Friday, August 31, 2012

T-Rex Replica Delay Pedal Review


I have tried oodles of delay pedals over the years and have had some fun with them but never found one that I really liked. Mostly because they did not work terribly well or sound very good, so they ended up being more trouble than they were worth. But, the T-Rex Replica delay pedal has made me a believer in delay pedals again.

The Replica is made by adults in Denmark, not by little kids or giant robots in a third world country. It is very sturdy, and it is not as big as these pictures would lead you to believe. It measures about 4” x 2 ¼” x 5”, and it weighs about 11 ounces.

On the face of the unit there are four switches: ON/OFF, Subdivision, Brown and Tap Tempo. There are also four knobs: Volume, Tempo, Echo and Repeat. On the sides of the Replica you will find ¼-inch Input, Direct out and Output jacks, as well as a 5-pin DIN MIDI in and a 2mm power jack.

You can probably figure out what the knobs and jacks do, but a little explanation of the switches may be needed. The Subdivision switch toggles between quarter note and eight note triplets. The Brown switch provides a high-cut filter that makes the Replica sound like a tube tape echo. The Tap Tempo switch might be the coolest feature of the unit, in that it allows the user to follow the beat and tap-in delay times with the footswitch, and track the changes with an LED. This is very valuable for having the delay stay in time while changing tempos on the fly.

The Replica is a digital delay, and it uses a 24-bit Burr Brown AD/DA converter. This allows up to 2000ms of delay (that is 2 seconds for us normal people), and it samples at rate of 200kHz, which is ungodly fast. It has true bypass switching which seems to actually be a true bypass of the input signal -- it comes out just as clean as when it went in.

And though this pedal is digital, it is not a one-trick pony and it sounds marvelous. The delay is clean all the way up to two seconds, and it can sound hi-fi or fat and sassy like a tube preamplifier. It really is the best of both worlds, providing either a digital delay or a tube echo tone. In all of this it does not mask the original tone, but enhances what is already there. The knobs and switches are easy to figure out an manipulate to provide just the tone you are looking for. There is no added noise from this unit and the Replica would be equally at home on the stage or in the studio.

In other words, the T-Rex Replica is a winner, and the best delay pedal I have ever used. An, of course, it is priced accordingly. It has a list price of $539 and a street price $399, so start saving now, or maybe you should ask Santa Claus to bring you one for Christmas – it is just that awesome.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Aguilar Tone Hammer 500 Bass Head Amplifier Review


Today there are a lot of great high-powered yet small bass heads on the market, and they are generally very good units. Genz Benz, Markbass and Gallien-Krueger dominate this market, but there is yet another choice – the Aguilar Tone Hammer 500.

Aguilar has been making extra-nice tube bass amplifiers since 1995, and they have a reputation for high quality as well as a clean and warm vintage tone. The Tone Hammer 500 aims at recreating this tone, but in a totally solid-state package; there is not even a tube for the pre-amp. By the way , this amplifier is essentially an Aguilar Tone Hammer preamp/direct box with a class D amplifier added on.

This unit is rated at 500watts at 4 ohms and 250 watts at 8 ohms, and it is very small, measuring 10" x 3" x 9". It is very light as well, coming in at around 4 pounds. Despite its light weight and small size it seems to be very solidly built.

There are a few different controls on the front of the Tone Hammer 500, including these knobs: gain, master, bass, mid level, treble, and drive. Drive uses Aguilar’s Adaptive Gain Shaping circuit, which works by using the gain and mid controls to change the tone from warm all the way to overdrive. Also included on the front are the balance XLR out and effects loop jacks, as well as the ground lift, signal pad and a mute switch.

The back is pretty barren with two Speakon outs, the tuner out a voltage selection switch. Oh yes, and the power switch. I hate it when they put the power switch on the back.

I hooked the Tone Hammer 500 up to a pair of Genz Benz Shuttle STL-12T cabinets, so I could get a good comparison to my Shuttle 6.0 amplifier and I came away very impressed. I tested it out with my Stingray Classic, as well as some P basses and a Sadowsky PJ, and I got some very tube-like tones out of it, and it is definitely voiced like the other Aguilar amplifiers I have played before.

With all of the controls set flat, it did a wonderful job of reproducing the inherent tone of whatever instrument I was using at the time. And as I started to futz with the knobs (especially the drive knob) I was able to get a panoply of tones from it -- everything from an aggressive growl down to a warm and mellow purr. At high volume levels it never got very harsh, and I actually had trouble getting a high-fidelity tone out of it. They really did make this thing sound like a tube amplifier!

As far as volume goes, this thing is just as loud as my Shuttle, which is rated at 600 watts. I guess manufacturers can rate things however they want, but the proof is in the pudding. It is plenty loud for smaller shows or quieter bands, but if you are really going to crank it out and compete with the guys with the Marshall stacks, you will need to bring another amplifier or go through the PA system.

Aguilar’s pricing seems to be in line with the rest of the industry, and the Tone Hammer 500 has a list price of $949, and a street price of $699. If I did not already own the Genz Benz Shuttle I would probably buy one of these, as I think it edges out the Genz a bit in the tone department, and does not give up anything in volume.


Monday, August 27, 2012

Shure A56D Microphone Drum Mount Review

Buenos días, amigos!

There are plenty of drum microphone mounts out there, and many of them are pretty awful. Many times they are made of plastic (resin, they call it) and they just snap onto the drum rim. Would you trust a chunk of plastic to hold your $100 microphone while a foot away a guy is beating on the drums as hard as he can? It makes me nervous, which is why I really like the Shure A56D microphone drum mounts.

This mount is a quality piece that made of solid metal and has a classy looking black finish. The clamp is reversible so it works equally well on drum rims or cymbal stands. The clamp will fits drum rims 1/2-in. to 2 1/4 -in. in height, or on cymbal stands measuring from 3/8-in. 1 1/8-in. in diameter. The L adapter extension can be mounted through the side or the end of the clamp, to accomplish these two types of mounting.

The head of the L extension has two standard 5/8-in, 27-thread mounts that will fit all standard microphone holders. Large and small lock nuts are included so you have a good chance of having the right size to fit your microphone holder.

I have used these mounts many times and have always had great luck with them. They hold tightly onto drum rims, and they have enough adjustment that I can always get a microphone exactly where I need it. There are a few negative reviews on the internet; with complaints being that the mounts loosen up or that they are not versatile enough. I have not experienced this, and have to chalk these off to user error because these mounts excel in both of these areas.

The Shure A56D is a great mount, and is priced accordingly. The list price is $44 each, with a street price of $40. The hot ticket for these is to buy them as part of a pre-packaged set (Shure includes 3 of these when you buy the set that includes 3 SM57s and a Beta 52A), or to pick them up from eBay from guys who bought the sets and did not want or need them. Either way you are not going to go wrong with these mounts.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yamaha MG124C 12-Channel Mixer Review

Como estas?

I have used my trusty Yamaha MG102C mixer for a few years and have never really had any problems with it. But I started to run into situations where I just needed more versatility, such as more inputs and better control of buses and monitor mixes. So I did my research and decided to take one step up to in Yamaha’s MG line, which would be the MG124C. The MG124C has a number of advantages over my old mixer, including 6 XLR inputs, 3 buses, faders instead of knobs, as well as better switching of each channel.

For starters, I should mention that Yamaha calls this a 12-channel mixer, but it only has 6 XLR inputs, which is two more than my old mixer, but still not enough for a bigger show. Two of those XLR inputs are also stereo line inputs, so Yamaha counts those as 4 inputs, and there are also two other pairs of stereo line inputs without XLRs. So, if you add these all up, that equals 12 channels in their world, even if 6 of them are paired up so that you cannot adjust levels separately. In my world that equals a 8-channel mixer. But, enough of my math lesson/rant. As far as other inputs, there are also RCA jacks on channels 9/10 and 11/12 and 2TR so an iPod or CD player can be run through the board.

The six microphone inputs each have their own preamplifiers, and each can have phantom power turned on if needed. There are compression knobs each of the four mono input channels, and gain controls for all six of the microphone inputs. Channels 1 through 8 each get 3-band equalizers, while channels 9 and 10 get 2-band equalizers.

Thoughtful touches for the input channels are the inclusion of illuminated channel ON/OFF switches chat let me add or drop channels from the mix without having to move the channel faders. There are also dual AUX send controls for each channel, one switchable for pre- or post-fader operation, and one fixed for prefader send. Lastly there are separate assign switches to add or remove channels from the stereo out or group 1-2 out.

There are a few options for outputs too. For the main stereo out there are XLR and ¼-inch outputs. There are also two ¼-inch monitor outs, as well as separate outputs for group 1 and group 2. This really improves my ability to give everybody what they think they need through the monitors. Oh yes, and RCA outputs in case you would like to record whatever you are doing, and even a headphone jack. By the way, having all of these inputs and outputs on the top of the unit really make setting things up easier and allow much faster midstream changes.

And lastly, this is not a huge mixing board. It weighs around 6 ½ pounds, and at 17 by 13 inches it does not take up very much desk space.

In the real world the Yamaha MG124C works very well. It sounds good with no added noise and it is versatile enough that I can use it for most live sound situations, unless I need to start patching in lots of drum and guitar cabinet microphones. I chose not to get the model with effects for simplicity’s sake and I have not missed them. Plus, after using this board a few times and seeing how useless the provided compression controls are, I do not have much confidence that their other effects would be terribly good anyway.

As I said earlier the Channel ON/OFF switches are a godsend, as well as the assign switches for stereo and groups 1 and 2. I do not know how I got along without these features before. The fader sprovide a better visual cue for me than the knobs on my previous mixer ever did. I still kind of wish I had more XLR inputs, though…

All-in-all, I have to say that going to this mixer was a great move for me, and it is quite a bargain too. The MG124C has a list price of $299, and a street price of $240. You are not going to find a better non-powered mixer for the money.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pristine – Detoxing Album review

This review was originally published in the June 7, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check the rest of the magazine out at

Pristine – Detoxing

Bluesnews Records

9 tracks / 54:02

Until recently I had never realized that there was such an active Norwegian music scene, but in the past three months I came across three blues CDs that were recorded in Norway and I have been impressed with all of them. But one of them really blew my mind: Detoxing, the debut album from Pristine.

Pristine is from Tromso in the northern artic region of Norway, and what they offer is a hard-core psychedelic blues rock sound (think Led Zeppelin I). This is a serious album, with eight original tunes written by singer Heidi Solheim, and only one cover: the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”. Detoxing would not be the same without Solheim’s solid writing and passionate vocals, but this album is a group effort and each of the other musicians had essential roles in its successful construction.

Detoxing does not kick off with a bang, but rather with “Damned if I Do” which is a slowly grinding blues offering with a touch of jazz influence. This track lays a solid foundation of blues for the album, and provides a starting point for the evolution of other blues genres and sounds that will be introduced later on. Besides Solheim’s throaty vocals, Espen Elverum Jakobsen’s smoking guitar contributes to the mix like another vocalist, while Ander Oskal provides a 1970s vibe with a Hammond B3. Hammond organs give me the shivers -- in a good way. Another thing that this song does is throw away any notions that there is any pop music on Detoxing. This is a nine-plus minute AOR track that made me reach for my headphones and an adult beverage.

This is followed up by “You Don’t Know”, which picks the tempo up and brings a bit of Detroit funk into the mix. Jakobsen shows off his chops but keeps things classy as he goes off on an extended solo. The steamroller beat is held down by Asmund Wiltern Eriksson Ericsson on bass and Kim Karlsen on the drum kit.

“Breaking Bad” comes next, and is one of the more notable tracks on Detoxing. This Texas-style blues song is not overly complicated, which is a good thing, and the band clicks right off while Solheim’s voice works in perfectly with the mix. Of all of the tracks on the album I think this is the one that is the most radio-friendly, with the Stevie Ray sound and a running time a little under four minutes.

The choice of “Whipping Post” as the only cover seems odd at first, but this version is quite a bit different than the Allman Brothers’ standard. This one is slowed down and stripped down to one distorted guitar and Heidi’s killer voice. She has a lot of soul and energy, which really shines when she is singing with just the guitar or keys, which you will also find on the short funk track “Damage is Done”.

“The Last Day” starts as a slow ballad, and Solheim’s smooth vocal prowess helps the listener hear what have to be the best lyrics on the album. This song builds in tempo and intensity over its eight minutes until she is bellowing over a respectable Jimmy Page imitation; I am not sure if this is Jakobsen or Norse musical legend Knut Reiersrud, who also appears on this track. This ends up being a powerful song and is an example of really solid songwriting.

But, my favorite song on this album is the title track, which is saved for next to last. “Detoxing” is probably how this band got classified into the psychedelic blues rock genre. It starts out with a Karlsen tapping out a Zeppelin cymbal ride over Ericsson wearing out his left hand with an ostinato on the bass, and builds from there. This track is an eleven-minute journey which turns into a driving rock anthem with Hendrix guitars all over it. This is an ambitious song and the band pulled it off.

Detoxing is a well-produced album with good musicianship and solid songwriting. The band keeps changing the mood so the content does not have the chance to get tedious, but the listener never forgets that this is a blues album at its core. I enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to seeing their live show, which is rumored to be a real barnburner.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Shure Beta 52A Microphone Review


Like many others, I am a big fan of Shure microphones, and they build them for almost every application you can imagine. Today we are going to take a look at the Shure Beta 52A, which is one of the most popular microphones on the market for kick drums and bass instruments. I have used a cheap set of drums microphones for a long time and finally decided to upgrade my kick drum mic and this one has worked out very well.

For starters, the Beta 52A is a big, gnarly dynamic microphone with a large diaphragm. It was designed with a focus on low low-frequency characteristics and with an ability to handle very high pressure levels (up to 174db at 1000Hz), which makes it perfect for picking up a kick drum. You could actually mount this microphone inside the drum, but I have found my best sound by positioning it just outside the port.

The frequency response is rated from 20Hz to 10kHz, with boosts in the lows and high-mids. Positioning the microphone very close to the sound source, the Beta 52A provides around +6dB per octave from 700Hz down to around 50Hz where it plateaus. Of course, you will not see as much bass boost if the microphone is moved further away. And the Shure Beta 52A has a supercardioid polar pattern that is rotationally symmetrical about the microphone axis. This provides high gain (before feedback) and excellent isolation from unwanted sounds.

This is a stout unit, coming in at around 22 ounces. It has a hardened steel grill and a pretty silver blue enamel finish over its die cast metal body. No plastic here. The Beta 52 uses a neodymium magnet for high signal–to–noise ratio output, and it has a pneumatic shock mount to minimize transmission of mechanical noise.

There is a neat built-in stand adapter that locks into place and does not move by itself even when subjected to the intense vibration s that a loud kick drum will produce. In the stand adapter is an integrated male XLR connector that positions the microphone cable so it does not stick out too far, which is nice if stage real estate is at a premium.

When using this microphone, I have found that it can provide as much bass output as anybody would ever want, so some modifications to your equalizer settings may be needed. This will help it to not drown out the bass guitar. It is particularly nice with smaller kick drums, as it can really bring them to life.

The Shure Beta 52A is not the world’s cheapest microphone. In fact, you can buy a set of 5 cheap drum microphones with crummy mounts for half the price of this mic, but this one is worth the money and it is the best drum microphone in its price range. It has a list price of $236, and a street price of $189. If you are going to purchase one of these I would stick with a major retailer, and avoid craigslist or eBay deals that are too good to be true. Due to the popularity of Shure products, they are being counterfeited like there is no tomorrow, and you don’t want to get burned.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

ProLine MS112 Desk Mini Boom Mic Stand Review


I have written about some pretty dull stuff, and this post might be right up there with the worst of them, but I thought I had should say a few words about the Pro-Line mini boom microphone stand. Boring as it may be, if you want to mic a kick drum or a guitar cabinet, these things are indispensible.

This stand is adjustable from 12 to 17-inches tall, and the boom extends from 1 inch to 9 inches. With the boom extended, you can position a microphone from floor level up to about 24 inches. It is sturdy with a solid bass and plenty of ground-hugging weight.

The stand unscrews from the base, so it can be knocked down a little smaller for transport, but I usually leave mine assembled.

I have used this one with my Shure Beta 52A, which is a pretty heavy microphone (22 ounces) so I had to balance the boom a bit to get the microphone low enough for the tone hole in the kick drum. The height and boom adjustments held fine despite the weight of the microphone, and the base is heavy enough that it did not slide around despite some pretty heavy drumming.

I have also used it for speaker cabinets and it is nice that it has a smaller footprint than full-sized boom stands, so it is less likely to get knocked over on crowded stages. And, it also works nicely for DJ gigs as a table mic stand, and provides a more professional appearance.

If you do any live sound work, I recommend that you have one of these on hand. They sell the ProLine MS112 stands at Guitar Centers everywhere, and the list price is $43.49 with a street price of $30.49. As an added bonus, they come with a 3-year warranty, so make sure to save your receipt.


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

1991 Fender Micawber Telecaster TL52-65SPL BLD Review


The Fender Telecaster has been around for 60 years, but I still think of it as the ultimate electric guitar, and if I could only have one guitar it would have to be a Telecaster. Of course I have a few guitars, but there is no good reason for me to have more than one Tele, and the one I have chosen to keep is this 1991 Fender Telecaster TL52-65SPL BLD. This is a guitar that was made by Fender’s Japanese subsidiary, and it is a copy of Keith Richard’s iconic Micawber guitar.

If you are not familiar with Keith’s guitar, it is a truly a one-of-a-kind, and mysteries about what parts were used to build it. It started out as a 1952 to 1954 (nobody is really sure of the year) butterscotch Fender Telecaster, and it has been routed at the neck for a humbucker, which is generally held to be a Gibson PAF. The pickup is installed backwards so that the pole pieces are closer to the bridge. The bridge pickup is from a Fender lap steel with only two mounting holes for the screws. I think he uses the stock 3-way switch configuration.

The bridge on Mr. Richard’s guitar is a six-saddle solid brass unit, probably from an old Schecter. The low E-string is left off, so the saddle has been taken off too. He tunes it to open G with 0.011, 0.015, 0.018, 0.030 and 0.042 gauge strings. The tuners have been replaced as well.

Supposedly he named his guitar after a character from Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (the one that ended up in a debtor’s prison), believe it or not. Anyway, it seems like everybody out there has tried to build one of these, and the specs for them are all over the place, which seems like a good place to start talking about my guitar.

This one was built by the Fender Japan Custom Shop in 1991, as model TL52-65SPL BLD, so they chose to base their Micawber on a 1952 Telecaster spec. It has a white ash body with a light butterscotch blonde finish that allows the grain to show through. It has darkened over the last 21 years and gotten some bumps and bruises so it has a nice vintage vibe to it. It has a simple single-ply flat black pickguard.

They did not go for the early 1950s V profile, but rather with a chunky C profile neck with a 1950’s type spaghetti logo on the headstock. This one shows some honest wear to the fretboard, but there are still a few years left in the original frets. They chose to install Gotoh sealed back tuners, which work very well, but I am not sure how they match up with what is on the original guitar.

The bridge is machined from a block of brass, with six solid brass saddles (one more than Keith’s). Of course, it makes a noticeable difference in the tone of the guitar. I was told that Gotoh makes this bridge, and I think you can buy one if you want to build your own tribute guitar.

The pickups are a Fender Dragster humbucker at the neck and a traditional vintage single coil at the bridge. I went ahead and turned the neck pickup around so the pole pieces are closer to the bridge; there was plenty of wire to do this without any problems. I would really like to try out a PAF re-issue to see how it changes to tone on this beast.

Fender’s Japanese subsidiary has a legendary quality reputation. This one has been played for a few decades, so the finish has dulled but it is still a solidly built guitar that will be around for another twenty years. It is awfully heavy for a Telecaster, coming in at around 9 ½ pounds, which makes it heavier than my Les Paul (amazingly enough).

It came to me with 0.009s, and it just did not sound right. I now have it set up in normal tuning with 0.010 Slinkies and it sounds and plays marvelously. The neck humbucker really provides a lot more body to the tone, but as I said earlier I would really like to see how a PAF sounds in this thing.

These were never imported to the US, so if you want one like this you will have to find one from a Japanese seller on eBay, or build your own.


Monday, August 20, 2012

1981 Aria Pro II SB-700 Bass Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a real peach of a bass, and one that you do not see very much anymore - a 1981 Aria Pro II SB-700 bass guitar. I have bought and sold many of these over the years; all of them were all very good instruments, and this one that I found in Japan was no exception.

The SB-700 is essentially the passive version of the SB-1000, which is a legendary Japanese-made bass with hordes of followers. The construction is the same, with neck-through design and a beautifully contoured body. This one has beautifully-grained sen (ash) wings with a matching headstock veneer, and the usual 5-ply maple neck with walnut stringers. They definitely were looking at Alembics when they designed the SB series.

The hardware also came out of the same bins as the SB-1000 basses, as Aria specified the same high-mass bridge and brass nut, as well as the same pointy knob sealed-back tuning machines. The craftsmanship is also first-rate, and the 24 frets are still level and the fret markers are still flush with the rosewood fretboard of this one 30 years after it was made.

Really, the only difference is the electronics package, as these do not receive the 18-volt preamplifier or the 6-way selector switch. They do have the same pickup (MB-1 double coil), though. The controls include volume, tone and a coil tap switch. When playing this one, it definitely has more of a p-bass vibe, which is in keeping with its beefy neck profile.

I have owned these bases in natural, dark transparent brown, transparent red and solid black wings (all with matching headstocks). The black ones are very hard to come by. Generally speaking, they are a few hundred bucks cheaper than comparable condition SB-1000 basses, as none of the famous guys played the SB-700.

If you are looking at these keep in mind that they will be heavy (at least 10 pounds), and be watchful for any “improvements” that may have been made over the years. Bartolini or EMG pickups kill the soul of these basses and they do not sound the same without the brass nut or if a Badass bridge has been installed. Keep in mind that things are only original once.

I have not seen any bad necks on SB-700 or SB-1000 basses, but I cannot say the same for the SB-Elite I basses that replaced these in the mid 1980s. Be careful if you are considering one of those, my friends.

Aside from these few caveats, these Arias are wonderful basses that combine good lucks with fine craftsmanship and materials. Play one and see what you think!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts -- Call My Name Album Review

Hello! This review was originally published in the May 24, 2012 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check the rest of their magazine at

Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts – Call My Name

12 tracks / 43:48

Blues has spread far from its roots, with artists all over the world using this genre as a universal language. Today one can see blues shows in Germany, Japan, the south Pacific or any of the former Soviet Republic states. There are even Chicago bluesmen in deepest darkest New England, which is where you will find the fine folks from Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts.

This quartet was formed in 2000, and has honed their craft via the time-honored method of relentless touring. Ryan Hartt provides lead vocals and harmonica, with Eric Ducoff on guitar, Jeff “JB” Berg on bass, and Nick Toscano on the skins. Ducoff and Berg also provide some backing vocals.

Call My Name is their third release, and their first since 2005. There is not a cover tune or old standard to be found amongst the eleven full-length tracks on this album (number twelve is a brief instrumental). Hartt took care of most of the writing chores, with Ducoff helping out of a few tracks, as well as writing “Real Prince Charming”. Berg penned “When it Rains” and provided the slide guitar for it as well.

“Anti-Blues Pill” is the first track on the album and sets the stage by letting everybody know that the Blue Hearts are first and foremost a blues band. Ducoff’s dirty Texas guitar tone and Hartt’s harp emerge through a thin veil of static effect, and the rhythm section joins in to keep things slow and grooving. Ryan’s voice is mature and has a growly Midwestern twang without no hint of New England influence. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album and is a wise choice to kick things off.

There are no surprises in the next four tracks, as they are all solid rocking blues songs. Ducoff and Hartt continue to play off each other while Berg and Toscano keep things moving along no matter what. By the way, the honking harmonica on “Love at First Sight” is just awesome, and has to be heard to be believed.

Just when the listeners are getting used to flow of things, “I Choose the Blues” smacks them in the head like a pillow that has been soaked in an icy-cold vat of sadness. This song changes the whole tone of the album and shows you the depth of their songwriting abilities as well as the tightness of the band as they respond as one to Hartt’s phrasing of the vocals. This is the sound of a band that has played together for a long time and knows each other like brothers.

After this sobering moment, the album second part of the album resumes with upbeat tunes like “Real Price Charming” and the Ska-infused instrumental “Kaboom.” I love the syncopated guitar and raw harmonica on this tune and don’t know how anybody could hear it and not be in a good mood.

Some of the gnarliest guitar tone I have ever heard can be found on “New Love, Old Love Part II”, and I am truly jealous of what Eric Ducoff put together for this track. He really shines on this song and has the perfect counterpoint to Hartt’s huge harmonica sound.

“Dartboard” is one of the more awesome takes on the life of playing in bars, and gives throws out clever lyrics that would be an endless string of clichés if they didn’t hit so close to home. And who would have thought there would be four bars of Reggae on a blues album?

Call My Name finishes up neatly with ”Love at Last Sight” which is a brief instrumental that reprises the theme of “Love at First Sight” as an outro. This is a clever way to tie everything together, and is just the tip of the iceberg of how well this project was produced.

Ryan Hartt and the Blue Hearts had a gap of seven years between albums, and they have put that time to good use in assembling an album that is well-written and works together as a whole. It deserves to be listened to as a whole and you should not shortchange yourself by cherry-picking single tracks off of iTunes. Call My Name is a solid Chicago/west coast blues album that is innovative without straying too far from the basics of the blues, so you really should check it out, and be sure to catch one of their shows if you are in New England - they play out almost every weekend.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Mackie Thump TH-12A Powered Speaker Review


I did sound for a fairly loud outdoor punk show last weekend and had the chance to wring out a pair of Mackie Thump TH-12A powered loudspeakers, and they did very well. In this setting I used them as floor monitors with a pair of QSC K12s as the house speakers.

As I said, the Thump TH-12A is a powered speaker that is rated at 400 watts, which is typical amplifier manufacturer deception, as that is peak watts. In reality it is 200 watts bi-amped with 50 watts going to the tweeter and 150 watts going to the driver (at 8 ohms). The crossover is set at 3kHz, in case you care. This is class A/B amplification for the tweeter and class D amplification for the woofer so it is very efficient. Despite their fudging of the numbers, I have to say “my god they are plenty loud.” They cover a pretty good audible range that is a little light on the low end, from 57Hz to 20kHz, and a frequency response of 70 Hz to 18.5 kHz.

Oh yeah, and they are made out of plastic so they are very light (25 ½ pounds each), and Mackie was able to mold in nice handles, as well as recesses on each side so they can be set on their sides as floor monitors. They are not terribly huge, coming in at 24” tall by 15”wide by 13” deep. There are also pole sockets in the bases of the speakers (no lock screws, though, so they may spin).

These speakers have a fairly simple control panel on the back. Included is a standard power cord socket (3-pin IEC 250), an XLR input and output, a power switch, a 3-band EQ, an EQ bypass switch and a level knob. As you can tell by the controls, these speakers can be used as standalone pieces if you want to run only a microphone without a mixing board.

When the rubber met the road the Thumps worked very well. I used them on their sides as floor monitors, with the EQ switch off and the level knob on each set to about 2:00 on the dial. I put vocals and the kick drum through them and they were able to keep up with the guitar and bass rigs that were 10 feet away. I even stepped up front to sing one song and had no problem hearing myself as I screeched out my best Ozzy imitation. The sound reproduction seemed good, although it was a noisy stage so I was happy just to survive. Come to think of it, the kick drum would have sounded better with a bigger driver, but there are always trade-offs in life…

The speakers did not get unduly hot even though it was 100 degrees and very humid. And the efficiency of their amplifiers (and the QSCs amps, too) meant that I could run a single length of extension cord 200 feet and still have enough power left over on a power strip to run the tube bass and guitar amps without tripping any circuit breakers. Amazing!

I do have some beefs with the Thump speakers, and most of them probably have to do with the price point they were trying to meet. The level knobs are not very linear, and when turning them up there are huge jumps in volume. I would love to see a ¼-inch input, or even a combination ¼-inch XLR jack. I had to buy new cables as my mixer has ¼-inch monitor outs, and many mixing boards have not gone to XLR monitor outs. RCA inputs would be nice so an iPod or other components can be hooked up directly to the speakers. And lastly, the knobs on the back are sticking out with no protection and will be super easy for me to break when moving them from gig to gig. QSC has spoiled me with features like these, but then again they are three times the price. And that is where things get real, isn’t it?

The list price is $389, but everybody and their brother sells the Mackie Thump TH-12A speakers for $299 each, and if you are lucky you can pick them up as B-stock for $220 each. That is a lot of speaker for short money, so keep them in mind if you are looking for budget powered loudspeakers or monitors.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Fletcher-Munson Equal Loudness Contour Explanation

Hi there!

Recently I saw Peavey refer to one of their powered speakers as having “Automatic equal loudness (Fletcher-Munson) compensation.” That is quite a mouthful of something that probably doesn’t mean much to knuckleheads like me that buy speakers. I have seen other references to equal loudness curves and equal loudness contours, so I thought I would dig into Fletcher and Munson and see what is going on with them.

Fletcher and Munson were Bell labs engineers who performed extensive listening tests in 1933 with the goal of ascertaining how the human ear perceives loudness over the audible spectrum. This was done by having test subjects decide when the tones of two different frequencies were as loud as each other (using headphones, by the way). Listeners were presented with tones at different frequencies and with changes in volume in 10 dB increments (intensity). The listener compared each different frequency and intensity to a 1000 Hz reference tone, which was adjusted until it was perceived to be of the same loudness as the test tone.

Of course, asking people to describe sounds is very subjective, but the researchers made up for this (somewhat) by averaging the results from a large pool of listeners, who were mostly young people with good hearing. As there are not very many average people out there, these results are not exactly rooted in stone, and may not be indicative of how you or I may perceive sound.

Anyway, these averages were plotted to a series of contours (the Fletcher-Munson curves) that graphically show how people perceive loudness of sound by frequency. The lowest equal-loudness contour shows the quietest audible tone (“absolute threshold of hearing”), and the highest contour shows the “threshold of pain.” Which would be a great name for a band. These contours cover the generally accepted range of audible frequencies which are from 20 Hz to approximately 20,000 Hz.

Time does not stand still, and there has been quite a bit more audio research over the past 79 years, so others have built upon Fletcher and Munson’s work. In 1937 Churcher and King presented results that did not exactly follow the original study, and in 1956 a seemingly more accurate study was completed by Robinson and Dadson (do these guys always work in pairs?). They completed the experiment using speakers instead of headphones, so the sound was presented to the ears in a more natural fashion. Their work was the basis for ISO 226, which stood until 2003.

What happened in 2003? The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) revised the standard curves based on the results of studies from research groups in North America, Asia and Europe. The new set of curves is included in ISO 226:2003, and amazingly enough the new curves more closely match the original Fletcher-Munson curves, and not the later and more widely accepted Robinson-Dadson results. Go figure.

Anyway, despite advances from later research they are still called "Fletcher-Munson curves”, which is a lot catchier than ISO 226:2003.