All posts by Pete

Casting an eye over the Intel i7 Skylake X editions.

Following on from our first look at the i9 7900X, we’ve now had a chance to take a look over a few more interesting chips from this enthusiast class range refresh. 

We have before us today two more chips with the first being the i7 7800X which is the replacement for the older 6800K, once more offering us 6 physical cores with hyper-threading giving us a total of 12 logical cores to play with. It’s running a 3.5GHz base clock and features an all core turbo of 4GHz although being the 6 core it offers us the most potential to overclock we’ve seen within this range.

The second chip we have here is the 7820X and on paper it looks to be the most interesting one for me on this generation due to its price to performance ratio. Replacing the 6900K from the previous generation but coming in for around £350 less, this chip offers 2 more cores and a higher all core turbo rating along with a 1/3rd more cache than the 7800X edition.

For reference the current price at time of writing for the 7800X is £359 and the 7820X currently retails for £530.

I’m not going to go too much into the platform itself this time around, I gave some background to the changes made on this generation including possible strengths and flaws back in the i9 7900K first look over here. If you haven’t already checked that out and wish to bring yourself up to speed, now is the time to do so before we go any further.

Everyone up to speed? Then let us begin.

The Long Hot Summer

The first question I had from the off was one of how are these going to handle given the heat we saw with the 10 core? The quick answer is surprisingly well compared to the earlier testing we carried out. The retail releases I’ve been playing around with here are allowing us to drop the voltages on them to almost half the level that we expected to see with the previous generation and certainly a  few notches lower than we saw in the earlier testing we carried out.

So whilst I did hope for some marked improvements on the final release I didn’t quite expect to see it quite so quickly, normally these sorts of improvements take a few months of manufacturing refinement to appear and its great we’re seeing this right now. It certainly gives me some confidence that we’ll be seeing improvements across the range over the coming batches and I’m now far more confident that the larger i9’s that they have already announced should hold up well when they do finally arrive with us in the future.

 If I was to give a rough outline of the state of these Skylakes i7’s I’d say they are still running maybe 10% hotter than the last generation Broadwell-E clock for clock. However Intel has these designed to throttle at 105 degrees, essentially giving it 10% more overhead to play with so they do seem to be confident in these solutions running that much hotter in use over the longer term.

One thing I noted in testing was that we were seeing a lot of micro-fluctuations across the cores when load testing. By that I mean we’d see temperatures bouncing up and down by anything up to 6 or 7 degrees as we tested, but never on more than a core or two at the time and it would be pulled straight back down again moments later only for another core to fluctuate and so on.

Behind this is Intels new PCU (Package Control Unit) that has been added to Skylake X series, and whilst I did note the ability to turn it off inside of the BIOS by doing so we’d also see some additional rise in the temperatures with it disabled. One of the strengths of the PCU and these new P-States appears to be the ability to load manage well and it actively aims to offer the smoothest experience as far as power saving goes. It’s certainly welcome as it does seem to offer more control over the allocation of system performance and doesn’t appear to be causing the same sort of C-State issues we saw when that first appeared so this looks to be another welcome feature addition at this time.

Once again we’re seeing the same sort of 99% CPU load efficiency across the board as we saw when testing in Cubase on the 7900X. This I suspect is in no small part down to the board and CPU trying their hardest to strike that power to performance balance I mention above and is great to see.

Hit The Bench

On to the figures then and first up the standard synthetics in the shape of Geekbench 4 and the CPU-Z benchmark.

7800K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.4GHz

7800X CPUZ test

7800K Geekbench 4 @ 4.4GHz

Geekbench 4 7800K

The obvious comparison here it to line it up against the previous generations 6 core solution. The 6800K saw Geekbench single core scores in the region of 4400 and multi core scores around the 20500 mark, meaning that these results are sitting in the 10% – 15% increase range which is pretty much where we expect a new generation to be.

7820K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.3GHz

i7 7820X CPUz

7820K Geekbench 4 @ 4.3GHz

7820X Geek4

In a similar fashion we can take a look at the last generation 6900K which had a Geekbench score in the 4200 range and the multi-core was sitting around the 25000 level. Once again we’re looking at around a 10% gain in these synthetics, which is pretty much in line with what we’d expect.

Hold the DAW

So far, so expected and to be honest the isn’t any real surprises to be had here as we start with the DAWBench DSP test.

Skylake i7 Dawbench 4

With the 7800X can see small gains over the previous 6800K chip which is just short of the 10% mark so even perhaps just a little lower than we would have expected. In fact in this test the 7820X offers similar modest gains over the older 6900K model and doesn’t do much to surprise here us here either.

DAWBench 6 Skylake X

The DAWbench VI test tells a similar story at the lowest buffer setting with the 7800X and 7820X both sitting roughly where we expect. What proves to be the one point of interest beyond this however is that both chips scale better than their previous iterations once you move up to the larger buffer sizes. Whilst testing these chips much like the high-end 7900K, we saw them managing to hit CPU loads around the 99% mark, but you can see that each chip scaled upwards with better results overall when compared not only with their previous edition but also when placed up against the chip above them in the previous range. 

We saw a similar pattern with the Ryzen chips too and their infinity fabric design is similar in practice mesh design found in the Skylake X CPU’s. The point of these newer mesh style designs are to improve data transference within the CPU and allow for improved performance scalability, so with both firms looking to be moving firmly in this direction we can expect to see further optimizations from software developers in the future that should continue to benefit both platforms moving forward.

Conclusion

Looking towards the future and the are already plenty of rumours already circulating regarding the expectation of a “Coffee Lake” refresh coming next. This includes a new mid-range flagship that is shaping up to offer us a contender against the 7800X and might prove to be an interesting option for anyone looking for a new system around that level, but doesn’t currently find themselves needing to pick up a new system right away.

Also we’re expecting Threadripper to arrive with us over the next few months which is no doubt the comparison that a lot of people will be waiting on. It’ll be interesting to see if the scaling characteristics that were first exhibited by Ryzen get translated across to this newer platform.  

The entry level enthusiast chips have long  proven to be the sweet spot for those seeking the best returns on the performance to value curve when considering Intel CPU’s.  This time around however whilst the 7800X is a solid chip in its own right, it’s looking like the the extra money for the 7820X  could well offer a stronger bang per buck option for those looking to invest in a system around this level. 

Click here to can see the full range of Scan 3XS Audio Systems

Intel i9 7900X First Look

Intels i9 announcement this year felt like it pretty much came out of nowhere, and whilst everyone was expecting Intel to refresh its enthusiast range, I suspect few people anticipated quite the spread of chips that have been announced over the recent months. 

So here we are looking at the first entry to Intel’s new high-end range. I’ve split this first look into 2 parts, with this section devoted to the i9 7900X and some discussion of the lower end models as the full range is explained. I’ll follow up in the near future with a forthcoming post to cover the i7’s coming in below this model, just as soon as we have chance to grab some chips and run those through the test bench too.

There has been a sizable amount of press about this chip already as it was the first one to make it out into the wild along with the 4 core Kabylake X chips that has also appeared on this refresh, although those are likely to be of far less interest to those of us looking to build new studio solutions.

A tale of two microarchitectures.

Kabylake X and Skylake X have both launched at the same time and certainly raised eyebrows in confusion from a number of quarters. Intels own tick/tock cycle of advancement and process refinement has gone askew in recent years, where the “high end desk top” ( HEDT chips) models just as the midrange CPU’s at the start of this year have gained a third generation at the same 14nm manufacturing process level in the shape of Kabylake. 

Kabylake with the mid-range release kept the same 14nm design as the Skylake series before it and eaked out some more minor gains through platform refinement. In fact some of the biggest changes to be found were in the improved onboard GPU found inside of it rather than the raw CPU performance itself, which as always is one of the key things missing in the HEDT edition. All this means that whilst we have a release where it’s technically two different chip ranges, the isn’t a whole lot left to differentiate between them. IN fact given how the new chip ranges continue to steam ahead in the mid-range, this looks like an attempt to help bring the high-end options back up to parity with the current mid-range again quickly which I think will ultimately help make things less confusing in future versions, even if right now it has managed to confuse things within the range quite a bit.

Kabylake X itself has taken a sizable amount of flak prior to launch and certainly appears to raise a lot of questions on an initial glance. The whole selling point of the HEDT chip up until this point has been largely more cores and more raw performance, so an announcement of what is essentially a mid-range i5/i7 grade 4 core CPU solution appearing on this chipset was somewhat of a surprise to a lot of people. 

As with the other models on this chipset range the 4 cores are being marketed as enthusiast solutions, although in this instance we see them looking to capture a gaming enthusiast segment. The have been some early reports of high overclocks being seen, but so far these look to be largely cherry picked as the gains seen in early competition benchmarking have been hard to achieve with the early retail models currently appearing.

Whilst ultimately not really of much interest in the audio & video worlds where the software can leverage far more cores than the average game, potentially the is a solid opportunity here for that gaming market that they appear to be going after, if they can refine these chips for overclocking over the coming months. However early specification and production choices have been head scratchingly odd so far, although we’ll come back to this a bit more later.

Touch the Sky(lake).

So at the other end of the spectrum from those Kabylake X chips is the new current flagship for the time being in the shape of the Skylake 7900X. 10 physical cores with hyper-threading give us a total of 20 logical cores to play with here. This is the first chip announced from the i9 range and larger 12,14,16,18 core editions are all penciled in over the coming year or so, however details are scarce on them at this time.

intel-core-x-comparison-table

At first glance its a little confusing as to why they would even make this chip the first of its class when the rest of the range isn’t fully unveiled at this point. Looking through the rest of range specifications alongside it, then it becomes clear that they look to be reserving the i9’s for CPU’s that can handle a full 44+ PCIe lane configuration. These lanes are used for offering bandwidth to the connected cards and high speed storage devices and needless to say this has proven a fairly controversial move as well.

The 7900X offers up the full complement of those 44 lanes although the 7820X and 7800X chips that we’ll be looking at in forthcoming coverage both arrive with 28 lanes in place. For most audio users this is unlikely to make any real difference, with the key usage for all those lanes often being for GPU usage where X16 cards are the standard and anyone wanting to fit more than one is going to appreciate more lanes for the bandwidth. With the previous generation we even tended to advise going with the entry level 6800K for audio over the 6850K above it, which cost 50% more but offered very little of benefit in the performance stakes but did ramp up the number of available PCIe lanes, choosing instead to reserve this for anyone running multiple GPU’s in the system like users with heavy video editing requirements. 

Summer of 79(00X)

So what’s new?

Much like AMD and their infinity fabric design which was implemented to improve cross core communication within the chip itself, Intel’s arrived with its own “Mesh” technology.

Functioning much like AMD’s design, it removes the ring based communication path between cores and RAM and implements a multi-point mesh design, brought in to enable shorter paths between them. In my previous Ryzen coverage I noted some poor performance scaling at lower buffer settings  which seemed to smooth itself out once you went over a 192 buffer setting. In the run up to this, I’ve retested a number of CPU’s and boards on the AMD side and it does appear that even after a number of tweaks and improvements at the BIOS level the scaling is still the same. On the plus side, as it’s proven to be a known constant and always manifests in the same manner I feel a lot more comfortable working with them now we are fully aware of this.

In Intels case I had some apprehension going in that given it is the companies first attempt at this in a consumer grade solution and that perhaps we’d be seeing the same sort of performance limitations that we saw on the AMD’s, but so far at least with the 7900X the internal chip latency has been superb. Even running at a 64 buffer we’ve been seeing 100% CPU load prior to the audio breaking up in playback, making this one of the most efficient chips I think I’ve possibly had on the desk.

i9 CPU load

 

So certainly a plus point there as the load capability seems to scale perfectly across the various buffer settings tested.

RAW performance wise I’ve run it through both CPU-Z and Geekbench again.CPU-Z 7900X

Geekbench 4 7900X

GeekBench 4

The multi-core result in Geekbench looks modest, although it’s worth noting the single core gains going on here compared with the previous generation 10 core the 6950X. On the basic DAWBench 4 test this doesn’t really show us up any great gains, rather it returns the sort of minor bump in performance that we’d kind of expect.

DAWBench 4 7900X

However whilst more cores can help spread the load, a lot of firms have always driven home the importance of raw clock speeds as well and once we start to look at more complex chains this becomes a little clearer. A VSTi channel with effects or additional processing on it needs to be sent to the CPU as a whole chain as it proves rather inefficent to chop up a channel signal chain for parallel processing.

A good single core score can mean slipping in just enough time to be able to squeeze in another full channel and effects chain and once you multiply that over the number of cores here, it’s easy to see how the combination of both a large number of cores and a high single core score can really translate into a higher total track count, and is something we see manifest in the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test.

 

 

In this instance the performance gains over the previous generation seems quite sizable and whilst there is  no doubt gains have been had from change in architecture and that high efficiency CPU usage we’ve already seen it should be noted here that this is close to a 20% increase in clock speed in play here too.

When we test we aim to do so around the all core turbo level. Modern Intel CPU’s have two turbo ratings, one is the “all core” level to which we can auto boost all the cores if the temperatures are safe and the other is the “Turbo 3.0” mode where it boosts a single core or it did in previous generations, but now we see it boosting the two strongest cores where the system permits.

The 7900X has a 4.5GHz 2 core turbo ability of 4.5GHz but we’ve chosen to lock it off at the all core turbo point in the testing. Running at stock clock levels we saw it boost the two cores correctly a number of times, but even under stress testing the 2 core maximum couldn’t be hit constantly without overheating on the low noise cooling solution we are using. The best we managed was a constant 4.45GHz at a temperature we were happy with, so we dialed it back to all core turbo clock speed of 4.3GHz across all cores and locked it in place for the testing, with it behaving well around this level. 

It’s not uncommon for a first few batches of silicon on any new chip range to run a bit hot and normally this tends to get better as the generation gets refined. It’s the first time we’ve seen these sorts of temperatures on a chip range however and the is a strong argument to be made for going with either one of the top 2 or 3 air coolers on the market currently or defaulting to a water loop based cooling setup for any machine considering this chip. In a tower case this shouldn’t prove a problem but for rack systems I suspect the 7900X might prove to be off limits for the time being.

I’d fully expect the i7’s that are going to come in below it to be more reasonable and we should know about that in the next update, but it does raise some questions regarding the chips higher up in the i9 range that are due with us over the next 12 months. The has already been some debate about Intel choosing to go with thermal paste between the chip and the heatsink, rather than the more effective soldering method, although early tests by users delidding their chips hasn’t returned much more than 10 degrees worth of improvement, which is fairly small gain for such a drastic step. We can only hope they figure out an improved way of improving the chips thermal handling with the impending i9’s or simply return to the older soldered method, otherwise it could be quite sometime until we see the no doubt hotter 12+ core editions making it to market.

Conclusion

In isolation it looks fine from a performance point of view and gives the average sort of generation on generation gains that we would expect from an Intel range refresh, maybe pumped up a little as they’ve chosen to release them to market with raised base clocks. This leaves little room for overclocking, but it does give the buyer who simply wants the fastest model they can get out of the box and run it at stock.

The problem is that this isn’t in isolation and whilst we’ve gotten used to Intel’s 10% year on year gains over recent generations, there has to be many a user who longs for the sort of gains we saw when the X58 generation arrived or even when AMD dropped the Athlon 64 range on us all those years ago.

Ryzen made that sort of gain upon release, although they were so far behind that it didn’t do much more than break them even. This refresh puts Intel in a stronger place performance wise  and it has to be noted that this chip has been incoming for a while. Certainly since long  before Ryzen reignited the CPU war and it feels like they may have simply squeezed it a bit harder than normal to make it look more competitive.

This isn’t a game changer response  to AMD. I doubt we’ll be seeing that for a year or two at this point and it will give AMD continued opportunities to apply pressure. What it has done however is what a lot of us hoped for initially and that it is forcing Intel to re-examine its pricing structure to some degree.

What we have here is a 10 core CPU for a third cheaper than the last  generation 10 core CPU they released. Coming in around the £900 it re-balances the performance to price ratio to quite some degree and will no doubt once more help make the “i” series CPU’s attractive to more than a few users again, after a number of months of it being very much up for debate in various usage segments. 

So will the impending AMD Threadripper upset this again?

I guess we’re going to find out soon enough over the coming months, but one things for sure is that we’re finally seeing some competition here again, firstly on pure pricing but surely this should be a safe bet for kick starting some CPU advancements again. This feels kinda like the Prescott VS Athlon 64 days and the upshot of that era was some huge gains in performance and solid improvements being made generation upon generation.

The cost and overall performance here keeps the 7900X in the running despite its obvious issues, and that raw grunt on offer makes it a very valid choice where the performance is required. The only real fly in the ointment is the heat and noise requirements most audio systems have, although hopefully as the silicon yields improve and refine this will mature into a cooler solution than it is now. Its certainly going to be interesting to see how this pans out as  the bigger models start making it to market over the coming year or so and of course with the smaller i7 brethren over the coming days.

To see our complete audio system range @ Scan

 

Free music packages for your studio DAW.

For anyone just getting into making music the is an often bewildering choice of sequencers out there offering an astounding array of features that a few decades ago would have been unimaginable to anyone but those working in the largest pro studios.

The problem now is that even for the more experienced musician making the choice of which DAW you want to focus on is often tough, so for the beginner just wanting to start out and who perhaps doesn’t yet understand what they need it becomes even more difficult.

The most popular options always seem to be the most expensive, and to some extent that shouldn’t be a surprise. Pro studios require great support and those costly packages have levels of support that some of the cheaper options might not have the resources to match. Of course anyone starting out and who has their heart set on going into a pro studio situation might find themselves wanting to learn with the more popular packages, but the fact is that the are a wide selection of extremely cheap alternative and even many that are free, which have a strong user base able to help you learn and are often just as well featured as many of the commercial alternatives.

The alternatives below are all free. Some are cut down editions of larger more costly packages and others are free and fully maintained packages built and looked after by a dedicated user base. Either way if your not quite ready to spend a large amount of money on your sequencer but still want to experiment, then you could certainly do far worse than checking out one of these packages.

ProTools First

ProTool First : http://www.avid.com/pro-tools-first

Starting with the well known names and ProTools first is a fairly recent entry from one of the longest standing DAW software teams. The was a time where ProTools was almost ubiquitous in studios around the world, although those days are now long behind us as market has fractured over the years largely due to the rise of home recording.

So firstly the key restrictions:

16 Audio Tracks
16 Instrument Tracks
4 Hardware Inputs
Restricted to Plugins Purchased from the Protools Shop
Saves restricted to the cloud with a 3 project limit.

As a self contained studio package for those wishing to get to grips with Protools before perhaps diving head first into buying the full package this works well; although given the inability to freely use third party plugins (at least not easily due to the “shop only” restrictions) this isn’t really suited for those wishing to experiment with sound design or working fully in the box. This base package however does make quite a bit of sense for the small band style projects as with 16 channels of audio you have enough here to multitrack your guitars, drums and vocals and wide enough selection of native effects to get the job done.

Of course the focus here is on bringing you into the world of Protools, with the ability to carry your home projects over to the full version when the time to upgrade comes. In doing so they look to have picked a rounded set of features that could well do the job for anyone wanting to record their band for the first time.

Compare the ProTools range features here.

Studio One Prime

Studio One Prime : http://www.presonus.com/press/press-releases/Studio-One-3-Prime

Having only been on the market since the late 00’s Studio One is still a relatively new comer to the DAW-wars but one that gained a lot of interest from the very first announcement. With a number of developers coming from the Steinberg camp the pedigree of the team behind Studio One is without dispute. Whilst still viewed as bit of an upstart Studio One has found favor with long established professionals and eager new comers alike. The free version referred too as Studio One Prime sets out to be an introduction to the world of Studio One in much the same fashion as ProTools First is for ProTools.

The restrictions here are far more subtle in nature, but the are certainly a few notable ones. Track count is unlimited but once again external VST’s are walled off and inaccessible in the base package. It includes 9 native effects and a virtual instrument in the shape of the Presence XT sampler which makes for a good jumping off point, but once again like ProTools First a lot of users may find this quite restrictive and anyone wishing to leverage third party tools for sound design will be disappointed.

Other restrictions may not prove all that noticeable for new users finding their feet. Features like video importing and additional audio exporting functions will be low on the list for new users, although might become more relevant later on. The same goes for more advanced features like additional channel editor functions and macro controls or the extended FX chains on offer in the more fully featured editions.

Once again the VST restrictions here might be a little off putting for a lot of people and again perhaps mean that Studio One Prime might prove more suitable for those recording small band projects rather than in the box sound designers.

Compare the Studio One versions here.

Tracktion 5

Tracktion 5 : https://www.tracktion.com/products/t5-daw

Tracktion whilst perhaps not as widely known as some of the other more established sequencers, its fast approaching its 15th birthday. and over that time it’s gone through a number of revisions with Tracktion 7 being the current commercial release. 

In order to continue to attract new users Tracktion maintains an older free version of its flagship client which is free to all of which the current version is Tracktion 5.

With unlimited audio and instrument tracks, the support for all VST’s without having to access their marketplace the are few key drawbacks here. Notable missing features include various warp modes when working with audio, and various grouping and extended functionality options, most if not all are missing from other basic and even payable options from many sequencer brands so really this is pretty fully featured and certainly worth checking out.

Compare the Tracktion Versions here.LMMS

LMMS : https://lmms.io/

The fully open source LMMS is well featured, comes with all the functionality you would expect from a studio ready DAW but built and maintained by an enthusiastic community.

Offering a channel count only limited by you CPU, full VST support with an included bridge to allow the use of older plugins, as well as a healthy collection of freeware synths and effects included with it.

The one downside of LMMS is it’s lack of recording capability inside the software. It’s great for those working fully in the box, but in order to bring audio in you’d need to record it into an audio editor first (like the excellent freeware Audacity) and then export it over to LMMS for use in your project.

Whilst that is going to be off putting to anyone working with capturing large amounts of audio, making all your music in the system and importing the odd snippet here and there isn’t going to prove all that troublesome, especially given all the other functionally on offer here it could potentially make it a strong fit for anyone not convinced of the other offerings here.

Honorable mention

Reaper DAW

Reaper : www.reaper.fm

Often a common inclusion in these types of lists, Reaper itself isn’t quite free, so it gets a special mention down here for its features to price ratio.

You should however consider taking advantage of the fully featured trail and if you like it the $60 full cost of the software (for home users) it is an absolute steal for a package this well featured. The audio engine alone is amongst the best performers out there, giving great low latency audio handling with extremely efficient code capable of eak’ing out one of the highest trackcounts we’ve seen when placed head to head with even the most expensive of DAW packages.

Sharing more in design and concept with sequencers like Cubase and ProTools, rather than the newer generation Ableton and Bitwig this might seem to have a steep learning curve when compared with some of its contemporaries, its ability to skin and configure it will let you fine tune it to your workflow if your able to take the time to learn it fully.

Fully featured from the outset with no notable restrictions in place, the are a lot of budget editions of all the key sequencers, but we don’t think you’ll find a more comprehensive package anywhere else at anywhere close to this price point.

If however you feel like your ready to step up to one of the larger packages?

See our selection @ Scan.

Native Instruments Summer Of Sound.

More Native Instrument deals this month as their Summer of Sound season picks up. Running right now you have the chance to buy either Komplete or Komplete Ultimate with 50% off, when making a purchase from the Maschine or Komplete Keyboard series at the same time.

The Maschine and the Komplete Keyboards already ship with a cut down version of Komplete but to get the  of course to get the very best out of these controllers you deserve the best sound libraries to make them shine.

Komplete offers up the range of Natives plugins and effects, many such as Kontakt have long been industry standards and the ever growing effects selection have some top notch options in there. Komplete Ultimate expands your options even further as it offers you a full selection of additional sound banks to help get even more out of all of those plugins. 

If you were already considering a Maschine or keyboard from the range and haven’t already kitted out your studio with Komplete, this could be just the offer to make sure you won’t be getting any sun this Summer!

Click here to see the range of available Komplete offer bundles.

Time to light the FUSE?

Arturia has announced that possibly one of the most awaited audio interfaces of all time is imminently due to arrive with us.

Initially unveiled back at the NAMM show in January 2015 and billed as a “revolutionary next gen-pro audio interface” the AudioFUSE got a lot of interest as a feature packed interface that looked to be a step ahead of lot of the competition at the time.

So what happened? Well Arturia have published a little video explaining the delay and to be fair it’s commendable. They take on board that they may have been a little keen in the initial announcement and have spent the time since listening to feedback from their beta testers as well as improving the manufacturing process. All good to hear and hopefully should result in a far superior product. You can hear what they have to say in their own words below.

So two years down the line and now that it is finally due to arrive with us how does it look now?

Still very promising from what we can see. 

The goal of the interface hasn’t changed. What we have here is a ultra-portable recording solution that doesn’t rely upon troublesome breakout cables for all its I/O handling. It’s built in a solid aluminum chassis and promises to be able to be capable of being thrown in your bag and taken out on the road in order to give you studio quality recordings wherever you are.  

Audio Fuse Specifications

1. Inserts

Add external line-level devices such as compressors into the signal flow before digital conversion.

2. MIDI in/out

Connect any MIDI instrument or equipment with the supplied MIDI cable adapters.

3. Word Clock & S/PDIF in/out

Sync any Word Clock equipment or connect to any S/PDIF digital audio device.

4. ADAT in/out

Connect to any ADAT equipment with up to 8 digital inputs and 8 digital outputs.

5. USB hub

3-port USB hub to connect your master keyboard, USB stick, dongle, and more.

6. USB connection

Connect AudioFuse to your computer, tablet or phone. Most features are available even with only the USB power supplied by a computer.

7. Phono/line inputs 3&4

Connect external phono or line devices to these RCA+ground and balanced 1/4” inputs.

8. Speaker outputs A&B

Connect two pairs of speakers to these balanced 1/4” outputs for easy A/B monitor switching.

9. Input control sections 1&2

Direct access to each feature of analog inputs 1&2: input gain with VU-metering, true 48V, phase invert, -20dB pad and instrument mode.

10. Output control section

Direct access to each of the analog output features: output level with VU-metering, audio mix selection, mono mode, output dimming, mute, and speaker A/B selection.

11. Direct monitoring

Enjoy zero-latency monitoring of the recorded signals and blend them into your mix.

12. Phones control sections 1&2

Direct access to each of the features of headphone outputs 1&2: output level, mono mode and audio mix selection.

13. Talkback

Press a button to communicate with talent in another room via the built-in microphone.

14. Input channels 1&2

Connect microphones, instruments or line devices to the 2 XLR/balanced 1/4” combo inputs.

15. Phones output channels 1&2

Don’t bother looking for a 1/4” or 1/8” phones adapter; AudioFuse has both connectors for each phones output.

Sound Quality

Outside the physical product features, Arturia are keen to show off their DiscretePro preamps with a signal to noise ratio of <-129dB and frequency response between 20HZ and 20kHz of +/-0.05db promising an extremely flat and clean signal path for your recording.

Designed to achieve low distortion rates and dedicated pre-amps for both the line and mic channels they’ve clearly strived to make this a great unit for recording and the is a  bit on the testing and development process to be found in the video below.

Final Thoughts

Its been a long time coming, but the AudioFUSE should finally be with us around June the 8th. The feature set promises to give us a very capable and flexible product if it proves to be a strong performer. The biggest unknown here however is just how great a performer it will be, and as Arturia are a new entry to this arena driver performance is going to be an unknown quality until we see one on the bench.

The is a lot of competition at the £500 price point this unit is landing at, including a number of high performance Thunderbolt and USB units. The included feature set certainly has enough of a punch to keep it relevent in todays busy marketplace and hopefully that all that  extra R&D time is going to pay off for the patient user in the end.

The Arturia AudioFUSE range @ Scan

How to get started in setting up your own home studio.

If you already have an interest in playing and writing music, then being able to record and edit for yourself is always going to have plenty of appeal. Be it simply so you can listen back to your own practice sessions or lay down some tracks and mix your own finished projects, having a project studio setup of your own can help you to develop and finished off those ideas.

Essentially all a basic recording space needs is some way to capture the audio. If you already have a PC or MAC or even to some degree even just a phone or tablet then you already have all you need to capture a session, the are recording software solutions for all of those platforms allowing you to quickly record pretty much anytime and anywhere.

Mix Pad Music Mixer On Android
Mix Pad Music Mixer On Android

Moving past those basic recording requirements however and the more lightweight capture options like tablets and phones whilst they may allow you to get away with recording and even very basic cutting, pasting and some basic arrangement type jobs, they will start to run out of power very quickly when you start to try and do any more in-depth sound design or more complex processing of your audio. For tackling those more complex tasks a good laptop or desktop becomes a must, allowing you to transfer your mobile recordings and into your editing system. In fact for many people choosing to make dance and electronica where often the capturing of audio requirements can be bypassed completely more in favour of working fully “in the box”.

To get the audio in and out of system for editing we need it a route for it to follow. All modern computers and laptops ship with an on-board audio these days and that on-board audio can be pretty reasonable quality on a lot of boards so why would you need an additional interface? The are a few good reasons although we can largely group them into ASIO, I/O and overall performance.

ASIO (which stands for Audio Stream Input Output) is the dedicated driver that ships with your audio interface for getting the best out of your system for recording use. The standard drivers that ship with Windows are referred to as “Windows Audio Session API” or more commonly as WASAPI drivers. These are fine for general everyday use and whilst Microsoft has made strides to improve them for the studio over recent years, they still tend to lag a fair way behind a well written set of ASIO drivers.

For those just starting out and wishing to dabble, the is a free driver that works with all sound cards including those found already in your system called ASIO4All. This will allow you to get started by making your current setup usable for writing music and whilst it’s by no means as efficient or optimized as a good driver that ships with a dedicated audio interface, it is good enough for helping you to learn your way around whilst your decide what interface is going to make sense for you.

The ASIO4ALL Control Panel
The ASIO4ALL Control Panel

The I/O part of the equation refers to all the ways to get sound in and out of an interface, be those Phono, TRS or XLR, SPDIF or Optical Co-axel or even ABU or AES these are all methods for routing your audio in and out of a system and link to the rest of your kit. For those users running purely in the box this largely won’t be of any concern, short of having a good quality output and perhaps a headphone amp in there for getting sounds out of the system.

Performance on the other hand is how well the drivers work and the total amount available power they offer you as far as overhead for handling your plugins. That includes the sort of response you get latency wise whilst recording through the interface as well as the more brute strength number of how many it can run.

When we talk about latency on the PC the is a number of things it could be and in this instance we mean the real time latency and how long it takes for your audio to be captured (for instance if you’re recording a guitar whilst you play it) processed and sent back to your headphones. This metric tends to be a bit more important for anyone wishing to record and monitor in real time as this lag if it gets noticeable will make it harder to play along in time. Whilst every performer is different in their requirements we tend to find that drummers need the tightest latency levels with a better than 10ms requirement, with guitarists and vocalist able to cope fine slightly above that.

The Zoom UAC2 currently has some of the best real time latency scores for a basic interface.

Most if not all of the current widely available audio interfaces available can handle a better than 10ms RTL at the lowest 32 or 64 buffer settings although sometimes at the cost of overloading the CPU with those ultra low buffer settings which leads to a major decrease in the number of plugins and synths it can handle. However some of the better units will manage sub 10ms at settings all the way up to 128 or even 256 buffer settings with those higher buffer setting being a lot lighter when it comes to overall load and resource usage, with this being a core feature of some of the more expensive interface solutions. More crucially a good one in comparison to a more average interface will be capable of handling many more instances of your favourite plugins at each of those buffer settings meaning that a well-designed interface can add a lot of extra power to your setup.

The is a testing package known as DAWBench which we use here in Scan for a number of tests involving both interfaces and the systems designed to work with them. A recent performance chart is shown in the “latest reports” section on DAWBench site which can be helpful for anyone looking for a new interface. We also have further testing we’ve done here in store, so if the are any interfaces you wish to know more about, please do contact us to see if we can help advise you further.

Whilst the PC and interface remains the heart of the setup, it is of course very little use if you don’t have some way of getting sounds into and out of the system itself. Crucial for both those working both in the box and of course more traditional recordists is a having a trustworthy monitoring setup. Whether it’s down to budget reasons or equally valid a simple concern with noise management and keeping the neighbours happy, headphones are often the first upgrade people make rather than dedicated speakers.

Both speakers and headphones have their own strengths and weaknesses as with speakers you’re prone to the effects of your room dimensions affecting your sound, whereas headphones are capable of offering more neutral sound for monitoring, their lack of signal blending together in the air between the speakers and your ears as you experience in a regular room can make it difficult get a mix that may transfer cleanly over to larger speaker systems, so ultimately a good pair of both speakers and headphones is the ideal solution. Of course as you grow accustomed to these strengths and weaknesses of any playback solution you’ll learn to compensate for any short comings and differences, so it’s important to keep this in mind and try and pick up the monitoring solution that you find most revealing and to really learn how they respond whilst listening your favourite reference material.

If you’re going with your first set of audio monitors, always remember to budget for some basic sound treatment and try and choose your speakers appropriately. Small rooms are capable of generating a lot of additional muddy noise into the mix due to high pressure build of frequencies in the corners. Going with larger speakers, whilst they may on paper look to add more deep bass, can lead to patchy spots of both extensive bass frequency build ups and a complete lack of low end response in certain spots within the room as all the reflected frequencies end up boosting and cancelling each other out. We find speakers around the 6” size tend to fit well in a smaller project room, offering just enough low end extension to allow you to pick out the details you need whilst not overloading the room modes completely.

All this means that unfortunately in a typical small spare room you may find yourself experiencing more trouble with the monitoring acoustics than most people expect when they first set out to kit out a room. Thankfully careful placement of your speakers can help a lot here which is a subject already touched upon in this earlier post. All we can really do with placement however is ensure we minimize the early reflections through correct arrangement of those speakers, but anywhere audio hits a solid surface and bounces back into the room we can expect mud and clutter in the mix so keeping some space between them and walls helps a great deal.

In the corners we tend to get more low end build up and removing these frequencies again may require extensive bass trapping to reduce that build up, so often it is better to try and avoid putting those frequencies into the room to begin with by choosing the right speakers up front. It is however advisable in any studio to try and cover at the very least the first, second and rear reflective points in the speakers line of sight to help remove the early reflections that lead to a lot smearing and audible clutter at the listening position.

If you’re working purely in in the box, then by this stage you’ve got a great foundation for your new recording setup. Anyone wishing to record and mix real instruments however will need a few extra bits to get going in the shape of vocal and instrument mics or perhaps a instrument pick up and D.I. solution to capture the sound. For a singer songwriter with a guitar a good condenser mic or two are going to be essential although each mic is likely to have its own strengths and weaknesses where some might prove to be a better fit for your voice or playing style, so certainly worth spending some time checking out your available microphone options before diving right in.

We’ve attempted to outline the basic hardware requirements here in order to get you going, although ultimately all these topics can get quite in depth and we’ve not even touched upon the software side of things. We do hope however that you’ve found this basic guide capable of giving some handy pointers as to what your next step may be. Of course if you wish to know more about the best way to setup up your recording setup, we’re of always happy to discuss the best way to setup and optimize your studio to get the best out of your kit.

Scan 3XS Computer Systems

Audio Interfaces @ Scan

Studio Speakers @ Scan

Headphones @ Scan

Microphones @ Scan

Focal announce the new Shape Studio Monitor range at Messe

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.

Focal Shape Front

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?

Focal Shape Diagram

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.

Focal Shape Side

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.

Focal Rear

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.

Key Points

• 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.

Focal Shape Specifications

Launch Prices for the range are as follows :

Focal Shape 40 : £349

Focal Shape 50 : £479

Focal Shape 65 : £599

 

All Focal hardware available from Scan

The Focal Shape range from Scan

 

Ableton introduce their bitesize creative tips series “One Thing”.

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. 

Check out the Ableton “One Thing” series here.

All things Ableton @ Scan.

Native Instruments launches their new “Trutorials” series.

Native Instruments have made public their first series of trick, tips and guides to their ever popular “Komplete” software.

You can check out 12 different quick guides now with tips and tricks for Reaktor, Form, FM8, Replika XT, Rounds, Guitar Rig, Massive, Polyplex, Absynth and more.

These are essential tips and tricks for any and all of you Komplete owners out there.

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/specials/komplete-trutorials/

AMD Ryzen First Look For Audio

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.

Ryzen Chipset Features

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.

Ryzen 1700x CPU id results

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.

GeekBench 4 AMD 1700X

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.

Ryzen DPC Test

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.

Sequencer AMD 1700X

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.

DAWBench Vi

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.

AMD 1700X 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 520 count @ 70% load
128 = 860 count @ 72% load
192 = 1290 count @ 85% load

Intel 6800k 3.8 @ GHz

64 = 780 count @ 87% load
128 = 1160 count @ 91% load
192 = 1590 count @ 97% load

Intel 6900k 3.6 @ GHz

64 = 980 count @ 85% load
128 = 1550 count @ 90% load
192 = 1880 count @ 97% load

Intel 7700k @ 4.5GHz

64 = 560 @ 90% load
128 = 950 @ 98% load
192 = 1270 @ 99% load

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 Full Scan 3XS Pro Audio Workstation Range