AF’s Weblog

August 4, 2011

Tech Gear Roulette

Filed under: Hardware, Software — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:50 am

Live by these 7 rules if you want your budget to survive technological changes.

I met Billy Bumluck at a video store in the early 80s. We were both proud owners of new VCRs; he was browsing in the Beta section, I was looking at VHS. “You use VHS?” he asked. When I nodded, he said “Too bad, man. Beta is the only way to go — better picture, more reliable, and it has Sony behind it. Your VHS machine will be a doorstop next year, so enjoy it while you can!”

We talked a bit more, and I found out he was a guitarist and technology fan, so we kept in touch. A couple years later, I got a call. “Hey, you gotta check out this new Amiga computer! It has separate chips for graphics and audio, does sampling better than a Fairlight, and has some great games.” So I went over to his house, and sure enough, it ran circles around the Macs, Ataris, and PCs of its day. “No more Beta mistakes for me,” said Billy. “This baby’s made by Commodore, and considering they’ve sold 6 million Commodore-64s, I don’t think they’ll be going out of business any time soon.”

Well, after the Amiga died, Billy had enough. “Okay,” he said, “I’m getting a Mac. There’s a fantastic program called Vision, it’ll wipe the floor with your Master Tracks Pro. It will be the perfect complement to my Sequential Circuits and Oberheim synthesizers.” And for a while, it looked like Billy made the right choice, especially when Opcode added hard disk recording to MIDI sequencing. “Craig, nothing’s going to stop those Opcode guys. No one else is doing hard disk recording and MIDI, I’d buy stock in them if I could.”

 

Then Opcode was sucked into the BHDC (Black Hole of Dead Companies). Billy was pretty shaken this time, and had heard stories of Apple going through problems. So about a year ago, he decided to switch to a PC. “There’s a billion of ?em out there. This is one standard that won’t die on me.” I told him Apple wasn’t going anywhere, but he was adamant. “Nope, no more obsolete stuff for me, and no more little companies. I’m going out right now and getting Logic Windows!”

 

Billy never was the same after Emagic dropped Windows support. Last I heard, after his savings evaporated with the collap

se of Enron and Worldcom, he went to a back-to-nature commune in Montana, with no electricity or television. Oh yes, and with an acoustic guitar to replace his Yamaha G10 MIDI guitar.

There’s a little of the Billy Bumluck magic in all of us. My Commodore CDTV sits alongside some other ill-chosen relics of technology past, each one representing a costly mistake. But they seemed like such good ideas at the time…

 

With technology changing on a seemingly daily basis, you don’t just buy gear any more — you have to be a soothsayer. How can you protect yourself? How can you stay ahead of technology and bankruptcy court? Here’s the scoop.

 

Rule #1: You will Make Mistakes

Resign yourself to it. If huge companies can make mistakes after spending zillions of dollars on focus groups and product research, so can you. Maybe you got sucked in by the ads, maybe you just got taken by something that didn’t pan out. The object is to minimize these mistakes so they don’t devastate your checking account.

 

Some people end up with Purchasing Paralysis, where they won’t buy anything out of fear that something better is coming around the corner. Well, something is, so get used to it. The secret to avoid getting burned is not to lose money on an investment.

 

For example, suppose you bought an original, 16-bit Alesis ADAT for $4,000. As you sit mousing around with your shiny new DAW, that might have seemed like a mistake. But if you did projects on it that earned you $10,000, it was a wise investment indeed — you more than doubled your money (better than what you’d get from a bank, for sure).

 

Always consider return on investment (ROI). I was debating whether or not to buy a Minidisc when it first came out, because they were pretty expensive back then, and the survival of the format was in question. But I did, and wrote enough articles about MD and how to use it that I made money on the deal. MD could disappear tomorrow, and my buying it would not have been a mistake.

So the question is not “Am I buying something that will become obsolete?” because you know that you are. The correct question is “Can I amortize the value of this investment before it becomes obsolete?” If buying something will make you more money than not buying it, get out the checkbook. Simple as that.

Let’s take a look at the other rules to follow…

Rule #7: The best way to cope with technology is to put it in its place

I have a hammer that’s 20 years old. I’m sure that since then, the metals used in them have been improved, the handles have become easier to grip, and the weight is now distributed more ergonomically. But you know what? It drives nails just fine.

 

My main hardware synthesizer is 16 years old. My DAT deck is a TASCAM DA-30 (the original one). Then again, I have some fantastic soft synths, and two flat screen monitors. The point is, I don’t let technology rule me (“You have to buy a better DAT, you must go surround”). I rule technology: I pick and choose those things that are going to help my music.

 

I also either jump in as an early adopter, pay the premium price, and milk something for all it’s worth, or get in on the tail end of a technology when it’s proven, reliable, and inexpensive. I bought one of the first Panasonic DA7 digital mixers, and now you can buy them on blowout at a fraction of what I paid. Do I mind? Not at all: I’ve gotten so much use out of it, and made so much off of projects done with it, that not buying it would have been a major mistake.

 

I’ll leave you with this: when it comes to technology, you’re the boss. Fulfilling your needs is all that should matter. Good luck making the right choices!

To read the full article see: Tech Gear Roulette

August 31, 2010

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Review

The FireWire digital audio interface market is somewhat saturated with products like the M-Audio ProFire610 or the TC Electronic Impact Twin which we already tested here at AudioFanzine — now is the time to pick at Focusrite Saffire PRO 24 DSP…

Focusrite’s range of external digital audio interfaces is very comprehensive, including the small Saffire 6 USB with 2 ins/4 outs, the big Saffire 56 with 28 ins/outs, the Pro 40 with 20 ins/outs, and two Saffire Pro 24 (16 ins/8 outs) with or without integrated DSP. We will test the version with integrated DSP, MixControl 2 software and VRM technology (Virtual Reference Monitoring).

Before testing the software package, let’s open the box…

Physically Ordinary

The Saffire Pro 24 DSP didn’t really impress us when we took it out of the box… The interface, which is a bit less wide but deeper than the M-Audio ProFire 610, has a very classic look compared to the TC Electronic products for example. Its dimensions and weight are standard: 8.5″ x 1.8″ x 8.65″ and 3.5 lb. Everything looks pretty sturdy. It includes four sticky rubber feet for the bottom so that it doesn’t slip off. The controls are small but easily accessible since they are well spaced out. The interface is provided with a six-pin FireWire cable, a mains adapter (in case the computer’s FireWire interface cannot provide enough power), a “lite” version of Ableton Live 8, one GB of “Loopmasters” samples, the Novation Bass Station virtual synth, and the drivers CD, of course.

Now, let’s take a closer look to the interface…

Front/rear Panels

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP

The front panel of the interface features two inputs on Neutrik combos (XLR + 1/4″ TRS), with switchable 48V phantom power, to connect a microphone (dynamic or condenser mic), a musical instrument or a line signal. The selection between instrument and line source must be made via the MixControl software because the interface does not provide any input level selector. A small, red LED is the only way to know that instrument level is activated. The interface also provides two gain controls for the inputs; their range is from -10 dB to +36 dB for the mic signals and +13 dB to +60 dB for instrument signals.

In the center of the front panel, four level meters with five LEDs each show the signal level for each of the four inputs. It’s not ideal but it’s still better than the ProFire610 or the Impact Twin… Three green LEDs allow you to monitor the on/off status, the FireWire connection and the internal or external clock sync.

On the right side of the front panel, you’ll find three additional volume controls. The first one is conceived for studio monitors and also features mute and dim (-18 dB) buttons. The two other volume controls are dedicated to the pair of headphones outputs. Each headphones output can have its own mix (see below), which is a very valuable feature!

Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP

The rear panel hosts the connectors, i.e. analog and digital ins and outs. On the left, you’ll find two coaxial S/PDIF connectors (in and out), the power switch (we would rather have it on the front panel…) and the connector for the mains adapter. You’ll also find 5-pin DIN MIDI in/out connectors, a 6-pin FireWire connector, an optical input to be used with ADAT or S/PDIF signals, and six analog line outputs on 1/4″ TRS connectors just like the two analog line inputs (3 and 4). You can connect balanced or unbalanced jacks to the interface and choose between two different levels (Hi and Lo Gain with +16 dBu and -10 dBV respectively) using the MixControl software.

And now that we’ve mentioned the MixControl…

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

For about $400, Focusrite offers a very comprehensive and reliable audio interface with 16 inputs and 8 outputs (analog, S/PDIF and even ADAT!). The software package is also very interesting. It features a virtual mixer called MixControl that can proudly stand up to its competitors. The routing functions are very flexible and you can create up to eight different mixes assignable to the line or headphones outs. The insert processors available for the first two inputs make a very good job, while the VST and AU compatible plugin suite is a valuable complement. The icing on the cake is the VRM technology that allows you to simulate different rooms and speaker pairs in your headphones. You’ll be finally able to mix in silence!

Among the drawbacks we can include its boring look, the lack of a physical switch to select either line or instrument sources and the position of the power switch (on the rear panel). But they are only small details…

The Saffire Pro 24 DSP is certainly one of the best digital audio FireWire interfaces in the $400 price segment.

Advantages:

  • Good-quality preamps
  • Construction quality
  • Price
  • Two independent headphones outputs
  • Eight different mixes thanks to the MixControl
  • Insert EQ and compressor on the first two inputs
  • Reverb for monitoring applications
  • Flexible routing
  • VST and AU plugin bundle with four processors
  • ADAT and S/PDIF digital ins/outs
  • Driver stability (with our computer)
  • Four five-segment meters on the front panel
  • Possibility to link other Focusrite interfaces
  • Virtual Reference Monitoring
  • Live Lite 8 included
  • FireWire powered

Disadvantages:

  • No line/instrument level switch on the front panel
  • Very boring look
  • Power switch on the rear panel

To read the full detailed review with sound samples see:  Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP Review

February 20, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Numark HDMIX and DDS

Filed under: Control Surfaces, DJ, namm 2009 — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:31 am

Rob Bachi, product specialist for Numark, presents the Numark HDMIX and DDS.

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

February 19, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Open Labs Fifth Generation

Filed under: Hardware, namm 2009, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 2:20 pm

Presentation of the fith generation of Open Labs hardware and software.

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

February 16, 2009

Review: Universal Audio UAD-2

Filed under: Hardware — Tags: , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:39 am
WMD: Weapon of Mass DSPs
Universal Audio UAD-2: The Test

Universal Audio continues its arms race against other DSP card manufacturers, like TC Electronic (PowerCore) and SSL (Duende), by releasing the UAD-2, which comes in three models that dwarf the original in power. We tested the most powerful of all: the UAD-2 Quad.

UAD-2

In the world of computing, multicore processors and multithreading are booming industries. Manufacturers have realized that the future of our dear microprocessors will no longer be in increasing frequency, but in multiplying cores and/or processors. Universal Audio has understood the lesson and offers its DSP card in three models: the first, known as Solo, has, like its predecessor, one processor, the second, Duo, features 2, and the third, Quad, has no less than 4 processors! Knowing that the new processor is, according to the manufacturer, 2.5 times faster than the UAD-1, the Quad is therefore 10 times (2.5 x 4 processors) faster than its predecessor! The first UAD suddenly looks old. If you add to this the ability to chain together up to 4 UAD-2 cards in the same system (40 times the power of the original UAD), you start to grasp the enormous power potential of these cards.

Out of the box

As you take the card out of the box, you see the first new feature: the UAD now uses a 1x PCI Express bus, faster than the old PCI. You should definitely check to see if your motherboard has an available bus. Note that the card is also compatible with PCI Express 16x, which is normally reserved for video cards. It was on the latter that the card was tested by yours truly, the only available 1x PCIe bus was already being used by an RME Multiface …

Once the card is inserted into an appropriate slot, you have to startup Windows and run the .exe found on the supplied CD or downloadable from their site. It’s probably better to download the latest version which includes new plug-ins (like the UAD Equalizer Harrison 32C and the UAD phase aligner Little Labs IBP) and the latest version of the driver which is more stable and RTAS compatible. Once you’ve installed everything, you have to create an account on Universal Audio’s website, download a small file to authorize plug-ins and drag it onto the UAD-2’s configuration window. It’s simple, fast and efficient. Now you can start using the card!

Let’s take a closer look at the control panel …

Conclusion

While not surprising, Universal Audio has updated its range of DSP cards with brio by largely increasing their power plus retaining backwards compatibility and an already pretty strong plug-in selection . The UAD is still “the solution” for those who want to integrate a set of quality plug-ins without hampering their computer’s performance. The quality of the plug-ins from Universal Audio’s catalog is well established and one is sure to find things they like. Lastly, the price remains relatively reasonable in view of their quality.

The gain in power compared to the UAD-1
Compatibility with existing UAD plug-ins
Interesting new plug-ins
Possibility of chaining multiple cards
Low latency mode: LiveTrack
Interesting bundles

Not a lot of new plug-ins
CPU usage in low latency

To read, the full detailed article see:  Universal Audio UAD-2

September 27, 2008

Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM review

Olympus LS-10: The Test
When Olympus, famous for their clout in the photography world, takes on the audio market, we get the LS-10, a portable digital recorder determined to stake its claim in new territory …

LS-10

Many manufacturers specialized in audio have recently released portable digital recorders, among them renowned experts like Marantz or Nagra, but also more accessible brands like M-Audio, Edirol and Zoom. There’s something for everyone and especially for all budgets. Olympus has therefore ventured into a field already populated by brands well known to audio lovers. Despite this, Olympus hopes to take advantage of its photography experience and expertise in order to find its niche in the audio world.

At first glance, the LS-10 has very interesting specs, judge for yourself – two electret microphones, a large backlit display, 2GB built-in flash memory, an SD SDHC card reader, encoding on the fly in MP3 or WMA , recording in 96 kHz wav … Add to that a nice but serious look, and construction that breathes quality, and you get a very attractive recorder … Right off the bat you’ll get the feeling of solidity and robustness: Olympus’s know-how seems undeniable here. This is clearly a notch above what some brands like Edirol or Zoom have to offer: you won’t be afraid to take the LS-10 along with you wherever you go. It’s weight, slightly more than some of its competitors, (165 grams including batteries) probably contributes to this feeling of ruggedness.

But let’s see if the little guy delivers the goods…

 

he LS-10 lets you record in three different formats: linear PCM (WAV files without loss of audio information, but relatively space consuming), MP3 (compressed format) and WMA (also a compressed format made by Microsoft). The first format allows a sampling rate of 96 kHz 24-bit, which would be suitable for ‘def’ recordings but would be totally overkill as a ‘notepad’. Mp3 format (128 Kbps to 320 Kbps) will save a lot of space, and WMA (from 64 Kbps to 160 Kbps) will be even lighter. With an integrated memory of 2 GB, the LS-01 will let you save up to 3h10mins in WAV 44.1 kHz/16 bits 17h45mins in Mp3s 256 kb/s or 69h35mins WMA 64 kb/s! That’s quite a bit of recording time, especially if you add a SD HC card (up to 8 GB) which will multiply the above times by 5!

As for autonomy, the LS-10 claims 16h recording 44.1 kHz WAV/16bits and 35h playback. Knowing that the device takes 2 AA batteries, it will be easy to take along a couple of spare batteries in your pocket … This small recorder, therefore, lets you make long recordings without having to empty the memory onto the computer or change the batteries, a good point!

In terms of inputs and outputs, there’s a mini headphone jack, a mini-jack mic input (with ‘plug-in power’ and an impedance of 2 Ohms) and a mini line input jack. It would have been nice to have one or two XLR inputs (like on the Zoom H4) to broaden the scope of the LS-10, but only MiniDisc type microphones can be used, unfortunately. Here are some examples of compatible microphones: ME30W, ME51S, ME-15, ME-52W, ME-12.

Olympus has made a nice entry into the professional audio recorder arena. One will greatly appreciate its quality of construction, its overall sound quality, its autonomy, and generous integrated memory. Of course, in certain situations, the LS-10 will be showing it limitations, for example, recording an instrument with very low frequencies. But we forgive this quite easily in view of its compactness and its numerous strengths.

Quality of construction
Sound quality
Autonomy
2GB + integrated SD card reader HC
Windscreens supplied
Integrated reverb
Looping feature
Big backlit screen
Cubase 4 LE included

No adapter for mic stands
Bass Frequency less pronounced
Volume Knob not easily adjustable
Unable to rename Files
No XLR Connections

Read the full  Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM review on Audiofanzine.

 

 

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.

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