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THE MUSICTECH EXPERTS

Trying times...
We’re used to dealing with changes to our
music-making processes, and we’re always
keen to explore how your studio time can be
JONO BUCHANAN MARTIN DELANEY maximised by the advent of new gear or trends.
Jono is a composer, Martin was one of the first Nothing, however, has affected the world of
producer, lecturer and UK Ableton-Certified Trainers. music production (and the wider industry) quite
journalist. His interest He has taught a wide range like COVID-19, which has had a devastating
in everything to do with of people and has written effect on freelance and gig-based musicians
electronic music started at three books about Live.
a tender age and has carried Martin designed the Kenton and producers. The UK government enforced its
him through a career Killamix Mini USB MIDI mandatory lockdown as we were finalising this
spanning song-writing, controller and is the Editor issue, shutting down pubs, clubs and more.
remixing, sound design of the popular Instagram Though there’s obviously a lot of concern right now, there’s also some
and music for picture. account Abletonlive.london. positivity to be found, as many of us have a great deal more time to spend
indoors, focusing on our tracks as we self-isolate. In our news section this month,
we’ve rounded up some of the incredible free products that have been
generously offered by big companies in the wake of the pandemic, and over
the coming months we’ll bring you features that are designed to help you
collaborate with others, self-release and broadcast your music via the internet.
Elsewhere in this issue, we speak to MPG’s Breakthrough Producer of the
Year Marta Salogni about her incredible rise to prominence, as well as her
fusion of classic production techniques and DAWs. We also deconstruct the
DAVE GALE ADAM CRUTE
core elements of electronic dance music and explore how hand percussion
Dave is an award-winning Adam is a freelance
orchestrator, media engineer, media producer can add rhythmic texture to your tracks. We’ve got our usual range of
composer and producer, and musician. Having cut his step-by-step tutorials across all the major DAWs, and reviews of the latest
with a passion for synths and teeth in tape-based analogue hardware and software, including Waves’ versatile OVox and Mammoth
modulars in all their forms, studios, his involvement with Audio’s stunning debut Density. Stay safe and enjoy this issue.
whether software, hardware, music technology has
vintage or modern. Dave spanned the move from
is MusicTech’s resident analogue to digital recording.
Eurorack expert, as well as Adam is currently our go-to
a soundtrack composer. Cubase expert.

Andy Price Editor andy.price@musictech.net

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musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 3


In the issue…

MARTA
SALOGNI
THE MPG BREAKTHROUGH PRODUCER
OF THE YEAR ON FUSING ANALOGUE
TECH WITH SOFTWARE AND WORKING
WITH BJÖRK, BON IVER AND FKA TWIGS

FEATURES TUTORIALS
Acon Digital Acoustica 7.2
SSL 2 and 2+
98
100
Deconstructing EDM 22 Pro Tools 38 Soundiron Alpha Organ 102
We get the drop on EDM by breaking How to use polyrhythms Krotos Audio Concept 104
it down and building it back up again Logic 44 Cinesamples CineBrass Sonore 106
to teach you how best to sculpt risers, How to use gain staging Audiaire Zenith 108
breakdowns and more Live 48 Sontronics Podcast Pro 110
Show of hands 32
Your DVD Gain the upper hand on limp-wristed
How to record voices
Cubase 58
Soyuz Launcher
Baby Audio Comeback Kid
111
112
Turn the page for a full list rhythms as we explore hand percussion Getting to grips with dynamics Pioneer DDJ-200 113
of the contents of the Studio One 64 Toontrack Kicks and Snares EZX 114
MusicTech Issue 206 DVD
INTERVIEWS
Marta Salogni 12
Mastering the art of mastering
FL Studio 70
Denise Audio Perfect Room
Mini reviews
116
117
How to sculpt ambient pads Six Of The Best: soft-synths 118
The MPG Breakthrough Producer of the
Year on her work with FKA Twigs and
Bon Iver, and how an unlikely LinkedIn
message led to her mixing for Björk
REVIEWS REGULARS
Waves OVox 77 Welcome 3
Moses Boyd 120 Mammoth Audio Density 80 Disc page 6
South London’s newest nu-jazz Slate and Ash Cycles 82 News 8
sensation reflects on his astounding Warm Audio Bus-Comp 84 Show off your studio 52
debut album Dark Matter Universal Audio Apollo Twin X 87 Subscriptions 106
Dr Packer 126 Austrian Audio Hi-X55s 91 Rewind: Roland TR-808 130
The good doctor on how he breathes RME Babyface Pro FS 94
new life into ailing disco floor-fillers EastWest Hollywood Backup Singers 96

4 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


C O NTENTS

FEATURE
Hand
Percussion 32 INTERVIEW
Dr Packer 126
Reviews TUTORIALS

80 WORKING WITH
76 POLYRHYTHMS
IN PRO TOOLS 38
GAIN
STAGING
IN LOGIC PRO X 44
82 VOICE
RECORDING
IN ABLETON LIVE 48
84 USING
DYNAMICS
IN CUBASE 58
91
MASTERING
IN STUDIO ONE
64
MAKING
AMBIENT PADS
87 96
IN FL STUDIO 70
musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 5
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showing you how to build a neurofunk drum ’n’ he dishes out the top tips he’s gleaned from
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the top-five Loopmasters country and blues individual tracks in Ableton Live and then
sample packs, and the top-five tape-emulation Scenes and perform live effects via a MIDI
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6 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


NEWS

FOR THE LATEST NEWS VISIT


WWW.MUSICTECH.NET

In case you missed it…

SELF-ISOLATION SOUNDS
A
s the world enters lockdown to The latter is already available as a 30-day As with Logic, our inclusive online tutorial
help our health services combat trial but the brand’s comprehensive DAW series can help guide you through the
the threat of COVID-19, we’ve all has never been open to the public in demo software, from the early stages to more
suddenly been faced with much form. This is a mouth-watering opportunity exotic techniques.
more time to work on our tracks at home. for those who have considered making a Tracktion’s Waveform Free is also
In solidarity with home-based music-makers, move to the Apple software but haven’t available now. This music-making platform
many big companies have released free been able to commit to the £200 purchase offers unlimited amounts of tracks, plug-in
versions (or at least extended trial periods) price via the macOS App Store. support for VST, and an arsenal of built-in
for a vast range of products. Here, we’ve If you want to take advantage of this effects and software instruments.
compiled the very best of these to help rare act of altruism from Apple but don’t Swedish company Soundation is offering
you make the most of your time. know where to begin with the DAW, see our premium subscriptions to schools affected
series of video tutorials that teach you the by COVID-19. If you’re a music teacher or
LOCK THE DAW software from the ground up, available via student, you can sign up for the service,
The most attractive proposition comes our YouTube channel. which started 1 April and runs until 30 June.
courtesy of the most prestigious – or at Similarly, Ableton Live 10 Suite is now While it might not boast the functionality of
least the most ubiquitous – name, Apple, yours to spin for 90 days, with all its features, fully fledged DAWs such as Logic Pro X or
with the California giant offering a 90-day including exporting and saving, generously Ableton Live 10, its user interface could
trial of Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X. unlocked for your creative predilection. be a smooth springboard for beginners.

8 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


NEWS

Soundation could also prove a marvellous


tool for introducing students to the wonders
of audio recording and virtual instruments,
particularly since the suite includes effects
such as EQ, delay, reverb and distortion.
The likes of Avid, Cockos and Synchro
Arts are enabling temporary licenses for
Pro Tools, Reaper and SA products such
as VocALign Pro 4 for existing users and
students, allowing home use throughout
the lockdown period. Cockos is offering
free 60-day evaluation period for Reaper
too. Visit the companies’ respective
websites for more.
There’s never been a better time to sign
up to BandLab either. The free cloud-based
in-browser DAW encourages collaboration
and engagement with musicians around
the world. The company is currently running
a Stay Home, Stay Creative challenge, and
promoting the best tracks created via the
platform during the lockdown.

FREE LUNCH
Leading the charge in the synth world is
Moog, which offered its Minimoog Model D
iOS app for free in an effort to “spread
positivity, creativity, and expressivity”.
The mobile recreation of the legendary
mono synth is usually £14.99 on the App
Store and can run as an AUv3 plug-in for
supporting host apps. The synth app is
designed to look and sound exactly like
the real thing – and does a stellar job.
Visit the App Store to get yours.
Arturia’s iOS-based drum machine,
iSpark is free to download until 30 April,
and the company’s deep dual-synth
engined Pigments 2 has an extended trial
period running from 2 April to 3 July.
Cherry Audio is giving away its Voltage
Modular Nucleus for Mac and PC, free of
charge. Available “immediately and for
the foreseeable future”, the modular synth
software features 22 modules and more
than 130 presets.
For guitar-oriented musicians, Two
Notes Audio Engineering is giving away
free lifetime licenses for its Torpedo Wall
of Sound speaker and mic’ing simulation
plug-in until 30 April.
Audiomodern has also released its
Filterstep plug-in for free, which combines a The company usually informs subscribers of
step sequencer with a set of high-, low- and regular live shows and performances but
band-pass filters to produce “incredibly has partnered with Twitch to support the
complex and nuanced results.” steep rise in livestreaming artists in the wake
of the lockdown. Musicians with 2,000 or
STAY TOGETHER more trackers on Bandsintown can apply
If you’re an artist who has been hit hard by for Twitch Affiliate status, which will quickly
the venue shutdown and, like many of your pave the way for artists to monetise their
peers, are turning to livestreaming to keep streams, which lets them receive tips and
in touch with the community, keep an eye subscriptions that could help them fill the
on what Bandsintown is up to. The company financial gap that may come as a result of
is supporting independent artists through a cancelled tours, shows and festival slots.
feature that sends notifications to viewers SoundCloud has also made movements
when performers go live on streaming to make this process easier for creators.
channel Twitch. The notifications appear on Alongside the goodwill demonstrated
Bandsintown, Facebook pages, Instagram by technology companies and the like, we
Stories and other places that are able to have our own offer to extend: you can get
show Bandsintown listings. With COVID-19 our recent Freeware issue (issue 200) free
forcing musicians inside, the streams are via digital magazine site Pocketmags. Visit
being referred to as ‘quaranstreams’. pocketmags.com/musictech-magazine
Sign up at bandsintown.com. to sign up and get your digital issue.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 9


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S I G N U P T O R E C E I V E 1 G B O F F R E E S O U N D S
MT C OV ER INTERV IE W

MARTA
SALOGNI
From Bon Iver and FKA Twigs to Glass Animals
and Anna Meredith, the coolest acts in your
record collection have featured mixing and
engineering by Marta Salogni. Riding the high
of her MPG Breakthrough Producer of the Year
win, we caught up with Salogni to talk about
her love of tape machines, her studio process
and how LinkedIn helped her land the job of
a lifetime mixing Björk’s Utopia
WORDS JIM OTTEWILL


W
hen I went to the Music Producers
Guild (MPG) Awards for the first time,
I sneaked in without paying,” says
Italian-born producer and engineer
Marta Salogni in her East London studio. “I put on the
best clothes I had – a suit from a charity shop – and
dodged the bouncers to get in so I could see my
heroes on stage. I dreamt that one day I might get
an award too.”
Fast forward to 2020 and Salogni’s dream has
come true – twice. She won the MPG’s Breakthrough
Engineer award in 2018 and its Breakthrough Producer
award in March of this year. These accolades come
courtesy of her studio credits with some of the world’s
most exciting, colourful and cutting-edge musical
provocateurs. With the likes of Björk, Bon Iver, Holly
Herndon and Daniel Avery, requesting her services,
it’s unsurprising that the rest of the industry is starting
to take notice, and extending warm invitations to
Salogni so that she’s able to attend without fear of
being uncovered and kicked out of the building.

12 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M A R TA S A LO G N I C OV E R I N T E R V I E W

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 13


C OV E R I N T E R V I E W M A R TA S A LO G N I

Italian-born Marta Salogni beat “It can be a lonely job and sometimes you lose Following a stint learning the rudiments of
a path to London to kick off her track as to whether anyone is listening beyond you production, gear and studio terminology via a
career as a producer
and the artist you’re working with,” she says. “So it’s course at legendary London college Alchemea,
amazing to be recognised by my colleagues, peers, Salogni set about getting her foot in the door of
best friends, heroes and role models.” the industry by offering her services to a number
of London studios. “I saw an ad for State of the Ark
INTO THE UNKNOWN Studios in South London,” she says. “I rang up and
Salogni was entangled in music as a teenager in asked if I could sit on a session. I met the studio
her native Italy. She cut her musical teeth at home manager, who pointed out that there were no
before upping sticks and relocating to London in an jobs but said they were up for me helping out.”
effort to turn her passion for sound into a bona fide It didn’t take Salogni long to make her mark.
career. “There was an old venue around the back of No sooner had found the door slightly ajar than she
a social centre, this liberated space in the city I went had yanked it open via persistence and pure force
to high school in,” says Salogni. “I was part of this of personality. “On that first session, I met a producer
group of left-wing activists. At our HQ, we had a who needed an assistant,” she says. “That was my
venue with a PA and mixer. I saw this dusty Yamaha first job in music. I wasn’t expecting anything but
mixing desk and was told that it allows you to control it led to the opportunity that gave me a start.”
the sound on stage. I remember thinking it was Salogni believes that the secret to music-industry
amazing because it controls the experiences of the success comes from a heady combination of steely
audience. I felt like it was an instrument in itself.” self-belief, passion and mutual co-operation. “It’s
It was this introductory taste for mixing that whet important to help people understand that you’re
Salogni’s appetite, tempting her to take her interest grateful for their assistance, and ultimately what your
beyond live music and delve deeper and deeper dreams are,” she says. “If people can help you, they
into the studio and across the world, from political often will. The music industry is a creative community
hubs in northern Italy to South London studios. and, to enjoy longevity, it’s all about helping to bring
“I wanted to experiment and have more time each other up.”
to work on sound, to try new things,” she says. “So in Grammy-winning producer and engineer Leslie
2010, I packed my bags and moved to London with Ann Jones of Skywalker Sound – whose credits include
just a suitcase to pursue my musical passion – there artists such as Alice In Chains, Carlos Santana and
was no plan B.” Miles Davis, alongside feature films Apocalypse Now,

14 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M A R TA S A LO G N I C OV E R I N T E R V I E W

Requiem For A Dream and Zodiac – was one of


Salogni’s most significant inspirations and influences
during her formative years. “I read this interview with
“I made so many versions
her in Tape Op magazine,” says Salogni. “I remember
looking at the photo of her and thinking to myself,
that I almost lost myself. I
‘that’s exactly what I want to be’. I imagined myself
in the same picture, in front of a big mixing desk and
wanted Björk to love what
running an orchestral session. If you’re able to see
yourself in someone else’s shoes, you think, ‘maybe
I sent back. I was shaking
I can do this.’”
when I returned the mixes”
LANDING IN UTOPIA
Icelandic auteur Björk is an unparalleled music-industry
success story whose popularity is matched only by her Björk wanted me to do a couple of mixes. But,
fondness for musical daring and experimentation. It back then I didn’t know Derek ran One Little Indian.
was Salogni’s work on Björk’s 2017 Utopia album that I thought, ‘is this true?’ I phoned my manager and
truly heralded her arrival, not only to the industry at asked if she knew anyone by this name and she said,
large but to herself. “It was on the plane to Reykjavík ‘yeah, of course, he’s in charge of Björk’s label.’”
that it really hit me,” says Salogni. “I couldn’t believe Salogni submitted some trial mixes of Björk tracks
I was on the way to make a record that I was hoping The Gate and Arisen My Senses, which landed her
would be so precious to me.” the gig. But working on these tracks came with its
Salogni got involved in the project via an unlikely challenges. “I closed myself in the studio for four days
source: a LinkedIn message from independent record and made so many versions that I almost lost myself,”
label One Little Indian’s manager Derek Birkett. To be she says. “I really wanted Björk to love what I sent
clear, the improbable part of that story isn’t that Birkett back. I tried to put as much of myself into the music
got in touch but that he did so through everyone’s as possible, while also demonstrating my enormous
least favourite social-media channel. “It was a total admiration for her. I was shaking when I returned the
surprise,” says Salogni, ”and perhaps the only thing mixes. A few days later, I got an email back from her
LinkedIn has ever been good for. He couldn’t find my team saying how much she loved them and that she
email address and wanted to get in touch because wanted me to do the album.”

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 15


C OV E R I N T E R V I E W M A R TA S A LO G N I

“What struck me was how FKA “She would come by and listen to the mix, then in the
evening we would go for a swim or go and watch
a film, or have dinner somewhere. She was great
Twigs related how she wanted at giving you the freedom to express yourself.”

something to sound. The music TWIGGING IT


While Björk’s works often draw on the terrain of her

had to reflect the movement surroundings, the musical worlds sculpted by FKA Twigs
are informed by her own warm-blooded physicality.

in the performance” Salogni assisted mixer David Wrench on Twigs’ 2015


EP M3LL155X, and discovered that the artist’s sense
of sound is wrapped up in kinetic energy.
“What struck me was how Twigs described how she
This year Marta scooped the Mixing the record involved journeying to Björk’s wanted something to sound,” says Salogni. “Because
presitgious MPG Award for home in Iceland so that Salogni could immerse she’s such an excellent dancer and choreographer,
Breakthrough Producer of the
Year, after having previously herself in the idiosyncrasies of the artist’s weird and the production had to reflect the movement in the
won Breakthrough Engineer wonderful world. “Iceland is amazing and insane to performance.” Working closely with Twigs ensured
back in 2018 witness,” says Salogni. “The landscape is so different; certain aural textures were brought to the fore in
the mountains have no trees, everything is bare,the the final arrangements, often unexpectedly. “She
light is crazy, the sunset takes an hour to happen. You explained what she wanted from the sound in very
can tell that nature is so powerful there. The city has visual and physical ways. Björk was similar – she’d say
a beauty that’s very raw and instinctive. It definitely things like, ‘This needs to sound like I’m telling you a
helped inform how I mixed – the geography secret, I’m whispering in your ears but fireworks are
impacted what we did.” going off. I’m very close, loud yet still soft.’”
Alongside the stunning and almost extraterrestrial Salogni was a potent musical force on Bon Iver’s
natural world she called home for the weeks spent fourth album I, I, released in 2019. She was among
working on the record, the friendship that the Italian a veritable army of musical collaborators who
producer struck up with the Reykjavík-born star also gathered to commit Justin Vernon’s music to tape.
informed the creative process. “Björk made an effort She remembers the experience as one of wild
to make me feel like part of her family,” says Salogni. creative abandon, in which anything was possible.

16 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M A R TA S A LO G N I C OV E R I N T E R V I E W

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 17


C OV E R I N T E R V I E W M A R TA S A LO G N I

MARTA’S METHODS
These projects represent some of Salogni’s highest-
profile collaborations. But what’s astounding about
her credits as producer, engineer and mixer is the
breadth of sounds that her talents have spanned and
enhanced. From indie-dance upstarts The Orielles to
the electronics of Factory Floor, Planningtorock and
Shura, Salogni is a creative touchstone for many of
contemporary music’s true originals. How does she
prepare to take on so many different projects?
“Each is different, individual and unique,” she
says. “I prepare myself for anything and believe I
have the tools and the knowledge that allows me to
accept any kind of situation. It can be compassion,
having an open mind, or just being ready to try new
things.” In Salogni’s eyes and ears, the role of the
producer is to look outside of themselves to facilitate
the artist’s vision, whatever strange and exciting form
or sound that may take.
“I’m not going to let go of something I’ve been
tasked with until the artist feels like they’re happy with
what we’ve created,” she says. “And because of
this approach, I never reach a wall. I can always go
further and find new ways to work. It’s never about
you. You are just a medium. If an artist tells me this
is their idea for a song, this is their inspiration, or they
give me a book, a painting or another album, I’ll ask
them as many questions as possible and immerse
myself in their world. It then becomes my vision too.”
During Salogni’s early musical adventures,
she bounced from studio to studio in London,
not only making friends and connections but also
collaborating with new artists, giving each other
a leg-up. It’s this sense of community that Salogni
feels is vital to London’s thriving music scene.
“I started producing at Strongroom during my
downtime, for bands that didn’t have any budget,”
she says. “But I didn’t have any credits either. So we

“I can always find new ways would record, produce and mix together. It gave me
the opportunity to learn all three crafts and the band
the chance to get a record made – so we both won.”
to work. I ask artists as many While her career has progressed to the point where
headline names are now calling for her services,
questions as possible and Salogni is keen to point out that you should never
forget about the musicians who are just beginning

immerse myself in their world. their journeys.


“I never want to alienate new artists from

It becomes my vision too” approaching me, even if they don’t have the same
budget as the bigger acts,” says Salogni. “I try to
take on projects that allow me to run the studio, so
I can have this space, but it means I can also work
Salogni tries to make use of her “Everyone was open and excited about trying with up-and-coming artists who have much less
two-track tape machine in every new things,” she says. “I was brought in as an money. They’re equally brilliant – and everyone
project. “I use it for compression,
saturation, looping, delays, engineer but was given maximum creative freedom. had to start out at some point.”
transforming rhythms, creating It meant anything that came to mind, I could do.” It’s also beneficial for emerging producers,
polyrhythms, soundscapes and Salogni cites a piece of sound art by 1960s composer engineers and mixers to be somewhat selective
more,” she says
Alvin Lucier, known as I Am Sitting In A Room, which about the work and artists they take on. Even if
was designed to expose the unique resonances and you’re only slightly discerning, picking projects you’re
frequencies of different spaces, as an inspiration passionate about can showcase your superb taste
during her time on the project. and help establish your calling card early on.
“Lucier demonstrates that when you re-amp “If you work on music with artists you love, then
something in a room several times, the source sound more artists you love will start coming to you,” says
disappears and what you get is the response of the Salogni. “You need to pay rent and when I was
room,” says Salogni. “I had the chance to experiment in-house, I worked on things that I wasn’t that into.
in a similar way. We went to record in an empty water But if you have a choice and can afford to survive by
tank, which was very scary. I had to lower myself into doing what you love and earning less, then go with it
it. I couldn’t see the bottom of the ladder, and the – it will pay off in ways outside of fame and generate
tank was riddled with bullet holes.” a positive feedback loop.”

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C OV E R I N T E R V I E W M A R TA S A LO G N I

“Production and mixing can At the centre of Salogni’s process sits her beloved
two-track tape machine. “I use it for compression,
saturation, looping, delays, transforming rhythms,
sound good regardless of the creating polyrhythms, soundscapes and more,” she
says. “I went deep into learning how to use tape.
gear you have. Just train your That’s always been part of my process.”
Although technology is a great enabler, Salogni

ears to recognise what sounds has never been guided or led by the equipment at
her disposal. “Production, recording and mixing can

great and what doesn’t” sound good regardless of the gear you have,” she
says. “Just train yourself and your ears to recognise
what sounds great and what doesn’t.”
When it comes to learning how to create great
HYBRID SETUP music, the only tricks are investing time into both your
Salogni’s studio near London Fields features a mix of gear and your sounds. “The most important thing is
classic analogue gear and contemporary software. to spend time getting to know your gear,” says Salogni.
As she says, her approach sees her striving to do less “If you desire something like a new mic, save up for it
with more. “I work with a hybrid setup,” she says. “I – but don’t be fooled by advertising. We’re made to
have an analogue Studer desk, which I’ve tried to feel incomplete unless we have something, but it’s
integrate alongside Pro Tools and plug-ins. I don’t what you do with what you’ve got that matters.”
have much gear. The tape machine is my outboard With a new record in the pipeline from Dreamwife
gear, while compressors, EQs and pre-amps are all on – as part of an all-female studio team that features
the desk. I’ve got some reverbs and that’s all I need. Grace Banks and Heba Kadry – as well as a recently
I don’t need to overcomplicate, I want gear I know, released collaborative ambient LP from Daniel Avery
can use and can rely on everyday.” and Nine Inch Nails synth artist Alessandro Cortini,
Limiting the equipment and technology in her there is no shortage of lavish Salogni music to be
studio is a way of not only saving space but also excited about right now.
making more room for ideas to breathe. “Learning
how to use something really well to make multiple Visit solarmanagement.co.uk to find out
sounds is the best way into the studio,” says Salogni. more about Marta Salogni and her work

20 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


FE AT U R E T H E FU N DA M EN TA L S O F ED M

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MT FE AT U RE

THE
FUNDAMENTALS
OF EDM
DECONSTRUCTING
THE CORE ELEMENTS
From trap and bass music to dubstep and grime, this past
decade has seen an explosion of colourful EDM genres, and
with it, a mainstream appropriation of many of the elements
that are integral to each. It’s high time, then, that we dig
a little deeper into these underpinning ideas behind the
construction of many of the biggest EDM tracks of the
decade, and understand just why these genres have
proved to be universally popular.
WORDS RISHABH RAJAN

T
he rapid rise of electronic dance music over computer-based music-making – the term has
the past 10 to 15 years has changed the diversified, spawning myriad sub-genres, sub-
production playing field so much that it has cultures and production processes. Now the
even altered the way that pop music writers acronym EDM is more of an umbrella term,
and producers think, shedding the established sheltering hundreds of genres beneath it. Yet there
structural norms and embracing the sound and are some core structural ideas that stretch across
techniques of EDM. So much so that here in 2020, it dubstep, grime, bass music, d’n’b, glitch-hop, trap
is hard to differentiate between a Billboard Top 40 and the rest. In this feature we’re going to shed
track and one by a SoundCloud producer. a little more light on what these are.
Electronic dance music as a whole has a long
history, arguably dating back to the late-1970s, SKRILL SET
stemming from both New York disco and 1980s One of the clearest examples of this mainstream
Detroit techno. But over the course of the 40 years absorption happened during the 2010s, with the rise
since – and particularly since the adoption of of dubstep and its resulting influence on the charts.

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or to put it another way, the genre that Skrillex


popularised (often negatively labelled as brostep
by purists) has waned, yet it’s hard to deny that
influence prevails. Take a song such as Closer by The
Chainsmokers. There’s nothing particularly dubstep
about it, yet it’s a perfect example of a track that
follows the framework that Skrillex and his ilk laid out.
Throughout this feature we are going to focus
on those song structure elements that make The
Chainsmokers’ Closer, the aforementioned Skrillex
track and everything in-between work, using those
two tracks in particular as reference points. There
may be a formula but, as always, you still have to
bring something unique to the table.
One of the best ways of thinking about these
ingredients of a hit track is to have the right amount
of the familiar and the unfamiliar. The trick is to find
the delicate balance between the two. If the track is
too familiar, the listener gets bored, if the track is too
unfamiliar, it becomes distracting, loses focus and
starts to stray into the experimental. Just the right
spice in the sauce, and you have the killer recipe.

SCALING THE MOUNTAIN


The idea of creating anticipation for what is about to
come is one of the key elements in EDM. This is called
– unsurprisingly enough – the build-up. The most
common way to create this effect is to use what is
known as a noise or a pitched riser. The continuous
flow of a white-noise tone gradually getting filtered
down or up creates the staple formula for a build-up
and transition into the next section of the track. White
noise as well as other coloured noises inherently
don’t have a perceivable pitch and a rise or fall of
pitch is necessary to create the desired effect. The
perception of pitch can be added to noise with
© Scott Legato/Getty Images

the help of a filter. Most audio filters will have a


resonance parameter that adds a bump to the
frequencies it is affecting. The change of the noise
frequencies being affected over time along with
the resonance bump make it seem like there is a
pitched element in the noise.
An alternate method to creating this riser is to
use a pitched element such as a sawtooth oscillator
mixed in with the noise tone. If the pitched element
Skrillex’s 2010 EP Scary Despite originating in South London, when it comes is constantly rising or falling, it will create a similar
Monsters And Nice Sprites to the global dubstep explosion we need to turn effect. This technique is often used in movie
introduced many in the
mainstream to dubstep – our attention to one artist’s brand of the sound in soundtracks to great effect. If you have watched
and the dubstep floodgates particular. To that end, we have established a dating any recently released horror movie, you have
soon opened system based on the release of Skrillex’s Scary probably heard one version or another in use. Hans
Monsters And Nice Sprites, which we consider the Zimmer used this to stunning effect in Christopher
ground zero for dubstep: BSM (Before Scary Nolan’s Batman trilogy. He took the riser concept
Monsters) and ASM (After Scary Monsters). a step further by using a Shepard tone, which
The pop-music world was different BSM. Though creates a feeling of constantly rising pitch via an
historically there have always been influences from auditory illusion that occurs when sine waves
numerous underground music scenes, the speed at separated by octaves are stacked. In a film context,
which this particular brand of dubstep caught fire this is quite effective, though in context of a pop
was staggering. Scary Monsters not only redefined song, there just isn’t enough time within the shorter
the genre that Skrillex was known as a key exponent context to make the listener experience this.
of but also kicked off several years of everyone Now we have to give credit where credit is due.
getting in on the act, from his trademark FM synthesis The idea of using transitional effects in pop music is
growls being co-opted by mainstream producers not an entirely new concept. It can be dated back
such as Dr Luke for Britney Spears’ 2011 track Till The to approximately 1967 (or 43 BSM, if you like), in the
World Ends to the advocation of ‘the drop’ across his heyday of The Beatles. The seismic closing track from
remixes of La Roux, Robyn and Lady Gaga – which Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, A Day In The
soon became de rigueur in pop production – to Life very much pioneered the idea. To bridge two
dubstep tracks filtering across popular culture, quite distinct sections of the track, Paul McCartney
cropping up in movies, advertisements and video had a flash of inspiration and used a chaotic
games. Even Deadmau5 found himself unable to resist orchestral build to disguise the transition. In this
the allure of the more abrasive sound of dubstep. context, the influence was definitely orchestral music
That was the early-2010s. We have now entered but this is one of the first examples of noise-like risers
a new decade. Dubstep is now pretty much dead, used in a mainstream pop song.

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T H E FU N DA M EN TA L S O F ED M FE AT U R E

Consider the drop to © Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images


We will point out that in both Scary Monsters And
Nice Sprites and The Chainsmokers’ Closer, the noise

be the reveal, the time


risers are very subtle. In Scary Monsters, there is a riser
in the beginning of the track right before the beat
comes in. It also happens right before the drop is
introduced (more on the drop later). In both cases
the noise riser is almost inconspicuous. There is barely
to shine, the thing that
any perceptible pitch movement and if you don’t
specifically pay attention to it, you may not even
makes or breaks a song
notice it. In Closer, the riser is heard right before
the drop. It’s much shorter and does have some Some songs will have a chorus as well as a drop. The Chainsmokers’ number one
perceptible pitch movement but it too is quite soft Going back to the Closer example, the entire song hit Closer is classified as a pop
song with elements of ‘future
in the mix. This is quite a contrast to what is typically features lyrics except the drop section. It can be bass’, though structurally it
heard across EDM music, where the riser almost considered the central hook, yet in a traditional bears similarity with many
overpowers everything else. It can be highly sense, where the hook is something listeners would tracks in the dubstep genre
subjective but being a little more subtle with hum, many drops are unhummable. In the Scary
production techniques can go a long way. Monsters And Nice Sprites, the drop is the least
melodic element in the song, yet it is the section
TAKE THE PLUNGE that makes the most impact.
Let’s now focus on perhaps the most widely So the drop can work as the alternative to a
replicated element that stems from EDM: the drop. chorus section in a track. It does share a lot of traits
Consider this to be the reveal, the moment to shine, with a traditional chorus – it will be repeated multiple
the thing that makes or breaks a song. The drop is times and it will usually be the most high-energy
the section of the song that can be correlated to a element in the track. It is also the section that most
chorus section in a traditional song form, but it’s hard producers spend an awful lot of time finessing. Now,
to call it a chorus, as there may not necessarily even how would you go about making a drop that just
be vocals. kills? The tricky thing with this is that there is no

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TUTO R I A L C R E AT I N G A N O I S E / P I TC H ED R I S ER

01 Load up a synth in your DAW, anything that has a sawtooth oscillator 02 Turn on a low-pass filter in the synth. If your synth doesn’t have one, use
and an independent noise generator. an external filter. Make sure the filter frequency/cutoff is set low and set
the filter resonance to a high value.

03 Create a one-bar MIDI Clip for the synthesiser track with the note C1. The 04 Create an automation ramp for the filter frequency/cutoff that starts at a
note should be as long as the clip, so a whole-note value. Create a MIDI low value and ends at the highest value.
pitch-bend automation/envelope that starts at the lowest value and ramps up to
the highest. This should be of the same length as the note (one bar).

05 When you play this back, it should create a noise/pitched riser effect. 06 Ideally, it should be 12 semitones but 24 or higher can work well too.
The noise will not change pitch but the sawtooth oscillator will. If you Add reverb to the riser to place it in a space that matches your track.
notice that the pitch bend doesn’t have a wide range, you can change the
range for the pitch bend in the synthesiser settings.

It is crucial to set up the listener noise riser is the only alert. In fact the song structure
leading up to the drop alludes to a pop form, so it

and either give them what


is even more surprising when the drop comes.
One general rule that can be said about the drop
section is that it needs to be different from everything
they expect or subvert that else heard before. In Scary Monsters, this is a hard
rule, as the drop exists in sharply contrast to the

and throw them a curveball previous section, while Closer does share some of
the same sonic elements used earlier in the track.
One way to create this contrast is by having fewer
clear-cut formula that can work across the board. elements in the drop. Let’s assume the prior sections
You can follow general guidelines based on the were busy, not loud, just busy. The drop can be used
definition of the section but what actually happens to add some clarity and focus to the track. Most
instrumentally, rhythmically or sonically in the drop is drops will feature just one or two elements. There
very subjective. may be more supporting elements but the focus will
In Scary Monsters, it’s mostly just bass. In Closer, only be on the one or two.
it’s the synthesiser/guitar line. In other tracks, it On the other hand, you can try the approach of
could be chopped-up vocals (more on that later). saving the best elements for the drop. Have a listen
Irrespective of what happens in the drop section, to Clarity by Zedd. In this track, we don’t hear a full
what occurs before is equally important. It is crucial drum pattern until the drop happens. In the verses,
to set up the listener and either give them what they Zedd just uses a hi-hat on every downbeat. In the
might expect or subvert that expectation and throw chorus, he adds a marching-band-style snare pattern
them a sonic curveball. but still no full-on drum beat. This is pretty strange
In Scary Monsters, we hear a very pretty lead line for a chorus but, then, when the drop hits, we hear
with chopped-up vocals played in reverse, serving as the full four-on-the-floor beat with a full bass and
something of a precursor to what is about to happen featured synth line. This is a textbook example that
in the drop (or maybe more like a warning) With really underlines the significance of the drop over
Closer, we are not given any warning. The subtle the chorus.

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TUTO R I A L S E T T I N G U P A VO C O D ER I N A BL E TO N
After experiencing
a heavy drop, it
makes sense to
calm things down
a bit. You need to
effectively bring
down the energy
01 Load the Vocoder plug-in on an audio track.
PROCESSING POWER
Another technique that’s fairly common across
numerous EDM genres is to have a section of
processed vocals of one kind or another in the track.
The classic era of Kraftwerk and, later, Daft Punk’s
vocoded talk-box vocals has made a return over the
past decade. You will hear this in the music of Bruno
Mars, Kanye West, Zedd, Skrillex and many others. The
most common technique is to cut up the vocals and
rearrange them in a unique way, commonly referred
to as vocal chops.
In Justin Bieber’s 2015 track Where Are You Now,
you hear this right at the beginning of the song.
Bieber’s vocals have been obviously chopped up
and rearranged but in a musical way that sets up
02 Load a synthesiser on a MIDI track. Keep it simple. Make sure the sound the track quite well for the verse section that
is set to a basic sawtooth tone. Bring the track volume all the way down. happens right after.
Another common vocal processing technique
is to digitally transpose the voice up or down to
discover new timbres. In the same Bieber track,
you hear this in the drop. The instrument that sounds
like a flute in the drop is actually Bieber’s voice
manipulated and transposed up to sound like a flute.
The use of a vocoder has also become prevalent
again. This is a classic vocal synthesis technique that
needs no introduction. Back in the day, musicians
would create this effect by running their vocals
through a hardware vocoder. Nowadays, you have
access to software vocoders in your DAW. Vocoders
are fairly easy to use, though they require a
synthesiser signal in addition to your vocals.
The vocoder imprints the amplitude changes
03 On the Vocoder plug-in, set the Carrier to External and the Audio From
from the vocals onto the synthesiser signal, and the
to the MIDI track that has the basic synth.
affected synth is what you hear back. Software
vocoders such as the one in Logic Pro (EVOC-20)
already have the synth built-in, while some (Ableton
Live’s Vocoder, for example) don’t. There are some
really good third-party options such as iZotope’s
Vocal Synth and Waves’ powerful OVox (see page
076 for our review) that give you a whole host of
other vocal-synthesis options, including a talk-box
effect that is used in the opening of 24K Magic by
Bruno Mars, though on that track they used a real
talk-box pedal.

BREAK IT DOWN
After experiencing a heavy drop, it makes dynamic
sense to calm things down a bit. You need to
04 Now play notes on the synth track while singing or playing back a vocal effectively bring down the energy level in a track
clip on the audio track. Tweak settings on the Vocoder to refine its sound.
before bringing it back up or just ending it right
after. This section is commonly referred to as the
05 Using more bands usually improves the intelligibility of the vocoded breakdown. There isn’t much complexity to this
sound and vice versa. For a more retro sound, set the bands to below
section. There usually will be fewer elements – now
20. For a modern sound, set the bands to the highest available number.
isn’t the time to introduce any new instruments or
parts, though sometimes this rule can be broken.

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T H E FU N DA M EN TA L S O F ED M FE AT U R E

© Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Russian producer and


DJ Zedd builds tracks by
drawing on influences from
progressive house, dubstep
and classical music

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FE AT U R E T H E FU N DA M EN TA L S O F ED M

Artists who are able to craft ATTENTION GRABBER


There are a lot of incredibly interesting nuances that

tracks that seize attention and EDM has popularised that are often overlooked by
musicologists. Though by now numerous EDM genres

influence the mainstream enjoy widespread appeal, that doesn’t mean that
it these genres are easy to produce – far from it. As
with any and all genres of music, there is no end to
deserve to be recognised the amount of derivative and uninspired EDM tracks,
but those artists who are able to craft tracks that
seize mass attention and influence the direction
Above Odesza are dab hands at Creating this section can be fairly straightforward, of the mainstream deserve to be recognised. This
stripping away elements of their because you can easily just recycle parts from other is no mean feat.
track and reintroducing them to
emphasise certain sections, as sections. One common technique is to repeat an We have dissected some aspects of this type
they did to great effect on their existing section, such as a verse or an introduction, of music but there are a lot more to look at and
2014 hit Say My Name but simply remove the bass parts. understand. What makes it more difficult is that,
Right Top Talk-box pedals such as In Scary Monsters, the breakdown section every once in a while, a producer will stumble upon
the Digitech Talker can be used features chopped-up vocal but the bass part a new goldmine of a technique that becomes the
on a wide range of instruments,
not least the human voice has been removed. In Odesza’s 2014 track Say My next big thing. What is going to be the next trend
Name, the section is the same as the chorus/drop moving forward? It’s hard to say but it’ll undoubtedly
Right Bottom iZotope’s Vocal
Synth provides a range of
but strips away the drums. Removing the beats or be something that affects the listener subconsciously.
vocal-manipulation options, drum section creates a very obvious breakdown, Fundamentally, the momentum and dynamics of
useful for building vocoded or because it almost feels to the listener like the track-building are all about maximising the emotional
cut-up voice treatments that can
add harmonic colour to tracks
foundation of the song has been removed. The journey of the listener and tapping into the power of
other parts heard in the breakdown are not new, tension and release, be it through the pitched risers,
so listeners can still imagine what the rhythm is like. subterranean drops or vocal enhancements we’ve
Our memory of the same section with the full drums discussed here, or something new. This is core
helps us organically fill in the blanks. to creating world-dominating dance music.

30 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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32 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


MT FE AT U RE

SHOW
OF HANDS
Gain the upper hand on your lacklustre rhythms by shaking
things up and introducing some eccentric handheld flavours.
From scrapers and shakers to cowbells and claves, we’re
all abuzz with percussive potential
WORDS DAVE GALE

H
uman beings have been clapping their GETTING HANDY
hands, stomping their feet and rolling out Handheld percussion instruments are typically
rhythms since the earliest days of the acoustic but are tremendously varied in terms of
species. The rhythmic experiments of colour. Most emit sound by being shaken or hit, either
Homo sapiens – and possibly even Neanderthals by the hand or by a beater or stick, which produces
before them – gave rise to many of the musical a harder, more abrupt transient. Most shakers are
devices that we take for granted today, including hard containers that hold small, loose materials
the modern drum kit. But kicks, snares, toms and such as seeds, pellets or beans inside. The percussive
sticks aren’t all they’ve given us to grab onto. Here, quality comes from the cascading collisions between
we’re banging the drum for hand percussion and these loose objects and the sounds they make as
the plethora of items that can be hit, scraped, they hit their vessel’s inner shell as it’s shaken. The
shaken and stirred to add toe-tapping textural speed with which you shake alters the velocity of
flavours to your music. Some of the world’s most the interior objects and thus the tone. The size and
recognisable songs boast claves and claps – material of the vessel and the size and amount of
and we can never quite get enough cowbell. objects inside dictates the overall timbre.

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FE AT U R E S H OW O F H A N D S

© JAndrew Lepley/Redferns
Premier percussionist Alex
Acuna has worked with U2,
Weather Report, and Paul
McCartney, and regularly
the bell-shaped caxixi is classically woven
uses hand percussion in his from wicker, has a flat bottom made from
rhythms. Here he’s shaking dried gourd, and is filled with seeds that
it up with a shekere
provide a light timbral quality. It is often
played in pairs, allowing skilled percussionists
to put together complicated polyrhythms.
Like many shakers, the shekere comes
from Africa. What’s different about this
example is that, here, the seeds are on the
outside. Traditionally made from a dried
gourd, the shekere is covered in a net into
which large seeds, cowrie shells or plastic
beads have been woven. Given that
they’re larger than many other kinds of
shaker, the shekere requires a deft hand to
master – against which the instrument is hit.

STIRRED, NOT SHAKEN


For many – this author included – it was
the drum machines built in the 1980s by Linn,
Oberheim and EMU that provided our initial
introduction to these (to the western world
at least) lesser-known percussive instruments.
It was in exploring the drum machines’ deep
bank of samples that we stumbled upon
fascinating sounds that were thrillingly
novel to pop-fed western ears.
Take the cabasa, for example, found
on such machines as the Linn LM-1 Drum
Computer. Similar to a shekere, it’s on the
instrument’s exterior where you’ll find its
beads. The instrument usually consists of
a wooden handle topped with a squat
cylinder, around which is wrapped steel-
ball chains that, when wound, produce a
sharp and high-pitched sound like that of
a shaker, only more sustained and abrasive.
Percussionists hold the instrument by the
handle and place their free palm against
the bead-wrapped cylinder, turning it to
produce its distinctive rattling timbre. The

The cowbell has been the subject instrument is favoured by traditional Latin
American musicians but crops up across

of some ridicule, falling foul of Will popular genres too. You’ll hear Linn Drum’s
cabasa sample during Michael Jackson’s

Ferrell’s maniacal playing in SNL Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough.
Another similar-sounding instrument that
budding percussionists can easily knock
together at home is the sand block. No

HIRED HANDS The smallest and most ubiquitous of


these is the humble egg shaker. Often
more complicated than a few sheets of
sandpaper attached to wooden blocks
VS SOFTWARE nestled next to the cash register in music
shops to encourage last-minute impulse
fixed with handles, rubbing sand blocks
together can create a feasible rhythmic
Hiring a percussionist can be expensive
but will likely raise pulses in the studio. purchases, these plastic ovoidal instruments alternative to shakers.
We once hired a professional percussionist are typically loaded with metal beads that
and they arrived in a toy-filled truck whose create light, high-frequency sounds when HIT THE SPOT
contents made for an enjoyable day of the object is shaken. There are many shaker Now that we’ve shaken things up, it’s time
experimentation. If you can’t afford a hired
variations, with organic seeds producing to hit the stage with a different style of
hand, however, there are plenty of plug-ins
that can perform percussive duties for you. softer sounds at lower volumes, and harder handheld percussive instrument.
In Session Audio’s Shimmer, Shake, Strike shells making for more metallic timbres at Claves are thought to have been brought
features just about every hand-percussion greater amplitudes. Functionally similar to to South America from Africa in the 16th
instrument you could imagine, in several maracas, the egg shaker is a staple of century and have become synonymous
sampled formats that can be program- samba and mariachi bands, and its with Latin American music. When hit against
onboarded or used within your DAW. It
also lets you load up to three instruments mobility makes it an ideal instrument for each other, these hardwood sticks provide
at any one time. keeping rhythm during those impromptu a bright rhythmic pulse, and are particularly
Similarly, one of the most useful acoustic-guitar performances. But they’re prevalent in rhumba and bossa nova music.
elements of Spectrasonics’ Stylus RMX well suited to studio use too; if played Though most closely associated with South
package is the percussion section, where properly, shakers can supply a steady American dance music, claves crop up in
you’ll find another superb selection of
rhythm track to embed into a mix. genres as disparate as jazz, funk, pop and
hand-percussion grooves, alongside
larger kits. Ubiquitous though it might be, there are rock, and electronic claves have even
many types of shaker other than the egg. been used by everybody from Gorillaz
Found across Africa and South America, to Jean-Michel Jarre.

34 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S H OW O F H A N D S FE AT U R E

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO THEM...


Some of the most common hand-percussion instruments come from Africa, South America and beyond

AGOGÔS CABASA CAJON CAXIXI COWBELL

CYLINDRICAL SHAKER EGG SHAKER SHEKERE SLEIGH BELLS TAMBOURINE

Claves supply a timbral colour similar to This is a resonant instrument – so much so depending on how it’s held. More versatile
that of the Australian Aboriginal instrument that many players will resort to dampening than your school teachers might have had
clapsticks. With the exception of maybe the it with duct tape – used across all genres. you believe, the triangle has found its way
didgeridoo, few things are more evocative Despite their rudimentary construction, into electronic genres, reggae and beyond
of the Outback than these. skilled players can coax a variety of tones but is most closely associated with orchestral.
There are many other ways to knock from the cowbell, depending on how it’s
on wood, though. If you were to carve held, and where and how hard it’s hit. CLEAR AS A BELL
some hardwood into shell shapes and The cowbell has also been the subject There are many other handheld percussive
fasten them together, you’d have yourself of some ridicule, however, famously falling instruments that are shaken or struck to form
a pair of castanets. The instrument is most foul of Will Ferrell’s maniacal playing in rhythmic or resonant sounds. Tambourines
closely associated with Spain and is SNL’s More Cowbell sketch, which lovingly are typically found in one of two forms: the
typically used by flamenco dancers, who pokes fun at Blue Öyster Cult’s use of the traditional setup that sees a circular frame
hold castanets in each hand and execute instrument in the band’s classic track affixed with a skin, and the more modern
rapid clicking rhythms while they perform. (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. crescent-shaped body that bears no skin.
Castanets can also be found in mounted The cowbell is also used in samba and Both kinds are affixed with small jingles
designs that see them attached to handles Latin-styled music, which is where you might called zills. When shaken or struck with a
or bases that allow percussionists to play find its cousin, the agogô, most often seen stick, these zills rattle to give off a pleasant
them as a secondary instrument alongside as two attached clapperless metal bells, high-frequency jingling sound. Not just the
another. It’s easier, of course, to simply tap one pitched higher than the other. Where preserve of the Liam Gallaghers of this world,
out a rhythm in isolation, without having to cowbell players might lay down a core tambourines can be mounted as well as held,
strike a Spanish pose at the same time. rhythm, agogô players tend to be busier, most typically atop hi-hat stands as part of
Some percussive instruments require the moving from one tone to the other to form drum kits.
use of a drum stick or beater to produce a more varied patterns. It’s a stylised sound Beating a tambourine’s skin generates
solid tone. The cowbell is thought to date that doesn’t often find its way into western a subtle acoustic sound, often found in folk
back to the Neolithic era. Traditionally, these commercial music but has been used by music, from Irish to Turkish and beyond, as
clay-made bells with affixed clappers were Jamiroquai and many electronic artists. well as classical music. The skinless crescent-
tied around the necks of cattle to help their A more common instrument is the aptly shaped variant fairs better in rock, pop and
herders keep track of their whereabouts. The named triangle. This metal tool is played funk contexts, and especially in music that
modern-day cowbells employed in musical using a short beater of the same material. is driven by relentless 16th-note grooves and
settings are made from metal and substitute It’s found in a variety of sizes and tunings, spurred on by conventional drums patterns
the clapper from the performer’s drum stick. and its resonant notes can be dampened and rhythm guitar.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 35


FE AT U R E S H OW O F H A N D S

© Jordi Vidal/Redferns

One of the world’s


most multi-faceted
percussionists, Luis
Conte merged the
From tambourines to Father Christmas,
rhythms of his Cuban we’d be remiss to dismiss the sleigh bells as
heritage with pop and a serious percussive power. What was once
rock in his 1990s
work with Phil Collins
affixed to horse-drawn vehicles to alert
pedestrians of their approach has become
a deceptively versatile instrument, not to
mention a go-to Christmas decoration. The
sleigh bells’ Yuletide connotations can’t be
avoided at this point – Jingle Bells is one of
the most well-known songs in the western
world – but, stylised though they are, you’d
be hard-pushed to pen a Christmas hit
without them.

MIX IT UP
Once you’ve recorded your just-so
percussive accompaniments in the studio,
you’ll be tasked with mixing them, which
can be tricky. Percussive content can
quickly clutter your music and mix. But
don’t worry, this is manageable.
As ever, prevention is better than the
cure: the best way to minimise percussive
clutter is to cut back on it altogether. Think
of percussion as musical seasoning – you
don’t necessarily need it but you might miss
it if it’s not there. In rock or pop songs whose
emphasis is on the main beats of the bar, the
cowbell can be a fun way to add accents.
It’s a firm favourite for holding down the
beat, either as a stabilising force or for
time-keeping purposes (again, see Will
Ferrell et al), but can also be used for
more adventurous rhythms.
In our example figure 1, the cowbell
shores up the four beats of the bar, while
the drum kit and shaker subdivide the
beats further. Notice that the hi-hat on the
drum kit (X notes) are playing 8th notes,
while the shaker subdivides into 16th notes.
A consistent shaker rhythm will not only be
easier to play but will sound more realistic
when programmed within a DAW.
Funk music relies heavily on percussion,
specifically the tambourine. In figure 2, you
can see how the drum kit’s kick and snare

Think of percussion as musical parts are busy, while the hi-hat holds down
a basic 8th-note groove that leaves ample

seasoning – you don’t need it but room for the tambourine and shaker to fill
in the gaps .

you might miss it if it’s not there Here, the hand percussion also accents
off of the beat, in keeping with the style of
funk. In a full band setup, they would lock
into other instruments, such as the rhythm

A BIG HAND guitar or keyboards. Though this example


focuses on funk, the same rationale can
Strict hand-percussion instruments aside, some required notes with beaters referred to as be applied to hip-hop and jazz.
instruments fall between hand percussion and mallets. These are generally more difficult
Though subtle, these elements can coax
conventional drums. Drums such as bongos and to play than hand-percussion instruments,
congas are normally played using the hands, and are most commonly used in a stationary you towards a proverbial point of no return.
and are clasped between the legs or mounted on position, due to their large size. Once you’ve introduced tambourine to
a stand. Both have links to Latin-American music, The Peruvian cajón (pronounced ca-hon) your track, for example, removing it will
as does the timbale, usually played with sticks. merits a mention too. Though in use for likely leave a sonic void in its place. Use
Each of these drum instruments has a round hundreds of years, this simple wooden box it wisely because, once you have, you’ll
shell with a skin or head stretched across the seemed to enjoy an uptake in popularity in the
probably want to keep it for the duration.
top, which is hit with hands or sticks. Unlike early-2000s. Percussionists sit atop it and slap
conventional western drum kits, they don’t its sides in different ways to create rhythms.
have a lower skin. An internally mounted snare gives the sound SPACE WARS
There’s a swathe of tuned percussion its crispness. It’s a fun alternative to traditional One problem you’ll want to avoid is having
instruments to consider too, such as drum kits and, as one of the most rudimentary your jingling frequencies fighting for sonic
glockenspiels, vibraphones, xylophones and and easy-to-play percussive instruments on the
space in your mix, lest things get messy for
marimbas. In all cases, their notes are set out planet, is certainly worth considering for your
like a piano’s, and require the player to hit the recording and performance needs. the listener. There are a few simple ways to
ensure that your percussion parts aren’t at
odds with each other: EQ and panning.

36 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S H OW O F H A N D S FE AT U R E

The frequency range of these instruments is


inherently high so, depending on how your
FIGURE 1
percussion has been recorded, you may
want to roll off the low end – just be careful  
not to make the sound too bright, which will
       
be tiresome if you’re working for extended

                                  
periods and will make it stick out in the mix.
Think about the rhythmic content of
your percussive instrumentation, and keep

the more flagrant elements at a remove 
        
within the stereo image. If you’ve placed
your hi-hats on the right of your image, for        
example, pan your shaker or tambourine    
             
to the left. If you have more than two busy           
elements, perhaps place one in the centre
or use an auto-pan or automation to keep
it on the move.
While cavernous reverb can sound
classy on drums, it doesn’t complement
more embellished hand percussion. With
tambourines and sleigh bells, for example,
FIGURE 2
which boast bright and glistening tones,
reverb will merely brighten the mix further.
Instruments that are struck in a singular    
  
       
fashion such as claves, however, are
                  
more suited to such effects. 

Hand percussion is an overlooked
aspect of instrumentation, largely because        
it’s considered frivolous. But, as with all
       

 
added extras, hand percussion can be
the cherry on top, the icing on the cake,        
the agogô in your samba banger or sleigh    
      
   
      
bells in your Christmas No1. So dig into your           
toy box and give yourself a big hand.

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manufacturing and modifying gear for
over 14 years - it’s no surprise they
are able to deliver a product as well
designed and intricate as the Bluey.

“It brings energy and attitude...”

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(Everything Everything, Keane, Inhaler, Oh Wonder, Maccabees, Editors, The Specials)

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Analogue FET Limiting Amplifier
T EC H N I Q U E WO R K I N G W I T H P O LY R H Y T H M S I N P R O TO O L S

PRO TOOLS TUTORIAL

WORKING WITH
POLYRHYTHMS
IN PRO TOOLS
Stretching your compositions beyond simple meter signatures can help lend
them an unorthodox and even otherworldly vibe. Here, we punch into Pro
Tools and teach you how to handle polyrhythms – it’s just a matter of time
WORDS MIKE HILLIER

B
reaking the shackles and freeing The theories here might seem off-putting To properly create a cross-rhythm, you
yourselves from the tyranny of to those lacking in conventional training but must also multiply the original tempo by the
everyday time signatures can don’t despair – these concepts are easy to ratio between to the two meters. To form a
be an enormous creative boon. implement and very rewarding. Polyrhythms 3/4 over 4/4 cross-rhythm, for example, you
Swapping out your tawdry 4/4 to a meter and cross-rhythms may be uncommon in must multiply the tempo of the 4/4 bar by
with divisions of three, five or even seven radio-friendly fare but they’re customary in three and divide by four to get the tempo
beats per bar can expand your temporal many forms of contemporary music, from for the 3/4 bar. Or, in reverse, you would
and compositional horizons. Thankfully, Pro classical, jazz and madcap progressive rock have to multiply the tempo of the 3/4
Tools makes this process as easy as 1, 2, 3. to most forms of sub-Saharan African music, bar by four and divide by three to get
Opening the Time Operations window and as well as electronic music and hip-hop, the tempo of the 4/4 bar. So, a 4/4 bar
selecting Change Meter can shake up your in which many talented rappers and MCs at 120bpm would create a polyrhythm
project – but be aware, the results of such enunciate polyrhythmically to the beat. with a 3/4 bar at 90bpm (120 x 3 ÷ 4).
a revamp may be jarring if you’re working
within a genre for which your wild new
meter isn’t commonplace. If that’s the
case, read on. We have a compromise.
For more complex polyrhythms,
Rather than switching your time signature
completely, you can give your composition
this equation should keep your
the flavour of more complex meters without
committing to them by introducing compositions running smoothly
polyrhythms and cross-rhythms.
ALTERING THE METER For three-over-four rhythms, you can split
IN YOUR OWN TIME Using one rhythm for the voice and applying the grid into triplets, allowing you to visualise
Polyrhythms and cross-rhythms see the use another with the beat is an important and the bar in three without having to remember
of two different overlapped time signatures. powerful facet of polyrhythms and cross- how to do the maths. For more complex
With cross-rhythms, the two meters overlap rhythms. The track’s rhythm does not have polyrhythms, however, this simple equation
throughout the song, while polyrhythms are to be created via a single voice, nor does should keep your compositions running
used to accent bars or phrases. There’s a it have to be created solely by percussive smoothly. There is one more spanner in the
chance you’ve played with polyrhythms instruments. The Nine Inch Nails song La Mer works we must contend with, however.
and cross-rhythms before without realising uses a three-over-four rhythm, with the
it. If you’ve ever employed a triplet rhythm piano holding down a pattern in 3/4, MIDI MANIPULATION
inside a 4/4 meter, for example, then you while the drums remain in 4/4. Within the DAW, Instrument and MIDI tracks
already have some experience. Most DAWs allow you to alter the meter follow ticks by default. If you compose a bar
Triplets indicate a 3/4 rhythm atop the of your track, Pro Tools included. However, in 4/4 and alter the project’s time signature
standard 4/4 meter. But this can be taken simply writing a pattern in 4/4 and switching and tempo, the MIDI will be altered to the
further, by playing off various combinations the time signature to 3/4 won’t produce a new time signature and tempo too. If you’re
of meters – not just three against four but cross-rhythm. Instead, the tempo will result using cross-rhythms and want to alter the
two against three or four against five – all in the 3/4 bar lasting only three quarters of tempo, this is the opposite of what you want.
while retaining the simplicity of a more the length of the 4/4 bar. Similarly, while Instead of locking the MIDI to ticks, lock the
conventional rhythmic foundation. This will layering these two rhythms will result in track to samples, as you would with audio.
help ground things for the listener, giving three bars of 4/4 over four bars of 3/4, You can do this via the New Track window
them a simple hook to engage with along an interesting syncopation, this isn’t truly when adding your tracks, or by clicking the
with some more complex rhythms. a cross-rhythm. Timebase Selector button in the Edit window.

38 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


WO R K I N G W I T H P O LY R H Y T H M S I N P R O TO O L S T EC H N I Q U E

BREAK THE LINK


When looping a bar of MIDI and editing at the same time, it’s best to ensure
you don’t have your timeline and edit selection linked. This can be turned off
via the toolbar, using the button beneath the Zoom tool.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

WORKING WITH POLYRHYTHMS

01 Open the provided Workshop session file. The project has a basic setup 02 Double-click on the MIDI clip in the Edit Window to open the MIDI Editor
with a simple four-to-the-floor kick beat, using Boom, over which we’re window.
going to layer some rhythms in different meters.

03 The grid is set to 1/8 notes. Engage the triplet setting in the grid options 04 To create a three-over-four pattern, add rim shots to beat 1/000, 2/320
and the bar will be divided into 12 notes. and 3/640.

05 Already with this most basic of three-over-four beats you can hear that 06 By exploring the grid options available with both triplets turned on and
it’s bringing some rhythmic interest to the phrase. Play with velocity to off, you can explore new and more exciting patterns, emphasising the
further emphasise the downbeat of the bar. three or the four beats in the bar.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 39


T EC H N I Q U E WO R K I N G W I T H P O LY R H Y T H M S I N P R O TO O L S

PRO TOOLS TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

WORKING WITH POLYRHYTHMS continued

07 For more complex cross-rhythms than multiples of two and three, you’ll 08 Using the Time Operations Window, Alt+1 (numerical keypad only)
need to get creative. Return to the default workshop file, with just the (PC) or Option+1 (numerical keypad only) (Mac), change the meter
four-to-the-floor beat, and switch the channel into Samples mode. from 4/4 to 5/4.

09 Note how the four-beat loop we had setup now only fills 4/5 of the bar. 10 Using the Tempo Operations Window, Alt+2 (numerical keypad only)
You need to alter the tempo too. (PC), or Option+2 (numerical keypad only) (Mac), change the tempo
from 120bpm to 150bpm (120bpm x 5 ÷ 4).

11 Double-click the MIDI clip and, this time, the grid should be broken up 12 Add quarter notes on the snare for a five-over-four pattern.
into 10/8 notes to a bar, but with the four-to-the-floor kick underneath.

40 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


WO R K I N G W I T H P O LY R H Y T H M S I N P R O TO O L S T EC H N I Q U E

SETTLE THE SCORE As well as the standard MIDI Editor, Pro Tools has a
Score Editor that might prove easier to use for some musicians. You can
get to this by clicking Window > Score Editor, or pressing Shift+Alt+ (PC)
or Shift+Option+ (Mac).

13 Copy the snare pattern onto the hi-hats and push the final two snare 14 Add a new instrument channel, with an instance of Avid’s Mini Grand
beats forward one eighth note to create something more rhythmically plug-in instrument.
interesting but still making use of the 5/4 meter.

15 On the new channel, write in a new pattern that follows the rhythmic 16 Mute the snare entirely to give you a piano pattern in 5/4 over a rhythmic
elements laid down by the snare pattern in Boom. pattern in 4/4. Build up these two patterns as much as you want,
emphasising whichever of the two rhythmic meters you wish.

17 Enhance any of these rhythms by using delays synced up to the tempo 18 Dial in your settings with the Sync button engaged but, once you’ve
and meter of their particular channel. Add an instance of Mod Delay 3 settled on a sound, disengage it. This will let you go back to the alternate
after the Mini Grand. tempo and meter to edit the 4/4 elements without disrupting your sound.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 41


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T EC H N I Q U E G A I N S TA G I N G I N LO G I C P R O X

LOGIC PRO X TUTORIAL

GAIN
STAGING
IN LOGIC PRO X
The winding path to getting a better mix in Logic Pro X isn’t found in any
‘must-have’ plug-in but in the more measured and well-rationalised use
of gain structure. Allow us to set the stage and guide you through
WORDS MARK COUSINS

T
here’s a revolution taking place Put simply, gain staging is all about In the digital domain, we’re often virtually
in the music-production industry – a allowing headroom in your mix, both on a running equipment with signal levels that
movement that places emphasis on track-by-track basis but also in subsequent are too hot – making a compressor too
transient detail and dynamic range buses and, of course, the main stereo bus. responsive or an EQ sound more saturated
rather than the needles-in-the-red sound In the case of Logic, there are a number of than ‘warm’, for example.
that epitomised the infamous Loudness Wars. strategies that you can adopt – both during
Streaming has actively changed the way tracking and just before the mix – to ensure MAX HEADROOM
we produce music, in this case, driven by that you’re leaving enough headroom to The inevitable question for those that enjoy
the loudness-correction used by the likes of mix properly. Likewise, you’ll also find that their music compressed is whether good
Spotify and iTunes to turn down overcooked metering becomes your friend rather than gain staging results in productions that lack
masters. Put simply, choice is being put back battling against the dreaded ‘over’ of a edge. On one level, gain staging doesn’t
in our hands – we can choose to have our mix pushed too close to 0dBFS. mean that you can’t use compression,
music pushed to its limits or we can give our
arrangements room to breathe without fear
that the listener will receive a quieter mix.
One of the big problems of the Loudness
Don’t mistake gain staging for a
Wars was a tendency to work consistently
up to 0dBFS, pushing everything in the mix,
new fad; it’s embedded into the
even the mix itself, as close to the top of
the meter as possible. This is guaranteed to design of analogue equipment
produce a loud mix but even in the case of
more compressed music styles such as EDM LEVEL-HEADED it just means that when you’re combining
the lack of sonic headroom makes for a This walkthrough illustrates several gain- heavily compressed drum loops, the stereo
restrictive working environment. As a result, stage solutions you can use in Logic Pro X bus is given room to breathe. Equally, it’s a
many engineers are returning to a mixing to help you mix correctly. The objective is fallacy that a loud mix will master louder,
and production workflow that values to average the signals in your mix to about not least because loudness is a diminishing
dynamic range and headroom. Welcome -12dBFS, attenuating loops, virtual instruments marginal return – the more dynamics you
back to the art of gain staging. and audio tracks so they’re at the correct squeeze out of your mix, the less you can
level before they hit any faders. With Logic achieve during the mastering process. In
GAINING THE ADVANTAGE Pro X, gain staging requires the use of the short, we’re confusing the role of mixing
If you’ve ever tried producing music using Gain plug-in, Clip-Gain and VCAs, or better and mastering here.
Apple Loops in Logic Pro X, you’ll be aware use of metering to maintain headroom. You We’ve spent plenty of time looking for
of the need for gain staging. On the whole, may want to take a revised look at some of Logic Pro X’s silver bullet, that killer plug-in
most loops are recorded ‘hot’, mastered with the key plug-ins used in mixing, namely EQ that can transform your music productions.
compression peaking at 0dBFS. Assemble a and compression, to see how their adverse Gain staging, of course, won’t immediately
collection of these loops into a composition application can compromise good gain change your mix – simply gain-staging an
and, before you know it, the master fader will staging in your mix. existing mix, for example, will make little
be clipping. To solve the distortion issue, you’ll Better gain staging can improve the difference – but it does give you the
either turn down the master fader (the easy performance of plug-ins that use analogue headroom and headspace to start making
approach) or attenuate the faders by pulling modelling. Don’t mistake gain staging for a better mixing decisions. In the long run,
them down in the mix. A clear sign of bad new fad; the practice is embedded into the something as innocuous as gain staging
gain staging is a master fader or channel design of analogue recording equipment, might make all the difference between
faders attenuated below their unity position. which is meant to be used with headroom. impressing and distressing.

44 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


GA I N STAG I N G I N LO G I C P R O X T EC H N I Q U E

WHAT’S THE MAGIC LEVEL? Opinion varies on the optimal levels for Powered by
good mixing but most solutions fall between -18dBFS and -12dBFS, and
there are differing ideas as to whether this is the average or peak level.
In truth, the precise amount isn’t important and is dependent on genre.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

GAIN STAGING IN LOGIC PRO X

01 Use the menu option Mix > Pre-Fader Metering so that you have a clear 02 Good metering is essential for effective gain staging, so try placing an
idea of your signal level ahead of the channel faders. In many cases, instance of the Level Meter plug-in across the main bus. Note how the
imported material such as Apple Loops will meter around 0dBFS. current unity levels push the stereo bus well into distortion

03 The Level Meter plug-in is most informative when set to Peak & RMS 04 Good gain staging begins when you’re recording, so ensure that the
modes, showing averaged and instantaneous levels. Adjust the material you record into Logic stays clear of 0dBFS. As a rough guide,
threshold to your preferred working level, usually -12dB. aim for your levels to average at about -18dBFS and peak at about -12dBFS.

05 When you start to mix, the first stage is to ensure that all channels peak 06 Another solution is the Gain plug-in, assuming it’s used as the first
and average at about -12dBFS. The precise method of achieving this can plug-in on the channel’s insert path. Once instantiated, lower the
vary – in this case, we’re simply attenuating the soft-synth output level. Gain control, paying attention to the levels on the Pre-Fade channel meters.

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LOGIC PRO X TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

GAIN STAGING IN LOGIC PRO X continued

07 The Region-based Gain control is arguably the most elegant solution for 08 Logic features a handy tool for setting region gain, helpful if you have
Audio Tracks, and adjusts gain on a region-by-region basis. In this case, a lot of tracks to correct. Select all the required regions (in this case,
we’ve attenuated the 303 regions by -7dB so that they meter correctly. everything down to track 4) and pick Functions > Normalize Region Gain.

09 In the dialogue box, select Individual Tracks to Affect, the Algorithm as 10 With the tracks correctly gain-staged to -12dB, you can piece together a
Peak, and the Target Level to -12dB. The regions will then be adjusted mix with copious headroom. You might even want to use the Loudness
to -12dB on a per-track basis, rather than as individual regions. meter to see how dynamic (or not) your mix is.

11 Paying close attention to plug-ins that can affect levels, such as 12 If you use Auto Gain, which automatically compensates the output level
compression and EQ, is good gain-staging practice. On the Compressor, in respect to the gain reduction applied, use the -12dB rather than 0dB
for example, avoid overcooking the Make Up control post-compression. option, which could compromise your headroom.

46 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


GA I N STAG I N G I N LO G I C P R O X T EC H N I Q U E

Powered by
This tutorial is endorsed by Point Blank Music School, which
specialises in courses on production, sound engineering, the
music business, singing, radio production, DJ skills and film
production, all run by top British music producers and media
professionals, with regular visits from legends in music and media.
For more information, go to www.pointblankmusicschool.com

13 If you want to apply the in-built limiter, which works post-Make Up, you 14 Likewise, if you use EQ, check your eventual levels, especially if the
might want to turn to the Output Gain to level-correct the Compressor’s setting is additive. The gain control on the right-hand side can apply
output. This is the final control in the plug-in’s signal path. any level adjustment after the equalisation has been applied.

15 When it comes to the use of bus faders, try to preserve good gain- 16 If you don’t want to adjust the individual faders, consider the use of VCA
staging practice. In this case, we’ve summed the three drum tracks faders as a form of trim control. Select the drum track and pick Options >
to bus 3 but the levels are starting to look too hot. Create New VCA for Selected Channel Strips.

17 The newly created VCA 1 fader – found on the right-hand side of the 18 Your mastering engineer will enjoy the extra headroom. However, if
mixer – can be used as a gain control between the channel faders you want to export mixes that peak at 0dBFS for auditioning purposes,
and the input of the bus, preserving the overall headroom. consider using the Normalize feature, part of the Bounce dialogue box.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 47


T EC H N I Q U E VO I C E R E C O R D I N G I N A B L E TO N L I V E

ABLETON LIVE TUTORIAL

VOICE
RECORDING
IN ABLETON LIVE
From lowly onboard computer microphones to high-end alternatives and
audio interfaces, there are many ways to capture the voice – and with Live
there are endless ways to rough it up or smooth it out
WORDS MARTIN DELANEY

T
he sound of a voice can add a After configuring your preferences, Outside the box, the core variables
human touch to any composition, decide which of Live’s two views to record when recording vocals are the voice and
whether it’s a melodious vocal in: Session is more reflexive and attuned your mic setup. If your sound source – you
performance with lyrics or a few to performances and jamming – if you’re or your vocalist – is too close to the mic,
carefully selected spoken words. It’s all too putting down something that’ll be used in you’ll end up with a recording littered with
tempting to turn to sampling and borrowed short chunks, resampled or looped, this is the plosives and breathing noises that you’ll
a capellas to conjure that kind of warm window you’ll want; Arrangement instead only have to edit out later; if your source
and personal ambience but you shouldn’t offers a timeline-centred window that should is too far from the mic, your recording will
rule out recording vocals yourself, whether feel familiar to users of other DAWs – if you’re lack dynamics and presence, with the
your own or those of a performer . looking at recording long takes, cutting voice fading into the background noise of
an entire song with verses and choruses, your neighbour’s radio and your perennially
CLEAR YOUR THROAT for example, this is the place to be. humming fridge.
Expensive gear is all well and good but, the
truth is, you can go a long way recording
vocals by using just a budget-conscious mic
and headphones – as long as you take the
If your source is too far from the
time to get to grips with the setup, that is. The
more recordings you make in a home-studio
mic, your voice will fade into the
situation that’s reproducible, the better your
recordings will be. Chopping and changing background noise of your fridge
kit is not always sensible.
Live isn’t exactly replete with features FIND YOUR VOICE Sometimes a vocal track serves as a
when it comes to major multi-track More than with any other DAW, you’re never document of a performance, as opposed
recording projects in the same way that forced into anything by Live. After recording, to something modular that can be chopped
Logic Pro or Pro Tools is, but it’s functional, for example, you can still move recorded clips and changed. Other times, the part is merely
immediate, and unbeatable if you want between views, using copy and paste or the the beginning of a wider journey.
to take your work in a more electronic or Context Menu’s Consolidate Time to New Drop a vocal into Simpler, Live’s sampler
highly processed direction. Scene command. To make clean and tidy player, for example, and you’ve got an
Home recording isn’t quite the glamorous recordings, you need to be the boss of your instant keyboard part. Click the Rev button
tech-packed setting that many of us dreamt gear, your room and especially the levels. to reverse it or use the pitch shifters to create
of as young music-industry upstarts. The It’s important not to go in too hot. You artificial harmonies. They’ll likely sound fake,
economic reality, though, is that for a lot never want to see your meters, be they sure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
of people, it’s the only option. It may not on hardware or software, peaking red, In fact, by duplicating and pitch-shifting
represent the ideal recording setting but because that will inflict irreparable distortion a vocal, you can effortlessly thicken up
there are significant advantages that come on your tracks. Okay, if you’re recording on stacked tracks of real vocals, in which your
with setting up shop at home: you’ll be free tape through an analogue mixer, you can shifted parts are barely noticeable, not
from time limitations (unless you force them perhaps push your meters a little and strive standing out but quietly supporting your
on yourself), and there should be nobody for that inviting analogue-distortion sound raw, unaltered parts.
imposing their preferences on you, leaving but, in the digital world, distortion is best left However you go about recording and
you to experiment and discover your own until the post-production stage. It’s better editing your vocals, being self-sufficient with
tastes free. Think of it as low-pressure DIY and safer to record your vocals as cleanly your projects can prove liberating. Enjoy
punk-rock recording – and Live as your as possible before getting down and dirty the independence and reap the rewards
modern-day 4-track cassette machine. with them afterwards. of being in control of your own destiny.

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VO I C E R E C O R D I N G I N A B L E TO N L I V E TEC H N I Q U E

PUSH AND VOCALS 1 Ableton’s Push pad doesn’t bring anything specific
to voice-recording sessions but can be useful for accessing transport, track
arming, recording triggers, and metering. You could also use it to handle live
looping with clip and scene launching, or through the Looper device.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

VOICE RECORDING

01 You don’t need y specific version of Ableton Live to get started – even 02 Feeling ambitious? Get a solid standalone microphone (see page 112)
the demo will do. As long as you have some solid headphones and and an audio interface that can connect to your computer via USB or
your computer has a built-in microphone, you’re good to go. Thunderbolt. Even low-budget setups can give good results.

03 Headphones are vital for monitoring but especially so when recording 04 Go to the Preferences > Audio panel and choose Audio Input Device and
through a microphone. If you listen back on speakers, you’ll likely create Audio Output Device. Onboard hardware may show up as ‘MacBook Pro
feedback as the mic picks up the sound coming from them and sends it back. Microphone’ and ‘External Headphones’, an interface will show listed ins/outs.

05 Locate or create an audio track in your project. Use Alt+Cmd+I to toggle 06 With the In/Out view, you can leave Monitor set to Auto. As you arm the
the In/Out view, and select Audio In/Ext In, as well as an input channel track, you should hear your microphone input coming in. You should
if necessary, and arm the track for recording using the mixer below. see a small activity meter in the In/Out view, and a larger one in the mixer.

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T EC H N I Q U E VO I C E R E C O R D I N G I N A B L E TO N L I V E

ABLETON LIVE TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

VOICE RECORDING continued

07 Adjust your recording levels to ensure that the meters won’t peak and 08 Sometimes it’s helpful to view the waveform as it goes in, other times it’s
check your mic position (not too close, not too far). Click an empty clip distracting – either way, it can at least confirm whether you’re recording
slot in Session or the record button in Arrangement to start recording. or not. When you’re an at-home artist, you’re both singer and engineer.

09 As soon as you finish recording, stop Live with the spacebar or stop 10 It’s up to you whether you warp your recordings or not, and that decision
button, then save your project, just in case you got the once-in-a-lifetime will depend on what you plan to do with them afterwards. You may have
take. Saving regularly is a good habit. already turned warping on via Preferences.

11 If you’ve been overly careful in trying to avoid maxing out while recording, 12 Deploy the EQ. Most microphone-sourced recordings will suffer from
you might have ended up with a quiet take. Before reaching for the track some low-end background noise, and this can only get in the way
fader and pushing it up, use the vertical Gain slider to pre-mix the clip. when mixing, especially if you have multiple recorded tracks.

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VO I C E R E C O R D I N G I N A B L E TO N L I V E TEC H N I Q U E

PUSH AND VOCALS 2 It’s possible to operate Push as a musical instrument


while singing as well – it’s no harder than playing guitar or keyboards while
you sing. Just don’t let its bright lights distract you from your lyric sheets and
soaring choruses.

13 Load Live’s EQ Eight and click on filter dot 1. Set the filter mode to low 14 Live’s Gate effect can be useful for silencing background noise between
cut, which will prevent any frequencies below 30Hz from getting through. words or phrases but doesn’t always work, and it can be tough to find the
This is a value commonly used for locking out low-frequency junk. perfect threshold. It may be easier to crop out the offending parts altogether.

15 Add some sort of level-management plug-in, such as Waves’ Vocal Rider 16 You might want to add pitch correction to your sung parts. Relax – this is
or MeldaProduction’s MAutoVolume. These provide real-time level barely controversial anymore and everybody does it to a degree. It’s up
adjustment, smoothing out peaks and troughs, without the need for automation. to you whether you apply it subtly or crank it up in search of a stylised sound.

17 Rather than automating effects as your vocals progress through your song 18 Sstep it up a level by sampling some of the vocals into either Live’s
– you may want different effects to kick in at the chorus, perhaps – it’s Simpler or the Looper effect to take things in a more electronic direction.
better to split it into separate tracks for more direct level and effects control. Using vocals in Simpler can be a fun launchpad for keyboard sound design.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 51


K E Y K IT

O Logic Pro X
O Focal Trio6 Be monitors
O PreSonus StudioLive 32SC
mixing console
O Warm Audio WA73-EQ preamp,
WA47 microphone,
WA76 compressor
O Nord Lead 4 synth
O Nektar Panorama T6 controller
O Roland JD-Xi synth
O Arturia KeyLab Essential 49
controller

SH W OFF
YOUR STUDIO
This month we visit Athens, where class is very
much in session, globe-trot to the Everland down
under to examine racks in the Sydney suburbs,
and, finally, get our heads down a bedroom-
adjacent studio in Barcelona.

Masterclass Studio
Interviewee Dino Tsioris AKA Dino MFU and My Deeper Self Contact dinomfu@gmail.com | djsurvival.com

This beautiful Athens-based studio Now all of this should be standard in every MT: What is your favourite piece of gear?
serves as both a personal space and professional-level studio so why is it important DT: I’m really loving the Nord Lead 4 but
educational suite for production students for mine? The most amazing thing about all my favourite device is the Maschine MK3;
these measurements and facts is that it was with the Nord, there are hundreds of sound
MusicTech: Tell us about the studio. achieved in a room that is quite small. It is presets but also hundreds of parameters you
Dino Tsioris: It was built in August 2019 in 3.15m by 2.67m, has a height of 2.67m, and can play with, so I feel like you won’t get the
co-operation with Athens Pro Audio and there are no sound panels – not even one full effect of it for months or even years.
Alpha Acoustiki, two of the biggest sound broadband acoustic panel was needed I just absolutely love programming the
and development companies in Greece. after. Cable management was undertaken beats and rhythms from the Maschine. It has
It was built as my personal studio but also thoroughly and not one of the hundreds of amazing expansions that sound magical
as part of our DJ and production school, cables are visible to anyone working here. and the workflow process is really helping
DJ Survival, and is in Glyfada, Athens. me make groovy and hooky beats.
It took three weeks to build. The hardest MT: Which DAW do you use and why?
part was the acoustic design, as the aim DT: After a short fling with Ableton Live, I finally MT: How much time do you spend in your
was to be one of the best-sounding rooms in settled on working with Logic Pro X. I guess studio per week?
Greece, which it is. The room has an ambient since Logic was the first DAW I worked on, it DT: I’m trying to get 15 hours a week during
noise level of -60dB. The acoustics have a flat just feels better and looks better for me – my the school period – the studio has about
reverberation time from 20Hz to 20kHz and, work has better results. But, of course, all this 20 classes so it’s full-time work. I get to steal
all parameters are in line with the European is 100 per cent personal preference and I some hours between lessons or late at night.
Broadcasting Union. The acoustics provide a don’t believe one is better than the other. It’s After March, it’s off season for the school, so
sweet spot for the producer and six students. just what you are more comfortable with. I’ll be getting more than 25 hours a week.

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S H OW O FF YO U R S T U D I O

MT: How do you use your studio? MT: What is your dream piece of gear? MT: What advice would you give someone
DT: We mainly use it for electronic music DT: For the level I’m at and the music we work building their first studio?
production, mostly dance music. We have with, I’m really happy at the moment. It has DT: Fresh from my experience of building
some jazz students and hip-hop production been just seven months since we completed Masterclass Studio in Athens, I’d have to say
lessons too. the studio so I guess that was my dream and that, when you choose to build a studio, it’s
it came true. vitally important that you make sure you
MT: What’s next on your studio shopping list? have the right space from the start to work
DT: We are actually waiting for the Moog MT: What’s your top production advice? on. You have to try to find a room that has
Subsequent 37, which is a piece that I feel is DT: What I am learning every day about the the correct dimensions already. Make sure
critical for an electronic-music production process is that you have to be very patient. you do acoustic measurements – and get a
studio. I can’t wait for those basslines. You have to spend endless hours in your professional to help you. I believe that if you
We will be also in line for the Phoenix studio and not get disappointed when have an amazing-sounding room, even if
Mastering Plus tube compressor from something doesn’t work out. I also find it very you end up spending less buying cheaper
Thermionic Culture in England. helpful to choose to work at that time of day speakers and mid-budget equipment, it will
or night where you have the least on your still sound amazing. But by that same token,
MT: Do you have any frustrations with your mind. Try to block the outside world for those if you have a really bad-sounding room at
current setup? hours you work so you can have a clearer the start, then even if you spend all your
DT: The only frustration is not having enough canvas on which to paint. Minimise your money buying really expensive equipment,
time to work in it during the school season. social-media habits while working – it only with a fancy mixing desk and monitors and
But the music projects from the students are distracts you. You end up taking a lot longer everything, it will just end up sounding all
turning out beautiful so it’s worth it. to do a lot less. wrong, terrible. It’s all about the room.

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S H OW O FF YO U R S T U D I O

K E Y K IT

O Pro Tools 10HD running


on a custom-built Mac with
2 x UAD Quad Cards
O Lynx Aurora 16 and 8
O Adam A77X monitors
O Outboard preamps by API,
Millennia, CAPI, RCA, DIYRE
and Warm Audio
O Beyerdynamic, Neumann, Peluso
and Rode microphones

Everland BW: I have tried to keep the vibe relaxed in


terms of lighting and decor. I find that a lot of
studios feel too sterile and personally I would
Interviewee Ben Worsey Contact ben@everlandstudios.com.au | everlandstudios.com.au have a hard time feeling inspired in a space
like that. To that end, I have tried to make the
studio feel a bit like a lounge room with a
Head engineer Ben Worsey shows MT: Tell us more about Everland recording rig in it.
us around his racked-out retreat in BW: Everland is located in the inner-west
the Sydney suburbs. Sydney suburb of Five Dock. The studio has MT: What steps did you take to ensure
existed for about 12 years and I have been great acoustics?
MusicTech: How do you use your studio? the owner for about eight. The studio provides BW: The space was acoustically treated when
Ben Worsey: Everland is a professional music a relaxed space for bands to create music I took over the business so I haven’t had to do
recording studio. I work predominantly with using the tools necessary to create a much in that regard. The control room has
local bands in the indie, rock, funk, blues great-sounding final product. a relatively flat frequency response and the
and folk genres. I also provide online mixing live room sounds great with most instruments.
services for bands that have self-recorded or MT: What kind of atmosphere are you Many drummers have commented on how
recorded elsewhere. trying to cultivate in the studio? great their kits sound in that room.

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S H OW O FF YO U R S T U D I O

MT: Which DAW do you use? MT: How much time do you spend in your MT: What’s your dream piece of gear?
BW: I use Pro Tools 10. It’s pretty stable. I have studio per week? BW: My dream gear changes from week to
some experience with Logic Pro but I feel Pro BW: More than 40 hours. If I’m not tracking or week depending on what I’m working on
Tools is superior in terms of audio editing. mixing a band project, I like to get into the and what I’m listening to but I would love
studio and experiment with different mic a Neve 33609 bus compressor.
MT: Is your tape machine in use? placements and combinations for recording
BW: It’s not. It’s there for sentimental reasons. drums or guitars or whatever. Sometimes MT: What’s your top production advice?
It was my dad’s and was how I first started there’s no time during a session to do these BW: Never be afraid to break the supposed
recording when I was about 12 or 13. experiments so I do them in my downtime. golden rules of audio engineering. You seem
to get the best sounds by doing things that
MT: What’s your favourite piece of gear? MT: What’s next on your shopping list? you’re not meant to do with a piece of gear.
BW: It’s hard to pick a favourite – it’s always BW: I’d love an SPL Transient Designer 4. I love
changing. Right now, my favourites are two the plug-in version but I also like committing MT: What advice would you give to
CAPI VP25 preamps that I built myself from drum sounds to Pro Tools so it’d be brilliant someone building their first studio?
CAPI kits. There’s something about putting to have the hardware version for tracking BW: Listen to The Six Figure Home Studio, a
them together yourself that makes them drums. I recently acquired a Little Labs IBP great podcast about starting a studio. I wish
more satisfying to use. They sound great. and I wouldn’t mind a whole rack of those. it had been around when I was starting out.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 55


S H OW O FF YO U R S T U D I O

K E Y K IT

O Ableton Live
O Studio Electronics SE-1 monosynth
O Waldorf Microwave II
rack-mount synth
O Roland TR-909 synth
O Sequential OB-6 synth
O Ensoniq DP/4 processor
O Korg Mono/Poly synth
O Drawmer 1969 compressor

Gaetano Parisio Images: Alessia Laudoni


spaces that I transformed into different living
areas. The entrance to my studio is a mini
cinema (another passion of mine), with a
Interviewee Gaetano Parisio Contact management@gaetanoparisio.com | gaetanoparisio.com three-meter projection screen, a console
with CDJs and turntables, and my vinyl
collection. The building dates back to 1860
With four labels to manage, Gaetano The feeling of growth that the studio life in the historical centre of the Catalan capital.
Parisio requires an efficient space, can give you is priceless. We learn new Like all the studios I’ve had previously, it’s on
and his Barcelona studio fits the bill. things every time and the reaction is always the lower floor of my house and therefore
like that of a child who’s surprised to have part of my bedroom; this is important for me
MusicTech: How do you use your studio? seen something for the first time. because I see my studio as an extension of
Gaetano Parisio: My studio represents fun and my apartment, a place where I spend a lot
working together. I have four labels and MT: Tell us more about the studio. of time and can go any time of the day.
therefore, the majority of the time, I have a GP: I moved to Barcelona three years ago
professional approach. But there are other and the first thing I did was build my studio MT: Which DAW do you use?
times that being in the studio, for me, means on the lower floor of my house. My house GP: For many years I used Logic Pro, but then
having fun and, above all, learning. was previously an art gallery and had I later switched to Ableton Live. When Live 1.0

56 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S H OW O FF YO U R S T U D I O

came out in 2002, I was interested in the


option to use loops produced in the studio
and play them in sync when I DJ’d at parties.
I appreciated the speed with which Ableton
updated with every release until it reached
features that other DAWs don’t have or that
are much more complicated, such as
sample editing or internal routing.

MT: What is your favourite piece of gear?


GP: I would say my Drawmer 1969 compressor
combined with the equaliser Drawmer 1961,
also a valvular. I have used them in almost
all of my productions. For me, the use of the
compressor is fundamental for the results I’m
looking to achieve, especially when it comes
to percussion. The compressor becomes a
real instrument. The warmth and colouration
of the sound they can provide has always
thrilled me.

MT: What’s the story behind the signature


on your TR-909?
GP: I played at the Cube in Naples in 1997, a
historical club for the Neapolitan scene. Jeff
Mills was the guest and, because I knew him
already, he asked me if he could use my
TR-909 for his performance. After seeing him,
I knew then that he was the only one I ever
wanted to sign my drum machine – and I
was right . Seeing that signature in my studio
for more than 20 years has inspired me to
always try and do things that are non-trivial.

MT: How much time do you spend in your


studio per week?
GP: It depends on the period. There are break
times that are just as important as the time
spent working in the studio. But when I’m
focused, I would say that there are no time
limits. The average is six to eight hours a day.

MT: What is next on your shopping list?


GP: The next purchase will probably be the
monitors. I’ve been using my Genelec 1032A
monitors for about 25 years. I’m really used to
them but I think it’s about time that I tried out
something new. I’ve been thinking about the
Focal Trio11s, so I can get even more pressure
but the decision hasn’t been made yet. I look
forward to trying them as soon as possible.

MT: Do you have any frustrations at all with


your current setup?
GP: Yes, I do: the analogue mixer. I’ve always
used it but in the new studio, I wanted a
hybrid analogue-digital setup. What I miss
the most is the ability to equalise multiple MT: What are your best production tips? MT: What advice would you give to
elements in real time. I consider this crucial to GP: It’s not so much a trick but a good someone building their first studio?
create that final flavour that characterises my strategy that might help you work better in GP: I’d recommend some good monitors
productions. I still can’t do this in the digital the studio is to find your inspirations quickly because, today, almost everything else can
world with the same natural quality I did with and not waste time. I believe that to be able be replicated with plug-ins and software.
my old Mackie 32-8 analogue mixer, the one to immediately enter into a state of flow, you But the monitors are basic – everything goes
built in America. need to already have a setup ready for your through them and spending a lot of money
audio routing and for the machines you use on machines without having control of the
MT: What is your dream piece of gear? the most. This will allow you to easily express music you produce can lead to frustration.
GP: Dreams are only dreams if you don’t your creativity, especially if you are going If you’ve already set yourself up with some
actually realise them – and I like to dream, through a moment where you have a clear good monitors, then I would recommend a
so often it takes me a while to satisfy my vision of what you want to do. This also helps polyphonic synth that allows you to cover all
desires for new instruments. At the moment, to ensure you that your sound may be more your compositional needs. I have the Dave
it’s probably a new mixer that I’d like the recognisable and this is what you want to Smith and Tom Oberheim OB-6 but there are
most. Being realistic when it comes to my achieve as a producer. The first 30 minutes more affordable options, such as Behringer’s
budget, I’d most likely choose the Trident you spend creating something from scratch Deepmind, which has the characteristics I’ve
Audio Series 68, Console 24. are crucial to the success of the process. been talking about.

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T EC H N I Q U E U S I N G DY N A M I C S I N C U B A S E

CUBASE TUTORIAL

USING
DYNAMICS
IN CUBASE
Dynamics processors are a mainstay of sound recording and can make the
difference between paltry and top-tier results. Cubase has a healthy range
of choice in this area to help ensure you end up with the latter
WORDS ADAM CRUTE

T
here are many types of dynamics This is monitored to determine its amplitude, In a compressor, for example, attack controls
processor, each capable of slightly and if the amplitude exceeds or falls below how quickly full-ratio compression is reached
different things. The best catch-all the threshold, the process is engaged. once the sidechain signal exceeds the
description is that they act like threshold, while release tells the compressor
automatic volume controls in that they DYNAMICS PARAMETERS over how long to reduce the ratio back to
modify the dynamic (ie volume level With the exception of gates, which open or 1:1 after the signal falls below the threshold.
changes over time) make-up of a sound close depending on the amplitude of the These controls have a major impact on the
source, generally in response to the nature sidechain signal, the amount of processing subtlety (or not) of the resulting processing.
of that source. To put this into context, applied is normally determined by a ratio
pretty much all dynamics processing is akin parameter, such as 2:1 or 1:3. This describes GAINING THE ADVANTAGE
to riding a fader on a mixing console in the ratio between the input and output The most important meter in this context
order to enhance or reduce the volume signal levels when processing is occurring. is the gain reduction (or expansion) meter.
changes inherent in the audio.
One of the reasons people have trouble
when it comes to effective use of dynamics
processing is that the results can be difficult
You won’t want it to sound too
to detect, and if they were any more
obvious, it would likely indicate that you’re
apparent – if you can hear it
using too much of it. Once you’ve a good
grasp of what the controls actually do, clearly, you’re using too much
how they interact, and what the resulting
readouts mean, things become much For example, in a compressor set to a ratio This tells you by how many decibels the
easier to judge. of 2:1, for every 2dBs that the input signal signal’s volume is being adjusted at any
rises above the threshold, the output signal given time, and therefore how powerful the
CUBASE DYNAMICS will rise by only 1dB. In expanders, this is processor’s effect will be. If you’re aiming for
Cubase Pro comes with a well-stocked reversed, and in most expanders (with gentle dynamics control, for example, you
arsenal of dynamics processors, including the exception of rare specialised upward won’t want it to sound too apparent – if you
gates, expanders, compressors, limiters, expanders) the process is applied when the can hear it clearly, you’re using too much of
de-essers and enhancers. Of these, the two incoming signal falls below the threshold – it. But, if you read the gain meter instead, you
we’re going to focus on are compressors this creates a greater variation in volume can be sure that you’re getting the control
and expanders – in many respects, most between the quietest and loudest parts you’re after, even if you can barely hear it.
dynamics processors are just specialised of a sound while allowing the maximum Because most dynamics processing
versions of one of these . loudness to remain unchanged. Using modifies the volume level of a sound, most
No matter their intended function, a high-expansion ratio also allows an processors have a final gain-adjustment
dynamics processors tend to share a expander to do the same job as a gate stage through which you can compensate
common set of parameters (though the but with more subtle results than the for the drop or increase in signal level that
impact of these varies depending on the binary open or closed state of a gate. results from processing. This is the make-up
type of processor). First and foremost is the The envelope-style controls found in gain. Remember that the sidechain signal,
threshold, which determines when the dynamics processors will be familiar to those which determines whether or not the
process should be applied and when it with synthesiser experience but understand process is applied, doesn’t have to be the
shouldn’t. This is measured from something that they’re controlling the strength of same as the one being processed. This
called the sidechain or ‘key’ signal, typically processing and not directly sculpting the allows for some natty tricks, and Cubase
a copy of the signal arriving at the input. amplitude of the sound being processed. makes light work of setting them up.

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U S I N G DY N A M I C S I N C U B A S E T EC H N I Q U E

LIMITERS A limiter is essentially a compressor with fast attack and release


times, and a high compression ratio. It’s worth adding a limiter after a
compressor, as it can deal with any large peaks that the compressor
allows through when using slower attack times.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

USING DYNAMICS IN CUBASE

01 Open a project that includes an unprocessed vocal part or find such a 02 With the vocal track selected, open the Track Inspector, expand the
part and import it. Vocal performances typically contain a lot of variation, Inserts section, and add Cubase’s standard Compressor plug-in,
which can be seen in the waveform and can be evened out with compression. found in the Dynamics plug-in group, to the first insert slot. Solo the track.

03 Set a 3:1 compression ratio, hit play and, while watching the GR 04 Listen to the difference between the quietest and loudest passages. If the
(gain-reduction) meter and listening carefully, try to set the threshold difference is too extreme, increase the ratio; if it’s insufficient, reduce
such that no gain reduction is occurring during the vocal’s quietest passages. the ratio. Remember, though, that a bit of fluctuation can be a good thing.

05 If at this stage the compression sounds too explicit or harsh, increase 06 Setting a suitable release time isn’t typically too tough, but Cubase’s
the attack time. This might mean that some peaks sneak through the standard compressor makes it even easier with an Auto-Release
compressor but the slower onset can mask the strength of the compression. setting that works out the best setting for your audio. Enable that now.

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T EC H N I Q U E U S I N G DY N A M I C S I N C U B A S E

CUBASE TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

USING DYNAMICS IN CUBASE continued

07 If you’re still getting a slightly jittery or frenetic compression response, 08 Disable the AM auto make-up gain switch. By reducing the volume of the
either audibly or shown via the GR meter, dial in a bit of Hold time to help loudest parts, you can create more headroom so that you can increase
to smooth things out. Moving the Analysis setting towards RMS can also help. the gain to make the part louder than before. Do this with the Make Up dial.

09 Create a new project and import an acoustic drum loop or recording 10 The aim here is to make the drum part sound more dynamic by reducing
that has some dynamic variance in it. Familiarise yourself with the loop the volume of the quieter hits. The default expander settings are a tad
before adding Cubase’s standard Expander to the track. extreme for this but should create an obvious result. Hit play and have a listen.

11 You don’t want too extreme an effect, so turn the ratio down to about 12 You want the louder transients to be unaffected, so need processing to
1:5. You also want the processor to be sensitive to transients, so turn cease rapidly when the sidechain signal exceeds the threshold (remember,
the Analysis dial all the way to Peak. expansion is applied below the threshold). Set the Rise time to its lowest setting.

60 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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T EC H N I Q U E U S I N G DY N A M I C S I N C U B A S E

KNEE Dynamics processors often have a knee setting. When the threshold
acts like a switch between no processing and full processing, it’s called it a
hard knee. Conversely, with a soft knee, signals close to the threshold level
won’t receive full processing, creating a less overt effect.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

USING DYNAMICS IN CUBASE continued

13 Adjust the Fall and Hold times so that the processing sounds smoother. 14 Tweak the ratio to modify the strength of the expansion effect. Compare
Now adjust the threshold while watching the GR meter, aiming for loud the results with the bypassed sound – if successful, you’ll notice how the
transients to cause no movement and quieter transients to cause the most. expansion process has brought out the groove and subtleties of the drum part.

15 Create a new project. Add a Groove Agent SE instrument track, load any 16 With the HALion track selected, open Audio Inserts. Insert the standard
kit, and create a nine-bar kick part. Add another instrument track using compressor. On the compressor window’s toolbar, click the arrow to the
HALion Sonic SE, load a pad and create one long, nine-bar chord on its track. left of the preset name field and select Add Side-Chain Input from the panel.

17 Select the Groove Agent track’s entry from the pop-up. This creates a 18 You should hear the pad dropping its level in response to the kick part.
send bus from Groove Agent into the HALion compressor’s sidechain. Tweak the compressor settings to get the strength of effect that you want.
Close any pop-ups and click the Activate Side-Chain button. For a pumping effect, use an expander rather than a compressor.

62 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


Work smarter not harder

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T EC H N I Q U E M A S T ER I N G I N S T U D I O O N E

STUDIO ONE TUTORIAL

MASTERING
IN STUDIO ONE

Over the past few months, we’ve explored how to build tracks using Studio
One’s mix effects and instruments. Here, we cover how the flexible workstation
can help you master them
WORDS MATTHEW MANN

I
t’s become a cliché to describe Industry standards suggest that the THE FINAL POLISH
mastering as a dark art. Historically, average peak on the main output meter Once your stereo tracks have been
however, if someone wanted to learn should be between about -3dBFS and imported into your project, you can insert
the processes involved, they had to find -6dBFS. You can use a limiter on the master adjustable processors to ensure a consistent
a dedicated mastering studio and hope they bus to achieve this. tone and volume for all your tracks. Studio
could apprentice there, a roundabout route In days gone by, mastering engineers One applies a default two seconds of silent
that doesn’t exactly help its reputation as could request mix adjustments from their space between tracks but this can be
an esoteric part of the production cycle. mixing engineers. This would’ve been tedious adjusted, and you can even crossfade
Today, though, there are infinite resources and, often, almost impossible, given that between songs.
that reveal the secretive practices of studio in many past cases it would have required On the left side of the Project page
technicians and engineers, available as pro- recreating the mix on tape. Thankfully, things you’ll find your list of song files. Their order
level teaching classes, video tutorials and, aren’t quite so circuitous in Studio One. can be altered by dragging up or down.
of course, 18-step magazine features. Here,
we’ll teach you mastering in Studio One.

STRONG FOUNDATIONS
It can be helpful to compare your
Mastering is the process of sweetening a
finished two-track mix. This can be a stereo
audio to reference tracks and
tape or a digital file. The procedure sees
equalisation and compression used to even approximate their better qualities
out the source material and make it sound
as pleasing as possible. Mastering engineers Here, the final output from the master bus You can use volume envelopes to fade
usually have expensive outboard processors can be sent directly to the Project page. into or out of each track. Next to the Meter
and high-end monitoring equipment as part This is where the mastering takes place. section, the Loudness Information panel
of their purpose-built studios. Relax: we don’t Additionally, you can update the original gives information about the tracks’ levels.
expect you to own that kind of kit – and it’s audio files and make changes that can Once your tracks have been sequenced
not entirely necessary either. You can get effect the mastering file (the stereo output) and you have applied EQ and compression,
superlative results using well-chosen plug-ins, in your Studio One project. you can use Studio One to burn your project
dependable monitors or headphones, and You can easily send stereo files to a to CD, create a CD image or create digital
Studio One’s Project page. project within Studio One, and separate files. You can also publish your tracks digitally
song files created within it can be added and decide on the file type, bit depth,
FAIL TO PREPARE... to the same project in order to create an sample rate and whether to add track
Mastering doesn’t begin until the engineer album. This will certainly make the mastering numbers and artist names to the file info.
has done their job by mixing the tracks into engineer’s job easier, allowing them to add Studio One makes it easy to get your
a cohesive whole, likely using equalisation EQ, compression and stereo width to each music out there but, nevertheless, mastering
and compression, and perhaps applying track, compare their overall loudness levels requires a critical ear and lots of practise.
multi-band compression and limiting on the and tone, rearrange them, and adjust the It can be helpful to compare your audio
master output. Once the engineer and/or length of silence between each, as well to reference tracks and approximate their
artist is happy, the mix will be rendered to as compare them to other commercially better qualities. There are many mastering
a stereo audio file. Ideally, the kindly mix released reference tracks. In addition, references online that can give you a clear
engineer will have left enough headroom metadata labels such as song names, artist idea of what to listen for. Play around and
to allow the person charged with mastering names, IRSC codes, images and more can take some time to flesh out your knowledge
to do their job properly. be added to each track prior to publishing. of the processes involved. Happy mastering.

64 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M A S T ER I N G I N S T U D I O O N E T EC H N I Q U E

INSERT EFFECTS There are some plug-ins that prove hugely beneficial to
the mastering process, including high-quality EQs, compressors (or multi-band
compressors), exciters, stereo imagers, and limiters. Studio One comes with its
own solid set of tools that can help you along your path.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

MASTERING IN STUDIO ONE

01 Acquire some finished mixes of at least a few songs or complete some 02 Create a new project or open an existing document from the start page.
mixes of your own. Be sure to leave between -3dBFS and -6dBFS of
headroom on each.

03 Add your chosen project title and select your bit depth, file location and 04 Another way to create a project is to click the Song menu within
more via the pop-up. an existing song and select Add to Project.

05 Now add tracks to your newly created and titled project. Import them 06 Projects use songs’ start and end markers to determine the length
via the Project menu of the Project page or via the Song menu. of their mastering files. Make sure your markers are set properly.

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T EC H N I Q U E M A S T ER I N G I N S T U D I O O N E

STUDIO ONE TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

MASTERING IN STUDIO ONE continued

07 Continue adding song files until your release is fully assembled. 08 Rename and colour-code your imported files. This will make it easier
to monitor what’s happening and where you are in your project.

09 Add effects to each song file. Clicking on songs will unveil their empty 10 Sequence your tracks as you see fit by dragging and dropping the files.
Inserts panel, into which you can drop effects. The Master and Post
slots apply to all your songs.

11 Once you’re happy with their order, adjust the space between 12 Complete several listening passes of your songs. Make incremental
your songs and, if desired, apply crossfades between them. additions and tweaks with each pass – perform EQ changes and add
compression and width as necessary.

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T EC H N I Q U E M A S T ER I N G I N S T U D I O O N E

ALL-IN-ONE Companies such as IK Multimedia and iZotope make top-notch


plug-ins that remove much of the pain from the mastering process. iZotope’s
Ozone suite and IK’s Lurssen Mastering Console, for example, offer all the
necessary tools in one easy-to-use package.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

MASTERING IN STUDIO ONE continued

13 Use the Loudness Information panel to determine each song’s loudness 14 There are three metering options to help you visualise what’s happening
levels and note how they all compare. with your project: the Spectrum Meter, the Loudness Meter, and the
Phase Meter.

15 The Spectrum Meter has several calibration options, including Third 16 After sweetening your tracks across several passes, publish them via
Octave, 12th Octave, FFT, FFT Curve to help you see what’s happening Studio One’s in-built options.
in your tracks.

17 Given that it’s a common type of release for self-produced music, we 18 Click okay and Studio One will create your tracks and save them and/or
recommend publishing your tracks as a Digital Release, which allows publish them to your chosen location.
you to choose everything from file format to metadata.

68 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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T EC H N I Q U E M A K I N G A M B I EN T PA D S I N F L S T U D I O

FL STUDIO TUTORIAL

MAKING
AMBIENT
IN FL STUDIO
PADS
Don’t be fooled by its minimal movement, ambient music is deceptively deep.
From glassy synths to billowing smog-thick atmospherics, ambient pads have
applications across all genres, and can help you shape your productions
WORDS TIEME VAN IJZENDOORN

L
oaded with synths capable of To achieve this, we advise using automation When you incorporate these options and
sculpting generous pads, FL Studio to push and pull your pads across a host of parameters with well-drawn automation,
makes ambient compositions easy. different parameters. Even small adjustments you’re almost guaranteed to get distinctive
Perhaps too easy. In this tutorial, can be enough to drastically alter the course and compelling pads you can call your own.
then, we’re going to challenge you to by of your sounds. As before, we’re using only 3xOSC and
limiting your synth plug-in privileges to just Fruity DX10 and we’d recommend you do
two: FL Studio’s 3xOSC and Fruity DX10. But LAYER CAKE the same. Given the amount of variables
before we dive in, let’s first explore exactly For our purposes, automation might mean available when you take into account all
what an ambient pad is. something as simple as turning up the the potential automation and parameters,
volume of a particular sound as the song two synth plug-ins is plenty. However, if
ZONE OF TRANQUILITY builds. In FL Studio, you’re free to run you’re feeling frisky and want to add even
The genre’s name is self-explanatory. But in numerous automations simultaneously. more options into the mix, introduce some
practice, ambient music typically translates
to the kind of slow-paced easy-listening
and gently undulating instrumental sounds
favoured by the likes of Aphex Twin, Brian
Make use of effects whose typical
Eno and Tangerine Dream. Often they’re
drenched in reverb and delay, as well as
results might seem at odds with
phaser and LFO effects that warp and
manipulate them to further affect the what you’re trying to do
stereo field. There are many more sub-
genres of ambient music than there are These will be the essence of your ambient more plug-ins to the signal chain. But be
rules that govern it. Ambient sounds need track, and will open your sounds up and sure to set some time aside if you do – the
not be organic or artificial, natural or make them more human (or not, if that’s more raw materials you’re working with,
industrial. It all depends on the mood or your preference). the more time it’ll take you to sculpt your
setting that the music is trying to convey. It’s important to pick a synthesiser with otherworldly sounds.
But ambient sounds aren’t limited to their a lot of options or, alternatively, to combine Making ambient music is all about
titular genre. You’ll find them in electronic multiple sounds or synths to form something subtlety. If hard-hitting house, thumping
genres such as house and techno, where singularly unique. Here, we’ve selected techno and ungodly gabber is a sprint, think
they’re often used to establish atmospheres, native FL Studio plug-ins 3xOSC, a three- of ambient compositions as a marathon.
or as epic introductions before being oscillator subtractive synthesiser, and Fruity Adapt and control your sounds over long,
shattered by the song’s beat. Think of the DX10, an eight-voice polyphonic FM synth, extended durations. There’s plenty of room
tips and tricks you’ll pick up in this tutorial and will combine them using Layer. to manoeuvre too. Make use of effects
as broad pointers that can be applied Using this plug-in, you can have both whose typical results might ordinarily seem
to many projects and compositions. synths react when you hit a key. One of at odds with what you’re trying to do – with
You’re probably familiar with pads the advantages of plug-ins such as this, some manipulation, even effects seemingly
already. These stretched-out sounds with however, is that they also allow you to ill-suited to ambient composition can reveal
prolonged attack and release periods are use each synth separately – ideal if, for unexpected traits. Apply an unusual effect
usually the subject of evolving modulation example, you’re creating a build-up or and try lowering the wet signal so that it lets
that builds and releases tension, shaping break and want to capitalise on a single through more of the dry (unaffected) signal,
the sounds as they move. The trick to synth’s characteristics. You can add effects and see what you get. There’s unending
designing spellbinding pads is knowing how plug-ins to individual synths too, giving you creative potential here. You’ll likely be
to sculpt and conduct their progression. total control over different layers of sound. surprised by the end results.

70 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M A K I N G A M B I EN T PA D S I N F L S T U D I O T EC H N I Q U E

THE POWER OF THREE


First introduced in 2000, FL Studio’s in-built 3xOSC plug-in is a powerful
subtractive synth with three oscillators that can generate old-school
1990s raw synth sounds.

MT STEP- BY- STEP

MAKING AMBIENT PADS

01 Open the 3xOSC plug-in. The default setting across its three oscillators 02 Shape the sound into a pad by adjusting the volume envelope. Here you
is three sine waves. Set the volume of the third oscillator to 50 per cent. can determine how the volume of the sound progresses when you hit
and/or hold a key. Increase the volume of the attack and release a little.

03 Open Fruity DX10, a simple FM synth that will add texture and movement. 04 Alter the sound of DX10 via the Misc Tab. Increase the Wav parameter to
about 85 per cent, decrease LFO Rate to about 14 per cent, and increase
the Vib to about 29 per cent.

05 Add some movement via the Modulation 1 tab. Decrease Coarse to 4, 06 Alter the DX10’s volume envelope via its Amplitude tab. Increase Attack
Fine to 0.0, and increase the Sustain to about 8 per cent. The sound’s to about 78, Decay to 100 and the Release to about 87.
additional movement should be evident when you hold down a key.

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T EC H N I Q U E M A K I N G A M B I EN T PA D S I N F L S T U D I O

FL STUDIO TUTORIAL

MT STEP- BY- STEP

MAKING AMBIENT PADS continued

07 Combine your 3xOSC and DX10 sounds via FL Studio’s Layer tool. 08 Select the 3xOSC and DX10 plug-ins in your pattern view by right-
This will allow you to control both synths together or separately. clicking the select boxes, and hit the Set Children button in Layer. Now,
when you have the Layer channel selected, you’ll play both synths together.

09 Add some effects to your sounds. Send both synths to the mixer by 10 Add Fruity Phaser to the 3xOSC channel and select the Stomp It 2 preset
selecting them and hitting Ctrl+L, or choose a mixer track manually. to add further movement to your sound. Tread lightly when adding
Make sure each has its own mixer track. effects to your base sound – this can quickly get messy.

11 The Stomp It 2 preset is quite a passive sound, so you’re free to increase 12 If your DX10 is too harsh or distorted for your tastes, counter it by adding
the Sweep Freq to about 0.9, the Max Depth to about 0.66 and the Stereo a Parametric EQ2 to its channel to kill some of the higher frequencies.
to about 0.5 phase.

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M A K I N G A M B I EN T PA D S I N F L S T U D I O T EC H N I Q U E

AMBIENT FM
Fruity DX10 is an eight-voice polyphonic FM synth based on Paul Kellett’s MDA
plug-in version. It’s a fantastic exploratory tool and, conveniently, doesn’t hog
too much CPU power.

13 You can easily create a low-pass filter using Parametric EQ2. Right-click 14 Now that you’ve edited both sounds separately, adjust the volume of both
on the 7 circle and choose Type and Low Pass, then decide on the channels so that they blend nicely together. Lower the DX10 channel’s
steepness of the descent via Order. volume to create more room for your 3xOSC base sound.

15 Add some final effects to your combined sound by sending both synths 16 Add a Fruity Multiband Compressor to the bus mixer channel and select
to one shared mixer channel (a bus). Select both channels by holding the Comp 2.9 preset. This will glue the separate sounds together and
Ctrl+Shift and right-click on the arrow at the bottom of an empty mixer channel. give them more body.

17 Though the long release of both your synths already give your sound a 18 Make further tweaks to your sound using automation. You can do this
nice tail, you should make the sound more open and ambient by adding to any parameter by turning the knobs and sliders, right-clicking on
some reverb. Add the Reeverb effect and choose the For Strings preset. the knob icon in the top toolbar and choosing Create Automation Clip.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 73


REVIEW

REVIEWS
HARDWARE | SOFTWARE | ACCESSORIES | GUIDES
HARDWARE EASTWEST Hollywood Backup Singers 96
ACON DIGITAL Acoustica 7.2 98
WAVES OVox 76 SOUNDIRON Alpha Organ 102
WARM AUDIO Bus-Comp 84 KROTOS AUDIO Concept 104
UNIVERSAL AUDIO Apollo Twin X 87 CINESAMPLES CineBrass Sonore 106
AUSTRIAN AUDIO Hi-X55 headphones 91 AUDIAIRE Zenith 108
RME Babyface Pro FS 94 BABY AUDIO Comeback Kid 112
SSL 2/2+ 100 TOONTRACK Kicks and Snares EZX 114
SONTRONICS Podcast Pro 110 DENISE AUDIO Perfect Room 116
SOYUZ Launcher 111 BLUELAB Panogram 117
PIONEER DDJ 200 113 LOOPMASTERS DEEP Rolling Drum & Bass 117
LOOPMASTERS Exmoor Emperor

SOFTWARE Celestial Downtempo 117


FADERPRO Producing and Performing
MAMMOTH AUDIO Density 80 Live w/ Saytek 117
SLATE AND ASH Cycles 82 6 OF THE BEST Soft-synths for d’n’b producers 118

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 75


R E V I E W WAV ES OVOX

WAVES
OVox £120

Waves’ latest looks to turn your voice into a dynamic, colourful instrument
but its processing power helps it transcend its primary application
WORDS JONO BUCHANAN

G
iven that the human voice is the Key features Believe and then drifting in and out of fashion in
most immediate, primal and readily Voice-controlled synth and the years since.
available musical instrument, it’s no vocal effects processor As always, the records that have managed
surprise that it’s almost always the Powered by Waves Organic to capture the zeitgeist are the ones that have
focal point of non-instrumental tracks. Whether ReSynthesis technology wilfully avoided the ‘intended’ purpose of the
your song is a simple piece for vocals and piano Plug-in or standalone app available technology to squeeze, push and
or guitar, or a multi-track behemoth for a raucous Pitch/tune, harmonising and catapult it beyond its boundaries, apply it to the
rock ’n’ roll band, a full orchestra or with electronic arpeggiator to classic ‘wrong’ sounds, or use other techniques to tease
layers aplenty, the vocal line is most likely the part vocoder and talkbox effects out results that the world has never heard before.
your listeners will be humming in the shower the Automatic Note Mapper to Waves OVox – as its name suggests – is a
next morning. And, for as long as recording tech trigger chords, harmonies or new plug-in whose purpose is to provide a whole
has afforded the opportunity, this has meant that scales from your vocal tracks toolkit of techniques and tricks to turn your vocals
creative producers and performers have looked Built-in 8-voice synth with into something truly special. However, as we’ll
for ever-more elaborate ways to use hardware dual high-resolution engines see, its capabilities go far beyond vocal
and software to make their vocal parts stand out. Customisable LFOs/ processing, opening its parameters beyond the
Think about vocoding, used on classic records sequencer, ADSR and ORS merely voice-based.
such as ELO’s Mister Blue Sky from 1977, the weird modulators
and wonderful warped and portamento’d 6 customisable mod effects ULTRA VOX
Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys in 1998 or the Customisable 4-band EQ At its heart, OVox is a vocal processor and
extraordinary Jacob Collier’s Time Alone With Contact synthesising suite. In real terms, this means that
You from late last year, to pick three of many waves.com it provides an array of techniques to process
examples from the past 40 years. And indeed, existing vocal lines (such as tuning, auto-tune
consider auto-tuning, first finding spectacular style) alongside others that use synthesis
success in its most extreme form with Cher’s techniques to artificially add new voices

76 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


WAV ES OVOX R E V I E W

around the source material, to harmonise


and layer new parts on top. It does this by
tracking the sound onto which the plug-in DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
is inserted, with the detected input signal If you’re a singer, using Exhale, vocal
then acting as a modulation source for OVox will help you sample packs or
OVox’s synthesis capabilities. It can detect layer your voice in Output’s Arcade as
and track pitch directly, or you can feed interesting, rich and sonic fodder for
innovative ways, throwing a few key
external input sources to superimpose other helping you produce vocal phrases into
notes onto OVox’s parameters. As we’ll harmonies in real your tracks, there is
see, these are so extensive that the range time (both in a much greater level
of sounds that can be produced is production work and, of sophistication,
staggering. But let’s get down to basics in standalone form, parameter-wise,
live). If you’re not a available here. And,
and take a tour of the interface to see
singer, it’s possible of course, if those
how this magic happens. to tune and warp are indeed your
Upon start-up, a pared back version of even the most sonic starting points,
OVox is loaded, providing primary features out-of-tune, lifeless making them
only. OVox allows up to two separate source material, more unique, to
processing and re-synthesis engines to run meaning that your differentiate your
voice, no matter tracks from others
independently and simultaneously but, to
how unrefined, can using the same
start with, it’s worth enabling just one of become a worthwhile source sounds, is
these to familiarise yourself with what’s musical instrument. certainly something
available; Waves’ decision to do precisely If you’re a producer at which OVox
this when OVox is instantiated is sensible. who is currently can excel.
Beneath the power light, which switches
the OVox 1 engine on, is a tuning dial that
allows for immediate semitone tuning
offsets of the source material, a formant The desired note for retuning can be set level acts as a master level control and
dial, which changes the tuned harmonic in a number of ways – via the internal Note offers a handy brickwall limiter to stop
content of the processed sound, and a Mapper, plus internal Note Generator and things getting out of hand, which they
gain knob. Arpeggiator modules, as well as external certainly can do if left unchecked.

THE HEART OF THE MACHINE


It’s rare to find a plug-in that This overall set of parameters allows you to
shape signals in a variety of ways but, in
makes you grin with joy when truth, we’re just getting started. Clicking
the Display button in the top right-hand

your expectations are surpassed corner of the interface takes you into
Expanded View Mode, giving you not only
a wider set of tools but a greater insight
Along the bottom strip of the interface, sidechained sources. There are three into how OVox works. Its synth provides two
from left to right, you’ll find blue master modes here: Normal and Hard, which track identical oscillators, whose job is primarily
controls for modifiers and effects (we’ll talk pitch and retune it either naturally (Normal) to route signals to the formant filters in their
more about both shortly), before a set of or with more extreme auto-tuned settings respective engines (OVox 1 and 2). A
black rotaries that let you control different (Hard). Both of these use the internal Note number of shapes are available to each
aspects of Ovox’s processing engines. The Mapper, which sets the scale for note oscillator type, where an X-Y pad lets you
first of these concern sibilance or S sounds correction. Notes mode forces pitch to a pick a standard waveform (square, saw,
that don’t have a pitch – their detection wider range of input sources, meaning it pulse spike, triangle) or a blend from a
can prove problematic for certain kinds can respond to changing chords, rather position between these defaults. The
of processing and resynthesis. than just a scale. The Voice dial blends oscillator’s character is determined from a
By clicking Exc(lusive), you can totally in the volume of the originally detected drop-down menu, which lets you choose
remove sibilant sounds from detection source, while the synth level lets you hear an impulse response from a generous pool
altogether or, if that seems a touch too and use the tone of the synth engine at of 12 options.
extreme, you can use the neighbouring the heart of OVox’s resynthesis engine. The The Harmonics dial sets the number of
sibilance dial to attenuate their volume at OVox dial is the overall volume knob for the overtones generated by the oscillator. This
the input stage. Voice correction comes summed OVox 1 and 2 engines, while there parameter might sound like a low-pass filter
next, and lets you set the type of pitch- is an overall tone knob too, which offers a but in fact what it does is influence the
mapping that you would like OVox to apply Tilt filter to set a master tonal character for earliest stage of the wave generation, and
to the input source. the sound you’re processing. The output literally determine how many harmonics

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 77


R E V I E W WAV ES OVOX

the oscillator engine reproduces – it’s Accordingly, a suite of dials lets you tailor to insist that the synth follows the pitch of
pleasingly extreme, meaning that there is the formant filter’s performance to your the modulator input source. Pitch-bend
a wealth of potential sounds on offer, from source signal. You can focus its frequency and portamento ranges are independently
purer single-harmonic sounds to others that range, to target the formant detector at set, while the latter also features a time dial
are immensely rich. the frequency area you most want to to set the speed of bend when one note
The tuning dial (familiar from Basic View) analyse and shift formants from deep, low overlaps with another. This central area also
allows for a four-octave range (two in voices all the way through to chipmunk, contains the controls for Note Mapping,
either direction), while a fine-tuning control hyper-excited voices and everywhere in which set how tuning will be applied
is added in Advanced View as well. There is between. The speed control sets the rate through OVox. This might be as simple as
also a Noise Generator (whose Colour and at which the formant filter shifts, providing picking a chromatic scale (to allow all
notes) or those relating to a single major or

Imagine the vocoded equivalent


minor key, but it can become much more
sophisticated, with a range of harmonies,
scales and chords selectable from a
of a shared reverb and all of the drop-down menu.
You can also customise a scale, by

weird wonder that might produce clicking the Edit button to add or remove
notes from a selected choice. Of course,
you might decide you want OVox to
Level can be manipulated), which also pleasingly smooth and oozing results at respond to external notes rather than those
feeds into the all-powerful formant filter. This slower speeds. selected internally. Above the interface,
is really where the true power of OVox lies. you can select your sidechain as the input
The formant filter constantly tracks the GETTING INTO GEAR source for both or either of the voice and
frequency response of the source signal. By The synth at the heart of OVox can be synth engines, and the Tuning section
extracting this filter from the source sound controlled by clicking the gear button in usefully greys out when it’s not using the
(the modulator), it can be applied to the centre of the display. There’s a forced internal synth for pitching, to indicate that
OVox’s synth engines (the carrier). mono option and you can choose whether it’s effectively bypassed. Route in your
chosen sidechain source and you can
apply any harmony you like in real time as
the starting point for OVox processing.
In Expanded View mode, the lower
section of the interface is where you can
warp, shape and morph the parameter
choices you’ve made above. There are
four purple ‘Modifiers’, each of which can
either function as an LFO or a sequencer
pattern of up to 16 steps. Both LFOs and
sequencers can be synced to tempo or
run free, as well as loop, run forwards or
forwards and backwards. To assign one of
these modulators to a specific parameter,
OVox uses a system that will be familiar
to Native Instruments’ Massive users, in
particular; simply drag the modifier number
to your parameter of choice. As you click
on a modifier to assign it, any potential
target is illuminated and, once assigned,
you can select the range for the parameter
to determine how widely it will be affected.
Many parameters allow you to assign
four separate controllers and, of course,
this includes the tuning dial, which of
course means that you can create
pitched sequences of running notes with
one modifier before the next one – say,
a square wave LFO – shifts the whole
sequence up or down a step or two.
So, suddenly, you can create sequences
that evolve over several bars or beats. Of
course, those sequences might be chords
if you’ve selected appropriately in the
Note Mapper.
Starting to get a sense of how fun OVox
can be? The LFOs are comprehensive too;
as well as the expected waveform shapes,
you can draw one freely, or load one from
a huge range by clicking the folder icon
within the LFO section. There are two freely
assignable ADSR envelopes too, as well as
a comprehensive 4-band EQ, offering
multiple filter types per band, plus gain,
frequency and bandwidth (Q) controls
for each band. The frequency band can
be modulated by any available source

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WAV ES OVOX R E V I E W

you like. Effects are available in individual innovative, but less immediate usages also you like in unusual, formant and pitch-
modules, with up to five chainable at yield fantastic results. I’ve always enjoyed mangling ways.
once. Set against the generosity elsewhere, using drum loops and programmed beats It’s rare to find a plug-in that makes you
the effects suite seems a little light on to trigger chords, or to join percussion parts grin with joy when your expectations are
options, despite each module offering to the pitched centre of a track using surpassed. OVox does that over and over
a range of starting points (six algorithms vocoding and the potential for those kinds again, and, with the recent addition of a
in the reverb module, for instance). I’d of ideas is enormous here. MIDI-out feature, allowing you to play
love to see a ring modulator or tape Used across an auxiliary, multiple sounds your voice via any virtual instrument , the
saturator in addition to the compressor, in your mix can benefit from a unified OVox creative – and fun – potential of OVox
delay, chorus, reverb, distortion and treatment, if you can imagine the vocoded appears to be limitless.
auto-pan modules. equivalent of a shared reverb and all of
the weird wonder that might produce. The
OH! VOX presets are a great place to get your head
MT V ER D I CT 9/10
OVox is an extraordinary plug-in. It provides around what’s possible. The company is
almost instant gratification upon start-up, brave enough to included treatments
with the Basic View offering parameters labelled Around The World and Harder
+ Great-sounding vocal processing
aplenty to get the creative juices flowing Better Faster, proving that Waves is
in record time. But lurking under the prepared to stake its reputation on building
+ Rich modulation possibilities,
including pitch-sequencing
hood is an incredibly powerful engine; a plug-in that can allow for the sonic
remember that what’s been outlined richness and innovation of some of the + Can track pitch internally or
above in terms of operational workflow most classic and well-known vocoding respond to external input signals
is effectively doubled when you treatments of all time. And OVox doesn’t
enable the second OVox engine. While disappoint.
– Only six effects types
modulators, envelopes and effects are Officially, this plug-in costs £120 but – GUI isn’t resizeable and some
shared, you have fully independent control Waves has become pretty famous for of the routings are hard to see
over harmonics, tuning and all of the running discounts and price-drop at a glance
resynthesis parameter tools OVox offers weekends so be sure to keep your eyes
Deep, fun and inspiring. OVox has
across its two engines. peeled. At the time of writing, you can pick
competition but the fact that its
Of course, as you’d hope and expect, OVox up for £55 and, if you’ve not been
usefulness extends way beyond
the most immediate appeal of OVox will able to gauge from this review so far, it’s vocal-only processing is perhaps
be to those looking to process vocals and worth every penny, irrespective of whether its most telling recommendation
to tease out a plethora of tricks to keep you want to mangle vocals or find a toolset
productions sounding contemporary and ready to do wonders to any sound source

Alternatives
IZOTOPE talk-box effects and SONIVOX which you’d like to apply
VocalSynth 2 more. It’s sophisticated Vocalizer Pro 1.3 the vocoded signal to
£180 and integrates into £160 in real time. Onboard
Something of an the iZotope effects Can be used as a performance pads offer
all-rounder for vocal- ecosystem if you have MIDI-controlled effect, more mangling ideal
processing techniques, multiple plug-ins. meaning you can play for onstage use.
promising vocoding, izotope.com the notes or chords to sonivoxmi.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 79


R E V I E W M A M M OT H A U D I O D EN S I T Y

MAMMOTH AUDIO
Density £230

Can Mammoth Audio’s first major collection of sonic effects


redefine your sound-design toolkit or is it destined for extinction?
WORDS DAVE GALE

H
aving been founded in 2019, Mammoth Key features The content is sample-derived and processed but
Audio might seem like something of a Extensive collection of the clever bods at Mammoth have taken all the
newbie to the virtual-instrument market. booms, hits, risers and more hard work out of preparing impressive sounds.
But that would be discounting the More than 1,500 Its sounds fall into two main categories: One
company’s pedigree. Formed by the team behind one-shot samples Shots, in which samples are further categorised
sister elephantid enterprise Elephant Music, the 3 distinct instruments as Booms, Braams, Risers, Hits and more; and
members of this East London outfit have been Loop section with Playable, in which samples come as either loops
embedded in the industry for almost a decade. DAW syncing or playable instruments, with all content open to
Created in 2011, Elephant’s sound design and Samples drawn from organic additional processing through the use of onboard
music-for-picture work has led to an extensive and acoustic content effects. There’s a dramatic amount of audio
portfolio, with credits that include Amazon Prime, Extensive onboard effects content on offer though, so expect some overlap.
Apple TV+ and Netflix originals, as well as AAA The user interface is large and simplistic, with
7.26GB disk space required
video games and Hollywood blockbuster films. a clear definition between the left and right.
Requires NI Kontakt 5.6.2+
Inspired by these successes, Mammoth is now You can load any element to either side, which
(Full version)
stomping into new territory. But cast aside any makes it available via your musical keyboard
Contact
aspersions you might have about its prehistoric while allowing for a degree of sonic mixing
moniker – Mammoth’s first major release is mammothaud.io and matching. The samples are triggered
bang-up-to-date. independently and displayed on the keyboard
graphic in Kontakt, so you don’t have to go
GETTING DENSE fishing around to find your samples.
Density is a Kontakt-based virtual instrument
capable of cinematic content ideal for all SHAKE THE ROOM
manner of media work and musical production. The single-shot content is organised logically.
Clicking the drop-down menu on either side
of Density reveals nine sub-menus of one-shot
samples, with further categories reached through
clicking. As each note becomes a single trigger for
a sample, there is no pitch control of the one-shots
from the keyboard, but it is possible to adjust the
tuning of the samples in semi-tones by up to an
octave. By default, these samples are based
around the C pitch, though many of the booms
and hits are pretty nondescript in terms of tonality.
The quality of these samples is undeniably
good, although there is a bit of repetition in the
sense that some of this content can sound quite
similar. But Mammoth has commendably
covered all bases by offering content that’s
sometimes only slightly varied.
My only real misgiving is that I’d like to be able
to control the pitch of the drones and braaams
from the keyboard, and there is no facility for this,
as these are described as non-playable samples.
Thanks to NI’ ingenious operation, however,
it’s easy to assign a MIDI CC to the tuning pot
on-screen, which allows you to switch pitches

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M A M M OT H AU D I O D EN S I T Y R E V I E W

via DAW automation or a MIDI fader. It


requires some dexterity but it’s possible.
The hits and booms are tremendously DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
impactful, while the risers and reverse Given the world in in applying smoke
effects do what you’d imagine – and offer which Mammoth and mirrors. Having
many different forms, from the subtlety Audio resides said that, there is so
of organic and acoustic timbres to the through its sister much content and
writing team at it’s users themselves
outright sci-fi. It’s very extensive and, rest
Elephant Music, it’s who control how far
assured, if things still don’t sound quite as hardly surprising that they choose to take
you might like, Mammoth has you covered: much of the content any repetition. The
Density has Distortion and Mangle controls within Density lends playable elements
capable of dirtying the acoustic samples itself to media-based stray from the norm,
nicely and pushing already frenzied work. There is plenty so if you’re looking
of content, but it for traditional cello
examples over the edge. This is perfect for could be quite easy samples, Density
real-time control, should you find yourself to overuse some might not be for you.
wishing to hit specific bars or cues. of the single-shot Despite pushing the
content, and that is envelope in areas,
PLAY TIME where the effects everything here has
elements will pay been well recorded
There are three playable instruments: Cello,
huge dividends, and treated.
Tuba and Throat Singing. These could be
considered global categories too, as
there’s much variance here. The cello’s
sample capture comes courtesy of LCO the default cello tone with the addition IT IS YOUR DENSITY
member Jonny Byers, a player well versed of the Van 51 cabinet sound, for example. With Density, Mammoth Audio has brought
in creating unconventional content. There The playable Tuba once again extends together the best of what its strong team
is plenty of aggressive material too, all to other areas, thanks to trombone and has been doing for a number of years in its
provided through a close and personal euphonium samples, all of which are various other similar guises, all wrapped up
mic setting, with a number of different similarly presented via a very close-mic’ed in a concise and fine-looking unit. This is an
articulation categories. These may be scenario. These instrument samples can extensive collection of off-the-shelf samples
changed manually or keyswitched from be similarly amped up too, and given a that will appeal to pretty much anyone
working in composition for media, while

The looped content is wonderfully


some of the more unusual instrument-
based content could potentially form the
centrepiece of a more unusual mix
diverse, and takes advantage of element for mainstream production.
Density is an exceptional debut from

Density’s varied instrumentation Mammoth Audio

the bottom octave of the keyboard. cranked-up aggressive edge with some
While there are elements of more heavy slapped tonguing. MT V ER D I CT 9/10
traditional articulations, such as staccato The Throat Singer instrument is based on
and pizzicato, the remit here is more a vocal technique that sees singers using
aggressive and otherworldly, so there is an their throat to create harmonic resonances + Excellent collection of
absence of more common long, sustained and overtones. Using this instrument is a cinematic effects and more
or legato samples by design. Regardless, little bit like managing a vocalist with an + Comprehensive onboard effects
it all sounds impressive and would be well in-built filter. Its sub-categories here fall in
+ Unique instrumental elements
placed among cinematic material or as a line with the overall Density concept,
launching point for the creation of further offering braams, hits, risers and drums. + Beautifully simplistic layout makes
interesting tones, which can be satisfactorily The looped content is wonderfully operation blissfully enjoyable
achieved via the comprehensive onboard diverse, and adapts and takes advantage
– Not NI Library compliant
effects section. of much of Density’s varied instrumentation.
(requires full version of Kontakt)
Alongside the signature distortion and It all clocks nicely to the speed of your DAW
mangle effects that light up the main page, too. All that users have to do is ensure that
– No control of one-shot pitches
via keyboard
there are a further six effected elements at their initial trigger is timed appropriately.
the global or channel level, which include While there is some further representation A superb set of sounds geared at
filtering and EQ, amp simulation and yet of the three playable instruments in the those working in media composition
more distortion. This makes the prospects of loop section, there is also some additional or producers looking for tension
messing around with these instruments even material to be found in the shape of
more attractive – you can move away from content played on guitar.

Alternatives
AUDIO IMPERIA controllable and hugely UVI
Cerberus cinematic. There’s an Whoosh risers, it’s absolutely
£230 array of mic options £130 ideal for cinematic
This comprehensive too, should you wish A comprehensive exploitation or for
collection from includes to tweak the feel of instrument for creating heightening builds in
percussion loops and the loops. all manner of whooshes, more commercialtracks.
sound effects, all highly audioimperia.com crashes, bangs and uvi.net

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 81


R E V I E W S L AT E A N D A S H C YC L ES

SLATE AND ASH


Cycles £279

The latest Kontakt instrument from the Bristol-based duo offers granular
synthesis on repeat – but will it have us going round in circles?
WORDS DAVE GALE

W
ill Slater and Simon Ashdown may Key features Cycles sits a granular synth engine alongside
not be familiar names to people in Powerful loop manipulation a step-based sequential and looping element.
mainstream music production but and granular synthesis Though there’s some crossover between the two
the sound-design duo, who bill environment areas, this is far more than a simplistic loop-based
themselves as Slate + Ash, have a lengthy list of Presented in the familiar instrument. Cycles employs a sequential element
professional credits that extend to Hollywood form of a Kontakt instrument for tone-generation but also serves as a loop and
feature films and beyond. You’ve probably heard 152 preset patches trigger-style instrument, with further capacity as
their work before – perhaps as part of Jóhann 444 sound-designed loop a granular synth with sequenced elements.
Jóhannsson’s Arrival score, Ben Salisbury and sources, with user-sample
Geoff Barrow’s work for Annihilation, or on the loading available COMPLEXITY IN PRESET
National Geographic documentary series One Requires Kontakt/Kontakt Cycles has many layers, and getting to know its
Strange Rock – whether you realise it or not. Player 6.2+ inner workings will yield great results. It ships with
When a pairing of this pedigree releases a Kontakt NI Kontakt library and NKS a healthy dose of presets, categorised into Loop
instrument that has creativity, musicality and live compliant and Grains, accessed via the L and G tab in the
performance at its core, it’s worth investigating. 2.6GB of Disk space upper right of the GUI.
required, for storage of The Loop page is divided into four colour-
CLEAN SLATE compressed samples coded square grids, which can be set as 1x1,
Slate and Ash’s last Kontakt instrument, Auras, Up-to-date computer with 1x2, 2x2, 4x2 and 4x4, with each smaller square
was released in 2018 and pushed the envelope powerful CPU advised representing a step. Each step can be given
through MPE-based control. Their latest, Cycles, Contact its own characteristic, allowing you to alter its
shares some sonic characteristics with Auras but slateandash.com elements, such as volume and pitch. To change
operates via a different methodology. these steps, click and drag them to your value.

82 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S L AT E A N D A S H C YC L ES R E V I E W

DO I REALLY NEED THIS?


Cycles can be you’re repeating good. There’s a solid
exploited in a yourself or being argument for using
variety of ways. exposed to the same Cycles purely as a live
As a studio-bound old sounds. The player too, given its
instrument, it has ability to load in user clever Loops section
plenty of out-the-box samples means you and the real-time
content to get you can take it in any control on offer. Take
salivating over its direction you like too. this with you to the
sonic potential. The Be warned, however, studio and you may
modulation and that the onboard well find yourself
real-time control content is stunning, so straying into
elements mean you you’ll want to ensure unexpected sonic
can use it extensively that your user-based terrain – it’s that
without feeling like content is similarly inspiring.

Think of this page as a kind of sequencer or During your granular experiments, the and control presets in real time. Though this
arpeggiator. There’s vast potential for live Grains section’s dynamic visuals, which instrument is capable of so much more, if
usage here – it’s possible to load up to 25 see grains represented by slashes, provide this is as far as you get with it, you’ll still be
loops simultaneously, each triggered via useful feedback. richly rewarded. However, Cycles has
the upper part of your keyboard. The A row of seven faders, located beneath capabilities way beyond what you might
two-octave tonal centre is located in the the main visuals, control the grains’ basic expect. Better still, you can’t really go
lower portion of the keyboard. There is an elements: position, density, envelope and wrong when digging deeper (and deeper)
extensive amount of control here, which size, as well as volume, tuning and scale into the instruments’ complexities and, in
can be easily assigned to a hardware MIDI type. These parameters are ordered as such fact, the occasional mistake might even
controller. This makes for crisp low- and but can be randomised, leading to some reveal an unexpected superb sound, which
high-pass filters, as well as delay and rewarding textures. Cycles’ modulation you can then spend some time unravelling
reverb. The loops can be latched, which capabilities are hugely versatile too. in programming terms.
The fact that we haven’t even

The occasional mistake might


touched on Cycles’ XY pads and the way
its sequencing affects the granular engine
underlines the rabbit-hole nature of this
even reveal a superb sound, terrific instrument.

which you can then unravel


MT V ER D I CT 10/10
means that multiple examples can be Clicking on the granular-control legends
triggered at once, which leaves your brings up a modulation screen that relates
hands free to mangle the playback. to your chosen element. The modulation + Sensationally interesting
window also pulls an LFO into the equation, and complex package
MAKE IT GRAIN which boasts its own parameters for shape, + Packed with presets ripe
One of the most mesmerising aspects speed and phase, allows for phase offset, for real-time manipulation
of Cycles is its granular engine, where and clock divide or multiplication, and can
mono-playback samples can be modified be synced to your DAW. With many synths,
+ Excellent modulation potential,
which is easy to set up
with grains and ultimately mutated beyond modulation routing is done via a table, but
recognition to be played polyphonically. this simplified approach is considerably + Loading samples is
There are five grain states – Basic, Ambient, easier to comprehend.
blissfully simple
Textural, Rhythmic and Gestural – each a Thanks in part to a recent Kontakt
– CPU intensive
pre-designed engine setting into which update, you can also drag and drop your
can be triggered any of the loops. There own samples directly onto the instrument – It’ll take a little while to fully
are also five preset categories: Motion, interface. Slate and Ash has designed a
understand its depths
Pad, Sequence, Synth and Textures. The user patch for this purpose, which helps
Another outstanding instrument
first, Motion, for example, has a sterling make light work of sample loading. from Slate and Ash, which sounds
cross-section of patches, many of which beautiful and contemporary, and
provide a sense of atmospheric undulation, EAT, SLEEP, GRANULAR, REPEAT features bountiful potential
which is one of the many strengths that Cycles functions well as a conventional
come with Cycles’ granular-synth system. tonal source, into which you might load in

Alternatives
NATIVE and is ideal for crafting SPECTRASONICS of sample content,
INSTRUMENTS soundscapes for film. Omnisphere 2.6 a comprehensive
Straylight It may have less £340 sequencer section
£180 functionality but its This ever-popular and other synthesis
This granular-style sounds are impressive instrument boasts capabilities. It’s a
Kontakt instrument and atmospheric. some serious granular go-to for many.
sports a lovely GUI native-instruments.com credentials, a swathe spectrasonics.net

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 83


R E V I E W WA R M A U D I O B U S - C O M P

WARM AUDIO
Bus-Comp £650

Recreating classic tones is now a trademark of this hot Texas firm. Will this take
on vintage mix-bus compression get a warm welcome or a frosty reception?
WORDS JOHN PICKFORD

T
he Warm Audio Bus-Comp is an all- Key features Compression ratio can be set from 1.1:1 to 10:1,
analogue, two-channel, stereo VCA bus Selectable op-amp with while the high-pass filter, if in use, kicks in at 30,
compressor based on classic circuitry CineMag transformers 60, 105, 125 or 185Hz.
that has provided a silky smooth tone for External sidechain This filter affects the audio entering the
decades now. That description comes from the source select compression sidechain so that only frequencies
company’s product manual. What they don’t Auto-release setting above the filter point will be dynamically controlled,
mention is that the classic circuitry in question is High-pass filter with lower frequencies left uncompressed; the filter
based upon the legendary SSL bus compressor. does not cut bass content at the output stage
Compressor engage switch
It’s possible that Warm Audio aren’t able to for A/B comparison of the unit. This is a useful feature as it allows the
quote the Solid State Logic brand name or SSL unit to ignore low-frequency content that might
Stereo and mono compatible
abbreviation in their literature. As a reviewer, otherwise induce unwanted compression effects.
Contact
however, I’m not bound by such limitations. This, Used across the main mix bus for example, it’s
then, appears to be the Austin firm’s take on warmaudio.com possible to tighten up the midrange and treble
the bus compressors found in the innovative nova-distribution.co.uk response without the bass instruments causing the
SSL consoles from the mid-1970s onwards. The compressor to pump, which can be an issue with
Bus-Comp isn’t a direct clone of any Solid State prominent kick drum tracks. Believe it or not, the
Logic product, though; it takes the classic stereo original SSL units and the G series compressor
VCA compressor topology as its foundation currently available do not support this feature.
and adds some useful features not found on
SSL products past or present. TONE TRANSFORMER
Push-buttons on the right-hand side of the front
ON THE BUSSES panel engage the unit’s compression circuit
The Bus-Comp is an elegant 1U 19-inch rack- (compressor), allow for another unit to be
mount unit with a front panel that features an inserted into the Bus-Comp’s external sidechain
analogue dB meter, six rotary controls, three push- and, most interestingly, insert transformers into the
buttons, and a power switch. There are controls signal path. These are custom components from
for threshold, attack, ratio, release, a high-pass US transformer gurus CineMag and are driven by
filter and make-up, in that order. It’s unusual not fully discrete op-amps. In use, these transformers
to have the response-time settings adjacent to add a distinctive sonic character that inflates the
each other, however, this is how the controls are sound with added harmonic content. This has the
laid out on Solid State Logic’s G Series compressor. effect of expanding the stereo image, especially
Being an SSL-styled unit, the Bus-Comp follows suit. in terms of the depth of the soundstage, and
There are six selectable response times for imparting a richness of tone that adds warmth to
both attack and release, including an auto- the low-mids along with a honeyed glaze across
release option, which is program-dependant. the broader treble region.

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WA R M AU D I O B U S - C O M P R E V I E W

DO I REALLY NEED THIS?


Whether or not groundbreaking SSL own wonderful drive or, pushed to
you’re a fan of heavily consoles of the 1970s sonic signature. All extremes, will create
compressed audio, and beyond, is perfect subtlety aside, VCA explosive, surging and
mix-bus compression for providing just the compressors sound smashed-up effects.
can be the key to a right amount of glue to superb when used It can compress
professional-sounding solidify your mix. The heavily to produce mono signals but can’t
radio-ready recording. Bus-Comp achieves compression effects. compress two mono
This classic style of this effortlessly and, Used on a stereo drum signals independently,
VCA compression, with the transformers bus, for example, it as many two-channel
popularised by the engaged, applying its can inject punch and units can.

To the left of the front panel is an of gently taming dynamics, it also preserves which I performed in the traditional manner.
analogue dB meter, which shows gain the integrity of the incoming signal, so Though it’s now common for compressors
reduction only – there’s no facility for I’m not aware of any changes in tone. to feature wet/dry controls to facilitate this
monitoring input or output levels. This is no Switching in the transformer is another technique, the Bus-Comp, like the units that
big deal, however, as the gain make-up matter however; the tonal character is inspired it, doesn’t have one. Maybe those
control, used in conjunction with the transformed. While the resulting sound bemoaning this should see it as a chance
compression in/out switch, enables you to is certainly seductive, the difference to brush up on old-school techniques.
raise the audio level that the compression was dramatic enough for me to question
naturally reduces, which you can do with whether it was quite right for the track. WARM RECEPTION
your ears rather than your eyes – always The SSL-style compressor in our review studio
good practice when working with audio. TEAM EXTREME is the Smart Research C1, which retails at
Below the meter is a small adjustment Having ascertained the unit’s even-handed more than twice the price of the Bus-Comp.
screw that allows you to calibrate the nature at low compression levels, I dig out There’s little separating the two – except
meter needle to zero should it ever drift the session tapes for a recently completed that the Smart lacks both the HPF and
out of true. synth-pop project that’s highly processed transformer output features.
Warm Audio’s range of classically styled

Maybe those bemoaning this


and authentic-sounding outboard gear has
been greatly enhanced by the Bus-Comp.
After you hear its CineMag transformers in
should see it as a chance to brush action, you’ll be running as much audio as
possible through the unit.

up on old-school techniques
On the rear panel, there is a socket for and features deep bass tones. Using my MT V ER D I CT 9/10
an IEC power lead, a voltage indicator to unmastered final mix with no compression
ensure the correct voltage for your location applied, I adjust the threshold until the
is set, and a ground terminal and fuse loudest peaks are causing more than 4dB of + Classic VCA mix-bus compression
indicator. Inputs and outputs are available compression. At this stage, I switch in the HPF + Sumptuous-sounding
for both XLR and ¼-inch jack connectors. at 105Hz and watch as the meter reading transformers
My first test sees me strap the Bus-Comp decreases; the kick drum had been setting
across an almost-finished mix. Because this off the compressor. Then I engage the
+ Clean or characterful
output choice
is a well-recorded female singer-songwriter transformers and this time it’s a no-brainer
track in the style of Aldous Harding rather – the expansiveness and richness of tone + Useful high-pass filter
than highly processed pop, rock or electronic brings out the very best in the recording. + Good value for money
music I proceed with caution. After selecting Keen to hear what the Bus-Comp can do
the 1.5:1 ratio, I set the attack-response time at more extreme levels, I feed it a sub-mix of – No wet/dry control
to medium-fast (6ms) with an automatic stereo drums. Setting the ratio high with fast
The Bus-Comp is Warm Audio’s
release time, and adjust the threshold so attack and release times, I compress heavily
top-tier take on the VCA mix-bus
that the gain-reduction meter hovers above until the sound is breathing rhythmically with compression that has enhanced
its resting position with barely a couple of the beat. I increase the amount of signal fed thousands of records produced on
dBs of compression. Making up the gain to the compressor until the audio is almost legendary SSL consoles from the
before switching out the compressor for smashed. Here, I think about how this type mid-1970s onwards
comparison reveals the transparency of of extreme dynamics shaping would work
the unit. While the Bus-Comp is capable with a parallel compression technique,

Alternatives
SOLID STATE LOGIC SMART RESEARCH
G Series C1 Compressor
Compressor £1,740
£2,635 master bus compressor with rate control and The C1 is a true that can handle link option but has
The authentic 1U lacks the high-pass automatic linear fade two-channel VCA two mono signals no high-pass filter
rack-mount version of filter of the Bus-Comp in/out control. compressor with simultaneously. It or sidechain facility.
the G series console but includes Auto Fade solidstatelogic.com independent controls features a stereo smartresearch.co.uk

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 85


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U N I V ER S A L AU D I O A P O L LO T W I N X R E V I E W

UNIVERSAL AUDIO
Apollo Twin X £1,180 DUO VERSION £790

With its well-regarded interfaces getting more compact, UA is primed to


launch the Apollo Twin X straight into your home studio. Standby for ignition
WORDS ADAM CRUTE

U
niversal Audio has its roots buried in the Key features DUO OR QUAD
history of sound recording and tech. 2-in/4-out audio interface Apollo Twin X comes in two versions, Duo and
For more than 70 years – albeit with a Quad, and this reflects the number of DSP
2x Unison preamps
14-year hiatus between 1985 to 1999 – processing cores the unit contains. Here, we’re
4x UAD-2 processing cores
it has been responsible for groundbreaking (2x cores in Twin variant) looking at the Quad variant, with four DSP cores.
innovations such as the layout of modern mixing Other than this detail, the two are identical.
Up to 8 digital
consoles, per-channel EQ, and the invention of input channels As you might expect with a compact
send busses, alongside influential and desirable interface of this sort, Twin X’s connectivity is quite
High-quality signal
kit under the Urei and Teletronix brands. paths and converters limited. The two input channels are driven from a
Since being relaunched by James and Bill Jr, pair of XLR/jack hybrid sockets at the rear of the
Internal ‘virtual’
the sons of original founder Bill Putnam, in 1999, auxiliary busses unit, with an instrument-level input on the front
UA has focused most of its attention on the that overrides the rear channel-one input. These
Contact
ever-growing market for products that enhance inputs feed to a pair of UA’s acclaimed Unison
uaudio.com
and improve the experience of computer-based preamps. In basic use, these provide the clean
sound recording. One of the biggest successes high-quality signal essential for a good recording,
here has been the Apollo line of audio interfaces, but Unison’s real trick is its ability to load in classic
whose combination of high-quality analogue channel strip, processor, and guitar and bass amp
circuitry, exceptional converter technology, and models. What makes these models so effective is
seamless DSP support has proved popular. The that they modify the behaviour of the preamp’s
latest addition to this range is the Apollo Twin X, analogue circuitry while also applying modelling
a Thunderbolt-3 audio interface that squeezes all algorithms in the digital domain, which results
of the goodness UA is known for into a compact, in some exceptionally accurate emulations of
portable and affordable desktop unit. true-analogue mixing consoles and equipment.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 87


R E V I E W U N I V ER S A L AU D I O A P O L LO T W I N X

Alongside the analogue inputs is a single


optical digital-input connector that can
operate in S/PDIF or ADAT modes. As with DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
any optical digital I/O, the specifics depend Universal Audio’s is the built-in
on the sample rate that’s being used – for Apollo range of DSP and all the
example, the S/PDIF input is only available interfaces ticks a advantages it brings,
if the interface is running at or below 96kHz, lot of boxes when it as well as the
comes to what one effectiveness of
while the ADAT input provides eight inputs needs from an audio the Unison preamps,
at up to 48kHz, four at 88.2kHz or 96kHz, and I/O: high-quality which can make your
just two when running at 176.4kHz or 192kHz. signal paths and recordings sound like
For outputs, Twin X has a main monitor converters, solid and they were performed
output pair, and a second pair of outputs stable software that’s on solid analogue
easy to use, and hardware. Apollo
that can be used for driving a second set
features that have Twin X is a relatively
of monitors, or as auxiliary output channels been designed by affordable way to
from your DAW. There’s also a headphone people who know strengthen your
output on the front of the unit, which has its their stuff when it studio capabilities,
own bus within the Twin X’s mixer, and can comes to sound and an ideal hub
carry a different mix to the outputs. recording. Among around which you
the most compelling can grow a larger,
The unit has a simple and intuitive set
things about Apollo more capable
of buttons and meters on its top surface, interfaces, though, Apollo system.
along with a large data-entry dial. This
dial serves as a monitor-volume controller
but can also be used for setting input gain.
There’s also a line of buttons along the unit, which features 14 plug-ins that provide This and the Twin X’s limited connectivity
which allow you to toggle phantom power, solutions for most studio tasks, including can be dealt with by adding more Apollo
and mute the monitors, for example, and compression, EQ, reverb and guitar amps. interfaces and UAD-2 processors to your
provide more control over the preamps There are plenty more UAD-2 plug-ins to rig, with the Console and driver software
and outputs. To get full control over the choose from, many of which are excellent supporting up to six UAD-2 devices in total,
Twin X’s abilities, though, you need to examples of what can be achieved with four of which can be Apollo interfaces.
turn to the UA Console software. a plug-in. As a standalone unit, the Apollo Twin X
is an impressive audio interface, delivering

It allows you to create ultra-low


everything we’ve come to expect from UA
within a compact enclosure – and at a
comparatively affordable price. As part
latency monitor and cue mixes of a larger Apollo/UAD-2 rig, Twin X can
serve as an ideal desktop monitor

without committing to a sound controller, monitor output path, and


talkback hub.

CONSOLE YOURSELF As well as running directly within Console,


Console is the heart of the Apollo system, UAD-2 plug-ins all have ‘wrapped’ versions
providing access to all mixer parameters (VST, AU, etc) that you can load and work MT V ER D I CT 9/10
and settings, as well as allowing you to with in your DAW but whose processing is
load models into the Unison preamps, and handed off to the Twin X’s DSP. This provides
UAD-2 plug-ins into each channel’s four near-seamless integration between the DSP + Excellent Unison preamps
insert points. You can choose whether hardware and your DAW, with no discernible
effects loaded in this way are applied pre- difference between working with a regular
+ Built-in UAD-2 plug-in processing
or post-DAW – that is, whether the results of plug-in or a UAD-2 plug-in. + Handy compact desktop format
processing are passed into the DAW for + Can be combined with other
recording or are only audible on the PREPARE FOR TAKE-OFF Apollo and UAD-2 devices
monitor signal. This allows you to create Naturally, the number of simultaneous
great-sounding ultra-low latency monitor plug-ins that can be run depends on the – I/O is limited for an interface
and cue mixes without committing to a number of DSP cores within your Apollo
of this price
particular sound during track-laying or, system, the complexity of the plug-ins you’re
The Apollo Twin X Quad packs
conversely, to render an effect chain using, and the sample rate you’re working all of the power, features and pro
as part of the sound to be recorded. at. This last point is important, particularly performance of Universal Audio’s
All UAD-2 plug-ins come installed if you’re working at 176.4kHz or 192kHz, Apollo range into a compact,
along with the UA driver software, and are because these high sample rates use and attractive audio interface
available in demo mode. Twin X comes considerably more of the available DSP
with UA’s Realtime Analog Classic bundle, power than rates of 96kHz or below.

Alternatives
ANTELOPE has an I/O that UNIVERSAL AUDIO The 2-in/2-out
Discrete 4 can be expanded Arrow configuration may be
Synergy Core via ADAT digital £400 basic but it features
£870 I/O. The unit’s Synergy Want a slice of the Unison preamps and
A 4-in/6-out Thunderbolt Core combines two DSP suite of 36 UA pie but can’t afford UAD-2 processing,
and USB audio interface chips with a single FPGA built-in effects. an Apollo interface? and is plenty portable.
that, like many others, processor to support the en.antelopeaudio.com Reach for the Arrow. uaudio.com

88 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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A U S T R I A N A U D I O H I -X5 5 R E V I E W

AUSTRIAN AUDIO
Hi-X55 Over-Ear
Headphones £250

The Viennese brand’s OC-series microphones were remarkable. Can the


company’s first foray into the headphone world maintain its reputation?
WORDS JOHN PICKFORD

A
t NAMM 2020 in January, we spied two Key features Austrian Audio is a relative newcomer to the
new sets of headphones from Austrian High-excursion world of transducer design and manufacture, with
Audio, both designed for professional proprietary drivers only four products in their range – the other two
studio use. The Hi-X50s are an on-ear Foldable construction being the OC18 and OC818 microphones that we
design, while the pair we’re examining here is the Detachable cable reviewed favourably in 2019. While the Vienna-
circumaural (over-ear) Hi-X55s. They come with based company has only been active for about
Memory foam earpads
a good-quality 3m detachable cable featuring three years, it draws on decades of expertise in all
a 3.5mm plug and 6.3mm adapter, which is 5Hz-28kHz frequency range manner of transducer technology. That’s because,
fantastic, as I’ve lost count of the number of Contact following the closure of the AKG offices in Wien,
headphones I’ve seen junked due to a faulty austrian.audio many of its former employees joined Austrian
captive lead. Audio, bringing with them highly tuned acoustics,
electronics and mechanical-design skills.
ON EXCURSION Hi-X is shorthand for high-excursion technology,
Weighing in at 305g (without the cable), the which the company’s engineers employ. It allows
headphones are lightweight yet durable, with the headphones’ drivers to move air without
many of its components, including the hinges, unwanted movement of the diaphragm, and is
made from metal. They feature a foldable achieved by utilising an ultra-stiff membrane that
construction for easy storage and transportation, minimises unwanted resonances. This membrane,
and feature soft slow-retention memory foam like all the components in the Hi-X55s’ drivers,
earpads, which ensure exceptional comfort was designed in-house; Austrian Audio use no
during those lengthy monitoring sessions during off-the-shelf transducers in their products. Each
which the midnight oil burns all to quickly. driver is 44mm – the optimum size according to
They’re angled to sit snugly over the ears too both the company’s scientific measurements and
and, while their design isn’t strictly of the noise- comprehensive listening tests – and employs a
cancelling variety, they do reduce a significant ring-magnet system originally developed by the
amount of unwanted external sound. company’s engineers for AKG’s award-winning
headphones. This facilitates improved airflow
and, it’s claimed, the strongest magnetic field
in its class.
Along with a copper-clad aluminium voice
coil, the ring magnet reduces the weight of the
membrane, letting it quickly change direction,
providing lightning-fast impulse reactions. This
also translates into trip-hammer transient response
times and ensures the drivers can handle sharp
dynamic spikes, which might typically occur
in uncompressed work-in-progress recordings.
Frequency response is quoted as 5Hz to 28kHz,
which is well beyond the limits of human hearing,
and impedance is measured at 25ohms, making
them suitable for connecting to both professional
equipment and mobile devices. Be aware, though,
that the high resolution of the Hi-X55s will not only
tell you the truth about your recordings but also
reveal the limitations of any device into which
they’re hooked up.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 91


R E V I E W A U S T R I A N A U D I O H I -X5 5

THE CANS CAN


After unboxing the Hi-X55s and attaching
the cable, I spend some time looking for DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
the markings that help users differentiate Headphones are an auditioning of mixes
between the left and ride sides. After a essential purchase on headphones to
few minutes, I give up – there are no such for most recording when I’m at home.
markings to be found. This isn’t a problem, engineers, if only to Now that many
facilitate overdubbing. producers work
however, as the headphones are angled in Most professional from home, where
such a way as to make it clear which way studios have several the repeated plays
they should be worn. pairs for this task. of work-in-progress
I find them snug and comfortable. The However, they’re mixes could prove
raked angle of the earpieces perfectly rarely expensive a noisy issue with
models and usually nosy neighbours,
envelops my ears, and ambient noise in
of average fidelity at headphone-mixing
the room is diminished greatly. best. Crucial checking from scratch is
After plugging them into the studio’s of mixes is another becoming more
headphone amplifier, I play some mixes matter, for which commonplace.
I’ve been working on, as I know exactly fidelity is paramount. If that’s how you
what’s going on in these recordings. This As an old-school work, you should
studio engineer, consider investing
is synth-heavy highly processed pop with
I prefer to mix in some high-quality
many production effects scattered using monitors cans such as
throughout the complex arrangements, and restrict the the Hi-X55s.
including short blasts of repeat echo and
touches of spot-reverb. The Hi-X55s highlight
all of these production effects in great
detail, while making individual elements of At home, I use Master & Dynamic on-ear Austrian Audio has created a superlative
the busy midrange easily distinguishable. headphones that retail at about £100 more set of headphones in its Hi-X55s. They cannot
Stereo effects, including ping-pong delay, than the Hi-X55s’ over-ear design, and the be faulted in terms of sound for pound
are more apparent than when listening sound of the two models couldn’t be more and, in many respects, especially with
on monitors, even a highly revealing ATC different. Whereas the M&D headphones regard to their capacious soundstage,
monitoring system. possess an intimate quality that seems to they outperform more costly designs. There’s
a cupped-hands quality in the midrange

The Hi-X55s deliver Kate Bush’s


area, where the vocals reside but, apart
from that, there’s not much here to criticise
and much more to commend. If you’re
icy vocals without making them thinking of spending up to £300 on a pair of
headphones, give these Viennese examples

overly shrill during ‘Moving’ a whirl – they should be at the top of your
audition list.

Initial impressions suggest that these inject the music directly into the ear canal,
headphones might be light on low end but, the Hi-X55s have a much more spacious
when replaying tracks with sub-bass, the sound. Headphone monitoring can often MT V ER D I CT 9/10
Hi-X55s dig deep to deliver content below be a little claustrophobic but the Hi-X55s
40Hz, easily matching my Beyerdynamic sidestep this boxed-in feeling thanks to
DT 150 studio headphones. What the Hi-X55s a cavernous soundstage that images + Broad frequency response
absolutely don’t do is hype the mid-bass beyond the confines of the headphones. + Tonally accurate
area around the 100Hz level to give a false + Fast and transparent
impression of strong bass. THE KICKER + Excellent image width and depth
Leaving aside productions of my own,
QUALITY TIME I listen to some familiar material that I trust
+ Light and comfortable
Following my monitoring session in the to highlight strengths or weaknesses of + Well built and finished
studio, I take the headphones home. To monitoring equipment.
be honest, I use headphones sparingly Kate Bush’s debut album The Kick Inside, – Slightly cuppy midrange
in a studio environment, as I prefer to use recorded at Abbey Road Studios, proves to
Capable headphones with a sound
monitors for tracking and mixing. However, be an ideal test disc. The Hi-X55s deliver
that’s fast, detailed and accurate.
I like to check mixes – both work-in-progress Bush’s icy vocals without making them Their wide and deep soundstage
and finished – on headphones at home, overly shrill during Moving, while the piano allows precise placement across
where I can relax with a glass of wine and sounds terrifically vibrant, and there’s a real the stereo spectrum
adopt an entirely different perspective on depth and serious solidity when the bass
the day’s work. guitar kicks in.

Alternatives
YAMAHA that cost four times the ADAM AUDIO mix experience with a
MT8 price. Their excellent Studio Pro SP-5 full-range response and
£157 separation between £499 pinpoint-accurate stereo
These affordable midrange and bass Among our favourite imaging. Equally as
Yamaha headphones registers is rare at headphones regardless good as higher-priced
have a level of detail as this price point. of price, the Studio Pro stereo monitors.
good as some models yamaha.com SP-5s deliver a rich adam-audio.com

92 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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R E V I E W R M E B A BY FAC E P R O FS

RME
Babyface Pro FS £650

Don’t be fooled by its clean-cut good looks, this Babyface packs a punch.
RME’s latest update adds watertight timing circuits and much more
WORDS ADAM CRUTE

W
hen the RME Hammerfall DSP audio Key features The unit is small – about the size of a thick
interface hit the market little more 4x analogue inputs paperback book – with a slight slope to its upper
than 20 years ago, it created surface that tilts its controls towards the user.
2x analogue outputs
something of a stir. The design The interface will feel right at home as part of
Up to 8 digital I/O channels
standards and engineering quality packed small-project studios but its compact size and bus
into the hardware ensured exceptional audio 1x MIDI I/O powering makes it perfect for portable setups
performance, while its generous daubs of 2x independent headphone too, including outside-broadcasting vans and
signal-wrenching processing grunt gave outputs small post-production suites. It even comes in its
Hammerfall the bussing and mixing flexibility of SteadyClock FS timing own moulded hard case, complete with slots
circuit for ultra-low jitter
a fully fledged mixing console. The company’s to store its cables, to protect it during transit.
reputation for engineering and sonic excellence Builds on success The Pro FS’s core features are largely the same
of Babyface Pro
duly sealed, RME has since become one of the as its predecessor’s: four analogue inputs – two
go-to manufacturers for high-end professional Contact via XLRs and two provided as full-sized (6.35mm)
studios and production facilities that demand rme-audio.com jacks – feed into a powerful internal mixer from
dependable performance and features. Its latest synthax.co.uk which they can be bussed to your DAW for
offering is an update to the diminutive Babyface recording, and bussed to the unit’s outputs for
Pro audio interface – the Babyface Pro FS, still monitoring. These are a pair of XLR main outputs,
cute but with strength beyond its years. and a pair of independent headphone busses,
one feeding a standard jack socket, the other
NEW BABY a mini-jack socket.
An upgrade to the Babyface Pro rather than a The Pro FS’s XLR-equipped inputs feature
total overhaul, the Pro FS is built into the same digitally controlled mic preamp circuits, and
tough chassis milled from a block of aluminium. these have been upgraded too, with the
signal-to-noise ratio having jumped from the
original’s 112.2dB to 113.7dB. They also boast
76dB of gain range and individually switchable
phantom power, as well as a PAD circuit that
reduces preamp sensitivity, ideal for loud signals
and for allowing the XLR sockets to act as line
inputs. There’s a potential problem here, however.
Facilitating line inputs via a mic input and PAD
may allow for an exceptionally low-noise line
input path but it also introduces the risk of
inadvertently sending phantom power into the
guts of a synth or effects processor – thereby
frying it. It makes me wonder if hybrid XLR/jack
sockets might have been a safer option.
Digital I/O is provided via a pair of optical
connectors. These can operate in stereo S/PDIF
mode or in multichannel ADAT mode for up to
eight additional channels of I/O. The Pro FS also
provides a MIDI I/O bus that I, as the owner of a
fair few older synths, find very welcome – it’s too
often absent on modern audio interfaces. All
inputs now benefit from the addition of RME’s
SteadyClock FS timing circuit too, doubtless the

94 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


R M E B A BY FAC E P R O FS R E V I E W

DO I REALLY NEED THIS?


Compact, portable something that offers been careful not to operating systems
audio interfaces are the features and change the Babyface found in many studios
ten a penny but, with quality they demand recipe too much with should make the
so many focused on and expect. RME’s this latest model, Pro FS particularly
the consumer and Babyface Pro has been instead bringing interesting to those
‘prosumer’ end of a popular solution to sensible incremental who don’t want to
the market, it can this conundrum since improvements to the replace their entire
be difficult for it first hit the shelves in unit. The continued rig for the sake of
professionals and 2015, and the German support for the older a single audio
semi-pros to find firm seems to have computers and interface upgrade.

source of the unit’s new ‘FS’ badge. This with any operating system that supports the via MIDI and there’s even an app, TotalMix
super-accurate clock source keeps all of standard, including mobile OSs and many Remote, for iOS, Mac and PC, that allows
the digital converters and signals in sync, Linux distributions (although some of the you to control the mixer from another
allowing the updated Babyface to boast advanced functionality would be device on your network.
ultra-low jitter. inaccessible in this mode). For those looking to get top-notch
performance and pro-grade engineering
LEGACY SYSTEM SUPPORT TOTALMIX FX from a small and portable audio interface,
While the Pro FS has its own DC power The buttons and large data-entry dial on the Babyface has always been a terrific
connector, the unit can operate bus- the top of the unit provide access to basic choice. With its slew of updates, RME’s
powered via its USB2 connector, and most settings such as input gain and output latest incarnation has raised the bar. There
host computers will have no problem levels, and output pan/balance, but to get are no bells and whistles here – no DSP
providing sufficient juice this way (the new at the full flexibility of the Pro FS, you have circuit modelling, no onboard processing
updates haven’t impacted the Pro FS’s to fire up the TotalMix FX software. The support for your DAW, or anything of that
power consumption). Although USB2 is routing flexibility of RME’s mixing engine is sort. Instead, what you get with the
relatively old technology, by sticking with it, such that, at first glance, TotalMix can look Babyface Pro FS is a flexible, expertly
engineered, pro-grade workhorse with

TotalMix FX can control three


first-rate sound quality that you can stow
away in your laptop bag and carry with
you anywhere.
Babyface units, combining the
devices into a unified system MT V ER D I CT 9/10
the German company has ensured that its a bit daunting, but it’s actually quite
new interface remains an option for those logical: hardware input channels are laid + Compact and rock-solid
still working with older computers – and it out at the top, DAW playback channels in + Engineered for audio precision
continues to support such older systems in the middle, and hardware outputs at the and accuracy
its driver, firmware and software releases. bottom. Once you’ve grasped the
This is commendable in a world that too concept, it makes for a straightforward
+ Flexible mixing and routing
often tries to force computer users into system and grants you quick and easy + Support for older computers
endless cycles of updates and renewals, control over direct-monitored cue mixes, and operating systems
and it demonstrates how well RME internal loopback busses, and all the rest of + Comes with moulded hard case
understands its customer base. Like many it. The cue sends for each hardware bus for safe transporting
studios, RME keeps its expensive music- have their own 3-band EQ, along with a
production systems running way past the send to an internal effects processor, which – Too easy to send phantom power
time when their host computers would be provides a bit of sculpting, with reverb and/ to sensitive line-level devices
considered obsolete by more general IT or echo on the direct-monitored signal.
The RME Babyface Pro FS squeezes
environments. There’s also a clever trick for converting
high-end professional features,
The Babyface Pro FS is compatible with a mid-side encoded input into a standard engineering and audio fidelity into
any version of Mac OSX/macOS from 10.6 stereo signal for monitoring. a compact, affordable and portable
onwards, and on any Windows version all TotalMix FX can control up to three package that boasts incremental
the way back to XP SP2. But this doesn’t Babyface units, and acts as a flexible hub improvements over its predecessor
mean the new Babyface is old-hat – the that combines the devices into a single
unit is class-compliant too; it can be used unified system. It can also be controlled

Alternatives
UNIVERSAL AUDIO featuring its Unison ARTURIA channels of analogue
Apollo preamp technology, AudioFuse I/O, separate S/PDIF and
Twin X Duo £790 an instrument level Rev 2 USB 2 £540 ADAT digital I/O, MIDI I/O,
Universal Audio’s input that overrides the A compact audio RCA phono inputs, insert
most compact audio first channel, and four interface with a lot of points on the mic inputs,
interface provides analogue outputs. connectivity options, and even a USB hub.
two mic/line inputs uaudio.com this unit provides four arturia.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 95


R E V I E W E A S T W ES T H O L LY WO O D B AC K U P S I N G ER S

EASTWEST
Hollywood
Backup Singers £345

Desperate to conduct a team of pro backing singers? We boot up our DAW


and go to Tinseltown to see if this package is pitch-perfect or hits a bum note
WORDS DAVE GALE

H
aving taken steps to reinvent the way Key features sisters Durga and Lorelei McBroom, alongside
we work with orchestral, choral and Huge collection of CC White, whose soulful croon may be familiar to
world-music samples, Hollywood vocal content users of EastWest’s Voices of Soul. All three boast
virtual-instrument maker EastWest Intelligent WordBuilder resplendent CVs, having performed with artists
strayed from its less conventional packages engine such as Pink Floyd, Lenny Kravitz and Al Green.
recently and seemed to set its sights on more Vowel and consonant Sample capture took place at EastWest’s
commercial ventures. Last year’s marvellous sounds for vocal beds Studio 3, whose hallowed walls continue to echo
Voices of Soul and Hollywood Pop Brass were Large collection of vocal with the sounds of past artists such as The Beach
proof – if any was needed – that the company phrases in all keys Boys and Lady Gaga. The sample recordings
could produce mainstream libraries that were EastWest Play 6 made use of the studio’s classic equipment,
every bit as brilliant as its more specialist fare. software included including its Trident A Range console and vintage
The firm’s latest, Hollywood Backup Singers, sits 10.7GB disk space required mics, such as the Neumann U47 and Telefunken
somewhere in between but echoes the quality 24-bit/44.1kHz samples, 251. All the mic signals have been distilled down
of EastWest’s best. with 3 microphone mixes to the usual EastWest trilogy Close, Rear and
Requires iLok account Room, with some samples available with Leslie
SISTERS IN HARMONY for authorisation speaker-cabinet processing.
In line with the maker’s other products, sample Contact
hosting takes place within EastWest’s own Play 6
soundsonline.com
TRUE COLOURS
instrument, with its helpful multi-function operations. Sample categorisation is well organised. The first
This is a female-only sample library – for once, two categories present a considerable number of
there are no male voices in the room – packed vowels and consonants, with varying options for
with top performances by some of Hollywood’s timbre and control. Even the basic Ah samples
vocal heavyweights. Expect the dulcet tones of offer differing formats, with thinner and more
basic colours alongside thicker more expressive
timbres, all of which can be mixed up. It takes
some time to fully understand which description
relates to what colour but a quick audition dispels
any ambiguity here.
In single-note isolation, the thinner textures are
striking, clean and uncluttered. Meanwhile, the
layered patches beautifully blend the three
vocalists’ voices and sport a gloriously rich tone
straight out of the box but especially so when you
apply the thickening agent of the Leslie. There’s
a degree of artistic license to some of the vowels,
particularly the Ah, Eh and Oo, which exhibit a
swoop at the start of each trigger, but somehow
this feels right in context.
When stacked in triadic form, these samples
sound convincing, even more so if you choose
to invoke some real-time dynamic control, which
is default-wired to MIDI CC1 or the modulation
wheel. This way, you can swiftly and smoothly
move the vocalists from subtle dynamics to full-on
forte – the Play engine seems to suffer from some
slight lag here, however.

96 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


E A S T W ES T H O L LY WO O D B AC K U P S I N G ER S R E V I E W

The consonant section presents an


enormous compendium of useful and
unusual colours. In most cases, we’re DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
talking more about the consonant at the Hollywood Backup itself to popular
front of the sample trigger, though EastWest Singers could be a commercial genres
has included an unpitched S colour, should life-saver for those in alongside soul,
you be searching for those sibilant need of top-quality blues and jazz. The
vocal content. Its WordBuilder content
snake-style sounds. ability to easily stack is unbelievably clever
The range of each sample takes in up realistic triadic but doesn’t always
two-and-a-half octaves, which grounds vocal harmonies – respond as you might
us resolutely in backing-vocal territory and in a more flexible expect. Get to grips
translates to the extended register of an manner than plug-in with it properly,
effects that however, and it will
alto. The lower echelons are warm and
harmonise existing likely prove amazing
husky, with the upper registers high but audio might – is with lead-line vocals
not strained. testimony to the endorsing the lyrics.
There’s an absence of default sample strength of the The phrase content is
loop points – samples trigger and then recorded vocal suitably good too. For
end a few seconds later. There’s subtle content. It sounds Tinseltown-quality
human and could backing vocals, this
variations in note length, however, and the
comfortably lend is a blockbuster.
samples sound perfectly natural in context.
The main player page presents several
performance controls, and it’s here you
can switch the samples to portamento Votox is WordBuilder’s phonetic language, and we’re well on the way to backing-
or legato settings. As you’d expect, the for which each letter corresponds to its own vocal nirvana.
portamento glides smoothly from one phoneme. To get the best from the complex Hollywood Backup Singers scores where
note to the next, while the legato option but powerful Votox mode, you’ll want to it needs to, sounding both big and small
introduces a sense of musical movement spend some time learning how to use its where necessary and boasting a dazzling
between the notes. In this mode, the unique phonetic alphabet. Once you’ve level of real-time control. Its vocals sound
release tails are disabled but the reverb sussed it, you’ll be able to wield control less believable in places, most notably with
is enhanced to pick up the resulting slack. of each small part of any given word. the legato and some aspects of the
admittedly clever WordBuilder playability,

The use of stellar vocalists to belt


but with so much content, it should prove
simple to circumnavigate these issues and
get everything you need from this terrific
out your WordBuilder constructs package.

endorses your custom content


MT V ER D I CT 9/10
With movement occurring from one note While it’s not possible to do everything
to the next, the vocals can sound a shade that a top-notch team of vocalists might,
unnatural, especially at speed, but as ever there’s a some serious potential here and, + Impressive backing-vocal samples
they should fair far better in context. of course, the use of stellar vocalists to belt + Variety across vowels and
out your WordBuilder constructs endorses consonants
WORD OF MOUTH your custom content further. The nuances
Superb samples recordings and rich tones do tend to get lost, especially if you need
+ Real-time dynamic control
aside, it’s EastWest and Hollywood Backup to move quickly between certain elements + Lots of tonal control through mic
Singers’ WordBuilder technology that is the of a phrase, but it remains a breathtakingly balance and onboard effects
most impressive feature here. WordBuilder good bit of tech nevertheless.
makes it possible to type your own words
– Legato can sound unnatural if left
exposed
and lyrics into the software and hear them THE FINAL WORD
performed back to you by CC White and Alongside the elements already covered, – WordBuilder will take some time
the McBroom sisters. this package features a credible number to find its sweet spot
The package contains hundreds of of real-time solo vocal phrases, which have
Another stupendous package from
prebuilt editable WordBuilder phrases, and been multiply-recorded in all keys and can
EastWest that has plenty to offer
word-entry can be done in multiple ways. be keyswitched between both phrases and those in need of powerful and
The most straightforward is via the English the vowel and consonant patches. Add to pliable backing vocals
Text Editor. Enter your words here and this the extensive mic balancing credentials
WordBuilder automatically translates them and a healthy amount of effects, including
into the Phonetics and Votox Text Modes. reverb and a dedicated voice channel,

Alternatives
ZERO-G Boasts more varied EVENTIDE
Vocal Forge content than Hollywood Quadravox
£50 Backup Singers but £85
Features male and its toolkit nature may Smart harmonisation
female, as well as prove restrictive by plug-in that can add Operates with used on other
MC, beatbox and comparison. luscious backingvocals Eventide quality instrumentation.
operatic content. zero-g.co.uk to existing vocal lines. and can even be eventideaudio.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 97


R E V I E W AC O N D I G I TA L AC O U ST I C A 7. 2

ACON DIGITAL
Acoustica 7.2 £40 STANDARD EDITION £130 PREMIER EDITION

Oslo maker Acon Digital has updated its specialised audio-editing suite with
enticing features that might just tempt you away from your all-in-one DAW
WORDS ALEX HOLMES

W
hile it’s true that most audio tasks Key features SPECTRAL TOOLKIT
can be completed within the Standalone audio editor You can start a new project by dragging an
comfortable confines of your with spectral editing audio file into the software or by creating a new
chosen DAW, if you’re looking to Premium Edition includes Recording, Multitrack Session or CD Project from
streamline your workflow, you shouldn’t count out 14 VST, VST3, AAX & AU within it. Alongside its waveform/spectrogram
dedicated audio-editing apps. If you’re planning plug-ins visualiser, Acoustica’s standard layout features
on tagging a raft of audio, mastering an album, Audio restoration and individual media-file-browser, processing-chain
or restoring noisy or damaged files, it pays to cut mastering effects and spectrum-analyser panels, and loudness,
back on clutter and speed up repetitive tasks. Remix stem-separation tool correlation and level meters. These separate
Acon Digital’s Acoustica 7, initially released New Extract Dialogue tool windows can be hidden and resized, so you
back in 2017, can help you do just that. Now the Improved time resolution can fine-tune the layout for particular tasks.
Norwegians have updated the already flexible in spectral editor When it comes to spectral editing, Acoustica
suite in the aim of coaxing you away from your Multi-track editing and lets you select and process specific frequency
beloved Logic. Will it work? surround support regions. Freehand and magic wand-style brushes
Analysis and loudness help you select individual buttons and holding
STAND BY ME meters Alt while hitting the Up arrow on your keyboard
Acoustica 7 comes in standard and premium Contact highlights the relevant harmonics.
versions, both of which include a standalone There’s also a fancy retouching tool that
acondigital.com
editing app with built-in effects, and Remix, a removes noise based on a freely selectable
new stem-separation tool. The Premium Edition, reference from the surrounding audio (and
reviewed here, also features the self-explanatory operates a bit like PhotoShop’s Clone Stamp
Extract Dialogue tool and precise spectral editing, tool). When you zoom in on spectrograms, it
as well as a host of Acon Digital effects that also can be hard to make out the details, but the
come as their own plug-ins, which include the latest version of Acoustica helps out here by
Restoration Suite (DeClick 2, DeClip 2, DeHum 2, way of new temporal-resolution enhancement
and DeNoise 2), the Mastering Suite (Dynamics, technology. You’ll probably use the spectrogram
Multiband Dynamics, Limit, Equalize 2, and Dither) and waveform views the most but, if you’re
and Verberate 2. These plug-ins alone add up to looking for additional sonic information, see the
more than £260 – double the price of Acoustica 7’s software’s wavelet, spectrum, and spectral
Premium Edition – so this seems like superb value. history graphs.

98 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


AC O N D I G I TA L AC O U ST I C A 7. 2 R E V I E W

BIT OF A STRETCH
Acoustica is equipped with all the tools and
processes you’d expect from a top-tier DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
audio-editing suite, and can aid you with iZotope’s more this could prove a
normalisation, cross-fades, silence removal, expensive RX 7 particularly useful
track-splitting and much more. It also offers plug-in is a more tool, capable of
transposition, harmonisation and time- powerful and things your DAW
preferable choice for isn’t. You might not
stretching services, which can be applied refined audio editing even touch all of its
as real-time effects in the processing chain and restoration. extra EQs, dynamics
or selected from the effects menu before However, Acoustica and other effects but
being previewed and applied as a is no slouch, and the they’re a competent
destructive edit. amount you get for bunch and it’s good
your money puts it in to know they’re there
During our time with Acoustica 7’s
strong contention for nonetheless. Both
Premium Edition, we test a clean vocal, an the RX 7’s best-value versions of Acoustica
old funk sample, a whole track and single alternative. If you 7.2 are competitively
synth hit, and compare its performance with work with samples, priced but the Remix
that of Ableton’s Warp and Logic’s Flex. recorded dialogue tool is worth the
Although Acoustica’s results are passable, or have to batch-edit Standard Edition’s
lots of files in one go, £40 alone.
we detect more artefacts from it than we
do Warp and Flex.

TIME TO SPLIT
One of Acoustica’s major new additions is The Extract Dialogue tool, which uses modulation, and exciter effects.
the Remix tool, which allows you to split a artificial intelligence to separate dialogue Perhaps the most formidable is Verberate 2,
complete mix into up to five stems and from background noise, is yet another more an algorithmic reverb that simulates real
rebalance them in real time. You can also than significant update to Acoustica. Much spaces with astounding veracity. These
import tracks into a multi-track session and like the other effects in the Restoration Suite, effects may not sport the best GUIs but
Acoustica will split them for you, laying out we find this easy to use and the results are they form powerful suite nonetheless.
each part so it’s ready to be slathered with fantastic. There’s little doubt that the new Whether you opt for the Standard or the
processing and effects. To gain access to and improved Acoustica provides some Premium Edition, Acoustica is fabulous value
and offers genuine flexibility. It’s not without

We were able to isolate the vocal


its flaws – parts of the layout are clumsy; some
processes appear in more than one place
under different menus – but as an alternative
to the point where any remnants to more expensive sound-restoration options,
this is a prodigious package. The brilliant Remix

of the track would be minimised tool alone should be enough to warrant


your attention.

this function, you have to download the marvellously intuitive tools, then, but it might
Spleeter AI models for stem separation feel like more of a complete package if it
from within Acoustica, which requires an also included Acon Digital’s DeVerberate MT V ER D I CT 9/10
additional 670MB of space. The Remix tool and DeFilter plug-ins, even if that meant
is surprisingly good at isolating vocals, an increased cost.
drums and bass parts but is less impressive + Easy to use for noise reduction
with some other instruments. FULL HOUSE + Stellar stem-separation tool
As with any separation tool, the results of Acoustica is a deep program that boasts
Acoustica’s vary depending on the clarity too many elements to list in a single review. + Superlative value thanks
of your original material and the amount Its ability to save processing chains and to its included effects
you’re trying to manipulate it. Still, this is up use them to batch-process audio, and
there with the best separation tools we’ve
– Layout is confusing in places
its the Cleaning Wizard tool that simplifies
tried, and yields some stellar results. We were audio clean-ups, merit a special mention – Time-stretch and transpose tools
able to cleanly isolate the vocal from an old though, as does its capacity to work could be better
soul sample to the point where any lasting with multi-surround channels, load
Tremendous-value feature-rich suite
remnants of the track would be minimised third-party plug-ins, and its Pro Tools
of restoration and audio-editing
completely if it were added to a new mix. audio transfer plug-in. processors with a fantastic new
This could prove especially useful if you’re There’s also the suite of 14 extra effects stem-separation tool
creating remixes or instrumentals, or for that have their own plug-in versions. These
mastering engineers who want increased include capable and flexible dynamics
control of specific elements in a stereo file. and EQs, plus convolution, chorus, echo,

Alternatives
IZOTOPE replete with bells and MAGIX wizards, presets and
RX 7 Standard whistles but it does Sound Forge one-click fixes to make
£330 include some tools Audio Cleaning up for it. Its Ozone and
The premium tool that Acoustica doesn’t, Lab 2 £80 RX Elements are decent
for cleaning and such as the AI Repair Lacks a spectrogram audio-restoration and
manipulating audio. Its Assistant. view and editor but mastering tools.
standard edition isn’t izotope.com packs in program magix.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 99


R E V I E W S S L 2 A N D 2+

SSL
2 and 2+ £180 & £240

With its world-class technology heritage, SSL is setting its sights on home-studio
producers with these compact interfaces that pack a lot into their small size
WORDS ADAM CRUTE

S
olid State Logic’s large-format mixing Key features TWO’S COMPANY
consoles grace some of the world’s Compact 2-in/2-out and As suggested by the name, both the SSL 2 and the
finest pre- and post-production, audio, 2-in/4-out audio interfaces 2+ have just two input channels, both being of the
video and broadcast studios, including Support sample rates mic/line/instrument flavour and served via a pair
Abbey Road, Real World and Westlake. These of up to 192kHz of XLR/jack hybrid sockets on the rear of the units.
monsters can come with mortgage-sized price Legacy 4K Analogue The simpler of the two interfaces also has just two
tags but, in recent years, SSL has taken the Enhancement Effect redolent output channels, which drive both the main L/R
knowledge that goes into these ultra-high-end of high-end consoles jack outputs and the onboard headphone output.
consoles and applied it to more compact and USB-2 connection via The 2+, on the other hand, has four output busses
affordable products and rack gear aimed at USB-C, with cables included and two headphone outputs. The first and second
smaller studios and semi-pro setups. Bundled software, sounds outputs are fed to the main output jack sockets,
The SSL 2 and SSL 2+ USB audio interfaces, then, and instruments provide a as well as to a pair of phono sockets; the third
are something of a departure for the company. full production environment and fourth outputs are only on phonos, which is
They’re aimed at the home and project-studio Two free SSL Native plug-ins fantastic for use with decks and/or a DJ mixer
level of the market, where they’re up against an Extended trials of other but not so helpful if you’re not a DJ.
ever-growing crop of diminutive interfaces that SSL Native plug-ins The 2+ has an additional headphone output
boast similar functionality and capabilities (this Contact whose source can be switched between either
likeness is due to most being based on the same solidstatelogic.com pair of output busses (the first headphone output
core chipset, albeit with implementation-specific soundtech.co.uk is hard-wired to carry outputs one and two), and
additions and modifications). The question is: is that has its own independent volume control. Both
this just a strong brand badge slapped on a few units share the same compact casing, with a hard
unexceptional products or do these interfaces polycarbonate body and smart-looking brushed-
earn their SSL label? metal top panel on which you’ll find various knobs,
buttons and meters. These are laid out in a logical
fashion, with input-channel controls to the left
and monitoring controls to the right.
Each input has input-select switches for
choosing between mic, line or hi-z/instrument
signals, 48v phantom power, a five-part LED level
meter, an input gain pot, and a large button
labelled ‘4K’. This engages a ‘Legacy 4K Analogue
Enhancement Effect’ on the channel, via a subtle
high-frequency EQ boost and the addition of
some finely tuned harmonic distortion. It doesn’t
give all of the nuance and character that a full
4000 series console would – after all, you could
buy a bunch of SSL 2s for the price of one 4K
channel – but it delivers a distinctly 4K-like sound.
There’s a nice big monitor volume controller
with a smooth action (all the pots on the SSL 2
and 2+ are smooth and solid), a headphone-
volume control (or two, in the case of the 2+)
and a monitor-mix control. The latter balances
the main output signal between the latency-free
direct-monitoring signal and the sound coming
back to the interface from your computer.

100 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S S L 2 A N D 2+ R E V I E W

There’s also a Stereo switch that switches


the direct-monitor signal between mono
and stereo, which is so that, for example, a DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
vocalist’s monitoring signal can be centrally Whether you’re just producers alike.
panned, while a keyboard player can have getting started with The SSL brand
a stereo direct-monitor feed. The control music-making or comes with a lot
panel, then, is simple and effective, and my you’re looking to kit of kudos, and it’s
out a portable or only natural that
only criticism is that the push-switches feel work-from-home rig you’d have high
a bit cheap and scratchy, a shame given without breaking the expectations for
how robust the rotary controls are. bank, the SSL 2 and these devices. You
The units connect to the host computer SSL 2+ will fit your can’t expect a fully
using the trusty ol’ USB-2 protocol but this is needs fabulously. bespoke SSL circuit
There’s a great deal design at these
served via a modern USB-C socket. There’s
of choice in this area prices but you can
no need to go hunting for converters if of the market but expect the benefit
your computer doesn’t have any USB-C the bundle that SSL of decades of design
connectors – thankfully the interfaces has put together know-how, all of
come with both USB-C to USB-C and USB-C here makes these which is evident in
to USB-2 cables. The interfaces are class interfaces a match the audio quality
for beginners and that these interfaces
compliant too, so on a Mac (10.11 and
experienced are able to deliver.
upwards) they are 100 per cent plug-and-
play, with no additional drivers to install.
Windows users, however, will need to
install the appropriate WDM driver. Class The two full-licence plug-ins elevate the When the 4K effect is used in combination
compliance also means that the interfaces capabilities of the interfaces. Vocalstrip 2 with the SSL Native plug-ins, your recordings
will work with iPads and iPad Pros, and has a compander (a hybrid compressor and should be blessed with a touch of class, and
(in theory) Linux distributions that support expander), a de-esser for sibilant sounds, a this is what truly helps the SSL 2 and 2+ stand
the standard. Both interfaces also have de-plosser for plosives, and a vocal-focused out from much of their competition. All the
a MIDI I/O pair, something I like to see on EQ section with a high-pass filter, and two bundled DAWs, samples and plug-ins also
audio interfaces despite MIDI-over-USB adjustable mid bands, one with a narrow Q, give beginners everything they need to get
being the norm these days. the other with a wide Q. started, while experienced users will get
some stellar tools to add to their armoury.

The 4K effect delivers a bright


Purists may disapprove of SSL’s venture
into the mass market but that would be
churlish. The Solid State Logic label on
and edgy flavour that works well these interfaces is without doubt more
than just a bit of desirable branding.

across a range of sound sources


SOFTWARE BUNDLE Just as Vocalstrip 2 is well honed for MT V ER D I CT 8/10
Alongside the hardware, SSL 2 and 2+ dealing with vocal parts, so Drumstrip is
come with a collection of software and a spectacular tool for working with drum
samples. You get licenses for Ableton Live parts, whether applied on individual drums + Affordable, portable audio I/O
Lite and Pro Tools First, as well as a 1.5GB or across your mix. The plug-in provides a with SSL pedigree
set of samples and loops from Loopcloud. flexible gate with separate open and close + Legacy 4K Analogue Enhancement
SSL has also bundled Native Instruments’ thresholds, a transient shaper to accentuate effect gives 4K-like sound
Komplete Start, a 16-strong selection of or dull the attack of your drum sounds, low-
+ Rotary controls are smooth
synths, instruments and effects with more and high-frequency enhancers, and a
than 2,000 sounds, along with a full licence classic SSL listen-mic compressor. + Includes SSL Native Vocalstrip 2
for NI Hybrid Keys, which would normally
and Drumstrip plug-ins
set you back £45. This little lot alone will ALL IN ONE – Outputs 3 & 4 on SSL 2+ may
see you well set up for creating music, no These two plug-ins provides fantastic results, have been better as jacks
matter what style or genre you’re working and add a lot of value to the SSL 2 and 2+
in, but there’s even more in the form of offering – purchased separately, the SSL
– Push-buttons are scratchy
full licences for SSL’s Native Vocalstrip 2 Native plug-ins alone would cost more than The SSL 2 and SSL 2+ bring a bit of
and Native Drumstrip plug-ins, along with either interface. The Legacy 4K Analogue magic to home and project studios,
six-month licences for everything else in the Enhancement effect isn’t going to satisfy with software that has something for
SSL Native plug-in pack, which includes those used to working with the real thing beginners and old-hands alike
renowned processing plug-ins such as but it delivers a bright and edgy flavour that
compressors, EQs and saturators. works well across a range of sound sources.

Alternatives
AUDIENT and features a clever FOCUSRITE 192kHz and
Evo 4 Smartgain feature that Scarlett 2i2 (3rd benefits from
£100 helps you set recording Gen) Focusrite’s
This compact 2-in/2-out levels, which will be £150 latest Scarlett
interface from Audient is a huge help help for Another 2-in/2-out audio preamp technology, across a range
easy to use but is by no beginners. interface that supports which delivers high of mic types.
means dumbed down, audient.com sample rates of up to quality and character focusrite.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 101


REVIEW SOUNDIRON ALPHA ORGAN

SOUNDIRON
Alpha Organ £60

If you’ve been praying for a new organ-based sample pack, prepare


to give thanks: Soundiron’s latest library is the alpha of its class
WORDS DAVE GALE

W
hen it comes to purchasing samples Key features complex construction, these fixtures of churches
or buying sample-based instruments, Three main presets, each and cathedrals can be complicated to record;
generally we don’t stray far beyond with plenty of variance it’s vitally important to consider the surrounding
our comfort zones; we have a good 4,117 samples, recorded on acoustic space as part of the instrument too.
idea of where to find what we’re looking for. location in San Francisco Though pipe organs have clear ecclesiastical
Some companies, however, would rather we Recorded in 24-bit/48Khz connections, it would be a big mistake to rule the
were a little less wedded to our go-to sounds and lossless format instrument out as a compositional option. That’s
more willing to audition new and unusual options. Flexible and intuitive doubly true when it comes to Alpha Organ, which
Soundiron is one such firm. Its ever-expanding interface of course supplies the conventional sounds of a
suite of classy sounds covers the conventional 20 custom effects pipe organ but also goes beyond that to provide
and the abstract with aplomb. Its latest semi- 9.2GB disk space required a richly varied sonic palette. What Alpha Organ
esoteric sample pack is Alpha Organ, centred absolutely isn’t is an electronic organ in the vein
NI Kontakt library and
around a set of pipe-organ samples recorded NKS compliant of Hammond and Farfisa models. If you’re looking
at St Paul’s Church in Soundiron’s hometown for that sound, however, editing the Soundiron
Requires NI Kontakt/Kontakt
of San Francisco. The church has featured as a Player 6.1+ samples can take you more in that direction.
recording location for Soundiron’s stellar sample
Contact
sets before – see its Requiem Light Symphonic GREAT SET OF PIPES
soundiron.com
Choir, and Noah Bells packs, for example – and Alpha Organ is represented via three adjustable
in Alpha Organ, the building’s cavernous and timespace.com preset patches through which you’re free to
reverberant space is put to brilliant use. As sound sculpt your desired texture.
designers, the edifice must be a marvellously Using the first patch, it quickly becomes clear
valuable asset to have on Soundiron’s doorstep. why Soundiron once again returned to St Paul’s:
Pipe organs consist of hundreds of pipes tuned the organ sounds sumptuous, with the sample
to different notes. Air is blown through these when recordings capturing all the subtlety of the venue.
the instrument is played, which produces the There are 12 pipe-organ incarnations here. Some
required pitch. Thanks to their hulking size and are deep and full, with the organ’s stops open,

102 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


SOUNDIRON ALPHA ORGAN REVIEW

while others are more considered, delicate


and intimate. There is a brightness in the
recording colour, most likely courtesy of DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
the location, and Alpha Organ provides While browsing Alpha Organ. Its
a useful set of basic controls for adjusting MusicTech in search sound-design and
elements such as attack and release times. of the next sample editable elements
The Swell parameter lets you alter dynamic pack on which lend it abilities that
to splash your exceed its restrictive
volume, while the Vibrato control induces hard-earned cash, title. Soundiron’s
exactly that, but with each turn of the pot, it’s probably safe latest provides a
the vibrato becomes more pronounced to say that the pipe splendidly rich
and quicker in cycle. organ isn’t the palette with which to
Three icons lead the way to more radical instrument that’s draw upon for pads
most likely to pique and ambience. The
deviations in sound; the 8va offers a basic
your interest. It’s organ samples and
volume control for an additional upper a stylised sound back-end effects
octave, while the Microphone icon opens unsuitable in many are so rapturously
the mic mixer page, where close, mid and commercial settings. comprehensive that
far mic signals can be blended. Turning up However, if you’re a you might just find
the far mic lets you examine the natural and media composer in yourself questioning
need of this sound your beliefs in even
colourful reverberation of St Paul’s in more
set, you can’t do the most revered
depth. But be aware that this colour will much better than organ sample packs.
decay alongside the Release phase set via
the main panel – it may be worth opening
this wider to allow the colour to shine. The
Presence control allows you to add some The LFO features five wave types, and LET US GIVE THANKS
subtle brightness. You can route any of the can target a number of parameters, such This library is something of a surprise. At its
mic sources to a separate output too. as as volume and pitch. It’s also possible to most simplistic level, Alpha Organ provides
Each of the first patch’s 12 samples can target treble and bass frequencies from the a generous and gorgeous set of samples. Its
be controlled at this level but there’s also LFO, which forms some fascinating colours, sample organ might not be quite as righteous
a thirteenth instrument that lets you blend while the LFO can be free-wheeled or and almighty as those you would find in the
them together to create an organic colour. locked to your DAW’s tempo. world’s greatest cathedrals but it has some
serious range, able to sound unconquerably

The notion of an arpeggiator on a


large or softly intimate, and is capable of
spellbinding harmonic colouration.
Soundiron’s Alpha Organ is a nigh
pipe organ may sound bizarre but miraculous jumping-off point with
which to put together creative organistic

it presents colour in a novel way sounds, and should justify its place
among your very best similarly equipped
sample packs.
The problem here is that things can sound Further control of timbral colouration
so wonderfully immediate that you find can be obtained via the filter, with copious
yourself wanting to continually add rather choice throughout its 12 types, which extend
than remove instrumental colours. from low pass and high pass to band pass MT V ER D I CT 9/10
and notch. There are two formant vowel-
IN THE PIPELINE based filters too, alongside a step table that
It’s in the second and third preset instrument allows you to automate up to 32 steps of + Stunning assortment of
patches that things start to move away from filter control in sequence. pipe-organ samples
the organ-focused fare we’ve seen thus far. The arpeggiator provides ascending + Extends beyond basic samples
The second is described as Layer and lets and descending steps, alongside a latch + Powerful back-end effects section
users layer and control up to three of the function and the ability to save settings. The
more conventional timbral colours, as well notion of an arpeggiator on a pipe organ
+ Concise and simple interface
as another layer for ambiences. These sonic may sound bizarre but stick with it – it’s the – Patch-changing can be slow
elements are found in the third preset patch sum of all of these layering and elements
instrument too, where the samples have been that allows Alpha Organ to present timbral
– Source organ isn’t the biggest
altered, with many resulting in pad-like tones. colour in a novel way, much more unusual
Provides a remarkable and
While the layering does much to help you and packed with potential than other pipe- inspiring palette, alongside plenty
create interesting colours, it’s the Advanced organ libraries. Thanks to the rich nature of of editable elements for deep-dive
Control Window that proves central to truly the sampled source, creating ethereal pads sound creation
moving the organistic tone into other realms, is effortless. The comprehensive effects are
via its LFO, filter and arpeggiator tools. capable of grit, reverberation and more.

Alternatives
SPITFIRE AUDIO by Spitfire, this SONOKINETIC features pipe-organ
Union pack provides further Toccata samples with various
Chapel Organ creativity via its EDNA £45 stops, as well as the
£150 engine, which makes This cheaper and ability to build up
Based around a Henry for a more diverse set more straightforward epic-sounding sounds
Willis pipe organ of sounds. organ-based sample entirely from scratch.
meticulously sampled spitfireaudio.com library from Sonokinetic sonokinetic.net

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 103


R E V I E W K R OTO S A U D I O C O N C EP T

KROTOS AUDIO
Concept £99

Scottish toolkit creators Krotos’s new concept comes with modulation options
aplenty and an emphasis on ‘audio movement’ – but will it move us?
WORDS JONO BUCHANAN

E
dinburgh’s Krotos Audio is approaching Key features balance works from left to right but the waveforms
synthesis from a different perspective. Modulation system featuring themselves are stacked vertically, meaning the
The software-development company’s LFOs, envelopes, XY field rotary position doesn’t immediately tally with your
core products are aimed primarily capture and audio-input chosen blend.
at those writing music for picture and video tracking Each oscillator features its own detune dial
games, with sound design, vocal manipulation Most parameters can and octave switcher (which govern both sources),
and effects processing their key components. be modulated and there’s also a pan dial and a gain control for
Concept, then, is a logical step into synthesis 2 oscillators with multiple each too. The pan dial makes it especially simple
and sonic manipulation, and brings plenty of the waveform selection to create ultra-wide sounds; just pan one oscillator
know-how developed in other areas of sound Dual-mode resonant ladder hard left, for example, and load a subtly detuned
design to a more synth-suited environment. filter version of the same sound into the second
Randomisation options oscillator before panning it to the right.
CONCEPTUALLY SPEAKING Mac and Windows There is also a frequency-modulation option
On the upper left-hand side of the interface, you’ll compatible built into each engine, with its own power switch.
find the oscillators. There are two of these and Curated presets by Roni Size, Activating this enables an FM circuit (using a
they can house two waveforms each. You can Richard Devine and others separate sine wave oscillator) to rough things up
choose a shape for each one from a drop-down Each purchase comes and add internal modulation at the oscillation
menu and then set a balance between them with authorisation for stage. Ratio and depth dials control the strength
using the Blend dial. There are positives about this two computers and speed of frequency modulation. Signals then
interface but a few negatives to be found too. Contact pass into the simple filter section, based on a
On the plus side, each oscillator engine features its krotosaudio.com classic ‘ladder’ design. Only low- and high-pass
own on/off rocker switch, which is extremely modes are provided, but the filter is resonant and
handy. The blend dial takes a tad more getting features a growling drive circuit that adds internal
used to, as the rotary dial that sets waveform harmonic distortion, which gets fruity nice and
quickly when it’s cranked up.
There’s a Mix dial too, meaning you can use
the filter as a parallel circuit alongside the original
unfiltered sound offered from the oscillator stage’s
output. The effects suite features eight effects –
EQ, saturation, compressor, limiter, flanger/chorus,
transient shaper, ring modulator and convolution
reverb – and allows three modules to operate
simultaneously. Selecting effects brings up a range
of parameters applicable to each, and there are
some considered touches here that let you tailor
your sounds in sophisticated ways.
Back over on the left-hand side of the
interface, you’ll find a master ADSR envelope
that shapes amplitude for the whole sound. The
envelope movement is animated, with a red dot
tracking its course from start to finish. Of course, if
you’re using a fast-acting envelope, you’ll barely
see this but for slower and more evolving sounds,
it’s extremely useful – especially for teachers, to
whom it can provide an accessible device with
which to explain envelope behaviour.

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THE MODULATION STATION


The real power of Concept lies in its
modulation section, which occupies the DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
central area of the interface. This provides If you’re interested straightforward synth,
a matrix of five modulation sources that in sculpting evolving though, Concept may
can all be used within any of one of sounds and are well not be for you. There
Concept’s patches. primed to pluck out are better equipped
the best bits from options at this price
To get started, select one of the randomly generated point. But for pushing,
modulation sources by clicking one audio, then Krotos’s warping and bending
of the coloured panes. By default, these debut synth comes the boundaries, this
will be set to an envelope, an LFO, the recommended. If one might ensnare
modulation wheel, an audio-input source you’re after a more you, fast.
and the Tweak It randomiser. Each menu
can be customised, however – if you
wanted to replace an LFO with a second
envelope, for example, you could do Amplitude mode, using an incoming drum question go a long way towards justifying
so via a pane’s drop-down menu. The or percussion signal as a trigger for saturation the price of entry.
permutations here are bewildering to amount, resonance boost or the decay time Once you’ve grasped its colour-coding
think about. of the master envelope is a fun and inspiring and modulation potential, Concept can
You can also configure the parameters source of pleasure. be extraordinarily addictive to use. Building
of each module in ways appropriate to its Like the other modulation sources, the snarling, wonky and pulsing basslines from
setting, allowing you to, say, edit an LFO’s Tweak It randomiser lets you collate a list of what started life as a static held note via
shape and speed, or an envelope’s attack parameter targets and set a range for each. a beat loop in your track, while separately
or release times. It’s here, as the saying goes, On top of that, though, you get the chance automating those same parameters from
where the magic happens. Drag and drop to stick or twist. Clicking on the lucky-dice tempo-synced LFOs is tremendously fun
the name of any parameter you like into icon generates randomly assigned amounts and reveals hidden depths to Concept’s
the selected modulation source and it will within those target ranges. The more targets personality that you might not have
be added to a list. Here, a bar selects the you add, the more likely the resulting sound imagined at the outset.
range over which the parameter will be will deviate significantly from its predecessor, There is some stiff competition out there
modulated – you can select inverted which makes for some staggering, surprising from similarly priced products, so it might
shapes set by choosing a negative value. and altogether unusual sounds. be best to download the demo and see
if it sates your appetite. For a debut synth,

It’s a smart way to create evolving though, the Scots have done a spectacular
job, especially with the modulation. Don’t

sounds contoured to your needs. be at all surprised if you get hooked to it –


because we won’t be.

Modulation is Concept’s strength


MT V ER D I CT 8/10
Multiple parameters can be assigned to EVOLVE WITH XY CAPTURE
the same source, as you’d hope, and here If you want animated sounds that blend
+ Outstanding modulation options
the use of colour with the modulation panes seamlessly with your track’s BPM, XY
comes into its own. Concept it’s just a pretty Capture is ideal. Add parameters to
+ Comprehensive Audio Input
tracking, with Amplitude and
face; a quick glance around the interface the X and Y axes of this modulation
Pitch Analysis modes
will inform you which parameters have been source and then get experimenting
mapped where, thanks to the modulator’s with manipulation.When you’re ready, + Capable of an extraordinary range
assigned colours. you can record this movement, either freely of sounds
The three most notable panes are the or over a number of bars within your host
Audio Input, the Tweak It randomiser and project. It’s a smart and snappy way to
– GUI could be improved
the X-Y Capture pad. The Audio Input lets create evolving sounds contoured to your – Core synth is basic – the
you route in any signal for analysis, with the track’s needs. Modulation routing seems to modulators are its lifeblood
result then routable into any parameter. be Concept’s strength.
Concept is a welcome new addition
In addition to the amplitude analysis you Its synth engine can come across as
to the soft synth community. Take
might expect, you can switch input tracking somewhat underwhelming at first. There’s
time to learn its modulation
to detect Pitch. Imagine tracking a lead nothing wrong with it as such, it just doesn’t capabilities and this is an instrument
vocal line and using the incoming pitch as seem particularly special. But all of that which will surprise and delight
a control source for, say, the detune of an changes the moment you dive into the producers and sound designers alike.
oscillator, or the cut-off filter movement of routing signals, and the Audio Input and XY
an accompanying synth line. Similarly, in Capture modulation capabilities without

Alternatives
ARTURIA IZOTOPE
Pigments 2 Iris 2
€199 sources and a new $149 of synth. It’s equally
Concept’s modulation sample engine, Arturia’s A Concept competitor capable, however, of
routing is reminiscent of is a sophisticated beast for its modulation and crafting sublime and
that of Pigments. With but has a higher price. audio import options unexpected sounds.
masses of modulation arturia.com but a different type izotope.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 105


R E V I E W C I N ES A M P L ES C I N EB R A S S S O N O R E

CINESAMPLES
CineBrass Sonore £150

The LA maker’s latest library forgoes overblown trumpets and horns in favour of
nuanced, melodious and, yes, sonorous samples. But is it cut out to be top brass?
WORDS DAVE GALE

W
hen it comes to brass sample Key features middle ground of that dynamic range with warm
libraries, the market has been Upper-brass library, and pleasant textures, extending from what might
operating via a kind of big-is- featuring trumpets and horns be regarded as mezzopiano (moderately quiet) to
beautiful rationale for years now, Considered dynamics forte (loud) but always with a welcome warmth
reflective perhaps of the trends that have offer a warmth of timbre and not bombastically bright.
permeated cinematic scores over the past Legato and detached
10 years or so. Thunderous and overblown patching across all UP TOP
low-pitched drones, commonly known as instruments CineBrass Sonore focuses on upper-brass
‘braaams’, have embedded themselves into Dynamic and instruments, and it’s the trumpets samples that
many a big-budget film and video-game action expression control provide the most sample content here, with a
sequence. They may be ubiquitous but braaams Keyswitchable patches, wide range of articulations and an even wider
wouldn’t have caught on if they weren’t as well as RAM-friendly note register. The samples extend from the lowest
effective. There is an increasing sense, however, single-articulation patches note in the trumpet’s range – an E below middle
that the sands are shifting, with many composers NKS compatible C – right up to a top G, more than three octaves
and producers once again turning to more Requires Kontakt/Kontakt higher. That’s a significant range, and testimony
considered and reflective sounds, rather than player 5.7.2 or better to the quality of the players used to capture
those of the room-quaking variety. It’s this return (NI Library compliant) these samples.
to the more subtle ends of the spectrum that 16GB of disk space Trumpet sample deployment is split in two,
Cinesamples’ CineBrass Sonore seems set to required for installation which allows you to load a single player and
(8GB once installed)
capitalise on. enjoy the flexibility of a solo performance, or
Contact load up to a further three players and thicken
LESS IS SONORE cinesamples.com the ensemble to simulate a full trumpet section,
The English definition of the French word ‘sonore’ all while retaining independent control of both
is ‘resonant sound, with a rich tone’. Dynamically the elements.
speaking, this translates to something in the All of the articulations are available as single
middle of the dynamic range but it’s important patches but I choose to use the multiple-patch
to understand the ultimate implication of timbre. incarnation, which offers keyswitching in the lower
When played loud, brass instruments can sound part of the keyboard. The legato articulation is
raspy, riveting, even exhilarating. Depending on beautiful, with a subtlety and warmth even at the
the context, though, they can also sound totally upper end of its dynamic range, ideal for those
unpalatable. CineBrass Sonore aims to occupy the Aaron Copland-style lead roles. It sounds a little

106 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


C I N ES A M P L ES C I N EB R A S S S O N O R E R E V I E W

shrill at the top of the register but trumpets


generally do. The overall veracity of the
sample, however, is superb. It’s a little less DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
believable during fast semi-quaver runs but This library is performances. This is
anything modest and of moderate tempo designed to provide not a complete brass
sounds fantastic, with no ballooning of notes. a nuanced dynamic section, however,
With CineBrass Sonore, Cinesamples structure at odds with instead focusing
the exaggerated feel on upper-brass
allows you to control dynamics via MIDI CC1, that has permeated instruments trumpets
also known as the modulation wheel, but popular scores over and horns, with no
that’s not the only trick it uses to strengthen the past decade. additions or doubling
its samples. All controls are user-assignable Its instrumentation of instrumentation.
within Kontakt and it’s also possible to control can still play up to a With CineBrass
healthy forte but it’s Sonore, you’ll have
vibrato but only on the first player. This
not going to blast plenty of sounds for
manifests itself beautifully, allowing you your head off. Make stirring melodic use,
to blend in subtle and slowly undulating no mistake, this is either in the upper
vibrato, which ties in seamlessly with the its greatest strength. trumpet-note range
library’s remit at the timbral level, designed What it lacks in raw or the middle
to support those soaring lead lines floating power it makes up for register, where the
with a sumptuous set horns can supply
effortlessly over the top. Since you can
of samples capable some sensational
independently control the first player and of less burly and melodies and
section members, this can be fine-tuned more musical countermelodies.
to taste.
There’s a prepared palette of mic
settings too, which can be altered – or you
can create balance settings from scratch. slight delay in playing but, in fairness, this that the horns feel like the weaker of the
Expect the usual mix of close and ambient is often the case with horn libraries, which two sections, in the sense that they feature
mic’ing, all prepared within the confines of require quite a bit of DAW-based nudging less content and require more work from
the MGM Scoring stage, offering a fabulous in order to settle on the correct timing you, that’s all part of the fun of the mock-
combination of sound up front and an placements within a bar. The additional up orchestral fair, and putting the work in
acoustic that’s thankfully not over-inflated. legwork is worth it, though, because these to tweak these can be a satisfying task in
and of itself.

It’s easy to move from a ludicrous


This isn’t a vast library, either in content
or sonic make-up, but, by that token, it isn’t
bloated either. What it is, however, is an
setting at full volume to something affordable package that provides real
value through authentic sounds with just

more nuanced and tasteful the right amount of control.

The articulations feature options beyond samples sound rich and sonorous. The forte
the usual sustains. The forte piano offers piano articulation is similarly slow in the MT V ER D I CT 9/10
more of a heavy accent with diminuendo attack phase but some similar tweaking
(a sudden decrease in loudness), while will sort that out and have it sounding
the Swells patch is powerful, akin to the spectacular in no time. + Lovely collection of trumpet
recognisable brass colours heard in feature and horn samples
films such as The Matrix. There are plenty FINAL TAPE-OUT + Nice level of control, especially
of short and detached articulations too, Cinesamples has also gone to the trouble within the trumpet patching
which add up to a useful compendium of of providing further volume control of
+ Suitable for cinematic
colours that should be applicable in most elements such as the separated legato and media scoring
modest settings. samples and end tails, which is useful trait.
It’s easy to move from a ludicrous setting
+ Competitively priced package
LOCK HORNS at full volume to something nuanced and
– Horn samples feel
The French horns feature less choice in tasteful, allowing for lots of compromise. sluggish when in play
articulation and colour than the trumpets. There’s also a nice tape-saturation effect
The legato, however, is stunningly effective, on the master out, which can be dialled in
– Horns not as widely configured
as the trumpet section
especially in the lower dynamic range. subtly or overdone to the point of distortion.
Unlike the trumpet patching, with the Cinesamples has made good ground A magnificent suite of nuanced and
French horn samples you can’t control the with this library, setting out its stall with a firm engaging upper-brass instruments
number of players or vibrato but their sound ideal and supplying the content you want
is terribly endearing. They suffer from a in the areas you’ll need it. While it’s true

Alternatives
CINEMATIC the entire brass family, EASTWEST brass department,
STUDIO SERIES from trumpet to tuba. Hollywood Brass this library is packed
Cinematic Also recorded on a Gold Edition £430; with content and is
Studio Brass £310 soundstage, it performs Diamond Edition £710 open to rent via the
This more expensive at all dynamics. Also recorded on a equally comprehensive
alternative contains cinematicstudio scoring stage and ComposerCloud option.
samples representing series.com representing the whole soundsonline.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 107


R E V I E W AU D I A I R E Z EN I T H

AUDIAIRE
Zenith £70

The London company’s latest offers unique presets, step sequencing


and more. Could this be the zenith of production plug-ins?
WORDS MARTIN DELANEY

A
nything that makes it easier to Key features loaded into a separate track from the software
integrate music software and Sequence pitch, velocity, instrument you wish to control. I set the software-
hardware can only be a good thing. gate, MIDI parameters, instrument track to Monitor In, receiving MIDI from
If it’s a standard plug-in rather than all in separate lanes Zenith’s channel, then arm the track. The Zenith
something proprietary, then that’s even better. Independent sequence track must also be set to Monitor In. You might
Audiaire’s Zenith plug-in offers sequenced note, steps for each lane also have to import a MIDI map for the instrument
CC, and SysEx control over software instruments Library of presets already in question; these are all added during the initial
and hardware synthesisers, and includes more mapped to hardware/ Zenith installation.
than 200 presets, more than half of which are software instruments Next, we choose a preset within Zenith (or
dedicated to controlling hardware instruments Chord, scale, and create our own settings) and feed it some notes
such as the Access Virus Snow TI2, Elektron velocity MIDI effects (to ‘print’ the incoming data from Zenith as either
Octatrack, and Yamaha DX7, and software that Runs as AU/VST plug-in audio or MIDI, you’ll need to set up more tracks
includes Korg’s Legacy M1, Native Instruments’ on Mac/PC to capture it). Zenith is fun to use from the get-go.
Massive, and Spectrasonics Omnisphere. Zenith, Contact You don’t need pore over the manual before you
then, promises to be an interesting take on the audiaire.com get going here – just start playing.
hybrid sequencer-controller. As part of our introductory warm-up, the first
thing we reach for is the random button – it just
PLUG AND PLAY has to be done. Running Zenith in note-sequencer
Zenith installs as a plug-in, in AU, VST and VST3 mode provides the standard sequencer lanes for
formats, and requires macOS 10.10 or above, or pitch, velocity, and gate, and changing that
Windows 8 or above. Installation is simple and instead to parameter mode, or running both note
uses straightforward online authorisation. For this and parameter modes, adds many more layers
review, I install it on two different Macs without of control. After that preliminary jam, it’s time to
issues, and use Ableton Live 10.1.9 with plug-ins explore the plug-in in more depth.
such as the Arturia Moog Modular, U-He Zebra 2, At the top of the screen, there are controls
and Live’s own Wavetable synth. Configuring related to sync and sequencing modes. Zenith
Zenith inside Live requires the plug-in to be can play whether your DAW’s transport is running
or not, and there’s a choice to sequence solely
the parameters, only notes, or both together for
the ultimate in sequencing mayhem. The
following section covers SysEx (System Exclusive)
data, which won’t be of interest to everybody
but will prove a welcome excuse for users of
classic hardware to dust off their old gear and
get to grips with it again.

DESTINATION UNKNOWN
The LFO section allows configuration of up to
four independent MIDI LFOs, which can be sent
to any available destination. Destinations are
labelled from A upwards and show all existing
assignments in the preset, for example A = Mod,
while in the default it doesn’t go anywhere until
you assign it. There’s also a Chaos control that
introduces a definable amount of random
variation around the core LFO behaviours.

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AU D I A I R E Z EN I T H R E V I E W

Following on from that is an envelope


generator, which sends up to three CCs,
modified by an ADSR envelope. All of this DO I REALLY NEED THIS?
is ideal for interacting with your instruments If you’re an Max for Live devices
on a level beyond simply turning knobs or enthusiastic user of are required to reach
employing a little automation. plug-in instruments external hardware.
There are five categories of presets, with or hardware synths, You’d be better off
the answer is yes. thinking of this as
hardware and software synths each getting Zenith’s library of a MIDI controller in
their own list – you can, of course, save more than 100 plug-in form rather
your own too. Zenith also includes a chord instrument-specific than a simple
generator, scale and velocity controls for control presets is sequencer, and
limiting incoming MIDI, and six macro terribly attractive that makes it feel
if you use one or somewhat unique.
knobs, each of which can have up to 10
more of them. Beyond all the
parameters assigned to it. These macros While conducting numbers and
could easily be assigned to controls in your this review, it was specs, however,
DAW, for example. The centre section wonderfully easy to it’s important to
contains the sequencer grid, where you get going with the remember that step
apply patterns to note or parameter Moog Modular V. sequencing, no
This is often an matter what the
information. If you have Note selected, the
area where separate platform, is just
top three lanes are always going to show editor applications or plain groovy.
the classic pitch, velocity, and gate steps.
What happens in the others is up to you –
just drag a parameter from the interface
into the ‘drop parameter’ space below the and the supplied preset makes it simple the instruments supported by the factory
current lanes. to sequence the plug-in, while exploring presets. Elektron users in particular are
There’s a selection of preset patterns, different pattern presets for each lane always looking for new apps and software
and Zenith allows you to switch between up proves a hypnotic experience. This is a that’s able to interact with their machines,
to 10 stored snapshots. Each preset includes rewarding and fast – some may say lazy and I can only imagine what it might be
up to 24 faders, knobs and horizontal sliders, but they’re wrong – way to begin piecing like to use Zenith in conjunction with one of
located above the sequencer lanes. together a new tune: randomise the the supported Elektron devices – sequencing
bliss, perhaps?

Randomisation is a rewarding
If you own any of these supported
devices or don’t mind putting in the time
with MIDI mapping, then strap yourself in,
and fast – some may say lazy but download the Zenith demo and prepare
to be whisked away to new heights.

they’re wrong – way to compose


If the default is loaded, this area is left blank sequenced notes and parameters, then MT V ER D I CT 9/10
for the creation and assignment of custom load or program a simple beat. The
layouts. Lanes can run at independent sequencing should keep everything locked
rates, as well as different lengths, with together and there are times when that’s + Ready to rock if you own
varied swing and probability values, all all you need. For more detailed results, you one of the listed synths
precious functions to have in a sequencer. can switch between the snapshots for a + All sequencers are
longer structure. inherently good things
RANDOM ACTS Even if your DAW already has adequate
+ First-rate randomisation
Even if all you do with Zenith is load in sequencing functions and MIDI effects (let’s
different presets and apply randomisation be honest, most do), Zenith’s combination + Fantastic for live performance
to them, you’ll be kept happy and feeling of sequencing and MIDI processing will likely + Unique levels of control
fresh for a long time. Ideally, randomisation provide a different take on these established over external gear
should always be controllable and here techniques. Plus, getting acquainted with a
Zenith obliges. Each lane can be locked so fresh workflow can freshen up your methods,
– Interface somewhat cluttered
that they ignore the randomisation going and you’ll be surprised by how quickly Zenith
Zenith gives users a unique take on
on around them. starts to feel familiar. controlling both plug-in instruments
I particularly enjoy using Zenith with the Using it with unsupported devices requires and external hardware – an essential
Moog Modular V, which has been around some rather time-consuming MIDI mapping. purchase if you use one of the
for years but still sounds spectacular, and Although elements of Zenith can be applied devices in question
has presets that lend themselves to step to any software or hardware instrument, it’s
sequencing – it’s in the instrument’s DNA, definitely at its best when used with one of

Alternatives
ARTURIA with a 16-step analogue NOVATION its original function as
BeatStep sequencer, connecting Launchpad Pro a Live controller), with
£90 via USB, MIDI, and CV/ Mk3 32 steps, micro-steps,
An affordable option Gate. Handles beats £300 probability, mutation
should you want to go and synth parameters Works superbly as a and pattern-chaining
hands-on with hardware in Ableton Live. sequencer for software for real-time control.
for your sequencing, arturia.com or hardware (beyond novationmusic.com

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 109


REVIEW SONTRONICS PODCAST PRO

SONTRONICS
Podcast Pro £100

With the increasing popularity of podcasts comes a need for high-quality


recording tools. Will podcasters subscribe to Sontronics’ latest mic drop?
WORDS JONO BUCHANAN

Key features GO PRO podcasts or voiceovers. What matters more


Dynamic microphone designed for podcast, The dynamic microphone is available in is the depth and richness of the signal in the
broadcast, radio, voiceover and gaming black and red, and I can’t help but note lower-mid and treble frequencies and, in
Focused supercardioid pick-up pattern how closely our red review version resembles these areas, the Podcast Pro shines.
Inner baffling reduces noise and sibilance a slimline can of Coca-Cola. The mic’s Despite the metal grilles, I’d recommend
Fitted with integrated pop filter hinge features two thumbscrews that allow employing a pop shield when recording a
you to loosen and tighten its connection to voiceover. The grilles at the business end
Available in black or red
your mic stand, which allows you to angle of the mic afford some insurance against
Polar pattern: supercardioid
the Podcast Pro at your the source signal. plosives but performance in this regard is
Frequency response: 50Hz - 15kHz The XLR connection is on the bottom and, improved through the use of a pop shield.
Sensitivity: -50dB ±2dB as this is a dynamic mic, no phantom power Of course, utilising a pop shield will mean
Impedance: ≤600 Ohms is required from your interface. You can also setting yourself up slightly further from the
Connector: 3-pin XLR connect the Podcast Pro to games consoles mic but this can prove beneficial too. I find
Power: phantom power not required via an XLR-USB cable. For Twitch streamers that being three inches away, with the gain
and the like who take streaming seriously, cranked up a little, produces less proximity
Dimensions: 180 x 82 x 60mm
there’s no doubt the Podcast Pro provides a effect (and higher-quality recordings) than
Weight: 310g
fidelity level most headset mics can’t match. being closer to the mic but with lower gain.
Contact
sontronics.com UNDER THE GRILLE SERIOUSLY SPOKEN
The mic features a fixed supercardioid polar This is a clean, no-nonsense and inexpensive

T
he market for vocal mics aimed pattern that offers a directional sound, so bit of kit that’s rich in tone and capable of
at the non-singing community has you’ll experience a considerable drop-off high-quality results. It’s worth picking up a
expanded rapidly in recent years. in both volume and tonal response if you pop shield, though, to encourage distance
The surge has brought with it new move off-axis while you’re recording. For between your source and the mic, and to
products that enable the spoken voice podcasting and voiceover recording, this is help manage those pesky plosive sounds.
to be recorded with minimum fuss and ideal, as it alleviates room noise and allows
sufficient fidelity. Sontronics has a fantastic you to boost gain without raising the noise
reputation for microphones with a wide floor. Frequency response is quoted at 50Hz
range of applications. Its new Podcast Pro to 15kHz, which is again a sensible range for MT V ER D I CT 9/10
is available for under £100, its purpose to voice-recording purposes. In practice, this
capture the spoken voice accurately, with translates to a little lost air but, then, overly
intelligibility, sonic richness and ease of use clean, ultra-open sheeny vocals won’t likely + Clean and rich spoken recordings
vying for top billing in its specifications. be the primary concern of those recording
+ Attractive design with a simple
yet configurable attachment
+ Can be connected to interfaces
or games consoles via XLR-USB

Alternatives – Requires pop shield to


manage plosive tendencies
RØDE SHURE
Podmic SM7B – Signal quality drops when
£100 £370 source is off-axis
The latest podcast-ready the RødeCaster Pro More expensive but Its electromagnetic
mic from Australia’s production studio but is more of an all-rounder shielding prevents hum If you’re about to embark on a career
Røde is optimised effective on its own too. too, the SM7B promises from nearby computers. as a podcaster, this microphone
for use alongside rode.com broadcast-quality audio. shure.com might just become your best friend

110 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S OY U Z L AU N C H ER R E V I E W

SOYUZ
Launcher £195

From Russia with love, Soyuz sends its latest in-line preamp to zhuzh up your mic
with vintage tones. Will this be the box that launched a thousand studio sessions?
WORDS JOHN PICKFORD

Key features you can simply plug a basic microphone


Hand-wound custom transformer such as the Shure SM58 into the Launcher
26dB signal boost ahead of your interface (or PA system, in
Secret analogue circuit live situations) and be gifted rich, fat tones
akin to those supplied by vintage analogue
XLR input and output
consoles. All the box requires is 48v phantom
Dimensions: 111 x 53 x 48mm power. It also provides a signal-level boost
Weight: 410g of 26dB yet meant to colour the tone in a
Contact satisfying way.
soyuzmicrophones.com I try the Launcher with a Shure SM57 and
an acoustic guitar, having recorded a pass

T
he name of Russian company Soyuz straight into a Lynx Aurora interface. Once
means ‘union’ or ‘alliance’, and its the signal levels have been matched to
newly launched in-line preamp looks avoid the louder-is-better trap, it’s clear the
to forge just that between vintage Launcher has made a huge difference. The
analogue sounds and basic dynamic mics. most obvious enhancement is the increased
From the outside, the Launcher looks like body in the midrange, making the sound
little more than an inconspicuous box with more forceful without adding any boom.
an XLR input at one end and output at the
other. Inside the low-key cream-coloured TONE INJECTION Used as intended, the Launcher
casing, however, there’s a world of colour. As ribbon microphones are dynamic, they is capable of catapulting your run-of-the-
It’s here that the audio that’s fed into the too can be used with the Launcher; it’s only mill dynamic mic-and-interface setup into
Launcher passes through a hand-wound condenser microphones that are unsuitable. the stratosphere of solid-state analogue
custom transformer and secretive analogue I hook up a Coles 4038 suspended above a tones, producing an unmistakably vintage
circuitry, lending it a magical old-school drum kit and record passes through our DDA vibe that’ll have your audio flying. Be sure
sound. Better still, given the box’s diminutive console with and without the Launcher. As to strap yourself in first.
size, it can comfortably be carted about the 4038 is an insensitive microphone, the
between studio sessions. added gain allows us to ease back on the
console channel gain, reducing noise. The
IGNITION SEQUENCE level-matched signals are closer in tone,
MT V ER D I CT 9/10
The idea behind Soyuz’s latest product is with just a hint of thickening in the midrange
that, if you’re not lucky enough to possess and glare in the upper frequencies through
expensive microphones and preamps, the Launcher.
+ Impressive analogue tone,
enhances the simplest of
dynamic microphones
+ Superb build quality
+ 26dB signal boost colours
tone in a beneficial way
Alternatives
CLOUD Discrete JFET circuitry TRITON AUDIO pass phantom power. – Not for use with condenser
MICROPHONES preserves the source Fethead €69 It’s considerably microphones
Cloudlifter £150 sound while keeping Another lightweight slimmer, making it
Provides up to +25dV of the direct audio path solution to microphone perhaps even more A handy device that gives basic
clean gain and, like the clear of transformers, tone issues that, like portable and perfect dynamic microphones an injection
Launcher, is a simple capacitors, and resistors. the Launcher and for mobile recording. of colourful character, analogue-
plug-and-play device. cloudmicrophones.com Cloudlifter, doesn’t tritonaudio.com transformer style

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 111


R E V I E W B A BY AU D I O C O M EB AC K K I D

BABY AUDIO
Comeback Kid £23

If the brand’s past plug-ins left you singing, ‘Baby, come back’, you’re in luck.
Its latest is a low-cost delay with features far beyond time-based processing
WORDS SAM WILLINGS

Key features THROWING SHAPES With Wider, Richer and Pan, you can
Analogue inspired multi-effects delay Comeback Kid is available in two skins and enhance or reduce the stereo image of the
BPM-synced straight, dotted and triplet two sizes, meaning users should be able to delay. The first widens the stereo image by
delay times, plus millisecond mode see it clearly regardless of their screen size, sending two faintly out-of-time delays to
Filter options for sound-shaping their distance from it or their colour settings. either side. Richer does the same but in a
Tape saturation, phaser, reverb Surrounding its analogue-esque display are more dramatic way.
and bitcrusher effects housed the delay time modes, ping-pong mode,
Stereo-imaging effects and time and feedback dials. The time dial DELAY DOUBLE-ACT
extends only to 2500ms and has an odd The output section features controls over
Ducker knob simplifies adding delay tails
ramp-up, and the feedback tends to get wet and dry signal volumes, plus a ducker
Contact
stuck at full whack – you’ll need to tamper dial that halts the delay while the original
babyaud.io with it and replay the audio to fix this. signal is playing. The Destiny switch here is
The Flavor section adds analogue-style meant to lend your delay a less automated

D
on’t call it a comeback. While colour to your delay signal via four features. and more unpredictably human vibe but
this may be Baby Audio’s first The Cheap switch reduces the delay’s bit its contributions are indistinct.
release since its relocation from rate for a touch of lo-fi fuzz and the Tape It’s hard to ignore Comeback Kid’s
New York to Los Angeles in early- dial emulates tape saturation, but both are multi-faceted presets. This is more than just
2020, it shouldn’t be seen as a rebound or too tame to properly decimate your audio, a delay plug-in, with presets that add lo-fi
return to form. The truth is, since the young instead providing some warmth and slight crunch, chorus, movement and a variety
company was founded in the Big Apple in distortion. Swirl is a sumptuous phaser that of delay types. Perhaps it would be best
2019, its form has yet to slip. sounds superb when used in conjunction served by adding multiple instances to
Following the critical successes of its with the ping-pong mode, while Sauce, a bus and applying various blends of
1980s-inspired Super VHS multi-effects and essentially a modest-sized reverb, adds colour and time for some wicked sound-
its I Heart NY parallel compressor plug-ins, spacious depth to the signal. design action. For £23, this is a fantastic
Comeback Kid sees the newly California- The Shaper section’s low- and high-cut plug-in. It feels like Baby Audio is just
based brand unashamedly playing into its filters aren’t harsh on attenuation, and let getting started.
established niche. As with previous plug-ins, a bit of frequency content leak through. The
Baby Audio’s latest lets users dial in satisfying attack and sustain knobs are special, and
sounds without having to mess around with allow you to control the envelope over the
parameters or dive deep into menus, this filtering. Want to emphasise the low plucks MT V ER D I CT 9/10
time thanks to BPM-synced straight, dotted of a guitar, for instance? Set the attack to
and triplet modes, a free-moving mode set high with moderate sustain and hear them
by milliseconds, and a ping-pong button. shine alongside the higher harmonics. + Fantastic time-based sound
design opportunities
+ Accessible features
+ Pleasing selection of 60 presets
+ Extremely affordable
Alternatives + Resizable window
DENISE AUDIO Comeback Kid. You can POLYGON SHEEP section lets users play – Odd physics on the time knob
Slappy apply saturation and Stealth Delay with filter depth, phase
£27 filtering but there’s no £20 and movement. The – Sometimes malfunctions
This unassuming device BPM sync, meaning Features multi-effects delay time is synced to
is touted as a dub delay it’s much more useful such as reverse, chorus BPM and feedback goes A wonderful plug-in that can be put to
but bears some of on one-shots. ducking, overdrive, up to 120 per cent. work for a host of functions beyond
the same features as denise.io and more, and its mod polygonsheep.com that of an ordinary delay

112 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


P I O N EER D D J -20 0 R E V I E W

PIONEER
DDJ-200 £140

As industry titan Pioneer opens up to beginners with an affordable smart DJ


controller, we go back to basics and ask whether it’s as smart as its billing
WORDS SAM WILLINGS

Key features and splits to your headphones and speaker, DJ software and in Pioneer DJ’s flagship
Bluetooth/USB connectivity to mobile and using 3.5mm outs. You can’t, therefore, decks, the CDJ2000 NXSs. For beginners to
desktop DJ apps connect to a pair of speakers without be given the opportunity to get familiar
Compatible with WeDJ and third-party apps a mixer, or a 3.5mm to RCA cable. with this workflow is a nice touch.
8 performance pads per channel Hopefully, you already have an aux- WeDJ offers integration with SoundCloud
3-band EQ and effects knob per channel equipped speaker into which you can plug Go and Beatport Link but only via iPhone.
a 3.5mm jack (AKA an aux cable). There Android users will have to load their own
Aux splitter to send audio to cue and
master out are no gain controls on the DDJ-200 – gain music onto their phones and play from there,
is handled through software, so make sure or get other apps that allow streaming.
Touch-sensitive jogwheels
you set this first or you might accidentally If you’re on a desktop, you’ll use
Compact and lightweight
expose yourself to ear-splitting volume. Rekordbox, which has a fluid setup with the
Fuss-free mixing for beginners The controller itself is sturdy. Everything is DDJ-200. You’ll have to use the music stored
Contact plastic apart from the rims of the jogwheels, on your computer but you get more options
pioneerdj.com which are rubber. It may have been nice if for mixing and adding effects. Rekordbox
the 16 performance pads and Play/Cue and WeDJ allow you to make use of the

S
aunter into any DJ booth from buttons were rubber too, but nothing feels eight performance pads on each deck to
Pacha to Parklife, Lollapalooza like it’s about to fall apart; the faders are firm set and jump to cues at multiple points.
to your local boozer, and you’re and smooth and the EQ pots and jogwheels The DDJ-200 may make a grand gift
practically guaranteed to find are a pleasure to operate. The device is for fledgling jockeys but, if you’re looking to
yourself behind a set of Pioneer decks. powered via USB, to a laptop or socket. move apace up the DJ ladder, it might be
The brand’s gear is reliable and versatile, worth saving for the £279 Pioneer DDJ-400,
but until now it’s been aimed at experts QUICK RESPONSE whose increased flexibility could result in
as opposed to beginners. Released alongside the DDJ-200, Pioneer more thrilling sets at Lollapalooza, your
The DDJ-200 is a compact and entry-level DJ’s mobile app WeDJ boasts an accessible, local boozer and beyond.
smart controller that connects to your phone intuitive interface and is easily connected
or computer via Bluetooth or USB. You’re free to the controller via Bluetooth MIDI. Leave
to grab music from streaming-compatible aside any concerns regarding latency over
mobile DJ apps or load your own onto your Bluetooth – the controller and app are MT V ER D I CT 7/10
phone or laptop and get mixing offline. extremely responsive.
It’s possible to swap the app’s display
HOOKING UP of two vinyl decks to two waveform tracks, + Sturdy, neat DJ controller
The controller comes with a headphone scrolling either vertically or horizontally. The with plentiful functionality
splitter that starts from your phone or laptop waveform view is found on most desktop + Bluetooth and USB connectivity
+ WeDJ and Rekordbox compatible
+ Affordable

– Lacks basic volume controls


Alternatives – 3.5mm aux connections mean
limited speaker compatibility
NUMARK HERCULES
DJ2GO2 DJControl – WeDJ doesn’t support music
£59 or able to splash Impulse 300 be using Hercules’ streaming on Android
This alternative is far out more than £100, £179 DJuced software, which
more limited in terms Numark’s DJ2GO2 This award-winning isn’t as comprehensive Worth considering for total beginners
of controls and features could be your go-to. controller will give you as Rekordbox. and those looking to learn in a home
but if you’re not willing numark.com extra features but you’ll hercules.com environment or at small parties

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 113


R E V I E W TO O N T R A C K K I C K S A N D S N A R ES E Z X

TOONTRACK
Toontrack Kicks
and Snares EZX £59

The latest EZDrummer expansion shelves any sense of ambiguity and zeroes in
on the most important drums in the kit. We get a kick out of its snappy snares
WORDS DAVE GALE

Key features There is little repetition in drum brands AUSSIE RULES


Focused on kick and snare drums and specifications from one recording In contrast to the beautifully dry acoustics
Range of tunings and configurations venue to another. There are, for example, of the AIR recordings, Sydney’s studio 301
Additional hi-hat, cymbal and tom elements numerous references to the classic Ludwig offers a more reverberant sound, replete
Black Beauty snare but always in a slightly with lush mid and rich high frequencies. If
Recorded at studios in the UK and Australia
different size or vintage, leaving it to it proves too reverberant for you, though,
Set of backbeat-orientated MIDI grooves recording spaces to work their acoustic a quick trip to the mixer will mend that.
3.3GB disk space required magic on the sample. Alongside the studio-bound presets,
Requires EZDrummer 2 or Superior Toontrack has also collated mix-derived
Drummer 3, for Mac or PC KIT CONTROL presets, with notes in the direction of drive,
Contact Toontrack has collated multiple kits from EQ and room colouration. While all very
timespace.com each venue, and while the library is centred useful, I keep returning to the extensive
around kicks and snares, it also includes controls within the mixer page to create a

I
f there’s any company that can lay Sabian cymbals and hi-hats, as well as three drum sound to accommodate my tastes.
claim to having changed the way Slingerland toms, all of which will recall as
we work with drums in our DAWs, it’s part of the basic preset kits. You’re free to EZ NOW!
Toontrack. The company’s EZDrummer combine elements from other expansion Kicks and Snares plays nicely within the
was met with acclaim upon its 2006 release, libraries as you wish, though Kicks and EZDrummer realm. Where it is less generous
while its Superior Drummer drum-based DAW Snares’ included extras are so good that is on the MIDI template side, which offers
elevated an already superb product to you won’t be clamouring for more. a meagre 24 new grooves – but, then, this
another pro-inspired level. The 16 assigned kits from AIR boast does sit alongside the included EZDrummer
considerable variance in tonal colour MIDI content, which could easily be
WHAT’S IN A NAME? throughout. Some of the sounds are a little deployed with these samples. Given the
Some of Toontrack’s EZDrummer expansion flabby but that might have more to do with price of this package, the cost per drum
packs have titles that leave a lot to the my preferences than Toontrack. sample ratio is something of a bargain.
imagination. With Action, Drumkit From Hell, I am flabbergasted by the mixer controls
and Twisted Kit, for example, it’s not entirely available, from the ability to manage the
clear what you’re getting. That isn’t an issue bleed between channels to the seven kick
with Kicks and Snares, which clocks up a few and six snare mic channels on offer. The MT V ER D I CT 9/10
air miles by offering 31 kicks and 43 snares, control over timbral colour makes it easy to
each meticulously sampled and exploiting tighten things up via the mixer and attune
legendary studio locations such as London’s things to your tastes – ideal for sorting out + Stupendous drums recorded
AIR and Konk, and Australia’s NSW and 301. those looser-sounding samples. in iconic studios
+ Divine mix and bleed control
+ Value for money

– Lacking in new MIDI and


Alternatives groove template content
UJAM Ujam series delivers NATIVE Kontakt, and features – Some sounds feel too flabby
Virtual Drummer useable and reliable INSTRUMENTS easy-to-use drums for more modern settings
Solid 2 sounds but offers less Studio Drummer across three kits. It
$99 expansion content. £129 (Requires NI ships with a wealth Another rock-solid expansion pack
Another dependable Solid 2 provides a Kontakt player) of MIDI template and from the masters of the virtual drum
take on in-the-box solid starter set. NI’s spin on the virtual groove content. kit, packed with terrific sounds for
virtual drummers, the ujam.com drummer works within native-instruments.com your productions

114 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


Professional Mobile Recording
Now with Femtosecond Clocking

Babyface Pro FS
24-Channel 192 kHz Professional High-Precision USB Audio Interface
The most flexible, durable and respected portable interface from RME Audio,
featuring top quality preamps and no-compromise conversion in a robust, milled aluminum housing.

Integrated XLR and TRS jacks & Optical digital I/O for further expandability,
ultra low latency operation for Mac and Windows and flexible routing and mixing with TotalMix FX,
combining a huge feature set with sonic excellence and intuitive control,
whether for the studio or on the move.

NEW
Hz
ADI-2 Pro SteadyClock FS
Award-Winning +19 / +4 dBu switch on the
technology, highly efficient jitter
ADI-2 Series bottom adds a direct way to
suppression refreshes and cleans
Headphone Power reduce the output level
up any clock signal

Worldwide Distribution: Audio AG, +49 8133 9181-0, www.audioag.com • UK Distribution: Synthax UK, +44 1727 821870, www.synthax.co.uk
www.rme-audio.com
R E V I E W D EN I S E A U D I O P ER FE C T R O O M

DENISE AUDIO
Perfect Room £44

This new reverb plug-in from Berlin-based studio Denise has a bold name but
its performance leaves little room for doubt – this is one of the best available
WORDS SAM WILLINGS

Key features allow you to add space to your mix right The maximum tail length is 5000ms, which
TXVerb technology from Denise Audio away. The tail-shaping and room-colouring will leave some users wanting more.
No metallic resonances options are a quick and convenient way to There’s no denying that the spaces
Stereo-imaging features to expand width change the behaviour of the reverb, as are and tail itself sound fantastic though,
Flip, which reverses the reverb, and Split, regardless of what instrument or vocal
3 interesting modulation sections
(Shimmer, Detune, Ducker) which expands the reverb to fill out more you’re running through them. The filters
of the stereo width. have a slight peak in resonance, which
3 tail shapes & 5 room types
could prove an agreeable automation
Instrument-specific inspired presets
ROOM FOR MANOEUVRE detail in a track.
Built for use on single tracks, busses Three sliders control Perfect Room’s unique
and masters
characteristics: Shimmer adds harmonic GOOD VALUE ’VERB
Contact content to the signal, and sounds sumptuous Perfect Room is among the best reverb
denise.io when applied to lush synth chords (though plug-ins you can get for under £200. It’s
too much of it might create dissonance); become the first thing I load into the bus

O
ver the past few months, Detune, is well suited to making wonky sends of my DAW so that I can give my
Denise Audio has been sounds, with wow and flutter warping the instruments a space I can trust. My last
outputting plug-ins as part of pitch of the reverb; and Ducker is essentially caveat with Perfect Room, however, is that
its essentials series, which has so a compressor applied to the reverb, helpful it can be CPU-heavy on lower-end laptops
far included Bad Tape, Sweeper and Noize. for reducing its dynamic range and ideal for – you’ll experience some latency with MIDI
Its latest plug-in proudly upholds Denise’s use on a group of instruments. Clicking on instruments. If that’s not a problem, you’ll
high standards, with the company even these sliders opens up their parameters so find this room particularly comfortable.
developing its own reverb technology, you can fine-tune to your liking.
TXVerb, to reduce the metallic resonances In the main parameter section, you’ll find
often found in algorithmic effects such as everything you’d expect from a reverb: input
this one. The goal with Perfect Room was and output levels, mix dial, pre-delay, tail MT V ER D I CT 9/10
just that – to create an idealised natural- length, stereo-width dial, and a filter section
sounding space in a manner that sets it with low and high pass. Our main issue here
apart from the pack. lies with the tail-length slider, which doesn’t + Lovely sounding reverb with
respond in real time. Instead, it moves only no metallic resonances
PERFECT LAYOUT when you let go of the slider. Hearing the + Interesting effects that can
Installing and setting up Perfect Room is a tail-length changes as the slider is adjusted, be fine-tuned
breeze. Its more than 20 included presets, which is the case with the rest of Perfect + Quick access to tail-shaping
which range from subtle to over-the-top, Room’s settings, would be preferable. and room types
+ Visual display showing wet
and dry signals
+ Welcoming GUI, now a staple
of Denise products
Alternatives – GUI not resizable
VALHALLA DSP settings with which WAVES an interactive display
Valhalla Room to personalise your Renaissance that changes according – Tail-slider physics not quite right
£40 reverb, including room £40 to the parameters, plus and not long enough for some
This go-to for many types and presets, and A household name presets by producers
producers sports a parameters on early in the reverb-plug-in and engineers Michael An extraordinary sounding reverb
friendly GUI that offers and late reflections. market, Renaissance Brauer and Eddie Kramer. with a vast range of effects and room
basic and detailed valhalladsp.com has 12 room types and waves.com manipulation for an affordable price

116 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


MINIS REVIEW

BLUELAB LOOPMASTERS
Panogram Deep Rolling
Drum & Bass

Key features
Stereo-visualisation plug-in
Plays a selection of the
Price £30 stereo field Price £24.95
Contact bluelab-plugs.com
Freeze mode Contact loopmasters.com Key features
This plug-in visualises and lets you Stereo widening and Loopmasters’ latest combines rolling Drums, synths & bass
mono-to-stereo for d’n’b composition
manipulate sound energy across the breaks, swelling pads and powerful
stereo image. Its GUI lacks pizazz but Resizable GUI modern basslines inspired by such 607MB of 24-bit audio
it’s intuitive. Adjustable controls let you artists as Enei, Skeptical, and Alix WAV, Apple Loops, Reason
tweak the visual display’s brightness, Perez. The174bpm loops include tight or Ableton Live versions
contrast and sharpness, and you can and punchy drums alongside moody 126 loops, 142 one-shots
highlight the section of the stereo field pads, synths and arps. The best part of & 10 multi-shots
you want to examine by drawing a the pack is perhaps the pulsating bass 71 patches for Kontakt,
rectangle around it. loops, which blend weighty sub-bass EXS24, NN-XT, HALion
& Sfz
There are width, pan and output frequencies with considered use of
controls, as well as a mono-to-stereo pitch, movement and saturation.
widening button that allows for solid You’ll also find 142 one-shots
mono-compatible widening. BlueLab and 10 multi-shots that cover some
have built in a function through which spectacular effects, bass and synth
you can freeze the display and then
MT V ER D I CT 8/10 sounds, plus kick and snare hits. The
MT V ER D I CT 8/10
loop a selected selection to help you production is strong, with a loud,
hone in on a particular part. The audio A simple but effective energetic and characterful sound A well-crafted collection of
selection isn’t designed for clean audio tool to help you better that never feels over-produced or punchy breaks, slick synths
extraction but the resulting artefacts understand and widen squashed. If there’s a weak link to and banging d’n’b bass
can result in some distinctive sound the stereo image be found, it’s the music loops – loops with a crisp finish
design. some of the pads are too gritty.

LOOPMASTERS FADERPRO
Exmoor Producing
Emperor and
Celestial Performing
Downtempo Live w/ Saytek Key features
Live performance tips
10 streamed chapters
1hr 49mins
Price £24.95 Price £40
Contact loopmasters.com Key features Contact faderpro.com Uses Ableton Live
plus hardware
UK production duo Henry White and Warped, electronic soul This new course from FaderPro goes
and pop
Nathan Feddo go by the collective behind the scenes with Saytek to see
moniker Exmoor Emperor. They have 883MB of 24-bit audio how he builds his improvised house
joined forces with Loopmasters for 141 loops and and techno sets using Ableton Live
this pack of warped and atmospheric, 67 one-shots and a host of hardware. The early
electronic soul and pop samples. Its 19 MIDI files chapters begin with an overview of
loops stretch from 75 to 145bpm and 56 patches for Kontakt, the equipment and an explanation
cover inventive drum and percussion EXS24, HALion, NN-XT, Sfz of the signal flow before moving
grooves that boast compelling use of onto setting up basic clips and MIDI
panning and reverb, as well as some triggers in Ableton. There are also
heavy and warm-sounding analogue classes on creating your own loops,
basses. There’s also a folder of loops prepping audio, and programming
that include lo-fi pianos, detuned clip automation.
synth pads and haunting vocals.
MT V ER D I CT 9/10 Saytek uses a complex setup
MT V ER D I CT 8/10
You also get 19 MIDI files and a attuned to his particular processes
selection of drum, percussion, effects, A varied and useful set of but the UK producer still manages to A brilliant and tip-heavy
music and bass one-shots with characterful loops and make the course accessible and easy introduction to performing
accompanying sampler patches. The hits that sport inventive to follow, beginning with the basics live courtesy of a master-
production is atmospheric and production and compelling before slowly adding expert tips level improviser and
there’s enough variety here to make musicality gleaned from his many years of electronic artist
this a suitably useful starter kit. live performance.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 117


SIX OF THE BEST
Soft-synths for
d’n’b producers
Bleeding-edge d’n’b boasts big bass, searing leads,
moody pads and intricate synth sequences and
percussion. Here we’ve rounded up the best soft-
synth options to get your creative juices flowing
WORDS ALEX HOLMES

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS
Super 8 £90

Contact native-instruments.com

The Super 8 is NI’s first polysynth since the characterful sounds (especially with Unison
classic and long-discontinued Pro-53, and dialled in) that will have wobble appeal for
features rich sound and a no-nonsense producers working within contemporary
interface. It’s a wicked choice for warm genres.”
pads, big leads and thick basses, and KILOHEARTS
a smart place to start for beginners.
We said: “It’s a simple-looking synth with
some modern sensibilities. Every control Phase
has fought for its place on the UI. It’s an
interesting learning tool too. Some synths
can be confusing – with lots of stuff hidden
Plant £140

away beneath tabs or within deeper


Contact kilohearts.com
menus – but, if you’re new to the subject,
spending an hour with the Super 8 and its
manual might well pay dividends. It’s also Okay, so it’s not strictly modular in a
capable of creating some huge, thick and hardware sense but Kilohearts’ highly
flexible synth has a modular architecture
that lets you snap elements together to
build anything your mind can conjure, and

WAVE ALCHEMY is capable of some incredibly complex


moving patches. The Generators section

Bassynth £150 includes analogue waveforms, noise,


wavetables and a sampler, so you could
feasible cover all bases with this single and
singular instrument.
Contact wavealchemy.com
We said: “Dragging around modules and
constructing patches becomes intuitive
If you’re striving for big, cinematic bass controls, the Perform page will likely satisfy; terribly quickly – it’s almost like cheating.
sounds, Wave Alchemy’s Bassynth is an if you want to craft your own sounds using Building complex sounds doesn’t require
outstanding option. You can mix together a mind-boggling collection of sources and you going too deep, as much of the work is
four layers of fat subs and analogue parameters, you can dive deeper.” done for you. Phase Plant is unusual in that
waveforms with epic-sounding brass stabs it’s both incredibly detailed but incredibly
to create rich hybrid bass patches. simple to use. It’s the kind of drag-and-drop
We said: “The best thing about Bassynth is synthesis you may not have experienced
its vast collection of raw sounds. There’s so – as easy to use as something like Reason
much scope here for sound design that we but with enough possibilities and to satisfy
could easily see this covering most of our many a hardened modular-synth user.
bass needs, no matter the genre. It’s easy
to get excellent modern-sounding results,
whether you’re after a resonant grime throb,
distorted rock-bass licks, or a dissonant
percussive-tech pluck. Bassynth works on
several levels: if you want a collection of
superb presets and simple performance

118 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


S I X O F T H E B ES T R E V I E W

ARTURIA
Pigments 2 £165

Contact arturia.com

Pigments won us over with its flexibility and whether you want to keep your samples
beautiful GUI but Arturia’s update takes clean or smash them to a pulp. Thanks to
things to another level with the addition of the sampler, Pigments also boasts granular
sampling and granular synthesis. This is a synthesis, where a sample is cut into slices
rapturously good all-rounder for sound or ‘grains’ just a few milliseconds in length.
designers, and boasts a superb sequencer These can be rearranged, transposed or
alongside some useful randomisation tools. otherwise processed, helping you produce
We said: “Once you bring the playback new sounds from your broken-up source
modes, modulation and effects to bear, this material. This is one of the many reasons to
is a sensational starting point for anyone enthuse about the new sampling engine
looking to create their own sounds, – its textural possibilities are huge.”

UVI
Vintage
Vault 3 £545

Contact uvi.net

With a whopping 65 instruments and a


weighty 111 drum machines across 218GB
of hard-drive space – all for a similarly
significant sum – VV3 is a brute. But its
impressive vault of vintage synthesisers
are gloriously good and boast a host of
possible applications. Want to create
classic d’n’b using authentic 1990s synths?
2GETHERAUDIO Want to go retro with a thumping 1980s

Cheeze Machine Pro


flavour? UVI has you covered – this is your
one-stop shop for historical synthesisers.
We said: “Vintage Vault 3 isn’t cheap but,
given that for the same price you’d only
Pay-what-you-want (MINIMUM $10, 10 PER CENT TO CHARITY) get five or so instruments of this calibre if
purchased separately, it’s quite the
bargain. But this collection delivers on
Contact 2getheraudio.com
quality too, with the production-ready
packages bringing even the most dated
If you’re on a budget but still want to sub-oscillator and noise, widening and sampled or FM sounds right up to date.
create rich sounds to fuel your next club detuning. There’s also hard sync, two LFOs, And, if for any reason something isn’t
banger, you could do much worse than two looping mod envelopes, and built-in working for you, you can simply noodle
Cheeze Machine Pro. It’s a two-oscillator ensemble, phaser, vibrato, delay and with the presets to reshape it to your liking.
analogue-style synth with plenty of controls reverb effects.” You’ll never be stuck for options. VV3
and built-in effects, plus a warm-sounding represents a 40-year history of the
low-pass filter with drive that can help synthesiser presented in a slick and
thicken up sounds. All the controls are on accessible parcel.”
one page, making it quick and easy to
dial in a range of timbres.
We said: “Cheeze Machine Pro is a
well-priced retro-inspired soft-synth with a
big feature set. Spec-wise, there are two
generators: an analogue-modelled filter
with drive circuit, and a mixer section with

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 119


MT INTERV IE W

MOSES
E
BOYD pitomising London’s young music-makers in
the digital age, Moses Boyd was brought up
on a mix of heady jazz and tough grime, and
his sound moves in step with the hyper-culture
of the capital, capitalising on our love of immediate
gratification and genuine live experiences. 
From his bold debut album Dark Matter to his
catwalk soundtracks for shows such as Dunhill’s at
Men’s Paris Fashion Week, the 28-year-old is warping
traditional views of jazz and reinventing it in his own
way. There are few young musicians like him, yet he
hasn’t always been on trend.
From fierce jazz drums
to forward-facing club
production, South London
“I was always the odd one out at secondary
school,” he says. “There weren’t many people I could star Moses Boyd has blown
chat to about Weather Report records. But these days
it’s totally different – 16-year-olds can talk extensively
the doors off 2020 with his
about the work of Pharoah Sanders. That wasn’t the astounding debut album,
world I grew up in. It just shows how technology and
music streaming have changed everything.” Dark Matter. We meet the
ALL THAT JAZZ
young talent to talk social
While the younger Boyd might not have immediately circles, maintaining sanity
been recognised as trailblazer, the sound of this
drummer, composer and producer is now regarded
in the studio, and his most
as a potent musical force, raising the bar among his important piece of advice:
peers. His journey through sound began during
secondary school, where he cut his teeth using there are no rules
FL Studio and Cubase before discovering the drums. WORDS JIM OTTEWILL
“I managed to get free lessons with a jazz drummer
who would really push me,” says Boyd. “He would
bring me exercises, videos of live performances and
advise me to go and seek out certain players and
musicians. I just vibed off discovering new sounds
and artists. It’s something I still love doing to this day.”
During his formative years, Boyd fell in love with
the rhythm and sound of UK grime and US hip-hop
before eventually tapping into an increasingly
insatiable appetite for jazz. It’s the occasional
collisions between these two all-important worlds
that helped define both Boyd and his music.
“From artists like Roll Deep, Wiley and Dizzee
Rascal to hip-hop stars such as Biggie, Tupac, and
NERD and Pharrell, I loved it all. I just consumed
everything that was put in front of me,” he says.
Boyd’s name rose to prominence thanks to his
prolific partnership with saxophonist Binker Golding.

120 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


M O S ES B OY D I N T E R V I E W

© Dan Medhurst

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 121


I N T E R V I E W M O S ES B OY D

“It’s a bit like being a painter.


You experiment with various
shades and colours but then
you have to make a picture”
A jazz aficionado Through a mix of technical proficiency and
from a young age, raw energy, the duo won over critics who
Boyd merges his early
influences with others were left in awe of their talents over several
to create something albums, including the ambitious Journey To
wholly original The Mountain Of Forever. While the pair
picked up Jazz Act of the Year at the Jazz
FM Awards and MOBO Awards, Boyd was
also tinkering with his solo endeavours.
“It all happened simultaneously,” he says.
“I’ve known Binker since my first professional
paid gig. He’s always been there alongside
me, working, playing and writing. But I was
always writing solo tracks too.”

MATTER OF FACT
Boyd’s debut record Dark Matter arrived
seemingly fully formed in February of this
year. But this collection was preceded by
2018’s dance-floor smash Rye Lane Shuffle.
Mixed by underground electronica heroes
Four Tet and Floating Points, the track was
adored by Gilles Peterson and BBC 6 Music,
and quickly became a club hit. It certainly
whetted appetites ahead of the release
Boyd’s debut record.
“It took me more than two years to make
the whole album. Originally, there was no
grand plan to make a record,” says Boyd.
“I’ve always made beats for fun, and it’s
something I never want to stop doing. So I
was just exploring sounds until some began
to fit together sonically. But even then, I
didn’t want the creative process to be too
disciplined. Compared to other projects
I’ve worked on where I’ve had to rigorously
structure recording sessions, this was far
more open ended.”
Giving himself creative space no doubt
impacted the finished product – there’s
an elasticity and innovation reverberating
throughout its 10 tracks. “I’m self-released
© Alan John Ainsworth/Heritage Images/Getty Images

so there was no label making demands on


me to finish,” says Boyd. “It meant I could
take my time and experiment with drum
machines, samplers, modular synthesisers.
I wanted to capture interesting sounds,
then piece the music together from them,
rather than sitting down at a piano and
crafting music in a more formal setting.”
Recordings were laid down here and
there, with Boyd calling on the talents of
friends, musicians and collaborators he’d
met on his travels to flesh out the bones of
Dark Matter. “I made beats on my phone,
recording things as I was out and about. I’d
go to my friend Joe Armon Jones’ house –

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M O S ES B OY D I N T E R V I E W

Boyd at the Jazz FM


Awards 2019, where
he was nominated for
he appears on 2 Far Gone and doesn’t live the Digital Awards for
far from me – with my laptop and we’d his residency at 1Xtra
record in his front room. I was never really
searching for studio perfection. I’d book
a day here and there at proper studios to
record certain rhythm tracks. But I really
wanted it to be just me and my hard drive
walking around capturing things from my
community and my friends. It had to sound
raw, not too clean or finessed.”
Featuring afrobeat vocalist Obongjayar
and jazz-inflected singer-songwriter Poppy
Ajudha, the album sports not only an electric
energy but an eclectic musicality. It’s as if
Boyd was able to harness the breadth of his
most-played artists on Spotify and inject the
same level of diversity into his own work.
“It’s all community and friends who I’ve
connected with,” he says. “These are people
I know well, who I thought would understand
what I was trying to do and could translate
what I heard. That’s not to say I couldn’t work
with someone I wasn’t friends with but, for
me, it’s more fun to collaborate with artists
who I formed a strong bond with before
we pressed record.”

GOING BLIND
Boyd’s creative process revolves primarily
around Logic although, as he often works
in bigger studios and with an increasingly
wide array of artists, he’s also getting to
grips with Pro Tools. “For me and the sort
of music I make, Pro Tools has a few more
barriers: it’s more expensive, a bit more
complicated and the interface is less user

© Dave Benett/Getty Images


friendly,” he says. “But it’s easier to take
a Pro Tools file home and edit it rather than
having to bounce it into another DAW, then
rebounce. Getting to grips with Pro Tools
is about workflow more than anything.”
In terms of the gear and equipment
featured on Dark Matter, the musician
states that there was nothing “invaluable”
at the heart of how it was pulled together.
“I used a Jen SX-1000, a 1970s mono synth, The Electric in Brixton
as well as a Mutable Instruments module was host to a thrilling
called Clouds, and a few Logic plug-ins homecoming show by
the South Londoner in
too. Ultimately, I’m not precious about March 2020
gear, I’m a blindfold kind of person – as
long as I like the sound, it doesn’t really
matter what it’s being created on.”
Another technique involved in the
album’s making was the rapid printing of
sounds. “I got really into this,” says Boyd.
“I’d make an effects chain, bounce the
audio, then process further by routing to
other effects chains and so forth. I really
would push the tape delays and Space
Designer in Logic. Print then repeat.”
Since he started out, Boyd’s method of
laying down music has become less formal
and more fluid, more focused on capturing
intriguing sounds in the moment than trying
to achieve that illusive ‘perfect’ sound and
wasting all-important creative time. It’s a
reflection of how he’s side-stepped out
of the typical jazz settings and into clubs.
“I liken it to a stream of consciousness,” he
says. “I’m now more into chasing sounds
and not really worrying about whether
they make sense or not.”

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 123


I N T E R V I E W M O S ES B OY D

“There are no rules. I’ve been


exploring this for the past five
years and realised you can’t
be constrained by anything”
Both a dedicated Boyd’s traditional background in jazz
follower and a leader drums informs his music’s direction but isn’t
of fashion, Boyd
attended the Dunhill its defining characteristic. Rather, it’s Boyd’s
London men’s show in inquisitive nature that guides him. “I have
Paris in 2018, an a great understanding of harmony and
event soundtracked by
his music rhythm but I don’t rely on that to make my
tracks,” he says. “I’m more into discovering
and making things that really move me. I’ll
invest my time in finding great sounds, then
frame the songs with them later.”

PICTURE PERFECT
While working in this free-form fashion might
be bewildering for some, Boyd’s creativity
is always tied to his sense of enjoyment.
When it stops being fun, that’s when he
knows to draw a line under a song or beat.
“If it’s no longer enjoyable, I know that’s it,”
he says. “There comes a point when the
exploration stage is over and a track needs
to be cleaned up. It’s a bit like being a
painter. You experiment with various shades
and colours but then you have to make a
picture. The kind of consolidation process
is different to creating. You take stock and
realise that now is the time to clean and
chisel the work in the best way you can.”
One of the most striking aspects of Dark
Matter is Boyd’s wilful deconstruction of
genre, a skill that has defined much of his
recent output. Has he any advice for fellow
sonic travellers looking to weave tapestries
of such contrasting sounds and styles?
“There are no rules,” he says, with a
laugh. “I’ve been exploring this for the
past five years and realised you can’t be
constrained by anything. Acoustic and
electronic instruments are two different
things but they can work together – you
just need to find a way. It’s all about what
you want to achieve sonically rather than
evaluating phase or compression.
“I remember presenting that song to
my mix engineer and he was like, ‘What is
going on?’ I told him it would work, to trust
me. We did three or four mixes before we
arrived at the final version. But it was fun
watching the process change from being
© Jacopo Raule/Getty Images

mathematical to something more intuitive


by the end. A lot of people are put off by
what’s in front of them, and not what they
actually hear. Just remember that there
really are no hard rules and try not to
over-think anything.”
While Boyd’s album is self-produced,
he’s also worked for other leading artists,

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M O S ES B OY D I N T E R V I E W

Boyd’s live shows are


colourful and intense
helping produce jazz singer Zara McFarlane’s
2017 full-length Arise for Gilles Peterson’s
Brownswood label, as well as killer tracks for
vocalist Yazmin Lacey. For Boyd, his purpose
on these projects is to serve the music, and
strike a balance between leaving his own
stamp on songs while delivering the artist’s
ideas as best he can. “It’s not about me in
these scenarios, even if they’ve come to
me and asked for my services,” he says. “I
put my ego behind me and try to make the
music work as well as possible for the artist.
How can I make them sound the best they
can and offer them things they perhaps
wouldn’t necessarily think of? When it’s
your own music, there’s no third party, so
all the answers are coming from you. Both
situations have challenges.”

EASY RIDER
Boyd may well be fast becoming one
of our most vital new producers but it’s
as a skilled drummer that he first gained
attention. He believes technical proficiency
is a must for any ambitious young musician
but that it needs to be balanced with an
ability to get along with collaborators and
be good company in a studio setting. It will
take emerging musicians a long way.
“You need to hone your craft but also
remember to leave your ego at the door,”
he says. “Studios are weird environments
and there’s nothing worse than being in
one with someone you can’t get along
with. Music is a very social thing and if
everyone in a session feels comfortable,
the results will be better.”
Boyd cites the wealth of online resources
and guides as useful signposts for fledgling
players. But ultimately, nothing beats getting
into a studio and experiencing this world first
hand. “Even if it’s just doing the coffee run,
you’ll learn lots about how recording works
and the various processes at play,” he says.
“It also creates opportunities. I’ve seen it first
hand, when a drummer shows up, does a He also believes that being a drummer This flexibility and improvisation feeds
great job and everyone loved being around has loosened his relationship with musical into Boyd’s experiences as a jazz drummer,
them, and then before you know it they’re equipment. “I do have a wishlist of certain toying with different rhythms and sounds.
touring with Beyoncé. It goes to show that items. But the realities of space can really “You can’t really see what you’re doing
being personable and easy to get along dictate what equipment I’m able to get, as one seven-minute piece of music,” he
with is the key to this profession.” particularly as a drummer. I’d need a whole says. “Instead, you need to treat it as lots
As a musician, Boyd is one of extreme other house for all the things I’d have if I of smaller ideas acting as visual aids to
skill and versatility. His drum kit of choice is could. That’s why I enjoy the flexibility of underline the important parts of the show.”
a Yamaha PHX, augmented by a Roland working in-the-box.” With his debut album dropping to rave
SPD-SX sampling pad and triggers when reviews, Boyd has recently completed a
on stage. He recommends Yamaha for the IN FASHION brilliant UK tour, with a big show at Brixton’s
consistency the company’s gear provides. Alongside his artist material, collaborations 1,500-capacity Electric. Plans are underway
“Having the same sound quality is really and production work, Boyd has also found for other projects and live events later this
important, especially when on the road,” time to turn his hand to composing for year (current world events notwithstanding)
he says. “In the studio, I’d advise anyone fashion shows. So far his creations have but this particular gig proved to be a real
playing drums to try and avoid suffocating soundtracked the Louis Vuitton Foundation career high. “It was incredible, man,” says
them with tape and Moongel. Sometimes x MoMa Archive film in 2017 and the Men’s Boyd. “I’m from South East so to play Brixton
it can be important but you need to learn Dunhill Paris Fashion shows in both 2018 and Electric was something else for me. I had a
how to get as many different tones from 2019. It’s another intriguing and exciting friend from school who was involved and
a kit as possible.” side to the young music-maker’s sound. a lot of people came out. It was packed,
When recording in a session, Boyd also “It’s a very different way of working from which made it even more emotional.”
advises getting your drums tuned as close to my other projects,” he says. “You need to Moses Boyd’s music is ingrained in the
the source of the desired sound as possible. remember that the show or production fabric of London, and with his solo debut
“Fixing tunings afterwards isn’t fun,” he says, can keep on changing right up until the making an impact across the industry, his
“so save yourself time and effort and get last moment, so you need to have enough future as a producer looks assured.
it right first time, when you’re recording. music prepared because it can all be
It’s always preferable.” extended, blended or cut.” Dark Matter is out now

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 125


MT INTERV IE W

DR PACKER Glitterbox, Peppermint Jam, Salsoul and Soulfuric –


these are just some of the heavyweight labels that have
paged Dr Packer and requested check-ups on their tracks,
with his healing touch helping to bring disco back into the
consciousness of discerning clubbers. We catch up with the
good doctor to talk production, and studio life in Australia
WORDS SI GORDON

D
isco was a common theme in Greg their own spin on pre-existing works. I was self-taught
Packer’s childhood home. He grew up with the help of a good friend who set me up with
in the 1970s, listening to his mum’s records, Pro Tools. He had done the full training course but
which provided his first real introduction to gave me lots of pointers and I basically developed
music. Record-buying would become a constant in off the back of that.
his life. He made his name in the 1990s drum ’n’ bass
circuit but began playing soul, funk and disco MT What was the first important equipment purchase
records in 2013, applying his unique re-editing you made when you first started editing tracks?
techniques in the studio to form original takes Is there any gear from back then that’s still in your
on classic tracks. studio today?
It wasn’t long before his mixes caught the DP I am still working on my original setup from my
attention of industry heavyweights such as Joey drum ’n’ bass days, which is Avid Pro Tools on my
Negro, John Morales, Simon Dunmore, Greg Wilson, 12-year-old iMac. With reworks, I am just layering
and Dimitri From Paris, and his Surgery Edits series what already exists so I don’t need to source any
on DiscoDat records was soon topping digital sales fancy new plug-ins for that. It was just about getting
charts. Packer’s most recent reworks and edits led to the groove right, and the mix balance between
him producing official remixes for leading labels, and what I’m adding and what’s already there. So, to this
to Joey Negro signing him to Z Recordings and letting day, I still work on a minimal setup that’s very much
him loose on its back catalogue. Now a seasoned in-the-box. It proves that you don’t always need
touring DJ and award-winner, Dr Packer is very much the most up-to-date equipment, just the ideas,
in demand. knowledge, technique and ears.

THE DOCTOR WILL SEE YOU NOW MT What criteria do you look for in an original track
MusicTech How did your career in music production that you might want to remix or re-edit?
begin? Did you always dream of becoming a DP I look for space in the original production so that
producer/remixer or was it a happy accident? my additional drums and musical elements won’t
Dr Packer I was a DJ first. I started in 1989 at the tender sound cluttered on top of what already exists. More
age of 17. About 10 years later, I felt that I had taken simple tracks with less percussion and less complex
the whole DJ thing as far as I could, and had an basslines work better for me. I like to replay every
overwhelming urge to add something fresh to it all. note again, adding a bigger, more modern take for
I thought if I could start playing my own music as a today’s dancefloors. Some tracks are an absolute
feature alongside other productions, it would give nightmare though, with bass players, for example,
my sound a unique edge and enhance my live DJ going wild all over the whole thing – it can take me
sets, so I set out about learning to produce music. some time to make the edits and the additional
compositional elements.
MT You are well known for your remixing and editing
techniques. How did you gain your experience? MT Run us through a typical approach to one of your
DP Between 1999 and 2013, my sound was liquid and re-edits or remixes. Is it planned or instinctive?
soulful drum ’n’ bass, and the productions were mostly DP Usually, I sit, listen and try to imagine my additional
original tracks compared to what I do today. I would drums and basslines over the top of the original,
record a singer or MC and, most of the time, write the literally writing the notation in my head. From this
lyrics for the music we were making. The music was process, I usually get a rough idea as to whether it
more sample-based, manipulating, programming will work or not.
and composing the music originally as opposed to Sometimes, if I feel it could work, I will do a rough
bootlegging. Later, I simply applied the same thinking draft of the main hook, maybe 16 to 32 bars in
and the same techniques to my reworks or re-edits. length. Ultimately, this will confirm the feel and
I had a decent knowledge of making music to begin whether it is going to work at the adjusted tempo
with. It just seemed much easier for me. It’s kind of like with my basic layers. Occasionally, I get surprised
a cover band adding their own elements or putting and something I thought would not work does and

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I N T E R V I E W D R PAC K ER

“I would visit John Morales


at Studio 54 so I could say
to him, ‘One day you will
be playing my mixes’”
something that I was sure would work does
not. If it does, though, I’ll run with it, staying
as close to the original as possible but adding
in the Dr Packer sound. I quite often use my
Roland XV-5080 synth for its warm Rhodes
patches and 303 acid-type bass sounds,
which sit well with the older disco and funk-
style tracks.
My favourite two plug-ins in Pro Tools are
Xpand and Soundtoys’ FilterFreak, which
are great for further bass sounds, strings
and electric pianos. I generally mix down
the same way I would with drum ’n’ bass,
by pulling all the low-end frequencies apart
from the kick drum and bassline. However,
unlike drum ’n’ bass, the basslines in 4/4
music often run in sync with the kick, so I
find that with the reworks and re-edits I
need to sidechain the bass if it’s clashing
with my kick.

MT You have remixed countless disco


anthems and classic works over the
years. What are you most proud?
DP I think I’m most proud of the Salsoul
hook-up, as that is a legendary label that
I’ve loved since my teenage years. It’s
much the same with West End too. Being
able to work on tracks such as Raw Silk’s
Do It To The Music is a dream come true.
It’s hard to pick a favourite remix, as I have
done so many over the past five years. The
one I seem to keep playing over and over
again is my mix of Sylvester’s Do Ya Wanna
Funk. It often gets the biggest reaction in
sets and I never get tired of playing or
listening to it.

MT How does it feel when the likes of Salsoul


and West End records commission you for
TOP 5 REMIX TIPS official remixes? Was it a lifelong dream to
release on these legendary labels?
1 Choose wisely
The fewer elements in the original the better.
Ultimately, a multi-track is the best option, then
4 Tuning
Old tracks were not often recorded at
concert pitch, so be aware of the tuning. If you
DP Absolutely. At first, Salsoul messaged
me with a concern about some of the
you can remove and add your own. are laying chords and basslines on top, they may unofficial re-edits I had uploaded on my
slightly be off-key and will require tuning up. Soundcloud page. They said, “We don’t
2 Pick music from the 1970s and 1980s
They generally contain light, weaker kick
drums, which means yours will stand out more 5 Your sound
Add an original vibe to the remix. A lazy edit
mind you having these up there, all we ask
is that you don’t give them away as free
in the finished product. doesn’t lend the track any identity. Try to find downloads or sell them”. My reply was
isolated clean parts or a capellas, and don’t be simple: “Would you like to release them

3 Warp and quantise


Spend as much time as possible tightening
things up. There’s nothing worse than kick drums
afraid to get creative by introducing new filter
parts, breakdowns and things that didn’t happen
in the original. This way, you’ll get the proper
then?” From there, a working relationship
began and blossomed.
clashing or a mix going out of time. credit for your edit.
MT The remixer’s job can be extremely
stressful, with tight deadlines. What do
you do to unwind?

128 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


D R PAC K ER I N T E R V I E W

DP I am lucky enough to live about two MT Any advice for aspiring remixers?
minutes away from the beach, so I usually
go for morning jogs to clear the mind and
DP Try to have your own sound so people
can see what you are bringing to the table. SOFTWARE
jump in the ocean before breakfast – if the
weather is nice, of course. I like to swim
Lots of people are editing what’s already
there and making DJ-friendly intros and
WEAPONS
laps at the pool too. Personal fitness and outros. Then they put their name to that, OF CHOICE
mindfulness are important to me. Getting which, to me, is pointless. You have to add
out of the studio environment for a bit is
great for recharging the batteries and
enough to an original so that it essentially
becomes a remix.
1 Avid Pro Tools
“I did my apprenticeship on this and
can work very fast with it.”
giving the ears, eyes and mind a rest. It
can be quite invigorating and inspiring. MT If you had a time machine and you
could visit any point in musical history, 2 NI Kontakt
“Everything is at hand, including all
my presets and sample banks. I can work
MT You started DJing when the only option where would you go? quickly with it.”
was using two vinyl decks and a mixer but DP Easy: it would have to be back to
today there are so many more. Does the
equipment matter to you?
the Paradise Garage between 1977 and
1987, with Larry Levan in his prime. That, 3 Celemony Melodyne
“It’s a fine tool for figuring out chord
progressions and getting elements in the
DP I don’t think so. As long as what you or I would visit John Morales at Studio 54
right key.”
do sounds good and the people are so I could say to him, “One day you will
entertained, you should use whatever be playing my mixes”.
equipment enables you to do what you
want to do. Do whatever pleases you. MT What upcoming projects are you most
4 Ableton Live
“I only use this for warping the old
tracks. It’s a little tighter than Pro Tools.”
Dimitri From Paris started out in the same excited about?
way as me, using turntables and vinyl.
Now he plays off a laptop and that works
DP I am working on my second album for
Glitterbox, which is close to the finish line. It
5 Soundtoys FilterFreak
“Probably my go-to plug-in within
Pro Tools. It’s brilliant for thickening up
for him, so fair play. I’m definitely not a DJ includes remixes of original tracks by Horse bass sounds.”
snob that thinks that if you didn’t learn on Meat Disco, The Shapeshifters, Aeroplane,
vinyl then you aren’t a real DJ. Hifi Sean, and Roberto Surace.

musictech.net MusicTech May 2020 129


REWIND ROL AND TR-808

V INTAG E K IT

REWIND
It may be one of the most iconic drum machines
of all time but is this trailblazer still recommended?
WORDS GREG SCARTH

There’s an argument that the authentic sounds (albeit at a much higher have only dreamt of in the early-1980s, let
Roland TR-808 is the definitive price) thanks to its revolutionary sample- alone 40 years later. By comparison, the 909
drum machine: innovative, distinctive, based design. But that’s not the point of sold about 10,000 units, while Linn produced
popular, and responsible for entire musical the 808. The later TR-909’s kick drum is only 525 LM-1s and about 5,000 LinnDrums.
genres that sprung up around it. At the very punchier and some might argue that the Either way, the 808 plummeted in value
least, it’s got to be the most widely known; cheaper TR-606 has better hi-hats, but the on the secondhand market, finding its way
its signature kick drum makes it one of a 808 is the sound of electro and a sizeable into the hands of artists in new and exciting
select group of electronic instruments chunk of 1980s hip-hop, as well as an scenes, such as techno and Miami bass.
recognisable to the general public. eclectic range of other eras and genres. From big-budget acts to down-and-dirty
I’d built it up too much in my mind, Now celebrating its 40th birthday, the raves, the cultural impact of the 808 can’t
from the moment when, as a teenager 808 has become a timeless sound in the be overstated; it’s hard to imagine how
in the1990s, I discovered that this single vein of the distorted electric guitar or an acid different music might today be without it.
mythical machine was behind the rhythms
of an eclectic selection of my favourite
tracks, from Planet Rock to Sexual Healing
via Voodoo Ray to name but a few. Which
The cultural impact of the 808
is why, a few years down the line, in a studio
somewhere in West Yorkshire, I was left a little
can’t be overstated; it’s hard to
nonplussed when I finally got my hands on a
real-life 808. Okay, the sounds were all there imagine music today without it
but was this it? The 808 is basic by modern
standards: a simple step sequencer, 11 bassline from one of Roland’s other iconic Four decades on from its release, the 808
sound circuits – some of which double up machines, the TB-303. Its contemporaries, is one of the most iconic drum machines of
as two instruments, forcing you to choose such as the LinnDrum or Oberheim DMX all time and has finally, as of this year, been
between a tom and a conga, or a maraca sound dated in a way that the 808 doesn’t. inducted into the NAMM TECnology Hall of
and a handclap (see page 032) – and not They don’t necessarily sound bad, just Fame. But unfortunately it’s increasingly
much else. distinctly early-1980s, whereas the 808 still difficult to recommend purchasing one
For all its limitations, however, I found features in hit pop records to this day. if you actually want to make music. The
myself glued to the 808 some half an hour Priced at $1,195 on release – about $3,700 808 can be modded with contemporary
later, prodding at its chunky buttons in some today – the 808 wasn’t cheap. The common features such as MIDI and tuning knobs, but
kind of trance. Never mind the absence of narrative is that the 808 was a commercial with prices now well in excess of £3,000, the
‘proper’ sequencing or pitch-perfect kick flop for Roland, beaten by the Linn LM-1 original has become more of a collector’s
drums, there was no doubt that this was still and LinnDrum. After just a couple of years, item than a go-to instrument.
an engaging and inspiring instrument. Hook the 808 was discontinued and replaced by The good news is that there are dozens
the 808 up to a half-decent pair of speakers the all-new 909, a beefier machine with of alternatives that pay homage to the
and its glorious analogue sounds will surely built-in MIDI, swing, pitch control, sample- original and upgrade it for modern use.
win you over, from the booming kick to the based cymbals and various other tweaks to These include Roland’s own digital TR-08
amazingly characterful clap, the sizzling address the limitations of its predecessor. Boutique module, the analogue Behringer
hi-hats and the funky percussive blips of Like so much of the story, that ‘flop’ RD-8, the D16 Nepheton plug-in and many
the rimshots and claves. has to be considered in context. Roland others. Tiptop Audio will even sell you a full
None of it sounds particularly realistic, of apparently sold about 12,000 units during range of Eurorack modules that replicate
course. The rival Linn LM-1 Drum Computer, the 808’s short lifespan. This is a number the circuits of the 808’s kick, snare, hats,
also released in 1980, offered much more most drum-machine manufacturers could cowbell, claves/rimshot and maracas.

130 May 2020 MusicTech musictech.net


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