Archive for July, 2011

Blade Studios Chooses CLASP

Well it’s been 6 months since we opened our doors this year and so far we are having a blast in our new space. The room sounds amazing and so does the gear. One of our favorite pieces we put on our equipment list is our CLASP. By now most everybody I’m sure has heard of CLASP, but for those of you that haven’t it is worth checking out. Endless Analog is the company that makes CLASP and we have been using the hell out of it. Basically what CLASP does is it let’s you record to analog tape before digitizing the signal. We use a Studer 827 2″ machine and it works perfectly. Here’s a quick video of a session we did last week with Phoenix Hart with an all start cast of players including Brady Blade (Drums), Braylon Lacy (Bass), Sereca Henderson (keys), Andy Timmons (Guitar). This is a video of the live recording of the basic tracks.

This is a video of the live recording of the basic tracks.

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Topic-4: Search and Destroy

I was off on vacation for a week so there’s some catching up to do. For starters, I am going to post some links and, over time, come back and explain in more depth how these links can help you…

OBSOLETE PARTS?
As mentioned, upgrading opamps in the audio path can a bit of a mine field. But not ALL opamps are in the signal path – the side-chain of vintage dbx compressor-limiters, for example, have opamps that do all sorts of fun stuff. So, when an opamp’s functionality is circuit-critical, check the manufacturer’s website first, because sometimes you can get lucky and find a compatible replacement.

As the link shows, the LM308 has been DISCONTINUED, but to the right is a link to the LM308 DATASHEET as well as it’s replacement – in the ALSO RECOMMENDED box – the LM8261. You’ll want to download the datasheet for both parts…
POWER SURPRISE
Power Supplies are often the weak link in many products, not necessarily by circuit design so much as the lack of consideration of how heat shortens life over long periods of time. In general, electronics components should not be so hot as to burn, but ‘too hot to fail’ happens all too often, especially when you consider how often rack gear is mounted with no space in between. Over time, parts just burn themselves out.
RECTIFIERS Convert AC to DC and there are many types, from Half Wave to Full Wave, Single Voltage to Bipolar as well as Voltage Doubler.

Can You NAME THAT RECTIFIER?

Once AC is converted to DC it needs to be regulated – it must tolerate variations at the power outlet – it can’t sag when the Air Conditioner or Heater comes on and must be there if the device being powered demands more juice.
SIMPLE REGULATION
Theses days, pretty much every solution comes as a single Integrated Circuit or IC, with a minimal amount of support parts. But if you work on vintage Gear, you’ll see many Variations on the Regulation Theme.

If you ever wanted to know more about regulated power supplies, National Semiconductor published this useful FUNDAMENTALS pdf.

CAPACITOR CONFUSION
Back in the vacuum tube daze, capacitors were big enough to tell you alot about themselves. Then, large and small value caps relied on color code. Now reading and translating much small conventional (axial or radial) capacitors can be confusing, because limited space forces manufacturers to abbreviate. It’s even crazier with surface mount (SMT) parts. I’ll be posting a chart soon, but in the meantime, here’s a cool link that explains alot about what some of the abbreviations mean. Note that some of these abbreviations might be on the schematic as well.

more to come…

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Greg Ondo

I’ve known Greg Ondo for a number of years. Greg’s the Field Marketing Manager for Steinberg North America, and as a long time Cubase user I’ve peppered him with a fair number of relatively stupid questions, all of which he’s answered with great patience. The occasional sly half grin has penetrated through the telephone lines, however! Greg recently sat down with me to answer some questions as part of the series of talks I’m having with representatives of companies that manufacture the top digital audio workstations.

Gary Eskow: “What percentage of Steinberg users are professional musicians and what percentage are prosumers, or amateurs?”

Greg Ondo: “I think that we have a healthy balance between users just starting out and pros, all the way up to the most demanding studio and touring musicians. Many people just beginning start with a version of Cubase LE or AI bundled with various hardware devices and upgrade from there to gain access to our complete feature set. Interestingly enough, no one really calls up the company and tells us that they are an amateur!”

GE: “What distinguishes Cubase from its competitors?”

GO: “Steinberg’s long history of innovation is what distinguishes the company in my view. We were the first company to release products that let the user edit while music was playing. We integrated sequencing, audio and scoring, invented VST and made native based audio the standard. We have a lot of mature results-oriented technologies. We are also seeing groundbreaking integration of software and hardware with our parent company Yamaha that no one else is in a position to offer.”

GE: “What is the most overlooked feature in Cubase?”

GO: “It’s hard to say what the most overlooked feature is. It might be the Control Room, which replaces the control room section found in many large format consoles. It allows the user to create headphone mixes for individual musicians during the tracking process, perform talkback, handle speaker management (including surround support) and incorporate external sources such as an iPod or DVD player. I see a lot of people using consoles for these functions even though they’re now better handled at the software level.”

GE: “Please distinguish the current versions of Cubase and Nuendo.”

GO: “Cubase and Nuendo share many features and have a common look and feel. Nuendo offers significantly more features for post production users, including more extensive surround support, Euphonix System 5 control surfaces integration, advanced automation, ADR, and network collaboration. I often tell people if you want to write music for the film get Cubase, if you want to mix all of the audio including sound effects, foley, dialog and music for the film get Nuendo.”

GE: “How successful has Nuendo been in making inroads into the audio post community?”

GO: “Nuendo has made significant inroads into the post community. As budgets are shrinking for many projects, Nuendo allows for the same post production workflow at a more attractive price point. I have been to many post studios throughout the country who couldn’t survive without Nuendo.”

GE: “What’s new in WaveLab 7?”

GO: “WaveLab 7 was a complete rewrite of our award winning mastering solution. It is also now for the first time available for MacOS. The workflow has been streamlined with different preset configurations to help make getting to work easier and faster. WaveLab now supports VST 3, and it offers some great plug-ins for restoration including Sonnox DeBuzzer, DeClicker, and Denoiser as well as the Steinberg Post Filter. WaveLab, with its metering, analysis and burning is the best program to improve the final quality of audio at the most critical and overlooked production stage.”

GE: “Computer speed and RAM have come so far. What will they allow DAWs to do in the next five to ten years, and is Steinberg developing products that are future oriented?”

GO: “The advancement in computer technology has been great for Steinberg. When VST was developed 15 years ago the fastest processor available was an 80 Mhz PowerMac. It is now very easy for the entire production process to be handled on the latest generation processors from AMD and Intel. It’s interesting to watch film composers as they push the limits more than anyone else, incorporating large sample libraries, VSTi, numerous audio tracks and video. I’m not a software developer but I can envision even lower latency performance throughout the system in the most demanding user scenarios. I think that Steinberg will always be ready to embrace the cutting edge computer system performance of the future.

“We’ll continue to see more blockbuster features in future Steinberg products. Steinberg has always been an innovative company in many areas where companies have not pushed the boundaries. We continue to expand area such as VST Expression 2 for better MIDI and Vari Audio for vocal tuning. It may be easy to add new features, but if they impede the creative process they’re not really useful to the user. I think that workflow, using multiple features in a pragmatic manner will evolve to be an even more important feature in the future.”

GE: “Finally, what can you tell us about Greg Ondo, the man behind the legend?”

GO: “I’ve been working with Steinberg for over 19 years and it has been an incredible journey watching the company evolve to where it is today. I started off as a bassist playing in different bands and graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Music Industry. After college, I worked in a prominent studio in NY in the early ‘90’s and I remember thinking to myself that many users will be able to do this at home in the near future with the same results. The idea that the professional studio was the only place where quality work could be executed was feeling a bit anachronisitic to me, even at the time. Some people at the studio were surprised that I left to work for Steinberg. I loved the products then and the growth and depth of functionality we’ve achieved since that time is truly astonishing. I feel incredibly fortunate that Steinberg has great product planning and software developers, but most importantly, the company has never lost its vision. I can’t wait to see where Steinberg will be in 20 years. It will be exciting.”

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Cakewalk’s Robin Kelly

Gary Eskow: “Cakewalk has been around for quite some time. Can you trace the history of the company for us?”

Robin Kelly: “Cakewalk was founded in 1987 by Greg Hendershott, who is still the CEO today. The first program released was Cakewalk for DOS. At that time Cakewalk was the name of the software and Twelve Tone Systems was the name of the company.

“In 1996 Cakewalk release Pro Audio 4, the first Windows DAW to record and play back audio and MIDI. Future versions of Pro Audio introduced a number of important features, including Direct X plug-in support, MIDI plug-ins, StudioWare, and an extremely stable audio engine. In 2001 SONAR 1 was released. It was the first DAW to support audio and MIDI loops and had some important new features, including plug-in delay compensation. Subsequent versions of SONAR added VST plug-in and synth support, ASIO, and 64-bit double precision audio engine.

“Cakewalk released SONAR X1 in 2010, featuring an updated interface and workflow called Skylight, the ProChannel, and REX64 support. Cakewalk is looking forward to celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2012.”

GE: “Can you tell us a bit about your own background and the experience of some of your colleagues at Cakewalk?”

RK: “I came to Cakewalk from an audio post and video background. I started at Cakewalk in 1996 in tech support. Tech support might not be a glamorous job but it really is a great experience to speak directly to the customers and learn what is important to them. After my time in support I moved on to Product Management and was the Product Manager for Pro Audio 6,7, and 8 and Audio FX1. By 2000, I had also finished rotations in Quality Assurance (Pro Audio 9) and as a product specialist conducting public demonstrations across the US.

“Since 2000 I’ve moved up through the sales department, first in international sales and finally my current position as Vice President of Sales and Marketing. Having experience in all aspects of the company has really given me a huge well of experience to draw upon. Even after 15 years at Cakewalk I’m still amazed by the passion and drive the entire staff has to make the best possible products for our customers. The staff is the true driving force behind Cakewalk and its products. The majority of our staff uses our products outside their day jobs. Dan Kaplan, Graphic Designer, has his music featured in the upcoming season of “Deadliest Catch. “ Jimmy Landry, Artist Relations, has four songs featured in ESPN broadcasts, and there are many more examples!”

GE: “What is the most under utilized aspect of SONAR?”

RK: “That’s a tough one. If I had to pick one it would be the mix architecture feature. SONAR X1 has an incredibly flexible bussing and routing matrix, multiple gain stages, unlimited effects patching, and 64-bit Double Precision plug-ins and mix engine. Few folks actually leverage the power of the underlying engine. When we speak to our professional customers we are instantly reminded of how important this architecture and the resulting sound quality is to them.”

GE: “In your mind, what sets SONAR apart from Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer and other work stations?”

RK: “Sound quality would be a big one; we get feedback from customers all the time saying how amazed they are with SONAR’s dynamic range and fidelity. This is something our engineering team takes significant pride in. Our support for Intel processors is another one.Cakewalk and Intel have a very close and long term relationship which allows us to stay on the cutting edge of technology; each version of SONAR is enhanced for the current (and sometimes future) generation of Intel processors. This means faster than real-time renders, more effects, lower latency and an overall faster and more robust performance.

“SONAR is enhanced to use the 256 wide registers. That might sound a bit geeky, but in practical terms this means that importing audio data that has multiple bit rates will be much faster than with other DAWs. SONAR is Windows only. At first, this might seem like a bad thing as SONAR does not support the Mac. To be honest, we have no aversion to the Mac and many of our synths and effects are cross platform, but the simple fact is we grew out of DOS and then moved to Windows. This single OS focus has enabled SONAR to fully leverage the power of the platform without making compromises to ensure equal performance across multiple operating systems. To put it in simple terms, we know Windows and we know how to squeeze every last drop of performance out of it.”

GE: “Have digital audio workstations matured to the point where future releases will be less likely to offer radically new features?”

RK: “I firmly believe that the opposite is the case. The power of today’s processors is stunning compared to five years ago. If you extrapolate that out another five years using Moore’s law the potential of a future workstation is incredible. The real trick is taking that future power into account today and planning to have your software deliver both current and innovative features. We have an extremely talented Product Management and Development team and they work closely with Microsoft, Intel and other partners, so I can’t wait for what the future has in store for DAWs.”

GE: “Is Cakewalk planning products for computers faster than those available today?”

RK: “Absolutely. In software life cycles are pretty fast and you have to constantly plan for the future. The future plans could be in the form of a small update, a new version or even a completely different application. Any software company that rests on its laurels will fall behind the competition and eventually become irrelevant.”

GE: “Anything else you’d care to comment on?”

RK: “Well I was thrilled the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and I hope the Red Sox can have a great year too! Seriously, I think in many ways the music software business in going through a rebirth. It reminds me of the mid 90’s when there were many manufacturers with different and unique products; that competition was good for the customers even if it caused many engineers lots of sleepless nights. Today, the number of DAW companies on the market now is quite large, there are new platforms like Andriod and iPad, and the processors keep getting faster. The drives get bigger and RAM gets faster as well. It really is an exciting time to be part of the music software industry. Finally, the Cakewalk customers are absolutely fantastic. They exhibit a passion for our products that really helps drive us and shape future releases. The greatest reward is seeing a customer have success on a professional level and knowing that SONAR was part of it.”

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Maarten Spruijt

All you tennis fans know that in the last decade the Netherlands have turned out some great players- Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in particular. Ok, I know, Justine and Kim are from Belgium and the two countries are distinct political entities. But they were one back in 1830!

ProjectSAM (www.projectsam.com) is the brain child of three composers- Maarten Spruijt, Vincent Beijer, and Marco Deegenaars- born and raised in the Netherlands. SAM Horns, their first commercially released sample library, put the company on the map nearly a decade ago. ProjectSAM has continued to release libraries that many composers- particularly those working in the film industry- have found indispensable. You can develop software anywhere, obviously, and the tools- a computer, microphone, quality instruments and players, a good engineer and room- are universal. But what’s it like to live and work in the Netherlands? I recently conducted an e-mail interview with Maarten Spruijt to try and find out.

Gary Eskow: “Maarten, what’s life in the Netherlands like?”

Maarten Spruijt: “I live in an apartment in the old city center of Utrecht, a small city of around 300,000 people in the middle of The Netherlands, with my girlfriend and two dogs. It’s a wonderful area with many old buildings, canals and parks. Almost everything I need is at a walking distance. My studio is at a three minute walk from my apartment. I love how I can do almost everything by foot and bicycle. This is one of the bigger contrasts with, for example, California, where you have to take the car everywhere.”

GE: “What styles of music attracted you as a child?”

MS: ”My mother is a classical pianist, my father was a classical guitarist. As a child I was surrounded by orchestral music: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Bernstein as well as the Beatles and Paul Simon. When I was about 12 I developed an interest in computers and quickly discovered I could use them to create music. My first experiments were done in the tracker Octamed on a Commodore Amiga 500. What’s very cool is that I had a module connected to the Amiga that could hack into any running programs, allowing me to save the samples used in any Amiga game to a floppy disk and use them in Octamed. This way I could experiment with many different genres, from orchestral to electronic. In this period I also experimented with programming simple games in AMOS.”

GE: “How did you become involved in ProjectSAM? Are you still actively involved with the company?”

MS: ”Around 2002, during our Music Technology studies, Vincent Beijer, Marco Deegenaars and I teamed up to test our ideas on sampling brass instruments in a concert hall. We had specific ideas about the type of articulations to sample in order to program typical thematic brass lines and phrases. Thomas Bergersen and Simon Ravn also contributed to these ideas. The resulting Trumpet Section library was released as a free download to the online community. People seemed to really like the concept and we decided to expand our ideas and develop our first commercial sample library. This became SAM Horns. The core team -Vincent, Marco and me- is still the same, even though we have more help now. Next year we will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary!”

GE: “You’re very active as a film score composer in your country. Assuming you have a home studio, what equipment is in it, and how much of your scoring work do you complete in this studio? Do you work in large recording studios as well?”

MS: “My studio is a few streets from my home, but let’s call it a ‘home studio’ anyway, because it feels like one! Over the years, the setup has become simpler and smaller, but more powerful. Three or four years ago I was using a Mac Pro DAW with four Gigastudio slave machines. Now, I do almost all of my projects on a single Mac Pro. The Giga machines are gone and I have a second Mac Pro in case I need more performance. It hasn’t been turned on for months, though. This is also due to the fact that I do less full-blown orchestral projects than I did a few years ago. My monitors are Dynaudio BM6A’s with a BM9 subwoofer. My DAW is running Logic Pro. All my writing and most solo recordings are done in this studio. This means that I can finish most projects right here.”

GE: “Do you engineer your own recordings or have someone else mix your scores?”

MS: “Larger projects or projects that involve many live recordings I have mixed by others. I see myself primarily as a composer/sound designer, and while I’m able to create a good sounding mix I fully realize that there are people who create better ones, especially when it concerns a surround mix.”

GE: “Do you compose music other than the work you do providing sound tracks for films?”

MS: “The last six months or so I have been abandoning the orchestral style. I was experiencing an orchestral overdose last year, doing nothing but full-blown orchestral projects as well as developing orchestral sample libraries with ProjectSAM. I was suddenly asking myself the question: “am I writing orchestral music because it’s my favorite writing style, or because it is what people ask me to write?” I felt a very strong urge to explore new grounds. The past few months I have been working on electronic, ambient and alternative tracks, written just for myself, not for clients. My goal is now to focus on getting music projects that fit these new musical grounds. I’m not saying that I won’t write any orchestral music anymore, but at the moment, I would choose a project needing a “Social Network” style score over one that needs an orchestral adventure score.”

GE: “How would you describe your style as a composer?”

MS: “A lot of my music has a strong rhythmical basis, because of my percussion background. I like working by intuition and surprising myself. A complex chord in my music is sooner the result of other choices that I made, rather than a conscious choice on its own. I enjoy working pattern-based (my tracker roots?), looping patterns with varying lengths and making subtle, evolving changes. I can be both a very fast writer and a control freak, writing four minutes in a day or spending one hour on two bars.”

GE: “What are your goals for the future?”

MS: “When I just finished my Music Technology studies in 2003, my dream was, like many, to score big-budget US film productions. There have been moments where I was seriously considering a film composer career in the US. Slowly though, other interests and priorities have entered my life. Also, I simply like Europe too much to consider leaving any time soon. I am enthusiastic about the new musical freedom and creativity I’ve found recently and am looking forward to discovering where it will take me!”

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Topic-3: Powered Mic Confusion

Q: Why don’t PC mics don’t work on a standard console?

This remarkably common question most recently came from Andreas Polydoros from Athens, Greece.

A: Because there is a big difference between a conventional phantom-powered studio mic and the Electret microphones typically found in computers, cell phones, cameras and portable recording devices. The Electret condenser mic does require power (for its built-in amplifier) but in a totally different way from the Phantom-powered studio condenser mics that have been part of our audio-centric world since the sixties.

My first ‘phantom’ article originally appeared in the July 1999 issue of EQ.

SIGNAL DISTRIBUTION
In mic evolution, moving coil and ribbon mics deliver a balanced / differential signal by design and required no power. Initially, studio condenser microphones required power to polarize the capsule as well as the internal vacuum tube. When transistors were good enough to be low-noise amplifiers, condenser mics could then be powered by batteries either externally (like the sony C38) or internally (like the earliest version of the Neumann U-87).

VIVA LA DIFFERENCE!
In the pre-phantom audio world, mic- and line-level SIGNALS travel on a twisted pair of wires in a balanced, differential form. This can be seen on the left side of the image as a pair of AC (alternating current) sine waves of opposite polarity. In contrast, a Common Mode signal appears as a pair of identical polarity (in-phase) sine waves (in RED).

This type of SIGNAL distribution offers the best noise immunity because balanced / differential audio INPUTS recognize the desired differential waves as SIGNAL and the pair of in-phase waves as ‘common-mode’ NOISE. The ratio of signal-to-noise is called the Common Mode Rejection Ratio or CMRR. Surprisingly, Phantom power is injected as a common mode DC signal, the beauty of which is that no modification to the existing signal distribution system was required.

Electret Microphone Capsules

ELECTRET is the electrostatic version of a magnet – holding an electrical rather than magnetic charge. When the Electret material is combined with a diaphragm, the result is an ELECTRET MICROPHONE, which, unlike a conventional studio condenser microphone, does not require a polarizing voltage for the diaphragm, but does require power for its built-in FET amplifier.

Sample Electret Microphone circuit

From the schematic image, there are two connections to the Electret Capsule Assembly, which contains an internal Field Effect Transistor (FET) Amplifier. External to the capsule is the FET’s ‘load’ resistor – where the audio signal will appear – the opposite side of the resistor being connected to the power source. So, that’s two of three connections, the third being ground. The signal output is unbalanced.

To visualize what is expected at the typical 1/8-inch (3.5mm) TRS Electret microphone connector, we must first consider whether the source is a mono or stereo mic. For a mono computer mic input, Creative Labs publishes the follow spec for their sound blaster card:

Input Type: Unbalanced Low Impedance
Input Sensitivity: Approx. -20dBV (100mV or 0.1Volt)
Input Impedance: 600 to 1500. (Ohms)
Input Connector: 3.5mm Miniplug (Stereo Jack)
Input Wiring: Audio on Tip, Ground on Sleeve, 5Volts DC Bias on Ring

The spec above implies that the load resistor is most likely located at the microphone. But for cameras that have a stereo mic input, also on a TRS connector, a pair of resistors will be located near the TRS input connector where the left capsule’s output will be TRS-Tip, the right capsule’s output will be TRS-Ring and ground is on TRS sleeve.

RECENT UPDATE

Conversations with an Australian reader helped me zoom in on the problem: audio / music store salespeople are selling Electret mics – which we know require power – as being phantom-powered! Dang! You can just imagine what happens to microphone electronics expecting 1.5 to 5.6-volts when 48-volts shows up to the party!

Well, here’s a solution I’d love to have a box of and hopefully will review in the near future…

AMBIENT Electret Mic Adapters

An 48-volt adapter for nearly every type of Electret mic.

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