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Archive of the Mike Levine Category

Major Studios are Not Dead Yet

Interesting story today in the New York Times about Jungle City Studios, a new high-end commercial recording facility in Manhattan. It was founded by Ann Mincieli, who is Alicia Keys’s engineer, and designed by acclaimed studio designer John Storyk. Apparently, with the demise of so many commercial studios, the supply of ultra-high-end facilities for well-heeled pop stars is in pretty short supply. Minicieli is quoted in the story as saying, “I compare a studio to a hotel, and I want this to be a seven-star studio.” A side note: despite all the new monitors that have been introduced over the last few years, the NS-10M still rules in some quarters. Note the pair of them on the meter bridge of the large-format console in the photo in the Times’s story.

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NAMM Day 4 Report

My day began at the Fishman booth, which was a couple of halls over from Hall A, where most of the software and recording exhibitors reside. Getting there, which took me through where the guitar and bass products are, I noticed a distinct increase in volume (although it wasn’t as bad as the dreaded drum hall, which is the loudest area of the show). Anyway, the exciting news at Fishman was that the company was showing a preview of its new Nomad digital wireless system, which is designed for acoustic instruments. Nomad will operate in the 5.8GHz range, and will allow you to untether yourself from your preamp. The Fishman folks say it will offer 24-bit/96 kHz audio, which is outstanding for a wireless system. The system should be shipping by the time Summer NAMM rolls around, and the price has yet to be determined.

As mentioned in the continuation of my day 3 report, headphones were a very busy category at this year’s show, and CAD jumped into the fray with a couple of aggressively priced models. The DH100 headphones ($49) are designed to be worn by drummers during tracking. The MH310 are closed-back studio headphones. I wasn’t able to listen to either, but they looked well made.
FXpansion’s Geist ($249), is a beat-production software package that has actually been shipping since December. Geist appears to be a very comprehensive software solution, allowing you to sample, slice, sequence, and mix beats. I was very impressed with its ability to slice up an audio recording of a drum part (for example a drum loop) and turn it into MIDI. Not only does it do so quickly, but is smart enough to know to which drum sounds to map the slices it has extracted. When I saw this feature demoed, Geist almost instantly sliced up the part into its component pieces, and put the snares on the snare sound, the kicks on the kick sound, and so forth. Overall, it appears to be a very promising product.
At the Studio Devil Booth, the new VBA Pro bass-amp modeling plug in was on display. It’s most impressive feature was “bi-amp? mode, which lets you split the lows and highs in the bass signal, and process them independently. VBA Pro ($99), which is an update of the original VBA plug-in offers four different cabinet emulations 8×10, 4×10, 1×15, and DI Mode. It also lets you import and export settings via XML files, making it possible to move settings between different hosts very easily. Also on display was Studio Devil’s new Guitar Amp ($4.99) app for iOS devices. It is an amp simulator designed to look like a stompbox and offers three amp models and three cabinets along with Gain, Level, Bass, and Treble controls. It will be expandable with additional models, which you’ll be able to add with a separate purchase.
Meanwhile, at the Moog booth, one of the new products on display was the Moog Lap Steel ($2,800). The six-string lap steel has the same circuitry as the Moog Guitar. These instruments are being built on a custom basis only, and currently only four exist, including the one they had at the booth. It offers infinite sustain, controlled sustain, and mute modes, and has a Moog filter built in that can be controlled with a foot pedal. As a steel player myself, my mind was boggling at the sonic possibilities. Connected up to an array of effects pedals, one could make some serious sounds.
Besides Radial’s announcement of its purchase of the ReAmp, the Canadian company was also showing its Workhorse Rack ($1600) an API-Lunchbox style rack that has a built-in 8-channel mixer, XLR and ¼-inch I/O, and a passel of Lunchbox slots waiting to be filled. It can also function as a summing mixer.
At the Slate Digital booth, where the big news is the upcoming release of the new version of Steven Slate Drums, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the founder of a new, cloud-based file backup service for musicians called Gobbler ( The service is currently in beta, and is free for the time being. Once you download and install its software, it allows you to tag your musical projects to keep them organized, and upload them to the cloud for safe keeping. Eventually, Gobbler will cost, with plans starting at around $10 per month. Anything that helps musicians back up their precious music data is a good thing, and it appears that Gobbler could be very useful for doing so. I plan to try it out when I get back from the show, and will report back. Since it’s currently free, you might want to try it too.
At the Realitone ( booth, an unusual Kontakt Player-based software instrument called Realivox was on display. Created by a TV composer, it offers sampled vocal articulations that can be played from a MIDI keyboard. You get ahhs and oohs and 23 other vocal articulations, which can be played in legato or staccato fashion with great realism. The first version, which will feature female voices will be available in late February and sell for $395. A male vocal version will be available for the same price in late April or May. If you buy both, you can save $100. It’s not cheap, but these are quality instruments.
SM Pro Audio announced that it would soon be releasing version 2.0 of VMachine, it’s outboard plug-in host. VMachine 2.0 ($599) will come with a number of software instrument titles installed, and offer plenty of room for you to install more.
Speaking of software instruments, PPG Wave 3.V ($179.99) was being shown at the Waldorf booth. The VST/AU instrument is based on the classic PPG Wave hardware synth.
The TSAR-1 Reverb ($299) is a new algorithmic reverb from Softube. It features true stereo operation, 4 different reverb engines that run in parallel, and a both advanced and simple versions (the latter with less controls).
Eventide was debuting yet another stompbox, this one a reverb-effects pedal called Space ($499). Due to ship in about a month, Space gives you everything from basic halls and plates to combo effects like reverb plus delay, reverb plus modulation, and reverb plus distortion, among others. If you want some seriously deep ambient effects, this pedal is for you. I heard a brief demo, and it sounds amazing.
After traveling in the upper halls for the first three days, I finally got a chance to wander around in Hall E downstairs, which is where you can often find some unusual and unexpected products. Sure enough, I encountered a very interesting new guitar-style MIDI synth called Kitara ($849 for the Carbon Fiber model, $2,899 for the solid aluminum model). Developed by Misa Digital Instruments, Kitara is guitar shaped, but has no strings. It has 6 switches on each fret of its 24-fret neck, giving you all the notes you’d get on a guitar. Your right hand plays a touch screen and can use a variety of articulations to affect how the notes sound. There are 128 synth presets built in, MIDI out, and more. The Carbon Fiber and Aluminum models are functionally the same, but the latter is more durable for extended road use. I can’t wait to try this instrument out for myself.
Among the new products at Tech-21 was the Rotochoir ($295, shipping around May), a rotary speaker box with Sans Amp circuitry included. The company was also showing two flavors of a pedal called the Boost Chorus ($245 each), one for guitar, which features a pre-delay control among its six knobs, and one for bass. The latter offers a detune control to add “girth? to the bass sound.
Finally, Sony had headphones of its own to debut, with two models, the MDR-7510 ($149) and the MDR-7520 ($499). The latter are premium headphones made to reproduce audio with extreme clarity, and offer a mind-boggling frequency response of 5Hz to 80KHz (beyond human hearing on both ends—now that’s what I call headroom). Both models will be available in March.

That’s it for my NAMM report. I will be posting photos to go along with the entries in this blog and uploading videos, as this week progresses.

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NAMM Day 3 Report (continued)

At the Muse booth, the biggest news is that the Receptor 2+ (two plus) line of outboard plug-in players is now shipping. The Receptor 2+ ($1699) has a 750GB hard drive installed (as opposed to 320GB on the original Receptor 2). The Receptor 2 Pro+ ($2599) has a 1TB drive and a 3GHz Intel processor. The Receptor 2 Pro Max+ ($3199) features a 1.5TB drive, and a 3.3GHz Intel processor. All will come loaded with either the Plug Sound Box Bundle or the Muse Player bundle, and Wave Arts MasterVerb and TrackPlug. In addition, the full Native Instruments Komplete 7 is preloaded, but must be paid for and unlocked to use.
Arturia was showing a couple of new products including Spark ($599), a software drum machine with a hardware controller. Offering analog synthesis as well as sampled and physical-modeled sounds, the hybrid product is designed for creative beat production. Spark should be shipping by early April. I saw a demo of it, but it was very difficult to hear much due to a band playing in the Arturia booth. Arturia was also showing Analog Laboratory ($349), the latest of its software synth/hardware controller products. This one will come with a 49-key controller and offer sounds from Arturia’s Minimoog V, Moog Modular V, CS-80 V, ARP2600 V, Prophet 5, Prophet VS and Jupiter-8V software instruments. The software portion of Analog Laboratory has been shipping for a while, and can be purchased on its own for $249. The hardware won’t ship until early March.
One of the hot product categories at the show was headphones, and KRK was showing two new models: the KNS8400 ($149) features memory foam ear cups, and an inline volume control. The KNS6400 ($99.99) is similar, but without the memory foam. KRK will offer replacement ear cups and cables so that users can extend the life of their headphones. I think that’s a great idea. KRK was also promoting a firmware and software update for its ERGO room-tuning device. ERGO ($499), which came out a couple of years ago, is an outboard box that comes with software and lets you analyze your room’s acoustics. The box (which goes after the monitor outputs in your system but before your monitors) then compensates to give you a more accurate frequency response for mixing. The new version supports 64-bit computing and has been made easier to use.
Yamaha took a page from Korg’s book and wooed software developer Steven Kay to program a version of his Karma algorithmic-composition software for the Motif XF keyboards. Kay was at the Yamaha booth, and demoed the software for me, which looked quite good. I say looked, because, similar to my experience at the Arturia booth, I could barely hear the demo due to a full band playing about 20 feet away in the room. Kay turned up the monitors so that we could hear a little, and people listening to the live music complained that it was interfering with them hearing the band. A quintessential NAMM experience.
My final stop of the day was the Steinberg booth, where the big news was Cubase 6 (now that is big news!). The new version featured a multitrack drum editor (think Beat Detective), which looked really good. The only thing that made me scratch my head is that it appears that if you want to quantize a multitrack drum part, you have to quantize it at 100 percent; either full out quantize or none at all. In any case, one of the coolest features of the multitrack drum editor was called “Create MIDI Notes,? which, as you might have surmised, allows you to create a MIDI part from one of the drum tracks. So you could take, say the snare track, turn it into a MIDI part and replace or augment it with MIDI sounds. Very slick. Another impressive feature in Cubase 6 allows you to create a tempo map from a recorded part. So if you have, say, a drummer who won’t play with a click, you can take a basic mix, have Cubase figure out a tempo map, and then you can edit the song a lot more easily. More headlines from Cubase 6 include a new vocal-comping feature (which works similar to those in Logic and Pro Tools) new MIDI controller-data editors, 64-bit capability on the Mac, and more. Cubase 6 will be available at the end of January and will cost $499 with an upgrade price from Cubase 5 of $149. Let the DAW wars continue!

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NAMM Day 2 Report

My first stop of the day was at the MOTU booth, where they’ve been previewing the new version of Mach Five (Mach Five 3), which will be out later on this year (they’re not yet sure of a release date). I am looking forward to when it does get released, because the demo they had was damn impressive. They were showing off several samples from the included collection, which included a sampled Telecaster that sounded extremely realistic, and could be played in guitaristic manner using Mach Five 3’s advanced scripting engine. I also got to hear a couple of other samples sets including a very realistic acoustic drum kit and an awesome-sounding upright bass.
American Music and Sound, which distributes a bunch of major brands, held its annual NAMM press conference, and this one was livened up by a keyboardist playing a StudioLogic organ and doing tongue-in-cheek, old-school-gameshow-style music to bring the various presenters on and off stage. He had that vibe down perfectly, and frequently ended on upward gliss. Anyway, there were products galore at this press conference, including a New Nord Stage 2 ($4,195), which adds features like 24-bit DSP, playback of user samples, MIDI over USB, and more.
Also announced there was the Vestax Pad-One, a table top pad controller with 12 pads and a touch-control pad. It’s price hasn’t been determined yet, and it will be out in the late Spring. (Which brings to mind the old joke: Q: What does NAMM stand for? A: Not available, maybe May).

Also very interesting was the Midas Venice F console, which features bi-directional FireWire support, which could make it really useful as a hybrid digital/analog mixer. No price was given, but I will be checking it out more closely when I go to the AM&S booth on Sunday.
Other items of interest from that press conference were the StudioLogic Acuna 88, an 88-key MIDI controller keyboard with an iPad dock (iPads are everywhere at this year’s show), and the Focusrite VRM Box ($99, pictured on left), a small device that allows you to incorporate Focusrite’s Virtual Reference Monitoring technology (which simulates a variety of listening environments). They used VRM on the Saffire Pro 24 DSP interface, and I’m curious to see how it sounds in this product.
IK Multimedia has been into the iOS app and accessories world for a while now, and they didn’t disappoint at this year’s NAMM. The iRig Mic ($59.99, available in March) is a standalone, electret condenser mic with an omni pattern, which will work with any iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. The handheld mic was on display at the IK booth, along with some new apps. The VocaLive app is a voice processing software app for iOS devices that includes pitch correction (from subtle to T-Pain), harmony generation, gender-bending effects, and more. It sounded really good. The same could definitely be said of the new AmpliTube Fender app ($19.99, out in a few weeks), which, like its big brother for Mac and Windows, offers up Fender amp, cabinet, and effects models. I was really impressed with the warmth of the amp models. The difference between the sound you can get on a conventional computer and on an iOS device is not that big anymore. The one exception to that rule remains reverb, which must be a lot tougher to emulate on the chips used in the iOS devices. Overall, though, the Amplitube Fender app is pretty mind blowing.
Over at the TC Electronic booth, it was a veritable stompbox festival, as TC was showing off seven new guitar stomps, which ranged in price from $129-169. They included five digital (chorus, flashback delay & looper) flanger, vibrato and reverb and two analog (overdrive and distortion). What makes them particularly interesting is that the digital pedals have what’s called TonePrint technology, which allows users to download “TonePrints? from well-known guitarists (via the TC website) into their pedals. These TonePrints feature the artists’ settings for the pedals, which access many more parameters than are available on the front panels.
New from TC Helicon were the Voicetone Single pedals, which also range from $129-169, and include single effects from the company’s larger vocal multieffects pedals. Also on display was the Voicetone Correct XT, which in addition to offering compression and pitch correction, has an anti-feedback circuit in it. Finally, TC Helicon has also dived into the iOS world with Voice Jam ($9.99), a live looper app for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Rob Papen was at his booth, demonstrating Punch, his new drum machine software, which will be available in about six weeks. His company also announced the Explorer Bundle ($699), which features six of his plug-ins: Blue, SubBoomBass, Predator, Predator FX, RG, RP-Delay, and PR-Verb.
At the Samson booth, things were really busy, due to artist singings that were going on. Despite the crowd, I was able to check out two new products of interest: the Samson Meteor Mic ($99, available in April), is a metal-housed USB mic with folding legs that allow you to set the mic at a variety of angles on a tabletop. It also has a mic stand mount if you’d prefer to stand mount it. The pint-sized Zoom R8 ($299) is one of those all-in-one devices. It’s an 8-track recorder, a 2×2 USB audio interface, a pad sampler (with 8 pads at a time, in up to 3 banks) and a controller.
Blue Microphones had a couple of new mics to show, including Reactor ($499, available this spring, pictured at right), a multipattern condenser with an unusual round shaped body, topped by a bottle-style, rotatable capsule at the top. The Yeti Pro ($249, available in Feb.) is an update on the multipattern Yeti USB mic. The Yeti Pro adds XLR connectivity and 24-bit compatibility (up to 192 kHz). This mic should be both incredibly useful and quite popular.

Spectrasonics has upgraded its flagship Ominsphere synth to version 1.5. The update will be free for registered users, and offers a passel of improvements including the Orb, a new interface for real-time synthesis manipulation. Spectrasonics also debuted Omni TR, an iPad app that allows for remote manipulation of Omnisphere.
Among the new items at the Tascam booth was the TA-1VP, a 1U rackmount vocal processor with Antares EVO software built in. Now you can bring Auto-Tune on the road with you. (There’s no truth to the rumor that Taylor Swift has already ordered 20 of them.)

That’s it for my day two roundup. I’ll post my day three report tomorrow.

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NAMM Day 1 Report

The show opened today, and one of the biggest buzz-getters was Korg, with its new Kronos keyboard. Featuring a staggering nine (count –em) synth engines, this instrument is supposed to be a monster. I haven’t had a chance to hear it yet (I will on Saturday), but colleagues I’ve talked to who have heard it were singing its praises.
Also, as mentioned, the Tempest drum machine from Dave Smith Instruments, seems to be a very cool product. I watched a demo of it at the Dave Smith booth, and it was impressive sounding.
I went to the Akai/Alesis booth, and there were several notable products on display. Two of them had to do with iPads (this seems like the year of the iPad at NAMM). The Alesis Studio Dock is an audio interface for the iPad, featuring two XLR/1/4-inch combo jacks and MIDI in and out ports. It promises to be an elegant solution to the problem of plugging mics into an iPad.
Also for iPad, was the Akai SynthStation 49, a 49-key keyboard with an iPad dock. Pop in your iPad, boot up a compatible instrument app, and away you go. This is the big brother to the earlier SynthStation keyboard, which was designed to work with the iPhone/iPod touch.
I’m going to preemptively award the best product name of the show award to the AKAI EIE I/O (think “Old McDonald? if you don’t get it), which is a rather bulky looking USB 2.0 interface that sports 4 combo inputs, VU meters, switchable headphone monitoring and more.
At the Avid booth, I was impressed by the Eleven Rack Expansion Pack, which offers additional functionality for Eleven Rack owners. For $99, those owners will a number of new models, including a bass amp and a vocal channel strip, making their Eleven Rack presumably go to at least 12.

A visit to the Acoustica booth was highlighted by a look at the company’s Mixcraft Pro Studio 5 product. Release late in 2010, the software package combines the Mixcraft 5 sequencer (which offers a ton of power for a very low price) with a suite of plug-ins that includes two analog-synth-emulating virtual instruments, a bass instrument, a virtual tube preamp, a Transient Vitaliser, and a highly customizable delay.

For those who do their own mastering, the new Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro Codec Plug-In will be of great interest. This plug, which will be available in March and sell for $495, allows you to listen to your mix as it would sound as an MP3 or AAC (in a variety of bit rates), before you’ve rendered it. Knowing what a file will sound like in a compressed format had always required actually printing it and compressing it first. Now, you can strap this baby on the master bus and listen to your mix as it would sound as a compressed file. Very slick.

Speaking of guitar amp sounds, Radial announced at a press conference that it had bought the ReAmp from its inventor, John Cuniberti, and will market it as part of its line of reamping products. Radial had been leasing reamping technology from Cuniberti for its X-Amp and Pro RMP products, and the ReAmp will fall in the middle of the two from a price standpoint.

Those were the highlights of day one for me. Now, it’s on to day two.

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Jordan Rudess/RnL Video Featuring iPads Galore


Keyboardist and iPad evangelist Jordan Rudess sent me the link to this video, featuring him along with Project RnL. The first two minutes of the song are all played on iPads, using a variety of apps including: MorphWiz, Wizbot, Nlog PRO, ThumbJam, Looptastic HD, Mugician, iELECTRIBE, iMS-20, Pocket Organ, Drum Meister, MiniSynth, iShred, and VoiceKeyboard. Unlike the iPad/iPhone Band Performs Christmas Carols video and the iPhone Band on the Subway videos reported on previously in this blog, this is not just a novelty, but a legitimate musical use of iOS devices. Very cool.


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Mac App Store Debuts

Apple debuted it’s Mac App store today, which offers Macintosh applications (both Apple and third-party) using a similar user interface to the iTunes App store. In order to access it, you need to go to software update and download system 10.6.6. After you do, the Mac App store shows up as an icon on your desktop. Click on it, and the Mac App Store opens.

Apple says there are over 1,000 apps on the store. This being the EM website, I naturally checked out the music applications first. I found a mixed bag of programs, some for music makers and some for music fans. One of the highlights is that you can now get GarageBand for $14.99. No longer do you need to purchase the entire iLife bundle, all it’s apps are now offered separately. GarageBand may have its limitations as a DAW, but for this price, it’s the best DAW deal around, hands down.

Other music apps of interest include a $9.99 program called Mounties Feedback Trainer, which newbie live sound engineers (especially monitor mixers) will appreciate, because it plays feedback at various frequencies and you have to guess which one you’re hearing. Other applications of note include Redmatica ExsManager ($49.99), which helps you organize your Apple Logic EXS sampler patches (several other Redmatica EXS-related apps are available as well). Also interesting is DubPlate ($9.99) from a developer named Ben Englert, which lets you burn audio coming into your Mac directly to a CD.

Outside the music category, there’s a lot going on. I haven’t had time to look through that too carefully yet, but I did notice a video category, with a bunch of apps including iMovie for $14.99. The Productivity category is offering Apple’s iWork components separately. For example, you can get Pages, a word processor/page design program for $19.99.

You pay for apps through your iTunes account, and presumably you’ll be able to automatically update your software, like you do on the iTunes App store. This is definitely worth checking out, and EM will surely be paying more attention to it down the road as the music app selection increases.

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Changing Speed and Pitch with an App Called Capo


A very useful app called Capo ($19.99) has come out from a developer called SuperMegaUltraGroovy. Compatible with the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad platforms, Capo allows you to change the speed of audio files (which you load from the iTunes folder on your device), change their pitch, and scrub them using finger movements.

The tempo-change feature slows down the song, leaving the pitch unchanged. The quality of the algorithm is quite good. You have options to slow it down to ¾-, ½-, and ¼-speed.

You can also change the pitch, using an onscreen slider. This option is little less useful, because it also affects the tempo. When you slide it up, it gets faster and down it gets slower. This results in the “chipmunk effect” at high settings and the “devil effect” at low settings.

A large waveform display shows the music going by, and by sliding it with your finger, you can scrub the audio. The app also lets you add markers and loop a section, both of which are very helpful features.

For learning parts and transcribing music, this is a very worthwhile app. It’s a bit pricey for the iOS space, but certainly gives you your money’s worth. A Mac version is also available for $49.

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Music Industry Pay-Scale Study

The Career Development Center at Berklee College of Music has come out with an interesting study on what musicians can make, dollar-wise, in various parts of the industry. It’s called Salary Ranges for U.S. Music Positions in Performance, Writing, Business, Audio Technology, Education, and Music Therapy. Download it here.

The information in the study runs gamut from what someone in a band can make playing a club to what music supervisors make to the pay scales for film composers and a lot more. As you might expect, there are large ranges within almost every category. For example, Commercial Jingle Composer is listed between $300 and $20,000 per commercial, Film Score Composer from $2,000 to $500,000 per film, and Instrument Repair Technician at $9 to $55 per hour. So while it’s pretty general information, it’s nevertheless an interesting read, and certainly could be a helpful resource.

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iZotope RX 2′s Amazing Spectral Repair Feature

I’ve been a big fan of iZotope’s RX audio restoration software since it came out a couple of years ago. It’s easy to use, and offers great performance in reducing noise and eliminating sonic artifacts in a variety of situations. Although I’ve used it’s broadband denoiser, declicker, and other features a lot in video and podcast post production situations, lately I’ve been using its Spectral Repair module to clean up some tracks on a music project I’m mixing. Although all the modules in RX are valuable, Spectral Repair is unlike anything I’ve used before. Basically, you can set it to attenuate or replace sections of audio, and it’s able to get out glitches without damaging the surrounding audio. If used correctly, theresults can be pretty mind-boggling.

For instance, one way in which it totally shines is with finger squeaks on acoustic guitar tracks. Select the squeak, use the Attenuate option, hit process, and boom, the sqeaak is eliminated or significantly reduced. I just used it on an acoustic rhythm guitar track that had some very short clicky clips on it. This time I used the Replace option (see screenshots). And, again, it worked perfectly. The glitch was gone.

With the Replace option, RX takes your selection, and, using interpolation, replaces it based on what came before and after it. Here’s a classic example of how to use it: I had an acoustic bass part that was ringing out at the end of a song, and a noise (probably from the player moving a little) got picked up on the mix, which marred the note as it rang out. I used the Replace option, in this case, because it essentially replaced the click with what that section should have sounded like had the click not been there.

It’s an invaluable tool. The regular version of RX 2, which includes the Spectral Repair costs $349. Everything I described in this post can be done with the regular version (and a whole lot more). RX 2 Advanced, which has more features and tweaking options, costs $1199. By the way, EM will have a review of RX 2 Advanced in an upcoming issue.

The image on the left shows that acoustic guitar click I referred to earlier, with Spectral Repair module opened below it. On the right is the same point in time, after I processed it. (You can click on these images to enlarge them.)

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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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