Spitfire Audio Evo Grid 3 review

Motion Strings, evolving string ‘motions’ for Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5

Product: Evo Grid 3
Manufacturer: Spitfire Audio
Web: https://www.spitfireaudio.com/
Price: $269/£179

Evo 3 Main Window

Evo 3 Main Window


As you can surmise from the name, Evo Grid 3 is the third in a series of Spitfire Audio’s ‘Evo Grid’ products.

Evos (short for evolving) are sampled string articulations that change over time before reverting to their original state. Changes can be subtle or radical.

For example, an Evo might have a crotchet or triplet rhythm with various accents and dynamics although some are much more complex.

In Evo Grid 3 there are 37 Evos grouped into three categories: straight, tense and scary. The sounds are tempo locked to your DAW so everything plays nicely in time.

The 37 Evos are represented on a grid, reminiscent of the plug-in board in the old EMS VCS3. Each Evo occupies a vertical slot.

There are 12 horizontal rows corresponding to 12 note groups or key ranges which run from D#2 to A#6. Each group covers 5 notes so selecting an A4 hole, for example, will assign that Evo to notes G4 to B4.

You can, therefore, assign an Evo to the entire keyboard compass by putting a ‘peg’ in every one of the Evo’s vertical holes. This is quickly done by Ctrl-clicking in a vertical slot.

However, each note group (horizontal row) can only hold one Evo so you can’t assign more than one Evo to a note group.

So a quick way to check out all 37 Evos is to Ctrl-click on each vertical slot in turn.

Evo 3 tools grid

Evo 3 tools grid


Building patterns
Each Evo has its own little pattern which tends to build in complexity, dynamics or tone as it progresses.

When you press a new key, the pattern for that key starts afresh so you can create lots of interesting, overlapping and polyrhythmic patterns from a single Evo simply by pressing different keys at different times.

However, there’s much more to it than that. The really interesting stuff happens when you assign different Evos to different key ranges and play notes in different key groups.

Not all Evos are the same length so as well as the overlapping rhythms produced by triggering different notes at different times in one Evo, with multiple Evos you get a far greater range of rhythms and overlapping patterns.

There are also four Mic categories – Close Mix, Sweet Loops, Completely Varped, and Stretched. You can mix and assign outputs to these in the Signals section.

The Modulation wheel controls the balance between the Close Mix and Sweet Loops Mics which sort of controls the dynamics so you can add a lot of ‘real feel’ to a sound.

Some of the scary samples start off ‘straight’ but evolve into a detuned sound. You can make an early move to detuning with the Mod wheel by switching more quickly to Sweet Loops.

This is really good for Psycho-type effects. You can create arrangements that Bernard Hermann would never have been able to conceive. Probably.

Very effective
There’s also an FX section containing Reverb, Delay and Tape Saturation controls and you can switch FX on or off for each Evo.

There are also ADSR controls so you can better hear – or muffle – the articulations, and each Evo has its own volume and pan control.

And there’s a Randomise button which, essentially, randomises the positions of the pins in the grid.

You can elect to randomise any of the settings, or just the straight, tense or scary patches. Anything you get that you like, you can save.

Of course, this is where a lot of the fun happens as you can’t predict how random settings will sound when combined.

However, it will be rare to create something you don’t think is ‘interesting’ and many random settings are eminently useable. And if not, hit the dice again!

Evo-3 Random Setting

Evo-3 Random Setting Showing Coloured Keygroups


Manual machinations
One major disappointment is the lack of a manual. In its absence you are directed to Spitfire’s website, to a ‘where is my manual?’ section where there are a couple of tutorial videos to look at, and you are gently informed that you probably wouldn’t read a manual anyway.


It wouldn’t take long to knock together a PDF with a list of parameters, settings and what they do.

The ‘tutorial’ video, in the main, just runs through some of the Evos, more a demo than a tutorial. An explanation of the Grid itself is in a different video on a separate page which you have to go look for.

Sorry, Spitfire, need to do better…

Having said all that, a bit of experimenting and clicking on the ‘i’ icons will tell you most of what you need to know. It’s fairly easy to get to grips with once you know how but the process could have been made so much easier.

That niggle apart, Evo Grid 3 offers a superb set of exciting string articulations which can be combined to create a vast range of tones and rhythms.

Given the nature of the sound, the prime target audience will likely be orchestral, cinematic and game composers but there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t find a welcome home in any music requiring a touch of strings.

Evo 2 instruments

Evo 2 instruments

Arturia V Collection 5 review

17 of Arturia’s finest synth, organ and piano instruments in one heavily discounted box!

Product: V Collection 5
Manufacturer: Arturia
Web: https://www.arturia.com/
Price: €499
It’s that time of year when Arturia wraps up its software instruments in a bundle and makes you an offer it hopes you can’t refuse.

This is going to take a while so grab your beverage of choice and get comfortable…

As you can tell from the name, V Collection 5 is the fifth such package and it contains a total of 17 soft instruments including five new to the V Collection.

Let’s list them. The first five are the new additions.

  • Synclavier V.
    An emulation of the Synclavier Digital Synthesiser combining FM (Frequency Modulation) and Timbre Frame synthesis. One of the first polyphonic digital sampling workstations and unfeasibly expensive.
    Arturia Synclavier
  • B-3 V.
    A recreation of the classic Hammond B3 tone wheel organ and Leslie speaker.
    Artiria B-3
  • Farfisa V.
    A software version of the Farfisa Compact Deluxe Organ.
    Arturia Farfisa
  • Stage-73 V.
    An emulation of the Fender Stage 73 Electric Piano.
    Arturia Fender Stage-73
  • Piano V.
    An emulation of five piano types based on a range of upright and concert grand models.
    Arturia Piano
  • Mini V.
    A software version of the famous Minimoog synthesiser.
    Arturia Mini Moog
  • ARP2600 V.
    A software emulation of the ARP 2600 modular synthesiser.
    Arturia ARP-2600
  • CS-80 V.
    An emulation of one of Japan’s defining synthesisers, Yamaha’s CS-80, released in 1976 at a cost of $6,900 – according to Mr Google that’s $29,405.81 in today’s money!
    Arturia CS-80
  • Jup-8 V.
    An emulation of Roland’s Jupiter 8. In 1982 it was upgraded to the JP8A with several enhancements.
    Arturia Jup 8
  • Matrix 12 V.
    An emulation of Oberheim’s Matrix 12 synth from 1985. Its powerful Matrix Modulation system allowed unprecedented modulation routing.
    Arturia Matrix 12
  • Modular V.
    Another classic Moog synth emulation, this time based on the Moog Modular design.
    Arturia Moog Modular
  • SEM V.
    A software rendition of the Oberheim SEM (Synthesiser Expander Module) from the 1970s.
    Arturia SEM
  • Prophet V.
    An emulation of two Sequential Circuits’ synths – the famous Prophet 5, one of the first polyphonic synths featuring, yes, five voices, and the Prophet VS, one of the first ‘sample + synthesis’ synthesisers.
    Arturia Prophet
  • Solina V.
    A software emulation of one of the most sought-after string synthesisers from 1978, the Solina string synth.
    Arturia Solina
  • Vox Continental V.
    As it says, an emulation of the Vox Continental organ which also used drawbars like the Hammonds.
    Arturia Vox Continental
  • Wurli V.
    Another name give-away, an emulation of the Wurlitzer EP200 electronic piano.
    Arturia Wurlitzer EP200 electronic piano
  • Analog Lab 2.
    A collection of over 5000 presets from the above range of instruments.
    Arturia Analog Lab

Getting techy
Let’s get the techy bits out of the way first.

These are software emulations, not sampled instruments. Arturia uses what it calls TAE (True Analogue Emulation), custom algorithms, which generate aliasing-free oscillators.

Because the sounds are not samples, the instrument files are very small, saving disk space. You don’t have to wait several seconds when changing sounds or instruments as you’re not waiting for a new sample set to load.

The instruments come in standalone, VST 2, VST 3 and AXX plug-in formats so will integrate with any DAW and, of course, you can use standalone versions for live play – or just for experimenting.

Very graphic
One of the attractions of Arturia’s instruments is the high quality of their graphics and now they have Retina- and 4K-compatible re-sizable graphics. They look brilliant!

And you will need to resize them unless you have a large, high resolution monitor. The full Modular display, for example, even at its lowest size of 60% needs a vertical resolution greater than 1920 to fit it all in. You can scroll through the display, though, of course.

The user interfaces are pretty close to the originals although Arturia has taken the opportunity to add enhancements and make a change here and there to add functionality and aid usability.

One of the benefits of software emulation is the opportunity to improve upon the original and Arturia has done this in several ways.

Can I have more, Sir?
For example, the Wurli has an equaliser section plus several floor pedals and an adjustable combo amp.

The Jup 8 has additional features such as the Galaxy modulation section and a step sequencer.

The Vox Continental has an additional waveform and alternative drawbar options.

The Mini has an arpeggiator, a motion recorder and an effects section.

The Arp 2600 also has several enhanced modules (a multimode filter, for example), an effects section, a ‘tracking’ generator, and includes a soft rendition of the ARP 1601 step sequencer.

The CS-80 has a new modulation matrix for enhanced modulation possibilities.

The B-3 has effects pedals and a step sequencer – on an organ, whatever next!

You get the idea.

In addition, in most cases Arturia has increases the polyphony so monophonic and low-phonic instruments can play polyphonically.

Preset and match
You may disagree, but if there’s one major benefit of software instruments over their hardware counterparts it’s the ability to store presets.

If you ever had an instrument which was unable to store presets you’ll be nodding enthusiastically, although there are still instruments today which can’t store settings: I’m thinking mainly of modular systems.

All the instruments come with a large number of presets which not only save you learning how to program them – ahem – but let you see how the controls work which is especially helpful in the case of the programmable synths.

The instruments have a browser view which shows the presets. They are tagged under Types, Banks and Characteristics so it’s easy to home in on the type of sound you want.

In Kontrol
One of Arturia’s latest developments is to add Native Instruments’ NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) support to their software.

When an instrument is loaded through Native’s Komplete Kontrol keyboard software, for example, NKS enables the hardware controllers on the keyboard to control a range of instrument parameters.

This is great for a bit of hands-on tactility which can make the on-screen synths seem just a little more like hardware. But there is a limit to the number of hardware controls and not every parameter can be adjusted in this way.

NKS can also pop up a browser on screen so presets and, indeed, instruments themselves can be selected from the hardware without having to touch the mouse.

The only instrument without NKS support is Analog Lab. I asked Arturia about this and they said it’s already a host for their other instruments and the sounds would be a duplication.

However, being able to tweak sounds from a hardware controller seems like a missed opportunity, and a possible negative for anyone who decides not to go for the V Collection 5 bundle but would like the 5000 presets in Analog Lab.

For those with other hardware controllers, the instruments support MIDI Learning. Click on the MIDI icon and the parameters that can be controlled change colour. Click on one, twiddle a control on your hardware and the two are then linked.

Is it real?
When considering software instruments you may well wonder how accurate the emulation is.

There will be very few people in the world who could listen to one of these instruments and say if it was the original or not.

There are folks who have some of the originals and who have done A/B comparisons and posted results online (Google is your friend here) but the consensus is, apart from an odd minor anomaly, that they are very accurate indeed. It’s a stunning commendation of Arturia’s programming team.

But total authenticity is only part of the equation. The instruments can be programmed and controlled, and behave like the originals. With enhancements.

I played several of these instruments, back in the day, and did succumb to nostalgia for, well, quite a while, during the review.

However, back then I was never able to afford a Moog or a Prophet and I lusted after an Arp 2600.

A short diversion
Back then, I bought every book on synthesis I could find. As you might imagine, there weren’t many but one I discovered was called ‘Learning Music With Synthesizers’. It was written by ARP founder David Friend and ARP developers Alan R. Pearlman and Thomas D. Piggott in 1974.

It’s an excellent primer and includes sections on sound and music. Of course, examples are based on the ARP and it includes many patch charts.

You’ll be lucky if you can track down a copy now, but those nice people at sonic.net have a PDF along with many other ARP (and other synthesiser) documents, and goodies:

Books and Modules
I eventually saved up and bought a Roland 100M modular system and got a set of four books published by Roland and collectively called The Synthesizer. The titles were A Foundation For Electronic Music, Practical Synthesis For Electronic Music Volume One, Practical Synthesis For Electronic Music Volume Two, and Multichannel Recording For Electronic Music.

They used the Roland 100M system with patch charts for music examples. Collectively, they’re undoubtedly one of the best learning resources I’ve come across – especially if you have a Roland 100M system 🙂 – or, indeed, any modular synth.

Several years ago I contacted Roland to ask permission to copy the books in order to distribute the wisdom, but after many emails I was told that they didn’t know who the copyright belonged to or it belonged to more than one person and they couldn’t track them down.

However, the books’ authors are totally uncredited and the books are (c) to the Roland Corporation. It’s possible that the authors were employees of Roland so the company would probably retain copyright. Anyway, that idea went down the pan.

But the internet is nothing if not full of resources and it’s amazing what you can find if you look. You might want to start here:

Welcome back
So, after that little sojourn into bookland, let’s get back to business.

Each of the instruments comes with a detailed manual which includes some history behind the original instrument and an explanation of Arturia’s TAE.

The manuals describe every parameter in detail and the synth manuals also delve into the basics of synthesis and how to program the instrument.

Some manuals could do with a little updating but by and large they are exemplary and other music software companies (often with far, far less complicated software) should take note.

You should easily be able to start programming from these instructions although, depending on your knowledge of synthesis, you may want a little more in-depth information – see links above.

The only little niggle is that you have to download each manual individually from the Arturia site, and none contain any mention at all of NKS.

V Collection 5 will keep you off the streets and in the studio for days, if not weeks. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get all those old synths that you always wanted but could never afford. Well, virtually, at least. Some of these instruments I absolutely love.

I hope that’s not going overboard too much…

You can buy each of the instruments individually – most are €149 although some are €199 – but you’d probably only want to do that if you were interested in just a specific couple of instruments and not in the others.

At the current price of €499 it works out at only €29 each. For sheer VFM it can’t be beat. It’s a veritable musical bargain.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx review

A massive set of samples and an even massiver set of ever-morphing sounds for Native Instruments’ Kontakt 5

Product: Cinemorphx
Manufacturer: Sample Logic
Web: https://www.samplelogic.com/
Price: $599 (cross grades available)

Sample Logic Cinemorphx main screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx main screen (click for larger image)


First things first. It’s a big download at around 30Gb so possibly an overnight job if you don’t have a fast internet connection.

So is the wait worth it? Let’s find out.

Cinemorphx is billed as The Complete Composer’s Toolkit.

It’s a combination and expansion of three of Sample Logic’s legacy products – AIR (Ambience Impacts Rhythms), The Elements and Synergy.

As you can imagine from the names, the packs are aimed at film, TV and game composers so that might give you an idea of the types of sounds you’ll find here.

The morph the merrier
And the sounds are big! And they evolve or morph. In fact, morphing is one of the software’s main features. The name gives it away, doesn’t it?

Cinemorphx runs in Native Instruments’ Kontakt sampler and can operate as a plug-in. It can even run in the free Kontakt Player if you don’t have or want to buy the full version.

There is only one instrument which can take a while to load initially. There’s much to be said for using a SSD when using Kontakt or any sample-based instrument.

From this one instrument you can access all the presets, and save and load new sounds.

The user interface is attractive in a sci fi sort of way and relatively easy to navigate. The 27-page manual quickly explains the operation and buyers can access a free set of tutorial videos, too.

At its core
Essentially, Cinemorphx works like this:

There are four soundcores located at the four corners of the main screen. Each core can hold two sounds (a set of keymapped samples) and a “3D Mixer” enables seamless morphing between the four cores.

There are around 6000 presets accessed from the Instrument Browser. They are divided into Single Core and Multi Core. Single Core is simply one soundcore (one or two keymaps) whereas Multi Core is all four (up to eight keymaps).

The presets are broadly divided into four categories: Atmospheres, Instrumentals, Loops, and Percussive. The Multi Core category has an additional One Note Combo.

If you were to audition each one for about 15 seconds each – and many take longer than that to evolve – it would take over 24 hours to listen to them all!

Sonic distractions
But you won’t be able to run through them one after the other anyway because you’ll get distracted by the other features. Guaranteed!

For example, the most tempting button is the XY control in the centre of the screen. It’s switched on for some sounds but not others so you’ll want to try it with those.

The XY control morphs between the soundcores. There are 20 morph presets and several adjustable controls if you want to delve deeper. You can make every sound move and evolve if you wish.

Very effective
At the bottom of the screen are six effects boxes which can each display one of 20 effects such as EQ, formant control, compression, saturation, delay, chorus, phasing and reverb. These are easily selected, adjusted and switched on and off.

It’s easy to change the presets on any of the cores so you can quickly change the sound mix.

And these are just the obvious controls.

In Step
In a second screen, the Step Animator is a multi-step sequencer – up to 128 steps – which can control several parameters including velocity, length, arpeggio type, duration, stutter effect and pan. There’s a Swing control, octave and transposition settings.

This can totally change the character of a sound as well as letting you create little riffs, movements and arpeggios.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx step animator

Sample Logic Cinemorphx step animator


Quoth the Raven – Ever Morph
And there’s yet more.

With the Morph Animator you can change the mix between soundcores and record morphs between them.

There’s also an FX Animator which morphs, yes, the FX.

And if you delve into the XY control a little more you’ll find a range of controls for adjusting the way it performs, too.

Yes, the morphing just goes on and on.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Morphing screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Morphing screen


Roll a six
And in case you’re searching for inspiration or are just feeling a little lazy, there’s a superior Random function.

Virtually all the main parameters – and many minor ones – can be selected for randomisation. This includes, of course, selecting the samples for the soundcores and an additional filter lets you specify the category (Atmosphere, Instrumentals, and so on) they come from.

Just about every setting in the Step Animator can be randomised, too.

Heck, you just have to set everything to random to see what happens! That’s a week’s worth of experimentation alone.

The guys at Sample Logic calculated that there are about an octillion sound combinations (yes, I had to look that up!) Whatever that is, it’s a lot!

Yes, a few little ones.

The main categories – Atmosphere, Instrumentals and so on – each have five or six further subdivisions but that’s as deep as it goes. The sounds have cute/interesting names but they don’t tell you what type of sound they are which makes it difficult to home in on a specific sound you might want.

When presented with so many sounds, you appreciate the comprehensive tagging in Native Instruments’ Komplete Kontrol and Maschine.

See also “Making MorphX” for more about sound selection.

And if we’re being picky then it’s slightly frustrating that the mouse wheel doesn’t scroll through the sound list; instead you have to click and drag on the scroll bar which is pretty thin.

Also – this is the last niggle – there is a degree of similarity between some sounds but given the nature of the instrument perhaps that’s to be expected.

Cinemorphx is unbelievable fun!

Some sounds could easily stand on their own or as a track that you could build a song or sound segment around. Movie composers could possibly create sections of a score simply from one key press!

Aside from the fact that it would take an age to explore the presets alone, it will take even longer to explore the range of options offered by the adjustable parameters.

But note, it’s just the wealth of possibilities that will take time to explore; the system is not at all difficult to use or to fathom out.

Although the name suggests Cinemorphx is for cinematic producers, to restrict it to those genres is to do it a disservice. Anyone working in electronica or EDM could undoubtedly draw inspiration from it – see “Making MorphX”

Is this a desirable piece of kit and do you want it?


Apart from the issues around sound selection, the major negative is the price. However you look at it, 600 bucks is a lot for a piece of music software. You can buy complete orchestral instrument sets for less.

It firmly puts it in the high-end category and defines the type of musician and composer that Sample Logic expect to use Cinemorphx, and for those it will be sample/cinematic/atmospheric/sound design heaven and how do you put a price on that?

But it’s difficult to imagine any type of music or composer that wouldn’t salivate over this set of sound generation possibilities. I was listening to it with half an EDM ear and there were beats and build-ups all over the place.

If you’re a fan of evolving, changing textures it’s something you need to check out.

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Browser screen

Sample Logic Cinemorphx Browser screen

Making MorphX

Given the range of sounds in Cinemorphx, I thought it would be interesting to try to create a piece of Dance Electronica using nothing but the presets.

The first task was to find some suitable drum, bass and effects loops. There were many candidates so the second task was to see which ones fitted well together.

Next job was to find melodic loops that fit. I could have created them with the Step Animator but I wanted some ready-made.

I confess I probably haven’t been though all 6K of the presets but most patterns were more sequence-like than melodic (if you see what I mean) but I found a few I thought I could use.

Finally there were the fills and toppings and several presets offered a range of different hits keymapped across the keyboard.

Then came the fun part of putting them together in some kind of song format.

I used nine presets in total, unmodified with no additional effects.

If you like it – great – if not, blame me, not Cinemorphx.

I did experience one problem. After a ‘mishap’ for which no piece of software can be blamed, I needed to load the presets again.

I knew the names but not which sections they were under or even if they were Single or Multi Cores.

Nope, there’s no search function, nor can you list ALL the presets. So if you want to find a particular sound, unless you know which Core and category(ies) it’s under, it could take a while. It took me almost two hours!

Lack of a search function, good tagging, an ‘all presets’ list, and mouse scrolling make for poor preset navigation and take a lot of shine off a superb sound set.

With hindsight, of course, I should have saved the presets individually and the whole as a Multi as I was going along – guess what I did second time around! – but having to note preset locations distracts from the workflow.


Turn your studio monitors into a range of alternative playback devices at the click of a button.

MixChecker by Audified

Product: MixChecker
Manufacturer: Audified
Web: http://shop.audified.com/
Price: $149
Here’s a thing – if you read just about any book or article on mixing (or cast your mind back to the last you did) it probably suggested that you listen to your mix on as many different types of playback device you can find from hi fis to smart phones, and car radios to laptops.

And it’s good advice because although you may spend hours – or days – creating the perfect flat mix, no one is going to listen to it on your set-up – except, perhaps, your Mum.

The (rather sad) fact is, that for all the hours professional engineers put into perfecting a mix, most music is listened to on ear buds and other very lo fi devices.

And the problem, as you undoubtedly know, is that the music will sound different depending on what you listen to it on.

So, to save you transferring your mix to numerous devices, copying it to USB sticks and burning it to CDs, Audified has developed a neat solution.

Acting on impulse
MixChecker models a range of playback devices which you can select at the push of a virtual button to simulate different listening experiences.

It does it by measuring the frequency responses and behaviour of the devices and imposing this on the output signal.

Getting a bit more technical, it’s based on impulse responses, a method which became prominent many years ago to impose the ‘ambience’ of a room on a signal to create naturalistic reverbs.

Play it back, Sam
There are 12 ‘playback’ systems: classic studio monitor, classic cube monitor, on-ear headphones, smart phone, tablet, laptop, car audio, TV, micro hi fi, radio, desktop speakers, and in-ear headphones.

So MixChecker gives you an idea of what your mix will sound like when played on these device.

But the question is – does it work and how well?

Ok, that’s two questions.

The answers are – yes and quite well. But of course, with caveats.

Does my mix sound big on this?
If you play your mix on your hi fi, laptop or phone, it’s unlikely to sound exactly the same as the MixChecker output. That should be obvious.

The models Audified used to create the simulations will probably not be the same as your devices so the sounds will be different.

MixChecker Simulation options buttons

For example – and your mileage may well, indeed, vary – on my system each device seemed to lose some part of the signal. Many were light in the bass, even the studio monitors, but some also lost the mids and/or highs while some, of course, highlighted those areas.

It’s a complex subject.

Also, you may be thinking that as there are variations between different types of studio monitor, what you hear on your system will not be the same as Joe Blogs’ – or Kayne West’s – system.

Compensation culture
And you’d be right. MixChecker produces different outputs depending on what you’re playing it through.

It compensates for this a little with a, er, Compensation section which includes 5″ monitors, 8″ monitors, and headphone options. Select the one closest to what you’re listening on.

MixChecker Compensation buttons

Oddly, no 6″ option which seems one of the most popular monitor sizes. But there is an Off button which you use if you’re listening on ‘high quality’ speakers, although the manual doesn’t specify what ‘high quality’ might be exactly.

Theme and variations
One of the problems at the moment is that the system adjusts for volume with RMS which isn’t necessarily (or likely) to produce the same perceived volume.

Which means that there is some perceived loudness variation when you switch from one device to another which makes it a little more difficult to home in on the tonal differences.

In fact, every option seemed quieter than the straight output. Audified is considering adding a volume control which would help make comparisons easier.

So these are all things to bear in mind but to get caught up in the minutiae and nuances of the thing is, I think, to miss the point.

If you don’t have a range of alternative playback devices in your studio for quick A/B comparisons, what do you do? Copy to other devices, burn CDs?

MixChecker saves you the hassle. It gives you a ready-made one-click way to ‘try’ a range of playback devices to hear how your mix might sound.

It’s certainly a time saver and, at times, an eye-opener.

You’d still be advised to run a reference check on other devices and not take its sounds as gospel, but as a quick and easy way to see how your mix might sound on other devices, it’s definitely worth a look.

And it will save time and effort transferring audio mixes.

However, you might think MixChecker is a little pricey.

Unless you’re making money with your music it’s more a considered purchase than a no-brainer but you can demo it free of charge for 30 days to see if it’s a good fit for you and your music. After that, you might just not want to mix without it.

All You Need Is A Computer!

Life can be so unfair. Just because you can’t sing or play an instrument, why can’t you be a rock star?

Well, those shortcomings didn’t stop lots of ‘stars’.

But let’s turn it down a notch and say you wanna make music. Maybe you haven’t yet learned to play an instrument but you have lots of ideas. Can a computer help? You betcha!

Most songs have a similar structure with sections such as verse, chorus, middle eight, instrumental and so on. Take a look at The Quick Guide To Song Structure for more info.

You’ll know instinctively which parts of the song are which – the verse is the catchy bit, just in case you’ve recently arrived from Mars – and you don’t have to be a classically trained musician to be able to ‘feel’ the beat or groove.

There are dozens of pieces of software to help you put your musical ideas down on, er, digital paper. And you don’t need a degree in music to do it!

Traditionally, music sequencers were organised like multi-track tape recorders, mimicking the hardware recording systems they aimed to replace.

However, the advent of computers enabled software designers to expand the limits of conventional sequencing and many music composition programs now use a building block approach to music creation.

They come with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of loops and samples which you can arrange in one- or two-bar patterns to form a song. It’s easy and fun!

The samples are usually of extremely high quality and you might be amazed at how easy it is to produce great-sounding music.

Garage Band
Apple’s Garage Band is one of the most well-known pieces of music composition software. It runs on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch. Unfortunately, it’s not available for other operating systems.

However, if you have one of the above devices, it’s one of the best such programs available and currently it only costs £4! Yes, read it and buy one!

Maschine is billed as a groove production studio. It’s by Native Instruments who produce a superb range of software instruments and effects.

The original Maschine is a hardware unit but NI has produced a software version called iMaschine which, as you can tell from the name, is another Apple-only product.

However, again, at only £4 it’s a cheap, easy and fun way to start building beats and making music.

If you don’t have an Apple device – and even if you do – there are many other software options for both Mac and PC computers.

Ableton made its name with the eponymous Ableton Live, designed for music production and performance. The best thing is, you can try it for free and it’s available for both Mac and PC.

If you want to go completely off road with 100% control over all the sounds and patterns, you need a sequencer. These are now commonly called a DAW – Digital Audio Workstation.

They require a little more musical ability and work best with an input device such as a keyboard connected via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). They allow you to create and manipulate patterns, change sounds and tempo, and arrange the patterns on virtual tracks.

There are dozens of sequencers on the market catering for every type of music, musician and pocket. Some of the more popular ones include Cubase, Logic, Magix, FL Studio, Acid Music Studio, Cakewalk Music Creator and Reason to name but a few.

There are many more and it’s worth taking time to decide where your musical interests lie and what type of software would best suit your needs.

And if you want to know how to bring it all together into a Hit Song, have a read of this post.

I finally succumbed to the temptation (see this post) and upgraded my laptop with a Crucial 512Gb M4 SSD.

UK Readers:   Crucial 512Gb M4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III)
USA Readers: Crucial 512Gb M4 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s (SATA III)

It’s fast! The old drive had a Windows Experience Index rating of 5.9 and was the slowest part of the system. The Crucial rates 8.1 and is the fastest. The slowest parts now are the graphics but as it’s not used for gaming this isn’t a problem.

System Info with SSD

Startup time to the login page seems to be much about the same but to get to the Desktop only takes 30-40 seconds as opposed to 3-4 minutes with the old HD.

The disk light no longer flashes near-continuously, programs launch noticeably faster and, well, the thing just seems that bit more zippy!

Transferring files is so much faster, too. I have an external USB 3 HD attached to the laptop and data transfer between the two is incredibly fast. I also have some USB 2 drives and they are certainly the bottleneck when transferring data.

So even if you can’t run to a SSD, if you use external storage it’s worth looking for USB 3 drives rather than USB 2.

Oddly, although USB 3 has been around since 2008, manufacturers have been slow in adding USB 3 ports to their machines. That’s changing now although most PCs have more USB 2s that 3s.

A press release from the USB group revealed plans to update USB 3 to 10Gbit/s to put it on a par with Thunderbolt by mid 2013. But if past performance (sorry about the pun!) is anything to go by it will be a good while before manufacturers catch up and we start seeing 10Gbit devices as the norm.

I was a bit greedy with a 512Gb SSD but you can buy smaller drives. I went for this size simply because the old HD was 1Tb and there was already a lot of data on it. I’ve trimmed it considerably and the new SSD is only half full.

That’s it – I’m hooked! My other PCs with normal HDs seem impossibly slow.

So beware – once you try a SSD you won’t want to go back!

SSD (Solid State Drive) discussions have become a semi-regular feature here at Making Music and, as usual, we defer to the On Test expertise of Tom’s Hardware. Their round-up of the best value-for-money SSDs for October is here.

As SSDs develop, the question is no longer Do You Want an SSD? – Answer – of course you do! – but which one?

You probably don’t need a SSD for recording music as modern HDs are large and fast but a SSD will certainly speed up boot time and perceived computer speed.

However, a HD is probably the biggest speed bottleneck in your system and if you want to increase the speed of your PC, a SSD will add go-faster stripes!

If you do a lot of on-disk audio (or video) processing which results in a lot of disk thrashing, you will see a marked increase in speed with a SSD.

There are drives to suit all requirements and budgets from £50/$60 boot drives, up to £300/$450 high-end 512Gb drives. And, of course, lots inbetween.


After banging on about backing up, I had an email from JJ Jefferson saying he got himself a USB drive to backup his audio data and music files – good going, JJ – but now his computer can’t see the drive when he plugs it in.

This seems to happen with some drives but not others. I don’t know exactly why it happens but there is an easy fix. The problem seems to be that Windows hasn’t assigned the drive a drive letter.

I’ll run you through the process using Window 7.

1 Plug in the drive. You should hear a ping as the system acknowledges the connection of a USB device. If you don’t, it means the USB connection isn’t working or the drive is faulty. A faulty drive is another scenario altogether so we’ll assume the drive is ok and the connection is fine, except the drive doesn’t appear in Windows Explorer.

2 Right-click on My Computer then click on Manage from the drop-down menu.
The Manage menu

3 This opens the Computer Management window. In the left pane, click on Disk Management under Storage. This shows the disks connected to your computer. They may or may not show names in the top part of the window but if you click on a drive there, it will highlight in the lower part of the window. Disk 0 will, more likely than not, be the main drive in your computer.
The Computer Management window

4 Notice that in the lower part of the window, all the drives have an associated drive letter, except for the problem drive, but it does appear as a block so you know it’s there.
The drive has no drive letter

5 Right-click on the disk block in the lower pane and select Change Drive Letter and Paths from the pop-up menu.
Change Drive Letter and Paths

6 Click on the Add button.
Click on the Add button

7 The ‘Assign the following drive letter‘ radio button will probably already be selected. Make sure it is then select the drive letter that you want to use. The system will usually offer you the next available drive letter, according to how drives are attached to your computer, but you can select any letter you like. Don’t select a lower letter as this might already be taken by an existing drive and you’ll have to reassign drive letters to several drives.
Assign a Drive Letter

8 Now when you look at the Computer Management window, you’ll see the drive has acquired a letter. Its name, if it has one, will also appear in the drive list at the top of the window.
The Drive Letter has been assigned