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Tech Notes

By Jim Miller

   After a turbulent six-hour plane ride across the country, a harrowing drive in the rain through downtown Los Angeles traffic and a headache that threatened to take the top of my head off, I finally arrived at the L.A. Convention Center for the Winter 1998 NAMM Show. Only one word comes to mind to describe this event: Mammoth.

   Our own Dave Schmid has put together a comprehensive NAMM report on page 3 of this issue, but I wanted to tell you about my personal highlight of the show: The new Paul Reed Smith models! That's right, the PRS people had some gorgeous instruments on display, but none got as much attention as the McCarty Hollowbody and Archtop. These are brand new designs based on the best-selling Ted McCarty model and are they something!

   The Hollowbody is 3" deep at the bridge tapering to just under 2" at the rim with a carved spruce top and mahogany back and sides, while a figured maple top and back is standard on the Hollowbody II model.

People actually lined up at one point to get a look at the new PRS McCarty Hollowbodies at this year's NAMM Show
People actually lined up at one point to get a look at the new PRS McCarty Hollowbodies at this year's NAMM Show

Both sport newly-designed McCarty archtop pickups. Lots of colors are available, including vintage sunburst, tobacco sunburst, amber and natural and the headstock is finished to match the back and neck. Other options include abalone bird inlays, flamed or quilted 10-tops and gold hardware.

   The McCarty Archtop is very similar to the Hollowbody, but it is 4" deep at the bridge and just under 3" at the rim. Like the hollowbody, the top is carved spruce with mahogany back and sides. The Archtop II has a carved, figured maple top and back and is available with an astonishing double 10-top and back! Options on the premier Archtop Artist include abalone birds and a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard, as well as beautiful double- stained finishes like black cherry, violin amber and my personal favorite, tigerseye (which, until now, was only available on Private Stock instruments).

   If you're already lusting after a hollowbody PRS, my advice is to call Sweetwater right now and get on the list. Building guitars of this quality takes lots of time, so don't expect supply to catch up with demand any time soon. Of course, if you just want a beautiful, versatile, great-sounding PRS guitar, Sweetwater has plenty of Customs, Standards, Artists and even Santanas in stock. As a matter of fact, as soon as I finish this article, I'm planning on spending a few hours playing my own new McCarty!

   The other major drool factor item I saw at NAMM is one that's going to have lots of us staying up late at night, trying to figure out a way to add one to our studios. And that's Roland's new VS-1680, the 16-track version of their monster best-seller, the VS-880! Space prevents me from going into detail here (we'll save that for next issue!), but I can tell you that the demand is going to be enormous for this machine, so it's bound to be on back order for quite a while. Of course, you can bet that Sweetwater will get some of the first units off the assembly line, so call and reserve yours now. At a starting list price of just over $3,000, I probably don't need to say another word.

   As promised last issue, I want to tell you about several new plug-ins I've been using on my Mac system. But let me back up a second. Over the past three or four months I've been concentrating on remastering my old analog recordings,

Arboreteum's Ionizer plug-in zaps hiss and other noise in your recordings
Arboreteum's Ionizer plug-in zaps hiss and other noise in your recordings

many of which exist only on cassettes. As you might guess, much of this material is plagued by various amounts of hiss and other sonic nastiness, so the first thing I needed was a tool to clean up the excess noise. If I had a Pro Tools System, I could have used Digidesign's DINR noise reduction plug-in which works wonders. However, I'm using an Audiomedia III card with Bias Peak 1.63, so I had to find another solution.

   After some research, I discovered San Francisco-based Arboretum Systems had a noise reduction plug-in available called the Ionizer. It's a Power Mac-native application with super fast spectral analysis and 512 bands of gated EQ per channel which can be used for dynamic noise reduction, as well as creative equalization, limiting, compression and expansion, all with 32-bit floating point precision. This sounded like exactly what I needed.

   My first call (of course) was to Sweetwater, and before noon the next day I had a copy of Ionizer 1.2 in my hands. This newest version can process full 24-bit digital files with an Audiomedia III card and a very useful "search and destroy" feature that gives you one-touch automatic noise reduction. Best of all, it works as a plug-in from within Peak (or any other Premier-compatible audio application), so I can continue to use my favorite "do-everything" audio software. I should also mention Ionizer also works as a stand-alone application with Hyperengine, Arboretum's custom host program.

   Based on my firsthand experience, I can tell you that Ionizer works beautifully. However, with my problem audio, I wasn't able to use the automatic noise reduction feature; there was simply too much noise in my recordings. As much as I'd like to tell you that there's no painful learning curve here, I can't. Ionizer is a very sophisticated piece of software, and as such requires a lot of trial and error and experimentation. It took me the better part of a week before I felt I was getting the best results. That's not to say you can't clean up some mild hiss from a 15-ips analog tape with very little effort. You can. But for ultra heavy-duty hiss like I was dealing with, well, you have to be prepared to do some work.

   It's a fact of life that all sorts of weird aliasing and other digital artifacts (like "chirping" and flanging) can creep into your audio when doing significant amounts of noise reduction. Luckily, Ionizer has the ability to fine tune the noise reduction process via Correction, Attack and Release settings, thus virtually eliminating potentially destructive digital artifacts. By the time I was finished, I had some surprisingly clean audio.

   Ionizer has many other capabilities and uses that I must admit I have not had time to learn yet, but it's nice to see any software that performs this well, doesn't crash (not once!) and has all sorts of sonic tricks up its sleeve just waiting to be explored.

   I've also been using four nifty plug-ins recently from European-based DUY (pronounced "dewey").

   Each is designed to do a specific task simply and elegantly with very little effort. My favorite right now is DUY Shape which features Frequency Dependent WaveShaping algorithm processing. Essentially what this plug-in does is make your tracks, mixes or samples simply sound better. Suppose you have a guitar solo that's dead-on perfect, but it's just not bright enough. Traditional EQ can introduce unwanted noise, so you can use DUY Shape instead to add a glossy top end without adding hiss. Use it to give some additional punch to your drum kit or boom to your bass. Explaining how this works is way beyond the scope of this column, but Shape comes with basic presets you can tweak to get the sound you're after. It's so simple to use and sounds so good, you'll get great results every time.

   Another excellent tool is Wide DUY which, when used sparingly, adds a nice sense of spaciousness to just about any recording. My old analog recordings benefitted greatly from some judicious use of this plug-in. Then there's Max DUY which offers seamless level maximizing without clipping for a hotter mix without distortion and DaD Valve which adds some amount of tube saturation to even the harshest digital recordings, allowing us to get back a bit of the warmth that digital seems to be lacking. The amount of saturation is up to you, and some excellent presets let you choose which instrument you're processing (drums, bass, etc.). DUY plug-ins are available in TDM and Premiere formats. Call your Sales Engineer for details on what works with your existing system, plus special low pricing on any of the items I've mentioned here.

   That's it for this issue. I'll be back again in two months with more items you cannot possibly live without.

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