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Digital-to-analog converter shootout: Cranesong Solaris vs the rest
Friday, 19 May 2017 16:14

We take our equipment seriously, and our digital-to-analog (DA) converters are no exception. It’s critical to have supremely accurate DA converters in the equipment chain to ensure music is converted into the analog domain precisely ahead of both monitoring and analog compression & equalisation; a DA converter that is lacking will degrade the quality of the music from the get-go.

In our never-ending quest to apply the latest design breakthroughs to enhancing and improving our mastering process, we recently compared three popular DA converters from leading manufacturers to the ones we already have in our rack. Here’s the full list:

  • Dangerous Convert2
  • RME ADI-2 Pro
  • Cranesong Solaris
  • Antelope Audio Pure2 (which we already own)
  • Forssell MADA-2 (which we already own)
  • Dangerous (Chris Muth)
  • Monitor DAC (which we already own)

We placed the DA converters ahead of the analog compressors and equalisers and tested the units in a very precise manner, level matching all the converters’ reference levels to within ±0.01dB to ensure a level playing field. While we found every unit to be a quality piece of gear up to the task, we added the Cranesong Solaris to our rack as the primary choice for DA converter. We will continue to use the Forssell DA when it suits the source, but the Pure2 DA converter, which was previously our second converter option, has been removed from service. Here’s why:

Cranesong Solaris DA converter

Cranesong-Solaris-web

The Cranesong Solaris was a clear standout: everything sounded more connected and fluid, yet alive, like the sound was leaping off the speakers. For a moment in time, we forgot all about the converters and were just immersed in the music filling the room; it was like the sound was coming from a band in the room rather than the speakers. We put this down in part to improved clocking techniques, the advanced jitter suppression and an extremely well-designed high-end analog output stage.

The tonal balance was spot on: extremely natural and, while flattering on great mixes, it didn’t gloss over any problem areas; in fact it tends to reveal issues in a detailed manner. The Cranesong Solaris is natural and organic and as such suits pretty much any style of music.

We found it really difficult to fault the Solaris and, when paired with one of our Analog-to-Digital converters (Antelope Audio Pure2 AD or Forssell AD), it’s a real thing of beauty to master music through.

What about the other converters?

We like to have two sets of DA converters that compliment each other in different ways so we can choose the one which benefits the music we’re working on. While the Crane Solaris came out on top, our Forssell MADA-2 DA is a great converter, with its presentation being slightly more flattering hence favouring pop and EDM styles; we’ll be using both the Cranesong Solaris and the Forssell MADA-2 ongoing.

The Dangerous Monitor DAC will remain our primary monitoring DA converter, but at some point we may consider upgrading it with another Solaris, as the Solaris also excelled as a monitoring DA converter. 

 
Tips for releasing your project on vinyl
Friday, 29 July 2016 00:00

vinyl-recordVinyl has made a steady resurgence in recent years, and a number of indie and commercial bands have been jumping on board and getting small runs of vinyl pressed. We’ve been mastering for vinyl for some time now and we know a lot about the vinyl process. Here are some tips which you might find useful when considering releasing your next project on vinyl:

  1. Decide on how many songs you want to put on the vinyl and work out the total running time of your single, EP or album. Why? Because this is a critical factor in working out what size record is suitable, what speed is best and how loud it can be cut. For example, if you have an album of songs and it works out to be over 22 minutes of music per side, there is a good chance it will need to be cut at lower levels to prevent distortion and may not sound as good especially on the last couple of songs on each side of the vinyl; in such a case you may have to factor in the cost of getting a double album cut and pressed. See below for our recommended running time chart.

  2. Get your songs professionally mastered for vinyl. There are a number of areas to consider when mastering for vinyl in order for the finished record to sound it’s best, and I’ve seen people waste a lot of time and money when skipping this very important step.

  3. Leave yourself plenty of time to get vinyl reference cuts and test pressings done and send them to us to check that there aren’t any technical issues with the vinyl cutting, plating or pressing before approving the rest of the copies to be pressed. In other words, don’t set your release date or album launch date until you’ve worked out how long these processes can take. Time may vary depending on factors such as the cutting engineer’s schedule and how many jobs the pressing plant are working on. It’s better to give yourself too much time than not enough.

  4. Use someone reputable for the vinyl cutting. If you’re wanting the best quality, or if you need to fit a lot of songs on each side, or if your vinyl needs to be cut loud, we recommend talking to us for an appropriate vinyl cutting vendor for your job. If budget and turn-around is critical we believe you can get decent results using Zenith Records in Melbourne for vinyl cutting and pressing.
 
Michelangelo Custom Tube Mastering EQ
Monday, 27 June 2016 00:00

Hendy-Amps-Michelangelo-0022000009

We've recently installed a custom tube Michelangelo mastering EQ built by Chris Hendy at Hendy Amps in the USA.

This EQ is stereo ganged and acts like a broad shaping tone control for the mix. With the "Aggression" (tube drive), "Bass", "Mid", "High" and "Air" controls along with some custom mods that include a cleaner signal low impedance or a more coloured high impedance switchable option, the EQ becomes extremely versatile and quick to dial in. The EQ points and curves are also extremely musical, allowing broad shaping of the mix with precision control. The sound is deliciously smooth and big due to the minimalistic circuit and the all-tube and transformer signal path. This rounds out our analog EQ collection very nicely: with four analog EQ's to choose from, there is an EQ that suits every genre and mix style.

Book your job in today to hear the Michelangelo in action on your next project.

 
Mixed-up converters: Antelope Audio’s Pure 2 vs Forssell’s MADA-2a
Thursday, 22 October 2015 05:21

Antelope Pure2 front crop

It’s been several years since re-evaluating my AD and DA converters but I had recently been hearing good things about Antelope Audio’s Pure2 Mastering AD/DA Converter, so I contacted George at Soundtown in Perth, Australia to arrange a test drive. I was keen to see if it improved the main converters I’d been using for the past five years.

Soundtown delivered the Pure2 and, after configuring the converter, I was ready to start testing.

I recalled a track I worked on earlier in the week, an electro track that had a nice kick and bass line and a well-recorded male vocal. This is the track I would use for all tests.

I started by converting with the Forssell MADA-2a for DA & AD with DA playback at 96kHz and A/D capture from the analog chain at 44.1kHz. Once I substituted for the Pure2, my first impressions were extremely positive: the tonal balance was very natural and true to the source, and didn’t seem to get in the way of the music or the feel and emotion of the track. It was surprising to me how close it was to the presentation of the Forssell, however the Pure2 had marginally more weight in the lows while the highs were mellowed a little more, both being areas I felt were intrusive on some mixes. The Forssell is slightly wider and has more high end detail, although we are talking about quite a small margin of difference. Overall I was greatly impressed. The second test I did was a straight hard-wire loopback test at 96kHz. Which is something I like to do with all the converters I test. The loopback of the Pure2 was very favourable and sounded as close to the source as the Forssell did (each having slightly unique interpretations).

Where it became particularly interesting was mixing and matching the Forssell with the Pure2.

I tested the Pure2 DAC with the Forssell ADC. This also sounded more full in the lows but more natural and balanced overall. This presentation also sounded quite true to the source. In this configuration I was hearing both units compliment each other and bring the best qualities of each converter to the forefront. Ultimately, I tested the Forssell DAC with the Pure2 ADC, which produced a result I wasn’t expecting; the combination was slightly wider and deeper with superior transient detail, yet it was fuller in the low end than the Forssell MADA-2a doing both ends of the conversion. A result which was extremely musical and leapt from the speakers.

I was convinced: the formidable sound of the Antelope Pure2 for AD duties in combination with the Forssell MADA-2a covering DA was the way to go. I called George at Soundtown and let him know he wouldn’t be getting the evaluation unit back.

 
Giorgio Mororder & Deja Vu
Sunday, 19 July 2015 06:21

Giorgio Morder Deja Vu vinyl and CDI was recently asked to master Giorgio Moroder's latest solo record, a record featuring vocals by high-calibre pop artists including Sia, Britney Spears, Kylie Minogue, Charli XCX, Mikky Ekko and others.

At the time I hadn't heard of Giorgio Moroder, but I soon found out he's a 75-year-old legend with a long list of amazing credits ranging from collaborations with Blondie, David Bowie, Janet Jackson, Adam Ant, Donna Summers, Pat Benatar and Freddy Mercury to name a few. He's also composed and produced soundtracks for iconic films such as Scar Face, Flashdance, Top Gun, The Never Ending Story, American Gigolo and the 1984 re-release of Metropolis. As if that wasn't impressive enough, he was also credited as being a pioneer of synth disco and electronic dance music. So why hadn't I heard of him before? Possibly because he hadn't released a solo record in over 30 years.

After a recent Daft Punk track put the spotlight on Giorgio, people wanted to hear more of his music. With a freshly-inked deal with Sony Music Sweden and RCA in the US, Giorgio and executive producer Michael 'Smidi' Smith worked tirelessly to produce a record that encapsulates Giorgio's signature sound from the past while infusing it with the sound of today's pop artists and modern production techniques.

Manny Marroquin was brought in to mix Giorgio's single with Sia, while LA based engineer Mitch McCarthy was asked to mix the Kylie Minogue single. After doing such a stellar job on the Kylie Minogue single, Mitch, was asked to mix the rest of the record. I'd already been working with Mitch on a number of projects which CJ Baran (US Producer working for Max Martin) produced and he was impressed with my work enough that he requested that I be the one to master Giorgio's album. Mastering the album was a great experience, and it included some of the best mixes and production I've worked on. The finished record includes 16 songs and has recently been released on double CD, vinyl and the usual digital distribution channels.

I am humbled to have been involved with this significant release, and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed working on it.

giorgio-moroder-promo-2

 

 
Better Buzz
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 07:00

Buzz Audio REQ-2.2The Buzz Audio REQ-2.2 is a parametric equalizer that has been in our mastering chain since 2009; we were one of the first in Australia to order a unit. Over the ensuing 5 years we have worked with Buzz Audio to improve the REQ-2.2 to the point where we are using it on just about every project.

Off the shelf, the Buzz Audio REQ-2.2 excels due to its ample shelving frequencies with adjustable slopes, Low Frequency Saturation feature and ±0.5dB steps. (You can read more about Buzz Audio REQ-2.2 in our previous blog post.)

Our unit has undergone several upgrades and improvements (mods). One of these mods is special to us: after talking with Tim Farrant (owner/designer, Buzz Audio), and thanks to his ongoing pursuit of excellence, Tim agreed to make a modification for us to improve the Low Frequency bands by changing the design from using real chokes to an electronic T-filter design. When we installed the new cards we found the sound tighter and more focused compared to the previous cards, and that makes this EQ pretty much perfect for everything now.

Buzz-Audio-LF-upgrade-2Buzz-Audio-LF-upgrade-1

This mastering grade analog equalizer is unique and amongst the very best in the world in terms of sonics, build quality and transparency. You can hear it in action only at Matthew Gray Mastering.

 
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