Sonic Sense Pro Audio Blog
Your Source for Audio knowledge, Tips, & Tricks!
Looking for a handheld recorder? Then you've found the only resource that you need. Here, you can listen to the most popular, best rated models - right now - to see how they compare head to head. You can also watch video reviews, explore features and specs to make sure that you choose the best device for you. Whether you need a handheld recorder to capture a brilliant idea, live performance, band rehearsal, interview, or audio for video - we’ve got you covered. Enjoy!
Handheld Recorder Comparison Part 1 - Recording Music
Handheld Recorder Comparison Part 2 - Audio for Video
We brought Gang Forward, an up-and-coming Colorado-based power rock trio, into our live room and set up the 9 recorder tree along with a pair of Rode NT-5 microphones in X/Y and our good friend “Fritz,” the Neumann KU 100 dummy head microphone watching over the whole thing. Check out the video above to hear audio comparisons of the Zoom H5, Zoom H6, Zoom H4n, Tascam DR-40, and Roland R-26 portable recorders. We set it all up again in our studio when local singer/songwriter and all around good dude, Andy Sydow, came in with with his Taylor acoustic and Hohner harp to serenade us for another round of comparisons.
Headphone Listening Online, Really???
In the spirit of providing opportunities for the Sonic Sense community to “hear” products online in the closest approximation to actually “being here” as possible, we have established some unique recording processes. We can now provide the opportunity to compare equipment against a source track to get a sense of what the product introduces in the signal path. These recordings present an experience very similar to what we observe and measure first-hand in our listening and recording environments. While nothing compares to listening to a pair of headphones on your own head, listening to audio comparisons over the internet may help narrow down the search from hundreds of models to maybe just a few.
We call it, “Creating the in-store experience online.”
Whether you’ve seen them in action at a concert, during a street performance or heard them on your favorite song, loop pedals are becoming increasingly popular in the music world. As looper technology becomes more powerful and compact, the range of possibilities is quickly expanding.
Origins of music loops go back as far as the 1920s, when composers experimented with infinite grooves on gramophone records. In the mid-50’s, tape splicing started to take hold and in the 60’s the Beatles’ dug even further into this experimentation. Songs like “Tomorrow Never Knows” featured elements of early looping techniques.
In the 70’s early hip-hop DJs like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash used two copies of the same record on separate turntables to infinitely “loop” drum breaks. From the 80’s through today, advances in technology made way for digital sampling. This resulted in portable devices with longer record time.
Today loopers are compact, versatile, and offer features like high-quality audio regeneration, built-in effects, and multi-track recording. Some of the basic differences you’ll find on current models will be things like the amount of loop time you’re able to use, the number of loops you can store at once, input/output configurations, and onboard features like built-in rhythm patterns & effects.
Here's a breakdown of the pedals featured in the video, the Boss RC-3, RC-30, RC-300, RC-505 and the brand new RC-1:
The newest addition to the Loop Station family is the Boss RC-1. Maintaining the same pedalboard-friendly size as the RC-3, the RC-1 features a bit more of a stripped-down, user-friendly interface. You can record up to 12 minutes of audio on this looper. It also features stereo in/out connections similar to other RC-series pedals. The top of the pedal features a bright LED indicator which is super handy for live performances. It tracks where you’re at in the loop so you’ll always stay in time. One big difference between the other RC pedals and the RC-1 is the stark layout. Newcomers to this Loop Station world might enjoy the simplicity since all you need to do to create, stop and start loops is the push of the pedal. For loop level adjustment, there’s one simple knob on the top face.
Boss RC-3 Loop Station
The Boss RC-3 Loop Station is one of BOSS’s simplest pedals. But that doesn’t mean its limited. For starters, the RC-3 offers both mono and stereo inputs to accommodate guitars, keyboards and even drum machines. It can house up to 99 different loop patterns. If you’ve got pre-recorded music you want to play along to from your phone or iPod, there’s an 1/8 in. jack for connecting your device. This is also a cool feature if you want to sample pre-existing audio. If you want to import WAV files, there’s a USB jack on the pedal, which you can also use to export your loops. The RC-3 also has 9 preset drum loops as part of its built-in rhythm machine which you can queue up for practicing your songs, or even as a live accompaniment.
For recording options, the RC-3 gives you three mode options: Normal, Auto and Count-in. The “Normal” setting is basically exactly what it says--recording starts as soon as you hit the pedal. To overdub, you simply tap the pedal once, rinse and repeat. With three hours of record time you can build a dense set of layers. Need to delete your previous overdub? Just hold the pedal down for two seconds. If you want to start from scratch, you do so by pressing down on the pedal twice, then holding down for two seconds. In “Auto” mode, the pedal sits in standby and recording is engaged as soon as you start playing. For “Count-In” mode, the RC-3 starts you off with a four-count before recording starts so you’ll stay in time. If you need to trigger a sample, rather than play an endless loop, you can also use the RC-3 as a sample trigger. Simply record your sound, stop play, then hold down the tap tempo at the same time as the write button.
Boss RC-30 Loop Station
The next step up is the Boss RC-30 Loop Station. This looper offers many of the same features as the RC-3, with some attractive additions. Along with the stereo/mono input capabilities, the RC-30 offers a mic input, so you can use it as a vocal looper in alongside to your instruments. And, the mic input has phantom power for condenser microphones. One of the big differences on the RC-30 is that it lets you record twin stereo loops. Each track is independently controllable with a fader and “track select” button. The RC-30 also has the same recording modes as the RC-3: Auto, Normal and Count-In and USB connectivity.
Another cool addition to the RC30 is the introduction of onboard effects. There’s pitch bend, a sweep filter, phaser and a tempo-synced delay. For tape-like sounds, the “Lo-Fi” effect adds a unique texture to your vocal or instrument input.
Boss RC-300 Loop Station
For the super complex looper, the RC-300 combines all the basic features of the smaller Loop Stations with some broader options. Similar to the RC-3, the RC-300 has independent faders for level control, but has three channels instead of two. The rhythm bank offers over 80 patterns and audio tracks of piano and bass samples. Equipped with same effects as the RC-30, the RC-300 also comes with a reverse mode. Larger control pedals and the built-in audio tracks make this loop station a solid stage performance tool for guitarists and keyboardists. For enhanced control, the RC-300 allows you to connect external footswitches and pedals.
Boss RC-505 Loop Station
For the beatboxer or vocalist, the Roland RC-505 takes its looping technology and fits it into a table-top design. You can control the five stereo tracks easily by hand for on-the-fly transitions in live settings. Each track has its own overdub, play & record controls so you can create exciting layered compositions. There’s also onboard effects like Robot, EQ and even “vinyl flick”-- an effect to give your track a vintage vinyl record-like sound. If you need to save your tracks for easy recall during live sets, the RC-505 has 99 phrase memories, and you can even save a set of preferences as a User Set to cut down on configuration time. If you need a click track, you can re-route any of the 85 onboard rhythms to just the headphone jack for close monitoring. And, similar to other RC loop stations, the RC-505 has USB connectivity for importing/exporting WAVs files between the loop station and your computer.
If it seems like we’re just scratching the surface here, you’re right! There are dozens of loopers out there, and these are just a few examples of loop stations you can use for a variety of applications. And there's no "wrong" piece of gear, it all boils down to what fits your needs best. Whether you're a guitar player, a keyboardist, a beatboxer or just about any other musician that plays an instrument with a 1/4 inch output, there's a looper out there for you! If you’d like to see a bigger list of loop pedals and stations available, make sure to check out our Looper Buying Guide.
If you have more questions on the products seen in this video, feel free to drop us a line or give us a call anytime: (303) 753-0201. We carry loop packages with all the essential gear you’ll need to get playing as soon as your order arrives. We can also work with you to build your own custom-tailored bundle.
Flashback Friday? Throwback Thursday?
Nostalgia's in high demand lately. Here at Sonic Sense, we've been chatting about audio equipment that's come and gone over the years. After hearing from you, we decided we'd compile a list of some of the most frequently mentioned pieces of gear and software in the audio world. Happy reading!
Images from Wikipedia unless otherwise noted.
Analog Tape/Tape Machines
“We’ll just fix it in post.”
Yeah, it didn’t always work that easily. With modern DAW’s fixing your tracks is as simple as the click of a mouse or the push of a button on a controller. Way back before the advent of digital recording though, analog tape was the main format of recording. Reel-to-reel machines date all the way back to the 1920’s (originally using steel tape) and still remain popular amongst some musicians/producers to date, like Jack White. In the 60’s and 70’s, tape machines also found popularity as an “instrument”. Bands like the Beatles and Pink Floyd manipulated tape by splicing different sections together and reversing or speeding up sections of a song for dramatic effect.
Portable Tape Recorders
While multi-track tape recording did exist in the early 20th century, access to these machines was limited. Even into the 60’s, multi-track recorders were a popular recording tool, but weren’t exactly an affordable device for the casual home recording musician. In the late 70’s, Tascam released their first portable, slightly more affordable four-track recorder. The Portastudio allowed users to record multiple instrument and vocal tracks, then bounce them down for stereo recordings. Other manufacturers that took part in this trend included big names like Fostex and Marantz. The advent of digital multi-track recorders has since replaced the tape-based four track, but many artists still use models like the Tascam 424 as a means for recording demos. Musicians such as Bruce Springsteen, Ween and Wu-Tang Clan have even used the portable 4-track as their main interface for recording legendary albums.
Released in Japan in 1979, the Sony Walkman was introduced as a new way to enjoy music on the go. The handheld cassette-based player was marketed as a way to personalize your music listening experience. Originally touted as the “Sound-About” when it made its way to the U.S., the name “Walkman” became the universal (and copywritten) name people grew to love. Sony’s success influenced a number of other manufacturers to build their own portable cassette player, including names like Toshiba and Panasonic. Sony ended production of the tape-based Walkman in late 2012, focusing primarily on digital media players. If you’re still hankering for the uh, simplicity of lugging around a few 90 minute tapes and headphones, you’re sure to find them on eBay and elsewhere. With “vintage” pricing no less!
We’re not going to shake our boney fists and say “you kids these days!” because who doesn’t love putting together a themed music playlist? It’s fast, easy and you can share it with anyone in the world. Arguably though, there was something charming about the finesse you had to put into making a mixtape. The creative hand-scrobbled artwork, track order and the um..TIME it took to make one. Sitting there having to listen to an entire song as it dubbed was a meditative process in itself. And tracking down your new favorite song was just as arduous. How many nights did you stay up with the radio on waiting to hit “record” as soon as the DJ stopped blabbing?
Technics 1200 MK2
This humble record player spawned the art of turntablism and ultimately inspired the EDM revolution. The “Tech 12”, as it affectionately became known, allowed DJ’s to beatmatch records of various styles and tempos - allowing the music to play without stopping. Released in the early ‘70s, the 1200 was originally intended as high-end record player for home use. A super high torque and direct drive design made it a go-to turntable for professional radio DJ’s since it was easy to cue songs up on the spot. In addition to radio DJ’s, the 1200 found major popularity in the hip hop world. Early hip hop DJ’s used the Technics 1200 for scratching and beat-matching. This trend continued with the advent of electronic music, and the need for durable, high performance machines for long, late night sets . They’re no longer in production, but they still remain a popular tool among DJ’s across the globe.
The one and only. This legendary sampler was conceived by designer Roger Linn and has been used on countless hip hop and EDM tracks. The original Akai MPC offered both audio sampling and touch-sensitive pads. The first model of the MPC series was the MPC60 and offered users drum kit samples on floppy disks. While it probably seems beyond antiquated now, this sampling technology stood out because of its use of digital audio samples. Up until this time, the only other drum machine that used digital samples was Linn’s earlier predecessor to the MPC60, the Linn LM-1. The advent of MIDI in the 80s meant syncing the MPC60 with other studio gear was possible as well. Akai has since released multiple versions of the MPC. Most notable improvements including increased memory capacity, higher sample quality and expanded I/O configurations. While many of today’s beat-makers stick to DAW-based production, some famous names in the hip hop world are avid MPC users. Luminaries like MF Doom, Madlib and even Kanye West still use classic stand-alone MPC units.
DBX/Dolby Noise Reduction
While analog tape is often praised for its rich sound, it is a relatively noisy medium, at least when compared to digital formats. Back when analog was the only option, tape hiss was just a fact of life, especially on anything less than state of the art professional recorders. While never a perfect solution, it was a big step forward in 1971 and helped David Blackmer turn DBX into one of the best known brands in audio.
DAT, also known as Digital Audio Tape was introduced in the late 80’s as the “new” cassette tape. It featured a digital format of recording as opposed to analog like standard cassettes, had more dynamic range and less noise than a typical cassette. Commercially the DAT never really took flight for musical recordings because of its expensive overall production cost. But, it became a popular media for mix downs, mastering and even data storage.
Alesis Digital Audio Tape as its also known, used magnetic tape to digitally record 8 simultaneous tracks. Arguably the first ADATs were responsible for the spike in project studios during the 90s because of their recording capabilities, and the ability to “daisy-chain” more than one unit for even more tracks. While digital audio workstations have replaced the necessity for ADAT, there are still some studios who use it and ADAT is still a common tool in the laser light show industry.
File sharing? Who does that? Well, a lot of us did. In the mid-to-late 90s, MP3s started making their way around the internet. One of the earliest wide-scale adopters of the MP3 culture was a little site called MP3.com. They offered free downloads of independent artists from all types of genres. The late 90’s saw the rise of a company called Napster. Much to the chagrin of record labels, Napster opened the door to widespread file sharing of mp3s, typically ripped from CD burners on home computers. This meant completely free music shared across the globe without any authorization from publishers, artists and record labels. Since Napster, there’s been a number of other file-sharing networks that have come and gone, most recently (and infamously) Megaupload. Part of this movement did arguably give way to authorized MP3 digital storefronts though, as seen on sites like Amazon.com, Rhapsody, eMusic and Beatport.
Cool Edit Pro
Debuting in the ‘90s, Cool Edit Pro was an early Digital Audio Workstation that offered users multi-track recording, WAV editing and a handful of practical plugins like Noise Reduction and FFT filter. Cool Edit was a popular tool for home recording since it gave users far more editing options in comparison to recording on four-track tape. Adobe bought the program in the early 2000’s and it’s now known as Adobe Audition.
Dude, 100 Megabytes of memory? No way! Way…
Back before our handy thumb drives and never ending options for cloud storage, portable storage options were pretty limited. Zip Drives kind of suffered from a “middle technology” status. Debuting in the 90’s with 100 MB capacity and eventually 750 MB, Zip Drives used corresponding Zip disks and came in both external & internal designs. Their legacy was short-lived by the end of the 90’s with the advent of CD-Rs, which held more data and costed less.
Released almost 15 years ago as a complete recording system for Macs, the Digidesign ProTools 001 was an early take on the professional computer audio interface. There weren’t a ton of plug-ins to choose from at first and employing them in your session meant taxing the hell out of your processor, but the 001 was the first time Protools was available without the huge price tags of MIX and HD systems.
While not the start of the home studio revolution, it was major fuel on the fire.
First introduced in the early 80’s, hard disk recorders were the latest alternative to tape-based multi-track recorders. Their biggest advantage over analog tape was the capability of non-destructive editing. The rise in popularity of CDs made digital recording even more popular. Like a lot of other devices though, advances in technology eventually surpassed hard disk recorders. Personal computers started offering larger storage capacity which meant the need for an extra, standalone hard disk recorder wasn’t as necessary. Some models still remain popular amongst circles of engineers and project studios though, like the Alesis ADAT HD24.
Guitar Multi-Effects Processors
Multi-Effects are still a relevant tool in the guitar and performance world, but in the early days of effects processing it was a whole different world. Today you can cue up hundreds of effects and choose from virtually any amp model from the last 60 years. All in a travel-friendly size. But early multi-effects pedals were less than portable and limited in their scope of sound. Early innovators like Digitech, Line 6 and Zoom built pedals with standard sounds like reverb, distortion and delay. But cueing different presets onstage proved a little tricky, and it would be a couple years before multi-effects pedals became more of a go-to choice for stage gear.
Rack Effects Units
Rising in popularity during the 80’s, rackmount effects units became a common tool for both the stage and studio. Companies such as Alesis offered up rackmount units like the MIDIverb II which came with 100 presets of reverb, delay and flange. Other manufacturers like Yamaha and Lexicon also threw their hat in the ring with the PCM70. The PCM70 was a big hit for legendary names like David Gilmour and of course U2’s the Edge, whose sound is forever associated with calculated delay. Classic rackmounts still pop up on eBay and Craigslist, but some players have foregone the old buttons and knobs for DAW plugins and pedalboard-friendly stompboxes.
PRS Guitars & Mesa Boogie Amplifiers
Dragon Inlays and rectifiers….sounds like something out of Game of Thrones, right? Well, at one point it was also what guitar players frothed over in guitar looks and amp features. American guitar builder Paul Reed Smith founded PRS guitars in the 1980s. PRS Guitars sported elegant construction features like exotic woods, detailed inlays and company-designed pickups. A favorite brand of numerous guitar virtuosos, their most famous endorser is Carlos Santana.
A well-known name in the guitar amp world, Mesa Boogie’s Rectifier series became a popular choice amongst PRS players. Because of their ability to maintain a punchy, clear tone at higher volumes, guitar players from the late 90’s early 2000’s hard rock genre flocked toward the amp. Guitarists like Mark Tremonti from Creed paired their PRS guitars with Rectifier amps to take their sound...higher.
With the advent of effects technology also came a major shift in console designs. Analog gave way to digital for exciting new functionality. Starting in the ‘90s, digital consoles offered onboard features like effects, automated faders and even loudspeaker management. Yamaha saw great success with their early digital console the Yamaha 02R. Since then other manufacturers like Presonus and Mackie have developed mixers with modern features like iPad compatibility and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Designed in the late ‘90s, Auto-Tune was originally built as a scientific tool. Exxon engineer Andy Hildebrand designed Auto-Tune for measuring seismic activity but eventually realized it could also be used to modify pitch in audio. As of today, Auto-Tune is available both in plug-in form and also rack-mount design for live performances. Of all the gear we’ve mentioned in our article, it might be one of the most divisive tools out there. Used by everybody from Cher to T-Pain, some critics consider it a black eye to music performance and production, while others credit it as a “necessary evil” for creating polished recordings.
Kidding! Sort of. There are a lot of stats and arguments as to why record stores are disappearing. What’s certain though is that a digital world where you can stream virtually anything has demotivated people to rush out and buy their favorite band’s new release. With our on-the-go lifestyles, we’re firing up our favorite tunes on our phones. And last we checked, there’s no app to play CDs on your mobile device. It’s not all dark and stormy though. Vinyl sales are going strong and there’s even a thriving cassette culture now where bands release new music on tape. And sell them on the internet..
It goes without saying this isn't a complete list. What are some pieces of gear that you remember from over the years? Let us know in the comments below!
Are you learning how to mix your own music? Check out this list of our top 20 mixing tips and tricks for some helpful hints that'll get you mixing in no time.
If you're looking to start a home studio or a project studio, there are plenty of things you'll need to know. Check out our list of what we believe are the 20 most important tips and tricks for the beginning recording engineer.