M-Audio's new Transit audio interface offers an inexpensive and easy
way to add up to 24/96kHz stereo digital I/O to any USB-equipped
(Version 1.1) computer. In addition to the obvious upgrade of a
computer's stock AD/DA, the Transit can also be used to send DTS- and
Dolby Digital-encoded audio from your computer to a surround sound
Smaller than a deck of cards (2.2×3.6×0.9 inches and 1.6
ounces), it was the perfect portable digital audio solution for the
Apple PowerBook I used for the review. To get started, I read through
the manual, which is supplied on the included driver CD as a pdf file.
The downside to the manual is that it isn't in a printer-friendly
format and the page numbers in the pdf's table of contents are
different from the actual pages. After some difficult navigation
through the manual, installing the OS X driver was simple. I connected
the supplied 10-foot USB cable (which also supplies the power to the
Transit), and OS X's Core Audio system had no problems seeing the new
Stereo analog/digital input is achieved via a single ⅛-inch
hybrid connector, or an included adapter allows a conventional TOSLink
cable to be used. Stereo analog output is an ⅛-inch stereo TRS
connector, while digital output is an S/PDIF optical TOSLink
connection. All audio input and output levels are controlled through
software control panels; no audio cables are supplied.
I used Emagic's Logic Audio to record various source material into
the computer, and loved the fact that Transit automatically detects if
you plug an analog or digital cable into the hybrid input. The analog
input can accept microphone sources and can supply +5V for electret
condenser computer mics. Switching between analog and digital inputs
worked flawlessly in Logic, and I noticed that the output quality beat
the stock Mac I/O hands down. Transit's noise floor is much lower, and
no CPU interference could be heard. High-frequency detail and
low-frequency definition were also noticeably better with Transit. Like
the Mac, the output can drive typical line-levels and headphones.
Some features on Transit were disappointing. Unfortunately,
Transit's analog input doesn't support the 88.2kHz sample rate, which
is preferred when you want to track in high resolution and then convert
to 44.1 kHz for audio CDs. Transit also can't simultaneously record and
play back any sample rate over 48 kHz, making it impossible to use its
outputs to hear what you're recording when working in hi-res mode.
(This is true of all USB 1.1 devices.) One quirky and annoying thing
was that plugging or unplugging an optical cable in or out of the input
produced very loud pops on the analog output, even though I wasn't
running an application to monitor the input. However, this seemed to be
attributed more to the Mac rather than Transit because it didn't happen
when I had Logic running.
If the high-resolution limitations don't concern you, then Transit
is a great option for much improved analog I/O and the addition of
digital and multichannel-encoded I/O to your computer. Price:
M-Audio, 626/445-2842, www.m-audio.com.
— Robert Brock
Using a speaker to mike a kick drum is certainly nothing new. But
often the homemade setup for this device looks like it came out of a
grade-school metal shop. Yamaha's new Subkick ($499) takes the concept
to the next level by perfectly blending aesthetics and function. A
collaborative effort between Yamaha and drummer Russ Miller, the
Subkick is a 6.5-inch woofer (frequency response: 20-8k Hz)
shock-mounted inside a 7-ply birch/mahogany 10-inch shell and covered
with black-mesh heads. Mounting hardware and a stand are also included.
The device couldn't be simpler, sturdier or more attractive. Setup is
simple, with audio connection made by simply plugging a mic cable into
the XLR connector mounted in the side of the “drum.”
I was able to try the Subkick on three separate kick drums with
stellar results. I placed it an inch away from — and centered on
— the outside of the head. In every case, I had another mic on
the inside of the drum to provide some “point” for the kick
drum mix. There are a number of things to like about the Subkick, most
of all its sound. It definitely gives you the thump you'd usually have
to dig for with EQ when using a traditional setup. Also, the rock-solid
snare stand and tom mount used for “mic” placement are
ingenius. In every application, it was a quick and easy setup without
drift or drop. It stays where it's put.
I A/B'd the Subkick with my usual
large-diaphragm-mic-outside-the-kick setup, and it blew it away.
Because of the nature of the beast, it completely ignores any cymbal or
drum spill over 100 Hz, making for a nice, clean track at the bottom of
your mix. A nice trick is to use the naturally clean Subkick signal to
feed the key on a gate used for the internal kick mic, resulting in an
easily accomplished clean kick signal.
The Subkick was also used to record a cajon, a large wooden box that
a percussionist sits on and hits with a combination of open palm and
fingers to get various tones. The Subkick was placed in front of the
port at the front of the box, and was used in addition to a pair of
cardioid mics at either end. The Subkick offered all of the low end
you'd need for this instrument and mixed in nicely with the other mics.
I imagine that you could also use it to mike the bottom of a floor tom
with equally good results, although I didn't get a chance to use it in
The Subkick is something that every engineer and studio should have
in their bag of tricks. It was a winner in every application, and
although it's a one-trick-pony, what a fantastic trick it is!
Yamaha, 714/522-9011, www.yamaha.com/drums.
— Kevin Becka
EQ VST Plug-In
CurveEQ VST from Voxengo is an advanced equalizer that runs as a
plug-in in any VST 2.0 host like Cubase, Nuendo or Logic Audio. CurveEQ
gives you the ability to see a real-time graphic image of the frequency
spectrum of a vocal, instrument or complete track mix as it looks
before and after you apply equalization from CurveEQ. With this
“visual” representation, you'll quickly see which
frequencies are problematic and have to be reduced or are in need of
enhancement. I liked that, rather than turning knobs as on a
conventional equalizer, you use the mouse to design and
“draw” a very specific EQ curve.
CurveEQ also features SpectruMatch technology, a way to match a
sound's frequency composition and response and superimpose it over
another sound. You could take a spectrum “picture” of a mix
that you particularly like and apply it to a completely different mix.
Conceptually similar is Voxengo's Gear-Match Technology, in which
databases of sonic impulses from various high-end analog devices are
available to be applied to any sound. In theory, you could take the
basic sound coloration caused by tubes, transformers and design (but
not the actual compression) of a multi-thousand-dollar vintage
compressor followed by the sonics of a 1960s British EQ and add it to
any of your song's tracks or the entire stereo mix.
CurveEQ is primarily intended as a mastering equalizer, but I used
it on individual channel inserts with great results. It came in very
handy when clearing up the lower midrange of a muddy-sounding mix. It
is much easier to pinpoint annoying frequencies using CurveEQ's
“what-you-see-is-what-you-get” interface than a parametric
EQ, which is often a laborious trial-and-error process.
CurveEQ uses a math-intensive process and eats a fair bit of CPU
overhead, but once you have shaped your sound, you can turn off the
spectrum-analysis processor and regain some lost horsepower. For
Windows PCs only, Voxengo sells for $98 and is available as a
The ability to burn CDs is essential to any audio house. Even if
it's just a few minutes of VO fixes for post or a sound design project
in progress waiting for approval, the audio CD is the universal
platform for exchanging .AIFF, .WAV and CD-DA tracks.
Now, using a package from Roxio, Nero and others — along with
a Sharpie — works fine for the occasional one-off burn. But when
a client wants 10, 20 or even 50 discs, the process of moving plastic
in and out of the burner becomes a bit tedious. Magic marker, even in
your best cursive, doesn't look professional. And stick-on labels are
okay for a while but over time tend to lose their “stick”
and can cause playback problems and possible damage to the
Primera Technology sells a line of CD/DVD disc-duplication and
printing products; the newest, the Bravo Disc Publisher, burns and
labels discs, is tightly integrated and is one of Primera's most
accessible products to date. The Bravo is also the first product
available for both Mac and PC users, running on Windows 2000, XP or Mac
Bravo's integrated design makes for an easy installation, provided
that the connected computer sports both FireWire and USB ports. Because
the CD drive, robotics and printer are all in the same chassis, the
Bravo has a fairly large footprint. But it guarantees that CDs will be
picked and placed with greater accuracy because the various components
aren't subject to subtle movements. With the Bravo duplicator, running
off a batch of CDs while running an errand is a reality. When you
return, the input bin is empty and the output bin is full. Capacity is
limited to 25 discs, but a Kiosk mode (PC-only) will do 50 discs and
spit them out the front.
Primera offers two flavors of the Bravo Disc Publisher: The
DVD+R/CD-R version features a Pioneer A06 drive with 4x DVD and 16x
CD-writing speeds. The CD-RW setup currently uses an LG Electronics 52x
burner. I tested the CD-RW version and was very impressed with the
results using Taiyo Yuden and Mitsui media. Primera includes Veritas'
Prassi Primo software to create discs and Sure Thing CD Labeler to
create — what else? — labels. Both of these programs are
straightforward, easy-to-use packages and a good match for the Bravo
line. Prassi and Sure Thing are now included under the Sonic brand, but
they function as separate products and aren't highly integrated. They
work fine, but don't share a common interface.
Compared to other Primera products I've tested, the Bravo seems to
have improved mechanics to pick up and place discs. It works better and
appears to make less noise than similar designs used in the Composer
Series of duplicators; part of the reason may be the reduced capacity.
With smaller bins, the robotic arm travels less during each step. The
Bravo also includes a little hood that closes during the duplication
process, which probably lowers the noise a bit, too. It looks a little
funky and gives the appearance of an oversized breadbox, I'll take
function over fashion any day. The important thing is, the Bravo Disc
The only problem I encountered was a disc appeared to burn
correctly, but when placed in an audio CD player, it showed time
elapsed but no corresponding audio. Primera acknowledged the quirk but
says it has not been able to duplicate the problem and recommends users
avoid this by selecting the test, record and verify option in the
Bravo prints directly onto the discs, so no labels are required. The
printing element offers 2,400 dpi printing and uses separate black and
color cartridges. At the highest-quality setting, the results on shiny
silver-inkjet printable surface media were exceptional. The response to
artwork printed on these discs was simply, “Wow!” However,
the ink cartridges used in the Bravo are not large and at the
highest-quality setting won't last long. It's like driving a Hummer and
watching the gas gauge move in real-time toward “E” after
just seconds on the road. The good news is, at 1,200 dpi, the
full-color prints still look very clean and Bravo consumes a lot less
ink. I found myself using the higher-quality settings with full-color
artwork because it just looked so good. It may be of interest to note
that the ink on the completed discs appeared to dry rapidly enough as
to not cause any problems or bleeding onto successive discs stacked in
the output bin.
I would like to see Primera offer a more tightly integrated software
package that takes both the labeling and burning elements and combines
them with a consistent flavor. And any additional reduction in
mechanical noise is always welcome; I already have enough fan and hard
drive noise. Overall, though, I'm impressed with the Bravo Disc
Publisher. It's fast, friendly and affordable. Well done, Primera.
Primera Technology, 763/475-6676, www.primera.com.
— Rick Spence