A Take on Cheap Bluetooth Headphones

AL MPOW 059

Bluetooth headphones are the future of portable audio and one would be foolish to ignore their presence considering the wealth of high quality options available. However that is not what Alexander Lindo will be discussing in this article, instead, he will discuss his thoughts on the MPOW 059 Over-Ear bluetooth headphones (aka MPOW review). They are currently the best-seller on Amazon in their respective category.

Now, as a certified audio professional who mainly listens to and composes rock music, Alexander can safely say that at this price point you are not going to get Sennheiser, Bose or Beats audio quality out-of-the-box (quite the opposite in fact). However, for the price these are useable headphones that are more than capable of providing decent audio quality (once the right adjustments are made). The MPOW 059 (also called the MPOW M3) requires a bit of frequency gain reduction between 60-250Hz to reduce boom and a boost at around 16kHz to establish clarity. Once you’ve done that you’ll have a more balanced sound from these headphones.

The bluetooth volume controls, and battery status bar indicators of these headphones are natively supported on Android (but not on macOS.) In other words when you adjust the volume on your headphones it will directly adjust the volume control on your Android device. On the Mac the headphone’s volume is independent of macOS. Play/Pause and Skip buttons work natively on both platforms.

There are no latency issues when watching video. Lips move in sync with audio.

The MPOW 059 supports the SBC audio codec exclusively, which means no AAC or AptX is present. It would have been great to see support for AAC seeing as it is a superior codec to SBC but nonetheless sound quality is reasonable.

macOS users will need to download the “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” from Apple’s developer page in order to get the “Bluetooth Explorer” application. This application will allow you to increase the bitpool value from its default value of 40 to 53. This will dramatically improve the audio quality of these headphones and any other bluetooth headphones that rely solely on the SBC codec. For those who want specifics: a bit pool value of 53 is equal to a bitrate of 325 kbps. SBC at 325 kbps is the equivalent of MP3 at 256 kbps. When the you’ve downloaded “Hardware IO Tools for Xcode” and have opened the Bluetooth Explorer app you will see the app’s name in your menubar. Go to “Tools > Audio Options” or “Command + Shift + A”. This will bring up the window for you to edit the SBC audio settings. Under “SBC Codec Options” Set all bitpool values to 53 and close the window. This will ensure that the audio quality remains optimal. Close the window and re-connect your Bluetooth headphones.

Build quality seems reasonable, hinges are reinforced with metal. Only time will demonstrate the endurance of these headphones but superficially speaking the headphones appear to be quite sturdy. The ear-cups and headband are made of a soft synthetic leather which provides initial comfort but they are a bit shallow in depth and can place a bit of pressure on the ears when the headset is worn for an extended period of time. Battery life is reasonable. Accessories include a micro-usb cable for charging and a 3.5 mm audio cable which is handy for more critical listening and for events in which the battery has lost its charge. The velvet-like pouch is a great inclusion and provides protection against dust and scratches. These headphones are definitely worth the price and Alexander doubts you’ll find better at this price point.

Logic Pro

Apple fixed the GUI bug present in some of its Retina-Optimized instruments and plugins in LPX 10.3.2. For those who took notice, some of the stock Logic Pro X instruments and plugins produced an annoying graphical bug in regards to the number entry field when placed on any scale factor other than 100%.

Some of the plugins affected by this issue included: Retro Synth (in the screenshot above), Vintage B3, Vintage Clav, Vintage Electric Piano, Drum Kit Designer, Compressor, Channel EQ, Linear Phase EQ.

In the past: The blue halo that appears around the number entry field was distorted and out of place. That issue has now been resolved. The blue halo that appears around number entry field now complies with the scale factor of the plugin. Rock on Apple!

Progression

Progression

Alexander Lindo’s EP entitled “Progression” is Out Now on all major online music stores.

Tracklist:

  1. Thunder
  2. Progression
  3. Hurt
  4. Out of the Clouds
  5. Miracle

Buy it: iTunes | Amazon

All songs were written, composed, mixed, mastered and performed by Alexander Lindo. Released: September 23rd, 2016. ⓒ 2010-2016 Alexander Lindo. All Rights Reserved.

Upgraded to Sierra

LPX & Waves on macOS Sierra – Inst

Alexander Lindo upgraded to Sierra and he is glad that he did. In his words: The OS feels much faster and lighter than El Capitan and the new optimized storage features are certainly a welcome addition.” Logic Pro X appears to be working much better than it was on El Capitan and best of all, and he is no longer having audio drop outs / distortion when using applications such as iTunes.

After copying over all his useful content (such as music, photos, videos etc.) from a backup, his first step after installing a new OS was to create a backup. For this, he used Time Machine. The backup went through just fine with the exception of “iCloud Drive” which took a while to download content during the backup process. Once all iCloud content was downloaded, the backup process was complete.

Alexander opened up Logic Pro X and tested it without any 3rd party plugins installed. The DAW was as fast as its ever been since the OS X Mountain Lion; certainly a plus in his book. The next step was to install 3rd party plugins. Many companies in this area have warned users not upgrade to Sierra yet. Of course that did not stop Alexander as he tends to keep 3rd party plugin dependency at minimum. He opened up Waves Central and installed a local backup of his plugins after which he authorized. At first it did not authorize but this may have been due to the unstable internet connection at the time. After trying again it worked.

Alexander opened up Logic Pro and his Waves plugins were fully operational. He even recorded, mixed and mastered a song. Performance wise the improvements are certainly visible.

Plugins from Plugin Alliance do not work officially yet as told by the manufacturer however, he has found a temporary solution that will work until the problem has been officially fixed. See below:

  1. First copy the auvaltool file from the /usr/bin folder from your El Capitan install on to a USB Stick.

  2. Restart your Sierra install and hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo and loading bar.

  3. Once in recovery mode, Open Terminal from the Utilities menu and type csrutil disable

  4. This will disable System Integrity Protection, which will enable you to replace the auvaltool on Sierra with the one you copied from El Capitan. Be sure to keep System Integrity Protection disabled while you use the previous auvaltool otherwise the it will not work anymore.

  5. Once a fix is officially released, simply replace the auvaltool you copied from El Capitan with the one installed by Sierra.

  6. Reboot your Mac and hold down Command + R until you see the Apple logo and loading bar.

  7. Once in recovery mode, Open Terminal from the Utilities menu and type csrutil enable in order to re-enable System Integrity Protection.

After following steps 1-4 you may need to configure file permissions. Do the following:

cd /usr/bin

sudo chown 0:0 auvaltool

sudo xattr -c auvaltool

sudo chmod 755 auvaltool

Disclaimer: Please note that this temporary fix is not endorsed by Plugin Alliance and you must use at your own risk. Plugin Alliance say that they are working on an official fix. SIP must be disabled in order for this workaround to work and should be re-enabled as soon as an official fix is released by Plugin Alliance. Disabling SIP (System Integrity Protection) poses a security risk and should only be disabled when it is absolutely necessary.

Alexander Lindo’s EP entitled “Progression” has been released recently and is available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon MP3 and Google Play. BUY IT NOW!

Update: Plugins by Plugin Alliance now officially support Sierra.

Studio Tips – Episode #1

alstudiotips1

Music is an art-form. It builds, strengthens and enhances the human life. It is built with the purpose of delivering a message. It is therefore extremely important to ensure that (as artists, producers, and engineers) our message is delivered in the most accurate way possible. In the “Studio Tips” series I discuss methods on how to enhance the experience and delivery of “the song”. Enjoy!

Location

Ensure your environment is optimal as an uncomfortable environment will leave you with a poor performance. Surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, what you do, both as an artist and as a person. Do not be quick to “take what you get”, as you always have options. Never let anyone make you think that you don’t have options. If you are unhappy with the situation it is bound to show.

Preparation

If your intention is to record, make sure that you have adequately practiced the material before hand. Magic can and may happen in the studio but it is always best to prepare. If you are a singer ensure that you are hydrated, as failure to do so may leave you with some dry sounding vocals. If you are a guitarist ensure that your guitar is properly tuned and that you have at least 2 extra set of strings available. Other than failure to prepare it can be equally disconcerting when the performer is unable to record a take due to technical difficulties. If you are the producer/engineer set up your project with plugins that introduce the least amount of latency / CPU usage during tracking / recording.

The Message

Vocals / Lyrics are the most important part of every song (that contains vocals). They tell the story, and you want them to shine to the best of their ability. Be sure that your engineer is providing you with a space carved out just for you. Listen to the mix. If you cannot hear yourself clearly when the music is playing, you will be shouting above the mix and this is never recommended. The same goes for performing live. If you cannot hear yourself, you will not perform correctly. It is therefore extremely important to get the balance right, before you open up.

Red 2 & 3

AL Red 2 & 3 In-Depth

The Red Range was established in the year of 1994 by Focusrite. Both hardware units inherit the sound and circuit design of their predecessors from the ISA range of processors.

The Red 3 is a compressor was built as an outboard successor to the ISA130 compressor module built by Rupert Neve for Sir George Martin’s console at Air Studios London. This compressor is famously known for maintaining mix intelligibility, even in the event of significant compression. Due to its simple and intentional VCA circuit design, this compressor is well suited for a variety of sound sources.

Focusrite has continued on with the philosophy of providing  microphone pre-ampfliers that are accurate with the least amount of artificial colouration possible. Where many audio companies today seem to create equipment that purposefully imposes harmonic distortion onto the signal being passed through it, this has never been the aim for the folks at Focusrite.

The Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor had no measurable distortion as evidenced in their specification sheets and thus you will not find any present in their plugin counterparts. In addition to near zero distortion, these pieces of equipment also had a lot of headroom available to them thus making distortion due to overdriving them near impossible to do.

The Red 2 EQ and Compressor plugins come bundled with the purchase of any Scarlett, Claret, RedNet, or Safire audio interface and are also available for sale via the Focusrite website.
After testing these plugins, Alexander Lindo was rather impressed with them. Aside from the beautiful and realistic graphical user interface, the sound that he produced while using them was truly remarkable.

Red 2 EQ: Alexander placed the Red 2 EQ on a Kick Drum, shaved off some lows using the low pass filter, boosted some lows at around 60 Hz while taking out some of the boom using the low-mid bell filter with a medium bandwidth. The result was a more solid and punchy kick. Using this graphical representation of the hardware piece always re-enforces what great joy it is to use hardware, due to its knobs and VU meters. Alexander will always love VU meters, to the point where, if they are not present on the hardware, then he probably will not buy it. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, for example in the event of the audio interface: most use LED meters, but non-the-less VU meters are definitely preferred.

Red 3 Compressor: After achieving an adequate balance of the drum kit, Alexander placed the Red 3 Compressor on the Drum Sub-master and set the ratio at 4:1 with a fast attack and fast release. First ensuring that all levels were correct on the way in to the compressor as to prevent clipping, he then proceeded to bring down the threshold parameter. At this point you can hear the aggression kick in, as to be expected with compression, however the aggression that this compressor provided was one of the pure kind. The sound remained solid and took a bit of an effort to became grainy. After receiving a reasonable amount of compression, Alexander proceeded to adjust the mix knob to taste, in order to bring back the dynamics of the drum kit that were lost due to compression (of course instead of using the mix knob you could just raise the threshold). The result was a solid sounding drum kit.

Placing the compressor on the bass and guitar parts yielded similar results. Using the EQ, Alexander was able to bring out some mid-range on the guitar parts, further adding to their character. Placing the compressor on synth parts led to a slightly more aggressive sound and one that remained full. He was careful not to overdo it as to prevent the pumping effect from occurring. Due to the extensible attack (0.300ms to 90ms) release times (0.1second to 4 seconds), setting this compressor to taste was no problem. On the topic of pumping: Alexander says that he would have loved to see a key input option provided.

Alexander progressed towards the lead vocal for my single entitled “Hurt” of which he had originally used stock Logic EQ and Compressor. Up first was the EQ, The vocals were recorded using a condenser microphone, recorded through the preamplifier of the Scarlett audio interface. Both the microphone and the audio interface have a relatively flat frequency response and near zero THD (Total Harmonic Distortion). Using the high shelf filter at around 12 kHz (the 1073 frequency), Alexander turned the high end up only about 2 dB in order to increase presence within context of the mix. It did indeed provide a sound unique to this equalizer. A somewhat airy effect, however subdued it may be. After removing some lows, he progressed with a 1 to 2 dB boost at around 1.2 kHz in order to gain legibility in the mix.

Alexander then placed the Red 3 Compressor on the vocal with a fast attack and a fast release. With a ratio of 4:1 and an optimum level, he began to bring down the threshold just until the sound was relatively constant. This was not at all difficult to achieve as compression began will little to no artifacts. Alexander continued adjusting to taste. After  he was satisfied, he placed a second Red 3 Compressor on the vocal. This time with a medium attack and release. In this scenario, The first compressor is used to level the peaks and the second one is used to smooth them out. The results were as reasonable as one would expect. The voice remained clear, consistent and true to the source with out any sign of distortion.

For the fun of it Alexander decided to lay down an additional vocal take with both the Red 2 EQ and the Red 3 Compressor instantiated. With a buffer size of 64 samples, he enabled Low-Latency mode in preparation of the event, that these plugins created any latency. Alexander Lindo can confirm that these plugins induce no latency whatsoever. This increases their value in the recording and tracking department. CPU load was placed at a minimum as well, leading one to conclude that these are indeed well coded.

Alexander placed the EQ and Compressor on supporting vocal tracks and set them to taste in order to better evaluate the mix with their presence. After he was satisfied with the vocal mix, It was finally time to move on to the stereo master. Starting with a moderate ratio, medium attack and fast release he listened to the already well balanced mix come together in a beautiful fashion. This compressor has a way of making elements even smother than they already were. The compressor was definitely doing a great job.

Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor are what Alexander would consider to be an underrated pair of plugins that deserve attention (even if you do not own a Focusrite audio interface). If not only for their vivid appearance but also for the clean, transparent and full “character” they impart on your mix. In addition, these plugins introduce no-latency and do not require a dongle to run, which is always a plus in Alexander’s book. The Red 3 Hardware Compressor has received praise from the likes of Chris Lorde-Alge who uses it on every mix.

If you are looking for the current hardware incarnation of the Red 2 EQ and Red 3 Compressor your best bet would be to check out the ISA 430 MKII Channel Strip from Focusrite. While it is not entirely similar, this remains the most current, favorable and enhanced reproduction of the original ISA 110 eq module and 130 compressor module originally designed by Rupert Neve, of which the Red 2 and 3 are based. The ISA 430 can be seen in the possession of top producers / engineers like Pharrell Williams and Damian Taylor and Adrian Bushby.