One of the questions I’m constantly asked, is which acoustic guitar amplifier do I recommend…
So here’s some thoughts on the matter….
It obviously depends on the sound you ultimately want to achieve, i.e. the sound in your head. Your reference sound.
If your ‘sound’ relies on pedals and compressors, or you have a percussive playing style, then you’re going to need a different sounding amplifier to someone who plays straight fingerstyle.
That’s true isn’t it?
Well actually no.
There is a solution out there that can accommodate pretty much every style of acoustic guitar and push it out loud and clear without any colouration.
What do we mean by ‘colouration’:?
Many acoustic amplifiers are ‘voiced’ to sound a certain way, and if you enjoy that particular sound, then that’s the very fellow for you, as pretty much any guitar you put through the amp will come out coloured by the amp’s tone, and again, if you like that particular tone, all’s well.
However, there is one set of Acoustic amplifiers that deliver a transparent tone, which allows whatever instrument is plugged into it, to sound like itself and nothing else with no added colour, and that’s the Loudbox series from Fishman.
Fishman of course, have a proud heritage of pick-ups and pre-amp knowledge gained from years of being one of the leading manufacturers in the US, of acoustic amplification tools.
So their amplifiers have every right to sound excellent.
But again, the main reason they do, is that they allow the natural tones of your guitar to shine through.
Not only are they Loud! (the clue’s in the name…), but they reproduce the sound from your guitar, cleanly and accurately, with just a simple eq and some cool effects.
They even have a channel for a Mic, allowing you to sing at the same time as play your guitar, and believe me that’s where these little boxes come-on strong.
The vocal channel is so very good, I’ve never seen a singer who didn’t like the sound of their voice through it, and if you’re a singer songwriter, or just backing a vocalist, these amps are so portable and so LOUD, that you can easily play a pub gig or small restaurant without the need for a PA.
And all the while here, I’ve only been referring to the Loudbox Mini!
The Artist and Performer both have 2 channels and are 120 W and 180 W respectively.
The Focal CMS series have been very popular options at their respective price points for a few years now, and they certainly offer a well balanced set of specs that we’re always happy to recommend here for smaller budget concerned studios in need of great near fields.
So it’s with great interest that we see the announcement of the new Focal Shape range, coming in around the same price points as the older CMS models.
What’s changed you may ask?
Well, at first glance, quite a lot and not in the least those new side radiators. Yes, multiple!
For those not overly familiar with passive radiator setups, its hardly surprising given they are not the most common of speaker designs, although many studio user will no doubt have come across a pair of the Mackie HR series over the years which made great use of this technique. The Mackie design however is a single rear radiator, so seeing a dual setup in play on the Shapes is something even more unexpected.
The passive radiator design is there to help reinforce the low end, simply by taking the internal noise of the speaker and focusing it into usable sound. Most speakers tend to have some kind of bass port to achieve this reinforcement as smaller speakers can hardly be expected to hit those super low frequencies, although the side effect of more traditional bass ports is added harmonic distortion and the tendency to slew the time domain to some extent.
The passive radiator design removes the cause of the distortion which normally is air being pushed through a tube, and instead offers a more controlled way of handling the bass reinforcement.
The other side effect of this means that thanks to the lack of porting, this also looks be fully sealed box design. Sealed box speakers naturally tend to have a tighter sound with more responsive transients, giving you a more tighter more clinical and detailed sound. The downside however is that without venting it takes a more powerful amp to deliver the same sound pressure levels as ported designs, but the sound that is there should be all the more detailed because of it.
The are 3 models with the range flagship the Shape 65 looking to offer a flat response down to around the 40Hz level with around 109dB SPL @ 1m, looking like it should offer a superb monitoring solution for even the most bass focused artists in a smaller home and project studios.
The simply doesn’t appear to be anything offering this sort of spec at the price points being discussed here. The speaker design in theory looks like it could be very, very interesting, although how that pays off in the real world is ultimately the key question right now and one we won’t know for sure until a pair arrive in the building.
The one thing we can be sure of is that we can’t wait to hear a set of these in our demo room here in Scan.
• Low tweeter directivity for a flexible listening position
• Designed without a port allowing it to be placed near a wall
• Numerous settings for optimal integration
• Accurate control, even in the very high end
• Flax sandwich cone: controlled and articulated bass, natural and detailed lower mid-range and upper mid-range registers
• Fastening mechanisms present on the back and underneath the loudspeaker: for installing on the ceiling or a wall (fastening accessories not supplied)
• Threads for ceilling and wall mounts (fastening accessories not supplied)
The full Focal Shape range specs in full can be found below.
Firstly, this is not an absolute guide… The shape and size of your room, together with working around existing furniture mean that you often have to deviate from these suggestions to get the best results. These are just some best practice ideas to make your setup the best it can be.
I’m also not going to touch on the subject of room acoustics here, as that’s an entire topic to itself and i’ll dedicate more posts to that shortly, but first, lets check that you’ve got as much of the basics covered as possible.
The tweeters of your monitors should ideally be positioned in an equilateral triangle with your main listening position, or rather… the imaginary lines should cross just behind where your head would be.
Ideally the tweeters should be at ear height, or at least angled, pointing directly towards your ears at the listening position.
You should angle them in towards the mix position at about a 30 degree angle.
Low Frequency Control
There’s a lot of different opinions about where in the room you should set up your speakers, but what you really do need to remember is that the closer they are to any wall, the more the bass response will be increased.
Many active monitors will have switches to compensate for this, or LF controls on the back to compensate for this effect, the basic rule of thumb is to reduce the LF by 6db for every wall it is next to. It would be ideal to not have them in the corners of the room, as you would want to roll off 12db of the bottom end for a balanced response and not many monitors let you do this amount.
If you can have them more than a couple of feet away from a wall, then you should be able to leave the LF controls flat.
An ideal home setup would generally be having your speakers on stands just behind your table, desk or console.
If you do have speakers mounted directly onto your desktop, then the desk would vibrate along with your speakers, essentially making the desk part of the speaker and altering the frequency response of the speakers. This is the same if you have speakers or stands that are directly onto floorboards.
Stands don’t now just put the speakers at the right height, they can also isolate the speakers vibration. Carpet spikes have been trying to do this for years in the hifi world, and certainly trying to minimise contact area between your speakers and what they are sat on is always a good thing.
One way to tackle this effect (if you have solid concrete floors) is to make your stands very heavy and dense, as heavy objects conduct vibrations far less than lightweight ones. Solid concrete breeze block towers will certainly do the job, but might not look as attractive as you may want.
Ideally you would want an isolating device between the speaker and the surface it’s placed on.
Foam based isolators are cheap, and are better than nothing, but absorb only some of the vibrations, and of course, the lower the frequency of the sound, the less it absorbs.
Our favourite ones here are currently the Iso-Acoustics range, these use a mix of plastic, rubber and metal poles to absorb the vibrations very effectively across the entire frequency spectrum and can have a very noticeable improvement in the bass and mid range response of speakers. There are both desktop and floorstanding models.
Most active monitor speakers have multiple ways of connecting the audio cables to them. The best ones are either XLR or Stereo (TRS) Jack, as these can be “balanced connections” and these will have the lowest noise.
If your output device also has a balanced output
(it won’t work if its not), then it will send two separate versions of the same signal to the speaker (called hot and cold). The cold signal will be the exact opposite of the hot, 180 degrees out of phase.
If any noise is picked up on the cable run, it would be picked up on both lines equally, so when the signal enters the receiving device (in this case the speaker) it inverts the cold line, making the original signal back in phase, but the noise is now 180 degrees out of phase and cancels itself out.
Poor gain staging of your monitor chain will result in excessive hiss and noise from your speakers, just follow this simple guide to get the best from your speakers.
Set your monitor output in your DAW to -1dB.
You shouldn’t be clipping your monitor output in your DAW, but it should be peaking as loud as possible without going over.
To set your best monitoring range, set your interface output volume knob or monitor controller to its maximum setting and then adjust the volume control on your monitors until they are the loudest you would ever want them to be. Then just turn your interface or monitor controller back down to normal working levels.
This will give you both the best signal to noise level possible, but also the most useful gain control.
The X1 is renowned for its sound quality and versatility at a budget price. There’s been several variations released over the years and just last year we saw a follow up to the original X1, the X1 A. Now we have another revision, the X1 S which boasts some new and improved features. This latest revamp comes housed in an all-metal body and utilizes a hand-made condenser capsule. It features two high-pass filters as well as a 3 position attenuation switch. An SPL rating of 160dB is also worth a mention… Not bad for an all-purpose large-diaphragm condenser mic.
The X1 S is set to be priced at $249/€249 and is expected to be available in May.
The Vocal Pack and Studio Bundle have also been updated. The X1 S Vocal Pack and X1 S Studio Bundle are set to be priced at $299/€299 and $399/€399 respectively.
So right off the bat I have to confess that I’m not the biggest fan of wireless. Every computer in my house is wired to my router, every pair of headphones I own is wired and my past experiences of Bluetooth didn’t exactly persuade me that it’s time to ditch those pesky wires. Infact besides a cool little BT speaker I bought, my experience has actually been pretty shocking. Constant connection interruptions, poor battery life, annoying loud and heavily compressed Chinese vocal prompts that deafen you and the worst offender of all was noise. A little BT receiver I bought had so much noise that you literally had to listen at uncomfortable levels to drown the horrible electrical noise being pumped down your ear canal. We recently had a sample pair of Airpod wannabes for us to test in the office and they were catastrophically bad. And that was that, Id had enough of this technology and the “wireless audio revolution”.
With all that in mind, I’m a little surprised at what I’m about to say…The Optoma Nuforce BE6i have become my weapon of choice for commuting to work, listening to music in the office and watching movies and TV shows at night. So what has brought about this change of heart? Let me tell you!
The BE6i’s are available in 2 colour schemes and come in a really nice looking package with a lovely selection of tips and clips including 5 pairs of custom designed silicone tips. The inclusion of 2 pairs of Comply tips (Medium and Large) is a bonus for me as I’m an absolutely massive fan of them and they also help keep the heavier than usual earphones to stay in while you’re on the move. Optoma have also included a high-quality hard case to protect your earphones which is a welcome touch. They support aptX and AAC codecs for best quality on all your devices.
The earphones themselves are understandably chunky, have a nice aluminium finish, 10mm drivers, they come with a flat, tangle-free cable and an in-line remote that strangely doesn’t quite match the finish of the rest of the product. Aesthetics aside, the remote works perfectly even in torrential rain! The BE6i are also IPX5 water resistant which is quite a high rating, especially useful in England. They connected to all devices I tried them with – Android phones, an Ipad, multiple USB BT dongles without any problems – the BE6i will also store up to 8 seperate device connection settings! The battery life is outstanding too, Optoma state up to 8 hours and I can confirm this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky number as they seem to last forever.
So how do they sound? Well, there is absolutely no inherent noise which was the first thing I noticed and one of the most important things I was listening for. The BE6i’s have quite a flat sound signature which may disappoint bassheads but with some EQ you can remedy this and the earphones will pump out the extra bass without deteriorating into an awful mess. The very top end of the treble region seems to be slightly clipped but this I imagine is at the mercy of the aptX protocol rather than a limitation of the earphones, The stereo seperation is there, the soundstage is wide enough for in-ears though depth does suffer a little and the midrange vocal region is probably their strong point. These will probably be more of a hit with rock lovers, the sound signature definitely leans in that direction and doesn’t disappoint when listening to Trent Reznor scream on NIN – Terrible Lie!
In conclusion, against expectations, I really like these earphones. Do they hold a candle to my favourite wired setup – no they don’t, but there was no expectation for them to do so. Have they replaced my go-to wired setup for the commute to work and in-office listening – yes they have indeed. They sound good, they’re weather proof, they don’t get caught on things, they do what they are supposed to do and they do it very well! They have also made it possible for me to watch TV shows in bed without annoying the hell out of my neighbours or dealing with my crazy dog jumping up and ripping my earphones out. Unfortunately some of the problems inherent to Bluetooth have still not been rectified such as audio delay. This makes them useless for gaming imo, although the delay can be compensated for from within KODI (ahead by 0.100s works for me) so watching movies and TV shows is fine. They also play ball with Waves NX which is another bonus for me.
If you’re looking for a pair of Bluetooth in-ears then you should definitely check these out, just be aware that some of the limitations of the technology have not been overcome yet. Otherwise I’m pretty confident in recommending these earphones and also happy to announce that they are on sale at the moment too so theres no better time than the present to give them a try. Reduced from £99.99 to £79.99 for a limited time!
For those of you unfamiliar with the Xvive range of pedals, I’ve waxed lyrical about them before, but essentially these are USA designed, Chinese made ‘Micro’ pedals that sound very, very cool and take up minimal room on your board.
In an earlier post I talked about German guitar wizard and ‘Tone guru’ Thomas Blug.
Thomas has recently teamed up with the guys at Xvive and helped them to voice 4 different pedals for their range, and as you would expect, each one brings a different but remarkably accurate variation on a classic amp tone.
The first of these is the ‘Golden Brownie’, which is designed to give you the high-gain rock tones of the 80’s style Marshall sound, “Like a JCM800 in a box” is their claim.
The sound is definitely synonymous with the classic British Rock tones of that era, and some judicious cutting or boosting with the Tone and Presence knobs can dial in quite a wide variety of transients to give you more or less of the Presence or Brightness required.
The beauty of this type of in-expensive yet high quality pedal, is that even if you don’t play too much classic rock, it’s just a great tone to have in your palette, just in case you’re called upon to produce a minutes worth of Eddie Van Halen in the middle of your Country band’s set…..
The Tube Squasher is a Low Gain sound, capable of big fat squashy tones, with a little compression to back it up. Add the Bass for a full on Jeff Beck fest, and it takes on an almost “Dumble-esque” quality. Lo-cut the bass, and you have a quintessential rhythm tone, with a sharp, Punky voice as well as a mature Rocky growl….
Again, even if you don’t use Classic tube amp tones in your day to day set, these little units are so inexpensive, it seems silly not to have at least one of these type of pedals in your armoury..
The word for this Overdrive unit is ‘Transparent’.
Your original tone shines through without being masked or shaped which immediately marks it out as being a fantastic rhythm pedal, but it can also conjure up the sound of an old tweed amp being pushed through its paces. Indeed it has a ‘Growl’ knob, specifically to control this.
So if you want a lovely Clear Bell like overdriven tone or indeed to spit out a little more broken up venom, this could very well be the pedal for you.
It seems to be the season for tutorial videos at the moment, although Ableton have chosen to move in a slightly different direction with theirs.
Any artist can suffer from a lack of inspiration at some point and the videos in this Ableton bitesize series are designed to help kick-start your creative process, and in this respect share the same common goals as the popular ’74 Creative Strategies for Electric Music Production book they put out a few years back.
The series launches with 13 videos and promises to bring you a new one each month to help keep you inspired in the studio with technical tips as well as broad creative strategies, there’s something that should strike a chord with beginners and experienced musicians alike.
For anyone looking to get their hands on Steinberg’s WaveLab Pro 9, now’s the time! They’re currently offering 40% off until March 20th. The offer also applies to upgrades from versions 6/7/8/8.5 and the upgrade from WaveLab Elements 7/8/9.
Head on over to the promo page and use the following promo code at checkout:
Thomas Blug is a German guitarist, who has for the last couple of decades, built a reputation for having one of the best Guitar tones in the business.
He’s also been a mate of mine for a long long time.
We met first at trade shows in the early ‘90’s when I was demonstrating Takamine and Parker guitars, and he was demonstrating for Hughes & Kettner amps (for whom he was hugely important in the development of their sound)
Later, the company I worked for, took over the distribution of Hughes & Kettner, and Tom and I worked together on sales and demo’s for the UK.
So I know him as an old friend.
I also know that he has 2 of the best ears in the business.
This guy really does know about guitar tones.
So when he announced he was coming to market with what appeared to be a pedal, I was intrigued.
But I needn’t have been, you see,
It’s still an amp.
In fact it’s all amp.
In fact it’s a fully functioning 100 watt amp head, that you can attach straight to a 4 X 12 cabinet and make a proper racket with.
Light, Portable and efficient, yet capable of generating a full 100 Watts of blistering tone, this amp is at home either on stage or in the studio.
The first time I heard it in the studio, I immediately removed all the other Amps, Amp sims, modelling units etc, because this, is the best I have ever used.
Because it’s real.
Don’t get me wrong, I love using my UA plug-ins for mixing down, but when it comes to tracking, there is nothing to beat a real amp.
And remember, it’s not just for the studio, it sounds unbelievable live too.
The Amp One features 4 configurable channels. Clean, Vintage Classic and Modern.
Each of these is switchable and has adjustable Boost and Reverb controls.
The amp also features a Killer speaker simulation output for use in the studio as well as a headphone out.
This tiny package, that can fit easily into Hand luggage or a gig bag, delivers a round, fat bass with crisp, non ‘tinny’ trebles and an overall tone that you’ll recognise immediately as that of a true modern, boutique amp.
Why not give us a ring and arrange to come and demo one in our new ‘Blue Room’ demonstration suite.