ZENPRO AUDIO CLIPALATOR: THE WORLD'S ONLY ONGOING GEAR REFERENCE SESSION
TapeOp No. 86, Andy Hong: "I dare any skeptics to pick three processors that you know well, and listen to them in Clip-A-Lator. Sure, your Clip-A-Lator session won't tell you everything you need to know about those units, but if you had no other way to demo them, you'll now have some tangible evidence of what each processor is capable of doing."
What is the Clipalator?
It's not a “shootout” or “test”, it's an ongoing and repeatable reference database that we are able to constantly add new product examples to, and give context to each. We designed it so we could easily and quickly let you know how newly launched gear sounds against virtually everything that already exists, so you can make more informed decisions and buy here, rather than following marketing hype elsewhere.
Why Being Repeatable Matters
One-off shootouts or quickie tests can give you a snapshot in time, maybe March 2008 or June 2010, of limited gear selection. Our ability to run the exact same references down the exact same signal path means that when new gear is released we are able to quickly add it to the Clipalator to bring you instant and fair context. We build a dedicated system for capturing audio reference files within each category.
How Video Brings Context to Audio
Audio files are great, but rarely do EQ's and compressors have the exact same settings. This forces us to follow a path with our ears on every track we make, and we are limited with what each piece can do. After creating a track that delivers the essential sound an eq or compressor delivers, we then create a video that shows the item being used in all settings on select tracks, showing you the reach of each box.
How Each Category Session is Done
Microphones: Sessions are 12 mics at a time. Each drum, acoustic guitar and male vocal take are all performed by one person (who is also a local engineer). The same neutral mic pre is used with the same Mogami cable, the acoustic guitar is always setup and stringed the same, electric guitar is re-amped via a dedicated Marshall rig, the drums are a single lug “Arbiter” maple kit for extreme ease of recalling tunings. A Tama Tension Watch is also used. All distances are marked permanently for each session, and laser pointers are used to line up each capsule with 100% certainty before each take. Each audio clip name has a numeric ending, telling you which session it was used in. The AKG C414/BULS is our control mic, and is featured in each session to help tie the info together fairly.
Equalizers & Compressors: Raw tracks, captured with zero processing are now able to be twisted up and pounded for the first time with each piece of gear we introduce them to. Rock drums, bass, electric guitars and male vocals are all demonstrated, as well as a 2 buss rock mix, acoustic guitar, cello and female vocals to bring a wider example of what each box can do. The same SSL Alpha Link converters and Mogami cables are used, and all files are level matched. A video is also made to bring context to these variable items.
Preamps: Raw tracks, captured using an extremely neutral and fast pre, are “re-preamplified” via the Avedis Line-Z pad which converts line level to a low 150ohm microphone level, requiring +40dB of makeup gain from each pre. Pesky humans doing live takes will vary in performance way more than any 2 mic pres, we find our test as fair and repeatable as possible. After separately processing 7 clips, we then level match those and load them into a mix session, letting you hear the “stacked” effect easier.
Digital Converters: 24 raw tracks were captured using 5.6MHz DSD. Audiogate software was used to convert DSD to PCM format, and we load those files into our DAW session. The D/A is plugged into the A/D of each converter brand, and each track is fed through one at a time and re-recorded via hardware PCM for the first time. This allows you to hear the analog and digital sections of each interface. We mix the 24 tracks the exact same way, level matched, so you hear the accumulated effect of a converter on a song project typical of today's pop productions.
Reverb Units: Raw tracks are fed via the same SSL Alpha Link converters and Mogami cables to each box, we then choose standard room, hall and plate settings and match decay and pre-delay times as closely as is available. Each recorded reverb output is then blended within a mix so you can hear how each box delivers artificial space within the context of a song piece.
Files Play Together As Songs
Each of the following categories files will line up in your DAW on separate tracks to form a song.
Microphones: Drums, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Male Vocal Preamps: Kick, Snare, Overhead, Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Male Vocal Compressors (Rock): Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar, Male Vocals Compressors (Acoustic): Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Female Vocals Equalizers (Rock): Drums, Bass, Electric Guitar, Male Vocals Equalizers (Acoustic): Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Female Vocals
Nothing is Perfect: What the Tests Can't Do
I wish I could say these tests were perfect, but they are not. I will however say that to me they make the most sense when it comes to having some context. We have planned and executed what I believe is the greatest comparison "system" available for helping choose gear across all price ranges. I threw out every notion I ever had about shootouts and arrived at what you find populating our Clip-A-Lator today. Each piece of gear inspires us in a different way when being used, it's only natural. It will never replace you being able to personally use the gear on your music!
Meet the Players: Featured Artists
The Thirsties are a Columbia SC band who deliver what most would call the "Athens" sound; singing guitars, syncopated bass, driving drums and post new-wave male vocals. I have engineered & produced several of their records here in my studio over the years, and they were recently featured on the PBS series "Southern Lens".
I Nine is an acoustic pop based act from Orangeburg SC, discovered by film maker Cameron Crowe and featured on his movie "Elizabethtown", they went on to get signed to J Records by Clive Davis himself. The band stopped by ZenPro Audio's studio to track a portion of their song "Ickis Wish" featured on their album "Heavy Weighs the King".
Bryson Jennings is an Orangeburg SC based solo artist with a unique and soulful brand of acoustic based rock. I first met Bryson when he was 15 years old, and his parents forced him out of his bedroom playing alone, and into my studio to record for the first time. He has since performed with Edwin McCain and David Ryan Harris, and produced a solo album with Larry Chaney at Edwin's studio in the upstate area.
Drew LeClair is a Columbia SC based recording engineer, producer and musician and for such a young guy has an amazing ear for music and sound. We chose him for our microphone tests as he could be relied on to show up for the gig (instead of relying on a band) but also because he knows why each take must be as close to the last as possible. Drew is regularly mixing bands at Bob's studio, SoundLab Recording.
Audio Files: 320k mp3
The Clipalator hosts the highest quality mp3 available, 320k rate directly exported from Nuendo (we found batch conversions to be inferior so each file is exported as mp3 for sharing). This enables the player to quickly load for play or download, and is quite revealing with a minimum of compression loss. Hover over each clip and you will see an arrow appear, click the arrow to download a file to be used on a DAW / studio computer, to discern which gear to purchase from ZenPro Audio.
BY STREAMING OR DOWNLOADING FILES FROM ZENPROAUDIO.COM YOU AGREE:
*FILES ARE PROPERTY OF ZENPRO AUDIO LLC, YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO DISTRIBUTE ANY FILES TO ANY ENTITY OR PERSON FOR ANY REASON.
*FILES ARE FOR THE USE OF ZENPRO AUDIO LLC CUSTOMERS FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF DECIDING WHAT GEAR TO BUY HERE AT ZENPRO AUDIO.
*IF YOU ARE A COMPETING DEALER / SELLER OF PRO AUDIO GEAR, YOU ARE NOT A CUSTOMER OF ZENPRO AUDIO AND ARE NOT ALLOWED TO STREAM OR PLAY OUR FILES. GO TRAIN YOUR OWN STAFF!