The next time you’re facing a life-threatening fire in, say, your kitchen, you may simply shout, “where’s the drop?”

George Mason University engineering seniors Seth Robertson and Viet Tran have made a fire extinguisher that works entirely using sound. If you haven’t seen it making the social media rounds yet, of course, it’s worth posting here. Not only is it absurdly cool to watch, but it’s the latest reminder that music, sound engineering, and science can go hand in hand. That is, music is made of sound, and the study of sound overlaps with engineering and physics.

In fact, this is a sound engineering problem: it’s an amplifier, coupled with power, sound generation (think oscillator), and a tube that focuses that sound.

Best of all, here’s what most people would think was a chemistry problem solved by a couple of electrical engineers. 30-60Hz sounds work, with regular oscillations. (They say “music” doesn’t work well, but… well, is anyone else tempted to turn this into a musical composition?)

The Washington Post has a detailed story that’s well worth reading – not all the practical applications are yet worked out yet. (As the video suggests, one idea is drones fighting forest fires – and of course, then you need only electricity.) But it’s still a fascinating project, all built with just US$600 in parts:
When it comes to putting out fire, GMU students show it’s all about that bass

Thanks to Sara Kietzmann for this!


After a press event briefly quoted famed philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, I’m pleased to announce that the Ghost of Friedrich Nietzsche today will make his review of Tidal, the new streaming service. It’s a surprise, of course – the master of perspectivism doesn’t normally take time out of his day for something like this! So I’m honored. Here’s Fred:

Art is not merely an imitation of the reality of nature, but in truth a metaphysical supplement to the reality of nature, placed alongside thereof for its conquest.
Did you see how they ripped off Spotify’s interface? Here, look at this image from Twitter. Shameful.


I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.
Seriously, this lineup of ultra-celebrities is pretentious as f***. Kanye, I’m looking at you. What, you think you’re some kind of Übermensch, or what? Continue reading »


littleBits’ Synth Kit began as a lot of fun. Snap together small bare boards connected by custom magnets, and you can create basic synthesizers, or mix and match more exotic littleBits modules light light sensors. No soldering or cable connections are required.

But while you could use various littleBits components, your options were comparatively limited as far as connecting to other gear. That changes today with the release of new modules for MIDI, USB, and analog Control Voltage (CV), ranging $35-40 each.

There are three modules, each made in collaboration with KORG:

You can also buy a US$139.95 “Synth Pro Pack” that includes two of the CV modules, a MIDI module, a USB module, mounting boards, and cables.


Let’s look at the modules one by one, then see what they can do: Continue reading »


So, in case you haven’t heard yet, there’s a new “hifi” streaming service called Tidal.

Don’t waste your time watching the weird press event with Madonna and Daft Punk, congratulating themselves like they’re at the Grammies. Don’t let yourself be mesmerized by the desaturated music video in which Jay Z’s friends all get together to drink champagne and talk about “making a stand.” Don’t worry about the European startup that made the tech, or sweat the pricing. Don’t even hand over your credit card in order to start a free trial.

No, the only thing you need to do is this:

1. Get your favorite pair of headphones or listening rig. (If you’re reading this site, I expect you have something decent.)

2. Go to and fire up the blind test.

Okay, optionally…

3. If you didn’t like the tracks they offered, you might also grab a friend. Sign up for two free trials – one with Hifi, one without. Open up different browser windows with the Hifi and non-Hifi accounts. Now, randomizing which is ‘a’ and which is ‘b’ (your friend will have to take notes).

There. You can even stop reading now if you want, because whatever conclusion you reach is the only one that matters.

And actually, if you really do prefer the higher quality in an A/B test and want to spend another ten bucks or ten Euros for it, great!

But if you want to go on… Continue reading »


Analog is back. Boutique synth makers have entered Eurorack, one by one (Dave Smith, Tom Oberheim). KORG has remade analog hits of yore, and now produces hardware like the SQ-1 sequencer that interfaces with analog gear. Arturia, once known only as a plug-in vendor, has analog Control Voltage ins and outs on its new hardware gear.

Now, Roland seems next to climb on board the analog renaissance. The question is, just how far are they going to go? The answer should be coming in April at Musikmesse, and the first hint has just leaked out.

Just a few years ago, such a possibility would have seemed ludicrous – maybe even in the pre-AIRA world. Roland’s idea of legacy had to do with vague product name references and a full embrace of digital modeling as an improvement on the original – mostly in the interest of creating traditional instrument sounds. But then, AIRA happened, and it became clear that Roland was willing to create independent, new products. That led to the SBX-1 sync box, first seen by us at last year’s Musikmesse. At the time, I thought it indicated a new direction for the country. But I didn’t necessarily expect this. Continue reading »

Native Instruments CTO and President Mate Galic introduces Stems at Miami's Winter Music Conference. Image courtesy Motormouth Media.

Native Instruments CTO and President Mate Galic introduces Stems at Miami’s Winter Music Conference. Image courtesy Motormouth Media.

The path forward is clear: there’s no reason in this age of digital producing and DJing that music needs to be stereo.

The need is there, but so far, not the solution. A file format announced in a press briefing at Miami’s Winter Music Conference and made public today wants to succeed where others failed.

It’s called Stems, and there are a few details that make it different.

It’s simple. “Stems” – the format – include four tracks. So that could be bass, drums, melody, vocal, for instance. (Or bagpipe, castrati chorus, tambourines, and banjo. But the point is, dividing things into four makes a lot of sense.) You can also choose the order, color, and add names to individual tracks.

It’s compatible and built on existing standards. A new file format? Good luck. (See xkcd #927.) But Stems uses an MP4 container format (that’s MP4 only, not MP3). Load your Stems file onto any software or hardware that supports MP4, and you’ll get stereo playback of the mix – including on the Pioneer CDJ. ID3 tags for the track work, too (for the overall mix). Load it into software that supports Stems – which we’re assuming will most likely be some sort of DJ software – and you can play back the individual parts. (And mix them, remix them, add effects, whatever.) It’s really just four MP4s.

It’s free for anyone to use. An official website coming in June will detail how to make the files. There will also be a free Stem Creator for anyone wanting to create their own files. And the file format will be not only detailed on the Stems website in full, but there are no licensing fees for creation, distribution, or use. (No, you don’t have to pay to get the specs, either – I’m looking at you, MIDI.) No word yet on how the Stems branding will work.

It’s backed by some key players. Native Instruments announced that Traktor Pro 2.7.4 or later already have Stems support. (See the public beta.) Beatport, Juno, and Traxsource all promise to sell Stems format starting in June. In Miami, DJ/producer Luciano and KCRW’s Music Director Jason Bentley joined a panel to introduce the idea. 16 labels have chimed in with support, too, including Mobilee, Monkeytown, 50Weapons, Get Physical, and InFiné. I suspect it’s really the labels and stores, combined with Traktor, that could kick-start this thing.

It’ll be easy to DJ with. Any group of four controller faders/encoders can be mapped to the different parts – the structure of NI’s own F1 and new D2 all map logically, and so will a lot of other things.

Now there’s a reason to use it – money. The Stems backers are pretty direct about their appeal: release Stems so you can charge more for your music. And while the pitch is for a “premium” price, the timing is also essential. With Beatport launching its own free streaming service, with listeners more likely to stream, and with DJ apps like djay even adding Spotify support, producers and labels need a format that they can still sell. Vinyl alone probably isn’t enough to keep them afloat.

So… Continue reading »


Dedicated wave editor Audacity has found enduring popularity, as a free and open source tool for working with sound. It runs on Linux, Windows, and OS X – with support for older Mac operating systems, which these days is sometimes tough to find. But just being free and open isn’t reason enough to use something, particularly when a lot of DAWs do a pretty decent job of wave editing.

This latest version of Audacity, 2.1.0, comes with some additions that might make it worth revisiting.

First, there’s spectral editing. In most software, audio editing is performed by time only. Here, you can drag over particular frequency ranges to select just those portions, for audio repair or simply highlighting certain portions of sonic content. That’s been available in some commercial tools, but it’s not normally found in DAWs and now you get it for free. See the spectral selection additions to the manual.

Second, you can now preview VST and Audio Unit effects (plus the open LADSPA format) in real-time. That’s useful for making Audacity an effect host, and can combine nicely with chains and batch processing. That is, you can preview effects live to adjust them (as you can do in a DAW) and then batch-process a bunch of sound (which your DAW can’t do easily). Plug-in hosting in general is improved, including the ability to work with multiple VST and add any effects to chains.

There’s also a new Noise Reduction effect.

Audacity still isn’t the prettiest software ever (ahem) – aesthetically and functionally, it seems the UI is due for a reboot. But I know it’s an important tool, especially for musicians on a budget. And this version is worth adding to your toolset.

Need another reason to use Audacity? How about the fact that the extreme time shifting capabilities of Paulstretch are built right in?

Check out the Audacity download page:

(Manual links there are broken as I write this, so you can use my links above for that.)

Also worth considering is ocenaudio (note “ocen,” not “ocean”!):

It isn’t as full-featured as Audacity – real-time effects preview is limited to VST, for instance, and the spectral view is not editable. It’s also free-as-in-beer; the code is closed. But the UI is substantially cleaner, and it has some nice features like multi-edit support. Thanks to Tom D in comments for the tip.