Laptop Studio — Music software reviews, news and info for computer music

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5 September 2006

Samson C03U USB Studio Microphone

Filed under: Hardware at 7:37 pm (1 comment)

Samson Audio has announced the C03U multi-pattern USB studio condenser microphone, following on from their C01U USB microphone last year. That was one of the first USB studio microphones, and the new C03U adds a few more bells and whistles. (But only if you’re actually recording bells and whistles, of course.) It’s essentially their standard C03 studio condenser mic with an A/D converter and USB output attached.

Samson say: “The C03U features dual 19mm internal shock mounted diaphragms with switchable omni, cardioid, and figure-8 pick-up patterns. Perfect for recording vocals or any acoustic instrument plus the selectable patterns make it ideal for a variety of specialized recording situations, like multiple vocalists, ambient room miking, and even a group of people around a conference table recording a Podcast.”

So it has two diaphragms compared to the C01U’s one, and has three pickup patterns while the C01U was a cardioid microphone. It would indeed be good for recording room ambience or similar, and it’s nice that Samson Audio also mention the podcast buzzword.

A couple more technical details. The A/D converter in the C03U samples 16 bits at 48kHz. It also has a switchable high-pass filter and 20 dB pad.

8 August 2006

SoundTech Lightsnake

Filed under: Hardware at 7:47 pm (2 comments)

The SoundTech Lightsnake is a cable that lets you record sound on your computer without needing to buy a separate audio interface — actually, the cable is the audio interface. This 3 metre cable has a 6.3mm stereo plug at one end and a USB2 plug at the other. Cunningly hidden somewhere in the cable is a 16 bit analog to digital converter sampling at 48 KHz.

As another nice feature, the ends of the cable glow when they’re connected and flash when sound is pulsing down the wire. This will look great at your next laptop gig. I have an FM transmitter attached to my computer that flashes like this as sound is being transmitted, and the flashing light is often far more interesting than the music.

Other goodies included are demo versions of some Sony software (including Acid) and some plug adapters, so you can connect anything from an old cassette Walkman to an electric guitar to your laptop.

27 October 2005

Digidesign Mbox 2 review — Future Music

Filed under: Hardware at 6:57 am (6 comments)

Future Music magazine reviews the Mbox 2 USB audio interface from Digidesign. They like this piece of equipment, though it’s the funky-looking handle that grabs the attention first up. They note that the handle can be removed for those who prefer their boxes sleek and streamlined, though I quite like it just as it is. They say that “overall the box is neat and solid,” though they worry that the all-plastic construction might not be robust enough for portable use.

Actually connecting the unit was hassle-free: “the Mbox 2 installation is simple and quick, and I had the unit up and running straight away.” The included Pro Tools LE software seemed up to the task: it ran at pretty much maximum spec (32 tracks of 24-bit 44.1kHz audio with minimum latency and plug-ins) without glitches. They found Pro Tools LE to be “well-equipped and stable.”

The Mbox 2 scores very highly on sound quality. The preamp and A-D converters was good, though “they lacked low-frequency presence, and transients were a little softer than I’d want.” The same went for the monitor output, thought they said this was “not in any way severe”. The inputs were very good — “the recorded results were true and very usable.”

Even though this is a USB 1.1 interface rather than the much faster USB 2, they still find that it delivers “excellent performance.” The Mbox 2 provides “a solid set of basic tools for recording, editing and mixing audio” — “I could want for little more in an entry-level interface at this price point.” The Mbox 2 scores 8 and 9 out of 10 on all the review criteria — “a well-stocked package that’ll get you on the road to Pro Tools city in no time.”

13 October 2005

Tascam HD-P2 portable recorder

Filed under: Hardware at 12:05 am (4 comments)

Tascam’s HD-P2 portable recorder is a new high-resolution stereo recorder. It’s all digital — it records direct to CompactFlash cards, and also has a FireWire port for getting that performance into your laptop as fast as possible. It records in 24 bits at 192kHz to WAV files, and can also take a timecode input to allow you to synchronise your recordings with external video, for example.

Recording to CompactFlash is the way of the future (or the present) — the Edirol R-1 Portable Recorder was a very nice all-in-one recorder, and now the HD-P2 has a few more high-end features. If only somebody could come up with a more interesting name for their recorder they would surely have a hit.

There are a couple of nice unexpected features: “The professional design of the HD-P2 extends to convenient details that pro users will appreciate. The Retake button allows the user to delete the last recording and set up to re-record with a single button press. As audio is recorded, the file headers are continually re-saved to protect your recording against accidental data loss. Files can be named from the front panel interface or using a PS/2 keyboard, which can also be used to control transport and setup features.”

Input options on the HD-P2 include two XLR mic inputs with phantom power built-in limiter. It also has unbalanced RCA ins and outs as well as S/PDIF digital I/O. There’s also a built-in speaker for monitoring and a built-in microphone, though they suggest this is for “interviews and educational use,” so they probably expect you to plug in a good quality microphone for recording music. In fact, Tascam also say you can use the features on the HD-P2 “to sync dailies or to conform dialog during post” — so they’re clearly going for the pro market with this device.

12 October 2005

Guitar Rig 2

Filed under: Hardware andMusic software at 12:53 am (1 comment)

Native Instruments have unveiled Guitar Rig 2, the latest version of their package for guitar and bass production. It’s a hardware/software combination that includes a foot controller with two inputs and six switches, and an audio software package that simulates several different amps, speakers and microphones and includes 40 effects. There’s also a fascinating module called the Loop Machine for creating and playing back loops on the fly: “Layer different leads, riffs and rhythms on top of one another and gradually build up entire guitar sections. Tools such as the Crossover and Split offer unique potential while the Modifiers’ ability to modulate any of the parameters in real-time far exceed the realms of conventional set-ups.” I saw a fantastic bass player called Eberhard Weber do something like this last year at a Jan Garbarek gig. I don’t know what he was using but the effect was amazing.

According to the Native Instruments website: The tones delivered by Guitar Rig 2’s Dynamic Tube Response technology are second to none. The huge selection of equipment is astounding: Choose from 8 amps, 15 guitar and 6 bass cabinets, 4 rotary speakers, 9 microphones with adjustable positioning and over 40 effects. Drag and drop any number of components into the virtual rack and arrange them into the desired order. A wide range of distortion, modulation, delay, reverb, pitch and volume effects allow the sound to be tuned, twisted and tweaked until the most tantalizing tones are obtained.

The Rig Kontrol 2 foot-controller has six foot switches and a multi-functional pedal with an extra switch. Integrated into the controller is a high-quality audio interface with inputs optimized for guitar and bass pick-ups. Rig Kontrol 2’s advanced design, rugged construction and tough aluminium casing ensure it holds its own on the most demanding of stages. Plug in two guitars simultaneously; use the dedicated inputs and MIDI interface to patch in additional pedals and controllers.

10 October 2005

E-Mu 1616M audio interface review — Computer Music

Filed under: Hardware at 12:42 am Comments Off on E-Mu 1616M audio interface review — Computer Music

Computer Music reviewed the E-Mu 1616M audio interface and thought it was fantastic. The sound quality is not just good — it’s “astounding”. Before you even plug it in though, you can see how flexible it is: the laptop card connects to the breakout box with an Ethernet cable, making it easy to use cheap Ethernet cables to place the box wherever you like. The inputs on the box are extensive too, with two phantom power inputs amongst many others — there’s even a RIAA turntable input so you can finally get all your old 78s into Ableton Live.

“So, how does it all sound? Truly sublime!” The mic preamps are virtually noiseless, and the whole thing, they say, sounds fantastic. And to go with all this great sound, they note that the included software is top-notch: Sonar, Cubase, Ableton Live, WaveLab and AmpliTube. These are “lite” versions, but still well worth having if you don’t own the full versions. There’s also E-Mu’s own DSP Patch-mix package for mixing and monitoring without an external mixer.

Their verdict is a resounding endorsement: ten out of ten, and a special “Performance” award too. “This is one of the best mobile audio interfaces we’ve ever seen. It sounds incredibly good and offers so many connections and features that it’d be worthy of a place in most studios, never mind out on the road.” The final word is simple and direct: “Buy one. Now.”

7 October 2005

MusicXPC M3 music laptop

Filed under: Hardware at 3:05 pm (1 comment)

The most important part of your laptop studio is, of course, your laptop. MusicXPC (“The world’s finest music production computers”) have released their latest laptop model, the Professional M3. Apart from the obvious things like a decent hard drive, it has a multitude of tweaks that make it good for music production. Not only is it engineered to be very quiet in operation, but the OS has been customised to ensure maximum processing power is devoted to music making.

“MusicXPC Professional is made for demanding media production professionals. It’s not a machine you would purchase for organizing photos or playing back MP3s, this is a machine for professional audio recording, mixing, mastering and media creation. The entire operating system has been configured for recording and playing back digital media using the popular professional software used by today’s media professional. Windows XP services that are not needed are turned OFF and the ones needed are turned ON.”

The website has a lot of information about this laptop. Their summary gives a good indication of its capabilities:

The M3 is a notebook tweaked for music production that features an Intel Pentium M 1.73GHz CPU, an 80GB 5,400 rpm hard drive, 512MB of DDR333 RAM (expandable to 2GB), a 15.4″ WXGA wide angle screen that gives you visibility even at off-axis points of view. The M3 comes with a recovery utility that stores the system factory settings outside of the Windows OS world in a host-protected area of the hard drive. This allows you to restore the M3 to the factory even if the hard drive has been accidentally re-formatted. The M3 has Gigabit LAN to improve workflow and play projects stored on other computers via Ethernet; built in 8X DVD+/-RW burner for archiving and more and more and more.

5 October 2005

E-MU Xboard keyboard controller review — Keyboard

Filed under: Hardware at 10:35 am Comments Off on E-MU Xboard keyboard controller review — Keyboard

Keyboard magazine reviews the E-Mu Xboard 25- and 49-key USB/MIDI controllers. They praise the “impressive keyboard action”, which they say is “surprisingly solid and satisfying, especially given the lightness of the controllers.” They also say its editing software is easy to use. Unfortunately, they think the buttons aren’t so good — in fact the word they use it “cheesy”.

They had no problems with the other controls, such as the mod and pitch bend wheels, and liked the all-around usability of the keyboard and included software. They also mention the Latch mode, which enables easy triggering of parts (such as loops), especially in a live setting.

Their final conclusion is very positive: “With the sounds from the Proteus and the sequencing abilities of Live, E-mu offers quite a tasty all-in-one package with their Xboards. If you’re a beginner looking to dive into the world of MIDI, a pro shopping for a versatile featherweight controller, or a mad scientist looking to create the wildest Frankensynth ever to walk the earth, E-mu’s latest definitely deserve to be checked out.”

30 September 2005

Virus TI Totally Integrated Synthesizer

Filed under: Hardware at 3:54 pm (1 comment)

Access Music are about to release their very interesting new hardware/software combo, the Virus TI Totally Integrated Synthesizer. The Virus TI hardware is a synth, keyboard, control surface and audio interface all in one. Nothing revolutionary there. The interesting part happens when you install the VirusControl VST/Apple Audio Unit plug-in. This acts just like a regular plug-in, except behind the scenes it uses the hardware to generate sounds. This allows some neat features. For example, the connection is delay-compensated automatically, which normally can’t be done with a hardware synth.

The website describes the concept and the products in exhaustive detail. Here’s an informative extract: From inside a host application, the plug-in enables the new VIRUS hardware to appear as a multi-channel VST/AU soft-synth with up to 4 sub-mixes (or 2 stereo). Access’ proprietary driver technology makes VIRUS TI the world’s first hardware synthesizer with sample-accuracy timing and a delay-compensated audio/MIDI connection.

Seamless interconnectivity also provides a real benefit in the software sequencer environment. All multi-timbral sounds and settings used for a project are stored within it with the plug-in, for snapshot total recall plus editor and librarian functions with no SysEx or 3rd party software hassles.

The new VIRUS hardware is also well-equipped to capitalize on the power of Total Integration. With 24-bit 192KHz balanced analog, S/PDIF I/O and MIDI in and out ports, the new VIRUS is well-suited for use as the main audio and MIDI I/O center for your entire rig. These functions are especially practical for the laptop studio, offering an unmatched range of features and capabilities from one product.

Additionally, a new Remote Mode allows the VIRUS hardware to become a control surface for any MIDI-capable device or software, mapping each of the 33 knobs to a specific MIDI message. TI ships with a great selection of templates and includes 32-user memories for custom controller maps. It’s a powerful addition that greatly increases the value of the synth’s studio footprint.

E-Mu Xboard 49 review — Computer Music

Filed under: Hardware at 12:35 am (14 comments)

Computer Music reviews the Xboard 49 keyboard controller from E-MU. The most important part of any keyboard — in this case, the most important 49 parts — are the keys. The reviewers are impressed with the Xboard in this respect: “They offer a good compromise for those people who want some of the weight of a piano but the speed of a synth.”

They also like the rotary controls, which they describe as “pleasantly tactile”. They say the controls operate smoothly, but they are too close together — as they point out, the control layout on the Xboard 49 is the same as that of the Xboard 25, which is understandably a bit cramped. On the other hand, the momentary buttons, used for editing, are dismissed as being flimsy. This is not too bad, since they are used for editing rather than performing, but it’s still not ideal.

They single out the Xboard’s “Latch mode” for special mention. This allows keys to act as switches — hit once to turn on a note, hit again to turn it off. They point out that this would be useful these days to trigger loops in a live performance.

The Xboard 49 scores a decent 7 out of 10: “The Xboard 49 has a great set of keys and some genuinely useful features.” The layout and sturdiness of the control knobs could be improved, but “the Xboard is a respectable, well-featured controller keyboard nonetheless.”