Monthly Archives: January 2017

New Music Gear Monday: Radial Studio Q Talkback Box

Radial Studio QOne of the byproducts of just using a DAW and not having a console in your home studio is the fact that the monitoring and communication features that we were all so used to are suddenly absent. While monitor controllers are pretty much everywhere now, that still leaves communication with the artist’s cue mix a persistent hassle, and that’s where the Radial Studio Q talkback box comes in.

The Studio Q connects in between the DAW’s cue mix output and the headphone amp and allows the engineer/producer to easily talk to the artist with the push of a top mounted switch, which can also be activated via a footswitch. There’s a built-in mic, but you can also connect a better sounding mic via an rear panel XLR. The unit has a volume control for the talkback mic as well as the cue program, and trim controls for both the internal and external mics. There’s also an adjustable dim control that lowers the level of the program when the talkback button is selected.

One last cool thing – the Studio Q also has a remote output designed to drive an LED light in the studio that tells the player (who may not be able to hear you because of the volume level) that you’re trying to talk to him.

The Radial Studio Q talkback box retails for $299.  You can find out more details in the video below.

Rush “Tom Sawyer” Isolated Guitar Track

Alex LifesonThere is probably no other group that has as a fanatical a following as Rush. It seems like there’s no in-between with the band – you either love them or hate them, intensely. There’s no denying that Rush has had some huge hits though, and “Tom Sawyer” is one of their biggest. Here’s the isolated guitar track from the song. Listen for the following:

1. The guitar uses the same sound throughout the song. It’s a big stereo chorus that takes up a lot of space. In a power trio there are fewer instruments and mix elements so you have to make each one bigger in the mix and that’s what happens here.

2. There’s also a room reverb with a short decay on the guitar. It may even be the original room ambience.

3. The guitar solo is clearly an overdub with a slightly different sound. It doubles with the original guitar at the end of the solo and again at the end of the song.

4. As you’d expect, Alex Lifeson plays with extreme precision, although there are a few notes here and there that are ever so slightly rushed (like in the outro). Boy, you have to be pretty picky to even hear or care about them, and certainly you never hear them in the context of the mix. That said, this was an amazingly precise performance given the time it was recorded in (1980) and the tape technology that was in use.

January 5, 2017

6 Ways To Spot A Fake Fender Stratocaster

Fake StratocasterThe Fender Stratocaster is the most popular guitar in the world, and because of that, there are a lot of imitations out there. That’s not a problem as we can decided quickly whether we’d rather have the imitation instead of the real deal. The problem comes with the many fake Strats that are available.

What do I mean by fake? The guitar looks like a Strat, and says it’s a Strat, but its a cheap knock-off that will cost you too much money for what you’re getting. In other words, you might be paying $1,000 or more for a guitar that’s worth a couple of hundred at most.

So how do you know how to spot a fake? The following video by Kennis Russell shows you how. In brief, there are 6 ways:

1. The logo decal

2. The bridge

3. The frets

4. The nut

5. The truss rod

6. The string tree

There’s really no one thing that will tell you the Stratocaster is a fake. It’s the combination of the above that will alert you. Check out the video for more details.

Studio Air Conditioning On A Budget

mini-split air conditionerOne of the things that frequently happens when building your own studio in your basement or garage is that you construct it to get as much isolation as possible, then realize that the temperature inside always hovers around tropic-level heat, even while the weather is below zero outside. That’s because the last thing that most home builders consider is ventilation and air exchange, or they think they don’t have enough money to get the air conditioning job done properly.

Here’s a quick excerpt from my Studio Builder’s Handbook (written with Dennis Moody) that covers what might be the best way to make those studio temperatures comfortable without spending a lot of cash.

“HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) is a bigger part of any studio than you might realize, so it has to be taken into consideration right in the beginning. Don’t even think of using a window air conditioner since they’re way too noisy and will defeat any isolation you might’ve built. For real studio HVAC you really only have two options; forced-air or a mini-split.

Forced-air is certainly the way to go but gets very expensive very quickly, since the ductwork has to use a lot of right angle bends and diffusors to lower the air speed so it doesn’t make any noise (air noise is a vocal killer). It also requires a concrete slab to mount it on the ground outside. Finally comes the installation labor, which must be done by a pro.

A much more viable solution is known as a “mini-split”. This is a system that’s very popular in Europe and Asia were the compressor is located outside the building and the air handling unit inside. All that’s required is a 1″ hole that’s cut through the wall to allow access for a hose to go from the compressor unit outside to a cooling head mounted on the wall inside the studio, and a small drainage hose. The cooling head is mounted on a wall and is very quite. Depending upon how large your space is, a unit that puts out between 9,000 and 12,000 BTU unit may be enough. A big plus for the mini-split is that not only is it inexpensive, it’s very quiet as well. They are also available with an optional “heat pumps” for those cold winter days that everyone experiences (even in warm climates).

While you can install a mini-split yourself, your might want to get a pro HVAC technician to do the complete job. It should only take a few hours to install, so it won’t be outrageously expensive, but because these units need freon gas to function, you’ll have to have a professional technician do the freon work and they charge a lot for handling this gas. Even with the extra expense of a professional tech, at least you’ll be sure that it’s done right. Make sure that you have the unit serviced every year, and keep the filter clean as that helps to keep the unit from getting noisy.

If you do decide to install a forced-air system, it’s important to know where your feeds and returns are going to be. For instance, you don’t want to place an air conditioning feed directly over the mixing position of your console, or directly over were your drums are going to be set up. As practical as this might sound, you’ll find this kind of direct placement will mean that it will become uncomfortably cold when the air blows directly on you. Make sure you put the feed in a place where it will be defused and quiet.”

You can read more from The Studio Builder’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

January 3, 2017

Engineer Tim Latham On Episode #142 Of My Inner Circle Podcast

Tim LathamGrammy-winning engineer Tim Latham has worked with a wide variety of artists across many musical genres, including the Black Eyed Peas, Kid Rock, Lou Reed, Erykah Badu, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Britney Spears and many more, and he’s the guest on Episode #142 of my Inner Circle Podcast.

Tim has also worked on a number of Broadway cast albums, including the major hit Hamilton, and we’ll be discussing its differences from a normal project.

On the intro I’ll take a look at how the news got it wrong when it said that Mozart (of all people) sold more albums than anyone last year, as well as my Music Tech Report Card.

You can listen to it at, or via iTunesStitcher, Mixcloud or Google Play.

January 3, 2017

Cables – Which To Keep And Which To Toss

CablesWe all have tons of computer cables that we’ve collected over the years, many of which are obsolete, but we keep around anyway. With each new generation of peripherals comes a new cable, and that means our cable box gets bigger. CNET recently posted an article about which cables you should keep and which to toss, but it’s somewhat difficult to read across 17 pages. Here are their conclusions put a bit more succinctly.

  • Mini-USB: Keep. Some hard drives, battery chargers and cameras still use this.
  • Micro-USB: Keep. This is still used with a lot of devices so worth keeping around.
  • Apple 30 pin: Toss. Unless you have an old iPhone or iPad, you have no use for this.
  • USB3 Micro B: Keep. This is still used with the new USB C connectors that many new phones and computers are using.
  • Thunderbolt or Mini-DisplayPort: Keep. USB C is coming on strong, but Thunderbolt will be around for some time yet.
  • DisplayPort: Keep. This is still pretty popular, although HDMI is gradually taking over.
  • DVI: Toss. This format is pretty much dead. DVI suffers from no 4k resolution and lack of audio.
  • VGA: Toss. VGA’s dead as a doornail too unless you’re still using a monitor that needs it (it’s time to upgrade then).
  • USB A to B: Keep. It’s still found on printers and audio interfaces.
  • 3.5mm audio: Keep. Always good to have around, although you might not need it.
  • RCA/Composite: Toss. Get rid of those RCA cables used for composite video. That technology died 10 years ago.
  • S-Video: Toss. Another video technology that’s been replaced.
  • Coaxial Cable: Keep. You might need this for wordclock distribution or as an extension on your cable box.
  • SATA: Keep. SATA drives are still around, so make sure you keep the cables.
  • Ethernet: Keep. Although everything is going wireless, it’s worth hanging on to a least a couple of these if you have devices that can use them, especially for a solid Skype connection.
  • 3 Prong Power Cables: Keep. If you’re like me you have a big box with extras, but you never seem to have one when you need it.
  • 2 Prong Power Cables: Keep. These are usually pretty specialized to a device, so make sure you keep them until you toss the device it goes to.

It’s the beginning of the year, so now is a great time to sort through those cables.

New Music Gear Monday: PSP FETpressor Compressor Plugin

PSP FETpressorPSP’s impressive plugins always make my Top 10 list and rightfully so. There’s a lot of expertise that goes into making these gems, and each one has a variety of real-world uses. The latest from the company is the FETpressor, based around the sound of the 1970s hardware blackface Universal Audio compressor/limiters that we all loved so much.

The FETpressor isn’t a straight emulation of those FET feedback style units though. It’s a modern representation with all the parameter controls that an engineer needs for today’s mixing. Along with the Threshold, Makeup Gain, Ratio, Attack and Release controls, there’s also a Side Chain High Pass Filter frequency control to better help control the low end so the processor doesn’t pump, and a Blend control for instant parallel processing. The plugin has the ability to just work on one side of a stereo mix (you can pick the channel), and a switch to link or unlink the channels. It also has an output transformer emulation to add some extra character even when its set to a 1:1 ratio.

Controls are nice, but it’s all about the sound, and the FETpressor is sort of a cross between an 1176 and an LA3A. Both are classic compressors still admired and copied to this day, so it’s like getting two for the price of one. I personally think that the 1176 is the most versatile compressor/limiter ever made and would probably be a “desert island” processor for me. Likewise, electric or acoustic guitars just don’t sound right to me unless they go through an LA3A, so the FETpressor is a welcome addition to my plugin list.

The PSP FETpressor has a special introductory price of just $79 until January 8th, and the deal is even better if you’re already a PSP user (the price is secret until your shopping cart though). Like all PSP plugins, it’s available for Mac and PC in all plugin formats. Check out the web page for more details and some very cool user quotes, and the video below for some sonic examples.