Mig Music XG Layered Dance Sounds Collection Vol. 1; Soundman OKM II Binaural Stereo Microphone Headset

Studio Essentials

Published in SOS May 2001
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Reviews : Microphone

Mig Music XG Layered Dance Sounds Collection Volume 1

Yamaha claim, via their European web site, that over 45 million people now have access to XG sounds. This is not surprising as the XG standard has much to recommend it beyond its compatibility with General Midi. In XG you can choose from many more sounds than in the GM format, and each has a low-pass filter, amplifier, LFO and two envelope generators. Furthermore, XG modules provide the luxury of three global multi-effects processors. However, many people who happen to own an XG sound source simply because it is built into their soundcard could be forgiven for being left feeling a little uninspired if they'd simply cycled through the basic sounds.

Which brings me to the subject of this review -- the Mig Music XG Layered Dance Sounds Collection Volume 1. What Mig Music have done is to create a series of patches which layer two XG parts, with each given entirely different playback settings to create evolving electronic sounds which are much more interesting.

The 22 banks of 7 patches are provided in two forms: as System Exclusive data in MIDI files, or as files for Gary Gregson's popular XG Edit editing and librarian software. A list of the patch names is also provided, both as plain text and as an HTML document. These files can be ordered on either PC or Mac format floppy disk, or can be downloaded from Mig Music's web site. Each bank, once loaded, configures 14 XG parts to respond in pairs to information arriving on the first seven MIDI channels. To audition them you simply connect a MIDI keyboard and set it to the relevant channel.

The patches provide bass, lead, pad and arpeggiation sounds, which show a keen ear for dance-style timbres. From the outset, I found the sounds rich and varied, not least because of the liberal use of effects. What was more impressive, however, was that many of the layered sounds remained extremely satisfying without effects -- a testament to the imaginative use of the available synthesis facilities. The beefy bass sounds were a particular highlight and the clever manipulation of modulation sources also made many of the pads a treat. Some of the lead sounds were perhaps a little less immediately impressive until a little controller data had been added to the sequence, and a few patches seemed to offer little more than the traditional 'piano & strings' sound layering, but these small niggles hardly compromised the high quality of the set as a whole.

Many musicians hardly think twice about spending three times the price of XG Layered Dance Sounds on a sample CD, yet I found myself more inspired by this collection of patches than I ever have been by a set of samples. Not only do you get a great set of sounds here, but you also get the education of seeing how they were built, and the flexibility to tweak all elements of the sound to your exact requirements. Even if you're not interested in dance genres, this collection is great value for money -- a comprehensive tutorial in using SysEx to access the hidden functionality of XG -- but if you're interested in getting some great budget dance sounds as well, then it's practically unmissable. Mike Senior

£14.95 plus £2 p&p.
Mig Music +44 (0)20 8646 1197.
Click here to email

Soundman OKM II Binaural Stereo Microphone Headset

Although the binaural recording technique drifts in and out of fashion, it is nonetheless useful -- placing a pair of mics either side of a baffle replicating the acoustic properties of the head can provide impressive three-dimensional imaging for the headphone listener. Problems with this technique, including the effects of variations in listeners' ear shapes and the inability of speakers to directly reproduce the effects of the binaural encoding, don't stop the technique having valid uses in the studio.

The German company Soundman, manufacture several binaural recording systems, all using the recordist's head as a baffle, with miniature microphones placed in the ears like in-ear Walkman headphones. I tried the OKM II with its A3 powering adapter. A slightly cheaper alternative (the 'Solo' model) is available without the powering adapter.

The OKM II is stored in a compact plastic case complete with a couple of spare colour-coded foam capsule covers and a rotating cable tidy. The one-metre 'Y' lead connecting the ear pieces is terminated in a gold-plated 3.5mm TRS jack plug, suitable for most portable recorders -- DAT, MiniDisc or even MP3. The omnidirectional electret capsules require the 'plug in power' normally available at the mic input sockets provided on such recorders.

The A3 powering adapter is a small plastic box which provides a greater powering voltage than is normally available from portable recorders, resulting in more headroom and a wider dynamic range. It also incorporates an amplifier to feed the signal to the line input of a recorder, which is usually much quieter than the microphone input. The A3 is powered by a 6V alkaline battery claimed to provide 100 hours continuous operation. The OKM's microphone signal is input through a 3.5mm socket and a short flying lead with another gold-plated 3.5mm plug carrying the line output.

The OKM II provides a decent dynamic range, low noise and a wide bandwidth. I found the microphones sat in the ear comfortably enough and stayed there -- most of the time, at least! Recording the output on a Sony TCD8 portable DAT recorder, I obtained excellent results with good imaging and little in the way of unwanted mechanical noises. However, care is needed to make sure the mic cables are not tugged during recordings and that the mics themselves are not exposed to excessive drafts or wind. If you like natural, spacious ambient recordings this is a very practical method capable of producing high quality results with minimal fuss. Hugh Robjohns

OKM II Solo, £88.99;
OKM II with A3 adapter, £146.01.
Prices include VAT.
DACS Audio
+44 (0)191 438 5585.
+44 (0)191 438 6967.
Click here to email

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