The music recording industry has quietly undergone a complete revolution over the last 25 years, from the time when compact discs first starting replacing vinyl albums to the way today’s professional musicians go about practicing their craft. While there are still a few stubborn romantics (or Luddites, whichever they prefer) who cleave to the old days of two-inch reel-to reel-tape, the rest of the world has long since gone digital.
Evolution Takes Leaps and Bounds
It must have seemed this same way when four-tracks and magnetic tape came onto the scene. No longer did original recordings involve a needle scratching the sound into discs made of wax or shellaq (which had a prerequisite recording time of about three minutes). When one ponders the Beatles collection, or Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, one realizes that analog recording had incredible potential on its own… But when lasers and binary code took over, the ceiling was blown off the sound studios themselves.
In Record Time With USB Instruments
Recording has escaped from the coastal regions and gone mainstream. Software like Pro Tools can be used by artists to create their own music. Mac users have their own thing going with Garage Band, but it’s paucity of MIDI interface capability tends to alienate it from the many musicians who rely on the exploding USB-powered line of musical instruments. Drum pads, guitar pods and keyboard controllers are becoming fairly common in music studios. When it comes to USB gear, competition runs hot.
From the time that the legendary Les Paul first experimented with overdubbing, the music industry has thrived on creativity and imaginative expression. Digital recording, as run through a USB port into a computer, has become essential to the process of making the music that is such a huge part of our lives, no matter if we prefer Mozart, Metallica or anything in between.
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In the early 1990s, when digital recording leapfrogged analog recording as the primary method used in studio sessions, the electric guitar – with its magnetic pickups – was forced to reconcile with the personal computer. This presented something of a challenge, since that classic guitar sound came throbbing out of a stack of speakers powered by a tube-driven head. Microphones, no matter how expensive or exotic, had a hard time accurately translating the language of rock into binary code.
Bridging the Digital Divide
After a generation’s worth of exposure to Pro Tools and whatnot, guitar players and guitar makers have adapted to the digital workplace. Converters, in which one can plug a quarter-inch instrument cable, are able to communicate directly with music software through the USB port, bypassing the old standbys in favor of cyber-amplifiers. This removes numerous square feet (and hundreds of pounds) of gear from the recording environment, with little need for amplifiers, pedals and the miles of cable linking them all together anymore.
The Point of the Spear
Keyboards and MIDI controllers can also be fed into the computer via USB, but those are inherently digital instruments which lend themselves to such things anyhow. With guitars, it’s a different story. Behringer, a company best known for its “special effects” amplifiers (like the V-Tone), has introduced a USB guitar that requires no converter – it plugs into the computer just as an MP3 player would.
Consumers have vacillated over their satisfaction with this product (and a similar one made by Ion). The general consensus is that the Behringer iAxe393 is a beautiful instrument, but that its build quality is wanting. Tuning and intonation, in particular, come up as an issue. Those good people would seem to be less than mindful of where we are in this dawning age, where digital and analog are still finding each other like particles in an atom smasher.
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