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 VERSUS EV 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

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.


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!

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 RX8

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. 

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

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

JBL 4408A SURROUND

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. 





YAMAHA MSP5

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

HYDRASYNTH



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.

st41

SampleTank 4 Max is packed with instruments and effects wrapped in a workflow that is simple to understand and inspiring at every turn. Reviewing SampleTank 4 Max was like a serendipitous journey of discovery versus a methodical approach of dissecting features. We simply wanted to know if SampleTank 4 would inspire us to make music and how easy it would be to drop into our creative flow. The more we tried to do the more SampleTank responded. This is simply a beautiful product that will give you an endless sonic palette.

We used SampleTank 4 Max by itself and with other VSTs but for our review we focused on making compositions where ST4 Max was the only instrument source. There are so many ways to get inspired with ST4 Max. Sometimes we'd start with drums and bass, build a foundation and lay some instruments over the top. Other times, we'd start with more exotic instruments and create some phrases to get started. We generally prefer to play and create riffs live but ST4 has some incredibly useful loops and phrases that are ready to be sequenced into a track. This was a great way to create something interesting quickly, especially with more exotic/ethnic/world sounds for example.

Discovering the Billy Cobham and the Neil Pert drums was an F-yeah moment, especially when assigned across multiple channels. The acoustic stuff is solid. The quality of the bases, keys, horns, strings and ethnic instruments just makes you want to keep exploring. We really enjoyed exploring the variety of basses. From vintage upright to fretless, gritty, clean and everything in between. We got lost in bassland for hours. Need something gritty from the 60s, you got it. Want it clean and chorused, easy. Fret noise, string vibration, intonations. It's clear a lot of love went into sampling these instruments and making them expressive even when triggered from the most basic of MIDI controllers. We banged out these sample tracks entirely with the MPK225 and we're happy with the dynamics and playability of the instruments.


MISSION DISCOVERY all SampleTank 4 instruments



MISSION CHASE all SampleTank 4 instruments


st42

The ability to customize sounds using analog style controls and built-in effects and filters gives you exponential creative freedom to dial in a sound just the way you like it. It takes a little time to figure out how to do things in ST4 Max. At first we couldn't figure out how to get to the effects rack for each channel. But sans manual we were able to figure it out. That's kind of how it went for the entire review. We'd keep clicking around until we worked out the flow and the best way to navigate ST4. Most of the time that worked.

We still don't have a great feel for the strummer or apreggiator. We know how to use them but navigating in and out of that experience was less intuitive for us. Especially the strummer. We'd add a guitar to a channel and sort of stumble on the strummer but for some reason it's just not intuitive for us to get in and out of that experience. We managed to create some very realistic acoustic guitar phrases that would have been very time consuming to create on a keyboard. IK has an in-depth 165 page manual that goes into more details of the various capabilties ST4 and we'll need read up a bit more on the strummer.  

st4 ethnic

ST4 Max also has a good variety of electronic and synth sounds and icons for all the instruments to help you recognize the kinds of timbre it's capable of. So you can quickly dial up a more digital or analog sound. There are plenty of parameters that can be tweaked for every sound in synth land. So if you have some experience with programming synths you'll appreciate the options.

There is plenty to work with from pads to dynamic leads but you won't be replacing your vintage synths anytime soon.

The ST4 Max UI is attractive. It's a bit dark, but we got used to it. Not sure if there are shades available for the UI but could be worth exploring options for a light, medium and dark setting. Overall, it took us a little time to get familiar with how to do things but mostly was easy to figure out. This is a deep instrument with lots of capabilities so it really requires a deep dive to appreciate all that it can do. Even though we've had it a couple of months, we feel we won't master it for quite some time.

st4 loops

After experimenting with the different ways to play instruments in SampleTank 4 we decided our favorite way was to simply create a multitrack project in our DAW and play instruments in real time versus building loops and phrases or using the strummer. In other words, we like to use it as an instrument or multitimbral instrument across MIDI channels. We could also see using ST4 for sound design in real time for animation or other post production projects.

In terms of overall value, we'd say we were most impressed by the sampled acoustic instruments. This would be our primary use for SampleTank 4 Max. The synths amd electronic instruments we were less impressed with and feel like we're already pretty well covered with our existing VSTs and standalone analog synths. Even if ST4 Max shipped without all the synths it would still be a good value for all that acoustic sampling love and tweakability.

In terms of performance and stability. It's been pretty solid. We've been primarily using SampleTank 4 as a plug in with our MPC Live DAW. The initial installation was crash city. But after subsequent updates it's been very solid and a joy to use.

For music, sound design and post, SampleTank 4 is a very powerful instrument to have in your arsenal and worth taking the time to learn how to use.

Visit IK Multimedia for more information.

krk 8s front

The KRK 8S V2 subwoofer is a fairly compact powerhouse with myriad connectivity options at a reasonable price making it friendly to both professional and consumer environments. The 8S will compliment systems that are lacking in low frequency energy and is able to generate low end you can hear as well as feel. You could quickly overpower satellites with rumble if you aren't careful pairing this with the right speakers. The 8s could become a problem in too small of a space and you have to take the time to set it up correctly.

KRK makes that relatively easy to do with a wealth of settings on the backside of this little monster. Arguably the two most important knobs are the volume and crossover. This will allow to make sure there is minimal frequency overlap with your main monitors and ensure that the sound pressure levels are in the same ballpark. This way the KRK 8s will drop seamlessly into the sound stage. The idea is not to notice the subwoofer versus overall clarity and response in your mix. If the subwoofer is too present it can actually make it harder to get a good mix. There are lots of tutorials and technical documentation on how to set a subwoofer up properly and it begins with the crossover and volume controls.
krk 8s back

Next up is input sensitivity and polarity. For pro system levels nominal should work. For consumer levels set this to high. Polarity can help compensate for phase irregularities. Essentially toggle this back and forth until the bass sounds the cleanest and loudest.

Standby is a smart power control that can be toggled off it need be. When there is not signal present the 8s will go into a power saving mode. However, if you're in a long session you may wish to toggle this off. Very cool that KRK added this switch.

Ground lift can help eliminate noise. We didn't experience any with the 8s.

The fit and finish of the 8s it quite good. We love the industrial quality of the front grill and are glad we don't have to worry about kicking a cone in when kicking off our slippers in the edit suite. We really like the quality of the knobs and toggle switches. Overall the 8s exudes a quality build and very good value at $350. Where we start to get a little leery is the front vinyl surround. The finish around the edges where the vinyl meets the main box feels like an afterthought and it is strangely juxtaposed with the metal grill. So while we generally like the fit and finish and love the metal grill, the strange snap-on looking vinyl surround is a bummer.

The 8s sounds good, packs plenty of punch and will play well with lots of different studio monitors once you take the time to set it up properly. We're not sure there is a better value in the $350 price range for a studio subwoofer.

jbl 360P

The JBL 306P MkII Powered 6.5" Two-Way Studio Monitor is a bi-amplified reference monitor that packs good sound at a very low price point. We've seen these on special regularly under $250 for a pair, which is competitive for this level of sound.

It's like the JBL product managers were given a challenge to make a really good sounding monitor that looked and felt cheap. It's odd. The 306P MkII monitors have this glossy look and cheap feeling lightweight design. When you consider the price, the cheap looking design is not unexpected. However, when you connect them to a clean quality source they sound pretty darn good and fairly transparent. We wouldn't call the sound tight and we would not use these for critical mixing.  So, yes it's a case of you get what you pay for.  

We played a wide variety of music and instruments at all volume levels and could generally push these as hard as we needed to. There's enough low end and they get plenty loud, far exceeding what you would expect for their size and weight.

The 306p MkII include balanced XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs, a +4dBu/–10dBV input-sensitivity switch, and volume control. JBL uses class D amps for efficiency and also includes an auto off feature so the monitors will power down automatically after 20 minutes of no signal. This feature can be toggled on and off too.

The JBL 306p MkII monitors do generate an ever so slight hiss while powered on. You have to put your ear in the vicinity of the tweeter to hear it, but it's certainly there and louder than hissing we've heard form other powered monitors with class D amps.  In a room with any kind of white noise or while mixing it's not noticeable.  We still found this a bummer and it would likely irritate us into returning these just knowing it's there.  

That said, let's get back to price.  If your budget is tight and your sound requirements are large, and you favor output level versus accuracy,  the JBL 306p MkIIs offer a reasonable value if you find them on sale under $250/pair.  They're a decent starter set of monitors for aspiring musicians and video editors on a tight budget. The trick with these monitors will be learning how they translate to playback on other systems. Once you do that you've got yourself a true bargain in studio monitors.  

See all the specs and learn more here.

HDD NAS

Yes the world is moving to SSD but when it comes digital content creation and video editing you're going to need network attached storage or direct attached storage in the form of servers and RAID arrays to store and edit terabytes and terabytes of projects. So the hard drive is as important as ever and still the most cost efficient way to online digital media.

So it's gotten simpler with only a few major players to consider. Hard drives are manufactured by Seagate, Western Digital/Hitachi and Toshiba. Each manufacturer has a variety of hard drive offerings for desktop and enterprise use. For your NAS or DAS setup we suggest using one of the enterprise offerings or a drive specifically designed for a multidrive enclosure.

QNAP, Synology, Areca, Drobo, Promise, Netgear are some of the leading suppliers of NAS and DAS products. We've done extensive tests with Synology NAS products and Areca DAS products. We also used multiple drives populating Supermicro workstations.

Over the years we've had excellent luck with Hitachi Ultrastar drives which are now sold under the Western Digital brand as Ultrastar. The Ultrastar was previosly sold as the Western Digtal Gold drive as well. Another drive to consider is the Western Digital Red Pro series. These drives are exactly like the original line of Hitachi Ultrastar drives as well such as the 7k3000, 7k4000 and 7k6000 drives which you can still find on Ebay at amazing prices.

We recommend buying new hard drives directly from Amazon or BH Photo. There are lots of third parties that sell drives however if you get something that is packaged funny or looks wonky Amazon and BH will handle it more rapidly.

We also are testing the Toshiba N300 series helium drives. They are fast and quiet and offer good performance. All manufacturers have gone to helium in higher capacities. Western Digital, Seagate and Toshiba have all been working on helium drives for several years. In general, helium allows more platters to be used for higher capacities. 16TB drives are rolling out. Helium drives also consume less power and make less noise and experience less internal turbulence. All of these factors make helium based drives ideal for multidrive systems.  We like the 12TB capacities for tried and true PMR style drives.  

In terms of speed and performance.  All of these drives are really close.  Once you put them in a RAID array there's not much difference.  

So for NAS and DAS systems in video editing environments and multiuser high traffic scenarious we advise going with enterprise level drives such as the Western Digital Ultrastar, Seagate Exos or Toshiba MG series.

For less intensive, non-critical use we'd go with the Western Digital Red Pro, Seagate Ironwolf Pro or Toshiba N300 series. We advise going with larger capacity helium based drives for long term performance, less noise and power savings. If you opt for lower capacity we'd advise sticking with 6TB and higher capacities. If you opt for higher capacity target 12TB and higher.

So let's say you're an editor that works out of your home studio and you have an 8 bay RAID array.  Any of these drives should provide the performance and reliability you need.  We'd be comfortable with any of these drives in a RAID 10 working on 4K material running large renders.  In a corporate setting with shared resources and 24/7 workload, multiple editors on same project...etc, we'd opt for the first tier line of drives. That's it.  Stick with these major players and you should have a decent experience.  Always use the same make and model in your RAID arrays.  Currently we're running 12TB ultrastars/WD Gold, Red Pros and N300s with good performance, low noise and low heat.  

The sweet spot for price/capacity/performance is 12TB as of early 2021.  There has been a run on HDDs because of the crypto mining Chia.  However you can still find the Toshiba N300 reasonably priced. Before making a purchase it's good to check the camel for pricing trends to see how the product price has been charting over time. 


FIRST TIER
More on the Western Digital Ultrastar (previosly Gold) preferred.  UPDATE:  Looks like WD is bringing back the gold brand.  "powered by Ultrastar".  We like these drives in the 4TB, 6TB and 12TB capacities.
More on Seagate Exos
More on Toshiba MG series  

SECOND TIER
More on Western Digital Red Pro preferred 
More on Seagate Ironwolf Pro 
More on Toshiba N300  we like the 6TB and 12TB capacities

genelec8030c


The Genelec 8030C 5” active monitors are a very good choice for transparent and accurate monitors for post production. Our mixes are translating to all playback devices as intended and these Genelecs have become trusted, honest friends during mixdown.

The 8030C 5” active monitor is an extremely well built unit that features 5” inch woofer and 3/4” tweeter both powered by 50-watt amplifiers. These are compact and very powerful monitors that can produce high output levels in control rooms of nearly any size when necessary. 

We adjusted the dip switches on the back to account for the speakers being near a wall and slightly elevated. This was critical to achieving the accurate sound we were after. Prior to adjusting the dip switches the sound was really heavy and muddy in the lower frequencies. Once dialed in the sound was natural and transpsarent.  We can edit all day on the 8030s as they bring the reality of what we captured in the field to the edit suite. 

These 8030c monitors are just really clean monitors that allow you to mix dialogue and music in a very confident way. These are great monitors for critical listening and doing audio forensics and cleaning up interviews. We'd like to see more input options in addition to the balanced XLR but imagine many are installed in permanent professional situations where the added cost isn't necessary.

The auto on/off feature is really great and this goes for any Genelec monitor.  Once it's setup you never have to worry about powering them on and off again.  They sense the audio signal and toggle on and off as needed.  We cam to really love this feature over time and never have to reach around the back to turn them on and off.  

We also really like the tough, industrial approach to the design.  Both wooder and tweeter are protected by grills and the build is impeccable. It's an extremely well made and attractive designer.  The producer finish just instantly makes us feel at ease in the edit sweet.  

For many years we've been happily chugging along with our passive JBLs and trusted Hafler amps and we still prefer the heft and heat for music mixes. The Genelecs did take a little getting used to, like adjusting to any new monitor setup.  After extended use we can highly recommend them.  They just stay out of the way so you can dial in your mix with confidence.  When it comes to post production they've become a standard in many editing suites with good reason.  The Genelec 8030c monitors are a really good choice and translate well to any kind of playback system. They make a good partner for extended edit sessions and will keep you honest with your final mix.  


We tested them in a 10x10 edit suite adjacent to a 30” screen using IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R130 isolators. They are pretty much ideal in this setting. Just give them a clean signal from the board and the Genelec's have plenty of power to fill the space as needed.  We took the little feet off before putting them on the isolators. Yes, you can take them off.  We prefer to have them off the desk versus pointed up at our ears.  Just feels better to us that way. 

Visit the folks at Genelec for more info about the 8030c monitors. They also are very good at recommending specific monitors for your studio.  



iso acoustics

 

p4000 ff


We like the single slot GPU because it allows us to use all the available PCIe slots in our system, it's not as power hungry as larger two slot designs and we think these cards really hit the price/performance sweet spot. We tested the P4000 in a Supermicro workstation sporting newer components, SSDs and plenty of memory. 


The line between professional and consumer use of advanced GPUs is blurring as players become creators. Once upon a time it was enough to just be a gamer with your specialized rig dominating Fortnite at high frame rates. But these days players like to capture gameplay in OBS and stream on YouTube. When they're not streaming live they might be making tutorials or music mixes featuring game play highlights. Of course, you have to build cool intros and outtros in Afer Effects, Cinema 4D and Blender. And to do that you'll need lots of plug-ins to make your stuff standout.

In this new emerging world of creator/players sharing game experiences and derivative creativity, a GPU that can handle professional apps and gameplay is very attractive. That's where the P4000 shines. You can be an After Effects artist or Cad god by day and still blow off some steam with game play at night, all with a high level of peroformance. That's pretty much what we did with the Quadro P4000.

We ran After Effects, Cinema 4D, Blender, OBS, Fortnite, Roblox, Vegas Creative and myriad orther creative and gaming experiences. What we found was the Quadro P4000 was a reliable workhourse that performed well and performed just fine when running these apps simultaneously. We'd have a render cooking in After Effects while live streaming and recording Fortnite using OBS. No glitches, no delays and smooth as butter at high frame rates.

p4000

Our supermicro workstation has robust mid case cooling and exhaust fans running at quiet levels and did not have to ramp up for extra cooling nor did we hear the quadro fan ramp up during our testing running renders in the background during gameplay. Having a quality power supply, case and good airflow makes for a happy GPU too. So keep that in mind. Small cases with poor cooling and marginal power supplies are not a GPUs best friend.


The Quadro P4000 is a really good choice for a single slot solution that can run professional creative apps and provide a smooth gaming experience as well. For many users there is little need to go beyond this level of peformance unless you've got the budget to spend or truly have the need for extreme GPU performance. Plus we love having all slots available in our system for high end audio cards and DSP processing. Long live the single slot GPU!

Check out the full NVIDIA Quadro lineup here.

great demo of this amazing synth



When it comes to audio cards that go inside your workstation the options are getting more limited. The PCI slot is getting phased out and most motherboards these days feature PCIe slots. If you’re upgrading to a new workstation you may be forced to upgrade your PCI based audio and DSP cards.

That’s just what we had to do when recently upgraded our workstation. There are countless external audio interfaces in various flavors of USB and Thunderbolt or we could have tried an external PCI chassis connected to one of the PCIe slots. But in the end decided we still prefer the performance of an internal audio card. We narrowed our search down to the Lynx E22 and the RME HDSPe AIO. Turns out, they’re both really good sounding cards.

Several years ago when we tested the Lynx two series versus the RME 9632 and the Lynx was the clear winner. It just sounded better, cleaner, beefier. Well, RME has upped its game and that’s no longer the case. The PCIe based HDSPe AIO sounds great. RME’s drivers are rock solid and continuously updated. Lynx is still the benchmark for pristine audio quality and you can’t go wrong with the new E22 PCIe audio card. But RME is right there in terms of quality and performance and the robust routing options of Total Mix makes it very attractive.

We prefer the Lynx breakout cable. It’s a much cleaner way to move audio to and from the card and connect to an external mixer. The RME HDSPe AIO breakout cable is really just a short trunk that requires at least 4 additional balanced cables to connect to a mixer. We also think this breakout cable should be included instead of the unbalanced version given the $899 price tag. The Lynx E22 comes in at $699 plus another $40 for the cable.  So Lynx is the better deal and overall still the better sounding card but RME is narrowing the gap.  

One final note, If you get one of these cards and add it to a Windows 10 system make sure you optimize the system performance before passing judgement, especially if you have any hardware based plugins from Universal Audio. Windows 10 has been challenging to optimize for audio. We experienced stuttering and buffering issues with both cards across a range of NLE packages that we didn’t experience in previous versions of Windows. We found these audio optimization tips from Native Instruments helpful

We also found this tool really helpful for fixing latency issues. Network cards are a pain.

 

EDIUS 8

Edius 8.22 from Grass Valley is the latest update that adds LUT and tracking support. Both of these features add incredible power for color correction natively in Edius and should make a lot of Edius users happy.

We’ve tested log and 4K footage from broadcast Canon, Panasonic and Sony cameras and the new primary color corrector does a good job of identifying the camera, codec and format and automatically applying a LUT to rec.709 to get us in the ballpark. What’s great is we still have the full power of the color correction tool at our fingertips to further enhance the color. It’s a huge time saver. You can also choose to apply any number of LUTs to jump start your creative juices, all in real time. No there is no need to round trip to Resolve or another color package. The built in capabilities are really good.

The new tracking capability of the mask works really well. Before this was a time consuming task to tweak the key frames to make it perfect. Now, if we want to highlight a portion of the frame, say a person’s face, we can do that with really good tracking capabilities. Again, it will get you in the ballpark with just a few tweaks to make it perfect, and additional video effects can be applies to mask which makes the creative possibilities endless.

Grass Valley didn’t do much to the UI. It’s a little more modern but no major changes there. We like it and find it extremely easy to use. It’s still one of our favorite NLEs for cutting pieces together.

Audio still feels like an afterthought and we’d like to see more robust and friendly ways to do a final mix in Edius. For now we round trip to a more powerful audio suite. 


Grass Valley has not gone the subscription route with their software although it does require the occasional connection to verify the license. Still to come in Edius 8 is optical flow which users have been griping about for some time because it was promised to them over a year ago. The good news is Grass Valley says it’s still in the works and previous updates have come through with worthwhile updates that did not require additional payment

Every editor should add Edius to their tool chest. It’s stable, fast and constantly updated with the support for the latest cameras and codecs. Edius 8.22 is a worthy contender for your everyday NLE and a great companion in the field for acquisition.

We've been doing an extended review of the Quadro K4200 and it's been rock solid. It's quiet, consumes reasonable power and helps accelerate apps that take advantage of the GPU. Since Q4 of 2014 we've been using the K4200 in one of our workstations primarily for digital content creation.

Our primary apps include the Adobe CC suite, Avid Media Composer, Sony Vegas Pro, Edius Pro and various plug-ins from Boris, NewBlue and others. The single slot Quadro K4200 sits right in the sweet spot of price/performance for these kinds of apps.

In a craft production environment, we really like the single slot design because our workstations are also used for audio mixing and mastering and we often require adjacent slots for audio and DSP cards or an SSD accelerator.  

When building a workstation for content creation, two of our main considerations are performance and compatibility. When we initially installed the K4200, Media Composer gave us a warning to revert back to an earlier driver. Of course, our other apps preferred the most recent driver. So it's always possible to encounter some hiccups like this. The good news, over time, after a couple of app and Quadro driver updates all the apps seem to be happy.   Media Composer likes version 340.84 currently.

We like the performance we're getting from the Quadro k4200.  However, we can't say it blew us away compared to the K4000.   The K4000 operated much cooler than it's predecessor while offering improved performance.   The Quadro K4200 offers improved specs and continues on that path but since we're not in Maya all day it's maybe not as noticeable to us.   It really depends on your apps.   So if you're happily chugging along with a k4000 in your editing suite you may want to stick with it.  However, if you're considering a new system or doing more 3D or using an app that really benefits from the increased specs and you're looking for a lot of power in a single slot design the Quadro k4200 should be at the top of your list.

In 2015 we expect to see a nice bump in overall performance with the latest Xeons, DDR4, dropping SSD prices, thunderbolt 2 and generally improved motherboard performance, not to mention Windows 10 might actually not suck.  We're still primarily running Windows 7. The next step is for the OS and content creation apps to truly take advantage of all the processing power provided by the CPU cores and the GPU power in cards such as the Quadro K4200.   4K video is a train in the distance that will run your over before you know it.    Nice to see NVIDIA keeping it real with the Quadro lineup.


Visit NVIDIA for more information and all the specs.