Avid Pro Tools | S3 – EUCON for Everyone

Avid Pro Tools | S3 – EUCON for Everyone

The Pro Audio team at Jigsaw24 are major fans of the Avid Pro Tools | S3 Control Surface, the compact, cost effective DAW controller that not only works with Avid Pro Tools, but also any Media Content Creation application that is compatible with the widely available EUCON control protocol.

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The Pro Tools | S3 Control Surface is a streamlined, versatile mixing solution that gives sound engineers the powerful, intelligent control they need to work more ergonomically and efficiently, create the highest-quality mixes, and expand mixing capabilities and job opportunities. When used together, the Pro Tools | S3 and Pro Tools software – deliver the most streamlined, economical, and tightly integrated approach to mixing and recording in smaller-sized studios or mobile settings.

Introducing Avid Pro Tools | S3

The S3 Control Surface is designed to help sound engineers:

– Expand mixing capabilities, and take on a diverse range of projects: Based on the award-winning Avid S6 control surface, the S3 features open integration with Pro Tools Software and other EUCON-enabled digital audio workstations such as Logic Pro, Cubase, and more.

– Meet strict project deadlines: By combining traditional console layout with the proven advancements of the S6, S3 delivers highly intuitive recording, editing, and mixing control—along with the power and efficiency to meet fast turnaround times.

– Mix on-the-go: The compact form factor fits into any space, making S3 ideal for small project studios or on-the-go music and post mixing.

– Work the way they want: Engineers can customise the surface to their unique needs by creating custom channel layouts, all recallable at any time. S3 can switch between two applications with ease, giving users the choice to work however they want, and the capability to take on the largest, most demanding mixes.

– Fit well into any studio and workflow: S3 easily integrates with solutions across the Avid MediaCentral Platform, as well as a studio’s existing systems and workflows to deliver deep hardware software integration and control at a fraction of the price of high-end consoles.

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Full hardware controls include:

– 16 channel strips, each with a touch-sensitive, motorised fader and 10-segment signal level meter (supports up to 6 fader banks).

– 32 touch-sensitive, push-button rotary encoders for panning, gain control, plug-in parameter adjustments, and more.

– 32 high-resolution OLED displays for viewing track names/numbers, detailed metering data (from mono to 5.1 surround), parameter names/values, current automation mode, and more.

– Solo, mute, channel select, and record/automation-enable keys on every channel.

– Touch strip provides easy access to transport controls.

– Dozens of dedicated buttons and switches for navigation, automation, control assignment, and software control.

– Built-in 4×6 AVB Core Audio interface includes 2 XLR mic/line inputs, 2 TRS line inputs, 2 XLR line outputs, 2 TRS line outputs, and a stereo headphone output.

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EUCON 3.2.2 and Pro Tools | S3 Enhancements:

The latest EUCON improvements and enhancements now include support for Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite”. For the Pro Tools | S3, there is now a Soft Key editor that allows users to map their favourite controls and commands onto key areas of the surface. For Pro Tools 12 and higher, the preference for Mix and/or Edit windows to follow surface bank selection is now working—which is the inverse of the existing feature that allows a user to click on a track in Pro Tools and the surface follows. In Pro Tools, go to Pro Tools > Preferences > Mixing to enable the functionality.

Jigsaw24 is proud to be a fully authorised Avid Elite Reseller, the Pro Tools | S3 Control Surface is available to test drive at our Soho demo studios. To find out more, email audio@Jigsaw24.com or give us a call on 03332 409 306.

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The basics of Jigsaw24 for audio

The basics of Jigsaw24 for audio
If you’ve been buying your Macs from us or picked up a drive or two, it may have escaped your notice that we have one of the most comprehensive professional audio offerings in the industry. Here’s our top audio specialist Rob Holsman with a quick rundown of what we can do…

“Whether you’re putting together a project recording studio, voiceover facility, classroom composition suite or a full-featured surround-sound Pro Tools mixing studio for film post-production, we have the products and technical expertise to get the job done. And if you’re a videographer, we can supply all the location recording kit you could need, including wireless systems, shotgun mics, portable recorders and booms.

We can supply all the industry’s leading brands for audio software, audio interfaces, studio hardware, stereo and surround monitor speaker packages, headphones, microphones. and much much more. We are main dealers for Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg, RME, MOTU, Universal Audio, Genelec, Focal, Sennheiser, Sony Professional, PMC, Focusrite, Neumann, RODE, Tascam… the list goes on and on, but you get the picture! And with our industry leading IT, we have the knowhow to get it all working and keep it that way.”

Some top resources…

If you want to know a bit more about us, why not have a browse of our blog, where we keep the latest audio announcements? Here are a few perennial favourites to get you started…

If you want to find out more about our audio post-production services, take a look at our post brochure here.

Want to stay on top of NAMM news? Here’s our 2015 roundup.

Not sure what plug-ins you need? Here are six we can’t live without.

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email audio@Jigsaw24.com. For all the latest news, follow @WeAreJigsaw24 on Twitter or ‘Like’ us on Facebook.

Video: Tascam DM3200 mixing desk, integrated audio interface, control surface and DSP

Video: Tascam DM3200 mixing desk, integrated audio interface, control surface and DSP

Rob Holsman of talks us through the features of Tascam’s DM3200 digital console and explains why this is a relevant choice for someone looking for a DAW controller and high quality audio interface.

Want to know more? Give us a call on 03332 409 306 or email broadcast@Jigsaw24.com. For the latest news, follow @Jigsaw24Video on Twitter or ‘Like’ our Facebook page


Why listening to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ on vinyl made me want to burn my CDs

Why listening to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ on vinyl made me want to burn my CDs

Every so often I feel compelled to spend an evening pulling out my record collection and rediscovering a time when I actively enjoyed the process of listening to music. This happens with almost alarming certainty when I have either a) had a little too much to drink or b) split up with my girlfriend (sometimes an unhelpful combination of both). And in almost all cases I seem to arrive at the same conclusion – that for some reason vinyl sounds better.

After much ruminating I have arrived at the conclusion that this has nothing to do with me being some closet analogue purist. I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with my speakers being wobbled by a stream of 1s and 0s as opposed to a stylus jiggling in a groove on a vinyl disc. It has nothing to do with the hiss and crackle of vinyl imparting the pseudo-comforting sound of nature or acting as the sonic glue that imparts a sense of life into an otherwise sterile performance. In fact it is not about how vinyl sounds when compared to CD at all, it is about how the music on a CDcompares with its vinyl equivalent, a result of the process I have come to call ‘masterdisation.’

A common mistake made by advocates of vinyl is that a CD has less dynamic range. The CD format is capable of a dynamic range of 96dB as opposed to around 65 – 70dB for a vinyl record. However, the process of mastering for vinyl favoured using as much dynamic range as was possible, with the caveat that the quietest part should never fall below the agreed noise-floor for the background sounds inherent in a device which basically drags a needle across a plastic surface.

Mastering engineers were still encouraged to try and make the loudest records possible, but there was a limit because above a certain level the needle would literally jump out of the groove. With CDs, the opposite is true. Record company executives looked at the loudness wars in the ’80s, when radio stations competed to get more listeners by being the loudest on the air, and decided they were prepared to sacrifice dynamics if they could have a record that seemed louder than every other.

Compression

With dynamics no longer a concern, CD mastering engineers found themselves armed with the same tools as the radios had used. Multiband compressors and limiters let them compress most of those 1s and 0s into straight 1s and despite having a much larger dynamic range than vinyl, it is common for a modern pop CD to be mastered with less than 10dB difference between the loudest and quietest parts. And this is, I think, the key to why so many people claim a preference for vinyl.

Firstly, dynamics are a key dimension in audio. It holds listeners’ interest and we start to actively listen. With no dynamics, listeners get fatigued and lose interest. Secondly, overly loud mastering introduces digital distortions, as CD player converters run out of headroom to recreate the soundwave. In his book ‘Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music’ (so exhaustively researched it frankly has no business being as enjoyable or entertaining as it is), author Greg Milner cites The Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ ‘Californication’ as being a watershed album for ‘overloud’ mastering. Almost devoid of dynamics (a total dynamic range of less than 6dB across the whole album), the sound of digital clipping produced throughout is recognised by our brains as being painfully loud regardless of how loud the disc is actually being played, and actually becomes unpleasant to listen to.

Finally, all of this compression started to fundamentally change how we perceived the sounds of instruments. Sounds were robbed of transients and others had subtleties boosted. CDs started to sound less like music played on vinyl and more like music heard on the radio. We no longer needed to listen to records, because they were practically screaming at us, the musical equivalent of over-hyped orange-lacquered reality TV celebrities shrieking into our headphones.

The irony of this is that, as CDs used loudness to attract our attention, the effect made the listener less interested. It’s a shame the CD format was standardised before the loudness wars started. In the digital TV age, broadcasters now have access to loudness metadata which allows them to match perceived loudness of different pieces of programme material. If CDs could somehow incorporate the same loudness metadata, a CD wouldn’t have to compete on volume – playback systems would be able to compensate in balancing volumes between different albums based on how loudly the listener will perceive them. Overloud mastering would become undesirable due to the artifacts and limited dynamic range.

While some artists are beginning to see that overloud mastering is detrimental to the enjoyment of the music, the mastering decisions rarely rest with the artist. It may well be that, in future, radio will incorporate loudness monitoring that will help in the fight to reclaim the music from the sound of the CD. For anyone looking to master their own music, I’d advocate paying close attention to how your music sounds, not just how loud it is. Squashing all the transients out of your music may end up reducing a lot more than just the peaks.

Want to know more about mastering? Get in touch with our audio team 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.

New Pro Tools HD interfaces are here

New Pro Tools HD interfaces are here

Pro Tools fans – this one’s for you. Avid have just announced a new range of hardware and software, designed to help you get the most out of the digital audio workstation. They have launched three rack-mountable HD Series interfaces – I/O, OMNI and MADI – and HEAT analogue effect software. Click on the product names to get yours now.

– HD I/O. The flagship interface offers the highest audio quality with 20% less latency than previous models. Adaptable to your needs, there are three configurations to choose from – 16×16 analogue, 16×16 digital and 8x8x8 analogue and digital.

– HD OMNI. All-in-one recording, mixing, monitoring and conversion with two mic pre-amps, headphone outputs and a full-featured 7.1 surround monitor section. Its 14×26 channel persistent mixer even works when the computer is off.

– HD MADI. Send and receive up to 64 audio channels between Pro Tools HD and other MADI devices up to 2km away! There’s also support for up to 24-bit, 192 kHz sample rate, which delivers maximum audio fidelity.

– HEAT. Designed by audio legend Dave Hill from Cranesong, this stands for Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology and brings the warmth and colour of vintage analogue recording to all your tracks simultaneously, so you don’t have to change plug-in settings on each channel.

For more information on these releases and all things Pro Tools, get in touch with the team on 03332 400 222 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.

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.