Original Resource is Vinyl Records
Los Angeles, CA (February 18, 2021)—Improvising a comedy podcast with multiple characters voiced by the same person is exactly as complicated to execute as you might think. Kelcey Ayer, whose imagination and voice are the engine behind The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio from Headgum, says keeping the production running smoothly comes down to his methodical creative process.
“I’ll go back and forth and try to go kind of fast,” explains Ayer, who also plays keyboards and sings in L.A.-based indie rock band Local Natives. “I record a voice and then back up a little bit, enable a different track, and then record another person’s voice in response to that person’s voice … for 10 minutes or something, and then look over it and tighten things up and change a line here or there.”
The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio is a podcast is about a fictional variety TV show that has been canceled but revived on radio. Inspired by shows like 30 Rock, The Larry Sanders Show and even The Muppet Show, which brought viewers behind the scenes to see the making of fictional variety shows, the podcast actually did begin as a radio show on Eastside Radio before Ayer retooled it as a podcast.
“It’s interesting to call it a podcast, because it’s not really a podcast in the normal sense of a person interviewing someone else—it’s half scripted and half improv,” he says. “I’ll write out ideas with my wife and we’ll bat around story arcs and things like that, and then I’ll just go into improv mode and then kind of run with ideas. It’s a one-man show. I make the music, I engineer everything [and] I write everything with the help of my wife.
Ayer voices all six characters himself, using different speech patterns and accents, as well as the Soundtoys Little AlterBoy plug-in to manipulate pitch. To keep his improvisations moving quickly, he keeps a Shure SM7 set up at a level that works well for every voice, plugged into a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface and preamp, which he runs into Ableton; listening back is handled through over-ear Sony MDR-7506 Dynamic Stereo Headphones. He also uses this setup to record original music as well as fake commercials, which serve as intermissions between the action.
When he first produced the series for radio, Ayer sent all the audio sources through one bus to be compressed, limited and mastered for that medium; for the podcast version, all the voices run through their own mic buses, and the music is separated and less compressed, so it retains the dynamics. “When you put out music or a podcast on Spotify or Apple Music or whatever, they will either bring the volume down to their normal level or they’ll bring it up to their normal level,” he explains. “I think it’s better for it to come up to their level.”
Taking the show from radio to a podcast also gave him time to reconsider and change some artistic choices he made the first time, when he was producing a full 25-minute episode in a matter of days.
“I’ve kind of gotten some of the voices to a better place … as far as who they are in my mind [and] how it should sound,” he says. “I had to go back to a few of the earlier episodes and re-record Bronco’s voice. I changed all of that for the first three or four episodes, and then changed Sally’s voice because people thought she was a robot, and it’s understandable because she sounds like a robot, but I … tried to bring the fact home that she is using a vocoder and is just a sarcastic person.”
The Kelcey Ayer TV Show on Radio • https://headgum.com/the-kelcey-ayer-tv-show-on-radio
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Los Angeles, CA (January 15, 2021)—A new reference-level screening room and lab on the Netflix campus in Los Angeles has been developed around new cinema technologies: Meyer Sound’s Ultra Reflex cinema audio solution and Sony’s modular and scalable Crystal LED displays. The project marks the first public installation of the emerging Ultra Reflex solution, created to overcome acoustical quandaries inherent to large-scale direct view (“emissive”) video displays in cinemas and similar settings.
Cinemas with more traditional acoustically transmissive projection screens have loudspeakers placed behind the screens, but that approach can’t be taken with a direct view video display, which features a hard surface. However, the obvious alternative—placing speakers around a direct view display—can compromise uniformity of coverage, stability of image localization and overall audio fidelity.
Ultra Reflex, then, is said to solve the problem by using a high-frequency component reflecting off the screen that is coupled with a direct radiating low-frequency component. The patent-pending solution encompasses proprietary acoustical designs, DSP technologies and optimization techniques.
For the initial launch period, the Meyer Sound Ultra Reflex solution is paired with Sony’s Crystal LED, though the Meyer technology is compatible with all hard-surface direct view displays. Meyer Sound Ultra Reflex is scalable and suitable for all direct view applications, from home cinema and post-production studios through corporate installations and commercial cinemas.
The Netflix site is, by necessity, designed to replicate both critical viewing and audio mixing as well as to accommodate VIP screenings. The room features a 17-foot wide by 9-foot high HDR-capable 4K Crystal LED from Sony. Proprietary DSP for optimization is supplied by a Meyer GALAXY 816 Network Platform. The screen channels are part of a Dolby Atmos system that has recallable snapshots for theatrical or 9.1.6 home entertainment playback modes. The balance of the system comprises 37 self-powered Meyer Sound cinema loudspeakers, including HMS Series lateral and overhead surround loudspeakers bolstered by USW-210P subwoofers for surround bass management and X-400C cinema subwoofers with VLFC very-low-frequency control elements for bass management and LFE.
Meyer Sound • www.meyersound.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Who among us has not on occasion pushed himself to the limit just to see how far, high, fast, strong he could be? Even I’ve done it once or twice, I think. But Sony, Sony has over the years periodically released products that were produced to show what could be done if all its creative forces were brought to bear. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing several of Sony’s Z Series components, perhaps so named because they had zero chance of selling in large quantities. It was not that they weren’t superb performers, but their feature sets were sufficiently idiosyncratic and their prices sufficiently high that broad audience appeal was never in the cards. The DMP-Z1 ($8995) was a prime example of this kind of effort. From its rigid, milled-aluminum, H-shaped chassis that isolated the digital and analog circuitry, to its five separate battery power supplies that isolated the digital and analog sections from AC power, to its customized, analog, rotary volume controller that could adjust the volume of four separate signal paths, it displayed a level of engineering reserved for state-of-the-art signature products. Alas, it was heavy, slow to boot up, and could only output to headphones or USB-C. I loved its sound, but its ergonomics were not something most audiophiles could live with on a day-to-day basis.
Sony’s latest Z Series offering, the SA-Z1 ($7999) is a nearfield loudspeaker system with built-in amplification and input selection, along with a bevy of special sonic adjustment options. It is a complete system that only requires users to supply a source or two. It is capable of producing state-of-the-art sound, but it must be set up precisely to achieve its full potential. How precisely? Keep reading and we will burrow down into the depths of the SA-Z1 speaker system’s obsessive search for sonic perfection.
The SA-Z1’s set of technical innovations include a cavalcade of unique advancements that display a level of forward thinking you won’t find in most audio components regardless of price. Let’s start with physical innovations and then move on to the electronics. The SA-Z1 is built on Sony’s FBW (Frame Beam Wall) chassis, which is a frame-and-beam construction with walls cut from a solid aluminum block. The enclosure itself comprises six pieces of aluminum plate. By using two different aluminum alloys combined with an assembly technique based on traditional Japanese construction methods, Sony’s engineers claim they have effectively suppressed “unnecessary audible resonance.”
The drivers in the SA-Z1 are mounted in a special way that attempts, through its physical and electronic design, to combine the best sonic elements of a single-driver design with the frequency response and power-handling characteristics of a multiway. While technically the SA-Z1 is a two-way speaker, it differs from conventional two-ways in several respects. First, let’s look at the physical side. The main tweeter is a 19mm (¾”) titanium-sputtered aluminum dome, which is vertically flanked by two 14mm (9/16″) “assist” tweeters. Sony calls this the “I-ARRAY” system: three tweeters mounted on a plate situated in front of the main forward-firing woofer—to simulate a coaxial driver arrangement. Sony calls its dome tweeter design a “balanced dome” because the voice coil works at a point where the weight of the diaphragm and the air load are balanced, pushing the dome’s break-up mode to a point above 100kHz (for the assist tweeters).
There is a second woofer inside the cabinet, which is placed so it is back-to-back with the forward-firing woofer. Sony refers to this as the “Tsuzumi” layout because it is similar in shape to the traditional Japanese drum. This rear-firing woofer is situated so that bass-expansion ducts allow low frequencies to expand to the sides as well as to the front. Large aperture slits located behind the rear driver’s diaphragm keep air turbulence from affecting the driver’s linear motion. The woofer’s specially designed, die-cast zinc basket also helps suppress piston-motion vibration.
Each driver subsystem has its own unique digital power amplifier. There is one for the main tweeter, a second for the assist tweeters, a third for the forward-firing woofer, and a fourth for the rear-firing woofer. Why so many amplifiers? Because by combining the amplifiers with FPGA-control Sony could accomplish some spectacularly accurate time and phase alignment. The SA-Z1 system allows for the precise adjustment of the wave front. According to Sony, “the SA-Z1’s multi-amplifier system and unique field programmable gate array (FPGA) perfectly synchronizes the wavefront between driver units. The precisely aligned wavefront and broad frequency response are capable of delivering both the power of an expansive orchestral sound stage or the focus of an intimate solo.”
The power amplifiers are also special. Sony’s original S-Master amplifier circuit was a non-feedback digital design. The ZA-Z1 expands that circuit by adding a second amplifier that acts as a feed-forward amp to correct digital switching errors. Users have the option of using either the digital amplifier by itself or with the analog feed-forward engaged. The power amplifiers employ a Gallium Nitride (GaN) MOSFET. The higher switching speed of the GaN reduces ringing. According to Sony, “this means that the amplification errors are significantly reduced, even before the signal is error-corrected by the feed-forward amplifier.”
Because Sony could not find any off-the-shelf digital signal processors (DSP) that could accomplish its design goals, the SA-Z1 design team opted to build, from the ground up, its own field programmable gate array (FPGA). Using an FPGA allowed the SA-Z1 designers to include a multiplicity of signal processing that, so far, is unique to the SA-Z1. Sony begins with a user-engageable remastering DSD engine that converts any and all PCM signals into DSD 11.2MHz. The SA-Z1 can also upscale PCM via DSEE HX processing, which according to Sony, “intelligently recognizes instruments, voices, and musical genres. By identifying these and the relative energy of audio, it can accurately rebuild audio lost during digital compression.”
Another feature enabled by the FPGA is Sony’s “D.A. Assist,” which allows the user to choose between two different amplification schemes. In the “standard” position, the analog amplifier acts only as an error corrector for the digital amplifier. In the “blended” position, the analog amplifier begins to drive the speaker units along with the digital amplifier, giving the overall sound a less digital, more analog sound. Further sonic control comes from the “Assist Woofer Motion” controls. These allow you to lock the rear woofer in place rather than use it as an assist to the front-firing woofer. “Active” drives the woofer via the amplifiers while “fixed” does not. You can also change the frequency range covered by the rear-firing woofer when in active mode. The “narrow” setting provides the tightest bass; “standard” offers a wider affected frequency range; and “wide” is the most expansive range.
On top of all the previously mentioned special FPGA-enabled features, the most interesting one added to the Sony SA-Z1 is undoubtably the “Assist TW Time Alignment.” This allows the user to intentionally change the time alignment between the main tweeters and the assist tweeters. The “sync” setting delivers perfectly time-aligned sound between the drivers. The “advance” setting moves the main tweeters alignment ahead of the assist tweeters, while the “delay” setting retards the main tweeters’ response in relation to the assists. When would you want to intentionally take the drivers out of time alignment? When you find that you want a more incisive “forward” sound or a “softer,” more euphonic presentation, which will, of course, be based on the source’s sonic characteristics and your own musical tastes.
Setup and Ergonomics
The first time I saw the Sony SA-Z1 speaker system was at a special demonstration at the 2019 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. At that time, I wrote: “For the listening session I was plunked down into a comfy chair that placed my ears about four feet from the loudspeakers and vertically just below the main tweeter array. The loudspeakers themselves were placed about six inches back from the front edges of a butcher-block-topped, black-cloth-covered table. The rear of the speakers were about seven inches from the wall. The reason I’m spending space describing the setup is that positioning the new Sony speaker system is critical to its optimal performance.”
When the SA-Z1 system arrived, it had been over eight months since the last time I saw the system properly set up. It arrived with a single informational sheet with only four lines of physical set-up instructions: “For optimal performance the speakers need to be set up on a desk, not speaker stands. As a starting point, set the sheet speakers 730mm apart and 150mm from the back wall. Do not toe-in the speakers. Ideally, main center tweeters should be at the same height as the listener’s ears.” That was the sum total of set-up info.
So, like a good audiophile, I tried to follow the instructions as closely as possible. I converted my shipping/receiving/storage room adjacent to my main system and office for use with the Sony system. It already had a nice rock-hard butcher-block table for a surface that was positioned by a wall suitable for use as the main wall for the Sony system. I also had an old stuffed chair with a lower than average seating position that put my ears exactly parallel with the Sony’s main tweeters. The primary difference between my final setup and the Sony setup at RMAF was that I placed a small oriental rug on the table, because the front of the table surface extended further in front of the loudspeakers than the table surface at the Sony demo. I employed the rug to eliminate midrange and upper frequency “floor bounce” from the table surface.
After starting with Sony’s recommended set-up dimensions, moving speakers up, down, wider, narrower, closer and farther from the wall, I decided that, yes, the Sony recommendations produced the best overall performance, but a guy’s gotta try. The SA-Z1 comes with a remote, which turned out to be a very useful addition that saved a lot of standing, reaching, and lunging for the controls, which were located on the top of the left-hand loudspeaker in my setup, just out of reach from my listening seat.
During the early stages of setup, I was surprised to discover that the SA-Z1 speaker system does not support a subwoofer. I lugged a sub into position, under the table, snaked the RCA cable from the sub to the back of the left-hand SA-Z1 speaker enclosure, which has all the input and output connections (you can easily make it the right-hand via a switch in the back), and discovered there simply were no subwoofer or line-level outputs available. The reason for this omission is that the SA-Z1 designers decided that it would be too easy to screw up the sound with a subwoofer to allow end-users the power to do so. How you feel about this, and how it affects your opinion of the SA-Z1 system, depends on how much you value low bass. Midbass, the SA-Z1 does rather well, but low bass, no matter how you configure the SA-Z1 system, will remain minimal at best.
The SA-Z1 has a plethora of inputs, including balanced analog XLR, unbalanced analog RCA, unbalanced analog stereo mini, USB-B, TosLink, and, finally a special digital Walkman input. The only inputs you won’t find are RCA SPDIF or AES/EBU digital. I was able to connect a Sony NW-WM1Z via the digital Walkman connection with no issues. All the analog inputs also functioned properly. The only input glitch I came across was an Astell & Kern SP2000 player that would not produce sound via the USB digital connection but worked fine via its analog outputs. (A HiDiz AP-80 connected without issues via that same digital input.) Other sources used during the review included the Project Pre-Box S2’s analog outputs. The Pre-Box S2 was connected via SPDIF to a Raspberry PI 3 with Allo Hat with a Roon-compatible software package installed for streaming sources.
As for outputs, as I mentioned earlier, there are no line-level or subwoofer outputs. The SA-Z1 system also does not support headphones. It is its own self-contained thing—a complete musical universe unto itself…but what a universe it is!
Occasionally, I invite a friend over for a listening session once I get a new piece of gear installed and set up to my satisfaction. It always useful to get another take on what I’m hearing. In this age of Covid-19 that was a bit harder to engineer, but really no big thing. The first slightly muffled words out of my masked friend Josh’s mouth, after about ten seconds of listening, were “This is crazy!” Of course, I wondered what exactly he meant by that. It took him a while to fully explain what those three words encompass. I will try to paraphrase.
Listening to the system for the first time for him was like stepping into a room that contained a really great stereo system. And Josh (that’s his real first name) has more than 20 years of experience listening to really great systems in purpose-built rooms. The Sony system creates a three-dimensional soundfield that envelops the listener in the same way a finely tuned room-based system can, but it does it in a much more confined space, hence the crazy part of the exclamation. After a couple of minutes of listening Josh turned and said, “I have to close my eyes to listen because when I open them, what I hear is so different from what I’m seeing. I just can’t relate…”
What he was seeing was two modest-sized black boxes sitting on a table, but what he was hearing was a life-sized recreation of a musical event.
Harry Pearson, founder of The Absolute Sound, was the first writer that I remember using the phrase “Time Traveling Machine” when referring to a stereo system. During my listening time with the Sony SA-Z1 system, I found that phrase bouncing around inside my brain on a regular basis. This phenomenon was especially striking when I played some of the live concert recordings of the Boulder Philharmonic that I’ve made over the years. I went back to one particular recording, made via DSD64 in 2013, of a modern piece by Richard Danielpour, “A Woman’s Life,” featuring soprano Angela Brown. Through the SA-Z1 Ms. Brown’s voice bloomed beautifully as she leaned on a note while her image dimensions remained rock-solid with clearly defined parameters that did not change as her dynamics went from pianissimo to forte. Also, the celeste and xylophone ostinato figure from the back of the orchestra had a clarity and definition to each note that many systems tend to blur slightly, but through the SA-Z1 each rapid-fire hit remained distinct.
The spatial precision of the SA-Z1’s soundstage presentation was state of the art. With small groups, such as my recordings from the Rockygrass Academy workshops, each instrument was precisely placed, with clearly defined dimensions and height and width cues. When I played a large orchestral recording or a big pop production, the soundstage width, height, and depth rendition followed the dictates of the recording with superb accuracy. If the recording was wide, so was the SA-Z1’s soundstage, but with mono recordings the image seemed no wider than a dime.
One of the more alluring characteristics of a tube-based system comes from its smooth, electronically grain-free textural presentation. The SA-Z1’s midrange has a purity and lack of electronic texture that is reminiscent of a great tube-based system, but without the negative aspects of noise or tube-aging artifacts. The only textures present with the SA-Z1 are those in the recording itself. Even on tracks with intentional textural distortion such as “Xanny” by Billie Eilish, the SA-Z1 retains the delicacy and purity of the vocals and background bits while preserving all the intentional edginess of the ragged bass burbles and rumbles underneath.
Given that the SA-Z1 has no subwoofer for low bass, and only four small 4″ woofers, even with all of Sony’s port and DSP wizardry, it can’t be expected to produce much in the way of low bass below 50Hz, and it doesn’t. But by way of compensation, the bass that the SA-Z1 does have is extremely good as far down as it goes. Take that cut “Xanny” for instance—the SA-Z1 captures all the subtle and not so subtle textures of the bass’s leading edge so well that the lack of follow-through at the extreme bottom of its range isn’t so noticeably missing. Also, the harmonic balance doesn’t sound lighter than neutral, as often happens when a system doesn’t extend to the bottom octave. Fortunately for those listeners who crave a neutral harmonic balance the SA-Z1 design team didn’t try to warm up the sound to compensate for the lack of low bass like many “classic” mini-monitors do. Straight, clean, and neutral sums up the SA-Z1 harmonic spectrum.
Sony’s published specifications claim that the SA-Z1 system’s high-frequency range extends up to 100kHz. I doubt that any human could, subjectively, confirm or deny the validity of this particular specification. My own hearing gets up to 13kHz, so I’m not a lot of help on that bat-ear stuff, but like many older audiophiles, my hearing below my upper threshold has become even more sensitive to those upper frequency anomalies that are still within my purview. Like its midrange, the SA-Z1’s upper frequencies had a purity and lack of electronic character that were exemplary. The string-section sound on my own recordings had an airy quality that captured all the delicacy and air of massed strings.
As you might surmise, the SA-Z1 is most definitely a one-person system. Stereo choo-choo (placing a listener behind the main sweet spot) doesn’t deliver the same immersive sound. Listening from across the room won’t impress you either—it sounds like a small system. No, you have to “assume the position,” and settle down into that lower-than-average comfy chair for the SA-Z1 to do its magic. And the sweet spot is small—just large enough that some head-bobbing to the music won’t kick you out of the right spot. But move more than three or four inches to one side or the other and you’ll be outside the ideal listening window. Moving your head forward a couple of inches also affects the soundstage—it got even bigger and wider to the point where it was almost like listening to big headphones, before I got too close and the imaging finally broke down. There is an ideal listening spot for the SA-Z1, and it’s obvious when you’re in it.
I’m sure that some percentage of readers turned the page to another review when they came to the technical description of the SA-Z1’s DSP processing because some audiophiles firmly believe that the less you do to an audio signal the better it will sound, and any amount of DSP is not a good thing. One-half hour listening time with the SA-Z1 could change their minds. I found that with most PCM material I preferred the DSD transcoding and upsampling to 11.2MHz. With upsampling engaged the music had a more natural, relaxed, and grain-free quality. I also found the DSEE HX to be sonically beneficial to the point where, after initial and several subsequent A/B listening sessions, I left it in the “on” position. Clarity and spatial precision marginally but universally improved with DSEE HX activated.
It only took a pair of A/B sessions comparing the active with the locked bass for me to conclude that the active bass was by far superior to the locked setting. The bass was fuller with the active setting but still well-defined with no bloat. The tightest bass was realized with the “narrow” setting, just as Sony indicated in its manual (which arrived via e-mail about a month into the review). Most of the time the “standard” setting was my preferred option.
The final bit of DSP, and most likely the one to cause the most raised eyebrows, was the “synch” control, which allows the user to move the tweeters in front of, in synch with, or behind the woofer’s time alignment. Ninety-five percent of the time I preferred the properly time-aligned setting, but occasionally I found a nasty pop recording that benefitted from the “delay” setting.
Daring to be different is something that Sony has perfected over its long history. While nothing will be as earth-shaking as the original Sony Walk-man and the portable music revolution that followed in its wake, Sony continues to innovate in form, function, and performance while most other companies are content to create “best value for the money” or “most expensive” audio components. The Sony SA-Z1 is a prime example of Sony’s innovative prowess. It sets a new standard for what small desktop speaker systems can do in soundstaging, harmonic purity, dynamic acuity, and low-frequency speed and definition. What the SA-Z1 lacks is commensurate low bass to match the rest of its frequency range, and provisions for an SPDIF or AES/EBU digital input. And no, you can’t just add a subwoofer.
I would advise any audiophile who listens primarily to a nearfield system for his reference to experience the Sony SA-Z1 system. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some listeners who walked in with no intention of acquiring the SA-Z1 system find that they can’t leave for home without it. Josh is 99% sure he’s buying one for his new office…it is simply that good.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Active desktop loudspeaker system
Driver complement: One ¾” (19mm) soft-dome tweeter, two 9/16″ (13mm) soft-dome tweeters, two 4″ (100mm) midrange/bass drivers per side
Frequency response: 51Hz–100kHz (-10dB)
Formats supported: PCM up to 768/32, DSD22.4MHz
Analog inputs: Balanced XLR, unbalanced RCA, unbalanced stereo mini jack
Digital inputs: USB-B, TosLink, Sony Walkman
Power output: 106W (total)
Dimensions: 7 7/8″ (199mm) x 8¼” (207mm) x 12 7/8″ (326mm)
Weight: 23 lbs., 2.4 oz.
Original Resource is Articles – The Absolute Sound
Original Resource is Vinyl Records
Culver City, CA (December 7, 2020)—Sony had an ace up its sleeve when Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti’s Safer at Home emergency order limited activity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. Can’t work on the dub stage? No problem: Take the stage home with you.
Sound teams at Sony Pictures Entertainment were already working on some major movie projects when the work-from-home order came down last Spring. That gave Sony an opportunity to roll out its new virtual monitoring software, already in development.
Sony offered a preview of the technology, Sony 360 VME (Virtual Mixing Environment), during the recent Mix Sound for Film & TV event. According to a Sony spokesperson, the software is currently under evaluation as a beta version only within the Sony group. The company has not yet decided on a business model for the product.
Sony 360 VME captures the impulse response of any physical space and any speaker configuration, from Dolby Atmos to stereo, generating an algorithm that replicates that environment for headphone playback of any audio source. The algorithm, together with an individual’s HRTF, is saved as a profile in the AAX plug-in or standalone application. Different rooms can be saved as separate profiles and selected in the software.
To create a profile, microphones are placed in an individual’s ears and the speakers in the dub stage, editing room or other listening environment are swept with sine waves and measured. With the room profile captured, calibration is repeated with the listener wearing headphones—Sony provided the sound teams with a prototype set optimized for use with Sony 360 VME—to create a personal HRTF measurement. The user can then work at home with his or her headphones replicating the acoustic environment and speaker setup of their familiar dub stage or edit room.
Sony also presented comments from users, including Will Files, re-recording mixer and supervising sound editor on Ghostbusters: Afterlife (scheduled for release March 2021) and sound designer on Venom: Let There Be Carnage (June 2021). According to Files, when his profile was calibrated for the Cary Grant Theater on Sony’s Culver City lot, “My first instinct was to say, mute the speakers, I want to hear the headphones. But they said, ‘You are hearing the headphones.’ It’s like a magic trick.”
Post-lockdown, returning to the dub stage after using the new software at home, “We were all pleasantly surprised by how well the 360 VME headphone environment translated to the Cary Grant. There were no big surprises,” said Files.
“Even when things go back to somewhat normal, now that people have gotten accustomed to using technology like this, I have a feeling more and more people will be working from home for more time on projects.”
Boundless by Sony • www.sony.com/en_us/boundless.html
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Hollywood, CA (December 4, 2020)—When Paul Boutin looks back at his career as an engineer, mixer, producer and musician, the word “luck” comes up a lot. “It was a lot of luck,” he says, “a lot of being there at the right time and working with the right people.”
Boutin is being modest; it takes more than luck to occupy the chair next to double-digit Grammy-winning super-producers like Humberto Gatica and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds. And the people he’s worked with? It’s a long list of multi-platinum-selling artists, many known by just their first names: Michael, Janet, Céline, Barbra, Stevie, Whitney.
Born in France, Boutin—now a Grammy-winner himself—was on course to become a biologist but didn’t make it into the only school on his list. “My mother said, ‘Go and do music; that’s what you’ve always wanted to do.’ I was lucky to be accepted at Berklee College in Boston and started doing songwriting,” he says. “But I wanted something concrete, so I did some arranging and some synthesis, then I went into music production and engineering.”
A friend’s invitation took Boutin to Los Angeles, where he picked up regular work at a couple of studios before Record Plant manager Rose Mann hired him as a runner. “I was lucky enough to become an assistant pretty fast and was put on a lot of good sessions. I worked a lot with Humberto Gatica, including with Céline Dion. He became sort of a father figure,” he says.
A six-month stint working on various Babyface projects led to Boutin’s current long-running gig. “Kenny was building his studio at the time and said, ‘Want to come over?’ That was in ’96—and I’ve been here ever since.”
The first song produced at Edmonds’ Brandon’s Way facility was a Grammy-nominated collaboration with Stevie Wonder, “How Come, How Long.” Boutin laughs, “We weren’t sure everything was going to work. There were still carpenters in the studio.”
Brandon’s Way opened with a Euphonix CS2000 desk in one room, later upgraded to a CS3000, with an SSL 4000G+, later replaced by a 9000J, in another. “Since then, we’ve moved to an SSL Duality,” he says.
During the current coronavirus pandemic, Boutin has also been employing more modest technology. On Toni Braxton’s new album, Spell My Name, which he co-produced, there were still some minor vocal changes and fixes to do when it became too risky for the singer, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, to visit the studio.
“She’s not technical and she doesn’t have a mic, so I told her, do it on your iPhone—because the iPhone microphone is pretty good,” he says. “I had her record in a closet. I said, ‘Listen to the song so you have the tempo, then sing whatever lines you want. Keep singing them over and over and I’ll pick what’s good.’ I figured out what was the proper EQ to make it sound like what we already had, and it worked.”
The tech went up a notch when Boutin and Edmonds worked remotely with Tori Kelly on her A Tori Kelly Christmas album. “We did all the tracks here and she would sing to them. She has a Logic setup and a Sony C-800G mic. There’s a track, ‘Joy to the World,’ that we made gospely. She’s incredible—she sang the whole song to a click, then we put the music around it.”
Edmonds, who caught COVID-19 in March and quarantined at the studio, has since been focusing on live and pre-recorded social media performances. Boutin employed the CEntrance MixerFace portable audio interface on a number of those videos, including an acoustic “How Come, How Long” Edmonds performed in tribute to George Floyd, whose death in police custody sparked nationwide protests in May.
More recently, Boutin has added videographer to his job titles, beginning with a video of Edmonds’ daughter performing a Billie Eilish cover for a school project. “We shot it on the iPhone 11,” he says.
He and Edmonds followed up with a shoot in the studio and surrounding streets for a children’s charity event. “So now I’m shooting videos and editing in Final Cut Pro,” says Boutin. “We did a whole video in a day and it cost nothing. It’s fun!”
Paul Boutin • www.paulboutinonline.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Los Angeles, CA (November 9, 2020)—From the moment Roddy Ricch’s platinum-certified debut album, Please Excuse Me for Being Antisocial, existed as a thought in mid-March, 2019, until it was released on December 6, 2019, recording engineer Chris Dennis was at the artist’s side, helping him perfect its sound. The pair recorded in various studios such as Record Plant, Glenwood Place Recording, Ameraycan, as well as New York’s Jungle City, where “The Box” was created. That hit was celebrating its ninth week atop the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 2020 when the preventive measures against COVID-19 postponed or canceled virtually all shows—and shuttered recording studios—for the foreseeable future. The music industry had paused, but the need to build on Ricch’s success had not, so the pair got to work.
With a new personal studio in his Los Angeles home centered around a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface, Redco Audio Little Red Cue Box, Yamaha HS8 studio monitors, and Sony C800G microphone, the 22-year-old chart-topping phenom and Dennis have mostly eschewed professional studio spaces while crafting Ricch’s upcoming sophomore album. The result is that while the multi-platinum engineer told Pro Sound News in May that they had recorded 45 new songs by early April, when we caught back up with him in late September, the number had ballooned to more than 100.
“We’re kind of slowing down on the amount that we record, and spending more time on the songs we have recorded,” says Dennis. “Adding second verses, maybe features, and just adding stuff on them. We’re really just exploring different sounds.”
That would explain why Ricch implied in an August GQ interview that he had enough material recorded to drop an album at any point, but wasn’t going to just yet. At the time, he reasoned he was looking to make a body of work. Dennis says now instead of simply getting beats from producers and finding how to fit Ricch into the producer’s already-completed sonic vision, he and Ricch have been reaching out to different musicians for specific sonic needs and congealing the disparate sounds into a complete statement.
Dennis explains, “I think he’s really trying to tell a real story from song one to whatever the last song may be, with not only the lyrics but also the actual music. He’s getting more into an executive producer role now.”
A typical recording session in a pandemic doesn’t exist for Ricch and Dennis. No longer having to partly structure their days around studio availability, Ricch records whenever creativity strikes and for however long. Dennis might get a call one night to pull up to the studio and they’ll lock in for three hours. The same thing can happen the next night, but the session stretches into 18 hours.
The results have apparently been undeniable. “We have some amazing records, but Roddy is a true artist,” says Dennis. “He knows his music and puts a lot of work into making sure it’s something he’s happy with and not making it sound like something he’s already released.” Dennis adds that outside of periodic check-ins on the progress of the album, Ricch’s label Atlantic Records “gives him a lot of freedom when it comes to his music and when he wants to release it.”
While the pandemic provides the pair with time to work, it can still fence a creative in. Recording from home hasn’t necessarily precluded Ricch from collaborating with artists, but it has limited the ways in which that collaboration can take shape. “Sometimes he would prefer an artist or someone he was to work with pulls up, so he could feel out their vibe, just like any other artist,” Dennis explains. “It’s mainly been people sending us stuff over email, text, or whatever I may be.”
Working in a home studio is, by its very nature, a more personal experience. That has revealed itself in the music being created—said to be more intimate than his previous album, delving deeper into Ricch’s personal life—and in the friendship between Ricch and Dennis that inspired the engineer to move to L.A. in August, during a pandemic, primarily so he could be closer to Ricch and be available whenever needed. “We used to pull up to the studio and we get into work mode right away. When I’m working at his house, it gives you an opportunity to see them in their own personal space and see them be more of themselves.”
Whether we get the new album this year or not, one thing is certain, it will be an effort influenced by the world around him, from the sequencing of the album to its reflection of the world that we’ll hear in it. “People can only write about what they’re experiencing and seeing,” says Dennis. “Right now, we’re all seeing this right now, so it’s going to influence you, the way you’re writing, the way you move. It’s definitely creeping into the music for sure.”
Chris Dennis • www.cdqengineering.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Premium design, Well-balanced presentation, Natural midrange voicing, Good imaging, Great BT implementation, Strong value
Cheaper build and feel, Sponge earpads aren’t as comfortable as memory foam
The DEVA’s versatility makes it an easy recommendation, best suiting those looking for wireless convenience for their TV or PC setup without compromising musical performance.
Hifiman is a staple in the audiophile industry, renowned for their high-performance yet cost-effective headphones. Their planar headphones are perhaps most lauded and are wide and frequent recommendations by both users and critics. Having experienced many of their old and new models, I would say that Hifiman’s headphones, in general, carry quite balanced and appealing tonalities. This becomes most exciting when filtered down to a lower asking price and the new DEVA usurps the Sundara as the cheapest headphone in their line-up. It also brings a slightly revised design alongside wireless connectivity from an included Bluetooth module. The DEVA promises the Hifiman sound beloved by so many at a lower price with the added convenience of dual wired/wireless input.
The DEVA is available for $299 USD or $219 without the Bluemini module. You can read more about the DEVA and treat yourself to a pair on Hifiman’s website here.
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
Weight: 360g (+15g with Bluemini)
Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20KHz
Output power: 230mW
Battery Life: 7-10hrs (depending on volume and codec)
The Pitch –
Bluemini BT Module
The DEVA much like the Ananda revision released last year offers wireless connectivity. However, unlike that model, the headphone itself doesn’t contain any additional circuitry, rather a separate module does the heavy lifting. This is to be taken as a bonus as it permits a completely unadulterated wired experience should users want to extract maximum performance from the headphones with a larger dedicated source. The module itself is also very promising with huge codec support including LDAC, Apt-X HD, Apt-X and AAC. Apt-X low latency is the only notable omission, though source compatibility is limited on this one and regular Apt-X has low enough latency to service videos and movies.
Neo Diaphragm (NsD)
Hifiman’s headphones all employ planar magnetic drivers (PMD) that offer a cleaner transient response than traditional dynamic drivers. Their large surface area combined with more uniform force distribution permits a more physical bass response and sharper imaging. PMD’s also offer lower distortion as they are less susceptible to modal break up. Hifiman take this one step further with NsD that was first introduced with the Sundara if memory serves me correctly. It comprises of a “supernano” diaphragm that is 80% thinner than prior designs equating to an even sharper transient response and increased detail retrieval. Though I am unable to confirm whether this is the same driver as the Sundara, many similarities are to be observed. Further comparisons will follow my sound analysis.
The DEVA has a similar unboxing to the Sundara which is quite rewarding for the consumer. An internal tray slides out from the outer sleeve showcasing the headphones in a satin fabric inlet. There’s a cutout containing the Bluemini module, a 1/4″ adapter, 3.5mm audio cable alongside a type-C USB cable. Overall, a simple yet effective setup for the headphone’s intended uses.
Design & Build –
The DEVA resembles its closest sibling, the Sundara, most while introducing a distinctly different aesthetic with its revised headband design and colour scheme. The colour choice is clean and very appealing to my eyes, a tasteful tanned leather combined with metal-esque satin silver frame. That said, though appearing premium, the construction has obviously been subject to some cost-cutting, being entirely plastic in nature. It’s also a bulkier headphone overall, the Sundara feeling noticeably more premium with its sleeker metal build in the hand. Nonetheless, this does not feel like an explicitly poorly built headphone, with convincing solidity and even joins and finish across all components forming a coherent and well-realised product.
The headband design is also markedly different, a thick and heavily padded unit as opposed to the suspension band on Hifiman’s other models. This is in order to accommodate a single-entry input for the Bluemini module, necessitating wiring running from left to right. In wearing, it provides a relatively low-profile fit, conforming well to my head shape, though those with wider temples may have issue as a result. Still, the consensus appears to suggest this is a comfortable headphone for many. Though heavily padded, I still found the suspension headband on the Sundara to spread the weight of the headphones more evenly which will be something to consider if you plan on using the headphones all day long.
Both the included Type-C and audio cables are pleasant braided units and a nice step up from previous Hifiman accessories. That said, they are still very stiff with a lot of memory, meaning they retain kinks and bends in addition to carrying more microphonic noise than usual. Still, the cable otherwise demonstrates good construction, the fabric jacket is nice as are the metal terminations albeit lacking strain relief of any kind. A nice QOL feature are the split colour jacks, silver for the source and black for the headphone side which makes orientation a bit easier. Altogether, it’s evident that this is a cheaper headphone than the Sundara and Ananda, but it is not a cheap headphone in isolation; and it’s good to see that Hifiman are starting to set higher standards with their build quality.
Fit & Comfort –
Despite employing a plastic construction, the DEVA remains quite hefty at 360g or 385g with the Bluemini module – making it around 15g heavier than the Sundara. I found that they would still produce a mild hotspot at the top of my head after a few hours while the Sundara would remain comfortable all day long. Meanwhile, we observe a similar earpad construction; cloth on the inner surface and pleather on the internal and external faces. The lush memory foam padding of the Sundara has been replaced with simple sponge here, however, as the hangers now articulate, I still found the DEVA to conform well to my head shape. Still, the DEVA simply doesn’t feel as planted on the head as the Sundara so fit stability is reduced. Though remains sufficient for stationary listening if easily tipped when out and about. In isolation, the DEVA is a comfortable headphone, but it is a noticeably less premium experience compared side by side with the Sundara.
Bluemini Module –
I’m actually quite enthusiastic about the Bluemini, it isn’t compact but is far from as large as it could’ve been. The case is a simple matte plastic but with convincing texture and finish. It feels light but purposefully so, likely to minimise asymmetry of the headphone’s weight when installed. You do notice the additional 15g but it wasn’t even something that caused discomfort nor required me to stop using them. It interfaces via a 4-prong TRRS 3.5mm plug and there’s an indent on the face of the headphone that provides a guiding groove to ensure the connection is stable and reliable. The ability to remove the adapter is a generational step up from the Ananda BT as it permits unimpeded wired use too. The Bluemini is a streamlined wireless experience but also a non-frills one so don’t expect great app support, eQ, etc.
The bottom contains the main controls, one power/MFB and one for pairing in addition to a Type-C connector that both enables charging of the device in addition to firmware updates and USB-DAC functionality. It also houses an LED that denotes connection and battery status. My main qualm is with this indicator LED, it’s very bright and flashes constantly when connected, I’m hoping a firmware update can address this in future. The adapter has very wide BT codec support (LDAC, Apt-X HD, Apt-X, AAC and SBC), essentially as good as you could ask for in 2020. Pairing is intuitive and it reconnects to previously paired devices in just a few seconds. Wireless range is also good but not the best I’ve experienced.
I was able to traverse within the same room while maintaining a rock-solid connection, but leaving the room quickly saw the sound become intermittent. They do reconnect quickly, but again, work best with line of sight to the transmitter as with all wireless devices. Those with a home-theatre setup or larger living room may want to position the transmitter in front of the screen while those at any size PC setup will likely have no issues. Latency was also perfectly usable, with just very slight lip sync when watching videos, one of the lesser affected BT implementations I’ve come across likely due to the wide codex support. I don’t personally see a lot of users buying these for commute but know there is a market for that. Of course, there is no passive isolation, but the connection was strong enough not to drop on the train or in the CBD where there’s substantially more interference than home environments.
When connected over BT, Hifiman quote 7-10hrs of runtime depending on volume, and I was receiving a good 8.5hrs consistently on 25% volume and found maximum volume surprisingly generous. In USB-DAC mode, the runtime curiously drops to a quoted 4-5hrs due to the higher maximum volume. Considering the sensitivity of these headphones, necessitating a dedicated amplifier when wired, these are both very good results and very usable for the headphone’s intended purposes – think, a few hours of wireless use with a TV setup or PC. I’ll be detailing my sound impressions of the module below.
Next Page: Sound, Comparisons & Verdict
Original Resource is The Headphone List
Original Resource is Part-Time Audiophile