Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Golden Age Project D2 & R1 Active Ribbon microphone test and sound samples

I got the two latest GAP microphones last week. The dynamic D2 (EV RE-20 / Shure SM7b style) and the R1 active ribbon microphone.
The D2 comes in a plastic box and the R1 comes with a very solid bag and a 2m XLR cable. Both microphones feel very solid and the built quality is promising. You can not use a shock mount with any of them and so you have to be pretty careful while recording, especially with the R1 as it can produce a lot of "bottom". No stomping or jumping in the recording room...
To make a long story short: I am no fan of the D2 but I love the R1. I did some quick vocal recordings and while the R1 had some nice and warm character the D2 sounded pretty thin and agressive. The R1 is great on Bass and every source where you'd like to erase some higher frequencies. It has a bass roll off switch that can come in handy. It needs some phantom power but has a high output level and you don't need much gain from your preamp. Very nice. The D2 has three roll off switches but somehow it just doesn't sound right to me. Maybe you can use it on Hi Hat or if you want a bright Snare or Guitar sound.
Here are the samples:

GAP-R1D2-mics-sound-samples (10Mb)

I compared them to the CS-1 a large diaphragm condenser microphone and used several preamps.
I like the warmth of the R1 and the fact that it has a high output and very low noise. So I rate the R1 8/10.
I don't like the sound of the D2 but maybe it's just me and it can be useful for someone out there. It's worth testing. I rate it 4/10

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Review: Alva Nanoface test and audio samples

I got the brand new ALVA Nanoface for a quick test and here is what I found.
It's all made of plastic and very light so it feels a bit cheap in my hands. The break out cable with all its connections is heavier than the device itself and even tough it seems to be good quality, I would not expect it to work forever. To me, the whole breakout cable concept is a bit weird, as it looks bad on the desktop, it's not very ergonomic and it's supposed to break one day. At least it keeps the interface small and portable. It comes with a USB 2 cable and a printed manual. The Nanoface itself has only one big rotary controller that can also be used as a push button. Software installation was easy, but I was surprised it only comes with drivers. No routing software - you have to do everything in your DAW. You can only access the functions of the Nanoface by rotating and pressing the big controller which is irritating to me as I personally like to have a software that controls the device and shows me what's happening on the screen. Latency was not as good as with the Microbook that I tested last week but still ok - 11,8 ms on 128 samples in Logic 9 running on a Macbook 2,4 GHZ. My built-in audio has 9 ms at 128 samples. I did some test recordings with the Nanoface and compared it to a MOTU Traveler:

Nanoface audio samples (.zip /3.5MB)

The sound is a little bit "notchy" in the mids to my ears, it misses out some low bass frequencies and it tends to be pretty brilliant in the higher frequencies. Some might call it crystal clear... I could work with it tough - nothing really shocking but nothing really amazing either. The noise floor is a little higher than on the MOTU but still good and the preamps offer a little less gain. For people who like the form factor, who need the ins and outs (3xMidi, 2x48V XLR, optical in/out...) this device can be a very cool thing regarding its low price. I'm sure you can do some nice recordings with it. Alva is a new player in the market of audio interfaces and this is a promising beginning. I know many of you would like to know the difference in sound quality as compared to the RME Babyface but I have never had any yet. I rate the ALVA Nanoface 6,5/10.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MOTU Microbook 2 test, review and sound samples

I was looking for a small, portable interface to use with my Macbook. I wanted something better than the built-in sound card, something I can mix with and that has low latency. I already use a MOTU Traveler MK I and a MOTU 8pre interface (both firewire) and so I thought I'd give the new Microbook 2 a try. On the paper it has all the features, inputs and outputs that I needed and out of the box it looks really nice and solid. The case is made of metal and there are no buttons or knobs that could break easily. So far so good. I installed the latest drivers and the first latency tests were promising. My built in audio card showed me 9ms latency at 128 samples - the Microbook 2 showed me 9,5 ms at 128 which is good for a USB interface. I started to record and wanted to check the sound difference between my old MOTU Traveler from 2006 and the Microbook 2. Acoustic guitar, vocals and upright bass to feed the mic preamp and an electric piano to check the line-in conversion. I put both preamps on + 24 db of gain and noticed that the level of the Microbook was around 3 db weaker than the one of the Traveler. But still strong enough to work with quiet dynamics or even ribbons. I also noticed that there is no possibility to switch the line in from +4 to -10 on the Microbook which I would have liked.
Later, when I was listening to the results, I noticed that the files recorded with the Microbook were full of clicks, pops and drop outs. I didn't hear any clicks during the recording process but that's the way the audio was recorded. I started to look for the mistake, changed settings and tried several things and finally found on a forum that someone simply suggested to exchange the USB cable. So I did that and it helped! But just a bit. Instead of a lot of clicks I just had a very few. I tried all the cables I had and could not find a real solution. So I have to send it back as it's simply not useable like this. I hope the guys from MOTU will solve this problem. I already used several interfaces with my (standard) macbook running Mac OS X 10.6.8 and never had this kind of problem. Anyway, here is a link to the files I recorded for the ones who are interested:

MOTU Microbook 2 vs. MOTU Traveler

Sound wise I like the Microbook - it sounds fresher and less muddy than the Traveler MKI, it has a strong preamp and a good noise floor. Hopefully the audio samples will give you an idea.
I have no time to waste and I want a new product to work properly, out of the box - and a USB cable of good quality but if MOTU solves this problem one day, this could be the portable interface of my choice. After this disappointing experience, I did not even check the on-board eq, compressor or analyzing tools. I can't rate this product, because it simply doesn't work.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Review: T.C. Electronic Flashback Delay

I was looking for a versatile delay for a while and read about the brand new T.C. Electronics Flashback. So I thought I give it a try - and it hasn't left my studio since. I needed a good sounding stereo delay that can be connected with line and instrument input and that is small enough to bring on tour. I had a Boss Digital Delay years ago as well as the Ibanez Analog Delay AD9. First one sounded cold like ice and the possibilities of the second one were very limited. The Flashback is a beautiful little helper and more than that - a rich source of inspiration. Nine (!) different delay modes, a looper function and one Toneprint setting that you can load on to the pedal via USB from your computer. It's built like a tank, very heavy for it's small size and can be operated with a 9V battery that can be accessed by only one big screw at the bottom. You can see that people used their brain when they designed this unit. It's easy to operate the simple looper, you can record up to 40 seconds in mono mode and overdubs are possible as well. It's even more easy to set the tempo of the delay - just step on the switch and "strum" the right beat on  your guitar and everything's set. I found out that the Ping Pong Delay adds some kind of bass boost in certain settings (with delay time at zero) and I already used that for recording as well. The Toneprint function is a bit cheesy as you won't sound like your guitar hero anyway. The idea is not bad, but you can upload only one setting at a time and that's lame as you always have to run to the computer and connect again and that takes time. There are some interesting sounds tough... It comes with USB cable but without power supply. I like it a lot and rate it a 9/10.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Studio Projects CS-1 review and audio samples

Olla, long time no see. I got a microphone recently that highly impressed me for it's price. The Studio Projects CS-1. Very full and rich sounding microphone with lots of bottom and no harsh sounding high frequencies. Very flexible with a four step bass cut and a four step high cut. Great to tame deep frequencies of an upright or bass cabinet. I use them much more often than I thought. It has a very high output and is very quiet as well. In combination with a nice tube preamp it really shines. Street price was 600 Euro a few years ago and I got this one for not even a third of the original price. I know it's Chinese - but it's the best Chinese microphone I had so far. It's very good on vocals and doesn't push sibilance.
Here are some acoustic guitar samples:

The shock mount is very functional and much better than the ones from SE Electronics for example. All in all there is more love in this product, and that's why I rate it a 8/10

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sennheiser MK 4 review and audio samples

Aloha, this time I want to give you some quick impressions on the Sennheiser Mk 4 large diaphragm cardioid microphone that just arrived in my studio. I use several older dynamic Sennheiser mics and I usually like what they do and the quality of their products. This mic is made in Germany, it's solid, pretty heavy and sells for 300 Euros which is an amazing price in my point of view. You get no case or suitcase and no shock mount or any other extras - just a small bag and a (good working) clip, thats it. The mic itself has no features like a bass roll-off or a pad switch and you can not change the characteristic. So there are a lot of "no's". But what you get is a great microphone that feels and sounds just right - and thats what its all about. This microphone is a great tool, my test recordings with male vocals, acoustic guitars and amps had been very promising. I was "instantly" happy. There is a slight boost in the upper mids that can be nice on certain things (especially vocals and acoustic guitars) and I love the fact that it doesn't sound harsh in higher ranges and handles sibilance well. Very nice.

Sennheiser MK4 vs. Neumann TLM 127 on custom made tube preamp

Sennheiser MK4 vs. Neumann TLM 127 on MOTU Traveler built in preamp

Regarding the price it's great when you are "on the go" or if you want to invest in a stereo set. I rate this thing a 8/10 for now and will be back with more details after I've used it for a while...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: Nord Electro 3 61

I was not really prepared for this one to be honest. Once I had too much time in a music store in Berlin and I started to check out all the electronic pianos they had. I have an old piano from the 1920s in my studio and I never really enjoyed playing on an electric piano - for me it's always something that can work in a band context but not really on it's own. I think it's something for people who really learned how to play. For me, as I have a slow left hand, it's easy to get some kind of mood on a real piano but it's hardly possible to play pieces "with feeling" on an electric simulation. Anyway, I found that red little thing and I was  happy not to have to choose out of 500 sounds and even more gimmicks to get what I want. It's simple and offers just three piano sounds to choose from - one grand, two uprights and an easy set of effects and an eq that's it. Just a few but very good sounds! I found myself playing on it for another hour in that shop. Now I own one myself and use it a lot in the studio or with my band. I ordered it with the bag (that perfectly fits of course) and I love that it's very easy to carry and super light. High quality made, real wood, a very interesting organ section (B3, Farfisa, Vox) and the possibility to upload new sounds and samples really got me stunned. Clavia offers a lot of other piano samples on their homepage - the only bad thing is that it's connected via usb 1 (!) and it needs super long to upload a few MB. And the fact that I can not upgrade the memory is also not nice... The biggest mistake they made is the power supply that is damn noisy and really goes on my nerves easily. Not really made for a studio jam. It's fun to play and very very useful to me and but regarding the power supply I rate it a 7/10.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review: Genelec 8020 Monitor & 5040 Subwoofer

Once I lent a pair of these from a friend for a mixing job. I was very skeptical when I unpacked them and could hardly take them serious regarding their size. They are so small you can call them "portable" but they are also damn heavy for their size... When I first listened to them I instantly fell in love - easy as that! I just came back from mixing at a guys place with KRK monitors (don't remember which models) and the genelecs sounded way more sophisticated and natural. It's just another league. Much more of a working tool than a compromise! I didn't want to let them go and decided to buy a pair for my home studio setup. As they lack some deep frequencies I decided to get a subwoofer and ordered the 5040A that is big enough for my mixing room (25sqm). This is a beautiful little setup and I think the 5040A fits perfectly with the 8020s (even if this sub is usually advertised in combination with the even smaller 6010s). Genelec states that the 5040 was designed for both models and I can say it works and sounds great. You have to put the monitor volume at 12 o'clock and control the overall volume via the funky remote control of the subwoofer. The connectors of the bigger brother 7050 are more professional but for a small studio the chinch connectors of the 5040 are ok. The only real bad thing is that it's not possible to sync the two volume controls of the monitors, which means there is always the chance that one side is louder than the other one... I rate this speaker combination a  8/10 cause it really makes me happy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Focusrite Saffire Pro 40

Well, personally I had some problems with the "pro". It seems like a good feature set on paper but I got disappointed several times since I unpacked it. The case looks stable and the fact that I don't need an extra power supply is a plus. So far for the good things... Lots of other things frightened me. The buttons are made of plastic (aluminum color...), the mic preamps offer not enough noise-free gain and you also can not really control that gain you don't have. Almost nothing happens until you turn the knob to 8 and then you have around 30 db available between 8 and 9. Above 9 the signal is too noisy. It's so bad I even thought that my device was broken and so I sent it back. Just to find out that it's the same problem with the bigger brother that I already reviewed here: Liquid Saffire 56. It's better to save some money for a device that is more "pro" and less a cheap compromise. I rate this box a 3/10.

Review: TC Electronic Impact Twin

When I got it I was surprised by its size - it's pretty big for what it is. Much bigger than a RME UC for example. It's kind of wrapped in black plastic which protects the knobs and buttons a bit and seems solid. A Firewire 800 to 400 adapter is included in the package as well as a very short Firewire cable. The sound is ok when you are on the go and I tend to describe it as transparent and clear. It has a few gimmicks like two headphone output, three useful monitor options (stereo, mono, side!), it comes with onboard compressor and reverb and both are good things to have. Don't use the compressor to much - just a bit can be nice... The software seems smooth and offers some some more features that can come in handy (de-esser is shit / eq is ok). For me it's an good interface. Enough preamp gain and satisfying results. ADAT and MIDI are nice - I could recommend it to beginners with ambitions as it seems to have everything that you need to get started. I use it in my drum room with two additional external preamps. I got mine in 2nd hand (in very good condition) for 160 Euro and for this price you can't go wrong. I keep it and rate that thing a 7/10.