Monthly Archives: September 2016

Are Your Ready For A Really Fast Flash Drive?

fast flash drive OWC Envoy Pro MiniI call it a flash drive, but you might refer to it as a thumb drive or USB stick – it doesn’t matter. It’s amazing how much we use these things anymore without giving a second thought to how convenient they are. They’re getting larger and larger in capacity, which is a good thing, but the problem is that they’re not really fast enough for any serious recording work. Until now, that is. The really fast flash drive has arrived.

This flash drive is up to 16 times faster than your standard USB 3.0 drives and there are actually two companies that now sell them, but more on that later.

So why are USB 3.0 sticks so slow considering the very fast transfer rate of USB 3.0? Good question with a good answer.

Until now, none of the available thumb drives were able to take advantage of the speed of the interface format because of the speed of the components inside. The higher the speed, the more power it uses (which might mean that USB power won’t be sufficient) and the more heat it generates. So that was one limitation. Another way to get more speed is to use more components in parallel, but the small size of the stick made that a non-starter as well.

But now there’s a new generation of flash drive (and solid state drives, or SSDs, for that matter) that uses mSATA interface that makes a huge difference in speed. For one thing, an mSATA thumb drive is only slightly larger than a normal one, but the good thing is that it can be powered off the USB drive. It would defeat the purpose if you needed external powering, after all.

I know I’ve left you hanging here a bit with the explanation of what they are without introducing the suppliers, so here they are. The Other World Computing Envoy Pro Mini gives you 240G with SSD performance in your pocket (and there’s one with 480G capacity!). The other one is the MyDigitalSSD OTG, which has a variety of sizes as well.  There’s a big difference in price here, as the Envoy sells for $169 while the OTG sells for $89.

I’ve purchased a lot from Other World Computing over the years and their products and service have been top notch, but I know nothing about MyDigitalSSD so can’t make a recommendation there. Either way, the price is pretty spectacular for what you’re getting.

All I can say is that it will be nice to finally have the ability to run a session off a thumb drive, or back up what you did that day really quickly, and then be able to take it home with you at the end of the night. I’d say that the really fast flash drive is here to stay.

New Music Gear Monday: Creation Labs MW1 Studio Tool Guitar DI

MW1 Studio ToolRecording guitars in the control room has become standard procedure during overdubs these days, but there always a hassle to it. Ground loops, amp noise during tuning, and not having the amp head close by to change the tone or input gain are minor inconveniences, to be sure, but inconveniences none the less. That’s what makes the Creation Labs MW1 Studio Tool so cool; it eliminates all those hassles at once plus adds a few extra features.

The MW1 Studio Tool is basically a DI on steroids in that it goes way beyond what a normal direct box does. Developed in conjunction with the excellent producer/engineer Michael Wagner, the 1U rack space unit is at heart a transformerless direct box with a few twists. First of all, it has front panel  1/4″instrument input jack coupled with a variable input impedance control that really changes the tonal character of the guitar a lot more than you might think (see the video below to hear how much). There’s also a 1/4″ tuner output jack along with a mute switch that mutes the throughput through the box but keeps the tuner output active for silent tuning.

Then the cool stuff really starts. The next section provides a control for the amp output with up to 30dB of gain along with an output impedance control to further tailor the tone going to the amplifier. There’s also a front panel 1/4″ output jack for this section that’s intended to be plugged into an amp.

The next section is the balanced mic level output level complete with a polarity control and signal indicator LED.

Recording both a guitar DI and amp signal simultaneously makes it a lot easier to edit a distorted guitar, but what if you want to reamp the clean direct signal later? The next section of the MW1 is dedicated to reamping with a balanced line input control that provides up to 36dB of attenuation coupled with an another output impedance control and a front panel 1/4″ output jack.

The rear panel duplicates the front panel 1/4″ inputs and outputs and holds XLRs for the the DI out and reamp input. There are also ground switches on the input and output as well as for the MW1 to help rid you life of those nasty ground loops.

The Creation Labs MW1 Studio Tool is one of the most versatile boxes out there and something you’ll use on every guitar overdub or during tracking. It’s not cheap at $795, but if it’s something that you’ll use a lot and will save you some time and eliminate even a hassle a day, it’s worth every penny. Creation Labs also offers a two week free trial.

Check out the video below that demonstrates how the MW1 works.

September 2, 2016

Sting’s Musical Brain Scan

Sting's Musical Brain ScanDo superstars hear music differently from the rest of us? Do they organize their musical thoughts differently? How much does this contribute to the physical dexterity? These are the things that neuroscientists want to know (as do the rest of us), and Daniel Levitin, a cognitive psychologist at McGill University, managed to go a bit down that path with Sting’s musical brain scan.

Levitin is the author of the excellent book This Is Your Brain On Music, which Sting was a big fan of. The singer skipped a soundcheck for a gig in Montreal to go for an MRI exam to check out just what his brain looks like on music. It turned out that there was a ghost in the machine that day so they didn’t get the info they wanted, but he was curious enough to return for a new scan at UC Santa Barbara at a latter date.

The study resulted in a paper in NeuroCase that probably won’t mean much to you unless you’re in that field. That said, it did discover that Sting identified certain pieces of music with others in an unexpected way, which may explain why he’s as creative as he is. According to Levitin, “Sting’s brain pointed us to several connections between pieces of music that I know well, but had never seen as related before.” For instance, Piazzolla’s “Libertango” and the Beatles’ “Girl” are both in minor keys and include similar motifs in the melody. Also, the Sting-penned “Moon Over Bourbon Street” showed strong connections in key, tempo, and swing rhythm with “Green Onions” by Booker T and the MG’s.

Is this a breakthrough study? No, it’s more of a quick experiment, since there wasn’t a control built in, and it lasted for a very brief period. However, it’s a great start to trying to better understand where our creativity comes from so that we can more easily trigger it at will. Maybe someday we’ll all have a musical brain scan as part of our musical training.

Staying Away From Bad Solder Joints

Solder jointsOne of the first things I learned to do when I was a young musician was to solder so I could build and fix my own cables and gear. The number of hours I spent in my parents basement burning my fingers while learning the art is forever seared in my brain.

I rarely do it any more, mostly because we’ve learned to build better cables and connectors that break less frequently, and because I don’t gig anymore so my cables don’t take the abuse they once did. And I no longer build and repair the electronic gear that I use. I hate to say it, but most of the time it’s cheaper to buy something new, and in the case of digital gear, you can’t easily repair a multi-layered board. Ah, for the days of point-to-point wiring!

All that said, soldering is still a valuable skill to master, and it’s something that every musician and everyone that works in a studio should not only learn, but get good at. It does you no good to repair something with a bad solder joint that either won’t work or will fail soon.

This excellent article on common soldering problems is a must for anyone who practices the art to take a look at. The pictures of both good and bad joints are well worth the time and even a bookmark. Some of the examples of ugly solder joints make me cringe, but these are things that you see occasionally. Best to identify and fix them before they cause you a problem down the road. The side graphic tells you a lot, but the article is even better.

There’s nothing like fixing that bad cable yourself while saving a few bucks in the process, but it doesn’t do you much good if it keeps breaking, and this article will help make sure that doesn’t happen.