Chris Randall: Musician, Writer, User Interface Designer, Inventor, Photographer, Complainer. Not necessarily in that order.

Archives: 2005

November 2, 2005

Battle: Ruby

by Chris Randall

Our friend inverseroom just finished his second Ruby-based amp, with blue crushed velvet, natch. I don't know if this trumps my HeatMiser model; I'll leave that to you to decide. But it is pretty fucking fly, no doubt. I still haven't received my parts from Small Dog yet, so I can't build mine, and thus he wins the battle almost by default.

However, once the HeatMiser is done, I have a new one in mind which will no doubt absolutely take heads off. Make no mistake: I will not be bested.

November 2, 2005

The Wurlitzer Sideman...

by Chris Randall

Now, I'll grant that its usefulness is seriously outweighed by its historical significance (I don't find myself often needing one Foxtrot beat, let alone two) but I ran across one of these today at Portland Music, and I simply couldn't pass it up. $99 and a car ride later, the World's First Drum Machine is sitting in my studio.

Of course, it is also worth mentioning that the Sideman is actually the World's Second Drum Machine. The First title officially goes to the Chamberlin Model 100 Rhythmate, which came out in 1949. But the Chamberlin box was kind of like the Vikings discovering America first. When Columbus discovered it, it stayed discovered.

Here's the Disk Of Rhythmic Doom, which is where the Beguine begins, if I may be so bold. It is actually quite crafty in its construction. The tempo is varied by physically moving the rubber wheel that drives this disk from the outer edge (slow) in towards the center (faster). The rhythm itself is selected by a monster rotary switch that has (I shit you not) 12 decks. The deck selected by the rotary switch determines which of the diverse instrument sounds (viz. Tom I, Temple Block II, Clave, et al) is allowed to escape during any particular tick of the contact wheel.

The other thing you'll notice in the top picture are the momentary switches along the right side. These will shit out the appropriate drum sound on cue, should you desire to jam along with the Foxtrot. (Not as easy as it sounds, I've just discovered.)

Here's a pic of the amplifier, with its gently glowing compliment of t00bs. There are one 10" and two 3" speakers pooping out Foxtrots. This paritcular unit, which I nearly burst a disk getting out of my Jeep, works fine with the exception of a 120Hz hum, which means to me the filter cap in the tube amp needs to be replaced. The most interesting thing about it is that the "synth" section, for want of a better word, is mostly tube as well. There are 9 tube oscillators for making the various drum sounds in the synth section. There is a single shielded cable that goes from the synth to the amp, and it enters the amp via an RCA connector. This leads me to believe that I should have a relatively easy time sampling it without having to mic it up. We'll see how that goes in a minute.

It needs some cosmetic work, as well, but it is in surprisingly good condition considering it is 47 years old. The simple fact that it works like a charm (other than the cap) speaks volumes to the craftsmanship of the people that made it. The brass lever contraption that controls the tempo alone is as complicated as any modern synthesizer. Electrical engineers didn't design this thing. Normal engineers (the kind that make bridges and elevators) did.

I've discovered, to my considerable dismay, that the hum originates in the synth section. It is a straight--up 60Hz mains hum, which means there's a ground loop somewhere. That's a drag; one look inside the "synth" part of the instrument sent me running outside, gasping for air. Since it's all t00b, it is high-voltage city, with big fat 50s-era capacitors everywhere you look, holding (no doubt) lethal doses of DC just waiting for the brush of a finger to unload their Ninja-like powers of destruction. However, the hum is easily defeated with the excellent Waves X-Hum plug, so I can at least sample and use this box without having to perform surgery.

UPDATE 2: Since you are no doubt curious as to what this thing sounds like, I've made an MP3 of this bitch in action. I'm jamming (for want of a more better descriptor) on the Foxtrot section of things, which has quite a few variations, what with its multiple controls. I've just added Waves X-Hum to kill the 60-cycle noise, which is extreme. I experimented with X-Noise to get rid of the other buzzies, but I couldn't come up with anything that really got rid of it and still let the "cymbals" through. Just know that the foot is missing some of its WHOMP. Make no mistake, this foot is the motherfucker of all kickdrums.

At the end of the MP3, I bypass the mechanical part (there's a switch for that) and whack the individual instrument buttons a couple times each. You can, if you're crafty, part out a Wurlitzer Sideman drum kit from this MP3, but with all the noise, I'd wait until I've gotten it worked on. I will most assuredly add the samples when I get good ones. That tube-based kick drum is to die for when you hear it moving air. As an aside, you'll note that while the main rhythm is kicking, the feel is much less mechanical than a normal organ drum machine. This is ironically due to the inherent mechanical, rather than electronic, design of the machine; the rubber wheel that drives the rotary part slips, and what-not. Craziness.

November 2, 2005

Hacking the ADA8000

by Chris Randall

There are some interesting threads over at the Prodigy-Pro forums concerning the Behringer ADA8000 AD/DA box. At around $220 street, it seems like a reasonable way to utilize those lightpipe I/O ports on your interface, doesn't it? However, when one digs a little deeper, one finds just about the stupidest possible design for a mic pre ever. The box has been pretty thoroughly reverse-engineered by the guys on the Prodigy forum, and a lot of thought has been given to improving its operation.

The main idea is, of course, to lose the stupid and terrible mic pres, and get right to the AD, which is of reasonable quality. The ADA8000 doesn't have real line inputs, which is where the problem lies. Your signal is going to travel through a pair of extra shitty op-amps and get padded even if you use the line input. That being the case, better to bypass the whole thing, and presto, you have an okay-quality AD/DA for not much money. (The caveat is, as always, that you need a good clock.)

Anyways, you can start with this thread, then hit that search button at the top of the page and type in "ADA8000" which will get you about 20 other threads on the subject. One of the more comical suggestions was to go straight from XLR, through a $70 Jensen transformer right on to the pins of the AD chip. This would get you a pretty fucking good line level to lightpipe interface for the low cost of $830 for 8 channels. Quite frankly, I'd say off hand that wasn't worth it, but to each their own. It is possible to bypass the mic pres in this hunk of junk and actually turn it in to a usable device, so caveat emptor, but there you go.

November 1, 2005

Heater v. Guitar Amp, Round Two

by Chris Randall

Man, Tube Depot didn't waste any time getting me my speaker. High marks for them; it was the first time I'd bought anything from them, but not the last. I ordered the speaker on Friday afternoon, didn't select any special shipping, and it got here this morning. No complaints there.

The speaker itself is hillarious. It's just like any other Jensen MOD, but only 6" across. How funny is that? I want to make a 4x6 cabinet now. Anyways, as you can see from the picture, my calculations were incorrect, and the mounting holes are about 1/4" away from the speaker's flange. So I need to come up with some gee-gaw to hold it in place. Shouldn't be too hard to fashion something out of aluminum, so I'll rock that forthwit.

So, I'm just waiting for the package from Small Bear, and I'll put this little bitch together, and we'll see what's what.

November 1, 2005

Alienware Shoots To Kill...

by Chris Randall

While I may use OSX exclusively for web surfing, iChatting, email, and listening to my 18-odd hours of Neubauten MP3s, when I need to play live using a computer, my HP Laptop comes out on stage with me. The reason for this is that I trust it. While I like my iBook more from an asthetic standpoint, it hasn't shown me that it can be trusted in a live situation. I've seen lots of musicians have crashes and such on stage using Powerbooks and iBooks. The most notable of these was the last time I saw Underworld at the Riv, and their set was heavily truncated due to Powerbook problems.

However, my HP is getting a little long in the tooth, truth be told. It has done a couple hundred shows now, and is starting to show signs that it may be tired of getting thrown around. I know lots of people have horror stories of HP products not being reliable, but I'm not one of those. Not once has that computer ever given me a spot of trouble during a performance, but when it comes to live performance, I'm of the considered opinion that it is better to err on the side of caution. While I'm generally quite good at audience banter, there's not many things that are less fun than rebooting during a show.

So, I note with interest that Alienware has released a couple new laptops that seem to be quite well suited to live performance. In particular, the M5700 looks to be a winner in this rather odd catagory of Laptops That Are Probably Pretty Good For The Stage. It isn't a small laptop, that's for sure. 17" high-def widescreen, like the 17" Powerbooks. You can score it with a 2.13gHz Pentium M and put in up to 2 gigs of RAM, which is more than enough for running Live or Cubase SX3 and a pretty healthy chunk of plugins. It can also hold a dual SATA RAID, which is the key for healthy audio streaming. It's got an SPDIF out, so you can use a real convertor if you're feeling plucky. The only minus I can see is that, like a lot of PC laptops, it only has a 4-pin Firewire port. I really wish Intel would hop on the Clue Bus and start putting 6-pin ports on their laptop mobos. You need that if you want a buss-powered FW interface.

So, the El Stupido Version starts at $1399, and one kitted out for serious damage will set you back around $2800 (that's with max CPU, max RAM, and max drive, but all the other shit at normal levels.) Still cheaper than a Powerbook that is half as powerful. It's a pretty dangerous computer for not that much money, when you get down to it. The only way to know if it is tough enough for the stage is to actually take it there, and that's always a tricky proposition. Do I buy it and hope for the best? Hard to say. I doubt that Alienware would loan me one to try it out. ("Hey, guys, I'm in this industrial band, and I use a computer on stage, and, well, what with the beer getting thrown and all... No, seriously. I have a platinum record...")

Anyways, I always keep my eyes peeled for computers that look like they'll be good for this kind of situation, and this particular one looks like a winner.


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