The Smith's Journal - October 2007

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Productivity Therapy

Tags: Pro

You may have noticed things going a bit quiet on this blog recently. My life is undergoing a revolutionary change and I'm in productivity therapy. It's good but means focusing on the most important things until they are done. Currently for me that means shaking off all the junk (obsolete computer gear, unused stuff, unanswered emails) which is weighing me down, as well as getting a more organised office of operations.

There's been a bit of a controlled nuclear explosion going at home. Both the studio and computer room are under extensive development, clearing space and redesigning layouts to install new loudspeakers in the former and a new desk in the latter. I will be migrating to Boredband next week too. Then I can upgrade my computer software, and after that get a new music computer. I'm also making my own company website. This is all in addition to my drumming activities. Really I've started up too many projects at once, but now must continue until they are finished. Luckily I feel a surge of energy pointing me in the right direction, like a celestial entity is wielding a big stick to ensure I get with the Plan! So enough writing about procrastinating in my teabreak, I am being called back to work...


Funky Junk

Tags: Studio

Wow. Today I spent all afternoon in one of the finest rooms in Europe. Listening. The nice guys at Funky Junk have kitted this place out with some of the best audio gear known to man, and have it set up so you can easily compare various units.

They have just moved premises to this new building and are creating a production studio upstairs. The whole place is quite an experience. A real Dalek guards one of the entrances! There are rooms full of the most exotic outboard you could dream of. Their service department is a sanctuary for broken vintage gear and hospital for wounded solders (sorry!). One room is full of vast consoles so large you'd need an articulated lorry and team of weightlifters to even move them.

What makes this place really special though is the service. They have been in the business since the beginning and hence know how to treat people and what gear is worth selling. I've been reading their entertaining website (and now blog) for some years now, and their advice is always spot-on.

APS Aeon studio monitors

Tags: Studio

My mission here was to buy some monitors, always a tough choice. I auditioned the ATC SCM-16A and PMC TB2S-A (my firm favourites, which I'd been planning on buying for some years now). Initially these both sounded very nice to my ears, but perhaps a little too nice, having a slightly artificial flattering vocal quality which would prove harmful in the long run for creating universally good-sounding mixes, which is the whole point of monitor speakers: they should show all the gory details for you to fix in the mix, not make the sound shimmer with superlatives that would be absent on anyone else's speakers.

Also in the shootout were the APS Aeons, a newcomer to the industry from a Polish hifi company, heartily recommended by the FJ staff. Since one of my mentors hailed from that nation, I gave them a listen, and was pleasantly surprised at the broad spectrum of sound they produced: a clear soundstage which gave space to each instrument, rather than the glossy but thinner tones of the PMC. The difference between the ATC and APS was so slight that economics raised its hand (the former cost 50% more).

Sadly none of these speakers reached far enough into low frequencies to fully capture the bottom notes of a piano (low A=22.5Hz!). So now I had to accept the reality that my dream of hearing the depths was still beyond reach until I could afford the massive monitors mounted into the rear wall (which used to belong to Mike Oldfield) and a huge acoustically treated room like this one capable of housing them. To fully appreciate such deep bass, your ears need to be at least 3m from the speakers, and trying to cram them into a small room just results in standing waves and other acoustic anomalies.

[ Studio workstation with APS Aeons and Fostex PM0.4 monitors ]I spent many hours listening in minute detail to each instrument in a stack of my favourite CDs I'd brought along. It was a close one, but in the end the APS won, and now sit boldly in my studio, which is still reeling in the shock and glad of the spring clean and the move upmarket. Ridiculously I don't yet have enough cables to plug them in (!), so this has sent me into a whirlwind of planning a vast cabling diagram that would make the National Grid wince. This is a much-needed kick to make me tackle one of the last major obstacles holding me back from (operational) studio nirvana (the other being my olde now newly-rebuilt music computer).

[UPDATE: A few years later I got an email from Kris Gorski, one of the founders of APS and also a fellow musician, who was interested on how I found the Aeons in use. So I wrote this little review...

They sound just great! It's a pleasure to listen to music on them. I don't have much else here to compare them against, other than the Fostex mini-monitors and my hifi speakers (obviously no contest) and faded memories of big full range monitors in pro studios. A friend has some Dynaudio BM5A which are OK, but not a patch on the Aeons.

At Funky Junk in London, they demo'ed the APS for me up against the ATC SCM-16A and the PMC TB2S-A, the latter of which I'd been obsessed with buying for many years. It was hard for me to abandon that obsession until I heard the difference. Clear sonics and fullsome bass, not boomy.

A friend came over last week and we listened to some of his early tracks from the 1980's on the Aeons. I think we were both shocked at the sound when I turned them up BIG and LOUD. Lots of deep power and no hint of distortion or coloured timbre. The amount of air they moved took us both by surprise, as we were getting positively chilled by them - no need for aircon here...! Is this normal behaviour?

A mouse (!) even came wandering into the studio as we sat there transfixed, obviously also wondering what all the VIBES were, bizarrely not even frightened!

[ Fostex PM0.4 monitors up against big brother APS Aeons ]Fostex PM0.4 monitors

Tags: Studio

I also bought a pair of Fostex PM0.4 mini active monitors to use as portable speakers to take out with my DAT machine, as well as a reference as to what most folks' speakers sound like. They can also serve as monitor speakers for guest musicians in other rooms, and also as a reverb send into the reverberant kitchen :-) Despite their tiny size, they offer a compelling level of detail which (apart from the mostly absent low end) rivalled the PMC monitors which cost more than ten times as much. One day I could add a sub-bass unit, although higher wisdom suggests that that would cause more issues than it would solve.

[UPDATE: Now available in cool colours, with this smart passive volume control :-]



Tags: Computers

Yay! I finally got a broadband connection - and it all works :-) After some initial glitches due to a flaky microfilter, the ADSL connection has settled at around 1800/448 Kbps (down/upstream) which isn't too bad considering I'm far away from the exchange. I must by now have the oldest computer on the internet (Pentium III 450MHz!). Dialup had become totally unusable with today's bloated Web 2.0 - even ADSL isn't that much better than dialup used to be, since everyone's web pages are getting so fat.

Unfortunately email doesn't work just yet. When I originally set up my email address back in 2001 I didn't really know what I was doing, and it was only a fluke that my broken config happened to work, so I just left it. Now trying to migrate to a new ISP, I realise how little I know, so I have had to do lots of reading; in the end it took me six weeks to fix it).


[ Akai rack under studio desktop - the S3200XL is the large unit in the middle of this rack ]Akai S3200XL sampler

Tags: Studio

Sometime this week I bought a second hand Akai S3200XL sampler. This was a top of the range machine when released, and has some excellent features, my favourites being balanced inputs/outputs and the programmable tuning allowing you to create non-Western tunings, much like the Waldorf MicroWave I also got for this purpose.

I've not had much chance yet to fire it up and see if my fifteen year-old sample disks still work, but if they do my aim is to recreate some of my early electronic pieces that I never got decent recordings of, as well as to make a whole new world of pieces that redefine sound as we currently know it.

[More later...]


Stokke Varier Variable kneeler chair

Tags: Studio, Arts, Computers

Today my lovely lilac Stokke Varier Variable kneeler chair arrived from Back In Action. It's a work of art as well as being a fine and versatile chair, beautifully made from just four sculpted curves of wood, and is light enough to lift with one hand. It's very comfy, either to sit, kneel or rock.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2007-10-01 - last updated 2011-05-16