Pepperdeck Tuna Knobs - An attempt to improve the remote DAW mixing experience

Controlling your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) through a remote application seems to be an effective yet inexpensive way in improving the user experience from mixing in a box. Many DAWs today such as Pro Tools or Nuendo are more than capable of supporting a mixing engineer, music producer or aspiring musician needs in their music project. As touch-enabled devices are becoming ubiquitous, many of us would have already owned these devices such as an iPad or a laptop with touchscreen functions. Integrating them into our mixing workflow would help extend interface control capabilities without incurring much cost.

Avid Pro Tools Control

The lack of tactile feedback

Although many of us are able to reap excellent results from mixing in the box for years, the user experience of clicking and typing into your computer feels cold and nonintuitive to some. Hence, physical control interfaces have been a welcomed addition to provide the tactile feedback engineers yearned to work with on a DAW. Physical control interface varies between price points starting from the entry level of products that allow the user to map controls onto physical faders and knobs. Premium physical interfaces have a more optimised workflow for specific DAW or additional hardware components such as Pre-amplifier built into it. While I would love to have a physical interface with me for my site recording jobs, these interfaces are not entirely very portable, or it requires power to operate. Thus, as mentioned in my previous article, I have made the transition into software remote application for my recording and mixing projects.

SSL Nucleus2 Dante Network DAW Controller - Credit SSL

Remote software as an alternative

Unlike a physical interface, a software remote application does not utilise additional hardware to extend the control functions of a DAW. In my case, I have been using Apple’s iPad to control my DAW (Pro Tools) with two different applications, namely PT Control and V-Control Pro. Both applications have essential controls, for instance, level or pan controls you expect to find in an interface. In a short comparison, a distinct difference between V-Control and PT Control is that V-Control provides a real-time window of the plugins you are adjusting in a channel. Though having real-time control of your DAW and plug-in can be rather helpful, ultimately mixing on a piece of glass is not as satisfying as mixing on physical control. Therefore, I started looking for other alternatives to help improve the tactile experience from mixing on a remote application.

The Pepperdeck Tunaknobs

Pepperdeck was kind enough to answer my request and have sent a couple of physical knobs to help explore the options of having physical controls on a remote surface. The Tuna Knobs are designed to be used with synth, music or DJ software on a touch enabled device. Although Pepperdeck supports none of the DAW software I used, we decided to test the Tuna Knobs together with my mixing workflow. Application of the Tuna Knobs is simple and require no additional driver installation. On the whole, the knob is applied onto the screen of a device with the help of a suction cup. In order for your touch device to register an input from the product, the magnetic strip on the bottom of the knob would require physical contact onto the screen. Simply put, the Tuna Knob is a passive rounded stylus with a suction cup.

Build

The knobs are mainly fabricated with plastic for its base and rubber to provide better grip. This is crucial as plastic have a lower hardness index than glass, hence, reducing the chances of scratching the screen of your precious devices. There is a rubberized suction cup at its base to allow the knobs to lock onto a particular real estate of the screen; this is extremely helpful if you’re not mixing on a flat surface or one handed.

The Line-Up

The product has 3 variants, specifically a 2, 4 and 6 knobs package.

- 2 Knobs set will include: 2 Tuna Knobs, 25 Euro (approx. 40 SGD), no travel case 

- 4 Knobs Set will include: 4 Tuna Knobs, 49 Euro (approx. 79 SGD) and a travel case

- 6 Knobs Set will include: 6 Tuna Knobs, 59 Euro (approx. 95 SGD) and a travel case

Pepperdeck Tuna Knobs - 2 Knobs Set

Application

As advertised, the Tuna Knobs works well with its supported software, mostly for MIDI or synth application such as Lemur or Touchable. In this article, we are trying out software the knobs are not designed with. Thus some compatibility issues will be expected. 

It didn’t work out on my first try

First impression was that the Tuna Knobs were not as responsive as I hoped. The controls were not registering onto my iPad, and even with much pressure applied onto the screen, the control was not precise for any mixing application. Though it may be true that the product does not require any additional driver installation, there is one caveat, the knobs do not work well with any existing screen protector on your device. Once I received confirmation from Pepperdeck that the optimise application does not allow any screen protector on any particular device, the knobs work fine.

Tuna Knob Travel Case

Does it improve the user experience?

I would like first to clarify that the DAW remote applications I used, namely PT Control and V Control Pro, work well without an additional accessory. Meaning, if you’re hoping to extend your DAW control onto a touch surface, these applications allow you to have extensive control such as fader and pan control and plugin parameter adjustments. During my test, I was only able to successfully integrate V-Control Pro with Tuna Knobs into my mixing workflow. Due to the design of the user interface in PT Control, the Tuna Knobs were not compatible with software features.

Tuna Knobs on V-Control Pro

As a long-time engineer mixing in a box, I was tuned to work proficiently with a keyboard and mouse. Having additional physical knobs were not as intuitive as I hoped, as I find myself reaching out for the mouse to adjust my pans from time to time. This might be a personal problem as I figured that my mixing habits might be one of the contributing factors that are obstructing my experiment in integrating the Tuna Knobs into my mixing workflow. Furthermore, I have also observed that the knobs do not work particularly as well on smaller screen device variants, for instance, the iPad Mini. Upon further exploration, the product has reaped higher success with users who are not as familiar in mixing on a remote touch surface. The learning curve of using the knobs can be easily offset with the overall learning curve in integrating a touch surface into your music project.

Tuna Knobs - Plugin (CLA-76) adjustment

Conclusion

Build / Design

The product is design and fabricated pragmatically, each material used fulfils its role well. My only complaint in this category would be the design of the travel case as I have difficulties storing the knobs into the case every single time. This is due to the “honeycomb” design of the case cover where the knobs can obstruct the cover from sealing the case completely. A simple file to widen the “honeycomb” gap will easily do the trick. I also felt that the case can be more sturdily built as I have “unintentionally” drop the case and in all scenarios, the casing has failed to prevent the knobs from spilling out. Maybe, in this case, it is more advisable for a metal casing to improve sturdiness.

Tuna Knob Casing

Performance

As mentioned earlier, the product will not work well if there is a screen protector in between the knobs and screen. This can be a hard compromise for some user who is especially protective with their device, but if you can overcome this hurdle, the knob works well without any additional driver installation. Application of the product varies widely from incorporating the knobs with a tablet, to a laptop or even sound console. That being said, in my personal opinion, the impact of the knobs will not be huge if you are already very familiar with a particular workflow.

Price

The price of the Tuna Knobs is steep with the lowest SKU costing around 40 SGD. In general terms, the knobs are basically mechanical rotary stylus without any electronic components. In my perspective, unless the knobs have some electronic functions, a product should not be pitched at this price point.

Suggestion

After extensive use with the Tuna Knobs, I have realised that these accessories can be a viable avenue for Pepperdeck to explore for further alternatives. To state an example, in an application similar to mixing on a remote surface, it will be both intriguing and helpful if Pepperdeck could come out with some “fader” accessories to extend the level control in a remote software. The "fader" modules can be used to control levels or even automation. If the product is properly design and optimised, it can be both a fantastic and unique product similar to the Pepperdeck’s DJOCLATE, providing a useful technical solution in the audio market.

YWFU

Flare Audio ISOLATE Pro Titanium Ear Plugs - A new contender

It has been about a year since I last talked about ear plugs. Undoubtedly, the topic on earplugs can be a rather dull subject, but I believe anyone who is in their right mind would agree on its value when it comes to protecting your precious ears in a high Sound Pressure Level (SPL) environment. This is especially relevant in today’s context where a significant amount of demographic spends their past time partying in clubs and festival, the modern design of a set of earplugs for these scenarios must fit a set of essential specifications. In my opinion, a good pair of earplug must encompass these criteria, namely SPL reduction, suitable for music applications and an aesthetically low profile design.

Earlier this year, I have received a pair of ISOLATE Pro Titanium earplugs from Flare Audio and after months of testing, here’s my take on this product.

Flare Audio ISOLATE Pro Titanium

Balanced SPL Reduction

Conventional foams or silicone earplugs are only effective in absorbing higher frequencies (link) due to their less dense material characteristics. Hence, these earplugs do not provide much protection in the low frequencies range from the sub or low woofers in a concert or club environment. To solve this problem, the Isolate ear plugs utilises higher density material, for this case titanium, to help improve sound absorption on a broad spectrum.

But isn’t metal a good conductor of sound?

As a matter fact, metals are considered to be good sound conductors due to their densely packed atomic structure. Thus, it can be quite counter intuitive to suggest the use of metal for ear protection as it will just conduct any sound waves directly to your head.

In my earlier post (link) where structure-borne sound conduction was discussed, the same principle in isolating these specific sounds applies. In order to prevent a metal constructed earplug to conduct sound directly into our head, it will require the transmission path to be broken between our ears and the metal material itself. Therefore, in the case of the Isolate ear plugs, soft foams were used at the end to decouple the earplugs from the user.

To ensure a snug fit on the user’s ear, high-quality soft foams are used to help achieve the high Noise Reduction Ratio (NRR) when applied (of course, custom ear molds can be used to achieve the highest possible NRR). The soft foams are a gracious solution to that allows the dense titanium to do its job efficiently while providing high isolation index from the environment.

*The Isolate earplugs is CE certified by an independent body to the specification, BS EN 352-2-2002 with an SNR35 rating for the aluminium version and SNR36 for the titanium version.

Music Application

In terms of broad spectrum and high NRR ear protection, there are existing off the shelf products that you can probably buy in a hardware store. However, these products are not tuned for music applications in a loud environment. Simply put, these ear plugs or ear protection do not provide a balanced reduction of noise across the audible spectrum (20Hz to 20KHz), and generally, users will experience low boomy sound characteristics in these situations.

3M Flanged Ear Plugs, Credits: 3M

Unlike the above mentioned, the Isolate Pro can retain higher sound clarity. The earplugs are tuned to passively attenuate sound level to render higher clarity and better representation of the audio itself. These characteristics are very much welcomed for musical applications where being able to hear uncoloured sounds can often provide the user with the very much needed confidence to mix or operate in a high SPL environment.

On a side note, I have observed that the Isolate is able to provide a better representation of sound when comparing to the V Moda Fader that I have been using consistently over the years. This is attributed to the denser material used to construct the body (titanium) of the Isolate Pro earplug. If your main priority is sound quality, you should be considering the Isolate Pro.

Flare Audio ISOLATE Pro vs V-Moda VIP Faders

Build

Build quality is excellent, the materials used in the foams and metal body compliments well with each other. The product felt hefty, which is essential to help anchor the Isolate properly into your ear for a good fit.

Good selections of ear tip sizes for user to choose from

However, after months on the road, the ear tip foams do not appear to sustain the wear and tear test. Specifically, the foams disintegrate, faster than the other earplugs on the market. I have searched online on whether are there other users who are experiencing the same problem as I do but have no luck. Then I realised that the Flare Audio Isolate is used by a diverse range of users, some for trekking (Headfonics), where others wear it during their jamming session inside a small studio room. My best guess in my case is that the material is not really suitable for sweaty (a common factor when you’re doing production on the road) and the humid environment in Singapore.

To many consumers, the aesthetic of a product, especially wearable items, are important to be not visually intrusive (at least in the context of technical production). The design of the ISOLATE Pro is very low profile, which I preferred and for the people out there who need more varieties, the ISOLATE Pro has multiple colour schemes to choose from. Ultimately, I believe that we can agree that the design of the ISOLATE Pro looks much more appealing as compared to the general off the shelf earplugs you can get in drug stores.

ISOLATE Pro Colour options, Credits Flare Audio

Application

If you have remembered, I have always preferred a flanged typed earplug due to their ease of use. It is a bonus that the Isolate utilises my preferred method of application in this case. However, it lacks one crucial feature that I have grown towards which is a neck cord that attaches both earplugs together for easy access when not in use. There are instances where I chose the V Moda Faders over the Flare Audio Isolate just because of the convenience and ease of use an attachment cord can provide. Otherwise, the Flare Audio Isolate would have fared very well for a technical production crew to use it in his or her working environment.

V-Moda VIP Fader with Neck Cord

Similar to any ear protectors/earplugs, for the user to benefit and observe the effect of a pair of tuned earplugs, the user needs some time for the body to acclimate itself to the change in the hearing and psychological-acoustic environment. In everyday circumstances where you’re not wearing earplugs, most of your perceived hearing comes from the sound waves travelling through the air medium into your ear. However, the ratio changes when earplugs are applied, and you also start to notice conducted sounds through your body.

For my fellow sound engineers out there

Objectively, you should give yourself some time to understand and feel the differences before you start making critical decisions in how you mix or how loud you perceived you are mixing at for the audience. That is, the Flare Audio ISOLATE Pro can be used for mixing applications in live environments.

*If you are wondering, yes, the Isolate earplugs are reusable.

Conclusion

Build / Design / Aesthetic

Build quality is exceptional when you compare it to competing products in the markets. The materials used are premium and have practical reasons for implementing it into the design. The weight of the metal helps anchor the earplug into the user's ears to provide a snug fit. Visually, the ISOLATE Pro is very low profile and nonintrusive, a bonus for the fashioned minded. One minor drawback of the earplugs would be the soft foams as it disintegrates shortly during my test.

Performance

This is the most important judging criteria for any earplug. Rest assured, the ISOLATE Pro performance well in the situations mentioned above, it protects your ears well, even in a concert environment. As a long time user of the V-Moda Fader, I observed that the ISOLATE Pro does provide better results regarding balanced sound reduction. This gave me higher confidence when I decided to use it for mixing application.

Price

Cost to Performance Ratio in the ISOLATE Pro is not a strong contender here as this is one of the more pricey earplugs you can get in the market. True enough, the performance of the ear plugs are better (based on what I can hear during my listening/mixing sessions) than the other ear plugs I have used previously. In my opinion, the performance differences between an ISOLATE Pro and for this case, a V-Modo Fader would not necessarily justify the cost for me to use it in live production scenarios. As mentioned before, earplugs are items that you need to learn and understand its characteristics. Even if the earplugs you wished to use do not have a balanced reduction profile, if you understand it well, you can compensate that easily.

User experience

My experiences with the ISOLATE Pro are pleasant, the product was nicely designed, and the packaging will come with almost everything you need to store and carry them around for shows. The only feature I felt that was lacking is the ability to connect a neck cord between earplugs for convenience. This is a critical drawback for me as there are multiple instances where I will still choose the V-Moda Fader over the ISOLATE Pro just because of the convenience of a neck strap.

The product’s premium materials are just right for you to feel comfortable when in used and this is especially important if you’re wearing it for long hours. Overall, if performance is your main priority or you can justify the cost of an ISOLATE Pro, this item will suits you well.

*Side note: The ISOLATE Aluminium is cheaper alternatives that can provide an SNR35 rating. There is also a version for users with smaller ear canals which is ISOLATE Mini. Performance on both products will vary from this article as I have not tested them myself.

To learn more please visit: Flare Audio Isolate

 

Acoustical Isolation vs Acoustical Treatment – How to deal with entry points? (Part 4)

Isolating the entry points of a room can be one of the trickiest parts when constructing an acoustically sensitive room. For this article, the following features door, window, ducking and outlet bays will be referred as entry points. As these entry points require some level of manoeuvrability (e.g. opening of doors), the design of these features demand it to be acoustically sealed when it's put in place. If the features are not done properly, they will be the weakest link of the room acoustically as air provides almost zero transmission loss (TL) (Part 3).

The importance of a door

Essentially, a room cannot function without a door. While most of the features mentioned above are designed to be permanently sealed, doors are designed to be open. This presents a challenge where the doors need to maintain at least the same level of transmission loss to the wall attached to it. Thus, a door design, in this case, would require sufficient mass (part 3) and also a closure system that reliably seals the entire perimeter around the door. Some doors are specially engineered for this very purpose, and it will provide excellent results in this application. However, if you are on a budget, here are some pointers for you to look out for some alternatives with the appropriate mindset.

In general, a hollow door can only provide an STC rating of around 20s and of course a door with a solid inner core (more mass) will have a higher rating (around STC-25, higher but still ineffective). In contrast, metal door performs better than wood doors, but that poses another challenge for reflection (covered in later parts of the blog series). Similar combinations between interior airspace stuffed with absorbent material and partition board can be employed for the fabrication of the door (part 3). As for isolation when the door is closed, we need to ensure that the door is gasketed and airtight. To seal the gap between the door and frame, several materials have been used to provide pleasing results, namely, rubber strips or neoprene foams. In some cases, magnets have been used to DIY between the frame and door to help improve the compression of the door to the insulating materials.

Neoprene tubing, possible material to stick between frames, credits 1001blocks

Windows are important too! 

If you have the luxury to have separate rooms for your recording needs, then a window might be essential. Although in today’s technology standard, it might be cheaper to install a set of camera and screen in both rooms as it can provide higher insulation when done properly, it does not compensate for the human interaction component for artistes to help them calm their nerves down. A window can contribute to making space feels and looks less claustrophobic; it also provides the visual stimulant for the artiste and engineer to communicate. In some cases where an artiste does not wish to be looked when recording, curtains can be hooked up to provide the privacy he or she needed.

Despite that, most of the suggestion I’ve mentioned so far require construction works, and I will not be surprised that some of you have superb craftsmanship to do it yourself. However, building an acoustically sound window is challenging (in my opinion) but here are a few recommendations to help you look out for or build (seriously? If you do please share it with me!) a window. Firstly, plastic can be used in the construction of a window, although it does not provide as much transmission loss rating as glass does. The principle difference is that plastic would require double the thickness to provide the same amount of transmission loss on glass. Hence, the glass may be a better material to start on. Secondly, which is better single-pane or double-pane window?

Single-pane window vs. Double-pane window

The single-pane window is commonly used in household and does not provide good sound insulation. Thus, you might have observed that if you are living near a bus interchange, your flat will probably come with a double-pane window to help insulation the outside noises. The ideology follows similarly to the construction of a wall (part 3), a logical thought process would conclude that more panes (higher density) will offer greater loss. Beside mass law, it is shown that a double-pane window separated by an air gap can provide approximately 30dB of transmission loss. As the window provides a visual cue to both parties on either side of the room, it will not be advisable for you to stuff absorbent materials such as fibre glass to help improve the insulation. Hence, it would be even more important for you to find a good ratio between the partitions thickness (e.g. glass) and the interior airspace. For a simple guideline, a double-pane window with an interior airspace of 0.1m sandwiched between a 0.01m and 0.006m glass panels (total thickness of 0.116m) can provide an STC rating of 42.

Cross-section of a double-pane window, credits Glassdoctor

What about introducing a third pane

If you’re wondering whether does introducing the third pane further improve the STC rating, the short answer is yes but not significant. Through extensive research in 1983 from Quirt, J. D. measuring the difference made between windows (double glazing and triple glazing), the result in the differences are subtle. Although some might argue that a triple-pane window does still increase the insulation, I feel this is a diminished effect, and you can spend it better in other areas. Otherwise, do indulge yourself with it if you can afford.

In the next article, we will look further into treating other entry points such as heating, ventilating and cooling system.