/ Microphone Focus: vocals / Ambisonic: the latest options / Livestreaming: simple setups
/ Scope Labs Periscope: metal machine music / Bettermaker EQ232D: mastering magic / Leapwing's Al Schmitt Signature plugin
/Mike Elizondo: from Aftermath to Nashville /Colin Newman: engineering Wire's third act /Matthew Herbert: on Sound of the Year
V21.2 | April/May 2021 | £5.50
The The Interview Interview
Michelle Couttolenc Xxxxx Xxxxxxxx & Jaime Baksht Xxx
Unmatched sound meets award-winning design
Combine the renowned 5 mm capsules with CORE by DPA technology and the innovative, award-winning headset construction, and you have the next level in headset solutions. Available in both omnidirectional as well as cardioid variants, these are the most advanced 5 mm headsets available. If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all, durable and flexible headset solution to capture clear and accurate sound while remaining comfortably in place, these are the right ones to choose.
4466 CORE Omnidirectional Headset Microphone 4488 CORE Directional Headset Microphone
24 V21.2 | April/May 2021
News & Analysis 5 6 11
Leader News News, studios, appointments New Products Featuring Lawo, DPA, SSL, L-Acoustics and more
16 Crosstalk — Rob Speight Rob talks to musician Matthew Herbert about his role in the Sound of The Year awards, and how important sound is to our physical and mental wellbeing 50 Playlist At the end of April, we lost the legendary engineer and producer Al Schmitt at the age of 91. So, in a special Playlist, we pay tribute to Al with a few personal memories of the man from our own Jeff Turner, and our picks from his absolutely stellar list of credits
24 Michelle Couttolenc and Jaime Baksht The mix team behind Sound of Metal talk to John Moore about sculpting the film’s unique soundscapes, being given creative freedom, and making sure the film sounded its best however it was going to be shown 28 Colin Newman Colin Newman of art-rock survivors Wire, talks to David Davies about the band's highly productive third act, and how gaining control of the means of musical production has allowed them to constantly find new leases of life 43 Mike Elizondo From classical studies to studio sessions for Dr Dre, songwriting, production credits, and then a move to his own studio in Nashville. Mike Elizondo’s career trajectory has never been predictable, but has always been upwards. George Shilling charts his rise
Michelle Couttolenc & Jaime Baksht
Cover image: Matt Petit / A.M.P.A.S.
33 Vocal and Voiceover mics We take an overview of the market with a look at some classics and new contenders 40 Ambisonic mics Jon Thorton explores an old technology that’s seen a new lease of life, and a market that’s offered up a whole range of new options in the last few years 46 Electro-acoustic Livestreams Andrew Levine takes us through his planning and execution of a skeleton-crewed improvised performance livestream, that featured an interesting array of unusual instruments.
REVIEWS 18 20 22 23
Scope Labs Periscope PreSonus PD-70 Bettermaker EQ232D Leapwing Al Schmitt Signature
April/May 2021 / 3
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Living la vida louder
s a person who’s spent a fair amount of their adult life in front and behind speaker systems of varying sizes and volumes — on stage, at gigs, in clubs, in studios, using headphones, at home and at work, the film Sound of Metal hit me with the kind of creeping menace I’d expect a horror movie. Ever since I first came home from a concert exhilarated, and with my ears ringing (seeing as you didn’t ask: a long-gone band called Catherine Wheel at the much-missed Princess Charlotte in Leicester, England in 1991), I’ve been somewhat fascinated by volume, and the effect it can have on your physical being. It was a phenomenon I pursued in my own music from my teens onwards, and in the music I sought out. Life was as loud as we could get away with, and it was a vibe I and my friends revelled in for the best part of two decades. That was until I finally encountered the now legendary/ infamous My Bloody Valentine live experience, and two shows from them over two nights punched that particular obsession right out of me like Tilda Swinton’s Marvel character might. They, somehow (and finally), made me see it for the dead-end it was and move on… While that didn’t make for a great show, it was a very real lesson that tales of frontman Kevin Shields’ own hearing problems, of which I had known for years, had failed to impart. 20 years is a long... stupidly long... time to revel in loud music, and I know my hearing has taken a battering over that time despite my latter-day attempts to treat myself with more respect — both for professional and personal reasons. So, to watch the progression of Sound of Metal’s main character, Ruben, as he loses his hearing and battles his own demons in the aftermath was a jarring thing. However, Sound of Metal is affecting for more than just its story’s shock value to those of us prone to
self-inflicted aural harm. Knowing people who wear cochlear implants and who suffer from varying degrees of hereditary and late-onset hearing loss, the movie’s sound design offers an emotional insight into their world. Reading about the preparation, research and dedicated recording work that went into realising the transition between the film’s three distinct soundscapes is what led me to seek out the film’s re-recording mixers, Jaime Baksht and Michelle Couttolenc — who have subsequently been, rightly may I say, rewarded with an Oscar as part of the sound team led by Nicolas Becker — as their work on the film is an object lesson in how creative and meticulous thinking about sound design can elevate a movie-watching experience. I’m pretty sure you’ll never have heard anything quite like Sound of Metal, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. I hope you enjoy Jaime and Michelle’s excellent insight, and feel the intense pride they obviously take in their work together. One of the film’s most emotional scenes for me was watching Ruben undergo a hearing test; I can tell you that sitting and hearing tones in the room that the participant in a test cannot hear through the headphones they’re bleeding from, can be a sickening feeling. Rightly, Sound of Metal makes pains to stress that people with hearing issues are not ‘lesser’ per se than those who can hear more, that they can live an alternative — but in no way lacking — life without their full faculty. However, those who have a career based around sound, who have built a life based on the function of their hearing, will possibly feel some of the anxiety of that central character in a very visceral way — and experience the movie from a somewhat more intense perspective. Rightly so. Be safe.
April/May 2021 / 5
Avid and Dolby team-up for Atmos certification Avid and Dolby have announced the first Pro Tools-centric Dolby Atmos training and certification. Accessed through the Avid Learning Partners program, the self-paced course will cover the integration of the Dolby Atmos Renderer with Avid’s flagship audio software. Comprised of 40 hours of self-learning and 18 hours of instructor-led training, held over three days, the course concludes with a professional certification exam. Upon completion of the coursework and passing the exam, candidates will earn the Avid Certified Professional: Pro Tools | Dolby Atmos certification credential. It serves to allow Pro Tools mixers to recognise the components of a Dolby Atmos content creation studio, and outline workflows for creating immersive audio in Pro Tools. Students will also learn techniques for working with Dolby Atmos beds and objects, Pro Tools session management, Dolby Atmos Renderer configurations, and final delivery formats. The training course, PT210D Pro Tools Dolby Atmos Production, is available from www.avid.com/courses.
Axelsson opts for maximum Genelec Maxe Axelsson has selected more Genelec monitoring to equip the mastering facilities at Sweden's PAMA Records. The upgrade sees the studio add the firm's 8351B coaxial three-way monitor and the W371A adaptive woofer system. “We originally had the Genelec 1038ACs as mains," Axelsson says, "We loved the sound of these three-way centre speakers in a stereo setup... but then we had a problem with the bass that we couldn’t fix, so we decided to get in the W371s not really thinking it would be the final solution."
However, after the system was calibrated, he was more than happy with the change. "We had never seen that type of installation work before," he added. "We are not disappointed, we love the system!” PAMA also uses the GLM loudspeaker software for configuration and day-to-day operation. “It’s more than a good speaker calibration system," Axelsson says, "it’s great for comparing levels while we’re mastering as well as finalising little details. We also use it as a monitor controller.” www.genelec.com
Diversified builds custom IP solution with TSL Diversified faced a challenge at BerkleeNYC's campus-based recording facility formerly known as Avatar Studios. In the process of building an IP network for the school’s Power Station studio, Diversified turned to broadcast workflow experts TSL Products to provide an IP routing interface that marries its GTP-V1 controller and Virtual Panels into a solution known as ‘IP-Cross Connect.’ Diversified then hired DNF Controls to create software and a flexible matrix that allows any of BerkleeNYC’s four recording studios to operate separately or share audio and video resources. Thanks to the custom design, Power Station’s IP network supports three floors of audio studios with nearly two dozen 4K-ready PTZ cameras as well a basement live-performance space. The software control layer acts to ensure that all the individual pieces of audio and video gear can easily be found. diversifiedus.com 6 / April/May 2021
Calrec Apollo for Dome's Gateway Canada-based Dome Productions has unveiled a new all-IP SMPTE 2110 OB mobile unit replete with a Calrec Apollo digital audio console. Called Gateway, the truck is Dome’s first large-scale, all IP, UHD/HDR unit and is currently being used for TSN and Rogers SportsNet on their hockey broadcasts. The Apollo was commissioned and managed by Calrec’s Canadian partner SC Media. The decision to go with the Apollo came down to several features, says Al Karloff, Manager of Engineering Services, Dome
Productions: “It’s important for our clients to have the power of the Apollo’s 1020 DSP paths, as well as the double layer of faders for direct access on the control surface. There’s also a large A1 operator base that makes for better and more consistent productions.” Gateway is part of a drive by Dome to broaden its offerings: “We’re excited to take advantage of optimised and new workflows, Karloff added, "Now, virtual paths can be dynamically connected to change workflows depending on the show." www.calrec.com
Audio Suite moves and hires The Birmingham, UK-based Audio Suite facility has made a move to a historic building in the City's Jewellery quarter and appointed engineer, mixer and producer Marcus Byrne as director of UK audio post-production. Byrne's CV includes recording and playing on albums with acts such as The Sugarbabes, One Republic, Mika, The Saturdays, and Annie Lennox; as well as live performances with Take That. Managing Director, Dr. Neil Hillman, says "We are obviously delighted to welcome Marcus on board. His almost-25 years of studio engineering and mixing experience is an amazing fit; and the fact that our
long-term relationship with each other has always been as collaborators, rather than rivals, makes this a logical and easy next step on both The Audio Suite’s and our own personal journeys." The move sees a master control room upgrade with Avid HDX2 running Pro Tools Ultimate through an Avid D-Command ES console, coupled to the Avid MTRX Studio audio interface, NLA Video Slave 4 ADR hardware and software, SSL and Focusrite pre-amps, with Neumann and PMC monitoring. ADR sessions will also benefit from a larger workspace of 4.2 x 2.5m, with sufficient space for boom recording. www.theaudiosuite.com
CEDAR Audio Approves Dante Virtual Soundcard After "extensive testing", CEDAR Audio has announced its approval of the Dante Virtual Soundcard for CEDAR Cambridge, providing a way to connect its flagship system to installed Dante networks. Tony Webster, senior engineer for CEDAR Cambridge explained, "Virtual Soundcard [is] a robust way for connected systems to communicate, and it's especially beneficial for customers with larger, distributed audio networks. They will now be able to patch other Dante equipped systems to CEDAR Cambridge's Ethernet port with no special cables or converters, and no more moving of equipment." Dante Virtual Soundcard is an inexpensive software hub for Audinate's AoIP protocol, and allows a PC or Mac to connect with Dante audio devices on the same network. www.cedar-audio.com
Producer Perry picks DPA after Alicia Keys session Following a New York session with Alicia Keys, producer Linda Perry asked her own engineer Luis Flores to add the 4015C Wide Cardioid and 4011A Cardioid to their collection. “Ann Mincieli [Keys' engineer] had DPA 4015s on the piano and Linda fell in love with them. It was the first time she had ever specifically requested a mic for the studio.” Flores now employs a pair of 4015Cs on piano, but also has a pair of 4011As for hi-hats and cymbals. "We were always on a rotation of microphones for the piano. Ever since I started using the DPA 4015s I have not removed them. There is no noise whatsoever." www.dpamicrophones.com
PMC has made staff and structural changes in the last month, the most fundamental being the decision to appoint a board for the first time in its history. Owner and founder Peter Thomas now acts as chairman, with Jeff Willcocks as CEO. Also central to the running of the family concern is Pete's son Oliver Thomas, who is now commercial director — having previously overseen new product design — and Tom Loader, son of PMC’s co-founder Adrian Loader, who is now operations director. “PMC is expanding fast," say Thomas, "and it is not feasible to expect one person to have knowledge of every aspect of the business.” The younger Thomas, has also been a driving force behind PMC Studio, the company’s recently opened Dolby Atmos music mixing suite, and demo facility. That development has also seen the appointment of engineer Heff Moraes in the role of UK business development manager. “Heff’s credentials are second to none," says CEO Jeff Willcocks, "He thoroughly understands modern recording techniques, he has excellent contacts with artists, producers and record labels, and he has hands-on experience of PMC’s products." Moraes started at Sarm Studios in 1984, and went on to work with artists like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones, Paul McCartney, Simple Minds, Annie Lennox and Whitney Houston. More recently, he oversaw the building and management of the studio based at Tape, a private members club in London. At PMC Studio, he will demonstrate the company’s full pro audio product range, including a monitoring system for Dolby Atmos music mixing. “I hope we can encourage current and well-known artists to mix in Atmos," he says, "because content that young people want to buy is what will drive the format,” Finally, Dan Zimbelman has joined the company as senior export business development manager, a US-based position that will see the former Neve-era Focusrite and API man — a near-50-year music industry veteran — utilise his experience and contacts to work with new and key clients and provide specialist advice on all aspects of studio monitoring.
April/May 2021 / 7
APPOINTMENTS Elements, provider of innovative, highperformance media storage and server systems for post-production and broadcast, is welcoming Thomas Grønning Knudsen to the team as head of integration and security. Knudsen joins from M2 Film in Denmark, where he has implemented Elements technology into its production. Knudsen is also tasked with strengthening IT security within the Elements ecosystem, as well as taking responsibility for the third-party storage qualification programme, which allows users to choose the right qualified storage structure for their requirements while running the Elements tools and features on top. Working from Aarhus, Denmark, he will divide his time between supporting clients worldwide and taking an active role in development and strategy at the company headquarters in Düsseldorf, Germany. DPA microphones has decided to establish its own sales force in France, meaning that as of May 1st, 2021, DPA Microphones France has taken over responsibility for all sales in the territory from Audio2. DPA Microphones France will be headed from Denmark by Martin Møller Park, DPA’s VP of Sales for France, while members of Audio2's sales force will join DPA Microphones France from the date of the transition. As well as handling sales and support, they will also play a key role in providing customer feedback. “On behalf of the French team, we are very happy and proud to join the DPA Family”, says Christophe Bonneau, Regional Sales Manager, DPA Microphones France. “We have worked together for many years and built up a strong team. We know the customers and DPA well. Being part of DPA was the logical outcome as we had acted for years like we were the brand itself. The French team will be familiar for most customers with Antoine Renard and myself working with sales and Alex Bonnie-Tholon working with Customer Care and handling orders from customers. And finally, Nicolas Miljeu and his brother Guillaume Miljeu working with marketing and IT.” DPA’s Kalle Hvidt Nielsen believes it has “a strong, loyal customer base… Together with our dealer network, we want to grow the DPA presence in France. With this change, we hope to make the DPA brand more accessible.”
8 / April/May 2021
Lawo helps wrangle indie broadcasters Cologne's 674FM has varied set of demands put upon its studio facilities, as an independent Internet radio station that puts out more than 100 live programs from the in-house studio, festivals and public events every month - driven by 130 independent "program makers". As part of an upgrade plan, and with a continuously growing number of broadcasts, the non-profit decided on radio solutions from Lawo. It chose Lawo’s ruby radio console, with adjacent touchscreen for its ability to control various features using Lawo VisTool,
a GUI that gives access to mixing, EQ & dynamics controls, and other software features - including console 'snapshots' for each user. The mixer and software controls a Power Core 1U DSP mixing engine with the ability to handle analogue, digital and AES67 networked audio sources. The station’s server and playout PCs are integrated into a RAVENNA/ AES67 network using Lawo’s R3LAY VSC virtual sound card software, and controlled with R3LAY Virtual Patch Bay. www.lawo.com
Blue West upgrades with an API 2448 Los Angeles studio Blue West, run by producer/musician Bill Jabr and head engineer James Kang, has now installed an API 2448 recording console to upgrade the facility. With previous clientele including Andre 3000, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Kiko Cibrian, Wale, Ne-Yo, Pi’erre Bourne and the late Juice Wrld, Blue West wanted to move to a mid-format console for its control room that combined analogue character with a modern workflow. The 2248’s front-end tracking, monitor section and ease of use were
standout features for Jabr, who says the API gives Blue West “a solidly built, quality analogue body that stands on its own.” Jabr started his first Studio in 2009, with Kang joining as the very first intern. Five years later, the pair branched out to LA — bringing with them the ethos of putting their setup in the best room they could afford. Having established a good reputation for their work at both sites, they now say they’re “excited to be able to buy a classic recording console like the API 2448.” www.apiaudio.com
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SSL SBi16 goes on location for HEAR
Lostboy links up studio with Flock Audio's Patch Rising pop producer Pete Rycroft (aka Lostboy) has seen chart-topping success in the UK during lockdown thanks to his private studio, which is built around a Patch software-driven analogue routing system. "I am drawn to the science behind the tools I use, but it is a constant battle to not let the technology overtake the creativity.” Which is what drew him to Flock Audio's Patch as a way to blend his older gear into his computer-based workflow, and minimise the time spent setting up. “I am conscious of downtime in a creative environment. Downtime can affect everyone’s energy, and hitting a creative roadblock is not ideal. In my studio, vibe is everything. For someone who has used any DAW, it is obvious what you are doing [with Patch] straight away.” www.flockaudio.com
Broadcast music mixers John Harris and Jody Elff's new service enables them to apply their production skills remotely from their respective private studios. The partnership, HEAR (Harris-Elff Audio Resources), leans on AoIP and digital audio components, including multiple SSL SB i16 SuperAnalogue stageboxes, to remotely mix and record live music and other events for TV and other media. Their Pro Tools-based solution allows them to remotely control Dante-networked digital audio equipment positioned on site, including up to 128 mic preamps, and
generate a feed for live broadcast in stereo, 5.1 or Atmos — while also grabbing a multichannel recording for later remixing. For events that require only a limited number of audio inputs, HEAR sends an 8U rack to location, with Dante-enabled SSL SB i16 stagebox. That offers 16 channels of SSL's mic preamps and can be remotely controlled through SSL’s Network I/O Controller app, allowing Harris and Elff to adjust and monitor input levels and access features such as mic/ line switching, phantom power, pad and a limiter on every channel. www.solidstatelogic.com
Audio restoration for Good Time Records Abbey Road Institute brings Angel back to life Angel Studios, which closed last year after 40 years, has been leased as the new home for Abbey Road Studios’ education division, Abbey Road Institute. It was rumoured that the Islington site would be redeveloped as housing, but this intervention ensures that it persists as a bookable. commercial recording facility while also serving a second role as base for the Institute’s growing student population. Angel Studios will reopen in the Summer and stand as the flagship location for the school; one of seven separate sites across the globe. While the Institutes says demand has outgrown its current St. John’s Wood location, students will continue to use the school’s dedicated facility and the at Abbey Road. www.abbeyroadinstitute.co.uk 10 / April/May 2021
Specialist audio restorer Graham Joiner has begun a marathon project to convert 233 analogue master tapes to HD digital. The archive, now owned by Good Time Records, includes music by The Rockin’ Berries, Kenny Lynch, Frankie Vaughan, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Picket and Jackie Moore. “Some of the original boxes were mouldy and falling apart," say Joiner, "and all the tapes had to be baked to prevent the oxide from shedding.” Graham's Audio Restored studio has turntables, Studer cassette decks, Revox 1/4" tape decks and Steinberg’s Wavelab.
The latest addition to his equipment list are three Prism Sound Titan audio interfaces. “GTR wanted their tapes transferred at a high resolution sample rate so that they could be stored as Ultra HD WAV files. Prism Sound’s Managing Director Jody Thorne recommended Titan because the units could be linked over a Dante network.” Graham purchased three Titans with MDIO Dante cards and a Focusrite Rednet Dante PCIe card so that he could transfer 24-track audio directly into his computer and restore the material for possible new remixes, releases, and sample packs. www.prismsound.com
SHOWS FOR 2021 MPTS, London
Postponed until May '22
AES Show Spring [Digital] Midem Cannes ISE Live & Online Barcelona ISE Live & Online Munich
ISE Live & Online London
High End, Munich
Summer NAMM, Nashville
AES Education Conference, Nashville22-24 July
ISE Live & Online Amsterdam
NAB, Las Vegas
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merging.com/anubis Merging Technologies SA, Le Verney 4, CH-1070, Puidoux, Switzerland
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New products A guide to the latest new hardware and software Lawo
HOME and MC236 48-Fader Home is Lawo’s new management platform for IP based media infrastructures, enabling users to connect, manage and secure networked production setups from the ground up. It provides a central point of access and control for all Lawo gear within a setup, and features automated discovery and registration of devices, connection management, flow control, and software/firmware management. The platform is based on open standards, such as ST2110, NMOS, IEEE802.1x and RADIUS and follows Lawo’s unified experience (LUX) design principles, so should feel intuitive to users of its products via a “simple and friendly” UI. Lawo says it offers “automatic plug-and-play discovery of IP audio and video devices, which are registered with their name, location, status and type”, and will deal with non-Lawo products via NMOS. Discovered devices are managed in a central inventory list, ready for access and configuration. It also provides a central ‘mission control device management processes and configuration, providing quick save and recall options and “fast and unified access to device parameters for easy tweaking, irrespective of the endpoint being controlled.” On the security front, Home will quarantine unknown devices joining a networked rig until they are authorised, it also uses an authentication strategy based on a centralised user management system, with dedicated user roles and groups.
Home is cloud-native, designed as self-contained ‘blocks’ that provide microservices, supply functionality to operators or other services. It can be scaled and expanded on demand. Following the recent launch of Lawo’s second-generation mc²36 console (Resolution V21.1) and new A__UHD Core Phase II, the company has now announced a new dual-fader operating bay for the desk, that allows 48 faders in the same footprint as the 32-fader board. The system is also available as a compact 16-fader option. www.lawo.com
and the manufacturer’s Synergy Core effects platform, this compact system features a built-in preamp and 24-bit/192 kHz AD/ DA conversion. That feeds the ‘Core engine, which offers 18 thinly-disguised mic emulations — such as the ‘Berlin 47 TU’, ‘Berlin M251’, and ‘Vienna 414’, as well as other effects, which can be applied in realtime during recording or when mixing in a DAW. The mic enclosure provides physical volume and headphone volume controls, alongside a -10dB pad switch and a high-pass filter switch. Live streaming is also possible — making use of the two stereo playback channels, with effects strips, and the included loopback functionality. Effects available include its Auraverb, BAE-1073 EQ, BAE-1073MP preamp, FET-A76 compressor/ limiting amplifier, a de-esser and noise gate — while other effects from the Synergy Core range can also be purchased and added.
Nembrini Audio’s Shimmer Delay Ambient Machine combines reverb, pitch shifting, and feedback that, it says, draws on “creative techniques developed by early-Eighties studio engineers” and musicians such as Brian Eno. Emphasising user control and playability, the main delay algorithm is designed to allow huge delay sounds without straining CPUs — and it is designed to be tweaked in real-time with “no-nonsense controls” such as Swell, (volume modulation), Delay (main delay), Octave (manages a down octave); Shimmer (manages the shimmer effect) and the Dry/Wet blend. The plug-in is available as an iLok-protected AAX-, AU-, VST2-, and VST3-supporting for macOS 10.9 and Windows 7 (or newer), and also as an AuV3 format from the App Store.
SSL has added Ultraviolet Stereo Equaliser (UV-EQ) and SiX Channel (SiX CH) modules to its 500 Series offerings, alongside cosmetic updates to the G-Comp Bus Compressor, E-EQ and E-Dynamics processing modules. UV-EQ sees the transition of the Violet stereo EQ section from the SSL Fusion 2U rack unit to the 500 format, with the addition of two dedicated mid-bands, and a precision Focus mode. The SiX Channel performs a similar trick by transposing the features of SSL’s compact SiX consoles. This single-channel strip includes mic-pre, low- and high-frequency EQ, as well as the single-knob compressor from that system. It offers a simple way to add mic/line inputs to the line-level inputs of any audio device, and allows the creation of a modular mixer from a ‘summing’ 500 Series unit.
Axino Synergy Core Shimmer Delay Combining a cardioid condenser Ambient Machine modelling mic, a USB 2 interface
12 / April/May 2021
500 Series UV-EQ and SiX CH
Designed for tracking, mixing or mastering the N22H reference class headphone amp comes in a robust steel enclosure and can be connected via conventional analogue cable inputs or Cranborne’s own Cat5 Analogue Signal Transport system (C.A.S.T), which sends audio down ethernet-style cabling. Internally, it uses technology from the company’s 550R8 interface and provides switchable high- and lowpower modes for use with over-ear or in-ear monitoring systems. The N22H can be powered by 9V DC PSU, any guitar or, pedalboard PSU, or a 9V battery, and connection via C.A.S.T. allows it to be placed at a range of up to 330ft/100m. It can also act as a connectivity hub for mic/line sources using C.A.S.T, thanks to its 2x combi jacks, that can send phantom power from a pre-amp should it be required. The N22H is the second of Cranborne Audio’s C.A.S.T. expanders. The other, the N22, offers the same connections and feature set without the headphone amp functionality. Interestingly, two of these units can be connected, essentially replacing up to four XLR cables with one shielded Cat 5e, Cat 6, or Cat 7, which can be run for up to 100m.
An entry point to iZotope’s cloud-based ecosystem of production and collaboration tools, Spire Studio is billed as an easy way for musicians and producers to quickly capture inspiration. The updated package allows access to the Spire companion app for iOS and Android, and six free months of Spire Pro for iOS — which offers AI-powered features and effects. Spire Studio features its own onboard mic, and allows connection of instruments and mics-of-choice via two combo inputs that also provide phantom power. The recording capacity of the tabletop unit has also been upped to 8hrs+, with less battery drain. The software is built to allow collaboration via notes and text or email sharing, while on the sound side it leverages iZotope’s processing expertise with the facility to remove unwanted noise, pops, clipping, and plosives. The Spire Pro app also features ‘Personalised Soundcheck’, which can monitor changes in the recording environment to provide consistent results.
N22H Headphone Amplifier
Spire Studio Update
The Mic Lock
The upgraded ESR (Empire Studio Reference) MKII in-ear monitoring system features an refined five driver hybrid configuration, consisting of three balanced armatures and dual electrostatics, alongside a completely re-engineered four-way ‘synX’ crossover. Aimed as a reference for mix and mastering engineers, Empire’s use of electrostatic drivers and its own Intelligent Variable Electrostatic Control (EIVEC) means these headphones can offer a frequency response of 10Hz all the way up to 100kHz, a sensitivity of 111dB SPL at 1kHz, and allow the makers to boast of their “true-torecording dynamics, ultra-fast transients, super-wide dispersion and the flattest response possible”. They connect via 2.5, 3.5 or 4.4mm jacks and Alpha-IV A4 25AWG UP-OCC Copper Litz cabling.
The MicLock is a patented mic clip solution for engineers and musicians using the Sennheiser MD421 mic, either in its newer ‘II iteration, or the original produced between 1960 and 1985. A simple design, it addresses a long-standing issue plaguing those mics’, er… ‘unique’ mounting system and its, er… ‘temperamental’ button release, using a single-piece clip-on design. The Mic Lock’s circular section is placed over the rear of the mic, while its protrusion provides a buttress that means the mic can’t slip forward should its button be pressed No screws or additional tools are needed for fitting, and the clips can be bought in single, uncoloured or colour-coded packs. There’s nothing like a tool that has one job, right?
An immersive audio system designed to change the acoustic response of a space, Active Field Control has been expanded to include AFC Enhance for ambience control and AFC Image for acoustic image control. AFC Enhance controls the reverberation of a space, while making use of the natural acoustic properties of the existing structure, and can be used to create acoustic spaces — in which acoustic images are positioned and moved around by AFC Image. AFC Image allows users to control the perceived positions of acoustic images within a space, utilising Immersive systems' capability to place and moved sources where they are needed, and features a space conversion algorithm that makes it possible to reproduce 5.1 channel content created using a DAW via a live sound system, easily matching playback to the venue and the audio system’s speaker layout.
ESR MKII IEM
MD421 Mic Lock
Active Field Control
www.yamahaproaudio.com April/May 2021 / 13
/ New Gear
Breaking out its spatial audio content creation system as an upgraded, native piece of software — without the need for the accompanying L-ISA hardware — L-Acoustics is aiming to bring its installation and live production application to the attention of sound designers and mixing engineers. The software allows the creation of audio in a 3D environment, either via your surround or immersive monitoring setup — with up to 12 speakers supported — or on headphones using the software’s new binaural engine. L-ISA Studio employs the spatial audio and room engine algorithms of its hardware counterpart, redesigned with features for room enhancement, and a scale simulation mode allowing you to get an impression of how your mix will sound in a given space should that be needed. Control strategies, sonic trajectories, and sound system behaviours can all be defined and then demonstrated in real-time. The binaural engine allows users to create and monitor their spatialised audio anywhere with headphones and optional head tracking. L-ISA Studio can be paired with Contour XO, the recently launched professional in-ear monitor by L-Acoustics and JH Audio. The software is available as a free trial, with yearly and three-monthly licenses available now. Monthly subscription packages will be coming soon.
Based on the construction of the company’s 6066 headsets, DPA‘s two new options revert to the brand’s 5mm round microphone capsule for application in broadcast, worship, theatre and conferencing. Providing a one-size-fits-all design with adjustable height and boom length, the 4466 CORE (Omnidirectional) and 4488 CORE (Directional) headsets accommodate a wide range of head sizes. They also employ a three-point gripping system (above, below and behind the ear) to provide a secure, comfortable fit. The new headsets share the same interchangeable cable and boom options as the 6066 Subminiature Headsets. This includes the 90o cable management at the neck. The headset frame, boom and capsule have a non-reflective surface for unobtrusiveness and ease of use for camera crews. The new 4466 and 4488 are available in the company’s standard black and beige options at present, with a brown version coming soon. Pricing for brings these models in as a cost-effective alternative to the 6066s, at €595 ($770 USD) for the 4466 and €645 ($840 USD) for the 4488, both with MicroDot connector. For a three-pin LEMO solution, pricing is €670 ($870 USD) for the 4466 and €720 ($940 USD) for the 4488.
4466 and 4488 CORE
Since the beginning of the year, Sound Particles has introduced two new plugins that facilitate dynamic, automatic panning. Energy Panner and Brightness Panner move sound in stereo and/or 3D environments based on the intensity or the tonal characteristics of a sound respectively. Both systems use the company’s particle-based panning method, where the user assigns a trajectory for the sound object within the specified soundfield, along which it travels based on changes in the parameter specified. For example, Brightness Panner’s movement can be changed by the incoming audio signal’s brightness or pitch, or via MIDI notes. Both can also be controlled by sidechain inputs, and you can also experiment with a randomise feature. The plugins come in AAX (native), VST, VST3, AU, AUv3 formats.
The long-gone 70s/80s speaker maker Gauss, a division of the also-departed tape dupe specialists Cetex Gauss, was a respected name in the market of the time. They’re now being revived by Avantone Pro with the Gauss 7 bi-amped, two-way active reference monitor. At their heart, lies Gauss’ patented-design GAUAMT tweeter, constructed from a 65mm PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) film-folded membrane chosen for its low resonant frequency film and low crossover point. Woofer-wise, the new design borrows from Avantone Pro’s AV10-MLF ‘white cone’ construction and is fabricated from the same proprietary blend of wood pulp and glass fibre. This combination’s frequency response runs from 30Hz-22kHz, driven by 120W lowfrequency amplifier power, 60W highfrequency amplifier power, with 103dB (Peak) SPL, and 0.5% THD.
United Plugins’ latest, created by JMG Sound, takes advantage of psychoacoustic processing married to simple controls to create effects designed to achieve the three-dimensional feel in mixes, mastering, and sound design. Sound Expanse 3D offers — surprise! — three options. The first, ‘Width’, is a spectral phase processor that adds width progressively as it moves up towards higher frequencies, is fully mono-compatible while preserving position focus, and can generate stereo from mono. There are two modes to choose from, which work on different frequency profiles. ‘Depth’ utilises delay networks with channel and phase processing to enhances the perception of depth and add space; again there are multiple modes — Normal, Tight, and Deep. ‘Height’ extends out the high and low-end frequencies of the signal by generating additional harmonics.
Energy Panner and Brightness Panner
14 / April/May 2021
Sound Expanse 3D
Crosstalk Rob Speight
Did you hear a word I just said? Matthew Herbert, The Sound of The Year, and the importance of noise on our psyche
s audio professionals, we pride ourselves on being good at listening. Critical listening, artistic listening, or just focussing on a sound in a mix and hearing things other people cannot. Yet at times we really are not very good at listening — just ask your spouse or significant other! What I’m talking about here (are you listening to me, sometimes I wonder?) is that it is very easy to forget that sound is all around us, and it is the one sense that you cannot turn off. With this in mind, a collaboration between The Museum of Sound and The New BBC Radiophonic Workshop has resulted in the first Sound of the Year Awards. Started in 2020 (they obviously weren’t listening to the news; who started anything in 2020?) the event requested submissions in twelve categories, which included Best Artificial Sound, Worst Sound, Best Listener and of course Sound of the Year. I sat down to chat about it with the Chair of Judges, Matthew Herbert — actually, I was in a chair in my house, he was in his studio. Sorry... my wife often says stuff about me not paying attention to details, or at least I think that’s what she said, so I’m compensating. Herbert is very philosophical about sound in all its forms; “Recorded sound is still relatively new,” he muses, “we’ve only had recorded sound for 140 years or so, whereas we’ve had the recorded image since cave paintings. We’re so used to looking at recorded images, but listening to recorded sound is still a very new phenomenon really.” Herbert believes that we are entering a new golden age of audio and yet, “…I spend a lot of my time talking and thinking about sound from a technical perspective. I care about good quality sound. To me, it’s really weird that we’ve accepted this MP3 compression thing into our lives. Sound quality has become better in the studio, but worse for the public.” This comment really is something to contemplate. We spend hours really listening (we do! Honestly darling) and really striving to make everything sound as pristine as possible, and yet it becomes dynamically and frequency range crippled by the time it reaches a lot of ears. And this is where Sound of the Year comes in, because firstly it is primarily aimed at sounds in the environment and secondly, very unlikely that the audio around you, natural or man made, is subjected to mathematical algorithms. Looking at one of the categories, ‘Best Listener’, might sound like a bit of a misnomer for a sound award but it is actually, in my humble opinion, genius. Not only is the winner, “Ethan De La Hay (age 2) — First Dawn Chorus” the sound of the dawn chorus, more wonderfully it is the sounds and reactions from Ethan on hearing this for the first time — a sound within a sound. It’s a concept that Christopher Nolan could easily use as a sequel to Inception. “People are becoming more and more aware of the sound around us. Quiet Mark for example is a charity that certifies appliances like washing machines… so you can tell which of the 16 / April/May 2021
/ Matthew Herbert
ones you may introduce into your life have been thought about,” from a sound perspective, Herbert continued. To some this may seem like a waste of time, but as someone who recently moved from the heart of San Francisco to a rural village in Wiltshire, I can say without a doubt that noise pollution is a big problem and a huge stressor. Not only that, but it is amazing how much noise you realise you used to put up with only when it isn’t there any longer. “If you look at somewhere like America, studies have shown sound is a huge driver of crime, be it noisy neighbours or cars in the street. Now it feels like increasingly there is an awareness of how important sound is in our lives. Arrup for example offer a service where they will predict the sound a building will make before it is built, they also worked on the Jubilee line extension for example. They are basically helping the government to create an acoustically sensitive environment,” Herbert explained. These types of environmental noises were shortlisted several times in the competition and the winner of Worse Sound, entitled “COVID Crepusculars #1” recorded by John Drever, is a prime example of a man-made sonic landscape sent to drive you crazy! In the recording, made at 6:15am in a South London suburb, the listener can hear a bin lorry collecting the rubbish. This is nothing unusual or noteworthy until you hear the mechanisms on the lorry which Drever describes extremely accurately as, “… a noise more in place in Jurassic Park, which a touch of WD-40 could eliminate.”
People are becoming more and more aware of the sound around us
The Sound of the Year awards has certainly made me think about sound in a different way. As a sound designer I get caught up in nuances of the noise I am creating, forgetting often that the best sounds are the ones outside in real-life, but often recorded from odd perspectives “When I started banging on about sound in its raw form about 20 or 25 years ago it was sort of an uphill struggle getting people to care, but I think people are starting to,” Herbert mused. One of the things that piqued my interest in the Sound of the Year award was that many of the categories lead to a large number of submissions being from non-audio people. This, as Herbert mentioned, was engaging people with their experiences of raw, unprocessed audio from real life situations: “I’d say that a lot of the main categories had submissions from people not involved in sound, more amateurs than professionals. And I think what’s been brilliant about it is just how political it was from the very beginning — people seeing sound in a wider political context,” Herbert enthused. In fact, the winner of the Sound of the Year was actually two recordings, from the same period of the same event, from different perspectives. The entry entitled “Black Lives Matter Protest & Police Communications” by ‘Anonymous’, is a really fascinating way to understand this event from two perspectives simultaneously. Hearing the chanting and general melee from the protest marches coupled with well-recorded police radio chatter about the exact same event. Sure you can hear similar things on news reports, but this is different. This is listening and understanding close up and personal; hearing frustration and confusion on both sides. For a recording so simple, it is very powerful. Although the 2020 award winners were only announced in April of this year, Herbert and his team are already looking at 2021’s competition; “We’re doing a post-mortem and try to work out if we’ve got the categories right. Also, one of the things I love about working in sound and music is that it goes across borders, and it physically travels through walls and goes round corners. We’ve talked about making it a British awards, but it just seems strange to close it off so quickly and so we’ve opened it up internationally this year. What I am really excited about is for all of us to collectively take sound more seriously,” he concluded. The Sound of the Year awards has certainly made me think about sound in a different way. As a sound designer I get caught up in nuances of the noise I am creating, forgetting often that the best sounds are the ones outside in real-life, but often recorded from odd perspectives. I’ve tried convincing my wife that, while she is telling me something or other apparently important, I am listening constructively, just
from an odd perspective, which usually involves me being in the other room, with a headset on, playing Fortnite. I would like to add special thanks to two of
the other judges, Cheryl Tipp from the British Library and Rana Eid of db Studios in Beirut. www.soundoftheyearawards.com www.quietmark.com
EQ232D Bettermaker EQ232D is a faithful plugin recreation of one of the most respected analog mastering EQs of the new millennium
The Bettermaker EQ232D is the Pultec of the 21st Century. Matt Schaeffer - Recording Engineer (Kendrick Lamar, Bakar, A$AP Rocky) I can use my Bettermaker on a plane, I can use it on a train, I will use it on a bus, I will use it everywhere man oh man. - Jimmy Douglass (Aaliyah, Missy Elliott, Ginuwine, Jay-Z.) The Bettermaker certainly lives up to its name, it's a wonderful sounding EQ that's simple enough to get results quickly, but with enough features to address any problem areas in your audio. The P EQ section allows for great tone-shaping, while EQ 1/2 and the HPF let you address the fine details. A great addition to anyone's EQ arsenal. - Paul "Willie Green" Womack (The Roots, Wiz Khalifa, ScHoolboy Q) The analog version of the Bettermaker EQ has been my final top-end and bottom-end for final touches on almost every single mix for the past five years. The plugin version is a winner! Sounds, looks and feels fantastic. - Luca Pretolesi - Producer/Mixing/Mastering Engineer (Diplo/Major Lazer, Snoop Lion, Steve Aoki)
April/May 2021 / 17
GEORGE SHILLING dives into testing a steampunkinspired ‘character’ mic with a built-in compressor
here have been quite a few ‘character’ microphones that provide a non-linear response, e.g. the Bastard BM88. That’s cheap fun, and great for a bit of lo-fi telephonic character if you are going for a wax cylinder sort of sound. However, the Scopelabs Periscope is an altogether different concept. This mic was three years in development and one of its designers is Matt Sartori, who I met many years ago when he was the tech at London’s Mayfair Studios. As well as being an expert outboard and console restoration and service engineer, he is also a gigging recording engineer. Sartori’s partner in Scopelabs is Finnish sound engineer Paavo (AKA Dr.) Kurkela, who is also an inquisitive mechanical engineer. Their mics are hand-built in Finland, but have very quickly found favour around the world, with celebrated users including Butch Vig, The Chemical Brothers, Joe Barresi (Resolution V15.8) and Ricky Damian (Resolution V15.4).
It arrives in a vintage-styled ‘treasure chest’ case, within which — nestling in the pink lining — you’ll find the Persicope’s untreated copper tubing. it looks stunning. Lifting it out of the box, it feels very sturdy and heavy. The three copper sections provide shielding and are held together with protruding Allen bolts. The designers are clearly fans of steampunk, and Matt says the shape came from Paavo who was inspired while repairing the studio sink. However, Paavo disputes this, saying it came to Matt in a dream! The bottom section houses an XLR socket; clamped around the middle section is a plastic K&M clip that holds the mic securely and allows for rotation. The weight of the mic can cause droop but it is easy enough to tighten the bolt. The Periscope’s top section takes a 90deg turn to the capsule, which is housed behind a bulbous aluminium dome with a black centre, looking very cyclops-like. It’s a bit unnerving, almost like having HAL 9000 staring at you. This thing needs 48v phantom power (10mA), as it is based around an electret capsule. However, also somehow hidden inside the tubing is a fixed-setting compressor circuit. You cannot change any settings, so this is entirely dependent on signal level and placement. Firing it up and just recording myself talking and singing into it, the results are instantly gratifying. The compression adds bit of squash to the sound, making my annoying voice somehow sound quite rich. It would seem to have a medium attack that allows transients through, 18 / April/May 2021
and a reasonably fast release — it doesn’t linger; you can hear it quickly opening up.
You cannot really describe the Periscope as lo-fi, but then you also couldn’t describe it as hi-fi either! There doesn’t seem to be any great loss of upper or lower frequencies (as with the BM88); the omni capsule is not entirely uncoloured, but generally covers the normal full range. However, the compressor squash is fairly strong, although not unpleasantly so! Even with my (admittedly bright and loud) Faith jumbo acoustic guitar, at about 45cm you could still hear the compression,
even adding attack on single picked notes. It helped it really cut through the mix without sounding too chirpy. Some background hiss was evident when not playing — the compression brings up the noise floor — but it’s nothing to worry about in most situations. Drum ambience is an obvious application for the Periscope, and here it doesn’t disappoint. Placed only about 4m away in a relatively dead space, the compression added great cohesive richness. It added some nice length to the ‘bosh’ of a low-tuned 6.5” deep Black Beauty snare. Although the condenser capsule is ostensibly omnidirectional, the high frequencies tail off considerably when off-axis. However, there is none of that claustrophobic clogged up proximity effect you get from cardioid mics; the omni character keeps this mic sounding friendly and open, even when considerable ‘squash’ is occurring.
It’s the kind of mic to leave plumbed in at all times. Whatever you are recording, it might be worth a listen to what it is doing and moving it around a bit for some options later. In combination with more sonically pure mics it lends a touch of character and warmth — instant parallel compression! The more you use the Periscope, the more you admire the development that must have gone into it. Somehow, the compressor almost always sounds fabulous. I mean, who doesn’t love a bit of compression? But these ratio, attack and release settings tend to work in most situations, even if they are not what you might have chosen. The Periscope is a very clever idea. Yes, you can probably achieve something similar with plug-ins, but there is something groovy about the plug-and-play aspect of this. You won’t waste time fiddling with compressor settings; it either works or not. Usually, it does, bringing smiles all around.
Character microphone with cleverly tweaked (fixed) onboard compression; almost always sounds wonderful alone or in combination with other mics; great looks will impress and intrigue
You will probably want two; K&M clip a bit plasticky; I wish it would stop staring at me!.
www.scopelabs.eu / A character mic with real character
Tiny Box, Huge Sound. This is the Grace Design m900 headphone amplifier, DAC and preamp. Its incredible sonic detail combines with a rich musical character that makes working on music easier and listening to music more fun. Use it in the studio, at the office, at home, or on the road. Whether recording, mixing, editing or just getting blissed out with the music you love, the m900 is an affordable, must-have little piece of audio gear. Proudly made by friends and family in Lyons, Colorado. Visit us at gracedesign.com for complete details and purchase information. Stunningly detailed and musical playback performance S/PDIF (up to 192k) and Toslink (up to 96k) digital inputs Asynchronous USB interface for 384k PCM / 256x DSD playback Zero Ohm headphone output impedance for tight, killer bass response Unbalanced line outputs for controlling your desktop speaker system 2 power modes - from USB bus power or included external DC supply Five year transferable warranty / Made in the USA
W W W.GRACEDESIGN.COM C e l e b r a t i n g 2 5 Ye a r s i n P r o A u d i o
Presonus PD-70 ROB SPEIGHT looks at PreSonus’ podcaster mic, and finds it a solid contender
here are many microphones aimed at the YouTuber, the game streamer, the podcaster — or basically anyone who wants to create their own content With prices ranging from several hundred pounds to tens of pounds you will — of course — get what you pay for. Presonus launched the PD-70 at the tail-end of last year, competing with the likes of the Shure MV7, Audio Technica AT2035PK and Rode’s Procaster. The PD-70 sits below these microphones in terms of price, but how does it compete in terms of build and audio quality? The first thing you notice about this microphone is that it is heavy, and I mean really heavy. If I found a burglar in my house, the first thing I would reach for to whack them over the head would be this microphone. What’s more, I am sure it would do a very nice job of dealing with the situation. If nothing else, if you were recording at the time you’d probably get some interesting sound effects, and a still-intact microphone, to use at a later date. All that weight, as you would expect, helps a lot with the handling noise — and it is very quiet in that respect. The microphone is a front-address dynamic cardioid with a flat response from around 90Hz through 1kHz, where there is a significant response boost up to around 10kHz after which it drops away. For me at least, this increasing linear boost in the high frequencies up to around +5dB at 10kHz is too much. In the quest for clarity the mics response in the high end introduces a lot of sibilance and scratchiness to the voice, which is accentuated by a lack of warmth in the low-mids. However, the mic does a fairly good job with proximity effect of distances up to about an inch or so — it also has a consistent sound off axis, which is pretty good for a mic in this price range. One thing I can’t stand on voice recordings are plosives and 20 / April/May 2021
the PD-70 does a great job at dealing with those. Only when one is right on axis, lips touching the windshield, is there the slightest whiff of one at normal speaking levels — give it to an American shock jock, and we might need to have a different conversation, but there aren’t many mics that can cope under such pressure. Apart from a decent windshield, the way in which the mic seems to deal with plosives is that, on removing the foam, it can be seen that the capsule is mounted over an inch away from the closest you could get your mouth to the mic. Unfortunately, it is probably this distance that also contributes to the PD-70s overall lack of warmth. So, where does this leave us? Well, the microphone is extremely well-built, has a tight pickup pattern in comparison to some of the other
aforementioned products, and has good rear rejection. All this, and the weight, adds up to a mic that is great if you’re talking while banging away at a keyboard, or prone to hammering the desk as you address it. If you’re looking for something that will last, stand up to the rigours of less than careful use, and is very affordable, the PD-70 is in that category. If you want a mic that would work for a late-night sultry talk show you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re kitting someone out with a basic home studio for ‘casting and remote connection, or you’re just starting out, you could do a lot worse than the PD-70. If you’re looking for a warm rounded sound you’ll probably end-up wanting to upgrade — but at least you’ll have a good burglar deterrent to stash under the desk.
Sturdy construction; deals well with plosives; tight pickup pattern
Lack of warmth
The Revelator and 'Bundle' options Also new to PreSonus’ range of products for vlog-/podcasters and streamers is the Revelator USB-C mic. In contrast to the sturdier, one-job, PD-70 this packs in all manner of features for the startingfrom-scratch customer. It has three patterns — cardioid, fig-8 and omni; 96kHz/24-bit operation; it’s own headphone output with volume control for zero latency monitoring; modes designed for activities like Zoom calls or streaming gameplay; 4-in/4-out virtual streams for application-to-application recording and playback, with loopback options for macOS and Windows; as well as built-in EQ, compression, gate, and limiter plus effects. All this is packed into a mic with its own desk stand, and comes at a price that’s not much higher than that of the PD-70. If you’re looking for something a little more traditional than the Revelator that’s still not going to break many banks, we’ve noticed that at least one UK retailer has started bundling the PD-70 into a ‘Podcasting Bundle’ with either a Zoom mixer, or — rather ironically, considering its own range of podcaster-friendly mics — a Rodecaster Pro desk, headphones and leads. Something like the Rodecaster Pro will serve to imbue a PD-70 (or any other mic you choose) with similar functionality to the Revelator — such a mixing in a feed from a PC via USB, a monitoring facility, and in-built effects. Of course it adds other things, too — such as the connection of up to four mics and/or headphones, physical faders, trigger pads for inserts and jingles and a bluetooth or cable connection for mixing in phone calls. Another primary benefit is the ability to record to SD card, making it a portable and quick setup that doesn’t necessarily need a laptop as the Revelator would. While the Revelator is a viable toe-in-the-water option for some, it is limited — as any single mic will be. As far as basic setups for kitting out a relative layperson or remote staffer, and getting them up-and-running for self-recording and across-the-desk interviews, a PD-70 based bundle that comes in at around the same as the cost of a couple of SM7Bs (and a lot less than two RE20s) is not a bad starting point at all.
Bettermaker EQ232D Making things better is now possible without those annoying metal boxes. GEORGE SHILLING checks the algorithms
any Bettermaker outboard processors have passed through my studio and been written about in these pages over the years. Now, though, it would seemthe Polish pioneer of software-controlled hardware has bowed to the inevitable and released its first plug-in, a re-creation of its EQ232P MkII. We looked at the knob-less (but still very physical) version of the hardware in 2013 (Resolution V12.2 — see box out) and noted its excellent sonics, and its clever expansion on the Pultec theme. Sure enough, EQ232D includes a Pultec-style section (they
call it P-Filter EQ), which sounds fabulous — including all the customary controls and frequency bands. Selection of the frequencies is achieved with idiosyncratic nudge buttons, and uses CPS nomenclature rather than Hz — nicely authentic to the hardware.
On a kick drum subgroup it sounded wonderfully punchy with the simultaneous boost/cut trick at 100CPS, and a massive boost at 10KCS with medium bandwidth, then rolling off a touch at 20KCS.
Life beyond the EQ232 The EQ232P Remote George reviewed in Resolution V12.2 was a software control-only version of the original Bettermaker front-panel controllable unit EQ232P. The updated version of those, the EQ232P Mk II, is then the unit that this plug-in is based on. Even back in 2013, George noted that the idea of external DSP processing was already becoming ‘old hat’ in terms of the move towards native software applications, a trend that has certainly continued since. However, he also believed that Bettermaker’s hybrid of analogue processing and digital control was something that other manufacturers needed to catch on to quickly, because it’s blend of “high-end analogue circuitry, along with plug-in recall convenience” would be more prevalent in the future. It’s fair to say that the concept hasn’t quite taken over the world since then. We have seen other examples in that time, of course, such as effects units from Lexicon and Eventide, the 1073OPX pre-amp from Neve (and its Genesys console), the WesAudio range, and McDSP’s APB system — but it is ultimately, you suspect, the sheer price of manufacturing analogue processors in an increasingly digital world that keeps the concept limited in its appeal when up against modelling technology. Both of the EQ232 units — which were upgraded to a MkII iteration — are now considered as ‘legacy’ products by Bettermaker, replaced by the 2020 Resolution Award-nominated Mastering Equaliser (reviewed in Resolution V18.2) which stands in its range alongside a Mastering Limiter, Mastering Compressor and Bus Compressor. Notably, the updated unit adds an EQ curve display that George missed from the EQ232D — both in the plugin and on the front fascia utilising its touchscreen LCD display (it was never a feature of the originals). It also allows control of all parameters both from the unit’s front panel and accompanying plugin, while the software promised other useful features like A/B comparison of settings. In terms of sound we thought the updated system was “silkysmooth and sound[ed] extremely clean and musical.” Interestingly, that review also doubled-down on the usability and quality of the still-rare analoguedigital hybrid concept behind Bettermaker’s equipment, concluding that “this feels like the way forwards”. Maybe it will be this time?
22 / April/May 2021
The left section features two parametric bands; one ranges from 45 to 999Hz and the other from 0.6 to 15kHz. Bandwidth has nine settings from 1/5 to 3 octaves, with adjustment again via slightly inconvenient nudge buttons, and five LEDs giving a vague idea of setting. However, when changing any setting, a digital numeric display in the bottom-right corner indicates actual values. This goes for all the Pultec section controls too.
The parametric bands are flexible enough for most situations and very smooth sounding, even at the sharpest bandwidth setting, and with 15dB of gain and cut, there is plenty of power. Interestingly, when sweeping the frequencies there is an audible smoothed-out delay effect, avoiding any nasty notches. It’s as if you are remotely controlling motorised knobs! There is a useful and powerful 24dB/ octave High Pass Filter ranging from 18 to 200Hz, and handy separate Enable/ Bypass buttons for this, each parametric band, and the P-Filter EQ. The plug-in is a collaboration with Plugin Alliance, so you benefit from all their elegant design and toolbar features such as MS Matrix and preset handling. Supplied presets are provided in the Pro Tools menu, which is preferable unless transferring settings between DAWs. The EQ232D is included in the PA Mega bundle and Mix And Master bundle for subscribers. Although the interface seems initially a little fussy, you wouldn’t want it any other way. It feels like you are using a proper grown-up EQ, and this two-inone package covers everything you need.
VERDICT PROS The sonic goodness of the hardware EQ for cheap CONS
No EQ graph, nudge buttons a bit fiddly
Leapwing Al Schmitt Five decades of a legendary engineer and producer’s experience and expertise stuffed into an ingenious plug-in? GEORGE SHILLING finds it an education
eapwing has scored itself something of a coup here by bagging Al Schmitt’s talents and working with him to make something useful for mixing and mastering engineers. Schmitt needs no introduction, but any CV that includes Frank Sinatra, Steely Dan, Toto, Michael Jackson — and that has more Grammys on it than any other producer or engineer — bears repetition. Intended for insert use, the plug-in includes large Input and Output faders and meters, and a toolbar with presets and undo etc. at the top. Rather than different effects, it comprises six profiles aimed at particular uses, each of which
enables EQ, compression and Echo (reverb) in varying combinations and with various parameters and ranges depending on the intended use. Controls are pared-down, simple and often alter multiple parameters simultaneously ‘under the hood’. You can’t see exactly what they are doing, and that is somewhat the point. Here, Schmitt selected and restricted the effects and their parameters, ranges and settings to gently guide you in an appropriate direction to achieve the results he favoured — and that his signature sound was based upon. Leapwing has implemented these moves in a neat and stylish animated interface, making it a breeze to achieve great sounds.
The Mix profile offers a pair of fixed-frequency boost-only EQ bands: Sub and Air. Then there is a three-band compressor, with linkable controls, each affecting threshold and ratio differently, with ratio varying depending on level and frequency. There are separate band gains, and simple LEDs to indicate gain reduction. It sounds smooth and subtle, and it’s superb for enhancing the master bus when mixing. There are also profiles for vocal, bass, brass, piano and strings (although oddly not drums). Bass provides just three settings: Compression
Al Schmitt (1930-2021) Obviously, it wouldn’t be right to have run this review without noting the sad passing of the man whose name it bears at the end of April. As we point out in our tribute to Al Schmitt on p50 of this issue, he was a legend in the business, a master of his craft and respected as one of the best engineers of all time by a great many people. While this is indeed the first piece of software to bear his name, it is not the first time he has assisted DAW-based music makers. 2019 saw him collaborate with ToonTrack on its Decades SDX expansion for Superior Drummer 3, a bespoke sample collection that was recorded by Al for the software makers at what became his second home, Capitol Studios in LA, and features fives distinct kits spanning his musical taste. That takes the options from the big band and swing sound he was latterly synonymous with — including brush and stick options — to the more AOR sound of his productions and mixes during the 70s and 80s, including snares used by Jeff Porcaro in his Toto days on Rosanna and other tracks. The session was also engineered with seven additional room mics in the studio, so can be used in mixes for speaker setups from stereo to 9.1. While we’re talking about his work, it’s also worth pointing in the direction of Al’s videos for Mix with the Masters, which see him impart a lot of his wisdom across several hour-long videos and more. His ‘Recording a Band’ and ‘Deconstructing a Mix’ sessions are well worth a watch, and offer a real insight into his thinking — and the process (and processing) that Leapwing have attempted to put in a bottle here.
plus Body and Air Levels. The compressor slider affects multiple parameters and sounds great on bass guitar. Body and Air are effectively bass and treble, but Al’s secret sauce means that these interact with each other in a pleasant fashion. And the bass profile adds level-dependent harmonic distortion of up to 10% for a lovely warm sound. Vocals, piano, brass and string profiles include luscious reverbs, where you only choose from three types (which are different in each profile) and how much. Each profile provides between one and three presets as starting points. Parameter ranges never extend to bonkers, this is for achieving musical results. I love the approach; there are no complicated user-configurable setups — this is a fully finished design where the limitations focus you towards achieving amazing sounding tracks.
Sounds terrific; easy to use; beautifully thought-out
No dedicated drums profile
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Apart from it being Al Schmitt’s only foray into a signature plug-in, it is also Leapwing’s. The company's other software is dedicated to single task audio processing. RootOne is a subharmonic generator, DynOne a five-band parallel compressor; CenterOne provides control of the phantom centre of recordings and allows adjustment of its level independently, while StageOne is a stereo field enhancer designed to add width, depth and transform mono tracks into stereo.
April/May 2021 / 23
Jaime Baksht and Michelle Couttolenc The recent Oscar-winners for Sound of Metal chat with JOHN MOORE about their work on Darius Marder’s breakthrough indie hit, and creating its uniquely disturbing soundscape
/ Michelle Couttolenc and Jaime Baksht at their SSL C300 desk at Astro LX, with there favoured TC Electronics reverb and delays ready to go
aving worked together for nigh-on 15 years, Jaime Baksht and Michelle Coutollenc first appear on a credits list together for 2006’s Mexican drama La última mirada — also Couttolenc’s first credit on IMDB. During the same year, they worked together on Guillermo Del Toro’s cult classic Pan’s Labyrinth, with Baksht as re-recording/ dubbing mixer and she as assistant. While Michelle leaned towards sound recording and ADR as well as mixing in her early career, latterly they have operated side-by-side on an impressive number of productions — forging an enviable reputation for their work in the process. Recently, their stars have truly shone as part of the team responsible for the striking, Sound of Metal, director Darius Marder’s self-penned tale of a musician that loses his hearing, and the effect that has on all aspects of his life, most 24 / April/May 2021
markedly his relationships and self-image. It’s that rarest of beasts in the highly visual world of the movies: a project that leans as much on its sonic qualities as its visual — and one that has rightly been heaped with praise for its impactful sound design. The film was mixed by the duo — along with Carlos Cortés — from raw materials provided by supervising sound editor Nicolas Becker, production sound mixer Phillip Bladh, and foley artist Heikki Kossi during the before-times of 2019. Though subsequent events have seen it largely distributed via streaming platforms, rather than through theatres — especially in Europe — that hasn’t lessened the impact of their collective work, or the impression it has left with viewers. While Baksht and Couttelenc are currently most closely associated with Mexico City’s Astro LX facility, Sound of Metal was largely
mixed to the south of the country’s metropolis at Cortés’ base, Splendor Omnia near Tepoztlán. Though, as we will find out, the pair couldn’t resist a quick trip back home to polish their work using their own, trusted equipment. Resolution spoke to them via Zoom from LA as they prepared for their big night at the Oscars… One that would turn out very well for them. At what point did you first hear about Sound of Metal? Who introduced you to it and how? Michelle Couttelenc: The first contact was because Nicolas Becker was when he was doing work with Mexican musicians in New York City, and there there was another musician Leonardo Heiblum [half of composing/ production team, Audioflot] who is Mexican and who he wanted to collaborate on this project.
Footage credit: Amazon Prime
Nicholas was telling him about the film, and that he needed a place and the people to mix the film. Because it was a non-conventional film in [terms of] sound, they didn't want to mix it in LA, they wanted to do a different approach. And that was when Leonardo said to Nicolas: ‘Well, you should go to Carlos Reygadas' studio, Speldor Omnia, in Mexico — and then call Jaime and Michelle to do the mix.’ That's when Nicolas called Jaime to ask if he wanted to be part of the project. How was Sound of Metal pitched to you? Was there already a very solid idea of how it was going to sound? Jaime Baksht: Well, the thing is, Darius Marder and Nicholas Becker, who is a sound artist in France, had been working on the project for a year before they even shot it. They were researching what is like to lose your hearing, so they interviewed a lot of people with hearing problems, and they also talked with a lot of doctors. I think what happened is that Nicolas suggested taking the main character of the film, Riz Ahmed [who plays Ruben], into an anechoic chamber at IRCAM in France — and they started to record the internal sounds of his body. So they were able to record the blood moving around his body, and obviously the heartbeat — which is something that is easier. But, it turns out if you get into a really quiet place, our bodies are really, really noisey. We are really noisy! Nicolas used a lot of different type of microphones — contact microphones, stethoscopes — they also took recordings inside a swimming pool. The backgrounds in the film, ambience and all that stuff, were recorded while already thinking about that ‘muffled sound’ idea. So we really didn't use a lot of filtering, we just combined a lot of different textures. MC: There were a lot of different textures: low,
/ The pair were given creative freedom to manipulate the sound of Ruben’s cochlear implants, based on treated audio supplied by sound designer Nicolas Becker
medium, and high [frequency], and some different things. IRCAM provided software made especially for Nicholas and for the film, where if you put in dialogue or sound you could adjust the level of distortion and separate different transients. So Nikolas gave us the different textures and things he wanted to use, and then in the mix, we combined all the textures and gave them the levels, the movements and all the things that happened. So were you interpreting what you thought was necessary by essentially playing the faders of the different elements? Were you automating in Pro Tools? JB: Nicolas and Darius, did a proposal for how things are supposed to sound to Ruben using Pro Tools. With some labels and some ideas... But the thing is, we had a theory about [how to approach] the mix, which was, for me, really important: Ruben wasn't born that way and doesn't lose his hearing until he is in his 30s. So that means he has a lot of 'sound memories', he
remembers how the sound of things used to be. So using that idea, we tried to use the examples that Nicolas and Darius gave us, but we said, 'well, it is going to be quite boring if the whole movie is muffled... We need to use the idea that he was able to hear. So let's try to make it that, when you're not really 'inside' the character. Let's try to use normal sounds. From the way the sound in the film's set up, dynamically, when you realise Ruben's hearing is gone, you don't miss the loudness of the concert, you miss the quieter sounds when they disappear, don’t you? JB: Well, in the case of the main concert, we wanted to make it as loud as possible… To the limit... We took it to the limit. How many how many times did we remix that concept? MC: I think we we remixed it 10 times! Darius was already happy. I don't know which version it was, but he told us 'I think it sounds pretty good right now’, but Jaime and myself, we're like, 'No, no, no, we should remix it again' because it needs to April/May 2021 / 25
/ Jaime utilised the SSL 2+ interface to listen back to stereo delivery mixes for Sound of Metal’s streaming release, which he and Michelle oversaw
be loud. It’s the first opportunity to be inside’ the character and you need to feel it really, really close to you, and be really inside him. So we did a lot of approaches... And then there is the progression of his hearing loss and the combination of all these elements. There’s a hint at even in all that loudness at the start that his hearing is leaving him, right? JB: At the beginning, we thought that making a wall of sound would be more effective. The first scene is really, dynamically speaking, the biggest moment. And then as the concert finishes, we go to the trailer, parked, and there is almost nothing. So we wanted to have these kind of really heavy difference in the dynamics in the film sound, but at the same time, we start to wash out the sounds inside the concert. We start really bright, but then we focus on the instruments — we go to the drum. When the shot goes to the drums, we don't want to have a nice balance between the instruments, we want more of what the camera is looking to. So yeah, if you're talking about that, yeah, that was one of the decisions. Everything sounded beautiful — loud, but beautiful — but then Michelle and I realised that with each cut, and where the 26 / April/May 2021
camera was, we needed to make it more realistic. MC: When you have a close-up of the drum, you get that little more of the drum — and if you had the sticks they were a little bit louder, or if he was on the cymbals… JB: We did so many versions. Version one was a really nice balance of the concert. In the second version, we had this idea that Michelle is talking about. The third one onwards, we pushed the boundaries even further… to where the balance was completely out, and it doesn't matter. By the 12th one, we have what is in the movie! When you’re hearing what Ruben is hearing, especially towards the end of the film, how much did you play with the ‘reality’ of what he's hearing? How much freedom were you given with the material? JB: We have all the natural sounds, we have all the muffled sounds, even the music — which doesn't have melody, and is more like ambient music, so it's only textures, more like into a tone. So we use the music in moments where Ruben’s muffled soundscape and these tones combine for an emotional moment. MC: When Ruben gets the implant, when he has it connected. The first approach that
Nicolas, Darius and Carlos made was that — because doesn’t have both ears connected, the directionality of the sound is obscured, he doesn't really know where the sound is coming from. So there’s a mix with omnidirectional sound, that's coming around him, and everything is everywhere. Then we proposed a different approach in which, yes, it has no directionality — but we felt it needed to be more disconcerting and more like he's being bombarded by sounds from everywhere. So we created ‘bubbles’, that were sound from around him but moving around as if in a bubble. Then there’s another bubble of sounds elsewhere, also moving. Then there’s one other bubble that contains both of the others, and that makes everything move around him. So we had this freedom of proposing different things to make it more disconcerting and immersive where you’re with the character. JB: It was a lot of freedom. Darius and Nicolas worked together first, and they gave us the pallet of sounds. They crafted their own version of the idea, and then they said to us, ‘okay, that's the sound of the movie, what you can do with this?’
You used Cargo Cult’s Spanner for those bubbles, I understand? I assume, by the time the ‘Paris’ scenes come, which are a complete cacophony at points, you could pretty much add in anything you wanted? JB: For that last scene, there were three instances of Spanner one after the other, that's what Michelle is talking about with the ‘bubbles’. One bubble, in 5.1 over the head of the character for each cut. Then all the ambience was another Spanner, again in 5.1 but with different perspective. And then there was the last one, with all the other spanners inside. And this one was a chaotic one. Did Sound of Metal instantly feel like an opportunity, a massive chance that you were not going to get very often? MC: It's not very often that sound is so important. Even if there are a lot of directors who think about sound, it's very special here... it's the principal. The main character of the movie is the sound, so that is what's really crazy. And also there [was Darius telling us] ‘do you want to try this’ and [saying] ‘be creative… do whatever you think would be the best for the film!’ So, yes, it was a really great opportunity to develop and to try new things and it's really an honour to work on a film where the director comes to the sound designers and says ‘the sound is the main thing we want to do and you should develop it’. And I remember Darius asking us ‘how many movies where the main title includes the word sound have you worked on?’ We know it’s not many! You've worked together for a long time. How do you use your roles to complement each other, and how do you like to work during sessions? JB: The current thing is the technology is changing. So it seems like in one box you can do everything. I don't really agree with that. I'm an old man, and I understand that Pro Tools can do a lot of things, and everybody believes that it’s faster. I don't think so. Because the problem with in the box is that it doesn't sound big. It takes a long process to make a big sound. So, I prefer large format consoles. Right now in the main studio where we are working, Astro LX, we have a big SSL console. If I don't have the SSL, I'm going to cry. We mixed Sound of Metal on the AVID S6, which is good… but it doesn’t really have a sound, it’s like an empty glass of wine, when perhaps you’d prefer a pint of bitter! SSLs also have amazing automation systems and everything is one button to do a lot of things. So you really are into the sound and less into the button pressing. So my SSL is my SSL. We also have a Fairlight, which we love. Michelle is really good in Pro Tools, she knows all the tricks, you know... I am the guy with one finger on the keyboard… you know, not very fast. But I have my ideas and so I do some editing, and some Pro Tools — and if she has an idea of how to mix some of the moments of a film, she’ll
/ Ruben’s internal soundscape was realised with a series of unusual foley and ADR recordings, including some made underwater
Even if there are a lot of directors who think about sound, it's very special here... it's the principal. The main character of the movie is the sound… do it. I don't have any problem with this. Then we listen to the scene, if we have any comments we say our comments. Sometimes Michelle says: ‘okay, that is your view, do your corrections’. So we combine. There is no ‘she does dialogue and I do FX and music’, it is like we do anything we think we need to do. Something we’ve developed, Michelle and I, is knowing when we need to edit, and when we are going to mix. That's the first thing we clarifed in 14 years of work. You don’t want to be editing during the mix, and you shouldn’t be trying to mix during editing — both of which are quite common. So we'll define perfectly clearly when we need to do each. MC: Sometimes we do separate, but with Sound of Metal, we used more of a combination because more ideas are better. It's best for the movie to have more minds thinking about the best way to do it. Most of the film was mixed at Splendor using S6, as Jaime says, but then we took all the stems to Astro LX and the SSL C300, we listened to those stems and realised we needed to do adjustments. So we had the Pro Tools stems coming into the console and getting the SSL sound and flavour, then we recorded it to the Fairlight — that also has an amazing quality. When we work at Astro LX we always operate like this: our main stems, and final stem masters recorded on to the Fairlight. Of course, there are plugins that we love, like Spanner or iZotope — and there were other plugins that Nicolas used. It’s the combination of plugins and the real gear that made the difference, and also helped us take care of the details — because we’re not just doing it automatically. We love our SSL and the
Fairlight, and also there will be some TC Electronic plugins with hardware controllers — like the TC2290 delay and the DVR250 reverb plugins — that we also used. Obviously, in the UK the movie has largely been seen on streaming platforms, given the last year... How much emphasis do you generally put on downmixing for streaming platforms? What's your work process for doing that? MC: Here, it was an opportunity, because sometimes the delivery is just an automatic downmix. In this case, it was not at all, it was Jaime and myself doing the mix. With the delivery stems for Amazon and broadcast, they we're done at Astro LX with the SSL and with the Fairlight. So it's like a real, ‘real’ sound. Not 'in the box' sound. JB: Of course, we mixed it in 5.1 for the theatrical format, in that format we have the biggest potential soundfield. There was no pandemic in 2019 when we mixed Sound of Metal, so we mixed for the theatre. When it came to the delivery formats, Michelle and myself decided to do it... We normally don't do deliveries, but this time we said ‘no, we want to do the stereo version and we want to do the 5.1 TV version’. MC: We took a lot of care of the stereo version — and the TV 5.1 — to get them as close as possible to the theatrical version’s impact, to capture the moments that we knew were there in the theatre version. To translate all these moments to the stereo version, so it could be as good. Sound of Metal is available via various digital distribution formats now. April/May 2021 / 27
Colin Newman The recording history of Colin Newman and celebrated art-rock band Wire is one that mirrors the entire arc of studio technology over the past four decades, as DAVID DAVIES discovers
Photo: Giuliana Covella
n popular music, it’s relatively rare for a band or artist to experience a truly memorable ‘second act’. By most estimates, however, legendary UK art-rock band Wire is now well into its third act, still recording brilliantly innovative new albums and — pandemic conditions notwithstanding — continuing to tour successfully worldwide. As anyone who has read Wilson Neate’s superb biography of the band, Read & Burn: A Book About Wire, will be aware, this was far from being a predictable outcome. Founded in 1976, the original line-up — guitarist/vocalist Colin Newman, guitarist Bruce Gilbert, bassist/ vocalist Graham Lewis and drummer Robert Grey — made three spectacular albums for EMI imprint Harvest (Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154) before creative differences led to a split just three years later. Slowly realising that despite their disparate outlooks they did have a unique creative chemistry, the band resumed for a further run of albums from 1985 to 1991 before grounding to a halt once more. However, after reactivating again in 1999 Wire settled into a more consistent routine of touring and recording, with even the departure of Gilbert in 2004 — to be replaced briefly by Margaret Fiedler McGinnis and, permanently since 2010, Matthew Simms — failing to derail the band’s remarkable third act. Indeed, they have now produced eight new albums since 2008. This heightened productivity is thanks in no small part due to Wire taking ever-greater control of the means of production since Newman acquired a Digidesign (now Avid) Digi 001 soon after the groundbreaking DAW was launched in September 1999. Always fascinated with the recording process since the early days of Wire, Newman has been the producer and chief engineer of their music since the turn of the millennium. Much of the recording has taken place at his own studio, with Simms, Lewis (based for many years in Sweden) and Grey
/ The current Wire line-up: Matthew Simms, Colin Newman, Graham Lewis and Robert Grey
(who also runs a farm in Wales) visiting for shorter periods to record their parts. More recently, Wire has got into a cycle of capturing the basic tracks for each album at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, before returning to Newman’s studio for more recording and mixing. Several of the albums made with this approach — 2013’s Change Becomes Us, 2015’s Wire and 2020’s Mind Hive — have been among the most well-received of their entire career. Newman’s interview with Resolution took place during the first UK national lockdown in 2020, shortly after Wire had been forced to cut short a US tour due to the worsening pandemic. The conversation took in the evolution of home-based recording, the band’s remarkable gift for reinvention, and Newman’s enduring love of studio technology.
Would it be fair to say that the band’s recording ethos underwent a dramatic shift when you bought the Digi 001 in 1999? It actually started earlier than that. As a musician from a generation who came through in the 1970s, I never recorded [with Wire in the ‘70s] in anything lower grade than a 24-track studio. Apart from demos, everything was done in high-end studios, which tended to cost an arm and a leg. Then, in the ‘80s, the MIDI revolution started to take place. I also began a relationship with Malka [Spigel], my long-term partner, who is a bass player, so together we bought an 8-track machine and mixing board — they were the first purchases we made. My previous wife had been a photographer, so if you had money it wasn’t spent on music equipment! By the time that Wire was making The Ideal
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April/May 2021 / 29
/ The band are geographically dispersed but have recently used Monmouth’s Rockfield Studios as a recording base
Copy in 1987, it was possible to recreate in a slightly more home studio way the kind of conditions that we had when recording the album at Hansa Studios [in Berlin]: we had a Fostex 8-track that could support SMPTE timecode and run a sequencer on an Atari. A few years later, as we moved into the ‘90s, [the home set-up also included] Cubase on an Atari, a Yamaha DX7 and a Casio synth. The idea that you could have your own space and work on something over time without it costing a fortune [in a high-end studio] was very exciting for anyone who worked with sound. It was the beginning of the dance music revolution, too, and even if there weren’t many people making finished records [at home], there were plenty who would start work at home and then finish in big studios. Wire’s second stint ended in 1991 with the release of The First Letter (which came out under the name of Wir to acknowledge the temporary departure of Robert Grey). What were your next steps technology-wise as you worked on further solo projects and production work? Malka and I had moved [back to the UK] from Brussels in 1992 and took the decision that we wanted to find a house with a room that could be converted into a studio [called Swim]. Ultimately, we found a property with a garage that we soundproofed and equipped with a 30 / April/May 2021
The Digi 001 DAW was a Rolls Royce for the cost of a Mini large Allen & Heath desk and an AKAI S3000 for high-end sampling. I used to mix onto DAT and then record stereo from DAT into the sampler. We did not have a digital interface between the computer and DAT at that point — it was all analogue. In a way, it was all kinds of basic, but we started to do quite a bit of production at that point. The first full album made using this studio would have been Malka’s solo album Rosh Ballata, which was released in 1993. The other thing that had happened by then was that [Mute records founder] Daniel Miller had spent a few hours telling me how to set up a label, so I felt duty-bound to do it after that. We had dinner with some Israeli licensees and they licensed a record from us, so we got a fee from that. The record was released and we made money then too. It was a revelation and opened up a whole new world to us. Around that time we also became a part of the whole techno/ambient night thing in London and started doing remixes through our own label. We were doing the music, mixing, mastering and releasing — it
was almost a Marxist, ‘means of production’ kind of thing! It gave me a lot of confidence and helped to take away the disconnect that had existed between being in a studio making music and the audience receiving it. What impact did this have on Wire when the band reactivated again in the late ‘90s? We had this studio set up and it made sense to offer it to Wire. Then suddenly Digidesign was offering the Digi 001, which was effectively a Rolls Royce for the cost of a Mini. The entry level into the platform was less than £1000, which was a massive [step forward]. I had already tried out Pro Tools and realised that what they had was something that was straightforward to anyone who understood a mixing board and tape recorder. We bought the interface and initially intended to use it with Cubase audio, but we soon dropped that idea and used Pro Tools. And that was the set-up with which we started to make the next run of Wire albums, beginning with Send [released in 2003].
How had your own engineering skills developed by this point? Working with Malka [in the ‘80s] was the point at which I started to get involved in engineering. After that it was a case of gaining knowledge over time. You would make mistakes along the way but learn quickly from them. I had always been interested in the technical side of recording and physically doing it — I never really liked the idea of having new technology and then someone else to use it. So it’s been a gradual thing with lots of steps, but one person who has always been really encouraging is Denis Blackham [acclaimed mastering engineer who now runs his own Skye Mastering facility]. I have worked with him for many years and he has always offered advice and encouragement. Then there was a point at which he said I was sending him mixes that could have come from a high-end studio, and that I was the only one with this kind of set-up who was doing that. I was like, ‘blimey’! It gave me a lot of confidence. Wire has been more productive than ever over the last 15 years. How has your basic approach evolved during that time? It’s definitely been a learning curve. With Send, we used drum loops [based on Grey’s playing] and the whole record was basically made at our studio. The next album, Object 47 , was done in the same way except that we recorded the drums in a nice room. By the time of Red Barked Tree , though, I thought we have to dump the hip hop loops, as I refer to them. If you have a group, why not just play? So we found Resident in London and paid for recording sessions for the first time. This established a pattern of getting the foundations of Wire albums down at a pro studio before going back to your own facility. In particular, Rockfield has become a recurrent part of your recording process — what first drew you there? Our [touring] front of house engineer around 2011 has said it was possible to get into Rockfield for a reasonable amount, and he put us in touch with Lisa [Ward, Rockfield studio manager]. It became clear that for a reasonable cost we could stay in accommodation there, record in a classic studio, and get the sound of really nice sounding rooms. The pure quality of the audio that can be captured there is not something you can easily get out of a box in your own studio. The other good thing about Rockfield is that no one is going to be having their social life — there really isn’t a lot to do in Monmouth! With the band members being geographically dispersed these days, do you think the Rockfield sessions provide a base of unity for each new album? Yes, I think it does help bring the band together. In terms of its sound, we never want our work to feel like a virtual record. Everyone should know that they have contributed to it and that
The pure quality of the audio that can be captured [at Rockfield] is not something you can easily get out of a box in your own studio they have had a strong influence over the character [of the end result]. Then, with rough mixes, there is plenty of opportunity for people to say what they like or don’t like. Rob might
overdub [some more drums] and the keyboard parts might get revamped. There are lots of ways in which the whole thing can be made to work together.
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April/May 2021 / 31
/ Newman has developed his engineering and production skills since investing in Pro Tools twenty years ago
Have you added any new gear or instruments to your own set-up recently? Over the last 3-4 years, Immersion has been a parallel project for Malka and I. That is fundamentally an electronic project, so we have bought a few synths. I had been inclined to hold off on the modular thing because of the whole ‘craft ale and beards’ aspect, but I did end up buying a Matriarch [Moog semi-modular analogue synth], which is amazing. I tend to have a price in my mind of what I am willing to pay for any one item, and there is only so much space anyway. [But among the other recent purchases], we have got an RME Fireface audio interface, which has made the mixes sound better, and a Sontronics Aria. The Aria is a really great vocal mic and all of my vocals on [last year’s] Mind Hive were recorded with it.
No sooner had Mind Hive been issued than you announced details of a further new release, 10:20, for Record Store Day. What was the background to that album? It’s an odd record, really, in that it ended up being way better than I think anyone could have justifiably expected — which is always pleasing! [Around 2017] there were a number of older songs that had become live staples, and which in many ways were sounding better than the original studio recordings. So we recorded some of those and they were included on the Special Edition of [2017 studio album] Silver/Lead. So what you have with 10:20 are a set of new versions and various other ‘stray’ tracks. It’s a new/old record — something that the fans will really like and a perfect Record Store Day release.
You’ve clearly been very busy during lockdown — there has been a weekly online radio show with Malka, Swimming In Sound on Totally Radio, as well as more recording for Immersion and other projects. But what next’s on the agenda for Wire? There is going to be a full-length documentary, People In A Film [directed by Malcolm Boyle and Graham Duff]. The starting point for that was watching the BBC documentary about The Fall, The Wonderful and Frightening World of…, after Mark E. Smith died and realising that no one was going to do a documentary for Wire [unless we initiated it]. We put in a lump sum to get it going and do some recording of the band at Rockfield, then did a crowdfunder to enable filming to take place in America. The project did go on pause because of the lockdown, but a lot of the filming had already taken place and so Malcolm has been working on the editing. When we did the launch event for the funding, we had all five of us — the current band plus Bruce — together and that was quite an interesting moment of understanding. There was a fantastic point where Graham Duff asked Bruce a question and it pierced through to the whole relationship between the members and the ex-member. Everyone laughed and [it underlined the fact that] whatever happened years ago is irrelevant now. These are the people and this is their story. Finally, what’s your response to the observation that certain Wire albums — such as Chairs Missing and 154 — have a persistently ominous mood that seems even more resonant in the current climate? I suppose we got lucky, but then Wire always had a sense of foreboding in its music. It’s a very strange period we are going through now, although I doubt that anyone needs me to point that out!
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity” Isaac Newton quested.com | firstname.lastname@example.org 32 / April/May 2021
Focus: Microphones While there are undeniably a set of classic mic designs for vocals — both sung and spoken — the number of ways these classic design choices are employed and remixed continues to grow every year. New variants appear, new options open up as prices fall, new players join the game — and it’s tough to keep track. So, we’ve taken an overview of the market and picked out some vocal mic options that we think are worthy of attention — some you may know, some you may not — and represent great options whatever your voice recording needs. Of course, variety is always the spice of life, and no one mic suits everyone — and we'd argue it’s always better to have a few options at the end of the day.
KU5A While AEA makes a whole host of ribbon mics, the KU5A is an interesting offering that sets it apart from the rest of its range — and ribbon mics in general. A front-address ribbon microphone specified to stand up to live stage use, its unique characteristics also offer interesting possibilities for recording applications where room bleed and ambience need to be repelled, high SPLs handled, or both (the former not usually being the domain of such mics). Styled in the manner of a classic RCA model, the BK-5A, it claims to do all the things you'd expect of a ribbon, and some things you wouldn't — largely thanks to its supercardioid response pattern, as opposed to the more conventional figure-of-eight operation of ribbon models. This means many of the characteristics and benefits of a ribbon mic — and AEA's active circuity — but less 'room' in the signal. We described it as having a “beautifully smooth, rich-sounding response on both male and female voices” (Resolution 18.5), so if you have the stomach to put a £1,000+ mic on stage every night, you go for it — but we'd be happier (and more than happy) to use this versatile mic in the studio. www.aearibbonmics.com
C12 VR and C414 XLII Unashamedly AKG's flagship, the C12 VR takes its name from a mic that helped make the company's name in the early 50s. Price-wise, it's not for the faint-hearted, and its tube characteristics perhaps put it on the 'esoteric' side of the fence in terms of its range of use. Changes made to the internal design of the VR reissue were also not to the liking of everyone, and some reviews from those familiar with and fond of the original are certainly not all favourable. If it's versatility you're after, as well as a great performer for vocals, then the C414 XLII is probably the mic from AKG's range that will attract you most; it has the classic 1960s AKG 'diamond' styling established by the original C12's successor, the C12A, and is designed to hark back to some of its sonic characteristics too. It differs from the other C414 mic, the XLS, due to a slight presence boost designed to better suit vocals. www.akg.com April/May 2021 / 33
While the concept of mic modelling is far from new, Antelope has certainly fully committed to the concept in terms of the range of mics it offers to support it, and the way it has integrated the concept into its Synergy Core hardware/software marriage. The Edge Duo counts as the flagship option for vocals, a dual-diaphragm large condenser that outputs via a 5-pin XLR and splitter, thus requiring two input channels (the Edge Solo offers a single diaphragm option and the Quadro a stereo incarnation). Though at its most useful when paired with Antelope's own interfaces, when the Synergy Core processing engine reduces the latency times to levels that can allow for direct monitoring of the modelling effect during recording rather than just playback options — the Edge offers a highly configurable range of mic tones in all its forms. The Edge Go, a high-quality USB variation on the theme, is also an option for recording on the go or all-in-the-box setups.
A Resolution Awards nominee in 2019, the Aston Stealth is a mic that — while not at a cost that makes it strictly 'consumer' level — can be bought at a price that can raise the eyebrow of a podcaster, streamer in need of a quality spoken-word mic. It offers four preset 'voicings', two of which are dedicated to that task, with one for guitar and another 'dark' setting that mimics the character of a ribbon mic. It also provides the kind of off-axis nulls that you need when you're — for example — clattering away at a keyboard attached to a PC with its fans whirring while addressing your audience. Dynamic in design — but with its own pre-amp, that can be switched in and out for more gain when required — our review of March 2019 concluded that "As a £299 alternative to the SM7B, it would be more than up to the task with just a single voicing. The other three are bonuses." The musician-aimed cardioid condenser Origin model has gained similar praise across the board for punching above its price-point. That mic is itself the descendent of the switchable-pattern Spirit model, another Aston product that has been reviewed favourably on these pages.
For a mic that punches above its price, it’s hard to argue with the AT2020. It’s been doing it, and doing it well, for years now — yeah, it can be considered a bit noisy but I still marvel at the price of a mic that has kick-started quite a few home studios, audio obsessions, and probably been used a lot more than you’d reckon in higher-end facilities too over the years. At under £100, it’s simply impossible to land any blows that can harm it, really. Of course, there are other models in the A-T range that will cost you significantly more, the AT5040 for example, with the unusual quad-diaphragm design of the ‘50’ range — or the ‘5047, which deals with some of the problems created by its predecessors unusually hot output. Only you can decide whether those mics, and their highly engineered custom shockmount system is worth 30-or-more AT2020s to you, and what your return on such an investment could be. However, it serves to show that the sheer range of AudioTechnica’s offering, including the extensive ‘40’ line of mid-range condenser mics and the RE20-alike BP40 broadcaster mic, make it an audio giant that’s covering all the bases.
A regular choice for live sound reinforcement, Audix brings the bombproof design sensibility that makes its drum kit and studio mic packs so popular to its studio mics as well. The new A133 — launched late in 2020 — now leads its large diaphragm condenser options for studio vocals, with a look that fits straight into the Audix family while also leaning a little towards resembling a compact ‘ninja’ variant on Neumann’s TLMs. It shares much with its sibling, the A131, but adds the common -10dB pad and 150Hz bass roll-off switches that extend its usefulness and utility. Talking of which, it does bear pointing out that neither is going to win any awards for its beauty, and perhaps lack the imposing presence that some will look for in a vocal mic, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do a job either on stage or in the studio. Their price points put them at a very competitive place in the market, and against some mics that have more considered cosmetics — so it’s this sturdiness and utilitarian demeanour that may well appeal if you want a mic that can do that as well.
Edge Duo & Go
AT5040 and BP40
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Stealth and Origin
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4097 While, in its 2028 and d:facto 4018, DPA offers a pair of vocal microphones that could move between stage and studio applications with ease, for interviews and on-location sound the 4097 interview kit is worth pointing out as an option for capturing voices in challenging conditions. Its key selling point is the fact that it is — in the words of our own Simon Clark — "mindblowingly miniscule", with an enclosure measuring around 5mm in diameter and 4cm in length. In its 'interview kit' guise the tiny 4097 mic comes with a Manfrotto mini boom and "miniature" windshield, this all adds up to a kit that will "be a blessing for many journalists" and those tasked with carrying around such kit for capturing audio at events and shows. Capable of dealing with "ear mangling volumes", Simon saw the core 4097 design as a cert for discrete filming applications and documentary/reality use, and noted how it held its own respectably against DPA's own (and much larger) 4017 in terms of on-axis performance, but came with a design that couldn't compete in terms of that model's off-axis rejection characteristics. Nevertheless, if size matters, this one is a definite go-to. www.dpamicrophones.com
SV33 and Icon Pro A rather unique end-address small diaphragm condenser mic, the SV33 is pro-priced but serves up an interesting option as a studio mic for a wide range of uses. Notable for the evenness of the frequency response as you move off-axis, it’s a feature of Earthworks’ design that makes the wide cardioid pattern mic easy to place, forgiving of limited movements, and capable of and pleasingly capturing the ambience of the recording space when placed at greater distances from its subject. None of this should be a surprise really, considering Earthwork’s reputation for stage-ready handheld condensers. For spoken word, its Icon Pro is unashamedly pitched as an SM7-beater, and certainly serves up a look that is well beyond that of the utilitarian Shure staple and slicker than the E-V RE20. This is testimony to its intended market of vodcasters, streamers and well-heeled Zoom-callers who are committed to sounding and looking good in those online meetings. By all accounts, it delivers on its promises, too — providing a slightly more present but equally listenable sound to that of the SM7B, making it a viable option, as long as you aren’t planning on emitting Wolfman Jack levels of volume. www.earthworksaudio.com April/May 2021 / 35
The RE20 is a mic generally considered as an industrystandard, certainly as a studio mic for broadcasters. The RE20’s is the enclosure that has inspired a good few podcaster-aimed lookalikes, and the sound that many of them aspire to as well, especially if you want that American announcer quality. Launched in 1968, it’s not changed very much, nor needed to — however, its newer black incarnation seems to be designed to appeal to streamers and other users that want it to be visually less intrusive. Like the SM7, it can be turned to rock vocals, and other studio uses — being especially good for micing of bass cabs and kick drums, but it will always be associated with its most common location: attached to an arm mount in a radio studio or recording booth, in front of a DJ, presenter, or voice over artist. Its cousins, the RE320 and RE27/ND, offer variations on the theme (the latter has a neodymium capsule), and slightly different characteristics (the ‘320 is designed for a wider range of uses), but if you want a mic to do one job, the RE20 is probably the exemplar of that.
In our recent reviews of the Josephson C705, a less pricey addition to its Series Seven range, Jon Thornton described it as sounding “not as glassy as a [AKG]414, and not quite as mid-forward as a [Neumann] U87, but still honest and characterful at the same time”, before going on to add that “on spoken male voice this is a cracking VO mic.” He also praised the intelligent design changes that had been made to bring the price-point down to roughly 60% of the cost of the C715, deciding that the loss of the omni pattern option that mic offers (and the fiddly way it is applied), was a worthy compromise for the ways the ‘705 would often be applied. While, the company’s designs, and pricing, and ethos are decidedly high-end, the C705 sits at a level that makes it an option for many more people, while still delivering what’s come to be expected from the Seven Series. In short, that is a microphone that has a boutique feel, is well-built, looks and feels the part and performs well on vocals — but that also has the potential and character to be used on a whole range of sources with great results.
To describe a mic as stylistically unmistakable is no small thing, and even the lay-est of men could pick out a JZ mic from a line-up of the usual suspects — whether it be the Black Hole (BH) series (and its unique shockmount design) or the Vintage series’ ‘hip flask’ styling. That wouldn’t matter a jot, though, if the Latvian company wasn’t winning fans for its work on the inside of its unique enclosure designs; and the new Vintage 47 and ‘67 models have certainly done that over the last decade. No prizes for guessing the inspiration for those two models, or why they attract much of the attention given to JZ mics — but plaudits to the designers for not being afraid to move away from the classics and marrying the retro-inspired capsule designs (which utilises JZ’s ‘Golden Drop’ technique for evenly spluttering the gold onto the diaphragm and reducing its mass) with more modern electronics. We reviewed both of these mics side-by-side when released, and favoured the 67 on vocals (Resolution V10.4) — a view JZ itself seems to echo, calling the 67 “its most beloved mic”. Its team, however, back the BH1s as the best vocal option — especially for pop or R&B vocalists.
Founded in 1943, when noneother-than Georg Neumann moved to a small town near Dresden when his appliance repair shop was damaged, Microtech Gefell created the first mic to contain the M7 condenser capsule the Neumann company would later make famous upon his return to Berlin. Back east, Microtech Gefell continued as a going concern without him, working in close collaboration with Neumann’s engineers until the Berlin Wall saw Gefell absorbed into East Germany. After reunification, and after Neumann was sold to Sennheiser, the Neumann family once again took an interest and control of Microtech, so it’s little surprise that its mics continue to bear similarities to other mics from the family brand. In terms of vocal mics, its M1030 and the smaller (and less expensive) almost-twin ‘930 are the studio go-to’s from the range. Also in the range is the M 92.1 S is a tube-driven large condenser that uses Microtech Gefell’s classic PVC M7 capsule design and really harks back to its roots.
Vintage 67 and BH1s
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M1030 and M92.1S
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Mojave mics are based on the designs of Dave Royer, a man whose name is very much associated with ribbon mics thanks to his eponymous brand. The Mojave project, however, actually predates the company that forged his reputation. Its modus operandi has always been making mics that punch well above their price points; and they seem to be pretty universally enjoyed by all who use them — not least our reviewer Jon Thornton, who has delivered praise to both the original M-200 (Resolution V10.7 — now the M-200SN) and M-1000 (15.5 — now the M-1000DS). The latter of these, which sits at the top of the Mojave range, is apparently something akin to Royer’s concept of the ideal tube mic, and largely sheds the self-imposed budgetary constraints to become something that “has its own sound, albeit a sound that draws on some of the best characteristics of the ELAM 251 and other classic designs.” according to our review. We also went on to say that you could “easily AB it against contemporary and vintage microphones costing many times more and expect it to come out at least equal.”
It's hard to look past the 'U' branding and history when you talk about Neumann and vocal mics — and, let's be honest, the U87ai is the latest version of a versatile mic that's been employed in a whole range of recording applications over the last 50 years. However, the popular TLM 103 (coming up on its 25th anniversary!), '102 and newer '107 bring the prices down to levels that reach out beyond the committed-pro market, while offering high-end users charms of their own. By contrast, the U67 goes the other way, reaching even further back in time (and deeper into wallets) to deliver that retro valve colour beloved by many. The '47 FET I reissue provides a less roomy, characterful sound than the other ‘U’s, but delivers more robust SPL handling. If speech alone is your business, it's the BCM 705 that possibly catches the eye, though; an absolute beauty of a dynamic mic with retro styling and character for broadcasters and podcasters.
M-200SN and M-1000DS
U87ai and BCM 705
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With a host of mics for all applications, picking a mic out of the Rode range is a real issue. A look at the pricing structure makes it easy to see why its range is beloved of home studio owners, but the budget reputation belies a host of reviews and comparisons that will tell you this Australian company's mics stand up to scrutiny and have more that monetary savings on their side. The K2 variable pattern condenser mic, and its single pattern NTK sibling, offers an entry point to the classic valve sound that is highly attractive, while the NT1 and '1A have become something of a staple. The company's Procaster (Dynamic), Broadcaster (end-address condenser) and PodMic all offer interesting options for spoken word applications, and — let's be honest here — the kind of warranty guarantees that help to allay any nervousness the lower price-points may bring about where durability and ROI is concerned.
Ribbon mics don't immediately spring to mind when it comes to recording vocals, but they shouldn't be discounted — and Royer are likely to have something you'll want, especially if you also want to point it at a guitar cab. The R10 is the starting point, should you want to give it a go — it has a souped-up three-layer shielding system to help deal with the pops and breaths ribbon mics don’t cope with so well, though quieter voices are going to have to lean on quality pre-amping (or Royer's own dBooster) to get a hot enough signal and low enough noise for pleasing results. If you're committed to the idea, the R122 MkII and 122V Tube mic offer their own active electronics for hotter, low impedance, outputs — ostensibly eliminating the noise and level issues. While the R10 represents a good brand entry point, price-wise, the latter two options are an investment that means multi-use scenarios probably need to be in-play.
With a reputation forged by consistent creation of small-diaphragm capacitor mics, renown for the accuracy and clarity — and popular for classical recording applications — Schoeps' entry into the vocal mic market with the V4U took many by surprise. That surprise was not least because of its aesthetic, which belied the company's current reputation for discrete designs, harked back to its legacy with a retro-styled cardioid pattern mic. In its USM kit, the V4 comes with a shockmount and lined wooden box, and upholds Schoeps’ reputation for both engineering and sonic quality, providing a consistent all-rounder that confidently sets itself against some of the best in the business. Alongside this vocal-specific option, Schoeps' classic, modular Collete options can be turned to a range of purposes, while its CMIT range of 'Blue One' shotguns are tailor-made for sound recording in film and TV applications; indeed, its newest addition to the range, the MiniCMIT won the Resolution Microphone Award in 2017, after receiving high praise for its "wonderfully natural sound" in our review (Resolution V15.8).
While it may seem shallow to start this summary with a comment about looks, Sennheiser has undoubtedly got its styling on-point right now. We'll go on the record and say it currently makes some of the best-looking workhorse mics out there — if that sort of thing matters to you. The MD421 II remains a good dynamic all-rounder with great visual qualities for applications where it needs to be seen, while the '431 is a more conventional-looking but very useable supercardioid dynamic mic for speech/ broadcast. However, the chic 60s look of the MD 441-U is nothing short of, well, beautiful — if you don't mind paying that high a price for an (admittedly highly versatile) supercardioid dynamic mic. The MD 8 remains the company's top large-diaphragm condenser option for studio vocals, but the dynamic options is where the company really shines and puts forward a host of options for almost any application you want to throw at them.
NTK, Procaster and Broadcaster
V4 USM Set and MiniCMIT
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R10 and R122
MD 421 II and MD 441-U
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By some accounts we've heard, the SM7B has been in short supply during the UK's lockdown as broadcasters, podcasters, and musicians have retreated to home studios and kitted themselves out. Either that or British heavy metal is heading for a massive resurgence during the late part of this year and everyone is looking to track vocals right now. The SM7B's popularity with broadcasters is unsurprising, with a reputation for sounding clear in close proximity and handling a good dynamic range (hence its attraction to rock screamers), it's perfect for a wide range of vocal and off-camera speech applications. That it’s popular with musician’s is not a surprise either. After all, the SM7 will always be known as ‘The Thriller mic’ and, by that association the SM7B, has a ‘well, if it’s good enough for Quincy…’ cache. In terms of singercentric studio mics, Shure continues to offer products worthy of consideration beyond its stage-standard SM range, especially the versatile KSM44A which Jon Thornton reviewed back in 2011 and described as "well built, terrifically quiet, and [with] a sound that’s modern and authoritative without ever being brash."
The revived Telefunken mic brand, bought back to life as TelefunkenElecktoakustik 20-years ago by Toni Fishman, began life due to the need to reverse-engineer a single component of the legendary ELA M 251 model in order to keep its owner’s vintage mic operational. The company then set its sights on slavishly recreating the mic from top-to-bottom as authentically as possible for a new, discerning customer base. It carried on that thinking to encompass more classic mics; creating a Diamond Series that includes beautiful 251, U47 and C12 options. More recently, its Alchemy series had parlayed the expertise and experience gained from its close study of those designs into a modern series of mics designed from the ground up. The latest of this line, the TF11 FET is the company’s first large diaphragm mic to work with phantom power rather than an external PSU, and purports to be sonically inspired by the C12 — utilising a variant of the same edge-terminated capsule that is used in T-E’s TF51, while adding modern FET circuitry to deliver a brighter, more open sound suited to rock and pop and potentially creating a much wider set of use scenarios.
United Studio Technologies
Currently, United Studio Technologies market one product, and this is it. The FET47 is not a microphone that's hiding its influences under a bushel; rather, it is dedicated to offering an authentic alternative to a mic that, let us not forget, has been in-and-out of production and through various redesigns during its 50-ish year history. This model even goes as far as leveraging New Old Stock FETs with custom-designed transformer and capsules to recreate its maker’s favourite aspects of the source mic’s characteristics — apparently with admirable precision. That it does all this at a price point well below Neumann's current U47 model, makes it even more interesting. To anyone not committed to the statement of intent or status that a manufacturer's label can represent, this presents a good choice if the U47's distinct qualities are what you're after.
The last few years has seen a flurry of familiar numbers come at us from the direction of Warm; ‘87, ‘67, ‘47 and ‘251 are just the ones that we’d be looking at for vocals, but there are others that have attracted a similar amount of attention. We nominated the WA-251 for a Resolution Award after our review (Resolution V18.2) deemed that it passed our — totally subjective — ELA M “smile test”, sound-wise, and excelled on male vocals and drum recording. We concluded that, while it was not quite the ‘251 we remember — notwithstanding the fact that virtually no two ELA M 251s you will come across sound the same — at the price point the “money had been spent where it matters”. And that’s the thing, really: Warm Audio consistently deliver interesting, retro-inspired, mics at extremely interesting price points — garnering praise for its efforts along the way. There are many, many great options out there if you are looking for 'homage' mics, but if the budget is high on your list of priorities, Warm’s range is a great place to start looking.
SM7B and KSM44A
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Ambisonic microphone Round-up JON THORNTON looks at the growth of ambisonic mic options, and the models worth looking into.
elative to the history of audio production, Ambisonics is an old technology, dating back to work carried out by Michael Gerzon and others in the 1970s. It’s had something of a renaissance over the last five years, though, as the potential of capturing audio in three dimensions and being able to decode that in different ways has been turbocharged by developments in DSP power and the rise of Virtual and Augmented Reality applications. Put simply, Ambisonics captures a 360o, spherical soundfield, using multiple microphone capsules. It’s perhaps easiest thought of as an extension of MS stereo recording, where a figure-8 microphone’s output is added or subtracted from a central cardioid microphone to give stereo positioning. Replace the cardioid ‘M’ microphone with an omni, and adding a further two figure-8 microphones oriented front/rear and up/down and you end up with four audio components. These four components, known as ‘B Format’ are named W (omni), X (front/rear), Y (left/right) and Z (up/down) and can be used in several ways. For example, by combining them it’s possible to create the pickup of a virtual microphone, in both pattern and angle. And 40 / April/May 2021
because you can use the components to derive multiple virtual microphones, creating one oriented to each position of a 5.1 speaker arrangement allows decoding to this format, or any other. This decoding can then be binaurally rendered for headphone playback, and because it’s virtual, can be constantly rotated by head tracking information — hence the appeal for VR applications. In practice though, the microphone arrangement described above is somewhat impractical, as it’s physically impossible to locate all of those capsules coincidentally. Instead, most current ambisonic microphones employ an array of four cardioid or sub-cardioid capsules arranged in a tetrahedral fashion, such that each capsule is located on each of the four faces of a tetrahedron. This arrangement is known as ‘A Format’ and allows the corresponding ‘B Format’ components to be derived by some relatively simple matrixing. Of course, this doesn’t get around the issue of non-coincidence, but simply minimises and distributes any phase issues equally. As a result, the A-to-B format conversion process requires some complex filtering, the nature of which is somewhat dependent on the exact spacing of the capsules, so varies from manufacturer to
manufacturer. Some address this by providing hardware or software convertors, others by supplying filter coefficients to plug into OEM software. Finally, everything described so far is known as first-order ambisonics (FOA), using only four components. One criticism of FOA is that it doesn’t provide particularly good spatial resolution — in the same way that a coincident stereo pair, relying only on level differences between the two channels, may not deliver as good an image as a spaced pair. What this means in practice is a blurring of the location of sources. Higher orders (more components to the B format, so more resolution) do exist — second-order has a total of nine components, and third-order 16 components. But there’s a trade-off here: more components means more capsules, which means more noise from summing as well as more aggressive filtering requirements, all of which have an impact on overall fidelity. And higher-order microphones can’t simply use traditional polar patterns and matrixing to generate these components. Instead, they rely on larger multi-capsule arrays married to DSP. Here’s a round-up of both some longestablished and new contenders in the field.
The marque that started it all with the prototype SoundField microphone developed in collaboration with Calrec in the 1970s. Several iterations later, the Mark IIIB became the first commercially available Ambisonic microphone in 1978. The marque has had many changes of ownership since — from Calrec, to AMS, then to the independent SoundField Limited, and most recently to The Freedman Group, owners of RØDE Microphones where it remains to date. The SoundField brand remains, though, with a range of products that have truly benefitted from 40-plus years of continual R&D. There are four microphones currently in the range, all first-order, together with a range of associated hardware and software decoder/ convertors. The SPS200 is the simplest, designed to operate entirely with software for conversion and decoding. The ST450 Mk II is the field recording specialist — and is supplied with its own (battery operable) hardware for powering, decoding and monitoring. The DSF-1 and DSF-2 Mk II are aimed at the concert recording and broadcast markets and are beloved by both for the compact size, ease of rigging, and the range of hardware interfacing and decoding options available. Neat touches like internal heaters in the ST450 and DSF-2, to prevent condensation on the capsules, also shows a real understanding of the needs of these markets.
Reynolds A-Type 4
Jack Reynolds’ eponymous microphone company has stayed largely in the realm of producing low volume, classically inspired tube microphones based on tried and tested design approaches. The A-Type 4, though, is none of those things. An FOA mic featuring four matched 14mm capsules in a tetrahedral array, the whole microphone weighs in at an astonishingly light 68 grams. This is due to the construction employed, which uses 3D printed nylon (using selective laser sintering) to create the entire, quite open structure, which is then coated with a fine nickel plate for electrical shielding. As well as
lightness, the use of this material gives other advantages — it’s properly field-rugged and suffers less from condensation in high humidity environments. Supplied with a custom Rycote windshield and shockmount, the design was created with input from leading end users.
Sennheiser VR mic
Perhaps the first established mainstream manufacturer to produce an Ambisonic microphone, Sennheiser’s VR microphone is part of a larger immersive audio product family named Ambeo. The VR Mic itself looks quite ‘normal’ at first glance — you could mistake it for a handheld vocal mic that’s put on a bit of weight. Unscrew the head grille though, and you see the four matched KE14 capsules in a tetrahedral array. It’s a good balance between compactness and ruggedness — equally at home indoors on outdoors on location. A-to-B format conversion is performed by Sennheiser’s own Ambeo plug-in, but for further processing of B-format signals, you need to look elsewhere. However, Sennheiser’s acquisition of a majority shareholding in immersive audio software specialists Dear Reality means that there’s no shortage of tightly integrated options here.
The first fruits of The Freedman Group’s acquisition of SoundField Limited, the NT-SF1 bears some superficial similarity to the SoundField SPS200. Look closer and you realise that it is a very different design, though — after all, there are only so many ways that you can arrange a tetrahedral array on a stick. The capsules themselves are true condenser ½” cardioid capsules manufactured in-house in Sydney, with their housing and the rest of the microphone constructed from solid brass. The whole assembly feels extremely solid and rigid. It’s supplied in a complete kit, with a spherical windshield and sock and dedicated shock-mount — so, despite looking quite exposed it’s more than up to location work. The supplied software for A-to-B format conversion — and then further manipulation of the B format — is extremely well thought out, and sounds excellent.
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Voyage Audio Spatial Mic
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The Spatial Mic is a second-order ambisonic design, featuring eight individual capsules. It’s distinctive in that it also integrates amplification, analog ue-to-digital conversion, and a degree of DSP into the microphone itself. One clear advantage of this is that the outputs of the capsules emerge digitally — in either USB or ADAT Lightpipe format — so no bulky breakout cables to individual XLRs are required. Control of gain and other settings is performed by a push-and-turn rotary encoder located on the microphone body, aided by an LED ring for visual feedback. A 3.5mm headphone socket at the base of the microphone allows both stereo and binaural confidence monitoring. The Spatial Mic is supplied with its own software for A-to-B format conversion and creating virtual microphones, and also a remote-control application for setting gains and such over USB.
Zylia’s ZM-1 is the only third-order microphone featured here. It’s also unusual in that it doesn’t employ conventional condenser capsules. instead, it uses MEMS (micro-electromechanical-systems) digital microphones; think of these as tiny capsules etched into an integrated circuit, which also performs the functions of preamplification and the analogue-to-digital conversion process. 19 of these form a spherical array, and the outputs of the MEMS microphones are combined using DSP to create a third-order B format. Being almost entirely digital, Zylia claim benefits in ensuring that tolerances are tight and that the initial calibration settings of the 19 sensors (stored internally onboard the microphone) never need changing. Output is via USB, and there is a range of interesting software options to work with the B format, including the ability to auto-detect multiple instrument sources in the sound field and isolate them for mixing/ balancing.
Core Sound TetraMic and OctaMic
New Jersey-based Core Sound has been producing microphones for both Ambisonic and binaural capture since 1990. From the Ambisonic side of the product range, two products are offered. The TetraMic is an FOA design featuring four capsules, whilst the OctoMic is a second-order offering with eight capsules. Both designs are solid-looking, precision built but very compact affairs with closely matched 12 mm diaphragm capsules. A good range of accessories are available from Core Sound themselves (Phantom Power Adaptors and windshields) or recommended OEM accessories such as shock mounts. Somewhat curiously, the eight-capsule OctoMic, on paper, has better noise performance than the fourcapsule TetraMic — quoted at 15 dBA for the whole array versus 19 dBA per capsule for the TetraMic. A key selling point for both is that every microphone is individually calibrated, and the resulting correction files for each are provided to use with the supplied A-to-B format conversion plug-in.
The very latest Ambisonic offering comes from Russian manufacturers Nevaton. Just released, the Nevaton VR is an FOA microphone, featuring four 33mm capsules, some of the largest employed in a tetrahedral array. Weighing in at 600 grams, it’s one of the more heavyweight options here — but that is more than offset by the quoted noise performance, with equivalent noise of 4dBA. However, using larger diaphragm capsules means that the spacing between them increases, and that tends to limit the frequency at which the virtual B format patterns can be successfully derived without significant filtering — so it will be interesting to see how the mic performs here. Nevaton doesn’t provide its own conversion software, but filter sets for use with third-party software (generated by Angelo Farina from the University of Palma) are available for download.
Mike Elizondo The producer, songwriter and bass player has found huge success in diverse genres. GEORGE SHILLING (who also likes wearing several hats) compares notes
ike Elizondo studied classical double bass for a good number of years before finding himself in a studio, employed by Dr Dre, replicating electric bass parts from old records on hip-hop productions. He was soon part of the Aftermath label’s core team and having previously been a signed songwriter with his college band he gradually added production and songwriting to his portfolio. Elizondo co-wrote Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady, and co-produced tracks on Snoop Dogg’s 2000 album The Last Meal. He co-wrote and co-produced much of 50 Cent’s Get Rich Or Die Trying including the hit In Da
Club. Other credits included Mary J. Blige, and Eve and Gwen Stefani’s singles and in 2005 he produced Fiona Apple’s Extraordinary Machine album. Other diverse credits have followed including Regina Spektor, Alanis Morisette, Jay Z, Ed Sheeran, twenty øne pilots, and forthcoming albums with Rag’n’Bone Man and thrash metal band Turnstile. From 2011, invited by industry legend Lenny Waronker, Elizondo took an A&R role at Warners for eight years, which “was a really cool education of how decisions get made,” he says — but one that was taking him away from the creative studio process.
In 2018 he moved from LA to Nashville, setting up an impressive studio with a classic SSL 4056E/G (that came from a New York facility, but was originally ordered for another Nashville studio), and the latest Genelec The Ones monitoring system. Elizondo is currently working with twenty øne pilots and doing songwriting sessions with artists including Grace Vanderwaal. There are also projects in the works for Netflix including one with Brittany Howard. Resolution chatted with Elizondo stationed in the studio’s museum-like keyboard room. How has it been with Covid? Even with the pandemic, we were able to be pretty busy this last year. A lot of it was just me and an engineer, sending files back and forth. But there were a good amount of sessions as things started to get safer, where we would have socially distanced sessions, with maybe just two other people in the room. We even did a session where me, the artist, the engineer and all the musicians all got a rapid test result within 20 minutes. And even with that assurance, we all still wore masks. April/May 2021 / 43
/ The control room of Elizondo’s Nashville studio, with that vintage SSL 4056E/G desk and new Genelec The Ones monitoring
How come you made the big move? I’ve been coming to Nashville for ten or eleven years, primarily as a songwriter. I had some success with Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban — enough to keep me coming back, and keeping the doors open for me. I love the environment and the work ethic. The talent pool is immense — a lot of incredible musicians. As an experiment, a couple of years ago opted to make some records out here that were not based in Nashville but just — ‘Hey, let’s meet in Nashville and go and record there.’ And just had a great time. My wife and kids have come with me many times, and we got to this point where we thought that maybe it was time for a change. How do you use the SSL? I would not qualify myself as an engineer at any level. But many years of working with Dr Dre had an influence, and so many of my favourite engineers work on an SSL. We haven’t done any full-fledged mixing on the board. But I like to have a number of things set up, so my piano’s always mic’d, my drums, most of my keyboards, so having all of those channels enables me to have templates and to have things ready to go, so I’m not constantly setting things up. That aside, I do have a dedicated Logic rig, and a dedicated Pro Tools rig. But the SSL gets used a lot, especially if we’re tracking drums. I like to have them spread out so I can play around with the levels of what we’re hearing and make decisions on that. 44 / April/May 2021
With your incredible synth collection and all the software synths available, how do you make decisions? My philosophy is to have as many options as possible without needing time to set them up. I do have a number of keyboards that are always powered on. The Jupiter 8 is always by my side. Then the reissued Mellotron is getting a lot of use. There’s a Minimoog, and a Prophet V. So those four are always right at my side. But also a ton of Native Instruments, a ton of Logic keyboards. But if I’m writing, I’m usually looking for something that’s going to inspire someone. When people come into the room I’m trying to draw, ‘What’s the energy, what’s the vibe?’ Without even asking, a lot of times, just by having a conversation you know, are we writing a ballad today — shall we go sit by the piano, shall I pick up an acoustic guitar? Or is someone feeling a little spunky, do you want to do something on the bass and have a certain kind of beat? But I like having a couple of things ready to go, so that if I get a reaction out of somebody then I can go full-tilt into that direction. If someone’s got an idea, and I’m looking for a kick drum sound for 20 minutes then that’s the worst possible scenario. So with all those options, how do you choose? I’ll typically get to the studio an hour before anyone else, and I’ll think, what’s a library I haven’t looked at in a while? And I’ll have a couple of things all ready to go. Then if someone walks in and says, ‘I want to do a
dance track,’ then I’ve got some sounds. Then if someone wants something more live-sounding, then I’ve got some Addictive Drums that feel like a 70s kit or something. Ninety-nine percent of the time I’m going to go back once the song is done, and then I’m going to tinker with the right sounds. Sometimes you get lucky right out of the gate, but most of the time I’ll replace the sounds, once everyone else has gone home, then I’m not boring anyone to death searching for the perfect snare sound. But sometimes your first idea is the best one… Yes, there are times where I’ve changed it and the artist has gone, ‘I kinda like what we did the first round,’ and you have to trust it. Were there any disadvantages to having a solid musical education? No. I took the approach that the more knowledge I could have, the more well-rounded I’d give myself a chance to be. If I was getting into classical music and studying, I wanted to be as authentic — I didn’t want a crash course; I wanted to study with the best. And I studied with guys from the LA Philharmonic. For a good time, I thought that was going to be my career, playing in an orchestra. And I loved playing acoustic, straight-ahead jazz. I loved fusion. But I also loved playing heavy rock. I don’t feel like it gets in the way. And it’s definitely come in handy in string sessions and horn sessions and it’s easier to talk to musicians in very specific
the fact I’ve had success in multiple genres makes me a little more intriguing terms: note lengths, articulations, dynamic things you want to get. Knowing the terminology saves you a lot of time. At the outset did you listen to a lot of rap records for research? I didn’t. I met Dre when he was starting his Aftermath label. He had a lot of artists, and he was experimenting. I’d just show up with my bass. In the initial sessions, it was ‘Here’s a record, can you re-play this bass line?’ They were really keen on having real electric bass, so I learned how they liked to hear things and how I should play. A lot of times they were referencing records that I was already familiar with. Eventually, he would want me to come up with a bass line. That’s where the songwriting door was opened. Then I started playing more keyboards and guitar, and that led to production. He was very generous and offered me equal splits on the publishing, and then would give me production credit where he felt I’d contributed. That opened the doors for the productions that came later. Tell me about these Genelecs I’ve used Genelecs for years, then I went through a phase when I was using Adams, and Focals, but what sparked this was that I had a control room where I didn’t want to put mains up in the walls and go through that whole rabbit hole, so I asked my friend Adam Hawkins what he thought, and he turned me on to the Genelec The Ones. It just seemed like the perfect situation where I can have these speakers as my mains, and maybe keep NS10s or Proacs for
nearfield. Then these Genelecs showed up and they just blew me away. They sound great as nearfields as well. I’m using them 90% of the time. Occasionally we’ll switch to the Proacs, or I’ve got another listening station with Focals. But my main source behind the SSL is the Genelecs. Some speakers, you feel like you have to learn them. But for myself and other engineers that have come in, you quickly understand what they are giving you. That’s been crucial, and they’ve been phenomenal. How was it setting up the Genelec software? That was intriguing. The cool thing is that you can have multiple prime positions. Ninety percent of the time the artist is hanging out on the couch at the back, and rather than making them come up to the board, you can hit a button on the software and it makes the couch the prime position. It definitely makes a difference, but you have to remember to switch it back or it sounds really strange! I even have a third position where I do my programming and what it does is pretty phenomenal. And do you tune it to taste? Absolutely, it’s very intuitive to bump certain frequencies; when it was first set up we experimented a little bit. But now it’s set exactly the way I like it. Really the test is when you take it out of the room, but really, there was no learning curve, it translated really well. If I crank it to the level you’d normally have your mains it sounds incredible. But at a lower level, it still has the same punchiness and focus. That’s what’s blown me away.
/ After years in A&R at Warners, Mike moved to Nashville to get back to songwriting and production
You work in diverse genres; why do people come to you? I think if artists only work with someone from their genre, they can get bored doing the same thing over and over again. So maybe they want to work with someone who’s going to bring a different perspective. So the fact I’ve had success in multiple genres makes me a little more intriguing. They know I’m capable of doing stuff that gets on the radio, so I’m not going to go way off the deep end. But maybe someone’s a fan of Fiona Apple but they’re a pop artist, wanting to bring some of that stuff in. Hopefully, they think I’m diverse enough but can draw from other things, and also stay focused enough to not get things too far off track.
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hen I started my recording career I was singularly concerned with classical music; chamber music, organ recitals, choral concerts and orchestral repertoire. However, 2007 saw my first serious recording of more contemporary music, specifically MASS, an audio-visual performance by Looper and John Tilbury. This was followed by a series of recordings at the “blurred edges”, the festival of the Verband für Aktuelle Musik Hamburg/ VAMH (Hamburg’s association for contemporary music). I heard and recorded a wide range of rather unusual repertoires there, with an extremely wide dynamic range and lots of unusual (dis-)harmonies. This was not strange music to me, however, as I had been a part the Arbeitsgemeinschaft 46 / April/May 2021
Neue Musik/AGNeM (Working group for contemporary music) — an ensemble founded by music teacher and bassoon player Klaus Risch way back in 1967 — as far back as the 12th and 13th grade. So the shift was more akin to finding my way back to something that I heard as ‘strange’ chamber music. Jump to March 2010. I was in Paris for a few weeks recording the 10th anniversary of the Festival Oboe, and on the fringe of the programme of predominantly chamber music concerts I captured a performance of an electro-acoustic trio comprising Axel Dörner (trumpet and FX), Jean-Philip Gross (synthesiser) and Christine Sehnaoui (saxophone) at Les Instants Chavirés in Montreuil. This was definitely something else, both in terms of tone and technology. Suddenly,
I needed to understand and implement the musicians’ aesthetics, balancing the direct line-level signals with the acoustic components of the performance. Here, I also discovered one of the main issues in capturing pleasing recordings of these kinds of ensembles: that the amplification used to project the electronically produced and/or modified sources collides with the purely acoustic elements. There is often substantial sound pressure level on stage from the PA, and even when its influence can be minimised through the use of in-ear monitoring, most venues reflect a lot back into any open mic.
2010 was also the year I discovered the Theremin — the first purely electronic
Photos: Samuel Hall, Andrew Levine and Jochen Quast
Musician and recording engineer ANDREW LEVINE lays out his practical solutions to the challenges of capturing experimental improvised electro-acoustic music for a skeletoncrewed lockdown show
instrument, invented in 1919/20. On a whim, I ordered a Moog Etherwave Plus. My initial experiments with that soon turned into duos, trios, and other experimental collaborations. One performance, a 2016 concert with Manuel Gera — one of the two organists of St. Michaelis, Hamburg, involved a church organ featuring 44 registers. This made me painfully aware of the restricted timbral palette of my instrument, and the need to extend these textures in order to enrich performance and expand possibilities. The Etherwave’s two knobs, for controlling waveform and brightness, are no match for even a small organ, so I started to experiment with a Gretsch G5222 Electromatic Amp. The tube circuitry of that (12AX7 and 6V6 for the 6’’ chassis) produces some harmonic distortion at higher levels, which helps a bit, but it was not enough. It was definitely time for a sonic upgrade.
After some research, I ended up purchasing a semi-modular (internally pre-patched) 0-Coast by Make Noise Music. This flexible, yet flat and portable unit is based on the additive synthesis paradigm of the US west coast (think Buchla), rather than the subtractive approach of the US east coast (exemplified by Moog). The 0-Coast sports two unsymmetrical dual-mono line outputs, one of which is fixed gain, while the complement features an attenuator. I now use the latter for my amp, the former to record the signal. Thus, since 2017 my Theremin has featured an interface for the dedicated soundproducing component. The control voltages of both antennas — the round one usually dedicated to volume and the straight one to pitch — plus a gate output, provide experimentally inclined musicians with a host of options, as long as one is happy enough with monophonic voicings.
/ Trumpet player Axel Dörner with his customised instrument augmented with controllers for Max/MSP, and a vintage AKG414 to capture the acoustic elements of his performance
In 2019 encountered the Continuum Fingerboard, an instrument invented and developed in the 1980’s and 90’s by electronic engineer Lippold Haken of Haken Audio. It is possibly the most tactilely expressive electronic instrument in existence, combining a touch-sensitive area with a sheet of neoprene covering an array of spring-mounted metal rods sporting Hall Effect sensors on each end. A dedicated sensor readout mechanism features an astounding 0.33ms resolution and since the early 2000's the instrument has incorporated a polyphonic digital synthesiser, the Eagan matrix, named after its designer
Edmund Eagan. I didn’t want to pass up the chance to go polyphonic with such a device, and fortuitously acquired a half-size example from Daniel Grabois, professor and founder of the ElectroAcoustic Research Space (EARS) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It provides a stereo output, plus digital AES/EBU in- and outputs on XLR (these have changed to coaxial S/PDIF on the current version, alongside a headphone output plus a pair of unsymmetrical line outputs). The Continuum works at a native sample rate of 96kHz, optionally 48kHz and can be clocked externally off of its digital input.
April/May 2021 / 47
February 2021 Livestreams
/ Trumpet player Axel Dörner with his customised instrument augmented with controllers for Max/MSP, and a vintage AKG414 to capture the acoustic elements of his performance
This addition saw my live performance rig expand to Etherwave+0-Coast with the Continuum–and the occasional STEIM Cracklebox insert. I feel the combination is a wonderful match for creating a wide range of esoteric and interesting textures while providing a great performance tool. For concerts, I generally feed the stereo out of the Continuum to my monitor speaker and the PA
while recording the digital output with my audio interface — a Metric Halo ULN-8 or 2882 3d with AES/EBU (+S/PDIF) EdgeBus port card. The digital output of the interface feeds the live mix to my Blackmagic ATEM TV Studio Pro’s AES/EBU input (from XLR to BNC — don’t ask me why) so I clock the domain from the Continuum’s feed, refreshed by my interface’s PLL.
In Germany, live concerts with an audience have been prohibited since November 2020, but I now appreciate the advantages of streaming events. Experimental and freely improvised music has always existed in a niche, even in an active environment for this kind of experimental endeavour like Berlin. I have come to realise that you can draw significantly larger crowds online than would have attended in-person, provided you create an interesting proposition and invest sufficient time into promoting the stream on social media. For shows on February 6th and 7th, I utilised the Kühlspot Social Club in Berlin-Weißensee, a gallery run by Christoph Kühl and filled with his father’s sculptures and his own paintings. It is one of the established concert locations of the Echtzeit-Musik scene in Berlin; a very nice sounding large rectangular space with a slanted ceiling and skylight. Wi-fi provision was solid, but I arranged for a direct line to the router in the atelier next door. After all 30m of CAT-5e Ethernet cable is an easy thing to transport. The visual end was covered by five Canon DSLR’s. Four were inexpensive models with APS-C sensors to capture insert shots for later edits, but just one — a 5D MkIII — would provide a wide-angle shot for the stream. I chose this reductive approach to the livestream visuals because it was prohibitively taxing to also be in charge of the live visual mix and expensive to delegate the task. It is hard enough to switch between the mindset necessary to plan for, set up and manage the audio-visual recording and the empty mind and attentive ears required for intuitive music making. In planning for the audio part of the session, my first plan was to use a Planar Ambisonic setup: a central AES R88 mk2 stereo ribbon in M/S configuration (for the X- and Y-channel) plus a top-mounted Earthworks QTC-1 as W-channel for the non-directional pressure component. I also wanted to stick two DPA 4060’s to the walls left and right as boundary layer pickups. In a refined design, however, I switched the Earthworks for a Core Sound TetraMic with tetrahedral capsule configuration. This allows for the extraction of a nearly optimal omnidirectional characteristic, while also supplying the information for optional height channels. However, the first option demanded five channels, and the second eight! So, compromise became the key — and, considering the mounting complexity of the whole endeavour, I chose a simple AB as main microphone. Two of the three musicians on each evening were producing their sounds electronically, anyway, providing a good excuse to not go overboard in the acoustic realm.
Mic choices / Despite the empty room and skeleton team, Andrew believes the live-streaming element fed some atmosphere back into the shows
48 / April/May 2021
The purely acoustic collaborators across the two performances were the Australian percussionist Samuel Hall on Saturday and the British tuba player Jack Adler-McKean on
Sunday. For them, I had pragmatically decided on a Rode NT4, a preconfigured and easy-toplace XY-mic, that has been a great companion for nearly 20 years. This, together with the runtime stereophonic pair — two (Neumann U-87 like) ‘Browny’ large diaphragm condensers, made by Attila Czirja’k of United Minorities — spaced at 70cm captured the ‘real’ manifestation in time and space well. I was all set. One add-on to measuring runtimes: I not only captured the distance of the XY-spot to the (middle of the) main microphone but also the distance of the Theremin’s amp to the central AB. Better an extra measurement you choose not to use than the lack of an exact timing reference! Since there was no physical audience to consider I moved the PA speakers to face towards the ensemble, making sure it was primarily reflections of the wall behind us that reached the microphones.
My electro-acoustic collaborators on the first evening were the Swiss luthier Caroline Cecilia
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Tallone (aka K Lì) with a pickup-equipped hurdy gurdy and an assortment of amplified objects. Caroline fed the sum of her signals from an analogue mixer to one line input of my interface. The second evening the German trumpet player Axel Dörner sat in. His instrument was augmented with a contraption designed by Sukandar Kartadinata; a steampunk-like clampon offering physical controls — buttons, knobs and sliders — to enable realtime control of Max/MSP patches for FX, realtime sampling, and quadraphonic panning among other things. Axel supplied a stereo feed from the interface connected to his laptop, alongside a fine-looking 1980’s AKG C414 to capture his trumpet acoustically. After I had unpacked, set up and tested all instruments, recording and streaming gear I had sufficient time to relax — at least on the second evening. The soundcheck for the recording levels and live monitoring went smoothly, the only issue arising being the difficulty of accurately judging the headphone mix while in the same space with monitoring turned on. A separate
room would have helped to optimise the balance, but then again I was part of the ensemble so had to remain in my position.
A measured success
Since the focus of this session was primarily the creation of spontaneous music and provision of a satisfactory livestream — but optimal tracking of audio with the aim of being able to create a convincing audio and visual mix later — everything worked well. A multi-cam livestream, with a fluidly adapting audio mix would have demanded at least two additional specialists, and made the venture more logistically and financially taxing. The presence of the virtual live audience gave the gigs a concert feel, which fed back into the performance and banished the spectre of arbitrariness that can easily creep in with isolated sessions. The moment has to count, then and there, and I think we succeeded in capturing that sense and acceptable audio options for the final mix. You can hear an edited excerpt from the beginning of Saturday's performance, Box Full of Waves — featuring Caroline Cecilia Tallone / K Lì (hurdy gurdy & amplified objects), Samuel Hall (percussion) and Andrew Levine (Theremin+synth & Continuum) — at youtu.be/AV_-kjsV9zc.
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April/May 2021 / 49
Resolution Al Schmitt Tribute Something slightly different this issue, we’re sad to say, because we wanted to mark the passing of Al Schmitt on April 26th, aged 91.
ne of studio engineering’s great talents, Al Schmitt won more Grammys than anyone in his trade (20, not including his Latin Grammy wins and National Trustees Award), had over 150 Gold records with his name on the credits, was involved in the creation of great music for over sixty years, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They’re just the jaw-dropping stats, though. What that doesn’t get / Al, Jeff Turner, and Alan Parsons in Napa Valley, 1998 across is how much he was liked and loved. For that, we wanted to get an insight from someone who knew him. From Jeff Turner, Resolution’s COO Publishing: Having been in this industry for 40+ years, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, working with, and rubbing shoulders with some pretty special people. Usually, it’s their artistry, turned into fame, that defines them. However, there is that rare person who manages to wrangle their stellar reputation — and all that comes with it — and continue to show almost infinite amounts of humanity… Les Paul comes to mind, or Steve Wonder — and definitely Al Schmitt. Al was a rock star to engineers, producers, and the musicians who admired his almost staggeringly long and engrossing CV. A craftsman in the studio who possessed an almost unrivalled skill for acquiring great recordings by choosing the perfect mic and placement for the frequency boost or cut that a track needed. That’s a talent he acquired by learning to use his ears in the limited recording facilities late '50s and '60s — where he learned his trade, and where quality spoke loudest. Hundreds upon thousands have admired Al’s talents, whether or not they knew the record they love had his signature sound all over it. But, those that really knew him loved his spirit, gentle nature towards everyone he met, and his extreme humility. Yes, he was a rock star, but you’d never know he knew it. While you may have missed meeting Al in person, he’s been connecting with you through his musical mixes for decades starting with Duke Ellington (his first ever recording session, because Tom Dowd was running late that day), to Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Jefferson Airplane, Steely Dan, Diana Krall, Bob Dylan, Jackson Brown, Madonna, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton, Celine Dion, Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, Mary Blige, Nora Jones, Aerosmith, Paul McCartney, Michael Bublé, Katy Perry or one the other 1,080 recording sessions/artist projects... Lord only knows how many actual songs Al recorded and mixed — certainly more than 10,000. It makes you wonder when his wife Lisa ever got to see him. It’s kind of fitting that one of Al’s last sessions was for Willie Nelson’s 2021 album, That’s Life…and what a life it was! (for all of us). Al, thank you for your friendship, love and dedication to sonic excellence — mixing artists for more than six decades and demonstrating your true brilliance and effortless ability to create music that will forever stand the test of time.
So, here’s some of our personal favourite Al Schmitt recordings — but you’ve got plenty of others to choose from! You can find these at tinyurl.com/ResolutionPlaylist
Henry Mancini: Moon River (engineer, 1961) Sam Cooke: Twistin’ The Night Away (engineer, 1961)
Hugh Montenegro: The Theme from Man From U.N.C.L.E (produced, 1963) Jefferson Airplane: Crown of Creation (produced, 1968) Barbara Streisand: The Way We Were (engineer, 1974)
Neil Young: On The Beach (produced, 1974)
George Benson: Breezin’ (recorded and mixed, 1976)
Steeley Dan: Peg (engineer, Aja LP, 1977)
George Benson: On Broadway (mixed, 1978)
Dr John: Keep That Music Simple (recorded by, 1979) Dionne Warwick: Betcha By Golly Wow (engineer, Friends in Love LP, 1982) Toto: Rosanna (engineer, Toto IV, 1982) Nat King Cole & Unforgettable Natalie Cole: (recorded, mixed, 1991)
Diana Krall: I Got The World on a String (recorded, mixed by, 1995)
James Darren: The Way You Look Tonight (recorded, mixed 1999)
Ray Charles and Here We Go Again Norah Jones: (mixed, 2004)
Elvis Costello and Watching The Detectives The Metropole (mixed, 2006) Orkest:
Willie Nelson: On The Street Where You Live (mixed, 2012) Paul McCartney: I’m Gonna Sit Right Down... (recorded, mixed, 2012) Bob Dylan: That Lucky Old Sun (recorded, mixed 2015)
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/ Tall Pine Records: API Legacy in Poland / Dean Street Studios: Atmos with PMC / Resolution Award nominations
/ PreSonus ioStation 24c: desktop control / Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms: lush space / iZotope Neoverb
/ Source-Live Low Latency: remote heaven / Emika: solo piano to electronic symphony / Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
/ AI: sound engineering / Spotify: binaural commercials / Aloha’s in-sync remote musical collaboration
/ Grace m908: immersive control / Lectrosonics DCR822: receive & record / Genelec GLM 4 — calibrate your senses
/ Cole Whitecotton: battling deepfake audio / Studio tour: coping with COVID / Resolution Awards 2020 Winners!
/ AoIP: location recording / Virtual Audiences: laughter from the lounge / Deepfake voices: how they are helping
/ Merging+Anubis: Ravenna revelation / Josephson C705: clever compromises / PreSonus Analog Effects: vintage fun
/ Rupert Neve: a life in focus / Roger Quested: monitoring master / Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: modular methods
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