AF’s Weblog

July 11, 2011

AVID Mbox Pro Review

Filed under: audio interface — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:37 am

AVID, formerly Digidesign, took advantage of last year’s re-branding to present the third generation of its digital audio budget interfaces: the Mbox series. Today, we’ll give the Mbox Pro a try, the biggest member of the family.

For many years, Mbox interfaces were the entrance ticket to Pro Tools and were an essential tool for home studio owners who wanted to use the famous Digidesign (now AVID) platform. But things have changed a lot recently and now Pro Tools 9 can be used with any digital audio interface. The Mbox series also changed. Even if they already supported other sequencers in the past, they can now be used (and more than ever) with other programs like Cubase, Logic and company. However, the link between Pro Tools and the Mbox is still very strong, especially in terms of some very appealing bundles. Let’s start by unpacking the Mbox Pro.

 

Out of the Box

AVID Mbox Pro

Inside the nice black box with the AVID logo is the interface itself, which makes a good impression at first sight. The design is very appealing, professional but not austere. It looks quite sturdy due to the fact that it has a metal housing and not less due to its heaviness (6.2 lb!). With such a weight, you can be sure it wont slip down from your desk! The dimensions are also generous: 13.7″ x 7.6″ x 2.3″. The knobs are made out of plastic but seem quite rugged. The look of the new Mbox generation is pretty convincing. AVID did a very nice job compared to former versions. However, mobile sound freaks will find that the weight and bulky dimensions of the Mbox Pro are no advantage. In that case we recommend the Mbox and Mbox Mini, which are lighter and ought to be enough if you don’t need many ins/outs. However, it’s important to point out that the three interfaces don’t have the same specs (S/N ratio, dynamic range, etc.), so the differences between the three models are not limited to the number of connections.

Now, let’s have a look at the front and rear panels…

Panels

AVID Mbox Pro

On the well-equipped rear panel you have six analog outs and four analog ins on 1/4″ TRS jacks with switchable +4dBu/-10dBV sensitivity. You also get four inserts on 1/4″ TRS jacks. The inserts are placed between the preamp and the A/D converter in the signal path. The effect send and return are in the same TRS jack (tip=send, ring=return, sleeve=ground). You also get a stereo Aux input on RCAs or minijack. On the right corner there are two mic inputs (3 and 4) on XLR connectors, while on the left corner you have a pair of FireWire ports. Notice that the interface must be connected to its external PSU because it cannot be powered via the FireWire bus of the computer. A 1/4″ footswitch jack will allow you to punch in and out while recording or start playing back audio — very practical! Finally, a D-Sub port provides you with a MIDI in/out on 5-pin DIN connectors, a coaxial S/PDIF connector and a BNC to feed it a wordclock signal using the provided breakout cable. The only regret of the connections is the lack of an ADAT connector!

AVID Mbox Pro

The front panel is also very comprehensive: a pair of XLR/TRS combos for mic inputs 1 and 2 and the two instrument inputs. They all have two switches: the first one to switch between the front inputs 1/2 (mic and instrument) and the two rear line inputs, and the second one to activate the soft limiter (which is a very rare feature on interfaces in this price range). Also notice that all four gain controls are push/pull pots allowing you to activate -20dB pads. In the middle of the front panel, you’ll find four meters with eight-LEDs each. Nice! Next to the meters, there are two buttons: the first one can be assigned to different Pro Tools functions (we already mentioned that the link between the house’s own hardware and software is still strong!) while the other one allows you to turn the 48V phantom power on/off.

You also get two fully independent headphones outputs: they are assigned to different channels and have their own volume control. Sweet! On the right corner you’ll find a big volume control as well as three keys assigned to the master out: a Dim/Mute switch that allows you to cut or decrease the volume of the main output, a Mono switch, and a Speaker button to toggle between three pairs of monitor speakers connected to the analog outs on the rear panel. Once again: very nice!

Now, let’s talk about the software…

Conclusion

The new Mbox Pro interface is a success: it offers a very nice design, it is robust, provides very comprehensive connections, and includes an easy-to-use virtual mixer. Add the effect section and you get a very appealing audio interface, even if it is not perfect. In fact, we missed an ADAT in/out and some additional effects like an EQ and/or a compressor. Moreover, the weight and the size of this interface are not that convenient for mobile recording.

 

When it comes to software, although the system worked perfectly with Cubase, we recommend to use it with Pro Tools for several reasons. First, the convenient Multi button you can assign to different functions, but especially because of the Pro Tools 9 bundles that can save you up to $200 on the sequencer price (the Mbox Pro alone costs $729 and only $999 with Pro Tools 9). Users of other sequencers might want to check competitor products that provide more features for the same price. But if you are looking for a high-quality audio interface and want to start working with Pro Tools 9 without spending a lot of money, the Mbox range is the way to go.

Advantages:

  • Sturdy
  • Nice design
  • Comprehensive analog connections
  • Good sounding preamps and converters
  • Virtual mixer
  • Integrated reverb and delay effects
  • Appealing bundle price with Pro Tools 9

Drawbacks:

  • A bit expensive without bundle
  • Heavy and bulky
  • No ADAT connection
  • No EQ nor compressor in the FX section

To read the full detailed article see:  Avid MBox Pro Review

April 9, 2010

Music Making with a Computer (Part 1)

A computer to make music? Sounds great. Which computer should I get and with what specification? Good question. But first things first: what is a computer and how does it work?

Computers revolutionized the way we work, regardless of what you call work: music production, accounting, management. Can you imagine having to write your CV with a typewriter (carbon copy included) instead of a text editor? Of course you can’t. The same applies to music recording and producing: it’s hard to do it without a computer… You’ll certainly find vintage fundamentalists here and there, but we all have to resign to the fact that all songs released these days have been processed in one way or another with a computer before they hit the market – even if just because all formats are digital nowadays (CD, MP3; except for the DJ and Hi-Fi freak vinyl niche market).

It is indeed still possible to record an album with a good, old multitrack recorder, and to enjoy that special sound character a tape provides, but you have to admit that it requires a lot of time and money (service, tapes, etc.), and thus it is an expensive hobby for the rich. Unless you are Jack White or Lenny Kravitz or you have enough money to rent Abbey Road for three months to edit tapes with glue and scissors, you’ll have to make do with a computer to make your music – like 99% of home studio owners and sound engineers.

What’s the purpose? With a suitable interface and software, you can control all sorts of electronic MIDI instruments (synth, sampler, etc.) and virtual instruments, you can record and mix audio with all necessary effects… What’s more, you can save as many variations as you want, repair mistakes and enjoy the wonders of cutting, copying and pasting; live or in the studio. And all of that for a ridiculous price, considering what you had to pay to do the same 30 years ago.

In short: you need a computer! Ok, but which one? Mac? PC? With which processor? And what hard drive? How much RAM? But, most importantly, how can I choose from the options available if I don’t know what a CPU is or what does RAM do?

Don’t panic! We’ll help you get things straight…

Computer Parts

Regardless of whether you have a Mac or a PC, computers generally work the same, all the more ever since Apple started using Intel processors. The difference between these two platforms resides mainly in the operating system (Window, Mac OS X, Linux, etc.), their design and the software available. It doesn’t matter if you decide to assemble your own computer or buy a pre-assembled model by a given manufacturer, a quick overview of the different parts of a computer will be very useful in order to understand their roles…

CPU

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) or microprocessor, is often compared to the brain of the computer because it manages all calculations. Considering that all data passes through the CPU, its processing power is of utmost importance for the overall performance of the computer. When it comes to audio, for example, it processes a reverb effect while displaying the graphic user interface and manages all other computer instructions (data keyboard, etc.). To use a musical metaphor, you could say it’s the musical conductor of your computer

Basically, a CPU is a small silicon square on which several millions of transistors are assembled: over 60 million on a Pentium IV and more than 731 million on the Core i7 thanks to the continuous progress in miniaturization. More cells in the silicon brain provide more power, but the number of transistors is not the only factor: the processor design and its speed also come into consideration.

The faster the CPU, the more calculations it will be able to process in a given time. This speed is measured in gigahertz (GHz). When a CPU is clocked at 2 GHz, it means it can process two milliard cycles per second. But what is a cycle? Good question! To keep it short and simple, let’s say that a cycle is a basic calculation, like adding two numbers. Multiplying two numbers takes several cycles and dividing them even more. Why? Because a CPU is extremely limited compared to the human brain. But it is extremely fast and the user can’t really notice it, which gives the impression that the machine is more intelligent.

But keep in mind that this clocking frequency is only theoretical because, in real life, our processors rarely work at full capacity. Why? Because they are slowed down by other components like RAM (Random-Access Memory). Furthermore, increasing CPU frequency is not the only nor the simplest way to increase a computer’s power. In fact, the latest CPU generations have improved their architecture implementing multi-core processors.

A multi-core CPU is a chip including several processors connected in parallel. You can find dual-core (two cores), quad-core (four cores) and even octo-core CPUs (eight cores).

By using this technology, it is now possible to improve the processing power without increasing the CPU clock, thus avoiding heat generation problems due to higher speeds.

Nowadays, these types of CPUs (mainly dual-core and quad-core) are mounted in all computers on the market regardless of whether it is a Mac or a PC.

Now let’s take a look at some other parts…

Conclusion

Now that you have been educated on the basic parts of a computer and what they do, in the next article we will deal with the specific setup choices available to have a computer ready for making music. And you can trust us, there are plenty of choices…

To read the full detailed article see:  Making Music with a Computer

February 18, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Spectrasonics Trilian

Exclusive presentation of Spectrasonics Trilian, Trilogy’s successor, by Eric Persing.

Part 1

Part 2

To watch all NAMM 2009 video demos visit us on Audiofanzine NAMM 2009.

December 22, 2008

Gifts for Music Lovers

Christmas Shopping

Are you tired of receiving boxes of chocolate every Christmas? You can’t take another hand-knitted sweater from your aunt and you’d like the bottom of the tree to look a little more…musical? Here’s a selection of gift ideas for your loved ones who may lack inspiration …

For Home Studios

The ultimate audio interface?
Prominently listed among the highlights of this year, TC Electronic’s Studio Konnekt 48 is a Firewire audio interface that features 24 inputs including 4 preamplifiers, 22 outputs, 12 simultaneous analog channels and world class DSP effects. Supplied with a remote control for around $1200, it’s one of the select few able to overshadow RME’s FireFace which, despite its numerous qualities, took a serious blow …

ProTools to go!
ProTools on a USB key; who would have imagined it? They did. Of course, the audio interface is ultra basic but thanks to the MBox 2 Micro, you can work your ProTools session on any computer, for a little less than $250. And since Transfuser currently comes with the package …

Little Adam
Halfway between a multimedia speaker and a near-field monitor, the Adam A5 is somewhat unique … There is the famous ribbon tweeter for which the brand is famous, guaranteeing quality highs, and bass response, which, given the size of the speaker, is no joke and makes it a worthy sibling of the famous A7, for a little less than $440 each. The ideal monitors for working in your apartment without disturbing the neighbors?

A half-legend?
Walking in the footsteps of the illustrious C414, the C214 is meant to be a more accessible version of the classic AKG mic. Featuring only one polar pattern but having the essential of what made the reputation of the large membrane microphone for under $600.

Night terror
It’s small, cute, inexpensive and it works like a charm. For less than $150, the Novation Nocturne will let you control your DAW and plug-ins while tasting the comfort of Automap technology.

26+26=2626
M-Audio’s high-end Profire 2626 has it all for those home studio owners who need a lot of inputs/outputs. Its preamps and converters meet our expectations and the price is around $700; did someone request a great deal?

Deus in machina
Widely used by the pros, the UAD-1 DSP card was nevertheless beginning to get old. So imagine our joy when we saw the UAD-2 arrive with a cornucopia of new plugins each as attractive as the next. And with prices that are not so “pro”, because between the small Solo to the big Quad, prices range from $500 to $1800.

Big Groove
The reference in virtual drummers is back! With 10 full kits and 55 GB of sounds and above all a complete mixer with a great effects section, Fxpansion’s BFD2 is a must for just under $400.

U47 USB?
If you’re looking for a simple way to connect a microphone (static or dynamic) to your computer, know that MXL has created the Mic Mate, an XLR to USB “adapter” incorporating a mic preamp and phantom power. It works without drivers, at the very reasonable price of around $50!

Multimedia Killers
Of course, with their 4″ boomers the Studiophile AV40 won’t do as studio monitors. Still, we’ve rarely come across such good multimedia speakers, with surprising lows for the size of the speakers, highs that’s aren’t bad at all, and great balance … The latest speakers from M-Audio have struck a strong blow to the competitors who offer roughly the same thing for much more, like Creative Labs, Logitech or Altec Lansing. At $150, the AV40 is probably one of the best options you can find for a traveling setup …

What if you changed sequencers…
We’ve got a thing for Reaper, a customizable sequencer, extremely stable, only a few MB, and costs, for non professional usage, fifty dollars. Where’s the catch? Why the discrepancy in prices? Well, we’re beginning to wonder …

Swiss army knife?
A recording studio in your pocket? It’s possible with the Boss Micro BR, a genuine Swiss Army knife that combines 4 tracks, a multi-effects processor, 300 rhythmic patterns and basic editing functions. It’s MP3 compatible, stores on SD cards, has a tuner, and an integrated microphone. What more do you need to know? The price? Around $200.

What a sound!
They look good, and work great, and what a sound. These tube and/or transistor preamps from Universal Audio give the best of both worlds …

Still haven’t found what you were looking for?  For more ideas read the full Gifts for Music Lovers article.

November 28, 2008

Time Stretching and Pitch Shifting: Comparison

Time Stretching & Pitch Shifting: Comparison Part I
Software Comparison
OK, here we go! This is the first of our comparative software tests on time-stretching and pitch-shifting. The competitors: 26 Mac and PC programs, from big sequencers to small applications, plug-ins to audio editors
Digital audio has brought about many changes to the audio world when compared to analog. Is this good or bad? Everyone has their own opinion; but certain features have been improved, some totally new ones have emerged, while others are less effective or successful (knowing that many opinions are primarily subjective).

But the goal here is not to make (empty) comparisons between the two worlds. We’ll be dealing with two important features that have more or less created a revolution in music since their arrival with the earliest samplers: time-stretching and pitch-shifting. The first can speed up or slow down an audio file without changing its pitch, the second change its pitch without changing its tempo (otherwise, it’s back to tapes and vari-speed …).

With a lot of reverb, sustained chords, resonance, slides, transients, this file is not easy. And it already shows at 75%: Kontakt can’t do it at all, TimeFactory 2 Clear Scale and SampleTank Stretch have problems with lows, DSP Quattro gives us tremolo, while SampleTank PS/TS adds an expression pedal (no transients). Melodyne has a phase issue, same with Peak which decreases transients, which are also damaged in Pitch’n Time and Live. And as for their part, Logic, Pro Tools TS and X-Form, TimeFactory 2 MPEX3, and UVIWorkstation smear up the sound …

At 90%, it’s the same, except for Time Pitch’n which fared a little better with transients. At 110%, things change: Melodyne alters one or two attacks, Peak and Live still eat up a few transients, SampleTank Stretch, PS/TS and DSP Quattro “tremble”, Kontakt, Pro Tools TS and X-Form, TimeFactory 2 Clear Scale, and UVIWorkstation “wobble” more or less. When we slow down even more to 133%, there aren’t too many contenders left: Amazing X, Pitch’n Time Pro (with less transients just the same), TimeFactory 2 DIRAC, and Radius are at their limits …

At 200%, one can appreciate the efforts the programs make just to keep up continuous audio, but most of them take their toll on transients. The others just accentuate the defects they already had.

Access 2 GB of audio examples about time stretching/pitch shifting algorithms.

August 27, 2008

E-MU Tracker Pre USB 2 review

E-MU TRACKER PRE-USB 2.0 - AudioFanzineIn a world of myriad low-cost audio interfaces, E-MU has made a bold move with it’s new Tracker Pre USB 2.0. Though somewhat similar to it’s predecessor, the 0202 USB 2.0, the Tracker Pre has created a stir due to E-MU’s new CurrentMorph circuit design, which allows the Tracker Pre to offer +48V phantom power and the use of its converters (24-bit/192kHz A/D and D/A ) while using only USB bus power! Is this the answer to the nomadic recording artist’s prayers? Here is the pros and cons

Value for the Money
Software Bundle
Preamps – value for the money
Completely USB Powered – including Phantom Power!
Drivers – Low Latency
Direct Monitoring
Inserts
Ground-Lift Switches
Versatility – Can also be used as an autonomous Preamp

Phantom Power Pop – when turned on and off
The GUI (or lack of it)
Level Indicators – could have used at least one more
Continuous Direct Monitoring Knob

Read the detailed E-MU Tracker Pre USB 2 review.

Digidesign Velvet review

Filed under: Computer music reviews — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:11 pm

Electric Pianos never seem to go out of style; and because they’ve now gone virtual, Digidesign has decided to come out with their own version of these timeless instruments.

Since its acquisition/creation by Digidesign, the A.I.R team has been very busy, giving the virtual world nothing less than Xpand!, Hybrid, Strike, Structure and Velvet, the latter being the subject of this review. In recent years, Rhodes and Wurlitzer instruments have made their return to the stage and in numerous productions, from pop to hip-hop. By emulating these famous pianos, Velvet aims to be, for Pro Tools users, the direct rival of Scarbee, AAS and Native Instruments.

Seamless integration within Pro Tools
Global quality
Stability
Nice FX section
Versatility and creative power
Total automation
Quality of presets
Unusual features
Well, Pro Tools only…
Velocity setting
MkI quite agressive
Wurlitzer’s lack of “wurlitzerity”
No global volume for FX section

Digidesign Velvet review is fully available here.

Arturia Analog Factory Experience review

Filed under: Computer music reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 1:05 pm

Arturia has been showing more and more interest in software/hardware solutions, as can be seen with some of their top of the line projects, such as Origin. The editor also offers a more affordable solution with Analog Factory Experience (AFE), combining v2.0 of its Analog Factory and a keyboard controller made by CME. Let’s see what this tempting bundle has to offer…

What’s in the box?

Clavier

The first surprise when you lift the cardboard box is its weight: 3.7kg. Does this mean there’s a good keyboard inside? In any event, its metal case and solid wood-style sides make a nice impression in this all-plastic era. On one hand there’s the keyboard controller, on the other there’s v.2.0 of the Analog Factory, a Windows and Mac software program that compiles all the audio engines of Arturia’s former soft synths. The v.2.0 now offers 3500 presets grouped by style, synth model and other tags, while v.1.0 “only” has 2000 presets and doesn’t include the Jupiter-8.

The Arturia sound
Audio engine of each of the seven synths
3500 presets
Classification and fast access
Standalone and plug-in
Keyboard seems to be solidly built
Full-size keys with a nice touch
Controllers
Pedal inputs
USB or Midi
Low price

Some presets are too loud
Some clicks when changing presets
No direct monitoring of Key Parameter assigning
Pitch bend values are fixed in presets
Polyphony is fixed in presets
Some faulty connections (ADSR sliders)
No aftertouch
Lifespan of keys?
Some issues with other Arturia synths in standalone mode
Optional DC adapter
Multifunction Level knob

Read the full Arturia Analog Factory Experience review on Audiofanzine.

August 26, 2008

M-Audio Fast Track Ultra review

M-Audio recently presented their latest addition to the Fast Track family: the Ultra, a USB audio interface with 4 Octane preamps, integrated effects, and advanced routing. Is it a worthy successor to the Fast Track dynasty? Lets take a look…

Fast Track Ultra

M-audio already has quite a bit of experience with audio interfaces, and models such as the Firewire 410 or the Fast Track pro were big hits (technically as well as commercially). Since they’re on a roll, they’ve decided to expand their “Fast Track” USB interfaces with an “Ultra” model, which has evolved out of the Fast Track Pro, which itself evolved out of the first Fast Track.

You can read the full test of M-Audio Fast Track Ultra on Audiofanzine.

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