AudioTechnology THE MAGAZINE FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
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30TH August – 1ST September 2011 ISSUE 83 AU $7.95(inc gst) NZ $10.95 (inc gst) File Under ‘Music’
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THE EVENT FOR SOUND ENGINEERS & RECORDING MUSICIANS
WORKSHOPS PANEL DISCUSSIONS MASTERCLASSES LATEST GEAR ON THE BENCH – LIVE GIVEAWAYS! ALL SESSIONS ARE FREE! Everything for the AudioTechnology reader, in action, in the flesh. HOW TO BE PART OF AT WORLD 1. Register for Integrate online at www.integrate-expo.com 2. All AT World sessions are free – turn up to Integrate, then it’s ‘first in best dressed’.
sponsors: STAGING & TOURING AUSTRALIA
WHAT’S IT ABOUT? Day 1 - Tuesday August 30
AudioTechnology regulars Greg Walker and Blair Joscelyne will be joined by special guests to discuss the subtle (and often not-so-subtle) art of song writing.
Bail up Mike Stavrou in this informal Q&A format presentation. Stav will bring along a few of his favourite audio tricks to help oil the wheels.
David Briggs on Mid/Side Mastering
David Briggs demystifies the mid/side mastering technique – one of the most potent weapons in the mastering engineer’s arsenal.
Mixing & Production Forum
AT’s Editor Andy Stewart chairs a super-panel comprising Wayne Connolly, Franc Tetaz, Paul McKercher and very special guests. Day 2 - Wednesday August 31
Open Tuning Guitar 10:30am
Brendan Gallagher, ARIA Award-winning Karma Country frontman and author of the best selling The Open Tuning Chord Book For Guitar, presents his ever-popular open tune/slide guitar masterclass.
Rob Squire, Steve Crane, Joe Malone and Alastair Reynolds front this tech forum. Anyone handy with a soldering iron won’t want to miss this Q&A session.
Live Mixing Panel
Gareth Stuckey and Chris Braun will be joined by some guest live mixing heavyweights to talk about the challenges, the gear, and the war stories of live mixing. Day 3 - Thursday September 1
Smaart Workshop 10:15am
In this practical, hands-on workshop, Ben Clark discusses phase response and how to time align mains/subs/rear-fill systems. Have your Smaart questions answered; get a consistently better-sounding PA.
Mastering monoliths Rick O’Neil, Jack The Bear, David Briggs, Leon Zervos and William Bowden are never short of an opinion. Bound to be a compelling session.
Recording The Beatles 2:30pm
After their headlining presentation on Day 2, Geoff Emerick and Richard Lush take a more relaxed walk through various highlights of working on some of the most iconic albums ever recorded.
For free registration & seminar bookings: www.integrate-expo.com AT 7
Editor Andy Stewart email@example.com
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What do you do when you’ve got an unlimited track count on your DAW, dozens of microphones, heaps of spare time and money, and thousands of musical ideas rattling around in your head? It’s a silly question really – you record an album, of course.
your project. The question is: do you let go of some of these ideas to help restore buoyancy to the project, or stubbornly struggle with each and every one of them in a determined effort to bring them all to the surface? It’s your choice, and yours alone… you didn’t need anyone’s help, remember? Sink or swim.
So how do you start this recording project? Do you draw up a budget and plan a recording schedule? Do you seek help from others by calling on the expertise of a producer, an engineer or other musicians to assist with the track laying to achieve the result you’re looking for? Do you rehearse the songs and craft the lyrics until they’re ready for the time capsule that is the recording medium? Don’t be bloody ridiculous! Of course you don’t: ‘This is art mate; you don’t plan art! Art is freedom of expression! Planning? Budgets? Rehearsing? That’s the death of music – a direct route to mediocrity. I’m not constructing an office block here mate. My music is not a Happy Meal designed for mass consumption by the creatively constipated; planning and budgeting will only kill the vibe and the purity of my expression!’
The point here is simple: don’t expect your computer to help you make decisions – it won’t. Your DAW is not a surrogate producer or an ‘independent ear’. Computers might have grown smarter and faster but the programs we commit our project to are thick as bricks when it comes to decision making. They offer a virtual bottomless pit of options but no artistic guidance whatsoever about which of these might suit your project. Combined with a fertile imagination and some musical skill, this capacity can be the very thing that traps you.
This notion may be true in some circumstances – albums can be made without help or external input, and sometimes there’s nothing to plan at the beginning of a project – but more often than not an ‘office block’ is exactly what you’re building when you embark on an album, though it may not seem obvious at the time. At the beginning, when the sky is the limit, no-one wants to feel hindered by boring concepts like ‘planning’ and ‘budgets’. But like anything man-made that heads skyward, good foundations and a blueprint for the construction are important if you don’t want the thing coming down on your head! Unfortunately, to the detriment of countless independent albums worldwide, this notion doesn’t sink in until it’s too late. As things kick off, everything is geared towards expression – unhindered and pure. If something gets in the way it’s demonised or disregarded… You dive in the deep end and hit the water with an impressive splash. But then, of course, you have to be able to swim. Diving in the deep end seems safer and more artistic somehow, particularly if you’re launching yourself over the edge with a weighty sack of musical ideas slung over your shoulder, but one unassailable fact remains: once you’re under and the bubbles begin to clear, it’s a classic case of ‘sink or swim’. Before you know it, and without help from others, that sack of ideas you dove in with can become a burden that threatens to sink AT 8
Imaginations can run wild during a project – not necessarily a bad thing, sure – but for every musical idea there are often 10 others vying for equal billing. So what do you do then, record all 10? Maybe. You could consult your producer about this – if you had one – but you don’t. So what do you do? The attraction of what might be out there behind the black curtain is all consuming so you just go for it… ‘who knows where this all leads – I have to try stuff ’. Just remember one thing: without a map or plans, an album can get out of control fast. If you’re not careful you can wind up lost in a maze of overworked, overtracked songs that are almost insurmountable come mix time. One way to help prevent this is to recognise that just because you can imagine yet another part for your already expansive masterpiece, doesn’t mean you have to add it in. The capacity to conceive of yet another melody in a song doesn’t necessarily make it worthy or particularly special. You have to leave room for people’s own imaginations otherwise the artwork you’re creating will fail to connect. Recording music is like writing a book: you can describe a scene or a landscape to someone with words, but it’s the reader’s own imagination that paints the picture. Adding thousands more won’t make that picture any clearer, it’ll only serve to switch readers off. Give people the song and the space to contribute their own emotional response and you’ll make the connection.
Advertising Philip Spencer email@example.com Accounts Manager JenTemm firstname.lastname@example.org Circulation Manager Miriam Mulcahy email@example.com Proof Reading Calum Orr Regular Contributors Martin Walker Rick O’Neil Michael Stavrou Calum Orr Paul Tingen Graeme Hague Paul McKercher Hugh Covill Adam McElnea Greg Walker William Bowden Greg Simmons Rob Squire Robin Gist Michael Carpenter Mark Woods Andrew Bencina Mark Bassett Chris Vallejo James Wilkinson Gareth Stuckey Distribution by: Network Distribution Company. AudioTechnology magazine (ISSN 1440-2432) is published by Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd (ABN 34 074 431 628). Contact (Advertising) T: +61 2 9986 1188 PO Box 6216, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086, Australia. Contact (Editorial) T: +61 3 5331 4949 PO Box 295, Ballarat VIC 3353, Australia. E: firstname.lastname@example.org W: www.audiotechnology.com.au
All material in this magazine is copyright © 2011 Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd. Apart from any fair dealing permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process with out written permission. The publishers believe all information supplied in this magazine to be correct at the time of publication. They are not in a position to make a guarantee to this effect and accept no liability in the event of any information proving inaccurate. After investigation and to the best of our knowledge and belief, prices, addresses and phone numbers were up to date at the time of publication. It is not possible for the publishers to ensure that advertisements appearing in this publication comply with the Trade Practices Act, 1974. The responsibility is on the person, company or advertising agency submitting or directing the advertisement for publication. The publishers cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions, although every endeavour has been made to ensure complete accuracy. 8/8/2011.
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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF GEOFF EMERICK
MODEST MOUSE LIVE
SO BEAUTIFUL OR SO WHAT
Geoff Emerick has recorded some of the most iconic albums in the history of modern music. During his tenure with The Beatles he revolutionised engineering while the band transformed rock ’n’ roll. Andy Stewart caught up with him to discuss some of these significant milestones in recording history.
Fulsome beards on faces, fearsome tea-cosies on heads – this is indie rock. Legendary producer Phil Ramone recently teamed up with legendary songwriter Paul Simon – again – to construct yet another classic. AT lines up sound design pros behind hit titles Portal 2 and Limbo to talk about spending days breaking glass, using an antique wire recorder and ‘video games as art’.
HOME GROWN - JOE HAMMOND & SEZ WILKS
PC & MAC AUDIO
GOING DEAF FOR A LIVING – PART II
Readers Letters. News and new product information. Greg Walker takes the stairs to Joe Hammond’s studio and discovers a whacky world featuring only one kooky keyboard but two bathrooms. Must be Kikuyu’s new album, Hunter Gathered. Around the studio traps, featuring GBHQ and Shanghai Twang Studios. This issue, Martin Walker abandons his multi-boot partitions, while Brad Watts urges Mac users running music software to be wary of Lion. What’s more valuable, a cheap compressor or decent hearing protection? Rick O’Neil explains his preference in a way only Rick can.
STAV’S WORD: RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN!
ON THE BENCH – RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
SO YOU WANT THE SONG IN EIGHT HOURS?
Your time in the studio is best spent experimenting. That’s where the breakthroughs occur. This issue Stav runs amok. This issue Rob asks: where have all the technical manuals gone, and why doesn’t anyone stock spare parts any more? Blair Joscelyne cranks out music faster than Toyota produces Corollas. Sometimes he creates three or four finished commercial products in a single day – from inception to upload. Here’s how he does it.
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YOUR WORD Readers’ Letters
TO 45580JRC OR TL072, THAT IS THE QUESTION
I recently acquired a mixing desk, a Yamaha RM-804, and have discovered that it’s full of 45580JRC op-amps. It seems everyone hates these op-amps for their low slew rate and the way they handle higher frequencies. Many people seem to be opting to replace them with TL072s or NE5532s with no voltage issues. My question to AT is: do you think it’s worth replacing them on this desk, and if I did replace them, should I replace the lot? I just don’t know enough about these desks to know whether it’s worth my while, or if these modifications can make it into a nice sounding console. I guess I just hate seeing gear go to waste... Thanks so much for all the effort you guys put in to your publication by the way – I recently moved and the heaviest boxes I had to carry were the boxes full of your magazine!
Greetings AT. As a fan of the mag, thought I should share what may happen when the home studio lies dormant for a lengthy period, when one goes off having babies, basically. On returning to my humble home studio recently, a certain green spiked patch lead was found reaching for the skies (see photo right). My house is built on piers one metre high, with garden beds around the perimeter and the ‘control room’ is above the garden area, so this plant – asparagus fern I think – had grown up through the floor of the house and wound itself up the back of my mixer/leads. It was quickly ‘rounded up’, so to speak, but I thought you guys might get a kick out of seeing the photo. One final point to make was that the lead was particularly well earthed!
Paul (the boy with the thorn in his side) Cossettini.
Mark Bergin. Rob Squire responds: When it comes to replacing op-amps Mark,the sonic outcome isn’t always guaranteed so your questions are a little tricky to answer. The JRC4558 was used by the squillions in all sorts of audio gear and is a reasonable performing audio op-amp. However, there’s no question that in some circuit applications the 5532 is far superior, especially for noise, slew rate and in particular output drive capability. The downside is it draws almost twice the current. Wholesale replacement with these devices requires some consideration of the implications about what the console’s power supply can deliver. Often with small consoles the power supply will have sufficient reserve to deal with the increased current, however, this can’t be guaranteed. I have no documentation at hand on that console so it’s hard to comment specifically. However, a sensible approach could be to replace the ICs in the summing bus amps and the output amps, leaving the rest the same or possibly using TL072 in the EQ sections, where this IC is often a sensible choice. The TL072 has a similar current draw to the 4558 but a faster slew rate. Also note that slew rate is not the big deal that many claim it to be. A faster slew rate often doesn’t yield any sonic benefit and, indeed, a higher slew rate device inherently has a higher frequency response that can make units unstable and cause oscillation at supersonic or RF frequencies. Regards, Rob AT 14
–– PANNING FOR GOLD
Hey Andy, Just wanted to say big thanks for your recent article on panning – it’s changed my life! Well, my audio life, that is. Anyway, I’ve been mixing my folk/noise/weird sounds project and the article really got me thinking about my soundstage. I’ve now successfully created a mix that sounds like Neil Young jamming with a South American church choir on a barge in a foggy lagoon! Cheers! Dan Flynn Heidelberg, Victoria. Andy Stewart responds: Great to hear the panning article helped you with your “folk/noise/weird sounds project” Dan, and thanks for the email. Look out for part two of that article in AT84! !
SAY WHAT? (FROM THE AT FORUM)
Can anyone recommend a good set of earplugs? I’m after something that will attenuate the volume without muffling the music – I don’t need/can’t afford expensive custom-molded plugs, but want some that are designed for music listening. Everywhere I see suitable earplugs on sale online they either won’t deliver to Australia or they’ve sold out. If anyone could recommend some that I can get hold of in Melbourne (either over the counter or via the web) it would be appreciated, thanks. ‘Sample & Hold’ Melbourne. Andy Stewart responds: In my experience, all ‘musicians’ earplugs muffle the sound to some degree. I’d wager any earplug that’s designed to block sound will affect the tonal response, no matter what the hype surrounding it might suggest. The best ones I’ve used so far are made by EMA in Melbourne, so they’d be local to you, but even these aren’t ‘flat’ in their attenuation. One thing I would say is that good earplugs are designed to be comfortable to wear over long periods of time. Regardless of what you end up using, the trick is to get into the habit of wearing them in all sorts of noisy situations so the tonal issues they inevitably cause become less relevant as you get more and more used to the shift. Stick them in your ears when you’re at the footy, on a worksite, mowing the laws, as well as at rehearsal or a gig, so the shift isn’t so shocking and intolerable. In the long run your ears will thank you for it.
Special thanks to Kevin Garant and Peter Heylen for their generous donations to the ‘Octopus String Band’ mentioned in Andy Stewart’s editorial in Issue 81. The donations of strings and cold hard cash have already been sent to the band, along with copies of their new album. Much appreciated! All contributors to this issue’s Your Word, including Kevin and Peter, will be getting a copy of Kikuyu’s new album, Hunter Gathered, plus a double CD called Mixtape, which features all the performers involved in this year’s FreeZACentral music industry mentoring program. For more on the program, go: thepush.com.au
Applications for the following 2012 courses open September 1
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Visit www.cmi.com.au/arturia-dealers.html to find a stockist.
Distributed in Australia by CMI Music & Audio 03 9315 2244 email@example.com
Analogue Solutions Telemetry tinyurl.com/3da4nfh
IN BRIEF WORLD MUSIC EXPEDITION! Got a sense of adventure? Interested in the music of other cultures? Greg Simmons, AudioTechnology’s founding editor and Australia’s answer to Bear Grylls, has room for more people on his seventh group recording expedition through Asia and the Himalaya. Scheduled for this coming December and January, the proposed journey begins in Kathmandu (Nepal) and ends in Delhi (India), stopping along the way to make recordings in local studios, mountain villages, monasteries, farmlands and jungles. “We’ll be using some of the finest audio equipment available, including top-of-the-line microphones from DPA, dedicated location recorders from Nagra and HHB, and laptop interfaces from TC Electronic”, says Greg. “Many of the recordings we make on these expeditions are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and some are of great cultural and/or monetary importance to the performers. Team members are welcome to use their own equipment as well, of course.” Since 2004 Greg has spent many months per year on location recording the music of other cultures, and is no stranger to leading groups through these fascinating but often challenging cultures and terrains.
FOSTEX SUPER IPOD CONVERTERS $799 | fostexinternational.com
The Fostex HP-P1 is the first portable headphone amplifier with D/A conversion that can receive its audio signal digitally from an iPod/iPhone 30-pin dock connector. Featuring a 32-bit (!) DAC and exclusively designed audiophile analogue circuitry, the sonic performance and fidelity of the headphone signal is reportedly unprecedented in iDevice-ware. Add to this a three-step gain control to accommodate all types of headphones, an inbuilt S/PDIF optical digital output, and a rugged aluminium chassis and you’ve got the last word in portable iPod/iPhone headphone monitoring. The unit runs from an internal lithium-ion battery or USB, and there’s a tidy looking carry case included. Major Music Wholesale (02) 9525 2088 or firstname.lastname@example.org
If this sounds interesting, contact Simmo via: email@example.com
24-BIT ON THE WAY? Apparently the music industry is set to reinvent itself by ‘remastering’ back catalogues in 24-bit and re-marketing it as ‘premium content’. It’s also been revealed that the music industry, which is concerned what Apple will do with the pricing of 24-bit music, has held discussions with Amazon and Google with a view to getting them to support 24-bit content. In recent months Apple has reportedly had meetings with several music companies, in an effort to push the 24-bit music option. But get this: executives from Apple have told music industry heads they can charge double for a high quality 24-bit music track or album. Perhaps this mentality goes some way to explaining why Apple is holding more cash than the United States Government, with $76 billion sitting in the Apple slush fund. The US government’s account has dwindled to a paltry $74 billion – all owed elsewhere. Gilad Tiefenbrun, Managing Director of Linn and Linn records (www.linn.co.uk) said several music companies, including Warner, EMI and Universal were now working to deliver the new format that could start hitting digital stores in the next 18 months, with the idea of working more closely with Amazon and Google. Tiefenbrun urged, “The music industry has to do three things to get 24-bit music off the ground. They need to locate all their masters and then remaster them as 24-bit digital. They then need to collectively mount a major marketing campaign to promote 24-bit. They also need to demonstrate the difference.” Source: channelnews.com.au
THERMIONIC CULTURE NIGHTINGALE
$3699 | thermionicculture.com
The Thermionic Culture half-rack 4RU range now includes the Nightingale ‘channel block’. This stocky unit includes two mic preamps, a compressor and a valve EQ. Both have their own outputs (XLR unbalanced) which can deliver up to +20dBu. These can be combined or fed individually into a vari-mu style compressor based on Thermionic Culture’s Phoenix design. The compressor section also has its own input, allowing you to feed a signal in from an outside source rather than the mic preamps. The Nightingale uses five valves: two ECC832s for the mic preamp and EQ section, and a 6AQ8, 5965, and 5726 for the compressor section. Units will be available from the end of July. Audio Chocolate (03) 9813 5877 or firstname.lastname@example.org
NOT YOUR AVERAGE COMPRESSOR
Foote Control Systems P3S tinyurl.com/423fbjv
$2499 – $2999 | dpamicrophones.com
DPA Microphones has officially launched its new modular series of microphones. The Reference Standard 4000 Series builds and improves on DPA’s Compact and Standard 4006, 4011, 4015 and 4017 models. Three new preamplifiers improve on previous designs: the MMP-A transformerless preamp with active drive for impedance balancing, the MMP-B preamp with low cut and high boost filters, and the 45mm compact MMP-C preamp. The modular design allows any mic within the series to be transformed into a new variant.
SIX CUBASE SIXES Our recent subscription prize for a half dozen copies of Steinberg’s Cubase 6 resulted in six extremely delighted prize-winners. Cubase 6 packages are in the post for the following winners: James Chang of Redwood Park, South Australia; Michael Bartolomei in Bondi; Isaac Hanna in Huonville, Tassy; Dale Willis of Berowra, NSW; Blair Greenberg in Coogee; and Ian Mason in Shepparton, Victoria. Congratulations from all of us at AudioTechnology and Yamaha Music Australia.
Also new are the 2000 Series twindiaphragm capsules. The MMC2006 omni and MMC2011 cardioid capsules are rooted in the design technology of DPA’s classic miniature capsules. The 2006 houses two opposite-facing 4060 omni-directional miniature diaphragms to form a one-capsule, dualdiaphragm design.
IN NEED OF REPAIR?
Amber Technology 1800 251 367 or email@example.com
$TBA | aphex.com
The Aphex Model 230 has been re-imagined, adding a host of new features to address a wider array of workflows. The Channel incorporates seven devices within a compact, single rack space design, including a tube preamp, an ‘EasyRider’ Class-A compressor featuring Aphex’s 1001 Class-A VCA (as used in the Compellor and Dominator), a ‘Logic Assisted Gate’, a de-esser, a good ol’ Big Bottom for a bit of resonant bass, a parametric EQ, and Aphex’s ubiquitous Aural Exciter. The front panel is laid out in an intuitive, easy-to-use workflow with clear labelling. Other channel features include an instrument input, dedicated output and gain reduction metering, front panel sample rate and clock source selection, and a reference quality internal clock. The Bridge Networks (+64) 4 471 1509 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Australian Consumer Law has recently revamped rules that businesses must adhere to when providing goods or services. These rules include requirements relating to the repair of electronic goods. People often take goods to have them repaired without realising that the product could contain stored data that might be lost in the repair process – typically mobile phones, computers, portable music players. This includes files stored on a hard drive, telephone numbers stored on a mobile phone, songs stored on a media player, even games saved on a gaming console. The Regulations require that from 1 July, 2011 repair notices must be provided by a repairer to a consumer before they accept goods for repair, where the goods being repaired are capable of retaining user-generated data; or it is the repairer’s practice to supply refurbished goods rather than repair a defective item, or to use refurbished parts in the repair of defective products. For further info, head to the AT website or straight to www.consumerlaw.gov.au You can also call the ACCC’s Small Business Helpline on 1300 302 021
$299 | zoom.co.jp
Zoom has packed some groundbreaking features into an ultra-portable device that allows you to record pristine audio anywhere you go. From film and broadcast, to journalism, podcasting, musical performance, songwriting and rehearsal, the H2n provides exceedingly schmick recording quality. The design enables the H2n to offer four recording modes: midside (MS) stereo, 90° X/Y stereo, and two- and four-channel surround sound. The H2n supports linear PCM WAV recording at 24-bit/96kHz, and for web and email distribution, choose one of a dozen MP3 formats. Other tasty features include a data recovery function, analogue mic gain, an onboard reference speaker, auto-gain, a compressor/limiter, USB 2.0 file transfer and the ability to act as a USB microphone with your computer. It even comes with a copy of Steinberg’s WaveLab LE.
PERKY PADS Alesis’s PercPad enables you to add four drum pads and an optional kick trigger to your acoustic or electronic kit or percussion setup. The unit fits easily into tight spaces and contains sounds designed to accessorise standard drum setups. You can mount the PercPad on a standard snare drum stand, on any stand or rack using the separately available ‘Module Mount’, or position it on a tabletop, studio workstation, or DJ rig. The PercPad includes a pile of internal sounds, all housed within a compact frame that’s the perfect choice for drummers and other instrumentalists looking to start incorporating electronic percussion into their traditional setups. Electric Factory: (03) 9474 1000 or email@example.com
Dynamic Music (02) 9939 1299 or firstname.lastname@example.org AT 19
WAY BACK WHEN
NEWS: GENERAL IN BRIEF AUDIO-TECHNICA BOUNCES WITH SYDNEY KINGS Audio-Technica recently announced an exclusive partnership with the Sydney Kings basketball team for the 2011-2012 season. The partnership will see Audio-Technica become the ‘official headphones of the Sydney Kings’ – in much the same way as the Hungry Jack’s Whopper (with cheese) is the ‘official burger of the AFL’. The partnership will apparently include an array of activities involving A-T headphones, both on and off the court. The deal will see Sydney Kings players become ambassadors for Audio-Technica, as they use A-T headphones to relax with music at home and training at the gym. Kings fans will also benefit, with Audio-Technica products to be provided for game night giveaways, media promotions and community events. Technical Audio Group: (02) 9519 0900 or email@example.com
The Mackie Big Knob tinyurl.com/3s43f3t
AUDIO TOM-FOOLERY $442 | kripton.co.jp
Recently spotted was this dubiously priced wooden cutting board. Aimed at the audiophile who has everything, yet has squillions to spunk on squeezing that little bit extra out of their audio equipment. Stereo component maker, Kripton, claims this conglomerate assemblage of timber will “neutralise vibrations which could affect the performance of your equipment, while minimising electromagnetic noise.” The Kripton AB-3200 weighs in at 15kg, and can support gear up to 149kg. It’ll set your optimistic audiophile back a mere US$442, while the more substantial AB-5200, weighing in at 23.5kg, will cost US$650 (that’s slightly cheaper at only $27.66 per kilo). Both are constructed using natural timbers including teak and rosewood, with a dense MDF wood substrate providing ‘heft and stability’. And hey, if it doesn’t come up to scratch, it’ll be just dandy when you’re cutting up your next slab of Swedish moose-milk cheese, valued at approximately $230 per kilo. We kid you not – the cheese comes from the milk of three moose cows, named Gullan, Haelga, and Juna. Get an AB-3200 and said cheese and you can certainly say you have everything. Kripton www.kripton.co.jp
SHURE SRH940 CANS Designed for professional audio engineers and those warbling on the other side of the glass, the SRH940 headphones from Shure deliver accurate response across the entire audio spectrum from smooth high-end extension to tight bass. Purportedly superior transient response provides minimal distortion, while the collapsible, lightweight design with a fantabulously padded headband offers über-comfort along with portability. The headphones arrive with two detachable cables (one straight and the other coiled) and a replacement set of velour ear pads – which is very thoughtful indeed. The cans also come with a hard-zippered travel case and a threaded 1/4-inch gold-plated adapter. Jands: (02) 9582 0909 or firstname.lastname@example.org
VOICELIVE IN BLUE TC Helicon recently introduced the Extreme Edition of VoiceLive 2, offering an enhanced microphone preamp, new ‘Extreme Edition’ presets and an extruded aluminium chassis and artwork in the calming shade of blue. And to open creative vistas further, VoiceLive 2 Extreme Edition’s on-board looper now records for twice the loop time compared to the original version. This allows singers to build layers of vocal loops up to 30 seconds in stereo (60 seconds in mono) for a source of endless inspiration – well, 60 seconds of mono inspiration. VoiceLive 2 Extreme Edition delivers autoadaptive compression and equalisation, reverbs, delays, modulation effects, harmony processing, doubling, and a bunch more. VoiceLive 2 Extreme Edition is a limited run so get in quick. Price: $1399 Amber Technology: 1800 251 367 or email@example.com
GRATUITOUS PRO AUDIO
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… what a classic! It’s John Hughes’ ’80s ‘icon’. Or at least that’s the idealised image I had of the film and secretly figured it must have dated as horribly as a pair of leg-warmers worn over Fabergé jeans and Adidas Rome sneakers. Thankfully not. It’s still big on chuckles all these years later. Something else that jumps out all these years on is a golden nugget of GPA (gratuitous pro audio). In Ferris’s bedroom and part of his arsenal of double-duping countermeasures to ward off meddlesome, well-meaning parents is an E-mu Emulator II sampling keyboard. Superseding the original Emulator, E-mu’s disk-based sampler broke price and performance barriers – portable, robust, and compared to a Fairlight CMI… darn cheap. So it should come as no surprise that Ferris Bueller would have one stashed in his bedroom to trigger pre-recorded sneezing, coughing and barfing sounds – all the better to feign illness and abscond for a day of high jinks.
For the synth geeks out there, here’s some Emulator II trivia mined from Wiki: The 8-bit sampler cost US$8000 when it was released; about the same as the original Emulator, but the second iteration had a far superior sound thanks to a 27.7kHz sample rate and digital companding. It had analogue filters and could be upgraded to pack a 20MB hard drive, and 512kB of RAM. Hear the Emulator II in action on Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer (yes, that opening shakuhachi flute sound) or the Pet Shop Boys’ strings sound on West End Girls. The Emulator II had a definite ‘sound’ or character, which makes its appeal live on into the 21st century – pick a decent one up for about $500. Head along to the AT site for a YouTube link to a great interview with Alan Wilder (he of Depeche Mode fame) where he demonstrates his Emulator II to some ’80s Euro film crew. And you can hear some of the original Emulator II demo tracks – quite a revelation. Or, if you’re still living in 1985, we’ll send you a 5.25-inch floppy disk. – Christopher Holder
Welcome to the Sweet Spot It’s simply the best way to test-drive PA speakers and studio monitors…
Visit the Soundcorp Showroom and find The Sweet Spot, a purpose-built listening room designed so you can compare the latest PA speakers and studio monitors. Best Brands. Best Choice. Best Price. Soundcorp.
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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* We will match or beat any advertised price on a stocked item from an authorised Australian dealer. Excludes stock liquidations and commercial quantities. E&OE.
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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
NEWS: SOFTWARE IN BRIEF HEAR THE DRUMMER Native Instruments has released Studio Drummer into the sunshine, an instrument for the creation of ‘acoustic’ drum tracks. By combining sampled drum kits and a studio-grade mixing environment with an assortment of professional grooves, the Kontakt-based instrument provides a highly versatile and easy-to-use virtual drummer that gives authentic and fast results for multiple music styles. The array of individual drum sounds in Studio Drummer is complemented by its extensive groove library, which includes over 3500 rhythm patterns organised into 11 specific music styles. All patterns, including fills and variations, were recorded with a professional session drummer, and converted into MIDI files for use in the Kontakt engine. Like Guitar Rig 5, Studio Drummer will also be included in the new Komplete 8 and Komplete 8 Ultimate bundles.
DIY MIDI Wind Controller tinyurl.com/3ckrkw3
AKAI EIE PRO
$399 (ish) | akaipro.com
The EIE Pro is a tabletop USB audio interface featuring four-in, four-out operation for Mac and PC-based systems to record at 24-bit resolution and sample rates up to 96kHz. The unit also houses three USB inputs enabling connection of controllers, hard drives or maybe another USB hub full of iLoks (just an idea). The interface includes ‘analogue-style’ VU meters and a rugged aluminium casing. Each channel of the EIE Pro has a combo jack, gain-pots and mic/line/ guitar switches. There are also four discrete-design mic preamps with 48V phantom power, and individual jacks t’ord the rear provide channel inserts for processing audio signals externally. Electric Factory (03) 9474 1000 or email@example.com
CMI: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
$TBA | propellerheads.se
Propellerhead is thrilled with its new two-in/two-out USB audio interface, Balance. Designed from the ground up to help you concentrate on the task that’s most important – making choons – Balance allows you to connect your gear (two guitar inputs, two stereo line inputs, and two mic inputs) and leave it connected. Then it’s a matter of using the input selectors on the front of the device to choose your input source.
ROLAND REMOTE Roland recently announced the availability of the Mac version of its Remote Control Software (RCS) for the M-480, M-400, M-380 and M-300 V-Mixers. RCS can be used to control or send/ receive all the setup data of the consoles, which allows the user to control offline mode channels, effects, etc. before reaching the venue and transferring the settings to the console. When using a USB connection, a second user can independently control all the functions of the V-Mixer. Shortly, both PC and Mac will be able to use a native version of RCS for their systems too. The Mac version of RCS will be released in September and will be freely available from www.rolandsystemsgroup.com/products/ resources/system_updates
Integration with Propellerhead products goes further. Hardware buttons on Balance bring up a large meter/tuner in Reason and can also enable ‘Clip Safe’: Propellerhead’s new recording technology that with one click heals clipped recorded audio. Music Link (03) 9765 6565 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Roland Corporation: (02) 9982 8266 or email@example.com
SPECTRAL LAYERS Spectral Layers by Divide.Frame is a Photoshop-like audio editor that can accurately analyse, extract, and transform any audio data using layers and tools, via a completely visual approach. Extract and transform voices, instruments, noises, basically any kind of sound, and then reconstruct, enhance and create new effects and raw materials. The layer system allows virtually infinite, non-destructive and non-linear modifications, so you can refine (and refine again) your work using the available tools to achieve the result you want. Spectral Layers is compatible with Windows and Mac OSX, and includes an open project format SDK for custom file formats, devices, tools and filters. Spectral Layers will enter beta stage during August, with the final release hopefully available by late spring, 2011. Divide.Frame: www.divideframe.com
ALESIS iO DOCK $439 | alesis.com
Alesis has the answer to mounting your iPad safely on a desk – suitably known as the iO Dock, the world’s first pro-audio dock for Apple’s iPad and iPad 2. The iO Dock “turns an iPad into a music studio” by connecting the iPad’s processor, touch-screen interface and extensive library of apps to your microphones, instruments, monitors, MIDI controllers, sound modules, video projectors and so forth. The device provides two combination XLR and 1/4-inch inputs, each with its own gain control and switchable phantom power. Users can also connect the iO Dock to their Mac or PC using the USB port to remotely control software with faders, transport controls, or any other MIDI-compliant control application. Electric Factory (03) 9474 1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
TURN PAGES WITH YOUR FEET AirTurn Wireless Page Turner tinyurl.com/3tn5pn9
PRESONUS AUDIOBOX VSL-SERIES
$TBA | presonus.com
PreSonus recently introduced new audio interfaces with the introduction of the AudioBox 22VSL, AudioBox 44VSL, and AudioBox 1818VSL. All are rack-mountable USB 2.0 interfaces with Class-A XMAX preamps and 24-bit/96kHz converters with 114dB dynamic range. All three also provide MIDI I/O and zero-latency monitor mixing. But the big news is that these three interfaces deliver reverb and delay effects with dedicated effects buses and the same Fat Channel compression, limiting, three-band semi-parametric EQ, and high-pass filter as found in the StudioLive 16.0.2 mixer. The difference being that all processing is done on your computer, using bundled PreSonus Virtual StudioLive (VSL) software. First to hit the market will be the two-in, two-out 22VSL. PreSonus Australia (02) 9648 5855 or email@example.com
$Free | moogmusic.com
Moog Music recently announced the release of a free software VST controller plug-in for the MF-105M MIDI MuRF pedal. The MIDI MuRF (Multiple Resonance Filter Array) is a combination of two Moog pedals: the MF-105 MuRF and the MF-105B Bass MuRF. The pedal utilises an eight-band array of resonant filters with a pre-programmed animation section to create unique sequenced filter effects. Features include: full automation – use your DAW automation tools to create automated parameter changes on the MuRF, create, recall and save presets – and an envelope scale, which allows you to access a time multiplier that stretches or shrinks the duration of the envelope without changing its shape. MuRF Controller VST plug-in is a free download for all owners of the MF-105M MIDI MuRF. Download for Mac or PC: www.moogmusic.com
FREE AUTO PITCHING MAutoPitch is a free and simple automatic pitch correction plug-in designed for vocals and monophonic instruments. Besides its main purpose of making the audio more in-tune, MAutoPitch provides those ‘creative features’ such as formant shift and stereo-expansion. Up to eight-channel surround processing makes MAutoPitch suitable for audio production in movies and games. MAutoPitch offers a standardised GUI, textual editing and smooth visualisation, with almost unlimited zooming – very handy. The plug-in caters to MIDI controllers with ‘MIDI learn’ so you can map any parameter to any MIDI controller or MIDI keyboard and control it in real-time to record and automate changes. Available for Windows and OSX-based systems in VST and AU flavours. Meldaproduction: www.meldaproduction.com
SAMPLITUDE PRO X Samplitude Pro X offers professional audio processing from recording through to mastering. As a purely native digital audio workstation, Samplitude Pro X works independently of proprietary audio hardware and can be used on a fully blown audio workstation or laptop. Snazzy new features include up to 999 tracks, high-quality plug-ins and sample rates of up to 384kHz. There’s 64-bit support, AAF/OMF export, 5.1 surround mixing, an Independence Sampler Workstation with 12GB of content, and spectral cleaning at track level. Samplitude claims absolutely “neutral sound,” and with object editing, sets new benchmarks in workflow. Also available is Samplitude Pro X Suite, which includes Analogue Modelling Suite Plus, Vandal guitar and bass amplifiers, and 70GB of sample content. The software requires Windows XP, Vista, or 7. Professional Audio Technology: (02) 9476 1272 or firstname.lastname@example.org Innovative Music: (03) 9540 0658 or email@example.com
TABLETOP FOR IPAD
$549 | native-instruments.com
Native Instruments recently announced Guitar Rig 5 Pro. The new version includes additional amplifiers and effects, and advanced speaker emulation. Guitar Rig 5 also introduces the new ‘Van51’ and ‘HotSolo+’ models, adding two flavours of heavily overdriven amplification to the fold. The collection of effects in Guitar Rig is also expanded with six new components – including an additional classic compressor model, ‘vintage verb’ with various plate and spring emulations, a compact studio-grade convolution reverb based on Reflektor, an analoguemodelled eight-band filterbank, the new ‘stereo tune’ chorus, and the ‘Resochord’ harmoniser. Guitar Rig 5 Pro will be included in the new Komplete 8 and Komplete 8 Ultimate bundles, and is also available in combination with the Rig Kontrol pedalboard controller. CMI (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
Tabletop, by Retronyms, is apparently the first ‘musical environment’ designed from the ground up exclusively for the iPad (although we suspect there are others). It’s a ‘modular audio environment’, with devices ranging from classic drum pad-style samplers through to touchscreen effects. Tabletop offers adjustable quantisation (pre- and post-record), recordable parameter automation, live triggering of sequences and patterns, and sampling via the iPad’s internal mic or line in. Hell, you can even import your own sounds and sync two iPads running Tabletop together. At a mere $5.49 it looks to be worth a fiddle. And for a short time, Tabletop comes with nine of the 15 available modular add-on devices for nicks. Retronyms: www.retronyms.com
WAY BACK WHEN
NEWS: LIVE IN BRIEF HH GRADE TRANSMITTER The HH handheld transmitter is Lectrosonics’ newest addition to its line of Digital Hybrid Wireless microphone systems, offering compander-free audio. The HH transmitter accepts standard thread-on capsules from a number of manufacturers. This gives users the freedom to select the microphone capsule best suited for their particular application. Equally notable, the new HH transmitter offers an input gain range of 44dB, making this transmitter ideal for a variety of capsule sensitivities and source volume differences. Two capsules are available from Lectrosonics: the HHC cardioid condenser and the HHS supercardioid. John Barry Group: (02) 9355 2300 or www.johnbarry.com.au
The Midas XL8
$349 | tascam.com
Tascam has released the RC-20 Direct Play Remote. The RC-20 brings instant playback through flash start to the CD500 or CD-500B CD players. A set of 20 pushbuttons on the remote plays the first 20 tracks on a CD when plugged into the remote jack on the CD-500 or 500B. The unit includes space to label each track to help locate the target material. A Stop/Load button is also available for preloading tracks and stopping playback. All this is housed in a remote control unit less than 23cm wide – perfect for theatre, broadcast, and PA installations. CMI (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
THIN END OF THE WEDGE EAW is stoked to announce recent additions to its MicroWedge Series of stage monitors. The MicroWedge8 (MW8) and MicroWedge10 (MW10) are a small-format continuation of the MW line. The MW8 is the smallest in the line, featuring an eight-inch woofer, while the MW10 features a 10-inch woofer. Both units’ coaxial designs pair the respective woofers with a three-inch (diaphragm) coaxially-mounted HF compression driver. Both monitors feature an excellent size-to-performance ratio, feedback stability, LF output from a surprisingly small package, durability and ‘great sound out of the box’, with fewer enhancements necessary from EQs and other processors. All components are liquid tolerant so they should survive an accident with a stray cocktail.
EAW SBK SERIES SUBS
$1999-$3299 | eaw.com
EAW has some new SBK Series subwoofers, designed to complement its MK Series full-range loudspeakers. The range includes three models: the SBK150 (single 15-inch driver), SBK180 (single 18-inch driver) and the SBK250 (double 15-inch drivers). All three units operate in passive mode. The design of the enclosures is based on the dimensions of EAW’s MK2300 and MK5300 loudspeakers, giving a homogeneous appearance when arrayed together. When used with the optional flybar, two full-range MK loudspeakers can be mounted –one either side of an SBK – using pre-configured and optimised splay angles.
Production Audio Services: (03) 9264 8000 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Production Audio Services (03) 9264 8000 or email@example.com
ROAD ROGUES Audiovisual group, Scene Change, has selected the Soundcraft Si1 as its high-end mixer of choice. Scene Change has grown spectacularly since its formation in 2006, partly by keeping its crew motivated by purchasing the best equipment available. “When you want to attract the best crew in a tight labour market, you need to give them the best tools to work with, so they feel good about the quality of show they’re delivering,” said Sydney Director Vicken Hekimian. “Unlike some of the other desks we looked at, the Si1 integrates really well with the analogue world,” continued Hekimian. “The whole input and output structure is really well thought out. It also looks really cool. The look and feel of your equipment is important when you work with event producers who know their stuff. They’re sitting right next to the desk for the whole show, so you need gear that reassures them they’re working with professionals.” Scene Change: (02) 9906 8909 or www.scenechange.com.au Scene Change’s Chris Challinor with the Si1 console.
Jands (Soundcraft): (02) 9582 0909 or www.jands.com.au
In Adelaide, Novatech Creative Event Technology is chuffed to announce it has purchased the first L-Acoustics Kara line source system in Australia. “Our decision to purchase Kara was an obvious one,” says Leko Novakovic, Novatech’s Managing Director. “As an L-Acoustics Rental Network Partner, we felt there was a spot in our L-Acoustics inventory that Kara has filled perfectly. It ticks all the right boxes in terms of performance, size, weight, rigging and flexibility and compliments our extensive range of hire inventory which now exceeds more than 300 cabinets”. Novatech’s purchase includes LA-RAKs, 24 KARA cabinets and 16 SB18 sub cabinets as well as an impressive range of amplified controllers and rigging. Novatech: (08) 8352 0300 or www.novatechproductions.com.au
WAVES FOR DIGICO
SoundGrid Version 2 tinyurl.com/3j8b66w
$599 | radialeng.com
The Radial Reamp JCR is the latest version of the original Reamp, designed and patented by John Cuniberti. It features a 100% passive design with John’s original custom wound ‘Made in the USA’ transformer and circuit. The latest Radial version features separate XLR and 1/4-inch TRS input connectors, variable output level plus a three-position filter that lets you tame excessive highs, warm up the lows or simply bypass it if you want to revert to the original circuit. An on-board mute function has also been added to allow you to shut off the signal going to the amps when making adjustments or moving mics around the studio.
SANKEN’S SAWN-OFF Sanken Microphones has introduced the CS-1e short shotgun microphone, based on the CS-1. This new version features a longer reach and sharper directivity, suitable for a wide range of streamlined video productions. Its short seven-inch length and lighter weight make the CS-1e ideal for mounting on newer, smaller HD camcorders and for easy boom pole operation. The sawn-off ‘shotty’ also features a 50Hz – 20kHz frequency range and significantly lower noise, improved sensitivity due to a redesigned capsule and circuitry, and a standard XLR connection for typical 48-volt phantom power, negating the need for batteries. There’s also a variety of windscreens and shock-mounting options available for super-versatility in the field.
Amber Technology 1800 251 367 or firstname.lastname@example.org
John Barry Group: (02) 9355 2300 or www.johnbarry.com.au
RELEASE THE BATS
$TBA | powersoft-audio.com
Powersoft has debuted the Ottocanali 1204 eight-channel power amplifier. Slotting into a single rack space, the Ottocanali 1204 provides eight channels with 160W each at 4Ω , and 80W each at 8Ω , respectively. Powersoft has also managed to include optional plug-in output transformers. Specifically developed ‘BatFormers’ – as they’re known – can be inserted through a dedicated lid in the amplifier chassis, converting any one, or all, of the eight channels into a 70V or 100V constant voltage output, providing 130W each. Additionally, channel pairs can be monobridged for more power with lo-impedance loads, or run serially for higher output voltage when equipped with BatFormers. Where do they get these names?! Production Audio Services (03) 9264 8000 or email@example.com
In Morayfield, newly birthed event production company, Absolute Sound & Lighting, has chosen dB Technologies speaker systems to serve the huge tourist market in Queensland’s Sunshine Coast region. No strangers to event organisation and shifting black boxes, Steve Teunis and Camryn Brown seized the opportunity, pooling their resources to put together an enviable kit. “We have a dB Technologies box for every occasion,” says Brown, listing the inventory, which includes the DVA Line Array, FlexSys mid-high units, S20 subwoofers, DVX series monitors and the digital Opera series. Absolute Sound & Lighting: 1800 604 883 or www.absolutesoundandlighting.com.au CMI Music and Audio (dB Technologies): (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
HEAD & HEART: HH BACK IN OZ Making a comeback to the land girt by sea is HH Electronics. Since the founding of HH in Cambridge by Mike Harrison during the late ‘60s, HH has become renowned for designing and producing pioneering products such as the IC100, MA100, VS-Musician, V800 and S500-D amplifiers (to name just a few) – technology and engineering that put the brand at the forefront of the sound-reinforcement industry. Nowadays HH still cater to both back- and front-line sound reinforcement, with instrument amplification such as the Studio Bass and Lead range, along with FOH amplification such as the ‘Scalar’ and ‘Classic’ range, and cabinets that include the active full-range ‘Tessen’ lineage, and passive ‘Vector’ range. Proudly distributing HH Electronics in Australia is Australis Music Group. Australis Music Group: (02) 9698 4444 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Biloela, Queensland, is a growing rural town with a diverse agricultural industry. Back in 2009, the Rudd government decided to grant $2.3m for the construction of the Magavilis Sports Complex, which required an all-weather outdoor speaker system. Enter local installer, Gary Pratt from Rifftone Music Supplies. Gary opted for the One Systems 106IMs. Gary states: “The One System 100V line speaker gives warm sounding reproduction as well as wide dispersion, and having the transformer option is great with long cable runs. Driving the speakers from a DSPPA MP-6250 six-channel head unit, and partnered with a DSPPA MP-2000 amp, leaves plenty of room for expansion and options for zoning.” Rifftone Music Supplies: (07) 4992 1411 or email@example.com CMI Music and Audio (One System): (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au
Gary Pratt cops an earful of One System.
A DAY IN THE LIFE OF
Geoff Emerick has recorded some of the most iconic albums in the history of modern music. During his tenure with The Beatles he revolutionised engineering while the band transformed rock ’n’ roll. Text: Andy Stewart Main Photo: Beth Herzhaft
To an audio engineer, the idea of being able to occupy Geoff Emerick’s mind for a day to personally recall the recording and mixing of albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road is the equivalent of stepping inside Neil Armstrong’s space suit and looking back at planet Earth. Many readers of AT have a memory of a special album they’ve played on or recorded, a live gig they’ve mixed or a big crowd they’ve played to. Imagine then what it must be like for your fondest audio memories to be of witnessing The Beatles record Love Me Do at the age of 15 (on only your second day in the studio); of screaming fans racing around the halls of EMI Studios while the band was barricaded in Studio Two recording She Loves You; of recording the orchestra for A Day in the Life with everyone, including the reluctant musicians, dressed in party hats and red noses; of going live-to-air across the world to billions during the recording of All You Need Is Love; of miking up Yoko Ono (on John Lennon’s insistence) so that her comments were audible as she lay in bed in the corner of Studio Two, ‘recuperating’ after a car accident. The memories that roll around in Geoff Emerick’s head are amongst the most remarkable, historically significant and bizarre in the history of audio. If only there was a patch lead to access them all. Speaking to Geoff Emerick on the phone via his home in Los Angeles reveals a humble man with a passion for music that’s as youthful today as it was when, at the age of six, he started listening to his grandparents’ collection of old gramophone records. These old LPs sparked a life-long passion for recording that continues unabated to this day. HE’S LEAVING HOME
Geoff Emerick began his recording career at EMI, at the now legendary studios of No. 3 Abbey Road, at literally the same time as a group of chaps from Liverpool called The Beatles turned up for their first real recording session (they had already done an audition with George Martin at EMI, so this
was theoretically there second visit to the studio). On only his second day of what was to become a long career boxed inside a studio, Geoff – then only an assistant’s apprentice – witnessed the humble birth of a musical revolution. From there his career shot into the stratosphere, along with the band, becoming The Beatles’ chief recording engineer at the ripe old age of 19; his first session as their ‘balance engineer’ being on the now iconic Tomorrow Never knows off Revolver – a song that heralded the arrival of psychedelic music. On literally his first day as head engineer for The Beatles, Geoff close–miked the drum kit – an act unheard of (and illegal at EMI) at the time – and ran John Lennon’s vocals through a Leslie speaker after being asked by the singer to make him sound like the ‘Dalai Lama chanting from a mountain top’. To the utter amazement of all concerned he pulled it off. It was a masterstroke and from that moment on Geoff was ‘in’. So how did such a young bloke, apprenticed in arguably the most conservative recording facility in London, manage such a radical feat? Geoff Emerick: Basically out of a determination to succeed, and give The Beatles the sound they were imagining for Tomorrow Never Knows. The Beatles were always under pressure to produce hit singles, and were always looking for new sounds, but because the technology wasn’t really there to do most things, you had to invent ways of accommodating their requests by stretching your imagination basically. But, of course, most of the things I did for The Beatles were actually ‘illegal’ in terms of the EMI rulebook. There were strictly enforced processes and protocols in place – many of them growing frustratingly old-hat by this stage. The things I did on my first day working on Tomorrow Never Knows could easily have got me sacked. For instance, you just weren’t allowed to put a microphone closer than 18 inches from the kick drum. That was the rule. When I started going closer, needless to say there was a big kerfuffle…
GEOFF EMERICK IN PERSON AT INTEGRATE! Geoff and Richard Lush will be talking to AT Editor Andy Stewart in a Headline presentation at Integrate. This session will be conducted in The Headroom on the afternoon of Day 2 (31st Aug). Tickets available on the integrate site: www.integrate-expo.com
The fabled Studer J37 one-inch four track master tape recorder from EMI Recording Studios. 7.5 and 15 IPS tape speeds and a ‘play’ button that always produces music!
AS: It’s hard to even conceive of that being a problem today… was this rule based on an equipment maintenance issue or something? GE: Absolutely. EMI was a big, big company that regularly used to sell 500,000 to a million copies of hit singles and they didn’t want anything about these cuts being technically ‘flawed’ or damaging to either their own, or listeners’ equipment. The cost of recalling that many discs would have been disasterous. Because we were cutting to vinyl we couldn’t have excessive sibilance or bass etc, but the problem was, there were rules and regulations for just about everything else as well, including strict rules about the clothes we wore. But because we’d been listening to American records that were louder and had more bass, we eventually started challenging these technical edicts right around the time The Beatles became hugely successful.
TICKET TO RIDE GE: Everything changed so fast in the mid ’60s. When I first walked through the door at EMI the guy who showed me around said, optimistically, “you’ll progress up the ladder and if you’re lucky enough you’ll become a mastering engineer. You’ll start off doing playback lacquers, eventually master records and then if you’re really good you might become a recording engineer possibly by the age of 35 or 40!” But then everything changed. Norman Smith decided to leave to become a record producer and I guess someone had to take his place. I dunno who decided to just go for ‘Geoff the young guy’… all I know is one day I got called into the office out of the blue and there was George Martin. I thought ‘uh oh, what have I done?’ but George quickly cut to the chase and said, “Geoff, do you want to record The Beatles?” Needless to say I was shocked. It actually took me quite a while to get the words out, but eventually I said yes!
The Beatles were hearing these American records, as was I, and the differences were obvious, so we were determined to do something about it, even though the powers that be hated change. All we had to compete with though were the Fairchilds and a few Altec compressors – that was about it. Consequently, I would do anything to make something sound bigger. I mean, I’d put three Fairchilds in series sometimes, not knowing what was going to come out the other end but occasionally what came out was magic! The drums in particular used to sound enormous through them. By the time we started recording Pepper our approach had become all about doing things better; every song an attempt to improve on the one before. Even if we got a great drum sound on a previous song, we wouldn’t use that same sound again. Every track was like a new challenge demanding a new approach.
AS: In essence, it was a pure pop mentality... GE: You’re right. But back then we were limited in so many respects. For instance, the equalisation on the Red 51 console only had treble and bass controls on it. We did have an outboard equaliser as well, which had 2.7, 3.5 and 10kHz controls, but that was it. If you wanted different sonic textures on tracks you had to utilise different microphones, ones that were duller or brighter – a discipline that is rarely applied these days. It’s funny, because if you read some of the literature that’s out there about all this, you’d think we had equipment coming out our ears, but we didn’t. There’s one particular book that talks about all the gear we used, half of which I’ve never even seen before! A REVOLUTION
AS: It amazes me how quickly you became good at creating new sounds, particularly when you’d grown up in such a conservative establishment as EMI. How did that come about? Were you secretly plotting to turn the world on its head while you were Norman Smith’s assistant or something [Geoff trained under Norman as an assistant during the early ’60s]? GE: No, not at all, although I would often look at how Norman was going about it and think to myself, ‘I think I’d do that a little differently if I were in the big chair’. The thing is I would always just listen off the studio floor first to get a ‘trigger’ from the music, or from what the guys were saying to one another or to me. It might have been a harmonic off an instrument or a conversation between the band members – anything that might catch my ear. A good example of this was getting the sound for John’s vocal on that fateful day when we recorded Tomorrow Never Knows. John asked me to make
him “sound like the Dalai Lama chanting from a mountain top” so after a short panic attack and looking around the facility for something that might generate such a sound – there were no ‘Dalai Lama mountain top’ echo units handy you see, only a bunch of guitar amplifiers – I decided to try putting the vocal through the studio’s Leslie cabinet, which no-one had ever done before to my knowledge. As it turned out, it worked brilliantly, with ample portions of echo thrown in there too. Recording with The Beatles was a collaborative artistic pursuit, which involved crafting sounds rather than just saying, ‘oh well we’ve got three guitars, drums and bass… that’s the sound’. I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes if I’d had that mentality. Song production is about blending sounds and instruments and merging them together. It’s an art form. The point is, any engineer can paint by numbers, but if you want those magic brush strokes like the ones you see in famous paintings, you have to put them in, they don’t make themselves all that often. AS: It sounds like you were pretty good at interpreting abstract requests… GE: I was I guess. ADDING SALT TO PEPPER
AS: Sgt. Pepper sounds like it was very eclectic in terms of the engineering approach in that, as you say, no two songs or recording techniques were ever repeated. What sparked this sudden explosion of sonic exploration in you and the band do you think? GE: It was a lot of things really, but partly it was because The Beatles weren’t intending to tour again so they suddenly felt liberated to make their records more experimental. If they didn’t have to play the songs live they could essentially do anything. And that experimentation was reflected on the engineering side of things as well. And, of course, at the time – and I’m using Pepper here as the example because it was a huge album in terms of sonic advancement, as was Revolver to a lesser extent – it was an extremely exciting process to be part of. I remember after we’d recorded A Day in the Life on that magical night… we’d just done the monitor mix and Ron Richards – who recorded the Hollies – was sitting on the floor in the control room looking up at the ceiling saying: “I think I might have to give this game away now. How do you top that?!”. Everyone was absolutely silent that night. Control room Number One wasn’t very big, so most people were sort of huddled by the door or outside it, listening to the rough mix and there were no words to describe it. It was so magical and wonderful. It was like going from a square black and white picture to a Technicolor Cinemascope picture for the very first time. AS: And this monitor mix was mono I presume? GE: Sure. MONO–LITHIC
AS: Which brings me to the whole concept that seemed central to achieving the Sgt. Pepper sound – submixing. With mono in mind rather than stereo, how did you choose what got bounced together, or was a stereo mix still in the back of your mind somewhere? GE: No, not at all. The stereo mixes, which were done by myself, Richard Lush and George Martin came out later. But a small point to make about those mixes – while we’re on the subject – is that even though they only took three days to complete, they weren’t ‘rushed’ as some people have inferred over the years. That’s just how long they took to complete. But certainly during the recording of Pepper stereo was hardly even considered because it was the preserve of classical recordings at that stage. Mono was the format to which all our work was referenced and the format that influenced the way things sounded. For instance, it was always very hard to get two electric guitars to be easily distinguished from one another in mono and that was a great motivator to make things sound distinctive. It took a long time to get them to work together sometimes, but thankfully we had the luxury of time to get things sounding right during Beatles sessions. It’s very easy to put one guitar left and one guitar right in stereo, but in mono, things were different. If, for instance, I couldn’t achieve distinction between two guitars out of a single speaker, or if there was a keyboard in there that was getting lost, I would often speak to John or George and say, “The guitar sounds aren’t working with the keyboard, can we alter the EQ on the amps?” There was AT 29
She’s So Heavy!: Richard Lush (leaning against the Studer one-inch four track) and Geoff Emerick surround themselves with the familiar smell of analogue tape.
more control over the sounds from the studio floor back then than there was from the control room.
RECORDING THE BASS
AS: Given that mono mixing made panning a non-issue then, how did you choose what went with what on a track of tape during a tracking session or submix pass?
GE: I had this sound in my head for the bass that I couldn’t get with the band playing as an ensemble, but because Paul wanted to record it separately on Pepper it gave me a good opportunity to do it a bit differently. I was searching for roundness but also looking to put a sort of halo around the instrument. Up until Pepper the bass had always been close-miked (with an AKG D20), mainly to minimise spill, but once we started overdubbing it in isolation I switched to an AKG C12 set to figure-of-eight. We would record Paul’s bass in the middle of Studio Two on the hardwood floor, with the amp miked up from about four or five feet away, as I said, in figure-of-eight, and that added the halo effect by putting a little bit of room around it. You can’t really detect it but it’s there. I think the bass sounds great on Pepper. I’d been fighting to get a sound like that for ages and I finally got it!
GE: We always knew roughly that we were going to record drums, bass, a couple of guitars and whatever else, and generally we’d put the two guitars together on their own track, and bass and drums together as well. In the early days I put bass and drums on the one track for the simple reason that if I didn’t have enough bass or drums when it came to the four-track mix, I could always bring the drums out with some treble EQ and the bass out with more bass EQ. We did fourtrack to four-track one-inch transfers sometimes too to enable us to do a few more overdubs, and on some of these songs a lot of stuff would end up submixed onto one track. But four-track oneinch tape has very wide tracks, and that’s why the signal-to-noise ratio on that stuff was still pretty good. We’d maybe bounce together a couple of guitars, a keyboard, whatever would fit… and on Pepper we always overdubbed Paul’s bass afterwards because he typically hadn’t worked it out until towards the end. This was really handy for us because it allowed us to overdub it separately and use the whole studio space to capture it. Richard Lush and I used to record the bass with Paul late into the night after everyone had gone home.
REMASTERING AT EMI I’d been remastering American singles for British release upstairs in the EMI cutting rooms, hearing all this stuff from over there, and was amazed at how good these all sounded. For all the big hits that were issued in England, to save time – or at least that’s the excuse I was given – instead of sending a copy tape over from America of the track, they’d send a seven-inch record, and then it was someone’s job at EMI to copy that disc onto tape and give it to the mastering engineer. If there were any bad clicks on the transfer tape the mastering engineer would simply cut them out with scissors – we didn’t use razor blades – or if it was really bad, ask for a new transfer. Then they’d remaster the English version from that. AT 30
AS: Can you elaborate a bit more on how you used the studio space to record the bass?
AS: What other memorable tricks did you perform on Pepper while you guys were turning rock ’n’ roll on its head? GE: I remember once putting splicing tape all over one of the tape machine’s roller guides to create massive ‘wow’ – on the machine that was feeding the piano solo signal on Lovely Rita into the echo chamber. The splicing tape was designed to inhibit the machine from playing smoothly, and sure enough, it was wobbling all over the place! I hate to think what would have happened to me if the manager had walked in on us that night! That wobbly piano echo was never used again, interestingly enough, only on the Lovely Rita solo. We also sync’ed up two tape machines for the overdubs on A Day In The Life; that was certainly ‘interesting’, shall we say. AS: How did you sync’ them? GE: I think, from memory, we had a 50-cycle pulse that went to the motors of both machines. We had a Chinagraph mark on both tapes that physically marked the beginning the song, and
we simply cued them up and physically pressed the play buttons simultaneously – pretty sophisticated by today’s standards I know! If one machine got ahead of the other we’d simply restart them. It was really just trial and error. If you actually listen to the orchestral buildups on A Day In The Life you can actually hear that one of those tracks is out of time slightly. One orchestral track was on the four-track master and the other four tracks of orchestra came from the second machine, which wasn’t 100% in sync. AS: So the 50Hz pulse gave the machines some kind of control, but nothing to write home about... GE: It sort of worked, let’s put it that way. Funny thing was, you’d never be too sure if they were still in time until we got to the orchestral part of the song, simply because all the band stuff was on the first four-track. On Pepper I used to change mic setups a lot too, all driven by the challenge of making the next track better than the last. But it wasn’t just a gratuitous exercise; there were always artistic reasons for these relentless change-ups based on the particular track we were doing… listening to it in the studio and saying, “It would be nice if the piano was less bright for this track – let’s try miking it from underneath with different mics, that might sound good.” That’s the way I always approached things. AS: But it clearly wasn’t the way you were trained to approach things. Sgt. Pepper was obviously a watershed recording where a synergy between you and the band collectively ‘recalibrated’ the entire recording process. Is that a fair statement? GE: It was for sure, but there was innovation before that as well. For instance, I remember Norman Smith subverting the EMI edict that all mixes had to go through the Altec compressor, again because with vinyl you didn’t want too many bass swings, and it made it easy to master the thing. I remember Norman saying to me, “I’m gonna put everything through the Altec except the bass, because some of the notes are getting lost.” The bass was immediately a lot clearer but he didn’t dare tell management what he was doing – there would have been an inquiry! That approach was a manifestly huge leap forward. He was also the one who taught me that when a
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band’s rehearsing down in the studio, you can normally open up just one mic and know whether you’ve got a hit on your hands. YOU CAN’T DO THAT
AS: It seems ironic that The Beatles found themselves trying to be totally radical within the confines of what was seemingly the most old-fashioned studio in England. GE: Right, exactly. And that was one of the other problems. They’d invariably meet other bands who would tell them that they’d worked at this or that studio, and that over there you could do X, Y and Z, no problem. So, of course, they’d come to us and say, “Oh, we’ve been talking to so and so and they do this and they do that, why can’t we do that as well?” AS: It’s amazing in hindsight that they tolerated the place for so long! GS: I’ll tell you why they did. Because whenever they went outside the EMI studio to record something, they could never get the same great drum sound or same great bass sound. They could never – especially some of the guitar sounds we were getting – match what we were capturing. AS: Sounds to me like they kept coming back because of your engineering skills, not the studio. It wasn’t that EMI had superior equipment or better facilities – indeed, based on the conversations we’ve had, it seems like it was always the last place you’d find a new piece of cutting-edge equipment. Left: Geoff Emerick (in cuff links and a suit after a big night out) and Paul McCartney man the Redd 51 console at EMI Studios during a mix session.
GE: Either way, they always came back, no matter how dire their issues with the place got. AS: I can see you’re not going to take any direct credit for their apparent studio loyalty, so we’ll leave it at that! GE: Except for when we get to The White Album of course! [Laughs] THE RE-RELEASES
AS: What’s your feeling these days about the Beatles remasters being released without your involvement? GE: Well, it’s absolutely stupid when you think about it. Incredibly, Abbey Road Studios constantly claims to have recorded The Beatles. Frankly, that’s insulting. Abbey Road didn’t record The Beatles, I recorded The Beatles, along with several other engineers including Norman Smith, Ken Scott, Richard Lush, George Martin and, of course, The Beatles themselves. Abbey Road didn’t record The Beatles, people recorded The Beatles! At best I’d call these re-issues ‘generic’ since none of the original people were involved in the process. Frankly, I find it incredible that the original recording engineers are hardly even mentioned on these re-releases. It’s all the remastering engineers that get the credit. It’s quite bizarre.
When they first put out the publicity for these remastered Beatles albums, one of the press releases from Abbey Road went so far as to describe them as new recordings, which was absolutely ridiculous. I think after a while they withdrew that. MIXING A WHOLE
AS: Changing the subject slightly again, can you give us your insight into the benefits of mixing songs as you track them, rather than after an album is recorded? GE: To me, recording a track and mixing it in the one process is definitely the best approach. The recording engineer and the mix engineer were the same person once upon a time, of course – until some made a hit record by mixing someone else’s tape one day and the record company geniuses got the idea in their heads that this was the best way to do it. When the recording engineer is also the mix engineer you retain all the knowledge about the recordings that you need to take into account when you’re mixing it – the roles are locked together. When they’re separated there’s a tendency for the mix engineer to miss crucial cues and for the recording process to get out of hand, because the recording engineer doesn’t have to pull the work together, and in many cases doesn’t even know if it can be! AS: So obviously you still advocate mixing a song
immediately after you’ve tracked it, while all the memories are fresh in your mind? GE: Yeah, for sure. Certainly working on The Beatles stuff, we’d mix a track immediately after we finished the last overdub. We couldn’t even wait ’til the next day to do it most of the time! You’d mix it that night. This approach definitely helps you feel fresh during long sessions too; helps you feel like you’re making good progress, rather than just building up a giant pile of work ahead of you to tackle further down the track when you’re already sick of it. AS: How do you think the Beatles would have fared if they’d had the option of an endless track count and digital automation? GE: I suspect it would have been a mess!
HE’S SO HEAVY GE: You’ve got to give Ringo his credit for the drum sound on The Beatles records, not just the compressors or the mic placements. Ringo really laid into that drum kit something wicked – he really did. When we were finally finished of a night, the floor in his little drum booth would always be covered in wood chips from broken and chipped drumsticks. We always knew when he was getting tired because the snare or the bass drum would start to sound less powerful than it had been. We’d say, “Oh Ring, can you hit the snare drum harder please?” And his response would always be, “I am, I am! If I play it any harder the skin’s going to break.”
MODEST MOUSE LIVE Fulsome beards on faces, fearsome tea-cosies on heads – this is indie rock. Text: Christopher Holder
Nothing says ‘Indie Rock’ like two drummers on stage. It says, “anyone can have one drummer – one wage, one set of drum flight cases, one riser, one ego – but we choose to walk the path less travelled.” Mind you, there must be times when Modest Mouse would look wistfully on at other ‘normal’ bands with only ‘the’ one drummer. Like the night I rocked up to the Prince Bandroom in St. Kilda. The Prince’s corner stage is adequately proportioned for most rock bands, but this night was something else. The support act’s gear was clinging by its finger nails to front of stage, while Modest Mouse’s two drum kits, bass rig, two electric guitar rigs, keys, upright bass setup, along with a fullblown JBL sidefill (just for the occasion) made for the most crowded stage I’ve ever laid eyes on. Tip-toeing around the ‘tulips’ of pedals, DIs, leads and mic stands was positively treacherous. Evan Player mixes the band. He’s been in the band’s orbit for many a year. He doesn’t have a beard, and generally eschews strange headgear. Saying that, he’s grown a moustache, more than likely especially for the Australian tour. Evan’s turned his back on a life on the road for a settled existence in New York with his fashion industry Australian wife and two young kids. He’s the Production Manager of a successful Brooklyn venue, Music Hall of Williamsburg. The band convinced Evan to come out on tour ‘one last time’. NEITHER MODEST NOR MOUSEY
Christopher Holder: What’s the Modest Mouse attitude to touring Evan? I’m guessing it’s not about faithful album recreation? Evan Player: For Modest Mouse, it’s not about recreating the record, it’s a lot more powerful live – with a lot more energy – and that’s important to them. The reason the band is so big is because they present a big live experience. They have the ability to have brass on one song, keyboards on another, with people floating about playing different instruments. That aspect of the performance is important to them – the sheer amount of stuff going on. CH: How do you approach mixing this amount of stuff?
EP: I approach mixing them by not getting in the way. Having someone play a drum over and over and over is counter-productive. For one thing, it simply won’t achieve the result I’m after once the two drummers are playing flat-out. I could spend hours digging into something with EQ but once it’s back in the mix, it won’t fit. For me, Modest Mouse is all about looking at the whole picture, and making that sound good. I do that by softening things; rounding things out rather than having everything competing for attention. CH: So you’re doing your best to ‘stay out of the way’ and ensure the band feels comfortable? EP: That’s right, which means getting monitors sorted out first of all. This show is the first of the Australian tour so we had a rehearsal yesterday. Once I’m comfortable with the mic setup I’m just happy for them to get on with playing. I know I have time on my hands to sort a mix out, so I massage things into place slowly. At the end of the soundcheck, I thought – I haven’t heard the toms yet. So once they were all done and most of the band had gone, I went through the toms. I did a little something to them and that was it. I had my mix. It may not be totally there but it’s as close as I need it to be. CH: By which you mean, it’s going to sound a good deal different when the room fills up with punters? EP: That’s right, we’re rehearsing in a big empty room and in my experience I’m careful not to paint myself into a corner with overly dramatic EQ. It’s better to do the fix when the gig starts rather than remedially putting frequencies back in – re-EQing for the first three songs. With a bit of experience you’ll know the areas you need to address when the gig kicks off. CH: Sounds like you trust your instincts? EP: I think so. For example, I don’t Smaart rooms. I know people get great results using Smaart, and sure, it’s a science but it’s subjective in equal measure – you need to use your judgement as well as your ears.
Vocal Sound: “Isaac is using an Audix OM7 on his vocals. He’s used a 58, a 935, it really depends on who’s doing monitors. It’s a loud band so I’m happy to defer to the monitor engineer most times – whatever he feels will allow him to get the most out of the vocal. It’s an aggressive vocal style, and it’s not about nuance or clarity. Super clean? No, it just needs to be there.”
Guitar Blend: “When we’re touring Jim Fairchild uses a Fender Deluxe and a Twin. I put a Shure SM57 on the Deluxe, which is a bit more present and a Sennheiser 609 on the Twin, which is a bit warmer/darker. Issac Brock’s amp (top right) has two mics that I blend – a Shure SM57 and a Sennheiser 609. Isaac uses a Soursound custom amp. He used to play through a Fender Super Six – his amp of choice – but they’re very hard to find. So Brian Sour reverse-engineered a modern, stable version of that – easier to keep and repair, yet still very ‘boutique’.”
RIDING THE WAVE OF STAGE VOLUME
CH: So you’re loath to make that call?
No-one’s going to storm the front of house position complaining they can’t hear the shaker! But not hearing the guitar the whole time… that’s serious
” AT 36
CH: The band is well known to let rip on stage. How do you deal with excessive on-stage sound? EP: You’re right, the band has a very loud stage volume. My philosophy has always been to not fight that too hard – because they need that. They’re responsible enough to turn things down if it gets out of control – they might turn the backline down a bit if I ask them to, to get a cleaner vocal sound – but I know they need that impact on stage. EP: Well, I know it might impact the show: they might not be quite so into it, they might be a little more hesitant, or a little less confident in their playing. I don’t like to be responsible for that. If it’s loud and I can deal with the volume, then I will. So long as I’ve got enough vocal in the PA, I’ll deal with it. I’ll wait for them to make sure they’re feeling it and they’re comfortable. After all, when everyone’s the same level of ‘loud’ coming off stage, it kinda mixes itself! CH: How much of the backline are you mixing through the PA? EP: I’ve got mics on everything and normally I would mix the guitars through the PA. Tonight I won’t be mixing quite so much of the guitars in; it’ll mainly be the drums, bass and vocals. But I’ve got to be aware that the backline is on stage at ‘ground’ level, so the first few rows of the audience will soak up a lot of the backline sound.
So I’ll put the guitars in the mix and flatten out the EQs a bit. That way the guitars should sound like they do coming out of the amps and cabs. CH: And the crowd will help you get the gain you need for the vocal? EP: If I can get the vocal sitting on top of the mix during rehearsals I know I’ll be fine. I may not be hearing the words but that intelligibility will increase when the crowd arrives. And that’s club mixing, for sure… CH: In that everything’s measured by how loud you can get the vocals? EP: Ultimately, yeah. Modest Mouse doesn’t demand a super-high vocal mix, but it needs to be present – people are into the words with this band so it can’t be buried, but it doesn’t have to be as high as something like Joan Baez. CH: Folk, eh? Sounds like the voice of experience. EP: Right. For a while there I did a lot of mixing of folk singers. And folk singers do this thing where they’ll take out a trio – with an acoustic guitar and a cellist… and all the fans are happy because they can hear a pin drop. Then, as folk singers always do, they want to ‘do a Bob Dylan’ and take a loud band out – with the loud drummer and the guitars. So I’ll be sitting at FOH in a theatre with an audience who may have seen the performer with the cellist a few months prior and they’re now sitting there with their
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hands over their ears – “you’ve gotta turn the drums down!” “Where are you sitting? You’re not even hearing the drums from the PA, you’re just hearing them off the stage!” RIGHT (& LEFT) ROYAL PANNING
CH: How important is panning in club mixing? EP: I’ll pan the drum overheads hard left and right. Modest Mouse uses a lot more percussion – it figures prominently – and those percussive elements add good stereo interest. CH: Right. So those mics are quite pivotal? EP: They’re all important! For smaller club shows it’s really quite hard to know where your input savings are coming from. And believe me, I understand the dilemma because I’ve been on both sides of the problem. As a club production manager I’m asking “do you really need all this stuff?!” and now I’m digging my toes in saying “I really need all this stuff!” For example, I need biamped wedges... nothing else will do. Yeah, we’re a relatively demanding act. CH: Getting back to panning, do you pan the guitars much? Dueling Drummers: “We have two full drum kits, with no specific mic preferences. Most commonly there are Shure Beta 52s on kicks, and Audix D6s, which are nice. Toms: Sennheiser e904s, and we use the 604 quite frequently – I’m partial to using dynamics on toms. We’ve got Audio-Technica AT4050s for overheads, Shure SM81 on hi-hats, and Shure Beta 57As on the congas. We’ve tried the Shure Beta 98 on the glockenspiel, works nicely – easy to mount, and we were running out of options. Snare has the standard Shure Beta 57A on the top and an SM57 on the bottom. All our DIs are from Radial Engineering – they make a solid DI. The drummer has a Sennheiser e935 on his vocal mic – nice tight pattern and rejection of other stuff.”
RUNNING A SUCCESSFUL NEW YORK CLUB Evan has taken over the technical operations of a highly successful club in Brooklyn called the Music Hall of Williamsburg. I asked him what it was like to get back out on the road again. Evan Player: I come from a touring background and I encourage my crew to go out on the road with bands. That’s how you see what’s good and bad. And you don’t want to be a club where you replicate what’s bad. CH: So, what’s top of the technical checklist for running a successful club? EP: A neat work environment is priority No. 1. You want to walk in and see the mics, cables and stands neatly put away, providing you with a clean slate to work from. Make sure the gear is in good repair – you don’t want a bunch of bad mics, DIs, cables etc. That way, when you do have a problem, you can troubleshoot it quickly, which is especially important when you have visiting engineers who inevitably are short on time – if you spend a lot AT 38
EP: Guitars I don’t pan – they’re straight up. CH: Do you leave a ‘hole’ for vocals in your mix? EP: Panning – taking stuff out of the centre – never really does that for me. And also, there’s the practical necessity of ensuring everyone in the room has the same consistent sound. Pan your overheads? Sure, because people aren’t constantly taking their cues from those mics. No-one’s going to storm the front of house position complaining
of time trying to determine why you’re not getting a sound down a channel it gets frustrating very quickly. I drill my crew with a checklist. So if a mic’s not working, go through this routine – do it quickly, and methodically. Keep calm; get it done. That way visiting engineers have confidence that the venue staff know what they’re doing and it just makes for a better day from the engineer’s perspective. CH: Have you come across clubs where appearances can be deceiving? EP: We’ve just finished a small run in The States – five or six shows. Some of the venues that looked perfectly fine on paper didn’t quite stack up. And unfortunately some house engineers can get very defensive very quickly. I’ll normally request to be let into the system processors so I can start from a flat response. I’m happy for the house guy to watch what I’m doing and if the amps start clipping we can pull it down some. That’s the way I like to work. But it can be very disappointing...
club shows which should be good but don’t live up to their promise. We had one situation where the room was what you could only describe as ‘in beta’. They had a small line array, and they hadn’t figured it out and the installer had left them in the lurch – the company who tech’ed it had put it in, left and said “don’t touch anything”! Yeah, great. CH: You’ve spent a lot of time in Australia as well as The States. How do you find venues compare? Can you make any generalisations? EP: Well, the venue I work for in New York is really into sound – much more than most clubs their size... almost to a point of overkill. They’re also building a new venue in Philidelphia I’m helping out with. They’re getting a brand new d&b rig, and that’s going to be super. But compared to lighting or any other aspect of the venue it’s where they lavish the most attention. They’ve taken their lead from the Bowery Ballroom in New York – an amazing sounding venue that really brought bands back to the city – such quality on stage and off; the whole
they can’t hear the shaker! But not hearing the guitar the whole time… that’s serious. HE-E-E-RE’S JOHNNY
CH: There’s some good footage on YouTube of the band playing Letterman. What are those shows like to do? EP: When you do those shows, you don’t do much. You walk in in the morning for a really early load in. They have a monitor engineer and a front of house engineer for the audience sound. Then they have a broadcast engineer. So as a FOH engineer working for a band like this, it’s your job to interface with the different engineers. Come show time I’d find myself sitting down with the broadcast engineer saying – “in this part the guitar gets really loud” or “in this part the vocal is down low.” You need to be there for that. Perhaps some superstar engineers get a little more hands-on, I wouldn’t know. But the thing is, the TV sound engineers are in a position where they know what’s going on and what the director will be calling. They know the other cues in the show as well. As for the broadcast mixer, it’s not someone you just want to elbow out of the way and say, ‘let me at it’. Saying that, after listening to some mixes I’m thinking ‘eurgh, that wasn’t very good’. But those shows are fun to do. It’s another aspect of live sound. It’s definitely harder on the band, though, because it’s not as loud ‘on stage’ and it’s a whole lot of pressure.
experience is so good from top to bottom. And it’s not just about packing a high-end PA, the room sounds really good and they’ve got the most out of the equipment. They’ve really paid attention to the detail. CH: Because it’s true to say that successful bands still love playing clubs, they love that intimate club environment, so long as it doesn’t come with club gremlins. EP: For sure. In fact, the bigger the room, the more ways there are for it to sound terrible, while sound issues in small venues can be easy and inexpensive to address. Get into a 2000 or 3000 capacity room and you have huge surfaces at play. If it’s not working well straight out of the gate, going back to do more acoustical treatments… well, the budget for that can match what you just spent on the PA. The club really has to think, ‘can we afford this right now?’. So they opt for some quick fixes until they get it all put together. CH: I imagine for Modest Mouse – with the two drum kits – stage space can be a problem in smaller clubs?
EP: They do alright, because they play very close together. Even on big stages they scrunch up right in the middle, always within two or three feet of each other. Take the corner stage at the Prince. When we looked at it and planned it out we thought: ‘we’ll show up and make it fit’. We got more gear on there than we had any right to – risers and sidefill, the whole shebang. We’ve done well. Some bands or crew may not want the hassle of squeezing a semi-truck tour into a small footprint every night. But the reality of touring now is, it’s much more common – spreading the shows you have over a longer period of time. I see this at my club all the time. Instead of playing one big show and coming back next year, we see the same band three or four times a year. Each show would be sold out. Go back 10 years and they would have done one or two shows once a year in the bigger room. ‘Little and often’ mixes things up and keeps the fans interested. And, it keeps bookings going, especially in NY.
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OR SO WHAT
PHIL RAMONE & ANDY SMITH RECORDING PAUL SIMON Legendary producer Phil Ramone recently teamed up with legendary songwriter and close friend Paul Simon – again – to construct yet another classic. Text: Paul Tingen
What is it with old guys making good music? There appears to be a whole swathe of famous musicians who reached their commercial and artistic peak in their 20s and early 30s returning in their 50s and 60s and rediscovering their muse. There are countless albums being produced by old rockers that are hailed as their best work since, well… a long long time ago. Paul McCartney’s most recent offering, Memory Almost Full (2007), is inarguably his best since his solo albums of the 1970s, Neil Young’s recent Le Noise has been billed as “his best in decades,” Bob Dylan pulled off the trick a couple of times with Time Out Of Mind (1997) and Modern Times (2006), Carlos Santana stepped back into the limelight with Supernatural (1999), The Stones A Bigger Bang (2005) was “their best in years,” Robert Plant revived his career with Raising Sand (2007) and Band Of Joy (2010), and so on and, seemingly, on. Paul Simon’s recent album, So Beautiful or So What, appears to be another case in point. Even the usually understated 69-year old singer himself earmarked it as “the best thing I’ve done in 20 years,” while Elvis Costello, in the CD booklet blurb, calls it a “remarkable, thoughtful, often joyful record” that “deserves to be recognised as among Paul Simon’s very finest achievements.” Many critics agreed, illustrated by the fact that the album achieved a very impressive average score of 85 out of 100 in Metacritic’s compiled review ratings. The only argument that could be offered against the above observations is that Simon never sank into middle-aged mediocrity, even as Songs from the Capeman (1997), You’re The One (2000), and Surprise (2006) are often seen as lesser efforts, in contrast to undisputed classics such as Paul Simon (1972), There Goes Rhymin’ Simon (1973), Still Crazy After All These Years (1975), Graceland (1986) and Rhythm of the Saints (1990).
REWIND TO THE BEGINNING
In interviews Simon has explained that Graceland marked the beginning of him writing songs to rhythmic backing tracks and that on the new album he wanted to write songs the way he did when he started; just him singing with an acoustic guitar, and then adding the rhythms and ethnic instruments later on, ie. working top to bottom. There’s also an extensive use of samples on the new album, although the sparsely arranged and delicate sounding album appears to be, in part, a reaction to its slightly overlaboured predecessor, Surprise, on which Simon’s songs and Brian Eno’s electronic treatments arguably resulted in the sum being less than its considerable parts. THE PRODUCER & THE ENGINEER
Anyone with a keen eye for credits will have noted two other signs that indicate that So Beautiful or So What is both continuation and recapping of Simon’s career. First it finds Simon reuniting with legendary producer Phil Ramone, who worked on Rhymin’ Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years and also on Simon & Garfunkel’s famous The Concert In Central Park (1982). The 15-time Grammy-winning Ramone is known for his work with household names like Billy Joel, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, and Paul McCartney. The other sign on the credits of the new album is the presence of long-time Paul Simon engineer, Andy Smith. Smith is a New York city-based freelance engineer who has worked on several of Simon’s projects over the years as well as projects with Simon’s wife Edie Brickell and her current band The Gaddabouts. Via separate phone interviews, Ramone and Smith provided a compelling and unique insight into aspects of Simon’s creative process in general and the recordings of So Beautiful or So What in particular.
Tracking sessions at The Cottage were often a bit of a squeeze, so much so that the flautist seems to have been relegated to the veranda.
Smith began by charting the very beginnings of the recordings, several years ago, in a room in a cottage at Simon’s property in Connecticut: “I think it was the first time that the bulk of one of Paul’s albums was recorded in his own studio. The cottage was initially an empty house, and we gradually built the studio up as the project went along. We didn’t record all the time. We’d had a month off here and there, and during that time, we were also upgrading the studio. By the end of the project we had a pretty well-equipped small studio and a new album! The studio now has a decent mic collection including the Bock Audio 251s, various high voltage DPAs, Royer R122V, SF24, 121s, as well as the basics like Neumann, Shure, Sennheiser and AKG. We gathered mic pres by Telefunken, Great River, Grace, Chandler and API; compressors by Purple Audio, Chandler, API and Teletronix; a ProTools HD systems with plug-ins by iZotope, Massenburg, Soundtoys, Eventide, Oxford and Audio Ease; two Apogee AD16Xs and one DA16x converter; an Antelope Audio master clock; and Adam S3A monitors. All the wiring was done with Mogami cables and one of the coolest features is that there’s a Grace 902 headphone amplifier at each player location. “Paul previously owned a lot of studio gear, which gave us a good starting point. There was also some gear in my own collection that Paul often used when we recorded in proper studios, AT 42
and that we duplicated for his private studio. There was also a lot of floating gear that we would use when recording out in his summer place in Long Island, NY, that eventually found a home in the cottage. The main challenge of working in the cottage studio was that it’s not acoustically treated in any way, so on several occasions I had to use iZotope RX software to get rid of extraneous noises. For example, there’s an acorn tree right above the cottage and occasionally acorns would fall on the roof. RX quickly becomes one of those pieces of software that you can’t imagine how you ever got along without.” COTTAGE STUDIO RECORDING
By recording most of his new album at his own facility, Simon was definitely riding a very current wave that’s, in part, inspired by the developments in new technology and in part fuelled by necessity. Several of the studios credited on his previous album Surprise have since closed and recording budgets are smaller, even for major artists, making long recording projects in big studios uneconomical. Phil Ramone, who is about the same age as Simon, and whose first credits date from the late 1950s, has witnessed the rise and fall of big recording studios extremely close up. The producer, who became involved in the recording of So Beautiful or So What during the last year of recording, reflected… “When Paul recorded albums like Still Crazy and Graceland he would book a studio room out
for months. It was a discipline, because it put a certain kind of pressure on you because of the money involved, whereas when people use home studios the discipline disappears in some cases. But there are only three big studios left in New York now! So many people are now working in their own studio, and it’s important to keep a certain schedule. Paul McCartney will come into his studio at 10am and stop at 6pm, and Paul [Simon] kind of does the same thing. There was a nice atmosphere at Paul’s studio and the discipline to go with it. It turned out to be a really comfortable situation for Paul, Andy, and I. Paul and I are old friends so I was very happy when he asked me to work with him on this project. I love opening doors that he may not have thought of, and his mind is so fertile. It was a joy. Paul and I live close to each other, which meant that I could come over when needed, and also do other projects. We spent a lot of time driving in the car, listening to what we had done and deciding what needed doing next.” TRANSPARENCY
Both Smith and Ramone recounted details of the top-to-bottom approach to the recording sessions. Ramone stated, “In many cases Paul had 20–30% of the songs ready when he came into the studio, at least a melody and some chord changes, and then we’d look for what colours and lyrics should go with it. He was exploring different things, like for example
bluegrass influences, and we recorded a group of bluegrass musicians at Tony Bennett’s studio in New Jersey. Paul asked the players how they would play this or that and pushed them to do a lot of interesting things. Also, Gil Goldstein orchestrated Love and Hard Times and we went to Avatar Studios to record that, because I wanted a bigger room.” Smith elaborates, “Working on this album was different than on previous albums I’d done with Paul, because this time he had an idea of how each song would be before we started recording in the studio. With previous albums he’d first build an extensive backing track, and then he’d take those recordings and see how they would inspire him to write guitar parts and eventually melodies and lyrics to them. However, this time he pretty much wrote the songs and then came to the studio to record. Paul would usually start out by making a click track using a percussion instrument or even just tapping out a rhythm on his guitar – he rarely uses an electronic click-track – then he’d play a guitar part that he’d already written and built the song from there. Usually the next step would be to overdub more guitars and percussion. I think it would surprise some people how complete some of the tracks sounded before any other musicians were added. Besides playing the majority of the guitars, a decent amount of the core percussion on the album was played by Paul too. In the song Rewrite, the main percussion part you hear throughout is Paul’s guitar-tapping ‘click track.’”
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EXPLORING THE SPACE
According to Ramone, the arrangements and overdubbing process were framed by Simon’s desire that the album “wouldn’t sound like a studio album. He wanted to have lots of space with lots of atmosphere and feeling, so rather than go for hugely orchestrated ideas he was going, for example, for overtones in bells and gongs. Where a sax or a kora came in, they’d be there to do something specific, not just to fill in the space. One of the results was that there’s very little bass on the album. Most modern records are bass heavy, and that eats up a lot of the space. It can be a struggle sometimes to work with a singer-songwriter who plays heavy piano – the guitar and the bass play right in the same audio range. Paul was very happy not having much bass on the album, until the point when he went out to play these songs live, for which he does use a bass. But it’s not huge and fat, it’s more part of an organic guitars section. Paul also liked a certain drum sound that’s not in your face. We added other instruments as we needed them, and then decided what to use and what not to use. These additions and subtractions are very much the way Paul loves to work.” Smith added: “There certainly was an attempt on this album to keep the arrangements simple. Where we did use bass it’s actually a baritone guitar. There was a conscious effort not to have bass, although admittedly, when the songs were completely constructed and arranged, Paul did invite in some bass players, but in the end he didn’t like the way it affected the simplicity of the arrangements. By that stage he’d grown attached to the transparency of the sound of the tracks. “Bells certainly were Paul’s favourite percussion instrument on this album. He has a large collection of bells ranging from exotic bells and ancient hand bells to glockenspiels. He’d record an acoustic or electric guitar and then highlight certain notes by putting bells very faintly behind them to give them some sparkle. We would effect the bells, to make them sound like one with the guitar or in some cases effect them to be their own thing, such as the pulsating high sound at the beginning of Love Is Eternal Sacred Light. There are also several tracks that have a standard drum kit, but Paul usually wanted them to sound a bit different. On many of the tracks, Jim Oblon, the drummer, placed towels over each drum so they’d have more of a muffled quality, leaving more room for the higher frequency percussion stuff.
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Smith continued, “Much of the material was recorded in the main room of the cottage, although Paul often played in the control room when only Phil and I were present. If he played electric guitar we’d have the amplifier in another room, and acoustic guitars were done right in front of us, which made it easy to communicate. For two songs, The Afterlife and Getting Ready for Christmas Day, the track was laid down with Paul playing guitar in the control room, while a drummer performed in the main room. We AT 43
Paul Simon playing his exquisite 12-string Epiphone electric. Note the novel way the guitar in the background is muted.
Andy Smith at work at the SSL.
would spend a decent amount of time getting Paul’s guitars right and after that there was a smaller amount of experimentation with other musicians trying out parts. If these interested Paul, he would later edit and comp them and each evening I’d make him a CD of what we’d done, and he’d typically come back the next day with a list of notes. During a project, it seems like he never stops working! ACOUSTIC SOLUTIONS
Producer, Phil Ramone.
SIMON’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE SPACE In an interview with the American magazine and website A.V. Club, Simon gave his perspective on the sense of space in the new album: “I kept trying to eliminate those sounds that I didn’t like. On this record, I said, ‘I really don’t like most of the echo sounds that I hear coming out of the technology.’ So I started using bells, and the decaying sound of bells behind lines. It sort of sounded like an echo, but with a strange tonality, and it created a sound that was atmospheric – and that’s what I was looking for.” AT 44
While most of So Beautiful or So What was recorded at Simon’s cottage studio, Ramone explained that the company also went out to existing studios a number of times for specific overdubs. Specifically, these involved a month in Simon’s Long Island studio, Clinton Studios in NY to record the Indian ensemble on Dazzling Blue, Tony Bennett’s studio to record Mick Rossi on piano and the bluegrass ensemble, Avatar to record an orchestral ensemble, and Germano Studios in NYC for various overdubs, including percussion and vocals. The entire project was recorded to ProTools at 24-bit/96kHz. With Simon being deeply steeped in tradition with his love of acoustic guitars, folk and world music, one would expect him to be a bit of an analogue diehard, but according to Smith, the singer embraced digital technology at a very early stage. “Paul was one of the early adopters of ProTools. We recorded Songs From The Capeman to a Sony 3348 DASH machine and then dumped everything digitally over to ProTools and mixed it in the box. That was very early on for a major artist to have an album mixed in ProTools. We recorded to the DASH machine because at the time ’Tools wasn’t stable enough for tracking with a large band in the room. It’s kind of funny now, but at the time we didn’t tell anybody about mixing in ’Tools because it was so new and there was initially some bias against it. You’re The One was mixed on a Sony Oxford console but recorded in ProTools, and with Surprise we locked a ProTools and Logic system together
during tracking, because Brian Eno likes to use Logic. Tchad Blake then mixed that album on an SSL desk. Besides being an amazing mixer, Tchad was brought in as a fresh pair of ears. There were so many overdubs on that album that it needed someone to make sense of them. “When we began work on So Beautiful or So What I didn’t know where we would be at the end, and who would be mixing it, so I figured it would be good to put all the analogue colouration on during recording, before going into ProTools, and not count on having lots of mix options in the end. Also, by recording with effects, Paul could be inspired by them while playing and arranging. So many of his guitar parts went through pedals like Moogerfoogers, a Carl Martin compressor, Deluxe Memory Man, pedals by FullTone, and so on, as well as some plug-ins. We’d print it all, with the plug-ins on a separate track. We were also lucky in that the natural ambience of the room in the cottage was quite good, so I used a lot of room mics. The spaces that you can hear are mostly the sound of the room. Paul also made quite a bit of use of the relatively new ‘Moog guitar’. The sounds of that instrument worked well with the other sounds on the album. “When recording we put all the mic pres close to the players so that we only had very short cables going from the mics to the mic pres. I used all Mogami cables for the mics and from the mic pres straight to the Apogee converters and then into ProTools. No patchbay or desk was used – we only had an eight-channel Euphonix Controller for the occasional fader ride. Once we were in digital, for the most part we stayed there. MIC DISTANCES
Smith explained that Simon was “very involved” in the technical side of the whole recording process, adding: “He might not know the exact names of all the mics and preamps and compressors, but he’ll ask for specific sounds,
and often try different distances to the mics. He likes to experiment with how much room sound to incorporate for certain overdubs. For example, sometimes when recording a shaker, he’d ask me to put the mic at the other side of the room, so it gives the effect of a shaker going during a live recording.” This ties in with comments Simon made in the same above-mentioned A.V. Club interview, “The echoes that I hear on everybody else’s records sound the same because everybody basically uses the same technology. It’s the same with guitars – there are lots of really good guitarists, but they play with the same pedals as everybody else. I find acoustic solutions to those kinds of sound problems, and I think it’s what gives the record a different sound.” TRACKING & MIXING COMBINED
Phil Ramone is credited with mixing the album, and he explained that the tracks were mixed concurrently with the recordings, in a process that appeared to involve both Ramone and Smith, and even, on occasion, Simon himself. Ramone: “We mixed during recording, so there would be no surprises. A lot of people wait for that wonderful day when it all comes together in the mix, but we all have a good understanding of when things work, so we mixed as we went. Paul and I would often listen back in the car to judge where to take things. “Typically, I’d work with Andy on stuff, and then I’d leave him alone to get the tracks into shape. Then I would finesse it. I would just reach over and do things – always asking Andy first. In the world we live in things are sometimes twohanded and sometimes four-handed. And when you work in ProTools, you’re in effect always
working towards a final mix. I bought Paul the small Euphonix controller so I could do vocal moves and things. Faders still work for me. There are two schools of thought on this: you can do everything electronically, but for me it takes some of the spirit out of it when I don’t make the moves with my hands. I’m not travelling anywhere now without that little mixer! There are things I can do with it that continue to make mixing feel like mixing to me. I don’t want to be struggling for hours to get to a place by adjusting things onetenth of a dB at a time.” Andy Smith, who remarked that “it was a great experience to see how Phil and Paul work together” takes a more 21st century view than Ramone: “A console and faders allow you to work faster, so when speed is an issue, like when tracking a live band, it can be an advantage. But with a project like Paul’s that goes on for several years, speed is not an issue, and I’m happy to work in the box. Because I supplied Paul with a CD every evening of whatever we’d done that day, every night we would attempt to make it sound as close to a finished track as we could. And by the end of the project we found that the mixes were simply done. We didn’t set out to use plug-ins sparingly, we just used them when we needed them. The ambient effects, in addition to the natural room sound, are pretty much all done with plug-ins, except for when we used analogue bucket brigade delays. We also applied the old trick of sending a track out to a Dolby unit, encode it, and then not decode it, to get a high sparkle, sizzling sound. Paul particularly wanted to use this for a vocal section in Love is Eternal Sacred Light, where Paul sings in a very low, deep voice, and the Dolby effect helped it to cut through.”
MICROPHONE DETAILS Smith continued giving details of some of his analogue signal chains: “The electric guitars were mostly recorded with the ribbon tube Royer R122V going into a Telefunken V72, then a Purple Audio MC77 going into the Apogee AD16X – we think the Apogee sounds better than the Avid converters. The MC77 is an update of the MC76, which is based on the 1176, and I actually in most cases prefer the MC77 to the original 1176. It sounds a bit cleaner to me and works with a larger variety of sounds than the original. I don’t generally use the compression for control of dynamics, but more for a little bit of colour. Paul likes the colour of compression. When recording electric guitar I would also often put a microphone, like the Bock Audio 251, in front of the strings, so you can hear the sound of the pick against them. We’d record that separately, and blend the two sounds later. There’s one song, Love & Blessings, where we removed the amp sound completely. All that’s left is this thin sound of the pick on the electric guitar strings. “The way we recorded the acoustic guitars varied. Paul has lots of them so the guitars determined what mics we used. Sometimes I’d use the DPA high voltage mics, like the 4003 small diaphragm, or the 4041-T2 large diaphragm tube mic. I usually place a single microphone aimed at the 12th fret. The DPA’s are omni-directional mics, so you can get right up close to the guitar and get all the subtleties of the playing without having to worry about the proximity effect. Some of the high-voltage mics have their own power supply and some require specific 130V mic pres
for which we use both Grace and Millenia mic pres. They typically went directly into the Purple Audio compressor or sometimes an LA-2A, or API or a Chandler LTD compressor. Again, we used compression for colour. Paul also used many of his pedals when playing his acoustic, going to an amp, and later on we would sometimes re-amp guitar tracks, putting them through pedals. We did the same with the clarinet track in Love & Blessings, to give it an old quirky quality. “As I mentioned before, we used the Soundeluxe 251 on Paul’s voice – now called Bock Audio – going into the Telefunken V76, and then the Purple Audio or an LA-2A, in some cases both. For the backing vocals recorded at Bennett studios we mainly used U87s and Neve 1073 mic pres. The Indian ensemble was recorded with Schoeps, Sennheisers and some DPA 4003s as room mics. The kora was recorded with two DPA 4003s; one near the top and one near the bottom. The percussion was recorded with a large variety of mics, based on what percussion was played; sometimes in stereo, with Paul doing the panning physically by moving the percussion instrument around to where he wanted it in the sound image. On the basic drum kit, the miking is a little different than normal. A lot of omni-directional mics are used as well as some of the standards like Coles, Sennheiser and Shure, but the majority of the sound is coming from the omnis. The flutes and violin were recorded using the Royer R122-V tube ribbon mic.
On several occasions I had to use iZotope RX software to get rid of extraneous noises… there’s an acorn tree right above the cottage and occasionally acorns would fall on the roof
OLD SCHOOL WAYS
Both Ramone and Smith expressed their admiration for Roy Halee, who engineered and produced early Simon & Garfunkel albums and also several of Simon’s solo albums. Smith explained, “When I worked with Roy, I was taught to engineer in the old school way, which was using mics and mic placement, rather than EQ, to get the sound with the frequencies and ambience you wanted, which leads to mixing mostly being a matter of balancing and panning. On this project, besides the natural ambience, a delay was often used to create ambience, as well as some plug-in reverbs. We didn’t use any de-essers. We did the now popular thing of just manually lowering the esses that are too loud. Also, having so little bass actually made the project a little more difficult, because the typical listener expects a full frequency range, and it was harder to make it sound like a finished album when there wasn’t a great deal of low end. So at times we used EQ to try to draw a little bit more bottom end out of things that normally don’t have much, like certain percussion instruments or Paul banging on a guitar. The go-to EQ for that sort of thing was the Massenburg MDW. “We also used the dithered mixer in ProTools, which not that many people appear to use, but to our ears it sounds better than the non-dithered mixer. Also, a lot of the sound sculpting/mixing was actually done by Paul. He has a clear vision of what he likes and he’s been using ProTools for so long now that he speaks in tenths of a decibel and will regularly ask for specific changes. So slowly, over the long lengths of the projects we’ve done, he’s done a lot of the moulding of the mix himself. Then, one day after doing vocal overdubs and Paul doing a vocal punch in, he suddenly said, ‘OK, it’s done. What’s next? Mastering?’ And Phil said, ‘yes.’ The album had arrived at the point where Paul wanted it to be.” It has been said that “knowing when to stop is the hallmark of a great artist.” It’s another reason why Paul Simon clearly belongs in the latter category.
ON AT lines up sound design pros behind hit titles Portal 2 and Limbo to talk about spending days breaking glass, using an antique wire recorder and ‘video games as art’. Text: Richard Wentk & John Broomhall
Not many do it, but some videogames have gone from lightweight distraction, to ‘fabric of life’ status. Valve’s original version of Portal is one that’s transcended mere ‘game’ status – stamping geek culture with unique catchphrases – such as “the cake is a lie” – and blended original game play with a strong script and unusually powerful characterisation. In other hands, the game could have stayed stuck as a simple problem solver. But literary references and a murderously personal antagonist created a product that was described by Wired magazine as one of the most significant games of the 21st century. It also caught the attention of academic sociologists and has been exhibited at a contemporary art exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute. With this kind of enviable reputation to live up to, the sequel was widely anticipated. So how did Valve go about creating Portal 2, and enhancing the strong sound design of the original?
Mike Morasky, whose other credits include visual effects supervision on Lord of the Rings and the Matrix series, has been working as an in-house composer at Valve since 2003. He took some time to talk to AT about tools, technology, and Valve’s unusual creative workflow. IN THE FLOW
As Mike explains: “Valve’s production methodology may be unique. We don’t have managers, and we don’t have hard boundaries between disciplines. So it’s a very organic, and very adaptive work environment. When a sound designer decides a particular sound is needed, they can create it, refine it, and then submit it to the database used by the rest of the team, and by the testers. So we’re all free to develop new ideas and get them in front of other people very quickly.” This flat hierarchy makes it easy to fold in the best ideas, wherever they’re from. “Everyone is encouraged to participate in all aspects of the game design. As sound
(Below) Each artist at Valve has his own audio suite in the building, fitted out to their own specs. Two of the studios have isolation booths for tracking temp dialogue and recording Foley.
designers and composers we create the sounds. But we also get feedback and input from anyone interested in each part of the game. And the opposite is true; we provide input into the entire process and comment on other parts of the workflow. So sometimes we’ll push to add more audio opportunities in the main game design.” The result isn’t just original sound design, but quirky, creative set pieces. As Mike says, some of the interactive music, like the Faith Plate fling cues or the Lazer Catcher ensembles are particularly unique to Portal 2. “There’s also a Turret Opera at the end of the game, with an auditorium full of killer turrets singing an Italian aria. That came about slowly and in a roundabout way. In fact, it only really came together right at the end of production.” BANG ON A CAN
A quick tour of the Valve studios shows that rocks, rubble, wood, glass, and old cans are often used for instant Foley. Is Foley done in-house? Mike explains. “Mostly, yes. For example, we had an all-day glass-breaking field recording session. We must have destroyed a few hundred pounds of large panes of various different types of glass. The results were fantastic. There are some critical narrative moments that really pop because of what we captured that day.” If the workflow is unusually organic, the technology used is mostly off-the-shelf. “The signature synthetic voiceovers – especially the one by opera singer Ellen McLain, who voices the GLaDOS character – were done in Melodyne. But we also worked hard to achieve the various styles and spaces that the dialogue is presented in. GlaDOS and the new Wheatley character are mixed as if they’re in your head. But they’re also affected by the reverb of the space you happen to be in, which is pretty unique to Portal. We deliberately change the depth and detail of the soundscapes to emphasise the feel of the various AT 48
locations, and the immersive quality of the game. “Otherwise, the tools are mostly standard. Each artist makes their own selection, but it’s the usual list of names – Avid, Nuendo, Live, Altiverb, Waves, iZotope, Sound Forge. For me personally, Native Instruments Reaktor played a big part in the music.” PUTTING IT TOGETHER
A key problem for any game company is performance and assembly. The sound and the music have to be cued, sometimes modified, and pre-selected by context. Games companies have developed various solutions, but there’s no single off-the-shelf answer. Valve has created an in-house assembly system that combines elements of play-out and automation. Is this a key part of the Valve success story? Mike: “For Portal 2 we developed an open, scalable sound operator system that allowed us to tailor and customise our interactive audio and music to match the in-game circumstance. It’s actually a patchwork of systems. Many were usable across much of the game without changes. But when a unique problem appeared, the fact it’s an open system meant we could adapt or add features without needing to get help from our engineers. And when we do need core technology, it’s neatly modularised so that we can add new features quickly while minimising the risk of ripple-out bugs. The source engine also has a large audio feature set, all controllable via the new system.” The result has been enthusiastically received but it’s going to be a while before there’s another sequel. “We’ve just finished another game called Meet the Medic, which was released in June and is part of our uber-update of Team Fortress 2.” And as for rumours of a Portal 2 sequel? We can neither confirm nor deny.
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I need to plug in!: Old wire and tape recorders and spring reverb played a big part in the sound design of Limbo (left).
LIMBO: BENDING OVER BACKWARDS
Limbo took the video game world by surprise. Though technically it features a relatively simple presentation, this downloadable Xbox video game is widely acknowledged to punch high above its weight in creative expression. Intriguing and compelling, it is at once strangely melancholic and darkly beautiful. The player controls the movement of a small boy who awakens in the midst of a spooky forest through which he embarks on a journey in search of his sister. However, his path is littered with gruesome traps and puzzles giving rise to what has been coined ‘learning by dying’ gameplay. Though essentially a 2D scroller, the stunning monochromatic artwork and grainy visual effects (combined with its beguiling soundscape) push the boundaries of ‘videogame as art’. Limbo’s exquisite sound and music certainly bear testament to a deftness of touch and some true sound artistry. Yet its elegant simplicity and uncluttered clarity belie a sophistication of thought and approach that only becomes apparent in conversation with its sole creator, Martin Stig Andersen of Playdead Games, who originally saw footage of Limbo in a concept trailer the game director had posted on the internet. Totally captivated, he found the visual expression of a sombre, blurred universe reminded him of themes in his own music in which he was using real references to create something very abstract. Andersen: “There’s a lot of ambiguity in it that chimes with my primary background in acousmatic music where I would extract musical values from something as unlikely as traffic sounds. The ear knows the results are AT 50
from everyday life but they are blurry abstract concepts musically. I saw the boy in Limbo running on the ground in that concept video but he was just a silhouette so each player could have their own inner vision about how the boy looks and sounds. There’s a lot of space for your own interpretation and projections.” PLAYDEAD COMES ALIVE
Some time later when he heard that Playdead’s game director had obtained Danish state funding, Andersen made contact. The promise of an iteractive experimentation/decision-making process – the antithesis of large console title productions – was something Andersen found both engaging and inspiring. Moving his studio to Playdead’s offices he embedded himself in the team for a year of intense collaboration. Andersen: “I did come with some ideas. I’d had these thoughts about making it sound like old film and also making the boy relatively loud so the surroundings would appear silent – but it was only half way through the project that I became sure I was on the right track. “I learned some interesting things. Trying to make Limbo sound like an old film, I put everything into mono but discovered I couldn’t engage myself with that sound – it just wasn’t immersive enough. I see Limbo as such a tiny world – I was trying to reduce all the sounds to something very simple and thin sounding – very reduced. I distorted sounds and then afterwards, expanded them again, really spatialising them – almost anti-phase. I ventured into using antique audio devices – wire recorders, spring reverbs, and tape recorders. In linear media you can make your mix from moment to moment
...as the boy progresses through the world, things become more and more abstract, almost transcendent...
whereas in a game, the sounds might always be mixed differently. One thing I discovered using old machines was that they created a homogenic sound. Running all of my sounds through an old tape recorder made them sit very well together in the mix. With my own bespoke-recorded physics sounds, I found when I put them in the game they sounded too real – the surface of the sound didn’t fit the image. So I ended up running them through an old spring reverb. I set the reverb to zero, so basically I was just using it as a hardware filter, which made the sound narrow and thin – all the bottom would disappear. Because the sounds lost a lot of their identity and clarity, they suddenly became more generic – I could use the same sounds for a metal box or a wooden box. It all contributed to making the world very small and defined. “A lot of the things I do are essentially mash-ups or paraphrases – it arises from working with electroacoustic music for many years. I can take one sound and it doesn’t really matter where it comes from because I’m not using that sound as it is. I might just extract the texture or colour and then use it to transform another sound. It leads to a slightly unnatural but useful quality, allowing me to create an audio world that is generic and yet unique.” ‘NO MUSIC’ MUSIC
Meanwhile, the music of Limbo is so ambient and blends so beautifully with the sound and graphics that some reviewers have claimed there’s none there. Andersen characterises it as ‘appearing to stem from the environment’. For instance, when the character meets the insects they become the
main instrument of the music. But for Andersen the overall narrative structure he’s built into Limbo’s audio is his biggest contribution to the game: “No-one really pays attention to this aspect of my work so I’m really happy when people ask about it because for me, the overall framework plays a very important part. I was trying to achieve the creation of a world structure with the audio going from quasi-realistic sound that you hear in the forest – naturalistic – then as the boy progresses through the world, things become more and more abstract, almost transcendent. And you might have the most horrible moments – really traumatic – and the sound will suddenly turn into something melancholic, contrasting with what you see. It makes sense to me to say, ‘ok, so this boy travels through all this violence and I have to respond to this in some way’ otherwise people would just get habituated to it. So what I wanted to contribute was more along the lines that the boy got habituated to the violence – rather than the player, with the player almost wondering how to feel and with the music sometimes almost representing forgiveness. “Limbo is really distinct, something in itself. Despite real-world references, the sound is helping to make a limit – a wholeness to the experience as you go from A to B… a development and an ending – so yes, it does have a narrative quality.” For a first foray into game audio, Martin Stig Andersen has certainly made waves. Now working on his second Playdead title, he has an even deeper integration within the team, contributing from day one to a new production, and with ample time for experimentation, many fans will be eagerly awaiting his next offering.
MULTI-LAYERED MIXING APPROACH Phil Kovats is a sound practitioner who has put a more traditional post-production career path behind him in favour of game audio’s apparently bright and creatively satisfying future. Currently an audio specialist at Sony developer Naughty Dog, Phil talks about how critical audio mixing is the gamer’s experience: “As games get more complex, customers desire more interesting experiences. Creating the right soundscape for a movie – whether a Transformers or a
Brokeback Mountain has no real technology bar, but in games everything is interactive. Everything needs to happen at a moment’s notice, and whether it’s a small downloadable game, or a large blockbuster title, we are constrained by size/memory limits. Meanwhile, when you’re creating an epic adventure like Uncharted you really want to be able to focus on things like a movie does. If the bad guy throws you on a table and suddenly you’re heading down towards the revolving table saw,
then obviously the most important mix component is the screeching, grinding, razor-sharp blade that represents your imminent death! You don’t care about the wind or the knocks of the wooden structure or anything else. As you fight your way off that bench and the threat is reduced, the saw sound can fade back in the mix or even out completely. Here at Naughty Dog, we have four stages of volume: in our sound banks, in our meta-data structure, our in-animation system, and in our final game mix
snapshots. We can break out as many sub-mixes as we see fit. There’s no real limit. We have to create things that are manageable but we really feel that, just like any good film mix, you start with all this really great interactive game audio content, but it’s only when you start pulling down the virtual volume faders, you start really seeing what’s there and making intelligent mix decisions based on the story. “Let’s say you’re walking through this forest and as you come up to an old ruin,
the game director wants it to seem a little bit darker, even though visually the sun is streaming through the trees – he wants the player to feel uneasy... we know we can do this with sound. It’s not something that has to be driven by visuals – if we work together with the creative directors, we can really get into that sub-text. “We’re at a point in game audio right now where technology is not really hindering story-telling but enhancing it. The opportunities we have to make great game audio
right now, working with these fantastic stories that are offered to us, have let us become true sound artists. We can create new experiences no-one else has had. A lot of my passion is derived from that – being able to create a really great audio experience – to make myself smile (even though I’m my own worst critic). That’s where we’re at now in games. What it comes down to is what do we do with it? Where do we go with it?” – John Broomhall
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RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN! Your time in the studio is best spent experimenting. That’s where the breakthroughs occur. This issue Stav runs amok. Text: Mike Stavrou
There are some things that everyone does during a mix and because everyone does them, it seems like they must be ‘The Rules of Mixing’. So let’s see how many rules we can break before we completely destroy our mix. FLICK IT INTO REVERSE
Restrain Yourself: Rather than create groups and effects tracks as we need them, let’s create as many as we’ll ever need first (e.g., set up two digital delays and three reverbs). Original First: Instead of starting with the bass and drums and building up a rhythm track, let’s do that last! Let’s listen to each channel for a moment, to find the most original performance. It could be anything. Now let’s begin playing by building a world around that. Barry White Lights: Add some subtle special effects to this star performer and look away from the screen – at the speakers – until you see the performer like a ghost between the speakers. Slowly add another inspired performance that fits well with the first one, to support it, give it confidence, and to make the ghostly experience all the more real. Slowly keep adding more instruments, but if anyone you introduce kills the illusion or makes the ghost disappear, remove it immediately – maybe come back to it later. Right Royal Panning: Instead of diving into the EQ straightaway, with just five instruments playing, play with the pan pots in every conceivable combination to hear how the arrangement guides your attention differently between the parts and around the stereo soundfield. Instead of making everything as big and present as possible, consider whether this entire production is too empty or too messy. One panning regime will be cleaner or fuller, without touching an EQ. Transients are King: When it’s time to separate one instrument from another, like the kick drum and bass guitar, let’s not do it by separating their frequencies. We AT 54
hear so much advice about tucking the kick drum up into the bass guitar, or the other way around, by rolling off and boosting different frequencies between them. Instead, try separating them entirely by exaggerating their dynamic attributes. By using compressors and transient envelope shapers make the bass less clicky-transient – less punchy and more rounded – and make the kick drum pop forward dynamically with a quick deliberate transient. The human ear is actually better at distinguishing between the dynamic texture of instruments than their frequencies when those frequencies overlap so much. MOVE WITH THE UNIT
PPM Blindness: Turn a blind eye to the mix bus PPM (peak meters) and instead study how VU meters move to your mix. Don’t be surprised if you get the sensation that you can hear more of what’s going on – what’s working together properly, what needs compression and what doesn’t – while watching VUs. Peak meters tell you if you’ve gone ‘over’ and how much peak headroom is available but VU meters turn your ears up! With everyone so concerned about the volume of their records you’d think more people would use Volume Unit meters! Of course, this approach will probably mean you’ll handle transients rather differently because by watching VU meters you’ll discover that when adding transients the VU meters don’t pop up so much, unlike PPMs. But hey, if you want your mix to kick arse don’t cut off its arms and legs, right? That job is for the mastering engineer who will hopefully use more finesse than you. If you trim the transients for them, you’ll leave their peak-hungry machines with nothing to bite into and consequently end up with a smooth peanut butter mix. I like it chunky! COME ON FEEL THE NOISE
Prettier with Pink: Now, what else can we do wrong? Soon it will be time to add some reverb and delay
effects to various musical instruments. In order to adjust those effects, rather than send those musical instruments to them let’s send the least musical-sounding audio we can think of – namely pink noise – pulsed at the tempo of the song. Because it’s pink noise, every audible frequency between 20Hz and 20kHz is at equal volume. As you twiddle those dials you might hear more of what they do than if you were just feeding it a guitar.
Switch, don’t Sweep: It’s got to be time to EQ by now, surely? But how do we arrive at the best EQ setting? The most common practice is to crank up the gain of one frequency band and sweep until something happens. Instead, close your eyes – imagine what the perfect sound should sound like and guess which frequency boost might give it to you. Dial it in. Switch it on. Switch it off. Adjust to bring it closer to your imagination and switch it on again. If it weren’t so difficult this would be fun. But like spinach, I think it might be good for me. Chuck a Mono: I know this mix is only going to be played back in stereo, so after creating our panning regime let’s balance it and adjust the level of our effects while listening to it in mono on only one speaker. I could get used to this. Think about the difference this way: spread your arms and hands wide apart and stick each index finger pointing away in opposite directions. It’s difficult to see exactly which one is higher. But if you swing both arms around to the front with both fingers nearly touching, it’s easy to see which one is out of balance. Mixing is all about perspective and overview and getting the big picture stuff right. Speaker Slide: I probably should have done this at the beginning, but the speakers don’t sound right. I can’t find my tape measure to make an equilateral triangle out of the distances between them and me, so what if I just get a couple of friends to slide them together and apart while I listen from my chair until the image locks in? That’s got to be a more crude way of arriving at the perfect distance between them, right? Back Masking?: I know I want to compress the lead vocal, so how can I do that backwards, breaking all the rules? How about we play the file backwards through a compressor, record that and flip the outcome forward again? Can that possibly achieve anything? Take it to the Limit… First: I can’t wait to compress the mix. In fact, I want to really compress it with both a compressor and a limiter. The compressor will bring up the quiet bits and then I can just peak limit, with a brickwall, anything left over at the end. That sounds way too logical, so let’s put the brickwall limiter first and have the low ratio compressor as the final instrument in the chain. THEM’S THE RULES? PAH!
It’s at this point that we would probably be ejected from any reputable audio school or studio. But wait a minute… this mix is beginning to sound awesome! What just happened? What did I do?! Which just goes to prove there is a lot more we don’t know about audio still worth exploring. It always sounds pretty darn good in the studio and sometimes I think the difference between a good and a bad engineer is that the good engineer just mucks it up less. Breaking the rules only works if you listen, so trust no-one, only your ears. If you like Stav’s way of thinking you’ll love his book, found at www. mixingwithyourmind.com Stav loves a good brainstorm so email him with your studio conundrums too, to firstname.lastname@example.org !
Check out Stav in person at Integrate 2011, when he’ll present his favourite penny dropping moments of backwards techniques. The Stav Session is always jampacked and with this year being a new presentation you’ll need to be quick – book now!
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Nord is distributed, serviced & supported in Australia by Electric Factory Pty Ltd 188 Plenty Road Preston Victoria 3072 03 9474 1000 www.elfa.com.au E & EO 2011 AT 57
ON THE BENCH WHERE’S THE SPARES? Repairing new equipment is getting harder and harder, even for the techs. This issue, Rob Squire asks: ‘where have all the service manuals and spare parts gone?’ Text: Rob Squire
Through good fortune, timing and the weight of experience I get to see a wide range of audio widgets passing across my tech bench: older gear in need of simple repair, other gear requiring much greater attention – a re-birthing of sorts – and relatively new gear that’s often still under warranty. This last couple of months has been a particularly busy time, so this issue I thought I’d share with you some stories hot off the soldering iron. DISTRESS SIGNALS
I received a flurry of emails in June from the owner of an ELI Distressor that had gone haywire, and also from the designer and owner of Empirical Labs, Dave Derr, asking if I could sort it out. I’ve been under the bonnet of a couple of these units over the years, and despite ELI’s practice of removing all identifying marks from components and not releasing any technical documents, I was happy to take on the job. Normally under these circumstances a job like this can be a nightmare. If you’re lucky and have your mojo working, the repair can be successful, however, it’s hard going into it feeling confident with these twin obstacles of no schematics and anonymous parts blocking the path. This is the sort of situation that causes most technicians to groan in despair and wonder what the world has come to. When you’ve been around long enough to remember when Tascam provided a full service AT 58
manual at the back of each and every one of its operator manuals you know things have changed. Indeed, there was a time when no selfrespecting, self-reliant studio or radio station would consider the purchase of any equipment unless a full service manual was supplied. Moreover, product sales were almost always contingent on technical support, manuals and locally stocked spare parts. The upside with ELI products – in the absence of any comprehensive service manuals – is the rapid, clear and enthusiastic technical support that comes straight into my inbox direct from the designer; something that’s almost as rare as locally stocked spare parts in today’s world. CLIENT SATISFACTION
With the lid off the Distressor – which was incidentally insisting on applying 30dB of compression regardless of the operator’s intent, and regardless of whether there was even a signal present to begin with – I was able to shoot Dave a couple of questions about expected voltages and chip numbers. The next morning there was an email response answering every one of my questions in detail, and not long after I’d turned the soldering iron on, the unit was repaired. I shot off a reply to Dave saying all was well, to which he requested that I run the unit for the whole day as a final confirmation of the repair, and to ensure that nothing else cropped
I felt a shudder down the phone line when I mentioned the words ‘5000 series’ to the man at the other end of the line, and my own shudder upon hearing his carefully worded response: ‘we don’t have any documentation and we don’t have any spare parts’
up. He also requested an invoice for the repair, including shipping the unit back across the country to its owner. Now, here’s the sting… this unit was secondhand and a number of years out of warranty, yet the manufacturer is asking to pick up the tab for its repair! My correspondence with Dave about this job concluded with immediate payment of my invoice and a sincerely expressed thankyou to me for looking after his client. Wow, a manufacturer who considers the purchaser of a secondhand product several years old their client! Is Dave crazy or does he know something that no-one else seems to? Something I’d like to make clear here is that this is not the first time I’ve had such a pleasurable experience dealing with ELI, so it’s no aberration. What makes this incident so remarkable is that it stands in stark contrast to the broad experience that service technicians face day in and day out obtaining clear and efficient support from manufacturers and distributors.
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THE RESPONSE CURVE
The flipside of this story are two recent cases where enquiries about the price and availability of replacement parts disappeared down an apathetic plughole. One enquiry kicked off with a couple of polite emails to the local distributor to prompt a reply about a single part. These were eventually responded to with a request for the serial number of the unit. A couple of emails and a phone call later… nothing. Another month and a half of silence went by before I was finally contacted by the frustrated owner to see if I could make any further progress with it. Rather than beat my head against the same wall, I picked up the phone and called the support line for the USA-based manufacturer, who was happy to sell me the part I needed over the phone just by quoting my credit card. This experience was repeated again with a different product and distributor, where, despite emails and phone calls, the distributor never even responded to say that they either had or didn’t have the unique part I required to repair the unit, or that they would even sell it to me if they did. In this case I tracked down the previous distributor of the product line who happened to have the spare part I needed languishing on the shelf, and were pleased to offload it. All this detective work and arm-twisting is tiresome and ultimately adds to repair costs. Indeed, in both these cases I spent more time obtaining a part than it took to diagnose the original fault and install the new replacement… when I could finally get one! SUPPORT – THE DEAL MAKER
There has been a lot of grizzling of late about the increase in folks purchasing products overseas, exasperated by the high Australian Dollar and the weakness of the US economy; all of it ultimately leading to ‘the downfall of local distributors and retailers’ they say. As a technician, let alone a customer, there’s no doubt about it; I need the local guys, but by the same token it seems to make sense to me that one thing they clearly have to offer that lifts them above the world wide pond of online stores, is local technical support. I also reckon that many distributors, with the help of the manufacturers they represent, could really lift their game in
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this department. Hell, if they really pushed the envelope it could be a deal-making promotional tool. Then, of course, there’s the gear that’s old; so old that the original manufacturer doesn’t even exist anymore, or if it does, there’s no-one at the company who’s ever seen the product. There may not even be a faded copy of the original service manual on the company’s shelves, let alone spare parts. This scenario might seem strange, but it happens all the time. A case in point recently involved SSL in England where, after banging my head against the armrest in frustration at the litany of faults in a particular SSL 5000 console, I picked up the phone and called the home of SSL and asked if I could please talk to their most experienced console engineer. I felt a shudder down the phone line when I mentioned the words “5000 series” to the man at the other end of the line, and my own shudder upon hearing his carefully worded response: “we don’t have any documentation and we don’t have any spare parts.” When I persisted in asking a few technical questions about its operation I was met with a second, more unnerving insight: “it sounds to me like you know more about that model than anyone now working here.” This wasn’t the support I was hoping for, but still, the model is now 25 years old and taking this situation in my stride was what I’m paid to do. CAPPING THE COSTS
I’ve had a number of old large consoles passed my way lately and I’m beginning to notice an interesting relationship between their secondhand purchase price and the expectations of the new owners about the costs involved in getting them installed and working properly – namely, that there isn’t one. It has never been cheap to install and maintain a large format mixing console and it certainly doesn’t get cheaper as they get older and more worn out. The harsh reality of this situation is borne out by the numbers of consoles being ratted out for parts, with input channel strips landing here on an almost daily basis to be racked up into standalone units. The cost of refurbishing a pair of channel strips, modifying them to work outside the console, putting them into a case with a power supply and connectors isn’t cheap but its digestible, and bang-for-buck can be a good proposition. Conversely, the cost of getting a neglected 30-year console up and running, installed and wired into the system can easily cost more than its secondhand price. Yet rarely do I see anyone budget for these costs or even research the condition of the console and its ability to be repaired, let alone the cost to do it. I talked specifically about capacitors in the last issue of AT and these are likely candidates for failure in a console, and just the replacement costs in this job alone are often comparable to the value of the console. The Afterlife: Is this the future for all vintage consoles?
And let’s not mention switches and potentiometers that inevitably become scratchy and intermittent – not the sort of thing you need sitting across your mix. These are often unique to the manufacturer and sometimes difficult (or impossible) to source. Despite not running a studio and it being quite a few years since anyone paid me to pull a mix, I still get excited by audio equipment – old and new – so I understand how the heat of the moment can cloud sensible enquiry when the acquisition of a new widget arises. However, standing back and putting the smart hat on, it’s always worth running a few questions up the flagpole. For a new product, what do I stand to gain or lose by not buying it locally, and is part of this gain likely to be worthwhile after-sales support? Put the sales guy on the spot, or better still, pick up the phone and call the local distributor and ask about availability of spare parts, and where their authorised repairers are located. Get at least some sense of how well this new product will be supported. If you decide to send your dollars overseas be really clear from the outset that, by the book, for warranty support you’ll need to return the item overseas at your cost, and down the track when the warranty expires, there’s no guarantee the local distributors will provide replacement parts even though you’re paying them for the repair. Oh, and please, if you’re purchasing equipment from the USA, switch the unit over to 230VAC mains before you plug it into the wall and blow your shiny new purchase out the door. If you aren’t totally confident that your unit is set to 230VAC mains power, spend a few dollars and take it to a tech to check this out for you. There are mountains of dead USA purchases piling up in workshops around Australia resulting from goods set to 115VAC landing here and being plugged in willy-nilly by impetuous owners. If your new purchase is old school, whether it’s a 52-channel console or a 1960s condenser microphone, if it costs anything more than weekend flash money, get a technical report on the unit. This will at least give you a feel for the real cost of bringing the device up to speed so that it does its job and benefits your setup, rather than misbehaves to the point of distraction. PS: ON THE BENCH, LIVE!
I’ll be dragging a good slab of my workshop up to AT World at Integrate this year. The soldering iron will be on and I’ll be up to my elbows inside something interesting. Drop by and say hello while you’re there and feel free to quiz me on the state of your audio equipment. On Wednesday 31st at 12.30pm there will also be the ‘Tech Forum’ where I will join a bunch of techs much smarter than to chat about electrons, music and how to get the two playing happily together. Until then…
SO YOU WANT THE SONG IN EIGHT HOURS? Turning a blank audio canvas into a finished product for release in a matter of hours is no mean feat. Here’s how it’s done. Text: Blair Joscelyne
FAST TRACKS The shortest deadline I’ve ever had was two minutes. We had been working on a series of TV spots for a big Australian Telco when the director decided that the ad suddenly and urgently needed some music. A courier was standing in the studios at the time waiting for an ad to dispatch. “It needs music. Do something – Now!” I plugged a synth into the desk, and as the final ads were being striped to Digi-Beta I performed along with it, live. No ProTools here. This was direct. The Director watched it once, shouted out “brilliant” and the courier was handed the tape. The ads were on TV the following day, I got paid and everyone was very happy.
For most people in the audio industry, the concept of spending six months hanging out in a chandeliered mansion recording a few songs at your leisure is nothing more than a pipe dream. In the area of audio production where I work – creating music for advertising – there’s no comparison whatsoever. In the advertising world, deadlines are tighter than ever before, and the proliferation of gear that promises us even greater workflow efficiency means that clients now have incredibly high expectations for the delivery of music tracks. Even the clients themselves have started using GarageBand in some circumstances, then saying things like: “This is easy; I can make a track in 10 minutes!” Needless to say, this has made delivery expectations for composers even shorter. Over the years the delivery time for providing a new song to an artist or TV director has slowly morphed from months, to weeks, through to days, and now hours. In fact, I was recently given just two minutes to come up with a theme track for a phone company! Luckily these days, as a full-time commercial composer at Nylon Studios, I’m given more than two minutes. On average I’m given about eight hours to compose, produce and master a new track, although on busy days I may have to do two or three. Composing and producing
music this quickly is only made possible by my trusty sidekick, Karla Henwood, who looks after the clients and deals with budgets and timings. Karla spent years as the studio manager for Alberts Music so she knows everyone in the business. She books the session musicians and studio time at bigger tracking studios as and when I need it. EIGHT IS ENOUGH
So how do you write, record and deliver a professional audio track in less than eight hours? The key is to be highly efficient and well organised. The techniques I use when writing music for commercials are all about speed and sonic interest, since commercials have the tightest turn around of any music tracks I am ever asked to write. There are many types of music one can compose for an advertising campaign and I have to be across all styles of music, particularly the latest trends, and know what sounds and techniques are required to make them. The first thing I do is spend five minutes – with no instruments – just working out what I’m going to do. This is the hardest part of the day and these five minutes dictate how the rest of the session will pan out. There’s no ‘magic’ here – just sitting quietly, planning the day’s events.
BANG! & THEY’RE OFF
As soon as I’ve worked out what I’m going to do, I let Karla know, and she books any musicians, vocalists or external studio time I may need. From here on, there’s no time for secondguessing and I will power through for hours. If one of the musical parts of the piece is not working, I’ll mark it, keep going anyway and then remove it at the end. Musically I’ll spend only a few minutes working out each part before committing it to ProTools. When I’m starting a new session I don’t use templates. In fact, I hate templates – even writing the word makes me feel cramped. I certainly don’t want to dictate what my session will look like before I’ve even started because for me, this cramps the creative space. I know templates can be useful, particularly in bigger tracking studios, but I avoid them like the plague. When it comes to recording any instrument, I go for one of two options. The first is to pick one mic that I know will give me the sound I need, and then set up the preamp and just commit to the sound by recording it – effects and all – into ProTools. If I’m unsure or wanting to experiment, it’s best to get as many options down as possible in the shortest amount of time. I’ll use lots of mics, perform once or twice through and then move on. PLECTRUM SPECTRUM
So let’s say my decision five minutes ago was to record a ‘rock song’ for a commercial. These are slightly more difficult to pull off within the time constraint and often require shooting across town to a different studio, though not always. So let’s get cracking… time’s a wastin’. When it comes to guitars there are loads of ways to get a huge variety of sounds from just one instrument, using different production and performance techniques. The first thing to do – though you can’t do this once the clock has started ticking – is to go out and buy every kind of plectrum your local music shop has. I have a box sitting on my desk and I’ll use a different style of pick for each recorded take I perform. The strings respond differently to different materials and depending on the flexibility of the plectrum, the playing style is also affected, giving the listener a slightly different ‘performer’ to listen to. Change the strings regularly, or boil them if you’re on a budget. It’s easier to have clear sounding strings than to try and add sound that wasn’t there in the first place. Saying that, I always keep one old guitar with 20-year-old strings on it because the sound of a cheap home bedroom guitar is popular at the moment. To cover the spectrum of sounds I have a variety of guitars hanging on the wall including a Strat, Les Paul, a steel string acoustic, nylon string acoustic, bass guitar, and a few ukuleles, mandolins and banjos, which never go astray. I also ‘prepare’ the guitars sometimes by sticking twine, paper and cloth on the strings for different unusual sounds. When it comes to electric guitars I go straight to amp simulators every time now. These are solid,
albeit predicable, ways of getting good guitar sounds instantly. If you’re working on an album or a film over a longer period of time, then sure, amps are great, but in a hurry nothing beats a V-Amp or virtual Guitar Rig, even though it doesn’t feel as ‘real’ as a guitar sometimes should. Even Damian De Boos, one of Sydney’s most prolific session guitarists confessed to me recently that he doesn’t use an amp now during sessions unless it’s an album recording or film soundtrack. It’s Guitar Rig for everything else. I also have an old ’60s tape delay that’s permanently patched into my setup for some extra grit – this is instantly patchable through the V-Amp. I’ll often set up a sound that I like and just track with it on. RECREATING THE BAND
It’s important to make sure that each time a new guitar part is laid down, that you use a different guitar, or at least different settings, to realistically re-create a ‘real’ band. This can be as simple as flicking to a different pickup or adjusting the tone of the guitar. Ideally, I would change guitars, use different settings, and sometimes detune the whole guitar, then capo it back up again for a slightly different sound. Forget using the presets in stereo with loads of built-in reverb and effects unless it’s literally the perfect sound. These ‘stereo presets’ are usually just mono signals sent through different internal effects and spat out the left and right side of the plug-in. They rarely sit well in the mix once you start overdubbing loads of them, and typically end up sounding like moss. If you’re going to be overdubbing heaps of tracks, record them in mono and then pan. Add FX from your DAW and you’ll have a much fuller, cleaner and well-defined sound. When I’m recording a one-man ‘rock band’ (ie. me), I try to create different personalities in the sound, to mimic the different personalities of a real band. In this situation, each guitarist would have their own gear, setups and style so I try to mimic this when recording, even moving or shaping my body in different ways to create the different ‘band members’. One take may be recorded standing up with a strat, and the next take done sitting with a Les Paul with head hanging down. Pretending to be different characters makes new and unexpected characters jump out of your recordings. Sounds odd, but it works. KEEPING THE ROCK ROLLING
If you’re unsure of what sound you want, don’t spend an hour getting the sound you imagine in your head but just can’t find. In a hurry just use as many mics as you can if you’re unsure, and decide later. I’m using guitars here as an example but this applies to any instrument. I may have a Rode NTK 20cm from an acoustic guitar’s sound hole running into an Avalon 737, with an AKG pencil mic or C414 pointing down the neck and then I’ll swivel in my chair until the balance between the two sounds good in my headphones. In addition to this I always have an SM58 sitting on my desk, and an old ’60s Dictaphone microphone that are always patched into ProTools. I hit record on those AT 63
Blair talks tactics with the vocal talent. While (right) this collection of priceless Fisher Price demonstrates Blair’s broad sonic palette. Oh, and don’t forget the super-covetable synth hardware.
ones too. I don’t rely on them, but they’re always recorded. In fact, I don’t even move them or try and get them into a sweet spot. Those ones are for the bonus accidental magic and sometimes they capture something special and lo-fi (which everyone wants in advertising at the moment). Lastly, I’ll often use the ‘Memo’ function of my iPhone4 and just hit record on that too, and leave it sitting somewhere in the room. You can also call your own phone while recording and leave the recording as a voicemail message. It sounds distorted, compressed and noisy – perfect! With all these options recorded from just one take you can start building the body of the song. Sometime I will completely ditch the clean recordings and use the crusty Dictaphone track, with some iPhone mixed in. Recording with all these different microphones gives you the option of beginning the track with a centre-panned crusty track, then when you hit the chorus, bringing in the Rode and AKG tracks panned hard left and right, followed by the iPhone audio for the bridge. With just one pass you’ve now got the formation of a song, including layered guitars for the chorus. If you’re happy with that take, now grab a different guitar, a different pick and swivel around on your seat for a different relationship between the guitar and microphones. Sometimes I’ll also attach a homemade piezo to the body of the instrument for an extra flavour. The trick is to get the widest variety of recorded material and the biggest sound in the smallest time frame. If this means one microphone then just commit and go for it. If you’re not sure, use multiples. When it comes to electric bass guitar I only offer myself two options when I’m on a deadline. Either DI it straight into the Avalon, which gives amazingly round results every time, or for some more crunch throw it through my V-Amp, which has digital outputs going into ProTools. There’s no time to try 50 settings. Know your gear well enough to know what kind of bass sound you need AT 64
and what needs to be dialled up to make it happen. If the track requires synth bass then I’ll use my Korg MS20, or my MiniMoog, which is MIDI, patched right into ProTools. Play it in. Bass done!
I’ll accentuate its flaws (see the ‘Microphone Choice’ box item for more on this). Piano creaks, clunky pedals; I’ll record them all with a vintage microphone and be done with it.
DRUMMING UP BUSINESS
When recording grand piano, I’ll use a plug-in to lay down all the scratch tracks and if we’re organised properly then the piano studio will be booked and I’ll grab a hard drive and rush off halfway through the day. The piano needs to be mic’d and primed and ready to go as soon I get there. We’ll use up to eight microphones so that I have a choice later but realistically the piano will come down to two close mics and two room mics. In one hour I can get two full piano tracks done for two different songs. I get the studio to record everything onto my own drive and then its back in the car and back to Nylon.
I make recording drums super simple. Our drum room here at Nylon has the kit mic’d up and ready to go at all times. While for some circumstances a full mic’d up kit is suitable, I actually have more fun playing with three of four mics. I experimented as a teenager with one and two mic setups and I’ve gone back to that now: AKG D30 on the kick and an overheard. If I need them to cut through more then I’ll throw a 57 onto the snare, or strap my Dictaphone mic to it. Realistic results can be achieved in a hurry by programming in the kick and snare with samples, and then just overdubbing real hi-hats and cymbals. Sounds real, is super fast and means you can do the whole ‘kit’ with only one mic in a matter of minutes. There’s no weird phasing and the isolation is fantastic. When time is seriously limited and recording is not an option, I’ll pick some sounds, throw them into Battery and then play in all the drums with a MIDI keyboard. I have a box of percussion so tambourines and shakers can be layered as needed using the same techniques. THE FAKE GOANNA
Pianos are a hard thing to fake, and while some plug-ins do an okay job there’s no substitute for the real thing. I’ve got a grand piano at home but rarely have the time to use it for recordings, so once I know a track needs or requires piano I’ll get Karla to book a studio. Most of the time we will know earlier in the week what we’re doing each day, which makes booking a piano room and mastering much easier. I also have a student piano, which sounds cheap and rough. And here’s the kicker: if you have an instrument that sounds ‘bad’, don’t spend your time trying to make it sound good. If it’s inherently bad, it will never sound good, so if I have to record a rough instrument
By the time I get back to the studio all the drums, bass, guitars and keyboards are recorded. It’s only at this point that I have time to sit back, listen to the track, get some levels happening and start writing the lyrics. Once I let Karla know that I’m writing lyrics I know I have around 30 minutes until a singer will arrive. Once the lyrics are written and I’ve come up with a melody, I use the SM58 sitting on my desk to record a guide vocal. This cements what it should sound like in my mind, and has the added benefit of showing me a waveform of the whole vocal performance. This becomes my map for ‘chasing the flame’ and riding the gain knob live during the takes on the Avalon. Main vocals usually run through a Rode NTK into the Avalon and I track with EQ and compression. I’ll use Waves plug-ins on the vocals and these days I mix the vocals pretty dry. As with acoustic instruments, harmonies are recorded with a variety of different microphones. I’ll also record in the kitchen, stairwell or other areas of the studio facility to give each harmony its own space. I have an old circuit-bent phone that runs off a 9V battery and
that gives an amazing faux vinyl sound. The most important part here is to get a variety of different performance styles in case the client wants to try something different. Stav’s book, Mixing With Your Mind changed the way I record vocals and if you haven’t read it then you simply must. In fact, just go and buy it now and I’ll stop writing about vocal recording! MIXING IT UP
With the vocal in, I will lay in any synth parts, or kooky homemade instruments and pull a mix as fast as I can, depending on how much time is left in the day. Like most producers these days working with DAWs, the mixing happens throughout the day so there isn’t really a window of time I particularly dedicate to mixing. For most spots I will do my own mastering using a Waves L3, but for any commercially released tracks, or big TV spots that I know will be running for years I’ll get the music mastered elsewhere. Quite simply, the other guys in town can do a better job than me. AT writer and long time mastering engineer, Rick O’Neil, from Turtlerock has mastered some of my bigger TV spots like the music for Jetstar, Arnotts and Origin Energy. I turn up to the studio and Rick immediately asks me what the final destination is. I say “Well Rick, this will play on TV every day for the next two years, as well as phone on-hold systems, cinema ads and websites. The client has also asked us to release it as a single, so make it sound good for all those things please.” At this point Rick turns around in his chair and I have no idea what he’s doing but it always sounds better when I leave. Having an expert like Rick go over your track and do a proper master is probably the best investment you can make in the post–production stage of your song. I grab the files and head back to Nylon. By now the calls are starting to filter in saying, ‘What time will the track be ready?’ and while that’s happening, the final file is uploaded and a link is sent to the client. At this point the client will download the track and probably listen to it off the speaker in their iPhone. If I’m lucky it will be played on a proper system in an edit suite or another studio. All going well the song is signed off, and sent off for broadcast. Then tomorrow we’ll do it all again… Blair Joscelyne is a full-time composer at Nylon Studios, Sydney and also provides music to Nylon New York. His music has been used by companies such as Smirnoff, VISA, AT&T, Ford, IBM, Touchstone, Lexus, Discovery Channel and Toyota. More info at www.nylonstudios.com and www.facebook.com/blairjoscelyne
MICROPHONE CHOICE When I was doing my audio degree back in the late ’90s I was working of an evening as the house engineer at the Windsor RSL, and reading this very magazine in between sets. I had been working on my own album and after reading Rick O’Neil’s rants for years I finally went to Turtlerock one day to get my record mastered and met Rick for the first time. He asked me how I recorded the album and when I detailed my equipment list: my $50 microphones, cheap-arsed compressors, MIDI-sync’d digital effects and mixing tricks using a horrid cheap desk he rubbed his chin and said, “Hmmm…”
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After a moment he continued… “I don’t know how you did it with such crap gear.” “Um… well, yeah okay… thanks (I think). How do you do it?” I asked. “It’s like this,” he says, as he leans forward and speaks in a casual tone. “You get a good mic and stick it in front of a good instrument, in a good room. That’s it.” “Huh?” I’ve just spent four years of full-time study to get my honours degree in audio and you’re telling me I can just buy a good mic and I’m done?” Rick was being intentionally blunt, but he was right. But what if you don’t have a good instrument? I have a simple and novel solution for microphone choice in a hurry. I work out approximately how much the instrument is worth that I’m recording, and match that figure to the value of a microphone from my stash. If I’m playing my $18 nylon string acoustic guitar that I got from North Rocks Markets through a Neumann, it sounds terrible. Throw on my ratty Dictaphone mic (which was free) and all of a sudden the recording is indie and edgy. But this same microphone on a beautiful violin sounds horrid, so for that I’ll choose a more expensive microphone. Give it a go next time you’re recording – cheap really does gravitate to cheap. If nothing else, this very simple technique gets you trying combinations in a hurry that you may not have thought of before.
JOE HAMMOND & SEZ WILKS Greg Walker hits the autorhythm button and finds himself strangely moved. Text: Greg Walker
Minimal arrangements and an instrumental palette consisting mainly of one cheap and cheery Italian electric organ, column heater percussion and vocals: potentially a very tough production gig. But producer Joe Hammond and artist Kikuyu (aka Sez Wilks) have turned less into much, much more. Kikuyu’s album Hunter Gathered is a great listen and the organ gives excellent support to Wilks’ fine voice and lyrics without ever feeling too narrow or relentless. While the production is restrained, sonically things keep moving in a satisfying way and there are always enough twists and turns to hook the listener. How have they achieved this musical feat with so little? Let’s find out. HAMMOND TIME
I first met Joe Hammond during a session at some-time AT contributor Jonathan Burnside’s old studio, Eastern Bloc. When we mysteriously couldn’t get a satisfactory bass DI sound out of Jonathan’s great preamp collection we were advised to go ‘upstairs’ to Pots and Pans Recording Studio, where Joe could help us out with a tasty Chandler Germanium pre. Joe was extremely helpful, the Chandler sounded great, and I made a mental note to check in on Joe at a later date to see what was going on in that upstairs room. Fast forward two years and I finally made it back up the stairs and hooked up with Joe to check out his room, his gear and the fantastic album he’s just finished producing for Kikuyu. As luck would have it Sez herself was also in the studio working on some new material AT 66
so I was able to sit down and have a good chat with both artist and producer about this unusual project. Greg Walker: Can you tell us a bit about your musical background Joe, and how you ended up becoming a record producer? Joe Hammond: I got into studio work through playing drums in bands. I played in a band called Love Outside Andromeda for many years until that eventually folded, and then I did stints in various local Indie bands including the Red Sun Band. I ended up joining Deloris who have since called it quits but have sort of continued playing under the name Near Myth. I’ve been working as a producer for that band recently too. When Love Outside Andromeda folded I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about audio. I was always the guy in the band who stayed back with the engineer and listened to the takes and helped with the edits and chose the best bits, and I just naturally developed a bit of a curiosity about that side of things. Also, being the drummer, you always have to get to soundcheck early, where you eventually end up standing around a lot and looking at the mixing desk and outboard gear. After a while I just started asking questions. Around 2006 I enrolled in the Music Industry Technical Production course at RMIT and that gave me a pretty strong basic education in engineering, mixing and so on. I managed to get some recording gear together and eventually said to myself, ‘f**k it, I’ll rent a space and just start’.
GW: So did you come straight up here when you started? JH: I was actually in one of the downstairs rooms at Eastern Bloc, across the hall from where Jonathan was working, but it wasn’t quite right. There was a bit too much noise coming out of his studio so I came up here. GW: I know Jonathan mentored quite a few people while he was over here. Did you work with him as well? JH: I got to assist him on quite a few sessions actually, which was great, but also I was able to go into the studio in my own time and do things like compare two Neumann CMVs as overheads against a pair of B&Ks and just generally get to know lots of boutique gear – it was a really great opportunity to try out stuff I would never have had access to otherwise. I also found that it’s the repetition of doing 20 different drum sessions that enables you to really hear what the gear does. You go, ‘Ah okay, those mics are a bit more sparkly; those ones are rounder’ and so on. The repetition of all those sessions definitely taught me what to listen for. HAMMOND’S ORGAN
GW: Let’s talk about the Kikuyu album. There seems to be a pretty minimalist approach going on. How did that come about? JH: When Sez came to me to do the album she already had a vision, which was to centre the record around this old Baleani Supersonic organ and that really dictated terms. We did branch out as the recordings went along, adding some guitar parts and percussion parts but the bulk of the album is made with that one organ. We did use a couple of other organs for certain small parts, and we also discovered that playing the column heater as a percussion instrument sat really well with the organ’s drum patterns. The real challenge was to create textural depth using mainly the one instrument. GW: So how did you go about doing that? JH: We’d generally record the organ direct into an Avalon DI or a Universal Audio 610 preamp, but then I’d often send it to a little speaker out in the hall and mic it up with a stereo pair of Shure KSM 141 omni pencil condensers in the bathrooms or the stairwell, to capture some room sound or some kooky ambience. Because we’ve got two pokey bathrooms at the end of the hall, one of my tricks is to put an omni condenser in each one and then pan them hard left and right in the mix. This approach worked really well for the organ, it just immediately gave the sounds a sense of space. We did broaden the palette a bit with a Casio and an old Hammond on a few tracks but the other thing that eventually happened was that the hand claps and percussion took on a more ambient role. I always tried to have one keyboard part be up front and in your face as the grounding one, and then have different levels of depth for the others. GW: So are all the rhythm parts generated on the Supersonic as well? JH: Yeah 95% of it is the automatic rhythm on the organ. We did use one other drum part from a toy organ, but everything else came from the Supersonic. We also used its auto bass feature a fair bit. We mostly used whole drum rhythms but sometimes we’d cut them up a bit. I occasionally doubled the beats on a real drum kit too, just for a chorus to have it explode outwards for a section of a song and then pull back to the smaller sounds. IT’S ALL IN THE AGREEMENT
GW: So Sez, what were the challenges for you in working with such a minimal sound palette? Sez Wilks: I actually found the process quite liberating because I stacked a lot of background vocals and often found myself improvising and things would just start happening. We did use a lot of different mics on the vocals and I was singing in different ways to achieve different moods and create different textures. There was one song I wrote and demo’d really quickly at home very late at night. The whole house was asleep so I was doing this husky whisper into the mic and we both really loved the sound of that vocal. Then we tried to find a way to replicate it here. JH: I think we even got you to bring in your mic, which was this $20 rip-off of a Shure SM57. SW: I showed him where I plugged it in and he went ‘What!’ I was doing totally abhorrent things in my chain but it sounded good. AT 67
Clockwise from above: The ‘champagne sparkle’ Slingerland four-piece takes pride of place at Pots and Pans; there’s some tasty outboard but no pots and pans in the Pots and Pans control room; Sez Wilks recording vocal through the Coles 4038 ribbon microphone; Coles, Mojave, Shure, Sennheiser and AKG mics gather for a line up.
JH: When we recreated it I got Sez to sing really close on the mic and drove the shit out of the preamp to get it to go foggy and weird. The level was obviously far too hot for the converters by then so I passed the signal through an RNC purely so I could wind back the output to a useable level. The compressor’s threshold was set high enough to not actually be touching the signal – an elaborate pad, if you will. GW: So how was your producer/artist relationship? Did you have to negotiate any major differences of opinion?
I was doing totally abhorrent things in my chain but it sounded good
JH: We were really lucky like that. We’d be in the middle of doing a part and then I’d go [Joe clicks fingers], ‘why don’t we try doing this?’ and Sez would say, ‘I was just thinking the same thing’. I really can’t think of a single time when I wanted something to go one way and Sez wanted it to go the other. We always seemed to naturally see eye to eye on how things should evolve. Also Sez had already nutted out a lot of the vocal arrangements at home during her late night sessions and that probably helped. We definitely had a lot of fun in here using found percussion objects. I found the column heater made a pretty great guiro. GW: And what was the usual recording chain for the main vocals? JH: I found we got the best results with a Coles 4038 ribbon, but having said that the Coles mics only arrived halfway through the sessions. Before that we also used a no-name brand Chinese ribbon mic, which sounded okay. Pretty trashy sounding, especially for a ribbon, but sometimes that was a good thing. We mainly ran the vocal mic through the UA 610 preamp or the Avalon 737 and generally didn’t compress the vocal too much on the way in. MIXDOWN MEANDERINGS
GW: When it came to mix time were there a lot of decisions still to be made? JH: I think we really let the tracking process dictate how the final mixes were going to turn out. By the time we got down to mixing the shape of the songs was pretty settled, although I did spend a few days playing with levels and trying AT 68
different keyboard parts as the main bedrock tracks. When you’re recording a rock band you know, you have a pretty clear formula for how it’s going to sound, whereas with Sez we had the luxury of… SW: … meandering. JH: Yeah, meandering and messing around finding cool sounds and trying different keyboard sounds to get one we really liked. GW: Can you get technical here Joe and tell us what gear you used for the mix? JH: I mixed it all here in ProTools, monitoring through Event Precision 8s and summing through the Neve 8816 summing unit into one of the older Apogee converters: an AD 8000. I used the McDSP plug-ins a fair bit for compression and EQ, and their Revolver reverb, although I didn’t really use too much reverb on this record. The main vocal was compressed through the McDSP CB4 compressor bank, and generally I used the emulation of the Neve 33609 compressor in the CB4 for Sez’s vocals. I also used the Massey limiter to tame various things. The rest of it was really about balancing the sources and running things out to the stairwell or the bathrooms now and again. GW: The bathrooms definitely work because the mixes sound nice and full and balanced even when there are only a handful of sources. I must get ’round to building a couple of new bathrooms in my studio! One last question for you Sez, how are you planning on reproducing this music on stage? SW: The answer’s pretty simple – live loops. The band I played in before this had so many instruments, this keyboard for this part and that synth for that part. So playing solo I really wanted to reduce all of that to the point where now it’s just this dear old organ and a loop pedal and a few other little things. Someone asked me last night how I control all the loops because the organ doesn’t have MIDI and I said – ‘with my mind!’
Got any news about the happenings in your studio or venue? Email Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the AT website and register online: www.audiotechnology.com.au
Text: Brad Watts
There’s been much ado in the audio world during the last month or so, with some ‘Oz-Rock’ royalty re-emerging, and plenty of newcomers to the What’s On report. Midway though 2011, Don Bartley’s Benchmark Mastering celebrated its sixth year of independence. Don was recently entrusted with the task of remastering the entire back catalogue of Aussie legends, Cold Chisel. The original analogue masters were sourced for the project, revealing a plethora of never-beforeheard B-sides and demos. All the original ‘Chisel’ studio albums are being re-released in physical and digital formats. One of Australia’s more recent favourite sons, Josh Pyke, enlisted Don to master his new album, Only Sparrows, produced by Wayne Connolly. The Wiggles also dropped in for a polish, as well as ARIA-award winning vocal group, The Idea of North. Next door, Reece Tunbridge immersed himself in mastering a debut album for jazz artist, Sarah McKenzie, produced by Chong Lim. Reece also mastered the Australian release for Avalanche City’s album, Our New Life Above the Ground, as well as an EP for Jodi Martin, tracks for Jebediah, Hannah Kirkpatrick, Still Scores, and The Former Love Pirates. Omegaman has been busy with remixes for SEE-I (Fort Knox Recordings), Second Sky (Rhythm & Culture, ESL), Ursula 1000 (ESL), and Fretless (Mark Walton). He’s also completed an original track featuring the late Ali Omar on vocals. The Omegaman Skankin’ Riddim 12-inch vinyl and digital EP (Super Hi-Fi Recordings)
reached No. 1 on the Juno funk, break-beat and best sellers charts, and No. 2 on the vinyl chart. PavMusic Studios has recently completed production for emerging artists, Benjamin James Eastwood, and TJ James. Both are being mastered at Cutterhead Mastering. A number of new projects are underway or about to start: developing tracks for Neil Wise (Curly Joe) out of Melbourne in conjunction with Jeremy Reid; pre-production for Credo (vocal quartet from Canberra), preparation for commencing with Jacqui Baldwin (big gospel CD, NZ/US-based, multi-location project), a new artist James Ebdon out of Sydney, and a fun project with a community group of disabled singers through Connections at Coolamon. The PavMusic weekly visit to Bimberi Youth Justice centre with the ACMF Music for Hope program continues to unearth some amazing writing and song production. Perth-based production studio, T.H.E 001 Music, will be setting up the Philippines’ first mastering studio in September. Proprietor, Rev. T. H. Eslam, will be shipping over a pair of Landmark LSX full-range monitors. The plans include some choice hardware such as Burl Audio converters and software such as Sadie, Sonnox, and Izotope plug-ins. Apart from mastering, the 30sqm studio space located in the heart of Manila’s entertainment precinct, will also feature a vocal booth using BeesNeez, Rode, Blue, and CAD microphones, plus production and editing facilities for composers and film scoring. Megaphon Studios hasn’t rested, with visits from Mar Haze, George Palmer, Ross Nobel, Scattered
Order, and Romano Crivici; all engineered by Shane Fahey. Jon Boy Rock tweaked up recordings for Hell City Glamours and Grand Fatal, while Chris Hancock engineered beats for Monk Fly and some experimental work with Spartak. Mr Tim Whitten also worked on material for indie act, Bear Hug. Mr Bobby ‘Le Dodge’ Scott has been mixing Kate Leahy, Album of the Songs of Jesse Younan, tracks for both Coda and DIG, and Taikoz premixes for DVD. He’s also been producing and recording a Christa Hughes album at 227 ABC, a Church Organ recording for Ralph Lane at ABC Studios, a sax quartet, and a Bobby Singh tabla CD. Bob’s absorbing some film and TV mixing lessons from friend and genius sound designer, David White. Bob picked up a couple of nice tricks to apply to his music mixing: in particular, workflows for line-by-line, word-byword vocal equalisation. Bob’s also rapt with his new speakers – Klein + Hummel O300s no less. Apparently he’s hearing more detail without having to crank the volume – far more exciting than his “comparatively clinical ATCs”. After celebrating 26 years of continual studio operation in regional eastern Victoria, Wombat Road Recording Studio soldiers on recording, mixing, and mastering a number of demo CDs. Recent clients include Harry Hookey and the Family Band. Harry recently won the 2010 ‘Telstra Road to Tamworth’ with his song, Don’t You Ever Treat Me Like a Fool. The prize includes a 12-month mentorship with Mushroom Records and a trip to Nashville. Nice! Hospital Hill Recordings finished recording an
GPHQ is the in-house studio owned by Gigpiglet Recordings: the record label offshoot of Gareth Stuckey’s Gigpiglet Productions. While the Waterloo headquarters has been home for some seven years now, 2011 saw the company’s 10th anniversary, and a major refit to both the studio and offices. The Studio is designed as a ‘producer’s facility’ rather than a studio for hire. It’s the part time home of Brendan Gallagher (Karma County, Jimmy Little), Sean Carey (Thirsty Merc), Kramer (Ween, Butthole Surfers, Low, Galaxy 500) and Ben Holman-Richards (Porcelain), along with Gareth himself (currently recording Alex Lloyd). Studio manager, Steffan Johnson, also works on his own projects when there’s time.
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The control room is huge, with plenty of room for the 56-channel (112 input) DDA console, generous outboard rack, giant
vintage chesterfield couch, and room for the band to hang out. When it comes to outboard, all the colours you could want are present: five Neve pre/comp/ EQ channel strips, four frighteningly boutique Peach Audio 196 preamps, three Empirical Labs Distressors, a Focusrite Producer Pack, two Universal Audio 6176s and an LA-610. There’s a Drawmer 1960, an Amek Pure Path, plus DBX, TLA, and BSS gear. The signal path is as clean as possible, with the input plates from each recording area going directly to a preamp patchbay, and from there to the ProTools HD system. Returns to the console are then mixed down to a second ProTools HD system via a mix bus of Avalon 747 and Apogee conversion. Gigpiglet HQ: (02) 9698 9292 or www.gigpiglet.com.au
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album of Australian violin works with Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich, and mastered a track by experimental/folk artist Bud Petal. The team is in pre-production with a new band from Newcastle called Bigger Cages, and Ollie McGill from The Cat Empire has also been in rehearsing – the gang figured they may as well record it for posterity (let’s hope Hospital Hill has a lawyer or two on its books). Gear-wise, the studio added a Neumann U87 and two DW snare drums: one maple and one bronze. The studio has also caught the synth bug and been searching for something special. Lush Recording Studios in Brisbane is currently putting the finishing touches on their ‘B’ Studio. The studio consists of a 48-channel SSL room with an extensive collection of original issue classic gear. Proprietor, Dominic Dodemont, expects to be finished in August. More news next issue! Rancom St in Botany is firing on all cylinders, with the current mob of musos being a fourpiece rock band from Mackay called Offshore. Ted Howard tracked, overdubbed, and will be finishing the album mixes. A couple of weeks beforehand, Stuie French and Camille Te Nahu tracked their solo album live, with double bass, drums, two guitars, Dobro, mandolin, accordion, fiddle and two vocalists. The whole shebang was being filmed by the team of multi-award winning director, Duncan Toombs. A special session, by all accounts – where music was king! On the gear front, the Vertigo VSC-2 stereo compressor has been an eye opener for Ted – the smoothest VCA compressor he’s heard, apparently. Studio 52 has splashed out on some Adam S3-X monitors in Studio C, and two more TLA VP-1s for Studio A. They’re so impressed that they’ve sold off a pair of EMES Blue HR monitors and two TLA 5052 mic preamps. Music-wise, 52 is working with Natasha Duarte: her album nearing completion – produced by TC Carter and Marc Collis. Natasha was discovered through the Kool Skools Project and the JB HiFi
Prize at the age of 13. Now about to turn 16, she has a new debut album and several videos completed for release through Empire. Kool Skools is now in its 15th Year, with 36 albums currently in production, some in its sister studio Megaphon in St Peters, Sydney. Coloursound Recording Studio is playing host to Melbourne band, My Left Boot, as they record their debut album with engineer, Mick Summerton. Callum Barter is back to track more Tessa and the Type Cast, and Mat Robins has been working with instrumental five-piece, The Nest Itself. Phil Threlfall of The Base continues to avoid sleep, mixing Simple Man from Diafrix, which is enjoying radio play, as well as a feature length film, Johnny Ghost from indie filmmaker, Donna McRae. Compliments of Gus added some new tunes to a compilation spanning their 12year career, while The Speedtippers recorded new tunes, completing their first full-length album. Phil also added another bit of kit from Giles Audio; a hand built valve preamp that is sounding killer with the freshly serviced U67, and Ross from Giles Audio and Phil are trying some mods to the Amek G2520 console. Stay tuned for details and results! At Greg Dixon’s Aphek Studio, engineer Ross A’Hern is taking advantage of the Tassie Oak rooms to capture the Rilke Project for composer/ musician, Spike Mason. Ross brought along some tasty mics, including Neumann, DPA and Schoeps morsels, to capture the unusual combination of bassoon, trombone, sax, doublebass, piano and vocals. Aphek has also been busy completing mixes for an album started four years ago by multi-instrumentalist Rob Brown. Deluxe Mastering’s Tony ‘Jack the Bear’ Mantz has been tweaking The Fuzzbirds, Blind Munkee, Cave of the Swallows, Dirty Radio, Jonesez, Brackets, Thrall, Larry K (mixed by James Frew), Bitter Sweet Kicks, The Irresponsibles, Radio Ink, Rainshadow, Burgworth, The Sunny Days, The Hired Guns, a Jessica Mauboy single (remixed
by US producer, Rac), a live album for Autumn Gray (Canada) complete with 40 piece symphony orchestra and mixed by Jimi Maroudas, and new album for Jeff Lang. Projects mastered by Adam Dempsey include Fish Boast of Fishing (Peter Knight), Vague Cuts (mixed by Jez Giddings at Hothouse), Butcher Blades, Pony Face, Lanrae, The Audient, Zac Brennan, a debut EP for Broadway Sounds, the latest Going Down Swinging compilation, singles for The Fearless Vampire Killers and Sons of Messengers, and a CD single and 10-inch vinyl for Heirs (Melbourne). The gang also sends props to Sloth for recapping the PSUs in the masteringmodded Chandler LTD-2s. At Studios 301 in Sydney, the crew are mastering The Jezabels, Ryan Meeking, Phrase, Jon Stevens, The Grates, Art vs Science, Sneaky Sound System, Shannon Noll, Faker, Tijuana Cartel, Purple Sneakers DJs, Ernest Ellis, Triple J, and Kids of 88. On the recording front, ‘Chisel (formally known as Cold Chisel) are working on new material, as are Guineafowl, Tim Freedman, X-Factor, Ricky Ho, Daniel Spencer, and Canyons. The Logic 101 courses have been popular, as was the successful Mark Opitz masterclass; look out for the next one in November! 301 has also started construction on six new production studios to be available for lease by the end of the year. Contact Studios 301 if you’re interested in a suite. Damien Gerard Studio in Balmain has had a swarm of regional bands coming through, and the locals keep on popping in to utilise the mighty MCI JH24 two-inch machine with the new RMG 900 tape. Recent session highlights include Andrew Beck and Pete Holzworking with Hamish Gordon, Swarfgrinder, The Grand Lethals, John Kennedy, and Michael Peter. Mr Russell Pilling took a well earned break in his home state of Tassy, but managed a wave of projects before leaving.
As a musician first and foremost, Pete Grandison built Shanghai Twang Studios to be an extension of himself, and a place where he could play music and invite his friends over to share in it. The facility has a bohemian, loungeroom feel with ‘chinoiserie and bedouin chic’ styling. The studio is hidden within a warehouse, but is purpose-built with state-of-the-art acoustic design by John Sayers. Despite the boutique style, the studio offers four spacious, independently wired, air-conditioned and isolated recording rooms, all with line-of-sight via glass doors and windows. This allows Pete to record musicians playing live together but still affords him the opportunity to isolate sound sources for editing and sound shaping later. Pete’s recorded everything from choirs to rock bands, string quartets and bluegrass, all SHANGHAI TWANG STUDIOS AT 72
the way through to voiceovers (amongst other things he tells us). The control room is designed for critical listening – both mixing and mastering – but is large enough to house a band. Shanghai Twang utilises ProTools HD3 on Mac computers (two systems), Logic Pro and an MCI JH-16 one-inch eight-track recorder. There are kitchen, courtyard and bathroom facilities, as well as an upstairs lounge with four three-seater couches and a viewing window into the live room below. The lounge is wired for use as another recording space, and can operate as a second control room. The studio is centrally located in the inner southern suburbs of Perth, just minutes from the port of Fremantle. Shanghai Twang Studios: (08) 9331 8051 or www.shanghaitwang.com.au
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PC AUDIO If you’re currently running a music-only PC with no Internet connection out of concerns for security, now might be the time to reconsider the options. Text: Martin Walker
As various legal actions have shown, the last thing you want in a studio environment is a client or visitor installing dodgy software on your PC. This potential mishap is particularly easy now that USB sticks can routinely hold several gigabytes of data and potentially store a host of virus-laden hacks, either by accident or otherwise. If you’re concerned about such risks, disable front-mounted USB ports by unplugging the cables attached to them from the appropriate motherboard header, and while you’re at it, mount USB dongles on brackets inside your PC so no-one can walk off with them. Neither do you want the risk of your main studio PC being permanently connected to the Internet, just in case a virus infection brings it to a grinding halt and you end up having to restore a backup in the middle of an important session. I trust you do make regular backups using suitable imaging software? Making a weekly image file of your Windows partition means that whatever happens you can be up and running again within a matter of minutes, even if your current hard drive bursts into flames! MULTI-BOOT BENEFITS
I’ve always been a keen advocate of the Windows multi-boot approach for those using a single PC for everything. The multi-boot concept involves installing several instances of Windows, each in its own partition, and then choosing which one you want to run from a menu at boot time. This is the secret of being able to maintain a general-purpose machine connected to the Internet while also being able to reboot into an entirely separate and slimmed-down music-only install. Some musicians even go as far as installing a hard drive caddy so once powered down they can physically plug in one of several Windows drives. The benefits of having a separate music-only boot include greater security and reliability, a quicker boot up time (you don’t need to launch software firewalls, virus and spyware checkers, extra drivers for routers, modems, webcams and so on that
you won’t be using while making music), more available memory (because you haven’t got a host of utilities running in the background), and best of all you’re likely to be able to run at least a few more plug-ins because your processor is devoted to audio software. You can even run different operating systems from each partition if you need to. BOOTING OUT THE MULTI-BOOT
However, having thus extolled the virtues of the multi-boot setup, when I replaced the hard drives in my PC with larger models a few months ago I abandoned my multi-boot in favour of a single Windows installation that is permanently connected to the Internet. I still wouldn’t recommend this approach for a recording studio PC used by clients, but for project studios like mine this apparent U-turn finally makes a lot more sense for a number of reasons. First, my general-purpose partition did indeed take 40% longer to boot up than my stripped-down music-only one, but this waiting time is largely irrelevant when most modern machines have such low consumption Sleep/Standby modes. My PC measures just 6W when having a snooze, which is little different from the consumption of the ‘soft off ’ mode you enter by pressing the front panel power switch (only if you physically switch off your PC using its power supply switch or at the mains outlet will consumption drop to zero). So, by choosing ‘Sleep’ instead of ‘Shutdown’ at the end of the day I can send my computer to sleep within a few seconds and then wake it up next time I need it with the majority of my applications intact and ready to rock within a few seconds more. Sadly, one exception tends to be audio software, which generally loses contact with your audio interface during the nap, and therefore needs relaunching when it’s woken up. Nevertheless, I find Sleep/Standby a huge time-saver compared with rebooting into another partition before making music. Second, the small extra amount of RAM used by virus checkers and the like is scarcely noticeable
now that RAM prices are at such an all-time low and few musicians have less than 4GB fitted. Indeed, many musicians now take advantage of Microsoft’s Windows 7 64-bit operating system to access 8GB or more, so even if all the Internetbased extras need several hundred megabytes of RAM this is scarcely noticeable in the grand scheme of things. Moreover, while these extras will increase your CPU overheads slightly, as long as you make sure that virus checkers and the like are only monitoring for new infections in real-time, and that you don’t let them periodically trawl through every file on your hard drives for nasties – except when you specifically ask them to – the power of today’s processors is such that these overheads will probably be minimal. Finally, most of us now use hardware routers with built-in firewalls, so our machines are already significantly safer than when we used USB modems and totally relied on software firewalls for protection from the evils of the Internet. THE PC UNLEASHED
After remaining permanently connected to the Internet for the last few months I’ve not suffered a single infection, crash or meltdown, and have also enjoyed the time-saving benefits of being able to update my audio software online without the tedium of copy/pasting codes from one partition/ drive/PC to another. While working on music projects I’m also enjoying not missing important emails or incoming Skype messages, although they can become a distraction at times, and it’s also a lot easier to enter the twilight zone of the Internet and lose countless hours exploring when you ought to be doing other things. However, a little extra discipline overcomes most of these objections and, of course, you can always switch email and messaging software off when you really need to concentrate on deadlines. For me the slight risks and distractions of remaining on-line are nothing compared to the benefits of being able to multi-task between several projects as incoming messages dictate. I’m not going back – freedom feels so good!
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MAC AUDIO Operating system upgrades are becoming much easier, but it’s never smooth sailing when it comes to your recording Mac. Text: Brad Watts
Installing a new operating system is never trivial. Sure, the actual upgrading processes have become effortless compared with only a few years ago, and for the typical computer user the process is predominantly painless. However, when it comes to upgrading the operating system on your audio-centric computer there are inevitable hurdles to jump. Some are as easy as installing a DAW or plug-in manufacturer’s upgrades. Others necessitate a time lag – sometimes a long one – waiting for the third-party manufacturer’s software to be brought in-line with the new OS. With this in mind it’s worth having a look at Apple’s recent OSX 10.7 operating system upgrade, otherwise known as Lion. As suggested, not all audio software manufacturers’ products are compatible as yet, so here’s a number that aren’t quite up to spec when it comes to happily cohabiting with the Lion, and some that are. Be aware, none of the PPC functionality exists in Lion, so running old PPC-based applications aided by the transparent ‘Rosetta’ translation software available in 10.5 and 10.6 is now a no-go. Lion heralds the complete death of the PPC. Perhaps the most prevalent audio software in use is Avid’s line of software, with ProTools 9 HD, ProTools 9, ProTools MP9, and Torq 2.0 yet to be qualified for 10.7 operation. However, Sibelius 7 and 6.2 do get the tick of approval. (Avid, neé Digidesign, has always been conservative when it comes to new operating systems – it likes to test operating systems thoroughly before submitting its users to software hell). M-Audio products mostly pass muster, but it’s worth checking the Avid website for more details on this. If you have a newer MacPro that came supplied with 10.7 installed, grab a 10.6 installer and replace the operating system until Avid release a compatibility update for ProTools. The Steinberg pride is prepared for the Lion upgrade, with all the Cubase variants from version 6.02 now compatible with 10.7, both in 32- and 64-bit modes. Motu is also very much on the ball, with current software and hardware drivers functioning acceptably with Lion, with ‘official’ upgrades in the pipeline. However, Digital Performer users should download the maintenance update (7.2.4) for Lion compatibility – a freebie for registered users. Ableton Live users, however, should definitely hold off with 10.7. Apparently the application will freeze when sending MIDI information out to just about anything. The workaround is to disable multicore/multiprocessor support
– but why would you want to do that?! Stick to 10.6 until Ableton organises an update. Logic Pro is fine with 10.7 (as far as I and others can ascertain), although 9.1.4 is definitely the version required to retain complete compatibility. I did have the odd plug-in not make it past the AU evaluation regime, but these were freebies that I seldom use anyway so no loss there. Running Logic Pro in 64-bit mode still offered the 32-bit Audio Unit Bridge, contrary to rumours that it had disappeared in 10.7. That said, I’m not so much a fan of the AU Bridge – having two windows open on screen for a single plug-in is mighty annoying, as is access to only one plug-in GUI at a time. 32-bit operation is still the preferable operating method for my needs. SLOWLY DOES IT, OR DOES IT?
So, as usual, tread carefully if you’re considering upgrading your audio Mac, and remember the adage: If it ain’t broken then why fix it? But to digress from my dissuasions for a moment, there are some very cool features in OSX 10.7. To start with it ‘feels’ quicker, but the differences seem marginal at best. In fact, there are many graphical ‘bling’ additions to the GUI, many of which are borrowed from the iPhone and iPad’s iOS. Launchpad is the most obvious iOS-style feature, displaying every single application available on your machine as a swipeable array of glossy application icons. These can even be arranged into folders as per iOS devices. Personally I don’t see the point. I know where my applications are; in the applications folder. If I use an app regularly it goes into the dock. Ironically, one must launch the Launchpad app from the dock itself. It’s bling for the sake of it if you ask me. But truth be told, this is obviously Apple’s ploy to integrate all things Apple into the App Store software sales regime. A far more important, and long overdue feature, which has finally arrived with Lion is the new maintenance and data recovery feature. Hidden on your system drive in the Lion install is a hard drive partition containing the tools required to maintain your Mac and, if the worst happens and you experience a complete system failure, recover your data from a Time Machine backup. The process is very straightforward: restart your Mac while holding down the Command and ‘R’ keys. Once you’ve rebooted into this mode you’ll have access to the Disk Utility app and you can repair permissions and repair your system disk, reinstall OSX, or as mentioned, restore your system from a Time Machine backup – all without having to resort to a system install DVD, which, of course, you don’t have for Lion – it was a download from the App Store. The times are definitely changin’.
AKG K240 STUDIO The term ‘classic’ gets thrown around a lot. AKG has re-released what it calls the ‘classic K240 Studio’; a headphone model very similar to one I’ve been using for a long time – the AKG K240M – so I was intrigued to find out what, if anything, was different about the ‘Studios’ – and indeed ask why they needed changing at all if they were already so ‘classic’.
definition. The bass is balanced without being falsely enhanced and the highs are clean without becoming brittle. K240s would be great for mixing if a decent room or monitor speakers weren’t available (let’s not start an argument here about mixing with headphones). You’ll hear everything in proper balance and free of hype.
The K240 Studios are a semi-open headphone design, useful for studio operators who don’t want a Greenhouse Effect inside their skull during long sessions. The cable is connected to one side with a mini-XLR plug which gives you the option to easily replace the cord. At the other end is a stereo minijack base plug with a ¼ -inch threaded adapter for a secure fit.
Comparing them to my old K240s, which have had a hammering for more than a decade, mine only exhibited a very slight tired quality – too much loud progressive rock, I suspect. One technical difference that may go some way to explaining this slight tonal shift between the old model and the new-generation ‘Studio’ equivalent ; my original K240s are 600Ω, while the latest model ‘Studio’ is 55Ω.
The ear pads on the K240 Studios are physically large and gimble-suspended, covering your entire ear and offering a certain amount of X-Y movement to fit your head exactly. The self-adjusting headband is also accommodating enough to allow you to use the K240s on one ear only (a necessary evil I’ve never fully understood). Hopefully the new Studio model donesn’t take after my old timers too much, and develop the tendancy for their outer plastic rings to pop off when they’re dropped.
Finally, the K240 Studios don’t particularly like being driven too hard – the clarity turns into nasty sharpness at very high SPLs. That’s okay; we’re never going to encourage ear-shredding volumes in this magazine anyway.
The best way to describe the sound of a pair of K240 Studio headphones is with two small words: ‘smooth’ and ‘quality’. Everything about the sound they reproduce is exactly how it should be with clear
the KP3, there’s no MIDI output, no SD card slot and no USB connection. This is not a capture device or a compositional tool, it’s a performer.
While the four modules can be stacked to create a broad palette of sounds only one preset from each module may be selected at any one time. Tempobased effects sync to the in-built BPM detection algorithm, which works pretty well, and a tap tempo button is on hand just in case. Perhaps the nicest feature is the ability to freeze one effect module in a constant state, while continuing to manipulate the others. I really enjoyed the tactile control of the pad and the ability to use multiple fingers to create subtle variations of the effects. Jumping wildly between different settings and performing the effects as rhythmic layers certainly revealed some new creative options, applicable to any musical genre.
It seems that AKG has stuck with a tried and true K240S “classic” formula. The Studio model is a worthy newcomer that does justice to its proud ancestry. Graeme Hague
Audio Products Group: (02) 9669 3477 or www.audioproducts.com.au
KORG KAOSS PAD QUAD
Audio enters the Quad via either unbalanced RCA connectors or a ¼-inch microphone input. Both inputs feed the same effects chain and cannot be isolated, although separate input level controls are provided. This may be a problem if you’re looking to alternate between live vocal and music mangling in the same performance, but the Quad does provide a selectable ‘Send’ mode in which only the effected signal is sent to the output. When combined with another mixer to manage the routing of inputs, this lack of flexibility is largely overcome. In this mode the ‘FX Depth’ wet/dry mix knob becomes an output level control. Unfortunately, the headphone output lacks a pre-fader switch to facilitate private effect previewing so you’ll also be using your mixer to control the return level. For those who’ve yet to encounter a Kaoss Pad; they are a series of desktop effects processors, loop samplers and synths which rely largely on an X/Y touchpad for their parameter manipulation. Korg’s new Kaoss Pad Quad is no exception to this rule, although it’s not the successor to the KP3 (Kaoss Pad 3) that many assume it is. In fact, it differs quite significantly from its older brother. The Quad is a 24-bit/48kHz digital effects unit aimed fairly and squarely at the DJ and live-electro market – a guitar multi-effect pedal for the turntablist or iPod generation, if you like. Unlike
The Quad is primarily suited to the chaos of freeform effects improvisation so it’s likely you’ll be running ‘direct’ most of the time and taking your chances. The effect chain is arranged in a series of four numbered modules – reflecting the signal path through the processors. These quadrants can be roughly described as Looping, Distortion/Modulation, Filters and Delay/Reverb. Each module features five related effects presets covering sounds typically found within current dance and electronic styles. Each preset uses the touchpad slightly differently to modulate its parameters and it takes a little work to remember the differences – if you’d even bother?
In Issue 78 Chris Vallejo reminded us that it’s much easier to keep the studio fun if you have a few playthings lying around. For those of us who dwell on the desk rather than the decks, this real-time sandbox is just the ticket, whether you’re trying to add that hint of synthesis to some guitar poppery or just grasping for inspiration when things get stale. Korg’s latest addition to the Kaoss Pad series may not be built like a tank and lacks some of the features of its predecessors, but the Quad is more than just a toy. Andrew Bencina Price: $379 Musiclink: (03) 9765 6565 or www.musiclink.com.au
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• 2 Mic Pre Inputs • 2 Line Inputs • 4 Line Outputs (H/Phone can line out) • 1 x SPDIF In & Out (2 ch in & out) • MIDI In & Out • Phantom Power • Supported Sample Rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 88.2kHz, 96kHz
whAT IS IN ThE bOx? • Scarlett USB 2.0 Interface • Scarlett Mix Control (software) • Australian Power Supply • USB Cable • Scarlett Plug-in Suite (Compressor, Reverb, EQ, Gate) • Xcite Bundle (Abelton Live Lite, Novation Bass Synth, 1GB of royalty free loops) SOFTwARE IT wORKS wITh • Protools 9 • Logic • Cubase • Abelton • Pretty much everything really • PC & Mac
NEED TO FIND A FOCUSRITE RETAILER? email: email@example.com Distributed by Electric Factory Pty Ltd 188 Plenty Road Preston Victoria 3072 Telephone: 03 9474 1000 firstname.lastname@example.org E & EO 2011 (I|O Specs when running unit at 48 Khz Sample Rate)
CRITTER & GUITARI POCKET PIANO GR The crazy cats at Critter & Guitari have just released an update to their original Pocket Piano Synthesiser. The new Pocket Piano GR features seven synthesiser modes and maintains all of the quirk and madness of the original. It’s built into a sturdy green aluminium and hardwood case, with custom made wooden buttons. The round buttons are laid out in the traditional piano keys format and the synth modes are tweaked and manipulated with unmarked knobs above. One of these controls volume, while another controls the tuning of the synth, which has a full range of two octaves. The other two knobs have different functionality depending on what mode is being used. A bright LED changes colour to show which mode is currently active while another button selects between four different waveforms. If you hadn’t guessed already, this is not your typical
synthesiser, and it doesn’t sound like it either.
An interesting little audio widget turned up on my desk recently, or to be more accurate, eight audio widgets. The Triton Audio Neolev monitor feet are a deftly designed group of mounts that use magnetism, or to be more precise, reverse magnetism, to literally levitate your monitors above the surface they once resided upon.
mid frequencies are better separated from the low frequencies.” Personally I found the Neolevs to be advantageous with my Quested VS2108A monitors, compared with the ‘cone’ feet I usually use. Bottom end did seem ‘tighter’ and stereo imaging perception was improved, but then there’s an entire thesis that could be written about the differences between direct coupling and isolation of monitors from the ground beneath. I obviously don’t have the space here to indulge in such a discussion – and for the most part this can all come down to personal preference. That said, if the Neolevs aren’t your cup of tea for monitor isolation, they’ll do a sterling job of isolating your turntable. Neolevs are available individually for $53, or in packs of six for $286. Brad Watts
The unit doesn’t ship with instructions, but rather, a small diagram on the rear of the case that shows what each knob does for each sound, and what colour represents each mode. The synth can be run from a wall-wart or a 9V battery, and has a ¼ -inch TRS output for studio use. You can also go portable and rock out with the 3W internal speaker. If you were ever a fan of Super Nintendo, or Sega Master system, you’ll be taken straight back to the 8-bit classics of Mario and Alex Kidd the instant you lay your finger on the Pocket Piano GR’s wooden keys. Blair Joscelyne Price: $220 Critter & Guitari: www.critterandguitari.com
TRITON AUDIO NEOLEVS
Triton Audio refers to these widgets as ‘magnetic levitation dampers’. I’ll explain how they function. The Neolevs consist of two parts. Both have ‘rare earth’ ring-shaped magnets implanted in them; the lower portion has a hole through the centre, and the upper portion that stays in contact with your monitors has a metal pin to locate itself with the hole in the lower portion. Once you’ve jostled the feet into place, your monitors literally hover in space – the lower magnet repelling the upper magnet. Triton Audio claims the Neolevs “eliminate direct coupling and lower related distortion. Bass will become tighter and the lower
Professional Audio Services: (02) 6059 1652 or www.paservices.com
HOWARD LEIGHT SYNC I can’t make up my mind about this one – providing industrial hearing protection and the facility to plug in your own MP3 player at the same time. A US company based in Rhode Island called Howard Leight has released its Sync model of stereo protective earmuffs. They’re ‘stereo’ because a 3.5mm jack input allows the connection of your favourite, personal music player. Sync earmuffs promise sound reproduction on a par with hi-fidelity headphones, but before you think (like me) it seems a bit counter-productive as far as hearing protection goes – and is just asking for some inattentive labourer groovin’ to Lady GaGa to get squashed by a forklift they don’t hear coming, the Sync’s built-in Volume Management Technology restricts the incoming MP3 signal to no more than 82dB. I guess heavy-metal thrash fans will be frustrated. The
earmuffs require no batteries and have no switches or volume controls. You just plug them in and off you (quietly) go. Actually, I reckon it’s a clever idea and certainly beats having earbuds jammed in your lugholes all day under cheap earmuffs. More to the point for AT readers, they sound pretty good, and thinking outside the box, they shape up as decent, budgetpriced isolation headphones that will do the trick behind the console at noisy gigs. That 82dB limit will annoy some folks though. Graeme Hague Price: $60.50 Sperian Protection: 1300 139 166 or www.sperian.com
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Distributed by CMI Music & Audio: Ph: 03 9315 2244 E: email@example.com Web: www.cmi.com.au
RADIAL ENGINEERING WORKHORSE
We don’t like to nag, but if you’re into the 500-series form factor, you must check this out. Text: Greg Walker
NEED TO KNOW Price $1699 Contact Amber Technology 1800 251 367 firstname.lastname@example.org www.ambertech.com.au Pros Plenty of I/O options. Great build quality. Summing for almost nothing. Omniport, Link and Feed features very handy. Looks the part. Cons No power switch. No centre detents on pan pots. Summary The Workhorse is a well-built and creative offering that adds features and functionality to the 500-series format. An eight-channel summing mixer, a powerful headphone amp, tons of connectivity and additional linking and routing options make the Workhorse a very useful tool for live and studio work.
Now that we’re fully ensconced in the second decade of the 21st century, and although we’re still driving petrol guzzling motor cars and our politicians are still nervously handballing boat people around our great nation’s perimeter, in other spheres of human endeavour we’re actually making some progress. Cue Canadian company Radial Engineering’s update of the 500-series Rack concept – the Workhorse. Housed in a robust 3U 19-inch steel enclosure and packing eight slots to accommodate your favourite 500-series snacks, the workhorse raises the popular format’s racking stakes significantly by adding quite a feature list to its basic module housing duties. CATCH THE BUS
The Workhorse’s eight card slots come with easy glide trays to make fitting modules very straightforward. The trays can be removed to fit non-standard and double-width modules and each 500-series module can draw as much current as it needs from an overall pool of 1200mA. This power is produced by a high-current external switching power supply. Radial has dispensed with any form of power switch so when the unit is plugged into the mains, it’s on! Hogging the limelight to the right of the rack slots is a basic but high quality eight-channel mixer and summing bus, equipped with pan and level pots as well as an overload LED and mute switch for each channel. A simple master section offers separate pots for master and monitor output as well as level control for a pair of front mounted high output headphone jacks. The main outputs utilise isolated Jensen transformers to reduce noise in live applications and deliver some extra analogue chutzpah to the mix bus. Small LEDs show the status of the ±16V power rails and phantom power, and there’s a mono switch
for quickly checking stereo phase issues. While smallish, all the front panel controls have a smooth feel to them and the unit gives off an air of ‘workhorselike’ durability. Incidentally, the low-key blue and black colour scheme sits nicely with the standard API modules while making the bolder colour schemes of certain other manufacturer’s modules – as well as some in Radial’s own collection – look very… how shall I put it… visual. TRADESHORSE’S ENTRANCE
Around the back things are pretty hectic (and comprehensive) with all module I/Os duplicated on XLRs, TRS jacks and balanced 25-pin D-subs. TRS inserts are provided on the main outputs and an extra D-sub handles direct ins from your DAW or other recorder so you can bypass the module section altogether and use the workhorse as a stand-alone eight-channel summing mixer. A pair of 1/4-inch jacks allows you to expand the mixer to a 16x2 format by connecting a second Workhorse while external grounding lugs provide for pro studio-style stargrounding schemes. Not content with all this connectivity, Radial has also added some handy extra functionality to each module’s housing, starting with a stereo link switch that allows for the electronic linking of two mono units – a pair of compressors, for example. More unusually, a ‘Feed’ function automatically patches one module to its direct neighbour without the need for external cables. The great thing about this is that you can install your modules in your preferred channel strip order, patch them in by flicking a few switches around the back and still have access to each module’s individual output. This is a great feature, and here’s why:
Let’s say you track a vocal through a preamp and then feed it to an EQ for some treatment before feeding that signal on to a compressor. By recording the output of each module simultaneously you can retain the clean preamp signal, the preamp plus EQ, as well as the full chain. If you re-assess the processing later you can go back to square one with the clean vocal or perhaps use the three separate signals for some parallel mix action. And, of course, while you’re actually tracking, the vocalist is able to monitor with zero latency via the Workhorse’s headphone send, which is always beneficial, especially for performers who are sensitive to small latency delays. RECORDING ‘IN OMNI’
Last but not least is the ‘Omniport’, an additional TRS jack that’s routed to edge Pins 7 and 9 on each module card. These pins were never used in the original 500-series spec, meaning that this additional circuit can be used to enhance the functionality of suitably provisioned modules in any number of ways. For instance, the Omniport is used as a sidechain key input by Radial’s own Komit 500 compressor/limiter module, while other modules use it for such things as lo-Z output or an unbalanced insert jack. The Omniport provides a little extra breathing room for 500-series module designers in what has always been a very space-challenged format. Other manufacturers have already started jumping on board the Omniport wagon, including Australia’s own JLM Audio, so this feature will inevitably grow more popular as time goes by. SUMMING TO THINK ABOUT
It’s hard to imagine squeezing any more functionality into a 3U device like this, and Radial is to be congratulated for putting plenty of thought and design smarts into such a compact and attractive package. The Workhorse doesn’t cost an arm and a hindquarter more than the other full-width 19inch 500-series rack options out there, yet this extra functionality will be invaluable in areas as diverse as live recording, or anywhere that requires zero-latency monitoring, headphone mixes, mix processing and, of course, analogue summing.
While I’ve never quite bought into the summing concept (why would I want to buy a mixer with no EQ?), I’ve got to say I am drawn to the Workhorse option as its so compact and seems like a bonus given what else the unit does. The sound of the summing here is rock solid with great stereo imaging and the Jensen transformers give things a tasty little lick on the way through. The only negative for me is the lack of centre detents on the pan pots, but in context that’s a smallish issue, and can be worked around easily with a tone generator and some meters. On the positive side, for those who like to track and reprocess through more complex processing chains, the additional connectivity and routing options are a real time saver. Not only does the ‘Feed’ function stop the back of your 500-series rack from looking like something they serve in an Italian restaurant, it keeps cable runs short and you can easily see what’s going where. I’m guessing the Workhorse will find its way into quite a few studio and live rigs where the unit’s solid build and rich feature list will help smooth out workflows and save valuable space. If you’ve got a few 500-series modules out in the back paddock or are thinking of buying into the format, the Workhorse definitely won’t leave you with a long face. Now where did I put my saddle?
WHAT ARE MY OTHER OPTIONS? No other manufacturer currently offers anything like this level of functionality in a 500-series rack, though Australia’s own JLM Audio does offer a clever headphone mixer that can slot into the power supply area of the standard API Lunchbox. JLM will be bringing out a new rack in the coming months too. Other manufacturers such as BAE, Empirical Labs, A-Designs, Purple and OSA all make racks of various sizes ranging from simple 1U 19-inch racks to fit two horizontal modules all the way up to full width 11-module housings. If you’re interested in the format, keep an eye out for our 500-series module shoot-outs in coming issues of AT.
LIKE A ROCKET Inter-M’s V2 Series of Professional Amps Stable switch mode power supply for low power consumption and light weight Powerful and high quality sound based on high damping factor. Stats include: protection circuit to prevent a damage of over heat, short and over voltage • high damping factor and low T.H.D (0.05%) • 2Ω-load stable per channel, 4Ω-load stable in bridged mono • S/N Better than 106dB • Up to 1900W/ch in stereo Pricing starts from around $700 “Great Sound, affordable price… nothing to debate: the Inter-M V2-4000 is a winner” – Mark Woods, AT Issue 81 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
ARTURIA ORIGIN KEYBOARD Arturia blends its malleable array of emulated synths into a keyboard for most seasons. Text: Brad Watts
Back in 2008, Arturia shoe-horned its ‘True Analog Emulation’ software into a hardware device. The company had an array of well regarded software instruments that formed the basis of the Origin – all classic analogue synthesisers from yesteryear: Roland’s Jupiter 8, a couple of Moog designs, ARP and Sequential Circuits classics, and my favourite, the Yamaha CS80. There had been a lot of talk about the Origin hardware synth for some months before the unit finally hit the turf, but for those looking for a synth of this nature, the wait was certainly worth it. Gone was the reliance on natively driven software synthesis, and in its place were Analog Devices Tiger Shark DSP chips. The Origin was by no means a PC in a box running plug-ins – it was real DSP hardware. The original Origin synth module delivered on Arturia’s promise, successfully combining a huge array of synthesis methods in the one box. But that was the problem. The fact that it was merely a box may have steered some away from the sound module. So Arturia now offers the Origin keyboard. It’s primarily the same Origin sound module, dovetailed with a specifically designed 61-key synth-action keyboard and some nice performance accoutrements. KEYS TO THE BRIDGE
Let’s appraise the obvious to start with – the unique form factor of the Origin Keyboard. There are two physical sections to the Origin: the actual keyboard itself, which incorporates the keys and connectivity ports at the rear, and the editing controls that unfold to reveal 50-odd knobs, back-lit buttons, a joystick, and a colour LCD screen. It’s an impressive piece of hardware, and once the control section AT 84
is opened, there’s a large blue backlit Arturia emblem to face toward the crowd, making it patently obvious where your allegiances lie. Getting back to the keyboard, as mentioned, the synthaction semi-weighted keyboard comprises 61 keys, but also provides channel aftertouch – this in itself would have hindered accessing the aftertouch features in the Origin module with an external keyboard controller, as many control keyboards won’t transmit such information. The Origin Keyboard has another performance feature up its sleeve that was unavailable in the module version: duophonic aftertouch. This takes an extra bite at the performance cherry, allowing pressure information to be transmitted with one hand, while keeping the other hand’s ‘pressure’ stable. The pressure applied affects only the lowest, highest, or last note played, depending on the setting. Duophonic aftertouch is exclusive to the Origin Keyboard – and it’s a very nice touch (boom boom). The keyboard itself feels very good, and is certainly the quality of key-bed you’d expect to see on an instrument in this price range. As you might also expect, there’s the more commonplace modulation and pitchbend wheels, along with up/down octave buttons to stretch the keyboard’s pitch range across two further octaves in both directions – all fairly standard stuff. What isn’t typical, however, is the 40cm long ribbon controller above the lower half of the keys. The ribbon controller has made a solid comeback in recent years, and it’s difficult to understand now why the concept disappeared
Ribbon controllers are an awesome modulation tool, and frankly, the longer they are the better
for so long. Ribbon controllers are an awesome modulation tool, and frankly, the longer they are the better. There’s more room to aid precision modulation sweeps with your finger, nose, ear, or whatever other body-part you care to swipe and prod along its length.
polyphony quotient may begin to suffer when you combine up to four Programs into a layered ‘Multi’. Storage of both Programs and Multis is adequate for a sizeable collection of sounds, with 400 factory and 600 user ‘programs’, and 256 Multis (100 factory and 156 user).
Apart from these features, the upper portion of the Origin’s playing surface is devoid of knobs or sliders – it’s a very clean and concise layout, nicely trimmed with wooden ‘ye olde worldy’ end-cheeks.
Editing on the Origin does have the feel of a software engine bolted into hardware, and it’s quite apparent once you begin unfolding menus within the operating system. While I wouldn’t say it’s the easiest system to navigate, like any synth of this complexity, a few hours at the controls will get you into the swing of things.
Getting back to the control panel and its array of knobs and switches, everything about the Origin is about hands-on performance. The layout has certainly been well planned, with the most often used performance-oriented parameters – like filter settings, oscillator, LFO, envelope settings, volume and input level – all located on the left-hand side of the control panel. If you’re winging away on a lead line with your right hand you won’t be reaching across yourself to access these important parameters. The extreme left of the panel also houses the multi-talented joystick. The far right of the panel houses mixer and effects parameter controls, a numeric keypad for patch/sound selection, along with a large indented parameter knob that also acts as a pushbutton for navigating and selection of editing parameters. This same knob will also cycle you through patches when the unit is in the usual performance mode. Across the bottom of the control panel are 16 rotary encoders and 16 buttons for editing the 16/32-step sequencer. The sequencer offers all the old-school tricks such as slide and accent, and is edited using the traditional step sequencing format of selecting a pitch for each step using the knobs, and whether an event occurs at a step using the buttons. It’s fast and intuitive if you’re used to this style of editing. The centre of the panel houses a colour 13cm TFT display, surrounded by eight assignable rotary encoders. These can be assigned to any parameter the Origin serves up, giving performance access to parameters that aren’t already addressed via dedicated control pots. As for what you can cobble together sound-wise, the Origin’s sole purpose is modelling analogue synthesisers. The concept allows for combining up to four Arturia virtual synth designs into the one Origin patch. For example, you could use the oscillators from a Minimoog, filters from the CS-80 and the ‘Bode shifter’ from the Moog Modular V to create a sound. Emulated synth options encompass the Minimoog and Moog Modular, ARP 2600, Yamaha CS-80, Roland Jupiter-8, and Sequential Circuits Prophet VS. That’s a lot of synth on tap. The 32-note polyphony should cover you for most patches (or ‘Programs’ in Arturia-speak), but that
Just popping around the back of the lower keyboard section of the Origin for a moment and looking at some of the hardware aspects of the unit, you’ll notice plenty of I/O for shunting your sounds out to various channels. No less than eight auxiliary outputs complement the main left and right outputs, along with a digital S/PDIF coaxial output. Plus there are stereo input channels for introducing other sound sources to the synth engine – with the input level control on the control panel accompanied by a four-segment LED meter. Interconnectivity comes courtesy of MIDI In, Out and Thru, along with USB, which also speaks to the freely downloadable patch librarian software, Origin Connection. This application also takes care of Origin firmware updates. It’s rare to find such an abundance of I/O in today’s synth market. THE PUDDING EATEN
Analogue aficionados will certainly have the Origin Keyboard on their list of must-haves. To pack this amount of emulation smarts in one box is an awesome proposition – especially for live performance work. If you’re even slightly familiar with Arturia’s range of emulation plug-in instruments then you’ll know just how true to life they can be. And while Arturia is renowned for creating instrument plug-ins that visually represent the hardware they emulate, the plug-ins are also remarkably close to the original hardware instruments sonically. Remember, the Origin uses DSP to create its sound, and this is reflected in the ‘stability’ of the instrument’s sound output. What I’m attempting to point out here is the subtle difference between emulated ‘analogue’ synthesis, and real analogue synthesis hardware. While ‘merely’ DSP-based, the Origin does a brilliant job of emulating the original hardware. From searing analogueesque lead-lines to podgy basses, the Origin delivers. But perhaps its most pertinent gift to synthesis is the ability to combine so many emulations of classic synths under the one roof. If synth emulation is where you’re headed, the Origin is worthy of some very close scrutiny.
NEED TO KNOW Price $3999 Contact CMI (03) 9315 2244 email@example.com www.cmi.com.au Pros Copious amounts of hands-on control. A ribbon controller! Highly visible and ergonomic control panel. Vast array of emulated synths. Plenty of I/O. Cons Analogue emulation only – look elsewhere for pianos and strings. Operating system takes time to get acquainted with. Summary The Origin Keyboard will be just what the analogue doctor ordered for countless electronic performers, while others may discount the unit when making purchasing decisions. The toss-up will be between DSP-emulated analogue synthesis, or taking the step toward real analogue, and a consequently more expensive and less versatile instruments than the Origin!
Mackie two-way monitors have become a staple diet in the pro-audio world. This latest serve dishes up quite an earful. Text: Calum Orr
NEED TO KNOW Price $499 each Contact Musiclink (03) 9765 6565 firstname.lastname@example.org www.musiclink.com.au Pros Affordable. Multiple input options. Plenty of power. Great for the price. Cons Driver chrome ring styling may not suit some. Monitors get very hot after extended periods of high SPLs. Summary The Mackie MR8mk2 speakers are a budgetpriced monitor with lots to offer. They are powerful and well constructed, balanced sounding and represent great value for money. If you’re in the market for eight-inch powered two-way monitors and your budget is under a grand, these are well worth investigating.
Lately I’ve been feeling the need to upgrade my speakers, as we all sometimes do. Recently I’ve built a new house, and within that I’ve designed a custom mixing room that’s nearly double the size of my old working environment. For about 15 years now I’ve been using a combination of Auratones, Yamaha NS-10s and PMC TB-2s, and while I know them like the back of my hand, the size of this new room is demanding a different speaker, one that goes significantly lower in frequency. In fact, to put my finger on it more specifically, I need a speaker that features an eight-inch driver, not a six, as per my NS-10s and TB-2s. With this in mind I’ve been scouring the worldwide web looking at various manufacturers, models and their various prices. Although I would love to try out something like the ATC SM50As, which retail for crazy money, I’m not going to give myself any of that ‘unfortunately they have to go back’ heartache. Setting my maximum spend at $4000 leaves just about every competitor still in the race, with well respected names like Mackie, Event, Quested, PMC, KRK and Adam all having monitors in this price bracket. In amongst this flurry of speaker swapping, I’ve recently had two new pairs of Mackies set up: the HR824mk2s and the MR8mk2s up for review here (which I might also add are three-grand under the budget!). Out of the box the Mackie MR8mk2 active two-ways are substantial speakers: 40cm high, 28cm wide and 33cm deep, and weighing 12.5kg each. The cabinet is predominantly made of reinforced 15mm MDF, although the front panel is a moulded plastic affair (to serve as a high-frequency waveguide) and the back panel is metal, apart from the bass reflex port, which is also plastic. Around the low frequency driver is a ring of chrome-styled plastic, which I’m not all that enamoured with, but hey, it may float someone’s boat. The finish of the cabinet is black and the overall look is smooth and professional.
NEW & STANDARD FEATURES
The MR8mk2s have two newly designed transducers: an eight-inch high-precision, low-distortion, low-frequency driver and a one-inch neodymium silk-dome tweeter, both of which are set into (as opposed to mounted onto) Mackie’s custom waveguide front panel. Connections around the back are plentiful – RCA, ¼-inch TRS and XLR options give you all the basic connection options – which is great, especially if you’re inclined to swap speakers around regularly like I am. Equalisation is provided on the rear panel to help ‘acclimatise’ the speakers to specific acoustic circumstances, with a ‘High’ ±2dB shelf centred around 5kHz and a ‘Low Boost’ shelving switch capable of boosting frequencies below 100Hz by either 2dB or 4dB. An On/Off switch is also positioned on the back panel along with venting for the Class-A/B amplifier and an unobtrusive volume pot, which only has a centre indent (and here it remained for the entirety of the review). REFERENCES PLEASE
After finding the optimum placement for the speakers in the control room, which was about 1200mm from my listening position, I proceeded to listen to AC/DC’s Rock ’n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution, it being one of my main listening references still. The song has phenomenal rock power with only limited instrumentation, and I was immediately impressed with the MR8mk2’s ability to really portray Malcolm Young’s guitar boldly and as intended. The decay of the instrument was smooth and its position in the soundstage was also easy to pinpoint in the mix. The snare crack in this song is also legendary (there’s even a ‘clean’ one in the intro for all you samplers out there) and here too, you could really hear the drum’s shell and the weight of the hit. After this I focused on the top end of the voice and the cymbal transients. While still impressive, I did feel things were a little bit ‘sandy’ up in the high frequencies.
Another of my reference songs is The Flaming Lips track Ego Tripping At The Gates Of Hell, from Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots; a modern masterpiece in my opinion. This song features fantastic keyboard bass, spatial sound effects, a great vocal performance and even a clarinet on the outro! On the MR8mk2s, the song sounded mighty, so much so that I took the level up a notch, closed my eyes, and listened for foibles. This test reaffirmed that the bottom end representation on these monitors is amazing, especially for the price. Great midrange too... there’s a little bit of sandiness in the guitar shred around the crossover frequency and up to around 4kHz, but again, for the price, who’s to complain? Lastly, I turned to another test I use that’s a definite hard taskmaster: Andre 3000’s She lives In My Lap from the Love Below album. So brutally forward, frontal and kick drum driven, this song is a great test for punchiness and on this score the MR8mk2s delivered admirably. After listening to a hundred or more songs, I surmised I could wholeheartedly recommend these speakers to anyone on a budget. Next up, I mixed two tracks on the MR8mk2s and both of these translated excellently when played back on other systems. And up against the Mackie HR824mk2s, which are three times the price, the MR8mk2s competed well – definitely not one-third as good. The HR824mk2s definitely have a smoother top-end and less perceivable distortion around the crossover point but both offer a similar low-end drive and stereo image.
PERFORMANCE YOU CAN TRUST Your audience deserves to hear every note, every word, and every beat. PRX600 Series speakers were designed from the ground up to perform in the real world where difficult acoustical environments, high ambient noise levels or loud volumes are the norm. With four new full-range models and two new subwoofers you can tailor a system to fit your unique needs. And our 60 years of building speakers is engineered into every PRX600. Knowing that you can rely on your system to deliver gives you the freedom to deliver your very best. That’s performance you can trust.
One small point to note, however, is that at loud listening levels for over 40 minutes, the amps get mighty hot. So much so that the screws on the back panel become too hot to touch. Furthermore, there comes a point where the amplifier protection kicks in and the monitor begins to splutter and eventually shut off, so don’t expect to just listen at 110dB for hours on end (you shouldn’t be anyway). Personally, I think the protection feature will be a bonus for more inexperienced engineers who might want to run their systems ragged with excessive volumes, however, it may prove annoying for professionals or larger listening environments that require more SPL capability from their monitors. Another feature aimed at protecting the intended owner’s investment is the 12dB per-octave high-pass filter that prevents frequencies below 40Hz from being amplified, thus saving the drivers from over-excursion that can sometimes lead to damage. A tad interventionist perhaps but I guess if you’re not hearing it you don’t need to put your monitors to task trying to replay it... At around $500 each how can I not recommend the MR8mk2s?
30th August – 1st September, Hordern Pavilion, Moore Park, Sydney. STAND Q12
JBL EON 515XT A ‘classic’ returns, with better sound quality and less weight. Text: Mark Woods
JBL has produced almost one million EON speakers over the last 15 years, and countless thousands of them are still in use. Many of them are road-weary, battered and bruised but they keep on working. When first released, the EON changed the way users looked at small PAs, by providing a plug-and-play alternative to stacks of black boxes, amps, crossovers, EQs and compressors. Easy to transport, loud enough for many small front-of-house applications, and with a 15-inch woofer that could take a fair amount of kick drum, the JBL EONs have proved popular with bands, venues, hire companies, educational facilities and rehearsal rooms the world over. With this year’s release of the new third-generation EON ‘515XT’ speaker, JBL has improved the design again, this time with new looks, better sound quality and more convenient operation. The result is a speaker that’s quieter at idle, louder at full volume and much lighter to carry. BIRTH OF A NEW EON
Physically, the new EONs have a more contemporary look, and despite the fact that my wife initially thought I’d bought us a new heater, I reckon they look more like the suitcases you see being wheeled through airports. Come to think of it, a couple of little wheels and a slide out handle would make them even easier to move around. Made from black polypropylene, the front is rectangular with rounded corners. The sides are almost egg shaped, with moulded feet so the speaker can be laid on either side for monitor duties. The cloth-backed, powder-coated steel grille that covers the front of the cabinet has the letters ‘EON’ prominently displayed (too prominently for mine) between what looks like a set of cat’s whiskers, but which AT 88
are in fact horizontally-finned bass ports. If that’s not enough branding, there’s an optionally illuminated JBL logo near the bottom. BACK & SIDES
The rear panel is dominated by a large heat sink above a recessed control panel. The large handles on the top and sides are well placed and comfortable to use. Five M10 rigging points also provide flexible suspension options and there’s a standard 36mm pole-mount with locking screw. Hidden inside the cabinet is a 15-inch, dual two-inch voice coil low-frequency driver and a 11/2-inch diaphragm, neodymium compression driver, crossed over at 1.7kHz. Power comes from a Crown Hybrid Class-D amplifier delivering 525W to the woofer and 100W to the horn. The frequency response is quoted at 42Hz – 18kHz (±3dB) and the plot shows a dip between 2kHz – 4kHz as the main deviation from flat. This makes sense as it helps to avoid harshness for music playback and matches the presence peak in most vocal mics, to give vocals an essentially flat response that sounds accurate and maximises gain before feedback. In response to suggestions from users, JBL has increased the input sensitivity of the EON 515XT by 10dB relative to previous models. The line input is comparable to other active speakers but the mic level is quite high, so care needs to be taken to avoid feedback when setting a level. Maximum SPL has been raised 3dB to a very loud 132dB. INS & OUTS OF THE EON
The controls and connections on the back panel allow for a variety of input and output options. There are three inputs channels: two balanced or unbalanced TRS 1/4-inch jack sockets and one combo socket, each with its own
volume pot. These are mixed internally to a single XLR output socket via shelving EQ knobs that offer ±6dB of adjustment at 200Hz and 4kHz. These input options will be familiar to users of the EON G2 version and cover most requirements, but personally I’d rather have seen one of the 1 /4-inch inputs act as a second combo connector, mainly so that two microphones could be connected to the cabinets; any more than that and you’d probably need a separate mixer. A recessed button switches the input of the XLR socket between mic and line level, and this control can only be accessed by poking something in the buttonhole. These switches can be like land mines if you accidentally switch to mic level with the speaker already operating at high levels, so it’s certainly good to have the switch recessed… but it’s also inconvenient having to find a poker whenever you do want to change the setting. Many other active speaker brands have the switch placed so it’s too easy to engage accidentally. A compromise could involve having the switch safely recessed but still able to be operated without a separate tool. There’s another recessed button on the rear panel that selects the source of the signal sent to the XLR output socket. In the ‘mix’ position the output gets a blend of the input channels in the normal manner. In the ‘loop’ position, however, the output gets only the signal from the combo connector input. If you were using an external mixer near one speaker you could connect the left channel to a 1/4-inch input and the right channel to the combo connector input.
Physically, the new EONs have a more contemporary look… despite the fact that my wife initially thought I’d bought us a new heater
Switched to ‘loop’, the output socket can then be connected to another speaker with a mic lead to create a stereo system. Of course, you could connect the L/R desk outputs directly to each speaker but the ‘loop’ output allows you to make a stereo system even if you only have short leads from the desk outputs. LIGHT AS A FEVVA
In use you’ll find you like the speaker well before you hear it. Picking it up made me smile. At 14.8kgs this is the lightest 15-inch active speaker I know and it’s really easy to put in the car, carry and lift onto a stand on your lonesome. The weight savings have come mainly from lighter driver magnets and new amp modules that produce less heat and require smaller heat sinks. The cabinet is not too big either and its dimensions of 673mm x 406mm x 368mm are about
as compact as they can be given the size of the components. On a speaker stand, and pointing at the audience, the 515XT looks modern compared to the earlier models and unobtrusive in basic black but I didn’t find it a particularly good looking speaker either… a case of ‘eye of the beholder’ I suppose. The light in the JBL logo makes it look… well, active… but in some situations it’s distracting so it’s certainly handy having this extinguishable via a rear-panel switch. Another detail I appreciated was the inclusion of a three-metre IEC power lead with a piggyback plug. Sometimes the short kettle leads supplied with active speakers hardly reach the ground when the speaker is on a stand, and it’s annoying to always need an extension lead to get the speaker going. Cranking up the EON 515XT with a common vocal microphone gives a favourable initial impression with a voicing that’s strong and clear across the midrange. It’s resistant to feedback at high levels, with the horn eventually becoming unstable around 3kHz with an SM58, but it’s quite susceptible to feedback around 125Hz when the mic is behind the speaker. Most performances take place well behind the speakers, of course, but for small shows where bands are mixing themselves, the mixing console is often close to the rear of the speakers and in this configuration I found this feedback sensitivity disconcerting when checking the mics and setting levels. All active speakers make some noise when idling and it was a common criticism of earlier versions of the EON that they were noticeably noisy. The 515XT has addressed this and while there’s still some hiss up close it’s unlikely to be noticed in normal use. BETTER VOICING
The new EON’s overall voicing is very good and much improved over the previous models, which could sound harsh at medium to high levels. For music playback at low volume the highs and lows are somewhat subdued but a little loudness-type EQ can be applied if they’re being used in a background music setting. At higher volumes the 515XT develops more body, and can be run very hard before the sound starts to deteriorate. For music playback at high levels they sound a little bass shy, and for best results in situations that need full-range sound, a separate sub should be used. The coverage pattern is quoted as 100º horizontal x 60º vertical, and when used in the upright position the 515XT is well controlled across a wide arc in front of the cabinet, with little on-axis beaminess. Used as floor monitors the coverage changes more noticeably as you move across the front of the cabinet, and there is more of a sweet-spot right in front of the horn. The cabinet can be placed on either side so the horn can be on the right or left, so it should be possible to position it on stage to give the best result, especially with a fixed mic position. JBL has made some significant improvements to what was already a class-leading product and the changes will only enhance its appeal. The new lighter weight is a big plus yet the EON 515XT feels as strong as its predecessors and I trust it will cope with the rough treatment these speakers inevitably receive. This is the best sounding EON speaker yet and its retail price of $1399 (with a two-year warranty) offers good value for a speaker that can be used for live sound reinforcement, music playback, instrument amplification or floor monitors.
NEED TO KNOW Price $1399 each Contact Jands (02) 9582 0909 email@example.com www.jands.com.au Pros Excellent sound quality. Light weight. Efficient design. Three-channel mixer. Cons Awkward mic/line switch. Only one mic input. ‘Subjective’ looks. Summary The EON is probably the most widely recognisable 15-inch two-way cabinet in history and the legacy certainly continues via the new 515XT. They’re lighter than before, better sounding than before and cheaper than before, so they’re unquestionably better value than ever, and destined for broad acceptance by the market.
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The brand new ADAM A77X is a real game changer: similar to ADAM Audio’s two-way A7X monitors, the A77X distinguishes itself by much higher, compression-free maximum sound pressure levels and dynamics. Due to its power and radiation characteristics, it’s just as well suited to both near- and midfield monitoring. One very lucky AT subscriber must win these awesome speakers! Here’s what to do next: subscribe to AudioTechnology, correctly answer this tricky brainteaser and you could well find yourself the owner of these dream monitors, valued at $3995.
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UAD-2 SATELLITE FIREWIRE DSP ACCELERATOR Universal Audio has some of the best plug-ins on the market, all driven by proprietary DSP cards. The Satellite is the latest model to enter earth’s orbit. Text: Calum Orr
NEED TO KNOW Price Satellite Quad: $2099; Satellite Duo: $1299; Satellite Duo Flexi: $1699; Satellite Quad Flexi: $2499; Satellite Quad Omni: $5999. Contact CMI (03) 9315 2244 email@example.com www.cmi.com.au Pros Firewire 400 and 800 connectivity. Good-looking and sturdy mac-centric case. UA plug-ins are exceptional. Adds extra processing power to max’ed out computers. Cons Glowing logo distracting at times. Limited plug-ins in the standard bundle. Summary The UAD-2 Quad card is a powerful tool that runs some of the best plug-ins money can buy. If you want to run UA plug-ins on a Mac laptop, this is the best solution. The UAD-2 Satellite is well constructed, runs cool, looks cool and does the job..
While the rest of the competition (Avid, TC Electronic and SSL) is deserting the ‘DSP on a card’ mindset in favour of Native/host-based solutions, Universal Audio is expanding its proprietary DSP card philosophy. With its latest release, UA has chosen the tried and tested protocol – Firewire.
system. In the grand scheme of things this may have a significant effect on a large mix running multiple plugins, particularly if you’re mixing on a laptop or an iMac, where you currently can’t run more than one UAD-2 Satellite at a time.
The UAD-2 Satellite is essentially DSP in a box that connects to Apple (only) computers running 10.6 or higher, using either Firewire 400 or 800. This connectivity differs from the initial UAD-2 solution for laptops – the UAD-2 Solo – which connected via a modern laptop’s 34-slot ExpressCard. Other obvious differences are the Satellite’s pro-styled aluminium chassis that’s about the size of a DVD case, its glowing white UA logo, and its 12V ‘wall-wart’ power supply. Also in the UAD Satellite package are a driver CD and Firewire 800 lead. Installation is as easy as plugging everything in and installing the latest software.
In use, the Satellite works like any other UAD-2 card. The available plug-ins are the same, of course, as are the SHARC chips that run them. The only major difference between the Satellite and other UAD-2 solutions is that the Satellite needs external power and can’t be used like the UAD-2 Solo running off a Macbook Pro’s battery power.
The Satellite easily hangs directly off a computer or daisy-chains off other equipment – I had the device connected via my RME Fireface 800 with no issues. The unit itself (I had the Quad model on hand for review) has two Firewire 800 ports and a Firewire 400 port to facilitate the connection with various rigs and setups – I used only Firewire 800 cables during the test period. I have to mention here also that the UAD-2 Satellite doesn’t function equally with all Mac Firewire 800 ports. To get maximum plug-in counts you’d be wise to check whether or not your machine – mine is a four-year old MacPro Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz machine – will be throttled back to a maximum Firewire 400 throughput. Testing the 800 port in a friend’s one-year old Macbook Pro showed a roughly 22% increase in plug-in counts on average above my own
I encountered no hiccups whatsoever running the Satellite and the unit didn’t seem to get unduly hot during testing either, which was a bonus. I occasionally found the illuminated logo a bit distracting (an option to turn it off would have been nice) but this is small potatoes when weighed up against the fantastic ability to have ‘DSP on a card’, on the run. JUGGLING THE BANDWIDTH
The software control applet tab, which appears when the UAD-2 Satellite is plugged in, provides a handy plug-in calculator and a bandwidth allocation section that allows you to juggle the amount of Firewire bandwidth the Satellite uses relative to any Firewire interfaces you may also have connected (in my case the Fireface 800) [see screenshot]. This is a great facility. Given the nature of its portability, the UAD-2 Satellite has to withstand a lot of abuse from the inside of gear bags, road cases etc and to this end UA looks to have succeeded in building a very sturdy unit. You’d be hard pressed to damage it unless you dropped it from a height onto a hard
surface, and it’s pretty obvious that the aluminium chassis of the UAD-2 Satellite has been constructed to be strong and stylish. Users will find it hard to bend or break – abusers may try. The $1800 investment is no small price to pay so it would want to be well constructed, but those four SHARC chips should be well protected inside this fancy case. SOFTWARE
It should be pointed out while we’re at it that for $1800 (street price) the UAD-2 Satellite Quad (like the Duo) doesn’t come with a huge stable of plug-ins from UA’s impressive catalogue. The standard plug-in collection of the UAD-2 Satellite is known as the ‘Analog Classics Software Bundle’. With this you get: the LA-2A Classic Audio Leveller, the 1176LN Classic Limiting Amplifier, the 1176SE Limiting Amplifier (a DSP-optimised version of the 1176LN), the Pultec EQP-1A EQ and the RealVerb Pro Room Modeler. All these plug-ins are exceptional and make worthy additions to any mix rig, and to get you started with the purchasing of any other UA plug-ins, the company provides a $50 voucher for its online store. If you have the budget, I would highly recommend the UAD-2 Quad Satellite. It has the DSP power of 10 UAD-1s, and with the provided plugins (and the many more on offer at the UA store) your mixes are going to sound better for it. Those most likely to want a Satellite orbiting around their system are people who need to mix in remote locations on their Macbook Pros or anyone who has already used up their available PCIe slots in their Mac desktop system. With only limited slots on most Apple desktop machines these days, many users already have their machines max’ed out with existing UAD-2 cards, or indeed, ProTools HD cards. The UAD-2 Satellite is perfect workaround for anyone in this sticky situation, providing that extra plug-in overhead to get those massive mixes ‘over the line’.
The UAD Control Panel provides a handy plug-in calculator and Bandwidth Allocation section that allows you to juggle the amount of Firewire bandwidth the Satellite uses relative to any Firewire interfaces you may also have connected.
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VERTIGO SOUND VSM-2 MIX SATELLITE
It’s back-to-back hits for this German boutique audio company, first with the VSC-2 compressor, now with the launch of its Satellite. Text: Robin Gist
With the success of its VSC-2 Quad Discrete Compressor, German newcomer Vertigo Sound has been making quite a name for itself in the pro audio market. Its latest offering, the VSM-2 Mix Satellite, is a fully analogue mastering hub that offers level matching, LED metering, dual balanced inserts, Mid/Side functionality and two colouration stages that provide the user with a vast choice of distortion flavours. V FOR TWO
The VSM-2 comes in two different versions: the fullyfeatured model that includes the colouration circuitry and a less expensive unit that doesn’t. A cover plate on the front panel of the cheaper model replaces these missing controls but behind it the connectors and supply rails for said modules remain intact. Should you therefore decide later on to have a factory-fitted upgrade to the full version then – as the Vertigo Sound website says – you will have a “happy end”! Must be a German translation thing… It’s the ‘burger with the lot’ incarnation that we’ll be biting into in this review and hopefully this too will engender a “happy end”. BOX CRAFT
Built into a 2U case this device has been manufactured with longevity in mind. Made in Germany, the VSM-2 adheres to the highest standards of Teutonic precision construction and craftsmanship that we’ve come to expect. All the pots and switches have a positive and sturdy feel and I am confident that this unit is capable of withstanding the rigours of studio use and abuse for many years to come. The electrical specs on the VSM-2 are also impressive: 128dB dynamic range, +30dBu maximum output level, a frequency response of 10 –100kHz (±1dB), a signal-tonoise ratio of 104dB (20Hz – 20kHz, unweighted RMS), and all the ins and outs are electronically balanced on goldAT 94
plated Neutrik XLR connectors. If you want to explore the unit in more technical and pictorial detail, there’s further information (and a PDF of the VSM-2 manual) on the Vertigo website: www.vertigosound.com PARALLEL LINES
Working left to right through the unit’s various stages begins with, not surprisingly, the input section. The rotary input trim control is calibrated from –10 to +10, with the ‘12 o’clock’ position marking unity gain. This is complemented by a four-segment, stereo LED input meter. The ‘Global System’ bypass switch, as the name suggests, removes any insert or colouration stage processing from the signal path. Speaking of bypass – a nice feature of the VSM-2 is that the unit passes audio via relay switching when it’s powered down. All the rotary controls on the unit are stepped, allowing for old school – read pencil and paper – analogue recall, and of course you can always take a photo (analogue or digital) of your settings. Next up is the first insert section. Designed primarily for connection to an outboard two-channel compressor, this stage gives the user control over the amount of parallel compression that’s applied to the signal. This is done via the Dry/Wet knob – you can blend as much parallel compression in and out as you desire, from none (Dry) to 100% (Wet). This control can also be switched out, in which case 100% parallel compression is applied to the signal. The MS/Off/LR switch is where things start to get interesting. MS VS LR
In the LR position, your inserted outboard compressor is configured as a normal left/right, two-channel device. However, in the MS position the left (or first) channel of your compressor now processes the ‘Mid’ or centre information of the signal while the right (or second) channel takes care of the ‘Side’ component. If you normally
run your two-channel compressor in ‘link’ mode for stereo operation it’s recommended that you switch to ‘dual’ or ‘independent’ mode for MS operation. The VSM-2’s MS encoder automatically takes care of level compensation for the Side signal during the MS encoding so you don’t need to have a particularly low threshold setting on your compressor. This level compensation is then readjusted during the return trip through the MS decoder. Nice. If you have never tried using a compressor in this way (MS) it can be a revelation. Amongst other applications, it’s particularly useful for making lead vocals – assuming they have been placed in the centre of the mix – more apparent and present. Having separate control over the ‘Side’ information generally means you can independently process reverbs and some instrumentation without unduly affecting your centre mixed vocal or instruments. The second insert section is intended for use with an outboard dual-channel equaliser, although you can, of course, plug in anything you want to incorporate into your mastering chain – a reverb unit maybe. The two insert sections work in tandem when operating in MS mode and this second section provides a soloing function via a switch for the Mid and Side signals. A blinking red LED accompanies both of the solo positions to alert you of its status. This section also incorporates a Mid-to-Side ‘blend’ knob that effectively works as a stereo width control. Moving the knob left from its 12 o’clock centre position increases the mono content of the overall signal, making the mix sound narrower. Conversely, moving it to the right increases the ‘Side’ content and makes the mix seem wider – ‘opening the curtains’, so to speak. Just like the ‘insert one stage’, this section can be switched to work in LR mode – in which case the MS/LR knob then acts as a normal left to right panpot. As expected, both insert sections one and two can be individually bypassed for a comparison between processed and unprocessed signals. SILICON IN THE KITCHEN
This brings us to the two distortion stages. These stages have identical controls, but differ in the fundamental types of distortion they generate. The first colouration stage is called a ‘2nd Harmonic FET Crusher’ with the second being a ‘3rd Harmonic Zener Blender’ – this latter stage could be most useful when you’re ‘cooking up some tracks’! Jokes aside, these modules have quite different and distinct tonal characteristics – ranging from full-on crunch to a subtle edge. In keeping with the design ethos of the VSM-2, both these stages can also work in either LR or MS modes and are also able to be individually bypassed. The controls for these sections include drive, level, shape, distortion mix (parallel) and a six-position rotary switch for the input filter. This filter determines the frequency range that the distortion is applied to. The first four positions
conform to the low/mid/high-mid/high scheme familiar to us all, while the ‘Full’ (120Hz – 20kHz) and ‘Track’ (10Hz –20kHz) positions offer wide bandwidth application of distortion. As the name suggests, the Track position allows for using the VSM-2 for a bit of FET or Zener mojo during recording of individual or grouped sounds. Lastly, the final output stage provides individual left and right output level controls, calibrated from –20 to +10, again with unity gain at the 12 o’clock position. In addition to this there’s a 16-segment, stereo LED output meter indicating the overall signal output level of the unit. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
In use, I found that a small amount of both the FET and Zener tones added some edge and fullness to the guitarbased rock tracks I first tried. In particular, running the FET stage on the Mid signal and the Zener on the Side resulted in improved vocal definition and gave more edge and cut to the guitars. Bass clarity was also improved. On some older jazz recordings I had, I found that the VSM-2, again in MS mode for both of the colouration modules, added some nice bottom-end warmth to the bass and distinction to the brass. It also gave the recordings an overall improvement in cohesion and imaging. I then tested some orchestral recordings I had mixed a while back and they were also noticeably improved by small amounts of MS FET and Zener colouration. Finally, in what I thought would be the most revealing test, I tried some a capella choir tracks. After listening to all the permutations of LR and MS processing, with and without colouration, I still thought the inclusion of a small amount of the FET and Zener processes in MS mode improved the mixes overall. Again, a warmth and clarity in the bottomend and lower mids was noticeable with the tenors and altos also having more presence – I was now starting to have a “happy end.” THE HAPPY END
Having the ability to compress and EQ in MS mode is a powerful tool in the mastering process and the VSM-2 has been very well thought through in its implementation of the control and auditioning of the MS components. The inclusion of the FET and Zener colouration stages with VSM-2’s level of control distinguishes it from other devices of a similar ilk and it might become a ‘must have’ piece of gear just for this aspect alone. Top-end analogue hardware is what sets most professional mastering houses apart from the DIY ITB crowd and with its weighty price tag the Vertigo Sound VSM-2 probably won’t be making its way into too many bedroom or project studios any time soon. But if you’re in the market for a well made device that can form the nucleus of a quality analogue mastering setup, provide powerful MS processing with colouration options aplenty, level matching and metering, then I suggest you look very closely at the Vertigo VSM-2.
NEED TO KNOW Price Mastering Hub: $5146 Mix Satellite: (With Harmonic Generators): $8277 Contact Mixmasters (08) 8211 6211 firstname.lastname@example.org www.mixmasters.com.au Pros MS processing. Lots of colouration options. Great specs. Beautifully constructed. Cons Expensive. Summary A very well built piece of pro audio kit that forms the hub of an analogue mastering setup, facilitates MS processing and provides myriad tonal options.
GOING DEAF FOR A LIVING – PART II What’s more valuable, a cheap compressor or decent hearing protection? Text: Rick O’Neil
There are things that happen as you grow up that mark specific points in time… ‘Golden Moments’ some people call them. Needless to say, many of mine are audio related, and the studio certainly makes for interesting anecdotal dinner conversation sometimes, that’s for sure. But when I reflect on the literally thousands of people I’ve worked with and met over the years in this job, I find it telling that the memorable moments can be condensed down to a collection no bigger than a deck of cards. The rest of the experiences are stored away in my brain somewhere like electricity waiting for a switch. They say it’s all in there your whole life, locked up in your hard drive of a mind just waiting for that flash to release it.
I used to think it was kinda funny back then that so many musicians were deaf before their time. I regret all of that now
” AT 96
This issue I thought I might unleash some of my Golden Moments as a tenuous link to a slightly more important issue to do with hearing. Apologies in advance for the name-dropping that’s about to occur here; there is a point to what follows, I assure you. I nearly always get to the point in the articles I write… COUNT THE NAMES
I was in my last year of high school when The Cure hit the charts, as well as Madonna and Duran Duran. It wasn’t my thing but I liked the girls that like them. It’s always been that way with me and the Top 40: I studied the noises rather than enjoyed them… have done ever since. My tastes were Zeppelin, Hendrix, Neil Young and Bob Dylan – all the usual Rock God suspects from that era, but particularly Dylan. Then, a few short years later, after drawing his iconic image into my school books 40 times over, I found myself in a recording studio as Bob laid down actual tracks! More bizarre than that even, I sat in a room with him – just him and I for an hour – as he wrote the lyrics for a song… f**ked me up for life really. I had private consul with the master in the very act of the mysterious. If you’re
going to start your career somewhere, take it from me; it’s better to let Bob Dylan validate your hopes and dreams than some smelly punk band doing their first demo. (What’s that joke I heard the other day: ‘How many punks does it take to change a light bulb? None: punks never changed a thing!’) The only problem with my Dylan story is that, in every way, the encounter utterly demystified the iconic rock star’s image my mind had established of him. I spent three days with the living legend before I was 20, longer than I had spent with any ‘real man’ in my life, apart from my father, and frankly Dylan wasn’t much of a man at all – zombie would be the more accurate term. He only spoke directly to his manager or Tom Petty (who was producing the record). As for the rest of the entourage – myself included – Bob looked and acted deaf to us all. In fact, I was so naïve I actually thought he was deaf! I asked Tom Petty if this were the case, whereupon Tom inadvertently gifted me with one of those Golden Moments. He said, “Oh no, he’s not deaf, he’s just working another scene. If somebody had said yes to you every time you asked a question since you were 18 you’d be very careful who you talked to and listened to as well. Bob’s a special case; don’t mind him.” Again, in my naivety, I followed his comments up by saying: “Well, I’m only 18 right now, but already this is my dream come true. I cannot believe I am working with Bob Dylan.” “I cannot believe I am either, none of us can!” quipped Tom. “But I had to wait a whole lot longer than you to get here. My advice to you is this: you’d better get a new dream real fast. This one seems to have peaked pretty early for you.” He smiled one of his big toothy smiles at me... I was star stuck. Now he was a man! I woke up a few days later conflicted: I had been
daydreaming about Bob Dylan for a long time as a teenager, but I hadn’t figured on Tom Petty. As Dylan wrote later about that time: “I was lost in the ’80s, in a daze or maybe a trance. Tom Petty was at the top of his game and I was at the bottom of mine. I hung onto his glow in the hope there was a way out of the gloom.” GOLDEN MOMENTS & TIN EARS
I am forever marked by working with Bob Dylan so young and getting to talk and work with Tom Petty. It was a real thrill. I had never had a mentor before – didn’t know I needed one. But we all need one from time to time, and even though it was only for a very short time, I still carry those moments around with me most every day. If you ever get the opportunity to experience something like that, even if it’s for just a moment... stop your life in its tracks and soak it in; it could be something you carry around with you for the rest of your days. Years later, by default or design, another of my Golden Moments arrived out of the blue. I found myself onstage watching Bruce Springsteen doing his 40-foot knee slides across the stage in front of 30,000 people at the Sydney Cricket Ground. What was exceptional about this night was that the concert PA kept cutting out so there was no sound out front, apart from the onstage amps and band foldback. The audience was all but deaf to the show for large parts of it. The E-Street band were playing up at the absurdity of it all, but frankly, I have never seen a better live band than on that particular night. I read a review from a guy in the audience the next day who said ‘all outdoor concerts should be banned’, and that the Springsteen show was ‘the most lacklustre performance’ he had ever
seen! I will never forget it myself: the onstage roar, the audience screams, 30,000 people looking at me… actually they were looking at Bruce, but it felt like they were looking at me. This was payback for listening to the Top 40 as a discipline all those years. Take your rewards wherever you can I reckon and never take them for granted. Another Golden Moment came my way unexpectedly one night soon after telling my girlfriend I was just going to finish up at work, maybe have some dinner and then head home. Ten minutes later the rock ’n’ roll magical mystery tour bus rang my phone and asked me if I wanted to see a special show, close by. I walked across the road from my studio to an unmarked gig – a private record label invite-only thing with Lenny Kravitz showcasing his new album to about 50 people. It was the loudest gig I’d heard in my life. I stuck tissues in my ears that night, as I’ve always done at those sorts of shows, but frankly I don’t remember much about it because of what happened next. Suddenly I was in a Tarago with Lenny, heading off to see the last couple of songs of a Kylie concert, and from where we stood, this was the second loudest concert I’d ever heard… truly breathtakingly, ear-splittingly, awfully loud – at a pop concert. Go figure. I have no idea what anybody said or did that night. I blame the tissues in my ears and the booze in my brain but I came home with one of those feelings that I’d had one hell of a night... the kind of night money can’t buy, and even through the noise I still have a golden memory of the glitz and glamour of it all. But the point here is not about that at all. The main point is that in this world of
loud studios, loud parties and loud concerts, there’s a hell of a lot of loud noise about. It’s an occupational hazard, yet only very few of us take precautions against it. TONE DEAF
I can still remember the first time I got to drive the Neumann disc cutting lathes and MCI tape machines at Festival. Five or 10 times a day the wonder of all this expensive machinery was punctuated by loud and incessant test tones. Everything used to be calibrated and recalibrated over and over every day, you see. I remember watching guitarist after guitarist pull their head back in pain as I lined up the 5kHz tones that blasted over the speakers before I could reach for the mute button. I laughed with the drummers when we discovered their hearing couldn’t stretch to the 12kHz test tones I played back on the oscillator. Another Golden Moment that’s indelibly inked into my brain involved seeing one of my major childhood rock star heroes – who I won’t name – putting his head right against the speakers in disbelief that he couldn’t hear a 14k tone at any level! I have lots of these memories. I used to think it was kinda funny back then that so many musicians were deaf before their time. I regret all of that now, having seen tinnitus kick in to too many friends of mine. I have seen it wreck their lives and careers, and seen the drugs only blur the edges of their pain and cover over their once complete smiles. I sometimes think I have more dead deaf friends in this business than live ones with good hearing. It’s not very rock ‘n’ roll I know, but I don’t take drugs and I’ve always worn ear plugs, and if there’s any lesson to be learnt from this set of memories it’s that going deaf for a living is not a
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listening, that’s how you’re most likely to damage your hearing. Booze equals earplugs for me every time. If you’re listening to something your brain always warns you when it’s loud, so next time you find yourself pulling your head away, that’s the time to stick your earplugs in or turn down. Use your fingers if necessary… whatever it takes. Be sensitive to your reactions; your body is a great alarm bell for this sort of thing, so don’t ignore it. It knows when it’s time to run from that sound.
good idea – not now, not ever. But I’ve had my fair share of exposure to loud noise over the decades. So why aren’t I deaf, or more to the point, how do I know I’m not? TESTING TESTING
Well, three weeks ago I had a hearing test – first one in 20 years. I only had it because I went out to see one of those horribly loud Kylie shows again, and although it was fine for me to be shoving tissues in my ears when I had long hair to hide it, at this show my wife gave me the: ‘do you have to always have tissue paper sticking out of your ears every time we go out?’ look. Okay, I thought – it’s time this bald man got some of those moulded skin-tone earplugs the cool guys have! Which finally brings me to the point of this article. I went to the audio clinic and had my ears tested and impressions taken for musicians’ earplugs and nobody was more surprised by the results than me. Actually, that’s not strictly true; I think the audiologist was more surprised than me. After caning my ears for decades not only do I show up as possessing no hearing loss whatsoever, what I did do was measure off her reference scale with the tones I could hear. She looked at me as if I was cheating, which of course I was: “Just press the buzzer when you hear the tone,” she says. “The 8kHz one or the 16kHz harmonic?” I retort like a smart arse. She responds by saying that there is no 16kHz harmonic; you cannot hear that. “Yes I can…” “No you can’t... oh, wait a minute, I see it now… but nobody has ever heard that before,” she said. “Well, nobody who’s deaf at least,” I added sarcastically. She didn’t laugh. In some ways it’s not fair to compare my hearing to Joe Punter’s of course; I know what to listen for so the results are a little misleading perhaps, except of course that we all get the same test AT 98
– and in the end that’s the only reference that counts. And outside the ear infections I get from time to time I don’t have any tinnitus. In some freaky way I like having ear infections occasionally, if only to notice the ringing come and go over a day or so. I don’t have weird noise masking issues either – I have it good... for now. Am I just lucky? Well no. As I said, I have caned my ears at work for decades but outside of work I have treated them like the private assets they are; I have always worn plugs at any event the moment there’s a loud noise. If there’s a message here it’s that earplugs actually do work. BEING TOM PETTY
Let’s pretend, just for the sake of my own ego, I am Tom Petty and you are 18 and naive... and we are sharing a ‘Golden Moment’ together. Do yourself a favour and go and get your hearing tested. Next, get a set of molded earplugs… are you listening to me? They cost less than a cheaparsed compressor and are far more important to your career in sound than any compressor ever will be! Not now perhaps, but certainly later, moulded earplugs will be the best purchase of your career. Oh, you already have a set? Cool. But are they in your pocket right now? Life can get very loud very quickly – you can’t duck home and get them or tell that helicopter buzzing your neighbour’s house looking for marijuana to piss off because you’re a sound guy and your hearing is valuable. The other point I want to make here – which is a little more controversial perhaps and not strictly true – is that, outside of a freak accident, a gunshot or an explosion occurring very close to you, it’s very difficult to damage your hearing while you’re concentrating on the sound at hand! The word ‘concentrating’ is the key here. A machinist in a factory is not ‘listening’ to the machines. He or she is busy making sure they’re cutting stuff right and that their hands aren’t getting stomped on in the process – industrial deafness will get you if you’re not listening – that is the point. If you’re drunk, partying and not
The other piece of industrial deafness lore I learnt many years ago, that we’re arguably more familiar with these days, is exposure time. A loose rule of thumb is that for every 45 minutes on the noise, you must give yourself 15 minutes off. In the days of tape machines it was easy: three minutes on and a minute off every time you rewound and cued up the tape. It’s not so simple in the age of hard disk recording to find a few moments of quiet respite. However, if you’ve worked with me in the studio you’ll know the game I play these days to safeguard my hearing: work a bit, laugh a bit, discuss life a bit, work some more… You can’t do studio hours in full-metal-racket mode for 10 hours straight, saving the chit-chat for after work as you pack up. I don’t care who tells you that’s the way to do it. Wherever you read that, it’s bogus. You need breaks from the noise, lots of them – one-third of your hour, every hour. The sound engineer is living his or her life as well, don’t forget, and their health shouldn’t be endangered because somebody else is paying them. Our ears and our hearing are the currency we trade on and chit-chat is the security guard to the vault – just never tell anybody the reason you’re telling a long joke is because that last playback blew your ears out. It won’t help, believe me. You can run the ‘all noise, no talk’ studio sessions if you like but you’ll end up with industrial deafness and only have yourself to blame. There aren’t many things I can positively say have worked out for me by design in my life, but the serious private business of always wearing earplugs and always moderating my exposure time at work has done me no harm and the world of good. My new moulded ‘musicians earplugs’ still make the sound duller, but that’s just something you have to accept if you’re going to protect your hearing. Aceing the hearing test and seeing the expression on the face of the audiologist was my most recent Golden Moment. Not a very glamorous one, mind you, but you can’t have everything, can you? Rick O’Neil runs Turtlerock in Leichhardt, Sydney – he listens for a living.
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artist, producer, engineer