Tag Archives: audio

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

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

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

Right, where was I? 

Time To Wake Up and Smell The….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The i5’s have 6 cores and no hyperthreading.

The i3’s have 4 cores and no hyperthreading.

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

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

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

In short, very likely you dear reader.

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

8700K CPUz at 4.7GHz

CPUz 4.7 Benchmark

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

8700k at 4.7

Geekbench 4 8700K
Click to expand

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grinding Out A Conclusion

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

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

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

All DAWBench Testing

3XS Audio Systems @ Scan

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

Scan Audio Workstation PC Benchmarks 2015

Click here to view the 2016 update.

Time for our 2015 benchmarking update so that we can see how the performance figures are sitting currently for any users thinking of upgrading or replacing their DAWs this year and as our last roundup was back in June 2013 this is certainly overdue. The reason for the delay and this having been on the cards for quite awhile now is that between our last group test and the start of this testing cycle the DAWBench suite itself has had a sizable overhaul under the hood with a few crucial changes.

The ever faithful Reacomp itself has in this period has seen a full 64bit re-write along with a new round of compiler testing thanks to the ever helpful Justin over at Reaper and in light of that, we’ve seen the test reconfigured, to allow for a large number of tracks we’re seeing the newer platforms generate.

These changes under the hood, however, make our older test results invalid for comparison and as such resulted in us needing to do a completely new group test roundup, in order to ensure a fair and level playing field.

The testing done here is using the DAWBench DSP Universal 2014 build found over at DAWBench.com where you can find more in-depth information on the test itself. Essentially it is designed around using stacked instances of a convolution reverb to put high loads on to the CPU and give a way of comparing the performance levels of the hardware at hand. Real world performance of VSTi’s varies from plugin to plug in, so by restricting it to a dedicated plug-in we have a constant test to apply across all the hardware we can generate a set of results to compare the various chipsets and CPUs available.

To keep the testing environment fair and even, we use the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 USB interface in all testing. Through our own, in house testing, we’ve established that this is a great performing solution for the price and in easy reach for new users wanting to make music. Whilst more expensive interfaces may offer better performance the important point in testing is to ensure we have a stable baseline and users of higher grade interfaces may find themselves receiving suitably scaled up performance at each of these buffer settings.

Scan 2015 DPC chart

 

  • Click to expand the DPC Chart

So taking a look at the chart the first thing to note if we’re working from the bottom upwards we see the inclusion of “U” series CPUs for the first time. The ultrabook class CPU’s are designed for lower power & low heat usage situations and found in some high-end tablets and seem to be appearing in a lot of low-end sub £500 laptop designs and NUC style small form factor designs currently. The 4010U itself is very common at this time, with this type of chip itself being aimed squarely at the office & recreational user on the go, making it perfect for doing some word processing or watching a movie although leaving it rather lacking in raw processing capability for those wishing to produce on the go. It does, however, stand up to being a suitable solution for putting together a multi-track and basic editing before saving type of setup if you require something for multi-tracking on the go with a little more capability than a more basic multi-track hard disk recorder.

Above it is the X58 stalwart i7 930 which was one of the more popular solutions from the very first “i” generation of CPU’s and one a lot of people are possibly quite familiar in more studio use as it did represent a sizable leap in performance on its launch over the older Core series of CPU. As such it is included as a good benchmark to see how the performance has improved over the last five years of processor advancement.

Next up is the other mobile solution on the chart. The i7 4710MQ is a quad-core mid to high-end laptop CPU solution and one of the most common chips found in laptops around the £1000 mark. Whilst it has a few more CPUs above it in the range, they have only marginal clock speed jumps and the price does raise up quite rapidly as you progress through the models meaning that the 4710MQ offers the best mobile performance bang per buck at this time and that has made it popular current option in this segment. Coming in at the same performance levels as the i7 2600k CPU which was the top of the range mid-level solution a few years ago, it offers a decent performance level out on the road for when you need to take your studio with you.

The two AMD solutions are the top of the range for AMD currently. Historically over the past few years AMD has been falling behind in the performance stakes when it comes to A/V applications and whilst the current CPU’s look to offer reasonable bang for buck at the price points they hit, the continued high power draw of the platform makes it less than ideal for cooling quietly which remains a large concern for most recording environments.

The 2600K & 3770K are both two more CPUs included as legacy benchmarks with both of them having been top of the mid-range segments in their respective generations. The 3770K was the replacement when the 2600K was discontinued and once more both are included to show the progression in performance increasing over the last few generations.
Coming back to the more current solutions both the i3 and i5 ranges from Intel have always been aimed more at the office and general purpose machine market with the i5’s often being the CPU of choice in the gaming market where GPU performance is often prized over raw CPU. The i3 4370 on the chart once the setup is assembled comes in cheaper than the AMD options and whilst running cooler offers poor performance to price returns for audio users. The i5 also comes in around the same price point as the AMD setups listed and once again it slightly underperforms the AMD chip options but runs far cooler and quieter overall trading off a small bit of performance for being a more suitable package overall where the noise levels are a crucial consideration.

This takes us up to the upper midrange and quite possibly the most popular option for the home studio segment in the shape of the i7 series. The 4790S edition is the lower powered revision that is a popular choice in our passive case solutions, the performance hit is minimal as it is still capable of running at its 4GHz turbo clock speed in a well laid out case. Its big brother the fully unlocked “K” edition CPU above also runs well at its 4.4GHz on all cores turbo clock setting and can be pushed further with a bit of careful tweaking of the voltages, making it the best cost to performance solution in the midrange if not the best bang per buck overall.

Above the midrange, we move on to what is commonly regarded as the enthusiast segment and one which we find prove popular in-studio installs where the extra processing performance and memory capabilities can be made very good use of. Given the X99 platform has double the number of memory slots and is capable of using the higher performance DDR4 memory standard, this makes it the ideal platform for film and TV scoring work or any other type of work that is relying upon larger sound banks and higher quality audio libraries and are both good reasons on why this platform has become popular with studios.

The three current chips in this segment are the 5820K, 5930K and 5690X. The first of those two are 6 core (with hyperthreading) solutions with little to differentiate between them other than an increase in PCI-E lane support and bandwidth when using the 5930K. Whilst critical for high bandwidth video processing solutions the lack of PCI-e bandwidth doesn’t tend to impact audio users and both CPU’s overclock to similar levels, making the cheaper solution a respectable choice when putting together a 6 core setup.

The top of the range 8 core 5960X tops our chart with an astounding set of results especially if you choose to overclock it. The pricing on this CPU solution scales along with the performance level up from the midrange choices, but for those users pushing the limits processing wise, it still offers a great performance to cost ratio over the next bracket up which is the systems based around Xeon CPUs.

So lastly we’re on to the powerhouse Xeon solutions are based around server grade hardware which allows a lot of memory and dual CPU configurations to be offered. Whilst popular in the past the cost and limited benefits of the current Xeon platform and indeed sheer power offered by the more common desktop CPUs have made the Xeon solutions less popular overall.

The downsides of this platform is the lack of overclocking support and the reliance of using the more expensive EEC registered memory, although the tradeoff there is that if you absolutely require a lot of memory with 128GB options already available and 256GB option forthcoming, the really is no other platform more suitable for memory intensive work such as VSL, as that EEC memory standard allows you to use higher capacity sticks on these server boards that are already flush with far more memory slots than their smaller desktop siblings.

Unfortunately along with the lack of overclocking, these CPU solutions will have a bigger impact on your budget than their more consumer-oriented versions, meaning that you have to spend a lot more on server grade motherboard and memory sticks themselves in order to match performance wise what can be done with the 6 and 8 core solutions mentioned previously. On the other hand lately we’ve starting to see 14 & 16 core solutions come through and given that a pair of those can be placed in the system with the aforementioned large amounts of RAM, users of packages who do need as much performance as possible as least have this option to consider pursue when only the most powerful system will be able to do the job in hand. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see some of those core heavy solutions in an update later in the year.

Full List Of DAWBench Testing Results

3XS Pro Audio System Solutions

Pioneer XDJ Aero – Hands on Demo Video inc. Rekordbox Mobile App

The Pioneer XDJ Aero is an excellent new Wireless DJ controller and this week we’ve had a visit from thier chief demonstrator Rob Anderson, who took us through the many features including the use of the Rekordbox APP for Android and Apple smartphones and Tablets, as well as Windows PC’s and Mac.

We were extremely impressed by the build quality and slick operation of the Pioneer XDJ Aero, although it does “stream” from wireless authorised devices running the Rekordbox app, it has a 10 minute buffer, as well intelligently automatically using the bpm (set in rekordbox) to put the track into a 4 bar loop, if the worst happens, if your mobile device runs out of battery  and it does run out of tunes!

The build quality of this device was fantastic, with a welcome return to the solid metal cue and start buttons that CDJ users will be used to, as well as solid metal, touch sensitive platters.

The mixer is switchable between standalone and wireless mode and is exactly what you would expect from pioneer’s top level of equipment, solid, smooth and built for the heaviest level of fader abuse that you could possibly manually throw at it! One really nice feature was the lockable fader caps, to stop the frequent “flying fader” effect, where after some energetic movements, the caps shoot halfway across the dancefloor, leaving only little metal stumps for the next DJ.

The idea behind the Rekordbox app is that you can sort out and beatgrid, cue and edit information for your tunes on the go.

I found this a MAAASIVE plus point, as there’s many times whilst stuck on many forms of transport, that i really wished that i could sort my tunes out quickly, this does not only do that, but also allows you to stream directly to the unit to mix the tracks.

I can see the Pioneer XDJ Aero as the perfect home practice tool for people who use CDJ-2000’s in clubs, and currently move thier library about on USB pendrive. This controller definatly sits alone with a unique way of working that will be incredibly attractive to users who embrace modern technology and methodology.

Pioneer Dj Gear @ Scan

 

Scan Pro Audio Day – Stereo:Type Snare Reverb-Without-Reverb Tutorial Video

  Thanks to eveyone who came down for the fourth Scan Pro Audio Day last Saturday.

Everyone seemed to love the chance to get hands on with the latest kit and have a chance to discuss all matters pro audio, from getting soundcards to work, to choosing the right speakrs and how best to do live digtal audio mixing for a band.

For the benefit of eveyone who didnt make it, here’s part of Stereo:Types masterclass, concentrating on how to make reverbs on snares without actually using reverb!

 

 

 

Scan Pro Audio Day, Bolton – 25th Febuary

Scan Audio DayYup, its that time agin to hold another audio day in our Bolton showroom. It’s on from 11am till 3pm and is, as always free to attend.

This time we’ve got a masterclass from Mashup king and Foreign Beggars & Beardyman producer Stereo:Type with loads of trade secrets, as well as your chance to get hands on with some of the latest kit and of course a prize draw, which at the last audio day in November ended up being a Native Instruments Traktor S2!

Please click here to sign up as places are limited.
Please click here to sign up as places are limited.

Full lineup as follows….

11.00am  Ableton Live
Simon Lyon aka The Ruthless Producer introduces Ableton Live. During this session, Simon will take you on a tour of Abletons features and show how easy it is to build tracks from scratch including live recording.
12.00pm  Soundcards & Audio Interfaces
Tom from “The Autobots” talks about soundcards. Which is the best for you? And How do we go about testing them? How do you know how good they are?
1.00pm  Guitar Rig 5 session
Steve Fairclough recreating ‘Classic’ guitar tones with Guitar Rig 5
2.00pm  Ableton Live Master class
Stereo: Type presents a Producers masterclass with Ableton Live.
3.00pm  Prize Draw !

Universal Audio Apollo – Thunderbolt Audio Interface With UAD-2 DSP

The Universal Audio Apollo is first to the plate with a thunderbolt interface, although it is an optional extra, they have managed not to make this just an audio interface, but actually combine it with UAD-2 Processing power which This really differentiates it from the likes of the RME UFX, which is pretty similally specced. The Universal Audio Apollo comes in Quad or Duo varieties, refering to the number of UAD-2 DSP processors onboard.It also comes with an “analog classics” (im quoting here, everyone knows analog should be spelt analouge)

UA ApolloThe Interface is not just about thunderbolt though, it also has two firewire 800 connectors for connection to PC’s and older Macs.

Universal Audio are really gunning for the high end market with this, the converters are specced to 118dbA, and it features 4 digitally controlled analouge Mic Preamps (anyone else think this might be the That! 1570 /1571 chip combination?), as well as eight analogue io, ADAT and a pair of sp-dif connectors.

No pricing info has been released yet, but i would at least expect the cost of a RME UFX plus a UAD-2 card.


Anyway, here’s the details.

 

Universal Audio Apollo Audio Interface

  • Sample rates up to 192 kHz at 24-bit word length
  • 18 x 24 simultaneous input/output channels:
    • Eight channels of analog-to-digital conversion via mic, line, or high-impedance inputs
  • 14 channels of digital-to-analog conversion via:
    • Eight mono line outputs
    • Stereo monitor outputs
    • Two stereo headphone outputs
  • 10 channels of digital I/O via:
    • Eight channels ADAT Optical I/O with S/MUX for high sample rates
    • Two channels coaxial S/PDIF I/O with sample rate conversion
    • Two FireWire 800 ports for daisy-chaining other FireWire devices
  • 32-bit and 64-bit device drivers

Microphone Preamplifiers

  • Four high-resolution, ultra-transparent, digitally-controlled analog mic preamps
  • Front panel and software control of all preamp parameters
  • Switchable low cut filter, 48V phantom power, 20 dB pad, polarity inversion, and stereo linking

Monitoring

  • Stereo monitor outputs (independent of eight line outputs)
  • Digitally-controlled analog monitor outputs maintains highest fidelity
  • Front panel control of monitor levels and muting
  • Two stereo headphone outputs with independent mix buses
  • Independent front panel analog volume controls for headphone outputs
  • Front panel pre-fader metering of monitor bus levels
  • S/PDIF outputs can be set to mirror the monitor outputs

Onboard UAD-2 Processing

  • The Universal Audio Apollo DUO and QUAD models featuring two or four SHARC processors
  • Realtime UAD Powered Plug-Ins processing on all of Apollo’s analog and digital inputs
  • Same features and functionality as other UAD-2 products when used with DAW
  • Can be combined with other UAD-2 devices for increased mixing DSP
  • Includes UAD Powered Plug-Ins “Analog Classics” bundle
  • Complete UAD-2 Powered Plug-Ins library is available online 24/7

Software

  • The Universal Audio Apollo Console application:
    • Enables Realtime UAD Powered Plug-Ins processing
    • DSP mixer for realtime monitoring and tracking
    • Remote control of all Apollo features and functionality
  • Console Recall plug-in:
    • Saves the Universal Audio Apollo configurations inside DAW sessions for easy recall
    • Enables control of all front panel parameters from within the DAW
    • VST, RTAS, and Audio Units plug-in formats
  • UAD Meter & Control Panel application:
    • Configures global UAD-2 and Powered Plug-Ins settings and monitors system usage

 

Specifications

System

  • I/O Complement
    • Microphone Inputs 4
    • High-Impedance Inputs 2
    • Analog Line Inputs 8
    • Analog Line Outputs 8
    • Analog Monitor Outputs 2 (1 stereo pair)
    • Headphone Outputs 2 stereo (independent mix buses)
    • ADAT Up to 8 channels via dual I/O ports with S/MUX
    • S/PDIF 1 stereo input, 1 stereo output
    • FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b) Dual ports
    • Thunderbolt (via Option Card) Dual ports
    • Word Clock 1 input, 1 output
  • A/D – D/A Conversion
    • Supported Sample Rates (kHz) 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192
    • A/D Bits Per Sample 24
    • Simultaneous A/D conversion 8 channels
    • Simultaneous D/A conversion 14 channels
    • Analog Round-Trip Latency 1.1 milliseconds @ 96 kHz sample rate
    • Analog Round-Trip Latency with four serial UAD-2 plug-ins via Console application 1.1 milliseconds @ 96 kHz sample rate

Analog I/O

  • Microphone Inputs 1 – 4
    • Jack Type XLR Female
    • Phantom Power +48V, Switchable
    • Dynamic Range 118 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 118 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –110 dB
  • Hi–Z Inputs
    • Jack Type ¼” Male (Mono TS plug required)
    • Dynamic Range 117 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 117 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –103 dB
  • Line Inputs 1 – 4
    • Jack Type ¼”Male TRS Balanced
    • Dynamic Range 117 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 117 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –107 dB
  • Line Inputs 5 – 8
    • Jack Type ¼” Male TRS Balanced
    • Dynamic Range 117 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 117 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –107 d
  • Line Outputs 1 – 8
    • Jack Type ¼” Male TRS Balanced
    • Dynamic Range 118 dB
    • Frequency Response 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.1 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 118 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –106 dB
  • Monitor Outputs 1 – 2
    • Jack Type ¼” Male TRS Balanced
    • Frequency Response 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.1 dB
    • Dynamic Range 115 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 114 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –103 dB
  • Stereo Headphone Outputs 1 & 2
    • Jack Type ¼” Male TRS Stereo/Unbalanced
    • Frequency Response 20 Hz – 20 kHz, ±0.1 dB
    • Dynamic Range 113 dB
    • Signal-to-Noise Ratio 113 dB
    • Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise –101 dB

Digital I/O

  • S/PDIF
    • Jack Type Phono (RCA)
    • Format IEC958
  • ADAT
    • Jack Type Optical TOSLINK JIS F05
    • Format ADAT Digital “Lightpipe” with S/MUX
    • Channel Assignments @ 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz Port 1 = Channels 1 – 8, Port 2 = 1 – 8 (mirrored)
    • Channel Assignments @ 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz Port 1 = Channels 1 – 4, Port 2 = Channels 5 – 8
    • Channel Assignments @ 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz Port 1 = Channels 1 – 2, Port 2 = Channels 3 – 4
  • Word Clock
    • Jack Type BNC
    • Lock Range ±0.5% of any supported sample rate
    • Word Clock Input Termination 75 Ohms, switchable
  • Synchronization Sources
    • Internal, Word Clock, S/PDIF, ADAT

Electrical

  • Power Supplies External AC to DC Power Supply Brick, Internal DC to DC Power Supply
  • AC Connector Type IEC Male
  • AC Requirements 100V – 240V AC, 50 – 60 Hz
  • DC Connector Type XLR 4-Pin Locking Male (Neutrik P/N NC4MDM3-H)
  • DC Requirements 12 VDC, ±5%
  • Maximum Power Consumption 6.5 amperes

Mechanical

  • Dimensions
    • Width 19”
    • Height 1.75” (1U rack space)
    • Depth, Chassis Only 12.125”
    • Depth, Including Knob & Jack Protrusions 13.5”
    • Shipping Box (Width x Depth x Height) 24” x 17” x 8”
  • Weight
    • Shipping Weight (with box & accessories) 18 pounds
    • Weight (bare unit) 9.1 pounds

The Universal Audio Apollo Homepage

RME Fireface UCX

Ever imagined what would happen if you put a Fireface UFX, a Fireface 400, Fireface UC and a Babyface in a blender?
Well actually, that would make a hell of a lot of expensive unusable mess, however, if you combined the best features of all three units, then you’d come up with the RME Fireface UCX. Initally, it does look very similar to the Fireface 400, but as you look closer, the differences start to appear.

 

Dual USB / Firewire Interfaces
RME will not stray too far from the rather excellent job that they did getting both ports working on the UFX, so we could have expected a DAWBench LLP score of about 7.5 (out fo 10) on firewire (7.4 on usb), which has been the highest score for a non-pcie interface so far. I say could, because during the re-design of the converter circuits, they’ve managed to slash the latency of the stages to a quarter of that found on the UC and Fireface 400. I think i can go on record now and say that this, with the custom programmed USB and Firewire controller chip from the UFX and the amazingly low latency converter circuit, this DEFINATLY WILL outperform the UFX and take the title of Best External Low Latency Interface. I did hear a rumour that the two guys who write the driver software for RME are in fact two ultra-competitve German brothers, one of which does the Windows ones and one who does Mac. If this is true, then its probably the best ever application of sibling rivalry that i’ve ever heard.

 RME Fireface UCX Features:

Connectivity

  • 8 x Analog I/O
  • 2 x Mic/ Line Preamps, digitally controlled
  • 2 x Line / Instrument inputs, digitally controlled
  • 1 x SPDIF I/O coaxial
  • 1 x ADAT I/O (or 1 x SPDIF I/O optical)
  • 1 x Word Clock I/O
  • 2 x MIDI I/O (via breakout cable)
  • 1 x FireWire 400
  • 1 x USB 2.0 (USB 3 compatible)


2 Mic Preamps
The mic preamps have been upgraded to the ones from the Micstacy & UFX and there’s not a gain knob in sight, as they are now digitally controlled and monitored from the Totalmix FX software, which also controls the 48V phantom power for each channel. The Clip-Proof “Autoset” function automatically and intelligently (based on program material) turns down a hot recording without the use of a limiter and associated increase in noise floor that brings. The preamps also handle the two line level and two high impedence instrument inputs in the same way. Of course, this is RME, so you can actually turn the autoset fuction off if you desire.

Totalmix UCX

 

Sound Quality
So, the news is that the converter circuits have had a re-design and reveal that it looks like it’s had a tweak from the 113dBA Fireface 400, but just a smidgen off the 118dBA D to A’s of the UFX, coming in at a very respectable 114dBA.  with a THD+N score of -98db. RME also has kept it’s excellent Steadyclock with jitter reduction circuitry. It has also made the driver asyncronus over USB, so the interface is able to use the internal clock as master. The Wordclock output can also be used to sync up your other digital devices too.The unit works up to 192k sample rate (cue arguments over whether you should record at anything over 96k), although it does (as with all units) reduce the number of channels on the ADAT input, from 8 at 48k to just 2 at 192k.

 

Remote Monitor Control

RME Basic Remote

The RME Fireface UCX also comes bundled with a remote control that has more than a passing resemblence to a babyface (less money spent on mouldings = more money spent on circuit dev eh?). This provides volume control to the RME Fireface UCX as well as a couple of assignable buttons (talkback?)

You can also upgrade the remote to the Advanced remote control, that would add another six extra assignable buttons above the volume knob.

 

 

USB Class Compliancy

ok, move along, nothing to see here……. well, unless (like me) you’ve got an iPad.
Its been well known that for a while, iPad’s have been able to access class compliant USB audio devices by means of the Apple Camera Connector Kit.
This little converter dongle sticks into the charging port on the bottom of the pad and has a USB socket on the other side. We’ve had great fun sticking USB valve preamps, Microphones and Guitar leads into it, but what we’ve not yet seen is any multichannel options…. untill now.

The RME Fireface UCMusic Studio On IpadX can be quickly switched into CC mode with a quick turn of the front panel selection dial and then becomes a 8 channel interface for the iPad, (well, as long as you are running ios 5, which brought in the multichannel function)

Unfortunatly only a couple of programs can make use of the multiple inputs so far, notably “Multitrack DAW” and “Music Studio”, though you would think that a garageband update must be immenent. All programs that have a record audio function can make use of channels 1&2 on input and output.

The other nice little trick up their sleeves in the fact that you can set up a couple of totalmix FX presets on your computer beforehand that can be accessed in CC mode, such as putting compression and reverb on a vocal channel for recording and latency free monitoring.

 

 

 

Differences RME Fireface UCX to Fireface UC/400

RME Fireface UCX RME Fireface UC/400
DSP hardware effects yes
Support for RME Remotes yes
AD/DA Conversion New 2011 design
Low latency AD/DA Conversion yes
AutoSet for overload protection yes
Bus-powered operation Fireface 400

 

 

Differences RME Fireface UCX to RME Fireface UFX

RME Fireface UCX RME Fireface UFX
Inputs 18 30
Outputs 18 30
Analog I/Os 8 12
Advanced Parallel Conversion 4 x
AES/EBU I/O 1 x
SPDIF I/O 1 coaxial + 1 optical
(opt. = ADAT I/O)
1 optical
(2nd ADAT I/O)
ADAT I/O 1 x 2 x
Mic Preamps (digitally controlled) 2 x 4 x
Word Clock I/O (BNC) yes yes
Phones Outputs (dedicated) 1 x 2 x
High Resolution Color Display yes
MIDI I/O 2 x 2 x
Internal DSP hardware effects yes yes
AutoSet for Mic/Inst. Preamps 4 x 4 x
RME Remote Support yes yes
Direct USB Recording yes
Size 1/2 19 inch 19 inch
All TotalMix FX features at up to 192 kHz yes yes
SMUX (up to 192 kHz) yes yes
Complete Stand Alone Operation with Setup Recall yes yes
USB & FireWire support (X-Core) yes yes

 

Conclusion
It seems like RME have got an absolute cracker of an interface here, the low latency performance will set the mark for external interfaces and the class compliant mode will open the door to a whole new hoard of RME fans.

 

Manufacturers please take note…. This is how to make an interface


Please go over to RME and check out all the details as there’s far too much for me to cover here.

The first shipment of the RME Fireface UCX should be available from Scan in the next few weeks, Priced just under a grand.

UCX Webpage

RME Website

The Scan Computers RME Fireface UCX Product Page

Tom's Guide to Acoustics (Without Breaking The Bank)

An introductory guide to getting the best out of your studio environment, when recording and mixing down your tracks. The guide covers speaker placement and the basics of using acoustic treatment to defuse the sonic reflections in the room and make the task of critical listening whilst mixing far easier.