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.
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.
Ryzen is finally with us and it is quite possibly one of the most anticipated chipset launches in years, with initial reports and leaked benchmarks tending to show the whole platform in very favourable light.
However when it comes to pro audio handling we tend to have different concerns over performance requirements, than tends to be outlined and covered by more regular computer industry testing. So having now had a chance to sit and work with an AMD 1700X for a week or so, we’ve had the chance to put this brand new tech through some more audio-centric benchmarking, and today we’ll take a first look at this new tech and see if its right for the studio.
AMD has developed a whole new platform with the focus based around improving low level performance and raising the “IPC” or Instructions per clock cycle figure. As ever they have been keen to keep it affordable with certain choices having been made to keep it competitive, and to some extent these are the right choices for a lot of users.
The chipset gives us DDR4 memory but unlike the X99 platform restricts us to dual channel RAM configurations and a maximum of 64GB across the 4 RAM slots which may limit its appeal for heavyweight VSL users. The is a single M.2. connection option for a high speed NVMe drive and 32 lanes for the PCIe connections, so the competing X99 solutions still offer us more scope here, although for the average audio system the restrictions above may offer little to no real downsides at least from a configuration requirements point of view.
One thing missing from the specification however that has an obvious impact in the studio is the lack of Thunderbolt support. Thunderbolt solutions require BIOS level and physical board level support in the shape of the data communication header found on Intel boards, and Thunderbolt itself is an Intel developed standard along with Apple backing. Without either of those companies appearing to be keen to licence it up front, we’re unlikely to see Thunderbolt at launch although the little to say that this couldn’t change in later generations, if the right agreements can be worked out between the firms involved.
Early testing with the drivers available to us have so far proven to be quite robust, with stability being great for what is essentially a first generation release of a new chipset platform. We have seen a few interface issues regarding older USB 2 interfaces and USB 3 headers on the board, although the USB 3 headers we’ve seen are running the Microsoft USB3 drivers, which admittedly have had a few issues over on the Intel boards with certain older USB 2 only interfaces so this looks to be constant between both platforms. Where we’ve seen issues on the Intel side, we’re also seeing issues on the AMD side, so we can’t level this as being an issue with the chipset and may prove to be something that the audio interface guys can fix with either a driver or firmware update.
Overclocking has been limited in our initial testing phase, mainly due to a lack of tools. Current windows testing software is having a hard time with temperature monitoring during our test period, with none of the tools we had available being able to report the temps. This of course is something that will no doubt resolve itself as everyone updates their software over the next few weeks, but until then we tried to play it safe when pushing the clocks up on this initial batch.
We managed to boost our test 1700X up a few notches to around the level of the 1800X in the basic testing we carried out, but taking it further lead to an unstable test bench. No doubt this will improve after launch as the initial silicon yields improve and having not seen a 1800X as yet, that may still proved to be the cherry picked option in the range when it comes to overclocking.
One of the interesting early reports that appeared right before launch was the CPUid benchmark result which suggests that this may shape up to be one of the best performing multi-core consumer grade chips. We set out to replicate this test here and the result of it does indeed look very promising on the surface.
We follow this up with a Geekbench 4 test, which itself is well trusted as a cross platform CPU benchmark and in the single core performance reflects the results seen in the previous test with it placing just behind the i7 7700K in the results chart. The multi-core this time around whilst strong looks to be sat behind the 6900K and in this instance sitting under the 6800K and above the 7700K.
So moving on to our more audio-centric benchmarks and our standard Dawbench test is first up. Designed to load test the CPU itself, we find ourselves here stacking plugin instances in order to establish the chips against a set of baseline level results. The AMD proves itself strongly in this test, placing mid-way between the cost equivalent 6 core Intel 6800K and far more expensive 6900K 8 core. With the AMD 1700X offering us 8 physical cores along with threading on top to take us to a virtual 16 cores, this at first glance looks to be where we would expect it to be with the hardware on offer, but at a very keen price point.
I wanted to try a few more real world comparisons here so first up I’ve taken the Dawbench test and restricted it to 20 channels of plugins. I’ve then applied this test over each of the CPUs we have on test, with the results appearing under the “Reaper” heading on the chart below.
The 1700X stands up well against the i7 7700k but doesn’t quite manage to match up with Intel chips in this instance. In a test like this where we’re not stressing the CPU itself or trying to overload the available bandwidth, the advantages in the low level microarchitecture tend to come to the fore and in this instance the two Intel chips based around the same platform perform roughly in line with each other, although in this test we’re not taking into account the extra bandwidth on offer with the 6900K edition.
Also on the same chart we see two other test results with one being the 8 Good Reasons demo from Cubase 8 and we tried running it across the available CPUs to gain a comparison in a more real world project. In this instance the results come back fairly level across the two high end Intel CPU’s and the AMD 1700X. The 4 core mid-range i7 scores poor here, but this is expected with the obvious lack of a physical cores hampering the project playback load.
We also ran the “These Arms” Sonar demo and replicated the test process again. This tests results are a bit more erratic this time around, with a certain emphasis looking to be placed on the single core score as well as the overall multi core score. This is the first time we see the 1700X falling behind the Intel results.
In other testing we’ve done along the way in other segments we’ve seen some of the video rendering packages and even some games exhibiting some CPU based performance oddness that has looked out of the ordinary. Obviously we have a concern here that the might be a weakness that needs to be addressed when it comes to overall audio system performance, so with this result in mind we decided to dig deeper.
To do so we’ve made use of the DAWBench Vi test, which builds upon the basic test in DAWBench standard, and allows us to stack multiple layers of Kontakt based instruments on top of it. With this test, not only are we place a heavy load on the CPU, but we’re also stressing the sub-system and seeing how capable it is at quickly handling large complex data loads.
This gave us the results found in the chart above and this starts to shine some light on the concerns that we have.
In this instance the AMD 1700X under-performs all of the Intel chips at lower buffer rates. it does scale up steadily however, so this looks to be an issue with how quickly it can process the contents of a buffer load.
So what’s going on here?
Well the other relevant information to flesh out the chart above is just how much CPU load was being used when the audio started to break up in playback.
So the big problem here appears to be inefficiency at lower buffer rates. The ASIO buffer is throwing data at the CPU in quicker bursts the lower you go with the setting, so with the audio crackling and breaking up it seems that the CPU just isn’t clearing the buffer quickly enough once it gets to around 70% CPU load at those lower 64 & 128 buffer settings
Intel at this buffer setting looks to be hitting 85% or higher, so whilst the AMD chip may have more RAW performance to hand, the responsiveness of the rest of the architecture appears to be letting it down. It’s no big secret looking over the early reviews that whilst AMD has made some amazing gains with the IPC rates this generation they still appear to be lagging slightly behind Intel in this performance metric.
So the results start to outline this as one of the key weaknesses in the Ryzen configuration, with it becoming quite apparent that the are bottle necks elsewhere in the architecture that are coming into play beyond the new CPU’s. At the lower buffer settings the test tends to benefit single core performance, with the Intel chips taking a solid lead. As you slacken off the buffer itself, more cores become the better option as the system is able to spread the load but even then it isn’t until we hit a 192 buffer setting on the ASIO drivers that the performance catches up to the intel 4 Core CPU.
This appears to be one section where the AMD performance still seems to be lacking compared with the Intel family be that due to hardware bottle necks or still not quite having caught up in the overall IPC handling at the chipset level.
What we also see is the performance start to catch up with intel again as the buffer is relaxed, so it’s clear that a certain amount of performance is still there to be had, but the system just can’t access it quickly enough when placed under heavy complex loads.
What we can safely say having taken this look at the Ryzen platform, is that across the tests we’ve carried out so far that the AMD platform has made some serious gains with this generation. Indeed the is no denying that the is going to be more than a few scenarios where the AMD hardware is able to compete and will beat the competition.
However with the bottlenecks we’ve seen concerning load balancing of complex audio chains, the is a lot of concern here that it simply won’t offer the required bang per buck for a dedicated studio PC. As the silicon continues to be refined and the chip-set and drivers are fine-tuned then we should see the whole platform continue to move from strength to strength, but at this stage until more is known about those strength and weaknesses of the hardware, you should be aware that it has both its pros and cons to consider.
The next big Windows update will be towards the end of Q.1 this year and news about some of the impending features have been cropping up for a few months now.
Last nights confirmation of the forthcoming “Game Mode ” potentially offers up a surprising number of possible advantages for the audio system user.
Essentially the game mode is designed to cushion a running program against the calls and demands of the rest of the OS. The mode looks to restrict background tasks and process calls, claims are there that it can secure threads and cores and assign them exclusively to a running program. The hope is that it can intercept all the demands of Windows and allocate them a dedicated thread or two, in order to stop them causing problems for more important software running in the foreground. For the average audio software user this could smooth the user experience further we’re all hoping it will help to eak out even more performance out of Windows 10.
With the ability to assign the game mode to specific programs so that it may change and optimize the system settings on the fly whenever you open certain .exe’s, it sounds like this might be a boon for audio system users. Comments have also been made about further development and refinement of this mode going forward which is great to hear.
The announcement this week has obviously concerned itself with pushing the features from a gaming point of view, so news with audio software in mind is currently a bit sparse. The insiders update is due to go live today however and if your signed up to the program already might be of interest to check out.
Otherwise we can expect to see this roll out in the next major W10 update which will be content creators update in Spring.
IsoAcoustics decoupling stands have been a popular option with the team at Scan for quite a few years now, and with the launch of NAMM this year they have expanded their range further with an announcement of the new ISO-Puck model. Designed to isolate and support your speaker much like the larger stands, the Pucks have a far lower profile, with a height of only 1.18 inches (3cm/30mm) and compresses to just under an inch (2.5cm/25mm) when in use. At only 2.3 inches (6cm/60mm) in diameter, the ISO-PUCK’s round shape makes it flexible enough to be ideally positioned on any surface, including the narrow spaces atop a meter bridge where other stands may prove too over-sized.
For larger devices you can scale your use of the ISO-PUCK system as they are designed to be used in multiples, allowing you to match the weight of each speaker or amplifier. With each Puck capable of bearing up to 20lbs you can combine 3 or 4 of them to support the weight of the particular bulky product requiring isolation.
Much like the larger ISOAcoustic stands, the multi-part construction design of the ISO-PUCK allows it to flex and move which helps to isolate and manage the energy generated by the driver in the speaker. The ISO-PUCK features a flange suction cup on the top which adheres to the speaker or top surface, as well as a bottom suction cup flange which adheres to the supporting surface. The energy is transferred to the core of the multi-part isolator in between which is met with resistence of lateral movement giving a dampening effect to any vibration moving through the stand. Despite the changes to the form factor this still works in a similar fashion to the larger stands already available, so it should continue to offer us the markedly improved clarity along with wider and more detailed sound staging that we’ve come to expect from the IsoAcoustic range over the years.
Live now and running through to early in the new year, we have a selection of superb deals from Native Instruments giving you even more reason to keep warm in the studio over coming months.
Traktor Kontrol S8
The flagship all in one controller hits our lowest price point yet, retailing at just £799.
Capable of running as a 4-channel stand-alone mixer, professional audio interface, and featuring enhanced Stems ready decks for ultimate control over the included latest 2.11 version of Traktor Scratch Pro.
Touch-sensitive controls and high-res displays deliver DJ workflow that permits you to connect anything your setup needs, Traktor Kontrol S8 boasts the most expansive connectivity on a DJ controller yet.
The full range of the S-Series keyboards has taken a price tumble with the S49, S61 & S88 all receiving around £80 our previous price. The keyboards are all built around superb Fatar keybeds and offer NKS functionality which offers more in depth mapping with Native plugins and selected third part instruments. Of course regular VST support is included although anyone who already own Komplete will benefit most from some of the extra functionality on offer here. In fact the keyboard itself ships with Komplete Select and in support of the Keyboard price crash, we are offering a number of Komplete upgrade deals from Select that could save you a packet over the regular stand alone prices. For example if you pick up a Komplete Kontrol S49 and Our Komplete 11 upgrade package, this would save you almost £300 off our regular pricing!
It’s always a popular offer when we run it, and the Komplete Audio 6 has always been well regarded here in Scan. Tank like build quality combined with some of the best performing drivers we’ve seen on any interface under £500 make this a very popular interface. Offering a 4 in / 4 out I/O selection, MIDI control, a pair of pre-amps and a very handy physical volume control, the Komplete Audio 6 is a great interface for anyone getting into making music or even those making their first upgrade.
We’re delighted to announce a free webinar, suitable for all experience levels and finishing with a live Q&A with Sound On Sound Editor Paul White!
Lee Boylan (Presonus) & Andy Bensley (Source Distribution product specialist) will be presenting on the night, you’ll follow as guitarist Andy writes a riff, that turns into a song, creates a multitrack recording and then mixes and masters it before releasing it for sale and promoting it online – all in one information-packed evening!
This part is especially essential for anyone new to production and guitarists who want to get started in recording, as the guys will show you what is possible on very modestly priced equipment including PreSonus Audiobox Interfaces, Studio One, Eris Monitors and Nimbit.
Then we’ll up the ante and hand the floor over to (the legend that is) Paul White, to answer any of your recording & production questions.
As always, watch out for the special code word in the show, which if emailed back in, will get you some exclusive viewer-only offers on Presonus kit!
Please come and join us for what should be a very entertaining and informative evening! If you can’t make it onto the live stream, we will of course make the show available to view later on our archive channel.
Dorico the long awaited notation package from Steinberg, finally gets it’s roll out date announced as the 19th of October. On the 18th of October Steinberg will be hosting a live stream to highlight and show off all the great features features and tools that can be found within the package
Broadcasting from London at 7PM BST Daniel Spreadbury will be giving the public introduction to Dorico and the includes:
A presentation of Dorico itself
The premiere of a short work for string quartet and piano that we have commissioned from Thomas Hewitt Jones, which will be performed by the composer and members of renowned chamber music group Ensemble Perpetuo.
A talk with Thomas how he has found using Dorico to put it together.
The event will be streamed live on Steinbergs Facebook and YouTube pages as well as being available to watch after the event as well.
Abletons ever popular Live sequencer and performance tool gets it’s 9.7 release free update this morning to registered users.
The main new addition is an update to Simpler, adding new slicing modes (Beat, Region, Manual) to the instrument. Also noteworthy is the improvements that have been made when syncing using Ableton link as well as a whole slew of improvements to integration of both generations of the Push controller.
Full Ableton Live 9.7 Release Notes.
The performance above shows off some of these new features, with a guided walk through of how they were applied in the performance below.
9.7 Release Notes
Improvements and feature changes:
New Simpler Slicing modes (Beat, Region, Manual) are now available.
As a consequence of the new Simpler features, Live Sets created with this version cannot be opened with previous versions anymore.
The beat time of connected apps in a Link session will be aligned when starting Live’s playback with Tap Tempo or via Looper.
Updated manual, lessons and info text translations.
Live would crash when canceling a freeze action, if this was performed on a previously frozen and flattened Clip.
Live would crash at startup if the preferences were corrupted.
Fixed a crash that could occur when using the ‘x2’, ‘:2’, or “Warp As” controls in Simpler, if there was no sample present.
Fixed a crash which might occur when creating a time selection on Group tracks in Arrangement View.
Live would crash when exporting a MIDI file on Windows.
Live would crash when converting a Simpler to a Drum Rack if certain Control Surfaces were enabled.
When resizing the left edge of a frozen Clip to the left, audio would still begin playback from the Clip’s former start position.
When converting Simpler to Sampler, the Sample Start marker would be visually misplaced.
The signal of send for grouped tracks would be doubled (+6dB), if the track’s output was routed to Master and the respective Return track ‘Pre/Post’ toggle was set to Pre.
When dragging unwarped Clips over the section of a song where the tempo was automated from a low value to a higher one, Clips stored in the clipboard would appear after the dragged Clip.
When running Live as a ReWire slave on a Mac, it would consume 100% of the CPU load after launching Live as a slave for the second time.
Converting an Audio Clip from Looper to MIDI would cause the Clip to assume a grey color.
When resizing a Clip past its limit, the dragged edge would behave erratically when it was not on a grid position or when the grid was disabled with a modifier.
When resizing Live horizontally, the positioning of Max Device windows would not adjust correctly.
When exporting audio from Looper, the resulting Clips would inherit the wrong color.
Live might run into issues when writing files to disk on Windows, if the file path contained non standard unicode characters.
Using 3 APC 40 units in ‘Combination Mode’ would cause LEDs on the APCs to flash erratically.
Some audio clips from the Core Library would open in the wrong tempo.
Changes for Push:
The new Simpler Slicing modes are available on Push 1 and 2.
It is now possible to set the color for Tracks, Clips and Drum Rack pads from Push 2.
It is now possible to adjust the Input and Output routing and the Monitoring state from Push 2. This is accessible via Track Mix Mode, where a dedicated ‘Input & Output’ button is added.
Introduced a third layout for Drum Racks and Simpler’s Slicing mode, which enables triggering the currently selected pad / Slice with 16 pre-defined velocities. This is a Push 2 only feature.
When transport is active, a progress bar on the Push 2 display indicates the playback phase for each of the currently playing Clips.
Added a visual feedback for the count-in on the Push 2 display.
The Push Record button now takes into account Live’s focus on Arrangement and Session View. If the focus is on Arrangement View, the Session Record button will trigger Global Recording, while the Shift + Record button will trigger / stop Session Recording. The logic is reversed when focused on Session View.
Session Record and Arrangement Record are now independent from each other.
By default, Fixed Length now respects the Launch Quantization setting. Its previous behavior can be toggled on via the ‘Phrase Sync’ option in the Fixed Length menu. This works with Push 1 and 2.
Different sensitivities are in place for the Push 2 pad matrix, depending on the function of the pads in the current layout. This is specifically aimed at avoiding inadvertently changing the loop selector while playing Drum Rack pads.
It is now possible to delete the currently selected Clip in Arrangement via Push.
It is now possible to duplicate Clips in Arrangement from Push.
When the focus is set to Arrangement View, ‘New’ is not available on Push anymore.
Improved the matching between pad and display colors on Push 2.
Improved the matching between Live and Push 2 colors.
On Push 2, the color white in Live is translated as yellow, since white is used to indicate selection.
The intensity of the LEDs on in the lower display buttons has been dimmed for Push 2, to create more contrast against the currently selected track.
Improved the performance when moving the Session Ring horizontally with Push.
Minor visual improvement for the ‘Cancel’ button in the ‘Convert’ menu or when entering the browser via ‘Add Track’. Additionally, the ‘Close’ button has been removed from the ‘Scales’ menu. Push 2 only.
On Push 2 display, Simpler’s playhead and loop markers are now the same height as the loop indicator.
Flag markers for Simpler and Audio Clips are now properly outlined on the Push 2 display.
The fade-in and fade-out visuals on Simpler are now represented differently from Loops on Push 2.
Page Left/Right buttons are now available in the Step Sequencer for Simpler in Slice mode.
The Push 2 firmware has been updated to 1.0.60. This version allows to automatically adjusts the LED white balance for units produced in the factory from November 2015. Also, this delivers a new pad algorithm that improves the sensitivity of Push pads when playing with wrist pressure. It also contains a fix for cases where Push 2 buttons might double-trigger, and improves the stability of the MIDI data sent from the Push encoders.
When recording multiple clips at the same time, triggering one clip would cause also the other ones to stop recording.
Live would crash when enabling the Push 2 Control Surface script on some systems. As a result of the fix, some display functions of Push 2 still won’t work. Improved the error logging to find out more about this issue.
The Push 2 display process would not start on Windows, if non-standard unicode characters were contained in the user profile name.
When muting or unmuting a track while in Mix Mode with Push 2, the state color of the track’s meters would only update if its peak level changed.
Pressing Record on Push would stop a Clip if the Clip Launch Mode was set to “Toggle”.
When changing Layout, the Step Sequencer page would reset.
The step sequencers might malfunction when odd time signatures were in use.
When step-sequencing a Clip in Arrangement View, the playhead would not be shown on Push 2.
When a Drum Rack or Instrument Rack was frozen, it was still possible to edit the Chain’s mix parameters.
If the selected Clip was in Arrangement View, Push 2 would not display its content in Clip View.
The Clip length would not be displayed in Clip View, when performing a recording with Fixed Length.