A Mixing Contest – or maybe – Some Tracks For Mixing Practice

Boz Digital Labs along with Toontrack and Groove3 are having a contest in which you download tracks (there are a lot of them), mix them to your taste, and submit your mix. The first three prizes are for what’s judged to be the best mixes (by their admittedly biased judges). Fourth prize is a random drawing among the losers, so you could win prizes even if your mix sucks. And if you decide not to enter, you can have fun mixing some well tracks including MIDI tracks for the drums should you want to edit the drum parts or substitute your own sounds for theirs. It’s a metal-punkish song, not my bag at all, so don’t worry about competing with me for the big prizes.

Prizes include Toontrack’s Superior Drummer (1st prize) or EZ Drummer (other prizes), Groove3 on-line classes (a year for 1st prize, a month for other prizes), and a Boz Digital plug-in of your choice. Contest closes at midnight Pacific time September 4.

Details, downloads, and entry information here.

Have fun!

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Registration Open for the Audio Engineering Society (AES) 141st International Convention – Los Angeles September 29 – October 1, 2016

The US AES show returns to the Los Angeles Convention Center again this year. As has been the case in the past several years, early on-line registration (officially through August 31, but usually extended) for an Exhibits Plus badge is free. This gets you entrance to the exhibits (“toy show”) as well as certain special events and the on-going Live Sound Expo and Project Studio Expo. These Expos are a wonderful series of talks and demonstrations by experts in the field, covering a wide variety of subjects, for beginners as well as seasoned engineers.

To register, click here. Use Promo Code AES141SHOWNEWS if the registration form doesn’t already plug one in for you. You don’t need to be an AES member to attend, but you do need to register. Do it soon so you won’t forget. If you don’t live in the area, think about where you’re going to stay. Hotel prices near the Convention Center are outrageous for us poor starving musicians, but there an LA Metro (subway) stop a couple of blocks away.

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NAB 2016 Show Report Posted

My 2016 NAB Show report is now available. Visit the Trade Show page or just click here to download it. As usual, it’s a PDF. The photos are at fairly high resolution, so you can zoom into the PDF to get a closer look,

Enjoy.

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2016 Winter NAMM Show Report Posted

I finally cleared the snow away (well, it was warm and it rained all day yesterday so I had some help) and I put together my full NAMM show report for 2016. Visit the Trade Show Reports page to download it, or just jump right to it here. As usual, it’s a PDF that you can read at your leisure. By the way, some of the pictures are at fairly high resolution, so you can blow up the PDF page and see some details. All the links to the product web sites should be good, at least for a while.

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NAMM 2016 Tidbits – Last Day

Sunday is the best and worst day to visit the show. Best because it’s not as crowded as the other days, worst because, since there’s not much traffic at the booths, the booth staff takes the opportunity to wander around the show floor, leaving a skeleton crew who doesn’t know enough to answer technical questions. I wanted to have a look at the Tactus mixer control surface from Crest (not really new, but I wanted to add it to my control surface ramblings) but nobody there knew anything about it when I got to their room Sunday morning. Oh, well.

While many of the usual plug-in and software manufacturers had booth space in the main halls, this year NAMM devoted one of the upstairs rooms to software, with more than 20 exhibitors in a fairly quiet room. I don’t know enough about the products to learn much there, but I did chat with a couple of the exhibitors about how they liked having that dedicated space. They really liked it, but because it wasn’t all that well publicized, and was at the far end of hallway that spanned the full width of the convention center, a lot of attendees just didn’t make it up there. I only stumbled across it when looking for the Crest Tactus in the Peavey room next door.

Stevie Wonder is a regular visitor at NAMM shows, and this year, not once, but twice, I was overshadowed by The Wonder Experience. Once I had to wait to cross an aisle while his entorage was given the right of way with escorts from security. Not a big deal. But Sunday I wanted to stop back at the Waves booth to get a little quieter demo of the Waves NX, which, as far as I could tell, is a plug-in to simulate listening room environments. Focusrite had something like that a few years ago (there’s a review of it here) and I was curious as to what direction Waves was taking with it. Their blurb was about how you could have a high class mastering room in your headphones. Well, wouldn’t you know it – Just as I snagged someone to give me a demo, he looked around and said “Stevie Wonder is heading over here and I have to give him a tour.” Of course I couldn’t tag along.

I’ll get all this stuff organized into a real report next week. I live in the Washington DC area and I’m not coming home until Saturday. There’ll be plenty of snow to keep me indoors and working. My neighbor got someone to shovel out my walkway, but he didn’t realize that my car was in the garage about 150 feet back from the street. Oops!

 

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NAMM 2016 Tidbits – Day 3

Just as a reminder, I’ll be putting together a consolidated report with further details, pictures, and links. It’ll likely be up in a week or so after I get home and get the two feet of snow cleared out of my driveway, so check back again.

Radial Engineering can be counted on to come up with a new problem solver or three a few times a year, and this show was no exception. The Headlight and Headlight Pro route a single instrument input jack to one of four outputs. If you play several instruments on stage, all of which need to go through a DI and you want them on individual mixer channels so each channel can have the proper settings for that instrument, the simple solution is to have a separate DI for each instrument, but that makes for a lot of cable clutter on stage. The Headlight Pro allows you to unplug one instrument, plug in another, and, with a switch, assign the input to its proper console channel. Is this a good solution? I dunno. It puts a lot of responsibility on the player, who has to remember to mute the input so as not to send a blast of noise through the PA system, then has to remember to press the appropriate button for the instrument he’s plugged in lest he drive the house engineer nuts, then un-mute before he starts playing. The just plain Headlight might be a more useful solution, but for a different problem. This is for the electric guitarist who plays one guitar, but wants to switch it among four different amplifiers for different tone setups. It offers a single guitar input and four switchable outputs. It includes Radial’s Drag control to adjust the loading on the pickup.

The Radial JDX Direct Drive combines the JDX (Jensen transformer) DI input with an amplifier simulator (these appear to be frequency response shapers, not saturation simulation) for a Marshall half stack, a clean Fender Twin, and the standard JDX tone, along with a Bright switch.

TASCAM beefed up their line of digital recorders intended as companions to a DSLR camera with the new DR-701D. It’s functionally fairly close to last year’s DR-70D 4 channel recorder, but it adds HDMI sync, time code, a remote start/stop, and a solid magnesium case. Also new from TASCAM is a MADI I/O card for their 64 track capture recorder.

PreSonus introduced the CS18AI, which looks, from a few feet away, quite a bit like their StudioLive consoles, but it’s a control surface designed to be used with their RM32AI and RM16AI “mixer in a stage box” units. The actual mixing and signal processing is done at the RM end of an Ethernet cable via ABV protocol. The CS18AI + RM can stand alone and you’ll find everything you need in order to mix up to 64 channels, but it can be extended with PreSonus’ UC Surface control software for an iPad or Windows 10 touch screen for more visual information and touch control, as well as their Q-mix iOS personal monitor mix controller. The CS18AI offers 100 mm motorized, actual touch sensitive faders, two features that StudioLive users have been requesting for years. When combined with Studio One DAW software, it becomes a powerful and full featured hands-on multitrack recording and mixing workstation. There are a number of these control surfaces on the market today with many features in common, and each one having a few features that make it unique, one important one being close integration with other products from the manufacturer. We don’t really have a universal system yet, so mixing, say, a PreSonus controller with a Mackie mixer-in-a-stagebox is not likely to be a happy marriage yet, you need to pick your features carefully to come up with what’s the best choice for you. The good news is that while there’s arguably significant differences in how processing features sound, the basic sound quality issues like mic preamps, A/D/A converters, and performance specifications are pretty much no longer a significant reason to choose one system over another. This is a good thing, I believe, since it lets you look at functionality first an not worry that one brand might not sound as good as another.

While we’re on a control surface roll here, Avid showed their new Dock controller for Pro Tools. It was actually introduced at last Fall’s AES show but I didn’t get around to seeing it there. This is its first NAMM showing. It’s an iPad dock that features a single fader, a big jog/shuttle wheel, 8 soft knobs surrounding the docked tablet, 16 assignable soft keys, two programmable touch strips (one horizontal, one vertical), a set of buttons for automation control, and a EuCon monitor volume control.

Waves, famous for plug-ins, introduced their take on what I probably should start calling the “modular mixer.” The eMotion LV1 is a software mixer that interfaces with Waves’ own SoundGrid server and I/O modules. They were showing it with a pair of touch screens, one displaying faders, the other displaying channel functions and routing, but this is all customizable. The display can be as simple as a laptop computer running the software, or more complex as required.

Zynaptiq showed a new plug-in called UNMIX::DRUMS. The user interface is really simple, but it really works for doing what they claim. Basically, the big knob in the center is a volume control for the overall level of drums in a stereo mix. You can get pretty close to turning drums off, or boosting them unrealistically, but hopefully you have better taste than that. The other two knobs give you some control over the balance of instruments within the drum kit. It’s not simply another equalizer, but rather, one that looks at the instantaneous spectral content of the mix to identify the drums, and then operates on that in, what I suspect is in a similar manner that you’d do with a spectral editor such as Sony’s Spectral layers or the similar tool in iZotope RX. This seems like a really good tool for a mastering engineer to punch up certain types of mixes, or to tone down an overly enthusiastic drummer that the producer couldn’t tame.

Maybe more tomorrow.

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NAMM 2016 Day 2 Tidbits

 

 

 

I predicted that analog synthesizers would be alive and well, and by golly, I was right. So well, in fact, that most of the “analog village” was moved out of Hall E and on to the main show floor. The centerpiece was Moog’s large “Tropical Island” booth with a dizzying (both visually and aurally) array of modular and integrated synths, both purely analog and hybrid, as well as effect pedals and their delay and ladder filter 500-series studio processing modules.

 

Keeping with the retro theme, the Gizmo is back. In the 1980s, Paul Godley and Lol Crème of the band 10 cc (and later Godley & Crème) came up with the “gizmo,” a contraption that attached to an electric guitar near the bridge. Levers pressed motor-driven wheels against the strings, playing the guitar much like the strings were played with a violin bow. There was a short lived commercial version called the Gizmotron, and now 30 years later, a new and less haywire version is being manufactured. The Gizmotron 2.0 has a speed control for varying the attack and tone, and it’s powered through a USB cable (though there’s no data, just power) which can come from a computer if you have one on stage, or from an included wall wart. Construction appears to be quite robust though it’s not very heavy. It’s a nice design and an interesting effect – if you don’t overuse it.

 

The most retro of retros comes from Stratos Technology, a Japanese company, where they’re really into old computer games. Stratos Technology makes a line of circuit boards that adapt a Compact Flash or SD card to function as the storage device (mostly SCSI) used in obsolete computers and sound modules from years gone by. Need some fresh storage for your Ensoniq ASR-10 sampler or something with a Zip drive? This is the place to go.

 

Miking a harp, particularly for concert sound, is often difficult. As I was walking past the Dusty Strings booth, I was impressed by the harp sound coming from a small amplifier, so I stopped to see what sort of pickup arrangement they had for it. Indeed they sell a pickup kit which can either be pre-installed when you buy one of their harps or added to any harp that provides enough space to get inside. They have three different models for various sized instruments, employing three or four small piezoelectric pickup elements. It’s not something that you can slap on a harp when someone appears at your folk festival stage with one (I’ve used a C-Ducer for that in the past), but if you’re a harpist, or play in a band with one, you might give it a look. At $250-$400, they’re not cheap, but it’ll give you better sound with less trouble than having a typical stage mic pointed at the instrument. Another darn clever tool from Dusty Strings is a tuning wrench for a harp (they also have a version for a hammer dulcimer) with a digital tuner attached.

 

Tone Dexter from Audio Sprockets is a new preamp and processor for piezo pickups. This would get a yawn from me except that the design and operating principle is really interesting, and it really works – at least with the guitar they had in the booth. In addition to a jack for the pickup, there’s an XLR connector with phantom power available. This is for a microphone. The way you use it is to connect a mic that’s capable of getting the sound you’re looking for out of the instrument, position it correctly, put the unit in a learning mode, and play for a minute or so. After capturing the sound of the mic and the pickup, an algorithm looks for differences between the two sounds and derives a correction for the pickup that makes it sound like the mic. You can store the result as a preset (there are several slots available for different guitars and/or different miked sounds) so if you play several instruments on stage, selecting the proper correction is simple. There’s a three band equalizer for fine adjustments, and a “focus” control that reduces some of the ambient sound picked up by the mic that goes into the correction algorithm if you want a more close-up sound. That it can do this suggests that the process isn’t simply one of deriving an EQ curve to take the quack out of the pickup, but that it involves processing in the time domain as well. But of course the detailed workings are under cover.

 

Our friends at Neat Microphones (a Gibson brand) are continuing in their quest to make some of the most visually distinctive but practical you’ll find today, Last year they introduced the “Bee” series of condenser mics with cases striped yellow and black like the body of a bumblebee. New this year are a couple of tabletop mics characterized by their somewhat unconventional shapes and built-in stands (or, should I say, stands with built-in mics. The Widget series presently consists of three models sharing the same stand assembly with one being optimized for voice (podcasting or Skype, for example), one for general purpose work (this is a ball-styled case), and one more musician-oriented with a case that looks like a table lamp. Ya gotta see ‘em.

 

Switcheroo from Idea Bench is a foot controller for effect pedal routing and switching. It does the typical routing thing of interconnecting groups of pedals in preset series configurations. What it does different from most is that the connectors for the pedals is in a separate chassis from the foot pedal controller unit. The idea here is to clean up the floor – you can place the “stage box” near the pedals, connect their outputs and inputs with short cables, and have just a single control cable going to the controller.

 

Manley Labs introduced two new lower cost signal processors. The names and functions will be familiar to anyone who knows Manley gear, as will be the sound, but modern components and construction techniques make them less expensive to build, as well as giving the company a shot at making subtle changes in how they sound to be more fitting for contemporary music production. The ELOP+ is an updated stereo electro-optical limiter/compressor with an all-tube audio path. While the original ELOP was a limiter, the + adds a fixed 3:1 ratio compressor, a popular technique for what’s become termed “bus compression.” Classic knobs, nice new VU meters. The NU MU is an update to the classic Manley Variable Mu compressor. It still uses transformers on the input and output and 6BA6 tubes. A new addition is the HIP control that apparently changes the shape of the gain versus level curve that brings in compression at a lower level but retains more high level dynamics. The effect (though I really couldn’t hear it on headphones there on the show floor) is to bring up lower level program material without squashing the high level dynamics in the process. The panel is substantially redesigned with very cool meters with their pivot points to the left and right rather than at the bottom, making it easy to see how the two channels are tracking.

 

Stay tuned Day 3 is coming up.

 

 

 

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