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Maschine Heart.


Image

I finally picked up Native Instruments Maschine last week and have spent all day today working on a remix so that I can learn how it works.  I’m not going to review it just yet because I’m still getting my head around it all.

All I can say right now is “MY BALLS!!! THIS SHIT IS DOPPPPEEEE!”.

Seriously.

You always take a gamble when you buy new gear.  This is particularly so when you buy complex gear like samplers and midi controller interfaces and software etc.  So far, Maschine has been awesome.  I’ll do a gear review of it in the future when I’ve mastered it a bit.

However, my experience with Maschine so far is bitter sweet.  I’m actually legitimately saddened.  The reason for my sadness is this:  I can see Maschine coming to replace my MPC2000XL for the majority of my production.  That is seriously heart wrenching for me.

I bought my MPC2000XL in about 2000/2001 when I got my first proper job.  Since then I must have produced well in excess of 1000 beats on it.  It has never faltered or caused me any issues.  It has travelled thousands upon thousands of kilometres with me.

Perhaps people who aren’t producers wouldn’t understand but the truth is – you build up a relationship with your music making equipment.  Sometimes these bits of circuitry and buttons are your only respite from all the bullshit that is happening in your life.  If I had a bad day, I always knew that I could go into the lab, fire up the MPC and forget about all my problems for a little while at least.  And you come to know ever little function, feature and quirk of the gear that you use regularly.  It really does become like a friend.

It’s not mere nostalgia talking here.  There is a genuine sadness.

However, the MPC2000XL does have its limitations and they are limitations that are now limiting my ability to keep up with the demands of my production cycle.  Primarily, the fact that I mix in Logic (and the MPC doesn’t interface with computers like Maschine does) means that I spend far too much time bouncing individual tracks out so that I can mix my beats.

I’m about to move my MPC2000XL to the small “ideas table” in the corner of my lab.  This is the place where I leave stuff to use irregularly whenever I’m looking at changing my workflow and generating some new ideas.  I’m going to put Maschine here in front of my iMac as my primary production tool and sequencer.

Just know that I do it with a very heavy heart.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Audio production, gear, Production

 

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Gear review… EB16 FX board for the MPC2000XL.


Definicja Vintage

An MPC2000 (not the XL, you can tell by the heat vents in the top right corner and the immovable screen and the volume and record knobs are on the top left side and the jog dial is white, not black) with well worn pads. Doesn't it make you feel warm inside?

Hi folks,

It’s been a while since I reviewed any of my gear, so I thought I’d have a crack at it in this post.

Recently I got my hands on an EB16 FX board for my MPC2000XL.  I’d been eyeing one for a while (pretty much ever since I got my MPC about 10 years ago) but a) never had the disposable income and/or b) felt that my skills needed to be tighter before I bought some extras.  Anyway, in a moment of hubris and excess cash I decided to jump in the deep end and grab one from some French guy on eBay.

And I have to say – it has been a very worthwhile investment.

For those that don’t know, the EB16 was an expansion card that was offered by Akai for the S2000, S3000, MPC2000 and MPC2000XL samplers.  It may also have been for the MPC3000 but I don’t really know.  They’re relatively rare these days (but not as rare as the MFC42 filter expansion).

The unit offers 4 discrete FX busses, 2 of which are solely for reverb sends.  The first two effects busses are multi-effects units which provide a combination of distortion, parametric filter, modulation, delay and reverb.  Each of these effects can be individually switched on and off and include a fairly extensive range of modifiable parameters and settings.  A final MIX stage on the multi-effects busses also allows for a range of routing options (so you can go from modulation into reverb or reverb into modulation etc).  The effects are accessible through the MPC mixer window and individual pads can be sent to any of the four busses to varying degrees – that is, you can control the amount of sound being sent from a pad to each buss.  All in all, whilst not comparable to the extensive effects routing and options available in a DAW like Logic, it is nevertheless a very flexible tool for manipulating sounds as you produce.

Of particular ‘coolness’ is the frequency modulation that is available on the parametric EQ module.  This acts much like a phaser and you are able to adjust the depth of the modulation as well as the Q width and rate for both the lower mid and upper mid frequency bands.  The results is a very nice sounding spacey-ness and phasey warmth in the midrange.

Each of the effects is wholely usable, in general, but there are some limitations.  Due to the grouping of particular effects, it can often be an either/or decision as to which effect to apply.  For example, you can’t use both the rotary speaker emulation and the flanger on the same effects buss (not that you would probably want to).

So, does it make you a better producer?  Well, no.  You’re still doing exactly what you were doing beforehand.  However, it does provide some great additions and effective tools for improving the beats you make.  It won’t fix bad technique or poor quality chopping but it will open up new and interesting avenues for the sounds you have.  And that can’t be a bad thing, right?

PEESHE

Oh, and here’s a video of the ugly monstrosity that is the MPC2000XL SE2 which, if you can stand the horrific music for long enough, shows you the EB16 when it is installed.

BTW:  How do you make Lady Gaga angry?  Poke her face.

 

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The Perfection of Imperfection.


Akai EX85P... mmm.

Hi folks,

The advent of digital recording and the unrelenting pressure of pop music has ushered in an age of super-clean recordings. For the most part, this makes me sad. I tend to comfort myself by going on eBay.

I’m a fan of eBay. I can frequently be found scouring various lists on the hunt for audio gear of all types. Generally I buy obscure, unknown bits and pieces just to see what they sound like. Rarely do I bother bidding on well-known kit because the savings to be had are pretty slim – you just can’t get a TR808 for $250. Everybody knows that.

Most recently I picked up an Akai EX85P parametric equalizer for about AU$50. I’d never run across one before but it looked interesting. It’s a circa 1990 model of prosumer gear with all the classic beige and red design elements that old school MPC users can’t help but love. Aside from it’s appearance and what I could read from the screen, I knew nothing else about it. However, I’m yet to buy a bit of gear that I haven’t put to good use so I figured it was worth a bid. And, lo and behold, it’s an absolute cracker of an EQ.

The specs are as follows:

  • Mono, 6.5mm balanced ins and outs (hence prosumer)
  • High and low shelving (40hz and 12000hz respectively) with +/- 18db
  • Two sweepable mids ranging from 100Hz to 8000Hz (with considerable overlap) at +/- 18db
  • Adjustable Q for each mid frequency band (the Q factor isn’t listed but it seems to be about 6 to .7)
  • It has a footswitch input too, but I haven’t got a pedal for it and, moreover, I can’t see what it would do except engage and disengage the effects bypass.

Overall, it’s pretty standard in terms of features. However, the amount of boost/cut is pretty substantial and it can really have an enourmous impact on the shape of the sound. I haven’t put it on any tracks yet but I’ve been having a great time doing super-resonant filter sweeps on everything from synth lines to dodgey mariachi records. Good fun.

Many years ago I also bought a mono Ashly peak limiter/compressor for something like $40. Again, information on these units is thin on the ground. In short, it is simply not pro-grade gear. That said though, I’ve used this compressor on numerous recordings in the signal chain of numerous instruments and vocals and it is a lovely bit of kit. The design doesn’t allow you to set a threshold (a true peak limiter), which means you have to drive a signal hard into it before it starts to operate. However you can adjust attack, release and ratio settings (the ratios are all pretty intense) and you can adjust the level of output. The thing I love about this compressor, though, is not it’s features nor even it’s intended sound. Rather, I love it’s terrible design flaws and angry grittiness.

Since owning the unit, I’ve discovered that the manufacturers made a terrible mistake when they put it together. They used a kind of foam to line the top and bottom plate of the casing which worked fine for a year or two before age and heat began to make it disintegrate. Consequently particles of foam would build up on the circuitry causing the various transisters and op-amps to overheat and, essentially, malfunction. As a result, the unit I now own (though cleared of any residual foam lining) generates considerable harmonic distortion which, although far below “hi fi” standards let alone “pro audio” is not entirely unpleasant when used in certain circumstances.

Of late, I’ve been running the compressor as a parallel compression unit, driven very hard and then filtered and layered with clean vocal recordings to generate a gritty low end warmth. It’s pretty solid on live bass, too, particularly if you’re using a DI approach.

So, what’s my point? Well, just this – sometimes the best tones you can create don’t come from ultra-high end, super-clean studio gear. Sometimes, you’ll only achieve your own brand of perfection if you let the imperfections run wild for a while.

Any of you have stories about temperamental or downright lo-fi gear that has made you smile?

PEESHE

 

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