Posts Tagged 'review'

Dharbour (Original Mix)- Animal Picnic

Released on 1st October on Delicious Recordings, Dharbour is the second track from the Bean City EP from Animal Picnic and I love it. In some ways I wish I didn’t, but I just do. Those incredibly 80s sounding synth chords and the bassline just work for me. Yes, it has a hint of Beverley Hills Cop-era cheese about it, but I have been listening to this over and over again recently. This is going on the next mix I think!

Beyerdynamic DT 880 Pro Headphones Review

DT-880 Pros are pretty well reviewed already –they’ve been around for a while, after all- so why should you read this one? Well, first of all it’s another opinion and, secondly, as far as I can find, no-one has talked about their suitability for house music production on the road using an Apogee One as an interface. I’ll assume that you’ve read some other reviews and product descriptions, so I’ll not repeat all of the basics and just concentrate on my experience with these headphones.

DT 880 Pro: Build Quality, Comfort and Appearance

Let’s start with comfort. Despite being a bit heavier than its main competitors, the Sennheiser HD650s and the AKG K701s, these are comfortable ‘phones. There isn’t too much downward pressure on the top of your head; the inward pressure feels reassuring, with a feeling of closeness without causing any discomfort, even after long listening sessions. The material used for the padding is smooth and soft, and doesn’t make your head too sweaty, which is always a bonus.

Appearance is pretty good too. The ‘phones come in a nice foam-lined zip up case and look the part. If I have any complaints, it’s that the cradles that support the cups look like a bit of a design afterthought, and the exposed cabling looks thin and fragile, but then, these headphones are cheaper than both the AKGs and the Sennheisers.

Build quality and potential long-term functionality is where I start to have issues. First off, the cable is non-detachable, being moulded into the bottom of one of the cups, so any wiring issues are going to be complicated to resolve, with higher repair bills, as described in this review. If I’m being honest, I don’t think any phones at this price point should have moulded cables, particularly those with ‘Pro’ in the name.

I’m also not sure about running that thin little cable from one cup to the other by tucking it under the detachable headband. Those cables seem very delicate, and I’m genuinely quite concerned about them snagging on something at somepoint, having them pulling out of the cups, and expensive repair bills resulting. Not sure that this feeling of breakability inspires confidence in a pair of working headphones. Compared with my Sennheiser HD555s, which were a third of the price, this cup to cup cabling arrangement seems poor.

The size adjustment is also a bit clunky, with the cup, brackets sliding back and forth in not a particularly smooth way. This is something I expect to be doing a lot of, as, with the ‘phones fitted to my head, putting them back in the case means that the moulded cable is at quite an extreme angle, and under a lot of stress, due to the snug fit in the case, so, to minimise that, I have to push the brackets back in again. Then, every time I resize, I’m concerned I’m going to catch the cables with my fingers.

DT 880 Pro: Sound

The sound performance is where the DT 880 Pros redeem themselves. These are the best ‘phones, from an accuracy perspective, that I’ve heard. The HD650s are perhaps more exciting to listen to, with the more ‘hyped’ bass response, but for critical mix decisions, I’d feel more comfortable trusting these; everything just seems more flat, and ‘egalitarian’ in the mix. Bass is low and extended, but feels well controlled. These are exceptionally good sounding headphones for the money.

Listening through an Apogee One after allowing a good length of burn in time, playing a variety of tracks showed this to be a good, reliable performer, from Alison Krauss to Maya Jane Coles, via KT Tunstall, Teenage Fanclub, Jacqueline du Pre and The Pretenders. I enjoyed the level of detail, accurate soundstage and the depth of the mix that was presented. Great performers.

DT 880 Pro: Deep House Production

So, the real reason for using these ‘phones, those late night deep house production sessions when using monitors is out of the question. After firing up Ableton Live 8, plugin 112 dB’s excellent Redline Monitor plugin into the master effects, I got to work. I can’t remember the last time I found it this easy to dial in a good kick sound. I usually layer two or three, and filter and eq to get them working together, then compress. I had a sound I was happy with in next to no time. Balancing and eqing my layered clap and snare hits was a breeze, and before I knew where I was, I had the bass sitting comfortably in a hole and, to me at least, a reasonably complete groove going on.

As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I would rather mix on good headphones than cheap monitors in an untreated room; these ‘phones have raised the bar as to what good monitors in a good room are. I can see myself spending a lot more time mixing on these, the level of detail available to make those critical decisions and hear those little distortions is fantastic. Combined with the Redline plugin, I really do have the confidence to make mix decisions on these.

DT 880 Pro: Summary

Well, the sound is spectacular, I feel happy mixing on these, and would much rather mix on these than speakers that are getting to a less than modest price point. The issue for me really is that feeling of delicacy, and, if there is a problem, a large repair bill. Despite the protective case, I can’t picture myself travelling with these ‘phones, which is a shame as it would be fantastic not to have to waste hours remixing everything when I get back to the studio. Unfortunately, I think I’ll stick to my K271 mkIIs for the road, even with their lack of bass response, purely as they feel more robust and have a detachable cable. Oh, and their closed back so I’ll annoy fewer people in coffee shops!

Testing Times

I read a lot of reviews of audio tech products, synths, preamps, compressors, EQs, software and hardware and the reviews I read are generally incredibly thorough. Boutique outboard is dismantled to check build quality, given the Windt Hummer test to check for potential ground loop problems and distortion and bandwidth figures quoted; and that’s all in addition to how it sounds. There is little to complain about in terms of detail.

However, is that review sufficient to make a purchasing decision? A lot of these reviews seem to lack one critical component: a blinded scientific comparison between the product under review and its competitors. I know this would add complexity to a review: it would take at least two people for a start, and other pieces of gear may not be available for comparison, but I think this type of test would really allow people to make better informed purchases.

For example, when I read a review that describes a new digital converter as, let’s say, producing ‘an open, clear sound with good separation of individual instruments and excellent stereo imaging’, I would have more confidence in that statement if the reviewer was able to tell this unit apart from its competitors, or perhaps cheaper competitors, in a blinded test.

I remember reading an article in which a number of top engineers took part in a ‘shootout’ between D/A converters, there was no clear consensus on one unit in particular sounding ‘better’. Unfortunately, these were all high-end units; it would have been very interesting if some prosumer and consumer-level converters were also included. Would the golden ears be able to choose between Apogee and M-Audio, or Prism and MOTU? I wonder, though, if perhaps the industry might be scared of the results.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the sound, and that is often highly subjective. Given that the end product is more commonly delivered as compressed mp3s, rather than CDs or vinyl these days, perhaps the arguments about squeezing every last sample of quality from the studio is less relevant now than it used to be. I’ve not heard people in the clubs complaining that the bassline is from a soft-synth rather than a MiniMoog, so perhaps I’m worrying over nothing…

The Maschine Mikro

Following the success of Native Instruments’ Maschine comes the Maschine Mikro, a stripped down piece of hardware for those with either more limited wallets, or those needing a bit more in the way of portability, but with exactly the same power of the Maschine software.

If you’ve not checked out the Maschine before it is, fundamentally, a groovebox: everything you need to make a complete tune (once you add a computer…), albeit with the advantage of a full-size screen, rather than squinting and menu scrolling on the grooveboxes you may have used before. Having myself previously struggled with a Yamaha RMX-1 and a Roland MC-303, I’m quite glad in the change of working method! However, as Maschine has no real synth engine of its own, it perhaps has more in common with Akai’s MPC range of sampling boxes, although Maschine does have the useful ability to host VST instruments and effects.

The take-home point is that the Maschine hardware is just a controller: it needs to be connected to your computer running the Maschine software to do anything. My main reason for buying a Maschine Mikro was that I was in the market for a new pad controller and percussion library anyway, so Maschine seemed like the perfect choice, with the alternative workflow of the Maschine software an added bonus. The pads have a great feel to them and have encouraged me to develop my finger drumming skills, and the smaller footprint fits in my studio setup more easily than the original Maschine.

The included sounds are very comprehensive: they range from world percussion, through 60’s acoustic kits and on to contemporary electronic kits. In addition to the drum and percussion sounds, there are also a number of synth and musical samples, ready to be mapped to the pads.

I’d almost forgotten how inspirational it was to just play some sounds in live, and add all those deep house conga fills in in real time. There are loops and grooves that I just don’t think I’d have come up with I’d been programming with the mouse. Also, as mentioned before, Maschine can host VST plugins. I’m imagining that I will be taking advantage of this in the near future, as I get to grips with Logic Pro, and may well end up using Maschine as a VST ‘wrapper’.

For me though, the most useful feature is one that allows Maschine to fit in with my workflow in Ableton Live. Before arranging, I work predominantly in the clip view. Maschine allows you to drag loops you’ve created in the Maschine sequencer plugin into an empty clip in Live as either audio or MIDI. This allows me to create a whole bunch of loops in Maschine, then work with them as audio in Live. That way, if you don’t want to mess around with learning the Maschine sequencer and its scenes and so on, you can use it solely as a loop creation tool and continue to work in your sequencer of choice. So far, I’ve had a couple of bugs with this, which hopefully NI will address in future updates, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed by moving a couple of warp markers.

To summarise then, the Maschine software is fairly intuitive and deeply powerful, with a superb range of included sounds, which can be supplemented with additional -pay for- packs. The Maschine Mikro loses some of the real-time control that you get with the original, due to the cut down encoder complement, and you’ll spend more time looking at your computer as the Mikro loses a display. For the money though, I think it’s a pretty inspiring piece of kit. I’ve had mine for three months and feel like I’ve only scratched the surface.

This article first appeared on NowThenRecords‘ website.


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