Category Archives for "New Music Gear Monday"
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.
We all have our favorite mics for recording specific instruments in the studio, but when it comes to miking them live, everything is out the window. Mostly that’s because mounting many mics can be a pain. While you can afford to spend time getting the placement just right in the studio, when it’s live everything is fast, fast and faster, so that becomes the primary consideration, although it still has to sound good. Thankfully, Audio-Technica has taken all this into consideration with introduction of its new ATM350a instrument microphone.
The ATM350a is a small diaphragm cardioid condenser microphone that’s able to take high SPL levels (up to 159dB SPL!), which is essential for a mic that’s tightly placed on an instrument, and is basically an upgrade of the previous ATM350. Where the new version shines though, is the fact that it comes with an array of mounts that makes it able to easily fit on almost any instrument, from string bass to drums to piano to horns and almost anything else you can think of.
Each version of the mic comes with a specialized mount for a particular instrument, although there are also multiple mounts provided in each kit. The ATM350U kit with Universal Clip-on Mounting System, for instance, includes the ATM350a Microphone, an AT8543 Power Module, an AT8491U Universal Clip-on Mount, an AT8490 5″ Gooseneck, an AT8468 Violin Mount (hook-and-loop fastener), and a protective carrying case. Other kits include one with a 9 inch gooseneck and a magnetic mount intended specifically for piano miking, one for drum miking with a very cool universal mount, one for woodwind miking, and one that includes a wireless transmitter. The mounting hardware is also available separately.
The Audio-Technica ATM350a retails for between $299 to $349, depending upon the package. There’s more detailed info on the company’s website, and on the video below.
It’s rare when a modern compressor becomes a standard, but after 20 years, the Empirical Labs Distressor can be found in every major studio, as well as many smaller and home studios, and is as widely used as any of the “classics.” The Distressor has a sound that’s different from everything else, and is one of the few hardware units that’s never had a digital plugin emulation. Until now, that is, as the new Empirical Labs Arousor comes about as close as you’ll ever get to the esteemed Distressor.
The Arousor has a similar look to the distressor, but there are a few things that jump out immediately that are different. For one, there are two new choices for gain reduction – 1.5:1 and 8:1. The much used Nuke setting is gone and Rivet can be found in its place instead (although they do much the same thing). There’s also a control called Attack Modification, which changes the envelope of the attack, as well as a new Soft Clipping control, which adjusts the amount of distortion from none up to plenty. Then there’s the new variable hi-pass filter and a sidechain EQ section (both were fixed on the Distressor). Finally there’s a Blend control that allows you to perform parallel compression with ease.
Does it sound exactly like the Distressor? Even Empirical Labs says that it’s close, but not exactly. According to their webpage, “We say “close” because most of Empirical Labs’ analog gear will pass 150KHz easily, and that is something that is impossible with current digital technology.” Another thing is that the ratio controls don’t exactly line up, according to the helpful online manual, which states that you should always use a ratio on the Arousor that’s one higher than you’re used to using on the Distressor. In other words, if you’re used to using 4:1 on the Distressor, use 6:1 on the Arouser to get close to the sound.
That said, it’s rare when a software emulation compares 100% to its hardware counterpart. We’re in the realm of “really close” and for the most part, that’s been good enough even more the most hard-core of golden ears, so the Arousor is definitely in the ballpark here. The fact of the matter is, it’s great to have a Distressor-like compressor plugin now available, and the fact that Arouser comes from the same company ensures that you’re getting software with its seal of approval.
The Empirical Labs Arouser isn’t inexpensive at $349, but it currently carries an introductory price of $299. There’s a free 14 day trial, and you can get it directly from the Empirical Labs Arouser webpage. Check out the video below for a sample of how it sounds.
Buying 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.
I really love Exponential Audio plugins because you get high performance effects that don’t require a ton of CPU power at a reasonable price. While the company’s existing plugins are very cool indeed, Exponential founder (and ex-Lexicon engineer) Michael Carnes has outdone himself this time with his new NIMBUS reverb, a true next-generation plugin.
NIMBUS takes the excellent sound and parameters of the company’s PhoenixVerb and gives it an injection of steroids, providing a host of new and useful features. For instance, there’s expanded EQ with 3 separate sections – one on the reverb tail, another on early reflections, and a new EQ on input. Each section allows you to select between 6 different types of filters (2 Lowpass, 2 Hi-pass, Bandpass and Notch). Thanks to these new EQs and filters, it’s easy to keep problem sounds like traffic and rumble out of the reverb, create different effects, or work around buildup in overused frequencies.
There’s also a very cool new dynamics process called Tail Suppression that helps lower reverb levels when the input signal is strong, so you never have to worry about having a vocal that’s too wet yet you can keep the lush reverb in the spaces in between phrases.
NIMBUS also provides a choice of several early reflection patterns, which I don’t ever remember seeing in another reverb. One of the patterns is a special ‘Vintage’ selection that has a very low density that helps to get the sound of some of those old hardware favorites that we all know and love. Another feature that I really like is that you can lock predelay and reverb delay to tempo, something that had to be done manually previously.
Finally, there’s a new Warp section that provides three different parameter sections. One is an input compressor/expander that provides variable attack, release and knee to allow you to control how the input feeds into the reverb. This can allow you to set how much reverb dynamically occurs during quiet passages, for example. Plus, it can even approximate the non-linear converters of 30-year-old hardware devices (Lexicon 224 anyone?).
Warp also has a flexible overdrive circuit that gives you the ability to add some nice sounding harmonic distortion or even a bit of transistor crud to get a sound closer to what real plates and chambers (the ones that use real analog amplifiers) sound like.
Finally, there’s a word-size reduction control that can help you emulate the sound of the convertor and DSP distortion from all those expense vintage reverb devices that we used to use back in the analog days.
The Exponential Audio NIMBUS Reverb plugin is available for Mac (10.8 and up) and Windows (7 and up), and in various plugin formats – VST and VST3 (64-bit only), AudioUnits (64-bit only), and AAX (32 and 64-bit) so it will play nice with just about any workstation that you use. Go here for all the details.
NIMBUS will be available at the end of September for $199, and you’ll be able to test-drive it for 21 days. You’ll find it at the Exponential Audio Online store.
Recording 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.
In these days where home studios proliferate we’re all faced with a situation where you have to record but have some room reflections that need some control. The problem is that there’s either no room to build a iso booth or not enough money, or both. Now GIK Acoustics have come up with a solution that can keep those nasty reflections at bay with the new PIB, or portable isolation booth.
The PIB is comprised of sections 6-foot 6-inches tall x 3-foot 7-inches wide – tall enough to easily accommodate most singers. It can also be folded down to become a 4-feet tall x 3-foot 7-inch wide isolation screen that can be used around acoustic instruments. It’s made of 2-inch thick rigid fiberglass which effectively absorbs down to 150Hz, and the thin wooden outside face has some interesting looking cutouts that improve absorption while providing some diffusion at the same time.
It only weighs about 30 pounds and you can use two of them together (as in the photo on the left) to build a larger booth.
The stock PIB uses black fabric over the fiberglass on the inside, with a blond wood veneer on the outside, but custom fabric colors are also available. The GIK Acoustics PIB portable isolation booth costs $325, which is a small price to pay for something so versatile and useful. That said, it’s important to remember that if you’re looking for total isolation from the outside noises, that’s not what this unit is mean to do. The PIB is meant to control room reflections, and as the video below shows, it does that very well.
More and more engineers and musicians are doing their thing on headphones these days, and while once upon a time that might have seemed like mixing sacrilege, we’ll see more of it in the future thanks to sound for virtual reality. So if you’re going to spend time listening on phones, why not make them sound as good as possible. That’s what Rupert Neve Design’s RNHP headphone amp aims to do.
The RNHP reference-quality headphone amplifier is based on the headphone output circuit in the company’s 5060 Centerpiece Desktop Mixer, and features 24 volt rails for lots of power and headroom so it can drive even the most inefficient set of phones. It’s a simple device with only a 1/4″ stereo headphone jack on the front panel along with a volume control and three source selector switches, but don’t let that simplicity fool you. Quality doesn’t have to be complicated or feature-ridden.
The switches allow you to pick between a +4dBu balanced line feed from a combo XLR/1/4″ jack, unbalanced stereo RCA inputs, and a 3.5mm (1/8”) mini-jack input. All inputs are specially calibrated to the optimum impedance levels for their typical sources, and everything is housed in a rugged VESA-mountable steel chassis.
The fact of the matter is that most headphone amps on just about any piece of gear are almost an afterthought and not much care or thought goes into the design. It’s pretty much a feature that’s added that was way down the list of sonic priority rather than something at the forefront of the design. That’s why a dedicated headphone amp can really make your phones come alive, especially during those times when you’re not able to listen on standard monitors.
At $499, the RNHP is somewhat expensive, but considering how important and overlooked headphone audio is, it’s an investment that could pay off big down the road. And not only that, it’s designed by Rupert Neve!
Vocal tuning can be a touchy subject. Many think that it’s putting a big band-aid on a problem while others feel that it’s just a normal by-product of today’s music production. But tuning a vocal in the studio is something completely different from doing it live on stage, where many see that as cheating of the highest order. Putting the moralities aside for a second, when you have a tool available that really helps a vocalists stay in tune, you might as well use it, and that’s where the just released Waves Tune Real-Time pitch correction plugin comes in to play. It’s so fast that it can be used to tune vocals in real-time during a performance either live on stage or while recording in the studio.
Waves Tune Real-Time uses a brand new algorithm to automatically tune vocals with ultra-low latency. It has loads of features that make it easy to correct the pitch while keeping it sounding natural thanks to its advanced formant and vibrato correction, as well as it’s many manual features. It features intuitive controls and a simple layout, and can be easily programmed to the song’s key and customized to the singer’s articulation.
One of the cooler things is that it has a built-in software keyboard to help with the correction programming, or for just playing back guide tones to the singer, which any producer or engineer who spent time connecting a keyboard while the vocalists was waiting will appreciate.
Waves Tune Real-Time works on just about any available DAW and runs on any live mixing console via MultiRack SoundGrid. It’s also compatible with all SoundGrid applications like StudioRack, MultiRack, eMotion ST, and eMotion LV1.
The plugin is now on sale at an introductory price of just $99. Check out the video below that not only provides a demonstration of how it works, but a rundown of all its features as well.
Remember a few years back when “modeling” the sound of a vintage piece of audio equipment was looked on with suspicion? Well, those days are over as we now have successful plugin models of just about any piece of popular gear that even the hardened pros are impressed with. One of the last avenues for modeling has been microphones, however, but even there the walls are breaking down, and the new Townsend Labs Sphere L22 promises to change our perceptions on how we think about modeling microphones forever.
The Sphere L22 is a dual diaphragm large condenser microphone that can record quite nicely on its own, but really shines when the modeling software kicks in. It comes with models of the world’s most popular and desired vintage mics, including the U47, U67, U87, M49, C12, C451, 4038 (the Coles ribbon mic), and even the venerable SM57. There are also nuances like capsule variations built in, in case you happen to prefer the sound of a U47 with a K47 capsule as opposed to a M7 capsule, for instance.
Any of these models can be chosen even after the recording has been completed thanks to the software utility that interfaces nicely with a Universal Audio Apollo, or as a straight up AAX, VST or AU plugin. You can even decide to use the mic as a coincident stereo mic, thanks to its two capsules, or use different mic models on each output. The software allows you to vary the polar pattern, the pickup axis, the high pass filter, and even amount of proximity effect you want to adjust, which has to be a microphone first. There’s also an output control, phase reversal and a mode control.
Townsend Labs is right in the middle of an Indigogo crowdfunding campaign that’s already been very successful, raising more than 400% past its stated goal. There’s still time to get in on it for a special deal though, as there’s about 3 weeks left before the September 1st deadline. You can get a single Sphere L22 for just $1199 (that’s $600 off retail) and a pair for just $2199. This includes the L22 microphone, 10 foot breakout cable, carrying case, shock mount, hard mount, protection bag, and the software plugin. Check out the Sphere L22 Indigogo campaign page to learn more, go directly to the Townsend Labs site, or check out the video below for more info.