Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Silent Brass SB7-9

I bought the Silent Brass SB7-9 several months ago, and have experimented with its potential. The unit has an auxiliary input so you can hook it up to an mp3 player (or CD player), and a plug for headphones. This way, users can play along with other recorded songs to practice parts in a quiet environment. It also has a volume knob and an Echo feature. In playing with the unit, I found some insight into three main areas: Practice, Recording and Live. I divided up the areas to provide a more thorough review:

Practice
This is a great practice tool. It has the capability of hooking up to a computer, mp3 player, or CD player to play along with songs for practice purposes. Since I have two young children, I’m able to practice songs without making too much noise that would wake them up. However, I did notice that I got tired more quickly. Either I don’t have the endurance I used to, or the backpressure from the unit caused my embouchure to tire more quickly. Some reviews I’ve read online often mention the noticeable backpressure. If the purpose of using this device is to practice fundamental techniques (as opposed to tone, volume, etc), then this is a good tool to use when you want to play quietly as to not disturb those nearby. Thus, backpressure is not really an issue unless you’re practicing breathing or endurance techniques.

Recording
I tried using this in some recordings to see what kind of sound I could get. When I used the SB7-9, I hooked up the unit to my MacBook, and used GarageBand to manipulate the sound. With no effects added, it sounds like a regular muted trumpet. With the right effects, it sounded like I played in a large open room. However, it is still no match for the natural play-into-a-mic sound. The air flows so much better in an open space than containing the sound into a pickup mute. I used a standard SM57 microphone and the trumpet sounded really crisp. Again, the purpose of future recordings will determine whether this unit is a good tool. If the song requires a muted trumpet, then there are numerous possibilities to get the sound you want in the mixing phase. Otherwise, I'll simply stick with recording the trumpet into a regular microphone and mix from there.


In comparing the different sounds, I recorded three short 10-second blues riffs to show the tone differences:


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Live
I have not yet used this live, but I already have some thoughts about it. When using the unit in some recordings, I noticed it picked up some things that I don’t want. It picked up the pressing of the valves, which could be annoying during a song, and it also picked up blowing in the trumpet, like emptying the spit valve. So in live sessions, there must be some discernment on when to empty the spit valve, how hard to press the valves when playing, and how good the sound person is to make sure you’re muted so you can quietly empty the spit valves or test the response of the valves during song breaks. Judging from the sounds in my recordings, using the SB7-9 in a live setting is very possible, especially if you need a muted trumpet for a more acoustic and rustic feel. All that is necessary to accomplish this is to either plug the unit directly into the sound system (with the proper adaptors and cables), or plug the unit into a computer where you can set the muted trumpet tone through recording software. Otherwise, I would say stick with a regular microphone if the song demands a more fanfare feel.

Overall, I would say this unit is very good for the money ($150 list price; $127 on Amazon). Since it has the capabilities of connecting to other sources, there are numerous possibilities as to its usage. Of course, the device works best as a practice tool in more private locations, but it can really be used anywhere given the right connections and some practice with the unit itself. It’s really a matter of determining what kind of sound you want, and spending time with the unit to hear what it sounds like when run through recording software. I would recommend the Silent Brass SB7-9 to any trumpet player looking for creative ways to mix some trumpet sounds into some recordings or a live performance.

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