Thursday, 18 October 2007

Line 6 Spider III and Roland JC120


Metal and Glass (Fire and Rain)






This week I was given the opportunity to review two very amazing guitar amplifiers, both with amazing characteristics and yet both such polar opposites as to be comparable to the relation of fire to water.

The first amp that I tested most definitely brought the fire in the form of the Line 6 Spider III 150. This combo unit is the current flagship of the Line 6 Spider range featuring an incredible amount of amp modeling presets that allow the player to dial in tones ranging from mellow
cleans to bone crunching distortions. The amp comes with the obligatory amount of presets and the added feature of being able to add extra functionality by combining it with the unique characteristics of other Line 6 products such as the POD and the Variax. It is in this reviewer’s opinion, however, that the fire cools to a simmer. The Line 6 Spider III has the makings of a good amp for most guitarists. It replicates clean to overdrive tones very well and definitely plays loud enough for any gigging guitarist’s needs but that is in fact its down fall. The amp, as hard as it tries, is still modeling other amps and does not sound as good or as real as having an all valve Marshall. This amp just doesn’t have enough of its own character for me to really call it great. The cleans don’t have that shimmer and the overdrives are a bit weak for my taste but that being said there is one area that this amp excels at. If you like to shred through some mad metal riffs or want to lay down the law with some fat power metal, the Spider III brings the thunder. Without even trying I was able to instantly get one of the heaviest distortions I have heard in a digital amp. I could shred titanium with the amount of power contained in the bottom end of the amp, certainly enough to make even the most ardent metal head jealous.


It was the polar opposite that I reviewed next. If the Spider III was the firestorm then the Roland Jazz Chorus 120 brought its legendary rain. I have to admit that I started reviewing this amp with a few preconceived notions, one of the being that there was no way a solid state amp could possibly have anything better that a full valve but I was soon proven wrong. This amp had none of the modern gadgets or the hard hitting crunch that the Spider III had but instead brought one of the sweetest clean sounds that I have personally ever heard in a guitar amp. This amp has tone like nothing else. Like the Spider III it is also a combo amp barring two 12 inch drivers behind a metallic looking grill that from the very first moment you sight it exudes the presence of a serious amp for serious guitarists. As far as genres go this should not be limited to jazz or any other, in fact I would go so far as to say that this amp could, and, should be used for anything that would need some clean sounds. As soon as I plugged in and cranked it up I knew that there was something special here, for this amp’s sound was unique. Roland indeed managed to craft an identity in this sound, to forge a character so strong that I would even say this amp has soul.

Written by David Weimers for Headroom Productions

Tuesday, 04 September 2007

KRK V8 Studio Monitors


How good a studio monitor is has always been a subjective matter. This is largely due to the fact that many engineers have their own sonic preferences and probably won’t be drawn to a monitor that lacks an element they personally like such as presence of mids, good bass response, bright top end, thin sound, fat sound, transparency, etc. There are some monitors that will sound nice and vibey with lots of character but they might not be necessarily good for critical mixing where you need to be aware exactly what is happening in your mix. In this regard I would say that one needs to know that the monitors they are mixing on are quite transparent and does not artificially boost or cut frequencies, in other words, a generally flat frequency response.

The KRK V8 studio monitors are the set of studio monitors I am reviewing with regards to the above aspects. I will start off by pointing out that this pair of monitors doesn’t come cheap, setting one back by R12,000.00. Having recently heard the legendary Yamaha NS10s and a bit of a listen to the Genelec 8030’s and the Adam A’7s, it was interesting to hear that the KRKs V8s seemed to have taken the best qualities of these other monitors and combined them all in one housing. These monitor speakers have a nice well rounded sound in the sense that the bass response is not overwhelming but very much present and punchy with its 8” Kevlar woofer. Because of this you will immediately notice the bass content of any track while not overpowering the other frequency bands. I think this is another reason why you find a lot of top Hip-hop and Rnb producers (e.g. Timbaland) working with these in their studios. The high end is not exaggerated at all, making the monitors not have a piercing sound that might start hurting your more sensitive ears during longer listening sessions. These monitors also didn’t have the thinness in sound I got from the NS10s but this for me made it a little bit more difficult to see right through the mix in terms of depth.


These monitors are very loud while being very consistent in sound quality. They deliver 180W RMS. It has a switch to turn on a limiter that protects the speaker when excessively high signals go through it and also has a clip indicator to show when the signal is being clipped (or is distorting).

They are connected using a balanced XLR connection at the input which the noise you could possibly get from unbalanced jacks. The V8s seem to be quite accurate for mixing as what you do during mixing is carried through to other audio systems. I also quite like the balance of the different frequency bands in relation to each other in the sense that tracks have a nice continuous overall balanced sound across the frequency spectrum. Having said that, they have high and low frequency adjustment switches for tweaking their frequency response in different rooms. These monitors strike me as the type that will please different engineers with different tastes (ones who love their bottom end, ones who love their mids pronounced, ones who like their mixes sounding quite bright and those who like their monitors to be vibey and very pleasurable to listen to. I think that they are well worth their price as it has all the above-mentioned elements in just the right amounts.

Review by Amandla Bangeni for Headroom Productions

Marshall Music

Friday, 17 August 2007

M-Audio Luna

The Luna microphones from M-Audio is designed to combine classic vintage tone with modern clean sounding technology. The microphone is built in China to keep the price down, but apparently an all-American design!



The Luna is a fixed cardiod, large diaphragm condenser microphone powered by 48V phantom power. M-Audio have intentionally left out a low-cut filter and pad to further reduce the cost of the mic. I often prefer mics like this as there are less moving parts to break and with a good pre-amp I find the additional features unnecessary. The Luna ships with sturdy shock mount and hard case, however the case only accommodates the mic itself and not the shock mount.

The mic's visual appearance may not appeal to everyone, and even though you can’t hear what a mic looks like, it does have an impact on your artist, although I generally found this to be a positive one.

Put to the test

As a vocal mic the performed well, producing crisp recordings with both male and female vocals. Compared with a much more expensive mic there was little difference, other than the high end mic sounding a bit more open. As is the case with a lot of professional sound equipment, you can pay 10 times the price for only a 5-10% improvement in quality. Having said that though, a 5-10% improvement on every piece of gear in a studio is what can make the difference between a professional and a project studio.

With acoustic instruments the mic also worked well, particularly with acoustic guitar giving a rich, warm tone and clear top end.

The Luna is a great sounding and very solid mic, but may be a little pricey for the average project studio.

Specifications
Capsule1.1” True Condenser
Sensitivity16mV/Pa
Frequency Response20-20 000 Hz
Equivalent Noise14 dB-A
Polar PatternCardioid
Max SPL130 dB (SPL)
ar

Review by Jaime Lopes for Headroom Productions

Marshall Music

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Studio Projects B1

This microphone is built in China by 797 Audio in Beijing using high-quality components, including Wima capacitors, but designed in the USA by Brent Casey.



The B1 offers a fixed-cardioid pattern with switchable pad and roll-off features. The centre-terminated, large-diaphragm capacitor capsule (3┬Ám gold evaporated Mylar) requires a standard 48V phantom power and has a transformerless output. Personally I find the additional features unnecessary, and seldom use them. The B1 comes with a shock mount and foam wind shield, not to be confused with a pop filter. The shockmount is a custom plastic moulding that clips to the bottom of the mic suspended within a metal ring using fabric-covered elastic belts.

I found the shock mount to be a little flimsy and the mic moves around inside it, although will not fall out accidentally. I’m not sure why a foam windshield is included as this cannot be used in place of a pop shield, and is only suitable for situations where there is wind. If you are planning to use the mic outdoors, then you will need the wind shield, but a proper pop shield must be used for recording vocals.

Put to the test

As a vocal mic the B1 produced smooth, soft recordings with male vocals and works very well for rap/hip hop vocals without any EQ.
With acoustic instruments the mic was quite brittle and needed a bit of work with EQ to get a good sound.

The B1 is has a lot of features, apart from multiple polar patterns, and would make a good all round “first mic” for a project/home studio.

Specifications
Capsule1.3” Externally Polarized Condenser
Sensitivity18mV/Pa
Frequency Response20-20 000 Hz
Equivalent Noise12 dB-A
Polar PatternCardioid
Max SPL137 dB (SPL)


Review by Jaime Lopes for Headroom Productions

Marshall Music

Wednesday, 04 July 2007

AKG Perception 100

The Perception range of microphones from AKG are aimed at the project studio market dominated by eastern manufacturers. The microphones are still designed in Austria, but built, under AKG quality control of-course, in China to keep the price down.

The Perception 100 is a large diaphragm, fixed cardioid condenser microphone powered by 48V phantom power. The Perception series includes a second model, the Perception 200 which contains two additional switches, for a low-cut filter and a -10dB pad. The Perception 200 also comes with a metal carry-case, and a shock mount.
The Perception 100 ships with only a stand adapter, however this is more than sufficient for most applications.

The specifications are pretty standard for this type of microphone, but the slightly high noise figure makes it more suitable for close-mic’d vocals and other studio uses. The microphone can handle most source sound levels other than kick drums and larger guitar cab’s which will often exceed 140 dB SPL, so the general use for this microphone would be vocals, drum overheads, strings, brass, and most acoustic instruments e.g. guitars.

Put to the test

As a vocal mic, the Perception 100 performed well producing crisp recordings with both male and female vocals. Since the mic has a cardioid pickup pattern it is important to observe, and compensate for if necessary, the proximity effect, especially since the mic has quite a warm low-end response which can get too much if the singer is very close to the mic.

It is important to use the right placement considering the polar pattern of the mic, it can often pick up other sounds from around the room. This could be an issue for many users, since the mic is intended for the project/home studio in which the recording room is not isolated from external noise.

With acoustic instruments the mic also worked well, however it did take some fine tuning of the position to get the right sound with the particular guitar and room used.

Since the Perception does have a very subtle ‘character’ of its own, it may not suit all voice types or instruments, however, the Perception 100 is well designed and built solidly, a good general purpose studio microphone. If you’ve got a little extra to spend then I would go for the M-audio Luna, but I have to say this mic will give you the most “Bang for your Buck”

Equivalent Noise
Specifications
Capsule1” True Condenser
Sensitivity18 mV/Pa
Frequency Response20-20 000 Hz
Equivalent
Noise
16 dB-A
Polar PatternCardioid
Max SPL135 dB (SPL)


Review by Jaime Lopes for Headroom Productions

Marshall Music

Friday, 22 June 2007

Mediatech 2007

Entrance at Mediatech
Mediatech
June 2007


Mediatech Africa is the trade fair for cutting edge technology in the Live Entertainment, Broadcast, Audio Visual and Corporate Communications.

Music Info Online It is held annually at the Sandton convention center I have been attending the convention as a sound engineer for the last four years, and have always love to see the new toys that and out there in the field of Media Broadcast. Most of my sound engineering students from damelin have and continue to attend mediatech and it’s great for caching up with people from the industry and networking with suppliers.To have a look at a few things you should have seen at Mediatech have a look at Mediatech Toys for Sound Engineers.For more about Mediatech go to.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/headroomsa/sets/

Monday, 04 June 2007

What do I use for the Home Studio?


This is one of the most asked questions by my students and peers in the Sound
Engineering community. I would like to make the distinction at the start between the
three types of studios, namely, ‘Home Studio’, ‘Project Studio’ and the ‘Professional Studio’.

Most of my students and music hobbyists would fall into the Home Studio category. At its most basic and at the heart of any good studio would be your PC. This should be a dedicated machine only for Music Production and only loaded with music production software. This will not only help your machine perform better; but also have a lighter load to carry and the only files that get loaded on and pulled off are audio related (WAV., MP3…).This really does work in maintaining the performance of your machine. If you should have any problems there after; it allows you to pinpoint the problematic program or plugins.

Home Studio hobbyists should take care as they are most likely to overspend or under-spend as they don’t have specific requirements; that dictate what they eventually will
buy. A good rule within Sound Engineering is “all input is directly proportional to output.” Basically purchasing gear will never end but you can ensure that you make the right choices and will always be happy if you plan your buy. Industry name brands are just that, brands that have earned their reputation, over a number of years and mean that much to the people who use them and most definitely, in most cases, have earned their pricing. This is what we as Headroom Productions have come to understand with pricing and it works this way most of the time.

Let’s start by looking at sound cards for home studio use.
I find it best to ask at least five questions in order to pinpoint the roles that any piece of equipment will need to fill. These are questions that I use and you can tailor make your own to better fulfill your needs. Try to do your best when answering as this will greatly affect your choice and the amount of time and money you will have to spend on selecting your goods.

Question 1: What am I going to use it for? (Write as many uses as you have)
(This will help determine the number of inputs and outputs you will need)
Question 2: How much do I have to spend? Bottom end (R500-1500); Mid-range (R1500-R5000); High end (R5000-/+R15000).
Don’t feel if you choose low end that it won’t sound good because there are so many different well-priced options out there that will give you what you want.
Question 3: Will there be need for a change in a relatively short time of a year?
This may help justify spending more now the first time around as opposed to forking out even more cash later.
Question 4: Does the sound card support ASIO drivers? (Audio streaming input/output.)
ASIO is one of the best interfaces between an application and the sound card. It gives
us a way to use multiple inputs and outputs together, quite effortlessly. Does this card have a good A to D converters? (Analogue to Digital) because what we are recording or capturing is an analogue sound and it is stored to a digital medium - the hard drive of your PC. The quality of the converters really affects the sound of the recording.
Question 5: What should I be looking for with regard to sample rate and bit depth?
A good rule of thumb would be the higher the sample rate and bit depth, the better.
The higher the sample rate you have, the better the recording is physically represented. Audio is therefore more accurately heard and captured, keeping in mind that CD quality is 44.1 kHz at 16bit.

Audio interfaces by Alesis and Protools


Two of my most recent sound cards/audio interfaces that I had the pleasure of
testing courtesy of Marshall Music : The ALESIS MultiMix 8USB PROFESSIONAL ALL-IN-ONE MIXER AND AUDIO INTERFACE. This would fall into the mid-price range; it has four Microphone preamplifiers with phantom power. It has a USB connection which connects to your PC and comes with Cubase LE. On listening to the Alesis Multimix I can say very openly that it has a very warm and clean sound and would be perfect for the home studio hobbyist looking to do more high-end work. The down side is that it needs external powering and only comes with Cubase LE and at times, you start to feel like you are limited with Steinberg and Cubase LE however, there's always the option to upgrade to Cubase 4.
For more information about training on Cubase in South Africa, Damelin Bramley is a certified Steinberg training center .

The other system is the Protools Mbox which is much smaller than the Alesis and only has two microphone preamplifiers, both with phantom power it doesn’t have all the buttons and knobs that some of the other units have ,but it does carry the name of Protools with and it definitely has that clean well-rounded dynamic range that we have come to expect from Digi Design. It comes with Protools LE which seems a lot more comprehensive than most of the other LE ranges out there. It is fully USB powered and is very portable.

There are many other types of sound card/interfaces available, however the Protools Mbox and Alesis MultiMix, in my opinion, would be the best value for money. They yield an above-average sound and they do not need to make use of any external gear such as a mixing desk.

The Signal chain starts with a good microphone and is then transferred to the MIC input, known as a microphone preamplifier found on (mixing desks and sound cards with built in preamplifiers.)

These along with the A/D converters is what pushes up the prices of most mixing desks, these two sound cards like most of the new age cards (audio interfaces) make use of built in preamplifiers and A/D converters, making them cheaper than a mixing desk but able to deliver high quality audio.

Your audio sequencer Cubase/Protools, or what ever sequencer it is servers a few rolls one to facilitate the recording, or provide a stable environment in which to run (V.S.T.I’S) virtual studio technology instruments. Used for making music with MIDI, (musical instrument digital interface), this name is not as flattering as the music itself that MIDI manages to produce. The other function audio sequencers are used for is arranging, editing and mixing.
I should also make people aware that Protools has for a very long time, only been available to high-end professional studios. As their high-end systems (TDM(Time-division multiplexing) and HD) are hardware based systems, that do all the number crunching, taking away a great deal of strain from the machine and allowing the O.S (operating system) to function more rapidly. The hardware that a Protools system incorporate works as a copy protection device, preventing piracy both, in their TDM /HD systems as well as their LE systems. A Protools LE system does a lot less number crunching and comes in a lot cheaper, than the TDM/HD systems. Protools has a wide LE range (The Protools Mbox, Digi 002 and now the Digi 003) that is highly recommended for further investigation.