Universal Audio Return With More Fantastic Q4 Promotions (Part 2) – Apollo Twin Rack + Free Satellite

Following on from the last post regarding Universal Audio’s epic Q4 promotions we have an offer that is sure to tempt plenty of people into the UAD fold.

If you buy any Apollo rackmount interface you get yourself a free UAD Satellite QUAD or OCTO. Yes, you read that right – buy any Apollo rack unit and turbo charge your DSP processing power with a free Satellite. How good is that?! All you have to do is register the product and fill out the prompted shipping information, Universal Audio will deal with the rest and ship your Satellite in 6-8 weeks.

Depending which unit you buy will determine which freebie you get:

Apollo 16 or 8P – UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt OCTO worth £1081

Apollo 8 DUO or QUAD – UAD-2 Satellite Thunderbolt QUAD worth £756

Apollo Firewire – UAD-2 Satellite Firewire QUAD worth £756

We think this really is an amazing promotion offer and if you’re interested you can find all our Apollo rackmount’s here.

Universal Audio Return With More Fantastic Q4 Promotions (Part 1) – Apollo Twin MkII or USB + Free Plugins

Universal Audio seem to bring out the big guns when it comes to Q4 promotions. First up is a great deal for any new purchasers of the highly regarded Apollo Twin MkII and USB interfaces with a varying amount of freebies depending which model you opt for:

Apollo Twin Solo – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-in Collection worth £229.

Apollo Twin DUO or Apollo Twin USB – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection, Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection, Oxide Tape Recorder Plug-In worth £573.

Apollo Twin QUAD – Fairchild Tube Limiter Plug-In Collection, Neve 1073 Preamp & EQ Plug-In Collection, Oxide Tape Recorder Plug-In, Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb worth £833.

The promotional plug-ins will be automatically added to your account upon registration of the interface. Also worth noting is that if you already own any of the promotional plug-ins you will be able to pick from a list of alternative plug-ins!

The promotion runs until 31st December and all applicable Universal Audio interfaces can be found here.

M-Audio Team Up With Softube For The M-Track C Series Passive-Active Pack Promo

The new M-Audio C Series interfaces certainly look the part, I’ve not had chance to get a hands-on with them but if they sound half as good as they look then they make for a great entry-level interface. So recently we got the news that M-Audio have teamed up with venerable plug-in developer Softube to give existing and new users of the C Series interfaces a classy collection of three very different equalizers.

Everybody loves free stuff, but rarely do you get much useful stuff for free in this life! First up in the Passive-Active Pack is the Passive Equalizer, meticulously modeled from an iconic German three-band EQ for a nice and clear, open sound.

Next up is the Active Equalizer, modeled from a distinctive Swiss EQ design and is perfect for surgical cuts and boosts in your mix. Total mix precision.

The final part of the pack is the Focusing Equalizer, an untraditional and inspiring method of EQing and is a concept exclusive to Softube. There is even an additional saturation circuit based on the distortion and compression from their famous FET Compressor.

These will be available through December 31st and all M-Track C Series interfaces can be found here.

Presonus FaderPort Expands To 16 Channels of Motorized Fader Goodness

Presonus has made quite a name for itself in both the software and hardware worlds of late. Studio One has become a well respected household name as far as DAW’s are concerned and their accompanying hardware isn’t too shabby either with the Quantum audio interface making waves pretty recently and swiftly followed by it’s sibling, the Quantum 2. The FaderPort line has seen some R&D attention over the past year, evolving from the initial FaderPort, a small single channel motorized fader with transport and DAW controls into the FaderPort 8, a completely redesigned 8 channel unit with a plethora of controls…Well, 8 channels obviously weren’t enough and they have just released the FaderPort 16 – a 16 channel behemoth with all the bells and whistles you could want for mixing and engineering.

The FaderPort 16 comes equipped with 16 touch-sensitive, 100mm motorized faders, Scribble Strips, 89 buttons covering 104 different functions that allow you to quickly zoom in on audio files for editing, modify plug-in parameters, manage aux mixes and control track levels with the touch of a finger.  The Session Navigator provides easy access to 8 mission critical functions, used in conjunction with the large encoder and companion buttons to mix with much greater efficiency than using just a mouse and keyboard. There is one glaring omission though, where is the metering?

Of course, no Presonus hardware is complete without seriously tight integration with Studio One. You even get a free copy of Studio One 3 Artist with the FaderPort which is a nice addition! It will work with other DAWs on the market too but don’t expect instant plug and play functionality without some configuration steps.

Now the FaderPort 16 doesn’t come cheap. At £899 it is on the more expensive side of the spectrum with regards to MIDI controllers but comparing it to lesser devices wouldn’t be fair as I can’t think of any that have the scope of features this has and personally if I had the spare cash to throw down on a DAW controller I would be seriously considering adding this to the studio.

The FaderPort 16 is available for pre-order here.

In Praise of the Mini: Valeton EP1 Mini volume / Wah pedal

 

One of my contenders for the Best value pedal of this year, is the Valeton EP1.

Small enough to not cause any Real estate problems on your board, but powerful enough to justify its position 5 times over…

Apart from it’s remarkable size, there’s not much unusual about this little gem.

It’s a simple Volume/Wah with a click foot switch to swap between the two.

As a volume unit, which is obviously it’s default mode, it has a smooth linear volume curve, which despite the relatively compact size, is very controllable and very usable. Those of you who like to pull bends and country slides will find the addition of a volume swell will lend authenticity to your playing, as well as the ubiquitous  ”swelling of the stationary chord” violin pad effect.

However, the real surprise in this package is the Wah.

I must have used over 20 different Wah pedals in my time, and it’s true that some are better at certain things than others. I still rate the Vox Wah as the crispiest “Shaft” type sound I’ve used, while the ubiquitous “Cry Baby” was always better at the controlled Howl or the Mid-range “Honk” a La Michael Schenker, but the Wah sound in the Valeton has a pleasing take on both these voices.

Albeit doesn’t have the same long treadle time as a full grown Wah, there’s more than enough to get some very usable voices out of it, and for £59.00 for the both in one pedal, its extraordinary value, considering how small and light it is ( No bad thing for a Pedal on a crowded board.)

Valeton EP1: LN 80747

First Look At The Intel 8700K As The i7 Range Gets A Caffeine Injection.

I’ll be honest, as far as this chipset naming scheme goes it feels that we might be starting to run out of sensible candidates. The Englishman in me wants to eschew this platform completely and hold out for the inevitable lake of Tea that is no doubt on the way. But alas the benchmarking has bean done and it’s too latte to skip over it now. 

*Ahem* sorry, I think it’s almost out of my system now. 

Right, where was I? 

Time To Wake Up and Smell The….

Coffee Lake has been a blip on the horizon for quite a while now, and the promise of more cores in the middle and lower end CPU brackets whilst inevitable has no doubt taken a bit longer than some of us might have expected. 

Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the AMD’s popular releases earlier this year? I suspect the platform itself isn’t, as it takes a lot more than 6 months to put together a new chipset and CPU range but certainly it feels like this new hardware selection might be hitting the shelf a little earlier than perhaps was originally planned.

Currently its clear that we’ve had a few generations now where the CPU’s haven’t really made any major gains other than silicon refinement and our clock speeds haven’t exceeded 5GHz from the Intel factory (of course, the more ambitious overclockers may have had other ideas), the obvious next move for offering more power in  the range would be to stack up more cores much like the server-based bredrin in the Xeon range.

What is undeniable is that it certainly appears even to the casual observer that the competitor’s recent resurgence has forced Intel’s  hand somewhat and very possibly accelerated the release schedule of the models being discussed here.

I say this as the introduction of the new range and i7 8700K specifically that we’re looking at today highlights some interesting oddities in the current lineup that could be in danger of making some of the more recent enthusiast chips look a little bit redundant. 

This platform as a whole isn’t just about an i7 refresh though, rather we’re seeing upgrades to the mainstream i7’s, the i5’s and the i3’s which we’ll get on the bench over the coming weeks.

The i7’s have gained 2 additional physical cores and still have the hyperthreading meaning 12 logical cores total. 

The i5’s have 6 cores and no hyperthreading.

The i3’s have 4 cores and no hyperthreading.

Positioning wise Intel’s own suggestions have focused towards the i5’s being pushed for gaming and streaming with up to 4 real physical cores being preferred for games and then a couple extra to handle the OS and streaming. The i3’s keep their traditional entry-level home office and media center sort of positioning that we’ve come to expect over the years and then that gives us the 6 core i7’s sat at the top of the pile of the more mainstream chip options. 

Intel traditionally has always found itself a little lost when trying to market 6 cores or more. They know how to do it with servers where the software will lap up the parallelization capabilities of such CPUs with ease. But when it comes to the general public just how many regular users have had the need to leverage all those cores or indeed run software that can do it effectively? 

It’s why in recent years there has been a marked move towards pushing these sorts of chips to content creators and offering the ability to provide the resources that those sort of users tend to benefit from. It’s the audio and video producers, editors, writers and artists that tend to benefit from these sorts of advances. 

In short, very likely you dear reader.

Ok, so let’s take a look at some data.

8700K CPUz at 4.7GHz

CPUz 4.7 Benchmark

At base clock rates the chip itself is sold as a 6 core with Hyper-threading and runs with a clock speed of 3.7GHz and a max turbo of 4.7GHz. For testing, I’ve locked off all the cores to the turbo max and tested with a Dark Rock 3 after testing various models before starting. With the cooler in hand, it was bouncing around 75 degrees after a few hours torture testing which is great. I did try running it around the 5GHz mark, which was easy to do and perfectly stable, although with the setup I had it was on the tipping point of overheating. If you updated it to a water cooling loop I reckon you’ll have this running fine around the 5GHz and indeed I did for some of the testing period with no real issues, although I did notice that the voltages and heat start to creep up rapidly past the 4.7GHz point.

8700k at 4.7

Geekbench 4 8700K
Click to expand

The Geekbench 4 results show us some interesting and even slightly unexpected results. With the previous generation 7700K being clocked to 4.5GHz when I benched it and the 8700K being run at 4.7GHz I was expecting to see gains on the single core score as well as the increase in the multicore score. It’s only a few percent lower and I did retest a couple of times and found that this was repeatable and I had the results confirmed by another colleague.

The multicore score, on the other hand, shows the gains that this chip is all about with it not only exceeding the previous generation as you would expect with more cores being available. The gains here, in fact, highlight something I was already thinking about earlier in the year when the enthusiast i7’s got a refresh, in that this chip looks to not only match the 7800X found in the top end range but somewhat exceeding its capabilities at a lower overall price point.

DAWBench DSP 8700K
Click to expand
DawBench vi 8700K
Click to expand

In the testing above both the DAWBench DSP and the DAWBench vi tests continue to reflect this too, effectively raising questions as to the point of that entry-level 7800X in the enthusiast range.

The is almost price parity between the 7800X and 8700K at launch although the X299 boards tend to come in around £50 to £100 or more than the boards we’re seeing in the Z370 range. You do of course get extra memory slots in the X299 range, but then you can still mount 64GB on the mid-range board which for a lot of users is likely to be enough for the lifecycle of any new machine.

You also get an onboard GPU solution with the 8700K and if anything has been proven over the recent Intel generations, its that those onboard GPU solutions they offer are pretty good in the studio these days, perhaps also offering additional value to any new system build.

Grinding Out A Conclusion

I’m sure pricing from both sides will be competitive over the coming months as they aim to steal market share from each other. So with that in mind, it’s handy to keep these metrics in mind, along with the current market pricing at your time of purchase in order to make your own informed choice. I will say that at this point Intel has done well to reposition themselves after AMD’s strongest year in a very long time, although really their biggest achievement here looks to have been cannibalizing part of their own range in the process. 

That, of course, is by no means is a complaint as when pricing is smashed like this then the biggest winner out there is the buying public and that truly is a marvelous thing. Comparing the 8700K to the 7700K on Geekbench alone shows us a 50% improvement in performance overheads for a tiny bit more than the previous generation cost, which frankly is the sort of generation on generation improvement that we would all like to be seeing every couple of years, rather than the 10% extra every generation we’ve been seeing of late.

Whether you choose to go with an Intel or an AMD for your next upgrade, we’ve seen that the performance gains for your money are likely to be pretty great this time around on both platforms. If your current system is more than 3 or 4 years old then it’s even more likely that the will be a pretty strong upgrade path open to you when you do finally choose to take that jump. With hints of Ryzen 2 being on its way next year from AMD and the likelihood that Intel would never leave any new release unchallenged, we could be in for an interesting 2018 too!

3XS Audio Systems @ Scan

The Intel i9 7920X On The Bench

Back in June this year we took a look at the first i9 CPU model with the launch of the i9 7900X. Intel has since followed on from that with the rest of the i9 chips receiving a paper launch back in late August and with the promise of those CPU’s making it into the publics hands shortly afterward. Since then we’ve  seen the first stock start to arrive with us here in Scan and we’ve now had a chance to sit down and test the first of this extended i9 range in the shape of the i9 7920X.

The CPU itself is 12 cores along with hyper-threading, offering us a total of 24 logical cores to play with. The base clock of the chip is 2.9GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4.30GHz with a reported 140W TDP which is much in line with the rest of the chips below it in the enthusiast range.  Running at that base clock speed the chip is 400MHz slower per core than the 10 core edition 7900X. So if you add up all the available cores running at those clock speeds (12 X 2900 vs 10 X 3300) and compare the two chips on paper, then the looks to be less than 2GHz total available overhead separating them but still in the 7920X’s favor. 

So looking at it that way, why would you pay the premium £200 for the 12 core? Well interestingly both CPU’s claim to be able to turbo to the same max clock rating of 4.3GHz, although it should be noted that turbo is designed to factor in power usage and heat generation too, so if your cooling isn’t up to the job then you shouldn’t expect it to be hitting such heady heights constantly and whilst I’m concerned that I may be sounding like a broken record by this point, as with all the high-end CPU releases this year you should be taking care with your cooling selection in order to ensure you get the maximum amount of performance from your chip.

Of course, the last thing we want to see is the power states throttling the chip in use and hampering our testing, so as always we’ve ensured decent cooling but aimed to keep the noise levels reasonable where we can. Normally we’d look to tweak it up to max turbo and lock it off, whilst keeping those temperatures in check and ensuring the system will be able to deliver a constant performance return for your needs.

However, in this case, I’ve not taken it quite all the way to the turbo max, choosing to keep it held back slightly at 4.2GHz across all cores. I was finding that the CPU would only ever bounce of 4.3GHz when left to work under its own optimized settings and on the sort of air cooling we tend to favour it wouldn’t quite maintain the 4.3GHz that was achieved with the 7900X in the last round of testing without occasionally throttling back. It will, however, do it on an AIO water loop cooler, although you’re adding another higher speed fan in that scenario and I didn’t feel the tradeoff was worth it personally, but certainly worth considering for anyone lucky to have a separate machine and control room where a bit more noise would go unnoticed.

Just as a note at this point, if you run it at stock and let it work its own turbo settings then you can expect an idle temperature around 40 degrees and under heavy load it still should be keeping it under 80 degrees on average which is acceptable and certainly better than we suspected around the time of the 7900X launch. However, I was seeing the P-states raising and dropping the core clock speeds in order to keep its power usage down and upon running Geekbench and comparing the results that my 4.2GHz on all cores setting gave us an additional 2000 points (around 7% increase) over the turbo to 4.3GHz default setting found in the stock configuration. My own temps idled in the 40’s and maxed around 85 degrees whilst running the torture tests for an afternoon, so for a few degrees more you can ensure that you get more constant performance from the setup.

Also worth noting is that we’ve had our CAD workstations up to around 4.5GHz and higher in a number of instances although in those instances we’re talking about a  full water loop and a number of extra fans to maintain stability under that sort of workload, which wouldn’t be ideal for users working in close proximity to a highly sensitive mic. 

Ok, so first up the CPUz information for the chip at hand, as well it’s Geelbench results.


7920X CPUz
CPUz 42Ghz bench7920X Geekbench 4

More importantly for this comparison is the Geekbench 4 results and to be frank it’s all pretty much where we’d expect it to be in this one.

7920X geekbench 4 Chart
Click to expand.

The single core score is down compared with the 7900X, but we’d expect this given the 4.2GHz clocking of the chip against the 4.3GHz 7900X. The multicore score is similarly up, but then we have a few more cores so all in all pretty much as expected here.

Dawbench DSP 7920X
Click to Expand
Dawbench 6
Click to Expand

On with the DAWBench tests and again, no real surprises here. I’d peg it at being around an average of 10% or so increase over the 7900X which given we’re just stacking more cores on the same chip design really shouldn’t surprise us at all. It’s a solid solution and certainly the highest benching we’ve seen so far barring the models due to land above it. Bang per buck it’s £1020 price tag when compared to the £900 for the 10 core edition it seems to perform well on the Intel price curve and it looks like the wider market situation has curbed some of the price points we might have otherwise seen these chips hit. 

And that’s the crux of it right now. Depending on your application and needs the are solutions from both sides that might fit you well. I’m not going to delve too far into discussing the value of the offerings that are currently available as prices do seem to be in flux to some degree with this generation. Initially, when it was listed we were discussing an estimated price of £100 per core and now we seem to be around £90 per core at the time of writing which seems to be a positive result for anyone wishing to pick one up.

Of course, the benchmarks should always be kept in mind along with that current pricing and it remains great to see continued healthy competition and I suspect with the further chips still to come this year, we may still see some additional movement before the market truly starts to settle after what really has been a release packed 12 months.

The 3XS Systems Selection @ Scan

The Wampler ‘Ethereal’ and other Cathedrals

Every so often, an idea comes by, which makes you question why someone hasn’t done it before, or at the very least , done it well.

For most styles of Lead guitar, the two most requested ‘effects’ (i.e. not your actual tone) are usually Delay and Reverb. After a judicious amount of blending and mixing of the two, it’s possible to get a mix that delivers the sound you were after.

Now Wampler, have provided a beautifully simple solution for those requiring these sounds, the new Ethereal pedal is a combined Delay and Reverb, with a unique way of blending between the two, to deliver a wonderful sonic ambience that can shimmer and gleam to your hearts content.

Brian Wampler actually held back the release of this pedal until he had it exactly right, and from the beginning you can hear why. The sound is almost more than the sum of its parts. It can deliver simple FX like Slapback echoes or simple ‘Edge’ like quarter note delays, but that’s really only the start.

You see there’s not only one delay on board, there are 2!

Now for anyone who’s ever run an Analogue delay into a Digital delay and messed around with the patterns, you’ll know that you can come up with some very cool, if not wildly unplayable patterns, with dotted 8ths running into 16th triplets and all manner of craziness, but in this case, it seems that the 2 delays play very well together, allowing an assortment of very cool, ambient textures, which once set across the backdrop of a huge plate reverb, can take on almost synth pad like qualities.

Of course if you want to set it with a tasteful little 8th note signature and a splash of High quality reverb, then it definitely saves you having to buy two pedals, but the real pleasure with this pedal, is the myriad of possibilities it allows from just a little tweaking of the simple controls.

Whatever your inclinations, if you’re a guitarist looking for high quality delay and Reverb, this is certainly a pedal you need to check out soon.

First look at the AMD Threadripper 1920X & 1950X

Another month and another chip round up, with them still coming thick and fast, hitting the shelves at almost an unprecedented rate.

AMD’s Ryzen range arrived with us towards the end of Q1 this year and its impact upon the wider market sent shockwaves through computer industry for the first time for in well over the decade for AMD.

Although well received at launch, the Ryzen platform did have the sort of early teething problems that you would expect from any first generation implementation of a new chipset range. Its strength was that it was great for any software that could effectively leverage the processing performance on offer across the multitude of cores that were being made available. The platform whilst perfect for a great many tasks across any number of market segments did also have its inherent weaknesses too which would crop up in various scenarios with one such field where its design limitations being apparent being real-time audio.

Getting to the core of the problem.

The one bit of well meaning advice that drives system builders up the wall and that is the “clocks over cores” wisdom that has been offered up by DAW software firms since what feels like the dawn of time. It’s a double edged sword in that it tries to simplify a complicated issue without ever explaining why or in what situations it truly matters.

To give a bit of crucial background information as to why this might be we need to start from the point of view that your DAW software is pretty lousy for parallelization. 

That’s it, the dirty secret. The one thing computers are good at are breaking down complex chains of data for quick and easy processing except in this instance not so much.

Audio works with real-time buffers. Your ASIO drivers have those 64/128/256 buffer settings which are nothing more than chunks of time where the data is captured entering the system and held in a buffer until it is full, before being passed over to the CPU to do its magic and get the work done.

If the workload is processed before the next buffer is full then life is great and everything is working as intended. If however the buffer becomes full prior to the previous batch of information being dealt with, then data is lost and this translates to your ears as clicks and pops in the audio.

Now with a single core system, this is straight forward. Say you’re working with 1 track of audio to process with some effects. The whole track would be sent to the CPU, the CPU processes the chain and spits out some audio for you to hear. 

So far so easy.

Now say you have 2 or 3 tracks of audio and 1 core. These tracks will be processed on the available core one at a time and assuming all the tracks in the pile are processed prior to the buffer reset then we’re still good. In this instance by having a faster core to work on, more of these chains can be processed within the buffer time that has been allocated and more speed certainly means more processing being done in this example.

So now we consider 2 or more core systems. The channel chains are passed to the cores as they become available and the once more the whole channel chain is processed on a single core.  

Why?

Because to split the channels over more than one core would require us to divide up the work load and then recombine it all again post processing, which for real-time audio would leave us with other components in the chain waiting for the data to be shuttled back and forth between the cores. All this lag means we’d lose processing cycles as that data is ferried about, meaning we’d continue to lose more performance with each and every added core something I will often refer to as processing overhead.

Clock watching

Now the upshot of this means that lower clocked chips can often be more inefficient than higher clocked chips, especially with newer, more demanding software. 

So for just for an admittedly extreme example, say that you have the two following chips.

CPU 1 has 12 cores running at 2GHz

CPU 2 has 4 cores running at 4Ghz

The maths looks simple, 2 X 12 beats 4 X 4 on paper, but in this situation, it comes down to software and processing chain complexity. If you have a particularly demanding plugin chain that is capable of overloading one of those 2GHz CPU cores, then the resulting glitching will proceed to ruin the output from the other 11 cores.

In this situation the more overhead you have to play with overall on each core, the less chance the is that an overly demanding plugin is going to be able to sink to the lot in use.

This is also one of the reasons we tend to steer clear of single server CPU’s with high core counts and low clock speeds and is largely what the general advice is referring too. 

On the other hand when we talk about 4 core CPU’s at 4GHz vs 8 core CPU’s at 3.5GHz, in this example the difference between them in clock speeds isn’t going to be enough to cause problems with even the busiest of chains, and once that is the case then more cores on a single chip tend to become more attractive propositions as far as getting out the best performance is concerned.

Seeing Double

So with that covered, we’ll quickly cover the other problematic issue with working with server chips which is the data exchange process between memory banks. 

Dual chip systems are capable of offering the ultimate levels of performance this much is true, but we have to remember that returns on your investment diminish quickly as we move through the models. 

Not only do we have the concerns outlined above about cores and clocks, but when you move to dealing with more than one CPU you have to start to consider “NUMA”  (Non-uniform memory access) overheads caused by using multiple processors. 

CPU’s can exchange data between themselves via high-speed connections and in AMD’s case, this is done via an extension to the Infinity Fabric design that allows the quick exchange of data between the cores both on and off the chip(s). The memory holds data until it’s needed and in order to ensure the best performance from a CPU they try and store the data held in memory on the physical RAM stick nearest to the physical core.  By keeping the distance between them as short as possible, they ensure the least amount of lag in information being requested and with it being received.

This is fine when dealing with 1 CPU and in the event that a bank of RAM is full, then moving and rebalancing the data across other memory banks isn’t going to add too much lag to the data being retrieved. However when you add a second CPU to the setup and an additional set of memory banks, then you suddenly find yourself trying to manage the data being sent and called between the chips as well as the memory banks attached. In this instance when a RAM bank is full then it might end up bouncing the data to free space on a bank connected to the other CPU in the system, meaning the data may have to travel that much further across the board when being accessed. 

As we discussed in the previous section any wait for data to be called can cause inefficiencies where the CPU has to wait for the data to arrive. All this happens in microseconds but if this ends up happening hundreds of thousands of times every second our ASIO meter ends up looking like its overloading due to lagged data being dropped everywhere, whilst our CPU performance meter may look like it’s only being half used at the same time.

This means that we do tend to expect there to be an overhead when dealing with dual chip systems. Exactly how much depends on entirely on what’s being run on each channel and how much data is being exchanged internally between those chips but the take home is that we expect to have to pay a lot more for server grade solutions that can match the high-end enthusiast class chips that we see in the consumer market, at least when it comes to situations where real-time related workloads are crucial like dealing with ASIO based audio. It’s a completely different scenario when you deal with another task like off line rendering for video where the processor and RAM is being system managed on its own time and working to its own rules, server grade CPU options here make a lot of sense and are very, very efficient.

To server and protect

So why all the server background when we’re looking at desktop chips today? Indeed Threadripper has been positioned as AMD’s answer to Intel’s enthusiast range of chips and largely a direct response to the i7  and i9 7800X, 7820X and 7900X chips that launched just last month with AMD’s Epyc server grade chips still sat in waiting.

An early de-lidding of the Threadripper series chips quickly showed us that the basis of the new chips is two Zen CPU’s connected together. Thanks to the “Infinity Fabric” core interconnect design it makes it easy for them to add more cores and expand these chips up through the range; indeed their server solution EPYC is based on the same “Zen” building blocks at its heart as both Ryzen and Threadripper with just more cores piled in there.

Knowing this before testing it gave me some certain expectations going in that I wanted to examine. The first being Ryzens previously inefficient core handling when dealing with low latency workloads, where we established in the earlier coverage that the efficiency of the processor at lower buffer settings would suffer. 

This I suspected was an example of data transference lag between cores and at the time of that last look we weren’t certain how constant this might have proven to be across the range. Without having more experience of the platform we didn’t know if this was something inherent to the design or if perhaps it might be solved in a later update. As we’ve seen since its launch and having checked over other CPU’s in testing this performance scaling seems to be a constant across all the chips we’ve seen so far and something that certainly can be constantly replicated.

Given that it’s a known constant to us now in how it behaves, we’re happy that isn’t further hidden under-laying concerns here. If the CPU performs as you require at the buffer setting that you need it to handle then that is more than good enough for most end users. The fact that it balances out around the 192 buffer level on Ryzen where we see 95% of the CPU power being leveraged means that for  plenty of users who didn’t have the same concerns with low latency performance such as those mastering guys who work at higher buffer settings, meant that for some people this could still be good fit in the studio.

However knowing about this constant performance response at certain buffer settings made me wonder if this would carry across to Threadripper. The announcement that this was going to be 2 CPU’s connected together on one chip then raised my concerns that this was going to experience the same sort of problems that we see with Xeon server chips as we’d take a further performance hit through NUMA overheads. 

So with all that in mind, on with the benchmarks…

On your marks

I took a look at the two Threadripper CPU’s available to us at launch.

The flagship 1950X features 16 cores and a total of 32 threads and has a base clock of 3.4GHz and a potential turbo of 4GHz.

CPUz AMD 1950x
CPUz Details for the 1950X
CPU z AMD 1950x benchmark
CPUz details for the 1920X

 

Along with that I also took a look at the 1920X is a 12 core with 24 threads which has a base clock speed of 3.5GHz and an advised potential turbo clock of 4GHz.

CPUz AMD 1920XCPUz AMD 1920X benchmark

First impressions weren’t too dissimilar to when we looked at the Intel i9 launch last month. These chips have a reported 180W TDP at stock settings placing them above the i9 7900X with its purported 140W TDP.

Also much like the i9’s we’ve seen previously it fast became apparent that as soon as you start placing these chips under stressful loads you can expect that power usage to scale up quickly, which is something you need to keep in mind with either platform where the real term power usage can rapidly increase when a machine is being pushed heavily.

History shows us that every time CPU war starts, the first casualty is often your system temperatures as the easiest way to increase a CPU’s performance quickly is to simply ramp the clock speeds, although often this will also be a  cause of an exponential amount of heat then being dumped into the system because of it. We’ve seen a lot of discussion in recent years about the “improve and refine” product cycles with CPU’s where a new tech in the shape of a die shrink is introduced and then refined over the next generation or two as temperatures and power usage is reduced again, before starting the whole cycle again.

What this means is that with the first generation of any CPU we don’t always expect a huge overclock out of it, and this is certainly the case here. Once again for contrast the 1950X, much like the i9 7900X is running hot enough at stock clock settings that even with a great cooler it’s struggling to reach the limit of its advised potential overclock.

Running with a Corsair H110i cooler the chip only seems to hold a stable clock around the 3.7GHz level without any problems. The board itself ships with a default 4GHz setting which when tried would reset the system whilst running the relatively lightweight Geekbench test routine. I tried to setup a working overclock around that level, but the P-states would quickly throttle me back once it went above 3.8GHz leaving me to fall back to the 3.7GHz point. This is technically an overclock from the base clock but doesn’t meet the suggested turbo max of 4GHz, so the take home is that you should make sure that you invest in great cooling when working with one of these chips.

Geekout

Speaking of Geekbench its time to break that one out.

Geekbench 4 1950X stock Geekbench 4 1720X stock

I must admit to having expected more from the multi-core score, especially on the 1950X, even to the point in double checking the results a number of times. I did take a look at the published results on launch day and I saw that my own scores were pretty much in-line with the other results there at the time. Even now a few days later it still appears to be within 10% of the best results for the chip results published, which says to me that some people do look to have got a bit of an overclock going on with their new setups, but we’re certainly not going to be seeing anything extreme anytime soon.

 

Geekbench 4 Threadripper
Click to expand Geekebench Results

When comparing the Geekbench results to other scores from recent chip coverage it’s all largely as we’d expect with the single core scores. A welcome improvement from the Ryzen 1700Xs, they’ve clearly done some fine tuning to the tech under the hood as the single core score has seen gains of around 10% even whilst running at a slightly slow per core clock. 

One thing I will note at this point is that I was running with 3200MHz memory this time around. The were reports after the Ryzen launch that running with higher clocked memory could help improve the performance of the CPU’s in some scenarios and it’s possible that the single core clock jump we’re seeing might prove to be down as much to the increase in memory clocks as anything else. A number of people have asked me if this impacts audio performance at all, and I’ve done some testing with the production run 1800X’s and 1700X’s in the months since but haven’t seen any benefits to raising the memory clock speeds for real time audio handling. 

We did suspect this would be the outcome as we headed into testing, as memory for audio has been faster than it needs to be for a long time now, although admittedly it was great to revisit it once more and make sure. As long as the system RAM is fast enough to deal with that ASIO buffer, then raising the memory clock speed isn’t going to improve the audio handling in a measurable fashion.

The multicore results show the new AMD’s slotted in between the current and last generation Intel top end models. Whilst the AMD’s have made solid performance gains over earlier generations it has still be widely reported that their IPC scores (Instructions per clockcycle) are still behind the sort of results returned by the Intel chips.

Going back to our earlier discussion about how much code you can action on any given CPU core within a ASIO buffer cycle, the key to this is the IPC capability. The quicker the code can be actioned, then the more efficently your audio gets processed and so more you can do overall. This is perhaps the biggest source of confusion when people quote “clocks over core” as rarely are any two CPU’s comparable on clock speeds alone ,and a chip that has a better IPC performance can often outperform other CPU’s with higher quoted per clock frequencies but a lower IPC score. 

….And GO!

So lengthy explanations aside, we get to the crux of it all.

Much like the Ryzen tests before it, the Threadrippers hold up well in the older DawBench DSP testing run.

DawBench DSP Threadripper
Click To Expand

Both of the chips show gains over the Intel flagship i9 7900X and given this test uses a single plugin with stacked instances of it and a few channels of audio, what we end up measuring here is raw processor performance by simply stacking them high and letting it get on with it.

The is no disputing here that the is a sizable slice of performance to be had. Much like our previous coverage, however, it starts to show up some performance irregularities when you examine other scenarios such as the more complex Kontakt based test DawBenchVI.

DawBench VI Threadripper
Click To Expand

The earlier scaling at low buffer settings is still apparent this time around, although it looks to have been compounded by the hard NUMA addressing that is in place due to the multi chip in one die design that is in use. It once more scales upwards as the buffer is slackened off but even at the 512 buffer setting which I tested, it could only achieve 90% of CPU use under load.

That to be fair to it, is very much what I would expect from any server CPU based system. In fact, just on its own, the memory addressing here seems pretty capable when compared to some of the other options I’ve seen over the years, it’s just a shame that the other performance response amplifies the symptoms when the system is stressed.

AMD to their credit is perfectly aware of the pitfalls of trying to market what is essentially a server CPU setup to an enthusiast market. Their Windows overclocking tool has various options to set up some control and optimize how it deals with NUMA and memory address as you can see below.

AMD Control Panel
Click To Enlarge

I did have a fiddle around with some of the settings here and the creators mode did give me some marginal gains over the other options thanks to it appearing to arrange the memory in a well organized and easy to address logical group, but ultimately the performance dips we’re seeing are down to a physical addressing issue, in that data has to be moved from X to Y in a given time frame and no amount of software magic will be able to resolve this for us I suspect.

Conclusion

I think this one is pretty straight forward if you need to be running at below a 256 ASIO buffer, although there are certainly some arguments for mastering guys who don’t need that sort of response.

Much like the Intel i9’s before it, however, the is a strong suggestion that you really do need to consider your cooling carefully here. The normal low noise high-end air coolers that I tend to favour for testing were largely overwhelmed once I placed these on the bench and once the heat started to climb the water cooler I was using had both fans screaming.

Older readers with long memories might have a clear recollection of the CPU wars that gave us P4’s, Prescott’s, Athlon FX’s and 64’s. We saw both of these firms in a CPU arms race that only really ended when the i7’s arrived with the X58 chipset. Over the years this took place we saw ever raising clock speeds, a rapid release schedule of CPU’s and constant gains, although at the cost of heat and ultimately noise levels. In the years since we’ve had refinement and a vast reduction of heat and noise, but little as far as performance advancements, at least over the last 5 or 6 generations.

We finally have some really great choices from both firms and depending on your exact needs and price points you’re working at the could be arguments in each direction. Personally, I wouldn’t consider server class chips to be ultimate solution in the studio from either firm currently, not unless you’re prepared to spend the sort of money that the tag “ultimate” tends to reflect, in which case you really won’t get anything better.  

In this instance, if you’re doing a load of multimedia work alongside mastering for audio, this platform could fit your requirements well, but for writing and editing some music I’d be looking towards one of the other better value solutions unless this happens to fit your niche.

To see our custom PC selection @ Scan

To see our fixed series range @ Scan

Fuzzy, Overdriven Distortion! The best of all worlds…….?

One of the really good bits about working here at Scan Towers, is the chance to test the cool new pedals that arrive here daily, but just the other day I found myself contemplating just what I was listening to and why… bear with me…

The real shame about the dearth of live music venues over the last 30 years, is the amount of guitarists, who have never got to make a real big noise on stage.

Back in the day, I can remember at least 10 venues in my local area alone, that would feature a Live band at least one of the days of the weekend, and these bands would invariably play a mixture of Rock tunes, famous in their day, which people would know and hopefully sing along with… however the common denominator was the Guitar and amplifier, and the volume was usually LOUD!

Now, what that meant, was that even the most mediocre of bands had the opportunity to get up and make a racket, and in doing so their guitarists began to understand the skillset involved in driving a powerful amp and cab at considerable volume.

And it really is a skillset… A Marshall 100 watt stack has a certain attitude, that requires a definite approach, even before you start to play. Everything from the way you hold your pick to where you stand in relation to the cab affects the overall tone and performance.

Which means that when I now play through a pedal at lower volumes, I have a different expectation based on my experience, than someone who maybe hasn’t ever used an amp in anger, so then, what do these different terms mean and what can we expect from the relevant pedals?

Fuzz:

To me, Fuzz is generic term for ‘Broken’.

Back in the early days of guitar amplification, every so often an amplifier would develop a fault like a misaligned valve or an ‘iffy’ bit of soldering, and the resulting form of distortion became sought after by those of a more adventurous ilk. It was adopted by some of the early Punk bands in the US and is still enjoyed by many as a raucous form of distortion, very suited to fast Rhythmic playing rather than searing lead guitar solos….  Famous examples include the ‘Big Muff Pi”

Distortion:

A more controlled, yet still pretty artificial version of distortion that offers a lot more gain and aggression, but is also capable of being shaped to provide an approximation of High Gain amps from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Boss pedals were the one-time king of this genre with their DS1 and HM2 pedals finding their way onto 1000’s of boards throughout the ‘80’s. The downside for me, is the lack of dynamics you can achieve, although when it comes to piles of dirty filthy grittiness, these things are the bomb…

OverDrive:

These pedals aim to simulate the very desirable sound of an over-driven tube amp, which can by degrees, be a creamy, smooth form of distortion, much loved by Guitarists because of the ability to control the distortion amounts and shape the EQ to suit many different styles of music. A famous example would be the Tube screamer from Ibanez.

 

So, given that this is my expectation, what else could affect my experience?

Well, this, I think, is where the experience of driving a big amp in a live situation comes into play.

I have played various Fuzz pedals over the years, and as an effect they have worked well, but the sound is still quite artificial when compared to driving a real amp. For my style of playing, this doesn’t work so well for me. Most of these pedals are very definitely a sound within their own right, and consequently, I find them pretty one dimensional, ( albeit if this is the sound you want, nothing does it better… see Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze or Machine Gun or the Stones’ Satisfaction…)

Distortion Pedals are another problem for me. When you play a valve amplifier loud, there is still a varied range of dynamics you can get from the sound, either by reducing the guitars volume or by Pick attack or finger pick strength. Distortion pedals tend to fight to corrupt the sound exactly the way they want, regardless of what you may require, and as such don’t allow the kind of control I require from a sound……

So, that leaves Overdrive pedals…. For me the most satisfying of all the ‘noise’ pedals, because they actually set out to mimic the sound of an overdriven tube amp, and consequently strive to allow the dynamics and nuances through. An easy way to test this is to play softly and then dig in hard…. The amount of distortion should change dramatically…   In a nutshell, these pedals are attempting to force your valves to work harder at lower levels, thus mimicking the effect of playing your amp much louder… Now the good bit…. There are hundreds of them out there!! And most of them very good indeed, but each offering a different sound, a different depth of distortion and a different level of control from one another.

So here, is a quick look at some of our favourite Overdrive pedals, and why…..

LN76105      BE-OD  Overdrive pedal by Friedman

Mr Friedman knows his  amp tones.

As the Father of the ‘Dirty Shirleys’ and ‘Buxom Bettys’, he has taken his amp know-how and pushed it inside this little box… and it shows. This little beauty emulates the Friedman BE-100 amplifier.

LN76104                 Ecstasy Red Guitar Pedal by Bogner

The Bogner Ecstasy amp has been hand built in California since 1992, and this is their own approximation of it’s famous Red channel…..

LN76241                 .45 Calibre Overdrive by J.Rockett

This pedal is startlingly good at one thing.

If you need the sound of an overdriven original 1962 JTM45 (think AC/DC -Ballbreaker, Gar Moore-Still got the Blues or Jeff Beck- Live at Ronnie Scotts) then this is it…

LN72684                       CKK Scream Drive

                                           (Two Gain Stage Classic Overdrive pedal)

Based on the classic Tubescreamer circuit, this offering from GKK gives you that Iconic sound and then the option to wind it up through the roof!

LN81096                   One Control Strawberry Red 

Of all the Overdrives featured here, this is my favourite. It doesnt actually try to emulate any one amplifier or sound. Instead it has been voiced to put out a sound that One Control hope all guitarists will enjoy. And I do.

 

Distortion Units:

So if you want to go Hell for KLeather into the world of pure Distortion, here are our recommendations:

LN72834                           Valeton Darktale Vintage Distortion

This peadl has a sound based on the famous RAT distortion pedal from Pro Co.  Everyone from Jeff Beck to Blur have used this sound, and this klittle beauty brings it straight to your door..

 

LN72836                      Valeton Hell Flame Extreme Distortion

From the vintage to the MOdern, this brings you a very modern ‘Metal’ Distortion with a very aggressive tone.

LN81124                     One Control Anodized Brown Distortion

With this pedal, One Control were looking to give the player a lot more physical control over the distortion sound, and If I were to use distortion, this is the kind of thing I’d be looking for…..

LN78881                    Wampler Pinnacle Standard Distortion

Think Eddie Van Halen’s ‘Brown Sound’ and you’re right there…. A very high-gain guitar sound that exudes liquid sustain, warmth and Organic response.

LN78891                    Wampler Dracarys Distortion Pedal

A Gain monster! With a 3 band active EQ to allow you to ‘sculpt’ the tone, The Dracarys is modern and versatile, and if you like Game of Thrones, you’ll even understand the name…..

And finally, the Scuzzy, Buzzy world of Fuzz!…. Here’s our pick of the Fuzz tones:

LN68968               Fuzz screamer from Xvive Micro Pedal

Cheap and effective, if you only need a fuzz pedal for one or two songs in your set, this little cracker is the most cost effective thing on the market. Classic Fuzz with a 21st century twist…..

LN72837                      Valeton Red Haze Vintage Fuzz

This is based on the legendary ‘Fuzz Face’ circuit, and usimng a special Germanium transistor to recreate the vintage fuzz tone, this is the sound of Jimi’s ‘Foxy Lady’ and other Iconic fuzz tones…

LN79616                       Voodoo Labs Superfuzz

Back in the ’60’s there was a tiny little unit called a Jordan electronics Bosstone. Randy Californis’s band ‘Spirit’ were the famous users of the day, and this pedal gives you the famous tone whilst allowing a wide selection of variations…..

LN76547                   KHDK Scuzz Box Fuzz Pedal

Kirk Hammett ( he of Metallica fame) has put together a company yo make guitar effects pedals, and they are gaining quite the reputation. This is their take on the Fuzz sound, and I have to say it would be my choice too. Two different types of sound, one is a dynamic fuzz tone, where the Scuzz sound is just c razy….

 

LN76245                     Hooligan Fuzz by J.Rockett

To my mind, this is the most versatile of all the Fuzz pedals here, in that it can replicate many classic tones, as well as being capable of creating a right sonic mess…..

So there we have it, take your pick of the myriad pedals here in stock at Scan, and whichever way you like your dirt, we hope you have fun.

We also stock all the nits and pieces you might need to build agreat board including different sized boards, jack leads, brackets etc.

 

Computer Based Music & Audio Production