Monday, March 28, 2011

Review: The SFX Machine Pro

Every now and then you discover a tool that is so useful, easy to use and productive you wonder how you ever managed without it. And that’s exactly what happened when I tried out the SFX Machine Pro for the first time. As a sound designer I often have to work at speed, often just can’t get the ‘right’ sound or sometimes just can’t muster up enough creativity when the pressure of a job starts kicking in. And that’s exactly when the SFX Machine Pro came into its own! 
What is the SFX Machine Pro?
The SFX Machine Pro is a multi-effects plug-in offering all your traditional effects including reverbs, delays, chorus, flanger, pitch changers, filters, dynamics processing, ring modulation tremolo, vibrato and a whole lot more. But where the SFX Machine Pro is different from your normal multi-effects plug-in is that it operates much like a modular synthesizer, allowing flexible routing of modulation sources via an easy to use Preset Editor that turn a simple effect into a much more powerful and creative tool.

Getting Started
With its aesthetically pleasing design and simple layout, the user interface on the SFX Machine Pro requires no explanation. I was able to start using the plug-in instantly without the need for reading any documentation. Simply load up an audio file into your host software or on an available channel, load up the SFX Machine Pro and away you go!
To the left hand side of the plug-in window is a comprehensive bank of categories that include all the traditional effects and much more. Within each category are presets and a handy description of each show up on the bottom pane of the main window. 
Each preset contains a number of parameters that are easily controlled with a blue slider that turns yellow the more ‘depth’ it applies. As an example for this review, I am taking a look at the ‘Feedback’ category. Selecting the ‘Echo/Feedback 1’ preset and am presented with 7 parameters to play with:
1. Echo Time
2. Low Pass Frequency
3. Feedback
4. Filter LFO
5. Filter Modulation Depth
6. Wet Mix
7. Dry Mix
With clear minimum and maximum value displays and parameter names, the interface is clearly thought out and makes working with the presets a pleasure. But don’t be fooled by the simple design and layout.

The Preset Editor
Although the sound produced by each preset is incredibly high quality and interesting, the SFX Machine Pro doesn’t stop there. Clicking on the ‘Preset Editor’ button at the top of the interface screen and you’ll be at the helm of the amazingly flexible yet simple modulation control and routing system for each preset. Up to 8 modules are available and each preset will already be utilising some or all of them. To the novice, this may be a little daunting but each module is identical so once you’ve learnt one, you’ve mastered them all. Essentially, each module consists of; a source signal, digital signal processor (DSP), modulation block (with 2 modulation routers) and output.

The source signal can either be set as the audio loaded into your host software or one of the built in waveform generators. This signal is then passed to the DSP and is modified or analyzed using filters, envelopes, pitch analysis and more. Once the signal has been ‘shaped’ the modulation block then allows the signal to be routed to another of the 8 modules and act as the modulation source of that modules signal. The output for each module can be activated or deactivated thus turning a module into just a modulator, carrier or both. With the ability to send and receive modulation via the 8 modules, this is a very powerful system.

Also in the Preset Editor a ‘Tempo Sync’ button that allows the low frequency oscillators and delay lines to be synchronized to your host software’s tempo (most useful if you’re using a sequencer).
Another very useful feature is the ability to link the sliders on the main preset window, to multiple entry fields within the preset editor. Setting this is simply done via an ‘Edit Parameter’ button located in the Preset Editor itself and pressing this shows the slider that is assigned to each module’s controls. This hugely opens up the possibilities of the SFX Machine Pro and allows a much greater degree of control and flexibility. 

The ‘Random’ button makes random changes to all parameters within a preset and can be very useful if your experimenting with a sound or aren’t 100% sure what sound your trying to create.

In a Nutshell
The SFX Machine Pro is feature rich and in all honesty, I could go on writing about it all day and night. As a sound design tool it has proven to be indispensable and gets used on a daily basis. Its interface is clean, good looking and easy to use and the documentation online is well written and worth a look through. I was running the SFX Machine Pro on an Apple Mac 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB of DDR 3 Ram in Bias Peak and didn’t run into any problems with performance.
The SFX Machine Pro comes in VST, AU or RTAS versions and with a price tag of just £124, it’s a worthy investment. 

There is a free demo of The SFX Machine Pro that can be downloaded here

Full system requirements can be found here.

Copyright © 2010 

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Review: Wind Shields for Zoom H1, H2, H4 and H4n Audio Recorders

Needing a portable hand-held audio recorder to replace my exhausted Nagra Ares-M, I eventually opted for a Zoom H2. Whilst it's not the most expensive audio recorder on the market and by no means the most feature rich, Zoom recorders are renowned for their audio quality, especially from such low-cost devices.

However, unwrapping the unit from the box and taking my first trip out to record, it became apparent the included foam wind shield only worked in the lightest of breezes. I needed a better one!
My search led me to a unique wind shield, in fact the only one I could find that offers full body wind protection. The Zoom H2 wind shield from not only covers the microphone capsules, it also covers the entire body of the recorder eliminating any 'rumble' from wind hitting the device.

Initially I was worried this design would itself be problematic due to the fact that the Zoom's controls would be buried inside the wind shield. However the perfect fit of the wind shield meant I could quickly and easily slip the Zoom H2 inside once I hit record and it slips back out with ease.

Wind Problem?
My first test of the wind shield's effectiveness was when recording birds out in the countryside which was quite an exposed location. Although it wasn't blowing a gale, the wind was certainly strong enough to pose potential problems with wind noise. I tried several positions to capture the right ambience including facing the recorder into the wind, all with excellent results. The wind shield stood up to the test and my recordings were clean and wind free. Time to really test it out...

Next was recording waves down at the local beach. I deliberately waited for a windy day to really test the wind shields effectiveness and again tried several different positions all of which were facing into the wind. I have had issues with recording in this windy location many times before with many other wind shields. However, I was amazed at just how well this wind shield worked as my recordings were mostly wind free and the wind shield didn't dampen the high frequencies of the recordings at all.

Ok, so wind shields won't give complete protection in extremely windy situations, but no wind shield can, not even ones by the leading manufacturers. But this wind shield certainly stands up there with the best, offering great all round protection against wind noise. The design is fantastic offering a classic yet funky look. It has a soft, cosy interior that protects the mic and comes in a range of colours to choose from. The size of the wind shield means it won't just slip into your pocket but is why it is such a successful and popular product. make wind shields for the Zoom H1, H2, H4 and H4n and prices start at just £14.50

Copyright © 2011

The contents of this article are subject to copyright. Reproduction in whole or part is strictly forbidden without written consent from