Entries in review (124)
Recently I was in a bit of a predicament with a client doing a voice over project. The client’s voice was very quiet and soft and did not sound natural with my AKG C414 condenser microphone.
After playing around with preamp settings and microphone placement I came to the conclusion that the AKG just doesn’t suit the characteristics of their voice.
I tried another option, my Shure SM7B. It gave us the sound we were after. Sadly the SM7B has not got the most powerful output signal so I found myself having to crank the gain knob all the way up just to get a half decent level into Pro Tools. This caused noticeable hiss in the recording which was distracting to the ear as the script was hypnotherapy and we needed a clean sounding vocal. I wanted the clean hot signal from the AKG C414 and my client wanted the tone and sound of the SM7B… both microphones had their problems, I had to find a solution.
With some investigation, on the internet, I found a little inline box that plugs between any dynamic/ribbon microphone and preamp. The box is called the Cloudlifter CL-1 and boosts the output signal from such microphones.
Ease Of Use
The Cloudlifter CL-1 is a single channel box with XLR connectors on either side with four rubber feet under it and a handy little strap so that you can attach it to a boom stand. It’s that simple, setup in seconds. All you need to do is make sure you are sending phantom power from your preamp to it… this is how the magic happens.
First Test - Signal
I did a really easy test to hear the difference between the ‘Cloudlifter’ and ‘direct in’ with two identical Shure SM58 microphones and identical brand cables. I set input 1 as the ‘direct in’ with an SM58 and input 2 as the ‘Cloudlifter’, also with an SM58. Both gain knobs were set exactly the same, 1 o’clock. I lined both microphones up facing in a triangle towards my mouth and recorded myself saying “1 2 3 4” in different dynamics.
To quote the manufacturer…The Cloudlifter adds 25dB extra output from the microphone.
Second Test - Sound Quality
I wanted to hear if there was a difference in sound quality between the ‘Cloudlifter’ and ‘direct in’ signals. I normalized both the clips with AudioSuite and soloed between them. I almost fell off the back of my chair when hearing the results.
You can clearly see the hiss in the waveform between my ‘direct in’ speech that the microphone alone introduced. The ‘Cloudlifter’ had barely any hiss, no more than I would get from a condenser microphone.
Third Test - Build Quality
This was an accidental test, I knocked the Cloudlifter off the table onto the hard wood floor when testing it and it survived without a mark. I am not surprised as it is built very well, much like a high end electric guitar stomp box.
Fourth Test - Integrity Of The Results
To make sure the results I got were no fluke… or unfair due to a cable or microphone being faulty I swapped the microphones and cables around with exactly the same results being produced.
As I am sure you can tell I love this thing. I love simple little devices like this that help get audio sounding great before I record. Using a dynamic microphone was always my second choice for voice recording because of the low output signal / hiss characteristics I would get. The Cloudlifter addresses these problem and is a really affordable solution. This box is also available in dual channel.
Russ takes and look and listen to the latest addition to the Universal Audio UAD stable the British favourite Thermionic Culture Vulture.
He gives it a run on bass, guitar and vocals and shows the fun that can be had with this unique audio plug-in.
Software plug-ins are so good these days. Most of them are excellent value and in spite of all of my reluctance to admit it, the best sound every bit as good as hardware and if you buy a plug in, you have as many instantiations of that plug-in as your system will allow. However there are still areas where plug-ins still lose out to hardware. One of these is the intangibility of software. While a plug-in is convenient in terms of workflow and recall, if your plug-in manufacturer doesn’t support a new format, DAW version or OS you quickly realise just how intangible software really is.
My first thought when I came across the Blackstar ID:Core series of amplifiers was that here was hardware for less than most plug-ins cost. While not really a “grown up” guitar amp, was the Core suitable for use as a hardware equivalent of a plug-in? If so was it worth considering as an alternative to software amp modelling?
How does the ID series perform?
The product which drew my attention was the ID:Core 10. A tiny stereo 10 watt amp which offered USB connectivity and the possibility to reamp over USB. If it was possible to incorporate this amp into a Pro Tools workflow without too many compromises it might be a sensible alternative for some. The amp is small and light, power is provided by a good quality external PSU. This is a stereo amp (5w+5w) and frankly sounds far bigger than it has any right to with its dual 3” speakers. It won’t produce any real bass but looking for a genuinely big sound from such a small box is missing the point. It’s a convenient, fun amp with enough power to give a satisfying playing experience in a domestic setting and if its not enough there are 20 and 40 watt versions available. I think the point of this amp is best illustrated by the fact that although I have Pro Tools, some nice monitors and Eleven all ready to go, since I’ve had this little amp I’ve been playing the electric guitar far, far more than usual. This is similar to the way that although I have a weighted, 88 note keyboard controller, I hanker after a standalone digital piano with built in speakers as if I have to start up a computer to play, inevitably I end up using the computer, not the piano.
In this extended video review of e-Instruments Session Horns Pro James takes a look at the new Session Horns Pro from e-Instruments.
See and hear how you can get highly realistic brass tracks into your projects.
Alvaro de Iscar Gonzalez from Foley Collection and our own Mike Thornton take a look at the Foley Collection Total bundle that we have on our Deals page at 25% off and see how it can be used to tracklay foley.
See how Alvaro and Mike track up a clip from an episode of Misfits with not only footsteps but also jeans, tracksuit and leather clothing, as well as keys jangling in a character’s pocket.
Alvaro and Mike also demonstrate other modules in the collection including, Laugh, Phones, and the Olivetti Typewriter. In addition don’t miss and exclusive preview of a brand new module - Horses.
PreSonus make some very cool stuff these days with everything from their hugely popular digital mixers to audio interfaces and monitor controllers, live sound equipment as well as their DAW Studio One.
One product that may have not received as much attention as the others in the PreSonus Faderport.
It’s not a new product, but if you struggle with finding a cost effective solution to control your Pro Tools transport and other key features then the Faderport is well worth a look at.
The Faderport At A Glance
- Recording transport control
- High-quality Alps fader used in control surfaces costing over $10K+
- Touch sensitive, 100mm long throw motorized fader
- Dual-servo drive belt motor design for fast and smooth operation
- Write single channel or group channel volume automation
- Write pan and mute automation
- 1024 steps of resolution
- pan control, mute, solo, record enable
- quick window selection (edit, mix, transport)
- Footswitch jack for hands free punch in/out
The Faderport can be used without the PSU but this is required for the motorized fader to function - the fader will still work but wil not act in a motorized fashion.
The Faderport In Operation
The Faderport has two operation modes Native and HUI. Depending on the DAW you use this will give different operational experiences. For Pro Tools it requires to run in the HUI Emulation mode, setting up is a breeze. Plug in the PSU and USB cable, go to Peripherals and then set it up as a HUI controller. (see above)
The Faderport is made from metal so you get the feel of something substantial when working with it.
Although it works in HUI emulation it worked without issue in Pro Tools 11 and I found it an excellent addition to have in front of me on the desk. One of my favourite features is having the record arm option as a button, that saved me having to be reminded to arm the track before hitting record - or am I the only idiot who repeatedly makes that schoolboy error?
Having both a long throw fader and a pan control to use in a mix is helpful, it may simply be some kind of placebo effect but using a physical fader and pan control as opposed to a mouse seems to be a more natural way of mixing, especially if you close you eyes and set things as your ears lead you rather than as your eyes would. I find things end up in different positions when I compare the two.
You may read on some forums that you can’t pan the right side of a stereo channel with the Faderport, you can, you simply hit the ‘Shift’ key on the unit to get the right side of the stereo channel.
The additon of a foot switch is helpful for singer songwriters who want to punch in their guitar, keys or vocals and only have one pair of hands, simply use the standard footswitch and use your feet!
Even though the Faderport is not a new product, it is still a relavant piece of hardware for use in a Pro Tools system, especially for those who want some physical control of their Pro Tools rig but can’t justify the expense of a dedicated control surface.
One additional thought I had was that it would make an ideal complement to the Softube Console 1 as it offers many features missing in the console one - most of all a fader. I do not think there would be any compatibility issues running the two and they would make ideal bed-fellows.
The Faderport costs around £130 in the UK, if you are looking for some more physical control of Pro Tools then check it out, it may be just what you are looking for.
In this free video Russ gives a full review of the Eventide Ultra Channel plug-in. The Ultra Channel is a AAX, VST and AU channel strip plug-in with stereo widener and delay also built in.
It is free until July 8th 2014 but you will need a code which you can get from here
I first met Tim Chandler when I started the blog over 5 years ago. I had been invited to the Digidesign UK headquarters by a couple of the guys who had seen the first couple of weeks of the blog to see if they could help support me. Whilst I was there I met Tim, he showed me an idea he had been working on, that idea was the M-Audio Axiom Pro with Hypercontrol. As he explained the idea to me and demonstrated it in action I was impressed by how Hypercontrol would be able to help automate lots of laborious task, when I heard the back story I was even more impressed.
Tim wasn’t a software developer working for them, he had come up with Hypercontrol in his own time and then shared it with the M-Audio team. Tim is my kind of guy, he sees a problem and comes up with an answer, even if it’s not his responsibility or his job title.
Tim left M-Audio to join Nektar, the controller company as Product Manager and Designer.
When I heard that Tim had joined Nektar and saw what the Panarama keyboard could do for Reason users I reached out to him and asked when it would have the same kind of functionality in Pro Tools, at that time Tim had no idea of when that would be, so I sat on my hands. As time has gone on, I’ve grown impatient and seeing that Tim now has some integration with Pro Tools I asked if I could check out the Panorama keyboard - mostly to see if the vision he started at M-Audio had been developed further with the Nektar Panorama keyboard controller. The Panorama offers deep integration with Bitwig Studio, Cubase, Logic Pro and Reason, but not Pro Tools, so is it even worth me considering it as a keyboard controller?
Read on to find out.
In this studio hardware review video James takes a look at the new Aria valve mic from Sontronics.
He tries it as a voice over mic then tries some jazz style vocals.
Watch the Sontronics Aria microphone review
Housed inside the chromed grille is a large, 1.07-inch, edge-terminated capsule aimed at both male and female vocals. It features a hand-selected European 12AX7/ECC83 tube which lends a character that you’d expect to find in a classic vintage valve mic.
The accompanying SPS-2 power supply unit boasts pad (0, -10dB) and filter (linear, 75Hz) switches as well as a tube-ready LED, letting you know when the mic is warmed up and at its best to record. Inside the unit is a pro-quality, medical-grade electricity filter to ensure that the power supply is pure and interference-free.
SSP is £899 UK
Mike Aiton is a freelance dubbing editor and mixer in the UK and has now set up his own Pro Tools digital studio, “mikerophonics” to offer his clients a personal and cost effective service. If you would like to know more about Mike Aiton then have a listen to our Podcast Interview where we chat about how his career has developed and also cover using Source-Connect. Mike also helped us with some research and tests on what video hardware to use with Pro Tools 11 and found that the AJA hardware performed so much better than his Blackmagic hardware. We also took a look at when to use dipped and undipped stems and his Pro Tools session template and workflow. Following on from that we thought it would be helpful to take a look at the plug-ins he chooses to use in his workflow So over to you Mike…..
Dialogue EQ - Fab Filter Pro-Q
For my dialogues (as it is native only and precedes the native Cedar DNS One in my chain), I love the look of the interface, it’s so clean and uncluttered. It is very easy to use with and works very nicely with the Slate Raven touch interface. I love the built in spectrum analyser. This plug-in sounds great and is insanely flexible, with up to 24 bands, zero latency or linear phase – but best of all, I LOVE the ability to be able to solo each band – it really helps you get the Q right.
Noise Reduction – Cedar DNS One
The “daddy of noise reduction”! The fastest way to whip out bad room tones, aircon or lighting whines on your dialogues. I tend to use the Cedar on all my dialogue tracks, post eq (so I can remove rumble and hiss), but pre dynamics. The Cedar works best on sources where there is a reasonable signal to noise ratios. Again – so fast with the Slate Raven touch screen.
Noise Reduction – Izotope RX3 Advanced
This suite needs no introduction. I really like the de-clip and de-crackle, and de-click modules too. I use the de-noiser when the original clip has a “noise to signal” ratio rather than a signal to noise ratio. I always keep a safety track with the un-rendered version on. When doing multiple renders with different modules, I am careful to name each step in the process – so that I can backtrack.
The Pultec EQ is one piece of vintage gear that most audio hardware collectors would like to get their hands on. If you could find an original then it would cost you an arm and a leg to buy, there are a few very nice clones from the likes of Tubetec, Cartec and Manley, but for most mere mortals the closest we get is a nice plug-in emulation.
So when someone offers you a hardware ‘Pultec EQ’ for around £229 ($300) the immediate thought is ‘what is wrong with it?’
So we set out to find out to see if the old adage ‘if something is too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.’ is always true.
Lindell was founded by Swedish record producer Tobias Lindell.
The PEX500 is a one channel transformer coupled Passive Pultec Equalizer. It’s an all discrete design based upon their hybrid amplifier.
Lindell say that the PEX500 is their take on the magical classic Pultec design.
Lindell PEX-500 Specification
To use the Lindell PEX-500 you are going to need a 500 Series rack of some kind, in the pictures you can see it in a Radial Workhorse Cube and the Radial Workhorse Powerstrip. It’s full feature specification is;
- Transformer coupled Balanced inputs and Balanced Outputs
- Passive Pultec Equalizer.
- Inductor Hybrid gain make-up amplifier
- 3 Step Switched Eq Low Freq Boost 30Hz, 60Hz, 100Hz +/-10%
- 3 Step Switched Eq High Freq Bosst 6kHz, 10kHz, 16kHz +/-10%
- 3 Step Switched Eq High Freq Attenuation 10kHz, 15kHz, 20kHz +/-10%
- True Hardwire Eq Bypass
- Gold Plated PCB
Lindell PEX-500 In Use
For those not used to Pultec style EQ, one of the reasons they are so loved is the magic boost and attenuation of frequencies in the same area. It might sound a little odd to be boosting and cutting the same frequencies, but because the curves of the boost and the cut are slightly different in the Pultec circuit, by boosting and cutting the Pultec magic kicks in and the cut applies a slight resonance, it’s particularly used on the bottom end and produces nice tight bass.
If you ever get the chance to use an original Pultec EQ then I suggest you take it, I’ve been lucky enough to sit in Abbey Road and heard a vintage Pultec doing the magic on a mix.
I decided to try the Lindell PEX500 on three pieces of material, a bass guitar, an acoustic guitar and kick drum. I don’t own a Pultec EQ, so to give it some reference I created similar audio clips using one of the many very good plug-in emulations as reference.
Lindell say that the PEX-500 is ‘their take’ on the Pultec, which is important to note as I found using the PEX-500 required me to push it harder than I would expect to get the same results. So the PEX-500 seems to be more subtle, especially in the bottom end. That said this should never be a problem as most of the time any boost I make is no higher than around halfway up, so there’s plenty more juice if needed.
A small niggle I do have with the Lindell gear is that the combination of the champagne colour, combined with the small text required to get so much into the space, makes reading the text hard - when I have my studio lighting set to sexy then it is nigh on impossible.
Of course with so few controls, over time one would not need to read them and would instinctively know what the controls do. A limited edition version is coming out in the summer with a black finish, looking at the pictures I can see that vastly improves the situation.
Lindell PEX-500 Conclusion
in my tests I found that the PEX-500 Pultec EQ performed well, it sounds great and does what you would expect from this kind of EQ, giving the user a Pultec EQ sound but at a fraction of the price.
Should you buy it? I did, in fact the Lindell gear you can see in the shots is my own stuff I purchased for the studio. Great sounding studio hardware for £229… what’s not to like? I love em.
If you have been thinking of joining the 500 series club then Lindell would be a great place to start, it sounds a lot better than the bargain basement price suggests, it might cost a tenth of some of the alternatives, but it doesn’t sound like it. Check them out.
Russ takes a look at the Universal Audio UAD Neve 1073 plug-in, which features as part of the Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Collection.
He shows how it works, explains Unison technology and then shows it on a drum kit.
He also does a comparison with the Waves Scheps 73 1073 pre amp and EQ emulation.
Watch the UAD Neve 1073 review here, sound examples from the review are below.
A request was made to add the IK Multimedia EQ73 to the test, this has been added to the Soundcloud samples below. All final audio has been measured for loudness using the Avid Pro Limiter AudioSuite Loudness Analyser.
I have been using the FabFilter Pro DS plug-in for a while and have been meaning to make this video to show you how it works.
Watch the video and find out why I have given it the coveted Pro Tools Expert Editors Choice Award.
Russ takes a look at the long-awaited EZdrummer 2 from Toontrack and sees if it lives up to the hype.
How easy is it to get a great beat and a great sound, or is easy just a convenient name for the product? Russ takes it for a spin as a songwriter to see if it can live up to a real world test. Find out what he thinks in this extended show and tell review of EZdrummer 2
In this video review of Toontrack EZMix 2 James shows how using just one plug can turn a track from dull and lifeless to fat and energetic.
He shows the EZMix2 in action and the Classic Amp Pack on guitars, bass and drums and then finally on the entire mix.
Find out what he thinks of this simple approach to mixing.
Toontrack have begun to ship EZdrummer 2, their much hyped update to EZdrummer.
We’ve had a preview copy for several weeks and we have to say it is one hell of an update, EZdrummer was always considered to be something of a started plug-in, EZdrummer 2 firmly changes that thinking and offers features not even found on top end drum VIs.
A full review of EZdrummer 2 will follow soon.
EZdrummer 2 Features
- Tap to find your groove
- Add percussion on the fly
- Customize any groove in real-time
- Write an entire drum track without leaving the program
- Two sound libraries with five (5) kits in total
- Powerful audio engine
- Full price €139
- Upgrade €79
EZdrummer v EXdrummer 2
|Drum libraries||2 (incl. the Cocktail EZX)||2|
|Drum kits||2 (incl. the Cocktail EZX)||5|
|Multi-out stereo channels||8||16|
|Edit Play Style||No||Yes|
|Individual velocity control||No||Yes|
|Tap 2 Find||No||Yes|
|Search by tags||No||Yes|
|Preview MIDI in original tempo||No||Yes|
|Mix & match EZX sounds||No||Yes|
|Pitch control for single instruments||No||Yes|
|Instrument properties audio preview||No||Yes|
|Volume controls for single instruments||No||Yes|
|Effect chain presets||0||29|
Last year the Maag EQ4 plug-in won our ‘People’s Choice Award’ and in doing so garnered a lot of love and attention from the recording community. The EQ4 plug-in is a model of the hardware 500 series EQ4 equaliser from Maag Audio, a boutique audio company based in the USA who have gained a reputation in the pro audio community by building top end audio products. On top of their technical credentials, Maag Audio is run by some of the most decent people in the industry.
The Maag Audio EQ2 - 500 Series Equaliser
The Maag Audio EQ2 is a 2 band boost only equalizer with AIR BAND®, Low Mid Frequency (LMF) bell boost from SUB to 1.4 kHz, and an INPUT ATTN to control down to –12.5 dB of attenuation.
The LMF provides both tight or wide bell curve options.
Both top and bottom bands can be turned on and off independently, allowing the user the opportunity to use it on either the top and bottom, or indeed both.
An INPUT ATTN control offers up to –12.5 dB of attenuation.
The Maag EQ2 In Use
I have a pair of the Maag EQ2 equalisers in a Radial Powerstrip so this gave me the chance to try these units in a stereo operation. Being mono units and having no way of stereo linking them, the first thing I wanted to do was to see how close the build tolerance is on the units. Building any analogue audio product to an exacting tolerance is not just a matter of luck, it takes good design, sourcing of high quality and consistent parts, care in manufacture, and final testing.
On the Maag Audio web site they state “Only the finest components are used in Mäag Audio gear. Build quality is among the highest in the professional audio industry. You can rest assured your Mäag Audio gear will perform at sonically superior levels, every day.” However no promises are made by Maag Audio as to each unit being matched, so I wasn’t expecting them to be, I did try and contact them to ask them about what I should expect but was unable to get hold of them, so I thought In would run my own test.
The test was a simple nulling test, sending the same signal from a Pro Tools channel to both units, bringing them back into 2 mono channels and then using an instance of Avid Trim to invert the phase (polarity) to see if the audio would null out. In other words, in a perfect world then what I should hear is silence.
I ran the test both with the units in bypass and also in several settings, by adjusting EQ and various frequencies and on the whole what I got was silence, having notched pots on the Maag EQ2 makes the testing easier and takes away any guesswork on my part. When I did hear something it was so tiny that it was barely audible, however I think it right to state that in certain settings there was a tiny little bit of audio. It’s also important to state that several other factors need to be taken into account when running a test like this with hardware, such as the that the signal had gone from my Avid Omni, out via a DB25 loom then into a patchbay, patched via jacks and then back into Pro Tools via an Audient ASP880 audio pre-amp in the digital domain, so there are plenty of other factors that can affect the result of a nulling test.
However, the reason I ran this test was because I wanted to use the Maag Audio EQ2s as a stereo pair on a mix and wanted to know how much I would have to do to compensate for any differences between 2 Maag Audio EQ2s, the simple answer is very little.
I then took some time trying the EQ2 on three pieces of music;
- Get Lucky - Daft Punk
- Trouble - Shawn Colvin
- Please Read The Letter - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Being a 2 band boost only EQ the Maag EQ2 lends itself to mix and mastering applications, giving the opportunity to sweeten a mix.
Of course one concern I had was that with the limitation of just 2 bands of boost that I would find that any changes would over-cook the mix and I would end up with boomy bottom and fizzy top sounding mixes that somehow resembled the Radio Shack graphic EQ shapes we saw in their 1980s brochures. This is where a Pultec EQ shines, offering the magic of cutting and boosting and preventing too much bleed entering into bands further up the spectrum.
Despite not having any option for attenuation as well as boost, the EQ2 gives a very musical and subtle sound when used for sweetening, in fact far more than one would expect. Having the option of both a tight and wide bell curve gives plenty of opportunity to shape the sound on the bottom/low mid end. The top end shelving EQ is also versatile enough to give everything from a nice push to vocals and guitars around 5Khz right up to the magic Maag AIR band sparkle.
In modern production we find ourselves spoilt by almost limitless tone shaping possibilities, even the Maag EQ4 offers 6 bands of EQ, so the big question is what can a 2 band EQ offer?
The Maag EQ2 proves the old cliche, that less is more, offering tone shaping tools that perform far beyond what appear to be meagre features.
On the material I tested the Maag EQ2 made a significant difference to the sound for the better, bringing both warmth and clarity without sounding over processed. Of course as with all Maag Audio products the sound is very musical, working with the audio rather than fighting with it.
Being a boost only device there are other equalizers that are more suited to remedial work on problem material, but in the hands of any accomplished mix or mastering engineer the Maag EQ2 would prove to be an invaluable tool for sweetening. My advice is that if you are looking for a high quality EQ then add the Maag EQ2 to your shopping list.
I make no secret of my love for Maag Audio and their products, the EQ2 proves yet again that my love is not misplaced.
Disclosure: I love Cliff Maag Senior
- High quality
- Musical sounding
- Small 500 series footprint
- Built like a tank
- Price means this is not aimed at the home studio
Maag Audio EQ2 Specifications
- Frequency Response -2 dB points, 10Hz & 75kHz
- Nominal Input Impedance XLR) 48 K Ohms, balanced
- Nominal Output Impedance (XLR) 50 Ohms, balanced
- Headroom +27 dBu
- THD + Noise < 0.005%
In this video Mike finds out if Vitamin had a place in the audio production workflow. Check out this free show & tell review to see what he thought.
You can buy Waves Vitamin here.
Russ takes a look at Drumatom, a plug-in that claims to be able to clean up live drums with ease and with amazing results?
No sooner had we posted the news about the new IK Multimedia EQ 73 and EQ 81 than Eli over at Logic Pro Expert has a complete review of the new Neve 1073 and 1081 Eq models from IK Multimedia.
His complete review gives audio examples as well as suggested applications for these new plug-ins from the IK Multimedia team.
IK Multimedia EQ 73 and EQ 81 Features
As we said in our earlier news item, IK Multimedia have gone further than simply modelling the EQs, these version include pre-amp modelling and MS processing too. Other features include;
- Fully compatible with Mac OS X (Universal Binary), and Windows (XP / Vista / 7 / 8)
- Supported plug-in formats: VST, RTAS, AAX, and Audio Units
- Works within the T-RackS CS Standalone application
- High-quality oversampling
- High-precision and high-transparency digital processors
- Accurately analog-modeled vintage classic devices
- Full-latency compensation support
IK Multimedia EQ 73 and EQ 81 Review
Head over to Logic Pro Expert for the extensive review of the new IK Multimedia EQ 73 and EQ 81 plug-ins.