Computer Music 197 – Easy Guide to Ornaments, Clean Up Your Recordings Cover Feature, KMI QuNexus Review

Computer Music 197 – Easy Guide to Ornaments, Clean Up Your Recordings Cover Feature, KMI QuNexus Review

CM197 Cover 500The November 2013 issue of Computer Music is now with us, and in a bumper issue for me this month, I have a total contribution of 10 pages in there. Starting with the huge ‘Clean Up Your Recordings’ cover feature beginning on page 34, it’s an info-packed guide dedicated to rescue remedies; procedures to turn to when things haven’t gone so well at the recording stage and you find yourself needing to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, so to speak. I contributed six pages to this feature, complete with video, detailing how to smooth out harsh guitars with EQ, create double-tracked parts from a single take, fix snare resonance and hi-hat bleed on drum tracks, and replace dodgy drum sounds with high-quality samples.
Elsewhere in the issue, my regular music theory Easy Guide deals with ornaments this month, and we’re not talking about the antique Belgian ceramic cats on your mantelpiece either. To find out what I’m on about, turn to page 74 or watch the accompanying video (on the cover DVD or downloadable from the CM vault), in which all is explained.
Finally, I round off the issue with a double-page review of the remarkable KMI QuNexus USB MIDI controller. An intriguing, rubbery keyboard with all manner of tricks up its tiny sleeves, you can read what I thought of it on page 90.
Loads of other good stuff this issue as always, so check it out today!

MacUser Vol.29 No.10 – Blue Spark Digital Mic Review

MacUser Vol.29 No.10 – Blue Spark Digital Mic Review

MacUser 2910 Cover 500The September 2013 issue of MacUser magazine is now on sale, and one of its super high-quality, glossy pages contains my review of the Blue Spark Digital USB microphone. This clever piece of kit can be connected either to a computer via a standard USB cable or to an iOS device using a 30-pin connector, so you can use it to record to a desktop, laptop, iPhone or iPad.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve had issues with Blue in the past, so this was an interesting one. You can find out exactly what I thought of the mic on page 98.

Computer Music 195 – DAW to DAW, Syncopation, Logic Pro X Review

Computer Music 195 – DAW to DAW, Syncopation, Logic Pro X Review

CM195 Cover 500Computer Music Issue 195 is now available, and this month I’ve contributed three items – my  regular Easy Guide column, a feature tutorial and a review.
First up, if you’ve ever tried to export a project from one system on one computer and open it successfully on another, you’ll know how tricky it can be. So, on page 55 you’ll find my DAW to DAW feature, a handy five-page guide to transferring projects between different platforms. Encompassing MIDI files, effect and instrument presets, project files and the creation of stems, it takes in file transfer options like Dropbox before showing how to import a set of stems originating from Logic Pro X into a Cubase project.
Elsewhere, Apple’s announcement of Logic Pro X was one of July’s big news items, sending magazine editors and freelancers alike scurrying to shoehorn coverage of the app in before their deadlines. I was lucky enough to snag the official CM review, which starts on page 88 and continues for 3 pages of in-depth examination and honest critique.
Meanwhile, my regular Easy Guide column takes a more rhythmic approach this month, examining the basics of syncopation and what it means to today’s electronic musician. You can find the column in its regular slot on page 70, and the accompanying video can be found on the cover DVD for the print edition, or downloaded from the CM vault for digital editions.
So, with the usual shedload of other good stuff to be found in this issue, it makes for a cracking holiday read. Speaking of which, I’m just off on mine, so have a great summer everyone!

iCreate 118 – Slowdown FX in GarageBand, Combine PDF Files in Preview, Sony Sound Forge Pro Mac Review

iCreate 118 – Slowdown FX in GarageBand, Combine PDF Files in Preview, Sony Sound Forge Pro Mac Review

iCreate 118 Cover LargeSo as another month rolls around, two much-anticipated events occur: the arrival of Spring and another issue of iCreate. There are two tutorials and a software review from me this month: on page 56 you’ll find my step-by-step guide to creating the popular vocal slowdown effect in GarageBand using the AU Pitch plugin and the automation system. There’s barely a song on the radio at the moment that doesn’t feature this kind of effect somewhere, so if you’re a GB user, this is how you too can get in on the act.
Elsewhere, on page 78, you’ll find a tip for something you probably didn’t even know was possible – how to combine multiple PDF files into a single document using the Preview app that comes as standard as part of OS X. Once you’ve pulled off this trick once, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it!
Meanwhile, Sony Creative Software have rewritten their popular Sound Forge Pro audio editing app for the Mac. Far from being merely a port of the software that PC users have had access to for years, this version 1.0 release looks set to surprise a lot of people, and probably not for the reasons you’d expect. To find out what I thought of it, turn to page 124.

So to check out these pieces and a host of other useful tips, tricks and how-to’s, get hold of a print or digital copy today!

Steinberg Cubase 7 Review

Steinberg Cubase 7 Review

Cubase 7 BlogheaderI’ve always had a soft spot for Steinberg’s Cubase. It was my MIDI sequencer of choice back when we were all using Atari 1040ST’s to program tunes, syncing up to analogue tape machines via SMPTE code when any audio tomfoolery was required. But then hard disk recording was born, and to my dismay the £5000 Mac system I bought to run Cubase Audio XT, the first audio capable version of Cubase, just wasn’t up to the task. So Cubase was ditched as soon as I could get my hands on ProTools, and I haven’t used Cubase again since.

Until March 2012, when I was asked to review Cubase 6.5 for Computer Music magazine. It was like meeting up with an old friend to find that they’d taken up bodybuilding, learnt five new languages and had four facelifts since you saw them last. Now, less than nine months after causing contoversy with their first ever paid point update, Steinberg have unleashed Cubase 7 on an unsuspecting public, and what’s more are charging £120 for the privilege of upgrading from 6.5. So is the second paid update in under a year worth shelling out for?

Well, after using it solidly for a few weeks now, I can safely say that it doesn’t disappoint.

The new interface has polarised opinion somewhat amongst Cubaserati, but personally I love the look and feel of it. The colours, particularly in the new MixConsole and Channel Settings windows, just pop out of the screen, with solid shiny blacks contrasting with vivid, striking colour which doesn’t distract from, but rather enhances, the use of the program. It certainly makes Logic’s interface look a bit shabby by comparison.

The revised MixConsole with its new, Logic-esque Channel Strip functionality and dedicated Channel Settings window is a revelation. Each channel strip can now make use of five new plug-ins – noise gate, compressor, transient designer, tape saturation and limiter/maximizer. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit old school and grew up with SSL desks, but the retro knobs have a very comfortable feel. The environment, once you’ve figured out how to reveal and hide everything to your own advantage, has obviously been tailored towards the needs of those who know how to work a traditional analogue desk. The signal flow is logical and working the layout soon becomes familiar to anyone with an engineering background. Once you know where everything is, it’s a joy to be able to access the tools and windows you need quickly and easily. While I’m not so keen on the EQ module’s longitudinal green sliders, it’s easy enough to switch the controls to the much more intuitive rotary knob format.

Elsewhere, Steinberg have really done their homework on the musical theory side with the new Chord Track and Chord Assistant. At last, a DAW feature that creates truly useable harmonies that stick to and track changes in the proper scale of your track. I can only imagine the army of musicologists they must have had locked in a windowless room somewhere in Germany for months on end, surviving only on flat food that could be pushed under the door, in order to come up with an intelligent harmonising system of such depth that it actually works with you, rather than against you. Based on my experience, throughout which you could safely say I was blown away by how well it worked, this has the potential to be a truly useful compositional aid, rather than just a tacked-on gimmick.

VST Connect SE promises to be a useful tool for collaboration with remote musicians, allowing you to record their performances across an internet connection. What’s more, your collaborators need not own Cubase themselves to participate in sessions – they just need to download a free app from Steinberg’s website that allows them to monitor a live video feed as well as the audio output from your session. They can even avail themselves of monitor compression, reverb and delay effects as you record their performance, if they so wish. Pretty clever stuff.

Pleasant details abound throughout the program, such as the way that the software automatically creates a Track Pictures folder within your project folder. Any image that you put into this folder will be selectable in the list of user pictures when you come to assign icons to your tracks in the MixConsole. You can have mugshots of your musos on your scribble strip if you wish. Ok, so it’s not the most essential of features, but it is a nice touch, and serves to indicate how much thought has gone into the package as a whole. Other goodies such as ASIO Guard, a system designed to prevent dropouts when playing back multiple audio tracks, MemZap, a workflow enhancer that allows you to toggle rapidly between two zoom settings, and a base-level search window that can be accessed from any area of the interface all serve to round out the package substantially.

There are, of course, one or two niggles. Mine doesn’t seem to like it if you put the computer to sleep while it’s running, or you’ll get an eLicenser error message on reawakening. Sometimes when moving a control, a handy tool tip will pop up, usefully identifying the parameter you’re about to change but totally obscuring its value so that you can’t tell how much you’re altering it by. In the face of everything that’s positive about the new version, however, these are not significant worries. Whether you’re new to the world of Cubase, an accomplished and seasoned user, or an old hand returning to the fold like myself, I really can’t recommend it highly enough in its current guise. Throw in the excellent video tutorials accessed via the new Steinberg Hub intro screen, and I can’t help but feel that with Cubase 7, Steinberg are onto a winner.

Cubase 7 is available in two flavours from

Cubase 7 (Full Version) at £488

Cubase Artist 7 at £244 (limited to 64 audio / 128 MIDI tracks, no VariAudio 2.0 or AudioWarp functions)

Computer Music 184 – Expressive Synth Lines (with Video) and 2CAudio B2 Review

Computer Music 184 – Expressive Synth Lines (with Video) and 2CAudio B2 Review

Two contributions from the writing desk feature in the November 2012 issue of Computer Music magazine, now appearing front-and-centre on the shelves in all good newsagents, not to mention available to download digitally. Firstly, on page 60 you’ll find my four-page guide to adding expression to programmed synth lines – we’re talking how to add pitch bend and mod-wheel vibrato after the event to make it sound as if your lead parts were recorded by a seasoned keyboard pro. There’s even a section dedicated to getting the most out of your synth’s portamento control, and the whole thing is backed up with audio examples and video walkthroughs to be found on the cover-mounted DVD.

Also in this issue is my review of 2CAudio‘s new B2 spatial processor plug-in, which is to all intents and purposes a very high-quality algorithmic reverb unit. If you thought early reflections were what greet you in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning, this thing will change that perception forever. Find out exactly what I thought of it on page 96. (Hint: I kinda liked it!)

MacUser Vol.28 No.22 – Fission 2.0 Review

MacUser Vol.28 No.22 – Fission 2.0 Review

OFC_MU2822_Cover.inddOut this week, the new issue of MacUser contains my review of Rogue Amoeba’s Fission 2.0 audio editing app, found on page 28. Nip down to the shops and pick up a copy to find out what I thought of the newly-updated version of this well-regarded, pared-down software solution that allows you to pull off lossless edits quickly and easily and convert and save them between multiple formats.

MacBook Pro 13″ Ivy Bridge 2.9GHz i7 (Mid 2012) – A Real World Review

Somewhat overshadowed by the Retina MacBook Pro, the refreshed, original case-design Ivy Bridge range of Apple laptops, released simultaneously with the Retina MBP at June’s WWDC Keynote, doesn’t seem to have received a great deal of attention in the media. So, having had to make the difficult decision this month to put my ailing, late-2007 Santa Rosa MacBook out to pasture for one of the new models, I thought I’d share the experience. Of the reviews that do exist, most will undoubtedly have focused on how the new hardware compares to the version that came directly before it. Yet who in the real world buys a new computer to replace the one that came out merely months before? Surely more people are going to be interested in how much of an improvement the new machines are over a four or five year old MacBook that’s nearing the twilight portion of its operating window and thus needs to be replaced.

First impressions
After much soul-searching, I’d chosen to replace my late-2007, 13″ white MacBook 2.1GHz Core 2 Duo with the new 13″ Ivy Bridge MacBook Pro, with the snappy 2.9GHz i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 750GB hard drive. The first thing I noticed on removing the MBP’s box from its cardboard Continue reading

Editors Keys SL300 USB Mic Review

After my recent disappointing experiences with faulty Blue Snowball iCE and M-Audio Producer USB mics, I found myself in a bit of a tight spot the other week, when I needed to make some audio examples to accompany a vocal recording article. Having returned both the faulty mics to the retailers on the Friday and with the copy deadline for the article on the following Tuesday, I needed a replacement mic, and fast!

A quick Google search for ‘best USB mic under £150’ returned a swathe of glowing reports and reviews about a mic I’d never heard of before – the Editors Keys SL300 Studio Series USB Condenser Mic. Looking exactly like a scaled-down Neumann U87, it came with shockmount, carrying case and USB cable for £98 inc VAT. Suitably impressed, I rang the UK distributor, Inta Audio of Coventry, at 4.30pm to see Continue reading

Novation Impulse 49 Review – Computer Music 179

In all the excitement over my cover feature this issue (see below), I almost forgot about my review of the Novation Impulse 49 Controller Keyboard that also appears in this month’s issue. The mid-range, mid-size all-rounder from the highly-regarded chaps at Novation combines with their AutoMap 4 software to provide a compelling package for those who need hardware control of third-party plug-ins with added on-board arpeggiation and a semi-weighted keyboard with polyphonic aftertouch. To read the full review and what I really thought of the unit, catch the new issue of Computer Music that hits the shelves today.

Blue Microphones Support System – All System and No Support?

A little over four weeks ago I bought a Blue Snowball iCE USB mic, just to have knocking about on the desktop for the odd bit of audio recording and to help out with videosong duties. Initially it worked fine, although I wasn’t as impressed by the sound quality as I thought I’d be. However, due to my having a soft spot for the brand, I was prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I really wanted to like this mic and was looking forward to using it, but sadly this has proved to be impossible. It stopped working after ten days, and refused to show up on either of my Macs. I duly emailed Blue tech support and heard nothing for three weeks, so I emailed them again with a complaint. I received a lame excuse for the zero response and still no answer to my query as to what the problem might be. Their support system appears to be made up of all system and no support – the lack of communication is frankly laughable. So I heaved a resigned and heavy sigh, put the mic back in its original packaging and will be returning it to the retailers today for a refund.
My point in posting this sorry saga is this: I used to have the utmost respect for Blue Microphones as a company. I revered their products and hoped to own a few of them someday. After this experience, where their customer support has shown itself to be as lousy as their product, I doubt I will ever be able to recommend their products, and I certainly won’t be purchasing any Blue mics in the future if this is the level of customer support that can be expected should things go wrong.
So if you’re considering purchasing a Blue mic, be warned: if you have a problem with it, and on this showing the chances are that you will, you’re on your own.

Computer Music 178 – full of Clews Reviews

A bit slow on the uptake with this one as well, as it actually hit the shelves a few days ago. I’ve had such a full-on few days recently that I’d actually forgotten that I’d submitted two reviews for this issue! My attention turned to software this time around, notably Audioease’s remarkable Altiverb 7 Convolution Reverb, with the power to place you sonically in a wide range of desirable acoustic spaces from around the world, and Sonokinetic’s Vivace Rompler, a giant 20GB repository of cinematic orchestral ambiences and textures. To see what I thought of them both, nip down to Smith’s, Tesco’s or any half-decent newsagent and pick up a copy. Then pay for it. Take it home. You know how it works.

Computer Music Issue 177 – 7 pages this month!

The latest issue of Computer Music magazine, issue 177, hit the shelves earlier this week, and in this one I’ve managed a personal best total of 7 pages. Two of them are the aforementioned review of Steinberg’s awesome Cubase 6.5 DAW package. As a Cubase user from the old school, I had a great time getting re-acquainted with this latest version. It was a bit like catching up with an old friend after 10 years’ not speaking to find that they’d taken up bodybuilding, had three facelifts and a hair transplant. To find out how we got on, check out the review on page 84.

See ya later, arpeggiator
My main contribution to this issue is the Arp Attack! feature starting on page 42. Five pages of step-by-step tutorials on how to construct and use arpeggios, from creating them from scratch by hand in a piano roll editor to generating them with the purpose-built arpeggiators found in most DAWs. You’ll also find some audio examples on the cover DVD.
To see more, nip down to your newsagent and pick up a copy today!

Steinberg Releases Cubase 6.5

German sequencer kings Steinberg yesterday announced a sizeable update to their flagship Cubase Digital Audio Workstation software. Incorporating two substantial and impressive-looking new software synths (Retrologue and Padshop), new plug-ins (DJ EQ and MorphFilter), new comping and warping tools, FLAC file format support and an update to the VST Amp Rack guitar amp emulation system, Cubase 6.5 also includes 64-bit support and the ability to export mixes directly to SoundCloud. It’s available as a £43 upgrade from previous versions of Cubase, or can be purchased outright for a shade over £500. For more info on what’s new, check out
I’m a big fan of the original Cubase as it appeared on the Atari in the early 90’s, and I’ve never since found a sequencer that has surpassed it in terms of breadth of features and ease of use – and I’ve tried just about everything out there over the years.
I’ve been asked by Computer Music magazine to review this newest release over the weekend, so I’m really looking forward to putting this latest version of my old friend through its paces. Will it be like slipping on an old pair of shoes with new soles and laces? Or will I get bunions and blisters within the first few hours? Watch this space…

My iRig MIDI Review Reviewed!

The review of IK Multimedia’s fabulous iRig MIDI that appears in this month’s issue of iCreate magazine has received its own mini-review on IK Multimedia’s news page. You can find out what I thought of the device by checking out the full news item at (Clue: I kinda liked it!). Many thanks to Paul Kaufman at IK for putting the excerpts up on the site.

iCreate Issue 102 Now Available

Issue 102 of iCreate magazine hits the shelves today, just in time for Christmas, haha. Unusually this month, I’ve been reviewing stuff rather than telling you how to use stuff. Page 120 is where you’ll find my comprehensive 2-page review of IK Multimedia’s astounding iRig MIDI. This is a proper MIDI interface for your iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, if you can believe it. It’s the size of a Zippo lighter and means that you can hook up a full size MIDI keyboard to your iPhone, or swap things around and use your phone as a multi-touch MIDI controller. My last MIDI interface was a 19″ wide rackmounted unit, so I look upon this device with almost religious awe and wonderment.

Elsewhere in the issue, I get to have a play with Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac. Another amazing bit of kit, this allows you to fire up a virtual PC running Windows on your Mac, but does it so that you can switch and transfer files and data back and forth seamlessly between Windows and OS X applications, with no restarts required. After a while, you forget it’s there, it’s incredible technology. If you regularly need to access Windows software and documents but prefer using a Mac, this is your answer right here.