Noted TV soundtrack performer/composer and longtime Pro Sound News reviewer Rich Tozzoli looks back at the gear that entered his studio this year and never left.
Over the past year, I discovered many new products through the review process that impressed me enough to buy and add them to my daily workflow. Let’s examine some of the review gear that found its way into my studio since late 2016 and discuss just how much of a difference it makes to my productions overall. These are listed in no particular order.
LEWITT LCT 640 TS MICROPHONE
Lewitt LCT 640 TS Microphone
For this year’s annual St. John, US Virgin Island Recording Retreat, we brought along this then-unknown microphone and it has turned out to be a star in my book. What makes the LCT 640 TS large-diaphragm multipattern condenser special, you ask? It’s truly unique in that you can change the polar pattern after recording, during the mix/post stage. In dual-output mode, the signal of the front and back of the mic are output separately (XLR), via the included adapter cable. By using Lewitt’s free Polarizer plug-in, you can change the polar patterns by swiping across the bottom polar graph of omni, wide cardioid, cardioid, supercardioid and figure 8. Users can even move between two patterns or change the pattern in real time.
We used it to record mono drums in a bright live room (pick up a pair for truly amazing stereo recording possibilities). Sometimes we wanted more of the ceiling/ambient sound, and sometimes more of the direct front sound. With the Polarizer, it was a few clicks away from having the production choice of either. It’s simply nice to have the option after the recording is done, allowing you to experiment with what best fits the track. Also, we turned the mic to the side and recorded in stereo: a great thing to be able to do with a single mic.
UNIVERSAL AUDIO APOLLO TWIN MKII
It’s hard to believe how much I use this little thing. I tend to do a lot of mobile production and composing, and that means keeping things “lean and mean” with the utmost focus on quality. In one small package, the Apollo Twin MkII offers two XLR mic/line inputs, TRS monitor L/R and line outputs, a Thunderbolt port for connectivity, power on/off and an Optical input. On top, there’s a big multipurpose knob and a handful of buttons (Monitor/Headphone, Dim, Talkback, etc.) as well as a Hi-Z quarter-inch instrument input and a headphone output.
Inside, there are four SHARC processing chips (in the QUAD version), 24-bit 192 kHz performance and most importantly, the preamps sound great. There is a definite quality increase from my previous-generation Twin, and aside from the seamless integration to the UAD Console and all the plug-ins, I also have near latency-free tracking thanks to it. To expand the system, users may cascade up to four Apollo interfaces or plug in some external preamp channels, as I do, right into the Optical port. All that in a compact unit that connects with a single Thunderbolt cable to your computer? Believe me, I was immediately sold.
GRACE DESIGN M108 8 CHANNEL MIC PREAMP/ADC
There’s a reason I take this with me on most every session. Staying with that recording rig philosophy of lean and mean, this single-rackspace preamp features eight super clean 24-bit/192kHz capable preamps and digital outputs via AES, ADAT, USB Class 2 and Dante. There’s a reference DAC and headphone amp built in and two balanced Hi-Z instrument inputs on the front, as well as a high-contrast OLED display for system parameters and setup, and even a ribbon-mic mode. It’s got an RJ 45 Ethernet port for desktop control of up to 12 m108s with Grace Design’s Remote Control Software and combination RS 485/422 serial/MIDI ports for control from their m802 RCU or Pro Tools.
I carry a small rack around with me for my mobile sessions, and the Grace m108 is in the middle, just below a good power supply. Connecting to either my UA Apollo Twin MkII or Apollo R8, it helps give me eight more clean and clear preamp channels that connect with a simple optical cable (as most TV work is 24-bit/48 kHz). So, with a Twin MkII and my m108, for example, I have 10 channels in a super-compact system. When working at home on my Pro Tools HD system, I pop it out of the rack and place it atop my desktop, where it seamlessly clocks the entire system.
SONNOX DYNAMIC EQ: UPDATED
Sonnox Dynamic EQ: Updated
It’s amazing how long I’ve been using the Sonnox Oxford EQ. It was one of the first EQ plug-ins that sounded crisp and clean and did nothing but compliment whatever you placed in its path. Considering its now-classic lineage, the Sonnox’s latest Dynamic EQ is actually much more than an update. Unlike a static EQ, it dynamically reacts to the level of frequencies in your audio, which I find most useful with things like vocals, drums loops, percussion, acoustic guitar and certain bright string instruments. Working with L, R or M/S, it can tame parts that stick out and it leaves them alone when they don’t. This simply makes things sound better in the overall production.
The new interface is very uncluttered and easy to use, and onscreen, users can click on any of the five band buttons for the dynamic EQ points (with Oxford Type-3 curve), or the small pointed triangle for a fixed setting, which can be used for example to offset the dynamic curve. For controls, Threshold, Dynamics, Attack and Release are offered, and you can choose from Peak (levels) or Onsets (change speed). Above and Below buttons allows either dynamic upwards expansion or reduction, all visible in the active FFT display. Its nice that users can solo monitor each band to dial in sonic needs, and there’s access to internal/external sidechain functionality for each band as well.
As you might expect, jumping into the presets is a great way to get an idea of what it can do, and one of my favorites turned out to be “snare punch-spill control” on drum loops. I was able to quickly punch up the bottom, tamp down some of the room sound and add a tight crispness to the overall sound. It’s kind of ‘compression meets expansion meets EQ’ in one package. A quick bypass said it all, and I found myself using that kind of sound on many other types of percussive tracks. Like the classic Oxford R3 EQ, this is one seriously musical tool to sculpt with.
Rich Tozzoli is an award-winning, Grammy-nominated producer, engineer and composer for programming such as FOX NFL, Pawn Stars, Duck Dynasty and Oprah & Deepak Chopra.