Saturday, July 14, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 2/2)


The power amp can be connected to the cabinet through a back panel which has the input jacks, and in this is very important the impedance (click here for a dedicated article): we must make sure that the power amp impedance matches the one of the head if we want to avoid damaging it.
Many cabinets have different inputs for different impedances, or a selector.

Speaking of speakers (click here for a dedicated article), we choose among a big variety: usually guitar speakers goes from 5 inches to 15 inches, and bass speakers ranges from 10 to 15, but there are also in this case exceptions.
The classic speaker for guitar has a 12 inches radius, while for bass are also very common 10 inches or 15.
The rule of thumb is that the smaller the radius, the more boxy and trebly the sound will be, the bigger, the more bass content will produce.
Sometimes bass amps have different size speakers to reproduce singularly the high end (tweeters) and the low end (woofers), and the division of the tone between the two speakers is done by a crossover circuit built in the cab.

Cabinets can also be connected between them in a method that is called "daisy chaining": the amp goes into a cabinet, and from that cabinet into another connecting them in parallel, but this option must be present in the back panel of the cab.

A final interesting note is about recording.
When recording a guitar cabinet (click here for a dedicated article) we must choose the speaker that sounds better (through some trial and error), since usually there is some difference between speaker and speaker in the same cabinet, but it's important to point out that in this case the rule "the bigger the better" does not apply: sometimes 1x12 cabs will sound more focused and clear than a 4x12, so consider spending a bit more time in the studio experimenting before making your decision.
For bass instead is a common practice to record both the d.i. sound and the microphoned one in order to blend them, since is quite hard to obtain all the tone we need just by microphoning the cabinet.
About recording is worth to mention also the isolation cab (like the one in the picture): a cabinet that can be microphoned like a regular one and that is closed by an insulation lid so that it produces no sound on the outside: the only thing audible is the sound captured by the microphones, that is sent to a mixer for recording or live mixing purposes. Sometimes touring bands use this for the signal to be sent to the p.a., to avoid microphoning one of the stage cabs, but this method is starting to fade as speaker emulations are becoming increasingly common also among touring bands.

I hope this was helpful!


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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Guitar and bass cabinets: everything you need to know (Part 1/2)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This time we talk about guitar and bass cabinets: what is the best choice for us?

A guitar or bass cab is a box shaped enclusure in which one or more speakers are placed, and they are the output device from which we can drive the sound of our amplifier.
Guitar cabinets can come standalone or as Combo, meaning that they incorporate also a preamplifier and a power amp, making them a single, portable solution for the musican on the go.

A cabinet can come in many different shapes, and during the years producers have become very creative, proposing alternative, lighter versions, but for this basic article we are going to focus on the classic type, which can be straight (a cube or parallelepiped version) or slant, meaning that becomes thinner on the upper side to save some weight and direct the sound not only on a straight line but also towards the ears of the player.

Usually a guitar cabinet has one, two or four speakers, according to the needs (not everyone wants to carry around a big, heavy 4x12, but sometimes on big stages it is really helpful!), and the speakers can be set in two horizontal rows, to be as space effective as possible, or in some 2x12 they are placed diagonally, in order to achieve the opposite result: to have as much room possible for each speaker.
Cabinets with two speakers can be engineered to give their best when put horizontally or vertically, but most of them can be placed in both positions with no difference.

Every kind of cabinet can have the back panel open, half open, closed or modular.
A closed back cabinet will have more sound waves bouncing inside, summed up to the one projected from the front of the speaker, and this will result in a darker, more bassy tone, while open back speakers will have more sound diffusion, and this will produce a more "open", highs oriented sound.
Half open back speakers tries to achieve a bit of the two effects.
Cabinets can be built in various types of wood too, and although many claims that it can affect somehow the final sound, I am not sure about this, as I have never noticed huge differences.
Another variable is the size: smaller , thinner cabs are lighter and easier to carry around, but will provide a slightly thinner, more highs oriented sound, compared to those with the same speakers but larger in terms of depth (which is measured in liters).


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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review: Dr Bonkers Sound Lab Impulses (with video sample)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're reviewing some impulse response pack from Dr Bonkers Sound Lab!

Dr Bonkers Sound Lab produces Impulse Responses for guitar and bass, both in Wav format and in Fractal Axe Fx Format, in a variety of sample rates, up to 96khz and 32bit.

Each cabinet impulse comes in 7 versions, tracked with different microphone settings, and in 4 different folders: the HyperReal version (which is the main version these impulse should be used and consists in a mix of several microphones), the Choice Mixes version, which is an alternative version of the HyperReal ones, and the version with the single microphones, both unprocessed and created with the addition of a power amp for extra harmonic richness, both in 200ms and 500ms version.

Today I spent some time playing around with the HyperReal versions, and since I imagine these "almost mix ready" versions will be the ones that will be used by most of the users, I have made a video comparison of my favourite impulses of the 5 cabinets Dr Bonkers suggested me would be more suited for metal.

For the video I have just plugged my Ltd Mh-417 with Emg 707 pickups to my Focusrite Saffire audio interface, and from there I have used exclusively Free Ignite Amps vst plugins:  Ignite TSB-1 - Ignite The Anvil - Ignite NadIR.

Here's a short description of the 5 IRs I have chosen for the video: 

- Mesa Boogie Recto Cab 4x12: this is a classic cab for metal, and it is probably the one that will need less fiddling during mixing. The tone is balanced, with a tight low end and a very usable, aggressive midrange.

- Marshall 1960 Jcm 800 Lead 4x12: totally different flavour compared to the Mesa Boogie one, this cabinet sounds more scooped and with a more sparkling high end, I bet it would give its best in standard tuning, maybe in a hard rock song or old school thrash metal.

- Marshall 8x10 Bass Cabinet: This is a bass cabinet that is usable also for guitar, but of all the impulses I have tried in this package is the most "boxy sounding". I would see it more suited for a mid rangey bass than a guitar tone, but surely it lends itself to many creative uses.

- 1960 Sunn 2x15 Guitar and Bass Cab: This tone is extremely bassy as the wide speaker suggests, and works in my opinion particularly fine with genres like doom or stoner. The mid range is slightly scooped but the highs remain intellegible and defined.

- Oahu 1x6 Guitar Cab: from this small speaker I would have expected a radio-like sound, yet it produces a very nasty, aggressive high mid range that puts in the spotlight all the gain of the amp. Obviously it lacks in the low end area, therefore a combination with another impulse would be suggested.

Before recording I have played with both the suggested microphone combinations and with the single microphones, trying to blend them in the impulse loader, and I must say the possibilities are really infinite, also because for each microphone there are several positions, and I am also quite sure that spending more time in mixing and matching the single microphones in various positions makes possible to come up with even better results than those in the HyperReal mixes, so I incourage all of you guys to check out these impulse packs and spend some time with the various combinations, because the possibilities are really infinite.

Thumbs up! 

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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 2/2


Now that we know the basic concepts behind a drum trigger let's try to understand its practical applications:

- Live environment: a drumset can be triggered entirely (except for the cymbals) or partially (for example just the kick or the kick and the snare) to make the sound cut through the mix better, and send the samples from the drum module to the mixer.
This way the sound engineer can use the samples and the microphoned drum parts the same way as they were all microphoned, with all the perks of the samples: more clarity, less dynamic range (usually drum modules features also effects like compressor, reverb...), and so on.
As in all environments, it is very important that the hits acquired from the trigger are received correctly from the drum module by setting the sensitivity, and if necessary, adjusting the pressure of the trigger on the drum skin.

- Studio environment: this is the environment in which drum triggers shines the most.
A recording engineer can record a whole drumset both with microphones and triggers, and decide during the mixing phase what part to use natural, what part to use triggered and what part in which to use a blend between microphone and sample (except for cymbals, which is better to keep acoustic because they are the drum part that result more "fake" when sampled).
Here the setup is crucial: the trigger must be placed correctly, not too tight because it would interpret hard hits like double hits, not to loose from the skin because it wouldn't notice the lightest touches, and the sensitivity must be carefully tuned in the drum module.
Once everything is set, the drumset will be recorded both acoustically and in a Midi track in the computer, and the mix engineer will be able to easily edit the Midi by removing doubles, reducing or evening out the dynamic range, quantizing, snapping to grid, "reintroducing humanity", or even rewriting certain parts.
This is very useful if the drummer is not very good and if the microphoned part is so bad that can't be fixed, but also just to add a sample on top of the microphoned drum part, if needed.
Finally, if we don't have triggers, we can always put a sample on top of a microphoned drum part by using a drum replacer.

- Home practice environment: there are electonic drum kits, usually pretty small and foldable like the one depicted in this article, that features skins made to reduce the sound to the minimum to not bother anyone in the house, and these drum parts (included the rubber "cymbals") have a trigger inside of them, so that the drummer can connect them to a drum module and play with the headphones (sometimes also playing along with a song). This is a very useful home solution for those who doesn't have a rehearsals room, the drum parts offers a feeling similar to a real drum skin in terms of "bounce" of the drum sticks and it can be used also for recording drum parts.


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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Everything you need to know about drum triggers PART 1/2

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a topic very sensitive among drummers: drum triggers!

Why did I say this topic is sensitive among drummers? Because a drum trigger is a tool that takes a drum hit and turns it into a Midi impulse and sends it to a drum module (or to a computer with a drum VstI), so that we can replace the original drum sound with a pre recorded drum sample or with any other sound we want, and being Midi we can also quantize and manipulate the impulse in everywhich way possible.

Drum triggers started to be popular thanks to heavy metal music in the early '90s (especially with bands like Pantera), a moment in time in which music productions demanded more and more clarity, especially to make the super fast kick drum parts pop out of a dense mix with a lot of snap.
For these parts a normal microphone didn't seem to be enough, so the producers started to trigger the kick and replace the original sound with a very clicky one, capable of cut through everything and be very audible.
With time the bands started to use triggers for all drum parts for reasons that went also beyond the sound: to make drum editing way easier, and to even out the dynamics; today, especially in pop, rock and heavy metal is quite hard to hear a totally acoustic drum sound, as most of the songs features samples or a blend between samples and the acoustic sound (to make the sound a bit more natural).

This led to the paradox that often we can hear in an album an extremely complex drum part played perfectly, and then when we go to see the band live we realize the drummer would never be able to play it the same way it appears on the record.
This lack of "humanity" in modern day drums is perceived similarly to the "loudness war": since everyone is editing and quantizing the hell out of their drum tracks, the listener's ear is by now used to that super perfect performance, and the bands that does not edit and quantize to perfection will sound like the drummer performance is sloppy, and nobody wants to sound sloppy.
This led to an odd detachment between the record performance and the live one for most of the bands, as anyone can notice going to a live gig.

Going back to the main topic, a drum trigger comes usually in the form of a clip that gets attached to each drum part except the cymbals (but if we want we can trigger also just the kick, or only snare and kick and so on), then the trigger is connected to a drum module with normal jacks, and the drum module will interpret the signals received from the trigger and apply a pre recorded sample to the hits.
The "replaced" drum sound will then be sent via the output jack to the mixer and it can be used both live or in a recording session.


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Saturday, June 9, 2018

Review: DDrum Redshot Trigger Kit

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review the low cost tier of the DDrum trigger kits: the Redshot Serie!

DDrum is a well known swedish-american producer that creates drums and percussion instruments, both acoustic and electronic, plus triggers and other drum accessories, and it is used by many professional bands such as Korn, Pantera, Megadeth, Rihanna, Evanescence, Suffocation, Machine Head, Snoop Dog, Queensryche and so on.

This trigger kit places itself in the least expensive tier of the DDrum production line due to the fact that it is a very light piece of aluminum, which does not guarantee a super long product life, but on the other hand, if treated carefully (as everything should actually be) it can provide the same response of its more expensive versions at a fraction of the price.

The set is composed by one kick drum trigger and four snare/tom ones, and they can be easily attached to the drum part via an included screw. The installation is very simple: you fix the triggers in the desired drum parts (you don't need necessarily to trigger the whole drumkit) and connect them with a regual jack to a drum module, which can be made by DDrum or any producer, and from there we need to choose the desired sound and the sensitivity.
Once we are satisfied with the tracking of the hits (meaning that every drum hit is tracked with no double hits), we are ready to connect the drum module to the input of the mixer and play live or record.

I have personally used these trigger kit on several records and I must say they do their job, although sometimes I had to add some layer of paper between the trigger cushion and the drum skin to even out a bit more the sensibility, and once everything is perfectly calibrated these tools work very well.
Obviously in the long run I can imagine that a touring band that heavily relies on triggers might want to pass to some more solid unit, but for a home recording studio this kit could be an amazing bang for the buck.

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- 1 Bass drum kick trigger with spacer

- 4 snare/tom Triggers (single zone)

- Red shot Triggers are compatible with 1/4 to 1/4 instrument cables

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Saturday, June 2, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 2/2


4) Dynamic mix: these are the types of mix that contain extremely dynamic parts, which means strong differences between the loudest and the quietest parts.
This type of mixes are often used in jazz records in which the band wants to recreate a vintage vibe, since in the 30s the bands were recorded live, with only few ambient microphones and compressors were practically non existent in the way we know them now.
Bands like the aforementioned ones likes to play with dynamics, which means alternating extremely quiet and gentle parts to others much louder, and today we can recreate this lively and breathing sound, instead of overcompressing the mix, by using automations.
We can automate the volume of the single parts in order to make them stick out more when needed and to tame them when they are excessively loud, rebalancing constantly the mix (some light compression though will still be needed, expecially on snare, cymbals and horns): it is more complex and more tiring than putting a strong compression on each instrument group, but this way we will preserve the natural sound of each instrument and we'll arrive to the mastering phase with much more clarity and headroom; during mastering the engineer will have to preserve our style, by using a very gentle mastering, otherwise all our careful work will be wasted.

5) Non dynamic mix: this type of mix is exactly the opposite of the previous one, and it is the one made to be heard as clear and stable as possible even in a car radio that doesn't receive a good quality signal. It is used in the most mainstream and ear catching rock and pop music (but also in metal, which is usually a genre very low in dynamics), and often it is involved in aggressive masterings that fight in the loudness war, since the mix already offers low headroom and it's made to be pushed.
In this type of mix every sound must be super stable (a good example would be any latest Nickelback song), which means that every snare or kick hit, every vocal part, every bass note must have the same volume, and in order to do this we must rely heavily on compressors (and sometimes also limiters at the end of the chain of every group, just to be sure).
This type of mix is extremely popular because it is relatively easy to achieve, there is a reduced need for automations compared to the dynamic one, and usually everything is loud and clear, but it works better with a songwriting that doesn't rely much on dynamics, otherwise the result can sound flat.

6) Acoustic / orchestral mix: in this last category I am grouping several song types very different between them, but that all have in common the use of acoustic instruments.
According to the number of instruments (for example just a voice and an acoustic guitar, or on the other hand a big strings ensemble), we need to think strategically on what to put in the spotlight and what in the background, and usually it will be the lead parts in the forefront, and the secundary parts, for example groups of violins performing the same notes, in the background. These decisions, unless we are close miking every single thing, must be taken during the recording phase, so if we have many violin players we can group them by tracking with one single microphone per group of them or just recording the left and right side of the stage, according to our gear.
The main difference between recording acoustic bands or orchestras and the other types of band therefore is that most of the strategic choices here happen actually in the recording phase, since then in the mixing phase we should try to preserve sound as natural as possible; this mean that we will have to get the tracking right, even if it means experimenting, doing and redoing the same part until we find the perfect mic placement.
Once the recording is done, in the ideal world we would have mainly to set the levels, high pass and low pass where needed, compress and add some effect, but we will have less room for completely change a sound, unlike what happens for electric guitars, drums or other instruments.


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Saturday, May 26, 2018

6 Strategic decisions to make before starting a mix Part 1/2

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
This article takes the basic guidelines of how to define the focus of a mix and tries to adapt them to different types of song, because every music genre gives its best when the mix engineer has clear in mind the final result and knows the steps that lead there.
Obviously there are many more approaches than those in the list, and often the song we're mixing is somewhere in between two or more of these mixing styles, but these are in my opinions some of the mix archetypes we can come across when we approach a new project, and each of these types is made to draw the attention of the listener towards the main element of the song.
It's important to clarify our vision with the band before starting mixing because we need to make sure we know what the client expects, and they must know the direction we imagine for the final sound to avoid misunderstandings.

1) Vocals / keyboards driven mix: this is a type of mix that is usually very common in pop and rock songs, for example many classic Queen or or Elton John tunes. In these type of mix we need to carve in the eq of the other instruments (guitar, bass, drums) the space to leave the vocals or keyboards as full as possible: their position in the mix must be prominent compared to the other instruments, which should have a lower volume. Once we have nailed the sound of the most important element in the mix (for example in the case of vocals we can fine tune it in terms of eq, find the compression sweet spot and play with effects until we find a satisfying result), we can place the other instruments in the space that's left, for example we must not be shy in equalizing the guitars to make them less invasive, even if this means pushing them into the background, or making the snare drum transient less "poking".

2) Guitar driven mix: this type of mix is very different from the previous one, and it is very common in '80s and '90s heavy music, from hard rock (Van Halen) to classic metal (Iron Maiden) to thrash metal (Megadeth) up to the various forms of extreme metal (At The Gates).
That was the golden age of guitar heroes, and everyone wanted the guitar, both rhythmic and lead, to be the main focus of the mix.
A mix focused on guitars relies on thick layers of rhythm guitars, one for each side or sometimes two, and this wall of sound requires us to push the bass in the lower part of the spectrum and squeeze the eq of vocals and drums to make them thinner and with a very strong transient, this way they will cut through the noise and avoid frequency masking.

3) Rhythm driven mix: This style is more suited for edm and certain aggressive styles of funky,  rock, pop and rap music.
In this case we need to put in the spotlight drums and bass, because they will be the main driver of the song, and hopefully they will get the people moving.
In this style vocals are still important, but a powerful beat and bass line will share the same level, (unlike what happens in a vocals driven mix), leaving to the arrangement (synths, guitars, keyboards and so on) a background role. It's very important to nail the drum tone, especially to have a snare and a kick sound in line with the modern commercial productions, and a low end that will perform well also with the p.a. of a club (in which it is strongly emphasized both in terms of volume and frequences), therefore a very accurate monitoring and testing will be pivotal to avoid unexpected results.


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Saturday, May 19, 2018

Free guitar tablature and notation software: Tuxguitar

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to talk about a free, open source songwriting tool: TuxGuitar!

Tuxguitar is a notation, tablature writing and songwriting tool, similar to the more famous Guitar Pro, but free and open source.
The software lets the user write in staff format (the one for classical music) and in tablature format (for guitars and bass), letting us choose tuning, number of strings and so on, and it features a real time midi engine that allows multitrack playback, so that the user can write also complex, multi instrument songs, using a variety of General Midi sounds (drums, classical guitar, distorted guitar, orchestra and so on).

The software lets us visualize a guitar keyboard or a regular keyboard and see the notes played in real time, import and export midis, and export the music sheet in a variety of formats, from to ascii, to pdf, letting us also import Guitar Pro files (but not the latest version ones).

I come from a generation of musicians that still likes to share the songs with the other band members by writing a drum track with a VstI and tracking on top of it the guitar and bass parts, and handing them also the tabs exported via pdf with this tool (here is a guide on how to make rough mixes super fast), but there is a new generation of guitarists that writes songs directly on these notation tools and hands the files to the other band members in order to give them directly the tabs and notations of all the instruments, using the integrated sequencer to create a song structure by copying and pasting the various song parts.
For some of these guys using a software like Tuxguitar is faster, more complete and easier to share, and probably it is the most rational solution.

Recording the guitar and bass tracks, on the other hand, gives us a clearer vision of what we can do and what we cannot, and the risk of not recording real instruments is to write parts that are completely beyond the musicians skills, so it's important always to keep in mind the band members when writing their part, or letting them write the part on their own.

Finally it's important to add that a drum track exported in midi format from Tuxguitar can be imported in any Daw and used with a Drum VstI, if someone feels more comfortable in writing it with the notation tool instead of the piano roll.

Thumbs up!

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Review: Schecter Jeff Loomis JL-7

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about one of the most popular 7 strings guitars on the market for metal: the Schecter JL 7 Jeff Loomis!
Schecter is a legendary american brand that counts several artists on its roster (The Cure, Avenged Sevenfold, Abbath, Type 0 Negative, Keith Merrow and so on), and that has the core of its production on rock-metal oriented guitars, basses and related accessories, and it has started producing instruments in 1976: the company went through a series of highs and lows, and today there is an American headquarter and a Japanese one (the latter one controlled by Esp) that are two separate companies which shares the same brand.

Jeff Loomis instead is one of the most influential extreme guitarists / guitar heroes of the 90s and early 2000s, one of the few artists that succeded in mixing shred, great melodies and heavy, articulate riffing with a tasteful songwriting, as guitarist of Nevermore, Arch Enemy, Soilwork (as a session player), Sanctuary and other projects. Basically some of the best bands in modern heavy music.

The union between Schecter and Jeff Loomis has produced one of the few signature guitars that doesn't feel like a signature guitar (like a Les Paul), that has enough character to break out from the niche of the fanbase and be adopted by a broader audience, due to its high playability and features.
The Schecter JL-7 is a seven strings guitar with body in swamp ash and a baritone (25,6 inches) maple neck with cross inlays, it has locking tuners, signature active pickups (the Seymour Duncan Blackout Jeff Loomis) and comes with a hipshot hardtail bridge or with a floyd rose.
The neck is particularly interesting, because it's a set neck guitar with easy access to the higher frets (which are 24), and the shape is "ultra thin C", with a radius of 16", which means extremely flat and shred-friendly.

In terms of playability the guitar is quite heavy (some source says 4.5kg) and the neck is very long, so it takes some time to get acquainted to, but the fretboard is just perfect, the build quality is very good and so is the hardware.
The sound is just impressive (even in the earlier models, which used to come with EMG 707 pickups): it's thick, but has a strong midrange capable of poking through very dense mixes, and it's very reliable both in studio and on stage.
If you will come across one don't miss the chance to play this guitar, you will find out why it's one of the most appreciated 7 string guitars for metal, and probably you'll end up buying one :)

Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- Tuners: Schecter Locking

- Fretboard: Maple

- Neck Material: Maple/Walnut Multi-ply

- Inlays: Metal Crosses

- Side Dot Markers: Glow In The Dark

- Scale: 26.5” (673mm)

- Neck Shape: Ultra Thin ‘C’

- Thickness: @ 1st Fret- .748” (19mm)/ @ 12th Fret- .787” (20mm)

- Frets: 24 X-Jumbo Stainless Steel

- Fretboard Radius: 16” (406mm)

- Nut Width: 1.889” (48mm)

- Body Colors: Vampyre Red Satin (VRS)
- Arched Top

- Set-Neck w/Ultra Access
- Body Material: Swamp Ash

- Bridge: Hipshot Hardtail (.125) w/ String Thru Body

- Volume/3-Way Switch

- Bridge Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

- Neck Pickup: Seymour Duncan 'Jeff Loomis' Signature Active

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

What is MIDI? a guide for dummies

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
I have realized that during those years we have been talking a lot about MIDI, but we have actually never made an article with a brief explaination of what it is: here it is.

First off: MIDI is an acronym: it stands for MUSICAL INSTRUMENT DIGITAL INTERFACE, and it is the standard protocol for interaction between electronic music instruments, and between them and a computer.
This standard was created in the '80, but somehow it got so popular and widespread that still today it's the standard for electronic instruments (and not only, also for routing the signals and creating patches that controls also analog devices, through a dedicated hardware, or for controlling lights in a concert etc.).
Some of the biggest perks of this protocol that granted such a long lasting success are in facts the reliability, the lightweight of the data and the low production costs, that allows every hardware and software producer to work with it, also because it's supported by an infinity of freeware tools.

So the basic concept here is that MIDI is a Standard: no other standard has been able to replace it so far (even if the technology has advanced and in theory Midi could have been improved in several ways), and at the beginning in the early 80s there has also been a sort of a war similar to the Vhs vs Betamax one, but the Midi standard got the upper hand and was adopted by the majority of music instrument producers (Yamaha, Roland, Kawai and so on).

Without the need of getting too technical the connection is a 5 poles DIN cable, which was commonly used in the early 80s, only 3 of which are actually used by the Midi, and these cables are able to connect to the serial ports in 3 ways: In (to send the signal to a Midi device), Out (to send out the informations), Thru (to allow the device to send its signal to the In port of another Midi device).

The Midi data that flows through these ports contain the informations that must be received from a device like a Synth, a Sampler or a Sequencer, which can be hardware (for example an electronic keyboard or a synth) or software (a computer), and the information is contained in a Midi File, a file that supports up to 16 channels (meaning that can send at the same time notes that can be played for example by up to 16 virtual instruments at the same time). Modern Daws can play hundreds of Midi tracks at the same time, using as many virtual instruments as the computer can support, leading to an infinite amount of sound possibilities that until few years ago was unimaginable.
A Midi file can also send for example the lyrics of a song synchronized with a music, and it is a standard widely used also for Karaoke, or it can be used to control the lights in a concert.

A Midi can be played in real time through a Midi controller (for example a keyboard), or it can be written in a Daw via a notation software (the best Daws allows also to manipulate it modifying the variables from a minimum value of 1 to a maximum of 127, creating automations and articulations), or it can also be programmed in a sequencer.

For more informations about the Midi standard you can visit the official website, which has an infinity of resources for those who want to go more technical or in general to have more knowledge about this formidable tool.

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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a classic Mesa Boogie preamp (now discontinued but still quite easy to find in the used market), that has appeared on countless hard rock and heavy metal albums. from the late '80s Metallica to the early Dream Theater, Red hot Chili Peppers and so on: The Mesa Boogie Quad Preamp!

The Mesa Quad is an all tube preamp (it has 8 12AX7 Tubes) that is based on an expanded version of the Mesa Mark III circuitry, and it features two channels and six modes: Rhythm Channel 1, Lead
Channel 1, Rhythm Channel 2, Lead Channel 2, Eq1 on the active channel, Eq2 on the active channel.
Each channel has a separate graphic and parametric equalization that can be activated or deactivated with a switch, doubling the amounts of tones achievable, a boost function and a reverb.

Each channel has also a "bright switch" and a "deep switch, which emphasize respectively the high and the low end, adding more sparkle or more thump.
On the back, besides the classic inputs, outputs and effect loop we can find a MIDI switching out, quite rare for that time, and an equally rare recording output which simulates the sound of a Mesa 4x12 cabinet, to be used straight in the recording interface.

The sound is typical Mesa Boogie: cleans are very clean and dynamic, overdrive and crunches are dark and fat, with a lot of growl and low end, and actually the graphic equalizer is a unique feature that has been a Mesa prerogative for years, that adds a huge amount of flexibility in terms of the tone we can achieve: the classic early Metallica sound, called "V shaped" because it had the mids scooped, comes from this graphic equalizer, that was present in Mesa amps since the Mark II.

Today, looking at this preamp that was considered back then top-notch for any guitarist, we can't help but think that the world of tube guitar amplifiers hasn't evolved that much: it has expanded touching territories of solid state and digital that doesn't sound like crap (unlike the early models), but fundamentally what people looks for in their quest for the best tone it's the same: a well crafted tube preamp with a lot of flexibility and tone shaping functions, plus all the goodies that the guitarists of any moment in history needs.
This unit still today could be sold as a new product and be credible, plus it has a legacy of legendary albums in which it has been used that has very few equals, the only downside could be the weight, that is considerable, and a not total MIDI integration, but besides that it is still a killer preamp, which still represents one of the best gems Mesa Boogie has ever produced.

Thumbs up!


- two channels, six modes

- eight 12AX7 preamp tubes

- reverb

- both a parametric and a 5 band graphic equalization per channel

- bright and deep switches

- recording out

- based on the Mesa Boogie Mark III circuit

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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Difference between Synth and Sampler

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
In this article we are going to see the differences between a Synth and a Sampler, since sometimes there's confusion between these tools.

Let's start by saying that both these pieces of software (or hardware) are sound sources, and they can achieve also fairly similar results (e.g. a Strings ensemble sound): it's the process to get to the result that is different.

The earliest synthesizers were first introduced at the end of 19th century, but they got their moment of glory around 60 years later, with progressive bands like Pink Floyd or Van Der Graaf Generator, and they became increasingly popular until the '80s, period in which they were present in almost any music production.
A synthesizer (or synth) generates a noise waveform (there can be several according to their shape: sine, square, sawtooth, triangle..., each one with different characteristics) through one or more oscillators (which vary from synth to synth) and then applies a serie of processors (filters, modulations and so on) to shape it, so that the starting noise is twisted and turned until it sounds like a snare, a violin, any other instrument or a completely virtual sound that has nothing to do with any real world instrument.

Samplers obtain similar results with a totally different approach: instead of taking the original noise and, like a piece of stone, carving it until it sounds similar to the tone we have in mind, a sampler starts from the end: it takes a pre existing sound (a sample, like a piano key) and applies it, through a serie of techniques, to a keyboard or to any kind of sampler device we want.
The first prototype of a sampler was the Mellotron, which was a keyboard with every key tied to a tape mechanism which would reproduce a sound when hit.
Samplers can be considered as an evolution of synthesizers considering that the technology used in the early models were called "sample based synthesis", meaning that they were applying the tone shaping criteria of synths to a sample, instead of a noise.
Samplers became very popular in the '80s, when the producers discovered they could replace a drummer with drum samples obtaining a very fresh and specific type of electronic drum sound that still today dominates in pop and dance music, but it would be unfair to reduce them to that: with the recent technology, samplers are today capable of pre-loading extremely heavy sound libraries (we're talking about hundreds of GB of samples) containing any kind of articulation and variation, allowing us to create for example complex orchestrations to a level of detail that makes them completely impossible to tell from a real one, for an untrained ear.
In conclusion, what started with a single sample (due to the computing restrictions of that time), for example a single piano key that was applied, shifting the pitch, to the whole keyboard, is today a very heavy collection of many samples ("multisampling"), often with different dynamics in order to change sample also according to how hard or soft the key is pressed.

Are today synths still relevant?
OF COURSE THEY ARE! Besides the '80s revival that is dominating today's pop scene, there are certain vintage sounds, certain synthetic textures that can be achieved only by a synth, or if it's in a sampler, the sample is still created obviously with a synth.
The main difference between synths and samplers therefore is the application.
If we need a realistic sound, something that needs to be microphoned in the real world, a sampler is fundamental, while if we need a tone that sounds synthetic, computer generated, good for a science fiction soundtrack, a synth is the right choice, and luckily internet is full of Vst choices for every pocket, both free and paid, with literally an ocean of sounds to dive in.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

Review: Marshall 8008 power amp

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a solid state power amp, one of the cheapest and easiest to find in the used market: the Marshall 8008!

This unit, now discontinued but still very popular in the used market, is often referred as one of the safest "entry level" if you need a cheap (around 100$), light and very reliable rack power amp. 
The Valvestate 8008 has enough power (80w per channel) to be used both at home and on stage, and it can drive a stereo cab or two cabs at the same time, giving us a good flexibility. 

The technology used is Valvestate, the second, (after AVT) Marshall attempt in recreating with a solid state circuitry the response of a tube amp, and the switch in the back activates this feature or leaves the power amp linear; when the switch is on the power amp adds some extra harmonics in the mid range and tries to push the overall sound slightly to the "Marshall territory", but the difference is very subtle, so most of the people just leaves it on to have a final tone less hi-fi (unless you're using a digital modeling preamp, in which case it could create conflicts, since the modeling preamp will already have its internal tube emulation).
Considering how the technology evolved with Marshall amps (the Mg serie), it is safe to say that the Valvestate is the best version of tube emulation ever developed by the brand.

I have bought this unit used several years ago and it has been part of my rack for some year before switching to a tube head, and I must say the power amp did its job, it was worth the money and it was extremely solid and reliable, but the overall sound was very "transistor", and trying my preamp in a tube poweramp made me understand how important are tubes in a power amp: most of the tone characteristics I love in a tube amp comes from the tube power amp, rather then from the preamplifier (but this is just my personal opinion based on empyric tests, I will make a more scientific analysis in the future).

Would I suggest it today as a power amp for a main rig? Probably not, unless you need a very inexpensive 1 rack unit power amp, but if you have some specific need in terms of weight, hi-fi sound or space, this can still be an interesting choice to evaluate.


- 2 Channels Stereo, 80w each.

- 2 volume knobs

- on/off switch

- 2 input switch

- 2 output switch (4 Ohm)

- linear/valvestate switch

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Saturday, April 14, 2018

6 Tips to customize the look of Presonus Studio One

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
This time we're going to make an addition to our Project Preparation Article focusing on how to improve-customize the look of our daw, and in this case we will use the Presonus Studio One interface, but most of these changes can be performed in any commercial Daw.

1) From the file brower on the right go on Files->Colours and from there you can drag and drop the various skins in the tracklist view to change the appearence of the Daw. You can change drastically the colour code with these presets.

2) Options->General->Appearence: from here you can create your own colour style using controls similar to those in Photoshop: Hue, Saturation, Luminance, Contrast and so on, you can also save your own preset.

3) Options->Advanced->Editing tab: from here you can tick or untick "draw events translucent" to make the events transparent and see the grid behind (good for editing).

4) Options->Advanced->Editing tab: from here you can tick or untick "don't show event names", to remove the file name label from the events. By ticking this the look of our project will become suddenly much cleaner.

5) In the console area (in the lower part), if you go to the far left part there is a wrench icon, if you click there you can tick the box "Colorize channel Strips" in order to turn the colour of each channel into the one of the channel label; this is very useful when the project is very large, to find faster the track we need. This same function can be used for the tracks in the Tracklist View by clicking on the wrench icon on the top left corner and ticking "colorize track controls".

6) In the lower right corner of the tracklist view there is a slider. This slider increase and decreases the size of the waveform without touching the gain, so you can see better the transient.

I hope this was helpful!

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Review: Rocktron Xpression

Welcome to this week's article!
Today we are talking about a rack multi effect which is now discontinued but very easy to find on the second hand market at a good price, and that has been for years the main contender, together with the Tc Electronics G-Major, for the role of best selling rack multi effect in the market.

Rack modules has become very popular among guitarists between the second half of the 80s and the first half of the 90s, due to the fact that they were easier to carry around, extremely customizable (it's an orgasm inducing feeling to assembly your favourite preamp, your favourite power amp and your favourite multi effect and create the perfect routing and the perfect presets) and offered an infinite flexibility, thanks especially to the MIDI presets storage, compared to the classic combination of guitar head and stompbox effects that was the standard since the 60s.

During the 90s racks had become so popular among guitar geeks that was very common to see huge flight cases, as big as refrigerators, behind the guitar heroes, before the rack fashion started to lose popularity and since the second half of the 2000s people started going back to the classic guitar amp heads (which in the meanwhile got enriched often by a lot of functions that made the rack preamps, which were much more complicated to setup, less and less appealing).  

What is left today of that golden age of guitar heroism? 
Several all in one systems that integrates in two rack units preamp and multieffect with the best of the digital amp technology around (Kemper, Fractal, Line6) going usually directly in the PA, some other guitarist playing live through the computer using Vst Amp Simulators, and of course an infinity of discontinued, good (and less good) quality rack products that still are available in the market for our delight. 

Today we are talking about one of the most popular of them: Rocktron Xpression, the final evolution of a serie that spanned two decades, and that included the Intelliverb, Intellifex, Intellifex Online and Replifex.
The Xpression was the apex of Rocktron effects technology, and was one of the very few ones that allowed a flexible chain of 10 effects at the same time, 128 presets for guitar and bass fully editable, speaker simulator and 24 bit processing.

In terms of tone the unit sounds still today competitive: the effects are transparent and crystalline (if you don't choose vintage style effects), and provides anything a guitarist could need, from a switch in the input for active and passive pickups (to optimize the input gain) to one of the best noisegate algorythm in the market (Hush), from infinite delays (with tap tempo) to ultra clean reverbs.

The only "defect" I could think of, as of today, is the fact that it cannot be connected to a pc for quick editing, which leaves us fiddling with an ingenious but very complex system of menus and submenus accessible by combining the movement of two knobs, that takes some time and patience to master, and that maybe is ultimately the reason why many guitarists have switched back to the more straightforward head-stompbox system.

In conclusion this unit is a nice piece of guitar effects history, and you should definitely give it a try if you have the chance!
Thumbs up!


- 128 presets for guitar and bass

- Up to 10 effects together
- Vintage and classic stompbox-style effects models
- Multivoiced delay and chorus
- Delay and Rate tap tempo controls
- 4-band parametric EQ
- Active/passive input switch
- D.I. out with speaker simulator
- Analog bypass
- Hush noise reduction
- 24-bit DSP processing

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Review: Fabfilter Pro-R

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're checking out a new plugin by Fabfilter, the Reverb Pro-R!

The panorama of Vst Reverbs is probably the widest of all: the easiest reverb algorithms are teached in many IT college as part of the exams, and it has been probably one of the first effects to have ever been created, to the point that literally every Daw in the market offers some form bundled, plus with the advent of Impulse Responses the offer has become even more various:
with these premises the task of creating a reverb software that can really make the difference in today's crowded panorama seems extremely hard, and yet Fabfilter once again has proven us to be up to the challenge, with its Pro-R.

How did Fabfilter differentiate their reverb from the others?
The same way they do with all of their plugins: with a beautiful interface, very intuitive and far from any useless scheumorphism, and with features that almost no other reverb has, starting with an integrated eq with spectrum analyzer to correct real time the way the effect processes the signal (for example filtering out the amount of reverb that affects the low end) and that also lets us modify independently the decay curve, allowing us to shape in detail the reverb tail and also to create some creative effect, to the point that it can be almost used as a transient shaper.

The main knobs are seven: Brightness, that adjust the amount of sparkle in the effect, Character, that affects the effect "colour" by adding some modulation, Distance, that allows us to adjust the perceived distance of the source, Decay rate, that affects the tail of the effect, Stereo width that controls how wide is the sound, Mix, that obviously lets us choose the wet/dry ratio, and the most importan of all: Space, that lets us set the room size.

On top of all these features the plugin features a wide array of presets for every kind of instrument, and they are a great place to begin with, before proceeding with further tweakings.

All in all another very useful plugin that has everything you'd expect and much more from a reverb, in a beautiful interface.
How does it sounds? It sounds extremely well and realistic, and the tools lets you tweak a lot, so that you can have a very transparent reverb, or a very coloured one, with a hint of echo or chorus, and on top of that the plugin is surprisingly light on the cpu compared to other high end reverb units, which usually can be some of the heaviest processors that can be loaded in a Daw.

Thumbs up!

Key Features taken from the website:

- Beautifully designed room models, ranging from small ambiences and rooms to large concert halls and huge cathedrals.

- Carefully developed to easily fit in the mix, without causing undesirable coloration, density or phase problems.Gorgeou Retina interface with large interactive reverb display featuring Decay Rate EQ and Post EQ curves.

- Stepless Space control, which smartly and smoothly combines the room model and decay time of the reverb. You can choose from over a dozen
- carefully designed room models and seamlessly vary between them, without hearing clicks or unwanted artifacts.

- Decay Rate control, changing the overall decay time from 50% to 200% of the current Space setting.

- Intelligent Stereo Width control, ranging from pure mono to true stereo and beyond.

- Distance control to adjust the proximity to the sound source in the selected space.

- The Character control changes the sound from a clean, transparent decay, to a lively reverb with pronounced reflections and echoes, all the way to an over-modulated chorus-like effect.

- Perfectly tuned Brightness knob, affecting not only overall brightness, but also the decay of high frequencies.

- Mix knob with a Lock Mix option, which prevents preset loading from overriding the current mix setting.

- Predelay control via the bottom bar, ranging from 0 to 500 ms, with optional host tempo sync.

- Innovative six-band Decay Rate EQ, giving you full control over the decay rate at different frequencies.

- Six-band Post EQ to equalize the final reverb sound. Together with the Decay Rate EQ, this lets you design reverbs of any style or character.

- Real-time spectrum analyzer that also visualizes the decay time at different frequencies.

- Full Screen mode, offering a large analyzer display and Decay Rate EQ and Post EQ controller.

- Multiple interface sizes: Medium, Large and Extra Large.

- Stereo and mono plug-ins available.

- MIDI Learn.

- Undo/redo and A/B comparison.

- Smart Parameter Interpolation.

- Sample-accurate automation of all parameters.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Best free Vst Plugins / Best Free software for making music 2018

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're checking out a list of free music software that is partially taken from the Audiosex Forum (with some modification and update), and partially is a compendium of the best software linked in our articles. 
It has literally everything you may need to have fun with home recording, and by clicking on the title of each category you will have a dedicated article for the topic.

I hope it will be useful, enjoy! 


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