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    Everything Matters


    2016 - 09.16

    A rousing bout of discussion among friends prompted me to search out a drawing I’d seen on the web sometime back concerning the “sad state of modern recording”. Basically it’s mocking the signal chain of recording artist to listener and I’ve created (ironically?) a more high fidelity version of this graphic for your enjoyment here:

    Modern Recording

    What is this saying from a musician’s perspective?  I guess that ultimately it’s up to the listener to decide what time/research/money they want to invest into music.  If a listener wants to be low-effort, they are free to do that although it really doesn’t demand that much money to get decently-good sound.  The image is mostly just for laughs but it does implicitly say something philosophical about the effort that recording engineers put into their craft of capturing something in exquisite quality.  I mean people don’t go tremendously out of their way to acquire just the right tools without knowing they’ll be rewarded for using them.  There is absolutely a major implication in the ingredients you choose when making food.  And a colossal difference between a carefully grilled steak versus McDonald’s.

    What touched all this off was the recent news that the iPhone 7 will have no headphone jack. I reacted to this news with laughter because it seemed so farcical, like a running joke that never stopped being funny for so long that it actually took wind and became a twisted reality. There was a time not long ago when I was interested enough in gadgets that I might have weighed in on this development with vociferous indignation but maybe I’ve stopped caring that much? It still does fascinate me that people will bend over backwards to rationalize this brazenly anti-user, anti-battery-life, anti-fidelity design choice. I mean I’ve got a few different sets of headphones which are each valuable listening tools for my own mixing/mastering projects and all of them would be incompatible with this “fancy” new phone without the use of a dongle. That’s just… bizarre.

    Apple’s had a long, rich history of incomprehensible design choices like the hockey-puck mouse, the elimination of optical drives, the elimination of USB ports, and the recessed headphone jack on the iPhone 1 which now seems like a strange foreshadowing. My friends were riffing that Apple had also done away with Bluetooth and replaced it with their own proprietary wireless format called “Courage” and it wasn’t until I searched the web that I could figure out if they were serious or joking. Turns out they were making a clever joke but I think Apple should do it. How far can they go? For the iPhone 8 they should eliminate the screen I think. Too many clashing colors and confusing aesthetics for the modern consumer. The next phone will be a chrome-plated egg shape to literally mirror the skeuomorphic designs of nature. It’ll have a single LED that communicates to the user via a system of colors and flashing patterns about Donald Drumpf’s latest assertion that kale is part of Obamacare and needs to be banished. Accessories will include a $37.95 polish iCloth to keep the chrome egg plating fingerprint-free (please stop touching it), and an optional dongle which connects the egg to an external iScreen, if you really are that old fashioned that you still need a screen, you curmudgeonly technophobe. People would be just frothing at the opportunity to defend those choices, I know it! I also do genuinely wonder if Apple has actually made their billions by trading the stocks of accessory manufacturers and releasing strings of products to manipulate the stock prices in their favor up or down.

    So that’s all pretty amusing but why do I care? I guess I don’t really. I’ve been content with Android for long enough now that whatever Apple does or doesn’t do has no effect on me so this rambling is all just for fun. And possibly part of my internal debate to answer the question, which is more stupid: continually voicing your unsolicited opinions on inane matters like what you’re cooking for supper, or continually saying nothing and maybe because of that having nothing to say? Of course the right place to land is somewhere in-between those two extremes but I feel I’ve been erring on the latter side too long so here’s a dishing in favor of the former:

    As the above graphic implies, there is a difference made with hardware choice. And everything matters. In my own music that I’ve been recording and mastering, I’ve been continually changing, tweaking, and improving my artistry, small step by small step. From stylistic choices about the philosophy of mixing (should all instruments be clearly audible or should a single instrument be firmly holding the “lead”), to technical choices about the mastering (how much compression on the overheads is too much on the mid-band) to hardware decisions (which mic should I use on trumpet or snare, what placement is best for upper Leslie horn), to the musical choices which happen during the moment itself—all of that plays a role in what comes out at the end.

    When I create music I am trying to get better at that for my own inner critic and my own inner enjoyment-listener. I do it to my own standard, or maybe more accurately I do it for the inherent accomplishment of having done it well. Never once does the sentiment “no one will ever notice” enter into my mind in this process because let’s be brutally honest here: hardly ever does anyone else even listen to begin with!! Besides my fellow musicians and maybe a random YouTuber now and then. And that’s ok. If I was creating music to please some hypothetical judge I’d be doing it for the wrong reason anyway. But my point here is that if the Sennheiser e609 sounds better than the Shure SM57 microphone when it comes to recording my friend Vince’s guitar, then I’m going to pick the better one because that’s what artistry is about: getting better at making your thing. A million different musicians all make choices like that every day and it all matters to them as individuals and to the overall quality level of the medium as a whole. If everyone gave up and said right we’re all using Fisher Price microphones going forward because why bother since the new iPhone wireless audio restricts the bitrate to 2800 baud or whatever, that’d be dumb as hell. And so it IS dumb as hell that Apple wants to get rid of cables which is indisputably a step backwards in terms of signal integrity, interference, and so on. Quality matters, end of story.

    I hope people vote with their wallets on this one because love em or hate em, Apple is a trendsetter. Maybe at worst this is the beginning of the end for the cult of Jobs, or at the least maybe a few die-hard loyalists might blink and realize that the world’s 2nd most valuable corporation isn’t a hip buddy who just wants to jam out with them over some cool tunes, they’re more of a malicious middle-man of sorts, who wants to water-down what’s great about music and take your money in exchange for the illusion of coolness that comes with this club that really just takes anyone’s $700 who’s dumb enough to hand it over. That’s right, iSaid it. Audio cables for life, people. Because music’s richness is in the fine details and as we firmly established, everything matters when it comes to that.

    Where the Magic Happens


    2016 - 07.31

    There’s been a few awesome milestones lately in my world of recording.  Let’s rattle em off:

    Electra MAXXED1. I’ve got “www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet”!

    My YouTube channel now has enough subscribers that I could acquire a custom URL.  Now all of my Electric Trumpet exploits can now be seen at the easy-to-remember address of www.YouTube.com/ElectricTrumpet which is pretty nifty indeed (although the embedded link here takes you right to the full videos page).  I have continued to upload more content there and there shall be a steady stream to come as well so check it out both now and later.

    2. The size of my musical exploits is now crossing one Terrabyte in size!!

    As you can see by the hard drive properties in the screenshot at left, my recording hard drive is soon to be full.  The only thing on this hard drive is audio recordings I have made!  There is maybe a small bit of filler in there in terms of mp3s of songs I need to practice or other bloat like zip files of sessions to be uploaded and shared but it’s mostly jams, wavs, and things happenin.  It feels so great to see this.  It’s one thing to stack up a big pile of gear and spend a bunch of cash on the tools of the trade, but it feels a lot better to see the proof in the pudding so to speak, the walking of the walk in actually creating stuff.  There’s a ton of people out there who spend boatloads of money on expensive hardware, be it photography or music or whatever, but I always find myself internally asking the question, “Yeah, but what have you MADE?”  Here I am, earning the right to talk that trash.  Hell yeah.

    3. The input capacity of my setup has expanded to THIRTY!!!

    I’m pretty psyched up about the fact that I’ve now acquired enough gear to extend my recording setup from 16 channels up to 30!  I’m adding a sweet “The Moment Of Genesis” tag to this post for this milestone.  On the face of it, it seems like 16 channels should be plenty, right?  But as time has gone on I have expanded and expanded my methods of recording, and we’re now at the point that I’ve used the max of 16 channels for many consecutive sessions now, wishing that I had the capability to go higher.  If that seems unlikely, let me rattle them off: 1.overhead high-hat 2. overhead ride 3. snare 4. kick 5. electric bass 6. electric guitar 7. Leslie organ horn left 8. Leslie organ horn right 9. trumpet stand mic 10. Leslie bottom (15″) 11. trumpet pedalboard left 12. trumpet pedalboard right 13. trumpet clip-on mic (blended with stand for tone) 14. lower snare mic 15. room mic left 16. room mic right…  And there’s 16!  First thing I’m going to add over that will be 3 tom mics so that I can high pass the overheads, cutting the bass and the snare out of my overhead track without killing the life of the toms.  I have also been dreaming of adding an auxiliary percussion/conguero now and then, or having the ability to add other horn players, or a doubling of guitar or keys maybe.  So this unlocks all that capability although the main thing immediately is the addition of tom mics which I hope will clean up the low and high end overall.  Behold the glorious rack which will bring all that to life:

    recording rack setup 8/16

    The most complex electric trumpet setup to date


    2016 - 06.17

    I thought this photo ought to be captured here to document the state of my configuration on 5/21/16:

    Electric Trumpet Pedalboard and Leslie

    Since there was no organ on this session,  the horn is setup to run through the Leslie… Yo dawg I heard you like horns… so we put your horn though a horn!  As you might guess, the trumpet throught a Leslie horn can be exceptionally piercing.  Devoted readers may notice that my Leslie model 205 did not originally include the horn, which I have just recently added.  Horn through the Leslie is pretty neat although after trying it a few times I have concluded that organ (as one might expect) is still what makes it truly shine.

    Also new in this image are 3 rental pedals from PedalGenie.com, the Dr Scientist Tremoloescence, the Moog Minifooger flanger, and the Pigtronix Envelope Phaser.  Those three pedals aRe listed in order of increasing coolness for their effect on the horn.  I’ve had fun with all three although by this stage the bar is set very high for a pedal to be a “keeper”.  A new round should be arriving soon.

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 3/29/16


    2016 - 04.12

    Electric Trumpet setup from 3-13-16

    It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve done an update on the electric trumpet pedalboard and posted about it on here, although I’ve been busy using it. A few aspects of the setup have evolved since I posted the last signal chain and there’s been many rental pedals in the interim as well.

    Here’s the chain, as of March 2016:

    Boss OC-2 octave
    Eventide Pitchfactor
    Source Audio SA143 bass envelope
    Morley Power Wah
    Damage Control Liquid Blues
    Malekko BIT sample rate reducer
    Keeley 6-stage Phaser (rental)
    Moog Minifooger Ring Modulator (rental)
    A/B splitter
    A chain:

    Line 6 DL4 delay modeler/looper
    Maestro PH-1 Phaser
    Moog Bass MuRF
    TC Electronic Flashback delay
    Line 6 MM4 modulation modeler

    B chain:

    Boss TE-2 Tera Echo (rental)
    Damage Control Glass Nexus

    I moved the OC-2 back to first in the chain because it needs a raw signal to track well. The Pitchfactor can still track the output while the OC-2’s active just fine, although the inverse is not true. The purple envelope is new and it rocks. More on that…

    The Source Audio SA143 Pro Bass Envelope:

    At last, this is the envelope that I’ve been searching for. It’s got a fast, responsive filter, a ton of variability thanks to the knobs, and I can save six presets. These presets are valuable because like the SolidGoldFX Funkzilla, this pedal includes an LFO (oscillator) which can control the filter. That makes for a lot of possibilities.

    The Source Audio SA163 pro bass envelope filter

     

    Source Audio found ways to bury a ton of functionality inside this pedal. The center display shows an EQ which can be used to tweak the timbre of the filter but more interestingly, if you press the two black buttons to the right of it, the function of that display changes, allowing you to access the “backpage” parameters. Most of these simply control expression input but two of them are very juicy: one, the Q of the filter which changes it from mellow to insane and two, the shape of the waveform used by the LFO. There’s a good selection of waves to choose from. I created a laserbeam sound by using a high Q and an upward sawtooth wave, a step filter (at last I have one!) by using the random waveform with a medium Q, and a third, crazy setting that sounds like beeping robots and computers by using the random waveform and a high Q. This pedal is rife with creative potential if you take the time to play with it.

    Digging deeper into the Eventide Pitchfactor:

    If there is one pedal that’s truly bottomless on my board, it’s definitely the Eventide Pitchfactor. The Pitchfactor does need some one on one time with the player before trying to use it in context if you want to milk the most interesting effects out of it though. I have taken 3 sessions now sitting down with it and creating some custom presets for myself which is really where the magic happens. Initially I covered the basics with a 5ths harmonizer, a pitchflex mode that allows for +2 octave bends with the expression pedal (which I have surprisingly used a ton), and a four part harmonizer. Second time around I added a few more basic modes and dual-delay with a long repeat time that ascends sub-chromatically in frequency each time the delays repeat, which is super unique.

    Most recently I created a few new presets that take advantage of the other modes I have not been using on this pedal. I added a synth setting although for whatever reason the synth seems to have the worst lag of all the modes in this pedal so we’ll see how useful it turns out to be. Next up was an arppegiator which might be neat in the right moment, especially looped. Finally I added another ascending delay that climbs up the whole tone scale as it repeats, inspired by a video of the Earthquaker Devices “Rainbow Machine” pedal. This whole-tone ascending thing was what I had originally set out to create when I built the previous sub-chromatic ascending delay. What I had discovered by accident was just so cool that I forgot to complete what I was actually trying to do!

    Do I like this or not? The Boss Tera Echo TE-2:

    20160311_175809

    I can’t decide what to think about this guy. It has generated a lot of buzz for a Boss pedal since the aim here was to combine reverb and delay into one pedal which was a low-cost attempt to reach for a sound like you get with the Strymon BigSky (the descendant of my Glass Nexus reverb/delay). The Tera Echo does get a “big” sound through a mono amplifier when you’re in the room with it, but since I record in stereo, direct from the pedalboard into a mixer, I can listen to it on headphones and hear exactly what it really sounds like in comparison to all the other things in my arsenal.

    Inside the headphones it’s surprisingly… small. It gives a long-trail reverb wash but in terms of stereo soundstage when you compare it to the TC electronics reverbs/delays it’s not anywhere close in grandeur. It also has some kind of bandpass bump in its frequency response that gets tiring to me after a while. You can clearly tell when the Tera Echo is in use, as opposed to the other delays/reverbs I also use. Which maybe pidgeonholes it–a distinctive sound that you can’t change all that much. I will say that it does have a killer knob twist squeal when you change the delay time knob. That was a lot of fun. But ultimately this pedal feels like too much of a one-trick pony, ‘there-it-is-again’ type of effect.

    Phaser Malaise:

    I am apparently lucky to be spoiled with exquisite phasing, since I have pitted several very high end phasers against the Maestro PH-1 and all of them fall short. The latest is the Keeley 6-stage phaser. Before that was the Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone reissue, and the SolidGoldFX Apollo. The Apollo did sound uniquely great with the random LFO driving it but again, the phasing itself clearly did not sound as good as the Maestro. In the last session I still had it, I did figure out that slow movement of the Apollo expression pedal input did yield some deep textural shifts that sounded excellent with reverb and delay giving it a wash. Idunno, I keep thinking there has to be a lusher, more Steve Miller-ish, more Tame Impala-esque phaser out there for me, but I keep trying and failing to find it. Perhaps I should be looking for a flanger or something along those lines.

    The TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb:

    Since I had such an excellent experience with the TC Flashback delay, I decided I needed to check out his partner in ethereal crime, the HOF reverb. The Flashback blew my socks off in terms of the sheer size of it’s soundscape and I would say the HOF was almost right there with it. Maybe not quite as large, but not too far behind. This pedal presents an impressive array of reverb styles, which was very fun to scroll through and try on my own, but left me with the question, how many of these would actually be distinguishable if you were changing between modes during a jam session? I suppose you could ask the same question when it comes to the Flashback’s many delay types, but I do think the differences are even more subtle when it comes to ‘verb, in the midst of an actual song.

    That said, if I didn’t already have the superb reverb of the Damage Control Glass Nexus, I’d be swayed by this pedal. Obviously many people are because I saw a recent list of the 10 top-selling pedals of 2015 and this was near the top. Deservedly so. I tell you, if TC Electronic ever made an all-in-one multi-effects unit that combined the HOF, Flashback, and a smattering of their many modulators, now that would be very difficult to resist. Multi-effects typically means an inferior version of 20 different things, but I gotta hand it to TC, they make excellent stuff.

    Moog Ring ModulatorMoog Ring Modulator:

    Ok, now this thing rocks. I have a ring mod on my Line 6 MM-4, but like everything the MM-4 does, it’s not as rich as the real McCoy of whatever effect you’re talking about. On the most recent jam as of this writing, I threw this ring mod all over the place and it produced some crazy, impressive sounds. I keep coming back to the Billy Cobham album “Spectrum” which has a ton of ring modulator on it and this Moog version comes closer to that “get him away from the knobs, he’s out of control!” type of feeling than anything the MM-4 has given me. Although that’s not a surprise given that it’s a Moog pedal. I would enjoy having this guy around full time although with great power comes great responsibility. It’s hard to use this in moderation since it’s just so goofy and fun. Maybe I should not have this much power. I’m still not sure yet.

    Walrus Audio Janus Fuzz/Tremolo:

    This pedal was a letdown for me. Obviously, its ULTRA cool looking. It’s got graphics and two huge joysticks; you take one look at it and it screams ‘how could this not kickass?!’ Well at least on the trumpet, I don’t think it kicks ass. Two reasons why: one is that I have never been a big fan of distortion/overdrive/fuzz on the horn. Unlike guitar, I think trumpet should project its natural tone and I’ve never heard a distortion that took that tone into a differently-interesting direction. This was no different. And two, the tremolo joystick control was a wasted opportunity: vertical axis controlled wet/dry and horizontal axis controlled speed. Speed is great, but damn, couldn’t they have made the vertical axis waveform shape?! That would have made this thing like 20x more interesting. Opportunity missed. I have also used a lot of tremolos and I wasn’t blown away by the sound of the trem itself. I’ll chock this one up as another example of “here’s a pedal that guitar players seem to go nuts over, but I can’t make it do anything special on trumpet”. That seems to happen a lot. You can also include in this list the Chase Audio Warped Vinyl, The Red Panda Particle Delay, and others. I know, I know. Those pedals are practically worshiped. But for me, they didn’t deliver. These are the lessons that I’m learning through Pedal Genie.

    I had also tried the Mad Professor Snow White Bass Auto Wah but found that it was both too slow in terms of speed and too tame in terms of the filter Q to give the proper tone that I wanted. Prior to that I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo which combines a wah, a step filter, and an autowah into a single package. Cool idea but again the frequency content of trumpet was not a match with what that pedal was trying to do.  Although the lowest note on a conventionally tuned guitar is E2, 82.4Hz it seems that many pedals are voiced to have the ‘meat’ of their frequency content much higher than that. In my own setup I often favor the “bass” version of a pedal if the maker has two versions.  Nowhere was this better illustrated to me than on the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo, which seemed like a very alluring treadle box on paper. However the autowah was not even able to trigger at all on the trumpet! No matter what setting I used, the autowah did literally nothing at all.

    The Infanem Small Echo Array was a unique concept–it has four separate delays which are all based off the same speed. Dialing up each of the individual four delays produces different rhythmic patterns. That was pretty neat.

    So there you have it. Tons of effects were tried, lots of things were learned and hopefully some sweet music got made along the way. I should post updates like this more often that summarize my findings (note to self). Another thing I want to do sometime soon is create a video about the macro-level philosophy of playing horn with effects and why my setup has evolved into what it is now. But that’s for another day…

    Electric Trumpet pedalboard snapshot: 5/22/15


    2015 - 05.31

    Here’s a few more photos to document the transitory pedalboard setup of the month. I’ve continued borrowing pedals from the fantastic service PedalGenie.com and this month I’m enjoying three new ones: 1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser 2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla envelope filter and 3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo. Here’s an overall shot of the board as she appeared for the 5/15/15 and 5/22/15 sessions:

    The board: 5-22-15 edition
    A few observations about each:

    1. The SolidGold FX Apollo Phaser is a decent-to-good phaser packed with some totally amazing features. What I mean by that is, purely as a phaser, I still prefer the 1970s Maestro Phaser also seen in the overall photo, BUT the Apollo has some super creative ways of applying the phase that I’ve never seen on another phaser. First off, you can connect an expression pedal and use it to control the position of the phase combination. They describe it as an interesting take on the wah, but since a phaser is totally different than an envelope I’m going to say that the similarity ends with the fact that both are controlled by your foot. This was the feature that drew me to the pedal and I will say that it delivered, conceptually, on what I envisioned when I read the description. In use, the expression control seems to be subtle in the context of a full band. Turning up the resonance of the filter makes it cut a bit harder, and it is quite captivating to mess around with. Matter of fact I have held onto this one from PedalGenie for two months to give myself more time to see what plays out with this expression pedal control.

    SolidGoldFX Apollo Phaser

    It took me a while to figure it out, but the expression pedal control is best used slowly, to create a textural metamorphosis rather than quickly, like you’d “waka-chicka” on a wah.  With that approach a ‘bigger’ sound is yielded, one which allows more subtlety to come out.  Surprisingly, in the context of improvisation the feature I find myself reaching for more than the expression pedal control is the randomizer function, which bounces the phase position all over whimsically. This, combined with the tap tempo control allows you to create a rhythmic texture that sounds similar to a step filter. I really like that effect.  The randomizer and the expression control both do a lot to make this pedal something special. I know I am going to miss this one a lot when it’s gone.

    2. The SolidGold FX Funkzilla Envelope Filter–with a name like that, how could it be bad?! It might be the coolest looking pedal I’ve ever seen with the Godzilla graphic and the sparkly purple paint job. It also has expression pedal input although I couldn’t seem to make it do much that felt interesting. Last month I had tried the Voodoo Labs Wahzoo pedal which is a wah, step filter, and autowah all in one. Regretfully the attack range of the autowah on that pedal was simply out of range for what my trumpet produces, and it literally did nothing. So the Funkzilla is the autowah sound I was wishing for! When you play a very fast phrase you can feel it getting slightly behind on its attack but for the most part it keeps up well even through brisk phrases. This sound is a lot of fun.

    The first session I Funkzilla’d (YES!) I had the ‘Zil after the wah pedal which I think was a mistake. On the second one I used it before the wah, which allows me to slowly sculpt the tone without losing the Funkzilla filter attack. So this guy belongs early in the signal chain I think.

    The SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA.

    One thing I despise about both of these SolidGold FX pedals is the footswitches they use are hard as a rock and click very loudly when you engage them. Even if I was a guitarist and these were on the floor, I think I’d still dislike that. In our recordings you can hear them click on and off loud and clear. Why anyone would prefer this type of a switch, I do not understand. I’m very biased since most of my pedals reside at waist height and I actuate them with my hands, but were I to buy either of these pedals, I think I would open them up and rip out these awful switches to replace them with soft ones.

    3. The Electro Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo is the most complicated tremolo I’ve ever seen. Complexity is a double edged sword of course, and I feel like I’m stumbling through hallways in the vast mansion of what it can truly do. Right away the coolest feature seems to be the fact that this tremolo offers a few rhythmic patterns besides a constant on/off cycle. Those patterns can also be adjusted to have a different attack with the waveform style knob, swapping from a hard-edged square wave to a smoother triangle wave, to the smoothest sine wave setting. There is a ton of variety in here. I’m blown away by the possibilities that it offers but I’m also left wondering how many people ever touch the bottom on this thing. One dangerous aspect of a very complicated pedal is when you’re in the heat of a cool moment and you reach for it, expecting, you know, a tremolo–but instead it’s still set to that weird-ass setting from earlier in the jam that you were playing around with and was cool at the time but is totally out of place now. The Eventide Pitch Factor has burned me a few times in the same way. Awesome pedals, and they do so much, but they demand your attention to really control them.

    The Electro-Harmonix Pulsar Tremolo

    4. The TC Electronic Flashback Delay–I got this pedal as a loaner from PedalGenie and I liked it so much that I had to actually buy one to keep full time. This now makes 3 (yes, three) delay pedals on the board, which is getting a little bit ridiculous, but wow, it has such a tremendously big soundstage when used in stereo that I was instantly hooked to it. Vince (our guitarist) commented on a portion of our jam “that’s quite a trumpetscape”… any pedal that can coin a new word deserves consideration as a permanent member, I think.  Besides it’s giant stereo field which immediately makes it presence known, the Flashback also has a host of varied sounds which each have their own appeal.  I’ve been digging the LoFi mode and the Ping Pong most of all, but the mod has quite a pleasing modulation sound as well.  And the Tone Print setting lets you add in pretty much anything else you can think of using the very comprehensive editor which runs on your PC and transfers new settings over via USB.  That’s a brilliant idea.

    So full-time TrumpetScape™ Technology is now on hand and life is good. Having these extra pedals around is a lot of fun and stimulating.

    TC Electronic Flashback stereo delay modeler.  With my gaffer tape snake proudly carrying all signals in the background.

    Subtle Improvements to the Home Studio


    2015 - 04.10

    I’ve got a cheap set of MXL 990 and 991 microphones that I’ve been using as room mics and overhead drum mics for all my sessions and they’ve been doing well considering how cheap they are.  A while back I saw on the web that there’s a community of people who are into modifying these mics to punch above their weight.  The simplest mod is a capacitor replacement; three ceramic caps which are part of the audio signal path are swapped out for film caps.  I know my way around a soldering iron so this was a slam dunk for $7 a mic.  A few before and after pics are below with audio results on the way later….

    IMG_7197 BLOGIFIED

    Shown above is the PCB with the three new caps sitting beside it, and there they are installed in the image below, noted by the green arrows.  Not the world’s most beautiful solder joints but they’ll get the job done.

    IMG_7200 BLOGIFIED

    A Relic of their Apogee: The Kenwood KA-8300


    2015 - 04.06

    The Kenwood KA-8300

    Probably the coolest piece of audio gear I have is this 1975 Kenwood integrated amplifer, the KA-8300. Kenwood’s not typically a brand associated with hi-fi now, but back in the day they built some real beasts. And beastly the ‘8300 is, weighing in at 35 pounds. It looks and feels like Kenwood had something to prove with this unit. Power is 80W RMS per channel into 8Ω with 0.1% THD rated from 20Hz to 40kHz. That power rating, being from ’75, is surely conservative. It can also handle 4Ω or 16Ω speakers too, which is somewhat unusual for this time period. The most obvious distinguishing features of the amp are those sweet-looking meters on the front. Watching these is a pleasurable novelty and has actually taught me a bit about the amount of wattage required for typical listening levels…not much! There is a toggle button which swaps the meter range between 3W and 100W. This switch is almost always left on 3W if you want to see the needles bump at all. That surprised me, just how little power is actually used for most listening.

    The KA-8300 has pre-amp outputs which can be used simultaneously with the speaker outputs if you want. When I bought a power amp off Craigslist those came in handy for testing it out. But maybe the most useful feature on this unit are the turnover controls, which are 3-position levers that affect the frequency of the “bass” and “treble” tone knobs. Having the option to move those frequencies around actually makes quite a difference in the usefulness of the bass/treble knobs since it allows the user to tailor the controls to match the speakers being driven. Similarly, the “Loudness” EQ adjustment (which boosts highs/lows for better listening at quiet volumes) has two settings. When listening on the Marantz HD-770s which have a 12″ woofer, setting #2 definitely sounds better whereas on their little brothers, the Marantz HD-440s, switching to setting #1 gave a better bass sound. Loudness is a nifty little circuit which I do prefer to use when the volume is at a low/normal level.

    Although this model was not Kenwood’s top-of-the-line unit, I believe it was only a rung or two below that. For the extreme collector, there is a rare copper-colored faceplace and a slightly higher wattage unit that was otherwise virtually identical in feature-set to this one. Those amps command a much higher asking price but I felt this one hit the sweet spot of equalization features and power for the dollar.

    The KA-8300 is totally built like a tank. The proof is in the pudding too, since when I bought this unit on eBay from a vintage-electronics restoration shop, the faceplate was in perfect condition. As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed to see that it arrived with a bend on the upper right corner despite the fact that the unit was very well pacakged by being wrapped up with bubble wrap and styrofoam around that. 1/4″ aluminum plate doesn’t bend easily and after attempting with a large pliers and channel locks, I gave up and decided to call it character. What I learned in the process is that it would take a lot of force to bend that faceplate, meaning the unit sustained a pretty good impact and has kept right on ticking, functionally. All the knobs and switches work good and I hope this one should be a centerpiece of my audio collection for the rest of my life. Here’s to many late nights of musical enjoyment…

    IMG_5317 v3

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 2


    2015 - 03.14

    An update on the pedalboard I’ve been building:

    aluminum ground plane beneath main board

    As you can see in the image above, I’ve installed an aluminum sheet beneath the main board to act as a ground plane, hopefully to dampen any noise and RF interference from the power supply platform mounted below it.  I’ve also rounded off the corners using my router and belt sander, then applied three coats of 2-in-1 stain+polyurethane, with two coats of a wipe-on poly after that.  I liked the 2-in-1 but I’m not so sure that the wipe-on poly really added much.  I didn’t really shoot for a mirror finish though.

    The second image, below, shows the pedal setup for our session on 3-7-15.  There are three new pedals here which I’m renting from  PedalGenie.com, which is a brilliant service that loans out pedals for people who might want to experiment with different effects setups like myself.

    Pedal setup for 3-7-15 session

    The signal chain is:

    Trumpet >

    Eventide Pitchfactor >

    Boss OC-2 Octave >

    Morley Power Wah >

    Fulltone Cylde Deluxe Wah (loaner) >

    Caroline Icarus Clean Boost (loaner) >

    Malekko Bit sample rate reducer >

    A-B splitter forms two paths >

    A: Damage Control Glass Nexus > Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler > Maestro Phaser > Damage Control Liquid Blues drive > Line 6 MM4 Modulation Modeler > Moog Bass MuRF >

    B: TC Electronic Flashback delay (loaner, on its own signal path for evaluation) >

    stereo summing pedal >

    DI Box

    (Also seen on the floor are an Ernie Ball expression pedal to control the Pitchfactor, and a generic Korg tap tempo to control the MuRF)

    Electric Trumpet DIY pedalboard, phase 1


    2015 - 02.15

    In tandem with the ongoing speakerbuilding project keeping my garage dusty, I’ve also been working on a custom pedalboard for my electrified trumpet setup. This was born out of necessity since I’ve outgrown the footprint of my hardshell Rockcase board, which itself is getting worn out from years of schlepping. I make take some time to recondition it for any music that happens outside my living room. But since I’m a lucky dude who mostly gets to jam at home, I’ve started working on this:

    electric trumpet pedalboard

    Yep, it’s a jungle of wires and nothing is securely attached at this point, it’s true. Consider this a “version 1.0” photo. My goals here are 1. to accomodate more pedals at waist height for easy manipulation 2. to achieve a cleaner signal by isolating the audio cables away from any power supplies and power cables and 3. to hopefully make it look nice?

    As far as goal #1 (capacity), adding a second level was a slam dunk for me, which allows interactive pedals to be accessible on top and neccessary but non-interactive components to be stashed underneath. I’ve got a signal combiner and a DI box, both of which are key parts of my setup but neither of which need to be touched during an entire session, so these can be hidden away without taking up valuable real estate.

    To achieve goal #2 (a cleaner signal), I have relocated the power bricks, 9v power supply, and the power strip all to beneath the pedalboard, on their own little board. Moving all that away from the pedals was the most important step. To go further, I have bought a thin sheet of aluminum, which will cover the bottom of the board and then be electrically connected to the ground pin of the power strip so that it can serve as a ground plane to shield against any residual noise from the power supplies beneath it and maybe dampen any local RF. That has not been installed yet. Finally, wiring is obviously a jungle at the moment, but ultimately I want to route all power cables thrugh holes in the board so they come in contact with the audio cables as little as possible.   Interestingly, when I initially built the board, I had the elevated section on the right side, which I immediately realized was a terrible idea when I started to play in front of it for the first time–my LEFT hand is free to move knobs, not the right.  So I’m not in a tremendous rush to make things permanent, since I want to try some experimentation to find the best physical location for as many of these pedals as I can.  I’ll make a detailed breakdown of what I use at some point in the future.  Haven’t gotten to that yet.

    Making the board look good will be accomplished with wood stain and some stainless steel accents. And cleaning up that mess of cables! I’ll post another shot when she’s further along.  For now, here’s my perspective when playing on it:

    electric trumpet pedalboard - pilot's perspective

    First Impressions on the Samsung Gear VR


    2015 - 01.03

    Gear VR

    This thing is… compelling. Awe-inspiring. Thought-provoking. I feel lucky to have it. It’s a virtual reality headset that uses a Samsung Note 4 smartphone as the processor/screen.  This is my first experience with real virtual reality–never tried Nintendo’s Virtual Boy from back in the day, and I’ve never put on one of the Oculus DK1 or DK2 headsets. Honestly my expectations were kind of high going in… and it delivers. Something you see is going to make you smile, something else you see is going to force you to shout out loud. It’s a glimpse into the future. Sure there’s nitpicks or quirks here and there but overall, dang. We’re living in the future. This is the next “thing”. It’s hard to even describe it. That’s my biggest takeaway: this is a new medium. Like movies, music, photos, paintings–those are all artistic mediums of capturing stories. This is a whole new medium of telling a story. VR.

    Right now this is a somewhat exclusive club: the Gear VR only works with the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. I had the Note 2 and loved it, so when my 2 year upgrade time rolled around, the Note 4 was a logical choice. Once I read that Samsung had partnered with Oculus to create a virtual reality headset accessory for it (wait, what?!), the deal was sealed. I picked this phone just so I could get the Gear VR.

    The hardware is refined and still young at the same time. On one hand, a lot of technical challenges have been addressed; head tracking is smooth, responsive, and accurate. Overall it’s comfortable enough for long sessions and there is some great content already here. The screen on the Note 4 is pretty great! It’s been interesting to read reviews of the device around the web. One observation about these reviews needs to be emphasized: anyone who cares enough to make a review of the Gear VR is probably a MAJOR gadget geek. That is to say hyper-critical of technical minutia and hung up on details that honestly have little effect on the overall experience. Many reviews say the pixel count is still too low, the content isn’t there yet, that it’s not comfy enough, or that motion sickness may be an issue for people. Alright yes, there is something there which may disqualify the whole deal for certain people. And yet–guys, if we can stop fixating on pixels, there is something utterly mind-blowing going on here!!

    You can put on these goggles and stand on top of the Empire State building. You can go to Egypt. You can go to MARS. You can explore imaginary worlds or sit inside of a IMAX theater on your couch at home. You can dive with dolphins and tour the solar system. You can watch a ballet performance from on-stage and share dinner with a family in Mongolia. You can literally do all of those things straight out of the box with this device. And it’s all happening ON YOUR PHONE. With no wires.

    Man.

    Let’s highlight a few of the things that resonated with me during my first couple weeks with this spiffy device…

    The included 360 photo library:

    There’s TONS in here. Each photo seems crisp and although you can see the individual pixels of the Note 4 screen if you stare at it, when you move your head around, the sharp resolution of the original image is clear, since the original has more pixels in it than the display can physically render. Some of my favorite photos I already described but there are plenty of them to examine, with each photo being rich enough that you can stand inside of it (yes, wrap your head around that!) and study all the details for quite some time if you want to. Ancient Amphitheaters, coral reefs, beehives, the top of the Eiffel Tower, Buddhist temples, the ruins of Chernobyl, take your pick. There’s whole worlds inside here, and you magically teleport around the globe at the flick of a finger. JEEZ.

    Strangers with Patrick Watson:

    I keep coming back to this 360 video, where you sit in the studio-space of a lone musician and he plays you a tune on the piano. What makes it are the casual, seemingly unscripted bits: the sounds of traffic from outside, the way he scrounges for a cigarette before he begins. Then he starts the song over because the drum machine is too loud and asks his dog, “yeah, that’s too loud isn’t it?” As he appears to finish, his phone rings. He grabs it, sees the name and laughs before hitting decline and continuing to sing a last final outro. It feels like a real moment. Believable. It puts you THERE. More than the other movies (which were all awesome in their own ways) this video showed me the possibility of what immersive VR video could bring. I wanna see the inside of a smokey jazz club or get strapped onto a guy in a birdman suit with this… the potential scenarios are dumbfounding.

    Playhead:

    It’s a game similar to Frequency, or Guitar Hero where you have note lanes you have to do things in conjunction with. Only now you’re inside of it! It’s the first music-based titled I’ve played and like “Strangers” above, this one shows you the promise of what’s possible. The whole experience is not very long, but the song is cool and there are two sections where you emerge from the note lanes into an expansive open landscape with cliffs on either side of you, a winding river far below, and eventally a rising pyramid before you. All this seems to groove with the music in a real neat way and it feels good! I look forward to more levels within this game or more games like it.

    Darknet:

    Okay, here’s the meat. Darknet is a slow burn, starting out as a nifty hacking puzzle game that borrows from many cyberpunk influences to create a dazzling world of stylized computer networks you stand inside of. At first it seems easy and bite sized. But then you complete your first hack and you do another one, and another one… and the brilliance of this game slowly reveals itself. It keeps getting harder and the time alloted doesn’t get longer. You unlock new options and you start to see there’s a lot of subtlety to how you can approach the puzzles, which have themselves added on new roadblocks. More than anything else on the Gear VR, this one has legs as an addictive way to spend time. The music sets a pitch-perfect vibe and when you experience that barely-made-it hack that only gets beaten in the last minute, the bug will bite you. If Gear VR has a “killer app” so far, this is it. As I write this, I’m excited to get back in and hack some more!

    looking at the inside of the lenses with the phone in... you're looking at the matrix code although it's too distorted to see from this distance.
    Returning back to the overall device, Oculus has been posting updates to the available content every Tuesday, which is fantastic! Each batch of new VR jams is a set of other dimensions to step inside of… because in VR a photo is not just a photo, it’s a place to be. It’s a new frontier in the way we view things. The content and the experiences may be just a few drips from a tap that’s slowly opening but what’s here already is mesmerizing, spellbinding. It really does feel like a kind of magic trick. It’s exciting to be in-on-the-scene here, with this technology that really feels like it is on the cusp of exploding. When you stand inside of it, it sweeps you up and you want to show it to other people. Everyone should see this. It amazes. And you wonder “why is this not everywhere?!” Pretty soon it will be. It just has to.