Tag Archives: production

First Look At The Intel 8700K As The i7 Range Gets A Caffine 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!

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 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!

 

 

 

Reverb. (Where will it all end?…)

Todays Digital domain allows musicians and producers a phenomenal selection of plug-ins and treatments. From physical modelling of original spring reverbs, through mathematical models of the Grand Canyon or Wembley stadium, there is a huge wealth of possibilities out there, and with those possibilities must come responsibility.

Too often people are tempted to use whatever the’ve got, wherever they can, without a thought about how this might sound in the final mix. So lets have a quick look at a couple of scenarios, which might help you think a little more about your reverb treatments…..

 

The Basic Idea.

 

From a Guitarists point of view, reverb was an effect that gave a a ‘Twang’ on a guitar, a very satisfactory ‘ring’. Listen to early guitar groups like the Shadows and indeed early Beatles to here how the spring reverb (literally a spring in a metal box) that was a feature on a lot of early amps, was used to give depth to what otherwise would have been quite a weedy tone by todays standards.. 60’s producers seemed terribly keen on this sound, and consequently it appears on albums featuring everything from vocal groups to sitars.

From a producers point of view however,, reverb is a much more useful tool in achieving a satisfcatory end result. A good reverb can make it sound as if all the instruments you use were recorded in the same spatial area, i.e. it makes the song sound more ‘believeable’ even if the component parts are samples and virtual instruments.

A good reverb can form the glue that holds some mixes together, although it should be said, its never a good idea to rely on your effects to do that for you.

Even where a track has its own reverb applied, either because it s a live sample or a guitarists ‘tone’, a nice reverb across the master buss can allow a track its own space to stand in.

 

Avoid.

 

One thing that does make me queasy though, is when I hear a mix with a different type of reverb applied to each instrument, and none bear any relation to the next.

There is probably an argument for using different reverbs creatively, but in that case, the overall ‘believability’ will always suffer.

There are some bands/records that can get away with the Guitar on a 5 second rev tail and the Vocals on a .2ms slap back, but not too many.

 

Also be aware of how a reverb can ‘swamp’ the timbre of things like voices or violins.

Many amateur singers like to sing or at least monitor themselves with plenty of reverb.

Its not that they think it makes them sound more in tune, it just smooths out any rasps or harmonic glitches, and consequently gives the illusion of sounding more complete and less stark.

 

Early Reflections:

 

There are some reverb manufacturers who include a function within their reverbs called ‘early reflection’.

There are some manufacturers who think this is a load of cobblers.

For those of you with the option to twiddle with early reflections, the idea is that after the initial sound reaches your ears, but before the onset of proper reverberation, there are tiny ‘slaps’ of sound that come back at you from walls, ceiling etc. and using these, the brain is able to ascertain information about where the sound is with reference to its initial source.

Other manufacturers such as Lexicon, maintain that reverb is a one stop process that can’t be broken down into stages like this. Lexicon prefer words like ‘Spread’ and ‘Shape’ to describe different parts of the process, and I think I tend to agree. However,, these controls are popular with some folks, so its horses for courses I guess.

 

A Band Mentality (Arranging within the box 1…..)

A ‘BAND’ MENTALITY FOR THE SOLO MUSIC PRODUCER…..

 

One of the great things about being a musician, is the chance to play with other musicians. It is indeed the life blood of many players, allowing them to learn and grow and develop their abilities alongside other people doing the same thing.

And it shows in the music. Generally speaking a good band will bring something else to a song or track, which is seemingly more than the sum of its parts….

It comes from the communication between various band members and builds over time, to become part of the arrangement, and in some cases can turn a mediocre track into a great one.

The key is the way musicians listen to each other.

Lets delve a little deeper.

I remember being in one of my first bands, I was the youngest member at 14, the other guys were a couple of years older, but I was tall, smoked a mean cigarette, and I could play…

We used to play an eclectic mix of Rock music, and our bass player at the time had only recently taught himself to play, however, there was one tune where he had embellished the end of the verses with a line that really pushed his ability. As a consequence, knowing how proud he was of the line, I would take it upon myself to quieten down (never easy for a red blooded rock guitarist) and allow him the space for his fancy line to shine through. To this day, I can’t hear that particular track without preferring his version.

Other instances occur when people play off one another, (a good drummer can ‘Lift’ a song at will by pushing the dynamics, and everyone else in the band can instantly hear it it and respond appropriately), Bass players and Drummers tend to gel very quickly, with the Bass man able to guess what sort of fill is coming where, Singers can ‘quieten’ down the band at certain parts of a song with hand actions or fingers to lips, effectively controlling the dynamics of a track live.

So these few examples, and there are many more, show how the human element in a band, can go towards affecting the overall performance of a song, and this is something that we as music producers should bear in mind, as we sit toiling alone in our studios past midnight.

Take a song that you’ve recorded yourself, all the parts, just you.

Now listen back to it and pretend that you’re a bass player who’s just joined the band. This is the first track you’ve played on, and you want it to stand out showing what a great job you’ve done for the band. How would he play it? (and I dont mean ‘Overplay’ it!) Do the lines just ‘run’ into one another? are there any little areas that could use a little flamboyance? Is the bass REALLY playing along with the kick drum?

Are there any keyboard pads or big chords that are getting in the way of guitar parts?

Its very easy for us as lone players to play the part ‘right’ and move on, without any thought to how it would play out in a real band.

Are there any strings filling all the space in?

Is there an opportunity where a singer would quieten the band down live? This maybe something you should consider on the record itself.

Taking 5 minutes out to think like you’re in a band, can sometimes make the difference between a good track and a worldbeater.

 

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 !

SCAN guide to recording vocals in the home studio

Scan home recording guide

 

The problem of recording Vocals for the smaller studio has been a constant source of difficulty over the years.
If you stop and think about it, the Human voice is the most emotive ‘instrument’ we have. From being born, we are used to the sound of a singing voice, and consequently, most of us are experts on the subject without even knowing. Consequently, if a vocal is ‘muddy’ or ‘boxy’, the average person on the street could tell you it doesn’t sound ‘right’, much more authoritatively than they could say a badly recorded guitar or bass.
So, first things first…..
Quiet.
It needs to be quiet. I mean REALLY quiet. It may be that most of your time, the music you make will require a big, shouty vocal, but what about the day when you need to record that quiet, softly whispered love song, and all you can hear is the whirr of your hard drives in the background.
Second things second…..
Placement.
I’ve seen people design studios on paper, and happily state, “ the vocal mic can go over there”, purely because it looks nice on paper, without giving any thought as to how near a wall the mic may be, or  what surfaces will be behind the singer etc.
Best practice says that you should place your vocal mic at least 3 feet away from any reflective surfaces i.e. walls, and there should be a non reflective surface behind the singer. Then make a ‘clean’ recording  i.e. no effects at the input or output stage. This recording will be the most important aspect of all the vocal recording you ever do, because if you can get a good clean initial recording at this stage, everything else is a bonus, but if it sounds wrong here, it will always be a case of trying to compromise using effects and eq’s and frankly, there ain’t enough time in anybodys world for that!
Third things third…….

Scan guide to home recording
Microphone choice.
There are many microphones in the market place for you to choose from, and many of them are very good value and quality indeed, however, here at Scan, we have conducted our own trials to assess which microphones will work best in which situation. These aren’t the only options, but in our opinion they are the best!

 

Finally………….

Mouth to Mic:
Many people understand that if you record an acoustic guitar, and want to change the sound a little, without using EQ’s or processing, you can alter the position of the mic, either a little further up the neck or away from the soundhole another couple of inches, but the same is true of a vocalist. In fact the best session singers are not necessarily the ones with the finest voice, but the ones who know how to control it best.
A great singer will ‘work’ the mic, leaning in closer for quiet breathy qualities and pulling back and slightly offset for lungbusting high notes or shouts. Watching a great singer is hugely enjoyable for engineers and producers, because the biggest pain is trying to record a vocalist with no mic technique at all.