AF’s Weblog

February 2, 2011

Mastering: Curve Analysis and Acquision Software

Bob Ludwig, Doug Sax, Bernie Grundman – they’re masters of mastering. They produce hit after hit, with nothing at their disposal other than…well, experience, talent, great ears, the right gear, and superb acoustics.

So maybe you’re missing one or more of those elements, and wish that what came out of your studio sounded as good as what comes out of theirs. So, why not just analyze the spectral response curves of well-mastered recordings, and apply those responses to you own tunes?

Why not, indeed – but can you really steal someone’s distinctive spectral balance and get that magic sound?

The answer is no…and yes. No, because it’s highly unlikely that EQ decisions made for one piece of music are going to work with another. So even if you do steal the response, it’s not necessarily going to have the same effect. But the other answer is yes, because curve-stealing processors can really help you understand the way songs are mixed and mastered, and point the way toward improving the quality of your own tunes.

As to the tools that do this sort of thing, we’ll look at Steinberg’s FreeFilter (which was discontinued, but still appears in stores sometimes), Voxengo CurveEQ, and Har-Bal Harmonic Balancer. They’re very similar, yet also, very different.

How They Work

FreeFilter and Voxengo split the spectrum into multiple frequency bands in order to analyze a signal. These create a spectral response, as from a spectrum analyzer, while a song plays back. During playback, the program builds a curve that shows the average amount of energy at various frequencies. You can apply this analysis (reference) curve to a target file so that the target will have the same spectral response as the analyzed file, as well as edit and save the reference file.

Har-Bal isn’t curve-stealing software per se. While optionally observing the response of a reference signal, you can open another file, and see its curve superimposed upon the reference. You can edit the opened file’s curve so it matches the reference signal more closely, but this is a manual, not automatic, process.

Fig. 1: The black line is the spectral response for Madonna’s Ray of Light; the red line represents a Fatboy Slim mix. Fatboy’s has a lot more treble, while Ray of Light has a serious low-end peak.

The manual vs. automatic aspect is in some ways a workflow issue. FreeFilter and Voxengo start by creating the reference curve, but give you the tools to adjust this manually because you’ll probably want to make some changes. Har-Bal takes the reverse route: You start out manually, and if you want to, use the tools to create something that resembles the visual reference curve, which was generated automatically when you opened the file. Also remember that curve-stealing is only a part of these programs’ talents; they’re really sophisticated EQs.

So what do some typical curves look like? Check out Fig. 1. The black line is the spectral response for Madonna’s “Ray of Light,” while the red line represents a Fatboy Slim mix. Past about 1 kHz, Fatboy’s curve shows enough high frequency energy to shatter glass. “Ray of Light” has a higher response below about 400 Hz, due mostly to a prominent kick. It has a more thud-heavy, disco kind of vibe, whereas Fatboy Slim leans more toward a techno style of mastering. Apply these curves to your own music, and they’ll take on the characteristics of the reference tunes – but the results may not be what you expect, as we’ll see.

Now let’s take a look at the individual software…

So What Does Work?

Using your ears to compare your work to a well-mastered recording is a tried-and-true technique, but it shortens the learning process when you can actually compare curves visually and see what frequencies exhibit the greatest differences.

I’ve found a few reference comparison curves for Har-Bal that work well for certain types of music: Fatboy Slim for when dance mixes are too dull, “Ray of Light” for a house music-type low-end boost, Cirque de Soleil’s “Alegria” for rock music, and Gloria Estefan’s “Mi Tierra” for acoustic projects. On very rare occasions I use their curves, but when I do, they’re more like “presets” because they end up getting tweaked a lot. Automatic curve-stealing just doesn’t do it for me, but “save me 10 minutes by putting me in the ballpark” does.

But my main use for curve-analyzing software is for stealing from myself. After mastering a music project for a soundtrack, one tune sounded a little better than the others – everything fell together just right. So, as an experiment, I subtly applied its response to some of the other tunes. The entire collection ended up sounding more consistent, but the differences between tunes remained intact – just as I’d hoped.

Another good use was when German musician Dr. Walker remixed one of my tunes for a compilation CD, but used a loop for which he couldn’t get legal clearance. Rather than give up, I created a similar loop that wasn’t a copy, but had a similar “vibe.” Yet it didn’t really do the job – until I applied the illegal loop’s response curve to my copy. Bingo! The timbral match was actually more important than the particular notes I played in terms of making the loop work with the rest of the tune.

To read the full detailed article please see:  Curves of Steal

This does produce a weird paradox, though: I used a piece of curve-stealing software to avoid stealing a piece of copyrighted material. I guess it’s all part of the living in the 21st century.

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January 10, 2011

Cakewalk Sonar X1 Review

The new Sonar version has arrived. However, instead of being version 9, it is named Sonar X1. Cakewalk actually decided to completely rebuild the interface of its sequencer. And it changes everything. For good.

Interface

Review Environment
 

We reviewed the software with a release candidate version and two different computers: my studio computer is a Q6600 (quad core) with 4 GB RAM running Win XP, it has two 20″ wide screens and my sound card is an RME Multiface. I also have a Behringer BCF (to control the sound card), a Mackie Control (for the sequencer) and a Novation Remote SL 25 with Automap (2.5) for virtual instruments. The second computer is my notebook. I use it a lot for office and web applications and also a bit for photo editing. Except for some utilities, the only music applications I had used, until this test, with this computer was the Virtual DJ and the Hercule DJ Console last summer. The notebook is a Dell Precision M4400 running Seven 64 bit on a Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU with 4 GB RAM. The sound card is an Echo Indigo IO. The review was done at 24 bits/88.2 kHz with a 256-sample buffer size for 3.3 ms nominal latency and 7.3 ms total latency.


A recurrent reproach about previous Sonar versions was its confusing interface. Experienced users got on with it and liked to have a lot of information in front of their eyes, but new users could get easily lost and even miss interesting functions the software offers.

For this new version, Cakewalk put most of its efforts in redesigning the user interface. It’s almost as if Cakewalk developers asked themselves: if we could create a new software from scratch, how would we do it? The result includes new windows, a new menu and function structure, and loads of work on graphic aspects. The result looks astonishing. Everything is much clearer, much more easily readable, and all functions —especially the most interesting and powerful ones— are now easily accessible.

The new default screen layout recalls the old one… The Global View displays the main elements (see screenshot below).

All these elements can be floating, and the user can move, enlarge or reduce them. The different screen configurations can be saved in ten screen sets, six of which can be directly accessed by clicking on the tool bar. This way you can create different working environments depending on the task and instantaneously switch between them.

The Multidock (on the bottom by default) can host any element: the content of the current track, the mixer, the step sequencer, the matrix, etc. You can also drag the browser, virtual instruments, etc. into it. You can browse among the different elements using tabs. The GUI is very practical and fast. Like all other windows, the Multidock can be moved to a second monitor. That’s probably the ideal working configuration: it allows us to keep a track plus the inspector maximized on one screen while other elements are displayed on the other screen. Awesome!

But, there is a problem: when the Multidock is in fullscreen mode on the second monitor and you are using virtual instruments, it will appear in window mode after you restart the program and the virtual instruments will be on floating windows again. And even more annoying: after dragging the browser into the Multidock on the second screen, Sonar will crash if you try to take it back. We hope this will be quickly fixed.

Moreover, context menus have been added directly to each window, allowing you to access all useful functions and controls. We miss the possibility to open a window directly from a menu in the Multidock. That way you wouldn’t have to look for some of them in the main menu.

However, the Multidock is still a very valuable feature. The same applies to the new track inspector.

It has been updated and improved, and is now twice as wide by default. This means that, for MIDI tracks, you now get the extended view with direct access to many parameters like arpeggiator, groove, etc. For audio tracks, you get two tracks displayed side by side: the current track and the output bus it is assigned to (or the main out if the track is not routed to a bus). You can also display the ProChannel, which we will describe later and add valuable information: properties and effects of the clip or the groove, track properties, audiosnap settings, and a very convenient notepad. Everything is easily accessible, immediate and intuitive. This module is virtually perfect.

Cakewalk Sonar X1

The same applies to the track display. Beside the new GUI that makes everything much more readable, a simple but highly valuable function has been added: each track head includes a menu to select the track’s content display and what you want to edit. This is what Cakewalk calls Track Filter. The days when you risked moving a clip by clicking on the wrong place when you wanted to edit overlayed automation curves are now over. From now on, this menu allows you to display and edit only the desired automation curve. It allows you to edit clips, track or clip automation curves, as well as audio transients (audiosnap). For MIDI tracks, transient editing is replaced by note editing.

And it all turns even more awesome with the SmartTool. Thanks to this intelligent tool, Cakewalk has made the workflow with a mouse much more fluid now. The basic idea is that you don’t need to change tools to manage different tasks. Although the usual tools are still available, you almost don’t need them anymore, because the mouse automatically adapts to what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.

Thus, without changing tools, you can add and edit notes in the piano roll, move clips, manage fades in/out in an audio track, edit an automation curve in the neighbor track (depending on the filter of the selected track). The type of operation/action is defined by the place where you click the object. Very useful. If needed, you still have the possibility to quickly switch between tools via a pop-up window using the “T” keyboard shortcut or clicking with the mouse wheel (which must be preset as “center button”).

To wrap it up, this new interface is really excellent. Experienced Sonar users will quickly find everything they need, considering that everything is based on what already existed. Moreover, they will be able to improve their workflow, which will be faster and more comfortable (and they will not contribute to make their optician rich). As for new users, they will be able to learn the software much easier and faster and will easily access many well-conceived and powerful tools.

There is one thing that will surely disappoint some users: the score display is still the same after all these years. It seems that Cakewalk planned to improve it but they decided to take some time to launch a major evolution… Hopefully.

We would like to mention two new features that appeared in version 8.5, which we hadn’t reviewed.

The first one is the Matrix, a heritage of Project 5, Cakewalk’s electro sequencer. This grid is similar to what you can find in Ableton Live where lines correspond to tracks (audio or virtual instruments) and rows to song parts.

Cakewalk Sonar X1

Cells can contain audio or MIDI loops (or one-shot samples). Clicking on a cell starts the playback, a second click stops it. The same applies to rows: click on them to start all cells in a row. Rows can correspond to sections of a song you can mix together. For example, click on the bass of an other row and this bass line will replace the bass of the current row. Triggering can be instantaneous or synced (to the bar, 1/4 note, 1/8 note, etc.). The cells can be played in loops or only one time. And you can control everything via MIDI, so you can compose or improvise either with the mouse or a master keyboard. The Matrix can work independently from the track data (only the matrix is played) or on top of the project playback. You can also record in a track whatever is being done in the Matrix.

The other new feature is the step sequencer. It uses the principle of vintage sequencers (like Rebirth does). Say hello again to the grid! However, this time lines are notes (or drum elements) while rows correspond to beats. This sequencer is quite powerful and very easy to use. We just miss a glide (or glissando) function to perfectly emulate a vintage sequencer. You can load and save sequences (called patterns) independently from the project.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

In spite of a couple bugs (remember that this is a pre-release version, so hopefully they will be fixed at launch date) this major update is a great success. Sonar keeps all its advantages and gains considerably in readability, ease of use, working comfort, and effectiveness. I realized it when I went back to version 8 and wanted to compare the performance: it felt as if I had gone back several years in time! The virtual instrument and effect package provided is still very good and the added plug-ins sound really nice. What else could you ask for? That it were cheaper? It is! Cakewalk decided to strike a decisive blow offering the “big” Producer version for less than $400.

Advantages:

  • Greatly enhanced design
  • Interface readability
  • Pleasant look
  • Intelligent tools and functions
  • Excellent and comprehensive instrument pack
  • High-quality effects
  • Very competitive price

Drawbacks:

  • Crashes under Win XP
  • Some design details can still be improved
  • Nothing new regarding the score editor
  • Nothing new regarding functionality

To  read the full detailed article see:  Sonar X1 Review

December 20, 2010

Propellerhead Reason 5 Review

What features does the fifth version of the historical Propellerhead software have to offer? Overview.

We won’t retell the full Reason story, but we must acknowledge that Propellerhead shows an impressive consistency in the sense that they never derailed from their original philosophy: provide a standalone application that doesn’t allow the integration of third-party software (however open to the outside world via ReWire) and provides almost anything you need to produce electronic music.

The launch of Record (review to come) reinforces Reason’s position: instead of importing audio recordings into Reason, they can be embedded into Record, which is meant to remedy Reason’s “deficiencies.”

The fifth version of the virtual studio includes virtual synths, samplers, effects, etc., as well as some improvements and new features. Let’s have a look.

Introducing Reason 5

Propellerhead Reason 5

Reason 5 comes in a box including a DVD, a quick start guide (no printed user’s manual but an HTML help instead…) and a sheet of paper with the license and registration numbers required to activate the software and have access to updates. Note: it’s a good thing that the manufacturer tries to save paper not providing too many printed documents. But if that’s case, why do they deliver the product in such a big cardboard box? Considering the number of products sold, isn’t it a big waste of paper? I don’t really get it…

There’s no need to comment on the installation: everything is clear enough so anyone can open their first project after just fifteen clicks or so.

Powerful Sampler

Propellerhead Reason 5

Each new version brings with itself some graphic and useful improvements. On the top of the rack, you’ll find four buttons to open/close advanced audio and Midi parameters, as well as a Big Meter that can be set as a VU, PPM, Peak, VU+Peak, or PPM+Peak meter with in/out channel selection. Yes, indeed: Reason 5 finally supports audio, not for track recording like a sequencer but for making its samplers “real” samplers. Actually, many manufacturers misuse language when they state that their sample players/editors are real samplers — regardless of the incredible possibilities they provide.

It’s different at Propellerhead: with this new version, the NN-XT, NN19, Redrum and Kong (new module, see below) can record audio from any input or directly from one of the rack modules, with independent monitoring of the incoming signal. You can even route audio data directly within the computer, using Soundflower, for example (you can also create a loop with the audio card but it’s not that practical). The ability to sample the modules could inspire many manufacturers to use Reason’s possibilities to create sample banks from its very versatile instruments. Not that this wasn’t possible before, but you needed ReWire, external editors, etc.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Now it all happens inside. Select the input or the module by routing it to the sampling input on the rear side of the rack, click the waveform button (or use the tools window) and it will start recording immediately. By the way, a control to start recording manually would be much appreciated. We can imagine some extreme setups, considering that Sampling supports any stereo signal: you can rig modules and get the signal out of the main out (or the sends) of a mixer connected to several mixers, etc. So the internal possibilities are actually… endless. Once the signal has been recorded, click the Edit button to open the integrated sample editor.

Propellerhead Reason 5

Waveform display, selection, loop options, crop, normalize, invert, fade in/out and three play modes (normal, loop, forward/backward loop): only basic features (you feel like using a good old hardware sampler) but it’s enough to prepare a sample. Afterwards, you can make all resynthesis editing in any module, in which case the samples become available for all compatible instruments — including the outside world (AU, VST, etc.). Although the samples are saved by default with the actual song, you can export them to any WAV compatible tool.

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

The main advantage this version has to offer is the introduction of real sampling within the program and in all modules that deal with audio data. Hats off Propellerhead! This will hopefully have some impact among competitors. However, we also hope for an update (or a future version?) with a more sophisticated sample editor providing more features.

When it comes to new modules, Dr Octorex is very disappointing, considering that it cannot play several loops simultaneously; but, on the other hand, Kong does a very good job if you keep in mind that Reason is a software tool dedicated primarily to electronic music production. We still miss the possibility to have real pads of four layers each.

Regarding all other new features, the development team has been proving its mastery for years, and Reason 5 takes full advantage of this fact — just like all its predecessors. In short, if you want to record samples directly into a module to use them immediately, or if you want a powerful instrument dedicated to drum sound design, Reason 5 is the tool for you. If you are still hesitant, the manufacturer offers a free demo version so you can try it out.

Advantages:

  • Sampling embedded directly into the modules
  • Integrated sample editing
  • Kong module
  • Many drum samples
  • Three different sound synthesis engines in Kong
  • Dr OctoRex module
  • Improved editing
  • Possibility to export the samples recorded
  • Multicore support
  • Blocks
  • Multitrack Midi recording
  • HTML help

Drawbacks:

  • No simultaneous Rex loop playback in Dr OctoRex
  • No real four-layer pads
  • Snare drum PM and bass drum PM modules not very convincing
  • Sample recording cannot be triggered manually
  • No printed manual
  • Still no 64-bit Rewire

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see:  Reason 5 Review

May 16, 2009

Ableton Live 8 Suite: The Test

Long LIVE Ableton
Ableton Live 8: The Test

Ableton’s Live has been with us for some time now and since it’s initial release in 2001 it has proudly sported a simple one window interface and transparent ’no frills’ operation. This simplicity initially led some producers and musicians to believe it was perhaps a step down from other more complex DAWs, but seven years down the line Live has more than stood the test of time.

Many musicians, engineers and DJs have now adopted Live as their primary production or performance environment and Ableton is now onto an impressive eighth major release. Their constant development of the application is also relentless with version 8.01 of Live being released only weeks ago, which sees stability and workflow further improved.

Ouverture

Live has never been short of virtual instruments, hardware quality effects and cool production tools but each major release manages to expand this sequencer’s inventory, and version 8 is certainly no exception. With a brand-new virtual instrument, updates to the interface, new production tools, extra effects and even an expanded sample library, the folks at Ableton certainly aren’t running out of ideas.

How Suite it is

Live now comes in three different versions: Live LE (medium), Live (Large) and Ableton Suite (XL). Live LE is essentially a cut down version of Live for the entry level user or budget conscious beginner and is limited in some areas such as number of tracks and effects that can be used. Live and Ableton Suite are pretty much the same core application but the Suite contains a pretty large sample library (including the new Latin Percussion collection) and you will also get all ten virtual instruments that Ableton offers for the higher price tag.

Let’s take a look at the major changes and hear some audio examples of them in action to see if this new update is a step in the right direction…

Conclusion

This is a really major release for Live and although the application remains the same at first glance the changes could literally change the way you use it. What could be a new set of toys to the seasoned user, could potentially be the feature that convinces the new user to switch.

Plan de groupe

Installation is a breeze and can be completed by download without the need for any dongles or iLoks. Activation is an automatic process that takes a matter of minutes so you’ll be up and running in no time. So if you haven’t checked it out already then do yourself a favour and upgrade or a least test drive the demo.

Feature rich update
Very cost effective (from €49 to Live 7 users to €549 for full Ableton suite)
Exciting new effects processors and instruments
Long list of interface and workflow enhancements

Overall interface and metering may be a little basic for some pros
Lack of support for multiple monitors maybe an issue for some

To read the full detailed article see Ableton Live 8 Review

February 23, 2009

Review: Digidesign Transfuser

Sample Transfusion
Digidesign Transfuser: The Test

A.I.R., Digidesign’s virtual instrument division, continues to provide creative tools for users of their Pro Tools software. This time, it’s a sequencer within a sequencer, dedicated to loops of all kinds and their unlimited use. Let’s take a look…

Presentation

Ouverture

There’s a big box, a DVD, an activation number. Download the iLok license key, install the sound bank (requiring 1.65 GB of disk space) and RTAS plugin, nothing complicated, it’s Mac and PC compatibility, but you must (still …) have Pro Tools (LE, M-Powered or HD, from version 7) and it’s done. Then all you have to do is open the instrument in a session. Let’s take a look at its interface and how it works.

The idea is to create Tracks within Transfuser. These tracks, which bring together several modules, read audio files (according to various processes). On the left, there’s a browser pane that can be used to load Tracks (complete ensembles) or audio (separate sounds to build your own loops), whether factory or user-created. You can preview a sound by clicking on the file, preview lasts as long as you hold down the mouse, or, if Latch is enabled, for the duration of the file. A sync option synchronizes preview to the Pro Tools session tempo. There’s also a pitch and volume setting which can be adjusted as you preview. And lastly there’s a filtered search field that searches for all items in the list that match the typed-in criteria.

At the top there’s the area to which you drag and drop complete Tracks and audio files from the browser, Pro Tools region list, Pro Tools audio tracks, or the desktop (or a folder) of your computer. Either you import Tracks, in which case the modules are directly positioned, or you import audio, which opens a window offering the choice between three types of recognition/import: Sliced Audio and Slice Sequence, Time-Stretch Audio and Trigger Sequence, or Drum Kit and Drum Sequence (we’ll come back to these three types of Tracks later on). Corresponding modules will be opened in this section. Note that you can also use an external audio signal (more on this later).

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Gater

Though Structure, Hybrid, Velvet or Strike may do their jobs perfectly, there’s nothing revolutionary about them (sampling, synthesis, emulation of electromechanical keyboards and Drumstations). Transfuser, without being completely revolutionary, does have a real concept, and can claim to be the first totally original VSTI by AIR. It’s definitely the most complete instrument geared at loop-based music at present. The number of tracks and effects available let you do almost everything necessary solely within it. To get the most out of it nevertheless requires a certain amount of learning time. The use of external controllers is also particularly well thought out.

Beatcutter

This opens up new horizons within Pro Tools, particularly for live settings. This may seem strange, to say the least, since Digidesign software is largely studio geared. But you can also see a pattern (or strategy) developed for live musicians and DJs that started with the Mbox Micro, both of which are also being offered in bundles.

Pro Tools on stage? Is it possible? The competition is fierce, from Live to Mainstage, Usine to Reason, Receptor to SM Pro … Digidesign’s version would really have to deliver, seeing how it’s Pro Tools exclusive. There’s no problem recognizing that Transfusion, which is extremely comprehensive and powerful (you’ll need a powerful computer for prolonged use) is up to the challenge. Especially since it’s use in the studio is equally handy for working with loops.

Its concept
Its three modes
Comprehensive Drum Machine
Pitch and time stretch Algorithms
Worlfkow despite its power and complexity
Midi Learn and automation everywhere
Well adapted for live settings
Audio
Drag’n’Drop Audio and Midi
Internal audio recorder
20 quality effects included
Effects are applicable just about everywhere
Numerous presets, Sequences with effects
Loop library

Info is sometimes difficult to read
Slice screen is too small
Doesn’t import MP3, AAC, CAF, Apple Lossless
Resource hog
Pro Tools only …

To read, the full detailed article see:   Digidesign Transfuser Review

February 17, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Major update for Spectrasonics Stylus RMX 1

Eric Persing from Spectrasonics goes through a bunch of new features included in the new 1.7 update for Stylus RMX.

Part 1

Part 2

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


January 20, 2009

NAMM 2009: Video Demo Steinberg Cubase 5

Exclusive presentation of the brand new Steinberg Cubase 5 software sequencer.

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

January 5, 2009

Test: Zoom ZFX Stack Package Review

Tube or not tube
Zoom Stack Package: The Test

Though the concept may not be original, Zoom has come out with an interesting interface that provides guitarists and bassists with an intuitive software/hardware setup, but with a twist: an integrated vacuum tube. In recent years there have been quite a few interface choices for guitarists and bassists, especially from line 6, but Zoom’s take on this combines amp modeling software with a USB audio interface featuring a Hi-Z input with a vacuum tube. Let’s take a closer look…

Vue générale

The S2t interface comes in the form of a vintage looking mini amp-head (222mm x145mm x82.5mm). The whole thing seems well made and robust (1.1kg). The knobs neither feel nor look cheap, and have just the right tightness for precision tweaking, though they are a little crowded, making it difficult to not touch an adjacent knob while turning one of them. All the input and output jacks also look and feel solid. Basically it’s a device that seems built to last, especially when compared to its competitors.

Installation

The ZFX package includes the S2t interface and the ZFX plugin. Installation on Windows XP proved to be fairly easy and hassle free. This interface apparently also installs easily on Mac OS X and Linux systems without any drivers needing to be installed*. Be aware, though, that the included ZFX software will not work on those systems, only Windows. This is why Zoom included Guitar Rig 3 LE in the package, and not because they thought their software wasn’t good enough, as some might assume. Zoom also kindly included Steinberg’s Cubase LE4 for those in need of a DAW.

Vue générale

I wanted to see if the interface and software would work on a less powerful PC so I installed it on my old laptop (Windows XP SP2, 512 MB Ram). Apart from a few graphic issues (my card is no doubt a little too old) the interface and software worked perfectly once I correctly configured my audio settings in my DAW (Sonar). I was able to get very low latency (1ms) which surprised me from this USB interface.

There are two pdfs (startup & manual) as well as two very light printed startup guides included. The problem with these guides is that they focus mainly on installation and using the ZFX software (150 pages!). There’s next to nothing on the physical interface (the S2t) itself, nor on advanced settings. I had an issue with direct monitoring latency which was too long (around 15-20ms), for which I couldn’t find any information. I ended up testing all basic and advanced settings, finally finding the solution when I changed the buffers in the advanced section. It seemed pretty obvious after the fact, but there was no mention of buffers and their effect in any of the guides I read.

Let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

Again, what’s interesting in this device is it’s versatility or modular aspect. You can, if you want, experiment with other tubes inside the S2t, and the ZFX software also offers a lot of flexibility in terms of combinations and editing. And though the ZFX plugin/standalone couldn’t be considered sonically superior to competitors like Guitar Rig or Amplitude, it isn’t quite inferior to them either, and offers some unique features. Of course the best thing would be for you to try it out yourself, especially if you want to test it against Guitar Rig. You might just find that you like it better. But even if you find the ZFX software not to your liking, the S2t interface still has much to offer. At around $190 (about the same price as the Line 6 UX2) you get a robust and relatively stable guitar/bass oriented interface with low latency and pretty good sound quality. The Hi-Z feature is an interesting plus, though nothing revolutionary. The integrated tube will not convince everyone, but the fact that it’s USB powered should make it more appealing to Home Studio enthusiasts on the go.

Solidity: the interface, its knobs, and connecters
Sound
Nice look
Hi-Z Concept – integrated vacuum tube
Flexibilty and modular aspect of both interface and ZFX software
USB powered

ZFX GUI is a resource Hog
Manuals hardly deal with the S2t
ZFX plugin only works for Windows-based PCs

Read the full Zoom Stack Package review article.

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