I was listening to my tracks from 2017 and realized that there are some recurring themes and feelings in some of my tracks so I decided to do a little bit of remastering and released them as an all-in-one youtube video.
I was not satisfied with the sound of some tracks (are you ever?) so I had to make some small touches here and there to make the different tracks blend better together. Why on youtube? Because it’s the easiest way to make good quality audio released which are also accessible to many users. I’ve been disappointed by the fact that Soundcloud nowadays require mobile users to download their app to listen to tracks. Youtube works with almost any device and also the audio bitrate is a lot better than in Soundcloud.
PS. If you’ve been wondering why I haven’t released anything in a while it’s because I have an ongoing project with about 30 minutes worth of new music. I’m about to release them as an album after I’m finished with the project but it might take a while… The project is called ‘Nordic Melancholy’ and I think it’s one of the best and consistent releases I’ve done this far! Recently I released a little preview on what’s to come: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_d9oVI1lTcU
The year 2017 was a good year regarding gear updates. I finally decided to get a newer Mac after using the good old iMac (late 2009 Core 2 Duo) for several years. I never had any problems with it but after time I just wanted to get more processing power. I would’ve probably gotten a few years more usage of it by upgrading the hard drive to an SSD drive, but as I found out the Nvidia MCP79 sata controller was not compatible with all of the SSD drives available in the market, I decided not to start trying different drives to find out which would work with full speed and ended up keeping things simple and selling the iMac. I got 300 euros for a nearly eight years old baseline 21,5″ iMac! Not bad I think.
What to buy?
I was having a hard time deciding on what to buy because with Apple’s offering there are no easy answers if you are price conscious like I am. I was also balancing between going mobile with a MacBook Pro or sticking with a desktop computer and I for the sake of money and processing power I decided to stay with desktop models. Mac minis were out of the question as they were available only with dual core processors so I took the iMac route. Of course I’d like to buy top-of-the line gear but with Apple I just can’t justify myself spending a 2-3 k€ into a new computer so I decided to be realistic and look for something thats good enough. I ended up buying a new Late 2015 21,5″ iMac. The Intel Core i5 2,8 GHz quad-core processor has a lot of power for my needs (Geekbench 4 single core results around 4188 and multi core results around 12875). The 8 gigs of RAM which is not upgradeable is fine for my needs.
The SSD update
One thing that is really strange with Apple’s offering is that they keep these old 5400 rpm hard drives available on iMacs and the upgrade to a fusion or an SSD drive is ridiculously expensive. The 5400 rpm drive is ridiculously slow so after using it for half a year I bought a USB SSD drive (Samsung T5 500GB) and installed MacOS there. I was a little worried about the missing TRIM on USB connected drives but I still haven’t noticed any slowing down with the drive. I have to report back on that later. However, I’m really satisfied with the drive and Blackmagic Disk Speed test gives write speeds around 418 MB/s and read speeds around 427 MB/s which, as far as I know, are quite good results for a USB 3.0 connected SSD drive.
That’s about all i updated in my home studio gear during the 2017. As far as it feels now, I think I’m going to stick with this computer setup for at least a few years. I now have enough power to create everything I want to. The upcoming ‘Nordic Melancholy’ release is now 95 instrument tracks and 30 minutes of stuff in a single Logic Pro X project which takes about 7,4 gigs of RAM at the moment and I still haven’t had any performance problems.
I have always been updating the new OSX versions whenever they were released but this time i was a bit hesitant because my Late 2009 model iMac is about to be quite old already. I haven’t had any problems with it though but when it comes to music making, it’s critical that the performance is not affected too much when updating core components of your system. I installed the new macOS Sierra 10.12 and after using it for a week and i haven’t noticed any performance issues so far. Logic Pro X 10.2.4 is working like it did with the previous OS.
About the iMac itself. I bought this workhorse in 2009 and it was the cheapest 21,5″ iMac available at the moment. So nothing fancy even at the time of purchase. However, i have been more than happy with this computer even though sometimes it can feel a bit slow when booting it up or when watching 1080p youtube videos (which you can’t). Most importantly this iMac can be described as rock solid. I don’t remember it crashing not even once. I can use the computer for weeks without ever booting it – only putting it to sleep mode in the evening.
The 3,06 GHz Core 2 Duo with 8 GB of RAM is enough for Logic Pro X if you don’t get too greedy with many instrument channels. My projects have usually something between 25-60 tracks (usually about 4-5 audio tracks and the rest are Audio Units or Logic’s own software instruments) with multiple effect busses. Sure, the loading times for different Alchemy presets can be a bit longer as with any sample based synths on a computer with traditional hard drives. And yes – i still have the original 500 GB spinning hard drive on this machine! I have been thinking of updating it to an SSD drive but due to incompatibility issues between the Nvidia MCP79 controller and most of the currently sold SSD drives, i have decided to stick with the original setup so far.
I have been thinking on buying a new MacBook Pro some time this year but even though i know i would be getting a faster computer with an SSD drive with the added bonus of portability, i still cannot justify myself spending 1500-2000 euros into a new MacBook. At least not until Apple releases the new models because current MacBook Pros are based on a few years old designs.
I started having problems with the combined instrument and microphone connector in my two-year old Behringer Xenyx 302USB audio interface. The 1/4″ instrument plug connector was fine but the XLR connector for the microphone cable started to make loud cracking and popping noises when slightly moving the cable. At first i thought i need a new cable and i actually went into the local musical instrument store Pihlajamaan Musiikki Oy to buy a new cable but walked out with a new audio interface as well. When i got back home it turned out that the problem really was with the Behringer’s connector and not the cable.
I plugged in the Scarlett Solo and instantly noticed an improvement in the playback sound quality. The difference was noticeable with both the Behringer Truth B2030A active speakers and my Sennheiser HD650 headphones. I have been suspecting the audio output quality is not that good with the Xenyx and by having a new interface i could confirm my doubts. I don’t mean the Xenyx is really that bad but there are some minor glitches you can hear when turning the volume knobs such as the channel balance (Left/Right) altering slightly when adjusting the gain knobs and i also think that routing all the audio via the EQ faders just adds another component into the signal path altering the sound even though the faders would be set to zero. The Scarlett Solo sounds a lot more versatile and especially the high frequencies sound much clearer. The sound feels more neutral and transparent.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo 2nd gen pros and cons
Good overall build and sound quality for a home studio
Very nice software bundle. Especially the Time and Tone Bundle by Softube AB was a really nice surprise and definitely worth another post!
Instrument inputs are difficult to overdrive and can handle higher sound levels with ease.
No switch for selecting between the line out or headphone outputs. You have to power off your active speakers to listen with headphones only.
Sometimes the Scarlett doesn’t power up when waking up my Mac from sleep mode and i have to unplug the USB cable to make it work again.
Scarlett Solo and the headphone output
So how does the Scarlett Solo perform with my Sennheiser HD 650 headphones which can be classified as high impedance (300 ohm) headphones with higher power requirement from the headphone output? To my experience this far – they do just fine. As with the Behringer, i can make these headphones sound way too loud even without cranking the volume knob up to the maximum level. In my usual listening volumes the volume knob position is somewhere between 9 and 12 o’clock. I also don’t notice any distortion or loss of ‘punchyness’ in the sound with higher volumes. I don’t think i need a headphone amp quite now but might try one some day to see if there really are any big differences.
I have to say that the Scarlett Solo was a really good purchase. If you need an interface with one XLR and one 1/4″ plug input with a selectable direct monitoring ability or if you just need a computer DAC to control your active speakers, the Scarlett Solo gives you a lot of value for the money.
I recently finished my last year’s challenge to create 2 new tracks every month. It all started pretty well and up until the summer i was in schedule. But after the summer vacation i had a new job assignment which required me to travel a lot (i’ve actually been totally 11 weeks on business trips since August 2015) so the progress in creating music slowed down quite a lot. However i was still able to release new tracks every now and then even in the autumn. I was able to release 18 tracks during the last year which i’m quite happy with. There are a few remix versions of other songs but all in all i’m happy with the amount of tracks i created.
Eventually the challenge was a good thing and i can recommend everyone to try to challenge yourself in a similar manner. When it comes to composing and finishing tracks, the challenge gave me a reason to not overthink tracks too much and not to enter the endless phase of finishing and polishing tracks up to the point where you feel like the track is over produced and lost a lot of the original ideas. This time i had a “permission” to just let go and release tracks which sounded ok enough to just release them. Somehow the challenge also opened up my inspiration and i was able to create new ideas in a lot less time than before.
I also realized that the variation of musical styles i’ve released under my main alias Westis has been too broad. Therefore i decided to create a new alias “Materia Obscura” which i will be using with the more chill out and ambient styled tracks i’m creating. Under my original alias Westis i will be releasing faster tracks under genres like electro house and trance just like before.
I also released an EP with some of the tracks i think make a nice compilation being quite similar in style, the Clash of Sounds. The EP is now available in most stores and streaming services such as Spotify, iTunes, Deezer and Beatport.