Welcome back to the latest installment of our growing series My Toolbox, where artists showcase the essential tools they use to create the music they do. This time, we are joined by artist Zardonic, who's metal-influenced dnb has been making waves in the scene. Below, he highlights some of his most used pieces of hardware and provides extensive notes on why he loves them so much.
Words by Zardonic
Drawmer CMC2 Monitor Controller
While it remains the most basic part of my monitoring signal chain, it has become nevertheless an essential tool for my productions. Not only having the ease of switching between monitor pairs but even if you only have one pair of monitors (you definitely should have at least two), I legitimately believe that nobody who takes production seriously should ever work without one.
The number of mono compatibility issues I hear out there in so much professionally and commercially mastered material is insane. I learned this with my visit to the Abbey Road Institute in Frankfurt. I always figured mono compatibility was somewhat important, but it didn't hit me as hard until I heard the guitars on the original mix of "Takeover" completely disappear while the Campus manager Ulli Schiller looked at me with his characteristic cheeky smirk.
I felt so happy and privileged to be taught so many things in what was supposed to be a friendly visit with me doing a guest lecture on production. I said as much as I could within the limits of my knowledge but immediately took the opportunity to be a student when possible. You won't hear these issues in the new Takeover VIP mix on the forthcoming LP "The Become Remix Album", so lesson learned!
PMC result6 and Quested v2108
For my whole life I always thought that you could get away with cheap monitors. After all, they're all monitors. And they all claim to be flat. So this audiophile top mastering grammy golden ear engineer mumbo jumbo must all be a scam to make people feel better for spending thousands in proper monitoring systems, right?
I will put it out there. The world is full of "top class" engineers and producers who are only lucky to have gotten their shot but doesn't mean all of them are doing their job correctly from an engineering point of view. Then again, the same goes for the opposite. We're full of amazingly talented people who haven't gotten their shot yet. But If you really don't have the cash to invest in proper monitoring, at least make sure you can treat your room to some extent. The room response is the most important thing of all. Then, once you get there, you will start realizing why some monitors cost more than others.
Ruler flat frequency response is just one part of the game, and it has proven not to be the most important one. You can tune your monitors with anything like Sonarworks, ARC, KRK Ergo, Genelec, or Trinnov, and even then you will hear differences between monitors. So while it helps to tune your room (given that it's of course treated), it is definitely not the end all be all, because especially after tuning your room or speakers, you will hear it even more.
In my case, the natural frequency response of the PMC result6 and the Quested v2108 complement each other perfectly in my room. PMC is a bit more on the brighter side, bringing all the might midrange up and exposing any problems in this area. It's especially good if you're dealing with electric guitars. The Quested v2108, on the other hand, is almost holographic. You feel you're literally in front of the band playing. Very warm and organic sounding, which is no wonder they're Hans Zimmer's monitoring choice. They're supposed to be used as nearfields, but they excel even more as midfields. Now, if I could just get a bigger room...
Trinnov ST2 Pro
I could have moved to a bigger room. I could have bought a house. I could have built a purpose control room from scratch with perfect golden ratios or pentagonal shapes or anything of the sort to mitigate reflections, room modes, and have an amazing bass response.
Or I could treat my current room, which I am lucky because at least it is rectangular and somewhat big, then tune it after the fact.
Is it the absolute best response ever? No. I definitely had some issues. But it has to be the best room I ever had because without any calibration I had mixes that translated everywhere. And that's what was important to me. But I knew it wasn't perfect, so I tried a few solutions out there that helped me for the time being. I could definitely hear improvements, but something was still missing.
Enter Trinnov ST2 Pro. Now, the reason I didn't send an actual picture of the thing is that the best place for me to put it was actually behind the desk, so the picture would have looked weird anyway. There are enough videos out there explaining what it does in detail, but to put it short, this is a dedicated hardware computer running Linux that analyzes your room not only for frequency response but also phase and impulse response. The clarity that I now get from my monitors is second to none. I had LOTS of phasing issues in my room, probably due to the ceiling having a weird shape, and it still managed to bring it to near ruler flat 0 degrees.
I can only imagine what this could do in an ideal room. But even the most ideal rooms do not have a perfect phase and amplitude response, mind you, so I intend on keeping this thing forever. I don't think I could ever live without it. And that's the problem with this kind of stuff. You can't unhear it. But the more you're able to hear, the better mixing decisions you will make.
Moog Subsequent 37
I'd say it's unfair to just pick one piece of gear from the synth rack. I have too much love for each one of my synths and they can be heard all over my tracks. But one thing that just seems to always cut through the mix is the Moog Subsequent 37. Powerful, clear, punchy sound. Then you combine that with pedals and you're in for a ride! I love combining it with the Metal Muff. It's no secret that I love distortion, so it fits perfectly. If tweaked right, it can also outdo any previous acid synth ever created. Most of my acid style synths come straight out of it. No 303 emulations or anything. It's obviously not the exact same sound, but why would you need things to sound EXACTLY the same anyways? Better to have the edge of something that sounds unique!
Denon SC5000 Prime Media Players
Denon was the brand that was there when I learned how to DJ before Pioneer took over the market and pretty much monopolized the game. At this point, how this happened is still beyond me. Pioneer made some of the most overpriced, clunky, unreliable pieces of gear, and the only reason I had to adapt to them was that everybody else was using them. The CDJ itself never made sense to me. What's the point of trying to make something harder when you could make it easier and then use your free time for more creative decisions and mixes? Why force people to beatmatch using a freaking wheel when you could have pitch bend buttons like EVERY OTHER CD PLAYER did? But this is what the "pros" wanted, so cool. We had to follow suit.
Then Denon came back with Denon DJ and created what to this day are the absolute best Media Players in the market, the SC5000, and even the new SC6000 upgrade is ridiculous. We're talking about gear that is also priced at half the price of a regular Pioneer CDJ. Not only is it better, but it is also fairer on the people who matter the most: the DJs.
Now the rest of the fight remains, of course, we need enough people jumping on board so clubs and festivals are forced to give us both options. Fair play to whoever is a Pioneer fanboy, I am a Denon fanboy. So I don't intend on forcing anyone to use the gear. But I can't stand being forced to use something I don't like either. In any case, I don't know a single DJ that hasn't compared the CDJ NXS2 and the Denon SC5000 without jumping ship. The list of VIPs endorsing it keeps growing. Laidback Luke, Paul Oakenfold, Oliver Heldens, Drumsound & Bassline Smith, Matrix & Futurebound, El Hornet of Pendulum, and the list keeps growing. The ONLY issue that everyone has is that they know they will most likely find Pioneer instead of Denon in clubs and festivals. But I didn't see people having an issue asking for Pioneer when everyone else had the old Denon players. So it is a matter of DJs realizing what is the better gear and changing their rider. It's a long battle, but it's a battle we're slowly winning.