Apogee new Symphony I/O interface and converter offers Pro Tools HD and Logic connectivity

Apogee new Symphony I/O interface and converter offers Pro Tools HD and Logic connectivity

Apogee have announced a brand new flagship audio converter and interface aimed squarely at the professional market. The Symphony I/O is capable of up to 32 channels of I/O and is a fully modular unit, giving the user a choice of five I/O modules to fit into the chassis.

The chassis itself features a pair of built-in Pro Tools HD interface connection ports , as well as USB 2.0, Ethernet, wordclock and loop sync connections. The ports can also be used for connection to Apogee’s own Symphony and Symphony Mobile PCIe cards for users of native DAWs such as Logic, DP and Nuendo.

The standard Symphony I/O includes one module pre-installed which offers eight channels of analogue and eight channels of ADAT I/O. This configuration can be added to or swapped with four other available modules. These feature:

Eight channels of analogue + eight channels of AES/EBU I/O.

– 16 channels of analogue input and 16 channels of ADAT output.

– 16 channels of  ADAT input and 16 channels of analogue output.

– 8-channel mic preamp module with four instrument inputs and eight insert points. (This module works in conjunction with the standard 8-channel analogue input module to add a digitally controlled, 85dB microphone preamp to each input).

We’ve seen no shortage of high-end analogue converters emerge in the last few years, but this release from Apogee puts them very much at the head of the pack again. It’s a huge step forward for those looking for a real professional solution.

Apogee clearly know their market and the inclusion of the sockets that allow connection directly to Pro Tools core cards (previously an option for the Rosetta series of converters) is very welcome. Particularly in this case, as the interface can be switched from Pro Tools mode to Symphony mode for those using Apogee’s own card.

I must admit, for me this came as no surprise given that both formats use the same ‘proprietary’ connection format, but it’s still good news nonetheless. And with such a wealth of I/O options available, it’s going to be a tough customer that can’t find a way to configure it to meet his or her needs.

Apogee also claim the redesigned circuitry now uses fewer components and higher quality ones to minimise the signal path even further. This results in a flatter frequency response and improved phase error performance, which should mean that Symphony I/O sounds even better than their previous converters.

For more information, get in touch with our team on 03332 400 222 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. Or have a look at the complete range of Symphony I/O products here.

Nuendo 5: A real alternative to Pro Tools for audio post-production

Nuendo 5: A real alternative to Pro Tools for audio post-production

I’ll confess it has been a while since I took a long hard look at Steinberg’s Nuendo. When the audio post-production package was first released in 2000, Steinberg were aiming squarely at the Pro Tools’ market share. They promised a real alternative for both professional recording facilities and post-production, and it was announced alongside Nuendo-branded interfaces from RME and Apogee.

Sadly, at the time, it failed to make the impact Steinberg had hoped, partly due to the perception that this was just Cubase with extra features, and also due to a lack of sync and controller options that could measure up to Avid’s offerings. Over the next few years (somewhat confusingly) Cubase and Nuendo continued to leapfrog each other with features. While the post-production community didn’t really jump on the Nuendo train, it gained a lot of uptake among sound design departments in computer games companies.

Fast forward ten years: the landscape has changed markedly and Steinberg have released Nuendo 5. Apple’s Final Cut Pro and the revitalised Adobe Premiere have carved a huge chunk out of Avid’s user-base, allowing smaller film production companies to compete successfully, without massive outlays on editing stations. Many of the larger TV production companies have folded, with their experienced engineers setting up shop for themselves.

Avid’s Pro Tools HD may still be the post-production platform of choice for the main studios, but Nuendo 5 may have just quietly come of age to offer a professional standard of audio post for the rest of us. Here’s an overview of why every video production company should take a good look at Nuendo for its audio post needs.

What is Nuendo? In short, Nuendo is an audio production environment which allows a near infinite number of audio tracks with full automated and clip-based mixing. It offers native surround support for formats from 5.1 right up to 10.2 and fully synchronised in-session video playback with a vast array of online and offline sound processing plug-ins for realtime mixing. Nuendo supports media exchange, audio up to 192kHz and full hands-on control from a variety of control surfaces.

Native and cross-platform. Like all high performance digital audio workstations, it requires a pretty hefty machine to run at its best, but you can run it on a Mac or Windows machine. In other words, you’re not bound to an audio production platform based on your preferred OS. No hardware restrictions mean you have your choice of audio interfaces and converters based on your needs.

Full interchange support. Nuendo can handle media exchange formats such as MXF, OMF, XML and also reads CMX 3600 EDL lists provided by the video editor as well as exported and imported CSV formatted spotting and ADR lists.

Full resolution video playout. Nuendo uses the QuickTime codec for video playback and can play out via FireWire or through Blackmagic or AJA cards.

Video follows edits. In edit mode, Nuendo will scrub the video with the edit, so you can trim from the beginning or end of a region. When performing moves or copies, the video will follow the cursor.

Centralised storage of sound libraries. Nuendo has an impressive feature called Media Bay – a fully searchable dynamic database that can be used to catalogue audio files. Media Bay can work with local storage and networked volumes meaning that sound effects databases can be stored centrally and accessed by multiple users. Its speed allows the user to search for sound files, store multiple searches, preview files and set regions for import.

Multiple marker tracks and cycle markers. Nuendo allows the creation of multiple marker and cycle regions so you can work easily on dialogue, foley or SFX. Uniquely, marker information can be imported via .csv files, meaning the video editor can use a spreadsheet program to provide all the notes with timing points. The sound editor can then import these directly into Nuendo where they will appear as markers complete with all the notes. Great for EDL and post conforms too.

Single-pass batch export of all stems. Once a project is finished, Nuendo allows you to export or bounce your project faster than realtime, using the full processor power of the computer. Not only can it bounce the full mix, it can simultaneously produce bounces of all your stems, so you can have a finished mix, your dialogue stem, audio stem, SFX stem etc. This is a huge advantage that Pro Tools users are longing for – no more bouncing in realtime. One bounce for every stem means you can output all of your audio files for a half hour TV show while you have a cup of tea, rather than it being a two or three hour job.

Clip-based editing. The most requested feature from users of older Avid audio systems is the ability to edit volumes of clips without using a realtime mixer. The person doing the mix for a show will typically not be the person editing the audio, so they don’t want to inherit a session chock-full of automation. Nuendo offers clip-based volume control so you can adjust levels without ever touching the mixer.

Comprehensive control room monitoring. Nuendo’s monitor matrix lets you choose to listen to the full mix or individual stems, busses or outputs at the click of a button.

Clip Packages. Nuendo allows you to group sound clips together and save them as clip packages so that complex sound effects made up of multiple sound files can be reused without having to be rendered first.

Jog and shuttle control for transport and editing. Deep integration with Euphonix controllers means that these can be used not just for mixing but also for editing via the jog wheel.

SystemLink and SyncStation. SystemLink allows multiple Nuendo stations to be harnessed for really large projects, with sample accuracy. Steinberg’s SyncStation allows for control of multiple devices including decks and consoles.

Although far from exhaustive, the list of features above shows that Steinberg are really paying close attention to the needs of the post-production community. But will Nuendo replace Pro Tools? It’s hard to say, with Pro Tools being so firmly entrenched in so many existing facilities. With the features on offer, those setting up new ventures will be hard pushed to justify the expense of an HD system over the cost of a Nuendo system – particularly with Nuendo’s ability to exchange files with Pro Tools.

If you would like more information or to arrange a demo, please call 03332 400 222 or email our team at broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.

Time to take a fresh look at Digital Mixers

Time to take a fresh look at Digital Mixers

The technology trends of the last few years would indicate that, for those of us that run digital recording studios, our love affair with digital mixers has hit a decidedly rocky patch.

At the dawn of the age where the computer began to reign supreme in the studio, the most popular setup by far centred around a Yamaha 01v or 02r digital mixer, connected via a Korg 1212 ADAT card to the computer. At the time it was pretty much the only viable non-Pro Tools computer-based setup. It provided 8 channels of bidirectional I/O, the analogue-to-digital conversion happened outside the computer to avoid noise, you could monitor directly from the desk (monitoring off a soundcard at that time resulted in about half a second of latency) and the desks themselves offered the automation, effects and processing that was either not available in software, or would result in your computer grinding to a halt under the weight of the algorithms.

‘In the box’

As computers gained faster processors, the dream of being able to do everything ‘in the box’ grew more tangible. Extensive mixing effects and automation became available within recording software packages, such as Logic and Cubase, which replaced much of the workload of a desk. Audio interfaces began to offer more simultaneous inputs and sprouted mic preamps too, replacing the desk’s I/O.  And when Mackie introduced the HUI, a way to keep those lovely moving faders for more-than-one-thing-at-a-time operation, we waved goodbye to the consoles.

The typical modern digital recording studio follows this desk-free paradigm, with a computer at its heart, an audio interface providing all the I/O, mic preamps and DSP-driven monitor mixing and a control surface to keep the whole thing hands-on. DSP units, such as Focusrite’s LiquidMix or TC’s Powercore, even offer some extra muscle for heavy duty effects processing if we want it.

Tascam mixers

If you think about it, what we have really done is break our digital mixer down into components, (faders, I/O and effects/processing) and then purchased them all again as individual units – and quite expensive components at that. And that’s where TASCAM have been clever.

Their DM3200 and DM4800 units are digital mixing desks, but TASCAM have thought to offer an optional FireWire card, which allows them to stream audio directly to and from the computer, 16 channels in either direction. The faders of the desk can be toggled between controlling the desk and functioning as a 16 fader control surface (24 on the DM4800) for your software by emulating Mackie Control and HUI protocols). And all of the channels of audio going to and from the computer can be processed using the EQ, dynamics and TC-derived effects within the desk.

Attractive package

So on one hand, the TASCAM is a digital desk, but you could also view it as a comprehensive audio interface with 16 very high quality mic preamps, built in 16- or 24-fader control surface and additional DSP processor. Considering you could spend more than the price of the DM3200 just buying a 16 fader control surface, for anyone aspiring to a digital recording studio, these digital consoles form a very attractive package.

Written by Rob Holsman in association with Ade Leader, Jigsaw24’s copywriter.

Want to find out more about the TASCAM digital mixers? Get in touch with us on 03332 400 222 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.

Zero latency monitoring for Digidesign 002 and 003

Zero latency monitoring for Digidesign 002 and 003

Reading through the various Pro Tools forums, there are two commonly recurring themes.

Firstly, Pro Tools users love Pro Tools software for its reliability, flexibility, ease of use, precision editing and being the only audio platform that maintains sample accurate sync across all tracks in a session. Secondly, we’re not so enamoured of the LE hardware. The 002 and 003 ranges have been singled out for having no zero latency monitoring, audio converters below par when compared with other manufacturers and low-gain, noisy preamps.

Users are addressing the audio quality issues by either adding external converters from the likes of RME and Apogee to the digital I/O of their Digidesign interfaces or having companies such as Black Lion Audio modify their internal workings. However neither of these solutions address the latency issue  although we’ve found one add-on that does –  using an RME Fireface audio interface as an external AD/DA converter and monitor mixer.

Imagine you are a singer who is recording though a Digidesign 003. You have the mic in front of you and the backing track in your headphones. When you sing, you will hear your voice in your headphones, but only after it has gone down the firewire cable, been processed by Pro Tools, and sent back to the 003’s headphone sockets. All of this causes a noticeable delay, and it makes it really hard to deliver a performance.

The length of the delay depends upon the buffer size set in Pro Tools, the speed of the computer and whether or not there are any plug-ins being used. You can reduce the buffer size to minimum, but that delay will still be noticeable.

Other manufacturers produce audio interfaces which feature on-board routing that sends the mic signal directly to the headphones independently of it being sent to the recording software. However, Pro Tools LE can’t use anything other than a Digidesign interface, and only the small MBox products have this feature.

RME offer two models of Fireface – the 400 and the 800.  They differ in the number of channels and firewire connectivity, but  share a key feature – although they are audio interfaces they can function as standalone AD-DA converters. Because they are audio interfaces, they have headphone monitoring sockets, and because they are rather good audio interfaces, they offer true zero-latency monitoring.  RME’s secret weapon for this is their TotalMix software which not only allows you to create a custom headphone mix from all the available inputs via an onboard mixer, it also features a routing matrix which can send the signal from any input to any output(s). (Although, if we’re getting technical, TotalMix allows you to create custom mixes for each pair of stereo outputs, so multiple independent monitor mixes can be created.)

Here’s how to set it all up:

1.   Install the drivers for the Fireface and daisy chain it via firewire to the spare port on the 003.

2.   Connect the ADAT In of the 003 to ADAT Out of the Fireface via lightpipe and vice versa.

3.   Open the control panel for the Fireface, switch to the matrix view and check the appropriate boxes so that input 1 is routed to ADAT out 1, input 2 to ADAT output 2 and so on.

4.   Route the returning signal the same way, so ADAT input 1 goes to analogue out 1, ADAT input 2 goes to analogue out 2 etc Doing this will allow the fireface to function as an AD and DA converter.

5.   Check the appropriate boxes so that analogue inputs 1-8 are also sent to both Phones L and Phones R. Now you’ve got a headphone mix of incoming signals.

6.   Monitor speakers can now be connected to the RME’s analogue outputs 1 and 2

7.   Change the I/O setup of Pro Tools so that your main output path is now ADAT 1-2. Your mix will be sent out of ADAT 1-2 and the Fireface routing matrix will send it to the speakers.

8.   Now, whatever you plug into any input of the RME will be recorded via the corresponding ADAT input of the 003. For example you can plug a mic into mic preamp 2 of the RME and you’ll be recording it in Pro Tools via ADAT In 2. If it helps, you can always rename the inputs in the Pro Tools I/O setup page to make it clear and even disable the 003 analogue inputs if you’re not going to be using them.

9.   Go to Pro Tools Preferences > Operation and uncheck the “Link Record and Play Faders”. When you’re recording from an input on the RME, you’ll hear your source twice – once in realtime through the RME and as a delayed signal through Pro Tools. This will get really disconcerting unless you mute the volume of the track you’re recording onto. Unlinking Record and Play Faders means you can set the faders of all tracks to zero when they are record armed and they’ll return to normal when you’re not recording. Pro Tools will remember this state too, so whenever you go into record they’ll re-mute. Neat, huh?

So to summarise, what you gain is:

–   Better quality AD and DA conversion. If you want an example, just import some audio into Pro Tools and compare the difference between playing it back through the 003s own analogue outputs and via the RME outputs via firewire. You will hear a wider more detailed stereo image, and a greater frequency range too.

–   Zero Latency monitoring. At least from the RME’s inputs.

–   Better mic preamps. The RME’s digitally controlled mic preamps offer more gain, lower noise floor and more headroom than those in the unit.

What you are not doing is replacing the Digidesign 002 or 003, or using the Fireface as an interface that works with Pro Tools. Despite being an audio interface, we are using the Fireface as a standalone AD/DA converter to augment the inputs.

Happy tracking!

Written by Rob Holsman in association with Ade Leader, Jigsaw’s copywriter.

For more information call our audio team on 03332 400 222 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.

Akai APC40 vs. Novation Launchpad – Review

Akai APC40 vs. Novation Launchpad – Review

Maybe it’s a sign of my impending decline into senility, but I still think of Ableton Live as a newcomer to the audio sequencer application party. Despite it celebrating its ten-year anniversary, I have managed to completely ignore it until a few months ago when I had to sequence some pre-recorded parts at a live gig – I instantly fell in love with the software. So, it has been with some fervour that I have been investigating the two controllers that are currently on the market for Live: Akai’s APC40 (released back in the early summer) and Novation’s Launchpad (which arrived in October).

It would be unfair of me to draw a direct comparison between these two, as it’s clear that they appeal to different markets. There’s also quite a difference in price; the Akai typically costs around £379 incVAT, and the Launchpad comes in at a more streamlined £149. Instead, I’ll look at what each of these offers the Live user.

The Akai APC40
The Akai APC40 is an extremely rugged unit with a 430mm x 335mm metal chassis and a generous collection of controls. The clip launch grid is where most of the action happens; it represents tracks 1-8 horizontally and clips 1-5 for eachtrack vertically (making 40 clip controllers). If a clip is playing, its associated pad is green. Red means it is recording, while amber means a clip is present but not playing, and an unlit pad shows an empty slot. There are buttons to trigger an entire row of clips too. If you have more than eight tracks or more than five rows of clips, the SHIFT button allows you to bank around either across or down to access all your clips. Record Arm and Solo controls for each track act as you’d expect, and the Activation buttons for each track show which ones are not muted – rather like a mute button on a mixing console, but in reverse.

The rotary controls have illuminated outer rings to show current values, and one bank of eight is available for adjusting sends or pans for the eight tracks currently present on the clip pads – these shift with the pads when banking. The other eight rotaries allow you to directly access parameters on the currently selected device, and there are eight banks of possible controls, meaning you can access up to 64 parameters per device. In addition to the rotaries, there are eight buttons dedicated to the following Ableton functions: CLIP/TRACK view toggle; DEVICE On/Off; Previous and Next device selection buttons; DETAIL VIEW On/Off; REC QUANTIZATION On/Off; MIDI OVERDUB On/Off; and METRONOME On/Off.

Lastly, the crossfader works as you would expect, fading between whatever has been defined as crossfader assignments A and B in the software. There’s also a Cue Level control, which deals with the volume sent to the Cue Output, eight 45mm faders and a tap tempo button.

The Novation Launchpad
Novation’s Launchpad is a compact and lightweight unit, measuring just 240mm square and made of moulded plastic. It features an 8×8 grid of touch sensitive illuminating pads, which function and illuminate in exactly the same way as the Akai’s (showing clips as ready, recording, playing or empty). There are also scene launch buttons to trigger collections of clips together.

Although there are no faders or rotaries, Novation have equipped the Launchpad with a mixer mode that allows the pads to illustrate or control, and pan and send levels. The pads light up to give a bar graph representation of the mixer values and can be touched to change levels and values. Selecting different modes is quick and easy, and happens via the various scene launch buttons; multiple launchpads can be used together to expand controllability.

As I said earlier…
The two units are clearly aimed at different markets, so a head-to-head comparison is unfair. The Novation Launchpad offers easy access to the basic functionality of Live in a small footprint; it’s ideal for someone building up tracks, who doesn’t mind using the mouse and keyboard. It does solve the main issue of being able to cue up and launch multiple clips at once, which is the biggest challenge facing Live users and, although you can assign clips to keys of any MIDI keyboard, the illuminating buttons of either unit provide essential feedback. But, to anyone using Live as a performance instrument or their main software, it feels like Novation have left out too many features to be a serious contender.

The APC40 has been designed for the Ableton user who wants maximum interaction with the controller, and minimum reliance on a mouse. Both units use the same illuminating pad topology, but the APC’s rotary controls and faders give a precise level of control – the Launchpad gives a choice of only eight values when using the pads for pan or level control. For anyone wanting to play in realtime with the values of Ableton’s devices, such as tweaking filter resonance and cut-off (who wouldn’t!), the second bank of rotaries on the APC is great and means no mode switching if you also want to play with pan controls. There is simply no way of achieving this with the Launchpad, although it can work with other products in Novation’s range (such as the Nocturn) to deliver the crossfader functionality.

The strangest omission from the Launchpad is that there is no tap tempo button. You can, however, easily get Live to learn the function from any button; I used USER 1, which worked perfectly. But the ability to jiggle tempos is such a fundamental feature of the Ableton Live software, it seems almost incredible that any dedicated Live controller doesn’t have a button for tap tempo. The APC40 sports not only a dedicated tap button but also buttons to nudge the tempo up and down, which is perfect if you’re beat matching records.

Ableton Live has been crying out for a dedicated controller since it first arrived. The use of a controller leverages far more functionality out of the software than you can achieve with a mouse. Novation and Akai have each produced very able controllers that will appeal to different types of users – based largely on how much you intend to rely on a sole controller to do all your functions or whether you are happy to use a mix of additional controls and the occasional mouse interaction. But which ever you use, adding a controller will give your Ableton experience a new lease of life.

To find out more, get in touch with the Broadcast team on 03332 400 222 or email broadcast@jigsaw24.com.