Archive for the ‘Product reviews’ Category

IK Multimedia introduces iRig for iPhone, iPad

May 10, 2010

I’ve written previously about IK Multimedia’s fun iPhone app, GrooveMaker. Today the company announced a new hardware/software guitar recording and practice solution for Apple’s iPad and iPhone called iRig.

IK Multimedia says:

AmpliTube iRig is a combination of an easy-to-use instrument interface adapter and the new AmpliTube for iPhone software for guitar & bass. With AmpliTube iRig, you can plug your guitar into your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad and jam out anywhere with world-class guitar and bass tones, from the leader in studio-class guitar and bass software.

Simply plug the iRig interface into your iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, plug your instrument into the appropriate input jack, plug in your headphones, amp or powered speakers, download AmpliTube FREE for iPhone and start rocking!

You’ll have at your fingertips the sound and control of 3 simultaneous stompbox effects + amplifier + cabinet + microphone- just like a traditional guitar or bass stage rig!

Here is the full press release.

Given what the company has accomplished with its excellent VST plugins and GrooveMaker, I am willing to bet iRig will be a handy iPad/iPhone extension for musicians.

The Traveling Wilburys: a book review

May 7, 2010

In the grand rock tradition of supergroups, none can surpass the Traveling Wilburys. George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne merged several of the 20th centuries greatest musical themes: rockabilly, Beatlemania, ballad rock, folk-rock and arena rock among them.

Unfortunately, the story of how the group came to be — and how they did what they did — has been relatively overlooked in the annals of rock music. That’s why Genesis Publications’ limited edition book “Traveling Wilburys” should be on any serious music lover’s list.

The book, signed by Jeff Lynne, immerses readers into the group and its work with an innovative use of photos, memos, doodles and hand-written lyrics — some reproduced on small memo-pad-sized sheets and stuck between the full-sized pages — culled from the group’s sessions between 1988 and 1990.

The story is told through the voices of the Wilburys, with occasional asides from a few close friends and family, as well as group “side man” Jim Keltner, who provided drums on most of the tracks on the supergroup’s two albums.

Petty, Lynne and Keltner

The stories they tell offer a fascinating glimpse inside the world of these superstar musicians. The group came out of an album Harrison was finishing with Lynne as producer called Cloud Nine. Somehow — the precise explanations vary — Harrison and Lynne began dreaming of putting together a faux group with luminaries like Dylan and Orbison.

Within days, the four, along with Tom Petty, were working on the nub of an idea Harrison had for a song. As Harrison tells the story, after the group recorded the guitar track at Dylan’s home studio, he realized he needed lyrics:

I look behind his garage door and there was this big cardboard box that said “Handle With Care” on it. And that was it. Once we got the title, it just went off. The lyrics were flying around. We could have had 29 verses to that tune, it was brilliant.

Harrison submitted the song to his label as a b-side to his next single, “This is Love,” but both label and artist quickly realized the song was too good for a b-side.

Thus, the Traveling Wilburys was born.

As famous and accomplished as each member was, it is clear that Orbison was considered the true star. As Barbara Orbison said:

Roy might be in the kitchen and George would come down and say, “I have Roy Orbison in my kitchen!” And I would say, “You know, we’ve been here now for three weeks.”

The book also recounts the shock after Orbison’s sudden death after the first album was finished, and days before a video for “End of the Line” was to be shot. They went ahead with the shoot but chose to highlight an empty rocking chair during Orbison’s vocal parts.

The surviving Wilburys went on to record a second album with its idiosyncratic title, “Volume 3.” While its sales were disappointing, a boxed set of the two albums ended up going to No. 1 in Great Britain and No. 9 in the U.S. in 2007.

All in all, The Traveling Wilburys book offers an intimate look at a historic moment in musical history. At $345, the limited-edition book offers no larger meanings or broader context. But it does allow participants, and those closest to them, to tell their tales directly. And those tales deserve to be treasured, as it is unlikely we will see a group like this again.

IK Multimedia announces Amplitude 3

January 14, 2010

UPDATE: Audiofanzine voted Amplitude 3 one of the top products at NAMM 2010. Read it here.

IK Multimedia, which makes a host of useful virtual instruments and VST effects, today announces Amplitude 3. It looks like a major upgrade over previous versions of its virtual guitar amp software suite.

According to the company,

AmpliTube 3 raises the industry standard of sound variety, realism and creative power – with over 160 precisely modeled pieces of vintage and modern gear available in one package – it is the ultimate tone gear collection for players, producers and engineers.

I will try to get my hands on a copy before it releases next month. If I’m successful I’ll give you a full review!

Who is this Christopher Ave character?

December 9, 2009

Are you new around here?

I thought I’d take a moment to introduce myself to anyone who recently stumbled on this blog, to reveal who is behind this oddball mix of multimedia tips, music musings and Beatles trivia.

I’m Christopher Ave. Nice to meet you.

I’m a musician who creates original tunes for clients and for pleasure through my side business, Music for Media Productions. I have delivered tracks for videos, multimedia projects and radio commercials. I produce a podcast for Wealth Magazine, and I’m recording and producing some music for other artists. A couple of my own “pop” tunes are available on iTunes, Amazon, Lala and elsewhere. I periodically perform around the St. Louis area, where I live. And I play guitar in a worship band at my church, The Journey.

If you’re a journalist, you may have heard one of my songs, “Copy Editor’s Lament (The Layoff Song),” my commentary on the news industry and on copy editors in particular. And yes, there’s a video:

I’m also an incurable Beatles fan who has had the pleasure to have written about the group. I especially enjoyed the few times I’ve gotten to speak with the band’s balance engineer, Geoff Emerick, a supremely decent fellow, and I’ve talked to several authors who have studied and written about the group extensively.

On the journalism front, I direct political and government coverage for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and its website,, including supervision of our bureaus in Washington and the state capitals of Missouri and Illinois. I have been a fulltime professional journalist since 1987 and have worked for newspapers in New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Florida and Missouri. I’ve also written about music technology over the past several years, including reviewing some products that help musicians record their masterpieces.

So what’s this blog all about? What I’m trying to do here is write about the creation and use of music, especially in multimedia platforms. If you design web pages, record music, create television advertisements or just listen closely to music, I hope you’ll find something interesting around here. If you have any questions, suggestions or complaints, hit me up right here!

How Windows 7 will affect music production

September 30, 2009

Here’s a good analysis of Windows 7 and its appeal to anyone who uses a PC to do music production. It’s written by Cakewalk’s chief technical officer, Noel Borthwick, who was interviewed on the company’s blog.

See also this related post about how Cakewalk’s newly released Sonar 8.5 will benefit from a 64-bit environment.

Cakewalk’s Sonar 8.5 upgrade releases today

September 15, 2009

Today Cakewalk releases the latest version of its flagship Sonar production suite, Sonar 8.5. It’s an interesting hybrid – more than a maintenance upgrade, but a bit less than a fully new version. Looking over the details at the link above, I believe you’ll be getting a lot for $79.

Cakewalk gearing up to tackle the Mac market?

September 14, 2009


Here’s a seemingly inconsequential announcement from Cakewalk, the music software/hardware company. I’ve already written about the excellent new V-Studio 100 mobile production studio; now comes word that Cakewalk has released Mac drivers for it as well as the company’s new MIDI and audio interfaces.

Why is this worth mentioning?

Well, Cakewalk has been a PC-only company since its inception. Is this move a precursor to Cakewalk jumping into the Mac-compatible software market? If so, that sets up a battle of the titans among Cakewalk’s flagship Sonar, Pro Tools and Logic. As a Cakewalk loyalist, I know who I’m rooting for…..

Beatles remasters: An expert’s view

September 3, 2009

Beatles fans might know Brian Kehew as the co-author of the groundbreaking book Recording The Beatles, an exhaustive and delightful look at how the Beatles and the Abbey Road staff recorded the group’s songs.

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Brian Kehew and his Recording the Beatles co-author Kevin Ryan

Kehew also is an engineer and producer in his own right; among his production credits is Fiona Apple’s “Extraordinary Machine” album, and he has mixed tracks for Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, The Pretenders and Elvis Costello, among others. Kehew also is a keyboard virtuoso who played on the The Who’s last tour, and he has a collection of historic, vintage keyboards at home.

Aside from Recording the Beatles, Kehew’s Curvebender Publishing also has published a high-end photography book called “Kaleidoscope Eyes: A Day in the Life of Sgt. Pepper,” a collection of photos shot by Henry  Grossman of the Beatles recording “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. And Curvebender plans a second book of the best of Grossman’s Beatles photos.

Because Kehew spent a decade of his life researching “Recording The Beatles,” I wanted to ask him about the remastering project. At the time of our e-mailed interview, he had not yet heard the remastered versions – but he has spent countless hours listening to Beatles tracks in mono, in stereo, on vinyl, on tape and on CD.

Here’s a slightly edited transcript of our interview:

Q: You stress in several places in your excellent book (Recording the Beatles) the time and attention the Beatles themselves and key Abbey Road staff like Geoff Emerick and George Martin gave to making the mono mixes of their songs. The stereo mixes, by contrast, seemed like afterthoughts. Can you expound a bit on that contrast?

A: The world had mono systems at their homes and in cars, etc. Radio too. It’s kind of like 5.1 mixing now – how many people listen to a rock album in 5.1? Only a small fraction of a percentage do. So it’s not worth the time or money to focus much on it. When the Beatles records were mixed – up thought about 1967, they mixed the one record they thought everyone would hear. It also remind me of why the Stones thought stereo was bad – it “thinned out” the big sound they were getting in mono!

Q: Can you provide any examples of where the mono and stereo mixes substantially differ? (i.e., a couple songs where the instruments, vocals, effects or other sounds are different enough that even a casual listener might notice)?

A: Most of the changes are rather slight. I’d say Tomorrow Never Knows has most of the obvious differences – parts you’re not used to hearing. But most times, I’d say that it’s balances which are better – just more in place and together. If you’re used to the stereo, they stereo seems “normal”, but then you hear the mono of Rubber Soul or Revolver and you say “Wow – that sounds better now.”

Q: You guys no doubt have listened to hours and hours of Beatle tracks in a state much closer to original as have most of us. Do you think that the remastered versions to be released on 9/9/09 will capture some of the magic of those original or near-original-copy mixes that you’ve heard?

A: Well not that much different than we know – unless they add some crazy amount of bass or something. But the original tapes were mixed somewhat midrangey anyway – compared to classical or jazz. This was the sound, a rocking energetic style that we now associate with pop music. However, you can hear some of the original detail that may be lost in the original mixes and overdubs – just listen to the LOVE soundtrack; it has many isolated and clear instruments in beautiful detail.

It may be odd when listening to the albums in order – you might hear greater differences, at least unexpected ones, on the later albums. Basically, this is because there was often more mixing done on the later records. The early records have very few tracks which can be adjusted, so less could be done differently between the stereo and mono versions. Later on, there are crazy effects, panning, and multiple layers of tracks to work with – so the stereo version can be different in many ways.

Q:  It seems nearly every major artist has remastered their greatest works. With a few notable exceptions, heretofore the Beatles have not. What are you most excited about in hearing the remastered versions?

A: Well, in some ways, the long wait has killed off some of the excitement. Like someone who made you wait for dinner too long! But I think it may give us a new reason to “sit and listen” – which is unusual nowadays. Even if I played you the old CDs in that “sit and listen” detailed environment, you might hear new things. So, this chance is somewhat rare, to maybe take on all the Beatles music in one long weekend sitting, and follow the changes – because now you have a reason to listen again.

Q: Can you describe how the 1980s-era CD releases sound compared to, say, the original vinyl?

A: In the 1980s, most CDs were made by a simple clean transfer of the recording tapes to digital, and this digital file got printed onto CDs. It’s the same basic process now, but people have learned you can get much better quality by paying close attention to each step of the process: The tape recorder that you use to play it back can actually sound better than the one originally used. The machine that changes analog sound into digital is far more advanced than before, and it picks up much smaller details and little levels of quality that went unnoticed before. There is a step called “mastering” done on every album at this step – new or old. Mastering is to make some choices of volume and tone control – does this sound “as good” as it could, and how much should we tweak it to be better – before we lose the original sound intended.

It’s a big debate now – as modern CDs are heavily mastered and that creates a modern sound – so will these Beatles CDs sound modern, or classic? Most likely, somewhere in the middle.

Q:  Do you fear that the remastered versions, particularly the remastered stereo versions, will include too much compression? Are you in the camp that believes EMI should avoid all compression, noise reduction, etc. and simply get the cleanest copies of the original masters released? Or do you think the two-pronged approach – remastered stereo, near-original mono – is a smart one?

A: This is alluded to in my last statement. From what details we’ve been told – almost no noise-reduction was used – unless the noise was a real problem. Hiss is part of tape recording in those days – it’s the sound that tape makes by itself when there isn’t even anything recorded. There are tricks to taking this out now, and they work, but they do change the sound of the music a little – it’s a debate whether the noise bothers you enough to modify the music/sound as well.

Compression makes things sound big and full, but it’s a trick of volume. It’s why modern music jumps out of the speakers. But you lose the low-level sound when you do this trick, so it’s become another big debate. The Beatles records had – and will have – compression added to make them sound good. It’s part of pop music, but it’s like salt on food – how much is good and how much kills the meal. Everyone has different tastes, and I’m sure they won’t go overboard in either direction – a little bit of compression to make it louder and fuller, but not like a modern record.

Q:  What will you personally be most curious to hear in the remastered releases (if you haven’t yet heard the remastered sets, that is)?

A: I have a vinyl copy of “Magical Mystery Tour” from Germany that sounds amazing. Almost everyone thinks it’s different mixes, but it’s simply someone’s choices of tone and volume changes made when mastering it for the German market. So – if that’s any indication, it could sound very good to have these remasters – I would hope these new CDs sound different enough to justify buying the records all over again.

Q: What do you think are some things that Beatle fans will appreciate, or notice or be surprised at?

The documentary footage/interviews that come with each CD are nice. I saw a sneak preview. But they’re not amazing, it’s just that this shows some photos we’ve never seen, and a few old interviews that shed some light on things. But it’s not earthshaking – these records being reissued. If you had a magazine with faded pictures – it’s like getting an un-faded copy. Just nicer…

9. FINALLY…. for fans of the band, how big a deal is this? Why?

Medium. A big deal would be more “from the vaults”. We’ve heard and loved these records a zillion times already. And some days, you hear a Beatles song in a store or the car, and it has a “newness” or something that makes your hairs stand up on end, all over again. Hopefully, we’ll get a bit of a resurgence in Beatles interest. And maybe the remaining families will all agree that to release things of substance (not toy submarines or lunchboxes) do the Beatles’ legacy a better service. They have tons of photos we’ve never seen, film footage never used, plus instruments, documents and clothes that could be exhibited in museums… how about it?

Excellent Line 6 guitar amplifier plug-in – for FREE

September 1, 2009

pod farm

Click right here for your FREE copy of Line 6’s Pod Farm plug-in. This is the essence of the company’s groundbreaking amp and cab modeling technology – and for some reason it’s free. I’m not sure how long this is going to last, but at this point it’s a no-brainer!

Pod Farm includes modeled amps, cabs, preamps and effects — everything you need to get dozens of working tones out of your guitar tracks.

I use Pod Farm, Line 6’s excellent Pod X3 and the company’s Variax guitars for almost every music project I produce. So if you’re a recording musician — or if you even THINK you may be recording music — don’t pass up this opportunity!

Sneak peek at new version of Cakewalk’s Sonar

August 30, 2009


Here is a preview of the as-yet-to-be-released Sonar 9. The incredible recording/mixing/production suite has long been the heart of my studio, and I can’t wait to see what features are included in the new version. The clues so far seem to suggest it will be more efficient AND more robust – a nice combination in anyone’s book.