Half a Mind?

Back in July, and again in September of last year, I told you about Behringer's Deepmind 12 analog synthesizer. As exciting as that instrument is, and as much as I'd like to have something that resembles the old Sequential Prophet 600 I owned many years ago, the Deepmind 12 is just a touch to rich for my blood.

Behringer Deepmind 6 six-voice analog synth.

Today, however, I've learned of the Deepmind 12's new little brother, the Deepmind 6. It's kind of like having half a mind, in that it has 6 voices to the original's 12 voice architecture. Otherwise, it's nearly identically spec'd. The only other feature missing is WiFi.

Sequential Circuits Prophet 600

Like my old Prophet, it's a 3-octave analog keyboard with patch memory. The Behringer also adds four effects engines and an aftertouch keyboard, which my old Prophet lacked. Selling at about $700, it's about the same price as I paid for a used Prophet 600 ... back in about 1990.

According to Pete and Rob from Midas, it's in production now, so delivery is imminent. Looks like it may be time to get serious about selling off some unused keyboard gear....

Yeah, there's also a keyless version of the Deepmind 12, but I'm one of those guys who really doesn't want a synth without a keyboard.

Thanks to hispasonic.com and sonicstate.com for the images and video.

Digital Audio Update Update

Yeah, this is an update to an update from back in April, where I talked about the possibility of getting rid of my Mackie DL1608 and moving to Behringer's X-Air XR18. The short story is that I did it, and generally, I'm pretty happy I did.

I've got the mixer, along with a power conditioner, a wireless router, and a powered USB hub wired up in an old rolling rack I had laying around for the time being, and that's generally working pretty well. I do want to eventually do a new stage rack that will contain my power amps, the mixer box, computer gear, and the few bits of outboard gear I'm using in a single rack -- on wheels, of course.

That laptop is a pretty ancient Dell with a single-core Celeron processor, running a funky Linux build. That allows me to run the full version of the Behringer X-Air app, which gives really deep access to the mixer and enhances my ability to save configs, on a machine I already had. I will be experimenting with another "computer" in the near future. More on that as it develops.

Since April, I've mixer a few shows on it, including two outdoor jobs, one of which was a multi-band mini-festival. In every case, the mixer has performed flawlessly, despite my still getting up to speed with it. The only problems I've had so far are related to the el-cheapo Android tablets I'm using, and those problems have only been on the outdoor gigs, where they are difficult to see in sunlight.

One area where Behringer has been lacking, however, is in keeping up with control app development. There is still no real parity between Android and iPad and PC/Mac/Linux applications, and Behringer hasn't updated anything. I got into some conversations with the fellow that Behringer had contracted to do the Android development, as he also develops an app for several other digital mixers (search for Mixing Station on the Play store to see if it's available for your mixer), and helped to convince him to release his personal version of the Behringer X-Air app. He's done a fantastic job with it, and added a ton of functionality. And, it fixes a meter display issue on certain Android tablets running Lollipop.

 Any The Wiser, sorta on stage at the 4th Annual Wilde Lake Family Picnic, September 17, 2016, at Wilde Lake Park in Columbia, MD. That's me on keyboards, mixing from the stage.  Follow Any The Wiser on Facebook . --  Jeremy Crites photo

Any The Wiser, sorta on stage at the 4th Annual Wilde Lake Family Picnic, September 17, 2016, at Wilde Lake Park in Columbia, MD. That's me on keyboards, mixing from the stage. Follow Any The Wiser on Facebook. -- Jeremy Crites photo

For the most recent gig I mixed (and performed at -- photo above), I used the new Mixing Station Pro X-Air app on the Android along with the Linux version of Behringer's X-Air Edit on the laptop. For the opening band, the keyboard player used one of the smaller tablets to handle his own monitor mix.

I should mention that, while I have my XR18 in a rack, it can also be used in a "stage box" configuration, by simply dropping it on the stage and plugging in.

While I miss the excellent iPad app from the Mackie, I think the X Air more than makes up for that in functionality and flexibility, and I'm pretty glad I made the switch.

Beyond the mixer, I also added a few new twists for this gig, and everything just worked perfectly. Once the PA was set up, I used an app on my old iPhone, which is now used as a media player, to pump pink noise into the PA. I then used an app called X Air iEQ on my iPhone 6s to analyze and automatically set the baseline EQ the mains and monitors. The process took all of 5 minutes for the mains and three monitor mixes.

Once that was done, I decided to try out a new piece of kit I picked up from dbx, called the goRack. The goRack is a neat little device that's really intended for solo or duo acts to help make getting good sound in difficult rooms easy. It incorporates a number of functions, including sub-harmonic synthesis, compression, EQ, and anti-feedback control into a very simple little box. I decided to turn on all the functions and put the thing to a test.

My sub-woofers are fairly small, but well built and tuned. Still, in an outdoor setting, the bass disappears pretty quickly, so I felt that a little help was in order. Also, my mains tend to be a little harsh, so I set an appropriate EQ preset. I next dialed in a little light compression, just to tighten things up. I made all these adjustments while pumping "break tunes" off the old iPhone through the PA.

Once I was happy with the overall sound, I setup the anti-feedback section (which was really the reason I wanted the goRack in the first place). There are a couple of settings you can choose, and I decided to go with a narrow band, but otherwise fairly minimalist setting. Once I had that entered, I grabbed the lead vocal mic, cranked up the channel, and pointed the mic right at one of the main speakers from about 15 feet away. There was a short "meep" of feedback (and I mean very short), and that was it. Even with an "MC" using a wireless and walking all over in front of the stage, we never heard another hint of feedback the entire day. All of the musicians commented on how good things sounded, both in the house and on stage. I was pretty impressed, too. Usually, anti-feedback devices are very heavy handed, carving out wide swaths of important frequencies to battle feedback.

I only had one goRack, which was enough to handle the mains and one monitor mix (I run mono mains almost exclusively), but I'll be ordering a couple more in the next week or so for sure! Here's the kicker on these little goRack boxes. For some reason, they're selling most places for under $30! At that price, you almost can't go wrong. And, if you ever perform as a solo singer/guitarist, one of these along with a powered speaker or two, are just about all you need for a PA system. Of course, your mileage may vary, but at $30, it's almost impossible to go too far wrong.

You Spin Me 'Round (Like a Record)

Pioneer PL-530 two-speed automatic turntable

For those who have been following along, I have selected a turntable for my vintage stereo project. I mentioned previously that in my original system, I had a Pioneer PL-516, and that I had really wished I could have afforded at least a PL-518. Even better would have been the PL-530.

The PL-530 was a direct drive, two-speed, fully automatic turntable. It featured separate pitch adjustments for 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm, and you could also choose between 7", 10", and 12" record sizes.

The PL-530 was fairly unique in that it used two motors -- one for the turntable drive, and a second to handle the automatic cueing and return functions. The idea was to eliminate speed imperfections caused by using the main motor to also operation the gearing for the tone-arm movement.

As with other things, I could never afford one of these, nor could I afford the semi-automatic, dual-motored PL-520, nor even the single-motored, direct-drive PL-518. So, there you have that. Now, of course, these gems are nearly impossible to find in any condition. Those that are out there are still expensive.

One interesting bit of '70s hi-fi history is the link between Pioneer and Radio Shack. Radio Shack, at that time, would never sell anything other than their own Realistic brand of stereo components. But, they never hesitated when it came to contracting other companies to build things for them (for example, the Moog-built ConcertMate MG-1), and for a number of years, Radio Shack's better stereo gear was built or designed by none other than Pioneer. I remember looking down inside the vents of many Realistic receivers when I was young, and seeing the Pioneer name and logo printed right on the circuit boards or other parts!

In 1981, Radio Shack introduced the LAB-420 automatic turntable, which appears to have been inspired, in part at least, by the Pioneer PL-530. It shares many of the same features -- 2-speed direct-drive, dual pitch controls, three record sizes, etc. -- but not, apparently, the dual motors. A more traditional "power take-off" to actuate the automatic start, repeat, and return functions. Reviews at the time were favorable, and remain so to this day. And wouldn't you know it: Jim (remember Jim?) had one available at a very reasonable price. So I bought it.

This particular example, like the SX-450, has a few cosmetic blemishes (mostly, the wood-grain laminate is peeling around the lower edges), and it's missing the dust cover and hinges (something I've always removed and stored away), but otherwise it functions reasonably well. All I needed to add was a new cartridge and head shell.

Back in the day, as we say, I used Pickering cartridges and styli pretty much exclusively, because they offered very good sound at a reasonable price. Interestingly, while they're still made in the USA (and have been for 70 years!), the only places that seem to sell them any more are in Europe -- they don't even have a US web site that I can find. And, they're no longer particularly affordable.

 Ortofon 2M Red MM Cartridge

Ortofon 2M Red MM Cartridge

No matter, I'd always wanted a Grado or Ortofon cartridge. A little research turned up that Grado have basically been making the very same cartridges they did in 1979, which only incremental improvements to the designs. Now, as then, their lower-priced models receive decent reviews, and all of the reviews indicate that they can take months to "break in" and sound their best.

Ortofon, on the other hand, have not be resting on their laurels. While updated versions of the same old models are available, they've also released completely new lines, and based on the range of music I like to listen to, it seems that one of their newer models would be my best choice. So I ordered the 2M Red MM Cartridge, along with an appropriate head shell, from Turntable Lab in Brooklyn, New York.

Dual 1219 Automatic Record Changer and United Audio turntable cabinet.

Some of you who know me well may remember my affinity for the Dual 1219 turntable with a Pickering V15 cartridge, and may be wondering why I didn't opt for one of those. I did consider another 1219, but ultimately decided that I wanted a direct drive turntable, and that I didn't want a changer. I also didn't want the maintenance headache that all the mechanics in the Dual turntables entail. Don't get me wrong -- they're brilliantly designed, but when they do break down, they're a major pain to rebuild. At one point when I was still using a 1219, I had one working and two more for parts.

At this point, I'm more interested in listening to music as opposed to tinkering with mechanics. In other words, I want something that simply works.

So, what was the first album I played? Well, it certainly wasn't Dead or Alive's You Spin Me 'Round, that's for sure! No, I chose my original release of Boston's self-titled debut album from 1976 -- one of the first albums I bought after buying my first turntable, and one of my all-time favorites. Unfortunately, as I mentioned the other day, when I went to pull the album off the shelf, I discovered that it, along with several other rare or important records, were missing from my collection.

The package of records actually arrived the day before yesterday, and the package with cartridge, yesterday. So last night, despite my having a searing migraine and feeling rather ill, I installed the cartridge and set up the turntable.. I balanced the tone arm, and then chose a tracking force of 1.25 grams, towards the low end of the recommended range. I placed the record on the turntable, clicked the lever to the start position and watched as the tone arm lifted, moved over the lead-in groove, and lowered the needle. Nice.

Unfortunately, the record didn't sound as nice as it looked! In fact, along about halfway through Peace of Mind, there was a horrible skip, and then it launched into a jump-and-repeat routine. "So much for that 'Very Good +' condition rating," I thought to myself as I got up and stopped the record. I decided to not even listen to the rest of the album, and moved on to my old copy of Rush's 2112.

2112 started out well, and played decently until somewhere in The Temples of Syrinx, when Neil's drumming literally kicked the needle out of the groove! "Hmmm. I guess 1.25 grams tracking force is a little too light!" I consulted the guide for the cartridge, and decided to try a setting of about 1.8 grams, and try again.

That setting change corrected the skipping problem, and markedly improved the sonic quality overall. I decided to try the Boston album again, and while still not a "VG+" across the whole record, the listening experience was still quite enjoyable. It certainly brought back fond memories! And that, my friends, is what this particular venture is all about.