ART Precision Phono Preamp for Turntables Review
One of the things we've been doing during Covid is listening to more vinyl. It's been nice to revisit the analog realm of the spinning discs. Of course, it was also a good time to check out some phono preamps. We created a nice compact setup with our vintage Pioneer turntable, Yamaha studio monitors and an ART Precision Phono Preamp. We pick it up for $65 and think it provides excellent value. It's small, easy to connect, nicely labeled and sounds great.
The ART includes settings for moving magnet and moving coil cartridges. It has a switchable low-cut filter and includes standard photo line input and output jacks. It's a very small unit so the power supply is external. On the front there's a gain control, clipping indicator and really bright power light. Really. They could make this 1/10 the brightness and that would be fine. ART should have a dimming capability because if you want to fall asleep to some vinyl this light is going to keep you up. Now, if you prefer to have a nighlight this offers extra value. Depends how you look at it but yes we had to put a cloth over that light at night. It's distracting. <br<
Other than that, this is a great little preamp. The sound quality clean and transparent with plenty of ouuput. We were able to drive our Yamaha studio monitors to very high output level no problem. For a simple, clean and very good sounding setup the ART Precision Phono Preamp is an excellent value.
Learn more and get all the specs here.
- Category: Home Electronics
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones Review, 250 Ohm version
The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones offer an excellent value in the $150 price range for professional level headphone with excellent isolation and long lasting comfort. There's a reason so many of our production friends refer to these as “the clouds” and you're seeing podcasters and field mixers replace their trusty Sony MDR-7506s with the DT 770s.
The DT 770s come in several versions depending on what type of device you think you'll be using to drive them. We've tested both the 80 Ohm and 250 Ohm versions and recommend the 250 Ohm version when connecting to professional gear and quality headphone amps. The 250 Ohm version pair nicely with a Mackie mixer for example and we could mix with confidence on par with our studio monitors. We found the 80 Ohm version a little boomy and less accurate.
The DT 770s are nicely made with beautiful velour ear pads that make them comfortable to wear for extended sessions. Since these pads are inherent to the design you get the comfort and the quality sound. If you replace the ear pads on the Sony MDR-7506s with velour pads the sound is not the same and they're still not as comfortable to wear as the DT 770s. The DT 770s have a better feel overall. We also like the look of the silver pads.
The DT 770s are not nearly as heavy as they look. Before taking them out of the box we expected them to just feel heavy. That wasn't the case and we were pleasantly surprised by the design. It's just the right mix of metal and plastic. You can't really fold them up in a compact way like the MDR-7506s but that's not a concern in the studio. They're kinda too nice to take in the field anyway. That's what the Sony's are for.
We're not sure why we waited so long to try the DT 770s. We just got so used to the $100 headphones from Sony, Shure and AKG. If you can, spend a little more and check out the DT 770s, especially the 250 Ohm version. You'll find them on Amazon as low as $125 but typically around $150. They're certainly worth a listen and will be in our arsenal going forward.
Visit Beyerdynamic for more details and all the specs.
- Category: Production and Creative
Shure SM7B vs. Electro-Voice RE20
The SM7B and RE20 microphones from Shure and Electro-Voice are the benchmark dynamic mics for professional broadcasting in the sub $500 range. You can usually find both mics in the $400 range with the Shure SM7B offering a better value as it includes a proper mount and wind screens. The EV RE20 comes with a well made but simple mic clip that is a little more cumbersome on a boom stand.
We've used both mics over the years but usually in separate studios. So we finally got some time to enjoy both mics in the same setting with the same signal path and decide which one we prefer if we had to choose one primarily for live broadcasting. We tested a variety of signal paths and preamps which included gear from Daking, True Systems, DBX, FMR Audio, Mackie and Yamaha.
The RE20 is perhaps the most recognizable dynamic mic on the planet. It's a beautiful and functional design with minimal proximity effect and just looks awesome in that timeless fawn beige color. The RE20 is really good in a setting where the talent may be interacting with other folks, turning side to side and perhaps not really paying much attention to the mic. The Variable-D design works as designed and you can move considerable distance around this mic with very little effect on timbre. Even without a wind screen or isolation mount the RE20 minimizes handling noise, popping Ps, and is very good at isolation. It's a little more sensitive than the SM7B and will pick up a little more of background noise and HVAC. The bass roll-off switch is easier to access and quickly refer to versus the SM7B which is on the back of the mic and requires a flat head screwdriver to set.
The RE20 sounds great on voice and instruments and can take high pressure levels. We also did a test recording acoustic guitar and singing with just the RE20 in the room the results were solid for a quick and easy setup to get down ideas with good fidelity. Same goes for the SM7B. It sounds great on everything and you can scream out lyrics to your hearts content. Both of these mics are proven, tough designs that should provide years or quality service.
Both of these mics are industry standards. Give them a good preamp, a little compression and EQ to taste and you are off and running. To our ears however, the RE20 is lacking a bit in the mids. We found ourselves fiddling with knobs on our gear a bit more with the RE20 to dial in the sound versus the SM7B. This is probably something we wouldn't notice with just an RE20 in the studio but compared to the SM7B it took more work for us to dial in the sound the way we like it. Subjective yes. So your ears might prefer the RE20 right out of the box.
The RE20 looks the part. It's just such an awesome looking piece of gear. The classic color, the heft, the grill, it's just beautiful. Aesthetically, you can't go wrong. However, the SM7B is a smarter design. The clever isolation mount is less obtrusive and allows for the mic cable to run along the boom stand if needed. It's just more stealth and sleek. So in a setting where you might not see the talent the RE20 is excellent. In a setting where the talent is on camera the SM7B is a better choice.
To our ears the SM7B sounds better and the proximity effect is not an issue. It's easy to dial in a sound we like and adjust our mic technique accordingly. At first, the RE20 has a more flattering sound perhaps because of the slight attenuation in the mid frequencies. However, over time we preferred the flatter response of the SM7B. The SM7B also includes two switches for bass roll-off and boosting mids. The boosting of the mids can be helpful for some voices to help them cut through the mix. For both mics we preferred to engage the bass roll-off feature and leave it at that.
So when we consider sound and practical use we like the Shure SM7B better. It's a flatter sounding microphone that we can EQ to taste so we're not fighting the sound characteristics of the mic right out of the box. It works better with a noise gate in less than ideal conditions such as computers or HVAC noise in the space. We really like it paired with a Daking Mic-Pre One and the RNC 1773 from FMR Audio. We also had less sibilance to tame using the SM7B.
To be clear this is not a binary choice. These are both great microphones and anybody should be excited to own either of them. If you're lucky enough to own both even better. The RE20 is amazing on drums and other instruments and is built like a tank. We wanted to like the RE20 better than the SM7B because we think it just looks cooler. However, in the end the SM7B is our choice for dynamic mic especially in an on-camera podcast setting or less than perfect studio conditions. Again, both great mics but if we could only choose one we'd pick the SM7B.
Visit Shure for more information about the SM7B
Visit Electro-Voice for more information about the RE20
- Category: Production and Creative
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Noise Canceling Headphones Review
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II noise canceling headphones are comfortable, sound great and provide very good noise canceling capabilities. We like them especially for air travel and tested them on a 4 hour flight for comfort.
The QC 35 II headphones can be connected directly with the included 3.5mm cord or via Bluetooth. Bose includes a short cord perfect for connecting to in-flight entertainment systems or portable electronics. Bluetooth pairing is fast and seamless. The QC 35 II headphones found and connected instantly to our Samsung S10E. We listened to Spotify for hours and the battery life was outstanding for these headphones. We never were caught needing a charge with all day use.
Bose products always sound good. They've been at this a long time and the QuietComfort 35 II is no exception. These headphones are very comfortable with soft ear cups and just enough padding around the headband. They look and feel substantial without being heavy and can be worn comfortably for extended periods of time. We really like the silver color and it's easier to see the switched and controls. Bose also includes a nice little carrying case with a pocket for the USB and 3.5mm cord that's handy.
Noise canceling is very good. Although for extended periods of time we find we need a break to baseline our environment. White noise is the easiest to deal. So once we're at 35,000 feet it's quiet bliss. During takeoff or other times where there are random loud burst of acoustic energy it can be unnerving when a blast of sound is not attenuated and jolts you back to reality and you're reminded just how loud your surroundings are. This is one of the reasons we often prefer our studio monitors such as the Sony MDR-7506. The closed design helps seal out some noise while not going completely under water which is the sensation we sometimes get from the Bose noise canceling headphones.
Bose has an app for iPhone and Android users and these headphones are ready for interacting with Google and Alexa. The built in microphone works great. Everyone we talked to thought we were speaking directly into the phone and not on wireless at all. So these are great headphones for taking walking meetings. It's a bit overkill obviously and we got similar results with Skull Candy cans we reviewed recently. However, for the premium experience it's really hard to beat QuietComfort 35 IIs.
- Category: Home Electronics
ATEN CS1942DP Review - 2-Port USB 3.0 4K DisplayPort Dual-Display KVMP Switch
It's been a while since we needed a KVM switch and man have they evolved nicely. The ATEN CS1942DP 2-Port USB 3.0 4K DisplayPort Dual-Display KVMP switch is an excellent solution for a dual workstation setup that requires the ability to drive two 4K displays.
The ATEN CS1942DP is a professional level solution which includes the ability to share common peripherals and independently switch KVM. USB and audio. We used it to switch between two editing workstations where both units took advantage of dual displays and a wireless mouse. We didn't use the audio connections on the CS1942DP because each workstation's sound card was already connected to a mixer for audio so the mini stereo mic and speaker connections were unnecessary in our setup.
Our main interest was the ability to share a wireless mouse, wired keyboard and two displays between two workstations with maximum up-time. The ATEN CS1942DP works very well in this scenario. Each workstation has a Quadro graphics card with DisplayPort outputs to drive 4K displays. We used with various displays from HP and Dell and the ATEN recognized and scaled the image properly as if the computers were connected directly to the displays. The wired keyboard and wireless mouse performed as if they were connected directly to the computers without any perceivable lag. The computers were used to edit and color correct video and the color was accurate going through the ATEN CS1942DP as would be expected with quality DisplayPort connectors.
ATEN includes all the cables necessary for connection two computers to the CS1942DP KVMP switch. The cables are decent quality and on the shorter side. We used two workstations underneath an average size desk, one to the left and one to the right. The cables provided worked fined in our scenario. However, we could easily see a scenario where longer cables would be required. ATEN really has provided the bare minimum to make this work.
One of the main issues with using a KVM switch is the lag time from the moment you press the button until the other computer is active and the display live. The CS1942DP takes about 4 seconds to switch between computers. So it's not instant but we haven't used a KVM switch that is. It's not a big deal as we don't rapidly pop back and forth between workstations. More importantly when doing windows updates the monitors are accurately recognized when connected to the CS1942DP just as they would be if connected directly to the computer.
The ATEN CS1942DP has an excellent built quality with metal case and quality buttons. The lights on the front of the unit make it easy to identify the active computer and the status of the KVM. Our only gripe on the build or usability is the wall wart. We hate wall warts and would much prefer this unit to be shipped with a built in power supply.
At a typical street price of $329 the ATEN CS1942DP is not cheap. It's a premium unit designed for a professional environment. If you have a need for a 4k, dual DisplayPort cable KVMP switch the CS1942DP is an excellent choice.
Visit ATEN for more information and all the specs on the CS1942DP.
- Category: Computer Gear
Mackie 1402 VLZ4 Mixer Review
So your Mackie mixer finally died. Now what? There are a lot of options on the compact mixer market. Soundcraft, Allen and Heath, Yamaha, Tascam and Mackie all make quality units in the sub $500 price range. Some folks love the super affordable Behringer units.
In many video post facilities you'll find the ubiquitous Mackie VLZ series. This includes everything from the original VLZ series made in the USA to the more recent VLZ4 series made in China. Our 1202 VLZ Pro recently died after 12 years of abuse. Not bad.
This time we decided to opt for the Mackie 1402 VLZ4. While we considered all the other options in the sub $500 price range we decided to go for the Mackie for practical reasons and a history of quality. It's easy to swap out the cables from the old mixer to the new without dealing with a new mixer layout. And, there are a couple of Mackie features we really love like Mute alt 3-4 versatility and inserts on inputs 1-6 that make it super convenient to use our FMR RNC1773 with 1 TRS per channel. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, to our ears, it's sounds just as good as previous generations of Mackie mixers.
There are some things we don't like. While Mackie touts the new color scheme as user friendly with the neon colored Aux and Eq knobs, the knobs themselves have no texture, no grip. We miss the old knobs with the indents. They were a 10X better experience. Also, the amount of torque it takes to twist a knob is not consistent. For example, the pan controls on channel 1 and 2 feel completely different. Even after repeated attempts to twist the knob back and forth to loosen it up channel 2 is very stiff. Same goes for the Aux 1 knob. That's not a great experience and make us question the quality control.
We have mixed feelings about the faders. We actually think using the faders is a better experience despite the faders themselves looking and feeling cheaper to the touch. The faders have a good feel to them and the updated color scheme do make them easier to use. The outline around unity is helpful.
The build quality seems up to Mackie standards. In spite of the cheaper feeling knobs and faders the chassis still feels tank-like and we hope will prove to be durable over time.
So how are the Onyx Mic pres. They're fine. Condenser and dynamic mics with enough output work fine on the 1402 VLZ4. Lower output mics like and SM7B need a preamp. Our use case is not critical recording but rather post production and the ability to keep multiple audio sources connected for easy access. While we may lay down some tracks we'd use a separate preamp instead of the built-in preamps on the 1402 VLZ4. They're perfectly fine, low noise preamps but there is nothing special about them.
The EQ works. The 1402 VLZ4 has fixed frequencies for lows, mids and highs and we find the EQ musical when used sparingly. Does it sound a little nicer than previous Mackies? Yes, we think so but mostly because the overall design provides a cleaner signal flow overall. More headroom also helps with AUX sends and results in better sounding reverb...etc. The Big Sky sounds even more transparent with the new Mackie. So overall, we think the 1402 VLZ4 sounds good and the EQ is good enough to tweak things a bit but we would use is sparingly just like we did on our previous Mackie mixers.
So there you have it. The VLZ4 series has been out a while and maybe Mackie will address some of the cheap knob and fader issues in an upcoming release. The VLZ4 series is quieter and has more headroom then previous generations of Mackie mixers and still offers one of the best values in compact professional mixers for post production, despite the knobs. Did we mention we hate the knobs?
Visit Mackie for more information and all the specs on the 1402 VLZ4.
- Category: Production and Creative
Will Ferrell Takes on Norway
Can't wait to see what GM starts rolling out. Love the ad. A next level dammit, lugers and Will channeling Magatu yet disarmed by the beauty of Noway / Sweden all cut perfectly. Thank you. More of this!
- Category: Production and Creative
Skullcandy Riff Wireless Headphones Review
These headphones offer good value with quality sound, a comfortable fit and easy pairing to your phone. The hardest part of using these headphones is just getting them out of the box. Pairing is seamles and they're way more comfortable to wear than the images would suggest. For $30 you'll be hard pressed to find a better on-ear solution for walking and listening to music or talking on the phone. We would not recommend these for running, travel or office use as they will not block out enough external use. However, for walking in the neighborhood and being ready to take calls these are a good solution. The microphone sounds great, just like talking directly into the phone. You'll want to avoid lound streets and misc. noise because these are not noise canceling and all that racket will come through on the other side. Build wise it's fine as long as you don't abuse your stuff. The headband is plastic and yes we could easily snap it if we tried. But again, back to the $30 price point, what do you expect. Overall we were pleasantly surprised with the Riff line from Skullcandy.
Visit Skullcandy for more information and all the specs on the Riff headphones.
- Category: Home and Lifestyle
dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor Review
The dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor provides outstanding value and professional quality audio in a 1U form factor. The 286s includes a single channel mic preamp with phantom power, compressor, de-esser, enhancer and expander/gate.
The dbx 286s retails at $225 but feels and performs way beyond that price point. The build quality is excellent with a metal case, integrated power supply and quality knobs with a good tactile feel. The controls have setting indents for easily dialing in each stage of the signal path. The LEDs provide enough feedback to understand how the signal is being processed and the layout is clean with a good flow.
We used the Shure SM7B with the 286s to see how it would handle this omnipresent mic in a professional broadcast setting. Could we achieve a similar sound using only the dbx 286s to something like a Daking Mic-Pre One with an FMR Audio 1773 insert and gate applied in post.
Well the Daking/FMR audio combination definitely sounds better as you would expect. It's beefier, sweeter and more analog sounding. It's just better. This is without any additional processing. However, the 286s all on its own sounds pretty darn good at about 1/4 the cost. To appreciate the differences you'll need studio quality headphones or monitors. For a non-critical studio applications and podcasts the 286s more than exceeds an acceptable level of quality.
Here is the SM7B, Daking Mic-Pre One and FMR RNC1773 combination
Here is the SM7B, dbx 286s with no external processing
The dbx 286s sounds excellent. It has plenty of gain to handle the needs of the SM7B without the need for an additional device such as a Cloudlifter. The compressor section works well to provide additional drive while taming the signal. The enhancer works well with very low settings, just a touch of the enhancer goes a long way to help provide a little sparkle. We prefer the high frequency enhancement versus the low frequency. The controls go to 10 (not 11) and we rarely ventured beyond 2-3. The expander/gate is really nice for limiting room tone is less than ideal conditions. This is great for eliminating the sound of a computer in the room or HVAC. For all of these controls it's very easy to dial in a setting and achieve broadcast ready results very quickly. The controls at extreme setting can be used to achieve some interesting effects as well.
The dbx 286s is hard to beat in terms of value for a quality mic channel, especially for podcasters where a little control and sweetening the signal is desired. It doesn't have the beefy sweetness of more expensive boutique mic pres like the Daking, and it's less attractive for musical performance and singing. So don't expect it to compete at that level. However, the dbx 286st offers convenient signal processing and excellent value in a single 1U space.
Visit dbx for more information and all the specs on the 286s.
- Category: Production and Creative
iZotope RX 8 Advanced Review
Izotope's RX series has been an essential part of our post production process for many years. Since RX 3 we've been de-crackling, de-noising, de-humming and de-reverbing our field interviews with this powerful tool. Every interview track gets an Izotope pass in post as part of our sweetening process to ensure we're releasing the best possible audio mix with all of our content.
Izotope's RX 8 Advanced is the latest iteration of this requisite audio repair suite. The GUI has been updated with a modern look and cleaner iconography. In some cases there are less controls to toggle and the results are good even at the default settings.
There are myriad challenges when doing field interviews. Reverb, white noise from HVAC, random noise, mic hits, interference, wind noise, mouth clicking, plosives...you name it. No matter what the environment there's almost always something that will need to be cleaned up in post. If you have a quieter individual on camera the noise floor will be more present as well. Outside, oh boy, the leaf blowers and planes will always find us as well as some random construction noise in the distance for good measure.
Now, let's add the pandemic to the mix. During Covid we've been doing live podcast style shoots for Houzz TV Live with some broll. Guests connect with their mobile device, laptop, Ipad...whatever and we record these live calls. Now, you can imagine audio is a real crap shoot here. De-Reverb and De-Crackle have been essential to cleaning these interviews up.
A 2021 resolution for all post houses should be a commitment to better audio and Isotope's RX 8 can help you keep that promise. Not only does it make for higher production value with your final assets but RX 8 can also help keep your editors sane in the edit suite. Trust me, listening to mouth clicking for hours on end while cutting a piece will make you snap.
Ironically, we've watched videos from some of our favorite audio equipment suppliers that have the same audio challenges that desperately need to be cleaned up and sweetened. So don't be a cobbler with no shoes. Take the time to clean up your audio. Even if you take the lazy man route and simply use the default settings in RX 8 you'll likely end up with something better than what you started with.
Now, of course, with any set of audio plug-ins you have to apply the effects judiciously. You can push RX 8 pretty hard. For example, 6-10 dB of noise reduction is pretty transparent and depending on the quality of your noise sample you can push it even harder. D-reverb in RX 8, even at the default setting, works really well to eliminate reverb from Zoom calls. In Silicon Valley there are some really unfriendly acoustic spaces. We're talking rectangles of glass with hard wood floors. We've all been in a conference call where the reverb in the space makes it very difficult to understand the person speaking. RX 8 de-Reverb has been essential for processing these remote interviews recorded in less than ideal acoustical spaces.
Back to our bread and butter which is documentary story telling and interviews in the field. Here's a short example to illustrate how powerful and transparent the tools in RX 8 can be. This interview was recorded using a Schoeps CMIT 5 Blue boom and Sanken Cos11d lav through Lectrosonics wireless to a Sound Devices 664. This is all quality gear you'll find on shoots everywhere.
This particular interviews was about 40 minutes long. This just a short sample of the kinds of audio imperfections we like to clean up in any of our content. The little imperfections may seem small but when added up they can detract from the content.
Here is the before clip without RX 8. You will hear some crackling, mouth clicks and the occasional plosive.
Some editors might simply use music to mask these imperfections. However, with RX 8 we can clean this up and contribute to a better overall mix.
Here is the after clip. You'll notice we cleaned up the crackling, the mouth clicks and the plosive.
Here is the final video which featured three on-camera interviews, with 1 of them outside. We used RX-8 on all of these interviews to clean up the audio and it makes for a better overall mix.
In this next example, we had a lot of reverb to deal with during this remote interview over Zoom. RX-8 helped clean this up.
Here is the before clip without RX 8.
Here is the after clip with RX 8.
If you work in any audio field whether it's broadcast, music, production, podcasting..etc., and want to provide the highest production value to you and your clients you should be using RX 8. It's that simple.
here is the final video cleaned up with RX 8.
We typically use RX 8 as a suite of plug-ins on our NLE timeline versus in standalone app mode. Performance seems on par with previous versions. It's still not possible to preview de-crackle at the highest quality setting in real time without the audio breaking up. So we'll typically adjust our settings in low quality mode then switch to higher quality before rendering. We've tested rendering at varying levels of quality and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. Maybe RX 8 is doing more math but it sounds pretty good to us in the various mode.
- Category: Production and Creative
FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor RNC1773 Review
The Really Nice Compressor or RNC1773 from FMR Audio in Texas is just that, really nice. FMR has been making this little wonder for nearly 20 years and we can't believe we just got around to checking it out.
FMR's RNC1773 offers outstanding value in a 1/3 rack size and is the perfect form factor for a home studio and equally at home in a professional setting. Podcasters, producers, musicians and voice over artists can all benefit from this great sounding little box. It's an excellent compressor that controls dynamic sonic material in an effortless and transparent way.
If you own a Mackie mixer you'll especially love the ease of connecting the RNC to your mixer. 1 TRS cable per channel is all you need. We tested it with our trusty 1202VLZ Pro (we still prefer this vintage to the recent Mackie stuff) The RNC is a stereo compressor but there are no independent controls per channel. So it's very good for an overall sheen on a mix. We also like using it as an insert on our Mic channels. It's great for keeping our transients in check while recording in a very transparent way. You cannot hear the RNC working until you get really aggressive with the controls. It sounds really good because it's a really nice compressor.
We played with the RNC in both regular and "Super Nice" mode, yes there's a "Super Nice" button, and it works great either way. The controls work in both modes but "Super NIce" has the effect of multiple compressors in series which tends provide a more contained envelope of sound. Again, there's no "right" way to use the RNC and we were able to get great results with and without "Super Nice" engaged. It could also be called the easy button. For voice over we liked having Super Nice mode engaged with the following settings: -5 threshold, 2:1 ratio, 3.5 attack, 1.0 release, with just a touch of output gain.
We prefer to do minimal processing as we lay down tracks into our DAW. However, it's very useful to have something like the RNC in the signal chain to prevent blowing out our levels in unintended ways. At a street price of $185, FMR's Really Nice Compressor packs outstanding value into its humble and we think beautiful test-bench-style casing. You will never regret owning one of these boxes and we love how the owners of FMR are still cranking these out in Texas after all these years.
Now you may be asking, well for a little over $200 I could pick up the dbx 286s which is a complete channel strip with mic preamp, compressor, gate and EQ/enhancing processing. Yes, you could and the 286 offers excellent value for the money. For many a podcaster that's a great unit where ease of use and the convenience of an all-in-one box is attractive and it's a fairly easy way to get that big radio sound.
However for a more transparent and musical approach we like the FMR RNC paired with a quality preamp. Our approach is to get the cleanest possible signal recorded without distortion and then do the rest of the magic in our DAW with plugins. The FMR RNC is fantastic for that.
See the full lineup of FMR Audio products here.
Great video and perspective from Steve Albini on recording with an RNC cameo
- Category: Production and Creative
Simply Speakers Foam Speaker Repair Kit for JBL 4408a Monitor Review
A lot of our production and broadcast friends have these JBLs 4408a monitors and a Hafler P3000 in the rack. Well the foam surrounds wear out over time on these suckers but it's an easy fix. Simply Speakers has foam surround kits they sell for about $25. It's very easy to do and they've created one of the best instructional videos that make it easy to tackle if it's your first time repairing a speaker surround. We highly recommend these kits. This is the kit we tested.
- Category: Production and Creative
A Good, Basic Office Chair for Working From Home
The ÖRFJÄLL swivel office chair from IKEA is a good chair and good value at $49. We recently tested everything at IKEA with both male and female users. The ÖRFJÄLL stood out as the most comfortable and best value. It's a simple design that allows you mix and match seat and base colors. Assembly takes just a few minutes too. So if you find yourself on your next Zoom call sitting on a ergonomically challenged dining chair with a sore back and behind, consider getting yourself a decent office chair. Your body will thank you.
IKEA ÖRFJÄLL chair
- Category: Home and Lifestyle
Yamaha MSP5 Studio Monitor Review
The MSP5 studio monitor from Yamaha has been around forever and we still think it's an excellent studio monitor that holds it own against current offerings. You can still find the MSP5 on Amazon and B&H for $279 each and if you track the price over time you can snag them on sale for $199 each. At $199 you can't beat these for value.
Yamaha initially rolled it's MSP line of studio monitors out over 10 years ago. The MSP5 and MSP7 were essentially the successors to the ubiquitous NS10s. The MSP5 are a powered 5-inch design that sit in in that sweet spot of not too big and not too small for the personal home studio or video editing suite. They have a tight controlled response with enough low end for critical monitoring even without a subwoofer. We rarely have a need to check our mixes on any other monitors as these translate very well.
The Yamaha MSP5 is a really clean and precise monitor with almost no coloration. Mixes take more effort to dial in and sound good. The class A amps have great transient response and punchiness to them. We actually prefer these over the Genelec 8030s in that regard. You really notice when tracking instruments and with drum machines. The titanium tweeters are slightly bright but Yamaha provides a couple db of eq via switches on the back to boost or cut the high and low frequencies. We backed off the high-end just a touch. We mixed the same documentary in two edit suites. One was outfitted with Genelec 8030s and the other with MSP5s. There were no glaring differences in the mix that made us want to change anything. Genelec's auto on/standby feature is awesome along with excellent performance from class D amps which results in less power and less heat. The MSP5s hold their own very well in terms of sound quality. However, they do generate a little heat and you also have to toggle the power on the back of the unit, there is no auto on/off.
The MSP5 is extremely well made and feels like a professional piece of gear, as it should. We love the fact that the low frequency driver has a heavy duty metal grille to protect it. The tweeter is also protected. The stereo image is beautiful and transparent. The class A amps do give off some heat but Yamaha designed a really elegant heat sink for the MSP5. We like the subtle green light in front that lets us know they're powered on and the volume control on the front is useful for slight adjustments when necessary. Generally we leave them at the nominal level. Overall, it's a beautiful and functional design that has aged extremely well.
These monitors are perfect for a video editing suite. They're shielded and just the right size to place on a small platform next to your video monitor or mount on the wall. We really like these for editing dialog and even final mixdown for documentary and story telling where critical low frequency mixing is less of a factor.
We found the noise floor whisper quiet, similar to the Genelecs and better than many class D offerings that sometimes have a significant noise floor when powered on such as the JBL 306MKIIs we reviewed a while back. We'd buy this decade old design over the brand new JBL any day. The MSP5 looks better, feels better and most importantly sounds more accurate. Notice we didn't say better. It takes more work on the MSP5 but the mixes translate well.
For many years we preferred using our passive JBLs and Hafler amp in a studio setting and sort of scoffed at powered monitors. All that changed with our first encounter with Genelecs. But quality is all over the map with powered monitors. The pro grade stuff from Genelec, KRK, JBL and Yamaha are all pretty good. We like the simple setup of going directly from the mixer to the monitor.
Genelec remains one of our favorites with a beautiful design and excellent power management. The class D amps give off very little heat and you never have to think about toggling them on and off. The automatic power of/off feature when audio signal is present works flawlessly. You can't go wrong with Genelecs. However, Genelecs cost significantly more than comparable monitors at any given size. Typically 2 to 3 times as much per monitor. Apples and Oranges to be sure but when budget matters the Genelec is a harder sell.
We would love to see Yamaha rethink it's studio monitor lineup and update the studio series with better power management, maybe class D amps, if they can dial in the same transient response and class AB sound. The HS series just looks and feels cheap like the JBL MKII series. We've been hearing that Yamaha has stopped making the MSP5, yet we still see plenty of stock at Amazon and B&H. We feel these monitors never got their moment in the in the sun and maybe a post Covid remix and relaunch is in order. We hope we see another pro offering from Yamaha and the HS series is not a harbinger of the product roadmap.
If you're in the market for studio monitors for your home studio, the MSP5 still offers outstanding value, one of the best values really, and we recommend getting a pair while you still can. Give them a few days in your studio and give your ears a chance to get used to them. You may just like what you hear and enjoy a classic before we're surrounded by a sea of lightweight, cheap feeling and less accurate nosense that looks and sounds like plastic.
Learn more about the MSP5 studio mointor
- Category: Production and Creative
Best Router and Cable Modem Combination for Distance Learning and Work
For great performance at a reasonable price we like pairing TP Link routers with Motorola cable modems. For example, the TP AC Archer C90 router with the Motorola MB8600 cable modem. This is a good benchmark to consider when shopping for a router/modem combo to take advantage of 1GB/s internet service that needs to support fast wired and wifi speeds to multiple users in an average size 3/2 home. There are myriad cable modem and router combinations out there to provide both wired and wireless connectivity in your home. "Wifi" has become synonomous with the Internet but to get the most from your connection you need a quality direct wire connection to your router and cable modem. 5G may change all that but we still have limited rollout and the system has not been taxed by large number of users. So for now, cable internet seems like the fastet solution for most people.
With and average family all using the internet at the same time, on zoom calls, uploading/dowloading, streaming, gaming..etc. We recommend the fastest connection your budget will allow. Most cable companeis offer a 1GB option and will offer a cable modem/router you can lease from them. However, buy your own gear and it's one less thing you have to pay the cable company for over time.
We've had friends asking us about Orbi and other mesh style networks and we're not convinced their worth it. We'd recommend trying a simple combo similar to this Motorola / TP Link setup and see if it works for you. If it's bought and sold from Amazon you'll have an easy time with returns. It might take some testing to see what works best in your home. Typically we find our friends are happier with simpler and reasonably priced solutions that just work without any sort of additional ongoing fee.
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Learn more about Motorola Cable Modems
Learn more about TP Link Wireless Routers
- Category: Computer Gear
Laser Printer During Shelter in Place
Laser printers are usually found in the office while inkjets are more common in the home. However, with everyone at home these days it's nice to have a fast, networked laser printer for basic printing tasks. We worked this HP 420 unit pretty hard and it's been great for everyday printing tasks. It's fast, efficient with toner, quiet and a good value. HP no longer offers this unit new but has plenty of similar offerings.
The image, pretty much says it all. Look for a printer that has these qualitites:
- Wirelessis and wired LAN connectivity
- 350 Sheet input capacity or similar
- Auto 2-sided printing, you'll save on paper
- iOS and Android app friendly printing
- some kind of LCD display, so it can tell you what's up
- Fast startup and printing
- Toner from third pary suppliers. This is important, read up on the printer and reviews of third party toner suppliers to make sure
there is nothing quirky about the printer you are considering
- budget $200-$300, you'll be able to get a decent machine
- Category: Computer Gear
Ashun Sound Machines Hydrasynth Review and Roger Austli aka 'the sun god RA' Hydrasynth Bank
The Hydrasynth is a powerful new digital synth from the folks at Ashun Sound Machines, ASM. It's really good at making dreamy pads as well as aggressive, dirty sounds and classic poly sounds. It also can make sounds you simply have never heard before and may not be able to imagine without experimentation. It's that powerful. The Hydrasynth would pair perfectly with a powerful analog bass/lead oriented synth like the Moog Subsequent 37. You could make nearly any sound you could dream of with that combo. It's like ASM took the building blocks from the Roland D-50, Yamaha DX-7, EMU Proteus and a Prophet and added more oscillators, filters, LFOs, built-in effects and endless ways to modulate the sound and then modulate that even further. Not to mention you can process external audio from other instruments or playback devices as well. It's kinda nuts. The Hydrasynth sounds very clean and ASM added a 'warm' option that you can toggle on and off with any patches to indeed warm them up a bit. With all this power it's pretty easy to dial in interesting and new sounds that broach the digital and analog realms. Sure the Hydrasynth leans to the digital side of things but you'd be hard pressed to identify it in a mix with a carefully crafted patch. It's a synth that is begging to be programmed and experimented with.
Everything is readily accessible but we're still getting familiar with all the capabilities of this synth. It's not that it's hard to program, it's just that there are endless options and modulations and it's really deep, so you can go down the rabbit hole of just one little element of sound design. Luckily there are some amazing free patch banks being released that serve to show off the capabilities of the Hydrasynth but also act as a starting point for creating new sounds. The Hydrasynth also includes a 'Random" button which will create random patches. These can range from chaos and noise to really musical and interesting sonic detours. This is a great discovery tool and every electronic instrument should have some kind of random button. If you've ever said, "if only I could do X" with your current synth, odds are you can do X with the Hydrasynth. Hitting 'random' will both delight and baffle you as the machine does it's thing. Really watch your levels when playing with this feature as you can varying levels of output that may suprise you and we'd recommed not using this feature while using headphones to protect your ears.
The Hydraynth features a Polytouch keybed that offers polyphonic aftertouch over each note. This is really great for expressive playing and works as advertised. It also features a 4 octave ribbon controller which is fun to experiment with too. The pitch and mod wheels aren't great with the goofy handle on top. We'd prefer the classic Moog style with the indent. However, we imagine less funky Moog style pitchen bending on this unit anyway. So not that big a deal but really don't get that choice. The Hydrasynth keybed is just ok and if you already have a master controller you love, we'd recommend getting the synth option without the keys, unless the ribbon and polytough is important to you. We always prefer a full synth versus just the brain but if you're on the fence just get the brain.
The Hydrasynth is built like a tank. It's heavy with lots of metal. However we're baffled by the use of a wall wart for power and the cheap feeling buttons. Wall warts are just a hard stop. We lose them, we break them, they cause a tangled mess and Ashun bundles a unit with a really short cord. Please no. I see this getting yanked out on gigs. It's cool that the buttons light up so you know what's in use..etc, but they're a bit wobbly and mushy and instill no confidence during use. The encoder knobs are much hardier and have a good feel. It's like two completely different levels of quality. Perhaps ASM is still dialing in their design language, fit and finish and bill of materials strategy and there's an opportunity for big improvements here in future product release, similar to how Elektron updated it's Analog Rytm MKII with a much better feel/buttons than the original. They layout is great but wobbly, noisy buttons need improvement. Steel the feel of the MPC Live transport controls.
Overall, the Hydrasynth is a good value. We wouldn't call the experience of making new sounds immediate. It's too deep for that. You couldn't make enough knobs and buttons. However, the flow is well laid out and by using some existing patches as a jumping off point you can quickly lose yourself in sound design for hours; like hurt your neck looking down at the knobs and buttons as you tweak away. The Hydrasynth comes with 5 banks of storage, each holding 128 patches. Doesn't seem like enough. Between downloading patch banks, the factory presets and making our own patches, 5 banks will get eaten up fast. 10 banks would have been great. With so many great sounds why force me to delete patches? The patch manager runs on Windows and Mac OS and is an easy way to manage patches. So, once we settle on our favorites we can make that work.
ASM has been rolling out updates and we used the firmware update tool on Windows and it was a seamless udpate. We'd like to see more videos on sound design and a breakdown of how to create a specific patch and what that process is for someone of the top sound designers in the synth world. That would be really cool. Even if you're familiar with synthesis and sound design ASM is coming at this with some new capabilities and you'll need a deep dive to truly appreciate all if offers.
It's a pretty impressive initial product from ASM and we're looking forward to future updates as this synth evolves. Expect to hear this beauty on a lot of records this year. Well done dudes, well done.
Get uploads and free patches for the Hydrasynth here.
- Category: Production and Creative
See an Eco-Friendly Backyard Cottage in 700 Square Feet
- Category: Home and Lifestyle
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