AF’s Weblog

December 31, 2009

Zoom R16: All-Rounder

Filed under: audio interface — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:38 am

Zoom R16 Review

DAW systems are good but you don’t always have a computer by when you feel the rush to record music. Mini studios were created for that purpose: they are practical solutions but not very comprehensive nor ergonomic. That’s why Zoom launched the R16, an hybrid tool you can use as digital audio interface, controller and standalone mini studio. Let’s take a look at the result…

Zoom R16The R16 seeks to reconcile two different worlds: DAW fans who are willing to bear bugs and system crashes to get the utmost versatility and ease of use computer systems provide, and mini studio fans who enjoy integrated, reliable and compact systems at the cost of ease of use and expandability. So, the target user of the R16 is a half nomad, half sedentary musician who needs an audio interface/MIDI controller for his computer in order to comfortably mix and fine-tune his songs at home and a fully standalone and easy transportable recording system. First things first, so let’s begin by unpacking this two-headed beast…

The first impression is good. The white and gray finish provide it a sleek look and the plastic seems sturdy. Its lightness is surprising.  That’s a good point for people planning to take the R16 everywhere with them. This compact interface has nine faders but is slim enough to fit in any backpack. It’s obviously much more bulkier than a portable recorder, like M-Audio’s MicroTrack II or Zoom’s H2, but it offers incomparable recording possibilities! It reminds me a lot of digital integrated studios from Tascam, Roland, Korg, or… Zoom! The plastic buttons and faders feel a bit toyish but you can’t really expect more for the price. Do watch out for the faders because they get loose pretty easily. The R16 is sold with Cubase LE 4, a 1GB SD card and an external PSU. You can also use six AA batteries for 4.5 hours of life (according to the manufacturer’s specifications).

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Zoom strikes a decisive blow offering hybrid technology at a very affordable price. Surely many musicians looking for a portable 16-track recorder, an audio interface and a MIDI controller will enjoy the R16. The R16’s main advantage is that it’s a real standalone product with effects, mics, SD card reader, tuner, and metronome. Nevertheless, we wish it had more headphones or line outputs because It is impossible to provide different monitor mixes to several musicians, forcing you to buy an additional headphone amplifier. The fact that only two mic preamps have phantom power, the headphones and master output level controls are on the rear panel and the documentation doesn’t describe sound card and MIDI controller applications enough might annoy some. But considering the price, such details won’t keep you from trying to get your hands on it. Hats off Mr. Zoom!

Advantages:

  • Three different and complementary applications
  • Eight inputs on XLR-1/4″ combo connectors
  • Battery operation option
  • Effects by the dozen
  • Incredibly light
  • Four-segment LED level meter per track
  • Nice price
  • Nice design

Drawbacks:

  • Only one stereo out
  • Rather ineffective tuner
  • Obsolete ergonomics
  • Average quality of the preamps and some effects
  • MIDI controller application totally ignored in the user’s manual

To read the full detailed review see:  Zoom R16 Review

Advertisements

December 24, 2009

SSL X-Desk: Art for All?

Filed under: Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:29 pm

SSL X-Desk Review

2009 was a year of changes and Solid State Logic got it perfectly. More than ever, the British manufacturer wanted to perpetuate its leading position in the professional analog mixer market launching a new product, the most refined of all: the X-Desk, a compact, 16-channel, analog line mixer developed for project studios. This human-sized mixer aroused our curiosity…

Even though acronyms have changed a lot with the advent of the internet, SSL (simply think “Oxford, England”…) still remains a synonym for professional quality to any audio enthusiast – both for sound and technical aspects. After many years of having become one of the indispensable products in professional studios all over the world, the British manufacturer started to show interest in modular solutions with its X-Rack Series, allowing (almost) anybody to enjoy their legendary sound if they had the need and the budget. In 2008 they presented the Matrix, which confirmed the manufacturer’s will to win new clients over with a new analog mixer concept. Equipped with 16 inline channels, 40 inputs with digital routing and DAW control, it combines the best of both the “out-of-the-box” and the “in-the-box” worlds. Now, SSL moves even further in that direction with the X-Desk. No more jam-packed mixers: 16 line input channels, no mic preamps nor EQ, but enough mixing and connection possibilities.

SSL X-DeskAt first sight, the mixer’s extremely compact size (17.1″ x 12.2″ x 4.7″) will surprise you, considering it’s an SSL, even if the Matrix had already started with the trend… You can now have the Oxford sound directly in your home studio, even if it’s more a home than a studio – like in this review!

Nevertheless, just look at the mixer and you’ll know it’s a real SSL. First of all, you’ll notice the typical sturdy manufacturing. Reliable production, clear silkscreen and a well thought-out design that makes the workflow easier. The mixer has the same 25-pin D-Sub connectors you’ll find on most professional products. Moreover, all ten D-Sub sockets on the rear panel are recessed, ensuring an easy integration of the X-Desk in your production environment. No connector will be outwardly exposed, therefore reducing the space needed to set up the mixer. We all know that connectors can take up a lot of space and SSL dealt with that issue properly.

The small mixer looks nice and it promises a lot of flexibility and ease of use. But what about the technology inside?  Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

SSL struck a decisive blow with the X-Desk by offering an expandable mixer that focuses on the real needs of today’s professional music production. This compact device concentrates all the brand’s know-how and philosophy to provide all the essentials for quality mixing. It surely doesn’t have anything to envy its competitors – does it have any competitors, considering its price?

SSL fans will enjoy the typical SSL sound energy. For all the rest who always wanted to work with SSL products, the X-Desk is the best opportunity to realize their dream at an affordable price.

Advantages:

  • Clean but biting SSL SuperAnalogue sound in a compact mixer
  • SSL typical versatility and philosophy
  • Routing, summing and monitoring possibilities worthy of a large mixer
  • Precise functions that make the X-Desk a fully reliable mixer
  • Cleverly designed stereo Cue bus providing 16 summing channels
  • Expandability that allows you to link up to eight X-Desks and use all outboard combinations you wish
  • What a price!

Drawbacks:

  • Talkback sound
  • CUE ST level control without push-push switch (like on the 4000!) to cut/activate the signal without loosing the level setting
  • Cables must be bought separately…
  • No “X-Desk XPander” version without monitor and FX send/return functions to optimize X-Link chaining…

To read the full detailed review see:  SSL X-Desk Review

December 21, 2009

The Thermodynamics of a Rock Show

Optimizing Live Sound

No matter what you test or measure, a considerable part of the sound of the show is controlled by environmental factors that are constantly changing. Knowing what they are is the first step toward being able to deal with them effectively.

Those of us who indulge in live sound spend countless hours paying attention to every detail in the audio signal chain – comparing, pondering opinionating and deciding every issue that crosses our path.  Does this mixing console sound better? Do I need to spend an extra $2,000 on a vocal compressor? Can you please move the guitar mic two millimeters to the left? Does phantom power really ruin ribbon mics?

One question persists, however: to what end is all this toiling done?


Blasting Perfection Into Chaos

Does it seem that a flown PA system sounds better than the exact same system ground stacked? How come it always sounds brighter when you stand on the mix riser?

Have you ever noticed that the same venue sounds different one night to the next, even when you do not change a thing? All of these things can be partially or completely explained by understanding the thermodynamics of a rock show.  Further, armed with this knowledge, you can make setup and mixing decisions that result in improvements that the people attending the show will actually notice – as opposed to things like fiddling with an expensive tube comp that the audience could not care less about.

This is not a scientific article peppered with equations; there are plenty of those out there already. My goal here is to present these complex factors as understandable concepts that will assist you as an engineer/system tech to optimize the sound in a venue.

In my mind, to keep things clear, I divide the relevant venue thermodynamics into three categories:

● Sonic absorption related issues

● Sonic direction related issues

● Sonic velocity related issues

So now let’s take a closer look…

The Bigger Picture

All in all, warmer and neutrally humid environments tend to be the way to go for a memorable adventure. Cold is drafty, sterile and often crisp and edgy sounding.  In my opinion, the hotter liquid atmosphere of a muggy rock show not only speeds up and tames the sound; it also seems to enhance that connection between the performers and those immersed in the performance.

Looking back at the three thermodynamic issues of absorption, direction and velocity, and combining those factors with practical experience, there are several useful concepts that can be distilled:

1) Humidity variations are sonically more tolerable in higher humidity environments.

2) Consistent temperature throughout the venue is sonically beneficial. Since the temperature of humans is fairly warm, and assuming humans will be attending the concert, having a reasonably warm venue temperature will assist in achieving that consistency.

3) A warmer indoor venue will tend raise in humidity levels more drastically than cooler venues due to human factors.

4) Sonic advantages are achieved by flying the loudspeakers.

5) Mixing a show while standing on a mix riser above the thermal/humidity provides the sound engineer an inaccurate representation of the sound the audience is hearing.

6) Venues with drastic variations in temperature and humidity tend to have complex and unpredictable responses.

7) No matter what you test or measure, a considerable part of the sound of the show is controlled by environmental factors that are constantly changing. Knowing what they are is the first step toward being able to deal with them effectively.

8) A thermometer and hygrometer can be useful tools for tracking and understanding more about how thermodynamics are affecting the sound of the show.

One of my favorite moments of mixing a show is the prediction and anticipation of that first note, the tones, the volume and the intensity of the unknown. The moment when the band first walks on stage is one of the biggest challenges any sound engineer faces.

Balancing all that knowledge with the tools at hand and formulating a mix to come up with a clear and accurate result is no easy task.  Each show presents a unique sonic landscape, and it is that uniqueness, that interaction between so many variables that we can and cannot control, that makes every live rock show a one-of-a-kind, potentially magical memorable experience.

To read the full detailed article see:  The Thermodynamics of a Rock Show

December 16, 2009

Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

Ever since the creation of the first DAW, no other software has caused so much ink to be spilled and generated such expectations. The Direct Note Access technology, which was introduced by Celemony at Musikmesse 2008, is one of those holy grails no one ever thought to be accessible because it allows you to edit single notes of a polyphonic audio recording. Is it some sort of de-mixing? Yes and no! Is it a revolution? You bet!

Celemony Melodyne EditorBefore we dive into the innards of the program, a brief summary about Melodyne is necessary for those of you who don’t know it yet. Celemony created Melodyne in the wake of the Antares Autotune, which allowed you to edit the pitch of an audio recording. Melodyne worked under the same principles (pitch shifting and time stretching with formant control) within an interface conceived for musicians instead of sound engineers. After detecting the notes, you had several tools for pitch, time and amplitude correction, so you could actually edit audio recordings as easily as MIDI parts, under one condition: the audio recording had to be monophonic. The software’s excellent algorithms and idiot-proof user interface gave lots of product ideas to their partners (like Ueberschall, who developed customizable loop banks for the Melodyne engine) and competitors. For instance, Autotune got a new user interface (see the Autotune EVO), several competitors appeared (Waves Tune, Zplane) and the main audio sequencers integrated Melodyne-like functions (Steinberg introduced VariAudio in Cubase 5 and Cakewalk did the same with AudioSnap for Sonar).

While competitors were still trying to catch up with the first Melodyne, Celemony changed the game again by offering individual note editing in polyphonic recordings. During the product presentation at Musikmesse, Melodyne’s boss had a blast changing a guitar minor chord into a major chord using a simple MIDI keyboard. And to top that, he also modified the trumpet of a Miles Davis recording without changing the double-bass or the drum part. Impressed? There are no words to express it. The presentation of the product had such an impact that some people thought it was a hoax. That, together with the time it took for the official release to come out raised serious doubts among the audio community. But…

Melodyne Editor, the first software using Direct Note Access technology (DNA) has finally hit the stores. And it works…

On Familiar Ground

The installation is extremely easy. You will only need the serial number to activate it online on Celemony’s website. The software is protected in two different ways: either you activate the product online, in which case the registration is limited to only one computer (you’ll have to uninstall it first before installing it on another computer) or you transfer your license to an iLok key. Once you did that you can start your sequencer (I work with Cubase) and look for Melodyne Editor in your plugin list.

Celemony Melodyne EditorUsers of previous Melodyne versions, especially those who had the plugin version, won’t feel too estranged at first sight. The user interface (the look and layout) didn’t change much. Under the Settings, Edit, Algorithm, View, and Help menus, you’ll still find the aluminum-like bar hosting the basic parameters. Most of the interface is made up of a sort of piano-roll grid displaying yellow, orange and red events… On the right side, you’ll still find the “Correct Pitch” and “Quantize Time” buttons, as well as three automation-capable controllers that allow you to play with the pitch, the formant or the volume parameters in real time. On the center of the tool bar you’ll find the Undo/Redo icons and the tool box (with the same old icons): from left to right, you’ll find six tools for selection/zoom/scroll, pitch editing (with modulation and drift parameters – a sort of audio pitch bend), formant editing, volume editing, timing editing and note separation editing.

Right below these icons, there are two fields that display the note detected in the segment selected and its distance to the correct note. Finally, on the left side of the bar you have the transfer parameters. Just like with the first plugin version, the first thing you have to do is start the detection process: once Melodyne is inserted in the track that is to be processed, click on the transfer button and start playback in the sequencer. Depending on the algorithm you selected in the “Algorithm” menu, Melodyne analyzes the audio material and generates events on the grid. There are three algorithms available: monophonic (melodic), rhythmic/unpitched and polyphonic. In this review, we will focus on the latter since the two others are already known from the Melodyne plugin.

Before we get into details, we have to mention that, unlike the first Melodyne plugin, you can fully resize the program window and freely zoom in/out via shortcuts. It would have been perfect if it had a button to switch into full-screen mode with a single click…

Now let’s take a look under the hood…

Conclusion

Melodyne Editor is indeed the revolution we expected, thanks to its DNA technology. The algorithm is not infallible and (still?) doesn’t allow to entirely de-mix a song. Nevertheless, there has not been such an exciting invention in the audio industry ever since the creation of Autotune – and the invention of samplers before that. Melodyne is available for a very affordable price considering the huge R&D efforts Celemony had to make to achieve these results.

While we wait for a more comprehensive version that includes MIDI export of the detected notes, we strongly recommend Melodyne Editor to sound engineers (to repair an acoustic guitar recording when the guitarist already left the studio), to musicians who work with loops (and never find the right sample in the right key) and to all sound designers. You will undoubtedly have lots of fun discovering the huge possibilities it provides. However, there is still one thing that remains unclear: what happens to the copyright of the processed samples? If I change all the notes of a Miles Davis phrase, will he still be the owner of the melody I use in my song?

To wrap it up, if I were to have only one gift under the Christmas tree, I’d ask for this one!

Celemony Melodyne Editor
Advantages:
  • Technological feat that revolutionizes audio editing and sampling
  • Ease of use
  • Stunning results when used for the right application
  • Price (considering the R&D investment)
  • Amusing and creative tool
  • One of the best monophonic time-stretching & pitch-shifting tools, maybe even the best…

Drawbacks:

  • CPU consumption: you’ll have to bounce!
  • Left and right channels cannot be edited separately
  • Not multitimbral
  • Disappointing results with some audio material

To read the full detailed review including sound samples see:  Celemony Melodyne Editor Review

December 10, 2009

Fender Bassman TV : Old-School Amp

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 3:48 pm

Bassman TV Twelve Review

The 50’s saw the birth of the first electric bass guitars by Leo Fender with the famous Precision Bass model. Inevitably, the first Bassman amps with their tweed covering quickly appeared on the market. To celebrate its non-birthday, Fender introduces a new amp series based on these pioneer models.

Fender Bassman TV SeriesFender has always made good use of the desire most guitar and bass players have for legendary instruments that are very difficult to get a hold of nowadays. Obviously, that also applies to bass amps. That’s why Fender introduced the new Bassman TV Series whose look and sound is very close to the Bassman amps of the early 50’s.

The series includes four models: the Duo Ten equipped with two “Fender Special Design” Eminence 10″ speakers, the Fifteen with one Celestion Green Label 15″ speaker, the Ten with one Celestion Green Label 10″ speaker, and the Twelve equipped with one Celestion Green Label 12″. We will test the latter in this review. For your information, both the Duo Ten and the Fifteen are equipped with casters which is a good idea considering their weight (61.3 lb).

As soon as you unpack it you’ll be immediately seduced by the old-fashioned tweed covering, the chrome chassis with mirror effect (so you can redo your hair), the black chicken head knobs… It isn’t missing anything! The Twelve, with its 12″ speaker, is quite heavy (44.6 lb) and bulky (20″ x 22″ x 12.75″). In other words, it’s huge! The manufacturing and finish quality leave no doubt about its sturdiness–it will surely withstand long rehearsals, studio sessions and live gigs without a hitch. The old Fender logo, the small red light and the cloth grill in front of the speaker round up this compelling Bassman TV. The plastic handle is the only minor drawback–we’d rather have a leather one.

Now let’s take a closer look under the hood….

Conclusion

Fender understood that nostalgia is not only a guitarist’s thing. Even though they, once again, combine some new with some old stuff, the look and the sound quality of this Bassman TV are a real joy. The amp is easy to use, has a personal look and an awesome sound. What could you not like about it? That it’s unique: it has a particular sound and personality and you won’t get anything else out of it. You either like it or not!

Advantages:

  • Sexy look
  • Manufacturing quality
  • Great vintage sound
  • Ease of use
  • Musical and effective controls
  • XLR output
  • Personality…

Drawbacks:

  • … but poor versatility
  • The bright switch is inconsequential
  • No standby switch

To read the full detailed article see:  Fender Bassman TV 12 Review

December 4, 2009

Zimbalam: I’m on iTunes!

Filed under: Music Business — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:36 am

Zimbalam Service Review

Music has not lost its inherent character ever since the times of prehistoric percussion, but recording media is becoming more and more intangible.  MP3 is gradually replacing the CD, record stores are disappearing and giving way to web shops, and search engines are now taking the place of the guy at the record store who used to tell you where to find the record you were looking for and also told you who was hot or not. Even though it’s not the case yet, soon iTunes, Napster and Amazon will surely sell more music than physical stores; and they have a great advantage over “real” shops: there’s no need for a warehouse anymore, the stock stays on a server and it can be replicated endlessly.

These developments affect the key players in the music industry and the role they have in the process of marketing an album. Until now, once the record was mixed and mastered, the artist depended on the financial support of a label to replicate a great number of copies and to dispatch them to the dealers. Both of these tasks are on their way to disappearing thanks to online music sales and service providers like Zimbalam.

Zimbalam.com is the “mass market” version of Believe Digital, a record label with its own artist roster and, at the same time, a special service provider helping traditional labels bring their catalog online. The idea behind Zimbalam is very simple: they put your songs in 20 online shops in 240 countries for a fixed rate under a non-exclusive distribution agreement. Having your demo on Napster, Amazon and iTunes is now possible for only £19.99 (two tracks) or £29.99 (three or more tracks).

One of the best surprises Zimbalam has to offer is that you get 90% of the royalties generated from the retail price, which means real money in the bank for each sale. If you sell two songs at £1.49 each, at the end of that quarter you’ll get around £2.20 from the sale. You can also claim back an additional percentage of the sale as a song-writer’s royalty through the PRS, to further increase you revenues.  Excellent royalties, absurdly low prices and a non-exclusive agreement? It seems too good to be true. That’s why we went to Believe Digital’s offices in Paris (France) to learn more about Zimbalam and to test their services. We met Denis Ladegaillerie, a skilled lawyer who has worked for Universal Music US, eMusic, MP3.com, Rollingstone.com, and is co-founder and CEO of Believe Digital.

He was very straightforward when asked about the reasons for founding Zimbalam:

ZimbalamThe record industry is like a pyramid: you’ve got lots of artists starting out their career at the bottom and a few top-selling artists at the top. The pyramidal structure reflects a decrease in the number of artists as you move from one development stage to the next according to your notoriety, and the services you need to go on to the next level. When we started Believe Digital, our digital distribution service wasn’t really at the bottom side of the pyramid (Editor’s note: Believe Digital helped record labels sell their catalogs on the web), and we developed in two different directions: on the one hand, we went to the top of the pyramid by doing the same things as a traditional record label (promotion, web, radio, and TV marketing) and, on the other hand, we expanded downward with Zimbalam. Last year, for example, we received about 50,000 demos at Believe and we signed 200 deals. From those 200 artists we signed, some of them will make it and others won’t. But it’s the same thing with the 49,800 artists we didn’t sign: we can’t really know if they will succeed due to some other reasons. For example, one of them could work for a big communications group like Publicis and manage to license a tune for a Mercedes ad campaign, or another one might know the film editor of a big TV group and get one of their tunes to be the theme song of a new TV show. So an artist we overlooked could become a success for one of these reasons.
Let’s hear what else he had to say…

Let’s start selling…

As we mentioned in the interview, Zimbalam gives you a player you can embed in your MySpace, or any other website, by copying and pasting a small HTML source code. The player is well conceived, freely customizable (particularly regarding size) and it not only provides access to online stores, but also to the artist’s bio or even to a video clip. A Facebook version is due soon and I couldn’t use it on my WordPress blog (www.nwarmusic.com) because WordPress deactivates Javascript components for security reasons. I did however manage to embed it by installing an open-source WordPress on a Free server: http://nwarmusic.free.fr/.

Still, a well-designed player and an outdated blog due to lack of time aren’t enough to become the new chanson star. Apart from the excitement of reading your name listed on iTunes when you look for it, you’ll surely understand what Denis meant when he said that Zimbalam simply provides a technical service. Even if I convinced my friends and family to buy my album, my sales figures wouldn’t rise much and I still wouldn’t be any more interesting than before when it comes to signing a record deal with a label.

To be successful I would have to improve the ranking of my website, create buzz around my music, find as many listeners as possible, and play gigs. Maybe then would Zimbalam allow me to earn some real money.

But the deal is fair enough: 20 shops for £20. I can’t wait to get my royalties at the end of the quarter. You can be sure I will show you my bank statement when I get paid. I have no way to know if I’ll be able to afford a beer with the money I earn, but I’m positive about the fact that people who promote their songs can get real benefits out of this kind of service, and maybe even more with a bit of luck…

To read the full detailed article and interview see:  Zimbalam Review

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.