First Impressions: Universal Audio’s LUNA DAW

The thing I hate most about digital recording? Latency. Even though I’m about as far away from a technically-accomplished player as you can get, I really struggle with coping with latency when I’m recording with Reaper. It’s the main reason that I bought my first UAD Apollo interface back in 2016.

So when Universal Audio announced LUNA, and made a huge song-and-dance about how it enables recording with virtually zero latency, I had to try it.

That was at the end of April 2020. I’ve been using it on-and-off throughout May, and scribbling down notes as I went along.

When you read this, please remember that it’s perfectly possible that some of these points may have been addressed in more recent releases of LUNA. UAD seem to be doing a great job of getting regular updates out for users.

That kinda hints that I ran into a lot of pain points with LUNA …

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New Arrivals For February 2020

Winter NAMM 2020 has been and gone, and now we wait for announcements to become shipping product … and then to reach the UK, which can sometimes take months longer.

I’ve pre-ordered a couple of things that were announced at (or around) NAMM. They’re going to take up most of my gear budget this year. The PRS S2 Singlecut McCarty 594 might arrive by the summer. We already know that Neural DSP’s Quad Cortex won’t arrive until the autumn at the earliest. At least I don’t have to wait as long for the Lark (Rhett Shull’s new signature pedal from Mythos Pedals); that should ship in March.

I’m still keeping an eye out for interesting bits of gear, but it’s got to be pretty special – and at a special price. By and large, I’m only looking to pickup pedals to help me fill in the gaps in my collection, or provide complementary tones for recording with.

Finally, I may have finished my planned revamp of the home studio, but now I’m sitting down to use it, I’m finding that a few things need sorting out, and that there’s a few gaps that are nagging at me a bit. I’m going to be tackling those, but not all in a single month 🙂

Here’s what arrived this month.

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Studio Diary #18: Recreating The Sound Of My Speaker Cabs Using Celestion Impulse Responses

Now that I’ve added the Two Notes Torpedo CAB M to my setup, the next challenge is to set it up to sound like my actual speaker cabs do.

One day, I want to make my own impulse responses of my speaker cabs. I want to be able to share them with you, so that you can recreate the signal chain I use for yourself. That’s something I can’t do with any impulse responses that I buy.

I’m going to be using Celestion’s official impulse responses on the CAB M, until I can replace them with my own impulse responses.

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Studio Diary #17: Getting A Better Recorded Guitar Tone By Using Impulse Responses In The Right Place

The whole point of last autumn’s home studio revamp was to get things to the point where I could start recording music again. However, as I mentioned in my 2019 review of the home studio gear, I wasn’t sure I’d got my signal chain order sorted out.

It was a good call.

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Slate Digital VRS8 Interface Launched

Slate Digital has launched the VRS8, their 8×8 recording interface for Thunderbolt-equipped Macs.

For home studio enthusiasts who want pro-level gear, there’s really only three ways to do it: Universal Audio Apollo, Slate Digital VRS and the Everything Bundle … or buy a standalone interface and collect your own plugins from lots of different vendors.

The UAD system relies on DSP chips in the Apollo hardware to run emulations of analog outboard gear. You have to buy these plugins separately, and they cost hundreds of pounds each. The results are fantastic, and not only well worth the money, but also far cheaper than buying (and maintaining!) the real outboard gear.

There’s just one problem, and it’s the reason why I haven’t bought any UAD plugins this year. The Apollo hardware is simply underpowered. It doesn’t take many plugins to max out the available hardware. And if you’re a home studio enthusiast, it’s a lot of money to move from the Apollo Twin up to the Apollo 8.

Enough money to consider looking at switching to something else.

Now Slate Digital has its own serious problem to take into account. It’s secured by an iLok key. Look at a modern Mac. Where the hell do you find a free port to plug the iLok into these days?!? One port is taken up by power, one by the external storage that the session is on, one by your audio interface, and one by your external monitor.

Yes, I know there’s a virtual iLok now. I live in the UK, where our broadband is about as reliable as a Trump tweet or a Brexit promise. I don’t want a (rare!) creative day ruined because of a broadband outage.

That said, the Slate Digital VRS looks really interesting. For pretty much the same price as the Apollo 8 Quad, you get 8 preamps and a year’s access to the Everything Bundle. (The equivalent UAD Ultimate Bundle is currently over £2,300 and doesn’t include all of the plugins). And your Mac will be able to run far more plugins at once than the quad-DSPs of the Apollo 8.

Thing is, if I’m going to use all 8 preamps, I’d want the Apollo 8p, not the Apollo 8. The difference? The extra Unison preamps, which model the electrical behaviour of whatever outboard gear you’re simulating. I’m a big fan, and a big believer that part of the organicness of a recorded tone comes from the interaction of the electrical circuit.

Question is, though: is it a difference that is noticeable in a final mix? And is it a difference that’s worth the extra money?

Sidechain Compression How And Why

Glenn Fricker has posted a super-useful introduction to sidechain compression, as part of his Audio Basics series:

Sidechain compression is one of those audio mixing techniques that makes a huge difference to your own recordings. As Glenn explains, it’s used to make a bit of space in your mix whenever you have two instruments competing for the same set of frequencies.

The classic use is to carve out a space for the kick drum. The kick drum is used as a trigger for a compressor on the bass guitar. The compressor reduces the volume of the bass guitar a little bit, so that the kick drum is easier to hear.

I use sidechain compression on my guitar tracks too. I like to turn down my rhythm guitars a little bit when there’s a lead guitar part or a vocal part. I find that it makes it easier to hear the lead / vocal parts, and it helps keep the overall master output volume from jumping too much during those parts.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment if you found Glenn’s video helpful.

Behind The Scenes – Making Backing Tracks

Shane has been making new backing tracks for his YouTube channel, and he’s shot a video showing how he does it.

He’s got a pretty slick and efficient way of putting these together, and a very firm opinion of what to do for drums in a track (plus recommendations for where to get great drums from). You’ll have to watch the video to see how he does it 🙂

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment if you enjoyed Shane’s video.

Mary Spender Breaks Down ‘Only One’

For this week’s Tuesday Talk, Mary Spender walks us through the history and recording of her new song ‘Only One’.

This is the first song where Mary has done all the engineering herself. She normally records in a studio, but this time she wanted to have more time to work on the song – and studio time quickly becomes very expensive.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment. It takes a lot of courage to share this kind of information, especially in today’s world of armchair critics and trolls.

How To Sound Like A Gear Demo

Brian Wampler has posted a great video, walking us all through his exact recording process for the amps and pedals in his videos.

It’s incredibly generous of Brian to share this with us. For many YouTubers and professional musicians, recorded sound quality is a competitive advantage – and teaching these techniques is a source of income too.

Please head over to YouTube to leave a like and a supportive comment if you found Brian’s video useful.