Winter NAMM, 2014 is underway and M-Audio wasted no time introducing two new audio devices that bring new features to their existing line of products. First up is an addition to their M-Track interface line, the M-Track Eight.
The new interface introduces users to affordable mic preamps with low noise and 24-bit/96kHz recording capability. The interface is also bundled with Pro Tools Express and an iLok key.
Next up, M-Audio introduced Trigger Finger Pro. Inspired by their original Trigger Finger controller, Trigger Finger Pro brings us drum pads and onboard sequencing among plenty of other features. With a total of 48 assignable parameters including 16 illuminated RGB pads, Trigger Finger Pro can integrate seamlessly with DAWs using M-Audio Aresenal software that comes with over 8 GB of new sounds.
The M-Audio M-Track Eight’s release date and price haven’t been released yet and the Trigger Finger Pro will be available in the Spring of 2014 for $399 MSRP. Both devices will be compatible with Mac and PC.
Here are more specs direct from M-Audio:
EIGHT-CHANNEL USB AUDIO INTERFACE
- High headroom inputs with Octane Preamp Technology
- Up to 24/96 kHz resolution
- 8 XLR + 1/4″ combo inputs with individual metering
- Dual headphone outs with selectable source (1/2 or 3/4)
- 8 balanced 1/4″ outputs
- USB/Analog Direct Balance control
- Input 1 and 2 line/mic- or instrument-selectable
- Selectable phantom power for Channels 1-4 and 5-8
- Dedicated control room output
TRIGGER FINGER PRO
USB CONTROLLER WITH STEP SEQUENCER
- Includes the M-Audio Arsenal; 8+ GB of instruments, one-shots, loops & more
- Built-in step sequencer for building jaw-dropping grooves
- 16 ultra-responsive pads with illuminated RGB feedback
- Customizable, backlit controls with instant automapping
- High-resolution display lets you focus on the music, not the computer
- Slimline design travels from studio to stage with ease
- Detachable, 3-position rugged metal stand for angled use
- Extensive expression controls; pitch bend, modulation & more
- USB-MIDI connection to a Mac or PC
- Arsenal includes Hybrid 3 High Definition Synth by AIR Music Tech
- 16 custom drum kits from Black Anomaly (Timbaland, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown)
- Over 2000 combined artist patches and presets for Hybrid 3 and Prime Loops content
The latest monitor from M-Audio is one with style, functionality and affordability in mind.
The new M3-8 reference monitor is an active 3-way speaker that has the footprint of a standard two-way reference monitor, achievable because the mid-range driver and the tweeter are both on the same focal plane. The benefits of a 3-way speaker can greatly increase the accuracy the listener hears back due to accurate separation of frequencies on independently driven speakers.
The new M3-8 monitors from M-Audio are available now for $349 MSRP apiece.
Here is more from M-Audio:
Amazing Three-Way Fidelity
Step up to superior three-way sound with the M3-8 studio monitor from M-Audio. Savor the improved fidelity, enhanced imaging, and super-wide sweet spot of this exceptional three-way studio monitor as you mix your sessions and laydown tracks. Track and mix with the enhanced accuracy and superior imaging that only a three-way monitor can provide. Using an efficient inline design, the space-saving M3-8 Studio Reference Monitors provide truly spectacular three-way sound in the same space as a standard two-way monitor.
The efficient M3-8 design allows the mid- and high-frequency drivers to be mounted inline. By delivering sound along the same focal plane, the M3-8 speakers deliver improved time-alignment for fatigue-free listening. Lightweight woven Kevlar endows the 8″ low-frequency driver and 5″ mid-range driver with strength and reliability. The 1″ silk dome tweeter offers integrated waveguides to provide increased clarity. In addition to the attractive real wood baffle, the cabinet provides tuned bass porting and optimized internal bracing to produce the highest levels of fidelity.
Three Is Key
Three individual amplifiers provide power to each of the three speaker elements. A total of 220 Watts of Class A/B amplification empowers the M3-8 with ample headroom for even the loudest mixes. Finely tuned crossovers deliver rich tonality across the entire frequency spectrum. The powerful three-band EQ—and a switchable low-cut filter—allow you to shape the sound to match your listening environment. Pinhole-mounted blue LEDs provide an easy-to-use visual aide for perfect speaker placement. The result is an outstanding monitor able to perform in the most critical of listening environments.
Efficient three-way design > improved fidelity in a compact package
Inline speaker design > provides superior imaging plus fatigue-free listening
Tri-amp Class A/B power > 220 Watts (total) offers robust headroom
Onboard 3-Band EQ and Low-Cut Filter > customize and shape your sound
Attractive real wood veneer baffle > cabinet features optimized bracing and porting
On July 2nd, when Avid announced that it was selling off multiple audio and video product lines, it was easy to miss the big picture. More Avid layoffs accompanied the news, and many people focused on the negative as Pro Tools users fretted about the future of their long-familiar DAW and I/O hardware provider.
But there’s two sides to every story, and the positive angle was that the respected M-Audio product line, along with the less-visible AIR Software Group, had a welcoming new home: Rhode Island-based inMusic, a company with expertise in the space via its ownership of Akai Professional, Alesis, and Numark, as well as other music production, performance and DJ brands.
It’s been an interesting journey for M-Audio, the company which was founded in the late 1990’s by a California Institute of Technology graduate named Tim Ryan. Originally dubbed Midi Soft and then Midiman, Ryan and his colleagues quickly grew their baby into a competitive manufacturer of audio interfaces and MIDI keyboards. Avid, suitably impressed, bought Midiman (which had been doing business under the M-Audio name since 2000) for a cool $174 million in 2004.
But even with a number of successful recording and DJ products (KeyStudio, Fast Track, Torq) and high-profile users (Black Eyed Peas, Skillrex, The Crystal Method), at some point M-Audio no longer fit in with Avid’s plans. M-Audio changed hands earlier this month, with a new HQ just down the road from Avid’s Burlington, MA base of operations.
What drives mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in the audio sector? In an industry where the users have had to deal with what seems like a nonstop downgrading of their music’s value, it’s interesting – and not a little bit validating — to know that the builders of audio tools still are seen as valuable.
We interviewed inMusic’s Director of Marketing, David Frederick, about the market forces that led to his company’s new acquisition.
How would you characterize the inMusic group of brands — what is the common thread of the products that you supply to the marketplace?
I would characterize them as diverse and synergistic. All of our brands blend leading technology, innovation, functional usability and creative inspiration across all market segments and price points. Combining that with our drive and passion to deliver world-class products, we strongly believe inMusic is uniquely positioned to deliver the most innovative and creative tools available to musicians, composers, producers and DJ’s all over the world.
The common thread we supply to the market is a family of premium brands that reach across a broad market segment. In many cases, our products leverage common intellectual property which helps democratize creativity and functionality across all our product and brand lines. The biggest thread is our passion and focus on delivering products that meet and exceed the needs of our customers. This thread drives everything we do at inMusic.
When did inMusic become interested in acquiring M-Audio, and why? How did you see it complementing the brands you already had such as Akai, Alesis and Numark?
inMusic is always on the lookout for unique and complementary opportunities that help us deliver world-class products.
Our interests and Avid’s aligned in regards to our acquisition. We were interested in M-Audio and the AIR Software Group because they not only offered unique, market-leading products, but they fit our model of growth and product strategy. Further, both M-Audio and AIR Software Group have unique and extremely valuable technologies and intellectual properties, which inMusic will be able to leverage for the benefit of its other brands and their customers.
In the pro audio/consumer audio space, what are the primary considerations that a company thinks about when deciding about an acquisition? What are the benefits, and conversely what are the liabilities that you have to weigh?
Of course this question is different for different companies. For inMusic we look at a variety of tactical, strategic and growth considerations. For us, it’s all about delivering world-class, innovative products for our customers.
Things like IP, technology enablement, synergistic or complementary offerings, cross utilization of IP, market share and position, human capital, growth opportunity and sustainable competitive advantage all factor into the calculations of an acquisition like M-Audio and AIR Software Group.
In all acquisitions there are assets and liabilities. These must always be weighed against the overall tactical and strategic objectives. It also goes without saying that one company’s liabilities are another’s assets.
Along those lines, M&A on this level is relatively rare in the pro audio/consumer audio space. Why would a product line like M-Audio no longer be essential to one company — Avid — but still worth investing in for another, inMusic?
I can’t speak to Avid’s thinking outside of what they have discussed in their press release and announcement call. In regards to inMusic, making investments in quality, innovative and dynamic brands is what we do. Again, it’s all about innovating, delivering and offering the best products in the world.
How many M-Audio employees will remain with inMusic? How will you decide who carries over?
As a private company we do not disclose our financial information or the terms our acquisitions. However, having said that, we are retaining key personnel from M-Audio and AIR Software Group that will help support, develop and further innovate and extend offerings both at M-Audio and AIR Software Group and our existing brands.
What is your view on the long-term prospects of the pro audio/consumer audio sector that M-Audio, and inMusic’s other brands, occupy?
My view is that the pro audio/consumer audio sector is always rather volatile and evolving. Those companies that can adapt and leverage the shifting sands seem to do well. Those that can’t, well, they seem to drift.
It’s a tough market sector. You have many factors that influence its behavior. In one regard, the democratization and enablement of creative technology has empowered a new generation of customers to engage in the creative process. In another, the market seems to be bifurcating into discrete pro and consumer segments with the “prosumer” segment dissolving away or at minimum having its lines blurred between the tradition triad market segment: consumer, prosumer, pro. This creates opportunity for some and disaster for others.
For us, we are laser-focused on delivering world-class products for all our customers across all market segments. That focus enables us to be responsive versus reactive in our approach to how we serve the market. This model has clearly served us well.
We are truly excited about the long-term prospects of our industry. inMusic is growing by leaps and bounds. We are leading and engaging in our respective market segments. We are developing innovative and exciting products, and we just acquired a fantastic brand, product line and amazing technology.
For us, both our near term and long-term future is bright. For our customers, dealers and partners, our family of brands delivers quality, innovation, value and in-demand products.
– David Weiss
Last week, we covered some of the best large diaphragm condenser mics around at an entry-level price of $300. This time, we’ll move up a bracket to review some of the most useful condensers available from $500 to $1,500 new.
Keep in mind that this list is no way conclusive. It only promises to offer a proven handful of options that I’ve used time and again, and which have consistently performed as some of the best in their class.
Also remember that this list focuses only on new condenser mics, and does not include ribbons, dynamics, or a whole array of used and vintage microphones that can be equally good options.
With that out of the way, here’s the roundup:
The Workhorse LDCs
AT4050 ($700 street)
As we mentioned last week, Audio-Technica was among the first companies to make condenser mics ubiquitous with their AT4033. They would ultimately take what they learned from the success of that mic and apply it to the slightly more expensive, significantly more well-rounded AT4050.
This is a mic that repeatedly fails to sound bad. It may never have the shimmer of a C12, the body of a U47, or velvety response of a U67, but it was never intended to. The 4050 was designed as an affordable, transparent, swiss-army knife and at that, it succeeds without question.
It’s a workhorse of a microphone that’s become a staple at pragmatic studios, where it’s routinely used on percussion, voice and acoustic instruments. It now occupies a niche once monopolized by the AKG C-414, and although it’s a mic may not always dazzle, it will never disappoint.
AT4047 ($700 street)
Eventually, Audio-Technica decided to build a condenser mic that would offer a little more character and attitude than the decidedly neutral AT4050.
The resulting AT4047 is a design that’s loosely based around Neumann’s classic FET 47. This mic has a bit more midrange “push” than the 4050, and I like mine on kick drums, bass amps and guitar cabs. It also suits plenty of male vocals, especially when a little body and edge are called for.
C-414 ($800-$950 street)
There may be more distinct versions of the AKG C-414 than any other major microphone in history.
For those of you who are confused by all the models, I recommend the audio history of the C414 I wrote for Trust Me, I’m a Scientist. And for those of you who are in the market for a new mic, just know that there are currently two versions of the 414 available: the relatively flat XLS and the intentionally brighter XL-II.
I’m still a fan of my vintage versions of this mic, but the newest models are well-built, and address some issues I had with the original pattern switches. Their self noise has also been brought down significantly.
To my ear, these new versions sound a little leaner and tighter than some of the originals, but this might be well suited to modern tastes. It’s also worth remembering that the differences can sound slight to some ears.
However your tastes run, the 414 has been a studio staple since it was first introduced, and it’s still a natural choice on drum overheads, stringed acoustic instruments, horns, pianos, amps, and just about anything you can throw at it. I tend to like the brighter “II” versions on acoustic guitars and voice.
Sputnik ($700-800 street)
The Sputnik is a funny-looking, affordable tube microphone that’s much better than I expected. According to its product literature, it was designed to sound like a hybrid of two of the most classic mics in history, and aims to deliver the upper midrange bump of the U47 and the high-end lift of a C12.
This can be a recipe for disaster in most inexpensive mics, but somehow the Sputnik pulls it off. It has a sound that’s forward and clear with just a bit of attitude and tube grit. It may not a great choice on already bright-sounding instruments, but the Sputnik can add life to dull-sounding tracks without taking them into the realm of irritation.
The Sputnik is a good character condenser for a mic locker in need of some zest on the cheap. It sounds more balanced than many affordable, bright condenser mics and there a closeout deals on this now-discontinued model at several dealers.
C 451 B ($580 Street)
For some reason, people seem to have forgotten all about the AKG C 451 B. It’s a small-diaphragm design that hasn’t changed too much over the years. At one time it was one of the best bets in small diaphragm condenser mics. Today, it still delivers a sound that’s pretty, clean, and crisp, and still does well on acoustic stringed instruments and in all sorts of tight places. The price hasn’t risen too much over the years, either.
MK-012 ($380+ street)
The Oktava MK-012 has become one of the most popular small diaphragm condensers of the past ten years, thanks in part to rave reviews in Tape Op Magazine and online. These mics are affordable, versatile and a great deal when purchased in pairs.
To my ears, the sound of the MK012s is a bit more broad and “throaty” than some of the other popular SDCs on the market. I like them on hi-hats, toms, and on sensitive acoustic instruments that don’t agree with brighter-sounding condensers.
KM-184 ($850 street)
Neumann makes a few mics for under $1,500, but the one I think deserves serious consideration at most studios is the KM-184.
Detractors say that this mic isn’t as silky or smooth as the original KM84. That’s true, and by design, the KM-184 offers a bit more presence than the originals. This seems to be a general trend across microphone brands, and some engineers argue that using a slightly brighter mic saves them from applying the equalizers they’d reach for otherwise.
Despite the changes over the years, the KM-184 remains a well-balanced mic that can be great on acoustic guitars, string instruments, snare drums and others. If you can find an original at a good price – then yes – those are definitely nice too.
The “Blue Collar Boutiques”
195 ($1,000 street)
The Bock Audio 195 is a big, clean-sounding mic with a special “fat” switch designed to deliver extra heft. It’s a good deal on a good FET condenser from one of the best makers of high-end boutique microphones in the world.
MA-200 ($1000 street)
Want a bright, airy, affordable microphone that sounds really good? The MA-200 has one tube, one polar pattern and one sound that works especially well on voice. This mic has quite a bit of lift in the high band, but it never sounds sizzly, spitty or harsh.
The MA-200′s silky, enhanced top-end is what I often want a mic to sound like when I’m done EQing it. It’s not always the right mic, but when it is, it can be the perfect mic. Try it on voice, overheads and acoustic guitar.
22 251 and 2247 ($1,300 street)
Peluso makes excellent re-interpretations of the classic Neumann U47, AKG C12, and others for a fraction of the price. Models start at a list price of around $1,500 and go up from there. In a similar vein, Lawson and Telefunken are also worth a look, although both companies tend toward at a higher price-point.
That’s it from us from now. Stay tuned for future roundups featuring favorite dynamics and ribbons. And as the economy continues to improve, don’t be surprised to see us run features on some of the most coveted condensers around.
In the meantime, feel free to share your own favorites in the comments section below.
I started working as an audio engineer just as the home studio market began to blossom into what it is today.
This means that throughout my career, I’ve been as much of a counselor as a craftsperson, because so many of my clients spend nearly as much time recording at home as they do working with me in conventional studios.
I get calls every week for help with everything from key commands to console routing, but out of all the advice I’m asked for, the number one question might be: “I’m just starting to record at home. I have X dollars to spend and want a Y-style microphone. Which one should I buy?”
Category #1: The $300 Condenser
One of the most common requests from musicians just beginning to self record is for a recommendation of an entry level large-diaphragm condenser, at price of about $300.
I’m not sure why this is such a popular request, and my first instinct is usually to ask why they’re so sure they want an LDC, and why at that price.
For about the same amount, some of the best dynamic mics ever made are viable choices for many voices and instruments. And for just a bit more, there are a slew of small and large diaphragm condensers that would be a welcome addition to any commercial studio.
But that’s a topic for a whole separate article. The question of the $300 condenser comes up a lot, and it deserves a straight answer. It’s true that a home recordist with an inexpensive dynamic mic, an affordable condenser, and a halfway decent interface can cover a lot of ground – given patience, taste, some kickass music and maybe just a little bit of help now and then.
Here are few of the low-priced condensers I’ve encountered several times without developing the urge to throw them out a window.
Audio-Technica 4040 ($300 Street)
In the early 90s, Audio-Technica helped revolutionize the microphone market forever by introducing the AT4033. At the time, it was one of a small handful of reliable LDC microphones available for under $1,000.
Since then, the company has improved its designs, releasing now-classic affordable workhorse LDCs like the AT4050 [enter to win one here!], 4060 and 4047. Like many other manufacturers, they’ve gotten better at making mics cheaper too, and have had some great success with the AT4040.
While the 4040 resembles a single-pattern version of the more expensive 4050, it has a sound of its own. On paper, the 4040 has a bit more of an upper midrange “push” than the 4050,with a soft peak around 6-7 kHz and then another, slight high-frequency lift around 10 kHz.
In practice, the 4040 sounds just a little bit “tighter” and “leaner” than the 4050 to my ears. At best, the 4040 leaves out some of the boxiness of the 4050 – At worst, it misses out on some of its big brother’s body and realism. But at half the price, it’s a great design from a reliable manufacturer, and one of the better bets in its price bracket.
For $300, the 4040 is a remarkably neutral and well-balanced microphone. Like the 4050, it’s the kind of workhorse that’s unlikely to disappoint on most sources – Even if it sometimes fails to dazzle.
Rode NT-1000 ($300 Street)
20 years ago, Rode rose to become one of the first names in affordable large-diaphragm condensers right alongside Audio-Technica. They set their aim at a slightly lower price point and effectively dominated the entry-level condenser market for a decade. Their NT1A was a bestseller then, and with a street price under $250 it still remains one of the most popular mics in its class even now.
Rode’s designs sometimes catch flak for being overly bright, even harsh in the top end. There’s some truth to those claims – A few of the company’s most popular early designs including the NT2 and the NTK could sound airy and articulate at best or sizzly and thin at worst – But with the NT-1000, the company took a different tack.
The 1000 is easily one of the smoothest and roundest sounding of Rode’s less expensive designs, and compared to the rest of their line, it’s a real sleeper and unfortunately under-recognized as the solid all-around performer it is.
The NT1000 can be flattering without sounding hyped, and sound natural without being clinical. For $300, you could do a lot worse.
M-Audio Luna and Solaris ($300 Street)
In contrast to the fairly neutral AT4040 and the relatively smooth NT-1000, these M-Audio mics have a tone that’s more “forward” and maybe even a bit edgy.
I once mixed a record where the band completed many of their overdubs at home on a Solaris, and was surprised to find the tracks were pretty easy to work with. I found myself using tricks to take a little bit of the edge off here and there, but the tracks had attitude and presented few problems for that production. Of course, it didn’t hurt that their performances were great – That can have the effect of saving almost any tone.
The AKG C3000 series seems to get mixed reviews, which may be why this line can be such a steal on the used market. Like any of the mics on this list, the 3000 may not be perfect, but it can sound as good as anything in the right context. I once mixed a few tracks where the artist had used a C3000B as a primary mic, and found that while it was a little bland, the sound was well-balanced and never offensive in the top end.
The Sennheiser company is responsible for designing a few of the best dynamic microphones of all time: The MD-421, the 441 and the 409. Now, after distributing Neumann for more than 20 years, Sennheiser has jumped into the low-priced condenser market with the MK-4. It’s a mic designed for the project studio, and has a slight high frequency tilt from 3kHz all the way through 10kHz and above. I’ve yet to try a review unit of my own, but the mic seems to be getting high marks from consumers who have decided to take a stab on this new design.
Studio Projects, sE, MXL (various models)
Although I’ve never had a personal experience with any of these mics that made me think twice about them, there are other engineers I respect who have vouched for them. sE, and Studio Projects seem to have loyal followings, and some of MXL‘s designs have developed their own cults of mod-happy evangelists.
Choosing Your Mic
As always the best thing to do is to try some mics for yourself and to base your decisions on your own idiosyncratic tastes.
Any of the microphones we’ve covered today could be a good call for home recordists eager to pick up acoustic instruments or voices with a bit more detail on a tight budget. But before jumping to purchase any of these models, know that for recording voice, horns and amplified or percussive instruments, there are dynamic moving-coil microphones in the same price range that are among the best in their class. And for recording acoustic instruments and voice with great detail, an investment of just a couple hundred dollars more can begin to afford any one of an array of workhorse condenser mics that often see a lifetime in rotation at conventional studios.
Look for recommendations in both of these categories in a future issue.