Casting an eye over the Intel i7 Skylake X editions.

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone up to speed? Then let us begin.

The Long Hot Summer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hit The Bench

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

7800K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.4GHz

7800X CPUZ test

7800K Geekbench 4 @ 4.4GHz

Geekbench 4 7800K

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

7820K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.3GHz

i7 7820X CPUz

7820K Geekbench 4 @ 4.3GHz

7820X Geek4

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

Hold the DAW

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

Skylake i7 Dawbench 4

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

DAWBench 6 Skylake X

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Intel i9 7900X First Look

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

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

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

A tale of two microarchitectures.

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

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

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

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

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

Touch the Sky(lake).

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

intel-core-x-comparison-table

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

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

Summer of 79(00X)

So what’s new?

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

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

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

i9 CPU load

 

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

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

Geekbench 4 7900X

GeekBench 4

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

DAWBench 4 7900X

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

So will the impending AMD Threadripper upset this again?

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

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

To see our complete audio system range @ Scan

 

Free music packages for your studio DAW.

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

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

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

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

ProTools First

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

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

So firstly the key restrictions:

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

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

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

Compare the ProTools range features here.

Studio One Prime

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

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

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

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

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

Compare the Studio One versions here.

Tracktion 5

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

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

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

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

Compare the Tracktion Versions here.LMMS

LMMS : https://lmms.io/

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

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

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

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

Honorable mention

Reaper DAW

Reaper : www.reaper.fm

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

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

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

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

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

See our selection @ Scan.

Focusrite Academy : Drum Recording

Starting out on the engineering road can be quite daunting, especially for instrumentalists, often more used to gigging than studio sessions.

Well, fret no more as Focusrite have opened their Academy, a free online video tutorial site designed to teach Producers and Engineers the essential basics of the art of recording acoustic and electric instruments on their computer.

Drum recording is the first course on offer and covers mic placement, recording, processing and showing you all the interfaces, mics and outboard equipment you need to get started.

Through a whopping 25 Videos, session drummers Craig Blundell and Alessandro Lombardo, with producer Tim Harbour, talk about skinning, try various variations of mic placement using between one and 12 microphones, show you how to correct phase problems to get the best results and then how to process and edit the recorded tracks.

Click here to see the full range of Focusrite @ Scan

Native Instruments Summer Of Sound.

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

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

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

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

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

Time to light the FUSE?

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

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

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

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

Still very promising from what we can see. 

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

Audio Fuse Specifications

1. Inserts

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

2. MIDI in/out

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

3. Word Clock & S/PDIF in/out

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

4. ADAT in/out

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

5. USB hub

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

6. USB connection

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

7. Phono/line inputs 3&4

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

8. Speaker outputs A&B

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

9. Input control sections 1&2

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

10. Output control section

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

11. Direct monitoring

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

12. Phones control sections 1&2

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

13. Talkback

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

14. Input channels 1&2

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

15. Phones output channels 1&2

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

Sound Quality

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

The Arturia AudioFUSE range @ Scan

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.