Auto-Tune and the etymology of pop

Auto-Tune and the etymology of pop

We recently ran an article on the announcement of Antares ATR-6 auto-tuning technology for the guitar. While reading up on this, I was drawn back into the web of arguments about whether this technology was damaging to music…

It seems in every musical generation there exists two opposing sides – one that claims good music is only made by musicians playing real instruments, and  anyone reliant on studio trickery is a charlatan; and the other that claims any means used to realise the musical idea of the artist is valid. The former camp certainly argues most vociferously (but often that’s because the second is busy in the studio), and the usual target for the argument always seems to be the technology that is currently trending in production-heavy pop. And it seems that once again, very unfairly, it’s Auto-Tune. So I want to take this opportunity to present a defence, not just on Auto-Tune’s behalf, but on behalf of music technology in general.

Performance enhancements

Pop music, TV shows and talent contests are the key targets for people who claim that Autotune is ruining music. You’ve all read the complaints – it makes people that can’t sing be tuned to perfection; it’s holding real singers/bands/artists back; it’s all just manufactured music; with enough money anyone can make a hit record, etc. The truth is, performance-enhancing studio tricks occur in all genres, from pop to rock, from country to metal. Anyone who thinks that a record made by a band is a straight capture of a performance by musicians demonstrating their instrumental and vocal chops in the studio is clearly oblivious to the processes that go on: the overdubs, the editing, the click tracks, the drum replacement, quantising, layering of guitar parts, pitch and timing replacements. In the majority of cases, a studio record by a band is about as close to a real performance as a photograph of the Alps is to being in Switzerland.

With perhaps the exception of jazz and classical, making a record isn’t about capturing a musical moment, it is about creating the definition of what that music is – we form our understanding of how instruments sound through the recordings we listen to. The easily-identifiable sound of rock drums bears little resemblance to the sound of a drum kit in a room, instead it is defined by the heavy compression, gating and reverb that characterises the genre. These artificial sounds already define what we expect music to sound like, so they influence the music we create.

Auto-Tune is just one of the tools in this production toolbox and is used in every single popular genre but, for some reason, it seems to draw the fire for every negative comment by those who don’t like modern pop music. Even from those with no experience of music production who feel justified to vilify it with such assertiveness that you’d assume they used it every day. Antares need not necessarily feel singled out though – ten years ago the same sorts of unqualified rantings were being aimed at Pro Tools. It was as if Digidesign’s software were some sort of giant creative mashing machine that any idiot could operate, churning out identikit hits from any old rubbish providing the operator could stay awake long enough to push the ‘GO’ button. The thinking seems to be, “if it is used on records I don’t like, then it must be to blame”

So, let’s have a look at exactly what some people think Auto-Tune is to blame for:

Auto-tune is cheating – a good singer doesn’t need pitch correction. I dare say there’s something of a valid point in there. But even the best singer makes mistakes, and in those situations they simply do it again to get it right. But then, you’re not looking at a single performance, you’re looking at a composite of two takes, edited together to make one good one. Is that cheating? If not, how many takes does a singer get before that process is considered cheating? If a singer does 100 takes of a difficult line of a song, and only gets it right once, how is that less of a cheat than using Auto-tune? Given that they’ve got it wrong 99% of the time, it is unlikely that they’ll be any more able to repeat that performance than someone who used Auto-Tune to nail that line. Throwing a basketball through a hoop, while blindfolded, standing on one leg and using my weaker hand, once out of a hundred attempts isn’t proof that I’m technically adept at doing it – it’s just fluke.

Auto-tune is responsible for sterile pop vocal production. Since most modern pop vocals are double or triple-tracked, cut, edited, quantised, regrooved, compressed to within a micron of its dynamic range and then multiband limited, it’s impossible to ascertain at what point pitch correction comes into the equation. I can’t hear Auto-Tune on a Britney Spears record because the vocal is entirely dominated by breath noise. Production style should never be confused with the technology that it uses.

Auto-tune makes singers out of people that can’t sing. This argument is wrong on almost every level. At its most basic, it assumes that only someone with great pitching can be a singer (and conversely, that all you need to be a great singer is good pitch – forget all that timing, phrasing and emotion stuff). If perfect pitch was a requirement, then you can’t account for the musical legacy of such artists as Bob Dylan, Mark Knopfler, David Essex, Lou Reed, Bryan Ferry and pretty much any death metal vocalist ever. Essentially the record-buying public have been making singers out of people who ‘can’t sing’ for decades. At a deeper level, perhaps the confusion arises between asinger and a pop star, since most pop stars sing. This is more about the nature of celebrity, not skill, because production can make a pop star out of virtually anyone and since the only requirement to be a pop star is to bepopular, good doesn’t enter the equation. If your argument is that this is wrong, then that argument needs to be aimed at the record-buying public, not at those that fulfil its needs.

Auto-Tune is responsible for that overused Cher effect. OK, so I’m sort of making this one up, but it is the most common misconception. What is responsible for any overused musical cliché is a lack of imagination. If the stepped vocal stylings of T-Pain or will.i.am or a thousand others irritate you, so be it, but the technology in use could well be, among others, Celemony’s Melodyne, Waves Pure Pitch, Apple Logic’s Pitch Corrector, a TC Helicon vocal processor or DigiTech Vocalist. Auto-Tune – the Hoover of pitch-correction technology – is in danger of becoming a scapegoat for myriad production sins.

The case for the defence

All of the complaints levelled at Auto-Tune take the form that somehow, using Autotune makes music worse, that it is cheating and blurring the lines between the skilled and the unskilled, affording unwarranted credibility upon the untalented while the gifted go hungry. But on the whole, it doesn’t make music worse. The most important part of any vocal isn’t the pitch, it’s the performance. Performance and emotion are what connects the audience with the singer, and often one shot is all you get at that, especially if the singer is ad-libbing. If you get a great performance that is slightly pitchy, Auto-Tune allows you to correct the pitching without sacrificing the performance. Or you could ask the singer for another go, and risk getting the notes but not the delivery.

The truth is that this is how Auto-Tune is being used, day in, day out, in sessions of all types in studios around the world. Quietly. Invisibly. But we don’t hear those stories, we just hear about the cast of Glee and X-Factor hopefuls, when the effects of technology become noticeable. Auto-Tune is capable of being a completely invisible technology, but it is also capable of being abused by lazy operators. The producer has full control over the amount of the effect, and it’s their job to decide when a missed note needs correction or when it is adding character. Auto-Tune isn’t responsible for any decline in musical standards, that blame lies with those who use it indiscriminately without listening to the results.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments box below or find us on Twitter – @Jigsaw24Audio.

For more on Antares Auto-Tune, or any pitch correction software, get in touch with the Pro Audio team. We don’t judge! Call 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com.

Direct USB recording with the RME Fireface UFX: A video guide

Direct USB recording with the RME Fireface UFX: A video guide

Last weekend, I had a go at recording to a USB storage device through the RME Fireface UFX interface. This new feature, coming with RME’s alpha-phase firmware update, impressed me so much that I went and made the below video to show just how easy it is to record tracks directly to any USB device. I used the Fireface, a 4GB memory stick and Pro Tools 9. (Oh, and my very able drummer. Thanks, mate!)

For more information on RME’s Fireface UFX USB audio interface, call us on 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com.

Direct USB recording with RME’s Fireface UFX update

Direct USB recording with RME’s Fireface UFX update

An oddity that didn’t escape the attention of those who saw RME’s flagship Fireface UFX audio interface at launch is that it had a USB slot on the front panel. There was very little mention of what it was for, but the rumours were that you would be able to record directly to a mass storage device at some point in the future.

Well, this functionality has now entered public ‘alpha test’ phase, so last weekend I downloaded and installed it to give it a try. Turns out, it’s rather good…

In order to activate the recording features, a new version of the UFX firmware needs to be uploaded to the interface, which is done via a PC or Mac over USB. Once updated, the Meters button on the front of the unit allows you to toggle the recording controls. Setting this up is simple; use the Channel button to scroll through all the channels and activate the ‘Record’ check box for the channels you want to record from. Your inputs will be recorded directly to whatever storage device is connected to the front USB port. There are just a handful of caveats before you start:

– The recorded file will be a single multichannel WAV, not individual files.

– Drives must be formatted to FAT32, otherwise you’ll see a File System Error message.

– Your recording will be dry inputs, so effects added within TotalMix will not be captured.Some drives don’t seem to work, but most do.

– As a point of reference, I had no problem recording ten minutes of 20 tracks on a 4GB Kingston memory stick.

Uses for direct recording…

Although this is not an official release – and RME are using this period to iron out any flaws and incompatibilities – I can’t praise this update highly enough. There are clear uses for this technology, from having a safety recording running in the event of a DAW crash to being able to record live gigs where using a computer might be ill-advised. (Excessive bass vibrations, for example, can play havoc with internal drives in computers, and Apple MacBooks have a safety feature that ‘parks’ the hard drive in the event of it being dropped to prevent head damage. The problem is, it can’t distinguish between bass vibrations and a nasty fall, resulting in some untimely shutdowns when recording!)

Sometimes there are just situations where a standalone recorder is what you want to use, and that’s exactly what this firmware update turns the UFX into – a standalone hard disk recorder. The decision to record a single multichannel audio file is a good one too, as it makes it much easier to write high data volumes to slower devices (such as memory sticks) than trying to simultaneously write multiple files. It also ensures that all files remain synchronous when importing into an editing program like Pro Tools or Cubase which both handle multichannel files natively, automatically showing each channel as a separate region.

A couple of (minor) downsides…

Unfortunately for users of Apple’s Logic Pro and Logic Express, Logic doesn’t handle multichannel audio at all (other than surround formats) but you can use a freeware application such as Audacity to export the individual tracks from the multitrack WAV, after which it is business as usual. It’s also unfortunate that the file format is FAT32, as this imposes a 2GB size limit on recording files. If you’re recording from all 28 available mono inputs then you’ve got just under 15 minutes of run time before you have to drop out of record and start a new file but, unless you’re recording a prog rock opera, that should just be a case of waiting for a gap between songs.

My overall verdict…

The RME Fireface UFX was already one of the best professional audio interfaces available based on stability features and sheer audio performance, but once this update leaves preview and becomes official, it’s going to stand out from the competition, pushing the UFX into an exciting class of its own and making it a simple choice for people looking to record critical, non-repeatable performances.

Head over to the RME forums to download the pre-release firmware (including an updated version of TotalMix). You can also visit our website to get your hands on RME’s Fireface UFX interface.

Call us for more information on 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave your thoughts in the comments box below and we’ll be in touch.

Novation’s UltraNova Synth – A review

Novation’s UltraNova Synth – A review

On first impressions, Novation’s UltraNova hardware synth is a beautiful thing, with its pitchbend and modulation wheels glowing a cool blue, and the 3-octave keyboard set into a matching blue housing with little red buttons.

Not just a pretty face though, the UltraNova also includes a gooseneck microphone that slots into an XLR socket on the top panel for vocoding and can even double as an audio interface by hooking it up to your computer via the USB socket and I/O jacks on the back. Handy!

So, it looks great, but what does it actually do?

First, a bit of history. Novation have long been known for producing quality hardware controllers for musicians working on computers, and also have a background in hardware synthesisers. In 1998, they designed the highly regarded SuperNova synth rack, capable of producing immense pads and atmospheric textures. The UltraNova is the latest in a line of synths based on that original rack, and Novation have been improving and innovating along the way.

Sound

As a performance keyboard, the UltraNova’s both responsive and fun to play. Working through the presets on offer (there are four banks of 127 each, some of which are blank patches), it becomes obvious fairly quickly that Novation have a wide user group in mind. Nasty dubstep bass sounds sit side-by-side with Eno-esque washes and Jean-Michel Jarre arpeggios.

The synth engine in the UltraNova is extremely powerful. Three oscillators, a noise generator and two ring modulators provide the sound sources, with each oscillator drawing on a bank of 14 analogue waveform simulations, 20 digital ones and 36 wavetables. The sources are mixed, then pass through two separate filters on their way to the enveloped amplifier and effects units. No less than 14 different filter types can be used, and the two filters can be used in different types of parallel and series arrangements, independently or with their cutoff and/or resonance linked. There are also filter distortion modes, with esoteric names like ‘Valve’ and ‘Diode’ which crunch things up rather nicely.

Oscillators

Oscillators are the key to a synth’s character, and these don’t disappoint. The waveforms are extremely useable in themselves, and there are some little tricks available to make them even more interesting. For a start, each oscillator has a ‘density’ control which seems to add multiple instances of the same wave, and turning the control produces the sound of several oscillators in unison. There’s a detune control for this, so even a single oscillator can sound like massed synths. Not only that, but each oscillator can be put into hard sync with itself, and the harmonic series adjusted by detuning the sync source. This is a classic hard, cutting sound greatly loved in techno music, and it normally needs all of a synth’s power to produce it. But, in the UltraNova, I can build sounds with three of these at once if I really want to.

Finally the sound escapes via five effects slots, stackable and splittable just in case you want to experiment with compressed reverb layered with distorted echo, for example. Pretty much every sound on the UltraNova can be modulated by pretty much anything else (with 20 sources and 66 destinations), and some of the presets make impressive use of the possibilities, sounding hugely complex and full of motion.

And yes, the vocoder sounds pretty good too. It’s only a 12-band device, but very useable. If you want to, you can process any analogue input using the synth section, so even guitarists and drummers can get something out of this little synth.

Programming

With a bit of clever use of its ten knobs, programming the UltraNova is relatively simple and never tedious. One large knob always selects patches and, in performance, the other large knob normally alters filter cutoff. The other eight smaller knobs above the 144-character display edit whatever parameter is directly under them. Press the Filter button, for instance, and you get all eight parameters for Filter 1 on the eight controls. Press the Select Down key and all the parameters for Filter 2 appear. Press Next Page, and the shared parameters for the filters appear. Easy.

The eight knobs respond to touch too, so simply tapping one puts that parameter onto the large Filter knob. This can then be ‘locked’ so the large knob permanently edits that parameter, even if you switch to a different page – really handy if you want to balance, say, filter and effects distortion without toggling pages. Even better, you can choose your favourite eight parameters for each individual patch and assign them to the eight controls using the ‘Tweak’ page so, during performance, you have exactly the parameters you want to play with all on one page.

Verdict

It’s been a pleasure exploring the Novation UltraNova, I must say. There’s a lot to like here, and very little to criticise. If anything, it’s a little too diverse, and perhaps anyone who spends ten minutes trying out the patches will come away thinking that only 10% of them are useful. The point is: it’s a synth with something for everyone and it’s possible to make sounds with it that are personal and, above all, different. On reflection, the UltraNova is well worth the investment in time to explore properly.

Check it out in action in the video below.

For more information on the Novation UltraNova hardware synth (with free stand and headphones!), give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the UltraNova, so feel free to leave a comment and we’ll be in touch.

Thunderbolt: The future of Pro Tools

Thunderbolt: The future of Pro Tools

Whether you know it as Thunderbolt or Light Peak, a new communication protocol has arrived, and there’s no denying the fact that it will have a major impact on the audio industry over the next few years.

On the 24th February, Apple announced a new range of MacBook Pros which featured a brand new technology called Thunderbolt. Developed by Intel under the name Light Peak, it is an ultra-high bandwidth interface which can achieve transfer rates of up to 10 Gbps in both directions, and is touted to be capable of up to 100 Gbps. It combines PCI Express and DisplayPort technologies into a single stream, meaning that all manner of devices such as displays, hard drives, audio devices and video cameras can be connected to the same port. Most importantly, they can all be connected to one another and accessed at the same time.

Thunderbolt is certainly capable of – and possibly even destined to – replace existing Firewire and USB ports. At its core, Thunderbolt is an implementation of PCI Express, which is the core the I/O bus in modern computers and the format of the card slots inside a Mac Pro. The FireWire and USB ports are essentially PCI Express to FireWire/USB adapters, so creating an adapter to connect existing interfaces should be simple. But Thunderbolt sockets mean that technologies that used to rely on the card slots in tower computers now have a means to connect to a laptop. In the audio world, that’s very interesting news for Pro Tools.

Avid’s flagship audio system is the Pro Tools HD platform, and the key to its success is that it uses dedicated processing cards to handle all the mixing and processing duties. This dedicated processing, which comes courtesy of Accel cards, means a Pro Tools system can handle massive levels of processing that are simply unobtainable using your computer’s processor alone. But these DSP cards are PCI Express cards, and they require the slots of a tower computer such as a Mac Pro, meaning that a portable system wasn’t really on the cards. Until now.

Thunderbolt means that laptop users now have access to PCI Express technology, which means that Avid can potentially develop a version of the Pro Tools HD technology that can connect to a Thunderbolt port rather than the internal PCIe slots on a desktop machine. And guess what? While Intel’s development of the technology has only just made it into the mainstream, some developers have been working on applications for it for a while now. Apple is one. And Avid is another.

The video below is from IDF 2010, and shows Bridge technology being used in a laptop. The laptop is connected to a prototype Avid Pro Tools HD audio interface and the computer is running Pro Tools HD. And as you can see, there are no PCI Express cards in sight. Clearly Avid are taking Thunderbolt very seriously, and already have prototype Pro Tools HD hardware available. How long it will be before it reaches the market is anybody’s guess, but its a certainty that the future of the Pro Tools HD platform is Thunderbolt. I’d be surprised if we don’t see a new Thunderbolt-ready Pro Tools HD system that MacBook Pro users can hook up to by the end of summer.

To view the video, click on the thumbnail below. To pose a Pro Tools question to our audio experts, call 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you shortly.

A guide to different versions of Pro Tools

A guide to different versions of Pro Tools

Knowing your HD system from your M-Powered can easily baffle the Pro Tools newcomer. So we’ve put together the following guide to make things a little clearer, and help you decide on the right Pro Tools for you.

When Avid released Pro Tools 9 back in November, it marked a major departure from their traditional product model. Pro Tools 9 removed the requirement for Avid-branded audio hardware, meaning that users can now choose Pro Tools HD hardware, a Pro Tools LE interface such as an Mbox or 002/003 unit, or pretty much any other audio interface by a third-party manufacturer, depending on what your needs are.

The majority of users have welcomed this, calling it a huge step forward in terms of opening the platform up to a wider user base. But it has also created a fair bit of confusion – especially with the arrival of the HD Native platform. Before we get stuck into Pro Tools 9 though, let’s just briefly recap the Pro Tools 8 lineup so we can see how the new versions have improved.

Pro Tools 8 HD. This version required HD hardware to run an HD core system, such as HD1, HD2 or higher. Pro Tools 8 HD supported the TDM plug-in system that utilised DSP on the cards to run plug-ins and the mixer, as well as the native RTAS plug-in format. It also supported up to 192 audio tracks and 192 channels of I/O, all in full surround.

Pro Tools 8 LE. An all-native version of Pro Tools that required an LE interface to run. It shipped with Mbox, 002 and 003 products, offered up to 32 tracks of audio and native host-based mixing (just RTAS plug-ins, no TDM). With no surround mixing, Pro Tools 8 LE lacked the timecode ruler and full synchronisation options of Pro Tools HD.

Pro Tools M-Powered. With pretty much identical software specs to Pro Tools LE, this version worked with M-Audio interfaces instead.

On top of these, there are also three expansion options:

Music Production Toolkit. An expansion pack for Pro Tools LE and M-Powered which increased the track count to 48 tracks, added half a dozen plug-ins and unlocked the MP3 export option and Multitrack version of Beat Detective, previously only available in the HD version.

DV Toolkit. For Pro Tools LE only, this expansion unlocks a collection of post-production facilities otherwise only available in Pro Tools HD, including the timecode ruler, Digibase Pro and Digitranslator OMF import/export, plus increased 64-track count.

Complete Production Toolkit. A combination of Music Production Toolkit and DV Toolkit, this essentially unlocks every feature of Pro Tools HD that is otherwise missing from LE (with the exception of any processing that requires the DSP cards), track count is increased to 128, full synchronisation features are available as well as surround mixing up to 7.1.

Improvements in PT 9

Hopefully that’s gone some way in clarifying what each former Pro Tools product is and does. Now we’ll look at the latest additions to the family, Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD 9

There are now just two Pro Tools flavours – Pro Tools 9 and Pro Tools HD 9. There is no LE 9, and no M-Powered 9. Pro Tools HD 9 is the version that you need if you are using an HD Core system or an HD Native Card, and Pro Tools 9 is the version for everyone else. Pro Tools 9 will work with any core audio or ASIO-compliant sound card, including Avid’s own 003 and Mbox ranges. It does not ship free with any interface, but is rather a full priced boxed copy of the software.

A fully standalone piece of software that can work with any audio interface, PT 9 is also a lot more fully featured than Pro Tools LE, essentially including all the features from DV Toolkit and Music Production Toolkit. It can handle up to 96 simultaneous tracks, sample rates up to 192kHz, 32 channels of I/O and 256 internal buses. The Digitranslator OMF import/export option and MP3 option are included, as is Beat Detective – the full multitrack option which now has full automatic delay compensation. Also new is native support for EuCon control surfaces.

Toolkits

As previously mentioned, all the features of the Music Production Toolkit and DV Toolkits are included in Pro Tools 9 and therefore no longer available to buy. However, the Complete Production Toolkit (now in its second version) is still available and, as before, unlocks the remaining HD-only features, so you get 7.1 surround mixing, VCA mixing, up to 192 tracks and advanced editing tools. Complete Production Toolkit 2 also includes support for Avid’s ICON control surfaces.

Pro Tools HD

HD-wise, there’s not so many new features in Pro when compared to the changes in the native version. The surround panner has been improved, and there is variable stereo panner depth available. MP3 and Digitranslator options are included (as they are with Pro Tools 9). Perhaps the most interesting new feature is that Pro Tools HD 9 will run in full HD mode if HD hardware is present, but if not then it will run in standard Pro Tools 9 mode. The Pro Tools HD 9 licence also includes a licence for the Complete Production Toolkit which is great for HD owners who also want a portable rig, as you can move sessions to the portable system and not lose surround capabilities, VCA faders or advanced automation modes. Lovely.

Getting the right system

HD Native systems require Pro Tools HD 9. Even though there’s no onboard DSP for mixing and plug-ins, HD Native is still an HD product and comes with the same full feature set. At the moment, there are still Mboxes and 003s available that have Pro Tools LE 8 in the box. When these have all gone, the interfaces will ship with just a driver disk. There will also be versions that are bundled with Pro Tools 9, but these will be more expensive.

If you own a Pro Tools HD system, then you just need a Pro Tools HD 9 update. If you own Pro Tools LE, you can buy a Pro Tools 9 crossgrade. You will also need an iLok if you don’t already own one. If you own M-Powered, there is an M-Powered crossgrade available.

For more information, there’s a very useful table over at the Avid website where you can compare all the products against each other. You can also call our audio team for more Pro Tools 9 or Pro Tools HD 9 advice on 03332 409 306, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Wireless mics: What you need to know about the 2012 switch-off

Wireless mics: What you need to know about the 2012 switch-off

If you use a wireless microphone system of any sort, you’ll probably know that Ofcom, the regulatory body that licenses radio frequencies, is selling off the Channel 69 frequency band.

Here’s the lowdown: in the UK, a certain range of frequencies are available for wireless microphones, instrument transmitters and in-ear monitoring systems -whether these are lavaliers, handheld news gathering systems, live performance mics or just simple wireless guitar transmitters.

Dubbed Channel 69, it covers a range of frequencies from 854MHz to 863MHz. If you’ve bought any non-bespoke system, it will almost certainly be set to this channel. However, the increasing demands for bandwidth for digital TV and mobile data systems has led to these frequencies being sold off. After 2012, these frequencies will no longer be legal for wireless performance systems and wireless systems within this range may no longer work without excessive interference.

From 2012, another band of frequencies will be available for wireless audio. This will be Channel 38, and it ranges from 606-613.99MHz. While this is good news for those who rely on wireless systems, there are two very important things that you need to know – firstly, the majority of wireless systems only operate within one channel range, so you won’t be able to tune a Channel 69 system to frequencies within the Channel 38 range. Secondly, Channel 38 is not free and requires a licence.

The good news

A lot of wireless systems have a tuning range that actually includes frequencies outside the Channel 69 range. Our most popular, Sennheiser’s EW100 systems, actually have a range of 854MHz to 866MHz which means they can be tuned to the first frequencies of  Channel 70. Channel 70 will continue to be available licence-free to wireless audio users. It’s likely that this small frequency band will get very congested but, if you’re just using a single system at close proximity, you’ll probably be able to continue using your existing system.

For those who are looking at purchasing new systems, Channel 38-ready devices are now available from many manufacturers, and Sennheiser’s EW100 G3 mics are now shipping, identified by the letters GB in the model number. An alternative solution to Channel 38 is to look at digital wireless, which uses a whole different part of the spectrum at around 2.4GHz, and is licence-free. Line 6 are already selling instrument and vocal mic systems that use this frequency range, with more to come.

It is also worth noting that some manufacturers are offering modification services where a system can be retuned from Channel 69 to Channel 38, and trade-in schemes for when your system can’t be retuned.

For more information on our range of wireless microphones, give us a call on 03332 400 222 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. You can also drop us a comment and we’ll get back to you shortly.

Why choose Pro Tools for music?

Why choose Pro Tools for music?

Walk into any recording studio and the odds are you’ll find Pro Tools being used in some format or another. More than just a recording and editing system, Pro Tools provides a complete mixing and production environment capable of completing any recording, editing, remixing or beat creation project.

Recording

With the right combination of HD interfaces, a Pro Tools HD system can handle 96 channels of I/O, up to 192 audio tracks and full 24 bit/192 kHz when recording. No matter how big your session is, all tracks retain sample-accurate syncing and there are no limits on session length either. The DSP-driven mixing allows for latency-free, effects-laden monitor mixes for performers, while the audio quality of the new Avid HD interfaces and native card really set new standards in audio conversion, meaning you’re capturing every little detail.

Mixing and editing

Engineers and producers using Pro Tools go crazy for the speed and efficiency of its workflow. With just a single keystroke, you can switch between one window for editing and arranging and another for mixing (meaning you only ever need two windows open to control every function, rather than the multiple window mayhem of some suites). And the simple, uncluttered toolset provides everything you need for the perfect edit but without having to navigate endless menus.

When it comes to the mix, Pro Tools offers a level of automation, processing and routing that exceeds most consoles. The dedicated DSP cards in Pro Tools HD systems handle all mixing and plugin duties, meaning even really complex sessions won’t slow down your CPU. If you want to get hands-on, the Avid C24 surface gives you 24-fader console control complete with 16 mic preamps and console-style control room functionality.

Music production

Pro Tools is equally at home working with loops and programming beats as it is recording live performances. There’s a dedicated MIDI editor window for ‘deeper’ editing – aftertouch, release velocity, pitchbend, controller information etc – or you can just edit MIDI alongside audio directly in the arrange window.

There are advanced audio manipulation processors, like the multitrack Beat Detective and Elastic Audio tools, that let you re-time and re-groove audio files as easily as editing MIDI. You also get a wide range of over 70 exceptional-sounding virtual instruments, drum machines and samplers as well as sound processing plugins and other creative tools.

Producing a score? Pro Tools handles that too, via its own scoring engine or through direct interchange with Sibelius music notation software. It then lets you add your finished score to the timeline with full 7.1 surround sound panning.

Pro Tools 9 will work with any Pro Tools HD ASIO or core audio interfaces (including Avid’s own range of Mbox and Digidesign 003 interfaces) so you can create the perfect setup for your particular workflow. And with the new Pro Tools HD Native card, you can now use the coveted HD series converters on a native system.

No matter what sort of music you’re making, Pro Tools can accommodate it, and ensures your sessions are compatible with major studios around the world, regardless of version or platform. The built-in support for OMF/AAF/MXF file interchange means you can share your projects with other users of most audio and video software, not just Pro Tools.

Get in touch for more information on making music with Pro Tools and how our studio experts can install the perfect system for your needs. Call us on 03332 400 222 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. You can also ask us any questions in the comments below and we’ll reply as soon as possible.

The new Avid Pro Tools interfaces are here…and we love them

The new Avid Pro Tools interfaces are here…and we love them

After keeping quiet for a long while, Avid have chosen to stake the reputation of their Digidesign merger on three new interfaces: the HD I/O, HD Omni and HD MADI. Avid themselves seem fairly confident as they’ve decided to ditch the 96 and 96i I/Os, and all three of the new releases require Pro Tools 8.1. But are they any good?

The HD I/O

At a glance, the HD I/O looks like a pretty basic revamp of the Digidesign 192. It’s a 2U expandable audio interface that connects to a Pro Tools HD core system. It uses the same modular chassis as the old 192, which comprises of the same four slots and can be loaded with the same four analogue or digital modules.

However, from there on in things get more interesting. There are more configuration options than with the 192 – the HD I/O is available in three standard configurations: 8x8x8 (which includes 8 analogue inputs, 8 analogue outputs and 8 channels of digital I/O, be they ADAT, AES/EBU or TDIF), plus one free slot; 16 channels of analogue I/O; and finally 16 channels of digital I/O.

The more astute Pro Tools users will notice that the 8x8x8 is the same configuration as the original 192. However, that unit didn’t allow for removal of the digital board and addition of extra analogue inputs and outputs – it was an either/or scenario, meaning that you could only have 8 analogue ins and 16 analogue outs or vice versa on one interface, but needed two interfaces to get 16 channels of analogue in both directions. Thankfully, the HD I/O has put paid to that. The result? A much more streamlined and less frustrating system.

Also new to this interface is SMUX capability over ADAT, which finally puts an end to the 48KHz sample rate cap you encountered when working over an ADAT connection with the 192. There’s also the first appearance of something Avid are calling ‘Curv’, which is basically a soft limiter on the analogue inputs to prevent clipping, and realtime sample rate conversion, which helps maintain signal quality even when recording at lower sample rates.

The HD OMNI

A  brand new format, the HD OMNI is a 1U interface that offers 2 digitally controlled mic preamps, 4 line inputs, 8 analogue outputs, ADAT (with SMUX), AES/EBU, control room cue monitoring and an on-board 14×26 mixer.

That list is impressive, but what’s really interesting about this unit is that it potentially paves the way for an interim platform to sit between Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools LE, by giving a degree of DSP mixing for zero latency monitoring in the interface, rather then using the HD cards.

The HD MADI

Finally, there is the HD MADI. A fairly simple unit, this provides 64 channels of MADI digital connectivity straight into Pro Tools HD.

This is huge news for live sound recordists and outside broadcast engineers who love the MADI protocol. Although SSL have been offering a MADI interface for the past 18 months, this is the first time Digidesign and Avid have released anything official, and the first time there has been a MADI designed specifically to work with Pro Tools.

While many of the specs for the SSL and Avid MADI I/Os are pretty similar, Avid does offer a couple of advantages – the most obvious being that it’s an Avid product, so you know from the get-go how it will interface with Pro Tools. Plus, if something should go wrong, you can always ask Avid’s tech crew to help you out, whereas the SSL MADI isn’t supported at all. It also boasts better connectivity, supporting either optical or normal co-axial copper cable connections, while the SSL is optical only.

Whether or not that’s enough to convince SSL users to make the switch remains to be seen, but the HD and OMNI I/Os are well worth a look.

For more info on any of Avid’s new releases, give me a call on 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com.

Audient ASP008 Review

Audient ASP008 Review

For anyone looking to add a number of microphone preamps to a digital recording setup, a quick trawl of the web will show that 8 channel mic preamps are in plentiful supply. With so many manufacturers moving production to China to compete on price,  it would seem that Audient have their work cut out for them if they are to try and gain a foothold in such a competitive market.

But Audient aren’t here to compete on price. There are a lot of multi-channel preamps in the sub-£500 price bracket, such as Focusrite’s Octopre and the Presonus Digimax, but then precious little until you get to units such as the Focusrite ISA 828 at over £1500. With the ASP008, Audient have filled that gap – it’s an 8 channel preamp with digital outs, yes, but it eschews the cheaper IC and op-amp based circuitry of mass manufactured units in favour of an all-analogue, transformer-based Discrete Class A design, and adds variable impedance on all inputs to the mix. Oh, and they are all assembled in England if you are interested.

Audient are best known for their analogue consoles and the ASP008’s analogue heritage is apparent the minute you unpack it – it’s heavy. And heavy is good, because heavy means a big power transformer to deliver constant voltage across the components, and real transformers handling the signal, rather than PCBs. My geek tendencies compelled me to open the lid and I can definitely confirm that!

Features

The ASP008 offers eight mic inputs on the rear panel via female XLR sockets. Each channel has individual ‘soft start’ phantom power, a switch to trim to line level, a phase switch and a -12dB/octave high-pass filter which is variable from 25Hz to 250Hz. Each channel also has a 3-position impedance switch, offering 200Ω, 1.5kΩ and 5kΩ load values. Channels 1 and 2 also feature front panel instrument inputs and -20dB pad switches.

The rear of the unit has a DB25 connector for all eight line level inputs, another for the analogue outputs and, if you have the digital output board (which, lets face it, is the only sensible way to buy the unit) you also have ADAT out sockets supporting SMUX up to 96KHz, eight channels of AES/EBU (also switchable to SPDIF) via a 9-pin D-connector and a wordclock input. Digitally, the ASP008 can run up to 96KHz and a rear button selects between internal and external clocking.

Sound

So the Audient ASP008 is an extremely well-specified unit as far as connectivity goes, but the important functions of any mic preamp is how good it sounds and in particular how well it responds to the mic. And this is where the ASP008 really excels. Audient claim that distortion is less than 0.001% with 20dB gain, and it’s certainly apparent that the unit has a huge amount of headroom available. It’s not a crystal clear transparent unit, but rather added a wonderful analogue warmth to pretty much any signal that I fed through it. Lows were rich and detailed, mids were clear and well defined and high frequencies never seemed to inherit an air of brittleness that plagues many cheaper units (especially at higher gain settings) and the noise floor is incredibly low.

But the real trump card for the ASP008 is the variable impedance settings for each mic preamp. Changing the load that a microphone ‘sees’ can have anything from a subtle to drastic effect on the sound of a microphone across frequency response, dynamic range and transient response. Modern transformer-less condensers exhibit less of an effect but older, transformer-coupled mics, dynamics and ribbons definitely change character as the impedance is changed, giving you a whole new palette of sounds to work with.

Summary

The Audient ASP008 is not aimed at the user who just wants to add some mic inputs to their digital recording setup. Instead, it’s aimed at users who want some of that analogue magic to infiltrate their pristine digital world and experience a bit more depth from their mics. Pro Tools HD users in particular will love the fact that the unit has AES/EBU out, so they won’t be limited to ADAT-only digital connections. At its price point, the Audient’s only real competition is the RME Octamic II, which is no less wonderful but entirely different in character – being an example in transparency. But if it’s warmth and character you’re looking for, I’d recommend the Audient ASP008 all the way.

If you want to try the Audient ASP008 we have loan units available to try in your own studio. For more information, call our audio team on 03332 400 300 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com.