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

Tips for getting (& keeping) studio work experience or an internship

The number of students qualifying from music technology and music production degrees is increasing worldwide year on year. 

The goal of many of those students is to work in a professional recording facility, or work alongside a pro producer, but even as an unpaid intern, no facility or producer will want to touch you without experience. 

If you haven’t got a degree, you might have much more to learn still, but hey, you wont have an average of £41000 of debt straddled round your neck, so…. its swings and roundabouts. 

Emailing your CV to the studio will probably get you absolutely nowhere, as most other local students in your predicament will also have tried this route. 

What you actually need is a track record, as studios often only take on 
(a) Their friends that they trust
(b) Staff from other studios that they rate
(c) Their friends from other studios that they rate
(c) Whoever they flipping well want!!!! Have you seen the ratio of studios to music technology students???? 

The problem is that you need experience to be able to get experience. 

So what can you do? 

 

    1. Don’t be an idiot!
      This is the main factor that studios are worried about with an unknown quantity (i.e. you) and their customers. The studio world is hard enough to keep your head above water now, without having to worry about an intern annoying the talent, The higher profile their clients are, the more important this is. 
      Be humble, quiet, yet confident in your own abilities and just don’t think you know everything, just because you  have certificate. you don’t, you are just beginning to learn that the best engineers circuit-bend the “rules” somewhat to get amazing results. 
       
    2. Lower your overheads.
      Whether this is moving back in with your folks, house / dog sitting for someone that’s abroad or just plain tapping off your understanding significant other, you need to be prepared to live frugally for a bit. Hopefully you blew some of your student loan on a laptop so you can learn skills and programs while you look for an internship. 
       
    3. Get some cash behind you.
      Everything is easier when you aren’t wondering where your next meal is coming from. This isn’t necessarily about buying all the latest kit, this is about being able to take every opportunity presented to you. Being able to afford the train or taxi fare to be able to fill in for an engineer that’s ill, having a few pounds to be able to buy a drink for someone that might be able to help you you randomly meet when you are out.
      Just having a float so you can pick up some sandwiches on the way in (and then get reimbursed) means you are much more useful than someone who has to come in and then go out again. 
        
    4. Get a Job.
      …anything, its not forever! I’ll cover a few ideas for optimum jobs for musicians in the forthcoming weeks, but right now you just need cash. Consider working nights (as the pay is higher) and it will get your body clock in-tune with nocturnal activities, so you’ll be on top form if you go to local gigs or events to do a bit of impromptu networking or gig driving (see point 5).  You can always book time off, be ill or take holidays if you get something interesting come up. Its only there until you get your internship, but you will need to have some money to support you through it, so build up a pot. 
       
    5. Get a driving licence.
      The amount of DJ’s and performers that i see that need drivers is substantial. Even if they can drive themselves, its not exactly what you can or want to do if you’ve just played a four hour DJ set with the lure of a free bar! 
      You can always hire a car for the night if you don’t have one, or the performer themselves will often have a car that you can drive. You essentially get a private audience with a professional for a few hours, where you can listen, ask a few questions and learn! Don’t forget point one, be humble, be responsible, be reliable, don’t get caught up in the party! 
      Watch local artist’s social channels like a hawk for an “SOS” driver post, if you can step in at the last minute and save the day, it’ll go a long way in your favour and wont be forgotten. 
       
    6. Book a session. 
      With the money saved from your job, book a session in the studio that you want to intern in, If you make music yourself then this is fairly easy, but if you want to produce other bands you’ll have to find someone to work with. Go out and become your own A&R man on the local gig circuit, find a suitable local band that you would like to work with (and ideally have some ideas for) and offer to do a session with them at the studio that you want to work at (or build up to this in another studio and then book into the one you want to work at once you’ve got a bit more experience). If you’re paying for it, you should get some takers for sessions and they will be quite forgiving while you find your feet! Offer to drive / roadie / engineer small gigs, anything that gives you some experience of working with bands.
       
    7. Think outside of the box
      The best connections aren’t always where you think, don’t limit yourself to approaching or working with people in your immediate area or genre. 
      I once got the guitarist from a major US metal band to feature on a track through a guy who booked me to play a breakbeat DJ set in Tokyo.  
       
    8. Know Your Place 
      If you are lucky enough to get some work experience, there a few things to remember.  
      You aren’t the producer or the engineer, never offer your opinion on the clients music, this is a big no-no.
      Even if they ask you about it, try and say its not your place, this is one thing that REALLY annoys studio owners, as you are effectively representing their business.  
      You’re there to  help out, make some drinks (learn to do this properly before you turn up), and learn what keeps a professional operation running. 
       
    9. Make yourself indispensable.
      Offer to do the jobs that no-one else wants to, a surefire winner is to sort the cables out, cables are always in a mess. 
      Bring your cable tester in (what do you mean you haven’t got one??)  and give them an MOT.  There’s little chance you’ve completed a MT degree without learning to solder some wires, so put your skills to use. 
      If they don’t have a cleaner, go and tidy up without being asked. Try and think ahead about what might be needed later on in the day / session and get it ready in downtime. 
      If you are starting out at a practice room / studio type operation, they might not even have proper coffee (how middle class do i sound here now!), go and get a supermarket cafetiere and a bag of premium java, you might just make yourself some new friends.  
      You want there to be a void left when you finish, because that void is the reason for you to be paid to be there. 
      Watch and learn how they do sessions, at some point the engineer or producer will be late or cant come and you’ll have a chance to show what you really can do. 
    10. Seriously, Don’t be an idiot!  
      I can’t make enough of this point!
      Avoid badmouthing anyone, especially locally, even in different genres, as most studios know a good proportion of the musicians (especially friend of a friend type connections) in the area and you don’t want to get a bad rep. Keep your opinions about someone and their music to yourself, at least until you are Deadmau5 type of level of success and can make your public cussing mildly entertaining!
      I knew an American guy that constantly took digs at various British acts on various internet platforms. He then decided to try to get releases signed (that were actually pretty good) by some of the key British labels, but no-one would touch him with a bargepole, because they all knew he was a liability and publicly acted like an idiot, which wasn’t good for their brand to be associated with. 

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

Tips & Tricks: The Kontakt Quick-Load Feature

Having a wealth of Kontakt instruments available at your disposal is great but being able to access them quickly can sometimes be a little time consuming. Kontakt Player libraries streamline this process as they have their own separate tab which provides quick access directly to the instruments/multis folders via individual library tabs. But what about all those libraries that aren’t Kontakt Player compatible? You’ll know from experience that navigating through the standard file browser to find a specific patch can slow you down given that you sometimes need to trawl through several nested folders to get to the actual instruments folder, especially with some older libraries.

Well there is a feature in Kontakt which should make locating your instruments quickly a lot easier – The Quick-Load feature. The Quick-Load feature allows you to organize your instruments however you like as the Quick-Load catalog is essentially a virtual hierarchy directory structure meaning that no files are actually copied/moved.

I myself prefer to organize by vendor as can be seen in the example above. You may however decide you prefer to organize by instrument type. Essentially I never have to use the file browser, only my customized Quick-Load catalog and my Libraries tab. The folder structure can be determined however you see fit. It’s just a case of dragging and dropping the instruments into the desired folders. It all depends on what works best for you. The same can also be done for multis and banks.

In order to access the Quick-Load catalog you just need to right click in any empty space inside the instrument rack and the catalog will appear.  You can then begin creating your folder structure. Once you’re happy with it you can lock down the hierarchy which prevents any changes being made to the file structure. Right clicking again will close it.

Setting up my Quick-Load catalog has certainly helped speed up my workflow so why not give it a try yourself!

Guitar Pedal Signal Chain Basics

So you buy your first guitar and amp and start learning to play. I can almost guarantee that it will not be long before you start to become interested in buying some pedals to stick between your guitar and amp and start a lifelong stomp box obsession……….

Pedal order is something that is talked about all the time and nothing is cast in stone and I always say to experiment and if it sounds right it is right!!!

That being said when you first get going you are going to want the basics so that is what I intend to do here. So in no particular order…………well actually in this order…………

  1. Tuner
  2. Wah Wah
  3. Overdrive
  4. Distortion
  5. Modulation (Chorus?Phaser)
  6. Reverb/Delay

The above order running into the front of the clean amp will give you the perfect starting point to experiment.

Hendrix for example was Wah-Fuzz-Uni vibe-Marshall Stack which follows the above starting point with the uni vibe being his modulation at the end of the chain.This is a classic signal chain and lets (fuzz) face it Hendix had a fantastic sound.

The other subject to touch on here in the basics is when you use the amp itself for your distorted tone. This is where you will find the reverb and delays respond differently going in the front end of your amp. Based on the above signal chain if your amp is providing the distortion then you are now running the reverb and delay before the distortion which is a completley different ball game. At this point it is time to find the effects loop on your amp and plug your reverb and delay through the loop to keep the signal path correct as shown below.

Effects Loop Send-reverb-delay-Effects Loop return

Effects loops are another lesson  to explain fully the different types and uses but for now lets just use the basic rule of reverb,delay,modulation(chorus/phaser) etc can all go through the front end or the effects loop but lets just leave overdrive,fuzz,distortion and boosters going through the front of the amp via the input socket and leave them there where they belong.

In the coming weeks I will post some alternative pedal orders and how to set up your pedals for the best results.

Akai MPC Makes A Return With Two New Standalone Models

Back in January at NAMM Akai announced the release of two new additions to the MPC line – the MPC X and the MPC Live, with a clear focus on  bringing back the standalone functionality to the range. Beat fiends around the world are waiting with anticipation for the launch date of the new MPCs and while no solid date is available at the time of writing, what we do know is that it is going to be soon!

I’m one of the lucky folk to have actually had my hands on the MPC X and even though my time was limited I can tell you that it certainly impressed from the off. There are so many features on this new line that I could literally write for a week and will have probably only scratched the surface so I’ll try and keep this short. The first thing you notice when sat in front of the behemoth MPC X is that this thing is huge, it feels like you’re sat at the helm of some other-worldly spaceship armed with rapid fire beat blaster rays! Every control and function you could want is surgically positioned to be at hand when you need it, the encoders feel solid and the little OLED screens above each pot is a very nice touch. We’ve got a plethora of I/O, CV outputs, countless controls, a VU meter, 16 RGB pads and a nice responsive 10.1″ touchscreen which I will come to later.

The pads are tight and responsive just as you would expect from the company that basically swamped the world with the things! The easiest way to describe the pads is – they just work, and they work damn well. They are able to capture every nuance of your performance. If you have played with an MPC before then you will be right at home with either of the new models. The MPC swing returns in full glory, breaking up, yet gluing together your drum hits for a natural swing that works flawlessy.

The screen is a big highlight on this new line. The X has a 10.1″ screen while the Live has a 7″ display, both are way more responsive and tactile than I thought they would be. They work brilliantly, integrating the hands-on approach to a deeper level than previously available. It supports multi touch for pinch and zoom allowing you to snip, chop and move as you please with absolute ease. I was genuinely impressed by how well it worked and I’m sure you will be too!

The Live is a gorgeous little black box which retains most of the features of the X with a much smaller footprint. We lose CV outputs and a lot of encoders and front facing controls but this doesn’t detract from the experience at all, thankfully the touchscreen takes over some duties here – so it’s a good job they’ve done a cracking job with it. It also houses a rechargeable Lithium-ION battery so you can unplug from the box, go and sit in the sun and knock out some beats!

The release of the new MPC line also brings with it MPC Software 2.0, fully loaded with critical in-demand productions and performance capability. Both units are able to record audio directly into the unit and use as audio tracks within MPC. The software was still in late Beta while I played around with it and was already solid, I didn’t experience any glitches or crashes. When hooked up to a PC 2.0 allows you to use VST instruments and effects and then bounce the audio down for use in standalone mode! Absolutely phenomenal.

Now I’ve not mentioned one of the new highlight features yet – clip launching! This is the familiar performance mode found on other devices and gives the MPC another weapon in it’s already formidable arsenal. Add to that the outstanding collection of expansions from well respected sound designers such as Capsun Audio, Loopasters, Toolroom and more, and you have a truly fearsome expandable music machine!

So, if the thought of a brand new, all singing, all dancing Akai MPC gets you all giddy, keep your eyes peeled for more info on the release date. If it gets you more than a little giddy then you might want to get a pre-order in and be one of the first to get hold of one of these beauties! In the meantime, take a look at some videos to get more of an idea what the new line brings to the table.

https://www.scan.co.uk/products/akai-mpc-x-standalone-music-production-center-101-full-colour-multi-touch-display-16gb-of-on-board-s

https://www.scan.co.uk/products/akai-mpc-live-music-production-center-standalone-capable-16-pads-7-inch-multi-touch-display-16gb-on

Transparency…. Loudbox from Fishman

Fishman Loudbox:

One of the questions I’m constantly asked, is which acoustic guitar amplifier do I recommend…

So here’s some thoughts on the matter….

It obviously depends on the sound you ultimately want to achieve, i.e. the sound in your head. Your reference sound.

If your ‘sound’ relies on pedals and compressors, or you have a percussive playing style, then you’re going to need a different sounding amplifier to someone who plays straight fingerstyle.

That’s true isn’t it?

Well actually no.

There is a solution out there that can accommodate pretty much every style of acoustic guitar and push it out loud and clear without any colouration.

What do we mean by ‘colouration’:?

Many acoustic amplifiers are ‘voiced’ to sound a certain way, and if you enjoy that particular sound, then that’s the very fellow for you, as pretty much any guitar you put through the amp will come out coloured by the amp’s tone, and again, if you like that particular tone, all’s well.

However, there is one set of Acoustic amplifiers that deliver a transparent tone, which allows whatever instrument is plugged into it, to sound like itself and nothing else with no added colour, and that’s the Loudbox series from Fishman.

Fishman of course, have a proud heritage of pick-ups and pre-amp knowledge gained from years of being one of the leading manufacturers in the US, of acoustic amplification tools.

So their amplifiers have every right to sound excellent.

But again, the main reason they do, is that they allow the natural tones of your guitar to shine through.

Not only are they Loud! (the clue’s in the name…), but they reproduce the sound from your guitar, cleanly and accurately, with just a simple eq and some cool effects.

They even have a channel for a Mic, allowing you to sing at the same time as play your guitar, and believe me that’s where these little boxes come-on strong.

The vocal channel is so very good, I’ve never seen a singer who didn’t like the sound of their voice through it, and if you’re a singer songwriter, or just backing a vocalist, these amps are so portable and so LOUD, that you can easily play a pub gig or small restaurant without the need for a PA.

And all the while here, I’ve only been referring to the Loudbox Mini!

The Artist and Performer both have 2 channels and are 120 W and 180 W respectively.

 

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

 

Studio Monitor Setup Guide

Firstly, this is not an absolute guide…  The shape and size of your room, together with working around existing furniture mean that you often have to deviate from these suggestions to get the best results.  These are just some best practice ideas to make your setup the best it can be. 

I’m also not going to touch on the subject of room acoustics here, as that’s an entire topic to itself and i’ll dedicate more posts to that shortly, but first, lets check that you’ve got as much of the basics covered as possible. 

Monitoring "Triangle"
Monitoring “Triangle”

Positioning 
The tweeters of your monitors should ideally be positioned in an equilateral triangle with your main listening position, or rather… the imaginary lines should cross just behind where your head would be.  
Ideally the tweeters should be at ear height, or at least angled, pointing directly towards your ears at the listening position.
You should angle them in towards the mix position at about a 30 degree angle. 

 

Low Frequency Control
There’s a lot of different opinions  about where in the room you should set up your speakers, but what you really do need to remember is that the closer they are to any wall, the more the bass response will be increased. 

Many active monitors will have switches to compensate for this, or LF controls on the back to compensate for this effect, the basic rule of thumb is to reduce the LF by 6db for every wall it is next to. It would be ideal to not have them in the corners of the room, as you would want to roll off 12db of the bottom end for a balanced response and not many monitors let you do this amount.  

If you can have them more than a couple of feet away from a wall, then you should be able to leave the LF controls flat. 

 

Stands

An ideal home setup would generally be having your speakers on stands just behind your table, desk or console. 

Floorstanding Stands with Isolation Platforms

If you do have speakers mounted directly onto your desktop, then the desk would vibrate along with your speakers, essentially making the desk part of the speaker and altering the frequency response of the speakers. This is the same if you have speakers or stands that are directly onto floorboards. 

Stands don’t now just put the speakers at the right height, they can also isolate the speakers vibration. Carpet spikes have been trying to do this for years in the hifi world, and certainly trying to minimise contact area between your speakers and what they are sat on is always a good thing.  

One way to tackle this effect (if you have solid concrete floors) is to make your stands very heavy and dense, as heavy objects conduct vibrations far less than lightweight ones. Solid concrete breeze block towers will certainly do the job, but might not look as attractive as you may want. 

Ideally you would want an isolating device between the speaker and the surface it’s placed on. 

Desktop Iso-Acoustics Stands

Foam based isolators are cheap, and are better than nothing, but absorb only some of the vibrations, and of course, the lower the frequency of the sound, the less it absorbs. 

Our favourite ones here are currently the Iso-Acoustics range, these use a mix of plastic, rubber and metal poles to absorb the vibrations very effectively across the entire frequency spectrum and can have a very noticeable improvement in the bass and mid range response of speakers.  There are both desktop and floorstanding models.

 

Connections

XLR Cable

Most active monitor speakers have multiple ways of connecting the audio cables to them.  The best ones are either XLR or Stereo (TRS) Jack, as these can be “balanced connections” and these will have the lowest noise. 

If your output device also has a balanced output

1/4″ TRS Jack

(it won’t work if its not), then it will send two separate versions of the same signal to the speaker (called hot and cold). The cold signal will be the exact opposite of the hot, 180 degrees out of phase.
If any noise is picked up on the cable run, it would be picked up on both lines equally, so when the signal enters the receiving device (in this case the speaker) it inverts the cold line, making the original signal back in phase, but the noise is now 180 degrees out of phase and cancels itself out.  

 

 

Gain Staging.
Poor gain staging of your monitor chain will result in excessive hiss and noise from your speakers, just follow this simple guide to get the best from your speakers. 

Set your monitor output in your DAW to  -1dB. 
You shouldn’t be clipping your monitor output in your DAW, but it should be peaking as loud as possible without going over. 

To set your best monitoring range, set your interface output volume knob or monitor controller to its maximum setting and then adjust the volume control on your monitors until they are the loudest you would ever want them to be.  Then just turn your interface or monitor controller back down to normal working levels. 

This will give you both the best signal to noise level possible, but also the most useful gain control.