Monday, May 22, 2017

Electronic Drum Kits for the Home Studio and Rehearsal

If you’re looking to practice drums without disturbing your neighbors, or just need a quick way to record a drum track, an electronic drum kit is a good solution. Though there is a wide range of quality between a lot of the different electronic kits, we’ll be focusing on some of the entry level kits.

Though I wouldn’t necessarily rely on a lot of these budget electronic drum kits for live gigs, they are a great portable tool for practicing with a band. Many electronic drum kits can easily fold down and are lightweight, making transporting them much simpler than a traditional acoustic drum kit. If using these drum kits for practicing with a band, make sure to pick up a suitable amplified or hook it up to a PA system so everyone can hear it.

One of the most important considerations when deciding on an electronic drum kit should be the feel and quality of the pads. Though the drum module itself is responsible for the tone of the drum kit, in many cases this can be replaced, or used with a virtual instrument on a computer to create a more realistic drum sound. If the quality of the pads is poor, you’ll constantly be reminded of it as you’re playing, and it could seriously affect your performance.

Another important factor is the sensitivity. Make sure to choose a drum kit with a good range of sensitivity and responsiveness when you hit it. There’s nothing worse than a kit that can’t pick up on the subtle nuances of a drummer’s performance. Even the best virtual instrument plugins won’t be able to improve this sound if there is improper velocity tracking when recording MIDI.

Not all the sound modules with the electronic drum kits are created equal. Some have a lot of different included sounds, but not all of them are capable of sounding realistic if you’re looking to emulate an acoustic kit. Depending on your specific needs, the sounds included with the electronic drum kit are definitely important to consider.

There are a few different electronic drum kits at the budget end, all of which have similar features. We’ll go over a few of these drum kits and discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Alesis Nitro Kit

The Alesis Nitro Kit is a decent starter kit that includes a hi hat, 2 cymbals, snare, 3 toms, and a kick drum. All this is held together with a sturdy aluminum rack, however, some of the cymbals are a little flimsy. Though the overall kit does have a good feel to it, some of the included sounds are a lacking. This is definitely a kit that produces a very electronic sound, so we don’t recommend it to people looking to recreate an acoustic kit for a recording. If your goal is recording for a pop sound, this is a good thing and makes the Alesis Nitro kit a fantastic choice for this application. This kit does have a lot of additional features with the drum module, such as multiple drum kit presets that can be changed by the user, and an included practice tool to teach you to play on time.

Simmons SD300 Electronic Drum Set

Another good option for an electronic drum kit is the Simmons SD300 Electronic Drum Set. Similar to the Alesis kit, this has very electronic sounds to it, making it better for pop music. The sounds are a little more consistent, which can be a slight problem and sound unnatural depending on how prominent the drums are in your music. The Simmons electronic drum set includes 10 kits, 170 drum sounds, and audio outputs to hook it up with an audio interface. Since the tone of this electronic drum kit isn’t the best, we strictly recommend it as a MIDI controller for using with virtual instrument plugins in a DAW, instead of using the included sounds. This can easily be done, since the drum kit can attach to the computer via the USB output and act as a MIDI device.

Behringer XD80USB

The Behringer XD80USB is a highly responsive and good midrange electronic drum kit. Though the kit still sounds electronic, it is a big improvement over the previously mentioned Alesis and Simmons drum kits. This kit also includes a snare, 3 toms, hi hat pedal, bass pedal/trigger, and 2 cymbals. The Behringer drum kit can hook up to an audio interface or drum module through the standard MIDI cables, or to a computer through USB. Though the sounds of this kit are great, it is lacking in the hi hat pedal, which can have a negative impact on playing performance.

Yamaha DTX400K

One of the best electronic drum kits in this price range is the Yamaha DTX400K. Even though this is an electronic drum kit, it does have a very natural feel to it and can easily sound like an acoustic kit. It features 10 drum kits, and a variety of different sounds for whatever genre of music you’re interested in. There’s an auxiliary input for playing along with your own music, as well as built in practice tools with visual indicators to help you improve your own timing. One of the great features of this kit is that it is extremely quiet, making it great for practicing in areas like an apartment. The kit drum trigger is all enclosed within the pedal, instead of a traditional trigger and beater which makes a lot more noise. Overall, the Yamaha DTX400K would be our recommendation for an affordable electronic drum kit for recording and practice.

Electronic drum kits are great for quiet practice, and even recording situations. The MIDI capabilities of electronic drum kits allow you to create professional sounding tracks without breaking the bank on an expensive drum module.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

External Camera Microphones: Improve your Video with Quality Audio

External Camera Microphone
 One big problem for amateur video creators is audio. It’s easy to spend money on cameras and lighting, but many people disregard audio. External camera microphones are a great way to improve audio quality. They can attach to a DSLR camera or camcorder, or a portable audio recorder.

External camera microphones provide a huge improvement over the noisy built-in microphones. The built-in microphones are not directional, and pick up a lot of extra noise. This is big problem when the sound source is more than a few feet away.

After all, the best way you can communicate is with your words, not with the video. External camera microphones allow you to increase clarity, while minimizing noise.

These microphones are typically directional, meaning they pick up audio from a specific point. They also exclude audio from different directions, leading to a focused sound.

Though lavalier microphones work in some situations, they have limitations. In some cases, it’s not practical to place a lavalier microphone on each person. Additionally, this can require expensive wireless systems. External camera microphones allow easy recording of multiple people.

When working with a camera microphone, there are a few things to keep in mind. It’s always best to record with the camera in manual mode. Otherwise it will increase the gain during low volume, causing more noise.

It’s important to eliminate background noise and use the microphone as close as possible to the sound source. Even expensive microphones will sound terrible in a noisy environment.

In this article, we’ll be covering two budget external camera microphones to improve your audio. We’ll focus specifically on camera-mountable microphones, since we’ve already covered lavalier microphones. The TAKSTAR SGC-598 is great for budget applications, while the Rode Video Mic GO provides superior audio quality.

Budget External Camera Microphones


One low budget option is the TAKSTAR SGC-598. It plugs in using a stereo cable, so it will record on both channels. It’s a shotgun microphone that must be placed close to the source for proper recording.

The TAKSTAR microphone shell is plastic, and there’s a plastic mount for the camera. Though many people just mount it to the camera, it can attach to a boom stand. Position the microphone just out of frame, as close as possible to the source. If used on a boom, connect it to the camera with an extension cable, or to a portable recorder. A good budget recorder is the Zoom H1.

The TAKSTAR microphone uses a AA battery. This allows a high signal level, leading to less noise.

The microphone has a power switch. Always turn on the power before recording. Otherwise it won’t record sound. Luckily, there’s a green LED when on, and red for low battery.

To reduce noise, keep the microphone at a high level and reduce the camera volume. You also don’t want to be boosting the audio signal during editing. This will increase the noise. Even when setup properly, the microphone still produces a hissing sound.

The TAKSTAR SGC-598 has a few features to adjust the sound. There’s a high pass filter that removes low frequencies. There’s also a -10 dB cut. This reduces the output, and prevents clipping.

The microphone also includes a windscreen. This is placed over the microphone, and can reduce wind noise. We recommend using the windscreen at all times, especially outdoors.

As far as frequency response, the TAKSTAR SGC-598 has a good balance. You’ll need to consider the proximity effect, otherwise the recording can be boomy. We did find that the mid/low frequencies can be a little overpowering compared to the highs.

Rode Video Mic GO

The Rode Video Mic GO is a good option for higher quality audio. This microphone produces less noise than the TAKSTAR, but it’s cheaper than the Rode VideoMic Pro. This microphone has a focused sound due to its supercardioid polar pattern. But, like all shotgun microphones, place the microphone near the audio source to prevent capturing noise.

This microphone can easily mount to the top of almost any camera. The built in shockmount prevents the microphone from picking up vibrations. This prevents noise when the moving the camera or pressing buttons to change settings.

One good feature of the Rode Video Mic GO is that it doesn’t require power. You won’t have to worry about batteries dying while filming. Additionally, no battery means the microphone will work without turning on a switch. Unpowered microphones will prevent the camera from capturing any sound.

Though the audio from this microphone is better than the TAKSTAR, there are less features. The Rode Video Mic GO does not have a level adjustment switch. Instead, it relies on settings within the camera. There’s also no high pass filter on the microphone. This isn’t much of a problem, since it’s easy to add a high pass filter during editing.

Overall, both the TAKSTAR SGC-598 and the Rode Video Mic GO are great external camera microphones. They provide improved audio quality compared to those of the camera. The TAKSTAR microphone is great for budget applications, while the Rode microphone provides even better quality audio.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

DeepCool RGB350 Lighting System Review

One great way to improve the looks of any gaming PC is with an LED lighting system. These systems allow for a variety of different colors and brightness settings and are usually controlled by the motherboard or a separate wireless control. Though many LED lighting systems can be expensive, the DeepCool RGB350 is a great entry level option.

If you have a computer with a window, we would highly recommend the DeepCool RGB350 LED lighting system so you can show off your components and improve the look.

Installing the DeepCool RGB350

There are two different mounting systems for the DeepCool RGB350 LED system. The mounting can be adhesive or magnetic. In our case, we mounted the lights upside down on the top of the case. Eventually, the adhesive wore down and the lights fell. They were not able to be put back on after, whereas a magnetic system would be able to be re-mounted. Due to this limitation, we recommend magnetic mounting if possible with your case. However, the adhesive mounting would still work well if mounted to the side or bottom of the case.

Another consideration that needs to be made during installation is the placement of the light sensor. If you’re using a lighting system, we’re assuming your case has a window (what would be the point otherwise?). It’s best to put the sensor in clear view of the window so the controller will work.

Connectivity and Requirements

For the DeepCool RGB350 to work properly, you’ll need a spare molex connector from the power supply. This is standard with most custom built PCs, but can be problematic if your power supply is from a prebuilt PC since they typically only have the required connectors. Additionally, you’ll need space within the case to fit the control box. Ideally, this would be positioned out of view, but it can always be placed in the bottom of the case if there’s no room.


The controller for this system works well, but it isn’t anything too fancy. There’s controls to turn the lights on and off. There’s also controls for color, brightness, and pattern. The DeepCool RGB350 LEDs can cycle through a few different colors using the pattern buttons on the side. We don’t use this much, since it can be very distracting while on the computer. Also, there’s no way to customize the color patterns, so you’re limited to the build in patterns that come with it.

The battery in the controller has a reasonable lifespan. We’ve been using it for over a year and haven’t had to replace it yet. One problem we’ve found with the controller is the battery compartment can break easily. At one point, the controller was dropped and this caused one of the clips near the battery to snap, but it didn’t stop the controller from working.


For the first six months, we had absolutely no problems with the system besides the poor adhesive. After that point, some of the LEDs started to fail. This would cause some of them to appear red or purple, even if the lighting system had been set to white. If wish we could say this wasn’t a common problem, but it eventually happened to BOTH light strips that came in the kit.

Overall, the DeepCool RGB350 is a good entry level LED lighting system for PCs. Though the system has some problems with durability and installation, it is still one of the best cheap options to improve the look of any gaming PC. Would we buy it again? Yes, but instead we would choose the magnetic option instead of adhesive.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Action Cameras: Durable Video for Athletes and Adventurers

Action cameras are a great way to capture just about any sporting event or activity. They are incredibly versatile and mountable to just about any surface.

These action cameras are great for anything from surfing to skiing, and even as a car dash camera.

Action cameras are durable and work in a lot of situations without having to worrying about damage. They also typically come with a waterproof enclosure, allowing them to record video and take pictures underwater.

There's a variety of different action cameras available, but they don't all record at the same quality. When choosing a camera, you'll need to consider both the resolution and the frame rate. There's no reason to buy a camera with a high resolution of the video won't be smooth due to a low frame rate.

Two good action cameras are the APEMAN Action Camera and the SJCAM SJ5000x Elite.

Budget Action Cameras

APEMAN Action Camera

The APEMAN Action Camera is a good low price option. Though the video quality isn't fantastic, this camera is very good for the price. It's very durable and has a lot of different options, making it very versatile.

The APEMAN Action Camera has a lot of different mounting options available, including adhesive bases and tripod mounts. There's also a waterproof case to film video underwater up to 30m.

The camera captures video on a microSD card, and it supports up to a 32GB card. There are settings to record in 1080p, 720p and WVGA. All the files as saved as an MOV file using H.264 encoding, so they can be edited with most software. It can also take pictures up to 12 MP.

This camera comes with a 1050 mAh battery that allows it to record for up to 120 minutes on a 3 hour charge. The batteries are removable and can charge inside the camera or using a charging dock that is sold separately.

The APEMAN action camera doesn't record as smooth as expected, and the video can get blurry if the camera is moved. This is due to it only recording at 30fps. Also, it doesn't fit perfectly within the waterproof case, which can allow the camera to vibrate in some situations. There can also be issues when trying to record in low light.

As far as audio, the APEMAN camera is basically unusable, especially when in the waterproof case. If your plan is to edit the video to music, this isn't too much of a problem.

The APEMAN has a wide angle 170 degree lens, but this produces a little bit of image distortion. It would be better to have a narrower field of view than the image distortion.

SJCAM SJ5000x Elite

The SJCAM SJ5000x Elite is a higher quality action camera that can even hold its own against the GoPro Hero4. Like the APEMAN, there's also a lot of accessories to allow many different mounting options. This action camera captures a higher quality video, but it comes at an extra cost.

The SJ5000X is powered by a 900 mAh lithium battery, which is slightly less than that of the APEMAN camera. This battery is replaceable and fits within a battery compartment in the bottom of the camera. This battery can only record up to 80 minutes on a charge, which is fairly respectable, but we recommend purchasing additional batteries for longer filming.

To control this camera there are buttons on the side, top, and front which allow you to navigate a menu on the screen. There's also built-in wifi to control the camera. Connect an Android or iOS phone to the camera and use an app to change the settings.

The SJ5000X Elite is able to record in 4K at 24 fps, or in 2K at 30 fps. Keep in mind that the 4K resolution is actually 2880x2160, which is a 4:3 ratio, instead of the normal 16:9 ratio. It is able to record at 1920x1080 at 60 fps. We would recommend recording at this resolution. The higher frame rate would provide a much better quality and smoother video than the higher resolution with the low frame rate. Additionally, the 4:3 4K video would probably need to be cropped to achieve a 16:9 ratio on most platforms.

The camera captures video on a microSD card. It's able to use up to a 64 GB cars, which is quite a bit better than the 32 GB limitation of the APEMAN camera. It's also able to record in both MP4 and MOV file formats.

There is a 2” LCD screen on the back of the camera to preview and play back the video. There's also a speaker on the side of the camera. The camera can also connect via HDMI to a monitor, or to computer through microUSB.

Not only can the SJ5000X Elite record video, but it can also take images up to 12 MP.

The SJ5000X has superior video to the APEMAN camera, but this is reasonable considering the price difference. The camera has a few options for field of view, allowing it to record at 170, 140, 110, and 70 degrees. The wide 170 degree field of view is great for a lot of sports applications, but isn't appropriate for most videos. The 60 fps video creates much smoother motion allowing for crisp video during a fast-paced action shot. The camera quality is also sharper, and the camera fits inside the waterproof shell better than the APEMAN.

The SJCAM SJ5000x Elite is a great competitor to the GoPro HERO4. When comparing the video, it has more contrast and vibrant colors. Some people may prefer this, but overall the colors may not be as accurately captured. It's worth adjusting the settings within the camera to alleviate these problems.

There's also a difference in audio quality, even in the waterproof shell, the GoPro Hero4 is still able to pick up decent sound. In contrast, the SJ5000x doesn't capture a very loud audio signal when in the case. Since most action videos are edited to music and don't use the audio this isn't too much of an issue, and the case can always be removed if audio is a priority.

Both the APEMAN Action Camera and the SJCAM SJ5000x Elite are good action cameras for any situation. The APEMAN camera is a good budget option, but the SJCAM provides smoother and clearer video.