RANDALL RM4 AND RT2/50
Guitar Tube Preamp/Amplifier
Getting a great guitar sound is all about tone, and the amp is a major part of that. We've seen all kinds of digital simulators (hardware and software) providing amp tones from the desktop. But these aren't the genuine article and they leave out the miking process, which real engineers know is the hippest way to get an awesome amp sound in the studio.
To that end, Randall teamed with amp guru Bruce Egnater to create the RM4 Modular Tube Preamp and RT2/50 power amp, a rig that puts all the fun back into getting guitar sounds. This is the real thing. The RM4 is a two-rackspace chassis accepting up to four preamp modules (all with two 12AX7 triodes, bass/mid/treble EQ, bright switch and gain controls). Fourteen modules are based on the front ends of popular vintage and new amps, including the Vox AC30TB; Mesa Recto; Fender '59 Bassman, “blackface” Twin and Deluxe; Marshall JTM45, Super Lead and Plexi; and Randall's clean, high-gain designs.
The preamp connects to a dual 50-watt power amp with EL34s on one side and 6L6s on the other, so users can instantly switch between various amp/cabinet combos. Connecting a MIDI cable between the RM4 and amp enables automatically switching the EL34 or 6L6 side to the selected module, or an optional footswitch handles the duties.
Randall sent me a bucket of modules. I started with the Fenders, which in 6L6 mode with a single- or dual-12 cab were spot-on, because not only did I get that tone, but the two gain controls, mid EQ and bright switch gave me a whole range of new tones. Switching to a 4×12 cab (with Celestion Greenbacks), I went to the Vox module, which disappointed me until I clicked the amp over to EL34s and then I could go from “Day Tripper” to Brian May: What a blast! I'm a Mesa fan, but this Recto module screams and the JTM and Plexi modules are simply amazing. The main problem with this system is narrowing your choices to only four modules, but, fortunately, they're hot-swappable — no problem in the studio.
There's a lot more here. The 58-pound power amp has slick front panel connections for checking tube bias — perfect for swapping tube types on the amp for more tonal variation. The amp also has density (low EQ) and presence knobs for more voicing, and the preamp has tube-buffered parallel/series loop jacks, so options abound. Also, the system is ideal for re-amping, especially with the preamp in the control room right at your fingers while you try different mikings. I love it!
Randall, 847/949-0444, www.randallamplifiers.com.
— George Petersen
Quad Multimode Filter Plug-In
Filter ($199) provides everything from subtle harmonic enhancements to dramatic rhythmic effects. The plug-in is based on four filters that can be set as lowpass, highpass, bandpass notch or flat filter types. Each can be set as two-pole (12dB/octave), four-pole (24dB/octave), six-pole (36dB/octave) or eight-pole (48dB/octave) filters. Four delay sections accompany each filter with feedback and mix controls. Each delay can be patched pre/post-filter or can be used without filtering.
The filters can be routed in six different options with a slick visual graphic displaying each configuration. Four LFOs offer a choice of up to 10 different waveforms, including three different types of random waves. Each LFO's rate can be set in Hz or bpm and, like all of the time-based parameters in Filter, can be synched to the master tempo. Four envelope generators offer delay, attack, decay, sustain level, hold time and release parameters. The envelope follower lets you control filter parameters with the dynamic characteristics of your input audio. The two drum machine — style Rhythm Generators can easily create rhythmic patterns to be used directly as control sources in the Mod Matrix or act as rhythmic trigger generations for envelopes (or both). You can modulate virtually any of Filter's key parameters from the very extensive and powerful modulation matrix. There are 12 modulation routings in all — very impressive!
Routing a drum loop through Filter, the fun began right away, providing some interesting and usable sounds. I liked the choice of setting the display in Hz or in relation to note values. Filter offers extensive control from either pre-recorded MIDI tracks or live from MIDI controllers. Each of Filter's time-based parameters can be set in absolute time or synched to its master clock, where all parameters automatically scale properly and remain in sync as the tempo is changed. As I changed the static tempo in the filter interface, the modulations followed suit without any jumps or clicks in the audio output. The ability to grab the filter's graphic display and move up or down to change resonance, and left or right to change the cut-off is great. You can set the frequency link menu options to let you slave a filter's frequency to any of the other filters so that changing the master filter's frequency causes the linked filter's frequency to move in parallel.
Filter's modulation possibilities are only limited by the number of LFOs the software uses. The rhythm generator is a very nice feature, the interface is well-designed and laid out and the sound is high quality. This Mac/PC software supports VST, DirectX, RTAS and MAS formats. How about an AudioUnits for Logic and a TDM version.
Antares Technology, 831/461-7800, www.antarestech.com.
— John Travis
LUCID AUDIO GENX6-96
Lucid's GENx6-96 ($799) is a master clock generator/distributor that operates at 44.1/48/88.2/96 kHz. In addition to “standard” clock data, the GENx6-96's BNC outputs can be individually switched to send super clock (256x) data. Inputs for external clock are from AES, word or super clock sources, which are distributed to six outputs. Controls are simple, yet complete: Mini toggle switches per output select word or super clock, a Source switch sets the GENx6-96 to any of its four sample rates or to external sync, and another mini toggle lets users choose AES, word or super clock input. LEDs indicate sample rate, source and external source lock. It's housed in a half-rack package and uses a “line lump” power supply.
I ran RG59 co-ax cable terminated with BNC connectors from the GENx6-96 to a Yamaha 02R, Tascam DA98, MOTU 2408 (original version) and a dbx 386 mic preamp with onboard ADC. This allows a direct hookup from the source to destination without any thru connections. During the majority of tests, the GENx6-96 ran at internal clock, though it easily and quickly locked to, or distributed, sync from external word or AES input. I connected the GENx6-96 and went about doing sessions (mostly at 44.1 kHz), some of which were overdubs to previous recordings.
Under certain conditions, the GENx6-96 made no audible difference. However, multitrack mixing when combining a variety of digital gear produced more noticeable results. I compared automated mixes of the same song comprising 24 tracks recorded into Digital Performer before and after the GENx6-96 was added. A MOTU 2408 and Tascam DA98 and DA88 were connected to the 02R. The 02R's analog master mix outs were patched to the DA98 for A/D and routed via TDIF back through the 2408 to Digital Performer onto a new stereo track. This process was done with and without the GENx6-96. Sonic differences were not obvious, but on careful listening, I could hear low-level “tick” noises in the non-Lucid clock mix. (The noises were not present on the original tracks.) These were not the loud “snatting” noises heard when two digital devices lose word sync. These subtle noises could easily be mistaken as reverb artifacts, lip-smacking from a vocalist or a percussion sound. With the GENx6-96 as the master, the noises were not present, providing a clean background. Whether listening in the studio “direct” from Digital Performer or to a CD of the mixes, the differences were apparent. Using the GENx6-96 as master clock, dynamics had more impact, particularly when source material shifted from quiet to loud passages.
My only gripe with the GENx6-96 is that the rear panel BNC connectors are close together and awkward to access. I'd liken the GENx6-96 to having a high-quality power amp in your control room: You won't realize how important it is until you remove it. Using the GENx6-96 as the studio's clock master, I simply didn't worry about word sync issues, and its ability to generate or sync to super clock at high sample rates ensures it won't be obsolete anytime soon.
Lucid Audio, 425/778-7728, www.lucidaudio.com.
— Steve La Cerra
ROXIO TOAST WITH JAM 6
CD/DVD Creation Software
Roxio's Toast with Jam 6 ($199, $99 without Toast) is a wonderful collection of applications bundled with Toast 6 Titanium and Jam 6, its Redbook-compliant CD master program. Made for Mac OS X 10.2 or above, Toast with Jam 6 is a complete set of tools that readies your raw audio, images, data or digital video files for burning a fast CD/DVD copy or an error-free CD master disc for mass replication. Toast and Jam burn Disk-At-Once (DAO), Track-At-Once (TAO) and multisession discs. It also integrates BIAS Peak Express 4.1, a stereo audio editing/mastering program for building song lists, doing crossfades and normalizing (mastering a CD's or a DVD-V's audio before burning in Toast or Jam). Peak uses Roxio and BIAS VST and AudioUnits plug-ins and includes BIAS' Freq EQ (when you register) and an assortment of MDA AudioUnits plug-ins.
New features make this popular “drag 'n' drop” program seamless. Toast It™ burns from the desktop with no initialization or disc-checking; ToastAnywhere™ lets you share CD and DVD burners across your network; and CD Spin Doctor 2 digitizes vinyl or old cassettes. Once the audio's on your hard drive, you can define tracks, reduce surface noise and hiss and add VST effects. Toast burns audio CDs, music DVDs or MP3 discs (“Save As MP3” is possible after downloading the free LameLib.bundle from www.homepage.mac.com/awk/lame); PC/Mac/mixed-data CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs; DVD/VCD/SVCD video discs; enhanced or mixed-media CDs; or disc “clone” (except commercial DVD movies). An automatic Universal Audio Converter will burn from .WAV, .AIFF, MP3, .AAC or iTunes files.
You can make self-extracting, data-compressed Mac-only discs and designate which Mac OS can read them. I liked the 128-bit encryption for password-protecting Mac-only files and the new Déjà Vu automatic backup utility. Toast burns videos directly from DV camcorders plugged into the FireWire port or from iMovie, and you can extract video and audio from iDVD or a Toast disc using the Universal Video Converter. Video file support includes .dv, .avi, .mov and .mpeg 1/2/4. The new Motion Pictures application creates Quicktime movies out of still-photo image files with panning and zoom effects. Built-in Dolby Digital encoding compression is used for DVD-A and DVD-V with a single disc holding up to 36 hours of music or two hours of good-quality video.
Jam 6 is a stand-alone app for creating professional CD mixes and for finalizing and mastering commercial CDs. Jam 6 sets up track lists, titles, pauses and playback order; does nondestructive crossfades, trims and gain adjustments; sets track start and length; and adds PQ subcodes, ISRC data and more. A CD can have up to 99 tracks, but using Peak, you can parse audio files into regions and add index markers throughout any file. Jam 6 checked my work, ensuring a good “ready to replicate” master CD.
Toast 6 is DVD+R Double Layer (DL) compatible (with a free update from Roxio's Website), recording nearly 8.5 GB of data or more than three hours of MPEG-2 (DVD-quality) video on a single DVD+R DL disc. Easier to use and offering more control, more file format options and a superior graphical interface than iTunes, Toast 6 with Jam is a real workhorse for everyday CD/DVD burning and preparing master CDs.
Roxio, 905/482-5200, www.roxio.com.
— Barry Rudolph