Category Archives for "New Music Gear Monday"
PSP’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.
Amplifier 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.
There are lots of great microphones available today that either try to directly copy one of the vintage classic mics, or use it as a starting point for an updated version. So why does the world need another one? Well, when it comes from the mind of the super inventive David Royer, its something that you have to sit up and take notice, which is why the Mojave Audio MA-1000 large diaphragm condenser mic should be on a “must try” list for anyone in the market for a new high-end microphone.
The MA-1000 is part of a new Signature Series and goes for that old Austrian/German sound by using an original new old-stock 5840 tube, a 1 inch 3 microns thin 251-style capsule, and a custom-designed transformer built by Coast Magnetics. Like most tube mics, the pickup pattern can be continuously controlled on the power supply, and the mic itself features both a switchable 15dB pad and 6dB per octave bass roll-off centered at 100Hz.
This mic sounds big and you notice it as soon as you push the fader up. It’s has the same bass extension that we’ve come to expect from those classic large diaphragm condenser mics that we’re all so fond of and can’t afford. And it has the same air that we equate with some of the best vintage mics but with even better definition as well. I absolutely fell in love with the MA-1000 in omni for vocals and dialog recording. Don’t get me wrong, a little proximity effect can be nice and you can easily dial it in with the pattern control, but if you want a vocal free from big pops and a muddy bottom, omni’s the way to go, and with the MA-1000, it’s about as good as it gets.
The thing about vintage mics is that they’re so expensive and most of the time they’re somewhat trashed after 50 years of service, so most don’t sound as good as they used to. The MA-1000 is only $2,495 and for that you get something that will beat the pants off of most vintage mics (and their knock-offs for that matter) and be at its best for a long time.
The Mojave Audio MA-1000 comes with a very substantial carrying case (the folks at Mojave really went overboard here), a shock mount, and Mogami multi-core mic/supply cable. You can find out the details on the dedicated Mojave Audio page, or watch the video below.
We’re starting to see more and more next generation DAW plugins where outside the box thinking results in an easier user interface which ultimates leads to new or more useful sounds. Nowhere is that more evident than with the new FabFilter Pro-R Reverb plugin which takes many of the more difficult reverb concepts and controls and presents them in a new, easier to understand way.
FabFilter Pro-R has the same familiar interface as it’s other wonderful plugins, showing a real time waveform display, but this time with a decay time and EQ curve superimposed over the top. While there are many unique features of the plugin, one of the most striking and useful is the previously mentioned decay curve, which allows the user to simply grab and shape as necessary. This allows you to have different decay times for different frequencies, which while not totally unique, is presented here in a way that’s far easier to achieve the final result you’re looking for.
Another unique feature is the continuously variable Space control that lets the user fade between dozens of different room models and automatically chooses a matching decay time. Once again this is possible with most other reverb plugins, but the fact that as you dial up the Space control it automatically switches from algorithm to algorithm is not only pretty cool, but one of those “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” features.
There’s also a Distance control that adjusts how close the source is in relation to the reverb, so you can bring things closer or further away as needed. Of course, on most reverbs you can do this by adjusting the first reflections, but this is so much easier. A Character control also changes the sound from a clean, transparent decay to one with that’s over-modulated for a chorus-like effect. This is one clever plug!
The FabFilter Pro-R reverb plugin costs $199 (EUR 169 or GBP 149), and supports both Windows and Mac OS X in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS, and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Check out the website for more details, or this excellent video that pretty much explains everything.
We’re all gear-heads in some way and most of us will jump at a good deal regardless of whether we need the piece or not. That’s said, it’s pretty easy to overlook the basic necessities of the studio, and many times that’s the physical comfort of the engineer. If you’re going to sit in a chair for 8+ hours per day, it better be comfortable or the chiropractor bills are going to mount up. That’s why the new PhantomFocus eChair from Carl Tatz Design is so intriguing. This may be the first breakthrough in comfort in years that engineers will notice immediately.
If you don’t know, Carl Tatz is a Nashville based studio designer who’s also the creator of the breakthrough Phantom Focus playback system, but the eChair may be his everlasting gift to the engineering community. It looks a bit odd, but boy does it work well when it comes to both ergonomics and comfort.
First of all, the chair is dead easy to assemble. After having struggled with putting together a big traditional office chair recently, I was particularly impressed that the eChair went together without needing any tools in probably less than 2 minutes. And that’s without any instructions!
But it’s the adjustable features of the chair really make it special. The big one is the ActiveTilt seat that can be set to automatically pivot forward and backward with your body as you lean towards the console or desk, so you’re back always stays at the same angle. Then, the Free-Float backrest can be unlocked so that the hidden springs actively push it into your lower back as you lean your body forward and backward as well. It’s like a mini-massage every time you lean back. The more or less standard features that many other chairs have are also included, like armrests that have height, width, and yaw-angle settings (I find this a must-have for my tennis elbow), backrest height that can be changed, and pneumatic lift for easy seat height adjustment.
To be sure the eChair is not inexpensive at $550 (with free shipping and available in 3 different colors), but that’s about the same as a standard issue Herman Miller Aeron chair that most studios use, only with more updated features. If you suffer from back pain and you’re studio or office chair isn’t helping, then you owe it to yourself to check out the PhantomFocus eChair.
Check out the short video below for a description of how the features work.
One of the most important components of a home or desktop studio is the monitor controller, and while there are more and more such devices on the market these days, not all are a good fit for many studios. For instance, the needs of someone working with a laptop mixing on headphones are completely different from someone who’s actually recording people in the room or needs the highest quality monitor signal path possible. The new Slate Control fits into the latter category, with features usually found on a full-blown recording console but that are often needed in today’s in-the-box world.
First of all, the Slate Control head can be used as either an independent table top module, integrated directly into the RAVEN MTX Mk2 or RAVEN Z3 armrest, or even integrated into an older analog console, since it’s only 7 inches deep. If a retrofit is in your stars, Slate Control adds 7 stereo monitor path inputs but also connects to the solo buss signal and logic inputs of your existing console for seamless control.
Regardless of the environment it’s being used, the controller has a wide array of pro features, including 3 speaker selections, each with an LFE Enable switch, and speaker B and C have trim controls for matching levels with speaker A. Speaking of LFE, the LFE Output has multiple modes with a 12dB per octave low pass filter that can be set at 80 or 120Hz, or a Direct Output Mode, along with Polarity and Level Trim. A CAL Mode also allows you to preset a reference level for the speakers, disabling the main control room volume control. The speaker section of the controller also features cut, mono compatibility and left speaker polarity functions as well.
Slate Control also has multiple cue outputs and headphone outputs with some very useful talkback functions. The Talkback System has both a built-in mic and external mic input, which allows both reverse talkback for instant communication with the artist, and a feature called Selectable Auto Talkback that engages the talkback automatically when the music stops.
All inputs and outputs are balanced and diode protected against accidental phantom power (48V) connections, with DB25 connections for inputs and outputs, and DB9 connections for Aux and Talkback Aux remote functions. There’s also an on-board USB Hub for iLok and phone charging, as well as an 1/8th inch input for playback from an mobile phone. Best of all, the audio signal path was designed by famed audio developer Paul Wolf so the audio quality if top-notch.
The Slate Control isn’t inexpensive at $2,499, but neither are the other high-end controllers on the market that offer similar features and quality. Check out the dedicated page here for more information.
If you’ve ever had to deal with a noisy track, you know how time consuming clean-up can be. Yes, you can gate it, but that can sound unnatural. There are also many excellent noise-reduction plugins available, but they don’t always do the job without adding some unpleasant artifacts. You find yourself playing with different combinations of tools hoping that you can eventually dial in something acceptable, which can take a lot longer than you’d expect. That’s why the new Audionamix Speech Volume Control (SVC) is so cool. It takes an entirely different approach to noise reduction.
Most noise control plugins try to eliminate or concentrate on the background noise, but SVC works by increasing the level of the vocal or speech so that the noise is no longer a problem. Keep in mind that this is a tool intended for post engineers who work with dialog, but the plugin looks like it can have many uses in music as well (I can’t wait to try it on noisy distorted electric guitars, for example).
SVC has to first acquire the audio in order to be able to work with it, and this done using the Aquire button, and then the Separate button to allow the algorithm to do its thing (the track can be mono or stereo, by the way). At that point, there are a variety of controls, but the main ones are the Speech volume slider and the Background volume slider, which will then allow the user to find the right combination of noise to track that seems natural. There’s also a Pitch slider, which works in conjunction with a number of presets for different types of voices, that allows you to fine-tune the algorithm to the voice.
There are also High Quality, HF Boost and Reverb options (the Reverb selector maintains the wet/dry balance as you adjust the Speech volume control), as well as an Automatic Voice Activity Detection that helps to precisely target the speech content within your audio file.
The Audionamix Speech Volume Control plugin costs $249 to buy and $19.95 for a 2 week rental. It’s available in AAX, VST and AU formats for both Mac and Windows platforms. Check out the video below, or the website for more info.
Mixers either swear by outboard analog summing amps or don’t see the need for them at all, but the ones that do are very passionate about them. We’re now into the second generation of summing amps, and the latest ones are incorporating a lot of features that the the first gen didn’t have. That’s one of the reasons why the new A-Designs Mix Factory is so cool; it has a lot of great features. But the other reason is more important – its concept was actually developed by a mixer.
The brainchild of producer/engineer/mixer Tony Shepperd (you can hear him talk about it on my Inner Circle Podcast #116) and electronically designed by famed engineer Paul Wolff, Mix Factory is a 16 channel outboard summing mixer with a lot of features. Each channel has a gain control, a pan pot with center detent, and a mute switch that also acts as a level indicator. What’s interesting is that the 16 channels are divided into two groups of 8, each with its own insert and master volume control. There’s also a master insert for all 16 channels that has it’s own insert as well, and each insert has it’s own mute button.
But mixers not only want control, they want sound, and Mix Factory delivers by providing either a clean signal path, or a colored one with Cinemag transformers that can be accessed from a front-panel button.
The 16 audio channels are rear panel accessed via two D-Sub input connectors, with XLRs for the main outputs (both pre and post master fader) and inserts. If you need more inputs, the Mix Factory is also linkable up to 64 channels. It also has an external switchable power supply that allows the unit to be used for both US and foreign markets.
The A-Designs Mix Factory goes for $2,990 street, which isn’t all that much considering what you get. You can find out more here.
Most directional condenser microphones have dual capsules, but they’re almost always identical, and it’s how they’re placed that makes the mic directional. That said, what if you created a mic that had 2 capsules, but one was a large diaphragm and the other was small so you could get a combination of the sound of the two instead? That’s exactly what the new MXL DX-2 dual capsule instrument microphone does.
The DX-2 is meant for guitar amps, and as such, it’s built with a flat face that makes it side-addressable. That means that it’s easy to hang over an amp or speaker cabinet without the need of a microphone stand, although it is possible to mount it on a stand as well. While that’s pretty cool in itself, the real coolness comes from the two condenser capsules, one large and the other small, inside the mic. On the rear of the mic is a crossfade control that allows you to go from one diaphragm to the other and everywhere in between. This allows you to dial in the exact sound without changing mics, and provides a wider tonal palette than most mics that you might use for this purpose.
Besides the difference in size, both capsules also have different pickup patterns, with the large being super-cardioid while the small diaphragm features a wider cardioid pattern. Those patterns probably won’t mean much with the mic being that close to the source, but it does change the sound, as you can hear from the video below.
What’s interesting is that according to the video, you do get some cancellation between the mics at a certain point when the mics are mixed together, but that could also make for an interesting sound as well.
The MXL DX-2 is very affordable at only $149 retail and has recently become available for shipping. Check out the video below to hear what it does and the website for more information.
One almost essential accessory for any computer-based DAW is the monitor controller, and there are a lot of them to choose from these days in just about all price ranges. Most of them in the sub-$1,000 range, while quite capable, are usually without some feature or features that you wish it would have. That’s what makes the new Drawmer MC3.1 so compelling. It’s one of the few monitor controllers at that price point that has all the most wished-for features covered.
The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller (not to be confused with a computer interface with monitor control capabilities) first and foremost allows you to adjust the level of the control room monitors, but it also incorporates a number of features usually found in controllers costing many times more. For instance, it has 3 sets of speaker outputs plus a mono sub output that can be switched individually and simultaneously, making A/B comparisons a snap. Each output also has a level trim to provide precise channel matching.
As far as inputs, there are a total of 5 – 1 digital AES/SPDIF, 2 balanced analog inputs, a stereo RCA analog input on the rear panel, and a 3.5mm front panel AUX input with it’s own level control. The digital and balanced analog inputs utilize Neutrik XLR/1/4″ COMBI jacks. These inputs can be selected to feed two separate signal paths; one for the main speaker output, and a second for the Cue buss to either an external output or to the internal headphone amps. Speaking of which, there are actually two separate headphone amplifiers with individual level controls and input switching so the artist can listen to a different mix than the engineer. There’s also a built-in talkback circuit complete with level control, external mic input, and a footswitch control, which is a very cool and overlooked feature even on high-end controllers.
But the main function of a monitor controller is to control the level of your speakers and here the MC3.1 also has a few extra tricks as well. First of all, the level can be set either with the large variable volume control knob, or by a button that switches to a preset level, which many mixing for TV or films will love. There are also comprehensive mix checking facilities as well, including dim, mono and phase reversal switches, plus mute switches for left, right and both speakers. The MC3.1 also has the unusual feature of Band Solo, which allows the user to listen to just the low, mid or high frequency bands to hear how they’re being reproduced by the speakers. Finally, the unit has timed relay protection on all speaker outputs to prevent power up/down bangs.
The Drawmer MC3.1 monitor controller is packaged in a desktop wedge form factor in a rugged steel box with a stylish brushed aluminum cover. The retail price is $999 and you can find more details on this dedicated page from Transaudio, the U.S. importer for Drawmer.