New Arrivals: May 2022

After a couple of months with no new (to me) gear, May has been a very busy month.

There’s a few items I’ve been after, both professionally and for home use. All of these things needed to be imported: some because they’re not sold in the UK, and some because they are sold here but are constantly out of stock.

With the UK government threatening to illegally break its own treaty and start a (doomed) trade war with Europe, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get them if I didn’t act now. On top of that, rampant inflation means that buying later means paying a lot more.

Now that they’re here, what do I think of them? And how was the import process? Read on for my First Impressions.

Fractal Audio Axe FX 3 Mark 2

Regular readers (and friends on Internet forums) will probably be aware that I’ve spent years saying that I was done with digital gear. “Analogue is my future”, I’ve repeatedly (and loudly!) said.

Why have I changed my mind on this? I found myself wanting the benefits of a rack-mounted FX processor:

  • The Earl puts out a lot of low-end. I’m often using an EQ pedal between The Earl and the first overdrive pedal in my signal chain, just to stop the pedal overloading from too much low end.
  • I always end up using an EQ pedal in the FX loop of my Fryette PS-100 Power Station. The Tweed Deluxe in particular needs a bit of extra help to tame the lows and bring out the highs.

I’ve been using the MXR 10-band eq pedal for this, and it does a great job. Unfortunately, that pedal is entirely analogue. It’s really hard to re-create a sound when I want to go back to it. And, sometimes, I want more than one EQ pedal in the same signal chain.

My ideal solution would have been an analogue EQ rack unit that had digital controls and preset support. If anyone makes one, I couldn’t find it. That kinda left me with just one choice: go digital again.

While the Axe FX 3 is mostly known for its amp emulations (first impressions: they live up to the hype), it’s also a very powerful FX processor. It even says ‘FX PROCESSOR’ on the front of the unit. That’s what I’ve bought it for. And it certainly delivers.

I already love working with this unit. The software editor is incredibly easy to use, and (so far) everything reacts just like the real gear does. I’m already using it as my new FX loop with my real amps, and maybe it’s just new gear bias, but I think it’s producing a better sound than I had before.

I’ll write up a full First Impressions at some point.

Fractal Audio FM-3

The FM-3 is the main reason I wanted to go Fractal.

Last year, I started building out a pedal board for acoustic guitar. Tess and I would love to be playing 20-30 min opening slots at larger gigs on a regular basis, and when we do, there’s a song or two that would benefit from some added FX.

I’ve found an all-analogue pedal board for acoustic guitar to be … underwhelming. I’m just not feeling it. I haven’t been able to get the sounds that I want out of pedals made for acoustic guitar. And I just don’t want the hassle of tweaking pedals between songs in our set either.

This has driven me to take another punt on digital.

Because I’m gigging an acoustic guitar, I don’t care about amp modelling. All I need is something with high-quality effects, very low noise, and support for the 4 cable method. It needs to be small enough to avoid a separate trip to/from the car.

The FM-3 fits that bill.

I haven’t run my acoustic guitar through it yet. Instead, I’ve been focused on making a preset for Merrang!, my B&G Little Sister. I’m planning on using Merrang! as my backup guitar (and featuring it in at least one song). So far, so good.

Even better, the FM-3 now lives in my bedroom next to the guitar. If I want to work on an arrangement late at night, I can now do that using the FM-3 (it sounds great through headphones), and (because it’s also an audio interface) I can capture it straight into Reaper to share with Tess.

That wasn’t something I’d thought of before I got it. Now, I’m already wondering why I waited so long to do this.

Fractal Audio FC-12 Foot Controller

I threw this into my Fractal Audio order while I was at it. I didn’t know if I would definitely need a foot controller (the answer is: yes), and didn’t want to be stuck without one if the aforementioned trade war did happen.

Damn, it’s big. It’s the length and width of a full-size amp head. It’s not exactly light either.

Sadly, this is the mark 1 version of the FC-12. G66 (Fractal’s EU distributor) don’t have the mark 2 version yet. The mark 1 works, don’t get me wrong, but the mark 2 foot controller looks a lot nicer to use on stage, thanks to its much better LED strips.

Now that I’ve got it, I probably would have been fine with the much smaller FC-6 foot controller instead. When the FC-6 mark 2 goes on sale in Europe, I think I’ll get one.

So why have one? If I want to use expression pedals with the Axe FX 3, I can plug them into the FC-12. That’s a lot easier than routing a cable through the rack to the back of the Axe FX 3.

And I love that it connects to the Axe FX 3 through a standard XLR cable. I’ve set aside a port on my XLR patch bay for it. Keeps everything tidy and very accessible. 10/10 for practical design.

Lots Of Studio Patch Cables From Studiospares

I recently re-cabled my home studio rack. The main reason I did that was to get rid of all my troublesome home-made cables, and replace them with professionally-made cables. I used Studiospares’ own patch cables for the job.

Not much to say here, other than I’m very happy with these cables. Delivery was quick (I did have to pay extra to get the cables next-day …), and none of them had any flaws or faults.

They’ve been a good upgrade over the home-made cables that I’ve been using for years.

Earthquaker Devices Special Cranker Overdrive Pedal

I saw one of these going on eBay, but missed out on it. Then I realised that I could have a brand-new one for less than £20 more. (These pedals are lot cheaper than I expected them to be – I’m used to Earthquaker Devices pedals being priced closer to the top-end of the market.)

This year, there’s been a theme of me regularly using gear (the True Grit bridge pickup in my Squier Esquire, my Paul’s Guitar) that greatly benefits from having a little bit of help from an extra pedal in the chain. The MXR Timmy works well for this. In years gone past, so did the original Earthquaker Devices Speaker Cranker.

First impressions are: yeah, it’s a lovely little tone-shaper, while being completely different from what the Timmy can do. It’s also in the running for most-generic-overdrive-sound ever, and when I write up my full blog post, I’ll explain why that’s actually a good thing.

Gear That I Can Borrow From Work

At work, I’m going to be filming some YouTube videos to promote my business. To help with that, the business has invested in some audio gear of its own, because I’m fed up of it borrowing mine 🙂

Until now, I’ve often been using my personal audio gear for work. While that’s saved the business some money, it isn’t always convenient. It’s best if the business can have a setup that’s always ready to go whenever we want to sit down and make a video. Plus, the business really should be using gear chosen for voiceover work.

My business had to import these from Thomann in Germany. I was unable to find this gear in stock here in the UK. Not only did they have everything in the order, it was also cheaper than the prices that UK retailers were advertising.

Universal Audio Apollo Twin X

Let’s talk vocal processing chains. You can do them entirely in hardware, you can do them entirely in software, or you can do them in software running on dedicated hardware.

I did look into an all-hardware chain: it’s damned expensive. I also experimented with an all-software chain: that’s not great for live applications (live streams & client calls).

The middle ground, at least for now, remains software running on dedicated hardware. I get a real-time vocal processing chain, which means that the audio is already processed before it’s recorded. That produces far more consistent results, and it saves time.

In theory, the Apollo Solo could have done this too, but I know that the Apollo Twin X has enough processing power to run a full vocal processing chain.

Microphones For Voice-Over Work

I wanted a bunch of microphones to audition for voiceover work. Microphones are a very personal thing: what suits one voice may not suit the next person’s voice. And they also have to suit the space they’re being used in.

On the kind of videos that my business does, audio is the most important part. Now that the lockdowns have come to an end, I need to make sure that my voiceover audio works for people who are listening on the go, using headphones or earbuds.

Part of that is achieved through acoustic room treatment. The rest comes down to the mic.

I invested in a bunch of mics because I need to spend time with them (and build vocal processing chains for each of them) in order to work out what suits my voice and my room the best.

Austrian Audio CC8 Small Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

I chose the CC8 because it’s known for being dead flat and detailed. This is a microphone that should take EQ extremely well. Small diaphragm condensers should also pick up less room noise and environment sound. That should give me a cleaner signal, with the least amount of reverb.

First impressions are … unsure. It does exactly what I expected it to, almost to a fault. Whether or not I can get a great voice-over sound out of it is going to come down to the vocal processing chain. I’m going to need quite a bit of time with this.

Austrian Audio OC818 Large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

I chose the OC818 because it’s already started to find a following amongst professional voiceover artists. Many of them are using the OC18 (same mic, just minus the extra polar patterns) and are very happy with the results.

First impressions are: wow. This microphone is very flattering to my voice, even totally unprocessed. I’m looking forward to hearing what’s possible once I’ve added the vocal processing chain. But does it pick up too much environmental noise? I need to do more testing to find out.

Earthworks Audio Ethos Microphone

The Shure SM7B is the industry-standard broadcast microphone. If you want what’s known as the broadcast or radio presenter sound, you start with the SM7B. I have one, and it doesn’t suit my voice at all. But it’s a sound that people are used to listening to, so I wanted to find an alternative to the SM7B to audition.

Unfortunately, the mic that arrived seemed to be broken, and I had to send it back. At the time of writing, I’m waiting for the replacement to arrive. Once it does, I’ll let you know what I think of it.

How Was The Import Process?

In short: it was very good. If you want the long version, I’ve posted my experience as a separate blog post.

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