Tuesday, August 09, 2005

CTS Photos & Gear List

photo © 2005 Ruth Crean

Here I am performing Control Tower Sound as escalation 746 on August 5, 2005. You can see here how plain the room is, a small space provided by Impact Theatre. It's on a famous part of O'Connell Street here in Limerick that's known as The Crescent. The road forms that shape either side of a historic statue, and is framed with lovely Georgian buildings. What a nice place for a gig!

photo © 2005 Robin Parmar

A shot of my gear for those who wonder how it's all done. I am very picky about equipment and do lots of research. But I'm pragmatic about how much I can afford to spend and so look for the best deals possible. As a trained audio engineer I generally know what compromises I am making.

The mixer in the foreground is a Behringer UB1002FX. This has two mic inputs and four stereo pairs, which is enough to connect up to all eight analogue outputs of my sound card, an RME Multiface, seen just to its right. But that's not what I did on this occasion since I needed to be able to process audio in through the mixer at the same time as I was sending sound out. This is only a two-bus mixer so it's not designed for that. Enter ingenuity. :-)

On the left is my Cirque Touchpad, which is so much easier on your hands that a mouse or trackball that it's not even worth comparing. For health reasons alone you should use one, but live they have other benefits, like the fact I can move it to my lap, or stand up, or even do a little dance. Audience members were glad, I'm sure, that the idea of me dancing at my own gig remained only a potential!

Touchpads are also very robust and will last year after year, unlike any sort of mousy thing. Unfortunately they are no longer stocked by any retailer I am aware of, and must hence be purchased over the web.

Behind that you can see my mini-Virtually Indestructible Keyboard, which should likely have a shorter name. It is flexible, survives liquid spills, and goes anywhere. I am now totally used to the feel and the lack of a numeric pad. Oddly, the company does not have this model on their website anymore. Oh, sorry, yes they do, but they've redesigned it and taken off the "mini-" prefix in favour of simply saying "85 keys".

To the right of that is a minidisc recorder, which didn't end up seeing any use on the night. This is a nice shiny orange MZ-RH10, which I got from Japan. This worked out much cheaper than buying it locally, and the Japanese retail bundle is much better. Plus it's a funky colour.

These new Hi-MD units can record 90 minutes of CD-quality audio (yes, uncompressed audio) to a single disk, support MP3 files, and have decent features for any music listener.

Then there's a Samsung Syncmaster 172B, an absolutely gorgeous 17" LCD monitor. This model is no longer being sold but I recommend any similar one wholeheartedly. The best thing about the design is that the monitor folds flat onto the base, so that it's easier to transport.

At the back and to the left is my keyboard controller, a Novation ReMOTE. This is more expensive and more capable than others, but you never know when you're going to need several dozen knobs and faders and a jog-wheel and a touchpad and a joystick and... well, it's got lots of controllers. Also, it needs only a single USB cable over which it gets power as well as control data. It's nice to eliminate one wall wart.

Lying on the controller is a set of Grado SR225 headphones. Though not providing isolation like proper live or DJ phones, these sound so much better than anything else that I cannot be without them. They are my reference sound for mixes.

Lastly, there is a Studio Projects B3 microphone. I am still getting used to this but so far it seems like a very versatile (three polar patterns, pad, low-cut filter) and sweet sounding thing. Plus it really looks the biz.

photo © 2005 Robin Parmar

In this picture you see what was at my feet, namely a Behringer V-Tone Guitar GDI21, a brand-new piece of blue gear that simulates about a dozen different guitar amps. This sure beats carrying them around with me. Amp simulation has gotten steadily very very good over the years. Now it's also cheap; in fact this box is the price of a DI with the amp modeling thrown in for free! Fun to use on vocals or anything else really.

To its right is a piece of red gear, my Nord Micro Modular. This looks like a shoebox but is actually a complete modular synth that you programme on the computer. Patches are then stored to the box itself so it can subsequently be used independent of a computer. This is a great design. It also accepts audio input for processing. There are newer and fancier synths available from Nord, so this particular item is a steal.

Behind the colourful boxes is my computer, a Shuttle XPC case and motherboard that I built into a system two years ago. This form factor is a compromise between a full desktop system, which hardly anyone really needs, and a laptop, which often is too limiting. In the case I have a P4 processor, 1GB RAM, 200GB hard disk, a DVD burner, an ATI video card, and the RME interface card. It is very full and took me some 20 minutes to get closed. Every connector needs to be in precisely the right place! I'm surprised it doesn't melt down but seems to do ok.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have an actual laptop and make some hardware compromises, but this feeling comes over me not so much because I'd like more portability. No, I start getting that itch every time I must disconnect all of the cords to and from my Shuttle. :-)

Not seen in these pictures are my audio monitors, the Behringer Truth B2030A, which I took on-site with me. Not only decent for reference mixes at home, they have enough power to be quite kick-ass on location, providing that location is quiet and small. I would love to have better-sounding monitors, but don't have €1500 to spend. For one-fifth of that, these monitors are amazing.

OK, that's about it for hardware. I'm not much of a fetishist when it comes to obtaining "stuff" but do get a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing my hard-earned money is going the extra mile for me.

But don't think it's all about the gear. Just thought I'd drop some tips your way.


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