A Must See: D/A and A/D | Digital Show and Tell

Many a digital myth is smashed upon the beefy edifice of Monty Montgomery’s chin in this must watch for anyone who does not have a solid understanding of how digital to analog or analog to digital conversion takes place.

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Which is Better?

I needed a few more long-run mic cables for a session the other day, so I dropped by my local large chain music store.  I poked around the cable section, but only found upper end cables that would run me $60 a piece or more.  A salesperson spots me and asks if I need any help.

Me: “Say, do you have anything 50 feet long that’s less expensive?  Maybe a store brand or something?”

Salesperson: “For longer lengths you don’t want to buy lower end cables.  For shorter lengths they are ok, but the cheaper, longer length cables are especially susceptible to degradation.”

Aside from the always irritating suggestion that I don’t want what I just asked for, the salesperson makes a pretty good case.*  What’s an audio engineer on a budget to do?

Whether we’re starting your own shop or just maintaining a hobby, we’re consistently faced with how to spend our modest gear budget.  Do we buy the cheap stuff (the low-end 50′ cable) or buy the higher-end stuff but with less features (a better cable that’s 20′)?

The problem is matter of perspective.  Go ahead and pick the cable that will give you the least amount of degradation . . . just be sure your definition of ‘degradation’ is large enough.

The cheap 50′ cable will introduce a little noise or smear the frequency response.  I’d call that degradation.  A 25′ cable at the same price will introduce less noise, less smear, but it also won’t reach all the way to my bedroom, where it needs to be to get a decent amount of isolation . . . which can cause a lot of problems during mixing and post processing.  I’d call that degradation, too.

Its easy to let the promise of perfection lure you away from the perfectly usable and economical  solution or workaround you were headed for.  Don’t let it.

*Assuming they are right about longer runs of cheaper cable degrading a signal, which they are . . . sort of.  A post on this in the near future.

Push Style Layout For any DAW with Katapult

Last week I talked about how great the Push was.  It’s still great, and I still don’t have one, but the scripts I made for FL Studio let me close my eyes and pretend a little.  But what about other Digital Audio Workstations?

Anyone using Ableton Live will probably make use of the built-in scripting options to make your own Push-ified Launchpad.  Motscouscous.com really dug deep into the Python scripting for Ableton and made a ridiculously functional Push emulation available HERE.

For anybody using a DAW other than those listed above, I recommend Katapult:

Katapult is a very flexible mapping application for the Novation Launchpad and apple iPad. It allows you to map customisable multipage layouts to the Launchpad  or iPad and send the MIDI output to any MIDI application or device. Katapult supports bi-directional communication, meaning that your software can update the controls on the Launchpad or iPad surface.

– midikatapult.com

Alongside some great built-in controller layouts, you can script your own pages (up to 16) by editing ‘layout.txt’ in the Katapult’s home folder.   I’ve created 8 pages of Push-style keyboard layouts available HERE.  You can use this file to replace the original OR you can open your current layout and paste the text at the end.  Be sure to rename the page numbers at the beginning of each layout page to numbers that are not already taken.  I recommend 9-16, as it will give you the native Katapult functions on the first row and the Push scalar layouts on the second.

Page order is as follows:

  1. Major
  2. C Dorian
  3. C Phrygian
  4. C Lydian
  5. C Mixolydian
  6. C Aeolian (Minor)
  7. C Locrian
  8. Chromatic Layout (lit buttons are white keys, unlit buttons are black keys)

Push Style Layout for Launchpad in FL Studio

If you’ve not heard of the Ableton Push, I suggest you check it out, if for no other reason than to see what’s really possible with a touch sensitive grid these days.  Alongside everything else it does, I’m particularly impressed with how they’ve chosen to lay out their instrument controller mode.  Rather than try to awkwardly squeeze all 12 tones onto the grid, or arrange the 8 ‘in key’ notes in straight octaves across each row, each row is in key and a fourth up from the last.  I’ve never felt comfortable using a grid to control an instrument or play a melody because of how unnatural it feels, but this configuration really turns the grid into a comfortable way to play phrases:

Great right?

But If you’re like me you’ve got two problems:

1. You’re an FL Studio user

2. You don’t own an Ableton Push

No problem!

With the release of FL Studio 11, FL Studio now tightly integrates with the launchpad.  In addition to some pretty handy premade tools (including one or two of those awkward note layouts I was lamenting earlier), they’ve included the ability to create your own scripts.  Everything can be edited in Notepad.  Command lists and language can be found here: http://forum.image-line.com/viewtopic.php?p=672604.

Photo Aug 28, 4 35 05 PM

 

I’ve whipped up 7 different scales in the key of C.  Feel free to use or edit these scripts.  Just copy and paste them to C:\Program Files (x86)\Image-Line_FL11\FL Studio 11\System\Hardware specific\Novation Launchpad (this may be different depending on your machine and how you chose to install FL Studio) and delete the name of the scale from the filename (“Page15 Lydian.scr” should read “Page15.scr”).

Enjoy!: http://ge.tt/3li3BJq/v/0?c

Korg Monotron Duo

I’m a softsynth guy for the most part.  Why bother with heavy and space-consuming hardware when it can all live in your computer, right?  But recently I’ve been craving something to fiddle with, something with dedicated controllers that I did not have to painstakingly assign or configure.  And, oh yeah, something on the cheap.

The Monotron Duo is the second in Korg’s series of Monotrons (the first was the plain old monotron, the third is the Monotron Delay).  The design and layout is a very simple but powerful monophonic subtractive synth with two oscillators, a low pass filter, an X-Mod knob for cross modulation between the two oscillators, and a ribbon controller.

monotron front

The Oscillators

You can get a lot out of these little guys.  Activate just one oscillator (VCO1 mode) with no cross modulation and you’ll get a very plain, biting, clipped saw/square. Add a little of the x mod the silent second oscillator will modulate the frequency of the first, giving you a mild detune at low intensity, and all sorts of craziness at high intensity.  Activate VCO2 mode to get the second oscillator going.  Your tonal center will be unrecognizable in no time.  Hot tip: activate both oscillators in VCO2 mode, put them in unison or in octaves, turn the x mod up to 3 or 4 and you’ve got yourself a nice fat lead (that sounds like a lot more than just two voices).

There’s just a touch of leakage between the oscillators.  Manipulating VCO2 when only VCO1 is activated (and cross modulation is set to zero) does produce a tiny amount of modulation.  Also, if the cutoff is set low enough, you can hear a click on any note release.

The Ribbon Controller

You’ve got just over an octave in 4 different modes.  Each press of the little red button will change the ribbon controller to the next mode, the order being continuous – chromatic – major – minor.  Continuous sets the ‘keyboard’ to be truly continuous with no discernible pitch between one place on the keyboard and another, which is very useful for big slides and noise/effect creation.  Chromatic mode will give you every note you see on the keyboard, which, for me, was a pretty clumsy endeavor.  I found it was pretty difficult to really aim your finger in the right place with so many discrete notes packed into a 2+ inch space.  Major and Minor mode set the keyboard to those respective scales.  All you’ve got to do is drag your finger around and you’ve got a melody.  With the non-harmonic notes out of the way, I found I could consistently play the notes I was aiming for.  Use the VCO1 pitch knob to set C to the key of your tune (or another note, if you want to get modal) and go nuts.

monotron back

Output

The little speaker is okay, I guess, but you’ll need to use the headphone jack to really hear the depth of this synth.  On the downside, there is a faint stream of white noise audible at all times.  You’ll either want to gate, remove, or find a way to make use of this noise.  This device will not give you pristine output, even from the headphone jack.

Verdict

I’ve had an absolute blast with this thing, and have used it in recordings already.  While this is, most definitely not a pristine engineered piece of equipment, it’s drawbacks if your goal is a little dirt and chaos.  The thing to remember is that this is more of a deliberately messy noisemaker and less of a dedicated synth (at $50, what can you really expect).

Downcity Armory – Merch for a Purpose

Machinae produced project DownCity Armory is trying out a new concept:  Merch With a Purpose.  I’ll let Todd explain:

We’re fixing this campaign so that if we don’t raise the amount we want, everyone will be refunded their contribution, so it’s really important we reach our goal! But check those perks; it includes a couple of awesome goodies that are exclusive to donors who pledge a certain amount. As an added bonus, each perk option automatically includes a charitable donation that we will make in your name to the charity or non-profit of your choice.* All you have to do is tell us which one. We’ll even help you get a tax deductible receipt for it, if applicable. So if you already donate regularly to a specific non-profit, or have never donated to a cause and always wanted to, here is a way to get some cool merch and music for your gift. And remember: your money is going to help non-profits and local businesses. The band keeps nothing. That’s what Downcity Armory is all about, and you make that happen.

As of now, there is only about 56 hours left, so check out some new electronic music and donate to the cause of your choice.

 

Link: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/downcity-armory-merch-for-a-purpose-2013