Studio Diary #9: The Cost Of Cables Really Adds Up

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

One of the things I didn’t budget enough for is cables.

A big reason for the studio revamp is to have (almost) everything cabled up all the time. I won’t have to unplug stuff and swap cables around any more. And (I hope) I won’t have gear gathering dust because it isn’t cabled up at all.

That means adding cables – a lot more cables.

According to my preliminary plan, I’m going to have 11 jacks free on my main patchbay when I’m done. It’s a 48-port patchbay. That’s 37 TRS cables that I need to make or buy.

Thankfully, I don’t have quite so many XLR ports to manage. The Kemper has 1 XLR input and a couple of outputs. The dbx vocal compressor has 1 input and 1 output I think? (It hasn’t had enough love since I got it). And we’ll use at least 3 XLR preamps when we’re rehearsing.

Thunderbolt 3 cables deserve their own special mention, in more ways than one.

When you throw in speaker cables and IEC power cables too, it all adds up. And this is just for a home setup. It’s nothing like what you’d find in even the smallest professional studio!

I’ve probably spent the best part of £500 on cables alone (so far!) during this studio revamp. Ouch! You can buy a decent valve amp for that kind of money.

Studio Diary #8: The Cheapest Way To Expand A Universal Audio Rig … Is To Buy From A Competitor?

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

I’m a huge fan of Universal Audio’s Apollo series of interfaces. I’ve been using an Apollo Twin for the last three years, and I’ve been delighted with the results. And, while the plugins cost serious money, they’re a damn sight cheaper than buying the genuine analogue outboard gear.

What I’m not a fan of is the cost of the hardware for home users like myself. And, specifically, what it costs to get more mic preamps.

Four Preamps Are A Sweet Spot …

… for home hobbyists. It’s just a shame that Universal Audio don’t have anything for that spot that’s worth the cost.

Two mic preamps are fine for most home musicians. You can track one mono source, two mono sources, or a single stereo source at a time. That’s enough for most electric guitar, or even recording an acoustic guitar with a stereo mic setup.

I feel that I’ve outgrown that.

  • I’m in a band now, and we perform better when we’re recording a live take. I need three preamps for that (two vocal mics, one guitar DI), and preferably four preamps (two vocal mics, stereo mic’d guitar).
  • I’m getting into mic’ing up mismatched speakers for electric guitar. I need four premaps for that (two mics per speaker), or three preamps (one mic per speaker, and one room mic).
  • I’m inching towards making demo videos. I need one close mic for me to talk into, and I’d love to have a stereo pair as a room mic to blend in too. It’s one of the secrets to why That Pedal Show sounds so good, after all 🙂

The studio refresh seemed like the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Unfortunately, I had to go away from Universal Audio’s hardware to do so.

The Universal Audio Choices

When it comes to Universal Audio gear, four preamps falls in between their existing offerings:

  • The Apollo x6 only has two mic preamps. The other four inputs are TRS-only. I can make use of those (for example, having the Kemper permanently cabled up).
  • The Apollo x8 does have four mic preamps – but it costs a good £500 more than the Apollo x6. That’s a lot of money for two extra preamps. And you don’t get any extra processing power to help you make the most of those two extra preamps either.
  • The Apollo x8p has eight mic preamps – but it costs £1000 more than the Apollo x6. It’s (slightly) better value than the x8, if you’re able to spend nearly £3000 on an audio interface.

What about the Apollo x4? It has four preamps, right?

Why I Don’t Like The Apollo x4

Like all Universal Audio products, it’s a superb piece of kit. My problem with it is that I think it’s a bit of a dead end product.

The Apollo rack units are expandable (more on that in a moment). The desktop devices … aren’t. You can slave them to a rack unit. You can’t slave other things to them. Well, technically, you can, but practically? No, not really.

The problem is the optical out. It only has one optical out, which places limits on the number of channels you can send out, depending on the recording rate you’re using.

  • At 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz, you can send 8 channels out over the optical link. That’s the four channels of the Apollo x4 itself, plus four more channels from a slaved device. Any more than that, and you’ve outgrown the Apollo x4.
  • Up to 96 kHz, you can send 4 channels out over the optical link. At that point, you’ve already run out of channels for audio from any slaved unit.
  • Up to 192 kHz, you’re down to just 2 channels out over the optical link. You can’t even use all of the Apollo x4’s preamps as a slave device.

Why does that matter? As a home hobbyist, it might not.

44.1 kHz is perfectly fine for many recordings – both as a home hobbyist, and even for releasing for sale. If you’re looking to record and sell music beyond the streaming services, 192 kHz is becoming the standard that these potential customers want.

The Apollo x4 only has 2/3 of the processing power of the Apollo x6, despite having two more mic preamps. I’m concerned about running out of processing power when trying to use all four preamps at once.

That’s not going to be a problem with the Apollo x6. Once a year, Universal Audio run a promotion where you can get a free Satellite when you buy any of their rack units. That adds a lot more processing power – at least the equivalent of adding an Apollo x4 – to the whole setup, for no extra cost.

At launch, the Apollo x4 was priced at around the same price as the Apollo x6 – and that’s when I was buying. It has come down to around £200 less than the Apollo x6, at the time of writing.

Given that I’ve outgrown the Apollo Twin, I don’t want to spend Apollo-rack levels of money on another device that I’m worried about outgrowing. Not when there’s another option available.

ADAT To The Rescue

The Apollo x6 has two ADAT input ports on the back, as opposed to the single port that the Apollo x4 has. This allows me to go out and buy an external mic preamp unit and slave it to the Apollo x6 … and still get up to 192 kHz recording.

It’s not without its own limitations. The two ADAP inputs can only carry a total of four channels at 192 kHz – and only if the external mic preamp supports S/MUX. That still gives me a total of 6 mic preamps that can do 192 kHz. 6 mic preamps is definitely enough for me.

To do better, I’d need to spend about £1000 more and get the Apollo x8p.

And that gives me my budget. Are there any external mic preamps out there that support ADAT, S/MUX, and come in well under £1000?

Turns out there is … just not from Universal Audio.

Focusrite Is The Answer?

Focusrite is a brand that’s well established in the home tone, home studio market. Many of us got started on their Scarlett audio interfaces, and many people never feel the need to move away from them.

They actually got started as a manufacturer of pro-studio gear, and their Clarett line is regularly spotted in YouTube videos shot inside professional studios. So why not throw them into the mix?

All I want is something that’ll give me 4 or more decent mic preamps, with dual-cable ADAT out so that I can slave it to my Apollo x6. That’s exactly what the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre does.

Now, it’s not perfect. They’ve made an odd design decision that means you have to be a bit careful whenever you use the Clarett OctoPre.

For some weird reason, you can’t switch phantom power on and off on a per-preamp basis. You can switch it on and off for channels 1-4 as a bank, and/or channels 5-8 as another bank. I think that’s a crap design, because it only takes one mistake to trash a mic by accidentally sending phantom power to something that can’t accept it.

But … I want those extra mic preamps.

Why Is UAD Leaving Money On The Table?

There’s no two ways about it: the only reason I’ve spent money with Focusrite is because Universal Audio don’t make their own equivalent to the Focusrite Clarett OctoPre.

The thing I find weird is that Universal Audio do put a lot of effort into marketing their products at the home hobbyist market. They just don’t seem to be able to sensibly plug the gaps in their product line at the right price points.

It’s not about whether their products are worth the money. It’s more about whether home hobbyists have the disposable income to afford the hardware at all. And whether or not that buys you a viable upgrade path.

Studio Diary #7: Getting The Most Out Of The Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

I think I’ve finally figured out how I’m going to use the Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 patchbay that I bought from Thomann for my studio rack.

I hope it makes sense to someone 🙂

What Is It?

The Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1 is a TRS patchbay for a studio rack. If you’re new to patchbays (I was!), LedgerNote has a great article about what they are and how to use them.

What’s Unique About It?

Unlike other patchbays, there are no external switches on the Neutrik NYS-SPP-L1. If you want to change how each jack pair is configured, you have to open it up and physically turn the PCBs around.

It’s a pain for sure, but not a huge deal. [This statement will not age well – Ed]

You probably will need to do this a couple of times, as you get your head around both the patchbay and your studio setup.

How Does Each Jack Pair Work?

Each PCB has four jacks on it: A and B for the back panel, and A and B for the front panel. These cards work in “half-normalled mode” by default.

This image shows a single set of jacks in the Neutrik NYS SPP L1 patchbay.

There are two jacks at the top, labelled 'A front' and 'A back'.

There are two jacks at the bottom, labelled 'B front' and 'B back'.

The 'B front' jack is shown in a different colour to the other three. This is the magic jack. Plugging a cable into this jack changes the signal path.
Fig 1: A single set of jacks in the Neutrik NYS SPP L1 patchbay

In “half-normalled mode”, you plug a signal source into the A jack on the back. The signal automatically comes out of the B jack on the back, without you having to plug anything into the front two jacks.

If you plug a cable into the A jack on the front, the signal is now split: it comes out of both the A jack on the front and the B jack on the back. This allows you to run the split signal to a second stack of gear of some kind. (I haven’t found a use for this myself yet).

This image shows signal flow in half-normalised mode. 

Signal comes into the patchbay via the top jack on the back. The signal is then split, and comes out of the top jack on the front and the bottom jack on the back.
Fig 2: Half-normalised mode in the Neutrik NYS SPP L1.

Now … plug a cable into the B jack on the front, and the PCB changes behaviour. It automatically switches over to “isolated mode”. You still plug your signal source into the A jack on the back, only now the signal only comes out of the A jack on the front. The signal no longer goes to the B jack on the back. If you want to do that, you will need to plug a signal source into the B jack on the front.

This image shows the isolated mode in the Neutrik NYS SPP L1 patchbay.

If you plug a cable into the bottom port on the front of the patchbay, this triggers the isolated mode. 

The signal now flows from the top port on the back to the top port on the front. The signal no longer splits down to the bottom port on the back.
Fig 3: Isolated mode.

So There’s This Magic Jack?

Yes. If you plug a cable into it, the signal path changes from the split-signal to fully isolated.

From the factory, the magic jack is the bottom jack on the front of the unit. If you prefer, you can take the patchbay apart and rotate a single jack pair so that the magic jack is the top jack on the back of the unit.

That way, the jack pair operates in isolate mode by default.

This image shows the signal path after turning the PCB around so that the magic jack is now the top jack at the rear of the patchbay.
Fig 4: Isolated mode by default, by turning the PCB around.

How Does That Help?

I’m not looking to use my patchbay exactly how it’s done in a professional recording studio.

From what I’ve read, professional studios setup a default signal path, and then (mainly) use patchbays as a way to insert additional outboard gear into that default signal path. This works well for studios, because they’re not limited by the number of inputs into their console. They can have a large number of default routes.

That approach doesn’t work for my setup atm.

  • I don’t have outboard gear to insert into the default signal path, and
  • I don’t have a sensible default signal path in the first place

I’ve got a collection of signal sources – amps, the Kemper, and microphones – that need routing into my audio interface. I want to be able to route them through my pedal board, and optionally through a second pedal board that has my delay and reverb pedals on it. And I’m constrained by the number of inputs on my audio interface.

So I’m going to be using the patchbay more like an old-fashioned analogue telephone exchange, with the route defined entirely by where the patch cables are plugged in.

Setting Up The Patchbay PCBs

To make the Neutrik work the way that I want, I need to make sure that there’s (almost) always a cable plugged into the magic jack on each PCB. That guarantees a (sonically) isolated signal path for my session.

  • If there’s going to be a cable plugged into the A jack on the back, that needs to be the magic jack
  • and if there’s going to be a cable plugged into the B jack on the back, then the B jack on the front needs to be the magic jack.

Wait, what?

Ideally, we’d make the B jack on the back be the magic jack, but unfortunately that isn’t physically possible.

I’ve got my Neutrik open on the bench beside me.

There isn’t the physical clearance inside the unit to turn the PCB around to put the magic jack as the B jack on the back. We’re stuck with just the two options:

  • B jack on the front is the magic jack (this is the default from the factory),
  • or turn the PCB around to make the A jack on the back be the magic jack

That’s okay.

If there’s a cable plugged into the B jack on the back, we’re going to need to route a signal source to it. We’re going to need to plug a cable into the B jack on the front. And, because the B jack on the front is the magic jack, voila – (sonically) isolated signal path.

It’s Essential To Plan

I can’t put the Neutrik back into the rack until I’ve worked out which PCB cards need turning around. I need to make a plan:

  1. a list of all outputs from my gear – instrument and line level. These will get cabled into the A jacks on the back
  2. a list of all inputs to my gear – again, instrument and line level. These will get cabled into the B jacks on the back
  3. work out if any outputs should flow into any inputs by default. These will get cabled into the same jack pair

Once that’s done, I can make a start on getting everything wired in.

New Arrivals For October

Here in the UK, the online second hand gear market is in the worst shape I’ve seen for decades. Even frequent ‘sell for £1’ events by eBay haven’t helped.

So instead, I’ve decided to sit down, and sort out my home studio setup.

Marshall DSL 20HR

These were launched around the same time as my beloved Marshall Origin, as a replacement for the old Marshall DSL range. I played through the 5w combo at the Origin demo night, and loved it.

One finally turned up at a great price, and it now completes my collection of classic amp tones from affordable amps. I’m looking forward to learning how to get the best out of it over the coming months.

The Hermit’s Cave has spent most of this year as the rehearsal space for the band I’m in. I’m currently getting things sorted out and wired up for recording once again. When that’s done, and I’ve found my feet with this amp, I’ll record some clips and demos to show how this amp compares to the Origin 20H.

OMEC Teleport by Orange Amplifiers

Before there were Pods, there were Roland guitar synths.

When I worked in London in the mid-90s, Denmark Street was the place to search out great gear. Did I buy a vintage guitar, back before they cost the earth? No. I bought a piece of electronics that dated faster than fresh bread: a Roland guitar synth.

That old unit brought me years of pleasure. I wrote a whole album’s worth of music on it, veering off from writing guitar music to writing music for other instruments. I can’t remember what happened to it – whether it died or I sold it on – but I still miss it. And the two? versions that Roland brought out since were IMHO inferior. Roland seems to have completely given up on it in recent years.

The OMEC Teleport is a little pedal that acts as a USB audio interface. It’s just another way to get your guitar signal into a computer. Combine it with Jam Origin’s Midi Guitar 2, and I’m hoping it’ll give me renewed access to the guitar synth world.

And if it does, I’m planning on taking all that old music I wrote, revising it, and re-recording it. Fingers crossed 🙂

Synergy Friedman BE Module

I’m always on the lookout for extra modules for my insane stereo Synergy pedal platform. Many of the ones I don’t have yet don’t clean up enough to use with most pedals. Sometimes it’s great to simply go straight into a filthy amp, so if I can get those modules 2nd hand, I will.

ART XLR Patchbay

There’s a part of me that would love to have a Universal Audio Apollo rack unit, partly for the extra processing power, and partly because I hate recabling before I can sit down and record stuff. They’re serious money, and completely overkill for my situation. Processing power on my Apollo Twin is an issue, but I hardly ever need more than two preamp inputs at a time.

So what if I simply made the chore of cabling a lot less of a chore? That’s where the two patchbays I’ve bought this month come in.

The idea is to have (nearly) all of my gear wired up permanently, and then I just need to jumper a few ports to pick the gear I want to use.

Neutrik Patchbay

As well as the XLR patchbay (above), I bought a traditional 3.5mm jack patchbay at the same time.

When I want to switch amps, one of the things that’s a real pain is switching over the FX loops. They’re not always easy to reach without moving the amp, and sometimes I can’t find the right length cable to reach my pedal board.

For convenience, I’m hoping that I can run the FX loops of all my amps into this patchbay, and then it’s just a case of moving a couple of cables to plumb in my preferred delay and reverb pedal chain. It should also be possible to jumper the cables for when I don’t want anything in the FX loop either.

If that works, I’ll also try patching in the input to each of my amps. That’s just out of curiosity though 🙂

Kemper Remote Footswitch

Another thing the patchbays are for is for me to get my Kemper wired up once again, so that I can start using it a bit more.

One advantage of using the Kemper for practice is that it means I’m not using up the life of my tube amps. Another advantage is that it has a built-in looper – but it seems that you need to pair it with the proprietary footswitch unit to use the looper.

These footswitches have shot up in price recently, so when a 2nd hand unit came up, I decided to grab it while I could.

Universal Audio Apollo x6

I got fed up of juggling inputs on my trusty Apollo Twin, so I traded away my Taylor T5z to help fund this new unit.

I’d been waiting for a Apollo x4 of some kind for the best part of a year now. Historically, there’s been a huge gap in the Universal Audio hardware lineup: you had the Apollo Twin with two preamps, and then had to jump up to the Apollo 8 with four preamps. Four preamps would be a good sweet spot for a home studio setup.

They’ve just announced the Apollo x4, and while it does have four preamps (yay), it’s still a desktop unit (boo!) with potentially limited processing power … that’s launched at around the same price as the Apollo x6.

The other thing with the Apollo x6 is that it currently comes with a free UAD Apollo Satellite. That’s a unit that provides additional DSP processing power. Together, the bundle is far better value for money than the Apollo x4.

CoffeeAndKlon #20: Giving Up Gear (That You’re Not Using)

This conversation originally appeared on my Twitter feed.

Good morning! This week’s #CoffeeAndKlon is a day late … because Kristi and I went to the UK International Guitar Show yesterday. Today, I want to talk about giving up gear. As in, letting go of gear you’ve outgrown or stopped using.

Today’s Coffee … Is My All-Time Favourite

First: coffee. Lots of coffee today, because at work I’ve got an immovable deadline coming up. A second cup of Sumatran, my favourite coffee. I’m going to pay for this later!

Image

Sumatran coffee is very dark, very bitter, and very strong. It’s an all-out coffee assault, and definitely an acquired taste. I normally can’t handle 2 cups of it in a single day. But I’ve missed it, and I forgot to photograph my first cup earlier 🙂

I could happily rotate between this and Rwandan coffee all the time. Which reminds me … I can’t remember the last time we had Rwandan. It’s a lot harder to get hold of than it used to be. I haven’t looked into why.

Letting Go Is Hard

So … giving up gear. Yesterday, we drove all the way from Wales over to London to visit the UK International Guitar Show*. And in the boot, I took a couple of guitars to trade.

*subject for another day!

(Just for clarification: I didn’t take the gear to the guitar show to trade. I swung by a major guitar shop on the way home to trade them there.)

I’m terrible about letting go of gear. Well, guitars in particular. Amps and pedals, I’ve moved on. I wouldn’t say ‘happily’, but definitely much more easily than guitars. I don’t feel the same attachment. Guitars though …

Part of it is definitely fear … fear of the guitar not surviving delivery to its next owner. The idea of killing a guitar genuinely fills me with dread. They’re more than tools to me.

That’s why I took these guitars to a major retailer to trade. I’d get a lot more selling them privately, but I struggle with the stress that brings. This way, I know the guitars are going to safely make it to the next person who needs them.

Another part of it is a sense of loss. I (try to) seek out guitars that have their own voice. Trading away one means never hearing that voice ever again. I find that hard.

What Did You Trade?

Yesterday, I traded away my Taylor T5z. It’s stunning to look at, and (imho) the best sounding T5z I ever played or heard. A hybrid electro-acoustic with the neck carve and playability of a Les Paul. Great for anyone who doesn’t like acoustic guitars.

It played an important part of my recent musical life. It was the guitar I bought to start the band. Found it up in Glasgow in 2017, and it was the first acoustic-like guitar is played where I still sounded like me.

We used it to start exploring our sound. It was the guitar we used to choose our gigging amps. A good 50% of the set at our first gig was written on it. And it was up there on stage at that first gig.

Since then, it’s largely been a case queen.

Our gigs have taught us that a traditional acoustic guitar works best when playing in small rooms like pubs and cafes. Spaces where the audience can feel and react to the guitar’s unamplified tone.

It was incredibly important as a catalyst and a bridge. And once we’d crossed that bridge and gone full-acoustic, its journey with us was done.

Driving home last night, I didn’t feel any regret at moving the Taylor T5z on. The only regret I had was that I hadn’t been able to trade away the other guitar I’d taken along too. That inspired me to write about this today.

When Gear Serves A Bigger Purpose

Despite all the gear I talk about on here, the band has been my main musical focus for all of 2019. And the gear I use in the band has all been about serving the band’s needs better. When the Taylor no longer did that, I was alright in letting it go.

Why did the other guitar come back with me? I couldn’t get the trade-in price I needed for the next set of gear for the band. That one, I will need to sell privately. Stress be damned.

Having the band as the main focus of my music has *forced* me to start treating guitars as tools. Even though the band is just a hobby. Even though we’re not trying to become professional musicians.

It’s going to take a quite a bit longer for me to actually get comfortable with that though …

Thanks For Reading

If you’ve enjoyed this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon, please do let me know. And I’d love to hear what you think about hanging onto gear vs trading it away.

Studio Diary #6: I Need To Upgrade My Audio Interface

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

I’ve had the new studio rack and the two new patchbays for a week or so now. I’ve experimented with a few possible layouts. And I’ve come to an awful conclusion: running all of this into my existing desktop interface just isn’t going to work for me.

Running Out Of Inputs

For the last three years, I’ve been using the Universal Audio Apollo Twin as my audio interface. Not only does it sound fantastic, it’s also allowed me to start learning about more professional approaches to recording and mixing, thanks to the UAD plugins that emulate classic outboard gear.

It only has two inputs. And, the more I look at my draft wiring diagrams for the new studio rack, the more I’m feeling that two inputs is no longer enough.

To get more inputs, I’m going to have to spend serious money. Unfortunately, it’s not something I budgeted for when I started the studio revamp project.

Time To Raise Some Cash

Back in 2017, when Tess and I first started kicking around the idea of doing an acoustic duo so that we could gig regularly, I bought myself a Taylor T5z. It’s a hybrid guitar with a Les Paul neck; a great help for someone like me who doesn’t get on with traditional acoustic guitars.

The guitar’s been a regular for our rehearsals, and was one of the guitars I used when we supported the lovely Adriana Spina at West Malvern Social Club earlier in the year.

Since then, it’s fallen out of use. I’ve finally adapted to playing an acoustic guitar, and Tahani (my Fender Acoustasonic Telecaster) has been relegated to being my backup. That’s left the T5z without a role.

It’s actually the most valuable guitar of the three, so the time has come to move it and use the money for this unplanned purchase.

I’m not comfortable selling it privately. It’s not just a good guitar, it’s also a bit of a work of art, and I’d feel terrible if it was destroyed in transit to a new owner. So I’m going to trade it in instead.

Whenever I’m trading in a guitar, I always take it to Andertons. The trade-in process is very straight-forward there, and they’ve never once tried to bullshit me or rip me off in any way.

Yes, I will get less money than if I sold it privately. You can’t expect a shop to offer you what you could potentially get via eBay. But, once you take out eBay fees and the hassle of shipping a fragile guitar, the difference isn’t as bad as it might seem. And I can walk out with a new audio interface, same day.

Just so happens that we’re going over that side of the country tomorrow anyways, to visit a guitar show. The T5z will be going with me, and hopefully I’ll be trading it in on the way home.

Gear News: The Apollo x4 Has Been Announced

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

A couple of very interesting bits of new gear announced today.

  • PRS are updating the McCarty 594 range to sound bang-on like a vintage burst.
  • And UAD are releasing new Apollo desktop interfaces, including something I’ve always wanted: an Apollo x4.

Tim Pierce has a video up about the McCarty 594 changes:

Chicago Music Exchange has a great comparison too:

And Sweetwater has a good video about the Apollo x4 here:

The Apollo X4 Is A Missed Opportunity

Last year, UAD revamped their rack units, and introduced an Apollo x6. 4 Unison preamps + 2 more normal ones, and plenty of lines out. Pricing was too close to the old Apollo 8 units to bridge the gap though.

[The Apollo x6 actually has 2 Unison preamps, and 4 additional line-in-only preamps – Ed]

(It’s not just the hardware that’s expensive. You need to buy plugins from UAD to run on that hardware, and they’re not cheap either. They’re a fraction of what the actual outboard gear they’re emulating costs, but every UAD owner spends more on plugins than on Apollo hardware)

I’m sure I’m not the only UAD customer who told UAD in one of their surveys that I would love to buy a 4-preamp unit. Now it’s actually here, there’s a problem. It’s expensive. It’s practically Apollo x6 money. They’ve plugged the hardware gap, but not the pricing gap.

Actually, it’s worse than that. At least one UK retailer is listing the Apollo x4 for *more* than the Apollo x6 atm.

I’m genuinely gutted. I’ve been trying to justify an Apollo x6 to myself all summer. When we’re rehearsing, I record each session, and I could really use an extra preamp or two. Same when working with my Kemper, where I’m using multiple mics at once.

If the Apollo x4 had been priced in the gap, I’d have ordered mine first thing in the morning. But I’m not paying Apollo x6 money for one.

Gear News: The 2020 PRS McCarty 594s

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

A couple of very interesting bits of new gear announced today.

  • PRS are updating the McCarty 594 range to sound bang-on like a vintage burst.
  • And UAD are releasing new Apollo desktop interfaces, including something I’ve always wanted: an Apollo x4.

Tim Pierce has a video up about the McCarty 594 changes:

Chicago Music Exchange has a great comparison too:

And Sweetwater has a good video about the Apollo x4 here:

The 2020 594’s Have A New Sound

I’ve mixed feelings about the updates to the McCarty 594.

As much as I adore the Les Paul, the 594 is simply a better designed instrument. Better intonation, better tuning stability. I would gig a 594 over a Les Paul every single time.

There’s two flavours of the 594: singlecut, and double cut (which is what I have). In my experience, they often sound quite different.

I like the double cut 594 because it doesn’t sound like my Les Paul. Yes, it’s vintage-voiced, with that emphasis on the upper mids. It has its own tone, and it suits me perfectly.

I literally spent a quarter of a century searching for that tone.

The singlecut 594 is different again … the best way I can describe it is to say it’s like a muscle car in guitar form. Big, deep tones. Some distance away from the sound of a Les Paul.

Singlecut 594s with ebony boards can get quite close to the Les Paul. The sharper attack and snappier top-end is just gorgeous. The only reason I don’t own one is that my hand sticks to PRS gloss necks 🙁

I can understand PRS wanting to revoice the singlecut 594 to sound like the holy grail of guitars: the vintage bursts. But I’m glad that I have one of the older doublecuts. And I’m sad that the 594 tone won’t be a thing in future years.

CoffeeAndKlon #19: Make Time For Your Passions

This conversation was originally posted to my Twitter feed.

Good morning folks! I’m back with another #CoffeeAndKlon for you. This week, I want to step away from gear (for once!) and talk about time … the time we have for music.

Today’s Coffee is El Corozo

I’m currently drinking the last of the El Corozo. There’s a new coffee shop that’s opened up opposite the Apple Store down in Cardiff. Been past it a few times – it’s been a bad summer for Apple and reliability – and finally remembered to pop in and check it out.

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I’ve mixed feelings about this coffee.

It’s a decent coffee, with a nice amount of bitterness in the aftertaste. A definite step up on the kind of coffee most shops brew for their customers. And much much nicer than the coffee I’ve been drinking from the hospital coffee shop.

The only reservation is the price. It’s quite a bit more expensive than similar, Fairtrade-certified coffee from other shops.

Do try it. If it’s the taste you’re after, I’m sure it’ll be worth it to you. It’s all personal preference after all.

It’s Time To Talk About … Well, Time!

So … time. Last month was a bit of an anniversary for me. It’s now 30 years since I first started playing electric guitar. Over the years, there’s been periods when it was important, and years when it was neglected. But it’s always been the one constant in my adult life.

At the end of the day, it’s just a hobby. It doesn’t put food on the table or keep a roof over our heads, and frankly, we’d starve pretty quickly if I tried to be a professional musician. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

I don’t know why YOU play music at home. You’ll have your own reasons for it. And I’d love to hear what they are.

For me, it’s sanity. It’s no coincidence that many of the periods where music was important are also the times where my professional life was getting me down.

During those times, I’d always retreat to my guitar and write. Not very well, I grant you, but it was the doing that kept me going. Having an outlet is an important safety valve for the human soul.

It took me a long time to learn that music could be about joy too. I remember going through a particularly nasty work situation several years ago, and constantly wondering “why am I writing music that sounds happy?”

That confused me. I didn’t understand it at all. At the time, it made me question whether I really was unhappy with what was happening in my professional life. Was it my way of telling myself that I should put up with it?

No. I’d simply learned to enjoy music for the sake of it. It had happened so gradually that I hadn’t realised.

I’d finally found the guitar that suited me – the Les Paul – after decades of avoiding them. I’d found the kind of tone I’d been seeking in valve amps, after many years of digital disappointment.

Such a roundabout journey, I hadn’t noticed I’d arrived.

Time changes perspective. Spending time on something – a guitar, a pedal, an amp, or music itself – gives YOU time to grow. After all, any piece of gear is pretty static. It doesn’t really change. It’s your approach to it that needs to change.

And music is only brought to life by the arrangement you come up with, and the performance you find within yourself.

At least, that’s where I am with things today.

I think we all need that one something in our lives. That one passion, regardless of aptitude, ability, or the need to monetise it. For me, it turned out to be music. And gear I guess 🙂

It has to fit around the rest of your life – work, family, friendships. Whatever it is, when you find it, you’ll know. Because you won’t be complete without it.

None of us have infinite time here. Make time for your passions. If nothing else, it makes the time we have that much easier.

Studio Diary #5: The Rack Has Arrived

I’m currently getting my home studio more organised, and along the way I’m sharing my thought process, decisions, discoveries and regrets.

My studio rack is here.

Built Like A Tank

It’s a good job that the Trojan 16U Wheeled Rack is a very solid thing, because whoever posted it out didn’t bother to pack it securely, and it arrived in a box that had been badly crushed.

The Trojan was snugly packed in its own box. That had then been placed into a second – much larger – box on its own. The second box didn’t contain any packing material at all – just the Trojan’s box.

As a result, this thing arrived in a very beaten-up state. The outer box was badly crushed, and the Trojan inside was twisted out of shape.

Fortunately, it only took a bit of work with a lump hammer to knock it back into shape so that it would go together.

Bracketed Central Support

Halfway back inside the rack, there’s a vertical rail that runs from top to bottom. It’s a channel that you can run a set of supplied brackets into. You position the brackets where you need them, tighten them up with a nut and bolt arrangement, and they provide additional weight-bearing support for whatever you want to put into the rack.

The brackets take a lot of force to move, even before bolting them into place, and I had to use the lump hammer to physically knock them to where I needed them. I don’t think it’s meant to be like that. It looks like the central channel got damaged in transit, and I’m not sure how to bend it back into position.

On the plus side, that gives me even more confidence that they’ll help hold my power amp in position. On the down side, I’m not going to be swinging a lump hammer inside the rack once it has gear in it. If I decide to make wholesale changes to this rack in the future, that’s going to make things a bit awkward.

Side Vents? No, Cable Management!

Cable management is something that I didn’t think about at all when picking a rack. It never occurred to me that it would make life a lot easier if the rack came with something for me to fasten cables to.

There’s no official cable management that I can spot. I’m going to have to improvise.

The (non-detachable) sides of the rack have slotted vents, which I presume are meant for passive cooling? I can’t help but look at them, and see somewhere I can secure cable ties to.

Well Worth The Money

Overall, I’m very happy with this studio rack. It survived being badly packed, that central vertical rail is going to give me peace of mind, and I can use the slotted vents to tidy my cables away.

It’s well worth the money, in my opinion.