AF’s Weblog

October 30, 2009

Mackie Onyx 820i Review

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:29 am

It’s been a while since the first Onyx mixers with the FireWire option first came out, and now Mackie carries on with the Onyx 820i, which comes with Pro Tools M-Powered. Hmm…so what does M-Audio think about that?

Mackie Onyx 820iAt AudioFanzine, we were very surprised when we first received the Onyx 820i. We have not heard anything about a new Mackie analog mixer series sold with ProTools M-Powered, and there was also no information about it to be found on the web! The unit comes with “universal” drivers compatible with DigiDesign’s sequencer. As we write this review, we still don’t know if this is the result of a cooperation between ProTools and Mackie or if the manufacturer just took the liberty to use the software. What’s more, even though the pack we received included the Onyx and Pro Tools M-Powered, the latter is not an integral part of the product that you will find in stores. So let’s focus on the mixer then…

Unpacking

We like the overall design of the mixer, and the aluminum chassis gives it a sturdy and classy look, which is a very good point considering it’s an entry-level mixer. The plastic knobs–from the solo and mute buttons to the EQ controls–will be familiar to all Mackie users. The mixer’s compact dimensions (14.2″ x 9″ x 3.8″) and weight (9.7 lb.) make the mixer seem sturdy. We’ll have to see if this holds true under real-life conditions. It also has four rubber feet on the bottom side so it’s a mixer that will surely stay in place.

Now, let’s have a closer look at the technical features of the Onyx…

Conclusion

Mackie did an amazing job breaking the $500 price barrier with this compact analog mixer with three mic preamps, effective EQs and an 8 in/2 out FireWire interface. The quality design and manufacturing of this small Onyx make it a pleasant surprise. Mackie learned from previous mistakes and the 820i proves to be very comprehensive, as well as a good solution for live and studio musicians. The fact that it is ProTools compatible is already the focus of heated discussions because it seems Mackie might have tampered with DigiDesign’s system. Nonetheless, you’ll still have to pay an extra $250 for the sequencer, which raises the price to $750. It’s not that expensive but it makes us wonder why instead of bundling their highly recommended Tracktion software, Mackie encourages us to buy a competitor’s software…

Advantages:

  • Quality/performance/price ratio
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Effective Perkins EQ
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Pre or post-EQ FireWire

Drawbacks:

  • Preamps too limited for some applications
  • Only two computer output channel
  • Pro Tools compatibility smells like hacking…
  • Pro Tools M-Powered not included ($250 extra)…

To read the full detailed article see:  Mackie Onyx 820i Review

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October 28, 2009

Microphones: How to choose

Microphone Types

Figure 2

Long the role of the professional sound engineer, choosing the appropriate microphone has now become, with the proliferation of the home studio, the task of the amateur and even the beginner. This choice should depend upon what you’re going to be using the mic for, but also on personal preferences. In this article we’ll be dealing with the two main categories of microphones: dynamic microphones and condenser microphones.
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Signal 1.Sound Waves, 2.Diaphragm, 3.Coils, 4.Magnet, 5.Audio Signal

Dynamic Microphones

These mics generally have a more robust design due to the fact that they are more often used in live settings. They are also usually less expensive and resistant to moisture.

Dynamic microphones use a diaphragm which is attached to a coil of wire placed within the magnetic field of a permanent magnet. When there’s a variation in pressure on the diaphragm it will cause the coil to generate a varying electric current which then needs amplification. Because it’s necessary to attach the coil directly to the diaphragm, dynamic mics tend to have thicker diaphragms than condenser mics. Because of this, recordings are less precise as they’re less sensitive to high frequencies than condenser mics. Popular models include Shure SM57 and SM58.

Dynamic mics generally don’t need any electrical power to operate (as opposed to condenser mics). They are ideal for all-round high sound pressure levels (SPL).

Signal reverse1.Sound Waves, 2.Diaphragm, 3.Metal Plate, 4.Battery, 5.Audio Signal

Condenser or Capacitor Microphones

Also known as capacitor or electrostatic microphones, this type of mic picks up sound through a thin, flexible diaphragm that’s placed next to a metal plate ( as opposed to the rigid diaphragm/coil system used by dynamic mics).

Condenser mics can range from inexpensive Karaoke mics to ultra high level recording mics. Generally, they produce high-quality audio signals and are sensitive to distant sounds and high frequencies. Because of these reasons they are often used in studio recording situations.

Because condenser mics are more sophisticated and are more difficult to manufacture, high quality condenser mics are rather expensive. Condenser mics are ideal for recording voice, acoustic guitars, pianos, orchestral instruments, percussion, and sound effects. Some of the most famous models are the Neumann U47 or the AKG 414.

Phantom Power

Condenser mics require a power source, provided either from microphone inputs as phantom power or from a small battery. The most common type of phantom power is +48v DC. This phantom power is used to charge the diaphragm and plate. It also supplies a small amplifier which boosts the small current* generated by diaphram movements. Phantom power supplies are often built into mixing desks, microphone preamplifiers and similar equipment.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon mics are a type of dynamic microphone. They use a very thin metal ribbon that’s suspended between the poles of a powerful magnet. Sound waves cause this ribbon to move and create an induced current. Voltage output of older ribbon mics is much lower than dynamic mics so a transformer is used to increase voltage output and to increase output impedance. Modern ribbon mics avoid this problem by using improved magnets and more efficient transformers. Ribbon mics are usually bi-directional (see next page on pick-up patterns). Classic models include the RCA 44 and 77 as well as Royer mics.

Now let’s take an even closer look…


Other Considerations

Fig.1: A Typical Frequency Response Chart Signall

Frequency response

This is a measure of the microphone’s sensitivity to different frequencies. It’s a characteristic of all mics that some frequencies are exaggerated and others attenuated. So the frequency response shows how a particular mic responds to particular frequencies.

A chart usually shows a mics’s frequency response. The x axis shows frequency in Hertz, the y axis shows response in decibels. A higher value means exaggeration and a lower value means attenuation. A completely flat chart (frequency response) would show that the mic is equally sensitive to all frequencies. But in reality a totally flat response is impossible and even the best mics have some degree of deviation. Also it should be noted that sometimes a mic is especially chosen for the specific frequency response that it has. For example, a mic with a frequency response adapted to the human voice would be a good choice for recording in an environment with low frequency background noise.

Self Noise

This measurement represents the lowest point of a mic’s dynamic range. This is important if you want to record very soft sounds. Basically, the lower the number is, the better.

Maximum SPL (Sound Pressure Level)

This is the maximum level a mic can accept. Here, the higher the number, the better. But one should note that mics with very high SPLs have higher self noise.

Sensitivity

Indicates how well the mic converts sound pressure into output voltage. The higher the number, the higher the sensitivity. A highly sensitive mics produces more output and will therefore need less amplification after. It should be noted, however, that a higher sensitivity rating does not necessarily make one mic better than another.

To read the full detailed article see:  Microphones: How to Choose

October 23, 2009

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4: More than bass

Filed under: Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:07 pm

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4 review

Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4

Before manufacturing its own electric and bass guitars, Schecter made spare parts for other renowned guitar manufacturers. Those times are long gone and now Schecter makes high-quality original models at affordable prices. Today, we will test a bass guitar called the Stiletto Extreme 4…Quickly looking at Schecter’s catalog, you’ll notice that the brand offers a pretty wide range of instruments including modern-looking models, as well as more classic lines that recall the shape of some Fenders and Rickenbackers. Nevertheless, the latter are no cheap copies: they have their own specifications and do distinguish themselves from the original models. There is certainly something for everyone and almost every model has a 4 or 5-string version.

Among all these models, there’s a bass guitar series called Stiletto which combines a light body and a comfortable neck. This series includes five different models: Studio, Elite, Extreme, Deluxe, and Custom. We received the Extreme 4 (4-string version) in Black Cherry finish.

We unwrapped it as soon as we got it…


Conclusion

This bass guitar made in China is a nice surprise when it comes to finish and manufacturing quality. The body with its Black Cherry translucent finish looks wonderful. The instrument is well balanced and the neck feels very comfortable. The Extreme 4 is impeccable until you plug it into an amp. Its sound is not amazing, it’s just the kind of sound you can expect for the price. Both pickups provide a high output level but they sound too similar and somewhat dull. The balance control doesn’t provide enough sound variations and you’ll have to resort to the more effective EQ to shape the sound.  In short: it’s a nice small bass guitar which deserves better pickups.

Advantages:

  • Manufacturing quality
  • Good finish
  • Beautiful translucent Black Cherry color
  • Effective EQ
  • Ergonomically shaped body
  • Comfortable neck

Drawbacks:

  • Both pickups sound too similar

To read the full detailed article see:  Schecter Stiletto Extreme 4 Review

October 16, 2009

Apple iPhone: My iPhone is an 8-Track Recorder

Filed under: Recording reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:39 am

Could the iPhone be the best portable recorder?

The iPhone is a great little piece of machinery.  It can do anything!  What’s the weather going to be like in Chicago tomorrow? At what time does Police Academy 17 run again?  7:20pm.  A Bomberman game? No problem-o.  Lady Gaga’s latest hit?  You got it.  We’re just missing some useful tools for musicians… You think? They are already here.

The iPhone’s first advantage is that it’s a phone, so it spends most of the time in your pocket, being accessible at any time. Its main asset is that its OS is open to third-party applications. In other words, you can download small programs–made by independent developers or by big companies– for lots and lots of possible applications. It’s quite impressive to see what these developers have to offer: an ultrasonic mosquito killer, a spirit level, a software that uses the sound print of a song to recognize it… In short, for every taste and every need, there are currently about 80,000 free or paid applications registered at http://appshopper.com/.

For audio heads like us, this has become quite interesting: the music category boasts over 2,400 very-poorly-sorted applications (when will we get filters and subcategories in the AppStore?). You’ll find the best and the worst you can think of: lots of applications which promote artists or radio stations, and even some which only display animations, song lyrics or artist info when a MP3 file is played. The finest of all is Shazam, an application that recognizes music on the basis of an audio sample (convenient to get the title of a great song playing on the radio). When it comes to applications developed to create music, there are six main categories:

  • Virtual instruments (guitar, piano, drums, synth, etc.)
  • Tools (meters, tuners, chord dictionaries)
  • MIDI control surfaces
  • Sequencers (most of them including a sound generator or a sample player)
  • DJ applications (that allow you to mix and synchronize two tracks)
  • Digital audio recorders

We could actually write a whole article about each of the categories, but given that AudioFanzine is about “Audio,” we thought we’d focus on the recording tools–specially considering that the iPhone could become a must have for on-location recording.

Now let’s take a closer look at how to do just that…

Conclusion

With very affordable applications and some hardware enhancements, the iPhone can surely become a multi-track recorder for anyone (journalist or musician) willing to give up some audio features (transducer quality, simultaneous four-track recording, connectivity) to enjoy its excellent usability and the advantages of an all-in-one solution you can carry in your pocket. Just as the digital camera market is waning due to mobile phones, the portable audio recording market could also face strong competition from the iPhone.  This means that dedicated products will have to introduce technological improvements, like color touch screens, if they want to survive in the future. We’ll have to just keep an eye on it.

To read the full detailed article see:  Apple iPhone as an 8-track Recorder

October 14, 2009

Basics of Acoustics: Time (I)

Filed under: Instructional articles — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:01 am

Time (1)

With stopwatch in hand, our perception of time seems straightforward. But in everyday life we’re not always watching the clock, and everyone knows that the passage of time is relative. It differs from one person to another and especially from one activity to another: An hour spent watching a great movie doesn’t feel as long as an hour in traffic.

SignalFig.1a : Sound signal with reverb. Note the progressive attenuation of the sound level

Scientists may conceive time in seconds, but most musicians feel it in a more fluctuating manner: either in the speeding up of a tempo or the slightly off-pitch note due to stress. In fact, pitch, which is defined by frequency, is a value linked to time and depends on our perception of a second. If it seems longer or shorter, the note can seem sharp or flat.

It’s said that during the middle ages, long before the invention of the metronome in 1816, a person’s pulse was used as the reference. It was therefore better to choose a musician who was calm.

Signal reverseFig.1b : The same signal, through a reverse effect Reverse : maximum gain is at the end of the signal

An Experiment

For those of you who can remember magnetic tape, a piano note played in reverse doesn’t sound at all like a piano, and a verse of Shakespeare in reverse sounds strangely like…Swedish. In fact, what our ears perceive as a single homogenous sound is really like a small train made up of four different cars: if we watch it as it moves forwards or backwards, the order of arrival won’t be the same and therefore our perception of the sound will be different.

It’s this idea that’s expressed through the notion of the A.D.S.R curve, also called envelope curve. A « reverse » preset found on some reverbs manipulates nothing but the reverb envelope. It will probably be a decreasing sound and look like figure 1. If it’s played in reverse, the end will therefore be played before the beginning (figure 1b).

Compression

The second case in which a musician-technician might find themselves confronted with having to manipulate an envelope generator: a compressor. A compressor usually has envelope adjustments that change the action time of the compression effect (fig. 5)

Depending on the gear, you’ll usually find an Attack adjustment, which corresponds to the time the compression kicks in once the signal reaches the limit of compression. By putting this setting on slow, the compression will be much more discrete and lets you assure a certain amount of compression without it being too sensitive (for classical music for example). But on the other hand, all sudden peaks corresponding to short attacks will escape treatment. A short Attack adjustment will allow the compressor to react instantly , but that typical compressed « punchy » sound will be heard. In today’s music this can be a desired and interesting effect, if used with moderation. You can also modify the Release which adjusts the time it takes the compressor to bring the level back to its initial level. As with the attack settings, a middle setting will be more discrete and will be more delicate in bringing the level back down. The opposite, a release set to zero can, if the compressor intervenes often, give a disagreeable wave effect.

Figure 5Fig 5a: Cubase’s standard compressor

Figure 5Fig 5b: TC Electronics TC CL1B plug-in which models a tube compressor

To read the full detailed article see:  Basics of Acoustics: Time

October 9, 2009

Peavey Vypyr 75: Viper’s Bite

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:14 pm

Peavey Vypyr 75 Review

The Vypyr Series was born out of  Peavey’s attempt to compete with the Line6 Spider Series and take a bite out of the modeling amplifier market.  Today we will review the Vypyr 75. Could the viper beat the spider?

Back in the 90’s, Peavey was one of the leading manufacturers in the solid-state guitar amp market thanks to its Transtube technology, which simulated tube amp sound with more or less success. With this background, and considering that modeling amps are currently very trendy, it’s natural for the US manufacturer to try to jump into this business. In fact, Line6 was the first to launch its Spider Amp Series and their numerous preamp simulations and effects, then Vox followed suite with its Valvetronic models.

Peavey now tackles this growing and tightly competitive market. Let’s start by unpacking the 75-watt Vypyr…

Out of the box

Peavey Vypyr 75Once in front of this big 44lb box you feel two things: fear of the control panel with its multiple red and green LEDs (great for next Christmas!), and repulsion for its dubious look, which might have been futuristic in the 70’s. It’s not the best way to start, but we’re not going to let such small details derail us.  We are going to put our prejudices aside and pick apart this Vypyr…

Let’s start with the connectivity and the ineluctable guitar input connector, which is even a joke in the user’s manual: “If you are having trouble figuring out what this is then please put the amp back in the box and get some drumsticks. * (*No drummers were harmed in the making of this manual).” I have to admit that it made us laugh alot here at AudioFanzine–drummer jokes always hit the nail on the head.

You’ll also find a 1/8″ aux input to feed a stereo source for playback (iPod, drum machine, etc.), a phones output (which mutes the speaker when in use), and an USB connector which doesn’t require any driver and allows direct recording into your computer with mic simulation. Nice! On the rear panel you’ll find a connector for the optional footboard and a connector for an additional speaker cabinet (the internal speaker is a 12″ Blue Marvel). Peavey forgot to add an FX loop to insert your favorite effects, even though the internal FX of the amp are plentiful. It’s a pity.

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

Conclusion

Making use of its broad know-how, Peavey created an amp which provides big sound possibilities at an affordable price. 24 quality amp modelings, a plethora of effects (which could be a problem for young guitar players who tend to overflow their sound with effects), 75 watts (more than enough to play with a band), a hideous look and a master knob that goes up to 13. All for $300! What else could you ask for? Line6, beware- here comes a new challenger!

Advantages:

  • Wide choice of amp sounds
  • Plethora of pre and post amp effects
  • Good overall sound quality
  • Very good value for money
  • Phones output and Aux input
  • Master volume that goes up to 13

Drawbacks:

  • No FX loop
  • Unreliable USB output
  • Distasteful look
  • EQ with imprecise LED indication system
  • Optional footboard

To read the full detailed article see:  Peavey Vypyr 75 Review

October 6, 2009

Music Notation Basics

Filed under: Instructional articles — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:11 am
Learning to Read Music
It’s never too late to learn how to read music, and with a little practice and tenacity, the basics can be learned quite quickly. And because knowing how to read and write music still has its benefits and uses, no matter what style of music you’re into, this article has been put together to present the most important and prominent of these basics.

Table Of Contents:

NotesDuration Values, Tuplets, Beams, Note Names, Octave

Accidentals Sharp, Flat, Natural, Double Accidentals

The Staff Ledger Lines

Measures/BarsBarlines

ClefsG Clef, F Clef, C Clef

Rests

Time Signatures

Key Signatures

Notes

Micro Spider

They represent a sound’s duration and pitch. The duration is represented by the type of note head ( the oval part of a note), and/or it’s stem and flag. Pitch is represented by the note’s position on the staff. The higher the note on the staff, the higher the pitch, and vice versa.

Duration Values

1 whole note = 2 half notes = 4 quarter notes = 8 eighth notes =

16 sixteenth notes = 32 – thirty-second = 64 Sixty-fourth notes etc.

In Britain the names are different for these notes values:

whole note = semibreve, half note = minim, quarter note = crotchet, eighth note = quaver, sixteenth note = semiquaver, thirty-second = demisemiquaver, Sixty-fourth note = hemidemisemiquaver etc.

Now let’s explore other elements of music notation…

To read the full detailed article see:  Music Notation Basics

October 2, 2009

Ibanez RG 2570MZ Guitar: Pure Prestige

The large Ibanez RG family starts to be å regular among AudioFanzine’s editorial staff. We first received the RG2610 with its single pickup, then the RG420EG-SBK “spider axe.” Today, it’s the turn of a “prestige” RG called RG 2570MZ VBE. What sets it apart from the 21 guitars that form the Ibanez’s catalog?

Ibanez RG 2570MZ VBE

The guitar itself is not the first thing you’ll notice about this RG. Unlike “ordinary” models, this guitar is sold in a wonderful flight case with red velvet interior and the “Prestige” and “Team J-Craft” logos on it. So what is the Team J-Craft? Ibanez uses this mark to let us know that the guitar was made in their Fujigen Factory in Japan. A “non-outsourced” Ibanez guitar like the old RG models manufactured 25 years ago…The lime body benefits from the famous “Strat-revisited” shape that made the model famous. So the body was basically inspired on the Stratocaster but it’s slimmer, and has a very slim, sharp and very low bottom horn that allows a smooth access to the upper frets, even for guitar players with huge hands like mine.

The finish is quite original–nothing new for Ibanez (just read other reviews). The “Vital Blue” matt finish with a rugged pattern recalls the texture of an old houses’ walls…

It feels pretty smooth under your fingers but its look won’t be everyone’s taste. If the “Vital Blue” is not exactly your type of finish (ha!), the RG2550MZ is a twin sister of the RG2570MZ with the exact same features but in a “Galaxy White” finish and an additional “Cosmo Black” pickguard.

Now let’s take it for a test drive…

Conclusion

Ibanez RG 2570MZ VBE

So, what’s worthy about this RG? It’s a very well manufactured instrument with a high-class finish, high-quality hardware, very good playability and a versatile sound. This versatility is its main advantage but also its main disadvantage because it will disappoint musicians looking for a characterful guitar… If that’s the case, changing the pickups will surely solve the problem. Considering the instrument’s price, such a customization won’t hurt your budget too much…

Compared to the RG family, this guitar offers lots of advantages, and its maple fretboard clearly improves note attacks. Taking into consideration that it’s a real Japanese instrument, its price is very appealing. So consider testing it: this guitar is definitely worth it if you’re looking for an RG– and to be compared to its cousins!

Advantages:

  • Perfect manufacturing and finish
  • Edge Zero tremolo system
  • Very easy to play
  • Stronger attack thanks to the maple fingerboard
  • Flight case included

Drawbacks:

  • Rather neutral sound, lack of personality when distorted
  • The center pickup can be annoying for some guitarists, depending on your technique
  • Finish won’t appeal to everyone’s taste (choose the RG 2550MZ instead)

To read the full detailed article see:  Ibanez RG 2570MZ Review

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