I’m very proud that a track from my new THEO album is on the latest Progstravaganza compilation from Prog Sphere. The compilation is entitled “The New Generation Of Prog 2014” and features some heavyweights of the new breed including HAKEN and Cea Serin.
Progstravaganza Compilation 2014
Click the image above to check it out. The track is called Idle Worship. Then go to my PledgeMusic campaign to pre-order the new album. We’ve got about three weeks left are we’re just over 50% to the goal. There are still some great items available including three Hammond Leslie pedals and more.
I’m really excited to announce the launch of my PledgeMusic campaign for THEO. THEO is my progressive rock project, a musical endeavor I’ve been working on for the last four years. It’s quite different from the type of music I’m known for (ie jazz and blues) but in many ways is a return to my roots.
I’ve teamed with PledgeMusic to bring THEO to fruition. And there’s a bunch of cool stuff you can pre-order including a hi-res digital download of the album, CDs, 5.1 surround mixes, t-shirts, keychains, Leslie pedals, and even a Privia PX5s!
Check it out and snag your copy today. And when you do, share the page with your friends.
I don’t recall how I stumbled upon FabFilter. Most likely I was searching for alternatives to the much pricier Sonnox plug-ins, specifically the Oxford EQ. Somewhere in the mire of forums and blogs I ran across the Pro-Q and decided to try the demo. I remember I bought it almost instantly. The single most important factor in that decision was the beautiful GUI. The idea of combining a spectrum analyzer and an incredibly simple user interface was novel to me.
That was in 2012. In the two years since, I’ve also purchased many of FabFilter’s other plug-ins, including the Pro-L, Pro-MB, Pro-C, Pro-DS, Pro-G, Saturn, and Twin 2. I have used them on every project I’ve done since, including organissimo’s Dedicated, Jim Alfredson’s Dirty Fingers, my upcoming progressive rock project THEO, Greg Nagy’s upcoming third album, and various other mixes and songs for other artists. The Pro-C is the first compressor I load for drum parallel compression and bass guitar. The Pro-DS is an amazing de-esser that I use on all vocal tracks. The Pro-G is an amazingly flexible gate that can sound completely natural. I love it on toms. And the Saturn is a great saturation plug-in that I like to use on VST synthesizers, especially analog emulators, to give them more depth, character, and girth.
Out of all of them, the plug-in I use the most is the Pro-Q. And I’ve been immensely happy with it. I didn’t think it could be improved but FabFilter managed to do just that in version 2. Dan Worrell’s fantastic video tutorial gives a solid overview of the new features.
The new features include:
Different interface sizes and additional Full Screen mode
Operates in zero latency mode, linear phase mode with adjustable latency or the unique Natural Phase mode
Spectrum Grab: just grab and adjust a peak in the real-time spectrum analyzer right away!
Universal filter slope support for all filter types, up to 96 dB/oct
EQ Match feature to automatically match the spectrum of another track via the side-chain input
Phase Invert option to change polarity
Highly improved CPU optimization: Pro-Q 2 uses less memory and is more than twice as efficient as its predecessor!
Optional Gain-Q interaction
Auto Gain and Gain Scale
Built-in spectrum analyzer with Pre-EQ, Post-EQ and SC modes, adjustable range, speed, resolution, tilt and freeze
GPU-powered graphics acceleration
Optional piano roll display to quantize EQ frequencies to musical notes
Large output level meter with peak level readout
This is a significant update and well worth the very reasonable upgrade cost. I’ve already upgraded and integrated the new version into my work flow. The new Natural Phase mode is really amazing for adding air to individual tracks or the overall mix. Spectrum Grab is incredibly useful for quick fixes and taming resonances. And the piano roll frequency display saves a lot of time.
FabFilter still has the best GUI in the business and the easiest user interface. With the added features, it just became more useful and quick. If you’re looking for something better than your DAW’s native EQ, check out the Pro-Q 2.
FabFilter Pro-Q 2
Postscript:I read an interesting article about the differences between digital (aka plug-in) EQs. Essentially once you strip away the analog emulations, there really is no difference. Some plug-in EQs also attempt to emulate the non-linear behavior of analog circuitry including harmonic distortion, noise, etc. And those emulations do vary from plug-in to plug-in. But once removed, the basic sound is the same and even those characteristics can be successfully duplicated with a standard PEQ with a bit of tweaking and good ears and maybe a saturation plug-in inserted before or after. So with that said, why spend money on something like Pro-Q 2? Well, the Natural Phase mode is an analog emulation that does what it is supposed to do very well. But first and foremost, it’s about ease of use. The GUI is so good and the interface so easy to work with that the price is more than reasonable. For most purposes, I can achieve the same results with the built-in track EQ in Cubase but it is nowhere near as intuitive or easy to use, despite the recent addition of a per-track real-time spectrum analyzer.
Big O Records (Lansing, MI) is excited to present the debut album by the new progressive rock band THEO. Formed by world reknown keyboardist Jim Alfredson (organissimo, Dirty Fingers, Janiva Magness, Greg Nagy Band, Root Doctor) THEO harkens back to the keyboard-centric superbands of the 1970s like Yes, Genesis, and Emerson Lake and Palmer, but with a distinctly modern and bold approach.
Alfredson is joined by bassist Gary Davenport (805 Band, Janiva Magness), drummer Kevin Depree (Sound Is Red, Greg Nagy Band) and guitarist Jake Reichbart. The eponymous debut album features six tracks including an epic 30 minute opening suite.
Jim Alfredson is best known for his work with acclaimed jazz trio organissimo and is considered among the best Hammond organists working today. As Downbeat magazine wrote, “Alfredson is a remarkable organist who seamlessly synthesizes several generations of keyboard influences…” Keyboard magazine, in reviewing organissimo‘s album Alive & Kickin’, wrote that Alfredson “successfully walk[s] the line between complex and accessible…“
With THEO, Alfredson brings his considerable musicianship to bear on his first love, progressive rock. As Alfredson explains: “I grew up listening to Peter Gabriel, Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull,King Crimson, Gentle Giant… all the classic prog bands. I even made my own prog ‘album’ when I was 16 that I passed out to friends and family. But then I was bitten by the jazz bug and dedicated the next 17 years of my life to figuring out that music. Surprisingly, that education paved the road back to progressive music, back to my love of synthesizers and exploring different musical forms. I feel like my musical journey has brought me full circle.“
THEO also represents a return to the concept of the keyboardist as a vital and irreplaceable part of the group, rather than a mere sideman. “Most prog these days is metal-based,” says Alfredson, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I feel like it’s past time keyboardists get our due again. My primary influence is Tony Banks; his melodicism, his understatedness, his lyricism, and his use of timbre. There’s a time and a place for flashiness and there’s a time and place for subtlety. THEO is a manifestation of that belief. It should be about the song first, putting that song within a certain atmosphere, and then exploring.“
THEO‘s intrepid and dynamic music is paired with auspicious lyrical themes of corporatization, consumerism, loss of innocence, exile, and the obsession with celebrity. Lead vocals are handled by Alfredson himself. Usually relegated to background duties, Alfredson‘s surprisingly flexible baritone voice shifts from soaring muscularity to intimate falsetto and everything between. “I think that may be the most notable aspect of this project for my long time fans,” says Alfredson. “Those that know me only as an instrumentalist and background singer will hopefully be pleasantly surprised.“
THEO is scheduled for a November 17th, 2014 release on Big O Records.
Here is an excerpt from the first song on the album of my new progressive rock project, THEO.
Featuring myself on keys and vocals, Gary Davenport on Chapman stick, Kevin Depree on drums and background vocals, and Jake Reichbart on rhythm guitar. Special guest Zach Zunis plays lead guitar on this cut. This is about half of the song; it fades out at the beginning of the middle section, before the reprise.
THEO is a project I’ve been wanting to do for a long time and is, in many ways, a return to my roots. I grew up listening to Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, The Beatles, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and many more progressive bands, as I discussed in this previous article. And I still love that music and the textures and emotions it encapsulates.
Please consider becoming a fan on FB via this link:
Back in October of 2013 I posted a video in which I played along with a MIDI version of the Genesis classic “In The Cage”. The original post is here. I wrote about my love of the band and some personal history, so I won’t clutter this post with a rehash.
Tonight I was playing around with Cubase 7.5 and started diving into the new HALiotron engine in the HALion Sonic 2 VST virtual instrument. The presets leave a lot to be desired, which is often the case, but editing is very straightforward and the plug includes fairly standard Mellotron sounds including flutes, brass, bass clarinet, clarinet, strings, 8 voice choir, and bassoon. I hope they release an expansion pack with more sounds like the bass accordion, cello, violin, and viola samples. But the included samples are a good and popular starting point.
I began with a blank program and loaded the string and brass samples into slots A and B respectively in the Tape Track selector switch. Like the original Mellotron Mk II you can position the switch in between selections and combine the sounds. This is how Tony Banks achieved the iconic timbre of his intro to “Watcher Of The Skies” with Genesis. He also used the bass accordion sound on the other keyboard (the Mellotron Mk II had two keyboards side by side).
Mellotron Mk II
I added just a hint of reverb and then played the sound from my Minimoog Voyager acting as a MIDI controller. It makes a rather nice controller for such purposes due to the limited number of keys. The Mk II had two 35 note manuals. The Voyager has 44 keys.
I was lazy and just recorded the sound coming from my speakers so what you’re hearing is from the iPhone’s internal microphone. But it still sounds pretty good. The HALiotron has some nice tonal shaping options including attack, decay, velocity as well as control over the filter. You can choose to loop the samples or play with the same 8 second limitation as the real thing. Overall, it’s a nice addition to the HALion VST and I’ve used it a few times already on my upcoming progressive rock album.
As the processing capabilities of personal computers increase and the skill of programmers to emulate analog audio qualities in digital form also improve, plug-in companies have rushed to digitally re-create almost every piece of classic gear from the golden era of recording studios. These studio stalwarts exist in several incarnations from various companies, with varying degrees of success. You’ve got your Pultec emulations, your 1176 emulations, your LA2A emulations, Neve, API, and SSL emulations, plate reverb emulations, EQ emulations, microphone preamp emulations… and the list goes on and on.
Plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs plugs!
One manufacture from that era conspicuously absent so far is Valley People of Nashville. The history of Valley People is quite interesting and you can read more about it on their website. The short version is that an electronics guru named Paul Buff worked with Frank Zappa to build Zappa’s famed PAL studios and designed some proprietary gear in the process. A short time later, Buff officially formed Valley People and put those designs into commercial products including the Gain Brain, Transamp, Kepex, and the Dyna-mite.
My first exposure to Valley People gear was in my friend Glenn Brown’s studio. He had an rack of the now defunct 800 format filled with Kepex and Gain Brain modules. I noticed he liked to use them on drums. But his real secret weapon was a stand-alone stereo Dyna-mite compressor. He no longer has the rack, but he still uses the Dyna-mite frequently as a drum bus parallel compressor, a role in which it absolutely shines.
An original Dyna-mite in a beige plastic case. This is like the one my friend Glenn owns.
You can still pick up an original Dyna-mite unit on the used market for a reasonable price. We’ll see how long that lasts! Of course the limitations of outboard gear include the lack of recall and the obvious fact that you can only use it on one or two things at a time unless you own a rack of several. Who has space for that?
So I was very excited when I found Softube’s digital version of the Valley People Dyna-mite. If it captures the essence of the real thing, it would not only be cheaper but much more convenient and flexible to own. I just happen to have a real Dyna-mite unit here in my studio, on loan from Glenn, so I thought I’d do a quick comparison between the plug-in version and the real thing. This is not a very scientific endeavor so please excuse any oversights.
CONTROLS / INTERFACE:
First and foremost, the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite plug-in looks like the real deal, with the same controls in the same order, the same LED gain reduction metering, and even the same fonts. It is a prime example of the modern philosophy of skeuomorphism in digital design but in this case it makes perfect sense. Softube intends the plug-in to faithfully capture the real analog unit. Making the plug look the same is the first step.
The first control on the left is for the THRESHOLD which determines the signal level at which the compressor is engaged. Second is a knob for RELEASE which controls how quickly the compressor returns to normal (no compression). The next control DET, the detection circuit, is switchable between INT (internal), DS FM (essentially de-essing), and EXT (external). Next is the 8 LED meter followed by the MODE switch. The three modes are EXP (expansion), OUT (bypass) and LIMIT (limiter). Next is yet another switch labeled DET, this time linked to the MODE and with three choices; AVG (average), PK (peak), and GATE. Essentially this changes the ratio of the compression. Finally a RANGE knob and OUTPUT knob finish out the controls.
This is the dual unit I’ll be using for this test. Pay no attention to the LA610 beneath.
It is beyond the scope of this review to describe how all these functions work in conjunction with one another. The original Dyna-mite manual is available at the Softube website if you want to dig in to the technical side of things. In short, you can use the Dyna-mite not only as a compressor but also a gate, fast attack limiter, slow attack limiter, expander, or de-esser, making it quite versatile. The plug-in purports to accurately model all of this, including a “Weird Limiting” mode which is an unintended feature of the original device. From the review on the Sonicscoop site:
If the detector mode is set to LIMIT and the detector type is set to GATE, you end up with a scenario in which any signal above a certain threshold is hard limited. The range and release controls really come into play here. If the range is set too high, you end up hearing nothing except clicking, presumably the attack time of the limiter as it is engaged. Similarly, if the release time is set too long, you also end up with silence, as the compression takes to much time to be released. However, if your range is set to around 5-6 dB, and the release time around a few ms, you’ll hear some interesting pumping and modulation effects on your source.
Sounds like fun! The manual from Softube goes into great detail about how to use the Dyna-mite and is worth a read through upon purchasing.
Ok, so now to the nitty gritty. How accurate is Softube’s emulation? Let’s do some examples. I’ll use the Dyna-mite as a parallel drum bus compressor, since that’s most likely what I’ll be using it for in most circumstances.
Side note: What is parallel compression? It is simply mixing some dry, uncompressed signal in with the compressed signal. For background and examples, this Sound On Sound article is very good:
Here is a drum sample from my upcoming progressive rock project. The drummer is my friend Kevin DePree playing his DrumCraft acrylic kit. This is a dry sample with no bus compression although there is EQ on the individual mics and some light compression on the kick and snare.
Next, let’s use the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite as a parallel bus compressor. Notice I am not matching levels with the dry audio as this is not about how the compressor colors the sound compared to the dry but rather whether the plug-in sounds like the real deal. I will level-match the audio from the plug-in and the real unit.
The settings on the plug-in are fairly simple. Threshold and Release are both at 12 o’clock, the detection circuit is set to INT, the MODE and DET switches are set to LIMIT and AVG and the range is also at 12 o’clock. It has a nice, full, and punchy sound. I’m compressing the signal quite hard, reaching about 20 db of gain reduction on the heavy peaks. But when mixed back in with the dry signal, it adds both body and girth to the sound. That’s what parallel compression is about!
Softube Valley People Dyna-mite settings for the above sample.
Now let’s see how the real Dyna-mite sounds with similar settings. This was a bit tricky because the unit I have needs to be calibrated. One side requires much more make up gain than the other. This may affect the sound of the actual compression and skew the comparison.
And finally, here are both the plug-in and the real unit together, swapped every 10 seconds. The first 10 seconds is the real unit, the next 10 seconds is the plug-in, the next 10 the real unit again, etc.
To my ears, the real unit has very slight upper end sparkle and also a “live” quality to the midrange, especially evident on the snare. I’m talking a minuscule amount here, nothing huge. Of course, this could be due to a couple of things; I had to manually align the audio from real unit to the original un-compressed track and while I did it to what appeared to me to be sample accuracy, it could be ever so slightly off which would induce tiny phase issues and thus alter some frequencies. It could also be due to the extra analog to digital and digital to analog conversion required in order to insert the real unit into my system. It could be due to the issue of the output of the first channel on the real unit needing calibration. And finally this particular Valley People unit could be overall a bit out of spec. It did come used off eBay afterall and is over 30 years old.
Valley People was bought by the PMI Group in 2007 and is now making 500 series versions of their most popular designs. A 500 series Dyna-mite is available but at a cost of $599.
Regardless, the simulation and the real deal are extremely close. The character of the compression is dead on. That little bit of extra sparkle could be added with some EQ. Or perhaps the track doesn’t need it? The flexibility of the plug-in certainly adds to its appeal. It doesn’t use much CPU and can be used as a gate, de-esser, and limiter as well as a compressor. Not to mention you can use it on as many tracks as your computer can handle.
I’ve experimented with the Softube Valley People Dyna-mite on vocals both as compressor and de-esser. As a de-esser it does a good job with that vintage vibe. As a compressor on vocals, not so much. It is better on percussive material, guitars, and keys (especially for that extreme in-your-face compressed piano sound). I think it’s strong point is as a parallel bus compressor on drums. It really shines in that role and is worth the money for that purpose alone. And this is true of both the real unit and the plug-in. Kudos to Softube for the authentic emulation. It emulates with near-perfect accuracy the Dyna-mite’s strengths, character, oddities, and weaknesses.
Speakers are a personal thing. I grew up listening to my father’s hi-fi system, of which he was very proud. It consisted of a Sansui AU-5500 integrated amp driving a pair of Pioneer three-way speakers with 12″ woofers. It sounded great for vinyl playback and he even had twin cassette decks for A to B or B to A dubbing as well as taping from the radio or LPs. I made many a mix tape on that system. Although in a two bedroom house with six other siblings, I spent most of my time under headphones.
The Sansui AU-5500 with matching tuner. Vintage Japanese hi-fi is very cool. My brother is currently using the amp to power a pair of B&W 602 speakers with satisfying results.
I splurged during college and bought a pair of B&W CDM SE1 bookshelf speakers with matching subwoofer, powered by an Adcom preamplifier and amp. I also bought a nice VPI turntable, which is the only piece of that system I still own. Once my wife and I started our family, a dedicated listening room became a fantasy and a liability. And I needed the money for the little mouths!
I hung on to the B&W sub for awhile as well but eventually traded it for a pair of Mackie HR824 studio monitors in 2008 to replace some Alesis M1 active monitors that I never liked. To be honest, I’ve never cared for the Mackies either but I’ve learned their (many) weaknesses and can whip up a decent mix on them. Still it was a good trade; finally I had a decent monitoring solution for my burgeoning humble home studio setup.
Mackie HR824. They’re not bad. They’re not very good either, but hey…
I’ve worked in many studios with a range of different monitors. I’ve used to work every day on a pair of Genelec 1031A monitors at Michigan State University. I have my opinions about a lot of different brands. But one brand I never paid much attention to is JBL, despite having nothing but respect for the company and its lineage.
I attended my first AES show in NYC in October 2013 with my good friend and studio owner / engineer / acoustician / musician Glenn Brown. While I was mainly enamored with the beautiful microphones, the tantalizing mic preamps, the retro tube outboard gear, and especially the Yamaha Nuage system (drool!), I did spend an afternoon listening to all the monitor speakers I could find on the floor. This included the new series from Neumann, the top of line ATC model, the new five-figure Genelecs, the Yamaha HS series, and a bunch I cannot even recall.
On a whim, Glenn and I stopped by the JBL display and they had their brand-new LSR 3-series hooked up. We listened for a bit and were both immediately impressed by the sound. Both the 305 and the larger 308 sounded really good, with a slight edge going to the 305 in terms of the tightness and definition of the mid-range. Even on the noisy AES floor, the speakers made a lasting impression.
I asked the JBL rep about the price of the 305 model and he said the MAP was $399. I said, “Oh, $399 each, that’s not bad at all.” He said, “No, $399 for the pair.” To say I was shocked is an understatement. I put them in the back of my mind for a potential future purchase.
JBL LSR305 speakers
At the moment, I am in the middle of mixing three projects; Greg Nagy’supcoming release (which I also engineered as well as wrote songs for and performed on), my own progressive rock project, and a cool little EP for a friend’s band featuring Farfisa accordion, drums, and guitar. I thought the time was perfect to revisit the JBL LSR305 monitors, especially since JBL lowered the price to $119 each*. I figured if I didn’t like them in the studio, what did I have to lose? At the very least I could use them on my workbench to play some tunes while I’m fixing pianos and such.
Now I’ve only had them for a few hours but difference between the Mackies and these little JBLs is, to use a common cliche, night and day. The JBLs are about half the size, but the sound they put out is incredibly enveloping, with pinpoint stereo imaging, a detailed mid-range, beautiful high-end, and a tight low-end that’s only limited by the size of the 5″ woofer. No you won’t be able to hear those low sub basses if you’re doing electronic music, but for almost everything else there’s plenty down there. And frequencies are balanced perfectly; the highs revealing and non-fatiguing, the mid-range focused and clear, and the low-end tight and defined. JBL does offer a companion subwoofer, the LSR310s, if your music needs it. That may very well be my next purchase.
The biggest surprise is the stereo imaging. I can now hear (FINALLY!) in exquisite deatil when I move the panning control within Cubase even just 1 notch to the left or right. They also exhibit a sense of depth that makes you feel like you can reach right into the audio.
The feature set is pretty basic. The back has the IEC power connector (cord included), on/off switch, XLR and separate TRS 1/4″ inputs (no combo jacks, hooray!), an input sensitivity switch (-10dBv or +4dBu), master volume, and two contour switches that affect the highs and lows. A nice soft white LED on the front signifies power. That’s it. Right now I’m running mine completely flat (no EQ engaged) and the volume all the way up, controlling the levels from my Yamaha N12 mixer.
The frequency range is listed as 43 Hz to 24 kHz. A quick test with a sine wave generator in Cubase confirmed that they do indeed emit 43 Hz, albeit with a rather steep drop-off in volume.
So are there any negatives? Just one that I’ve noticed so far; they are a bit noisy. An audible low-level white noise hiss is present at all times and does not change regardless of the position of the master volume knobs. It isn’t terribly loud but it’s constant.
Other than that small issue, I love these speakers. I have no idea how JBL is able to make these at such an affordable price. They are easily worth three times the list. If you’re looking for a compact near-field monitor for your home studio, or a second pair of speakers for comparison, just buy them. You won’t be disappointed. Check out the cool speaker comparison widget over at Sonic Sense to hear how they stack up against the big dogs and then give my friends at Sweetwater a call to get a great deal.
Boxed and sitting up on my desk. Good looking little guys, too!
UPDATE (Nov 3, 2014): I just bought three more LSR305 speakers in order to create a 5.1 mixing environment in my studio. I have removed the Mackies and I’m selling them. I also have the LSR310s subwoofer on order from Sweetwater. I am very happy with the LSR305 speakers. My mixes have improved immensely and I notice details I didn’t notice before. I can’t recommend these little speakers enough.
UPDATE (Dec 3, 2014): The LSR310s subwoofer is the perfect match for the speakers, as one would expect. I was using a friend’s KRK sub with my Mackies and the JBL is far tighter, more defined, and more balanced. I was able to do the first 5.1 mixing for my THEO project and I am thrilled with how they came out. The mixes translated extremely well in the professional mastering studio after mixing on the JBL 5.1 system.
* NOTE: The $119 each price quoted above was a special summer sale via Sweetwater. The normal price is $149 each, though deals can be had.
I really enjoy old corporate technological films and thankfully so do a lot of other people on YouTube. I’m not ashamed to admit I spent a day watching old Fairchild Seminconductor films recently. And I enjoyed every minute of them.
I found this video a few years ago and it’s incredible. A tour of the Hammond factory probably circa the late 1950’s. It describes the concept of tonewheels and their manufacture, as well as the voicing of each instrument.
The most surprising piece of information to me was the statement about “five Hammond organ plants”. I had no idea the company was that large at one time.
I also love the part about the trained technician checking each tonewheel by ear to make sure it sounds correct. This is why the tonewheel organ is, in many ways, like an acoustic instrument. The organ is ‘voiced’ by a technician, just like an acoustic piano. Technicians would hand-pick each filter capacitor in the generator in order to mold the overall tone to their liking. They even signed the tone generator with their initials.
My late father referred to the Hammond organ as a prime example of what he called “post-WWII over-engineering”. They really are amazing products from the golden age of American manufacturing and engineering.