Category Archives for "Hardware"

New Music Gear Monday: Antelope Audio Zen Tour Audio Interface

antelope-zen-tourBuying an audio interface can often be a confusing process. There are now so many choices that it often comes down to features rather than sound. Antelope Audio’s new Zen Tour interface is one that doesn’t skimp on either, providing far more features than most interfaces while providing the renowned Antelope Audio sound.

The Zen Tour starts with lots of I/O. It has eight analog ins (four guitar/line, four mic/line), 16 analog outs (two balanced monitor output pairs, eight line-outs on D-sub, two stereo headphone outs, two mono transformer-based Reamp outs), plus two ADAT and SPDIF inputs and outputs. Couple that with a touchscreen display, talkback mic and control, and a large volume/controller knob, and you have an excellent interface/monitor controller for any home studio or mobile rig.

Zen Tour also comes with a full compliment of very useful plugins, with Pultec, Neve and API EQ emulations to a wide range of guitar emulations. These include not only a variety of modeled amps, but also speaker cabinets and even the microphones that are being used on them.

Also included are apps to remotely control the unit from a Mac, Windows computer, iOS, and Android device that adjust Zen Tour’s audio routing, built-in effects, input/output metering, and just about any other parameter you can think of. Plus, you can run the app simultaneously on multiple devices/operating systems (PC, Mac, iOS, Android) and have them all control one interface at the same time!

Antelope Audio has long been known for its exceptional internal digital clocks that keeps the jitter low, which improves the clarity, depth, width and 3-dimensionality. The Zen Tour is no exception with a great clock and mastering-quality DACs capable of 129dB dynamic range. It can be connected to your computer via Thunderbolt or USB connectors, making it very easy to use with different computers without having to worry about adapters or interface boxes.

The unit is available now with a street price of $1,495. Check out this page and the video below for more info.

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.

August 25, 2016

Top 10 Guitars Of All Time

Top 10 GuitarsIf you’re a guitar player then you certainly have a favorite guitar model, and chances are good that your personal favorite has even changed a few times over your career as well. While we can all agree on a few as all-time greats, when it comes to picking ten of them the choices can really be diverse. That’s what makes this video on the Top 10 guitars of all time from WatchMojo so cool. There’s a few choices in there that make you scratch your head, but on a list like this that’s all the better.

One of the things I really liked about this video is some of the performance excerpts that are included, which make it worth the time to watch.

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Are there any other guitars that you think should have been included?

The iPhone Headphone Jack Sails Into The Sunset, And We Should All Be Happy

headphone jack plugAs usual, rumors abound about Apple’s upcoming iPhone 7 release, but what seems to be getting the most attention is a piece of ancient tech history that the company appears to be leaving behind – the standard 3.5 millimeter headphone jack. While there’s a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth in the media over this issue, I say, good riddance to this vile piece of primitive technology, and thank you Apple, for being rid of it.

Apple, of course, has a history for leaving pieces of tech behind before the competition, and we’re all better because of it. Remember the Sony floppy disc? How about the CD/DVD drive? How about VGA ports (among many other communication ports that no longer appear on Apple gear)? Everyone complained about these being left off the then latest unit, only to forget they even existed about a half-second after they got used to whatever new alternative was introduced. So it will be with headphone jack on the iPhone as well.

Yet I can hear your screams already. “What will I do with my expensive headphones/earbuds that have the standard connector?” Just like in all connector transitions before, there will be 3.5mm to Lightning port adapters that will nicely take care of that. You think Apple didn’t consider this, especially when it owns a headphone company?

The truth of the matter is that the headphone jack has long been the weak link of the chain in what was otherwise a beautifully designed piece of technology. It doesn’t take much to break it, and even if it’s not broken, a little dirt can make it unusable as well. It’s a wonder such a fragile piece of mechanics works as well as it does in the first place anyway. Time for something new.

There’s actually a lot to like about Apple’s headphone transition to the digital Lightning connector. First is the fact that it promises to be more robust since there are fewer moving mechanical parts involved. Second is that it will now allow an almost end to end digital signal to be available, moving the digital to analog convertor into the headphones, which has the benefits of a potentially better convertor, and eliminating any cable loss or interference in the analog domain. Seems like a win to me.

Sure, this means that soon we’ll be buying new headphones with either Bluetooth or built-in digital to analog convertors to accommodate our new phones, but is that such a bad thing if the quality is better? Basic headphone design hasn’t changed all that much over the years (although that’s changing), and this might give it the kick in the pants to do so in a bigger way. [Read more on Forbes]

How The Fuzz Tone Was Born

Maestro Fuzz ToneIf you’re a guitar player, chances are you’re in love with the distorted sound that’s so easy to create these days, thanks to a variety of amps, pedals and plugins. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a time when guitar distortion didn’t exist, but believe it, there was a time when there was no such thing. In fact, the story about how the original “fuzz tone” was born takes a number of unusual twists that are pretty amazing for such a ubiquitous sound.

While the music world freely accepts that the first distorted guitar on record was the 1951 Jackie Brenston/Ike Turner hit “Rocket 88” where guitarist Willie Kizart reportedly poked a hole in his amp’s speaker to make it fuzz out, (later emulated by Link Wray on “Rumble” and Dave Davies of The Kinks on “You Really Got Me”), making that sound reliably repeatable came about as an accident in the summer of 1960 in Nashville.

Country star Marty Robbins was in Bradley Film & Recording Studios, in Nashville (the famous Quonset Hut) recording a ballad for Decca called “Don’t Worry.” Backing him was the A-Team, Nashville’s best session players, which included guitar player Grady Martin.

The Quonset Hut had just received a new custom-built console with Langevin 116 tube amplifiers, but unbeknownst to everyone involved, it contained 35 output transformers wound by another manufacturer while Langevin moved to the West Coast. The problem was that these transformers weren’t up to spec, and during the session one of them failed on Grady Martin’s six string bass channel, causing it to distort, but in a musical way that everyone on the session loved.

Word spread around Nashville about this interesting new sound, and people began to specifically ask for it, so Glenn Snoddy, the engineer on the session, built a box that emulated the sound of the console distortion – the first stompbox!

The big difference was that the Langevin module was tube-based, while Snoddy’s box was all transistor. It didn’t matter though, because studio guitarists loved it.

In 1962 Snoddy sold the manufacturing rights to Gibson, who then released the “Fuzz Tone” under its Maestro label. Dealers snapped up all 5,000 units produced in 1962, which was great for the company. The only problem was that guitar players refused to buy them. Reportedly, Gibson shipped only three Fuzz-Tones in ’63 and none in ’64.

So what changed their minds? In 1965 Rolling Stone Keith Richards used a Fuzz Tone (the model FZ-1) on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the rest is history. From that point on, guitarists couldn’t get enough of the sound, which has evolved over time. While we each have our idea of a good and bad distortion, if you life is connected to the guitar, you can’t live without it.

Get the story directly from Glenn Snoddy on this video.

New Music Gear Monday: Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ Summing Mixer

Dangerous Music 2-Bus+When it comes to outboard summing mixers, there are two distinct camps. There are the mixers who claim that a summing mixer is essential to giving their in-the-box mix that analog console sound, and there are those that claim they can do just as well without one. That said, more mixers that fall into the later camp would find a summing mixer useful if it had the ability to impart some additional color, and that’s exactly what the Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ summing mixer does.

Dangerous Music introduced the original 2-BUS back in 1999, and the new 2-BUS+ has a redesigned analog summing circuit that exceeds previous specifications. What really makes this version really different is that it now includes three innovative custom color circuits that provide an array of tonal options as well. The Harmonics control is an odd- and even-order distortion generator that runs in parallel with the unprocessed signal, and can be applied to either the entire mix or to individual channel pairs. Paralimit is an FET-style limiter that has a sound similar to that of an 1176 in the “all buttons in” mode (sometimes called Nuke or British mode). It has a blend knob and assignment buttons so it can be applied to the entire mix or just a stereo pair. X-Former is a pair of Cinemag output transformers with an exclusive core-overdrive circuit to emulate the sound of the “classic” analog consoles. These new controls allow the engineer to add new color to the mix without strapping additional outboard gear across the buss.

The 2-BUS+ has 16 input channels that connect via either XLR or D-sub connectors, switchable stereo analog insert for easy outboard gear integration, and a stepped master output gain control for exact recalls. There’s also mono switches for busses 1-2 and 9-10.

The Dangerous Music 2-BUS+ isn’t cheap at $2999, but it does offer many more features than most other summing mixers, and Dangerous Music has been in this product niche for longer than anyone. If you need your mixes to sound big and fat and can’t make them sound the way you want staying strictly in-the-box, then this is something that you should strongly consider.

5 Things You Didn’t Know About A Gibson Les Paul

5 Things About A Les PaulIf you’re a guitar player you may own a Les Paul, and if you’re an engineer you probably have to record one from time to time. That’s a good enough reason to learn all you can about the instrument, so here’s a great video that points out 5 things you probably didn’t know about the instrument. Previously I posted something similar post about both a Strat and Tele that was so popular I thought I’d do the followup on a Les Paul.

One of the things that Philip McKnight talks about in the video is the pickup strength of the Les Paul and how the Burstbuckers supplied on current model aren’t as hot as everyone thinks. It turns out that high-output pickups generally don’t sound nearly as good as the quieter ones, regardless of the make or brand, and this is a perfect example.

That said, check out the 5 things that you should probably know about the instrument.

 

July 21, 2016

Now For Some Hypersound Speakers Made Of Glass

Hypersound GlassI know that you love the look of your front studio wall so much that you hate the fact that those unsightly studio monitors are blocking it, but now there’s a solution. It’s Turtle Beach’s new Hypersound Glass speakers that have the added benefit of  radiating directionally as well.

Turtle Beach has been working on hyperdirectional speakers for a while and the company holds 28 patents on the subject. This is the first from its Hypersound line that are transparent however.

Super directional speakers have been around for a while and have found a home in museums and salesroom floors where the visitors only hear the prerecorded message when standing in front of an exhibit or kiosk. Turtle Beach is also pushing at least one model for home use with televisions as well.

The problem is that the frequency response is restricted to midrange and higher frequencies, since lows are omnidirectional. That makes this class of speakers good for dialog and not so good for music. I tried to find the specs on the Hypersound Glass speakers but they were nowhere to be found (nor was the price) despite numerous dedicated pages and even a white paper.

That said, the technology is interesting, as is the demo video below. File this one under “interesting in certain applications.”

You can find out more about the Hypersound Glass speakers here, other Hypersound products here, as well as a white paper.

Audio Gear Manufacturer Rane Acquired By inMusic

Rane CorporationSince 1983 Rane Corporation has been manufacturing well-engineered, well-respected audio gear that, unlike other audio gear manufacturers, is made exclusively in the United States. The Seattle-area company began in the inexpensive band and studio gear space, but soon found that it’s products were better suited to the sound contractor niche, and later, innovative DJ gear, where it has thrived ever since.

That’s a nice story but it looks like at least some of that will end as it’s just been announced that Rane will be acquired by inMusic, which already owns 13 audio companies like Alesis, Akai, Numark, Marantz, M-Audio and Denon. It seems like a good fit in terms of products (at least on the DJ side), but the downside is that Rane’s 60+ employees will be let go and the company’s manufacturing will shifted to inMusic’s Far East subcontractors.

While inMusic has been one of the better audio company conglomerates in that it’s taken companies that were faltering and brought them back to life, it’s still a shame to have another skilled American workforce on the streets. If you recall, a similar situation recently occurred when the Tannoy workforce was downsized as manufacturing was moved to China after 60 years in Scotland when its parent company TC Applied Technologies was acquired by Behringer.

A bright spot in this story is the fact that Rane is being acquired because the owners want to retire. They’ve have had a good long run, so it’s nice to see their hard work rewarded. Their workers have had a long run as well. Too bad it won’t turn out as well for them.

It’s Analog, It’s Digital, It’s The XOXX Composer

XOXX ComposerEvery now and then we see a hybrid device that perfectly captures the best of both worlds between analog and digital. Here’s a great example of such a hybrid, called the XOXX Composer, that takes some spinning wheels, magnets and some custom software to become a hybrid controller.

The XOXX Composer is comprised of 8 wheels, each with 16 positions that hold small magnetic balls. The balls can be positioned so that when they pass over a sensor at the bottom of the device they a trigger a sound via the software over a MIDI connection. By moving the magnets, you create custom events that can become a beat or instrument trigger thanks to the software.

The device is a prototype developed by Axel Bluhme while studying at the Royal College of Art in London. It’s not available for sale, but Bluhme is considering a crowdfunding campaign in the future.

While I’m not sure of its viability as a product, it sure is cool. It’s great to see MIDI controllers reimagined, and this one is certainly outside the box.