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Q & A December 2012

Q. Can you advise on the powering and positioning of Behringer's Truth monitors?

Behringer's Truth monitors feature an Auto power management mode as well as the usual on and off settings.Behringer's Truth monitors feature an Auto power management mode as well as the usual on and off settings.I have a pair of Behringer Truth monitors, which have an 'auto power' mode. Is it best to use this, or to switch them on and off each time I use them? Mine are positioned very close to the wall, so it's awkward to get to the power switches.

SOS Forum Post

Reviews Editor Mike Senior replies:I also have a pair of Truths, and get no pop unless I have the speakers switched on (or in Auto mode) before I power up from the wall. There's no pop if you switch on at the wall first, and then select the On switch position on both speakers.

As for positioning, I'd seriously suggest moving them a little way away from that wall, as it'll drastically affect the frequency response. From your description, it sounds as though they're either flat against the wall or in a corner (otherwise the switches would be accessible from at least one side, I'd have thought). Again, neither of these situations is particularly ideal. It also makes me suspect that the speakers are on shelves and not on stands. Mounting them on stands filled with gravel or sand makes a big difference to the quality of the playback, so you should do this if at all possible — it'll cost you £100-ish, but it's more than worth it.

Q. Why do speaker stands have spikes?

I use stands for my speakers. They came supplied with spikes. Now, as far as I understand, there are at least two theories regarding the spikes:

  • Spikes help decouple the stands from the floor, thus are always beneficial, regardless of floor covering.
  • Spikes are for use on carpeted floors only. Their purpose is to couple the stands to the flooring underneath the carpet, and thus increase their stability.

Now, which one is it? My room does not have carpeting, but wooden floorboards. Should I use the spikes?

SOS Forum post

SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: The ideal is to ensure that the speaker cabinet doesn't move. If it was mounted on strings from the ceiling, say, Newton's third law of motion would suggest that a loud bass note (which would have a lot of energy) would cause the cabinet to move in the opposite direction to the cone — albeit only by a small amount. This movement will possibly result in mechanical noise, but will more importantly cause stereo image problems, as the sound source is moving.

So, on a carpeted floor, feet are no good as they will tend to 'float' on the carpet and not provide the optimum mechanical support for the speaker. Spikes, by contrast, will push through the carpet to the underfloor, and therefore provide a much better grounding.

On a hard floor such as a wooden surface, on the other hand, spikes are likely to damage the finish by leaving small pin-pricks — or, if the user likes to move the speakers around, they will leave scratches. Feet are a much better solution here as they will provide the same robust fixing (since they are sitting on a flat surface), but will cause less damage. Personally, I start with the feet installed and move the speaker around until I find the optimum position, then fit the spikes (regardless of the floor covering) and place the speaker in its final resting position. With heavy speakers, a little Blu-tack is more than sufficient to ensure that the speaker cannot move relative to the stand. With lighter ones, small spikes are usually the best solution in my experience.

In cases involving a suspended floor which is a little bouncy, increasing the mass on which the speaker stands rest is often beneficial. In a previous abode with a suspended wooden floor I had remarkable sucess by placing a large concrete patio slab under each speaker stand. That was before I acquired the present Mrs R, of course!

Q. How can I control proximity effect?

I understand that cardioid pattern mics exhibit something called the proximity effect, which results in more bass being present in the sound when the mic is used closer to the singer. While this might be useful in the case of singers who are experienced with using microphones, I feel it causes problems with singers who haven't done recording before and the last thing I need is the vocal tone changing all the way through a recording. I don't really want to use an omnidirectional mic as this would pick up more of the room acoustics, which aren't that great in my studio anyway, so what's the best way of controlling the proximity effect if I stick with a cardioid mic?

Martin Smith

Editor In Chief Paul White replies: You're absolutely right about what proximity effect means (and it also applies to figure-of-eight mics), but it really only comes into play when the singer gets closer than a couple of inches from the mic. To prevent them doing this, you need only fit an external pop shield (the gauze-on-a-hoop type, not a foam cover) two or three inches from the mic — this is a good idea in any event, as it's very risky to recording vocals without a pop shield because even the best singers can cause popping when singing plosive 'B' and 'P' sounds. You can either buy a commercial pop shield, which is tidier and will come with a clamp to fit it to your mic stand, or you can improvise one using nylon stocking material.

Actually, your story reminds me of a similar problem I had during my early recording days when I was trying to record a vocalist who moved around too much. My first attempted solution was to tape a drumstick to the mic so that it stuck out three or four inches in his direction, thus preventing him from getting too close. Of course he decided to bob from side to side after that, so in desperation, I gaffer-taped the end of the drum stick to the bridge of his nose! That worked surprisingly well, but you tell the kids today and they won't believe you!

If you have problems with the room acoustics compromising the sound, read through our last few Studio SOS features to see what wonders can be achieved using the humble duvet. Just don't send us any photographs or our art department will riot! They already think we have too many duvet photographs in the magazine...

Q. Will Virtual Guitarist run on my PC?

I'm working on a project that would benefit from Steinberg's Virtual Guitarist VST Instrument, and while I have the budget for this product, I can't afford a new computer at present. At the moment, when I use a VST Instrument in Cubase VST 5.1, I get the sound I want and bounce it down to a wave file to save the available computer resources.

Steinberg/Wizoo's Virtual Guitarist plug-in is pretty demanding on CPU power and, especially, RAM.Steinberg/Wizoo's Virtual Guitarist plug-in is pretty demanding on CPU power and, especially, RAM.My current system has a 400MHz AMD processor and 128MB of RAM (which I can upgrade to 256MB to meet the minimum requirement of Virtual Guitarist). Do you think I could run the plug-in on my machine?

John Walker

Reviews Editor Mark Wherry replies: As you say, the minimum RAM requirement for Virtual Guitarist is 256MB; but from my own experience, I have to say that I wouldn't want to run it with less than 512MB. Although the plug-in can load reduced sample sets to save memory, in order to get the most from all the variations possible (especially in terms of chord shapes), you really want to have as much RAM installed in your computer as possible. Otherwise, you might not be able to play seventh or sustained chords with certain players, for example.

While in theory you should be able to run Virtual Guitarist and get some results, I don't think you'll be able to run it efficiently enough to make the most of this rather neat VST Instrument, so I wouldn't recommend it personally. For more info, take a look at Paul White's full review in the December 2002 issue.

Q. Will replacing my carpet with laminate affect the acoustics?

My studio is currently carpeted with a short-pile foam-backed carpet, but I think the backing is starting to perish, resulting in a lot of dust appearing in the room. This worries me as it might get into my faders or microphones and even causes some singers to sneeze! I'm thinking of replacing it with laminate wood flooring as that's almost as cheap as carpet anyway and should be much easier to keep clean. The question is, will this radically change the acoustics of the room? I'm currently quite happy with the way things sound in there.

Alan Levinthal

Editor In Chief Paul White replies: I too have experienced dust problems due to ageing foam-backed carpets. As you suggest, fitting a laminate floor should cure that particular problem. However, be aware that a carpeted floor is pretty good at absorbing high-frequency reflections (roughly from 1kHz up) and that a laminate floor will reflect all frequencies quite efficiently. This means there may be some change to the acoustic character of your room, especially at upper-mid and high frequencies, though you could probably counter this by fixing a few acoustic tiles to the ceiling to mop up floor-to-ceiling reflections and/or using rugs to cover part of the floor.

The only way to find out how radically different the sound will be is to fit the flooring and try it — if the worst comes to the worst, covering the floor almost completely with rugs should get you back to where you started while avoiding the evils of foam-backed carpet. Of course you could also use ceramic floor tiles, which though even more reflective than laminate, should be fine if you part-cover them with rugs. My only worry about tiles would be dropping mics on them: a mic may survive a fall onto laminate, but tiles are pretty unforgiving!

Alternatively, you could ditch the solid floor idea altogether and use a fabric-backed carpet, which will of course require underlay and the fixing of gripper strips around the perimeter of the room. If your studio has a concrete floor, fitting grippers can be tricky so tell the shop what kind of floor they will have to deal with when you order the carpet.

Q. Can you recommend a second-hand sampler with a floppy drive?

I'm looking to buy a second-hand hardware sampler with a budget of around £200 to £400, but I would prefer some way of getting data to it not using a SmartMedia card. What can I get in this price range that has a floppy drive?

Craig Wight

Reviews Editor Mike Senior replies: There's been a general price crash in the hardware sampler market, and you really ought to be able to pick up a rather nice machine within this budget. I'd suggest going for one of the following, all of which should be within your price range, going by the current prices in the reader adverts on the SOS web site:

Akai S3000XL. The thing to bear in mind with this model is that there are a variety of optional extras here, so you'll need to make sure the one you're planning to purchase has the correct ones — buying expansion cards for hardware samplers can be costly, because they rarely if ever come up second-hand. Similarly, make sure it's got the amount of RAM you want in it. I'd suggest that you don't settle for anything less than the maximum 32MB.

Akai S3000 & S2800. Predecessors of the S3000XL don't lose out substantially over the 3000XL in raw horsepower, although the S2800 only supports a maximum 16MB of RAM. Make sure that the S2800 has the SCSI board installed for backup purposes, and also the digital board if you need it. It's vital that you make sure these samplers are fitted with correct amount of RAM, as it's a proprietary type which now costs an arm and a leg compared to standard SIMMs.

Akai S2000. This offers the functionality of the S3000 with a less intuitive interface and no waveform display. The S2000 is fairly cheap second-hand, but if you're happy dispensing with the waveform display, I suggest you look at the Yamaha A3000 or Emu ESI series instead.

Emu ESI series. This includes the ESI32, ESI2000 and ESI4000. I'd avoid the ESI32, if I were you, as it's only expandable to 32MB RAM (compared to 128MB on the others) and you can't fit the optional Turbo board (which adds digital I/O and two effects processors). SCSI is also an option on the ESI32, rather than a standard fitting, so if you do go for it, make sure it's got that option.

The Yamaha A3000 sampler is a good second-hand buy, but make sure yours has been upgraded to version 2.The Yamaha A3000 sampler is a good second-hand buy, but make sure yours has been upgraded to version 2.Yamaha A3000. Although the polyphony is a bit low, at 16 voices, and there's no waveform display, this sampler would get my overall vote as the second-hand king in your price range. You get a maximum of 128MB RAM, three multi-effects, inbuilt SCSI, floppy drive, and four audio outputs as standard, plus six more audio outputs and digital I/O on an expansion board. If you get a machine with version 1 software, you should get in touch with Yamaha and get a software upgrade to version 2, as it's significantly better.

For backup, don't be tempted to make do with the inbuilt floppy drives in any of these samplers. Loading and saving even 16MB of samples via floppy is, quite simply, a royal pain in the arse, so make sure the sampler you're buying has an SCSI connector. I'd say your main options with all these samplers are one of the old SCSI Iomega Zip drives (either the 100MB or the 250MB, but check with the sampler manufacturer for compatibility in the latter case) or an external SCSI hard drive.

Fortunately, many sampler owners sell the backup device with the sampler, so I'd go for one of those if possible — it can be a little tricky to find any external SCSI backup devices for older gear like this nowadays. You should also consider trying to get a CD-ROM drive with the machine, as this opens up the exciting possibilities of using commercial sample libraries.

In terms of prices, you shouldn't pay more than £250 for an Akai S2000 or ESI32 (with a backup device). For an S3000/2800 I'd pay up to about £320. Be prepared to pay up to your budget limit for a fully loaded ESI2000/4000 Turbo or Yamaha A3000, but look out for bargains here, especially on the Yamaha — I have seen an A3000 with 64MB, 250MB Iomega Zip drive and manual selling for only £230, for example!

Q. How can I get my broadcast masters to sound louder?

After I finish mixing my music for TV broadcast, clients always complain that the sound from the TV is not loud enough. How should I fix this problem? I'm recording with a digital audio workstation and Sony DMX R100 mixer.

Alex Chen

Q&AReviews Editor Mike Senior replies: If you're simply after a louder-sounding master, and you're not currently using any mastering product, then something like a TC Finalizer is almost certainly what you're after. However, there's a fair bit of choice here: not only do TC also do the DbMax, but there's also the Dbx Quantum v2 and the Drawmer DC2476 v2 (Hugh Robjohns, Paul White and myself are all great fans of the DC2476). These all provide a combination of EQ, multi-band dynamics, and a few other goodies.

There's also the Waves L2, which simply offers top-spec multi-band limiting (Waves have a very good reputation for their limiting algorithms), and this could also be worth a look if you can do without multi-band compression, especially as your DMX R100 allows you to do EQ and full-band compression on the mix buss. Although the L2 is quite expensive, the expense will be going into the most important section of the mastering process, as far as you're concerned — getting the signal as loud as possible without too many side-effects. Another option is the SPL Model 9632 digital loudness maximiser, which uses a combination of dynamics and psychoacoustic processes to get a subjectively louder signal.

There are other bits of hardware available which would probably also cater for your needs, but try the above units out first to see if they do what you're after. One note of caution, however: always compare the processed output against the original at the same subjective level, so that you can judge the side-effects of the processing without getting distracted by the fact that the processed signal is louder. If you don't do this, it's really easy to overdo the amount of processing at the expense of the signal quality.