I happen to live in a block of flats populated by old people. Nothing wrong with that...they are all very nice people...but it does have one major downside...when the clock strikes half past 9, it's time to turn down the music for fear of an angry knock on the door...
Most of the time it's fine - I can carry on putting ideas together at a reduced volume, or put on my headphones. However, I have never been a massive fan of using headphones to mix a track. Even though I possess a pair of Sennheiser HD-25s (which I would highly recommend to anyone), the mix never sits quite right when I switch from headphones back to my monitor speakers. The fact is that whilst many producers on a budget may opt to mix entirely though a pair of good headphones rather than shell out for a pair of expensive monitors, the two actually provide a very different listening experience...
FOCUSRITE VRM BOX - HEADPHONES vs MONITORS
When you listen to a mix through a pair of speakers, sounds from both speakers arrive at both your ears with varying delay times (depending on a number of factors including the position and size of your head). In addition to this, both ears will receive reflected sonic information from walls, furniture, even your body, again from both of the speakers, which helps position the mix within an environment - your mixing environment. There are loads more factors that affect how you hear a mix, but I would have to write a full sized book to fill you in, so for now I will just say if you are interested in learning more, then do some research on room acoustics! However, the important point to take in is that you do not get these effects when mixing through headphones, as the left and right output channels are split and sent directly to each ear - separately. This will cause a number of effects, such as pans will sound more prominent in your headphones, and perhaps more importantly, because each ear receives what is pretty much pure direct sound, it is not affected by factors such as phase cancellations from reflections off surfaces. This gives the sound from a headphone mix a slightly different quality to that of a monitor mix, and can lead to you making very different EQ decisions with each! Of course, you can use trial and error to find the perfect balance that works on both, but this ultimately means you have to keep switching between monitors and headphones...and annoying the elderly neighbours! As such, I have tended to steer clear of headphones when adding the final touches to my mix....which as I have already mentioned means I always have to stop work by half past 9... apart from the one time my neighbours were making more late night noise than me, when there appeared to be what my girlfriend described as a 'Granny party' going on downstairs one night, but that is another story!
However, I may now have found the solution to my problems, and it comes in a very reasonably priced pocket-sized box...
FOCUSRITE VRM BOX - VIRTUAL REFERENCE MONITORING
The VRM Box is a fantastic concept, so I have to give the Focusrite team a massive pat on the back!
The Focusrite VRM Box allows you to produce quality studio mixes wherever you are, all through your headphones! It uses Focusrite's proven VRM (Virtual Reference Monitoring) technology, which has been around for a little while (first introduced on Focusrite's Sapphire Pro 24 DSP interface), but places it in a mini-audio box, so as well as being highly portable, you don't have to purchase an additional Focusrite interface to enjoy the wonders of VRM!
You may be wondering what makes VRM so special... well I shall tell thee!
VRM essentially overcomes the problem I mentioned earlier... you know, the bit where I mentioned headphones transmitting direct sounds to your ears... *encouraging look*... and speaker output being affected by reflections...? Come on, you were paying attention weren't you?!!
So... VRM allows you to mix a track in your headphones, but hear it as if it were being transmitted through a pair of monitors from multiple perspectives! Amazing news for me, and quite possibly a welcome piece of news for you as well! You can now mix wherever you are (you don't even physically have to be in the studio!) and more importantly for me, at any time! Simply choose your mixing environment (living room, bedroom studio or professional studio depending on how flash you are feeling!), select which pair of industry standard monitors you want to use, and get mixing!
As well as saving you money on expensive studio monitors, the Focusrite VRM Box also saves you money on acoustic treatment! No need to plaster your room in foam and reflectors - if you want to mix in a professional studio environment, just select this option from the supplied software (that works in conjunction with the Focusrite VRM Box). It's also common for mix engineers to listen to their work back through multiple different speaker types - 'the mix sounds good through my studio monitors, but does it sound good on a home-hi-fi?' The Focusrite VRM Box lets you do this with what in my opinion is the best money saving solution available! Again, simply use the software to decide which speakers you want to listen to your mix on, from industry standard monitors (a selection of 10 pairs) to computer speakers, hi-fi speakers, and even TV speakers! The range is excellent! And it's also common for mix engineers to listen to a mix back in different environments to make sure that it sounds just right. Again, the VRM Box allows you to do this without leaving the comfort of your chair (or burning a CD!) - it's the lazy mans dream! Simply select what type of virtual environment you want to listen in using the software, and you're good to go! Combine speakers and environments to your hearts content to ensure that you have the most perfect mix imaginable!
How is all this possible? With VRM technology, the headphones route direct sounds straight to your ears (as usual), but in addition, the software contains a number of algorithms to model the responses of different speakers and environments (reflections, absorptions, etc). The loudspeaker simulations were measured using convolutions of impulse responses from the original speakers, and again the impulse responses were also key to modeling each environment. What this essentially means, is that the Focusrite VRM Box is packed full of complex mathematical equations to realistically model any scenario that you choose!
FOCUSRITE VRM BOX - AUDIO QUALITY
The Focusrite VRM Box will certainly not disappoint you when it comes to audio quality... after all, this isn't a cheap gimmicky piece of kit, it's a piece of Focusrite's impressive professional history! The VRM Box boasts an impressive dynamic range of 108 dB, providing a sound that's more precise, whilst also offering extremely low distortion compared to other low-cost interfaces, and far superior headphone outputs! If you are using high quality headphones with your standard laptop output, you are not going to be utilising the full dynamic range, so the VRM box is a must for when you are away from your home studio.
As well as providing you with the ground breaking VRM technology, the VRM Box also functions as a 24-bit/48kHz USB audio playback interface, so should fit in perfectly with a home studio. And because it is USB powered, there is no need for any additional plugs or batteries! The Focusrite VRM Box also supports sample rates up to 192kHz with it's digital S/PDIF input. This means that the VRM Box can easily be run alongside a Pro Tools HD system, or any other interface that has an S/PDIF output.
FOCUSRITE VRM BOX - SUMMARY
Surprise, surprise, it's another NAMM 2011 product, only currently available for pre-order, so I haven't used it yet! However.....I have had a little experience with Focusrite VRM technology before, so I can give you a little insight into what you can expect...
In my opinion, VRM is brilliant, and one of the best mix modeling systems available. When you first put on a pair of headphones that make use of VRM, you will probably feel a little bit disorientated...you won't hear the sounds that you would expect from the acoustics of the room you are sat in, and neither will you hear the type of sound that you have come to expect from using headphones. Instead of sounding like audio is being pumped directly into your ears, it will sound like it is coming from in front of you (which is exactly what you should want!) Basically, your eyes and your experiences will contradict what you hear - it can be a little distracting at first, but rest assured, you will soon get used to it!
VRM technology is a brilliant practical alternative to mixing through monitors, but it does require a good quality pair of headphones to unleash its full potential. Then again, a pair of professional cans and a VRM Box is going to be a lot more cost effective than a set of professional monitors and an acoustically treated bedroom! Although saying that, I would always prefer to mix through a flat pair of monitors than headphones, even with the VRM technology. Mixing through monitors just feels a lot more natural. But that doesn't mean that I'm not tempted by the VRM Box (that's the problem with reviewing so many new products - it just makes me want them all!)
Although VRM technology is highly advanced, and I would certainly recommend it if you do not have the budget for a proper studio, I still think it has headroom to advance. It would be cool if there was an easy way to create a virtual model of your own mixing space within the VRM Box, and load it up within the software when required. It would also be brilliant if there was a wider range of studio monitors so that everyones set-up was catered for - maybe this could be achieved by allowing users to download new speaker models from their computer. That way, instead of just being able to mix in a 'bedroom studio' with the VRM Box, you would be able to mix in your bedroom studio! This would mean that your initial mixes would always sound consistent even when you are forced to mix through your headphones.
Moving away from VRM technology, and onto the Focusrite VRM Box itself, which I am definitely concluding to be a brilliant idea! The reason it is such a good concept is because of it's portability and price. It isn't jam packed with features, but it is such a handy gadget because of what it offers you, and can be hooked up to an existing set-up with the included S/PDIF input - in other words it doesn't have to be your sole interface. Whether you're having a late night production session, or are away for the weekend with your laptop, your mixes never need to suffer again...
And for those of you looking for a little more info on VRM technology, I found this little video on Youtube that highlights it's use with the Sapphire Pro 24 DSP:
You can also now hear VRM technology for yourself with Focusrite's online VRM sampler! CLICK HERE to use it!
As always, feel free to rate and comment my blogs! It's always good to get other peoples views as well as my own!