Xfinity Gstatic 204 Endless Activation Loop - How to Fix

If you've seen this page pop up when installing your new cable modem you can get stuck in an endless loop of frustration.

xfinity signon


The Comcast, Xfinity, Time Warner walled garden / gstatic 204 / captive garden / endless loop / signup redirect / certificate error and anything else you want to call this mess is a real pain. This scenario applies to anyone that owns their own equipment. This would typically be a cable modem and separate router. For example, you may have a Motorola cable modem and a TP link wireless router. Basically any combination of new or upgraded gear can trigger this problem.

Whenever you upgrade a cable modem or router you may run into this issue. The first step is make sure your cable modem has been properly provisioned by your service provider. This may take some effort to get the proper help to do this. Most service provides offer a basic phone tree and bot support over text. You may need an actual human to help you with this.

Once you have confirmed your cable modem and MAC address is properly provisioned by your provider it's time to look at your router settings. Most routers ship with similar default settings which may or may not work depending on your setup.

After two different upgrades with two sets of gear we found a simple fix for the gstatic 204 issues. In both cases switching the DNS settings from “auto” to and solved the problem. Prior to updating these settings on the router the walled garden and Xfinity activation page would pop up on all devices from PCs to smart phones. You can usually find these settings under the network tab on your router.  Every menu structure is different but your generally looking for "advanced" settings in the network section.  

So give it a try. It might save you from tech support hell. Comcast wanted to send a technician out to look at the problem. It's not a connection or wiring issues. The Comcast bot support seemed to think there was an interference issue based on their diagnoses of the problem. Yeah, classic. Anyway we hope this helps anyone having a problem with this issue.

Seagate X18 18TB Hard Drive


This holiday season is a great time to pick up hard drives at a competitive price.  With the pending death of the Chia crypto and far less mining in general, components and hard drive prices have come back down to earth.  Always buy new and always buy from authorized dealers.  The Seagate X18 18TB drive is currently selling on Amazon for $299.  This is a great price that will likely creep back up as Seagate has said it's cutting back production.  The Toshiba 12TB N300 is currently price at $215 and the Wester Digital / Hitachi  Ultrastar stars are still priced at a premium but far more competitive than earlier in the year.  So if you need to upgrade your NAS or video editing DAS, or just need to add a big ass drive to your rack, now is the time.  We recently picked up some X18 18TB drives and really like the performance, around 260Mbps sustained data transfers.  The drives are near silent apart from initial startup.  

Our hard drives recommendations are to stick with enterprise level drives or at least NAS level.  So that includes Seagate Exos, Western Digital Gold and Ultrastar and Toshiba MG and N300 Drives.  We also advise only buying CMR drives  in the 12TB to 18TB capacities for maximum performance and value.  

See our previous article and recommendations for hard drives and video editing.


Michelin Defender 2 Review

defender 2

We don't write about tires too often but figured we'd share our thoughts on the Michelin Defender 2 as we couldn't find any reviews. We recently installed a set of these on a Subaru Impreza and have been pleased with the results. After several thousand miles we can say the tires perform as expected. The ride is comfortable, the handling is good and the noise is minimal.

The car rolls and tracks well. We also drove in a recent rainstorm and didn't notice any significant change in handling or breaking distances. We also tried to spin the tires at a couple of stoplights and the tires wouldn't do it. Of course, the Subaru is an all wheel drive car, so that helps but we tried and the Michelin's weren't having it.

The other tire we were considering for this care is the General Altimax RT43, which is a great tire that we have on another car. The Defender 2 and the Altimax are similar in their aspirations to provide a good all around tire for most people that a combination of comfort, handling and longevity. Both are in that 65,000 – 80,0000 mileage warranty. I've owned lots of tires over the years and have never come close to getting the mileage the tire companies claim you can get. The Defender 2 mileage warranty is 80K miles. I don't think I'll get there. However, it does instill some level of value when you consider the tire performs very well.  Plus, if the tire wears out faster than anticipated Michelin will issue a credit towards a replacement.

The previous tires installed on the Subaru Impreza were Yokohama 740GTXs. The 740GTX were great tires but certainly picked up more road noise over the life of the tire. We're very happy we decided to go with the Defender 2 for this latest batch of 4.

If we still have the car in a few years we'll do an update to this review and report back on the actual mileage we're able to get out of these tires. We predict well shy of 80K but we'll see.

On more note, we get asked about Costco versus America's Tires all the time. Yes, you can save a few bucks at Costco and they often have rebates but the service is not readily accessible. It's just harder to get in there and the tires often take longer to get.  America's tire cost a little more but it's just easier to get in and out of there unless you live a sparsely populated area where your local Costco isn't so nuts. Can't go wrong with either and you will generally save about $100-$200 at Costco.  

Visit Michelin to see all the specs on the Defender 2

RME HDSPe AIO Pro Sound Card Review


The HDSPe AIO Pro from RME Audio is the successor to the HDSPe AIO. The “Pro” adds an improved clock, additional headroom and switchable I/O levels of +24 dBu, +19 dBu, +13 dBu, +4 @ 0 dBFS. We've been running the original AIO in one of our systems for several years with great results. When the AIO Pro was announced we wanted to see if the improvement in specs would be worth the upgrade. We also had to consider if we'd be willing to give up our AO4S-AIO-192 AIO expansion card and its 4 additional analog outputs as RME no longer offers this option with the new AIO Pro.

The AIO Pro uses the same drivers and Total Mix software and all the great routing features, so it's an easy upgrade. Just replace the existing AIO in the same slot. The AIO and AIO Pro use the same breakout cables. However, we found it curious that RME flipped the position of the connectors on the card. That threw us off at first when we attempted to connect the breakout cable to the same position on the card. We assumed they would be in the same position. We're not sure why the engineers decided to do this but in a custom installation with minimal access to the computer it would have been helpful to have the connectors in the same position as the original AIO. We're also still perplexed why RME does not include the proper balanced breakout cable with the AIO Pro. Who is using the unbalanced stuff with a $1k sound card?  Of course, we already have the balanced version from our original AIO but anyone buying an RME PCIe card for the first time might be disappointed when opening the box to find the RCA breakout versus the balanced option.  

So how does the AIO Pro sound? The RME AIO Pro sounds great. It has a slightly more lifelike and velvety sound than the original AIO. There's a little more air and space and more detail. It's also a very quiet card. With the card connected and output at maximum with our external mixer and monitors cranked up, there's just the sound of air and the inherent noise in the external electronics. The AIO Pro is nearly dead silent with no interference audible from the PC. This provides for a transparent and clean mix that is critical when mastering. But our exisisting AIO card is already pretty darn good. 

Is it worth upgrading from the original AIO to the AIO Pro? Is it worth giving up the 4 additional analog outputs from the AO4S-AIO-192? For some folks maybe. We don't use the AO4S-AIO-192 as much as we originally thought we would but we still really like having it when we need it. Also, the AIO still holds it own it against its big brother the AIO Pro. Many folks might struggle in a blind test to pick out the difference in sound between the two. We would. We believe the AIO Pro is more lifelike and clean but RME's last two releases are both really good. So the specs are better and the sound is maybe a little better but if you're currently happy with your current AIO don't expect an OMG moment. 

If you can benefit from the improved specs, tighter clock, switchable output levels and the subtle increase in sound quality than the AIO Pro is certainly worth considering as an upgrade.  If you're in the market for an extremely versatile and master quality PCIe sound card for the first time the AIO Pro should be at the top of your list.  

Visit RME for all the specs and features of the AIO Pro.

Polyverse Comet Reverb Review

comet 512

Comet is a beautiful sounding reverb with a powerful yet intuitive design. The GUI has an organic nature to it that responds with both sonic and visual feedback allowing you to dial in both lush spaces and straight ahead reverbs. The visual feedback is in the form of, you guessed it, a comet. It turns out to be a really great way to represent how the various settings impact the sound of the space. More discrete trails in the comet represent less diffusion. The comet gets bigger or smaller to represent size and the comet trails get longer or shorter depending on the decay settings. Dial up the detune settings and the comet trails are less directional. It's a really smart way to design a reverb GUI and provides instant visual feedback. It's certainly one of the most intuitive plug-ins we've used and very easy to dial in an effect.

Most importantly, Comet sounds really, really good. It's equally effective on separate instruments, vocals or an entire mix.  In our video samples below you can hear it on a dry Moog lead sound, Korg Opsix and a full mix. It's easy to lose yourself in the sonic trails of Comet.  And it's not just the wide open lushness. You can get the sound of  tighter, smaller rooms with more discrete reflections or massive lush spaces with endless decay. With extreme settings you can create interesting effects that go beyond what a typical reverb plug-in can do and create syncopated effects.

Polyverse is aggressive on the pricing and you can grab Comet for $100 or so during special sales. We think it's a great tool to have in your sonic arsenal. At $149 Comet is very competitive with other reverbs on the market and the only one we've seen with such an inventive GUI. it's not your typical take on a hardware unit emulated in software.  Like David S. Pumpkins, it's its own thing.  We highly encourage you do download the demo and play with it. Check out our video and visit Polyverse for more on Comet and their entire lineup of plugins.

RME AO4S-AIO-192 AIO Expansion Board Review

rme aio4s

The AO4S-192 AIO provides four servo-balanced outputs to RME PCIe audio cards like the HDSP 9632 and the AIO. It provides a seamless way to get more analog outputs, giving you six total when combined with the two existing outputs on the cards.

When we upgraded our audio workstation we no longer had PCI slots, only PCIe slots. So we swapped out a PCI based Lynx Two B (6 channels of analog) card for a PCIe based RME AIO (2 channels of analog) card. The performance of the AIO have been very good and we were waiting for the AIO Pro to upgrade. However, once we discovered the AIO Pro would not longer offer the ability to add more analog outputs with expansion cards we opted to upgrade the original AIO instead. We prefer internal cards and IO versus having external boxes.

The AO4S AIO comes with a cable to connect it to the main AIO card. Simply seat it in an empty case opening and secure it close to the main AIO card as the included cable is fairly short. So it's best if the two cards are adjacent to each other. The AO4S AIO does not use a PCIe slot. It occupies the space in the PC but the the extender on the bottom of the card has no electrical connection. It's simply for stabilization and is not connecting to the PCIe bus. All the connectivity happens through the cable.

Once installed the additional outputs show up in RME's Total Mix software. The next step is to turn the additional channels on in the Hammerfall DSP settings. This is a critical step because while the channels show in Total Mix nothing will happened until the additional outputs are configured in the Hammerfall DSP settings. This is not obvious if you haven't configure your AIO card in a while

We tested the the new outputs with the exact sames cables, settings, content, mixer and studio monitors. To our ears all the outputs sound exactly the same. So now, we have 6 pristine channels to work with and we can route audio in endless ways from our PC to our mixer and back out. This is very useful for mixing multiple tracks but also for podcasting and and being able to have multiple sources mixed into our feed.

You can find the RME-AO4S-192-AIO selling for $350 new and for $200 or so used. Online retailers no longer stock the device and it drop ships from RME directly. You also may receive a unit with different colored capacitors. The boards with the blue and red capacitors appear to be the latest version.

Learn more about RME-Audio and it's lineup here.

Korg opsix FM Synth Review


The opsix is a powerful little FM based synth from Korg that sounds really good. Korg has made FM programming accessible with the opsix. They've included many of the iconic key and bell sounds you'll recognize from the DX-7 days but that's just a fraction of what the opsix is capable of. The presets are so good. Come for the built-in sounds, stay for the addition to discovery.

After downloading the 2.0 update we were impressed by many of the new presets that are complex patches that sound really good. With or without the built-in effects of the opsix the instruments you can create are very musical.

We love the way the opsix pairs with something like a subsequent 37. It's just the right combination of analog and FM we like. We found ourselves firing up the opsix more and more to simply explore the sounds and tweak the faders and knobs to see what we could come up with. We don't remember FM being this fun with the DX-7.

The opsix is cheaply made and does not inspire confidence upon unboxing. It's a lot of plastic with a really cheap keybed and, well, it's a lot of cheap plastic. We feel we could accidentally damage any of the various in/out jacks on the back of opsix easily. The main controls, knobs and faders are fine and we also love the way the opsix looks. It photographs really well. But it's really cheaply made. The BOM or bill of materials must be really low on this sucker. So kudos to Korg for making what we imagine is a fairly profitable unit at scale.

So yeah, it's cheaply made and we would have liked a much better keybed. However, what counts is the sound and the opsix sounds great. It really does. The built-in effects are really good and it pairs nicely with outboard gear too. At times, we simply forgot we were playing an FM based synth. It's that good. It's not just bells and biting sounds. The opsix can do warm pads, poly sizzle, and interesting atmospheric sounds as well. It's an extremely versatile synth and would be a great first synth to learn what FM can do.

Would be nice to see Korg release a sound module version of the opsix unless they plan on doing a better versions with a proper keybed with a much better feel and aftertouch...etc. For users where this is not their primary keyboard this isn't an issue. However, it wouldn't take much much to improve the keybed for the opsix plus.

Visit Korg for more information about the opsix and all the specs.

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.

Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro Headphones Review, 250 Ohm version

BT headphones

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.


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

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.

Learn more and check out the specs at Bose

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.

Mackie 1402 VLZ4 Mixer Review

mackie 1402vlz4

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.

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!

Skullcandy Riff Wireless Headphones Review

skull candy riff wireless

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. 

dbx 286s Mic Preamp/Processor Review

dbx 286s

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. 

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, 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. 

Visit Izotope for more information and all the specs on RX8 Advanced. 

Christmas in Chicago - Pre Pandemic Remix

FMR Audio Really Nice Compressor RNC1773 Review

fmr really nice compressor
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

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.