Indablog // Gear - Indaba Music
News, Sessions and oddities from the Indaba Community
Tuesday June 30, 2009 at 10:09 AM
Broke-ass bedroom recordists of the world: your prayers either have
just been answered or else are in need of some serious refactoring:
the audio conversion wizards at Apogee have announced the One, their
new USB desktop audio interface. Everybody and their brother is making
those things nowadays, of course, but this particular product is more
exciting than most of its competitors because of who designed it:
Apogee rules the roost when it comes to high-end professional audio
converters. (To be fair, there are converters of marginally better
repute made by companies like Lavry and Crane Song, but those are
outlandishly expensive mastering-grade boutique devices — to put
things in perspective, I don’t think I know anybody who has ever seen
one in real life.)
As you may remember, Apogee turned a lot of heads when they released
the Duet in 2007 because it made all their engineering prowess more affordable
than ever — it went for half as much as its predecessor, the Mini-Me,
which had a four-digit price tag — rather uncomfortable, since it was
a junior device of sorts, and the same dough could buy you a mid-grade
eight-channel workhorse from a company like MOTU. By all accounts, the Duet
sounded phenomenal considering its $500 price tag, which was very low
for Apogee, if perhaps a bit more than comparable non-primo
With the One, they’ve again cut the price in half,
essentially chopping the Duet in half and adding a built-in condenser
mic to create a barebones product clearly aimed at singer-songwriter
Thus, the same caveats apply as with the Duet: it’s Mac-only,
CoreAudio-only so it won’t work with Pro Tools, connections are made
through a strange breakout cable to keep everything looking pretty,
there’s no S/PDIF I/O so it’s not really all that future-proof, and
the outputs are unbalanced. It also has some new compromises: since
it’s a one-input interface, you won’t be able to do any stereo
recordings (you can still do stereo stuff in the box, of course, since
it does have two outputs) and since nitpicky details are scant so far,
I can’t tell whether it will accept line-level inputs (if I’m
remembering correctly, there was also some ambiguity about this with
the Duet prior to its release; it turned out that the instrument
inputs could indeed take line-level signals, but the impedance was
switchable using a software control panel — again, a strange but
aesthetically streamlined solution).
There might be more as-yet-unannounced cool stuff under the hood,
though. For example, the Duet included novel features like a
multifunction control knob that could be used to as an input gain
control, output volume control, and MIDI continuous controller, and
also a cool reamping loopback mode that negated the need for a Radial. As somebody who doesn’t
need one of these things, that’s the part that I’ll be most interested
in. But those of you who have lost your job and want to record forlorn
songs about your woes that will stand the test of time may want to
tighten your belts one more notch, save a few more pennies, and then
start getting excited.
Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 12:08 PM
Gear Review: IK Multimedia T-RackS 3 Mastering Suite by Oresti
Mastering: the mysterious art of evening tracks up, brightening them, and making them LOUD. Nowadays, albums are louder than ever and it’s really starting to get out of hand – to the point that tracks are being destroyed with digital distortion! If you haven’t already, take a listen to Metallica’s new album, “Death Magnetic,” it’s cluttered with digital distortion, which makes it un-listenable to those who notice.
Even so, it is important in today’s world to bring your tracks up to a competitive volume. This includes your mixes and contest entries right here on Indaba! Truth is, if someone is sifting through hundreds of k-os entries, pure volume and sonic power will help your mixes cut through. Even if your track is really great, if it can’t be heard well from the get go without a need for serious amplitude adjustment, it might get skipped over. Same goes for your tracks on MySpace—-it may be prudent to post extra-loud tracks on the site, as the streaming-audio quality is fairly low to begin with. To the untrained ear, loud is good, and a lot of the time, that’s what you have to deliver.
Beyond the included compressors, limiters, and EQs included in your DAW, you should try checking out mastering-specific plug-ins. IK Multimedia has just released an overhauled version of their mastering suite, T-RackS 3. It can be used as a standalone program as well as a plug-in on most DAWs. This is convenient because this way you don’t need to open ProTools or Logic if all you are doing is mastering your tracks. The standard version of the suite is only $200 retail, and includes four great dynamics and EQ processors. If this isn’t your first foray into mastering and you’d like a larger variety of tools, there’s a deluxe version that includes nine different processors and goes for $500. Both versions include advanced metering with loudness meters, a spectrum analyzer, and a phase scope.
Professional mastering engineers can charge about $100-200 per track, and about $1000-2000+ for an entire album. They offer experience, and hyper-expensive outboard gear, and this is what T-RackS attempts to emulate with great digital versions of vintage gear extremely useful presets. When in standalone mode, simply pull in a couple of tracks to the playlist area, choose from a wide variety of presets, and you’ll be well on your way.
In order to show you the quality and range the software provides, I created examples of too drastically different tracks. One is of a punk-pop group I recorded in my living room, and calls for screaming loudness, while the other is a hi-fi recording of a jazz quartet I did in a 2-million dollar studio, which calls for subtle and smooth sweetening.
For the punk-pop recording Rock Sample UNMASTERED.mp3, I started with the preset entitled “Super Loud.” It seemed an appropriate title and automatically took the track from 10 to 12! The preset layered a clipper, which saturated and warmed the track, an EQ which brightened it and boosted some low end, an optical compressor which let me even the track out a bit, and finally a brick wall limiter which really let me crank it without obnoxious digital distortion. As you can hear Rock Sample MASTERED.mp3, the song now packs a bit more punch and will really meet the challenge of neighboring tracks in an iTunes library or on MySpace.
As for the jazz track Jazz Sample UNMASTERED.mp3, I went with something a bit subtler. The “warm tape sat” preset provided the necessary warmth and slight volume boost for the track. Another convenient feature is a “loudness suggestion” chart, which allows you to pick the genre of music you’re working with, and then an associated mark is put in your metering area to keep you on point. This let me keep a visual note of the differences I was aiming to keep between my master of the pop-punk track versus the jazz. The preset on the jazz track really opened up the sound and made the recording sound a little less digital Jazz Sample MASTERED.mp3.
In the words of a fellow T-RackS 3 user and professor of mine, Bob Power, “I urge you all to try mastering your own tracks.” It will really give you an appreciation for the process. I’m very new to mastering – a couple of months ago I was scared of even trying it, as I simply didn’t understand the point of it. Sure, professional mastering engineers, just like most professionals, will most likely do a better job than many of us, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a couple of hundred bucks and try it on your own! Who knows, maybe you’ll get good at it and charge to master tracks for fellow Indabans!
Thursday December 11, 2008 at 12:36 PM
Review of the Universal Audio Solo 610 by Oresti
At a recent recording session, I was lucky enough to encounter one of Universal Audio’s most recent additions to their product line, the Solo 610 microphone preamp/DI box. This well-built, portable preamp is brought to us by the likes of those who brought us the classic remakes of the 1176 and LA-2A legacy compressors, which are found in every notable studio around the world. The Solo 610 mic-pre is meant to recreate the classic Putnam 610 console sound, which was originally used by a range of artists as wide as Frank Sinatra to Van Halen.
Though the audio is what’s most important, I can’t help but start at the rugged steel design. This thing is a slick metal brick with a durable rubber handle on top, which makes me feel like I could bring it anywhere without issues. Now that’s something I can’t say for other similarly priced preamps which I’d be weary to move from their position in my rack.
Anyways, the 610 has two giant, easy to maneuver knobs on the front for “gain” and “level.” It’s an all-tube unit, so the more you push the “gain” knob, the more smooth-sounding analogue “warmth” you’re going to create. The “level” knob is what you’re sending out to your audio interface, console, tape, etc. What’s great about having the two knobs is you can create a variety of different characteristics in your recordings, ranging from silky and relatively clean to third-harmonic-rich, partial distortion.
I used the unit to record vocals through a Rode NT2A condenser microphone. This $400 mic generally does a pretty good job capturing male vocal performances, as it has a decent presence boost, but nothing too drastic. The 610 turned the NT2A into a $2,000 microphone by taking us into the high-end tube domain. It’s not to say any tube mic-pre will take you there, this Universal Audio piece is of a certain “audiophile” quality and delivers as such.
There are also a few sturdy switches on the front of the unit that allow for altering the phase, frequency filter, and impedance, as well as +48V (phantom power). It’s a lot of fun to listen back to the vocal or instrumental performance and change the filter, phase, and browse through the tonal range with the “input” knob. It creates a hands-on experience that would have otherwise been lost if using the standard preamps included on your audio interface. That’s not to say that those pre’s are sub par, but they certainly don’t allow for the sort of character and timbre complexity that a more sophisticated unit like the 610 can bring.
In addition to recording vocals with the 610, I went on to record guitar amps and a bass cabinet via a Shure SM57. The pre took the 57, a studio workhorse, to another place yet again. With the flexible tonal textures, it was much more fun to layer guitar tracks and create slight differences with each take in order to make a larger, more harmonically-rich wall of sound. The unit can also be used as a DI box, which I tried on the bass. Again there was success… ample, luxurious low end, and plenty of headroom to adjust.
This sort of quality unit comes at a very feasible price for project and professional studio owners, $800 retail. I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $600 online. Also, though I haven’t heard it, the 610 has a solid-state brother, the Solo 110. So if you’re not really after that tube sound, perhaps you could try out the transistor version. Though I only had a two-day experience with the unit, I can say I’d gladly put it on my studio wish-list alongside other classic microphone pre-amps from companies like API and John Hardy. If you’re not ready to purchase a unit at this price level, I recommend trying out some other, more affordable gear, just to see what pre-amps outside of your audio interface can bring to your sonic signature.
Friday November 21, 2008 at 05:31 PM
Euphonix MC Mix – Review by Oresti
I’ve recently begun the process of upgrading my setup and have spoken with my trusted contacts at various music gear retailers. When asking what product to go with for a new mixing control surface, the resounding answer was always the Euphonix Artist System. Euphonix, a long-time manufacturer of high-end studio consoles, has recently created a slick and sophisticated product for the project studio owner, as well as the professional recording engineer. There are two products in this “Artist System” available, the MC Mix and the MC Control. The MC Mix is an 8-fader control surface, while the MC Control offers 4-faders and an LCD touch screen for customizable controls and settings. I would like to have both, but as student without a big budget I decided to start with what I felt would be more useful for my work: the MC Mix.
I had read a lot of good reviews and positive word of mouth on the Euphonix system and I was ready to see if it would live up to the hype. All the pictures and advertisements were always so enticing and, dare I say it, sexy. Euphonix managed to incorporate that ultra-important marketing tactic into their product… it’s just an impeccably presented piece of gear. At just over an inch think and with a smooth silver finish, I couldn’t resist but thinking this was a great product from the get-go. So you might be saying to yourself, “Why does the actual look of the product matter, as long as it works?” Well, if you want to have a very presentable and clean workspace, the Euphonix system is a very good step in that direction.
Now for the hands-on setup and use of the product…After taking the MC Mix out and flipping through the manual briefly, I felt I was ready to get it connected with my MacBook and Pro Tools M-Powered. The manual mentions that it works seamlessly and requires no real software setup with Apple’s Logic Studio, but as a ProTools user, I had to go through some additional steps. Not a problem – Digidesign tends to make you jump a few hoops to do anything with your software, and that’s something I’ve just come to accept.
The control surface itself comes with two feet to raise it up a little higher, a convenient feature if you want it angled toward yourself a little bit and not right on your desk (this will definitely help avoid any spills – a nice touch). It comes with an AC power-brick adaptor, which is probably what allowed for the unit to be so conveniently small. As far as how the Euphonix gear connects to your system, it’s all done by Ethernet. Once connected, Euphonix’s proprietary communication system, EuCon, locates your work surface and associates it with your computer. Ethernet means huge bandwidth and none of the limitations that MIDI control surfaces bump into. This also means that the resolution of automation goes up from the mere 128 segments that MIDI allows to 100-times that! This translates into smoother, more accurate interaction.
All-in-all, it took about 15-20 minutes to get the MC Mix working properly with Pro Tools. A little green Euphonix circle appeared on the top-right of my computer screen to acknowledge my successful connection and the crisp LED screen on the unit lit up with the Euphonix logo. Within minutes, I was working on a new mix very naturally.
At this point, I’ve been using the MC Mix for a couple of weeks and I can’t imagine working without it. The faders on the MC Mix glide effortlessly and respond to the tiniest movements. One nice feature, however, is that they also move only when touched by an actual finger and won’t respond to an accidental nudge by a fingernail or other object. This is usually available only on professional consoles.
The LED readout shows the track names as well as whatever option you’re altering underneath it as well. For instance, the default is the “pan” setting, which you can alter with the rotary knobs underneath the screen. You can also use the soft-keys on the left of the control surface to change what your adjusting with these knobs. For instance, you can go though your different aux sends, adjusting various reverbs and delays and work your inserts/plug-ins with the surface. I’ve only tried this feature a couple of times, and I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it, but it does actually work. You can go into an EQ for example, and alter the bands using the knobs on your surface rather than using your mouse or track pad. This allows for a more traditional feel when working with your plug-ins as well!
If you need a serious mixing setup, you can link up to four of the MC Mix’s together to create a 32-channel streamlined work surface. You can also incorporate an MC-Control into the setup to allow for more customization and options. An MC Mix runs for about $1,000 retail and an MC Control for about $1,500. I realize this could be a bit steep for many users, but I suggest going to your local dealer and using it for about half an hour to see how much it can improve your work flow. If you’re just starting out it’s probably not going to be on your priority list, but after getting settled into the recording world, you’ll realize something like the MC Mix would really expand your horizons.
Thursday November 06, 2008 at 04:31 PM
Sonos Multi-Room Music System – Review by Oresti
Here at Indaba, we have 12+ people in the office at any time with amazing music libraries on their computers. For a while now, we’ve been looking for a good way to play this vast collection in a seamless way through our office speakers. Luckily, over the past couple weeks we’ve had a chance to play around with a great product – the Sonos Multi-Room Music System.
The Sonos Music System is an affordable, high-quality product that is both easy to use and easy to set up. I used to work at a Hi-Fi store which sold several thousand dollar stereo systems, and we’d often advise our clients to include the Sonos in their system as a way to bridge their digital music collections into their living rooms and kitchens – anywhere in their homes.
The primary asset of the Sonos system is that you can set up several bases all around your home and be rocking out to Taking Back Sunday in the bathroom while your girlfriend is listening to Death Cab for Cutie in the living room and your dog is napping to Enya in the kitchen.
The Sonos “starter bundle” comes with a controller and two Zone players. One of the Zone players has a built-in amplifier so you can directly connect it to passive speakers and the other player can be connected to active or powered speakers or into a powered system. The controller is a solid tablet that you can leave on your couch or wherever you hang out the most. It has a scroll wheel for the iPod generation and big, easy-to-understand buttons. A 2-3inch color LCD screen which displays cover art and let’s you create and edit your queue. This package goes for about $1,000 retail.
Is that too steep for you? Check out the single ZonePlayer 120 for about $500 and see how you like the system. This is the one that has a built-in amplifier. Already have a stereo system or powered speakers? You can pick up the ZonePlayer 90 for about $350 and get started there. The Sonos system is very flexible: it’s not an all-inclusive proprietary thing, you can actually build your setup bit by bit. Say you enjoy having one room going and decide you love it so much you want two more zones, no problem… simply pick up two more ZonePlayers, integrate them into the setup and you’ll be grooving in no time.
We recently acquired a ZonePlayer 120 hooked it up to a system streaming music for all for us to hear. We have the control in the break area, so whoever is over there can access the system and alter the queue. What I find most of us using is the Sonos Desktop Controller. This is a free program that we all have on our laptops. This allows us to add our personal music libraries to the music index and create playlists using everyone’s collective library. I just added my 19,000 song library to the index and it smoothly integrated after only about 10-15 minutes while not interrupting whatever music was playing. And get this: not only can you use the Sonos controller and the computer program to manage the playback, they’ve also created a free application to use on your iPod touch or iPhone! They’ve really made it so there’s no limit to accessing the system. Just check out the screen shot of the program and the pics of me using the controller and iPod touch! All very elegant GUI and seamless integration.
All this writing is taking away from my playlist making… Go check out the system for yourself at www.sonos.com or go listen for yourself at your local Hi-Fi store.
Thursday October 30, 2008 at 04:35 PM
Gear Review: Sans Amp Bass Driver DI by Guest Blogger Ryan Roberts
A recurring challenge that both producers and musicians run into; while attempting to capture music on tape or computer is: obtaining a strong, vibrant bass tone. The ever elusive, quality bass tone, seems lately to be isolated to high budget projects or major commercial releases. I’ve tested and selected an external bass driver that could play an integral part in your home recording process.
Much more than just a direct box, the SansAmp Bass Driver DI is capable of dialing up big vintage tube tones, bright modern slap sounds, gnarly distortions, and a lot in between. It has three different outputs to drive power amps, or to go direct into recording desks, PA mixers, or to just simply enhance your current rig. The controls offer a broad range of traditional bass amp sounds, including such meaty styles as Bassman and SVT, as well as raunchy, crunchy overdriven sounds that would typically require a multitude of effects units.
- Presence- contols the amount of definition and upper harmonic content;
- Drive - adjusts the overall gain structure and overdrive.
- Level - regulates the XLR and effected ¼’ output levels.
- Blend - allows you to mix the direct bass signal with SansAmp Tube Amplifier Emulation circuitry (which is particularly useful for basses equipped with Piezo or Bartollini pickups). SansAmp circuitry.
- Bass & Treble- are active EQ controls, specifically tuned for bass guitar, that cut or boost +/- 12dB.
This pedal is in short, a marvel. It works great, its incredibly durable, and it consistently astonishes me with the varying amount of sounds that I can get out of it. It retails at $199.99, so start saving that milk money, and check it out.
Thursday October 16, 2008 at 03:59 PM
Preview: Digidesign Pro Tools 8 – by Oresti
Many of you may have already heard the rumblings – there is a new Pro Tools coming to town and it’s not messing around. Yes, industry favorite, Digidesign Pro Tools, is getting a major facelift in Version 8. Many of you may consider Pro Tools overly technical, and lacking the creative tools to make the tracks you want to make the easiest way possible, which is why you may turn to other popular DAWs such as Logic Studio and Ableton Live! Truth is, each of these programs has their purpose, but in my opinion, Pro Tools is the best one for the sheer tracking and editing of audio.
As Digidesign has obviously realized that its competitors are closing in – in part by including vast libraries of plug-ins and creative tools from the get-go at very reasonable prices – they’ve put in a lot of time and money to make sure Pro Tools 8 is a hit not only with engineers, but with all musicians and creators. Their goal is to make the new PT a non-stop shop for music with a fresh and comfortable new look and a whopping 8GB worth of included content.
What are some of the new exciting things Digidesign is offering? Well, probably the most stand-out feature aside from an attractive and easy to use GUI is the scoring facility. Gone are the days of mediocre MIDI and absolute lack of notation in Pro Tools. Supposedly they’ve put a lot of time into making this feature something more than a basic Finale or Sibelius, so comprehensive charts will be available to those who need them.
As far as the 8-gigs of fun new stuff, there will be well-stocked studio sounds from the get-go. Rather than lame “lite” versions of soft synths, there will be a full-featured piano, drum machine, organ, and the second version of Xpand! There will also be 20 new AIR effects and a huge library of loops. Other free plugs will include amp-modeling from Eleven Free and SansAmp. The SansAmp plug-in alone is about $400 new, so having it thrown in there is pretty amazing.
One of the features I really found interesting was the new comping utility, which allows you to look at all your playlists simultaneously and give them ratings rather than having to click through them one by one and keep notes on a piece of paper. This will increase vocal-tracking and editing efficiency ten-fold!
Anyways, the most I could get from reading a few blogs out there is that there isn’t an actual release date, but PT 8 should be out sometime between November and December. It will retail for about $250 but I believe upgrades from Version 7 will be available for about $150, if previous releases are any indication. Also, for all you students out there, I’m sure there will be academic versions for about $140 as well, so keep some cash to the side and get ready for what is bound to be an amazing new version of an already great program. Check out more new features at the Digidesign site or check out a more hands-on review at AudioMidi.com.
Thursday October 09, 2008 at 02:00 PM
Plug-In Review: Waves Renaissance Compressor – by Oresti
Loud, louder, loudest… punchy, hard-hitting, screaming, intense. These are some of the adjectives towards which we strive with our pop and rock music – we want to make it stand out, be in your face. How is that done? Compression! Sure, things have gone too far lately, with tracks becoming louder than ever – to the point where they don’t even sound good anymore and are simply distorting. That actually has a lot to do with mastering, and that’s not really what I’m focusing on here. What I am focusing on is plug-in compressors, and more specifically, the Waves Renaissance Compressor.
Sure, we’d all love to have amazing outboard compressors like an LA2A or 1176, or maybe a pair of Distressors, but these are all going to cost you a couple of grand. Perhaps some of us are lucky enough to have access to one, if not a couple of these, but for the most part we’re relying on the compressors in Pro Tools and Logic, or whatever platform you may be using.
Sometime this summer, I found myself in a bit of a rut when I was recording a pop-punk band in my home. I tracked everything as best as I could, but when mixing, nothing was really happening for me. Things sounded “okay,” but the guitars weren’t screaming, the drums weren’t rockin, and the bass wasn’t rumbling. After talking to some friends, I realized what I was missing was a reliable compression plug-in, I was just using the standard Bombfactory 1176 emulator that comes with Pro Tools and it simply wasn’t cutting it.
I found out that I could buy an academic Waves bundle at school with their Renaissance plug-ins like the reverb, eq, and of course, compressor. Of course, not everyone has access to academic pricing on the Waves gear, but it doesn’t mean you can’t go on www.waves.com and check out some demos until you’re convinced you should spend the money to upgrade your sound.
Anyways, upon implementing the Renaissance Compressor into my mixes, on individual tracks as well as a master buss compressor, the tracks were finally rocking! Waves gives you a slew of presets to start getting your sound with, from a “drums,” preset to “electric guitar,” “vocal,” etc. They even have settings for buss compression.
Though it’s a digital plug-in, the plug-in actually manages to “warm-up” your sound. You get options between “Opto,” optical compression, which is a more vintage sound, and a bit slower to attack, like the LA2A, as well as an “Electro,” version that is a more modern sound. There’s also brick-wall limiting built-in so that you won’t clip. This allows you to really crank certain things without getting nasty digital distortion, a really great feature for modern rock and pop music.
You can pick up the plug-in all by itself for $200 on the Waves site or if your looking to get a sweet bundle of great plugs, you can start with the Silver bundle which is available at a discounted rate of about $800 right now. The latter includes 16 great plug-ins including verbs, equalizers, a stereo imager, delays and other useful stuff.
I’ve gone ahead and done six Renaissance Compressor comparisons for you using their presets. All with and without the plug-in activated so you can hear the possibilities of using Waves software. I did some more straightforward stuff for you, such as bass guitar and electric guitar, drums and vocals.
- Bass (Reference) | Bass (With Waves Compressor)
- Drums (Reference) | Drums (With Waves Compressor)
- Guitar (Reference) | Guitar (With Waves Compressor)
- Vocals (Reference) | Vocals (With Waves Compressor)
Something a little different was severe stereo compression on a simple piano track, just to show you how the compressor can also be used as an effect at times
And finally, I used the plug-in as a master-buss compressor on a small clip from one of my Indaba sessions:
Alright, do some listening… I’m sure you’ll find that it’s a fun and effective tool for bettering your mixes. Try out the demo from Waves, and maybe you’ll like it enough to buy it! Don’t shy away from trying other Waves compressors as well, they’ve got a variety of amazing emulations available (API, Neve, SSL).
Thursday October 02, 2008 at 04:50 PM
Synth Feature: Nord Lead 2X – by Oresti
It has recently become apparent to me that Indaba has a strong synth-centric community, so for this week’s gear review, I thought I’d focus on a piece of hardware I know and love, the Nord Lead 2X.
But let’s take a step back for a second. Say you’re looking to get a keyboard, what are some important things you need to think about? Well, budget is a big consideration. If you really don’t have much money to throw around for a keyboard, perhaps you’re better off getting a MIDI controller – in other words, a keyboard with no sounds loaded onto it. M-Audio and other companies make a variety of keyboards with varying amounts of controllers on-board that start at $100. These devices will be your quickest, least expensive way into the realm of digital synthesis, as you can just use them to control software synthesizers in Garageband, Logic, Live!, or Reason (just to name a few programs).
If you’re really looking to get a hardware synthesizer with built-in sounds so that you don’t have to rely on your computer, then you should head over to your nearest Sam Ash or Guitar Center and just start playing all of them! Roland, Korg, Yamaha, Moog, Clavia… there’s a great variety of keyboards out there, with different purposes and sounds, and it’s up to you to figure out what best suits you.
Just as I mentioned in my studio monitor review a couple of weeks ago, everyone has a different set of ears and really needs to listen until they’re comfortable with that they’re purchasing. This goes the same for any guitar, speaker, pair of headphones, and certainly keyboards are no exception.
I already have a full-sized digital piano, a Yamaha P-80, which was the closest thing I could find to the feel of playing an actual piano, but could fit in my cramped apartment, so I wasn’t in the market for a keyboard with a real piano function. During my keyboard quest, I was searching for something that could give me great lead synth lines and big open pads. From fun power-pop to atmospheric Radiohead-style openness, I needed something that I could use on a variety of projects.
At school, I was able to get accustomed to using a micro-Korg, a tiny, fun synth that’s great for leads and has a cool retro look to it. Those go for about $400 new, $300 on eBay, so if what you’re after is ultra-portable with great lead sounds, this is probably a solid option for you. Some drawbacks are the tiny keys – I have fairly large hands as I’m more of a piano player, and it can be rather cumbersome to maneuver. It also feels a bit cheap and plastic, as if you may break it if you play it too hard… but I suppose this is also part of the appeal.
Another synth I tried out at school which really caught my attention is the Roland SH-201. A bunch of fun knobs and oscillators, full-sized keys… and a couple of more octaves than the micro-Korg. I made some sounds I really enjoyed on this piece of gear and after a few weeks, headed over to Guitar Center to pick one up. The SH-201s go for about $600 new, and if you’re lucky you can get them for about $400 on eBay. Anyways, upon my arrival to Guitar Center, I sat down and started playing a few licks on the 201, and there was even a demo model on sale, so I was completely ready to buy it until a beautiful red synth caught my eye. I had seen people playing these before – Clavia’s Nord keyboards… clean, solid, and red. I figured they were just pretentious and didn’t really have much going on, but I took the Nord Lead 2X for a spin and found it blew the Roland keyboard out of the water.
The sheer sonic quality of the synth was instantly noticeable. Much better digital to analog converters, a more solid feeling knobs, and a cleaner overall package made me want the Nord piece within seconds. It has similar oscillators and options as the 201, but the 201 is all plastic and kind-of looks and feels like a toy. As I’m an aspiring musician and producer, I want to feel as if I’m working and performing on a professional instrument, not a toy.
The Lead 2X has a high-resolution pitch-bend and modulation wheel, which give you smoother, more music control over your changes than your usual controllers. The pads will flesh out your work and the leads will drive your hooks, there’s really no reason to not get one of these aside from the cost. At $1,000 new, the Lead 2X can be a bit hard on the wallet, but just keep your eyes peeled on eBay for it’s older siblings, the Nord Lead 1 and Nord Lead 2, and you might find a great deal! There’s also a rack version for a couple of hundred dollars less, which has no keyboard attached to it. If you already have a keyboard or controller you like, simply get a Lead 2X Rack and you’ll have the same great sound.
You can check out some more details and listen to some demo’s at the Clavia site. I’ve made a couple of samples for you to check out as well. Here’s a clip for a song I recorded before I added a Nord pad to it. It works, it’s a big outro to the song, but the artist and I just felt it needed something more to really bring it home, so we added an eerie wind-like pad to it. By adding the pad, the track is fleshed out and way more lush. You can also do some cool stuff with the arpeggiator. On this sample, you can hear me modulating the frequency response with the mod-wheel halfway through.The Nord can also do classic saw synth very well, as you can hear in my shoddy rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump.”
Alright Indaba, that’s enough from me… go check out some synths and get your tracks poppin’!
Thursday September 25, 2008 at 06:00 PM
Gear Review: IK Multimedia Classik Studio Reverb Plug-In – by Oresti
One of the biggest factors in the overall sound quality of your recordings comes directly from the acoustics of the space you’re recording in. Since most of us don’t have a multi-million dollar acoustically treated space to record in, or even a several-thousand dollar one for that matter, we have to rely primarily on synthetic “space,” or digital reverb. Sure, most recording platforms come with some sort of generic reverb – in Garageband, there’s simply a slider that says “reverb” and you put on more, or less. In a more advanced program like ProTools, D-Verb is an included plug-in that gives you a few options to choose from, and various parameters to work with.
In the case of D-Verb, you may think that you don’t need anything more: it has several presets, hall, plate, room, theusual stuff, and it gives you everything you need to tweak the sound. But is this free plug-in really all we need to get a great sounding space? Well, in my opinion… no!
Professional recording studios use outboard reverb from companies like Lexicon and TC Electronics that costs several thousand dollars. Obviously the majority of us aren’t going to drop that kind of green for our reverb unit, but what about a couple of hundred dollars? There are decent reverb units out there which will get you a much better sound than your current free plug-in, but even those add complications. How am I going to interface the unit with my recording setup? What cables will I need? These aren’t difficult things to answer and solve, but it does add some more mess to your studio, so what about digital options, plug-ins.
When I first delved into the world of reverb plug-ins, I tried demos from various companies before I made my final decision. One of the demos I tried was from a company called IK Multimedia, and is called CSR or Classik Studio Reverb. This plug-in blew me away with its ease of use and amazing high-resolution sound. It emulates some of those classic outboard reverbs that big recording studios use, and it does a damn good job.
For only $400 new, you can bring spatial life to your sound. It’s available for less if you shop around online, or even check out eBay. You may even get your hands on it for $150-250. Anyways, CSR comes with a Hall, Room, Plate, and Inverse reverb settings. When you open it initially, you get the easy, go-to prameters, and a slew of easy presets to start with. For example, if you’re working on your drums, you may pick out “large drum hall” or something like that to get a good starting point for your settings. Now, if you’re a more advanced user, you can click the “advanced” tab and have a great variety of parameters to go through. From stereo spread, to LPF and HPF, different reverb times and different frequency bands, and so on. IK Multimedia has really made this unit for anyone from an amateur engineer to a professional who has very intricate tweaking on their mind.
The first project I used this on was a jazz quintet. I did all my recording in a traditional studio, but didn’t have time to mix the record there, so I had to do it all in the box in my apartment. I realized that D-Verb was not going to cut it for this hi-fi jazz troupe, so I turned to getting this plug-in, and it really made all the difference. When I played my preliminary mixes for my professor, 9-time Grammy Award winning engineer Jim Anderson, he was curious about the reverb. “What setting are you using on the 480L?” he asked. The 480L is a classic Lexicon unit which use in the studio which the tracks were recorded, they go for about $6,000 on eBay right now. Anyways, when I told him it was a reverb plug-in I had recently purchased, he was amazed, “Oh wow, sounds great!” he replied.
Anyways, there’s only so much one can say about a plug-in… you should just go and hear it for yourselves! You can download a demo from the IK Multimedia site and try it out in your recording program.
And for just a quick listen of this thing, I’ve made three samples for you to peruse. One is a dry bounce of the clip, then I have a version with Digidesign’s D-Verb and then one with IK Multimedia’s CSR . I tried to match the settings as best I could to make it a fair comparison, and I think it’s fairly obvious how much richer the IK sound is. But that’s enough from me, go check it out!
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