AF’s Weblog

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

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May 21, 2010

Mac vs. PC

How to Choose a Computer for Music Making (Part 2)

More controversial than the Stones vs Beatles, more uncompromising than a Bush vs Obama debate, and hotter than the cold war, the Mac vs PC question ignites passions, endless debates and might even be responsible for violent outbreaks in some circles. But then again, that’s not a reason not to ask, is it? So we’ll try to answer the question as peacefully as possible.

“I am neither Athenian nor Greek, I am a citizen of the world.”
Aristotle
(while starting OS X)

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
Martin Luther King
(while buying his PC)

This question is all the more relevant given that nothing looks more like a Mac than a PC and viceversa. In fact, both are computers using the same components (CPU, RAM, hard drives, etc.) to deal with the same tasks in almost the same exact way: mouse and keyboard allow you to control software tools that offer almost the same functions: can you copy/paste with a PC? Then you can do it also with a Mac…

Anyway, comparing a Mac and a PC isn’t really fair because these words don’t really describe the same thing: a Mac is a computer assembled exclusively by Apple while a PC is a technical standard applying to hundreds of manufacturers (Dell, IBM, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, etc.) and including thousands of computer models.

Why? When computer technology exploded back in the 80’s, rivals IBM and Apple chose different strategies: while Apple decided to stay the only manufacturer of Mac computers, IBM laid the bet to open its technology in order to create a standard, the PC (Personal Computer). Afterwards, hundreds of manufacturers started to buy PC-compatible hardware and this competition greatly increased the PC market to the detriment of the Mac.

While Apple’s market share was around 15% in the 80’s, it fell to less than 3% in the 90’s before increasing again these last couple of years thanks to products like the iMac, iPod or iPhone. Nowadays they have a 10% of the market (according to the newest figures provided by Net Applications). But we have to consider the figures in context: in the small audio world, the picture does look better for Apple considering that, even if no serious study has ever been made regarding this, Audiofanzine’s traffic statistics show that Mac has a 19.6% market share.

Considering this background, you can clearly now understand that it is difficult to compare a computer model with a technical standard: the only point of comparison is the only common component in all PC’s that distinguishes them from a Mac: the operating system.

Windows? Mac OS X?

And Linux?

Like OS X, Linux is a variation on the UNIX system. Linux is an alternative and open source solution which is available in different “distributions.” The advantages? This system is stable, powerful and gives access to numerous free software tools while promoting an enthusiastic sharing philosophy. The disadvantages? Although it is becoming more accessible to the masses every day, Linux is still an environment for computer freaks — even if only because it is supported by very few hardware and software manufacturers. Making music with Linux is possible but not always easy for beginners. And since this system is not very widely used, you’ll have difficulties finding users who can help you out in case you run into problems, despite the few excellent specialized websites available.

You probably know these names very well considering that every time a computer comes out of the factory these two operating systems (Windows on one side, Mac OS on the other side) are mentioned to distinguish both platforms.

OK, so what is an operating system? The operating system is sort of a big program that manages all essential functions of the computer and allows you to install and run dedicated software (for text and photo editing, web browsing, music production, etc.).

The first thing you have to know about operating systems is that they are not compatible with each other: a software conceived for Mac OS X won’t work under Windows, unless it has been ported (which means the software developer made a dedicated version for Windows). However true that there are certain software tools available for both platforms, most of them are only available for one of them: Cubase, Nuendo and Pro Tools are available for both, but Sonar, Acid and Samplitude are PC-only applications, while Logic, Garage Band and Digital Performer work only on a Mac. Thus, if choosing between Mac and PC means choosing an operating system, it also means choosing a software library.

In fact, when it comes to music production, the “Mac vs. PC” question can be answered very easily if you already have an idea of the software you intend to use: Do you want to use Sonar? You need a PC. Are you a Digital Performer fan? You need a Mac.

Now let’s delve in deeper…

Conclusion

Whether you buy a Mac or a PC is up to you, but we hope that the information above will help you make your decision. Should I be more precise? OK, here’s my opinion — which I share knowing that it will receive a lot of talkbacks:

  • If your budget is limited and below $1000, buy a PC and forget the MacMini.
  • If you don’t have enough money to buy software, get a Mac with GarageBand (or a less expensive PC) plus the light version of any sequencer and the freeware available will do the rest.
  • If money is not a problem and you want a computer to make music, for office automation and multimedia, buy a Mac. It’s like a very good PC.
  • If you are a video game freak or you use professional and specific business programs, buy a PC.
  • If you have no computer skills at all and you aren’t sure that it will ever interest you too much, buy a Mac.
  • If you wish to customize your work environment, and say things like “the register has to be compressed” in public, buy a PC.
  • If your best friend agrees to teach you about computers, choose the same as him to make life easier for both of you.
  • If you’ve already made up your mind about the software you want to use because you already know it a bit or any other reason, buy the computer that supports it.
  • If you already have some Mac knowledge, stay on this platform. The same applies to PC.
  • Finally, if you don’t feel sure: don’t forget that it is less critical than taking a road in a Robert Frost poem. Anyways, you’ll probably end up buying a new computer within the next four years because by then yours will be totally obsolete.

Nonetheless, in future articles you’ll be able to read everything you need to know to buy a Mac (quite simple) or a PC (a bit more complex). Used or not? Major brand or not? What’s the budget? Which components? Etc.

OK, I’ll stop here. Now it’s time for you to follow the link below and have some fun commenting.

PS: Mom, I love you.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mac vs. PC

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

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