Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review: Yamaha HS5

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing an interesting pair of studio monitors, part of a wide range that features several sizes and wattages: Yamaha HS5!

In a market that proposes self proclaimed mixing level monitors for all price tags, Yamaha HS5 are in my opinion the entry level studio monitors to begin mixing with a sufficient degree of realism (and for realism I mean that a mix made through these monitors translates well also in other systems, such as car stereo, mp3 player, pc speakers and so on).
Mixing with cheap monitors that doesn't guarantee a good degree of realism instead means only one thing: the mix will sound well only from there, and as soon as you try to play the song somewhere else, it will sound completely unbalanced, with some parts of the mix too loud and others too quiet.

Here are some good criteria to keep in mind when choosing a pair of mixing monitors:

- the size of the speaker: the bigger, the more the bass area is represented well in the spectrum, but beware because some speakers can over emphasize it. 5 inches is a good starting point, below this size, the frequencies that are cut away are too many (arriving also to the mid area).

- the wattage: 70w as per these speakers is a lot, and it grants an impressive headroom. Also lower wattages are good, since the ideal mixing volume is the conversation level to limit ear fatigue, but beware of excessively low wattage monitors (like 10w), because in order to hear decently you will have to crank them, ruining the quality of the reproduction. To mix and master we need perfect clarity and headroom.

- the adaptability to the room: this is a blog about home recording, which means that most of our readers are bedroom producers, or enthusiasts that doesn't have a perfectly treated mixing room.
Some monitors, included these Yamaha, features a low and high frequencies equalizer to adapt the response of the monitor to our room, allowing us to limit the lower resonances or work on the high end to make the details pop out more or less, according to our necessity.

In conclusion I can't but recommend these speakers: they have the best price for what they offer, and they sound extremely clean and detailed; since I am using them the quality of my mixes has increased, and compared to the devices I was using before is like twice as easy to find the right balance.
Thumbs up!

Specs taken from the website:

- 2-way bass-reflex bi-amplified nearfield studio monitor with 5" cone woofer and 1" dome tweeter

- 54Hz - 30kHz frequency response
- 45W LF plus 25W HF bi-amp system for high-performance 70W power amplification
- ROOM CONTROL and HIGH TRIM response controls
- XLR and TRS phone jack inputs accept balanced or unbalanced signals

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Video day!

Hello everyone!

I have updated all the download links in the website and created two videos related to two previous articles, and I have updated them:

Review: Boss Katana Head (With 2 video samples!)


How to create guitar cab impulses from a song (free plugins and IR included!) PART 1/2

so now you can hear a direct usb recording sample for the Boss Katana and a sample made with the impulse created for the tutorial, free to download, which I find it's pretty realistic.

Let us know what you think!


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guide to buy a guitar for around 500€ / 500$ PART 3/3



Probably if you are looking in this price range you are searching for used guitars. Used guitars are extremly tricky by some point of view. We must consider two types of used guitar: the vintage and the more recent ones, because either way we are going to lose something.
Vintage guitars:
Vintage doesn’t necessarily mean good. Old Gibsons are famous for their warm sound and incredible manufacture but they cost three times what you want to spend.
If you are searching for a vintage guitar for 500$ or less you must look at some strange and rare brand that really few know. Especially in Japan from mid 70s to mid 80s a lot of brand were born. The economic boom of the Japanese industry hit also the instrument market, so you can easly find labels as Cimar, Tokay, Greco, Aria and Vantage on the online shops, selled by other people. What makes this guitars so special? Some of these brands were produced in the same factories used by Gibson and Fender to produce their models in that era in Japan so the same hands that have built a Les Paul Custom probably have built also an Aria Guitar or a Greco one. If you are lucky enough to find and know exactly that the guitar was produced in one of these factories you can be pretty sure that the manufacturing and production are great, and most of the times it equals to the most prestigous ones.
Wood can easly be extremely better than any wood you can find now on guitars of the same price, for the reasons I wrote above in the article. What you have to sacrifice? Sometimes details and PU, but there are models with good stuff even at this price range. There are just two big counterindications: the first one is the resale value and the second one the overall condition of the guitar.
For the first one you can’t do much, it’s really hard to sell a guitar with an anonymous brand for most of the guitarists, you can explain with the best words how good it is but that damn logo will be your curse. If you are going to sell one of these you’ll probably spend years to find a buyer interested and probably you will have to lower the price a couple of times.
For the second point you must pay attation to details as fret condition, scratches, repairs etc, because it’s easy to buy a fourth hand instrument with a lot of damages caused by the years, and sometimes it can be just an aesthetic problem, in others it can make your new instrument almost unplayable.
Last but not least! You must know where it was built, in what year, the overall condition and all the features. Sometimes catalogs are available, sometimes not, it’s a big risk to buy an instrument without knowing if it’s the exact model the seller is saying is it. You must know by what wood were made and how, what PU it holds etc. This makes finding a good vintage guitar for this amount of money a real journey through websites from all over the world to compare prices, search for catalogs and opinions of owners, but if you are not in a rush eventually you will find the right guitar.
More recent used guitar:
Here we have to distinguish 90s, first 00s and post 2006 guitars. For the first kind we can apply the same rules of the vintage ones, but you must be more careful about the unknown brands because after the 80s most of them started declining and producing cheaper guitars with all the counterindications we know.
On the other hand you can find really awesome pieces by the most known brands as Ibanez, Yamaha, Epiphone etc which still have a good manufacture and production. Maybe it’s better to buy a 90’s Epiphone than a newer one, also until 2006 they didn’t use tone chambers to make the guitar lighter.
Post 2006 used guitars” is the category I generally don’t advice to you, just only in few cases. If you have read all the article you know what you have to sacrifice here, since we’re talking about almost the same kind of problematics of the new ones. A 450$ used guitar maybe as new was sold for around 600 or 700$, and that assures you a decent quality of wood and features, probably with a pick up upgrade the guitar could become really solid. Even for 700$ you can’t be sure the manifacture is good and the production can be located in Indonesia, Vietnam or Korea and crafted in chain with all the problems you know. The drama is that the only two things you can’t change on a guitar is the way it was assembled and what types of wood they used. For the first thing you are literally jumping in the dark, for the wood you can be lucky to find a nice piece, anyway a recent used guitar can become a nightmare if you pay a nice amount of money and you receive a guitar with a knot in the wood, so it will sound “dead”.
Used guitars made in recent years probably are in a better condition than the old ones and it’s one of few “upsides” of this category.
In my opinion there are just two case where to buy a recent used guitar for 500$ or less it’s a real deal: when you find a fool or when you find a desperate one.
The Fool” is someone who doesn’t know what is selling and maybe it’s dropping the price drastically as someone who is selling a Gibson SG for 400$ just because he wants to buy a different model fast.
The other case is easy to recognize because sometimes you can read that the announcement is online for more than a year, which means that they are dropping the price to sell more easily.
In any case pay attetion to the fakes! Nowdays it’s easy to find a fake copy made in Indonesia of Gibson SG or LP and the only way to check the production is the serial number on the back of the head. If you find a Gibson LP custom for 500$ probably it’s made in Indonesia.

The guide is yours, now you have the tools to choose correctly your new axe!


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guide to buy a guitar for around 500€ / 500$ PART 2/3

Now we know that we can’t have a guitar with the best features for 500$ or less, let’s focus on the fact that there are just two type of guitar you can searching for: New or Used.
What you have to sacrifice in this section can be: production, hardware (almost 100% of the times) and manufactures. The more you go below the 500$ mark, the higher is the risk to find bad wood and made in China guitars. Expecially for the new pieces is very common to find a guitar made in Asia but as said before it’s not always something bad if you are searching low-budget guitar.
Epiphone or Squier? You must be very lucky to find a well manifactured guitar for these two brand. You must sacrifice details, production and almost every time manufacture. These brand are linked to the bigger ones just because of an economic choice of the mother house to give to normal people a cheaper version of their most exspensive guitar. The really minefield of all this post is the range of price where you can find both “Epi” and Gibson, Squier and Fender. For what I’ve experienced the differences are in the details and PU. So, if you want to spend 100$ to have a “better” bridge, color of body or bridge PU you are free to choice the “big brand” guitar but you have to know that in both cases you don’t have a very good guitar. Online you can read opinions about the “melody maker”, “junior” and “faded” series of Gibson to know what they sacrificed to give us, for a modest price, a guitar labeled Gibson which has almost nothing of what makes Gibson a top brand in guitar production. So what's the main "pro" to buy a cheap guitar with these brands? You can sell it for half the price and so to have virtually paid it the half, when you will sell it.
My advice for Epi and Squier is to find a good series. Almost every two years Gibson and Fender produces a new series with new features that change mostly details, but the big differences are the production and manifacturing because in a rare case you can find an Epi produced in a decent factory in Korea and this means that its overall quality of manufacture is higher than the others. Online you can read a lot of debates about almost every series of Epiphone/Gibson, Squier/Fender to decide what’s the best year of production of that specific model. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Guide to buy a guitar for around 500€ / 500$ PART 1/3

Hello and welcome to this weeks' article!
This time we're publishing an article written by a dear friend and singer/songwriter for The Observants, Edoardo Del Principe, about his criteria / checklist to buy a good guitar for around 500$ / 500€.
Keep in mind that this is his personal opinion, and that if possible is ALWAYS better to try the instrument in your own hands before buying, because since the wood is living material, a guitar is never exactly identical to another one, even if they are built from the same person with the same materials.

What’s the dream of every guitarist? To find an awesome cheap guitar. This article wants to answer to the question: is it possibile? The answer is “yes” but with several caveat.
I want to show you the general rules to “how to buy a decent guitar for less than 500$”, which is in my opinion the average budget of an high school student who is studying guitar and wants to buy a new one for his/her birthday.
First all of must be clear what makes a guitar expensive and then what makes a guitar cheap.
Wood: this a very controversial point because there’s not an objective argumentation of which wood is the best, but it’s also true that there are bad and good woods. Where can we find these?
Easly over 700$ guitars can have a mahogany body and an ebony fretboards, as many Gibson have. Mahogany seems the best for guitar but its “expensiveness” can come also from its rarety now. Before 80’s it was more common than now, so you can find this wood especially in guitars from before the 80’s.
Ebony and Rosewood are the two most desired wood for fretboards. Nowdays it’s practically impossibile to find ebony on a fretboards of guitars under 700-800$ because of its rarety and its features. Even this time its all about tastes because there is no rules saying that Ebony it’s better than Rosewood, today it’s even harder than before to find a good piece of this because the high quality wood are now much harder to find than 30 years ago. Deforestation caused a “manipulated market” of guitar wood, and the wood used by the most prestigious brands are now on the “apex” of the “wood chain”, which this means that the wood used by a Gibson Les Paul Standard sets the “standard”, but this doesn’t means it is necessarily the best.
Manufacture: This point it’s damn critical because if you talk with a guitar maker probably he will tell you that nowdays it’s practically impossibile to find a good guitar for 500$. There’s no way out. This is because for that price none of them is handmade, not even partially. Industrialization and globalization have transformed the way to produce guitars, so now for that price they are all assembled in a chain production. Less care about the manifacturing, less care about how the neck is built, less care about how it is attached to the body, less care about almost everything, and you must know how much this influences the final sound of the instrument.
Expensive guitars have very few parts or none done in the chain production, so every piece is controlled and maybe crafted by the hands of a guitar maker to make it sure that is the best instrument you can have on your hands. Investing big amounts of money into a new 500$ guitar to make it sounds like a 1500$ it’s stupid because if you have spent 1000$ in PU, mechanics, a new bridge etc the guitar will never sound as a guitar handmade and crafted in US or Japan by the best guitar makers. Anyway it will sounds a lot better, of course.
In order to have “that” quality of sound it requires a specific process in order to build the parts of a guitar in the best way possible with effort put into every detail; this makes the difference between a 1200$ guitar and one of 500$ or less that will never be good as that, even if you put hundreds of dollars in that.
Production: Here we can talk with more certainties. Under 500$ guitars are made in Indonesia, South Korea or China where factories produce tons of guitars so they cannot control well every piece, where the people are paid less so they care less about the final product.
During the last decades, however, the avarage quality of a low-budget guitar has become higher because of the know-how and experience of certain factories that produces for several brands at the same time. This assure you a sufficient quality and playability for almost every entry level guitar in the market now.
Highly expensive guitars are built generally (not everyone) in the homeland of the brands and the name of the top factories are well known by their fans. During the decades it has become harder to find a guitar produced in the homeland brand because of globalization, so now only the finest pieces are handmade in America or Mexico by Fender, for example.
Hardware and Pick Ups: Because of chain productions these are the parts where the brand spend less. Guitar for less than 500$ can easly sacrifice details as mechanics, colouring and PU. On the other hand when we see a guitar with really high prices (1200$+), what makes the price higher are details as the handmade production of frets, a particular colour used and limited series production (Practically you pay maybe 100 or 200$ just for a number on the back of the head of the instrument). Hopefully these parts are the most easy to change so you can buy a cheap guitar and change PU (and maybe tuners and/or bridge) to have a decent guitar for less than 500$, anyway, as said before investing zillions in cheap guitars doesn’t make them sound “great”.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Toneforge Jason Richardson (with video sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to review the latest Toneforge amp modeler: Toneforge Jason Richardson.
For those of you who don't know him, Jason Richardson is a young guitar hero which has played with several important bands such as Born of Osiris, All shall Perish, Chelsea grin, and which now has a solo project that features many guests, such as members of Periphery, Veil of Maya and even Jeff Loomis.

The style of Jason is an extremely technical and fast paced modern metal, with a strong djent influence and the use of downtuned guitars, therefore this plugin is created to satisfy that particular type of sound need.
The main difference between this plugin and the others created by the same producer is that here you have not one but three different preamp modules: Rhythm, Clean and Lead, each one with a particular voicing and unique controls: the rhythm module has (besides the usual eq section) a Clarity and a Range knob, used to find harsh masking frequences and removing them; the Lead module has an Edge control, which combines a preamp and a power amp boost plus a dynamic adjustment, while the Clean module has a Shimmer control which increases the presence while reducing dynamics (a slight compression for the strummed parts).
The effects section features three stompboxes: a Delay, a Reverb and a Lo-Fi filter, while the "rack" section has a parametric Eq and a Peak Limiter (here called dynamic processor, specifically tuned to work on the downtuned guitar frequences).
Finally, the cabinet section features two cabinets and four microphones, together with a flexible IR loader.

What separates this plugin from the others of the Toneforge range? This is by far the most complete and feature rich, thus retaining the usual good, plug and play tone that is a prerogative of the brand.
This specific plugin works great with downtuned guitars and for djent tones, but in general it has also some of the best lead tones I have ever heard in an amp modeler, good for any genre.
The three modules and the additional features gives the product enough depth to achieve a pretty wide range of sounds (of course it is not a plugin suited for blues, but you would remain surprised also by the quality of the clean tones, especially playing with the Shimmer control, which is very intelligently designed and that produces a very usable tone also for jazz and funky, for example).

In conclusion another very good product from Toneforge, a company that release after release is creating a very solid array of software, easy to use, at a good price and extremely useful for the modern producer.


- 3 channels: Rhythm, Clean and Lead

- Two custom cabs, each with 4 microphones and an IR loader

- Tuner, Reverb, Delay, Noise gate and Lo-Fi filter

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Review: Peavey Triple xxx

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing an amplifier, currently discontinued but still quite easy to find on the market usually at a decent price, which features a 120w tube power amp and 3 independent eq channels, and that has been widely used for shred, hard rock and metal.

The Peavey Triple XXX amp has several particularities: a huge amount of power (120w all tube, with 3 12ax7 preamp tubes and 4 6L6CG in the power amp), 3 channels with independent eq: the clean one has a passive eq, the crunch and the ultra one has an ACTIVE one, which is very uncommon on guitar amps and lets us do not only subtractive eq but also additive one, actually boosting certain frequences, and giving us more tonal control.

All in all this amp is clearly designed for hard rock and metal guitarists (actually it has been used by the guitarists of NevermoreAsking Alexandria, Trivium, Suffocation, Behemoth, Decapitated, Exodus, Protest the Hero and Havoc, among the others), although the clean channel is, unlike many others gain oriented amps, quite warm and shiny, but it's the high gain channels those in which this amp performs better.
In general this unit boasts a HUGE amount of gain, with a very particular gain structure, especially in the Ultra channel, that makes it almost a bit too extreme to handle, especially in studio, therefore we will need to dial very carefully the tone, finding the right amount of gain and utilizing the active eq (which is almost an exclusive to this amp) to shape the tone with much more freedom than any other amp.

In conclusion this is a very good, powerful and versatile amp, but it's not for everyone. I would say it is not a very plug and play amplifier, but it requires us to have a certain awareness of how to use it in order to obtain the best of it: if you have the patience and the skill, you can achieve some incredible tone out of it.

There has been also a Triple XXX II version, with one additional tube in the preamp section and an integrated noise gate, which came out some year after the first edition.


- 120W tube power

- 3 footswitchable channels

- Clean channel: volume, passive 3-band EQ

- Crunch channel: gain, volume, active 3-band EQ

- Ultra channel: gain, volume, active 3-band EQ

- Master volume

- Footswitchable effects loop

- Damping switch: tight, medium, loose

Saturday, April 8, 2017

5 Tips on how to choose a live setlist for your band

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today, following our article about how to create an album setlist, we are checking out some tips on how to build the most effective live setlist possible for our gig.

1) Lenght: as a first aspect we need to take in consideration the lenght. A 30 minutes setlist requires a different strategy than a 60 or a 90minutes one. For a short one we can push a little bit more on the impact side, if we have only 30 minutes it could be an idea to try to leave a strong impression playing only the most effective song we have. From a 60 minutes up setlist instead we need to start taking into consideration other aspects that we will analyze in the next points: fatigue, attention, dynamics, extra musical performances.

2) Fatigue: we are not robots, so playing a long setlist with high energy songs, especially in genres which are highly demanding in terms of physical performance as extreme metal or hardcore can result (especially for touring bands) in a not sustainable result, in the long run. This means we need to keep in mind that every couple of very fast songs for example the drummer might need a slower one to recover some energy, or the singer might need to start the concert with songs that are not extremely demanding in order to let his voice warm up properly before hitting that high pitch note in that song, or he or she might need a quieter song after a very tiring one to give his (or her) vocal cords some rest.

3) Attention: the attention of the audience is fundamental, and to keep the crowd interested in what is happening on stage should be the main task of the band. Usually the band, when it has some experience, knows more or less which songs are more effective (for example they have a particularly catchy hook or beautiful lyrics), which ones are less direct and maybe are enjoyed more when the listener already knows them from the record, and so on.
The band should choose a setlist that can blend together the songs keeping the crowd interested, considering that if you play a song that is very interesting opr known and that keeps the crowd wanting for more, they will probably be more receptive also in the next one, so you can maybe put after that a new song noone knows so they will focus on it. After the song they didn't know and that has forced the audience to focus in order to assimilate it, we could propose another popular one, or maybe a cover (even better if rearranged in our style) to give them back something familiar and raise again their involvement and attention, so that the crowd will be never bored, as it would for example be if our setlist would start with 5 very famous songs and end with 5 songs noone knows.

4) Dynamics: for a record, also live dynamics are fundamental. Starting with 5 very fast songs and ending with 5 very slow ones would make them completely ineffective as the audience would very easily lose interest this way. To know how to connect and cue together fast songs, mid tempos and slow ones is an art, which roots into being empathically able to connect with the audience mood and proposing a setlist that should predict and adapt as much as possible to what the crowd expects. After two fast songs maybe a third one would be uneffective, so a mid tempo could introduce some variation and increase the attention (consider that also the audience is subject to fatigue), after a slow song we could set the fastest one in order to wake up the crowd after the romantic moment.
The main idea should be to create movement, alternancy of moods and rhythms within the setlist, also to leave the audience an idea of a rich, non monotonous performance.

5) Extra musical performances: if you go to a concert of any headlining, high level band that performs a full setlist (for example 90/120 minutes), you will notice that there is not only music.
Most of the times there will be small breaks here and there in which the singer or other band members can talk to the audience, sending some message, or just some funny interaction while the others take a minute of break. This is a good moment to plug your new album or merchandise, to say a message to encourage, to use some props (Alice Cooper, Kiss and Rammstein are masters in this) or to pretend to leave the stage waiting for the encore, before performing the last part of the setlist.
This will add a different dimension to the performance (obviously it depends on the performer's charisma, so use wisely!).

Hope this was helpful, if you have any other suggestion let us know in the comments!

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Review: Boss Katana Head (with 2 video samples!)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review an a small, amazing solid state guitar head: Boss Katana Head.

The Katana serie is the latest amp serie produced by Boss, the most popular guitar and bass stompbox producer in the world.
It is an affordable serie of solid state amplifiers: 3 combos (1x12 100w, 1x12 50w and 2x12 100w) and a 100w head; the four amps all shares the same solid (yet lightweight) build and the same preamp section.

The top panel is quite straightforward: 5 preamp types (acoustic, clean, crunch, lead, brown sound), an eq section, an effect section, a preset saving menu and a power amp section which lets us choose between several power settings, ranging from 0.5w to 100w.
The effect section is very simple to use, but plugging the amp via usb to a computer (it works also as a sound interface), we have access to deep editing possibilities, which can let us use up to 15 effects at the same time choosing from a palette of 55.

The back panel offers various in-out connections: an effect loop, a speaker emulated out for headphones rehearsing/recording, a midi in to connect the amp to other devices and so on.
Finally, the head version features (on a very compact, 8.8kg format) an exclusive feature that sets it apart from any other guitar head in the world: a 5 inches (for 30w) speaker built behind the grill that allows it to be played  also without a cabinet, and that is loud more than enough to be played in a home environment.

The most impressive thing about this amp is the sound: producers have come a long way in the last few years, and from the old solid state or digital amps produced 20 years ago, the quality today is uncomparable. Just plug into one of these Katanas (or also a Blackstar Id Core) and you will hear a tone that is impressively mid rangey and similar to a tube amp, with all the solidity, affordability and versatility of a solid state one; by the way, finally these amps sounds as loud as a real tube one.
The 5 preamp settings are Acoustic, Clean, Crunch, Lead and Brown, and this last one tries to recreate the classic Van Halen sound, creamy, mid-rangey and with a very tight attack.
The effect section is digital and it is taken from the latest generation of multieffects of the company, giving us the possibility to choose and set them via the software Boss Tone Studio.

All in all a very good amp, travel friendly due to its size and weight, but very versatile and powerful.
The best feature? You can play it at home using the small built in speaker, and plug it into the cabinet in the rehearsal room to unleash its full potential.
A real swiss army knife at a great price tag!

Specs taken from the website:

30 W (Using internal speaker)
100 W (Using external speaker)
POWER CONTROL switch (STANDBY, 0.5 W, 50 W, 100 W)

DELAY/FX button
REVERB button
TAP button

AUX IN jack: Stereo miniature phone type
REC OUT/PHONES jack: Stereo 1/4-inch phone type
SEND jack: 1/4-inch phone type
RETURN jack: 1/4-inch phone type
LINE OUT jack: 1/4-inch phone type
SPEAKER OUT jack: 1/4-inch phone type
MIDI IN connector
USB port: USB B type

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

How to use a Vst Plugin once installed (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to answer a question that I have probably took for granted but that recently a user asked me (thanks Jewfro), so I have noticed that we have actually no dedicated article about it.

Once you install one of the many Vst plugins suggested on this blog, how do you actually use it?

The answer is "you need a real time Vst host".

What is a vst host? A software that lets you load your Vst plugin and use your instrument (a keyboard, a guitar, your voice and so on) through it, giving the processed signal as a result.

Which are some good Vst hosts?
The most commonly used Vst hosts are the Digital audio workstations (DAWs), here is a list of the best ones:

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) overview.

How do you get your signal in your pc? Here are my tips on how to build your perfect home studio with the smallest budget possible:

How to build a Home Studio.

Once you have an audio interface and a Vst host it's very easy: you open your (Vst compatible) Daw, create a new track, and you'll notice that for each track there will be several empty slots called Vst inserts (or Vst chain). Here you can load any Vst you want, in any order you prefer, and experiment with it. In order to be visible in the menu that lets you load the plugins in the slots, the Daw must know where to look for them, so you must specify in the options of the workstation where to look for them, but once everything is setup your Vst plugins will all appear in the list and you will be able to load them in the insert.

One last thing: if you are trying to play through a plugin in real time and there is a bit of latency that doesn't let you play well, you must reduce the size of the buffer:

Here is a guide that explains the relationship between buffer size and latency.

I hope this was helpful!

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 2/2

(Nine Lives, from Aerosmith, another excellent example of tracklist picking)


- After the wave has crashed we can slow down in the fourth position with a slower, more reasoned song, also to create a change in the album dynamics and to give some rest to the listener's ears: this is a good place where to put some ballad or anthemic mid tempo.

The fifth song (or in general the last song of the first half of the album) is the one that in the vinyl and audio cassette era was closing the first side of the album, therefore concluding a chapter and forcing us to get up and change side. This today has no meaning anymore but in terms of strategic disposition of the songs in the tracklist this could be a good place where to put a song that is not so strong (I don't want to say a filler because the ideal album should have no fillers), considering that it will be statistically one of those songs that will be noticed the less.

The sixth song (or in general the first song of the second half of the record), similarly to the fifth song, had in the past a special role: being the first song of the second side it had to be almost as captivating as the first song of the first half. We need to win back the attention of the listener and navigate him through the second half of our record, since he trusted us enough to spend one hour of his life in listening to our music, therefore this position could be good for a nice, melodic uptempo that energizes the listener.

The seventh song, similarly to the second, should make the listener recover from the blast of the sixth and prepare him to the final part of the album: this position often is reserved to mid tempos, or songs that can have the listener relaxing a bit.

The eight place is probably the last one we can use for a second "single", intended as a song that came out particularly well and that we could use as a business card for our album: it is the moment of the album in which the listener that has arrived so far is deciding whether to stop listening or not, and we need to give him a good reason to keep going: this is a good position for a nice ear-candy, and statistically, if the listener finds a reason to arrive this far and he likes the eight, he will much probably arrive to the end of the record.

The ninth song is the song in which we can experiment: do we have a song very different from the rest of the album, like sang by another singer, or played unplugged, or performed in a way that is very different? We can put it here as a gift for those who have arrived until here with the listening, without the risk of giving a wrong impression to those who were casually just giving a listen to the beginning of the album.

The last song, finally, should be decided since the beginning. The idea would be to close the album with a reason, like the ending credits of a movie, so this is a good place for a song that is particularly long and articulated, or with a long fade out ending that gives the impression that the band will keep on playing that part forever. Some bands likes also to put here some connection to the beginning of the album, so that if the listener would play the album in loop he would find a circular connection between the end of the last song and the beginning of the first one.

Do you have other interesting tips? Let us know!


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Saturday, March 11, 2017

How to build the perfect tracklist for our record PART 1/2

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will go on with our songwriting tips talking about the best ways to create a tracklist for your record: how to decide the order of the songs to make them effective and to keep high the attention of the listener.
Let's start by saying that a tracklist is a concept of the past: those of you coming from generations in which internet was not yet mainstream will remember creating compilations on tape or on cd, carefully picking the perfect tracklist in the perfect order to be the ideal soundtrack of our life, or to be a gift to our significant other.
Today people listens to music often by the phone, the computer or the car stereo with an usb drive, so they are not tied as in the past to a certain tracklist to be forcefully listened in order, but nevertheless an artist should create and suggest still today a certain sequence for his album to be listened, if he wants his message to be delivered in the way he intended it to go; then if his songs ends up in some Spotify playlist.... It's not a problem.

P.s.: why did I choose Painkiller of Judas Priest as a cover image for this article? Simple: because I think it is a perfect example of excellent tracklist creation skill.

Let's begin by saying that there is a difference between a single (usually 2 songs), an Ep (usually 4 or 5 songs) and an album (usually around 10 songs): the album lenght is different, the attention span in the first 2 cases is not a problem, because if the album is 20/25 minutes or less the attention of the listener remains high, therefore there's more freedom in choosing a tracklist: the important is to have an impactful beginning and an ending that sounds as a conclusion, that doesn't leave the work incomplete.

For a full lenght album as we have said the situation is more complex, and in this psychoacoustics can come in our aid, helping us in picking the right song order, making them flow one into the other gracefully.
Let's say we have 10 songs, each one 5 minutes long for a total of 50 minutes of music: our aim is to keep high the attention of the listener, to not bore him and to not make him change album; let's add also that in this example we are not talking about a concept album in which the songs needs necessarily to be played in a certain order because of the lyrics.
Last forewords: as always these are not fixed rules, it's just a collection of tips I've gathered through my years in songwrting experience, and by making reverse engineering on some of the best tracklists in the history of music.

- Obviously we should start with the introduction, if we have one, or with the song with the most attention capturing first 20 seconds. Since the first song will be the one listened the most and will decide whether the listener will want to proceed in playing also the other ones included in our record we must consider it as the shopping window of our album; the first impression is crucial, therefore we must showcase the best that the album has to offer: the best impact, the best melodies.

- The second song is often overlooked, like the second page of Google: people is often still thinking about the first song, so the main purpose of this position is to be pleasantly connected to the first one, to consolidate the good impression to and prepare the listener to the big wave.

- The third song should be the heart of the album: we have done our introductions, now we can get into the real business. There is a reason why in many pop-rock albums the big single is at the third position: the listener is already hooked in the album, and this is the moment to serve the main course. In this position it is a good idea to place the best song we have, maybe a nice uptempo with a very catchy chorus.


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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Randall RH50T

Hello and welcome to this week's article! 
Today we're going to talk about a currently discontinued tube amplifier that is still easy to find at a very affordable price in the used market: the Randall Rh50T!
This is a small, lightweight, 50w tube head which pioneered the current trend of downsizing tube guitar amps to play nicely both in a home environment and in the stage-rehearsal room.

The amp is 2 channel with independent eq, each one with two modes, the normal and the boosted one, so that in total we can choose between a clean, a crunch, a rhythm and a lead sound.
A spring reverb is also included and does its job beautifully.
I have owned this head for six months, and during this time I have been able to appreciate the incredible sturdiness of the build quality, probably one of the most solid-feeling amplifiers I've ever owned, and the warmth of the EL34 tubes, which adds a lot of harmonics and mid range to the tone.
This is a double edge blade: the characteristic EL34 tone is present, and if you like it, it's a blessing, but if you don't, be prepared because it will permeate all the four channels.
The Clean and crunch channels are very pleasant, with extremely creamy clean-slighly overdriven tones, the sound is rich and bassy, and for pop, rock, hard rock, punk etc this head is absolutely a good bang for the buck, if you can find it used.
Unfortunately if we want to push it towards modern metal tones, which was something I needed, the gain did not have a nice texture: at the levels required for metal it tends to get muddy and fuzzy, probably due to the combination of tubes and low wattage, and it takes quite an effort and some good pedal to achieve a satisfying tone.

My bottom line is: for low to mid gain genres this head is a good compromise between price, wattage, tone, and it is 100% tube. For genres like metal, it will need to be boosted and carefully tweaked because otherwise probably you will not obtain the tone you are looking for.
Either way, a head that definitely deserves a try!


- 50 w tube amp, 4 12AX7 Tubes in the preamp, 2 EL34 in the power amp
- effects loop
- 2 channels (Clean / Overdrive) / 4 modes
- Spring reverb
- 4 switches footswitch included

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

RMS levels in mastering (with free Vst metering tool)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going about Mastering, and in particular of RMS levels when using the last plugin of our chain in the stereo bus: the limiter.

As we know, a limiter is a tool that prevents any peak to surpass a certain ceiling, and does this by applying a strong gain reduction that blocks the loudest part of the signal.
We have also already talked about the Loudness war so I won't repeat myself here, what I think is an interesting addition is though the reading of the RMS meter.
In order to introduce this concept we need to explain the difference between Peak Level and Rms Level.

Peak level: this is the loudest peak reached by our track. When mixing it could be -12db, but when mastering we can use a Limiter and stop it at -1db, or -0,1db.

Rms level: root means square level. This level is the AVERAGE loudness of the master, and the difference between the peak level and the rms level is an approximation of the amount of headroom left in our master.

What is a good compromise between a mix that is loud enough and that is not squashed?
A good starting point is to limit not more than 3/4db of peak, but keeping ourself at around -9/10db Rms.

In this interesting article Ian Shepherd on his mastering blog compares several recordings, showing the average (raw) rms levels:

-6.2 Oasis - "Some Might Say": Severe clipping distortion
-4.9 Metallica - "The day that never comes" (CD): Massive distortion & clipping
-7.7 Feeder - "Pushing The Senses": Heavy clipping distortion
-10 Katatonia - "Consternation": Awesome (clean) sound, massive choruses
-13.1 Sugar - "Fortune Teller": From 1993
-16.9 Metallica - "The day that never comes" (Guitar hero 3) Needs to be louder !
How do we measure the Rms level? A good free tool to monitor our Rms level is Sonalksis Free G, which offers a master fader and a serie of metering tools (place it after the limiter in the post-fader insert).

And you? What Rms level do you like to master your music? Let us know!

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: Toneforge Ben Bruce (with mp3 sample)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are reviewing (with a bit of delay since its initial introduction) a new virtual guitar amp: Toneforge Ben Bruce!
This amp simulator tries to combine the key elements of the tone of Ben Bruce, guitarist of Asking Alexandria, a well known british metalcore band produced by Joey Sturgis, which is also the man behind the Toneforge brand.
The sound of Ben Bruce is based on the classic Peavey 5150 tone, which is an amp very popular in metalcore for its definition and its tightness, and it can be head in the Asking Alexandria's song "I Won't Give In".

As for the other Toneforge amps, the Ben Bruce includes two channels (clean and overdrive), four stompboxes (an overdrive, although the head sounds already so gainy on itself that probably you won't ever need it, a stereo delay, rotary and reverb), a Cabinet simulator with the emulation of four microphones (a condenser, an SM57 on axis, an SM57 off axis and a Sennheiser Md421) and Ir Loader, a chromatic tuner, a parametric eq and a peak limiter.

By testing it I have appreciated as always how Toneforge plugins are so lightweight on the cpu and straightforward to use: the UI features a pleasant scheumorphist interface (which means that it recreates the interface of hardware products) and sound good right away, without even needing to dial anything, which is honestly pretty rare in the world of virtual amps.
The amp has a very pleasant and usable mid range, very mix ready, and it is very tight, perfect for metalcore, making it probably the easiest Toneforge virtual amp to mix with so far, for the genre.

Here is a small sample of an album I am working on for my band, Strider, done using Toneforge Ben Bruce, check it out!

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

How to build a home studio for less than 500$ in 2017

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to see how to start recording quality music on the tightest budget possible, keeping in mind that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, so I have suggested products that respects a minimum standard of quality (as there are surely even cheaper ones, but they in my opinion don't guarantee a reasonable result) to obtain a good product.

Let's start by saying that obviously a pc is required, but if you are reading this, it's very likely for you to have one. This pc should have a decent amount of ram (I'd say that 6/8gb would be a good starting point), and a processor not too old. For the software side, both the audio interfaces that we suggest have a basic version of a Daw and some plugin, which are absolutely enough to start working right away, so for a budget studio there shouldn't be need of much else.

For the sound interface, in my opinion the best quality to price ratio in 2017 is the Presonus Audiobox Vsl 22: this is an amazing sound interface, very complete (it has usb 2.0 connection, Midi in and out, 2 combo Xmax preamps etc.). Some people says it is better a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, in my opinion the Focusrite sounds a little more thin and some models have gain problems when recording guitar, but in doubt I paste both links, since they cost the same and are pretty much equivalent. Another pro of the Presonus one is that it comes with a Free copy of the Daw Studio One,
but on the other hand, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 comes with a limited version of Pro Tools and a set of plugins made by Focusrite itself.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Now moving to the monitors, we can choose between a set of monitors and/or a pair of headphones. For monitors the choice is hard, because there are very few monitors capable of letting us mix properly at a very entry level price. The choice boils down pretty much only to Presonus Eris e4.5 and Tascam VL-S5, both of them for about 200$, or around 150€. On one hand the Presonus ones comes also with two stands and a smaller size and weight, on the other the Tascam, at the same price, offer you a 5 inches speaker instead of a 4.5 one, which means that it will have a better response in the low end area.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Speaking of headphones, instead, it is also hard to find a budget pair that can be considered mix-capable, but always moving in the same price area there are some that are considered to be quite usable, both for mixing and recording, in the 100/150$ area.
Let's start with Beyerdynamic Dt990, which are an industry standard in the 150$ area, and if the budget is tighter (around 50$), there are the Akg K240 Studio, which are probably the most widely used studio headphones in the world.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Finally we need some microphone. I'd suggest in this beginning stage a dynamic one and a condenser one that can serve more or less all purposes, and that can be used also together to capture a wide range of details also for acoustic instruments.
If I would have to buy just one microphone I would go for a Shure Beta 58: it is dynamic, great for vocals, guitars and and all around amazing microphones for about 150$.
For lower prices (around 100$) we can check out the smaller brother, the Shure Sm58, which is another great all purpose dynamic mike. Finally, among the condenser microphones, one that has a great quality-to-price ratio, good both for music and for radio-podcast streamings, is the Audio Technica At2035, the evolution of the legendary At2020, that comes in a bundle (for 150$) with also a shock mount, an anti-pop filter and an xlr cable.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

As for the accessories, there are very few things which are really essential, and they can all boil down in some jack cable, xlr jack cable, anti pop filter and a microphone stand. I will just post one link for each type, as there is no need to invest too much on these, in the beginning.

(Click on the images for the Amazon Link with the best price)

Hope it was helpful!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Review: Peavey 5150 / Peavey 6505 and all its variants

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we are going to review a legendary guitar amplifier, the Peavey 5150, known since 2004 (as Eddie Van Halen has moved the rights for the 5150 name from Peavey to Fender and eventually to an EVH brand) as 6505.

For those of you (few I hope) that doesn't know who Eddie Van Halen is, a brief recap: he is the guitar player of Van Halen, a Hard Rock band from California, which has produced some of the most famous hard rock songs of the 70s and 80s, as "Jump", "Ain't talking 'bout Love", "Panama", "Hot for Teachers" and "Running with the Devil", just to name a few.

Eddie Van Halen is also known for being one of the first Guitar Heroes in history, having contributed in innovating the rock guitar sound in many ways: introducing an extensive use of tapping and legato in guitar solos, creating a trademark sound very creamy and mid focused that is known as "brown sound", and basically making guitar shredding mainstream and appreciated from a wide audience, not only from guitar geeks.

Eddie in his incredibly long career has experimented with many amps and guitars, by modding and customizing them until they were completely different from the original model, until arriving to 1992, year in which Peavey offered him a signature model based on his requests, and this model is today, 25 years later, the standard in in heavy metal guitar tone: the most used amp by metal bands and metal producers, even the most extreme ones, due to its extremely tight tone and massive gain.

The head is 120 tube watts, a monster in volume, and it gives its best when pushed over the half of the volume knob, meaning that in order to really enjoy this amplifier you need to play it extremely loud, it has a low gain and a high gain input, and two channels that shares the same passive eq section.
The preamp section has six stages of gain (just to give you the idea, the Marshall jcm2000 DSL is Dual Super Lead, meaning that it has two stages of gain), it is loaded with five 12AX7 tubes (one is in the effect loop), the power amp has four 6L6, and the two channels shares also the presence knob (which decides how narrow or wide is the control of the entire eq section) and the resonance one (that adds some oomph to the lower area).
The head, finally, has also two separate gain knobs, one inside and one after the preamp section, and two switches that affects only the clean channel: bright (that adds some sparkle if the tone is too dark) and crunch (that adds additional gain turning the clean channel into a rhythm one).

Although this head is created to produce huge amounts of gain mantaining an exceptional clarity and definition, the amp has been used also for its creamy crunch tones: the interaction of the tubes creates a very warm harmonic richness and sustain that makes it extremely pleasant to play also for lower gain situations, although the amp is not famous for producing particularly pleasant pure clean tones (they are, in facts, rather cold compared to other amps).

When presented in 1992, this amplifier was revolutionary due to the six stages of gain, which meant a big amount of gain from the preamp section that goes into a powerful power amp section with tubes (the 6L6) which are famous for the tight low end and for mantaining a lot of headroom compared with for example the El84 of many Marshall Amps: the result is that the tone is less saturated than a classic Marshall tone, it's more defined and the gain structure is much more compact, perfect for palm muting, that's why this amp is today a standard for thrash and death metal bands, even more than for hard rock.

From 1992 the Peavey 5150 (from 2004 called 6505) has grown very much, and today it offers several variants, all with the trademark original tone but with some interesting twist:

- 6505 Plus (formerly known as 5150 II), a version with the eq separated between the two channels and a slighly brighter tone

- 6505 combo, a 60w combo version of the amp

- 6505 mini and micro, two smaller versions of the big one, one 20w all tube and the other one 20w transistor.

Over the years Peavey has also produced other versions, such as one with EL84 tubes, but they have been discontinued.


- High and low gain inputs
- 120 watts (rms) into 16, 8, or 4 ohms (switchable)
- Rhythm channel: pre-/post-gain, bright and crunch switches
- Five 12AX7 preamp tubes and four 6L6GC power amp tubes
- Channels share 3-band EQ
- Presence and resonance controls
- Switchable post-EQ effects loop
- Preamp output
- Lead channel: pre-/post-gain


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