Auditions

Nov 1, 2003 12:00 PM

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M-AUDIO TRANSIT

USB


M-Audio's new Transit audio interface offers an inexpensive and easy way to add up to 24/96kHz stereo digital I/O to any USB-equipped (Version 1.1) computer. In addition to the obvious upgrade of a computer's stock AD/DA, the Transit can also be used to send DTS- and Dolby Digital-encoded audio from your computer to a surround sound system.

Smaller than a deck of cards (2.2×3.6×0.9 inches and 1.6 ounces), it was the perfect portable digital audio solution for the Apple PowerBook I used for the review. To get started, I read through the manual, which is supplied on the included driver CD as a pdf file. The downside to the manual is that it isn't in a printer-friendly format and the page numbers in the pdf's table of contents are different from the actual pages. After some difficult navigation through the manual, installing the OS X driver was simple. I connected the supplied 10-foot USB cable (which also supplies the power to the Transit), and OS X's Core Audio system had no problems seeing the new device.

Stereo analog/digital input is achieved via a single ⅛-inch hybrid connector, or an included adapter allows a conventional TOSLink cable to be used. Stereo analog output is an ⅛-inch stereo TRS connector, while digital output is an S/PDIF optical TOSLink connection. All audio input and output levels are controlled through software control panels; no audio cables are supplied.

I used Emagic's Logic Audio to record various source material into the computer, and loved the fact that Transit automatically detects if you plug an analog or digital cable into the hybrid input. The analog input can accept microphone sources and can supply +5V for electret condenser computer mics. Switching between analog and digital inputs worked flawlessly in Logic, and I noticed that the output quality beat the stock Mac I/O hands down. Transit's noise floor is much lower, and no CPU interference could be heard. High-frequency detail and low-frequency definition were also noticeably better with Transit. Like the Mac, the output can drive typical line-levels and headphones.

Some features on Transit were disappointing. Unfortunately, Transit's analog input doesn't support the 88.2kHz sample rate, which is preferred when you want to track in high resolution and then convert to 44.1 kHz for audio CDs. Transit also can't simultaneously record and play back any sample rate over 48 kHz, making it impossible to use its outputs to hear what you're recording when working in hi-res mode. (This is true of all USB 1.1 devices.) One quirky and annoying thing was that plugging or unplugging an optical cable in or out of the input produced very loud pops on the analog output, even though I wasn't running an application to monitor the input. However, this seemed to be attributed more to the Mac rather than Transit because it didn't happen when I had Logic running.

If the high-resolution limitations don't concern you, then Transit is a great option for much improved analog I/O and the addition of digital and multichannel-encoded I/O to your computer. Price: $99.95.

M-Audio, 626/445-2842, www.m-audio.com.
Robert Brock

YAMAHA SUBKICK

Kick


Using a speaker to mike a kick drum is certainly nothing new. But often the homemade setup for this device looks like it came out of a grade-school metal shop. Yamaha's new Subkick ($499) takes the concept to the next level by perfectly blending aesthetics and function. A collaborative effort between Yamaha and drummer Russ Miller, the Subkick is a 6.5-inch woofer (frequency response: 20-8k Hz) shock-mounted inside a 7-ply birch/mahogany 10-inch shell and covered with black-mesh heads. Mounting hardware and a stand are also included. The device couldn't be simpler, sturdier or more attractive. Setup is simple, with audio connection made by simply plugging a mic cable into the XLR connector mounted in the side of the “drum.”

I was able to try the Subkick on three separate kick drums with stellar results. I placed it an inch away from — and centered on — the outside of the head. In every case, I had another mic on the inside of the drum to provide some “point” for the kick drum mix. There are a number of things to like about the Subkick, most of all its sound. It definitely gives you the thump you'd usually have to dig for with EQ when using a traditional setup. Also, the rock-solid snare stand and tom mount used for “mic” placement are ingenius. In every application, it was a quick and easy setup without drift or drop. It stays where it's put.

I A/B'd the Subkick with my usual large-diaphragm-mic-outside-the-kick setup, and it blew it away. Because of the nature of the beast, it completely ignores any cymbal or drum spill over 100 Hz, making for a nice, clean track at the bottom of your mix. A nice trick is to use the naturally clean Subkick signal to feed the key on a gate used for the internal kick mic, resulting in an easily accomplished clean kick signal.

The Subkick was also used to record a cajon, a large wooden box that a percussionist sits on and hits with a combination of open palm and fingers to get various tones. The Subkick was placed in front of the port at the front of the box, and was used in addition to a pair of cardioid mics at either end. The Subkick offered all of the low end you'd need for this instrument and mixed in nicely with the other mics. I imagine that you could also use it to mike the bottom of a floor tom with equally good results, although I didn't get a chance to use it in this application.

The Subkick is something that every engineer and studio should have in their bag of tricks. It was a winner in every application, and although it's a one-trick-pony, what a fantastic trick it is!

Yamaha, 714/522-9011, www.yamaha.com/drums.
Kevin Becka

VOXENGO CURVEEQ

EQ VST Plug-In


CurveEQ VST from Voxengo is an advanced equalizer that runs as a plug-in in any VST 2.0 host like Cubase, Nuendo or Logic Audio. CurveEQ gives you the ability to see a real-time graphic image of the frequency spectrum of a vocal, instrument or complete track mix as it looks before and after you apply equalization from CurveEQ. With this “visual” representation, you'll quickly see which frequencies are problematic and have to be reduced or are in need of enhancement. I liked that, rather than turning knobs as on a conventional equalizer, you use the mouse to design and “draw” a very specific EQ curve.

CurveEQ also features SpectruMatch technology, a way to match a sound's frequency composition and response and superimpose it over another sound. You could take a spectrum “picture” of a mix that you particularly like and apply it to a completely different mix. Conceptually similar is Voxengo's Gear-Match Technology, in which databases of sonic impulses from various high-end analog devices are available to be applied to any sound. In theory, you could take the basic sound coloration caused by tubes, transformers and design (but not the actual compression) of a multi-thousand-dollar vintage compressor followed by the sonics of a 1960s British EQ and add it to any of your song's tracks or the entire stereo mix.

CurveEQ is primarily intended as a mastering equalizer, but I used it on individual channel inserts with great results. It came in very handy when clearing up the lower midrange of a muddy-sounding mix. It is much easier to pinpoint annoying frequencies using CurveEQ's “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” interface than a parametric EQ, which is often a laborious trial-and-error process.

CurveEQ uses a math-intensive process and eats a fair bit of CPU overhead, but once you have shaped your sound, you can turn off the spectrum-analysis processor and regain some lost horsepower. For Windows PCs only, Voxengo sells for $98 and is available as a download.

Voxengo, info@voxengo.com, www.voxengo.com.
Barry Rudolph (Thanks to David Gamson for his help on this review.)

PRIMERA BRAVO

CD


The ability to burn CDs is essential to any audio house. Even if it's just a few minutes of VO fixes for post or a sound design project in progress waiting for approval, the audio CD is the universal platform for exchanging .AIFF, .WAV and CD-DA tracks.

Now, using a package from Roxio, Nero and others — along with a Sharpie — works fine for the occasional one-off burn. But when a client wants 10, 20 or even 50 discs, the process of moving plastic in and out of the burner becomes a bit tedious. Magic marker, even in your best cursive, doesn't look professional. And stick-on labels are okay for a while but over time tend to lose their “stick” and can cause playback problems and possible damage to the equipment.

Primera Technology sells a line of CD/DVD disc-duplication and printing products; the newest, the Bravo Disc Publisher, burns and labels discs, is tightly integrated and is one of Primera's most accessible products to date. The Bravo is also the first product available for both Mac and PC users, running on Windows 2000, XP or Mac OS X.

Bravo's integrated design makes for an easy installation, provided that the connected computer sports both FireWire and USB ports. Because the CD drive, robotics and printer are all in the same chassis, the Bravo has a fairly large footprint. But it guarantees that CDs will be picked and placed with greater accuracy because the various components aren't subject to subtle movements. With the Bravo duplicator, running off a batch of CDs while running an errand is a reality. When you return, the input bin is empty and the output bin is full. Capacity is limited to 25 discs, but a Kiosk mode (PC-only) will do 50 discs and spit them out the front.

Primera offers two flavors of the Bravo Disc Publisher: The DVD+R/CD-R version features a Pioneer A06 drive with 4x DVD and 16x CD-writing speeds. The CD-RW setup currently uses an LG Electronics 52x burner. I tested the CD-RW version and was very impressed with the results using Taiyo Yuden and Mitsui media. Primera includes Veritas' Prassi Primo software to create discs and Sure Thing CD Labeler to create — what else? — labels. Both of these programs are straightforward, easy-to-use packages and a good match for the Bravo line. Prassi and Sure Thing are now included under the Sonic brand, but they function as separate products and aren't highly integrated. They work fine, but don't share a common interface.

Compared to other Primera products I've tested, the Bravo seems to have improved mechanics to pick up and place discs. It works better and appears to make less noise than similar designs used in the Composer Series of duplicators; part of the reason may be the reduced capacity. With smaller bins, the robotic arm travels less during each step. The Bravo also includes a little hood that closes during the duplication process, which probably lowers the noise a bit, too. It looks a little funky and gives the appearance of an oversized breadbox, I'll take function over fashion any day. The important thing is, the Bravo Disc Publisher works.

The only problem I encountered was a disc appeared to burn correctly, but when placed in an audio CD player, it showed time elapsed but no corresponding audio. Primera acknowledged the quirk but says it has not been able to duplicate the problem and recommends users avoid this by selecting the test, record and verify option in the software program.

Bravo prints directly onto the discs, so no labels are required. The printing element offers 2,400 dpi printing and uses separate black and color cartridges. At the highest-quality setting, the results on shiny silver-inkjet printable surface media were exceptional. The response to artwork printed on these discs was simply, “Wow!” However, the ink cartridges used in the Bravo are not large and at the highest-quality setting won't last long. It's like driving a Hummer and watching the gas gauge move in real-time toward “E” after just seconds on the road. The good news is, at 1,200 dpi, the full-color prints still look very clean and Bravo consumes a lot less ink. I found myself using the higher-quality settings with full-color artwork because it just looked so good. It may be of interest to note that the ink on the completed discs appeared to dry rapidly enough as to not cause any problems or bleeding onto successive discs stacked in the output bin.

I would like to see Primera offer a more tightly integrated software package that takes both the labeling and burning elements and combines them with a consistent flavor. And any additional reduction in mechanical noise is always welcome; I already have enough fan and hard drive noise. Overall, though, I'm impressed with the Bravo Disc Publisher. It's fast, friendly and affordable. Well done, Primera. Bravo indeed.

Primera Technology, 763/475-6676, www.primera.com.
Rick Spence






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