Mojo’s Pick of the Week – Dragonfly Black DAC

DragonflyThe Dragonfly by Audioquest is a pro quality Digital Audio Converter and headphone amplifier for converting your digital music to analog for a much richer, truer listening experience. It plugs into your USB port (adapter available), and comes in two flavors, Black and Red, at price points of $99 and $199 US respectively. There are some differences outlined here, but essentially the Red is the higher end version (and a bit out of my price range). The Black is still well worth it.

Essentially, this plug & play DAC takes over for the built-in audio output of your computer, which is not necessarily optimized for sound. I’ve been mixing in the box for many years, and I was just listening to a long interview with Andrew Scheps talking about how much he loves mixing in the box for all the reasons I do. At the very end, he said “but don’t use your built-in audio out, it’s built as an afterthought and not optimized for high end audio”. Which believe it or not, has never occurred to me. I did notice sound was richer when listening through my Presonus AudioBox out instead of my Mac but because I don’t always have the AudoBox with me, that just wasn’t a practical option.

Enter the Dragonfly.

Note: when I first plugged it in, it was LOUD. I mean, throw your headphones off loud. So set the Dragonfly’s output volume before listening through it. Once I set the volume (easily done in the menu bar or the sound Preference Pane), I opened the Audio-Midi Setup App* and tried it at all sample rates before setting it at a conservative 24/48K.

Sample rate Dragonfly

Very cool feature: the Dragonfly LED changes color to indicate what sample rate it is processing. This is true even if it’s set to one setting and your DAW is set to another, it will switch to reflect the current output. Easy way to tell at a glance what your session is set to.

One thing I did notice: it’s better for mixing than tracking; I had noticeable latency when tracking through the Presonus and listening through the Dragonfly. Too many converters, I’m thinking.

To be honest, I’m still getting used to hearing music through it, the range and depth is expanded in every dimension. But it’s definitely a game changer for me. I feel like I can feel the air from kick drums now!

*Something I discovered in the process of setting it up that was very cool and somehow NO ONE HAD TOLD ME before is that you can set your built-in audio out from the default 24-bit/44.1K to up to 32-point/96K. I don’t mean the Dragonfly, I mean your actual MacBookPro audio out. I can definitely hear a difference between 44.1K and 96K even streaming an MP3, so if you do nothing else, do that. This is set for your default audio out using the Audio-Midi Setup application under Utilities.

 

 

 

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Mojo’s Pick of the Week – TDR Nova Dynamic EQ

It’s one of those things that I knew was over my head when I first downloaded it, and now that I know a little bit more about what the hell I’m doing, I happily remembered that I already had this tool in my arsenal to fix some tricky mastering EQ problems.

What Nova basically is, is a multiband parallel dynamic EQ with optional high pass filter and low pass filter. So instead of picking an EQ band that is problematic and adjusting it once for the whole track, you can quickly and intuitively dial in dynamically responsive EQ taming or boosting.

TDR Nova

What a bonus for, say, mastering, where you don’t want to affect the whole song, just the spots that need some EQ adjustment as they arise. It’s extremely easy to use, very responsive, and extremely transparent sounding. It does way more than that, including acting as separate EQ and compressor, but that’s the basic use case.

The original Nova plugin was called Nova 76 and was written by the amazing Vladislav Goncharov of Molot and Limiter No 6 fame… for a CONTEST. So he released it free, with a very basic UI Even as I downloaded it years ago I knew that even the concept was over my head at the time, but I trusted it would come in handy someday.

Vladislav’s partnership with Tokyo Dawn Labs has resulted in a new, slick, and very intuitive update to Nova called TDR Nova, sporting much the same look as Slick EQ and the Kotelnikov compressor (also both free, and both great).

Features:

4 band parallel equalizer with auto-gain.
Optional high-pass and low-pass filters.
Full-band frequency dependent and/or split-band compression.
External side-chain support.
64-bit internal processing.

And, did I mention that the basic version is free? I highly recommend all of Vladislav’s plugins and all of Tokyo Dawn Labs plugins as well. Glad to have this one in my bag of tricks.

Tokyo Dawn Labs
Vladislav Goncharov / Vladg

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Mojo’s Pick of the Week – Logic Pro X 10.3

Logic Pro 10.3My pick of the week is the latest, greatest version of Apple’s digital audio workstation, Logic Pro X 10.3. This is no minor point release, but an overhaul of an already world-class DAW. You must have OS version El Capitan (10.11) or greater to install it, but reluctant as I was to leave the comfort of 10.9, even that upgrade was a performance bonus.

The actual list of new features, enhancements, and bug fixes in 10.3 is so long I’m not even going to try to cover more than a few standouts. The full release notes are here:

https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT203718

Some of the more obvious changes are with the UI itself.

The colors are different – the background is lightened from the bold darkness of 10.2, it’s now somewhere between the look of v9 and X. This is to make it easier to see in different lighting conditions.

And the buttons and tools all have a simplified 2d look that goes along with the aesthetic of the last couple OS versions. The whole thing is very responsive and slick.

Logic Pro 10.3 UI

My personal favorite changes in 10.3: 

When you move the ends of a region, a ghost region appears so you can better see where you are in the audio file waveform.

Logic Pro Ghost Region

There is a new standalone loudness meter that measures in LUFS (Loudness Units).

The cursor icon now changes more obviously and intuitively for the different selected tools.

You now get the choice of stereo vs dual mono in each stereo track, and true stereo panning. (What was it before? I don’t even know!)

Logic Pro Dual Mono

Less obvious changes:

  • Faster startup and shutdown times
  • Less unexpected quitting when switching between projects
  • Touch bar support for the latest MacBook Pros
  • 64-bit summing engine and support for 256 busses per project
  • Ability to process clips separately within the same audio track

Bottom Line

If you have OS X 10.11 or higher, this is a great update to a great DAW. And if you don’t, I recommend updating. My mid-2012 MBP is so much happier with El Capitan, and so am I. And though I’m not 100% thrilled to be re-re-learning my daily use DAW, I’m loving the new features so far.

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