AF’s Weblog

April 28, 2010

Blackstar Amplification HT Club 40 Review

British amp and stompbox manufacturer Blackstar is known among guitar players for its Artisan Series of hand-wired amps that crunch, and its One Series, a line of hi-gain models for metal freaks. The brand is back this year with a new range of tube amps called HT Venue which ought to be less expensive but still versatile. We focus on the 40 watt combo.

Blackstar HT Club 40Blackstar was founded in 2007 when former Marshall employees decided to create their own tube amp brand. They started out by launching tube overdrive stompboxes followed soon afterwards by amps conceived in England and hand-assembled in Korea (the Artisan Series). The One Series came out one year later with a more modern sound and a much higher headroom. The only thing missing to round off its product range was a more affordable product line. This is what they have achieved with the HT Venue Series, which inherits some of the features of the more expensive series and benefits from the know-how of the Blackstar team.

This Series includes not less than six amps ranging from 20 to 100 watts including combos, amp heads and speaker cabinets. The model we review today is the HT Club 40, an all-tube, 40-watt combo sold for about $700.

Let’s start by unpacking the amp…

Dark Valvor

Blackstar HT Club 40The HT Club 40 is a juicy 53.8 lbs, 24.4″x22.3″x11.7″ baby. Under the hood you’ll find a preamp stage with two ECC83 tubes, a 40-watt RMS power amp with a pair of EL34 and a 12″ Celestion speaker. The finish is quite good with plastic knobs and on/off and standby chrome switches. The handle on top and the dark gray cabinet covering are made out of leather. The amp looks very classy but without overdoing it, which will certainly appeal to most guitar players. The amp sits in a three quarter-closed back cabinet, whose open part is protected by a grill. The HT Club 40 seems quite sturdy and it ought to withstand transportation without a problem.

The connections include a guitar input and three speaker outputs on the rear panel: one 16-ohm output for the internal or an external speaker, plus two additional speaker outputs for a pair of 16-ohm speakers (internal+external or a pair of external speakers) or a single 8-ohm speaker cabinet. Besides these connectors, you’ll also find an input for the included footswitch (nice detail!) for channel selection and reverb activation. It also features an output with speaker simulation for direct connection to a mixer or a sound card. The sound of the speaker simulation is not the best but it adds versatility and it will certainly come in handy at times. The integrated digital reverb has a selector to choose between a bright and a warm/dark effect sound. The effect won’t replace your stompbox or dedicated rack processor but it is more than enough for rehearsals.

Last but not least, a mono FX loop with a +4dBu/-10dBV switch will allow you to connect external effect units to the amp.

Let’s take a look at the preamp settings…

Conclusion

Blackstar HT Club 40With the HT Series, Blackstar offers quality amps with versatile sound possibilities at an affordable price. The manufacturing quality is good and the special features offer the user some major advantages. The different voicings provide four basic sounds, while the ISF control affects the EQ settings of the lead channel radically, allowing the guitar player to easily and quickly shape his sound. Add enough output power to play with a band plus the footswitch that comes along and you end up with a versatile and affordable all-tube amp.

Advantages:

  • Good value for money
  • Two voicings per channel
  • Effective and creative ISF control
  • Footswitch included
  • Versatility
  • Enough power to play with a band

Drawback:

  • Clean sound could have more personality

To read the full detailed article see:  Blackstar HT Club 40 Review

April 26, 2010

[Musik Messe 2010] Two Notes Torpedo VM 202

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

April 21, 2010

Jet City JCA20H Amp Review

When famous guitar amp developer Mike Soldano is leading a fully new brand of affordable tube amps it is hard not to pay attention. We tested the characterful and very affordable 20-watt amplifier head from Jet City.

Jet City JCA20HCompact tube amps are trendy right now. We’ve already had in our hands a large number of small combos with up to 5 watts of power, like the Fender Champion 600, and also compact, easy-to-use and affordable amplifier heads like the Orange Tiny Terror. Jet City plays in the latter category with its all-tube amps sold at prices terrorizing all competitors. Once you find out that Mike Soldano (from Soldano!), a guitar amplification guru since the 90′s, stands behind Jet City, your mind is set at ease regarding the quality of the products. Moreover, Jet City’s philosophy is simple: no bells and whistles, just the basics in order to offer high-quality gear conceived in Seattle and manufactured in China at a reasonable price. Actually, the 20-watt head on review here has a price tag of $330 and seems to have everything to seduce many guitar players…

Let’s start by unpacking the beast!

Soldano on Sale

Jet City JCA20HAs soon as we saw the compact amp’s controls, we were positively surprised by its blue and black design, typical of the brand. Instead of resorting to a backward-looking, vintage look, Jet City offers a straight, modern and tasteful amp. That’s something we can’t say about all amp manufacturers! The amp’s serious construction is based around a multiple wood cabinet, a 16-gauge, cold-rolled steel chassis and a very nice vinyl covering. The plastic handle facilitates transportation of the 21.3 lbs, 9x9x19.5″ head to your rehearsal room, a friend’s place or Spain (or even Norway!).

Under the hood you’ll find a preamp stage with three 12AX7 tubes and a power amp with a pair of EL84. Nothing but standard, tried and tested features: why change a winning team? The rectifier uses integrated circuitry, and the 20-watt power stage can match a 16 or 8 ohm speaker cabinet.

Now, let’s take a look at the front panel controls…

Conclusion

Jet City JCA20HJet City attacks – in the literal term of the word – the compact tube-amp market with a small, all-tube and characterful 20-watt head. The manufacturing and design quality are faultless, the Soldano-like sound is a delight and the price is just amazing. Add to that its brilliant and characteristic look and you get an amplifier head with moderate output power and no useless controls that, true, is somewhat limited (it has only one channel, no reverb or FX loop) but it can certainly do its thing pretty darn well. Finally, it has a rock spirit: plug and play and you’ve got the tone. For a first attempt, it’s a real masterwork!

Advantages:

  • Value for money
  • Soldano-like sound
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Conception
  • Very nice look

Disadvantage:

  • Only one channel

To read the full detailed article see:  Jet City JCA20H Review

April 16, 2010

Celemony Melodyne Editor Video Demo

To see more gear video demos see:  Audiofanzine Video Vault

April 14, 2010

The Black Eyed Peas: Live Sound on Tour

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:11 am

Fergie, Will.i.am, Taboo and Apl.de.ap are Off to See the Wizard.

After a few summer festivals, The Black Eyed Peas’ The Energy Never Dies tour began with September shows in Japan and October shows “down under.”

And the Stage is Set

line arrays
A stagehand’s view of one of the Clair i5
and i5b line arrays being flown.
prosoundweb
This feature article is provided by ProSoundWeb

The Peas are riding high from three recent Grammy Awards and the double-barreled success of Boom Boom Pow and I Gotta Feeling, which close the show with obligatory confetti cannons.  The set starts with smoke, green lasers, pop-up appearances and “Let’s Get It Started.”  Ten songs into the set, Apl.de.ap and Taboo have solos, followed by a pop interlude from Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson, and finally, Will.i.am rocks the house with a DJ set played from a platform that rises from mid-arena at the end of the runway, including a free-style rap based on (tour sponsor) Blackberry text messages sent from the crowd scrolled across the ample video screens.  European dates begin in May, with plans to “follow the yellow brick road” to South America and Asia.

amp racks
Donovan Friedman at the racks of Crown
MA-3600VZ and QSC PowerLight 9.0 amplifiers.

At the third U.S. show, I watched Donovan Friedman and Sean Baca fly the stage-right side of the Clair i5 line arrays at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Arena.  The 14-box Clair i5 arrays are powered by Crown Macro-Tech MA- 3600VZ amplifiers, with the companion 14-box i5b low-frequency extension arrays powered by QSC PowerLight 9.0pfc amps. The arena side sections are covered by 8-box i5 and i5b arrays, while the side sections farthest back are reached by 3-box arrays of three-way Clair R4 enclosures.

An ego ramp extends out into the middle of the arena floor. Across the front of the stage on each side of the ramp are 14 dual-18 Clair “Bow Tie” (BT) subwoofers, powered by Powersoft K10 amps. They support P2 frontfills and Showco SRM wedges, all powered by Lab.gruppen PLM10000Q amps.  Four more BT 218 subs are used on each side of the stage, and 6-box arrays of Showco “Blue” Prism enclosures are flown as sidefills, also powered by Crown MA-3600VA amps. Audio services are supplied by Clair Brothers, which had a similar system in the arena four nights earlier for John Mayer.

Early Adopter

FOH
Front of House Engineer Dave Haines (left) and Monitor
Engineer Ryan Cecil with the Digidesign Venue console.

Front of House Engineer Dave Haines has been with the Peas for a dozen years – the group’s entire career – and was instrumental with the recording that originally got them signed to Interscope Records. As a Pro Tools veteran, he was an early adopter of the Avid Digidesign Venue console, and has probably logged more hours on it than any other engineer.  Haines uses the original D-Show Venue control surface with a single 16-fader sidecar. His quiet confidence belies the energy he will unleash on 15,000 fans. There’s remarkably little outboard equipment.

Under the console, a rack holds a TASCAM CD-01U CD player, TASCAM CD-RW901 recorder, plus a pair of Shure DFR11EQs for two channels of feedback suppression used on Fergie’s vocals, which Haines says helps considerably.  Finally, a Dolby Lake processor is set up for eight channels of Mesa EQ for the main system.

plugins
Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer and MaxxBass
bass enhancement plug-ins are applied to the
main left-right mix bus.

Beside Haines, a Motion Computing Tablet runs the Lake Controller

software, while a second computer equipped with an Edirol UA-25 USB interface and an Audix TR40 microphone runs Rational Acoustics Smaart.  Backstage, six more Dolby Lake Processors are used for the mains and three more are in the monitor rig.

Assisting Haines is System Engineer and Crew Chief David Moncrief, a touring veteran who previously worked with the tour’s Production Manager Tim Miller on ‘N Sync, which Miller also mixed.  Haines relies heavily on Waves Audio L2 Ultramaximizer limiter and MaxxBass bass enhancement plug-ins, which are both used on the main left-right mix bus.  The L2 is also inserted on the Juno and Moog keyboards, ddrum electronic kick drum, and Will.i.am’s DJ rig.  They were heavily employed on the record, which he strives to accurately reproduce, recreating the album’s dance club vibe in arenas by “pushing the low end and getting the bass in your chest.”

An Antares Auto-Tune plug-in is used shamelessly as a contemporary dance music effect and is Haines’ “go to” compressor, also applied to the main mix to keep it “in the box.” Other plug-ins include EchoFarm and ReverbOne for effects as well as Focusrite’s ISA 110 and 130 from the Forte Suite for Fergie’s vocal, who Haines also mixes when the Peas aren’t touring.  Her presence in the show forces Haines to walk a tightrope between mixing a pop show and a hip-hop concert, at which he succeeds brilliantly. He paraphrases Spinal Tap with the audio department’s motto: “It’s a fine line between thump and mud.”

To read the full detailed article see:  The Black Eyed Peas on Tour

April 9, 2010

Music Making with a Computer (Part 1)

A computer to make music? Sounds great. Which computer should I get and with what specification? Good question. But first things first: what is a computer and how does it work?

Computers revolutionized the way we work, regardless of what you call work: music production, accounting, management. Can you imagine having to write your CV with a typewriter (carbon copy included) instead of a text editor? Of course you can’t. The same applies to music recording and producing: it’s hard to do it without a computer… You’ll certainly find vintage fundamentalists here and there, but we all have to resign to the fact that all songs released these days have been processed in one way or another with a computer before they hit the market – even if just because all formats are digital nowadays (CD, MP3; except for the DJ and Hi-Fi freak vinyl niche market).

It is indeed still possible to record an album with a good, old multitrack recorder, and to enjoy that special sound character a tape provides, but you have to admit that it requires a lot of time and money (service, tapes, etc.), and thus it is an expensive hobby for the rich. Unless you are Jack White or Lenny Kravitz or you have enough money to rent Abbey Road for three months to edit tapes with glue and scissors, you’ll have to make do with a computer to make your music – like 99% of home studio owners and sound engineers.

What’s the purpose? With a suitable interface and software, you can control all sorts of electronic MIDI instruments (synth, sampler, etc.) and virtual instruments, you can record and mix audio with all necessary effects… What’s more, you can save as many variations as you want, repair mistakes and enjoy the wonders of cutting, copying and pasting; live or in the studio. And all of that for a ridiculous price, considering what you had to pay to do the same 30 years ago.

In short: you need a computer! Ok, but which one? Mac? PC? With which processor? And what hard drive? How much RAM? But, most importantly, how can I choose from the options available if I don’t know what a CPU is or what does RAM do?

Don’t panic! We’ll help you get things straight…

Computer Parts

Regardless of whether you have a Mac or a PC, computers generally work the same, all the more ever since Apple started using Intel processors. The difference between these two platforms resides mainly in the operating system (Window, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.), their design and the software available. It doesn’t matter if you decide to assemble your own computer or buy a pre-assembled model by a given manufacturer, a quick overview of the different parts of a computer will be very useful in order to understand their roles…

CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) or microprocessor, is often compared to the brain of the computer because it manages all calculations. Considering that all data passes through the CPU, its processing power is of utmost importance for the overall performance of the computer. When it comes to audio, for example, it processes a reverb effect while displaying the graphic user interface and manages all other computer instructions (data keyboard, etc.). To use a musical metaphor, you could say it’s the musical conductor of your computer

Basically, a CPU is a small silicon square on which several millions of transistors are assembled: over 60 million on a Pentium IV and more than 731 million on the Core i7 thanks to the continuous progress in miniaturization. More cells in the silicon brain provide more power, but the number of transistors is not the only factor: the processor design and its speed also come into consideration.

The faster the CPU, the more calculations it will be able to process in a given time. This speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). When a CPU is clocked at 2 GHz, it means it can process two milliard cycles per second. But what is a cycle? Good question! To keep it short and simple, let’s say that a cycle is a basic calculation, like adding two numbers. Multiplying two numbers takes several cycles and dividing them even more. Why? Because a CPU is extremely limited compared to the human brain. But it is extremely fast and the user can’t really notice it, which gives the impression that the machine is more intelligent.

But keep in mind that this clocking frequency is only theoretical because, in real life, our processors rarely work at full capacity. Why? Because they are slowed down by other components like RAM (Random-Access Memory). Furthermore, increasing CPU frequency is not the only nor the simplest way to increase a computer’s power. In fact, the latest CPU generations have improved their architecture implementing multi-core processors.

A multi-core CPU is a chip including several processors connected in parallel. You can find dual-core (two cores), quad-core (four cores) and even octo-core CPUs (eight cores).

By using this technology, it is now possible to improve the processing power without increasing the CPU clock, thus avoiding heat generation problems due to higher speeds.

Nowadays, these types of CPUs (mainly dual-core and quad-core) are mounted in all computers on the market regardless of whether it is a Mac or a PC.

Now let’s take a look at some other parts…

Conclusion

Now that you have been educated on the basic parts of a computer and what they do, in the next article we will deal with the specific setup choices available to have a computer ready for making music. And you can trust us, there are plenty of choices…

To read the full detailed article see:  Making Music with a Computer

April 2, 2010

Guitar Pro 6 Review

Filed under: Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:24 pm

Guitar Pro started out as a small tab editor but, as time went by, it soon became an indispensable software for guitar and bass players alike. Now, with the sixth version out, Guitar Pro could actually create a new category of its own.

Installation on a Mac is a breeze: unpack the DMG, drag and drop the app into the Applications folder, authorize the software online, and while you’re at it, get the latest update available, as well as the sound bank: 1,860 MB of sounds, including 791 electric guitars, 194 acoustic guitars and 119 bass guitars. You have enough time to drink a coffee… or read the very comprehensive documentation accessible via the Help menu. A few minutes later, with the guitar already on your lap and the mouse in your hand, you are ready to go: double-click!

Serious Facelift for a Serious Look

Guitar Pro 6

The first thing that catches your eye is the thorough revision of the GUI: instead of the basic Windows XP/Mac OS X look of the previous version, it features a much more classy user interface, combining black and anthracite with tiny blue spots for selected items. It looks beautiful and invites you to play, especially after listening to that nice acoustic guitar lick that plays as the program starts, sort of like Sibelius. It has undergone some major aesthetic changes, but even more important user interface and frontend design changes.

Although the software has the same overall structure as in the past, with the score taking up three quarters of the screen and the tracks grouped at the bottom. The overpacked tool bar of version 5 disappeared, and a new column on the left side allows you to switch between six panels called Universes: “Editing” manages notes/accidentals and score/tab editing tools, “Chords” provides all chord diagrams to be edited and added to the main window, “Lyrics” can be used to add lyrics to the music, “Instruments” for instrument selection, tuning and sound bank assignment, and finally “Effect” and “Master” that allow you to manage instrument and master effects. The tab system, which resembles Firefox strongly, allows you to open up to seven simultaneous scores.

Right under the score you’ll find a very convenient navigation bar that allows you to move within the song, as well as manage pages and control zoom rate, tempo, playback speed, the metronome, etc. Now that we have a general overview, let’s put the software to practice focusing on the score editing functions first.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Version 6 is definitely a major update for Guitar Pro. What used to be a small software tool has become the ultimate reference in its category thanks to its intuitive user interface, well thought-out features and an absurdly low price. Should you upgrade your previous Guitar Pro version for $29.95? Yes, a thousand times yes! You’ll benefit from a better design and a much better sounding and efficient audio engine than in previous versions. Should I buy the full version for $59.95 if I don’t own a guitar tab editor? Yes, a thousand times yes! If you are a guitar player and want to practice your instrument while having access to one of the largest score banks on the web. This is where Guitar Pro really kicks its competitors’ butts: you have tens of thousands of songs at your disposal on the web, either for free or on commercial websites…

To wrap it up, Guitar Pro is certainly not perfect and there is plenty of room for development (apart from MIDI playback improvement, we would love new features like an audio track that would allow you to record and make transcription easier). But the price is still pretty low (considering the improvements included in version 6, I expected a hefty price increase) and the software is very useful, so I don’t see any reason not to recommend it very strongly…

Advantages:

  • New GUI design
  • All necessary tools to create high-quality tabs and scores
  • Ergonomic and well thought out
  • New audio engine, samples and effects to provide a much better playback quality
  • Ridiculously low price
  • Tens of thousands of scores and tabs available

Drawbacks:

  • No guitar-focused MIDI performance: strumming parts still sound somewhat fake
  • Effect settings are sometimes too extreme

To read the full detailed article see: Guitar Pro6 Review

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