Friday, 30 December 2016

Randall RD1 head review

This is the smallest amp of RD series and the only one that has small preamp tube -sized power tube. While it's a "lunchbox" size amp the construction is more like a regular amp, only smaller. The features are simple, there is one channel with gain, tone and volume knobs. There is also a tone shift switch with three positions. On back of the amp you have an effect loop which is very rare in amps of this type and price, and also a XLR output with Randall's 4x12 cabinet simulation.

While this amp is clearly aimed for heavy metal it can also, quite surprisingly, produce clean sounds. It requires minimum setting on gain and preferably low output pickups in guitar, but it's doable. The gain range is wide from low distortion to crunch and then heavy metal. The distortion stays dry through the range. Maybe for that reason this amp doesn't have a ton of gain, but in my opinion it works really well with overdrive pedals. It's like the designers decided to leave room for overdrive pedals. I like the gain, it doesn't become fuzzy and stays focused.

The weak point of this amp is EQ, but it's not uncommon in bigger amps either. Tone knob adds treble, but works only on certain point. Overall it feels like there isn't enough anything, but then again it is a 1 watt amplifier. Some 1 watt amps can be loud, but this is not one of them. If anything this amp can be too quiet for anything else than practicing by yourself.

I'm using the amp with Marshall MX112 cabinet (under a keyboard stand if you are wondering what that thing is). With XLR recording output you can disconnect the cabinet, because the amp has an internal load for silent recording. This option has an interesting side effect as you can also use a bass guitar with XLR output! And even bigger surprise is how well it works. It's not an actual bass amp of course, but it sounds a lot like a bass guitar.

The reason I bought this amp personally was that I had used several types of modeling cadgets and was tired of trying to get sound out of them. With real amp you got it, a real amp sound. And in this case it's not even a bad sound, although the sound is what you would expect in this price range and with a small power tube. However in my opinion it's still better than in any modeling cadgets I have tried.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Yamaha THR10 noise problems

I've had noise free sound from THR10 by using phones out and connecting THR to a separate wall outlet. THR doesn't behave well with other equipment in the same outlet, it's creating some static noise.

I had an idea to record THR with a microphone using almost acoustic level output. This is where problems start, because I noticed that THR has actually quite lot of static noise and it's somehow related to grounding/power supply, because when I touch the metal parts of guitar there is less noise. Also, if you touch the metal handle of THR it's even more effective way to kill the noise. But sadly I don't have three hands. Even worse there is always an audible "pop" noise when touching metal and more you listen to it the more it starts to chew your mind.

My THR is the newer model with legendary piece of tape inside to detach some wires that apparently caused some high pitch noise. Some have fixed noise problems with another, better power supply. But it seems to be quite hard to find 15V/3A psu with proper connection cable. This far I've found 15V, but it's only 2A. Switching to new psu is also a random event, because they are all made in China. Some have even placed a noise gate pedal in front of THR. I don't think it's that good idea, because noise gate is always making the sound worse.

I guess THR is not properly shielded and the psu could be low quality. The noise source is guitar, because if tone knobs (or volume) are zeroed then there is no noise, but the sound is just too dull and boomy to be useful. I've tried different guitars so it's probably not worth the trouble to shield the guitar itself. Also, my actual guitar amp Laney Lionheart has no noise whatsoever so it's probably just the THR to blame.

Update:  I can have noise free sound - with a guitar that has EMG active pickups. It's not the perfect solution, because my EMG guitar (Godin Redline) has only the bridge pickup and it's quite different sound compared to neck pickup of a single coil Fender stratocaster. But I guess it's a first world problem.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Blog update and some thoughts

I have removed some old texts, mainly guitar build tweaks which where not interesting in my opinion. I'm not sure if anything else is either, but I've left reviews and studio developments which look really funny.

I have added e-mail notification for comments so when you comment it should send an e-mail. That way I can actually notice someone is commenting, because it's kind of hard to follow comments without that option.

This blog is really small and I was thinking to remove it entirely, but I guess it could be some kind of memory book for myself. Even so people do read this blog, the most hits for a single blog entry has been slightly over 2000. If it ever gets over 5000 I'm going to turn on AdSense! Well I don't know how much views you need to get actual money from ads, but that's the plan and I'm sticking to it.

I have bought more equipment than I have reviewed so there is always something to write about. I'm also planning to write retrospective articles about Propellerhead Balance and Mac Mini.

Yamaha AG06

Looking for a new usb interface to replace Propellerhead Balance (and Alesis USB4 as preamp) I found Yamaha AG06.


The unit has simple connections. Two mic/line inputs with preamp and dsp-effects, a line in stereo pair without preamp (as far as I can read the schematics), but with selectable gain pad that can be bypassed. Other ins are rca with turntable icon, a headset with 3,5mm connectors and aux. Those I don't use so I can't say much about them. There is also a footswitch in for whatever reason. Outputs are line out, main monitors out and main headphone out (6,5mm). The rear side of the unit has two usb connectors, one regular and one smaller for iPad. It's usb-power only, there is no external power supply.

The main headphone output is in kind of bad place (on top of the unit rather than front side) if you want to be critical about it, but I can live with it. It means you probably need a slightly longer cable for headphones and need to watch out that it doesn't get stuck on knobs etc.

The real surprise about this interface is that it has a dsp chip. It's used for the real time effects for preamp inputs (mics, guitar and optional line in). Both channels have compressor, high pass filter and eq section. Channel 2 has a selectable amp simulation which is actually quite nice, although it doesn't give you high gain sounds, only moderate gain. Channel 1 is dedicated to mics and it's the only channel that has the optional +48V power. Both channels share reverb/delay section which is also very nice with lots of options.

Having these dsp effects is such a great feature, because they allow you to shape the sound when you perform the music, rather than having to record without effects. The dsp editor is a free downloadable software that runs in the background with DAW. It's not a big deal to switch between them when you need to adjust something. The dsp software has also metering for input and output of the signal so you don't need to rely on the two leds on the unit itself.

I was skeptical about the preamp of AG06 and in fact I was thinking of getting a separate preamp, but after trying to record acoustic guitar I can't really find anything bad about the preamp quality. Acoustic guitar sounds like a guitar and it has only small amount of noise. The real test however was my electronic drum set which has notoriously small amount of output so it was really difficult to use it with my previous interface. I was thinking that I need to use lots of gain to bring the sound audible, but in fact there was no need for gain at all. Not only that, even level knobs don't need full power.

In summary this is a nice and cheap "all-in-one" interface for home studios without too much money to spend. The preamp is next generation in this price range and the usb sound resolution is 24bit/192khz.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Home studio gear blues

Today there is more attention put into preamps of interfaces, which have been of mixed sort in home studio level gear. For example the preamp in my current interface Propellerhead Balance is either really bad or defective. I'm not being picky here, it's unusable for things like recording an acoustic guitar. It's so sad, because I like the functionality and everything else about Balance.

Another problem I think in situations like this is that in many interfaces line inputs are routed through the preamp. This is somewhat understandable, because it gives more input for those sources that don't have it enough, and there are lot of them. The downside is that you can't use external preamps to a) get different kind of preamp sound or b) bypass the extremely poor preamp of the interface.

Some interfaces have extra line inputs which don't go through the preamp, but it seems to be quite rare technology used in consumer level products you would expect to find in home studios.

So now when I'm trying to find a new interface I've also noticed that for whatever reasons many interfaces don't have the direct output button in the front panel. Sometimes it's mentioned in the mixing software, but sometimes it's really hard to find out if there is direct monitoring in the device at all. I find that frustrating, because no matter how low the roundtrip latency is you simply need direct monitoring in real life recording.

I think what is sorely missing right now is a decent interface without preamps and with quality construction and A/D-conversion so that you can buy whatever preamp(s) you want and then use the interface simply to convert the analog sound to digital and forget about shitty preamps they have to use in interfaces to reduce the price.

Also I don't like the way they remove important controls from the interface and put it into some kind of control/mixing software. I don't know if I'm exceptionally difficult person, but I find it difficult to find proper gear to replace Balance in an affordable price range. It should be either an interface with good preamp so I don't need an external preamp, or less expensive interface with direct line in to use with external preamp.

I guess we live in a world where manufacturers have to be careful not to create the kind of equipment which you can easily extend and use years without problems. This is particularly true in home studios which has been a growing market for last ten years at least.