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Month: February 2017

2017 Music Making Starter Kit – Monitors

So you’re new into music making, but do you have the gear? Do you even know what you need?
This series of articles will feature everything you’ll need to get started and not waste money on shady devices that will break at first contact (unless you’re reaaaally unlucky). I’m presuming you have a PC, laptop, either Mac or Windows. The gear list doesn’t change depending on these.

Table of contents:

  1. Audio Interfaces
  2. Monitors (Today’s Special)
  3. Microphones
  4. Synthesizers
  5. Various

2. Monitors 

Studio monitors are loudspeakers specifically designed for professional audio production applications, such as recording studios, filmmaking, television studios, radio studios and project or home studios, where accurate audio reproduction is crucial. Among audio engineers, the term monitor implies that the speaker is designed to produce relatively flat (linear) phase and frequency responses. In other words, it exhibits minimal emphasis or de-emphasis of particular frequencies, the loudspeaker gives an accurate reproduction of the tonal qualities of the source audio (“uncolored” or “transparent” are synonyms), and there will be no relative phase shift of particular frequencies—meaning no distortion in sound-stage perspective for stereo recordings. In general, studio monitors use a sealed box design, without a bass reflex port or passive radiator speaker to improve the low-frequency response. Bass reflex ports or passive radiators are not used because they affect the response and sound. Source: Wikipedia

Now that we got the basics out of the way, here’s the actual, real-life experience most professionals already know: you could make great music on 20$ speakers if you know their sound inside-out and how the music translates to other speakers (example: Sebastian Leger). There’s no substitute for working in an environment you know, and this topic transcends to DAW and other gear you use as well. You can (and will) make BAD sounding music on any new monitors, no matter the cost, until you get to know them really well. Some you just won’t like – and that’s subjective and fine! – so in the end you should not expect your first pair to be the last one you’ll ever buy. The general consensus though is that some speakers are better for some music styles than others.

*while Leger and Cut Copy compose and produce on those speakers, they pay mix and master engineers to make their songs market ready.

  1. Adam Audio F5

Don’t be afraid of the small size. You won’t get deep sub-bass with the F5s but everything else will be pristinely represented and balanced. If the 52Hz – 50kHz frequency response confuses you, know that your dog will enjoy the full spectrum that these babies can output. Seriously now, the 50khz is a their way of saying there won’t be any problems up to 20khz, no aliasing or funny business. The X-Art tweeter is a masterpiece, I’ve worked non-stop on it for hours without any year fatigue which is a fantastic trait on it’s own! Ask any KRK owner how much they can last until they need a break!

Run-down

  • you’ll find cheaper monitors than these, but I’m listing you the pro choice that you won’t regret 2 years later. Your ears and productions will thank you.
  • generally good across styles, specially guitar or acoustic instruments!
  • 52hz frequency response is not low enough for club oriented, bass heavy music. If you compliment them with a sub you can hold off moving to any other speaker for some time. you can then keep the sub and just change the monitors if the room is bigger and you need more volume. having said that, the 52hz are true, not just a marketing scam. with other speakers they say 50hz, you barely get 70hz – it’s the reason I’m not listing 100$ monitors here.
  •  small size and weight – suitable for mobile production
  • price around $230 each

2. Yamaha HS8

Yamaha has a long history with studio monitors. The NS10 model became a kind of studio standard when they appeared in the ’80s, everyone saying how horrible they sound. Turns out if you can make your track sound good on these, any better speaker will sound even better. There’s a love – hate relationship with the NS10 that’s dividing the sound community. I’m in the hate category. You wouldn’t color grade a photo or movie on a 20 year old 10″x10″ CRT Monitor, would you? But that’s just me, let’s get back to the HS8s.

The HS8 have nothing in commong with the NS10. They’re modern, balanced and with an impressive tight bottom end. Slightly bigger than the F5s (8 inches cone instead of 5) – this translates to deeper bass, Yamaha stating 38hz down. I’d say expect around 45ish, but that’s still pretty good. The increased size also comes with more volume, so if your room is bigger these will help. One major gripe everyone complains about with them is that they’re not magnetically shielded. Any router, phone or other electromagnetic interference will be picked up by them across 60cm (2 feet) or so.

Run down:

  • Bigger, louder, deeper than Adam F5
  • Great across a wide range of genres
  • Solid build quality
  • Flat frequency response
  • Not the best for casual listening – personally I prefer Adams

3. Adam A7X

Aaand we’re back to Adams. I could have went for a higher budget, high end monitor (like the Focal 6 Be but we’re still into “Starter Kit Territory”.
The Adam A7x brings all the great features of the smaller F5 but improves on them further. 42hz – 50Khz frequency range + two front ports means they go a lot deeper, even not needing a subwoofer for small rooms. They work very well for electronic music but acoustic too, they’re very detailed specially in the mid-high range. Their direct alternatives are the Dynaudio’s BM6As and Focal’s CMS 65s are a bit duller sounding on casual listening and the Dynaudio BM6A in particular are only usable for electronic music.

Run down:

  • Fantastic Ribbon Art-X Tweeter that doesn’t fatigue quite as easily as conventional tweeters
  • 42hz – 50Khz quite large frequency response + 2 front ports to fill your room with bass (the good kind)
  • very well built, sturdy and quality electronics
  • great value for the price, you’d need to add another 300-500$ for a decent upgrade!

EXTRA – Music Production Headphones

If you don’t have the budget for even the small F5s – DON’T GET MONITORS. In my experience there’s nothing cheaper than those that can even come close to be called “monitors” and not “hi-fi speakers”. Get headphones instead – not for all-time, just for a limited period until you’re back up on your feet and can afford the monitors. Headphones have come a long way and they’re at least a medium for producers to check their mixes unto, if not even work entire tracks on them. I’m not going into the features, pros and cons too deeply with these. You should try them and see which you prefer before committing to any of these models.

Cheapest: Audio-Technica M40x are the entry level. Go for M50x if you can stretch that far

Middle: Sennheiser Hd 25 are great for producing and fantastic for dj-ing! They isolate outside noise reaaaally well.

Best: The Beyerdynamic DT770 are the least fatiguing, best all-around headphones that are now found in basicly every respected studio. Full-bottom end and detailed all around.

 

Stay tuned, next time we’re looking at microphones!

Victor M



 

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2017 Music Making Starter Kit – Audio Interfaces

Are you new to music making and feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of information on gear? Here’s the short version, curated by industry professionals!

This series of articles will feature everything you’ll need to get started and not waste money on shady devices that will break at first contact (unless you’re reaaaally unlucky). I’m presuming you have a PC, laptop, either Mac or Windows. The gear list doesn’t change depending on these.

Table of contents:

  1. Audio Interfaces (today’s special)
  2. Monitors
  3. Microphones
  4. Synthesizers
  5. Various

1. Audio Interfaces

I can hear it across the web: “but I’ve got an integrated sound card, why do I need to buy something else?”

Short story: way better quality than any integrated sound card, handles microphones, speakers and gear.
Long story:

  1. Play (your) music at high quality and without latency. This is not just an audiophile gimmick. Without going into the technical details, you should know that the integrated sound cards have an innate problem: they pickup electrical noise from inside the computer. Also, the dedicated drivers for the external, dedicated sound cards offer better optimization and less latency than the integrated ones.
  2. Record anything with a mic (acoustic instruments, percussion), from a hardware music instrument (synthesizers, drum racks), from vinyl player, cassette player you NEED a dedicated sound card with as many inputs as necessary dedicated for such devices. Microphones need preamplification which can only come from audio interfaces and preamps. Whenever you hear of “Phantom Power” or “48v”, then that device can record microphones that need power, which is most of the good ones.
  3. Listen to music on dedicated studio speakers (referred to as monitors – but not to be mistaken with screens, Led Monitors!). These speakers need a special kind of signal to be sent to them, either via RCA (the cheapest, noisiest option), Jack or XLR (professional quality).
  4. Change the volume of whatever your playback device is on the fly. Having a dedicated knob for volume is not just a gimmick, you’ll be twisting and turning it a lot while recording and making music. Plus, one wrong click in the system volume slider and you’ll neighbors will get a glimpse of your new techno track at full volume.

Best value: Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) 

  • Great package all around, robust metallic enclosure, stable drivers
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 4 outputs – 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 4 RCA outs (2 x stereo) useful for DJs connecting to a Mixer, 1 headphone out selectable between output 1-2 or 3-4 (also useful for DJs)
  • Direct monitoring/no latency recording button – you hear what you’re recording, not what’s coming back from the computer
  • Midi In and Out useful for connecting external Synthesizers


Medium: Audient iD14 (PC and MAC)

  • Better sound quality all around comparing to the Scarlett 2i4.
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 1 headphone out.
  • No Midi inputs or outputs means you’ll need other devices to connect your external synthesizers. There’s plenty of value choices, I recommend the M-audio USB Midisport Uno. Works out of the box for both PC and MAC.
  • Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

High End: Universal Audio Twin (PC and MAC)

  • Requires Thunderbolt Interface! Most newer Macs come with it but Windows users need to search for Thunderbolt Motherboards
  • Top notch quality all around! It’s what the pros use. The more expensive audio interfaces from Universal Audio simply add to the inputs and outputs.
  • Also missing Midi for connecting external synthesizers but there’s an easy fix: M-audio USB Midisport Uno for both Mac and Windows.
  • Has integrated DSP CPU to process Universal Audio’s line of very fine plugins which won’t use up your CPU!
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs with Unison Technology – can simulate other preamps, like the Neve 1073 or the LA 610.
  • 6 outputs – 4 TRS, 1 headphone out with independent mix bus
  • Like the Audient, the Twin has an Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) input – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

Honorable mention: Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) – This is Amazon’s (and probably worldwide) bestseller. The only reason I’m not recommending it is because of the 2 RCA outputs for monitoring. No serious monitor will accept RCA input. You’ll eventually get some proper speakers (sooner rather than later) and you don’t want your audio interface to be holding you back. It’s also missing Midi. Bulletproof your future by investing a little more in the Scarlett 2i4, it’s worth it!

 

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, we’ll be looking at studio monitors!

Victor M

 

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