AF’s Weblog

August 21, 2012

Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

This is how you can easily build and maintain a professionally equipped music computer to power the digital audio workstation for your home recording studio.

Music Computer, or a computer specifically intended for processing digital audio simply means that there are several components that you need to look at and understand in order to optimize for this environment. These elements are crucial to performance, and can have a massive impact on your workflow and overall efficiency.

You may use your computer for other functions as well as music production, but to get the most from your computer in order to power a digital audio workstation, you need to understand how to optimize it best for home recording. Faster is almost always better, and perhaps the most important ingredient to optimum performance in THIS environment is MEMORY.

Today, you will learn how to assemble a computer for your home studio. We will look at the several options for doing so, as well as my recommendations. You will also learn what specific parts and components you need to understand that play an integral role in designing an effective system.

You will learn some ways to protect your studio computer, because having a solid backup system is worth it’s weight in gold. Lastly, we will cover a few key maintenance actions that you can integrate into habit to keep your system healthy and working like a champ.

This article isn’t meant to be a comprehensive “textbook explanation.” I’m not writing a paper to a professor. I’ll be moving quickly as i condense a lot of years of dealing with and learning about first-hand, down into a few short paragraphs that tell you the key things you need to know.

So let’s get it…

Options For Building/Buying a Music Computer

Although there are variety of options that exist and we will cover them shortly, i want to point out that in my personal experience Apple (Macintosh) computers offer a great “out of the box” solution for most beginners and are a great starting point. Further, with just a few upgrades you can arm yourself with a world class digital production experience.

  1. Build the computer yourself. You can pick out all the components you need, order them and then assemble them just how you want them.  To build your own computer you will need to have reasonable technical expertise so unless you know what you are doing, or have someone who does assemble it for you, i wouldn’t advise going this route.
  2. Buy a new computer from the store.  I can assure you that a new Mac, off the shelf, will be adequatelyoptimized for recording music in most cases and there are quite a few PC models that would also be well optimized. Again, in either case there are a few key components that you need to consider, which we will be covering shortly.
  3. Buy a music computer that is custom built specifically for music recording.  There are a number of computer companies like MusicXPC that create specialty computers which are built and optimized for audio and recording. However, expect to pay a bit more for a custom computer like this. It’s worth checking out, do your homework and ask a lot of questions as you compare.
  4. Buy a computer off the shelf and then replace some parts.  This means that you are purchasing a computer for their bare-bones platform and then buying parts separately to upgrade the overall performance. So for example, buying a computer basically for its operating system, processing power and ease of use; then buying memory and hard drive upgrades, etc. from a third party source.  You can either install them yourself or have someone install them for you. In most cases this is a fairly simple procedure.

Option #4 is the route i always take now. It is in my experience the BEST way to cost effectively build a super powerful DAW computer. As you know i am a big proponent of Apple, and have been for the last eight years.

See the little secret about Apple is, their parts are RIDICULOUSLY expensive. Not as if they were cheap to begin with…!

But if you buy a Mac Pro or Macbook Pro for their processors, motherboard, delicious and simple interface, operating system, support, and other lovely little inclusives…

THEN you purchase some high quality third party Memory (RAM) and Hard-Disk upgrades, you got the best of both worlds for a killer price!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Home Studio Computer Maintenance

Lastly, let’s top things off with something i hope you’ll do regularly and make habit of. Don’t neglect the maintenance of this machine. It is the brains of your home studio. Here are a few basic maintenance tasks that’ll get you on your way.

  • Keep your computer clean by dusting it off once a week, also dust off all electronics in your home studio weekly.
  • Always keep at least 20% of your hard drive space free. Ensuring this amount of free space will keep your computer from lagging or losing response time, and won’t put any unneeded strain on it.
  • Backup your work regularly, setup time machine or other service to back it up on a physical hard drive; and then also setup the second backup of your most critical files through a virtual storage service.
  • Run a disk utility weekly and verify all volumes. This is just to check and fix any errors, and to verify the disk is working properly.

I’ve done this stuff every week, and have had computers running like a champ for over five years.

So there you have it. Tried to keep it straight to the point, although it went a little longer than most, but I hope you’ve found this article helpful and i’ve answered your questions about what it takes to setup a DAW computer for home recording.

To read the full detailed article see:  Optimize Your DAW Computer for Your Home Studio

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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

April 9, 2012

Presonus Studio One 2 Review

Filed under: Sequencers — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 6:18 am

To read the full detailed article please see:   Presonus Studio One 2 Review

Launched about two years ago, the first Studio One version impressed with its maturity. The program was stable, practical and well thought-out. It had almost nothing to envy the leading sequencing tools. Studio One has gone a long way since the first version: it was dramatically enhanced in v1.5 and now comes back with a really amazing version 2. Let’s check it out.

Presonus Studio One 2

Never change a winning horse! Once you install the software and the numerous plug-ins and sound banks included, you’ll find a familiar user interface. In fact, the philosophy of the product didn’t change much: the software distinguishes between a Song (single song to be recorded/edited/mixed) and a Project (which can include several songs for mastering tasks, for example).

Based on this philosophy, the product is organized in three different parts: Start (to create or open a Song or a Project, to access the setup options of the application, to load updates or to get news about the product), Song (to record, edit and mix a song), and Project (to master and export one or several songs, or even a full audio CD). You’ll obviously use the Song mode the most, which is also the one that has the most comprehensive features.

The layout of the GUI is still the same. On the right-hand side you have a Live-like browser that allows you to browse your audio/MIDI files, plug-ins, ReWire apps like Reason, and all their presets (via category, manufacturer or a search engine). On the left-hand side you have a track inspector. In the middle is the arrange window. The lower part of the screen is dedicated to the edit window, which displays either the audio editor, the piano roll or the mixer. Each of these components can be collapsed and you also have the possibility to move the editor and mixer windows freely, regardless of the position of the main window. This can come in very handy, for instance, when you want to display the main window permanently on a second screen… The Project GUI is still the same: besides a pre/post-fader stack of inserts, it includes an area dedicated to the waveform of your different songs and several large-sized displays for the frequency spectrum, the main level or the stereo field.

In short, the new features are not visible at first sight and you’ll have to dig deeper into the software to discover them.

One click away from groove

Presonus Studio One 2

That’s it? Nothing new? On the contrary, you get lots of new features, starting with a crucial one: you can now manage comping tracks, which wasn’t possible before in Studio One. In v1.6.5 when you recorded in loop, the software recorded all takes and then allowed you to generate a new track for each of them. Although this function is still available (via the “Unpack to Tracks” option), you can also extract the takes to different Layers, which is more convenient for future processing. You can solo each layer and you have the possibility to select a segment of a take with a single click in order to create a comping track with the best segments of the different takes. The software adds an auto-crossfade to avoid audio artifacts when placing segments from different takes side by side. It is also worth mentioning that this feature can be used with grouped tracks (which can be especially valuable for drum tracks). This is certainly nothing revolutionary and you can find similar features in most competitor products. However, it is very well achieved in Studio One so it is very welcome!

Among the new audio features, you’ll also find the many advanced options for sync and quantization tasks. Although v1.6.5 already gave you the possibility to quantize audio clips by splitting them in as many sub-clips as required taking transients as reference, the new Studio One version makes this process much easier because it can now detect transients automatically. This feature is extremely easy to use and very useful for groove extraction and quantization tasks. It can even operate in the background without you noticing a thing or needing to start or set the transient detection.

Presonus Studio One 2

To quantize an audio clip, just select it and press Q. The quantize function can be edited and is available in different modes: Time Stretching or Slicing (like in REX, segments are more or less spaced out instead of being stretched). Are you afraid that a very strong quantization might give robotic results? Press Alt + Q instead of Q to quantize 50%. It’s in such details that Studio One makes the difference. True, all sequencers allow you to quantize more or less strongly, but only a few provide you with a clever 50% quantization that is accessible with a simple shortcut. And not every sequencer indicates (with colors) which segments of the audio file are affected by the quantize function, so you can check the precision of the processing and make fine tuning manually if needed. It may not seem much but such features are quite valuable in terms of efficiency: you save one click here and there, so in the end you work quicker and more effectively.

The Groove Extraction function is also very easy to use: simply drag and drop a MIDI/audio clip into the quantize window and you have a new groove preset that you can use as a reference. Now drag and drop the groove into the sequencer to create a MIDI file automatically so you can assign it freely to any virtual instrument…

Once again PreSonus tackles a flaw that was present in the first Studio One version and does it in a very clever way. But there is something even better in this new version: it’s called Melodyne.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

There is only one conclusion: Bravo! With this second version, Studio One hits the nail on the head and could turn the very quiet market of standard DAWs upside down. It’s true that Studio One does nothing that competitors can’t do, but it often does things better (i.e. simpler) while being perfectly reliable and stable (not one single crash during the two months we needed for the review). And this ease-of-use has a huge impact on user’s creativity because going from the idea to actually making it real is shorter and easier — everything flows. You stay focused on what you have to do, instead of thinking about how to do it. When you want to make music, it’s not normal to spend half the time with useless signal routing and menu search tasks. This is the main problem that the developers at PreSonus have tried to tackle — and all other sequencer manufacturers will have to take notice as well if they don’t want to lose clients. Not to mention the great value added by integrating Melodyne into Studio One, which bears no comparison with the poor quality algorithms developed by its competitors…

Apart from these essential features, we also appreciate PreSonus’ commitment to develop a modern sequencer: excellent SoundCloud integration, user resource sharing, etc. It certainly has still a long way to go. Some missing features must be added (especially OMF support or any other solution that makes it easier to exchange files with other sequencers) and Studio One can be improved in many aspects, but PreSonus is on the right path.

Now, let’s talk about the pretty aggressive price ranging from $49 to $319, depending on the version. In order to match every budget, the different versions omit several features. Basically, the main difference between both Artist and Producer versions is that the first one doesn’t support third-party plug-ins or MP3 files. Moreover, the sound banks provided with each version are different. The Pro version includes many more features than the Producer version: more plug-ins (Open Air, IR-Maker, Multiband Dynamics), external hardware effects support via the Pipeline plug-in, Soundcloud integration, Quicktime video format support, 64-bit processing, and especially the mastering section of the program, plus Melodyne Essentials (provided as a trial version in Artist and Producer) and the Komplete Elements bundle.

Considering that Melodyne Essentials and Komplete Elements are sold for $150, the Pro version is certainly the best value for money. Personally, I’m not sure if such a wide product range is useful: an “Artist” version without SoundCloud integration or MP3 and third-party plug-in support seems a bit cheap. I guess it would be more clever to have only two versions: Producer and Pro… Anyway, I suggest you to buy the Pro version. You’ll save time and money.

And if you hesitate with other allround sequencers around, I recommend you to download the demo version from PreSonus’ website and try it out. Compare it with the trial versions of competitor products — if they are available — and make your own opinion. Some products will attract your attention due to their effect/instrument bundles (Sonar, Samplitude), others due to their incredible value for money (e.g. Reaper). However, I’m pretty confident about how Studio One will rate as soon as you stop reading the specs and start making music with it.

Advantages: 
2012 Safe Bet Award
  • Practicality and simplicity for music creation
  • Stability (not a single crash in two whole months)
  • Very good value for money
  • Excellent Melodyne integration
  • Excellent SoundCloud integration
  • Great freeze function
  • Track comping
  • Audio quantize and groove extraction
  • FX inserts into clips
  • Easy routing management via Folder Tracks
  • Track List, which makes it easier to browse complex projects and create MIDI tracks
  • New indicators in the mastering section
  • DDP support
  • OpenAir and IR-Maker
  • Ampire revisited
  • Well thought-out Music Loop format
  • Resource sharing between users
  • Melodyne Essential and Komplete Elements provided with the Pro version
Drawbacks:
  • Some fonts are too small
  • We wish the GUI was customizable (macros, keyboard shortcuts, skins, etc.)
  • No OMF support
  • No de-esser nor Transient Designer, improvable instrument bundle in both Artist and Producer versions (Komplete Elements is missing)
  • Both Artist and Producer versions could be replaced by a single $149 version with MP3 and SoundCloud support…

To read the full detailed article please see:   Presonus Studio One 2 Review

March 5, 2012

Propellerhead Reason 6 Review

Each new Reason version brings a bunch of surprises with itself, meeting some of the demands of its users. Here you have the new features Propellerhead added to Reason 6.

Like every other serious piece of software, Reason has been updated many times since its launch back in 2000. Each update has brought improvements, bug fixes (plenty compared to other DAWs) and new features, especially in terms of modular elements. Version 2.0 (2002) introduced the Malmström and NN-XT, version 2.5 (2003) included three new effects (Scream 4, RV7000, BV512) and two routers (Spider Audio and CV). Version 3.0 (2005) added the MClass Mastering Suite and the Combinator. More recently, version 4 (2007) impressed the audio world with Thor (an excellent polyphonic synth that combines different sound synthesis technologies), as well as ReGroove and RGP-8. Finally, version 5 (2010) included instruments like Kong and Dr. Octorex (full review here).

As you can see, each new version provided real new features (and we only mentioned Reason’s virtual instruments, effects and routers), making the sequencer and its standalone virtual rack more powerful every time. However it never quite fulfilled the demands of some users (the others are really satisfied with the current features) in terms of audio recording and external plug-in support. The real audio sampling feature of Reason 5 was seen as a sign for the upcoming addition of audio data management features, especially considering that Propellerhead had already proved to have the skills for multitrack audio recording with the introduction of Record in 2009.

Finally the time has come! In version 6, Propellerhead combined the two software programs and added some other functions and elements. Detailed overview.

Introducing Propellerhead Reason 6

Propellerhead Reason 6

Reason 6 is sold in a box including a DVD, the Ignition Key (containing the authorization key for the program) and some other documents. Unfortunately, I can’t give you more details because I received Reason as a download (3.68 GB) for the review. The installer still includes a Reason folder to be copy-pasted into the Applications folder (on a Mac). This folder includes the documentation (the printed version disappeared with Reason 5), the application itself and two Refills required to use Reason (Factory Sound Bank and Orkester).

Test system
MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz
MacBookPro i7 2.3 GHz
OS 10.6.8
Reason 6.0.2
Reason Essentials 1.0.2
Balance

The online authorization process uses the Ignition key and the Authorizer server. Since version 4, it is not possible to use all Reason features without this key anymore, which isn’t good. Instead of a proprietary key (which means one USB port less), the manufacturer could use a Syncrosoft/Steinberg-like key, an iLok or nothing at all, which would be better…

However, Propellerhead allows you to use all features in Reason without the key if you have an Internet connection and have previously registered the product on their website. Or you can use the Demo mode, which allows you to record and save your songs but not to open them.

Besides combining the features of the two software packages —which means adding to Reason the multitrack recording capabilities and some modular elements (Neptune, ID-8, Line-6 models) from Record—, the manufacturer also added three new effects (Pulveriser Demolition, The Echo Delay and Alligator Filtered Gate), enlarged the content of the factory bank, implemented Record’s mixing console (presented as an SSL 9000K emulation), and introduced 64-bit support (also for ReWire) as well as other improvements.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Like every new release, this Reason version brings a lot of new features with itself — and we must point out that Propellerhead really pampers its users with this 6th version. To have a multitrack recorder within a reliable, familiar, powerful and stable environment is a huge advantage. All the more considering that it compromises nothing in terms of philosophy and ease-of-use. The new modules (Alligator, Pulveriser and The Echo) are without a doubt on the same level as their predecessors.

To wrap it up, Propellerhead has struck a decisive blow once again. We could even expect them to exchange technologies with other manufacturers —like UA does with other famous brands—, not to add plug-in formats that would make Reason less reliable (don’t forget that this piece of software is a paradigm of stability), but to bring together different skills to improve this closed environment that keeps on getting better and better every time.

Advantages: 
  • Original philosophy unchanged
  • Ergonomics
  • Stability
  • More standalone every time
  • All the power of Record within Reason
  • Internal audio inputs management per channel
  • Powerful new modules
  • More CV connections…
  • We finally get a real mixing console
  • 64 bit audio summing
  • Creative and powerful Pulveriser module
  • Original Alligator module
  • Alligator’s pattern and manual control systems
  • The Echo, a powerful delay
  • Analog-like behavior
  • Ducking function in The Echo
  • Dry/Wet balance in all three modules
  • Comprehensive manual with search engine and hyperlinks
Drawbacks:
  • No possibility to change the level meter display in the tracks
  • No drag-and-drop audio import
  • Different quality and performance of the time-stretching tool
  • Always more difficult to use with only one screen, specially if you have a notebook
  • I missed the possibility to choose form several distortions/saturations in Pulveriser and Alligator
  • Not enough vertical zoom in the sequencer window
  • Proprietary Ignition key: one USB port less…

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Reason 6 Review

January 3, 2012

Native Instruments Komplete 8 & Komplete 8 Ultimate review Unpublish

Native Instruments has been offering a selection of its software products grouped under the brand “Komplete” for several years now. The selection is updated every year with the latest versions of several products plus some additional tools. And it offers a rather unbeatable value for money ($499).

Native Instruments Komplete 8 et Komplete 8 Ultimate

Considering that products like Kontakt or Reaktor are sold for $399 each, it would be a huge mistake to ignore Komplete and the 26 other tools it includes for only $100 bucks more. You would be missing synths like Massive, FM8 and Absynth, effects like Reflektor, The Finger and Transient Master, drums like Studio Drummer and Abbey Road 60’s, as well as Guitar Rig Pro and some acoustic and electric pianos. The full product list is available here. Add to this a $25 voucher and you get an extremely appealing product.

People who already own a previous version of Komplete (v2 or higher) can upgrade for $199, which might be especially attractive for those thinking about buying Studio Drummer ($149). People who own Maschine, Kontakt, Reaktor, Kore or Guitar Rig Kontrol can crossgrade for $369.

The Ultimate Pack

Native Instruments Komplete 8 et Komplete 8 Ultimate

Komplete 8 marks the arrival of a new version sold for $999, which includes nothing more than all 50 Native Instruments software tools available right now. If you’re not sure which version of Komplete 8 is right for you, take a look at the comparison chart on this page. The most interesting products included in the Ultimate version (and missing in the normal version) are Session Strings Pro (it’s a pity that Komplete 8 doesn’t include a “non-pro” version!), the VC 2A, 76 and 160 effects, Abbey Road 70’s and 80’s drums, Modern Drums, Scarbee bass, Funk Guitarist, Alicia Keys piano, and George Duke Soul. That’s a lot, all the more considering that some of these tools are very interesting (look up their reviews on AudioFanzine). It’s up to you to decide if you need them or not…

List of the programs included in Komplete 8 and Komplete 8 Ultimate already reviewed on AudioFanzine:

To read the full detailed review see:  Komplete 8 & Komplete 8 Ultimate Review

December 12, 2011

Native Instruments Maschine Mikro Review

Two years ago, Native Instruments introduced Maschine, a kind of hybrid MPC combining software and hardware technologies. The software is now in version 1.7 and the manufacturer has also introduced Maschine Mikro — a simpler but cheaper version.

Besides being a huge success, Maschine marked an evolution on the hardware and software levels. First of all, the reader should refer to the user reviews. You’ll surely notice that some cons that we pointed out in our Maschine 1.0 review (in French) have been already fixed. But let’s start with the hardware of Maschine Mikro and the applications for which it has been conceived.

Mikro But Powerful

There is more than a family resemblance between Maschine and the Mikro version, but their dimensions are slightly different: the smaller brother is 12.6″ x 7.7″ x 2.2″ big (against 12.6″ x 11.6″ x 2.4″). This means that the Mikro version is about 6″ shorter, which is not bad considering a small desktop already fully packed with the computer keyboard, a MIDI keyboard, a mouse, controllers, etc. With a weight of 2.6 lbs (1.3 lb lighter than the “Makro” version), the Maschine Mikro is easily transportable in a backpack.

The first visible change is that the Mikro has only one display (instead of two) with a lower resolution (half as many pixels). Second major change: it has far less encoders! From the 11 encoders available on Maschine you get only one, placed above the display. The backlit switches are also decimated: you get only 28 from the 41 present on the original Maschine. Luckily, the number of pads is still the same (16) and the software is identical.

The transport console is almost the same (Loop is replaced by Restart) but there is no more direct access to the groups. With Maschine Mikro, you’ll have to push a Group button and then one of the pads. Two steps instead of one; slightly less practical. Also note that you can select a group using a keyboard shortcut as well, which is the lesser evil.

Generally speaking, it’s more difficult to browse through effects, sounds, patterns, plug-ins, and projects using only the hardware, due to the smaller display and the single rotary encoder. As we expected, Maschine Mikro makes the user more dependent on his computer mouse, screen and keyboard… This is not necessarily an issue if you use your DAW at home with your sequencer, but it might become a problem for live musicians because they don’t have the possibility of storing parameter automation data directly unto the hardware unit nor adjusting several values simultaneously. They’ll have to use an additional MIDI controller, which is not the case with the original Maschine. The last hardware difference is that Maschine Mikro has no MIDI connections on 5-pin DIN connectors!

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Maschine is back — smaller and more affordable ($349 instead of $599). The difference with its bigger brother concern mainly the hardware unit and the fact that it is more difficult to make music without putting your hands on your computer mouse and keyboard. In fact, Maschine Mikro is designed for musicians who work at home with a sequencer and want to use the hardware controller mainly for groove programming. In this case, Maschine Mikro fulfills its role very well because grabbing to your mouse is not an issue. If you want to use Maschine for live performances, real-time sound tweaking and parameter adjustment, and also if you want to control everything from the hardware unit, try the “complete” Maschine version, which thanks to the frequent software updates has become more and more powerful every time.

Advantages:

  • Price!
  • Reliable and comprehensive software (version 1.7)
  • More than 6GB of sounds provided
  • Very affordable additional sound banks
  • Komplete Element for free
  • A real inspiring tool
  • Hardware quality

Drawbacks:

  • Not as powerful as Maschine for live applications
  • Recording automation data directly from the hardware unit is impossible

To read the full detailed article see:  Maschine Mikro Review

 

October 4, 2011

IK Multimedia T-RackS Black 76 & T-RackS White 2A and Native Instruments VC 76 & VC 2A Review

The (almost) simultaneous launch of the 1176 and LA2A software versions by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments is a good opportunity to make a quick comparison. Let’s go!

Some hardware products —instruments, signal and effect processors— have a kind of Holy Grail status. Among studio processors —and regardless of their denomination: limiting amplifiers, leveling amplifiers or just compressors— the Teletronix LA-2A and Urei/Universal Audio 1176 LN, as well as the legendary Fairchild 660 & 670, which are extremely rare to find (we saw a unit sold for $42,000 on ebay…), are highly regarded pieces of gear you’ll still find in big studios either as original or reissue versions. Many recording studios also use more or less faithful replicas of the originals designed by manufacturers ranging from Studio Electronics to Purple Action that (mostly) have a great sound quality. It’s simple: these legendary tools can be heard on almost every album ever produced since they were first introduced.

As expected, the software world also has its own interpretation of these legends. Since the early attempts by Bomb Factory to the latest products by IK Multimedia and Native Instruments in collaboration with Softube, and including the existing Universal Audio, URS and Waves products, the market is packed with software simulations.

We do not intend to review all software versions (they are too many) nor to compare them with vintage or modern hardware products. We just want to compare two manufacturers and use the same plugins for Universal Audio’s platform UAD-1/2 as a reference, without neglecting the performance of the original processors and some hardware replicas. Note that Native Instruments’ Vintage Compressors bundle also includes the famous dbx 160 compressor, which we won’t take into account for this review.

Introducing the Plug-ins

Test system

MacPro Xeon 3.2 GHz

OS 10.6.7

Logic 9.1.4

IK Multimedia T-RackS3 Black 76 and White 2A v.3.5.1

Native Instrument Vintage Compressors VC 76 and VC 2A

UAD-2 UAD 1176 LN and UAD LA-2A v.5.9.1

Native Instruments decided to collaborate with Softube, a manufacturer that has launched quite exceptional plugins — I can’t seem to get enough of — like the Acoustic Feedback and the Tubetech CL 1B. I haven’t had the opportunity to try out their reverbs and amp simulations yet, but other user’s feedback is very promising. So let’s start with the Urei 1176 LN and Teletronix LA-2A emulations (VC 76 & VC 2A) conceived for Guitar Rig 4, like the other Studio Effects of the manufacturer. The good news is that the Guitar Rig 4 player is free. The bad news is that you can’t use the plugins unless you have the manufacturer’s guitar multi-effect. Available for Mac (Intel only) and PC in 32-bit and 64-bit versions, the bundle —including the host (GR4 or GR4 Player) plus the plugins— supports AU, VST and RTAS formats and includes a standalone version. As always, activation is done via the Service Center.

As their name already implies, IK Multimedia’s T-RackS Black 76 and T-RackS White 2A were conceived to work within T-Racks 3, but also as individual 32-bit or 64-bit plugins to be used directly in any DAW that supports AU, VST or RTAS. As usual, to activate them you’ll have to use the Authorization Manager.

As for Universal Audio’s UAD 1176LN and UAD LA2A plugins, they are only available for the DSP cards developed by the manufacturer, from the UAD-1 to the UAD-2 Quad. Our card uses OS 5.9.1. The plugins are Mac and PC compatible, they support 32-bit and 64-bit operation (only the card drivers actually work in 64 bits, the plugins still operate at 32 bits and require a bridge), and work with AU, VST and RTAS.

Did you ask for the 1176…?

All software manufacturers took their inspiration from the LN version of the FET 1176 compressor. LN (for Low Noise) means that the product includes a modification made by Mr Plunkett, engineer at Urei, who wanted to reduce the noise. You can recognize it by the famous black front instead of the traditional burst aluminum front with blue stripes around the VU-meter. These versions, referred to as C, D and E, are the most venerated. From a technical and audio standpoint, FET compressors contributed the principle of adjustable ratio, as well as much shorter attack and release times compared to competitors using Vari-Mu or optical designs.

IK Multimedia designed its plugin based on an E model. Neither Native Instruments nor Softube give any information on this matter. However, Softube’s experience developing the FET Compressor was certainly an advantage for Native Instruments. UA doesn’t give any information about the model either. Anyway, all three have a very similar sound character, just like signal processors that use only analog components (don’t forget that every unit sounds slightly different than the other, even if it’s the exact same version).

As for the features, except for the major innovation in the form of a stereo version (we’re talking about the 1176, not the Urei 1178 stereo version), UA stays faithful to the original. Thus, you get all the original features users like so much for their ease of use: a pair of big controls for input and output adjustment, two smaller Attack and Release knobs, four Ratio buttons (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1) including an All-Buttons mode, and four VU-meter buttons (Off, +4, +8, and GR). However, you don’t have the possibility to set the Attack control to Off, which would switch the compressor to ratio 1:1, meaning you could process the signal without compression in order to get only the device’s sound character. All three manufacturers reproduced the (confusing, at least in the beginning) operation of the controls: the fastest attack time is not hard left (1) but hard right (7). The same applies to the release. Attack times range from 20 to 800 microseconds (yes, micro!), while release times range from 50 to 1,100 milliseconds.

Native Instruments and IK Multimedia added some modifications. IK Multimedia added four snapshots, taken from T-RackS’s architecture, plus L/R and M/S buttons allowing the user to choose between one of the two operating modes (well done!). Three additional buttons (L, R and =, where L and R become M and S in M/S mode) allow the user to process the two channels of a signal separately or together. IK Multimedia’s version also displays the setting values, but they don’t quite match reality, at least for Attack and Release, which is a pity. What’s the use of adding values if they have no meaning… The All-Buttons mode is accessible via a dedicated knob. Ratio 1:1 is available clicking the Off button under the Attack control. You also have Bypass and Reset buttons.

In Native Instruments’ version, a Ratio slider replaces all four original buttons but offers all usual values (4:1 to 20:1 plus All-Buttons mode). The 1:1 ratio replaces the bypass button under the Attack control. The VU-meter management also changed: you can display the input level, output level and gain reduction. The plugin comes with a preset menu accessible via the advanced settings. The side-chain input (great for techno/electro fans) comes with a slider that allows the user to adjust the amount of direct signal so that parallel compression is possible by adjusting the output level (which has no effect on compression itself). Unlike Softube’s FET Compressor, note that you get no continuous Ratio setting.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

So, what should you choose, Native Instruments or IK Multimedia (UA doesn’t count because it was only used as a reference)? It’s a difficult question because both options provide advantages and good sound results. Will these plugins replace real 1176LN and LA-2A hardware processors? No. Does their performance match the original hardware versions? Yes, except for some applications (All-Button mode, transients management in given situations, settings and/or VU-meter calibration). Is it possible to do a good job with them? Yes. Software manufacturers benefit from the ever-increasing computer performance and offer more authentic emulations every time. Take for example the 24/7, which was considered a really good plugin when it was launched…

And these tools are affordable, which is not the case of the hardware gear they are based on. Each IK Multimedia module is sold for €89.99 and can be used in T-Racks. The Native Instruments bundle (including the three compressors) is sold for €199, while single plugins go for €99; and Guitar Rig Player 4, which is required for their use, is free. Moreover, both manufacturers offer fully-usable demo versions, which is an excellent way for you to expand on this comparison.

To read the full detailed article see: Vintage Compressors Review

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

July 8, 2011

Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2 Review

Filed under: DJ, Software — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 10:11 am

Having reviewed the Traktor Kontrol S4 at the end of 2010, I got an email from Native Instruments in early April offering me a free upgrade for Traktor Pro 2. The differences between both S4 and PRO 2 versions are not so big as you’ll see in this review, however there is an important gap between the previous Traktor version and the upcoming Traktor 2.

Installation

Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2

Like every Native Instruments software, you’ll have to authorize the product via the service center: a small interface that allows you to enter your activation key, follow the recommended updates and download the documentation and drivers relative to your NI products. You will have no problems during the installation. I have three Traktor versions installed in my computer to compare them for the review: Traktor PRO 1.2.7, Traktor PRO S4 1.0.1 and the brand new Traktor PRO 2.

 

The first thing I did was check if my Numark Omni Control worked properly using the Setup Wizard in Traktor 2. As expected, the controller as well as its internal sound card were recognized and all controls worked properly. As a reminder, you’ll find all supported controllershere.  In fact, you’ll notice that among all 42 control surface listed in Traktor, only two of them are not officially supported by Traktor 2: Allen & Heath XONE 3D and VESTAX VCM 100. I don’t have any of these controllers, so I couldn’t do a test, but my guess is that they do work…

The Traktor Range

A quick overview of the Traktor 2 range (see all features here).

Traktor DUO: the version just below Traktor PRO with only two decks, two FX processors, six effects, no loop recorder…

Traktor PRO: this version has four decks, four FX processors, 30 effects. It lacks nothing except for a timecode control for vinyls.

Traktor SCRATCH (either in DUO or PRO version): adds two major features, timecode control for vinyls and a native audio interface (Audio 6 with DUO and Audio 10 with PRO).

Tracktor LE: Traktor’s light version. You get no loop recorder and no sample decks, and you get only three effects. This version is only available bundled with other products. Here is a list of all products that include Traktor LE.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Expectations for Traktor 2 were high, but this is no revolution. The main improvements in this new version are the samplers and the loop recorder. These features alone are worth the upgrade price. All new effects sound excellent, even if they won’t change the world. The waveform display looks very nice but is certainly not essential for most of us. However, Traktor is still very effective if you want to get perfect mixes. Furthermore, everyone will appreciate its reliability and stability. Nevertheless, Native Instruments could have been a bit more ambitious, for example in developing more sophisticated crossfaders like some competitors have (e.g. Avid’s Torq 2.0).

Advantages:

  • Samplers and loop recorder
  • New waveform display
  • Some additional effects
  • Still very reliable
  • Upgrade price

Drawbacks:

  • No sophisticated crossfader

To read the full detailed article see:  Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2 Review

March 11, 2011

Mixing in a Plug-In World

Filed under: Mixing reviews, Plugin — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 9:17 am

You gotta love plug-ins, but they’ve changed the rules of mixing. In the hardware days, the issue was whether you had enough hardware to deal with all your tracks. Now that you can insert the same plug-in into multiple tracks, the question is whether your processor can handle all of them.

Does it matter? After all, mixing is about music, balance, and emotional impact—not processing. But it’s also about fidelity, because you want good sound. And that’s where Mr. Practical gets into a fight with Mr. Power.

The Plug-in Problem

Plug-ins require CPU power. CPUs can’t supply infinite amounts of power. Get the picture? Run too many plug-ins, and your CPU will act like an overdrawn bank account. You’ll hear the results: Audio gapping, stuttering, and maybe even a complete audio engine nervous breakdown.

And in a cruel irony, the best-sounding plug-ins often drain the most CPU power. This isn’t an ironclad rule; some poorly-written plug-ins are so inefficient they draw huge amounts of power, while some designers have developed ultra-efficient algorithms that sound great and don’t place too many demands on your CPU. But in general, it holds true.

Bottom line: If you need to use processing in your mix, you want as much available power as possible. Here are the Top Ten tips that’ll help you make it happen.

1. Upgrade Your CPU

Let’s get the most expensive option out of the way first. Because plug-ins eat CPU cycles, the faster your processor can execute commands, the more plug-ins it can handle. Although there are a few other variables, as a rule of thumb higher clock speeds = more power for plug-ins. Still running in the sub-GigaHertz range? Time for an upgrade. Cool bonus: Pretty much everything else will happen faster, too.

2. Increase Latency

Réglage de latence

Fig. 1: Click for full image and description.

And in the spirit of equal time, here’s the least expensive option: Increase your system latency. When you’re recording, especially if you’re doing real-time processing (e.g., playing guitar through a guitar amp simulation plug-in) or playing soft synths via keyboard, low latency is essential so that there’s minimal delay between playing a note and hearing it. However, that forces your CPU to work a lot harder. Mixing is a different deal: You’ll never really notice 10 or even 25ms of latency. The higher the latency, the more plug-ins you’ll be able to run. Some apps let you adjust latency from a slider, found under something like “Preferences.” Or, you may need to adjust it in an applet that comes with your sound card or audio interface (Fig. 1).

Now let’s take a closer look…

9. Use Snapshot Automation

Plug-ins aren’t the only things that stress out your CPU: Complex, real-time automation also chows down on CPU cycles. So, simplifying your automation curves will leave more power available for the CPU to run plugs. Your host may have a “thinning” algorithm; use it, as you generally don’t need that much automation data to do the job (particularly if you did real-time automation with fader moves). But the ultimate CPU saver is using snapshot automation (which in many cases is all you really need anyway) instead of continuous curves. This process basically takes a “snapshot” of all the settings at a particular point on the DAW’s timeline, and when the DAW passes through that time, the settings are recalled and applied.

10. Check Your Plug-in’s Automation Protocol

Our last tip doesn’t relate to saving CPU power, but to preserving sound quality. Many plug-ins and soft synths offer multiple ways to automate: By recording the motion of on-screen controls, driving with MIDI controller data, using host automation (like VST or DXi), etc. However, not all automation methods are created equal. For example, moving panel controls may give higher internal resolution than driving via MIDI, which may be quantized into 128 steps. Bottom line: Using the right automation will make for smoother filter sweeps, less stair-stepping, and other benefits.

Okay . . . there are your Top Ten tips, but here’s a bonus one: Any time you go to insert a plug-in, ask yourself if you really need to use it. A lot of people start their mix a track at a time, and optimize the sound for that track by adding EQ, reverb, etc. Then they bring in other tracks and optimize those. Eventually, you end up with an overprocessed, overdone sound that’s just plain annoying. Instead, try setting up a mix first with your instruments more or less “naked.” Only then, start analyzing where any problems might lie, then go about fixing them. Often tracks that may not sound that great in isolation mesh well when played together.

To read the full detailed article see:  Mixing in a Plug-In World

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