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Archive for September, 2008

Free Electronic Drum Kits for Ableton Live 7

For fans of electronic drums, Puremagnetik (puremagnetik.com) has posted a tasty free Live Pack of five, 16-pad Drum Racks from New York sound designer Kamoni. It’s a 50 MB download located in the Freebies section.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Len Sasso |

Mighty Mopho Power

A couple weeks ago, Dave Smith Instruments told EM that it would announce an affordable analog monosynth by the end of September—Dave’s first since the Sequential Circuits Pro One (1981), which essentially offered a single Prophet-5 Rev 3 voice. Today DSI let the proverbial cat out of the bag and began shipping the Mopho, a tabletop module with an old-school voice architecture identical to the Prophet ’08’s, but with a few twists of its own. Best of all, the Mopho retails for just $439. At that price, I expect to see it take off as fast as DSI can make them.

So how analog is it? With two voltage-controlled oscillators, a dual-slope voltage-controlled filter, three 5-stage envelope generators, a voltage-controlled amplifier, and an external audio input, the Mopho delivers features that should make any synthesist giddy. Like the Prophet ’08, it also has an arpeggiator and a 4-channel, 16-step gated sequencer. Unlike the Prophet ’08, it has two sub-octave generators—one an octave below Osc 1 and the other two octaves below Osc 2. Another bonus is a multifunction button labeled Push It!, which can trigger notes or latch notes or sequences.

All that technology is crammed into a 7.5-inch-wide box; that’s the same size as an AdrenaLinn and the original Evolver. Even in such a confined space, Mopho sports a dozen knobs (four of them user-assignable), half a dozen buttons, and a 16-character-by-2-line LED display. You also get Mac- and Windows-compatible editor software that gives you access to all its parameters. For the price, and judging by the audio demos on DSI’s Web site, the Mopho’s competitors are going to have a helluva time matching it.
Morpho

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Related Topics: Emusician, Geary Yelton |

A Syncing Feeling

During my review of the late, lamented Plectrum software instrument, I ranted about Syncrosoft’s copy-protection scheme, and the hoops I needed to jump through to get the software to run smoothly. I’m sorry to say that problems I reported as exclusive to Windows have resurfaced on my Mac. If you need some background, you can find my diatribe here.

After launching my freshly installed copy of MOTU Digital Performer 6.01, recently expired licenses for Syncrosoft-protected plug-ins crashed DP during the plug-in validation process. The scenario was similar to my previously reported problems: I needed to open the Syncrosoft License Control Center application to sort out the problem, and upon finding no solution, DP quit. Really, my only solution for authorizing the errant plug-ins is to send an email and wait for a response. Did I want to wait that long to use my DAW? Hell, no! In order to get DP up and running, I pulled the offending, expired plug-ins out of my AU components folders.

You could make the case that the host programs could come up with more robust validation schemes; for example, Apple Logic provides a separate plug-in-validation app, and you can easily disable any problematic plug-ins before they happen. As of version 6, Digital Performer lets you create plug-in sets (so you can choose which plug-ins to launch), but it still undergoes an initial validation process, and that’s where the problems occur.

I feel that without a single, standardized copy-protection system (good luck with that), it is the primary responsibility of the company providing the copy protection to make the process as free of complications as possible; failing that, it is then the responsibility of the manufacturer using that software to look for another way to protect their plug-in from piracy.

To restate the core of my original harangue: Copy protection may be a necessary evil, but it’s outrageous to be held hostage to it.

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Related Topics: Emusician |

What Pre For Me?

One of the most important purchases I ever made for my studio was my FMR Audio Really Nice Preamp, a no-frills, but quality 2-channel pre that has helped me more faithfully reproduce the parts I’ve recorded through it. I record mostly guitar tracks, either miked acoustic guitar, or miked or DI electric, and the FMR unit sounds great for me all the time (It’s also equally good on vocals.) I really noticed a difference compared to my previous preamp, which was a budget unit from an audio interface.

My point here is not to do a commercial for the Really Nice Preamp, although I certainly think it’s an excellent value (check out the EM review of it from January 2004), rather, I’m trying to say that your mic pre is a key part of your studio, and one that you want to pay careful attention to when making purchase decisions. Virtually everything you record will go through your pre, and be colored to a certain degree by it, so it becomes a big part of the sound you get. Of course, good mics are also a huge part of the equation, but a quality mic going through a substandard mic pre won’t necessarily sound so good. BTW, another good mic pre value is the Grace Design m101, an excellent single-channel preamp. Check out the EM review of it, from the December 2001 issue. The Universal Audio Solo 610—read the review here is another excellent preamp value.

The preamps I’ve mentioned in this blog post are just some of the units that I’m aware of that offer great sonic quality at relatively low prices. There are certainly more out there that you can find out about through researching online and talking to people you know. Rather than trying to steer you to a particular model, my aim here is to make the point that your preamp really matters, so get the best one you can afford. It’s too important in your signal chain to skrimp on it.
Grace Design m101FMR Audio Really Nice PreampUniversal Audio Solo 610

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Related Topics: Emusician, Mike Levine |

Portable Power: Problems & Solutions

I use a lot of batteries—mostly AA cells—in my portable digital recorder, digital camera, flashlight, and various other devices. Being thrifty at heart (ask anyone), I’m also looking for an economical solution to my need to frequently replace batteries. Just last month, I was on a plane bound for Charlotte, and I had the perfect view of San Francisco from my window seat. I whipped out my trusty Canon S3 IS, and my batteries proved less trusty; I missed the shot. By the time I’d loaded fresh batteries, I got a nice shot over Marin County.

Two years ago, I bought a dozen rechargeable Energizer AAs and a pocketsize Panasonic recharger. They’ve served me well, but after dozens of recharging cycles, the batteries have become a bit flaky. I can charge four at a time, only to discover that one of them didn’t charge fully. I can’t tell you how many times recently my camera failed at the wrong moment. It gives me no warning when the batteries are low on power.

My Sony PCM-D50 has a nifty little battery meter, so at least I know where the power stands on that. But my Princeton Tec Impact XL flashlight is the real champ. I installed four one-year-old Energizer rechargeables in it 12 months ago. Since then, I’ve been on numerous camping trips (including one two-week trip for which it was my primary source of nighttime illumination), and I’ve used it for everything else you might use a flashlight for. A year later, it’s still brighter than most flashlights—on a single set of batteries!
Energizer
I want batteries I can trust, and I’m a little hesitant to buy more rechargeables at the moment. I keep hearing on the news that battery technology is improving by leaps and bounds, and I’ve found a product that apparently implements some of that technology. I just got eight Energizer Advanced Lithium AAs. The manufacturer claims they’ll last four times as long as Energizer Max batteries. They’re also supposed to operate normally at extreme temperatures (from -40°F to 140°F!), and they weigh less than traditional batteries. I’ll put them in my camera and my recorder and let you know how it turns out; hopefully you won’t hear from me about it for a long, long time.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Geary Yelton |

Taking on a DAW Detractor

I recently stumbled upon an interesting article at the PopMatters.com Web site, entitled “How Pro Tools is Killing Music.” In it, author Scott Oranburg laments that home-studio, DAW-based recording is taking the human feel out of music, putting commercial studios out of work, and causing other negative consequences (he’s using Pro Tools in the more generic sense here, representing computer-based recording technology in general).

Although Oranburg makes some valid points (I agree with him that the decline of the commercial-studio business is unfortunate), I think he’s missing the biggest positive of the home-studio revolution, which is that it has democratized the ability to produce music. Sure, computer-based recording has had some regrettable side-effects, like overly pitch-corrected and time-corrected music, but, heck, there were plenty of awful pop records made before the personal computer was even invented. That’s more of a problem with our culture than our tools, if you ask me.

Back in what Oranburg is implying were the “good old days” of music, individual artists were at the mercy of the record labels. Back then, if you wanted to make a record that anybody would hear, you needed a label deal. Now, you can record and distribute your own music totally independently. Sure, it’s still as tough as it ever to become really successful, but at least you can get your music on the market and give yourself a shot, without having to go through the record-label gatekeepers.

Here’s a quote Oranburg’s piece:

“But the worst consequence of computer-assisted composing is that it is dehumanizing music. With the human touch inherent in any performance autocorrected digitally, we lose much of the element that gives music its emotive contours. Sometimes, playing slightly behind the beat or slightly below the correct pitch is what makes a piece inspiring. And as we continue to formulaically fit compositions into the strict guidelines that computers give us, musicians will cease trying to innovate and taking risks. They become stymied in their exploration of an art whose beauty fundamentally stems from its limitlessness. Although computers must be given credit for a spectrum of art that would have otherwise been inexpressible, this trend could very well change an art form into Paint by Numbers.”

I also don’t think he’s giving DAW-recording musicians enough credit. I think most of us are aware that it’s inherently non-musical to over-quantize or over-correct a performance, and we strive to use those tools only when and where necessary.

Also, his line that musicians “become stymied in their exploration of an art whose beauty fundamentally stems from its limitlessness,” seems totally off-base to me. If there’s anything that defines the DAW-age of recording, it is limitlessness. Perhaps the biggest challenge we face in the modern recording studio is reigning in the limits. There are so many possibilities, so many instruments, so many processors, so many ways to alter sounds, that I hardly think we’re more limited because we’re recording on computers.

And I’m saying this as someone who mainly records roots-based music, not electronic music (although I do like to mix the two at times). For those primarily into the electronic side of things, a DAW is like an amusement park. So, with all due respect, Mr. Oranburg, I think you’re missing the point.

I’d be curious to know what you think.

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Related Topics: Mike Levine |

Aliens on Your Desktop

As the price of studio monitors continues to fall, consumer-level, bus-powered speakers remain popular with computer users. You can find designs suitable for just about any desktop aesthetic. Even outrageous-looking speakers like the Harmon Kardon Soundsticks and JBL Creatures have found widespread acceptance. Compared with those, the recent FireWire and USB multimedia speakers from LaCieLaCie Speakers look relatively tame.

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Related Topics: Emusician, Geary Yelton |

About

The Bus, EM's editorial blog, features posts from all the EM editors on topics related to gear, recording techniques and much more. It's also home to posts from a selected group of guest bloggers.

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