Recently I had a chance to check out a couple of new items we are carrying here, the QCon Pro ($746.99) and iControls Pro ($386.99) from Icon. Both of these offer motorized faders and the ability to integrate with Cubase, Nuendo, Logic Pro, Samplitude, and Ableton Live with Mackie Control, and with Pro Tools via Mackie HUI Control. I tested these out with Ableton Live.
Setting up both of these devices was easy, using the included software and instructions. It only took a few minuted to get either one of them up and running with my software. Once set up all the controls are mapped in a logical way and did what you would expect.
These units have a good build quality. They both are heavier than you would expect, and generally feel very solid. As you might expect from it’s higher pricepoint, the QCon Pro definitely has the nicer finish of the 2 units, especially in terms of the faders and knobs not being as plastic-y. Additionally It has multi-colored LEDs, an LCD display screen, and LED level meters for each track. The styling of these might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for the price I am willing to turn a blind eye to that.
In terms of usage, I loved the QCon Pro – it does everything you would want it to, and the mapping for Ableton Live seemed to be spot on. The LCD scribble strips and LED meters made it very easy to be able to adjust almost everything without having to touch – or even look at – the computer. The iControls Pro took a bit more getting used to, since the lack of any type of display made it a bit harder to use than its larger cousin. However, it still could be a good choice for someone with limited space and/or budget, who is looking to be able to mix tracks on a board, or as part of a portable setup. It’s worth noting that the QCon Pro is fairly large so might be too big for some setups.
Right now there’s nothing that can touch these controllers at this price point. Behringer will be dropping some competition in a few months, and it will be interesting to see how they all compare.
To say I’m a fan of the classic 1176 limiter would be an understatement. It’s my desert island studio compressor, my go to squash box. I’ve even built two for my home setup. When I heard I could get a clone for $599.00, my curiosity was peaked since It cost me more to make one. So, the Warm Audio WA76 had to get an audition.
UA Apollo in PT Mode for Hardware Inserts
The WA76 replicates the familiar look of the originals. The chassis is all black with the exception of the orange Warm Audio coffee mug logo and the model and setting printings. Layout is the same, with the two big knobs, two small knobs, two chunky switch assemblies, and single lamp lit VU meter.
The biggest change with the WA76 is the power supply, which is a “lump in the line” external power supply; a cost saving idea for the design and preferable to a wall wart that has the transformer on the plug. The rear has the DC in for the power supply, In and Out XLR and TRS connectors, and a switch for a 23dB pad for when you are running a pre really hot in front of it. Controls and meter in front are all laid out just the same a any other 1176. The input and output knobs have step detents, which will make it easy for recalls. The Attack and Release have a center detent. Ratio buttons work just like the, meaning, you have the option of 4:1, 8:1, 12:1, and 20:1 ratios to choose from with the expected ability for All Buttons In (British Mode), no ratio (1:1 for just driving the transformers) and any combination of 2 or 3 ratios. Meter switch assembly is the same as well: GR, +8, +4, and OFF.
They have decided to model the WA76 after the Urei 1176LN revision D. The rev. D is regarded as the most favorable of the 1176 revisions. It’s just in the place of after including a lower noise and distortion circuitry and just before changing the output amplifier to a class AB (push pull) amplifier. This means it has just the right balance low noise and saturation; clean but not too clean.
Urei used the UTC O-12 input transformer; you can find these used for upwards of $200. Warm has found a solution in the Cinemag CM-2511 microphone input transformer. It’s not a replication of the UTC but is widely used for many clones. The specs are similar with the SM-2511 having a more modern bandwidth. The output transformer is also Cinemag. Everything else is the same discrete circuit with a class A output so it would be expected to be a ballpark replication of the sound of the originals.
I wouldn’t want to do a 1:1 comparison of the limiter with originals, clones, and replicas because they are all so wildly different on what they say is the 1176 “sound”; a problem that has risen from years of tinkering and refurbishing and just plain differences of opinion. I do know what to look for when using a FET limiter and that is near brick wall control of a signal. 1176 just has that added mojo because of its saturation from the 1108 pre amp and the distortion shimmer from the FETs. It will put vocals on your forehead, turn guitars into drills, and set drums on fire.
I’ve included some clips with broad idea of the settings. The most unique choice was “no ratio” setting for the kick drum for added mids. The kick was recorded with a D112 inside and about a fists distance from the beater. A towel was thrown inside as well to dampen the sound. As a result, you get a very good attack but not much body or tone. Driving the input of the WA76 did nicely to resolve that. Another find was combining 8:1 and 4:1 for a program depending sounding behavior for a very slow guitar strum.
Every studio should have a FET limiter and the Warm Audio WA76 is among the best choices with a price that set to make it a no-brainer acquisition.
True to the Classic 1176 compressor in design and performance
Completely discrete signal path
Modeled after the D revision
Utilizes USA made CINEMAG input and output transformers
Supports the famous “all buttons in” ratio setting
Ultra fast attack time
Class A line level output amplifier
Input impedance – 600 ohms, bridges-T control (floating)
Frequency Response ± 1 dB 20 Hz to 20kHz
XLR and TRS inputs. XLR and TRS outputs
55db of gain
Less than 0.4% total harmonic distortion from 50 Hz to 20 kHz with limiting
Signal to noise ratio is greater than 74 dB at +25 dBm
EIN -104.1 dbm
Attack time, 20 microseconds to 800 microseconds
Release time, 50 milliseconds to 1 second
Meter provides dB gain reduction and dB output
Internal power supply, external 24v AC power transformer
The guys at Novation were kind enough to send their new Bass Station II. The Bass Station II is a revival of their classic from 1993 but with modern technology; “better, faster, stronger”. Its a digitally controlled pure analog signal path with 2 main oscillators, a sub oscillator, noise generator, arpeggiator, 2 LFOs, 2 Filter types, flexible routing, and 128 slots for savable patches. First impression, taking it home, was the bass was huge! I have a 2.1 speaker system and this thing could move some air. The oscillators can create a strong dominating low end but is not sloppy. You can get down to very low tones without breaking up; it stays defined and focused.
Exploring the features, the Bass Station II offers more than what you would expect from a monophonic synth at its price point. So, I offered a challenge to myself and set off to make an entire track with just the Bass Station II’s synthesis. Though it is more voiced to create bass sounds, I discovered within it drums, leads, cymbals, swells, SFX, pads, bells, and of course solid bass. Not once did I have to use the included power supply. The USB connection worked doubly-duty on bus-power and MIDI I/O. For the main stabbing sound i wanted to stack several different patches in order to make a super tight and collect a solitary element. I opened a MIDI channel to record the line, quantize, and send it back into the Bass Station II. This freed my hands to audition sounds and perform a Low-Pass filter swell to lead into the main rhythm.
Using the Bass Station II’s MIDI I/O to stack different patches
The internal clock built in is extremely stable and accurate. The arpeggiator and synced LFOs stayed in time with no drift. Novation has successfully contributed to affordable analog synthesis with the smart additions of USB-power and MIDI, advanced arpeggiator, powerful routing, the ability to make and store and trade presets, and most importantly a sound that can compete. Included in this article we have provided a link to download the Ableton Live 9 session that was used for this demo.
The hardest thing about having NS-10M Studios, aside from an exhausting listening experience, is picking the right power amp. I had a chance to demo an SBS Designs S1 for a few weeks and found it interesting how big of a difference a power amplifier can make on your speakers.
SBS Designs operates out of New Jersey and was founded by Craig Bernabeu in 2001. They do HiFi installations and have their own amps, isolators, and a unique tube processor. Their line of amplification includes the Series M mono block amplifiers and the Series S stereo amplifiers. For the last few years SBS Designs Series S have been making replacing the power for studio main monitors like Augspurgers. The S1, as recommended by SBS, is for tweeters, compression drivers, and bookshelf type speakers. Performance specs are 65 watts per channel @ 8 ohms, Class AB output with a 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response. I decided to give this one a try over the 125watt S2 and the 275watt S3 because my current amp is a Bryston 2B.
The front of the panel has to steel hands (presumably to protect the power switch or to help carry in out of racks), a nice big power switch, and 3 pairs of LEDs to indicate output level: Ready, Active, Max Out(clipping). The rear is surprisingly clean and simple: a really big heat sink, two XLR line inputs, knob-less gain pots, recessed banana connectors for speaker out, AC input, and a reset button for the thermal/current sensing circuit breaker. The circuit breaker is a good idea since, to have amp be suited for a recording studio environment, it is without a cooling fan or a built limiter.
Getting it out of the box and racked was easy enough. The unit itself weighs just a bit over 15lbs and the handles on the front help keep it steady while I screwed it in. Turned it on and started listening to music. The highs on the NS-10s opened up quite a bit and the bump on the 2kHz crossover smoothed out. With earlier NS-10s this would probably prompt a user to do the tissue trick but since my pair are the studio version its not a problem. I turned on a few go to tracks that I am most familiar with and noticed things like distortions, reverbs, and noise that I hadn’t noticed before. The response from mid to high revealed detail that I was previously missing. This would probably be due the 10 Hz-100 kHz frequency response and 100v/us slew rate giving it greater definition and transients. The lows were much tighter than the Bryston. The NS10M Studios, being a closed-cabinet, need high wattage and damping to get more out of the lows. Engineers will go with an amp that is 100watts or more per channel to get the lows to come out more and make sure the signal is above distortion. An SBS Designs S2, which is 125watts per channel @8ohms, would better drive the low end. Hooking the S1 up to a less stubborn speaker like the ProAc Studio 100s or Alesis Monitor1 MKII that have a ported design will give a complete sound from low to high. For my personal use the S1 worked just fine since I listen to the NS-10s at a strictly whisper quiet level and with these high end amps you don’t have to worry as much about low level distortion burning your voice coils.
At the end of the three weeks of using the SBS Designs S1 I came to listen more to my NS-10s. Mixes were translating and I could work long hours without fatigue. The S1 gave me more detail and a comfortable listening experience than my current amp, which by comparison sounded like it had holes in the upper-mids and sluggish overall. I would recommend an S2 for NS-10 users to get the detail on top and the wattage for the low end.
Last week Shorty from SBS Designs dropped by our office with some new gear for us to try out. One of the products was the ISO-Q2 isolator. This is already in use by a number of a-list touring dj’s, and if you’re a fan of outboard gear or are putting together a club installation the ISO-Q2 has some unique features that definitely make it worth taking a look at. I set up the ISO-Q2 and gave it a quick run through:
On the front panel of the ISO-Q2, right in the middle you have the standard knobs you’d expect on any DJ isolator – Bass, Mid, & Treble. What sets this one apart is the addition of 2 extra knobs that you won’t find on other isolators – bass frequency cutoff and the treble frequency cutoff. These are super nice for a couple of reasons. First, because you can tailor your frequency cut offs to the particular track or genre you are playing – you would want a different cut off point for techno and disco for example. These are also useful for creating some neat effects where you can, for example, cut the bass gain and then change the cut off frequency for an added sweep effect.
On the back panel you can find 2 more features that set this apart from other isolators out there. The ISO-Q2 has an effects send / return (I set up with a Mini Kaoss Pad to test it out) that is by passable with a switch on the back panel. The other notable feature on the back is a Master Gain knob, which can be useful for a couple of things. You can use it to provide a little headroom for your system to protect from dj’s who go a little heavy on the gain, or you can use it to boost a signal from a lower-output mixer.
Dave Smith’s synths are so consistently great, we here at ProAudioStar have taken to calling him Uncle Dave. Well, fellow synth-heads, this time Uncle Dave did more than buy us a ginger ale and drive us to Tee-ball. The X4 captures a coveted corner of the synth market – the affordable polyphonic analog corner. After playing with this puppy, we were wowed by it’s warmth and style.
This completely analog four-voice synth basically takes four Mophos (DSI’s acclaimed monophonic synth) and stacks them together with even more features to help you customize patches.
In our tests the X4 often sounded akin to the Prophet ’08. It has that fat analog bass sound, but it’s filters allow for plenty of high-frequency response too. . The X4 also features the famous Curtis four pole low pass filter. Overall the X4’s is more tonally capable of noticeable textures that sometimes lean gritty or sharp, than more nuanced supportive-type pads. So if you’re looking for smoother patches, you’ll usually have to do some patch editing.
Thankfully, editing patches is a breeze due to the X4’s sensible layout and the downloadable patch editor, which can load custom patches to the unit via USB.
The X4 has two digitally controlled oscillators and four low frequency oscillators per voice, plus a feedback circuit for extra oomph, as well as three envelope generators. This signal path is 100% analog, but is controlled digitally, giving you the best of both worlds (a feature we think will become more and more common in the realm of analog synths). The addition of two sub-oscillators provided superbly exciting depth to many of the lead and bass patches we tested.
I had a blast messing with the sequencer for sequenced chords, and the arpeggiator, both sync-able via the tap tempo “Push It!” button or MIDI clock in. The Push It! Button can be programmed to trigger custom functions, leading to some very cool possibilities.
While the X4 is not multitimbral, it is designed to work with a DSI Tetra synth-module, which expands the total number of voices to eight in total. There’s a satisfyingly perfect spot on the right-hand side of the X4’s surface for the Tetra to sit, should you use them together. Coincidentally, most of the Eventide pedals also fit perfectly there. We got some amazing sounds running the X4 through the Eventide Space pedal – a highly recommended combo that helped us to expand and further texturize some of the X4’s tones.
The X4’s build is great. It has a velocity-sensitive keybed with responsive aftertouch that allow for nuanced playing. It features hard-platsic knobs and wheels, a matte black aluminum body and wood side-panels. The 44-key keyboard is an ideal size- big enough for a wide tonal range but still small enough to take to gigs.
The X4 features stereo and headphones out, CV and sustain in, MIDI In and Out/Thru plus MIDI poly chain for DSI synths, as well as USB.
The Nicest Mopho Around
Overall, the X4 offers the classic DSI sound, made famous by the Prophet series, at a more affordable price and portable size. At 44 keys, banks on banks on banks of strong analog sounds, and the ability to easily customize patches, it’s no wonder that at $1,299 the Mopho X4 has been a very popular synth at ProAudioStar. We dig it, and we think you will too.
Moog was generous to loan us a prototype Sub Phatty for a week. Right away we had to turn it on and see what it could do. A knob-per-function layout was quick to reveal a robust LFO section, 2 versatile and rich oscillators, a sub-octave square-wave oscillator, a noise generator, and a Multidrive overdrive circuit.
Just to satisfy my nerd-curiosity, I broke out the ole’ oscilloscope to see the sweeping and evolving harmonics in action. A simple sine wave will quickly reveal the added 2nd and 3rd harmonics as you add more and more of the Multidrive to the signal. It beautifully turns saws into razor blades.
Nolan, being that his desk is not too far away from mine, couldn’t stay away from it. We were left with only one option; to make a full track using only the Moog Sub Phatty and document the results. So, off to the empty warehouse space in 20 degree weather to spend 3 hours creating. Equipment used was a Zoom H4n, Ableton Live, KRK Rokit 5, Canon 60D and, of course, The Moog Sub Phatty.
As an added bonus for anyone reading this blog we have included a link to download the Ableton Live session. Enjoy!
Some amp and guitar manufacturers have a habit of resting on their laurels, and letting their past glories carry them through decades forward. Hughes & Kettner is not one of those companies. Instead of rehashing old ideas and repackaging them as new, Hughes & Kettner always seem to be pushing the envelope in amp design, while never forgetting that it’s all about the tone. From high-end stomp boxes, to killer tube and solid state amps, to the legendary Red Box DI, H&K continues to move forward and wow guitarists the world over. Their newest line, the Tubemeister series, has been making major waves over the last year with 18 and 5 watt heads and combos. Combining big tube tone in a portable package, the Tubemeister amps have been extremely well received, deservedly so. Riding on that success, Hughes and Kettner introduces the Tubemeister 36 Head.
The Tubemeister 36 (TM36) is a 36 watt edition of the popular new series. Like the 18 watt version before it, is sports an FX loop, multiple channels, and a built-in power attenuator. It also includes the Red Box DI output, which is allows you to send a cabinet-emulated line out to a mixer or mic preamp. This is a great option for those of us who love home recording but have neighbors who don’t appreciate our musical genius! It also offers a power soak, allowing you to operate in 18, 5, and 1watt modes, or a silent modes which you can activate for direct recording. However, the TM36 packs a lot more than its 18-watt predecessor. Here are some key upgrades:
1) MORE POWER! – As you’ve probably figured out by now, the TM36 has twice the power as the 18 watter. It is powered by 4 EL84 tubes, and 3 12AX7 preamp tubes. Aside from volume, it does add quite a bit of depth to the overall tone. The lows are able to push quite a bit more, and 4×12 cabs get to resonate and move more air.
2) 3 Channels – The TM36 features Clean, Crunch, and Lead channels. The Clean channel has its own independent EQ controls, while the Crunch and share an EQ. All 3 channels have their own Gain and Master volume controls.
3) Digital Reverb – Unlike the 18 and 5, the 36 has built-in digital reverb, accessed on the rear panel via an On/Off button and a Min-Max knob. While the reverb does not get very saturated, it does vary depending on the channel you are on. If you are on the Clean Channel, it is wetter, and dries up as you move to the Crunch and Lead channels.
4) MIDI Footswitching – Here’s where the TM36 is unlike nearly any amp available, regardless of power. Using the optional FSM-432 MIDI board (the same one used for their Coreblade series), you suddenly have access to a multitude of tone combinations. Not only can you switch between channels, but using the MIDI board allows to to preset the power soak setting, the FX Loop, and Reverb. Heres a quick example: You can program the board so you can have one channel be Clean, with Reverb on, running at 36 watts. Then you can program another channel to be your Lead channel, running at 18 watts for added breakup, with Reverb off and the FX loop on! As the FSM-432 has 32 banks, each with 4 presets, you can program 128 different settings….which is freaking crazy.
As Hughes & Kettner was kind enough to loan this to me for a week, I decided to put it to good use. My first night with it, I took it to my band’s rehearsal. Hourly rehearsal joints are hit or miss when it comes to amps, so it was nice to bring something solid to the jam. I plugged it into a Marshall 1960 cab, and blasted away.
I started by checking out the Clean channel. With the added power, I was taken aback by the clarity. Compared to the TM18, the 36 gives a considerable amount of depth and true clean tone. Set the Gain low and the Master high, and you have a very clean, AC30-like chime. Crank the gain and pull back on the Master, and you get a Plexi vibe that is very reactive to your picking velocity.
The Crunch channel offers a very open sound that lends itself well to big open rock chords. As it is not overly compressed, it is a bit unforgiving. In other words, if you haven’t been practicing, this channel will not cover it up for you. It is very reactive to touch, and has a bit of a darker overall tone to it.
The Lead channel was where I spent most of rehearsal, as I like big loud gain. For me, this is where the TM36 won me over, much like the 18. With most amps, I usually dial in a thick rhythm sound, and use an overdrive for leads to add some compression and saturation. With the TM36, I didn’t even use a pedal. I was able to dial in a tone where the chords shined through, yet with enough sustain to bust out leads without any assistance form a pedal. This is a rare trait for any guitar amp in my experience.
Then it was gig time. I strapped the TM36 and my Pedaltrain Jr. to my cart, and hit the road……make that rails. My band was playing Trash Bar in Brooklyn that night, and I was stoked to play through this thing again at an unreasonable volume. Upon plugging it into the house Marshal 4×12, many friends approached me to ask what the little glowing box I had was. After turning it on and up, the sound guy kindly asked me to bring down the volume. I obliged…..until he walked back to his booth of course. Throughout the set, the TM36 held it’s own, and sounded fantastic. It must have brought something extra out of me, because many of my friends told me after the set that my playing was particularly on point that night. I’d like to take all of the credit of course, but great gear brings out the best in any player.
We then took the TM36 to the studio to do the demo video that is featured with this blog. The sound you hear in the video is my Les Paul Custom plugged straight into the head, into a THD 2×12 cab. To mic the cab, we used a Shure SM57 (is there any other cab mic out there?). We also included the raw audio files from this session, as we wanted to give you the same performance through a cab, as well as the Red Box DI out so you can hear the tone from each.
We also included a short little ditty I came up with on the fly. It’s basically sampled drums, 2 rhythm tracks (recorded using the Crunch channel), and one blistering solo (Me? Humble?) recorded using the Lead channel. Hopefully this provides some added context for how good this amp really sounds.
Between the video, the review, and the included audio files, I think I’ve made my point: This amp rules! When I reviewed the TM18 head last year, I was so blown away that I didn’t give it back. The TM36 might take some strong arms to pluck from my hands as well. Thanks again to our friends at Hughes & Kettner for letting us put this through the rigors of NYC, and for making another solid amp in their huge family of amazing gear. If you want to get one for yourself, hit us up at ProAudioStar.com. Until next time, PLAY LOUD!!!!
There are so many ubiquitous terms in the audio industry: bright, brittle, beefy, fat, punchy. For those who like to make a discussion more frustrating, you can say brown, purple or green. Perhaps the king of audio adjective is “warm” – saying something is “warm” can mean a broad spectrum of audio qualities. Is it with less high end, lower added harmonic, slow slew, head bump, tape, tube, transformer, saturation…the list goes on. But overall, the dominant meaning of “warm” when referring to do audio is how much it reminds you of vintage analog. That sound you can’t seem to get with your IC preamp and your icy DAW environment. Naturally, naming your audio company Warm Audio will bring with it a certain level of expectation.
Warm Audio currently makes one product: the WA12 Discrete Mic Pre. The design is based on the classic API 312 mic amp module. Many companies like BAE and OSA have made clones for 500 series racks and can cost around a grand. WA12 is at a very reasonable $449 US. What’s more impressive is the guts of this thing are top notch. It’s completely discrete with dual custom wound USA made Cinemag transformers and a 1731 style opamp (the ones used in the original 312). Even though it follows the 312 schematic, it’s important to note that the WA12 is certainly it’s own thing.
Ok so what do we have here? Open the box to a half-rack sized chassis with a blood orange colored face. From left to right, the front layout is a ¼” input, switches that read HI-Z, +48V, PAD, POL (polarity), TONE, a gain knob that goes from 29-65 and a POWER button. Each button has a corresponding red LED as a helpful reminder that the switch is depressed. On the rear: a combo jack for microphone input, two balanced outputs (one XLR and the other TRS) and the 24V AC external power supply input (included).
It was interesting to find out that you can power the unit with the Golden Age Projects PS-AC4 power supply. This way you can have one power supply for several WA12s or GAP PRE73s. You can also use this so you can use different country’s outlets.
When I took the WA12 home I had a few voiceover jobs lined up. We had a few scripts to go through with the male talent, with each requiring a different character voices. I plugged in my AKG C414 ULS, and right away I noticed that this pre has loads of gain. Voiceovers require a quiet mic pre that can boost up the level of conversation volume performances. A few clicks of the great feeling gain knob to about 9 o’ clock and I was in a good place. The sound was very solid, the low end was tight and low mids around 200-300hz were especially sweet and not boxy.
I played with the tone button a few times (when something is labeled “TONE” how could you resist?). It’s not a feature on any other 312 clones so I was intrigued. Seemed to boost the gain a few db, give the audio a beefier low mid and smooth out the esses in the voice. Taking a look at the manual showed me that the “TONE” button changes the impedance from 600 ohms to 150 ohms. This is really cool! You can get up to +71db of gain for ribbon mics and you can play with loading to get another flavor of tone and saturation.
Next, I tried out the direct in with a bass guitar with EMG active pickups. Hitting the HI-Z button turns off the back combo input and sends the front instrument jack into the entire preamp circuit, transformers and all. I like to play my instruments wide open and I kind of wanted to be able to bring the gain down even lower. I had to put in the pad and bring the gain all the way down. Maybe an output control would be nice so as to experiment with driving the sound. The sound was very solid and detailed. It handled each note with balance and I was impressed with how much it made me notice the sonic texture of my fingers on the strings. With the TONE engaged the sound gets much more sub lows, and I could really feel the difference from my subwoofer. This would be perfect for synths.
Loads of gain with low noise (perfect for ribbon mics)
Tone switch gives a whole new flavor
Great value for what it costs
Delivers on it’s name sake
Power compatible with the Golden Age Projects PS-AC4
No band pass filter
Couldn’t seem to attenuate enough for active instruments
I find wall warts annoying
The Warm Audio WA12 is a really great value for $449. This is a great take on the API 312 design. You get an all-discrete vintage sounding mic pre with custom U.S. made transformers. It’s quiet with loads of gain and has that sweet “TONE” switch. I would suggest following the WA12 with something like a compressor so you can find that sweet spot in the gain without clipping your recording input.