International TECHNOLOGY AND TRENDS FOR THE PRO-AUDIO PROFESSIONAL www.audiomediainternational.com
STEVE AOKI The EDM star shares his knowledge about production and gives AMI an exclusive look at his studio setup
Roger Watersâ€™ monitor engineer Matt Napier talks tech and touring
Inside the market for location audio recording equipment
We test out products from Focal, Cubase and others
32 SHOW NEWS 6 9
ISE 2018 BVE 2018
INTERVIEWS 13 Matt Napier Roger Waters’ monitor engineer talks about life on the road
21 Terri Winston WAM’s founder on striving for equality in the audio business
27 Steve Aoki The producer and DJ gives us his production advice and gear rundown 32 Nicholas O’Brien Recording audio in the Himalayas
FEATURES 37 Location Recording
END USER FOCUS 40 Field Recorders
REVIEWS 42 Focal Utopia
GOOD AS NEW
Experts in the issue
promoting his most recent album Kolony. The very affable and knowledgeable producer has given us some incredibly sound production advice and an exclusive insight into the equipment he uses to produce the EDM anthems he blasts from festival stages around the world. Elsewhere in the magazine, Japanese producer and dubplate expert Takeaki Maruyama, aka Goth-Trad, tells Jack Needham all about how he mastered his craft on page 16, while Roger Waters’ monitor engineer Matt Napier tells Colby Ramsey what it’s like touring with some of the world’s biggest performers on page 13. Alistair McGhee reports on the market for location audio recording equipment on page 37 and, sticking with the same theme, our end user focus on page 40 is all about
Terri Winston is the executive director of San Francisco-based non-proﬁt, Women’s Audio Mission, which she founded in 2003 while she was a professor at the City College of San Francisco where she worked from 2001-2011.
Lauren Deakin Davies is a self-employed, selftaught record producer and engineer with her own studio and portable studio for OB’s. She has produced over 25 EP’s and produced or written over 200 commercially released tracks.
Matt Napier is a renowned monitor engineer who has worked with the likes of Madonna, Leona Lewis and Michael Bublé and most recently on the North American leg of Roger Waters Us + Them tour.
ongratulations. You’ve managed to get through January, and you’re well on your way into what will hopefully be a prosperous new year. While we obviously can’t guarantee that, we can guarantee that if you’re working in pro audio, you’ll be so busy after the festive season that the holidays have already become a very distant memory as you prepare to make your way around the world to exhibit your finest and newest products in California at the NAMM Show, in Amsterdam at ISE and in London at BVE. Well, it goes without saying that team AMI have also been hard at work, interviewing, writing, transcribing and making magazines about the latest tech and trends in the business. So without further ado, welcome to 2018’s very first issue of Audio Media International. If you’ve turned enough pages to get as far as this editorial column, you’ll already have noticed that this month’s cover star is none other than global superstar DJ and producer Steve Aoki, who (at the time of writing) is currently on tour
location sound, while Nicholas O’Brien explains what it was like recording audio in the field for one of his latest projects, Himalayas to Ocean, which you can read about on page 32. And lastly, but arguably most importantly, Women’s Audio Mission founder and executive directorTerri Winston tells Audio Media International about what the non-profit organisation is doing to improve equality in the audio industry and what the wider industry can do to help. Read our interview on page 21 and better yet, visit womensaudiomission.org and see how you can get involved. In addition to all of this quality content, you will also ﬁnd the usual reviews by our team of expert writers on the back pages, which we hope will help you make a decision about one of your next big purchases. Here’s to the new year. Enjoy the issue and follow us on Twitter: @audiomediaint
Murray Stassen Editor Audio Media International
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ROSKILDE FESTIVAL AND MEYER SOUND AN UNPRECEDENTED COMMITMENT TO GREAT SOUND, FOR 2018 AND BEYOND
SHOW PREVIEW: ISE 2018
EMBRACING THE FUTURE
What? ISE 2018 Where? Amsterdam RAI When? 6-9 February
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// ISE 2018 sees an increased focus on audio networking, with audio, lighting and staging exhibitors gathered in one hall
his year, leading international companies, new product launches and senior technical and marketing personnel from a range of complimentary technology sectors will once again gather under one roof for four days of what ISE managing director Mike Blackman (pictured, above) describes as “the de facto AV systems integration business.” Audio is playing an increasingly vital role in numerous areas of technology on display at the 2018 event, from its use alongside digital displays in the retail marketplace to the latest boardroom uniﬁed communications systems. “I think that an enduring factor in the show’s long-term appeal is the fact that we are always keen to innovate and embrace new market sectors that we feel are relevant to the broader AV market,” says Blackman. “Recently this includes areas such as education technology, smart building and virtual/augmented reality.” While its role in ‘smart’ communications cannot be underestimated, “ISE provides the opportunity for attendees to get a holistic snapshot of audio technology and solutions developed for use in the whole market rather than a single, niche area,” Blackman explains. Primarily, attendees can expect to see the latest audio systems, acoustics, interpretation and processing technologies being showcased by leading manufacturers and service providers, while exhibitors will have the opportunity to connect with a mix of AV ‘channel’ professionals (over 60% cite audio as being part of their business) and end users from a wide range of markets including education, corporate, healthcare and ﬁnance. This year, ISE has consolidated lighting, audio and staging exhibitors into one dedicated area called Audio
and Live Events Technology in Hall 7. This had previously been called the Audio Hall, focusing solely on pro audio product manufacturers. “I believe that we will see more widespread integration of audio networks with IT network infrastructures,” adds Blackman. “The competition to establish a networked audio standard will become clearer as the two main players vie for industry acceptance. Plus, I think that the focus for audio manufacturers will increasingly be on new applications, aesthetics and the ease of installation and use.”
ON THE SHOWFLOOR In the year of Alcons Audio’s 15th anniversary, ISE 2018 sees the return of the popular Pro-Ribbon Immersive Experience, for which the company will again be teaming up with Astro Spatial Audio (ASA) for pro installation applications. Here, an audio system based around a hybrid 9.X.8 immersive surround configuration will be used to reproduce native and upmixed Dolby Atmos, Auro-3D and DTS:X content. At Hall 15, stand U265 at this year’s show, Powersoft will launch the new Duecanali 804 and Duecanali 4804. The company’s latest oﬀering is a two-channel ampliﬁer platform with optional DSP and Dante dedicated to the ﬁxed install market. On Booth 2-B50, Sennheiser will be presenting its business solutions portfolio, focusing on the topic of digital workﬂows. The audio specialist will showcase the latest version of its Control Cockpit software for simpler operation, control and servicing of Sennheiser microphones. The new update adds the ability to fully control other microphone solutions such as the Digital 6000 and the evolution wireless G3 series.
Sennheiser also invites attendees to learn more about key developments in digital communication during a programme of presentations and lectures taking place in the Speaker’s Corner. Five years on from the release of its HALO-C line array, EM Acoustics is launching HALO Arena for the arena sound reinforcement market. Built on the same core design as the much smaller HALO-C, HALO-A takes overall SPL capability to a level suitable for much larger applications including ﬁxed installation, houses of worship, large format touring and corporate AV events. ISE 2018 will see Meyer Sound exhibit a wide array of its audio technologies, contribute to education through the AVIXA Professional Development Programme, and participate in the 11th annual InAVation Awards. As well as showing its LEO and LINA systems, The Meyer Sound booth (Hall 1, M-90) will feature a display of products and technologies for installed systems. Making its European trade show debut is the new Ashby line of ceiling loudspeakers featuring the company’s IntelligentDC technology. Meanwhile, Nexo will present a range of its professional loudspeaker models, including a new series of loudspeakers, stands and mounts designed especially for Nexo by Showem of Germany. Finally, on 5 February, Audinate’s popular Dante AV Networking World will return to ISE, showcasing the beneﬁts of audio networking for commercial installation. The free event will oﬀer training sessions as well as hands-on product demonstrations from a number of audio brands. www.iseeurope.org
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SHOW PREVIEW: BVE 2018
What? BVE 2018 Where? Excel London When? 27 February - 1 March
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// With over 300 brands showcasing their latest products and solutions and over 200 experts delivering content in six dedicated, free-to-attend theatres, BVE looks set to fully delve into this year’s theme of We Are All Creators... n 2018, BVE is placing a greater emphasis on being inventive, resourceful, and overall more creative. Six new theatres will provide visitors with the opportunity to explore the content they are interested in, whilst also expanding the show’s oﬀering. “This year BVE has evolved from a purely technical strength to look at what goes into AV and live from a variety of angles, including the creative standpoint, the workﬂow technicalities and the editing and demonstration of the impact of audio - a ﬁrst for BVE,” says event manager Daniel Sacchelli (pictured, above). One of the highlights of the Craft of Capture seminar programme – newly created this year to showcase cinematography, lighting and audio techniques – will be the VR The Champions seminar, during which VR ﬁlm director Jannicke Mikkleson will talk about creating an immersive experience for Queen’s stage shows. “BVE will also have a theatre dedicated to the art of post-production called Post in Practice, which will take a practical look at the newest techniques in this discipline,” adds Sacchelli. Abesh Thakur, production manager for Audio 360 at Facebook, will host a session that explores some of the basics of spatial audio mixing for headphones, applicable to linear 360 video and VR content utilising the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation plugins. He will also be talking on the Techﬂow Futures stage with Rob France, product manager at Dolby, about a plethora of subjects, including insights into new spatial tools. The seminar will focus on topics including eﬃciencies in audio content workﬂow, such as object based audio, play out for multiple devices, practical implementation and immersive audio for VR, AR and MR.
“This is the ﬁrst time that Dolby Atmos will be set up in a live environment, which will give visitors the chance to see the sophistication of the whole system,” Sacchelli explains. Meanwhile, Tim Hoogenakker, re-recording mixer, Formosa Group will explore the Dolby Atmos mix and demonstrate how to work with the latest audio innovations.
ON THE SHOWFLOOR Pro Audio supplier HHB Communications are bringing the latest technology in the broadcasting, production and postproduction sectors to BVE 2018. Located at stand K45, HHB will be oﬀering a look into several current and growing trends including Dolby Atmos and Audio over IP, covering their impact on the post and live sport industry. RTW is branching out into audio monitoring over IP with the PD-Dante from Nixer Pro Audio, oﬀering 64 channels available to customise, tailor, deﬁne or recall via the capacitive touchscreen and listen to them via the on-board loudspeakers and headphone connector. Audinate’s Dante Domain Manager (DDM) delivers the interface and tools needed to control, secure and monitor all IP devices from one source, regardless of the size or layout. The license will be available to sample at BVE 2018 and is available to purchase in three diﬀerent editions to suit speciﬁc networking demands. The new software will be showcased alongside Dante DVS, Controller and Via. The 8430A IP SAM Studio Monitor from Genelec will also be on display. Combined with the new GLM 3.0 speaker calibration system, Genelec’s sound is made available to any IP workﬂow with this Smart Active Monitor. Other AoIP focused brands that will be appearing are Amphenol, Focusrite and NTP.
Meanwhile, a Dolby Atmos workﬂow will be shown on the HHB stand via a Pro Tools HD setup featuring the Avid Dock, S3, S6 and MTRX. A range of products will be available here including the HE-RMU with Dolby Atmos Mastering Suite, and new to BVE, the DP590 and DP591 Object Authoring Tool and Atmos Audio Encoder. Nugen Audio will also be showcasing its AMB Dolby Module, designed to improve workﬂow eﬃciency for a range of diﬀerent tasks. Using AMB Loudness, DynApt or Upmix modules with the new AMB Dolby Module, postproduction facilities can natively batch process Dolby E, Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital Plus ﬁles, reducing delivery times for loudness measurement and correction, dynamics processing and upmixing. Other brands embracing immersive audio at this year’s show will include SoundField, Blue Ripple and Zoom. With HHB recently appointed a distributor for UK and Ireland, Studer will also be present on the stand showing its Vista 1 and Inﬁnity Series consoles, along with its more compact options such as the Glacier and Micro Series for broadcast, live and production applications. Additionally, broadcast audio distributor Aspen Media will present AVATUS, the new sound desk from its German supplier Stage Tec, at BVE 2018. AVATUS is an IP-based modular audio mixing console designed for broadcast, theatre and live sound applications. The desk is available with between 12 and 96 channel strips and can provide over 800 input channels and 128 sum buses in formats ranging from mono to 7.1. It is also directly compatible with all major audio networking protocols, including AES67, Ravenna and Dante. www.bvexpo.com
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO 700MHZ AND HOW CAN YOU PREPARE? Shure Pro Audio Group manager Tuomo Tolonen tells Audio Media International how users of wireless equipment can prepare ahead of the 700MHz clearance currently being rolled out across the United Kingdom.
cross the industry, many audio professionals will clearly recall the Digital Dividend Review and the subsequent loss of 800MHz band UHF spectrum for use by wireless microphones. As part of the clearance process, the designated, protected home of wireless microphones moved from Channel 69 to Channel 38; this key change (among other developments) is now pretty common knowledge among users of professional wireless kit. Following 800MHz, however, the interest and willingness to follow the continuous developments concerning spectrum reallocation dwindled. As a result, the more recently announced plans to clear the 700MHz band and its consequences to the PMSE sector are far less known. The 800MHz band clearance was inextricably linked to the process of switching from analogue
to digital TV. Consequently, the entire process was very public and it aﬀected the whole nation; 700MHz doesn’t aﬀect the greater public in the same way. It’s an evolution of the original event - it’s less visible in the media - and therefore, users of radio mics are less aware of the impact caused by losing another critical band of spectrum. Before considering how best to prepare for 700MHz, it’s important to get our facts straight. Here’s what you need to know: 694 - 790MHz will be cleared in the UK by May 2020. In fact, the process of clearing Digital TV (DTV) from this band has already begun across the UK, and similarly to 800MHz, it will take place region-byregion. Many homes will need to retune their TV - some will require new aerials. Ultimately, PMSE (Programme Making and Special Events) will no longer have access by May 2020.
The clearance doesn’t just aﬀect users in 700MHz, it also aﬀects users in the spectrum below 694MHz, as DTV transmitters will need to be re-purposed in the spectrum below 694MHz. Ultimately, the result is a more congested RF landscape (once again) for PMSE users. So what can you do to prepare? Fundamentally, there are three core points we should cover: 1. Be aware of what’s happening. Understanding what spectrum is available to you in a given area and how Ofcom is managing the spectrum is critical to achieving successful productions. Anyone who owns gear in the 700MHz band as well as below 694MHz will be aﬀected by this clearance. To see how the clearance might aﬀect spectrum in your area, refer to Ofcom’s 700 MHz planner. (Details are subject to change, but it’s a pretty good indicator).
ADVICE Bressay Q3 2017
Q1/Q2 2017 Q3/Q4 2017 Q1/Q2 2018 Q3/Q4 2018 Q1/Q2 2019
Keelylang Hill Q3 2017
Q3/Q4 2019 Q1/Q2 2020
Rumster Forest Q3 2017
Eitshal Q3 2017
Clearance Rollout Plan Simpliﬁed Overview Rosemarkie Q3 2017 Knockmore Q3 2017
This map shows the start date for 700MHz clearance events at aﬀected transmitter groups across the UK. Further events may take place at each group until Q2 2020.
Durris Q3 2018
Angus Q4 2018
Torosay Q4 2017
Black Hill Q3 2018
All dates are subject to change. Craigkelly Q4 2018
Selkirk Q1 2017
Darvel Q3 2018
Pontop Pike Q4 2019
Limavady Q3 2019
Brougher Mountain Q3 2019
Chatton Q4 2019
Caldbeck Q3 2019
Divis Q3 2019
Bilsdale Q4 2019
Isle of Man Q2 2020
Winter Hill Q1 2018
Emley Moor Q4 2019 Belmont Q4 2019
Llanddona Q4 2018
Moel Y Parc Q1 2019
Blaenplwyf Q4 2018
Waltham Q1 2018
The Wrekin Q1 2018
Tacolneston Q1 2018 Sutton Coldﬁeld Q1 2018
Preseli Q4 2018
Ridge Hill Q1 2018 Carmel Q3 2019
Mendip Q1 2018
Fremont Point Q1 2019
Those who take the time to understand spectrum policy and regulation will be best placed as engineers to work within the RF environment post clearance. Additionally, the government is in discussions with the industry to agree on compensation packages for aﬀected users. Therefore, it stands without saying that it’s in your interest to understand potential compensation options. 2. Users need to become more mindful and understanding of how they deploy wireless systems. Wireless microphones are critical to modern production values, but it’s those with a genuine understanding of how to efficiently deploy and coordinate world-class wireless setups that will truly lead the next generation of events. Ultimately, a larger pool of qualified well-versed engineers will help to mitigate some
Sudbury Q1 2018
Oxford Q1 2018
Wenvoe Q2 2019
Huntshaw Cross Q2 2019 Stockland Hill Q1 2019 Caradon Hill Q2 2019 Beacon Hill Q1 2019
Sandy Heath Q2 2018
Hannington Q2 2018 Rowridge Q1 2018
Crystal Palace Q1 2018
Midhurst Q1 2018
Bluebell Hill Q3 2018 Dover Q1 2018
Heathﬁeld Q3 2018
Redruth Q2 2019
of the potential issues that a more crowded, post 700MHz world will throw at us. To help equip engineers with the knowledge they require, Shure regularly run best-practice training and workshop programmes through the Shure Audio Institute. 3. Embrace new wireless tech. One side beneﬁt of a continuously decreasing RF landscape is that it does encourage manufacturers to innovate. Next-generation digital wireless systems (such as Shure QLX-D, ULX-D, and Axient Digital) are all great examples of how wireless tech has stepped up to the challenge. And while digital wireless alone is not a magic bullet answer to spectrum congestion, it’s absolutely true that a well-engineered, linear and robust digital wireless system is more spectrally eﬃcient than its analogue counterpart. For example, with Axient Digital, we can place more than three
times the number of frequencies per MHz than with its analogue counterpart. In HD (High Density) mode, we can take this spectral eﬃciency even further by up to three times this amount once again. In the grand scheme of things, digital wireless mics are a fairly new development, and while there is a small learning curve, it’s critical that we as engineers stay on top of the tools available. Ultimately, a solid understanding of new wireless tech, fundamental RF principles, and upcoming changes to spectrum are the best ways for any engineer to prep for a future post 700MHz.
Tuomo Tolonen is responsible for the management and continued development of the Pro Audio Division at Shure Distribution UK.
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AROUND THE WORLD
Matt Napier knows better than anyone the trials and tribulations of touring. In the last ﬁve years alone, he has mixed monitors for Leona Lewis, Michael Bublé, Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour, and most recently, the North American leg of Roger Waters’ Us + Them tour, which hits Europe, Australasia and South America this year...
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// hen he started university and ended up doing a few shifts at the Venue in Oxford, it is fair to say that Matt Napier was blissfully unaware of his musical future. The guys who ran the nightclub sound system oﬀered him some work, and the nightclub lost its license shortly after, yet the local music community all helped out and the Venue reopened as the Oxford Zodiac. It was at the height of Britpop in 1995 when Napier dropped out of university and began working at the Zodiac full time as its in-house sound engineer. With a thriving local and national music scene and with up-andcoming bands passing through the venue, he used this as a starting point to build his knowledge of mixing live sound. Napier is now an accomplished monitor engineer with 20 years experience in the industry. Here, he tells
AMI about life on the road, and where the journey began. How did you ﬁrst get into mixing monitors? When I was working at the Zodiac we used to occasionally rent extra gear from the local PA company Tiger Hire which was owned by Jim Parsons, who is an incredible teacher. I started freelancing for Jim, and eventually I left the Zodiac and started freelancing, working for local bands and Tiger Hire. I also started working for Skan PA Hire in Reading (now in Newbury), culminating in 1999 with a job oﬀer at The Millennium Dome. I worked there full time for eighteen months, making a lot of great contacts and seeing how large scale productions are put on. After the Dome I went back to freelancing, upon which one of the best FOH engineers out there, Ray Furze, got me to do monitors for some of his acts.
I’ve pretty much been a monitor engineer since then. I spent a good five years doing monitors for UK pop acts, nearly all through Production North. In 2005 I got put up for the Madonna gig, and I’ve worked with her ever since. What advice would you oﬀer to someone looking to get into the industry as a monitor engineer? Being a monitor engineer is 30% engineering skills and 70% psychology. You are not mixing for yourself, you’re mixing for someone else, so you need to get inside their headspace. It’s always amazing how you can have ten different musicians on stage and you may have ten totally different mixes, each one unique. If you are starting out you’ve also got to be prepared to put in the groundwork. The show is two hours of your day; it’s how you act in the other 22 hours that will dictate if you ‘make’ it in the industry. January/February 2018
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Roger Waters on the North American leg of his Us + Them tour
Could you describe your typical rig setup? Console wise, I am a huge fan of the Digico SD7. It’s a very reliable, ﬂexible work-surface and the infrastructure systems mean it can cope with massive input. From a monitor perspective it has an equally impressive number of outputs. I like to add some external FX to give me a bit of ﬂexibility. I still use the Lexicon 480L reverb; for me the Random Hall verb is fantastic for in-ears. I like to use a couple of Al Smart C2 compressors for bus compression. My other favourite compressor is an Empirical Labs distressor. My preferred vocal chain is a Midas XL42 with a distressor inserted before it hits the SD Rack. This gives me a bit of analogue warmth and feel that is sometimes missing from digital.
drum sub I’ve come across. I still have some Clair 12AM wedges on stage as they just work fantastically. How did you originally get involved with Roger Waters and was there anything you did speciﬁcally with your setup for the tour? I got the call for Roger from an old friend of mine, Mike McKnight. In tandem with that, Greg Hall from Clair knew me from years back so he seconded Mike’s recommendation. I had a phone chat with the FOH engineer Trip Khalaf and they oﬀered me the gig for Desert Trip. That was a bit of a baptism of ﬁre; we had a relatively short rehearsal time before doing a few warm up shows before the gig. The ﬁrst two shows were the Foro Sol Football stadium in Mexico City and
“The ability to multi-track the show relatively easily and affordably is a godsend” In-ear wise, both UE and JH have some great units, but currently I am using the JH Roxannes as they really work well on stage. As RF often falls under my remit, I love working with the new Shure Axient Digital, but for in-ears I still prefer the Sennheiser 2000 systems as the compander is a little bit more gentle. Speaker wise, when I do need them, I have always been a fan of D&B V’s for side-ﬁlls and the M4 wedges. I also highly rate L-Acoustics speakers with the 108P being an amazing speaker, especially for keyboard players. The new recent cohesion system from Clair has also impressed me a lot. The CM22 is a great wedge and the CP118 sub is the best
the third was in the Zocalo Square to 300,000 people! For the tour we changed very little and just reﬁned a few things. So far it’s been very smooth. The only thing new for this tour is the amount of SMPTE snapshots I am running, as we have a huge surround FX system to give the audience an immersive experience and there is a lot of sound design/FX coming from playback. All the music is live but the FX (trains/storms/ gunshots/ mad Scotsmen), are coming from mic and playback. Because of this, the musicians are – for a large part of the show – locked to click, and SMPTE is running all the time. This has allowed me to really give each
musician an unprecedented level of attention. Each song has multiple snapshots, so if a musician wants a ride for one section it’s automated. This frees me up to focus on the variables in the show and really spend my time making sure Roger’s mix is spot on for him, whilst making sure the other musicians get what they need. What is your favourite piece of gear and why? My hammock; without it I am not sure I could tour. Sometimes if I don’t get a quick nap I get very grumpy! It’s amazing how audio gear has changed over the past ten to ﬁfteen years. The ability to multi-track the show relatively easily and aﬀordably is a godsend. I record every show and then the following day I can use the multi-track recording to do my own virtual sound check before the band gets in. It allows me to tighten up mixes, programme changes and generally stay one step ahead. What has been your greatest personal achievement? Keeping my amazing wife and having a relatively normal home life! Professionally I’ve had some amazing gigs, mixing FOH for The Prodigy headlining a festival, watching Madonna come out the stage on a Swarovski Cross in the Rome Olympic Stadium, mixing monitors for Kylie Minogue in Abbey Road Studios for a week recording an album, and Roger Waters’ Zocalo Square show have to be some of my favourites. I am incredibly grateful for each musician I tour with as I am still learning; each musician has taught me new skills and helped me adapt and improve as an engineer. January/February 2018
THE DUB MASTER Takeaki Maruyama, aka Goth-Trad is a Tokyo-based producer and sound experimentalist who has perfected a unique mixdown and mastering process for his dubplates. Here, Jack Needham finds out more about his production techniques for cutting dubplates and how he’s keeping Japanese dubplate culture alive.
Tokyo might be the best place in the world to listen to music,’ said the Resident Advisor journalist Aaron Coultate in 2016. He wasn’t exaggerating. Tokyo natives take their sound systems seriously where the term ‘audiophile’ goes beyond a simple hobby or passion. Wander down a street in Shibuya and you’ll discover many a café, bar and restaurant decked out with displays of one-of-a-kind customised speakers, high-end tube powered ampliﬁers, and eyewateringly expensive mixers that make your average London rent look like pocket change. A similar, almost borderline obsessive approach to crisp audial perfection lies in the music of producer, sound experimentalist and Tokyo-based Takeaki Maruyama, more commonly known as Goth-Trad. From the late-90s Goth-Trad has made music inspired by the darker corners of electronic music, his productions earning him a reputation as the founding father of dubstep from the Far East. As we speak over a grainy Skype connection, GothTrad sat in his Tokyo home-cum-makeshift studio, he almost immediately begins to pull out all manner of DIY eﬀects pedals and handmade pieces of equipment that can only be described as noise makers. “This unit is 15 years old,” he says of a particularly industrial looking metallic box, a sound source that’s found its way onto Goth-Trad’s releases on the Deep Medi and Tectonic labels. “It’s a very simple instrument, it’s just a spring with a contact mic attached that you can use to make noisey, drone sounds. Plus, it’s very easy to ﬁx...” Goth-Trad’s studio is littered with peculiar self-
created instruments, some that work, others not so much. “I wanted to make some synths, but that was too hard,” he says. “But I made a couple of oscillators that I can connect to my distortion and ﬁlter pedals, which is like a synthesiser in a way.” I ask if this DIY approach to production, building machines through odd bits of metal, is something he picked up through the studio sorcery of the likes of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and Augustus Pablo; dubs founding fathers. “To be honest, I ﬁrst began to discover dub music through the On-U Sound label,” he replies. “I was particularly inﬂuenced by producer Mark Stewart, the crazier form of dub techno. But dub music is made of looping eﬀects, feedback and delay, and when you use real instruments it doesn’t sound like you’re making a dub mix on the computer. It sounds human, not like a machine, so the reason why I began making instruments and eﬀects pedals came from dub.” His ﬁrst musical outlets were explorations into noise music. 2003’s ‘Goth-Trad I’ and 2005’s ‘The Inverted Perspective’ were formed of distorted walls of sound and brooding drones. But from his teenage years Goth-Trad was always drawn to electronic pulses
which emanated from the UK’s underbelly. From 14 his local record store introduced him to Bristolian trip-hop in the form of Massive Attack and Portishead. Early obsessions with rave and jungle brought Goth-Trad to the harder edges of the UK’s electronic music scene, while Warp Records’ staples in LFO and Aphex Twin showed him that dance music could be taken beyond its 4/4 boundaries. In 2005, late-night sessions listening to BBC radio opened his eyes to a new form of rave music that inspired a change in direction for Goth-Trad; grime, and more specifically, Wiley’s foundation setting masterpiece ‘Morgue’. “When I heard that track,” says Goth-Trad on Wiley’s iconic grime staple. “I thought it was very forward facing, something I really liked in the early-2000s.” His grime-obsession came to fruition in his second album of 2005 Mad Raver’s Dance Floor, 10-tracks of low-end heavy, chest-rattling electro, half-step DnB, and what would come to be known as dubstep. DMZ, the label and club night fronted by DJs Mala, Coki, Loefah and Sgt. Pokes that became a dubstep groundzero, was key to incubating the genre from its opening
night in the summer of 2005 and in that, ushered in new possibilities for Goth-Trad. “That was such an important club night for me,” says G-T on DMZ’s legacy. “Mala booked me for a live set there around 2007, and nobody played live on the dubstep scene at that time,” he says. “I brought a big mixing desk with me and some eﬀects pedals, and I’d do live dub mixes using my music, but how the crowd reacted to my music was completely diﬀerent to my experiences in Japan. In Japan, you had to play famous, popular tunes to get a huge crowd reaction, but people in London at DMZ were reacting that way to an unreleased dubplate. The DJs didn’t care about the technicals so much, they played to people’s reactions, and that was so fun. It was just so musical.” As Goth-Trad entrenched himself in the mid-2000s dubstep culture and became Japan’s ﬂagbearer for the genre, he began to change his live approach. “From 1999 I was performing an all live set, but when I witnessed dubstep culture so many other DJs, like Mala, used dubplates,” he says. “The reason why I didn’t want to be a DJ was because most DJs played other people’s music but Mala would play all dubplates, and January/February 2018
“Cutting dubplates is expensive, so you have to really think about how good the track is. It makes you focus on the music more”
his sets sounded like he was playing live. We didn’t really have a dubplate culture here in Japan at that time, so that was something truly original to me.” From there, Goth-Trad explored ways to cut his own 10” exclusives, using his local studio Wax Acetate to cut vinyl exclusives, which is lighter, cheaper, sounds better and lasts longer than usual acetate dubplates. “There’s an interesting dubplate culture in Japan,” he says. “We have a healthy hip-hop scene here and a lot of those DJs cut dubplates, but they’re looking for rare grooves from old albums. It has that ‘vinyl sound’, which is good if you’re looking for something old school, but I’m making music through computers so I need something that sounds modern, rich and detailed.” “At first, I brought my engineer a few of my earlier releases and asked if he could cut some of the tracks. He couldn’t…” he goes on to say. “The mix was very loud with a wide-range and it sounded really heavy at first, but the engineer was into what I wanted to do so we worked together for around three months. To cut a dubplate, the process of taking the recording you have from a computer to a cutting head is very important. It has to be very pure, so he started upgrading some of
his equipment and the sound just kept on getting better and better. The engineer almost began to play his equipment like an instrument, constantly tweaking and fixing things, so after that I started to cut all my tunes as dubplates.” The techniques he uses to produce a track specifically for dubplates doesn’t differ too much than any other format. “You have to check the low frequencies,” he says on the cutting process. “The low frequencies have a much wider waveform so each track will be too close to the next one on the record. Apart from that, it’s not that much different”. Where the strengths lie in dubplates however is how it demands your full attention. “You need to work on your final mix before you can cut a dubplate, because otherwise it’s just wasting money,” he says. “It’s very easy to create music now, especially digital music. You finish your track then you put it on to Soundcloud. But cutting dubplates is expensive, so you have to really think about how good the track is. It makes you focus on the music more.” Today, when hours of music can be downloaded in an afternoon, limiting yourself to a single record bag is liberating, a technique of less is more that’s
refreshing now that a life of musical discovery can be condensed to a USB. “Before cutting dubplates I was playing CDs and building this huge collection of digital music,” he says.“ But most of the tracks I would never get time to play. By cutting dubplates I have to focus on each piece of music I’m playing. I need to think more carefully about how I would play a track, planning my set more acutely. That process is really good for me.” Goth-Trad is not a purist, mind. “To be honest, I don’t care whether the DJ’s play CDs or vinyl. If it’s good, it’s good,” he says, and Goth-Trad’s reputations have resonated through the loyal fanbase he’s built in his home city with Back To Chill, the long-running monthly showcase that began in 2006. His future projects as a solo artist are set to keep him busy throughout 2018, and as onethird of noisemakers EARTAKER his musical breadth goes beyond club walls. But it’s within those confines where Goth-Trad finds his natural habitat, and having recently celebrated 11 years of bass-rumbling nights he won’t be finding the light anytime soon. What’s your secret to longevity, I ask. “We have a huge sound system,” he replies, with a smirk on his face. January/February 2018
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///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// The Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) is a San Francisco/Oakland-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in music production and the recording arts. Executive director Terri Winston tells Muray Stassen more about the organisation... AM trains over 1,500 San Francisco Bay Area women and girls a year in music production and the recording arts in the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women, which has hosted projects by artists ranging from Alanis Morissette, to R.E.M., Radiohead and Timbaland. Executive director Terri Winston founded WAM in 2003 while she was a professor at the City College of San Francisco (where she worked from 2001-2011.) AMI caught up with Winston after the inaugural WamCon Boston last year to find out more about what the organisation does and how it is working hard to achieve equality in the pro audio industry…
What is the Women’s Audio Mission and why was it launched? WAM addresses two critical issues. Less than 5% of the people creating all the sounds you hear every day are women. That includes all of the sound you hear on television, radio, streaming sites, ﬁlm, video games and the internet – all of the elements that make up the soundtrack to your daily life. There are far too few women at the table where content, media, and messages are being created. There has been a 70% decline in women entering college STEM programmes since 2000. As a society, we made great progress in the ‘80s in terms of gender equality in STEM, but in the early 2000s, there was a signiﬁcant backslide. WAM uses music as a carrot to attract women and girls to creative technology/STEM studies and
shows them the powerful link between science and technology and creating the music and media they love and consume on a daily basis. WAM has created training programmes and a world-class environment where girls can see themselves becoming engineers, producers and beatmakers. WAM believes that women’s participation in music production and the recording arts will expand the voice of music and media, ensuring that women’s interests and points of view are represented throughout society. What are some of WAM’s key accomplishments? WAM has had a pretty incredible journey. WAM is the only professional recording studio in the world built and run by women and has recorded and produced albums for a number of high-proﬁle artists, including Grammy-winners Kronos Quartet, January/February 2018
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Angélique Kidjo (2014 Grammy win for WAM project), Tune-Yards, Clarence Jones (Martin Luther King’s speechwriter), an Oscar-nominated soundtrack for the ﬁlm Dirty Wars and an interview for NPR with Salman Rushdie as well as podcasts for National Geographic and audio books for MacMillan and Simon & Schuster. WAM has placed over 500 women in paid positions with companies like Google, Dolby, Pixar, Skywalker Sound, Electronic Arts, NPR, Sennheiser, Comedy Central, Animal Planet, recording an interview with Mary J. Blige and Hillary Clinton for Apple, and doing live sound with Tracy Chapman. Through our programmes, we’ve trained over 10,000 girls and women since 2003. Our reputation for high-quality training designed for women and girls has spread – the White House Office of Social Innovation visited WAM to study our curriculum and observe our training programmes and best practices for teaching at-risk girls. We received competitive Google RISE awards in 2015 and 2016 for our creative technology curriculum and received a 2017 STEM Innovation Award from the Silicon Valley Education Foundation. This year, due to increased demand for our training programmes, we opened a second location in Oakland, CA. We’re projecting that by the year 2020, WAM will be serving over 3,000 underserved Oakland girls a year. The girls that we serve come from the most underserved populations in the Bay Area – 73% don’t have access to a computer or a mobile device, 78% have never touched a musical instrument, and the majority of students are from populations with a 30-40% high school dropout
rate. WAM is thrilled to bring free music technology training to this population of girls who would otherwise not have access. WAM and our training programmes have been covered in major media outlets like ABC & NBC News, LA Times, NPR, CNET, USA Today, Huﬃngton Post, KQED, SF Examiner, The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, The Atlantic, KALW, San Francisco Gate, San Francisco Bay Guardian, East Bay Times, and more. How has the wider industry responded to the work that WAM is doing? We have had such incredible support from the industry, especially from audio manufacturers, who have helped us build a world-class recording
Convention (AES), WAM’s booth is one of the busiest booths at the convention. People in the industry often ask how they can help with our mission or show support by buying T-shirts, wearing WAM buttons, or donating gear to our studio and training programmes. Most people in the industry are on board with WAM’s mission to increase the number of women working in audio and achieve greater diversity in the industry. What are some of the key projects you will be working on in 2018? 2018 is a big year for WAM. It marks our 15-year anniversary as an organisation. WAM will be hosting a big concert event in the fall to commemorate this milestone, so look out for details!
“We have had so much support from the industry, especially manufacturers who have helped us build a world-class recording facility” facility in downtown San Francisco with Avid Pro Tools rigs, a beautiful Audient console, Barefoot monitors, microphones from AEA, Blue, AKG, Josephson, Mojave, Shure, outboard gear from Manley, Great River, A Designs and plug-ins from iZotope, Universal Audio, Softube, Eventide and many more. Many companies like Dolby Laboratories, Sennheiser, Cycling ’74, Electronic Arts, and Skywalker Sound have hired women that have graduated from WAM’s programmes. Every year at the Audio Engineering Society
Our biggest project is that we just opened a second location in Oakland and are ramping up in 2018 to deliver music production and recording arts training to over 3,000 underserved girls every year. WAM has a number of exciting recording projects coming up in 2018. Three albums for our Women in Hip Hop Initiative which is made possible thanks to the California Arts Council and San Francisco Arts Commission with the artists Rocky Rivera, Babii Cris and CHHOTI MAA and projects through our LGBTQ Initiative made possible by January/February 2018
PROFILE: WAM Horizons Foundation, with Ruby Mountain and Star Amerasu as well as a recording for Real Vocal String Quartet, who has performed with Feist and Kronos Quartet, which is supported by the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation. Also on the road map for 2018 is WAMCon in New York.
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Tell us about WAMcon Boston 2017 - Why was it launched, how did it go and plans for the next one? WAMCon Boston was the ﬁrst ever recording arts and music production conference speciﬁcally for women and it sold out – over 70 women attended. Every year, WAM meets women from all over the world asking if WAM will come to their city or if WAM will open a location near them. WAMCon was the beginning of bringing WAM to other parts of the US to connect with these women and bring our award-winning training on tour. We were lucky to have iZotope sponsor the event at their headquarters in addition to PRX Podcast Garage which hosted the podcast panel. The conference featured immersive workshops and panels with award-winning women producers and engineers in the music and podcast industries, like Susan Rogers who worked with Prince, Leanne Ungar who worked with Leonard Cohen, and prominent podcasters like Chiquita Paschal from Gimlet Media and Cynthia Graber from Gastropod. The conference featured a full day of interactive recording sessions with the band Lady Pills in a studio which we created with gear loaned to us by iZ Technology (RADAR recorder), Yamaha (TF-1 console), and Audient (ASP 800 mic pres). The breakout sessions covered tracking, mixing, mastering, as well as beat production and performance with Ableton Live. What advice can you give the wider industry about creating more equal opportunities in professional audio work environments? WAM’s number one piece of advice to those seeking to increase diversity in the audio industry would be: less talk, more action. Hire more women and people of colour. If you have job openings available, reach out to WAM and we can try and place someone we think would be qualiﬁed for that position or post your job listing on WAM’s job board. Reach out to local schools and universities to ﬁnd potential candidates outside of your immediate network. Research online and examine critically what it means to have an inclusive and welcoming workplace. When putting together an industry panel or series of workshops, include women and people of colour in your programming, preferably as part of the program design process to include their voices and ideas. Reach out to organisations like WAM who already have expertise in this area. Including women and other minorities in initial planning stages can shape the content of your programming and also widen your audience. It’s critical for women and other marginalised people to see role models and possibilities in the industry represented at industry events in order to increase diversity in the industry. What other organisations do you work with around the world? One of our biggest partnerships is with Dolby Laboratories, who has helped WAM grow signiﬁcantly through supporting our recording facility, as well as our training programmes. In October 2017, WAM produced a concert at Dolby Laboratories with legendary Bay Area native drummer and artist Sheila E., with over 250 attendees, to raise funds for WAM’s professional recording studio and facility. Dolby also hires graduates from WAM’s training programmes. So far, over 15 WAM graduates have been placed in positions there. Some of our other key partners include Adobe, Google, Cisco, Pandora, and our industry sponsors like Avid, Audient, iZotope, Sweetwater, and many other valued friends in the industry, including the Audio Engineering Society Convention. Women’s Audio Mission also partners with over 25 schools and organisations in the San Francisco Bay Area to deliver our youth program, Girls on the Mic, which reaches over 1,500 underserved girls a year with free music production and recording arts training.
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INTERVIEW: STEVE AOKI
IN THE STUDIO WITH
Coming in at No.5 on Forbes’ Electronic Cash Kings list in 2017, the super-star DJ, record producer, label head and EDM icon gives Murray Stassen a rare interview about the tech he relies on to get the “Steve Aoki sound” at his Neon Future Cave home studio in Nevada...
INTERVIEW: STEVE AOKI on’t be fooled by Steve Aoki’s 5.9 millionfollower Instagram account. From the private jets and celebrity friends, to his signature cake throwing stage antics, it may look like his life’s a party, but he’s one of the hardest-working people in music. As a producer, musician, record label owner and superstar DJ he has a tower of hats to balance every day and has spent the last 20 years developing a personal brand rooted in DIY ethics and an artistic output that never remains static. “I don’t really care what people think about me on the internet,” he tells me over the phone from his Nevada home studio, the “Neon Future Cave”. “I’m changing my game so much. I still have a lot to do. I think one of the most important things to do as a musician and as a creative artist, is that you always want to surprise people and change things up. You want to show them that you have more than four colours in your crayon set.” Aoki’s colourful life in music really has been one of constant innovation, which can be seen in the evolution from his involvement in hardcore punk as a teenager to running independent label Dim Mak Records, which he started when he was a 19-year-old college student in California, to becoming a household name and one of the highest paid entertainers in the world. The adoption of a “by any means necessary” ethos has seen him build Dim Mak into a successful entertainment and lifestyle empire, incorporating publishing, clothing lines and events, while the Dim Mak label itself has served as the launch pad for numerous notable acts across a range of genres, such as Bloc Party, The Bloody Beetroots and The Chainsmokers. His most recent (fourth) studio album, Kolony, features guest appearances from some of hip hop’s biggest stars, such as Migos, 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane and T-Pain. Aoki is currently on tour promoting the album, kicking oﬀ the UK leg at O2 Academy Brixton on January 26. Aoki explains that he’s got “two diﬀerent modes” when it comes to music producution. “My go-to mode is more of an insular way of thinking about production,” he says. “When I produce songs for my world, the EDM world, I’m producing it for my set and what’s going to be eﬀective at my festival and club shows.” The other mode, according to Aoki, is about broadening his output as a producer and “building bridges with other genres and crossing into diﬀerent worlds”. “It’s just to make music and expand as a producer,” he adds. “With concepts like Kolony, [it’s about] being able to step outside of how I normally look at production.”
Creative Freedom Having collaborated as a producer with so many diﬀerent artists across so many genres, from Blink 182 and Fall Out Boy, to Lady Antebellum and former One Direction member Louis Tomlinson, the role of the producer in today’s music business, as far as Aoki is concerned , “is honestly about being free”. “I’m really there to build the emotional landscape for 28
[the artist] to be able to be 100% free,” he says. “My role is to give them that morale and to let them write the hooks. I need them to feel creative and to write whatever it is that they need to write. And give them guidance, a general vision, but just let them do their thing.” Commenting on other producers, Aoki cites the likes of Max Martin as a “genius” and Hans Zimmer as the “GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time). “I know that there are producers who are there to cut hits,” he says. “The Max Martins for example. Everyone aspires to be a Max Martin. There’s also the Hans Zimmers, who are just like the GOAT of GOATS, you know what I mean? They really know how to exemplify feeling and make you shed a tear from a few notes.” On the note of renowned producer and ﬁlm score composer Zimmer, Aoki talks of how he’s tried his hand at composing music to accompany visual art himself, having recently partnered with ﬁtness brand Zumba to produce the music for a training programme called Strong that was released by the brand last year. He says it’s a “bucket list goal” to be able to score a whole ﬁlm. “I deﬁnitely dabbled in that world,” he says. “I haven’t full on done a score. I realise how much time is necessary to be involved in a large project like that. I haven’t had the bandwidth and time to be able to do that. It’s a completely diﬀerent skillset than just making a song. “When I remixed the Ghosts In The Shell theme song, I pretty much scored it to a scene that they sent me. They sent me the trailer of the ﬁlm and I watched the scene hundreds of times.”
Production advice Aoki warns that “production takes a long time,” when asked what advice he would give to aspiring producers. “It’s an endless, tireless skill set,” he continues. “It’s something you have to love or else you will just get burnt out. It’s so meticulous. Practice makes perfect. You have to put in the time to get to where you want to go and you can’t beat yourself up if you’re not getting there either.” The best way to get into electronic production and to hone your craft as a producer is by making as many of your own remixes as you can, suggests Aoki. “You can remix anything that’s out there nowadays,” he says. “When I ﬁrst started electronic production, I started with remixes. Before I even made my ﬁrst original song I had probably remixed 40 or 50 songs and you know, it was like training wheels. “You have the stems and you can learn your sound design, you can learn your drums. Build your sample library up, get as many diﬀerent kicks and drum sounds and build your sample tank up. That way you can go to that and reference styles that you really like.” Aoki explains that designing your own sounds should come much later and that using samples shouldn’t be looked down on. “You can build out a song with just samples. A lot of producers do that, just with existing samples. Plenty of big A-list producers do that. Maybe some people think that’s a bad thing to do, because you are not designing from scratch, but I mean, use your samples to
“It’s not just about what plugins you have or how hightech your gear is. It’s about what’s in your head and trying to get that out in a way that makes sense”
INTERVIEW: STEVE AOKI help your creative outlet.” “If you’re stuck, just get your sample library out and just toy around and experiment. I always say that all the in-the-box plugins are the best way to go, especially Ableton. It’s got incredible plugins that are already there that you can use. Everything you need is there. The same with Logic, Logic has got some great plugins already in there that you can use. “ True to the DIY ethics that have fueled much of Aoki’s career, he’s also an advocate for teaching yourself production techniques using videos online. “YouTube tutorials are really good and really crucial,” he argues. “If you are stuck on something or want to learn how a certain sound is designed or how you want to try and emulate a sound, it’s up there on YouTube. “Once you get to that place where you have a good sensibility of the tools in front of you on whatever DAW you are working with, then it’s about harnessing your own interests in music and bringing that to life,” he says.
Studio time Aoki has two studios, with his Dim Mak studio in Los Angeles serving as a place to track vocals and “be completely in the box”. “I have no outboard gear there,” he says. “All my stuﬀ is in Vegas. I call it the Neon Future Cave because it’s in the bunker of my house and I wanted to enter into this room where I was transporting myself into the future,” he says. “When I work, I work full blast, all lights on,” he continues. “I don’t dim the lights. I don’t mood it out. I only mood it out if an artist wants me to. Otherwise I want that shit lit. That way I can work 12 hours. I don’t want any clocks in the room. Like Vegas style, casino style.” Aoki’s reasoning for his preferred method of working is that you’re “locked in, you’re there, ready to work your ass oﬀ and be totally energised by the room”. “It works,” he adds. “You set your studio up in the way that you want your environment to be, and you know the way you think creatively is going to be part of the process. “It’s not just about what plugins you’re using or how high-tech your gear is,” he concludes. “It’s about what’s in your head and how to get that out in a way where it makes sense and translates into your sets, or translates in a way that deﬁnes your sounds.”
INTERVIEW: STEVE AOKI
TECH TALK Steve Aoki has given Audio Media International an exclusive insight into the gear he uses to produce records in his impressive, futuristic-looking Nevada-based home studio, which is aptly named the Neon Future Cave. The studio is centred around a large workstation housing an “epic” Slate Raven Z3C digital mix rack and Focal SM9 monitors.
Mics “There are a lot of mics that I used in the past but I have just got the microphone of all microphones, the Sony C800G. That’s the one I had been looking for and it’s been really diﬃcult to get. “But before I was using the Neumann TLM 103 (pictured, right). I’ve worked with them a lot and they’ve sent me a bunch of mics. I’ve used that on
most of my sessions in the past. All the Neon Future sessions [were] done with the Neumann TLM 103. “All the new stuﬀ was with the Sony C800G. That’s a vintage tube mic that sounds incredible. It’s deﬁnitely one of the highest-level mics in the game, there’s no doubt about that. And it looks sick. It’s just this dope, futuristic looking mic, which is perfect for my studio.”
Outboard “For my interface, I’m using a Universal Audio Apollo 16 with a DSP Accelerator, which helps when I’m using my UAD plugins, and I use that for everything. “As far as preamps and compressors go, I’ve got an Avalon VT-737SP in my Dim Mak studio. The Avalon gives me a warmer tone. In my home studio here [in Las Vegas] I have a diﬀerent set up. I have a Universal Audio UA 6176 (pictured, right), which is a combo of the classic 610 preamp and the 1176 compressor/limiter. “The UA 6176 has a really nice crisp sound to the unit and I run pretty much everything through it, including all my guitars and my bass. In a lot of my new
productions I’m going back to my roots and adding guitars and bass and not just [working] in the box. “I do a lot in the box as it is. A lot of my productions
are in the box. I’m not really going too far out. But now that I have this sick studio, I’m deﬁnitely utilising other stuﬀ.”
Plugins “I have a good amount of Waves plugins, like the CLA Vocal (pictured, right) and the JJP Vocals. I think that most people use those. These are all basically one vocal engine that includes compression, EQ Boost, Delays etc. Soundtoys is another plugin that I use, Echo Boys for delays, Crystalliser, which has some cool stuﬀ with pitch shifting and reverse echo. “Then I’m adding some inbox compression with the Universal Audio 1176LN compressor and the
Teletronix LA-3A Classic Audio Leveler. The LA-3A helps keep levels at a good place, while still giving the vocals enough room for dynamics. “I’m also running some de-essers like the Manny Marroquin Triple D to get rid of some of the unnecessary sounds. Then I’ll also slap an EQ in front of my chain, maybe one in the middle, one in the end. Obviously the chain changes depending on the vocals.”
Speakers “For playback monitors, I have these massive Ocean Ways. They are taller than me actually. They’re huge club kind of speakers and they are custom made for the studio. They are a really cool company. They don’t make that many speakers, so having these is really cool. “The colour scheme on the speaker matches the studio. For my mains I have Focal SM9s. They are great, really incredible monitors. I have a pretty big
room here in Vegas, well it’s like a standard room, but my studio in LA is really small and it works in both small and bigger rooms. “For reference, I have my Bang & Olufsen speakers in my car. That’s the ﬁrst place I go outside my studio to test things. Everyone is either going to hear it in the car, or computer speakers, so you’ve got to give credit to those speakers too. Lastly, I check my mixes on my Avantone MixCubes (pictured, right), which emulate
most laptop/computer speakers. You can really tell if a mix is level through those.”
Reaching beyond, obtaining new heights, achieving a higher level of listening. This is what drives Audio-Technica in the creation of our transducers and audio solutions. It is a perpetual quest to produce a sound experience that
expectations and gives listeners the deeper connection to their music.
Q&A: FIELD RECORDING
KING OF THE HILL We interviewed sound recordist Nicholas O’Brien about recording audio on location for Himalayas to Ocean, a programme about climate change, which involved a month-long trek through the Himalayas in Nepal…
///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// I got into sound in my teens, playing in bands in my French hometown and dreaming about how to record the (probably terrible) noise we made, just like our favourite artists,” says location sound recordist Nicholas O’Brien. He says he started tinkering with any machine or software he could get his hands on, trying to ﬁnd creative ways to mic his band up, such as using old speakers as microphones. “It sounded terrible,” he jokes. “A school project researching the eﬀect of music on the brain made my mind up, and I went oﬀ to study sound engineering in England. O’Brien says that his ﬁrst job was as an audio supervisor but because he didn’t enjoy sitting still, he set up his own project cycling around Europe to record musicians along the way, called Record and Ride. “The project took me across 10 diﬀerent countries and
I met over 53 artists. After ﬁve months on the road, I was certain I didn’t want to be a sound engineer stuck in the same studio all week.” Since then O’Brien says that he’s tried to keep his work varied having worked in radio, theatre, live and studio music, documentary and feature ﬁlms and is currently setting up a production company and mini-label called Upcycled Sounds. One of his most recent projects involved a month-long trek to record sound in the Himalayas for a programme about climate change. Here, he tells about the callenges of recording in such an unforgiving environment... How did you get involved in this project? I grew up in a family that was very conscious about environmental issues and this has always been a big part of my work and life. I think it’s particularly important in arts and the media as they are great vehicles to bring
new audiences to these issues and set a good example. Some of the things I do include building kit from reclaimed materials, using solar power and having a professional recording set up that can ﬁt on a bicycle. With this in mind and following on from the Record and Ride project, I co-founded a three-day music festival that engages new audiences with social and environmental issues, Tandem Festival. In doing so I met one of the founders of the Himalayas to Ocean project. When she told me about the project, I immediately said I’d love to join. Over the course of a year and a bit, the team slowly grew and we all mucked in to shape the project. The ﬁnal team consisted of three graduates of the Oxford University School of Geography (Alice Chautard, Yolanda Clatworthy and Justin Falcone) who worked on the research, photography and writing, a videographer (Ross Harrison) and myself on sound.
Q&A: FIELD RECORDING
////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Tell us about the brief for the project? Our goal was to explore the human story of change, resilience and adaptation in one of the regions most heavily impacted by climate change in the world - the Gandaki River Basin in Nepal. Aiming to showcase the connections between upstream and downstream impacts, we split the journey up into three main sections: Flood plains, hills and mountains. The brief was to take this grand aim and collect compelling stories of local people directly affected by climate change. We had various contacts and some fantastic partner organisations on the ground but before the trip we had no idea what these stories might be. We wanted to meet people, develop a strong relationship with them and get to the heart of their experience of change -all this
within a month. It was ambitious but we came home with great material and a lot of adventures to share. What were some of the biggest challenges, in terms of capturing sounds in that environment, managing power, etc? I always find the biggest challenge is isolating the sound you want - even in a small team it’s hard to make sure everyone is quiet whilst recording. Luckily our route had no planes and barely any traffic, but to get clear recordings I would generally wander off or lag behind the group. I had to be very efficient with recording though, as I couldn’t separate myself far from the group - too many landslides and unclear paths! Another challenge was having quick access to my gear when it’s in my backpack. I couldn’t dangle
my recorder round my neck for hours just in case an amazing sound happened! I solved this by packing my sound recorder at the top and keeping my DPA d:heavyduty 4060s plugged in, attached to the outside of my bag on a stereo bar I made from a tent pole. If I heard a great sound with no unpacking time, I could just pull out my phone and record with my Zoom F-8 via Bluetooth. This also came in handy when I didn’t want to disturb a village soundscape by bringing attention to my mics. Another issue was how to capture a heartfelt recording without overwhelming the interviewee with gear. We reduced the number of us present during interviews to a minimum. I used radio packs for my DPA mics and so that I could attach them to the interviewee and then sit far back to monitor. This meant that once they’d eased into the interview they didn’t have me staring at them January/February 2018
Q&A: FIELD RECORDING and waving a boom pole around their head. For the more ad-hock interviews I’d quickly attach another DPA d:screet Heavy Duty 4060 to a tent pole and sort of boom with that. Not perfect but it worked, was a lot less invasive than a shotgun-mic in a big windshield and most importantly was very lightweight. Finally, humidity was a bit of a problem at times. Either it was hot and humid or we’d get stuck in intense bursts of monsoon rain. I had dry-bags for everything but hadn’t anticipated the problem of getting rid of humidity once in the gear bag. Luckily the videographer had more experience of these kinds of environments and lent me a bunch of silica-gel bags. Nothing got damaged as a result of humidity but I did learn something very useful!
GEAR LIST Sound recorder – Zoom F-8 The pre-amps are pretty clean, it’s very easy to navigate, has most of the features you would find on the more expensive recorders and I ended up using the Bluetooth feature quite a lot. I didn’t bring a mixer to save on weight and managed to do everything on the Zoom F-8, although sometimes the gain knobs felt a bit too and levels were hard to read.
2x DPA d:screet Heavy duty 4060 I used these for just about everything. They were great lav-mics but I also used them for recording ambiences, sound effects and put them in all sorts of silly places. As I described earlier, they spent a lot of time dangling off the back of my backpack as a stereo pair on a tent pole (inspired by a Wild Eye nature recording weekend I went to with Chris Watson and Jez Riley French ) and I would also use the tent pole to sort of boom them closer to the sound source when recording trickier sounds.
landslide recording in 5.1. Packed away easily in my backpack, within a minute I could be recording six channels of audio.
BubbleBee Industries Windbubbles I used these as windshields for my DPA d:heavyduty and they worked very well. I was able to record in quite windy environments without too much trouble and would deﬁnitely recommend these to anyone working outdoors. However I would recommend bringing a hard container to store these in - I ruined a couple by accident in my backpack…!
lav-tape, invisible lav-overs and fur pieces I brought plenty of these [from Bubblebee Industries] and used them pretty much every day. It was easy to prep the lav-mics and hide them on our interviewees. As I mentioned earlier, one of my big worries was invading the private space of people who aren’t used to having so much kit waved around their face. This set up was so simple that I could do it quickly and eﬃciently then forget about it and monitor out of everyone’s way.
DPA d:mention 5100 For a while I had been planning to explore immersive sound recording in the ﬁeld and in the lead up to the trip I tried a few arrays (I would recommend reading Michael Williams’ work on stereo and multi-channel recording). However, they all involved carrying a lot of extra bits and bobs around. As I was doing my research I was oﬀered the opportunity to try out the DPA d:mention and very quickly realised this had been exactly what I was looking for! It’s very well to spend hours in the studio ﬁnetuning your multi-channel array but when you’re out in the ﬁeld you want everything to be as hassle free as possible. This mic was just perfect and I can’t say that enough. I was able to stand on suspension bridges or in the middle of an active
Rode NTG1 mic I brought this as a backup and barely used it. I had it positioned on a stand for each interview in case anything went wrong but I was lucky and nothing did!
Bubblebee Industries - Spacer Bubble I had this for the NTG1. Although I didn’t use the mic much, the couple of times I did in windy conditions the Spacer Bubble did its job well. A lot less cumbersome than a big windshield, it saved be a lot space only in exchange for a slight loss in high frequency content – a small price I was more than willing to pay!
2x Manfrotto light stands I always bring at least one of these for any outdoor
recording. They’re so light and pack down so easily compared to normal mic stands. I used one for the DPA d:mention and could leave it conﬁdently standing in quite windy conditions as the legs stretch out pretty far giving it a good balance. I probably could have done with just the one… the second one just free-rode across Nepal.
2x JrF contact mics These are just great. Jez Riley French makes them himself and I carry them around everywhere for studio or ﬁeld recording. These mics are great for capturing unusual sounds and experimenting a bit. My favourite was attaching these to suspension bridges swinging in the wind.
1x JrF hydrophone Same as the contact mics, this mic was excellent for your unusual sound and to discover what’s happening underwater. I had a lot of fun trying various things out with this.
Sennheiser G3 radio packs I used these everyday and they work very well and were reliable throughout the trip. I was surprised by how eﬃcient they were with energy consumption and I’m glad I didn’t get any interferences (despite checking which frequencies I was allowed to use, I’m always worried I’ve missed something when working in a new country… )
2x Swit batteries – S-8073N Li-ion They were great and never had any power problems. Kept on going for a few days on each. I had a few other bits and bobs but these were the main components of my set-up. I spent a long time thinking about it and as you can probably tell I was very pleased with it. I won’t change much for the next trip.
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FEATURE: LOCATION RECORDING
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION New and exciting stuﬀ is happening in every area of the pro audio industry and nowhere is that more true than in the world of location recorders. Here, Alistair McGhee reports on the latest developments from the ﬁeld. he aﬀordable end of the professional market oﬀers more choice and features for your money than ever before. Zoom kicked oﬀ the trend with the F8 and F4 (pictured above) oﬀering professional features like proper time code and the option of a mixer panel and still managing to keep the price under the magic grand ﬁgure. I’ve been using an F4 for a couple of months now and with the pro level powering option and full sized XLR outs it’s an almost perfect wav catcher at a bargain price. Sound Devices have now weighed in to the aﬀordable market with the MixPre series, ﬁrst out of the blocks were the MixPre 3 and 6, featuring new low noise Kashmir mic amps and, like the Zooms, doubling as USB interfaces. The MP3 and 6 oﬀer time code connectvity through HDMI pointing to a partnership with the SLR video market rather than pro level systems. But now the mighty Sound Devices MixPre 10-T has arrived. No disrespect to its smaller brothers but the 10-T is set to make some serious waves. Ten mic inputs featuring the new Kashmir preamps, balanced outputs on TA3 connectors (outputs at neg 10) and a full onboard timecode implementation including BNC connectors in and out. I’ve seen the Zoom and MixPres being described as intermediate gear. A cut above domestic equipment but maybe not quite full on professional. I think as ever the key thing is application. Both the Zoom and the Sound Devices MixPres work as recorders and
mixers but mixing on them is not like mixing on your classic SQN, Filmtech or Coopersound. Do you need a camera connection with proper return monitoring? Will your output levels match your camera’s? Your powering options on some models will not be as ﬂexible - are the timecode facilities comprehensive enough? On the other hand you are getting higher track counts, new technology in preamps and app based control, very small footprints and signiﬁcant savings. And a lot of
pots on the front panel and the option of Superslot radio mics. And talking of radio mic integration, Sound Devices have a new partnership with Audio Ltd. with the aim of boosting recorder/radio mic integration, so watch this space. The other big player in the pro market is Zaxcom, their Zaxmax is a small footprint four channel mixer/ recorder that oﬀers some of Zaxcom’s trademark features like NeverClip inputs, the MARF fault tolerant
“If you have a professional budget then you have professional options” those camera related connectivity issues will not matter for many people. I say it is a good time to be alive and choose carefully! But if you have a professional budget then you have professional options. Sound Devices 6 series and Zaxcom’s Nomad have most of the bases of the pro market covered. Sound Devices have the 633 - small and snappy with high sample rates, automix, tiny footprint, more power options than the national grid, six iso tracks and bulletproof pro build. The 664 oﬀers more tracks (12 iso tracks plus output busses) and multicamera connectivity, for those happy to live at 48Khz. Higher up the hill the 688 oﬀers the same track count as the 664 but does higher sample rates, Dan Dugan automix, extra
ﬁle system and the Zaxcom automixer. Further up the range we get to Nomad world where you have a choice of three models. All the Nomad’s have ten analogue inputs and six mic preamps. A step up from the Nomad Lite, the Nomad 10 has three pairs of AES inputs, 16 mix busses (as opposed to 6 in the Lite), built in ZaxNet transceiver and an 18 input automixer. The top of the range Nomad 12 boosts the spec to 12 track recording and 18 mix busses and adds USB recording. And if you still need more power than standby for the long-awaited Deva 24, twelve mic/line inputs, four line inputs, eight AES pairs, four of which offer AES 42, a Dante option and 24 record tracks. A beast that also promises a MixJanuary/February 2018
FEATURE: LOCATION RECORDING Ahead safety feature which will be a boon for those of us living our lives half a second behind the fade. If you just have to think outside the box and fancy something continental how about a Sonosax SX-R4+ - which now offers Dante - as well as an eight fader panel and an eight channel bolt on mic amp to increase the analogue channel count. Or maybe an AETA 4MinX. Or if you want to climb higher you can. King of the location audio hill is Aaton’s Cantar X3 - 24 tracks - hinged screen purple controls - Dante; the works. It looks like something Kirk and Spock discover as evidence of some hyper advanced and presumably French speaking civilisation. Vive Le Cantar!
Radiomics Interesting things are happening too in the world of radio mics - Audio Limited have released the fully digital A10 system featuring the new dual diversity A10-RX receiver. With channel density getting ever more important the A10 system has been much anticipated. Offering uncompanded audio, recording in the transmitter and SuperSlot compatibility the A10 system is turning more than a few heads. Add this to the new partnership between Audio Ltd and Sound Devices and things are getting interesting in the radio mic sector. One of the big success stories in wireless has been Wisycom. Their dual diversity receivers and the ability of their DSP to mimic the companders in other brands has meant that there’s
a lot of Italian engineering on locations across the world. And there’s international options from some pretty big names including Sony, Sennheiser and Lectrosonics. Zaxcom are currently the only manufacturer providing both recorders and radio mics and they make the most of the synergy. Zaxnet being the best example. This 2.4Ghz network carries IFB audio, timecode and offers full control of their radiomics and of course Zaxcom were first to the ‘put a recorder in your transmitter’ party.
Timecode And talking of timecode, timecode world has seen a bit of a revolution of late. First Timecode Systems burst onto the market with their Timecody Buddy product line and then cheap as chips products from Tentaclesync, here in Europe, and in the US Mozegear (chips and curry sauce price) have really shaken up the market. The Tentacle Sync stripped away a lot of traditional timecode functionality in order to leave just the very basics and offloaded the set up to software in your laptop, tablet or phone.
“With so much going on and so many choices – and of course there are far more than are listed here – it’s a good time to be on location. Weather permitting.”
Rycote Stereo Cyclone XY
In response to these new challenges, long time timecode champs Ambient have hit back with the Nano Lockit and Timecode Systems with the UltraSync ONE. Both these products are part of bigger networkable systems that include all sorts of remote operation and meta data control. There’s also a recognition of the changing world of timecode, the SyncBac Pro from TCS means you can add timecode to your GoPro and as discussed already Sound Devices MixPres we have timecode connectivity on HDMI. We are now waiting for latest Tentacle SYNC E to ignite the latest round of the battle, it’s an exciting time to try and stay in sync as increasingly timecode is coming under software control with apps and extra functionality abounding. And I suppose we shouldn’t leave sync world without mentioning software sync only - most famously in the form of PluralEyes from Red Giant - the idea is that the software can intelligently scan your clips and sync them together without the bother of any timecode on set. And that I suppose might be driving the increasing functionality of the big systems - it might not be enough just to stick a clock on your footage.
37-39 AMI JanFeb 2018 Feature_Final.indd 2
FEATURE: LOCATION RECORDING Mics With space rapidly running out we should have a quick look at DPA’s new CORE range. CORE represents new electronics for DPA’s personal mics, offering lower distortion, better dynamic range and is claimed to improve the sound. Basically CORE is a new amplifier circuit for miniature mics and promises some pretty significant improvements. The new CORE range will sit above the standard DPA product, offering recordists a choice of performance and price options. Schoeps have also been busy with the MiniCMIT - all the goodness of a CMIT in a smaller and lighter package. Schoeps claim the Mini is interchangeable with the CMIT 5 without altering the sound.
Aaton Cantar X3
And Finally Bags from Israel and the US - Orca and K-Tek have extensive ranges with everything from a small Stingray bag for your 633 or Maxx up to an Orca OR-48 – a bag that is also a cart. Poles but none as far as I’m aware from Poland - PSC offer internal cabling while Panamic is a home grown British product. And to keep out that home grown British weather how about some windshields? Rycote have a new stereo version of their top end Cyclone system, while French windshield gurus
Cinela have some very interesting new products in development. In batteries it’s another English French thing, Hawk-Woods fly the home flag while French company Audio Root make battery systems so good they’ve contrived to make batteries actually interesting. In headphones the Sennheiser HD25s are not just classic, they have official legend status but if they don’t do it for you how about Audio Technica’s ATH-70s? With so much going on and so many choices -
and of course there are far more than are listed here - it’s a good time to be on location. Weather permitting. www.zoom.co.jp www.sounddevices.com www.zaxcom.com www.dpamicrophones.com www.aaton.com www.rycote.com www.audioltd.com
37-39 AMI JanFeb 2018 Feature_Final.indd 3
END USER FOCUS
PLAYING THE FIELD When on location or in audio-sensitive environments, sound designers and ﬁeld recordists usually require the most compact solutions for the biggest jobs. Here, we speak to a number of professionals who have recently got to grips with some of the latest, most versatile oﬀerings to ﬁnd out how they use their features for capturing audio on the move.
Sound Devices MixPre-10T
Watson Wu Aimed at sound designers, podcasters, videographers, and musicians, Sound Devices’ MixPre Series of compact audio recorders and USB audio interfaces utilise handcrafted Kashmir microphone preamps, advanced mixing, touch screens, built-in
Jerry Ibbotson The Olympus LS-P1 and LS-P2 are both part of the company’s new LS Pocket Series, designed for recording anything from a band’s jam sessions to podcasts as well as audio for videos and interviews. The LS Pockets claim to be one of the smallest hi-res audio recorders ever made at just under 15cm tall and less than 1.8cm thick. Directional microphone systems ensure recordings in broadcast quality Linear PCM 96kHZ/24bit format.
Bluetooth Smart, and much more. In Autumn 2017 the company expanded the line with the MixPre-10T, a 10-input, 12-channel recorder with built-in timecode generator/reader and additional I/O flexibility. Sound designer and field recordist Watson Wu was recently hired to work on a Mercedes Benz commercial, whereby he was
like recording with MS stereo linking.” Since then, Wu has successfully captured a 1926 Ford Trimotor plane for a Ford Museum Exhibit and weapon sounds for a yet to be announced project. He is a fan of the MixPre-10T’s small footprint and light weight along with its dual powering options, top joystick transport buttons and clean mic preamps.
tasked to rig multiple microphones on and around a high-speed vehicle. Despite already owning a number of devices, Wu wanted to purchase another high-input field recorder to capture more onboard and external channels all at the same time. “When the new recorder arrived, I only had one day to learn how to use it prior to the Mercedes-AMG job, but this little guy was easy to use,” says Wu. “I was quite pleased to be able to link inputs 1 through 4 and just turn knob #1 to change the overall gain when we used an Ambisonic mic, while I also
The LS-P2 incorporates a TRESMIC, 3-microphone system for expanded frequency response with better bass capture (20hz to 20,000hz) and also allows the results to be sent to external speakers via Bluetooth. It also includes a Normalisation function, enabling the levels of recorded files to be subsequently boosted to the optimal distortion-free maximum volume - without the need for any PC or additional software. Jerry Ibbotson, who worked as a BBC radio journalist, sound designer, and more recently a freelance audio producer, believes that what all the LS models have in common is recording quality, great build, and ease of use. “A real bug-bear with small recorders is pre-amp hiss,” says Ibbotson. “But the LS-P1 and -P2 give clean, clear sound and they’re also dead easy to use, with menu layers kept to a minimum. “I’ve used them in radio reporting, sound effects acquisition and even to record a psychic ‘reading’. The results are far better than you might expect from such small devices and they just ooze quality. They’re a worthy addition to any audio person’s arsenal.” www.olympus.co.uk
END USER FOCUS FIELD RECORDERS
Alistair McGhee With four XLR/TRS combo inputs, a 3.5mm stereo input, and a Zoom mic capsule input, the F4 multi-track field recorder can record up to six discrete tracks with an additional stereo mix track—all at resolutions up to 24-bit/192 kHz. For precise audio/video syncing, the F4 utilises a Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO) that generates time code at 0.2 ppm accuracy. The F4 supports all standard drop frame and non-drop formats, and can jam sync to time code provided by external devices.
A dual SD card recording feature lets users record simultaneously on two SD/SDHC/SDXC cards (up to 512 GB each), for instantly backing up or splitting recordings. Meanwhile, a dual-channel recording mode lets users create safety tracks for inputs 1 and 2, each with independent level, limiting, delay, phase inversion, and high-pass filtering. Alistair McGhee was an audio engineer for the BBC before moving to radio and TV production, and is well versed with Zoom’s field recorders and audio interfaces. The tape return input on the F4, which can handle -10 or +4, is selectable to inputs five and six, and when used this way
hitting the input 5/6 custom button the front panel sends a prefade listen of the tape return to the headphones,” McGhee explains. “Very convenient - but at the small cost of recording tracks 5 and 6.” “As an extra safety feature the recorder closes the record files at regular intervals and so should disaster strike you will not lose the whole file,” adds McGhee, who recently used the F4 in his workflow. “I tried pulling the card out of the recorder while in the middle of a take and I lost about ten seconds of audio; the rest of the file was completely intact and usable.” www.zoom.co.jp
The DR-10L is an ultra-compact digital recorder/lavalier ThDR- The lavalier microphones and other mics with the same connector. Andy Napthine of Napthine Porter Marketing has used the DR-10L many times when recording corporate and YouTube videos, and finds it to be a very versatile mic/recorder package. “It is light in weight and discrete in use, and has never let us down,” says Napthine. “I particularly like the dual recording modes and limiter feature, which records the content at two levels – one lower than the main input. This has helped us out a few times when recording outdoors on site. It is very easy to use and the overall build quality and reliability is outstanding – it is excellent value for money and a unit that I would highly recommend.” www.tascam.com
Andy Napthine The DR-10L is an ultra-compact digital recorder/lavalier microphone combination. Designed for filmmakers and videographers, it is a solution that provides sonics in a convenient form factor. For location recording, a DR-10L can be mounted to each on-camera actor, making booms, wires or expensive wireless systems unnecessary. The DR-10L is also a handy tool for experimental audio designers thanks to its portability and its tiny, professional spec microphone. For added flexibility, the included wired lavalier microphone is affixed via a screw connector compatible with most Sennheiser
Focal are well known for their high-ﬁdelity speaker design and AMI reviewer Alan Branch got his hands on a pair of these high-end cans from the French manufacturer, which have taken years of R&D to perfect...
ocal has a long and acclaimed history with speakers, from a French-based precision mechanics company in 1979, to one of the world’s leading speaker designers and manufacturers. Focal has over recent years been turning its technologies to headphone creation, and have now ﬁnally released what it claims is the ultimate in reference monitoring headphones, the Focal Utopia. It is based on a full range, open backed loudspeaker with a claimed 5Hz to 50kHz frequency response, and uses a rather special pure Beryllium “M” shaped speaker diaphragm that Focal have spent years in R&D to manufacture.
The design Any pair of headphones that aims to be the pinnacle of innovation development and manufacturing and charge £3,500 for a pair better be more than good. They need to be amazing. So are the Focal Utopias really the new standard of headphone reference monitoring or gloriﬁed audiophile fodder? I nervously opened the Focal box; the packaging is pretty nice, but not opulent, with its up-and-over foldout style magnetic lid, lined with a soft acoustic treatment styled inner foam. Once you handle the Utopias you soon start to notice the detail and quality. There’s a long thick detachable OFC shielded headphone cable, ﬁtted with shielded Lemo Connectors that connect to the Utopias via a self-locking bayonet and a Neutrick stereo jack at the other end. No mini jack connectors here then! The cushioned leather headband incorporates an adjustable carbon ﬁbre yoke, beautifully sculptured, strong and light, the reinforced material immediately makes me think of the number of broken plastic yoke headphones I’ve trod on or dropped over the years. The ear cups are memory foam covered with lambskin and absorption fabric, in a 50/50 split as Focal had even taken to testing the frequency response of the cushions. Encapsulated in a highly open back design to allow for full decompression of the speakers, the retro looking ear cups have the driver assembly placed oﬀ centre, positioned to the very front of the cup and angled back towards 42
Key Features Open-back circum-aural headphones Carbon fibre yoke Loudspeakers made of a pure Beryllium “M” shape dome Frequency response: 5Hz - 50kHz RRP: £3,500 ($4,840) www.focal.com
”Testing the Utopia was a lovely audio journey” the ears. I like this design, given the diﬀerent size of people’s heads. This helps ensure a good stereo image, after all, our ears are angled out from our heads for a reason. As an engineer I’ve worn a lot of headphones but these felt substantially diﬀerent. Firstly, the memory foam cushions isolate outside sound incredibly well, I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the most striking parts of the Utopia’s design. The Utopia weighs in at 490g, so not light, yet before I looked up the stats I felt these were a light pair of headphones.
In Use Clearly the Utopia’s ﬁnish has high detail and quality components, but how do they sound? I am basing this article on their use in the professional studio; if Utopias are to be truly called reference headphones there is no better test than being used for mixing and mastering. My ﬁrst impressions of the Utopia whilst listening to a variety of master mixes was one of appreciation, the spacious sound and detail takes a while to get used to. Listening to 96k mixes showed beautifully even frequency tonal response - switching back and forth to my monitors, the Utopias weren’t too dissimilar. Normally with any monitor change, the frequency response or stereo width can change dramatically, but then that’s why mixers have diﬀerent sets of speakers as we want to hear how our mixes translate to other playback equipment. Also our ears quickly compensate to speakers so it’s good to reset your listening environment. With the Utopias I could hear mix compression on some low mids on tracks that
even on my trusty Harbeth monitors I’ve used for over a decade, I struggle to hear. I admit I was a little presumptuous expecting something bright and bass heavy, but the Utopias are far from cliché frequency tweaked sound ﬂattering reproduction. Compared to other headphones, there were obvious diﬀerent frequency and phase responses, however overall the centre image felt less present on the Utopia. Its open back does create a diﬀerent sound stage. To resolve this, I tested comparisons via Sonarworks Reference 4 software, an excellent monitoring calibration software that equalises colouration and phase on monitors and headphones. Sonarworks were kind enough to provide a calibration proﬁle for the Utopia, yet if I was to keep them, I’d certainly invest in a Sonarworks custom frequency proﬁle. I compared Utopia headphones to a variety of studio cans including Sennheisers, AKGs or my favourite studio aﬀordable ATH M50x. A crazy comparison for something costing over 20 times more but also diﬃcult because these are all closed back headphones, and I don’t use open back in the studio. However using Sonarworks calibration, sound diﬀerences between headphones can be minimised. Focal’s proﬁciency is quite apparent; Utopia’s frequency response proﬁle was the most even and they easily provided the best, most sublime listening experience.
Conclusion Testing the Utopia was a lovely audio journey and the excellent construction is supported by innovative design and supreme speaker
manufacturing. The resulting sound is second to none. Transients are sharp, and tonal response of mixes come out in detail and depth. If you’re one for 3D mixing or mixing within a box like me this is highly important, I want to hear if something doesn’t fit, if an EQ is too sharp, how wet or dry an instrument is etc. I rely on my monitoring, it is after all the most important part of any studio upon which I base all my audio shaping decisions. Mix tasks can be done with a decent set of affordable studio headphones, like the popular Audio Techinca M50x or new M70x supported with calibration software like Sonarworks to achieve great results in the studio. However, the Utopia is in another category altogether in terms of build, design and sonic excellence compared to most low cost studio headphones. If you have to rely on headphones to mix on, master on, or simply want the highest quality mobile playback then investing in great headphones will be a priority. After listening to the Utopias I’d say if your budget allows, the Focal Utopia is the best set you’re likely to find.
The Reviewer Alan Branch is a freelance engineer/producer. His list of credits include Jamiroquai, Beverley Knight, M People, Simply Red, Depeche Mode, Shed 7, Sinead O’Connor and Bjork. www.alanbranch.com
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PRESONUS QUANTUM INTERFACE Brad Watts reviews the new Quantum 26 x 32 Thunderbolt Interface from Presonus...
s I always state when reviewing Presonus products, I’m a bonafide fan. Since 1995 the company has established itself as a player in the semi-pro audio production arena. Initial Presonus interfaces, inevitably named ‘Fire something-or-other’, had front panels milled from blocks of aluminium. While they worked, and connected to a computer with a Firewire cable, they utilised Yamaha’s luckless mLan protocol. mLan was clever in that it could transport audio, MIDI data, and wordclock over a Firewire cable, but the patching software was archaic, and Presonus moved on to ‘proper’ Firewire. The Presonus Quantum leaves Firewire and USB behind with Thunderbolt 2 for data transport. It’s a vastly
units myself – I like them. They distort guitars quite well. Mimicking the Studio 192, the Quantum includes control room features. The front panel has a large main output level control, and a single gain level control ﬂanked by left/right buttons. The left/right buttons scroll through the eight preamp input gains, and to engage 48V power to the selected pre. A ninth ‘c’ setting adjusts gain for the built-in talkback mic. Preamp levels and individual 48V power for each mic pre can be set from within your DAW using MIDI controller information. A shrewd integration is the line and main outs are DC coupled. This allows triggering and control voltage (CV) signals to be sent out to analogue synths and sequencers from your DAW.
“Presonus has given DSP the boot to keep the processing path as slippery as an eel” quicker machine than the previous USB 3.0 Studio 192. The Quantum can be daisy-chained via Thunderbolt for up to 96 channels over four units, something Firewire promised but never delivered. The Quantum offers eight mic/line inputs and eight line TRS outputs, with expansion via ADAT optical. SMUX is supported for 96kHz recording across all available inputs – 16 ADAT channels at 44.1/48kHz, and eight at 88.2/96kHz. The Quantum represents Presonus’s first stray from its signature blue/silver colour scheme in exchange for black – how very rock. On cursory inspection the only real change from Studio 192 models is the addition of MIDI ports. A single input and output is plenty nowadays with many users using virtual instruments. So apart from MIDI ports and a ﬂashy black ﬁnish, are there advances with the Quantum interfaces, or are they simply revamped Studio 192 units with Thunderbolt 2 ports? The rear of the Quantum presents six XLR/TRS combo inputs and eight TRS ¼-inch outputs. These are flanked by TRS ¼-inch main outputs followed by S/PDIF coaxial I/O and wordclock I/O. Next is the ADAT I/O, and above are two Thunderbolt 2 ports. The first for connection to computers, the second for chaining additional Quantum units. Out front are two combo connectors for high impedance signals or mics. As for the sound of the XMAX pre’s, as I mentioned in my review of the Studio 192, I have a set of these Class-A
SOFT Presonus supply an app for setting monitor paths, headphone routing and ancillary options such as talkback setups. Presonus’s Universal Control also controls preamps, setting headphone output sources, and S/PDIF behaviour, along with metering and a spectrum analyser. Now, here’s where I realised a major difference between the Studio 192 devices and the Quantums – there’s no onboard DSP, and no internal mixing. I wrongly assumed Presonus would include its ‘Fat Channel’ signal processing – the same DSP tools used throughout its StudioLive consoles and Studio 192 interfaces. This may steer potential buyers away from the Quantum, especially if they’re hoping to use the Quantum in live recording situations, but then it may not. It would depend greatly upon whether the host computer can supply enough processing via the DAW in use. It’s horses for courses, but without an internal mixer and mixer software you’re bound to a DAW for bussing. Presonus has given DSP the boot to keep the processing path as slippery as an eel. At 96kHz and with a buﬀer setting of 32 in Logic Pro X the resulting roundtrip is meagre. With a quick playback and recording of a spike at these settings the latency came out at around 1.38ms. That’s extremely low, and virtually undetectable in a live monitoring situation. Bump down to 44.1kHz and the roundtrip comes in at two milliseconds. Again, exemplary latency.
Key Features Turn on a dime latency Exceptional audio quality MIDI and CV Ample I/O RRP: £1,005.00 ($1,390) www.presonus.com
HARD The Quantum improves specifications over the Studio 192. The X-MAX mic preamps offer EIN of <131dBu over <128dBu, yet frequency response is 20Hz to 40kHz as opposed to the Studio 192’s 10Hz to 40kHz. Dynamic range of the instrument inputs is >106dB (A-weight) compared with the Studio 192 at >110 dB, with the line inputs greatly improved at >118dB (A-weight). Main monitoring and line outputs also see an improvement. Dynamic range is >118dB as opposed to the Studio 192 at >112dB and the total harmonic distortion is reduced from 0.005% to 0.0035%. ADC and DAC dynamic range is 120dB. The resulting audio quality is impressive, and goes to show Presonus aren’t resting on laurels. So who’s going to find the Quantum the ideal interface solution? I’d imagine those looking for quality I/O and an all-in-one solution. Super-low latency, MIDI, DAW programmability, macOS and Windows compatibility, and throw in CV triggering – it feels like this could be the interface for the analogue synth brigade. At a paltry £1,005 you’re gaining scads of functionality: superb recording and monitoring conversion, and a control room system and talkback. The Studio 192 was great, but the Quantum is so much more.
The Reviewer Brad Watts has been a freelance writer for numerous audio mags, has mastered and mixed various bands, and was deputy editor of AudioTechnology in Australia. He is now digital content manager for Content and Technology.
SOUNDCRAFT NOT Alistair McGhee tests out this mini analogue mixer from Soundcraft
Key Features Analogue mixing console Three effects: chorus, reverb and delay USB connectivity Durable metal enclosure RRP: £149.00 ($207) hat do you give the sound engineer who has everything? Another mixer of course! Like guitars, you can’t have too many mixers. So I’m always keen to look at a new addition to the mixer market, in this case the new Soundcraft Notepad-12FX. We all love a 48 channel J series mixer - SSL or Calrec - but seriously how are you going to get it in your Crumpler messenger bag? We don’t just need big mixers, we need small mixers and we need mixers we can aﬀord and the new Notepad series from Soundcraft aims to satisfy both these criteria. Available in three
formats, Notepad 5, 8FX and the 12FX - they are all highly portable and very aﬀordable. The FX stands of course for on-board eﬀects. For perspective, all of the headphones I plugged into the 12FX cost considerably more than the mixer - makes you think about value for money! But value of course is closely related to performance - so we’ll have to return to the value issue having had a good look at the new Notepad. The 12FX oﬀers four channels of mono mic/line input on combi jacks, two stereo line inputs on quarter inch jack and stereo line inputs on phonos which doubles as a stereo input via USB
www.soundcraft.com from the computer. The audio over USB is combined with the audio from the physical phono connectors. A stereo eﬀects return on quarter inch jacks overplug the normal function of the channel, which is the return from the on-board eﬀects. All in all a decent amount of input in a package little bigger than a hefty hardback. All this sits in a solid steel top plate that gives the body of the mixer a feeling of tough resilience. The mic inputs have permanent 48 phantom - ribbon mics beware. Each mic channel has a
high pass ﬁlter at 100Hz and three band EQ. Inputs 1 and 3 can be switched to Hi Z allowing you to plug one of your many guitars in directly. The four mic channels and the two stereo inputs have trims pots for the input gain with up to 60 dB of gain on the mic channels and plus or minus twenty dB on the stereo line inputs. On the output side the main output is available on XLRs, which are very welcome at this price point. There’s a mono aux output on quarter inch jack. This output is post the Aux Master and can be switched between a mono line out and a stereo headphone output. The aux out send is pre fader and also pre the pan and balance controls. Finally the headphone output on quarter inch jack with its own volume control. The output is switchable between the master output and channels 3 and 4 of the USB output. There’s a couple of points here, First the output is beefy enough to drive the 250 Ohm Beyerdynamic DT1990s loud enough for Ted Nugent. Yes it goes up to 11, handy for momentary checking a tricky section of the mix. Careful though, the headphone output is pre the main fader. So you could be mixing the Jam reunion gig and ﬁnd that you have inadvertently knocked the main fader back and you wouldn’t hear that in the headphones. To help avoid just such a situation you do get four level bar graph LED metres on the output and the four mic input channels have a peak LED to warn you when you are over driving the inputs. Each mic channel features a simple three-band EQ. The high and low bands are shelves at 12.5 Khz and 80 Hz respectively while the mid band at 2.5 Khz is an asymmetric curve, boost is wide while cut is narrow for your notching. A nice little touch, I thought. These days Soundcraft is part of the Harman group
- now owned by Samsung - and they take their place alongside such luminaries as AKG, Studer and Lexicon. The spin oﬀ here is that the Notepad’s eﬀects sport the Lexicon eﬀects label. The eﬀects bus shares a send with the aux bus. Despite the manual describing the eﬀects send as post fade, I found both aux send and eﬀects send to be prefade (We are told that the .pdf manual prefade error will be ﬁxed and posted online by the time we’ve gone to press). The aux bus goes through the aux master while the eﬀects are sent directly to the processor from each individual channel. You get three eﬀects with the Notepad reverb, delay and chorus. Each eﬀect is controlled by a latching button and as the eﬀects combine you have a total of six combinations. If you latch all the buttons down you get the Karaoke setting. Each eﬀect has parameter control on a single knob. Note this doesn’t go from 100% dry to wet - you always get some eﬀect when engage the send. Delay oﬀers you a slap back echo up to about a second and turning the parameter pot will get you up to seven repeats. Reverb varies from small live room up to a Vincent Price sized auditorium. The good news is the eﬀects are not terrible and neither are they noisy in fact they are perfectly usable. The ﬁnal major feature of the Notepad is the USB connectivity. It’s a four in, four out interface which means you can neatly track all four mic inputs for instance. In PC world, USB outputs one and two from the desk are ﬁxed as direct outputs of channel inputs one and two, while three and four can be conﬁgured to be inputs three and four, stereo inputs ﬁve and six or seven and eight or ﬁnally main outputs left and right. In MacOS world you get the the direct outputs
of channels 1 and 2 and the main mix prefader on 3 and 4. No drivers for MacOS required; the PC driver installed painlessly on my Win 10 system. On the return side you have DAW outputs one and two on stereo channel nine and ten and three and four available at the headphone monitoring. To be honest it would be churlish to complain about any aspect of the Notepad-12FX. It packs a ridiculous amount of features for the money. Tuck it under your arm and it has enough ﬂexibility and connectivity to cope with many basic gigs or sit on the desk plugged into your DAW as an interface and problem solver. A notable bargain. According to the manufacturer, two new free Mac and PC Control Panels are being published in line with the 2018 NAMM show , which include two changes. Firstly, input selection will now be available on both PC and Mac Control Panels as well as ﬁrmware update tools on both PC and Mac. Secondly, a new free “ducker” feature will be added for both PC and Mac. Using the new updated Control Panel, users can select any combination of mic inputs as side chain compressor sources, to drive a broadcast style “ducker” feature on the USB return.
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. Most recently, he was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba. January/February 2018
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Stephen Bennett assesses the latest update to this classic DAW from Steinberg
n many ways, Steinberg’s Cubase is the grand-daddy (or-mammy) of all Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) and it’s hard to believe that the ﬁrst iterations of this pioneering soft ware were developed for the Atari ST in the technoprehistory days of 1989. Each new version brings improvements and new features and Cubase 9.5 is no exception. As usual, the programme comes in several ﬂavours that meet various requirements and pricepoints. We’re looking here at the full-fat Cubase Pro in this review. The headline change in version 9.5 is the move to a double-precision 64-bit mixing engine. I can’t say I’ve noticed any issues with the old worn-out 32-bit Cubase, but the extra headroom available should mean that you can stop worrying about the bits and more about the whole. The number of VST insert eﬀects that you can use has doubled and you can instance these pre- or post-fader - but you can also dynamically adjust the mix between the two settings. I’m not sure how useful this will be yet, but you can’t fault Steinberg for giving you all the possible options! Automation gets an update with some easy-to use curve facilities and a new range tool that improves automation editing workﬂow. I’ve been waiting for something like Direct Oﬄine Processing for a while as it allows you to non-destructively render plug-in chains - or events - to help de-stress your CPU, something that’s sorely required on my ageing Mac Pro. There are some new Zones as well - the Right Zone features a new ﬁle browser with preview facilities and the Control Room Zone that covers cue and monitoring mixes. There’s also a useful new section that displays information about the levels and loudness of your mixes. One of the most important parts of a DAW is one that is often overlooked or diﬃcult to use - or even ﬁnd - yet one that is especially important for those of us that write music that strays beyond the one hundred and twenty beats, four-four norms. The new metronome in Cubase is brilliant and comes with its own accent editor, making it a doddle to get useful rhythmical assistance no matter what the subject matter of your concept album. As you may expect from the inventors of the Virtual Studio Technology, some of Cubase’s VSTs have been updated in version 9.5. The Vintage compressor and Tube compressor have received visual and sonic overhauls as has the Magneto tape saturator. I haven’t used the latter for a while, but I was surprised how useful it was to help ‘glue’ elements of a mix together.
The compressors are easily as good as most thirdparty software oﬀerings now, and lose little sonically in comparison to my UA 1176 hardware unit. They just sound diﬀerent, is all. The bundled HALion Sonic SE synthesiser plug-in is supplemented with the FLUX wavetable library. I had quite a bit of experience with early wavetable synthesisers, especially the PPG Wave, and Yamaha’s (and Dave Smith’s) Wavestation, but the wavetables available here and the processing oﬀered are, compared to those veritable machines, akin to what Concord is to the Wright Brother’s Kitty Hawk. If you’re a ﬁlm composer or sound eﬀects editor, the library oﬀers rich-sonic pickings that easily stands up in quality to some libraries costing the same as the upgrade to 9.5 alone. One of the nice things about Cubase is that in each iteration, they appear to have listened to their user base in a way other competitors sometimes do not. An example of this is the new Adapt to Zoom feature. If you are - as I am - constantly zooming in and out during a session, it’s incredibly frustrating when you have to deal with diﬀerent levels of resolution when moving things around. If you zoom in you want ﬁne movement - zoom out and you want it more grid-snappy. Happily, this all happens automatically under the hood in version 9.5, and it has improved my editing workﬂow to no-end. There’s a new video engine that appears to be part of an ongoing project to improve video support for the ‘music with visual’ composers amongst us and tweaks to the Sampler track that was introduced in version 9. Support for the Softube 1 console hardware controller will be added in the next maintenence update, alongside a brace of ‘production presets’ you can use as jumping oﬀ points for your own work.
Key Features 64-bit mixing engine Direct Offline Processing Updated video engine New Automation range tool RRP: £459.00 ($635) www.steinberg.net As Apple appear to be approaching the ‘no wires or ports’ paradigm for their computers, the day may soon come when many of us are forced to move to the Microsoft Windows platform. To those I say “do not be a-feared”. Cubase will be awaiting you with open arms, oodles of power and a familiar workflow.For those already using Cubase, the upgrade is essential, and for those using competitor DAWs or thinking of moving platforms, the unique features of Cubase will delight you. I suspect that version 10 will appear on the 30th anniversary of the software in 2018 and I’m looking forward to the undoubted surprises that Steinberg will have in store for us.
The Reviewer Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the University of East Anglia. January/February 2018
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FROM THE PRO AUDIO WORLD
Here are some of the best tweets from the start of 2018. Keep tweeting if you want to be featured in the next issue... Melanie C
Loved being part of the AIM Women in music event. Exciting times ahead #girlpower
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Each month AMI features a pro audio professional from a range of disciplines to ďŹ nd out how they got their start in the industry and what theyâ€™ve worked on... What do you do? I am a record producer and engineer.
What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? My UAD Apollo and Digigrid IOX interfaces.
How did you get into the industry? Playing and writing music in a band that was doing alright when I was younger, and who were recording a lot.
What industry professional inspired you the most to do what you do? Catherine Marks and Charlie Andrew, as well as Paul Epworth, Max Martin and Ryan Tedder who I guess are â€˜classicâ€™ pop producers.
What are some of your credits? I had a role on Laura Marlingâ€™s project Reversal of the Muse, and produced the whole of Kate Dimblebyâ€™s album.
LAUREN DEAKIN DAVIES 50
What has been your favourite project youâ€™ve worked on and why? Working with Kate Dimbleby because it was a completely new type of project for me.
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