AF’s Weblog

July 27, 2012

AKG K 702 Headphones Review

Filed under: Headphones — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:12 am

To read the full article with other editor’s conclusions see:  AKG K 702 Review

Let’s end this week with another famous name: AKG and their reference-class K 702. Our opinion about its little brother, the K 271, was pretty balanced: it has a very detailed high-end but a too weak low-frequency range. What about the K 702?

Red Led’s Conclusion

AKG K 702The K 271 mkII didn’t quite satisfy us but its big brother really seduced us. The low-end is still a bit shy but it sounds very well and very detailed; much better than the K 271. These headphones actually redress the main disadvantage of the K 271. They are certainly the most linear headphones we ever reviewed and the dynamic range is just amazing. They reproduce every detail of the signal very accurately, which makes them perfect for mixing. Moreover, the K 702 are light and comfortable. They feature replaceable ear-cup cushions and a replaceable cable thanks to the mini-XLR connector. If we consider that a good pair of headphones shouldn’t emphasize the lows, these are the ultimate headphones for you. My own personal revelation among the headphones reviewed.

Advantages:

  • Well-balanced sound
  • Weak but accurate low-end
  • Very wide dynamic range
  • High-end reproduction is detailed but not sharp
  • Mini-XLR connector
  • Light and comfortable
  • Ear-cup cushions and cable available as spare parts

Drawbacks:

  • If you like fat lows, don’t buy them

To read the full article with other editor’s conclusions see:  AKG K 702 Review

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July 25, 2012

Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Filed under: Amps — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:23 am

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

Guitar amps are, no matter how you cut it, black boxes. You may think you have control over them, but when it gets down to it, you can’t really see inside the black box, and even if you could, there aren’t any moving parts. Electricity is largely non-mechanical. Or in other words, magic. And when the magic stops, most people think all they can do is resort to prayer. Or an amp technician.

Fig. 1. My trusty Fender Vibro-King was on the fritz, and the suspects were the output tubes and the speakers.

When your amp isn’t performing up to snuff, there’s still a lot you can do without having an EE degree, or even knowing how to operate test equipment. Here are some holistic approaches—and solutions—you can try yourself, as I did when my tube amp went on the fritz. Warning: Some of the following procedures involve messing around with the components of the amp, so be careful. Electricity can kill you. Proceed at your own risk.

Creeping Death

Failure in a tube amp is often creeping and insidious, more like the wearing of the tread in your tires than a light bulb blowing. Because the changes generally occur over time, you can become inured to little degradations in performance. Then one day, maybe after you’ve been away and come back to it, you realize something’s not right. Such was the case with me and my favorite tube amp, my Fender Vibro-King (see Fig. 1). The following procedures, though, will work on many tube amps. Just swap out the specifics or make the necessary adjustment for your model accordingly.

Testing….is this thing killing?

The first test I made was just to see how loud my amp got, and if it was ear-splitting—as nature intended—at its highest volume. The Vibro-King has no master volume, so this is fairly easy to determine: wind the lone volume knob up to 10, stand the hell back, and play your guitar with the controls full out. Disappointingly, the amp, in its maxed-out state, did not rattle the windows, disturb the neighbors, and risk injury to my eardrums. I knew the amp wasn’t firing on all cylinders even without the benefit of test equipment or knowing which link in the chain was falling down on the job (if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphor). Next step: Just how is it not delivering full power?

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

It’s a fine line to determine what you should monkey with and what you should leave alone when something goes wrong in a tube amp. Amps are much more difficult than guitars for two reasons: 1) They’re all electrical and not mechanical and electrical; and 2) you’re dealing with high voltage, which is dangerous to you and your amp. But that doesn’t mean that you should be afraid of your amp, just that you need to take the necessary precautions. If your amp doesn’t work and you find out it’s because of a user-replaceable blown fuse, you’re going to feel pretty foolish if you have to learn this from the tech at the shop. That’s perhaps the simplest example, but even being able to swap out tubes and diagnose problems can help you understand better your amp and even lead you to solutions—even if they’re incomplete and temporary. But that’s sometimes all you need to get you through that last gig before you can pay a visit to the shop.

To read the full detailed article see:  Diagnosing and Fixing a Tube Amp

July 23, 2012

Ultrasone Pro 2900 Review

Filed under: Headphones — Tags: , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:34 am

To read other conclusions by our editors see:  Ultrasone Pro 2900 Review

The Ultrasone Pro 550 didn’t convince us when we compared headphones under $150. But the brand is famous for its high-class headphones. So what about the Pro 2900, the flagship in the Ultrasone product range?

Los Teignos’ Conclusion

Ultrasone Pro 2900Ultrasone certainly brought some fresh air to the market of pro-audio headphones with original products that are very appealing compared with the standard tools from Beyer, AKG or Sennheiser. In fact, the sound signature of this Pro 2900 will surprise many users with its extreme low-end and sharp high-end. But you’ll quickly come to understand that these features are real advantages because this pair of headphones emphasizes exactly the information that is inhibited by the other headphones. I’m not sure of whether these are the ideal headphones if you’re looking for absolute sound neutrality, however they are already a reference.

Advantages:

  • Reproduction of very high frequencies
  • Reproduction of very low frequencies
  • Accessories and packaging
  • A strong personality without competitors
  • Technology reducing electromagnetic radiation

Drawbacks:

  • Commitment to a sound signature that won’t be every user’s taste
  • Ear-cup cushions tend to unscrew too easily

To read other conclusions by our editors see:  Ultrasone Pro 2900 Review

July 20, 2012

Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

It’s always a great and an unusual experience to meet a personality who has contributed some much to the evolution of the way we work. In addition to the videos previously released on Audiofanzine, we had the extreme pleasure to meet George Massenburg during his last Parisian visit and to talk more about music production with him. An interview with a real open-minded master.

The Interview

Bootz : George, just before we start, what are you working on at the moment?

George Massenburg : I have 3 recording projects that I am working on right now. One is not really recording; it is finishing an Opera McGill production – Don Giovanni, Mozart – and I am directing and post-production supervising… Finishing up Don Giovanni which is an 8-camera hi-def shoot that we did with students with a new methodology of shooting opera : a new way of shooting opera that I think is spectacularly effective as it reveals more about opera, as it is closer and more intimate and more suited to the new generation of kids that want to see something on a small screen. That, and I am doing 2 music projects. I am doing the McGill Jazz 1 and I am doing the Stand Kitten record – cut for commercial release – which is great because the Jazz 1 has many many players which are fantastic. Just great songs, great kits, great drums, great bass, great guitar, great piano, great, great great. And then I do a new pop group called Urban Creature from Toronto, they write and produce their own records. This is a personal project to see how the new model would work. I work completely for free, participating in the record of the group and we see how that goes.

And on the other side you are still working with G Labs?

Well, I got 3 jobs. My 3 jobs really are : education, producing electronic equipment, and recording.  And kind of mix, but I am unhappy if I don’t do one of these. I want to do all 3 and they inform each other. I have to keep recording to stay current with the methodology of the studio; I listen to everything that I can get my hands on, my ears into. I hear new work being done and I want to try it outside. I am in the studio a lot.  Building equipment, right now we have two software products in process for MDW and one that is a hybrid product for GML which is the next generation of the 9000 controller, but with a DSP sidechain.  And this takes a long time to do because internally it looks to run at 384 kHz, very fast, not quick (to develop, NA).  As far as software products, we have new products out for the new Pro Tools platform for 10.2 so called AAX and both DSP and Native. It is a lot of work!

Speaking of the balance between all these projects, I’d like to go back to your early age, to the first period of your career. I’ve read that you started at the age of 15, you were working at a laboratory and at the same time at a working studio.

I had joined a recording studio at Baltimore, Maryland.  But it went back to when I was 4 years old and I used to stick my fingers and unscrew a light bulb, and “Aaaahhh!” just to experiment (Laughs). But I love music recording just from a very early age. I had the good fortune to grow up in the same area as Deane Jensen who was a pioneer in making transformers. He was a friend – a personal friend – and we did hand radio, amateur radio, and photography.  And then he bought an Ampex 602 tape recorder «Wow!», bought headphones and U67. I bought his U67, I still have the 67. Very early on I knew that I just loved recording.  There was a tremendous power recording. Ed Cherney said, “I always thought it was a miracle that music could go through this wire, that’s magic”. Fucking magic. Anyway, the idea just seemed like magic to me.  Still does.

So then, Dean Jensen was your first mentor?

He was really my first mentor.  My second mentor was Dr. Curtis Marshall and I worked for him in a laboratory to build an early computer that used a very strange storage mechanism called an Image Radarcon, a tube that would just scan in and then destructively output a number of scans.  It was used to accumulate electron info graphs sensors into an averaging reports so that a neurosurgeon could read an electrons info graph much faster. But it taught me early on electronics, and I had another mentor who would teach me electronics, and I was 15. It’s not so bad.

Now let’s take a closer look…

The Bernard Pivot

What is your favorite memory of producing an album?

There are so many it is hard to pick one out.  My favorite memory is always the Thrill.  You know you’ve got something that you’ve never heard before and no one else has ever heard before.  All you have to do is not fuck it up.  That has happened on any number of records, it happened on EWAF a couple of times, that happened with Linda Ronstadt a lot – just this is great!  Look out cause you can really fuck it up.  Don’t do that, cause you can really fuck it up.  Worst memory, I wouldn’t want to talk about that. There were a few of them too.

Which artist would you like to work with and why?

I want to work with a new emerging artist, that has ideas and is running into a technical wall. I don’t know who that is. I love the new Bon Iver record, but I can’t do that, they’ve already got a record, they got an engineer, he is terrific, but boy I would have loved to work on that. I love producing and directing opera video. I think that is great. Working with these fantastic students at McGill, great voices, great players, it’s a wide open field, so that’s my dream right now – producing and directing opera. It’s unusual for a rock and roller !

You’re engaged to produce an album for an artist you love but his requirements are: less is more. You need to pick only 5 pieces of your equipment. What will you choose and why?

That’s easy!  I would choose all GML because I know when they work and when they break, I know they are reliable, I know how every knob works.  So that’s my pre, EQ, compressor, I’ll use Prism convertors, I’ll use either Pro Tool or Pyramix. Right now I prefer Pro Tools for rock and roll, Pyramix for classical. I like ATC monitors, also like Genelec a lot. For portable when I have to go to a gig I like these little Sennheiser  (Neumann) KH120 speakers that sound pretty good.  And I’ve got a lot of microphones you don’t want to know about. A 57, I’ll take a 57 but that’s it.

Just to finish, do you have any quote or a catch phrase that drives you about music production?

Yes, there is not a question that cannot be addressed, that can’t be answered or at least discussed with critical listening. Critical listening tells you everything you need to know. You don’t need someone to tell you what to do, all you have to do is pay attention. Sometimes it helps to have someone do that, but everybody has to know that if they care, they can do it on their own.  They have to tell each other the truth. They have to tell themselves the truth.  If the truth is, I can’t get that sound with that piece of shit microphone, that’s the truth and they have to be responsible for that.  I don’t have the right mic, fix that and move on.  Critical listening, everything is answered by critical listening. That’s my favorite.  Another one is Woody Allen :“I can’t listen to that much Wagner, I keep getting the urge to invade Poland” ! (Laughs)

To read the full detailed article see Exclusive Interview with George Massenburg

July 16, 2012

Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro Mini-Review

Filed under: Headphones — Tags: , , , — audiofanzine @ 12:26 pm

To read the other opinions and the full article see:  Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro Review

Our Headphones Week continues with the Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro, the big brother of the DT-770. Having the DT-770 as a reference, we had high expectations for the DT-880… Verdict!

Red Led‘s Conclusion

Beyerdynamic DT-880 ProThe first advantage of the DT-880 Pro is their price: these headphones are the cheapest in our test. They inherit all the features of the DT-770 Pro, which we really liked last year, and they even fix some disadvantages we noticed then. In fact, the low-frequency response is much smoother than with the DT-770 (no troublesome dip @ 80Hz anymore). The high-frequencies are still very detailed, sometimes almost tiring. The headphones offer perfect comfort but they are not foldable and they are rather bulky. The DT-880 Pro take after the DT-770 Pro and straighten their main defect. Very good value for money.

Advantages:

  • Price
  • Comfortable
  • Wide frequency range
  • Ear cup cushions available as spare parts
  • Smooth low-frequency response
Drawbacks:
  • Tiring in certain situations
  • Cable not replaceable

To read the other opinions and the full article see:  Beyerdynamic DT-880 Pro Review

July 11, 2012

Audio-Technica ATH-AD1000 Mini-Review

Filed under: Headphones — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:31 am

To read the full article with other opinions see:  ATH-AD1000 Mini-Review

Second headphones review: Audio-Technica ATH-AD1000. The ATH-M50 impressed us when reviewed headphones under $150… But what about this up-market product? Audio-Technica ATH-AD1000.

Los Teignos’ Conclusion

Audio-Technica ATH-AD1000These headphones are comfortable and guarantee an excellent high-frequency reproduction. In terms of sound signature and performance, the ATH-AD1000 nearly reach the quality of the AKG 702. The problem is they are a bit more expensive than the AKG while having some disadvantages, like the non-detachable cable. As a consequence, even if there is no reason to advise against these headphones, there is also no reason to recommend them.

Advantages:

  • Comfortable and light
  • Very good high-frequency reproduction
Drawbacks:
  • Irreplaceable cable and no exchangeable ear cups
  • Not as good as the K702 but more expensive?
  • No accessories
  • Too expensive compared with similar products

To read the full article with other opinions see:  ATH-AD1000 Mini-Review

July 9, 2012

Sennheiser HD650 Mini-Review

Filed under: Headphones — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:42 am

To read the other conclusions and see the full review see:  Sennheiser HD650 Review

It’s Headphones Week at AudioFanzine and this Sennheiser HD650 review is the first one in a series of five reviews. Five different headphones will be reviewed by three of our editors, Los Teignos, Red Led and Will Zégal.

Los Teignos’ Conclusion

Sennheiser HD650The high-frequency range is so weak that I first thought the ones we received at AudioFanzine were faulty. I checked the problem and unfortunately the headphones were not faulty! Throughout the whole session, I had to regret always the same things: in many situations, the HD650 are not capable of reproducing important details of a mix, for instance attacks, reverb tails and other subtle signals. And although they give good results in the lows, the Ultrasone are a serious competitor in this respect. To keep it short, I don’t recommend the HD650 for professional tracking, mixing or mastering. For consumer applications like home cinema, these headphones will seduce audiophiles who will praise the “deep” lows and the “silky” highs while drinking a cup of tee. Unlike the HD25, which offer a lot of good things and are a real reference product in their price range, we can hardly find any positive features here. The HD650 are much too expensive considering their performance. Even for half the price, these headphones are still not a good choice…

Advantages:

  • Nice looks
  • Sturdy construction
  • Fat low-end — typical Sennheiser
Drawbacks:
  • No accessories
  • Ear cup cushions not replaceable
  • Where are the high frequencies?
  • Heavy — you’ll always know when you have them on
  • Bad value for money

To read the other conclusions and see the full review see:  Sennheiser HD650 Review

July 4, 2012

iZotope Iris Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  iZotope Iris Review

iZotope is famous for its effects, audio processing and restoration tools. Now, the manufacturer enters the world of virtual instruments with the launch of Iris, its first synth. Knowing iZotope, we expect nothing but a very original approach. Are we wrong?

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Logic Pro 9.1.7
iZotope iris 1.00.74

Introducing iZotope Iris

iZotope iris

The instrument is available on iZotope’s website, alone or as a bundle including the synth plus two sound libraries: Wood and Glass. The latter include 260 and 150 samples, respectively, plus almost 100 programs each. You can also buy them separately for $29 or $49, while the instrument alone costs $249. Iris is sold with a 4GB sample library and countless programs.

You get a standalone version and several plug-ins (AU, VST, VST 3 and RTAS) for Mac (Intel only) and Windows with 64-bit support. The instrument also includes the latest Radius version, the time compression/expansion and pitch shifting software called Radius RT.

The installation of the synth and libraries, as well as the registration, went smooth and easy. Registration can be done on a hard drive or with an iLok (it’s a good thing to have the choice) using the serial number provided during purchase.

Now let’s take a closer look and a listen…

Conclusion

Some of my friends who make sound synthesis directly in iZotope RX2 will love Iris. This synth definitely has an original approach when it comes to re-synthesis, even if there are some brilliant and famous competitors like Alchemy. The selection of audio content with tools that recall graphic design software is quite a unique experience. It almost makes you feel like a beginner because you can’t anticipate the result of your selection (and every experienced user knows how a sawtooth will sound when processed with a 4th order filter and 50% resonance). In this respect, Iris is a new, exciting sound weapon.

Iris is no all-round synth that provides bass, pads, leads, etc. like a good subtractive synth. On the contrary, if you want to create weird sounds combining authentic and synthetic sounds on a very original way, or if you like to experiment with every possible audio material to create something new every time, Iris will be a dream come true! All the more considering that the algorithms are almost perfect and its design and ease-of-use are pure joy, making this instrument accessible for almost anyone interested in sound synthesis.

So, is it a success for iZotope once again? Yes, definitely…

2012 Innovation Award
Advantages:
  • Concept
  • Three samples players plus Sub
  • Amazing Radius RT
  • Graphical selection tool
  • Surprising but perfect design
  • Ease of use
  • Very simple and comprehensive MIDI Learn
  • Effects
  • Comprehensive sample bank included
  • Many presets
  • iLok or Challenge/Response authorization
  • Leads to a new creative approach
Drawbacks:
  • Could have more complex envelopes
  • A filter is missing in the FX section
  • Sometimes, lack of fatness in the lower frequencies
  • Pay attention to CPU load

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  iZotope Iris Review

July 2, 2012

Fender Super Champ X2 Review

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

In the world of guitar amps, war is raging. The transistor forces from the digital world are fighting the tubes army. Turning itself into a peace dove, Fender tries to put an end to this war by introducing a hybrid concept: the Super Champ X2. This new amp made in Mexico combines digital technology with tubes has finally seen the light of day. It’s on neutral ground so I can start examining the beast. Hopefully this leads to a peaceful co-existence.

What a Cute Combo

Fender Super Champ X2

I thought I would break my back carrying this new amp. But surprise, surprise, the newcomer is light (considering it’s an amp!), so I was able to climb up the stairs carrying it single-handedly. Aesthetically, it is very Fender looking: black vinyl covering and silver grill cloth with Fender logo. The front panel in Blackface style is not what I’d call original, but it still looks very nice. Manufactured from 1964 to 1967, the Blackface is part of Fender’s legend. Insiders will understand that I refer to the Princeton Reverb, Deluxe Reverb and Vibro champ. The dimensions are somewhat small (9.2″ x 17.5″ x 15″) and the weight reasonable (24 lbs). It will match a vintage environment perfectly. Under the hood, you’ll find all you need to have a blast! You get a pair of 6V6 power tubes for a total output power of 12 watts, one 12AX7 tube in the preamp stage and several transformers matching the tubes. The speaker is a 10” Fender Special Design allowing the combo to stay compact.

Too Much for Beginners?

Doctor J.’s minute!

Vibratone? This effect was conceived in 1941 by Donald Leslie. The Leslie cabinet (better known as Leslie Rotary Speaker) includes its own tube amplifier. A Leslie amplifies the signal and sends it to the speakers. The sound of the low-frequency speaker is sent to a closed baffle through a rotating drum while the sound of the high-frequency driver is sent to a rotary horn. This speaker cabinet creates interesting sound modulations. The source seems to move forwards and also from left to right alternatively while the loudness varies.

One of my worries with digital technology is that you have to turn and push a lot of different controls and you can’t understand anything without the user’s manual. But don’t fear this Super Champ X2: it provides only a few, easy-to-understand controls. The amp provides two separate channels based either on tube or digital technology. Both channels share the EQ section with Treble and Bass controls, the FX selector, the Tap Tempo switch, and the FX Adjust control. Each channel has its own volume control. Plus, there’s a channel selector and a 16-way Voice selector. The rear panel is even more simple: a mains power socket with On/Off switch and fuse. You also get a speaker out, a line out, a footswitch connector (unfortunately, a matching footswitch is not provided), and a USB port. When it comes to effects, we’ve been spoiled: Reverb (Large Room, Concert Hall, spring reverb, delayed reverb), Delay (130 or 300ms), Chorus (fast sweeping, deep sweeping, chorus+delay, chorus+reverb), Tremolo (slow, normal or fast speed), Vibratone (slow or fast speed).

Now let’s take a closer look…

….

Nobel Peace Prize?

The Super Champ X2 is a nice surprise. The amp models sound very good, the tube power amp adds natural warmth and compression to your tone, and you get a dedicated, easy-to-use software. Considering the wide range of amps provided, you’ll easily find your own tone, regardless of your playing style (blues, rock, ska, metal, etc.). Unfortunately, the output power (15 watts) won’t allow you to use the amp in all situations. It’s perfect for playing at home or in a recording studio, but it’s not powerful enough for rehearsals if you have to compete with a drummer. Fender won its bet with this small combo sold for $300 — and this small jewel is also available as an amp head for $250. Unfortunately, the matching footswitch is not included…

Advantages: 
  • Compact size
  • Weight
  • Voicings
  • Effects
  • Tube power stage
Drawbacks:
  • A mid setting on the front panel would be nice!
  • We wish there was a version with more output power
  • Footswitch not included…

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Fender Super Champ X2

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