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.