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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!


Specs:


- 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.


Specs:

- 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!


Specifications:


- 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

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