Category Archives: ENGLISH

Izotope Alloy 2

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

Looking at past reviews, I see that I am never enthusiastic about the “good deals” I got. The sweetness of the lower price is not yet forgotten, but I never feel that it was money well-spent.
As I keep saying, my impulse buys are rarely good ones, but Izotope’s Alloy2 is the shining exception. It was not on sale, but the regular price ($199) is extremely fair, considering all that you get.

Alloy 2 has 7 sections: an EQ, a transient shaper, an exciter, two compressors, a de-esser and a limiter. Each of these can be individually switched on and off. The transient shaper, exciter and compressors have multi-band functionality which greatly enhances their usefulness. But you can get the details from Izotope’s site or other reviews, so I’m gonna skip all that and get right down to business.

This thing sounds seriously good. It doesn’t do vintage or classic stuff, but it does digital, and it does digital right.

At the risk of offending legions of pro engineers, the presets in this thing are fantastic. They provide excellent “ballpark” sounds, which serve as great starting points for further tweaking. And not a lot of tweaking is needed, typically it is adjusting thresholds etc. and pretty soon you’re good.

I use it mostly for vocals and drum buss, and it is excellent on both. Most of the presets sound very current and up-to-date, many of them designed to give you that ‘boom, now it sounds like a record’ feeling. To really get it right, you’ll need to dive in there to finish it up to make it ‘sit’, but a lot of the hard work has been done for you and in my case, many of the presets are great time-savers.

For those who prefer to start with a clean sheet: all the different blocks give you an amazingly versatile and superb-sounding tool that allows to sculpt and mold the sound to your heart’s content.

It’s hard for me to think of true negatives; I think the exciter is probably less impressive in isolation. It distorts pretty quickly but at modest levels it doesn’t appear to do much. That said, whenever it is active in a preset it is easier to pick out what it does by switching it on and off, so perhaps it is simply my ineptitude.

Also, this is a modern plugin and you’re not gonna run 500 instances of this on your MacPro. It is not too heavy considering all it does, but it does take cycles, and when you have a lot of instances open, you will notice.

In conclusion, Alloy 2 sounds great, has excellent presets for those who don’t want to be bothered, offers deep control for those who need it, and generally delivers on all counts. I think it is well worth the $199.

 

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Camel Audio Camel Crusher

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

I appreciate you reading my review, but since this is a free plugin, you’d better download it and get busy with it!

Most developers have some kind of free product, and while some are genuinely good and/or useful, a lot of it is just a waste of disk space.

The Camel Crusher is among the best that I know of. If this was $99 it would be good value. For free? Bloody amazing!

It sounds really, really good. I am not a fan of distortion and didn’t think I’d have use for this, but it turns out this little gem is supremely versatile and it goes from subtle but audible coloration to beyond 11 and breaking your speakers.

I find that I can use this plugin on just about anything and it will do something good to it, but it excels at breathing new life and energy into dull or bland sounding tracks.

It is a distortion/saturator/compressor/filter, and it does all of that really well.

Controls are limited but that is actually a good thing. You don’t waste 30 minutes fiddling with knobs only to find out it’s not gonna work.

I’m gonna say it again, this thing sounds GREAT. It’s free. It is better than many plugins I paid good money for. It has a definite “analog” vibe to it.

What are you waiting for? Go get it!

http://www.camelaudio.com/camelcrusher.php

February 17, 2015:

Since Apple bought Camel Audio last year, this plugin is unfortunately no longer available. However, Camel Audio’s flagship product, Alchemy, reappeared bundled with Apple’s Logic Pro X and Mainstage 3, so perhaps this plugin will be included at some point as well. I sure hope so.

 

 

Softube Mix Bundle

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test system: MacPro W3520 (12GB RAM) | OSX 10.6.8 and 10.8.5 | Cubase 6 and 6.5 (64-bit)

A few years back, this bundle got a lot of hype on the net, and when it was on sale (I think it was around $180) I decided to buy into it.
The bundle comprises:
– FET Compressor
– Active EQ
– Passive EQ
– Focusing EQ
– TSAR-1R Reverb
While it is not bad at all, and reasonable value at the price I paid for it, I have once again learned that you get what you pay for. The great-sounding stuff costs way more. That is not to say that this bundle does not sound good, with a bit of care you can get decent results, but it is not the “just turn a knob and go wow” experience.

The best thing about the EQ’s is that the top-end is pretty smooth. You can add quite a bit of gain without it sounding harsh. Still, while you can shape tones nicely with these EQ’s, it all remains pretty bland. There is not a lot of character or excitement.

I keep trying to use the FET compressor, but I rarely get what I’m looking for. It does NOT sound like an 1176 to me, although my experience with the real thing is admittedly limited. Again, not to say it’s bad, just that it fails to blow me away. I have managed to get satisfying results on electric bass guitar with the plug-in, but not much else.

I use the reverb more. Mostly because it is easy to use and you get predictable results. Not a whole lot of flavor, but it sounds nice enough and does what it is supposed to do.

All in all, I don’t feel shortchanged as I got a good deal on it. But for the current retail price of $299 I find it a little underwhelming. I would not say it is bad value, everything works and if you happen to need a compressor/EQ/reverb bundle for that price it remains a sensible purchase. I just never fell in love with it.

LOUD

Why do guys out here in LA play so loud?!?

It is the nuttiest thing I have ever seen. Brilliant musicians, all turning their amps up to 11 and jamming with earplugs in! Why?!?

Just turn it down!

Hints:

– Play at a volume that is acceptable over a sustained period of time. If your ears can handle it, the audience can, too. If you need earplugs, you are playing too loud!

– Play to the room. Let the drummer play alone, without amplification, for a few minutes, so he can gauge how loud to play before the room starts to resonate uncomfortably. Have other players adjust to that level. Make the drummer understand that he should be playing at an average level below that, so there’s some room for crescendos and fortes.

– The bass is extremely room-sensitive. There can be lot of build-up and standing waves at high volume, which can effectively alter the way we perceive the pitch of the instrument. This has happened to me many times. In some rooms, at high volume the bass will sound almost a semi-tone higher than what is played. It is excruciating to try and play along in what sounds like a different key!

– When a player turns it up a little for his solo, remind him to turn it back down when he is done with it. It is amazing how often people will forget to turn it down (and that includes me, yes).

– To get an idea of what music sounded like before we brought 5 kW amps to the gig, do a couple of acoustic gigs. It is amazing how much difference that can make. Remember, there was a time when an entire big band would play with an unamplified double bass.

 

Really, guys, who are we kidding? I don’t know about you, but I can’t even play well with those earplugs in. I will use them on occasion when I fear the sound pressure could cause hearing damage, but it changes everything, and it feels and sounds unnatural to me. That is NOT how music is supposed to be made.

 

Turn it down, people. There is no need.

 

 

Microsoft faces karmic debt

It has been all over the news, at least in the geekosphere, Google has blocked Microsoft’s new Youtube app for Windows phone.

Microsoft’s official statement here: http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_on_the_issues/archive/2013/08/15/the-limits-of-google-s-openness.aspx

Google has yet to respond publicly, but I think Microsoft’s statement is a remarkably uncharacteristic display of transparency. And I’m surely not the only one who has had a chuckle at this ironic turn of events. The mighty Microsoft of yore routinely attracted antitrust lawsuits with its unapologetically monopolistic practices, so it is not without glee that I see them at the mercy of their heir apparent.

But Google needs to not be evil. Period.

computers (or how a boy became a geek) pt. 1


I was 10 years old when a very exciting event was about to take place. My father, a high-school math teacher, had followed a course in computer programming and he was going to put his newly acquired knowledge to good use and buy a computer.

Nobody really understood what computers were, or what they did. but everybody knew that they were the future, and that one day everything would be done by computers. What we kids knew, was that you could play games on them, and these games were totally cool and fun.

Handheld video games (as they were called then) were in vogue, and the Arcade was the most exciting place in the world. That was the extent of my knowledge, so the prospect of our own personal computer at home was one that kept me awake at night with anticipation.

The day came. In our sleepy rural town there was only one computer shop. We drove down there, and dad looked intelligently at a number of models. Other people were pecking away at the keyboards while strange indecipherable words appeared on their screens. It was nothing like the Arcade.

Dad talked at length with a salesperson and finally we walked out with a brand new Commodore 64, plus Data Tape recorder and -woohoo!- a cassette of Crazy Kong.

At home we could barely contain our excitement as pops unwrapped the machine and connected it to our black and white TV.

**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 ****

64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE

READY.

…and a blinking cursor. What did it all mean? Basic is the programming language, dad explained. And 64K RAM means that there is 64000 bytes of memory. One byte consists of eight bits, which are either a one or a zero, and from long strings of ones and zeros commands were created and eventually these commands could make the machine do something.

Wow, dad. Can we play Crazy Kong now? It was a poor imitation of Donkey Kong (the most popular game of that day and a precursor to SuperMario) and disappointed we left it for what it was.

Dad got into programming, explained the fundamentals to me, and soon I got into it as well. but my ambition came to a premature end one day when I managed to create a rather advanced multiple choice program (for a 10-year old anyway) only to run out of memory before I was even halfway. And when the memory was full you could not save your work to tape. I was stuck and in frustration I switched the damn thing off. Bye bye programming, forever.

Dad stayed at it, even got some of his creations published, left his teaching job and went corporate. The new job meant a new PC. This time a real computer. By now I had come to understand that the Commodore was not a ‘professional’ machine but rather a ‘toy for consumers’.

Our first real PC came. It had a whopping 640 Kilobytes of RAM, a floppy disk drive and a hard disk drive! What? That is a large-capacity disk permanently mounted inside the computer, explained dad. But what if it gets full? That won’t happen, dad smiled, it can hold 40 Megabytes of data, more than 100 floppies! And it can access this data much faster than a floppy disk drive can.

New games came. Adventure games from Sierra. Our favorites were Space Quest and Lazy Larry. Unlike the Commodore, our new PC did not do Basic but ran on MS-DOS. It also had an easy-to-use interface called Windows 2.0, but dad removed it because “it does not serve a purpose”. The games were grrrrreat, fun with just the right amount of irreverence for political correctness and loveable 8-bit graphics and sound. Adventure games weren’t as fast-paced and exciting as the arcade stuff, but they were every bit as involving, perhaps even more so.

Yeah, computers were totally cool, and soon I’d discover that even cooler things could be done with them!

to be continued

Clavia Nord Piano 88

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I don’t know how we happen to be in July already, and I have yet to write my first blog of 2013! But I am happy that my first post of the year is about the Nord Piano. I have primarily reviewed software over the last two years or so, and the NordPiano is the first keyboard I have bought since my FantomX purchase back in 2005.

I have already written about the NP88 here and I can only say that my initial impressions have pretty much stood the test of time. It sounds remarkably consistent on a variety of different speakers and amps, sounds good in mono (except for one occasion where an intricate mono-cum-headphone-out-summed-to-other-mono introduced a nasty phasiness that made the piano sound, well, nasty) and best of all: it makes me want to play.

This review could end right here, because that last quality is one that renders all others irrelevant. Sure, I could blab on about the sound quality, which is good but not outstanding, the action, which is probably the most criticized aspect of this keyboard, and for a reason.

But at the end of the day, the NP88 just feels right to me, and isn’t that the most important thing? I even record with it at home, as the finger-to-sound connection of the board makes me play better than I do with the multi-GB piano sample libraries now hibernating on my hard drive. I don’t worry about the realism of the recorded sound. It sounds way better than any real piano on 1970’s recordings, so it is a total non-issue for me.

My only concerns are a lack of proper pianissimo samples, a minijack input that -inexplicably!- can only be routed to the headphone out and not the line outs, and the absence of layer/split functionality.

The minijack issue is a great example of a missed opportunity, as many solo pianists with restaurant gigs would have welcomed the ability to play along to backing tracks on their iPod/iPhones without the need for an external mixer.

The layer functionality has been added in the NordPiano2, as well as the ability to load up sounds from the Nord sample library, so it is conceivable that I may trade up to that at some point in the future.

But for now, I don’t even look at other digital pianos anymore. The NP88 is not the perfect DP by a long shot, but I am perfectly satisfied with it.