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The Most Controversial Album of 2013

KORG VOLCA Analogue Mini-Synths: Collect ’Em All

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A KORG VOLCA (YOU PICK WHICH ONE)

Colouring Your In-The-Box Mix


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A KORG VOLCA SYNTH — YOU GET TO CHOOSE WHICH ONE Analogue is back with a tiny vengeance, and Korg is leading the charge — encasing tasty analogue trappings into miniature wrappings. Following hot on the heels of the cultish Monotron and Monotribe, and the recreation of the venerable MS-20 in mini, Korg has dialled up more analogue goodness with the Volca series. A collection of three analogue miniature synths — Keys, Bass and Beats — that are the slightly more serious brethren of the Mono tribe, but no less fun. Volca Keys is a three-note true analogue synth with filter circuitry pulled out of the miniKorg700S from 1974. Volca Bass is a power bass synth with three analogue oscillators and a 16-step sequencer, while Volca Beats will have you pounding out classic rhythms and massive kicks and snares. Best of all, you can sync all three for a complete mini synth barrage. There’s so much potential in these little beasts, you’ll have to read Brad Watts’ review in this issue to get the full story. CMI Music & Audio is generously putting up a Volca synth as a prize for one of our readers. Best of all, you get to choose which one. To go into the running to win this amazing prize, all you have to do is hit the link to enter and share the app. Any reader can enter any of our app subscription prizes, so don’t hesitate — get sharing. For more details on the Volca series, check out our review in this issue or click here

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Editor Mark Davie mark@audiotechnology.com.au

ED SPACE

Publisher Philip Spencer philip@alchemedia.com.au Editorial Director Christopher Holder chris@audiotechnology.com.au

Swinging Expectations

Graphic Designer Daniel Howard daniel@alchemedia.com.au

Text: Mark Davie

Art Director Dominic Carey dominic@alchemedia.com.au Advertising Philip Spencer philip@alchemedia.com.au

We like artists to be unhinged — Hendrix, Winehouse, Cobain — swinging between emotional extremes and reflecting on life through a kaleidoscopic lens. It’s a creative asset in the business of music-making. And it lends a reality to onstage personas that would otherwise feel fake — their emotional purgatory like a penance for the spotlight.

What you’re left with is trying to maximise the value of the artist’s small budget to deliver something you can be proud of, without falling below the minimum wage line yourself. All the while trying to convince them the best money they’ll spend is on pre-production — a hard sell to anyone who thinks a recording studio is for recording.

But the manic types aren’t always easy to work with. The same drive that makes them unwilling to accept the status quo, a fundamental tenet of their creativity, can manifest in a dictatorial/micro managing work ethic. Sometimes they have the talent to pull it off. But more often than not, when it comes to the technical side of things, a producer and engineer can be the difference between a clear execution of their vision, and a muddy one — the Kramers, Ronsons, and Albinis on the other side of the window.

This isn’t anything new, you could label it ‘the plight of the indie engineer’ but that would be a bit trite.

The record industry usually vets the worthwhile eccentrics through a fairly simple equation. Take record sales, and pit them against the cost of putting up with crazy demands, accounting for the viral infectiousness of Miley Cyrus-like stunts, of course. And to strike on an artist’s promise from the getgo, record companies tend to put a high priority on matching them with an appropriate producer and mix engineer — insurance on the investment. It can be for any number of reasons that the shoe fits. A level head that will bring decisiveness to the process; known for a particular sound that would suit the artist’s repertoire; excels in a particular relevant style; or all of the above and more. Outside of this infrastructure — and with more independence in the business, the place we’re often finding ourselves in — it can get harder to distinguish the outright loonies from the worthwhile eccentrics. We all have different definitions of ‘worthwhile’. Some might say money in the bank is enough, others might be looking for a sense of satisfaction to tolerate headaches— a job well done and songs to match. But often, it’s a bit of both. There’s little return besides a daily rate or an agreed upon fee, and usually not much money to go round. There’s no guarantee of a longstanding relationship, and points are completely worthless when there’s no record sales.

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This economic hamstringing is fine in theory. Demos would be listened to, the budget assessed, and a frank conversation about what would be possible is had. If they want to smash out five songs in a weekend, fine, just don’t expect it to have the sonic complexity of Pet Sounds. A schedule is agreed upon, the job done, and everyone would walk away satisfied with an equal understanding that what was achieved aligned with expectations. But the reality is: producers and engineers are battling with competition from cut-price, EP-in-a-weekend deals. And with a growing shift to DIY there’s a lot more knowledge out there, but not necessarily experience. Which means heightened expectations without the understanding of what’s required to achieve sophisticated results. So instead of resolving to live by experience and call it as you see it, the temptation is to try and leverage whatever experience you have to beat the others at their own game. EP in a weekend? Sure, I can do that. Quicker, smarter, better. But problems mount when expectations aren’t curbed in the face of crippling economic circumstance. You can end up pouring everything into a project, working later, longer, all to try and impress a client that is incapable of being impressed. And instead of them being grateful for the exertion and fitting within their budget, they wonder why the result isn’t the equal of something you spent five times as much time on because there was five times as big a budget (and don’t have the talent of a Hendrix, Winehouse, or Cobain). And if you’re really unlucky, the malcontent might even threaten your livelihood; to denounce you publicly. It happens. So if you can’t identify the unhinged swinging your way, make sure you’re clear on expectations.

Accounts Jaedd Asthana jaedd@alchemedia.com.au Subscriptions Miriam Mulcahy mim@alchemedia.com.au Proofreading Andrew Bencina Regular Contributors

Martin Walker Michael Stavrou Paul Tingen Graeme Hague Guy Harrison Greg Walker James Roche Greg Simmons Tom Flint Robin Gist Blair Joscelyne Mark Woods Andrew Bencina Jason Fernandez Brent Heber

Distribution by: Network Distribution Company. AudioTechnology magazine (ISSN 1440-2432) is published by Alchemedia Publishing Pty Ltd (ABN 34 074 431 628). Contact (Advertising, Subscriptions) T: +61 2 9986 1188 PO Box 6216, Frenchs Forest NSW 2086, Australia. Contact (Editorial) T: +61 3 5331 4949 PO Box 295, Ballarat VIC 3353, Australia. E: info@alchemedia.com.au W: www.audiotechnology.com.au All material in this magazine is copyright © 2013 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. 31/10/2013.


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GENERAL NEWS WHAT A GUY

www.studios301.com Studios 301 has added producer/engineer/mixer Guy Gray to their Sydney roster following his recent return to Australia. It’s more than just an Oz homecoming — Guy started his career at Studios 301 in 1981, before globe-trotting the world. Now, having worked throughout studios in Asia and North America, including the Hit Factory in New York City and Schtung Music in Los Angeles/Singapore, Guy has received multiple ARIA nominations and his film soundtrack work has won Asia’s highly coveted Golden Horse and Golden Melody awards. Guy’s 30 years of experience includes engineering scores, large orchestral recordings, surround mixing as well as music production for successful film projects throughout Australia and Southeast Asia. He can also lay claim to being a senior in-house recording and mix engineer for artists such as The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett, Cyndi Lauper and Paul Kelly. His engineering credits can be found on multi-platinum selling records such as Midnight Oil’s ‘Diesel & Dust’ and David Bowie’s ‘Tin Machine II,’ as well as the official Australian Olympic team song ‘You’re Not Alone’ in 1988 (yes, there was a song). If you’d like to work with Guy contact Studios 301 and they’ll arrange a friendly chat.

MIKTEK PUTS ITS BEST CV ON THE DESK $1199 | www.miktekaudio.com

Miktek is a small company in Nashville Tennesee that sources high quality components from the US, Europe and Asia before hand-assembling its microphones in Miktek’s own factory. The latest microphone to come from this process is the Miktek CV3, a large-diaphragm tube condenser microphone offering no less than nine pick-up patterns. The CV3 utilises the MK9 capsule (developed by Miktek) which features dual one-inch Mylar diaphragms set back-to-back. The CV3’s head amplifier employs exotic discrete components and the output stage uses a custom AMI transformer. Also squeezed in somewhere is a hand-selected sub-miniature pentode vacuum tube, in which the high-voltage circuit has been implemented. The final result promises a classic sound and an extended low frequency response similar to early versions of famous vintage tube microphones. Each microphone includes its serialised frequency response graph created during testing. The CV3 is packaged with its swivel mount in a wooden box, which is set inside an aluminium case with the included power supply unit, seven-pin XLR cable and shockmount. Federal Audio 0404 921781 or www.federalaudio.com.au

After 20 years in business and 17 at its premises in Nunawading, Studio Connections is packing up and moving house to new digs in Thornbury, and in the process incidentally adds two new feathers to its cap: Studio Connections has recently been appointed the Australian distributor for API Audio and the new Australian distributor for WindTech/Olsen Audio. Things are still a little chaotic with the move and websites, etc are yet to be launched. It shouldn’t be long. Studio Connections: (03) 9874 7222 or www.studioconnections.com.au

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Sennheiser has celebrated the beginning of construction of its planned Innovation Campus at company headquarters in Wennebostel, kicking things off with a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony. The Innovation Campus, which will cost around 20 million Euros, will provide approximately 7000 square metres of optimum, modern workspace for employees, as well as room for an events venue. A time-capsule filled with Sennheiser goodies including an MD421 microphone was buried, too. If you drop in for a visit and have a shovel handy, ‘X’ marks the spot… Sennheiser Australia: (02) 99106700 or www.sennheiser.com.au

Christie, a company mostly known for its professional projection technology, has decided to develop and launch its own audio solutions for cinemas in the form of a line array system. Christie Vive Audio is a complete package of line array speakers, subwoofers and surround cabinets, custom amps and processing units that can be configured to deliver every audio format modern cinemas might provide, including Dolby Atmos, 7.1 and 5.1 surround, plus Auro 11.1. Of course, Christie isn’t shy in suggesting that post houses will benefit from having a Vive Audio system stuck next to your NS-10s, too. Christie Digital Systems Australia (07) 3844 9514 or www.christiedigital.com

Talking of Sennheiser, here in Oz, Sennheiser electronic will take over the business from Syntec International into its own newly formed sales subsidiary, Sennheiser Australia Pty Ltd. This move will enable Sennheiser to be closer to its customers in Australia and New Zealand and further strengthen its position in the APAC region. Syntec has been a sales partner of Sennheiser for over 25 years and Sennheiser gratefully acknowledges that Robert Sloss, the owner and Managing Director of Syntec, is handing over a very well-established and successful company. Sennheiser Australia: (02) 99106700 or www.sennheiser.com.au


LAUNCHKEY MINI: TRIGGER HAPPY Launchkey Mini features 16 velocity sensitive, three colour launch pads — use them to trigger sounds, effects, transport controls, and more. In addition Launchkey Mini features a 25-note keyboard, eight assignable rotary controls plus seven function buttons and a further two performance buttons. Compact and portable, Launchkey Mini is great for producing and performing at home or on stage. Use the free Launchpad app on your iPad to trigger the onboard sample library and control effects. Load in new sound packs and import your own samples, before sharing your creation. The Launchkey app for iPad is a synth filled with Novation technology, allowing you to control notes with the Launchkey Mini’s keyboard while warping the sound with the knobs or via intuitive multi-touch control on the iPad’s screen. The Launchkey and Launchpad apps sync together perfectly for simultaneous use. Launchkey Mini also integrates with the included V-Station and Bass Station soft synths for Mac and Windows. Price: $179.99. Innovative Music (03) 9540 0658 or www.innovativemusic.com.au

NEXT GENERATION MONITORS FOR TODAY’S STUDIOS Addressing the growing need for high dynamic range and reference-monitor accuracy in a broad range of studios, JBL has developed the M2 Master Reference Monitor: A Free-Standing, 2-Way System that can be placed in any environment to provide an exceptionally accurate monitoring experience. Leveraging a new generation of JBL high-output, ultra-low distortion transducers, the M2 provides in-room frequency response of 20 Hz to 40 kHz, and an extraordinary 123 dB maximum SPL to meet the demanding music,

NEW PREAMP FROM PRESONUS $1199 | www.presonus.com

Presonus has unveiled the RC500, a top-of-the-line hardware channel strip that could be described as a solid-state Class A version of Presonus’ ADL700 tube channel strip preamp — since they have the same customdesigned FET compressor and semi-parametric EQ circuitry. Compared to a tube preamp, this solid-state design offers better definition at the edges of its frequency response range. High frequencies are crisper and low frequencies are tighter, producing a transparent, musical signal that retains the ‘airiness’ of a room and provides a more three-dimensional result than a tube mic preamp can deliver. The RC500 was designed by Presonus engineer and guru Robert Creel (hence, ‘RC’), who also designed the Presonus XMAX preamp, the ADL700, and many other Presonus analogue circuits. The RC500 has 48V phantom power, polarity invert, and a –20dB pad. In addition, it includes a 12dB/octave high-pass filter set at 80Hz. The RC500’s FET compressor controls include fully variable attack, release and threshold with a fixed ratio at 3:1. The EQ is a threeband semi-parametric design. Full specs and details are on the PreSonus website. We’re expecting to see units in Australia late November. National Audio Systems 1800 441 440 or sales@nationalaudio.com.au

cinema and broadcast production requirements for impactful dynamic range.

Distributed by

www.jands.com.au

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SOFTWARE NEWS EASTWEST MAKES A PLAY 4 SSL www.soundsonline.com

EastWest develops high-end specialist virtual instruments that cover just about every genre and they’re not for the faint-hearted. Its Hollywood Strings Diamond Edition requires a whopping 310GB of HD space, for example. Now EastWest has teamed up with Solid State Logic to present the SSL/EW FX Suite, a collection of professional audio processing tools, included inside the freebie Play 4 player required for EastWest instruments. The foundations of the SSL collection are adaptations of two SSL console classics. You get an EQ and Dynamics Channel plug-in, a Stereo Compressor gives users the classic SSL stereo compressor, and a Transient Shaper plugin. The EastWest Reverb, an expansion of the reverb in the Player view, is also included. It adds some features that are not part of the Player Reverb. Sharp-eyed observers may see the SSL/EW FX Suite is identical to the SSL Duende Native Plug-in suite — except it’s limited only to use within the Play 4 software. If you already own an EastWest instrument and thus your version of Play 4 is lacking the FX suite, the upgrade will cost $99 — or hey, you can buy another instrument and the new Play 4 is chucked in for free... Network Audio Solutions: 1300 306 670 or www.networkaudio.com.au

MORE TOOLS IN RX tba | www.izotope.com

iZotope has announced an impending update to RX, its flagship audio repair suite, which will promote it to RX3 and RX3 Advanced. RX3 is a dedicated restoration and repair application for rescuing old audio or saving otherwisetrashed recordings from the Delete Bin. New features include working up to six times faster, thanks to under-the-bonnet processing enhancements and a redesigned user interface. You can now remove or reduce reverb from audio using the new Dereverb module in RX 3 Advanced. Dialogue can be fixed on the fly with the RX 3 Advanced real-time Dialogue Denoiser and there’s a spectral audio editor. Undo history has been increased to unlimited. iZotope hasn’t yet finished drawing the line between RX3 and RX3 Advanced, so the differences aren’t finalised. Customers who purchased the previous RX2 versions after July 1, 2013 will receive a free upgrade to the relevant RX3 version upon release. No prices yet, except that special upgrade pricing will be available for all other previous RX owners. Both RX 3 and RX 3 Advanced can be used as a standalone audio editor or as a plug-in and there’s 64-bit AAX support. Electric Factory (03) 9474 1000 or www.elfa.com.au

Sony Creative Software has released Sound Forge Pro 11 which introduces more efficient recording and processing workflows, plus new signal and effects processing plug-ins. You also get iZotope’s Nectar Elements plug-in and improved Restore and Repair Tools also by iZotope with Declipper, Denoiser and Declicker. There are added waveform display options and Input Bus Effects should your recording artist need a little magic talent during tracking. Prices online start at US$399.95, but various upgrade options can save you dollars. New Magic Australia: 03 9722 9700 or www.newmagic.com.au

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Spectrasonics has taken a more cautious approach to Pro Tools 11 by releasing AAX Public Beta versions of the company’s three virtual instruments Omnisphere, Trilian and Stylus RMX. Registered users of the Spectrasonics instruments can log into their user accounts to download the Public Beta versions – these are available at no charge to allow users to test with the new 64-bit version of Pro Tools. Omnisphere, Trilian and Stylus RMX are all native instruments designed to work in both OS X and Windows, and already worked well in previous versions of Pro Tools as RTAS platform plug-ins. Sonic Virtual Media: (02) 9977 3391 or www.svmedia.com.au

Cedar Audio has announced the availability of Cedar Cambridge V9, the latest revision of its audio restoration and speech enhancement system. This promises many new features and tools for broadcasters, archives and libraries, for music, film and TV remastering, and for extracting the maximum intelligibility for audio forensic investigation.  CEDAR Cambridge V9 is now a 64-bit application. It will run on Windows Vista and Windows 7, but Windows XP has finally been “left behind”. If users are still running an early Host System and Windows XP and would like to update their systems to V9, they can contact Cedar Audio to discuss upgrade solutions. Cedar Audio: www.cedaraudio.com

Native Instruments is sitting firmly on the drumming fence with its new DRUMLAB, an instrument combining the organic, expressive sound of acoustic drums with the power and punch of an electronic edge. Drumlab’s fundamental sound is built on an all-new set of premium drum samples, a kit of 38 individual drums perfectly tuned and performed by Derico Watson, and an advanced layering technique with 80 electronic layers from a range of classic and modern drum machines all matched, phase aligned, faded and pitched with the acoustic samples. As always with NI packs you’ll need Kontakt Player – and beware it’s a 2.6GB download. CMI Music and Audio: (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au


SOME COOL ENGL GUITAR TONES $249 Bundle | www.uaudio.com

It’s not the first name that comes to mind when you think of guitar amplifiers, but for over 20 years ENGL amplifiers has made a name for itself with high-performance rock and metal guitar tones. UAD direct developer Brainworx has now made ENGL’s clean tones and distortion textures available with the ENGL Amp Plug-Ins for the UAD Powered Plug-Ins platform and Apollo Audio Interface. Featuring the E765 RT and the E646 VS amplifiers as well as the Brainworx bx_tuner, the ENGL Amps Bundle allows owners of UAD-2 DSP Accelerator hardware to re-amp their tracks with these amp models, while Apollo Audio Interface users can reamp as well as track in real time with near-zero latency. Both amp models contain an onboard FX Rack with a noise gate, EQ filter controls, and host-syncronisable lo-fi delay. Also included is a Recording Chains feature that lets users audition their tones through 64 different high-end mics, ENGL cabinets, and outboard gear, including hardware emulations from Millennia, SPL, and elysia. On UA’s Online Store both amps as individual plug-ins cost $149 each and the Brainworx BX tuner is $19, or you can get everything in a bundle. CMI Music & Audio (03) 9315 2244 or www.cmi.com.au

WARM AND FAT, SOUND FAMILIAR? www.ikmultimedia.com

IK Multimedia has released a new version of its T-RackS plug-in host software, making this version 4.2, which brings 64-bit AAX compatibility and introduces a new plug-in — what IKM calls its ‘take’ on the classic Neve 33609 stereo compressor/limiter. The Precision Compressor/Limiter is based on a classic 1970s solid-state compressor/limiter unit that’s still used in studios worldwide even after 40 years. The Precision model promises a warm, fat and thick sonic character, but isn’t overly aggressive even at higher compression ratios. The result is a transparent yet musical sound that doesn’t lose focus or detail, suitable for mastering, post-production or broadcast applications. The Precision Compressor/Limiter features two main sections, the Compressor and the Limiter. The Compressor section has a fixed attack time and the release time can be selected from six values, two of which are automatic. The Limiter features a switchable slow/fast attack setting, a fixed ratio and adjustable recovery time. T-RackS components are available through IKM’s Custom Shop, which uses a slightly annoying system of credits rather than real money. The Precision Compressor/Limiter will cost you 100 credits. Everything can be demoed free for 72 hours and the basic T-RackS software is available free. Sound & Music (03) 9555 8081 or www.sound-music.com

pure energy The New Neumann KH 310A Three Way Studio Monitor is in a class all of its own. With state of the art technology, the KH310A delivers cutting edge performance and extreme accuracy at surprisingly high reproduction levels . The result is a sweet spot that only Neumann can deliver.

For more info on the Award Winning Neumann Range, or details of your nearest stockist, call Syntec on Freecall 1800 648 628, email sales@syntec.com.au or visit neumann-australia.com.au

AT 13


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FEATURE

Jay Z sold a million copies of Magna Carter Holy Grail before it was even released to the public. But has he struck on that sacred balance of creativity and commerce? Story: Paul Tingen

Watch: Open Letter from Jay Z’s Magna Carter Holy Grail AT 16

The atmosphere was charged when Demacio ‘Demo’ Castellon arrived at the Penthouse Room, Jungle City studio in New York. It was the evening of April 10, 2013, and a wild thunderstorm was raging outside, adding a whiff of the surreal to a tumultuous day. Jay Z and Beyoncé had been copping criticism from US conservatives for celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary in Cuba a week earlier (the embargoed Communist country is a no-go zone for American tourism). It was a storm in a teacup, really — the couple had travelled under the licence of the Sir John Soane Museum Foundation and their trip satisfied all the requirements — but their celebrity and Obama supporter status had sufficiently rankled the Republican house to balloon the controversy into a US-wide debate.


It all set the scene for what Castellon described as one of the most memorable moments of his career. “There had been quite a bit of slandering going on in the media of Jay Z and his wife,” said Castellon. “So Tim[baland], Swizz [Beatz] and Jay had decided they wanted to record a new song about the situation and put it out that night! They began conceptualising and creating a beat, and Jay was listening to it and coming up with ideas. After a few minutes he went in and spat out the first verse. When we heard that first line, I done turned Havana to Atlanta/ Guayabera shirts and bandanas, we thought, ‘This is going to be incredible!’” The rest of the lyrics pulled no punches: Politicians never did shit for me

Except lie to me, distort history Wanna give me jail time and a fine Fine, let me commit a real crime This line in particular had Obama answering questions all week: Boy from the hood but got White House clearance

was given a deadline for midnight, but the session went on until 5:30am. As the night went on, Beyoncé, Trey Songz, Rita Ora, and Just Blaze also came in and we were just vibing — lightning was flashing, and everything was flowing. We must have played that song 150 times! Just before 6am I was asked to email the label the finished track, and it was released online at 6:15am. By 8am Open Letter was mentioned on CNN, and at 9am a White House press secretary was talking about it. I was sitting there going, ‘what just happened?’”

Castellon: “The windows of the studio were covered, but Jay suggested we open everything up. With the thunderstorm going on outside, whenever lightning struck the room would light up. There was a lot of energy.

OPEN DOOR POLICY

“While we were working, more and more people came in until there were about 20 people in the room. Entourage doesn’t normally hang out when a track is written, you could tell they noticed something special was going on. At 10:30pm I

The events surrounding the making, release of, and the reactions to Open Letter are a perfect illustration of the lightning speed of today’s digital and online world. The recording also marked, in Castellon’s view, the true genesis of Jay Z’s 12th

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studio album Magna Carta Holy Grail, “because that session was so epic and memorable”. Work on the album continued at Alicia Keys’ and Swizz Beatz’s Jungle City until the middle of June, with a large number of producers, engineers and mixers involved. In addition to Timbaland, Swizz Beatz and Castellon, the studio also saw producers like No ID, Jerome ‘J-Roc’ Harmon, The-Dream, Mike Dean and Pharrell Williams in action, as well as engineers Chris Godbey, Ramon Rivas, Matt Weber, and mixer Ken ‘Duro’ Ifill. Castellon and Godbey, Timbaland’s regular engineer, both played central roles in the making of Magna Carta Holy Grail, with Castellon co-engineering 11 of the album’s 16 songs and mixing eight. But he stressed that work on Magna Carta Holy Grail was incredibly collaborative. Even Rick Rubin stopped by to have a listen. “I would say that Chris [Godbey] and I recorded the majority of the Jay Z record, with Chris being there from the beginning, and several mixers, like Jaycen Joshua, Mike Dean and Duro, also involved,” said Castellon. “Sometimes when you have lots of engineers working on one album, the sonics don’t necessarily sit together well, but in this case we all worked together to make the album sound consistent. We were working in two rooms at Jungle City: the official Penthouse Room, with SSL Duality and EMI TG12345 MkIII consoles, and Alicia and Swizz’s private penthouse studio adjacent to that, which has more or less the same gear. We were all working in the same vicinity, with Jay having the oversight. We loved working on this album, which has a great theme, and there were really no egos. As you can see in the Samsung commercial about the making of the album, everyone was creative — commenting and collaborating on everything.” Jay Z expounded on the theme in that same commercial, describing it as the “duality of how do you navigate through this whole thing, through success, through failures, through all this and remain yourself?” It’s an especially relevant question, given the delivery method. That same Samsung commercial was part of a deal which made the first million download copies of Magna Carta Holy Grail available free to Samsung smartphone customers on July 4, well before the regular retail release on July 7. Samsung footed the $5m album download bill as part of a broader deal with Jay’s label, Roc Nation, worth a reported $20m. It’s an impressive coup in the face of the technological and financial realities of selling music in 2013. But did he manage to negotiate the other side of this duality as effectively, and separate the ‘church and state’ of creativity and commerce? ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT

Just like the Samsung deal typified the ‘anything goes’ nature of modern music dealmaking (or, at least, Jay Z’s ability to flip between rapper and entrepreneur with increasing ease), the recordmaking process was also based on present-day principles. According to Castellon, even the camaraderie during the making of the album was a sign of the times, as was the fact he worked AT 18

Timbaland with Jay Z at Jungle City

more in-the-box on Magna Carta Holy Grail than ever before. “I think even 10 years ago attitudes were different,” he said. “People have come to the realisation that they are really fortunate to do the things they do, especially when you look at the terrible unemployment around the world. It really is a blessing to work with people that inspire you, to have the opportunity to make records and do what you love doing, and get paid for it. Also, when you’re a positive person, artistic and creative, you’ll end up working with similar people, and won’t be involved with people with big egos and bad energies. Regarding the in-the-box situation, this is an ongoing process for me. Four years ago I decided I wanted to evolve and focus more on the in-the-box aspect and get better at it. It was a matter of curiosity and wanting to add a new facet to my technique, but decreasing budgets also played a part. I have a small personal studio in Florida Keys with an SSL AWS948 and a ProTools system, which I use when I want to pull up a mix or lay down an idea. And while I still tend to use the console for compression and EQ, I am using more plug-ins than ever before.” At the same time as Castellon was embracing more modern processes, the idea was to “make the record sound a bit like old hip-hop records, which didn’t have a lot of stuff going on. We wanted it to be more about feel than anything else. Chris does really amazing stuff in ProTools, and we collaborated a lot on creating tonal

effects that form part of the sounds making up the music. With two of the songs in particular, F.U.T.W. and Heaven, there was not a lot going on, and we really went for this grimy, old hip-hop sound. We tried overdriving the Duality at Jungle City, which got a little too distorted, and played around with bottom frequencies, and made things a little duller, to make it sound like vinyl records. We did a lot of things like that. “Although we did a lot in-the-box during this project, Timbaland loves analogue, and all the music was recorded going through the EMI TG12345 console. He will rarely go straight into ProTools from his laptop, Open Labs Miko, Ensoniq ASR10, or whatever device he’s using. There will usually be some analogue gear in the signal chain. Jay’s vocal chain is always the same: a Neumann U87 going through an Avalon 737. All his engineers try to use that chain, because sometimes he wants to change a word or a line and it’s important to have consistency. On a couple of songs the U87 went into a Neve 1073 or 1081 and then a TubeTech CL1B. We used the latter chain on Open Letter. MIX BEGINNINGS

When the time came for Castellon to mix single Holy Grail, he found the payoff of working in-the-box to be a lot more than the ability to recall sessions easily. “Advances in working-inthe-box techniques mean records really sound how they’re supposed to sound very early on,” he remarked. “The basic concepts and ideas


Castellon: “The way the Holy Grail session is laid out is a blueprint for my session layout when I work with Timbaland. Drums and rhythms are part of his signature sound, so he really likes working on them, and when we mix he’s usually on the left side of the console, where the drums are, and I’ll be on the right. We’ll work like that for a bit, and then we’ll switch. You can also see the colour coding in the session, with the drums at the top, in red [34 audio tracks], then No ID’s section, which consists of background noises and yeahs and so on in blue [five audio tracks], then the music, including two piano tracks [five tracks] in red again (they were all programmed, there were no live musicians in this session), then five tracks of Timbaland ‘Yas’ and effects in blue, some samples in red (they were orchestral hits and so on that we made, and weren’t really samples), and below that are the vocals, starting with 16 tracks of Justin Timberlake’s hook backing vocals, and then Timberlake’s lead vocals and Jay Z’s verse rapping. Right at the bottom are several aux effect tracks.”

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are there very quickly. Back in the days of tape, engineers took their time to get all the sounds right, so by the time it went to mixing it was just a matter of level adjustments. We’re getting back to that, because the rough mixes nowadays are pretty much what the record is going to be. In hip-hop records you want some more bottom end and feel, and perhaps you adjust the vocal level a bit. In some respects the final mix is a little bit like a mastering job, where you are just trying to get the rough mix to sound louder, and make some tonal adjustments. So the jobs have changed a bit. I was involved in rough mixing Holy Grail, doing loads of rides and always adjusting drum levels. Rough mixes would vary greatly for each of the songs and at some stage Tim and others will decide what rough mix they liked listening to, and that rough mix will be the starting point for the final mix.” Even though Castellon was involved in the recording process, when it came time to mix, getting the sessions in perfect nick was still the first step of his process. Castellon: “A large part of mixing is organisation, and I spent quite a bit of time organising the sessions, making sure all edits are clean, labelling things, cleaning out pops or dead space in the live tracks, and so on. As I mentioned, most of the music was recorded via the EMI console, so there was some noise on there, nothing crazy, but I cleaned that up. Speed of recording is very important, but it means you need to go back later on and make sure everything went down okay, because a cable may have gone bad, or a phase issue, or a mic went out. You want to identify those things early. “The console at Jungle City is a 48-channel SSL Duality, and I spread the session out over as many channels as possible. I kept the different piano and vocal tracks separate, but I combined things like all 808s, and all kicks, and some of the snares, and all the hi-hats. Some of the blends were just right, so I didn’t mess with them. I really enjoyed using the Duality. The main reason for using it was the summing, which gave me a little bit more of the width that I was looking for. It actually also added more height, which I hadn’t expected. The mix sounded taller even without using any of the EQs. HOLY GRAIL

“Holy Grail was the first song I mixed for the album, and it was also the first song I mixed at Jungle City, so I wanted to make sure that things would translate right. We used the Barefoot Micromain27 speakers, which are my favourites, and I spent a good day getting used to the console and the room. The mix of Holy Grail would set the tone for the album, so I took my time with it. The next thing Jay came in and said, ‘Oh man, this is dope, though perhaps make the vocal a bit louder.’ I didn’t use a lot of compression in this mix, because it didn’t need it. Instead it was mostly EQ to make sure everything had space and that the low end worked. Holy Grail was on the desk for a couple of days, until Tim came in and approved it and we printed it. “How I actually start a mix depends on the song, AT 20

Inside Jungle City’s Penthouse where you can flip between the flavourful EMI TG12345 console and the pristine SSL Duality.

but what I’ve been doing recently is go to the section of the song that has the most music parts in it, and loop that, and I’ll get a quick overall balance to make sure everything sits right. This obviously was irrelevant to the beginning section of Holy Grail, which is one and a half minutes of mainly Justin Timberlake singing with a piano, with no low end or drums at all. I always thought that we’d need to do a radio edit of the song because I wasn’t sure whether keeping out the drums for so long was going to work, but the more I listened to it, the more I thought the intro was something really fresh. The song starts off so pretty and poppish and emotional, and then when the first verse drops and the drums kick in, it has a very big impact. I treated the intro like a separate song, and for the rest of the song the drums were pretty consistent, so I treated that as one section as well, and when I brought the drums and Justin and the piano together later in the song, it worked surprisingly well. “The song has some dramatic shifts, and keeping the flow going was a challenge. But the performances were so good that it made my job easy. Justin’s performance is really captivating. He sounds quite different from the way he normally sounds, and I wanted to keep and emphasise that, and give him a space of his own, so he almost sounds like a different artist. When I mixed his voice I envisioned him sitting in a big theatre singing to a small crowd, so you had the sound of the entire space, but you’re sitting in the front row and he’s singing right at you. I did this using delays and some reverb. Justin is so musical and he really cares about the production. He was working next door at Jungle City on his own album, and he would often come over and sit with us for the mixes for Jay Z’s album, giving suggestions regarding his vocals, but also for songs that he didn’t appear on!” VOCALS A TREAT

The screen shots for the session of Holy Grail show that, by far, the most plug-ins were used on vocals. Apparently the drums and music didn’t need much work during the final mix. Castellon gave the lowdown: “I used SSL Duality EQ and some compression on much of the drums and music, and had Lofi and McDSP Filterbank E6 on the 808 and the kick. I also had a little bit of ReVibe on one of the snares, because we noticed that the snare was drowning out the vocal a little bit, and the reverb helped soften the snare sound. The hi-hat also had some Filterbank, as did some other percussion elements. I also used some more Lo-fi, E6, Renaissance EQ and McDSP compression on them. The piano had an E6 as well and again the ReVibe, plus some desk compression and an outboard Bricasti M7 reverb I had never used before, but had some really cool algorithms. I used a plate and a small setting, and it was the most important effect I used on the music. Timbaland didn’t want too much depth in the music, he wanted it relatively straight, to make sure the vocals had the depth and the space. I printed the digital piano effect below the piano track. “There are many vocal tracks, and during the mix I was really doing my best to enhance the performances. Once the music was where it needed to be, I really needed to make sure the vocals


Jay Z’s main vocal chain is spread with Waves’ Mid Side Center and doubled for more width. It’s also compressed and distorted with Soundtoys’ Decapitator for extra harmonics. Castellon put Justin Timberlake’s vocal through two stages of compression as well as boosting the top end after deessing any unwanted peaks. The vocal was Autotuned, but Castellon said it just helps the vocal “cut through the track better.” It then goes through seven of eight effects busses. See ‘Bus Route’ for more.

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BUS ROUTE Width and depth are crucial to pop mixes. Along with Justin Timberlake’s 16 backing vocal tracks, his main vocal is sent to seven effects buses. check out the breakdown above.

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Demacio ‘Demo’ Castellon studied engineering at Full Sail University in Florida and after graduating worked his way up from sweeping floors to assistant engineer at the Hit Factory in Miami. He then became Missy Elliott’s engineer before joining Timbaland’s team in 2002 where he was tutored by engineer/mixer Jimmy Douglass. Castellon now works for a variety of clients, including his wife Nelly Furtado.

Photo by Brian Byrd

able to cut through the track so you can hear every syllable. That required quite a bit of volume riding in the automation and compression. Some of the low backing vocals sounded a bit muddy, so that meant either adding less of them, rolling off a bit below 200Hz, or adding some low mids. It was often a matter of trial and error.

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“The 16 tracks with Justin’s hook backing vocals go to a group track, HK Chain, on which I have the McDSP Filterbank, Waves Renaissance Compressor, and four of the aux effects in the session — Heavenly, Verb, Med Delay and ¼ Delay. The 16 tracks all have Auto-Tune on them, but it’s only a touch, because Justin is a very good singer, and in his case the reason is that a tiny bit of Auto-Tune helps the vocal cut through the track better. The Heavenly effect was a Waves Renaissance De-Esser over which we put a Sound Toys SoundBlender, aka Pitch Blender. Together they created a… heavenly sound! It helped with the texture of Justin’s vocal, and we also used some on the two ‘The Dream’ vocal tracks, which appear only during the Nirvana sample. The Verb comes from an RVerb, the Medium Delay from a Digirack Mod Delay II, and the ¼ Delay from a SoundToys EchoBoy which then went through a Waves MetaFlanger. “Further down the session are Justin’s main lead vocals, which are marked as ‘tuned’, but once again, very gentle. When we mark a vocal ‘tuned’ it tends to mean that all the comps and edits are done and that it’s the final vocal. Justin’s lead vocals have similar effects on them as his backing vocals — ie. the FilterBank, RCompressor, a Deesser and another RCompressor on the inserts. They’re also being sent to effects like Heavenly, Verb, Med Delay, ¼ Delay, ½ Delay (which comes from the Mod Delay II and is then sent to the Waves GTR Stomp) and an EchoBoy Doubler. The de-esser in this case is the McDSP DE555, which was put on the session by Chris. There’s a Quad send, but it wasn’t used. There also are some JT Pre tracks, which occurred during the Nirvana sample, and one has the Decapitator, which is an effect that Martin Solveig introduced to me when we were working with Madonna. It’s great for adding different levels of distortion. Finally, Jay’s vocals had the RCompressor, the FilterBank,

It was released online at 6:15am. By 8am Open Letter was mentioned on CNN, and at 9am a White House press secretary was talking about it

a Med Delay and a ¼ Delay. He also appears during the Nirvana sample, when I also treated his vocals with the Decapitator, as well as a Waves Doubler and a Waves Center. “The resolution of the session was 24-bit/44.1k, and I printed the mix back into the session. I actually had nothing on the master bus. We did have some limiting on the rough mixes, and once we had a setting we liked we had that on everything, and I also kept that on the stems. I also printed everything as stems, because the artists use them when they play live. Chris and I were trying different plug-ins all the time, but to my ears they still all sound pretty much the same. It’s more about whether you like the functions they have and the way they look. Because they sound so similar you don’t need one million plug-ins, you just need 10 that you know really well, and will give you the same result. In general, I’d say that using outboard still allows you to create unique sounds, whereas plug-ins are more surgical. But I’m still learning and figuring things out. People say to me: ‘what are you talking about? You’ve been doing this for 15 years!’ But my answer is that we are all still growing and learning, and as long as you are doing that and are still interested in new things and are still inspired to improve your craft, you’re on the right path.”

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FEATURE

The Polyphonic Spree isn’t just a big band, it’s a ‘kind of madness’. But it’s inspiring to see people who put everything on the line to keep making their music. Story: Mark Davie

Julie Doyle launches into the bottom line. There’s only one big band like hers, it’s called The Polyphonic Spree, and the rest are just copycats. In her estimation, the thinking behind such blatant imitation begins something like this, “Oh, I’m a songwriter. I found a 12-piece. Everyone will talk about what a big band I am.” She reiterates: “We’re the real deal, I’m gonna say it now and say it forever — the end. We don’t have to f**k around, we don’t have to go around, hire choirs, we don’t hire strings and horns, it’s intuitive, we’re on it and that’s our band.” I’m not sure if there was a big band convention recently that’s got Julie’s goat. But she’s certainly losing sleep over it. “I just see bands who are constantly borrowing. Google wakes me up to how bad… I haven’t even been able to sleep at night for the last eight years. It’s a f**king joke, man!” These days, she’s on the offensive. Julie is the wife of Tim DeLaughter, who is the lead singer and songwriter of The Polyphonic Spree. She is also a producer, working with Tim on The Spree albums, and other projects, under the collective AT 26

pseudonym The Speekers. As well as being Tim’s long-time manager, she’s also a Polyphonic Spree singer, film director, and fund raiser… and right now, she’s protecting their legacy. If you haven’t heard of The Polyphonic Spree, you’ve probably heard their tune Light & Day on a commercial. Their tunes are so vigorously uplifting, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it enlightening. And advertisers go ga-ga for it. They’re a big ensemble comprising a choir, horns, strings, on top of a rhythm section and fronted by Tim. And as Julie declared: the members aren’t ring-ins, they are the band. The number fluctuates a little, but typically remains in excess of 20. Funding an enterprise of those proportions is not just difficult, it’s almost impossible, which is why Julie and Tim pour everything they get back into the band — sync rights, film score jobs, production, writing credits — and as you can see, it’s taking its toll. After eight labels, and the ad licensing well drying up, The Spree turned to the only people that could really help keep the band going: their fans. It was their first stab at a

crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign, but they got over the $100,000 pledge mark, and were able to self-fund the album. That amount of dosh doesn’t spread very far when you’re a big band [see Only A Kickstart sidebar], still, they held true to their word, and the result is Yes, It’s True, the latest Polyphonic Spree album. FAITH IN CULT STATUS

They’ve been called a ‘cult’, ‘cult-like’, and a ‘cult choir’. Partly because of the floor-length robes, but also because The Spree’s music is so infectious and uplifting… there must be something sinister behind it, right? But at its core is the most inoffensive of inspirations. Tim’s original vision for The Spree was a Percy Faith-like orchestra. Not aping the ’50s and ’60s easy-listening orchestral tune format, so much as being a bandleader and composer rather than a frontman. “I thought I was going to be more of a composer, putting music together and having people play it,” explained DeLaughter. “I thought it would be a nice sound to be able to have traditional rock instruments in a hybrid with


symphonic instruments and having 10 people singing as one.” It was a nice dream. But in order to convey the vision, DeLaughter inevitably had to front it.

COPPERPHONE: A POLYPHONIC INVENTION Polyphonic Spree bass player and stage director Mark Pirro is also the inventor of the Placid Audio Copperphone microphone. The original idea for his design came about to fulfil a need in The Spree. DeLaughter: “I would always have this patch on a processor that would be like a phone voice. I would always have to make the switch myself with the MIDI controller when I wanted to switch characters within a song. One day, Mark came up and said, ‘I’ve made a microphone that basically does what you want it to do and will be with you all the time.’ “He unveiled it and it was that Copperphone. Mark’s really analytical, and really anal, and when he showed me that microphone, that’s basically who Mark is. It was such a beautiful piece of equipment.”

DeLaughter continued his Percy Faith homage on Yes, It’s True. DeLaughter: “The approach when we started making this record was more in the line of Percy Faith, to tell stories instrumentally. But once you get going, you start with that philosophy and approach, but then it will go somewhere else.” GARAGEBAND & A LINNDRUM

To write songs, DeLaughter usually starts in the same place — on his own, with Garageband and a Linndrum “playing a beat and starting to improvise,” said DeLaughter. “All my songs are basically written out of improvisation and jamming. Yes, It’s True wasn’t written as a body of work like previous records. Although it has the same kind of sonics and soundscape about it, and it’s all underneath the same umbrella.” Tim had been working on other projects in the downtime between Spree records. With no

real idea where the songs would end up, any of the demos could have been fleshed out on a Preteen Zenith record or solo album. “I’m not even thinking about it being a Polyphonic Spree song until the end,” said DeLaughter, but that all changes when “one day Julie comes up and says, ‘You know what? You’ve got enough songs for a Polyphonic Spree record’.” The arrangements are really what make a Polyphonic Spree record. Coming on board to help that process was Eric Drew Feldman, who as well as working on The Spree’s Together We’re Heavy, has worked on records for PJ Harvey and Captain Beefheart. He’s also an accomplished keyboard and bass player, and both skills were put to heavy use on Yes, It’s True. OPEN VALVE

The album was recorded at Valve Studios in Dallas, Texas. It’s owned by musician/producer Casey DiIorio, and while the 900sqft (83.5sqm) space is plenty big for a four-piece rock band, stuffing the entire Spree inside with microphones would be tough. But unlike a typically structured orchestral recording — where the parts are scored AT 27


meticulously, and the ensemble would record in one fell swoop — The Polyphonic Spree operates a little differently. Some members have been with the band since the beginning, others are a little more transient. Over 13 years, DeLaughter has reduced the audition process to an important key factor: If you can play the lines he sings, you’re in. DeLaughter: “I’m not a theory-minded musician. I don’t write or read music. And I learned a lot of extremely talented players in the symphonic world couldn’t copy a melody unless it was written out. I didn’t know how I was going to communicate with these people. In The Polyphonic Spree, we’ve got people who can basically play whatever. I can sing melodies to them that I want to have played, and they can improvise. “In the past there had been some pre-production. This album was different. They would literally show up having never heard the song before. They’d have a listen, then I’d either say, ‘I’ve got an idea, or what’s the first thing that pops in your head?’ And run with what they’ve got. But the structure of the song and arrangement is pretty much all there. I prefer that, because we can’t afford to hang out in the studio forever.” Julie: “That, in itself, makes them different from any other big band: their ears; their intuition.” APPEASING THE MASSES

The obvious temptation if you’ve got travelling string and horn sections, and a choir, is to have them fill every moment of the album. DeLaughter: “You want to appease everybody and make sure everybody gets on the songs. We’ve typically had this kitchen sink mentality. I’m not bagging on the previous songs, I’m just saying that sometimes the dynamics are lost by simply not being on there. “With this one we talked about serious restraint. Peel it back and it fits so much nicer. That’s something we learned over years of making The Polyphonic Spree records and not feeling guilty that everybody’s not playing in the track.” Eric Drew Feldman agrees, but suggests it

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was a bit more of a wrestle: “Once Tim’s got a foundation, he tends to go somewhat berserk with more and more ideas for little parts and melodies. I’m always telling him a piece of art isn’t ever finished, and he’s always trying to finish it. So we have some differences over when it should be let go of. “One great man I used to work with would say, ‘Less is more, more is less.’ If you’re always on 10, there’s nowhere to go. A lot of time you can use your 25 people, but it’s better to keep them for the special part that really needs it.” The task of recording all those parts fell to Casey DiIorio, who had to meld individual performances into a smooth Percy Faith ensemble: “It was tricky. There was a blank slate at the beginning: Tim’s simple demos to be fleshed out for The Polyphonic Spree. So the orchestration isn’t written out beforehand. He had the players comes in and react to it, then work through parts. “But because it was happening on an individual or small group basis, there’s not 16 people in the room playing together. If you put up a room mic, the sound of all those people together will really move a room. So it became about how to mimic that, if say, the French horn is playing by itself. “I have a lot of big old condenser and ribbon mics — AKG C12s, Neumann U47s, etc. — and picked what sounded coolest on each instrument and always left a floating room mic or two so that every time someone did a track, those were all printed and the vibe would still be there. “I’d move the room mic around until I found a position I thought worked for each instrument. For example, the French horn had a U47 room mic pointed into a corner. So anytime she came up, that’s where I put it.” DIVISION OF LABOUR

There was a distinct line drawn between the roles of producer and engineer. With so much arrangement work to be done, Eric Drew Feldman and Casey DiIorio stayed out of each other’s way. Eric: “I don’t go into it, that’s not my interest as

much as trying to hear what people are playing and how they can bump it up a little bit. Or how a particular instrument can sound a little nicer. It’s always good to get everything sounding and played right, from the start. I always prefer to work with a very qualified and caring engineer. They’ll always ask me, ‘Do you want to record this way? I read so and so recorded like this in 1964.’ And I’ll say, ‘Great. Do that.’ And then if it doesn’t sound good, we’ll change it.” Similarly, Tim is hands off with the gear: “I’m not technologically savvy. That’s why I have other people engineer my records, I’m not inclined that way. I use Garageband because it’s super-friendly. Hell, a kid can operate it. It works for me as far as diagramming songs, recording songs and I can do whatever I want on that laptop and get as far as a I want as a demo.” Self-effacing he may be, but there were elements of Tim’s Garageband sessions that made it through to the final product. Tim: “We use samples I put together in Garageband that, in my opinion, were pretty amateurish. But they totally competed with some serious recording endeavours, and ended up winning when we went to mix the record. There were bits and pieces from Mantovani records, and from Percy Faith, then I would manipulate them and use whatever sounds come with Garageband. I’d run it through an effect, manipulate it, make it my own and a sound I hadn’t really heard before. It’s not this great piece of equipment, but I messed around with it enough to get what I liked.” VALVE PATHWAYS

At the hub of Valve is a Neve console that was purportedly used to do the overdubs on Michael Jackon’s Bad. And because most of the work Casey’s doing is rock oriented, he records to a Studer two-inch tape machine. He uses the CLASP system, so everything he records onto the tape machine is simultaneously dumped into ProTools. Casey: “It basically allows your tape machine to act as a scratch pad. It saves time, it’s got the sound of your tape machine, but now it’s in your computer and you can do whatever you want


I don’t think people seeing our band live realise what a huge gift it is to be coming to your town, because we get paid like a five-piece band but we’re freaking four bands in one

ONLY A KICKSTART

Julie and Tim literally put everything they have into The Polyphonic Spree. Their first record had a hit song called Light and Day. It was huge in the UK, and the band landed one of the largest advertising campaign deals in history there. It helped sustain the band, and keep it alive for another couple of albums. But lately, the money has been drying up. They’ve been with eight labels in 13 years, and a lot have gone bankrupt. At first, the prospect of having such a unique offering is attractive, but once labels start doing the sums of what it would take to get the band on the road, it turns into a nightmare. For Yes, It’s True, Julie and Tim decided to try Kickstarter. They raised over $136,000 for the album, touring and finishing a live album/concert documentary. But when you book 20-plus people on a return transcontinental flight, that money doesn’t go very far. Julie: “We started a Kickstarter campaign, and it was amazing. We’re really grateful, but at the same time, there are people out there that are really naïve. Do the math man, look at how many of us there are. Tim and I have re-invested every thing we’ve made back into the band.” Tim took a while to warm to Kickstarter, it felt a little like bugging people for a handout. But eventually the idea of connecting with fans in a new way won him over: “I did have a hard time with it at first. It’s always hard to ask people for money and it took a little time for me to get my head around it. We were filming the introduction video and I had to stop because I felt really uncomfortable about it. But once I got my head around the concept, I totally believed in it and now I’m completely converted. “I think it’s one of the greatest platforms we have out there for anybody that has an idea and wants to get it off the ground. And the access it gives the fan base or the person that wants to support you is pretty unbelievable. The average customer that just goes and buys a record does not get even a tenth of the access to the band they get with a Kickstarter pledge of the same money. It’s the greatest fan club ever! “The fan feels great about supporting what we’re doing, they experience a process all the way up to receiving the reward. And it’s fulfilling for everybody. We get to find out about our fans, their opinions, what they like, where they’re at. “One of the rewards was playing in the living room of someone’s house and he was a doctor and he chose for us to come and play for his patients in the courtyard at his medical complex.” It’s not all rainbows and unicorns for The Polyphonic Spree, but Tim and Julie wouldn’t be doing anything else: “It’s taken a toll on not just our livelihood and finances but us as husband and wife. The financial stress on anybody’s life, and I don’t care what they’re doing, is always going to bring stress into your family life. But it’s a double-edged sword because this is our reason for living; the music and the ideas, seeing our visions come to life, and being able to express those things. Those are the things we need to feel enjoyment about being a contributor. “At the same time there is the reality of financing these things and the pressures of that. No one knows that more than us. I don’t think people seeing our band live realise what a huge gift it is to be coming to your town, because we get paid like a five-piece band but we’re freaking four bands in one. “It’s hard as hell for us to tour and that’s where I feel like I’m at my best — when we’re performing and playing. If I could build the most perfect band possible, that’s what’s happened for me, I got that. Our only true release is performing and getting it out there. Celebrating at the same time as we’re playing these songs. There’s nothing I’ve ever experienced like being with Polyphonic Spree. “It makes zero sense on paper. It’s the worst kind of business decision quite honestly. It’s a kind of madness. You’re driven by it and at the same time you’re almost constantly putting yourself in a pretty bad position. I don’t know what to do about that. You do what you’ve got to do to feel like you’re living and doing what you’re supposed to be doing. “That’s why you see us licensing things for a commercial or sometimes I get a film score, or write a song for somebody. All that money goes right back into Polyphonic Spree. “It’s worth it for the buzz. I’m so glad I’m in it!”

Are your wireless mics ready for the Digital Dividend ?

OURS ARE ! By the end of 2014, all analogue TV transmitters will be turned off and all digital TV transmitters will have changed frequency. The band between 694 MHz and 820 MHz will be cleared of all users so it can be used for mobile data services. Check your wireless microphone systems now ! If they operate between 694 MHz and 820 MHz you need to start planning to operate between 520 MHz and 694 MHz before the end of 2014.

Make certain your systems are ready! visit

ddready.com.au for more information

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with it.” Because it makes the process more accessible, Casey estimates he uses tape on 95% of the project he does. “There’s just a difference that seems worth it,” he reckons. For Tim’s vocals, Casey used an old Neumann U47 that just seemed to marry perfectly with his voice. Going through a Retro 176 compressor to tape provided plenty of classy character. But using vintage gear can sometimes have its downsides. Casey: “While we were doing the record, the U47 tube went out and put me on a path where I had to buy and try a lot of Amperex tubes until I got it back to sound how it did before. It fills out the low end in a way that none of the other tubes I put in did. It took a month or two of going through a lot of them. That’s one thing with having all the old gear, when you get it just right, it’s killer, then if a tube goes out or something that’s vintage, sometimes it makes a big difference. So I bought a bunch extra this time.” Tim would also do scratch vocals through the Shure SM7, a few of which ended up on the songs. So it wasn’t a complete disaster. Having a command of different ways of recording is crucial when you take on a varied project like a Polyphonic Spree record. Luckily, Casey has an equally varied history. “I went to North Texas University and sang in a few choirs so I have a bit of a background,” said Casey. “I’d basically just semi-circle them up. The biggest thing with choirs is listening to where they’re standing, getting the blend of the choir correct. Once you have that, the specifics of miking is some kind of stereo. I usually use an ORTF configuration that’s placed not too distant, but far enough that it’s getting everybody. Then I might do a pair farther back to get the room sound.” It wasn’t always the same structure though. Casey: “At the beginning of Blurry Up The Lines I triple-tracked three or four of the girls who had the smoothest voices, just for the mood.” DRUMMING IT HOME

The Linndrum foundation of Tim’s demos became a central part of Yes, It’s True, and the record definitely has a much more driving sound than their previous ones. The issue for Casey was figuring out how to get the Linndrum and live drums to sit together. Casey: “The Linndrum was on the demos, and became a bit of a process because we didn’t use the tracks from the demo. Its little knob doesn’t sit in a preset position, so first Tim had to find the tempo again. Then when we took it direct, it didn’t sound the same to Tim. After thinking about it, I figured out that when he was jamming along to the Linndrum, it was playing through his PA, which he miked up. So the middle of the Linndrum was odd, it was an adulterated picture. “Once we figured that out, we replayed the Linndrum tracks out into the room, moved the PA around till it sounded right, and moved the mic around till we got it representing what he was hearing. You could call it demo-itis, but he got used to the frequencies of the Linndrum and that’s what we ended up with. That’s why it sounds middley, not as full as a direct Linndrum. “Possibly it’s on the whole album, with Jason [Garner] playing real drums along to it. But because the Linndrum was more middley than full, it allowed the real drums to take the bigger part like they normally would and the Linn would just fit in. “A lot of the time, the drums were done in almost a Beatles-y approach. Just a Coles ribbon mono overhead, and another in a more Motown position in front. Marry those two along with the room mics and a couple of spot mics. Most times we used fewer than six mics, and one would possibly be blown up or hitting the tape hard. “Sometimes we used a distorted live and a distorted Linn and they really liked what that did to the kick drum. I’m a very analogue guy and one of the only plug-ins I use is Soundtoys’ Decapitator. It got big when Tchad Blake mixed Black Keys. A lot of that distortion was Tchad with the Decapitator. I also have the old ADR compressors, like the ones used on Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks. And maybe a Copperphone or Green Bullet mic would be mixed in there too.” BASS DRIVE

Complementing that driving rhythm section is an often overdriven bass AT 30


sound. Which came about through a combination of overdriven amp tones, and just the right feel. Casey: “The fuzz bass was a very fun part because Eric played bass on the record, and we were kindred spirits on what the bass should be. We had an Eclair Engineering Evil Twin tube DI, and the bass amp was a ’50s Ampeg B15. We would drive the B15 to where it sounded perfect for the tune. Then we would go back and forth to where we got it to sing for each song. Eric would just marry the sound to his picking technique on it and dirty up the B15. The DI was there more for low-end fullness. “I used to keep the mic closer but now I pull it back about six inches from the grille. It works, at least in my room — it doesn’t have as much proximity but it’s clearer. I’ll use the U47, or if I want a little more point on it, the Blue Mouse. I’m a fan of Rich Costey, and a few years ago he talked about how he was using the Blue Mouse. It’s got more top end if you need a little more clarity, and also if I’m setting up a whole band and the bass is live I need the U47FET on the kick drum, so the Mouse goes on the bass. POLYPHONIC TONIC

The Polyphonic Spree isn’t your typical band, and sometimes called for out-of-the-ordinary techniques. Casey: “One evening, we ran through a few passes of the basic tracks for Hard Talk. Tim was on piano, Eric on bass, Jason on drums together in the main room. I put up a few mics on the piano, the Copperphone for something odd, and a vintage Neumann KM84 to get the clicky stuff. But his SM7 vocal mic was there too. We were going to re-cut the piano, but the whole vibe of the song changed. Basically, the bleed coming back through those mics was essential to the song. They were letting the room breathe underneath. “One of the other interesting ones was when we recorded an acoustic through an old Fender Blackface amp. We miked it pretty far away, then added an old American D22 — the old omnidirectional Fats Domino vocal mic — up close. That was a really great sound. “A project that intricate, is a lot of work. It’s a lot of work fitting everything in there — every part was worked on until it was right. But it’s such a cool process to go through. It draws on everything you know.”

ON KEY Eric Drew Feldman talks through some of the keyboard sounds on the album: “I’m often leaning in the direction of Mellotron and Optigan-type sounds. It’s become impractical to have the actual ones, but there’s pretty good facsimiles available. Otherwise, I really like upright pianos that are not quite working properly. I have a pump organ that folds up into a suitcase and I can travel with. I have a modular synthesiser I helped build from a kit in the early ’80s called The Surge. “Every time somebody puts a Mellotron patch out, I usually gobble it up. Two of the standbys that generally work as a starting point are the M-Tron and M-Tron Pro, and the IK Multimedia SampleTron. They all do something a little bit different. And after a lot of research, I found a disk of Optigan sounds for Kontakt. There are all kinds of stuff like that breathing underneath the Spree album. “I use another synth, Xils 3, that’s basically a copy of the old Synthi AKS, by a company called Xils-Lab, and it’s great. You don’t even have to tweak that hard, it just always sounds that little bit wrong, which is how these things should sound. Back then it was frustrating, but then you realise that’s what’s good about it. “There’s this other company I keep wanting to write to and tell them, ‘Thank you!’ They’re called Hollow Sun. It seems like almost every other week they put out a really cheap soft instrument using samples of NASA recordings or something — sounds of outer space you can build pads with. “If you’re trying to start something, just put one of those on and hold a note for five minutes and it randomly moves around and does all sorts of wonderful things. It’s why you need to gobble up more things. There’s probably a reason pianos have been around for 400 years in various forms, because it can do so many different things. But these days, it’s harder to be different, so you spend too much time trying to make them sound different instead of playing notes. “I’m not going to make fun of or discount technology these days. It led me on a career where now I can do what I want to do. But after doing this stuff for 35-odd years, I get to the point where I start to go backwards. Sometimes I make an instrument by taking one sample and stretching it all the way up and down the keyboard, instead of making it tasteful. Just like the old $100 samplers used to do.” AT 31


TUTORIAL

PART II:

A STICKY PALETTE In this second instalment, we canvass a palette of options for adding colour and control to your mix bus. Tutorial: Dax Liniere

Here’s the series’ philosophy: to get the most from in-the-box mixing, we must think outside it.

do. Without quiet, there is no loud. And without clean, there is no saturated.

A large part of the analogue sound we have grown to love comes from the multiple subtle saturations and colourations imparted by analogue circuitry. It can come from many sources: tape, tubes, transformers, line drivers and summing buses, each with their own unique characteristics.

I use multiple types of saturators on my master bus to create the complexity that only comes from layering. The exact combination depends heavily on the music I’m mixing and I regularly use just one. Saying that, make sure you don’t leave those decisions too late in the mixing process. All colouration plug-ins will affect the tonality (frequency response) and dynamic response of a mix. Sometimes throwing one on at the end of a mix can improve it, but more often than not, it can significantly shift the balance of the mix, requiring a total rebalance. You need to know how the combination of saturation and compression will affect your tonal balance. Dynamics can come later when you get to volume balance and automation, but establishing your colour palette early is important.

Last time, I suggested you try Klanghelm’s IVGI plug-in on some of your own mixes to hear the subtle thickening and ‘gluing’ effect a quality saturator can offer. But there is no one-stopshop; no single magic bullet plug-in for your mix — like a studio full of analogue consoles, compressors, limiters and EQ units, that colour is achieved through layers and variation. Think of it like peanut butter. While it might spectacularly compliment celery or chocolate, it doesn’t go with every meal. Likewise, if you have a favourite effect, resist the temptation to apply it to every track. The key is contrast and you should apply this principal to everything you

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SIMPLY, IT’S ABOUT COMPLEXITY

LEAVING THE RIGHT COMPRESSION

Once you’ve decided on your colour, it’s time to look at dynamics. Most modern music makes extensive use of compression, both on the track

level and the master bus. The SSL 4000 series consoles are rare pieces of gear we can label as truly iconic. Countless records have been mixed on this series and it’s helped define a modern sonic template for rock, pop and other punchy genres. All of which has a lot to do with the sound of its famous bus compressor. When using a compressor on your master bus, start with a gentle ratio of 2:1. If you find you’re getting too much overshoot, this is probably a good sign that the tracks feeding the compressor are too dynamic and you don’t have quite enough compression at the track level. An attack of 10ms is a good starting place and should allow enough transients through while still controlling the dynamics. When I mix, my bus compressor’s needle usually sits around 2dBGR (decibels of gain reduction), sometimes hitting 4dBGR for short periods. Bear in mind there is never one setting for all songs. Every song is different and should be treated that way. And how you set your processors defines your sound so don’t be afraid to experiment.


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Saturn’s 16 algorithms do everything from gentle warming and saturation to utter annih ilation, and the apocalypse comes in a variety of flavours. Saturn is also a multiband processor, meaning you can choose to saturate only part of your frequency spectrum, or even roll your own saturator by combining different types for different frequ ency ranges. Remember to enable the HQ button for oversampling (qual ity is increased, but latency increases along with it, so switch it off befor e attempting tracking). s

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AT 33


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AT 34


I wouldn’t recommend new mix engineers use a bus compressor until they’ve mastered the art of mixing without. It’s very easy to get into a tail-chasing loop; turn up one track to get it above the rest, then turn up another track, and another… soon enough your gain reduction meter could be sitting at -20dB. It’s not necessary to have a master bus compressor engaged if you’re shaping sounds during the early stages of a mix. But you should enable it whenever in the process you’re ready to start balancing your mix. This is especially important when you’re working on the loudest parts of a song since this is where the compressor will be pushed the hardest and you need to know how it will handle that; will the crescendo of the song be crushed at the master bus? Engaging your master bus compressor too early can be detrimental. Say you’re adjusting the compression on a particular track. If your master bus compressor is also compressing, then you’ll be unable to judge the true effect of the track’s compressor. Speaking of things to avoid, I strongly advise against using limiters on the master bus during mixing. For the inexperienced, they have too much potential to do damage and the tail-chasing I mentioned above usually results in more severe sonic mangling than with a compressor. If you do use them for ‘safety reasons’, it is imperative that you ensure the levels entering the limiter stay below its threshold. IS THIS MASTERING?

So is all this master bus processing the same as sending your tracks off to a mastering house? In short, no. There are unique roles a good mastering engineer plays in the production of your projects, things you probably can’t do yourself. Here are some reasons: 1) It’s generally accepted that you shouldn’t master in the same room you mix. The reason is any flaws in frequency or transient response in your listening environment (the combination of your speakers and room) will only be compounded if you attempt to master there. You can’t fix what you can’t hear, and mastering in a different space may allow you to hear problems that need correcting. 2) Mastering engineers spend much time and money establishing a superior monitoring system and listening environment. It’s not just big, expensive speakers, but also carefully planned acoustic treatments to create an accurate, full bandwidth listening room, and the ear-training that comes with years of acute listening and experience with multiple musical genres. Having on your team an experienced listener who is also an experienced communicator can help you derive the best possible outcome.

DEVELOPER INTERVIEW: Klanghelm’s Tony Frenzel Dax Liniere: When did you start? Tony Frenzel: In the ’90s, when I built a guitar. I found it was much more fun to work with the electronics than building the guitar with wood. Since I started coding in the ’80s, I never knew what to do with my skills. I was never interested in coding or playing games, I found that boring. I always wanted to do something with music. All my life I’ve only had music in my head. It was very exciting for me when Steinberg released VST. It gave people the ability to build plug-ins, virtual gear, with just a few lines of code. DL: What is your approach to making an audio processor? TF: I’ll go back to a time when I called myself a musician. I used to always blame the tools, which is very bad for a musician, but it’s very good when you start coding plug-ins. It made me very sensitive and picky about tools, how they have to work. I have a special sound aesthetic in my head derived from favourite producers, bands and records. I want my plug-ins to become part of a sound, not like a coat you put on. I see user interface as a very big part of development and I put a lot of thought into them. To me, it’s like music and lyrics; sound and user-interface have to work together. After a few weeks of coding a plug-in, once I start to get an idea of how it could sound in the end, I start making a UI that reflects that. Can you work fast, can see you every control you need? The UI has to be slick, fast and enjoyable to look at. DL: What did you set out to achieve with SDRR? TF: It actually started as an EQ, but I found working on the input and output saturation more rewarding. I didn’t want to reproduce something that already existed in analogue or other plug-ins. I didn’t care if it sounded ‘analogue’ or not, that wasn’t my goal. There are so many saturation colours that haven’t been done yet, like a digital saturation that sounds pleasing and unobtrusive. As a guitarist and collector, I always found old fuzz pedals very interesting. Electronically they’re very primitive, but the sound is very complex. I wanted to make this warm, complex sound suitable for mixing, create it with a fairly flat frequency response for subtle work. DL: I heard that you were recently able to quit your day-job to concentrate on Klanghelm. TF: It was about time! (laughs) I worked on SDRR for over a year. Having two jobs for the last two years has been quite exhausting. You can’t code plug-ins in your free time because it makes circles around your head; you can’t think about anything else. I just hope I can make a moderate living out of it for my family. I guess nobody in the plug-in business can be rich. But it’s very rewarding, especially when you know some of the bigger names are using your plug-ins on records. You listen to the radio and know that a little part of you is in this record. That’s really a great feeling. I hope it will work with these low prices; I don’t want my plug-ins to be seen as an investment, I want them to be used.

3) The over-arching role the mastering engineer plays is that of quality control. It’s their responsibility to ensure the final product is free from technical flaws. Mastering is the final chance to catch anything that may have been missed earlier in the process and, as such, it is an exercise in risk management and quality assurance.

RIGHT SAUCE FOR THE SOURCE Not sure what the right reason is, or the right time to add the delicious sonic condiments of saturation and compression to your mixes? Then ask yourself this simple question: “Does it serve the song?” It’s a phrase I use quite regularly in the studio and I consider it to be one of the most important tenets of music production. It’s not about showing off a ‘cool trick’ you just learned and it’s definitely not about following the same steps for every song. Your job as an engineer or producer is to serve the best interests of each and every song, treating it as the unique experience that it is.

AT 35


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PC AUDIO Would you like your PC to bounce back into action every morning with a spring in its step? Here’s how. Column: Martin Walker

Over the last few years, PC manufacturers have put a huge amount of effort into developing power saving schemes that further extend the battery life of laptops, notebooks and tablet PCs. After all, who wants to be looking for a mains outlet every couple of hours, or running out of laptop juice in the middle of a gig? Nowadays, as these portable devices get ever slimmer, there’s even less space inside them for batteries, so power saving continues to be an important design consideration. However, when it comes to desktop, tower and rack-mounted PCs, battery life is totally irrelevant, so exotic Windows power schemes are largely ignored. Whatever type of PC you run, the most important aspect for the musician or producer (as I’ve discussed in this column on various occasions) is always to make sure the CPU can provide 100% of its processing power continuously, since any interruptions to this capability, however short, can result in audio glitches during playback or (even worse) during recording, when you may end up with permanent clicks and pops in your audio files. To achieve this, the main setting to check is your Windows Power Plan, which on Windows 7 or 8 should be set to ‘High Performance’ — this ensures you have maximum computing power available at all times while your PC is switched on. But what choice should you make at the end of the day when you intend to switch off? You can choose Shutdown, Sleep, or (if the appropriate settings are enabled in Control Panel) an additional Hibernation option. As its name suggests, Shutdown (or Turn Off) mode is the most final, as once your PC has carefully ensured that any outstanding work has been saved (and alerts you if not), it closes all open applications and then powers down your computer. For a laptop musician desiring longest battery life, the Shutdown option probably makes most sense, although Hibernation (which saves all your open documents and projects onto your hard drive as a single file whose size approximates to that of your installed RAM, and then turns off

your computer as before) takes a longer time to power down but can be useful if you don’t want the hassle of saving any pending work using the save options of individual applications. However, I’ve personally never used Hibernation on either desktop or laptop PCs, largely because many audio hardware devices need re-initialising when you power back up, generally requiring you to close down your audio application and re-launch it, to get your interface correctly recognised. By the time you’ve done this you might just as well have Shutdown and re-booted anyway. ARE YOU FEELING SLEEPY?

The third alternative when you’ve finished using your computer is Sleep mode (previously termed Suspend mode in Windows 95 and Stand By in Windows 98), which acts rather like pausing a CD/DVD player, by remembering the current state of all your open applications so it can quickly resume from the same point. To do this, it removes power from most PC components, but keeps the RAM in a minimum power state that is just sufficient to retain its data. On a modern PC, entering Sleep mode will generally happen far more quickly than either Shutdown or Hibernation, while the time taken to re-awaken is also generally far quicker into the bargain. To give you an idea of the differences, I performed some tests on my own Windows 7 64-bit PC (a quad-core Ivy Bridge model running a 3770K CPU, 8GB RAM, two hard drives and a Windows SSD). With a full Shutdown it took 11 seconds to perform its housekeeping and power down, and a reasonable 27 seconds to cold boot to an empty Windows desktop (aided of course by the solid state drive). Switching to Hibernate mode reduced my power down time to eight seconds, but it still took exactly the same 27 seconds to return to the desktop, this time with all my applications open and still running. Finally, I switched to Sleep mode, whereupon it only took a tiny two seconds to enter sleep (more than four times quicker than the other two modes), and just eight seconds to resume (more than three times quicker than the other two modes). Your

own PC will exhibit different results, but the trends will remain the same, namely that entering and exiting Sleep mode is considerably faster than either shutting down or hibernating. There are only two slight disadvantages of Sleep mode. The first is that if you suffer a power cut while your PC is having its snooze, you’ll lose any data you didn’t bother to save before sending it to sleep. To avoid this (hopefully) rare possibility just use Ctrl-S from any open applications to save your latest work before entering Sleep mode. The second, of course, is that your computer will consume some power throughout its ‘sleep’ to keep the RAM active, although in practice this tends to be tiny. The One Watt Initiative by the International Energy Agency specifies that from 2010 no appliance should consume more than one watt in any standby mode, dropping to 0.5 watts in 2013, and sure enough my machine measured a tiny one watt while having its nap. To put this into perspective, I could leave my PC sleeping continuously for over 40 days and 40 nights before it consumed 1kWh of power. WAKING UP TO SLEEP

So, if you find yourself chafing at how long your PC takes to shut itself down at the end of the day, and then get frustrated waiting for it to start up again the following day, perhaps you should consider whether or not you’ve made the best power-down choice. While Windows 8 is quicker and cleverer than its predecessors at starting and stopping, if you select Sleep mode these particular improvements become largely unnoticeable. For many years now I’ve been using Sleep mode, first with Windows XP and subsequently with Windows 7, both during lunchtime breaks and overnight, and I only ever Shutdown completely and unplug my machine from the mains during thunderstorms or when away on holiday. Is your PC feeling sleepy yet?

AT 37


REVIEW

FADER BRAIN

The 16 faders are in two layers, where the upper layer gets you to the three stereo returns, the FX sends and returns, and the master faders for the 10 alternate mixes. You can apply a 31-band graphic to the L/R mix and Mixes 1-4 (for foldback, normally). Hit ‘Fader Flip’ to use the faders to adjust the GEQ. The other three stereo mixes get the same parametric equaliser as the input channels, stereo returns and FX returns.

FAT CHANNEL

Each channel features: Mute, Select and PFL buttons. The audio control section packs gain, HPF, EQ, dynamics and pan. Use the hardware controls or select the relevant function on the touchscreen and use the matching knob under the display.

THUMBDRIVE RECORDING

With Qu-Drive you can insert a flash drive and use it to record the main L/R output or all 16 channels (plus a patchable stereo pair) in 24-bit/48kHz quality. These recorded tracks can be switched to playback through the console channels enabling virtual soundchecks.

MIX OPTIONS

A row of buttons select the main mix, the FX mixes or the 10 other possible mixes.

ALLEN & HEATH QU-16 Digital Mixer

Compact, powerful, and as easy as analogue.

NEED TO KNOW

Review: Mark Woods

PRICE $3495 CONTACT Technical Audio Group (02) 9519 0900 info@tag.com.au www.tag.com.au

AT 40

PROS Familiar layout Local I/O Great size and weight

CONS Faders feel cheap No decibel display on graphic EQ and compressors

SUMMARY Think of the Qu-16 as a digital Mix Wiz, only with effects, graphics, comps on every channel and a bunch more mix outputs. Deceptively powerful, well priced, compact, pleasing to look at, and set to lead the small-format pack.


I’ve been using digital desks for some years now but I’m still generally reluctant to use them if I have a choice. These days I do a lot of one-off live shows and small- to mid-sized festivals and prefer the familiarity of having all the controls visible and accessible all the time. The functionality of analogue desks is definitely limited compared to the digital equivalents but with analogue I can ‘feel’ the mix whereas digital desks can push me too much towards ‘thinking’ about the mix. If you’re doing big tours, or complicated theatrical productions (try doing King Kong with an analogue desk!) then the routing flexibility and recall options available in the digital format will almost always win the day… but for quicksetup, no-soundcheck, seat-of-your-pants gigs then I find analogue desks are easier. Of course, part of this is familiarity with the machine: analogue desks don’t have to be learnt in the same way as digital consoles, the I/O connections are obvious, and there’s no potentially confusing layers or menus to be navigated before getting sound. I might be showing my age, but when presented with an unfamiliar digital console it still feels like doing homework until I get the routing sorted and learn how to get to the essential functions. BRIDGING THE DIVIDE

Enter the Allen & Heath Qu-16 digital console and I can feel the analogue/digital dividing wall crumbling. Straight out of the box it looks familiar and at first glance there’s not many mysterious buttons or controls on the operating surface. Physically, it’s about the same size as a MixWizard and rack-mountable, but it’s unusually shaped: the body is only 40mm thick and it wraps around and under at the top to make a hook shape. This is a good design, Óit takes up the least space possible but provides clear access to the rear panel, and lifts the back of the desk so it sits at a good angle to see and operate the controls. It has an 800 x 480 touchscreen that doesn’t dominate the workspace; the motorised faders and audio controls do. The rear panel is very analoguelike with 19 XLR/jack mic/line ins and XLR outputs for the main stereo mix plus the 10 other possible mixes. At 10kg it’s certainly light, and the shape makes it very easy to grab, pick up and carry. HEY PRESTO

For the first time I can recall with a straight-outof-the-box digital console, I put a mic in Channel 1, connected speakers to the main outputs, pushed the faders up and (yes!), got sound. I know that’s what you’d hope for, but still, I was pleasantly surprised. Heck, the channel gain default setting was even normal for a vocal mic! In fact, all facets of operation aren’t at all daunting. For example, the dynamics section includes a gate and a compressor/limiter. It’s easy to use and provides predictable results. Saying that, here’s one quibble I do have: strangely, the compressor doesn’t display gain reduction in decibels; it uses a little red bar graph to indicate

how hard the compressor is working. At first I thought it was to keep things simple but there are comprehensive numerical readouts for other parameters so I’m not sure what the thinking is — it would be an easy thing to include with a software update. BUT IS IT ART?

The Qu-16 is pleasingly simple to use but there is a lot of processing power beneath the surface. According to Allen & Heath there are five dualcore DSPs to control channel and FX processing and a further five 200MHz ARM core processors for the hardware. In use, the Qu-16 boots up quickly and returns to the last used settings. The first show I took it to was an art showcase event involving several performances in one large space. Each performance involved only a handful of channels going to powered speakers but with one of my analogue consoles I would have had to share outputs and swap them around between acts, or use several different consoles (and several different outboard processing racks). With the Qu-16 I was able to set up separate inputs and outputs for each performance with settings optimised for the various acts, and it was easy to do. I had no complaints about the sound quality and having such comprehensive processing available on all channels made it easy to hone in on the exact requirements of each act. The Qu-16 doesn’t take up much space either; sometimes that doesn’t matter but in an art gallery it was neat to be able to set up the desk without the companion racks of outboard gear, and the space underneath the Qu-16, created by the distinctive body shape, was handy for storing my test mic, CD player, mobile phone etc. The Qu-16 has a few tricks up its sleeve too. My favourite is Qu-Drive, which gives you the ability to insert a flash drive into a socket at the top of the operating surface and, once formatted, use it to record the main L/R output or all 16 channels (plus a patchable stereo pair) in 24-bit/48kHz quality. These recorded tracks can be switched to playback through the console channels enabling virtual soundchecks. A separate USB interface

FAT CHANNEL

The preamp gain is controlled by an endless rotary encoder and its levels are recallable (the 48V phantom power, however, isn’t). The preamp is padless, operating between –5dB and +60dB. Channel EQ packs a switchable HPF and a four-band fully-parametric equaliser. Control the EQ with the dedicate knobs or touchscreen. Each EQ band’s settings are clearly visible on the screen.

on the rear panel allows for USB audio to and from a DAW (Mac only at the moment). The free Qu-Pad iPad app and a wifi router in the Ethernet port enable remote control over many of the desk’s functions. Total recall of settings and scenes is possible through the motorised faders and the digitally controlled preamp gain. GETTING PICKY

Thanks to my brush with success at the art gallery show, I took the brave step of packing the Qu-16 for the Kelly Country Pick, an annual event I do in Beechworth featuring acoustic acts, mainly bluegrass and old-timey. The first thing I noticed was that I had more room in the car — the desk is smaller than even my smallest 16-channel analogue mixer and I was able to leave my usual effects rack, drive rack and delay device at home. As well as the main outputs to the PA, I had four sends of foldback and delay speakers. All these were easily configured from the desk with the main outs and foldback sends all having 31-band EQ across them. These acoustic music events are all about accuracy and purity of sound and both the performers and the audience share a keen interest in the sound quality. I applaud this attitude but it does keep you on your toes sound-wise, especially with no soundchecks and minimal time between acts. I was using my PA and the first time I fired it up I noticed it sounded different… it wasn’t a better or worse thing, just different, but it seemed quieter (it probably was) and perhaps more transparent. The virtual 31-band EQs were a little vague in operation, and they shared the dynamic AT 41


foldback and get them to play; I look at the level and when it’s right I push up the channel fader and have a quick listen (if it sounds okay, I give them some through the foldback). If there’s four sends, for instance, I apply different amounts to the various sends as required. I go through all the instruments then tell the band to start. This routine is more time consuming with a digital desk. Each foldback send is on its own layer and to apply different levels to different foldback sends, in a hurry, saw reset faders flying up and down all over the place and I made a few mistakes by being on the wrong layer. I know it’s operator error but ease of operation is important when you’re in a hurry and I missed the visual feedback provided by all sends being visible all the time. That was my only complaint, otherwise it worked very well.

processors’ quirky feature of not displaying the actual decibels of cut or boost. It forced me to make the moves by ear (not a bad exercise) but I’d still prefer to have the number of decibels as a reference. The first night’s show went well and the desk came in for some favourable comment about its looks and modest form factor. QU THE MUSIC

The next night (in the same venue) was a tougher test: there were more bands on, and the room was full and noisier. Most of the acts were playing into condenser mics for the instruments, and normal dynamics for the vocals, so setting up each act was as simple as getting the right mic in the right place. I had a little of each mic in the foldback but with condensers you can’t get much out of the foldback anyway, and the acts don’t rely on it. But then a couple of acts wanted to use DIs for their instruments and hear them through the EMA_AT94_HR.pdf 1 enough 10/04/13 10:46 foldback. This is commonplace and my usual routine is to talk to the players through the

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES AM

The Qu-16 is intended as an entry-level product but doesn’t sound or look like it’s been compromised to meet a price point. The rotary

encoders are smooth and the buttons engage in a positive manner. The faders are the only things that feel a bit cheap; they are not particularly smooth, and they are a little noisy when they move, either manually or via their motors, but it’s a detail rather than a problem. I like the way the Qu-16 can be used as a complete stand-alone mixer with integrated inputs and outputs, or used as a control surface with a remote ‘brain’ via the Cat5 dSnake. It’s also compatible with Allen & Heath’s ME personal monitoring system. The easy functionality and intuitive operating surface help it rise to the top of the budget digital consoles and I can imagine this desk appealing to a wide range of users, including bands, small venues, hire companies, schools and corporate applications. It’s a small and convenient front-of-house console that will deal with any application that requires up to 16 channels and it would also make a neat foldback desk. You might say, it’s a digital console for analogue people.

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AT 42


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REVIEW

194mm

350mm

462mm

Acoustic Technologies SFM07A Self Powered Stage Monitor Loudspeaker A wedge that likes to keep a low profile.

NEED TO KNOW

Review: Mark Woods

PRICE $1395 CONTACT AT Professional: (07) 3376 4122 info@atprofessional.com.au www.atprofessional.com.au

AT 44

PROS Compact with low profile Integrated 200W Class D amp Australian designed and manufactured High sound quality High build quality

CONS Limited LF ability

SUMMARY A very capable vocal wedge with plenty going for it besides. Combines hi-fi sound with super-discreet looks.


What an excellent little wedge this is. And I mean ‘little’ in the nicest possible way. Acoustic Technologies’ SFMO7A is a selfpowered foldback wedge that has been designed to be compact, light and easy to use, while still delivering the highest quality sound for professional applications. Based in Queensland, Acoustic Technologies is good at making small speakers that deliver quality live sound. With both design and manufacture done in Australia, I was very impressed with its AT FR21A 12-inch woofer and horn speaker I reviewed back in Issue 94. The SFM07A is part of the same family of speakers and it arrives as a little brother for the larger SFM09 powered wedge. SIZE MATTERS

Its outstanding features are: size, profile, weight and simplicity. Width (462mm) and depth (350mm) are compact enough but the height of only 194mm makes these very low-profile wedges indeed, in fact they almost disappear on a stage. At 13kg a piece, they’re very easy to carry and position. The cabinet is a distinctive shape with the drivers mounted behind a rounded grille so they fire upwards at an angle of approximately 30° to the floor. The rear of the cabinet (that faces the audience) has an angled panel at the top but is otherwise unadorned — no ports, lights, logos or interesting shapes. On one end of the cabinet is a flush-mounted handle that can be accessed from either side of the hand grip. The other end has a recessed panel containing the power socket and XLRs for input and link. No EQ, no input options, no indicator lights… not even a power switch. The physical design of the speaker may be understated but it looks both tough and professional. The cabinet is made from 12mm and 18mm birch ply with a shiny black textured

finish, described by Acoustic Technologies as Acousticoate Black Elastomer. The texturing is quite pronounced and gives the surface a sparkly appearance in some lights. It feels like it would take a lot of punishment before chipping. The perforated steel grille is finished in black powdercoat paint and feels like it could survive being stood on by a performer in a rock band trying to look taller during the show (I hate the way they stand on wedges). The acoustic foam below the grille should protect against flying drinks…or Dirty Three spit.

THE LOWDOWN

Beneath the steel grille lurk two 6.5-inch drivers mounted on either side of a one-inch compression driver coupled to a proprietary waveguide. High frequency dispersion is quoted at 90° horizontal by 60° vertical. Power for the drivers is supplied by an builtin, single channel, 200W Class D switchmode power supply amplifier. The drivers are passively crossed over at 1.6kHz.

DRIVING FORCE

Beneath the steel grille lurk two 6.5-inch drivers mounted on either side of a one-inch compression driver coupled to a proprietary waveguide. High frequency dispersion is quoted at 90° horizontal by 60° vertical. Power for the drivers is supplied by an built-in, single channel, 200W Class D switch-mode power supply amplifier. The drivers are passively crossed over at 1.6kHz. Acoustic Technologies has invested considerable time and expertise in the crossover and gives it credit for the speaker’s smooth response across the midrange. Also hidden inside the cabinet are protection circuits for excess heat, over current, HF input level and a limiter. TESTING TIMES

I started off testing the SFM07A with vocal mics and pre-recorded music and was struck by two initial impressions. Firstly, I noticed the brightness and clarity of the voicing. I particularly like the HF driver in this speaker: there’s a real hi-fi quality in its detail and fast transient response. This results in a sound that is crisp but not harsh, the 2kHz to 4kHz octave is well controlled, and the mids below that are smooth — I was reminded of Acoustic Technologies’ FR21A. Secondly, I noticed that AT 45


if you give the SFM07A a big, roadie-strength, ‘Check-1-2’ right on the mic you can hear some limiting and a bit of overloading, but the bottom end is surprisingly good — not hugely deep but with enough body for most vocals. The frequency response is quoted at ±3dB between 100Hz and 16kHz and sounds commendably flat overall. The low-end response is the only potential compromise in the design: the cabinet is quite small and a pair of 6.5-inch drivers has a limit as to how much low-end power they will reproduce. Volume is not a problem; these things are loud enough for anything short of extreme volumes. And fidelity is not an issue either; the sound quality is very high, the dispersion is smooth across the front of the cabinet and they are stubbornly resistant to feedback. But there may not be enough sub-100Hz energy for some users, particularly loud bands. Whether it matters or not depends on the situation — if there’s plenty of bass in the PA and the SFM07A’s are being used for stage vocals only then they may not seem bass-shy; but if the act wants lots of bass power from the wedges for bass guitar or stomp boxes for instance, then it may not be there. ENJOYING THE VIEW

The first live show I did with these was an outdoor spoken word/small acoustic acts event and they were perfect. The performers were happy to comment on the sound quality and I liked the looks. I don’t like wedges blocking the view of the lower part of the artists but with the SFM07As the profile is so low they can hardly be seen on stage, and what you can see looks neat and discreet. Next, I took one along to the Theatre Royal in Castlemaine when Something For Kate was

AT 46

playing. I thought I might try it on a vocalist, but once I’d heard the volume they were generating I decided to use it as the foldback listen wedge. In this application it was nice and clear in the mids and highs, but struggled to compete with the stage sound down low. I then took one to the Kelly Country Pick in Beechworth and used it as the centre wedge for the whole event. Once again the size/looks were great and with audio that was based on condenser mics, pure sounds and beautiful vocals — all delivered at natural volumes — the SFM07A really shone. Despite the crisp sound I was getting useable levels from the foldback and it took some provoking to get it to become unstable. It’s also significant that I didn’t hear the need to put any external EQ over the speaker — just plug it in and start playing. MAKING THE CASE

With a RRP of $1395 the SFM07A is not bargain-basement stuff but you do get a greatsounding speaker that’s ruggedly constructed, unobtrusive on stage, and easy to use. They should appeal to production supply companies, especially those working on TV, fashion shows or corporate presentation work, or any situation where discreet looks and high-fidelity win over sheer grunt. They should be compulsory for folk festivals. Lots of smaller acts or duos that carry their own gear would also appreciate the quality and convenience. I like the no-compromise, stage monitor-only design and the overall rugged simplicity which should guarantee a long working life. Acoustic Technologies is confident enough to offer a five-year warranty on the components. Top quality Australian made speakers.


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REVIEW

MUCH IN MINI The Volcas are hand-held, battery or 9V transformer-powered units — batteries are included, while a 9V power adapter is optional. Each has an internal speaker and headphone/mono-audio output, along with MIDI input and audio triggerbased sync control.

ROBUST RIBBON All three Volcas feature a ribbon-style controller for editing sequences, altering settings or simply playing back the current sound by hand. This is certainly one aspect keeping the price of the Volca range so affordable, and I’d imagine reasonably robust over time when compared with a mini keyboard and/or buttons.

FAMILY UNION

KORG VOLCA SERIES

Three analogue pocket synths destined for classic status.

NEED TO KNOW

Review: Brad Watts

Price $229 each

Pros Real analogue synthesis So cheap!

Contact CMI: (03) 9315 2244 or sales@cmi.com.au

AT 48

Will sync to all sorts of stuff Versatile ‘as’

Cons Memory’s a bit short with only eight sequence memories

Of course, the real fun comes when you get the whole Volca family playing nicely together. Syncing multiple units is a matter of daisy chaining, using the supplied 3.5mm jack cables between each instrument. If you’re needing sync with other iOS sequencing applications you can trigger the units via Korg’s SyncKontrol app — which works remarkably well using Korg’s WIST (Wireless Sync-Start Technology) over BlueTooth. SyncKontrol also provides a tap-tempo feature that’s sadly lacking from all three Volca units. So if you need tap-tempo you’ll need an iPhone or iPad as there’s no Android equivalent. If you’re using MIDI, units can be set to accept sync or rely upon internal clock. You can also alter the MIDI receive channel should you want to play the devices from an external MIDI sequencer/DAW. In other words, they aren’t locked into an omni receive mode. Equally as versatile is the option to alter the analogue sync in and out polarity.

Summary If you’re looking for a perfectly analogue TB-303 without the price tag, grab a Volca Bass. But why stop there? The Volcas are so cheap, so good and play in perfect harmony, you should really grab all three. Korg has done it again.


Everybody in electronica world is acutely aware of the superiority of analogue synthesis over digital waveform generation. While the 1990s saw the proliferation of countless analogue recreations and approximations using sampled and digitally produced oscillators for synthetic instruments, when the dust settled there was really no substitute for voltage controlled oscillators and filters — they just sound better. Granted, more recent technologies such as digital sampling and virtual modelling are indispensable tools, but when it comes to twerp, tweak and thwomp, the good old VCO and VCF combination win the day. Korg is one company prepared to acknowledge this fact, and has brought a number of purely analogue synthesis machines to the market in recent years. Starting with the diminutive Monotron, a pocket-sized analogue synth with filters derived from the late ’70s MS-20, and more recently, the utterly brilliant reincarnation of the MS-20 itself [see Issue 95]. Korg knows just the right buttons to push. Hot on the heels of the recently reviewed MS-20 Mini is the Volca range of analogue synth/sequencers. The trio consists of Volca Bass: a TB303-style, three-voice bass synth and sequencer; Volca Beats: an analogue drum machine and rhythm sequencer referencing all the usual drum machine suspects; and Volca Keys: a three-note synth with sequencer. VOLCA BASS

Stand aside TB-303. Nobody in their right mind would shell out two grand (plus) for Roland’s seminal ‘Bassline’. Well, maybe some would, but why with the Volca Bass on offer? It’s far more capable, much more reliable, and way cheaper. For a start there’s an LFO assignable to amplitude, pitch, filter, or any combination of the three mod destinations. You’ve also got three voices to mingle, each of which can be saw or square waveforms. Each voice is mutable and has individual pitch control via a backlit pot. The backlighting designates which voice you’re editing with the knobs, then which are grouped to have all three voices play from a single sequence pattern. Ungrouping them will allow three different sequences play each of the three separate voices. Combined with the three voice mute buttons, it’s pretty easy to build up a set of sequences, or build up and break down a sound throughout a composition. While on the subject of sequences: recording can be either step or ‘active-step’ with 16 steps per sequence. Step sequencing is simply activating chosen segments of the ribbon strip keyboard such that the LED below each step is lit. Then hit play and you’re off. In this mode it’s also possible to add slide between steps. Active-step plays the sequence while you turn steps on or off, hearing the changes in the context of the sequence. You’ll have to back bump into step mode to add slide events. Now for the bad news: there are eight memory locations for sequences and no method of saving them out to an external device. Cue the MIDI input and an external sequencer.

And how’s it sound? Well, remarkably like a TB303 actually. The 12dB/oct filter helps with this (adjusted with the biggest knob on the top panel), as does the square/saw waveform choice. And to quote the manual: “... allows you to create hard acid house sounds with tones similar to those of a bass guitar.” It’s got 303 written all over it! VOLCA BEATS

Possibly the cutest drum machine I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, the Volca Beats offers 10 drum sounds: kick, snare, low and high tom, open and closed hat, clap, claves, agogo, and crash cymbal. These sounds are a combination of both analogue and PCM waveform (aka ‘sampled’) drum sounds. Four sets of pots provide control over six of these sounds, with the four sets separated into kick, snare, tom, and hat. Kick editing includes decay, pitch and click; Snare includes decay, pitch and ‘Snappy’ (an undeniable nod to the Roland TR808); Tom includes overall decay and separate pitch control for the low and high toms; Hat includes decay for each of the open and closed hat sounds, and ‘grain’, which

Korg knows just the right buttons to push

lengthens the open hat sound while lowering the pitch. A final control pot alters ‘PCM Speed’. In other words, slowing down the playback speed of any PCM waveforms used. These sounds include the crash, clap, clave, and agogo. What’s interesting about the PCM sounds is how you can alter the PCM Speed individually for each PCM generated sound and this information will save as part of a rhythm sequence opening an array of creative possibilities (the clap slowed all the way down is excellent). The remaining analogue sounds always reflect the positions of the analogue edit pots, as you’d expect, regardless of which sequence is playing. Each drum sound’s level can be altered via a single ‘Part Level’ control — you select the part (drum sound) with the left/right part buttons until the desired part shows an LED below the ribbon controller at its part position, then adjust accordingly. Unlike the PCM Speed control, this alters part volume globally across all rhythm sequences. Another excellent trick is the ‘Stutter’ effect. This is a really basic delay effect offering time and depth controls, yet you can do some great things with it. Using what Korg describe as ‘Motion Recording’ you can apply delay effects to any of the drum parts individually — even the changes you make to the Stutter control knobs are recorded. Equally as cool is the ability to ‘Motion Record’ PCM Speed changes for any of the four PCM-based sounds. This will be saved into the sequence data. It’s grouse! How many sequences can you save? Like the Volca Bass, a mere eight

memory slots are provided. I really wish there were 16. VOLCA KEYS

Possibly the most original of the trio is Volca Keys. This is a basic three-voice analogue synth with three VCOs, a VCF, one VCA, an LFO to modulate either amplitude, pitch, or filter cutoff, and an envelope generator capable of modulating both the filter and the VCO. LFO shapes include sawtooth, triangle, square. It really doesn’t get much simpler. There are six options for configuring the oscillators: Poly, where up to three saw wave notes can be played at once; Unison, for combining three saw wave voices into a single voice at the same pitch; Octave, where the oscillator creates two saw wave notes an octave apart; Fifth, similar to Octave but, you guessed it, a fifth interval; Unison Ring, where all three voices produce a ring modulated square wave; and Poly Ring, up to three notes of ring modulated square wave. So, as you can surmise, this machine is squarely aimed at the bleeps, boings and squarks brigade. Hell, there’s even a delay thrown in to make those LFO and filter sweeps stand out even more. Psychotic! This can be synced to the current tempo or left in freeform mode. Like Volca Beats, the Volca Keys includes a motion recording mode allowing recording of all the synths parameter knobs. This is possibly the most powerful side of the Volca Keys as you can really go to town with several parameters, adding modulation by hand that couldn’t be achieved with the basic synthesis modulation sources. A final sound-sculpting tool specifies which octave the notes play at. Be warned: this knob only affects notes you’re playing into a sequence. Once a sequence is committed to a memory that sequence will remain at that octave. And again: there are eight sequence memories. I can’t help but think the Volca Keys would be last on my list should I buy all three, but that doesn’t detract from what a cool little synth it can be. Like many, I’m sure I’d have something laying around to take on the more melodic sections of an analogue composition. But then again, it’d just be great to complete the set. If you know what I mean. MÉNAGE À TROIS

I’ve really got to dip my lid to Korg yet again. If you’re after acid squelch machines that are both reliable and extremely creative, look no further. Yet, I feel the three little Volcas simply don’t deserve separation. It’s just so much fun syncing them all up and having a blast. They’re small enough to stash in a backpack. They run on batteries. They sync with most things that will put out a beat, they’re real analogue synths, and, they’re so cheap they’re simply begging to be purchased as a group. Perhaps if you’ve already invested in Korg’s Electribe units you could happily do without Volca Keys. But otherwise, grab the trio. One final interesting point is how these units are ripe for modification, and already you can find a number of mods on the web for additional audio outputs and even a MIDI output. Destined to become classics. AT 49


REVIEW

PRESONUS ERIS Active Studio Monitors

ALL CLASS (AB)

Both models use Kevlar woofers and a silkdome tweeter with separate Class AB amps for each driver. The cabinets are made from vinyl-laminated MDF with a plastic front panel. The tweeter sits in a circular wave guide with a protective grille. When powered up, a blue light illuminates the Presonus logo on the front of the cabinet.

Active nearfield monitoring at ‘it’d be rude not to’ prices?

NEED TO KNOW

Review: Mark Woods

PRICE E5: $199; E8: $349 (each) CONTACT National Audio Systems 1800 441 440 sales@nationalaudio.com.au www.nationalaudio.com.au

AT 50

PROS Price Style Value

CONS Rear power switch

SUMMARY Quality sound in a well-built package. ‘Keenly priced’ is an understatement.


This, surely, is Presonus’s break-out year. After a long period of being best known for audio interfaces, and then the StudioLive digital mixer, Presonus has released a plethora of new gear in 2013, including networked PA products, updates to the StudioOne DAW, and, for our purposes here, two ranges of studio monitors. Sceptre is the primo dual-concentric design while the active Eris Series — the E5 and E8 models — make no bones about its ambitions to provide quality studio monitoring at an almost irresistible price.

EQ OPTIONS APLENTY Connections include balanced XLR, ¼-inch jack and unbalanced RCA socket. EQ options include rotary controls for a HPF (boost/cut above 4.5kHz), a bell-shaped mid EQ centred at 1kHz and a switch that rolls off the low frequencies below either 100Hz or 80Hz. ‘Acoustic Space’ gives either –2dB or –4dB of cut below 800Hz to compensate for speaker placement near a wall or corner.

HOW LOW CAN YOU GO

Despite their low retail price my first impression of the Eris speakers was favourable. I sparked up the E8s first and found the frequency response to be fairly linear overall. They’re slightly recessed across the mids between 400Hz and 1kHz and slightly forward in the presence region between 2kHz and 4kHz but without any significant peaks or dips that could lead to mixes being skewed to compensate. The low-frequency response of the E8 is quoted as plumbing some bassoprofundo depths (35Hz, in fact). The response graph illustrates that while the speaker loses energy below 50Hz it’s still quite strong at 40Hz and there is some sound being produced all the way down to 30Hz. The high frequency range is quoted as extending up to 22kHz (there’s no point asking me to confirm that, I begin to peter out at about 12kHz). The Eris E5s are similar but there are a few important differences. The low frequency response is not as strong below 60Hz (not surprising given the smaller driver and cabinet) but the 80Hz to 160Hz octave is quite prominent giving the E5 a ‘full’, rather than a deep, sound. The mids are slightly recessed but in a narrower band between 600Hz and 800Hz. The tweeter is crossed over at a higher point (3kHz) compared to the E8 (2.2kHz) and it’s a bit peaky around 2.5kHz. SPACE RESTRICTIONS

Size can be a factor in choosing monitors. Many home studios are set up in restricted spaces and the E5s are a pretty standard size that will fit almost anywhere. The E8s are louder and extend down to lower frequencies but they take up more real estate. As both models have the power switch, connections and tone controls on the rear panel they’ll need to be mounted somewhere that allows access ’round the back. For mine, it makes sense to have the connections and EQ on the back as they tend to be set-and-forget… but the power switch needs to be accessed twice every time the speakers are used and, ideally, should be on the front, perhaps discreetly incorporated into the illuminated logo if aesthetics are a concern. The built-in amps are a Class AB analogue design and well matched to the drivers – neither model feels under-powered. Maximum volume is quoted at 102dBSPL (E5) and 105dBSPL (E8) at 1m and there’s plenty of volume for normal monitoring. Thermal and overload protection

circuits are provided and the power supply offers the convenience of operating at variable voltages. The dispersion on both models is quite strong onaxis and they sound best when they are pointed straight at you. The sound stage is not particularly wide or deep but that was only noticeable when comparing the Eris speakers to far more expensive monitors. I wonder whether the now common elliptical wave guides would be an improvement. The same comparison revealed some blurring of the transients in the high frequencies but at these prices I’m beginning to feel like a quibbler. TRANSLATION

Recreationally, most people like listening to their hi-fi with some added low end, especially at low to medium volumes. Meanwhile, if monitor speakers are exaggerated in the low end then anything mixed on them could turn out to be bass-shy. Studio monitors are all about translation: how does music mixed on the speakers translate to the outside world? The most important aspect of this is a flat and extended frequency response. By this measure the E8s probably have an advantage

over the E5s for monitoring because of the E5’s relatively prominent low mids. The E5s, on the other hand, could be preferred for general listening and at this price point I can imagine them being used either side of a computer monitor or as part of surround sound AV systems. NAME YOUR PRICE

If you asked me to name the price of these monitors after a blind test, I’m not entirely sure what I’d say, but it would definitely be considerably more than the Eris RRP. Eris plays in a competitive, price-sensitive end of the market, but has some competitive advantages with its comparatively-sophisticated EQ features. The EQ options are handy and the speaker’s accuracy across the frequency spectrum should ensure mixes will translate outside the studio. Eris series packs Class AB amps and uses the Kevlar woofers, which also points to the fact Presonus hasn’t skimped on these monitors. But in the end, it’s all about the sound. And in this regard Eris is a bargain. AT 51



AudioTechnology App Issue 5