AF’s Weblog

September 30, 2009

Understanding Reverb

When we hear sounds in the “real world,” they are in an acoustic space. For example, suppose you are playing acoustic guitar in your living room. You hear not only the guitar’s sound, but because the guitar generates sound waves, they bounce off walls, the ceiling, and the floor. Some of these sound waves return to your ears, which due to their travel through the air, will be somewhat delayed compared to the direct sound of the guitar.

This resulting sound from all these reflections is extremely complex and called reverberation. As the sound waves bounce off objects, they lose energy and their level and tone changes. If a sound wave hits a pillow or curtain, it will be absorbed more than if it hits a hard surface. High frequencies tend to be absorbed more easily than lower frequencies, so the longer a sound wave travels around, the “duller” its sound. This is called damping. As another example, a concert hall filled with people will sound different than if the hall is empty, because the people (and their clothing) will absorb sound.

Reverberation is important because it gives a sense of space. For live recordings, there are often two or more mics set up to pick up the room sound, which can be mixed in with the instrument sounds. In recording studios, some have “live” rooms that allow lots of reflections, while others have “dead” rooms which have been acoustically treated to reduce reflections to a minimum – or “live/dead” rooms which may have sound absorbing materials at one end, and hard surfaces at the other. Drummers often prefer to record in large, live rooms so there are lots of natural reflections; vocalists frequently record in dead rooms, like vocal booths, then add artificial reverb during mixdown to create a sense of acoustic space.

Whether generated naturally or artificially, reverb has become an essential part of today’s recordings. This article covers artificial reverb – what it offers, and how it works. A companion article covers tips and tricks on how to make the best use of reverb.

Now let’s take a sneak peak into the nitty gritty of reverb…

….

Advanced Parameters II

High and low frequency attenuation. These parameters restrict the frequencies going into the reverb. If your reverb sounds metallic, try reducing the highs starting at 4 – 8kHz. Note that many of the great-sounding plate reverbs didn’t have much response above 5 kHz, so don’t worry if your reverb doesn’t provide a high frequency brilliance – it’s not crucial.

Reducing low frequencies going into reverb reduces muddiness; try attenuating from 100 – 200Hz on down.

Early reflections diffusion (sometimes just called diffusion). Increasing diffusion pushes the early reflections closer together, which thickens the sound. Reducing diffusion produces a sound that tends more toward individual echoes than a wash of sound. For vocals or sustained keyboard sounds (organ, synth), reduced diffusion can give a beautiful reverberant effect that doesn’t overpower the source sound. On the other hand, percussive instruments like drums work better with more diffusion, so there’s a smooth, even decay instead of what can sound like marbles bouncing on a steel plate (at least with inexpensive reverbs). You’ll hear the difference in the following two audio examples.

Maximum DiffusionNo Diffusion

The reverb tail itself may have a separate diffusion control (the same general guidelines apply about setting this), or both diffusion parameters may be combined into a single control.

Early reflections predelay. It takes a few milliseconds before sounds hit the room surfaces and start to produce reflections. This parameter, usually variable from 0 to around 100ms, simulates this effect. Increase the parameter’s duration to give the feeling of a bigger space; for example, if you’ve dialed in a large room size, you’ll probably want to add a reasonable amount of pre-delay as well.

Reverb density. Lower densities give more space between the reverb’s first reflection and subsequent reflections. Higher densities place these closer together. Generally, I prefer higher densities on percussive content, and lower densities for vocals and sustained sounds.

Early reflections level. This sets the early reflections level compared to the overall reverb decay; balance them so that the early reflections are neither obvious, discrete echoes, nor masked by the decay. Lowering the early reflections level also places the listener further back in the hall, and more toward the middle.

High frequency decay and low frequency decay. Some reverbs have separate decay times for high and low frequencies. These frequencies may be fixed, or there may be an additional crossover parameter that sets the dividing line between low and high frequencies.

These controls have a huge effect on the overall reverb character. Increasing the low frequency decay creates a bigger, more “massive” sound. Increasing high frequency decay gives a more “ethereal” type of effect. With few exceptions this is not the way sound works in nature, but it can sound very good on vocals as it adds more reverb to sibilants and fricatives, while minimizing reverb on plosives and lower vocal ranges. This avoids a “muddy” reverberation effect that doesn’t compete with the vocals.

THE NEXT STEP: APPLYING REVERB

Now that we know how reverb works, we can think about how to apply it to our music – but that requires its own article! So, see the article “Applying Reverb” for more information.

To read the full detailed article see:  Understanding Reverb

September 28, 2009

TC Electronic RebelHead450 Bass Amp & Cabinet Review

Well-known for its studio and guitar digital effects, TC Electronic enters the bass market with the RebelHead450, a 450-watt amplifier head with speaker cabinet.

When a manufacturer like TC Electronic presents a new bass amplifier head, we all have the feeling that we are about to discover something modern, and we are right! As soon as you start opening the amps’ packaging, you’ll notice that you’re not dealing with a “vintage” model. The RebelHead 450 has a very nice design–in the best TC tradition–, LEDs all over the place, a very compact size, and seems very sturdy at first glance. The amp is packed with good ideas: a handle that allows an easier transportation of its 8.8 lbs., the possibility to place it vertically or horizontally, endless rotary knobs with LED rings, a nice PVC front panel with black glossy finish…

The RebelHead makes a very good first impression but let’s see if the inside matches the outfit…

Front Controls

TC Electronic RebelHead 450
In spite of its futuristic look, the front panel isn’t frightening nor isn’t quite like the control panel of a space shuttle. In the end, what you’ll find are things you probably already know: 4-band EQ (bass, lo-mid, hi-mid and treble), input gain–that becomes the compression control if you push the Shift button–, a “Tubetone” control to add tube-like sound coloration–and it becomes the preset volume control when you push Shift–, and a general volume control. The 1/4″ jack input allows you to connect an active or passive bass guitar and adapts itself automatically to any pickup type. Opposite to this instrument input, you’ll find the 1/4″ headphone output.
TC Electronic RebelHead 450
Above the controls you’ll find three buttons for the three user memories. To store your settings just press one of the three buttons for two seconds. To recall your setting just push it again briefly. All settings are stored and recalled, except for the general volume setting and the position of the Shift and Mute buttons. The integrated tuner works perfectly well and shows the played note on a small display. An arrow indicates if the sound is too high or too low. However, if you activate the Mute mode, the LED ring around the Bass knob helps you tune the instrument with a better resolution and more precisely. Add the possibility to adjust the reference frequency (from 438 to 445 Hz) and you get the perfect tuner!

Let’s go back to the Mute and Shift buttons. The first one allows you to mute the amp signal, while the second one gives you access to advanced functions: for example, you can adjust the center frequency for each of the bands of the EQ for a more accurate setting, and you can set the compressor and the tube-preamp simulation. The Shift button deactivates automatically after some time, which is good idea!

Now, let’s take a look at the back of this little rebel…

Conclusion

Classic450

TC Electronic also offers a more affordable version without some of the features of the RebelHead450. With a nearly 20% lower price tag, it also provides 450 watts of output power and the SpectraComp and TubeTone functions, but it has no integrated tuner, no headphone output, no user memories, no AES/EBU digital output, no remote connector (does it really matter?), no aux input and a simple 4-band EQ with fixed frequencies instead of the parametric EQ. Even though it does have the main features, we do miss some of the special functions that make the RebelHead so appealing. It’s up to you (and your needs) to decide if you’re willing to pay the difference.

Being its first attempt on the bass amp market, TC delivers a masterstroke with an original, modern and comprehensive product. So far so good. The RebelHead is a very powerful tool with a very good multiband compressor and a nice tube simulation section.

The presets and the compact size are very convenient, the compact and rugged speaker cabinet provides high-quality sound… To be honest, it’s very difficult to find drawbacks. Bass players looking for a versatile amp ought to give it a try at their favorite dealer. In the end, choosing a high-class amp is a matter of taste, but we are positive that the RebelHead will easily find its fans.

Advantages:

  • Convincing TubeTone
  • Very effective SpectraComp
  • High-quality sound
  • Very good EQ
  • Digital output
  • Compact size
  • Design
  • Carrying handle
  • Three presets
  • Integrated tuner
  • Headphone output
  • High output power
  • FX loop
  • Easily linking to other amps
  • Aux input

Drawbacks:

  • On/Off switch on the rear panel
  • And that’s it!

To read the full detailed article see:  TC Electronics RebelHead 450 Review

September 25, 2009

Spice it up! An Introduction To Modes

Filed under: Instructional articles — audiofanzine @ 8:24 am

Context!!!

The aim of this article is to serve as a simple and straightforward introduction, or re-introduction, to the wonderful, but sometimes confusing world of modes.

There are quite a few misconceptions about modes and how they work. Much of the confusion comes from the word “mode” itself, since it implies more of a reference to another scale than an actual scale in its own right. We’ve all heard, or read, and half understood, that modes are based on this or that scale (usually the major scale), and that all you need to do is play from a certain degree (note) up or down the scale one octave to the same note and you get the mode in question. And, of course, when you tried it, you didn’t hear any difference so you gave up!

The problem with this over-simplification (though technically it is true) is that it overlooks the most important aspect of modes and possibly of music itself: context! If you are playing over a C drone or C major chord progression, and your ear hears C major, you can play E Phrygian or F Lydian (two modes “based” on the C major scale) until you’re blue in the face, but you’ll never hear anything but a C major sound (see Ex. 1)! Context is everything: if you play, over that same C drone, a C Lydian or C Phrygian scale (mode) then you definitely will hear a change and a different flavor(see Ex. 2). Sometimes the flavor change is slight and sometimes it’s radical!

Ex.1: C Major, E Phrygian, F Lydian over a C drone: The C major sound is unbroken even though E phrygian and F Lydian are being played

Ex 2: C Phrygian, C Mixolydian, and C Lydian over a C drone: You should hear three distinct flavors

Static versus Changing Harmonies

In this article we won’t be dealing with modes in the context of jazz or changing harmonies. We’ll be concentrating on static or “modal” harmonies. This means that even though there may be more than one chord, the harmony, or mode, or key center will stay the same (or in the case of a drone: neutral).

The reason for this is that in non-modal jazz there’s usually a quick succession of chords and changing key centers, and modes in this context just fly by, making it difficult to feel or hear any kind of flavor or get any kind of appreciation of the mode. Plus modes in this traditional jazz context are often just a means of playing the right notes (playing in) or playing “wrong” notes( playing dissonant or purposely playing “wrong” notes) over a given chord.

By taking our time and playing over static modal harmonies, or just a drone, we’ll be able to hear and eventually recognize the different flavors of each mode.

Scale or Mode?

I won’t be making any difference between scale and mode because they are virtually the same thing. For all intents and purposes: any mode is also a scale (sort of like the particle/wave duality of light ); and any scale could be considered a mode of another related scale. For the moment, the goal is to try and simplify things and cut away some of the jargon.

Now let’s take a deeper look…

Conclusion

The modes presented here are just 3 out of the 7 diatonic modes. Two of the other 4 should already be familiar to you. They are: Ionian, which is nothing more or less than the major scale; and Aeolian, which is the minor (natural) scale. This leaves: Dorian, which is very similar to the natural minor scale, and Locrian, which is probably one of the least used scales/modes in music (except maybe to solo over certain chords) .

Spice your music!

For the moment, you should concentrate on these three modes, and make sure you learn and hear them well before moving on to other stuff. Just like with other aspects of music, you need to build strong foundations. Learning too many scales at a time will only ensure that you play none well.Try to remember that every mode has it’s distinctive flavor. And it’s usually just one or two notes (intervals) that create that distinctive flavor. It’s these notes that you should try to recognize. For example, if you listen to Sting’s « when we dance »; at first it just sounds like a basic major-scale sound, but then he sings that #4 and everything just changes. Just that one note gives the whole song a different feel and flavor. And this is important: each mode has a different spice or flavor to it, and they often have an effect on our emotions. Movie composers know that well, and have been using changing modes to play with or heighten our emotions since the beginning of cinema.

If you decide to jump ahead and look at other modes, don’t forget about context! It’s good to know what scale each mode is derived from, but remember that if you’re playing mode X (that is related to or derived from mode Y) that you should be hearing an X tonality (try a drone on X), and not Y. If you’re hearing Y as the tonal center while trying to play mode X, then you’re just wasting your time.

As stated before, listening and recognizing are crucial. Record yourself playing different modes and see if you can tell which one is being played and where the characteristic notes are. Also, a good way of seeing if you have understood something is to try to explain it to others. So go and find someone patient (preferably a musician) and see if you can teach them what you’ve learned.

To read the full detailed article see:  An Introduction to Modes

September 19, 2009

Yamaha Tyros 3: The Arranger Keyboard Rearranged

Filed under: keyboards — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:32 am
Yamaha Tyros 3 product review

Perpetuating the Tyros line for the third time, Yamaha presents a new, high-technology arranger keyboard that provides a rarely achieved musicality.

Some time ago, arranger keyboards were the “poor cousins” of the music industry. Those gadgets became educational tools for children and then for adults looking for strong musical sensations. Today, they are powerful production workstations with a large ROM, sample memories, DTD, USB port, etc. Some manufacturers equip them with technologies developed originally for their workstations, which results in the latter being not so predominant anymore. The Korg PA2X, for example, includes a real Triton/M3-like synth. Ketron’s Audia is a comprehensive audio loop machine with real-time pitch shifting and time stretching functions. The Tyros 3 is not fancy and Yamaha decided to improve every possible function of the original concept: sound realism, harmonization, FX processor and user interface.

A look under the hood

Yamaha Tyros 3

Like its predecessors, the Tyros 3 is fitted inside a PVC housing with gray aluminum finish on the top and black finish on the bottom. Considering its price range, I would have preferred a brushed aluminum housing that made it look more classy without adding much weight. Even if it is not made for that, do consider getting a carry case because the part underneath the keys tends to bend if you push on it. The manufacturer offers a very nice-looking one with the “Tyros 3” logo embroidered on it. The FSX keyboard has 61 velocity and pressure-sensitive keys. It’s the best light keyboard we have ever tested: straight response, perfect balance and full control. This keyboard is even better than the famous Yamaha model on the DX7, Korg Trinity and Triton… Yamaha has been constantly improving the layout of the different control sections since the first Tyros came out. This time around the layout seems perfectly thought-out. On the left side you will find everything regarding styles and sequences: in the lower part is the style control (intros, variations, breaks, endings, accompaniment modes, tempo, pads, etc.), in the middle part are the style selection buttons sorted by category, and in the upper part the sequencer controls. You can also find the mic section here: settings, vocal harmonies, etc.

Right at the center of the device is the big 7.5″ VGA display (640×480 dots). Its active color matrix provides a strong luminosity and an excellent definition. The display is adjustable (but not motorized–as if someone cared). It is surrounded by buttons for selecting sounds and styles, navigating within the different menu pages and direct editing of parameters. It’s nice and does its job pretty well. The fact that it’s not touch screen is not a problem at all, on the contrary that will help you keep it cleaner. Below the display, you’ll find eight pairs of function buttons (to edit values in the menu pages) and nine very-much-appreciated sliders that not only allow you to edit faster with the integrated mixer (more on this later), but are crucial for the modeled drawbar organ presets. As soon as you select one of these presets, the display shows a graphic representation of some Hammond B3-like drawbars, that you can control with the sliders in real-time for live applications. This is a great improvement on the older models and we celebrate it.

Last but not least: the right side of the device is dedicated to sound presets. In the lower part you can control the snapshots, the OTS registrations (more on this later), the main L/R channels and the select/mute functions of the different channels. In the middle, you’ll find the preset selection buttons sorted by category. The upper part is dedicated to the different effect sections of the presets. And you also have here the direct-to-disc section (more on this later) and the system menus.

Conclusion
Yamaha Tyros 3
The Tyros 3 is the result of top-quality improvements that started years ago. It has been a long way since the first version of the product. Its indisputable musicality is the instrument’s most outstanding quality–leaving the competition far behind, especially when it come to the new SA2 sounds and their unique expressiveness. The styles also gained more sound realism thanks to the new drum samples and the generous FX section. The 61-note keyboard has an exceptional quality but unfortunately there’s no 88-key version available. In spite of its impressive number of settings, the Tyros 3 is highly ergonomic and easy to use, making it the ideal solution for professional stage applications. People who like to mess around with sounds and styles will not be disappointed either, and the Tyros 3 is also a nice studio tool. However, we regret that the sound synthesis was “outsourced” to a software (considering the size of the display), and that the sequencer is based around the arranger. The all-plastic assembly and the few accessories provided are also disappointing, considering the price of the product. But our overall impression is very positive. When you start one of the styles of the Tyros 3, you can’t help putting your fingers on the keyboard and start beating the floor with your foot… it’s easy to be inspired!

Pluses:

  • Supreme sound
  • Accompaniments’ quality
  • Excellent keyboard manufacturing
  • Comprehensive connectivity
  • Drawbar organs modeling
  • Number of powerful multi-effects
  • Highly ergonomic user interface
  • Direct-to-Disc function
  • Sound editor for PC/Mac
  • Wave samples import

Drawbacks:

  • Plastic construction
  • Limited direct editing
  • Arranger-based sequencer
  • Few accessories included
  • Commercialism at its best (or worst)

To read the full detailed article see:    Yamaha Tyros 3 Review

September 4, 2009

Novation Remote Zero SL MKII

Filed under: Control Surfaces — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:09 pm

When Novation announced Automap Universal at the 2007 NAMM many were instantly intrigued by the concept. Many producers and long time fans of MIDI control were eager to get this revolutionary product integrated into their set up. Now with the Mk2series and Automap 3 available, Novation seems to have taken their product to a new level. Does it live up to expectations?

The software that arrived with my original Remote Zero SL (MK1) back in ’07 certainly didn’t disappoint. Plug-ins and virtual instruments that would have usually taken a substantial amount of time to map were instantly displayed across the unit’s two displays. The ease and speed of further customisation was also impressive for a version 1.0 product.


Since 2007, I have been an avid user and regular beta tester of the Novation Remote SL line and their associated Automap technology, so when the chance to review the new Mk2 version of the Remote Zero SL came up I was more than happy to take delivery of the unit and give it a test run…

Conclusion

This is no doubt one of the best dynamic midi controllers out there. With its slick design, innovative touch-sensitive, illuminated panel and mature software you can’t go far wrong. This is certainly an improvement on the last model and shows a step in the right direction when it comes to hands on control of production software. It’s a shame that the second display has been dropped and that there aren’t more endlessly rotating knobs on the unit but as I said before this isn’t the end of the world. Also it might be worth throwing this in a flight case if you want to take it on the road, though the plastic case, although well made, might not stand up to the rigours of regular gigging.

To sum up, I really love this device, in fact so much that I have hung on to the review model and it has become my controller of choice in the studio … And this comes form someone who has used, Mackie, Euphonix and Jazz Mutant products.Clear innovative touch sensitive controls

Advantages:

  • Illuminated buttons for clear feedback

  • Crossfader for digital DJs

  • Competitive price point

  • USB powered

  • Awesome, mature regularly updated software

Drawbacks:

  • Plastic casing throughout may not strand up to live shows

  • Only one display as opposed to the previous models two

  • No power supply as standard for use with low power USB hubs

To read the full detailed article see:  Novation Remote Zero SL MKII Test

September 3, 2009

Tomo Audiolabs – Lisa Mastering Equalizer

Tomo Audiolabs unveils their new mastering equalizer: Lisa. Don’t miss the demonstration in the the latter half of the video!

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

September 2, 2009

Behringer – DJX-750 DJ Mixer

Filed under: DJ, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:36 am

Behringer presents the DJX-750 DJ Mixer which features the capability of altering FX parameters in real time.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

September 1, 2009

Behringer – PMP860M & PMP980S Mixers

Behringer presents the PMP860M & PMP980S Box powered mixers, both with 900-Watt peak power and inbuilt FX processors.

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

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