded good! CW: Yeah, we tried a few other mics – a Neumann U87 and some others – but Henry really liked the Blue mics this time around. We also used the Blue Mouse. The Microtech Geffel UM70S also got used a few times when we were looking for a brighter, sweeter sound. GW: The same mic preamp most of the time too? CW: No. Because the Blue valve mic is so coloured, when we used it we’d mainly go through the Millennia preamps, which are super clean. With the other mics we used Great River preamps, a Sytec pre or my friend Mr. Marriot’s Neve-based units instead. I got them modded by him so they can be driven hard. You can pull the output right down and push the input hard, which is a cool feature. GW: And do you compress on the way in or track the vocals uncompressed? CW: On the way in using the Thermionic Culture Phoenix – I love it! Sometimes we’d do a bit of vocal compression in the mix too. GW: So was mixing in the box rather than through a console an easy decision to make? CW: Yeah. Around that time I was finishing off a few other projects and trying out a few
consoles, and I just found myself reverting back to my digital mixes. I think if I had a desk with recall it might be different, but it’s just so much easier staying in the box. We did two weeks of tweaking on the mixes! Sonically, I don’t know… a few years ago I did a bunch of beta testing for a software company and they asked me to do a bunch of phase matching with different gear and it totally changed my whole perception of analogue summing. What was left after the phase cancellation was so minimal that I don’t know if such a tiny amount of difference could perceivably change anything. It comes down to things like tiny amounts of crosstalk and it’s hard to know if crosstalk really plays that much of a part. And if it does, is it really perceivable? I don’t know. Interestingly enough, we did use Slate Digital’s ‘Virtual Control Channel’ plug-ins on a couple of songs. The idea with these plugs is that they emulate the behaviour of a desk in every way. You insert them on every channel and on the buses as well, and the plug-ins start speaking to each other and simulating crosstalk and saturation. At first I thought it was a bit of a joke but I have to admit it’s pretty interesting. At the time I was beta testing it in Logic, using one of the desks they were emulating and it really did sound like that desk. It just gave it that little bit of tone so I went ‘Okay, I’ll keep using it!’ They’ve tweaked the code over time and it just has that slight vibe to it. Saying that, I’m guessing that it’s a fairly exaggerated vibe because it sounds more coloured than the tone you actually get with the desk! Another great one is the Harrison Mix Bus, made by the guys who put out Harrison consoles. They’ve developed some open source software that only costs eighty dollars and sounds really really good. It’s built from the ground up purely for mixing and to replicate
Mark Dawson (left) and Henry Wagons rock out while the dog tries to sleep..
analogue summing. You can’t really edit anything much on it, but for mixing you chuck it all in there and it sounds great! HW: Does it actually have faders and EQ like the consoles? CW: Yeah, it’s really simple… and really nice. GW: Any other secret sauces that made this record sound the way it does? CW: I think on pretty much everything we overdubbed we had about five mics up. There were a couple of Microtech-Geffel smalldiaphragm condensers set up in the live room the whole time so I just left them up and moved them around for use as room mics depending on the source. So that’s a big part of the vibe on the record too – those mics in that room. GW: Speaking of the rooms, did you have to do much tweaking here acoustically speaking once you moved in? CW: Not really. We’re getting some resonators built at the moment to fix some low-frequency issues but other than that it’s been great. What’s funny is that when I listen back to stuff I recorded and mixed at home… it’s certainly not worse – it’s just a little bit easier to do things in here. HW: So all this is a total waste of time then! (laughs) CW: Actually what has changed is that we move gear between rooms a lot, which is kind of the whole idea of this place. Rather than spend a fortune on gear each, we pool stuff and that works out brilliantly. The furniture is all on wheels and we’ve tried to make it work like a studio but feel like a house. We also fought really hard with the acoustic designers to keep as much natural light in here as we could ’cause we spend so much time in the place!
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Text: Brad Watts
As always, more is definitely more, and the adage certainly applies to the studio circuit this autumn. The east coast has been abuzz with recording and mixing action. Here’s but a sample:
mixed an EP for Sydney instrumental rockers, Solkyri. Dax is planning to build a dedicated prolevel mix and mastering room in Canberra later this year – no doubt he’ll keep us all posted.
Despite the Queensland climate edging back toward what the Northerners call ‘winter’, DOMC Mastering is apparently hotting up. Coming in this month is the first single, Tigers, for a soon to be released album from Words Versing Verses. Andy O’Hare returns to DOMC with some slamming instrumental rock ’n’ roll, surprisingly well mixed (on cans), while R&D records are back with some beautifully produced pop tracks. Dom’s new bit of gear – his son – seems to be going well, and like all bits of gear takes a bit of time to warm up. But when he gets going, ouch! Dom’s looking for a repro head for a Studer/Revox C270 – drop DOMC a line if you’ve got one you can part with.
Also amongst New South Wales’ southern provinces, the previous month’s frenzy of activity at Pirate Studios has been anything but usual, with tracking and mixing completed on Daniel Champagne’s album release, Pint of Mystery, for Pirate Records, tracking and mixing for Sydney’s, The Lurkers, as well as transfers for Fun Machine and Rebecca Moore, demos for Ester Jamieson, and a remastering of Matt Southon’s original Pirate release, Hollerin. Live videos of Daniel Champagne were recorded in Pirate Studios for ABC South East. On the live scene Pirate provided production for South Coast Shows for Daryl Braithwaite, Ross Wilson, and Ali Penny and The Money Makers. Finally, Captain Dave Sparks stepped up for guitar duties with The Lime Spiders at Monster Session Sydney – an event to raise awareness and funds for Multiple Sclerosis.
Not quite so far north, Darren ‘Jenk’ Jenkins is in pre-production mode with hard rock outfit Shinobi (Eric Grothe Jnr. from the Parramatta Eels), recording The Strawdogs and mixing an album for progressive metal band, Paradigm. Heading south, 2011 has been a busy year for producer and engineer, Dax Liniere, at Puzzle Factory Sound Studio. Dax recently completed an eight-day location recording in the NSW Southern Highlands with Sydney post-rockers, Sleepmakeswaves, while concurrently producing the debut release for fellow Sydney up-andcomers, Beaufields. Both records are due this year, alongside other Puzzle Factory projects such as the debut album from world-fusion group, Takadimi. Dax also recorded, produced and
Across the border and into the deep south, Coloursound Recording Studio in Altona, Melbourne, saw engineer Tim Johnston hard at work tracking drums with Brent Deboer for a new Dandy Warhols album. Meanwhile, proprietor Mat Robins is in the middle of recording an EP for Melbourne band, One. The new facility is quickly finding its feet, with recent recordings for The Complimentary Headsets, Chinatown Angels, and The Run Run. Also in Melbourne, Jim Moynihan of Spoon Studios has completed the sound design and composition for a game: Beat Booster – that
utilises the depth camera technology used in the XBox Kinect where players use their bodies as a controller. Jim also mastered a compilation for Hopscotch Records and an EP for Melbournebased electronic outfit, Circuit Bent. Recent studio purchases include a Crane Song HEDD and a Great River MP-2NV stereo preamp. Sounds like Jim’s doing alright… At Crystal Mastering, metal band, Alarum, have polished off their follow-up album. Engineered by Theron Rennison, the album was mixed on Theron’s newly acquired SSL E-series console. On the hip-hop front, Joe Carra has mastered albums for Pegz, Chance Fitzgerald, and Melbourne hip-hop legend, Bias B. Producers on the Bias B album, Bias Life, included Doc Felix, Lazy Grey, and turntable wizz, DJ Bonez. Drapht has also been at Crystal with his latest release, The Life of Riley – the album scored a big number one on the ARIA charts. Other cats on the couch include Fortnight Jumbo, Xenograft, Grumpy Neighbour, HMAS Vendetta, Zen, Harmonic Generator, Polo Club, and DJ Havana Brown. Pony Music’s new studio additions include installing a Neve 542 summing console! The studio also picked up a second Distressor, a Vintech X81 mic pre/EQ and an Orban Optimod. Damien Young has finished tracking Mark Seymour’s album with some great musicians including: Peter ‘Maz’ Maslen (Boom Crash Opera) on drums, Cameron McKenzie (Horsehead) on guitar and John Favaro (The Badloves) on bass. Damien is back on the road doing live shows and recording Mr Leo Sayer using Avid/Digidesign consoles and multitracking everything. Troy Mckosker
Jaminajar Music Production is Paul Najar – conservatorium trained pianist and composer, master synthesist, recording and mix engineer, producer, Logic Pro Master trainer, and university lecturer. With close to three decades of working with the local and international music industry under his belt, Paul has worked with (and for) many of the best. Jaminajar North is Paul’s third and most ambitious incarnation of the Jaminajar Studio entity, and has been operational for just on six months. The opening of Jaminajar North represents a new chapter for Paul. It’s the first time the facility has been made available for hire purely as a studio. By the sea but elevated with views, it’s remarkable such a natural location exists a mere 35 minutes from the Sydney CBD. JAMINAJAR NORTH AT 58
The feel of the space is a combination of ‘hi-tech minimal zen’ with ‘classical
overtones’. Paul is also proud of his barista skills, and will happily tzujz up a killer espresso whenever the need presents. Sup your short black and take in the ocean view cameos through the trees when you’re not within the acoustically treated control room and recording area (courtesy of Mike Fronzek of Sound Spaces). The philosophy behind the Jaminajar equipment is: ‘it’s all about the capture’. There’s an ever-growing list of microphones and preamps by Neumann, Rode, Shure, Sennheiser, Avalon, API, RME and Focusrite. DAW platforms include Logic Pro, ProTools and Cubase. Paul prefers to mix in-the-box with a full complement of UAD2 plug-ins, alongside his very ‘out-of-the-box’ Prophet 08. Jaminajar North: (02) 8065 4666 or www.jaminajar.com
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recently finished tracking Ne Obliviscaris’ debut album, which is scheduled to be mixed by Jens Bogren from the Panic Room in Sweden. Troy has also finished an album for State Of East London – currently sitting at number five on the iTunes alternate chart. Other studio projects include Defryme, Beverly Fraser, and Brook Chivell. At Deluxe Mastering in Melbourne, they’re celebrating five years in their new digs. Tony ‘Jack the Bear’ Mantz has been keeping out of trouble mastering releases for Ganga Giri, Matt Van Schie, Feenipawl, Tonite Only, Matt Sonic, Dinkybike, The Scarlets, Kid Kenobi, Bass Kleph, Cave Of The Swallows, Dead Lovers Lane, Josh Raffaut, Polar Nation, Dead City Ruins, PurEnvy, and Jane Walker. Projects mastered by Adam Dempsey include an EP for Owl Eyes mixed by Jan Skubiszewski (Jackson Jackson, Kate Vigo, and including bass by Jet’s Mark Wilson), tracks for The Fearless Vampire Killers, an album for Vague Cuts engineered by Jez at Hothouse, singles for New Saxons, Dead Parties (Etienne Mamo of The New Black), a seven-inch for Raoul McLay, albums for Mushroom Horse and Fixed Error, and an EP for Indigo & the Bear, engineered by Dave McCluney at Atlantis. It’s also been a busy first quarter at Oaklands Recording Studios. The studio recently hosted the ladies from Channel Ten’s The Circle when the crew recorded a special song for their new compilation album. Written by Claire Bowditch and produced by Rockcandy’s James Kempster, the song has been a hit with the show’s viewers and fans. The Oaklands gang were also privileged to work with Australian composer, Adam Starr, on the feature film, Life Before Death. The studio was the ideal facility for the project and in just under a week captured a vast array of musical flavours – from Middle Eastern instrumentalists through to a full-scale orchestra. Engineer, Damien Charles, has also become a familiar face at the studio working with acts such as The Moroccan Kings, ME, Tatu Rei, Cathoel Jorss, and The Red Eyes. Oaklands recently purchased a Soundfield SPS200 surround sound microphone
that has already proven to be a valuable asset with recent orchestral and classical recordings. Back to Sydney, and Bob ‘I’m really not that dodgy’ Scott has been recording the ‘Gallipoli Symphony’ music for Anzac day at Studios 301. Strings came courtesy of the ACO, brass from the SSO, and Turkish instruments were recorded by the composer in Turkey. Bob’s been using the ever reliable dropbox.com for swapping collaborative files. Bob’s also completed a CD mix with Dave Symes for Scarlett Affection, live amplification for the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s for their live music to picture project, The Glide, at Angel Place and the Playhouse theatre in Melbourne. Bob rekindled his love for Meyer MSL-4s in Melbourne, claiming they sound way sweeter than any line array. He also recorded The Church at 301 with a 70-piece orchestra, then did the FOH for the live show at the Opera House. The original Trackdown Studios at Camperdown is vibing along as a full time music studio, with producer Sean Carey (ex-Thirsty Merc) operating as in-house producer and engineer. The rooms include a vast selection of vintage guitars, amps, microphones, and a great piano – all at the artists’ disposal. Aussie son, Chris Bailey from The Saints is in there now! At Trackdown, Moore Park, the score for The Killer Elite (starring Clive Owen, Jason Statham and Robert De Niro) composed by Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil was recorded and mixed by in-house engineer, Daniel Brown, assisted by James Ezra, Ewan Mitchell and Nick Rowse. Trackdown’s Tim Ryan, Craig Beckett, and Jason Fernandez have been music editors on the project. It’s been a whirlwind effort from the SpaceJunkmeister this year, with the timEbandit absent for most of February beating skins with The Church for a 12-date tour of the USA. On his return Tim promptly completed and mixed two tracks towards the debut EP for Sydney crooners, Hey Big Aki, using his new Phoenix Audio DRSQ-4 mic pre/EQ through an Empirical Labs Fatso Jr as the predominant tracking chain. The EQ
is Neve-style with a twist – causing many a grin amongst the SpaceJunk crew. The band’s sweet vocal melodies were captured through an AEA 92 ribbon and JZ Black Hole SE via the aforementioned audio chain. While in USA a ‘Kickport’ was acquired, which has been to fitted to timEbandit’s 18-inch Mapex floor-tom, then converted to auxiliary kick drum duties – we’re still waiting to hear back from Tim to see if the claimed louder fundamentals and pure low-end gain are realised. Sydney monolith, Studios 301 , has played host to Duran Duran, Angus & Julia Stone, Bertie Blackman, Miami Horror, Jonathan Boulet, Kids of 88, Icehouse, Dash & Will, Wim, Jasmine Rae, Boy in a Box, and Belles Will Ring all attending for mastering. The Sydney studios have been doing sessions for Mark Ronson, Cold Chisel, The Herd, The Necks, The Church, The ACO, Horrorshow, Paris Wells, Zowie and Dialectrix, while the Byron Bay arm had the Living End moving in for most of March to record an album. In Sydney’s 301, the crew have been putting some time toward the SSL room, with additional gear arriving including API preamps and EQs, Vintech preamps, Universal Audio LA-2As, and even more ELI Distressors. Studio 6 is almost completed and 301 has welcomed Simon Cohen to the team. Simon’s spent the last few years at East St Studios and has been working with Wanya Morris (Boyz II Men), Jessica Mauboy, Horrorshow, Spit Syndicate, Hugh Sheridan, Urthboy, Alphamama, and Dialectrix. Finally, Blair Joscelyne of Nylon Studios has finished a hip-hop track for Wrigleys Gum (featuring Blair himself on vocals) and has also completed a track for Touchstone USA. Blair recently created the new theme for Dr LeWinn’s skin-care by recording all instruments through a 1960s circuit-bent telephone. Also on air at the moment is Blair’s theme track for the Sydney Writers Festival, which was created using an old record player and boxes of old records, which were manipulated with different speeds and sampled to create an original theme for the festival.
Pirate Studios is the lovechild of Dave Sparks: musician, producer and sound engineer. Founded in 2008, the studio features a huge live room with two isolation booths, all with double-glazed windows to the control room. Outdoors, the bush meets the sea, offering visiting artists the creative backdrop of Pirate Studios’ acreage bordered by national park, lake and beach – all on the lush far south coast of NSW. There’s band accommodation in the studio loft and a private wing in the main house. Centred around a Toft 32 console, the facility features a wealth of outboard gear from the likes of Universal Audio, Avalon, Neve, Lexicon, Drawmer, TC Electronic, and the often called upon Roland 201 and 501 tape echoes. The studio offers recording to Otari 16-track one-inch and MTR-10 two-track tape, as well as Cubase on a Mac Pro. The mic cupboard is endowed with niceties from Neumann, AKG, Rode, Sennheiser, Sontronics, Shure, and Audio-Technica. PIRATE STUDIOS AT 60
Pirate Studios is also home to an obscene amount of musical equipment – to suit an obscene variety of recording artists. The guitar collection ranges from the ’60s right through to current Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Guild, PRS, Martin, Gillet and Jerry Jones instruments. Walls of vintage guitar amps make the studio feel like heaven with a rock twist. There’s an original 1966 Plexi and JTM 45/100 Marshall, Hiwatt, Vox, Fender, and Orange amps, along with modern classics from Reynolds Valveart and Matchless. The 1966 Ludwig drum kit, upright bass, Sho-Bud pedal steel, Hammond organ and ancient pump organ offer a unique sonic edge. The studio also features a Spinal Tap nativity scene incorporating action figures in sealed boxes and the famous Nigel Tufnel Marshall poster. Pirate Studios: 0400 027 545 or www.piraterecordingstudios.com
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22/03/11 7:51 PM
PC AUDIO Fancy running your projects at 192kHz? Look before you leap, and don’t underestimate the overheads! Text: Martin Walker
I was recently asked for advice about a budget PC update to suit someone who wanted to work at a sample rate of 192kHz instead of 44.1 or 48kHz, and required around 40 to 50 simultaneous audio tracks plus plenty of native effect plug-ins. He also seemed confused about which components had most effect on each aspect of performance, so it seemed timely to offer some advice on the subject here. The first issue to get out of the way concerns the dubious benefit of choosing a 192kHz sample rate, which I consider primarily a marketing tool. To my mind, while there are audible advantages of having bandwidths of 100kHz or more in analogue audio circuitry (notably espoused by Rupert Neve), when it comes to sample rates higher than 96kHz it’s a different debate. Just because an audio interface offers a 24-bit/192kHz option doesn’t mean it’s the ‘best’ one on offer. If you’re using decent A/D and D/A converters at 44.1kHz then your music should sound fine. While you may hear improvements when working at 96kHz recording things like percussion and classical ensembles, and with some compressor and EQ plug-ins that don’t incorporate their own internal ‘upsampling’, if you can’t hear any difference with your particular gear then stick with 44.1kHz. I still use it for most of my projects, apart from those sound design recording projects where the final sounds may end up being played back several octaves lower, in which case starting at 96kHz means you get a better end result after such extreme pitch-shifting. However, a sampling rate of 192kHz is quite another matter. Moreover, the terms ‘low cost’ and ‘192kHz capability’ are a worrying combination. In terms of overall sound quality you’re far better off running at 44.1kHz on a good quality interface than 192kHz on a cheap one just because it offers that option. As someone else once pointed out: “The Digidesign 192 interface is the best sounding A/D and D/A they’ve ever made... even when working at 44.1kHz.” I daresay a really expensive interface running at 192kHz might tip the balance, but at least one world-class converter designer doesn’t see any point of sample rates higher than 96kHz (download Dan Lavry’s Sampling Theory AT 62
document from www.lavryengineering.com/ documents/Sampling_Theory.pdf to find out more). THE BIG NUMBER CRUNCH
In practical terms the overheads associated with running 192kHz are hugely increased over 44.1 or 48kHz, simply because of all the extra data involved. For instance, switching from 24-bit/48kHz to 24-bit/192kHz instantly means four times as much data is being recorded/played back every second. Another way to think of it is that if your current PC can manage 200 plug-ins at 48kHz then it will only manage 50 at 192kHz. So if you want to upgrade to a more powerful PC and increase project sampling rates from 48kHz to 192kHz you’ll need one with four times the processing power just to break even. Keep in mind that many interfaces also offer significantly fewer channels when they’re used at higher sample rates, so if you currently use all your converters during tracking or mixing, factor in another cost increase there too. In the end you have to balance all this extra cost against the possible audible benefits before making your final decision. Using 192kHz, you may also start to run up against the performance boundaries of your hard drive. Some years back I measured the audio performance of a single SATA Seagate Barracuda hard drive offering an 80MB per-second sustained transfer rate, and eventually managed to play back 76 simultaneous mono 24-bit/96kHz audio tracks before it started to glitch. More recently I measured a 140MB per-second sustained transfer rate from a 7200rpm 500GB Western Digital Caviar Blue drive, which might therefore manage between 60 and 70 simultaneous 24-bit/192kHz audio tracks. Having a single 7200rpm hard drive shouldn’t therefore create a data bottleneck, even when working at 192kHz, so you won’t need to combine multiple drives as RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) unless you need more simultaneous tracks than this, or want to run video alongside your audio. However, if I were personally hitting the limit of a standard 7200rpm drive I’d either split the data across two standard hard drives, or investigate the performance of a 10,000rpm hard drive (even
though it’s noisier than 7200rpm models). So, unless you’re really convinced of the merits of 192kHz and need more than 60 simultaneous tracks, just fit one 7200rpm hard drive for Windows+Applications, and a second larger one for audio recording/playback. Solid State Drives are also becoming popular, but remain expensive compared with hard drives – the decision is up to you. Just remember, placing Windows+Applications on an SSD will only speed up booting/loading times; it won’t boost your audio performance, while placing your audio/ sample data on an SSD would be a very expensive proposition indeed! Furthermore, it also makes more sense for musicians who stream samples as well as audio tracks from their hard drives to devote separate drives to sample streaming and audio playback, rather than combine them as RAID, as they can then be accessed individually for increased polyphony/track count. Most modern instrument libraries rely on streamed samples, simply because there’s not enough RAM to load them in their entirety, so if you use a lot of these you’ll probably benefit from a third hard drive devoted to samples. However, streamed samples also require plenty of RAM buffering so they can be played with low latency, so while 4GB of RAM is probably enough for most musicians, those with ambitious sampling requirements may benefit from 8GB or more, along with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 to take advantage of it – consult your sample library manuals for advice. If you use lots of sampled loops that load into RAM and stay there throughout the song, then more system RAM will again be welcome, as it is with many software instruments. Ultimately, most musicians using effects plug-ins and softsynths tend to find their CPU runs out of steam before any other component, so don’t skimp in this department (Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors seem to be the bee’s knees at the moment, and particularly the 2600k model when overclocked). 44.1kHz rules, OK?
MAC AUDIO Brad gets all fluffy about ‘the cloud’. Text: Brad Watts
With the internet community constantly batting on about ‘the cloud’ this and ‘cumuli computational’ that, the average desktop computer user may well be forgiven for ignoring ‘the cloud’ altogether, because the concept is seen as either A: inapplicable B: inexplicable or C: just another IT fad. But before I explain the joy of ‘the cloud’, what exactly is it? CLOUDS GATHERING
In essence, ‘cloud’ data storage is a process by which your data is stored on multiple virtual or real server machines, and access to that storage space occurs via your internet connection. The server company looks after the drives, the servers, and pays for the electricity to run and maintain them. For businesses it makes a lot of sense – they no longer need to invest in drive space or plan contingencies for the inevitable point in time where their storage needs become greater – the storage space used (i.e. the thousands of hard drives at the storage centre) otherwise known as ‘the cloud’, will expand as required. It all seems a little far-fetched at first. Why would you want to store files on a drive, the location of which you’ve no idea about, when you’ve already spent ample amounts of money on backup strategies? Surely your precious data is best kept on a drive you can hold in your hand and keep under lock and key? Well, the answer is both yes, and no. Yes, you should definitely keep a backup of any data you deem valuable, and ideally have copies of that data in a couple of different geographic locations. That way if your house happens to burn down – God forbid – taking your laptop with it, while your insurance might pay for the laptop, it sure as eggs won’t replace the data on it. So then what happens if your ‘off-site’ DVD or Blu-ray backups have somehow become corrupt? This is where we get to the ‘no’ part of our quandary. Imagine you’ve just had your laptop replaced after an arduous regime of paperwork and water-boarding with the insurance company. Great – new laptop. But now you’re still without a backup. No off-site backup means no invoices, no tax documents, no photos, no emails, no music – no nothin’! It’s at this point you’ll wish you’d embraced the cloud. It’s pretty obvious the cloud is a safer option than maintaining your own backup systems – and who do you think can maintain as much drive space as you need in a beautifully air-conditioned dust-free environment better than a dedicated storage server? That’s right – the guys that own ‘the cloud’ specialise in keeping their systems running in tip-top condition – all day, every day. So who do you turn to for some reliable and cost effective cloud action? My personal favourite has become Dropbox. AT 64
My immediate attraction to Dropbox was the cost – absolutely free – but since my initial signup, the Dropbox system has become invaluable for my work and private data storage, as well as my data sharing requirements. The cool thing about Dropbox is that a free account gives you 2GB of storage space, yet that increases by 250MB for every person you refer to the service – up to a limit of 8GB. The next pertinent attraction is Dropbox is compatible with OSX, Windows, and Linux, along with the various mobile platforms such as iOS, Android, and Blackberry. You can sync your files with all the major operating systems used for personal computing. Which brings me to the other important, almost side-effect, of cloud-based data storage. Because your data is stored on a third-party system of drives, you can access that data from whichever computer you’re using at the time. This is superb for files and documents you may need access to between home and work, for example. You simply keep the documents in question within your Dropbox folder, and they’re accessible from your Mac at work, your PC at home, and your smartphone when you’re in transit. The files are saved on each machine, with the ‘cloud’ copy being updated any time you make changes to the copy on any of your personal computing devices. The entire process is also incredibly transparent – it’s essentially no different to the procedure of saving a document to your hard drive as you normally would. It really is that straightforward. APPLICABLE TO AUDIO
So what’s all this got to do with audio I hear you inquire? Okay – this is actually pretty neat. Say you’re collaborating on an audio project, and your collaborators are somewhere else on the planet. To make certain everyone involved in the project is working on the same files, just kick off the entire project to your Dropbox folder, and then share that folder with your mates. Sure there’ll be a lag as the initial tracking is uploaded to the Dropbox servers and the files become available to your collaborators, and that time-lag will be dependent upon your internet connection’s upload speed and your collaborators’ download speed. But once this initial tracking period has settled, all that will need updating via the Dropbox connection is the actual project file. It’s a good idea to keep close contact between each other while doing this as you don’t want to be saving over a file that’s been changed at some other point along the collaborative chain, but that said, the Dropbox menu inside your menu-bar will spin with a blue circle while files are changing, then stop and display a green ‘tick’ when all data had been assimilated. So there you have it: a number of reasons to embrace the cloud – go forth and share… come rain, hail or cloud.
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AudioTechnology THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
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COLLECTORS! BACK ISSUES!
The most famous console manufacturer on earth has a new baby… Text: James Wilkinson
Solid State Logic’s analogue consoles have serious nous. Historically, these remarkable boards have contributed to the success of more hit records than any other, perhaps most notably the G-Series models from the 1980s. SSL consoles are revered amongst engineers and musicians worldwide for their total sound: the channel strips, dynamic processing and EQ, the stereo bus compression and Total Recall automation all coming together in one comprehensive package. Today SSL continues to quietly – stoically even – get the job done in Oxfordshire, England, but with a more mosaic perspective to technology. The company is still making consoles, of course, but in more recent times it has also branched out into software, converters, networking – lots of stuff really – including taking a ‘chop-shop’ approach to their consoles. Rather than simply manufacturing enormous analogue and digital behemoths that most of us can’t afford, SSL now makes it possible to buy aspects of its famous sound, whether that be the bus compressor from a G-Series 4000, parametric EQ from a SuperAnalogue 9000 K-Series, or microphone preamps. The company’s newest console, the Nucleus, which I’ve been working with for a couple of months now, draws upon this modular approach to design, sharing the same controller section from the Matrix console, while the mic pres can be found in several other SSL products including the X-Rack range and AWS and Duality consoles.
PIPE ORGAN COMPUTER THEORY
Originally founded in 1969 to produce solid-state console control systems for pipe organs, somewhat incredibly SSL continued with this enterprise until 2002, when the division of the company was sold off. I’d like to think there are some parallels to be drawn here with SSL’s new Nucleus, which I’ll admit might seem like a very long bow to draw, but there seems a similar desire to unite the company’s understanding of the complexity of the 17th century pipe organ and computers today. Bear with me please. For more than 200 years pipe organs were the most complex man-made devices on earth, and while I’ll leave it to you to decide which is better at making music, there’s a genuine need for an interface that’s practical and well designed to control these complex instruments, be it the analogue beast with 20,000 pipes, or the latest digital audio workstation complete with plug-ins, soft-synths and a virtual mixer. SUB-ATOMIC PARTICLES
As a simple overview, the Nucleus comprises a 16-channel controller, a ‘SuperAnalogue’ monitoring section, two high-end analogue mic preamps and a soundcard. Control functions travel via Ethernet and the soundcard and keyboard duties are ported via USB. The controller works by using either HUI (Human User Interface) or MCU (Mackie Control Unit) protocols, which means that it will operate your standard controls in ProTools, Logic, Cubase/ Nuendo and many other audio software applications literally straight out of the box. There’s also a Continuous
Controller profile, to allow MIDI devices to be directly manipulated too. Printed with some switches you’ll find the default HUI functions on white, with the MCU functions printed below them. USB connects the Nucleus to your computer to convey keyboard commands and audio. Using the USB Soundcard application it’s necessary to determine the four possible inputs and outputs you’ll be using with the Playback Mixer’s matrix, with selection for either the two analogue and two digital buses available here. Digital S/PDIF is via an optical output, so if another device has coaxial phono sockets you’ll need a converter to adapt the connectors. S/PDIF input is routed to the external monitor section, with the mic pres feeding directly to the S/PDIF inputs. There’s also a four-socket USB hub for drives, dongles or anything else that uses USB, which is handy. Adjacent to this hub is a footswitch socket, which allows two footswitches to connect using a mono-to-stereo splitter.
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Nucleus’s controller operation is set up using SSL’s Nucleus Remote and ipMIDI software via Ethernet. The remote software is fundamental to having your computer and control surface talk to each other, and configuring it is similar to establishing network settings for the internet. The Nucleus’s ‘status’ is displayed as Online when connected. If you have a more complex network criteria the ability exists to connect three workstations on three separate computers (via a network Ethernet router and USB switcher). After connection you’ll most likely spend a lot of time in the DAW tab, personalising soft keys, layers, profile setups and other features. This is where you can tailor how the controller functions, with any change you make saved to the console’s SD card. I used Nucleus with ProTools, Logic and Ableton Live, and of these three programs Logic was the simplest to use from the generic profile. While most switches come with an assigned function, this varies depending on the program in use. Sadly, while there are some ‘standards’, what works for one program may not work so well for another. As an example, without any customisation of the keys in Logic, selecting and assigning a plug-in is easily accessed using the Nucleus’s assigned switches and pots. To do the same in ProTools proved elusive (I couldn’t get it to work) and it was easier to grab the mouse and assign plug-ins within the program, then use the controller to select and manipulate the settings. No criticism of the controller, but indicative of the many shortcomings of industry controller standards as a whole.
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The channel strips on the Nucleus are fairly lean-looking affairs; indeed they scarcely look like strips at all when compared to SSL consoles of yore. The most striking feature on the board is the thin LCD display that runs horizontally across all 16 channels, separated into two halves by the central master section. The term used by SSL to describe this is the ‘Scribble Strip’ even though chinagraph noodlings aren’t encouraged. It displays two rows of information: the top line showing each channel’s name, while the lower row offers a description of the current function status of each channel’s V-pot. V-pots – while we’re on the subject – are the blue rotary controllers that run across the middle of the console (one per channel) just beneath the Scribble Strip that also double as V-Sel switches, meaning you can either press or turn them depending on the feature it’s assigned to. For instance, in an EQ plug-in the knob might control the inserting of a filter by depressing it, and the frequency at which it’s set, by rotation. Selecting the plug-in spreads its parameters across the console, to be controlled by either the V-pots or, by selecting the Flip switch, via the faders. Plug-ins, automation and record features are all accessed via each channel’s Select switch, which sits directly below the Cut and Solo switches, all three of which are located above each of the 16 faders. A selected plug-in’s elements are laid out horizontally across the Scribble Strip (which looks reminiscent of the way multi-effect units display their parameters), and once you’ve become accustomed to the display and the corresponding controls, it’s a practical and expedient process. Each channel is rounded off with quality 100mm touch-sensitive faders.
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Connectivity: There are several analogue and digital input and output options on the rear panel, even footswitch and iJack inputs.
NEED TO KNOW Price $5999 Contact Amber Technology 1800 251 367 email@example.com www.ambertech.com.au Pros Two excellent mic pres. A soundcard, flexible monitoring section, plug-ins and versatile controller in one. Cons May include devices you already have, or lack features you’re looking for. Converters could be improved. Summary An all-in-one solution for your recording, dubbing or mixing project. Provided you need all its features, the Nucleus represents quality, flexibility and value for money in one.
MULTIPLE DAW CONTROL
The Nucleus has the snazzy ability to connect three DAWs at once, and flip between and control them with a single button press, using the DAW layer selectors. Flip the switch and instantly the software controller profiles change, so that when you switch between say Logic and Ableton Live, the profile appropriate to each is instantly and seamlessly applied. The controls are very responsive, and I had no issues of latency in the transport controls, faders, pots or soft switches. Press the solo or cut buttons on a channel and it acts as is if in the analogue domain. Scroll through the channels and the faders move as you pass though their corresponding virtual strip. It’s all very direct, fast and satisfying to use. Having the ability to ‘ride the fader’ is important to a lot of artists and sometimes this is far quicker than explaining the idea to an engineer. Needless to say a console with flashing lights and moving faders also brings with it a certain amount of ‘bling’, and although this might sound trite, people do find such technology impressive and I say this with no irony – having one of these may just persuade your next client that you’ll do a professional job. Digital consoles often suffer the same issues by way of miniaturisation that mobile phones and cameras do, and while most love the idea of compact technology, in practice our fingers are often too big, or eyes too challenged to easily operate the features at hand. Here the design is evidently no micro mixer, with faders, switches and transport controls all laid out with a generosity that might lead you to believe you were sitting down at your very own large format console. While the main output and channel meters (located above each of the 16 strips) are not so large, their inclusion is very useful for keeping levels in check as they’re positioned in front of you, and I found them easier to quickly reference than the computer’s channel strip metering. By providing 16 channels instead of only eight, the Nucleus allows you to see far more of your session, and there’s less of the frustration that comes from scrolling up and down the channel strips to find the one you need. Channel scrolling is via the Bank (increments of 16) or Channel (increments of 1) switches; these allow you to choose which DAW channels are displayed by the controller. THE MASTER SECTION
Centrally there’s a bank of Shift, Option, CNTL and ALT switches, which are all dedicated modifier soft switches. Above the jog wheel there’s also other additional master controls like Save and Undo, which along with the Navigation controls next to the jog-wheel all change their use depending on which DAW you’re using. These controls are also assignable using the Transport/Utility setup in the remote software. If you activate the User 1 or 2 switches (centrally located AT 70
right at the top of the master section just beneath the ‘Nucleus’ logo), Channels 9 – 16 become configurable soft switches that are assignable with the Nucleus Remote software. This is handy for any keystrokes you might use often for editing or mixing. By assigning your commands here it’s possible to navigate and execute repetitive tasks without having to use your mouse or keyboard. There’s a list of menu items within the software for common commands or you can have the program ‘learn’ your own if it’s not listed. The names and associated keys are all configurable, so there’s a lot of scope here for adapting the Nucleus to the task at hand and developing appropriate shortcuts. The jog wheel too is very handy for scrolling through the session’s time line, scrubbing or other assignable tasks – this is a good size and has a nice resistance to it. Having the Nucleus’s transport controls located centrally differs from other controllers, as most position the jog-wheel and buttons to the far right of the device. For a left-hander like yours truly this can prove frustrating to operate as the control surface is essentially pre-configured for righthanders. The transport controls are large and sturdy, reminiscent of analogue tape machine buttons, and they look and feel like they’re built to last. SUPER MONITORING
The monitoring section, once again given the SuperAnalogue moniker by SSL, is a simple and low-noise affair. It includes a wet and dry knob to balance playback with a live performance, offering zero-latency monitoring in ‘Mixdown’ mode. There are switches to sum left or right input to mono (as without these the mic inputs appear panned either hard left or right in the headphones), an iJack switch (which patches your portable music player to the speakers via the mini-jack rear-panel connector), and RCAs for a CD player or similar. All these switches are located centrally above the monitor level knob, just below the 10-segment stereo output level meters. Depressing the Mic switch here, switches the metering to display the two analogue mic inputs individually. Headphones also have a separate volume control, which attenuates the signal to two outputs on the rear panel. There are various input monitoring options too, with either the iJack or balanced line-level sockets available by pressing the ‘EXT’ switch. This feature allows input from both sources to be monitored, and if you use the ‘∑’ switch it will sum the monitor sources together. The two Super Analogue mic preamps are accessed via combi XLR inputs, and offer +75dB of gain, switches for phantom power, a –20dB pad, phase inversion and 80Hz high-pass filter. There are also inserts for routing your signal to an outboard device like a compressor or EQ. The pres sound clean and dynamic without being overtly sterile, offering a quality low noise amplifier that’s appropriate to a broad range of applications.
It’s all very direct, fast and satisfying to use.
HD SERIES SOLUTIONS
The rear panel direct outs allow you to use the Nucleus’s mic pres with another converter, and if there were a weak link in this package I’d say the converters are it. While I really like the console’s layout and quality components, the mic preamps suffer in translation from analogue to digital, and playback doesn’t quite have the dynamic and depth of soundstage you might expect from high-end dedicated converters. To put this in a real-world context, the A/D front end of the Nucleus in comparison to an MBox2 was night and day, with the SSL sounding clean and clearly more representative of the source. Take the monitoring then and compare it with a Crane Song HEDD (doing the D/A conversion) and the Nucleus was clearly outgunned. My point being, the mic pres and controller leave me fulfilled with their performance, whereas the converters have room for improvement. Nucleus also ships with registration for two plug-ins from the Duende Native Essentials Bundle. There’s the Bus Compressor that gives you the sound of the SSL G-Series Stereo Bus Compressor and SSL Channel EQ & Dynamics for VST/AU/RTAS. In the Channel Strip you have an emulation of the G- or E-Series analogue consoles, complete with fourband parametric EQ, dynamic processing and variable high- and low-pass filters.
My current bugbear is that plug-ins are always being compared to their physical counterpart as a means of gauging how good they sound. For mine it’s an irrelevant argument given that apples are patently not being compared with apples, and in the world of emulations software should be compared with software. Most musicians or engineers will never own or use a G-Series console but a far greater number will be able to benefit from the sound an SSL G-Series channel strip could bring to their mix. To my ears the Duende emulations have more ‘iron’ and ‘grit’ to their sound than their Waves counterparts, the bus compressor works both transparently and brutally and the EQ adds bite without being brittle. All the Duende Native Plug-ins are available to download from SSL’s website for free as a fully functional 30-day demo, and demoing them from there is a far better way than relying on any adjectives in use here. I’m loath to say it but the Poms do a good job of thinking things through, and for all the criticism I might direct at any particular feature, there seems a logical reason for SSL’s thinking with the Nucleus. A wishlist of desirable items could include: multiple outputs for mixing 5.1, a talkback mic, a trackball and locating the headphone connectors on the front panel, but I can also see all the reasons why the SSL designers have done things the way they have. This is a product designed (as SSL puts it) for the ‘Project Studio’, as an all-in-one soundcard and controller for making music or producing film/TV with a computer. In the Nucleus it’s very clear how manufacturers have to balance what to include and exclude in order to formulate a product – on this measure the Nucleus does very well. It can’t be everything to everyone, but what it does provide is straightforward, functional design, high build quality and flexibility of application that makes it a very attractive and appealing device to use.
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SOUNDCRAFT Si COMPACT
With the release into the wild of the Si Compact the habitat of the small-format analogue console is under threat. Text: Gareth Stuckey
Soundcraft has always made great consoles. Way back in 1974 it released the first ever mass-produced console built into a roadcase (the Series 1). Then it all but changed the way live mixing consoles were designed with the groundbreaking ‘8 & 8’ (groups and auxes) setup that’s a standard today (or a bare minimum at least). It seems curious to note then that Soundcraft was also one of the last console manufacturers to step on board the digital bandwagon. Nearly every other manufacturer had released both small and large format digital production consoles before Soundcraft even put its foot in the water. Now it’s finally on board and making a big splash with a wide range of digital options! The first of these new-generation consoles was the Vi Series. These consoles were developed alongside its Studer brethren, and feature BSS EQ and Lexicon effects. They’re amazing boards; the Vi6 in particular is my standard console request on the production rider whenever I request a digital board. Even though Soundcraft has expanded its range since then, the main points and operating features have essentially remained the same. The newest offering from Soundcraft is the Si Compact. This small-format digital console is available in 16-, 24 and 32-channel versions – I’ve been trialling the 24-channel version, which somewhat confusingly, only has 22 faders! COMPACT & FLUORESCENT
As has become the norm with digital consoles, the faders of the diminutive Si Compact are arranged in six ‘layers’, with the default setting in this instance being Layer A: featuring mic inputs 1-22. Layer B presents the two ‘missing’ mic inputs 23 & 24 as a linked pair alongside all the stereo AT 72
inputs and FX returns. Then there’s a layer for bus outputs, MTX (matrix) outputs, and Graphic EQ – Low and High. It’s slightly odd having the last two mic inputs on the second layer, I must say, but there’s a technical reason for it. According to the manufacturer the fader layer system is designed around the mechanical requirements of the smallest console (which has room for 14 faders + masters) and the Vi I/O system, which is built in blocks of 8 (14 + 8 = 22). The ‘unused’ faders will apparently be employed in future software releases where more input channels are made available when using additional I/O, and for fader remapping to allow a channel to appear on both layers To make the console easy to navigate, Soundcraft has implemented a great function called Fader Glow, where each ‘type’ of fader is illuminated in a different colour. This makes the quick identification of which ‘layer’ (or status if you like) the faders are currently controlling a total nobrainer – assuming you’re not colour-blind. It significantly reduces the confusion associated with layers of this nature and prevents you from getting lost and accidentally adjusting something you’ve mistaken for something else. For example, if the faders are currently acting as Graphic EQ faders, they glow red. FADERS AIN’T FADERS
Each channel on the Compact also features a rotary encoder, although the use of this control is reasonably limited. The encoder can be assigned to gain, high-pass filter frequency, or pan, and act as the ‘channel to bus pan’ function when mixing to a stereo bus. Hopefully future firmware updates will expand this encoder’s capacity
The Si Compact features a 28-band graphic EQ from BSS on every bus; each and every aux, matrix, and master bus!
further. I would like to be able to assign it, for instance, to an aux send, since the only other way to change send levels is to enter the fader layer that controls them – or ‘Follow’ mode as Soundcraft refers to it. Problem is, when you do this, you’re immediately thrust into the world of my pet hate – losing control of your mix faders. This is actually the biggest issue I have with the console overall. Aside from this, however, using the console is pretty simple, as it should be. Indeed, my first outing with the board was in the heat of battle at South by Southwest with no soundcheck and only a 20-minute changeover. Mercifully, I didn’t run into any major surprises during the set. What you see is what you get with the Si Compact. Use the rotary encoder to gain up a channel, press the select button on the channel you want to alter, and, hey presto, all of its controls are available on the ‘ACS’ (Assignable Channel Strip), ie: the clearly defined phalanx of knobs at the top of the board! (See pic.) This control strip is broken up into five logical sections: input (with phase, 48V, gain and high-pass filter), a fully featured gate, a comprehensive compressor, a quality four-band EQ, and an output section incorporating delay and pan. It’s great to see phase and phantom power easily accessible here – on far too many other digital consoles these functions are buried several layers down. This is one of the primary selling points of the Si Compact; even though it’s a small format console there’s a dedicated control for every function. This is why the touchscreen at the top-left of the board is relatively small – it’s not really required all that often. Frankly, it only comes into play when performing utility functions like naming and storing mixes, since every other control has a dedicated encoder. The upshot of all this is that I found I used the console more like an analogue board – it’s intuitive and fast to get around. BUGBEARS
A couple of things bugged me from the outset though. Firstly, like some other lower-cost digital consoles, the gain pot ‘clicks’ when you adjust it. It’s as if the gain is stepped and the result is clearly audible through the PA on vocals. While it’s not the biggest drama in the world – assuming you set your gains at soundcheck and don’t change them – and even though it’s apparent on other consoles at the same price point, it does mean a live recording with the console is essentially impossible. While the illuminated soft-touch buttons are very nice, I was also somewhat perturbed by the ‘On’ and ‘Select’ buttons being so close together. I would have preferred to see the On button directly below the gain pot, followed by the meters (which show both input and gain reduction/gate operation for each channel) and then the Select and Solo buttons above the fader. In other words, separate the On and Select buttons with the meters. This would substantially reduce the possibility of accidently switching a channel off mid show – something that’s too easy to do when it’s not actually a mechanical switch. Another little oddity here is that the ‘Select’ button doesn’t follow the Solo, nor does there seem to be an option anywhere to make it do so. This is probably only really a concern if you were mixing monitors, as it does make it very easy to make the mistake of changing settings on one (selected) channel accidently while listening to another (that’s soloed). Partly this issue
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It might be compact but the Si has a seriously crammed rear panel; including 24 mic/line inputs and 16 outputs, all on XLR.
is one of familiarity of course, but it’s also about intuition, especially when you’re thrown onto the board with no guidance let alone time to read the manual – never a good look mid-show! NEED TO KNOW Price 16-Channel: $11,495 24-Channel: $14,995 32-Channel: $17,995 (but expect to find them going for substantially less than that in your local pro audio shop.) Contact Jands (02) 9582 0909 email@example.com www.jands.com.au Pros Dedicated control for every function. Great sounding inbuilt EQ and compressor. Graphic on every output setup as standard. Cons Routing limitations. Limited visual feedback on screen. Summary For the size and cost, this is an awesome console. Expect to see the Compact turning up where previously only an LS9 would be – a great step forward.
Having said all that, the console does really sound good. Most notably, the EQ sounds real, just like EQ should. It doesn’t sound digital, the way some other cheap digital consoles (or even some expensive ones) can when boosted. The compressor works well, and the meters on every channel are very helpful. MIX INTERROGATOR
The console is also remarkably quick to set up thanks to a feature called Interrogate. This offers a quick way of changing the status of any switch function in the Assignable Channel Strip across many channels. For example: to check the status of the LR routing switch from Inputs to the main LR bus, all you need to do is hold down the LR routing key of any channel, whereupon the Select keys on any other channels routed to LR will light up. While keeping the LR key pressed you can then toggle the status of the LR routing on any channels by pressing the Select keys of the channels you wish to include (or exclude) from the routing. Having the ability to perform simple tasks like assigning phantom, turning on HPFs and compressors with such a no-fuss approach means you can be up and running very quickly on the Compact without having to flick through endless pages. Fantastic. HIDDEN EXTRAS
In addition to the usual mixing console functions, there are several digital console extras on the Si Compact that many of us have grown accustomed to. The standout principle here though is the quality of those extras. There are four FX engines provided by Lexicon, which have dedicated aux buses in addition to the 14 auxes and four matrixes already available. There are, however, some routing limitations. For instance, they always return to their allocated faders on Layer B, so even if you were mixing a solo artist with only two or three inputs, you would still need to flip to the second layer to change your reverb returns. Boring. And as already mentioned, the limitation of the rotary channel encoder means that the only way to send to your FX is to enter Follow mode. The Si Compact also features a 28-band graphic EQ from BSS on every bus, each and every aux, matrix, and master bus! This means there’s no need to ‘patch’ the GEQ, just enable it whenever it’s required, with no risk of running out of DSP and no audible interruption. These graphics are
controlled by changing the fader layer to either Graphic Lo or Hi so that the console faders become representative of the Graphic EQ faders. I love the fact that these EQs are already in place and don’t need to be manually assigned or patched. Very cool. There are some other extra features on the Si Compact that really illustrate how Soundcraft have listened to digital console users. I know the ol’ ‘listening to users’ line sounds like a tattered cliché nowadays but in this case it’s true. One example I personally love is the fact the console offers four analogue insert send/returns. Lots of engineers still carry a must-have vocal chain for instance – myself included – and this feature makes inserting that chain a doddle. But you can’t have everything, as they say. There are some other things that are notably absent from the console. For instance, while inputs can be soft-patched – as we have all become accustomed – here there are some major, and somewhat irritating, limitations (and I’m not trying to be pedantic or contrary here just for the sake of it). Firstly, there’s no way to assign the L/R Mix directly to Mono/C. Currently you have to select mono on every single channel and bus should you want to send a copy of the mix to mono for instance (for say a delay or infill send). It’s also impossible to separate the main L and R output levels or the left and right controls on the graphic EQ. On the latter, if you’re in an odd sounding room and want to EQ the left and right separately, there’s no way to do it (one of the reasons why I still insist on outboard analogue graphics!). Channel input patching is also very limited. For example, there is currently no way to select the Stereo Return TRS jacks or internal FX returns to be available as input options for the Mono channels so that, as mentioned earlier, if you had a small mix and were not using all the mono channels you could lay your mix out across Layer A only. I can only hope that a lot of these ‘little’ problems will be solved as software updates become available for the console. If that happens the Si Compact will become a very solid console for the price point, and I will expect to see a lot of them showing up where previously there might have been the likes of a Yamaha LS9 or M7CL.
MANUFACTURER’S RIGHT OF REPLY
Regarding the assignment of the L/R Mix directly to Mono/C: It was the intention of the design that if a mono sum (or similar) of the buses were required this would be achieved using a matrix bus. The reason for this approach is it allows the ‘mono’ mix to be created from a sum of left, right and mono for those using the mono as a true centre bus.
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Stav’s shortcuts to great sounds! This book has quite literally saved me thousands of “pounds that I would have spent on bad engineers, wrong decisions and dead studio time. If you're in any way hesitant over the price of this book then drop those worries now - it will be the best few bucks/quid you ever spent. And when you get it for Gods sake don't talk the tricks around town. This is an opportunity to stay ahead of the competition... The book's inspiring and outstanding - the humour brings it to life. Most how-to books on engineering are dry as a Bedouin's tent flap. LOS - England
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STEINBERG CUBASE 6 The layer cake riseth. Text: Calum Orr
Nowadays it seems like every time you turn your back, another DAW is born or upgraded to the next numerical version. Take this issue of AT as proof. While the DAW is now firmly entrenched in the world of recording, some say it’s unnecessary to keep upgrading or crossgrading from one DAW to another. Quite frankly, with the new features of the top five DAW programs becoming so numerous and enticing, and with so many new virtual instruments and plug-ins being lashed on top of these already enormous and hard to digest cakes, the classic movie line from Eat The Rich – ‘Oh alright, one last wafer’ – springs quickly to mind. This latest version of Steinberg’s rock solid (and some would argue iconic) DAW, Cubase 6, is among the top five programs whose huge feature set is becoming more like a six-tiered wedding cake – to extend the metaphor vertically. Yet remarkably, after all the years of unifying audio and MIDI into the one program, along with Steinberg’s own inventions of ASIO and VST and all the other changes that have occurred along the way, the program is still easy as pie to navigate around. Better still, after all these additions and improvements, the program is better value than ever before. For songwriting – and I’m going to hang it out here for a moment so get ready to lay the boots in – Steinberg’s Cubase 6 is the premier DAW for the job, equal to Apple’s Logic Pro 9 (Ooo, ouch, ow, stop it!). With that statement AT 76
out of the way let’s unravel the reasons why I’m prepared to make such a call... EIGHT INTO SIX
Steinberg’s Cubase 6 comes with no less than eight virtual instruments individually suited to various styles of music. Let’s list these first to kick things off and give a brief overview of what each one can do. Firstly, there are the five synths introduced in previous versions of Cubase that should already be known to existing Cubase users: Embracer, a simple to use polyphonic synth that has minimal controls but is expert at producing pad sounds; Monologue, a monophonic analogue emulation synthesizer designed for lead and bass sounds; Mystic, (probably the strangest of the bunch) that derives its synthesis method from comb filtering in conjunction with feedback and is capable of a variety of tones ranging from ghostly to industrial clang; Prologue, a subtractive synthesizer with huge capabilities and seemingly endless tweakability; and Spector, which is based around a spectrum filter that enables the drawing of custom filter contours. All of these synths provide you with quality tools right from the heart of the program. Introduced in v5 of Cubase were Steinberg’s Loop Mash and Groove Agent One instruments. Loop Mash, which is designed for electronic and dance music productions,
has been updated to v2 in Cubase 6 and features some very handy – and addictive – additions. Users can now have up to 24 scenes loaded at a time and clips or files can be easily dragged and dropped into those scenes as well as to the new Groove Agent One drum trigger instrument. Of most relevance here are the 20 new performance controllers that provide all the latest tricks at the click of a button. Make the scenes stutter, scratch, slow down, reverse etc to your heart’s content. But be warned, this will lead you, bleary eyed, into the wee hours of the morning as you try every possible combination. Although I have no desire to be a dance producer I found Loop Mash very addictive. At times, however, I must confess I was a bit bamboozled by all its flashing lights and overall bling. Groove Agent One also got a makeover for this new release. Loosely based on the Akai MPC range of sample triggers. Groove Agent One is a pad-based sample player that comes with 66 preset kits ranging from techno to country. The Pad edit section lets you trim, tune, filter, change volume or pan the loaded samples while the pads themselves can change velocity from low to high, whether you’re hitting the pads at the bottom or the top respectively. Velocity can be set to maximum too if necessary via the V-Max button under the ‘Global’ section. The only issue here is the colour scheme – black writing on dark grey backgrounds had me peering into the GUI quite a lot. ALL NEW
An entirely new instrument introduced in v6 is the very capable Halion Sonic SE. Great for songsmiths and composers, Halion Sonic SE is a stripped back version of the full-blown Halion Sonic and sports more of a preset vibe, with no control over the provided waveforms, yet plenty of options for effecting the signal within via the four aux sends and four FX slots per send. Eighteen effects are available including all the bread and butter standards such as compression, delay and reverb, alongside a legacy section of effects that give you a further 24 options, some of which are quirkier such as Talkbox, Wah Pedal and Bit Reduction. A nice option in Halion Sonic SE is the ability to choose whether to stream its samples direct from disk, load them into RAM or establish a hybrid of both via a ‘balance’ slider that’s found under the Option tab. Another great feature in Halion Sonic SE is the ability to set the key range or minimum and maximum velocities via sliders found under the MIDI tab. This makes setting key groups and layers a breeze. The sounds on offer in Halion Sonic SE are of a high quality and mostly derived from the Yamaha Motif range of workstation keyboards. My only gripe about Halion Sonic SE is that some patches fail to find their samples but I guess this will be addressed in future updates of the program. CARROT CAKE
So from one large carrot to the biggest carrot of all… Steinberg’s VST Amp Rack. Eagerly awaited by the Cubase fraternity, I can say straight off the bat that VST Amp Rack really delivers. As a songwriting tool for guitarists or even as a post effect for mixers, the effects, amps and cabinets are all very good. Although it isn’t stated explicitly for all the usual legal reasons, Fender, Vox and Marshall amplifiers and cabinets all get a guernsey. There are eight amps and eight cabinets in total and you can mix ‘n’ match or link any amp with a matching cabinet. There are ‘pre’ and ‘post’ effects sections, the pedals of which look like ’80s Ibanez or Korg guitar pedals – a bit uninspiring and utilitarian looking perhaps, but sonically impressive. The amp tones really get you in the ballpark and the sound can be further tweaked via the microphone position tab that lets you select between a dynamic or a condenser mic, the distance from the cab and whether or not the mic is on- or off-axis. During use I compared it to Digidesign’s Eleven, Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig and Logic Pro’s Amp Designer and Pedal Board plug-ins. While it’s arguably not as pretty as some of the others, Steinberg’s VST Amp Rack is every bit as impressive tonally, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it (with a good quality DI of course). It’s perfect for DI’d ‘amp’ demos and less critical overdubs but I still contend you ought to use the real thing when you’re making a record, especially if you’re a guitar-based band. All up though, I thoroughly enjoyed whiling away the hours auditioning amp/cabinet/effects combinations. As far as songwriting tools go, Steinberg has really delivered with the new VST Amp Rack and Halion Sonic SE.
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Upgrades to Loop Mash (left) and new virtual instruments like Halion Sonic SE (above) are key new features of Cubase 6.
NEED TO KNOW Price $599 Contact Yamaha Music Australia 1800 331 130 www.yamahamusic.com.au Pros New and stable. New Halion Sonic SE VSTi and VST Amp Rack Plug-in. Inventive MIDI improvements. Hitpoint modifications a hit. Cons New delete function in the Arrange page could be implemented differently. GUI of Groove Agent One a bit dark. Summary Cubase 6 continues to evolve and improve in ways that will satisfy long-time users and newcomers alike. Amp Rack and Halion Sonic SE are great additions to the VST plug-in and instrument lists, as are several other less glamorous, though no less important, workflow improvements.
NUTS ‘N’ BOLTS
While the engineers in Steinberg’s creative department have been getting down to business many new workflow enhancements have also been added by the ‘nuts and bolts’ team. After listening to user feedback, Steinberg has now made it harder to accidentally delete files in the arrange page by making the removal of tracks possible only via a drop-down menu rather than the delete key. While some will praise this modification, personally I found this made deleting tracks a bit cumbersome. Maybe this could have been implemented as an either/or feature that you could switch on once you got to the mix stage... Definitely welcome, however, is the streamlining of the quantise function and the new Tempo Detection feature. In Cubase 6 you can now drop or import an audio file into the arrange page and select ‘Tempo Detection’ from the Project Menu. Cubase 6 will then analyse the track and lay a tempo track with graph under the audio file. This, in turn, allows the user to overdub MIDI parts and keep them in sync with tracks that weren’t previously played to click or that have wild tempo fluctuations as part of the ‘style’. To test this, I imported a couple of old tracks from a band I played in during the ’90s where the tempo graph looked more like recent fluctuations in the oil price, but admirably, Cubase 6 locked to it beautifully. A vastly streamlined feature in Cubase 6 is the Hitpoint detection. In previous versions hitpoints were calculated based on time, which invariably led to the potential for an abundance of markers being generated. Now hitpoints are detected via volume, which makes far more sense since with this feature you’re invariably working with percussive audio such as drum kits that provide easily readable transients. There’s a variable slider that acts like a threshold setting, for determining what parts of the waveform spikes become hitpoints, making the quantisation of a drum kit much faster. Cleaning up after quantising is much easier now too. For this, Cubase has added a ‘crossfade all regions’ feature to keep the edits click free. You can also globally apply an ‘auto extend’ function to the audio segments in order to fill in the gaps created after quantisation. While I never adjusted my tempos radically while trialing this new feature, changes up to 15BPM up or down seemed undetectable. I also really
liked the fact that you can tighten the drummer 100% (right on the beat) or be a bit more relaxed about it, leaving the feel intact by opting for a lesser percentage. These new features are going to save a lot of sessions from the rocks and maybe even a few drummers from getting the sack! VERY EXPRESSIVE
A major update like this is always a great excuse to release a new ground breaking feature, and so it is that Steinberg has released the all new ‘Note Expression’ feature in v6. Before now, MIDI notes and controller functions like modulation, pitch bend and portamento etc were separate functions, and controller messages could really only be added to groups of notes that shared a common start point. Now notes in the MIDI piano roll view can have controller messages individually applied. Simply double click on a MIDI note and the Note Expression window appears. Select a parameter from the note expression tab or the inspector, grab the pencil tool and draw in your pitch bends, modulations or any other control data you wish to manipulate. Now, for example, a string ensemble can have a more realistic feel by applying modulation or pitch bend etc to individual notes. While this is still fledgling technology it marks a significant move forward for MIDI users of Cubase. Of course, only Halion Sonic SE can currently interpret these note expression messages but I’d wager once this cool function catches on, other developers will follow suit with their VSTi offerings. Two final features I’d like to mention are the new lanes comp’ing feature, which enables easy comp’ing of tracks in the same way that Logic Pro handles the process, and the new Group Edit function that makes all tracks in the group folder behave the same way: ie, all moves, edits, mutes plus copy and paste functions apply to all tracks within the folder. This is a very welcome addition for those wanting to edit and rearrange multiple microphone overdub setups or, of course, instruments like multi-tracked drums. There’s lots to like and very little to dislike about the new version of Cubase. There’s a swag of new stuff to digest – even for hardened Cubase users – and plenty of workflow enhancements to make it more palatable for debutants. Another wafer anyone?
WITHOUT THE COMPROMISE
300W x 4 CHANNELS (100V @ 33.3Ω) • 1U Rack Size • Independent SMPS PSUE for Each Channel • Low Power Consumption, Low Heat and Light Weight • High Pass Filter Switch (65Hz/400Hz) • Volume or Trim Selectable (Internal) • Indicators: Protection, Clip, -10dB, -30dB • Protection: thermal, DC, Over Current, Output Short
www.magnasys.tv Distributed in Australia by: Magna Systems and Engineering, Unit 2, 28 Smith Street, Chatswood, NSW 2067 Australia Tel: (02) 9417 1111 Fax: (02) 9417 2394
A power amp with stats like this one is a total no-brainer. Text: Mark Woods
NEED TO KNOW Price V2-1000: $729 V2-2000: $900 V2-3000: $1290 V2-4000: $1400 Contact Magna Systems (02) 9417 1111 email@example.com www.magnasys.tv Pros Plenty of power. Solid construction. Great price. Cons Plain looks. No speaker wire posts. Noisy fan. Summary A maximum power output of 3800W (in bridged mono mode at 4Ω) from a 2U box that weighs in at only 12kg is an impressive stat in itself. Add to this equation great sound at an affordable price and there’s nothing to debate: the Inter-M V2-4000 is a winner.
If, in 1981, as I was lugging a rack of power amps up the back stairs of the Pier Hotel in Frankston, in the rain, I’d been told by the unfortunate fellow roadie on the other side of the rack that in the future power amps would produce nearly 4000 Watts, take up only 2U of space and weigh just 12kgs I would have said: ‘yeah right, roll another one’.
driven by different input levels: 1V is for professional audio gear with the option of 26dB or 32dB available if a low-level device, like a laptop, is driving the amp. A mode selector switch chooses between stereo, parallel or bridged mono operation. Speaker outputs are Speakon sockets only – there’s not even the option of bare-wire binding posts.
Thirty years later and that future is here. There are now lots of amps that meet those specs and what’s more, their prices are falling. Enter the new Inter-M V2 range of high performing, no-frills, power amps. Manufactured in Korea and designed for professional sound reinforcement applications, the four-model range starts with the V2-1000, that delivers a maximum of 500W per-channel into 2Ω and ends with the V2-4000, capable of delivering 1800W perchannel into 2Ω!
The Inter-M V2-4000 is certainly easy to use. Select from the few options there are and you’re rockin’. The fan comes on straight away and it’s pretty noisy even when the amp is cold so it’s not going to work for studio monitors, not unless it’s in a separate room, but it’s too powerful for the likes of NS10s etc anyway… maybe a giant set of wall monitors?
ONE-MAN (CLEAN &) JERK
I’ve been trying out the V2-4000 model recently and while it’s not the best looking amp I’ve ever seen (but who cares and who sees them anyway?) it’s got everything a hard working amp should have at an affordable price. The switched mode two-step Class-D design delivers the power with impressive noise and distortion specs. Build quality is solid, there’s an in-built variable-speed front-to-rear cooling fan, a switchable HPF and devices to guard against short circuit, overheating and DC output problems. Lifting it out of the box is easy. Indeed, the 4000 feels more like outboard gear than an amp. On the front panel there are two handles, a power switch (with Off/On muting), two rotary knobs for level control and two four-LED level indicator lights in 10dB steps with the top red LED indicating clip/protection. That’s it, apart from air vents with front-removable dust filters. The rear panel has a few more bells and whistles: linked balanced TRS and XLR input sockets are provided for each channel, as are switches to enable the HPF at either 30Hz or 50Hz and to engage the limiter. A voltage gain selector switch allows the amp to be
I didn’t check whether the rated power figures were correct but I have no cause whatsoever to doubt them – the amp sure has plenty of grunt. I’ve been using it to drive some passive 500W, 8Ω foldback speakers and have been lucky to ever see the –10dB indicator on peaks. It also gets the subs in my PA moving effortlessly but I haven’t been game to find full power. Hire companies, owners of large touring PAs and installations requiring big power will be the target customers for these amps and they will all appreciate the low cost (around $1400 for the V2-4000) as well as the small size and light weight. Inter-M is a large-scale manufacturer that sells products under its own name as well as manufacturing for other companies (OEM) so I would expect these amps to be reliable despite the modest price tag. They also come with a 12-month warranty for added peace of mind. Nice one.
EVOL AUDIO FUCIFIER
When someone tells you they’ve sold their soul to distortion they’re probably referring to the Prince of square waves himself, Evol Fucifier. Text: Greg Walker
‘Fucify’ verb… pronounced ‘Fu-si-fy’. To distort, tone-shape or mangle a sound by means of preamp overdrive, tape saturation simulation, resonant analogue filtering, two-band frequency distortion, inductor EQ or any combination of the above using a mono 2U device with crazy flashing lights. If I ever finish my literary life’s work – ‘The Distorter’s Handbook’, Evol Audio’s Fucifier will be one of the central characters in the narrative. Head designers John Kuker and Lorren Stafford at Evol have not done things by half here. From the branded timber veneer faceplate to the comically demonic and very informative manual “printed on 100% recycled human skin using biodegradable human blood” – I kid you not – the Fucifier is clearly a work of love made by audio obsessives who just can’t get enough of the dirty stuff. They even throw a plastic human skull into the shipping box to show you they mean business! The amount of features and distortion options this box gives you is truly heart-warming, and while the faceplate has a certain novelty value thanks to its quirky design smarts, the sonic toolset and the
sheer amount of grunt under the bonnet are all geared towards making great sounds. LOOK AT ME!
The first thing that struck me when I unpacked the Fucifier (apart from the skull of course), was the bold yellow timber-finished faceplate and the bright red aluminium casing. No conservative gun-metal greys or blacks to be seen here, and the ‘look at me’ aesthetic was really rammed home when I fired the unit up and the seven large transparent acrylic gain knobs glowed in different colours like a demented Christmas tree. While at first I had somewhat mixed feelings about all this bling, I soon got used to the flashing lights and learnt to read them as they were intended: non-existent or subdued flashes mean little incoming signal, brighter flashes mean plenty of incoming signal; handy for instantly assessing the various levels in your gain structure. Indeed the more I used the Fucifier the more sense this made as the absence of extra metering frees up space on the front panel and you really do have to constantly check your gain structures as there are so many elements at play here.
The ‘look at me’ aesthetic was really rammed home when I fired the unit up and the seven large transparent acrylic gain knobs glowed in different colours like a demented Christmas tree
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THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAIL
The controls are divided into six main sections – the distortion processing and EQ sections being enabled by blue ring-lit soft-switches. On the far left is the Input section with the first of the large flashing acrylic knobs controlling the gain of a switchable mic pre and line input as well as hi-Z DI input. The mic pre has no phantom power capability – a strange omission given the attention to detail elsewhere. The pre offers plenty of clean gain, however, for most standard dynamics, ribbons or remote powered condensers. Below these main controls are three small micro-pots for mic gain, instrument gain and dry blend gain. These allow you to set your basic input levels either to modest levels or to run the preamp hot from the get-go. Next along the chain is the Vintage Germanium Preamp section, driven by another gain knob along with separate tape drive and saturation controls, and a clean/dirty toggle switch that enables the tape saturation circuit. The Filter Distortion section that follows is probably the most unique sonic aspect of this unit, allowing the user to inject some very synth-like qualities into the sound with control over filter frequency, resonance, LFO modulation, rate and envelope amount. Another flashing gain control knob rounds out this section. DIVIDE & CONQUER
Just when you thought it was all getting a little complex, along comes the dual-band distortion section with separate sections for the high and low frequency components of your signal. Each band has its own gain and distortion level controls as well as a stepped pot giving you a choice of up to six distortion types, based on various combinations of transistor-based FET, LED lamp, Silicon and Germanium distortion. The high band also has a ‘symmetry’ control for clipping the top half of your waveform more (or less), and a three-way switch gives you high-pass, band-pass and HP+BP options. There’s also a very useful high/low frequency blend control for mixing the two bands to taste at the other end of all this sonic mayhem. A five-band graphic, inductor-based EQ comes next with yet another gain control. This section is simplicity itself and is easy to read at a glance; the five sliders are just begging to be toyed with, delivering very powerful and useful results with a minimum of fuss. Finally the Output section has another gain control (aaargh), a blend pot to mix the original unprocessed signal back in with your distorted sound, and then there’s the thoughtful addition of a speaker output jack and amp volume control so you can run the Fucifier as an amp head! Around the back there are line in, out and mic in XLR sockets, and two ¼-inch jack outputs for high and low frequency sends from the dual-band distortion section and even an expression pedal input for riding the filter’s frequency! DIABOLICAL MY DEAR WATSON
My first experiments with the Fucifier were somewhat alarming. There were massive jumps and drops in gain level when the different sections were engaged or disabled, but gradually I worked my way through it, rode the bumps and discovered the extraordinary potential inherent in this comprehensive distortion generator. Over-the-top, bad-assed distortion is extremely easy to generate at almost every stage of processing and it helps to back off a section’s gain if you want to really hear what’s going on further down the chain. The tape saturation and drive are very tasty, even in modest doses, and help to ring the filter’s bell as they feed into it. The filter does very interesting things to sounds and can be a really creative tool in subtle tone-shaping ways, as well as delivering bombastic shrieks and wild oscillations when driven flat out.
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NEED TO KNOW Price $3199 Contact Federal Audio 0404 921 781 firstname.lastname@example.org www.federalaudio.com.au Pros Great and versatile distortion tones. Tremendous sonic tweakability. The resonant filter takes things in interesting and unusual directions. Powerful EQ section. Blend control, mic preamp and speaker output add to versatility. Cons Pricey for a mono unit. Gain setup and tweaking takes some managing. Mic pre has no phantom power. Exuberant front panel won’t suit the ‘black-rack’ fraternity.. Summary A total one-stop distortion shop – Evol’s Fucifier excels on everything from subtle tone-shaping to full-tilt thrashing. The resonant filter and split-frequency processors give this device a unique personality and the EQ at the end of the chain gets a special mention for its effortless power. A winner… at least for the well-heeled studio owner.
The dual-band distortion section is pretty confusing at first but patience is rewarded here, and careful attention to the gain levels and LF/HF blend allows you to sculpt a wide range of tones with the help of all the distortion circuits on tap: the FET and LED settings work really well on low frequency information and have higher clipping thresholds; the Silicon setting has a brighter, crunchy signature; and the Germanium circuit delivers a rounder vintage tone. The EQ is great and allows you to rein in or emphasise different aspects of your sounds with its simple bands. It’s also worth noting how useful the wet/dry blend knob is on the output section. This type of control has found its way into a lot of processor designs lately and is a real blessing when working predominantly ‘in the box’ as it allows you to effectively parallel process your signals while mostly avoiding phase issues. LET IT BLEED
One of the first things I did once I’d got my head around the Fucifier was to process some individual drum tracks. My first big (and pleasant) surprise was on the snare track. I ran the tape simulator and tape drive levels at moderate levels to impart a bit of thickness and attitude, and then things got really interesting when I engaged the filter. By slowly introducing more resonance into the circuit and tuning the resonant frequency I discovered I could actually retune the drum and make it sound radically different to the raw sound. I found a higher note that sat better in the context of the song and then added further levels of euphonic bite with some Silicon high frequency distortion while treating the low frequencies to some FET action. I tweaked the LF/HF balance to about 30/70 to reduce unwanted low-frequency build-up and then played with gain levels here, there and everywhere to tune the exact amount of distortion I wanted from each section. A gentle nudge of EQ to emphasise the sweetest tones and, bingo, a brand new snare sound with bucket-loads of attitude that sat beautifully in the mix. On the mono overhead mic the Fucifier conjured up everything from mild enhancement to full-bore destruction without raising a sweat. I also processed some complete drum submixes to great effect and was firmly addicted by this point.
On lead vocals I was able to do any number of treatments that added focus, weight and attitude, again with an enormous amount of fine control over all the distortion artefacts. A penny-drop moment was when I processed a lead vocal and a stereo group of backing vocals complete with reverb sends on a mellow track. After much tweaking of frequencies and distortion types, the sound I ended up with was orders of magnitude better than what I started with. After running each channel of the stereo pair through the processing separately, not only had the sound of the vocals become far more compelling and sonically tuned to the track, the reverb had been transformed from an ordinary plug-in sound to something altogether more special, with a kind of analogue halo that certainly hadn’t been there before. I recorded some drums and guitars using the built-in preamp and found it to sound good and extremely versatile. Plugging the speaker output into my Fender Tremolux cabinet, I found the Fucifier worked best as an amp head on pretty heavy Germanium distortion settings where it evoked Marshall-esque tones from my Gibson SG. Though it lacked versatility it did sound pretty good for thick riffing and the like. SEEK & YOU SHALL TWEAK
To get the best out of the Fucifier much tweaking and juggling of gain structures is required, as well as a bit of patience. It’s definitely not a device you can set and forget, and neither is it for the time-challenged or those of a pedantically scientific mind. There are no centre detents or numerical markings on the acrylic gain knobs and technical information on the various processors is scarce, to say the least, though the manual is in other ways very informative. The Fucifier is an absolute tweaker’s delight and I found each session with it brought new discoveries and revealed more of its strengths. While flat-out distortion treatments are available in massive doses and sound great, I suspect those who delve more deeply will find that Evol’s demonic child is equally gifted at subtle euphonic enhancements and parallel processing tasks where it adds colour and texture, weight and dimension in a hundred different ways. While its price tag will unfortunately relegate it to more esoteric studio setups, those who can afford it will find many uses for the Fucifier and it will no doubt be a secret sauce in many a mix.
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CAKEWALK SONAR X1 PRODUCER
When you’re finding your way with sound, a few evolutionary adaptations can make all the difference. Text: Andrew Bencina
We’ve serialised the life cycle of Cakewalk’s flagship DAW in some detail in AT over the past five years. In our last episode (AT71), I rejoiced in what seemed to be Sonar’s fresh focus on stability and incremental development. On reflection, I misread the tea leaves. It now appears that the true form of the future Sonar was being cocooned amidst a significant period of re-development. In November last year Sonar X1 emerged; the most significant update to the Cakewalk workhorse since it adopted the Sonar moniker. Sonar X1 Producer is the top-of-the-line ‘professional’ edition of the Cakewalk DAW family for Windows 32- and 64-bit OS. Promoted as a one-stop shop for music composition, creation and publication it delivers a range of features and additional content we now take for granted with any major DAW. Available for the first time AT 86
in its entirety as a download (8.5 was only an update), the Producer package and all its content and updates exceeds 16GB. If you can’t face the winter chill for a trip to your local retailer you’d better make sure your monthly bandwidth limits have room to spare. A couple of nearcomplete corrupted downloads saw me exhaust mine so I’d recommend using a decent download manager if you choose to purchase online. THE REBIRTH
Sonar X1 Producer comes bundled with an extensive plugin, instrument and sample library including Dimension Pro, Session Drummer 3, True Pianos Amber, Rapture LE, Beatscape, Guitar Rig 4 LE, Perfect Space convolution reverb, Boost11 peak limiter and the LP-64 Linear Phase mastering EQ and multi-band compressor. This collection
Overview or crop for Control Bar: While there’s no substitute for an in-depth knowledge of your DAW’s keyboard shortcuts, X1’s new configurable Control Bar keeps many important functions within your mouse’s reach.
is augmented by a suite of plug-in effects from Sonitus, Cakewalk’s own S-series, DSP-FX and Half-Rack suites, Transient Shaper, Tube Leveller, the utility plug-in Channel Tools – providing sample delay, phase, stereo width and mid/side controls – and a series of 64-bit channel-strip plug-ins tailored for vocals, percussion and vintage tone. This will come as no surprise to existing users, of course, as these plug-ins have been included with the Producer edition of Sonar for some time. Aside from a nice collection of fresh sample libraries and rhythm patterns, X1’s only notable additions are four new essential instruments: Bass Guitar, String Section, Drum Kit and Electric Pianos. Each of the instruments include combinations of amp modelling, pedal effects, and other custom controls. While these may not be show stoppers, they’re very useful and nicely complement the existing options. Many of Sonar’s other features have also survived the X1 update. AudioSnap (audio quantise and stretching), Roland V-Vocal (pitch shifting), Step Sequencer, per-track MIDI arpeggiator, Matrix View (Ableton Live-esque scene changes and live loop sequencing), Synth Rack (instrument management), ReWire, Surround Mixing, X-ray (switchable transparency of inactive floating windows), Loop management and a host of other functions are back, and in some cases better than ever. X1 continues to boast a 64-bit doubleprecision audio engine and offers recording up to 64-bit/192kHz in a range of formats. (I have read elsewhere that X1 is capable of 384kHz mixes but this option wasn’t available in any menu I could find.) Track count is unlimited in all but the most basic versions of Sonar. For all intents and purposes Sonar X1 Producer sounds like and delivers much of the performance previously found in version 8.5. What has changed is how it helps you carry out these tasks. On paper it may sound similar but on startup I wondered whether I’d even launched the right program! METAMORPHOSIS
The new name may sound like a rocket but the splash screen looks more like a hipster’s t-shirt. Refreshingly, Sonar X1 blasts off much faster than some DAWs I’ve tested recently, like ProTools, which takes several minutes. You’re initially presented with a Quick Start dialog with links to recently opened projects, templates, the Help file and even online instructional videos. New users will then be invited to configure their preferred MIDI I/O settings. X1 initially adopts an audio configuration consistent with your Windows settings. A quick visit to the new Edit/Preferences dialog (keyboard shortcut P) will allow you to enable your preferred ASIO device. If you have multiple ASIO devices installed you’ll find this
process more tedious as each interface I/O pair needs to be selected or deselected from a list of all the available driver channels. If Cakewalk would add a master device select item here I’d be eternally grateful. When I finally got around to opening one of my existing Sonar 8.5 documents it became clear how much has changed. Much of the interface has been completely redesigned and even those elements that remain largely unchanged – like the Track view – now feature tweaked icons. The new ‘Skylight’ interface is slick without feeling too stylised and the overall look of the channels and controls seems more unified than in previous versions. Existing users will feel uneasy rather than being completely disoriented and newbies may find it all too familiar. There is little doubt this edition of Sonar has closely examined its competitors and absorbed many of their best elements.
The new ‘Skylight’ interface is slick without feeling too stylised and the overall look of the channels and controls seems more unified than in previous versions.
Sonar X1 is constructed from a series of discrete windows or ‘views’. Most are resizeable – which is nice – and all but the default Track view can be docked or floated. For those running a multiple monitor array this allows for infinite tailoring of your setup. To this end X1 provides 10 configurable ‘screensets’ facilitating one-button recall of your favourite layouts. Most will no doubt experience Skylight via a single display so I’ll try to focus on the key views. The heart of the DAW is the Track view. In this window we find all of our audio and MIDI channels arranged horizontally down the page. This is a pretty standard feature of every DAW but it’s worth noting a few Sonar specialities here. Sonar’s tracks are multi-layered and a buttonclick enables a per-track view of all recorded audio and MIDI takes. In 8.5 this icon indicated the current layer state of any track – it now inversely acts as a button for the state you’ll be selecting (I think I preferred the former). Clips can be muted and unmuted independently during comp’ing or played simultaneously for multi-track and layering effects. Individual layers also feature their own master mute and solo. This endures as my favourite Sonarism and is one of the reasons I continue to use the DAW on a daily basis in my studio. In addition to layers, X1 also provides plug-in inserts for, and parameter automation of, individual audio regions. Again a per-track select box configures the active display between waveform, audio transients (for Audio Snap), clip and track automation. For Sonar this is an either/or selection. Other DAWs offer duplicate track views for simultaneous viewing
COMMUNITY SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT In the simplest possible terms, the efficiency of Sonar’s waveform rendering is significantly reduced when using detailed gradual tempo variations. This means as you increase track and take numbers, you will experience less fluid graphics performance to a point of complete overload. At this point Sonar locks up in a cycle of ‘Not Responding’ messages. Changes to the rendering code in X1 have resulted in minor improvements but the specific weakness persists. To avoid or minimise this issue you can do a number of things. Most obviously, avoid using the Tempo automation feature of Sonar. This includes using AudioSnap to map the track tempo to an audio performance. If you have to use a tempo map, be sure to avoid ramped gradual changes and instead use coarser, stepped changes. Not ideal, I know. This should circumvent any decrease in graphics performance. If you’ve already been seriously affected by this issue – as I was recently – you have two options: ensure all of your clips are configured with an ‘Absolute Time Base’ within Clip Properties, and then delete all tempo changes; or deselect ‘Display Clip Contents’ in the Views/Display menu. Both of these solutions have obvious limitations but will allow you to work with problematic projects until the issue is resolved.
The Pro Channel: One click away on every track and bus of your project, the new Pro Channel features models of the UREI 1176 and SSL Bus compressor, three styles of EQ and a tube saturation stage.
and editing of each of these parameter layers. While not strictly necessary in X1 it would be great to see this appear in a future Sonar update. Sonar’s MIDI tracks offer a similar range of views. While separate MIDI and Staff view windows are present for detailed and expanded editing and composition, it’s possible to manipulate MIDI sequences directly from the track channels. Just as you can enlarge the waveform resolution of audio clips you can also zoom in on different piano roll ranges for quick and easy editing. I’ve not seen this feature elsewhere and after a small period of adjustment it has become my primary MIDI editing option, particularly for tightening my own sloppy performances.
NEED TO KNOW Price $499 Contact Roland Corporation (02) 9982 8266 email@example.com www.rolandcorp.com.au Pros ProChannel facilitates basic mixing with no additional plug-ins. Global Smart Tool simplifies audio, MIDI and automation editing. Significant improvements to menus and user configuration. Sonar continues to sound good. Cons Still a bit buggy. Multidock and X-ray perform inconsistently with thirdparty plug-ins. Media authoring a little weak. Cakewalk Publisher lacks support for some file types. Summary Sonar has long staked its claim as one of the big boys in the DAW market. X1 gives it every opportunity to solidify this position. Significant improvements to the user interface and configuration are complemented by the analogue console feel and sound of integrated Pro Channel strips. It still suffers from bugs and inconsistencies but hopefully Cakewalk has committed to the eradication of its current flaws it will be able to make the most of X1’s many desirable assets.
The Pro Channel is made up of three processing blocks: Compression, EQ and Tube Saturation
In addition to the main Track view, X1 features a Browser for drag ’n’ drop selection of projects, audio, MIDI and pattern files, plug-ins, and instruments. It’s even possible to insert an entire saved project into the currently opened document from here. Nice. A new ‘Control Bar’ can be floated or docked at either the top or bottom of your screen. Featuring all of the standard transport controls this view can also be customised with a range of task-specific modules like Punch, Markers, Snap, Looping etc. It’s likely that as you create different screensets (there’s a module for that too) you’ll quickly establish which of these modules is necessary for each stage of production. My favourite new control is ‘PDC’ on the Mix module. This button disables plugin delay compensation on all live input channels, greatly simplifying low-latency monitoring during last minute overdubs or when using third-party DSP cards. Another new addition to X1 is the Multidock. Again this view is resizeable, can be floated or docked, and allows for the tabbed viewing of most of Sonar’s other views; including the Console (mixer), Piano Roll, Staff, Markers, Video, Matrix and others. If you’re using a number of different windows all the time this is an excellent addition to the workspace, particularly on smaller displays. While it is possible to dock some plug-in editors, I found the ones that worked to be in the minority. Those that did, like the Sonitus suite, then lacked vertical scrolling to allow access to all parameters when the Multidock was a smaller height than the plug-in interface. INSPECTOR GADGET
Last, but certainly not least, is the Inspector. Usually docked to the left of screen, this channel strip view of the selected track goes far beyond previous incarnations. For starters, it’s now two channels wide and displays both the active track and either its output bus or a selectable send channel. Tabs at the top of the Inspector reveal Clip and Track properties previously confined to right-click menu dialogs, and new MIDI channel strips provide plenty of room for parameters including the per-track arpeggiators. A third tab reveals the ‘Pro Channel’ strip common to all tracks and buses in your
X1 Producer console. The Pro Channel is made up of three processing blocks: Compression, EQ and Tube Saturation. Their order can be rearranged as desired, they can be enabled individually, and the strip as a whole can be placed pre or post your plug-in bin – which, as it happens, now supports the saving and loading of nested plug-in chains. The compressor module offers either a vintage FET compressor (PC76) or a classic console bus compressor (PC4K). While these may lack the depth of some other third-party versions of these effects, they’re definitely reminiscent of them and very handy indeed. The Gloss EQ is a four-band parametric with optional high and low shelves and separate high- and low-pass filters. Three EQ topologies are available to emulate vintage hardware, modern hardware and transparent mastering EQs while a ‘gloss’ switch provides an airy presence boost. An auto scaling curve display is incorporated with three resolutions: ±6, 12 and 18dB. A tube saturation stage rounds out the strip. CRITICAL FIX-UPS
It may not be quite as glamorous, but Sonar X1 has also addressed two of my long-term criticisms, which is great news. Endlessly nested right-click context menus and disparate settings dialogs have been streamlined. Most key settings now reside within a single Preferences menu while more specific options are located in clearly labelled drop-down menus at the top of the relevant view. Likewise a convoluted array of tools tailored to each view has been replaced by a universal toolkit. Sonar has featured a multipurpose tool for some time but it has been advanced with the development of the Smart tool in combination with pertrack edit filters. Now all we need is some basic waveform editing and a decent media mastering application to replace the basic CD burner. As we have unfortunately come to understand and tolerate, significant software updates are regularly partnered by a period of increased instability with DAW releases of all makes and models. Sonar X1 is no exception, and despite two major maintenance releases this period of refinement looks set to continue as a range of minor and more critical kinks remain (see my Community Service announcement for the details of one of these). Despite these teething issues it’s still too early to tell whether Cakewalk’s ‘DAW 2.0’ has morphed into a beautiful butterfly or modest moth. As a long-time daily user of the program I’m impressed by the significant changes but keen to see these lastest wave of bugs fixed without delay. What regular user wouldn’t be? Overall though, there’s a lot to like about Sonar X1. It looks good, is far more ergonomic, offers more facilities than ever before and still sounds great.
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Audio Objects With Handles: these make file editing and manipulation fun and intuitive.
MAGIX SEQUOIA 11
Like the Californian giant, Sequoia stands tall and imposing in a forest of audio applications. Text: Robin Gist
In the interests of full disclosure, I need to state that I am a long-time Magix Samplitude user and fan, but apart from experiencing Sequoia in use at both Benchmark and 301 Mastering in Sydney, this is the first time I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces hands-on!
offers a high degree of visual and general customisation that enhances both workflow and creativity. Let’s have a look at some of the more interesting features that set Sequoia apart from the pack.
Sequoia is the flagship PC application amongst a series of audio products from Magix that includes Samplitude, Samplitude Pro, Vandal, a suite of high quality VST plug-ins and the entry-level Magix Music Maker. Sequoia comes complete with all the Magix plug-ins included, and as such, is a ready-to-go DAW application that will allow you to tackle any audio job big or small. From the simplest voiceover to a complex multitrack recording, MIDI sequencing with soft instruments through to audio post and red-book CD and DVD audio mastering, Sequoia can do it all.
Both Sequoia and Samplitude use the concept of objectbased audio editing, which is a very powerful feature in its own right. The individual visual objects that represent every audio segment in a project have five handles each. This intuitive approach works at the most basic of levels – the top horizontal handle of an object controls its volume, manipulating the top left handle controls fade-in time while the top right handle – yes, you guessed it – controls the start point of your fade out. The final pair, the bottom left and right handles (not love), delineate the start and end points of the audio segment within the object. Then, more specifically, in ‘time’ and ‘pitch stretch’ mouse mode, the bottom right handle controls the amount of time stretch while a new central handle – that appears only when you’re in this mode – moves vertically up and down to set the pitch.
As well as the inclusion of the aforementioned plug-ins, Sequoia distinguishes itself from its binary stablemates by the addition of a powerful four-point editing system, OMF/ AAF import, SDII import, DDP support, 12.0 surround mixing, EuCon protocol, radio content management system integration and a raft of extensive video and networking options. Unlike other top-end audio apps, Sequoia also AT 90
You can apply plug-ins to each individual object, EQ them and group them. You can cut them into the smallest size you like and even have a different range of effects or EQs on each
one, which is very useful in a mastering situation. ‘A different EQ for every word of a chorus’ I hear you say – easily done. You can do this, keeping all the objects on one track, apply further processing at a channel level and do it all in real-time without having to bounce, render or use up extra channels for different effects! You can even burn a CD straight from the multitrack session without having to bounce down. This is one very powerful app. HIT FOR FOUR
At the top of Sequoia’s distinguishing features list would have to be the four-point editing system. This feature allows you to set the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ edit points on both source and destination tracks and then perform the edit in one operation. It also works with multitrack files as well as allowing for differing source and destination tracks. Within this function are the sub choices of inserting the source material and shifting the subsequent material in the edit to the right or overwriting existing material with the source material. Working in conjunction with four point editing is the multi-synchronous editing function or what Magix calls ‘MuSyC’. The object of MuSyC is to minimise time spent searching for similar passages of music that you might want to audition within a project. This feature gives you an overview project window that lets you see primary source material that has been recorded as multiple takes. The takes are analysed for musical similarity and then ordered as individual visual objects. You can then easily audition these takes synchronised to an edit point within your main project. As you can imagine, this is a very powerful feature that has the potential to speed up workflow considerably.
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IT GOES UP TO 12?
I am not aware of any other software that allows you to mix in surround using up to 12 channels. You could probably fudge something with auxiliaries or buses in other applications but Sequoia is good to go if you get that call to mix the next huge Hollywood blockbuster in glorious 12-channel surround and have it done by last week. All other variants of surround configurations, for your less urgent smaller-scale projects, are of course available as well. The screenshot (overleaf) shows the surround editor with the movable mix position ‘M’ indicated by the orange dot and the surrounding 12 channel positions with their relevant levels. I wish I had a 12-channel monitor system just to listen to and experience the journey of the sound of the ‘AT’ automation curve I drew in the editor! The surround editor can also operate in different visual modes that include sound field, angle and panning law modes that all offer great visual representations of complex positional mixing tasks. SUITE PLUG-INS
The restoration suite native plug-ins are worth a mention and consist of a de-noiser, a de-clipper, a de-hisser and a combination de-clicker/de-crackler. The de-noiser lets you sample your own noise or select from a list of presets.
• Up to 150MHz tuning range • 256 bit RC4 signal encryption for secure audio transmission • 2-channel digital true-diversity receiver • No Compander (used in analogue systems): higher sound quality • On-board DSP per channel (Compressor, EQ, Limiter) • Quick setup via infrared data link to the transmitter • Graphical spectrum analyser helps find clear channels • Remote monitoring and control via PC
The De-Noiser Plug-in lets you tailor your own noise reduction. AT 91
The Surround Editor: with this tool you can pan things like never before… or simply use it as an Etchasketch.
NEED TO KNOW Price $3850 Contact Professional Audio Technology (02) 9476 1272 firstname.lastname@example.org www.proaudiotechnology.com.au Pros Transparency of processing. Powerful object-based editing. Extensive feature set. Compatible with all major PC Audio hardware. Cons Expensive. PC only. Summary A complete and powerful audio app that can do anything asked of it. It’s intuitive to use, sounds pristine and provides a comprehensive professional working environment.
It displays a multi-plot graphic representation of the process – pretty standard in most de-noisers these days, but this plug-in also lets you draw, either free hand or assisted, a filter EQ curve directly onto the display giving the user great flexibility and control over tailoring of the noise sample. As you can see from the screenshot on the previous page, there is plenty of control over artefact suppression, which is essential and helps fine-tune the quality and transparency of the noise reduction. I found this plug-in worked very well on all kinds of material – from noisy electric guitars to hissy vinyl transfers. The other restoration plug-ins in the suite are similarly designed, each with graphic representations of their functionality and each doing a great job for its intended purpose. FINAL FILES & FORMATS
Continuing on with some of the other more interesting features and further to Sequoia’s mastering capabilities is the program’s ability to export the final master as a DDP file. Disc Description Protocol is a proprietary format used to specify the contents of optical discs including CDs and DVDs. The main advantage with a DDP export is you can FTP the file. You can send it directly to a production facility and of course to the client(s) who, with the aid of some software, can check an image of their final production CD or DVD master. Sequoia can also import and export AAF (Advanced Authoring Format) and OMF (Open Media Framework) files without the need to purchase any extra ‘translating’ software. These formats will be familiar to anyone who has worked in post-production and the ease with which Sequoia handles them means projects can be exchanged quickly and painlessly from other platforms.
FLOATS MY BOAT
Some of the things that initially attracted me to Samplitude way back at version 1 were floating-point processing and the option to use any PC-compatible hardware that I liked or, more realistically, could afford. The audible benefits of floating-point processing are well known and Sequoia takes full advantage of this architecture using selectable 32-bit floating-point internal processing at all the standard sample rates up to and including 384kHz. It is fair to say that the sound of most studios using a DAW is more greatly affected by the choice of monitors, converters, consoles and, of course, the acoustic design of the space it’s in, rather than the ‘sound’ of a certain piece of software. However, after using different audio apps in the same studio for a while, you can start to hear the differences between them, subtle as they may be. In this respect, Sequoia would have to be the most sonically pristine of all the apps I have used to date, no doubt due to the increased digital headroom that 32-bit floating point internal processing provides for. This level of fidelity is obviously extremely important in a mastering application. TALL TIMBER
Sequoia is used by a number of very well known mastering houses around the globe and for good reason. With the power of native processing increasing all the time, the reliance on and the need for costly proprietary hardware systems is diminishing and as I mentioned before, Sequoia will work with any PC audio hardware of your choice. In looking at some of Sequoia’s more distinguishing aspects, I have only scratched the surface of this very powerful program and if you visit the Sequoia website there is a downloadable PDF which lists all of its numerous features. Clearly the power contained in this application is beyond the requirements of most. However, if you’re after a program that can handle virtually any audio job thrown at it, then you should take a very close look at Sequoia.
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EV TX1122FM & TX1152FM WEDGES Tall and passive, these new foldback wedges aren’t exactly hangin’ with the low-profile active trendsetters – but they do sound remarkably good. Text: Mark Woods
To hear the late Bruce Jackson tell it, foldback wedges were largely developed in response to Elvis Presley’s demands – sometimes mid show – for clearer sound on stage. Bruce was Elvis’s FOH mixer at the time and developed the whole concept of the ‘monitor engineer’ so Elvis could hear himself over his vociferous – read: ‘screaming’ – fans. This largely solved Elvis’s problem but also simultaneously lost Bruce his FOH job. From that moment onwards, Elvis was insistent on Bruce sitting on the side of stage controlling the foldback. The idea quickly caught on and black boxes sitting on stage blocking the audience’s view of the performers’ lower legs are still standard issue for most live shows. Before wedges there was no foldback. Bill Monroe (inventor of Bluegrass) is often quoted as saying that “foldback ain’t good for nothin” and for many acoustic styles he was – and still is – quite right. Trying to blast the sound of the on-stage vocals and instruments back onto the stage, usually directly at the microphones, just can’t be good for true fidelity, and feedback is always annoying. THIN END OF THE WEDGE
The last decade has seen the rapid development and adoption of in-ear monitors that promise to eliminate the visual and aural problems of foldback wedges but, apart from making the performers look like they’re hearingimpaired, I’ve often found that those using ‘ears’ tend to wander around the stage in a disassociated daze. And AT 94
they take the longest time to get their balance right at soundcheck. So wedges it is, for anything other than pure acoustic shows. Moreover, good wedges, well tuned and positioned, can be the glue that binds the stage sound together, enabling the singers to hear themselves and instrument signals to go where they’re needed so that everyone can hear what they want. As part of its new Tour X line of speakers EV now offers two ‘vertically-designed’ – meaning that the tweeter is above the driver – foldback wedges: the 12-inch two-way TX1122FM and the 15-inch two-way TX1152FM. Apart from the different woofer sizes the wedges are very similar in construction and are good examples of modern, practical passive speaker design. Both models fire upwards at 55 degrees and feature EV’s Signal Synchronised Transducers, where the horn and woofer are mounted on separate baffle boards with the horn flare mounted in front of the woofer baffle. This enables the LF and HF drivers to be physically close to each other with the drivers aligned to produce a linear phase response. The gap between the baffles further acts as a low-frequency port. PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE
Both models use the same 32mm diaphragm titanium compression driver and 90º x 50º horn flare. These are passive wedges but the internal electronics include a 24dB
Both worked every night and I didn’t find any limits to them in either volume or quality.
per-octave crossover, some preset EQ and a HF protection circuit. Power handling is rated at 500W continuous (2000W peak) resulting in maximum calculated SPLs above 130dB. The cabinets are made from plywood and MDF and finished with EV’s own EVCoat – a ‘paint-like’ waterproof coating. The waterproofing is a good idea it turns out – the recent floods near where I live have given me an insight into how readily MDF disintegrates when wet. The vertical design means they look tall compared to their width. The other distinctive feature of these wedges is the horizontal groove across the centre of the front of the cabinet that features a prominent EV logo. This makes the grilles feel solid and resonance-free. The 16GA black powdercoat steel grille is also slightly arched for greater strength but it flexes in fairly easily and I’m not sure what would happen if it got stood on. Both models do sit up quite high – 475mm for the TX1152FM and 440mm for the TX1122FM – but their footprints are as small as they can be given the components inside. I especially liked the four-way handles on the sides of the cabinets that make it easy to grab the wedges from different positions. Weight is reasonable at 20kg for the TX112FM and 23.5kgs for the TX1152FM. Connection to a power amp is via linked Speakon NL4 sockets on a recessed panel on the rear of the cabinet. This location keeps the leads safely away from the performers but you need to tip the cabinet forwards to be able to see the sockets and make the connection. In use these wedges are fuss-free and very capable. Testing with a range of popular vocal mics displayed a flat frequency response that accurately revealed each microphone’s individual characteristic. I was pleased to see EV has included a frequency response plot as part of the specifications too. Of all the audio gear in the world, speakers generally have the least linear response, but both these models are within about 3dB of flat from 100Hz to beyond 10kHz, with the TX1152FM being slightly flatter across the range. The low-frequency –3dB point is quoted at 65Hz for the 15-inch woofer (70Hz for the 12-inch) and on both models the low-end sound is tight, rather than thick or deep, and not at all boomy. The mids are clear, slightly forward and accurate – just right for vocals. The horn is impressive in its detail and offers extended frequency response. The –3dB at this end of the spectrum is quoted at 20kHz, giving vocals a pleasant airiness and adding a good amount of sparkle to instruments, especially acoustic guitars.
Both these speakers are stable at high volumes and the flat frequency response helps minimise feedback. When pushed to become unstable it’s more to do with the response of the microphone rather than any particular non-linearity in the wedges themselves. SM58s get edgy around 2 – 4kHz, Betas a little higher, while flatter condensers seem to become unstable more evenly from high to low. External EQ helps get more out of them but its only needed if the application requires the highest possible volume… and no, that is not all the time. There’s not much difference in the sound of the two models but it’s noticeable. I preferred the bigger sound of the TX1152FM compared to the slightly boxier TX1122FM but the increased size of the larger model was a negative in some situations. As well as taking up less (valuable) stage space small wedges look better than big ones by not dwarfing the performers or hiding potentially attractive ankles. ACTING UP
The first show I tried them at was Rick Price performing solo with an acoustic guitar on a very small stage. I used the TX1122FM with no external EQ and he was happy to comment on the clarity and accuracy of the sound. The bi-annual Castlemaine State Festival was next and for two weeks the EV wedges were used for a variety of acts from full-sound big-band acts using up to eight foldback sends, through to delicate acoustic groups seeking sensitivity and accuracy from their monitors. It’s a big stage at the Theatre Royal so the TX1152FM got the main vocal/instrument, with the TX1122FM filling in as required. Both worked every night and I didn’t find any limits to them in either volume or quality. The TX1152FM stepped in as a drum monitor by one act which didn’t want the larger house drum fill and in this role it worked well. There wasn’t much subbass available but plenty of whack and it didn’t overload.
NEED TO KNOW Price TX1122FM: $1299 TX1152FM: $1349 Contact Bosch Communications (02) 9683 4752 email@example.com boschcommunications.com.au Pros Excellent sound quality. Capable power handling. Keenly priced. Cons Quite tall on stage. Hidden connectors. Summary In such an ‘active’ speaker climate, these new passive EV wedges might be misconstrued as being old-fashioned, but they’re not. They sound great and provide a high quality foldback option that doesn’t involve power leads on stage.
It’s tempting to think of passive speakers as being old fashioned as they don’t offer the plug ’n’ play convenience of powered speakers, but these simple, high quality wedges do a great job at a good price. EV has developed the Tour X range for small to medium applications but I can’t see or hear any reason why the TX1152FM and TX1122FM wedges couldn’t be used on any sized stage with good results. Wedges live on. Thanks Bruce.
LIVIN’ LARGE ON THE INTERNET
Isn’t it time we called out the fraudsters? Text: Rick O’Neil
I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of Roger Nichols the other day – consummate engineer and one the main reasons you get to read my stuff at the back of this mag every issue. A real inspiration. Decades ago I used to read his ramblings in the back of EQ magazine, along with Stephen St. Croix in Mix magazine. I really connected with these two audio guys – they knew about the stuff I knew, but more than that they knew and explained the stuff I didn’t. And they always did it in an obtuse, left-of-field kind of way, making the concepts they imparted much bigger than the words they actually typed. Those guys gave me endless things to think about, always with a good dose of humour and almost other-worldly connections when it came down to the private business of contemplating audio. Along with the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, both have passed away in recent times. Vonnegut of course was one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century and another profound influence on the way I write, think and talk. I always figure if I have one tenth as much to offer the world as an abstract yet succinct ideas man, I’ll be well pleased with myself. (I’m still working AT 96
on being well pleased with myself – when I get there, trust me, you lot will be the first to know.)
These guys were the gearsluts, and to make my point a little clearer, they were the real deal.
Now if none of these three names ring a bell, that’s okay; they all did their life’s best work well before the internet kicked off. Roger was behind the mixing desk for most of Steely Dan’s career – Aja being an obvious highlight. He also invented the digital drum sampler. Steven St. Croix, well, where do you start? He recorded Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life and invented the Marshal time modulator. And Kurt Vonnegut... Google him if you’ve never heard the name. Until he died a year or three ago he was what they call a ‘living legend’… nothing to do with audio but clearly cut from the same cloth as the other two – geniuses all three to be sure.
Moving on, I want to talk about the rise of the self-proclaimed internet legends. I would probably fall into this category too, except for the fact that I was self-proclaiming that title long before the internet had audio forums. What I find most puzzling about the internet (and, in fact, life in general at this juncture) is how quick the web is to hand out celebrity status to anybody that wants their name associated with something great. All you have to do to it seems is type a snazzy press release, or better still start a forum post, and before you know it you’re a living legend. If that doesn’t work, stick around until next year and you’ll be ‘old school’...
Among the ‘real deal’ legends that haunt the net on a nightly basis is a character many will recognise by the name of Fletcher. Let me tell you from experience this guy is the real deal – within his world of expertise anyway.
Okay, so that was before the internet. Coincidentally, Roger happened to be the guy that coined the name ‘gearsluts’ – it was the name of his audio clubhouse long before its namesake on the web. He used to hang out with mates like Donald Fagan, the aforementioned Stephen St. Croix, George Massenburg, Doug Sax and our own Bruce Jackson, and talk about the audio gear they were buying, using or in many cases inventing.
He used to own and run a gear pimping operation known as Mercenary Audio, which is how I first met Mr Fletcher maybe 17 years ago when I was part of a group of local buyers in Australia selling him a few Neve consoles (Fletcher is his last name by the way).
I remember he made the trip to Sydney from The States for the loot and after we divvied up the cash I played tour guide to him for a week. In that time it was pretty obvious that Fletcher knew the ins and outs of vintage gear and sound engineering – like nobody I had ever met. It’s no surprise to me that Fletcher has since risen to the top of the internet gear heroes chart – what he doesn’t know he will quickly make up on the spot and generally be dead right. If not, he defers to somebody who is. Dunno if Fletcher reads but if he does he must have read Vonnegut. My point is that way back then, when he was telling me about this mythical shop in The States that only sold vintage pro gear (while I drove him around Sydney rounding up more of the same), he told me that anyone who worked for him selling audio gear would get the standard US public holidays in paid leave plus one week’s leave without pay. In that week, if you wanted to continue to work for him, you had to work on at least one commercial record, get your name on it or find a new job. If you couldn’t (or didn’t) make a record at least once a year every year you didn’t deserve to work for him. At least that’s what he told me! THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
That was the state of the old-school pro audio game in the ’90s but where are we now? Well I’ll tell you – we’re lost on the road to Damascus. Everybody on the internet these days seems to be a self-proclaimed expert – and the more posts you have on the forums, the more likely it is that you’ll be considered one. But frankly, I find it very hard to know why people type some of the stuff they do on the net. It’s funny to watch: two years earlier somebody will be asking ‘how do I plug this in?’ then two years down the track they’re commanding an audience on three subjects at once and berating the newbies as ‘try-hards’. You know the drill. All I
can say is there must be immense personal power coming back out of the net. What other reason can there be for spending half your nights living as a fraudster? The internet is a fascinating place to be sure but I find it peculiar that some of the nicest guys I have met are absolute bully boy dickheads when they enter the hidden masked world of the internet forum – the place where everybody can be anybody, and usually mysterious. FIRST NAMES PLEASE
There’s a forum attached to my website that’s been running for about 10 years now. Many years ago I insisted that everybody on it use their real names. There was a bit of a ‘what about Big Brother?’ type protest at the time so I backed off a bit and reduced the demand to first names only... And that was the end of any of the posturing that goes on elsewhere on other audio forums. It’s funny how putting your name to something tends to settle the egos right down to reality… in two seconds flat! Anyway, let’s back up a bit and explore the idea Fletcher first stuck in my head all those years ago – that anybody working for him selling gear had to get there name on a released record every year! Wouldn’t it be cool if every audio opinion you ever heard or read about a piece of equipment came qualified with the idea that the guy making the noise had actually used the device and developed the opinion through first-hand experience. One record a year… that’s not too much to ask is it? A lot of audio sales types would clear that hurdle easily. Of course, a lot would fall on it too. There’s also a bunch of people in that world that haven’t made a record in this decade… or any other decade. And that’s fine too – you don’t have to make music to sell products to people, or even necessarily know lots about those products. Great salesmen know how to defer to the opinions of
those that do know – they join the dots for you, even drive you to the place of the guy who knows and then sit out of the way until you’re ready to buy something. I reckon that’s the only classy way to not know what you’re talking about. But there’s a point in audio where ideas get caught in whirlpools and reality gets spun out of the vortex never to be seen again. I think most of us play on the Gearslutz forum from time to time – it’s the worst and best example of what the internet has done to common sense that I have ever experienced. If later in the audio timeline the only history of mankind making recorded music is the crap that gets discussed on the internet audio forums – well... let’s hope there’s a brighter side to it all. And, of course, there is a brighter side. Anything you dream of in pro audio can be Googled these days and a picture found along with a word or 300 devoted to its uses. I do it every day – it’s great. Twenty years ago if I wanted to hear what an API 550 equaliser sounded like I had to stay up late in the night and call some unknown guy in Broken Arrow, Texas, do a deal where I sent him a box of old heavy stuff that I’d found in my travels and he would send me a box of old heavy stuff he’d found in his. A month later I would open up the box he’d sent to find I had traded four 2254 Neve limiters that I’d bought for $800 for four API EQs, an original LA-2A, some Langevin EQs, a Gates STA Level and two Neumann U47FETs. That guy thought he was getting a great deal as he only paid $700 for his booty and I thought I was getting a great deal because nobody I knew personally had ever seen this stuff. It was a mystery. I plugged in the APIs and played with them for a year or three, then sold or traded them for some other piece of heavy audio junk. The other stuff is scattered to the four winds, except strangely the Langevin EQs – I found them the other day and finally plugged them in! They’re nice – but
be part of something big!
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not what I thought they would sound like. I was basing my recent expectations on opinions from the internet of course. They’re nothing like a Pultec as it turns out – but they just might end up in my mastering rack all the same. That’s the best way to learn about this stuff I reckon – well, at least it’s the most thorough way to do it. Use your own money in your own time and forge your own opinions based on your own experiences. Weirdly, from time to time, you meet people that agree with you and a few that disagree – it’s all okay in that context I reckon… until you stumble into the self-proclaimed expert swamp called the internet forum, that is. It can be pretty smelly in there at times.
There’s a point in audio where ideas get caught in whirlpools and reality gets spun out of the vortex never to be seen again.
WADING INTO THE FORUM SWAMP
To wade in, all you have to do is be interested, but unfortunately a lot of people seem to mistake the phrase ‘be interested’ for ‘being interesting’ and so the pool quickly grows thick and slimy with liars, fools and their audio disciples. The occasional expert swims around, of course, but unless they have the knack of being funny or knowing when to switch their computer off it’s almost embarrassing watching the turmoil these people generate – especially when the people in the scuffles tell me they’re enjoying the brawl. Sad in a ‘gotta watch the car crash’ kind of way really. It’s not all sales and internet focused either – this self-proclaimed expert caper – the audio schools are rife with it too. If you’re a school lecturer who’s spent his or her time learning your educational chops I think that’s cool. But I stop and wonder sometimes about my several friends who play the audio school charade. Initially they get caught up in the wonder of teaching, then the glow of an audience, and finally, the vortex. Along with whatever qualifications the government is applying to audio school lecturers, they should have to go out and get their name on a released record once a year as well! And I’m not talking about the kind of record where you get 10 students to help explore the relative merits of an MS approach to acoustic guitar recordings on a pretend artist (who is also a student), and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I mean the kind where the band are making AT 98
music and you’re on your own capturing it, where there’s no time to stop and bask in the glory and power of having your students amazed by the process – just a good old-fashioned session where the only person really interested in the machines and the interaction between them, the dynamic range and the tone is you! The band just want to hear themselves sounding great whether it’s in MS, super stereo, 192kHz dithered sound or not. Now I’m sure all this talk might seem a bit general and odd sounding if it doesn’t apply to you. However, if you find yourself a bit squeamish at the ‘ridiculous prospect’ of showing your current album credit list as proof that you know what you’re talking about before you’re allowed to sell gear, teach in audio school, write for an audio magazine or post a strong opinion on the internet, well then I can only suspect the reason you feel this way is because you know you’ve strayed from the path. Put it in your diary: “I’d better get out of my whirlpool and make a record this year.” It might be more fun than you think… and a bit harder than you imagined. It’s okay – a good dose of humility never hurt anybody. GATHERING EXPERIENCE
I’m spending my days and nights building my new studio in much the same way as I discovered things about classic vintage gear many years ago. It too is more fun than I imagined and certainly much harder, but you won’t find a studio building blog about it in my new forum on the net. I mean, I know how to build studios; I’ve done it before often enough to be a self-proclaimed expert – I probably already am. But this time I’m doing things I haven’t done before, trying out techniques that I modify into successes as they fail around me in my secret midnight empire. I know it will be worth it in the end and that I’m building a very large set of spaces on a shoestring budget helps to keep it interesting. Sure, I could have scored a huge loan and thrown other people’s money at the problem, but that just makes the building easier and enjoying the studio under the weight of the loans that much harder. Who needs that? I think there’s something real and honourable about doing the work yourself and knowing what you know, learning what you learn. I wish everybody in the audio business that pleasure, whether they’re putting up a Gyprock wall or working on that wall of sound. It’s so much better for the soul than living life large on the internet. Rick O’Neil runs Turtlerock in Leichhardt, Sydney. He wrote this article looking out over the cliffs from a villa in the Greek Mediterranean – if ever he was somewhere he didn’t deserve to be, this was the time and the place.
freedom to perform
Steinbergâ€™s CI series is made up of three outstanding USB-powered audio interfaces, delivering a complete system solution for creating and recording music with your computer. Together with the included Steinberg software each unit covers a broad range of applications, be it in the studio, rehearsal room or on the go you can be sure there is a CI for you.
Together with your computer, the CI1 presents a complete home recording solution ideal for recording musicians and vocalists. Use the Sequel LE software to record and edit your own music and then use the WaveLab LE7 software to master your songs and create a professional quality CD.
Use the CI2 and the CI2+ to speed up your workflow with the built-in Cubase control functions and easy interactive recording functionality. Enjoy the flexibility of hands-free recording by adding an optional footswitch and microphone stand adapter.
Product information www.steinberg.net Find a dealer au.yamaha.com Promotions www.yamahabackstage.com.au
20/20BAS the return of big ass sound.
The new 20/20BAS respects the tone and character that made the original 20/20s a standard in studios the world over. Using the original transducer design combined with modern manufacturing practices, and leveraging technology straight from Event’s flagship Opal monitor, the 20/20BAS is set to revolutionise the way you hear your mix.
“The one thing I always liked about the 20/20s was if you can get it sounding good on those speakers it will sound good on a variety of speakers. It’ll sound good on the TV, sound good in the car, sound good on headphones.”
- FREDWRECK (SNOOP DOGG, 50 CENT, EMINEM, BRITNEY SPEARS)
The time has come to revive the legend. Introducing the new 20/20BAS. It’s ready to take back the crown.
“A lot of times monitors will give you an artificial sound that will sound really good in the studio, but doesn’t necessarily translate outside. The 20/20s really give you that true sound that will sound good everywhere.”
- MAyer Hawthorne eventelectronics.com/2020bas AT 100
artist, producer, engineer