Vinyl Camp – May 30-31 in Nashville Tennessee

I suppose it had to happen. Welcome To 1979 Studio in Nashville is hosting a two day workshop on the process of recording a phonograph record. The event will begin with a tour of their all-analog studio and lacquer cutting room a well as the nearby United Record Pressing plant, followed an in-depth technical look at and demonstration of the lacquer cutting process. The second day will focus on a live recording session direct-to-disk with a band, cutting two sides of a 7″ single. Attendees will get a copy of the record (presumably a pressing, so it’ll arrive later).

It could be an interesting way to spend a weekend. The event is limited to 10 people, so get your reservation in early. Cost is $250. They also host a “Tape Camp” a few times a year, which, as the name suggests, is a weekend all about recording on tape, with an optional day devoted to analog recorder alignment and maintenance.

Further info is at the Welcome to 1979 web page with additional information about the Vinyl Camp at their Facebook page.

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2015 NAMM Show Report – Updated 2/9/2015

I’ve updated the report with some info that I received from Focusrite over the weekend. The link on the Show Reports page takes you to the updated version. No need to download the whole thing again if you’ve downloaded it previously.

In my initial report, I pondered about the possible lack of a built-in monitor mixer and its associated application for the Focusrite Claret series since neither the literature nor the web page mentioned it. I’ve been assured that there will be one, though there’s still some work going on and we won’t see these trickle out at least until June.

Also, in the original report, I mused that a Claret mated to an iPad would probably make a nice portable recording setup. Turns out, though, that when I went looking for an adapter or cable to go between the Claret’s Thunderbolt port and the iPad’s Lightning port, I couldn’t find one. When the Lightning port first came out, I was told that it was just a physically smaller version of Thunderbolt, but apparently this is not so, and they don’t talk to each other. Too bad. Forgive me if I got anyone’s hopes up. I’m not an Apple user.

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2015 Winter NAMM Show Report Posted

My report from the 2015 Winter NAMM show is now up. It’s a PDF with pictures and links to product web pages.

No sooner do I post one of these things that someone doesn’t point out an error. Sometimes I fix it, sometimes I let it go if it’s not important. I’ve been waiting several days for a response from Focusrite on an imortant (to me, anyway) feature of their new Clarett series of interfaces, and I figure that the best way to get that answer to arrive is to post the report. So there most certainly be a revision to the Clarett section in the near future, and I’ll post it here.

If a direct link to the show report file gets spread around, it won’t take long for that to be obsolete, so please go to the Trade Show Reports page here where the link to the 2015 NAMM report will be updatated to point to the latest version. I should have thought of this a long time ago.

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NAMM 2015 – Day 3 Notes

NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 3 January 24

To quote myself (from a chat with one of the exhibitors): “It seems that at this year’s show, the things that I’m finding most interesting are things that don’t pass audio.” Sure, there’s some great audio gear here, though little that’s new since the AES show in October. If you haven’t read my AES show report, check it out and think of it as the pro audio appendix to this NAMM report.

Zoom showed the not quite working yet TAC-8, TAC-2R, and TAC2 Thunderbolt (only) eight- and two-channel audio interfaces in familiar configurations. The TAC-8 has 8 mic/line inputs, with channels 1 and 2 doing triple duty as high impedance instrument DI inputs. The rear panel has ¼” jacks, one pair nominally dedicated to monitoring, the other eight for whatever you want. ADAT optical and S/PDIF coax provide10 additional digital inputs and outputs. There’s also 5-pin MIDI in and out and, while there seems to be less and less need for it these days, there’s also word clock input and output. As expected, there’s a software mixer application, though at least at this time it’s Mac-only, supporting the theme that most Windows users don’t have Thunderbolt yet.

The TAC-2R is a small tabletop box with two mic/line/instrument inputs and headphone output on the front panel and a pair of ¼” line output jacks and MIDI in and out. There’s also a switch on the rear panel for direct (hardware) input monitoring, which will make this interface more useful for the iDevice folks working on overdubbed projects. This allows you to hear the input source in the headphones without having to go in and out of the computer. The TAC-2 is similar in function to the TAC-2R but in a different, but familiar form factor. XLR combo jacks and ¼” line outputs are on the rear, instrument DI and headphone jacks are on the front. The top surface has the meters and a big knob that controls line output and headphone volume as well as input gain. The comparable interfaces with USB 2/3 connection that were announced last year are now in the pipeline, and, bless their hearts, will remain available, at least for a while.

While the handheld audio recorder business has slowed to a trickle (TASCAM’s WiFi-controlled recorders introduced at AES are now shipping) Zoom has adapted the interchangeable mic technology from their H5 and H6 recorders to iOS devices with three mic assemblies that plug directly into a Lightning connector. The iQ5 is an M-S stereo mic in a “ball” format that swivels in enough directions so that it can be used for video recording either vertically or horizontally. The iQ6 is an X-Y stereo mic borrowed from the (fixed mic) H4, and the iQ7 is yet a higher quality, larger mid-side mic assembly. The mics all have a hardware gain control since the preamp and A/D converter are built into the unit.

Hot news from this morning (Sunday) is that the Zoom H5 recorder won a TEC award.

While we’re still on recorders, TASCAM has updated their DR-680 8-channel portable field recorder. The MkII got a preamp upgrade and lower jitter clocking for better audio specs. Oh, and new red “bumpers” for the front panel. Their DR-70, a four-channel recorder designed specifically for DSLR cameras has had a similar makeover.

Sensaphonics, one of the earliest entries into the personal in-ear monitor market, has come up with some tweaks targeted to improving the sound of in-ear monitoring for musicians with hearing impairments. Based around their ARRO technology which builds an ambient microphone into each earpiece and blends the ambient stage sound in with the monitor mix, the 3D-ME system employs custom DSP to tune the earphones to match the musician’s hearing loss. One success story involves a musician who was completely deaf in one ear. By “un-balancing” the ambient stereo image from the mics and feeding them both to the ear that works, allowing him to hear the full stage in addition to his own monitor mix. Apparently there’s enough information coming in to trick the brain into providing some stereo perception.
The Manley Labs FORCE is a new four channel 2 rack space mic tube mic preamp. Each channel has a Manley input transformer and a 12AX7 tube. Gain is adjustable to a maximum of either 40 or 60 dB, selectable from the front panel. Each channel has its own little control panel with switches for a 120 Hz low cut filter, polarity reverse, and 48v phantom power plus a 7-step LED level meter. With a maximum output level of +35 dBu, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find this preamp to be the headroom limitation in your system.

Something struck a familiar note when I saw the exhibit of Bee microphones in the Gibson showroom. They were really whacky-looking, but in an artistic way, and looked meticulously crafted. Big capsules on a stalk above a stylish body. Yup, Blue Mic founders Skipper Wise and Martins Saulespurens just couldn’t stay retired after Skipper sold the company a couple of years back. The Bee line has names like Worker Bee, King Bee, Bumblebee, Beecaster and span the range (as the Blue line did) from high quality studio mics to tabletop podcasting mics. The black and bumblebee yellow stripes make their appearance in one form or other on all of the mics. Nothing to hear yet, but I think we can expect from this line what we’ve come to expect from Blue – definitely not your “just another microphone,” but rather a series of products that have been well thought out and designed to excel in specific applications which are common enough so that it’s worth considering having a go-to mic that you can always count on.

In line with today’s opening statement, sort of, is an airtight panel-mount XLR connector from Cliff, Inc. Why? For powered speakers. While there’s not usually enough air leaking from a standard XLR to play havoc with the cabinet design, people who don’t listen too loud have noticed the air whistling out the back of the cabinet. The Cliff connector is fully sealed, so a closed box is again a closed box. Well, OK, it DOES pass audio, or rather, electricity, but it’s value is in what it doesn’t pass.

On that note, I’ll close, too. Check back later in the week for the consolidate report with more details, links, and pictures.

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NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 2

NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 2 January 23

 

Today was another day of running around like a crazy person trying to see this one at that time and another one right now and forgetting about another scheduled demo. Oh, well. No big exciting developments, but a lot of neat little things that can help you do your job better.

 

I reported on the Softube Console 1 last year, but to refresh your memory, it’s a hardware controller for every knob you’d find on a console input strip that goes along with Softube’s own plug-ins. The console that they modeled the system around is the Solid State Logic SL 4000E, not a bad choice. This year they introduced an SSL XL 9000K console strip set for the Console 1. A lot of engineers and producers loved the 4000 when it was introduced because of how much it could do and how well the automation worked, but few cared for the sound (though they used it anyway). The 9000, introduced later, had much lower distortion and was cleaner all around. By that time the recording industry was well into the “clarity of digital” so this became a favorite. Today, however, people with their DAWs miss the rock’n’roll sound of the 4000, so that’s why Softube chose that as their first Console 1 emulation. Now you have a choice of two probably equally well accepted SSL sounds, a pristine one and a little dirty and gritty one. I’ll have to try to find someone who knows how the business end works, if you get both models when you buy a Console 1, if you’ll get a choice, or if the 4000 is still the standard and the 9000 is an extra cost option. That’s what it looks like on the web site, where the 9000 has an on-line ordering tag of $329.

 

RAM Mounts is a product of a musician who has a factory that makes products for agricultural machinery. They showed a diverse line of device holders that attach to a mic stand. There are a couple of sizes of four-finger spring loaded “claws” for tablets and phones, a cradle for a compact mixer up to about 8 channels, clamps for stomp box sized effect processors, a camera mount, and even a drumstick quiver and cup holder. They’re made of a tough reinforced plastic with ball joints for flexible positioning. The ball (there are two sizes for light or heavy things) as well as the clamp that goes on the stand tubing, is coated with a rubber surface for a no-slip grip. They’re a little pricey, but they offer a lifetime guarantee (send them a photo of your broken clamp and they’ll send you a new one).

 

LoKnob is a replacement for the knobs on your stomp box or amplifier that you’ve tweaked to perfection and you don’t want to change accidentally. The idea of a shaft lock isn’t new – I have a few pieces of old military surplus gear and computer gear that have a collet to clamp down on the shaft, but the LoKnob is sized for modern music electronics an you can install it yourself with no tools but the allen wrench which is included with the knob. (OK, you might need a screwdriver to get the original knob off) It’s not an infallible lock, but more like a fairly fine detent that you release by pulling upward on the knob. Release the knob, the teeth on the knob and the ring that you install on the chassis grab, and the knob is safe from being turned from careless handling. They only come in one style, round knurled aluminum, so they won’t replace the chicken heads on your vintage amplifier, but they’ll help save your settings. The inventor whittled his initial model from wood!

 

Dialtone Pickups adds a new twist to the conventional magnetic guitar pickup. In addition to his own tweaks to the winding and magnetics, there are two flush mounted rotary knobs at the corners of the pickup case. Those control the center frequency and Q of an active filter (it’s powered by a 9v battery) to get a degree of tone control right out of the pickup. It’s an interesting concept.

 

I normally don’t bother to write about stomp boxes because I don’t use them myself, so I’m writing here about a switch that I’ve never seen before that’s used on the pedals made by MC Systems. It looks like the typical push-button toggle (push-on-push-off) switch that meets your foot, but with a twist. If you give it a really good stomp, in addition to doing what the switch usually does, it toggles an additional function. In the case of the pedal I looked at, it switched to an alternate drive level setting. They told me that there’s a “pressure plate” (their words) behind an ordinary switch. It takes quite a bit of pressure – I couldn’t activate the third function with my thumb – so I hope these are mighty sturdy pedals.

 

Shure introduced a new series of USB mics. They cover a lot of bases with this line. The top of the line, the MV51, is in a case that resembles the old Shure 51 (not quite “The Elvis Mic”) and contains a 1” condenser cardioid capsule. There’s DSP that provides EQ and compression presets for speech, singing, acoustic guitar, and “loud” (an amplifier or drum kit) in addition to flat. There’s a mute button and headphone jack for monitoring, with a mixer to combine the mic signal with playback through the USB connection.

 

The Shure MV88 (note the connection of model numbers here) is a sort of version of Shure’s VP-88 single point stereo mic. It’s an M-S configuration with one cardioid and one bi-directional mic that’s sized and shaped to plug directly into the Lightning connector of a newfangled Apple mobile device. It comes with an app that provides a stereo width control (with a graphic representation), five presets (I assume essentially the same as with the MV51), gain control, monitor output through the iGadget’s headphone jack, and it’s a stereo recorder. The mic has some agility so you can swing it around to keep it vertical if you’re shooting a video in landscape mode.

 

Rounding out the series is the MV5 is a ball on a stand, essentially a podcaster’s mic. The MVi isn’t a mic, but rather, a single channel USB audio interface with a combo XLR jack that provides 48v phantom power for a mic, and a high impedance DI input for an instrument on the XLR and ¼” holes in the combo jack. Like the others, it has the presets for sources, and an input gain control.

 

Lastly, for the lover of vintage cheap guitars, Kay Vintage Reissue has re-issued several classic Kay electric guitars, the ones that not yet famous but got famous musicians played when they were coming up. One is the model that Paul McCarthy played before he got the Hofner that he made famous. The Twin was Jimmy Reed’s guitar. Eric Clapton played a Jazz II. And so on. I asked if they were going to re-issue the aluminum doghouse bass that all the bluegrass bands used to use because they could tie it to the roof rack of the one car that they all traveled in. Nope, they said, that’s a whole different thing. Oh, well.

 

Off to find some more interesting stuff, I hope.

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NAMM Show 2015 – Day 1 Notes

NAMM 2015 Notes – Day 1 January 22

 

If you’ve been following my NAMM show reports, or anyone’s NAMM show reports, you probably know about Hall E. That’s “the basement,” the downstairs hall in the Los Angeles Convention Center where they put all of the new exhibitors and many of the foreign manufacturers looking for US distribution. In addition to new suppliers of familiar products, it’s the place where you can see things that nobody ever thought of, or nobody ever made before, some really wacky, some really curious, and some that are just darn good ideas. I usually try to start the show with a Hall E tour, but didn’t get very far before a few press conferences took me to other places hither and yon. I hope to spend more time there today (Friday).

 

It’s been three (I think) years since Mackie introduced the concept of a mixer that replaced the hardware control surface (which, in my book, is what makes a mixer a mixer) with an iPad. This year, it seems that nearly every company that makes small mixers, and even some that make large ones, has picked up the idea. New entries into this pool this show are PreSonus, Phonic, and Soundcraft, and I expect I’ll run into a couple more before the weekend is out. They all offer a range of number of inputs and outputs and on the surface appear to be pretty similar, but there are distinguishing features that give you a reasonable basis for choosing one over the others. All of these manufacturers have some experience in the digital mixer market, and they bring their own brand of DSP technology to these “black box” mixers. PreSonus offers the full complement of EQ, effects, and remote controllability offered by their hardware based StudioLive mixers. The Soundcraft Ui series bring processing from dbx, Lexicon, and Digitech (other Harman companies). There’s lots to study here, and hopefully reviewers will help you to make an intelligent choice should you decide to make the move in this direction when buying your next (or first) mixer.

 

Hear Technologies brought the concept of individually controllable monitor mixes to the commercial marketplace a dozen or so years ago. This year they introduced the hear back PRO, a 16 channel system (they’ve been limited to 8 channels since its introduction) as well as other features such as stereo mixing with panning on all channels, level indicators, storable presets, both ¼” and 1/8” headphone jacks (no adapters needed), and an input for an on-stage private intercom. It’s digital, of course, and claims less than 0.25 ms latency. It’s a really slick looking unit, and with all the other similar systems on the market now, it’s nice to see the originator, a really small company, getting caught up.

 

Does the world need another DAW? Nick Garcia (who, as it turns out, is a local Washingtonian) thinks so, and designed the Lumit-Audio DAW specifically to work with a touch screen display. System requirements are pretty modest – a Pentium 4 with Windows 7 or 8, and it features unlimited track count, drag and drop editing, automation, effects, and some gesture awareness for those accustomed to using touch screen devices.

 

The AmpRidge MightyMic S is a miniature plug-in powered shotgun-like style condenser mic designed for recording on a mobile phone. I plugged it into my decidedly not fancy Android phone and recorded a short spiel about it from the developer. It worked really well in the noisy show floor environment. It’s probably better for making a “live me” video than for recording a concert from the back of the room, but then this is a characteristic of shotgun mics that not everyone understands. I’ll pay closer attention to the sound of the background noise when I get home and can hear it over real speakers. It’s a good functional design, it doesn’t look awkward when attached to the phone, it includes a headphone jack for listening to playback without unplugging the mic, and it includes a foam wind screen.

 

The Hook from Wishbone Workshop is a microphone boom designed for instrument amplifier. Looking a bit like a cross between a boom mic stand and a Club steering wheel lock, The Hook slips under the handle on the top of an amplifier and extends a boom out in front of the speaker. It can be slipped under the speaker cabinet if there’s no handle, and can go between a speaker cabinet and amplifier head, though, honestly, I didn’t think this arrangement was very stable. This is a typical Hall E product – out for a trial to see who’s interested.

 

Sennhiesier has a wide range of wireless mics and systems (their 9000 digital system is perhaps the industry’s most complete and complex) and at this show they introduced the D1, a fully automatic just-plug-and-play system that takes care of the things that musicians often don’t understand about RF systems, while not dumbing down the technology and taking advantage of what the company knows about making wireless mics reliable. It’s a diversity system that seamlessly switches between two RF signals, with a third RF channel that maintains the diversity operation should one of the primary channels become unreliable. It automatically searches for free channels and sets up the receiver and transmitter for the best RF signal. The backup channel is constantly monitored so that if it needs to use it, it will know that it’s switching to an available channel. It comes in two packages, one hand-held and one with a belt pack with either a headworn or lavaliere mic.

 

There’s always some computer audio interface news. Focusrite introduced a new line, the Clarett, with four models from 2 to 8 inputs. This is a cut above the Scarlett and features a higher grade preamp and Thunderbolt computer I/O. I liked the mic preamps on the Focusrite Forte when I reviewed it, and told them that I wished they had a 4- or 8-channel interface with that preamp. From what I can tell, the Clarett doesn’t use that same circuit, but, like the Forte, it’s based on their top grade ISA series. However, I was bummed to learn that Thunderbolt was the only computer connection, no USB, no Ethernet, and of course no Firewire. This is going to keep it out of the hands or a lot of PC users (including me) until we get a new computer, but Mac users should embrace it.

 

Arturia, known best for their analog hardware synthesizers and classic analog synth plug-ins, introduced the Audiofuse, a compact desktop 2-channel USB audio interface with a well thought out and straightforward user interface. Following the trend, there’s a big knob for monitor volume adjustement, individual gain controls for the two inputs, built-in talkback mic, insert jacks for both inputs, and it’s expandable with ADAT optical and S/PDIF I/O.

 

Universal Audio announced Apollo Expanded software as part of a software update expected to be released this Spring. The new update will allow any combination of up to four Thunderbolt-connected Apollo interfaces of any configuration to be integrated as a single device. In addition, two UAD-2 hardware outboard DSP host devices can be included to make, as I count it, as large as a 64-channel interface capable of running a heap of UA’s plug-ins.

 

 

Gotta run, see more stuff. Stay tuned.

 

 

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NAMM 2015 – Notes From Preview Day

Here are some rough notes, which I’ll try to post some of daily during the show. There will be a full, consolidated report next week.

NAMM 2015 Preview Day Notes

 

IK Multimedia – iRig Mic HD-A yet. Hoped this would be the digital mic that I could use with my Android phone and tablet, but without one to try, I can’t be sure. They know that it doesn’t require the Samsung Pro Audio operating system extension but think it might require Android OS version 5 (I have vesion 4). I’ll try to get deeper into this when the actual booth opens. Their new Android product is a guitar interface, as well as a bunch of apps for Android.

 

iZ Technology – Lots of buzz around the pro audio forums about the new Radar Studio. The excitement is about that it it’s a one-box DAW. It integrates iZ’s highly respected A/D and D/A converters (as well as an assortment of digital I.O options), recording software, and system controller (a keyboard with a button for everything you’ll need).

That’s pretty much what they’ve been doing for over 20 years. The thing that puts it all together is that it’ll run Pro Tools, or any other DAW that runs under Windows. It’s not quite perfect, yet, thought. Radar and Pro Tools can’t run simultaneously in the same box. It’s a dual-boot system and when you boot it up, you get a choice of what you want to run. So, you can do your tracking on Radar and not have to fuss with a mouse, and then switch to your DAW for editing and mixing. It comes pre-loaded with Pro Tools 11 Native and Harrison Mixbus, but (I’m pretty sure) you have to provide your own license. It has a port for an external monitor, but there’s a touch-sensitive LCD on the front panel so you really don’t need anything but the single box if portability is an issue.

 

GTC Sound (a new company) – Revpad is a system that consists of a pedalboard-sized box that contains four of their own effects, along with a wireless controller that you can stick on to your guitar to select the effects, which can be chained as presets, and adjust parameters of the effects with a small touch pad. That’s not all that special, but wait! There’s more!

Two features caught my eye, and they can be cleverly integrated. First it has jacks for an (just one) external effect processor input and output. This can be a single effect by itself, or can be incorporated into a chain. The other cool thing is that it can send MIDI control data, which can be controlled by the remote controller. So, in effect (pun intended) you have a wireless remote control for an outboard MIDI-controllable effect processor or for a VST plug-in running in a computer or mobile device,

 

Relish Guitars (new to me) – A Swiss company that makes solid body electric guitars with a couple of interesting features. They have a solid aluminum “backbone” inside the body that mounts the pickups and tailpiece together on a solid metal block. Their claim is that this increases sustain. But the thing that caught my eye was the wiring and control of the pickup system. They offer a plain old three position mechanical switch, but they have an alternate switch that’s electronic, operated by a pair of touch-sensitive buttons on the guitar. Advantages? The obvious one is no noise, and no contacts to get fussy during a show. They have models with standard wiring, but they also have a modular option with plug-in connectors for the pickup, switch, and pots so that it’s easy for the owner to customize the instrument by swapping components without soldering. What caught my eye (and prompted me to stick around for a demo) was that all of the internal wiring is shielded cable, and it uses SMA (or maybe the one that’s a bit smaller – neither they nor I were sure) coax connectors. That’s really classy.

So much for a pre-show teaser. The real show starts today.

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