AF’s Weblog

September 30, 2011

DI Boxes Comparative Review

Filed under: DI Box — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:12 am

In the studio and on stage, DI boxes are indispensable to match impedances, make re-amping or avoid noises. However, it’s not easy to choose a DI box from the multiple options available. So, when French distributor Juke Box Limited decided to make a comparative review of the different DI boxes in its catalog, AudioFanzine had no choice but to forward the information…

You’ll hear seven active and passive DI boxes tested with different instruments (bass, electric and acoustic guitar). On the menu this evening:

 

As for the protocol, the signal was sent either to a preamp (the Prism Orpheus’ preamp stage) with passive DIs or to the line input of the interface with active DIs.

 

And here are the links to the 24 bit/48 kHz WAV files:

 

Countryman Type 10

Countryman Type 10

Bass

Electro-acoustic guitar

Electric guitar

D.W Fearn PDB

D.W Fearn PDB

Bass

Electro-acoustic guitar

Electric guitar

To read the rest of the article with the other 5 DI boxes compared see:  DI Boxes Comparative Review

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September 26, 2011

Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos Mini-Review

After Grand Pianos, it’s the turn of the Upright Pianos bank to be ported to Synthogy’s new audio engine. Let’s give it a try.

A Snap Shot: Mini-Review

Synthogy Ivory II Upright PianosSynthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos

 

Old Timer…

 

Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos

Chronologically, the first instrument is the genuine Tack piano. Synthogy states that this piano was manufactured in the early 1900’s, it is not perfectly tuned and has metal tacks inserted into its hammer felts.

Let’s listen now to some sound samples…

Conclusion

A brief reminder before wrapping up: each of the 88 notes uses its own samples with up to 16 velocity layers. The samples are not looped so you get nice-sounding resonances (you “hear” the wood).

It’s difficult to find more cons than the ones already mentioned. Once again, Synthogy succeeds in offering the most comprehensive upright pianos bank in the market. The price makes it quite affordable, considering the rich and detailed sound of the samples. Needless to say, this product is very specialized and there are other options out there.

But for professional musicians and producers who look for exceptional pianos requiring almost no setup time (the instruments are almost ready to play and you’ll just have to adjust the sensitivity to your master keyboard), that sound great across the whole keyboard, and are easy to add to a mix, there won’t be much to think about.

Advantages:

  • Everything except…

Drawbacks:

  • … mechanical noises sometimes too regular at high velocity levels
  • The loading time of the plugin and the standalone version is too long
  • Still no 64-bit Mac version

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Synthogy Ivory II Upright Pianos Review

September 21, 2011

Korg Kronos Review

Filed under: Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:00 pm

Presented at the NAMM 2011 and already available since this summer, the Kronos represents a new step in the workstation market — a cruel world where every product becomes immediately obsolete as soon as the successor is launched. The Kronos is very innovative and comprehensive, but will it be able to break this fatal rule?

A Snap Shot: A Mini-Review

Korg KronosKorg Kronos

 

Korg KronosKorg Kronos

Sample Reader HD-1

Korg Kronos

Named HD-1, the first sound-synthesis engine is dedicated to playing back PCM samples. The HD-1 is a polyphonic instrument with up to 140 voices. The Kronos uses three different PCM-memory types: ROM (permanent memory), EXs (library of pre-loadabable samples; not to be confused with the Exi, which are the additional synthesis engines), and RAM (for user sampling). The ROM memory includes 314 MB of samples. The EXs expansions dedicated to the HD-1 engine (that is to say without the EXs6 and EXs7 expansions that are dedicated to the SGX-1 engine) use 2.6 GB of memory in total: 274 MB for the EXs1 (ROM Expansion), 361 MB for the EXs2 (Concert Grand Piano), 714 MB for the EXs3 (Brass & Woodwinds), 157 MB for the EXs4 (Vintage Keyboards), 458 MB for the EXs5 (Rom Expansion 2), 170 MB for the EXs8 (Rock Ambience Drums), and 472 MB for the EXs9 (Jazz Ambience Drums). The Kronos distinguishes itself from competitors by its low data compression without quality loss for EXs loading. This 10% reduction cannot be compared with the 1:2 or 1:3 ratios usually used by similar products. Note that the SGX-1 streaming engines do not use RAM sampling. The PCM banks provided were taken from the Oasys and its expansions, which are clearly superior to the M3 in terms of versatility and quality. The stereo strings sound good and are sorted in several stereo sections, while the vector joystick allows you to mix them gradually within certain given combinations. Voices are well conceived and sound good. They are sorted in different versions (classic, pop, jazz, with different vowels or articulations). You’ll also find fairly good guitars and basses extending the possibilities offered by the STR-1 engine. The quality of brass ensembles is a bit lower in the preloaded bank because of a slight lack of brilliance and expressiveness. You’ll find more dedicated additional banks that are more advanced and better conceived. The quality of solo instruments (clarinet, flutes, sax, trumpet, trombone…) is pretty good. Once again, it is superior to the M3 (more memory) although we noticed an obvious relationship and a common sound color. The sound of acoustic drums and percussions is very accurate and expressive: punch, nice timbres, multi-layer control via velocity, high-quality sample recording, sound versatility… equally useful for pop, rock, jazz, latin, and world music. In short, it’s perfect! Electronic drums are on the same level and are greatly enhanced by the fantastic multi-effects.

Let’s take a look at other features…

Conclusion

To sum it up, these are the pluses and minuses as I see it:

Advantages:

  • Sound quality and versatility
  • Incredible overall performance
  • Simultaneous multiple synthesis
  • Dynamic voice management
  • Well thought-out design
  • Inaudible transition between programs
  • Size of the internal memory
  • Samples streaming (SGX-1 piano banks)
  • Modulation possibility at every stage
  • Very powerful effects
  • USB audio/MIDI interface
  • Performance/money ratio
  • Possibility to patch some engines with others
  • Direct-to-disc 16-track audio sequencer
  • Karma mode, if you can manage it…

Drawbacks:

  • … because it turns too complex to be easy to use
  • Boot time should be shorter
  • No real hardware pads
  • The RAM of the sequencer and the limitation to 16 MIDI tracks
  • Some checkboxes are too small on the display
  • No streaming for user samples (yet)
  • No wind instruments (brass, woods) modeling (yet)

To read the full article with sound samples see: Korg Kronos Review

September 19, 2011

Editing: The Unsung Hero

Filed under: Editing — Tags: , , — audiofanzine @ 11:01 am

My last article was on arrangement. This one is about editing. These two articles really both need to be read and absorbed to illustrate a greater point…

My primary gig is mixing – so I’m down stream of most of the production and pre-production. I spent a long time facing issues that I just couldn’t seem to solve: It doesn’t feel right, my mid-range is weak, I can’t get a sense of dimension, the kick and bass are clashing. No matter how much I EQ’d, compressed, worked out the reverb, it just wouldn’t quite seem to gel. Eventually I came to realize that the issues I faced had very little to do with mixing, and actually resided in the arrangement or editing. These are two subjects that are often ignored, but have a huge influence on the song and the mix. This article will provide a little insight into the importance of editing, and some basic ideas about editing you can use.

Editing is really not so different from mixing. It’s the manipulation of the recorded sound to create a desired outcome. Except the processes are different. Some basic editing processes are: Pitch Correction, Time Alignment, Clean Up and Compositing.

Pitch Correction

No matter how much EQ, compression, flanging, whatever, you use – if something is out of tune with something else they will forever interfere with each other. Sometimes reverb or slap delay can hide some pitchy sounds, but now a days we have pitch correctors. Unless working on a project that specifically demands an organic feel or off pitch sound is a cultural aesthetic – pitch correction is going to immediately gel your sounds together. This includes the whole range of instruments.

Sometimes you’ll get something like an 808 kick drum that just doesn’t seem to sit well with the bass – it’s either blurry and lacking impact, or you have to turn it up to the point where it masks the rest of the track. The 808 might be out of tune. Pitch Shifting would be your solution here – while most people would reach for an EQ.

Potential Pitfall – Pitch Correction can be like a drug. You use it and all of the sudden everything just fits magically. This leads to the temptation of overusing it. Pitch Correction is great for smoothing out a couple of bad notes, or tightening up a wide vibrato, but too much can easily stagnate a natural performance, and can also degrade the tone.

Let’s take a closer look…

Clean Up

Hum, Hiss, Breathes, Farts – these are things that while they can have their place, generally are best left out of the record. With hums and hiss, noise reduction software is generally most effective. Most of this software comes with a price – so think of it as noise reduction, rather than noise removal. Too much usually compromises the audio.

With breathes, there’s some negotiation. Logically one would think if the music is sparse than you should probably get rid of the breaths as they will be more audible, and if the music is busy it really doesn’t matter if you leave them in. Well – I find that not to be the case. In sparse music, I find it strange if I don’t hear the vocalist breathe to some degree. I also don’t want to hear an asthma attack in the record – so the best bet is to volume ride the breathes down about 10 dB.

In busy music, the vocals are probably getting a lot more compression, and this is going to pull the breaths up in the mix and cloud up whatever else is going on. Here I would most likely completely remove the breathes.

Compositing

Compositing is taking the best moments from the best takes and creating one super awesome performance. No EQ, Reverb, Delay, Phasing, Flanging, Twizzle-Flanging, or Compression will ever improve a performance. Therefore, choosing the best of the best will give you something right off the bat that is incredible – and when it comes time to mix, you just make it more incredible.

The secret to a good mix besides a solid performance, is good editing and arrangement. Don’t try to fix timing issues with compression, or tuning issues with EQ.

To read the full detailed article see:  Editing: The Unsung Hero

September 12, 2011

Mackie MR8 mk2 Review

Three years ago, we reviewed the Mackie MR8 — the affordable version of the famous HR824 — and we were quite taken by them… The launch of an mk2 version is the perfect opportunity for us to see and hear what has changed…

Mackie MR8 mk2

Mackie’s speaker range is very simple and includes only two families: the higher-end HR series and the more affordable MR series. Each of the two families includes two products: a speaker with 8″ woofer and another smaller model (with 5″ or 6″ woofer). After having revised the HR series by adding “mk2” to their name, Mackie decided to give the MR series a face-lift. We just couldn’t wait to unpack the MR8 mk2.

New Looks

Mackie MR8 mk2

First of all, the looks of the speakers are totally new and very nice. Not that the former speaker was ugly but the mk2 has a thinner and more modern design. A good point. As for weight and dimensions, the mk2 is 500 g heavier (27.56 lb.) but slightly less deep than the former model (instead of 13.78″ it is 12.99″ deep, which is still quite a lot). The height is still the same (15.75″) while the width decreased slightly (10.9″ instead of 11.81″). The MR8 mk2 is still rather bulky, especially compared to our M-Audio DSM2, also equipped with an 8″ woofer.

After unpacking, we also noticed that the transducers are new: 8″ woofer with hyperbolic cone and silk-dome tweeter with neodymium driver. Each transducer is amplified by a class AB amplifier — 100 watts for the woofer and 50 watts for the tweeter. The 24dB/octave crossover is fixed at 3 kHz.

On the Rear Panel Nothing’s New

Mackie MR8 mk2

While the front panel of the speakers changed radically compared to the former version, the rear panel is very similar to the previous one, providing the same settings and connections. You get three inputs: unbalanced RCA, balanced 1/4″ TRS jacks, and balanced XLR, which is very comprehensive and rare on speakers in this price range. You’ll also find the same disadvantage as on the former series: the volume setting is placed on the rear panel and must be adjusted with a small Phillips screw driver, which is a pity because there are more practical solutions. The same applies to the power switch that is also located on the rear panel an will force some home-studio owners to make dangerous movements or buy an adapter equipped with a switch. The rear panel also hosts the bass reflex port, which will increase considerably the amount of low-frequencies when the MR8 mk2 is placed against a wall or, even worse, in a corner of the room. Moreover, the two available filters won’t allow you to attenuate the low-frequency content, but only to amplify it by 2 or 4 dB (shelving filter @ 100 Hz)! As a consequence, we recommend you to place the speaker far from the wall, otherwise you’ll get an overemphasized low-frequency range and won’t be able to work properly… Another shelving filter @ 5 kHz allows you to boost/cut slightly the high-frequency range (+/-2 dB). As a summary, the rear panel is rather comprehensive for a speaker in this price range.

But let’s listen to the speaker! We compared the MR8 mk2 with another 8″ monitor speaker that is very popular on AudioFanzine: the M-Audio DSM2. Let me remind you that the latter is twice as expensive. We placed the speakers in the middle of the room, at least seven feet away from the walls, to avoid the effect of acoustic amplification of the low-frequency range.

Now let’s have a listen…

Conclusion

The MR8 are back with great new looks and new transducers while keeping a very attractive price (about $500/pair). The comparison with our DSM2 places the MR8 mk2 as a reference product in this price range. The sound is precise and well-balanced, the output power is more than enough and the connectivity is comprehensive. We just miss the lack of a low-cut facility. Moreover, since the bass reflex port is placed on the rear panel, the user must place the speaker carefully — otherwise the low-frequency response could be overemphasized without having the possibility of solving the problem directly on the speaker. In all other aspects, the MR8 mk2 is a great deal if you have a large room and $500 on your bank account.

Advantages:

  • Great new design
  • Price
  • Sound balance
  • Output power
  • Three inputs: RCA, 1/4″ jacks, XLR

Drawbacks:

  • Power switch on the rear panel
  • Bass reflex port on the rear panel
  • Impossible to attenuate low frequencies

To read the full article see: mackie MR8 mk2 Review

September 6, 2011

SR LP Origin Burst Plaintop & Luxe Flamed Tobacco Burst SR Guitars Review

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 11:28 am

It can’t be easy to manufacture a guitar series based on the mythic Gibson Les Paul, considering that there are zillions of copies, some of them very good, and also because there will always be purists who state that no copy will ever come close to the real deal… SR presents its Les Paul interpretation and offers some rare customization options: finish, pickups and hardware.

Conceived and adjusted in France but made in Korea, SR guitars play in a price segment that is slightly higher than Epiphone (the Gibson sub-brand for those who don’t follow…). Are they a waste of time or a real alternative to what is already out there?

Specifications

SR Guitars SRLP

I got two SR guitars: the Origin, which recalls an LP Standard, and the Luxe version based on the LP Custom. SR offers you the possibility to choose the looks of your guitar: color of the plastic parts and hardware, pickup models (from the generic pickup manufactured for SR to the Seymour Duncan), tuners… The two models we reviewed are standard products without any extras. Both nice-looking guitars have 22 classic jumbo frets, a massive mahogany body, a typical three-piece mahogany neck with C-profile, effective Groover tuners and typical LP electronics: two humbuckers, three-way toggle switch, two volume and two tone controls. The added value is that the volume knobs are push/pull pots allowing you to split the pickups to get more tone variations — seven altogether.

SR Guitars SRLP

On the Luxe version (the classy one) you get an ebony fingerboard, a pair of 50’s vintage-type Alnico 2 pickups, a flamed maple top, a triple binding from the bottom to the top (the Origin has only one single binding), and gold hardware. For the Origin, SR chose two Alnico 5 pickups (for a more modern sound, late 70’s we could say) with more output level, a rosewood fingerboard, a simple maple top with Tobacco Burst finish, and chrome hardware. Up to now, everything is coherent and respectful with the tradition. The weight of the guitars is well thought-out, neither too heavy (as some real LPs can be) nor too light. Good job! The only feature I don’t like is the headstock’s design. It looks too Batmanish or like a cheap royal crown (only later did I see the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy, on the headstock of the Luxe version!). But this is a subjective matter and one can easily understand that SR is only trying to distinguish itself from the Kalamazoo boys to avoid any legal trouble.

Now let’s take a closer look…

 

Conclusion

Just another LP? For whom? Considering its price (€449; and €559 for the Luxe), this guitar is much better than a standard Epiphone, for example.

For a professional musician, the Origin could be ideal as spare instrument. For a first “real” guitar, it might be perfect. It is versatile and easily playable, and the hardware seems to be reliable and well thought-out. I can already see kids breaking their piggybank and spending quite some time with the “setup wizard” on SR’s website to select the pickups, the pickguard color, etc. Especially since the list of available options should become more and more comprehensive as time goes by. At the time of writing, only SR, SP Custom and Seymour Duncan pickups are available. However, the manager of the company mentioned that, depending on feasibility, pickups of other brands could be added to the list. For several years now, Korea seems to have become an important country for guitar manufacturing with increasing quality (just take a look at Kraken, for example). So why not take advantage of the collaboration between a French designer and a serious Asian manufacturer to guarantee a high-quality, affordable product.

So, to wrap it up, SR has become a new candidate for the best LP for the poor with a guitar that has a sturdy design, a really good sound and a very appealing price. And it’s a good thing because the real LPs (for the rich) have become scarce. By the way, do you know how to recognize a rich guy? He’s the one surprised to see poor people spend so much money.

SR also offers other LP variations: the Study (€339; reminds an LP Junior with only one P-90) and the Roots (€389; a sort of LP Studio with massive mahogany body without top and maple fingerboard). The outcome might be interesting.

 Advantages:

  • The Origin for its price and astonishing responsiveness.
  • The concept
  • The selection of hardware options
  • Many different finishes available

Drawbacks:

  • The Luxe doesn’t even come close to the Origin even though it’s more expensive
  • Headstock design

To read the full detailed article with sound files see:  SR LP Origin Burst Plaintop Review

 

 

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