Plantasia: Music for Plants and People

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Plantasia: Music for Plants and People

Over four decades after its release, Mort Garson’s 1976 experimental epic Mother Earth’s: Plantasia has blossomed onto our list of cult classics. A self-proclaimed album of ‘warm earth music for plants… and the people who love them’.

Plantasia

The album was co-conceived and sold by Mother Earth Plant Boutique shop owners Joel and Lynn Rapp whom wrote an accompanying booklet on caring for houseplants. Other copies were only ever available with the purchase of a Simmons mattress from Sears – make of that what you will.

Fast-forward to today where thanks to vinyl crate diggers and YouTube’s algorithm the album’s popularity has soared. Original vinyl pressings of Mother Earth’s: Plantasia have sold for up to $600. Garson’s bubbly melodies are reminiscent of a certain sentimental playfulness. Fortunately, thanks to Sacred Bones Records, copies are a little easier to come by after its reissue earlier this year.

Even more fortunate for some of Melbourne’s own inner city lefties – in 2019, Sydney based producer and multi-instrumentalist Anatole teamed up with projectionist Carla Zimbler to perform a unique live reinterpretation of Garson’s record; a night devoted to plants, science, light and sound.

We had the chance to chat with Jonathon Baker, AKA Anatole, back in 2019, before one of the shows to discuss his upcoming performance and the recent release of his debut album Emulsion.

A pioneer in his own right, Baker simultaneously pushed the boundaries of acoustic and electronic music. His solo sets feature live keys, trumpet, flute and vocals accompanied by powerful driving beats and carefully layered synths, turning ambient mixes into club bangers with ease.

Dubbing Plantasia as “everyone’s secret favourite”, Baker was keen to jump on board after Plant Life Balance approached him with “pretty much the perfect gig”.

Having been the first time reworking an entire album he decided not to perform a stock standard start to finish rendition.

“I’m reinterpreting what the album means, using the themes of the record, taking different pieces and infusing my own stuff; live sets for me there’s a lot of improvisation.”

Numerous research projects have concluded positive associations between classical music, nature sounds and plant growth. In particular, there has been evidence of plants redirecting their roots in response to the sound of running water. Although no scientific method was performed in the making of Mother Earth’s: Plantasia, Baker recognised the premise behind the album to be part of the reason for its recent cult following.

“When you listen to it with that idea in mind it’s a really cool concept that you don’t get with many albums, its such an interesting point to come from – serious but very playful.”

Baker practices a similar approach, adding that there are ambient field recordings in the background of most of his tracks – perhaps paying homage to his upbringing amongst the Blue Mountains, the result of having spent a great deal of time examining everything from the smallest of organisms to the great enormity of all things.

“It’s all about texture, all the sounds occupy a space”.

It comes as no surprise when you hear the album. It’s worth more than just one listen. First, let it wash over you before getting lost in the detail, as you follow a different thread each time – there is rarely any central melody yet Baker holds your attention with lifting flute arpeggios, intricate percussive trails and a broad list of features including a sample from Ólafur Arnalds’ Stratus pianos.

Having supported Arnalds during his recent Australian tour, Baker said the passion for music from Arnalds was incredible. Much like he mentioned that the constraint Garson set for himself in composing solely with the Moog was just as inspiring. Sometimes restricting yourself is what really makes your creativity flourish.

Listen out for the detuned viola drone midway through ‘Creature’, this spur of the moment decision came from sitting about with his friend asking, “what can your instrument do, what can my instrument do?”

“When you’ve got limitless opportunity you don’t scratch the surface. Coming from a background of classical music I really understand what practice is and I bring that into what I do.”

Preaching to keep the studio sessions simple, most of Emulsion was recorded on a Shure SM57, letting Baker focus more on his collaboration with friends. This notion of simplicity, like Garson’s own, allows electronic artists really push their respective instruments to the limits – a soothing and unique step away from the many “lone geniuses” of electronic music today as well as a testament to Baker’s own artistry.

Currently putting album number two together as well as securing a scoring deal, Baker is working hard to take things to the next level. He’s very excited to perform more with his new trio and thinking of relocating to the States to let his career flourish further. Thankfully, he’ll be setting up shop this month in Sydney for another Plantasia tribute, so make sure you keep your eyes and ears out and catch a show before we lose him overseas.

“I’m just trying to do my own things and say yes to opportunities that sound interesting” he remarks, and you can hear the energy ooze into his sweet sounds.

There’s something about the seamless unity of opposing ideas that we as listeners can sense. It’s something both Garson and Baker achieve and is perhaps the reason their music stands out.

Maybe this idea is gaining significance today as we ever realise the importance of a healthy mind. There’s no denying the benefits of listening to music with a glass of water and a quick seat in the sun – maybe it’ll help your unhappy houseplant just the same, after all it’s only your ear that limits your perception of what sound is.

Buy a copy of the original record here.

Review: Fender Switchboard Effects Operator

Professional-grade switching units are usually known for two things: being very convenient and being very expensive. However, thanks to Fender’s new collaboration with loop switching expert Ron Menelli, the convenience of being able to switch like the pros just got a lot more affordable with the Fender Switchboard Effects Operator.

Fender Switchboard Effects Operator

The Fender Switchboard Effects Operator is a graceful, efficient switching tool with a conveniently minimalist interface designed to put you in full control of your signal chain. Invaluable for players with large, elaborate pedalboards, the Switchboard allows users to recall multi-pedal presets via five rearrangeable relay true bypass effects loops. Featuring a powerful processor that reroutes your pedals whilst preserving an entirely analog, hi-fi signal path, the Switchboard can be used to access endless combinations of effects in any order and switch single or multiple effects on and off.

Read more gear reviews here.

Designed to be as user-friendly as possible, the Switchboard graphic interface and encoder knob allows for the creation of presets on the fly, keeping the process mercifully simple. Encased in a subdued but beautiful gold-coloured unit, the Switchboard’s LCD screen displays clear visual graphics to prevent players from losing track of which effects they have on and which preset they have selected. 

Loaded with 500 user presets, a built-in tuner, volume pedal and dual high fidelity buffers, the Switchboard is an immensely powerful tool for such a compact unit. Players can also use the Switchboard to control their amplifier’s footswitches as well as MIDI-based pedals, making it a no-brainer for pedal enthusiasts of all budget levels. 

The Switchboard has three main operating modes: Loop Mode, Editor Mode and Bank Mode. In Loop Mode, players have the ability to control their pedalboard in real time, and craft new presets on the fly. Utilising the Switchboard’s six footswitches, Loop Mode allows for five effects and an external footswitch to be switched on and off from the same device, meaning you’ll never have to trip over yourself trying to quickly tap on several pedals at once again. 

Editor mode

Editor mode allows for full control over all the parameters saved to each user preset. In this mode, players can entitle their presets, switch buffers on and off, alter MIDI messages and edit the order and status of their effect loops. Finally, Bank Mode can be used to quickly access 100 banks of user-presets. By using the Switchboard’s footswitches, players can efficiently scroll through banks and instantly recall the presets within them.

Fender’s decision to work with Ron Menelli on this product was a wise one. Menelli has been a leading expert on MIDI and switching technology since 2003 and is well known for his company RJM Music. Largely based on RJM’s Mastermind PBC/6X switcher, the Switchboard has one less loop than Menelli’s original but that’s very little to sacrifice for such a compact and affordable package.

Ron Menelli

The combination of Menelli’s technical expertise with the chic, user-friendly design of Fender has resulted in a truly great product, especially given its markedly lower price tag. Now players for which higher end switching tools were slightly out of reach can enjoy the convenience of a professional grade switching system without breaking the bank. 

I see this tool being particularly useful not only for any artists with expansive boards but particularly for session players, professional cover bands and other performers of that ilk. The ability to instantly reroute one’s effects and recall complex presets with the press of a button is invaluable for players who need radically different sounds and setups from song to song, and don’t have time to mess around with their pedals.

The ability to create patches for certain sections of songs and save pre-programmed banks for whole setlists means hard working guitarists with multiple bands or ongoing gigs don’t have to reroute their boards between shows or have multiple setups for different jobs. 

The main and simplest benefit of the Switchboard and similar devices however, is the ability to turn several pedals on or off simultaneously. We’ve all been there, frantically balancing on one foot whilst trying to click three pedals at once for that big solo or section change. Well, with this new product from Fender being far more accessible to the everyday musician than its comparative products, your tap dancing days can finally come to an end.

Fender Switchboard back panel

For those with a discerning ear and a love for their analog effects, a unit like the Switchboard is also a great alternative to succumbing to the dreaded world of multi-effects units. A switching system has all the convenience and compactness of a multi-effects unit and can serve a very similar function whilst still utilising your actual pedals and maintaining an analog signal path. Truly the best of both worlds.

This means reigning in an expansive board that is starting to become a bit much to manage doesn’t mean having to sacrifice on tone, you can keep all your discrete, specialised effects without having to worry about switching any of them on or off individually. 

This level of convenience has previously been fairly inaccessible for the average guitarist so it’s great to see Fender bringing a high quality product like Menelli’s to the masses, and in such a pretty package to boot. 

Whilst most switching units and similarly utilitarian devices aren’t generally much to look at, Fender have really applied their trademark commitment to aesthetics to this product and it really elevates the user experience. The classy golden design of the Switchboard is very easy on the eye and the large full-colour LCD screen makes it very easy to use in a live setting. 

So whether you’re a shoe-gazing pedal junkie who has lost control of their elaborate creation, a seasoned pro with multiple setups or just somebody who values having the most streamlined signal chain possible, the Fender Switchboard Effects Operator is here to solve all your problems. The convenience of a top notch switching system is no longer reserved for the stars, so now we can all spend less time tap dancing and more time playing at our absolute best, distraction free.

For more info, keep reading Fender Australia.

The new Arturia Keylab Essential 88 Mk3 Keyboard Controllers

Adding to the 49- and 61-key models of the KeyLab Essential range, Arturia’s KeyLab Essential mk3 88 puts a semi-weighted full piano range at the fingertips of today’s sound explorers and DAW producers, offering unparalleled value.

New features for the mk3

  • 88 hybrid synth-piano feel keys
  • New creative features
  • Custom DAW integration
  • More versatile presets

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

KeyLab Essential Mk3

The streamlined piano range keyboard. Expand your musical horizons with a semi-weighted 88-note keyboard that removes barriers and makes your creative life easier. From studio to stage, DAW to MIDI hardware, KeyLab

Essential 88 mk3 keeps things simple so you can focus on your music with full piano-range expressivity. Your essential ingredients for creativity, KeyLab Essential provides an array of useful & intuitive controls that’ll get the job done.

Enjoy a comfy keybed, tactile faders/encoders/pads, and thoughtful layout that’ll make sense for your setup. Enjoy a hands-on instrument experience balanced with software flexibility.

The best DAW integration.

Get creative right out the box with KeyLab Essential’s custom DAW scripts, bringing pre-mapped controls into your workflow with any major DAW. Not only that, but the KeyLab

Essential controls work seamlessly with Analog Lab V, the included sound anthology plugin—letting you freely explore thousands of sounds, old and new.

Your musical workhorse

For when you want to get experimental, find a new sound, or just need a bit of extra inspiration, KeyLab Essential has a few tricks up its sleeve. Create fun ever-changing melodies with the Arpeggiator, weave rich chord voicings with Chord play, and always stay in key thanks to Scale mode.

For local enquiries, visit CMI Music.

Six of the best mastering engineers you should know about

The illusive work of the mastering engineer is often considered a dark art within the audio realm. Usually working with just a stereo audio file, they manipulate audio to create consistent and well levelled tracks that aim to sound incredible on any audio system.

Utilising custom built equipment and extremely well treated rooms, mastering engineers are the last step before created music hits the world. Their ability to decide where to apply subtle eq and compression to recorded music is an incredibly delicate art that makes the good ones highly sought after.

Today we’re taking a look at six mastering engineers that you should know, as their work today and in the past has shaped the musical landscape with these experts collectively working on tens of thousands of high profile releases. Let’s dive in!

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

Bob Katz

Bob’s work within the mastering field, not just as an actual engineer, but an educator cannot be understated. Penning material including Mastering Audio: The Art and the Science which has been the holy grail of understanding the depth of knowledge required to be a mastering engineer.

Starting his career in 1972 as a supervisor for a public television network, Katz honed his craft mixing programs live including music, which became his true pursuit. In 1977 he relocated to New York and embarked on a storied career as a recording, mix and mastering engineer.

Katz engineered the first 96kHz/24bit audio DVD, which was groundbreaking in pushing digital audio quality to high levels in the early days of the format. In addition to this, he also created the worlds first oversampling recording technology with the DBX/UltraAnalog 128x oversampling A/D converter.

Working with a large slew of artists during his tenure as a mastering engineer including three Grammy award winning releases—Ben Kingsley’s The Words of Gandhi, Paquito D’Rivera’s Portraits of Cuba and Olga Tañon’s Olga Viva, Viva Olga.

Even after all these years as a legendary engineer, Bob Katz is still available to master your music, an amazing feat for someone who has been in the industry for such a long period of time. Cheers for all your work Bob.

Standout Works:

Bob Ludwig

mastering engineer bob ludwig standing in front of awards

Another name synonymous with Mastering is Bob Ludwig, whose career has spanned work with Beyonce, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Bruce Springsteen and Metallica just to name a few.

Originally a classically trained trumpet player, Ludwig was inspired hearing Phil Ramone teach a summer recording workshop he attended and ended up working with him at A&R Recording. Moving between a few legendary studios including Sterling Sound and Masterdisk, he established Gateway Mastering Studios in 1992 where he still operates as a mastering engineer.

Along with mastering thirteen Grammy award winning records which include a few wins in the Surround Sound category, Ludwig has undertaken mastering entire back catalogues of artists such as Rush, Dire Straits and The Rolling Stones.

Bob Ludwig’s commitment to the industry through the AES (Audio Engineers Society) and Advisory Council of the Producers and Engineer’s Wing of The Recording Academy shows his commitment to mastering as a lifetime endeavour and establishes his place as one of the best mastering engineers to ever do it.

Standout Works:

Emily Lazar

New York based mastering engineer Emily Lazar is a world class talent, working on close to 4000 releases in her career. Founding the Lodge in 1996, Lazar has mastered works for Sia, Foo Fighters and Beck, with the latter awarding her the 2019 Grammy award for Best Engineered Album (Non-Classical) being the first female mastering engineer to do so.

Lazar studied at Skidmore College, studying Creative Writing and Music before completing a masters of music from New York University. Through her hard work studying and freelance as an engineer she was offered a position at Masterdisk, one of the best mastering facilities on the planet.

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A post shared by Emily Lazar (@emilylazarlodge)

Leaving Masterdisk in 1997 to establish The Lodge, Lazar went on to master records by David Bowie, Lou Reed, Paul McCartney, Madonna and even work on the sound track for American Psycho.

Early in 2021, Emily established the We Are Moving The Needle foundation which supports women recording industry professionals, audio engineers and producers through scholarships, internships, education and mentoring. This much needed foundation was created after a study revealed that only 2% of producers and audio engineers within the top 900 songs of the year were female.

Standout Works:

Don Bartley

Don Bartley is an Australian based mastering engineer who worked with both RCA and EMI before establishing his own studio, Benchmark Mastering, in 2006.

Working with EMI at their cutting plant working directly with large artists, Bartley was able to use their 1:1 copy of the Abbey Road studios mastering and vinyl cutting setup. With ten years experience behind him at the point he started working there, he utilised the equipment to cut masters for high profile artists including Alanis Morissette, Icehouse and even the ubiquitous track John Farnham’s You’re the Voice.

Don cut vinyl masters for large international releases to be produced in Australia from as early as the 70’s, including a highly sought after re-release of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released in limited numbers, sold at a HiFi convention and is considered to be the best sounding version of the album available.

Standout Works:

Mandy Parnell

If you’re looking for a mastering engineer who has worked with successful dance music artists, look no further than Mandy Parnell. Her work with critically acclaimed artists Aphex Twin, Bjork, Jamie xx and Brian Eno (!) have pushed Parnell into the conversation of one of the best.

The British based Parnell was one of the first graduates from the UK branch of SAE when they expanded globally from their home base in Australia and cut her teeth working at The Exchange—first as a trainee, then as a fully fledged mastering engineer in later years.

Parnell currently runs her own mastering space, Black Saloon Studios, from her converted warehouse home in the UK. The operation is run off green energy courtesy of solar power in which she leads the way within the recording industry.

Standout Works:

Brian ‘Big Bass’ Gardner

If you’re looking for a big bass sound, look no further than this legendary mastering engineer. Brian Gardner has been around since the mid-’60s, working on a large range of recordings. He was given the nickname ‘Big Bass’ by the one and only Dr. Dre who connected with him through Bernie Grundman mastering studios.

Working for RCA in the ’60s cutting lathes, as was common for mastering engineers of the time, Creedence Clearwater came through his studio and they couldn’t get the mix to sound right once it was cut. Gardner immediately got onto the Pultec and Fairchild and produced a fantastic sounding record. After a few years of cutting Clearwater’s records he got hired by him exclusively at Fantasy Studios and the rest is history.

Records mr. ‘Big Bass’ has mastered include Michael Jackson’s Bad, Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP and Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter IV. Potentially the highlight of his career was mastering the second half of the double-lp Speakerboxx/The Love Below which was granted a Grammy award. Although getting his nickname through the hip-hop and R&B scene, Gardner also worked with artists of other genres including Linkin Park, Madonna and David Bowie solidifying his position as one of the best mastering engineers going.

Standout Works:

Special mentions:

Brad Boatright – Audiosiege

Brad Boatwright Audiosiege

Broad Boatwright is a musician turned mastering engineer and is hugely successful mastering engineer in the rock, metal and hardcore world. He operates out of his studio, Audiosiege, in Portland, Oregon and has the art of providing world class masters down to a science. His Instagram is worth a follow, if solely for the analysis of hardware and harmonics he uses to complete and refine his masters.

Brad’s credits include Modern Life Is War, Necrot, Misery Signals, Twitching Tongues and more!

Katie Tavini – Weird Jungle

Katie Tavini is a mastering engineer based in London. She operates in conjunction with the Weird Jungle mastering collective, having founded it, and has a stellar list of credits including Bloc Party, Rudimental, We Are Scientists and a slew of other indie, rock and alternative sounding artists. She’s an MPG award-winning mastering engineer and industry leader who’s focused on amplifying the emotion of the music she works on.

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Nicholas Di Lorenzo – Panorama

Nicholas Di Lorenzo is a bit of a home grown hero. Owner and head mastering engineer, he also runs a hugely successful and informative YouTube channel, letting you into his world of sessions, time, life and health management, as well as mixing and mastering tips.

At this point, Nicholas has literally thousands of credits to his name.

Heba Kadry

Heba Kadry is a New York-based mastering engineer with an edge: she’s a vinyl cutting engineer as well. Her mastering room is a vision of peace and clarity, much like her masters for the likes of Björk, Slowdive, Hailey Williams, Chelsea Wolfe, The Mars Volta and more. She also masters soundtracks for wildly successful films like “Midsommar” and “The Lighthouse”.

Liking the idewa of pursuing a career in mastering? Learn to ride the vinyl wave here.

 

The Fender Bass VI story in five iconic tracks

Over the years, there’s been some confusion over what the Fender Bass VI actually is – is it a baritone guitar, or is it a bass? Fender, the creators of this wonderfully unique instrument, maintain that the Bass VI is indeed a bass guitar. But what exactly sets it apart from your typical baritone guitar?

Fender Bass VI

For starters, baritone guitars are strung with guitar strings, with a scale-length usually measuring around 27”. Baritone guitars rarely utilise the standard guitar tuning; players generally tune the instrument a perfect fourth lower than a guitar (B E A D F# B), whereby the fifth-string baritone E is pitched the same as the sixth-string low E on guitar. This essentially means the baritone will give you slightly more low-end depth, but not a whole lot more.

Summary:

  • The Fender Bass VI is strung with custom-made bass strings.
  • The Fender Bass VI ideal for guitarists who wish to lend some lower-end frequencies to the mix, but aren’t too accustomed with the feel of a standard four-string bass.
  • Some legendary bands have used the Fender Bass VI ranging from The Beatles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Read all the latest features, lists and columns here.

The Fender Bass VI, on the other hand, is strung with custom-made bass strings which are especially designed to fit the specifications of the instrument. The scale-length is around 30”, which is the same as short-scale four-strings such as the Mustang or Musicmaster.

Bass Fender VI

Its tuning is identical to an electric guitar, albeit an octave lower. This makes the Bass VI ideal for guitarists who wish to lend some lower-end frequencies to the mix, but aren’t too accustomed with the feel of a standard four-string bass. Keep in mind that the Bass VI’s strings are naturally a bit thicker than those on a guitar, so muting the strings you’re not playing is essential in ensuring those harmonic overtones don’t creep in.

Conversely, for four-string bassists looking to tackle the Bass VI, you may find the narrow string-spacings will take some getting used to. This also means that using a plectrum is probably the surest way of getting a nice, even tone from the instrument. The tension of the tuning pegs is significantly less than on your standard Precision or Jazz Bass, so a slow and steady tuning action will do the trick. The question now is, who used the Bass VI?

‘Hey Jude’ – The Beatles

The beauty of the Bass VI is that it’s been used by both guitarists and bassists alike. In this 1968 clip of The Beatles performing a live rendition of ‘Hey Jude’, George Harrison can be seen playing the Fender Bass VI, while Paul McCartney weaves his magic on that glorious Bechstein upright piano. With John Lennon providing the rhythm guitar part, Harrison’s role on the Bass VI is simple: play the root note, and lock in with Ringo (as much as is feasible).

‘Ripple’ – The Church

Steve Kilbey of The Church has also handled the Fender Bass VI on occasion, with his typically growling, melodic bass timbre translating beautifully across to the instrument. On this 2013 live performance of ‘Ripple’, we hear the sonic fullness of the Bass VI cut through a sea of distortion and synths.

Glen Campbell and Phil Baugh

For those who fancy the odd zippy guitar solo, you’ll be happy to know that the Bass VI sounds absolutely wicked when shredded. This clip from the mid-‘60s shows a guitar duel between the immensely gifted Glen Campbell and Phil Baugh, with the latter donning a Fender Bass VI. Campbell – arguably one of the first ever guitar shredders – picks every note with that lightning-quick right hand, while Baugh well and truly holds his own with some roving bass runs.

‘Pictures of You’ – The Cure

One of the most remarkable things about the Bass VI is its ability to bring something unique to the table: from ‘60s rockabilly jams to ‘80s gothic rock, the inclusion of the Bass VI always makes for intriguing listening. The Cure frontman Robert Smith has often employed the six-string bass, which features heavily on their 1989 number ‘Pictures Of You’. Smith’s playing complements the driving four-string work of Simon Gallup on this chilling 2019 live performance.

‘Happiness Loves Company’ – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Some of you may still be wondering: “How can something that looks more like an electric guitar sound anything like a bass?” I’ll let former Red Hot Chili Peppers linchpin Josh Klinghoffer take care of this one. Throughout this 2011 live set in Cologne, a visibly upbeat Flea makes his way over to the piano; here, he proceeds to tear through a Bach Invention, as well as a snippet of Bird’s ‘Billie’s Bounce’. All the while, Klinghoffer is setting up his Bass VI, running it through Flea’s trusty Gallien-Krueger rig. The ensuing sound is a robust, low-end growl that only the Bass VI can conjure.

Rediscover the talent of these seminal indie rock bassists

Introducing the Orange Valve Tester MKII

The Orange Valve Tester MKII is made and designed in the UK and supersedes the Orange VT1000, the world’s first automatic digital valve tester pioneered, developed and patented by Orange. It effortlessly performs a wide range of tests with speed, simplicity and accuracy, setting a new world standard in valve-testing technology for guitar enthusiasts and service professionals alike.

Orange Amplification

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

The simplicity of operation belies the complexity of what happens inside the unit during each test. Inside is a sophisticated microprocessor controlled testing system carrying out a series of complex inter-electrode switching and measurement exercises. Requiring no knowledge of valve theory a user simply inserts a valve into the correct socket, selects the valve type from the list and presses the ‘OK’ button. The status of the valve under test is quickly revealed.

The MKII features greatly improved algorithms with an updated database containing the test results of literally hundreds of new, used and faulty valves giving the MKII a much greater intelligence compared to the original Orange VT1000. All the voltages required by the tester are internally derived, stabilised and controlled allowing a rapid static and transient testing without unnecessary heat generation.

Orange Valve Tester MKII

In addition, the new unit features higher current capacity with enhanced ‘grid leakage detection testing’, a new ‘thermal runaway’ test and a new ‘digital microphony function’ to test pre-amp valves. Its new rugged mechanical design and form also has improved valve sockets.

The Orange Valve Tester MKII’s new optional expansion modules will be particularly appealing to guitar enthusiasts. It allows the testing other valve types including EF86 and rectifier valve GZ34.

Orange Valve Tester expansion module

The Orange Valve Tester MKII is a sophisticated, simple to use, stylish and portable unit. It offers guitarists, guitar techs and amp repair shops the perfect blend of simplicity and precision in amp maintenance. The device’s fully automatic testing and matching capabilities ensure optimal valve performance across a wide range of audio valve equipment allowing users to effortlessly maintain quality, maximum performance and limit possible distortion of their guitar amplifiers caused by substandard, worn or faulty valves.
 
For local Orange enquiries, visit Australia Music. To find out more about the new Orange Valve Tester MKII and all the other Orange Amplification products, please go to orangeamps.com and orangessentials.com.

Nominations for all categories open in the 2024 AIR Awards

This year’s AIR Awards additions include the INDEPENDENT PRODUCER OF THE YEAR and the INDEPENDENT MUSIC VIDEO OF THE YEAR. These awards will recognise the efforts of an Australian-based producer and music video director who worked on a member single, EP or Album released during the eligibility period (1st January 2023 to 31st December 2023).

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

AIR is a non-profit, non-government trade association dedicated to supporting the growth and development of Australia’s independent recorded music sector. Established in 1996, AIR represents Australian-owned record labels and independent artists based in Australia.

Australian Independent Record Labels Association (AIR Awards)

AIR is a member of the Worldwide Independent Network (WIN), the peak body for international independent music associations. WIN trade association members collectively advocate for fair, competitive market access and copyright protection globally. AIR’s CEO is also a WIN Board member.

AIR members are artists, labels and distributors across the full spectrum of music genres, ranging from small sole traders to some of the biggest independent operations in the country.

AIR Members can nominate an Australian service provider who worked on one of their eligible releases. The award will go to the Producer or Music Video Director of the work.

The 2024 AIR Awards will be held in Adelaide at the Queen’s Theatre on Thursday 1st August in conjunction with the Indie-Con Australia Conference at the Mercury Cinema from 31st July to 2nd August.

Nominations for all categories in the 2024 AIR Awards are now open to all members and will close at midnight on the 26th of March. To see if you qualify for AIR membership, click here.

The 15 best synthesizers of the 1980s

If there’s any instruments that are synonymous with the 1980s, it’s got to be synthesizers.

An invention of unlimited potential, in the 80s synths became a dominating force; it was a decade obsessed with mapping the future and pivoting away from the past, with several synths going on to become genre-defining instruments years down the path.

Today, we’re hopping into the time machine to explore the stories behind some of the decade’s most famous units and counting down through the classics to bring you the 15 best synthesisers of the ’80s.

Synthesizers

  • After being introduced in the ’60s and further developed in the ’70s, synthesisers became a mainstream sensation in the 1980s and helped shape the future sounds of popular music.
  • Technological developments such as FM synthesis and affordable analogue components helped make synths more affordable to the average musician.
  • Models such as the Prophet 5, SH-101, Juno-106 and DX-7 helped to define the sound of the decade and are still prominently used by many artists today.

Read all the latest features, interviews and how-to columns here.

15. Korg M1

Released in 1988 as a comprehensive music workstation to tackle the market, the Korg M1 was a digital powerhouse by all standards, utilising PCM samples and AI synthesis to replicate every classic synth sound you could ever think of.

This is one of the synthesizers that helped to establish the idea of the digital workstation as we know it today – everything comes back to this thing in one way or another.

While the M1 was released too late in the decade to be a pioneering synth of the ‘80s, it was by all means the dominating sound of the ‘90s, mainly due to the prevalence of its piano and organ sounds in the ever-popular electronic tracks of the era.

Listen to any classic ‘90s house or techno track, and you’ll immediately recognise this one.

14. Ensoniq ESQ-1

If you don’t have the cheese for one of the more famous digital powerhouses and want something that’s got a bit more grime, the Ensoniq ESQ-1 is a savvy pick.

Produced from 1986-88, the ESQ-1 features three DCOs per voice and 32 waveforms, as well as benefitting from a four-pole analogue resonant filter, ring modulator and oscillator sync, making it slightly less metallic-sounding than Roland D-50 or a Yamaha DX7.

It might not be one of the most inviting synthesizers, and the presets definitely aren’t worth writing to home about, but if you put in some effort, the ESQ-1 will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.

13. Casio CZ-101

The Casio CZ-101 is one of the more controversial synths on this list, but given how long it’s lingered against all the odds, I feel it’s worthy of recognition. This little digital fella was debuted in 1984 and makes use of Phase Distortion synthesis – Casio’s own odd take on the digital synthesizers trend of the mid ‘80s.

It’s quite limited and looks like a toy, but the CZ-101 boasts a gritty charm that’s seen it become a sleeper hit in the synth world, making it a no-brainer for anyone seeking quirky vintage tones on a budget. Apparently Mac DeMarco is a huge fan of this series, and it’s also been spotted in the studio with Paul Epworth and Moby.

12. Korg Poly800

Introduced in an effort to undercut the sales of the Juno series, the Poly800 was Korg’s own crack at affordable analogue synthesis, and was marketed towards players looking for an instrument they could take outside of the studio.

Boasting eight voices of polyphony, the Poly800 utilised digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) for stable performance and a single 24dB low-pass resonant filter to shape its tones, while basic MIDI implementation allowed it to play nice with other instruments.

Although it’s pretty tedious to program, the Poly800 is still one of the most affordable and surprisingly versatile solutions for anyone seeking solid vintage poly-synth tones, with the unit still being used by the likes of Bicep, POND and Shallou today.

11. Roland Alpha Juno 2

Intended as a successor to the dominant Juno series that we all know and love, the Alpha Juno wasn’t exactly one of Roland’s most successful synthesizers of the ‘80s – although it prove important very important in the years to come.

This analogue/digital hybrid saw Roland opt for membrane buttons and dials instead of sliders and buttons, and boasted a soaring LFO and a timbre that made it perfect for squelchy acid basslines.

The Alpha Juno 2 found its niche in the early ‘90s with the dawn of breakbeat, rave and jungle, with cash-strapped producers picking them up on the cheap and using the LFO in conjunction with its chord memory function to create the classic ‘Hoover’ sound. They’re also super affordable and easy to get your mits on today, which is always a big plus.

10. Moog Memorymoog

The Memorymoog was Moog’s last polysynth before the introduction of the mighty Moog One in 2018, and was considered by most to be one of the most powerful synthesizers of the decade.

The ambitious six voice polysynth was equipped with three VCOs per voice and a plethora of modulation options, essentially giving the operator the power of six Minimoogs in one synth.

Perhaps unfairly, the Memorymoog is most remembered for being the straw that broke the camel’s back: it was released around the same time that the MIDI-equipped Yamaha DX-7 burst onto the market.

Moog, unable to keep up with the digital revolution, filed for bankruptcy in 1987, and wouldn’t reemerge until the late ‘90s.

9. Roland TB-303

A ludicrously simple single VCO mono-synth, the TB-303 was originally released in 1982 as an accompaniment to Roland’s TR-606 drum machine, and was marketed as a practice tool to be used by guitarists.

Obviously, the thing sounds nothing like a bass guitar, and naturally, sales went down shit creek, with Roland discounting the unit in 1984.

However, the 303 experienced an unlikely revival with the emergence of acid house, with producers utilising the quirky sequencer and distinctive squelching resonant filter to create some of the most warped, face-melting music of the ‘80s.

Nowadays, original TB-303s are extremely hard to get your hands on, and sell for wild amounts on the web – such is the price to pay for underestimating such a vital machine.

8. Oberheim OB-Xa

Produced in 1981, the Oberheim OB-Xa certainly wasn’t your average analogue synthesiser.

With either four, six or eight voices of polyphony (depending on what model you snagged), the OB-Xa was renowned for its creamy tones via its CEM3320 Curtis chip filters, and the ability to split the keyboard mode to play two patches simultaneously made this one a hit with some of the biggest artists of the era.

Notable examples of the OB-Xa in action include Prince’s ‘1999’ and, of course, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’, with the synth also finding fans in Queen’s Brian May, Gary Numan and Vangelis. They’re pretty hard to come by, but well worth the investment.

7. Roland SH-101

Another classic example of Roland being way too ahead of their time, the analogue SH-101 was released in 1982 and was aimed towards the Keytar market – original units featured a left-hand grip so you could strap the SH-101 on and rock out with it onstage.

While limited to a single VCO, the SH-101 boasted an incredibly useful sub-oscillator, a creamy resonant filter and some impressive modulation capabilities to make it suitable for bubbling leads and cutthroat bass sounds, while the intuitive sequencer made it easy for users to program complex rhythmic patterns.

Like many of Roland’s innovations of this era, the SH-101 was a commercial flop and was discontinued in 1986 before being rediscovered by the burgeoning producers of techno, house and drum ’n bass music in the early ’90s, with notable fans including Aphex Twin, The Prodigy and Squarepusher.

6. Korg Mono/Poly

Possibly one of Korg’s best synths of the era, the Mono/Poly was a knockout analogue unit introduced to the market in 1981.

Boasting four VCOs, two LFOs, pulse-width modulation and a roaring unison mode, the Mono/Poly was very versatile, and the abundance of knobs on the front panel made it perfect for deep diving to create immersive analogue textures.

Perhaps the best aspect of the Mono/Poly, however, was its powerful arpeggiator/sequencer, which allowed users to cycle through each voice for every note or run all four VCOs simultaneously. This one’s a huge hit with anyone making synthwave, and pretty soon, you’ll also be able to snag a Behringer version.

5. Roland Jupiter 8

Now this is a rig and a half! Roland essentially pushed analogue synthesis to its absolute limits with the Jupiter 8, delivering a synth that sounded like nothing before it had without making it as difficult to operate as your average spaceship.

With 16 oscillators, two fat low-pass and high-pass filters, oscillator sync, cross modulation, a lovely LFO and a classic arpeggiator, the capabilities of the Jupiter 8 were beyond belief when it was introduced in 1981, and even today, it’s about as powerful as they come.

Given the sheer size of the Jupiter 8, you’d be hard pressed to spot this on a stage at all, but if you’re in a studio with one of these things, it’s worth your time to sit down and tinker with it. Magical stuff.

4. Yamaha CS-80

One of the biggest and baddest synthesizers of all time, the Yamaha CS-80 was a pioneering unit by all standards.

Weighing a whopping 100kg and accompanied with a huge price-tag to boot, the CS-80 featured eight voice polyphony (16 oscillators, two per voice), a weighted keyboard and polyphonic aftertouch, making it popular with classically trained pianists and devout studio fiends.

Even though it was susceptible to getting a bit wonky when operating in humid conditions and obviously wasn’t very portable, the CS-80 was a revered machine for artists who specialised in studio sessions or soundtracking.

Vangelis employed the CS-80’s sheer soundscaping power for the iconic Blade Runner soundtrack, and it can be heard played by Toto’s Steve Pocaro on ‘Africa’ and all across Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

3. Sequential Circuits Prophet 5

Introduced in 1978, the Prophet 5 was an early dominating force in the ‘80s, and is widely regarded as being the Rolls Royce of analogue synths: it’s simply a masterstroke in design, sound and functionality.

With five voices of polyphony, a classic 24dB low-pass filter, oscillator sync and a white noise generator, the Prophet 5 is a titan for warm pads, basses, leads and whacky effects, and made of use patch storage, which was a groundbreaking feature in the late ‘70s.

From Tears For Fears’ ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’ and Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’ through to No Doubt’s ‘Just A Girl’ and Radiohead’s ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, the Prophet 5 pops up everywhere throughout contemporary music, and almost certainly exists among the greatest synthesizers of all time.

2. Yamaha DX7

Possibly one of the most important synthesizers of all time behind the Minimoog, the MIDI-equipped Yamaha DX7 introduced the world to Frequency Modulation synthesis, a new multi-timbral approach to sound design that captivated users in 1983.

With six FM operators and 16 voices of polyphony, the DX7 allowed players to replicate just about every instrument or effect imaginable, and the synthesiser quickly became one of the most successful of the decade.

Although it was a nuisance to program (unless your name was Brian Eno), the DX7’s 32 patches proved incredibly popular with users, with presets like the BASS 2, ORCHESTRA, and the classic E. PIANO 1 appearing on just about every ‘80s classic you could think of, from Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’, Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ and A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’.

1. Roland Juno-106

An obvious winner, and a surefire contender for the most recognisable synthesizers of all time, it was always clear the Juno-106 would take the cake here.

Released in 1984, the Juno-106 took everything great about its predecessors (minus the arpeggiator) and offered it in a shiny new package, giving punters access to killer analogue sounds, a creamy 24dB filter, pulse-width modulation and, of course, that gorgeous inbuilt chorus.

It’s capable of smooth pads, fat basses, slinky leads, funky clavinets and so much more, and the immediacy of its interface makes it a go-to for anyone looking to learn the fundamentals of analogue synthesis.

Literally everyone who’s ever been any good at music has owned a Juno-106, and its legacy has only been solidified further over the past decade through its use in music by indie acts like Tame Impala, Mac DeMarco and The War On Drugs, as well as appearing in iconic pop tracks by The Weeknd, Dua Lipa and Bruno Mars.

Chances are when something thinks of synthesizers – or describes a sound as ‘lush’, for that matter – the sound of a Juno-106 is the first thing that springs to mind.

Read more from synth royalty Yamaha here.

Mixdown Explains: Understanding binaural panning

To understand binaural panning, think about the structure of the human head. It doesn’t matter if we’re listening to a 9.1 surround sound system, it’s all being heard via this stereo line-in built into our heads. Incredibly, our brains can still determine the origin of sounds fairly accurately. This is a complicated process, but in simple terms our brains determine the origin of a noise by assessing the differences in the sound as it reaches each ear.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Binaural

This includes the time difference between it reaching your left and right ear, and frequency differences as your body blocks some frequencies from being as prominent on one side as the other. Our brains interpret all this data in an instant and tell us the origin. Pretty cool, huh? Our ears and head roll off some high-end, which we interpret as being behind us. Sound in front of us, with nothing blocking them, are brighter and more presence. And because all sound is condensed down to our stereo ears, it’s theoretically possible to trick our ears and replicate any immersive sound experience via binaural panning.

While stereo mixing allows us to pan sounds left to right, and we use tricks of space and proximity to move things forward and back on a sound stage (i.e. more like watching a band), binaural sound immerses us in the sound, with panning available for left, right and forward, as well as behind and around us!

The downside: before we go crazy and create a magical 3D song with instruments surrounding you, it should be noted that this panning method really only works ideally when heard with headphones. Reflections from a room can ruin the effect, bouncing high-frequencies back to our ears that spoil the illusion of sounds behind us.

Further to that, playing a track that heavily utilises binaural panning through speakers is likely to sound very average as the effect doesn’t work correctly when each of your output channels is heard in both ears, so the levels will be out of whack. Thus, an approach to this technique with some level of forethought is required. One approach is to stick to standard L/R panning for the bulk of your track – the essential bits that you want heard perfectly every time, regardless of what system it’s played back on. Then utilise binaural panning for those extra bits that are likely to only be noticed by headphone listeners anyway – things like ambient textures, subtle percussion, delay trails etc. Those easter eggs can add up to a fantastic immersive experience for your listener.

Some DAWs like Logic Pro have binaural panning built-in; for others there are aftermarket plug-in options, one of which is the new free plug-in from Sennheiser called Ambeo Orbit – a professional but exceptionally user friendly introduction to binaural panning. It’s a great time to experiment with playing tricks on one of the many interesting abilities of our brain.

Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are a form of sleep therapy, harnessing our knowledge of the frequency-following effect. Binaural beats work by playing different frequencies to each ear, our brains summing them to form a new frequency, which in this kind of therapy are used to stop or start certain brain functions with something called entrainment. The frequencies created by binaural beats create the frequency following effect, forcing our brains to follow the beats and pulling processing power away from things like stress, anxiety and negative mental states. While not explicitly an music-related subject, frequency-focused information is always interesting to us at Mixdown!

Binaural Microphone

Binaural microphones exist to accurately record binaural sounds rather than process them in the mixing stage. it’s simple enough to roll off some high end and call it a day, but our ears focus sound in a specific way before it reaches our ear drums. For this reason, there are stereo microphones with ‘ears’ to filter sound around our heads. Neumann make a famous one, but a growing number of manufacturers produce them too!

Binaural panning is increasingly important in the world of immersive audio, where Dolby Atmos is becoming an increasingly common and accepted medium for music! It’s an exciting time, and where Atmos uses multiple speakers playing back at our heads (all being filtered by our ears and head) to create the effect, stereo is still the primary platform for music consumption so these Atmos mixes need to collapse down into stereo at some point. Many of these algorithms and renderers use binaural effects to retain the surround, immersive experience of Dolby Atmos and immersive mixing.

Read more about Neumann’s Dummy microphone here.

In Focus: Wayne Jones Audio – Carbon Fibre Technology studio monitors

Having been at the forefront of some of the most sophisticated technological integration in the studio sphere, the humble yet powerful family of studio monitors from Wayne Jones Audio has a couple of new additions, pushing their designs and concepts into new territory with their fresh Carbon Fibre tech studio monitors.

Wayne Jones Audio

Since inception, Wayne Jones Audio have aspired to create the most accurate studio monitor possible. Their no-nonsense design concepts, razor-sharp detail and high end quality components have allowed them to carve out a spot in the top-tier bracket of the (highly thought after as we like to call it!) studio monitor space, with some of the most revered recording studios such as Record Plant LA and EastWest Studios as well as mix engineers and producers including Krish Sharma, André Bowman, Adam Kagan and Warren Huart having Wayne Jones Audio as their studio monitors of choice.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Being a renowned session bass player, Wayne Jones himself has a unique and profound understanding of the requirements an accurate studio monitor has, particularly when it comes to low end reproduction. Having started out designing a bass cabinet out of necessity for his own use in sessions and live work, a quick unravelling of discoveries occurred through the process and spurred Wayne on to designing his now coveted line of studio monitors. 

The unique design of eucalyptus pulp Kevlar impregnated cones, Italian-made aluminium bullet tweeters and a meticulously designed and ferociously powerful Class-D amplifier, it’s this unusual combination of high-end hardware paired with endless hours of hands-on cabinet damping that has given Wayne Jones Audio monitors their edge and accompanying praise in pro audio circles. The remarkably punchy and tight low end reproduction that is both accurate and powerful paired with laser focused transients of the bullet tweeter, there are few other studio monitors available today that can tout such authentic accuracy (all meticulously documented and measured) straight off the bat, without the need for additional DSP processing to provide such superb results.  The development of the new carbon fibre technology implemented into the two new models have brought about several significant improvements. The already incredibly impressive spec of the Wayne Jones Audio “Reds” has been taken that bit further – whether we thought it possible or not. 

The carbon fibre construction used for the majority of the cabinet (aside from the front and rear panels which are 18mm MDF), provides more consistent acoustic cabinet response over all, with less fluctuation and more evenly spread throughout. Making for a smoother measurement curve when initial cabinet measurements are taken and a flatter cabinet measurement result, the overall audio reproduction is improved just from the new cabinet design alone. Aside from these obvious benefits, the new models also benefit greatly from being significantly lighter in weight. For the 6.5” model, approximately 3kg have been shaved off, with the tweeter being reorientated horizontally on the front, bringing it closer to the woofer as well as the control panel being recessed on top of the cabinet. This allows for easy mounting to the additional mounting bracket to the back of the speaker – a must for multi channel setups,  which is exactly where these monitors thrive. A whopping 6kg lighter, the 10” model is significantly more manoeuvrable, so finding the optimum position for these monolithic speakers isn’t quite so backbreaking.

Like the Reds, the new Carbon Fibre models enjoy unparalleled clarity, depth and dimension synonymous with Wayne Jones Audio studio monitors. 650-watts of power is provided to each monitor via the integrated Class D power amp and produces a faultless frequency reproduction of 35Hz – 20kHz, with an incomparable musical low end reproduction. 

SoundID Reference

Continuing the integration with Sonarworks, both of the new Carbon Fibre models have dedicated ethernet ports on their respective control panels dedicated for easy SoundID Reference calibration files to be stored directly on the monitors, if so desired. Being such a widely requested feature from many Sonarworks users, it’s fair to say a big chunk of the pro audio community were elated to see a studio monitor capable of such a task for the first time (Wayne Jones Audio being the first to do so), let alone it being a monitor of this calibre. Of course, like the Reds, all DSP Sharc processing is at 192kHz, assuring users of the precision and detail of any additional processing performed under the hood – as anyone remotely familiar with Wayne Jones Audio comes to expect.

Continually paving the way in technological integration, consistently accurate and meticulously crafted studio monitors, suffice to say that Wayne Jones Audio and the new Carbon Fibre models are sure to leave a lasting impression on the studio community. The lighter construction and more accurate measurements from this new cabinet design bring tangible improvements to an already highly regarded family of monitors – with quality, precision and dedication to the craft of studio monitor design never in doubt. It’s delightful to see a small boutique studio monitor company from Naarm become synonymous with innovation and seamless integration into the modern day studio workflow, making their monitors suitable for any room or mixing environment, no matter how imperfect the space.

For local enquiries, visit Wayne Jones Audio.

Takamine look to the stars in 2024

Takamine have a long and storied history of producing both accessible and high quality instruments, boasting the kind of stellar reputation in the space that can only come from years of producing top notch guitars with the player in mind. 

Takamine

Unveiled at NAMM 2024 and coupled with a short film, the LTD2024 is a limited edition electro-acoustic guitar (being especially limited edition in Australia with just six guitars coming to Australia), built from solid spruce and rosewood, and quickly becoming known as the “Solar System Limited Edition”, finished in Penumbra Blue.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

The LTD2024 is an electro acoustic guitar with a single cutaway, and harnesses Takamine’s own Nex Cutaway body shape; both comfortable to play and providing controlled, loud sound. The top is solid spruce, while the back and sides are made from rosewood. The neck is mahogany and the fretboard is ebony, while the bridge is black carbon to harness every ounce of resonance and tonality that we possibly can! The fretboard inlays display the 8 planets of our solar system (sorry Pluto!) with the sun at the 12th fret.

The LTD is hand-crafted at the Sakashita factory in the foothills of the Japanese Alps, offering both world-class build quality, coupled with supreme finishing. This helps to retain the acoustic qualities of the carefully selected woods, especially once strung up across its comfortable 25.35” scale length and strummed!

Beautiful acoustics aside, the LTD2024 features the new CTF-2N preamp, a preamplifier using the FET technology of the famed “Brownie” preamp with high and low EQ controls, notch control, a master volume, pad control and a bright, well-lit tuner. 

External construction aside, the LTD2024 takes its internal construction a step further. The bracing is hand-voiced by master craftsman Tohru Hirokawa. The bracing is shaved thin, to reduce mass and make way for more space for sound to bounce around, all the while resonating that beautiful Sitka Spruce top. The African mahogany of the neck provides a solid foundation for profoundly stable tuning, Takamine’s iconic split saddle bridge design adding to this for supremely accurate intonation.

In the hands the LTD2024 is comfortable and easy to noodle on, the cutaway giving access right up to the tippy-top 20th fret. The well-built LTD2024 resonates comfortably against your body, while the body carve of the NEX shape offers something between a big-bodied dreadnought and a smaller parlour—it sings but with a controlled tonality.

CTF-2N preamp

The CTF-2N preamp captures this beautifully, providing both control over refining your sound and keeping the LTD2024 in tune. Depending on the venue, quickly dial and refine your sound with the preamp’s controls at a live show, while also offering you the ability to shape and shift the output for the best possible sound while recording.

In addition to the LTD2024, Takamine also launched a few other guitars, namely our favourites: some new G-Series offerings, or the FT340 BS, KC 70 or TH90 to name a few! These span multiple uses, payers and budgets, all the while retaining Takamine’s world-class design principles and quality assurance.

The G-Series have seen a revamp in the release of a white series of guitars. The GD-37CE, for example, is a dreadnought shaped acoustic with a cutaway, featuring an eye-catching pearl white finish, complete with black purfling binding and abalone rosette. Beneath the beautiful finish, the GD-37CE has a solid spruce top and sapele sides for a balanced, though warm response.

Borrowing from the same NEX body shape that the LTD2024 was born from, the GN90CE is a NEX shaped acoustic with a cutaway for clear access to higher frets. The GN90CE has Madagascar rosewood sides and back for a controlled, snappy response when coupled with a Solid Spruce top.

Different tonewoods can offer vastly different sound and feel, the FT340 BS features a rare and beautiful burled sapele back and sides, on show beneath a gloss finish that highlights the burled finish. Again, the FT340 BS has Takamine’s CTF-2N to harness the full spectrum of rich harmonics available from the FT340 BS.

Shifting to a more classically voiced guitar, the TH90 Hirade concert classic guitar. Named after Master Luthier Mass Hirade, the Hirade range offers some world-class instruments for the most demanding players. The TH90 is built primarily from solid rosewood and solid sitka spruce, the solid woods preventing acoustic energy from fizzling out into additional joins in the woodwork. It features an ebony fretboard for a precise and controlled attack, while the oval soundhole continues to refine and shape the acoustic sound that comes from the TH90; controlled lows and shimmering mids and a clear top end. The TH90 is very limited in Australia, so if you like the sound of this, don’t delay!

Takamine LTD2024

Takamine’s new range, revealed at NAMM 2024, speaks to their commitment to continue to produce world-class instruments from various woods, shapes, designs and materials. This combines both the cutting edge of technology, like the carbon bridge that makes its home on the new LTD2024, while borrowing long-trusted designs like the oval sound hole in the TH90 to provide unique, though ultimately world-class sounds and instruments.

Takamine’s LTD2024 is a vision of something special: a company rooted in the pursuit of quality, coupled with eye-catching good looks; be it the Penumbra Blue fade or the chic, piano black finish of the FT341. If you haven’t played a Takamine, you’re simply late to the party!

For local enquiries or to order any of these limited guitars, contact Pro Music Australia.

Sennheiser amongst investors in tiny, 5mm MEMS microphone

Sennheiser, together with existing investors, is investing 7 million euros in the Norwegian scale-up business sensiBel. The company has developed optical MEMS microphones which demonstrate first-class sound quality despite their miniature size. The miniature microphones enable a completely new and improved experience in application areas such as consumer electronics, automotive, conferencing solutions, and medical devices.

Sennheiser

MEMS microphone

The patented optical ultra-low noise MEMS microphone features 80 dBA Signal-to-Noise-Ratio (SNR), 146 dB SPL Acoustic Overload Point (AOP), <0.5% Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) and yet with low power consumption in a small MEMS package with digital output – a quantum leap in performance compared to today’s mainstream MEMS microphones. sensiBel sets a new performance benchmark and brings a true studio-quality performance MEMS microphone in a small package to your products.

Crystal clear recordings

Crystal clear audio and sound capture require low microphone self-noise (high SNR) and low harmonic distortion. The sensiBel team believe you should expect the same audio recording quality in your portable device as with a professional studio microphone. For more sophisticated audio applications, small form-factor microphone array products can be enabled by sensiBel’s extremely low self-noise.

Distortion proof in high-noise environments

Undistorted crystal clear audio and sound capture in a high-noise environments requires a high dynamic range. Distortion-free recordings are now possible in high-noise environments like at a rock concert. Loud thumps and other low frequency sounds that would typically distort your audio, are easily handled by the sensiBel microphone. sensiBel provides 146 dB SPL AOP @ 1kHz and can handle up to 150 dB SPL at lower frequencies.

Flexible platform solution

A digital interface makes system integration easy and provides robustness to noise pick-up. PDM interface enables low-latency and easy integration with current systems. I2S interface can be utilized for unlimited transfer of the entire dynamic range. TDM interface makes multi-microphone integration easy. sensiBel offers all these options.

Keep reading here.

Review: PRS SE CE 24 Standard Satin

Within a second of picking up the new PRS SE CE 24 Standard, I was in heaven. The neck on this new very affordable model from PRS is absolutely to die for, as smooth as it gets and an incredibly comfortable shape to boot. It’s the kind of guitar that just makes you want to play for hours, not even bothering to plug in, just enjoying the tactile experience of a really solid, comfortable instrument. 

As a huge fan of satin finishes, any time I pick up a guitar and it doesn’t stick to my hands, I’m a happy camper. In fact, gloss finishes, particularly on the neck of a guitar, have always been somewhat of a mystery to me. I can’t stand having more resistance than necessary hindering my fretting hand, so I’m always on the hunt for those smooth, naturally finished guitars that just seem to glide. 

Read more gear reviews here.

The CE model has been a well loved part of the PRS line-up since 1988, bringing the snappy response and sturdy build of bolt-on construction to the brand’s repertoire. The SE CE 24 Standard Satin is one of the most affordable CE model to date, part of PRS’s entry-level, Indonesian-built SE range which has been lauded for its impressive build-quality for years. 

PRS SE CE 24

Featuring a mahogany body and a maple neck, PRS haven’t skimped on tone woods for this guitar. Thanks to its beautiful satin finish, it’s immediately noticeable before plugging in that this guitar is incredibly loud and resonant, making it feel very lively and exciting to play. The sturdy bolt-on neck of the CE is incredibly ergonomic, featuring a generous 24 frets, 25” scale length and a 1 11/16” nut width. The wide, thin shape of the neck is perfect for both rock solid rhythm playing and full tilt shredding, everything you expect from a PRS guitar. 

The CE’s Rosewood fretboard is adorned with PRS’s famous bird inlays and features a very comfortable 10” radius, capping off the ultra-playable neck in style. However, PRS’s signature sprinkling of avian ornamentation is the extent of this instrument’s flamboyance. Featuring a no-nonsense, stripped-back aesthetic, the SE CE 24 sports nickel hardware and simple black controls, consisting of single volume and tone pots and a three way toggle switch. This particular guitar was finished in a subtle Vintage Cherry colour but PRS have also announced tantalising Turquoise and Charcoal options. 

The SE CE 24’s double cutaway body provides fantastic fret access and features a very comfortable ‘shallow violin’ top carve. Thanks to a thoughtfully rounded-off neck join, I had no trouble at all playing right up to the 24th fret. Overall, the subtle, no-frills construction and ultra-smooth satin finish of the guitar lends itself to an incredibly comfortable and resistance-free playing experience, one that players of all levels will appreciate. 

Upon finally plugging it in, the SE CE floored me right away. For a budget instrument, this guitar really roars and has some seriously impressive sustain. I was particularly taken with the guitar’s coil-tap function, which produces extremely realistic single coil tones via a push/pull system. The SE CE’s 85/15 “S” pickups are very open and natural sounding, allowing for picking dynamics to really shine through and have a big effect on volume. 

PRS SE CE 24 pickups

Designed with a natural, even response in mind, the 85/15 pickups in this guitar produce some truly great tones. With a surprising amount of heft in the bottom end, as well as plenty of midrange grind and sparkling highs, the SE CE 24 can handle everything from spanky country tones to the sludgiest of heavy metal riffage. 

The bridge pickup sounds bright, articulate and bell-like with a pronounced, plucky midrange and the neck pickup is warm whilst retaining enough high end shimmer to cut through. When tapped, both pickups get astonishingly close to Tele territory, making the SE CE incredibly versatile. When pushing an amp into distortion, this guitar sounds absolutely massive thanks to its formidable bass response, and retains its dynamic range despite being firmly on the hot side of the output spectrum. 

The resonance of the SE CE 24 is matched by its jaw dropping sustain. I had my very own personal Spinal Tap moment holding a note on this guitar that would have impressed Nigel Tufnel himself. When paired with distortion this guitar really does become a monster in the best way, bringing its shred-friendly neck into sharp focus. But this isn’t just a heavy metal machine! 

PRS have always prided themselves on the versatility of their instruments and this one is no exception. The SE CE can do almost anything tonally, comfortably traversing genres with ease. The effectiveness of the coil tap feature really cannot be overstated, thinning out the sound in a really pleasant, funky way and basically making the SE CE two guitars in one. 

I’ve always thought of PRS’s, particularly these double cutaway ‘S-Style’ models, as being ‘jazzy metal guitars’; equally at home in a smokey club in the hands of an elder virtuoso as they are having the life shredded out of them by a long haired sweep picker. That’s because these instruments are built for performance, and for those who value it over all else.

The no-frills design of the SE CE 24, in all its simplicity, along with its flash-free satin finish, is evidence of an instrument that is built with this ethos. It feels brilliant to play, it sounds fantastic in every tonal situation, it does exactly what a guitar should do and it doesn’t put up a fight. 

To have such an efficiently designed, versatile guitar with this level of build quality in the modest SE price range is a brilliant thing. As an instrument that could conceivably be somebody’s first guitar, the sheer attention to detail within this model is fantastic. This, combined with the beautifully stripped-back simplicity of its design, makes the SE CE 24 Standard Satin a brilliant choice for any player. And boy does it feel good in the hands! Gloss is so 2023. 

For local enquiries, visit ELFA.

The enduring legacy of Knotfest: a chat with Slipknot’s Clown

For nearly half an hour we’ve chatted Knotfest, Rick Rubin stories, and how great French metallers Gojira are. But with the clock ticking down there’s one more important thing to ask.

“Any updates on who the new drummer is?”

Silence. 

Is this the end of the interview? Has Clown decided he’s had enough of pandering to the music press? Then come two words. 

“Fucking brutal.”

Knotfest Australia is coming. It’ll land on March 21 in Melbourne, March 23 in Sydney and March 24 in Brisbane. For tickets, lineup, info and more, head to Knotfest here.

There’s an urgency in his response, a sense of vitality that – as far as many fans feel – has always been there but not quite in the same quantity for at least the last decade of the band.

At the turn of 2023, things were looking decidedly bleak for “the nine”.

Knotfest Australia

Firstly, sampler and classic line-up member Craig Jones (the one with the spikes in his head) was quietly ousted from the band in June.

Nothing is known about the new sampler, who’s taken up Craig’s place on stage.

Then, on November 5 last year, the band took to their social media to announce that drummer Jay Weinberg was being moved on from the band after a decade behind the kit – a move that Jay later clarified had “blindsided” him.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Having replaced legendary drummer Joey Jordison in 2013, Jay’s departure, for many, signalled the end of the band.

Reddit forums were awash with speculation, with many decrying the “corporate” nature of the decision.

And then came the announcement in December – four weeks after Jay’s departure – of a 25th-anniversary arena tour around Europe.

Video footage of the band playing club shows in their old black jumpsuits. Vintage masks galore. Suddenly it seems possible – if not inevitable – that after a year mired in controversy, 2024 could be the start of a new era of Slipknot at its most hostile. 

Clown’s retort to questions about the tour certainly sounds like someone with the fire re-ignited.

“We’re off a label! We’re free – it’s like Kung-Fu,” he says.

“You go back to zero and chase your own tail. It’s infinity. We go out the way we go in. There’s still five O.G.’s in the band – so I don’t wanna hear from the world about “blah blah blah” – you’ve got Corey, Mick and Jim – a Clown and A Sid – get out of my face!

“Then you have these wonderful friends in the band – plus two new masks, and they’re people who love what we do. Of course, we’re thinking about playing the first album – it’s just where, who, why, when? That’s the fun!

“It’s all about the fuckin’ songs, the fuckin’ fans – I’m done with all the bullshit, and I just want to do what we want like we always have.”

It’s a startling admission from the Slipknot mastermind that, over the past few years, things potentially weren’t dandy behind the scenes.

Then comes another admission –  in the guise of a passing comment – that things were potentially always meant to break this way.

“We don’t do anything unless we already have the answer,” he says.

“We didn’t have a drummer but the shows were immediately put up – people were asking me about it, but we don’t do ANYTHING unless we know.”

He promises that the upcoming tour will be “overdone and in your face”, and the band plans to camp out on the milestone. There’s no need to “rush to do a new album”. 

“We completed 25 years, seven albums – that’s our life, that’s our legacy, and now we’re starting phase 3 if you will,” he says.

 2024 won’t just mark the 25th anniversary of the band’s seminal debut – it also marks two decades since the release of Vol 3: (The Subliminal Verses).

Spawning hits “Vermillion”, “Duality”, and “Before I Forget”the latter of which collected a Grammy in 2006 for “Best Metal Performance”, the album saw Slipknot transcend the metal sub-genre and cross over into mainstream consciousness – kegg cans, blast beats and all. 

It created “culture” a culture around the band that in many ways has been genre-defying;

Slipknot is one of the most instantly recognisable bands – nay brands – in the music world today.

Their merchandise empire rivals that of Kiss. 

They’ve also become the quintessential heavy metal band your parents are scared of – and so much of this visibility can be traced back to the record recorded most at The Mansion, with Rick Rubin in 2003. 

Clown notes that – unlike some of his bandmates – he loved working alongside Rubin (frontman Corey Taylor famously had the opposite experience).

“I have memories of watching (late bassist) Paul Grey sitting on his bed with (Jim Root, guitar) writing “Vermillion” … I would be downstairs making dinner, and I’d walk up and see that, while next door one of the members is taking a crap!

“It was during that record that I found out that my wife was pregnant – she came out to see me and she told me she was pregnant with our son Simon (drummer of metal act Vended) – there was so much happening at the time in my life.”

While the band’s self-titled debut and sophomore Iowa were characterised by passage of Nu-Metal and Death Metal, Vol 3 saw the band open up their sound pallet considerably. 

The brutality was still there – just listen to the full-metal attack of “Three. Nil.” – but so was a desire to push the sonic boundaries.

“Before I Forget” and “Duality” contain some of the biggest pop-metal hooks of the century, while the likes of “Virus of Life” and “Vermillion” saw the band casting out into more experimental waters.  

“Circle is the song for me,” Clown says, referencing the hauntingly melodic ballad about Corey Taylor’s father.

“Musically we had explored something that hadn’t come out. That whole album is an exploration of ourselves and grabbing other abilities of ourselves.

“Circle was written in a dressing room during the Iowa cycle … Jim wrote that song and Corey wrote the lyrics about dozens of things … Jim would always say ‘I don’t know if this is a Slipknot song’ – but I just broke him down and said ‘bro, get that fuckin’ song in here’.

“It was Jim’s choice, he could have chosen not to – but it was a beautiful thing for us for Jim to go ‘yes, I’m going to ordain this into Slipknot, and we’re going to make it work’ – and we did!

“We were pushing ourselves, and that’s what Rick is really good at doing … it’s my favourite (Slipknot) record.”

The milestones of not one but two seminal albums open up exciting possibilities for Slipknot’s legendary live shows.

However, Aussie fans will have to do without seeing the masked riffers at their namesake music festival this year.

After a hugely successful inaugural tour in 2023 – headlined by the band themselves – Knotfest is returning in 2024, with a stacked bill headlined by Pantera, Disturbed, and Lamb of God.

Knotfest

Slipknot not being on the bill will obviously affect the pulling power of the festival – but for Clown, the numbers through the gate – while a necessary evil – are still secondary in importance.

“I never look at it like a business … I’m not into that scene, I’m here to save the human condition. You need art to go to work, to get through that relationship, to get from A to B,” he says.

“For me, I never look at it as going good or bad – I don’t care about ticket sales – I just know that there’s a lot of people coming through that door that need help just like me.”

The festival also presents a huge opportunity for up-and-coming bands to break into new markets, as well as for local bands to get up in front of far bigger audiences.

This year will see locals King Parrot, Windwaker and Speed grace the Knotfest stage, while more established artists like Halestorm, The Hu and Skindred will also make the long trip down under.

Whether it’s helping break new bands in, or expose international acts to new territories – Gojira opened a side stage of the first Knotfest in Iowa back in 2012 – Clown sees the festival as a chance to champion important art.

“I remember Randy (Blythe, Lamb of God frontman), we did a Knotfest a few years ago, Randy had just been released from his ordeal (he was imprisoned on a manslaughter charge in the Czech Republic) and his first show back was Knotfest.

“I love we got to share that with him, but it could have been anywhere. I’m just happy to we can share those shows with a friend – it doesn’t matter if we had anything to do with it or not.

“Metallica did the same for us, Ozzfest did the same for us, Download helped us – all these things. It’s all part of it.”

Knotfest touches down in late March, and while he’s making no promises, Clown said he will hopefully be at the festival. 

“If I make it I want to be there to hang out with people and share in it with them”, he says.

“Even if I chat to someone for just five minutes, a lot of good can come from that.”

Knotfest Australia is coming. It’ll land on March 21 in Melbourne, March 23 in Sydney and March 24 in Brisbane. For tickets, lineup, info and more, head to Knotfest here.

History Reimagined with Korg

If there was one brand who had everybody talking at this year’s NAMM, it was undoubtedly KORG. First off the bat was their announcement that the brand would be reissuing their iconic PS-3300 synthesizer for 2024.

Korg

If you are unfamiliar with the PS-3300, you’d be forgiven. Just 25 were produced in the late 70s, in turn making them one of the most collectable (and physically largest) synthesizers in existence. Unfortunately for the PS-3300, high production costs (which were more than justified given the incredible, unmatched sound of the finished product) put it out of reach of most players. But for those lucky enough to come into contact with the PS-3300 it was love at first sight, amassing a significant cult following amongst a worldwide network of analog synth collectors and message board dwellers.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

2024’s NAMM Show saw Korg announce the re-issue the PS-3300 in the PS-3300 FS (full scale). The PS-3300 FS features 49 keys/49 voice analogue polyphony, expanding on the original 48 keys/voices. Panel memory function allows for 16 programs per bank, with 16 banks = 256 slots overall. The keyboard unit, the PS-3010, is included.

Yoshihito Yamada, Chief Engineer of Korg Analogue Synthesizers, spoke of the new PS-3300, saying:

“Bringing back to life these legendary machines is not only a process of reproducing circuits and sounds, but also of learning and embracing the essence of the philosophy and development of synthesizers.

Through this project I was able to relive the history of Korg and a critical moment in the evolution of our synthesizers. This was an extremely valuable experience that provided an opportunity for Korg’s philosophy and technology to be carried on to future generations.”

PS-3300 FS

If the Korg PS-3300 FS speaks to Korg’s history, a re-issue of a previously unattainable piece of audio synthesis history, the new Opsix MkII builds on Korg’s more recent successful forays into FM synthesis.

The Opsix MkII is an altered FM sound generator, expanding on the original Opsix and offering 64 simultaneous voices. Equally at home on the stage or in the studio. The Opsix MkII has sampling and synthesis in droves, all controlled with 37 velocity and release-velocity sensitive keys. Built to move with you, the Opsix MkI and MkII have an expensive offering, allowing you to work just about any way you choose to, with a focus on the instrument being an extension of the player.

The Opsix MkII is focused on workflow, its data entry knobs offering quick access to everything you may need. These changes are displayed on an OLED display, and different voices and sounds can be easily mixed and combined for entirely unique output.

Building on its modern offerings, the Opsix MkII also features Korg’s MS-20 low-pass/high-pass filter, Korg’s PolySix low-pass filter and more. The Opsix MkII can be viewed as six powerful ways of synthesizing: subtractive, semi-modular, analogue modelling, waveshaping, additive and classic FM synthesis.

If the PS-3300 FS and Opsix MkII were the entree, the main course was undoubtedly the announcement of the sequel to what is possibly the most popular synthesizer ever made, the legendary Microkorg. 

Originally released in 2002 and influencing everyone from the indie sleaze of the early 2000’s right through to synth-punk and chillwave of the early 2010’s and even to this day, the original Microkorg has been one of the defining synths of the modern era, meaning Korg have a lot to live up to. 

Thankfully then new Microkorg (or Microkorg II as fans are calling it) looks every bit as iconic as its predecessor, updating the workflow and user interface for modern times, while adding some new features and patches that are sure to find their way onto plenty of records forthcoming. 

The sound engine itself remains relatively the same in terms of being a bi-timbral, 8 voice synthesizer, but where things get particularly interesting is with the addition of a third oscillator with all three boasting saw, square, triangle, and sine waves, single cycle waveforms (DWGS), and one-shot sample options. This makes for plenty of tonal sculpting and sound design options.

What’s more, the new Microkorg also has plenty to offer in the modulation department with advanced modulation options, including ring, sync, and FM (VPM) all beng selectable for any waveform, not to mention the new multimode filter with continuous filter-type morphing capabilities, for endless tweakability of generated sounds.

If you needed any more indication that it is indeed the year 2024, the new Microkorg has also updated its fairly limited digital screen found on the original, scrapping the former unintelligible layout and printed matrix (“Ptc Nos” anyone!) and replacing it with a new 2.8” colour display from which you can edit sounds, get a full overview of parameters, etc. The ability to visualise the waveform is sure to be a breath of fresh air especially for those who have programmed a Microkorg in the past, to whom this type of visual and tactile functionality is sure to be worth its weight in gold. 

Making a return is the single knob functionality and patch navigation found on the original Microkorg and offering a bunch of new and updated preset banks that are in line with the times. Here we see new genres like ‘Dubstep’ and ‘Game’ represented as a reminder of what has occurred culturally in the years between the release of the Microkorg 2 and its 2002 ancestor.

Another new aspect of the Microkorg that has undergone a revamp is the all new effects section. Hosting three series of effects, including nine types of modulation, and six types of delay and reverb and 2-band parametric EQ with adjustable low and high bands, working in conjunction with the Microkorg’s tone generators and modulators to give the Microkorg more control than ever before. Can’t wait till one lands on our desk. 

For local enquiries, visit CMI Music.

New guitars from Aria!

Aria guitars have a huge range of accessible, affordable guitars of all different types, styles and colours, now expanded by a slew of new electric models as well as the new Fiesta by Aria range.

Read all the latest product & music industry news here.

There’s some right and left handed models, as well as a fretted and fretless bass option depending on your preference (or maybe whatever your collection is missing!)

Aria Guitars

Various electronics and hardware options are available, like single coil pickups or humbuckers, tremolo systems with various switching options to really harness that tone.

The new range moves from TEG-series of traditional shapes to other specific shapes like a baritone, Nashville-style electric, the Fullerton range as well as some Modern Classics.

Fiesta by Aria

The Fiesta range encapsulates the best of the acoustic world with nylon classical style guitars in both 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4 sizes, as well as moe traditional steel string dreadnought guitars. Beyond this, the Fiesta by Aria range also has some folk-y offerings, with both a folk and dreadnought style option!

All of this and more, the entire range of new guitars and basses are available through Pro Music Australia. For local enquiries, visit them here.

Gear Rundown: PJ Harvey

Arguably one of the most acclaimed musicians of the past 25 years, PJ Harvey is a force to be reckoned with.

Breaking into the mainstream consciousness with her massive 1991 single ‘Dress,’ Polly Jean Harvey’s unique brand of raw punk blues proved to be one of the most groundbreaking and inspiring forces that emerged in the 90’s.

PJ Harvey

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

However, unlike other artists of her era, PJ Harvey has experienced unparalleled longevity due to her experiments with different genres and textures to critical acclaim in the 2000s, becoming the only artist to ever win the coveted Mercury Prize twice – first for 2000’s Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and 2011’s Let England Shake.

A multi-instrumentalist with a penchant for vintage instruments and heavy tones, we dive into PJ Harvey’s wide assortment of gear.

Guitars

1970s Gretsch Broadkaster

Throughout her studio and live output in the 1990s, PJ Harvey played a hollow body Gretsch Broadkaster from the 1970s. While the majority of the guitar is original, you can see that PJ has swapped out the original rounded Grestch tone knobs for more traditional witches hat knobs, which can be seen in the above image.

Gibson Firebird V

In the 2000s, PJ Harvey started using a vintage Gibson Firebird as her main guitar, which can particularly be heard across her Mercury Prize winning LP Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. If you look closely in this video, you can also spot Josh Klinghoffer, current guitarist for Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing Harvey’s aforementioned Broadkaster.

Airline 3P Res-O-Glass

Similar to the guitar famously played by The White Stripes’ Jack White, PJ Harvey’s Airline Res-O-Glass is a bit of an oddity spanning back to the rock boom of the 1960s. Originally sold in department stores for a mere $99, the Res-O-Glass is made of hollowed out plastic and typically features gold foil pickups, resulting in a gritty tone that perfectly suits the punk-blues stylings of PJ Harvey’s live performances.

Fender Jaguar

PJ Harvey can frequently be seen using a Fender Jaguar live, swapping between a beaten up Sunburst Jag from 1965 (often played by main guitarist and collaborator John Parish live) and a creamy Olympic White model with a matching headstock, which can be seen in the music video for ‘The Wheel’ from her 2016 LP The Hope Six Demolition Project.

Fender Telecaster

Harvey also frequented a black Fender Telecaster from the 60’s while performing in the 90’s.

Amplifiers

For the majority of her live appearances, PJ Harvey tends to use a Vox AC30 and an Orange Retro 50 head into Marshall 4×12 cabinets, creating an immensely saturated tone.

In the studio, Harvey uses various Marshall, Fender, Mesa-Boogie and Baldwin amps, as listed in an interview that appears on her website.

Effects

PJ Harvey tends to keep her pedalboard pretty simplistic; however, it has changed across the years to include various vocal effects units and preamps to suit her evolving sound.

On PJ’s live board from 2004, you can spot her using a Line 6 DL4 Delay, two Boss DS1 Distortions, a MXR M-104 Distortion+ and a Boss DD-3 Delay.

Recently, Harvey has added a Boss RV3 Digital Reverb/Delay, an EHX Memory Man Delay, and a Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner onto her guitar board, as well as including a Digitech Vocal 300 and what appears to be a valve microphone preamp.

Synthesisers

Mellotron M4000 Mini

A digital reissue of the original Mellotron, Harvey can be seen performing ‘Chain of Keys’ on a Mellotron M4000 in the above video.

Yamaha SK20

PJ Harvey also owns a 1979 Yamaha SK20, one of the first combo keyboards to offer brass, strings, organ and synths sections, which can be seen in this 2007 performance of ‘Electric Light.’

Moog Taurus

In this performance of ‘Grow Grow Grow’ from the From The Basement series, PJ Harvey can be seen simultaneously playing an auto-harp and a Moog Taurus pedal synth with her feet.

Brass

While she’s played both tenor and alto saxophone since the age of eight, PJ Harvey has only recently incorporated the instrument into her live set, nowadays tending to almost solely perform on sax instead of guitar.

For more PJ Harvey content, check out the Guardian’s 50 Greatest PJ Harvey songs.

Kicking and Clicking with Audix Microphones

Audix are an American microphone manufacturer who offer a broad range of individual instrument, studio and handheld microphones in both dynamic and condenser design as well as a wealth of carefully thought-out mic packages. The Audix range is both plentiful and scrupulous in its detail.

Being responsible for such modern classics as the D6 instrument mic and OM5 handheld and leading mic packs such as the DP7, it should come as no surprise that Audix are a go-to mic choice for producers and engineers both live and studio alike. The brand’s range blurs the lines between the live and studio domains seamlessly, and even more so with the release of some more studio focused products in recent times. But what’s perhaps most understated about Audix is the brand’s ability to cater so well to all levels of user, from the seasoned pro to engineer/producer novice.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Audix is one of the few companies that still works off of the ethos of not just designing, but also manufacturing and assembling their equipment in-house, rather than outsourcing overseas. Not just exclusive to their top tier microphones like the A231 large diaphragm condenser or Studio Elite 8 mic pack, even their entry level OM2 handheld and mic packs such as the FP5 are designed, tested and assembled in their facility in Wilsonville, Oregon. What makes this even more significant is that this doesn’t immediately hike up the relative price points of their products, which in this current financial climate is a bit of a big deal. 

Both live and studio environments are tough on gear, it’s just the nature of the beast. Whether it be a commercial or home studio space, an arena-sized or small local live music venue, microphones are inevitably going to cop a proverbial beating. It’s with this in mind that one of the most invaluable attributes (although not one of the most glamorous) a microphone can have is reliability. No matter what the scale of a production, there is nothing more frustrating than a microphone carking it, bringing a session or live event to a grinding halt. Ruggedness and dependability is something that Audix have prioritised in their range and designs across the board, for both the studio and live environment. I’d confidently throw the Audix D6 under the bus in any live or studio environment, knowing full well it’ll only throw back at me its iconic robust low-end and well defined upper-mids every day or the week. It’s bulletproof and an absolute go-to for damn good reason. The same can be said for Audix’s range of handheld mics as well as studio workhorses. From the entry level OM2 handheld to the newer A231 large diaphragm condenser, in true Audix fashion, these mics exude ruggedness and reliability like few others can. 

One of the biggest challenges for the up and coming engineer or producer is knowing what to fill their mic locker with. Whilst temping as it is to jump on the bandwagon of famed named models found in commercial studios and labelled as a holy grail mic, being screwed across the various forums by self proclaimed experts, the reality of budget and real world studio and live scenarios will more often trump having that one microphone in your locker. The importance of being able to cater for a broad palette of instruments and singers can’t be understated, and having the right amount of options on hand, or a couple that are really solid all rounders, is key to a successful session no matter how big or small. 

Audix D6

Audix have tackled these types of quandaries head on, with a meticulously, well thought-out range of dynamics, condensers and mic packs. Few stones left unturned, the large majority of recording or live scenarios being comfortably covered by at least one of their mic packs, particularly when taking on the challenge of a live drum kit. This in turn takes thinking out of the equation, leaving room for the important stuff: the recording. From their Fusion line of mic packs, like the aforementioned FP5 suit a more conservative budget, right up to their DP Elite 8 or Studio Elite 8 packages (which both tout the coveted Audix D6), there really is something for everyone. Where otherwise one might find themselves lost, swimming in a pool of choices, a mic package and perhaps one other mic like a large diaphragm condenser or trusty handheld (depending on the scenario at hand) will keep the majority out of trouble. 

The scenarios we find ourselves in as engineers these days continually blur the lines between the studio and live environments, with the increase of live and remote recording sessions and less-than-ideal environments being more and more commonplace in what it means to make music. Having a range of microphones at one’s disposal that can effortlessly jump between these varying environments has never been more paramount.

Being less likely to take out the vintage condenser or ribbon to a remote or live environment, a handheld of more modern, steadfast mics seems logical, particularly when achieving the desired results and keeping a session rolling. It’s brands like Audix that seem to really have a handle on the needs of the modern engineer and producer, continually pushing forward and evolving their line, very much in alignment with the pro audio world of today. 

For local enquiries, visit Link Audio.