Novation launches firmware update for Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X

Novation launches firmware update for Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X

Novation has announced a firmware update for the Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X bringing “greater customisation and endless possibilities”.

What you need to know:

  • Novation has announced a firmware update for the Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X.
  • Firmware version 2.0 introduces the Custom Mode keystroke widget to allow users to keep their creativity flowing.
  • Firmware version 2.0 is compatible with the MK3 iterations of the Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X.

Read all the latest product news here.

Novation’s iconic Launchpad range sparked a wave of innovation in electronic music production and performance with their Mini, X, and Pro, garnering a dedicated following of users thanks to their limitless possibilities and improvements through firmware updates. 

“With Ableton Live and Logic at their fingertips, a global community of music makers have pushed their musical limits with Launchpad,” Novation said.

Firmware version 2.0 introduces the Custom Mode keystroke widget to allow users to keep their creativity flowing while making music by assigning essential DAW shortcuts using Novation’s Components software for a faster, more intuitive workflow and endless creative options. 

Launchpad X goes even bigger with an additional four Custom Mode slots added in version 2.0. Now with a total of eight slots, Launchpad X owners can take their music to new heights and experiment with the versatile new Custom Mode keystroke widget, without compromising on the space they have to create.

Firmware version 2.0 is compatible with the MK3 iterations of the Launchpad Mini and Launchpad X, as the update can now be downloaded from Novation Components.

Head to Novation to explore the Launchpad range.

South by Southwest (SXSW) is heading to Sydney in 2023 for its first festival outside the US

In a major coup for Sydney and Australia, the renowned tech, music, film and cultural festival South by Southwest (SWSW) is heading to Australia next year for an epic eight-day activation.

Landing in Australia in October 2023, Sydney will be the official annual host of the Asia-Pacific instalment of SXSW, the first city to host the event outside of North America. Ever. The harbour city will play host to a collision of creativity and culture, forming the centre-point for changemakers during this exciting event.

Keep up to date with the latest industry news here.

Since 1987, Austin, Texas has been the central hub for the world’s music industry each March, bringing together big names and emerging artists in tech, film, music, culture, gaming and education industries for SXSW, attracting close to 100 thousand registered attendees, speakers and media members from around the world to each year.

A dream for many, the festival is now within reach for many Australian creators and music lovers.

Running from Sunday, October 15 – Sunday, October 22, 2023, SXSW (the AUS version) will fill Sydney with more than one thousand events, including keynote speakers, panels and summits, product demonstrations, artist performances, screenings, live gaming sessions and networking events and parties across eight days.

Much like its Austin edition, the festival will feature a program spanning music, screen, gaming and tech across the one-week event, but will put a focus on creatives and thinkers from the Asia-Pacific.

SXSW Sydney is a collaboration with event producer TEG, the New South Wales government and Destination NSW.

“We couldn’t be more excited and honored [sic] to work with TEG and the New South Wales Government via Destination NSW on an event that brings to Australia the professional opportunities and unexpected discoveries that make SXSW unique,” said SXSW co-founder and CEO Roland Swenson.

“The purpose of SXSW is to help creative people achieve their goals, and Sydney is the ideal city to serve as a home for the cross-collaboration that exists within the many industries we bring together.”

“Focusing on the creator industries in the Asia-Pacific region, SXSW Sydney will celebrate what’s next in culture, tech and the regions thriving creative economy,” SXSW Sydney Managing Director Colin Daniels said.

“Put simply, SXSW is the Olympics of events for the creator industries, and we are thrilled to bring this legendary festival of gaming, music, screen, tech and innovation to Sydney in 2023,” CEO of SXSW Sydney’s event producer TEG said.

SXSW will happen in Sydney from Sunday 15 to Sunday 22 October, 2023. For those that want to continue the annual pilgrimage overseas, SXSW will continue its usual programming in Austin with a 2023 festival locked in for March.

Find out more here

Review: Sonarworks SoundID Reference

I should start this review by stating, that in these uncertain times of untreated spaces, cheapo monitoring setups and even worse *gasp* – mixing through headphones – I for one 100% subscribe to the the use of high quality reference and calibration software to extract every bit of useable goodness out of your less than ideal monitoring situation. The reasons for this are many.

In the case of the headphone mixer or those using entry level monitoring equipment, it is without question the most straightforward way to ensure better mix translatability between the inherently biased vantage point of your ears, listening through your specific monitoring situation, and into the wild world of greater audience playback – an inexact science and something in which the margin for error is extremely fine.

Read all the latest music software and gear reviews here.

Using a digitally calibrated system is the ultimate insurance policy to ensure that you are giving yourself every opportunity to have your mixes flourish in as many listening contexts as possible. 

For the itinerant engineer, software like Sonarwork’s acclaimed Reference series allows for better consistency from one work environment to the next, strengthening the relationship between speaker, headphone and room and providing a flexible and scalable monitoring situation throughout.

Such software has been pivotal in the popularisation of these kind DSP-based workflows, in many ways serving as the great equaliser (pun absolutely intended) between big budget studio and the humble home monitoring chain.

Sonarworks latest offering, SoundID Reference, sees the industry leaders in reference software up the ante yet again, this time by way of integrating several features found in the brand’s personalised listening products and combining them with the unrivalled feature set of the industry-leading Reference series, achieving the most powerful Reference suite yet (and also bringing the gap between perfectly calibrated, acoustically treated studio space and budget headphone monitoring into as close a proximity as they have ever been).

To cater to the highly personalised world of monitoring, Sonarworks have made SoundID Reference available in two separate versions, the first being for those using both headphones and speakers, with a second version available just for the standalone headphone users. 

The system itself is divided into three separate and distinct entities: the system-wide app known as ‘standalone’ mode, the plug-in version, which can be thrown on a master bus or insert chain, and a separate room calibration app, SoundID Reference Measure, which is ideal for calibrating speakers in the open air. 

As one would expect, open air calibration does require a reference mic of some kind, and Sonarwork’s own XREF20 microphone (which comes bundled with the full version) is as trustworthy and reliable as one is ever likely to encounter, particularly when used in conjunction with the company’s proprietary software.

There’s about 15 minutes of setup time required all up for SoundID Reference to work its magic and collect enough information from your setup to find the appropriate EQ curve, but once that’s all sorted, it’s off to the races we go.

After you’ve successfully calibrated your room, the standalone version will no doubt see the most action of the three aforementioned applications. The plug-in version can be useful for cross checking at the end of a mix, but you really want to be mixing with SoundID reference from the start, and the Standalone app is definitely the best for that, with minimal latency and no chance of leaving it engaged on the master bus.

Using SoundID Reference in conjunction with an industry standard pair of monitoring headphones (like Beyerdynamic 770s or Audio-Technica AT50Xs), the difference is obvious and immediate, bringing problematic areas to the fore and and providing an accurate indication of exactly what needs to be rectified. 

Whereas most home setups so often struggle to accurately replicate low frequency and low-mid information – often resulting in too much or not enough of either – Sonarworks SoundID Reference provides an instantly workable, transparent vantage point from which to mix from, not only providing accurate frequency information, but also excellent recoil and transient decay. The effect this instantly has on overall mix quality is nothing short of astonishing. 

I found that simply by integrating Sound ID Reference into my standard mobile setup, I was able to locate and incrementally attenuate masking frequencies with a higher level of detail than ever before. Notoriously tricky tasks like finding the perfect amount of mid cut on a kick, or where to set the low-pass filter on a band-passed snare were made infinitely more manageable thanks to the SoundID software.

When cross-checking previous mixes through the SoundID Reference software, broadband, overarching frequency issues and buildup were made immediately obvious and once attenuated, maintained these changes across multiple systems and listening environments.

While the automatically generated frequency curves are worth their weight in gold, there is also the ability to tweak from within the app as well. The new ‘Target Mode’ in particular is a doozy of a feature, allowing users to choose between ‘flat’, ‘’Custom’ and ‘Translation Check’ modes, in order to give as many cross checking options as possible before printing your final mix.

Within Custom mode there are adjustable low and high shelves, adjustable EQ points and Bell curve inputs to allow for maximum personalisation. While these can be handy for anybody with the specific game plan in mind, I found myself generally opting for the algorithmically generated curves.

Using the Translation Check features is amazing for checking how it’s going to sound in real world environments. You can emulate a bunch of classic devices including car stereos, phone speakers, TVs and both in-ear and over-ear headphones. These provide an invaluable checklist for final mixdown and are alone worth the cost of entry.

With speakers in the open air, it’s important to note that SoundID Reference cannot correct everything. When used on cheap speakers in a unworkable sounding room – like if you wanted to mix in a hall of mirrors for example, which nobody in their right mind would ever recommend – the amount of EQ correction required for something like this would most likely create some subtle but audible distortion, as the speakers would be working overtime to reproduce and attenuate the extreme shortcomings of your room.

This is why it’s recommended to first do some research on the space you’re using and treating existing standing waves and first reflection points with sound treatment before using this software.

Just like anything to do with monitoring, a little bit of optimisation can go a long way to getting the most out of your chain, so for those using speakers, be sure to put a bit of time into setting up your listening environment and give SoundID Reference every opportunity to do its thing, unimpeded. 

Right now, access to music production software and digital audio workstations are at an  all time high, while high end monitoring setups are at an all time low, meaning that the vast majority of music is being mixed and monitored in ways that are anything but conducive to a quality end product. 

Using SoundID Reference by Sonarworks will give any audio setup a leg up in terms of clarity and translation. The combination of rock solid room calibration, speaker/headphone emulation and flattening of the acoustic issues associated with on-ear and over-ear headphones is one of the quickest and simplest ways to level out the playing field, and for that, there is simply no better product on the market than Sonarworks and the the latest incarnation of SoundID Reference. It’s simply one of the defining studio technologies of the current era.

Find out more about SoundID Reference via Sonarworks today. For local enquiries, reach out to Borleyco.

Mixdown’s 10 Greatest Hardware Equalisers of All Time: Part One

The greatest hardware equalisers are tough to narrow down as the humble units are without doubt one of the most important and overworked weapons in an audio engineers’ arsenal. Just stop for a second and consider how many times we reach for it in an average session. Hundreds? Thousands maybe? Countless nano-second long parameter tweaks-notching out troublespots, reinforcing important harmonics, subtly bringing out detail where it was previously obfuscated. The A/B comparisons, gainmatching, and bypassing.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

They are some of the most personal and interactive pieces of equipment in the entire recording chain and while they might not attract the same sort of coveted or transcendent associations that outboard compressors have formed over the years, hardware EQ’s certainly do hold a particularly special place within the upper echelons of the audio community. 

Varying from broadband, musicality to razor sharp sonic scalpels, we’ll be charging through the hardware units that simply stand above the rest, their unique voicings having helped shape the sound of thousands of records we’ve all come to adore, along with some of the most awe-inspiring and innovative topographies in studio history. Each name mentioned hasn’t made its way here through fanfare alone but rather, the unquestionable quality and inspiration they invoke upon those lucky enough to lay hands on them. 

Let us embark upon the great journey that is – Mixdown’s Ten Greatest Hardware Equalisers of All Time. 

10. Harrison 32C

The year was 1975 and Dave Harrison had just introduced the 32-Series console to the world. Having initially worked for and instigated in-line console designs for MCI, Harrison, wanting to push his designs further, branched off to form his own console company – Harrison, which brought the world the first 32-bus console. 

Famed for its particularly colourful and inimitable EQ design for its time, the 32C’s EQ section pre-dated the kind of fully parametric EQ’s we take for granted today, but its proportional Q response was undoubtedly parametric in nature, serving as a precursor to the kind of limitless tweakability that would follow. 

This meant smaller boosts responded in nice broad and musical strokes, but when dialled in more aggressively, the Q sharpened, making for more surgical cutting or narrower boosts if and when required. This, paired with its unmistakably silky top end, served as the secret sauce behind the signature, hit-making Harrison sound, in turn creating one of defining sounds of the late ’70s and ’80s. 

Each of the four EQ bands are sweep-able, with crossover frequencies between each corresponding bands and a +/-10dB range. By default, the low and high bands are shelving types, but can be switched to become bell shapes like the two mid bands, and with such wide sweep-able bands allows for very musical sound curves and shaping of whatever source material is fed through them. The high and low pass filters complete the EQ section, again each boasting astoundingly broad frequency ranges. 

The control that this allowed for was akin to pop nirvana, with notable artists like Michael Jackson (Thriller, Bad), Queen and Paul Simon (Graceland) all opting for the Harrison 32c console and its forward-thinking EQ section. 

9. Trident A-Range

Birthed in the infamous Trident Studios, London, the original Trident A-Range consoles are steeped in rock ‘n’ roll history, having left a distinct sonic imprint on countless seminal records from both British and American artists throughout the 1970s and ’80s. 

The facility itself, one of the most in-demand of the era, had long earned a reputation for being at the forefront of studio technology, and in 1971, newly appointed studio manager, Malcom Toft, was eager to stay on the cutting edge, commissioning a new 24-track track tape machine for the main room at Tridents St. Anne’s address.

This would require a new console and after being unable to find a manufacturer to meet their requirements, Toft and Barry Porter took it upon themselves to design and build a custom console for the studio, and thus – the Trident A-Range was born. 

There were only 13 of the Trident A-range original consoles made initially, and with their unmistakable eggplant colour, these original 13 have developed an almost mythical status amongst studio boffins who salivate over their incredible harmonic character and inductor-based EQ design. The momentum has undoubtedly lived on, with both Trident and Toft still making consoles to this day. 

While the A-range consoles were renowned for their gorgeous, rich sounding preamp section, with minimal distortion in the audio path as noted by Toft, the EQ section drew particular attention to its users, and where the vibe and “magic” of the console really was.  

The EQ section immediately stands out with its linear faders controlling a +/-15dB range of the four EQ bands, each of which have four selectable frequencies, with the low and high bands being shelves, and the two mid bands being bell curves. The high and low pass filters each have three frequency options, but uniquely can be selected simultaneously, creating some incredibly unique filter shapes; something that the EQ section became famous for. 

Each frequency in the EQ section was supposedly picked and tuned by ear by Toft, other Trident in-house engineers and notable producers and engineers from outside the studio, which was refined over the years. The distinct sound and unique design of the console acquired remarkable levels of attention in the professional recording community, with later A-Range models being famously found in studios such as Cherokee Studios, Los Angeles.  

Notable artists to have recorded and/or mixed on an A-Range console include the likes of David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Frank Sinatra, T-Rex, among countless others. 

8. Maag Audio EQ4

Moving away from EQs of famed channel strips for a second, next in our list is the magical blue box, the Maag Audio EQ4. Albeit a more modern piece of 500 series outboard (also available as a 1RU stereo mastering unit, the EQ4M), the EQ4 does indeed have its own rich history, stemming from the eminent NTI EQ3 of the ’80s. 

Designed by one of the world’s premier audio perfectionists, Cliff Maag, it’s fair to say the EQ4 isn’t exactly a “workhorse” EQ in the sense that it isn’t from the parametric, surgically precise deft-touch school of EQ, like some of the others on this list. What it does however, is offer something that no other hardware EQ really does, hence why it’s made its rightful home on this list. 

At first glance, one might think this humble little blue box is a simple 500 series six-band equaliser. However, the five position Air Band (six if you include the off position) throws this initial impression right out the window, with the EQ4 providing unparalleled openness (and for lack of a better word ‘air’) to whatever is fed into it. It’s something that really does need to be heard to be believed. 

greatest hardware equalisers

Even with whopping amounts of gain thrown at it, things never seem to get harsh or brittle, but rather just silkier and more musical. What’s more, even the 20kHz and 40kHz frequency selections (despite the latter being a whole octave above the range of human hearing) continue to bring an angelic breathiness and unspoilt clarity to proceedings, in a way which no other EQ has seemed to fully nail. This all combines to make the Maag EQ4 perfect for providing a sense of space and silky front to back separation for lead vocals, without the need to reach for a volume fader or ambient reverb –  absolutely ideal for the modern pop workflow.

The five lower fixed frequency bands have been carefully selected, with the 2.5kHz band being a shelf shape, and the 650Hz, 160Hz, 40Hz, and 10Hz (sub) bands being bells shapes. Each band offers +15dB of gain for boosting and -4.5dB for cutting, with the Air Band being boost only. 

The EQ4, unlike many other EQ’s also boasts very little in the way of phase shift, a painstakingly detailed part of its design, keeping source material (and its relative phase relationships) very much intact. It’s absolutely a musical, tone shaping monster, with its famed Air Band having become synonymous with countless hit songs from artists such as Madonna, Justin Timberlake, Celine Dion, Pink and many, many more. A staple among the pros.

7. Undertone Audio MPEQ1

Easily one of the most versatile hardware EQ’s ever created. The Swiss army knife, or dare I suggest, the Distressor of outboard EQ’s would have to be the Undertone Audio MPEQ1, which is the brainchild of producer, audio guru, and Undertone Audio founder, Eric Valentine. For those unfamiliar with his credits, a quick search of the interwebs will be quite illuminating. 

Initially integrated into his own custom console before becoming available as a single rack unit channel strip (before sadly becoming discontinued), the MPEQ1 features the full equaliser section found in the console, as well as the custom mic preamp. While we could easily do a full article on just the mic pre alone, the EQ section is where things really fire up! 

The unit’s full Class-A design and 20V rails ooze everything there is to love about the vintage sound and design, paired with unreasonable amounts of modern flexibility. For example, both the high and low pass filters have abnormally wide frequency ranges. “Ok, cool guy, not exactly anything new there”. Agreed, but, each filter has variable slopes starting off at a gentle 6dB/octave, the filters can become wildly steeper and such, introducing varying degrees of resonant peaks cornered at the frequency the filter is set at. This combined with the EQ bands themselves becomes infinitely powerful, almost like what you would see in the world of analog synthesis.  

As for the four parametric bands, each band can more or less replicate the shapes of any famed vintage console. I think we can all fill in the gaps of the usual suspects here. This is achieved by the ridiculous level of control available on each band. Sure, there’s Q control (pfft, standard parametric stuff), but also variable shape control and the ability to switch between bell, cut and notch modes. Typically, each band allows for 15dB or boost or cut, but when dialling in certain shelf and Q combinations this range can be extended to as much as 30dB worth of boost or cut, or if in notch mode, more or less complete cancellation, aka -50dB of attenuation! 

A happy accident of the MPEQ1, which has turned out to be one of the most interesting and lifesaving features of the EQ section comes to the fore when in notch mode. Each band has the ability to adjust the phase of just that certain frequency range from which a particular band is set to. This becomes superlatively useful on multi mic’d sources like a drumkit, being able to perform a whole host of complex audio tasks like bringing the  low end of a snare drum mic back into phase alignment with the overheads, where a standard 180 phase flip just doesn’t cut the mustard. For a full appreciation of this incredibly unique feature an RTFM disclaimer has been inserted here. Enjoy! 

This beast of an EQ can pretty much be heard on anything Eric had recorded or mixed from the mid 2000’s on. Check out that discography and hear for yourself.

6. GML 8200

The last in Part One of our Greatest Hardware Equalisers of All Time list is none other than the GML 8200. 

Whilst these days we may consider the ol’ parametric equaliser as mere cannon fodder, there was such a time in which even the most esteemed audio minds would scoff at the suggestion of variable Q or bandwidth. But in other circles of audio society, a young George Massenburg had other plans.

In a technical paper presented at the 42nd Audio Engineers Society convention in 1972, Massenburg introduced the audio industry to the words “parametric equalisation”, an absolute revelation, one that quite frankly flipped the world of audio on its proverbial head. Aside from glaringly obvious technological breakthroughs in his subsequent inventions, Massenburg also brought a philosophy to his designs and something which has carried right through to this, the GML 8200. Massenburg’s lifelong obsession with transparency in the Audio domain.

greatest hardware equalisers

Unlike many high-end or professional equalisers of the time, and flying in the face of what so many self proclaimed “expects” might tell you, sometimes transformers aren’t always the best option for pure unadulterated audio. Sometimes, one doesn’t need unnecessary harmonics or saturation, but rather, as little interference and colouration as possible. It’s with this awareness that the GML 8200 is a completely Class A – transformerless design, with no interstage or coupling capacitors. 

The GML 8200 is as every bit as surgically precise and meticulously transparent as one might expect of a design borne out of such a delightfully puritanical ethos. Providing pinpoint accuracy and bountifully broad Q ranges across the five bands, the GML 8200 is equipped to tackle an equalisation task, with the overlapping frequency bands ranging from an infrasonic 15Hz to an ultrasonic 26kHz.

The low and high bands can also be switched from a shelf to bell curve, with +/-15dB of boost or cut available on each band. One of the most impressive parts of this EQ is the minimal amount of resonance it imparts, even on the most heavy handed of EQ tasks. This pays particular dividends when performing surgical cuts to problematic frequencies, in turn leaving the rest of the frequency spectrum untarnished and with minimal artefacts. 

The GML 8200 can be found in countless studio outboard racks across the globe, with several finding their rightful  home at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, where Massenburg’s meticulously designed ATMOS room resides.

Check out part two here! Be sure to check out Mixdown’s Greatest Compressors of All Time.

Gear Icons: Solid State Logic

SSL’s decades-long dominance of the professional audio world is evident in a multitude of ways, the first, and most immediate, being the sheer volume of successful records recorded and mixed on SSL consoles. 

To get an idea of the ubiquity of SSL consoles in professional studios in the last 30 years, consider that Billboard’s Studio Action Chart at one point, estimated that 83 per cent of number one hits in the US were recorded through an SSL console, such is the brand’s overwhelming dominance in Professional Tracking/Mixing in the musical realm.

Summary:

  • SSL consoles have long been the benchmark of the professional audio world with many of the world’s successful records being recorded and mixed on them.
  • The British company’s latest release of the UF8 studio controller and the UC1 plug-in controller puts them at the forefront of modern innovation, while staying true to the tried and tested technology layouts and usability.
  • Their 2 and 2+ desktop interfaces have already proved their popularity among the new generations of content creators

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

At the sonic level, the British company has permeated the very language of the recording studio, with the SSL name becoming a metonym for the slick, polished-yet-punchy sound that mixes display after taking their journey through the famed whisper-quiet preamps, edgy dynamics modules, precision EQ’s, and revered bus compressors – and of course making full use of the SSL’s state-of-the-art routing matrix. 

To say that SSL are part of the culture would be an understatement. Over the course of the brand’s history, they have garnered a reputation in the space reserved for only the select few, becoming one of the most trusted and respected icons in all of audio.

Along with Neve and API, they make up the holy trinity of the classic console manufacturers, but where the latter were primarily known for their beautiful saturation and sonic gravitas in a mostly musical context, SSL’s pure, crystalline capture, endless headroom, and focus on workflow and routing parlayed perfectly into the world of film and TV post-production, giving the brand an enduring legacy across two very different corners of the professional market – music and film.

As many brands with a history of making strictly professional gear begin taking their first steps into the home studio market, (and from there into the even newer world of content creation), it is SSL who have emerged as the one best positioned to make the transition into the kind of scalable, desktop solutions required of the modern creative. 

The brand’s 2 and 2+ desktop interfaces in particular have already established themselves as a favourite of the new generation of content creators, and we are now seeing some of SSL’s other desktop offerings making their presence felt in the burgeoning creator market, as productions become more sophisticated and creators find themselves taking on an increasingly professional workflow.

Again it’s that word, workflow, that keeps popping up and suffice to say, it is this innate, intimate understanding of professional processes and work habits (acquired from over 40 years as industry leaders in studio and post-production), that has allowed SSL to adapt so naturally to the rapidly changing face of modern studio, with a practicality and nimbleness few other manufacturers can match. 

colin sanders ssl

Today, in the context of professionally compiled, multiple source applications like broadcast, post-production and SFX (as well as their younger sibling, content creation), that nimbleness is more than paying dividends. 

Far from the days of large scale consoles, in 2021, it is the humble DAW controller that has become the norm in post studios worldwide. The mobility, tactile functionality and obvious time-saving benefits they offer provide too much of an incentive for an industry that prides itself on rapid turnarounds and strict deadlines. With a legacy so closely aligned with routing options and efficiency of workflow in the professional space, it’s no surprise that SSL have made the shift so seamlessly into these kinds of hybrid, console-free workflows. Given their history in the space (and their acronym), you might even say it’s the logical next step for the brand.

The UF8 is SSL’s latest studio controller and exhibits all the forethought and attention to detail you would expect from the legendary manufacturer. The premium small scale desktop control solution is an absolute go-to for anyone looking to take their mix workflow out of the box and onto a set of faders, but with a level of scalability that won’t require excessive upgrades down the line. 

For the maturing content creator, especially those who are primarily used to an in-the-box workflow, the UF8 serves as the perfect entry point into the ‘console’ style workflow preferred in professional mix circles, providing all the visual and haptic upside that comes with mixing through fader banks and rotary dials (and with the option to chain units together as your mixing needs expand). 

SSL UF8

For the seasoned pro, the UF8 serves as a delightfully portable fader option for location and post work, absolutely ideal for riding dialogue or for getting in-the-box desk mixes ready on the fly. The naturalness of the navigation/display and the portability/stowability of the unit itself, makes it your new best friend for any small scale mix applications or minimalist studio setup requirements. 

Allowing simultaneous control of multiple DAWs at once, the UF8 is designed to handle any high-pressure, post, or content related task you can throw at it and with its multi-purpose master encoder for timeline navigation, advanced track banking, and mouse wheel emulation for precision tactile control, it is a controller that serves as both an ideal gateway into advanced production workflows while simultaneously furthering the classic SSL workflows we all know and love.

But fader balancing, sub-mixing, and ease of layout are just one part of the equation and as anyone with any SSL console experience will tell you, half the fun is in the brand’s industry-defining approach to in-line and bus processing.

The UC1 is a plug-in controller designed to link seamlessly with your DAW of choice, faithfully recreating the SSL processing experience in the digital realm. Designed to control SSL’s proprietary Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2 plugins, the UC1’s layout features hardware controls for every parameter found on these plugins, themselves emulations of SSL’s legendary bus compressor and channel strips as found on their consoles. 

This allows for an authentic SSL mixing experience without the price tag of a full-sized console, with the UC1 also linking seamlessly with the aforementioned UF8 DAW controller to allow for a fully modular, scalable layout reminiscent of a mini SSL console, especially with four UF8 units and a UC1 unit all linked at once.

SSL UC1

A small LCD screen on the UC1 unit displays crucial information such as the name of the track you are working on and numerical values of knobs being changed in real time, but does not distract from the haptic function of the controller.

With navigation a priority, SSL have craftily added the ability to quickly select presets on the screen, useful for quickly processing tracks that you already know what you want to do with. SSL’s 360 software links with your DAW of choice to offer a meta-view of the processing you have performed on all of the tracks in your DAW, displaying a virtual console where you can quickly organise your processed tracks and add bus compression to taste. 

Sometimes, learning to use a studio controller can be a lot like learning to type again, especially after years of being conditioned to believe that the computer mouse is the ideal control peripheral for audio work (hint: it’s not). The kinds of tactile workflows that defined the big console era evolved that way for a reason, and products like the UF8 and UC1 are a perfect reminder of what it feels like to mix audio in its natural habitat. For anyone working to deadlines or pulling eight hour days at the controls, the freedom of movement and speed such workflows allow for are both physically liberating and economically efficient. Time is money after all.

Where products like the UF8 and UC1 get it so right is in their combination of old and new, staying more or less true to the tried and tested SSL way of doing things with the same basic layout, same familiar colour coding and rotary controls, but combining this with a bounty of modern innovation and scalability at the integration level, that increases their flexibility ten fold.

For a company that has been designing cutting-edge consoles for nearly half a century, it is hard to imagine the task of workflow innovation being in better hands.

Check Solid State Logic’s website for more information, or to buy the UF8 or the UC1.

Gibson introduces the Cat Stevens J-180 Collector’s Edition

The Gibson Acoustic Custom Shop has introduced the Cat Stevens J-180 Collector’s Edition, based on the original guitar used for his early work.

What you need to know:

  • The Gibson Acoustic Custom Shop has introduced the Cat Stevens J-180 Collector’s Edition.
  • A heavily limited run based on the original guitar used in Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ early work.
  • With his long dark hair and beard, slender frame, and black Gibson J-180, Cat Stevens stood as the embodiment of the 1970s singer-songwriter.

Read all the latest product news here.

The acoustic guitar will be heavily limited to just 50, featuring a thermally aged Sitka spruce top, mother-of-pearl moon and star headstock and graduated star fretboard inlays, and an interior label hand-signed by Yusuf / Cat Stevens.

A custom Cat Stevens J-180 hardshell case is included. The package includes a certificate of authenticity and a selection of patches, pins, and stickers inspired by the artist’s iconic artwork.

“I really turned a corner when I got my hands on a black Gibson Everly Brothers J-180,” said Yusuf / Cat Stevens. “It was my favourite guitar, and it had a very easy action. I played it almost percussively, and that sound gave real character to my recordings. It looked amazing too! Handling the new model is like going back in time to when I first started playing.”

With his long dark hair and beard, slender frame, and black Gibson J-180, Cat Stevens stood as the embodiment of the 1970s singer-songwriter, a modern troubadour on a quest for spiritual enlightenment through music,” Gibson said. 

Many of his all-time classic songs were written and recorded on his Gibson J-180 including ‘Wild World’, ‘Peace Train’, ‘Father and Son’, and more.

Yusuf / Cat Stevens originally bought his J-180 in London’s famous Selmer’s Music Shop in 1969. Drawn to the J-180’s slim and elegant style, the guitar’s natural percussive quality soon became an essential component of the intimate sound of his first three albums of the 1970s, Mona Bone Jakon, Tea For The Tillerman, and Teaser And The Firecat

Near the end of decade, Yusuf / Cat Stevens sold all of his musical equipment, including his J-180 with the proceeds going to charity.

In the years since, he has been reunited with the original guitar and has also acquired a second vintage model as a backup that is used for worldwide touring.

Head to Gibson for more information. For local enquiries on Gibson products, reach out to Australis Music.

Erica Synths and Moritz Klein reveal their latest module, a Mixer

Latvian synth specialists Erica Synths and Moritz Klein have announced the latest module in its series of educational DIY kits, the DIY Mixer.

What you need to know:

  • Latvian synth specialists Erica Synths and Moritz Klein have announced the latest module in its series of educational DIY kits, the DIY Mixer.
  • The EDU DIY Mixer is a super simple three-channel mixer with built-in diode distortion.
  • The Mixer is the sixth of nine kits to be released with future releases including a wavefolder, a noise/S&H module, and an output stereo mixer with a headphone amplifier.

Read all the latest product news here.

“Mixing might be more of a utility function in a modular synthesiser – but this doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be dull and boring,” Erica Synths said.

“Case in point: this super simple three-channel mixer with built-in diode distortion will make your patches sound delightfully rough.”

The Mixer is the sixth of nine kits to be released with future releases including a wavefolder, a noise/S&H module, and an output stereo mixer with a headphone amplifier.

Users will be given four to six weeks between module releases to give them a chance to build each one as the intention is to “teach people with little-to-no prior experience how to design analogue synthesiser circuits from scratch”.

Erica Synths said “what you’ll find in the box is not simply meant to be soldered together and then disappear in your rack”.

“Instead, we want to take you through the circuit design process step by step, explaining every choice we’ve made and how it impacts the finished module,” they said.

Each kit will also include a build manual, covering both the fundamentals of synthesis as well as how the electronics in each module work.

Additionally, an affordable eurorack case with a DIY PSU will also be available.

“While these kits are easy to build, we did not compromise on design and functionality,” they said.

Head to Erica Synths for more.

Strymon officially unveils Next Generation effects pedals

Strymon has officially unveiled their Next Generation line of effects pedals – updated versions of some of their most popular pedals.

What you need to know:

  • Strymon has officially unveiled their Next Generation line of effects pedals.
  • The line features updated versions of some of their most popular pedals.
  • It includes updates to user interfaces, DSP processing, and connectivity 

Read all the latest product news here.

The new line includes the DIG, Flint, El Capistan, Deco, Lex, and blueSky, and feature a new ARM processor chip and a USB-C connection for updating firmware and MIDI communication.

The user interface for each pedal has also been updated to provide easier and deeper control of important parameters, allowing users to get to their favourite (and undiscovered) sounds faster and easier than ever before.

For more connectivity goodness, the pedals also feature a TRS MIDI jack for bidirectional MIDI communication, full stereo inputs and outputs with a rear-panel mono/stereo switch, and a premium JFET input circuit for the ultimate in tone and touch response.

“We know that all of these pedals have a large and dedicated fan base,” said Dave Freuhling, Strymon co-founder and chief firmware guru. “So, it was important that the improvements and updates we worked on didn’t take away from what made them so popular in the first place.”

“Everything we changed was done for a reason, because the goal was not only to add some modern features that customers have been repeatedly asking for, but also to make sure that all six pedals are much easier to use,” said Strymon’s Head of Marketing Sean Halley.

“At the end of the day these pedals can recreate all of the sounds that were previously available in the original versions, but now they sound and feel better, are far more powerful and flexible, and are ultimately easier to use than we could have hoped when each model was originally released.”

Head to Strymon for more information. For local enquiries, reach out to Amber Technology.

Mixdown’s Ten Greatest Compressors of All Time: Part Two

We recently embarked on a breakdown of our picks for some of the greatest compressors of all time and needless to say, the results were anything but cookie-cutter.

Featuring obscure lo-fi battlers, cheap Eurotrash and rack units worth more than your car, the first five were all over the place and rightly so. Music is subjective and often calls for lo-fi and trashy just as often as it calls for clean and pristine. One man’s Eurotrash is another man’s Eurotreasure. Anyway…

Now we’re up to the pointy end of things, and it’s all starting to get a bit serious. Who will rule the rack? Who did we miss from Part One? All will be revealed…

Explore more features and gear rundowns here.

5. Empirical Labs Distressor

The enfant terrible of the list, the Empirical Labs Distressor is a departure from a lot of the other names on here, bucking the trend of compressors past and becoming something of a Gen Y mainstay.

Traditionally, the MO for hardware compressors has been to provide maximum gain reduction with minimal colouration on the overall sound, often to varying degrees of success. The Distressor gleefully thumbs its nose at this premise, instead using its cutting edge hybrid digital/analogue design to facilitate a sort of Jekyll and Hyde act on the world of audio processing.

On the one hand, you have an extremely versatile and docile compressor, perfect for reigning in transients and providing steady state volume on sources like bass guitar and snare. But push it even slightly and the Distressor’s real character starts to come to the fore, adding harmonic fire, saturation and overall sonic heft in a way that few compressors can match. Push it further again and all hell breaks loose.

A versatile compressor with an appetite for destruction, the Distressor is already a modern classic, becoming something of a rite-de-passage for aspiring engineers looking to make the jump from prosumer to professional.

Its ability to excite and ignite makes it a perfect option for injecting some life into all kinds of source material, but especially drums, where its penchant for searing harmonic distortion can be just the ticket to draw the kick out of a dense mix.

4. SSL G-Series Bus Compressor

If you had the pleasure/displeasure of catching Deadmau5’s Masterclass on Electronic Music Production you probably heard him utter the immortal line “Using a SSL G Series Compressor on a dance music kick makes no fkin sense…”

Not to discredit Mr. Mau5, but other than the obvious mono/stereo thing, it could very well be worth a shot.

The undisputed king of the stereo bus compressors, the SSL G-Series has been consolidating mixes and bringing a sense of togetherness to proceedings ever since it first emerged as part of the SSL 4000 G Series consoles in the 1980s.

In the time since, it has become something of an industry standard for the drum bus and stereo mix, providing expensive sheen and guttural punch in equal measure, regardless of genre. In 1996, it was even reported that 86% of number one singles in America had been recorded on SSL consoles. It’s fair to assume that every one of these used the bus compressor to some degree.

Sonically, it’s a compressor that has a handy knack for appealing to the reptile part of the brain. Everything that goes into the G-Series comes out sounding bigger, better, tougher. Whether providing additional knock to the main drum bus, lightly tickling the master or providing heavy handed parallel or side-chain reinforcement, the G-series has that kind of Jerry Bruckheimer mojo on lock (which is probably one of the reasons why SSL and the G-Series comp are so ubiquitous in the film industry.)

For Deadmau5, maybe taking a layered EDM kick and running it through one the finest glue compressors ever made could very well be the perfect antidote to an anemic sounding track, who knows? At the very least, there is little doubt that the G-series will be all over that mix bus, that much is a given.

3. Tube-Tech CL1B

I’m not a gambling man, but if I was, I’d put money on the Tube-Tech CL1B eventually claiming the top spot on this list sometime in the future. Since its release in 1991, the blue wonder has continually captured the imagination of commercial studios and bedroom pop maestros alike, firmly etching itself into studio lore and in the process, cementing itself as a bona-fide classic in its relatively short lifespan.

A decidedly modern take on the classic tube/opto compressor, much of the CL1B’s cult like following can be attributed to how easily it has transcended the DAW revolution, with converts often acquiring the hardware unit after having already fallen in love with its plug-in counterpart.

With a modern user interface and an extremely flexible set of onboard parameters (often at odds with its vintage tube circuitry), the CL1B offers heavy, clean compression with few artefacts and just enough harmonic sizzle to hype up everything from snares, to pianos and the human voice, all of which will at the very least, keep the record company happy. The perfect compressor for a generation in the midst of a loudness war.

2. Teletronix LA-2A

A familiar sight in professional studios the world over, the Teletronix LA-2A has consistently topped these kinds of lists for years and for good reason.

For one, it’s probably the most relied upon compressor out there, ideal for shaving off a dB or two on the way in, before seeing heavy action come mix time. Its ability to smooth and refine is legendary in the studio world, making it the dominant vocal compressor in the industry for the better part of 60 years.

Originally released by the Teletronix company in 1965, the LA-2A was the world’s first leveling amplifier (hence the LA in the title), offering extremely musical, pleasant sounding compression at a time when such processing was in its infancy.

While its two knob functionality has for the most part rendered the LA-2A relatively idiot proof, the true beauty of the circuit lies in its variable release and ratio characteristics: properties that seem to change on a dime, depending on how hard the unit is driven.

It’s been the go-to ‘fatten and flatten’ compressor for years, being the default on everything from bass and snare to piano, acoustic guitar or anything else where the battle for expensive sounding audio is fought and won.

Always musical, always classy, the LA-2A is to compressors what the Stratocaster is to guitars – an example of a company hitting it so far out of the ballpark first time around that it remains largely unchanged and unchallenged forevermore.

It’s as functional as it is iconic, and a true giant of the studio world. Were it not for the tweak-happy nature of the modern engineer, the LA-2A would still claim top spot on this list, but alas, we live in uncertain times, rife with bad transients and unsympathetic program material and for that, we need something a bit more nimble.

1. Urei/Universal Audio 1176

You knew it was going to be a two horse race. While we definitely have a soft spot for the classic tones of the LA-2A, there’s little doubt that the FET-based 1176 is the compressor that has made the easiest transition into the modern recording landscape.

With its lightning fast attack, extremely flexible parameters and with an idiosyncratic, head-scratcher of a layout (backwards attack/release pots anyone?) the 1176 is just the right combination of weird and workable.

Designed by the legendary Bill Putnam, the 1176 was an absolute game-changer upon release, introducing the world to the stupid-fast attack properties of the FET (field effect transistor) and forever altering the course in which compressor design would take in the years that followed.

Its bloodline can be traced through the aforementioned DBX 160A and Empirical Labs Distressor (or any other modern compressor that employs FET/Solid-State component to speedy and colourful effect) and through to the world of compressor pedals, plug-ins and beyond.

A real ‘desert island’ piece, the 1176 is that rare bit of studio gear that goes beyond mere signal processing and into the realm of instrument-like musicality. Engineers continually learn new and interesting ways to exploit its eccentricities in the name of artistic expression, passing down presets and tricks in a way not dissimilar to what hip-hop producers have done with the MPC.

From the legendary ‘All Buttons In’, ‘Dr. Pepper’ and ‘British Nuke’ settings to Chris Lord Alge’s parallel distortion sorcery and Andy John’s bombastic pomp, engineers have continually found new ways to get more out of the 1176 than what it says on the box (to the point where knowing your way around one is a legitimate ‘Hard Skill’ in the studio game.)

That’s not to say that it’s a particularly difficult piece of equipment to work with. On the contrary, its versatility and pleasant sonic character make it a relatively easy compressor to pull something workable from, with very little effort required.

However, it’s the underrated ability to continually redefine its appropriateness, regardless of source material that has made it such an omnipresence in the production space. From massive kick drums, to intimate vocal performances and more, the 1176 offers a breadth of application that really sets it apart from its contemporaries, a trait which has paid dividends in the post DAW-era of novice engineers and incredibly diverse program material.

So revered is the 1176 for its brand of sonic voodoo that some well known engineers have admitted to running sources through the 1176 with the unit bypassed ‘just because’. Are there any other compressors that can lay claim to that?

Combine this with the 1176’s exemplary track record for consistently turning up on the biggest records in history and you have our pick for Numero Uno for Mixdown’s Greatest Compressors of All Time.

Need a Part One recap? Check it out here and catch up on our other best-of lists.

Soundscaping: The 7 best pedals for ambient guitar styles

For some guitarists, there’s nothing that comes close to the sensation of chaining a dozen stompboxes together and creating atmospheric loops and drones that swirl, fizz and bubble into the realms of infinity – ahh, ambient guitar and music.

Exploring ambient guitar styles is a rite of passage for anyone who’s off-put by the cranked amps and power stances that tend to dominate popular guitar music, and translate just as well to the studio and stage as they do when you’re jamming solo at home.

Summary

  • Complex delay, reverb and modulation pedals can be used effectively to create soothing, atmospheric sounds perfect for ambient guitar styles.
  • By chaining these effects in strategic order, guitarists can create swelling loops, drones and great washes of noise to suit styles such as post-rock, shoegaze, dream-pop and electronic music.
  • Pedals such as the Chase Bliss MOOD, Montreal Assembly Count To Five and Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets are renowned as being some of the best stompboxes to use for ambient.

Read all our latest features and gear columns here. 

Although ambient music has proved to fascinate musicians and listeners for decades now, it’s undeniable that in today’s age, it’s more prevalent than ever.

The rise of YouTube phenomenons like ASMR, tape loop drones and lo-fi beats to study/chill to has seen ambient music thrust into the mainstream like never before, and provides musicians with a perfect solution for creatively improvising while staying indoors and self-isolating.

Today, we’re exploring the world of ambient guitars and ambient music by checking out seven awesome stompboxes that are suited for creating atmospheric textures, loops and drones.

While many of these units require a lot more attention and technicality than a typical delay or reverb, it’s their complexities that make them the special effects that they are, and once you conquer these kinds of pedals, you’ll become a true master of ambient guitar. Let’s check them out!

Chase Bliss MOOD

Chase Bliss Audio have been considered as trailblazers in the boutique pedal community for a long time now, with units like the Warped Vinyl, Thermae and Tonal Recall being celebrated for their creativity, versatility and design.

However, nothing comes close to topping their mighty MOOD – a wildly unique dual channel granular delay and micro-looper. If that sounds like it’s complicated, it’s because it is: I’ve pored over so many demos for this pedal, and still have no idea what’s exactly going on.

At a basic level, the MOOD lets you create mini loops and then manipulate them with a range of parameters to create an wide range of textures, ranging from dissonant bit-crushed drones to whistling birdsong, washes of pink noise, hazy evaporating delays and so much more.

There’s a smattering of dip-switches on the back to tweak the unit even further, while full MIDI implementation makes the MOOD friendly with all kinds of setups – pair it with a droning wavetable synth or a fully fleshed-out pedalboard of your own, and you’ll have Brian Eno sliding into your DMs in no time.

Empress ZOIA

Potentially one of the most groundbreaking effects units released in recent memory, the ZOIA from Empress Effects is nothing short of revolutionary.

At its core, the ZOIA is a modular synth in the form of a stompbox, utilising a wonderful matrix to let you tweak and combine modules to create whatever sound you please from the ground up.

The ZOIA isn’t just limited to guitar, either: this unit can be used to create synth patches, control virtual pedalboards, interact with MIDI devices and so much more.

To get you started, the ZOIA includes a gamut of pre-built patches for guitar such as phaser, chorus, delay and reverb. However, deep-diving into the programming of the pedal reveals its full potential, letting you create dizzying reversed reverbs, wobbly LFO-like waves, funky filters and roaring feedback.

The limitless potential of the Empress ZOIA makes it a surefire pick for any punter looking to invest in a multi-effects that will truly handle it all, and also makes for a dangerously addictive ambient tool in the hands of the right player.

Montreal Assembly Count To Five

Many musicians believe that the Montreal Assembly Count To Five sampler/delay is one of the most confusing pedals ever made, and to be honest, they’re right – it’s a total head-scratcher for first-time users.

However, confusion tends to coax out creativity in a manner which creates startling results, and it’s here where the Count To Five shines. This pedal is perfect for those who love glitchy, unpredictable tones, and the minimal design of the unit only makes it even more alluring for a number of players.

The Count To Five specialises in creating stuttering mini loops, fluttering tape flourishes and blurring reversed textures out of your clean tone, making for a unit that never fails to amaze.

Once you master the interface, you can use the Count To Five to pitch-shift, slice and overdub your loops into oblivion to deliver one of the most fascinating ambient pedals ever.

It’s almost as if Montreal Assembly kidnapped Jonny Greenwood and made him into a pedal – there’s some seriously fascinating stuff going on with this thing.

Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run

Everything that Earthquaker Devices release tends be solid gold these days, but the Avalanche Run is something else entirely.

This stereosonic delay / reverb boasts up to two seconds of delay time and a reverse delay mode, as well as a tap-tempo knob with subdivision controls and five different tail lengths.

A tone knob lets you shape the character of the delay to achieve a bunch of different delay tones like tape, bucket brigade and more, while the plate style reverb offers modulation, adjustable decay, dynamic swelling and a reverse reverb mode for all your shoegaze needs.

Each side of the Avalanche Run is incredibly useful on its own, but when you combine the delay and reverb, you’ll be gifted with a glorious cavernous tone that’s perfect for ambient endeavours. You can even use the Avalanche Run as a Frippertronics-style sound-on-sound lo-fi looper, while its potential to self-oscillate will make you want to shoot off into space to explore the cosmos.

A truly wonderful unit from Earthquaker Devices, and maybe even their best pedal yet.

Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets

Hologram Electronics have pumped out a bunch of these large format pedals that are aimed towards knob-fiddling guitarists; the Dream Sequence is also worthy of a mention, and their brand new Microcosm looks like it might even be the winer of the bunch.

However, it’s the Infinite Jets that’s snagged the most attention from the guitar community, and rightfully so.

Referred to by Hologram as a ‘resynthesizer’, the Infinite Jets takes an array of LFOs, envelopes, filters and voices and squeezes them into a guitar-friendly package for those who aren’t too savvy with keyboards.

The Infinite Jets is responsive to the attack of your picking, and its two independent channels allow you to create infinitely sustaining tones with two different notes or chords at any time. This lets you build ambient swells, filtered fuzz, scary drones and glitchy sequences with ease, and you can even record your knob movements to customise things even further.

It’s a bulky pedal and requires a bit of deep-diving into demos and manuals to really master, but it’s 100% worth the effort when you achieve those end results.

Meris Polymoon

Whether it’s the Hedra, Mercury7 or Ottobit Jr., there’s a whole bunch of excellent pedals in the Meris catalogue that go above and beyond to define what’s expected from a stompbox today.

The Polymoon is the company’s take on a stereo delay, and takes inspiration from some of the most pristine cascaded rack units in history to deliver its soothing, atmospheric tones.

Like any Meris pedal, the Polymoon has a minor learning curve, but once you acquaint yourself with its functions, you’ll truly understand what all the fuss over this company is really about.

The delay sounds absolutely beautiful and easily conquers both traditional and experimental styles, while the stereo field is a shoegazer’s dream.

However, it’s the gooey modulation that makes the Polymoon such a viable device for ambient styles, offering flanger, chorus and reverb-style effects that boast their own unique tonal flavour.

When combined with the Polymoon’s powerful delay modes, you’ll never want to stop strumming.

Mastro Valvola LEM Lysergic Emotions Module

These guys mightn’t be as well known as some of the other names we’ve included on this list, but we’ve got a funny feeling they might be the next big thing in the boutique world.

Handmade in Italy, Mastro Valvola’s pedals truly are the real deal, and they’ve got a bunch of awesome boxes under their belts, from the AREA Multi-Reverb to the very cool LFO Optical Tremolo – all of which we’ve been able to sink our teeth into recently for a review.

At the moment, however, we’re completely fascinated with the LEM Lysergic Emotions Module: an awe-inspiring multi-head delay that is guaranteed to blow your mind.

With eight effects modes that range from reverse delay to multi-head modulations, pitch-shifting and shimmer verb with an intuitive rotary sector knob to flick between them, the LEM is a soundscapers delight.

This pedal lets you tap into weird tape stutter effects, cloud-like ambience and even gnarly bit-crushed tones to really flesh out your sonic palate, and even features a dedicated filter knob to shape your signal frequency to achieve the best tone possible.

For ambient guitar styles, this could become a modern essential – make sure you’re ahead of the curve and get onto the LEM before it’s unobtainable.

Put your ambient pedal nous to the test with our top tips for shoegaze guitar.

Review: Fender Hammertone Distortion

Not to gloat, dear reader, but I consider myself pretty lucky where gear ownership is concerned. Many of the sundry pedals spilling wantonly from both my go-to board and the drawers, shelves, and cupboard under the stairs where my cast-offs go were given to me by people who, misguidedly or otherwise, believed that I would use them wisely to make something of myself. The joke’s on them I guess, but I digress.

Read more product reviews here.

Like most guitar players who took up the sword any time in the last 30 years, my naive desire to look, be, and sound like Kurt Cobain was what set my fingers twitching all those years ago. With that in mind, my most coveted gift suggestion as a 14-or-so-year-old was a distortion pedal, really ANY distortion pedal, to plug in between my student pack guitar and amp and shred four chords at a time forever and ever, amen. One glorious Christian-come-Capitalist holiday, I unceremoniously unboxed what I later discovered had been affectionately dubbed ‘the worst distortion pedal ever’ and I was hooked. Every wishlist thereafter was incomplete without one noisemaker or another in prime position to add to my first, monotonal box of rock. 

Among effects, distortion has reigned supreme for the better part of a century. While clean tones bejewelled by lush time-based effects are enjoying another little bit of a renaissance of late, it shows no sign of relinquishing the throne, particularly for players looking for their first footswitch to fiddle with. Enter Fender’s new Hammertone Distortion in all its bristling, hefty glory.

The Hammertone line assumes an interesting place in Fender’s product line. At first glance, one could be forgiven for glossing over these austere, grey boxes, assuming that they are merely another smattering of the most mass appeal, oft-requested sounds as trotted out by just about everyone who has ever picked up a soldering iron. Au contraire, while there is indeed one of each of the main branches of the effect family tree present, their designers have made a point of sitting them just a little to the left of centre in the personality department. Attempting to make simple pleasures anew is thin ice that companies both great and small have fallen through time and time again. However, I am now four pedals deep in the lineup and have not been disappointed or thoroughly un-surprised yet.

The Hammertone Distortion is a prime example of that rubric. It has everything that the current trend towards ’90s revivalism dictates but with more range than you might expect. For the most part, it is pitched toward the more bass-heavy, gutsier end of the frequency spectrum, meaning that it should play well alongside Soviet-style fuzzes and the ilk with the greatest of ease. It is chiefly there to deliver a goliath, bristling wall of sound at the crest of the gain dial, ripe for all those groove-laden drop D riffs you’ve been itching to show the band in the week between jams. From there, I was also able to pull a fairly palatable, fiery, nasal, HM2-style squawk out of it, which is a commendable amount of range for something designed to be driven that hard. From Earth to Entombed in one fell swoop is no mean feat! 

Adding hair and punch to a roaring wave of gain is without a doubt its primary function, but like all good Fender fans, I wanted to know how it handled in the softer moments. While it didn’t quite pare back to Klon-style transparent overdrive territory, I was pleased to meet quite a handsome torn speaker sound at the lower end of the sweep which could be a tasty flavour if added to an already hearty sonic stew. 

God knows that in this day and age, dirt is well and truly embedded in the fibres of a very well-trod carpet. Surely by now, we’ve heard just about every colour of that rainbow! A big part of the reason why it has stayed on top for so long is that it is after all the first and deepest sonic well for us all to mine. Of the Three Dirty Stooges, distortion, overdrive and fuzz (or Larry, Curly, and Mo to their mother) the former has become maligned somewhat as a one-trick pony since its heyday in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. This may come down to the fact that many manufacturers producing classic distortion circuits have too long taken for granted the amount of versatility that players ache for in approaching this type of unit. I wonder if it is partially a matter of convenience resulting from design consistency, but I have a feeling all the dirtbags in the Hammertone series share a similar internal layout which has lent this particular machine a heightened sense of its own potential, which is a nice touch from Fender and the real success of this model.

The tone stack swings pendulously from almost brown-sound-territory, low-frequency oscillation to shrill, Banshee-like highs. You can zero in on your specific type of grit, doubly ensuring that this upstart will play nicely with the other members of your pedalboard personnel. It may not do absolutely everything imaginable but it handles a really broad range of heavy more effortlessly than most other pedals in its class.

If the Hammertone series were a flight of bullies leering menacingly at you across the schoolyard, the Distortion would be the overly-pierced, untamed one on the back flank obsessively flicking a butterfly knife around. It snarls, bellows, screeches and howls and makes no apology for doing so. After all, what flight of bullies is complete without its loose cannon making the evil and ruckus just that little bit less predictable.

Fender’s Hammertone Distortion may not be there to please everyone, but it has enough torture techniques of its own in its repertoire to make every adventure a hair-raising one.

Head to Fender for more information.

Using guitar effects with purpose

There are countless forums, posts, websites, podcasts, reviews, and more dedicated to guitar effects and processing, and seemingly every week there is a new release and often a new company popping up as the latest and greatest thing. Early rock and roll and R&B (actual rhythm and blues) players were utilising reverb and then distortion to vary their tone. 

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

Fuzz, wah, and some modulation effects then showed up a little while later and nowadays we have everything from digital plugins to modellers to huge rack effects to hand wired boutique pedals. While the tone quest for most guitarists never seems to end, adding or using guitar effects can be a great device when you need a dose of creativity and have seemingly exhausted all avenues. Essentially, using guitar effects can change your approach to playing the instrument and help you express yourself.

Oz Noy

Oz Noy has a ridiculous command of the instrument across a broad range of styles. His tunes employ effects often just as prominently as the actual harmony itself with loops, delay parts, ring modulators, chorus, distortion, fuzz, wah, and more. He will often approach a lick, line, or even chord stab with a separate effect (for just that one part) to give the feeling of movement and create the illusion that there is more than one instrument or player involved.

Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson has long been revered for his tone and use of effects. Employing fuzz for lead lines (as opposed to distortion) creates a thick, smooth sound that really lets him articulate each note. He also utilises beautiful delay, reverb, and chorus tones with multi amp rigs to add width and space.

Dean DeLeo

I recently heard the great Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots fame discussing his main tones and rig setup. He mentioned that he found a setup that he liked early on in his career (a Demeter preamp, VHT power amp, Intelliverb effects, and 2x Marshall quad boxes) but wanted more clarity with his dirty tones (especially with some of the more detailed voicings he uses – Major 7ths, 9ths, 11ths etc). So, his solution was to add another amp to the rig (a Vox AC30 set fairly clean). This added chime and cleanliness to his tone for the blend that allowed him to play exactly how he wanted to. The effects and rig helped him express himself with the tone he was after.

Delay might make you play less, or play different rhythms as the delay repeats become part of the lick. U2’s The Edge has become synonymous with delays (and perhaps more specifically dotted eighth delays) which create some nice polyrhythms to make very simple two and three-note licks (or small two and three-note chord voicings) sound huge!

Tom Morello

Tom Morello and Rage Against The Machine were like nothing previously heard when they burst onto the scene in the ‘90s. While their songs combined elements of rock, rap, and hip hop, it was also Morello’s combination of big riffs and effects that really blew some minds. Whammy, delay, harmoniser, wah (often with several combined) often gave him a more sound and rhythmic approach to parts and solos rather than just chops and burning licks. At times the tonal content was as much a part of his sound and playing as was the harmonic content.

Whatever you’re searching for tone wise – perhaps take some time to experiment and play with guitar effects in ways you haven’t previously. Get a looper, create a shimmer delay/reverb sound, use a wah as a filter with a gradual sweep rather than just full quack. The options are almost endless!

Check out Fender’s recently-released Hammertone line of effects pedals for more.

Ten of the most iconic Ibanez players worldwide

We’ve heard them across hundreds of records, from rock to jazz to metal, the Ibanez is the axe of choice for many a guitarist with so many Ibanez players gaining notoriety the world over.

For the metal heads, the humble Japanese company was the first to mass produce seven and eight-string guitars, as well as being one of the first Japanese musical instrument companies to gain a significant foothold in import guitar sales in the United States and Europe.

Read all the latest features, columns and more here.

The company has only grown in popularity and has since spawned a large amount of Ibanez players loyal to the brand famous or not, with the pool to draw Ibanez players from being a large one.

Today, we’re diving into some of the most prolific Ibanez players.

Paul Gilbert

Let’s start with arguably the most well-known guitarist to ever hold an Ibanez in his large hands, Paul Gilbert. His monstrous impact on the world of modern rock and roll has seen him teach guitarists like Steel Panther’s Satchel, and former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Buckethead.

Gilbert’s Ibanez: Paul uses the FRM300, one of the few Ibanez varieties without a whammy, usually relying on his vibrato for the sound movement.

Jennifer Batten

With a career playing with artists from Jeff Beck to Michael Jackson, Jennifer Batten has traversed some of the coolest areas of music. Her guitar prowess has seen her drop some killer solo releases too, each receiving a bunch of critical acclaim.

Batten’s Ibanez: Jennifer has a custom Ibanez Roadstar, it appeared on Michael Jackson’s iconic Bad tour, and has even been played by Slash.

Steve Vai

One of the most important and iconic guitarists out there – Ibanez aside – Steve Vai has brought instrumental rock music to the front and centre, his decades of work with artists like Devin Townsend, David Lee Roth, and Whitesnake has helped garner millions of loyal fans across the world. Bringing the Japanese axemakers back into the frame, Vai is possibly one of the most lauded Ibanez players around.

Vai’s Ibanez: Vai has used the visually stunning Ibanez Jem 777 for decades, alongside his signature DiMarzio pickups, he’s truly made it his own over the years. Also check out the three-necked Hydra they unveiled earlier in the year.

Joe Satriani

Continuing the guitarists who were trailblazers in their fields, Joe Satriani has been a staple of the scene for almost 50 years now. His music blends elements of heavy metal and blues, and he’s played with artists ranging from Mick Jagger to Deep Purple.

Satriani’s Ibanez: Joe’s got his own signature series with the manufacturer, the ‘JS’ group. Each are covered with a shiny matte finish, really making sure they pop on stage, and on a list of most iconic Ibanez players.

Nili Brosh

Nili Brosh has been behind some of the coolest projects recently, playing guitar for Metalocalypse, Cirque Du Soleil, and even popping up on Danny Elfman’s recent solo rock album, Big Mess.

Brosh’s Ibanez: Nili uses the RG1527, a 7-stringer with some killer humbuckers, really making sure the metal comes through hard.

Kiko Loureiro

Current Megadeth axeman Kiko Loureiro is one of modern music’s most original guitarists, doing something a little different with his music. His 2005 solo album No Gravity was loved by fans and critics alike, with Lourerio playing all instruments on the release besides drums.

Loureiro’s Ibanez: Kiko’s got his own series with Ibanez, the aptly titled KIKO. It’s got a rosewood fretboard and DiMarzio pickups, perfect for all things heavy metal.

Nita Strauss

When you think of Ibanez players and guitars, one of the first names to come into your head is usually Nita Strauss, a guitarist who is doing something really cool with the axe. She’s been popping up in some of the coolest places, most recently as guitarist for Alice Cooper.

Strauss’ Ibanez: Nita’s got the signature JIVA series, a guitar she’s been quietly designing since she first picked one up.

George Benson

The jazz icon has been dazzling fans with his unique guitar stylings since 1964, and he is still as prolific as he’s ever been, recently hitting Australia on a sold-out tour. He’s played with everyone from Aretha Franklin to Gorillaz.

Benson’s Ibanez: George and Ibanez have been working together for around 40 years, with the guitarist using one of their signature hollow bodies.

Marty Friedman

Marty Friedman has worked with some of the biggest names in music, from Megadeth to Cacophony to Shout. His solo career has seen him tour the world multiple times, and play his unique stylings to many adoring fans.

Friedman’s Ibanez: Marty’s got his signature MFM series, first hitting stores way back in 2006.

John Frusciante

It can’t be a list of iconic guitarists without mentioning the icon that is John Frusciante. He’s used a bunch of guitars in his time, but the Ibanez has popped up on some of the most iconic releases from the muso.

Frusciante’s Ibanez: Most notably appearing on Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1989 release Mother’s Milk, Frusciante would often use the Ibanez RG760, which was reportedly the only guitar he owned when he joined the band.

ibanez players

Phil Lynott

It’s not too often we see a bass player with an Ibanez, but Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott brought them front and centre and led a wave. The Thin Lizzy frontman was only active in the industry for around 20 years, but had a career that still continues to influence many years on.

Lynott’s Ibanez:  Lynott would often use the Blazer Bass, a no-frills axe that gives a killer raw sound, the same thing we heard across many Thin Lizzy releases.

Who did we miss on our list of most iconic Ibanez players? For local enquiries on Ibanez products, head to Australis Music.

Review: Fender Hammertone Delay

It may not have been the first cab off the rank, but when Delay pedals hit the market many moons ago, it must have blown people’s tiny minds wide open!

The glory days of tape-based, multi-head echo machines landed smack bang in the eye of the ’60s maelstrom and, hand in hand with fuzz boxes and overdrives, helped define the parameters of many a tonal quest that continues to this day. By the heady ’70s, synthesisers had shown up and the dawn of digitisation, and in turn minimisation, of sound devices was officially underway.

Read more product reviews here.

Bucket brigade circuits came marching into town, and it wasn’t long before manufacturers were able to eradicate the inherent flaws and limited lifespan of magnetic tape, squeezing arguably one of the more far-out sounds known to mankind into a functionally sized unit fit for widespread consumption that managed not to skimp on the expansive, horizon-broadening sound coveted by Pink Floyd fans everywhere. Skip ahead one generation to the ’80s, the first fully-digital delay hits the market and from there all bets are off. Today the humble delay pedal is much less the sky-high outlier that it once was, as it has firmly implanted itself as a staple of any and every self-respecting rig. 

The Hammertone Delay aims at a discerning, more sensible echo connoisseur. Technically speaking, it is more closely related in timbre to a cleaner, more present digital signal path than the crotchety old tape machines or well-meaning yet considerably darker-tailed bucket brigades, while managing not to leave either behind. Relative to the Space Delay from the same series, this offering is simultaneously more crisp, agile, and versatile in that it is designed to offer not one variation on a theme but three representations of a famed artificial acoustic space.

hammertone delay

Position one on the type toggle is a simple digital fingerprint that goes from chirpy slap back to long, Eno-inspired width. Position two is a simple, tastefully dark analogue delay for if and when you too need to hang your oversized hat on the Joshua Tree. Position three reaches back further into history with a vintage-inspired, rockabilly-baiting tape echo. As with its spacey brethren, the mod switch sends things seasick and helps to smooth out some of the presence in the tails to create a more ambient, washed-out texture, especially at longer feedback rates.

Interestingly, this particular pedal is the least kooky of the Hammertone line. In a lot of ways, this makes it the most essential in the sense that if you think of this series as a big bag of tricks, then this is the trick you reach for when you just can’t quite get your sound over the line. Delay has historically not only been utilised for its ability to send a song into the stratosphere but also for its propensity for getting things moving in a practical, behind-the-scenes sense. Lead guitarists love the way that a short repeat can thicken up a solo and set that shining moment a little wider than the rest of the band. On vocals, the clarity in the upper-mid-portion of a frequency graph of the effected signal makes for a less muddy mix and helps to set a reverb send just back from a singer’s voice enough to help it not get lost in the wash. All of these tricks and more are well and truly on tap here and it would not surprise me if that means that the rest of the Hammertone Brat Pack would be lost without the clear-mindedness of this Donatello to the other three Ninja turtles.

All of the pedals in this series that I have tried have felt tough as a house brick. The slightly smaller than usual chassis has a reliable heft to it that inspires confidence in its longevity while the top-mounted jacks and true bypass signal path mean it is scrubbed up and ready to join your team of sonic surgeons in the operating theatre. Fender obviously has the working musician in mind here and this steady footing, coupled with Swiss Army Knife functionality, sharp price point, and aesthetic simplicity means that picking one up is as much a no-brainer as uncovering its quirks is fun.

It feels a little reductive to write about a pedal so packed with features with such a utilitarian tone but I feel like such is the success of this design. Too many time-based effects, especially delays, stretch immediately into the furthest reaches of the galaxy or try to laundry-list each and every combination of the whole history of tempo in a DSP for which you need an engineering degree and a solid month hunched over in a darkened room to navigate. While there is absolutely a time and place for those cavalier spelunkers, it is refreshing to plug in a pedal and know exactly how to manipulate it and have it come good on the promise of playing an all-important supporting role at the cornerstone of your empire. That is not to say that you can’t take it far and wide, oscillating off into the twin sunset of Tatooine as I enjoyed doing.

Simply put, appreciated the fact that here is a pedal that feels reliable and relatable both structurally and sonically. An old friend who has come to help you move house or the oil can that greases the squeaky wheel, the Hammertone Delay should be a welcome, useful, and helpful addition to a broad spectrum of boards.

Head to Fender for more information.

Mixdown’s Ten Greatest Compressors of All Time: Part One

There is something about classic compressors that seems to bring out the inner wine connoisseur in even the most utilitarian of gearheads, with the greatest compressors of those a greater debate.

With their unique sonic characteristics and often eye-watering pricetags, the world of classic compression has long been the field of of either mega-star producers or those born into supreme affluence. With the global fire-sale of COVID 2020 in full swing and more and more of this kind of gear popping up for sale, the time is nigh for a quick refresher on the classics.

Bear in mind, this is in no way a fetishist list, rest assured all the units below are either a) really, really good at what they do and worth the price of entry or b) connected to enough stellar releases that it’s kind of hard to argue.

So with all that out of the way here is the first part of our definitive list of Mixdown’s Ten Greatest Compressors of All Time.

Read all the latest gear features and rundowns here.

10. Shure Level-Loc

The dictionary definition of a character piece, it would be easy to dismiss the Shure Level-Loc as a bit of a one-trick pony, were it not for the fact that it performs said trick better than almost anything in existence.

Originally released as a limiter for speech and PA applications, the Level-Loc found its way into the hands of alternative mix gurus like Tchad Black and Dave Fridmann, who took full advantage of the Level-Loc’s brickwall charcteristics and rekt musicality, adding ragged bombast to a host of iconic drum sounds in the ’90s and ’00s.

From The Dandy Warhols and Flaming Lips right through to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Tame Impala, the Level-Loc has gained a reputation as a go-to for anyone looking to inflict some serious sonic carnage on the drum bus. In a word: hectic.

9. Alesis 3630

While not as coveted as other names on this list, the Alesis 3630 is a budget compressor with a very rich history which can be boiled down to a very specific time and locale.

The humble 3630 was the compressor du jour for the first wave of French House music in the late ’90s, finding its way onto records by the likes of Daft Punk, Justice, Etienne De Crecy, Stardust, Air and a whole host of others.

While far from being the most versatile and sonically pleasing unit out there, the 3630 is worth the price of admission alone for one sound in particular – its ability to produce massive side-chained kick sounds.

At a pricepoint roughly a fraction of everything else on this list, the return on investment is high with the 3630, and as a result it is often cited as a perfect first compressor for anyone looking to take their productions out of the DAW and into the rack. Basically Ed Banger in a box.

8. DBX 160VU

One of the fastest rack compressors ever built, the DBX 160VU is the perfect option for highly transient material like picked bass, hi-hats, snares or any source requiring quick and immediate clamp down.

A VCA compressor with a soul, the 160VU has a character that could be described as ‘aggressive’ – its hard knee and naturally quick attack meaning very little in the way of tonal flexibility.

That’s not to say that the 160VU is cold and predictable – in fact, it’s these aggressive qualities (coupled with the DBX 160VU’s penchant for oddball harmonic colouration) that have seen it become a staple of the electronic world, adding harmonic richness and immediacy to a laundry list of famous kick, snare and bass synth sounds over the years.

It is the DBX’s ability to subtly mimic the pleasant non-linear saturation effects of more expensive tube-based units that have made it a worthy investment for anyone who doesn’t have $10,000 to spare on an LA-2A. It’s this ability to over-deliver on transient content, coupled with the 160VU’s unique distortion properties that have made the relatively low cost unit a cult classic amongst vintage gear enthusiasts.

The 160VU has recently experienced a bit of a resurgence on account of one Kevin Parker of Tame Impala, whose iconic drum sound is borne out of a smashed DBX 160VU and some very idiosyncratic mic placements – subsequently bringing the boom-bap to a whole new generation of bedroom mix wizards.

7. Chandler TG1

It’s a familiar story – massive commercial studio buys massive commercial studio console, equipped with all the bells and whistles (compression included). Either through convenience or compulsive habit, this compression stage becomes an integral part to an engineer’s sound/workflow, eventually finding its way onto recordings of considerable commercial success.

Manufacturer realises that this lightning can indeed be caught in a bottle and said circuit is isolated, replicated and rolled out as a standalone rack unit (or in this case is licensed out to a third party). Global popularity ensues.

Such is the trajectory of the Chandler TG1 Limiter, and its predecessor, the EMI TG12413. Originally designed to mimic the compression unit found on the EMI board at Abbey Road, the rack version by Chandler very quickly took on a persona all of its own, finding its way on to records by the likes of Pink Floyd and the Stones and popping up time and time again on records as diverse as First Impressions-era Strokes and Beyonce’s Lemonade.

Not only a serviceable and handy limiter at the tracking stage, the TG1’s uncanny ability to add a sense of vintage familiarity to anything that passes through it makes it an awesome mix tool for when everything else just isn’t cutting it.

While definitely not the most versatile compressor out there, the TG1 can have just the right special sauce for certain applications and has become a favourite of anybody looking to trade sterile modernity for some periodic grit.

6. Fairchild 670

It feels almost sacrilegious to have the Fairchild 670 this low on the list, but hear me out. Having gained an almost mythical status among studio nerds, mostly by virtue of being the go-to vocal compressor for the Beatles recordings, the Fairchild 670 is one of those compressors that most are familiar with, but very few have actually used in real life.

The ‘Fairchild Sound’ has primarily lived on in recent times at least, as a direct result of the various plug-in and software emulations that have continually popped up through the DAW era. Originally known for its sublime tonality and unique Variable-Mu design, the classic Fairchild is very much from the white labcoat school of audio engineering.

Boasting no fewer than 20 valves and 14 transistors, the original 670’s were clearly aimed at the top end of town, its eye-watering pricepoint making it a viable option for only the most top-flight recording facilities and broadcasters of the day.

Sonically, the 670’s familiar warmth and refined mellowness never cease to add a sense of instant professionalism when added to a vocal chain. Its ability to provide all kinds of heavy compression while imparting very little in the way of sonic artifacts have made it a go-to for any application where naturalness is paramount.

Were it not for the 670’s relative scarcity (especially here in Australia) and insane price tag, they could very well crack the top five of this list – stay tuned for that when it arrives shortly…

Find out who took out the top five spots with Part Two of our greatest compressors of all time

Matt Schofield and his trio are coming to Australia in November

Guitar virtuoso and one of the greatest British blues axemen of all time Matt Schofield is bringing his trio down under for an exclusive string of “unforgettable” club shows this November.

What you need to know:

  • Matt Schofield and his trio are heading down under this November.
  • It will be part of an exclusive run of club shows.
  • They will be debuting new material from their 20th Anniversary album.

Check out all the latest touring news here.

Jonny Henderson (keys/bass) and Evan Jenkins (drums) comprise the trio whose live shows lift Schofield to an even greater echelon than thought possible, as his authenticity, mastery of guitar, emotive vocals, and improvisational brilliance are brought to life within his innovative original compositions. 

Schofield is a bit of a musical chameleon who can do it all as a multi-award winning guitar virtuoso, singer, songwriter, producer and band leader, plus three time ‘British Blues Guitarist of the Year’ and ‘British Blues Album of the Year’ winner.

He was also the first guitarist inducted into the ‘British Blues Awards Hall of Fame’ with his fluid and melodic playing and iconic tone inspiring legions of guitarists, paired with a sought after line of signature instruments and equipment including a Two-Rock Matt Schofield amplifier.

“After more than 30 years of performing, and 20 years into his solo career, Schofield’s impact as one of the most influential and distinctive guitarists of his generation is unquestionable,” a press release read.  

Don’t miss your chance to see Matt Schofield perform live for the first time in Australian venues. 

As an added bonus, The Matt Schofield Trio have a 20th Anniversary album in the works – with the Australian tour being the debut of the new material being performed live.  

Find tour dates in the image below.

The tour will be presented by Gerrard Allman Events, head to their website for ticketing information.

Review: Fender Hammertone Overdrive

Fender’s venture into the effects pedals market in recent years has been exciting, not only for fans of the brand but for guitar players as a whole. Fender’s initial release of effects pedals were introduced in 2018 and achieved great success with the launch. However, these pedals tend to lie on the higher end of the monetary scale. They featured a large amount of controls whereby beginners and those new to effects pedals may be overwhelmed.

Read more product reviews here.

To combat this, Fender introduced the Hammertone line of effects pedals which is a slightly more budget-friendly option and has a simpler tone control system for players of any level. The Hammertone Overdrive is part of this new series of Fender effects pedals capable of crafting a wide array of tones competitive with other pedals sitting within its price range. Overdrive pedals are very diverse despite all being labelled as such, and are typically built with five different types of overdrive circuits, each with their own unique tonal and gain properties. The tried and true overdrive circuit is known as soft-clipping and has been used in abundance in hundreds, if not thousands, of overdrive pedals since the ‘70s. Based on the sound and controls implemented into this pedal, this is what Fender has used for their Hammertone Overdrive.

The Hammertone Overdrive comes in a tough aluminium hammered style casing (hence the Hammertone name) and its strength is evident upon taking the pedal from the box. Featuring easy-to-read metal dials with coloured Fender branded pots, the Hammertone is designed to be used reliably, gig after gig. The input jack, output jack, and power supply input are all top mounted on this and all other Hammertone series pedals, something that is atypical when compared with the vast majority of pedal builds where the input and output jacks and located on the right and left faces respectively. This may make the top faces of your pedals look overcrowded on your board, but it does offer different mounting and cable management options.

The pedal can be opened on the back with a coin, a handy feature that can save your gig in a live setting where you may have to change a battery quickly if you take that route to power your pedals. Interestingly enough, the Hammertone Overdrive has a hidden adjustable trim pot once the cover is removed. This control can only be adjusted with a screwdriver and it darkens the tone further and makes the pedal sound as though it’s being passed through a kind of damping filter. Although an interesting little feature, it’s not something that I’d say can be used practically. However, who knows what can be discovered with some experimentation!

The Fender Hammertone certainly seems to compliment single coil guitars. This is to be expected with most of Fender’s popular models featuring single coil pickups. The overdrive seems to respond best when put in front of an amp that is just at the point of breaking up, in order to compliment the amp’s natural drive sound rather than alter it. The tone of the pedal overall is rather dark and bass heavy when set below six, and sounds best when pushed to 10 where it really cuts through with its brightness and great response.

The pre-mid boost control certainly nudges this pedal up another notch compared to its competitors at the same price range. This addition of the pre-mid boost control can do what other overdrives of this price might lack. It is a rather subtle tone control on this overdrive. When set above seven, it gives the pedal a more old school ’80s overdrive sound, similar to that of a Tube Screamer. With the pre-mid boost dialled down, the overdrive has a more open feel. The pre-mid boost control can also sculpt tones based on what type of guitar you’re playing, whether it has humbuckers or single coils.

The level control works exactly as it should, it doesn’t have a volume jump when set at halfway and transitions naturally on this setting without an unwanted volume boost. With the level increased upwards from this, the pedal really comes to life and can push the amp to greater tone capabilities. Overall, the Hammertone Overdrive’s gain profile is relatively high compared to other overdrives on the market. Even at low settings of three or below, the pedal sounds like it really wants to go.

The pedal seems to have an underlying compression  that comes through as the gain control is tweaked higher. Even when playing lightly or strumming heavily, the output is balanced. Despite starting with a comparatively high gain profile, the gain control still has a noticeable gentle sweep from rocky overdrive to tip-toeing the line of distortion. There’s a sweet spot within the gain control that can suit whatever you need from an overdrive. If you’re the type of player who likes to keep their guitar volume control on 10, don’t expect to get any smooth, clean, or transparent tones out of this pedal. With some experimenting between your guitar volume control and the gain and level control on the pedal, you can achieve a clean overdrive, but it’s not what the pedal naturally does by any means.

The Fender Hammertone Overdrive can be an exciting addition to your pedalboard. This pedal punches through with its extra mid range and wants to be heard. If you’re chasing an overdrive that sculpts your tone with some gritty richness and mid punch, this overdrive will fit wonderfully on your board.

Head to Fender for more information.

Games composition and sound art conference High Score announces hybrid in-person and virtual event

The popular High Score: Composition and Sound Art for Games event will return October 1 and October 2 as a hybrid in-person and livestreamed conference at this year’s Melbourne International Games Week.

High Score explores the vital role that music and audio play in game design and experience, and with support from Creative Victoria, High Score is expanding its programming beyond the flagship conference to include a SongHubs intensive residency, two Co-Op composing workshops, and the SoundCheck video interview series.

Keep up to date with the latest industry news here.

This year’s High Score theme ‘Building From the Ground Up’ is all about community and how the suite of programming aims to strengthen all parts of the Australian game audio industry – from emerging to established, grass root indies to AAA, to ensure that together the local sector can reach new goals.

Minister for Creative Industries Danny Pearson said that Victoria is the “engine room of Australia’s music industry and a thriving hub for digital game development. 

“High Score brings together these two strengths, creating more opportunities for musicians, composers, and sound artists to collaborate and pump up the volume on digital games.” 

“APRA AMCOS has developed an ambition for Australia to become a net exporter of music in 10 years and Victoria is crucial to the nation achieving this goal,” said APRA AMCOS CEO Dean Ormston. 

“The use of local composition and music in digital games is an integral part of the music industry’s intellectual property portfolio and we applaud the Victorian Government for being at the forefront of helping develop the music skills for this burgeoning sector.”

High Score program manager Cameron Lam, Art Music Lead, APRA AMCOS said: “High Score is unique in the Australian landscape, and one of very few dedicated meeting places for the game industry and music industry globally.

“APRA AMCOS is excited to expand on this legacy with year-round programming, not only giving attendees access to international experts and celebrating our own, but giving practical experience to build capability, break into the industry, or reach even greater heights. 

“Join us for High Score in 2022, to meet, collaborate, and together: build from the ground up.”

Peak industry body IGEA reported that income generated by Australian game development studios totaled $226.5m in 2020/2021 and that studios will need to hire more skilled professionals to meet demand and growth.

High Score debuted as an in-person event in 2017 and went virtual over the past two pandemic-impacted years, drawing attendees from Australia and 55 countries around the world to be part of the keynotes, panel discussions, and skills development offerings.

High Score is presented by APRA AMCOS, in partnership with the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, as part of Melbourne International Games Week.

Anyone interested in attending should sign up at the High Score website to receive updates about speakers, venue, opportunities, and more. Tickets go on sale in July.