Gear Reviews

The ultimate mobile guitar setup

I’m not a professional guitar player, but I do play with a band occasionally. For short trips to rehearsals and gigs, my home setup is fine: guitar, cables, accessories and my Helix Floor with its backpack. That all fits nicely in my car.

But with family or for work I quite often go on trips by plane – and I mean commercial flights where space is not so generous…Hence the need for a truly mobile setup.

This time I’ll flip things around and start from the solution.

I will list below the components of my mobile setup, and then discuss caveats and alternatives:

1) LapAxe EX series guitar (short scale, ~60cm long overall, tuned in standard)

2) Apogee Jam HD – the latest, 24 bits 96 kHz version

3) iPad Pro 10.5

4) Bias FX from Positive Grid, for the iPad

5) Audio Bus 3 for the iPad

6) AnyTune Pro+ for the iPad

7) Garage Band for the iPad

8) Other iPad tools such as Guitar toolikit, guitar pro, etc

9) JBL headphones

With this setup I’ve played in places ranging from airport lounges to cockpits of sailing boats. The LapAxe bag is quite small and the rest of the gear fits nicely in a backpack. If you source a larger backpack you can even fit all in one.

The few caveats:

– Dependency on the iPad

– A chain of gear that has to be connected every time I want to play, and that is not concise and monolithic

– No speaker apart from the iPad- Short scale guitar is harder to play than a normal one

The alternatives I’ve considered:

– A portable tone shaper such as the Mooer Audio GE200 or a Line 6 mobile pod instead of the iPad. The issue is that the iPad is virtually limitless as you can download new software. So from tones to tuners to background music and even recording you can do it all. Dedicated gear sounds great and it’s ‘plug and play’ but will be limited to what comes in the box

– An iPad dock. Focusrite had one but apparently it is discontinued. I’m in the market for a new one, especially if it has built in speakers. This would make the iPad setup monolithic

– A speaker. The Marshall Stockwell is the one I tried but it’s a bit heavy. I’m thinking of sourcing a JBL flip in the near future

– Other travel guitars. The travel guitar brand is the one I used before. It was 76cm long and required one step for assembly (the LapAxe is pick and play and 62cm long) but the scale was natural, similar to my Gibson SG. I’ll always keep an eye out for more portable natural scale guitars and also smaller ones that tune to standard

There’s a plethora of options out there and the quest is to find one that works for you. The above setup is my ‘ultimate’ for the moment, but it may change once new gear comes out.

Ultimately my goal is to be able to play everywhere and anywhere – hope that is your goal too.

Any suggestions drop me a line

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

Gear Reviews

Helix DI or Rupert Neve DI

Introduction

In this experiment, I wanted to try out the DI capabilities of the Helix for re-amping. I also wanted to try the difference in sound quality between Helix input (used as a DI) and a Rupert Neve DI.

According to the Helix manual, this can be done as the Helix can send up to 8 channels via USB to your DAW, 2 of them being a DI pair coming from its guitar and microphone inputs.

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So the direct guitar sound coming from the Helix can be recorded in your DAW and also sent back to the Helix for on-the-fly processing, and then via USB back to the DAW for recording of the processed sound.

As a second option, I will try to route the guitar directly to the DAW via a Rupert Neve DI, record the dry sound, send it to the Helix and then capture and record the processed sound on the DAW via the same USB method

Configuring the DAW

Since I wanted to be able to output the mix back to my monitor speakers, I had to create an aggregate device to combine the Helix with my RME Babyface Pro in the manner shown in the picture:

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As observed, I decided to preserve the routing of the Babyface by adding it first, and using it as a master for the clock to the Helix. So the USB input channel 7 from the Helix, which according to its manual is the Guitar DI signal, then becomes channel 21 in my DAW as the Babyface has 14 channels.

This channel’s output is then routed to output 17-18 on my DAW which is equivalent to USB input 3-4 on the Helix. An important note is that this didn’t work straight away; you have to manually set-up the Helix patch to receive audio from USB 3-4 instead of multi. I’ve achieved this making a ‘re-amp’ copy of one of my favourite patches. The user manual states that you can leave the output as multi, but to be sure and avoid confusion with the analog Helix signal going into the Babyface, I’ve also changed the output to USB 1-2 only, which in my DAW turned into 15-16.

The next channel is to receive the processed sound. This of course will have to be set up to 15-16 (so it will receive the processed audio from USB 1-2 of the Helix, coming out of the selected patch) and then it can be routed normally to a stereo output for listening.

Note that software monitoring in the DAW has to be turned on, and the analog sound coming from the Helix into the Babyface has been disabled.

Enter the Rupert Neve DI

Once I got the above working, I wanted to compare the quality of the DI sound of the Helix with the Rupert Neve. For that, I’ve replaced the DI channel in the DAW (input channel 21 output channel 17-18) with an equivalent coming from the RNDI into the Babyface, and then out to the Helix as before.

Obviously, disconnected the guitar from the Helix and connected straight into the RNDI to record and make the comparison.

Conclusion

Both methods worked fine. The DI procedures in the Helix manual work as expected. Once that is set-up, creating the additional track for the RNDI or any other DI is easy, as long as you remember to route it to the Helix for processing.

Needless to say, the RNDI recording had a bit more body and sustain, as expected from a top tier DI. But the DI inside the Helix also worked well and both allowed me to record direct guitar sounds that I can now use for re-amping and post-processing at will.

This was my experience, share yours !

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

 

 

 

Gear Reviews

Line 6 Helix: Patch arrangements

Talk about tone obsession

So I’ve pulled the trigger. After trying many entry level multi effects for guitar, and even trying to assemble a pedalboard with individual pedals – let’s be honest, something cool about all those coloured pedals that you can mix in lots of different ways – I’ve decided to pull the trigger on the Line 6 Helix.

My main reason was the fact that it’s the top of the line from Line 6. Fractal Audio AX8 looks impressive but it’s hard to find in Australia. Kemper profile sounded overkill for what I need. And I had tried both the pocket POD and the Firehawk FX.

I did dance with the idea of getting the Helix LT – less I/O, a bit smaller and cheaper, etc – but quite often I end up regretting not having ‘feature xyz’ that only after the purchase you realise you wanted… so I aimed for the top.

My approach to patch making

I’m a quite systematic engineer – a good and a bad thing really – so I started by trying out the factory tones / patches, then later moved to the ones you download from Custom Tone (Line 6 online forum for tone aficionados). The latter was the inspiration to start building my own patch.

Here is what the basic diagram looks like:

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The idea was to stretch both signal paths for just one guitar, and make the most out of it so you wouldn’t have to move things around to get more processing blocks into the path,

The top level path is centred in initial gain and amplification. The bottom level path follows on with effects and a looper at the end.

The order of the top path is:

  • Volume pedal
  • Wah pedal, both controlled by the included expression pedal
  • Dynamics – normally this is a compressor that I use for the clean snapshot of the patch
  • Stompbox, normally a tubescreamer
  • Amp, and this will vary as I make new copies of the same patch
  • Cab and IR so you have the option to alternate between them if you wish and see which sounds better with a given Amp / Song situation
  • Off to the bottom path

The order of the bottom path is:

  • Modulations, 2 of them so I can combine or alternate between chorus, flanger, etc
  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • Final gain boost – as I found this helps in levelling the loudness difference between the clean and the crunchy snapshots

The snapshots are:

  • Clean, normally used for Intros / “acoustic” parts
  • Rhythm, normally crunchy overdriven for rock / hard rock / metal
  • Lead, boosted
  • FX, for the parts that require most effects turned on

The variants of the patch are:

  • One with the J45
  • One with the JCM800
  • One with the Mesa Rectified
  • One with the Engl
  • One with the 5150

This allows me to play songs from multiple decades of rock and metal without much hassle, just by changing the patch (which essentially changes the amp), and playing with the snapshots and FX a bit

The caveats

I’m a newbie to this multi effects thing. So what I haven’t tried (but seen in other patches) is:

  • Alternating amps for the clean snapshot. Some Amps I used sound dirty even with gain or drive turned down to min settings
  • Parallel path for Cabs
  • Other IR options than the Allure supplied by Line 6

Hope you can share ideas on how I can improve this.

You can download a zip file with 4 of these patches, below.

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

HELIX_TONES

Gear Reviews

Review: Rupert Neve DI

DI or not DI, that is the question…

I’ve debated that for a while, but the reality is that if you want to do home recording of Guitars directly into the audio interface of your DAW, you should get one. You need a box designed to deal with the high impedance output of your guitar.

By recording directly I mean not using pedals, pedalboard, multi FX or amp + microphone. You want to plug your guitar into your audio interface and explore the wonderful world of plugins…

Pros:

– Plugins have evolved a lot. There are a lot of plugins for the most popular DAWs (Pro Tools, Cubasis, Logic Pro X) and they range from modelling vintage amps to all kinds of cool effects. Some sound very authentic.

– By recording directly you will capture the pure sound of your guitar. You can change plugins later, re-amp, or even take the recording to a professional studio to run it through their gear

– The plugins cost way less than having all that gear, you can take them anywhere with your tablet or laptop, and most allow you to try before you buy

– Amp + microphone requires a room designed for recording. Most of us don’t have that at home.

Cons:

– No matter how much technology evolve, some will argue that it will never sound the same as playing through a vintage tube amp or similar – but wait, you can record direct, clean, and later re-amp through your friend’s impressive vintage amp…

– They don’t impress your friends as much as a massive pedalboard or a mean Marshall stack

– It’s software, right 🙂 so that means bugs, crashes, patches, versions and all sorts of things you have to deal with. And your DAW needs to have the right spec, so check all that before getting the latest el cheapo laptop

– If you invested in a multi effects pedalboard and want the plugins by the same brand, you will have to pay again, or record clean and re-amp via the multi effects

But I have an audio interface already, thanks …

Yes and so do I. The RME Babyface Pro. FocusRite, RME, UA, Apogee etc they all claim to have high impedance (or Hi Z) instrument inputs where you could plug your guitar directly. And you can ! I’ve recorded directly using RME Babyface pro, Apogee Jam and Duet and it sounded decent.

The key word is: decent, but not amazing. It’s expected that the focus of an audio interface is the quality of the A/D conversion and low latency, not necessarily catering specifically for direct instrument input, so they can remain flexible and affordable.

Enter the Rupert Neve DI

So my requirements for a DI were quite simple:

– Active, since my guitars have passive pick ups

– 1 instrument input, high impedance, > 1 MOhm

– 1 output (typically microphone level unless the DI is also a pre-amp)

– ‘Neutral’ sound, as some DIs intentionally ‘colour’ the sound. This is to allow proper processing of the signal later via plug ins or other

The options I looked at were Radial, Countryman, Rupert Neve and REDDI. I ended up settling with the RN as:

– the Radial, while very well reviewed online, had lower input impedance than the instrument input of my Babyface pro (220 kOhm x 470 kOhm).

– Countrymen had impressive specs and reviews, but was harder to find in Australia

– REDDI seemed a bit to much for my budget (it was over $700)

– Rupert Neve has a name for amazing audio gear

When I plugged it in…. and played a few chords with my Ibanez JS2450… the warmth, the body, the low noise conquered me straight away. Simple logic pro X plugins sounded better than my multi-fx pedalboard. Recordings are clear, balanced, free of undesirable noise.

I then asked myself ‘was it worth it?’ So decided to A/B test this, by recording and comparing with a direct injection into the RME instrument input. Don’t get me wrong, it still sounds decent directly on the RME, but the DI takes it to another level.

The signal chain then is:

Guitar -> RNDI -> RME Babyface pro Microphone input (XLR, balanced, 48V on as the RNDI requires phantom power) -> DAW

With the plugins in Logic Pro X, and also Line 6 Helix Native, I found that gain of 10 to 15 dB is enough to get the results I’m after.

The verdict

Totally worth the investment. I’m quite sure the other top brands of DIs would have a similar effect. In the end, if you’ve already invested in a good guitar, DAW, interface, etc, you’re just a few hundred bucks away (or a DI away) from near perfection. And all of this in the comfort of your own home.

Cheers,

AudioGeek11

References:

https://rupertneve.com/products/rndi/

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Gear Reviews

The quest for the perfect Guitar Tone

We all know (or should know) that what makes those legendary players so special is – aham – the player ! As I read recently, Eric Clapton playing your guitar will still sound like Eric Clapton… but the opposite…

Well, having said that, there is a lot of work that can be done to improve your guitar tone and to ensure that the best of you as a player is coming out.

My quest started with reading the book “The Ultimate Guitar Tone” by Bobby Owsinski and Rich Tozzoli. It is definitely a recommended read for all guitar players out there.

They share insightful information about guitar setup, recording equipment, amps, effects and some clever studio tricks. Plus there is a plethora of info from real recording experiences by award winning engineers.

I will be sharing more about my own personal quest in the future – share yours and let’s chat !!

Thanks,

AudioGeek11

Gear Reviews

Review: Guitar interfaces for iPad/iPhone

Welcome to the jungle

We are more mobile than ever in human history, and aspiring musicians are no exception. Over the past 15 years smartphones and tablets changed the way we record and play music. This article will cover most of the well known guitar interfaces for the iPad/iPhone platforms. A future article will be targeted at the actual software used to play and record music on these platforms.

This is a crowded space but I’ll set a few goals that made my search easier:

  • Budget of around $100˜$200. So we won’t touch the more professional options, but rather the ones you would take to the beach or on a camping trip should the recording mood strike you
  • Digital interface (duh) to the ‘modern’ lightning iPad interface (note: some might still have cables or adaptors for older iPads with the 30-pin connector)
  • At least one instrument level input for your guitar
  • Preferably a gain control on the device itself
  • Portable (‘fits into a coat pocket’) and light

The usual suspects

These will most likely surface if you go to your local store or google the above:

  1. Apogee JAM 96 kHz
  2. IK Multimedia IRig HD 2
  3. Line 6 Sonic Port

How the testing was done

Feature and test spec comparison was done by analysis. I basically trusted the manufacturer’s claims.

The test setup for performance had the following signal chain:

Guitar  -> Interface under test -> iPad -> Amp/Effects simulation software -> headphone or speaker output -> Speaker

The test setup for recording had the following signal chain:

Guitar  -> Interface under test -> iPad -> Amp/Effects simulation software -> recording software -> headphone or speaker output -> Speaker

Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 2.18.39 PM

The test gear below was used during the tests:

Guitar(s): Ibanez JS2450 and Gibson SG Standard T 2016

iPad: Pro 10.5

Software: Ampkit+, Amplitube, Mobile Pod Pro, Bias FX, Garage Band

Speaker: Marshall Stockwell

The software performance obviously has an impact on the test and is not the subject of this article, therefore a lot of the testing involved A/B switching between the interfaces. No I had no magic box for switching, so yes the fact that it takes a while to disconnect one interface and connect the other has influence as we tend to ‘forget’ what it sounded like on the previous one. But some results were pretty obvious.

The results

Audio Quality

  1. Apogee JAM 96kHz for its low noise, low hiss pristine audio quality
  2. IK Multimedia IRig HD 2, had noticeably more hiss and artefacts on the audio it delivers, even with multiple settings (gain, volume) and guitars used
  3. Sonic Port, not far from IRig HD 2 in sound quality however there is only a 48 kHz variant available. No info if a 96 kHz version will ever be launched

Stability and Compatibility

Unsurprisingly, a close tie as these units don’t have much more than a few controls and an ADC, so there’s not much to crash apart from how stable it is when communicating with the iOS. I was running iOS 11.2.x and had virtually no issues. They seem compatible with any CoreAudio apps so GarageBand or equivalent plus most of the amp modelling and guitar effects software in the App store should work.

Ease of Use

Setup of all these units is seamless. iOS and the software used recognises them as audio interfaces as soon as you plug in.

Inputs and Outputs, Controls

  1. Both Line 6 Sonic Port and the IK Multimedia iRig HD 2 have more input and output options. The iRig HD 2 has an input for the guitar, a direct output for an amp and a direct output for headphones. The Sonic Port has technically 2 inputs and 2 outputs as it can also take a line input (CD player perhaps?) in parallel with the guitar.
  2. Apogee JAM at the bottom here, as it’s just in for the guitar and out to the iPad – This means that you cannot use it with an iPhone that doesn’t have a headphone output (like the iPhone X) as you would have to use wireless headsets and cope with latency issues

We geeks like our buttons and tweaks, but sometimes less is more. The Apogee JAM and the Line 6 Sonic Port have just gain controls. The cool factor on the IK Multimedia iRig HD2 is that it allows you to control the headphones level, and it allows you to decide if the amp output receives a direct sound (so before any iPad software effects are applied) or the processed sound from the iPad. Pretty sweet.

Technical Specs

iRig HD 2

  • High definition digital guitar interface for iPhone, iPad, Mac and PC
  • High-quality instrument-level 1/4″ Hi-Z input jack
  • Detachable cables for Lightning and USB included
  • Preamp input gain control
  • Headphone output with preamp and level control
  • 1/4″ Amp Out jack with switchable output “FX” and “Thru”
  • High-quality low-noise, high-definition guitar preamp
  • High-quality 24-bit A/D conversion
  • 96kHz sampling rate – the highest in its class
  • Powered by the iOS device or USB
  • Can be used with line level signals from synthesizers, keyboards and mixers
  • Ultra-compact and lightweight – fits in your pocket, laptop bag or gig bag
  • Comes with microphone stand mounting clip and Velcro strip

Apogee JAM 96 kHz

  • Connect electric guitar or bass to iOS devices and Mac
  • Studio-quality you can take anywhere
  • Direct digital connection for up to 96kHz / 24-bit high-definition recording
  • Discrete, Class A input delivers punchy, tube amp tone
  • Apogee’s PureDIGITAL circuit design eliminates signal noise
  • No setup required, just plug in and play
  • Powered by iOS device or Mac (no batteries or ext. power required)
  • Dial-in the perfect level with gain wheel and multicolor LED meter
  • Works with GarageBand, Logic, and all Core Audio compatible applications

Line 6 Sonic Port

  • 2-in/2-out audio interface with 24-bit/48kHz audio quality
  • 1/4” guitar/bass input with 120dB of dynamic range
  • 1/8” stereo line input
  • 1/4” mono-stereo guitar/line-level output
  • 1/8” stereo headphones output
  • Works with GarageBand and other CoreAudio music apps
  • Compatible with Line 6 Mobile POD app for jamming and creating guitar tones
  • Powered by your iOS device—no additional power supply or batteries needed
  • Includes detachable Lightning connector cable

Additional Software

  1. The iRig HD2 is the only one that comes with software. It allows you to download a basic version of Amplitube for iOS and Mac.
  2. Line 6 ‘tone’ can be achieved via the free download of the Mobile Pod App in the App store.
  3. Apogee does not have dedicated effects / amp modelling software for the Jam that I could find.

Additional Notes

  • These units normally come with an USB cable alternative meaning that you can use them on your mac too (check the box before you buy). It looks like the Apogee JAM 96 kHz has a Windows/Mac only variant so beware of that as well when you’re buying
  • Sonic Port has an alternative (the VX) with embedded microphone – pretty cool !
  • The Line 6 Mobile Pod software will work with any of the other 2 interfaces tested, not just the Sonic Port
  • the Amplitube will also work with the other interfaces, not just the iRig HD2
  • Apogee’s Maestro app is not designed to work with the Jam, but rather with the more professional variants One, Duet and Quartet (hang on to your wallet before you google them)
  • Apogee Jam has an older variant (the ’48 kHz’ version) and you can probably buy an used one and it will still sound decent
  • iRig has been around for a while. While previous versions of the HD (with less I/O) can be found, I would not recommend going back to their original one that used the analog mic input for the guitar signal – quality is very different

The verdict

Since I value audio quality overall I went with the Apogee JAM 96 kHz. They’re up there in the professional market of audio interfaces competing with the likes of RME, UA, FocusRite and so on. And they’ve been around a while. If you don’t need the I/O and don’t care about not having headphones output on the actual device then this is for you.

If you do need the I/O then I would give the iRig HD 2 a go. I love Line 6 stuff and have a pedalboard by them myself. But it doesn’t seem that they have the same focus and range in mobile accessories for musicians as IK multimedia does. Plus here in Melbourne, Australia IK stuff is easier to find.

If you need mic inputs have a look at the Sonic Port VX variant (with mic) but also the higher end variants from Apogee, like the One and the Duet.

References and sources

http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/jam

http://www.ikmultimedia.com/products/irighd2/

https://line6.com/sonicport-audio-interface/

Sonicport

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Gear Reviews

The Journey Begins

As an engineer who is passionate for audio and video entertainment, I’ve always been fascinated by gear – probably why I became an engineer.

Be it for performing, recording or enjoying content, gear is necessary. But all the technical jargon can be quite overwhelming. On top of that, there are several companies fighting for the same space in the marketplace.

What to buy and how to set it all up ? If you are an artist or musician your focus should be your art. The gear is the engineer’s job, right ? But many of us do our recordings it at home by ourselves. We go live playing with friends and family.

The reason I’ve started this blog is to assist all of us entrepreneurs of audio and video entertainment in their quests to make the best of their technical gear and therefore focus in unleashing their full artistic talent.

I will be publishing articles regularly.

You can follow me on twitter @AudioGeek11

You can like my page on facebook if you wish to do so:

https://www.facebook.com/AudioGeek11/

Thank you for reading and supporting.

AudioGeek11