AF’s Weblog

October 28, 2011

The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

As guitarists, most of us sooner or later find ourselves in pursuit of tone. A talented guitarist can find a way to make anything sound good, but there should be no doubt that our equipment and the tone it provides can inspire and help fuel our creativity. In pursuit of tonal inspiration, we need to develop a vocabulary to help us find what we’re looking for in our sound.

The Audible Frequency Range

Most guitarists start out by learning the names of the musical notes corresponding to a particular string and fret number, but they are not initially aware that these notes also correspond to the fundamental frequency of the vibrating string.  For example, the sixth string played at the 5th fret (low A) in standard tuning has a fundamental frequency of 110 Hz.  Any doubling or halving of a frequency is an octave, so the next octave up from 110 Hz would be 220 Hz.  In order to develop a vocabulary for tone, we have to think in terms of frequencies as opposed to musical notes.

The audible frequency range for us human beings is about 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz).   For descriptive purposes, it’s common to divide this range into at least three parts:  lows, mids and highs.  The specific border frequencies where, for example, lows end and mids begin are not definite.  Look at a guitar speaker’s frequency response chart and you’ll see three commonly accepted ranges:  lows from 20 to 200 Hz, mids from 200 Hz to 2 kHz and highs from 2 kHz to 20 kHz.  With respect to these divisions, the fundamental guitar frequencies are all low to mid range; however, the sound we hear from each note we play also consists of harmonic frequencies in addition to the fundamental.  To get an idea of what the fundamental would sound like on its own, just play a note and turn the guitar’s tone control all the way down.  You’ve just “rolled-off the highs.”

If you play through an amp with treble, middle and bass controls, you can experiment with the extremes of each control setting to get a feel for how the relative level of each frequency range shapes the overall sound.  “Scoop the mids” by turning the middle control down.  “Roll-off the lows” and “thin-out” the tone by turning down the bass control.   Now, “Fatten-up” the tone by turning the bass control back up.

And now let’s talk about how to describe tone…

To read the full article see:  The Audible Frequency Range and Describing Tone

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October 24, 2011

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

Filed under: Amps, Bass — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:27 pm

If Ikutaro Kakehashi named his company with this typical European name, it wasn’t to honor the famous traditional song of heroic deeds. Since its inception the company has been committed to export, and the first goal of its founder was to find a name that was easy to spell and original enough to attract attention.

Ikutaro Kakehashi chose a brand name beginning with an “R,” which is quite rare in the music industry and thus allowed the products of the manufacturer to distinguish themselves from competitors during international trade shows.

We all know the company for its electronic products: synths, drum machines, effects (under the name Roland as well as under the brand name Boss for guitar effects), electronic drums, and other MIDI gear. But I know only a few bass players who play a Roland amp. This doesn’t mean that Roland amps don’t perform good, but we must admit that the manufacturer doesn’t belong to the most renowned brands among four-string players. With the present review, we want you to discover the Roland Cube 120 XL bass combo that saw the light of day after the introduction of the guitar version.

It Was the Year That…

13 demonstrators were shot during the Irish Bloody Sunday while 16 men survived the crash of their plane in the Andes where they had to eat human flesh until rescuers arrived. In 1972, bass players Christian Mac Bride, Mike Dirnt and Mark Hoppus were born. And in Japan, two major events marked the year: on a national level, Okinawa finally returned to Japanese hands; while, on the musical level, the company Roland was created. I would love to write about Roland’s history and share with you some delightful anecdotes about it. But with its 12 controls, 9 switches and 8 connections, this small Cube gives me enough material to write two reviews.

So, I won’t lose any more time and I’ll start by describing the amp.

A Cube? Not Exactly…

Roland CB120XL Cube Bass

In school they taught me that a cube is a volume made of square sides. It doesn’t really add up in this case…! The actual dimensions of the amp are: 20.5″ (length), 18″ (width) and 12.5″ (depth). I know, I quibble a little bit, but that’s what is expected from me.

If the Rubik Cube had had uneven dimensions, users would have called it misleading publicity a long time ago. I hope this brief remark made it more enjoyable to read about the Cube’s physical dimensions… And let me add another figure: the amp weights almost 44 lbs, which is not so heavy considering the output power of 80 watts, but also surprising considering the dimensions. In this respect, I guess the first request of the normal user would be for Roland to add casters to the amp. The younger and more athletic readers will surely laugh, but my back doesn’t. It’s old and has had plenty to withstand already. The single handle is also not the best solution, maybe Roland should rethink the design to improve the ergonomics.

If the amp won’t move a lot and will stay in the studio, this is certainly an insignificant detail. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to my lumbar vertebra. Just try to play three gigs with a 5-string bass and an aching back and you’ll become as demanding as me! I know those of you familiar with osteopathy will agree with me. But let’s go on (don’t let my digressions distract you), and talk about the finish. Even if there’s not much to say.

Although it doesn’t look really nice, the CB120XL has the advantage of being simple and rugged. No carpet covering but a simple black Tolex one, reliable protection edges (where shocks can have bad consequences) and a strong protection grill. Finally, the combo is equipped with a 12″ woofer and huge coaxial tweeter horn. Two front bass reflex ports allow the air moved by the woofer to circulate. The product is made in China. By the way, did you know that China and Japan restored diplomatic relations exactly the year Roland was founded?

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

A tester must know how to put things in perspective instead of reviewing a product only from his point of view as an experienced musician. If I put myself in the shoes of a young bassist having only a fistful of dollars in the pocket looking for a first rehearsal amp that offers versatility and some effects, I think I would seriously consider the Roland Cube. For $736, this amp is very appealing.

Used without an additional speaker, the small combo provides enough output power to play in a band with a drummer. The tone is good, not kicking but good enough to make your first steps with a band. Personally, I find the effects are dispensable. But if I put things in perspective, once again, I guess they can be useful for some beginners interested in effects. And I cannot reproach the manufacturer for making use of its knowhow by adding many electronic features, even if it’s a bit useless from where I stand. Moreover, this trend is noticeable on many similar products… So Roland also has to appeal to these young musicians who like new technology!

Note that Roland’s catalog, which includes only combo amps, also features two smaller versions: a 20-watt amp and a battery-operated amp with four 4″ speakers. I would like to invite you to read my next bass amplification review with a colorful brand that’s following a completely opposite direction.

Advantages: 
  • Price, even though a bit high still affordable
  • Integrated tuner
  • Nice sampler
  • Compact size but enough output power to play in a band
  • Good sound
  • Good finish
Drawbacks:
  • Not really ergonomic (only one handle in spite of its heavy weight)
  • Maybe too many effects with not enough editable parameters
  • Looks like a copy of the available guitar combo version
To read the full detailed article see:  Roland CB120XL Cube Bass Review

October 21, 2011

10 Questions About Mastering Your Recordings

Filed under: Mastering — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:43 am

Mastering is a crucial process, but it’s not always all that well understood by the average musician…so let’s deal with some of the basic issues.

Your tunes are done, and you’ve decided it’s time to create a CD — which brings you to the subject of mastering, where all the tunes are assembled and optimized for the best possible sound. You really don’t want to make any mistakes at this crucial stage.  Indeed. Mastering can make or break a record, so there’s a lot of interest in doing it right. Here are the ten most common questions I hear from people who are about to get their work mastered.

Q. What’s the best piece of gear for giving me a professional, “radio-ready” sound?
A. The best piece of gear is a professional mastering engineer who has done this process before for hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings.

Q. So do I just send an audio CD with all the cuts, and the engineer masters them?
A. That’s one option, but certainly not the most desirable. Although you should always check with the engineer for specific requirements, if you recorded your music in high-resolution audio, then it’s best to provide those high-resolution mixes, as WAV or AIFF files. The mastering engineer will likely do some processing, and 24-bit files give more “calculational headroom.”


Steinberg’s Wavelab includes excellent
dithering options, but don’t apply these
if you plan to hand off your file to a
mastering engineer.

Q. Wouldn’t it be better to send a dithered version of the 24-bit files, as the files are going to end up as 16 bits on a CD anyway?
A. No. Dither is always applied as the very last stage of mastering, when the higher resolution signal gets downsized to the 16 bits required by Red Book audio.

Q. I want a couple of cuts to crossfade into each other. Should I do the crossfading myself and send the combined cut?
A. Probably not. Fades can be dicey, and again, the mastering engineer will likely have tools that provide the best possible audio characteristics when creating fades. Also, that will insure dithering happens to the combined file — you don’t want to dither two files, then crossfade them. Just make sure that you include full documentation on where you want the fade to begin and end for the two cuts.

 

To read the full detailed article see:  10 Questions about Mastering

October 18, 2011

Fender Telecaster 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Review

Filed under: Guitar reviews — audiofanzine @ 6:47 am

The year 2011 will not be the year of the dog, nor the lion, nor the hamster. It will be the year of the Telecaster. Indeed, it’s almost exactly 60 years ago that Fender launched this wonderful riff machine called the Telecaster.

A Bit of History…

Fender Telecaster 60th Anniversary Edition

With a wealth of experience repairing instruments, Leo Fender had a simple philosophy when he started out: he wanted to create a new instrument using parts that were easy to replace. That’s how he invented the bolt-on neck while all others used a set neck. It might seem obvious nowadays, but this innovation was a real revolution for all instrument manufacturers.

 

The early version of the Telecaster saw the light of day in 1948, but it was named Broadcaster. However, the registry office rejected the name Broadcaster in 1950 and its creator renamed it the Telecaster. Gretsch, which was based in New York in those days, introduced a drum-kit range called Broadkaster the same year. Gretsch considered that changing a “K” for a “C” was not enough and started legal proceedings against Fender because of the fraudulent use of the registered name Broadkaster. Fender had to give in and rename his baby… Telecaster. The Telecaster became the first solid-body electric guitar in music history to be sold in very high quantities, followed by its younger sister the Stratocaster in 1954. The Telecaster was presented for the very first time at the Chicago NAMM Show 1951. The retail price without case was $189.50 (which would make for around $1,650 today). The first Telecasters are usually called Black Guard by collectors because of their black Bakelite pickguard (Bakelite is the ancestor of plastic), which made a great contrast to its pale skin.

 

The Youngest Member of a (very) Large Family…

Telecaster 60th Anniversary Edition

Fender decided to take the best of its experience and traditions in order to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Telecaster by presenting this brand new model MADE IN USA. The 60th Anniversary Limited Edition is sold with a black, rectangular compression-molded SKB case with the Fender logo. We would have preferred a retro-style tweed case for the same price, but cold soulless plastic is trendy nowadays. On the other hand, in order to mark the event, Fender packed the case with many accessories including a guitar strap with the Fender logo, a cable, an Allen key to adjust the truss rod, a soft cloth, and a user’s manual (see below).

First of all, let’s have a look at this famous nitrocellulose lacquer. The reflection of light on the pale lacquer is just sublime. The thin layer of lacquer lets you see the grains of wood — you can even feel them when you press your fingertips on the soft skin of the beauty. This lacquer-type was widely used by Fender in the 50’s and the 60’s before it was replaced by polyester-based paints that are much more resistant, but also much thicker thus altering the wood resonance. In order to satisfy the expectations of demanding users, and following the rising trend for more authenticity in our society, instead of synthetic and cheap materials this lacquer-type was first reintroduced by Fender with the ’82 American Vintage Series. Ever since, instruments from Fender’s Custom Shop have been using it. This lacquer-type is special because it must be applied in very thin layers. The result is a better sound spread thanks to better wood vibration. The only problem is that this lacquer is softer, which also means much more delicate. It is also more sensitive to shocks, pick blows and especially temperature changes. Like most materials, wood is very sensitive to climatic changes: it will expand and return back to its original shape depending on the environmental temperature and hygrometry. That’s why I recommend you to avoid prolonged exposure to sunlight and abrupt temperature changes, which can age the hue of the lacquer pretty quickly and make unrepairable cracks and splits to appear. Such reactions are mainly due to dramatic temperature variations. So, avoid changing your instrument from a very cold room to a very warm one if you want your Telecaster to remain young! Another important precaution is that you should avoid guitar stands with vinyl-based, plastic-based or synthetic rubber-based protections, which could leave permanent marks on the lacquer surface. We recommend you to follow the maintenance and storage instructions in the user’s manual you’ll find inside the guitar case.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

It is important to remark that this guitar shouldn’t be considered as an exact reissue of the original Telecaster. It is a tribute incorporating some major innovations that came to be in the 60 years of research at Fender. We could even say that this guitar isn’t but an American Standard Telecaster with a special Blond finish to mark the occasion. After so many years in the market of musical instruments, the Telecaster is still a very influential electric guitar and still inspires many competitors… Don’t put your hands on a legend if you’re not sure you want to buy it!

Advantages:

  • Vintage look
  • Very light (about 7.7 lb.)
  • Sold with SKB® case
  • Many freebies included!

Drawbacks:

  • The tone of this 60th anniversary limited edition is not very different from an American Standard Telecaster

To read the full detailed review see:  Fender Telecaster 60th Anniversary Limited Edition Review

October 14, 2011

Quiz: Rate Your Audio Skills, Knowledge & Personality Type

Filed under: Live Sound, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 7:37 am

In order to help understand where you are in this overwhelming audio maze, I have put together a quiz to help rate your knowledge and personality type.

 

 

As technology accelerates at a dizzying rate and increases in processing power are only rivaled by the size of knobs on “retro analog” gear, we find ourselves navigating between magical-designer patch cables and legitimate advances in audio.  We know digital must always be “better” because CDs sound better than cassette tapes.

Everything is processed, as often as possible, and just as the hot dog is the perfect meal of processed meat, sound will be perfect and consistent any day now, as soon as we buy that magic black box with sufficient DSP power.

To properly score, you must answer every question, and be sure to keep score as you go.

 


1) You are mixing FOH at a venue that has a 90 dB A weighted limit, averaged over 10 minute intervals, maximum 20 dB peaks, measured from the FOH mix position. Which of the following would be a valid approach for achieving the best sounding show?

— Make a point of introducing yourself to the sound monitoring person, find out the rules and show interest in their job – 1 point
— Radio to production for a case of beer and a bottle of Jack – 2 points
— Yell obscenities and stomp around like a little kid – 4 points
— Ignore the irritating sound cop and crank it up – 3 points
— Go back to the bus – 6 points

2) Really old sound gear does not actually sound that great…
— Unless it has tubes, which means that it sounds amazing – 4 points
— Unless it looks cool, which means it sounds amazing – 2 points
— Age is not as relevant as the quality of the design – 5 points
— True – 1 point

3) Huge mics are better because they capture more sound…
— Of course – 4 points
— Especially if they have a tube – 3 points
— No, but they definitely fall over easier on a tripod stand – 6 points
— Yikes – 0 points

4) A large-scale digital console is best suited for…
— Replacing a smaller, lighter, less expensive analog console on a tour that ships worldwide and only one engineer uses it – 7 points
— A rental company to put on festivals so all the engineers can share one console and learn to use it at the same time – 4 points
— Award shows with multiple acts and cues and the producers won’t let the band engineers touch the consoles anyway – 1 point
— All of the above because it will make the band sound better – 4 points

5) When mixing a show you
— Lean over the console constantly turning knobs and must not be disturbed – 5 points
— Dial up the mix, hit your cues and make minor adjustments during the show – 1 point
— Drink beer and hang out with your friends – 6 points
— Watch the band intently because you are a monitor engineer – 0 points

6) A friend once told me “when mixing, never face an audience of 10,000 people without a beer and a cigarette”, his advice means…
— You should take up smoking and drinking while you work – 2 points
— Mix with your feet – 4 points
— Never panic, a relaxed and confident engineer will mix a better show – 1 point
— May as well enjoy yourself because the band can’t hear your mix or see you anyway – 6 points

7) Before your show starts you…
— Hang with your friends and drink beer – 6 points
— Do a quick check to make sure all is in order – 1 point
— Change into your “show clothes” – 2 points
— Turn everything up a bit, just in case – 7 points
— All of the above – 0 points

8) Feedback from stage…
— Usually builds quicker and more aggressively than feedback from the mains – 5 points
— Is the only place it comes from – 3 points
— Is the only chance for the monitor engineer to get in a “solo” – 2 points

To complete the quiz please visit:  Audio Horoscope

October 10, 2011

Blue Microphones Spark Review

Filed under: Microphones — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:20 pm

The American manufacturer Blue Microphones — famous for its emblematic Bottle — decided several years ago to extend its products range by offering more accessible microphones with the same reliable manufacturing quality. Today, the brand reaffirms its ambition and launches the Spark, a condenser microphone that redefines the down-market mics, both for Blue and its competitors. Will it sparks things off?

Explosive Package

Blue Microphones Spark

It seems that “famous brands” have made it a national (international, I beg your pardon) sport to offer low-budget products to compete directly with more aggressive competitors… even if still surprising. Especially if the manufacturer’s flagship costs almost $6,000. Now, the Bottle can be seen in many recording studios and in front of many famous artists, however, it’s not the first time Blue has tried to offer low-budget recording tools… From USB mics to iPod accessories, its product range grew over the years and reinforced the reputation of the brand that was previously inaccessible…

 

What’s at stake with the Spark is very high, especially due to it’s low price: $199! How can a mic with such a low price find a place in such an aggressive market segment? Is the brand trying to use its fame to attack a market segment that is almost saturated?

 

I must admit that, at first, I didn’t understand a thing. The first nice surprise was the packaging itself. The Blue Spark is sold in a small wood case including accessories we didn’t expect considering its price. In fact, you get a small shock mount and a windscreen conceived by Blue to match the capsule size. In spite of its modesty, the brand didn’t relinquish its habits nor professionalism — on the contrary, it has kept its identity.

 

Blue Microphones Spark

Inside the case you’ll also find a brief user’s manual with original layout and pictures. In fact, the technical documentation provided reminds a matchbox, which only reinforces Spark’s universe and design. Very well done. The manual is comprehensive enough and easily readable. Beginners and experienced users alike will find something interesting inside. For instance, you’ll find small schematics explaining how to use the Spark optimally, i.e. in which recording situations, with which instruments, how to place it in front of the sound source, etc. You will also find all standard technical data, in case you’re looking for precise information instead of nice images. Certainly, the manual is only a small part of the product, but it reflects the quality of the whole… And, considering the price, the manual is surprising and very well conceived.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

It’s always a surprise to see a high-class brand attack a low-budget market segment, but we can affirm that Blue didn’t rest on its laurels to conceive the Spark. This all-around microphone feels at home in the studio and can capture almost any sound source without a sweat. It certainly can’t compete with its famous big brothers but it offers a rarely reached performance and high-quality manufacturing at a very affordable price. An excellent new product and certainly a new standard for all home-studio owners.

Advantages:

  • The sound
  • Comprehensive package considering the price!
  • User’s manual
  • Manufacturing quality and overall design
  • Incredible value for money

Disadvantages:

  • Shock mount is not “optimal”
  • No pad… but considering the price…!

To read the full detailed review see:  Blue Microphones Spark Review

 

 

 

 

October 6, 2011

Tips for Mixing the Low End

Filed under: Bass, Mixing reviews — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 5:58 am

Besides vocal mixing – I would say the most common question I read about on the internet is how to manage the low end. The kick and bass, or whatever else might be occupying that area, is the weight and power of a track. In addition, it’s often the rhythmic backbone.

People tend to have a lot of trouble with low end, and I think there are two specific reasons why:

1) Harder to Hear

A lot of speakers and headphones simply don’t reproduce the low end with great detail and accuracy. You really need large cones, preferably 8″ or more to be able to produce the low end correctly. On top of that, rooms need a lot of treatment to manage the low end correctly. Parallel walls and corners tend to distort bass reproduction, making it hard to gauge what you are hearing. To complicate the issue – the actual bass range is much smaller linearly speaking than higher octaves. You can go from a sub bass A to a bass A in 55hz. In the upper ranges, 55hz might not even get you to the next note! Ultimately, this mathematically means your bass elements more readily over lap and leave you with less space to make things separate sounding and focused.

2) Frequency Perception

If you set a bass signal at equal amplitude with a mid-range signal, you’ll perceive the bass signal as being quieter (see Fletcher-Munson Curves). This means it takes more juice for the low end to come out booming. Especially if you’re going head first into some heavy compression, which is often the case for Dance and Hip Hop music. But hey, how important is having a big low end in Dance and Hip Hop? Oh wait…. So how do we get the low end focused and big?

Let’s take a closer look…

Don’t

  • Don’t carve out low frequencies to make room for other low elements. Bass doesn’t work this way too often. If you are carving out frequencies, do it because there’s an excessive resonance there, or because there’s sub build up.
  • Don’t be afraid of narrow boosts. Convention seems to say that you should boost wide. But in the low range – wide becomes very relative. Remember, there’s less space in the low range – so a wide bandwidth is going to be super wide. Also, narrow boosts can help emphasize a good sub. Just be careful when choosing what narrow band – make sure it helps the bass element and fits properly in the context of the track.
  • Don’t feaking side chain every bass to every kick in every mix. Yes, ducking the bass from the kick can be a good way to get the kick in the open. However, the bass should be SUPPORTING the kick. And if it’s supporting the kick, and you duck it out of the way – there goes your support. Also, remember that ducking has rhythmic consequences. In certain styles, where the kick is coming in regular intervals – this can be cool. When the kick doesn’t come in regular intervals, or very close together, you start losing definition of that rhythm. I actually like to do the opposite. Long sustaining bass lines tend to have very little movement, and don’t always aid the rhythm. I’ll side-chain an expander, or an upward expander to the kick – so when the kick hits, the bass jumps a little with it.

In the track below – I actually do both. During the verse, the bass is chained to expand with the kick. In the chorus, the bass is chained to duck the kick. Oh, and there’s a sine wave gated to the kick drum that’s tuned to the root of whatever chord the song happens to be at.

Daylight – Matthew Weiss Mix

To read the full detailed article see:  Tips for mixing the Low End

October 4, 2011

IK Multimedia T-RackS Black 76 & T-RackS White 2A and Native Instruments VC 76 & VC 2A Review

The (almost) simultaneous launch of the 1176 and LA2A software versions by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments is a good opportunity to make a quick comparison. Let’s go!

Some hardware products —instruments, signal and effect processors— have a kind of Holy Grail status. Among studio processors —and regardless of their denomination: limiting amplifiers, leveling amplifiers or just compressors— the Teletronix LA-2A and Urei/Universal Audio 1176 LN, as well as the legendary Fairchild 660 & 670, which are extremely rare to find (we saw a unit sold for $42,000 on ebay…), are highly regarded pieces of gear you’ll still find in big studios either as original or reissue versions. Many recording studios also use more or less faithful replicas of the originals designed by manufacturers ranging from Studio Electronics to Purple Action that (mostly) have a great sound quality. It’s simple: these legendary tools can be heard on almost every album ever produced since they were first introduced.

As expected, the software world also has its own interpretation of these legends. Since the early attempts by Bomb Factory to the latest products by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments in collaboration with Softube, and including the existing Universal Audio, URS and Waves products, the market is packed with software simulations.

We do not intend to review all software versions (they are too many) nor to compare them with vintage or modern hardware products. We just want to compare two manufacturers and use the same plugins for Universal Audio’s platform UAD-1/2 as a reference, without neglecting the performance of the original processors and some hardware replicas. Note that Native Instruments’ Vintage Compressors bundle also includes the famous dbx 160 compressor, which we won’t take into account for this review.

Introducing the Plug-ins

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz

OS 10.6.7

Logic 9.1.4

IK Multimedia T-RackS3 Black 76 and White 2A v.3.5.1

Native Instrument Vintage Compressors VC 76 and VC 2A

UAD-2 UAD 1176 LN and UAD LA-2A v.5.9.1

Native Instruments decided to collaborate with Softube, a manufacturer that has launched quite exceptional plugins — I can’t seem to get enough of — like the Acoustic Feedback and the Tubetech CL 1B. I haven’t had the opportunity to try out their reverbs and amp simulations yet, but other user’s feedback is very promising. So let’s start with the Urei 1176 LN and Teletronix LA-2A emulations (VC 76 & VC 2A) conceived for Guitar Rig 4, like the other Studio Effects of the manufacturer. The good news is that the Guitar Rig 4 player is free. The bad news is that you can’t use the plugins unless you have the manufacturer’s guitar multi-effect. Available for Mac (Intel only) and PC in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, the bundle —including the host (GR4 or GR4 Player) plus the plugins— supports AU, VST and RTAS formats and includes a standalone version. As always, activation is done via the Service Center.

As their name already implies, IK Multimedia’s T-RackS Black 76 and T-RackS White 2A were conceived to work within T-Racks 3, but also as individual 32-bit or 64-bit plugins to be used directly in any DAW that supports AU, VST or RTAS. As usual, to activate them you’ll have to use the Authorization Manager.

As for Universal Audio’s UAD 1176LN and UAD LA2A plugins, they are only available for the DSP cards developed by the manufacturer, from the UAD-1 to the UAD-2 Quad. Our card uses OS 5.9.1. The plugins are Mac and PC compatible, they support 32-bit and 64-bit operation (only the card drivers actually work in 64 bits, the plugins still operate at 32 bits and require a bridge), and work with AU, VST and RTAS.

Did you ask for the 1176…?

All software manufacturers took their inspiration from the LN version of the FET 1176 compressor. LN (for Low Noise) means that the product includes a modification made by Mr Plunkett, engineer at Urei, who wanted to reduce the noise. You can recognize it by the famous black front instead of the traditional burst aluminum front with blue stripes around the VU-meter. These versions, referred to as C, D and E, are the most venerated. From a technical and audio standpoint, FET compressors contributed the principle of adjustable ratio, as well as much shorter attack and release times compared to competitors using Vari-Mu or optical designs.

IK Multimedia designed its plugin based on an E model. Neither Native Instruments nor Softube give any information on this matter. However, Softube’s experience developing the FET Compressor was certainly an advantage for Native Instruments. UA doesn’t give any information about the model either. Anyway, all three have a very similar sound character, just like signal processors that use only analog components (don’t forget that every unit sounds slightly different than the other, even if it’s the exact same version).

As for the features, except for the major innovation in the form of a stereo version (we’re talking about the 1176, not the Urei 1178 stereo version), UA stays faithful to the original. Thus, you get all the original features users like so much for their ease of use: a pair of big controls for input and output adjustment, two smaller Attack and Release knobs, four Ratio buttons (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1) including an All-Buttons mode, and four VU-meter buttons (Off, +4, +8, and GR). However, you don’t have the possibility to set the Attack control to Off, which would switch the compressor to ratio 1:1, meaning you could process the signal without compression in order to get only the device’s sound character. All three manufacturers reproduced the (confusing, at least in the beginning) operation of the controls: the fastest attack time is not hard left (1) but hard right (7). The same applies to the release. Attack times range from 20 to 800 microseconds (yes, micro!), while release times range from 50 to 1,100 milliseconds.

Native Instruments and IK Multimedia added some modifications. IK Multimedia added four snapshots, taken from T-RackS’s architecture, plus L/R and M/S buttons allowing the user to choose between one of the two operating modes (well done!). Three additional buttons (L, R and =, where L and R become M and S in M/S mode) allow the user to process the two channels of a signal separately or together. IK Multimedia’s version also displays the setting values, but they don’t quite match reality, at least for Attack and Release, which is a pity. What’s the use of adding values if they have no meaning… The All-Buttons mode is accessible via a dedicated knob. Ratio 1:1 is available clicking the Off button under the Attack control. You also have Bypass and Reset buttons.

In Native Instruments’ version, a Ratio slider replaces all four original buttons but offers all usual values (4:1 to 20:1 plus All-Buttons mode). The 1:1 ratio replaces the bypass button under the Attack control. The VU-meter management also changed: you can display the input level, output level and gain reduction. The plugin comes with a preset menu accessible via the advanced settings. The side-chain input (great for techno/electro fans) comes with a slider that allows the user to adjust the amount of direct signal so that parallel compression is possible by adjusting the output level (which has no effect on compression itself). Unlike Softube’s FET Compressor, note that you get no continuous Ratio setting.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

So, what should you choose, Native Instruments or IK Multimedia (UA doesn’t count because it was only used as a reference)? It’s a difficult question because both options provide advantages and good sound results. Will these plugins replace real 1176LN and LA-2A hardware processors? No. Does their performance match the original hardware versions? Yes, except for some applications (All-Button mode, transients management in given situations, settings and/or VU-meter calibration). Is it possible to do a good job with them? Yes. Software manufacturers benefit from the ever-increasing computer performance and offer more authentic emulations every time. Take for example the 24/7, which was considered a really good plugin when it was launched…

And these tools are affordable, which is not the case of the hardware gear they are based on. Each IK Multimedia module is sold for €89.99 and can be used in T-Racks. The Native Instruments bundle (including the three compressors) is sold for €199, while single plugins go for €99; and Guitar Rig Player 4, which is required for their use, is free. Moreover, both manufacturers offer fully-usable demo versions, which is an excellent way for you to expand on this comparison.

To read the full detailed article see: Vintage Compressors Review

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