Archive for the ‘Audio Tech’ Tag

What’s this Zii about??

Creative technologies, yes yes.. our DEAR Creative announced a couple of weeks ago, their new initiative. It’s called Creative Zii.. with the subtitle “Stemcell Computing” (which they seem to have trademarked).. and the tagline “Everything you know is about to change”.

creative-zii-1

There were a few more details/speculation which floated around the internet. The first was an email update from Creative, which states..

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Audio geekout at Esplanade on May Day..

Last week, I got a chance to do something I have been wanting to do since the 1st time I stepped inside the Esplanade; stand behind their audio consoles! (warning! nerdy post ahead…)

Background

Thanks to references from by some family friends, I got a chance to “consult” the Esplanade sounds engineers during a concert last week. It was a North Indian (Hindustani) Classical Musical concert organized by Engage: Consumer Interfaces, an events organization founded by two (I believe) IIM alumni. Engage has been bringing many great artists from India to Singapore for concerts for the past few years.

This year, they invited Pt. Sanjeev Abhyankar and Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande for 2 separate concerts on two evenings, 1st and 2nd May as a part of the “Young Masters in Concert“.

Esplanade

I went a few hours before the concert for sounds checks. Now, if you have ever been backstage at Esplanade, you’d know that place is a freaking maze. There is no way anyone can figure out the place without a map. I did get lost.. a few times. Luckily, thanks to this pass, I had free access to the backstage for two days!

My access pass..

Sound Checks

The concert was held at the Recital Studio of Esplanade. The stage was just being miced up as I arrived. They were using a Sennheiser EW series wireless mic for the main vocals. A Sennheiser 441 for the Tabla, a Shure SM58 for the Harmonium and Shure SM57s for everything else form the electronic Tanpuras to the Manjiras. The Sound Engineer knew his Indian instruments and told me that he had chosen those mics on purpose, considering the sound of the instruments, the room and the atmosphere that was needed.

Leveling

Next, we did the leveling on the console. The console was a Soundcraft Vi6. Here are some pictures of it.

The Soundcraft Vi6

The Soundcraft Vi2

The console totally blew me away. The I/O capabilities are totally unheard of, and the control surface itself had 40 motorized fades, 5 Vistonics II touch screens, and loads of stuff I did not even know about. I was just too fascinated by the flying faders for the 1st few minutes to look at any other details.

The Vistonics II screens allowed the selection of any part of the signal chain, which then showed up on faders for detailed control. The Vistonics II touch screens also had knobs and buttons to do more settings. The configuration options were unbelievable and totally confusing. And finally it had an awesome glow in the darkly lit Recital Studio.

The levels for Pt. Sanjeev Abhyankar‘s concert were set too hot IMO. But he insisted on them. The classic sound engineer’s dilemma; Artist Expression or Audiences’ Ears? The levels for Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande concert were set nicely. Though she tended to move away from the mic, causing issues later during the concert.

After the sound check I went out for a break, and came back just before the concert itself.

Concert

All through out the concert, the Sound Engineer kept adjusting the levels and the gains for the various instruments by himself, and according my suggestion (which as my “job”). However, around 30mins in, he pulled up a screen using the Vistonics II touch screens for a effects processor module which he had placed in the signal chain. It was a reverb module from one of Lexicon’s effect processors.

Here are some shots of the screen.

The compressor module on the Soundcraft Vi6

The compressor module on the Soundcraft Vi6

The amazing thing about this module was the fact that it could use the current BPM information, which had to be fed in either using a know or tapping a button on the beat, to improve the reverb processing. It also had parameters like room size, room type and more to control the reverb effect. While the Recital Studio itself had been deadened using curtains and all, the reverb processor was being used to bring warmth to the sound..

Conclusion

Both the concerts totally rocked. Though I personally preferred Dr. Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande’s recital. Her voice, the music and the atmosphere was totally mesmerizing.

It was a great experience for me both from musical and technical perspective. Oh and I also got to share a car ride home  with Pt. Sanjeev Abhyankar :D.

I am hoping to do such stints again, and hopefully one day learn to professionally handle such consoles and mic such concerts…. It’s when great technology meets great music, the magic happens..

A week with the Creative Aurvana X-Fis

I am really late in posting this post, but I have been so busy lately.. that I really don’t have much time or enthusism to post much. It’s kinda like what Uzyn wrote.. With work pilling up and twitter the incentive to blog is really very little.

Anyway.. so I received a review unit of the Creative Aurava X-Fi for Tech65 from Creative a few weeks ago.. I had it for a whole week and I did use it quite a bit during that week. So here is my review about it..

The Creative Aurvana X-Fi is Creative’s attempt to combine their noise canceling headphone, with the X-Fi. So the 3 main features of the headphones consists of the Noise Cancelling; X-Fi Crystalizer; CMSS-3D.

Design.

The heaphones are well deisgned. They look nice.. A little geeky with the blue leds.. but I liked it. The buttons on the side simple and easy to remember.. So one doesn’t have to remove the headphone to switch on/off a certain feature.

I also loved the fitting, it fit snugly over my head and around my ear.. It did not feel too uncomfortable.. My friends did complain that it was tad too small for him.. but well.. we can’t always cater for the big-headed people..

My favorite design feature has to be the use of a standard stereo jack where the cable connects to the headphone. This makes it easier to replace the cable, if one gets damaged, or ..in the really horrible event… cut. It also allows one to use a cable of ones choice length, type, quality… I like this customizability option..

Sound:

Since the headphones themselves are not as spectacular as the features, I will talk about the sound with respect to each feature.

Noise Canceling

The closed cans, which fit really snugly, already provide a bit of ambient noise canceling. But, the real magic happens when you switch on the active noise canceling. It does take a few milliseconds to initialize, and during that time you won’t hear anything.. But once it start, it’s like getting dropped into a sound proof room.. OK. I am exaggerating, but its is some of the nicest noise canceling I have heard. And it’s really fun to realize that active noise canceling makes you not hear your own voice…

The canceling is well done. It does cut out the din and sound of TV Mobile in the bus, or the noise from the MRT traveling in the tunnel. But the voice of the super loud announcements in the MRT, or the uncle shouting into his cellphone, are heard, with just a little attenuation. This is good or bad, depending on how many years you have had in Singapore.. :)

My only issue with the noise canceling… two actually.. are the feeling of heavy pressure on my ear drums and the coloring of sound during noise canceling. When you turn on noise canceling, the way active noise canceling works, a lot more energy is put into your ear.. This is felt as pressure built on your ear drum.. and trust me.. its un-nerving.. especially after using it for long times.

Also, I noticed that whenever noise canceling turned on, the bass gets boosted!! What?? Why? Can’t you leave the bass? I’ll pump it if I need to in my player.. I don’t need the headphones to do that…

X-Fi Crystalizer

Next to the noise canceling, the X-Fi crystalizer was the something I tried the most. The crystalizer is one of X-Fi’s technologies that is integrated into this headphone. It is supposed to “up-sample” music and make it sounds like a 24bit 192kHz Track.

Now, that I will call bull.. While I can’t believe they are recovering the “lost” information, whatever they are doing sounds lovely. After listening to some tracks I realized, that it felt like adding a little high end, a bit of compression and a touch of echo.. and it works.. Most of the tacks on my Zen are mp3s, and the sounded more ‘live’ through the crystalizer.. The sound was indeed brighter..

CMSS-3D

This was the feature I tried the least. It is aimed at gamers and people watching movies. And the idea is to recover 3D information from stereo tracks, and make a stereo track sounds like surround sound. What’s with creative and recovering lost information… They should really start a backup and recovery service… But I digress..

At the demo, I was told, that when I turned this on, I’d feel that instead of listening from under the singers arms, I’d feel that I am listening to a live concert as an audience. Point being, that it ads a lot of stage, and possibly color mimicking the music being played live.

This is also supposed to help in gaming as it allow the player to feel the sound coming from various other direction, and not just left or right. Similarly for movies.. But being separated from these two form of entertainment for a great deal of time (~2-3 months) I did not bother trying it out… but I did try it with music.. and I absolutely hated it. And trust me, I turned it on a few times, just for the review.. as there is no way I would have had the courage to listen it again and again.. It basically killed the stereo in the tracks completely.. I agree it doesn’t work with most of the tracks which I listen to where there is heavy panning and lots of electronic sound.. but still, I did not find even 1 track in my library that sound anything close to listenable in that 3D CMSS mode.. And stop snickering about my choice of music..

Conslusion.

So overall, I’d say its a great piece of technology. As my friend pointed out.. if you are something like an audiophile, or if you care about fidelity and accurate representation of sound.. don’t even bother. But otherwise a lovely pair.. especially to use while traveling or at work.. Ah.. at last.. a peaceful office.. :)

Unboxing the Zoom H4!!

Behold my newest Toy!!!!

This is the Zoom H4. It’s a portable stereo audio recorder.

I had ordered it for almost a month, and it arrived last week. Took me 3 days before I could un-box it. So here is goes.

Zoom H4 Handy Recorder.

Records 24-bit/96 kHz digital audio as well as MP3 format with bitrates up to 320kbps
Two studio quality X/Y pattern condenser microphones for true stereo recording
Two combination XLR-1/4-inch input jacks with phantom power
Onboard studio effects compression, limiting and mic modeling
USB mass-storage interface and SD card storage
Four hours of continuous recording operation from 2 AA batteries
4-track audio in CD quality 16-bit PCM, 44.1 kHz sampling
Built in guitar amp modeling
Records directly to your computer as a USB audio interface
Bundled with Cubase LE, 48-Track Digital Audio Workstation software

Here are the unboxing photos!!

Podcast Dreams..

Knowing how much I blabber, it will not be a surprise to many that I am dabbling into podcasting.

I always wanted to do one, since I got hooked to podcasts last year. But, as usual, I lacked time and a group of enthusiasts to do it. (hint hint..).

Thanks to a chance Google search and my new “Do it now” initiative, I am a semi-regular host at 65bits. It’s a podcast by tech65, about technology with a Singaporean perspective.

So… if you wanna hear my stunning sexilicious (as per rinaz and sweska.. see comments below) voice .. Ermm.. OK ner mind… forget I said that..

Whatever it is, do give it a listen and subscribe to 65bits feed or on itunes.

Here is our recent episode which is NOT about iPhone..

I kid.. I kid..

(Hint: Press the gray triangle to play… Shh.. dun tell anyone else..)

NTT’s Bored Weekend #1

The weekend’s just started and I am already bored. I have tons of work to do… “work work” as well as “play work” but I am gonna be lazy…

Soldering and Toys!!!

I went to help a friend solder his guitar amp jack all the way to clementi in the morning.. I had to make a trip down to SLT to stock up on supplies. Got some “Stannol lötfett”. It’s the best flux (solder paste) I have used. Others are mostly crappy and smell really bad..

After fixing my friend guitar, he showed me the lastest set of ‘toys’ he bought for his lab!!

He had a really cool guitar interface which had digital effects for many amps and speakers. And it sounded awesome on his moniters!! I totally forgot the name…

Then he showed his Hercules DJ Console. That’s really cool stuff. OK. It’s not anywhere near as cool as the stuff professional DJs use, but you can spin some good stuff off it at home.. or in my friend’s lab!

Then he took out an AKG C1000S. Just the case looks soo cool!. I wonder what kind of amps he has for that.

Finally he showed me his new M-Audio Axiom 25. Reminded my of the Kaoss Pad and M-Audio that EML used during their concert..

Oh and he mentioned the motorized 8 channel Digi-Design mixer that has in the lab!!!

I was almost drooling.. I really should have taken up the job when I was offered it.. Sigh…

NTUC and Linux.

How do you know the Linux has reached the masses? When you can see it in NTUC!

Saw of the the “product promo” screens in NTUC booting into Linux! It was soo cool. I must have looked like an idiot staring at the booting screen.  I should have had a camera. :(

I have seen this at the Pacific Coffee Company as well. I guess it makes sense to use some kind of embedded Linux for such devices. But I really wonder why they set the display to be active during boot up. In my opinion, it looks unprofessional.

Singapore Tech Podcasts.

Recently, I found this tech podcast done by a couple of Singaporean guys. It’s called 65bits. Do check it out.

It has small episodes (10-20mins) and 2 guys chatting about technology wrt. Singapore. I have been catching up on the last few episodes, and I am liking it..

Now to start brain storming for ideas…

Nintendo Wii in Singapore

Wii are here!! This is very very surprising. I did not hear or see ANY advertisements, but the Nintendo Wii has been “Soft launched” in Singapore. The “Official Launch” is in October so they say.

G3 at Suntec is selling it at $800 bundled with an extra wiimote+nunchuk and 3 games (wii sports + ultimate alliance + your choice). S$800 is expensive. Cannot lah! The Wii is supposed to be cheap, and a fun console. Sigh.. I will wait…

Suntec for Lunch…  

What’s good at Suntec for lunch?? We could not find anything. Either too expensive or too crappy.. :(

NUS Arts Festival. A round up.

I managed to catch month of the events under the NUS Arts fest. And here is a review of all the events which I attended.

Press Play by EML.

Apart from the little ‘adventure’ I had while getting the tickets at the door, it was a really fun evening. The theme of the day was machines, and they approached it in a chronological order.

Starting with ‘old machines’. These were mostly peices influenced by old school synthesied sounds like 8bit sounds from old Nintendo games or other classics like Contra. There were some really interestingly videos along with the sounds.

They followed with comtemporary stuff, including making sounds with vaccum cleaners and other interesting devices. Finally, they played some futuristic pieces, which had various flavours.

While it was not amazing or surprising, I was satisfied to get what I expected at EML. There were many interesting toys they used to create the sounds including a couple of Kaoss Pads and a GameBoy sequencer and lots of midi controllers.

Spectral Spaces by Kim Cascone.

This was a very hardcore computer music event. Kim played 2 live peices on him Mac. They were basically created in his own software based on MAX/MSP. The cool part of it was that the sounds which he used to create his peices were randomly selected from his huge library of random sounds. He then used a simple Trim-pot based controller and some buttons on his Mac to controll the sound.

His idea was similar to something they have in Indian Classical music. There is “freedom in discipline”. He’s free to express himself but his discpline is the sound which his program had selected. It brought about some interesting sounds, some melodic, others just noise. I was surprised that I was very much attracted to the melodic sounds.

Kim also conducted a 3-day workshop where the participants played with various sounds and at the end presented an interactive peice, which I must say was very well done. I should really be going for such events. :(

An Interactive Visual Art Concert.

This was basically a project by the Mixed Reality Lab, in NUS. The idea was that the movements and sounds of a triplet playing Er-Hu, Cello and Piano were sensed and used to create graphics.

While the music was interesting, I was unable to link the music and the vizualizations. I started thinking about mental models and intuitive controls. I though that the mapping between the sound and the graphics was not very intuitive. It did not conform easily with my mental models.

But then again, it was a good try. Some of the people in the team were undergraduates doing their FYP. I am sure it was a fulfilling experience.

It was interesting to see them use MAX/MSP on a Mac to grab all the control data from the sensors and the sounds, and pass it over to another computer to render or control the video. This was done over ethernet.

Hmm.. possible usage scenario for OSC??

Back to where I belong.

Density, Sound Character, Genetic Algorithms, Ambient sounds, VST plugins, processed sounds, pd, Synthesis, cues, loops, Ableton Live, MAX/MSP ,Gene pools, Transcription, pitch control, frequency spectrum, stereophonic projection, samples, heuristics, morphing, mapping, interactivity, duets, Mating pool, sequencers, noise, collection, random processes, melody, flangers, compression, mutation, Texture, fabric, Tall Cappucinos….

Today, I went back to where I belong. It has been many days. I feel myself again…

Where Creative fails…

I have always been a fan of Creative Labs. They have come up with great audio related products aimed at the general consumer, and at very affordable prices. I have always owned Creative sound cards and other PC sound stuff and recently added the Zen Vision:M.

Now, I have always noticed this with Creative. While they have really great hardware, the lack in software. And they really lack. I’ll exemplify with a couple of examples. The Creative sound cards came with a suite of software for everything from basic sound editing to MIDI sequencers. But it was very very difficult to understand how it worked. The names were vague, the interfaces incomprehensible and help menus were not at all helpful!

I was hoping that when Creative went into the media player market, and competed against Apple, they would put in a lot of efforts into their software. But the same old broken crap came along with the Vision.

I have to say that the firmware and the embedded software on the Vision itself is pretty cool. It works pretty well and has most of functionalities that I need. The only exception would be allowing the user to edit the ID3 tags on the Vision itself. But, maybe I am asking for too much.

But this rant is about the PC side software support. This Portable Media Player comes with a plethora of PC software. There is a Sync Software, a Media player, a Pod Catcher, a Media Explorer (like windows explorer for the Vision), a software to buy online content, a software for audiobook support. Sheesh. Now that is confusing. And the best part is, they dont work with each other!!! Not only that, they cause each other to crash!!

Now this is just really really bad software design. I do see how a software suite is a better option than a single application that does everything (like iTunes), but in such an approach, the suite should work as together, not against each other. A great example of such a suite is the old Nokia PC Suite for the old Nokia 6510. Creative should really do something about this. While I manage to get along with this mess, I am very sure a less savvy user would just give up and buy an iPod.

Mp3 and Mp4s..

I am totally annoyed by this. I have been using the Zen Vision:M for 2-3 months now, and I have been asked this question like a zillion times.

Is that a mp4 player??

Arrrrrgh.. For goodness sake, mp4 player?? I do agree that a lot of ‘non-brands’ have been marketing their media players as mp4 players, but there is no such thing as an mp4 audio or video.

Let me explain this, although wikipedia does a really great job, talking about mp3, mp4 and mp4 players.

mp3, or MPEG-1 Layer3 is a audio compression standard. It’s defines the algorithm (how to) to compress the audio file. Now generally a file format and an audio compression standard are seperate things. However, for mp3, both are defined under the same umbrella. So its a mp3 compressed file, in a mp3 file format.

mp4 or MPEG-4 Layer 14 is file format. More specifically a container format. This can support a multitude of compression techniques for audio and video streams. So basically, you can have a mp4 file which contains an h.264 compressed video, or even a mp3 compressed audio.

Now, for portable media players, the important thing is not which file format it can support. Most support almost all formats, and more can be added by simple firmware upadtes. What matters is the compression algorithms, or codecs that they support. Generally, codecs require some kind of hardware accleration, and thus is not a simple add-on.

So please don’t ask me if the Vision:M is a mp4 player!!! It’s a media player.. :D