Category Archives for "Gear"

New Music Gear Monday: Aston Starlight Laser Targeting Microphone

Aston StarlightFrom the beginning of recording time we’ve been aiming microphones at the source by eye when first setting up. For the most part they’re pretty forgiving if we don’t point them exactly perfectly, and a quick listen will tell us if we need to adjust. But wouldn’t it be cool if there was a more precise way to position a microphone? Now there is with the new Aston Starlight laser targeting microphone.

The Aston Starlight is a small diaphragm condenser mic that features a built-in class 2 laser (the same strength as what you’ll find in a laser pointer) to show you exactly where the mic is pointing. I know that Sennheiser experimented with some prototypes of something similar 7 or 8 years ago, but the Starlight is the first mic to actually go into production with this technology. The laser can be turned on or off with a chassis mounted switch.

It would be cool enough if that was the only unique feature of the mic, but there’s a lot more. The mic features a sintered metal head over the diaphragm, and a 100% stainless tumbled steel chassis, making it virtually indestructible (just like the old E/V mics). The sintered head is made up of micro ball bearings that can be manufactured in such a way as to tune both the capsule and the cavity around it.

There’s more. The Starlight also contains a unique voicing circuit that gives the mic 3 different sounds. When Vintage is selected on the 3 way switch, the mic has a lift in the bass frequencies and a gentle rolloff in the top end. The Modern position provides more of a flat frequency response, and the Hybrid gives a combination of both. There’s also a 3 position bass rolloff switch, and a pad switch that provides both -10 and -20dB pads.

The Aston Starlight is also priced very reasonably. The mic has a street price of $349 while a stereo pair goes for $699 and includes a stereo bar. You can visit the dedicated page at AstonMics.com or check out the video below.

New Music Gear Monday: Antelope Audio Orion32 HD Interface

Antelope Audio Orion 32 HDOne of the problems with audio interfaces is they just don’t have enough I/O sometimes. Most interfaces are either 8 or 16 channels, which is plenty in some cases and not enough in others. While the price for a single 16 channel interface might seem reasonable, when you put two of them together to meet your I/O needs, the costs can quickly get out of hand. Antelope Audio’s Orion32 has been a great solution, with 32 analog ins and 32 analog outs in just a single rack space. The new Orion32 HD takes that yet another step forward.

The Orion32 HD is unique in that it’s compatible with any DAW on the market, making it an option for users of both Pro Tools and Native systems via HDX or USB3 at up to 192kHz/24 bit. It also includes MADIADAT, and S/PDIF connectivity and 32-in/32-out analog connections via DB25. There are also two word clock or loopsync outs that allow the Orion to serve as the center of a recording setup (thanks to its outstanding internal clock), or make an easy connection with an external clock. Two monitor outputs that Antelope calls “mastering-grade” since they’re the same as the ones on Antelope’s Pure2 Mastering Converter complete the I/O setup.

Orion32 HD also includes a library of over 30 free plugins that include the latest collaboration between Antelope and BAE Audio, with two new EQ models based on their 1023 and 1084 equalizers, as well as a free version of PreSonus Studio One Artist DAW software. The unit retails for $3,495, which may seem high, but it’s still cheaper than paying for 2 high-quality 16 channel units. Find out more on the dedicated webpage or view the video below.

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.

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: Softube Acoustic Feedback Plugin

Softube Acoustic FeedbackAmplifier modeling has reached new heights of realism, and it’s to the point where even die-hard purists with big amp collections now show up to a session or a gig with just a modeling pedal. That said, one of the big problems with amp emulators has always been how difficult it is to get acoustic feedback. Let’s face it, you have to move some air first to get that sound that we all love so much. Until now, that is. Softube’s Acoustic Feedback plugin now allows you to get as much or as little real sounding acoustic feedback while staying exclusively in-the-box.

Acoustic Feedback has actually been around for while but I’m only getting hip to it now (thanks, Oz Amaro!). The plug is an offshoot of the White Marshall amp simulation from Softube’s Vintage Amp Room, although the one supplied is a stripped down version (that’s all you really need for feedback). It’s very cool in that it’s fully responsive to vibratos, bends, slides, and tremolos so it tracks your playing well. The user interface is simple: there’s a Mix control, a Feedback amount control that goes from subtle to natural to wild, and a Tolerance control that tracks your playing.

Best of all, you can assign a MIDI foot controller to the Feedback control to manually adjust the amount so it responds just like you were in front of a cranked Marshall!

Acoustic Feedback is available for VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and AAX DSP formats, and is just $49 with a 20 day trial period. You can find out more info here.

For those of you who gig with a modeling pedal and don’t want to drag your computer with you, Fender made a version of this called that Runaway pedal that combined the Softube Acoustic Feedback algorithm with a built-in foot pedal. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available, but you might be able to find one used.

December 19, 2016

7 Great Music Business Holiday Gift Ideas

If you read my Production Blog, the you’ve probably seen my 10 Cool Holiday Gifts For Musicians post a few days ago. Here’s another gift guide, but this one concentrates just on music business and social media.

Music 4.11. Music 4.1: A Survival Guide For Making Music In The Internet Age
You know that I’m biased about this, but I really believe that if you’re looking for one book that best outlines the new music business, Music 4,1 is it. With lots of great traditional and social media tips to help you market yourself successfully and efficiently, the book (now in it’s 4th edition) is currently used in music business courses in colleges and universities around the world. You can read some excerpts of the book on my website, as well as my other books.

crowdstart2. Crowdstart: The Ultimate Guide To A Powerful And Profitable Crowdfunding Campaign
If you want to know the ins and outs about crowdfunding before you begin a campaign, there’s no better resource. There’s also a lot of great social media info here as well. Ariel Hyatt is the queen of social media PR and her Cyber PR company has been a huge help to hundreds of artists, so you might want to check out her other books as well.

 

3. All YoAll You need To Know About The Music Businessu Need To Know About The Music Business
This is the 9th edition of LA music attorney Don Passman’s excellent book and there’s a good reason why it’s been popular for so long. Let me put it this way, if you’re in the music business, this book is essential reading, since it outlines just about every business scenario that an artist might come up against. The best part is that it’s written in plain English so that even complex ideas (and there are lots of them in the music business) are easy to follow. Highly recommended.

 

Music Registry4. The Music Business Registry
This is actually the site for a series of different specialized registry’s, including Film & TV, A&R, Publisher, Attorney, Music Blogs and more. If you need some contacts in the music business, this is a way to find them.

 

 

This Is Your Brain On Music5. This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science Of A Human Obsession
This is indirectly about the business of music in that if you know the phycology of how your music works on your fans (and you, for that matter), then you’ll be in a better position to present and promote it to them. Fascinating!

 

lynda.com6. Lynda.com Video Courses
Lastly, you’ll find all sorts of great business and software courses on Lynda.com, the absolute best portal for learning on the Web. If you’re into Social Media, Mixing, Recording, or Mastering, you’ll find some of my courses there as well, but just about anything else you can think of that revolves around tech or business is available there. Here’s a free 7 day trail pass.

Social-Media-Promotion7. Social Media Promotion For Musicians

If you’re interested in some big picture strategies about how to approach your online presence this is the book for you. Although some of the social aspects are a little dated, the approach to your online music and video promotion is still current.

Each of the above makes a great holiday gift, but don’t forget to treat yourself to a present as well!

December 15, 2016

10 Cool Christmas Gifts For Musicians And Engineers 2016

We could all use a little bit of shopping help when it comes to buying Christmas gifts for the people around us in the music and recording business. If you’re in a quandary about what to buy, you’re in luck as I have a list of recommendations that covers a wide variety of items and price ranges. All of these following products I use regularly.

earpeace1. EarPeace Hearing Protectors  I personally never go into a loud audio situation without these little gems. They are soooo much better than foam or wax earplugs in that they cut the level down without affecting the frequency response, plus you get an extra one with each pair! Since I found these EarPeaces, I feel absolutely naked and scared when I don’t have them on me. At less than $20, you just can’t go wrong.

Equator D5 monitors2. Equator D5 Monitors
Want to know my secret weapon when it comes to mixing? It’s these little Equator coaxial monitors. I’ve used them on every mix for the last 3 years and all I can say is they’re the best small monitor (5 inch woofer) I’ve ever used. You just can’t find a better pair of speakers at this price point ($449) anywhere. Get the matching isolation pads too, an absolute bargain at $20!

 

blocklite3. Blocklite  This goes under the category of “Why didn’t I think of that?”. Blocklite is a simple LED add-on to any 9 volt battery that turns it into a flashlight that’s perfect for checking all those dark spaces during a session or show. Cheap too at only $19.95 for a package of 3 including the batteries!

 

Radial JDI direct box4. Radial JDI Direct Box
This is the best DI on the market, period. It’s built like a tank and will last forever, and captures the low end that those cheap DI’s could only dream about. You need at least one of these. At $199, it’s still a bargain and you will hear the difference immediately.

 

Monoprice 8323 headphones5. Monoprice 8323 Headphones  It’s shocking how good these phones are for $28. They’re pretty comfortable, have a really tight fit, and provide a surprisingly balanced sound. In fact, I would trust the low end on the 8323’s more than on a couple alternatives that I have that cost 4 or 5 times more. Don’t let the “DJ-style” in the description scare you, these are terrific for the price.

music-producers-handbook-2e-cover6. Books by Bobby Owsinski
Okay, so I’m a little biased, but if you’re looking for a book for someone in the music business, you’ll hopefully find one of mine that will hit the sweet spot. There’s something for everyone, including books on mixingrecordingrecording drumsmastering, being a studio musician or a touring musicianimproving your bandproducing, navigating the new music businesssocial media for musiciansstudio buildingguitar tone, and making videos. From about $16 to $30.

Golden Age Pre 73 MK37. Golden Age Project Pre-73 Mic Preamp 
Everybody wants a Neve preamp but a lot of us can’t spring for a couple of channels of 1073s. The Golden Age Project Pre73 was built to sound a lot like the 1073 and it does a pretty good job of it (and the latest MK III version is even better). It’s not the real thing, but for only $379 it’s surprising how close it gets. If that’s too expensive, get the Pre73 JR version for only $249. The Pre73 is what I use for my podcast voice.

lynda.com8. Lynda.com Online Training Tutorials  If you don’t know about Lynda.com then you really should. They’re the #1 portal on the Internet for video learning, with over 3800 high-quality courses on just about any kind of tech you can think of. While you’re there, check out the courses I’ve done for Lynda. Lynda is just $24.99 for a full month, which allows you to access as many courses as you can watch. Here’s a free 7 day trial.

Warm Audio WA769. Warm Audio WA76 Compressor/Limiter
I happen to think that the 1176 was the best compressor/limiter ever invented, since it works on just about any source and even does things that no other compressor on the market can do. A vintage 1176 (or even a new UA model) will set you back a bundle, but you can get so close you might not tell the difference with the Warm Audio’s WA-76. I liked it so much I bought 3. An absolute steal at $599. Also check out their great API-style WA12 mic preamp as well (I own a couple of those too).

snark-sn1-tuner10. Snark SN-1 Guitar Tuner  We’ve all gotten used to using software guitar tuners, but when you want to tune as fast as possible, this is the best tuner I’ve found. It clips right onto the guitar so you don’t even have to plug it in, and it even has a built-in metronome. At $9.95 each, it’s unbeatable.

Why Do Guitar Amp Speakers Sound So Different?

Guitar SpeakerMost guitar players are blissfully unaware of the details of the speakers they’re playing through. Sure, they may know what size the speakers are and how many are in the cabinet, but other than that, they have no idea about how much of an effect the make of the speaker can have on the sound. Here’s a brief excerpt from The Ultimate Guitar Tone Handbook (written with Rich Tozzoli) that explains why they sound the way they do.

“Size

The size of a speaker has a great deal to do with the way it sounds. As you’ve probably noticed, an 8 inch sounds different than a 10 inch, which sounds different from a 12 inch, which sounds different from a 15 inch speaker. The reason is simple physics; the larger the cone, the more energy it takes to get it moving so the high end and the attack time won’t be as good as a speaker that’s smaller. Conversely, a smaller speaker has poorer low frequency response because it has less cone area to move air.

As a result, you’ll notice that an 8 inch speaker won’t have nearly as much bottom end as a 15 inch speaker, and the 15 with have quite the top end of a 10 inch speaker. That’s why 12 inch speakers are mostly used for guitar rigs; they’re a nice compromise between the two.

Number Of Speakers

That being said, the number of speakers in a cabinet can also have an affect on both the volume level and the low end. The more speakers that acoustically couple together, the more effective cone mass you have. As a result, a cabinet with two 12 inch speakers  gives you 24 inches of cone mass while a a cabinet with four 10’s (like Fender’s original Bassman) gives you 40 inches. Of course, other factors like resonant frequency are involved, but this is a simple way to look at it.

Speaker Wattage

Contrary to what you might think, lower wattage speakers usually sound better than high-wattage ones. High-wattage speakers have heavier cones and surrounds that change the response of the speaker and therefore the tone. Because the cone is heavier, it slower to move when a signal is applied so the high frequency response isn’t as good as one with a thinner cone.

Other things that change in a higher wattage speaker is the diameter of the voice coil and the type of wire used for it are usually larger, which again changes the speaker’s response. A heavier magnet is also required because the voice coil is a bit heavier to move.

As a result, what you have is a speaker that’s harder to blow up, but also one that has a different frequency response and doesn’t break up as easily, which may be an important trait of your sound.

Magnet Structure

There are three different types of materials used in speaker magnets, Alnico, Ceramic, and Neodymium, with each material having a distinctly different effect on the tonal characteristics of the speaker.

  • Alnico, an alloy of aluminum, nickel and cobalt, is the magnetic material used in the original speakers in all the vintage amps. It produces a classic tone that’s warmer and sweeter at lower volumes that many players feel reacts faster to the touch. Alnico was used for decades because of its strong magnetic field, but once the alloy became a bit pricey, many manufacturers opted for speakers with the less expensive ceramic magnets.
  • Ceramic magnets were developed as an inexpensive alternative to Alnico and have the advantage of being more versatile with a wider range of tones. Speakers with ceramic magnets tend to weigh more, but generally handle more power and sound better at high volumes. 
  • Neodymium is the latest development in speaker magnet material. It’s not as expensive as Alnico but costs a bit more than ceramic magnet speakers. It has the advantages of both weighing about 50% less than other speakers and having stronger magnetic properties. Speakers made from neodymium respond to a player’s touch similar to Alnicos and have a well balanced frequency response.”

Mixing Synth Bass And Real Bass Tracks

synth bassSometimes synth bass tracks are a real bear to get to fit into the mix, but add a real bass to that and many mixers will be pulling their hair out before they make it work. That’s because a synth can have way more low end than a bass and it’s not always easy to tame. At the same time, it can also have a very wide frequency range that gets in the way with other instruments in the mix. That makes mixing synth and real bass especially tricky.

Here’s a video by Ryan West that features some Softube plugins that can help keep both synth and real bass under control and really working in the mix.

December 8, 2016

The 27 Foot Long Loudspeaker

the-27-foot-long-speaker

It’s 27 feet long!

Audiophiles can be quite obsessive, and when you’re an engineer it can make that obsession even worse. In the 1930s engineer Roderick Denman built a huge loudspeaker into the roof of his house that faced straight downward into an octagonal listening area that he used for the flare of his giant horn, which extended some 20 feet. There he placed a few reclining chairs. Basically, you were sitting entirely inside the speaker when you listened!

In order to get the best frequency response from the horn, it had to be large and straight. Many horns of the day were curved, which provided great low end response, but limited the highs, which why the only way Denman could could achieve such a large horn was to build it as part of his house.

Western Electric 55W driver

Western Electric 55W driver

The compression driver used to drive the horn was the then new Western Electric 555W (see on the right), designed by the famous Bell Labs and said to be one of the greatest speakers ever made. They have run in theaters for more than 60 years and today are bought and sold for thousands of dollars.

The loudspeaker was used for demonstrations until a wall fell on it during WWII and it was almost destroyed. Since then it’s been part of the Scientific Museum at Blythe House in the UK, but it wasn’t until recently that sound artist in residence Alex Kolkowski decided to build a modern version of it according to the original specification.

expohorn02

After 8 months the speaker is finally operational and on display at the museum. It’s also working again with the help of the original driver, and has a frequency response of 32Hz to 6kHz.

Those of us who grew up with horn-loaded speakers know how good they can sound under the right circumstances. They’re very efficient and directional, which is great for live sound, but also pretty bulky, which is why line-arrays are used in virtually every sound reinforcement situation today. Too bad, because they sounded great.

That said, it’s very cool that Denman’s horn has been recreated and available for all to see and hear again.