(Image Credit: Yours Truly. Fish Ornaments by Doug Rhodehammel.)
Well hello there everyone! Like (my) normal, it’s been a while… Hope you and yours are doing splendidly.
It’s December 22nd as I write this, and wanted to give an (cue Hans Zimmer-influenced theme song) ‘End of the Year Report’ with all things APITE. There are some changes in the works for 2023, a few planned upgrades, and some recommendations and semi-witty jocular banter wedged throughout. Let’s get started.
I don’t predict my posting here will be any more frequent in the coming year (this is my shocked face) EduCorp® is still chuffing along like always and since moving slightly higher up the Food Chain I’ve been informed of a lot of changes happening over the next several years – and starting in January. We’re busy enough as it is, but this means carving out time to put some random gobbledegook here will probably amount to what it is now – few and far between. As always I try to put what’s here in the ‘Priority’ column of usefulness with lesser pithiness spilling out to the Social Medias. More on that shortly.
Starting in early 2023 the Web Address for A Poke In The Ear will change back to what it originally was: pokeintheear.wordpress.com. I’m still keeping my Domain Registration (and the email that comes with it), but since I’m paying for that as well as WP to ‘administer’ said URL I’m knocking it down to basics. It’s been a conscious effort to cut back on Subscriptions this past year, and I have much more to do in 2023… Since I post infrequently here it just makes sense to make things a little easier on the company purse strings. Unfortunately, I also think that means ads will return. Sorry ‘bout that…
Qubes and I both dumped The Twit Machine immediately after Phony Stark’s Midlife Crisis Acquisition of it. Apparently, many others did too and you can go here for all the shenanigans and goings-on on a near-daily basis. I totally understand if want to stay there (fight the good fight if/when you can), but I really didn’t like the state of things before he turned it into an absolute shit tornado, and I’m not going to give him one bent penny to post there so we have found new homes in The Fediverse. You can find APITE at @firstname.lastname@example.org and go hit Michael’s site to find where his addy’s are (because I think he’s got quite a few now and I’m not really sure which one is which…) You can still find me lurking about (read: Snarkposting) on Tumblr as well, and the communities at both places are just so much nicer of an experience to my eyes/ears/mental health. Never put all of your eggs in one basket as the saying goes…
On the APITE Techfront, The New Shiny-Shiny is done and dusted. And sadly, I never made it through all of the titles I nicked for it… Double-Secret Bonus Points to those of you who saw right through my secret nefarious plan with those. Since I’ve been using both Edsel and Josephine as Daily Drivers (although Spawn the Youngest has mostly commandeered Edsel for gaming stuffs), everything is still right as rain with both machines, and The Mothership will keep iterating more and better versions of Apple Silicon processors and the al-oo-min-ee-um husks they reside in. They will be as fabulous as I have gushed about many times here before, so just take the plunge if you’re in the Ecosystem – ’nuff said. I will likely be buying a newer device in 2023, so I’ll let you know if there are any snags/juicy details.
Although I’ll get to some things I found over this year to share in a bit, I did some saving up as well and took advantage of quite a few sales over the past month and half. I want to shift focus back into talking more about tips, tricks, and techniques in 2023 here at APITE, but as I say towards the end here, remember that I’m not a reviewer – just the Advice Lady. 😀
With the ‘Administrative’ nonsense out of the way, let’s chat about the Musical Musings I discovered over the last year.
I didn’t buy a single Eurorack gizmo. I don’t have a big system (It’s like a three-row 84HP rack) but I honestly didn’t really do anything with it in 2022 and the bulk of it is currently sitting in the Storage Closet. The promise of Eurorack being ‘more creative’ and ‘explorative’ is just hand-waving dreamland – I’ve gotten so much more done with software over 2022, and it’s just quicker and more usable (as in recallable, savable, integratable) to my way of working. There are really usable Software Modular setups from Softube, Cherry Audio, and the venerable VCV Rack that let you explore on the cheap(er) and easily integrate with the DAW or Sequencer you currently use without all the extra cables, cases, interfaces, and the ilk. I’m still convinced that computers and software are the absolute best way to make music – on a budget or not. The power is there, and again no one will tell the difference on a recording. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ‘DAWless’ business, as I still believe it’s just contrivance created by manufacturers to pander to YouTubers so they can sell you on more crap you’ll never use and will sell on to the next sucker at a discount while you ogle the latest (um) Shiny-Shiny. Check this out if you want to find the free/cheap way to the ‘latest’ sounds offered by the Hardware Pushers.
I bought three bits of actual hardware this year – one of which might be on the ‘DAWless Playlists’ (but it’s not used that way, and I will defend my purchase):
First up was a SoundForce SFC-5, which is a dedicated USB Controller for a specific device/Plugin – in my case the Prophet 5/Pro-1. U-he’s Repro-series software is the best ‘older’ Sequential Circuits emulations I’ve found out there, and not having to ‘mouse around’ with its controls has been an absolute dream for sound design and tweaking. They are not that expensive, built like proverbial tanks, and SoundForce have many different models for your favorite software toy. If you have a ‘go to’ Virtual Instrument that they make a controller for I can’t recommend one enough. If you use a Mix (Fader) Controller for your DAW you know what I’m talking about in the convenience afforded here.
Second, I picked up a dedicated Headphone Amplifier. Here at APITE Headquarters I create and mix pretty much on headphones due to space concerns. I bought a cheapo amp on scAmazon a few years back to see what all the fuss was about and it was noisier than any audio interface I could dig out – it was even noisier than the built-in headphone jack of the oldest computer I had lurking in the back of the closet! So I figured I’d have to save up and spend a lot of $$$ for a decent one after hopefully being able to test it out first. I’ve been digging through Amir’s site over the past year and a half I noticed his reviews on these devices were getting better – and the products coming out were making substantial improvements with significant lower pricetags. So I found one of these on sale and the difference between my headphone amp on my interface versus this one connected to my interface’s outputs is positively stunning. Huge uptick in clarity and detail, and the soundstage (overall left-right balance) is like taking a blanket off my ears. I’m still a bit wary of the reliability here over time (so far no issues though) but it was a lot better than shelling out over a grand for one with just anecdotal evidence for how well it really improved performance. I can honestly say Believe the Hype here. If you work mostly on cans like many of us do, find a well-reviewed one over at ASR that’s on sale and grab it – your mixes will thank you.
Lastly, I picked up a Behringer 2600 on a Pre-Holiday sale for silly cheap. Last year I grabbed one of their Pro-1’s on another Holidaze® sale and I’ll be damned if that thing doesn’t sound like the real ones (and I’ve owned 3 of them over the last 35 years – I know what they sound like…) The last ARP 2600 I had is currently residing in what’s left of Joe River’s Synth Museum, so I decided to take a chance on Uli’s version for this low of a price. Like the Pro-1, they’ve done a really good job here and I really like the smaller, rack-mountable chassis and sensible upgrades (like a dedicated LFO). It pairs well with the Eurorack modules I don’t use (see pic below for a small cadre of modules I do use with it) and 5-pin as well as USB MIDI makes interfacing simple. It’s a very fun, very powerful synth capable of instant gratification as well as more complex tones if you break out the patch cables. I always wonder about the quality of Behringer gear (the Interwebz® are full of crazy stories talking about this), but I own a few pieces and they always just seem to do their purpose for me – but again I keep them in the Studio, not out on the road… Current prices (as of this writing) are a bit high IMO, but if you can find one at around the $500 price point it’s worth it for a device Vince Clarke goes to for ‘crazy noises’. I will second that notion.
(A recent incarnation of my ‘Analog Station’. The Behringer 2600 processing a shortwave radio as a sound source and is being sequenced by the Korg SQ-1 on the top shelf. The MPC One is mostly a sampling/recording device for the 2600, with the Arturia MicroFreak typically just a MIDI Controller for the MPC.)
Finally, with sales still going on over the Season I wanted to talk about three Software goodies I’ve grown rather fond of over 2022 – maybe still time to save if you want one..
1) Unfiltered Audio’s LO-FI-AF. These days I have enough ‘traditional’ sound modifiers like EQ, compressors, delays and reverbs (although I’ll add another here below), but I <heart> Unfiltered Audio for the sheer whackadoodle factor. If you want grit, grime, dirt, lo-fi, grunge, or whatever the buzzword du jour is for these things, these kids have it and in certified metric fucktons. I have at least a few instances of LO-FI-AF in every Session and quite a few of their other goodies too. Plugin Alliance is the best (cheapest) place to buy them, but they also just dropped AUV3’s for iOS if you want them from the App Store.
2) Pulsar Audio’s 1178. The last thing you probably need is another 1176 clone, but this thing has become my 2nd fave ‘Color Compressor’ (Eventide’s Omnipressor is absolutely my fave character audio squeezer) and brings a lot to the party: Sidechaining, EQ, Saturation, and oh-so-useful displays (that can happily be disabled) – it’s just a stupid-usable, great sounding FET comp with a soulful tone. A bit pricy unless you really want/need it, but can be found on sale at their website every so often. Demo available, obvs.
3) FLUX Audio Analyzer. I’ve been searching for a usable multi-pane LU/True Peak/Spectral analyzer forever… I have (and use constantly) a gaggle of single-purpose metering Plugins like Voxengo’s SPAN and Correlometer for Frequency and Phase checking, TBProAudio’s mvMeter and dpMeter for gain-staging and LU/TP measurements, and Mastering the Mix’s EXPOSE for quick drag and drop Loudness evaluations. FLUX Audio’s Analyzer puts a lot of these into a single pane which makes it easy to take a ‘quick glance’ at what’s happening with a Session. The bonus is that it works as a Standalone window (connected to a DAW Plugin) so it can be easily moved to a second display or even an iPad (see pic below) to keep your working environment just that little bit tidier. FLUX’s Flagship Analyzer is subscription-only (yuck), but the ‘Session’ version has most of the capability of its bigger sibling at a (much more) affordable price. Like everything else here, try the Demo first and keep an eye out for sales when you’re ready to buy.
(FLUX Audio’s Session Analyzer on my iPad and (Yet Another) Behringer X-Touch Mix Controller to the left of my ”Main Workstation. To the right you can see a smidge of my MIDI Keyboard Controller (bottom) and even less of the SoundForce SFC-5 (top).
Again, these are far from reviews. I’m just popping these in to tell you some cool things I found maybe you didn’t know about. Always use what you have until it doesn’t work for you anymore!
And with that said let me wish all of you a peaceful and joyous Holiday Season (spelled correctly – shocker!) and a productive and creativity-packed 2023!
Until next time…