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Saturday, 31 August 2013

My Birthday Present Creative Aurvana

It is my birthday today, and my wife has been asking me what I would like for a birthday present.

On the same day we happened to walk by the Creative store at Marina Square Singapore and they were having a clearance sale, with my wife, parent-in-law an my sister and brother in law.

It looked like my brother in law was interested in wireless speakers, so I went to look at in-ear-monitors. There was this 'new' series of earphones that I have not seen from Creative before. Aurvana and Aurvana 2's physical design look similar to a generic Etymotic look. Aurvana 3 has a similar design to my Westone One.

Not knowing that Creative has any range of personal solution for higher end audio reproduction products, my first reaction was to regard them with amusement, almost like 'small boys trying to share the market with the big boys'.

However, I took a listen the phones and to my amazement it was really good! I played back a few of my own tracks and some commercial tracks (from some genres including soundtracks, smooth jazz, pop). The Aurvana 2 certainly handles them well and re-creates the frequencies and detail beautifully. I am a little guilty to say that I like the slightly punch bass (which would probably spoil my tracks if I mix with them, since I am inclined to mix with a slightly heavier bass). But this will definitely be good for an everyday enjoyment as well as an alternative quality control monitors for my music.

Aurvana 2 in-ears are certainly capable of matching up to my Klipsch ProMedia (SGD175 3 years ago) and Westone One (SGD215 1 year ago). Klipsch ProMedia is a bit muffled at the top and heavy at the bottom. So I would tend to compare the quality of the Aurvana 2 with my Westone One. The difference between their quality are really close.

I did not consider the Aurvana 3 since I could not get a good fit with the design and the size of the ear buds on the display set. I find that Westone designs fit better to my ears.

Aurvana 2 has a regular price tag of SG$125, but because of the ongoing sale, it is now going for SG$79. Doing a check on Aurvana 2 on Amazon global gives a price of US$49.99. (Aurvana 3 costing $175, is now going for $125 at the Creative store at Marina Square Singapore).

Creative Aurvana 2 is definitely good value for money, and I plan it as a replacement for my Klipsch ProMedia in-ear set (which is a valentine's day gift also from my wife, but its been abused quite badly, needing a replacement).

Also worth mentioning is another in-ear product on display at The Creative HS930i was also on display, and it was only going for SG$40. To me this is a really tremendous deal. The sound quality and sonic reproduction slightly pales in comparison to the Aurvana 2, but for a price tag like that

So here's some more pictures I took when I unboxed the product later on at home.

Pleasant surprise! Aurvana series of earphones won the Singapore RedDot Design Award in 2010.
I guess the series is not so 'new' after all :)

The Aurvana product team has done a good job here.

They've added accessories that are expected of products for their Aurvana of a similar class. 
Included accessories are, a semi-hard case to house the phones, 3 sizes of ear-buds (2 sets per size), a cleaning tool to clean out dirt from hard to reach corners of the unit. The most impressive inclusion is a flight adaptor for the audio jacks found on aeroplanes. 
Good work, Creative!

The in-ears has a simple but stylise design. They remind me of bullets :)

For further reading and reviews, I found another article that reviews the Aurvana 2

Friday, 23 August 2013

Great Article on What Mastering Is, and Is Not

Here's an article posted on MusicThinkTank.com, talking about the nature of Mastering, what it can do, and what its limitations are.

It is written by a professional mastering engineer BARRY GARDNER. That makes him the best person to talk about the topic. http://www.musicthinktank.com/mtt-open/dispelling-the-myths-surrounding-audio-mastering.html

From a common set of misconception about mastering, some which are popular even within the music and recording industry, Barry sets out to explain what mastering actually involves, and why this process is so integral and necessary that every track that intends to be commercially aired, licensed and sold (even audio material mixed by very established studios and mixing engineers) always get sent through mastering process after mixing is done.

If like me, you have been always feeling a little confused by the difference between a mixing engineer's job and a mastering engineer's job, and you are wondering, "What exactly DOES a mastering engineer do?", this article will definitely be a beneficial read.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Now available: EastWest Partners SSL to Bring FX Global Suite for Play 4

EastWest has just released Play 4, the newest sample player engine for all its sample library products.
EW QL Symphonic Orchestra running on Play 4. The original 'skin' layout has been preserved,
along with a new look on the interface
What's new in the upgrade includes an improved streaming engine, improved overall performance, efficiency, a brand new mixer page, background loading, and more advanced instrument properties.
The all new mixer page on Play 4
Best of all, Play 4 would be available to existing Play users free-of-charge! That IS good news.

More information from the original sounds-online forum post, posted by Doug Rogers himself :)

Along with Play 4, comes the very exciting collaboration of EastWest with SSL, the very famous manufacturers of hardware consoles that have been processing audio signals for countless chart topping hits for the past decades. Now the same precision and signature audio processing power is has been integrated in software form, at a fraction of the original cost of SSL's standalone audio software plug-ins.

On top of all this, EastWest has added 726 additional reverb presets that comes with the SSL/EW  FX Global Suite. It really is value for money, at the current price of US99/EU99. Once you have paid for the license to use the EW/SSL processing tools, it will be enabled for all the sample libraries that run on the Play 4 engine.

These sound sculpting / dynamics processing tools of the SSL/EW FX Global Suite for Play 4, are implemented as channel fx/signal strips in the form of 'fx drawers' that are pulled down on top of the mixer view. Effects settings are stored per-channel. For every effects settings that is set up, the user can save these as presets that can be called up across different instances and projects.
The SSL/EW Global-FX drawer, and the comprehensive interface,
all fitting snugly into a single page of interface. Effects setteings are stored per-channel.

I have just installed and fiddled around with the Play 4. At present I am most impressed by 2 main features: The mixer, and the background loading feature.

The Mixer. This adds quite a bit of flexibility to the audio workflow of the project. If you look at a single mixer strip in the any of the new mixer view images, you will not see no functions that are 'new', nothing that you could not do before. However, the mixer view consolidates the midi/audio routing, panning, levels, so you can see them in the context of a levels and panning, as a mixing engineer does.

Also, if you have any of the Platinum/Diamond editions of any of the products that use mic positions (such as the ew symphonic orchestra, ew pianos, and the ew hollywood library series), each if the mixer strips will allow you to expand that single strip that will now function like a group buss, and expand out into individual mic positions as sub-strips, so you can have further controls over mic positions levels and panning. I feel this feature is really unique, ties up very well with the features of each of EastWest's library, and plays into the strength of the Play engine (pun intended). Well done, guys!

Background loading. Play 4 now has the ability to load an instrument in the background. This is true even if you are replacing a current instrument channel. In the past when loading an instrument, the play engine freezes up and the loading process takes prevents the user from doing anything. Now you can continue playing and enjoy the existing instrument while the new instrument is loading. Only upon the completion of the load, will the existing instrument be removed, and the new instrument samples will sound. Again this is true even if you are replacing your only instrument channel in the Play instance.

The images below show the background loading status bar at the bottom of the interface while loading. The GUI is completely interactive and functional while the loading is taking place, and you can still play the previous instrument even while it loads.
Background instrument loading in the mixer view

Background loading in the player view
All in all, the direction that EastWest is heading is very promising. I can see the beginnings of the counterpart of Vienna Ensemble Pro that Vienna Symphonic Library has developed. All that EastWest needs to do is add more features like group busses, aux routings and the ability to load audio and instrument VSTs to their mixer capabilities, and they would be on par with VSL's Vienna Ensemble Pro (except for the ability to operate in a network host/slave situation like VE-Pro does).