Home Recording (Part 8)
Studio Equipment — Part Three
8-track saga continues. This month we check out Accessit effects
There comes a time each year, as the Winter Solstice approaches and the nights draw in, when a feeling of magical expectancy descends upon me, and once again I find myself wondering whether the Spirit of Christmas might not be a real thing, sweeping its way through the hearts of the populace like an old Cary Grant movie. I have to admit that a few glasses of French red have a very definite catalytic effect on this phenomenon, and that there are those who appear markedly oblivious to it. Not so for our glorious leader, Gary Cooper; for it was during what I can only think must have been some kind of festive peak, that he saw fit to extend his generosity quota to the extent of providing an extra month in which to cover the present set-up. (Aw-Shucks! Ed.) This, as you may or may not be aware, was scheduled to be the third and final part of this report, in which all loose ends were to be tied up. However, I am pleased to say that Mr. Cooper's trained eye (pity about the other one) was quick to see that it was to be a rather cramped affair and that the equipment involved warranted extra discussion. This month then, I shall cover the remaining pieces of equipment, leaving next month to go over the interconnection of the various parts of the system together with its operation as a whole.
It is often said that 'you get what you pay for', and although this is very often true, many of the units included in this report represent extraordinary value for money. Very much included under this heading is the range of Accessit signal processors supplied, once again, by the excellent Bandive, or Turnkey as some of you will know them. These are the same chaps who provided the Seck mixer and the Fostex gear, and who always seem willing and able to offer their expert advice and indeed almost any piece of audio equipment in connection with the setting up of a studio, whether large or small.
The Accessit range is aimed very definitely at the budget or home recording studio, and the prices reflect this. Each unit is housed in a neat and sturdy plastic box measuring approximately 5¾in wide, 5½in deep and one rack unit (1¾in) high, and finished in a very attractive dark brown and black with a clear yellow legend. This is the second generation of Accessit signal processors, and I strongly advise you not to be biased by any experiences which you might have had with the first series, as the new range has been improved both cosmetically and performance wise. The units can either be simply stacked one on top of each other, or mounted in the Accessit RacKit which will accommodate a row of three units in a 3½in rack space or two rows of three units in a 5¼in rack space; either size will cost you £22.94.
To make life even simpler you can connect all your auxiliary equipment, and anything else for that matter, to the Accessit Mod-Patch, which consists of two rows of sixteen two pole (mono) jack sockets in a 3½in rack mounting unit. The sockets are paired vertically, and behind each pair is a printed circuit board which provides the standard normalling connections between the two sockets and on which is mounted a second pair of either jack or phono sockets to which the equipment can be connected. On the one hand this means that, blissfully enough, you can leave the soldering iron in the toolbox, and anyone who's ever wired up a normal bantam plug patch will know that this is no small bonus. Inevitably there is a second hand to be looked at, and on this second hand you must take into consideration the need for a large number of jack to jack or jack to phono leads for interconnection. On balance though, unless you've got a reasonably good iron and not one of those huge cheap ones which seem to function more like hot chair legs than anything else, not to mention a degree of soldering ability, this plug in type of patch is probably a very wise investment at £73.54. To power the modules you can either have a single unit power supply at £8.03 or a four unit model which is housed in a moulded plastic case of the same dimensions as the actual units, thus allowing it to be mounted in a rack. This will cost you £33.35, and supplies an unregulated 30VDC. The units supplied to me were as follows:
A compressor is a very necessary tool for a sound engineer, whether for live work or recording, and used properly it can punch a presence to a sound. That's all very well, but the word 'properly' is the operative one, and although the basic principles are fairly simple the number of controls found on a fully adjustable, professional model more often than not lead to confusion and misuse. Unfortunately there is no room here to go into the theory of operation, but suffice it to say that Accessit have made it as simple as possible, and at the price have produced a unit that is practically very useful. The only two controls provided are 'input' and 'release'. The input gain is increased until the level of the incoming signal passes the internally set threshold point at which compression starts. The compression is then gradually brought into play with the ratio increases commensurate with the strength of the incoming signal. This 'soft knee' approach together with the notably slow attack time of 1 ms, helps avoid most of the nasty side effects normally associated with the misuse of compressor/limiters, such as noise pumping and distortion or 'grunting' at low frequencies. I used it most of the time on vocals, bass guitar, guitar and occasionally on piano to great effect, and careful use of the continuously variable release control allowed me a high degree of control. For most of these applications it worked excellently. It isn't quite so hot though, when it comes to controlling fast transients such as slaps on the bass, or snare and bass drum peaks, especially when using a drum machine which will generally have a fast attack time. The bottom line then is that if you want to spend a considerable amount of time learning how to operate a fully variable unit, and a considerably larger amount of money purchasing one, you'll find it more flexible than the Sound Vice. £51.69, on the other hand, will buy you a very useful tool for most applications, it's virtually foolproof, and with both mike and line level inputs and outputs there are no matching problems. A large, illuminated VU meter shows you how much gain reduction is taking place, and allows you to track the speed of release with respect to the instrument's sound. This is a very valuable display, and an unusual one to find on a unit of this price.
Once again, this is an absolutely invaluable piece of equipment, especially if you are using budget recording equipment which might have a relatively high noise level, in a fully professional studio gates will be used mostly at the mixdown stage, however if you can only afford one it will probably be most effective to actually gate each overdub as it goes down on the multitrack. The four controls provided are, input — which is the level at which the signal enters the unit, and therefore also the level at which the unaffected signal leaves it; trip gain — which determines the dynamic point at which the gate will operate; depth — this control adjusts the amount by which the gain is reduced once the gate has tripped; release — which adjusts the speed at which the gate recommences gain reduction once the signal drops down past the trip threshold again. Once again the unit is very unobtrusive in operation, and although the relatively slow fixed attack time might be said to be a limitation, in normal usage it certainly isn't, but rather simplifies its operation to a point at which a musician should be able to use it without headache. The controls you do have, if used properly, are enough under most conditions to make the unit pretty well transparent, and but for the dramatic loss of noise, you often wouldn't know it was there. Very definitely a good investment. Once again mike and line level inputs and outputs are provided on standard ¾in guitar type jack sockets.
I did experience a little difficulty regarding the relative levels of the Seck mixer and the Accessit gate and compressor, however these were not too serious and I shall discuss them further next month.
The right amount of good quality reverb can make the difference between a track sounding full and sparkly and dull and lifeless - it's kind of like a hair conditioner for music! Many people manage to scrape enough money together to buy a basic recording set-up, and are then disappointed when the results turn out sounding as if they've recorded them in their back room, as opposed to the sound they're used to hearing in a studio. Reverb is about the most important ingredient here, and for the price the Accessit unit is exceptionally good. It not only has a 'mix' control which allows you to put it in line with an instrument or mike without the need for a 'send/return' circuit to adjust the amount of reverb you add, but it also has an integral sweep equaliser to adjust the tonal quality of the effect.
It has a single input and a stereo output, and its six element spring unit provides a very usable quality reverb. The spring is contained in a separate box measuring approximately 9in x 10in x 1¾in, which connects to the standard unit size controller via a DIN plug multicore. Like all spring devices, you have to be careful how hard you drive it, but all in all it did the job very well. Definitely one for the vital list if you have a restricted budget.
A simple 15watts per channel, two channel amplifier useful to power a pair of small monitors or probably more commonly to use as a foldback amp, providing a perfectly adequate performance for such an application in a convenient package.
That's the lot from Accessit. Although the units might not look as flash as other more expensive models, in terms of value for money and usability, they are excellent.
This is a single unit rack mounting model with two channels, each offering two fully variable bands of parametric equalisation. In each case band one's centre frequency can be adjusted from 20Hz to 2kHz, with band two being capable of operating anywhere between 200Hz and 20kHz. Both bands have a variable cue between 0.1 and 1 and provide +/—16dB of correction.
All the control knobs have green caps which is rather confusing in operation, and a set of colour coded caps would be an improvement. The unit would also benefit from the inclusion of a mains switch. It was however quiet and efficient in its operation, and the foot-switch facility, which allows you to switch it in and out of circuit, makes it ideal for use with a bass on stage as part of a rack setup. A useful doubling facility for a tight budget. A good price if you're not intending to invest in a modular system. Distributed by MTR Ltd.
This is a very good price for such a high quality amp offering 60watts per channel into 8ohms or 90watts per channel into 4ohms. It has excellent specifications, is fully protected and has a very quiet and open sound. It is a 3½in rack mounting unit, with a pair of VU's calibrated in watts of output as well as the standard dB's, together with a pair of smooth action rotary gain controls. The meters could perhaps do with being a little larger, but that's a small point. Inputs are unbalanced via XLR or jack and the outputs are on binding posts capable of taking banana plugs. The flick of a switch allows the amp to be used in a mono bridged mode providing 160 watts into 8 ohms. All very neat and functional — recommended and again distributed by MTR Ltd.
Stratfords, £125 per pair. Oxfords £185 per pair.
Tannoy are only second to JBL in the extent to which their products have been used throughout the recording studios of the world, and I have a great respect and fondness for many of their professional models. These units are primarily designed for hi-fi use, but their efficiency and wide response, not to mention their low cost, make them ideal for a home studio set-up where they may have to double as hi-fi speakers anyway. At £125.00, the Stratford offers an excellent level of performance with an 8in LF cone driver crossing over to an HF horn loaded compression driver at 3.5kHz. As with most two-way systems, there is a bit of a gap between the drivers in terms of their responses, and when you put it next to a three-way unit, the middle is just a little soft, although it's very pleasant to listen to. The Oxford has a similar sound except that the bottom end, with its 10in cone driver, is notably fuller, and if you're not careful about where you place these units, they can be just a touch woofy, although of course, it also depends on the room acoustics. The Stratford is rated at 100watts RMS and the Oxford at 150watts, and although they certainly are not loud enough for a commercial studio, they are very adequate for home studio use. The thick foam grille used with both models makes an audible difference to the HF response and I always removed them for use, leaving them on as a protective measure at other times.
The soft middle to which I referred earlier is not too serious, and whether it would worry you or not depends upon your personal preferences. Together with various friends and a few professional colleagues, I rather liked the sound, and would only say that they perhaps aren't as critical as other more expensive speakers. Nevertheless, I can definitely recommend them as good value for money, and as long as your room isn't too big or bass light, I think the Stratfords are probably the better of the two choices.
Feature by Nobby Line
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