Category Archives for "Gear"

March 28, 2017

A Look At Building A High-End Turntable

Riga RP8 TurntableThere’s no question that vinyl is back with a bang, and as a result, so is the turntable business. In fact, most turntable manufacturers both big and small have experienced double digit sales growth in the last few years, a trend that looks like it won’t be stopping anytime soon.

But what exactly goes into making a turntable, especially a high-end one? In the following video you’ll no doubt marvel at what a fine hand-crafted precision tool the Riga RP8 is as you see it being made from scratch. By the way, the RP8 sells for $3,500 with the stylus cartridge and $3,000 without.

That’s no doubt more than most people are willing to spend on a device to play their vinyl (in most cases their entire playback system doesn’t cost that much), but it doesn’t make the RP8 any less cool if you have that kind of money to spend.

New Music Gear Monday: Eventide Fission Structural Effects Plugin

Eventide Fission pluginMost processor plugins these days fall into roughly the same categories (EQ, compression, effects, denoise and utilities), so when a plugin comes along that starts a new category it’s big news. The plugin I’m talking about is the the Eventide Fission, which uses what the company calls its new Structural Effects (that would be the name of the new category) technology to break a signal down into its separate transient and tonal components.

Why would you want to do that? A number of reasons actually. For one, you can take any sound and twist it in a new and wonderful way to create something completely different, so it’s perfect for sound design.

But for those of us that just do music, it has lots of uses as well. For instance, it can provide much more convincing pitch alterations since you can keep the transient as it is, then tune just the body of the sound (there’s a great example on both snare and toms in the video below). Maybe you want to soften (or emphasize) a transient of a guitar to reduce the string or fret noise, or do the same with the body of the sound to reduce the room ambience. Maybe you’re doing a dance track and just want to completely mess up a synth sound into something totally new. There are tons of uses for Fission.

Keep in mind that Fission isn’t just another transient designer tool since it works on more than just the transient as you can manipulate the body of the sound as well. The plugin includes six effects (Delay, Tap Delay, Dynamics, Phaser, Reverb, and Gate + EQ) for the transient component, and seven (Delay, Compressor, EQ, Pitch, Chorus, Reverb, and Tremolo) for the tonal component. Fission’s Structural Split controls (Smoothing, Trans Decay, Source Type and Focus) combine with a real-time waveform display to show the user just how they are adjusting the split.

The Eventide Fission Structural Effects plugin has a list price of $179 but has an introductory price based on your Eventide purchase history. There’s also a free 30 day trial period. Go here to learn more, and check out the video below. Very cool!

March 21, 2017

You Can Own One Of These Iconic Consoles

TG12345 MK IVIf you love old recording desks, then you have a chance to buy not one, but 2 iconic consoles that have huge pedigrees with tons of hits. The first is the EMI TG12345 MK IV from Abbey Road Studios made famous for the recording of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, and albums by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Kate Bush, The Cure, among many others.

Back in the day, all consoles at Abbey Road and other EMI-owned studios were designed and built by the EMI in-house technical staff. and this particular desk is only one of two like it ever built (the other now belonging to producer Michael Hedges). The console has 40 channels, with a compressor on each channel (which was quite innovative for its time), divided into 24 input channels and 16 monitor channels, since this is from the days of 16 track tape recording.

Many think that the solid state TG12345 MK IV was the best sounding console every built, although I know at least a couple of former Abbey Road engineers who disagree and think the tube REDD series sounded better, but that’s probably splitting hairs. Regardless, it’s still in working order and is up for auction at Bonhams. It’s expected to go for somewhere in the high 6 figures!

Sunset Sound Factory APIThe second classic desk is a very nice API 2488 from Sunset Sound Factory in Hollywood which has been heavily modified and fully restored (which cost around $165k in today’s dollars). It has 36 inputs, 16 busses and 29 (!) full monitor channels, plus a Martinsound Flying Fader package.

This console was at the heart of recordings by Chili Peppers, Motorhead, Sheryl Crow, Brian Wilson, Bonnie Raitt, Beck, Jimmy Cliff,  Smashing Pumpkins and many more. No mention of the price, but it’s available from Vintage King.

The best thing about these desks is that they’re available in working order and should find a nice home without being parted out. There’s less and less of a need for a big piece of iron like these iconic consoles these days, but hopefully they’ll both find nice homes.

March 16, 2017

Google’s AI Music Experiment

Google's AI music experimentMany musicians feel threatened by the artificial intelligence programs that are now trying to create songs based on the music that they’ve learned. Yes, it’s scary when the robots take over, but perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, as illustrated with this Google AI music experiment.

A.I. Duet, as shown in the video below, is actually part of Google’s Magenta project, which was created to see if machine learning could actually create some compelling music. Yotam Mann coded A.I. Duet and made it open source so anyone can use it to program their own neural net.

While the music that Duet comes up with isn’t that great (at least in this video), one of the things that I find interesting is the possibility of actually playing along with an ever-changing computer musician who’s also listening to you. Not only does that sound like a potentially great learning experience, but should be fun too.

Maybe we shouldn’t be so afraid of AI music after all.

You can access the code a

2 Schools Of Thought On Guitar Pedal Order For Better Sound

effects order 1I was asked by a guitar player recently why his tone wasn’t what he wanted, and the first thing that got my attention was the maze of stomp boxes he was using. Although that wasn’t the only problem with his rig, it was a good place to start, since everything was connected more or less haphazardly. Here’s some info on guitar pedal order taken from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with the great player/composer/writer Rich Tozzoli), that can help you get a handle on your processors.

“There are two things that will directly affect how your effects interface with your amp; the pedal order and gain staging. Effects order means the order that each pedal appears in the the signal chain between the guitar and amplifier. There are several schools of thought on effects order, and they each have a different result.

School Of Thought #1

This effects chain is the order generally recommended by most of the pedal gurus. There are several rules that make up this order:

  • Any distortion pedal must come first right after the guitar. The exception is if you’re using a compressor pedal, which will be first in the chain. Do not put a volume pedal first, as this can alter the way a compressor or distortion pedal sounds.
  • Any modulation or tone devices like wahs should come next. This enables you to keep the sustain coming from your distortion or overdrive devices and alter an already harmonically rich signal.
  • Delays come almost last in the chain, since you want to be delaying your already effected signal.
  • A volume pedal comes either last in the chain, or directly in front of any delay.
  • In situations where a pedal is providing a lot of clean gain, that will come last in the chain so as not to overload any of the other pedals.

So a typical pedal order might go something like:

compressor distortion → wah → chorus → delay → volume pedal (see the graphic on the left)

While this might not be the quietest order, it does sound really good because any distortion, overdrive, or sustain is being affected by the effects that come behind it.

School Of Thought #2

If we’re talking about recording, we may want the least amount of noise going into the amp. With that in mind, there are two rules in this scenario:

  • The noisiest pedal goes last in the chain before the amp.
  • The one with the most gain goes last before the amp.

The reason for both of the above points is simple; if the noisiest pedal is first in the chain, that noise will be affected and amplified further by every other pedal in the chain that you switch on. Same with the pedal with the most gain; if it’s at the beginning of the chain, it could possibly overload any other effect that comes after it, since most pedals only want to see a typical guitar signal and nothing greater (see Figure 4). Also, any noise caused by increasing the gain on a pedal will be amplified downstream by any other pedal switched on.

Generally, you’ll try to keep the basic order as in School of Thought #1 in order to be sure that any distortion or sustain is affected by the effects placed later in the chain. That being said, this order won’t sound the same as Order #2, especially if a distortion pedal is placed last in the chain (which isn’t recommended) because of its gain, so it might not be for everyone.

If you follow the above suggestions, you’ll find that your signal chain should clean up quite a bit and your recordings should benefit greatly as a result.”

You can read more from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of

Just What Your Mix Needs – Surveillance Tower Reverb

surveillance tower reverb pluiginI know, I know. You can’t finish that mix until you get the sound of an old surveillance tower to pull it all together. But where to find one? Well you’re in luck as the impulse responses from the Teufelsberg National Security Agency tower in West Berlin are now available. Best of all – it’s a free VST plugin.

The Teufelsberg security tower is a three-domed structure erected on a “devil’s mountain” of WWII rubble dumped on top of a half-finished Nazi military school. From this perch high above Berlin, the US government and its allies listened in on the communists of the Eastern Bloc and Soviet Union. It’s still standing, and you can add its cavernous sound to your tracks, thanks to Balance Audio Tools.

The plugin provides 6 different IR reverb sounds, all with fast, zero-latency convolution. There are only two controls, blend and gain, along with A/B compare and preset saving functions. It’s available as a free plug-in for Mac, Windows, and even Linux, and it’s open source.

Download it here.

Have a listen to what it sounds like.

If you want to tour of the structure, check out the video below.

New Music Gear Monday: Yamaha HPH-MT8 “NS10 Inspired” Headphones

yamaha-MT8 headphonesFor a generation of engineers prior to their discontinuation in 2001, Yamaha NS-10′s were a monitor fixture in every control room, no matter how big or small. They weren’t used because they sounded good, mind you, but quite the opposite – they sounded rather ordinary.  That’s why it’s a bit of a mystery that the company’s new HPH-MT-8 headphones bear the moniker “NS-10 inspired.”

NS-10’s were never particularly accurate (legendary mixer Bob Clearmountain started the trend of putting tissue paper over the tweeter to tame the high-frequency response), so when Yamaha touts the MT8 as its “most accurate headphone set ever offered” you have to wonder whether its marketing and engineering departments are on the same page. That said, with the number of home studio engineers relying on headphones more and more to keep the noise level down, the need for an accurate headphone that closely mirrors real world acoustic monitoring is greater than ever. Still, you’d probably never hear “most accurate” and NS-10 in the same sentence from anyone that used them, but that dichotomy of perception makes me want to give these a try all the more.

Now for the tech: the MT8 features custom 45mm drivers with a 15Hz to 28kHz frequency response, built with copper-clad aluminum wire voice coils, and neodymium magnets. Other features include a detachable straight 10-foot cable and coiled 5-foot cable (you see this combination supplied with more and more headphones these days), corrosion-resistant gold-plated stereo mini plug and quarter-inch stereo adapter.

The Yamaha HPH-MT8 has a street price of $199. A less expensive version, the HPH-MT5, is also available at $99. There’s more information on Yamaha’s dedicated webpage. If monitoring on NS-10s is your thing, then you probably want to check these out.

The Real Scoop On AC/DC’s Angus Young’s Guitar Sound

Angus YoungIf you were to place one electric guitar sound up on a pedestal as the one to copy, it would probably be the one from AC/DC’s Angus Young. “Back In Black” is still looked upon as an iconic record and sound, and guitar players, engineers and producers have been using a variety of methods to reproduce it every since. The fact of the matter is that his sound in some ways is dead simple, with just a guitar and amp and no pedals, and in another way pretty complex, as you’ll see in this video.

One of the things I liked here is that every aspect of Angus sound is detailed, right down to the amp settings (which are not what you might think), strings and pots on the guitar. It all comes from Angus guitar tech Trace Foster as interviewed by Premier Guitar’s Chris Kies. At the end of the video, guitar tech Greg Howard goes over rhythm guitar player Stevie Young’s very unique (at least guitar-wise) rig as well. You can find out more details about their touring rigs here.

Now let’s all go back to basics by working with the guitar and amp first to get the sound before you introduce those pedals.

[photo: weatherman90]

February 28, 2017

Butch Vig’s Smart Studios Story

Smart StudiosProducer Butch Vig set up Smart Studios with bandmate Steve Marker in Madison, Wisconsin, and thanks to big hits from Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, the studio helped define the grunge sound of the ’90s. Now a documentary has been made about the studio by former studio employee Wendy Schneider. Here’s a clip of the Wendy, Butch and Steve talking about the film, studio and gear and the studio’s legacy.

One of the cool parts about the film is you’ll see just how they used some lower-end studio and music gear and still got some great sounds.

Read more about the documentary and gear behind the studio here:

My Latest Top 10 Compressors

Top 10 compressorsAbout 3 years ago I posted about my top 10 compressors, but things have changed a lot since then, so I thought it was time to post an updated list. Many of the entries haven’t changed, but a few have (especially on the software side).

This list is a combination of hardware and software, since most of us live in a DAW world these days. Also, the ranking is somewhat arbitrary based on my personal usage. Okay, here we go.

1. Universal Audio 1176: I don’t care which version you use, the 1176 is about as close to a desert island compressor as you’ll get due to its versatility. I like to use it on kick, snare, guitars, bass, vocals – just about anything. It can be aggressive or smooth sounding, but nothing pulls an instrument out of a mix in the same way.

2. Teletronix/Universal Audio LA-2A: Once again, I don’t care which version of the hardware or software you use, the LA-2A has a sound and feel all its own. It can work pretty well on most instruments, but it stands out on vocals, and is dead easy to use. I rarely use a lot, as I like the sound of 2 to 3 dB of gain reduction in most situations.

3. Universal Audio LA-3: Perhaps the ultimate electric guitar compressor, I’ve used it successfully on piano and keyboards as well. Nothing works quite the same with electric guitars in a mix.

4. UAD Precision Limiter: This is a plug that I use on every mix. It doesn’t really try to emulate anything else and it doesn’t have to. It can sit there and be very transparent while putting an absolute ceiling on the peaks of a mix (the way I like to use it), or you can set it to be really aggressive and squeeze every last drop of dynamics from the mix, if that’s what you’re looking for.

5. PSP Vintage Warmer:  I don’t know what it is but the Vintage Warmer makes a mix sound better just by being in the signal path. I hardly ever adjust it much, but it always seems to pull the mix together. I like to use it as the first thing on my stereo buss and feed it into an SSL buss compressor, then the Precision Limiter.

6. SSL Buss Compressor: This is the sound that made so many pop and rock records in the 80s and 90s, and it still works great in those genres. I once worked in a studio that had the buss compressor on their 9k labeled as “The Good Button.” Why? Because no matter how your mix sounded, once the SSL buss compressor was engaged, it sounded better.

7. JST Finality: Joey Sturgis is a clever guy and his Finality is a great example of a new take on a classic design (the 1176). The Finality sounds great on drums and bass, doesn’t cost much and doesn’t take up too many system resources. Very cool.

8. dbx 160: I just love the 160s; any of them. For a punchy drum sound, you can’t beat the hardware 160X’s (or even the A model). In software, the UAD 160 sounds great. My favorite for aggressive kick and snare, but it will pull a piano or acoustic guitar up front as well.

9. Fairchild 660/670: When it comes to buss compression, the Fairchild 670 stands is king of the hill for many kinds of music (especially retro or acoustic). It just adds a glue and warmth that you have trouble getting any other way. Just a little bit (a couple of dB) seems to work a lot better than a whole lot. The 660 is the mono version of the more widely known 670, and was the sound you heard on many of The Beatle records (Ringo’s drums, for instance).

10. Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor: Few modern compressors have caught on so widely as the Distressor, and that’s because there are few that are as versatile. I like to track with it on vocals to keep the peaks under control, but there are few compressors that are as effective on room mics, especially when it’s set to “Nuke.” I’m so happy that there’s now a plugin version as well.

Honorable Mention. Pro Tools Native Digirack Compressor/Limiter: I personally think this is one of the most versatile compressors that you can find. It can sound transparent and it can sound aggressive, and since it doesn’t take up much in the way of systems resources, you can use a lot of them in a big mix. Don’t overlook it.

Once again, my top 10 compressors are what I always use, so this is a clearly personal opinion. There’s lots of great compressor out there (especially in software), but I’ve come to rely on these units because I know what they’ll do in most situations.

What are your favorites?

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