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November 28, 2008

Test: Line6 Backtrack review

Filed under: Recording reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:42 pm
Line 6’s Backtrack+Mic: The Test
Unfortunately, we often realize too late that we should have recorded what we just played. How many times have you wished that you could go back in time and hit the record button right before inspiration hit you? Line6 has come up with something along these lines with its portable recorder, the Backtrack, a small device that lets you save a take after the fact. Is it magic? 

No, there’s nothing magical hidden in this little box the size of a pack of cigarettes, and the process is simple: Backtrack continuously records after being activated and automatically splits out audio events thanks to its silence detection. Just press the big Mark button in the center of the device when you want to keep something you just played. It’s both simple and original! But let’s take a closer look at the device.

Backtrack

The Backtrack is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and is therefore easily transportable. It has a belt clip on the back, a ¼-inch guitar input as well as a ¼-inch output so you connect it to an amp. There are two versions: the Backtrack, which is designed to record instruments via a jack, and the Backtrack + Mic with the same features, but which also has an integrated microphone which allows you to record any acoustic instrument. We’ll be testing the latter.

The first thing that should be mentioned is that the device is USB powered. This connection lets you get to the audio you recorded with the Backtrack as well as recharge the internal battery. The manufacturer claims an autonomy of more than 8 hours and its memory (2GB) allows the user to record 4 hours of audio in 24 bit/48 kHz or 24 hours in 16-bit/11 kHz. There are also intermediary settings (22, 32 and 44.1 kHz) for greater flexibility. Note that the Backtrack only supports WAV format. It seems that Line6 didn’t deem it necessary to use less space-consuming formats such as MP3 or AAC. Of course WAV offers better sound quality, but is this the real point of a device like this? A compressed format would have easily fit 10 times more audio in its memory without sacrificing sound quality, which, for a tool of this kind, is not the priority. Moreover, it’s too bad they didn’t integrate a built-in speaker; if you record via the mic you’ll need to listen back to your takes with headphones (not included). If on the other hand, you’ve got the output connected to your amp, you can listen back to your takes through the amp.

But let’s take a look at how it works …

 …

Conclusion

 

Backtrack

Line 6 offers a highly original product that differentiates itself from the competition through its well thought out ergonomics, though they may be confusing at first. Its size and weight will be appreciated by musicians on the go, and its audio quality, without being extraordinary, is adequate for use as a type of audio capture device. Its few flaws remain bearable: only uses WAV format and its start time is a little long.

This recorder was clearly designed for musicians: it goes against the trend of the more expensive recording devices that offer better sound quality. Those who do serious field recording will no doubt turn to these more expensive models, while musicians hoping to easily capture a moment of inspiration will no doubt appreciate this product.

 Ergonomics: original and practical 
 Small 
 Price 
 Integrated microphone for the “+ Mic” version
 Ample autonomy and memory

 Impossible to un-mark a file 
 WAV only 
 Starts up after 10 long seconds 
 No built-in speaker

Read the full Line6 backtrack review here

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Time Stretching and Pitch Shifting: Comparison

Time Stretching & Pitch Shifting: Comparison Part I
Software Comparison
OK, here we go! This is the first of our comparative software tests on time-stretching and pitch-shifting. The competitors: 26 Mac and PC programs, from big sequencers to small applications, plug-ins to audio editors
Digital audio has brought about many changes to the audio world when compared to analog. Is this good or bad? Everyone has their own opinion; but certain features have been improved, some totally new ones have emerged, while others are less effective or successful (knowing that many opinions are primarily subjective).

But the goal here is not to make (empty) comparisons between the two worlds. We’ll be dealing with two important features that have more or less created a revolution in music since their arrival with the earliest samplers: time-stretching and pitch-shifting. The first can speed up or slow down an audio file without changing its pitch, the second change its pitch without changing its tempo (otherwise, it’s back to tapes and vari-speed …).

With a lot of reverb, sustained chords, resonance, slides, transients, this file is not easy. And it already shows at 75%: Kontakt can’t do it at all, TimeFactory 2 Clear Scale and SampleTank Stretch have problems with lows, DSP Quattro gives us tremolo, while SampleTank PS/TS adds an expression pedal (no transients). Melodyne has a phase issue, same with Peak which decreases transients, which are also damaged in Pitch’n Time and Live. And as for their part, Logic, Pro Tools TS and X-Form, TimeFactory 2 MPEX3, and UVIWorkstation smear up the sound …

At 90%, it’s the same, except for Time Pitch’n which fared a little better with transients. At 110%, things change: Melodyne alters one or two attacks, Peak and Live still eat up a few transients, SampleTank Stretch, PS/TS and DSP Quattro “tremble”, Kontakt, Pro Tools TS and X-Form, TimeFactory 2 Clear Scale, and UVIWorkstation “wobble” more or less. When we slow down even more to 133%, there aren’t too many contenders left: Amazing X, Pitch’n Time Pro (with less transients just the same), TimeFactory 2 DIRAC, and Radius are at their limits …

At 200%, one can appreciate the efforts the programs make just to keep up continuous audio, but most of them take their toll on transients. The others just accentuate the defects they already had.

Access 2 GB of audio examples about time stretching/pitch shifting algorithms.

November 10, 2008

Test: Fender Classics Re-issue Pedals review

Classics Live Again
Fender Classics Re-issue Pedals: The Test
Though not as well known for their pedals as they are for their guitars and basses, Fender has been making classic pedals for more than 50 years. Following the recent re-issue of the Fender Blender Custom pedal, Fender decided to launch a range of new classic-inspired stompboxes with some vintage tones and looks. Let’s take a closer look….
 
Vue générale

The Fender Classics – Reissue Pedals include the Fender Blender (octave/fuzz), a Volume, a Volume/Tone, a Phaser, and the Fuzz-Wah pedal. In this test we’ll be taking a look at all of the above with the exception of the Fender Blender.

At first glance these pedals look vintage: robust, big, and heavy! And they are heavy! Though made in Korea, there’s nothing cheap about these pedals. If you buy all five you’ll probably have to end up getting them their own separate pedal board. Just incorporating one or two into your existing pedal board will require some measurement and planning. But in look and feel, they certainly live up to their vintage counterparts.

As for packaging, there’s the strict minimum, but in style. They each come in a chic black velour stocking-like cover, complete with an embroidered Fender logo (It would look great next to the fireplace for Christmas if you don’t use it for anything else). The only other thing in the box (besides the Styrofoam) is a catalog of the other pedals in the collection. There’s no manual, and you don’t need one. It’s basically intuitive plug-and-play.

There’s a minimum of knobs on all of the pedals with an emphasis on foot controlled parameters. The Fuzz/Wah and Volume/Tone feature clever dual action treadle plates that not only rock forwards and backwards like a traditional wah-wah, but also move from left to right. And the Phaser has a big back-lit rate control knob, that alternately illuminates blue and red at the same rate as the phase shifting, that can easily be manipulated with your foot.

Let’s take a closer look at their ergonomy and see (and hear) how they sound.

Conclusion
Made in Korea with Californian know-how, these vintage re-issue pedals give the best of both worlds: quality products at a relatively inexpensive price. They might not have many fancy settings or adjustments but they definitely deliver the goods. They do however have a somewhat fancy look to them with all that shiny chrome; all except the Phaser, but the Phaser has that cool synchronized back-lit dial. Though they’re heavy and bulky, they do look, feel, and above all, sound vintage. There are a couple of details or features that could have been done differently and one or two downsides, but on the whole they’re a great addition to anyone’s pedal collection. And considering that they’re fairly inexpensive for such quality Fender products, there’s not much of a reason not to run out and test and eventually buy one, if not all.
 

 Price
 Solidity
 Sound – especially the Fuzz and the Phaser
 Nice look – Chrome or Back-lit dial
 Expressiveness with two-way control (Fuzz/Wah & Volume/Tone)
 Volume pedal transparency
 Smooth pedal action

 Weight and bulk
 Phaser noise 
 Tricky switch-stomping and difficult volume-level switch access on the Fuzz/Wah
 Tone variation on the Volume/Tone a little too narrow

 

Read the full review of the Fender Classics re-issues pedals on Audiofanzine.

 

Test: Novation Nocturn review

Novation’s Nocturn: The Test
Novation is well known for quality keyboards, MIDI controllers and synthesizers, whether it be hardware or software. Does Nocturn, the newest member of the Novation controller family, featuring the Automap system and a low price, live up to the brand’s reputation? Let’s take a look… 

Nocturn

Automap

In recent years, several developers have been working on coming up with systems that would spare the user from having to go through arduous settings when using their control surfaces. MIDI learn, now almost universal, was a first step, but some have tried to implement systems that detect software settings and automatically affect them to the controls of the controller. Several companies have developed solutions along this line, notably Cakewalk with ACT (Active Control Technology) included in Sonar and Project5, and Novation with its Automap. The idea is that when you activate a plug-in, its various parameters will automatically be assigned to various controls on your controller. Nocturn is based on this system but can also function as a classic MIDI controller.

 

Conclusion

Even if the “Universal” Automap term is slightly misleading, we see that Nocturn still offers practical possibilities given its size and price. Above all, using it is pleasant and fun, … basically, everything you like when it comes to music. If you are well aware of its shortcomings, mainly its non-universality, it’s a purchase that is quite good for both the person without a controller and for someone well-equipped who’d like an additional controller that’s elegant and user-friendly, whether it be for a studio or mobile setup. It’s a success.

 Nice look 
 Pleasant controls 
 Easy installation and user-friendly 
 Stability and efficiency 
 Small 
 Video tutorials on Novation’s site

 Automap not “universal” 
 USB only (can only use with a computer) 
 A few aspects that are a little cheap 
 Necessitates another window on your screen

Read the full review of the Night Controller on Audiofanzine.

 

Test: Audient Mico Dual Preamp review

Audient’s Mico: The Test
When a brand as serious as Audient comes out with a dual mic preamp with tube simulation circuitry, variable phase adjustment and digital outputs for around $1100, one thinks that this type of product may interest more than one home-studio owner. So, disappointment or revelation?  

Mico

The Mico, as it’s called, has the width of a half rack but is as deep and high as a 1U. It’s a compact and lightweight product that will not take up much space in a small home-studio and that is easily transported along with a mobile recording setup.

Obviously, it’s got external power, but there’s no inconvenient adapters here. It’s a cable with two pins connected to a small box which powers the Mico with a nice long wire. It’s a shame that Audient didn’t fit it with front handles, even removable ones, in order to protect the knobs during transport. If it’s transported frequently, it will be necessary to provide better protection for the Mico. And it deserves this care: its esthetics are particularly successful with a pro look without the usual austerity. With its brushed metal facade, its chrome knobs (metal) and bright colored buttons, the appearance of the Mico is quite pleasant, even elegant, whether in daylight or in the twilight of the studio.

Conclusion
   

The Mico is not perfect and has a couple of small shortcomings. One of the most important is the lack of inserts. Reference was made to the lightness of the knobs, and one could also mention that gain incrementing, which is smooth for most of the way, suddenly becomes over the top near the end. So handle with care if your looking for high gain. Similarly, it’s too bad that each time you press a button (HMX, Variphase, low-cut) it generates a small noise. This is not dramatic, but it does stop you from making any adjustments during a take.

Despite these details, the Mico is a purchase worthy of consideration. Someone already well equipped will thereby get, for around $1100, two quality preamps with really nice features, especially considering that the Variphase is usable on line-ins. For those seeking a good first preamp, it seems an even more relevant buy, having a reasonable price, great sound quality, portability and features that expand the palette of one’s sound. And since it has a quality digital output it can put off or even stop an eventual sound card upgrade. The few sacrifices made in order to make the Mico reasonable priced and compact should not make one forget that we’re dealing with a pro product, with its finish, its sound quality and its many features. In short, a really attractive device.

 Sound quality 
 Intelligent concept 
 Very useful features 
 Elegance 
 Portability 
 Wealth of connections 
 Integrated converter

 No inserts 
 Knobs a little

 

 

Read the full review of the Mico Dual Preamp on Audiofanzine.

 

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