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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

IK Multimedia Stealth Pedal

IK Multimedia Stealth Pedal

Summary: It’s official, IK Multimedia’s StealthPedal has just been released! The new StealthPedal is a lesson in packaging up familiar components to produce something totally unique. This is the first of its kind: A USB-powered guitar audio interface/software controller that you can use for recording or playing live as well as controlling any “Powered By Amplitube” software (or any MIDI-controllable software). With the StealthPedal, IK Multimedia completes the picture in providing an end-to-end computer-based guitar performance and recording solution.

Pros: Truly plug and play, it is automatically recognized by “Powered By Amplitube” software, and requires very little configuration.

Cons: None

Price: $199 Standard Bundle / $399 Deluxe Bundle

Specs:

• USB powered audio interface and pedal controller
• 2 balanced / unbalanced audio inputs (hi-Z or line level)
• 24 bit A/D and D/A conversion
• 44.1/48 kHz operation
• 2 balanced audio outputs
• Headphones output
• Volume control
• Built-in expression pedal and MIDI foot-switch
• Multiple LEDs can operate as Tuner or Level indicators with AmpliTube
• External double switch and expression pedal inputs
• Classic, rugged metal Wah-style construction
• High-quality, low-noise input stage (109dBA /104dB RMS S/N ratio)
• Control all “Powered by AmpliTube” software/plug-ins

• Control any MIDI controllable software/plug-ins

• Standard Bundle includes AmpliTube 2 Live standalone and plug-in, AmpliTube X-GEAR, Ampeg® SVX UNO standalone and plug-in, Sonoma WireWorks Riffworks™ T4, and AmpliGrooves Loops by Sonic Reality
• Deluxe Bundle: AmpliTube 2, Ampeg SVX, AmpliTube X-GEAR, Sonoma WireWorks RiffWorks t4, AmpliGrooves
• Compatible with all the most popular DAW software supporting ASIO and Core Audio drivers on PC and Mac
• Endless software expandability with AmpliTube modules

Tone Bone Score: 5.0 – I love enabling technologies that make anything that I do easier, but also add a ton of value. That can definitely be said of the new StealthPedal from IK Multimedia. A quick glance at picture of the unit, and you may think: Okay, just another pedal-style software controller. It is that, but it is also so very much more!

The StealthPedal is also an extremely easy-to-use, full-functioning analog-digital audio interface that you can use for recording or running modeling software live through your computer. And with 24-bit analog-digital, digital-analog conversion, and 44.1/48 kHz operation, you can count on the SteathPedal to produce high-fidelity sound in the studio an on the stage.

The StealthPedal looks just like a mere expression pedal from the top view. But look at the sides and the input and output jacks belie its humble appearance. On the left side of the pedal are ¼” jacks for right and left output, an 1/8” for headphones, another ¼” jack for a dual-switch external switching unit (extra), and the USB jack. On the right side of the pedal are ¼” jacks for inputs, a volume control knob, and a ¼” jack for plugging in another expression pedal. In other words, this “pedal” packs a punch and is so much more than what it appears!

Wah, wah, wah

It took me awhile to figure out that I had too early versions of X-Gear / Amplitube Fender to be automatically recognized the StealthPedal. My bad entirely. But once I had the right versions installed, adding software stomp effects and controlling them via the StealthPedal was a total breeze! The software automatically assigns the StealthPedal to control the first effect with some default behavior. For instance, with a wah effect plugin, the foot pedal is assigned to the wah effect and the switch is assigned to bypass. But you can change behavior simply by clicking the “setup” button at the top-right of the application window. It can’t get much simpler than that!

In the Studio

But before I even tried using it to control the included Amplitube software, I wanted to see how it performed as an audio interface. In this usage, I was totally blown away! Whereas other audio units such as those from DigiDesign require a software driver to operate (yes, even on the Mac), at least on the Mac, the StealthPedal follows Apple’s lead in design: Plug it in and it just works! So in a very real way the StealthPedal is aptly named as it just does what it does without you knowing how – or having to know how it works! Note that you do need a driver for Windows. But on my Mac, the process to be up and running took less than 5 minutes! That’s incredible!

Launching GarageBand, I just went into the preferences, and selected the StealthPedal as my input and output devices. I ran an unbalanced line from my mic pre-amp into the first input jack of the StealthPedal, added and setup a new track, hit record and started jamming on my guitar that was plugged into my amp. The StealthPedal worked as expected – actually a lot better than I expected because I was expecting only “okay” signal quality, considering the price point of this unit. Boy, was I wrong. The recorded signal was just as clean as my MBox 2, with no apparent shading of any kind. That put a smile on my face. And another thing that really blew me away was that lag was virtually non-existent. There was tiny bit, but nowhere in the realm of the lag that I normally get with my MBox 2. Amazing!

Then plugging my guitar directly into the StealthPedal, I fired up the Amplitube Fender plug-in, selected an amp, and started playing. This was truly the first time I could switch on track monitoring and not get thrown off from the lag!

What’s Not Obvious Is Usually Where the True Power Lays

Think about this carefully because it’s important: The real impact of the StealthPedal is not necessarily in its features, but in what it provides as a solution. As I mentioned above, the StealthPedal completes the picture for IK Multimedia to provide an end-to-end computer-based guitar performance and recording solution. I don’t say this lightly. Not only do they have totally kickass amp and effects modeling, with the StealthPedal, they now have a high-quality, high-fidelity guitar audio interface and software controller! Add to the fact that the StealthPedal requires ZERO setup to use (Mac only, sorry folks), and you’ve got a complete solution for all your computer-based guitar audio. And because the StealthPedal was built to work specifically for “Powered By Amplitube” products, you never have to worry about compatibility problems! I don’t know about you, but that’s just incredible to me. But wait there’s more!

Because it is a MIDI controller, the StealthPedal can also be used with other amp sim software via MIDI. So this just isn’t a solution for the AmpliTube user, it can be used by virtually all recording guitarists, and other musicians as well!

Overall Impressions

What can I say? I dig the StealthPedal! In the next couple of weeks, I’m going on a trip. Guess what’s coming with me? A guitar, the StealthPedal, a mic pre-amp, a mic, and a couple of cords. That’ll be enough to record any song, and besides the guitar, all that will fit into my computer bag!

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Home Studio There are different schools of thought around this subject, but I thought I’d throw in some of my own thoughts, since I’ve been at it awhile. Note that I won’t be talking about techniques necessarily, though I will include some tips and tricks… So without further ado…

First, let’s establish something here: You don’t need to buy super-expensive gear to sound good, and you don’t need a lot of equipment. I’ve found that in a lot of cases, while more expensive gear will afford you convenience features, and a better sound quality, for the home studio enthusiast, a lot of times this gear is overkill. I’ll go into some details below, but in my opinion, recording technique is far more important. So with that said, let’s start talking about what I think are essential pieces of equipment:

Computer Equipment/Software

You probably already have a computer, but it should be configured to handle digital recording. While drive speed is important, it isn’t necessarily critical. My MacBook Pro’s hard drive spins at 5400 rpm, and I have no problems recording stuff. But what you do need is space. I’d recommend getting two hard drives: one for programs, and the other dedicated to saving data. It’s just a cleanliness thing. Also, get as much RAM as your machine can handle. I’ve got 4GB on my machine. That’s even more important than a hard drive. You don’t need a super-poweful machine either, but dual-core machines really work well.

Okay, Mac or PC? Go with what you’re comfortable with. There are lots of programs out there; among them is a neat little program that works great on both PC and Mac called Audacity – it’s free! Todd Rundgren recorded a lot of his latest album using Audacity, so it’s definitely doable.

What about ProTools?

I’ve got it. It’s great. But the learning curve is super steep. In fact, when I first started recording, I spent more time learning how to use the damn software than getting my ideas down and that just frustrated me to no end; so much so, that I lost my taste for recording for several months – I just didn’t want to mess around with the software! I just wanted to get my freakin’ ideas down! I’m not saying it’s bad, but it’s complicated, and you’ll have to spend a lot of time learning the ins and outs of the program. With the home studio, what you’re after is getting your ideas down with reasonable quality – and fast. That, at least, is my opinion. In light of that, I use GarageBand to get all my ideas down. It has built-in rhythm loops so I don’t have to use a click track, and there are lots of add-ons, both free and affordable, that you can use in GB. The sound quality is excellent, and it even has some mastering presets that work amazingly well!

Digital Interface

There are lots out there. I happen to use the DigiDesign MBox 2, which has two analog inputs, MIDI, and a couple of others I don’t use. Very handy little box. But there are lots of solutions out there in the $300-$400 range. Most use USB, though FireWire is probably the optimum – it also costs more.

Microphones

Now this is just my opinion, but you’ll need at least two mics: One ribbon mic, and one dynamic mic. I have a Nady RSM-200 ribbon that cost me less than $200, and it works superbly! I also swear by my trusty Sennheiser 835 stage mic, which is a workhorse similar to the Shure SM-58, but I think it’s warmer and has a much flatter EQ response than the SM-58 which can get kind of boomy.

MIDI Controller

Being also a piano player – not nearly as good on this as I am on guitar – having a keyboard to trigger MIDI and add MIDI-based instruments is another essential. You can go the small route (2 octave) or go the full-size keyboard route. I use an M-Audio full-size stage keyboard myself only because it doubles as my MIDI controller as well as my gigging keyboard. It was also cheap at $300 new. Nice.

From my standpoint, this is all you need as far as essential equipment for recording. Now let’s get into some techniques and some nice-to-haves:

  1. Always record acoustic guitar using mics – and use two of ’em. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? I’ve tried going direct into my computer, and the sound is horrible. But using two mics works great. I usually place my ribbon mic about six inches from the sound hole, then place my dynamic mic pointed at a 45 degree angle at about the 3rd fret to capture sounds coming off the neck. Also, to take advantage of the ribbon mic’s rear pickup, I have a board, or hard, reflective surface placed about two to three feet in front of me to reflect sound back. It gives just a sligh reverb effect that really fills out the recorded tone.
  2. If you can swing it, get a couple of low-wattage amps. In particular, I use a Fender Champ 600, which is a 5 Watt amp with an 8″ speaker. Another one I’ve used, but don’t own is the Epiphone Valve Jr.. What a nice little amp! Since you’re recording at bedroom levels, a small amp that puts out less volume works wonders. Now here’s the trick I’ve found to recording with these small amps. You can make that sucker sound HUGE by close-mic’ing the amp. I use a dynamic mic pointed at an angle along the cone of the speaker, and place it no more than 2″ away from the grille cloth. Then I use a variety of overdrive and distortion pedals to get grind or searing distortion, then in my software boost the low frequencies. The end result is that it sounds like I’ve just recorded a full-size stack! You have to play with your settings, but it’s definitely achievable. The other nice thing about using a small amp for recording is that the naturally bright voicing really works well in a digital recording environment.
  3. For vocals, always use a pop filter. I’m an experienced singer, and even though I have great mic technique, nothing is worse on a recording than picking up those oral transients that your mouth makes when making consonant sounds. Pop filters cost less than $20 and believe me they’re a life saver.
  4. While we’re on the subject of vocals… Avoid using a compressor on vocals as much as possible. When you’re singing a louder phrase, move away from the mic. It’s that simple. Compression is good to a point, but there’s a lot to be said about having volume dynamics in your vocals. You get a lot more emotion coming through when you have it. If volume is pretty much the same throughout a song, it’s well… boring in my opinion, no matter how good a singer you are.
  5. Avoid EQ as much as you can. Dial in the EQ on your instruments before you record, then only do wholesale volume adjustments later to make mix corrections. What you’re trying to do is capture the natural sound the instrument makes as closely as possible. The only exception I make to this is when I’m recording a low-wattage amp and want to boost the lows. Otherwise, I just do volume adjustments for the mix.

These are just a few things I’ve learned over the last few years of doing this. I’m sure I’ve missed some stuff, so if anyone else wants to add to this, please feel free!

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Talk about putting a product through its paces! My Mac fatally crashed yet again! Yikes! When that happened, I didn’t panic because based upon Boyd Jarvis’ input in my previous article on my Mac crashing, I went down to my local Apple store, and purchased a copy of Disk Warrior. I also talked to a few of the folks about Disk Warrior, and they said that’s the utility to get, so I also wasn’t bothered by spending the $99 I spent on it (it would also come in handy as I have another Mac at home that I purchased used with a corrupted drive).

Anyway, I got home all excited to repair my disk and be up and running. I opened up the box, inserted the disk in the drive, and patiently watched it do its thing. I watched in horror as Disk Warrior report that my drive was so messed up, it couldn’t be fully recovered. Looks like I have a real bad sector on my disk. So with a shrug, I opened up disk utility, re-partitioned my drive; this time making two: One really small one to isolate the bad sectors at the beginning of the drive, and another large partition. But I still wasn’t too worried because I had my data backed up with Time Machine.

To make a long story short, near the end of the installation, Installer asked me if I wanted to transfer information from a variety of sources. One source was Time Machine. Cool! I though to myself, I’ll have my data ready to go and not have to worry about finding it in the vault! That was a plus, though I was dreading having to install my applications again. Was I in for a surprise!

I let out a huge WHOOP when the restoration process not only restored my data, but also restored all my applications!!! I just simply had to let it do its thing! Now I’m back in business. No smell. No mess. No spending hours installing, and I didn’t lose any of the latest songs I recently recorded in GarageBand! YIPEE!!!

Now that I think about it, it’s a bit creepy that my last article turned out to be self-fulfilling prophecy…  Well, at least I know now that with Time Machine, I can replace my drive and get everything back. Talk about being stoked!!!

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I finally got a couple of songs to a mostly finished state though I have to tweak the vocal volumes on one of the songs.

You Stir My Soul
Great God

For the past week, I’ve been ever so tickled by the ease of recording that GarageBand provides. But no matter how easy the recording process has become, it’s still a very tedious process. In fact, the easy part is actually laying down the tracks. What takes the longest time is the post-production stuff that gets my songs to a finished state. I probably spend at least 4 to 5 times more time tweaking what I’ve recorded than actually recording.

But that’s the beauty of music production. The artistry is not just in the recording or the song. There’s also an incredible amount of artistry in how your sound is ultimately presented to your audience. The original recording is much like a line drawing or a pencil sketch on a canvas. That forms the basis of the picture. Then like using paints, you apply color and shading to the raw sketch to make it come to life, resplendent with colors that give the picture a “mood” of sorts. A touch of reverb here, some delay there, perhaps some pitch shifting, or time correction. It’s all part of the “painting” process.

So why all this focus on recording in this series? Well, I haven’t mentioned it distinctly, but I’m working on creating an album of the religious music I’ve written for the Catholic Mass. The album is entitled “You Stir My Soul.” You can listen to the title track here. Note that this is not in a finished state. I have to bring down the lead vocal volume a touch because it totally steps on the instrumentation. I put this out on my band’s website so my cohort Dave could see what I did with the harmony, and how I slightly restructured the song from its original form. I also laid down a groovin’ song called “Great God” that is mostly finished, though I have to re-record the guitar solo because of some bad string plucks on my part. 🙂

To tell the truth, I’ve been working on this album project for a couple of years. My wife has been bugging me to get my music out, and I’ve just given her the excuse that I’m so busy that it’s hard to find the time to record. But that’s not really the truth. The real truth is that I purchased much more advanced equipment than I actually needed to create spec recordings. I mean, it was total overkill, and on top of that, I’ve spent tons of time just learning how to operate the softaware! Don’t get me wrong: I love ProTools, but it’s so much more software than I need right now. For specs, you want to get your songs to a good enough state so that when you submit them to a music publisher, they have a good idea of what you’re after in your music. And as I’m doing this myself, ease-of-use and a short time-to-production are absolutely key!

This is where GarageBand is literally a God-send. Most of the hard sound engineering stuff like EQ and mixdown is either done automagically, or is incredibly easy to tweak. It has allowed me to concentrate on producing my music rather than spending inordinate amounts of time learning how to use the recording software. The net result is that where it used to take me a couple of weeks to get a song close to a finished state, it now takes a couple of days; or in the case of You Stir My Soul, I produced the mostly-finished recording in a matter of hours! I can finally see the end of the tunnel to create my spec recordings and get my demo album out!

I used to scoff at GarageBand as not being “real” recording software. But the the sheer quality of the recordings it produces rivals any recording software I’ve used in the past. It may not be as full-featured as “Pro” recording packages, but for what it offers and what it can produced, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better solution for home recording.

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I’ve been a gigging musician for several years, playing in all sorts of venues. 90% of my gigs are just me singing and accompanying myself with a single guitar and keyboard, which has worked for me for a long time. But as of late, the artist in me has yearned to stretch his wings and produce a more sophisticated sound when I’m solo. It’s frustrating to play songs that have a lead in the middle of the song, and I’ve just got to strum along, or if it’s on the piano, I’ve just got to stick with the chart (I can’t improvise very well on the keys). So what to do?

Since I’ve made the switch to the Mac, I’ve discovered a wonderful little program called GarageBand that allows you to record music on your Mac. But interestingly enough, it also includes audio loops of all sorts of instruments, so you can literally create a song using just loops. The ramifications are clear: I finally have a way of easily creating song foundations for when I play solo. All I have to do is move the songs to my iPod! So begins my latest journey of creating song foundations. It’s very exciting to me because it’ll allow me to arrange songs for a wider genre of music than I’ve been playing. Talk about having a “band in the box.”

What inspired me to start doing this was seeing a guy at Downtown Disney a few months ago using an Akai MPC1000 Music Production Center for his background stuff, and playing guitar on top of his laid down tracks. I don’t have an extra $1000 to spend on something like that so it has been difficult getting started down this road. But with GarageBand, I should be able to lay down tracks really easily. Oooh I’m excited!

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For those of you who’ve known me for a long time, I’ve been a PC devotee for as long as I can remember, and used to scoff at the Mac as being a toy. But a few months ago, I decided to try out a MacBook Pro at my previous job, and what I thought would never happen happened. I fell in love with the Mac. I have to say that it really boils down to falling in love with OSX, which is an incredibly usable operating system. Anything before that, I’d still be scoffing at the Mac as being a toy. There were lots problems with OS9, and I just didn’t like the interface. But with the new version of the OS, it’s just incredible! But I digress…

To make a long story short, my former company closed its doors 3 months after I arrived – yikes! But the fortunate thing for me was that I had to opportunity to get some equipment in the company’s fire sale. I ended up with two G5 iMacs, and real nice Dell laser printer.  Included with my iMacs is a nice little music composition program called Garage Band. I’ve been playing around with it for a couple of days, and I just love it! It doesn’t have the features of my ProTools, but for spec’ing out songs, it is incredible!

Central to Garage Band is the ability to drag and drop loops onto the workspace to create the foundation for a song. It’s a very easy process. You can drop guitar loops, organ loops, percussion and bass loops – there’s lots to choose from, and within minutes you can have a full song constructed on your workspace. Then you can add your own instruments by plugging direct into your Mac, or using the built-in microphone (not really recommended as it’s a very sensitive condenser mic and it picks up EVERYTHING).

For instance, this evening, I got an idea for a new song. I browsed around the loops till I found an acoustic guitar, bass, and percussion loops that I liked, dropped them onto my workspace, and arranged pitch and tempo as needed. Then I plugged my ES-335 directly into my iMac using a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter cable. Now here’s the cool thing about plugging directly into your Mac: Garage Band comes with built-in amp modelers and effects such as a noise gate, reverb and even delay. There’s even two manual slots available to add distortion and specific types of amp models. As to the amp models, they’re not all that good, but they get the general idea across. I wanted to get kind of a Tube Screamer effect on top of a clean amp, and with a couple of clicks, I had it.

The great thing about Garage Band for me is that I now spend less time getting the foundations of a song laid down, and can concentrate on my compositional ideas. Looks like I’m going to have lots of late night dates with my iMac… 🙂

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