Posts tagged review
Rebirth for iPad review

rebirth-ipadThe original Rebirth RB-338 was great. Released in 1996, I remember it being one of the first software synthesizers on the PC that seemed serious and sounded cool. An iPhone version has been around for a while but the iPad version was just released for $14.99 and I couldn't resist trying it out.

The multi-touch is what makes the difference of course. While the screen is a tiny bit smaller than would be optimal - it's hard to select drums without accidentally engaging a button or knob - being able to manipulate multiple controls at once without using a mouse is undeniably fun. You can actually feel like you're jamming to a certain extent.

Ultimately though I feel disappointed and am not sure it was worth the $15. We'll see if I go back to it. Without any sort of MIDI support (sending or sync or export) this is just another bleep-toy that won't really integrate with my existing audio tools.

The 303 sounds are also pretty dated sounding to me (or at least not as fat as modern soft-synths), but the drums are still thick and fun. There's also some ugly digital clipping if you start driving it too hard which is less present in modern plugins.

So, much like the original Rebirth, I'm still waiting for an iPad music app that seems serious and sounds cool.

How To Make Your Band Sound Great review

51Anc1ZmXFLI own several books by Bobby Owsinski and since I've been putting a live show back together I bought his new book and DVD: How To Make Your Band Sound Great.

I wasn't sure what to expect. The new live show's sounding pretty good I think and I've got a fair amount of experience on stage now but figured it'd be worth checking out.

Good Stuff

The most useful sections in the book for me were his technical descriptions of dynamics and playing "in the pocket". Bobby talks a lot about playing "bigger" rather than louder or faster which has been an issue I've struggled with. For instance I liked this observation about why a lot of musicians feel like the life's been sucked out of their performance if they aren't playing really loud:

The internal dynamics of each individual usually go out the window. Instead of playing crisp yet quiet, with the same attacks and releases the band had at the higher volume level, the attacks and releases get relaxed so the playing becomes less precise. The real trick is learning to actually play with the same intensity at lower levels.

Makes a lot of sense. He suggests plotting out song (and set) dynamics on a 1-10 scale and to make sure the band members agree on what the levels on the scale sound like.

Bad Stuff

But besides a handful of useful tips, the book is geared towards the beginner. Repeated admonitions to tune your instrument, turn off your cell phone, take vocal lessons and be a professional might be useful to some readers but they seemed obvious to me.

The included 60-minute DVD of Bobby coaching a band rehearsing a song is interesting, but could easily have been edited down to around 15 minutes, which would have made it more effective and reduced my exposure to ska considerably. Cuts back and forth between the earlier and later (improved) performances of the song would have been a helpful demonstration.

Conclusion

It's not a bad book, I'd recommend it for a complete beginner. But it made me more aware of questions I had going in that it didn't answer. I'd love to see another book that dealt with situations that are more geared towards laptoppy Internet recording artists who are branching out into live performance like:

  • How to deal with a laptop on stage - my first few times out I had issues with only having unbalanced outputs.
  • Backing tracks. How many outputs to give the house, how to treat them, how much backing stuff to include.
  • How to simulate band dynamics with drum backing tracks or a drum machine.
  • Vocal treatment & effects. Especially in small venues I've found running my vocals through a compressor/limiter helps my vocals sound more like the records.
  • How to handle crappy sound guys. (Constructing an alibi, body disposal, etc.)

I'm sure it would be a huge, huge money-making hit.

GeneralBrad Turcottebook, live, review
Nano series review

imageI'm not much of a keyboard player. I started writing music on the computer tapping notes into trackers with the computer keyboard. I also have a shitty right arm that wigs out when I play keyboards. So I've wound up trying a variety of different MIDI keyboards and for the most part they sit beside me and I put papers and junk on top of them and then avoid using them because I'm too lazy to clean them off. So I wind up playing basic sequences in with the computer keyboard. Enter the inexpensive, tiny Korg Nano Series.

I snapped these up when I read about them, thinking they'd come in handy for live performances (I'm not optimistic enough to think I'll write music away from my office) but when I got them home I realized they solve at least part of my MIDI keyboard problem. Now I keep them on a shelf under my desk and pull them out whenever I need them.

The Kontrol and Pad are great - simple and effective and relatively sturdy. I've tried many different drum pads over the years and the nanoPad is actually my favorite, which is surprising for such an inexpensive device. The nanoKey is the most dodgy, but also the one I've used the most, so it can't be that bad. The keys feel exactly like (kind of cheap) laptop keys. It has the same weak/wobbly spring feeling. I'm not looking for sweet action, but it would be awesome if they felt slightly more crisp - something comparable to a child's plastic keyboard would be fine.

My only other complaint isn't Korg's fault (I think) - the nature of these devices is that I want to plug them in as I need them, swapping them out at will. But all the audio software I've tried with needs to restart (or at least reset the audio device) each time I plug in or unplug a device. Minor thing I know.

All in all, they're very useful tools and I'm happy to have 'em.

Update (3/4/11): My Nanopad randomly died and in researching fixes that seems to be an epidemic. So I wouldn't bother. The Akai LP line seems to be more durable and that's likely what I'll switch to.

GeneralBrad Turcottegear, review
Reaper 3

image Reaper 3 came out a little while ago and I've mentioned that I'm experimenting with switching to it from Cubase. So far I can't imagine going back to Cubase. Some of the things I like:

  • It's fast and small. While the 4.4MB installer file size is great, it's the responsiveness and quick loading time that are truly awesome. Cubase feels bloated and slow after using Reaper, as do most DAWs.
  • Powerful. The amount of features in it are ridiculous. You may have to hunt for the options, but 99% of the time it's there.
  • I haven't had it crash on me yet.
  • It's fully customizable. I feel like I can trick it out as much as I want. From themes to keyboard shortcuts to actions, you can make it your own.
  • Frequent useful updates. Unlike Cubase's usual “launch buggy, gradually patch those bugs and save any useful new features for the next version you have to pay for” you actually get an amazing amount of updates and improvements.
  • An active community and approachable developers. Reasonable or good ideas get implemented quickly, developers are responsive in the forums, lots of people were helpful when I was flailing around in “I'm used to Cubase!” land.
  • It plays nice with dual monitors. HOORAY.
  • Quick search of VST plugins.
  • I don't feel locked in. Project files are in plain text, you can export your stuff easily. You can move your preferences around easily.

Some things I don't like so much:

  • There are so many options that new (and/or less tech-savvy) users will likely feel overwhelmed hunting down the right checkboxes to get the behavior they expect. It's awesome that it's so customizable, but I'd love to see them pick some more universal up-front options and move a lot of the tweaks to a Firefox about:config style interface or just an .ini file.
  • A lot of the comping/audio behavior doesn't make a lot of sense to me. The logic behind which items play and which don't when they overlay each other on the same track still confuses me, so I try and avoid it. Comping generally works but lacks the precision of Cubase or Logic.
  • Unlike versions 1 and 2, Reaper 3 doesn't have my song Making Me Nervous as the default project. :( :(

Anyway, it's been good and I recommend trying it out. There's an un-crippled evaluation version so you've got nothing to lose.

Wolfram|Alpha

I've been so-so about the Wolfram|Alpha hype, but it finally launched and it's definitely neat. Comparing it to Google is semi-ridiculous as Google uses structured data and “facts” only as an afterthought.

The servers are taking a beating right now, but here are some queries that were interesting to me:

A lot of data I encountered is old-ish – a lot is from 2004 -- which I think says more about the crappy state of authoritative structured data than Wolfram|Alpha itself.

I think the most exciting thing about Wolfram|Alpha is that it's intriguing and useful enough that it may encourage more organizations and individuals to make their current data available and keep it up to date. Which would be a huge benefit to everyone.

Free at last (Indy 4 was awful)

new-indiana-jones-4-and-the-kingdom-of-the-crystal1 Having now seen Indiana Jones 4 I am finally free from looking forward to anything by George Lucas, hooray! Indy 4 was terrible and at least as bad as The Phantom Menace. I'm not sure how it's managed a score of 78% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this, but I have to assume that will be lowered by time and careful reflection.

Here's my ranty spoiler-filled list of things I can remember disliking:

  • Indy being a bumbly moron
  • Indy following around Dudey McMumbles for the whole movie going "what? what are you doing? what's going on?"
  • Whipping out the Crystal Skull every other minute.
  • Indy surviving a nuclear event in a refrigerator?
  • The plot made no sense.
  • Indy throwing a big ridiculous sissy-fit over the snake in the quicksand. "Say grab the rope"?
  • No sense of urgency or danger. None of the characters took the danger very seriously so I didn't.
  • Endless, tiresome exposition. Please, TELL ME MORE.
  • The one-liners were so weak. "I like Ike"?
  • Shia Tarzan
  • Indy dramatically picking up his hat like eight million times.
  • Why do the commies act exactly like Nazis?
  • Commie chick is psychic I guess? But she can't read Indy's mind? And also not Huxley's? And also not Marion's? And also can't make a connection with the crystal skull? And also does nothing with her power throughout the entire movie?
  • Why did the evil commies break into a US government top secret storage facility to get an alien body? They just poked at it and went "oh we have several other of these".
  • Triple agent Mack, tricking Indy any ol' time he feels like it.
  • Indy trying to save Mack after he gets betrayed again?
  • Why did Indy get promoted to Dean?
  • Why did Indy and Marion get married?
  • Why are there karate ninjas hiding in every long-deserted ruin?
  • "[Their] word for gold translates as treasure. But their treasure wasn't gold, it was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure." THANKS FOR CLEARING THAT UP. TWICE.

I guess it might be easier to list the stuff I liked:

  • Intro stuff with Indy was nice to see. Him teaching, reference to Marcus & his dad. :(..
  • Shia as Mutt was good actually and managed to have an occasional bit of chemistry with Indy.
  • I liked the big UFO ending, but it was set up so poorly and at the end of a really bad movie.

3/10

Tech 21 Power Engine

As chronicled in my amp search, I went with a Tech 21 Power Engine 60 extension cabinet. Today I had a chance to play with it for an hour and I'm really, really happy with it.

The big drawback of using a regular guitar amplifier with an amp simulator is that regular amps are specifically made to "color" the sound coming out of your guitar. That's what makes guitars sound awesome. But layering the amp sound on top of your amp simulator results in random muddy crap. You have to constantly be compensating for the sound of your amp when designing your patches on the amp simulator.

The Tech 21 PW60 Power Engine however is more faithful -- it puts out what goes into it with minimal coloration. When I switch between headphones and the PW60, the patch sounds are nearly identical (the PW60 has more "air" which seems unavoidable due to physics.)

It'll be a week before I can try it at rehearsal -- which is good because I've got some patch programming to do -- but I can easily get the PW60 up to volumes I'm sure my neighbors can hear without even putting the gain at 50%.

It's slim on features, which I like as opposed to Behringer's habit of throwing shitty digital effects processors in anywhere they can. Three EQ tone controls, gain control, handy XLR in and out and of course 1/4" in. Mine didn't come with an AC power cable but I'm not sure if that's Tech 21's fault or the music store. I have lots around so it was no big deal.

It's lightweight (33 pounds) and nice looking. It's smaller than my Delta Blues 210 so I guess I'm less of a man now.

All in all, I'm very happy with it, five thumbs up.

Brad Turcottegear, review
Some product reviews

Here is a chronicling of some items I purchased recently:

ALLSOP Mouse pad - For many years I've been using a mouse pad with a wrist-rest on it. In fact it's been the same one, so it's nasty and gross and needs replacing. The new one has a feature called "memory foam". This is code for "if you use the wrist-rest for more than half an hour, it squashes down under your wrist and no longer provides enough support". Awful.

Belkin WaveRest Keyboard Wrist Support - I wanted to replace my rusty roller-based wrist-wrest and the only one they had in Staples that wasn't some retarded hot/cold gel pack was this one. It's not high enough, my wrists sink down into the gel, it doesn't fit on my (admittedly a little weird) IKEA Jerker desk the way my old one did. Awful.

APC 650VA - After 11 days of rain and thunderstorms and power brownouts, I finally invested in a UPS / battery backup for the Linux box in the basement. It seems to work great and the forecast is coincidentally showing sunny weather for the rest of the week. Great!

Brad Turcottereview, tech
Micro-blogging results

It's been a few weeks of trying micro-blogging with Twitter and Tumblr and here are my reviews.

Twitter

I've been back and forth about Twitter (my page is here). At first it was neat but useless to me. Then I had a couple of friends in there that I was interested in keeping in touch with. Then I lost interest in it, then I went back. Sometimes I can't believe I'm bothering with it, other times I wish I had more friends. Kind of like real life.

Twitter's certainly a decent idea and I believe it's on to the next evolution in IM. But if you can't convince all your pals to get a Twitter account and deal with the hassle of updating it, then you're not going to get much out of it. Which leaves only hardcore net nerds talking to themselves... to each other.

Tumblr

Tumblr's been fun and I'm still using it (my page is here). I don't know if anyone's reading my tumblelog but I feel like I'm creating a little meme repository that I'll be interested in looking back on in the future. So it has some inherent value to me as a user regardless of whether my friends sign up.

It's desperately lacking tagging. I like its simplicity but the addition of tagging wouldn't overly complicate it and would add so much to the service. Different ways to view my data, ways to view site-wide tumblr entries under tags, etc.

Conclusion

While both sites are nice, ultimately I'm exhausted with new services and would like to combine them. I was originally thinking that Twitter and Tumblr would go great as a combined service, which touches on my semi-obsession with a temple of ego or Mugshot style service.

Steven Garrity pointed out Jaiku to me last night, which (I'm assuming) is a European Twitter clone. But instead of simply being a one-off status posting service, it also merges all your feeds (del.icio.us, flickr, picasaweb, blog, lots more) into one timeline that unifies your online identity.

Brad Turcottereview, tech
Behringer FCB1010

So I bought a Behringer FCB1010, it's a (cheap as hell) twelve switch, two expression MIDI foot pedal. I'm thinking I can control my laptop with it while I play guitar and sing. 

Anyway, the entire experience has been great but not because of the device itself. The manual is terrible, the factory settings don't work with Ableton Live out of the box and programming it via the foot pedals is tedious.

One of the greatest things about buying gear for me as a total nerd is when there's a thriving user community around whatever I just bought. And there's a great one around the FCB1010. Here's some of what I've found:

  • There's a great Yahoo Group full of resources for it. Photos, utilities, tutorials, patches, sysex dumps, hardware mods and more.
  • Hackers have made $10 replacement firmware chip for the FCB1010 that adds a lot of great functionality such as tempo tap, stomp box mode, not needing to put the device into "sysex receive mode" to transmit patches to it and more.
  • There's an excellent home-brew PC Editor for programming the device.
  • A great FAQ.
  • Plenty of tutorials for getting the FCB working with Live.

As I was describing this, particularly the replacement firmware, a friend of mine wondered why Behringer doesn't open source their firmware. They make their money on the hardware (unlike video game consoles for instance) and are also widely criticized for ripping off other company's designs, manufacturing them cheaply and selling them at a fraction the price.

Seems to me they'd have nothing to lose by open sourcing their firmware. Hackers could add all the functionality they want, people would buy their products with the intention of tricking them out, it's free R&D that they can fold into future devices, and their nerd karma would go through the freaking roof.

Brad Turcottegear, idea, review
Google Reader

Still so very impressed with Google Reader. It's changed the way I read the web and I thought I was pretty good at that already.

While I felt like I  was on information overload with Bloglines with 117 feeds, since switching to Google Reader a couple months ago my subscriptions have spiraled up to 243 in Google Reader in a short time and I still find myself looking for new stuff to add. With Bloglines I always kept an eye out for subscriptions I could drop. That's such a nice change.

Here's my obligatory braindump feedback:

  • They shold integrate Google bookmarks. I hit "share" on any item that I kind of like, which then creates this useless feed. It would be great if I could quickly Google bookmark this stuff, which Google could then do nice stuff for me with -- let me search, syndicate, personalize my search based off of it, remind me of it later. I also find myself wanting to "share" stuff when not inside of Reader, such as for sites that only offer excerpts in their feeds.
  • Integrate with Gmail. No brainer here. I'm using integrate with gmail greasemonkey script, but it lacks a level of awesome integration that could exist.
  • I wish "v" would open in new tabs in the background instead of focusing on them. Not sure if this is anything they can do much about, but I WANTS IT.
  • That "Loading..." screen gets old real fast and I've been using Google Reader for a while now. Could use some speed improvements.
  • Better blog search. Lately I find myself going to Bloglines to find feeds to subscribe to in Google Reader. How weird is that?
  • Everyone has complained about it, but the whole tags/folders/labels issue at Google is confusing. I can understand not wanting to use the word "tags" -- it's a little jarring for the moms of the world. But like, I tag a post and it makes a folder (with a different icon) on the left side. And the "tag" then shows up under "change folders" in the Feed actions pulldown. I don't get it.
  • Speaking of tagging entries, I don't get what the point of tagging entries is. Why would I do this? What is it for?
  • Also don't get starring versus sharing. Starring seems to just be sharing without an RSS feed. What's the point? (Full disclosure: I also don't really get starring things in Gmail, but having a share option makes it more obvious.)
  • It would be nice to prioritize my feeds a bit. Some (like friend's blogs, important news sites) I'd like to see first thing when I hit "all items". Others, like ebay searches I'm tracking can hang out near the bottom. Maybe just let me prioritize certain folders instead of individual blogs, that'd be good enough for me.
  • A few feeds like to show up as new all the time. Pitchfork and Technorati searches for two.

Also may I also say I'm tired of comics not offering their comic image in their feeds.

Bebo

I got psychologically suckered into signing up for Bebo this morning (everyone else was doing it), which in my circles has been getting the reputation of being a more music-oriented MySpace. The feature that intrigued me was playlists -- users can create and display playlists on their homepages of songs that Bebo bands add to their pages. Why MySpace hasn't added that, I have no idea. Here are my thoughts as I signed up and created my beautifully lame Bebo page:

  • The username "bradsucks" was taken. Weird.
  • You seem to be able to upload an unlimited number of songs which is way nicer than MySpace's limit of four.
  • Drag and dropping the order of my top 10 songs is sweet, though arranging the songs on my album was done with cumbersome "up" and "down" links, which I gave up on.
  • I still swear to the lord god above something needs to be done to make it quicker and easier to sign up for these sites. All of my music and data are available for the taking -- why must you force me to upload and label everything manually?
  • You have to have a regular Bebo account and then you make band accounts inside them, unlike on MySpace where you have to set up a separate type of account. I guess this is neat but I have no interest in having a non-musician account.
  • Instead of allowing the type of eye-gouging HTML customization that MySpace does, you're restricted to using Bebo-approved skins. They're pretty but they're not customizable in any way, which sucks.
  • I now have two Bebo blogs (my regular user blog and the band blog) that I will not use and I can't hook up to this blog I have here. Get some RSS going or allow easy cross-posting or something.
  • The search sucks, it's just a full text Google search of the public pages. So there's no way to search by location or interest in musicians or playlists or anything cool that would help me find people who are or might be interested in my music.
  • Crazily there seems to be no way to link to my home page here. The profiles don't allow HTML and there are no fields for pointing to external band home pages. Additionally you can create albums of your music but can't provide a link to any place that the visitor could download or buy it. What in the sam hell.

So I like the additional song storage. MySpace users are often asking me to post additional songs so they can add them to their pages, but if I remove any of the original four I put up there, it breaks every page with those songs on them.

The additional songs and the playlisting are probably what give Bebo the reputation as being more musician-friendly than MySpace. But it's worse in that without links back to my site here or to a place they can buy my album it's hard to believe it'll sell any music for me. Not only that, it's unlikely almost anyone will make it back to my site here and sign up for my mailing list so I can keep the relationship going, keep them in the loop on future releases, etc.

The social networks are definitely useful for spreading music and that's certainly cool. But I find them frustrating -- like there's a huge barrier between the fans and the artist and that any contact between the two is almost accidental and always totally fleeting. And with Bebo's lack of external links it's driven home to me that, as a musician, it would be hard as hell to build anything lasting out of my social network "groupies" or "friends".

And I guess I wonder: is that the nature of the post-Napster musician/fan relationship these days or is it just a side effect of crappy web tools?

Rojo review

I tried to switch from Bloglines to Rojo for my main RSS reading. Someone I respect but can't remember the name of mentioned they had been lured away from Bloglines by Rojo so I thought I'd give it a shot. In the interest of improving Rojo, here we go:

  • I had already made an account a long time ago, couldn't remember my password. The password retrieval didn't work. I sent them an email and got a response back pretty quickly, verifying the password retrieval was broken. They got me a new password in a few hours though, not too bad.
  • Right off the bat I want to like Rojo. It's very slick and seems to have a lot going on for it. I fantasize about all the awesome ways it's going to help me read and manage all my feeds with its web 2.0 goodness.
  • I import all my feeds. Very easy. I don't like the page layout though -- I'm a brutal RSS skimmer and the headlines are too faint for me to skim very well. I whip up a Greasemonkey script to embiggen and embolden the entry titles and am happier with it.
  • I really like the "Add mojo" idea (it's very similar Digg-ing something, but inside the RSS reader). Not many people use it though and also I don't know what adding mojo to an article actually does for me.
  • I feel confused by the entries that are rolling in. I realize it's set to sort stories by "RELEVANCE". What the hell does that mean? I'm an info-nerd, I just want everything in chronological order. I switch it to stories sorted by date.
  • Stories sorted by date is still weird compared to Bloglines. I really want the stories sorted by date and also by the category I've put them in. If there are five new Boing Boing posts I'd like them grouped together rather than mixed in with all the classified ad feeds I subscribe to. As I cruise through my news I feel sort of lost, unaware of the context of what I'm reading. Is this written by someone I know? Etc, etc.
  • To make matters worse, a lot of the feeds I imported are labelled as "Untitled feed".
  • I don't like having to go through pages of items. Bloglines lets me scroll through everything that's new.
  • Marking as read is weird and clunky. The Mark All Feeds Read should be over near the feeds. I turned on "Automatically mark a feed as read after viewing that feed" but that doesn't work for reading new items? Also when I'm paging through the new items I have to remember to hit "Mark Page Read" before I hit "next page". Bleah.
  • The new item counts on the left seem to always be out of sync with reality.
  • Some feeds (like Negatendo's Livejournal for instance) just show html craziness.
  • Site could be more responsive, it was a little slow earlier today when I was trying it out.

It's a bit prettier than Bloglines (though more cluttered) and certainly more web 2.0-ish. If more people used it, I might be sucked in more by the Mojo feature. An RSS reader and Digg functionality go together nicely (for me at least). But the confusing feed order probably means I'm headed back to Bloglines for the time being.

Audix OM2

I went into a music store the other day thinking I'd buy a Shure Beta 58A mic for live vocals. They didn't have any and I got talked into picking up an Audix OM2. I tried it out with the band last night for the first time and I was seriously impressed, what a huge difference over my SM48 and 57. I can't find many reviews of the OM2 online but so far I'm really happy with it.

Brad Turcottegear, review
Google notebook

I want to love Google Notebook but it's not doing it for me. The best part is the little browser plugin. It's awesome and functional but makes me annoyed that the other Google services don't use something like this to make them quicker to use. I can manipulate my Google Notebook without manually logging in, but I can't do that for my Gmail or Google Calendar? Lame. And I'm really kind of lost as to what to use the Google Notebook for. For serious info-hoarders the lack of tagging is hard to overlook. Sure I can cram all my little snippets of text into "notebooks", but how am I any better organized than jamming that stuff into a text file (or a blog if I care about accessing it via the net)? And once we get over 10 or so snippets, it gets rough to find what I want. Very weird choice.

Brad Turcottereview, tech
Google Bookmarks

I've been getting annoyed at del.icio.us ever since it was bought by Yahoo! My reasons are nerdy. Tag intersections don't work well anymore which constantly bones me when I'm looking for something, it's slow as hell and the number one thing I've found having used it for a while and racked up around 550 bookmarks in there: I often forget I bookmarked things. For a while I've wished my bookmarks were more in my face. That I'd get reminded of what I had seen before when I was looking for something. Which leads me to tonight when I was playing around with Google Bookmarks. At some point I realized the absolute killer feature would be having my tagged and annotated bookmarks integrated with regular Google search results. When's the best time to remind me what I bookmarked? When I'm searching for stuff on Google. I did a search for something I had bookmarked and HOLY CRAP:

google bookmark

It shows my tags and annotation underneath the link in the regular search results. That's awesome! So now when I'm searching Google for things I can instantly see what I've bookmarked before. I used Your Web to import all my del.icio.us bookmarks and grabbed the Google Bookmarks Button extension for Firefox.

Google Bookmarks has a seriously primitive interface, no social sharing (I'd like my bookmarks to be public), the Firefox Google toolbar doesn't support it yet and Google seems to barely acknowledge its existence, but this search results integration alone combined with knowing their servers will be nice and responsive I think has sold me on it.

Update: okay so the interface for Google Bookmarks REALLY BLOWS. I can't type in the tag I want to jump to anywhere, so I have to click on my tags. I have a billion of them of course so that means scrolling up and down the screen like an idiot. Now I'm thinking about some way to sync Google Bookmarks and del.icio.us together...

More Edirol tinkering and Firebox finale

Testing the limits of my attention span today I continued trying out the Edirol UA-1EX. Though I originally bought it only for softsynth use on the laptop, I thought I should at least give the inputs a chance. I loaded up REAPER today and did some recording with it and it worked way better than I expected. The first test: direct monitoring was fine. There was a small amount of latency at first. Not enough to hear an actual delay, but enough that there was a slight doubling/chorus effect as I listened to the vocals from my mic. I reduced the buffer amount in the driver control panel to the absolute minimum and it sounded better, though I did experience a few dropouts while playing around. Some tweaking in there to find the right level will be needed.

I went from the MXL v67 mic -> Bluetube -> Edirol UA-1EX and it sounded good to me. I was monitoring using my Sennheiser HD 280 headphones and not my Event 20/20 monitors so I can't tell exactly how it stands up yet compared to other audio, but in the headphones it certainly sounded good enough.

I'm a little unclear about how to properly use the input gain dial. I'm enough of an audiophile to know that I probably want my fancy Bluetube preamp doing the amplification and not whatever's in the little $80 UA-1EX. But is setting the dial all the way to the max (poorly) amplifying things or is that just providing 100% of the signal from the input? There's no medium notch on it to indicate where it begins amplifying which is what I'm used to on mixing boards. Guess I'll check the manual.

So the conclusion of all this nerdy gear talk is that the Edirol UA-1EX is staying and may actually get used as a makeshift mobile recording unit along with lugging around my Bluetube. The preamps on the Presonus Firebox are disappointing however and it's getting returned. I can't justify paying for preamps that won't totally replace the Bluetube.

It sounds like the preamp limitation on the Firebox is due to Firewire's power constraints so I have no idea how it stacks up against other Firewire audio devices. I assume they all have similar limitations and will need external power for beefier pre's. I will say this for the Firebox: it sounds really good and it's a sturdy little unit. Latency wasn't an issue, the drivers worked great, they have fantastic support and they pretend to like my music.

I may think Firewire itself is a little stupid now though, which was my suspicion all along.

Brad Turcottegear, review
Firebox gain update

Just got a really informative response back from Chad at Presonus support about my -6db clipping/low gain issue with the Presonus Firebox:

Yes, the FB pre's are a bit on the low gain side, although they shouldn't clip too easily.  Unfortunately, if they don't provide enough gain with the digital boost engaged (and you may try disengaging it to help with clipping), you may want to couple them with the Blue Tube or use the Blue Tube with line in.  The BT has about 20db more analog gain than the FB. Sorry.  As I understand it, they had to make the FB in a way which was bus-powerable even under the most extreme conditions (daisy-chained w/ other FW devices, on laptops, etc.) which probably compromised the voltage that the preamps could run off of.  The BT gain circuit runs off of about 16v rather than the 6v or so that the FB runs from

That's some good information for your ass right there. Awesome support from Presonus.

Unfortunately the goal was to replace my Bluetube and Delta66 with a portable firewire thang. The Presonus Firebox would handily replace the Delta66, but replacing the Bluetube with a quieter preamp that doesn't go above -6db kinda blows. If I'm going to keep using the Bluetube, then I'm not sure why I'd pay a bunch of extra money for a device with preamps I never use on it. So much to think about.

Brad Turcottegear, review
Further audio dickery

Things I learned from reading the Firebox and UA-1EX manuals:

  • you only need to use the power adapter for the firebox if you're connecting it to a 4-pin firewire port. if it's a 6 pin, it powers itself off that. the firewire card i installed has 6-pin. nice.
  • my laptop only has a 4-pin firewire input. i'll have to use the power adapter when using it with the laptop AND i'll need to get some sort of 6 to 4 pin firewire adapter as the included firewire cable is 6 pin. i was not aware of this different firewire port size situation. weak.
  • the mysterious driver switch on the edirol ua-1ex switches you between normal windows drivers and ASIO drivers. neat i guess, though i've never had a problem with regular windows stuff working on ASIO drivers.
  • i still don't understand what "plug-in powered" on the mic input means even though i read the description, for now i remain afraid to plug anything into there.
  • the ua-1ex actually has dipswitches on the bottom i hadn't noticed for selecting the recording source, input monitor, kHz and sample rate. dipswitches are hardcore.

Then I tried recording with the Firebox. Here's how that went:

  • plug my microphone into it
  • flip the phantom power on
  • check the input levels
  • looks like i have to crank the level up to the max (+30) to get a decent signal when singing into my condenser mic (MXL v67.) guh?
  • switch the XLR cable just in case this one's flaky
  • still need to crank the input to +30 to get a decent signal
  • even cranked at +30 the preamp's nice and quiet though. no hiss or buzz.
  • notice that if the input exceeds -6db the preamp clips. so i can't record anything over -6db? should i even care about that? christ i hate audio, why do i bother with this
  • grab the mixer software off the cd-rom to make sure nothing's set real low but everything's at the max.
  • flip back over to record a test with my presonus bluetube + delta 66. doesn't clip when i go over -6db. but does this matter, hmm.
  • test out the direct monitoring on the firebox. there's a bit of noticeable latency when singing. i try lowering the 10ms latency in the control panel to 3ms, fixes it up nicely.
  • recording vocals at a clipping max of -6db alongside my loud projects makes it hard to monitor. input signal keeps getting lost in the mix. will i have to lower the volume of my projects to deal with the input volume? bleah.

Current Edirol UA-1EX mood: :) pleased

Current Presonus Firebox mood: :? confused and unsatisfied

The low Firebox signal is bothering me but I'm not 100% sure if it should or not. Clipping at -6db seems goofy as I always try to record with the hottest signal I possibly can so I have as much data to work with as possible. (You can always lower the volume later without audio consequences but you can't boost what isn't there.)

I don't have another condenser to test it with. Maybe my mic sucks. I'll go read some Firebox reviews and see if actual professionals have the same issues as I do.

Brad Turcottegear, review, tech