Readers' Letters: The Digidesign ICON - is it the most expensive mouse in the world?, and more...

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Thursday November 30, 2006

In response to The Digidesign ICON - is it the most expensive mouse in the world?, Derek Jones writes...

OK David... I'm pro-ICON. I'll chime in.

First off, Julian, you are the first person I've ever heard mention the word "gorgeous" and "SSL Preamp" in the same sentence. To me, the SSL preamp is harsh and edgy. The EQ is the same, and the compressors suck the life out of the sudio passing through them. This is all personal preference and not FACT. But, the fact that SSL had a better automation system and more bussing and input options for mixing is why they started to get a lot of wasn't for their "sound". Most people I know that mix on SSL owuld prefer an old Neve, and don't actually like the sound of their SSLs. But they would rather put up with the less than stellar sound in order to get the benefits of its automation and bussing.

Now, enter ICON. the BEAUTIFUL thing about ICON is IT HAS NO SOUND!!! Yet it has all the automation perks that the SSL had/ true "total recall", not the lame "total recall" that SSL has.

I can tell by your comments you've never actually sat down in front of an ICON and used one for a couple hours. You'd see how there are SO MANY THINGS you can do with the ICON that you just can't do with a keyboard and mouse. That's what makes it so valuable. It speeds up your wworkflow. If you are used to working in protools, and you are using it for tracking and mixing, you are selling yourself short by dismissing the ICON. Things like Custom Fader Groups, TOUCH SENSITIVE KNOBS (which aren't plastic by the way! That was one of the "give-aways" that you've never actually sat in front of one), automation snapshots and the ability to paste those snapshots anywhere, at anytime to an length selection.

The VISUAL feedback you get from the encoders is amazing too. Did you know that if you have a compressor plugin on a track, the led lights going around the rotary encoder for that compressor will act as the gain reduction meter? If there is a send on a rotary encoder, the leds act as a signal meter and show you the signal level of that send.

With literally a touch of a fader, you can spill all the tracks associated with a VCA out across the ICON, make individual changes to their levels and then touch a button and go back to your custom VCA only fader group. Want to tweak a reverb? Touch one button (or you can touch one of the knobs) on the track that has the verb and all the parameters will either spill out across all the knobs on the ICON (not just the one channel it is on) or across all of your faders, or any combination of the two.

The problem with most digital consoles that had a lot of these features is that they had a "sound" into and of themselves. Since the ICON doesn't pass audio through it, it has no sound in and of itself. It is only the sound of Protools. And if you know how to track and mix correctly in Protools, your mixes will sound just as good as those done on an SSL or a Neve or an API.

In fact, Protools itself is a much bigger, more robust mixing console than ANY SSL or Neve or API. How many consoles do you know of that have 128 busses? 192 channels? And all of that is standard with every HD system!

Would you say you've noticed a difference in the fidelity of most TV shows lately? More and more TV shows are being mixed on Protools and ICON. For example, the TV show "Lost" is all done within Protools and mixed on ICON. Does it sound bad to you? Could you even tell!?!? and that's my point. In the hands of someone who knows how to use it, Protools and an ICON will sound as good if not better than anything else on the market. And it's much quicker than any other mixing surface, Period.

With an Icon, you can get your relative levels for one section of a song, write those levels across the whole section, and then paste those levels in again just by selecting them in the timeline and hitting paste. Once you get the Verse sounding good, you copy and paste those automation settings on top of each verse. Once you get the chorus, you paste those on every chorus. You never even have to play through the whole song or whole reel of picture. This leaves more time for you to do tweaks and play with effects.

A mix that might take you 8 hours to do with a keyboard adn mouse, would only take you about 4 hours on an ICON. You could literally do twice as many songs in a day... and if you are charging per song instead of per hour, there's the extra money you were talking about for your Ela M 251 or Neve Purepath!

Everyone I know (myself included), once they have sat down and used an ICON for a few hours never wants to go back to using a keyboard and a mouse.

You are selling YOURSELF short by dismissing it as just "a big keyboard and mouse".

Try it... you'll like it.


Derek Jones

Audio Engineer/Mixer/Producer

Megatrax Production Music

In response to Can you help? My M-Audio Audiophile 2496 isn't working, Charlson writes...

My set-up works perfectly fine and is as follows:

2 mics plugged into my mixer's first two channels , panned fully left and right.

Mixer's Master Left & Right outputs (not tape output) connected to the card's inputs 1 & 2.

The card's output connected directly to a pair of active monitors or a stereo amplifier.

In other words; the external mixer is only used as a pre-amp/equalizer. You don't need to link the card's output back to the mixer, unless you have neither active monitors or a basic stereo amplifier.

I hope this is useful and not too confusing. Good luck!

In response to A digital guitar - has the world gone mad?, Daniel Parker writes...

Actualy Line 6 Came out with a digital guitar, a while ago, called the Variax modeling guitar.The Variax has a cat 5 net cable output also.As for Fender.Thanks to the help of Roland... Fender has the VG Stratacster which is a digital modeling and analog guitar. It can become a Telecaster, a 12 string, or change it's tuning ... all with a simple twist of a knob. The only thing it doesn't have is the digital out...and headphone jack.They'll probably add those soon though.I wouldn't be surprised if they throw in a 128 voice sound module and usb recording interface

within the next year!


In response to Do computers give you a headache??, Drew writes...

Another reason for putting audio on an external F/W drive - if the system stalls and crashes you know your audio is safe.

In response to Do computers give you a headache??, David Lee writes...

I am a computer professional of 30 years. There's probably nothing I love better and know more about then computers. However, I absolutely hate recording on one. I am an amateur guitar player and decided a few years back to try my hand at recording so I tried the computer route and hate it. I hate looking at a computer monitor while I play. Using a mouse or keyboard is impossible while standing holding a guitar, and even with fancy input devices the distraction of the complexity of a software program just gets in the way too much. The core fact that the computer encourages complexity is what makes it horrible when using while playing.

Instead, I finally switched over to a dedicated machine for recording. The Digitech GNX4. This is a standalone 8 track digital recorder with builtin guitar effects. Add in the external stomp pedals and you can be recording multitrack without using your hands or eyes and just focus on your music.

After the session, then I pop out the CF card, and load into Protools for post production. This works best for me.

Interestingly, the GNX4 CAN plug into my computer for direct recording ... but I vastly prefer recording completely independanly of the computer.

I have found that like many devices, just because a general purpose computer CAN do it, doesnt mean its best at it. For example, my computer can play TV and DVD's, but I much prefer a standalone TV and DVD player.

In response to How to combine two mixing consoles to make one super-size console, Luke Schneider writes...

Hello.. In response to your article about connecting two consoles, using Aux returns, or channel inputs...

I have an Allen and Heath GS3000, and a Mackie Onyx 1640.. the Onyx has a feature where you can change the level of the main output , from + 4 db to mic levels, so that I could connect the main outs of the onyx directly to the Allen and Heath's preamps.... I guess this is an attenuator button... to lower output to a level so low that it needs to be reamplified by the other console.. I'm just curious why Mackie would make a feature like this, if, according to your article, it would seem that just sending audio at it's original level of + 4 levels would give better results since you wouldn't be attenuating. All I can figure... is maybe lowering the level to mic level... then going into the other console's preamps, will give a sonic signature of this console ... mic pre color...etc ? Thanks for any info !!! Luke

In response to Do famous artists use studio tricks to enhance their voices?, Dave Pratt writes...

In response to your queries regarding whether or not artists use enhancements on their voices:

1) It is absolutely ok to "cheat" in the recording process. It's a creative, artistic process, and the natural sound of the singer's voice may not be what you're going for. Sometimes, nay, most times, some degree of wetness is required to even give the voice that "natural" sound. Furthermore, you can use effects on vocals to create an original sound that complements the tune more appropriately than the "natural" voice. This, to me, is only in regard to contribution to the overall sound of the finished product. If a singer can't sing, and purports to have the ability to sing, that's cheating, and that's wrong (to me). Britney Spears/Ashley Simpson/Hannah Montana can't sing, and shouldn't even be considered musicians, rather, some sort of theatrical act. This leads me to my answer to question number two.

2. "Singers" who use software such as auto-tune should have to register with the government and let everybody know that they have used auto-tune, just like sex offenders have to let everybody know what atrocities they have committed. To me, the crimes are of equal monstrosity! :-)

In response to The Mac Versus PC Debate in Audio Masterclass, Greg Milo writes...

I use a mac. That's what I started on and what I am familiar with. My friend uses a mac and a pc. We both make music. Both platforms have their problems. When I listen to other peoples music, I never wonder what platform they used. Now imagine what a person that doesn't record and only listens to music thinks about.

Get recording great songs.

In response to Yes, apparently it is OK to cheat in your vocal recordings!, Tom Ghent writes...

Over the last few years I have had the good fortune of recording several projects with some amazingly talented singer-songwriters. All of these are great performances done without any artificial enhancement!!! There was a time when talent meant something in this industry. Remember those two guys who had to give back their grammy a few ago? My,how times have changed.

Personally, I see little difference between "recording artists" tuning their vocals and athletes useing performance enhanceing drugs. So much for integrity, but then again, what do I know ?

Tom Ghent

In response to Yes, apparently it is OK to cheat in your vocal recordings!, Mezz Morgan writes...

In my opinion using Auto-Tune is a few steps away from using completley computer-generated vocals! Auto-Sing! Does somebody make something like that yet?

In response to Do computers give you a headache??, Damien writes...

Baseball caps with propellers attached are pretty standard attire for keyboard players. Any technical issues with computers or standalone DAW's can often be softed out by the nearest keyboard player. All the keyboard players I know (including myself) are right at home in the geeky world of the digitals! :-)

In response to Do you need 5.1 monitoring for your home recording studio?, Anonys writes...

For music productions surround is unnecessary 99.8% of the time. I agree with the article. It's good for showing off though and a lot of knowledge can be gained when setting up and working in surround.

But for the professionals or newcomers in the post community it's a must to have a 5.1 system.

Not for music composers or editors or even sound designers because all that only need to be brought in the mix in stereo.

For people mixing for TV/Film/DVD it's a no go situation without a surround setup. Sure you can work in stereo and then hire some studio time to do the 5.1 or upmix but that's far from ideal.

The rality though is that when you're starting getting involved chances are you'll have to do everything. So, having a 5.1 will certainly get you more clients.

Customers love it too, even if they didn't come for a surrund mix.

In response to How to get thick, smooth background vocals - your tips and advice, Jamain Freeman writes...

Yeah what I normally do for thick and silky background is to record 4 takes of each of the parts(sop, alto, tenor)and pan those hard right and left. Change Positions of the singers after the first 2 takes and mix them together. It changes the texture of the mix. Of course add a little chorus and delay/reverb. I also will boost around the 10-20k range to add a little sparkle to the high-end. I really use that for the r&b type vocals.

In response to Do plug-ins acquire character as they age?, Shelter Studios writes...

Sorry to spoil the hopes and aspirations of those looking for that kind of thing but, its already been done.

Microsoft corporation have produced products like that for years and are working hard to get it right, one day.

Instruments don't actually get better with age, they like their owners just get older.

There is no place in the studio for software that changes due to the passage of time.

We require stable platforms and products that are predictable and enable us to deliver products that meet our customers requirements and generate revenue.

Shelter Studios

In response to Is your preamp suffering from beta degradation? If so, it's not as good as it was when you bought it!, Bernie writes...

This is the last crap I will listen to from you. You have continually proven that you have no comprehensive knowledge of either audio recording equipment or common recording practice.

I service and repair audio equipment. I have recorded many sessions, but my bread and butter is making situations servicable.

Whatever that means. But really, you expect people to listen to this shit!

RP response: Thank you for your letter.If degradation of input transistors were not important, then designers would not need to take measures to protect against damage and deterioration. We feel this is a significant issue and worthy of comment.

In response to GarageBand is killing music!, Paladio Blaze writes...

Clearly, you do not understand music. Once you have gone through all that work to make an original sound then what? Less time is left to actually make music.

I am a FL 7 user, however I rarely use preset loops because I am by nature a musician. The program allows me to focus more time on being a musician.

You are right. Programs such as Garage Band, FL, and Ableton Live make it easier to create nearly professional recordings with very little musician ship being required. I appreciate this ease because I can concentrate more on the composition.

It is possible to do the exact same thing in Pro Tools and Logic. This is the reason Companies such as Sony, create loop libraries. In addition, if a producer is a "servant of the song," what is the difference between Garage Band users and producers who tell live musicians what to play and how to play it. They both have the same results.

I offer a better view.

These programs give real musicians a powerful tool to test the limits of their creativity just like any other piece of equipment, software, or recording technique.

It is not about the program it is about the user. But then a producer would know that.

RP response: When it becomes, as you say, "..easier to create nearly professional recordings with very little musician ship being required", then truly creative people will have moved on and set the standard just a little bit higher.There's nothing wrong with people having music as a hobby though. But Audio Masterclass is all about moving up to the next level, and beyond.

In response to This monstrosity should be illegal in audio!, Simon Woodward writes...

Wasn't the RCA jack was originaly designed as a connector for video?

RP response: According to RP's resident graybeard, the RCA jack was introduced in the 1940s. Video wasn't invented until the late 1950s. He reckons that RCA showed great foresight.

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