Price: $129 Info: www.mxlmics.com
Get ready, the USB microphones are coming. We reviewed the BLUE Snowball in August. Samson has its CO1U USB condenser mic and Rode just released its Podcaster USB dynamic microphone. Expect more models from other manufacturers in the future. USB microphones attach directly to your computer with no additional mixers, mic preamps or interfaces.
Marshall Electronics adds to the fray with its MXL USB.006. The microphone resembles a traditional long-bodied, vintage large diaphragm condenser. Unlike some of the other USB mics it is a true condenser with a gold-sputtered Mylar diaphragm. It is plug-and-play with most Mac and PC audio systems. Both GarageBand and Audio Companion recording software tested fine with no problems. As always, research your particular program for compatibility.
Sound-wise, the first thing I noticed was an extended low midrange and true low end compared to the more clinical BLUE Snowball. This flattering frequency response soon had my thin voice sounding like a broadcast announcer. There is a dramatic proximity effect if you choose to mic up close. The cardioid-only USB.006’s printed specs offer a 20 Hz – 20 kHz frequency response and sampling rates of 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz.
Setting recording levels with any USB microphone is an imprecise exercise. You must first choose the highest available setting without distortion and then fine-tune by adjusting microphone distance. The USB.006 has three sensitivity settings (neutral, -5 dB, -10 dB). This got me close to optimum levels for most things. The mic should be able to accommodate any vocalist or reasonably loud solo instrument. At the extreme end of the spectrum, a loud rock band practice had to be recorded from a long distance (the next room) to eliminate overloads. Still, it captured the full-range of the rhythm section much better than expected. A -20 dB pad would be a useful addition to the design. I found the mic a bit too easy to distort with some highly amplified sources.
Sound samples of the USB.006 are available at my audio website: http://homepage.mac.com/daviswhite/Sites/soundcamera.htm.
The MXL USB.006 proves that all USB mics do not sound the same. While other mics might accentuate the upper midrange for increased clarity, MXL has voiced this mic for more natural warmth and musicality. Now you have a choice. Included in the package is a padded carrying case, tripod table stand and 10-foot USB cable.
APWMayville Stantron Equipment Rack
Price: starts at $600 www.stantronracks.com
To the control room tourist, an equipment rack is just something that supports equipment. I know differently, as I’ve purchased and installed a lot of racks.
When I learned that a new model was available from APWMayville for review purposes, I gladly volunteered my services to see how their product stacked up.
After a rack is delivered, the first thing you notice is how well it survived the trip.
APWMayville’s Stantron arrived on a wooden pallet to buffer it from adjacent freight. Four cardboard sheets surrounded the rack and were pulled tight with shrink-wrap. One-inch thick honeycombed pads provided corner protection. The review model made the trip with zero dings.
The textured powder coat finish was a model of perfection — very evenly applied, outside and in, with no sign of underspray, overspray or “shadowing” around the rack’s beefy internal braces.
The rack includes black and white height reference guides on both front and rear rails. Mounting rails have threaded bolt holes. These were very cleanly tapped and clear of paint.
Another measure of good rack construction is the squareness of the equipment opening. I checked this with my trusty Stanley framing square and the APWMayville passed with flying colors.
Uniform rail spacing is another mark of rack quality. Some racks come with rails so sprung, a jack is needed to spread them before mounting equipment. Not so with APWMayville — rails were uniformly parallel from top to bottom.
Speaking of rails, relocating rear rails to accommodate rear support of heavy equipment has always been a pain.
APWMayville felt this pain and did something about it. Relocating rails is as simple as loosening the bolts, sliding the rail where it’s needed and then retightening the bolts. Installing or removing side panels is easy too. APWMayville was thoughtful enough to provide hand grips for lifting them.
This is the only rack that I’ve seen which comes with an instruction manual. The rack’s only negative is the peanut-sized rear door latch. It’s a bit small for normal hands.
All in all, I was well pleased and would recommend the product to anyone needing a quality rack.
– James E. O’Neal
Chandler Limited EMI TG12413 Plug-In
Price: $500 (TDM), $300 (RTAS/VST/AU/LE)
One of the highlights of the 2005 AES show in New York City was the Chandler Limited EMI TG12413 plug-in. The plug-in was jointly developed by Chandler Limited and Abbey Road Studios and is based on the original solid state compressor/limiter module in the famous TG 12345 mix desk whose long list of credits include the Beatles’ Let It Be and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon albums.
In 2004 Chandler Limited’s hardware reproduction TG unit was sanctioned by Abbey Road Studios and they announced a collaboration to make additional pieces of authentic gear available through the use of EMI’s original design and circuit board drawings.
Following the hardware version is the Chandler Limited/Abbey Road jointly developed TG 12413 plug-in. The plug-in supports sample rates up to 192 kHz and is compatible with mono, stereo and multi-channel tracks up to 7.1. The TG 12413 package includes the TG 12413 1969 version that emulates the classic module including the standard Hold control and the TG 12413 2005 version which emulates the Chandler Limited TG1 Abbey Road Special Edition limiter. The TG 12413 2005 has the Hold control modified to be Input gain and an overall 10 dB input boost for more aggressive compressing. This plug-in is available in TDM, VST, AU, RTAS and Audio Suite versions for ProTools HD, LE and M-Powered systems.
The TG 12413’s gain meter shows the gain reduction being applied by the current compressor or limiter settings. The meter indicators ranging from +10 (which is actually no compression) to -10 (which is 20 dB of compression) are identical to the vintage TG unit.
The input setting functions as an input gain/threshold. The more this is turned up the more the signal is compressed. The output control is a 21-position switch set in 1 dB increments. This provides ±10 dB of output adjustment for level matching as well as accurate, recallable gain make-up. The recovery switch is marked 1 – 6 because the release times change when switching between compress and limit. Setting 1 is the fast and Setting 6 is the slowest. This is the primary control for varying the sound of the plug-in. The Comp/Limit switches between the compressor and limiter function. The compressor has a fixed 2:1 ratio and the limiter provides up to 20 dB of limiting.
I have to say, this is one fantastic plug-in. I’ve been using it for several months now and I decided before I wrote this review I’d go back over some of my recent mixes and see how frequently it was put to use. I was amazed to find that on average, I’ve been using the TG 12413 plug-in on 10 – 12 tracks (and sometimes up to 20) per mix. This is roughly the same amount as all other dynamic plug-ins combined.
The TG 12413 works wonders on ambient drum mics. It’s the only plug-in that I’ve encountered that can actually do that super squashed room sound, like I’m used to getting from a Fairchild 660 or 670, an Empirical Labs Distressor, a Pendulum 6386 or an old RCA BA-6A and sound completely legit. Digi’s Slam plug-in comes close but the TG 12413 actually pulls it off. I’ve been mixing my drums through a stereo aux with the TG 12413 2005 inserted in the path with fabulous results. The drums sound more punchy and fat and sound bigger without overpowering the mix. Like the original EMI TG 12413, the plug-in has a very classic pumping/breathing sound. You can hear it working but it sounds good.
Although the plug-in typically works well on keyboards there have been a few instances (most often with string pads) where even with small amounts of compression, the pumping was too obvious and it just didn’t work.
The plug-in sounds absolutely fabulous on both male and female vocals. It’s my go-to lead vocal compressor on practically every song. It sounds equally good on electric and acoustic guitars. It occasionally has too much color for acoustic instruments but if your goal is that squashed, in-your-face Beatles quality sound, then nothing can touch the TG 12413.
While the plug-in might seem a bit pricey at $675 for the TDM version and $450 for the RTAS version, I believe it is worth every penny.
Price: $249 Contact: www.audixusa.com
I first heard the Audix FireBall at a music festival several months ago when an unimpressive 1970s-esque (1970s-bad, not 1970s-good) rock band played harmonica through it. While the band failed to impress the sound of their harmonica didn’t and I was pushing and shoving at the end of their set to try to see what mic they were using on the instrument. Low and behold, it was the Audix FireBall, Audix’s dynamic microphone specifically designed for the harmonica. Although my sessions of harmonica recording are few, I was thrilled when I was given the opportunity to try out the mic.
The FireBall, which has a tight cardioid pickup pattern and a smooth, uniform frequency response of 50 Hz-15 kHz, works equally well in both live and studio applications and is precise, clear and capable of handling sound pressure levels beyond 140 dB without distorting.
The low impedance FireBall has a transformerless design and a balanced output which allows interference-free performance, even with long cable runs. The mic is CNC machined at the Audix factory in Wilsonville, Oregon out of a solid bar of aircraft grade aluminum. The mic’s final look is achieved with an elaborate three stage anodizing process that gives every microphone its own distinctive look.
The FireBall includes a mic clip (Audix’s D-Clip) that is adjustable through 180 degrees, and a zippered microphone carrying pouch (P1). Optional accessories include an external foam windscreen (WS357), a 25-foot right angle XLR-XLR mic cable (CBL-DR25), a 20-foot XLR – XLR mic cable (CBL-20), a four-foot adapter cable for RAD360 wireless bodypack (CBL-V360), and a high quality low to high-impedance transformer (T50-K).
Unlike the Shure Bullet, to run the FireBall directly into a guitar amp, there needs to be a low-to-high impedance matching transformer inserted between the mic and the amp. When using this type of impedance matching device, there is typically some loss of signal and frequency response but this is typically a good thing since having a little less top end is desired when adding in the characteristics of a guitar amplifier. (Audix says: The Audix T50-K is designed to maintain the integrity of the signal. – Ed.)
As expected, I found that the FireBall works extremely well in recording the harmonica. The mic’s design allows the ball grille of the mic and the harmonica to be held in one hand leaving the other hand free for cupping. Unlike other harmonica mics, the FireBall is designed to reproduce notes accurately and clearly.
While the mic shines on harmonica, I found that it frequently works well on several other instruments including toms, snare (both top and bottom), congas, bongos and saxophone.
The mic is also a nice option for vocals, especially higher volume, more aggressive vocals. While I wouldn’t buy the FireBall solely for vocals I did find that in some instances it provided the perfect vocal texture.
The FireBall is not the most versatile microphone that I’ve encountered but it is hands down the best harmonica mic that I’ve used. That coupled with its low price and its ability to provide an excellent option in several other situations make it an excellent addition to any engineer or studio’s microphone arsenal.
It should be noted that recently Audix has introduced an additional model – the FireBall V ($199), which incorporates the added feature of a volume control. The FireBall V features a black cast body as opposed to the machined brass body of the FireBall.
– Russ Long