All posts by Pete

Native Instruments unleash their largest ever range refresh!

Native Instruments have really gone all out this year, with a huge range refresh taking place and a raft of new products fresh out of Berlin.

Komplete 12 

The Komplete 12 Edition

The flagship collection package reaches it’s 12th revision and adds even more instruments and sound libraries to the collection.

Amongst the headline updates here include a follow up to the now legendary “Massive” synth with Massive X making it into the pack. The original Massive had a huge impact upon the softsynth world as well as EDM and dance music in general, so whilst current details are still scarce the promise of a whole new engine and a modular workflow is certainly going to have people eagerly awaiting the full reveal in the coming months.

We also see the release of Kontakt 6 as another heavy hitter and various sound libraries like Session Strings 2 and a host of extra expansion packs such as the Middle East discovery series, Analog Dreams, Ethereal Earth and Hybrid keys packs also for Kontakt.

Kontakt 6 and its new WaveTable Module

The new TRK-01 “Kick and Bass” instrument is in there too, as well as creative effects like Phasis, Choral and Flair making up a sizable number of new and improved tools on this revision release.

For a more complete list of all that can be found in the new Komplete 12 bundle, click the image below to expand.

Komplete 12 Bundle Contents
Komplete 12 Full Bundle List – Click to expand

Komplete Kontrol – A Series

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol A61

Taking the already popular Kontrol keyboard range and releasing a cut-down version makes so much sense to us, that we wonder how it hasn’t happened sooner. Promising the same great design experience we’ve come to expect from the “S” series models, whilst getting the option to pick one up without all the bells and whistles.

That’s not to say they are featureless, with plenty of pre-mapped controls for all of your most used N.I. libraries software they’ll certainly help to improve your workflow for anyone who makes good use of packages like Kontakt already.

The keyboards will be shipping with a solid collection of plug-ins too, offering versions of Komplete Instruments and effects as well as the Machine Essentials libraries. They will be available in three different sizes which are 25, 49 and 61 note editions.

Komplete Kontrol – S88 MKII

Komplete Kontrol - S88 MKII
Komplete Kontrol – S88 MKII

Not to be left out, the “S” series gets an update too, although just the largest S88 model at this time. The rest of the range has already had their MK2 editions out for some time, so really we’re just seeing the S88 being brought into line with the rest of the range, but none the less always good to see an update.

Some of the smart play features feel like they might be a little un-needed for someone willing to invest this much in a good playing keyboard,but it none the less continues to feature one of the best in class fully weighted Fatar keybeds and offering the same great software packages as the A-series mentioned above make it a serious contender for anyone considering a with keyboard upgrade in the future.

Maschine Mikro Mk3

Maschine Mikro Mk3

Another model refresh and the big news here is the new touch strip, designed to add even more hands-on control. Not such a major overhaul here, but for anyone who’s been thinking about picking up a Mikro anyway, then more features to play with are always great I’m sure we can all agree!

Traktor Pro and Traktor S2 & S4 Mk3’s.

Traktor 3 is due to ship with the two new controller revisions and offers up a number of improvements under the hood. The audio engine uses the Elastique 3 time stretching engine for noticeable audio improvements whilst playing. 

Traktor 3 Pro
Traktor Pro 3

The interface GUI has been redesigned to offer additional clarity in use and the few other new knobs and buttons have been added, most notably the one knob “Mixer FX” control that can be assigned to each channel independently.

Traktor S2
Traktor S2

The S2 has had some hands-on optimizations in the shape of up-sized jog wheels and increased touch sensitivity, giving users even more control when mixing and scratching.

The big change here, however, is in the S4 model, which sees the introduction of Haptic Drive which offers us high-torque, motorized jog wheels that provide performers with haptic feedback in three modes: Jog Mode, Turntable Mode, and Beatgrid Adjust Mode.

DJs can now feel cue points and loops when scrolling through tracks, and enable Turntable Mode for natural-feeling beatmatching while nudging and stalling the jog wheels. Interfacing software and hardware within Haptic Drive™ technology means that its functionality can be expanded, and will grow over the course of future updates, giving DJs even more ways to interact with their music.

Traktor S4

The S4 places vital performance information on the hardware itself, keeping everything DJs need to know front and follow up in the booth. High-resolution displays on each deck display a waveform strip, track title, loop length and activation, key, and BPM, as well as Stem and Remix Deck components when performing with Stems and samples. Further visual feedback is provided by RGB light rings surrounding each jog wheel, which visualize deck selection, tempo, and track-end warnings.

Online Platforms

It’s not all hardware and software today through as a number of online services have had updates too.

Sounds.com is due to exit beta and is a service offering an ever-growing collection of over 700,000 high-quality loops and samples from over 250 providers for a monthly subscription fee. 

We’re advised that this is the culmination of months of continuous expansion and improvement based on user feedback, with the aim to provide musicians of all levels an easy and affordable way to access an ever-growing library of high-quality loops and samples with plenty more to be added going forward.

Also receiving a redesign is Metapop, which is NI’s online hub for music makers to share, connect, and collaborate with like-minded creators. In the site relaunch, NI is launching a newly redesigned Metapop, with a new user experience focused on making it easier to connect, share, and collaborate with fellow music makers.

After listening to the feedback from its users, NI has added new features like groups and chats, helping creators to find their community, connect with others, and get feedback on their music. Additionally, a new mobile version of the site lets users upload, connect, and listen to newly released samples – whether at home or on-the-go.

Lastly “Loop Loft” who joined the N.I. stable back in January this year is also receiving a site redesign. The Loop Loft itself continues to provide an ever-growing source of inspirational content to help producers learn and grow, including exclusive tutorials, interviews, and tips from leading industry professionals.

Check out the full Native Instruments range @ Scan

ThreadRippers 2990WX & 2950X on the bench: Just a little bit of history repeating?

I’m the first to admit that I’m a little late to the table with this write-up. The original 2990WX sample arrived whilst I was on leave and was quickly placed into a video rig and sent out for review, meaning I’ve had to locate another one at a later date. Along with that, I’m honestly a little overwhelmed with how much interest this £1700 workstation grade CPU has generated with the public in recent weeks, as I really didn’t expect this level of interest in a chip at this sort of price point.

I’ve also approached this with a little trepidation due to earlier testing. As someone noted over the GS forum, the 2990WX might not prove all that interesting for audio due to the design layout of the cores and the limitations we’ve seen previously with memory addressing inside of studio-based systems. They were certainly right there, as the first generation failed to blow me away and there remains a number of reservations I have with the under-laying design of this technology that potentially could be amplified by this new release. During the initial testing of the 2990WX this time around, the 1950X replacement also arrived with us too in the shape of the 2950X and given some of the results of the 2990WX I thought throwing it into the mix might prove a handy comparison. 

Why bring all this up at all? Well, because everything I discussed back then is still completely relevant. In fact, I’m going to go as far as to suggest that anyone doesn’t understand what I’m referring to at this point should head over to last years 1950X coverage and bring themselves up to speed before venturing forward any further.

Back again? Up to speed?

Then I shall begin.

The 2990WX is the new flagship within the AMD consumer range and features a 32 core / 64 thread design. It has a base clock of 3GHz with a max twin core turbo of 4.2GHz and an advised power draw of 250W TDP. 

I won’t split hairs. It’s a beast… something I’m sure most people reading this are well aware of given the past week or so’s publicity. 

In fact, for offline rendering, I could close the article right there. If you’re a video editor on this page and don’t happen to care about audio (hello… you might be lost, but welcome regardless) then you should feel secure in picking up one of these right now if you have the resources and the need for more power in your workshop.

But as was proven with the release of the 1950X, the requirements for a smooth running audio PC for a lot of users are largely pinned on how great it is for real-time rendering, which is a whole different ballgame.

In the 1950X article I linked up top, I went into a great deal of detail in regards to where performance holes existed. I found that low latency response was sluggish and resulted in a loss of performance overhead that left it not in an ideal place for audio orientated systems. I had a theory that NUMA load optimization for offline workloads was leaving the whole setup in a not ideal situation for real-time workloads like ASIO based audio handling. 

In the weeks following that article, we saw AMD release BIOS updates and application tweaks to try and resolve the NUMA addressing latency I had discussed in the original article, largely to no avail as far as the average audio user was concerned. In AMD’s defence, they were optimizing it further for tasks that didn’t include the sort of demands that real-time audio places upon it, so whilst I understand the improvements were successful in the markets they were designed to help, few of those happened to be audio-centric.  

At the time it was just a theory, but my conclusion was largely one being that if this is as integral to the design as I thought it might be, then it would take a whole architecture redesign to reduce the latency that was occurring to levels that would keep us rather demanding pro users happy.

The 2990WX we see here today is not the architecture change we would require for that to happen as where the 1950X has 2 dies in one chip, the 2990WX is now running a 4 die configuration which has the potential to amplify any previous design choices. If I was right about hard NUMA being the root of the lag in the first generation then on paper it looks like we can expect this to only get worse this time around due to the extra data paths and potential extra distance the internal data routing might have to cope with.

The 2950X, by comparison, is an update to the older 1950X and maintains 2 functional dies, with tweaks to the chip’s performance. Given the similar architecture, I would expect this to perform similar to the older chip, although make gains from the process refinements and tweaks enacted within this newer model. I’ll note that the all core overclocking is improved this time around and a stable 4GHz was quick and easy to achieve.

OK, so let’s run through the standard benchmarking and see what’s going on.

2990WX CPU-Z Report
2950X CPU-Z

As normal I’ve locked it off at an all core turbos on both of the chips. As with a lot of these higher core count chips, I’ve not managed to hit a stable all core max turbo clock, which would have been 4.2GHz, rather settling for 3.8GHz on the 2990WX and 4GHz on the 2950X both of which perform fine with aircooling

I’ve spoken to our video team about this and they managed to hit a stable 4.1GHz on the 2990WX using a Corsair H100, so it looks like you can eak out a bit more performance if noise is less of a consideration in your environment.

If you’re not aware from previous coverage why I do this, if you’re running a turbo with a large spread between the max and minimum clock speeds then the problem with real-time audio is that when 1 core falls over, they all fall over. So, whilst you might have 2 cores running at 4.2GHz the moment one of the cores still running at 3.2GHz fails to keep up then the whole lot will come tumbling down with it. Locking cores off will give you a smoother operating experience overall and I’m always keen to find a stable level of performance like this when doing this sort of testing.

2990WX CPU-Z Benchmark
2950X CPU-Z Benchmark

I don’t always remember to run this benchmark, although this time I’ve made the effort as Geekbench doesn’t appear to support this many cores at this point. Handily enough, I did at least run this over the 1950X last time which returned results of 428 on the single core and 9209 on the multi-core at the time.

Given that the 2990WX looks to be pulling twice the performance and physically has twice the number of cores, it looks to all be scaling rather well at this point. The 2950X, on the other hand, sees around a 10%-15% gain on the single and multi-core scores over the previous generation.

Moving onwards and the first test result here is the SGA DAWBench DSP test. 

DAWBench SGA1156 Test – Click To Enlarge

This initial test is very promising, as was the older 1950X testing. Raw performance wise we’re talking about it by the bucket, I really can’t stress that enough with both chips performing well in what is essentially a very CPU-centric test.

At the lowest buffer we see it being exceeded by the older chip, so what is going on there? Well, we’re seeing a repeat in the pattern that was exhibited by the 1950X where there is an impact to performance at tighter buffers, and it does appear that at the very tightest buffer setting that we’re seeing some additional inefficiency caused by the additional dies, although this does resolve itself when we move up a buffer setting.

Last time we scaled up from 70% load being accessible at a 64 buffer and this time, I imagine due to the extra dies being used we see the lowest setting corrupting around the 65% load level and then scaling up by 10% every time we double the buffer.

ASIO BufferCPU Load
6465%
12875%
25685%
51295%

As a note when I pulled that 512 buffer result this time around and it returned 529 instances.

The 2950X, by comparison, returned me a load handling around the 85% on a 64 buffer, rising to 95% at a 256. An improvement on the first look we took a look at the original 1950X chip, although I’ll note I was also seeing this improved handling when I did the 1950X retest a few months ago using the newer SGA1156 charts that has replaced the classic DSP test, so this might be down to the change in benchmarks over the last year, or it could also be down to the BIOS level changes they’ve made since original generation launch.

So far, so reasonable. A lot of users, even those with the most demanding of latency requirements can get away with a 128 buffer on the better audio interfaces and the performance levels seen at a 128 buffer, at least in this test are easily the highest single chip results that I’ve seen so far.

In fact, knowing we’re  losing 40% of the overhead on the 2990WX is really frustrating when you understand the sort of performance that we could be seeing otherwise. But even with that in mind, if you wanted to go all out and grab the most powerful option that you can, then wouldn’t this still make sense?

Well, that test is pure CPU performance and in the 1950X testing, the irregularities started to really manifest themselves in the DAWBench Kontakt test where it started to depend equally on the memory addressing side of things.

Normally I would insert a chart here to show how that testing panned out.

But I can’t.

It started off pretty well. I fired it up with a 64 buffer and started adding load to the project. I made it up to around 70% CPU load on the first attempt before the whole project collapsed on me and started to overload. I slackened it off by muting the tracks and took it back down to around 35% load where it stabilised, but from this point onwards I couldn’t take it above 35% without it overloading, not until I restarted the project. 

I then tried again at each buffer setting up to 512 and it repeated the pattern each time.

I proceeded to talk this one through with Vin the creator of the various DAWBench suites and a number of other ideas were kicked about, some of which I’ve dived further into.

One line of thought was that as I was still using Cubase and the last 8.5 build specifically, precisely for the reason that C9 has a load balance problem for high core count CPU’s that is currently being worked upon. The older C8.5 build is noted as not having the same issue manifest due to a difference in the engine and during testing this time Windows itself was showing a fairly balanced loads mapped across all of the cores whilst I was looking at performance meter, but even so, historically, exceeding 32 cores has always been questionable inside many of the DAW clients.  

So, to counter this concern, I went and ran the same tests under Reaper and saw much the same result. I could push projects to maybe 65%-70% and then it would distort the audio as the chip overloaded and this wouldn’t resolve itself until the sequencer was closed and reloaded.

So what is going on there? If I was to speculate, then the NUMA memory addressing is designed to allocate the nearest RAM channel to it’s nearest physical core and not to use other RAM channels until on core’s local channel is full.

I suspect with knowing that, that the outcome here is that it’s maintaining the optimal handling up until that 70% level and then once it figures out that the RAM channel is overloaded it starts allocating data on the fly as it sees fit. The reallocation of that data to one of the other 3 dies would result in it being buffered and then allocated to the secondary memory location and would result in additional latency when the data is recalled in a later buffer cycle which would result in audio being lost when the buffer cycle completes before it can be recalled.

In short, we’re seeing the same outcome as the first generation 1950X but amplified by the additional resources that now need to be managed.

This way of working is the whole point of hard NUMA addressing and indeed is the optimal design for most workstation workloads where multiple chips (or die clusters in this case) need to be managed. It’s a superb way for dealing with optimization for many workloads from database servers through to off-line render farms, but for anything requiring super-tight real-time memory allocation handling it remains a poor way of doing things.

As I’ve said previously, this is nothing new for anyone who deals with multi-CPU workstations where NUMA management has been a topic of interest to designers for decades now. There has always been a performance hit for dealing with multiple CPU’s in our type of workflow and it’s largely why I’ve always shy’d away from multiple chip Xeon based systems as they too exhibit this to a certain extent.

Much like the first generation 1950X with it’s 2 dies, we see similar memory addressing latency when we use 2 seperate Xeons and this has always been the case. I would never use 4 of those together in a cluster for this sort of work simply due to that latency and so the overall outcome with 4 dies being used in this fashion isn’t all that surprising.

I also tried retesting with SMT turned off, so it could only access the 32 physical cores in order to rule out a multi-threading problem. The CPU usage didn’t quite double at each buffer instead settling around the 70% total usage mark but the total amount of usable tracks remained the same and once again going over this lead to the audio collapsing quite rapidly.

So, much like the first generation the handling of VST instruments and especially those which are memory heavy look like they may not be the best sort of workload for this arrangement. This ultimately remains a shame, especially as one of the other great concerns from last time which was heat has been addressed by quite some degree. Running the 2990WX even with an overclock didn’t really see it get much above 70 degrees and that was on air. Given that the advised TDP here is 250W at stock, rising quickly when overclocked even to the point of doubling the power draw, the temperatures for a core count this huge is rather impressive. I think there is a lot to pay attention too here by Intel in regards to thermals and the news that the forthcoming i9’s are finally going to be soldered again, makes a whole load of sense given what we’ve seen here with the AMD solutions. If anything it’s just a shame it took the competition pulling this out of the hat before they took notice of all the requests for it to be brought back by their own customers over recent years.

Still, that’s the great thing about a competitive marketplace and very much what we like to see. Going forward I don’t really see these performance quirks changing within the Threadripper range, much the same way that I never expect it to change within the Xeon ecosystem. Both chip ranges are designed for certain tasks and optimized in certain ways, which ultimately makes them largely unsuitable for low latency audio work, no matter how much they exceed in other segments. 

There is some argument here for users who may not require ultra-tight real-time performance. It’s been brought to my attention in the past that users like mastering guys could have a lot of scope for using the performance available here and if they are doing video production work too, well, that only strengthens the argument. 

On paper that all makes sense and although I haven’t tested along those lines specifically, the results seem to indicate that even the trickiest of loads for these CPU’s seem to stabilise at 512 and above with 80%+ of the CPU being accessed, even in the worst case scenario. I have to wonder how it would stand up in mixed media scenarios although I would hope that ultimately in any situation where you render it offline that you should be able to leverage the maximum overhead from these chips.

I suspect the other upshot of this testing might be one of revisiting the total CPU core count that each DAW package can access these days. Last time I did a group test was about half a decade ago and certainly, all the packages look to have up’d their game since then. Even so, I doubt anyone working on a sequencer engine even 3 years ago would have envisioned a core count such as the one offered by the 2950X here, let along the monstrous core count found in the 2990WX. 

AMD’s Zen core IPC gains this generation as we’ve already seen with Ryzen refresh earlier in the year were around the 12% mark and it looks to have translated faithfully into Threadripper series with the 2950X  model. One of AMD’s big shouting points at launch was regarding just how scalable the Zen package was simply by upping the die count and that’s clear by the raw performance offered by the 2990WX, they really have proven just how effective this platform can be when dealing with workloads it’s designed for.

One day I just hope they manage to find a way of making it applicable to the more demanding of us studio users too.

MOTU rolls out a firmware update featuring their new Touch Console Application.

MOTU this week pushed out a new firmware for a number of their network attached models. This new update takes their Pro Audio Control web application that you regularly use for routing your interface and they’ve crammed in a few new features and more importantly, they’ve redesigned it to allow you to run it off any touch-enabled device on your network.

This feature has cropped up previously on the recently released 8PRE-es where it came pre-installed. Now, however, this new firmware release opens it up even further allowing owners of the 1248, 16A, 8M, 112D, 828es, UltraLite-mk4, UltraLite AVB, Monitor-8 and Stage-B16 to all get involved.

Whether in the studio, or out on stage full control is now in your hand and users can launch the Pro Audio Control web app on their tablet or smartphone (iOS or Android) in order to gain easy access the Touch Console, giving the user an intuitive control over the DSP-driven 48-channel mixer in their MOTU interface, with twelve buses and effects including 4-band parametric EQ, dynamics processing, classic reverb and a model of the vintage LA-2A leveling amplifier.

It’s a free download, and for existing qualifying owners, you should get a new firmware update notification next time you log into the control application. 

For more details check out the following videos from MOTU.

All MOTU products @ Scan.

The Be quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 vs Scythe Ninja 5 Shoot Off

In a change from the normal component testing, I’m focusing on the bit you strap on to the CPU today, rather than the CPU itself.  For audio systems, it’s no secret that I tend to favour air cooling over water loops for a few basic reasons, namely water loops add pump noise, move the source of noise from the center to the extremities of the case and tend to require more pressure being generated to cool the more tightly packed radiator fins than you would also tend to need with larger coolers with wider spaced fins.

Of course, water loops are superb for extracting that last 5% – 10% of available performance from any system overclock, but with audio systems, we don’t tend to push it that far due to system noise being of utmost concern in the studio.

For the past couple of year’s the cooler in our most popular X299 tower systems has largely been the Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4. This twin tower cooler features a dual fan solution and offers a superb noise floor when under light and medium loads, whilst still being able to ramp right up when the performance is getting well and truly thrashed.

Recently the Dark Rock 3 series was discontinued and the newer Pro 4 made it to market. As always I’ve tested this in house, and this time I decided to pit it against a most notable challenger.

Scythe coolers have a long history in the low noise cooling segment. Indeed going back in the early 00’s there were few cooling companies with any sort of focus on noise levels. Back then, Zalman was the default go to in this regard for many people but for the true connoisseur of quietness, Scythe was often the secret weapon of choice.

Offering everything for silencing at one point, from coolers and fans, through to drive mounting’s, PSU’s they’ve built a solid reputation over the years. On a personal level, whilst I’ve always been a big fan of their hardware one little thing has driven me insane as a user and that is their lack of TDP capabilities being listed in the specs. Where a firm like Be Quiet! will splash the recommended TDP ratings all over the box, Scythe often is not always quite so forthcoming with this information. 

I mention this because I’ve frankly sidelined them over the years for anything other than a stock configuration on a system, simply as anyone user who overclocks on one might find themselves running out of cooling overhead at a most unfortunate time if they are not careful.

That all said, I would love to see a true winner come from Scythe and in pitting it against the Dark Rock Pro 4 we see it taking on one of the what could well prove to be one of the best low noise / high performance quite coolers out here.

First up, let’s check out the official shots.

Dark Rock Pro 4
Dark Rock Pro 4

 

Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink
Scythe Ninja 5 Heatsink

I’ve chosen these two to face off, as they are the flagship models from their respective ranges and both are recommended for running on X299 based i7 & i9 systems.

The Dark Rock Pro 4 is a good £20 more expensive than the Ninja and there is, in fact, another Be Quiet! model around the same price of the Ninja but that is a single fan unit and rated to only 200 TDP as opposed to the 250 TDP. The Ninja as is common with Scythe isn’t officially rated although it does support the i9’s at around 165W TDP with ease, so our question here is how much further can it go beyond that? 

So, on with testing and let’s start at the beginning with mounting the coolers. Be Quiet! has a bit of a mixed reputation for its mounting schemes ranging from pretty sensible to awkwardly bonkers and Scythe in past years have certainly had some moments too.  So, with that in mind, the process for fitting both of these coolers is almost boringly simple.

Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket
Scythe Ninja 5 Mounting Bracket

 

Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4
Be Quiet! Dark Rock Pro 4

There really is very little to separate them here as both of them have very similar X299 bracket mechanisms. You insert 4 x 2 ended screws into the CPU socket corners, place the bracket over it and then screw down some thumb screws to lock it in place. It’s a well-proven design and very, very quick to install for any user, no matter your experience level.

Now the tricky part of this design, however, is rarely the bracket itself, rather how the cooler mounts to it. Previous Dark Rock Pro models would often ship with a special spanner and you used to have to slide your hand under the cooler in order to get to the screws. Whilst it worked, it was sometimes a little awkward, even when working on a desk, needless to say trying to do the same job with everything installed into a case could prove to be rather frustrating.

The Ninja 5 avoids all of this by carefully designing the cooler to leave access gaps for the screwdriver to feed through. 

Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access
Scythe Ninja 5 with screwdriver access

It’s a quick and easy design to fit and as you can see, with the included screwdriver an absolute cinch to get in there.

And then you pull the other cooler out of the box and see this…

Dark Rock Pro Top Shot
Dark Rock Pro Top Shot

Hmmm… the initial thought that went through my head (and possibly anyone reading who’s dealt with a number of larger coolers before) was one of “great, more fiddly mountings to try and deal with”.

However, this cooler has an interesting trick up its sleve.

Dark Rock Pro 4 Screws Removed
Ta daaaa!

Yes, two of those heat pipe caps are fake and unscrew, giving full access to the mount securing screws. A simple change, but one that will save an astounding amount of potential aggravation for the end user. 

But form aside, let’s talk about some function and just exactly what’s going on with some benchmarking. 

Dark Rock Pro 4 - Stock clock test
Dark Rock Pro 4 – Stock clock test – Click to Expand

The first test is the stock clock test on the Dark Rock Pro 4. We see after 30 mins a rough average of around 60 degrees across the cores. 

Ninja 5 stock test resize
Ninja 5 – Stock Clock test – Click to Enlarge

The Ninja doesn’t quite match up to the Be Quiet! at this point, although overall it holds it’s own with 70 degrees as a max not being all that terrible, it’s certainly not quite up to the Be Quiet! the performance we saw in the first test.

Following on from those I thought I’d retest the temps and try again with a bit more of a workload to cope with. I tend to advocate running CPU’s at their single core max turbo, as it normally tends to be a simple and rather straightforward overclock to carry out, assuming you have capable enough cooling to work with.

Dark Rock 4 overclock test
Dark Rock 4 – overclock test @ 4.3GHz

In this one, the Dark Rock still holds it’s own. A few of the tests in the sequence do bounce off the 90 degrees mark, which is still a good 10% below the throttle point. Otherwise, it does carry itself fairly well, given that we’re running the FPU testing component here and that will tend to elevate heat levels with mid 80’s being seen as the occasional peak, but otherwise, it spent a lot of the time around the 70 degrees level which is acceptable.

Ninja 5 - 4.3GHz Overclock test
Ninja 5 – 4.3GHz Overclock – Click to expand

Here we see where the Ninja proves to be a little weak in its performance handling. The test red lined for me almost instantly once I hit start, with a few of the cores bouncing off the 105 throttle limit over the course of the 30 min test.

But… this is only half the story for us audio system owners!

Noise is, of course, a major factor with both coolers being supplied with a promise of being super quiet, but have we really got a winner in that regard too?

I grabbed a basic sound meter and headed into our demo space here. The room whilst treated is still very much a demo space rather than a dedicated studio. We do get an average reading of a 36db noise floor in there at the time of testing which means it’s certainly as quiet or quieter as the average rehearsal space.

I measured in two positions for this whilst each cooler was under load. Position 1 had me set the mic on the GPU cooler about 2″ from the cooler. Position 2 had the mic pick up sat 0.5 meters away from the cooler. In both instances the mainboard & cooler is sat on my test bench with no case around it,  so keep in mind any result I’ve recorded here will be further muted once it’s entombed into a fully built system.

  Stock Clock 4.3Ghz Overclock
Dark Rock Pro 4    
2 inches away 44 47
Half Meter away 36 37
Ninja 5     
2 inches away 38 42
Half Meter away 36 37

As mentioned already the room noise floor is 36db.  As we can see above the Ninja 5 comes up trumps in this test when we get up close and personal, there is a clear 5db difference between the two units.

However, at half a meter it’s a different story with both coolers only just being picked up by the mic when running under the overclocked profile and sitting below the noise floor on the standard profile. I dare say we’ll not be seeing many users working closer to the cooler than half a meter and even so, with the case around it I would expect any trace noise to be completely masked. 

So, is it a draw for noise levels?

Not quite.

What the chart doesn’t show is that under more intense test cycles on that overclock profile, the Be Quiet will ramp up to a more noticeable level. The Ninja cooler is running a pair of fans that are limited to 800rpm and the figures you see above are the fans hitting their full tilt.

The Be Quiet! fans are rated to 1200 & 1500 rpm and it does give them some additional overhead to play with, but that does translate to some extra noise. 

Ultimately the difference in fan speeds explains where the better overclocking results come from in testing. At the point we see the Ninja 5 fail to keep up, the Be Quiet! cooler will then proceed to kick it up a gear to ensure everything runs smoothly. It does however become noticeable as far as an increase in noise levels go at that point. It’s not a vast difference and anyone who keeps their system down the side of the desk is unlikely to notice any difference, but for any users running a PC on the desk, well, you might want to stick with the Ninja when all is said and done. 

So, the outcome of this test just to recap depends on what you want to achieve.

Do you want the quietest system possible with an i9 in it?

Grab the Scythe.

Do you want to overclock that system and don’t care about a little background hum when you’re pushing the machine to its limits? 

Then the Be quiet! is for you.

Both are astoundingly good coolers, they’re just suitable for slightly different workload profiles depending upon your needs. 

All 3XS Audio Workstations @ Scan

Intel i7 8750H – The power to move you?

It’s been a while now since we sat down and took a good look at any of the mobile processor releases. It’s a market segment that has been crawling along slowly in recent years with minor incremental upgrades and having checked out the last couple of mobile flagship chips, it was obvious that with each generation we were seeing those refinements focused more on improved power handling rather than trying to extract every drop of performance.

Admittedly in the shape of last years 7700HQ they perhaps got closer to the equivalent desktop model than any generation previously managed to achieve in previous years. Whilst welcome, this was really more a symptom of stagnating desktop speeds, rather than any miraculous explosion in mobile power. Whilst the chip itself was a great performer, the fact that it got there by eaking a few percent generation, upon generation… well, by the time we got there, it was all ultimately a little underwhelming. 

But now, thanks to AMD’s continued push in the current desktop  CPU war, we’ve seen Coffee Lake emerge from the blue camp and now we’re going to get hands-on with the mobile equivalent. 

The i7 8750H we have here today is a 6 core with hyperthreading, running with a base clock of 2.20GHz and a max single core turbo frequency of 4.10GHz and leads the way when it comes to mobile i7’s.

Just as a side note before we kick this off, there is another chip above this, in the form of the i9 8950HK which is also 6 cores + hyperthreading but with another 500MHz on the clock. I mention this as Apple has just announced it’s going into the flagship Macbook later in the year, we do have them due to land with us in PC laptops as well in a month or two, so I will be benchmarking that when it arrives with us too.

8750H Geekbench 4
Click to expand

Intel i7 8750H CPUid

Clocking Off

Already in the very first screenshot above, we’ve inadvertently tipped a nod to what’s going to be the crux of this write-up. The clock speeds are somewhat wide-ranging, to say the least. On paper, there is almost 2GHz worth of clock between the base and turbo clocks. Keeping in mind that it’s single core turbo only up to the 4.1GHz and suddenly you find yourself asking about what the rest of the cores will be doing at that point. 

Quickly throwing CPUid on and running it returns us a result of 3890GHz, which if it had been all cores would have been rather impressive for a mobile chip. In this instance, however, I wasn’t doing anything other than sitting on the desktop when this snapshot was taken. The score you see is the highest core score and it’s hyper-thread was showing as matching it. 

The rest of the cores, however, well, they were largely unused and sat around the baseline 2.0GHz – 2.6GHz level. What we really want to know of course is what sort of average speed we can expect from all the cores being kicked up to 100% load.

Any longer term followers of these pieces will already be well aware that my preference for testing involves doing an all core overclock or in more basic terms, I tend to favour locking all the cores to the single core max turbo speed.

Yes, it’s an overclock, but it’s one that the chips are kind of rated to. Admittedly, it’s not rated to quite the level we’re working at here, but hey… that’s why we favour some chunky aftermarket cooling in those systems to make everything alright.

Except, when dealing with laptops we can’t go strapping a large chunk of copper to it, in fact, a lot of the tweaks we would wish to make on a desktop system, simply don’t exist in laptop land. Often with laptops, it’s a case of a unit either working out of the box or with a few basic tweaks or otherwise due to drivers or hardware choices it’ll never really be suitable for the sort of real-time processing required for working with audio.

I grabbed a copy of AIDA64 and gave it a quick run, at least enough to force the CPU to load up all the cores and simulate a heavy workload and how those cores would respond to such a load.

Intel i7 8750H AIDA stress test
Click to enlarge

What we see here is all the cores being pushed, with the highest speed core running about 3000MHz in the screenshot. Monitoring it in real-time it was bouncing around 3000 – 3200MHz range.  Similarly, at the lower end, we see a core sat around 2600MHz and this would bounce up to around 2800MHz at times.

So, where’s our 4.1GHz turbo? Well, that single core turbo only really achieves such lofty heights if the rest of the cores are sat around doing nothing. In the interest of load balancing and heat management should more than a couple of cores need to be turbo’d then all of them will shift to a safer average.

You see on desktops with chips that have a range of a 3.8Ghz to 4.3Ghz sitting mostly around the 4GHz level and is why I tend to notch them all up to 4.3GHz in that sort of situation. It ensures no sudden ramping up and down and ensures we get some nice stable but optimized performance out of a setup without taking any major risks.

With these laptops, we don’t get those sort of options, nor I suspect would heat permit us to be quite so aggressive with the settings. Whilst the headline here of 6 cores is fairly unprecedented within a consumer level laptop, and certainly, on a fairly mainstream chipset, it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors with how it’s presented if you don’t fully understand how the turbo presents itself. 

The potential issues it presents to us are in the form of the ASIO buffer. With whole channels being assigned to each given thread, we ideally want the performance level across all cores to be as equal as possible. For audio systems the overall performance can often be limited by how powerful the weakest core is, this is something we need to keep in mind heading into this results roundup.

DAWBench DSP 8750H
Click to enlarge

With the DAWBench DSP test, we’re using the SGA1566 variant running under Reaper for this generation of testing and we see the 8750H performing around the level of an entry-level desktop i5 chip. In comparison to previous generations, this isn’t overly surprising as historically the mobile i7 CPU of any given generation tends to sit around the level of the leading i5 desktop solution in the performance stakes.

8750H DAWBench VI test
Click to enlarge

Running the DAWBench Vi test we see similar results here too, with the chip coming in just behind the i5 8400 once again. It’s a reasonable showing and in reality, we’re probably looking at maybe a 25% gain over the last generation flagship mobile chip. 

Given that we’ve seen 3 or 4 generations now where 10% gains year on year has been the standard then normally we’d be pretty happy about seeing a jump of 25% coming out of single refresh and indeed it’s certainly a far better value option than the model it replaced.

However, we saw a jump of 40% on the desktop last year and frankly all we’re doing here is shoehorning in another couple of cores, rather than bringing in a whole new platform. It looks like they’ve played it cautiously by not pushing the chip too much and the temperatures do seem a little on the safe side even under stress testing.

To be fair to them, this is pretty much what the average user wants from a laptop chip, giving us quick bursts to deal with any sudden intensive activity, but otherwise, aggressive power-saving to ensure a long battery life when on the move. 

Which of course, is pretty much the opposite of what most of us power users want, as we tend to be looking for a high-performance desktop replacement solution. It’s clear there is a bit of headroom here which will no doubt be leveraged over the next couple of range refreshes, it’s just a little bit frustrating that we can’t extract a bit more of it right now ourselves. 

With all that said I suspect that after seeing the CPU war kick expectations up a notch as it did last year, that I may have headed into this with slightly higher expectations than normal this time around.

Overall, the final result here is a solid release with above average generational gains that I’m sure will be more than appreciated by anyone who is in the market for a new model this year.

Scan 3XS PC’s and Laptops

All DAWBench Coverage

Superbooth: IK Multimedia Announce The UNO Analog Synth

After a teaser campaign lasting a couple of weeks, the first day of Superbooth ensured that a number of eyes were already peering in IK Multimedia’s direction. After all, why would a company with a mostly software heritage be heading to the mother of all hardware synth shows in Berlin?

As you would expect, this time around it got physical as they unveiled the UNO mono synth.

Uno Synth main top shot
IK Multimedia Uno Synth

Boasting an all-analogue signal path the UNO synth lays out plenty of options for generating and shaping your sounds including  2 VCOs, a noise generator and resonant multimode VCF and VCA.

The 2 independent VCOs feature Saw, Triangle, Pulse waveforms with continuously variable shape including PWM of the square wave plus a separate white noise generator. To help shape the sound it includes a 2-pole OTA-based analog resonant sweepable multimode filter with low pass, high pass and bandpass settings as well as a dual stage overdrive section and effects.

The synth holds 100 presets and includes an easy-to-play keyboard with selectable scales and an arpeggiator to make this an easy to handle performance synth, no matter what your skill level may be.

IK Multimedia UNO synth Rear
Round the back of the UNO synth.

The I/O round the back includes both a mono in and out as well as midi connectivity too. The unit can be USB or battery powered using 4 XAA batteries and the synth is a diminutive 25.6cm/10.1″ x 15cm/8.9″ x 4.9cm/1.93″ and only 400 grams.

The UNO should be arriving with us within the next couple of months and should be doing so for the bargain price point of around £200 when it does.

Ryzen Generation 2: 2600X & 2700X On The Testbench

Looking back over the rather hectic first few months of 2018 in the PC industry, it’s clear that a lot has changed since the last CPU benchmark session late last year. In the space of 6 months, we’ve seen security concerns and the resulting software patches swing windows performance back and forth as they’ve arrived with us thick and fast. I’ve largely been trying to wait it out and see how the dust settles in the interim, but with the release of new hardware, it’s time to get back into it.

My last bench was based on a build of windows frozen in late 2016 and associated drivers have gone through a number of revisions during the time since, so with the launch of Ryzen 2 it’s very much the time for an all-new software bench to be set up.

Cubase has moved from 8.0 to 9.5 and Reaper too has advanced a number of builds to 5.79 at the point of testing being initiated. This time around we also see the introduction of the newer SGA build of the DSP test, replacing the older DAWBench DSP test and the latest build of the DAWBench Vi test too.

Before getting underway please note that the new results are in no way comparable to the older charts, other than looking at the rough performance curve differences between certain chips which do appear to be in line with prior results. They are certainly not directly value comparable with all the bench changes that have taken place and it’s always key to keep the playing field as level as possible when doing these comparisons.

This time around I’ve tried to run each chip at its turbo frequency across all cores once again. Modern chips will tend to be rated with both a stock clock and a turbo clock, although what isn’t always clear is that the max turbo rating is often only over 1 or 2 cores by default.

Historically it’s been relatively easy to run most CPUs with those cores being pushed and locked off at the turbo max. However, in the event of a platform being pushed too hard, then this isn’t always viable. For instance, I saw this in testing some of the higher end i9’s, where I would choose to all core at 4.1GHz, rather than leave it at stock and let it 2 core to 4.2GHz with a far lower average leaving me open to possible audio interruptions due to clocking.

It’s also the case here with the 2700X where the overclock would hang the machine if trying to push everything to the 4.2GHz rated turbo speed. Instead, I tried to clock it up both manually and using the AMD tool, both of which topped out around 4.1GHz. After speaking to my gaming team and realising this is fairly common (a number of other reviews have picked up on it as well) I ended up using the utility to set everything up with the slightly lower all core turbo at 4.1GHz and testing there.

DAWBench DSP SGA 1566 Test - Q2 2018
DAWBench DSP SGA Test – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So first up is the newest variation of the classic DAWBench DSP test, now making use of the SGA1566 plugin from Shattered Glass Audio to apply CPU load until the project starts to crackle and break up. 

The 2700X here slots in behind the 8700K which leads by just short of 20% extra overhead at the tightest buffer setting, and both chips look to scale upwards in a similar pattern as you increase the buffer setting. The 8700K seems to be the most suitable comparison here as the price point (at time of writing in the UK) is around £30 more or about 10% more than the cost of the 2700X at launch.

The story of the performance curve scaling looks to repeat when we come to examine the 2600X and by comparison the 8600K from Intel. However, this time around the results are reversed with the Intel chip lagging behind the AMD model by about 5% across the buffer settings whilst the AMD costs around £25 less which makes it roughly 12% cheaper at launch.

So a strong showing for the DSP test, where we’re mostly throwing a load of small VST plugs at the CPU. The other test we run here is the DAWBench Vi test, based on stacking up Kontakt instances which allows us to test the memory response through sample loading along the CPU as we see with the DSP test.

With the Gen1 Ryzens, we saw them perform worse here overall, we suspect down to the memory response and performance. AMD saw similar performance issues across various segments with certain core software ranging from gaming to video processing and the was a lot of noise and multiple attempts to improve this over the life cycle of the chip. One suggestion we saw pay off to some extent in other segments (once again, video and gaming made notable gains) was to move over to using faster memory speeds.

We didn’t see any improvement here for audio applications, although in this instance all testing (both Intel and AMD) has been carried out with 3200MHz RAM, in the interest of trying to maximize the performance where we can as well as keeping things level in that regard.

The headline figure this time around suggests a rough 10% improvement to the IPC (instruction per clock) scores, which of course is promising, although notably, this is where AMD was lagging behind Intel even after bringing Ryzen to the market. In the interim we’ve seen the Coffee Lake launch, which also improved Intel’s IPC scores meaning that whilst AMD has been catching up rapidly of late, Intel does seem to remain intent on clawing back the lead on each successive launch.

DawBench Vi Test - Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)
DawBench Vi – Q2 2018 (Click To Expand)

So looking it over this time, both the 2700X and 2600X look to fall behind their Intel comparable chips.  The 2600X is roughly 20% lower than the 8600K this time although it’s moving up to the 2700X that proves more interesting, if only because it helps to outline what’s occurred between the two generation releases.

The older 1800X stood up well against the old 7700K edition at its launch, and indeed that extra 10% IPC boost we see this time may well have given it a solid lead over the Intel, if not for the Coffee Lake release in the interim in the shape of 8700K which pulls off a convincing lead at this price point currently. Indeed, not only does the 8700K show gains over the previous 7700K chip, but it also overtakes the more expensive although admittedly older, entry-level 6 core 7800X on the Intel’s own enthusiast platform. 

The 2700X is comparable to the 7800X at a far keener price point, although as noted the 7800X more or at least exists as a bit of an oddity by this point, even within it’s own range, so whilst this might have been a more impressive comparison 12 months ago, now it feels like they may have landed it just a few months too late to make serious waves.

Speaking from an audio point of view, the chips are good, but not exactly groundbreaking. If you also work in another segment where the AMD’s are known to have strengths, then the good news here is that they offer reasonable bang per buck for audio and hold their ground well as far as giving you performance at those price points.

But once again, they don’t appear to be breaking any performance to cost records overall at least for the audio market. They’ve got solid gains, but then again so has Intel last time around and this is often how it goes with CPU’s when we have the firms battling it out for market share. Not that this is a bad thing, certainly it benefits the end user, whichever your choice of platform.

As a closing note, I saw in my early generation 1 testing a number of interfaces fail to enumerate on the AMD boards. I reported this to a few manufacturers and interestingly the device that first showed up problems on the X370 boards the first time around (in this instance a UAD Twin USB), is behaving superbly on the X470 platform.

Whilst this is a sample size of approximately “1” unit in a range, it does point towards a reconsidering of the USB subsystem this time around, which can only be a positive. Anyone who was perhaps considering this the Ryzen 1 platform, but found themselves out of luck with interface compatibility, might well fare far better this time around. Obviously, if the were problems known before then please do check with the manufacturers your considering for the latest compatibility notes in each instance.

Looking forward there is a rumoured 2800X flagship Ryzen which is already well discussed but as yet no release date on the horizon. The has been already been discussion, rumours and even some testing and validation leaks out in the wild that suggest that Intel might be sitting on an 8 core Coffee Lake. It would certainly make sense for them to be keeping such a chip in the wings waiting on them seeing the public reaction to these new AMD chips. Similarly, it might turn out that the 2800X will be held back as an answer for those rumoured Intel models should they suddenly appear on the market in the near future.

To wrap it up, essentially we’re in peak rumour season and I’ve no doubt we’ll continue to see a pattern of one-upmanship for the foreseeable future which continues to be a very positive thing indeed. If you need to buy a system today, then the charts should help guide you, although if you’re not in rush right now, I’m sure the will be some interesting hardware to also consider coming over the year ahead.

Previous CPU Benchmarking Coverage
3XS Systems @ Scan

NAMM 18 – Presonus Expansions For The StudioLive Range

Presonus this year seem focused on building upon their popular range of studio live desks, with a number of new I/O expansion options to help flesh out your setup.

Presonus NSB 8.8
The Presonus NSB 8.8
Presonus NSB 16
Presonus NSB 16.8

Designed to work seamlessly with the Presonus StudioLive Series 3 mixers, these two stage boxes allow for easy routing of your audio over standard cat5 or cat6 cable, allowing for less signal degradation over long runs and eliminating large heavy snake runs around the venue. 

When setup alongside a Series 3 console, the stage boxes also allow you to remote control them straight from the desk or even from the dedicated touch control app. Featuring locking combo mic/line inputs, XMAX preamps and a pair of AVB connections to allow you daisy chain more units as required, meaning these boxes offer you the flexibility to route and patch your stage to accommodate pretty much any show.

StudioLive 24R Front
StudioLive 24R Front
StudioLive 24R Rear
StudioLive 24R Rear

Taking it up a level, the 24R and 32R are more stage box offerings that also function as sub-mixers as well, making ideal for doing secondary monitoring mixes on stage too. Once again you have the full remote mixing capability when hooked up to a series 3 studio live desk allowing you to fully control and customize your scenes and making it just as suitable for long-term shows and installs, as it is for going on tour.

Presonus Earmix
Presonus Earmix 16M

Lastly, we have the EarMix 16M which does away with the stage box functions, making it a hands-on and easy to control 16-way headphone submixer and amplifier. 

Each EarMix 16M accepts 16 mono channels of input via AVB networking and can network multiple units with a StudioLive Series III mixer. This allows you to setup up your own custom onstage mix in the headphones, and the line out options also allows you to feed this through to your foldback setup, for a fully custom monitoring arrangement.

Presonus EarMix 16M Rear
Presonus EarMix 16M Rear

Take a look at the whole Presonus range @ Scan

NAMM 18 – UA let the Arrow fly.

UA’s big announcement came a week before NAMM this year and is small, possibly one of their smallest yet perhaps, but all the better for it.

UA Arrow Top Down

The Arrow is a Thunderbolt 3 ready audio interface with an included core for handling UA plugins onboard. Fitted out with a conversion section derived from UA’s flagship Apollo interface range, as well as a headphone amp with a clean punchy output, makes this diminutive audio interface an astounding portable recording solution to go alongside any laptop.

UA Arrow Front

For the I/O we see an instrument input and headphone output on the front of the interface along with 2 more inputs and the main outputs around the rear.

UA Arrow Rear

The interface ships with the UA “Realtime Analog Classics” bundle, which offers a number of classic EQ’s, Compressors and guitar amp models and because the plugins are run on the UA, this allows for near-zero latency tracking through the interface with the effects applied and makes it just as ideal for live performances as it does for capturing your session. 

This looks to be the cheapest entry point into the UA ecosystem so far and the perfect device for leveraging your plugs when out of !the studio and on the road. If you’re already a user of those plugins and want to take them on a mobile adventure or perhaps just want to dip your knee into the pool, this could be the interface for you.

The UA Arrow – Available Now

UA Hardware @ Scan

NAMM 18 – The new T-Series speakers from ADAM Audio

With the surprise discontinuation of the ever popular Adam entry level “F-Series” late in 2017, we’ve heard the questions regarding what’s next a number of times now. Well, NAMM this year gives us the answer and simply put, it’s cheaper and better!

Pre-launch discussion has seen talk of these arriving at an even more accessible price point than their predecessors, whilst still offering the same legendary ribbon tweeter design in the form of the implemented U-ART solution. On top of that, its advised that also included is a newly designed polypropylene symmetrical-excursion woofer that extends bass to lower frequencies with less distortion than normally found in products around the price point.

Multiple technical innovations designed for ADAM’s flagship S Series and iconic AX Series have been included in this new lower-priced monitor range, including ADAM’s High-Frequency Propagation System (HPSTM) designed to offer a consistent horizontal and vertical dispersion across the frequency spectrum and promised DSP innovations for the crossover system.

Adam t7 front

Offering a 5″ woofer on the T5 model, along with a 7″ woofer on the T7  edition and offering a low-end extension of 45Hz and 39Hz, as well as the frequency response reaching up to 25kHz on both models, the specs on the page make them look like a solid upgrade when considered against the older F series specs.

Adam T7 Rear

Couple this with their almost stealth fighter black finish and angles to match on the front panel, they certainly also look the part with their classic Adam design features.

All that said, if they can hit the price points that they are seeking to meet, then we may see an unexpected shake-up at the low end of the speaker market this year, and these should certainly be the listening short list for anyone considering their first set of studio speakers.

Check out the full ADAM Audio range @ Scan