Author Archives: Russ Long

The Pro Sound News Holiday Gift Guide 2020

PSN Gift Guide 2020

Coming off of what could easily be described as the craziest year in my lifetime, the holidays will hopefully give us all an escape from the current Covid-19 reality. And to help the escape be even more successful, dig into our latest holiday gift guide — you’ll find a host of great new products (and a couple of older ones) that can make for the perfect gift for your favorite producer, engineer or musician.

Every Pro Sound News Holiday Gift Guide Ever!
Earthworks Audio ICON USB mic
Earthworks Audio ICON USB mic

USB mics are a dime a dozen these days and the majority of them feel (and sadly sound) like they are disposable. Not true with the Earthworks Audio ICON USB mic (www.earthworksaudio.com); this thing is made to last a lifetime. If there’s a USB mic whose look, feel and performance can be compared to driving a Ferrari, the ICON is it! The mic has a built-in pop filter, looks fantastic on camera and incorporates the legendary low-noise, non-colored, musical sound that has made Earthworks famous. The cardioid mic has a 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response, and after spending time recording with it, I found that besides voice, it beautifully captures virtually any instrument or sound source.

To top it off, the mic includes a custom Triad-Orbit base, and based on its impressive specs, you’d be hard pressed to think you weren’t recording with a high-dollar studio microphone rather than an affordable USB mic. Speaking of the studio, I should mention that there is also an ICON PRO studio version of the mic, equipped with an XLR connector rather than a USB port.

pro audio gift guide - Sonic Presence SP15 USB-C Spatial Microphone
Sonic Presence SP15 USB-C Spatial Microphone

At only $149, the Sonic Presence SP15 USB-C Spatial Microphone (www.sonicpresence.com) is absolutely the best way to capture stereo recordings, and using it is a complete blast. I fell in love with the first version of the Sonic Presence mic a couple of years ago and the current USB-C version is as close to perfect as imaginable. The stereo microphone set incorporates two small, omnidirectional mics that hang over your ears, sitting just in front of the ear canal so you can still use AirPods or IEMs for monitoring if desired. The Sonic Presence website has recommended apps depending on the desired quality, as the mic supports 24-bit/96 kHz. I’ve loved recording with the mic and it’s discrete enough to easily sneak into a concert (don’t tell anyone I said that, though). The SP15 is compatible with Android, Windows, USB-C equipped iOS devices and Mac OS. The mic can be used with USB-A computers by utilizing a USB-C to USB-A adapter cable.

pro audio gift guide - AcoustiTools
AcoustiTools

AcoustiTools from Acoustic Masterminds (www.acousticmasterminds.com) is an awesome iOS audio analysis app. The $24.99 module-based app allows four modules to be viewed and utilized simultaneously. Modules bundled with the basic application include Augmented Reality (allows the user to tag specific locations in an acoustic space and calculate the volume level, distance and delay for each tag), dB Meter and Real-Time Analyzer modules.

The RTA module looks fantastic and can be switched between spectrum color and solid blue displays; it includes a red problem frequency line that allows you to instantly find a problem frequency that has a tendency to feedback. The Diagnostic PEQ and Diagnostic GEQ are accessed via in-app purchases and each cost $14.99. The Diagnostic PEQ uses an innovative, real-time Diagnostic Parametric Equalizer module to analyze pink noise played through a system and then recommends a corrective parametric EQ setting for the system. The Diagnostic GEQ is essentially the same feature, but it recommends a corrective graphic EQ setting for the system rather than a parametric setting. The number of bands in the software is adjustable, so it can be set to match the number of bands on the system’s GEQ.  Besides configuring a space for sound reinforcement, this feature is also great for setting up a home theater or tweaking a car stereo.

UE SWITCH
UE SWITCH

In-ear monitors have become as much of a fashion statement as a tool for many artists and musicians. Ultimate Ears (www.ultimateears.com) was at the forefront of allowing users to customize the look of their IEMs, and now the new UE SWITCH system takes customization one-step further by allowing users to swap out custom-designed faceplates, providing unlimited visual options. SWITCH-equipped IEMs look identical to previous models, but their face plates are easily removed and replaced by using the SWITCH’s simple twist-lock mechanism and simply rotating the faceplate, removing it and replacing it with another in seconds.

The new interchangeable faceplates are just like the current faceplates, except for the twist-lock mount on the back. The SWITCH faceplates can incorporate any of the faceplate colors, materials and design options offered with standard IEMs. The UE SWITCH option includes three Faceplates and is available with any new UE Pro or CSX model for $199. The UE SWITCH upgrade is available for any existing UE Pro or CSX model for $199. This upgrade includes a three pack of faceplates.

Beyerdynamic TG D70 and TG I51

Beyerdynamic (www.beyerdynamic.com) has a pair of useful new mics that are worth checking out. The TG D70 utilizes the legendary M88 capsule and is designed specifically for kick drum, and it works extremely well for that purpose. It’s quite versatile as well, as I had good results using it on floor tom, bass and guitar cabinets, and trombone. Meanwhile, the TG I51 is an amazingly affordable workhorse microphone that lends itself to electric guitars, but also sounds great on snare, toms and bass guitar. Both mics are well made, include a carry bag and feature a built-in mounting system.

Patch & Tweak with Moog

Nothing beats a great book and there are a couple of fantastic ones that simply can’t be missed. Patch & Tweak with Moog (www.bjooks.com) is a beautifully designed book and a fantastic read. The book was written and designed by electronic musician Kim Bjørn and features a foreword by Hans Zimmer. The book covers a wide range of Moog synthesizer-oriented topics, including professional artist interviews, creative patch ideas, sound design tips, in-depth discussions with Moog engineers and an overview of Moog’s history.

There’s also a view of the Moog factory in Asheville, North Carolina which I’m fortunate to have visited multiple times. It truly is an amazing experience to see the precision and finesse that goes into building a synthesizer by hand, and if you can’t visit the factory in person, this book is the next best thing. Patch & Tweak with Moog is the ultimate studio coffee table book!

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces...

Sound Man: A Life Recording Hits with The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Eric Clapton, the Faces… by Glyn Johns (www.penguinrandomhouse.com) is a stunningly good read. The book sucks you in like a great novel, while secretly feeding you tons of wisdom in regards to producing, engineering and knowing how to interact with artists, managers and labels. I somehow missed the book when it was released in 2014 [It was in our Holiday Gift Guide that year! – Ed.], but thankfully superstar engineer Doug Sarrett turned me onto it last summer and I couldn’t be more grateful. Glyn Johns played a strong hand in the creation of many of my all-time favorite albums, and hearing the stories gives you a fly on the wall perspective as to what went into creating many of these masterpieces.

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

Ultimate Ears Fitkit, 18+ CSX IEM – A Real-World Review

Ultimate Ears Fitkit, 18+ CSX IEM
Ultimate Ears Fitkit, 18+ CSX IEM

Though no one realized it at the time, the face of live music was forever changed nearly three decades ago when Jerry Harvey, Van Halen’s monitor engineer, created a pair of custom in-ear monitors for drummer Alex Van Halen. In that moment, Ultimate Ears (UE) was born. Since then, the company has manufactured more than 100,000 in-ear monitors (IEMs). While there are dozens of companies in the market, UE remains at the top, no doubt in part because of its continued investment in new technology.

Historically, creating a pair of custom-fit IEMs would begin with an audiologist using a mold to create an impression of the musician’s ear canal, then using that impression to create the IEM’s custom fit. A few years ago, UE developed a computerized scanning process that allows bypassing the mold process, which many people consider very uncomfortable. While the scanning process is faster and more accurate, it still requires a trained professional to carry it out.

Real World Reviews: Ultimate Ears Bluetooth Cable

This brings us to today. In an effort to make IEMs even more accessible, Ultimate Ears developed and released the patented Fitkit system. Fitkit is currently compatible with four CSX IEMs: UE 5 CSX, UE 7 CSX, UE 11 CSX and UE 18+ CSX. Each pair of CSX IEMs includes the UE custom-fit IEMs, sweat-proof Bluetooth and auxiliary cables (each with a built-in mic), USB charging cable, extra battery for the Bluetooth cable, and a personalized hard case. Fitkit allows users to easily and accurately create their own ear impressions from home. I had the opportunity to give the Fitkit a try and found the entire process fascinating.

I began by selecting the IEM model. Since I have had great results with the standard UE 18+ Pro model, I went with the UE 18+ CSX. Similar to the UE 18+ Pro, the UE 18+ CSX incorporates a four-way crossover, triple bore with six proprietary, finely tuned balanced armatures (essentially, tiny speakers) per monitor design, along with the proprietary UE Pro True Tone Drivers that are integrated into the UE Pro Reference Remastered IEMs. That design results in impressive separation, precision and detail, along with an extended frequency response. After using the UE website to customize my IEMs, I placed the order.

A few days later, the Fitkit arrived at my door. The package includes two sizes of patented gel-filled molding tips, a mirror, a fitting device, a power adapter and a return shipping label. Users navigate the fitting process via the free Ultimate Ears Fitkit app (iOS or Android), which walks them through the entire process.

After you’ve inserted the molding tips in your ears, the app triggers the impression procedure: the molding tips warm up, shape themselves to your ears and then harden, perfectly capturing your ears’ geometry. After 60 seconds, the app prompts you to remove the tips and voilà, the impressions are complete. The process is quick, easy and completely painless. (And quite frankly, the in-ear warming is rather soothing.) Send the impressions back to UE with the included shipping label, and custom-fitted IEMs will be delivered a couple of weeks later.

The weak link in most in-ear monitors is the point at which the cable connects to the IEM, but UE’s CSX IEMs (and its professional models) use a nearly indestructible cable connection system that provides a quick and easy transition from one cable to the other, removing the weak link.

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about how the UE 18+ CSX would fit. I’ve owned several pairs of IEMs that fit perfectly, and this whole review would go to hell if UE’s amazingly simple fitting process yielded IEMs with a compromised fit. No surprise, but I had nothing to worry about. The fit was impeccable, and after listening to them nonstop since their arrival a couple of weeks back, I couldn’t be more pleased with their performance. The UE 18+ CSX IEMs are comfortable, extremely easy to insert and remove, and provide near-flawless sound reproduction. Anyone in the market for IEMs should give the CSX IEMs top consideration.

Ultimate Ears• https://custom.ultimateears.com/

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

PhantomFocus System Studio Monitors Review

PhantomFocus PFM UHD-1000 monitor
PhantomFocus PFM UHD-1000 monitor

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more passionate about audio than Carl Tatz. Not only is he serious about it, he knows it inside out. I got to know him before Recording Arts, his legendary Nashville studio, wound up in the hands of Sheryl Crow nearly two decades ago. Even in those days, more than anything else, Recording Arts was known for its exceptional monitoring. The fundamentals of the PhantomFocus System (PFS) were developed during Tatz’s Recording Arts tenure. That system has evolved into a portfolio of both physical studio designs and products that hold their ground against anything in the world today. The number of top engineers around the world who use Tatz’s talents to ensure their mixes accurately translate anywhere—be it streaming, on television or in movie theaters—continues to grow every year.

While Tatz often designs recording studios from the ground up, the PFS branding includes various pieces of hardware that are configured and “tuned” by his process, which combines physical properties, hardware design and system settings. Tatz can be hired to build a PFS studio from the ground up, but an existing studio can also bring him in to transform the facility into a PFS space through the integration of specific hardware that he configures via a combination of physics, software and his golden ears.

While the PFS process can be applied to any high-performance studio loudspeakers, Tatz had historically gravitated his clients toward the now-discontinued Dynaudio M1s because of their sound quality and their adaptability to the PFS process. The M1s were never perfect, but Tatz was convinced that they were the closest thing to perfection available on the market at the time.

Never one to settle for the status quo, Tatz began developing his own monitors. After finessing his dream over the years, the PFM UHD-1000 and PFM HD-1000 Professional Reference Monitors and PFM ICE Cube-12 Subwoofer are finally ready for public consumption. Tatz boasts that the monitors’ accelerated response times, phase linearity and tightly controlled mid-bass response result in high confidence, better and faster mixes, and increased enjoyment. My own extensive listening supports my assertion that this isn’t hype.

The Carl Tatz Interview, by Russ Long, Feb. 11, 2015

Carl Tatz Design PhantomFocus Monitor Optimization System (PFS), by Russ Long, Oct. 21, 2011

PhantomFocus PFM HD-1000 monitor
PhantomFocus PFM HD-1000 monitor

Both monitor models are passive and share nearly identical 8.2 x 17.8 x 12.2-inch cabinets with a built-in custom integrated IsoAcoustics pistonic decoupling system with a studio black luster finish. The UHD version, which is designed to be biamplified and features upgraded low-frequency drivers, weighs 24.1 pounds. The HD version is offered in two configurations: the PFM HD-1000A is actively biamped, requiring two channels of amplification per monitor, and the PFM HD-1000P features an internal Straight Wire passive crossover, requiring one channel of amplification per monitor.

The PFM ICE Cube-12 subwoofer is a 15.75-inch cube weighing 55 pounds. It incorporates a 700-watt amp that provides 120 dB maximum continuous SPL. It includes typical subwoofer functions including 40–140 Hz LPF with LFE Bypass and 0–180 Phase Switch. It’s important to note that both the PFM HD-1000 and UHD-1000 monitors are part of the PFS turnkey precision monitoring instrument ensemble and can only be purchased with the installation of a PhantomFocus System using the proprietary PFS tuning process.

I’ve spent a lot of time in PhantomFocus rooms around Nashville and my only complaint had been the rapid degradation of sound quality as you move away from the sweet spot. When you’re in the sweet spot, you’ll likely be experiencing the best monitoring situation of your career, but once you begin sliding one direction or another, the sound quickly deteriorates. I had always attributed this to PFS processing, but after spending time listening at The Upper Deck, one of the first studios to install PFM HD-1000 monitors, my tune has changed. The sweet spot of that room is still precise, but as you move in and out of the sweet spot, the transition is smooth, natural and subtle—an entirely different experience than listening in other PFS rooms with other monitor models.

The Ultimate Home Studio? Upper Deck Hits It Out of the Park, by Steve Harvey, Nov. 29, 2018

PhantomFocus PFM ICE Cube-12 Subwoofer
PhantomFocus PFM ICE Cube-12 Subwoofer

This was confirmed when I spent time listening at Doug Sarrett’s Uno Mas studio. Sarrett was an early adopter of the PhantomFocus System, and he updated the Tannoy Super Gold monitors that he’d been using for over two decades to the premium PFM UHD-1000 monitors; the results were stunning. The complete system has excellent imaging, pristine depth of field and accurate, extended low-frequency response regardless of monitoring volume. As is always the case with a PFS implementation, the speakers magically disappear, leaving a detailed sonic landscape. While the difference was subtle, the upgrade to the UHD version of the PFM monitor that I auditioned at Uno Mas in comparison to the HD version that I listened to at The Upper Deck was a definite improvement in both depth and clarity.

The new PhantomFocus monitors and subwoofer elevate monitoring accuracy to yet another level. Regardless of whether you are upgrading a current room or planning to build a space from the ground up, PFS along with PFM monitors and subwoofers should receive top consideration.

Carl Tatz Design • carltatzdesign.com

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com

DPA 4560 CORE Binaural Headset Microphone—A Real-World Review

In 1992, Denmark’s distinguished measurement equipment manufacturer Brüel & Kjaer spun off its specialist pro audio division. At that point, the sales and service of the B&K Series 4000 microphones were outsourced to Morten Støve and Ole Brøsted Sørensen, two former employees. Shortly afterward, they went on to form Danish Pro Audio (DPA), which launched its first product, a series of compact cardioid and omnidirectional condenser mics, in 1994. Since then, DPA has established itself as a leading manufacturer of high-quality condenser microphones for professional applications in studio, film & video, broadcast and sound reinforcement.

My first DPA purchase was a pair of 4061 Miniature Omnidirectional Microphones which I fell in love with after reviewing them nearly 20 years ago. Since the 4060 and 4061 share identical capsules but have slightly different sensitivities, I was very pleased to discover that the DPA 4560 CORE Binaural Headset Microphone (4560) was based around the current version of the 4060, now called the 4060 CORE Miniature Omnidirectional Microphone.

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The 4560 is a handpicked stereo pair (sensitivity within ±1.5 dB) of 4060 CORE microphones uniquely mounted on a pair of earhooks (from DPA’s 4266 Flex headset). The headset is ergonomically designed for easy adjustment and a comfortable fit. It is adjustable to fit any head shape and ear size and from more than a few feet, is virtually invisible. Included with the 4560 is a pair of foam windscreens that both secure the microphone’s position in the ear and provide wind noise damping. Since the 4560 terminates in DPA MicroDot connectors, it can be easily utilized with DPA’s standard XLR adapters along with high-end mic preamps, but it also works with the MMA-A Digital Audio Interface. This creates a compact and completely mobile binaural kit as once the 4560 CORE BHM is connected to the MMA-A’s MicroDot connectors, the MMA-A can then be connected directly to an iOS device or the USB port on a Windows or Mac PC. iOS operation is via the free DPA MAA-A app. The app includes gain control, HP filter activation, and the ability to store settings into one of four presets. There are also three recording Mode options (Mono, Stereo or Dual), but recording binaural requires the interface to be set to stereo.

Binaural recording is centered on the principle of placing microphones on an artificial head or an actual human’s head with the mics positioned either just outside the ear canals or at the bottom of the ear canal in close proximity to the eardrum. The recording technique facilitates extremely accurate sound reproduction through headphones, giving the listener the sense of actually being in the space where the recording was made. Creating binaural recordings has traditionally been quite expensive as dummy heads configured for binaural recording typically cost several thousands of dollars, and recording has to be done utilizing expensive low-noise mic preamps along with a professional recording medium. The 4560 is affordable ($1,100) and yields stunning results that will no-doubt rival the results from a binaural recording configuration that costs several thousand dollars.

Binaural recording captures the Head-Related Transfer Function (HRTF) which expresses how much the influence of the head, ears and torso affect the transmission of a soundwave from a sound source to the eardrums. Ear shape and size, head shape and size, and the distance between the ears are just some of the factors that contribute to the HTRF. This means that the most accurate binaural recordings will always be made using the listener’s head, not someone else’s head or a dummy head. That said, any binaural recording will typically create a more encompassing and 3D listening experience for everyone, even if the HRTF isn’t their own.

The applications for binaural recordings are endless and include capturing sound effects and location ambience for theatrical podcasts, capturing sound effects and/or soundscapes for film, TV, video games and VR, and capturing musical performances for headphone playback.

I’m a bit of an ambience fanatic, so I couldn’t wait to take the 4560 into the world to capture some audio. I found the headset a bit clumsy and slow to properly fit the first couple of times I put it on, but once I became used to the placement and fit, taking it on and off became second nature and took virtually no time.

The majority of my 4560 recording was done utilizing the MAA-A interface and iOS app, and everything worked like a charm. Capturing everything from the sound of traffic at a busy intersection to birds in a park to a winter thunderstorm (yeah, I live in Nashville, so it rains here even in the middle of the winter!) was flawless. I even snuck the headset into a symphony performance, where I wonderfully recorded a 62-piece orchestra at 24-bit/96 kHz.

While binaural recordings are designed for headphone listening, an inverted HRTF can be utilized to convert the binaural recording into a stereo recording perfectly suited for loudspeaker playback. DPA recommends a simple (+2 dB low shelf @ 480 Hz, -11dB bell, Q=1 @ 4 kHz, +8dB, Q=2 @8 kHz) curve to utilize a binaural recording for stereo playback. Of course, every HRTF is unique, so this curve becomes a starting point and adjustments should be made from this point according to acoustical analysis and/or taste. I used the 4560 to record an acoustic guitar in the studio and then applied the HRTF “decoder curve” to the recorded audio to use it in a track I was engineering, and it worked perfectly. I should also point out that users utilizing the 4560 CORE BHM for scientific purposes will want to incorporate the DPA DWA4060 calibrator inserts so the microphones can be perfectly calibrated.

In true DPA fashion, the DPA 4560 CORE Binaural Headset Microphone is a spectacular device that is fun to use, but more importantly, it wonderfully captures audio without compromise. Anyone interested in binaural or portable hi-resolution recording should give it top consideration.

DPA Microphones • https://www.dpamicrophones.com/

Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com