23 June 2008

SNAMM2008: Biggest surprise in mixers

I never really thought I'd say this.  I ran across a Peavey mixer that I found really interesting.  Really.  This mixer is a live desk, designed by Tom Stuckman and his crew at Peavey.  Having consulted a bit on church audio systems and having done some live sound work in theater, it was quickly apparent that Stuckman and team's design was really innovative. 
First of all, there are gain sharing automix channels which can be set to levels of priority.  Think of a preacher with a lavalier mic and a podium mic.  Typically, when you have both, the sound engineer has to manually ride gain on the lav to handle comb filtering with the podium mic.  Not so with this system.  Give the podium mic higher priority and when decent level feeds that channel it overrides the lower priority lav channel.  Now I realize automixers aren't anything new.  But the priority system is very cool and (dare I say it) near-idiot proof.  Roll in feedback hunt-and-destroy circuitry, fast and accurate cluster delay setup, and great muting & routing capabilities and you have a great board for small churches and theaters.  I didn't even scratch the surface on the feature set.  Tom assures me that the audio (once again, a trade show - who can hear anything!) is quite good and even is having transistors made to high specs specifically for these products.  

Kudos to Tom and his team.  I look forward to seeing one of these systems in a working situation.

SNAMM2008: Visit to API

Visited API's booth.  They were showing the new Arsenal line of gear.  A trade show floor is no place to evaluate audio, but I will say that these would definitely fulfill my need for Army surplus-styled gear populating my rack!  They were also showing the 1608 console.  Looks absolutely perfect for those of us with one foot in console-based recording and the other foot in DAW-land.  It runs approximately $50K.  It is the most solid console I've put my hands on in the sub-$100K price range.  Very, very cool.  

I should add that I am a big fan of the VPR alliance that API has set up allowing other companies to develop for 500 series racks.  This allows those of us with semi-mobile rigs to move around and set up quickly.  I can't say enough good about this!

SNAMM2008: The Moog Guitar

Of course, you can't get NAMM news without looking at the new Moog guitar.  It contains e-bow like sustainers which allow a sustain mode, a totally unique muting mode, and an even more interesting sustain/mute mode.  The effect of these are controlled by the "Vo Knob" - it seems to control the voltage level hitting the sustainer circuit (of course, I could be wrong).  Likewise there is a harmonic balance control (can also be handled by the included rocker pedal) which allows sweeping the sustainer control from pickup to pickup.  If my physics is right, the sustainers are placed at particular node points on the strings.  As you sweep back and forth between them, the sustainer's power goes back and forth between the pickups activating different harmonics!  Very groovy.  

Another interesting thing is the inclusion of Graph Tech piezo pickups in the bridge saddles.  Having done this, I find it interesting that they didn't add an extra board and jack to provide MIDI control via the Hexaphonic pickups.  Then again, as they already have it up to a price of $6500, they may have felt they couldn't add more at this time.

By the way, I've seen a lot of web chatter ragging the look.  In person, it is stunning.  Who says bass players should be the only instrumentalists with groovy flame maple!

SNAMM2008: Bass Box

OK, this one is unusual.  This is a kit from Bogdon Music (sells in the $75-100 range) with which you can make your own cardboard upright bass!  I know it's killing you at the moment because you already want one but hang with me for a moment.  The neck is wood runs all the way down the front of the box.  It's glued to the box, the bridge is made of folded cardboard ( I suppose you could vary your action by using different sizes of cardboard) and there is a piezo disc transducer glued inside to pick up the box resonance.  This is hooked up to a 1/4" jack for output.

The crazy thing is....  it actually sounds pretty good!   It is comfortable and cheap.  They have them in 2 and 3 string varieties.  Check out the videos on YouTube and see what you think!

SNAMM2008: C-Thru Axis Update

Got a chance to check out the C-thru Axis.  At first, I was underwhelmed.  The buttons are tiny, the layout seems cryptic (initially).  However, I stuck with it for a few minutes and started finding myself comping with my left hand and playing melodies with my right.  In short, it went from immediately intimidating to very interesting rather quickly.  After a few days with this, I'm certain I could develop a new keyboard style completely unlike my "standard" keyboard vocabulary.

I think I need some visual aids to truly explain this.  Check out the chart up above.  Start with a key.  A key up takes you up a perfect 5th, a key down a perfect 4th down.  Up and to the right is a major 3rd up, up to the left is a minor 3rd. Down to the right steps down a minor 3rd; down to the left is goes down a major 3rd.  If you run your finger up and to the left in a line, you'll create the continuous run of all three diminished chords.  (Dizzy Gillespie's favorite trick for flying through hard changes involved running the diminished chords, by the way!)

The best way I can explain this is as a fretboard for keyboardists.  The same note appears in multiple places on the board.  As the Axis can be split into zones, you could get guitar-similar control with three similar patches and get a very guitar-like subtle change in tonality.

As you can see, there are a lot of interesting possibilities with this.  Unfortunately, as C-thru builds these entirely in the UK, they can't bring the price point down where they would like it to be.  Combine this with the weak dollar and strong Euro, they are sold for $1800ish in the US.  However (you knew there had to be good news) the good folks at C-thru had a smaller USB prototype with them.  Same thing only smaller.  They showed it with a laptop running Reason.  They are hoping to have these available in early Fall and run them for about $500!  I may have to put some aside for this!

Thanks to Jacqueline for all her help.  

20 June 2008

C-Thru Axis Keyboard

This keyboard is very different.  It is set up as a two dimensional "harmonic table" rather than a linear traditional keyboard.  This allows the player the ability to use a single finger to play chords.  A couple of fingers are all that is needed to play complex chords.  Now don't go thinking this is the "single-note chord" function found so often on home keyboards.  This is way more useful.  And certainly no where near as cheesy.

At first glance, the layout is reminiscent of the left-hand controls on an accordion.  However, they are not set up to play only chords or bass, rather they allow you to do anything you could do on a traditional keyboard as well.

Looks like transposition is pretty simple also.  Just a matter of offsetting the shapes and lines in one direction or another.  It appears to be a pretty well though out controller for live playing as well.  It includes pitch and mod wheels, a couple of continuous knobs, a number of selection buttons, as well as jacks for connections of pedals and whatnot.  Layers and splits are possible as well.

It should be interesting to see how a keyboardist with 20 odd years of playing can adapt to this style of controller.  I should be able to try this out tomorrow.  I'll let you know what I think!

Welcome post

This blog is dedicated to really groovy music gear, software, and people.  I'll be visiting the summer NAMM 2008 show in Nashville over the next couple of days, so look for interesting music gear and people that you might not see elsewhere!