Effects pedals have become a part of almost every electric guitarist’s arsenal – few play with a totally ‘dry’ sound. Pedal boards can add instant volume, change tone, timbre and the colour of the sound, all with a tap of the toe. We took delivery of a couple of the latest digital toe tappers from the Chinese manufacturer Mooer and a new all-American built reverb unit from Van Amps – the Sole-mate.

The great thing about the Mooer micro series units is that they can be easily slipped into a jacket pocket. Not having a battery inside the casing has made the unit extra small at 9cmx3cmx3.5cm, with two staggered quarter-inch jacks to either side and the controls set to the top plate. The metal casing has rounded corners and a thin rubber foot to the base to stop the unit slipping. By contrast the Van Amps Sole-Mate is a unit that at 25cmx15cmx5cm definitely looks as though it means business. Solidly built (although not at all heavy), it comes with ‘reverb’ and ‘direct’ quarter-inch output jacks to the back of the unit and ‘input’ and ‘auxiliary’ 1/4 inch jacks to the front. The top panel carries a ‘reverb in/out’ switch and an ‘auxiliary’ switch together with ‘output level’ and ‘dwell’ dials that sport classic ‘chicken head’ knobs.

Blue mic’s new en.CORE 100i dynamic mic is a clean and well designed unit with a domed metal mesh cap that attaches to a sleek black steel body via a solid steel screw thread with the usual 3 pin XLR connection to the base. Utilising a newly developed capsule with a diaphragm that has been specifically designed to provide a tighter polar pattern, the 100i is purpose built for mic’ing up instruments and other sources needing high isolation. It has also been designed to handle very high SPLs, so even the very loudest instrument doesn’t present a problem.

We tested the en.CORE100i in the studio up against the industry standard Shure SM57. The en.CORE100i was very lively by comparison with a bright, almost ‘zingy’ top end – much like an ‘open’ mic. The bottom however, although producing a very effective response, didn’t quite capture the renowned definition and clarity of the Shure product. Looking at the en.CORE’s overall performance and robust design, we feel that the 100i could potentially be the perfect partner for mic’ing up ‘cabs’ and ‘toms’ for live gigs. And given that the en.CORE100i can be purchased for about half the price of an SM57, it undoubtedly represents excellent value for money.

For more go to www.bluemic.com

The latest addition to Focusrite’s highly acclaimed audio interface range the Scarlett 18i6 offers massive functionality in a sleek, durable unit that exudes quality while also looking and feeling like it’s built to last. Launched at this year’s Frankfurt MusikMesse the 18i6 and 8i6 live up to their name offering 18 or 8 possible audio connections, be they analogue, MIDI or virtual, allowing this sturdy interface to track an entire band in one go. Our review model is the extended 18i6 version with eight line inputs – six on the back, and more importantly two on the front that go direct into two of Focusrite’s award-winning preamps – that offer astonishingly clear sound quality.

Indeed this is the defining quality of this unit, as it is USB 2.0 instead of Firewire all the connections are as near on silent as you can get, with none of the background hum or buzz, that can sometimes occur at even low monitoring levels. The neat front panel also features two channel gain controls, and requisite number of 8 LED level monitors (for each available channel), next to these are control room speaker volume and dedicated headphone volume and socket. The killer USP here though is exceptional audio quality at a very reasonable price – this unit retails at £249 – yet it also comes with its own dedicated virtual mixer – for creating individual monitor mixes for each band member, as well as Focusrite’s four dedicated FX audio plugins that work in any DAW (digital audio workstation) such as Logic or Pro Tools. To cap all that off you also get Ableton Live Lite software, the cool retro Bass Station plugin, plus over a 1GB of free Loopmasters samples that will have you up and running in no time. In short a hugely desirable and extremely usable pro interface, for an affordable price.

For more go to www.focusrite.com

This eight-track digital recorder dubbed the DP-03, is the latest offering in Tascam’s Portastudio range. Capturing your music at CD quality to SD/SDHC cards (it comes ready loaded with a 2GB card), this neat little unit is fitted with a pair of remarkably sensitive and well balanced stereo condenser microphones which are built into the front panel, making it ideal for recording a rehearsal, or a live performance. However, for those who wish to set up their own “off-board” mic’ing systems there is a pair of high-quality XLR microphone preamps with phantom power. A couple of 1/4” line inputs are there too plus a headphone input and an instrument-level switch that allows you to record a guitar or bass without a direct box. Routing the inputs to one of the eight tracks is simple, and you can record two at a time until you fill up all eight. A built-in metronome and tuner are useful additions, with each having their own dedicated buttons for quick access.

Track editing functions include copy/ paste, silence, clone track and undo and bouncing is also available, with the possibility of bouncing all eight tracks down to just one or two. There is also a separate three-button footswitch available for control and punch in – and you can even import a recording through USB or audio CD. Each track has its own send to a stereo reverb processor as well as two-band shelving EQ. Once you’ve perfected your mix with the faders, pan knobs, reverb and EQ, you can then record it to the dedicated stereo master track which can then be processed with mastering effects like EQ and limiting. Then when you’re satisfied with the result, you can either transfer your mix to a computer over USB 2.0 or burn it onto an audio CD using the integral CD burner facility. We reckon that the DP-03 would be the perfect partner for the touring band that’s looking to produce a live album.

For more go to www.tascam.com

With the proliferation of home studio set ups today meaning practically anyone can produce high quality recordings with a fraction of the gear, and the cost, of using a top of the range studio space, it’s the tricky issue of finding the perfect space to mix your finished recordings that’s increasingly an issue. It’s been standard practice for donkeys years for engineers to listen to working mixes on everything from high end studio monitors to tinny ghetto blaster speakers, booming car stereos or audiophile home hi-fis all in the name of nailing the perfectly balanced mix.

Yet music technology company Focusrite have come up with a neat solution to this messy, time consuming, problem By using monitoring headphones with their VRM – Virtual Reference Monitoring – box this pocket-sized device enables the listener to reference multiple audio perspectives all at the touch of a button. The slick looking box with its single volume control and headphone socket (priced £79) is both Mac and PC compatible, the software loads easily and as the unit runs off a USB input there’s no need for an external power supply (great for mixing literally anywhere on your laptop), it also has a digital input making it compatible with Pro Tools HD. The three virtual listening environments on offer are logically divided into Professional Studio, Living Room and Bedroom, each with its own set of monitoring selections to choose from.

These include the likes of KRK Rokit6 62s, Japanese White Classics (based on Yamaha NS-10M Pros) and some British 90s Hi Fi speakers (based on KEF Q55.2) among 15 speaker choices available. In practice the differing sounds are uncannily accurate with each environment and set of speakers all revealing potential frequency imbalances created by hearing the mix in a specific room and speaker selection. The really ingenious part here though is that by using the VRM Box as your audio interface while working on a mix, one is able to go right into individual parts, isolate them and adjust the mix accordingly. While the VRM Box isn’t a total solution to solving the headache of hearing things ‘accurately’ it’s a compact, affordable and ultimately a hugely practical step towards it. For more go to www.focusrite.com/products/

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