Learning To Listen Again

Inner Portal Studio Upgrades 2014 #2.

Well, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I ordered some new monitors for the studio, Tyler Acoustic D2x’s.  Due to huge snow storms in the US, they took an extra week to get to me, but the wait was worth it.  Last Thursday, 4 big boxes arrived via UPS Freight, the 2 speakers and their stands.  

The freight truck couldn’t make it up my driveway, and the UPS driver was lazy in his own weird way, so we ended up pulling all 4 boxes at once up a long hill on a dolly.  It was sketchy, but soon they were safe inside.

Tyler D2 02

The next step was getting them up to the studio on the third floor, knowing that the large boxes were almost 160lbs each.  Oh, and I did it myself, with the injured shoulder, fun.  🙂  A bit of leverage and using my legs to push from below made it not too difficult, but still a bit intimidating as you don’t want to slip and have one of these come back at you!

Tyler D2 03

The only really difficult part was getting them on the 12 inch stands I had made for them (gets the tweeters at ear level), but by that point I was determined.  Luckily it all worked out, and after a couple hours playing with the positioning of the new D2x’s (as well as the Opals now), it was all working well.   This is obviously a pretty big upgrade for me, so it’s nice to see it all set up in the studio finally:

InnerPortalStudio

 Of course the $6000 question everyone keeps asking me, is how do they sound?

In a word, different.  I know, not very descriptive, but that’s the best way to describe it.  Right away I could tell they had real depth to their imaging, placement of instruments was incredibly precise.  But I knew before I bought these that they would need 200 hrs to break in, something the manufacturer reminded me of a few times in the process of ordering them.

Like most of the reviews of Tyler Acoustics speakers, at first they come across as a little underwhelming.  It’s a big sound, you feel like you’re really IN the music in a way I’ve never experience at this level of clarity.  But the lows were frankly weak, and the highs were frankly dull.  They sounded “good”, but not reference grade mastering monitor good.

Again, all this I expected, and having confirmed it with my own ears, I set about breaking them in.  They’ve been playing non-stop since I got them, so I’m at about 120 hours now.  I have the Hilo set up to switch between the Tyler’s and the Event’s with a button press, so it’s been easy for me to compare the way they sound (in a nice level-matched way) quite simply.  The Opals are a tiny bit closer together than they used to be, but otherwise they are what I know inside and out, having used them exclusively for the last few years.

Right away it was apparent the Beryllium tweeters on the Opals were a lot brighter than the D2’s, the highs were right in your face while the D2’s were much more muted.  It wasn’t bad, but definitely more smooth than I was used to.  Luckly I’m told it’s pretty easy to swap out a resistor on the tweeter crossover to make them a little more present sounding, so I always have that option later depending on how they break in.

The D2’s also have a more prounced low end, it’s not so much louder as just deeper and more physical feeling.   I had always used the way the Opals made my chest feel for deep bass as a guide for how much was too much, and with the D2’s this is much more a whole body affair. 🙂

Still, I know that I have to break them in fully before I draw any conclusions, so that’s what I’ve been doing.  Anytime I’m not listening to music on them and comparing with the Opals, I’m blasting pink noise at 96kHz through them to really get all the speakers working.  After 5 days of non-stop use, they already sound a LOT  better.  The subs are much more apparent, and the tweeters have brightened up a little too.  Still a big difference from the Opals, but I’m only halfway there.

It’s been interesting trying to assimilate this huge change in the way I’m going to be hearing things, while at the same time knowing I have work coming in too!  When you’re used to a playback system so well that you never have to second guess yourself, learning how to hear music all over again is both a fun challenge and a bit stressful too!

But, I’m not complaining 🙂

I’ll post some more of my thoughts on this change in a couple weeks once everything has been broken in and I have some more mastering done on them!

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I just wanted to remind people one more time about my video series on Optimizing Sound Quality In Ableton Live too.  Been getting a lot of good feedback on these 4 videos, and I can’t recommend the rest of the Warp Academy stuff enough.  If you’re a Live user, you probably won’t find better deal on Live training:

http://www.warpacademy.com/tutorial-series/210-optimizing-sound-quality-in-live-2/

Thanks everyone, until next time!

Air Time

AirPad

 

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know how much I enjoy making music on portable devices. So it’s no surprise that I am one of those who was very interested in the iPad Air that was just released. Prior to it’s announcement, I had been giving serious thought to possibly downsizing to an iPad Retina when they were announced.

I liked my iPad4, but there’s no denying it was kind of heavy after awhile, and the shallow bezel on the back always made it hard to hold on too. However with the new smaller Air being announced at the same time as the Retina Mini, I knew that my biggest complaints had been addressed and I could keep the larger screen after all.

Not only was it thinner and lighter, but much more powerful as well. I’m normally not one to use CPU-intensive plug-ins to the point of bringing my computer to it’s knees, but some of the iOS audio apps coming out were already at the limits of what the iPad4 would handle. More CPU power is still a very good reason to upgrade each year if music making is one of your main activities on the iPad.  Sell your old one asap and it only costs about $200 a year to stay on the newest hardware.  Well worth it for me.

Luckily getting a new Air on release day was pretty simple, considering there was no pre-order this time. Pay online, pick up at store, and skip the (longer) line for those people who just walked up without buying first on the online Apple Store. 10 minutes later I was home and restoring my data to the new iPad.  In the past I always was fine with 16GB Apple devices, not that big of a deal to sync wirelessly at home if I needed something else.  But I figured for how much I use my iPad for music making, why not pay the small additional charge and double my storage to make my life easier.  So far having 32GB has definitely felt like a luxury compared to before!

Physically the new Air is a much different feeling iPad compared to the 3 or version 4 that came before it. Where as those felt like solid pieces of glass and aluminum, the Air feels like there’s a sort of emptiness that goes along with the decreased weight. The screen flexes slightly more like plastic than glass, and there’s a hollowness to the sound of your fingers typing on it not present on the last generation iPad.

Bass (cough) from the speakers can be felt through the whole body when you play music or watch videos, reminding me almost of the vibration functions of say an Xbox controller. On the plus side, the Air has stereo speakers finally, which is a welcome improvement. Though since most people will likely be holding the iPad in landscape mode while watching a movie for instance, the sound still only comes from one side. Oh well.

All this is not to say that iPad Air feels cheap, or flimsy, it doesn’t at all. It just no longer has the solid weighty feel of the previous versions. It’s not so much the weight difference you feel when holding it, it’s the lack of mass overall. Part of being lighter I guess, and not at all something that I would change at the expense of more weight anyway. The new Air really is much easier to hold overall.

At first I didn’t think there was a huge jump in performance in day to day app use, or with the new WiFi antennas. However, the more time I spend using the Air, the more I do recognize just how much faster it is overall. Pages load quicker, my sound banks for Alchemy downloaded and installed faster, and apps launch and perform app-switching faster and smoother too.

Of course the real thing most people want to know, is how is it for music apps?

I’ve spent much of the last two days working on writing some new tracks using the QuNexus and iPad Air, and I can say it’s definitely a noticeable improvement in how easy it is to get my ideas recorded. Using Auria and Audiobus to record various synth apps like DM-1, Alchemy, Nave, Sunrizer, etc was a much smoother experience than it’s ever been.

Auria has always gotten a bit laggy when you added a lot of tracks or events to a project, and now things are extremely fluid for almost all the time I was using it. At one point last night after using a bunch of audio apps throughout the day and not clearing the iPad’s memory, Auria started to navigate a little bit slower. Nowhere near as slow as it had been at the best of times on the iPad4 though, the new graphics power really is making things better here.  After clearing the RAM, and relaunching Auria, everything was once again smooth as could be.

Switching between apps running in Audiobus was another area where I really noticed the added horsepower. App changes were almost instant, and I didn’t have any issues with freezing or other mishaps. In fact, it was probably the easiest and most trouble-free iOS sessions I’ve ever had. Can’t argue with that!

So yes, I can definitely recommend upgrading if you’re considering it and are a fan of iOS music making. The differences even from an iPad4 were pretty noticeable, and the new form factor really is a lot better I feel. It does feel strangely hollow in the middle for me, but the large decrease in weight is definitely worth it.

Anyone want to buy a 16GB iPad4?  🙂

 

Software Wears Soft Hair

Well, it’s been a week now and my Octatrack is still in the shop, hopefully getting fixed and on it’s way back to me asap. As is usually the case when a big project I’m working on gets interrupted for technical reasons, I’m having a hard time making the jump to working on something else in the mean time. I was pretty into the workflow on the OT when the card reader broke, and it’s not always the easiest for me to switch gears.

Still, I have to keep busy some how, right?

So for the last week I’ve been checking out some of the newer plug ins recently released that caught my eye, as well as upgrading my studio machine to the Mavericks OS. Let’s start with the OS upgrade, shall we?

Usually I’m one of those annoying early adopters that jumps on each new OS way before I should as an audio professional. I do this knowing that it’s easy enough to revert to a Time Machine back up if I need to, and even a full reinstall of all the OS and apps I use only takes me a couple hours if worse comes to worse.

Rarely has it been an issue for me though, and in this case, even less so. Everything works fine after install Mavericks, haven’t had a single issue at all. If anything it’s been a great update for me, Safari is running a lot smoother and graphics performance overall in CPU intensive audio apps is much better.

As always, you should really only upgrade once you’ve confirmed all your hardware and software works, but for the most part everything seems to be more or less the same for everyone else I know who’s upgraded. Just make sure you have a recent Time Machine back up before you take the plunge, and everything should be fine.

Pro-MB

One of the other new bits of software I’ve been checking out is the new multi-band compressor from Fabfilter. Those of you who read my blog regularly might be surprised since I often talk about how I almost never use multi-band compression for my mastering work. It’s just not something I find myself needing all that often, contrary to what advertisers might tell you when it comes to the tools mastering engineers use.

But in typical Fabfilter fashion, they’ve created something that is much more than just a multi-band compressor. I won’t go into a full review now, but the ability to do per band dynamic expansion, adjust the stereo width of certain bands, and the near flat crossover points (in dynamic phase mode) make it very appealing as a general purpose dynamics tool kit.

The interface I actually find a little complex compared to say Pro-L or Pro-Q, but given how much flexibility is on hand I think they did a good job of having it all make sense. At least as much as is possible, there are a LOT of parameters you have control over!

It doesn’t impart a sound of it’s own, and as someone who takes audio transparency quite seriously, that’s fine with me. Quite a different beast from say Compassion by DMG Audio, another dynamics power-house plug in, but one that excels at really coloring up the audio in useful ways. While Pro-MB is still not something I’m going to need to reach for often, it definitely is the best multi-band dynamics plug in I’ve ever used, so I’m glad I have it at my disposal for the times I do. Check it out.

Satin

Last, one plug I’ve only briefly had bit of time with, yet came away impressed, is U-He’s new Satin tape emulator plug in. Normally I’m not at all the type of person who would be interested in something like this, I don’t have the same affection for tape as a lot of people do. I LIKE the fact that our recording mediums are for all intents transparent these days!

Still, there’s definitely been a few times I wished I had something in-the-box to take some of the harshness out of a track I was sent. Usually I can tame it with gentle EQing, but even that can be overkill at times. But, I’m a big fan of URS Heckman’s plug ins and his way of engaging his community online, so I try everything he releases regardless.

Right off the bat I noticed it had that smoothness I associate with his Uhbik plug ins, they just sound silky to me. Satin was like that, but without the effect associated with it. Just pure smoothness at one end, and a warm grunge and distortion at the other end. Personally this would be something I would use only a tiny bit of, I have no need to drive things to the point of breaking up.

But for the few times I find myself thinking a track is just too cold and brittle sounding for the message it’s trying to delivery, I think Satin will do a good job at taking the edge off things. Still, early days for me with it, and I know how excited I get about new toys at first. I’ll report back with some long term thoughts once I’ve more time with it, as well as Pro-MB.

Anything else you lot are digging? I’m not really one to collect plug-ins, but if there’s something interesting out there, at least now I have the time to check it out. Send me any ideas, just post them in the comments.

Thanks!

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Just a quick reminder too. If you follow me on Facebook, specifically my Erik Magrini-Tarekith page, then please be aware that I will be making all of my music related posts from my Inner Portal Studio page in the future. The personal account will dedicated more for just that, personal things with close friends and family. There was just too much overlap happening, and quite honestly it was too much for me to stay on top of. So “Like” the Inner Portal page is you still want to get updates on Facebook about this blog, my own music releases and gigs, as well as inspiring music-related articles as I run across them.

Still on Twitter as well if that’s your thing.

More Power

photo 1

Ah, the dream of blazingly fast computers and never needing to wait for renders again, something all computer based musicians wish for at one point or another. Luckily there’s a few computer upgrades you can make that promise to speed up your workflow, but are they really worth it for day to day use? Will these upgrades make a noticeable difference?

1. Faster CPU. Let’s tackle the obvious one first, increasing your computer’s raw horsepower with a new CPU (or upgrading to a new computer completely to get a faster processor). Faster CPUs mean more you can run more plug ins and virtual synths before you run out of CPU power and start running into audio drop outs. They also speed up render times, which can be nice if you’re like me and are rendering files all day long for clients.

Having said all that, often times in use a faster CPU is rarely noticeable when I upgrade. Generally I try and replace my computers when the new CPU speed has increased to at least 2 times the performance of my current CPU. On paper and in benchmarks this looks impressive, though I have to admit it’s something I only rarely feel the benefits of day to day. Sure I can run more plug-ins if I want to, but I rarely use so many that my computer starts to struggle anyway, so for me the difference is negligible. Same with rendering files, yes they are faster with a new CPU, and while that is nice, it’s not a game changer.

Bottom line, a new CPU or faster computer is rarely a bad thing, but you might not notice a huge difference after upgrading unless you current computer is more than a few years old and struggling now.

2. Memory. Whenever I see people asking for help with a computer problem, someone always recommends they upgrade to more memory. While it’s rarely a BAD thing, it’s really not the catch all solution some people make it out to be. Today’s OS’s are very good at using as much memory as you have installed, and the more recent ones really need at least 4-8GB to operate smoothly. If you have less than that, then upgrading to at least 8GB is probably not a bad thing to do.

But unless you have large sample libraries you’re trying to load and a 64bit OS and DAW to support that much memory, it’s doubtful you will notice a difference in day to day or studio use. I just had my MacBook Pro replaced with a newer model doubling my RAM from 8 to 16GB. Can’t tell a difference at all here. Again, not neccesarily a bad thing to add more RAM, but if you’re already in the right range, adding more “probably” won’t affect the way your computer responds or fix any troubleshooting issues you’re trying to solve.

photo 2

3. Hard Drives. Faster is better, right? Like RAM, there’s very little downside to upgrading to a faster or larger HD, aside from possible making things a little louder. But again, the benefit for most people will be minimal (with one exception, which I’ll get to in a second). For years I was using 4200 RPM laptop drives and able to stream dozens and dozens of 24bit stereo wav files with no issues at all. A faster drive will certainly speed things up, but it’s not likely to be a gigantic difference.

Unless we’re talking about SSD drives.

This is one of the few computer upgrades that I found to be instantly and noticeably faster in use, by more than you would think too. Reboots on my laptop went from taking around 1:30-2:00 to less than 20 seconds. Copying files on the same drive is much faster, and loading large sample libraries is almost instantaneous now.

By and large, going to an SSD drive has been one of the most noticeable upgrades I’ve ever done on a computer in terms of speeding up common tasks I do a lot. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most expensive upgrades you can do as well, but if you’re looking to breathe new life into an older computer, this one area you definitely want to investigate.

Personally I would recommend trying to get a large enough SSD drive that you can fit your OS, all your apps, and all of your main sample and instrument libraries onto one drive. Some people like to split up things between an SSD and normal hard drive, but I like to keep it as simple as possible to avoid issues down the road.
4. USB 3.0. Recently I decided to switch out all of the USB2 infrastructure in my studio (back up drives, USB hubs, etc) to USB3 as part of my studio overhaul. Obviously you need to have a computer that actually supports USB3 in order to do this upgrade, but more and more seem to come equipped with this these days.

I was honestly surprised at how much faster transfers were over USB3 compared to USB2, almost 10 times faster here in use. I spend a lot of time shuttling client files around on various drives throughout the day, so this was a very welcome upgrade for me, and not that expensive either. If you use external drives a lot for storing your user data (perhaps combined with a smaller SSD for your OS and apps?), this is another upgrade that might be worth your time and money to look into.

Talking about computer upgrades and benefits always involves some exceptions to the rules, or worry about compatibility issues with your current components. I’m not even going to touch on that aspect of computer upgrades, as it’s just way too comprehensive to cover here (nor do I really want to go down that rabbit hole!). But hopefully some of this real-world experience will help guide you on what to focus on if you’re thinking about upgrading your computer to faster parts. Sometimes the upgrades with the most tangible benefits are the ones you least expect!

Push Part 2

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It’s great to see that so many people are curious about Push still, I’ve been getting a lot of questions since I posted my first thoughts after playing one.  So I think I’ll keep a running log here on the blog about how I’m getting on with it over time, since it’s likely going to be something I use a lot more than I first thought.

As you can no doubt guess, I’m pretty excited about it still, which really surprises me as it’s been awhile since I felt that way about a piece of music equipment.  I’m not ashamed to admit my expectations about what using it would be like were way off, it really is a cool bit of kit.

In the last 3 days I’ve gotten the foundations for 8 new songs laid out, and 2 more sketches in the works today.  Not just simple melodies or a basic drum beat in most cases, but 8-10 tracks of polished sounding recordings, and even basic arrangements.

Best of all, it was fun!  Like seriously fun, I haven’t had this much fun using a piece of gear in a long time.  I’m laying awake at night thinking about new ways to use it, and excited to get in the studio and mess around with it some more.  And this after more or less learning it inside and out, so now my time now is just spent using it the way it was intended.

It has such a streamlined but flexible workflow, that it’s really easy to just start laying down ideas and building up song.  A lot of people complain about the lack of some editing functions, but I think this is a good thing myself.  Rather than trying to do it all from the hardware, like say Maschine does, they opted to focus on the main things you need for creating your song parts.  Detailed editing can be done later on the computer where it’s easier anyway.

The result is that using Push feels more like using a dedicated piece of hardware to me than Maschine did.  The need to control so many functions with so few controls on Maschine meant that it always felt like a generic MIDI controller to me.  Push feels like an instrument with a more streamlined purpose, it has set controls for specific things you’ll use a lot.  Way more dedicated buttons in fact, and this goes a long way to speeding up how you use it, as well as how easy it is to use.

Also, I wanted to make a correction to my earlier first look at Push, there are a TON of drum kits you can access, way more than the instrument racks in fact.  So now I’m wishing for more Instrument Rack sounds, not Drum Racks, doh!   I had an issue with a beta version of Live I was using not showing me all my Drum Kits, once that was solved I could see there were hundreds of kits.  Sweet!

There are a few things still that I wish were a little better of course.  Push lets you easily try out some very exotic scales, and it’s great fun.  But when you load up a song next time, there’s no way to see what scale you were using,  so time is spent figuring it out manually.  Also, I wish there was a way to rename things with Push, as that’s one of the very few things I find myself using the laptop for still.

Finally, please give us a way to Save our work in progress from the Push controller itself!

I’m sure that there’s a couple small things I’m forgetting at the moment, but those are really the only issues I’d like to see resolved for now.  As you can see, it’s been a really positive experience so far.  In fact, I think I’m going to end this post here, so I can get back to making music!  More details coming soon!

Ableton Push – First Thoughts

Push01

I have to admit, I was on the fence about Push when Ableton first announced it with Live 9.  After people started getting them and I heard generally positive things, I decided perhaps it was time to give one a try.  So I placed an order and after a bit of a wait, it arrived yesterday.

A few people have asked me why I post reviews of a product after only having it day.  This is less a review than it is just my initial impressions.  Things that immediately stand out, both good and bad.  How easy is it to learn, things like that.  I’ll probably do a more comprehensive review after using it for a few weeks for some actual songs.  So then, how is it?

Well, it was a bit of a rocky start if I must be honest.  I had heard about people getting theirs with the white balance all out of whack on the LEDs, but in general it seemed like a rare occurence.  But of course, mine has the issue, and quite badly too.

RainbowPush

 

Yes that’s mine, and yes it really does look like that.  So it was a bit of a bummer, as it’s MUCH harder to play when it looks like this.  Ableton was very quick in getting back to me about sorting out the issue, so that’s good.  Luckily a user on the Ableton forums has created the great looking “Seapunk” skin that you can load onto Push (see first picture), which not only looks better than stock, but also hides the irregularities.  Whew!

Other than that one issue, things have been great in terms of the hardware.  I had a chance to use one briefly before, so I already knew that it was built to a much higher standard than most controllers.   The finish is soft and modern looking, the buttons are all solid feeling without being hard, and the knobs are great.  The pads are easily playable once you adjust the sensitivity, didn’t take long at all to get used to the way they feel.   It’s really a nice looking and feeling controller, it feels like an instrument should, not something generic.

Which is good, because it’s huge!  Ok, maybe not huge, but still a little bigger than you might expect.  I like it though, it’s meant to be the focus of all your attention, and the size feels right when on a desk in front of you.   It’s surprisingly bright when using just the USB cable for power, though the PSU that comes with it steps things up even more.  I personally found the PSU mode to almost too bright in a dark studio, so it’s nice that there’s the dimmer USB mode to fall back on.

Live recognized it right away, nothing I had to do to start right in and get to know it.  I’ll admit I watched the 5 or so videos on how to use Push that Ableton has on their website before it arrived, so I had an idea of where things were.  It was still very easy to get up and running with Push, I had a simple groove happening in no time, with only a few glances at the laptop to see what a couple of the buttons were doing.

Things like Live 9’s new browser make a lot more sense when accessed via Push, making it intuitive to use, at least with the factory and suite content.  Adding new tracks, loading new sounds, tweaking and recording loops, they’re all incredibly simple to do on Push.  After I made a few different song ideas, I really saw the attraction of what Ableton had done.

They’ve managed to make something that interfaces with a program I know so well I’m bored with it, and created a workflow that feels really new and fun.  You really don’t need to look at the computer at all to come up with some pretty complex song sketches, even a basic arrangement in Session view.  You’re not going to be doing a lot of detailed editing necessarily, but I was still surprised at how easy it was to add and tweak effects, come up with new synth sounds, or get some decent sounding drums programmed.

Speaking of decent, let’s talk about the content you can access from Push.   For the most part the sounds are pretty decent.  They aren’t amazing awesome, but with some quick tweaks they can work quite well.  Overall things are organized by what kind of sound it is (Bass, Synth Keys, Drum Kit, etc), what instrument makes it (Analog, Tension, Drum Rack, etc), or what Live Pack it’s a part of (Konkrete Drums, Factory, etc).  So you can find the sounds in the library pretty easily a few different ways.

Thump

I have the Suite and most of the packs, and it adds up to a fair bit of sounds to choose from.  Not overwhelmingly so like with Omnisphere or maybe NI’s Komplete, but a good enough variety to choose from.  I haven’t yet tried importing my own samples, I think for now I’ll keep using Push just with the Live content to ensure the best compatibility.  And to sort of force me to start using Live’s devices again too!

Gripes so far?

Well I do wish there were a few more drum kits.  While there’s lots of individual hits if you want to build your own, there’s far too few of the really good Drum Racks compared to the number of Instrument Racks.  Also, it seems like the touch strip is really under-utilized too.  It only does pitchbend for some instruments, and switches the grid up and down in Drum Racks currently.  I have a couple other wishlists, but I have a feeling given how many others share the same ideas they will be addressed soon.

But, so far I’m a lot more enthusiastic about Push than I thought I would be if I’m honest.  It’s fun to come up with new ideas on, easy to find your way around most of the basic tasks, and truly doesn’t require you to look at the laptop for just about everything.

I found that I had to go to the laptop to save (really Ableton?), rename tracks and clips, or reorder tracks.  For the most part everything else I needed to create some good solid song ideas could be done right from Push.  Cool.

I’ll post some more reviews after I get some more time with it!

Logic Pro X First Play

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 7.04.12 PM

Specific Features

Well, today ended up being quite a bit different from what I had originally planned!  Woke up and during the usual coffee, email, and web-browsing routine, realized that Apple’s Logic Pro X was released overnight.  Ok then, guess that answers a lot of questions about Logic’s future!

At first look there were some nice changes, but nothing that made me go WOW, that’s awesome.  I think that I was one of those in the camp that was hoping that Logic version 10 would be a major rewrite, something new from the ground up.  Logic Pro X (LPX) is definitely a refinement of what was there before however, even if it does have a much needed visual overhaul.

I’ve always had a weird relationship with Logic, I’ve gone through a lot of periods where I was using it every day for months, and some where I didn’t open it for what felt like years.  Recently I’ve been using Presonus Studio One v2 for everything as far as mixdowns go, so I really haven’t been missing Logic all that much.  There was nothing wrong with Logic, it was just getting a little long in the tooth and Studio One fit the bill better for me.

I also have my first festival gig of the summer this coming weekend, and I’m busy as can be trying to wrap up work related projects for my clients and get all the last minute bugs worked out of the system for the live set.  So I really had no intention of even really looking at Logic Pro X until I got back.

Well, as you might have guess, that didn’t work as planned.  🙂

One of my regular mixdown clients hopped on the LPX bandwagon, imported a Logic 9 Project she had been about to send me for a mixdown, and asked me to do the mix in LPX instead.  So, I ended up installing and using the app most of the day while working on that for her.

This is my first install of Logic from the Apple store, I was still using the DVD installers of Logic 9 for each fresh install.  I love not having to save those anymore, and the fact that you can still pick and choose which of the additional content packs you want to download and install.  Lots of the loops and such have no interest for me, so I’m glad to retain the HD space.

The basic app is about 700MB, and the core content you need to install when you first run it is about 2GB.  Took me roughly 12 minutes to have it all downloaded and installed, and it sure beat swapping in DVDs every 20 minutes.  You can download up to 35GB of additional content right away, or wait until later, it’s up to you.  It’ll also open with your default template from Logic 9 if you have one and so choose.

When I first saw the new version, “Clean” is what came to mind.  Retina graphics looked great on my 15″ rMBP, and I really liked the new dark look they are using.  Much easier on the eyes, and definitely looks more up to date.  Except for the fake leather in the blank portions of the mixer.  That has to go.  Now.

If you’ve used Logic 9, finding your way around will be easy, as much is still exactly the same.  The time display and transport controls are at the top of the app now, which does seem to feel better.  What’s more, you can drag the lower edge of the transport panel down to reveal (and assign) your frequent edit comments, or drag it up to hide the transport panel completely.  I love this!

Some of the menus are reorganized, and honestly they make a lot more sense now.  Logic has always had a lot of menus to dive into depending on what you were doing, so it’s a welcome improvement.  The Library has also had an overhaul, with all new sounds and loops in LPX, and is organized much cleaner.  It’s also now on the left, which is a little weird at first, but not a huge deal.

I personally wasn’t blown away by the new sounds, most sound like… well the old sounds to be honest.  I first got into Logic around version 7 or so, and at the time, the included presets were amazing sounding.  A lot has changed since then, and with the exception of the new bass synth presets, I just felt that Logic’s presets were only so so now.  Then again, I’ve never really been blown away by DAW presets since then either.

I don’t have much use for the additional Apple Loops, so for now I have not installed them.  Given how many commercial productions used the previous loops though, I’m we’re all glad to finally have some new ones to listen to on the radio.

The Mixer is where I spend a lot of my time, so it was interesting to see such a change there as well.  Skinny meters, bigger fader, and overall more blank space give it a whole new feel.  The plug in slots work differently now, no more click and hold to bring up the menus.  You can reorder, mute, and browse your plug ins with one mouse click.  I thought the previous way Logic handled this all was obtuse at first, so while this will take some getting used to, it’s much easier as well.

Another new feature is Flex Pitch, which lets you handle pitch mistakes ala Melodyne or Autotune.  In my brief play with it I thought it was very simple to use and I liked how easy it was to access functionality this deep.  The results were so so on solo’d material except for small changes, but in a mix most of that was hidden and it worked just fine.

Finally, another change I’ve long been begging for, improvements to audio editing.  Well, sort of.  When you double click and audio region now, you open an editor where you can destructively edit the audio file, just like the Sample Editor of previous versions.  Or, you can choose the Track Editor option, and now you get a nice zoomed up view of the audio regions including their real time song position in bars and beats.

The reasoning behind this is that it’s easier to make audio edits when you don’t have to constantly zoom the main arrange view, so now you can do it track by track in a dedicated editor.  (Which is nice, because is it just me or are there no longer any Global Zoom Out Full key commands?)  On paper, this sounds great, and for simple joining and crossfading purposes it more or less works as you’d expect.  The issue, is that a lot of time you are editing audio based on information in other audio tracks, and with the new dedicated audio editor, you can easily see those other visual references.

Overall it’s useful in some very specific circumstances, but I find it just adds one more layer to the audio editing complexity in Logic.  Personally, I was hoping to see things simplified, to allow more details and destructive editing right on the Arrange Window.  Oh well.

The last new feature (there’s plenty more) that I want to talk about is the new iPad companion app.  On first glance it looks like a simple controller app, not too much different from some of the TouchOSC templates I’ve seen over the years.  At first I almost dismissed it, there’s only 5 or 6 different screens, and it doesn’t really look like much.

But as I played with it during my first mixdown, I realized how much more often I was using the iPad for certain tasks than my usual key commands.  In many ways it reminds me of what Ableton is trying to do with Push, though without the nice tactile feel of Push of course.  For many basic ideas and just sketching out a song, you can do quite a lot from just the iPad.  It even has a built in keyboard, drum, and guitar interfaces like the iPad version of GarageBand.

I’m still not sold on the idea, but it’s definitely getting more use here than most DAW controller apps do.

General Thoughts

Like a lot of people I’ve been curious for awhile about what Apple was going to do with Logic, or if they were going to do anything at all.  The new version is admittedly not what I was excpecting, which was a major new forward thinking version of something that has been lagging behind the competition for awhile now.  In many ways though, what we got instead was an even better compromise.  It’s not so new that you don’t know your way around, but it feels new enough that the wait feels worth it.  I really had hoped to be this excited with Live 9, and I wasn’t, it looked and felt just like the last version.

But, a modern look is not always done well either.  In general, I really like the new look of Logic’s interface, dark and sharp, it’s much easier on the eyes and feels fresh. However, all of the old included plug ins are still not retina versions, and look noticeably jagged.  (this has me seriously going WTF?)  Also, the reliance of generic instrument pictures in the Library, and the fake leather of the mixer feel the exact opposite to what Apple said is the future of interfaces in terms of iOS7.  A lot of Logic X seems to be modeled after Garageband, you can even show and hide different editing options in the preferences to “dumb things down” if you want.

I don’t get the need to make a pro app as simple as the app they make that comes free with every Apple computer.

For the most part though, everything feels better organized, and done to save you time.  Things are laid out better, the organization of menus is improved, and it just seems like it’s a lot easier to get rough ideas done now.  Detailed editing for MIDI has been greatly expanded, and while there’s more options for audio editing, I still think apps like Pro Tools and Studio One win here.

Overall stability for me was so so.  I had a few times where the iPad app lost contact with my laptop and I had to restart it to re-establish connection.  Once LPX crashed when playing with Drummer (neat, but more for rock bands), and once my mixer randomly would show and disappear across the screen requiring a restart.

Not exactly confidence inspiring for one day.

But!

I’m excited.  A little.  This is the first time in awhile I’ve wanted to use Logic, and not just because it’s new, but because there’s some genuinely nice workflow changes.  They’ve given us more detailed editing options, but also made the initial song creation steps simpler and faster as well.  Seems to be a common theme among DAW manufacturers, glad to see Apple has caught on too.

At this point I don’t see myself using Logic over Studio One for my daily studio work unless I’m requested to like today.  But I think for my own music making, I’m interested and impressed enough that I can see myself spending some time working on new material using LPX.

I’ll certainly post my long term thoughts after a few more weeks of using it, but I wanted to get some of my first thoughts out there while everyone was still curious about it.  Let me know if you have any questions, happy to answer if I can!

KMI QuNexus – Full Review

Qunexus2

Back in December I was shown one of the early prototypes of the QuNexus from Keith McMillen Instruments.  You can read about it here if you want a refresher:

http://tarekith.com/qunexus-hands-on/

At the time I was pretty excited for this to released, for awhile now I’ve been wanting a nice and compact keyboard controller like this.  The fact it could be bus powered from the iPad was certainly one attraction, I knew I was going to be spending a lot more making music on the iPad in the coming months.  It would also come in handy in the studio though, being a little more ergonomic when I just needed some “keys” really quick while working on a song.

But of course, like everyone else, I had to wait for KMI to actually get them made once they reached their Kickstarter goal to fund the project.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Finally, I got news that it was going to be “coming soon”!

But then I still had to wait a couple months.

Like many things in life, right about the time I decided to stop thinking about it and just get on with things, it arrived on my front door.  The timing couldn’t have been better though, as I was deeply into writing my new EP and it was being done entirely on the iPad.  Within a few minutes of unpacking it, I knew it was the controller I had been waiting for, and I was happily using it on the new tracks with no issues at all within minutes.

But that’s kind of a boring review huh?  Well, a little more details are in order then I guess?

Qunexus1

As you can see, the QuNexus arrives in a small cardboard box that’s barely bigger than it is.  It would make a good way to transport the QuNexus to and from gigs, though I also wouldn’t have any qualms about just tossing mine in my backpack next to the iPad too.  In fact, I’ve done this quite a few times now, and never felt that the QuNexus was not sturdy enough to survive the trip.

Also in the box is a brief mention that the software you need to program it is available when you register online, and there’s an 18 inch USB cable as well.  Personally I liked the shorter USB cable for this kind of device, but decided I wanted one even shorter for use with the iPad.  I found a nice 6″ USB to micro-USB adaptor on Amazon for only $4, which means much less cable clutter on the desk.  You can see it in the picture at the top, and here’s the link to the cable if you’re interested:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003YKX6WM/ref=oh_details_o00_s00_i01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

One of the amazing things about a controller this small, is just how robust and well made it feels.  Not at all what we’ve come to expect from a $150 controller!  It has the same smooth and soft plastic case that the Quneo has, and there’s a real sense of weight and solidness to the unit.  It doesn’t feel hollow or cheap at all, there’s enough weight to it to keep it in place while you play it on a table for instance (it also has 6 very low profile rubber feet to help with this).

Just like the prototype, there is a slight bit of flex to the case if you try and bend it some.  But rather than making the unit feel cheaply made, it actually makes me think that this will survive on the road for quite a long time.  I’d rather a little flex if it gets dropped, than a cracked case!  Also, it should be mentioned that while these are made in China, each one is hand-tested at KMI before being shipped out.  I appreciate this attention to detail.

One of the things that most interested me while trying the prototype was just how responsive the QuNexus felt when playing the pads.  Yes they are a soft rubber similar to a lot of MIDI drum pads, but playing them felt much easier than any pad controller I’ve used (and I’ve used a lot!).  You don’t have to hit them so hard to get a wide range of velocities, you can play it almost like a normal keyboard.  Happily the production units seem to be equally as responsive, so no worries that the prototype was a fluke in this regard.

Another happy surprise was the software editor that comes with the QuNexus.  The early version I was shown with the prototype was certainly functional, but nowhere near as easy to use (or nice looking) as the software released with the production units.  With the software editor you can really fine tune the response of the pads, change what CC’s the QuNexus sends, adjust the sensitivity of the tilt function, plus a lot more.

Editor

All of these changes can then be stored onboard the QuNexus in one of 4 preset locations labelled A-D, allowing you to have different set ups for different uses.  By default the unit ships with a sensible selection of basic presets to get you started, and I’m guessing most people will be fine with those.  I decided to adjust some of the sensitivities of the various controllers for my own needs right off the bat, but this was simple enough to figure out with the software.  Didn’t even need to refer to the manual.

The same can’t be said of editing the QuNexus from it’s front panel however.  It is possible to access and modify certain parameters, but you’ll need to refer to the manual often to get the hang of the workflow to do this initially.  Still, nice to know you don’t NEED a computer to make edits, if that’s not your thing.

In addition to the 2 full octaves of keys on the controller, there’s also 4 buttons to turn off certain functions on the QuNexus like note toggle (one press for note on, one press for note off), velocity, pressure, and tilt data.  Tilt is a function unique to the QuNexus as far as I know, and it allows you to send CC data when you rock your finger forwards or backwards on a key after you’ve pressed it.  More on that in a bit.

Finally, there’s a simple pitchbend button and buttons for changing the current octave of the keyboard.  And just in case those two arrows labelled “- Oct +” are too complicated for you to figure out, KMI has thoughtfully made one of the dumbest product how to videos ever, “How to change octaves on your QuNexus”.  Yes I’m serious, you can see it here:

http://youtu.be/RlDwyE8dsKI

Sorry, but are people really that thick that they need a video on this?  To be thorough with this review, I did try and follow along with the above video, but I was stuck since I couldn’t find the “How to plug a USB cable into your Qunexus” tutorial movie.  Sigh, moving on…

Last but certainly not least, the QuNexus can also send CV and Gate data to your analog gear, as well as function as a CV to MIDI convertor if you have the optional MIDI Expander KMI sells.  Sadly, I do not have any analog boxes to test these with here in the studio, so I can’t report on how well those functions work.  Sorry, I’m a digital boy in a digital world.  🙂

 

There’s a couple areas I think could be improved, at the very least I feel I should mention them.  The 4 buttons for selecting presets and turning the built in functions on and off require a lot more downward force than you would think given how sensitive the keys are.  Also, the pitchbend button is not very responsive at all, it requires a super firm press left or right to get the pitchbend to work, and then it’s sort of an on or off affair.  My old Edirol PCR-m1 had a similar pitchbend control, so I’m not against the idea, but it was much easier to use and to control for finer bends compared to the QuNexus.

Also, the tilt function on the keys may not be to everyone’s liking.  By default (in Preset B) it’s set to control pitchbend, and it’s very hard to play without bending notes each time you press a key even lightly.  Even when you change the sensitivity to be less responsive, it still tends to send that data a little sooner than I might like for normal playing.  Part of this is just going to be me getting used to the QuNexus I think, but in the meantime it’s simple enough to turn off Tilt if you don’t need it.  You don’t even need the software editor for this, just press Preset button D for a second.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out the obvious that the keys are of course not as large as a standard keyboard.  At first I kept finding chord fingerings I was used to difficult to pull off, things felt a little cramped compared to a normal MIDI keyboard.  Once I started adjusting my fingers to feel more like I was typing at an ASCII keyboard, things got much easier.  I have to make this same mental shift in thinking with any smaller controller keyboard, but with the QuNexus it takes longer as the keys are ALMOST full-sized.  It’s a minor point, but one I feel obligated to remind people about:  This is a new kind of keybaord controller, it will take some getting used to.

 

Still, as you can tell I’m pretty impressed with the QuNexus overall, and I feel it was definitely worth the wait for it to arrive.  It’s a very well made, compact keyboard that I found extremely easy to configure to respond exactly the way I wanted for my playing style.  Bus powered from the iPad is a huge bonus, it means I can bring it with me on mobile music making excursions, without having to worry about a power supply.

It doesn’t feel or respond like a normal keyboard controller, but with a little use it’s just as expressive I’ve found.  Sometimes even more so, since you can use tilt and pressure to add more variety into what you are playing.  With the sensitivities set up correctly for my playing, it’s one of the more expressive MIDI controllers I’ve used in fact.  At this point I’m ready to put my MPK25 in the closet and just use the KMI from now on.  And since the keys can also function as small drum pads, it can do double duty for percussion playing as well.

I’ve long lamented the rise of cheap and crappy feeling MIDI controllers that have become more popular over the years.  As dedicated hardware synths were slowly phased out, it became harder and harder to find a nice feeling keyboard to use when playing virtual instruments.  I find it amazing that KMI has managed to release one that is not only portable, feels good, and is extremely configurable, but also available for only $150 as well.

Amazing, and highly recommended.

On a side note, shortly before the QuNexus was released, Keith McMillen released a couple of interviews on Synthtopia.com that I found really fascinating.  Definitely worth a read if you want to learn more about what went into the design of his products:

http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2013/05/02/keith-mcmillen-on-kickstarting-a-music-controller-revolution/

http://www.synthtopia.com/content/2013/05/24/keith-mcmillen-on-the-qunexus-and-why-new-music-needs-new-instruments/

Boss Tera Echo TE-2 Review

TeraEcho

At Winter NAMM this year, one of the things that really caught my eye was a brand new effect pedal from Boss, called the Tera Echo TE-2.  Aside from being the 100th pedal that Boss has created, it was also one of 3 new designs Boss made to alter the effects based on how dynamically you’re playing.  Billed as neither a reverb or delay pedal, it sounded perfect for the trippy sort of music I like to make.

It’s no surprise I’m a huge delay fan, I use it readily in pretty much all of my songs.  But what might surprise some people is that this is the first dedicated hardware delay unit I’ve ever owned.  Heck, it’s the first single use guitar pedal I’ve ever bought, and I’ve been playing over 23 years (my past pedals were all multi-effect units like the Pod).  So I was pretty excited a couple days ago when I learned they were finally arriving in stores, and I went to get one ASAP.

Physically it’s incredibly sturdy, like any Boss pedal it feels like it could be dropped a few times without really damaging it.  The colors look better in person than the online pictures I had seen before buying it, sort of a pearl white with metallic teal letters.  The top 4 knobs and the backplate below them are gold, which looks better with the other colors than you might think.  Heavy duty rubber is on the top of the foot switch, and on the bottom of the entire unit to make sure it stays in place.

Controls and IO are simple, aside from the foot switch and the 4 knobs, there’s a small indicator LED, and you have stereo ins and outs for 1/4″ jacks.  The IO is not balanced (the indicator light blinks and no sound is passed if you try using a balanced cable), but at least there’s a stereo input unlike a lot of guitar pedals.

The 4 controls you have to adjust are:

Level – Functions as both a wet dry knob and volume boost, at 12 o’clock the wet to dry split is 50/50 like you’d expect.  Past halfway though, the overall volume increases with the wet mix increasing.  Can take some finessing to get a clean signal to the rest of your device chain depending on how much of the effect you want.

Tone – Controls the brightness of the effected signal.  Turn it way up and you get just a sparkling shimmer that fades away into the distance.  Turn it down to the minimum setting and you get a deep cavernous tone that still presents a lot of spaciousness.

Feedback – Basically gives you control over how long the effect tail is.  At shorter feedback settings, you can hear the individual delays cascading around each other.  With longer feedback, you can create whole new atmospheres and sustained textures.

S-Time – I think this means spread time.  With really low settings, the effect sounds more like a reverb, with high settings you get more and more time between delays and repeats.  There’s no way to dial in precise tempos, nor is there a tap tempo function.  This is one of my few complaints about it.

So, how does it sound in use?   At first I went right for the most over the top effects I could, almost no dry signal just all sorts of delayed weirdness. It was fun for a bit, but quickly I started noticing how ‘samey’ the tone was, almost a sort of dull wooden sound.  Also, with really short Feedback settings, you get this weird filtered modulation happening with each note.  It wasn’t bad sounding, but it is so distinct that it started making me think this pedal was a one trick pony

After a bit of a break however, I decided to see how it sounded when used a little more subtly.  Here’s where my perceptions about things totally changed too!  When used to accent and compliment my guitar’s real tone, all sorts of new sounds seemed to come from the TE-2.  The dynamic changes are subtle at times, but there’s definitely a change in how everything responds depending on how hard you play.

What really surprised me though was how well it worked when I ran an already heavily effected or delayed signal into it.  I figured it would wash everything out and just turn it all into mush, but the previous effects could still be heard and the new delays interacted with them in interesting ways.

It’s not a magic pedal mind you, there’s still a similarity to the types of effects it produces.  But when you factor in the different input signals you can feed it, I think there’s still a lot of variety you can get out of the effects.  Being able to morph from short reverbs to long delay washes is pretty cool sounding, and the feedback goes up high enough that it can get out of control if you’re not careful.

Another neat trick is that you can step and pedal switch and hold it down to freeze the current effect trails into a repeating loop.  So you could, for instance, strum a chord and let the delays build, then press and hold the toe switch down to freeze those echoes while you play over them.  The echoes are typically a little on the quiet side, but it does give you plenty of room to play over without everything fighting for space too.

Overall I’m really happy with the Tera Echo though.  It’s by no means the perfect or most flexible delay pedal out there, it does one thing and one thing very well.  There’s a lot of room for fine-tuning exactly the type of ambience you want to create though, so I think it will still get a lot of use here.  Definitely not the kind of thing I’d want to use in every song though.

Here’s a quick video I made of it processing a song I’m working on in my Elektron Octatrack.

Mainly just tweaking the parameters in real-time to give you a feel for the range of sounds it can make.  There’s already a few videos on YouTube showing people using it on guitar, so I thought I would do something a little different.  If you have any questions, post them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them asap.  Thanks!

Chroma Caps Review

 

ChromaCaps02

Noting too deep this time around, but I wanted to take a quick minute to review the new Chroma Caps replacement knobs I recently got for my Traktor S4 controller.  I had posted a couple pictures of it on Facebook and had a lot of people asking me about the new knobs.  I just assumed people know about these already.  🙂

So, as I recently talked about in an early blog post, I recently picked up another S4 controller from Native Instruments to use while DJing with Traktor.  Overall I’m pretty happy with the controller, but it always bugged me a little that they used black knobs on a  black background for the mixer and effects sections.  I looks cool in the daylight, but in a darker studio or on stage, it’s a little hard to see to be honest.  So, for awhile now I’ve been eyeing the Chroma Caps from DJTechTools.com as a way to make it easier to see the knobs on the controller in darker environments.

https://store.djtechtools.com/products/chroma-caps

As luck would have it, right before I was getting ready to the knobs, they released even more colors for both knobs types, and the fader caps.   So I was able to choose from 11 different tones when planning out how I wanted to layout the S4 based on my custom mapping.

Chroma-Caps-NEW-COLORS

As mentioned, DJTechTools.com sells the replacements in three different styles:  a shorter and wider knob (the Fatty knob), a tall skinny one (the Super Knob) like you find on most controllers, and different fader caps.

All of these are covered in the same soft rubber coating regardless of the color (except for the glow in the dark fader caps, no knobs in these yet though).   The rubber is a little softer than the stock S4 knobs, but extremely grippy.  I wouldn’t worry at all about these becoming slippery, even in the hottest and sweatiest environments!  Overall they feel like they are very well made, definitely a better controller than the stock knobs and fader caps.

ChromaCaps01

Putting the new knobs and fader caps on the S4 was a breeze, though getting some of the older ones off first required a bit more work.  Nothing a butter knife, some cardboard, and a bit of patience couldn’t fix though.  One word of caution, the knob shafts are made of plastic, so go slow and take your time when removing stubborn stock knobs.

I’d also like to take second to thank the staff at the DJ Tech Tools store as well.  I had made an error when I ordered my knobs the first time around, and they were quick to respond and eager to solve the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Definitely some nice guys.

And I should point out that the knobs aren’t just for Native Instruments gear.  On the DJTT store, they have a list of all different controllers that are known to use the same size knob.  Head over there for the most up to date list if you’re curious if these knobs will work on something you own.

———–

EDIT:

Looks like the date for the DJ gig was pushed back one week, so it will be on February 6th now, starting at 6:00.  Join me as we celebrate the opening of the new Beer Authority in Seattle, which is the venue I’ve been running my Liquid Beats events at.  The new space is larger and better laid out for how popular this pub has become, so come on out for some great tunes and great beer.