Snapshot Product Reviews

Aug 1, 2004 12:00 PM

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NEUMANN BCM 104

Side-Address Broadcast Mic

The death grip that the RE20 and RE27 N/D have on the radio and TV station announce market is legendary. Neumann's condenser BCM 104 ($999.99) is the latest mic in a long line of RE20 challengers. While still applying the physics behind the form, the Neumann BCM 104 looks like no other mic on the planet.

The BCM 104 is a side-address, large-diameter true condenser with a remarkably low 7dBA self-noise. The capsule has a single front diaphragm and an elaborate rear porting system. As with the TLM 103, the capsule-mounting stalk attaches to the circular printed circuit board (PCB). The PCB is mechanically decoupled from the body by a rubber ring that holds the PCB in place.

The BCM 104's integral suspension mount takes up less space than a traditional spider mount and doesn't cost extra. It accepts a standard ⅝-inch threaded pipe and is not adjustable. The head grille unscrews very easily for quick cleaning and reattaches by lining up a spring-loaded bearing mounted in the body of the mic into a small detent in the head grille.

Around the top edge of the body, four small slots receive the four corners of the internal metal-mesh pop filter. The pop filter screens out all but extreme plosives and can be removed for cleaning by squeezing the mesh supports from front to back and carefully lifting the screen from around the capsule.

Switches for engaging a 14dB pad and highpass filter are accessible by removing a small screw that holds the male XLR in place. A slight outward tug pulls the three-prong connector into view. On its backside is a small circuit board where the switches are mounted.

Even with the highpass filter disengaged, the BCM 104 has a milder LF response than the TLM 103. I liked the low end without engaging the highpass filter, but it might be useful for people with exceptionally bass-y voices. The BCM 104 doesn't reject sound entering the open end of the head grille but it rejects sound coming from the other end of the mic. If you have lots of highly reflective counter top and a relatively absorptive and diffusive ceiling, you might get better results by mounting the mic upside down.

The BCM 104 exhibited excellent high-end detail. This may be a liability in an extremely noisy and highly reflective environment, especially if an announcer is speaking extremely loud. I found that with a moderately projected DJ voice, I could work with my nose touching the edge of the head grille. Even as close as that, I wasn't quite filling up my headphones with low end the way I like, but with a gentle touch of EQ (+1.5 dB at 120 Hz), I was ready to rock.

In addition to looking the part of a 21st-century mic, the BCM 104's impressive specs and sound should please any discerning audio pro.

Neumann, 860/434-5220, www.neumannusa.com.
Ty Ford

BENCHMARK DAC-1

2-Channel 24-Bit D/A Converter

The highly versatile Benchmark DAC-1 is equally at home in recording, mixing and monitoring applications. The half-rack unit's rear panel sports three flavors of switch-selectable digital inputs: XLR balanced (110 ohms), BNC unbalanced (75 ohms, capable of being converted to co-ax with the included adapter) and Toslink optical. Each of the digital inputs can accept AES/EBU- or S/PDIF-formatted 24-bit audio. The XLR and BNC inputs accommodate any sampling frequency from 28 to 195 kHz, while the Toslink input works reliably up to 96 kHz.

The rear panel also features unbalanced -10dBV RCA and balanced +4dBu XLR analog outs, and internal 10/20/30dB jumpers that can pad the XLR outs to work with high-sensitivity gear. A three-way output level switch on the rear panel enables a stepped, variable-gain control knob on the front panel to adjust analog output levels at the XLR and RCA outputs. This knob also controls output levels for two front panel ¼-inch headphone jacks at all times. Monitoring via the DAC-1 while mixing, I found that padding the unit's output gave the variable gain control a better (more gradual) taper at low SPLs.

Setting the DAC-1's output level switch at its center position mutes the XLR and RCA outputs for headphone-only listening. Set to Calibrated mode, the output level switch delegates level control for XLR and RCA outputs to separate left- and right-channel calibration trims on the rear panel. These 10-turn trims allow very fine adjustment of output levels over a 20dB range (i.e., to +29 dBu at XLR outputs with 0dBFS input). The DAC-1 lacks level meters, but front panel status LEDs alert the user when the digital signal is absent or format incompatibilities arise.

The DAC-1 upsamples the digital input and then uses sample rate conversion to isolate the D/As and allows the unit to sync to its internal crystal. This design reduces jitter to immeasurable levels. The unit sounds very open in the low midrange band and produces a very tightly focused bass. Compared to the D/As in a MOTU HD192 (which costs only a fraction of the DAC-1's selling price on a per-channel basis), the DAC-1 offers decidedly superior depth and clarity. The converters in Apogee's DA-16X, on the other hand, sound a little more fluid, warmer, sweeter and three-dimensional as compared to those in the DAC-1. As highly competitive as the Apogee unit may be on a per-channel cost basis, it carries a much higher overall price tag and lacks the DAC-1's functionality for use in the monitoring path. For $975 list, the DAC-1 offers very high-quality D/A conversion in a variety of applications.

Benchmark Media Systems, 315/437-6300, www.benchmarkmedia.com.
Michael Cooper

SONY TRANSIENT MODULATOR

Envelope-Shaping Plug-In

Transient modification is not a new concept: Engineers have shaped the transient response of an instrument's waveform since the introduction of attack/release controls on compressors. What is new is the proliferation of hardware and software devices that take that concept and control to new heights.

The latest release in the Sony Oxford plug-in series, Transient Modulator allows a signal's dynamic level to be modified by adjusting the relationship of transients within the program. This can be approached in two ways: to emphasize the transient events in the program or de-emphasize the same events in the program in relation to the rest of the material.

The appearance of the Transient Modulator is standard-issue Oxford plug-in blue with clearly marked parameter controls. The usual suspects — gain control, threshold control, input switch and I/O meters — all function as you might expect. The other controls are specific to Trans Mod's operation. The Deadband control manages the range in which transient variations are ignored. A Ratio control monitors the overall effect in regard to raising or lowering the transients within the program. The Effect meter displays the peak overall gain/loss of transients. The Overshoot control determines the period of time the transients will be modified; i.e., a short overshoot period will affect only the leading edge of a transient. Recovery controls the process in relation to long-term program changes. An Overdrive control provides harmonic enhancement that can be added to the output signal. Rise Time gives control over the response of transient detection, letting the user either ignore the shortest transients or affect them all equally.

The positive ratio function can dramatically increase the gain of a signal. For example, when the ratio control is set to +1, a drum attack that has a peak of 10dB gain will produce a level of 20 dB at the output. Proceed with caution.

Using the plug-in on some final mastered mixes, I chose a variety of programs: some dynamic and musical, some squashed and darn-right ugly. In every case, I could make the mix seem more present while minimally effecting the overall program. I then applied Trans Mod to various drum loops. This is a tremendous tool for managing the leading edge of individual instruments within the loop that I had battled in past mixing situations.

Like other hardware or software products of this nature, there is a side effect: As you alter the rise time of an instrument, you can unknowingly introduce subtle changes in timing due to a shift of where the apparent peak of the waveform occurs. This may at first seem insignificant but could easily affect a track's “groove” factor, especially when dealing with percussive elements.

The Sony Transient Modulator proved itself very useful in the fix-it and creative categories. It's definitely going in my plug-in tool belt.

The Transient Modulator is supported by Pro Tools LE ($230), Pro Tools TDM ($450) and is HD, HD Accel and Mix-compatible.

Sony Pro Audio, 201/930-1000, www.sony.com/proaudio.
David Rideau

TRILLIUM LANE LABS EVERYPHASE TL

Retro Effects Plug-In for Pro Tools

EveryPhase TL from Trillium Lane Labs is an analog-modeled phaser plug-in designed to produce classic and contemporary phase-shift effects. All tests were run under Pro Tools 6 LE on a dual 1GHz G4.

I first used it on a slightly distorted rhythm guitar playing eighth notes. The factory default that came up when I initiated EveryPhase was wonderful: a subtle, slow sweep reminiscent of something you might hear on a Pink Floyd record. Modulation can be driven via LFO, the envelope of the track being processed or, on TDM systems, any external audio signal. When set to Envelope, modulation is controlled by an envelope detector that analyzes the sound's envelope and triggers the LFO. A threshold slider adjusts sensitivity of the envelope detector, while additional sliders adjust its attack and release. This makes for a unique effect, quite different from LFO modulation, which provides a steady, rhythmic phase shift. Speed of the LFO may be set manually or synched to MIDI clock at note values ranging from a 1/16th note to four measures.

Next, I tried it on a hi-hat track in a dance tune with excellent results. EveryPhase provided subtle animation that added life to the track without sounding overly processed. Modulation width is displayed as a shaded section of a black-bar meter, which was difficult to see.

EveryPhase's Manual control lets you select the frequency range being shifted, while Width determines the bandwidth of that range. The Stage control varies the number of frequency notches (two to 18) being shifted; using a higher number of stages generally makes the processing more noticeable. The Depth slider adjusts the severity of phase shift in positive (opposite phase) and negative (in-phase) directions; a setting of zero results in no phase shift. Resonant filter and feedback controls add a ton of interesting sonic possibilities. The Hollow Lead factory preset takes advantage of these, suggesting the sound of an envelope follower whereby a loud sound causes a resonant swish on the attack, but soft sounds are unaffected by resonance.

The stereo program was fantastic on synth piano sounds. I started with the factory default on a mono Rhodes track and bumped up the width. The movement made the synth patch totally convincing and added a startling amount of dimensionality.

The factory presets are excellent. Standouts include Egg Beater (adding a subtle distortion to electric guitar) and Talking Guitar, which sounds like a talkbox. Regardless of whether you use the factory presets or write your own, EveryPhase TL is a useful and musical addition to your plug-in arsenal.

EveryPhase TL is compatible with Pro Tools TDM (HD Accel, HD, Mix) and RTAS for Mac OS 9 and OS X and Windows XP at sample rates up to 192 kHz. A demo of EveryPhase TL may be downloaded from the Trillium Lane Labs Website and purchased for $249.

Trillium Lane Labs, www.tllabs.com.
Steve La Cerra

Drummer Frank Basile can liven your track with his performance.

LIVE STUDIO DRUMS

“Instant” Session Player

Loops are popular with producers, yet many musicians prefer a live drummer on their sessions, including songwriters working with tight budgets. With this in mind, Frank Basile, owner of Smart Loops, offers a service called Live Studio Drums (LSD). For a ridiculously low $69, songwriters anywhere in the world can get his drum performance added to a track.

Using a combination of the Internet, the telephone and UPS, here's how Live Studio Drums works: From the company's Website, check out the LSD demos. If you like what you hear, you can start a session by filling out a form with details about your song, including the sample rate and bit depth you need the files delivered in and whether you want Basile to add effects or give you splits that are uncompressed and without EQ. Basile will even take phone calls to discuss your needs in detail.

You can then specify whether you want tracks delivered via the Internet or on CD, pay by credit card and upload a guide MP3 of your song for Basile to work from. You receive an approval MP3 from him in three to 10 business days. If the performance is acceptable, then Basile delivers your splits on CD via UPS or on the Internet from a secure FTP download site. If you refuse the initial performance, a second take can be recorded for an additional $25.

Basile's studio centers around a Sonar 3 workstation and Yamaha 01V96 mixer. A Pearl drums endorsee, his kits are recorded in a 15×25-foot space using a variety of Audix, Shure, Sennheiser and Audio-Technica mics.

The Internet is tailor-made for startup companies like LSD. Listen to some LSD demos and decide if Basile's drumming style is for you. If you want to add live drums to a track, it's hard to see the downside of dropping $69 to find out if Basile's got what it takes to make your record come to life.

Live Studio Drums, www.livestudio drums.com.
Gary Eskow






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