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 http://test.tidalhifi.com/ 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.

Updated, April 8: we’ve received a request from Roland’s development team to remove the original image that accompanied this story. It’s a bit peculiar, in that the image – taken apparently at Winter Music Conference – is nowhere near as clear as the new teaser image posted officially today. But, well, here’s the clearer image.

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.


It looks like a spaceship control panel, and has the futuristic sound to match. Borderlands Granular already set a high water mark for how touch could open up new possibilities in sound creation. With a new version adding live input and more control, though, its latest release may be even more significant than its first.

Granular synthesis, which treats recorded sound as a fluid construction of tiny grains, needs an interface to realize its power. It’s not something that can be understood by turning a single knob. It’s defined by the sounds you put into it, by the way you warp them through time.

And there are few techniques in sound as well-suited to touch interfaces than this one. A tablet provides a window onto what you’re doing, as well as a means of getting a variety of parameters under your fingertips.

Chris Carlson’s Borderlands Granular already demonstrated how gestures could navigate the potentials of granular sound design on the iPad. Arranging your sounds onto a visual canvas, you can use gestures both to find your way through the sounds and to control playback parameters. It’s a musical instrument, yes, though in a way that can only be possible digitally. Your hands are a mechanism for manipulating a sample.

Borderlands Granular was already a triumph, but version 2.0 adds major new dimensions by opening up input, workflow integration with other apps, and new parameter and scene control functionality.

Borderlands Granular V2 New Features Overview from Christopher Carlson on Vimeo.

So much is new, in fact, the developer has barely gotten a full change list together. But here are the highlights: Continue reading »


The modular craze just won’t stop. But why should keyboardists and sound tweakers have all the fun? Pittsburgh Modular wants to bring the revolution to guitar stompbox effects.

The Patch Box, teased over Twitter and due at April’s Musikmesse in Frankfurt, Germany, is an attempt at that solution. Basically, instead of being a Eurorack bay for your shelf or desk, this is one designed for the floor, to be played by a guitarist or bass player.

At the bottom, you get the usual switches. But apart from accommodating Eurorack modules (on their side) on the floor, the key appears to be loads of patch points. So you have, on the top, 14 additional connections for modular control from your feet. They’ve also released some teaser shots with some of their own modules in the bay, but it appears you can use anything you want. Continue reading »


Stop it! Get your eyes off that screen!

We all know the problem: DJing with computers isn’t terribly practical without looking at the computer – a lot. Native Instruments’ Traktor S8, like Maschine before it, promised to liberate laptop users from that vacant computer stare. But it, and rival offerings, have a big problem: they’re back-breaking, checked luggage-triggering, tech rider-rewriting huge.

Well, you probably already worked out the S8 “flagship” wasn’t going to be the only hardware from NI to play with this concept. The question was, what would a “half-S8″ / “S8 mikro” / “S8 deck” look like.

If you happen to be a big fan of the artist Uner, and were staring at your screen to watch the NI live stream, you just got a glimpse of exactly what it’ll look like. Native Instruments handed over the new hardware to some of their artists with the cameras rolling live to the Web.

We grabbed some images from the live feed overnight. It actually provides a fairly clear view of the layout and sense of approximate size of the controller. (NI’s design guides for knob clearance and so are so particular that you should assume dimensions here are what they look like on the S8.)

We also know, via Uner’s Facebook, that the box is called the D2. (Logical name. D for deck. 2 for… well, it’s the size of the Z2, and less than the S8. Also, you can see two decks at once, even if there are four controllable.)


NI has also provided us, and a “handful” of outlets (TMZ, maybe?), with some details. What we know: Continue reading »