AF’s Weblog

June 28, 2012

Distortion… Clean and Simple

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

Most outboard effects behave in predictable ways as you move from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, you can pick up any brand of digital delay, set at the delay time to 125 ms, the feedback to one repeat and the level to 50%, and get essentially the same, expected sound. Quality issues aside, you can also get predictable results from an EQ. This is a good thing, as it helps you set up the sound you hear in your head on different rigs. But guitar distortion pedals are the “black boxes” of the effects world; they are all unique, inscrutable, and adhere to no known standards for parameter definition. You don’t know how the Tone control is voiced, which harmonics are emphasized as the Distortion knob is cranked, or even what effect the Level control has (such as whether it works dynamically with the other controls or just boosts the existing signal to a louder level). Often the manuals are no help either, preferring not to reveal the mystery of what goes on inside their magic boxes.

So the bad news is, it’s virtually impossible to tell what the distortion pedal sounds like without auditioning it personally. There are no shortcuts, like reading reviews or scanning spec sheets. You just gotta drag yourself down to the local emporium and plug in. The good news is, it gives you an excuse to go shopping! And you can evaluate these disparate mystical contraptions—and even compare and contrast them— by using some basic common sense.

What’s in a Name

Fig. 1. Behringer’s Blues Overdrive BO100 and the Boss Super Over Drive SD-1. Both feature similarly named controls. The key to the pedals’ tonal character lies in their names.

If you’re seeking a warm bluesy overdrive, you can pretty much a eliminate anything with the word “metal” in the title. Conversely, if you’re trying to make Slipknot’s James Root look like a tone wimp, don’t limit yourself to mere “overdrive” pedals or effects with the word blue or tube in them. Often the best clue to pedals’ sounds are in their names, even if they feature controls that are similarly named, as shown in Fig. 1. You’ll find it’s tough to get any hard information from ads, because companies try to outdo each other with descriptive superlatives.

Also compounding the confusion is that some companies name their controls in a completely nonscientific way. Witness one company that released a pedal with controls called “Butt” and “Face.” The Ibanez Tube King’s Void control is perhaps not as flip, but it’s equally mystifying. Remember though, as odd as these names might strike you, it doesn’t mean the sound is necessarily worse (or better) than a pedal with more conventional named controls. Again, you can’t determine the quality of a pedal sound by looking at it, but you can get clues to its category.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Bench Test

Fig. 3. Though the DigiTech Death Metal has conventionally named controls—Level, Low, Mid, High—the name (not to mention the color scheme!) tells you its tone will be anything but conventional.

Once you have the prospective pedal set up and under your feet, the first thing you should do is establish the pedal’s unity gain setting. That’s the point that produces the same volume level when the pedal is active as when it’s bypassed. This will let you hear the pedal’s effect without the influence of psychoacoustics—that is, the ear responding differently to the same frequencies at varying loudness levels. Typically, your starting levels will look like those in Fig. 4. Kick the panel on and off a couple of times to hear what the pedal does to your tone in its most neutral state. Then slowly crank the distortion control from leftmost to rightmost position, noting not only the differences but how the unit is calibrated—how drastically the unit changes from low to high. Make sure to play real-world examples: lead lines, rhythm figures, arpeggios, percussive, and sustained passages. Then try touching up the sound with the pedal’s tone control. That’s part of the pedal’s character too—how its E.Q interacts with the distortion.

Using EQ with distortion is an important element in tailoring your sound. Generally, the higher the distortion setting, the more treble you’ll need to add. The reason is that the more distorted your signal, the more compressed it becomes, and compression rolls off high frequencies. But should you use the pedal’s EQ or your amp’s? Or an outboard EQ? And if you use an outboard EQ, should it come before or after the distortion? Only your ear can decide. Just remember this paraphrase from Woody Allen: If it’s not done dirty, it’s not done right. He was talking about guitar tone, right?

To read the full detailed article see:  Distortion…Clean and Simple

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June 25, 2012

The Many Uses for Digital Delay

Filed under: Effect Pedals — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:54 am

To read the full article see:  Digital Delay

The two most important effects in a guitarist’s signal chain are distortion and delay. And if you derive your tone strictly from the amp—whether it’s squeaky clean or buzzsaw nasty—then the digital delay is numero uno.

The Deja Vu, by Seymour Duncan, is an example of a delay pedal that includes modulation control, and can therefore be pressed into service providing effects like flanger and chorus, in addition to conventional delay-based effects. (Click images to enlarge.)

Many guitarists think of delay (a.k.a. “DDL,” for “digital delay line”) as the effect that produces an echo sound, and while that’s true, it doesn’t begin to tell the whole story of what a delay is capable of. A full-featured digital delay unit, one with precise controls, complex modulation circuitry, and good display read-outs can produce a range sounds—from flanging to chorus to doubling to ambience to slapback, to discrete repeats that can be synched to tempo-dependent rhythmic values. The Seymour Duncan Deja Vu is one example of a delay unit that includes extensive modulation controls, but other pedals, including the Empress Superdelay and Diamond Memory Lane 2 have them as well.

Many smart guitarists employ more than one delay in their chain, assigning them different duties, even if each has identical parameters. A DDL is one effect that works especially well when chained together with itself. Let’s take a look at the many roles in which a digital delay can serve the guitarist.

Basic DDL Operation

Most people know, or can intuit, the way a delay works: it produces an exact copy (a sample, or digital recording, really) of the original signal in real time, and blends the signals together. The normal parameters are Delay Time (how long in milliseconds after the original sound the copied sound plays), Effect Level (the loudness of the repeated signal relative to the original), and Feedback, which is just another way of saying “number of repeats” (which goes from a single repeat to infinite repeats).

All delays feature two outputs, which allows you to route the original, straight signal to a different place from the effected (repeated) signal. You can get the blended signal from one output (the most common usage) so that you can plug into one input on your amp, as most guitarists do. But you can also send your outputs to two different destinations—to different channels on a stereo amp, to separate mixer channels, or even separate amps entirely to produce a true stereo guitar signal.

With longer delay times, you can create drippy-wet sounds to fill out a slow-note solo in ballad or produce the famous “cascade” sound, which includes Van Halen’s “Cathedral,” Nuno Bettencourt’s “Flight of the Wounded Bumble Bee,” and Albert Lee’s “Country Boy” or his solo on Emmylou Harris’s “Luxury Liner.” With super-long delay times (from a few seconds to several seconds), you can turn your delay into a live multitrack recorder, laying down successive looped passages to jam over. Units such as the DigiTech JamMan, Line 6 DL4, and Boss Loop Station series are loop recorders, and are actually several DDLs in one box that allow for overdubbing loops.

With all these different possibilities at your delay’s disposal, let’s take a look at some sample control settings that will get you on your way to producing the many different types of effects available on a DDL.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Most shorter delay-time effects are “set and forget”; you dial it up according to how it sounds in isolation and don’t have to do anything more for the effect to cooperate with the surrounding music. In other words, one setting can apply to fast or slow tempos, 16th notes, or whole notes. But when the delay time gets past the slapback stage into the 200ms+ range, you have to structure the delay time to the particular tempo and rhythmic values you’re playing. That’s when some math is necessary, but where the real fun begins.

To read the full article see:  Digital Delay

June 18, 2012

Orange OR50H Review

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:48 am

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see Orange OR50H

The OR50H is not a new product. It belongs to the “Pics Only” series launched in 1972. It’s a legend in amplification history and its “so British” sound had a great impact in the destiny of the manufacturer. Now Orange has decided to reissue a limited version of the amp for its 40’s birthday. The idea was a great success and Orange decided to add this amp indefinitely to its product range. After this short story, it’s time to unpack the amp.

Time to Suffer

Orange OR50H

Since I’m rather small (I wonder why people call me “Willow”…), the cardboard box seems giant. I open it and discover a monster (21.6″ x 10.2″ x 9.4″) inside. After warming up I take out the 42 pound amp, which is almost the same weight as its brothers with the same output power. I put it on top of my small 2×12” speaker cabinet. The finish quality is perfect. The wood housing is sturdy and protected with a thick orange vinyl covering that will easily withstand the attacks of wild animals and hysterical groupies. The front panel has the typical look of the brand. It is equipped with only six controls described with pictographs instead of text, like the original ’72 amp. That’s the reason for the nickname of the amp: “Pics Only”. The front panel features two 1/4″ inputs (the first one for your guitar, the other one for the footswitch), a Gain control, a 3-band EQ, a HF Drive setting, and a Master Volume, plus a Standby and a Power switch. The control panel is simple and it looks nice — living up to the reputation the brand has earned throughout the years.

Orange OR50H

The rear panel also looks interesting: power outlet, two fuses and three speaker outputs (two 8 ohm plus one 16 ohm). So, you can connect either one 16-ohm, one 8-ohm or two 16-ohm speaker cabinets (one to each 8 ohm output). The design matches the legend: sturdy, beautiful, simple. No nonsense under the hood, only heavy-duty components: two EL34, three 12AX7 and two massive transformers! Now you know why the amp weights so much! It’s time to start strumming.

So let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

This OR50 amp made in England brings us back to the roots of the typical Orange tone — which makes us very happy! Do you like vintage tone and old-school distortion? This amp is for you! With its sturdy construction and 50 watts of output power, this amp will follow you to every gig and rehearsal, and even to your home thanks to the Master Volume control. But unfortunately, this amp is not affordable for everyone: it goes for about $1700 — quality has a price.

Advantages: 
  • Sturdiness
  • Finish
  • Ease of use
  • Very effective controls
  • Sound
Drawbacks:
  • Price
  • The British tone isn’t for everyone
  • Lack of reverb

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see Orange OR50H

June 14, 2012

Top 10 Things That Can Never Be Taught Often Enough In Audio

Filed under: Live Sound — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:48 am

10. Musicians feel most comfortable and play best when they hear what they need to hear on the stage. Of course, the experienced monitor guys and recording guys already know this. But it’s something for those less experienced to think about. No, it’s not about how much power you have or what kind of monitor wedges. It’s about psychology.

And I think it’s true that if you become good at monitors and understand how to please musicians, you are 90 percent there towards becoming a good mix engineer.

Sure, the last 10 percent might be the “magic” but you can’t make magic without the basics.

9.  Sound travels at 1,130 feet per second, at sea level, at 68 degrees F and 4 percent relative humidity. This is important because if you understand how sound propagates, you’ll automatically know more about microphone placement, setting delay towers, and things like delaying the mains to the backline. And you should also know that the speed changes with temperature, humidity, and altitude. (If you don’t, it’s a good idea to look it up.)

8.  The Inverse Square Law. You know, the thing about a doubling of the distance from the source means that the acoustic power is cut by 1/4, right? This applies all over the place, from mic technique to loudspeaker arrays. It relates to how much power you will need from the power amplifiers.

For instance, if you normally cover an audience at 20 to 60 feet from your stacks, but for the next gig, the audience will be 40 to 100 feet away, how much more power will you need to maintain about the same acoustic power? About four times as much! Maybe think about delay stacks (see #9).

Let’s see some more pointers…

2. Grounding. Let’s not mince words here: this is a subject you need to understand. If you have more than one path to ground in your audio system, and the resistance to ground is different between them, you will have problems with hum and buzz.

Related to this is how you terminate your connections, especially if any parts of the system go back and forth from balanced to unbalanced terminations.

It’s also a good idea to learn the sonic signatures of different kinds of hum and buzz to therefore speed up your troubleshooting when the time comes. This is because some types of buzz are not related to grounding problems, but instead may be power supply issues, for instance.

1.  Gain structure, baby. This is the main one, the real deal. The thing that, if you can’t learn, or don’t understand or have forgotten, will get you into more trouble than anything else. There will be more noise and/or more distortion in the system unless you get this right. And there will be less gain before feedback, too.

So here’s the deal: every input and every device has an optimum range of levels it wants to see or wants to work with. If you’re feeding something a signal that is too low, you have to make this up somewhere, and therefore you’ll be bringing up the noise more than it should be. And that noise will be in your signal from then on.

Oh, sure, there are noise reduction devices you can use, but why do that when proper gain structure will take care of it for you? And really, we should use the least processing possible to get the job done because things sound better that way.

Alternatively, if you an input or a mix bus is fed too much signal, headroom will run out, which means you’re adding distortion. And this, also, cannot be removed later. Artistically adding distortion via plug-ins, hot-rodded guitar amps or certain outboard gear can be cool. Adding it by slamming your inputs or your mix bus is not cool.

For instance, if a wireless microphone output can be set at line level, but you set it to mic level and connect it to a mic input on your mixer, you will have more noise than if you connect the line output to the line input. Why? Because essentially you’re padding down the output then boosting it back up again with a high-gain mic preamp.

Sure, sometimes you might want to put the signal through a transformer or other “good” distortion device—just be aware that from a gain structure point of view, this is not ideal.

OK, that’s the list. If you’ve already mastered these things, great! You’re probably doing better mixes, with more gain before feedback, better coverage and happier musicians than those who don’t. But please don’t rest on your laurels – get out there and learn as much as you can.

Those of us going to your shows will know it when we hear it!

To read the full detailed article see:  Top 10 Things That Can Never be Taught Often Enough in Audio

June 11, 2012

Fender Machete Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

The Fender Machete represents a new direction for the manufacturer. It’s not like they want to start to making cutlery but rather they want to enter the heavy distortion world. This strategical decision caused many reactions in the guitar world. So, with mixed feelings I leave the sandy roads and whiskey smell of Mississippi to enter the country of tattooed, long-haired musicians.

A Weapon for the Strong!

Fender Machete

I receive the weapon under seal. It hardly fits the trunk of my car with the rear seats folded (for insiders, the JeyMobile looks a lot like the GarthMobile). I come to my place of destination and ask for help to take the cardboard box out of my car because it’s twice as large as me… Right after unpacking you’ll discover that the amp is much smaller than the box (big foam protections inside!) but still not lighter. The physical specs: 24.5″ x 11.5″ x 22″ and 71 lbs. The manufacturer had mercy on us and decided to add clipable casters so we won’t break our backs when transporting the amp. The two-color combo is protected by a black vinyl covering with white edging and a center stripe in the style of a roadster steering wheel. The front plate is made out of black steel and offers nice-looking, brushed-aluminum Telecaster knobs. The overall roadster look is faithful but it might not be everyone’s favorite.

Swiss-Army Knife or a Classic?

Fender Machete

Let’s have a brief tech talk. Under the hood you’ll find five 7025 tubes (also called 12AX7), a pair of 6L6GC and a 12″ Celestion Vintage 30 speaker that matches the roadster look perfectly. The front and rear panel are fully packed. The engine offers two separate channels with Gain, Volume, Bass, Mid, Treble, and Notch controls each. The front panel also includes three selectors: a 6dB pad (for active pickups), a channel switch and a speaker damping selector (damping is the interaction between power tubes and speaker). Finally, the amp offers one reverb for both channels. A small disappointment is that the reverb is not a tube but a digital one…

Fender Machete

On the rear you have Power and Standby switches, an effect loop with send and return level controls, a line output on XLR connector, MIDI in, footswitch connector, and a pair of speaker outs with impedance selector, as well as a pair of PA Mute (mutes the power amp) and Cab Emul (adds the speaker emulation to the line out) mini-switches. The included footswitch provides four options for channel selection, gain boost (ch.1), FX loop, and reverb. It is equipped with two connectors: one for the amp and a second one to chain an additional Machete footswitch (can be useful on large stages). Something tells me it’s time to plug my axe now.

Let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Happy?

Fender’s goal was to offer an aggressive sounding combo to the tattooed, hairy metal community and they have succeeded! The amp is sturdy, so it can be taken on stage and to the studio or stay at home. Moreover, it offers a wide range of clean sounds plus everything from crunch to heavy distortion, while the Notch control allows you to fine-tune your tone. Unfortunately, the amp’s street price of around $1,900 is quite high. Quality has a price, and if you like it, you’ll pay for it…

Advantages: 
  • The sound!
  • Both channels
  • Notch control
  • Reverb
  • FX loop
  • Damping control
  • Footswitch provided
Drawbacks:
  • Price
  • Weight

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Fender Machete Review

June 8, 2012

How to Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

Filed under: Guitar reviews — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:33 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

It occurred to me that for all the tweaking guitarists do with their tone — rolling tone controls up and down on both their guitars and amps — very few ever touch the pickups. Most guitarists I know don’t even look at the pickups and wouldn’t know if they were out of alignment even if they did.

When I interviewed Eric Johnson in his Austin-based studio a few years ago, I was struck by something that at the time seemed rather mundane. With his guitar in hand, Eric talked and played, demonstrating some of his approaches to soloing. But as brilliant as that was, what caught my eye was the periodic modifications he made to the his guitar while he played. In between demonstrating the Mixolydian mode and a string-bending lick, Eric casually reached over and grabbed a small flathead screwdriver, gave the polepiece below the B string on the neck pickup of his ES-335 a quarter turn, and then kept playing. He did this as quickly and as effortlessly as you and I would tune up a slightly flat string. Here’s a guy with total control over his sound, I thought.

Be truthful: When’s the last time you looked at the alignment of your pickups to make sure they were still optimally placed from the strings? And do you even know what that distance should be? Your pickups are as critical to your guitar’s tone production as anything else that follows downstream, and as we know from our devotion to all things audio, there’s no place like the source to really fix a problem.

There are several ways to tweak your pickups without causing a permanent change, so there’s no reason not to have it as an option. If your tone has been lacking, or if it’s out of balance with respect to the individual strings’ outputs, consider adjusting the pickups first, before trying other, EQ-based methods. If you’ve never tweaked a pickup before, just think of Eric Johnson. He would adjust a polepiece as readily as he would roll the tone control from 9 to 8 — if it were the right thing to do. Wouldn’t you like to have that kind of confidence over all your guitar’s parameters?

Pickup Types

All pickups can adjusted with respect to their position to the strings through a simple, reversible (if necessary) turn of a screw. Whether you have single-coil, humbuckers, covered pickups or exposed polepieces, or even pickups with non-adjustable polepieces, you can always move your pickup up or down in relation to the strings. Moving a pickup up, or closer to the strings, will increase the output of the pickup (i.e., make it louder), because you’re moving the magnet and the magnetic field closer to the source (the vibrating string). This is similar to moving a microphone closer to your mouth. In a pickup, moving the magnet closer to the string causes the vibrations to increase the amplitude of the disturbance in the magnetic field, which in turn creates a stronger current at the output.

You would think, then, that moving your pickups closer, for more output, would be a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want maximum output from their pickups? Well, the problem is that two other aspects of the sound change when you move the pickup closer to the strings. For one, the tonal balance of bass and treble shifts, because the frequency ranges don’t produce bass and treble with equal energy. The bass tends to dominate here. This phenomenon gets magnified when you put the pickup closer to the string, where things get boomy fast. The other issue is that the pickup’s magnet increases its magnetic pull on the string itself as you get the two closer together. Putting the pickup closer to the string inhibits the string’s ability to vibrate, causing the string to decay faster than normal. Not the best thing for those sustained string bends on ballads.

In addition to adjusting the overall height of the pickup to the string, consider that you can raise just one side higher than the other. For example, if your neck pickup sounds too boomy or bassy, you have two choices: You can lower the bass side of the pickup (reducing the output), or you raise the treble side (increasing its output). Either move produces the same relative effect: the treble side of the pickup will be closer to the pickup than the bass side, increasing its output relative to the bass side. Because the pickup is now on a slant, the change between the bass and treble strings will be gradual, with a linear, or straight-line, fall-off toward the bass side.

But what if you need even more precise control over the tone? For example, what if just the B string is sounding anemic, with its notes becoming buried when played against its two neighbors, the G and the high E strings? In that case, you can — if your pickups allow — adjust the individual polepieces. For this to be an option, you have to have exposed screw heads facing the strings. This isn’t an option for non-adjustable polepieces (such as those found on a classic Strat), or bar magnet pickup designs, such as many well-known models by EMG.

But if you do have adjustable polepieces (that is, with screw heads), you can try moving them up and down to get your strings in balance. Keep in mind, that as with our side-to-side example earlier, you can increase the presence of the B string in two ways: by raising the B string polepiece or by lowering both the G and high E polepieces. Once the individual strings are in balance, you can raise or lower the entire pickup, or raise or lower either side. This gives you lots of options!

If you do decide to adjust your polepieces, follow these precautions:

  • Don’t screw the polepiece to the extremes. If your screw juts out to within a 1/6th of an inch of the string, you should consider another route. Conversely, don’t torque the screw all the way down, as you risk compressing or damaging the pickup bobbin.
  • Count the screw turns, and write them down. Whenever making any type of adjustment, always note where you started from, so that you can get back to square one if you really screw things up (no pun intended) or become totally disoriented. Also note the orientation of the screw’s slot when you start, and make adjustment in quarter turns, noting the results and checking your work (with your ears) constantly.
  • Have your amp sound together before you start. It’s easier to make polepiece decisions with a clean amp sound. Forget the effects, and get a good workable clean sound before you break out the screwdriver. Then when checking your results, vary the volume of your amp and your guitar to make sure you’re getting consistent results.
  • Choose the correct size screwdriver. If you choose a tool that’s too large or too small for the job, you risk scratching the pickup cover or gouging the screw slots, respectively. Also, take care when using any sharp metal tool near your guitar. You can easily slip and scratch the surface of the top.

    Now let’s take a closer look…

    Manufacturer Recommendations

    Many manufacturers will recommend how to ideally set up their pickups. They typically start from the factory setting, or provide turn-numbers assuming the screw head is flush with the pickup. Here’s one set of instructions using the turn method:

    Set all poles when looking at the screw head from the side that only the rounded part rises above the flat part of the pup.

    Low E: no change

    A: raise 1 full turn

    D: raise 1 ½ full turns

    G: raise ½ turn

    B: lower 1 full turn

    High E raise ½ turn

    Some guitar manufacturers give measurements from the strings to the pickups, as in this example from a Carvin owner’s manual:

    Adjusting Pickup Height:  Each pickup has 2 or 3 height adjusting screws. For maximum power output keep the pickups adjusted as close to the strings as possible while maintaining enough clearance so that the pickup pole pieces will not touch the strings when playing on the upper frets. If you want a mellower sound, then adjust the pickups further away from the strings. For humbucking pickups we recommend 5/32” clearance. For single coil pickups go with 1/8” clearance.

    Adjusting individual pickup poles:  We set each magnetic screw head in both pickups for a balanced sound. If you wish to raise or lower the output of a certain string, then lower or raise the adjustable screw heads until you get the desired power output of that string. Press strings down on the 24th fret and make sure that you have at least 1/16” clearance between the strings and the pickup screw heads, otherwise you may get static as a result. Keep the pickup pole pieces clean as any metallic particles on them can cause static.

    What’s clear here is that both approaches assume you will be adjusting your pickups. They don’t warn you that it will “void the warranty,” and they even offer their recommended setups. You should feel encouraged by this to experiment for yourself.

    Conclusions

    Even the simple act of changing your brand or type of strings (from a light set to light-top/heavy bottom) may require a pickup modification. And if you find your guitar’s tone has been uneven, lackluster, or just wanting in general, try adjusting the pickups first. Your actions are completely reversible, and you can’t hurt anything — except perhaps for the tone if you go too far, but then you can just “hit Undo” in the analog way — by reversing your screw-turning steps!

    To read the full detailed article see:  Adjust Your Guitar Pickups for Best Sound

June 6, 2012

Apogee Mic Review

Filed under: Microphones — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:44 pm

To read the full article with sound samples see:  Apogee Mic Review

The invasion of smartphones and tablets has had a big impact on many different industries and the home-studio world is no exception. Many software and hardware products for iPhone and Android phones have been developed. Apogee, which has been married with Apple for several years, followed this trend by launching the JAM last year, an interface to connect your electric guitar directly to your iPhone/iPad. Now, the manufacturer comes back with the Mic, a condenser microphone for iOS and Mac.

There is a mic for this

Apogee Mic

With the coming of recording software programs for smartphones and tablets, like Apple’s Garage Band, it became crucial for Apogee to offer a microphone dedicated to these applications. So Apogee developed the Mic, a condenser microphone you can connect to your iMac (no PC support, as usual with Apogee) via a USB port, and to your iPhone/iPad via the Dock connector port. The first nice surprise is that both cables (USB and Dock) are included in the package! The Mic is provided with a small desktop tripod, which is not perfect (it could be a bit taller) but it exists!

As usual with Apogee, the metal construction is good and the look pleasant. The Mic is small and light but it gives the impression of sturdiness. The installation is very swift because the Mic is a real plug ‘n’ play unit: just plug it to your iThing, start Garage band  (or another iApp) and you’re ready to go! A small LED lights up as soon as the mic is ready to be used. The LED is also useful to adjust the input level: green = ok, red = overload. The small knob on the left side of the mic serves to adjust the gain (up to +40dB, according to the manufacturer), but having only two colors is a bit scarce to do it precisely. Moreover, Garage Band’s meters have a pretty long reaction time — not the best match at all! But for demo recordings, it will do.

By the way, please note that the Mic doesn’t support 3GS iPhones nor older models. It’s a pity because Garage Band and many other DAW software products support these iPhones… And I personally own an iPhone 3GS…

Now let’s have a listen…

Conclusion

Apogee’s Mic has a nice look and a good manufacturing quality. It’s self-powered, plug ‘n’ play, small and easily transportable… Almost perfect! We like the fact that it is sold with a small desktop tripod and two USB and Dock cables for direct connection to a Mac or an iPhone/iPad. PC users and older iPhone (3GS and former) owners will have to find an alternative solution. Double-bass players will find the low-frequency response too limited, but singers and guitar players will be very satisfied. The Mic could have more LEDs to allow more precise level setting, and a wind screen is required if you want to get useful vocal recordings. With the Mic, Apogee offers a mobile solution that is a bit expensive but guarantees good audio quality. The ideal tool for singers and guitar players who want to record demos with their iThing.

Advantages: 
  • Good audio quality
  • Nice look and good construction
  • Small and transportable
  • Sold with USB and Dock cables
  • Sold with a small desktop tripod
  • Supports iPhone/iPad/Mac
  • Neither battery nor external PSU required
Drawbacks:
  • A bit expensive
  • Only one LED for level setting
  • A wind screen is required for vocal recordings
  • Lack of lows in the frequency response
  • Supports neither 3G/GS iPhones nor PCs

To read the full article with sound samples see:  Apogee Mic Review

June 4, 2012

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier Review

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boobie Mini Rectifier Review

We are living in an era of miniaturization, and guitar amp manufacturers aren’t an exception. Many of them already offer compact amps and now Mesa Boogie presents its second small sized (and with reduced output power) amp head. Let’s see if the Californian brand still sounds as proud!

Everything is Smaller in our Lives

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

Remember the 60’s? It wasn’t that long ago… In the past, the size and the output power of an amp were crucial to the sound of our favorite guitar players. But things change a lot. Housing shortage, noise restrictions… It’s not easy to live the rock ‘n’ roll way of life. Even Lemmy from Motorhead lives in a 54-square-foot apartment… But to take the best out of the 100W power of your nice Dual Rectifier, the famous amp of the US manufacturer, you need to play on large stages… In spite of this, the Dual and Triple Rectifier series were very successful… and unfortunately they are normally used with the master control set to 2! And no amp with less output power was able to produce this typical Recto sound coming straight from California.

So, when Mesa/Boogie presented the Transatlantic some of our was hope restored. But this amp doesn’t deliver the huge sound the manufacturer got us used to: a fat US tone with detailed highs and tight lows.

However, today, all fans of this typical sound can rejoice — the US manufacturer has finally presented the Mini rectifier, an all-tube amp head with switchable output power. The compact version of a Dual Rectifier. Literally.

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

Sold in a small cover, this nice and compact amp head doesn’t have anything to envy its big brothers from an aesthetic point of view. It’s obvious that it’s part of the same family that has been praised by most rock musicians for 10 (20?) years. Black vinyl, aluminum front plate in truck-step look, small transport handle… At first glance, everything seems to be in place.

Taking a closer look, you’ll find the exact same design and settings as in the Dual and Triple Rectifiers. Besides a 1/8″ instrument input and a footswitch connector, the front panel features two independent channels. Each channel offers two different voicings (Clean/Pushed and Vintage/Modern), a gain control, a three-band EQ (Treble, Mid, Bass), and presence and master controls. The Mini Rectifier includes five 12AX7 preamp tubes and two EL84 power tubes, unlike its big brothers that use EL34 or 6L6 tubes.

But the main difference is the possibility to select a different output power for each channel on the Mini. A small switch allows you to choose between 25W and 10W for each channel independently. A clever idea: the technical documentation explains that there is a real sound difference between both output power modes. The 10W mode produces a slightly more vintage and round tone than the 25W mode. The latter comes much closer to the modern Rectifier sound (it would be a mistake to think Mesa/Boogie makes amps for deaf rockers only).

Mesa Boogie Mini Rectifier

On the front panel you’ll also see a couple of power and standby switches.

But it is in the rear panel where you’ll find everything you need: FX loop with hard bypass (sweet!), two four and eight-ohm speaker outs, power socket. Considering the dimensions of the amp, don’t expect much more. Straightforwardness and space saving are the maxims. And that’s a good thing. But let’s listen to what comes out of the beast…

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

With the Mini Rectifier, Mesa succeeds in preserving the typical Rectifier soul and spirit in a compact amp with less output power. The competition is hard in this market segment and many brands already offer all-tube amps for home musicians. However, Mesa has the advantage of offering a faithful variation of its top-range products.

The other side of the coin is the price! Sold for $1,000, the Mini Rectifier isn’t accessible to everybody. Add the matching 1×12″ speaker cabinet for $450 and the bill turns quite high for a 25-watt amp! In spite of the high manufacturing quality, only some additional features (a third, higher output power setting, all four voicings accessible via the footswitch, etc.) would justify the price gap with competitor products that are half as expensive! So Mesa stays clearly above its competitors when it comes to price. Bummer!

However, the design and manufacturing are excellent and this new small beast keeps its promise… it rocks!

Advantages: 
  • Two separate channels, two voicings per channel
  • Rectifier look
  • Nice red glow coming from inside the amp…
  • Comprehensive connections
  • Finish
Drawbacks:
  • High price…
  • The dot on the knobs is not easily readable
  • Footswitch a bit too basic considering the price…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Mesa Boobie Mini Rectifier Review

June 1, 2012

How to Get the Pumping Drums Effect with Sidechain Compression

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

Sidechaining has been around for years; this is the process of using one signal to control another. A couple classic examples are using a kick drum to gate a bass part, or doing de-essing – isolating the high sibilant frequencies from a vocal, and using those to trigger compression so that the sibilants come down in volume.

But in the digital age, we can do a lot more with sidechaining. One of the most popular applications is with dance music, where sidechaining can create the “heavy pumping” electronica drum sound used by artists like Eric Prydz and others.

We’ll describe how to do this with Cakewalk Sonar, although the same principle applies to other programs that allow for sidechaining. Sonar allows sidechaining for several effects, including compression, so that one instrument can control the compression characteristics of another instrument. This offers a variety of effects, including a “pumping” drum sound for multitracked drum parts; we’ll do that by setting up the snare to control compression for all drum tracks.

Fig. 1: You’ll need a drum submix bus to create an overall drum sound.

The first step is to create a drum submix bus, and send the drum tracks to it (Fig. 1). We need this submix so the entire drum track can be processed by the sidechained compressor. To create the submix bus, right-click in an empty space in the bus pane and select “Insert Stereo Bus.” To create a send in track view, right-click in a blank space in the track title bar and select “Insert Send.” From the menu that appears, select the send destination. Make sure you feed the bus pre-fader, and turn the individual drum channel faders down so that only the bus contributes the drum sound to the master.

Fig. 2: Assign the Drum Submix out to your main stereo output.

Let’s take a closer look…

….

Create a second pre-fader send in the snare track, and assign its out to the bus feeding the sidechain input.

Fig. 7: We’re almost there – it’s time to adjust the compressor.

To adjust the compressor, start with the compression attack time set to 0 ms; the drum sound will essentially disappear when the snare hits because the gain is being reduced so much. Gradually increase the attack time to let through more of the initial snare hit, and add a fair amount of release (250-500 ms) to increase the apparent amount of pumping.

And there you have it – the pumping drum sound. May it go over well on the dance floor!

To read the full article see:  Sidechain Compression

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